Very Superstitious – Saliva’s On The Wall

FA Cup Winner 1997
Premier League Winner 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

New Balls Please

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

Sock It To Em JT

In the early days of his extraordinary, magnificent Chelsea career there was a song about John Terry to the tune of Adam & The Ants ‘Prince Charming’ minus the original line ‘ridicule is nothing to be scared of.’ With the benefit of hindsight it should have been kept in. For when the collective braying scorn & rage of the rag bag of sneering pseuds, cynics, liars & hypocrites who feast on every setback & failing of the finest centre half of his generation finally abates, we will still be able to reflect on endless memories of his footballing brilliance.

We are all aware of his many on field achievements & the esteem he is held in  at the club for his support for, & mentoring of, players throughout the staff. There is a fabulous blog by former youth player Sam Tillen on the subject. Equally we are aware of his (admittedly not insubstantial) rap sheet. But how about the lives of some of the more vociferous JT/Chelsea haters & critics? An eclectic mix they make too, ranging from Prime Ministers to internet trolls all manipulated expertly from the movers & shakers within all sections of the modern media.

Come hither David Cameron, expressing his delight at JT being suspended from the Champions League Final in 2012.’He’s done some bad things’ he said to Angela Merkel. And doubtless he has, although unlike our Dave he hasn’t ever belonged to a club whose members smashed up restaurants, burned £50 notes in front of tramps & allegedly inserted their Old Etonian old chaps into the mouths of dead pigs. John Terry has had a life of wealth & privilege thrust upon him by virtue of his enormous talent rather than an accident of birth & this really sticks in the craw of so many of his detractors, brought up to consider themselves superior to the rest of us regardless of their own, frequently appalling, behaviour.

Some of our leading politicians have cause to thank him though. Step forward Tony Blair, sneaking into the Iraq inquiry in 2010 whilst JT’s alleged relationship with an ex colleague’s ex- girlfriend detained the attentions of our flawless media. Meanwhile, London’s then Mayor & our current Foreign Secretary, who has fathered a child outside of his marriage, & impregnated another woman on two occasions, was busy telling us that his private life was nobody’s business but his own. Up to a point I am inclined to agree with him but it seems odd that a footballer has an apparent duty to prevent his genitals from wandering & be a role model rather than those who govern our lives. JT lost the England captaincy over that spurious piece of tittle-tattle, whilst the next footballer engulfed in a lurid, super-injunction sex scandal became captain of the British Olympic team after the fact, presented as the ideal figure to mentor the younger players in that team. The fact he played for media darlings Manchester United is pure coincidence of course.

At the other end of the food chain from our unimpeachable leaders are the faceless spooks hiding at the end of every online John Terry article, dispensing their own distinctive brand of malignancy. You know the sort, all hiding behind names like ‘Chelski Oil Est.2003’ & ‘Sir Alex 13 Times’. Not only do you suspect they have never darkened the doors of their apparently ‘beloved’ Old Trafford or Anfield or Emirates, it seems probable they haven’t actually left the house since their corner shop stopped selling Roy ‘Chubby’ Brown videos & Linda Lusardi calendars. The internet came along at a perfect time for them, just as ITV cancelled ‘Baywatch’ & left them looking for something else to do with their right hands on Saturday teatimes. As a sad, single man myself I understand their pain but don’t respect the response. It’s the media leeches that fuel these people’s prejudices that are the real problem.

These include the slimy slap head mafia. Matt Dickinson & the ludicrous Duncan Castles are to the fore here, but both are outshone by the perennially insidious Matthew Syed. Matthew is apparently an expert on leadership with an impeccable moral compass, baffled by the loyalty of Chelsea fans to both John Terry & indeed to the club itself, being a fierce critic of the club’s owner & the role he played in the post Glasnost reshaping of the old Soviet Union. It is okay for Syed to shamelessly continue to take the Murdoch shilling by writing for ‘The Times’ of course. After all, this man has only owned newspapers that have continuously ruined lives by spreading malicious lies about innocent people for decades, gloried in the slaughter of Argentinian conscripts in the Falkland war, hacked into the phone of a dead schoolgirl & demeaned both the victims & survivors of the Hillsborough disaster. So Chelsea fans should rebel against JT & Abramovich, examine their consciences & walk away from Stamford Bridge forever, many of them having had an emotional commitment to the place since they were small children, but Syed’s commitment to earning a dollar holds no such constraints. He can address multi-national corporations (Goldman Sachs are  a LOVELY company aren’t they?) with his motivational speeches, safe in the knowledge that they are all squeaky clean & entirely free of corruption. He can stand for Parliament under the banner of New Labour, the brainchild of a leader we now know is a serial liar & probable war criminal. He needn’t apologise for any of this because he is cleverer & better than us, and not remotely an oily, hypocritical toad who wouldn’t know a scruple if it boned him up the arse. Let’s face it we are all compromised by the stranglehold the reptilian Murdoch has had on modern football but the gall of Syed is truly breathtaking. Karma has apparently intervened anyway, as he is now reduced to doing a podcast with fellow Terry critics Robbie Savage, the uber-cretin of modern punditry, & Andrew Flintoff, the worst England captain in Ashes history, a man whose own conduct has not always stood up to too much scrutiny.  I haven’t ever listened to it. Frankly I would rather pour vomit in my ear.

On Twitter we have the little Bullingdon club of minor celebrity, its chief enforcers being Alan Davies & the writer, broadcaster & bellend Danny Baker. Davies is a vociferous Chelsea hater when he isn’t biting tramp’s ears after a drinking binge (most of us make do with a bag of chips or a kebab Al) or cyber bullying people who think his mate Stephen Fry is a bit boring, or telling Liverpool fans that they should ‘get over’ Hillsborough & that their team’s refusal to play on the date of its anniversary gets on his tits. What a charmer. Baker’s obsessive Chelsea hatred has long crossed the borders of the truly pathetic, & examples of it would fill a very large & dull book. Many Chelsea fans backed his club Millwall’s campaign to stay at the New Den. Our Dan tells us he hopes Abramovich sells up & Chelsea ‘fuck off to Turkey.’ When Leicester won the league he hailed the blow against the fat cats & asked ‘can we have our ball back now?’ Our ball Mr Baker? With your Murdoch newspaper columns, radio stint under the leadership of the disgusting Kelvin Mackenzie &  numerous tacky book, video & DVD cash ins (the videos outing this bumptious wazzock as the original full kit wanker by the way) we might suggest it has long ceased to be your job to claim to represent the ordinary fan. And if you are so concerned about the dominant role of the fat cats why do you whine like a 5-year old when Sky show Crystal Place v Everton and not Liverpool v Man Utd? On a personal note Mr Baker was diagnosed with cancer at the same time as my father. Thankfully he survived, unlike my father, only to more than once publicly wish this most horrible of illnesses on fellow human beings , the first time  less than a year later during the 2011 London riots. This led to fellow cancer survivor John Hartson describing him as ‘a twat of a man.’  Seems about right. Baker never apologised for his despicable comments & we can only imagine the furore if John Terry himself had made them. Vile & classless anyone?

Quick off the mark to scorn JT’s acquittal after the unpleasant Anton Ferdinand escapade was the delightful Robbie Fowler. We will probably never know the truth regarding the context of what was said in that mutually abusive exchange of views during an ugly, heated West London derby. We do know that the ferrety Liverpool striker openly showered Graeme Le Saux with homophobic abuse at Stamford Bridge in 1999, accompanied with a lengthy, provocative wiggling of his already expanding (& deeply unappetizing) Scouse arse at our happily married full back. We also know that such antics have empowered every cretinous ‘Chelsea Rentboys’ chant ever since. Cheers Robbie. Strangely, Ian Herbert, Brian Reade, Duncan Castles et al don’t seem quite so keen to take the moral high ground about this one. We also know that Stuart Pearce used unacceptable, racially abusive language to well-known wind up merchant Paul Ince during a match in 1993. The two sorted it out afterwards, remained England colleagues for years after & Pearce later became a national hero during Euro ’96. Amazing what you can get away with if the media are on your side & you don’t play for Chelsea.

Or sometimes if you do.  Didier Drogba has a cringey send off in a meaningless end of season game against Sunderland in 2015 & nobody bats an eye lid. Terry has a cringey send off in a meaningless end of season game against Sunderland & Garth Crooks is choking on his Lardy cake within 10 seconds. Incidentally, Drogba is one of many high-profile, articulate & strong-minded black players (Desailly, Hasselbaink, Makelele among many of the others) to have played alongside Terry. You imagine that after twenty years, a large chunk of it spent as club captain of a truly multi cultural & ethnically diverse football team, that at least one of these voices would have broken rank & outed him if anybody at Chelsea, the place where people really know him, seriously believed he was a racist.

Hopefully, his departure will be a chance to subdue the torrent of hate filled, third rate journalism about the club I have loved for nearly half a century. Terry not being a Chelsea player may mean they give him a slightly easier ride too. I wont hold my breath though. When I admire a Caravaggio painting I shelve the knowledge that he was a murderer. The sculptor Eric Gill’s works are still widely exhibited & enjoyed despite him having sexual encounters with not only his sisters & daughters but also the family dog. Makes briefly parking in a disabled space seem relatively small beer really, but woe betide the working class boy who succeeds as a Chelsea footballer & openly enjoys his success, making the sort of mistakes that young, talented, cocky & rich people do in all spheres of life. A different moral code will apply to you.

I saw John’s first game in a Chelsea shirt, a League Cup game in 1998, ironically against his new employers Aston Villa. He looked a bit ungainly & I wondered if he would go the way of Nick Crittendon & Steven Hampshire, players who had also made fleeting appearances in that competition before disappearing off to Yeovil, Brechin or other relative backwaters of football. Instead, he  developed into a player of true greatness & it has been a pleasure to behold. I revere his talent, am grateful I got to see him display it regularly at first hand, & wish him well at Villa Park.