It actually did feel like Christmas everyday between 1996-2003 having Gianfranco Zola light up Stamford Bridge on a regular basis. Now back at Chelsea as part of Sarri’s coaching team. Legend.
It actually did feel like Christmas everyday between 1996-2003 having Gianfranco Zola light up Stamford Bridge on a regular basis. Now back at Chelsea as part of Sarri’s coaching team. Legend.
The onset of another World Cup always makes me a little queasy. This is partly because I feel the need for a rest from football once the domestic season has ended. For me, football is a welcome & essential distraction from the misery of winter, a vastly less vital presence in summer. The World Cup arrives like a box of Hotel Chocolat’s finest being waved under your nose at 9 O’clock in the evening on Christmas Day. Magnificent but I’m full up. Oh alright. Just the one. That was nice. I’ll have another. On both occasions righteousness may lose out to gluttony but the queasiness never quite departs. This is partly due to the prospect of endless plays of Three Lions, which gets on my tits as successfully as it keeps Frank Skinner’s bank balance nicely topped up. At least it ensures the cheeky smile remains on his face, along with that remarkably unfurrowed sixty year old brow. During Euro 96 a friend was harangued, then kicked, then accused of being ‘a fucking jock’ for not joining in with a chorus of Three Lions. England weren’t even playing that day. Its appeal has palled ever since, blameless though the wretched song itself was in the incident. It may also be partly down to the prospect of 4 weeks of wondering how many minutes into a game Glenn Hoddle can last before using the word cute or mispronouncing Chelsea’s Brazilian midfielder as Willun when everyone else in the world, most of whom are not paid handsomely to get these things right, know him as Willian. Then there is the predictable debate about the confused state of our national identity, fast approaching critical proportions in the post 2016 referendum hell we now find ourselves in. Flying a St George’s flag outside your window during the World Cup does not make someone a boneheaded Tommy Robinson follower, but the bullying mentality towards people who don’t like football can also be quite unbearable. As England beat Sweden this year, Martin Keown, always a reliable standard-bearer for an intoxicating sporting brand of arrogance & stupidity, sneered that there were probably people out there reading a book instead of watching the game & they should get a life. Those that were reading at the time weren’t listening to a monstrous bellend like you Mr Keown, & that sounds like a plan for enriching anyone’s life. Apart from being a cretinous, witless attempt at preaching to the converted, Keown, as ever, missed the point entirely. One of the more tedious elements of the World Cup madness is having to listen constantly to the opinions of just about anybody on just about every aspect of the tournament. People who are not interested & don’t pretend to be should not be scorned, but cherished. The background noise is deafening enough as it is.
Many people who generally remain impervious to the charms of football are still drawn in by the magic of the World Cup however. These lovely people in the picture above may look as if they have just been shown the Dele Alli sex tape, but this is not so. I’ll venture that most of them had not strolled often, if ever, into a football ground before this picture, & that this state of affairs has persevered ever since. This is an educated guess as I know most of them. To them the World Cup was an entertaining back drop to a summer night in the pub, & there is nothing wrong with that. The picture dates from 2010 & there is a pretty good chance that nobody captured here remembers the match, let alone the incident, that inspired such animation. They are reacting to the moment Ghana missed a last-minute extra time penalty against Uruguay, after the second-rate vampire & future honorary Scouser Luis Suarez introduced himself to our wider consciousness by punching a goal-bound shot over the bar. Suarez got sent off but Uruguay went through. On penalties. Yet again sport at the top-level had given the lie to the adage that cheats never prosper, but the fact that this scene will have been mirrored all around the world is testimony to the grip the tournament can have on people, irrespective of whether they have a direct, vested interest in the protagonists on show.
I was 4 years old when England won the World Cup, so my memories of the day itself are not of Geoff Hurst’s hat trick, Bobby Moore wiping his hand before shaking that of Her Majesty, or the Russian linesman instructing the referee to give the third goal. Not even Nobby dancing. Some people may well have been on the pitch, but I was probably up in my tiny bedroom playing with my teddy bear. My memories are confined to the morning of the game, & are as mundane as it gets. It rained. And, stood in the rain, outside the shop at the end of our road, was a boy called Neil Keylock. A small boy. With a big, big voice. ‘WORLD CUP FINAL TODAY’ he proclaimed to anyone within earshot, probably three old women, Mr Sainsbury, who used to puncture our balls if they went into his garden & threatened his beloved plants (‘Cost me sevenpence each they did. Now bugger off!’) & at least one of Mrs Simpson’s twenty plus identical mongrels that perennially roamed the street growling at me & depositing plentiful supplies of dog shit everywhere. And yes, sometimes it was white. Neil, a year older than me, would later put his booming vocals to good use in junior school, when selecting his dinner in the assembly hall. The etiquette was to ask for small, medium or large portions of the culinary joy on offer, be it mutton, liver, soggy cabbage, gravy, lumpy mashed potato, swede, prunes, rice pudding with a dollop of jam, or, if we were lucky, a splendid rock hard chocolate tart with chocolate flavoured custard. No wonder my generation never bought a World Cup home. Neil always eschewed the first two of the standard sizing options & created one of his own. I never heard him ask for anything but ‘LARGE PLEASE!’ or ‘EXTRA LARGE PLEASE!’ & believe me, I always heard him. If Motorhead had been rehearsing next door they would have popped their head round the door & asked if he could keep the noise down. So when others hark back to their memories of the Jules Rimet Trophy gleaming away in Bobby Moore’s recently cleaned hands, I always think of Neil Keylock, his splendid voice, school dinners, & being nothing if not truly English, the inclement morning weather. What joy for those who can remember watching the match on the day itself mind. An EXTRA LARGE slice of joy if you please.
Everyone thinks that the first World Cup they can remember watching was the best one ever. They certainly don’t come any better than the 1970 World Cup in Mexico. What better time to be an 8-year-old discovering football. England was a far more insular country & large portions of the world a far more exotic & unknown prospect than is now the case. There were no foreign stars in the domestic game back then, & no wall to wall television watching options of games from round the globe, so the brilliance of some of the players from other nations were far more of a revelation than they would be now. To discover Rivelino, Gerson, Tostao, Jairzinho, & Carlos Alberto beside the wonderful Pele in the brilliant, triumphant Brazilian team of 1970 was beyond normal levels of excitement. Morning highlights would be shown as we prepared for school, presented by Frank Bough, then an apparent bastion of middle class middle England, now harshly remembered largely for alleged cross dressing & coke snorting with hookers in Mayfair S&M torture chambers during his breakfast television days in the following decade. Poor old Frank. He gave me his autograph at Edgbaston during a John Player League cricket match once so I still like him. Apparently drug free & dressed as a man I must add. Early on in the tournament Ladislav Petras of Czechoslavakia scored against Brazil & crossed himself in celebration, the first time any of us had seen a player do that, & aped by every school boy who scored on the school field at lunchtime for the rest of the summer. Pele came close to scoring from the halfway line in that match. None of us came close to repeating that. Germany had the ultimate goal poacher in the great Gerd Muller & the footballing Rolls Royce that was Franz Beckanbauer, who famously played on with his arm in a sling as they lost 4-3 to Italy in the semi finals. The Italians had Facchetti, Rivera & Luigi Riva. Peru brought the fabulous Teofilo Cubillas & Hector Chumpitaz, that decade’s winner of the Roger Miller ‘how old is he really?’ award. England had terrific players too. Moore, Charlton, Ball, & the great Gordon Banks, supplier of the highlight of that, indeed any, World Cup, via his extraordinary save from Pele’s lethal downward header as Brazil beat us 1-0 in the group stages. ‘What a save’ said my dad from his armchair, doubtless alongside countless millions of others, a split second before David Coleman’s commentary, delayed slightly by satellite transmission, repeated the very same words.
Sadly, there is rarely that much pleasure without pain, as Frank Bough could doubtless tell us. The World Cup that thrilled us so much also set the template for disappointment, pain & fear, as just before England’s Quarter Final against West Germany the great Banks succumbed to Montezuma’s Revenge (basically a more exotic sounding Mexican version of what you & I would call the shits) & was replaced by Chelsea legend Peter ‘The Cat’ Bonetti. His last meaningful action had seen him play a blinder at Wembley in the FA Cup Final, before battling bravely through the pain barrier after being crocked by dirty Leeds representative Mick Jones in the replay at Old Trafford. Hours before the Germany game kicked off our television broke down & we all decamped next door to watch the game. England sauntered into a 2 goal lead but then Bonetti misjudged a relatively innocuous looking effort from Beckanbauer, a speculative Seeler back-header looped into the corner of the net, & a nation’s hopes evaporated as fast as the entire English defence to leave Bonetti face to face with the deadly Muller for the by now inevitable extra time German winner. The Cat’s England team mates have largely continued to desert him ever since, shamefully happy to let him shoulder the entire blame for the defeat, the late Alan Ball being a noble & notable exception. On a side issue, the latter also handed us all a quandary that has haunted me for years, by publishing an autobiography titled It’s All About A Ball. The best title of a sports biography or the worst? Dear, fabulous Peter Bonetti had to carry the burden of the nation’s despair following that afternoon in Leon for the rest of his career. Before the match had ended, unable to bear the torture that was unfolding before us, I ran out the back door of my neighbours, jumped over the garden wall in an impressively catlike way, albeit a cat in pyjamas, & ran up to my tiny bedroom. As far as the England football team was concerned I would have been better staying there for the next 20 years. In the last 20 years many small boys have apparently carried this out, spawning the unwelcome emergence of the keyboard warrior. Three years later our television broke down again, shortly before England played a crucial World Cup qualifier away in Poland. Radio Rentals came to the rescue with a replacement set this time, but England lost disastrously again, Bobby Moore’s dreadful error letting in the lethal Lubanski for a killer goal before Alan Ball was sent off. In fact, England were not to qualify for 12 years after Mexico. The 1978 qualifying stages foundered after a tame 2-0 submission to Italy, although at least one person got something out of the day. QPR’s wayward striker Stan Bowles, discovering he got a fee for wearing the boots by the company sponsoring the national side, decided to wear one of their boots & one belonging to his usual sponsors, pocketing two fees in the process. He had a stinker by the way. We actually exited the tournament in 1982 without losing a match, due to there being 2 group stages in that tournament, Ron Greenwood’s boys drawing both games 0-0 in the second phase. At least we had a run for our money that time, long enough for the only local pub in Cottingham to allow us students through its doors to add This Time We’ll Get It Right by the England squad to its worthy jukebox alongside more durable staples such as Frankie Valli’s Northern soul classic The Night & Led Zep’s Trampled Underfoot. ‘We’re on our way, we are Ron’s 22, hear the roar of the red,white & blue.’ Happy memories. Maradona’s Hand Of God infamously did for us 4 years later, & even the memories of the splendid efforts of the team in 1990 seem somehow to have slightly faded against the backdrop of fan violence, Gazza’s open top coach comedy breasts, & Gary Lineker literally shitting his pants during the dreadful 1-1 draw with the Republic Of Ireland. By the time we failed to qualify in 1994 I had largely given up on the England team, & when qualification once again became the norm, the large influx of foreign players into Stamford Bridge allowed me to indulge my unhealthily burgeoning parochial side, cheering a Tor Andre Flo goal for Norway against Brazil in 1998 as loudly as most did Michael Owen’s memorable effort against Argentina. Despite our absence the 1994 tournament in America did have its moments, especially THAT penalty. No, not Roberto Baggio’s howler in the final shootout, which handed Brazil the trophy & me £24 (via a workplace sweepstake – I didn’t spend it all at once) but the one taken by soul diva Diana Ross in the extraordinary opening ceremony, scuffed so badly that onlooker Micky Mouse allegedly tried to renounce his US citizenship. Ain’t no mountain high enough, ain’t no goalposts wide enough.
So what, as the hangover subsides, are we to make of the 2018 World Cup? There was plenty of Eeyore like pessimism at the outset, certainly from yours truly, based on its backdrop being that of a corrupt nation hosting it following a typically crooked selection process from FIFA, as decrepit & bent an organization that has ever existed in the history of professional sport. I was dreading it but inevitably ended up happily bingeing on a month of football that offered more than its fair share of thrills, spills, triumph, disaster, laughter, tears, &, for England, anyway, the traditional anti climax. Despite the unusually low-key & understated approach that greeted England at the start, sponsored & approved by the intelligent & admirable Gareth Southgate, our sun drenched nation still managed to get lured into a state of delusional mid summer hysteria after a few wins over modest opposition. Fellow Chelsea fans who regularly bemoan the dreaded international breaks that regularly disrupt the domestic club season were suddenly appearing on social media in England shirts & clearly getting caught up in the general hysteria. Some Chelsea fans even berated others for pursuing an anti-Spurs agenda throughout. I shuffle uneasily on both feet at this juncture. I can acknowledge the brilliant displays of Kieran Trippier, & only the worst kind of churl would deny the pedigree of Harry Kane. But 5 Spurs players sniffing around the starting line up, alongside Kyle Walker, a relatively recent refugee from Satan’s North London living room, was just too much. Dele Alli tests my patriotic resolve most. I loathe Dele Alli, with his spineless leg breaking challenges, diving, 8-year-old boy’s face & 5-year-old girl’s celebratory dance routines. It doesn’t help that like the despicable Sergio Aguero, who has twice tried to end the career of David Luiz, Alli has it over Chelsea at present, seemingly able to score against us at will. Aguero is a truly great striker, but Alli can score double hat tricks home & away for eternity against Chelsea & I would still rather eat my own teeth than ever see him in a blue shirt. When he scores against Sweden I am simply unable to celebrate the goal. This says more about me I guess, but I cannot help but pray that the closest this jerk ever gets to World Cup greatness is allegedly (I don’t read the tabloids, an acquaintance told me about the sex tape, honest) having a passable replica of the great Jairzhino’s splendid 1974 afro stuffed down the front of his pants. Someone should tell him that Jairzhino had performed far better with a shorter cut 4 years earlier. Feel free to insert your own Brazilian joke here.
By the time England lost to Belgium Reserves in a match rendered memorable only by the transparent wish of both teams not to win the match & thus the group, Brazil & France prowling round the corner for the victors, I was beginning to feel like the only person at a 1967 Pink Floyd gig not to have taken acid. Immediately after this game ITV treated us to an evening version of the breakfast show hosted by Susanna Reid & the repulsive Piers Morgan. Stephen Fry was once asked to define the word countryside on one of those smug, Radio 4 panel games. ‘Killing Piers Morgan’ he replied. All hail the usually insufferable Mr Fry, who redeemed himself & indeed Radio 4 smug panel games forever with this one moment of comic genius, even if he did steal it from Willie Rushton. The guests included Danny Dyer, Pamela Anderson & hapless Gooner Jeremy Corbyn. Against all expectations Dyer & Pammy won the day handsomely, the former with a glorious tirade about the farce of Brexit (a process handsomely aided by the pathetic leadership of the overshadowed Corbyn) the latter by rising above Morgan’s insidious innuendos about her sex life. By the time the programme ends I suspect I am now on acid too. Summer madness has descended on all of us. There is nothing to do but give in to it.
Any critical observations of the team are deemed treason by the time I meekly ventured the opinion that it would be a damning indictment of world football were this game but limited England team to emerge triumphant at the close of the competition. This followed the abysmal last hour of the Colombia game, a tired team failing to test keeper David Ospina once from open play, or even to string two passes together for long stretches. I enjoyed seeing England winning World Cup matches for a change, but it was tedious being dismissed as a snowflake for gently querying the growing assumption that it was coming home. This was not always stated in a self deprecatory way, no matter what Gary Lineker claimed from his vantage point in Russia. Funny how the rest of us plebs back home couldn’t possibly gauge the national mood as well as him despite actually being in the country at the time.
Ultimately, of course, it turned out it wasn’t coming home, & for a while it seemed that the tournament’s best player, Chelsea’s magisterial Eden Hazard, might not return to these shores either. Back to life, back to reality. My thoughts have been with myself during this difficult time. The best team won this time, for sure, with the next best teams finishing second & third. Sounds trite but it doesn’t always work out this way. The main victor aside of France was the endlessly sinister Putin, who allayed widespread doubts about the tournament hosts by presenting the world with a very successful, entertaining & seemingly peaceable month of football. The Russian psychos who marred the 2016 Euros were conspicuous by their absence, & most of our Herberts stayed at home, presumably less sure of displaying their hackneyed, Stella Artois soaked machismo when the potential of a lengthy stint in one of Vladimir’s jails beckoned. I still don’t think Russia should have been given the World Cup & handed Putin the opportunity to display some undoubted PR genius but this is irrelevant now. They did get it & the football shone like the sun. Best ever? It was consistently entertaining, with lots of great games & goals but I wouldn’t have thought so, if only for want of a truly great team, the unreal Ronaldo & Messi both exiting limply due to the inadequacies of those alongside them, only emphasising the extraordinary achievement of Maradona almost single-handedly (ahem) carrying Argentina to two successive World Cup Finals in 1986 & 1990.
Diego also outstripped all competitors for the maddest person at this year’s tournament, his surely chemically induced displays of stadium eccentricity leaving behind pretenders like Roy Keane, whose displays of wilful perversity in the ITV studio became increasingly tired as the competition progressed. Keane is like a sober, unfunny Father Jack Hackett, the loner in the pub whose eye everyone avoids. This time, however, his colleagues seemed to suss him as the only person in the room determined not to enjoy himself, & he became almost as much a figure of fun as Maradona, who may be a hate filled, coked up mess but at least does it all with gusto as he hurtles ungently towards that good night. It is sad that mad Roy, one of the best footballers I have ever seen, has lapsed into self parody so badly at such a relatively young age. Keane can lecture Ian Wright about his immaturity & berate unprofessional play at every turn, but he is also the man who walked out on his own country on the brink of the 2002 World Cup telling his manager to shove it up his bollocks, an anatomically impossible demand lacking not only in professionalism & maturity, but also grammatical accuracy. He didn’t care enough to play in the tournament then so why should anyone care what he thinks about those that do? It would have been more honest had he stayed at home & walked his labrador like he did after his little tantrum in 2002. Keane was at least less spiteful than the petty, SNP twots who dragged out a debate in the House Of Commons so that their English counterparts missed the opening stages of the match against Tunisia. Doubtless they sniggered wildly when England eventually departed the tournament, having won more World Cup final matches in 3 weeks than Scotland have managed in their entire history. Might we politely remind them that in 1978 the Scotland team held a triumphant victory parade around Hampden Park before the World Cup had even begun, following a match against England, which they lost incidentally. Less it’s coming home than we haven’t even got on the plane yet. When they got to Argentina, they discovered, to their evident dismay, that actually playing some matches before picking up the trophy was required. Come hither our old Peruvian friends from 1970, some older than others. Written off as has-beens & mediocrities being led to the inevitable Scottish slaughter, the sublime Cubillas, ably assisted by a now 52-year-old Hector Chumpitaz, tore their vainglorious Caledonian opponents to shreds in the opening match. There should be a statue of Teofilo erected in Westminster for that. Scottish Nationalist MP’s might find this objectionable. So was denying rank and file Parliamentary workers, earning a fraction of an MP’s salary, the chance to watch their country in the World Cup over a summer pint. Never fear smug, small-minded ones, we could always have a debate about it. Perhaps on Hogmanay. Or Burns night.
The next World Cup is in Qatar. I’m dreading it already. It isn’t even happening in Summer, thanks to Sepp Blatter & his band of FIFA embezzlers, leaving the domestic season savagely disrupted in the middle of winter, all my nightmares coming true to satisfy the greed & ego of rich old men. I’ll be proved wrong, & it will probably overwhelm us all once again, eclipsing The Olympics, Ryder Cup, Ashes, Wimbledon, Formula 1 or any other sporting event you care to mention, ultimately for one reason & one reason alone. It’s football, and football is best. Who knows, maybe the miracle will happen & we will bring it home this time. Just one small request from this old cynic. Dele Alli not to get the winner please.
During my student years, spent at what Edmund Blackadder once described as one of the three great universities (Oxford, Cambridge & Hull) we had a Students Union President who seemed to have stepped fully formed out of The Kinks song David Watts so flawless did his existence appear. Academically bright, & pleasant looking, he was also a star striker for the university football team. One day he walked into the Union refectory, something of a second home for me as it allowed me to indulge my main diet of coffee, toasted cheese sandwiches, Mars bars & cigarettes for hours on end. Evidently unimpressed by his seemingly bland mixture of perfections, a female friend who had joined me at my table, prior to finding someone more interesting to talk to, looked up him up & down with true Northern disdain & sneered ‘Here he is. Roy Of The Fookin Rovers.’
If you are expecting a sting in this tale, that this exceptional young man ended up freebasing cocaine & found dead in a sparse hovel, dressed only in exotic lingerie, you will be severely disappointed. He is now the CEO of a major publishing company, working for John Prescott at one point possibly dimming any political ambitions he may once have had. The nearest he ever came to blotting his copybook at Hull was reputedly discussing the allegedly poor personal hygiene of the lead singer of 2 hit wonders JoBoxers too loudly prior to their appearance at the University. Just got mucky?
The irony of the Roy of The Rovers putdown, a staple insult for any Goldenballs types combining sporting & academic achievements with a worthy public image, is that dear old Roy Race himself has endured many a torrid experience since his original incarnation in 1954. He may never have been booked, & won dozens of trophies, but it has been rather a long way from plain sailing off the pitch. He was kidnapped on numerous occasions, doubtless based on the misconception that all small boys would grow up & pass the reading baton on to the next generation who would be oblivious to repeated plot lines. He was once shot by an embittered actor called Elton Blake. In 1986 eight of his team were killed by a terrorist bomb. His wife was the delightfully named Penny Laine. It would be nice to think that he met her behind the shelter in the middle of a roundabout. He didn’t. She was the secretary of then Melchester manager Ben Galloway. After a sometimes turbulent marriage she died in a car crash, which left Roy struggling with amnesia, & a son convinced our hero was the one to blame. Roy’s own, near 40 year playing career, ended when he lost a foot in a helicopter accident in 1993. Not an entirely enviable existence all things considered.
Rebellion are going all the way back to the beginning, with football’s very own Dr Who regenerating in the modern age as a 16 year old starting out with his beloved Melchester Rovers now struggling in the second tier of English football. I doubt we will be seeing Roy’s best friend, the unfortunately named Blackie Gray this time around, & the size police may also do away with goalkeeper Tubby Morton & Defender Lofty Peak too. It would be nice to see some of the stout yeomans of the past, perhaps Jimmy Slade or Geoff Giles, resurrected with the many maverick team mates Roy played beside in previous incarnations. Roy Of The Rovers usually kept pace with change. Melchester had a black player long before it was the norm, in the shape of winger Vernon Eliot, likewise a foreign player in Paco Diaz. One of my favourites among the more flamboyant characters was Mervyn Wallace, with flowing locks & fulsome moustache pleasingly redolent of Jason King era Peter Wyngarde combined with that bloke off The Flashing Blade. Once again, would the last teenager out please switch off the lights. There were many others, though strangely I can remember little of ’70’s ex circus juggler turned striker Sammy Spangler. He must have moved into films alongside Dirk Diggler with a name like that, presumably borrowing Mervyn’s ‘tache along the way. I don’t want all the old players back anyway, Tubby’s successor between the sticks Charlie The Cat Carter for one. Any Chelsea fan of a certain vintage knows there is only one goalkeeper worthy of that particular feline epithet, the impossibly great Peter Bonetti. Charlie never cut the mustard for me, & also appeared at one point to be rivalling the eternally youthful Roy in a late ’70’s Leif I Was Made For Dancing Garrett lookalike contest. I saw a photo of former skateboarder Leif recently. Eternal youth, alas, sadly appears to have bypassed him. The drugs really don’t work.
Having finally escaped from the pages of Tiger, leaving long-term colleagues like Native American wrestler Johnny Cougar & F1 driver Skid Solo (another unfortunately named individual) Roy Race led fellow footie strips Hot Shot Hamish & Billy’s Boots into his own, eponymous comic at the end of a week I spent on holiday in Southsea with my mate Bill & his parents. It was a good week for Chelsea, with league wins over Bolton & Blackpool either side of a League Cup victory over Huddersfield Town. The home win over Bolton featured a rare goal by my favorite player of the time, the injury plagued David Hay. At home we got Star Soccer on Sunday afternoons, for years wedged between The Champions or Randall & Hopkirk Deceased & The Golden Shot. The upside of all this was the chance to enjoy the golden larynx of former World War 2 pilot Hugh ‘That’s A Naughty One’ Johns, prone to mispronouncing the odd name (Ray Lewington becoming Kenny Lewiston on one occasion at Molineux) & giving players nicknames nobody else knew they had, including them, but always a welcome vocal presence in the prevalent Midlands gloom, his voice enriched by a smoking habit that had survived the loss of a lung to TB. Southsea would mean Brian Moore & The Big Match, & David Hay’s toothless grin after his splendid header from Steve Finnieston’s cross. Except it didn’t, because Bill’s dad had the revolutionary idea that a holiday meant more than sitting around watching football & took us on a boat trip round the Solent. Licensing laws were more stringent back then, & on a chilly afternoon there was a flurry of latecomers on to the boat who disappeared straight into the bar & stayed in there the whole time, things being a little more relaxed on the ‘time gentleman please’ front for those electing for a life, or at least an afternoon, on the ocean wave. Missing David Hay’s header against Bolton on The Big Match was clearly not an issue for these old juicers.
Roy Of The Rovers was launched the following Saturday. Bill & I both bought it. I don’t remember much about any of the newer comic strips, except for one called Millionaire Villa about a wealthy young man who spent a couple of million on a football club with the proviso that he be given a game. He would need billions now of course, though I can’t see it being revived. The concept may be the ultimate fantasy fulfillment for the super rich club owner, but people like that seem unlikely to spend too much time reading comics. In truth, we were a little old for Roy Of The Rovers in theory, but I still dutifully filled in the promotional wall chart in my scruffy handwriting, & notice that I elected that day’s away win at Blackpool, courtesy of one of Steve Finnieston’s many goals that year, as the best performance away from Stamford Bridge all season. My pubescent peripheral vision must have been exquisite because I was at Fratton Park watching an impoverished home team lose 0-2 against Reading in the old Division 3.
Portsmouth were managed by former Liverpool hero (& future TV sidekick to Chelsea great Jimmy Greaves) Ian St John. He had a fellow Scouse refugee in veteran full back Chris Lawler in his squad, along with a clutch of youngsters of varying quality, including future England centre half Steve Foster, current Sky Sports favourite Chris Kamara (a decent if one paced player & a considerably less cuddly proposition for opposing team’s players than he is to Goals On Sunday viewers nowadays) & a spectacularly unpopular forward by the name of Maitland Pollock. The Viz character that got away. Times being hard at Fratton Park, one player who featured in this match, the late Billy Wilson, eventually subsidized his salary by taking over The Pompey pub with his wife. The pub was a stone’s throw from the pitch. The aforementioned licensing laws meant it shut half an hour before kick off, reopening an hour or so after the final whistle. Billy had a stinker against Grimsby one afternoon, but was still back behind the bar serving the fans at 6, & queried why one punter had given him way over the odds for a large round of lagers. ‘The rest is for you, we want you to buy a length of rope and hang yourself!’ he was told. They still sang One Billy Wilson to him. Different times The pub has gone now, spewing bile on social media the modern poison for many contemporary fans.
It is ex Portsmouth players I largely recall from this week. Bill & I had tracked down the sports shop of Oxford United (& former Pompey) goalie John ‘Dracula’ Milkins & stood aghast peering through the window as he held court with customers wearing a pair of those horrendous Rupert Bear trousers only ever donned by golfers (& Rupert himself in fairness) outside of this inglorious era for the British wardrobe. The other Fratton favourite briefly appeared for Reading in this match, limping off with an injury to sympathetic applause shortly after the game began. Ray Hiron had previously played over 300 games for Portsmouth & scored over 100 goals. He wasn’t remotely sexy or rock ‘n’ roll , but he was one of those stalwarts that supplied the backbone to many football clubs in this era, As someone who went to lots of games back then, I always remember players like this fondly. There were more colourful & controversial characters playing for Reading at the time but Hiron’s poignant departure remains my main memory of the game, other than Bill & I being collared by a dipshit Reading fan who found out we were from Oxford & proclaimed ‘Oxford? Shit team. Good fighters though.’ Thanks for coming Confucius. Roy Keane’s future biographer & spiritual father, the wilfully gittish, cantankerous & perverse Eamon Dunphy, was his usually skin & bones self in midfield. Dunphy & Keane fell out after the book was published. Quelle surprise. Combative, beardie Welsh international midfielder Trevor Hockey once clashed with Dunphy & spat out the old ‘how many caps have you got?’ line to which the old curmudgeon, rarely short of an answer, gleefully replied ’25.’ 17 more than poor Trevor as it happens, who clearly did not realize he was baiting a Republic Of Ireland regular.
The other big personality at Reading was Robin Friday. An habitual drinker, drug user & woman chaser throughout his adult life, Friday died in 1990, reportedly of cardiac failure brought on by a heroin overdose. His all too brief career had ended before the ’70’s were over, but his name was belatedly & posthumously put in lights in the late ’90’s via a book called The Greatest Footballer You Never Saw by ex music hack Paolo Hewitt & a member of Oasis who wasn’t one of the tedious Gallagher brothers. Friday died around the time English football started to emerge from the doldrums. It was nice to move away from the era of stadium disasters like Bradford, Heysel & Hillsborough, nice to see people who had turned their back on the game engage with it once again, nice to see a new generation of fan attracted to football matches, especially nice to see more women going to games. Cliche though it has become, the pivotal moment in this transformation was the England-Germany match in the 1990 World Cup, capped off by the tears of Paul Gascoigne. By Euro 1996 the national team could get away with drawing against Switzerland, winning an undeserved penalty shootout against Spain (after their opponents had a perfectly good goal disallowed for offside) & losing (on penalties again) to Germany on home soil. The cracks were papered over not just by a moment of Gazza brilliance against Scotland, allied to an emphatic win over a deeply divided Dutch team, but more generally by what seemed like a collective national hysteria. Three Lions topped the charts, politicians were embracing a sport they had treated as an infectious disease for decades, & the tournament was a vibrant showcase for the new & improved stadia that had sprung up in the wake of the money pouring into the game via the Murdoch/Sky sponsored creation of the Premier League. There was a downside though, & one of them was an influx of people poncing off the sport & its newly regained popularity. The aforementioned politicians, especially the liar & future Prime Minister Tony Blair, were among this obnoxious & unwanted breed. Give me a football hater who stays true to their code any day. To go to football in the late 1980’s was to be seen as a weird mix of sporting geek & social pariah. Suddenly, God help us, it was fashionable again. It was laughable to see ageing music writers, belatedly sussing they could not sustain a living any longer by wearing baseball caps the wrong way round & pretending to like Public Enemy, now adopting football as a meal ticket into middle age. I shared football grounds with some desperate people in the 1980’s but at least knew that all of them, for whatever reasons they had, wanted to be there, not merely to be seen there.
The Greatest Footballer You Never Saw seemed to typify this trend. Plenty of people did see Robin Friday play. I saw him at least twice, a clearly talented & charismatic performer. Sadly, I can’t remember anything about him at Fratton Park on this occasion. If the title of the book was aimed at younger readers fine, but clearly there are scores of greater players than Robin Friday they never saw. As for old farts like Hewitt & me, if you didn’t see him perhaps you didn’t go to enough matches until it was deemed cool to do so again. In fairness, however, the book is a decent read, largely because of the frenetic lifestyle of its sadly doomed subject. Robin was never going to make old bones & must have been a nightmare to be around. His 38 years witnessed three marriages. One wedding ended in a free for all with the wedding gifts being purloined, including an apparently generous stash of cannabis. Robin apparently also took LSD in his playing days & was an enthusiastic drinker, once taking to the dance floor in a Reading nightclub to strut his funky stuff totally naked save for the hobnail boots on his feet. He once left a bar citing boredom only to reappear shortly afterwards carrying a swan he had acquired in the intervening period. He was a wild presence on the football pitch too on occasions, managing to get sent off seven times in his Isthmian League career prior to joining Reading. Even legendary hard men like Tommy Smith & Chelsea’s own Ron ‘Chopper’ Harris found it quite difficult to get sent off in those days. Not Robin. A few months after the Portsmouth game, he left Reading for Cardiff City, his last appearance for The Royals being one I witnessed at a snowy, ice-cold Manor Ground in the last few days of 1976. His arrival at his new club was delayed by him only having a platform ticket for the entire journey & being detained by Transport Police until his new manager arrived & settled the debt. This set the tone for a short & unhappy stay at Cardiff despite a glorious 2 goal debut performance & his wrongfully being credited with dealing with Bobby Moore as an opponent by spitefully grasping the great man’s testicles. This is one story that is not entirely true if only because Bobby Moore only had one testicle, having had the other removed due to cancer in the mid 1960’s, prior to his World Cup heroics. Another story in dispute about Friday is that having been sent off for kicking Mark Lawrenson in the face (yes, that Mark Lawrenson) he returned to the dressing rooms & compounded the felony by defecating into the latter’s kit bag. Hewitt’s book does not mention this, & Lawrenson has, to my knowledge, never confirmed or denied it. If it is true it’s no wonder he always sounds so world-weary. Mr Friday did have form in the fecal department, once reacting to a poor Reading performance at Mansfield, to which he had been excluded, by depositing a sneaky Richard The 3rd into the team bath. It may be fun recounting these tales, but I can’t help thinking of Jack Dee’s response to a zealous hi-fi salesman trying to sell him a system that would make it sound, he was assured, like the band were actually in the room. ‘I like The Pogues but I don’t want them in my living room.’ Friday slipped out of football & into obscurity, then prison, for impersonating a police officer in an attempt to steal everyone else’s drugs. He was just 38 when he died. RIP Robin & a Happy 75th Birthday for his former team-mate Ray Hiron next month.
In many ways Bobby Moore was a real life, defensive Roy Of The Rovers. Robin Friday was the anti Roy Race. Roy’s life may have been blighted by tragedy & disaster, but they were rarely self-inflicted. It’s great to have him back in the trusty hands of Rebellion & I look forward to sneaking into Oxford’s best bookshop to buy a copy of the first graphic novel in the series later in the year. Good old Waterstones. Doubtless there will be less kidnappings at the hands of swarthy bandits on ill-advised summer tours. He’ll have enough on his hands warding off internet trolls. Hopefully he doesn’t lose either a foot or a wife this time, & though there will be a need to adapt to changing times, I think we can be confident we will never see him carry a swan into a pub, impersonate a police officer to snaffle other people’s drugs, or poo in anyone’s kit bag. Not even one belonging to Mark Lawrenson.
Welcome back Roy.
Football & music. Not always the happiest of bedfellows. Think Gazza with Lindisfarne. Think Anfield Rap or Good Old Arsenal with its oxymoronic, Jimmy Hill penned lyrics. There have been some aural horrors at Chelsea too, such as Ruud Gullit blowing his previously cool persona forever by getting the team to run out to Europe’s abysmal The Final Countdown , or Simply The Best blaring out in the early ’90’s to herald a team in 19th place preparing to delight that week’s expectant crowd of 12,117. The anthems are great though. Blue Is The Colour, Liquidator, Parklife, One Step Beyond & Blue Day all honourable contributors to the canon, essential components of the Stamford Bridge tapestry.
However, there are also songs that we associate with our teams, or at least certain days following them, that inveigle themselves into our match day memories in a more random way. Some are swiftly forgotten. Other probably should be. Many more remain embedded in our inner footballing consciousness forever, & can never be heard again without memories of Rotterdam in 2000 or Burnley at home in 1978 being invoked, & bathing us in a warm & ever so slightly soppy nostalgic glow. Cool has to take its turn on my list next to cosy pullover wearing crooners & ultra dodgy cover versions. Rightly so says the man fast approaching the pipe & slippers stage of life himself…
Perry Como Magic Moments (Stockholm May 13th, 1998)
It is no longer merely Stockholm to me. It is Aah Stockholm. Mad coach drivers. Aah Stockholm. Ice cream & boat trips. Aah Stockholm. Zola & THAT goal. Aah Stockholm. European glory. Aah….well I think you get the picture. A beautiful city full of beautiful people. On the second day, the afternoon of the Cup Winners Cup final itself, I passed a Stuttgart fan who was at least as ugly as me, possibly even more so. I could have kissed him. Actually, scrub that. Shaken him firmly by the hand. Randomly kissing German men is not really my bag. Either way, I thank him for being mildly repulsive. After the game, relieved at finding our coach amidst dozens of others, the post-match euphoria quickly subsided into a subdued lull, not unusual or surprising as physical & mental tiredness overcame the adrenaline fuelled euphoria of the previous two days. This was an inadequate state of affairs for one fan, who approached the aforementioned mad driver & pressed a cassette tape (for yes readers, it is still the 1990’s & cassettes are still most regularly used in cars) into his hand. He plays it. We do not get grunge, or Brit pop, or rap. Neither, thank God, do we get the Nuremberg rally pop of Queen’s horrendous We Are The Champions, always an unwelcome staple at such moments, a revolting skid mark in the pants of many a sporting triumph. Instead we get Perry Como’s Greatest Hits. And it fits, the old smoothie’s velvety tones reverberating around the coach and complimenting the general air of weary contentment. ‘Magic moments, memories we’ve been sharin’ indeed. Fortunately, nobody attempts a reprisal of the playground version of the song starting ‘I’ll never forget the smell of the sweat from under her armpits.’ My dad was a fan of the crooners & a formative memory is of hearing him sing Perry Como songs in the bath prior to going out on the bevy with his mates on a Friday night. He loved to whistle too so Magic Moments ticked all the boxes. As it did in Stockholm. Aah Stockholm. ‘Time can’t erase the memory of these magic moments filled with love’…..you tell ’em Perry
Jilted John Jilted John (Barcelona April 18th, 2000)
We are at the airport in Barcelona after a Luis Figo inspired 5-1 drubbing. A more than creditable first Champions League season has ended & we are a forlorn & bedraggled bunch, overseen by unimpressed policemen & airport staff, both keen to see the back of us, exuding an air of boredom laced with mild hostility. The mood is transformed by a Chelsea geezer (there really is no other word ) standing up & performing an impromptu, word perfect, version of one hit wonder’s Jilted John’s eponymous 1978 new wave curio. The humiliation of the evening is momentarily put to one side, memories of Rivaldo, Kluivert & Luis bloody Figo humiliating Ferrer, Babayaro, Lebouef et al shelved as everyone joins in at the chorus & the good people of Barcelona are forcefully informed several times that ‘Gordon is a moron.’ The geezer has put more heart & energy into his 150 seconds of glory than the stagestruck Chelsea players had managed between them in two hours at the Camp Nou but is enraged when his magnificent efforts are met with premature cheers & applause from the rest of the Chelsea supporters. He has not completed the spoken word ‘I ought to smash his face in yeah yeah not fair’ refrain immortalized by the artist how known as John Shuttleworth, & waves his arms furiously to shut everyone up until it is completed. It is a performance of true bravura & the cheers are even louder when he eventually finishes. They are not universal however. The police & airline staff are bemused & have their own, apparently collective response to the spectacle written all over their faces. ‘Get these idiots out of our country.’
For the first time all day I feel proud to be British.
Madonna American Pie (Rotterdam March 14th,2000)
A month earlier we had been put into the ground hours before kick off lest we engage in combat with the more lairy element of Feyenoord’s fan base. They have history with Spurs going back to the 1970’s (who doesn’t?!) It is a cold night, not improved by some pointless wretch throwing beer over a hapless steward & various unwelcome renditions of ‘No Surrender to the IRA’ when the match eventually begins. This song has not been heard at Stamford Bridge in recent times so whether this is due to some some Combat 18 infiltration or merely less focused pin headed jingoism I am unable to say. Generally speaking, however, the Chelsea fans are well behaved & in good voice. Frank Lebouef misses an early penalty but a Zola cracker flies in off a post & we go in 1-0 up. The break only reinforces how cold we are. Cue American Pie. I make no defence against the argument that Madonna’s version of the classic Don Mclean original is a cowpat of a record but it comes on at just the right time. We all know the words, it blares out around the ground & it bounces along perkily, crap though it undoubtedly is. In the words of Don, via Madonna, we started singing. The need to blot out the cold, combined with the raised spirits arising from Gianfranco’s recent moment of magic leads to a rare old singalong. Smiles abound & the driving wind coming off the North Sea is briefly forgotten. At this moment we know we are not going to lose this game. Feyenoord equalize early in the second half, but Dennis Wise scores a diving header, Tor Andre Flo gets another & the final victory is comfortable & emphatic. We are kept in the ground for what seems like an eternity after the final whistle, so long in fact that we get to enjoy another, singular & surreal sing song when the players come back out for a post-match training session & Wisey responds to our cajoling by leading us in a rendition of Carefree. Having briefly heard the little scamp sing I am loath to further condemn Madonna’s cover of American Pie & am always strangely moved on the rare occasions I hear it.
The Pogues Misty Morning Albert Bridge (League Cup v Newcastle 28th October,1992)
I dreamt we were standing
By the banks of the Thames
Where the cold grey waters ripple
In the misty morning light
A happy accident on this particular night created the cockeyed walk to the ground which was to become my pre match template for many years. Arriving at Victoria early for this League Cup clash with Kevin Keegan’s resurgent Newcastle, & tiring of the hustle & bustle of the King’s Road, I randomly take a left at the Chelsea Town Hall. There is barely a soul in sight along the side streets, & I don’t have a clue where I am heading, but end up in Oakley Street, a stone’s throw away from the Albert Bridge. I am not a well travelled man but from childhood have been enchanted by the Embankment at night, & confident there are few sights that could bring me more pleasure. In the middle of one of the world’s most congested cities I relish a few moments of peace & tranquility staring at the beautifully illuminated Albert Bridge, with its indefinable magic.
Held a match to your cigarette
Watched the smoke curl in the mist
Your eyes, blue as the ocean between us
Smiling at me
Misty Morning Albert Bridge was released in 1989. It was always a great tune but hampered, along with the rest of the album from whence it came, by an uncharacteristically muddy Steve Lillywhite production, apparently due to the latter lacking confidence in Shane MacGowan’s vocal performance. A 2013 remix has redressed this unhappy state of affairs & lended greater clarity to the marvellous Jem Finer lyric, not referring to the Albert Bridge’s nocturnal delights, true, but capturing its allure with a poetry beyond most of us.
I do not know it but Oakley Street has a pedigree of A list residents. David Bowie lived there. George Best lived next door. In Oscar & Lady Wilde’s old house. Nearby Cheyne Walk has been home to numerous movers & shakers of their respective ages. Lloyd George. Bram Stoker. Bertrand Russell. Mick Jagger & Marianne Faithfull. More Stellar Street than Stella Street. I decide not to bother the local estate agents. After Marianne had flown the nest to sit on Soho walls taking heroin Mick was known to pop round to Mr Bowie’s house, possibly for more than just a cup of sugar. Brown sugar. Just around midnight. From this night on my walk to the ground always involved this detour & it is particularly cherished for night games when a short, leftwards glance towards an illuminated Albert Bridge helps set up the evening perfectly. Stamford Bridge was lit up magnificently on this particular evening too, as Frank Sinclair & Mick Harford goals saw off a lively, well supported Newcastle team, for whom a Rob Lee goal was scant consolation for the long, empty handed trek home. Never mind eh?
Television Personalities Part Time Punks
Walking down the Kings Road
I see so many faces
They come from many places
They come down for the day
They walk around together
And try and look trendy
I think it’s a shame
That they all look the same
Recently there was a YouTube video accompanying this 1978 gem, with its perennially hummable tune from my long departed youth, featuring some lovely archive footage of punks arsing around on the Kings Road. It would be slightly fraudulent to post it here because by the time I started regularly walking to Stamford Bridge from Victoria Station even the cartoon ’80’s punks with their mohicans & Exploited t-shirts had mugged up for the last camera wielding tourist, wriggled out of their bondage trousers & finally buggered off to be quantity surveyors or UKIP leaders. Nevertheless, It always remained a permanent fixture on the match day jukebox in my head as I sauntered past Sloane Square. I first heard it on a terrific Rough Trade compilation called Wanna Buy A Bridge, cleverly nestled next to a track referenced in its lyric, Swell Maps splendid Read About Seymour. By the late ’80’s the Kings Road is not the cool & vibrant place it once was, although I still expect an imminent & wholly warranted arrest from the fashion police when making my way to the football. The only trend it is embracing is the one nudging us towards the homogenized tedium that is the modern retail world. The fate of 49 Kings Road says it all. Once The Chelsea Drugstore, a late addition to swinging London in the 1960’s, a three floor building housing among other things a pharmacy, record store, boutiques, newsstands & various eateries. It was famously name-checked by The Rolling Stones in You Can’t Always Get What You Want, & frequented by Malcolm McDowell’s Alex in A Clockwork Orange. It is now in its third decade as a branch of McDonald’s. Globalization come on down.
Of course, geeky voyeurs like me are, in truth, more at home in McDonalds than we would ever have been trying to rub shoulders with the groovy cats who doubtless frequented the Chelsea Drugstore. This misses the point though. I might not ever have fitted in but as a cultural tourist I want to experience the feeling of not fitting in while having a gawk at the people who do. Which returns us neatly to Part Time Punks. Is it a swipe at the small, resentful London punk elite upset that their fun has been invaded by the outside world or a 158 second sneer at dullard proles arriving far too late for the original party & somewhat missing the original point of the whole thing? Whatever, it remains a thing of joy & I would need to be entirely be lacking in self awareness to think that teenage hicks from the sticks like me avoided its perceptive lyrical glare.
They play their records very loud
And pogo in the bedroom
In front of the mirror
But only when their mums gone out
Okay. Guilty your honour. Spin on.
The Slits Typical Girls (Chelsea 1 Birmingham City 2 – Sep 8, 1979)
This match took place a mere day after the release of The Slits debut album Cut, a suitably unruly & brilliant record by a band that looked, sounded & behaved like no other female group in pop history up to that point. A documentary featuring John Peel at that time showed band members spitting & simulating masturbation in the direction of the camera. John Lydon married the mother of one of the band, the late Ari Up, so doubtless polite society blamed the parents. You didn’t get that from Dana or The Nolans, though Lemmy once alleged that one of the latter once calmly said to him ‘while you’re down there’ when he bent down to pick something up in front of them. Clearly in the mood for dancing that day. On this day, there is a large billboard advertising the album on the opposite side of the road as you walk towards Fulham Broadway Station. Three women, topless & daubed head to toe in mud, stare forbiddingly out. It is not difficult to see images of naked women in Britain in 1979, but this picture is entirely at odds with the plentiful array of bouncing bristols found everyday in the best selling tabloid newspapers of the day. The Slits are not passive, or simpering, or attempting to appease slobbering male fantasy. Catch their eye in the wrong way & you suspect they would rip your nuts off.
Stamford Bridge is not a happy place at this time. Ray Wilkins had departed for Man Utd that summer, & this game sadly turns out to be the end of the line for two legendary post-war footballing icons, Danny Blanchflower & Peter Osgood. Osgood, stood pretty close to where his ashes are now buried, lays on the Chelsea goal for Clive Walker with a noncahlent flick of his right foot, but a Birmingham City team, led by Archie Gemmell (surprisingly & apparently prematurely sold by Brian Clough a short time earlier) win more comfortably than the 2-1 scoreline suggests. Future Charlton & West Ham manager Alan Curbishley scores the winner after Walker’s goal had cancelled out an opener from Steve Lynex, himself bearing the sort of name that would have fitted nicely into that era’s contemporary music scene. Blanchflower resigns after this defeat, to be replaced by Geoff Hurst. Prior to his dismal 9 month stint as Chelsea boss, the Spurs Double winning skipper had been writing odd, Lewis Carroll inspired articles on modern football in the Sunday Express using Tweedledee & Tweedledum as stooges to make whatever points it was he was trying to make. Such whimsy may have sat well with Sunday Express readers but it seems not to have translated well to the modern football dressing room. I had given up on him after he attempted to play mercurial striker Duncan McKenzie in midfield & reacted to a 6-0 defeat at Nottingham Forest by suggesting his young players maybe needed to learn to lose before they could learn to win. They really didn’t Danny. Osgood follows him out of the door as Geoff Hurst is promoted to the hot seat. Hurst is one of the least popular managers in Chelsea history, but one of Osgood’s complaints is that Alan Hudson offered his services at the time & was asked to prove his fitness first. This outraged both Hudson & Ossie, but given their previous track record for skipping training for the pub, & Hudson’s subsequent admission that he once played drunk during a match at Highbury (for Stoke, where Hurst was a colleague, & initially put a roof over Hudson’s head) the former World Cup hero’s request does not seem entirely unreasonable. A penchant for going on the piss is one thing. Taking the piss is something else. Chelsea lose 3-0 at Shrewsbury the following week but things look up after that, & they end up narrowly missing out on promotion as Birmingham pip them on goal difference, aided by a 5-1 drubbing in the return match at St Andrews the following March. In April I go to see The Undertones at the Birmingham Odeon & get openly sniggered at. I am wearing a Chelsea shirt, as is guitarist Damien O’Neill in the My Perfect Cousin video. Snigger away boys, at least I don’t come from a place that gave Crossroads to the world. May God have mercy on your souls.
There is an undercurrent of depressing ugliness & malignancy around Stamford Bridge in this era, & I specifically recall an unwelcome National Front presence outside both the main gates & the Bovril entrance on this afternoon as they try to impose their abhorrent views on us all by waving about copies of their doubtless delightful newspaper Bulldog. This was known to feature a Top 10 of the most racist fans in the country, Chelsea frequently faring rather well apparently. The Slits failed to trouble the musical Top 10 but remain an inspirational force of nature whose influence extends way beyond their record sales. Twenty years later I work with a quiet, bespectacled, studious looking chap called Ben. We don’t share a lot in common but one day I mention The Slits & his face lights up. Proudly he extracts a small, glossy piece of paper from his wallet which turns out to be a photo of the cover of Cut. Bassist Tessa Pollitt, one of the three Amazonian figures in the photo (& on that Fulham Road billboard all those years earlier) is his sister. I would never have guessed. Ben is a nice lad & at no time when we worked together did he betray any preference for publicly spitting or simulating the act of masturbation. Which, I’ve got to be honest, was something of a relief.
Elvis Costello Hoover Factory
Singing this song to myself while appreciating the art deco wonder of its subject, the one time Hoover Factory, in Perivale, was always one of the staples of my match day coach trip on both legs of the journey in & out of London. The song itself, written by fellow admirer Costello, is a mere 104 seconds long, but the advantage of its existence is that it was penned when its author was on both lyrical & musical fire, working as a computer operator for Elizabeth Arden in nearby Acton in 1977.
Five miles out of London on the Western Avenue
Must have been a wonder when it was brand new
Talking ’bout the splendour of the Hoover factory
I know that you’d agree if you had seen it too
This building is a welcome diversion to this day from long stretches of motorway, nearby disused golf courses, self storage units & idiots talking horseshit loudly on their phones. Great building, lovely song. Elvis saying it all sadly allows me to indulge myself in another of my continuing series of inconsequential tales of minor brushes with fame of wafer thin interest to anyone but myself. In December 1984 I have a Christmas job at Dixon’s, electing to stay in the stockroom rather than try to sell Commodore 64’s or Alan Sugar’s appalling Amstrad tower systems (3 sold one Saturday afternoon, 3 returned within 2 days, God knows how you’ve got away without being fired you Spurs loving midget.) I worked over 70 hours in my first week & took home £49. After 4 weeks the prospect of rejoining the dole queue was losing its sting, but a friend from college days contacts me to say he has a spare ticket for an Elvis Costello solo concert at the Royal Festival Hall. I ask to leave work early that day & explain why. The store manager, a man called Malcolm Dennis, agrees without comment, probably relieved to avoid me grinding more Marlboro stubs into his otherwise immaculate new stockroom floor. All I know about Malcolm was that he has a background selling cameras & an alleged liking for Frankie Goes To Hollywood. The concert is great, but Dixon’s are out of my life as soon as Christmas is out of the way, the dreaded Amstrad tower systems at least giving me somewhere to hide while listening to Chelsea updates during a great 4-3 win at eventual champions Everton, 3 days before that year’s celebration of the birth of our lord. A couple of years later I buy a biography of Elvis Costello. Leafing through the photos reveals a mid ’70’s picture of his first band Flip City. Peering through rather more hair than he was wearing the following decade is a strangely familiar face. It is Flip City’s drummer & his name is Malcolm Dennis. It is clearly one & the same & the rotten sod never said a word about his connection to the biggest musical hero I had in those years!
Green for go, green for action
From Park Royal to North Acton
Past scrolls and inscriptions like those of the Egyptian age
One of these days the Hoover factory
Is gonna be all the rage in those fashionable pages
Great songwriter but no Nostradamus our Elvis. Tesco brought it in the early 1990’s as they began spreading their vile, corporate wings ever further. Still a fabulous building though.
Room 5 (Ft Oliver Cheatham) Make Luv (Arsenal 2 Chelsea 2, FA Cup 6th Round, Mar 8, 2003)
2002-3 can now be seen as a pivotal season in the history of Chelsea but things were a whole lot less clear cut at the time. Chelsea teeter on the brink of financial ruin, as the failure to go beyond the one season of Champion’s League football 3 years earlier has seen the club overstretch disastrously. Only one signing was made in the summer, & that proves a temporary one due to Deportivo Alaves having a longer term claim to the services of the underwhelming Enrique De Lucas. As 2003 unravels, the paramount need to qualify for the Champions’ League becomes increasingly apparent, the target eventually reached via a last day shootout with Liverpool.
Lack of new signings were not the only symptom of the club spiralling towards insolvency. John Terry, now establishing himself as a brilliant defensive presence, was rumoured to be on a relatively paltry salary & Arsenal were among those sniffing around as a new contract beckoned but remained unsigned. Against this rather gloomy backdrop the team performed magnificently to finish in the top 4, a 36 year old Gianfranco Zola performing out of his skin, outscoring the splendid Jimmy Floyd Hasslebaink & Eidur Gudjohnsen & complementing the emerging talents of Terry & Frank Lampard, the former still learning his trade alongside top quality defensive partners in Marcel Desailly & William Gallas.
There had been fun & games aplenty in the build up to this match, January seeing some media preoccupation with the wretched state of the Stamford Bridge pitch, which by the time Charlton arrived in the middle of the month had been completely covered in sand. Chelsea won the game 4-1 & were totally brilliant, but Charlton boss Alan Curbishley squealed like a pig to the press & another spurious anti-Chelsea media campaign limped along for a few weeks. Had Chelsea played at The Valley to find similar conditions & whined after a battering the words overpaid primadonnas would have been bandied about with gay abandon of course. On this occasion many in the press backed the ludicrous argument that the result should have been declared null and void. Clearly nobody in the press had ever seen the state of Derby County’s Baseball Ground pitch during their ’70’s heyday.
I had more serious things on my mind than uneven playing surfaces & standards of journalism at the time. Alyson, a friend & colleague for nearly 20 years, had been taken ill over the Christmas period. Taken into hospital before New Year the rest of us returned from the holiday season to the news that half her stomach had been removed. I have a couple of phone conversations with her, one of which is quite upsetting & which has to be curtailed while I go to sort out a customer complaint at work. A programming error on the tills means a man has been overcharged £1 & this apparently entitles them to swear at me in front of their very young daughter. Still, being well spoken means it doesn’t count right? He gets his quid but will never know how lucky he was not to be spitting teeth out of his ringpiece. I plan a visit on the afternoon of the mid-week game against Leeds but get a phone call from Jon, her husband, advising me that she is to have another medical procedure. The match is brilliant, a five goal thriller, one of which is a truly majestic Eidur Gudjohnsen bicycle kick, comfortably ensconced in the canon of all time great Chelsea goals. It is rivalled a few days later by an extraordinary, ridiculously sublime Zola free kick at home to Spurs, on the way home from which I bump into Alyson’s brother, Richard. Her family is in bits. Richard & I had once travelled up to Stamford Bridge together, & Jon had stood in the Shed with me on New Year’s Day 1992 to watch a twice deflected Mike Sheron shot rescue his team, Man City, an undeserved last minute point.
Doubtless my recollecting goals from football matches while a friend was in the process of dying will confirm the prejudice of football phobics, proof of the infantilization of lovers of the game, burying themselves deep in something essentially meaningless in an attempt to divert themselves from confronting the harsh realities of the real world. The Oz founder Richard Neville used to lament to John Peel that football had replaced religion as the opiate of the masses, to which the latter responded that they needed one. I am not sure that a passion for football is any more puerile than spending spare time line dancing, trainspotting, going to Take That reunion concerts or cladding oneself in lycra to speed along footpaths abusing pedestrians strolling along the riverside. I might also counter that the fact that I can date these footballing events so precisely is because something else so momentous was occurring. There has to be some light among the general darkness on such occasions. You celebrate a goal with as much gusto, if not more, at times like this, but the euphoric feeling wears off quicker. Having grown up in the era of football tragedies such as Ibrox, Bradford, Heysel & Hillsborough I don’t accept that football cushions you from the harsher elements of life anyway. On a lighter note, I had to go into school after a 7-1 defeat at Wolves in 1975 & face the music. There was no hiding place for the supporter of a misfiring football team. Nobody harangues you if you didn’t win at Bingo the night before, or had the camera on the wrong setting when you took that picture of a Kingfisher. Nothing prepares you better for disappointment & public ridicule than football.
With my customary, immaculate timing I eventually visit Alyson the day after she has been told that nothing more can be done for her. The look on her face when she tells us will never leave me. We already know & I think she knows we know too. Within a fortnight she is dead. Bill tells me he has tickets for the Arsenal & WBA away games ‘because you’ve had a rough time recently.’ Not compared to others I haven’t, but your friends truly show themselves at times like that. Having to shuffle work commitments around home games I do no get to as many away games as I would like so any trip away from Stamford Bridge is an adventure for me.
There is a relatively new phenomenon in 2003. The 5:35 kick off. Like most people, Bill & I fail to adapt by treating the day as if the match was starting at 3. Like most people, we’ve had a few by the time we enter Highbury. JT’s thumping header is quickly cancelled out by a rare Gunners goal for Scouse pinhead Franny Jeffers who celebrates in front of us. We are near the front at The Clock End. ‘I saw you in the crowd’ a work colleague tells me a couple of days later. I hope she didn’t see my reaction to Franny Jeffers. Thierry Henry has put Arsenal in front by half time. I am adamant it is offside. The big screen tells us otherwise. The spouting of sporting bollocks. Sponsored by Guinness. It looks like we are going home to nurse our hangovers with yet another cup exit to Arsenal. We only ever seemed to lose to Man Utd or Arsenal in the FA Cup during this era. Chelsea poke, prod, grunt & sigh their way around the Arsenal penalty box but an equalizer seems unlikely, until a goalmouth scramble leads to an attempt to clear the ball ricocheting off Frank Lampard’s shin & into the Arsenal net. Pandemonium. I lose Bill. He has joined the merry throng attempting to jump on the back of the elated goalscorer. He is 40 & full of ale. That’s Bill not Super Frank of course. An honourable 2-2 draw ends with us still in the cup & still able to cram some more beer in at The Shakespeare Tavern at Victoria, a less than salubrious choice of venue that betrays the fact that enough has already been taken on board by now.
By the time I waddle across the road to catch my coach home I am, for the first time in a while, suitably merry. We are still in the FA Cup. We lose the replay of course, & Arsenal beat us again the following year, but that is all ahead & the failure to get the tune that has been circling around my brain all day leads to desperate measures. I release it by singing. This is inadvisable. I have a terrible voice & fellow passengers at Grovesnor Gardens are unwilling listeners, but I’m pissed & I don’t care.
I like to party mmhmm
Make luv and listen to the music
You’ve gotta let yourself go go go go go oh
This is my equivalent of jumping on Frank Lampard’s back & probably more undignified, albeit prompted by the same source. I am 40 & full of ale. Eventually I realise that passengers queuing for the Oxford Tube are either exceptions to the rule or Room 5 are a bunch of fucking liars. Nobody shows an inclination to party, so not everybody does like it apparently. They also fail to make luv. They briefly have no choice but to listen to the music, although me singing is music in the loosest possible sense, & they definitely don’t let themselves go go go go go oh. I could try haranguing the queue (or suing Room 5) but by now all I have learnt from 40 years on the planet is that life is far, far too short. So I shut up.
Bill Withers Lovely Day (Chelsea – Burnley ,FA Cup 4th Round, Jan 31, 1978)
‘If you’re on your way to Stamford Bridge for this afternoon’s 4th Round tie against Burnley – don’t bother!’
So said the Sport on 2 anchorman (quite probably a pre-Werthers Original era Des Lynam) as Mr Bradley, father of my school friend Nick drove us towards White City 3 days before this tie was eventually played. The rain had been incessant & remained so as we turned back towards Oxford. We are hopeful for the first time in years about our chances in the FA Cup. The previous round had seen a stunning 4-2 win over Liverpool, then both reigning League & European champions. The omens are good too. In the 1970 we had played Burnley in the 4th Round too, my first ever game to boot. Ron Harris revealed that his wife was expecting a baby, as she had been in 1970. The team were conceding plenty of goals but usually scoring more. We wouldn’t allow a waterlogged pitch to be any more than a diversion.
The weather was barely any better as we entered a sodden Stamford Bridge for the rescheduled tie 3 days later. Manager Ken Shellito had announced in the press that muddy conditions would suit striker Steve Finnieston as his recently injured ankle would appreciate the extra give in the pitch. He gets his wish. Despite conceding a goal in the first minute (having kicked off themselves!) Chelsea win the game 6-2, & excitement at the prospect of a serious cup run gathers pace. They lose in the next round, to the mighty Orient, who get to the semi finals before being trounced by Arsenal. At Stamford Bridge to rub it in.
This did not trouble us on the night, a resounding win rendering the bleak, wet winter’s night an irrelevance & Bill Withers current hit Lovely Day serenading us as we revelled in a 3-1 half time lead is a strangely enduring memory. Current at the time, Lovely Day remains a thing of beauty despite its charting again a decade later with a truly horrible remix. The match day DJ at Chelsea in the 1970’s was a man called Pete Owen. He may have played Lovely Day as an ironic reference to the truly awful weather of the previous few days, although ’70’s DJ’s were not generally over imbued with ironic sensibilities. Poor Pete once fell for one of the oldest PA banana skins, namely acceding to a request from ‘friends’ to ask if Mike Hunt was in the ground. Nick & I found this hugely amusing. We were 15. Never mind Pete. Through the wind, rain, mud & general wintry gloom Lovely Day spread its lush, warm glow around Stamford Bridge that night. Props for playing it. I’m guessing Mike Hunt never did show.
The Police Every Breath You Take
I am unable to supply the relevant year, let alone the match, when Sting’s 3 minute stalker’s charter first invaded my journey to Stamford Bridge. I’m guessing late ’80’s or early ’90’s. The Sony Walkman now invades the peace of the coach journey. At one stop on the way out of Oxford a rather disconsolate young man trudges on to the coach, sits behind me & commences the predictable ritual as he searches for his preferred choice of song. Rewind tape. Click to stop. Wind tape forward as you have now rewound it too far. Click to stop. Click to play. Hallefuckinglujah. The songs starts. It is Every Breath You Take. Its riff is unmistakable, especially to blues great Freddie King who Sting once admitted he stole it from. Freddie is not on the coach, having died in 1976, so it is left to me to recognise it & feel anger on his behalf. Given that the entire history of popular music is littered with similar steals this is somewhat sanctimonious of me. Never mind. Sting deserves it. Every Breath You Take is a good tune for sure, whether its true author is Freddie King or everyone’s least favourite narcissistic Geordie. Its sinister, creepy lyric , all about obsessive love, is entirely the property of the artist once known as Gordon Sumner, composed in the aftermath of Sting leaving his wife for their next door neighbour, who he subsequently married. On this day, the song finishes & the familiar click, rewind, click, wind forward ritual begins again, until the next tune is ready to play. Eventually it starts.
It is Every Breath You Take by The Police.
By the time we reach White City I have heard a muffled rendition of Every Breath You Take, filtered through the tinny headphones of another person’s Walkman, at least 14 times. I begin to fear for my mental health. I am terrified for his. When reaching The Westway at this stage of the journey I had always enjoyed conjuring up sounds of The Clash, but since that day have always struggled to expunge the memory of The Police’s biggest ever hit from my brain as the flyover towards Marylebone Road & Shepherds Bush beckons. I do hope he got over her eventually. Or him. Could have been gay. Whoever the object of his tortured affections was I sincerely hope they emerged unscathed too. Don’t have nightmares.
Until yesterday’s well deserved Easter Sunday victory Spurs had not won at Stamford Bridge since February 1990, when one of these two women was still Prime Minister & the other was No 1 in something we once called the Hit Parade. ‘Nothing Compares 2 U? Kojak does!’ to quote another great 90’s feminist icon, the gorgeous & seductive Pauline Calf. Chelsea fans have procreated & seen those children through university in the meantime. Mortgages have been taken out & paid off. The late Amy Winehouse was 6 years old when Gary Lineker scored a late winner that day. She left us as the latest of the unwanted 27 club in 2011, itself now a remarkable seven years ago. Lineker himself is pushing 60 now. It has been a proud record, allied to the fact that Chelsea also went 20 years unbeaten in league games at White Hart Lane between 1987 & 2007. Its ending is undoubtedly painful, & verily multiple Tottenham cocks are already crowing. Social media is ablaze with the preening self-satisfaction always associated with supporters of this team, currently in its pomp, riding high in, er, 4th place in the table, one position above one of the poorest Chelsea teams for a decade or more. This morning we have also been treated to a picture of a man in full Spurs kit, pristine white shorts, socks pulled up to their fullest extent & that horrible shirt (bearing the name of the repugnant Vertonghen on its back) swaggering into his local LIDL, hands laden with wallet, car keys & phone because he has no pockets & has forgotten that no self-respecting adult walks around dressed in the style of an 8-year-old boy. The bemused look on the face of the woman opposite pushing a shopping trolley as he strolls manfully towards the ‘Buy 1 Get 1 Free’ confectionary speaks volumes. If he had been around on the first Easter Monday, after the resurrection of Jesus, you suspect the Good Lord would have taken one look at him & asked to be nailed back to the cross. Spurs have been a very good side for several years, but have won diddly squat since 2008. God help us all when it happens. Another roll call of Chelsea’s numerous triumphs & trophies since 1990 seems brash & unnecessary here. Suffice to say that I worried about this record falling when missing the 1994 match due to a stocktake at work. A two goal deficit was reversed & the unfairly overlooked Mark Stein slammed in a last-minute penalty for a dramatic 4-3 win. A point was rescued the following year by a Dennis Wise diving header from a pinpoint cross from, irony of ironies, former Spurs great Glenn Hoddle. In 2000 a jet lagged George Weah clambered off the subs bench for his début & scored an undeserved late winner. There have been plenty of splendidly memorable & emphatic victories but the fact that we were fearful of the record going several times during its first ten years indicates just how remarkable its surviving deep into a third decade has been. Enjoy your win Spurs fans, well done for your generous applause for Ray Wilkins before the match, & if you ever pull off anything of similar significance to this extraordinary 28 year saga then your current smugness may be belatedly vindicated. Not that I’ll be around to acknowledge it, partly because I’ll be dead, but more pertinently because it’s never going to happen. And don’t forget Mr Vertonghen below. He’s one of your own too. Bless him.
Supermarket Sweeper? Father forgive him for he knows not what he does. With thanks & apologies to Gate 17 Publications supremo Mark Worrall for the steal from his brilliant Twitter post here.
It doesn’t feel like 20 years ago until I look at this photo. Let’s just say the years have not been kind to the gawky individual unconvincingly striving to hold up the Coca Cola Cup in his right hand while cradling the Cup Winner’s Cup in his left, apparently threatening the safety of Graeme Le Saux’s face & Eddie Newton’s genitals in the process. The presence of the latter helps date the photo as taken a few months later, namely a Boxtree book launch at Stamford Bridge. We were promised players. There were no players, although fitness coach & former Olympic sprinter Ade Mafe popped in. The late socialite Tara Palmer-Tomkinson showed up too, although she had seemingly vamoosed by the time I arrived. Ken Bates was there. Of course Ken Bates was there. The press were in attendance & Bates & the British media were the Jack & Vera Duckworth of English football in these days, apparently full of mutual antipathy, mistrust & resentment but inextricably joined at the hip, both equally dependant on the other. Ken duly obliged with a bullish speech which needlessly included a cheap shot at former manager Glenn Hoddle & his faith healing accomplice Eileen Drewery. Glenn would talk himself out of the England job shortly afterwards. If we do come back & pay for our sins in prior existences then what ghastly fate will behold cuddly Ken? Being ignored by the media presumably.
I wasn’t bothered about not meeting players, or Tara Palmer-Tompkinson for that matter, but had hoped to snaffle up some promised free books. Sadly they had all been grabbed by the representatives of the press, who according to their visitor badges mostly seemed largely to come from the plethora of lads mags, Loaded, FHM & the like, which dominated the publishing scene at the time. They had also consumed most of the advertised drinks & canapes. In fairness I am bound to say they may have been low on the lad mag food chain, most looking more like their target audience than the jaded, ex music rag hacks whose purple prose expressing their newly discovered love of old footballers & well cantilevered female soap stars littered these publications. Presumably Melanie Sykes or Helena Christensen were doing a bra & knickers shoot somewhere else. Does sound better than listening to Ken Bates in fairness. Tara, Loaded & canapes eh. None more ’90’s! The event took place in the Galleria & was my first visit to the site of the old Shed since the hotel development had been completed. It would have been nice to have had a view of the ground, but famously windows are in short supply in the building. Legend has it that dear Ken’s apartment in the hotel was the only one with a window facing the pitch. As the event took place in late summer this may have been a good thing for Tara Palmer-Tomkinson, who given her legendary nose candy habit at the time may have been rendered a trifle twitchy by a clear view of 90-100 yard long lines of white powder marking the touch lines. A cheap shot. Batesy would doubtless approve. TP-T at least looked more comfortable than I do in the photo I saw of her at the event, which I recall appearing in her column in the Sunday Times magazine, a weekly literary feast she selflessly allowed someone else to write for her. What a trooper.
There is a context to my unease in the photo. The queue betrayed the fact that very few present at this event were match going Chelsea fans. I may have been the only one who had attended both finals that garnered these two trophies. The photographer had a series of unwelcome props. I declined the white away shirt bearing the name of Brian Laudrup. Lovely player who never settled and was gone within 6 months, & had not been at the club when these cups had been won. Unfazed, the photographer jammed a Chelsea jester’s hat on my head just as the photo was about to be taken. I promptly removed it. I had waited more than a quarter of a century to hold meaningful trophies in my hand. I didn’t need a white Laudrup away shirt. Or a fucking jester’s hat. By the time this had been quietly established the trophies were beginning to sag in my grasp. The woman issuing the photos told her sidekick that I was miserable. I was not miserable in the slightest, just not a publicity hungry it girl. That photo had been earned by years of being subjected to often god awful football in cold, unwelcoming grounds, following a team that was frequently regarded as a joke, with & fan base largely regarded as social pariahs by the media, football authorities, police, politicians & public alike. I had worked for my photo with these trophies. My civvies & ugly mug would suffice for once, unencumbered by club shop tat. Up yours dearie. I didn’t say that of course, just feigned deafness, said thank you & continued a vain search for remaining canapes.
The Wonderful Gianluca Vialli. Class In A Glass.
The Coca Cola Cup Final was the second 2-0 win over Middlesbrough inside a year. Strangely, as one of life’s sporting pessimists (with plenty to justify that condition over the years where Chelsea are concerned!) on neither occasion did I doubt Chelsea would end up the victors. Bill & I repeated the normal matchday ritual, travelled into London & had a pre-match pint in our favourite pub, The Duke Of Wellington in Belgravia. In 1994 we had travelled direct to Wembley via Bicester on the train. We lost 4-0 & this diversion from the norm was clearly as responsible as the brilliance of Cantona, Giggs, Keane & co. Hence the trip into central London & the chance to see other travellers at Marylebone Station reminded again, loudly & repeatedly by our fellow supporters, via the familiar lilting ballad, that West London is wonderful, being full of tits, fanny & Chelsea. North London was once more less fortunate, replete merely with shit, shit & more shit. A few pints in The Duke Of Wellington set us up for the journey. Genial landlord John Bond pleasingly conformed to the cliche that being Irish meant he would keep a good pint of Guinness, & would always supply a free one several times a season too. The pub also had a footballing pedigree. George Best & Bobby Moore would meet there during the Fulham years. The last time Stamford Bridge had hosted an FA Cup Semi-Final was in 1978 when Arsenal played Orient. At some point over that weekend both teams had elected to bolster team spirits by going out for a few pints. Remarkably, they both ended up in The Duke Of Wellington, facing each other over a bar that could fairly be described as compact & bijou. It must have been fascinating to witness the reaction of the two groups at both descending on the same venue. Of all the bars…
The Coca Cola Cup final was reached via a pulsating 3-1 second leg semi-final win over Arsenal, featuring another scorching long range goal from Roberto Di Matteo which nearly took the roof off a vibrant Stamford Bridge. This was the first game under the newly appointed player-manager Luca Vialli, who beckoned in the new era by handing out a glass of champagne to each player in the dressing room prior to the kick off. Always a class act, Vialli’s new role would eventually drive a wedge between him & several first team colleagues, but team spirit was clearly good at this time. Having had to sit on the bench for the FA Cup Final under Ruud Gullit the year before, the new boss selflessly left himself out of the Wembley line up completely on this occasion, & the players insisted he go up & collect the trophy at full time. Prior to the kick off, the man to my left announced that he would have a wank later that evening in the event that Frank Sinclair scored a goal. I loved Frank to bits, but had never envisaged him as a likely aid to onanistic fulfilment. As luck would have it, especially for the man to my left, plus any tissue sellers near his gaff, Frank proceeded to open the scoring with a cracking header from a superb Dennis Wise cross early in the first half of Extra Time. Frank & his mate Eddie Newton were coming to the end of their careers at Stamford Bridge. Both had been vital components in keeping the club in the Premier League a few years earlier. Eddie had scored in the FA Cup final, which had been the icing on the cake that day. They were both Chelsea to the core, local boys who had made good & were popular with supporters, which hacked off those with a racist agenda no end. Frank was quick, fearless, good in the air & had the heart of a lion. He was prone to clumsiness & reckless challenges, & having moved to Leicester the following season nurtured an unfortunate tendency to score spectacular own goals, though with typical loyalty managed one of these to rescue his former club a late point at Filbert Street in 1999. He did win the League Cup again at Leicester however, & certainly deserved better than the scorn he received in certain quarters. The broadcaster, Spurs fan & dickhead Danny Kelly once sneeringly referred to him as a ‘sort of footballer.’ Frank Sinclair played in the Premier League for a decade & continued his career into his forties, won domestic & European medals & represented his country at the 1998 World Cup Finals. Along with Keith Jones, Keith Dublin, Ken Monkou, Michael Duberry & Eddie Newton he succeeded in walking through the door so bravely opened for future black players at Chelsea by Paul Canoville in the the 1980’s. Dismissing him as a ‘sort of footballer’ is akin to the rest of us describing the multi-chinned, arse-lipped, morbidly obese Mr Kelly as a ‘sort of’ smug, flabby arsed disgrace. Prior to the FA Cup Final Kelly had sniggered away with another bastion of masculine perfection called Danny at the prospect of the match & likened it to the pre-match episodes of It’s A Knockout that used to fill the hours before the main event back in the day. Hilarious chaps, & Spurs-QPR in 1982 really gripped the nation by the way. Kelly hosted a dismal late night ‘sort of’ sports show called Under The Moon during this era. A mug of cocoa & an early night soon lost its sting. The biggest name I can remember gracing this carnival of shite was a man called Stewart Castledine, who made 28 appearances for Wimbledon throughout the ’90’s. Kelly predictably honoured the Michael Parkinson tradition of most hypocritical media parasites by kissing the arse of someone he would doubtless have derided in print. The brave soldier. I wonder if he could ever pass a football. He certainly can’t pass the Krispy Kreme display in Tesco. Kelly has found his true spiritual home now at ‘sort of’ radio station TalkSport. They deserve each other. If there is a Hell TalkSport is surely piped in there 24 hours a day.
It was difficult not to feel some sympathy for ‘Boro, losing their third Cup Final in less than a year, & still reeling from a relegation caused by a massively unfair points deduction the season before. Not that difficult however. They had beaten Chelsea in the famously ugly play offs of 1988, possibly the most painful of the three relegations I have witnessed, & certainly the most avoidable. There is also lingering emotional scarring from a 7-2 defeat at Ayresome Park in 1978. Their line up in 1998 featured plenty of familiar faces, & one who would become one later, the terrific Mark Schwarzer in goal, new to English football at the time, but later, much later, to turn up at Stamford Bridge during the second Mourinho era. Boyhood Chelsea fan Paul Merson featured, as he did for Aston Villa two years later in the last FA Cup Final at the old Wembley Stadium. Fine player Merson, but on both occasions he gave post-match interviews stating his belief that the better team had lost. On both occasions he was talking arrant nonsense. Always good to see the birth of a future Sky Sports pundit in action. Warming his buttocks next to Bryan Robson on the Teesiders bench was the extraordinary Paul Gascoigne, making his first appearance in an English club match since his disastrous brainstorm playing for Spurs at the same ground nearly seven years earlier, & eleven years after I first saw him displaying his remarkable talent as a precocious young man for Newcastle in a 2-2 draw at Stamford Bridge. Earlier in the season, in the immediate aftermath of the death of Diana, I had seen him joyously take Moldova apart in a World Cup qualifier at Wembley. He came on in the second half here & immediately was on the receiving end of a challenge from Dennis Wise that would earn an automatic red card these days. He responded furiously by committing a challenge on Dennis Wise that would earn an automatic red card these days. They both were clearly revelling in this barrage of foul play. Dennis adored Gazza & the feeling was apparently mutual, Gascoigne phoning up as the little imp was being interviewed by Chris Evans on TFI Friday shortly afterwards. Gazza. Chris Evans. TFI Friday. The none more 90’s count rises yet again. Sadly, Gazza missed out on the 1998 World Cup. ‘Boro were promoted at the end of the season, but during another 2-0 defeat to Chelsea shortly after the Galleria book launch Gazza appeared a shadow of his former self, the pace & power that used to see him brush off opponents with ease having evaporated. It was sad. Many blamed Glenn Hoddle for not picking him for the World Cup & knocking the heart out of this beguiling but clearly highly troubled man. Some of the finger pointers might be advised to look closer to home, namely nauseating media & ‘celebrity’ types happy to be seen tumbling out of bars with Gascoigne prior to Hoddle selecting his squad, noticeably less visible these days, as the obvious demons tormenting the man have escalated the slide into chronic alcoholism & acute mental illness. They know who they are & so do we. There are plenty of victims in the Paul Gascoigne story, not just the man himself, but he brought enormous pleasure to lots of people & that will never be forgotten. I can almost forgive him playing for Spurs. Almost. There is no higher tribute to his talent from a Chelsea fan than that.
Following Frank Sinclair’s potentially hand shandy inspiring opener, the win is sealed by another Di Matteo goal, a soft one this time from a Dennis Wise corner, & assisted, like his more momentous effort in the Fa Cup Final, by an error from Oxford born Robbie Mustoe. Cheers Robbie. Mustoe now pops up on American coverage of Premier League matches for those following games on illegal internet streams. So I’m told. Some of these pundits apparently made no mistakes in their own careers so damning are they of the fallabilities of modern players. Robbie Mustoe is ok though, far from the worst offender here. That dubious honour is bestowed on toothless former Chelsea midfielder Craig ’20 years sulk because they left me out of the FA Cup Final’ Burley. Some of us have better, less selective memories than you Mr Burley.
Another former Blue who had queered his pitch with Chelsea fans during this decade was former skipper Andy Townsend, who also appeared at Wembley for Middlesbrough. Townsend was signed in the summer of 1990 alongside Dennis Wise & for 3 years they rivalled each other for the title of most popular player with the fans. A terrific player in an average team, he got frustrated at the team’s maddening inconsistency & baled out to Aston Villa just as the Glenn Hoddle era dawned at Stamford Bridge. Townsend had made unconvincing noises about having been a Chelsea fan at the time, but footballers themselves are rarely fans in the same way diehard supporters are. He had chosen Southampton over Chelsea when he first ventured into professional football from non-league Weymouth. On a cool headed, professional level there was nothing wrong with that. Southampton were an established top tier outfit, Chelsea had only just emerged from five years in the gloom of Division 2. Objectively, the move to Villa was also professional common sense. Ron Atkinson had built an entertaining team after Graham Taylor had taken them close to the league title prior to his ill-fated spell as the national team manager. Unfortunately, actual supporters of football clubs rarely see things from anything but a perspective that no player should ever want to leave their club. When Kerry Dixon fell out with John Hollins in 1987 & requested a move he was relegated to the subs bench for an FA Cup game at Watford. As he warmed up there was some jeering from Chelsea supporters. Enter co-commentator Brian Clough, who eschewed the standard sanctimonious denunciations of such behaviour, saying simply that ‘the Chelsea fans think they support the best club in the country & can’t understand why anyone would want to leave, they’re booing him & quite right too.’ Delightfully off message & displaying an acute understanding of fan mentality beyond most pundits & commentators. Kerry won the supporters back over pretty quickly. Townsend won the League Cup at Villa but alienated Chelsea fans forever, celebrating a brilliant goal he scored for his new team at the Shed End in 1996 by lifting up an imaginary trophy to goad the home supporters at their club’s lack of honours. I’m all for players being barracked by opposition supporters having the right to fire back with both barrels on such occasions, providing they are not former players who were treated royally during their time at the club. Townsend had been & it was a cheap shot, especially as when he joined Villa he teamed up with that snivelling little shit Dean Saunders, a man who had ended the career of Townsend’s Chelsea colleague Paul Elliott with a nasty stamp in 1992. Career ending challenges on one of your team’s players is my other exception to the rule that players are entitled to give it back to crowds that are abusing them. The first time that Saunders had come on to the pitch at Stamford Bridge after the Elliott incident he was greeted with a chorus of boos, but lacking any class or dignity chose not to keep his own counsel, instead running over to the West Stand benches with his ear cupped & a supercilious grin all over his stupid little face. To this day I cannot see the features of this smug wretch appear on my television without being filled with a desire to kick in the screen like that lorry driver when the Sex Pistols swore at Bill Grundy all those years ago. Townsend signed for Villa a few months later. Nice company you’re keeping these days Andy was the only sane response. Elliott never played again, & lost a court case against Saunders. The incident is on YouTube & we can all draw our own conclusions. Some of Paul Elliott’s Chelsea team mates went missing in court when the time came to rally round their stricken colleague. As with Gazza & the showbiz leeches they know who they are & so do we. During his Chelsea days Townsend once collapsed during a ZDS match & it was feared he had swallowed his tongue. Fortunately he hadn’t, but in future years, during his unbearable ITV co-commentary years with Clive Tydesley it was possible to occasionally pray for a more conclusive repeat performance. When Chelsea beat Napoli 4-1 in a thrilling Champions League game in 2012 our former hero claimed that ‘Chelsea haven’t been great tonight.’ Too right mate, if only Lampard, Terry, Drogba etc could have repeated the form shown in that 3-0 home defeat to Norwich in ’91.
Chelsea signed a lot of foreign players during the late ’90’s, becoming the first team in the history of English football to field an entire team of foreign players at the Dell in late 1998. MIchael Ballack in 2006 was not, as is commonly believed, the first acquisition of German descendancy at the Bridge however. A man called Schadenfreude had popped up far earlier to put the likes of Townsend in their place. As we celebrated the Coca Cola Cup win, little more than 18 months after he had mocked us, thousands of Chelsea fans witnessed Townsend looking back over his shoulder at the happy blue throng as he trudged wearily off the Wembley pitch. Within 6 months two European trophies would be added to the two domestic knockout cups. If only we could have found a Chelsea supporting octopus to properly shove Townsend’s insult back at him. My picture will have to suffice here. In true Jim Bowen off Bullseye style here’s some of what you could have won Andy. Now piss off.
I didn’t celebrate this day quite as vigorously as the FA Cup win. I went to Pizza Hut in Victoria with Bill, tucking in to my garlic bread to the strains of High by the then ubiquitous Lighthouse Family. Oliver Reed eat your heart out. I got home in time to watch a re-run of the match having caught up with the ongoing calamities unravelling in the life of Deirdre Rashid in Coronation Street. Deirdre had been falsely imprisoned after being stitched up by a con man, causing such a rumpus that the then Prime Minister Tony Blair, always a man to jump on the bandwagon of cheap publicity (& ironically something of a con man himself) intervened with a hammy plea for her release. Better than sending us into a war by feeding us all a pack of lies about weapons of mass destruction of course. We had that to look forward to. Like Andy Townsend I guess phoney Tony just ended up falling in with the wrong crowd. Shame really. He should have just chilled & had a look around. I believe he used to live at Connaught Square in West London. And West London, as anyone at Marylebone Station could have told him on the afternoon of March 29th 1998, is wonderful.
It’s a unique, life affirming noise, a familiar friend to all football fans. At its best, ideally in the very early stages of a game, when hope still springs eternal throughout the stadium, the moment will be enjoyed & participated in by all, regardless of who they support or where they are in the ground. The sound a football crowd makes when responding to a wildly miscued shot is almost impossible to recreate & certainly impossible to resist. The higher & wider the shot the better. I have my own name for this joyous phenomenon. For the past 40 years, it’s been a Miss Brown’s Knickers moment.
At some point in the late 1970’s I am in the backyard of the council flats where my mate & future Chelsea accomplice Bill lives. We are playing football, as kids who got off their arses during school holidays in the 1970’s were wont to do. I go for goal but my shot goes horribly wrong & spirals wildly off the outside of my foot. Fortunately, there is no broken window or smashed plant pots to incur the wrath of Bill’s neighbours. Unfortunately, this is because this appalling attempt at a shot is only halted by the ball cannoning into a nearby washing line, populated by a sparse array of clothing belonging to Bill’s neighbour Miss Brown. The main victim of my footballing ineptitude, other than the hapless Miss Brown herself, is a pair of what only be described as old ladies’ bloomers. They now differ from countless similar bloomers hung on washing lines by ladies over a certain age around the surrounding estate. For now adorning the gusset is a fresh, glistening, muddy imprint of the football of choice for all young boys in this era. Miss Brown’s knickers. Sponsored by Wembley Trophy. On reflection, I’m not actually sure if gusset is the right word for that part of an old lady’s bloomers. I was not an aficionado of ladies lingerie then nor am I now. We all have our regrets. Then again it would be disturbing if I had too much knowledge on the subject. I’ll leave that to Arnold Layne, although given the style of garment & the age of their owner on this occasion maybe it should be one for Wayne Rooney.
The match clip above, from 1990, is in truth, not a bona fide example of the genre. The backdrop is far too angsty & grim. Chelsea were already losing to their West London opponents at Loftus Road, high on my personal list of least favourite football grounds. Worse, they were losing to another penalty, & one converted by a man who used to play for Chelsea, South African Roy Wegerle, joined by further fellow ex Blues in the QPR ranks, namely Clive Wilson & Ray Wilkins. Former loanee & S**** ‘legend’ Mark Falco is in the mix too. A schoolboy packing blunder by the Chelsea kitman explains the ghastly combo of jade green Chelsea Collection away shirts with blue shorts & socks. Pipsqueak Etonian David Ellerary was the ref, already a reliable bromide in the tea of life, years before helping to wreck our first FA Cup final in 24 years. I post it merely because the great Kerry Dixon’s penalty here is technically terrible enough to qualify as a textbook example of the sort of shank I am referring to. Rumour has it that the ball eventually fell to Earth only by virtue of colliding in Space with one struck in Italy several months earlier, in a penalty shootout against Germany, by mulleted pillock Chris Waddle during the World Cup semi final. The same Chris Waddle who later disparaged a 19 year old Theo Walcott’s performance in a World Cup qualifier against Croatia in 2008. Walcott scored a hat trick in that game, half as many goals in one game as Waddle scored in 62 for England. He always enjoys a sneer at Chelsea too, does the man who famously worked in the sausage manufacturing business before becoming a massively overrated footballer. Appropriate really, given that sausages, like Waddle, are frequently found to be full of shit.
A missed penalty will rarely fit the criteria for a Miss Brown’s Knickers moment, as they inevitably lead to heartbreak for one half of the ground. The fun stops there for all but the ecstatic QPR fans behind the goal, blissfully unaware how little cheer the next quarter of a century holds for them. Enjoy it while you can lads. A hard rain’s gonna fall. For 30 seconds West London was yours. Did you enjoy it? Good. It’s over now.
One rare exception to the penalty rule occurred at Oxford United’s Manor Ground, not so long after my soiling of the old lady’s pants. With the final whistle beckoning, 5-0 up & with barely an opposition fan left in the ground, U’s striker Hugh Curran stepped up to take a penalty. In goal for Hereford was Peter Mellor, Fulham keeper in the 1975 FA Cup Final & between the sticks for Burnley on my first ever trip to Stamford Bridge. Both men are at the veteran stage of their career. Both are sporting hideous perms, bizarrely popular at the time. Mellor is very blonde & also balding. It would have been understandable if the ball had taken flight of its own accord when confronted with such follicular horror. Curran had a lethal left foot & hit a dead ball harder & better than most. He was later player manager at Banbury United when my brother-in -law played there (alongside future Chelsea striker Kevin Wilson) & I am reliably informed that there was widespread dread at the prospect of forming part of the defensive wall whenever the boss decided to practice his free kicks. On this occasion he leans back & blasts the penalty clean over the London Road stand & out of the ground. No one cares. Oxford are 5 up. If they had been drawing, or narrowly losing, there would have been much wailing, & gnashing of teeth aplenty (though not from Hugh Curran who has very few teeth to gnash) It’s a spectacularly awful penalty & a prime Miss Brown’s Knickers moment. The same end, a decade or so earlier, a ball was punctured on the top part of the stand following an inept scissor kick by Ken Skeen, a loyal U’s club man but one of many Oxford strikers who didn’t score goals prior to Curran. I also recall talented midfielder Graham Atkinson regularly scaring the birds out of the trees behind the goal at the Cuckoo Lane, as another match ball sailed into the grounds that now house the massive John Radcliffe Hospital. Good times.
Nonetheless, it is to Stamford Bridge, & the phenomenal Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink, for my favourite Miss Brown’s Knickers moment. You couldn’t get more Dutch than Jimmy if you sat next to a little mouse with clogs on in a field of tulips, smoking a spliff while leafing through ‘Ann Frank’s Diary.’ During the 2002 World Cup JFH sat in the ITV studio writing off Germany’s chances of winning the tournament. Gabby Logan asked him why. ‘ Because I don’t like them’ was the emphatic if not especially professional reply. Chelsea didn’t win one trophy during his 4 years at the club,but nobody entertained me more during that time. Jimmy was arrogant, selfish, argumentative & frequently lazy. A classic striker in other words. Things didn’t start well. The team started his first season badly & Luca Vialli was quickly sacked. He rowed openly on the pitch with colleagues, once memorably grappling with Christian Panucci. He seemed more trouble than he was worth. Things looked up with the arrival of Claudio Ranieri though. Jimmy scored a screamer at Old Trafford, & very soon I couldn’t help loving a man who loved himself quite that much. An extraordinary 30 yard daisy cutter shot against Spurs didn’t do any harm either, the mystery being how the man could kick a ball like an Exocet missile with barely any backlift from that sturdy right leg. Jimmy loved scoring goals & succeeded in doing just that, something of a relief after previous big money striker signings like Chris Sutton & Robert Fleck. He also had a massive arse & when it comes to footballers I have a small, or possibly, in this context, large confession to make. I like big butts & I cannot lie. Very few great footballers have a skinny rear end. George Best I guess, but that level of genius makes its own rules. Peter Bonetti looked like he lived on nuts & berries too, but goalkeepers are famously different, though Gordon Banks added to my theory with his ample rear. Pele. Big arse. Eden Hazard. Big arse. The real Ronaldo. Big arse. Totti. Big arse. Sir Frank Lampard. Big arse. The list, like Jimmy Floyd’s ego, is endless.
Jimmy once scored the perfect hat trick against Spurs, one with the right foot, one with the left & one with his head. His greatest strike from a free kick was probably for Middlesbrough, against Man City, in his twilight footballing years. One of the worst was in a Chelsea shirt several years earlier, when he did his best to decapitate someone in the Matthew Harding Upper, where I sat alongside Bill, always happy to remind me of my muddied knicker day of shame all those years before. Jimmy settled at Chelsea but he never mellowed. Nothing was ever his fault. Apart from on this occasion. His dreadful ballooning of this free kick into the upper tier left him with nowhere to hide. Unlike small boys in backyards, professional footballers don’t have a bolthole when they make a bollocks of things. He looked around. His team mates could not be blamed. Nor the opposition players. The ref? Had merely blown a whistle to allow our hero to humiliate himself. In these pre-Abramovich days The Stamford Bridge pitch was frequently a disgrace, but Jimmy was reluctantly forced to rule that one out too. And then it happened. Possibly for the first time in his life. Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink publicly apologised. Not to his colleagues but to us fans, with a sheepishly raised right hand & the sort of guilty face small boys pull when desecrating the contents of a pensioner’s washing line. The comparison ends there though, for had it been Jimmy’s badly off target howitzer that had collided with Miss Brown’s bloomers they would have been instantly transformed into split crotch panties.
I never did know what Miss Brown’s reaction was to my own footballing faux pas because I did the sensible thing & fucked off a bit sharpish. She wasn’t my neighbour. Bill would have done the same, & the supposed strong bond of friendship among small boys can always unravel in the face of one’s innate cowardice & an angry elder, although Miss Brown was supposedly a decent old stick most of the time. He who fights & runs away lives to fight another day as another football lover, the great Bob Marley, once informed us. Bill got his own back anyway. His mum won a football at the Bingo when I was on holiday with his family in Southsea, & I christened it by playing an unsuccessful 1-2 off the wall near the amusement arcade. It landed in the sea. Despite it being dark I was ordered to go & rescue it by my deeply unimpressed mate, & rather foolishly did so. Try getting Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink to do that.
‘Dave Sexton. Always Looks So Serious’
Not an especially iconic piece of commentary, but Kenneth Wolstenholme’s words about Chelsea’s splendidly inscrutable manager during the 1970 FA Cup Final are as evocative to me as his rather more memorable words in the World Cup Final 4 years before remain to the rest of the nation. Not that the rest of the nation was excluded on this occasion either. The match remains in the Top 10 most watched UK TV events of all time to this day, sandwiched neatly at no. 5 just behind the Apollo 13 splashdown of the same year & ahead of Charles & Diana’s wedding in 1981.
Shortly afterwards, a John Dempsey goal kick (taking them for Peter Bonetti after he had been crocked by one of Leeds happy band of talented thugs) hung in the air as the remarkably tolerant referee Eric Jennings blew the final whistle & Chelsea had won their first ever FA Cup. I was 8 years old. Chelsea & I were both invincible. Or so I thought.
Misty water-coloured memories. Can it be that it was all so simple then? Actually, Gladys Knight & Barbra Streisand, I rather think it can. As we walked home from school in Oxford during the 1970’s dozens of men would hurtle past on their bikes, having finished their shift at the British Leyland car plant. One of them was a tiny man called Frankie Kowalski, who on Saturday afternoons would be reborn as a dapper figure in a straw boater & black suit, its gold trimmings betraying his role as the mascot for Oxford United. He would offer his wares all around the stadium (primarily match programmes, badges & scratch cards) never once baulking at the journey past fans in the away end, eyes twinkling & a smile never far away from the lips immediately below his pencil moustache. My god he got some grief. He used to travel away too, & even got stabbed one night at Preston. In 1970 Oxford were drawn at home to Stoke & a large cut out replica of the FA Cup was prepared for Frankie to carry around the ground before the match. Sadly, he broke his arm & was denied his big moment, cutting a forlorn figure, arm in a sling, as someone else grabbed the glory. We all felt his pain.
It is appropriate that the FA Cup kicks off in earnest immediately after Christmas. A love for both relies on a large slice of suspended disbelief & constant referral to childhood memory, but so what? We need the break from winter gloom that Yuletide offers us all, regardless of how few practicing Christians remain or the fact that the enduring modern image of Santa was lifted from a major advertising campaign by Coca Cola in the 1930’s. The difference is that we all buy into the conspiracy of lies that holds Christmas together. With the FA Cup it is more complex. Many of us still do believe in this fantastic tournament, it’s the administrators, TV companies &, sadly, many of its participants who increasingly strive to undermine it, & starve many younger fans of the true FA Cup experience that would ensure its continued survival as a competition of joy & wonder.
One match in last year’s tournament highlighted this. Fulham were drawn away at Cardiff in the 3rd round. On a Sunday morning. The game kicked off at 11.30 with a paltry 5,000 in attendance. How on earth were Fulham fans expected to make that trip? The answer is that they weren’t, the TV money doing the talking as usual. Furthermore, Cardiff manager Neil Warnock’s Linda Evangelista style post match comments underlined his clear disinterest in the process. He ‘struggled to get out of bed’ for the game apparently, the poor overfed, overpaid, pampered love. Fascinating that it is often the jowelly, boiled beef & carrots English managers, the self-styled keepers of the flame for the true spirit of British football, who are the first to sacrifice their club’s fans rights to dream of cup advancement at the altar of Premiership survival, rather than the foreign coaches who supposedly don’t understand the culture of our game. Not to mention that Cardiff aren’t even in The Premier League & the season still had 4 months to run. Does the usually ebullient Warnock secretly have so little belief in his own ability that he felt it such a burden to put out a competitive team in a tournament that Cardiff reached the final of not so long ago? This prannet is not alone though. There are dozens of notable managers who have treated the tournament & their own fans with similar contempt over the past 20 years. Sam Allardyce in his Bolton years was always prone to playing weakened teams, not to mention any number of Newcastle managers apparently indifferent to the hunger for glory that burns in their fans. When the miserable pragmatist wins out over the romance & fantasy traditionally surrounding the FA Cup then you know that modern football, for all the money sloshing around within it, is still getting a lot of things wrong.
Winning the FA Cup would have been the pinnacle for managers like Allardyce & Warnock once upon a time. The final was once the only live domestic club fixture on the footballing calendar, screened simultaneously by both BBC & ITV, their schedules cleared by both from early morning for hours of pre-match build up. This year it will play second fiddle to a royal wedding, kicking off to wide disinterest save for the fans of the two teams, & (the one thing that has remained constant since the tournament’s glory years) Wembley bound freeloaders, as ever indulged by the FA at the expense of true fans on the big day.
The decline in romance surrounding the tournament is borne out by the frequent suggestion that giving it the life support of a Champions’ league place for the winner is its only long-term hope. It is easy enough to understand. Saturation coverage of the sport has not generally broadened the mind of the modern fan, merely enabled them to insulate themselves against the backdrop of incessant social media driven venom spewed at them by rival teams’ supporters. They can watch their own teams’ games & switch off. I do it myself. More choice & easy access to matches appears to be slowly suffocating us all. The days are gone when we would let the story of the entire tournament breathe & unravel before us, happy to listen to radio commentaries & watch highlights of any ties because they were FA Cup games, the glory of the competition shining through regardless. I once got totally wrapped up in a series of matches between Arsenal & Sheffield Wednesday. I hate Arsenal & have no affiliation to Sheffield Wednesday but can vividly recall sitting in the bath with my radio on listening to them playing out a second replay at Leicester City’s Filbert Street. Now I would barely glance at the score online the following day, but the far less commercial world of football in the 1970’s succeeded in drawing me in & building a healthier interest in the game as a whole. I don’t want to go back there, & love knowing no Chelsea goal will ever be scored that I cannot get to see, but how strangely parochial this brash, gleaming new digital world has made us.
Ever since Rupert Murdoch slipped his first crisp tenner into the garter belt of the footballing authorities who used to run the game before people like him did, there has been a massive erosion of commitment to the wishes & desires of fans. For many of them, following & upholding the rituals & traditions of the game are vital components to a continued enjoyment & love of the sport. No football competition is as rich in ritual & tradition than the FA Cup, & until FIFA’s latest antics with the World Cup, no competition in the modern era has been abused & devalued by its supposed guardians so disgracefully. The turn of the century saw the processes leading to this devaluation of this fabulous tournament, that had, for over a century, provided innumerable moments of drama & brilliance on the road to supplying the end of season showpiece in the English footballing calendar. Attendance wise the FA Cup was the biggest show in town. In the season before the inception of the Premier League I left work early one Wednesday night to make the usual 100 mile round trip (plastic tourist!) to a rain-soaked Stamford Bridge to see a 1-1 draw with Southampton. There were 7,000 people there. 3 days later Chelsea entertained Sheffield United in the FA Cup 5th round. 35,000 turned up. At the turn of the century 8 years later the treble holding Man Utd were implored, in fairness ahead of their own better judgement, not even to enter the tournament. Convinced by a government lobby led by Chelsea supporting Tony Banks Man Utd did indeed pull out in 2000. The tournament has never truly recovered, with its spiritual home, the old Wembley Stadium, also staging its last final that season. Chelsea won that year but the unconfined joy which had followed victory over Middlesbrough 3 years earlier seemed absent. The match against Aston Villa was abysmal & the greatest pleasure seemed the rescuing of a EUFA Cup place after a disappointing league campaign, with the players thus avoiding an early return to pre-season training & a qualifying campaign via the dreaded Inter Toto Cup. In fairness the die was already cast prior to this, as the brave new world of the Premier League & Sky not only ushered us away from the horrors of the Heysel & Hillsborough era, but also caused a massive upheaval to a century of football watching habits. Previously tailored by the need to maximize attendances by playing matches at a time appropriate to the recreational requirements of the paying spectator, kick off times started, instead, to be guided by the advertising requirements of the companies targeting the armchair couch potato. It is difficult for this footballing Luddite not to feel pangs of nostalgia, or to wonder whether the baby has gone out with the bath water. Especially when faced with another season of the regimented sterility of the Champions’ League Group stages & the seemingly interminable Europa League, not to mention the once much vaunted international breaks. A little piece of me dies every time we lose another weekend of fixtures in order that England can concentrate on the arduous task of beating Malta 2-0.
Replays were once an essential part of the enduring appeal of the FA Cup, disrupting the fixture lists with a carefree anarchy which would cause wide-scale horror within football now. As a young man I played cricket with a non league legend called John Woodley. He had a few memorable FA Cup moments during his distinguished footballing career (903 games!) but perhaps most notably played in the longest FA Cup tie ever. His team, Oxford City eventually lost it, 1-0 to Alverchurch, in the 5th replay at Villa Park. In the 5th replay! What a fabulous thing to have been part of. Such games captured everybody’s imagination. In 1982 I was living in Hull & braved an unimaginably cold night to watch The Tigers draw 2-2 after extra time with Rochdale prior to an eventual second replay victory at Elland Road. This led to a 3rd round tie against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge. Having been postponed on the Saturday the two teams played out a goalless draw at Stamford Bridge on a Monday night. I beat the ban on Chelsea fans comfortably for the replay 3 days later (living in Hull may have helped!) to see brilliant goals from Alan Mayes & John Bumstead take The Blues through to play Wrexham in the next round. This took place a mere 2 days later. Another draw led to a replay 3 days after that. Which was also a draw! 11 days later Chelsea eventually went through in a second replay. Was it all worth it? Undoubtedly. Chelsea, then a mid-table second division team beat the European champions Liverpool in the 5th round. These are the things that dreams are made of as the then chart topping Human League would doubtless have informed us. All these replays would be considered commercial madness now. The Hull-Rochdale match at Elland Road attracted about 1600 people. All I would say is that sport extends beyond satisfied sponsors & bankers. These games sustained the cup dreams of the clubs involved. Lots of people call for 4 day Test matches now. They point to paltry fifth day crowds but millions are following around the country. I assume we don’t want to be denied future heroics like those of Ian Botham & Bob Willis at Headingley in 1981 by the grinding demands of commerce. Maybe my head is stuck firmly in the sand, but when fans talk as enthusiastically about Peter Kenyon building the Chelsea brand in 2003 as they do Peter Osgood breaking the Arsenal net in the FA Cup in 1973, I want to submerge it further.
Chelsea can actually hold their head up more than many of the bigger clubs when their recent FA Cup history is examined. There were a couple of limp exits at Newcastle & Man City under Mourinho, & an uncharacteristically appalling & arrogant performance at Oxford in the Vialli era, which could & should have seen them knocked out. When they have lost to lower division teams in recent times, they have been beaten fair & square, once at Barnsley & most famously at home to a vibrant Bradford City in 2015. Despite not having an English manager since 1996 Chelsea coaches & players have usually shown a proper level of respect & commitment in all domestic competitions. Chelsea fans have always loved the FA Cup too. However, nothing summed up confused, contrary modern attitudes towards the FA Cup more than the afternoon of January 31st, 2016. Chelsea played at MK Dons, taking over 7,000 reliably magnificent & very vocal away supporters with them. Just embarking on facilitating the slow recovery from the madness of the last days of the increasingly unstable Mourinho, coach Guus Hiddink chose a nicely balanced team of established stars mixed in with younger players like Bertrand Traore & Ruben Loftus-Cheek. They won the game 5-1. No arrogant disregard for the oldest & greatest knockout competition there. I used to keep an eye on online comment in those days. Twitter was very quiet. For once the Rupert’s & Toby’s of BBC Online couldn’t find a pithy quote from king of tweeting cretiny Danny Baker. They love him because you suspect many of them have never actually met a truly working class person before, & pandering to a grotesque apology for one like Baker is as close as they will ever get. In the last, not at all special days of King Jose, a mere two months earlier, Chelsea had lost at home to Bournemouth. Baker was in his element,spewing out bilious anti Chelsea tweets with relish. I lost count at 14. The happy, fez wearing, wine glass waving, fun-loving family man who writes ‘to make people happy’ apparently had nothing else to do on a Saturday night but dispense his pointless opinions & indulge his already grotesquely over inflated sense of self-worth. Time to climb into the Baker loft & dust down that Yahtzee box I reckon. The uncharacteristic silence during the MK Dons game did not last long of course, due to another bozo, who spoke for nobody but himself, calling in to talk to Ian Wright & claiming that Chelsea had grown too big for the FA Cup & should no longer enter it. According to Mr Baker this showed how far Chelsea still had to fall. The 5-1 win & the superb support of 7,000 proper Chelsea fans were promptly forgotten in favour of highlighting the gormless comments of one rent-a-quote gobshite (beamed in from the radio phone-in hell that our Danny helped popularize) as the moronic inferno of Twitter flared up once again. In the next round Chelsea also won 5-1, against a hopelessly limp & under strength Man City line up. Baker was off again. Chelsea were ‘clinging to the FA Cup like Keith Richard searching for the last shot of heroin in town’ apparently. Nice one Danny. Glad that 1978 joke book is still coming in handy. Had Chelsea made as pathetic & half-hearted attempt as Man City in this match, an insult to their supporters, opponents & the competition itself, the outcry would have carried on for weeks. Instead Chelsea made every effort to win the match & advance their chances of winning a trophy. How very dare they. Trying to win an FA Cup 5th Round tie these days apparently makes you the object of ridicule. Sad. The phone-in bozo was probably a kid. Others are old enough to know better. I have avoided Twitter & Danny Baker since that season. At least he hasn’t, as far as I know, publicly wished cancer on Chelsea supporters. Not yet anyway. He likes publicly wishing cancer on people. Just ‘trying to make people happy’ eh? Dick.
Even the low point of Bradford in 2015 highlighted how the FA Cup can still, even now, bring out the best in the unlikeliest of people, as Jose Mourinho, seemingly now a permanently spiteful, sour presence, went into the opposition dressing room & congratulated all their players & staff, before swiftly giving a gracious & endearing television interview. It seems a bit far-fetched to ever hope for a repeat of that now, but I like to think that the peppery old pillock was, however temporarily, imbued with the spirit of the true guardians of the competition. This includes dear, long departed Frankie Kowalski, who I like to think was looking on approvingly & finally getting to hold his replica trophy aloft in triumph. Because if even Jose still gets it, then maybe the FA Cup still has half a chance.
Let’s hope so.
I always think of Ken Bates at least once at Christmas, & always at the same time, when watching It’s A Wonderful Life. At the heart of that yuletide classic is the struggle between the great James Stewart’s character, the noble George Bailey, & the black-hearted, mean spirited & vindictive Henry F. Potter, a masterly turn from Lionel Barrymore. Ken Bates is the anti hero of the Chelsea story for the final twenty years of the last century, but as with Mr Potter in It’s a Wonderful Life, it wouldn’t have been much of a story without him, & it is more than possible, nay likely, that there would not be a football club to talk about at all, certainly not one playing at Stamford Bridge. This is the most ghastly & soul sapping Christmas card from Chelsea that I can ever recall. I have a nice one somewhere of Zola bending a free kick past a defensive wall composed of snowmen. Cliched sure, but we’re talking Christmas cards here, not Hieronymus Bosch triptychs. This horror, dating from the early Noughties, relegates the players, at least three of them among the greatest ever to play for the club (the sainted Gianfranco, Marcel Desailly & John Terry) to the status of stick men in the corner whilst the least genial Santa ever ( bar Billy Bob Thornton in Bad Santa until he goes soft & gets shot delivering that pink elephant) oversees his empire of tat from the roof of its centrepiece, the Chelsea Village Hotel. Four stars & no windows looking out over the pitch. Never was one for freebies our then chairman, one Kenneth William Bates. Owner of Chelsea from 1981 until Roman’s Russian revolution & umpteen millions swept him away from the club he originally bought for a pound. The man who belies the myth that people only started hating Chelsea in 2003. Fewer people divide opinion more, although outside SW6 most were happy to get on with the business of loathing the contrary old bugger. As we face the prospect of his beloved hotel & its accompanying tacky bars & eateries being bulldozed, assuming the planned redevelopment of Stamford Bridge eventually transpires, the legacy of old Birdseye Bates remains as confused & contradictory as ever.
There is plenty to support the Bates as Potter lobby today. There always was. Past questionable business interests aside, he was a tabloid hack’s wet dream come true from the start at Stamford Bridge, dismissing crowd trouble at one away match in the early ’80’s by saying ‘I didn’t see any gang bangs.’ Well that’s alright then Ken. All fears allayed. Of course he took a slightly different approach to similar problems at home games, famously erecting a 12 foot high barbed electric fence prior to the Spurs game in 1985, attempting to reduce the status of his own team’s supporters, quite literally, to that of his own cattle. The fence was never switched on, but only because the ‘loony left’ GLC vetoed it. I don’t know. Refusing to sanction the electrocution of human beings at football matches. It’s political correctness gone mad.
Then there were the endless feuds with the media. His contempt for many of the plethora of tosspots within this industry was hugely understandable, but his craving of the spotlight via cheap shots fed that industry as much as his own, gargantuan ego. I have only ever been in the same room as him once, at a Boxtree book launch at Stamford Bridge in 1998. He made a short speech, but still found time within it to have an irrelevant & low rent dig at the (admittedly odd) ex Chelsea boss & then England manager Glenn Hoddle, & that faith healer accomplice of his, the woman who Ray Parlour upset by asking for a short, back & sides when it was his turn to experience her laying on of hands. There being press people there, presumably Ken just couldn’t help himself. At least Hoddle got away from Chelsea without being sacked, although in contemporary terms the old bruiser now looks like a master of restraint on that front, allowing John Hollins 3 years of bizarre managerial decisions before losing patience (would Abramovich have given him 3 days?) & later sticking correctly with a trophy free Claudio Ranieri, who rewarded him with a Champions League place when the club was teetering in the edge of bankruptcy, a magnificent feat that only the most churlish of Chelsea fans fail to acknowledge. He is rabidly litigious but did himself no favours at all when diehard fan David Johnstone famously sued him successfully for referring to the Chelsea Independent Supporters Association as ‘parasites’ in the late 90’s. His antipathy towards any organized supporters’ groups presumably stemmed from his inherently autocratic approach to the running of the club, which also led him into conflict with former players. The great Bobby Tambling, on meeting Bates for the first time, thanked him for ‘saving my club.’ ‘It’s my club now’ was the charming reply. The late Ian Hutchinson paid a visit to the ground one day only to be confronted by cuddly Ken. ‘I’m Ian Hutchinson. I used to play here & I was the Commercial manager for a while’ was the greeting from quite possibly the bravest man ever to pull on a Chelsea shirt. Bates responded by calling security & having them escort Hutchinson from the premises for trespassing. In fairness, when he did call an uneasy truce with certain older players by giving them matchday PR roles their case wasn’t assisted by my first Chelsea hero Alan Hudson making a tiresome tit of himself & reopening old wounds with rivals from his playing days, having a spat in the tunnel with Middlesbrough coach & former QPR keeper Mike Kelly & a juvenile exchange of verbals with ex Liverpool stars Kevin Keegan & Terry McDermott when they visited with Newcastle. Strangely, Hudson doesn’t mention this when slagging off his former employers in the media as being cruelly oblivious to his plight. Bates once walked through a large collection of us queuing for FA cup tickets. That could mean a 6-8 hour wait in those pre-internet days. Perhaps a brief chat & thumbs up for us hardy & often long-suffering supporters, having in my case taken time off work to make the 100 mile round journey to London to embark on this vigil? No. He merely strode through us all before scuttling off in his Bentley, possibly the one purchased after he successfully sued reporter Harry Harris. Off home to something rather better than a Pot Noodle & a wank you would suspect, while the only entertainment for a sap like me was listening to a man stood behind me called Melvyn agonizing over whether he wanted haddock or cod from the chip shop run his mate was about to embark on. Cheers Ken. Once again you spoil us Ambassador.
An examination of his relationship with the late Matthew Harding is possibly the best way to really taste the Marmite in the Bates sandwich. Happy to take significant investment from Harding to fund the redevelopment of the ground in the early to mid ’90’s, the two then fell out badly when it became clear that the other man’s ambitions extended beyond merely bankrolling the bearded one’s vision for the club. Surrounding the pitch with stewards at half time during the Spurs match in 1995 was clearly the old boy’s statement of intent to quell any potential protest at his handling of the fallout from his row with Harding. It was an undignified & public row that embarrassed everyone & achieved little. That Harding was a folk hero with large sections of Chelsea’s fan base was understandably galling for Bates, who had toiled to turn around the club’s fortunes for more than a decade before the insurance broker’s first investment in the club in 1993. Harding cultivated his man of the people image magnificently, wearing his team shirt & supping his pre-match pints of Guinness in The Imperial, but whether or not there was any contrivance involved in such behaviour, the man’s contribution to the resurrection of Chelsea as a genuine force in English football was enormous. Naming a stand after him in the immediate aftermath of his tragic death appeared to have drawn a line under the hostilities of earlier years, but mortality was not to stand in the way of Bates continuing a grudge, within a year referring to his old adversary as an ‘evil man’ on a Channel 5 documentary.
It is easy, & sometimes tempting, to reduce Ken Bates to the role of pantomime villain, but also unfair. Life is not a Frank Capra movie, & there were major positives for the club & its supporters arising from his lengthy tenure.(Leeds United fans doubtless have less reason to be charitable following his unhappy stint in charge there) Many people who sneered at the old man walking off with his pot of Russian gold after leading the club to the brink of financial ruin ignore many salient points in the 21 year back story. Bates did not draw a salary at all in his first decade at Chelsea. He did, however, spend enormous amounts of time fighting off property developers Marler Estates, Chelsea’s hated landlords in the 1980’s. This delightful company also got their claws into West London neighbours Fulham & QPR, imperiling the futures of all three clubs. I think it fair to say Marler were not motivated by a desire to serve football. Stamford Bridge & Craven Cottage were, & still are, clearly situated in highly desirable areas. Marler were landlords of both, & added Loftus Road to their portfolio in 1987, installing arch-villain of the piece David Bulstrode as QPR chairman in the process, the sole intention being to evict Fulham & amalgamate the 2 clubs under the name of Fulham Park Rangers (FPR! FPR! FPR! FP-AHAHAHAHAHA?!) to play at Shepherd’s Bush. Bates fought tirelessly for years to ward off Marler’s attempts to evict Chelsea from Stamford Bridge, setting up the Save The Bridge campaign & waging war with Marler through the courts. It was last-minute court injunctions and not last-minute goals that counted in the Chelsea story at this time. Bates’ rearguard action won out in the end, & his sheer bloody minded refusal to accept defeat was the reason. Marler were eventually taken over by Cabra Estates who promptly foundered as the property market took a downturn. All three clubs survived with their grounds & names intact but it was a close run thing. Bulstrode had died unexpectedly, apparently in the arms of an ample bosomed extra marital blonde, which sadly elicited little sympathy from The Shed. There are worse ways to go, although one fan reacting to a tedious period of play during a match shortly after his demise by shouting ‘I’ve seen more life in David fucking Bulstrode’ probably overstepped the mark slightly. Having won the war, Bates set out his vision for the future, & the Chelsea Village project was born. There was plenty to dislike about it, but having rescued the club from the brink of oblivion it could be argued he had earned the right to follow his own vision for the future, tacky though it may have been. My gran once knitted me a horrible green tank top. I knew I would never wear it but still said thank you. Bates may have been driven by ego and not love for the fans but he had still done us a favour, & there was little choice but to indulge him anyway.
The creation of Chelsea Pitch Owners plc in 1992 is the one touch of true genius that the 86-year-old doubtless pats himself on the back about as he enjoys his twilight years in Monaco. By creating a scheme that allowed supporters to buy into a non-profit organization owning both the Stamford Bridge pitch & the club name, he instantly devised a way to ward off future property developers intent on removing the club from its home since 1905. It has also frustrated the current owner’s plans to move the club to a new stadium, although it may never have been necessary for him to think along those lines if Chelsea Village’s hotels, bars & restaurants hadn’t eaten so heavily into the acreage. I feel sad when ANY football club leaves its home for one of these identikit new stadiums. To see Chelsea leave Stamford Bridge would be unbearable. It is both ironic & hugely rewarding that a club often derided as having no history has fought harder than any to preserve its considerable heritage, ‘plastic’ fans and all. Props to Chairman Ken for his part in that.
He was a man out of time at Leeds, & definitely in the wrong place. He had fallen out quickly with the new regime at Chelsea, & gleefully played out the feud in public, fuelled by his old club luring two promising youngsters away from Elland Road. When Chelsea reported him to the FA following further provocative comments he gleefully retorted that he hadn’t ‘laughed so much since ma got her tits caught in the mangle.’ The old ones are the best eh Ken? Sleights of hand about details of ownership & hiking up ticket prices were never going to win over the Leeds faithful, & attempting to recreate the Chelsea model on the pitch via the appointment of Dennis Wise as manager seemed insane. Nowhere are Chelsea more despised than Leeds. Dirty Leeds. Club owners were once local boys made good, butchers & scrap metal dealers. Bates came along later as one of a clutch of more maverick businessmen. Now it is oligarchs, multi-nationals or indeed entire countries who control the biggest clubs. The old boy’s race was run.
Bates had simply had his day, but what a peculiar day it was. Unpleasant side effects of his MO remain in football. When the ground redevelopment was taking place in the early to mid 1990’s he took to relocating away fans in the top-tier of the East stand, reducing their ability to affect the atmosphere while charging them the then astronomical sum of £25 into the bargain. Rival clubs & their fans squealed in indignation but Chelsea fans have been regularly treated similarly ever since, the recent capping of prices for away fans at Premier League grounds being a welcome & long overdue innovation. His contempt for any kind of input from fan groups, while not unique to him among club owners, always stuck in the craw, as did his disdain for many who had contributed to club glories prior to his era as owner. He was known to be generous to those he liked, settling a sizeable debt from Sam Hamman’s Wimbledon to Dennis Wise when he signed for Chelsea in 1990 & helping Kerry Dixon sort out financial problems caused by his gambling addiction. He could be fun too, & sometimes indulged his taste for it at the expense of those who fully deserved it. The repulsive David Evans was one. Having banned all away fans from games at Kenilworth Road, the right-wing Tory MP & Luton Town chairman was outraged when Bates gave Director’s Box tickets away to regular Chelsea fans, forcing the Luton elite to share their afternoon with people in Harrington jackets, jeans & trainers responding to the action with gusto. The singing & shouting was somewhat muted by a 1-0 defeat but Evans still stated his intention to boycott the Chelsea VIP area for the return match & stand on the terraces with the Luton massive. It didn’t happen, but Bates’ programme notes on one Luton visit were a joy, assuring their fans that they shouldn’t be alarmed by ranks of blue & white clad fans at the other end of the ground to them, they were simply opposition supporters & considered quite normal at most stadiums. Your move Mr Evans.
I haven’t got the energy for a Ken Bates running my club in 2017, although he probably still has. Whatever anyone thinks of him, they certainly won’t forget him. For those who wish he had never got involved in football the ‘no Bates, no Chelsea’ line can still be rolled out. For Blues fans that has to be the cause for celebration, but so too should it be for massed ranks of Chelsea hating online trolls & Scouse, Manc & Gooner infused mainstream media bores alike. Let’s face it, without Chelsea who would you all have left to hate dear boys?
Rodney Bewes died last week. This is a huge source of sadness for me as he appeared in the wonderful film Billy Liar (starring his friend & fellow Stamford Bridge regular Tom Courtenay) & also the most beautifully written & performed British sitcom of all time, the peerless Whatever Happened To The Likely Lads? My sister once saw him making his way to the ground during the show’s heyday, prior to the yuletide match/punch up versus West Ham in 1974. ‘He’s going very grey’ she said. Watching Chelsea regularly had that effect on many back then. Knowing that he & co-star James Bolam didn’t really get on & hadn’t spoken for 41 years ( a fact that has made Bolam’s recent, belated rebuttal of any suggestions of a rift rather unconvincing) can make you feel art is imitating life when watching certain episodes. One of my favourites is Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner? in which Rodney’s alter ego Bob & his social-climbing wife Thelma drag a reluctant Bolam’s doggedly working class & proudly Northern character Terry to a dinner party hosted by an old school friend & her affluent husband, who is quickly revealed to be both a Southerner & a Chelsea fan. The latter revelation leads to a swift, spiteful burst of invective from Terry. Was there a certain relish in relaying those lines from Mr Bolam given that Rodney Bewes was himself a Chelsea supporter? I guess we’ll never know. The day after this sad news broke I worked late & got home having succeeded in avoiding the score of that afternoon’s Qarabag game rather more fruitfully than Bob & Terry’s more strenuous (& much, much funnier) efforts at avoiding the England result in Bulgaria during the now legendary No Hiding Place.
Bob & Terry were always partial to wistful conversations about the loss of their youth & the people & paraphernalia that had helped decorate it, so I shall honour them by remembering a rather melancholy day from my dim & distant past. The aforementioned West Ham game in 1974 was my first trip to Stamford Bridge that season, but as far as I am concerned it should most certainly not have been. It should have been the Wolves game three months earlier. But in what Bob & Terry would doubtless have described as one of life’s bitter ironies I was both several miles & a world away, reluctantly & sulkily popping my White Hart Lane cherry.
There were a few false starts for my 12-year-old self in 1974. I had purchased my first packet of cigarettes, parting with 13 & a half pence for ten Players No.6, then the fag of choice for most aspiring delinquents. The thrill of the purchase threatened to turn sour immediately, as I ran into my ardently anti-smoking mum on leaving the shop. A narrow escape, but she doesn’t know to this day. Like most people she won’t read this. I smoked a couple but gave the rest away, leaving the real nicotine party to start as a dopey, doom laden student sometime in the early part of the next decade.
I also took to the dance floor for the first time. A slow dance at that no less. Hesitant & inept, & also not repeated for some years after, or indeed very often since. She was 13. Perfect. A much older woman, guiding my faltering feet around the floor as the heady combination of her perfume & nicotine tinged hair gloriously attacked my senses. I was rather smitten. The song? Given it was a disco for the recently pubic it was not going to be achingly cool. The DJ didn’t have any Can bootlegs to hand. Instead it was that lovely, yearning & evocative slice of Philadelphia cheese When Will I See You Again? by The Three Degrees. The title begs a question. In the case of Mrs Robinson & myself the answer was simple. Never. I do hope she’s well. Probably a granny now. Tomorrow’s almost over. Today went by so fast.
Being taken to Spurs was the lamest false start of all though. It happened during a weekend visit to my dad’s cousin Ann & her family in Kent. This usually signified a trip to Chelsea in my eyes, though my luck had run out in February 1969 when the snow came hurtling down on the way to Stamford Bridge for a FA Cup 5th round tie against Stoke. Ann’s husband Alan bravely battled the elements in trying to get us there but common sense prevailed & Alan, my dad & a brattish & extremely disappointed 6-year-old returned to Kent for a snowy, late afternoon kick about as darkness descended. The match was postponed anyway & in Scott Cheshire’s Illustrated History Of Chelsea there is a picture of a snowbound, empty Stamford Bridge from that afternoon. I still wince when I see it. It would have been my first ever Chelsea game. I managed to catch up with both teams in the same tournament the following year, seeing Stoke, with the magnificent Gordon Banks in goal, at Oxford in Round 3 & Chelsea at home to Burnley three weeks later. Alan went to that game with us & on our next trip to Kent in 1972 we saw two Tommy Baldwin goals rescue a point in a knock about end of season 3-3 draw with Newcastle. Tommy’s second goal was the first I ever saw Chelsea score standing on The Shed. I also recall my dad smiling indulgently as I enthusiastically waved my blue & white woollen scarf (knitted by my Nan of course, everyone had a football scarf knitted by their Nan back then) as Peter Bonetti led the lads towards us for the pre-match warm up. ‘He’s been waiting all day to do that’ he said to Alan. All day? More like three years.
So Dad & Alan announcing we were going to Spurs in 1974 instead was a shock, causing my head to fill with a one word mantra. Bollocks. Bollocks bollocks bollocks bollocks bollocks bollocks. Double & indeed triple bollocks. With hindsight it is not difficult to see that Chelsea do not entice the neutral fan by 1974. Finishing the enormous East Stand has at least seen the end of the joint sight of cranes & West Brompton Cemetry sucking the atmosphere out of the entire ground. Sadly this construction has also crippled the club’s finances & the team is crap. However, I am 12 years old & not remotely neutral. The bollocks do not cease. There will be plenty more bollocks before this day is done. I don’t actually say bollocks of course. Everyone in Kent is far too nice. I merely resort to whingeing all the way to White Hart Lane. Nearly all the way. Eventually, Alan enters a newsagent & returns with a football magazine. ‘Have a read of that & cheer up’ he says. I feel mildly ashamed & manage a mumbled thank you. At least I have something to distract me when the game starts.
I wouldn’t have minded but Spurs were rubbish in 1974 too. Actually, that’s a lie. I would have minded. Very much indeed. Nevertheless, they WERE rubbish. Their legendary manager Bill Nicholson had just departed, a man who had served with distinction as a player & then led them to The Double, leaving with ten grand in his back pocket & minus the obligatory Testimonial. He lived in a house near the ground & had lived, eaten & breathed Spurs since 1938. Forgive me if I spared my tears when Mourinho left Chelsea with millions on two separate occasions. Happily, Nicholson did return to White Hart Lane later but football clubs really have been run by some charmless slimeballs over the years haven’t they? There is a core of the team that has brought them various domestic & European trophies in recent years, but it is a team composed of players largely past their best. Mike England, Martin Chivers, Cyril Knowles & Phil Beal have all peaked. Goalkeeper Pat Jennings & Martin Peters will both have better days when they move on, down the road at Arsenal in the case of Jennings to the eternal chagrin of Spurs fans. The Gunners themselves are also a pretty miserable outfit in 1974 though. The only London team to shine is West Ham, who pluck a couple of strikers from the lower divisions in Billy Jennings & Alan Taylor & enjoy a buoyant season, with the former thriving in the league & the latter scoring twice in all the last three rounds of the FA Cup to bring the Hammers home a trophy at the end of the season.
There is every chance Spurs will lose on this day as I fervently want them to. The opposition is Middlesbrough, a new, brutally efficient addition to Division 1, as it was called then & should be now. They had visited White Hart Lane less than three weeks earlier in the League Cup & won 4-0. They have one of Celtic’s legendary Lisbon Lions in Bobby Murdoch, a fine player even if he appears to have a spare match ball stuck up his shirt. Alongside him in midfield is the best Leeds player never to play for Leeds, the young Graham Souness, gifted & nasty in apparently equal measure. They have two of the country’s most promising attacking midfielders in David Armstrong & David Mills. In keeping with the times they have the obligatory portly striker, Alan Foggon, who would seem to be no stranger to a pork pie & a pint. He later joins Man Utd & sinks without trace. The real brutal efficiency lies at the back though where they have a frankly terrifying defence. Craggs. Boam. Maddren. Spraggon. These names to mutton chopped strikers of the ’70’s are akin to those of Ronnie Kray & Eddie Richardson to miscreant smaller time villains in London’s gangland areas in the 1960’s. They may not have carved tram lines into your face with knives or tortured you by attaching electrodes to your genitals but God alone knows what they dip the studs of their boots in. In another Likely Lads episode Terry ends up in court for a pub brawl which begins when he refers to Middlesbrough as ‘a bunch of cloggers’ to one of their fans, played by James Bolam’s future New Tricks co-star Alun Armstrong. Later on, Armstrong appears in Porridge, another vehicle for the brilliant comedy writing duo Dick Clement & Ian Le Frenais, as a con called Spraggon. Given some of the on pitch tackles performed by the ‘Boro left back of the same name it is not likely to be a coincidence. Prison was the least some of them deserved.
Middlesbrough are managed by Jack Charlton. I am hugely conflicted about Big Jack. Resolutely working class, fond of a ciggie (as was his more extravagantly gifted brother Bobby, who played his last game for Man Utd at Chelsea & was presented on the pitch with a silver cigarette holder by the hosts!) he was a World Cup hero & always an endearing commentary box presence, forgetting names & foregoing the usual media niceties with his blunt appraisals of matches & the participants within them. He once gave my dad an autograph in the toilets at the Randolph Hotel in Oxford. Hopefully he had washed his hands. Metaphorically, they remain eternally filthy to many, due to his being a devout lifetime member of, & apologist for, the detested Revie era Leeds. Dirty Leeds. He gave the Irish nation the footballing ride of their lives but it was ghastly to watch at times, & the 1-1 draw with England in Italy in 1990 remains comfortably the worst international football match I have ever seen.
Spraggon takes out football’s original Baldy Man, Ralph Coates, within seconds of the match starting at The Lane. Coates spends the entire match switching wings having been walloped by either Spraggon or right full back Craggs. Referee Jack Taylor gives him zero protection & poor Coates appears to give up in the end. Being bald in this most hirsute of decades means Ralph spends a lot of time sweeping up the hugely long strands of hair he has cultivated in a vain attempt to cover up the glaringly obvious gleaming dome at the top of his head. He looked great at Burnley & had been in the provisional 28 man England squad for the 1970 World Cup. He scored a League Cup Final winner for Spurs against Norwich in 1973 but never seemed to fulfill his potential there. The late, great DJ John Peel was a huge fan & used to bemoan the fact that he had joined Spurs rather than Liverpool. His bustling endeavour would surely have worked a treat in a Shankley or Paisley era Liverpool midfield. His future Leyton Orient colleague Stan Bowles was less complimentary however. Years after retirement he talked to style magazine Blitz from his local while leafing through a scrapbook of photos & clippings from the ex QPR’s scallywag’s career. ”There’s me wi’ that cunt Ralph Coates! He was fucking useless!” Bit harsh Stanley.
Ralph does at least have a hand in the Spurs goal, floating in a nice ball to the back post which Jimmy Neighbour knocks in. ‘Boro had taken the lead prior to this & retake the lead before the first half is out. The bollocks mantra in my head gets replaced by another after we get in the ground, namely ‘I don’t like Spurs, I’ve never liked Spurs & I never will like Spurs.’ It remains there to this day. Their fans prove to be the moaniest old bunch of bleating ingrates I had ever encountered up to that point. They are particularly keen on berating one of Big Jack’s ’66 colleagues, the enigmatic but brilliant Martin Peters, eternally linked with Alf Ramsey’s description of him as ‘ten years ahead of his time.’ Frankly, I would have killed to have a World Cup hero playing for Chelsea. The nearest Chelsea player to him in my memory is Gus Poyet, also great in the air, blessed with the ability to time a ghost like run into the opposition box unannounced to score vital goals, & liable to go missing for lengthy periods of the game on occasions. Peters once scored all four Spurs goals away at Old Trafford. As a midfielder! You might think the Spurs ‘faithful’ would cut him some slack after that. Apparently not. A year earlier I had seen England beat Scotland 1-0 at Wembley. After the game, autograph hunting with my friend Richard, we spied a figure hunched under a shelter in the car park. By his feet was an Adidas bag, a bit posher than the ones we usually had at school but not hugely different. Nobody but us took a blind bit of notice of this unassuming figure as he stood there, seemingly waiting for his lift or a taxi. It was Martin Peters. An hour earlier he had scored the winning goal, heading in an Alan Ball cross in front of 100,000 people. Seven years earlier he had scored here in a World Cup final. Spin on a couple of decades & people are queuing at Stamford Bridge for autographs from suits like Ken Bates & Peter Kenyon, the egotists truly having taken over the asylums by then.
There are no second half goals & Middlesbrough win, though even I am forced to admit that the overriding memory of the day is being privy to that most odious of footballing spectacles, the celebrity ref pushing himself to the forefront at the expense of the match. Jack Taylor is fresh from refereeing that year’s World Cup Final, famously awarding Holland a penalty against hosts West Germany in the first minute of the game, but his failure to protect Coates is at best a symptom of sloppy complacency, at worst an indication of huge arrogance. This era heralded the dawn of referees becoming personalities in their own right, from moustachioed Gordon Hill, crowing in his book how he allowed ‘honest clogger’ Norman Hunter to boot Bowles up in the air because the latter moaned too much, to the Dickensian Roger Kirkpatrick, who even took to the tannoy at half time at one game I went to lest we be allowed to forget his glorious existence for ten minutes. Worst of all is Clive ‘The Book’ Thomas from Treorchy. Thomas was such a refereeing genius that he decided he could time a game to the nearest split second, infamously blowing the final whistle while a Brazil corner was in the process of being headed into the Sweden goal by the fabulous Zico in the 1978 World Cup Finals. Anyone with the mildest hint of brain might think that if there wasn’t time for meaningful action to arise from the corner then time might sensibly have been called before it was taken. Not Thomas. Still, his name got plastered all over the sports pages from Rhyl to Rio which is presumably exactly what he craved. These self adoring berks ruined many a game. Face it chaps, referees are glorified traffic wardens, the best you can do is concentrate on quietly letting a match flow & interpreting the rules sensibly & fairly. You should be like the ideal small child I failed to be for Dad & Alan on this day. Seen & not heard. Actually, scrub that. Ideally you should be practically INVISIBLE.
Chelsea lose limply too, the excellent John Richards scoring the only goal of the game there for Wolves. This is apparently supposed to appease me in some way. It doesn’t. Having a passion for a football team is not a passive pastime, you want to feel you have participated in the event, & there are always consolations to be found in having witnessed even the most dismal of defeats, through the knowledge that you cheered, shouted, groaned, laughed & finally despaired along with all the other fellow sufferers. There is a lot of suffering that season & in another of those bitter ironies Chelsea’s relegation is all but sealed with a 2-0 defeat at White Hart Lane in April. The ghastly North Londoners avoid the drop by a single point but go down themselves two seasons later. Arsenal finish 16th. Chelsea win at Highbury on Boxing Day thanks to a Chris Garland brace. At that point it looks bleak for them, but Chelsea generously sell Garland to a main relegation rival in Leicester City. He immediately goes on a terrific scoring run of 8 goals in 10 games, easing Leicester out of trouble & his former club deep into the brown stuff. Their plight enables The Gunners to clamber to safety too. The top London team that season are QPR. They finish 11th. The following season they come within an inch of pipping Liverpool to the title under the leadership of Dave Sexton, sacked by Chelsea not long after the Wolves match. By this time the Blues are in the bottom half of Division 2.
I only ever returned to Spurs with Chelsea after this particular afternoon, & am delighted to say that I have never, ever, seen them win a football match, 46 years after I first saw them taken apart at WBA due to a barnstorming hat trick by the splendid Tony ‘Bomber’ Brown, witnessed with delight by my Uncle Bert, a Baggies season ticket holder for many years. Two years after the White Hart Lane debacle we visit Kent again. This time there are no arguments. Spurs are away at Derby as we stand on the North Terrace & watch a Ray Wilkins inspired 4-3 win over Oldham Athletic. Spurs lose 8-2. Dish best served cold & all that. I don’t laugh. Not much anyway. Perhaps the odd titter. On our last family visit in 1978 both teams are away & we go to Craven Cottage where I have the pleasure of being spat on by Stoke fans leaning over the terraces before I have even got past the programme sellers. Why why why Delilah? Because I’m there presumably. Cheers fellas. You & Ryan Shawcross deserve each other.