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 arsed disgrace. Prior to the FA Cup Final Kelly had sniggered away with another bastion of masculine perfection called Danny at the prospect of the match & likened it to the pre-match episodes of It’s A Knockout that used to fill the hours before the main event back in the day. Hilarious chaps, & Spurs-QPR in 1982 really gripped the nation by the way. Kelly hosted a dismal late night ‘sort of’ sports show called Under The Moon during this era. A mug of cocoa & an early night soon lost its sting. The biggest name I can remember gracing this carnival of shite  was a man called Stewart Castledine, who made 28 appearances for Wimbledon throughout the ’90’s. Kelly predictably honoured the Michael Parkinson tradition of most hypocritical media parasites by kissing the arse of someone he would doubtless have derided in print. The brave soldier. I wonder if he could ever pass a football. He certainly can’t pass the Krispy Kreme display in Tesco. Kelly has found his true spiritual home now at ‘sort of’ radio station TalkSport. They deserve each other. If there is a Hell TalkSport is surely piped in there 24 hours a day.

It was difficult not to feel some sympathy for ‘Boro, losing their third Cup Final in less than a year, & still reeling from a relegation caused by a massively unfair points deduction the season before. Not that difficult however. They had beaten Chelsea in the famously ugly play offs of 1988, possibly the most painful of the three relegations I have witnessed, & certainly the most avoidable. There is also lingering emotional scarring from a 7-2 defeat at Ayresome Park in 1978. Their line up in 1998 featured plenty of familiar faces, & one who would become one later, the terrific Mark Schwarzer in goal, new to English football at the time, but later, much later, to turn up at Stamford Bridge during the second Mourinho era. Boyhood Chelsea fan Paul Merson featured, as he did for Aston Villa two years later in the last FA Cup Final at the old Wembley Stadium. Fine player Merson, but on both occasions  he gave post-match interviews stating his belief that the better team had lost. On both occasions he was talking arrant nonsense. Always good to see the birth of a future Sky Sports pundit in action. Warming his buttocks next to Bryan Robson on the Teesiders bench was the extraordinary Paul Gascoigne, making his first appearance in an English club match since his disastrous brainstorm playing for Spurs at the same ground nearly seven years earlier, & eleven years after I first saw him displaying his remarkable talent as a precocious young man for Newcastle in a 2-2 draw at Stamford Bridge. Earlier in the season, in the immediate aftermath of the death of Diana, I had seen him joyously  take Moldova apart in a World Cup qualifier at Wembley. He came on in the second half here & immediately was on the receiving end of a challenge from Dennis Wise that would earn an automatic red card these days. He responded furiously by committing a challenge on Dennis Wise that would earn an automatic red card these days. They both were clearly revelling in this barrage of foul play. Dennis adored Gazza & the feeling was apparently mutual, Gascoigne phoning up as the little imp was being interviewed by Chris Evans on TFI Friday shortly afterwards. Gazza. Chris Evans. TFI Friday. The none more 90’s count rises yet again. Sadly, Gazza missed out on the 1998 World Cup. ‘Boro were promoted at the end of the season, but during another 2-0 defeat to Chelsea shortly after the Galleria book launch Gazza appeared a shadow of his former self, the pace & power that used to see him brush off opponents with ease having evaporated. It was sad. Many blamed Glenn Hoddle for not picking him for the World Cup & knocking the heart out of this beguiling but clearly highly troubled man. Some of the finger pointers might be advised to look closer to home, namely nauseating media & ‘celebrity’ types happy to be seen tumbling out of bars with Gascoigne prior to Hoddle selecting his squad, noticeably less visible these days, as the obvious demons tormenting the man have escalated the slide into chronic alcoholism & acute mental illness. They know who they are & so do we. There are plenty of victims in the Paul Gascoigne story, not just the man himself, but he brought enormous pleasure to lots of people & that will never be forgotten. I can almost forgive him playing for Spurs. Almost. There is no higher tribute to his talent from a Chelsea fan than that.

Following Frank Sinclair’s potentially hand shandy inspiring opener, the win is sealed by another Di Matteo goal, a soft one this time from a Dennis Wise corner, & assisted, like his more momentous effort in the Fa Cup Final, by an error from Oxford born Robbie Mustoe. Cheers Robbie. Mustoe now pops up on American  coverage of Premier League matches for those following games on illegal internet streams. So I’m told. Some of these pundits apparently made no mistakes in their own careers so damning are they of the fallabilities of modern players. Robbie Mustoe is ok though, far from the worst offender here. That dubious honour is bestowed on toothless former Chelsea midfielder Craig ’20 years sulk because they left me out of the FA Cup Final’ Burley. Some of us have better, less selective memories than you Mr Burley.

Another former Blue who had queered his pitch with Chelsea fans during this decade was former skipper Andy Townsend, who also appeared at Wembley for Middlesbrough. Townsend was signed in the summer of 1990 alongside Dennis Wise & for 3 years they rivalled each other for the title of most popular player with the fans. A terrific player in an average team, he got frustrated at the team’s maddening inconsistency & baled out to Aston Villa just as the Glenn Hoddle  era dawned at Stamford Bridge. Townsend had made unconvincing noises about having been a Chelsea fan at the time, but footballers themselves are rarely fans in the same way diehard supporters are. He had chosen Southampton over Chelsea when he first ventured into professional football from non-league Weymouth. On a cool headed, professional level there was nothing wrong with that. Southampton were an established top tier outfit, Chelsea had only just emerged from five years in the gloom of Division 2. Objectively, the move to Villa was also professional common sense. Ron Atkinson had built an entertaining team after Graham Taylor had taken them close to the league title prior to his ill-fated spell as the national team manager. Unfortunately, actual supporters of football clubs rarely see things from anything but a perspective that no player should ever want to leave their club. When Kerry Dixon fell out with John Hollins in 1987 & requested a move he was relegated to the subs bench for an FA Cup game at Watford. As he warmed up there was some jeering from Chelsea supporters. Enter co-commentator  Brian Clough, who eschewed the standard sanctimonious denunciations of such behaviour, saying simply that ‘the Chelsea fans  think they support the best club in the country & can’t understand why anyone would want to leave, they’re booing him & quite right too.’ Delightfully off message & displaying an acute understanding of fan mentality beyond most pundits & commentators. Kerry won the supporters back over pretty quickly. Townsend won the League Cup at Villa but alienated Chelsea fans forever, celebrating a brilliant goal he scored for his new team at the Shed End in 1996 by lifting up an imaginary trophy to goad the home supporters at their club’s lack of honours. I’m all for players being barracked by opposition supporters having the right to fire back with both barrels on such occasions, providing they are not former players who were treated royally during their time at the club. Townsend had been & it was a cheap shot, especially as when he joined Villa he teamed up with that snivelling little shit Dean Saunders, a man who had ended the career of Townsend’s Chelsea colleague Paul Elliott with a nasty stamp in 1992. Career ending challenges on one of your team’s players is my other exception to the rule that players are entitled to give it back to crowds that are abusing them. The first time that Saunders had come on to the pitch at Stamford Bridge after the Elliott incident he was greeted with a chorus of boos, but lacking any class or dignity chose not to keep his own counsel, instead running over to the West Stand benches with his ear cupped & a supercilious grin all over his stupid little face. To this day I cannot see the  features of this smug wretch appear on my television without being filled with a desire to kick in the screen like that lorry driver when the Sex Pistols swore at Bill Grundy all those years ago. Townsend signed for Villa a few months later. Nice company you’re keeping these days Andy was the only sane response. Elliott never played again, & lost a court case against Saunders. The incident is on YouTube & we can all draw our own conclusions. Some of Paul Elliott’s Chelsea team mates went missing in court when the time came to rally round their stricken colleague. As with Gazza & the showbiz leeches they know who they are & so do we. During his Chelsea days Townsend once collapsed during a ZDS match & it was feared he had swallowed his tongue. Fortunately he hadn’t, but in future years, during his unbearable ITV co-commentary 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 ’91.

Chelsea signed a lot of foreign players during the late ’90’s, becoming  the first team in the history of English football to field an entire team of foreign players at the Dell in late 1998. MIchael Ballack in 2006 was not, as is commonly believed, the first acquisition of German descendancy at the Bridge however.  A man called Schadenfreude had popped up far earlier to  put the likes of Townsend in their place. As we celebrated the Coca Cola Cup win, little more than 18 months after he had mocked us, thousands of Chelsea fans witnessed Townsend looking back over his shoulder at the happy blue throng  as he trudged wearily off the Wembley pitch. Within 6 months two European trophies would be added to the two domestic knockout cups. If only we could have found a Chelsea supporting octopus to properly shove Townsend’s insult back at him. My picture will have to suffice here. In true Jim Bowen off Bullseye style here’s some of what you could have won Andy. Now piss off.

I didn’t celebrate this day quite as vigorously as the FA Cup win. I went to Pizza Hut in Victoria with Bill, tucking in to my garlic bread to the strains of High by the then ubiquitous Lighthouse Family. Oliver Reed eat your heart out. I got home in time to watch a re-run of the match having caught up with the ongoing calamities unravelling in the life of Deirdre Rashid in Coronation Street. Deirdre had been falsely imprisoned after being stitched up by a con man, causing such a rumpus that the then Prime Minister Tony Blair, always a man to jump on the bandwagon of cheap publicity (& ironically something of a con man himself) intervened with a hammy plea for her release. Better than sending us into a war by feeding us all a pack of lies about weapons of mass destruction of course. We had that to look forward to. Like Andy Townsend I guess phoney Tony just ended up falling in with the wrong crowd. Shame really. He should have just chilled & had a look around. I believe he used to live at Connaught Square in West London. And West London, as anyone at Marylebone Station could have told him on the afternoon of March 29th 1998, is wonderful.