Let’s Play Master & Servant

Sunday January 26, 1997

Chelsea 4  Hughes (50) Zola (58) Vialli (63,76)

Liverpool 2  Fowler (10) Collymore (21)

Attendance 27,950

Two days ago Chelsea beat Luton Town 3-1 in this year’s FA Cup 4th Round, at a bleak, snowy Stamford Bridge. Fan & atmosphere free, it was a joyless, bloodless, undernourished pastiche of a real cup tie. Yesterday saw the sacking of Frank Lampard. Mr Abramovich & his boardroom lackeys may or may not recruit (& shortly after sack) better coaches in the next few years. They certainly won’t appoint anyone who understands the club & its genuine supporters better. Social media has been packed to the rafters with oddball anti-Lampard trolls during the recent barren run that all top sides have had to endure at some point in this oddest of seasons. The nadir was reached when Frank’s wife recently announced her pregnancy on Instagram. One Chelsea ‘fan’ responded by imploring her to miscarry. You can’t help but wonder if the Lampards aren’t better out of it. Vile, disembodied voices like this seem to resound & find audiences more readily than normal at present, or is it simply that the true fans cannot drown out perennial backgound malevolence by showing the appropriate trademark love for a legend like Frank Lampard at matches?

Recalling my favourite ever Chelsea game, which took place 24 years ago today, is a welcome release from the all pervading sourness around Chelsea Football Club at present, & I  pity the haters, most of whom have likely never even visited Stamford Bridge, let alone enjoyed the vibrant, manic, action packed match I am about to try & describe. Reliving both the events on the pitch & the crowd reaction to those events is all the more poignant given present pandemic circumstances.

“It is only by way of pain one arrives at pleasure” – Marquis de Sade

Operation Spanner. The title of a book recalling the managerial hiring & firing policies of Roman Abramovich since 2003? No. It is actually the name of a cause celebre that reverberated around the British (& eventually European) law courts for nigh on a decade following the Greater Manchester Police being handed the first of a series of videotapes in the autumn of 1987. These contained a variety of wince inducing acts of violence committed & received by men. A nail was passed through a hole in a foreskin prior to said nail being hammered into a block of wood. Ouch. The man’s penis was then subjected to a series of cuts with a scalpel. Double ouch. Leather straps, canes & nettles were used as objects of torture, with some branding thrown in for good measure too. Hair dryers & ice cubes came into play as instruments for alternate supplies of painful hot & cold  applications to the genitals. Hot wax & ball weights were involved. Ball weights?  One man had his testicles sandpapered. Try that on me & you would definitely need to put a dust sheet down. Expecting to discover a trail of grotesquely injured & possibly dead bodies the police instead tracked down a group all steadfast in claiming all the activity was consensual. As gay men in an era when more conventional sexual practices could be a death sentence many civil liberties campaigners supported their right to evade criminal procedures for indulging their preferences, odd & unfathomable as they appeared to many others. In 1989 16 men were eventually charged with a range of offences. This at least deflected The Sun from lying about Hillsborough for a while. 8 men were eventually jailed & 3 unsuccessfully appealed to the European Court Of Human Rights around the time this match was played, a decade on from the beginning of the original investigation. Caning a man’s cock & inflicting injury, willing victim or not, was thus officially unlawful as well as an affront to the sensibilities of the guardians of social morality. An Englishman’s home maybe his castle, but lose the scalpel & the ball weights matey. Ball weights?

One thing still baffles me now. Other avenues of suffering existed in the mid to late 1980’s. It was  possible for grown men to inflict  pain & torment on each other, to torture themselves & watch others endure unimaginable agonies at the same time. Legally & played out in public, all for a fiver apiece. Just get yourself & your pals along to Stamford Bridge once a fortnight, where John Hollins & Ernie Walley were respectively manager & coach of Chelsea Football Club. The Operation Spanner crew may still have ended up feeling like they were serving some kind of a  sentence, albeit in an open prison, but think of the saving in hot wax & nails.

Happily, by 1997 watching Chelsea had become fun again. We all loved player-manager Ruud Gullit almost as much as he loved himself, & a cosmopolitan & flamboyant team was being constructed. Like the 1970 team it emulated when winning the FA Cup, this Chelsea team could be as infuriating & inconsistent as it was often brilliant, & unlike the sides imprisoned in the Hollins/Whalley era it was rarely dull. I am advised by people with drug knowledge that a shot of pure China White heroin is likely to be the pathway to a blissful death should you be bedridden when the moment comes. I would settle for shutting my eyes & enjoying a 25 minute rerun of the second half of this extraordinary FA Cup tie, starting with Mark Hughes opening the Chelsea scoring & concluding with Gianluca Vialli (or ‘Gianluca Of Vialli’ as John Motson excitedly mispronounces his name at one point in match commentary) heading his second & Chelsea’s fourth goal 25 minutes later. This insane, pulsating, thrilling match had everything & is undoubtedly my favourite Chelsea game of all time. It would be crass to say that this game enabled its spectatators to completely cover the waterfront of human emotional responses, but it is difficult to think of many life experiences that enables us to be aquainted with such a variety of them over such a short period of time. In the final at Wembley four months later a stunning Roberto Di Matteo strike after 43 seconds gave me one of my happiest single memories ever, but as a consequence we spent the next 89 minutes wishing for nothing but the sound of the final whistle. Imagine going to see Prince in the same era, hearing him start with a stellar version of Little Red Corvette & immediately wanting to pack up & go home after that on the grounds it can’t get better. No music fan reacts like that. Football supporters do. For an hour this Liverpool game was a tortuous, painful, bleak & embarrassing nightmare for Chelsea fans. Less than an hour later it was Liverpool fans left with the feeling that someone had just nailed their todgers to a collective block of wood. Both sets of supporters enjoyed the extreme discomfiture of the other as events unravelled. Sadomasochism was alive & well at Stamford Bridge on this chilly January day. However it was blue joy that was unconfined  as we spilled out of the Stamford Bridge forecourt to the exits, gliding across fresh layers of black ice now forming on the pavement courtesy of countless recently deposited Liverpudlian tears.

My physical & emotional responses to this match on the day, from several hours before kick off until the end of the day, can broadly be broken down as follows:-

  • Twitchy apprehension
  • Increasing tension & nervousness
  •  A growing sense of impending doom
  • Despondency as this pessimism increasingly seems to be justified
  • Dejection
  • Disillusionment
  • Fear of abject humiliation.
  • Anger
  • Resignation
  • Laughter in the face of adversity & opposition scorn
  • Forlorn clinging to any remaining shreds of hope
  • Cautiously embracing a heartening & unexpected lifeline
  • Simultaneous relief & delight
  • Ecstasy
  • Hyterical ecstasy
  • Euphoria

Euphoria after a football match ends usually subsides to be replaced by the need for sleep within hours. This time it survived through the rest of the day & for several days after. Roll the rollercoater video.

 

After 27 years of much suffering I was attuned to my careworn brand of masochism, but the sadistic glee I took from seeing Liverpool fans squirm was a little surprising. Usually I responded to glorious victory by saying little or nothing to followers of the vanquished opposition, remembering how irksome their crowing had been to me on the more usual occasions that the boot had been on the other foot. Not reacting in kind threw them, giving me a moral high ground (possibly illusory) on top of the other spoils of victory, a sort of kind to be cruel tactic. Outwardly I maintained this even on this occasion but inwardly there was an additional glow. Liverpool were different, a fanbase never slow to gloat, not attuned to much on the pitch adversity themselves. I had been scoffed at enough by Liverpool fans over the years. I had earned that additional inner, glow, tinged with sadism as it was.

‘It’s so so easy being a Liverpool fan isn’t it?’ said Dave to his pal Euan, observing their victorious opponents swaggering into the Birmingham night all around them as they make their way to the car for the weary trudge home. It is April 1992 & after two matches & four hours of FA Cup Semi-Final football, during which Liverpool have never once been ahead, their team Portsmouth have finally tanked miserably in the penalty shootout at the end of this goalless Villa Park replay. Euan has flown back from Australia especially for the match. Quite possibly he may have mentioned this a few times in the intervening years. For Liverpool it’s another day at the office. Another Cup Final beckons. Doubtless they are delighted to win but their ecstasy appears to be on a vastly diminished scale to Euan & Dave’s deflation. Dave was right in the purest footballing sense, but off the pitch Liverpool as a city as well as a fanbase had plenty to contend with back then, not least the club’s presence at two of three hideous stadium disasters. What Dave cannot be expected to know is that Liverpool’s predominant position within English football, which has lasted since the early 1970’s, is about to be put on hold for at least a quarter of a century. They will still be major players but not the biggest boys in the playground. Manchester United will win the league for the first time in 26 years the season after this game, & enjoy a  spectacular twenty years of similar triumphs until Sir Alex Ferguson retires in 2013. Arsenal will be their main rivals for many of the coming years, winning the Premier League without losing a game in 2004.  I experience a similar sensation to Dave & Euan at a rain soaked Wembley Stadium Rail Station after Man Utd clinch the Double in 1994. Their fans regularly prove to be vainglorious, glib & smug in victory. Think scores of Terry Christian clones. Yeah, that unbearable. Arsenal fans are generally glib & smug anyway, it’s in the Gooner genes. When Chelsea’s turn arrives in the noughties the sense of entitlement escalates horribly & very, very quickly. Having had far more barren years than the aforementioned clubs you might expect Blues fans to have a bit more humility, but in truth it is pretty well concealed, especially in the first era of Jose Mourinho, always a man whose default standpoint of more talent than grace rarely strays far from the surface. I have gone into fan exile by then, happy that the club are thriving, but uncomfortable at the financial doping that both accompanies & fuels this success. Somebody refers to me as a foul weather fan at the time. Others see the timing of my exit from the Matthew Harding Upper as mere perversity.

Hindsight thus permits us to view the bumptiousness of Liverpool fans in the last quarter of the twentieth century with a little more tolerance. A little more. Numerous league titles & 4 European Cups in seven years would warp anyone’s perspective as well as  blowing their mind. Contending with the recent horrors of Heysel & Hillsbrough was anything but easy, unimaginably awful in fact. On the pitch failure was usually a stranger, but beneath it all their fans were not hugely different to anyone else’s. I stood on The Kop once. In 1982, a disappointing 0-0 draw against bitter enemies Man Utd. After half an hour without a goal supporters around me started getting on the back of one of their forwards,  struggling for form & goals at the time. His Name? Kenny Dalglish, quite possibly their greatest ever player. Dalglish soon returned to his brilliant best, but the speed with which terrace impatience manifested itself on the day was telling. The club’s recent renaissance under Jurgen Klopp has reminded many of us of the stuff that was unbearable all those years ago. The endless, nauseating media love & the Scouse not English, People’s Republic Of Liverpool bollocks, as if nobody else in England rejected Brexit in 2016 & a Johnson administration in 2019. This member of the electorate but would doubtless be regarded as both a Chelsea Tory boy by many Merseysiders, keen to invoke negative cliches on the likes of me that they understandably resent when similarly broad & sloppy sweeps of the stereotype brush are applied to themselves. As it can be with Chelsea fans I did encounter Liverpool followers in the 1980’s through until the early ’90’s only too happy to conform to the steretype. Dave, the emigre Scouser, who spent many a Friday afternoon & early evening in my local bemoaning that Oxford ‘wasn’t a place for a real drinking man, not like Liverpool’ while spending years living in Oxford & seemingly doing little else beyond proving that the city actually provided ample recourse for the drunken bore. There was the unbearable young woman I spent two days with on a course, who championed all things Liverpool & trashed all things southern constantly. It later transpired this was her first visit to the south & throughout it she never once left the site of the course, an Alan Partridge like travel tavern on the outskirts of Oxford. One late ’80’s summer night in the pub a lairy young Koppite had me pointed out as a Chelsea fan by an unhelpful & idiotic work colleague. ‘Yeah, he looks like a fuckin’ southerner’ he exclaimed, leering at me scornfully from the bar. A southern born man, living in the south, in a southern pub, looking like a southerner. Spotter’s badge Mr Einstein. Some of us wear our place of origin more lightly than others, accepting it as an accident of birth rather than something that has to define us. I must try walking into a Liverpool pub one day & trying the same routine in reverse, &  doubtless could look forward to sampling some of that much vaunted superior northern friendliness in the  process.

Football was an escape from an unhappy period at work throughout this 1996-7 season. Inconsistency, including too many home draws, & a 2-4 mugging by Wimbledon, failed to dampen my enthusiasm at being able to watch the likes of Lebouef, Petrescu, Vialli, Di Matteo & the recently arrived Gianfranco Zola weave their magic. I broken my leg in July during a kick about on an all weather pitch & spent the rest of the summer in a large plaster cast not apeing the one sported by Oliver Hardy in the sublime County Hospital. Stan Laurel doesn’t bring me any hard boiled eggs & nuts but my first journey of any distance gets me to Stamford Bridge to see Roberto Di Matteo score the first home goal of the season in a mid-week game against Middlesbrough, Juninho, Ravanelli & all. Too embarrassed to use the lifts I struggle up & down the steps to & from my seat in the Matthew Harding Upper & arrive home exhausted as a result of this brainless act of bravado. When Frank Lebouef cancels out Andy ‘Judas’ Townsend’s opener for Aston Villa a few weeks later the false teeth of the man next to me fall out in the celebrations. As he scrambles haplessly around my oversized cast in  search of them I fear I am about to be the unwilling recipient of an accidental act of fellatio. At least he already had his teeth out.

My 6 year old nephew Nick’s remarkably accurate depiction of my broken leg incident in July 1996. He had hitched his star to Liverpool Football Club by the time the FA Cup tie in 1997 came around, & I am reliably informed that he burst into tears as Chelsea’s remarkable second half renaissance unfurled in front of his sorrowful young eyes back home on BBC1.

This one is from my friend Andy’s son Matt (scarily now older today than I was then). Following his unwise decision to support Man Utd I had given him a few old programmes from Cup Finals & games at Old Trafford over the years. I fear  ‘Sporting Hero’ may be pushing it somewhat!

Eventually returning to work I am overlooked for promotion, correctly as my rising bitterness has affected my performance & added to a growing lack of respect between myself & immediate colleagues, mutual & justified from both sides, but nothing compared to the contempt I feel for the mendacious, cowardly, & arrogant standards of management on display higher up the ladder. This is a family firm where brothers refuse to be seen in the same room as brothers. The chairman would have suited the football world to a tee. Every two or three years he makes an inappropriate high level appointment, presents them as a new messiah, tires of his new toy & pays them a handsome lump sum to disappear prematurely into the sunset. Sound familiar? The current retail MD  has had his honeymoon period & is on the verge of being deposited into an affluent wilderness. When he  disapproves of something in my department he puts an angry note in the customer suggestion box rather than deign to speak to shopfloor guttersnipes like me. Staggeringly puerile. Other members of the management team kowtow to this weapon, displaying little respect for anyone else in the process, not least themselves.  He is supposedly a ladies’ man, despite being an arrogant, socially inept dick looking like post-Roxy Music era Brian Eno on a spectacularly bad day. Minus the talent.  ‘It’s in the eyes’ says the shop manager. I suspect it’s more in the job title & wallet but can’t comment on the eyes as the  brave soldier has avoided eye contact with anyone in our department since the pathetic suggestion box fiasco. Eno does go beyond eye contact with at least one deluded female member of staff, caught in flagrante in his (doubtless deliberately)  unlocked office by another member of the managerial team, a classic, cringey, paper shuffling,’I’ll Come Back Later’  No Sex Please We’re British moment. What was her name? Virginia Plain reputedly. I may have been mediocre but strangely had usually used our office to conduct book related tasks rather than turning it into a filing cabinet, paper clip & sellotape filled alternative brothel. While he is being paid an inflated salary to boost his inflated ego by inserting his sweaty, inflated phallus into the lower orifices of the terminally dim, half hearted secondments are offered to me in the wake of my failed job interview. It is considered desirable to put some distance between me & the new boss in my existing department. They don’t trust me to conduct myself with enough professional decorum to assist the new incumbent on his arrival the day after the Liverpool match. They had trusted me to run the department during the massively busy Christmas period of course. Politely declining any exciting new side alleys I instead take two weeks holiday leading into the Liverpool match. I promptly go down with the flu. Happy New Year.

It is more than my traditional Eeyore fearing the worst pre-match tension that makes me fear the worst as I make my way to London on the day of the match. Liverpool are top if the league, but I am less concerned by the early season 5-1 gubbing they handed out at Anfield than our recent avenging of this defeat on New Year’s Day courtesy of a neat, first half Roberto Di Matteo finish. A cup game shortly after a league encounter between two clubs frequently comes up with a different result. The match tickets arrive alarmingly & unusually late & are for the Matthew Harding Lower. Bill & I have largely plumped for  Upper since sitting in Lower for the first game ever in the  stand, a 1-0 home defeat to Everton in November 1994.  Being sat there fuels my superstitious side in a bad way. On taking our seats we find we are scrunched together at the back of the stand, & a decent view of most of the pitch can only be achieved by straining the head at a slightly odd angle. Claustrophobic & uncomfortable, the discomfort is soon accentuated by the first half action. Liverpool score twice at the deserted Shed End, then under reconstruction, through Robbie Fowler & Stan Collymore. They should have scored more. A well placed Fowler heads wide, Steve McManaman shoots weakly instead of squaring the ball to Fowler for an easy tap in. McManaman also dribbles a shot mere inches past Kevin Hitchcock’s right hand post. Chelsea don’t get started. The recently out of favour Gianluca Vialli neatly evades a Liverpool defender only to balloon over the bar horribly with only David James to beat. Otherwise the best effort is a long range, right foot drive by Scott Minto, & when your best effort is a long range right foot drive by your left back you know you’re in trouble. Half time comes &  0-2  is, if anything, a relief. As the teams leave the field Dennis Wise overhears John Barnes say ‘ this is easy, no problem’ to Robbie Fowler. Few could have disagreed with this appraisal of events  at that moment.

Bewitched

Scouse joy unconfined as their team leads & dominates

Half time is usually respite, sometimes a temporary life raft before an impending monsoon but at least renewed hope, however foolhardy, can be allowed to breathe & expand. Here it appears to be stifled at birth. Half times at Chelsea are dominated by the pitchside antics of Neil ‘Spy’ Barnett, a man inordinately fond of the sound of his own voice at the best of times. This is not the best of times but Neil either misreads the mood horribly or bravely invites the noisy scorn from the Liverpool fans that his fuckwitted intervention invites on this occasion. Thay are massed in the East Stand Lower tier,  next to where Spy dispenses his traditionally smartarsed pitchside addresses. Amongst the ususal announcements, Chelsea Pitch Owers Share purchases & the score & scorers of the youth team’s morning 6-3 win over Gillingham, he will frequently make provocative, humorous asides at the opposition fans with varying degrees of success. A former player will  be introduced & that man today is Eric ‘Rabbit’ Parsons. It would have been ungallant to cancel this but Neil gives it the big ‘un when introducing Eric, including the fact that he was in our Championship winning team, then our ONLY Championship winning team, back in 1955 no less. Liverpool have won 18 Division 1 titles at this point. Had we known there would be no advance on this until 2020 during which Chelsea would win the league 5 times Neil’s unveiling of dear old Eric might not have tickled Scouse funny bones as much as it did. Clearly nobody did know this, so Neil bigging up our sole title win in front of a fanbase with 17 more of the same was staggeringly cretinous. Barnett could have done the introduction in a more understated way & kept all the same informtion in the same process, but Neil doesn’t do understated, so there is a dramatic sweep leading to  Eric’s pitch entrance. ‘He’s 73 now’ he bellows & on hobbles the former winger, now on a walking stick. Cheers Spy. Scouse glee knows no bounds. In all honesty you can’t blame them but at this moment I don’t want to live this life anymore. (a reminder at this point that this is my favourite Chelsea match ever!)

Barnett’s love of the spotlight has seamlessly played into opposition hands & our misery appears all but complete. Despair turns to rage for Bill as Barnett continues to crap on rather than slink away like any normal person with a semblance of humility would do after opening a 73 year old man up to quite unwarranted ridicule. I want everything to stop, the game to be cancelled, to call it quits & slink back home. The thing Bill most wants to stop is Neil Barnett. ‘What are we getting next, a fucking meat draw’ he shouts in frustrated fury as Spy’s self absorbed waffle continues unabated.  I need this. Nobody else but me responds in any way or laughs. Bill is apolplectic. The combination of his rage & the absurdity of this entire interlude transfers me from a state of despair to one of helpless laughter. For the first time all afternoon I am, perversely, beginning to enjoy myself. Years later we go to a 3rd round FA Cup tie at Watford & they actually DO have a half time meat draw on the pitch. Fortunately Neil Barnett is unavailable for comment. We’ve heard quite enough from Neil by then.

Minto is replaced at half time as Ruud rolls the dice & puts Mark Hughes up alongside Vialli. Sparky is a famously rugged & spiteful physical presence &  Norwegian defender Bjorn Kvarme,Liverpool’s newest signing, is about to experience a 45 minute footballing hurricane his Anfield career never really recovers from. Hughes has form against Liverpool from his glory years at Old Trafford. I can even remember a loud radio commentary reporting him scoring as I waited to board a packed post-match tube train back to Victoria at Fulham Broadway late one Wednesday evening. We cheered the goal. Cheering a Man Utd goal was rare, cheering a goal scored against Liverpool less so. Alongside Kvarme in the Liverpool defence is England’s Mark Wright, who went to school in Oxford a few hundred yards away fom where I am typing this. Dominic Matteo is also in the centre of the Liverpool rearguard, with Stig Inge Bjornebye at left back & Republic of Ireland international Jason McAteer at right back. McAteer is the star of a shampoo advert for Wash & Go around this time. He is a perfectly pleasant looking man, but I am led to believe this is a prime time for  handsome footballers, Davids Beckham & Ginola to the fore. In this match alone there is the aforementioned Scott Minto & Jason’s pretty boy colleagues Patrik Berger & Jamie Redknapp. You suspect the big cheese at Wash & Go settled on Jason after a flurry of rejections, but fair play to him anyway, a decent player who seems like a good lad & shares my healthy dislike of Roy Keane to this day, not least his confirmation that the latterday eccenticities & perversity of the latter’s wildly overrated punditry are a carefully contrived & bogus construction.

Hughes arrival sparks a turnaround in fortunes so dramatic that McAteer’s shiny haired head will be spinning by the final whistle, Kvarme will already be pining for the fjords & John Barnes will be choking on his half time complacency. Five minutes after the restart Hughes chests down a Steve Clarke cross on the edge of the box, holds off the advances of Wright & Kvarme with ease, & hits a low right foot shot past James. The start of something good, a partial saving of face, or the tail tweak incurring the wrath of the beast that had all but devoured our cup hopes in the first half? It takes eight minutes for the moment in the game that swings momentum inexorably towards the first & most pleasing of these alternatives. A Chelsea move finds them on  the edge of the Liverpool penalty area once again, the ball breaks untidily & Hughes emphatically overcomes John Barnes in working the ball back to Zola using what looks like a full, menacing set of studs in the process. The stunning, powerful left foot drive that follows dips & swerves as it passes the helpless James  & roars into the top left hand corner of the net. 2-2! Bedlam!! I don’t buy into the big happy football family fan myth. Frequently I feel alone in the crowd at Chelsea, adrift from the general mood & linked only by an entirely illogical affinity for the same 11 men out on the pitch, who equally I share little else in common with. The beauty of moments like the Zola equalizer is that all that melancholy introspection evaporates, at that moment you really are one. Everyone, regardless of race, gender, political persuasion or relative wealth, is consumed by it. The Hughes goal brought hope & kept the tie alive. Zola’s gem is on another level. Gianfranco has only been in the country for 2 months but had already cemented himself in every Chelsea fan’s affections. The man was a delight & already had his own song, the first (& best) of several over his 7 year stint at Stamford Bridge, an amendment of an old Ray Davies classic. Zola. La la la la Zola.

Bothered

Tight lips & folded arms abound as half time Liverpudlian smugness evaporates in the London mist

Liverpool are stunned. I don’t know it at the time but they have not surrendered a two goal lead in nigh on 33 years, when Blackburrn Rovers beat them 3-2 at Ewood Park in August 1964. The atmosphere is now electric in all areas bar the lower tier of the East Stand. From the depths of despair less than 10 minutes before hope now springs eternal. Perversely the joy is more intense for the suffering endured in the previous hour. Like losing your wallet & after a sweat drenched, panicky search finding it in the last place you look, in my case traditionally entangled in the laundry basket among the grubby t-shirts & Calvin Kleins. The difference here is that you are with more than 20,000 people reacting with similar joy & relief.

The cramped seating  & crooked neck are irrelevant now. All 6 goals are scored at the other end of the ground, populated only by advertising hoarding obscuring the rubble where The Shed had once stood. I don’t have the greatest view but it’s good enough to witness all the vital action. The West Stand to my right, itself to be replaced & demolished at the end of this season, is rocking. Even the staider areas of the East Stand, the middle & upper tiers, the posh seats, seem to have been taken over by the growing hysteria. Five minutes after Zola’s goal  Chelsea take the lead, a clever slide rule pass from Dan Petrescu wrongfooting the Liverpool defence & putting in Vialli for a one on one with David James. Luca wins, flicking the ball past James with the outside of his right foot, & all around is now gleeful chaos, save for the now static, stunned, punch drunk away following. Their numbness is clear, so swift & unfathomable has been the change in fortunes for their team, so masterful a mere half an hour earlier. Like we care. The wallet has not only been retrieved intact but closer inspection now reveals that the 1967 incarnation of Brigitte Bardot has slipped her phone number into one of its inner pockets on the back of a Gitanes fag packet. Luca’s goal would now undoubtedly be put on hold pending a monstrous, life sapping VAR offside check, starving the moment of it breathless, urgent, electric flow. During the home game against Derby the previous week  Dennis Wise had celebrated his goal by running up to Vialli on the subs bench & ripping off his shirt to reveal a t-shirt bearing the amatuerish but heartfelt marker pen message Cheer up Luca we love you. The love was all around him now. The deft movement to elude the opposition defence was peak Vialli, a perfect foil to Hughes. His blunderbuss strike partner has instilled the traditional fear & loathing in his opponents which has paved the way for this devastating turnaround.

Bewildered

Man up & face the camera ponytail

Face the camera ponytail! The rest of us regularly get to feel like this chaps

Logic should ensure a sense of sobriety at this point, foreboding at what this Liverpool team can conjure up. They pile on the pressure at times during the rest of the match, & Kevin Hitchcock’s goal survives a few scares. However, football at both its best & worst frequently shows contempt for logic & I would guess very few people at this match deflected from this doomy old twat’s instincts that this was now Chelsea’s day. A team that had looked like piling up a cricket score in the first half could probably have stayed  on the pitch until the following day & not scored again now. It has been decreed, God only knows by who. James makes a fine save from a long range Di Matteo shot but the next goal, 12 minutes after the last, also goes to Chelsea. From wide on the right Zola floats a lovely inswinging free kick across the Liverpool goalmouth. Vialli meets it & powers a header into the net, virtually unchallenged by a defence that would probably have cleared the ball without blinking in the first half. Vialli’s second goal heralds the sudden arrival of 25,000 people into football heaven, 25,000 people who had expected a forthcoming  week wearing ear plugs & averting the eye of every rival fan on the planet. For the first time in 33 years Liverpool have blown a 2 goal lead & they know it. Hands clasped despairingly to the sides of the head is their template in the aftermath of this goal, on & off the pitch. One exception is Mark Wright, one hand on each hip as he stands forlornly, staring into space, looking for all the world like a man who has just had his balls sandpapered red raw. The game is up. And over. I doubt that Rabbit Parsons was ever familiar with the ode to S&M that is the Velvet Underground’s masterly Venus In Furs. It’s a shame, because in an ideal world Eric would now have applied fresh dubbin to his 1955 shiny shiny boots of leather, thrown his walking stick into the Liverpool end & made a late, glorious comeback, rolling back the years & leaving the dandruff free head of Jason McAteer for dead with a pinpoint cross onto Viall’s gleaming head for the Italian’s hat trick.

Beaten

Nice to see Lily Savage putting in an appearance

Dry your eyes la

Chelsea went on to win the FA Cup & break their 26 year trophy drought, a fortnight after 18 years Of Tory rule had been ended with a landslide Labour election victory. Less than 3 weeks after the big day at Wembley I watched England bowl out Australia for 118 on the first day of the Ashes series at Edbaston. England won the test handsomely. Things were going swimmingly but Australia soon hit back & won the series comfortably in the end. My penchant  for repeatedly backing the winning team had lasted around a month but it was great while it lasted. Liverpool finished 4th in the Premier league. The League Cup in 1995 would be their last silverware of the millenium. I am not sure this was ultimately such a terrible thing. Taking success for granted may have been an inevitable consequence of their most golden of years but this was a fanbase so unused to failure that recalibration through an enhanced sense of perspective was long overdue. Unlike those poor birds,the Grey Landes goose & the Barbary and  Mulard ducks, hideously force fed corn and fat through a tube to unnaturally enlarge their liver so that gluttenous fools can eat foie gras, the liver of the liver bird had been engorged via a similarly ceaseless diet of glory & silverware. In 1997 I craved a taste of success, not an endless stream. Had I been offered a Faustian pact at the final whistle of this magnificent match, whereby Chelsea would win the 1997 FA Cup & nothing else again in my lifetime, I would probably have taken it. Had it been offered at half time, at 2-0 down, with only Neil Barnett’s ego, Eric Parson’s walking stick & Liverpool laughter for company, I would have bitten the devil’s hand off. As it was I enjoyed more triumphs at home & abroad before I stopped going in 2004 & walking away then ensured I never got the advanced sense of entitlement & ennui that afflicted many Chelsea fans when the ruthless, relentless pursuit of glory began in earnest during the Mourinho years. As for Liverpool, they had to wait 30 years for a league title, but still managed to accumulate trophies in a manner that remained the envy of many. There was a domestic & European treble in 2001 & the small matter of two more Champions League victories, one achieved from a half time position of three goals down against AC Milan in 2005. Liverpool are a great team again now. Humility still appears to have often eluded them in the meantime, but pulling their trousers down in 1997 is still a thrill that lingers, & offered a sharp reminder of the realities of fandom that came with the territory for most of us during those 25 years that they imperiously strutted through the football grounds of Britain & Europe. For Chelsea this was one of a handful of games that were the bridge between the old days & Chelsea of today, a half great team in a half finished stadium offering a glimpse of the potential this club had. Standing on that bridge was an enormous thrill even if I failed to make it all the way across to the other side. Would I swap the memories of this match for a seat at Bolton in 2005 or Munich in 2012? Scoff if you like but the answer is no. We all have our time & this was mine. I’m back watching Chelsea now anyway, happy that merely spending money doesn’t even guarantee a place in the top 4 these days, let alone a league title, though only too aware that the finances of football remain horribly skewered in favour of the big teams.

Returning to a job after two weeks off is usually difficult, not least when your work colleagues & managers have thumbed their collective noses at your abilities & made it clear your presence is no longer welcome. No matter. I floated into work the following day. The first thing my new boss did after shaking my hand was congratulate me on the epic events of the previous day. Adam was a Geordie & consequently a fan of the Toon. He only stayed a year or so, but we worked well together & I can’t remember a single cross word being exchanged between us during this time, though his partner objected to my polishing off a full bag of chocolate footballs she had left in our office for him prior to luring him away for an extremely long coffee break. Like Sparky, Gianfranco & Luca I saw the chance & took it. No big deal anyway, there was never a chance that the sandpaper & ball weights would come out.

Ball weights?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Cynics v Romantics – No Xmas Truce

FA Christmas Card Sent To To Oxford City 1976

Two more 1970’s Christmas Cards for Oxford City – one from the Met, the other from Middlesex Wanderers, a club formed in 1905  (the same year as Chelsea) who still specialize in overseas tours. Jersey was slotted in for 2020. Sadly we can safely assume that didn’t happen.

More from the Fred Munday archives!  Not directly yuletide related but welcome proof that the odd maverick figure at the upper echelons of the game have been known to reveal a sensibility in line with that of the paying spectator from time to time. More commonly known as Jack, John Woodley not only played over 900 games for Oxford City but also scored over 400 goals, despite spending quite a few seasons at the end of his career playing at centre back, as his knee problems intensified & reduced his mobility to some extent. He was a fabulous player who could undoubtedly have earned a living playing at a higher level, as several FA Cup goals against Football League opposition proved. Hearing  QPR’s veteran skipper Frank Mclintock attributed the longevity of his career to taking aspirin prior to a game Jack followed suit in the 1970’s. A knee operation was cancelled when the wear & tear where gristle meets bone was found by the surgeon to be too advanced for any effective repair work to be undertaken. He liked to recuperate post match with a lengthy soak in the team bath, so from the horse’s mouth we knew that in 1979 new manager Bobby Moore’s decision to rip it out & install showers did not go down well!  Moore’s arrival subsequently signalled the ending of Jack’s remarkable career at the White House & he slummed it playing cricket with idiots like me for a few years instead. My unbecoming teenage puniness contrasted strongly to Jack’s impressively muscular & toned physique, which many modern day gym narcissists would still kill to replicate today. Reproduced below is a copy of the letter Brian Clough sent on the occasion of his testimonial, having instructed all his first team players to purchase two tickets each for the game, 34 in total. He then promised to match their combined value with a separate donation himself. A hugely flawed man he may have been, but his failure to kow tow to  suits like Harold Thompson, allied to gestures such as this, only serve to reveal how much closer Cloughie was to understanding the true meaning of the game, & matching the mindset of the fan, than just about any other major figure of the game in my lifetime. Liverpool’s legendary Bill Shankley is his only rival here as far as I can see. Wonderful characters both, & this was a magnificent gesture from the extraordinary Mr Clough.

 

Another card from the FA, signed by chairman Sir Harold Thompson & secretary Ted Croker. Thompson never came across as a pleasant individual, callously sacking our only World Cup winning manager Sir Alf Ramsay with what appeared to be dismissive contempt. “He was a bastard. He treated the staff like shit” according to one FA official at the time. Not really a ringing endorsement. Thompson was an Oxford chemistry don which obviously left him superbly equipped to deal with the thorny issues of the day, including rampant hooliganism & safety within stadiums, not to mention hiring & firing for the top managerial post in English professional football. That’s right. Professional football. It was no longer 1856 but nobody appeared to have told the FA. The brash, arrogant & brilliant Brian Clough was never going to get the England job during  Sir Harold’s time at the Lancaster Gate helm, & the crooked, mercenary but doubtless suitably servile Don Revie duly took over from Ramsay with disastrous results. Our World Cup winning captain Bobby Moore retired in 1977 & had to wait 3 years for a managerial opportunity – at Oxford City. A fine way to treat a national hero, who most countries would have fast tracked into the international coaching set up. Posthumous statues & stand naming are all very well but where were you West Ham Utd by the way, while your most distinguished former player lapsed into near obscurity? Bobby’s middle name was Chelsea, & his son Dean ran the Imperial Arms on the King’s Road in the 1990’s, famously the favourite pre-match Guinness quaffing waterhole of late vice chairman Matthew Harding, still a hero to many Blues fans, alternatively an evil man if your name is Ken Bates. One of Thompson’s Oxford chemistry students was Margaret Thatcher. Ted Croker stood up to her after the Heysel tragedy in 1985 & was duly denied the  obligatory knighthood usually awared to retiring FA secretaries. Typically petty & spiteful behaviour from Thatcher but never forget that Croker was Eric Dier’s grandfather. Dier looks & behaves on a football pitch like one of those big, thick playground bullies who got a rise out of painfully flicking the ears of tormented smaller boys. As if playing for Spurs wasn’t bad enough in itself. Mourinho  likes him of course. Mourinho would. He has been known himself to enjoy the cowardly gouging of rival coaches in the eye with a finger. They all get together in the end.

One from local rivals Oxford United. Rather cheap & nasty paper quality in truth, times were hard at the Manor Ground in the latter part of the 1970’s! Competitive games between the two clubs have been fairly rare though I do recall United squeezing past their Isthmian League opponents in an Oxfordshire Senior Cup Final in the mid 1970’s, two late goals sparing their blushes after Martin Gilligan had given City a shock lead. In 1980, after the non-league game escaped the ankle chains of phoney amatuerism that the likes of old school tie tosspots like Thompson had imposed on it deep into the 1970’s, City made a futile attempt at buying their way to success. From Sir Harold Thompson to Sir Harry Redknapp, the devil & the deep blue sea anyone? Old soaks like Spurs defender Phil Beal & John Frazer of Fulham rolled up once a week to help City get relegated, reputedly on then handsome £90-£100 a game wages. I cannot verify the actual transfer fee for Trevor Francis’s move from Birmingham City to Nottingham Forest in 1978, the most significant of the age as it is widely believed to be the first £1 million fee exchanged between two British clubs. However,  I can confirm, via my brief, inglorious junior banking career, that in 1980 I saw a cheque for £4,000 confirming the transfer of centre half Andy Bodel from Oxford United to City. Unthinkable, in fact illegal, a few years earlier. Before the decade was out City were evicted from their long term home & out of business, landlords Brasenose College losing patience after members of the club hierarchy had ignored repeated requests not to conduct private business matters unrelated to Oxford City from the ground. Then architects of their own downfall, happily they successfully reformed, but in truth sympathy for them seemed surprisingly thin on the ground at the time.

“Scratch any cynic and you will find a disappointed idealist.” George Carlin

I unreservedly adore the evocative image of small boys playing football next to a lamppost as shown at the top of this page. Sadly date & location are not recorded on the Christmas card from the FA it appears on. It was rescued from the bin at the White House Ground, then home to Oxford City, alongside various other yuletide greetings included above, by my grandfather. There is a primary school opposite my flat & once upon a time I would make my way home from the shops & smile indulgently over its hedgerow as the kids noisily played out the latest attack v defence playground thriller, the one goal being the perennial painted bar & post on a concrete wall. The pleasures were entirely innocent from all sides but the hedgerow has long since been left to grow to a height disabling the view of the school playground. Denying visual access to grown men is probably more than a coincidental side effect of this tactic. Currently unemployed, I have recently been trying to ward off a growing sense of my own irrelevance & uselessness in the eyes of society by picking litter along the nearby streets & cycle paths. It’s been an eye opener as disposable masks & gloves have joined the perennially discarded items, bottles, cans & hypodermics supplemented occasionally by disposable nappies & on one occasion a dead, presumably baited badger in a huge white plastic bag. Sadly the internet means I am denied the pleasure of retrieving the torn up pages from porno mags, once a prime feature of the landscape, now residing in the English street missing items file along with white dog shit & indeed stray dogs, likely the predominant suppliers of said shit. Collecting the litter stick & relevant plastic sacks involved a long walk taking me past my own primary school, my destination being a stone’s throw away from Oxford United’s old ground in Headington. The school field on which we played football has been concreted over now, an act of bureaucratic vandalism that I can never forgive. Our year left the school in 1973 but not before we had supported the government’s ‘Plant A Tree in ’73’ campaign, launched in the wake of Dutch Elm disease wreaking havoc on millions of UK trees. A new one was duly planted on the the approach to our beloved football pitch. I had been with my ex Chelsea partner in crime Bill on the last occasion I had witnessed the concrete hell with which time & the council have replaced both tree & pitch. ‘Plant a fucking tree for ’73’ was Bill’s succint summary of the current, soulless vision. You could look over the hedgerow & watch the football there too back in the day, & unbeknown to me my mum was doing just that when I scored my first ever goal, as a ten year old playing for the third years against our triumphant double winning school team. It was a belter too. She would have missed that moment were it to happen now. Then again there is no pitch for it to happen on anyway. Adjacent to the school field further along the road was an alleyway next to a small play area. Rather unimaginatively we called it Shit Alley as its pavement was always liberally coated with dog faeces in various states of decomposition. Both Shit Alley & the play area have survived, a small crumb of comfort for Village Green Preservation Society types like me, not to mention lazy owners of incontinent dogs. Having collected my litter tools I made my way home via a different route, laden down with a sense of melancholy that the days of my school field & Oxford United at the Manor Ground are both long gone. How I wish they weren’t, but to quote Billie Bob Thornton’s brilliantly portrayed, dark hearted Willie in Bad Santa, possibly the greatest cinematic yuletide cynic ever, ‘wish in one hand, shit in the other. See which fills up first.’ However, even Willie finds some sort of redemption at the end of the first film (we shall not speak of the sequel, a veritable stinker that is not even salvaged by the presence of the glorious Christina Hendricks) & before I have left Headington  a semblance of the same is glimpsed for me. I cut through Rock Edge, a nature reserve, & on the grassy area at its borders are four lads having an after school kick around. Older than the small boys in the photo at the top, 13-14 at a guess, but entertaining themselves with nothing other than a football nonetheless, a commonplace sight in my youth but rarer than a Penny Black nowadays. On the corner of the entrance to Rock Edge, next to the busy main road, stands a house that once belonged to Arthur Turner, the Oxford United manager when I first started going to football. Arthur had once managed a team to an FA Cup Final, namely Birmingham City in 1956, a game now immortalized by the victorious opposition goalkeeper, Man City’s Bert Trautmann, playing on with a broken neck. Trautman had once been part of the Luftwaffe but refused repatriation after WW2 & overcame much hostility to become a much loved figure in English football. Arthur Turner took Oxford from the Southern League to the old Division 2 so is rightly a revered figure in the club’s history. I like the idea of his ghost looking through the back window of his old house & seeing these lads, school uniforms & bags in situ, keeping the dream alive. The litter picking has its consolations too. Rare is the day that nobody thanks me for doing it, or beeps on a car horn & offers a cheery thumbs up. It would seem there is no need to give up on humanity just yet. Not all of it anyway.

Balancing the need for precaution against the safeguarding of personal freedoms has never been a more vexed issue than in this pandemic year. The rights & wrongs of mask wearing & lockdowns have triggered constant, furious debate. Keeping children off the streets & away from potential predators has long been  a preoccupation of the nation’s parents. Understandably so, although evidence that there are more paedophiles on the street than in my childhood appear relatively thin on the ground. At the age of 8 I would regularly return home as dusk beckoned or had called, from mass kickabouts on local recs, the golf course, & once a week the patch of grass near our cub scout hut behind the church. Parents seemed relatively unconcerned back then, & as it is today the kids were more usually in greater danger of abuse when back within the walls of the family home. Nonetheless, there is no judgements to be made here, especially from a non-parent like myself. Relatively rare it thankfully may be, but child abduction is a terrible thing & societal criticism of perceived lapses in parental judgement are swift & merciless. My nephew is now in his early ’30’s & a father of two himself, but in his childhood computer games had already become a major consumer of youth leisure time. Nevertheless he would sometimes take to the street with friends for a kick around. On one occasion an aggrieved neighbour called a halt because a man was taking pictures of them. This sounds sinister. It may have been sinister. However, at one time I used to carry my smaller camera around in the streets of Oxford to capture the sights & sounds of spontaneous street activity & colour. I would have loved to stumble across a game of football taking place in the street, & would have wanted to take pictures. The memory of this incident would have stopped me in my tracks though. My gueriila photo antics stalled long ago anyway due to another reason, namely a marked absence of talent. The man photographing my nephew & his friends may have been a pederast. Then again, he may have been attempting to capture a moment of youthful exuberance in the same way the FA Christmas card of 1976 did so sublimely. Hats off to whoever took it. Illusory it may well be, but it gives the appearance of representing if not a more innocent age then certainly a less cynical one.

I like the definition of cynicism outlined by the late American comedian George Carlin, although like the virus, it is a disease offering many mutations & the Carlin variant is one of the more flattering ones, possibly with a bit of self mythology thrown in. Its author was clearly something of a cynic himself. The football world is no more immune than any human activity where money rears its ugly head. Because fans are imbued with concepts of love & loyalty to their clubs they find the cheerful pursuit of cold, hard cash from the sport’s players, managers & administrators hard to stomach but doubtless many are happy to change their own place of work when more lucrative opportunities are presented to them. Football is a short career & players do not always have the same love of the game as fans, let alone a sense of long term duty to the team they represent. Fans tend to have a purer love of the game, the match going supporter the most pristine example. The investment in time & money required to attend matches across the country (&, for those at the top end, the continent) is huge, impacting hugely on income, family life, spare time & working arrangements. This is not helped by the constant tinkering with kick off times by the football authorities & television companies. At the moment the pandemic has halted all  this for much of the year, but the devotees are not grateful. They make the sacrifices because they love their club, & the current crisis clearly imperils  the future of many clubs. At the top end the suspicion grows that removing the fans may suit many. This is foolish. Fans responding to the action in the stadium is a vital part of the entertainment. I feel myself losing interest in the game as a whole in the face of endless opportunities to watch matches played in largely empty stadiums. The backdown of the television companies regarding the recent pay per view controversy is telling. Long term this unfulfilling spectacle has no future. We need full stadiums again as soon as it is safe to happen. For many years fans were treated as an unwanted inconvenience & it ended in stadium disasters & multiple deaths. It is vital for the soul of the sport a different mistake is not made this time, namely any misguided belief that the money machine will keep churning regardless of spectator presence at big games.

We shouldn’t pretend that cynicism is a new phenomenon in sport, nor that it is confined entirely to its top levels. My grandfather retired in 1972 & for the next five years he would divide his time between watching a new afternoon ITV drama called Emmerdale Farm (an altogether gentler, less action packed entity than it is now!) doing a cleaning job at the bingo hall & helping out at Oxford City. A lick of paint on the fencing & buildings here, a swept terrace there, allied to the saving of otherwise unwanted ephemera. As the only other option seems to have been watching Amos Brearly & Mr Wilks bicker behind the bar of The Woolpack he was probably glad to get out of the house. The bingo job enabled him to supply us with ample spare bottles of Cresta, a soft drink of various unpleasant fruit flavours, produced by Schweppes & famously advertised by a badly animated bear with the byline it’s frothy man.

It was frothy as I recall. And revolting. The Christmas cards & programmes from Oxford City were more welcome, though his treament by the club left a similarly unpleasant aftertaste. He gave his time & labour free & for love. Of course. He was a true fan. The love may be unrequited but that didn’t put him off. When he became ill Oxford City were conspicuous by their absence. He had spells when he was well enough that some small gesture, say the offer of a lift to an away game, would have been treated with glee & gratitude. Nothing doing. Out of sight out of mind. For all the annual rosy cheeked, rosette wearing, rattle waving representation the suspiciously large turnout of non league fans get in the FA Cup from avaricious tv companies, desperate to see a big club get its pants pulled down, there isn’t much romance about the way smaller clubs operate further down the chain. Egotistical, often unscrupulous owners & players lured away to rival clubs at the drop of a hat are as commonplace as in the full time game. It is merely the size of the wedges that differ from the bigger boys. By the time John Woodley played the last of his 900 games in 1979 the Amateur Cup had disappeared & players were at last being openly being paid at that level of the game. My future brother in-law briefly  played at the White House Ground in this era, but subsequently enjoyed a nomadic career, taking a few bob extra when he could as he moved from club to club. This has become the norm & nobody stays long enough to play 900 games for one team these days. Who knows what decisions John Woodley would have made had his magnificent career started 15 years later than it did but he may well not have stayed in one place for the duration.

Not everyone exploited their new mercenary opportunities with intelligence. One lad I had once played alongside boasted of the £2 a week rise he had received (£10 to £12) when moving from one local club to Wallingford. Sadly, Wallingford was a 28 mile round journey from his home in Oxford. It had not occurred to him that the inconvenience & cost of this extra travel rather negated the value of his princely salary increase. When Oxford City chose to go for glory & spent handsomely recruiting unwisely, one, now legendary, footballing money guzzler was rather ungrateful. Bobby Moore a footballing god, should never have been expected to cut his managerial teeth at such a lowly level. The fact that he was prepared to try speaks volume about the famous humility of the man. Harry Redknapp was a different kettle of fish. Twenty years after arriving as Moore’s assistant he was still whingeing about the allegedly awful salary on offer, quoting in the process an amount that would have sufficed for many a skilled worker in the late 1970’s, let alone a rookie coach failing at an already struggling Isthmian League team. The jam roly-poly enthusiast & future king of Ant & Dec’s annual crocodile cock eating circus  was a resourceful fella even then in fairness. My cousin was a youth team player (& a West Ham fan to boot) & Harry was known to fling open the boot of his car at training sessions & pursue a neat line of second income via selling the selection of trainers contained therein. He isn’t the cleverest member of the Redknapp clan though. That award surely goes to Rosie, now sadly deceased, the family bulldog who managed to open a Monaco bank account earlier this century, depositing £189K into it in the process. We had a dog called Rosie. Good at chasing balls & chewing extremely large tree branches but no financial acumen whatsoever. Hopeless. As a player with limited first team action in the previous 6 or 7 years, the opportunity to learn the ropes alongside Moore might have seemed welcome. Harry has always been a master of self promotion though. Highly regarded by many in the game ( Brett Ormerod at Southampton & former West Ham playing & managerial colleague  Billy Bonds seem to be exceptions but nobody leaves football with no enemies) he has subsequently had a long, very high profile managerial career. Just the one trophy though, the FA Cup with Portsmouth in 2008. It took him nearly 30 years to achieve what Bobby Gould managed at unfancied Wimbledon in a year back in 1988. Gould went on to manage Wales but neither jam roly-poly salesmen nor Little Ant & Dec have ever subsequently beaten a path to his front door. There are no sold out evenings with Bobby Gould at your local theatre. Redknapp  lives in Sandbanks, the desirable millionaire’s row looking out over the sea at Poole. That supposedly paltry salary a small club paid him as he started out in management at Oxford City doesn’t seem to have done him too much harm. A couple of years before my dad died in 2011  Harry turned up at nearby Barton On Sea following inclement weather in search of an open gold course. The course there was indeed open, but the conditions meant there were restrictions in place. Harry duly tried to arrange a discount. On failing to procure one he drove off in a huff without troubling its fairways, a millionaire cutting his nose off to spite his face for the sake of a few quid. This is the man who threw a fit at a reporter labelling him a wheeler dealer in the transfer deadline market, which he famously & transparently was. His angry response only amplified the high level of the man’s deluded self image. In many ways Redknapp’s managerial career is the template for attitudes within modern football. Fair play, it’s been his livelihood & his overriding commitment has been to furthering his own career & maximising its financial potential. Doubtless many football fans approach their own careers the same way, but what is nauseating is the insincere badge kissing duplicity of players within the game in recent years, & the voice of the fan transplanted to the dugout schtick as perfected by the likes of Redknapp. Doubtless he loves the game but he isn’t a fan. He’s a businessman, albeit one who may sometimes have sailed close to the wind on occasions. Fine as far as it goes but all the everyman patter in the world shouldn’t con anyone. He has profited from the loyalty of football fans rather than represented them. Oxford City were a better team & club in the decades before Harry & his ilk rolled up, even if shackled by the ludicrous limitations of amateur status. I am glad my grandfather got to support them during those years rather than the ones that followed.

Dear old Harry – no stone left unturned in the pursuit of a pound

In the earlier part of the 1970’s the upper echelons of non-league football  maintained the pretence of amatuerism, along with Rugby Union & Athletics. Rugby Union players who turned pro & migrated north to play Rugby League were prevented even from coaching kids afterwards. I think the word is draconian. Cricketers were only paid for the months they played in the summer & many had to seek other employment through the rest of the year. The Kerry Packer breakaway series announced in 1977 was the key to ensuring better financial packages for its star players. Until then the rewards, even at that level, were relatively piffling. The ’80’s heralded the sweeping away of many of the barriers erected by old school tie elitism, administrators reluctant to move their sports forward & properly reward the performers, those who actually attracted people through the stadium gates. Ian Botham, the first English superstar cricketer to emerge following the Packer revolution, although he didn’t join it, once referred to the MCC dinosaurs still living in the Gentleman v Players era as ‘gin swilling old dodderers.’

Finally, & in case it seems I have entirely removed the Chelsea from Chelsea blog, I give you, for the second time in three years, an old Christmas card from the club. It depicts the great Gianfranco Zola hitting one of those sublime free kicks over a wall of snowmen while wearing a Christmas hat. Gianfranco,  like Harry Redknapp, also managed West Ham for a while. He remains one of the least cynical of modern footballers, warming the cockles of your heart with his behaviour on & off the pitch. Would there were more like him. Some other once revered sporting talents of yore have let themselves down quite badly during the pandemic. If you thought ex Southampton & England maverick Matthew Le Tissier was an admirable one off throwback during his 1980’s & 90’s heyday then join the club. He always came across as a good bloke too. Sadly he has revealed himself as a deeply odd individual of late, dismissing both the seriousness of the COVID19 outbreak & many reasonable online counter arguments, blocking some showing mild dissension to his viewpoint or employing rows of that scornful, sniggering emoji often favoured by the smug. Having angered many with his contempt for intelligent debate he then made a po faced video denouncing those who have trolled & abused him, laughably presenting himself as a victim. Abuse is never justified but when you block, demean & ignore the courteous you are swimming in murky waters yourself. Ashes 2005 hero Michael Vaughan has always come across as a narcissistic, arrogant prat but he has also outdone himself this time. During the first lockdown he & Le Tissier gave themselves away by making it clear that a main grievance was being prevented from playing golf. As men of some affluence who can doubtless self isolate with rather more space at their disposal than the rest of us these entitled buffoons might have been well advised to keep their gobs shut & count their considerable blessings. They haven’t even got the Noel Gallagher plea of mitigation that he squandered the last remaining family brain cell snorting those mountains of cocaine that can only be the explanation for 1997’s abysmal Be Here Now, presumably also the reason he has struggled since to write anything other than songs that Badfinger wouldn’t have considered for a B side, or indeed wiped their arse on. Apparently not wearing a mask & ignoring social distancing means it is ‘on him’ should he contract the virus. The elephant in the room is of course that in the process he might infect & kill others, is aware of this & basically doesn’t care. Live Forever eh?  This Man City fan (when it suits him) may not be a sportsman but as Sky prepared us for a Liverpool-City Carabao Cup final a few years ago with a lengthy interview between this nobhead & Jamie Carragher I include his vile contribution to the pandemic debate here too. Vaughan put up a truly execrable Instagram post online in October showing a host of WW2 bomber planes & announcing that the weekend’s changing of the clocks should see them all put back to 1944 when the country ‘had some balls’ – pleasingly there was a swift riposte to this nonsense, which pointed out that Michael was born in 1974 rather than 1944 & that as the Advanced Hair Studio disciple had shat his bigoted, foppish pants as soon as a few strands of hair started dropping from his empty head then perhaps the days of the Luftwaffe & ration books might not have been to his liking. I suppose he could have tried rubbing powdered egg into his scalp. God alone knows what the late Bert Trautmann, the man who served in the Luftwaffe & played on in a cup final with a broken neck, would have made of lame,ill considered, halfwitted guff like this. There are a lot of entitled cretins like Noel, Matt & Michael around. Let’s briefly entertain Twitter cliche & say don’t be like Noel, Matt & Michael. We are now back to 1,000 deaths a day as a new mutation of the disease takes hold. The NHS may soon be overwhelmed. Dark days lie ahead. Perhaps one of these three will show some humility this time. Perhaps not. Vaughan has already been querying restrictions on playing golf. One time dope smoking scourge of the cricketing establishment, the recently ennobled Ian Botham has become something of a reactionary pillar of warped nationalism himself these days. Lord Revitive of Almeria owes his elevation to the House Of Lords to either his impressive & relentless charity walking endeavours in the past, or a stunningly hypocritical commitment to Brexit, depending on what you read &/or choose to believe. Now a Spanish resident Botham is apparently happy to wave the Union Jack while living in another country, denying  us plebs the same opportunity for future free movement in Europe that he has clearly enjoyed. He is as drearily boorish now as he was inspirational during his cricketing pomp. In a radio debate on fox hunting with Al Murray a few years ago, he responded to the latter querying the fetishistic need to dress up & hunt in packs to terrorize foxes rather than shooting them. ‘Waste of a bullet’ was the stupid & surly reply from arguably the most dynamic & exciting English sportsman of his generation. Seemingly more Gammon than Beefy these days, he may guzzle his own wine brand rather than swill gin but nowadays he frequently resembles those he once despised. The Al Murray incident revealed a dismal talent for maintaining an intelligent level of debate so I don’t think the great parliamentary orators have to much to fear from this latest representative of the blonde manbaby’s latest appointments to Westminster. Thanks for lighting up my teenage years Lord B but perhaps you should stay in Spain. Many of us might like to in the future. Thanks to people like you that won’t be possible. Cheers.

Thank God then for Marcus Rashford. His campaign may not be as cuddly & Tory friendly as dear old Captain Tom’s undoubtedly delightful fund raising but he has managed to marry philanthropy to a serious, polite, determined, avowedly non-party political  & most importantly successful interrogation of the government’s refusal to ensure schoolkids from poor families are being fed. The validity of his campaign has now been backed up by UNICEF’s recent financial intervention concerning the same issue. It is an intervention that shames us all, apart from top hatted twat Jacob Rees-Mogg, another Westminster parasite as free of shame as he is a chin. The only cynicism in the Rashford campaign comes from his sour, wrongfooted detractors, who seem to resent the fact that a rich young black footballer can also find time to invest in property to ensure his own family’s future at the same time. Does a principled stance mean the man has to falsely wander round in sackloth & ashes? Why? Rashford scored a hat trick in a Champions League game a couple of months ago but was back posting on the child poverty campaign within half an hour of the final whistle. Man of the year for sure.

Perhaps Harry Redknapp could chip in to to the campaign & supply him with some jam roly-polys….

Update 06/01/21

Oxford City announced the sad news that John Woodley  had died via social media earlier this week. He had been unwell for some time. RIP Jack.

‘Chilly’ Leaves Me Cold

Nothing wrong with Ben. Plenty wrong with Chilly.

Nicknames are bad names. So says David Brent, iconic comic creation of Ricky Gervais, hitherto a fan of jokey workplace monikers until he finds out that Toad Of Toad Hall & Bluto are two assigned to him & are circulating widely around the office behind his previously unwitting back. They certainly can linger. At school a boy named Kevin Goodwin would habitually have the dried green remnants of a runny nose trailing down perilously close to his top lip. As a result he was known to all as Snot Goodwin & even today, well over 40 years since I last saw him, I guarantee anyone of my vintage recalling his memory would not refer to him as Kevin, no matter how many mountains he may have climbed in adult life. As it was then so it is now. Snot has stuck. At college there was a girl whose actual name I can no longer remember. I do remember her nickname though. The Swansea Swallower. It’s a cruel world. She was a rabid Thatcherite so that tempers any potential sympathy somewhat. Was the nickname accurate?  I am unable to shed further light. She had a Welsh accent but I have no idea if she was actually from Swansea.

The world of the British football dressing room has long been notorious for both the durability & lack of imagination of the assigned nicknames for its occupants. Tag on a y or an o (or less frequently an s) to the end of the subject’s name & Bob’s your uncle, or should that be Bobby’s your uncs? Holly. Clarkey. Wisey. Speedo. Steino. Furs. The personnel at Stamford Bridge changes, the cliched nickname formula remains. Even the late, great Peter Bonetti, widely referred to as ‘The Cat’ given his feline agility in goal, had that altered to Catty by his team mates. We all give in to it in the end. Nearly twenty years after leaving for Leicester City Dennis Wise is still Wisey.

However, hearing coach Frank Lampard (Lamps to most or Lampty if your name is Jody Morris) refer to new signing Ben Chilwell as Chilly is making me shiver. The preeminent figure in the current dressing room giving the royal seal of approval means it is unlikely to go away. Does this mean Mason Mount is known as Mounty or Reece James as Jamo? Possibly, even probably, & I had hoped the new foreign arrivals might herald a further shift from the nickname status quo. One of them conveniently has a y tagged on the end of his surname. Take a bow Eduard Mendy. Timo Werner is a no-go & good luck with amending Kai Havertz to fit the template lads. The fact is that foreign names generally don’t lend themselves to the continuation of the trend. Chelsea have had a lot of oversea players in the last 25 years so I suppose it is inevitable that any opportunity among the home grown lads to revert to the norm is grasped eagerly. Ben Chilwell has made a splendid start to his Chelsea career. Two years ago Blues social media ‘experts’ were loudly trumpeting his cause when potential new signings were discussed. A dip in form at Leicester last season led to a widescale volte face & suddenly it was Telles or Tagliafico they were heralding, anyone but Chilwell. Now Ben’s name is back in lights but when he has an inevitable dip in form, however mild, these intellectual & emotional incontinents will doubtless be screaming for him to be tied to a lampost & tarred & feathered outside The Butcher’s Hook before you can say Chilly. Best ignored on the whole. Chilwell is a more than welcome addition, although Tagliafico would at least have avoided the curse of the English nickname, while the Old Trafford dressing room now has its work cut out maintaining the nickname bantz hilarity with Alex Telles. Chilly it is though. Will we never be set free from this tyranny?

Nicknames in school years may be short of subtlety & frequently strip the recipient of any remaining shreds of dignity but compared to British football they are a beacon of originality. How did footballers fare themselves in schooldays, in tags given by them to others & vice versa? Sadly I have only a couple of examples. The only professional footballer to attend our school was Chelsea’s very own Clive Walker, but he had left years before I got there so if he had a playground nickname I have no idea what it was. In a recent joint  interview with former ’80’s colleagues Colin Pates (Patesy) & John Bumstead (Bummers) it was clear though that Clive had not avoided the dressing room curse himself. They still refer to him as Walks. He did famously earn another nickname on the terraces courtesy of an unfortunate off the field indiscretion in the late 1970’s but we’ll draw a discreet veil over that. As indeed Clive should have done at the time.

Spins a web any size…

My best friend at college had been to school in North London with Terry Gibson, later a striker with Spurs, Coventry, Man Utd & Wimbledon. At school he got his name in lights amongst his peers by disrupting an assembly, mooning the teachers from a balcony area immediately above the stage, in the process displaying an arse decorated with a profusion of hair impressive in one so young. He was known as Spiderman after that. Whether colleagues at the four top division clubs he frequented ever got past calling him Gibbo is unclear. In the modern Premier League dressing room some specific & immediate manscaping would doubtless be called for before Terry & his formerly hirsute buttocks were allowed through its metrosexual door.

A lovely woman called Julie used to sell books to me in my buying days at Blackwell’s, sometimes lightening the gloom of the surroundings in Oxford’s second best bookshop with tales of footballers she had known. She also revealed that at school she had  made such a noise wearing a heavy pair of shoes that she been nicknamed Stompie. Many years later a friend phoned her from the Etihad Stadium halfway through a Man City game telling her he was sat next to an old school colleague of hers who wanted  to say hello. The phone was duly transferred. ‘Alright Stompie, how are you?’ were the first words in a couple of decades Julie had heard from the lips of one time England winger & her aforementioned former classmate Trevor Sinclair (Sincs?) .You see, nicknames really don’t go away. As with Gibson’s Spiderman antics at least Stompie was unique & earned. Where Frank & the team’s use of feeble nicks like Chilly is concerned I can only conclude with that well worn teacher’s rebuke throughout my schooldays, a phrase doubtless also employed in the Goodwin household when monitoring poor old Snot’s incompetent nose blowing efforts all those years ago.

Must do better.

 

 

Frank Wins The Real Quiz

05/12/20 Chelsea 3 Leeds 1

I am an admirer of the work of actor Ralph Ineson, a talented & versatile performer in scores of television & film productions for many years. Much of it is inevitably if unfairly overshadowed in the eyes of many by his masterly depiction of odious sales rep Chris Finch in The Office. He comes across as a good bloke too as far as I can tell. Dog lovers always get a pass here. He clearly hates Chelsea though. I can still recall some predictably salty comments following Chelsea’s 5-1 Carling Cup victory at Elland Road in 2012 . These seemed justified on that occasion, provoked as they were by nouveau Chelsea fans in a pub mistaking the great Kerry Dixon for a certain former Arsenal full back with the same surname. Chelsea hating goes with the territory for Leeds followers & is largely all grist to the mill. After all, we all  hate Leeds & Leeds & Leeds, Leeds & Leeds & Leeds & …. well I think you get the picture. Chelsea songs are traditionally long on vivid expression & short in lyrical content. The resentment has clearly grown in the fifteen years since the teams last met in the Premier League. Chelsea’s spending power & bulging trophy cabinet upsets far more than just Leeds fans. Equally, disgust at the knowledge that the magnificent team Don Revie built at Elland Road in the  ’60’s & ’70’s was underpinned by foul play on & off the pitch extends way beyond the Fulham Road. Bribes were offered, we only know about the ones refused by the whistleblowers. These include the late Bob Stokoe, approached by Revie in person in a dressing room at Bury in the early 1960’s. Stokoe exacted sweet revenge years later by masterminding one of the most famous & universally celebrated FA Cup final upsets in history when his Sunderland team beat dastardly Don’s mighty whites in 1973. Mighty but dirty. Dirty Leeds .

We’re none of us perfect. Not even Ralph Ineson. As a grown man I am as discomfited by the unequal nature of wealth distribution in football as elsewhere, but I didn’t create it & being the object of casual, hackneyed, chippy northern bigotry & hatred gets a bit tiring after a while. Leeds fans have a well earned reputation for malevolence over the years. I have also frequently been embarrassed by acts of puerile excess from Chelsea fans at times throughout the decades since that notorious 1970 FA Cup Final between the two clubs. My own record has been less than saintly, especially during the course of a live match. For that reason I never use social media during a game. Nobody is interested in my tweets anyway but really, why does anyone do this, how about concentrating on the football? It is the essence of self indulgence. Nothing is achieved by rushing to pronounce & publish while emotions are heightened, & even countless likes & retweets never changes the result. Ralph was stirring the pot before & after the game too.

All due respect indeed. Also to the patrons of the pub who clearly responded to it in the right spirit. Would a bar worker wearing a Chelsea shirt in a pub near Elland Road on matchday leave in one piece? Just asking. After all everyone is so much friendlier up north….

Ooh you’re hard as David Brent would have said. By your own admission everyone in the pub, including your son, had a good night. Nobody died or even got glassed yet you make a dark & hollow allusion to acts of violence had you been there. Why? You weren’t there. You lost. It happens. Get over it. Grow up.

It is possible to dislike another football team & acknowledge facts. The current Leeds team have a refreshing approach & really took the game to Chelsea at times in the first half. The future looks bright. You need enemies in football & they have been missed. Naturally I still hope they lose every week & defeat in the return match at Elland Road will still be as bitter a pill to swallow as all those suffered up there in my youth. For me they have often been a horrible club with many horrible fans, which is exactly what many say about Chelsea. You can still glower with rage at Chelsea Football Club & acknowledge the facts too though Ralph. Frank Lampard’s team is shaping up well at the moment & this was a thoroughly entertaining match. If Frank & Bielsa can move on from the Spygate/Play Off shenanigans between Derby & Leeds two seasons ago perhaps it’s time your bitter lot did too. Once again the abuse towards Lampard from rival fans this week has been absurdly disproportionate & raised about as many laughs as a Xmas episode of Mrs Brown’s Boys. Ralph was far from the worst but as defeat loomed & the euphoria at his team’s early lead & bright play evaporated he was reduced to this sad, rather pathetic aside:-

Never mind mate. A case of one up the bum no harm done for your lot in the long run surely? Anyway, you’ve thrown a copper kettle over a pub. What’s Frank Lampard ever achieved compared to that?

Answers on something rather larger than a postcard please.

Ferdinand Documentary

This will be interesting. Neither Anton Ferdinand or John Terry have ever spoken outside a courtroom or tribunal about the notorious & ugly 2011 episode, though those investigations revealed that what both said during it was deeply unpleasant, heat of the moment as it may have been. The fallout for the Ferdinand family was appalling, especially for the late Janice Ferdinand, Anton & Rio’s mother. John Terry’s refusal to meet with Anton Ferdinand to discuss the issue is understandable in the context of the making of this documentary, but agreeing to a private meeting away from the cameras would have been a welcome gesture. Having been cleared in court in 2012 he was subsequently found guilty by the FA, whose recent chairman Greg Clarke was forced to resign only last week after inappropriate & archaic observations & use of language concerning issues of race caused widespread anger & disbelief. in 2017 Clarke also attempted, via a glib, cursory email, to sweep under the carpet accusations of racial harassment against Eni Aluko & Drew Spence by the England women’s national team coaching staff. Some esteemed members of our national press poured scorn on the claims which were subsequently authenticated. Despite their failings over that saga the same, tired old names will doubtless be lining up alongside all those brave social media warriors to construct a Whicker Man pyre once again for Terry. To his credit Anton Ferdinand would appear to be acknowledging here that this ultimately fails to advance the cause of combatting racism, sadly still proving to be widespread throughout society, not helped by the disgraceful words & actions of some of our politicians, including our current Poundland apology for a Prime Minister. Calculated, premeditated gaslighting by those governing us regarding racial issues shows us how far we still have to travel. Ongoing, pervasive, coldblooded racism such as Eni Aluko experienced is no less disgraceful than an outburst by an angry footballer just because said footballer is more famous & headline worthy than the protagonists in that case. If you voted for Boris Johnson you are not in a position to lecture anyone on the subject, & all those loyalists defending Jeremy Corbyn looking the other way as anti-semitism was given its head within sectors of the Labour Party can do one too. Not so long ago I thought football was growing out of all this nonsense. Clearly we haven’t even grown out of it in Westminster.

Hopefully the BBC has combined with Anton Ferdinand to produce a constructive, thought provoking & honest documentary. Triggering the idiot, Laurence Fox All Lives Matter bores is a small price to pay. When this shit finally stops so will programmes like this. Looking at some of the Twitter comments under the post reproduced at the top of the page here we shouldn’t hold our breath though.

Open That Door?

 

There is a large whiff of corporate BS about some of Chelsea’s involvement with Pride but no matter. The club’s ambassador for this year’s London Pride was former Blues, West Ham & England footballer Claire Rafferty, interviewed here in a section of the ground that would once have been partially populated by people clutching  National Front newspapers purchased in & around the vicinity of the stadium. A bit of corporate BS can be excused in comparison to those dismal days. I followed Claire’s last few seasons as a player & also followed her on Twitter until she left the club for West Ham but had no idea that she was gay until she mentions it in this interview. Maybe she has banged on about her sexual preferences constantly &  I have spent the last five years in Vanuatu with that religious sect who pray to pictures of Prince Philip, believing him to be a divine being. Or maybe she is happy to acknowledge being gay in a natural, relaxed & unforced way when the subject arises but has more usually concentrated on talking about football & her own career within it. Either way it doesn’t really matter. She is able to choose when or where, or whether or not to discuss her private life. This illustrates a maturity & freedom surrounding societal attitudes towards women in sport that is wholly denied to gay male footballers in the most oppressive & suffocating way imaginable. When will this end?

As far as I am aware there have only been three openly gay male footballers who have plied their trade in England, & only one (Justin Fashanu at the latter end of his career) who played here after announcing it. I never saw Fashanu or ex Leeds winger Robbie Rogers play which leaves Thomas Hitzlsperger of the dynamite left foot as the only gay male I have ever seen on an English football pitch. Yeah. Sure. The masonic silence within the game on the subject is frankly ridiculous & very unhealthy. I have just heard the artist formerly known as Cat Stevens on Desert Island Discs be allowed to deny to presenter Lauren Laverne that he had approved the fatwa issued to Salman Rushdie in the late 1980’s. There is television footage on YouTube showing him do exactly that. Trump is a liar. Our own, abysmal PM appears to do little else but lie. Oh, & fuck. I’m sick of lies & delusion at present. We all do it to some degree but to see evasion & dishonesty hold sway to the extent it currently does is thoroughly depressing.

We are clearly on the cusp of a second lockdown & if/when it arrives any mooted return to professional football grounds by fans will doubtless be instantly shooed away for at least the remainder of 2020. There are clearly scores of footballers who are gay & many of them are doubtless of the wholly correct opinion that it is nobody’s business but theirs. What of the others, those that feel they live a lie but remain in fear of unwanted press exposure & open ridicule & abuse from fans? It feels like now might be a good time to grasp the nettle & come out. Of course this will still take enormous courage but there is unlikely to be any fan attendance at matches for at least 6 months now. This hiatus surely offers the potential for any news about the first currently outed gay footballer to become old hat by the time the situation changes. You would also suspect that more than one player would emerge once the ice was broken & the first move made. Just a thought.

Most football supporters in my childhood never baulked at buying records by gay artists or watching films starring gay actors. Sport was different because being gay was equated with a simpering, effete weediness as portrayed by cardboard cutout gay television grotesques like John Inman or Larry Grayson. This pathetic & outdated stereotype has long since been shown to be the lie it always was. Justin Fashanu was seemingly a sad, deluded, wayward & morally incontinent individual but was a superb physical specimen & hard as nails on a football pitch. Sadly the world was still not ready for a gay footballer in the early 1990’s when he confirmed publicly what had long been rumoured. His yearning to make money appeared to outweigh becoming a trailblazing icon in any case. Elton John becoming Watford chairman in the 1970’s was proof perfect that the concept of a gay footballer would remain taboo for decades. He’s shot/He’s come/Up Graham Taylor’s bum/Elton John/Elton John sang the Oxford United fans at their team’s game against Watford the first time the clubs met after Elton took over as chairman at Vicarage Road. I bet plenty of them bought Rocket Man though. I thought the chant was hilarious at the time. I was also about 14. Is everyone around football to remain a giggling schoolboy in perpetuity or are we ready to finally grow up? I believe we are but then my life won’t be picked over in The Sun or on Twitter in the aftermath of any announcement. Calling the bigot’s bluff has to be called sometime though. Why not now?

In the women’s game they are streets ahead. There are lots of openly gay women playing at the top level, five of them involved in the England team’s World Cup campaign last summer. There would appear to be little or no pressure on those who are also gay but simply don’t feel the need to announce it to the world at large. It’s all so sensible & adult compared to the anachronistic, paranoid claustrophobia of male professional football. Some players even have partners playing for rival WSL clubs. Former Chelsea forward Ramona Bachmann’s other half Alisha Lehmann plays for West Ham. Nobody seems fazed & neither should they, although  imagining similar scenarios in the Premier League does make the mind boggle somewhat.

In truth I’m not sure the world is yet ready for Harry Kane to announce he’s tying the knot with Harry Maguire.

One step at a time brothers. One step at a time.

 

 

 

 

The Chattering Classless

Guardian Pick

A Liverpool defence made up of gems found hiding in a Sunday morning car boot sale and gems in Harrod’s shop window. Tonight’s back 5 cost around 150 million for the 5 !!!!!! or 3/4 of a Neymar; 2 x Harry Maguires; 50 million less than Chelsea’s summer outlay

Tedious & destructive though our happily declining tabloid press is it has surely long been the case that anyone who still believes any of the poisonous cack emanating from them is beyond help in 2020 anyway. Increasingly I despair at the posher papers too, especially the sporting sections of the ostensibly left leaning Guardian. A day before the anticipated demise of Macclesfield Town was announced they chose the guff reproduced above as the pick of their post match emails following Liverpool’s win over Arsenal. £150 million on defenders a mere bagatelle apparently. Jurgen browsing through the bring & buy. The PICK of their inbox…really?!

Meanwhile on Twitter as idiot Chelsea fans lined up to crucify Mason Mount for missing a Carabao Cup penalty against Spurs & rival Premier League supporters tried to do the same to Frank Lampard, a man who many of them seem unhealthily obsessed by, Altrincham FC supplied some welcome & urgently required perspective & class:-

Beautiful & heartbreaking in equal measure. Today you can peruse rightmove & see Macclesfield Town Football Club on sale lock, stock & barrel for £500,000:-

Rather less than Liverpool’s defence, Chelsea’s summer signings, or Gareth Bale’s monthly take home while we’re at it. Very, very sad & following the demise of Bury last season, & in advance of the full, calamitous & inevitable COVID19 fallout, likely the start of an avalanche if football does not get its collective act together quickly.

I am aware how unseemly Chelsea spending fortunes on new players appears. I am also aware that the club supplied free accomodation & thousands of free meals to NHS workers during the lockdown period, & unlike certain other big clubs did not attempt at any point to furlough staff. They also have a mass of spare cash from the sales of Eden Hazard & Alvaro Marata having been unable to spend money this time last year. However, if Chelsea spurn any advances to join initiatives to help clubs lower down the ladder then they are open to as much vociferous criticism as traditionally is thrown at them via all sections of the media routinely at the best of times. On this occasion it would be wholly deserved. Frank Lampard’s press conference last week offered some hope that the club hierarchy are open to support measures for EFL clubs being introduced. Let’s hope so.

We have already enjoyed the foppish, floppy fringed egotist Simon Jordan needlessly fanning the flames before Chelsea’s recent home game with Liverpool, the former club dismissed as a vulgar rich man’s plaything, the latter apparently an unimpeachable example of organic sporting beauty. Liverpool are a great team & Klopp an admirable coach but the days of Shankley socialism & his much vaunted Boot Room are a country mile behind the modern incarnation of the club, as the residents around Anfield who were bullied out of their homes to enable the most recent ground redevelopment can testify. They are part of the massive Fenway Sports Group, also the parent company of the Boston Red Sox. A blow for the little people has not been struck with their recent triumphs, impressive as they have been. I know three things about Simon Jordan. He used to sell mobile phones, he was the owner of Crystal Palace when they went into administration & he was rejected as a player at Chelsea when he was 16. He currently relies on TalkSport to give his wretched opinions a platform, where compared to the gormless Jamie O’Hara he probably sounds like Rene Descartes. So what is driving slimy Simon’s idiocy here?  A bag of sour ones, being an attention seeking dickhead or merely earning his shock jock corn on the worst radio station on the globe? Who knows, & frankly who cares? On the subject of  the Chelsea-Liverpool match & intellectual titans an allegedly award winning journalist called Barney Ronay chose matchday to pen a repulsive piece dredging up all the usual prejudices against Chelsea, & more particularly coach Frank Lampard, disingenuously making counter arguments against those prejudices once he had  reiterated them fully & with relish. You may fool most of your smug, sneering, middle-class reclining armchair football fan readers Barney, but in the real world your phoney attempt at balance is about as credible as Prince Andrew once frequenting Pizza Hut in Woking. Chelsea-Liverpool is a game already awash with venom & spite without the liberal press stirring the pot with pointless relish. In the absence of crowds right now might it be an opportunity to tone this down a little? Not for our Barney. It was all there. Fat Frank the Tory Boy who has enjoyed a lifetime of wealth & privilege. Fat Frank eh? I would love to know the average trouser size for most of the people still using that weary veteran jibe. Frank was a supremely dedicated & passionate trainer his entire football life, lending a far greater explanation for his formidable achievements than the supposed silver spoon. Barney doesn’t care, he’s just supplying clickbait for his employers. Award winning clickbait of course. James Cameron & Neville Cardus must be turning in their graves. Lampard was indeed educated privately at the wish of his parents. This may have been unusual then, but hardly made Frank Jr Little Lord Fauntleroy. His father is a man of solid working class stock who was left back for West Ham Utd. Not the Duke of fucking Westminster. Will similar stories be thrown in the face of every Premier League footballer’s offspring in future? You can be sure that private education will be the norm for them nowadays, & that the players themselves (sadly) will more commonly vote Tory than Labour, as seemingly do most wealthy sports people. This is not a new development. If you read the masterly Glory Game by Hunter Davies, a brilliant behind the scenes look at Spurs in the early 1970’s, you will find that was already the case back then.

The Guardian have actively pursued readers like me to subscribe recently.  Some chance. Mr Ronay is a Millwall fan I am led to believe. How many column inches is he devoting to promoting the cause of struggling lower level clubs like Macclesfield or weeding out of the vermin at The New Den who  stab opposition fans or sang I’d rather be a P**i than a Scouse at Everton supporters during last year’s FA Cup tie. Maybe he has done, or maybe he is too busy badmouthing someone for an educational background they had no control over. Either way I won’t be reading anything the slippery prannet writes again. For if Oxbridge educated Barney Ronay was really such a scourge of privilege & elitism you might think he would have eschewed the academic path he himself pursued after his own schooldays. Evidently a man who can have it all ways. Lucky old Barney. Perhaps I caught his award winning prose on a bad day. A really bad day.

Good luck to all employees & fans of Macclesfield Town. Hopefully a new club emerges from the ashes. We all want to see our teams play live once again & seeing that prospect taken away  permanently & brutally is truly hideous. You deserve better.

One Of Your Own?

New pictorial roll of honour at the West Ham ground featuring their greatest players. Hammers fans not enamoured with the choice of Chelsea manager Frank Lampard!  Fortune’s always hiding indeed.

Odd lot West Ham fans. Back in his Upton Park days they belittled Frank Lampard as an overweight imposter, a victory for nepotism over talent due to his dad & uncle Harry Redknapp running the show, even infamously deriding his footballing abilities to the great man’s impossibly youthful teenage face at the now legendary Scott Canham fan forum featured below.

They subsequently squealed with delight at their club’s apparently impeccable Dick Turpin impression after Claudio Ranieri brought him to Stamford Bridge in 2001 for £11 million. Two decades & innumerable career highlights later their continued saltiness can only be attributed to the fact that none of these highlights were achieved wearing West Ham colours. Perhaps they should have appreciated him more when they had the chance. I do have some sympathy with them today though. If their owners had any sense then the overriding negative response of Hammers fans to the greatest goalscoring midfielder in English footballing history would ensure that an image of Frank Lampard in claret & blue days alongside other players past & present would not be appearing on the new graphic at their ground. Sadly for Irons followers  the club is still run by Lady Brady & the Porno Twins so that is exactly what has happened. Not content with ripping the heart & soul out of their club by removing them from Upton Park, their spiritual home, they now thumb their nose further with a move of staggering stupidity & insensitivity. Funny for everyone else, sure, but are messrs Sullivan & Gold determined to enrage & alienate their own team’s followers at every opportunity? What next – a  Paul Ince statue?

My favourite Frank Lampard moment against West Ham took place in 2009 when referee Mike Dean, that living emdodiment of ego overpowering intellect, absurdly made him take the same penalty three times at Upton Park, all of them tucked away with aplomb. Dean seemingly disallowed the second penalty for encroachment into the penalty area by a West Ham player, thus punishing the team taking the spot kick for an offence committed by an opposition player! Remarkable. The combination of an increasingly hysterical home crowd & a cretinous match official unveiling  his usual unwelcome potpourri of arrogance, incompetence & desperate craving for attention would have proved too much for many. Inevitably Frank rose above it.

He usually does.