Small Boy Unwillingly To Spurs

 
RIP Rodney Bewes. Looking suitably uncomfortable in a Newcastle shirt.

28/09/1974 – Spurs 1 Middlesbrough 2


Rodney Bewes died last week. This is a huge source of sadness for me as he appeared in the wonderful film Billy Liar (starring his friend & fellow Stamford Bridge regular Tom Courtenay) & also the most beautifully written & performed British sitcom of all time, the peerless Whatever Happened To The Likely Lads?  My sister once saw him making his way to the ground during the show’s heyday, prior to the yuletide match/punch up versus West Ham in 1974. ‘He’s going very grey’ she said. Watching Chelsea regularly had that effect on many back then. Knowing that he & co-star James Bolam didn’t really get on & hadn’t spoken for 41 years ( a fact that has made Bolam’s recent, belated rebuttal of any suggestions of a rift rather unconvincing) can make you feel art is imitating life when watching certain episodes. One of my favourites is Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner?  in which Rodney’s alter ego Bob & his social-climbing wife Thelma drag a reluctant Bolam’s doggedly working class & proudly Northern character Terry to a dinner party hosted by an old school friend & her affluent husband, who is quickly revealed to be both a Southerner & a Chelsea fan. The latter revelation leads to a swift, spiteful burst of invective from Terry. Was there a certain relish in relaying those lines from Mr Bolam given that Rodney Bewes was himself a Chelsea supporter? I guess we’ll never know. The day after this sad news broke I worked late & got home having succeeded in avoiding the score of that afternoon’s Qarabag game rather more fruitfully than Bob & Terry’s more strenuous (& much, much funnier) efforts at avoiding the England result in Bulgaria during the now legendary No Hiding Place.

Bob & Terry were always partial to wistful conversations about the loss of their youth & the people & paraphernalia that had helped decorate it, so I shall honour them by remembering a rather melancholy day from my dim & distant past. The aforementioned West Ham game in 1974 was my first trip to Stamford Bridge that season, but as far as I am concerned it should most certainly not have been. It should have been the Wolves game three months earlier. But in what Bob & Terry would doubtless have described as one of life’s bitter ironies I was both several miles & a world away, reluctantly & sulkily popping my White Hart Lane cherry.

There were a few false starts for my 12-year-old self in 1974. I had purchased my first packet of cigarettes, parting with 13 & a half pence for ten Players No.6, then the fag of choice for most aspiring delinquents. The thrill of  the purchase threatened to turn sour immediately, as I ran into my ardently anti-smoking mum on leaving the shop. A narrow escape, but she doesn’t know to this day. Like most people she won’t read this. I smoked a couple but gave the rest away, leaving the real nicotine party to start as a dopey, doom laden student sometime in the early part of the next decade.

I also took to the dance floor for the first time. A slow dance at that no less. Hesitant & inept, & also not repeated for some years after, or indeed very often since. She was 13. Perfect. A much older woman, guiding my faltering feet around the floor as the heady combination of her perfume & nicotine tinged hair gloriously attacked my senses. I was rather smitten. The song? Given it was a disco for the recently pubic it was not going to be achingly cool. The DJ didn’t have any Can bootlegs to hand. Instead it was that lovely, yearning & evocative slice of Philadelphia cheese When Will I See You Again?  by The Three Degrees. The title begs a question. In the case of Mrs Robinson & myself the answer was simple. Never. I do hope she’s well. Probably a granny now. Tomorrow’s almost over. Today went by so fast.

Being taken to Spurs was the lamest false start of all though. It happened during a weekend visit to my dad’s cousin Ann & her family in Kent. This usually signified a trip to Chelsea in my eyes, though my luck had run out in February 1969 when the snow came hurtling down on the way to Stamford Bridge for a FA Cup 5th round tie against Stoke. Ann’s husband Alan bravely battled the elements in trying to get us there but common sense prevailed & Alan, my dad & a brattish & extremely disappointed 6-year-old  returned  to Kent for a snowy, late afternoon kick about as darkness descended. The match was postponed anyway & in Scott Cheshire’s Illustrated History Of Chelsea there is a picture of a snowbound, empty Stamford Bridge from that afternoon. I still wince when I see it. It would have been my first ever Chelsea game. I managed to catch up with both teams in the same tournament the following year, seeing Stoke, with the magnificent Gordon Banks in goal, at Oxford in Round 3 & Chelsea at home to Burnley three weeks later. Alan went to that game with us & on our next trip to Kent in 1972 we saw two Tommy Baldwin goals rescue a point in a knock about end of season 3-3  draw with Newcastle. Tommy’s second goal was the first I ever saw Chelsea score from The Shed, & I also recall my dad smiling indulgently as I enthusiastically waved my blue & white woollen scarf (knitted by my Nan of course, everyone had a football scarf knitted by their Nan back then) as Peter Bonetti led the lads towards us for the pre-match warm up. ‘He’s been waiting all day to do that’ he said to Alan. All day? More like three years.

So Dad & Alan announcing we were going to Spurs in 1974 instead was a shock, causing my head to fill with a one word mantra. Bollocks. Bollocks bollocks bollocks bollocks bollocks bollocks. Double & indeed triple bollocks. With hindsight  it is not difficult to see that Chelsea do not entice the neutral fan by 1974. Finishing the enormous East Stand has at least seen the end of the joint sight of cranes & West Brompton Cemetry sucking the atmosphere out of the entire ground. Sadly this construction has also crippled the club’s finances & the team is crap. However, I am 12 years old  & not remotely neutral. The bollocks do not cease. There will be plenty more bollocks before this day is done. I don’t actually say bollocks of course. Everyone in Kent is far too nice. I merely resort to whingeing all the way to White Hart Lane. Nearly all the way. Eventually, Alan enters a newsagent & returns with a football magazine. ‘Have a read of that & cheer up’ he says. I feel mildly ashamed & manage a mumbled thank you. At least I have something to distract me when the game starts.

I wouldn’t have minded but Spurs were rubbish in 1974 too. Actually, that’s a lie. I would have minded. Very much indeed. Nevertheless, they WERE rubbish. Their legendary manager Bill Nicholson had just departed, a man who had served with distinction as a player & then led them to The Double, leaving with ten grand in his back pocket & minus the obligatory Testimonial. He lived in a house near the ground & had lived, eaten & breathed Spurs since 1938. Forgive me if I spared my tears when Mourinho left Chelsea with millions on two separate occasions. Happily, Nicholson did return to White Hart Lane later but football clubs really have been run by some charmless slimeballs over the years haven’t they? There is a core of the team that has brought them various domestic & European trophies in recent years, but it is a team composed of players largely past their best. Mike England, Martin Chivers, Cyril Knowles & Phil Beal have all peaked. Goalkeeper Pat Jennings & Martin Peters will both have better days when they move on, down the road at Arsenal in the case of Jennings to the eternal chagrin of Spurs fans. The Gunners themselves are also a pretty miserable outfit in 1974 though. The only London team to shine is West Ham, who pluck a couple of strikers from the lower divisions in Billy Jennings & Alan Taylor & enjoy a buoyant season, with the former thriving in the league & the latter scoring twice in all the last three rounds of the FA Cup to bring the Hammers home a trophy at the end of the season.

There is every chance Spurs will lose on this day as I fervently want them to. The opposition is Middlesbrough, a new, brutally efficient addition to Division 1, as it was called then & should be now. They had visited White Hart Lane  less than free weeks earlier in the League Cup & won 4-0. They have one of Celtic’s legendary Lisbon Lions in Bobby Murdoch, a fine player even if he appears to have a spare match ball stuck up his shirt. Alongside him in midfield is the best Leeds player never to play for Leeds, the young Graham Souness, gifted & nasty in apparently equal measure. They have two of the country’s most promising attacking midfielders in David Armstrong & David Mills. In keeping with the times they have the obligatory portly striker, Alan Foggon, who would seem to be no stranger to a pork pie & a pint. He later joins Man Utd & sinks without trace. The real brutal efficiency lies at the back though where they have a frankly terrifying defence. Craggs. Boam. Maddren. Spraggon. These names to mutton chopped strikers of the ’70’s are akin to those of Ronnie Kray & Eddie Richardson to miscreant smaller time villains in London’s gangland areas in the 1960’s. They may not have carved tram lines into your face with knives or tortured you by attaching electrodes to your genitals but God alone knows what they dip the studs of their boots in. In another Likely Lads episode Terry ends up in court for a pub brawl which begins when he refers to Middlesbrough as ‘a bunch of cloggers’ to one of their fans, played by James  Bolam’s future New Tricks co-star Alun Armstrong. Later on, Armstrong appears in Porridge, another vehicle for the brilliant comedy writing duo Dick Clement & Ian Le Frenais, as a con called Spraggon. Given some of the on pitch tackles performed by the ‘Boro left back of the same name  it is not likely to be a coincidence. Prison was the least some of them deserved.

Middlesbrough are managed by Jack Charlton. I am hugely conflicted about Big Jack. Resolutely working class, fond of a ciggie (as was his more extravagantly gifted brother Bobby, who played his last game for Man Utd at Chelsea & was presented on the pitch with a silver cigarette holder by the hosts!) he was a World Cup hero & always an endearing commentary box presence, forgetting names & foregoing the usual media niceties with his blunt appraisals of matches & the participants within them. He once gave my dad an autograph in the toilets at the Randolph Hotel in Oxford. Hopefully he had washed his hands. On the other hand he was a devout lifetime member of, & apologist for, the detested Revie era Leeds. Dirty Leeds. He gave the Irish nation the footballing ride of their lives but it was ghastly to watch at times, & the 1-1 draw with England in Italy in 1990 remains comfortably the worst international football match I have ever watched.

Spraggon takes out football’s original Baldy Man, Ralph Coates, within seconds of the match starting at The Lane. Coates spends the entire match switching wings having been walloped by either Spraggon or right full back Craggs. Referee Jack Taylor gives him zero protection & poor Coates appears to give up in the end. Being bald in this  most hirsute of decades means Ralph spends a lot of time sweeping up the hugely long strands of hair he has cultivated in  a vain attempt to cover up the glaringly obvious gleaming dome at the top of his head. He looked great at Burnley & had been in the provisional 28 man England  squad for the 1970 World Cup. He scored a League Cup Final winner for Spurs against Norwich in 1973 but never seemed to fulfill his potential there. The late, great DJ John Peel was a huge fan & used to bemoan the fact that he had joined Spurs rather than Liverpool. His bustling endeavour would surely have worked a treat in a Shankley or Paisley era Liverpool midfield. His future Leyton Orient colleague Stan Bowles was less complimentary however. Years after retirement he talked to style magazine Blitz from his local while leafing through a scrapbook of photos & clippings from the ex QPR’s scallywag’s career. ”There’s me wi’ that cunt Ralph Coates! He was fucking useless!” Bit harsh Stanley.

Ralph Coates in  more palatable Burnley kit

 

Ralph does at least have a hand in the Spurs goal, floating in a nice ball to the back post which Jimmy Neighbour knocks in. ‘Boro had taken the lead prior to this & retake the lead before the first half is out. The bollocks mantra in my head gets replaced  by another after we get in the ground, namely  ‘I don’t like Spurs, I’ve never liked Spurs & I never will like Spurs.’ It remains there to this day. Their fans prove to be the moaniest old bunch of bleating  ingrates I had ever encountered up to that point. They are particularly keen on berating one of Big Jack’s ’66 colleagues, the enigmatic but brilliant Martin Peters, eternally linked with Alf Ramsey’s description of him as ‘ten years ahead of his time.’ Frankly, I would have killed to have a World Cup hero playing for Chelsea. The nearest Chelsea player to him in my memory is Gus Poyet, also great in the air, blessed with the ability to time a ghost like run into the opposition box unannounced to score vital goals, & liable to go missing for lengthy periods of the game on occasions. Peters once scored all four Spurs goals away at Old Trafford. As a midfielder! You might think the Spurs ‘faithful’ would cut him some slack after that. Apparently not. A year earlier I had seen England beat Scotland 1-0 at Wembley. After the game, autograph hunting with my friend Richard, we spied a figure hunched under a shelter in the car park. By his feet was an Adidas bag, a bit posher than the ones we usually had at school but not hugely different. Nobody but us took a blind bit of notice of this unassuming figure as he stood there, seemingly waiting for his lift or a taxi. It was Martin Peters. An hour earlier he had scored the winning goal, heading in an Alan Ball cross in front of 100,000 people. Seven years earlier he had scored here in a World Cup final. Spin on a couple of decades & people are queuing at Stamford Bridge for autographs from suits like Ken Bates & Peter Kenyon, the egotists truly having taken over the asylums by then.

There are no second half goals & Middlesbrough win, though even I am forced to admit that the overriding memory of the day is being privy to that most odious of footballing spectacles, the celebrity ref pushing himself to the forefront at the expense of the match. Jack Taylor is fresh from refereeing that year’s World  Cup Final, famously awarding Holland a penalty against hosts West Germany in the first minute of the game, but his failure to protect Coates is at best a symptom of sloppy complacency, at worst an indication of huge arrogance. This era heralded the dawn of referees  becoming personalities in their own right, from moustachioed Gordon Hill, crowing in his book how he allowed ‘honest clogger’ Norman Hunter to boot Bowles up in the air because the latter moaned too much, to the Dickensian Roger Kirkpatrick, who even took to the tannoy at half time at one game I went to lest we be allowed to forget his glorious existence for ten minutes. Worst of all is Clive ‘The Book’ Thomas from Treorchy. Thomas was such a refereeing genius that he decided he could time a game to the nearest split second, infamously blowing the final whistle while a Brazil corner was in the process of being headed into the Sweden goal by the fabulous Zico in the 1978 World Cup Finals. Anyone with the mildest hint of brain might think that if there wasn’t time for meaningful action to arise from the corner then time might sensibly have been called before it was taken. Not Thomas. Still, his name got plastered all over the sports pages from Rhyl to Rio which is presumably exactly what he craved. These self adoring berks ruined many a game. Face it chaps, referees are glorified traffic wardens, the best you can do is concentrate on quietly letting a match flow & interpreting the rules sensibly & fairly. You should be like the ideal small child I failed to be for Dad & Alan on this day. Seen & not heard. Actually, scrub that.  Ideally you should be practically INVISIBLE.

Chelsea lose limply too, the excellent John Richards scoring the only goal of the game there for Wolves. This is apparently supposed to appease me in some way. It doesn’t. Having a passion for a football team is not a passive pastime, you want to feel you have participated in the event, & there are always consolations to be  found in having witnessed even the most dismal of defeats, through the knowledge that you cheered, shouted, groaned, laughed & finally despaired along with all the other fellow sufferers. There is a lot of suffering that season & in another of those bitter ironies Chelsea’s relegation is all but sealed with a 2-0 defeat at White Hart Lane in April. The ghastly North Londoners avoid the drop by a single point but go down themselves two seasons later. Arsenal finish 16th. Chelsea win at Highbury on Boxing Day thanks to a Chris Garland brace. At that point it looks bleak for them, but Chelsea generously sell Garland to a main relegation rival in Leicester City. He immediately goes on a terrific scoring run of 8 goals in 10 games, easing Leicester out of trouble & his former club deep into the brown stuff. Their plight enables The Gunners to clamber to safety too. The top London team that season are QPR. They finish 11th. The following season they come within an inch of pipping Liverpool to the title under the leadership of Dave Sexton, sacked by Chelsea not long after the Wolves match. By this time the Blues are in the bottom half of Division 2.

I only ever returned to Spurs with Chelsea after this particular afternoon, & am delighted to say that I have never, ever, seen them win a football match, 46 years after I first saw them taken apart at WBA due to a barnstorming hat trick by the splendid Tony ‘Bomber’ Brown, witnessed with delight by my Uncle Bert, a Baggies season ticket holder for many years. Two years after the White Hart Lane debacle we visit Kent again. This time there are no  arguments. Spurs are away at Derby as we stand on the North Terrace & watch a Ray Wilkins inspired 4-3 win over Oldham Athletic. Spurs lose 8-2.  Dish best served cold & all that. I don’t laugh. Not much anyway. Perhaps the odd titter. On our last family visit in 1978 both teams are away & we go to Craven Cottage where I have the pleasure of being spat on by Stoke fans leaning over the terraces before I have even got past the programme sellers. Why why why Delilah? Because I’m there presumably. Cheers fellas. You & Ryan Shawcross deserve each other.

 

Sweet FA

Eni – One Who Had A Heart

Congratulations to Chelsea striker Eni Aluko, whose England career was ruined & personal integrity put under intense media scrutiny after allegations about  her ex England coach Mark Sampson became public knowledge. Finally, after two FA led inquiries concluded there was no case to answer for Sampson, she has been vindicated. Comments to & about Eni & Chelsea colleague Drew Spence have finally been acknowledged as irrefutably made. Both have received a long overdue apology.

The FA needs to take a long, hard look at itself over this one. I doubt it will, given its long history of generally overpowering arrogance, corruption & breathtaking hypocrisy. The case is fascinating because FA kangaroo courts are famous within football. Players & managers facing disciplinary charges are inevitably found guilty. Members of the Monmouth Rebellion had more chance of being cleared by Judge Jeffreys than a footballer generally has at a standard FA tribunal. All the more despicable then that Aluko, an innocent party here, had to endure months of mud-slinging while two successive FA led inquiries falsely exonerated their employee & members of his coaching staff, one of whom apparently once spoke to the Nigerian born striker in a mock Caribbean accent. It is 2017 by the way. God preserve us.

Your heart sinks to think this crass nonsense lingers on from my youth, where it was commonplace. Even then, it seemed to be largely the preserve of  generations before my own, the sort of nitwits that either thought Alf Garnett was a political visionary rather than a comic grotesque, or, as appears the case here, that this kind of behaviour merely represented heavy-handed ‘Love Thy Neighbour’ style banter.

At school 40 years ago there were a couple of boys on schoolboy forms with Southampton. One, Colin, got disenchanted with the prospect of making football a career quite quickly, & told me of the casual racism of senior players at the club towards one of the apprentices, a lad called Tony Sealy. He went on to have a decent & lengthy journeyman career, stopping off after Southampton at QPR, Crystal Palace & Leicester among others. Suffice to say that the first teamers he listed were household names. All were internationals. Apparently, Sealy was routinely called Kunta Kinte after the main character, a slave, in Alex Haley’s ‘Roots’ , then a popular TV series. If it upset a 15-year-old white boy to see grown men conduct themselves in this way God alone knows what Tony Sealy must have thought, although doubtless it  helped prepare him for sustained barrages of abuse from terrace cretins over the following decade. If a player blows the whistle on examples of this stupidity persisting now, then they surely deserve a more sympathetic & compassionate response from the authorities than Eni Aluko has received?

Almost as much to blame as the FA are certain sections of our beloved media, not to mention former England goalkeeper David James, whose idiotic tweet blasting Aluko & demeaning her personally & professionally has long been deleted. Brave boy the recently bankrupted Mr James, whose head would appear to be as empty as his piggy bank. We have also had to endure the unedifying spectacle of relentless self publicist & Murdoch lickspittle Matthew Syed rushing to defend Mr Sampson, assuring us we should not assume someone is a racist based on a few ill-chosen words. Hanging out with Robbie Savage & Andrew Flintoff (the sporting world’s very own ‘Dumb & Dumber’) has clearly dulled the slimy ex wiff waff choker’s memory & intellectual capacities somewhat. He will happily assume the worst of anyone at Chelsea & fit the evidence around it to prove his jaundiced case, rabidly hanging John Terry’s dirty linen out behind the Murdoch paywalls for years, not to mention fanning the flames of Chelsea hate happily on Twitter. Now he thinks social media has dealt a cruelly unfair hand to Mr Sampson. If only everyone else would just shut up & let Matthew Syed tell them what has happened. A more cynical person than myself might wonder if Syed might leap as voraciously to Sampson’s defence were he a Chelsea coach. Or dismiss the evidence presented by the players were the victims from the Arsenal rather than Chelsea Ladies team. Happily I am not that cynical. Dear old Matthew. The man who put the pong in ping-pong.

In 2012 Terry was famously cleared of a charge of racial abuse in a court of law. The evidence against Terry was limited to YouTube footage, which clearly failed to undermine his case that he HAD used abusive language towards opponent Anton Ferdinand (which had been reciprocated) but not in the context presented by the prosecution. It was an ugly & unpleasant incident which did nobody any favours, not least John Terry, or indeed football itself. Having been cleared in court Terry was swiftly found guilty by the same authority which has been furiously defending Sampson & belittling Aluko. Rumour has it that Stephen Fry reprised his role of General Melchett at the Terry hearing, donning a black cap,summoning a firing squad & also finding the accused guilty of murdering his pigeon in the trenches during World War 1. The Independent, edited by a Spurs supporter, gleefully led with a ‘Captain Leader Racist’ headline the following day. All off the back of an inquiry which had no more evidence than that presented in court. Terry was simply hung out to dry. Contrast this with Sampson cowering under FA petticoats for months, clutching Greg Clarke’s glib 14 word email dismissal of Aluko’s case for comfort. Lest I be accused of FA/Syed style hypocrisy I would simply say that we have never heard any intimation from the many black players that John Terry has played alongside that he has betrayed racist beliefs. Equally, he cooperated with the authorities & freely admitted using obscenities in the heat of the moment, not engaging in off the cuff, insidious banter away from a high-octane footballing encounter. Nobody else came forward with compelling evidence, nor indeed ANY evidence, to contradict his own version of what happened at Loftus Road that day. Sampson has flatly denied all allegations about himself from day one.

As to whether Mark Sampson is a racist, how the hell should I know?  It is likely he is prone to the same sort of laddish, locker room buffoonery that often prompts stupidity among sportsmen, & that John Terry has also fallen prey to far too many times during his career. Consequently, Sampson’s behaviour has likely been more idiotic & insanely insensitive  than malicious, a point repeatedly made by Eni Aluko herself throughout this sorry saga. Football is a world where it is possible to stay a schoolboy until middle age, possibly even longer if your name is Jose Mourinho. What the Aluko case proves is that it should no longer be a world  governed by an authority picking & choosing when to clamp down on allegations of racism depending on how it makes them look. Nor do we need agenda driven hacks & trolls choosing sides seemingly dependent on whether the alleged perpetrators or victims are wearing Chelsea blue or opposition colours.

Hopefully, Eni Aluko can return to the England fold & add to her 102 caps. Count them David James, looks like she CAN play a bit! We should all raise a glass to her anyway as she has made one invaluable, emphatic point on the issue of racism that players, coaches, administrators & fans alike should all take some time to absorb.

It really is time we all grew up.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

5p Wherever You May Be

Happy Birthday Charlie

Charlie Cooke is 75 on Saturday. The two English clubs he represented will be doing battle at Selhurst Park on the same day. 22 gym toned specimens of 21st century physical magnificence, all bulging biceps & tattoos, most of them supremely talented members of their profession.

Few if any of them will have even a smidgen of the style & charisma of Charlie however. He was the man with the dancing feet, a footballing Fred Astaire, a player who could in younger days speed past a full back with that slightly hunched gait but whose supreme ball skills were always more noticeable & ultimately memorable. He seemed to glide rather than run anyway, usually with the ball seemingly tied to his boots. When you have as much time as Charlie Cooke appeared to with the ball at his feet there is really no need to rush.

Charlie honed his skills in Scotland during the era of the Tanner ‘Ba, the ubiquitous small footballs credited by many distinguished players of the post war era for developing their considerable footballing abilities. A nation that produced Jimmy Johnstone, Jim Baxter, Denis Law & many more extravagantly skilled footballers clearly have much to praise the manufacturers of the Tanner Ba’ for. Additionally, Charlie states in his autobiography that there were jugglers in the Cooke family history, & his mazy dribbles were a distinguished nod towards that tradition, & at least partly inspired by it. Modern Scottish youth is doubtless amply populated with teenage boys who can get Scott Brown to dribble like Charlie Cooke on FIFA 18. Sadly, that fact also accounts for there being a shortage of young footballers who can do more than merely dream of emulating Charlie for real, leaving that nation stuck with Scott Brown. It’s a familiar tale everywhere in fairness.

What is the Tanner Ba’?

Always a slightly vulnerable looking figure on the pitch, Charlie would look mighty puny against the average modern-day footballer. Charlie was always deceptive though. There wasn’t much of him & most of his play betrayed a cerebral, rather than physical, approach to his craft. Watching a rerun of the 1970 FA Cup replay against Leeds does erode a few myths about the man though. His work rate is immense, he frequently drops deep to help out a frequently harassed defence, & also, & perhaps most surprisingly, manages to take out both flame haired nutter Billy Bremner & the terrifying Norman Hunter during this famously brutal encounter. It wasn’t usually in his nature but Charlie showed he could mix it at Old Trafford that night, as well as supplying the sublime chip leading to Peter Osgood’s headed second half equalizer. You can’t beat a chipped assist & Charlie’s is one of the top 3 I can remember in Chelsea history, up there with Di Matteo’s through ball for Dennis Wise in the San Siro in 1999 & the latter’s own perfect sand wedge to Gianfranco Zola during the Cup Winners Cup Final in Stockholm the year before.

I have thought a lot about the man ‘The Guardian’ once snidely referred to as the ‘rich man’s Pat Nevin’  just recently. Matt Lorenzo’s documentary on Bobby Moore includes a snippet of footage of the great man’s unlikely & ill-fated first foray into football management at Oxford City. The clip showed Moore & Oxford City owner Tony Rosser cracking open a bottle of champagne at their shabby White House ground. Sandwiched between them holding the bubbly  is a very nice man called Les who was the father of a school friend of mine. My dad & brother-in-law both played for Oxford City & my grandad was a devoted fan who once spent a summer single-handedly repainting areas of the ground. Les, like my father & grandfather, is sadly no longer with us (along with poor Bobby Moore of course) & the White House ground itself is long gone, so this blink & you miss it footage induced some heartfelt pangs of nostalgia. It also reminded me of one of the few childhood bets I both won & managed to collect on. It was a bet with Nick, Les’s son, & it concerned the one & only Charlie Cooke. Had I been growing up in Scotland in the 1950’s it would have bought me two Tanner ‘Ba’s, though I could have practiced with them for years and still been completely fucking useless.

Charlie had left Chelsea in 1972, joining Crystal Palace along with full back Paddy Mulligan. I saw him  play for them the day before his 31st birthday, in an away game at Oxford, neat & tidy as ever on the ball, but looking a little lost trying to impose his subtle midfield promptings within the hurly burly of a Division 2 game. It was like asking Andre Previn to conduct The Rubettes. By then he was close to losing favour with maverick Palace manager Malcolm Allison anyway. The Allison era is cooed over by many & he is regularly described as a genius. He had one decent cup run but spent a fortune & got Palace relegated two seasons running. Never mind, he donned a famously stupid hat during the cup run & also once got the players to share the team bath with jazz mag regular Fiona Richmond. Never mind the quality feel the swagger. He was the original talented coach who didn’t cut it on his own in management. Sometimes you just feel the word genius is a tad overused. Preoccupied with newer toys Don Rogers & Peter Taylor, Allison was only too glad to let Charlie return home to the Bridge in early 1974 for the princely sum of £17,000. Reputedly Winston Bogarde’s weekly Burger King budget a quarter of a century later.

He remained for most of that often unhappy decade, along with Peter Bonetti & Ron Harris, while fellow early ’70’s icons Osgood & Hudson departed, followed shortly after by John Hollins & David Webb. The latter two ended up playing alongside the brilliant Stan Bowles during QPR’s impressive tilt at winning the league in 1976, a team not wanting for maverick flair ably managed by a man derided at Chelsea as unable to handle such talent, one Dave Sexton. Charlie may not have saved Sexton’s job second time around but he did prove an inspired & popular signing. Such was his form in the early part of 1975 that he started to be touted as a candidate for recall to the next Scotland squad. Shortly before departing on a school skiing trip to France I boldly tipped this to happen. It had been mentioned in my old man’s ‘Daily Express’ so it had to be true didn’t it? Nick scoffed & the 5p bet was struck.

Spirits began to flag halfway through the skiing trip. Cauterets proved to be of limited appeal to a gang of oikish 12-13 year old comprehensive school kids once we had been banned from frequenting the Lunar Park, an amusement arcade near the hotel that was also near a bar run by a very jolly fat man who was happy to serve us beer with predictably Doulton damaging results. We were also questioning the Gallic reputation for culinary excellence. The food was simply horrible & meals eaten to the backgound noise of the bread for the following day’s packed lunches being cut with what sounded like an electric saw. Every day the rock hard bread & hard-boiled egg were quickly discarded on the way to the mountain & only the requisite Penguin bars retained. That’s right. Penguin bars. Tres sophistique. By mid-week we were starving & a visit to a nearby cinema did little to dispel the gloom. The village had a large poster proudly promoting the famous charms of Sylvia Kristel in ‘Emmanuelle’ but we were treated to a Jerry Lewis & Dean Martin film. In 1975! Our hunger was slightly assuaged by a crêpe pancake night in the hotel, following which I slipped into the television room at the sound of a football match taking place. A murky black & white screen made identifying the teams difficult, as did the foreign commentary, but we eventually worked out it was Scotland playing away in Spain. Poor quality black & white footage was the norm for games in Spain during this period. It was not until the end of the year that Franco died & the country began to slowly emerge from totalitarian bleakness. I know the game ended 1-1 but am not sure that was clear to us at the time. I didn’t care because one English word emerged from the excitable commentary amid the flickering gloom that lifted my spirits immeasurably. ‘Cooke.’ Charlie had made the Scotland team, & me 5p in the process. Good old Charlie. I blew it all in the corner shop at the end of the road from our school when we returned from the ill-fated skiing trip, namely my favourite Rhubarb & Custard sweets from the jars on the top shelf, distracting the shop assistant long enough to enable Steven Kershaw to fill his pockets with apples. The shop is long gone now. Can’t think why. To be a teenage Chelsea fan in 1975 was to be oddly akin to a cranky, incapacitated parent where our older players were concerned, deifying the absent who had flown the nest for pastures new while simultaneously taking for granted their more loyal siblings who remained true to the cause in less glamorous times. I was pretty happy with Charlie that night though. If only we hadn’t been barred from that bar near the Lunar Park.

I also thought of Charlie while flicking through an excellent book of photos from Blondie’s Chris Stein. There is one wonderful 1976 photo of band members Clem Burke & Debbie Harry walking along a busy New York street & clearly stopping everyone on it in their tracks in the process. They look like they have been beamed in from another planet & another decade. Both would look great wearing the same outfits in any street today. Everyone else looks, perfectly understandably, like they are in a picture from 1976. The fact that Burke & Debbie Harry, no stranger to stopping traffic in future years, were not even famous at that point only makes the picture more striking. it reminded me of the one time I was in close proximity to Charlie Cooke, as he emerged from an away game dressing room, ironically enough also in 1976. Accompanied by an elegant & sophisticated woman who I now know to be his American wife, he was wearing an immaculate, beautifully cut dark suit, with a stylish & uncommonly short haircut for the era, that familiar moustache also finely trimmed & groomed in the style of an old style Hollywood film star. He stuck out like a sore thumb against the high-waisted flares & stack heels of his largely younger ream mates, & even more among the Parka clad autograph hunters with their beetle crushing Freeman, Hardy & Willis shoes. Looking back it was like seeing Ronald Colman or Clark Gable on the set of ‘Confessions Of a Window Cleaner.’ If he had been a musician he would have been Bryan Ferry with his younger colleagues forming the audience on ‘Top Of the Pops.’ I suspect I thought Graham Wilkins & Teddy Maybank, with their mops of blonde hair & medallions, looked cooler at the time. How wrong I was. The image of Charlie strolling out of that dressing room is remarkably evocative to this day. If only the wonderful Hugh Hastings had been there to capture the moment like Chris Stein. I would pay a lot to have that photo.

Would Charlie have been a star in the modern game? He might have had to bulk up a bit, & been asked to show the same pragmatism he displayed against Leeds more regularly. A few more goals might be required too. I only ever saw one, scored in a 3-2 win against Newcastle shortly after returning from the Cauterets trip. The idea that a man with that much vision, balance & deftness of touch could not be accommodated today is unthinkable though. This is also a man who spent his formative years having lumps kicked out of him in Scotland & who worked on building sites bricklaying & hod carrying in the summer during his early days as a professional at Aberdeen. Charlie was no soft touch & he would have massively more protection from referees now than he got back in the day. He was a class act. I reckon he would have been just fine.

A shilling on it?

Many Happy Returns Charlie – & Many More Of Them!

 

 

 

 

To Be Fair

Stevie G reflecting the euphoria in the BT studio after Chelsea’s magnificent victory on Wednesday night.

There was so much to relish during the wonderful win in the Wanda Metropolitana this week, obvious highlights being Hazard’s long overdue emergence as a player of true greatness, Morata’s lovely headed equalizer & the brilliant last gasp winner that epitomized the  joyous harmony & fluency that ran through the team’s performance the entire match. All life affirming & tremendous stuff.

For me it was capped off beautifully by the presence of anti Chelsea sourpusses Steven Gerrard & Rio Ferdinand in the BT studios. It is of course traditional for both Sky & BT to fill their punditry seats with the expanding buttocks of ex pros with no love for Chelsea, nor indeed anyone but Liverpool, Man Utd  or Arsenal, but BT really pushed the boat out here, presumably because having finally found a former Blue to accompany them, in the shape of the living legend that is Sir Frank Lampard, they felt the need to tilt the balance firmly back in favour of the usual carping & sneering at the boys from the Bridge by sitting him next to two men who both have agendas against Chelsea that are well-known, deep-rooted & long term.

By full-time, however, they were left with no choice but to suck it up in front of the watching millions & give Chelsea props for a truly scintillating win. At least presenter & crisp thief Gary Lineker, the one time Spurs striker & full-time narcissist, had the grace to smile & pretend he was happy about it, & he genuinely seemed to have enjoyed the match. Frank remained remarkably restrained, but the fun for him, like all Chelsea fans, had been in watching the previous 90 minutes of effervescent splendour. It was excruciating watching the other two though. All the right platitudes were duly rolled out, but it clearly hurt. Gerrard seemed especially pained at having to give Chelsea any credit, appearing for all the world that as the words of praise were extracted from his traditionally joyless face he was fighting a severe dental abscess. He couldn’t have looked less happy if Lineker had ordered him to lick out the contents of Gary Glitter’s slop bucket.

A great end to a fantastic night.

Game For A Laugh?

Watch Out Mitchell’s About

I’m  confident that during his dismal three-year spell at Chelsea the chant  ‘There’s Only One David Mitchell’ never rang round Stamford Bridge. It would have been a lie if it had. There is a best-selling novelist with the same name before you even get to the bloke off ‘Peep Show.’ There  probably IS only one Khalid Boulahrouz.  Not that you will ever have heard that sung either. All three of these members of the clan David Mitchell do share one thing in common though. None of them ever scored a goal for Chelsea.

Mitchell may have retired to lick his wounds over his inferior Google footprint compared to namesake novelists & comedians, but for those of us given the dubious pleasure of seeing him in a Chelsea kit it is the Mitchell & Mayes situation that detains us. Namely, who was the worst striker to wear a Chelsea shirt in the 1980’s? Was it Dave, the lanky Australian with the Beadle beard or Alan, the diminutive one time QPR reject? The debate still rages, at least among men over 50 who support Chelsea & are happy to bore the tits off statues talking about that bygone, sometimes forlorn, era. I always vote Mitchell.

In 2004 Jeff Stelling produced a stocking filler called ‘England’s Worst Footballers’ naming & shaming the worst player to have played for all of the 92 Premiership & Football League clubs. I gave a copy to my brother-in-law that Christmas. He was none too impressed. He had played for Southern League Witney Town in the ’80’s & a recent club programme had featured a club supporter choosing their all time worst ever Witney eleven. My brother-in-law was in the team! Cue plenty of yuletide grumbling about people who had never played the game & the cruelty of outing allegedly crap players by the uninformed fan.

That is one, perfectly valid, viewpoint, countered by the Danny Baker argument that fans are the only people who pay to get into a game & can therefore boo whoever & whatever they like as often as they like. Then again, Baker is a malicious moron who delights in wishing cancer on fellow human beings. You are, of course, free to boo players at matches, but does anyone believe that jeering our young, black midfielder Keith Jones in the 1980’s did anything but destroy the promising start he made to his Chelsea career? Or that his colour was a mere coincidence? Most of us indulge in stream of consciousness moaning & groaning during games, it’s a symptom of caring & desperately wanting the team to win, but the systematic booing & barracking of players like Jones, Peter Houseman, Jesper Gronkjaer, & yes, Alan Mayes, always seemed spiteful & cowardly, the fan equivalent of pulling the legs off a spider.

I retain a fondness, albeit of varying degrees of strength, for most players I have seen in a Chelsea shirt over the years. Chris Sutton strikes me as an obnoxious individual, but he has never shirked from acknowledging his own failings during his wretched stint at Stamford Bridge, despite being clearly the wrong type of striker to fit into Gianluca Vialli’s team at the time. You have to respect him for that. I never warmed to Marcel Desailly either, because he seemed to pick & choose the games he turned up for, & I never sensed a great development of feeling for the club & its supporters during his six-year stay at the club. He was a fabulous player though, & I certainly never booed him. I despised Winston Bogarde (the Chelsea player selected as the worst in Stelling’s book incidentally) for his laziness, greed & ineptitude but such was the advanced level of his flabby arsed indolence we never really got the chance to boo him!  In any case, the signings of the dreaded Winston & Desailly heralded in the era in which we now reside, whereby cold, hard cash generally dictates who clubs sign & who players sign for, so the prospect of many of these players harbouring  any prior affection for the club is pretty much zero. You can have whatever view of Diego Costa you like, but he was never likely to hang around for the long haul. He’s a renegade hired gun, akin to a Charles Bronson style character in one of those Sergio Leone spaghetti westerns he would fit into so well.

My dislike of any Chelsea players since 1970 is usually retrospective, invoked when they leave & the lie that they love the club, never an affectation that Costa has bought into, unravels. Or they join the ranks of the media baying for Chelsea  blood for their miserable thirty pieces of silver. For the former stand up Andy Townsend & Romelu Lukaku, both Chelsea ‘supporters’ who showed their true colours when the prospect of greater glory & cash presented itself elsewhere & their professional instincts kicked in. Understandable, but don’t lie in the first place chaps. Or hold up an imaginary trophy on your return as Townsend did after scoring a stunning goal at The Shed for Aston Villa.  In the latter camp you have Alan Hudson, a beautiful combination of elegance, grace & power as a player, but unable to pass up any opportunity to churlishly slag the club off in the media since 1974. If I spent 43 years whining to the press about my treatment from a former employer for the price of a pint I wouldn’t expect much charity from them. Hudson does. Great player. Odd chap. Craig Burley is another, an expert on ESPN who forgets how many saw his awful back pass that put David Beckham through at Villa Park in 1996  & cost us an FA Cup final appearance. He got left out when we made it to Wembley the following year & has ground an axe about Chelsea ever since. Then you have those who just passed through briefly to stink the place out before retiring to slag the club off from a distance, like ex England defender Paul Parker & former postman & Shamrock Rovers ‘legend’ John Coady. There will always be a special place on the podium of contempt for Gordon Durie of course, kissing the badge while pining for a return to Scotland until a cockerel embossed cheque book appeared in the summer of 1991. I DID boo him when he played against Chelsea & make absolutely no apologies for it.

So why Mitchell and not Mayes in my personal league table of antipathy? I respect the feelings of fans worn down by several seasons of Mayes missing sitters & bow down to their far greater exposure to his apparent general incompetence than me. I lived in The North for most of his Chelsea career between 1981-3, but I did see Alan Mayes score. Twice, & both beauties, a low struck shot away at Orient on a Monday night in 1981 & a stunning long-range left foot howitzer in the FA Cup at Hull in January 1982. Without that goal Chelsea might not have had the chance to beat Liverpool later in the tournament. (or lose to Spurs, though Mayes scored in that match too) In short, Mayes contributed, he missed chances but got into positions to miss chances. He was appalling the first time I saw him, in a home game  against Blackburn in 1981, but so was everyone else. It was one of those days at the old, open plan Stamford Bridge, when the wind was blowing the corner flags at right angles on arrival, always a portent for a drab 0-0 with no one able to control the ball. The pre-match  military band’s hats & sheet music flew everywhere around the pitch & opposition player manager Howard Kendall had no chance of covering up his ever-growing bald patch with his large handful of wrap around hair. It was also clear that Mayes had been elected by a significant section of the crowd as chief whipping boy for the team’s overall failings & I hated that. It was bullying by another name. So I willed him to succeed, & continued to do so from a distance over the next few seasons.

I have only one abiding memory of Mitchell as a Chelsea player, which happened in his last game against Wimbledon in 1991. It was his overwhelming, all-encompassing mediocrity that irritated me so much. He never scored for Chelsea, but worse than that I cannot even recall him having a shot. Or a penetrating run with or without the ball. Or managing a cross into the opposition box. He entered a team on the crest of a wave in the 1988-9 season, a team that ended up walking away with the Division 2 title, amassing just under 100 points & goals along the way. He played in a 3-2 win over future employers Swindon. No shots or goals. He played in a 2-2 draw against Oldham. No shots or goals. He played alongside Durie at Walsall. Chelsea won 7-0. Durie scored five. Mitchell didn’t. I still didn’t boo him but he was about as much use as an ashtray on a motorbike. Some of my reasons for not liking Mitchell were irrational. His Beadle beard, the way he wore his socks, the way he ran for God’s sake, all trivialities but exacerbating my yearning to see him return from whence he came.

Which he did, sort of, cooking his goose in the process. Having been signed from Feyenoord, Mitchell was loaned out to NEC Nijmegen in 1990 & foolishly chose to share negative sentiments about his parent club to the Dutch press. Even in those pre-internet days, such a move was pretty dumb. You had to forgive curly mulleted goalkeeper Dmitri Kharine’s similar indiscretion to the media in his Russian homeland a few years later, largely because so much of what he allegedly said to them was lost in translation, the best being ‘Even Tony Cascarino, the great Irish striker, is dead!’ There are three lies in that short quote alone so we can treat anything else allegedly said by Kharine with a large dose of Siberian salt. Mitchell returned to a less than warm welcome & played just one more game, the aforementioned Wimbledon match. The game was beamed live on Scandinavian television. No wonder they had such high suicide rates. The end of season club highlights video shows just one snippet from this game, Hans Segers needlessly deflecting a Dennis Wise shot that was always going wide into the side netting. There was some light relief though. The announcement of ‘Number 9 – Dave Mitchell’ over the tannoy at 2.45 heralded a spontaneous & unanimous gale of laughter from The Shed. Several minutes into the match, the match ball spiralled up high into the air. The opponents were Wimbledon, where else was it going to spend the majority of the match? Mitchell might have expected this to happen but lost it & his own bearings, & as he looked around helplessly for its whereabouts, the ball hurtled back down from whichever galaxy it had been propelled to & hit the poor sod  hard on the back of the head, leaving him in a spreadeagled heap on the floor. Cue a second gale of laughter, one which has lasted much longer than the first. Twenty five years later, former Chelsea colleagues from the era were still to be found sniggering among themselves about it on Twitter, namely the egregious Burley, Graham Stuart & the wonderful David Lee. Harsh, but Mitchell hadn’t earned much loyalty from his teammates. Nor his manager. The usually genial Bobby Campbell was quizzed about Mitchell’s performance after the game. ‘Well he didn’t pull any trees up did he?’ was the gruff response. The message from Campbell was clear. Taxi for Mitchell. Presumably of the big yellow variety. Neil Barnett chose his match commentary of Mitchell’s pratfall as the season’s highlight on ‘Chelsea Clubcall’  a few months later, which speaks volumes about both the hapless Australian & the general state of the club. Glenn Hoddle did us his first big favour by taking Mitchell to Swindon with him shortly after, ironically the home of Mayes’ finest footballing hours as well. He did well there, & returned in triumph to Chelsea in 1995, as part of a Millwall team that undeservedly won an FA Cup replay on penalties, after Chelsea had been denied two blatant spot kicks in normal time. Fortunately, he did not successfully invoke the immutable law of the ex & score himself. However, after the game he did lead the charge towards their shootout hero, goalkeeper Kasey Keller, leading him off the pitch in triumph, the  Beadle beard still very much in situ on the face of our happy former ‘striker’ as Millwall’s delirious band of psychotic thugs celebrated in the temporary seating at the Shed end. Funny old game my arse.

 

 

 

 

 

Na na na na na na na na na na SPACKMAN!

 

 

KERPOW! No time to get the Keown Repellent Spray from his utility belt so Spackers settles for clouting the bugger instead.

Martin Keown lives in the same city as I do but in truth we live in very different worlds. It is fair to say he has done rather better in life than I have & our paths have never really crossed. His son worked behind the bar in one of my old locals. His brother assessed my tiny flat before giving me a quote for the installation of a burglar alarm. Very polite & pleasant he was too, despite looking & sounding alarmingly like his more famous sibling. I have occasionally seen the man himself prowling the streets of Oxford looking faintly bored. I can understand that. He is thoroughly rich & what else do former footballers in early middle age do when they aren’t spouting tedious & hysterically biased shite about the game on television? I did also stumble upon him living the dream & buying suitcases in Debenhams before the 2016 European Championships. Debenhams eh? ( and John Terry got stick for buying Xmas decorations in Poundland! )  Strangely, News International aren’t interested in my Keown revelations. Can’t think why.

Mr Keown also went to school with my mate Joe, who bumped into him just after Arsenal had won 2-0 at Stamford Bridge in 1993. He told Joe that George Graham had apparently instructed him to man-mark Dennis Wise for the entire match. I didn’t need to be told that in truth, having been at the game. He had done just that, & supremely well too. A 2-0 defeat flattered Chelsea that day as Merson & Wright ran riot up front for the ghastly Gooners. I never usually regretted going to a Chelsea match but we had Muhammad Ali doing a book signing at work that day, & missing that to watch another ritual humiliation was galling in the extreme.

Having said that, there proved to be another, hitherto unforeseen, top quality pugilist in the Chelsea ranks when Arsenal returned two seasons later, at the start of the 1995-6 season. There had been much excitement in both camps with the arrivals of Ruud Gullit to Chelsea & Dennis Bergkamp to Arsenal but pre-match hopes of an imminent masterclass of Dutch Total Football were soon dashed as a typically ill-tempered & scrappy  London derby emerged. Keown was to the fore in much of the ugliness as usual. Dennis Wise may have played his part….

Stopping other people from playing was Keown’s speciality & he was superb at it. You like players that nullify the top talents from opposing teams when they play for your team. You hate them when they play for the other lot. Those T-shirts they used to sell on the stalls on the Fulham Road, depicting Keown  as Galen from ‘Planet Of The Apes,’  said it all about the low regard for him among Chelsea fans during his playing career. He was an unlovely presence on the pitch, but part of a famously formidable defence which went a long way to explaining our consistent inability to get results against them. However, in 1995 we did get a result, a Mark Hughes goal being enough to send the smuggest supporters in footballing history home with their charming & not remotely grating ‘Fuck Off Till You’ve Won The League’ chants silenced for once. How times change. Karma anyone?

On top of this rare win, we had the added bonus of Nigel Spackman repaying my loyalty to the cause in missing the Ali event in 1993 by invoking the spirit of The Louisville Lip himself & recreating the  ‘Rope a Dope’ tactic employed by the latter against George Foreman when regaining his World Heavyweight Title in Zaire in 1974. Spackers was no shrinking violet. You didn’t get to play for Liverpool in the ’80’s or the Souness era Glasgow Rangers without being able to look after yourself. He was an energetic, competitive, resourceful & highly competent player. But nobody would say he was dirty. However, after an afternoon of typical Keown grappling, pushing, jostling, tugging & tearing he finally responded to an attempt to dismantle his shirt collar by administering a truly nasty, spiteful & wholly unexpected right hand jab to the back of the big lummox’s head. Keown was well & truly pole-axed, hitting the deck like the proverbial sack of shit. Spackers should have done his Ali shuffle at that point but you can’t have everything.

Violence is terrible & all that but surely at its best football plays out  the fulfilment of a fan’s own on pitch fantasies. That can mean Zola volleying in a back heel against Norwich in 2002, Di Matteo thumping in a 43 second opener at the beginning of an FA Cup Final, or Drogba  powering in an extraordinary header against Bayern Munich, just as another Champions League season seemed set to end in failure. It can also mean Nigel Spackman twatting Martin Keown. Nigel got a red card & a huge round of applause for his sins. Keown got a bruised ego & developed an apparent chip on his shoulder, which if anything has grown larger over the years. Like all those latte drinkers who follow his former team he can’t quite accept that Chelsea crashed the party, took it over & have at times controlled it since his heyday. Perhaps that’s why his media profile where Chelsea are concerned remains as sour & joyless as his conduct on the pitch was the day he got a clump off Spackers. Get over it mate. You can afford to buy suitcases in Debenhams & wander the streets of Oxford looking bored. Verily your cup runneth over.

And I was dead chuffed with my alarm.

 

 

Bury My Heart At Steve Wicks Knee

 

May 7th 1988 – Chelsea 1 Charlton 1

 

Baldness and relegation. The two main fears of Terry Collier, one of the two great comic characters spearheading the brilliant 1970’s sitcom ‘Whatever Happened To The Likely Lads?’ Terry may have been an avowed Chelsea hater but many a Blues fan will have identified with  his twin phobias at the time. No Advanced Hair Studio or Roman Abramovich to save the day back then sadly. Happily, modern Chelsea fans are spared the once frequent flirtation with demotion, all those horrible moments of collective, morale sapped numbness as another opposition goal heralded the unmistakable, combined sound of dozens of wooden & plastic seats being angrily & noisily vacated as the less hardy made yet another early exit towards the long, silent trek home via car or Fulham Broadway Station. Contemporary disappointments still abound of course.  Fernando Morientes’ second half deal breaker against Monaco in the Champions’ League Semi Final in 2004. The ‘Ghost Goal’ at Anfield the following season. Moscow. Iniesta’s heart breaking equalizer for Barcelona amidst a refereeing disgrace in 2009. The no-show at the FA Cup Final in 2017. The difference is that all these denied Chelsea moments of glory. Tough, but you have still climbed a significant chunk of mountain to get there. Relegation is different. Confirmation that you are crap. I have known that feeling three times. The last, in 1988, was by far the worst. Why? Because it should never have happened.

In 1975 the drop beckoned because the team was (& had been for several years)  jaded & severely in need of the footballing equivalent of an enema that Eddie McCreadie subsequently administered. Tommy Docherty had performed a similar trick at Old Trafford after Man Utd’s relegation the year before & Spurs went down the following season. Being relegated was almost fashionable in the mid ’70’s but then so were tartan flares, Platform shoes & Jimmy Savile. In 1979 the team were truly terrible  & overseen by the bizarre Danny Blanchflower. After a 6-0 defeat at Nottingham Forest he declared that maybe his team had to learn how to lose before it could learn how to win. Not a theory that would have held much water in the opposition dressing room where  Clough & Taylor were in their pomp. You can’t imagine Bill Shankley, Jock Stein, Don Revie, Alex Ferguson or Jose Mourinho echoing the sentiment at any point in their careers either. Probably because it was utter bollocks. One of the few high points in that dismal season was the signing of Eamonn Bannon, a terrific young midfield player. Before the year was out the club had sold him to Dundee United for less than they had paid Hearts for him in the first place! He shone throughout the ’80’s, & played in the 1986 World Cup for Scotland, while Dundee United reached the European Cup Semi Final in 1984. Still, we had Kevin Hales. Well done Chelsea.

1988 was different. The team had defenders like Steve Clarke, Colin Pates & Tony Dorigo. Pates ended up at Arsenal. Dorigo won the league a few years later at Leeds. Dirty Leeds. Clarkey, legend that he is, hung around long enough to see the sun finally emerge from the clouds at the Bridge. It was a long wait. 1988 Chelsea also had one of the most creative midfielders of his generation in Micky Hazard, a winger with flair & skill in Pat Nevin & strikers with the power & finishing ability of Kerry Dixon & Gordon Durie. Relegation should not ever have been more than a dot on the horizon.

So how & why did play off regulars Charlton come to Stamford Bridge knowing that avoiding  defeat to a team that had won only one match in six months  would see them lounging on sunbeds listening to S-Express while that year’s relegation trapdoor beckoned for a team that had challenged for the title only two seasons earlier? Well, we  all know of the detrimental, long-term effect of smoking on our health & in 1988 fags finally did for Chelsea. Stress & ciggies had led to John Neal being succeeded by John Hollins in 1985. Sad but seemingly not disastrous. Hollins had been a great servant to the club as a player & had served as coach under Neal, who remained at the club as general manager. With his wise counsel only a knock on the door away surely the transition would be seamless?

Sadly not. It would seem that the two men had never really got on. Hollins chose not to knock on the door & an increasingly marginalized Neal was sacked by cuddly Ken Bates after publicly expressing his frustration at being excluded from all important decisions affecting the club he had rehabilitated to such great effect just a few seasons earlier. In the two years leading up to this game Hollins presided over an increasingly unhappy dressing room, stories of malcontent regularly leaking into the press via disgruntled members of the playing staff. If Micky Hazard could not understand why Hollins could substitute his sublime, midfield creativity by playing a centre back like Colin Pates in his place instead (& he was not alone!) then Nigel Clarke of the ‘Daily Mirror’ was always on hand to publish a story on the following day’s back page, usually quoting ‘a source close to the player.’ Who was clearly the player himself. The relentless, poisonous dripping of negative stories to the press seemed frequently inspired by the unwelcome dressing room presence of coach Ernie Whalley, a Hollins appointment quickly laden with a training ground image, fairly or otherwise, akin to that of Windsor Davies’ cartoon like Sergeant Major character in ‘It Ain’t Half Hot Mum.’ Whalley was eventually replaced, against the wishes of John Hollins, by former Fulham manager Bobby Campbell in the early part of 1988, following a long, winless run stretching back to the previous October. Hollins’ own unhappy tenure came to an end after a bizarre 4-4 draw at Oxford in March. A three goal lead had been sacrificed in that match. An early two goal lead was squandered in the previous away game at Coventry. Additionally, while Bates was cruising around the Med on his boat, Hollins had attempted to solve the team’s problems by selling Hazard & Kerry Dixon. The return of Bates saw a swift cancellation of these baffling transfers & Hollins found that his ship had also sailed, his penchant for sweat over skill finally trying his chairman’s for once surprisingly deep reservoirs of patience once too often. Campbell predictably stepped into the breach with more than the mildest hint of indecent haste. Unfortunately, the introduction to the dressing room of Bobby’s undoubted enthusiasm &  JimmyTarbuck jokebook did little to stem the tide. Hazard’s sublime left foot strike past Peter Shilton secured a win over Derby in April but that remained the only win since a scrappy home victory against Oxford on Halloween. A dismal Bank Holiday 4-1 defeat at West Ham was compounded by a nasty injury to Hazard & so we approached the Charlton game with a proper sense of trepidation. The cigarettes that had damaged John Neal’s heart were finally about to break ours.

It started well, a bright, sunny Spring day & a lively atmosphere with a crowd of 33,000, a more than decent turnout for any club in those post Heysel days. Chelsea took the lead with a penalty from Gordon Durie after he was brought down by a Charlton defender several light years outside the penalty box. Charlton had the lanky, goal shy Carl Leaburn up front. They also had former Spurs lump Paul Miller at centre back & fellow White Hart lane refugee (& future BBC lump) Garth Crooks alongside Leaburn. In midfield they had Steve Mackenzie, scorer of a wonderful FA Cup final goal in 1981 & goalkeeper Bob Bolder had been at Liverpool. They did not want for experience. Nonetheless, the game moved into the second half with a lot of huffing & puffing but not much else going on. And then it happened….

Goals are scored in a split second. All goals.  With one exception. This one. It has now spent nigh on 30 years making its tortuous route from Steve Wicks knee into the Chelsea net, because it remains the goal I have most endlessly replayed over in my head. It seemed to take an eternity on the day, as Leaburn’s long throw into the box sparked a scramble that led to  aforementioned lump Miller’s unconvincing stab at the ball ricocheting off Wicks, ballooning up in the air, & slowly, agonizingly, making its descent, under the crossbar but over keeper Kevin Hitchcock’s flailing, flapping, giant gloved hand. Not waving but drowning. However long it took, or seemed to take, its final destination was never in doubt. 30,000 of us descended into one of those eerie communal silences. The Charlton fans & players went berserk. I believe Garth Crooks has been dining out on the moment ever since. It certainly looks like it.

The game ends 1-1. There were a lot of 1-1 draws that season. As the match ends a man two seats down from me bursts into tears. I had never seen anyone cry at a football match before. It’s like he knows that the play offs will be futile, that relegation is an inevitability. If so, he is entirely correct. Modern sporting cliché has it that it’s the hope that kills you. That was partially true in 1988. From Durie’s penalty to  a resounding win over Blackburn in the play off semi finals, there were always glimmers of hope surfacing before we were nutted by reality. Ultimately though, it was also death by 1-1 draws, John Neal’s fags, the perverse team selections of John Hollins and the knee of Steve Wicks. Poor Wicks, a really good player but not a lucky one, only spared the further ignominy of a transfer to Spurs that summer by a back problem that prematurely ended his career. He remains the only Chelsea player to have appeared in three different relegation seasons while Jose Bosingwa has a Champion’s League winner’s medal. It might take 30 years for those two disparate & desperately unfair facts to sink in too.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Not A Pheasant Plucker

 

‘My Husband He’s The Keeper’

12th  September 1992 – Chelsea 2 Norwich City 3

In the Autumn of 1990, along with a Pompey supporting work colleague & his mate, I watched a hopelessly mundane League Cup tie against Portsmouth from the atmosphere free confines of The East Stand Upper tier. Goalless at the end, my only memory of the game is of my colleague’s mate, a nice chap but not a massive football fan, referring throughout the entire, dreary,  90 minutes to our goalkeeper Dave Beasant as Pheasant & imploring him to ‘BUST IT!!’ every time the ball came to him, a nod to his considerable contribution to former club Wimbledon’s long ball successes during the mid to late 1980’s. This hardly adds to the pantheon of comic genius footballing observations but in my head big Dave has been Pheasant ever since, a testimony to my puerility along with a later habit of singing ‘Flo’ to myself in the style of Spandau Ballet’s Tony Hadley singing ‘Gold’ every time our big, highly likeable Norwegian striker got the ball at Stamford Bridge. I merely confess, I don’t ask for clemency.

Not being one of life’s visionaries, when the Premier League started in 1992-3 I don’t believe I fully grasped the implications of what was about to occur to the English game. The first match that season was against Oldham, & the main changes seemed to be referees swapping their kit colour & an adaptation to the back pass law, goalkeepers now being prohibited from picking the ball up when a teammate returned it to them. The former drew immediate benefits as a new chant arose early in the first match. Admittedly, singing ‘Who’s The Wanker In The Green?’ to the tune of ‘Bread Of Heaven’ wasn’t hugely different to its predecessor ‘Who’s The Wanker In The Black?’ sung to the tune of, er, ‘Bread In Heaven’ but hey ho, Rome wasn’t built in a day & a change is as good as a rest. The latter caught Dave Beasant out straightaway, when he thwarted expectations that his Wimbledon exploits would see him thrive with the ball at his feet by rushing out of his goal & miskicking horribly to Latics midfielder Nicky Adams in  the dying minutes of the match. Adams promptly struck it into an open goal from 45 yards. Three points were reduced to one at one fell swoop & Beasant’s personal nightmare commenced. Chelsea were playing some decent football in the early stages of the season, but traditional defensive frailties were costing them dear. Two goals in a minute were conceded at Norwich, while an entertaining 3-3 draw at Hillsborough saw some gifts to opponents Sheffield Wednesday that were as horribly inept as Graham Stuart’s dazzling dribble & finish at the other end was brilliant. In the week prior to the return match against Norwich,  a well-earned point at Anfield was squandered in the last minute as Beasant unfathomably fumbled a weak cross in front of The Kop & allowed future Sky Sports clothes horse & bore Jamie Redknapp to scramble home an undeserved winner. A horrendous, ultimately career ending injury to Paul Elliott courtesy of the hateful Dean Saunders added immeasurably to the gloom.

http://girlwholikesballs.weebly.com/home/whos-the-wker-in-the-pink

At home to Norwich all seemed well at first. Chelsea surged into a two goal lead, courtesy of Mick Harford & former Canary Andy Townsend. Robert Fleck looked lively. That remains the nicest thing one can ever say about the performance of this particular Carrow Road exile during his unhappy Chelsea career. I was not the only Chelsea fan jumping for joy when he was signed the month before this match. Tread lightly in your dreams. They might come true for you tomorrow. Fleck had scored twice at Stamford Bridge the previous season, the second a stunning volley at the Shed end which led to a fan next to me in the West Stand Benches  bellowing ‘Sign him up!!’ at the top of his lungs. He only ever scored one more goal at The Bridge in the rest of his career, a penalty at home to Walsall in the League Cup, which he celebrated like a Lottery winner returning home to find Angelina Jolie sat on his sofa in naughty night attire. The nearest he came to repeating this Herculean feat (if indeed, with all due respect,scoring a penalty against Walsall can ever be thus described) was in a King’s Road pub when he scored during a game of Bar Football with Nigel Spackman & reputedly celebrated with almost as much gusto. It didn’t work for Fleck at Chelsea but he always seemed a difficult man to dislike. The glee with which fans greeted his arrival remains a cautionary tale however, one which all fans might like to consider before getting het up about apparently underwhelming signings made by their club. I got terribly excited when Mini leaping, golf ball throwing smoker Duncan McKenzie arrived in 1978. Ditto Chris Sutton in 1999. Stellar signings Fleck, McKenzie & Sutton scored a combined total of seven league goals for Chelsea between them. Someone, somewhere, owes Alan Mayes a written apology! But not Dave Mitchell. Never Dave Mitchell.

The second half against Norwich, for all the wrong reasons, remains one of the most memorable & idiosyncratic 45 minutes of football I can ever remember. Chelsea, or more specifically Beasant, simply crumbled. Big Dave, presumably unnerved by the mistakes of previous weeks, or perhaps suffering from some Samson like repercussions from having recently shorn his once considerable mop of hair, seemed to undergo some sort of on pitch nervous breakdown, like a footballing version of that episode of ‘Boys From The Blackstuff’ when Yosser Hughes totally loses the plot. Only more harrowing. From the moment he fluffs a feeble Mark Robins effort & allows the visitors back into the game, his unease creates a communal tension  & sense of apprehension, the team starts to flounder & the crowd’s irritation & anger towards their hapless goalkeeper grows. Some generally pathetic defending leads to a Norwich equalizer. Shortly afterwards a poorly struck shot from distance by Dave Phillips is moving slowly enough for someone to begin saying ‘he’ll probably let that in’ before, remarkably, Beasant does just that, remaining on the floor in a crumpled heap for some time, his despair clear, in the immediate aftermath. The crowd noise that greets the goal is a unique combination of anger & anguish, a howling, wailing, distressed, furious, outpouring of incredulity, interspersed with the buoyant celebrations of the Norwich fans behind Dave’s goal, who clearly can’t believe their luck, & are clearly laughing their heads off at the same time.They bait their former hero Fleck but this is a mere bagatelle compared to the ugliness brewing among home fans, furious about the squandering of a comfortable lead & quick to point the finger of blame squarely at the forlorn, temporarily broken figure that is our giant goalkeeper.Norwich players moving towards Beasant to shake hands at the final whistle engenders more outrage, but this is not gloating but transparent sympathy for a fellow professional suffering a horrendous crisis of confidence.

Following the game, manager Ian Porterfield makes it clear that Beasant must be replaced. He reacts like a fan and not a professional. Not many Chelsea supporters would have said much differently to Porterfield but effectively sacking his beleaguered goalkeeper publicly within minutes of the final whistle seems cruel & inappropriate. Alec Chamberlain quickly arrives on loan & Kevin Hitchcock comes in to the team  the following week as the team win (& keep a clean sheet) at Man City.  Beasant keeps his own counsel & maintains a dignified silence for 6 months, during which time the team has undergone a boom & bust run of form which sees them close to the top of the table at Christmas, inevitably followed by an all too familiar slump which costs Porterfield his job by mid February. Any goalkeeping blunder during this period leads to an inevitable chorus of ‘Are You Beasant In Disguise?’ to the tune, you will not be surprised to learn, of ‘Bread Of Heaven.’ Five days before Porterfield’s dismissal, a 0-0 draw against Liverpool was significant for one reason only, as the pre-match warm up featured a familiar, if recently forgotten figure, coming out from the cold as the substitute goalkeeper. The Shed quickly stirs itself as news of this hitherto discreet rebirth spreads & ‘Are You Beasant In Disguise?’ gets an enjoyably affectionate airing. Dave returns to the fold & contributes handsomely to fighting off growing relegation fears, keeping a clean sheet against Arsenal & performing heroics in a crucial home victory against fellow strugglers Everton. He wins Evening Standard Footballer Of The Month for March & his wholly deserved rehabilitation seems complete. He continues playing professionally until deep into his 40’s & remains a friend of the club to this day. My last Stamford Bridge memory of him in a Chelsea shirt saw him returning to play (& scoring twice) against Spurs in Kerry Dixon’s testimonial in 1995.

He wasn’t to remain at Chelsea for long after the end of the 1992-3 season though. Caretaker boss Dave Webb was replaced by Glenn Hoddle at the end of the season & Dave’s Stamford Bridge career effectively ended when he dropped a bottle of salad cream on his foot & sustained a nasty tendon injury. You really couldn’t make that one up. Stories that his wife had remarked that ‘he will probably drop that’ as he removed the bottle from the kitchen cupboard & followed it up with a chorus of ‘Are You Beasant In Disguise?’ when he did remain entirely apocryphal.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Very Superstitious – Saliva’s On The Wall

FA Cup Winner 1997
Premier League Winner 2017

There were hoots of derision when John Terry wore a Chelsea kit as a non-playing member of the 2012 Champion’s League squad. Daniel Sturridge did likewise As did Raul Meireles. And Branislav Ivanovich. Terry copped for all of it though. Plus ca change. His decision to wear shin pads did, however, seem very odd & somewhat laughable. Until you consider his well-earned reputation as one of the most superstitious players in the modern game. Wearing the same shin pads is just one of dozens of match day rituals performed throughout his career by our apparently Satanic, baby eating former skipper.

I like superstitious footballers because it indicates they care about the outcome of the event they are about to take part in.  I don’t imagine Winston Bogarde had many pre-match routines, probably plumping for doing the same as he did the rest of the week, namely sitting on his big fat arse counting my season ticket money as he rescued it from down the back of his much used sofa. Players that do are mirroring the similarly  absurd little rituals being played out by fans all around the world on match days, all imagining that they are somehow advancing the cause of their team by donning the same, fading Calvin Klein’s, whistling ‘Come On Eileen’ as they leave the house, avoiding all the cracks in the paving slabs as they make their way to the corner shop to buy their chewing gum. Their lucky chewing gum. Nothing wrong with that. It was good enough for the late, great Johan Cruyff, who used to spit his gum into the opposition’s half before all games. He forgot to do it before Ajax’s 1969 European Cup Final match against AC Milan. They got battered. He never forgot again.

All of this should be encouraged, because there is too much science in sport now. Many of the greatest players in history have been extremely superstitious. Many have not. The wonderful Bobby Moore used to insist on being the last player to put on his shorts, leading Martin Peters to develop a habit of taking his off again just when the great man thought he was in the clear. When JT decided that walking along hotel corridors with the lights switched off was beneficial to the next match result, it was Diego Costa who delighted in walking behind him switching them all back on.

There is a nice, democratic quality about all this hogwash that forms a rare bridge between the increasingly disenfranchised fan & the handsomely paid modern player. Mundane, daily tasks become significant. David James would apparently spit on the walls in the urinals. Terry & various colleagues merely liked to use the same urinal in the changing rooms each match, though hopefully not at the same time. He also liked to park in the same parking space & also to sit in the same seat on the team bus, a pleasingly common option for many. I always sat 3/4 of the way down the coach on the left hand side on my coach trip to Stamford Bridge, or in the same place on a bus if leaving work prior to a midweek game I was unable to attend. JT also proved as brave a figure off the pitch as he was on it by spending several seasons selflessly subjecting himself to the same Usher CD before a game. Makes that boot in the head against Arsenal at Cardiff in the  2007 League Cup Final seem like child’s play.  Chelsea still won that match of course, so good old Usher came through again. They should have given him a medal.

He is not the first musical figure to win a trophy for Chelsea. I only missed out on seeing Chelsea in one round of the FA Cup in 1997, the quarter-final tie at Portsmouth. I did not have a ticket for the match. I did not have Sky. I could not go to the pub because me watching Chelsea matches in pubs is bad luck. The last time I had tried was back in 1992, also an FA Cup quarter Final, at Roker Park against Sunderland. When Dennis Wise’s late equalizer was confirmed on Teletext I had run down to my local  ‘The Fairview’ to watch our glorious extra time victory. As I passed the window on my way in I saw a red & white striped shirt wheeling away in triumph on the big screen. Gordon Armstrong had scored an even later winner for The Mackems in the dying embers of normal time. Nursing a  pint & watching Spurs exit the Cup Winners’ Cup instead was the smallest of consolations that night & I have never watched a Chelsea game in a pub since. Being too nervous to listen throughout to radio commentary I had taken to switching on every 15 minutes for score updates on Chelsea games. Not 12 minutes. Or 17. 15. Exactly. Otherwise I am hexing the team. In younger days I would startle my family by washing dishes during these 15 minutes. That Gary Stanley equalizer against Millwall in 1977. All down to my over zealous use of mild green Fairy Liquid. Later it became vacuuming, inspiring a late, late Jimmy Floyd goal one gloomy winter afternoon at Leicester in the Ranieri era. I even tried praying in my teenage years when things got really grim, but that never worked. If there is a God he/she clearly knows when someone’s taking the piss.

I am too nervous to go the virtuous route for the Portsmouth game. Instead, I stick a cassette tape in my Walkman ( last teenager out turn off the lights please!) of all the worst songs owned by barman Big Steve in my local. It is largely the mix tape from Hell. However, having been reunited with The Rubettes & Lieutenant Pigeon my ears prick up on hearing the jaunty intro to the undervalued Gilbert O’Sullivan’s ‘Ooh-Wakka-Doo-Wakka-Day.’ In truth it isn’t his finest hour, especially lyrically, but it lures me back for a second, then a third time. I keep returning to it, & every 15 minute check on events at Fratton Park brings good news. Chelsea win 4-1 & listening to ‘Ooh-Wakka-Doo-Wakka-Day’ becomes a new matchday ritual, eventually crashing & burning (as all such rituals do sooner or later) on the back of my leaving its refrain just as Ole Gunnar Solskjaer saves a point for Man Utd against us in a mid-week evening  fixture the  following season. Gilbert immediately goes from hero to zero & a new absurdity is sought. But he won us the FA Cup that season. Trust me.

I do hope  John Terry has passed the torch to a new champion of ritualistic nonsense in the Chelsea dressing room. Feeling a bit peckish before the Leicester home game last season I ambled down to the shop to buy chocolate. Plumping for a large Aero with the white filling I amble a little too much on the way back & miss the start of the game. Chelsea are already a goal up when I get home. Ah. I’m on to something here. By the time the corresponding fixture is played at The King Power Stadium in the New Year the die is cast. Prior to this, Chelsea score early, televised goals against Everton & Man Utd en route to handsome victories. it happens again at Leicester, & at home to Arsenal. Then again away at Bournemouth. There is one common theme. On each occasion Chelsea score an early goal as I waddle back home with my Aero. With white filling. When Diego Costa has a Winter spat with Conte & a big money transfer move to  China is mooted for our leading scorer I genuinely believe that losing him will be less injurious to Chelsea’s title hopes than my local shop running out of white filled Aeros. Ultimately, neither of these disasters occur & all ends well.

As a new season beckons, I have popped in to the shop today to check out the current Aero situation. Looking good Chelsea. They still have loads. Leaving Gilbert O’Sullivan stuck, not for the first time, in the ‘Where Are They Now?’ file. Alone again naturally. Or perhaps not. Maybe he’s spitting on urinal walls somewhere with Usher as they both wait for the other to put their shorts on first. Be lucky chaps.

New Balls Please

 

Never meet your heroes. It’s a hoary old sporting cliche but one that I should always abide by. In the late ’90’s my mate Bill nudged me  & pointed out a proudly displayed photo on a mobile phone screen belonging to someone  sat in front of us in the Matthew Harding Upper. On the screen was a picture of said person with Gianluca Vialli. Both Bill & I adored Vialli unreservedly. When Ruud Gullit exiled him to the bench during his first season we watched him pointlessly limbering up prior to one game. ‘Worth 27 Grand a week just to watch him do that’ said Bill with as near an expression of man love on his face as I have ever seen. Now that the selfie has replaced the autograph book pictures like that are commonplace,but at the time it seemed like a major coup. How did you get to be in that position & how did you pluck up the courage to ask for it to be taken?

I suspect former ‘Chelsea Fancast’ podcast stalwart  Chel Tel would have pulled it off. He once told a  story on the show of a drunken New Year’s Eve night spent in 1986 with the wayward (& sadly departed) John McNaught. The great aspect of that story was that John’s finest hour in a Chelsea shirt came when he scored twice at home to QPR. On New Year’s Day 1987!  I wonder if he even went to bed….

On one occasion I was merely a little unlucky in my lily-livered approach to interacting with players. In the late ‘60’s, before I had even been to Stamford Bridge, I am watching my dad play cricket in Windsor on a lovely Summer’s day. Adjacent to the cricket pitch are some grass tennis courts. Wielding the racket on the far side of the occupied court is a lean, tanned man, stripped to the waist wearing a pair of long trousers. I recognise him immediately, largely because I am obsessed with my A&B football card collection. I love the long, flat strips of pink bubble gum that comes with them & that the smell of the gum lingers on them for some while afterwards. I also love memorizing all the player profile facts on the backs of the cards. The topless tennis player is none other than Peter Osgood. Centre Forward. Debut 1964 v Workington. I look around for someone to share my joy at this discovery.  I quickly find someone & return but the tennis court is deserted. The great man has departed, seemingly in some ‘Field of Dreams’ sort of way because I haven’t been gone long. For several years after I tuck my autograph book next to the mangey nodding dog in the back of our Wolseley 1500 car when the Windsor fixture comes around. Peter Osgood remains conspicuous by his absence. Eventually, I mention him to one of the Windsor cricketers. ‘Oh, yeah, he used to live here. He’s moved now. Epsom or somewhere.’ I am crushed & never get to meet Peter Osgood. Though  I did, briefly, get to see him play tennis, seeing him score in Athens in 1971 would have been rather more impressive.

On other occasions I am simply rubbish. In the ‘80’s & ‘90’s I work in a bookshop that gets occasional visits from Dave Sexton. He is working for the FA at Lilleshall at the time, & is apparently a devotee of our Philosophy section. I am a West Stand Benches regular in these years. Philosophy isn’t big there. Kant is just something you shout at Teddy Sheringham. I once serve our extremely handsome first FA Cup winning manager, selling him some Gardening books, but do I tell him of the impact he has had on my life? No. I say ‘Hello’ ‘Thank You’ &  ‘that will be £42.97 please.’ Hopeless.

And so it has always been. I walk down a narrow alley way one day in Oxford & realise that the person walking towards me is Peter Houseman. He looks at me but I don’t speak. His face is as familiar to me as The Queen’s head on a stamp but in truth I don’t know him so can’t think of anything to say.  A decade later, prior to the ill fated 1988 Play Off against Middlesbrough, a similar thing happens around Stamford Bridge, when an injured Micky Hazard walks past me. Now a 24/7 Spurs bore, Micky was a great favourite of mine, one rare ray of sunshine in the general gloom of the Hollins/Whalley era. I still don’t speak & his company is quickly snapped up by somebody with a spine. After my parents retire to Dorset the local newsagent is former Blues,Coventry & Ipswich striker John O’Rourke but I don’t find out until he has retired. One wintry afternoon there I am walking along the largely deserted beach along the Jurassic coast at Mudeford when a familiar, short, stocky figure is ambling towards me. Lock up your wingers. It is none other than Ron Harris. He strolls by. I don’t speak. Pathetic. A couple of years later I am walking along the same stretch of beach in the opposite direction, remembering my non-encounter with Ron. I look up & a familiar, short, stocky figure is ambling towards me. It is Ron again. I still don’t speak . Again. Pathetic. Again. The truly daft thing about this is I know several people who have had dealings with Ron Harris & confirm that he is a top man, including one friend who hitched a lift off him one night & said he was great value. Although I had met him, briefly, once before, in 1976 after a game at Oxford, when he belched loudly as he signed his name in my autograph book. Or attempted to. The pen failed. Perhaps it’s just me.

I emailed the ‘Chelsea Fancast’ show asking if anyone had better tales to tell than my feeble shaggy dog stories. Had anyone ever crashed into Winston Bogarde on the dodgems at Southsea or had Celestine Babayaro ask to borrow their lawnmower? There was one lovely reply from a listener who had been woken up in the early hours of the morning by the sound of his hitherto impeccably behaved Au Pair (Au Pair eh, get you!) being noisily dropped off outside his house in the wee small hours of the morning, in an expensive sports car, by none other than the aforementioned Babayaro. The trail then ran cold but I live in hope…