Father Christmas

Christmas On The Way – Kings Road, 10/12/19

October 10, 1953

Headington United 0-1 Chelsea

1953-54 FA Youth Cup (Attendance: 1,200)

Two Wingers – Brian Munday  & Peter Brabrook

“In three words I can sum up everything I’ve learned about life: it goes on.” – Robert Frost

‘Remember when we played against Bobby Charlton in the Army?’ My dad’s best friend Bert’s eyes would light up as he repeated this question every so often to him, & the response was usually a tight lipped, barely perceptible nod of the head. My father was too polite to deny Bert his pleasure at recounting the tale, but too honest to wholeheartedly encourage it. Why? Because there was one fatal flaw in this otherwise pleasing anecdote. It wasn’t true.

I was reminded of this in December 2016 while listening  live to the Chelsea Fancast podcast in the Mixlr chatroom. The former Chelsea & England winger Peter Brabrook had just died & Fancast supremo David Chidgey, aka Stamford Chidge, was intrigued by my mentioning in the chatroom that my father had once shared a pitch  with a man who later played in West Ham’s victorious 1964 FA Cup final team. For dad may not ever have played against the great Sir Bobby but he did once line up against a Chelsea team including  Brabrook & John ‘Snoz’ Sillett, whose brother Peter  scored a famous penalty winner against Wolves 18 months later which helped seal the club’s first ever League title in 1955. John later went on to co-manage Coventry City to their only major silverware, an FA Cup win in 1987, pleasing all virtuous souls as it was against Spurs. Later on he shared punditry duties at ITV with his ex Chelsea team mate Jimmy Greaves. Brabrook only played 3 games in Chelsea’s 1955 League Championship season but eventually made over 250 appearances for the club before moving on to West Ham, where he was managed by Ron Greenwood, another member of Chelsea’s only pre Premier League title winning team.

My dad, a small but speedy winger, eventually saw his football career ended at 26, around the time I was born, following a dreadful challenge by ‘that bastard of a full back at Wycombe Wanderers’ which caused a knee ligament injury severe enough for him to be advised that he should retire or risk ending up in a wheelchair. Afterwards, he played squash, & his beloved cricket into his early ’50’s, when his hips began to give out, but serious football was given the swerve after that fateful day at Loakes Park, Wycombe’s home in their non-league days. Until I discovered he had played against Chelsea I always assumed his finest hour was in the early 1970’s when he played for a Thame United veterans team against a TV All Stars X1 & a small boy eschewed the chance to chance to claim the autographs of luminaries from the entertainment world like Dennis Waterman (pre-The Sweeney)  Richard O’Sullivan (pre-Man About The House) Robin Asquith (pre-Confessions films) or Radio 1 DJ  ‘Diddy’ David Hamilton (pre toupee)  & preferred instead to get the immaculate signature  of the legend that was Brian Munday in his book. I accept that few of these names will resonate with anyone under the age of 50 but take it from me they were famous enough at the time. Certainly more famous than my dad. Sadly for me Ray Davies of The Kinks, who regularly turned out for the TV All Stars, was a no-show, but I do recall goalkeeper Jess Conrad, clad all in black in the style of the legendary Russian stopper Lev Yashin. Suffice to say the resemblance ended there, Jess’s performance in the Yashin kit being akin to me buying a cheap King Of Vegas outfit on ebay & kidding myself I’m Elvis Presley. Well, it’s a hobby. Conrad later gained fame by having three of his own execrable songs from the early rock’n’ roll era  justly included in an  album of the worst records of all time, compiled by the late Kenny Everett. Suffice to say that one of them was entitled Why Am I Living? & most of us who have had the misfortune to hear it have immediately found ourselves asking the very same question. The only celebrity to linger at the bar after the game was Tony Booth, then famous for playing Alf Garnett’s son-in-law rather brilliantly in Till Death Us Do Part, later perhaps most renowned for being father-in-law to our former Prime Minister & walking, talking, lying disgrace Tony Blair. Dad’s friend Alan also played for Thame that day, & as his daughter left the clubhouse I distinctly recall Mr Booth, known to like a drink & presumably well lubricated by this point, turning to the man next to him as he propped up the bar  & saying ‘come back in a couple of years love’ out of the corner of his mouth. I was 9 or 10 at the time so Kim would have been around 12. Men said weird things like that quite routinely in the 1970’s but even to my young ears the remark seemed beyond the pale. Booth later came close to burning to death when a drunken escapade led to him falling into a drum of paraffin. He may have played Sid Noggett in the appalling Confessions Of A Window Cleaner & got his tackle out on stage in Oh Calcutta but unlike the other Tony in the family at least he never got us involved in a war justified by a whopping untruth, namely insisting on the presence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Dodgy buggers both in truth.

My dad never took me to a Boxing Day fixture at Chelsea, & my grandfather never went to Stamford Bridge with me, but they will both be in my thoughts when I take my seat for the Southampton game this year. With just the one quoted exception, Boxing Day was the one day I can remember as a child when my dad would dig out his boots & play football in the morning, with his cricket mates at one of Oxford’s many college grounds, usually Brasenose. If Oxford United were at home in the afternoon this would then be the one time in the season my grandfather would foresake Isthmian League Oxford City & join us at The Manor Ground. The Osler Road terrace was always jollier on Boxing Day, as yuletide cigar smoke mingled merrily with my Uncle Tony’s Embassy cigarettes & my grandfather adding to the then omnipresent football ground aroma of piped tobacco. This combined attempt to recreate Didcot Power Station would usually be accompanied by the passing around of a hip flask, us kids having to settle for the normal match day diet of Trebor mints & Wrigley Spearmint gum. in 1974 the opponents were my grandad’s boyhood team Millwall, Oxford winning 3-1 & leaving him, never much of a drinker anyway, slightly less jolly than the rest of the adults. My 12 year old self didn’t need nicotine or hip flasks that day as Chris Garland scored twice to give Chelsea a rare away win at Highbury. On Boxing Day two years earlier Oxford had beaten a pitifully poor Brighton team 3-0 with two goals from a young man called Keith Gough, recently signed on a free transfer from Walsall. Gough never set the Thames on fire after that, although he did once make a decent stab at winning a bravery award by responding to a brutal challenge from Nottingham Forest’s long-legged full back John Winfield, booting his redoubtable opponent back hard enough in the upper thigh  to poleaxe one of the many physically imposing Division 2 defenders of the age. Wingate was a man with what would politely be decribed as a robust approach to playing the game. The Brighton Boxing Day team included two of Chelsea’s fine crop of 1960’s talent, utility player Bert Murray & former England striker Barry Bridges. Bridges had also appeared in recent years at the Manor for QPR & Millwall but it was fair to say he was past his considerable best by the time he moved to the Goldstone Ground. Lest we seem to romanticize the past a tad too much, on one occasion in his QPR years Barry got caught on the ground with the ball trapped between his legs, & as Oxford defenders prevented him from regaining his feet by hacking away at the ball the home fans responded to this amusing spectacle with the chant ‘Bridges is a spastic.’ Charming. Brian Clough took over at Brighton after their inevitable relegation in the season of the 3-0 loss at Oxford, but things would still get worse before they got better. Shortly after Cloughie’s arrival they played high flying Bristol Rovers, featuring their famous ‘Smash ‘N’ Grab’ strike duo of Alan Warboys & Bruce Bannister, both of whom were to impress against Chelsea with different clubs in future years. Brighton lost that game 8-2. At home! Even Cloughie had his off days.  As did my gran on that Boxing Day of the Brighton match, who stayed in the pub with the rest of the womenfolk after the men had gone to the football. Being nothing if not a polite person, she was famous for waiting to find out what the person sitting next to her was having before deciding she would have the same. Presumably she must have had quite a few people sitting next to her that lunchtime, as a combination of sherry & whisky macs saw her disappearing regularly to the toilet on arriving back at our house, a rueful ‘I shouldn’t have had that last drink’ lament accompanying each journey up the stairs. By the time Keith Gough had enjoyed his finest hour in professional football she had taken to her bed. Never mind Nan, happiness makes up in height for what it lacks in length to quote the estimable Robert Frost a second time.

Although my dad had told me about his game against Chelsea I could not even answer Chidge’s question about who he had been playing for. I was guessing at it being a friendly game & possibly Oxford City or the Army. Wrong on both counts. My mother reminded me that he had in fact been playing as a guest player for Headington United & thechels.info  surprisingly filled in the gaps, listing the day, date, result, attendance, & indeed the Chelsea line up, Sillett & Brabrook’s involvement confirming the match as the one dad played in despite the Headington teamsheet being disappontingly blank. I certainly never knew it was an FA Youth Cup game, or even that the tournament even existed back then, apparently having started in 1952. Only the venue remains in doubt, Oxford for sure & likely either The Manor or Oxford City’s White House Ground, my money being on the latter. Chelsea won 1-0 & Greavsie’s future short-term television sidekick Sillett evidently scored the winning goal. Dad never played for Headington United again but later became a loyal fan after his own career ended & Headington had changed their name to Oxford United in 1960. Two years later they entered the Football League, & twenty four years after that, in April 1986, their victorious open top bus passed me as I walked home from work following their splendid 3-0 Milk Cup Wembley triumph over QPR. Chelsea were 15 years into a trophy drought at that point, a barren spell that still had 11 years to run. QPR had recently beaten them 6-0, & had knocked them out of the Milk Cup earlier in the tournament as well. Oxford also won 4-1 at Stamford Bridge a couple of months before the final. For a so-called gloryseeker I was doing spectacularly badly. I had also attended far more Oxford United matches than had most U’s fan who carped at me about my love of Chelsea. My father went to the final though. I still have his ticket. I didn’t begrudge Oxford United or their followers the  Wembley triumph but had no desire to go to the game at the time, nor regrets about missing it ever since, my colours long since having been nailed to a blue rather than yellow mast. I would much rather be able to time travel back to 1953 & see my dad play against Chelsea, but  in the absence of a suitable tardis remain inordinately chuffed that he did so in any case.

So why bring all this up now? Two reasons really. It is Christmas, & Christmas is a time for family, celebrating with those that are still here & remembering those who are no longer around, but were such significant figures in the yuletides of our youth. As a child I thought my grandparents would live forever, let alone Uncle Tony or my father, all no longer with us, though in fairness my grandparents would be 112 now! My grandfather was the first close relative under 90 to die. I was 23 & the last time I saw him was on Christmas Eve. I visited him in hospital, taking a bunch of flowers ( you could still take flowers into hospitals in 1985) & spent a short time sat by his bed as he lay unconscious, slowly dying from the undiagnosed peritonitis that would kill him. At one point his eyes opened briefly, he recognised me & said ‘Hello Phil’ very quietly before they closed again. I instinctively knew then that the hello doubled up as a goodbye, the final farewell, & I never visited him again over Christmas, aware that others needed to share a similar moment & that it wasn’t going to get better from there.

Most of my earliest ‘Match Of The Day’ memories involved being allowed to stay up way beyond my normal bedtime to watch David Coleman present the then paltry two game edited highlights  on my grandparents sizeable black & white telly. I watched my first ever football match in that room, with my father & grandfather, the 1968 Fairs Cup Final 1st Leg between Leeds United & Ferencvaros. Dirty Leeds. When I stayed there at weekends, the illicit ‘ Match Of The Day’ viewings would  be followed up the following morning with a kick around in nearby Florence Park, comfortably the most beautiful park in Oxford, with its perfectly kept flower beds & Weeping Willows. My grandfather, over 60 then, would don football boots & tracksuit bottoms, though unfortunately the only football he owned  had the valve rattling around inside it & would not stay fully inflated for very long. He loved football, & talking about football, frequently recounting the same anecdotes of matches & characters from the past, a trait I fear has been passed down. The difference was that he always had at least one happy recipient of the umpteenth retelling of the same tale. Me. On Saturday 28th December, 1985, there would normally have been plenty for us to chew over with that day’s results. Chelsea beat Spurs 2-0 & his beloved Millwall put 5 past Hull, where I had only just severed my ties a few months earlier. He died that evening with the most minute of small consolations for me that his last ‘Grandstand’ teleprinter resuts service, or whatever it had morphed into by then, brought good news for us both, albeit without him being conscious of the fact. I miss him very much.

My father died of cancer in 2011, reduced to mere skin & bone in the three months from diagnosis to death, but still able to raise a quizzical eyebrow the last weekend I saw him at the news that Chelsea had just paid £50 million for Fernando Torres, & a broad smile at finding out that Babestation was on the options menu on the small television next to his hospital bed. Next month marks 50 years since he took me to my first Chelsea game , a 2-2 4th Round FA Cup draw with Burnley. The nearest fixture to this anniversary in January? A Premier League fixture against…….. Burnley. This poignant twist of fate is slightly contrived, as there is a fixture nearest to that date, the Arsenal game, but that is an Amazon Prime match, kicking off at 8.15 & destined to lead me still wending my way home deep into the early hours of the next morning. My £70+ is staying in my pocket, my ageing limbs at home. So Burnley will be the game nearest to the anniversary that I am actually present for at Stamford Bridge, unless there is a home draw in this year’s FA Cup 4th Round. Perhaps that will be Burnley too. As on Boxing Day I will be attending the Burnley game by myself, but there will be a feast of memories, overwhelmingly happy ones, swirling around my head & keeping me company as I take my seat in the West Stand, just as I did with my dad all those years ago in 1970.

I am never truly alone at a football match.

 

 

 

 

That’s The Way Reece Likes It Zaha Zaha

09/11/19  Chelsea 2 Crystal Palace 0

Another welcome Tammy Abraham goal  against a niggly Palace.

Following the regrettable EUFA ban on Ajax supporters for the bonkers 4-4 Bonfire Night Champions League thriller 4 days earlier, it was reassuring to pass a sizeable amount of Crystal Palace fans making their way through the main gate for this fixture. In theory at least. The home seats at Stamford Bridge seem largely now to consist of creaky boned old soaks like me, alongide selfie obsessed tourists. The latter are generally happy to visit the club shop & relieve of it of some of its overpriced tat, eat the equally overpriced, desperately poor quality food & often largely ignore huge swathes of the actual football. These two disparate groups do not, it must be said, make for a lively atmosphere, & it is usually only the away fans who manage to occasonally crank the volume up to 11. However, along with their team the Palace faithful were a little off song today, given their reputation of being a noisy & passionate throwback to the days when top English grounds had proper fans, creating genuinely electric atmospheres. The Croydon Ultras who passed me going in were probably at their liveliest all afternoon at that very moment, 40 minutes or so from kick off. What a motley crew they were too, quite the skankiest away fans I’ve seen since Cardiff City last season, most of whom appeared to have been living in their latest team shirts for a decade non-stop even though the season was still in August. Palace were equally tatty looking, & left me, no lounge lizard himself, wondering whether South London is currently lacking shower & laundry facilities. Removing the word cunt from the English language would also have largely rendered them mute so all hail the word cunt, not always universally acclaimed in fairness, if only for ensuring the entire Fulham Road did not descend into total silence.

I am not having much luck with away fans at present, having run into the Man Utd fans leaving the ground following Marcus Rashford’s stunning free kick winner in the Carabao Cup  10 days previously. I can refute the oft held myth that none of their fans hail from Manchester, as there were plenty of feral Mancunian ratboys mixed in among a decent smattering of 2014 hipster beards. Their reaction to victory over a below par, under strength Chelsea team was massively over the top. In keeping with Harry Maguire’s celebration in front of the Matthew Harding stand at the final whistle, you could have been mistaken for thinking they had won the World Cup. My response to both was a retro, inner Michael Winner voice saying, inevitably, ‘CALM DOWN! IT’S ONLY THE CARABAO CUP.’ My retro, inner Michael Winner voice was sadly no match for one particular ratboy, accompanied by his equally repulsive female accomplice, whose physical presence & warm Mancunian banter I failed to shrug off for several hundred yards along the Fulham Road. Resistance seemed futile but I must politely, if belatedly, put the record straight. I am actually neither a rentboy or a cockney. Opinion may be divided on whether or not I am a cunt (that word again) though those that do concur would usually base it on more substantial evidence than my walking along a public street in the dark of night minding my own business. Given the female of their species can reproduce up to 5 times a year I do hope this lovely rodent couple  are using contraception or Old Trafford will shortly need another 15,000 seats just to house their offspring. If they are anything to go by, either the gene pool in Manchester has declined since his death or former Factory Records boss Tony Wilson’s belief in Manchester as the centre of the universe was massively overstated. The general exuberance on & off the pitch over this Pyrrhic victory certainly indicates how far Man Utd have fallen in recent times.

I have fond memories of Crystal Palace from my very early football watching days, not least their propensity for wearing a series of extremely snazzy kits in the late ’60’s & throughout the following decade. My favourite was the first I ever saw them wear, a claret top with light blue pinstripes & gold collar, cuffs & club crest. They also had a fine goalkeeper, John Jackson, who later went on to play for Orient, & was one of many great keepers with redoubtable, now old fashioned British names who lit up my Saturday afternoons. Stand up Peter Grummitt, Les Green, Mike Kelly, Bryan King  & Jim Herriot of Birmingham City, who inspired one aspiring author of veterinary novels to rename himself James Herriot for the purposes of his fiction writing career. Another one, Charlie Wright of Charlton, had a goalkeeping cap more akin to something old men who kept whippets might wear. With the exception of Calcutta born Kevin Keelan of Norwich City, who brought a touch of swarthy, Englebert Humperdinck style pizazz  to the East Anglian outfit, they were a decidely unglamorous bunch, but I remember them all fondly, & they were all really good goalkeepers. Flamboyance should have been the middle name  of mid ’70’s fedora wearing Palace manager Malcolm Allison, & even though he got them relegated twice in successive seasons he is still fondly remembered for bringing in players of verve & dash, including Chelsea hero Charlie Cooke, who flopped & then returned to Stamford Bridge for peanuts, rediscovered his form & won an international recall. They also had Swindon’s 1969 League Cup winning hero Don Rogers, who was also brilliant, & also had a magnificent moustache. Another fantastic winger, Peter Taylor, whose goalscoring debut I witnessed at Oxford, later made the mistake of going to Spurs, & sustained a series of injuries which led to premature retirement from professional football, but was still able to run games without breaking sweat at Dartford & Enfield after that, witnessed by my brother-in-law, who played against him & insists he was the finest player he ever came up against, impossible to win the ball off even with by then severely reduced mobility. The current team have done well to consolidate their position in the Premier League but have little of the charm of teams of old. In fairness my antipathy towards Crystal Palace started on a rainy night at Selhurst Park in January 1993. It was bad enough losing to a below strength Palace team & having our League Cup dreams dashed. Yes, we dreamed about winning the League Cup, ANY cup, in 1993. It was bad enough that a waterlogged pitch led to an underhit Frank Sinclair back pass being swept just over the muddy goal line at our end by future Wales boss Chris Coleman. It was even worse when Steve Clarke finished more emphatically at the same end in the second half, only for the mud to be so thick by that point that having passed under Nigel Martyn’s body the ball stuck steadfastly to the goal line & did not lead to the goal that it would  have been on 999 times out of a thousand. The tin lid sealed on the top of this farrago of shite was the half time break, as the rain hammered down ever harder on the open terrace failing to shelter us, when the Palace mascot, predictably an Eagle, sauntered past us & reminded us, pointedly & provocatively with his dopey Eagle mascot fingers, that the score was at that point 2-1. Two fingers raised with the left dopey Eagle hand, a middle dopey Eagle finger with the right. A man in an Eagle suit taking the piss as our League Cup dreams were literally drowning in the misery of a South London monsoon. If there had not been a fence up he would have got lynched & I would have applauded louder than I had Andy Townsend’s earlier, fantastic first half goal. I have hated Crystal Palace & club mascots ever since. Including Stamford the bloody Lion,  whose outfit was stolen a decade or so later, the thief attempting, sadly unsuccessfully, to exort a ransom fee for it before eventually it was returned safely. If you know who that man was, buy him a drink every day for the rest of his life. I will gladly foot the bill.

The negative approach of Crystal Palace boss Roy Hodgson this time was  difficult to fathom. Thay have already won at Old Trafford & drawn at The Emirates, & last season had a famous victory at the home of eventual champions Man City, a victory sealed in spectacular fashion, with one truly remarkable goal by Andros Townsend. I first saw Townsend play for Orient at Brentford around 10 years ago, during a loan spell from Spurs. He looked a great prospect then, but I can honestly say he was so invisible for the first half of this game that I genuinely forgot he was out there. Fun though this season has proved so far watching Frank Lampard use the younger players at his disposal to such impressive effect, the fact remains that this Chelsea team leaks goals as readily as lies tumble from the mouth of Boris Johnson, so Hodgson’s excessive caution was a bad call. This was a poor day for Palace & especially their star player Wilfred Zaha, thwarted throughout by 19 year old Reece James, who followed up his match saving goal against Ajax in the week with a performance of poise & maturity. Zaha is the sort of flair player you want to excel against anybody but your own team, & a full flowering of his potential has been on the verge of emerging in the past few seasons. An earlier move to Man Utd probably just came too soon, but by last season his importance to the Palace cause was underlined by his becoming the most fouled player on the Premier League. Unlike the divine Eden Hazard, who largely restricted himself to the occasional pounding of his fists against the turf, as  yet another musclebound mediocrity went unpunished having clogged him to the floor, Zaha has wailed long & hard in the press about a lack of protection from referees. He wailed long & hard throughout this game to referee & fellow narcissist Mike Dean about a series of perceived injustices, largely linked to Reece James having the temerity to repeatedly rob him of the ball, & on occasions his dignity. Eventually, he threw himself theatrically to the floor near my seat in the West Stand.  Dean, denied much opportunity in this largely tepid affair to indulge his favourite pastime, namely making himself the centre of attention, ludicrously awarded Palace a free kick in a dangerous area of the pitch. Zaha turned to us Chelsea fans & flashed a cheesy, provocative, ‘look what I got away with there’ grin. Presumably the camera angles for the free kick were favourable for Dean’s sumptuous profile.  Well done Mike, we had almost forgotten you were here. We’ve remembered now, okay, it’s all about you, right?  Fortunately, the free kick was taken by Luko Milvojevic, Zaha’s main rival as whinger in chief, who floated the ball straight out for a goal kick. Luko also takes the Palace penalties, one assumes as a tactic by Roy Hodgson to remind him that he can occasionally make contact with the ball rather than the skin & bone of opposition players. So negligible is his footballing contribution to this match that he need not really have changed into his kit. Hodgson praises his team after the match, which is remarkable. If they play like this every week I would rather use my tongue to remove broken glass from the anal cavity of Piers Morgan than watch Crystal Palace more than once a season. No wonder so many of those Palace Ultras had looked like they hadn’t changed clothes or washed for days. They are probably all clinically depressed.

No bumps this time for Gary Cahill but a well earned ovation nonetheless.

At least Gary Cahill emerged with some credit from the afternoon for the visitors, giving & receiving due credit to & from both sets of supporters respectively, a rare feat indeed. A superb block had prevented Chelsea from taking a first half lead late in the first half, reminding Palace fans what an asset they have gained & a churlish & not insubstantial section of Chelsea fans of the considerable defensive ability of a man too often berated in his last couple of years at Stamford Bridge. His fractious relationship with the unpopular Maurizio Sarri last year had won him back some brownie points prior to his departure at the end of last season, & he had been sent off with a deservedly warm & prolonged display of affection after the last home game of the season against Watford. Sarri had even given him a few minutes on the pitch that day, but spurned a prime opportunity shortly afterwards to give one of the most prolific medal collectors in Chelsea history the same pleasure in Baku, with Chelsea 4-1 up & coasting to victory in the Europa League final against Arsenal. Many thought the conduct towards our club captain by the Neapolitan Fag Ash Lil was shabby & unbecoming throughout last season, but the online abuse he had received from supposed Chelsea fans before that had also been unsavoury & completely unjustified.  In seven years with Chelsea he won Two Premier Leagues, Two FA Cups, Two Europa Leagues, one Carling Cup & the small matter of a Champions League winner’s medal, earned with himself & David Luiz both  playing with barely one good leg between them, both climbing off the treatment table with John Terry having been ruled out through suspension. Not bad for a ‘donkey’ eh? When the Matthew Harding end rose to acclaim him at the beginning of the second half he responded with a bizarre, apologetic handclap which started below the genitals, as if not wanting to annoy supporters of his current employers. At the end of the game, won deservedly by Chelsea with another goal from Tammy Abraham, & the first at the Bridge for the rapidly emerging Christian Pulisic, Cahill made a point of applauding the Palace fans first before taking a final bow from the blue sides of the ground. A touch of class is our Gaz.

For Mr Zaha however, the afternoon never got better than winning a free kick by cheating. On leaving the stadium by car he was reminded, probably unnecessarily, by one (admittedly irritating) onlooker that he had been in Reece James’ pocket for the past hour and a half. ‘You’re mum’s in my fucking pocket’ was the response from a disembodied voice in the backseat, generally thought to be that of the beleaguered winger himself. Keep it classy Wilf. Zaha is linked to Chelsea regularly but on the evidence of this performance, on & off the pitch, the money would best be spent elsewhere. When he rolls up at Stamford Bridge in Chelsea colours next year this will, of course, all be forgotten by yours truly with the standard, heightened  level of hypocrisy unique to partisan football supporters.

Thwarted here in their usual desire to entertain as consistently as often as they would like, Frank Lampard’s bold new team still appear to be shaping up nicely. The atmosphere in the ground is still sadly funereal & the 2019 competition to see who can dig their knees into the back of my seat continues unabated. Often it’s a small child with restless, flailing legs & I can make allowances for that. Today it was an oblivious, self centred man comfortably old enough to know better & eventually I turned round to remonstrate with him, only to be totally fazed by his creepily sinister, Anthony Perkins as Norman Bates in ‘Psycho’ half smile. I’ve hardly slept since, & am definitely thinking twice before having a shower. Oh my, perhaps I’m a Crystal Palace fan in the making after all.

Does anyone have an address for Piers Morgan?

Adios Amigo

The longest ever footballer’s goodbye letter to us supporters was a touch of class, but, fond farewells aside, seeing Eden Hazard destroy Real Madrid’s rivals with his brilliance next season will still be torture for Chelsea fans. Like a eunuch watching Pornhub.

April 8, 2019 – This as close as most West Ham players got to Hazard all night. Majestic doesn’t cover it. The Hammers Goon Squad in the background had given up abusing him by this point. Muted by genius.

I don’t use a camera during a match. Strangely I go to watch the game. I would happily go in early to see Eden Hazard warm up though. The oldest fanboy in captivity!

 

May 5, 2019 – following the last Premier League game of the season younger members of Clan Hazad become the smallest forward line to appear at Stamford Bridge since the iconic ’90’s trio Stein, Spencer & Peacock. Sign them up. Now!

EH17

May 9, 2019 – A last farewell to fans in the Matthew Harding Stand, having scored the winning penalty against Eintracht Frankfurt with his last kick of a football as a Chelsea player at Stamford Bridge, securing a place in a European final as a consequence. Some player. Missing him already.

 

 

Buon Natale!

zolaxmas

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.

I Remember, I Remember

March 5, 1988 Coventry City 3 Chelsea 3

I watch him as he runs past on the other side of the road, a river of fresh blood coating large areas of his face, his clearly traumatized body, especially the hands, shaking like a leaf. He is making a distressed, wailing noise & this, combined with the way he is moving, reminds me of a child that has just fallen over in a playground & hurt themselves, looking for a parent’s consoling presence. In seconds he has passed me. I glance back at him momentarily, then do what many thousands of fellow football fans, the clubs they support,the authorities governing football & our esteemed politicians have largely been doing for the previous twenty years.

I look away & keep moving in the opposite direction.

1988 marked twenty years since I had attended my first football match. Back then crowd trouble was quickly identifiable as endemic, & my six-year-old self would stand by the corner flag adjoining the London & Osler Road ends at Oxford United’s Manor Ground, watching with my dad as fights broke out week in week out behind the London Road goal before kick off. Every time the same police officer would walk past us having arrested a culprit, right arm twisted behind their back with a malicious, sadistic, twisted sneer all over his face. Truly a man who loved his work. God knows what happened once he got them in the Black Maria. Another formative memory is entering the ground as a row of skinheads, decked out in regulation Brutus shirts, sta press trousers & Crombies, stood bare footed next to their 8 eye Doctor Martens, forced to remove the laces & minimize the damage they could inflict once through the turnstiles. Goalkeepers at league grounds would be greeted with a lavish  bombardment of toilet rolls at the beginning of most games, their first task being to clear it all away from the goalmouth prior to kick off, sometimes resembling prototypes for the puppy in the future Andrex adverts in the process. That bog roll got everywhere. While the tabloids raged & sociologists pontificated endlessly, there was always an awareness that many tutting onlookers gained a vicarious, voyeuristic thrill  from the widespread spectacle of young men kicking the crap out of each other. When Chelsea lost to 3rd Division Crystal Palace in the FA Cup in 1976, the taunting at school was muted due to the decision of Match Of The Day producers to show action replays of the Kung Fu kick meted out by one fan as rucks broke out. Jimmy Hill shook his head mournfully but they still showed it, my admittedly shaky memory tells me  in slow motion, for the nation’s delectation. Boys being boys all his backdrop to the main business of the game itself crept into our hitherto innocent football inner psyches. You could be pushed down any staircase at school with the cry ‘Anfield Kop! accompanying the shove in the back. Break time matches on the school field might be interrupted by pitch invasions from lads excluded from the action. Subbuteo table football  games were regularly disrupted by (usually) playful fights when a goal went in, which in my case was often. I was hopeless at Subbuteo. One lad at school even prepared for the iconic flick to kick game by carefully rolling up small pieces of toilet roll to throw on the hallowed green cloth prior to kick off!

By 1988 the joke, to quote one Steven Patrick Morrissey, the arch miserabilist of the decade, wasn’t funny anymore. People were dying at football matches. Crowd behaviour, combined with the more normal greed & incompetence of football clubs & the authorities governing them, had been a major contributory factor to the grotesque events at Heysel in 1985. Hillsborough was little more than a year away, an awful culmination of decades of neglect & contempt for proper crowd safety at football grounds across the country.  The popular opinion for decades was that if fans wanted to behave like animals they could be treated like animals, empowering the arrogant disregard most clubs had for their own supporters, most of whom did not behave like animals. In truth I can’t think of any animals that deserved to be treated like football fans were in the 70’s & ’80’s. Ken Bates had tried to install electric fences at Chelsea akin to those he used to rein in cattle on his farm. Many more owners & directors, tut-tutting at the worst fan excesses of their fans contented themselves with shutting the boardroom door & opening another bottle of 1953 Chateau Margaux. Leaving the crumbling terraces, wooden stands & inadequate entrance & exit points to another day. The all-encompassing obsession with keeping fans off the pitch was a major contributory factor to Hillsborough.

As I started writing this, more than 30 years after one of the grimmest days in my football watching life, random memories came to mind that revealed how strangely the human brain computes the unpalatable. There is one defining image locked in my head, that of the whimpering, blood soaked victim of a callous, cowardly & apparently unprovoked attack, but denial seems to push forward much more trivial snapshots of a game that defines an era of football that was reeling from recent disaster & disgrace, & unwittingly on the brink of its biggest, the seismic scandal of Hillsborough 13 months later. These recollections include a young Chelsea couple taking a pre-match photo of midfielder Micky Hazard cradling their baby in his arms. Imagine being that baby, in its fourth decade now, &, presuming the Chelsea gene transmitted successfully, one of the lucky ones, nine years old when the club’s major trophy drought ended in 1997, & indulged with on pitch glory ever since with an intensity unimaginable to those proud parents at Highfield Road that day. For no reason at all the memory of American teen sensation Debbie Gibson’s Only In My Dreams  crackling through the inadequate speaker system at our end of the ground stays with me. I also recall shouting shut up at someone behind me making monkey noises at Coventry winger Dave Bennett, a rare overt expression of my growing despair at spending my football watching existence alongside too many (a minority, but any is too many, & there were more than a few) who saw matchdays as an opportunity for neanderthal expressions of racial hatred. A slightly more humorous form of xenophobia was reserved for Scotland & former Chelsea striker David Speedie. The players entered the pitch via the corner of the ground we were inhabiting, & Speedie’s arrival for the warm up  was greeted with an outpouring of love & affection from the Chelsea faithful. He was cheered with equal enthusiasm when returning to the dressing room prior to kick off. It was different when the game began. On his first venture towards the Chelsea enclosure he was greeted by a chorus of impressively loud pantomine booing & someone bellowed out Fuck off Speedie you sweaty sock!! as loud as their lungs would allow. All bantz though, as I believe the young people have it today. He scored a first half goal for Coventry, invoking the inevitable, immutable law of the ex that plagues Chelsea to this day, but still returned to a further round of applause from the followers of his former club as he made his way off at half time.

It would nice to dwell longer on the football, Chelsea untypically taking a two goal lead then entirely typically lousing it up & clinging to a draw by the end of the game. The first goal of the game was a sublime Pat Nevin volley, the last a searing drive off the crossbar by young Coventry substitute David Smith, who tore the Chelsea defence new ones throughout the second half & rarely seemed to show similar signs of sustained brilliance throughout the rest of his career. In goal for Chelsea was Perry Digweed, making the first of three appearances on loan from Brighton. Chelsea were unbeaten during these three games. Sadly they also failed to win any of them. Two weeks later a three goal first half lead would be squandered at Oxford. A United fan in front of me stalked out in disgust after half an hour. I could have warned him this was folly. Chelsea were hanging on for a point at 4-4 little more than an hour later. In between these two games Perry kept a clean sheet at home to Everton courtesy of him saving a fierce point blank volley from the excellent Graham Sharp. With his face. It would get worse for him when he returned to Brighton & incurred a severe genital injury courtesy of the studs of West Brom forward John Paskin. YouTube footage exists for those of a grisly persuasion. Happily he recovered & later had a bit part in  ‘The Mean Machine,’ though as this cinematic treasure boasted Vinnie Jones as its star Perry appears to have remained a glutton for punishment.

I have no beef with Coventry either as a city or a  football club, but never seemed to be lucky when going there. Michelin stars may not adorn the walls of Pizza Hut but I managed to dine there safely on all occasions bar one when I was violently sick shortly afterwards. Step forward Pizza Hut in Coventry. A late ’70’s school trip to see a production of Shakespeare’s Henry IV Part One set the tone for future off beat visits. There appeared  to be an air of depression around the place, soon to be alleviated somewhat by the emergence of The Specials, paradoxically raising spirits via  brilliant songs highlighting the gloom. The Shakespeare play was performed by a troupe kitted out in contemporary clothing, though it was not clear whether this was due to a trendy alternative approach to presenting the works of the bard or finanacial constraints. Henry IV was played by a man in a brown leather coat, with Falstaff decked out in ill fitting, saggy tracksuit bottoms. These barely concealed the actor’s ample & doubtless hirsute behind, his arse almost literally hanging out of his trousers. After the play ended, the actors filed back for a Q&A session. I recognised one of the actors, already some years into a lengthy film & television career,  including appearances in The Great Escape &The Avengers, with  Dr Who & Emmerdale among dozens of future credits waiting in the wings. Unfairly but inevitably his performances on a long running advertising campaign for the furniture warehouse company DFS’s ceaseless sale promotions linger longest in my memory with his ‘but remember, all offers end at midnight on Sunday’ sign off, prompting the inevitable & accurate rejoinder by my father, sat in his non DFS armchair, ‘before starting again on Monday morning at one minute past midnight.’ On being asked how he responded to critical appraisals of theatrical productions, the somewhat haughty reply was that it depended on who the critic was. If it was Levin ‘one’ took notice, but a hack from the local rag could be comfortably disregarded. Get you Sir Larry. A few years earlier I had been to a celebrity cricket match at Blenheim Palace, where our esteemed thespian had starred alongside Tim Brooke-Taylor of The Goodies, one of the cast of Please Sir, Bob Todd from The Benny Hill Show & a Womble. God alone knows what Bernard Levin would have made of that. Levin was  one of those suffocatingly self absorbed bores who clogged up the media in my youth, forever impressing his superior intellect on the hoi polloi. One dismissive theatre review did him no favours when he was punched mid-monologue on That Was The Week That Was by the husband of an  actress whose performance he had belittled. Our esteemed Coventry thespian eventually passed the  DFS gig on to Michael Aspel, & later moved on to assisting the flogging of  Stannah stairlifts. Sadly he was  denied a suitably lofty critical appraisal of these stellar performances, Mr Levin having sadly lapsed into early onset dementia before shuffling up the non Stannah stairway to Heaven in 2004, the fate of both men a cautionary warning to all of us against taking ourselves too seriously.

One man who didn’t seem to take himself too seriously, off the pitch anyway, was the home team’s captain & centre half Brian ‘Killer’ Kilcline, on the scoresheet against Chelsea for the second season running, having fired home a penalty in the corresponding fixture the season before, which I had also attended.  Another in an impressive roll call of ’80’s football characters featuring at Highfield Road (Speedie, long serving keeper Steve Ogrizovic, full back  & future copper Greg Downs & the late, great Cyrille Regis) Kilcline was a decent centre half, &  had captained Coventry to their splendid win over Spurs in the previous year’s FA Cup Final. He was also a fully blown, bona fide eccentric, his muscular presence & blonde frizzy mane a familiar sight throughout this era. If reality tv hero Dog The Bounty Hunter had been an 80’s footballer he would have been Brian Kilcline. I think it was during his time at Newcastle that Kilcline took to wearing bootlace ties & pointy cowboy boots to express an undoubted taste for the flamboyant. Was there some stetson wearing too? I fear there may have been. As ever, one man’s cult hero (he was adored on Tyneside) is another’s bit of a twat. Not that many would have said that to Kilcline’s face. He was hard. Witness Eric Cantona pipe down pretty sharpish after Killer moves to confront him during  the Swindon – Man Utd game at the County Ground in the 1993-4 season, the Gallic hero having hitherto thought himself terribly brave & clever to have stamped on Swindon midfielder John Moncur as he lay prone on the ground. Funny how that contrary old hypocrite Sir Alex Ferguson saw fit to lay into Dennis Wise so much in his autobiography, having labelled him as a man who could start an argument in an empty room years earlier, conveniently ignoring the unsavory antics of both Cantona & the borderline psychotic Roy Keane as he said it. Perhaps all that rain they get up there addled the old boy’s formidable brain in his latter years. Maybe it was red wine. Kilcline was living on a canal boat during his Swindon days, entertaining team mate Andy Mutch there for games of chess. Not your average Premier League player’s standard existence even in those formative years. I reacquainted myself with Kilcline’s otherworldliness in an abortive attempt to find the 6 goals from this 1988 game. What I found instead was 2009 footage of Kilcline, top knot & wizard’s beard to the fore, in a darkened room, with what appears to be a startled looking golliwog next to him on the sofa. Having his back waxed by his better half. I was relieved that views in the preceding decade were still  below four figures, slightly abashed that they had now increased by one. Another 4 minutes 18 seconds of my life needlessly squandered. Mercifully, if a sack & crack section of this cinematic masterpiece exists it presumably resides within the murky confines of the  Dark Net. Long may it remain there.

 

The year before I had spent most of the afternoon dodging low flying celery, housed at the side of the pitch in a seated stand. Former Coventry chairman, the aforementioned Jimmy Hill, had fought hard but ultimately in vain to establish  Highfield Road to an all seater stadium years before the Taylor Inquiry & the inception of the Premier League. Chelsea fans had recently begun to deflect from the on pitch agony of a woeful Blues display by inflicting real physical pain on each other, plentiful suplies of the recently adopted fibrous stalks emerging out of paper brown grocers’ bags & being hurled around forcefully. I’m here to tell you now that the stuff kills, but throwing celery around & singing nursery rhyme Ten Men Went To Mow were two of the less malevolent diversions from continued on pitch mediocrity. On my way throught the turnstiles I had been searched by a policeman, who, on finding a Clubcall card in my wallet accused me of being a Chelsea Headhunter, famed for reputedly leaving their calling cards on the torsos of injured victims. I enclose a scan of the aforementioned card in my possesion for general perusal, with the gentlest suggestion that my uniformed interrogator was possibly not the sharpest tool in the Coventry plod box. He was definitely a tool though.

004 (2)

The Headhunters were mythical beings to me, & my jobless status in the mid ’80’s meant I had also missed the inception of the ultimately dubious Chelsea-Glasgow Rangers fan alliance. It had kicked off outside Highfield Road in 1987 as well, scruffy skirmishes rather than mass brawling, but enough to ensure a large police presence on arriving back at Coventry station. I decided to while away an hour or two, scouring the nearby streets for entertaining diversions while  the menace subsided. They proved elusive as night descended & the good people of Coventry drew their curtains in preparation for Casualty & Blind Date. Rare is the surrounding area of any English railway station that gets mistaken for one of the fun capitals of Europe. A dreary hour having subsided, there were still a few Chelsea fans on the platform when I returned to Coventry Station, & a welcome reminder that it wasn’t all feral malice between rival fans, via an amiable exchange with a group of Swansea fans, reliving the days of the early ’80’s when their boys had trounced a hapless, Bobby Gould led Chelsea team 3-0 at Vetch Field. Swansea had gone from top division highs to impoverished 92nd in the league lows in just a few short years since then. The conversation was a welcome diversion as icy, lonesome evening vigils at Coventry Station were something of a regular ritual for me, usually following weekend visits to fellow ex Hull university graduates in nearby Rugby. There is a plaque there now commemorating a famous son of Coventry, the late poet Philip Larkin, the librarian at Hull University during my time there. Odd really, because Larkin was sniffy about Coventry, famously describing his childhood there as ‘unspent.’ It sounds less unspent than unpleasant, as his father, the city treasurer in the 1930’s, was a Nazi sympathiser & attended at least two Nurenberg rallies in the 1930’s. They really did fuck him up his mum & dad. Larkin lived in Hull for many years prior to his death in 1985, though never betrayed any great love for that place either, & certainly not its students, communication with the latter largely restricted to shushing people in the Brynmmor Jones Library or getting them removed from the Staff bar on campus. Neither fate befell me, I liked his poetry but the sizeable, stuffy looking man in outdated  1950’s suits & shiny black shoes who occasionally passed me on campus wasn’t the approachable type. Matters weren’t assisted when he was forced away from his booze & porn  to vist the library late in the evening after the students had occupied it in  a protest against a supplementary facilities fee imposed by the university the previous year. I subsequently failed to pay mine, treating myself to a pair of Doc Martens boots with the money instead. I still have them, & along with the box of my beloved Four Tops Super Hits cassette (the tape itself perished in my  player around the time of my Finals) & a coffee cup given to me by Vicky, my best friend  at university, they form one of a paltry collection of physical reminders I have of my time in Hull. Larkin was interviewed about the student library occupation, & unsurprisingly was less than impressed when asked if he empathised with the students. ‘Empathise? Of course I don’t empathise’ barked the grouchy old racist. I did once see him entering a nearby off license carrying a shopping bag  impressively laden with a vast array of his & alcoholic partner Monica Jones’ empties. From a distance he came across as a pompous, reactionary old bore but with the passing of time I have come to view him more tolerantly. Let’s see, a socially inept man called Philip in his late ’50’s, wearing outdated clothes, uncomfortable in both his own skin &  circumstances of the world around him, a history of drinking too much & an intrisic hatred of students. Empathise? Of course I empathise. Now if not then.

I never managed to write a poem about Coventry, only make a belated attempt to appease my troubled conscience in the aftermath of the brutal assault I had caught the tail end of after the 1988 match. It would be convenient for me to claim a guilt ridden, sleepless night after making my way home that day, but all I remember is phoning Chelsea Clubcall & listening to Micky Hazard, in what sounded like a farewell speech, reassuring us that Chelsea had no chance of being relegated. In fact, Micky & Kerry Dixon’s proposed transfers to QPR & one of Arsenal or West Ham were cancelled by Ken Bates & manager John Hollins walked the plank instead before the month was out. Sadly not before time, & sadly not enough to prevent the relegation through the play offs that Mr Hazard had confidently dismissed in his interview with Neil Barnett. I adored Micky Hazard, so was glad we got to keep him a while longer & hopefully it provided proud new Chelsea loving parents a few more baby cradling photo opportunities before he eventually decamped to Portsmouth in 1990.

It was only on returning home from work two days after the match that my strong instinct for denial was nutted by reality, as I walked into the house to a news item featuring a still photo of a man with a face riddled with dozens of stitches, life changing wounds by anyone’s reckoning. I am not even sure to this day that this victim of the most mindless of casual football violence had even been to the game. I believe he had been dragged out of his car prior to being attacked by three men, simply caught in the wrong place at the wrong time. It was the same distressed man who had run past me outside Highfield Road. The fists laying into him as he was penned in against a disused shop front had contained Stanley knives, cutting his face to ribbons in the process. I could no longer delude myself the blood pouring down his face had been caused by a lone, powerful right hander to the nose. This explained the horrified scream of the elderly lady, out shopping with her husband, as they witnessed this  barbaric, hateful, cretinous attack from an extremely close distance. Police are appealing for witnesses says the news report. I knew what I had to do.

The following day I reported to my local police station & was interviewed by a pleasant but probably rather bored plain clothed policeman. Knowing what to do was one thing, evaluating the usefulness of my evidence quite another. My view of the attack was limited & long distance, all I could really recall was the standard football punch up flurry of fists & flailing legs, the screams of the elderly shopper (who up to that point had not been mentioned by anyone else) & one of the protagonists, a swaggering, pumped up slimeball dancing around blocking much of my view of the incident, his neat hair, smug, sneering, impossibly young face, dark tracksuit & white trainers. Even here I stumbled. Was the piping on his top purple? Was the rest black? Dark blue? The trainers were white weren’t they? No point in asking me brands, the whole Casual thing had largely passed me by. Three days after the incident, & my indecision was final, even to a sympathetic audience. What a lawyer would do in court was another matter. Which suited me fine of course, for several reasons. I had salved my conscience by going to the police, but did not want my evidence to be strong enough for me to called into a witness box. There may have been no colours betraying the loyalties of the participants in this miserable business, but it was a classic hit & run attack beloved of away fans, soon lost in the crowds heading back home in cars, coaches or trains. Instinctively I knew from the outset that the assailants had been Chelsea fans, & that my appearance in court would signal the end of any comfortable future existence for me at Chelsea matches. My card would be marked, & my card, as has already been established, was defiantly not of the Headhunter calling variety.  I wanted to help assist the police, but not enough to put me at the forefront of a prosecution case. I loved Chelsea & the thought of jeopardising my match going future horrified me. It was a self centred & cynical young man who walked  out of the interview room that day & made his way back out into the street (although not before taking a wrong turn & heading in the direction of the cells) shamefully relieved that I had offered such slim pickings to the investigation. My trips to football could continue, & my features would hopefully avoid rearrangement, unlovely enough as they were to start with.

Or so I thought. As the season progressed, culminating in the misery of relegation, fan misbehaviour reared its head several times again. Chelsea started the next season playing their first six Division 2 games in front of empty terraces at Stamford Bridge, following a pitch invasion on a boiling hot day in early June, when relegation was confirmed via a two leg defeat to Middlesbrough. A friend of mine informed me his wife had left him a few days  later. ‘I know how you feel mate. Chelsea have just been relegated’ was my only response. Scarily, I was probably only half joking. My complacency about the Coventry incident was then  rudely terminated by a letter informing me that I was required to attend court as a prosecution witness. Three people were to go on trial. Their names were listed, but the letter has long since disappeared,  as has the second one, confirming the details of the first, & politely reminding me that failure to show up in court was itself an offence. Following the second letter there was a period of silence, one of thirty years & rising as I never heard from the CPS again, & have no idea whether or not the case collapsed, or whether the slim pickings of my evidence were ultimately deemed insufficient to assist a successful prosecution. I do hope the victim rebuilt his life & that karma caught up with the nobscraper in the tracksuit.

That day in Coventry sums up the dilemma many Chelsea fans faced in this era. Singing nursery rhymes & throwing celery to deflect from the awfulness of much of the football was harmless fun. Chelsea’s away following was rowdy & raucous, & it was thrilling to be part of it. However, for supporters like me, who genuinely would have struggled to fight his way out of a paper bag, there was, in truth, also a vicarious thrill from knowing that the notoreity of the violent fans within our motley throng often provoked a mixture of awe, reverence & naked fear from residents of the towns & cities graced once a season with its presence for a few hours. I’m not proud of that, but it would be dishonest not to acknowledge it. It is often said that football compounds a tendency in people to remain in a perpetual state of retarded adolescence. There is something in this, but on the flip side it also frequently  helps to shine a light on our own inherent puerility, which the sport neither creates or is responsible for.

In the early years of the 21st century, many veterans of the fan mayhem  of yesteryear began to resurface as their antics received a reappraisal courtesy of film & documentary makers. Fat & forty (ish) with mortgages paid & supposedly ready to return to action. Danny Dyer, star of the most successful of the former, Football Factory, revelled in a sycophantic series of interviews with significant figures from crews past & present. Most toed the party line that proper hooligans, like the Kray twins, only hurt their own.  I am inclined to reply to this in the same way a contemporary of Ron & Reg did when this lazy, half baked cliche was applied to them all those years ago. Yeah, just their own. Human beings. Were all the people attacked wearing team shirts victims of despicable, low rent renegades inferior to the the real deal yobbos with their laughable code of honour? I once saw a young Brentford fan’s scarf ripped off his neck by one of the best known hooligans of their opponents of that day, something we are constantly told was never on the agenda for any self respecting face. The idea that it was all like minds seeking each other out in an adrenaline fuelled game that invoved nobody else but each other & the police is utter nonsense. No innocent victims ever? No traumatised bystanders who just happened to be in the wrong time & place? Bull. Shit. Despite Chelsea charmer Jason ‘Know What I Mean’ Marriner rampaging along the streets to invoke his imagined golden years, when Cardiff City came to town in 2010, the hooligan version of Michael Palin’s sublime Golden Gordon from his beloved Ripping Yarns series never bore true fruition. Why bother when there are books & DVD’s to sell, & evenings with diamonds like Jase, whereby like (simple) minded punters are privileged to purchase these cherished items after an evening of wit & repartee reliving punch ups past. The human equivalent of dogs eating each other’s shit. The Chelsea-Rangers fan alliance (founded off the back of a friendly game to raise charity funds following the Bradford City fire) may have started as fans bonding in an entirely positive way, but Marriner, with his poisonous, pig-ignorant Loyalist views & allies, apparently bolstered by regular visits to Glasgow, represents the  sinister & horrible mutation from such a seemingly innocent starting point. Still, last time I checked Marriner had over 14,000 Twitter followers, former Chelsea players I am fond of  included in that tidy amount. One of them wrote a foreward for one of his literary masterpieces. He played in a recent Chelsea-Rangers ex- players charity game. For Rangers. Does a lot of good work for charity apparently. The Krays would be proud of him, doubtless delighted that philanthropy remains a reliable refuge for the wrong ‘un. Never mind the Nazi salutes & references to black people swinging throught the trees eh? Good old Jase. The only thing I would fill a bucket next to him with is vomit. Apparently, I would not be brave enough to say any of this to his face. Maybe, maybe not, who knows? I’m old now, not that much to lose. Fear of bully boys fuelled the rise of terrace violence, but despising these twats while other suck up to them still seems a perfectly acceptable pastime to me. Know what I mean?

I wonder how many parents walking their blue clad children to Stamford Bridge witnessed Marriner’s 43 year old body marauding along the King’s Road, dispensing whatever menace it could muster among the layers of flab on the day of that Cardiff game in 2010, & thought twice about attending matches in future. Not to mention the pregnant woman who fled the scene by speeding away in her car, fearful for her life & that of her unborn child. Like many small boys in the late ’60’s I was in awe of George Best & Bobby Charlton. The reputation of their team’s fans at the time meant I never got to see them play together for Man Utd when they eventually played at Oxford in 1972. My dad took me to see Chelsea & Millwall but drew the line at Man Utd. Dads eh?  Charlton scored one of his trademark 30 yard screamers in the last minute. Violent football fans deprived me of that moment, as they did countless young fans similar exeriences before & after. I hate them for that. On leaving a Division 3 match in my teens one Friday night, a Chesterfield fan walking quietly behind me with his three friends was kicked to the ground. His leg was broken. His cowardly attacker disappeared immediately into the night. The victim was due to drive the others back to Chesterfield, wearing a Chesterfield scarf his only crime. By the time of the Coventry attack in 1988 I was thoroughly sick of this kind of shit. Hillsborough was an appalling collision of corruption & incompetence by the police & football authorities, but without violent terrace bellends there would have been no fences to keep people off the pitch, & most if not all of the 96 lost lives could have been spared. In 1990 after Chelsea had played Everton a man behind me left his seat, accompanied by his 2 young lads, both in full Chelsea kits, & shouted ‘Chelsea celebrate Hillsborough 89’ at the opposition fans. Clearly a shining beacon of morality to his sons. As two policeman approached him I waited for the inevitable, deserved arrest. However, after a short conversation both parties dispersed in opposite directions, beaming smiles covering their collective faces. I genuinely despaired at times like that. Many contemporary self proclaimed experts throughout both professional & social media have been known to berate people like me for not doing more to combat such behaviour in these now far off days. Who was I supposed to report that incident to, the laughing policemen?

The dilemmas presented by modern football were starting to surface when I made my next visit to Highfield Road in 1991, my first & last experience of luxury box matchday viewing. On arrival, we were handed complimentary match programmes & referred to as sir. Nobody accused me of being a Chelsea Headhunter or threw celery at me. In the box itself, Coventry & Chelsea fans mingling together politely, we were fed & watered amply, & advised that if we poured our beer into available Coke beakers we could continue drinking alcohol during the game. Job done. I even cleaned up on the sweepstake for the time of the first goal, the only one of a tame end of season affair, scored by the Sky Blues pint sized midfielder Micky Gynn, offering Dennis Wise a rare opportunity to look like a giant amongst men on a football pitch. It was a thoroughly pleasant afternoon, & the recently completed motorway extension between Coventry & Oxford saw us back on our doorsteps in little more than an hour after the final whistle. What it was not was anything resembling a genuine live footballing experience, my nose pressed against the glass of a luxury box keeping out the atmosphere as well as the cold. Everything was too polite & sanitized, a foretaste of the muted, soulless feel that hits you throughout so many modern stadiums nowadays. You need some grit in the oyster, though sat somewhere else in Coventry that day may well have been a man with extensive tramline slashes on his face, doubtless shedding very few tears for my predicament.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

World Cup Willies

DSC_0902 (2)

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.

2010pen (3)

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.

DSC_0904 (2)

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.

Roy Of The Rovers Comic Launches

Oh Melchester – So Much To Answer For

September 25, 1976

Portsmouth 0 Reading 2, Blackpool 0 Chelsea 1

https://www.independent.co.uk/news/long_reads/roy-of-the-rovers-new-comic-stories-race-melchester-rebellion-a8357786.html

ROY
Heartwarming news! Rebellion, an Oxford based company, are reviving the Roy Of The Rovers franchise with a series of Graphic Novels, the first of which arrives in September, 42 years after the late,lamented Roy Of The Rovers COMIC was launched.

 

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.

Song Sung Blue

Joni Mitchell regaling fellow Shed regulars with the splendid ‘Chelsea Morning’ in 1969. Shortly after there was an attempted stage invasion by West Ham fans, leading to an untypically angry encore of ‘If I Had The Wings Of A Sparrow’ segueing into ‘Come And Have a Go If You Think You’re Hard Enough’ via ‘You’re Gonna Get Your Fucking Heads Kicked In.’ Peace & love Joni. Peace & love.
‘Woke up it was a Chelsea morning, & the first thing that I saw, was a song outside my window, & the traffic wrote the words’

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…

 

  1. Perry Como Magic Moments
  2. Jilted John Jilted John
  3. Madonna American Pie
  4. The Pogues Misty Morning Albert Bridge
  5. Television Personalities Part Time Punks
  6. The Slits Typical Girls
  7. Elvis Costello Hoover Factory
  8. Room 5 (Ft. Oliver Cheatham) Make Luv
  9. Bill Withers Lovely Day
  10. The Police Every Breath You Take

 

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.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2fEbReX2Ozs

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
Everybody does
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.

RIP Alyson.

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.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sYi7uEvEEmk

The Police Every Breath You Take

I am unable to supply the relevant year, let alone the match, when Sting’s 4 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 a dozen 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.

Nothing Can Take Away These Blues

April 1 2018 – Chelsea 1 Spurs 3

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.

Vertongen

It Was 20 Years Ago Today

002 (7)Coca Cola Cup Final

Chelsea 2 Middlesbrough 0 (AET) 29/03/1998

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 buttocked 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 a little 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 ’97-98 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 stint 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 1991.

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.