Until yesterday’s well deserved Easter Sunday victory Spurs had not won at Stamford Bridge since February 1990, when one of these two women was still Prime Minister & the other was No 1 in something we once called the Hit Parade. ‘Nothing Compares 2 U? Kojak does!’ to quote another great 90’s feminist icon, the gorgeous & seductive Pauline Calf. Chelsea fans have procreated & seen those children through university in the meantime. Mortgages have been taken out & paid off. The late Amy Winehouse was 6 years old when Gary Lineker scored a late winner that day. She left us as the latest of the unwanted 27 club in 2011, itself now a remarkable seven years ago. Lineker himself is pushing 60 now. It has been a proud record, allied to the fact that Chelsea also went 20 years unbeaten in league games at White Hart Lane between 1987 & 2007. Its ending is undoubtedly painful, & verily multiple Tottenham cocks are already crowing. Social media is ablaze with the preening self-satisfaction always associated with supporters of this team, currently in its pomp, riding high in, er, 4th place in the table, one position above one of the poorest Chelsea teams for a decade or more. This morning we have also been treated to a picture of a man in full Spurs kit, pristine white shorts, socks pulled up to their fullest extent & that horrible shirt (bearing the name of the repugnant Vertonghen on its back) swaggering into his local LIDL, hands laden with wallet, car keys & phone because he has no pockets & has forgotten that no self-respecting adult walks around dressed in the style of an 8-year-old boy. The bemused look on the face of the woman opposite pushing a shopping trolley as he strolls manfully towards the ‘Buy 1 Get 1 Free’ confectionary speaks volumes. If he had been around on the first Easter Monday, after the resurrection of Jesus, you suspect the Good Lord would have taken one look at him & asked to be nailed back to the cross. Spurs have been a very good side for several years, but have won diddly squat since 2008. God help us all when it happens. Another roll call of Chelsea’s numerous triumphs & trophies since 1990 seems brash & unnecessary here. Suffice to say that I worried about this record falling when missing the 1994 match due to a stocktake at work. A two goal deficit was reversed & the unfairly overlooked Mark Stein slammed in a last-minute penalty for a dramatic 4-3 win. A point was rescued the following year by a Dennis Wise diving header from a pinpoint cross from, irony of ironies, former Spurs great Glenn Hoddle. In 2000 a jet lagged George Weah clambered off the subs bench for his début & scored an undeserved late winner. There have been plenty of splendidly memorable & emphatic victories but the fact that we were fearful of the record going several times during its first ten years indicates just how remarkable its surviving deep into a third decade has been. Enjoy your win Spurs fans, well done for your generous applause for Ray Wilkins before the match, & if you ever pull off anything of similar significance to this extraordinary 28 year saga then your current smugness may be belatedly vindicated. Not that I’ll be around to acknowledge it, partly because I’ll be dead, but more pertinently because it’s never going to happen. And don’t forget Mr Vertonghen below. He’s one of your own too. Bless him.
Supermarket Sweeper? Father forgive him for he knows not what he does. With thanks & apologies to Gate 17 Publications supremo Mark Worrall for the steal from his brilliant Twitter post here.
It’s a unique, life affirming noise, a familiar friend to all football fans. At its best, ideally in the very early stages of a game, when hope still springs eternal throughout the stadium, the moment will be enjoyed & participated in by all, regardless of who they support or where they are in the ground. The sound a football crowd makes when responding to a wildly miscued shot is almost impossible to recreate & certainly impossible to resist. The higher & wider the shot the better. I have my own name for this joyous phenomenon. For the past 40 years, it’s been a Miss Brown’s Knickers moment.
At some point in the late 1970’s I am in the backyard of the council flats where my mate & future Chelsea accomplice Bill lives. We are playing football, as kids who got off their arses during school holidays in the 1970’s were wont to do. I go for goal but my shot goes horribly wrong & spirals wildly off the outside of my foot. Fortunately, there is no broken window or smashed plant pots to incur the wrath of Bill’s neighbours. Unfortunately, this is because this appalling attempt at a shot is only halted by the ball cannoning into a nearby washing line, populated by a sparse array of clothing belonging to Bill’s neighbour Miss Brown. The main victim of my footballing ineptitude, other than the hapless Miss Brown herself, is a pair of what only be described as old ladies’ bloomers. They now differ from countless similar bloomers hung on washing lines by ladies over a certain age around the surrounding estate. For now adorning the gusset is a fresh, glistening, muddy imprint of the football of choice for all young boys in this era. Miss Brown’s knickers. Sponsored by Wembley Trophy. On reflection, I’m not actually sure if gusset is the right word for that part of an old lady’s bloomers. I was not an aficionado of ladies lingerie then nor am I now. We all have our regrets. Then again it would be disturbing if I had too much knowledge on the subject. I’ll leave that to Arnold Layne, although given the style of garment & the age of their owner on this occasion maybe it should be one for Wayne Rooney.
The match clip above, from 1990, is in truth, not a bona fide example of the genre. The backdrop is far too angsty & grim. Chelsea were already losing to their West London opponents at Loftus Road, high on my personal list of least favourite football grounds. Worse, they were losing to another penalty, & one converted by a man who used to play for Chelsea, South African Roy Wegerle, joined by further fellow ex Blues in the QPR ranks, namely Clive Wilson & Ray Wilkins. Former loanee & S**** ‘legend’ Mark Falco is in the mix too. A schoolboy packing blunder by the Chelsea kitman explains the ghastly combo of jade green Chelsea Collection away shirts with blue shorts & socks. Pipsqueak Etonian David Ellerary was the ref, already a reliable bromide in the tea of life, years before helping to wreck our first FA Cup final in 24 years. I post it merely because the great Kerry Dixon’s penalty here is technically terrible enough to qualify as a textbook example of the sort of shank I am referring to. Rumour has it that the ball eventually fell to Earth only by virtue of colliding in Space with one struck in Italy several months earlier, in a penalty shootout against Germany, by mulleted pillock Chris Waddle during the World Cup semi final. The same Chris Waddle who later disparaged a 19 year old Theo Walcott’s performance in a World Cup qualifier against Croatia in 2008. Walcott scored a hat trick in that game, half as many goals in one game as Waddle scored in 62 for England. He always enjoys a sneer at Chelsea too, does the man who famously worked in the sausage manufacturing business before becoming a massively overrated footballer. Appropriate really, given that sausages, like Waddle, are frequently found to be full of shit.
A missed penalty will rarely fit the criteria for a Miss Brown’s Knickers moment, as they inevitably lead to heartbreak for one half of the ground. The fun stops there for all but the ecstatic QPR fans behind the goal, blissfully unaware how little cheer the next quarter of a century holds for them. Enjoy it while you can lads. A hard rain’s gonna fall. For 30 seconds West London was yours. Did you enjoy it? Good. It’s over now.
One rare exception to the penalty rule occurred at Oxford United’s Manor Ground, not so long after my soiling of the old lady’s pants. With the final whistle beckoning, 5-0 up & with barely an opposition fan left in the ground, U’s striker Hugh Curran stepped up to take a penalty. In goal for Hereford was Peter Mellor, Fulham keeper in the 1975 FA Cup Final & between the sticks for Burnley on my first ever trip to Stamford Bridge. Both men are at the veteran stage of their career. Both are sporting hideous perms, bizarrely popular at the time. Mellor is very blonde & also balding. It would have been understandable if the ball had taken flight of its own accord when confronted with such follicular horror. Curran had a lethal left foot & hit a dead ball harder & better than most. He was later player manager at Banbury United when my brother-in -law played there (alongside future Chelsea striker Kevin Wilson) & I am reliably informed that there was widespread dread at the prospect of forming part of the defensive wall whenever the boss decided to practice his free kicks. On this occasion he leans back & blasts the penalty clean over the London Road stand & out of the ground. No one cares. Oxford are 5 up. If they had been drawing, or narrowly losing, there would have been much wailing, & gnashing of teeth aplenty (though not from Hugh Curran who has very few teeth to gnash) It’s a spectacularly awful penalty & a prime Miss Brown’s Knickers moment. The same end, a decade or so earlier, a ball was punctured on the top part of the stand following an inept scissor kick by Ken Skeen, a loyal U’s club man but one of many Oxford strikers who didn’t score goals prior to Curran. I also recall talented midfielder Graham Atkinson regularly scaring the birds out of the trees behind the goal at the Cuckoo Lane, as another match ball sailed into the grounds that now house the massive John Radcliffe Hospital. Good times.
Nonetheless, it is to Stamford Bridge, & the phenomenal Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink, for my favourite Miss Brown’s Knickers moment. You couldn’t get more Dutch than Jimmy if you sat next to a little mouse with clogs on in a field of tulips, smoking a spliff while leafing through ‘Ann Frank’s Diary.’ During the 2002 World Cup JFH sat in the ITV studio writing off Germany’s chances of winning the tournament. Gabby Logan asked him why. ‘ Because I don’t like them’ was the emphatic if not especially professional reply. Chelsea didn’t win one trophy during his 4 years at the club,but nobody entertained me more during that time. Jimmy was arrogant, selfish, argumentative & frequently lazy. A classic striker in other words. Things didn’t start well. The team started his first season badly & Luca Vialli was quickly sacked. He rowed openly on the pitch with colleagues, once memorably grappling with Christian Panucci. He seemed more trouble than he was worth. Things looked up with the arrival of Claudio Ranieri though. Jimmy scored a screamer at Old Trafford, & very soon I couldn’t help loving a man who loved himself quite that much. An extraordinary 30 yard daisy cutter shot against Spurs didn’t do any harm either, the mystery being how the man could kick a ball like an Exocet missile with barely any backlift from that sturdy right leg. Jimmy loved scoring goals & succeeded in doing just that, something of a relief after previous big money striker signings like Chris Sutton & Robert Fleck. He also had a massive arse & when it comes to footballers I have a small, or possibly, in this context, large confession to make. I like big butts & I cannot lie. Very few great footballers have a skinny rear end. George Best I guess, but that level of genius makes its own rules. Peter Bonetti looked like he lived on nuts & berries too, but goalkeepers are famously different, though Gordon Banks added to my theory with his ample rear. Pele. Big arse. Eden Hazard. Big arse. The real Ronaldo. Big arse. Totti. Big arse. Sir Frank Lampard. Big arse. The list, like Jimmy Floyd’s ego, is endless.
Jimmy once scored the perfect hat trick against Spurs, one with the right foot, one with the left & one with his head. His greatest strike from a free kick was probably for Middlesbrough, against Man City, in his twilight footballing years. One of the worst was in a Chelsea shirt several years earlier, when he did his best to decapitate someone in the Matthew Harding Upper, where I sat alongside Bill, always happy to remind me of my muddied knicker day of shame all those years before. Jimmy settled at Chelsea but he never mellowed. Nothing was ever his fault. Apart from on this occasion. His dreadful ballooning of this free kick into the upper tier left him with nowhere to hide. Unlike small boys in backyards, professional footballers don’t have a bolthole when they make a bollocks of things. He looked around. His team mates could not be blamed. Nor the opposition players. The ref? Had merely blown a whistle to allow our hero to humiliate himself. In these pre-Abramovich days The Stamford Bridge pitch was frequently a disgrace, but Jimmy was reluctantly forced to rule that one out too. And then it happened. Possibly for the first time in his life. Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink publicly apologised. Not to his colleagues but to us fans, with a sheepishly raised right hand & the sort of guilty face small boys pull when desecrating the contents of a pensioner’s washing line. The comparison ends there though, for had it been Jimmy’s badly off target howitzer that had collided with Miss Brown’s bloomers they would have been instantly transformed into split crotch panties.
I never did know what Miss Brown’s reaction was to my own footballing faux pas because I did the sensible thing & fucked off a bit sharpish. She wasn’t my neighbour. Bill would have done the same, & the supposed strong bond of friendship among small boys can always unravel in the face of one’s innate cowardice & an angry elder, although Miss Brown was supposedly a decent old stick most of the time. He who fights & runs away lives to fight another day as another football lover, the great Bob Marley, once informed us. Bill got his own back anyway. His mum won a football at the Bingo when I was on holiday with his family in Southsea, & I christened it by playing an unsuccessful 1-2 off the wall near the amusement arcade. It landed in the sea. Despite it being dark I was ordered to go & rescue it by my deeply unimpressed mate, & rather foolishly did so. Try getting Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink to do that.
Not an especially iconic piece of commentary, but Kenneth Wolstenholme’s words about Chelsea’s splendidly inscrutable manager during the 1970 FA Cup Final are as evocative to me as his rather more memorable words in the World Cup Final 4 years before remain to the rest of the nation. Not that the rest of the nation was excluded on this occasion either. The match remains in the Top 10 most watched UK TV events of all time to this day, sandwiched neatly at no. 5 just behind the Apollo 13 splashdown of the same year & ahead of Charles & Diana’s wedding in 1981.
Shortly afterwards, a John Dempsey goal kick (taking them for Peter Bonetti after he had been crocked by one of Leeds happy band of talented thugs) hung in the air as the remarkably tolerant referee Eric Jennings blew the final whistle & Chelsea had won their first ever FA Cup. I was 8 years old. Chelsea & I were both invincible. Or so I thought.
Misty water-coloured memories. Can it be that it was all so simple then? Actually, Gladys Knight & Barbra Streisand, I rather think it can. As we walked home from school in Oxford during the 1970’s dozens of men would hurtle past on their bikes, having finished their shift at the British Leyland car plant. One of them was a tiny man called Frankie Kowalski, who on Saturday afternoons would be reborn as a dapper figure in a straw boater & black suit, its gold trimmings betraying his role as the mascot for Oxford United. He would offer his wares all around the stadium (primarily match programmes, badges & scratch cards) never once baulking at the journey past fans in the away end, eyes twinkling & a smile never far away from the lips immediately below his pencil moustache. My god he got some grief. He used to travel away too, & even got stabbed one night at Preston. In 1970 Oxford were drawn at home to Stoke & a large cut out replica of the FA Cup was prepared for Frankie to carry around the ground before the match. Sadly, he broke his arm & was denied his big moment, cutting a forlorn figure, arm in a sling, as someone else grabbed the glory. We all felt his pain.
It is appropriate that the FA Cup kicks off in earnest immediately after Christmas. A love for both relies on a large slice of suspended disbelief & constant referral to childhood memory, but so what? We need the break from winter gloom that Yuletide offers us all, regardless of how few practicing Christians remain or the fact that the enduring modern image of Santa was lifted from a major advertising campaign by Coca Cola in the 1930’s. The difference is that we all buy into the conspiracy of lies that holds Christmas together. With the FA Cup it is more complex. Many of us still do believe in this fantastic tournament, it’s the administrators, TV companies &, sadly, many of its participants who increasingly strive to undermine it, & starve many younger fans of the true FA Cup experience that would ensure its continued survival as a competition of joy & wonder.
One match in last year’s tournament highlighted this. Fulham were drawn away at Cardiff in the 3rd round. On a Sunday morning. The game kicked off at 11.30 with a paltry 5,000 in attendance. How on earth were Fulham fans expected to make that trip? The answer is that they weren’t, the TV money doing the talking as usual. Furthermore, Cardiff manager Neil Warnock’s Linda Evangelista style post match comments underlined his clear disinterest in the process. He ‘struggled to get out of bed’ for the game apparently, the poor overfed, overpaid, pampered love. Fascinating that it is often the jowelly, boiled beef & carrots English managers, the self-styled keepers of the flame for the true spirit of British football, who are the first to sacrifice their club’s fans rights to dream of cup advancement at the altar of Premiership survival, rather than the foreign coaches who supposedly don’t understand the culture of our game. Not to mention that Cardiff aren’t even in The Premier League & the season still had 4 months to run. Does the usually ebullient Warnock secretly have so little belief in his own ability that he felt it such a burden to put out a competitive team in a tournament that Cardiff reached the final of not so long ago? This prannet is not alone though. There are dozens of notable managers who have treated the tournament & their own fans with similar contempt over the past 20 years. Sam Allardyce in his Bolton years was always prone to playing weakened teams, not to mention any number of Newcastle managers apparently indifferent to the hunger for glory that burns in their fans. When the miserable pragmatist wins out over the romance & fantasy traditionally surrounding the FA Cup then you know that modern football, for all the money sloshing around within it, is still getting a lot of things wrong.
Winning the FA Cup would have been the pinnacle for managers like Allardyce & Warnock once upon a time. The final was once the only live domestic club fixture on the footballing calendar, screened simultaneously by both BBC & ITV, their schedules cleared by both from early morning for hours of pre-match build up. This year it will play second fiddle to a royal wedding, kicking off to wide disinterest save for the fans of the two teams, & (the one thing that has remained constant since the tournament’s glory years) Wembley bound freeloaders, as ever indulged by the FA at the expense of true fans on the big day.
The decline in romance surrounding the tournament is borne out by the frequent suggestion that giving it the life support of a Champions’ league place for the winner is its only long-term hope. It is easy enough to understand. Saturation coverage of the sport has not generally broadened the mind of the modern fan, merely enabled them to insulate themselves against the backdrop of incessant social media driven venom spewed at them by rival teams’ supporters. They can watch their own teams’ games & switch off. I do it myself. More choice & easy access to matches appears to be slowly suffocating us all. The days are gone when we would let the story of the entire tournament breathe & unravel before us, happy to listen to radio commentaries & watch highlights of any ties because they were FA Cup games, the glory of the competition shining through regardless. I once got totally wrapped up in a series of matches between Arsenal & Sheffield Wednesday. I hate Arsenal & have no affiliation to Sheffield Wednesday but can vividly recall sitting in the bath with my radio on listening to them playing out a second replay at Leicester City’s Filbert Street. Now I would barely glance at the score online the following day, but the far less commercial world of football in the 1970’s succeeded in drawing me in & building a healthier interest in the game as a whole. I don’t want to go back there, & love knowing no Chelsea goal will ever be scored that I cannot get to see, but how strangely parochial this brash, gleaming new digital world has made us.
Ever since Rupert Murdoch slipped his first crisp tenner into the garter belt of the footballing authorities who used to run the game before people like him did, there has been a massive erosion of commitment to the wishes & desires of fans. For many of them, following & upholding the rituals & traditions of the game are vital components to a continued enjoyment & love of the sport. No football competition is as rich in ritual & tradition than the FA Cup, & until FIFA’s latest antics with the World Cup, no competition in the modern era has been abused & devalued by its supposed guardians so disgracefully. The turn of the century saw the processes leading to this devaluation of this fabulous tournament, that had, for over a century, provided innumerable moments of drama & brilliance on the road to supplying the end of season showpiece in the English footballing calendar. Attendance wise the FA Cup was the biggest show in town. In the season before the inception of the Premier League I left work early one Wednesday night to make the usual 100 mile round trip (plastic tourist!) to a rain-soaked Stamford Bridge to see a 1-1 draw with Southampton. There were 7,000 people there. 3 days later Chelsea entertained Sheffield United in the FA Cup 5th round. 35,00 turned up. At the turn of the century 8 years later the treble holding Man Utd were implored, in fairness ahead of their own better judgement, not even to enter the tournament. Convinced by a government lobby led by Chelsea supporting Tony Banks Man Utd did indeed pull out in 2000. The tournament has never truly recovered, with its spiritual home, the old Wembley Stadium, also staging its last final that season. Chelsea won that year but the unconfined joy which had followed victory over Middlesbrough 3 years earlier seemed absent. The match against Aston Villa was abysmal & the greatest pleasure seemed the rescuing of a EUFA Cup place after a disappointing league campaign, with the players thus avoiding an early return to pre-season training & a qualifying campaign via the dreaded Inter Toto Cup. In fairness the die was already cast prior to this, as the brave new world of the Premier League & Sky not only ushered us away from the horrors of the Heysel & Hillsborough era, but also caused a massive upheaval to a century of football watching habits. Previously tailored by the need to maximize attendances by playing matches at a time appropriate to the recreational requirements of the paying spectator, kick off times started, instead, to be guided by the advertising requirements of the companies targeting the armchair couch potato. It is difficult for this footballing Luddite not to feel pangs of nostalgia, or to wonder whether the baby has gone out with the bath water. Especially when faced with another season of the regimented sterility of the Champions’ League Group stages & the seemingly interminable Europa League, not to mention the once much vaunted international breaks. A little piece of me dies every time we lose another weekend of fixtures in order that England can concentrate on the arduous task of beating Malta 2-0.
Replays were once an essential part of the enduring appeal of the FA Cup, disrupting the fixture lists with a carefree anarchy which would cause wide-scale horror within football now. As a young man I played cricket with a non league legend called John Woodley. He had a few memorable FA Cup moments during his distinguished footballing career (903 games!) but perhaps most notably played in the longest FA Cup tie ever. His team, Oxford City eventually lost it, 1-0 to Alverchurch, in the 5th replay at Villa Park. In the 5th replay! What a fabulous thing to have been part of. Such games captured everybody’s imagination. In 1982 I was living in Hull & braved an unimaginably cold night to watch The Tigers draw 2-2 after extra time with Rochdale prior to an eventual second replay victory at Elland Road. This led to a 3rd round tie against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge. Having been postponed on the Saturday the two teams played out a goalless draw at Stamford Bridge on a Monday night. I beat the ban on Chelsea fans comfortably for the replay 3 days later (living in Hull may have helped!) to see brilliant goals from Alan Mayes & John Bumstead take The Blues through to play Wrexham in the next round. This took place a mere 2 days later. Another draw led to a replay 3 days after that. Which was also a draw! 11 days later Chelsea eventually went through in a second replay. Was it all worth it? Undoubtedly. Chelsea, then a mid-table second division team beat the European champions Liverpool in the 5th round. These are the things that dreams are made of as the then chart topping Human League would doubtless have informed us. All these replays would be considered commercial madness now. The Hull-Rochdale match at Elland Road attracted about 1600 people. All I would say is that sport extends beyond satisfied sponsors & bankers. These games sustained the cup dreams of the clubs involved. Lots of people call for 4 day Test matches now. They point to paltry fifth day crowds but millions are following around the country. I assume we don’t want to be denied future heroics like those of Ian Botham & Bob Willis at Headingley in 1981 by the grinding demands of commerce. Maybe my head is stuck firmly in the sand, but when fans talk as enthusiastically about Peter Kenyon building the Chelsea brand in 2003 as they do Peter Osgood breaking the Arsenal net in the FA Cup in 1973, I want to submerge it further.
Chelsea can actually hold their head up more than many of the bigger clubs when their recent FA Cup history is examined. There were a couple of limp exits at Newcastle & Man City under Mourinho, & an uncharacteristically appalling & arrogant performance at Oxford in the Vialli era, which could & should have seen them knocked out. When they have lost to lower division teams in recent times, they have been beaten fair & square, once at Barnsley & most famously at home to a vibrant Bradford City in 2015. Despite not having an English manager since 1996 Chelsea coaches & players have usually shown a proper level of respect & commitment in all domestic competitions. Chelsea fans have always loved the FA Cup too. However, nothing summed up confused, contrary modern attitudes towards the FA Cup more than the afternoon of January 31st, 2016. Chelsea played at MK Dons, taking over 7,000 reliably magnificent & very vocal away supporters with them. Just embarking on facilitating the slow recovery from the madness of the last days of the increasingly unstable Mourinho, coach Guus Hiddink chose a nicely balanced team of established stars mixed in with younger players like Bertrand Traore & Ruben Loftus-Cheek. They won the game 5-1. No arrogant disregard for the oldest & greatest knockout competition there. I used to keep an eye on online comment in those days. Twitter was very quiet. For once the Rupert’s & Toby’s of BBC Online couldn’t find a pithy quote from king of tweeting cretiny Danny Baker. They love him because you suspect many of them have never actually met a truly working class person before, & pandering to a grotesque apology for one like Baker is as close as they will ever get. In the last, not at all special days of King Jose, a mere two months earlier, Chelsea had lost at home to Bournemouth. Baker was in his element,spewing out bilious anti Chelsea tweets with relish. I lost count at 14. The happy, fez wearing, wine glass waving, fun-loving family man who writes ‘to make people happy’ apparently had nothing else to do on a Saturday night but dispense his pointless opinions & indulge his already grotesquely over inflated sense of self-worth. Time to climb into the Baker loft & dust down that Yahtzee box I reckon. The uncharacteristic silence during the MK Dons game did not last long of course, due to another bozo, who spoke for nobody but himself, calling in to talk to Ian Wright & claiming that Chelsea had grown too big for the FA Cup & should no longer enter it. According to Mr Baker this showed how far Chelsea still had to fall. The 5-1 win & the superb support of 7,000 proper Chelsea fans were promptly forgotten in favour of highlighting the gormless comments of one rent-a-quote gobshite (beamed in from the radio phone-in hell that our Danny helped popularize) as the moronic inferno of Twitter flared up once again. In the next round Chelsea also won 5-1, against a hopelessly limp & under strength Man City line up. Baker was off again. Chelsea were ‘clinging to the FA Cup like Keith Richard searching for the last shot of heroin in town’ apparently. Nice one Danny. Glad that 1978 joke book is still coming in handy. Had Chelsea made as pathetic & half-hearted attempt as Man City in this match, an insult to their supporters, opponents & the competition itself, the outcry would have carried on for weeks. Instead Chelsea made every effort to win the match & advance their chances of winning a trophy. How very dare they. Trying to win an FA Cup 5th Round tie these days apparently makes you the object of ridicule. Sad. The phone-in bozo was probably a kid. Others are old enough to know better. I have avoided Twitter & Danny Baker since that season. At least he hasn’t, as far as I know, publicly wished cancer on Chelsea supporters. Not yet anyway. He likes publicly wishing cancer on people. Just ‘trying to make people happy’ eh? Dick.
Even the low point of Bradford in 2015 highlighted how the FA Cup can still, even now, bring out the best in the unlikeliest of people, as Jose Mourinho, seemingly now a permanently spiteful, sour presence, went into the opposition dressing room & congratulated all their players & staff, before swiftly giving a gracious & endearing television interview. It seems a bit far-fetched to ever hope for a repeat of that now, but I like to think that the peppery old pillock was, however temporarily, imbued with the spirit of the true guardians of the competition. This includes dear, long departed Frankie Kowalski, who I like to think was looking on approvingly & finally getting to hold his replica trophy aloft in triumph. Because if even Jose still gets it, then maybe the FA Cup still has half a chance.
I always think of Ken Bates at least once at Christmas, & always at the same time, when watching It’s A Wonderful Life. At the heart of that yuletide classic is the struggle between the great James Stewart’s character, the noble George Bailey, & the black-hearted, mean spirited & vindictive Henry F. Potter, a masterly turn from Lionel Barrymore. Ken Bates is the anti hero of the Chelsea story for the final twenty years of the last century, but as with Mr Potter in It’s a Wonderful Life, it wouldn’t have been much of a story without him, & it is more than possible, nay likely, that there would not be a football club to talk about at all, certainly not one playing at Stamford Bridge. This is the most ghastly & soul sapping Christmas card from Chelsea that I can ever recall. I have a nice one somewhere of Zola bending a free kick past a defensive wall composed of snowmen. Cliched sure, but we’re talking Christmas cards here, not Hieronymus Bosch triptychs. This horror, dating from the early Noughties, relegates the players, at least three of them among the greatest ever to play for the club (the sainted Gianfranco, Marcel Desailly & John Terry) to the status of stick men in the corner whilst the least genial Santa ever ( bar Billy Bob Thornton in Bad Santa until he goes soft & gets shot delivering that pink elephant) oversees his empire of tat from the roof of its centrepiece, the Chelsea Village Hotel. Four stars & no windows looking out over the pitch. Never was one for freebies our then chairman, one Kenneth William Bates. Owner of Chelsea from 1981 until Roman’s Russian revolution & umpteen millions swept him away from the club he originally bought for a pound. The man who belies the myth that people only started hating Chelsea in 2003. Fewer people divide opinion more, although outside SW6 most were happy to get on with the business of loathing the contrary old bugger. As we face the prospect of his beloved hotel & its accompanying tacky bars & eateries being bulldozed, assuming the planned redevelopment of Stamford Bridge eventually transpires, the legacy of old Birdseye Bates remains as confused & contradictory as ever.
There is plenty to support the Bates as Potter lobby today. There always was. Past questionable business interests aside, he was a tabloid hack’s wet dream come true from the start at Stamford Bridge, dismissing crowd trouble at one away match in the early ’80’s by saying ‘I didn’t see any gang bangs.’ Well that’s alright then Ken. All fears allayed. Of course he took a slightly different approach to similar problems at home games, famously erecting a 12 foot high barbed electric fence prior to the Spurs game in 1985, attempting to reduce the status of his own team’s supporters, quite literally, to that of his own cattle. The fence was never switched on, but only because the ‘loony left’ GLC vetoed it. I don’t know. Refusing to sanction the electrocution of human beings at football matches. It’s political correctness gone mad.
Then there were the endless feuds with the media. His contempt for many of the plethora of tosspots within this industry was hugely understandable, but his craving of the spotlight via cheap shots fed that industry as much as his own, gargantuan ego. I have only ever been in the same room as him once, at a Boxtree book launch at Stamford Bridge in 1998. He made a short speech, but still found time within it to have an irrelevant & low rent dig at the (admittedly odd) ex Chelsea boss & then England manager Glenn Hoddle, & that faith healer accomplice of his, the woman who Ray Parlour upset by asking for a short, back & sides when it was his turn to experience her laying on of hands. There being press people there, presumably Ken just couldn’t help himself. At least Hoddle got away from Chelsea without being sacked, although in contemporary terms the old bruiser now looks like a master of restraint on that front, allowing John Hollins 3 years of bizarre managerial decisions before losing patience (would Abramovich have given him 3 days?) & later sticking correctly with a trophy free Claudio Ranieri, who rewarded him with a Champions League place when the club was teetering in the edge of bankruptcy, a magnificent feat that only the most churlish of Chelsea fans fail to acknowledge. He is rabidly litigious but did himself no favours at all when diehard fan David Johnstone famously sued him successfully for referring to the Chelsea Independent Supporters Association as ‘parasites’ in the late 90’s. His antipathy towards any organized supporters’ groups presumably stemmed from his inherently autocratic approach to the running of the club, which also led him into conflict with former players. The great Bobby Tambling, on meeting Bates for the first time, thanked him for ‘saving my club.’ ‘It’s my club now’ was the charming reply. The late Ian Hutchinson paid a visit to the ground one day only to be confronted by cuddly Ken. ‘I’m Ian Hutchinson. I used to play here & I was the Commercial manager for a while’ was the greeting from quite possibly the bravest man ever to pull on a Chelsea shirt. Bates responded by calling security & having them escort Hutchinson from the premises for trespassing. In fairness, when he did call an uneasy truce with certain older players by giving them matchday PR roles their case wasn’t assisted by my first Chelsea hero Alan Hudson making a tiresome tit of himself & reopening old wounds with rivals from his playing days, having a spat in the tunnel with Middlesbrough coach & former QPR keeper Mike Kelly & a juvenile exchange of verbals with ex Liverpool stars Kevin Keegan & Terry McDermott when they visited with Newcastle. Strangely, Hudson doesn’t mention this when slagging off his former employers in the media as being cruelly oblivious to his plight. Bates once walked through a large collection of us queuing for FA cup tickets. That could mean a 6-8 hour wait in those pre-internet days. Perhaps a brief chat & thumbs up for us hardy & often long-suffering supporters, having in my case taken time off work to make the 100 mile round journey to London to embark on this vigil? No. He merely strode through us all before scuttling off in his Bentley, possibly the one purchased after he successfully sued reporter Harry Harris. Off home to something rather better than a Pot Noodle & a wank you would suspect, while the only entertainment for a sap like me was listening to a man stood behind me called Melvyn agonizing over whether he wanted haddock or cod from the chip shop run his mate was about to embark on. Cheers Ken. Once again you spoil us Ambassador.
An examination of his relationship with the late Matthew Harding is possibly the best way to really taste the Marmite in the Bates sandwich. Happy to take significant investment from Harding to fund the redevelopment of the ground in the early to mid ’90’s, the two then fell out badly when it became clear that the other man’s ambitions extended beyond merely bankrolling the bearded one’s vision for the club. Surrounding the pitch with stewards at half time during the Spurs match in 1995 was clearly the old boy’s statement of intent to quell any potential protest at his handling of the fallout from his row with Harding. It was an undignified & public row that embarrassed everyone & achieved little. That Harding was a folk hero with large sections of Chelsea’s fan base was understandably galling for Bates, who had toiled to turn around the club’s fortunes for more than a decade before the insurance broker’s first investment in the club in 1993. Harding cultivated his man of the people image magnificently, wearing his team shirt & supping his pre-match pints of Guinness in The Imperial, but whether or not there was any contrivance involved in such behaviour, the man’s contribution to the resurrection of Chelsea as a genuine force in English football was enormous. Naming a stand after him in the immediate aftermath of his tragic death appeared to have drawn a line under the hostilities of earlier years, but mortality was not to stand in the way of Bates continuing a grudge, within a year referring to his old adversary as an ‘evil man’ on a Channel 5 documentary.
It is easy, & sometimes tempting, to reduce Ken Bates to the role of pantomime villain, but also unfair. Life is not a Frank Capra movie, & there were major positives for the club & its supporters arising from his lengthy tenure.(Leeds United fans doubtless have less reason to be charitable following his unhappy stint in charge there) Many people who sneered at the old man walking off with his pot of Russian gold after leading the club to the brink of financial ruin ignore many salient points in the 21 year back story. Bates did not draw a salary at all in his first decade at Chelsea. He did, however, spend enormous amounts of time fighting off property developers Marler Estates, Chelsea’s hated landlords in the 1980’s. This delightful company also got their claws into West London neighbours Fulham & QPR, imperiling the futures of all three clubs. I think it fair to say Marler were not motivated by a desire to serve football. Stamford Bridge & Craven Cottage were, & still are, clearly situated in highly desirable areas. Marler were landlords of both, & added Loftus Road to their portfolio in 1987, installing arch-villain of the piece David Bulstrode as QPR chairman in the process, the sole intention being to evict Fulham & amalgamate the 2 clubs under the name of Fulham Park Rangers (FPR! FPR! FPR! FP-AHAHAHAHAHA?!) to play at Shepherd’s Bush. Bates fought tirelessly for years to ward off Marler’s attempts to evict Chelsea from Stamford Bridge, setting up the Save The Bridge campaign & waging war with Marler through the courts. It was last-minute court injunctions and not last-minute goals that counted in the Chelsea story at this time. Bates’ rearguard action won out in the end, & his sheer bloody minded refusal to accept defeat was the reason. Marler were eventually taken over by Cabra Estates who promptly foundered as the property market took a downturn. All three clubs survived with their grounds & names intact but it was a close run thing. Bulstrode had died unexpectedly, apparently in the arms of an ample bosomed extra marital blonde, which sadly elicited little sympathy from The Shed. There are worse ways to go, although one fan reacting to a tedious period of play during a match shortly after his demise by shouting ‘I’ve seen more life in David fucking Bulstrode’ probably overstepped the mark slightly. Having won the war, Bates set out his vision for the future, & the Chelsea Village project was born. There was plenty to dislike about it, but having rescued the club from the brink of oblivion it could be argued he had earned the right to follow his own vision for the future, tacky though it may have been. My gran once knitted me a horrible green tank top. I knew I would never wear it but still said thank you. Bates may have been driven by ego and not love for the fans but he had still done us a favour, & there was little choice but to indulge him anyway.
The creation of Chelsea Pitch Owners plc in 1992 is the one touch of true genius that the 86-year-old doubtless pats himself on the back about as he enjoys his twilight years in Monaco. By creating a scheme that allowed supporters to buy into a non-profit organization owning both the Stamford Bridge pitch & the club name, he instantly devised a way to ward off future property developers intent on removing the club from its home since 1905. It has also frustrated the current owner’s plans to move the club to a new stadium, although it may never have been necessary for him to think along those lines if Chelsea Village’s hotels, bars & restaurants hadn’t eaten so heavily into the acreage. I feel sad when ANY football club leaves its home for one of these identikit new stadiums. To see Chelsea leave Stamford Bridge would be unbearable. It is both ironic & hugely rewarding that a club often derided as having no history has fought harder than any to preserve its considerable heritage, ‘plastic’ fans and all. Props to Chairman Ken for his part in that.
He was a man out of time at Leeds, & definitely in the wrong place. He had fallen out quickly with the new regime at Chelsea, & gleefully played out the feud in public, fuelled by his old club luring two promising youngsters away from Elland Road. When Chelsea reported him to the FA following further provocative comments he gleefully retorted that he hadn’t ‘laughed so much since ma got her tits caught in the mangle.’ The old ones are the best eh Ken? Sleights of hand about details of ownership & hiking up ticket prices were never going to win over the Leeds faithful, & attempting to recreate the Chelsea model on the pitch via the appointment of Dennis Wise as manager seemed insane. Nowhere are Chelsea more despised than Leeds. Dirty Leeds. Club owners were once local boys made good, butchers & scrap metal dealers. Bates came along later as one of a clutch of more maverick businessmen. Now it is oligarchs, multi-nationals or indeed entire countries who control the biggest clubs. The old boy’s race was run.
Bates had simply had his day, but what a peculiar day it was. Unpleasant side effects of his MO remain in football. When the ground redevelopment was taking place in the early to mid 1990’s he took to relocating away fans in the top-tier of the East stand, reducing their ability to affect the atmosphere while charging them the then astronomical sum of £25 into the bargain. Rival clubs & their fans squealed in indignation but Chelsea fans have been regularly treated similarly ever since, the recent capping of prices for away fans at Premier League grounds being a welcome & long overdue innovation. His contempt for any kind of input from fan groups, while not unique to him among club owners, always stuck in the craw, as did his disdain for many who had contributed to club glories prior to his era as owner. He was known to be generous to those he liked, settling a sizeable debt from Sam Hamman’s Wimbledon to Dennis Wise when he signed for Chelsea in 1990 & helping Kerry Dixon sort out financial problems caused by his gambling addiction. He could be fun too, & sometimes indulged his taste for it at the expense of those who fully deserved it. The repulsive David Evans was one. Having banned all away fans from games at Kenilworth Road, the right-wing Tory MP & Luton Town chairman was outraged when Bates gave Director’s Box tickets away to regular Chelsea fans, forcing the Luton elite to share their afternoon with people in Harrington jackets, jeans & trainers responding to the action with gusto. The singing & shouting was somewhat muted by a 1-0 defeat but Evans still stated his intention to boycott the Chelsea VIP area for the return match & stand on the terraces with the Luton massive. It didn’t happen, but Bates’ programme notes on one Luton visit were a joy, assuring their fans that they shouldn’t be alarmed by ranks of blue & white clad fans at the other end of the ground to them, they were simply opposition supporters & considered quite normal at most stadiums. Your move Mr Evans.
I haven’t got the energy for a Ken Bates running my club in 2017, although he probably still has. Whatever anyone thinks of him, they certainly won’t forget him. For those who wish he had never got involved in football the ‘no Bates, no Chelsea’ line can still be rolled out. For Blues fans that has to be the cause for celebration, but so too should it be for massed ranks of Chelsea hating online trolls & Scouse, Manc & Gooner infused mainstream media bores alike. Let’s face it, without Chelsea who would you all have left to hate dear boys?
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 standing on 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 three 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. Metaphorically, they remain eternally filthy to many, due to his being 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 seen.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.