Oh I Wish It Could Be Christmas David Hay

 

December 27, 1976  Chelsea 2  Fulham 0

Christmas 1976 footage,  hitherto not so much missing as not known to exist as far as I was aware. I believe Chris Mears, son of Brian, Chelsea Chairman at the time of this game, may have unearthed this murky but invaluable & hugely appreciated 72 seconds of action. If so, top work Chris, & that mighty fine run from David Hay is preserved somewhere more tangible & reliable than my overloaded & increasingly unreliable memory bank. A looping header from  man mountain Micky Droy & a scruffy second from Kenny Swain ensured Chelsea the points, although I would love to know what Ray Wilkins said to Kenny after he allowed Gerry Peyton to palm away that absolute sitter of a chance at 0-0! A happy day in a happy season for the club & its fans.

I was originally intending to report back about my trip to Stamford Bridge for the recent home game against Everton, the first since I missed the 1-1 draw with Burnley, courtesy of an unwelcome encounter with sepsis. News of Matej Vydra’s equalizer for The Clarets that afternoon flashed up on my phone just as I left hospital, my self printed match ticket (bizarrely still incurring a £2 admin fee from the club, sort it out Chelsea) still pointlessly burning a hole in my coat pocket. I therefore hoped the Everton game would involve a jaunty, redemptive after match walk along the Kings Road, enjoying the Christmas lights having witnessed former manager Rafa Benitez & his heavily depleted new charges getting their chestnuts well & truly roasted on a Stamford Bridge open fire. It never happened – his team fought out a commendably dogged, spirited draw against a Chelsea team caught by a flurry of late, positive COVID tests which also left them missing plenty of bodies. Christmassy it was not, despite the presence, a few rows in front of me in the West Stand, of a jovial looking man, replete in full Santa outfit, requisite white hair & beard both present & correct. Good tidings of comfort & joy were thin on the ground, unity between rival fans only achieved once via communal distaste for Rafa, with successive, if raggedy, renditions of one of the more familiar chants deriding the current Everton coach ringing around the stadium briefly during the first half. Benitez has proved to be as little beloved by his new team’s followers as he was by Chelsea fans during his 2012-13 stint as interim coach at Stamford Bridge, & for the same reason, dumb remarks made during his time at Anfield. In more general terms it was the standard fare for Johnson’s Britain in 2021, all masks & Omicron &  being called a Chelsea rentboy by the more dimwitted amongst the understandably jovial Liverpudlians, buoyant at heading home with their hard earned, albeit rather scruffy point. I shall not speak of it again, but instead hark back to the spirit of Christmas past, notably the Boxing Day Bank Holiday fixture of 1976, when myself & most of the 55,003 crowd did stroll out of the same Fulham Road stadium at the final whistle with an appropriate yuletide spring in our steps.

Once upon a long ago professional football was played on Christmas Day itself, frequently with the home team travelling back on the same train as their opponents for the reverse fixture on Boxing Day. How very English. Sadly this quaint tradition ceased before my football watching days, during which it is inconcievable that the likes of Dennis Wise & Roy Keane would have jovially shared a can & a mince pie in a British Rail buffet carriage while preparing to kick lumps out of each other the following day, having only ceased doing the same a few hours earlier. There were some bonkers results back in more innocent days. On Christmas Day 1957 Chelsea beat Portsmouth 7-4 at Stamford Bridge.  Jimmy Greaves got 4. Not bad Jimmy Greaves was he? However, the next day Portsmouth took revenge to the tune of 3-0 at Fratton Park. The following year Chelsea won 3-0 against Blackburn at Ewood Park on the big day. The return fixture at the Bridge took place two days later this time. Blackburn won 2-0. Too much mulled wine & figgy pudding or just Chelsea, an erratic team in those days even by the club’s traditionally eccentric standards, being reliably unreliable? Before my time, as stated, but I would still plump for Option 2 here. By 1960 the Christmas Day game had disappeared but Chelsea played Man Utd at home on Christmas Eve & again at Old Trafford on Boxing Day, losing both matches, 2-1 & 6-0 respectively. If Dennis Wise had been around then you suspect those two results would have ensured NOBODY went near the little scamp in the buffet carriage, either to or from Manchester.

Much as wholesome sporting activity helps to alleviate the traditionally overwhelming national flatulence of Boxing Day, I have come to rather dread the fixtures on that day. Nothing spoils the Xmas atmos more than Chelsea slipping on a yuletide banana skin, & they have done so many times over the years. A half time 2-0 lead at home to West Ham in 1973 was promptly frittered away as The Hammers hit back with four second half goals, sounding the death knell for the Chelsea careers of the increasingly wayward Peter Osgood & Alan Hudson. Another 4-2 defeat, exactly 30 years later in a televised lunchtime kick off at The Valley, soured the cold turkey & pickled onions for all Blues fans, the rest of the nation watching on in glee as Alan Curbishley’s men bloodied the nose of the club now newly enriched by the roubles of Roman Abramovich. Three decades earlier there was a 3-1 defeat at Orient in 1975, & a 3-0 beating at Ipswich three years earlier, albeit two years after a Boxing Day fixture in 1971 against the same opponents, which had renewed the maverick reputation of both Christmas football & Chelsea as a club. Finding themselves without an available goalkeeper at the last minute, defender David Webb found himself donning the green shirt & gloves for the entire game, successfully keeping a clean sheet in a 2-0 victory. Largely though, the victories have faded in the memory quicker than the defeats, although London derby wins at Highbury in 1974 & away on QPR’s monstrosity of a plastic pitch in 1982 were to be savoured, as was a double from the newly arrived Gianfranco Zola at Villa Park in 1996. I’m soon back moping over memories of a 4-1 drubbing at Elland Road in 1990 though, & also some anticlimatic 1-1 home draws in the 1990’s, Eddie Newton cancelling out an Ian Dowie goal to rescue a point against Southampton in 1992, & Frank Sinclair making a hash of a backpass to enable Michael Hughes to give Wimbledon a share of the spoils five years later. A man who we only ever saw smoking roll ups on the Stamfpord Bridge concourse, with something of the nautical cove about him, was still bemoaning Frank’s error before the next match. ‘Ruined my Christmas that geezer Sinclair’ he said in between drags. Living with the knowledge that one error by them can have such a detrimental impact on human morale during the festive season is awfully harsh on footballers, but Barnacle Bill did have a point. We all left that game feeling pretty flat. Wimbledon had also won at Chelsea on Boxing Day two seasons earlier, despite Vinnie Jones getting himself sent off, The Dons once again specializing in their favourite late twentieth century activity. Party pooping. Rotten buggers.

Over the years my friend Bill & I watched Chelsea together, between 1990 & 2004, he gave me many insights into his frequently unique world-view as  we made our way to & from Stamford Bridge, via  Belgravia & the Kings Road. One of his favourite theories was about death, an enticing concept for all but the hardiest of atheists (I almost am but spinelessly prefer to keep my options open just, you know, in case) that involved entering the Pearly gates, whereupon you would be able to request & gain access to filmed recordings concerning either unsolved mysteries occurring within your lifetime, or events that you simply wished to relive or missed at the time to your (hitherto) eternal regret. A sort of celestial, cinematic variant on Jim’ll Fix It though hopefully not with the same presenter, surely now resident at the darker end of Afterlife Street. The real truth behind the assassination of Kennedy perhaps, or, appropriately since The Plumber’s Arms was part of our walk, what fate  ultimately befell the errant Lord Lucan? Being a simple & frequently unimaginative soul, living through times when many football matches were not automatically filmed, I dreamed of revisiting certain incidents at fondly remembered games I had attended in bygone years. One in particular stood out, & involved my favourite Chelsea player at the time.

That second half David Hay run against Fulham during Christmas 1976.

David Hay

Alright, I know it’s seems laughably small beer compared to the potential of possibly unravelling mysteries of science & nature, or finding solutions to unsolved crimes or political intrigues. In my defence Bill wasn’t too adventurous with his planned request either. He wanted to see the elusive episode of Coronation Street during which Ernie Bishop got shot in Mike Baldwin’s knicker factory. In the intervening years I had frequently thought about those electric few seconds when Hay picked up the ball inside the Chelsea half & ,with pace & power, surged through a sea of white Fulham shirts & found himself inside the opposition penalty box with just Cottagers  keeper Gerry Peyton to beat. As he was my favourite player I  built up this moment to anyone I could bore on to about it for quite some time, & have often wondered if the pudding had been somewhat overegged by yours truly. Apart from the conclusion to David’s splendid 50+ yard gallop. I had to come clean about that. For whatever shade of glorious this rare David Hay foray into opposition territory truly deserved to be awarded, the plain, unvarnished truth is that having done the donkey work, presenting himself with a glorious chance to score, this scintillating piece of play culminated in a truly horrible, wayward left foot shot, skewed high & wide, way over Peyton’s crossbar & into the upper echelons of the densely populated Shed. For modern Chelsea fans I can only compare it to Kurt Zouma’s glorious, rampaging run in the extraordinary 4-4 Champions League draw against Ajax in 2019. That also ended  with a hysterically funny, wildly inaccurate shot ballooning into the crowd, but as with David Hay, what the hell? If defenders could regularly finish runs like that with an emphatic finish into the roof of the opposition net then they wouldn’t be defenders would they? On both occasions, 43 years apart, the two men produced moments of pure, wonderful theatre that lingered in the memory. In the case of Hay how accurate was the memory though?

I was 12 years old when David Hay signed from Celtic for £250,00 in the summer of 1974. Chelsea were selling stars rather than signing them by then so I was thrilled. He had played in the first European Cup Final I was allowed to stay up & watch, Celtic’s 2-1 defeat to Feyenoord in 1970. I had seen him in the Scotland line up at Wembley in 1973, my first international. By the time he arrived at Stamford Bridge he had 27 caps & had starred in their unbeaten World Cup campaign in Munich a few months earlier. As part of a serial winning Celtic team, under the management of the great Jock Stein, he had won everything worth winning in Scotland. Over & over & over. To my schoolboy self it appeared obvious that the recently departed Peter Osgood & Alan Hudson were taking the piss at the end of their Chelsea careers. A player like Hay may have lacked their charisma, flair & invention but he was a tough, dependable winner, a serious footballer who seemed a dream signing for the always serious minded Chelsea manager Dave Sexton. Unfortunately, things went wrong from the start. Following the World Cup Hay went on holiday to Cyprus just as a  military coup there was followed up by a Turkish invasion. Not an overly relaxing Mediterranean jaunt all things considered, ending with a late arrival home on a military plane.

David Hay in action on his ominously disappointing home debut against Carlisle United (picture from the programme for the 1974-5 league match against Stoke City)

The 1974-5 season started with the grand unveiling of the new East Stand, the white elephant that nearly destroyed the club & left it with creditors at the gate for the rest of the decade. The grand unveiling was none too grand anyway. Newly promoted Carlisle were the visitors, newly relegated too by a country mile come the end of the season, but victorious by two clear goals on the day. The injury problems that bedevilled Hay throughout his career soon came to the fore, Sexton was sacked  & Chelsea joined Carlisle in Division 2 at the end of the season. A cataract problem left Hay playing with double vision & by his own admission sometimes saw him kicking the wrong ball, which probably explains the horrendous miskick from six yards out I witnessed towards the end of the season during a woeful  0-1 home defeat against Manchester City.  He played in midfield that day, but was in central defence for the next game I saw him play, a home Division 2 defeat to WBA in late January 1976. ‘Still a disappointing enigma’ said The Sunday Express of Hay’s performance that day. ‘TWO ‘UNDRED AND FIFTY FAACCKKINNNG THOUSAND FOR THAT’ roared a exasperated fan in front of me during the game itself, less eloquently but with greater passion. It was a sad day all round on reflection, marking the late Ian Hutchinson’s last appearance in a Chelsea shirt &  incorporating a harrumph of scornful media disapproval at a number of Chelsea players donning gloves on a nippy winter’s afternoon, evidently proof to the many hat, muffler & glove wearing sceptics in the old, unwelcoming press box at Stamford Bridge that the team was a coterie of effete nancy boys. Different times, & not something any of these brave warriors would have said to the faces of Hay, the recklessly courageous Hutchinson, big Bill Garner or the redoubtable, cold blooded assassin Ron ‘Chopper’ Harris.

Stories began to emerge of a possible cut price return to Celtic for Hay around this time, not very convincingly refuted in the press by an Eddie McCreadie quote which was complimentary about the player but ambiguous enough to leave the door open to any approach from Parkhead. Cash strapped & half way up Division 2, the club might well have snatched the hands off anyone offering up to half what had been paid for him less than two years earlier. However, just as he appeared to  have lost the backing of sections within the Chelsea faithful, Hay began to show glimpses of the vintage Celtic & Scotland form he had displayed regularly such a relatively short time before. He missed the game at Oxford the week after the limp defeat to WBA, & was only on the bench for the following week’s FA Cup 5th Round tie against Third Division Crystal Palace. Palace already had rocked the football world by winning at Leeds in a previous round & won an eventful match, on & off the pitch. Chelsea fought back gamely from 2-0 down before being undone by a cheeky free kick by the brilliant Peter Taylor. Maverick, Fedora wearing genius/conman (delete as applicable to your reading of this remarkable man’s reputation for coaching brilliance set against a dismal managerial record) Malcolm Allison had a field day, goading the home supporters before the game & ostentatiously revelling in events during & after it. He had wasted many hundreds of thousands of Palace’s money on overpriced, underperforming players, getting them  relegated from two divisions in the process. Peter Taylor was not one of them though, & started as he meant to go on at Oxford in October 1973, two days after signing from Southend for £110,000, an astronomical fee for a lower division player then. I saw this debut, he was brilliant & scored Palace’s goal in a 1-1 draw. He bagged a couple in the FA Cup match at Chelsea & later became the first Division 3 player to  play for England, making his debut as a substitute, in a Home International against Wales. He duly scored a late winner. Later on his talent never quite blossomed as handsomely as widely anticipated, due to a familiar, double & lethal career killing cocktail during this era. Injuries & a transfer to Spurs. Defeat to Palace left most of the  54,407 crowd crushed, & there was some lively terrrace biffo during the game to set the media salivating, & sharpening their anti-Chelsea pens once again. You thought all that started with Ken Bates &/or Roman Abramovich? Think again! The one bright spot was the performance of David Hay, who entered the fray at 0-2 down & proceeed to play an energetic role in reversing the deficit, running aggressively from midfield with the ball at his feet in a manner that had been seen all too rarely in the blue of Chelsea. He returned to the team in central defence, earning plaudits from Brian Moore on The Big Match for both the cross for Steve Finnieston’s goal & his marshalling of Southampton’s danger man Mick Channon in a 1-1 draw. He also registered his first Chelsea goal in a 2-2 home match with Luton, a match also notable for fiery striker Bill Garner’s entertaining second half cameo in goal. He did join Graham Wilkins (a serial offender in this respect!) in the own goal roll of dishonour at Bolton, where their joint mishaps converted a 1-0 lead into a 2-1 defeat, but generally the 1975-6 ended with things looking up for Hay. Southampton, Mick Channon, Peter Osgood & all, were in even finer fettle, closing the curtains on the season with a shock 1-0 win over Tommy Docherty’s exciting young Man Utd in the FA Cup Final. They beat Palace at Stamford Bridge in the semi-final, Allison’s team, for all  his customary braggadocio, reverting to type & failing to walk it like he talked it, their normal MO under his frankly cataclysmic & absurdly overhyped leadership. There was a pleasing irony about this cup run, Palace’s high point in an otherwise dismal few seasons, coming to a close at Chelsea, even if most of us were not there to witness it in the flesh.

I had reversed the number 9 (for Peter Osgood) originally on my now undersized 1970 Chelsea shirt so it read 6, David Hay’s most common shirt number, on my brand  new 1974 replacement. Signs of a resurgence in his Chelsea career  filled me with an uncharacteristic boldness & I proceeded to write him the only fan letter I have ever written in my life. I gushed a bit about the cameo substitute appearance during the Palace cup tie but otherwise can recall nothing about its contents, written in my sprawling, largely indecipherable 13 year old hand, save for enclosing a self addressed envelope & requesting an autograph. A fortnight or so later, the sae  flopped back on to the doormat on home. It did not contain an autograph but a copy of that season’s fixture list & a cheap, badly folded black & white photo of the previous summer’s pre-season line up. Whether a club employee had intercepted the letter or David Hay had passed it on to them asking that they deal with it I do not know. In fairness they did well to cram it all into the tiny envelope. I was disappointed but not crushed, being well used by now to not getting my hopes up too far on anything where Chelsea were concerned. Showing unusual business acumen for those times, the club shop then situated on the left hand side of the forecourt, further up from ther ivy clad offices  as you made your way out of Stamford Bridge, started selling signed photos shortly after, & for the price of rather than more than a stamp I got the prized signature on a handsome glossy photo reproduced elsewhere in this piece. That definitely wouldn’t have fitted in the envelope so I guess we all won in the end.

The Christmas 1976 fixture against Fulham took place on the 27th December. Boxing Day itself fell on a Sunday that year, & despite a short, not overly popular flirtation a couple of years earlier, football on the Sabbath had not yet taken off in England. As a schoolboy living over 50 miles away I was reliant on the kindness of others to get me to Stamford Bridge & this was my first game of the season. My schoolfriend Nick Bradley & his dad got me to this one, & quite a few more later in the season. Unfortunately, while enjoying a fine run of form David Hay was injured again, caught in the eye with an elbow, I believe by Bristol Rovers’ David Staniforth during a 2-0 Chelsea win at Stamford Bridge in March. I’m dangerously going by memory here, & am not suggesting the elbow was in any way delierate, so apologies to David Staniforth if my fading powers of recollection has lead to him being named incorrectly. The resulting detached retina spelled the beginning of the end for David Hay’s career. Told the injury was serious & required a hospital stay, insult was added to injury when he had to inform non driving best mate Ron Harris, for whom he acted as training & matchday chauffeur, that he would have to make his own way home that day. Brave man! Chopper, benched for much of this season, at least got to take the place of his luckless pal, returning alongside Steve Wicks in central defence for the rest of the campaign. It was a triumphant return  for Ron as alongside fellow veterans Peter Bonetti & Charlie Cooke he helped steady the nerves of  his young colleagues during a sticky patch in April & on to a glorious & precious promotion alongside champions Wolves & Nottingham Forest.

The promotion was a triumph for manager Eddie McCreadie & his energetic, young & largely home grown team.  Hay, Charlie Cooke & John Phillips were the only players to make a league appearance that season who had ever played professionally elsewhere, although John Dempsey was a non-playing substitute on occasions & top scorer Steve Finnieston had played a few games on loan for Cardiff City a few years earlier. Of the other senior players, Harris, Peter Bonetti & Micky Droy had all played their entire league careers at Chelsea & Kenny Swain had come from Isthmian League Wycombe Wanderers. Former Southend striker Bill Garner sat out the season in the Reserves. All the others were recent graduates from Ken Shellito’s youth team & played with a refreshing spirit of togetherness reflecting their shared apprenticeships. David Hay had missed just one game, away at Blackburn, until the fateful Bristol Rovers match in March. He was a composed, calm presence alongside younger defensive colleagues Gary Locke, Steve Wicks & Graham Wilkins, & the team quickly established itself as a leading contender for promotion. He even grabbed a couple of goals, atoning for the headed own goal at Bolton the season before by scoring a neat header from a Steve Finnieston cross against the same opposition at Stamford Bridge in September. A few weeks later he scored again in a spirited 2-1 defeat at Highbury in a League Cup tie. Chelsea were riding high by Christmas, their previous home game before Fulham, a fortnight earlier, having witnessed a thrilling comeback from 1-3 down to grab a point against championship rivals Wolves, on a playing surface seemingly composed equally of sand & ice.

I couldn’t wait for the Fulham game. This was the season that George Best & Rodney Marsh briefly returned to England from NASL football (or should that be soccer? NO!!)  in the USA  & rolled up at Craven Cottage to add to the gaiety of Division 2 life, although by this point of the season Rodney was out of the team, presumably either injured or out of favour with new boss Bobby Campbell. I do recollect him making a pre-match appearance in the players’ tunnel in the obligatory sheepskin coat, the same venue as George Best’s more famous post-match spat with referee John Homewood, leading to an unwise flicking of the v’s at the latter & yet another punitive FA disciplinary hearing for the former. Never one for authority figures our George. Marsh’s loan spell ended shortly afterwards  & he returned to the warmth of Tampa Bay, out of favour Chelsea striker Teddy Maybank filling his boots in the Fulham forward line later in the season rather more impressively than Rodney had himself. Bobby Campbell was still a dozen years away from taking over the managerial reins from John Hollins at Chelsea, but less than a dozen days in as the new Fulham manager, having replaced Alec Stock, who had left the club on December 16th, little more than 18 months after taking the club to an FA Cup Final. Stock is  now immortalised as the inspiration behind Paul Whitehouse’s wonderful Ron Manager character in The Fast Show, based on Alec’s enjoyably mannered style in television interviews.

As I went to The Fulham match with Nick & his dad I have spent forever saying we were the spare three out of the crowd of 55,003. A couple of years ago, during my ill fated, missed by not one person at all stint on Twitter, I posted a picture of George Best & Graham Wilkins during the game, ushering in a host of happy memories & anecdotes from fans of both teams, & a repetitive thread that they had also been there with two other people & were the spare three! It now appears that there were 18,334 groups of three at the game with just one, lone, Billy No-Mates fan sauntering throught the turnstiles on their tod. Embrace it Billy, that’s been me many times. Just not on this occasion.

Inevitably, after 45 years my recollections of most of the game have vanished.  Micky Droy, a newly appointed club captain (with 20 year old Ray Wilkins remaining very much the on field  skipper) made a rare first team appearance alongside David Hay in central defence, in place of  the absent Steve Wicks. Compared to many of his team mates Droy was a veritable veteran. He was 25! Steve Wicks was out until February so big Micky had a little run in the team, & like George Best also managed to fall foul of the suits at the FA, receiving a £50 fine for a very obvious, televised hand gesture simulating the act of masturbation, aimed at Southampton striker Ted MacDougall towards the end of a 0-3 FA Cup 3rd Round Extra Time defeat in January. This crude behaviour may have upset the suits, but, in the midst of a disappointing defeat to the cup holders, proved a welcome diversion as a topic of conversation at school the following day, especially for Nick who was, as usual, present & correct at the game. If we could have raised £50 to pay Micky’s fine we would gladly have done so.

For Fulham a lifelong local boy & fan, 19 year old  Brian Greenaway, was picked by Campbell to make his first team debut in front of this huge Bank Holiday crowd. Their goalkeeper, Gerry Peyton, newly arrived from Burnley, also, like Campbell, eventually rolled up, albeit briefly, on the Stamford Bridge roster. Over 16 years after this game he spent a month on loan at Chelsea, coming on for the injured Dmitri Kharine during an abject 0-2 home defeat to Sheffield Wednesday in January 1993. Already a goal down when Gerry popped into view, the mood of Bill, my then partner in Chelsea watching crime, had grown ever more foul during this match, not helped by the presence of Chris Waddle in the Wednesday line up, one of his favourite footballing hate figures of the time. He never forgave Waddle for launching the first football into space rather than the West Germany net during England’s famous penalty shootout failure in the semi-finals of the 1990 World Cup in Italy. ‘Don’t know how we was allowed back into the country that bastard, should have been tried for treason,’ was the balanced, reasoned response that inevitably fell from Bill’s lips whenever the now de-mulleted one turned up at the Bridge. In the interest of fairness, it must be said Waddle was blameless for the paucity of the Chelsea performance that day, but Bill’s day was capped off by a late second goal by Wednesday from their American international John Harkes. It was a neatly placed shot into the corner but didn’t seem particularly well struck. It still managed to elude a rather arthritic looking dive from the veteran Peyton & nestle into the Chelsea net. As a near 60 year old man, creaking at the hinges , I think of Gerry’s dive often these days whenever bending down to clean the shower. Apoplectic with rage at this final insult, Bill stood up from the cold concrete where we then parked our arses in the inaccurately named West Stand Benches area, & furiously threw his Today newspaper on to the ground. However, a section of this mercifully now defunct organ remained in his hand, which he proceeded to hurl aimlessly up into the sky, not unlike Waddle’s penalty a couple of years earlier, though Bill won’t thank me for the comparison. As it swirled ever onwards into the cold, grey, & yes, windy early evening air I became aware of stewards & policemen sharing my interest in its upward trajectory, perhaps wondering if ejection from the ground was justified for such behaviour, or perhaps finding the following of its journey preferable to watching any more of Chelsea’s desperate, stumbling, fumbling ineptitude on the day. Bill getting that angry always made me laugh, which often meant he got more angry. Which made me laugh even more. So thank you Gerry Peyton, proof perfect that even the briefest, least glorious Chelsea careers can still project some much needed light & humour into the darker tunnels of a long term fan’s experiences.

Gerry Peyton played nearly 600 league games in his career so was obviously no mug, & had announced himself to the world during the 1975 Christmas Bank Holiday season, making a series of impressive saves on Match Of The Day at Old Trafford when playing for Burnley. Until this year I had never given him credit for diverting Kenny Swain’s admittedly feeble close range shot around the post with the score at 0-0 in the Chelsea-Fulham game. I remembered it as a glaring miss only. I also had no memory of Kenny’s misery being compounded by receiving what appears to be an instant bollocking from his captain, the wonderful Ray Wilkins. Kenny Swain went on to win both the League Championship & European Cup with Aston Villa in the early 1980’s. He also scored a belter against Chelsea on my first ever trip to Villa Park in 1979, cancelling out a Tommy Langley opener. There was another familiar name on the scoresheet for Villa still to come though, their winner a neat & tidy finish past Peter Bonetti by, yes, the own goal specialist himself, take another bow Graham Wilkins! Graham, bless him, actually scored in the right net against Middlesbrough the following week.  Sadly I missed that footballing penny black moment. Regrets?  I’ve had a few. Graham Wilkins took some fearful stick from the Stamford Bridge crowd so it would have been nice to have been there for that one. I still feel slightly guilty about getting a cheap laugh at his expense during a Chelsea Fancast podcast in 2015, when presenter David Chidgey asked the panel if Ed Miliband had been Labour’s Andre Vilas-Boas, briefly & miserably Chelsea’s coach in the 2011-12 season. Via the chatroom, where I reside with the rest of the plebs, I suggested that was incorrect. Miliband was in fact Labour’s Graham Wilkins, operating to the left of a significantly more talented brother. A somewhat niche joke in truth. I met Graham Wilkins once. He was lovely, & let’s face it, not being as good a footballer as Ray Wilkins is hardly a crime. Not many people were.

As to the little jogs/amendments to my memories of the Chelsea-Fulham game? Well my Pearly Gates moment may not yet have arrived but YouTube footage of the game has, a miracle in itself to me as I had always laboured under the illusion that no such footage ever existed. I certainly never saw it at the time, although when Fulham took handsome revenge in the return fixture on Good Friday ITN News footage was definitely available. Sadly that has not yet resurfaced. The Christmas game highlights  appear at the top of the page here in all its murky glory, as much a testament to the dreadful floodlights at Chelsea in 1976 as decline in the film stock in the intervening years. A mere 72 seconds but enough to show Kenny Swain’s miss, Micky Droy’s header from a Graham Wilkins free kick for the Chelsea opener, & Swain redeeming himself with the late, welcome, nerve settling second goal. Oh, & that David Hay run……

Unlike the footage age has not withered its 10 second beauty, though my fondly imagined sea of Fulham shirts left in its wake is somewhat fanciful. It is a very long run, starting so deep in the Chelsea half the camera does not pick up its beginning. As remembered it was based on pace & power rather than a mazy dribble, David punting the ball a way ahead of himself around the halfway line through a seemingly deserted midfield area. Of the two players he visibly leaves trailing in his wake the first is the late Bobby Moore, then in his last season & some way past his best. Bobby was never blessed with great pace, in common with two more of the finest English defenders in my lifetime, fellow Barking boy John Terry & Arsenal’s Tony Adams. It is a testimony to the brilliance of all three that positioning, reading of the game & natural footballing ability allowed them to scale the heights they did. By 1976 time was taking its toll though, & deep into his 36th year, on a heavy pitch, deep into the second half of a derby game, the great man was clearly & understandably blowing out of his arse. Hay also shrugged off another Fulham player, who I think, murky footage notwithstanding, may have been Alan Slough. Seeing that run is still a thrill, however tired the opposition, & the finish is as dreadful as I remember, for which thank you too David Hay. Footballers failing to achieve perfection after a glimpse of brilliance is what keeps us coming back. Alan Slough was another redoubtable performer who notched up over 500 league appearances before ending his league career at Millwall in 1982. Like Bobby Moore, Peter Bonetti, Ian Britton & Ray Wilkins Alan is sadly no longer with us, having died earlier this year at the age of 73, apparently following a long battle with Parkinson’s Disease. Gone but not forgotten all of them. Thanks for the memories.

I never saw David Hay play in the flesh again. He made a few appearances at the tail end of the 1977-78 season, & a few more at the start of the disastrous campaign the following year. By then the eye problems were accompanied by a serious knee injury & he retired at the age of 31. Danny Blanchflower offered him a coaching role in the youth set up, which he accepted & enjoyed, but he left abruptly after falling out with new boss Geoff Hurst following Blanchflower’s resignation. Managerial stints in Scotland & Norway followed, most memorably at his beloved Celtic, where he guided them to a famous Scottish Championship success in 1986 after a tense & dramatic last day of the season. He has a brief spell back in England assisting fellow Scot John Gorman at Swindon in the 1990’s, but his most popular appearance south of the border was at the 2017 Stamford Bridge reunion of former boss Eddie McCreadie, which featured a significantly large turnout of his 1977 promotion squad. I believe David was a charming & gracious guest then, & that this is not untypical of the man. In 1983 Celtic played Nottingham Forest in the EUFA Cup & former Blues colleague Kenny Swain, then one of Brian Clough’s team, was both touched & taken aback to be visited & welcomed warmly in the dressing room by the opposition manager. He eventually went blind in his right eye but continues to speak warmly of Chelsea & the way in which the club helped him deal with his many injury issues during his five year stay at Stamford Bridge.

Happy Christmas David Hay, indeed peace & goodwill to all men. And women, to quote the Michael Keaton era  Bruce Wayne in Batman Returns. Even Rafa? Yes, come on Chelsea & Everton fans, even Rafa. Be the better people. The COVID shit sandwich may linger on, but normal life, even under the latest onslaught, keeps threatening to break out. Arriving back in Oxford  after the Everton game the late bus home was, well, late. Opting for a 45 minute walk home over waiting in the cold at the bus stop, I saw three urban foxes separately foraging the streets  & alleyways of  East Oxford, a welcome glimpse of the world as we have always known it, as well as a clearly inebriated & quite unjustly self satisfied student clutching a stolen traffic cone to his thieving bosom. Scavengers all, but in an odd way it was the drunken student  I smiled at most. It is 2021 & students are STILL stealing traffic cones? Really? Lord help us. Like reliving David Hay’s run I am briefly back in 1976. Time to move on though students.

It’s a nice place for a short visit but we don’t want to be stuck there.

One Man’s Meat

‘For Chelsea Phil’ – the personal message in the book reproduced above is a valediction taking nigh on 40 years, courtesy of the unlikeliest of sources, namely Norman Tebbit, ferocious first lieutenant to the nemesis of my formative adult years, the Marchioness of Monetarism, then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. Valediction is putting it rather grandly to be honest, but in the summer of 1970 a boy called Nigel Brown, who lived round the corner from me, briefly ruled the roost as far as the rest of us were concerned. I looked up to him as much as anyone, because he was a few years older than me, & already had a replica Brazil team shirt, a thing of beauty celebrating the sublime team who had recently won the World Cup in Mexico, & with it the hearts of every young football fan around the globe. Later on in life the sight of white, English, footballing arriviste, hipster tossers wearing Brazil ’70 replica shirts would induce a feeling of instant nausea to right minded folk everywhere. I would also come to realise that aside from the odd, honourable exception, people called Nigel are usually best avoided. Neither of these responses presented themselves as relevant in 1970, & in any case nobody ever referred to Nigel Brown as Nigel. He was universally referred to as Chelsea. Chelsea Brown. This peeved me. I had already been to Stamford Bridge & my newly adopted heroes had won the FA Cup for the first time a few months earlier. Why did nobody call me Chelsea? I spent a good deal of the long, summer days of 1970 playing football in the street by myself, an oddball loner even then, pretending to be my then idol, Blues midfielder Alan Hudson, dribbling past imaginary opponents from whatever Brazilian club side the greats of their national team were listed as representing in my cherished but woefully incomplete World Cup 1970 sticker album. Santos had Pele & Carlos Alberto, Cruzeiro the stylish centre forward & future doctor Tostao. Midfielder Rivelino, he of the handsome moustache & ferocious left foot, played for Corinthians. I would regularly check on my shadowy reflection in the sun drenched road to see if my hair was yet long enough to pass muster with Hudson’s impressively flowing teenage locks. By 1978 I would be 16, surely playing for Chelsea, & also lining up with England alongside Alan at that year’s World Cup in Argentina? Ah, the folly of youth. ‘Hold fast to dreams, for when dreams go life is a barren field frozen with snow’ said the poet & novelist Langston Hughes. Ffs Langston, bit rough on me given the dream died while I was barely pubic. England never made it to Argentina. Brilliant as he could be, Mr Hudson turned out to have feet of clay as an idol & by 1978 I was lucky to get the odd 10 minutes as a substitute for my school team. Unlike Nigel earlier in the decade, nobody in the playground ever called me Chelsea either. I would have liked Chelsea Phil as a nickname back then. Chelsea Munday would never have worked then or now, sounds like the lowest of low grade reality TV stars. I have no idea what became of Nigel so called Chelsea Brown, who got beaten up badly at one point around this time, his mother berating me bitterly for not backing him up. As I was a small 8 year old boy & nowhere near the incident when it happened this dressing down seemed a tad harsh then, & still does now. Nigel/Chelsea eventually arranged a match between us urchins & a group of other boys, on Oxford’s South Park overlooking the nearby city centre. Our star of the show was another older lad, Tony Curtis, who sadly lacked the charisma of his film star namesake, but could both play a bit & handle himself in the process. At half time the captain of an overwhelmed opposition approached Chelsea Brown with a proposition. ‘We’ll give you 5 bob for Tony.’ I would have taken it. Sherbert Dips & Bazooka Joe bubble gum all round. Nigel declined the offer. Of course he did. He already had that beautiful, Brazil 1970 replica shirt, what good was 5 bob to him compared to the glory of victory in a South Park kickaround? Tony Curtis later distinguished himself by being the first ( but regrettably some way from the last) of my childhood acquaintances to spend time detained at her majesty’s pleasure. I hope he is alive & well. And at liberty.

The Game Cook was acquired for me, a left leaning pescatarian of 16 years at the time, during a book trade event at Cornbury in 2009 by my great friend Sean. I don’t know Cornbury but am quietly confident it is the kind of place rural Oxfordshire specialises in, all barbour jackets, green wellies, mustard & plum coloured cords & wall to wall Range Rovers. It had become famous in the same decade as the Tebbit event for its popular music festival, aka Poshstock. An awfully jolly, gentrified, comfy chair, strawberries & cream antidote to all those nightmare festivals that I usually (but sadly not always) managed to duck in my long lost youth, involving incessant rainfall & sliding around in the ensuing mud, along with other people’s piss & shit, as inadequate porta loos overflowed, & became inaccessible, while we waited hours for twerps like Bono to award us the dubious honour of gracing us with their obnoxious, self adoring stage presence. A little impromptu snatch of Dylan’s A Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall thrown in there eh Bono? Fucking hilarious. Dickwad. Not that I’m bitter. Sean was bored at the book event, & doubtless thought asking Baron Tebbit, the erstwhile Chingford Skinhead, to inscribe a copy of his tome advising us all on the best way to cook murdered animals ‘For Chelsea Phil’ was a pleasing diversion liable to bemuse old Norman &, ultimately, amuse me as well as Sean himself. He appears to have succeeded on all fronts, telling me that the leading ’80’s henchman of our football hating PM of that turbulent decade shot Sean a quizzical look on being given the details of the request before complying wordlessly. I actually returned to carniverous ways shortly after its publication, when, sat in Pret A Manger (with Sean of all people) I unexpectedly went into full on Richard E Grant in Withnail & I ‘I want something’s flesh!’ mode & promptly scoffed down a ham baguette before you could say two faced hypocrite. I have eaten meat since without truly resolving the inner conflict this causes.

‘Hey Everybody Take A Look At Me I’ve Got Street Credibility’ – Norman Tebbit failing to convince as Andrew Ridgeley’s stand in at the 1986 Brit Awards. He may also have just informed George Michael that he can never be Home Secretary.

Inner conflict is not something I envisage Tebbit struggling with as he tucks into his Roast Haunch Of Venison. Michael Foot once memorably described him in the House Of Commons as behaving like a semi-house trained polecat. Norman responded by including a polecat as one of the symbols on his coat of arms when he was ennobled in 1992. Foot led Labour to a calamitous election defeat in 1983 but I remember once seeing him quietly indulging his lifelong love of books in Blackwell’s years later, & wondering who was the real loser. He was unencumbered by bodyguards or attention while en route to Stamford Bridge I walked past Thatcher’s house in Chester Square for years, with its bomb proofed doorway & omnipresent policemen. Foot would surely have hated that as surely as he loved being registered as an honorary player by his beloved Plymouth Argyle on his 90th birthday. Classy touch there by The Mariners. I am dubious that Tebbit has ever been a football fan. If he had it would likely have been kept pretty quiet in his peak political years, given the Thatcher administration’s innate hostility to the sport, although he did once find himself cornered on a train by Millwall fans, who allayed his fears on being recognised by turning out to be fans of his yobbish, leather jacketed puppet alter ego on Spitting Image & consequently did not give him the rough ride he was anticipating. Unlike them, on that occasion he thought noone liked him &, fearing for his physical welfare, he did care.

Every couple of years or so I take The Game Cook off my bookcase, flick it open at the title pages, smile, somewhat ruefully, at the inscription, & put it back where I found it. It will never be read, but the sight of it takes me back four decades, to the days of Speedie, Dixon & Nevin for Chelsea. The Young Ones. Twelve inch singles. Marlboro Reds finally coming out in 10’s, a veritable boon to this foolish young student smoker. CND & the women of Greenham Common. Guinness at 83p a pint. Simpler times in some ways but also an era when the youthful idealism of myself & many of my generation were crushed by the brutality of the Tory government, one of its leading lights being Mr Tebbit as Secretary of State for Employment (1981-3), Secretary of State for Trade & Industry (1983-5), & Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster & Chairman of the Conservative Party (1985–1977). Norman set his stall out early in the ’80’s, proudly stating how his father hadn’t whined about being unemployed but got on his bike & gone looking for work. This may have gone down a storm in the Tory shires, rather less well among the alarming three million swiftly put on the dole under the less than empathetic watch of the then Secretary Of State For Employment, none other than our very own Norman himself. The many thousands of miners he & his fellow political thugs helped throw on to the job scrapheap a few years later were also presumably supposed to follow Pa Tebbit & get on their pushbikes. A concerted government campaign of widescale pit closures, with no contingencies made for resulting social & economic repurcussions, was an act of wanton political vandalism, leading to wholesale destruction of entire communities whose infastructure depended on the mines. The road hasn’t been built that could handle all those bikes, & there were to be zero jobs available at the end of them anyway. Nobody voted Conservative in those areas so this was of little consequence to Margaret, Norman & the rest of their equally plug ugly, motley crew of absolute bastards. I think of my grandparents moving from London so my grandfather could get regular work at the car factory in Oxford, at Cowley, in the 1930’s, without which my dad & some version of me would likely have grown up as Londoners, even, God help us, Millwall supporters. This move originally involved sterling bike use for my grandad too, as he initially had to cycle the 30 mile round journey daily from Didcot to the factory, earning him the nickname Snowy during one cold winter when he would arrive with rows of icicles neatly perched along his eyebrows. He spent the rest of his working life at Cowley, moving there eventually as well. My dad (like just about everyone else’s dad in my schooldays) also worked at the factory, lining up at the gates on his bike with the many hundreds of others at the end of the working day, though he gravitated to the offices from the factory floor in the late 1960’s. As British Leyland the factory was nationalised in the 1970’s, amidst notoriously troubled times, & is now under German ownership as BMW, producing that ostensibly most English of cars, the Mini, a heavily truncated car plant these days compared to its mid twentieth century heyday. Despite the reliance of the people of Oxford on the by then precariously placed factory (& contrary to the prevalent & inaccurate myth that Oxford was merely a haven for either dreaming spires based intellectuals or carrot crunching yokels) there was little sympathy to be found there for the miners cause in the mid 1980’s. As long as people clung to their own jobs it seemed that the first phase of Thatcherism had succeeded in establishing its predominant edict. I’m Alright Jack & bollocks to anyone else. What is society anyway? From the spirit of the Blitz & creation of the welfare state to this in less than 40 years. Cheers Maggie.

Chelsea were promoted as Division 2 champions shortly after the miner’s strike was called in 1984, & were deep into a successful season back in the top flight when it ended a year later. On their Division 1 return they were joined by Sheffield Wednesday, who became great rivals during this period, courtesy of both the promotion chase & an epic League Cup tie in early 1985, involving two replays, one an epic 4-4 draw at Hillsborough. The same ground witnessed one of the uglier atmospheres, in an era regularly poisoned with terrace violence & malevolence, when Brian Clough’s Nottingham Forest visited in August 1984. Unlike their Sheffield counterparts, the Nottingham miners largely failed to support the strike, then in full flow, but, crucially, called without a secret ballot taking place first. Wednesday won the match 3-1 & nobody from Nottingham was left in any doubt what the people of Sheffield thought about events away from the field of sport. I was unemployed by this time, back in Oxford as one of a record number of jobless graduates, having completed my degree in Hull two months earlier. I flitted between Oxford & Hull during the rest of the strike. The North-South divide can rarely have been more glaring. I remember meeting one striking miner, collecting money in a bucket in the Student’s Union in Hull, polite, quietly spoken & clearly abashed at having to depend on the largesse of no nothing berks like me, who had never had to fight for their jobs & families, & could scarcely begin to imagine the hardship industrial action entailed. He certainly bore no resemblance to the thuggish, red under the coal bed, enemy of the state image being painted of miners by the government , a conveniently warped & disingenuous line swallowed all too easily back in places like Oxford. How long ago it all seems now, with fossil fuel now two dirty words & the traditional red wall of the North having collapsed under the weight of Brexit fallout at the 2019 General Election. Not everyone has forgotten though, not even in the South. A few weeks after the last election, in January 2020, Chelsea played Nottingham Forest at Stamford Bridge in the FA Cup third round. The home team were sporting a magnificent 1970 replica kit, to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the club’s first triumph in this once vital, now sadly marginalised tournament. However, events around the coal mines of England more than a decade later were still in the forefront of the mind of at least one Chelsea fan that day. A lively Forest following were reminding the home support their team had won 2 European Cups. Chelsea had only one at the time. Fair dos, but they spoiled the impact by following up this chant with that most tedious of away fan anthems at Chelsea, namely the lazy & mildly cretinous Where Were You When You Were Shit? Chelsea have been a good team since the mid 1990’s. Home crowds comprise mostly of older fans who were going to games in less successful times, coupled with many thousands who were not even born when Rotherham United were putting 6 past Petar Borota & the rest of us to shame. Where Were You When You Were Shit? usually elicits a response of bored silence, sometimes laced with a barely audible, gently weary, collective sigh. However, one person sat near me did respond to the Forest fans on this occasion. Quite magnificently. ‘Not sure where I was but I know what you lot were doing. Scabbing down the fucking pits.’ Lest we forget.

It was the fallout from the miner’s strike of 1984-5 that kick-started my disillusionment at the prospect of real, positive & meaningful political change occurring within this country. Two crazed ideologues exploited a tragic situation, playing games at the expense of working people, many of them non-working by the end of the dispute. Arrogant NUM leader Arthur Scargill stupidly exploited his own members in pusuit of achieving a personal & unrealistic goal to help topple a government, fatally blighting the other aim, which should have been his only goal, to stop pit closures & protect jobs. Thatcher, also arrogant but far less stupid, feigned horror in the most nauseating manner imaginable at the calling of a strike she was happily engineering herself. In reality she was delighted to draw up battle lines against a union that had helped bring down her most recent Tory predecessor, Edward Heath, a decade earlier. Coal was strategically stockpiled & imported. Scargill calling the strike as we headed towards the summer must have caused her heart (assuming she had one) to joyfully leap. The government had announced that 20 pits were to close. Scargill, never a stickler for accuracy, claimed they had a long term plan to close 70 more. Predictably he got it wrong, but unusually he had downplayed the government’s intent to crush the coal industry at huge cost to the communities who worked within it. We now know, despite government denials at the time, that the plan was to close 75 collieries over a 3 year period. In the meantime they got on with the immediate business of preparing to throw the first 20,000 miners on the dole, Thatcher infamously referring to them as ‘the enemy within’ in a private meeting with the gin soaked reactionaries on her party’s notorious 1922 Committee. Displaying typical, malignant spite, rather than use the police as peace keeping enforcers of law & order, their usual role in a supposed democratic society, she employed them as military weapons of state on picket lines, most famously at the Orgreave coking plant. By the time the courts were paying out damages to some of the victims of this state sponsored yobbishness, years had passed, the strike was long over & most people’s attentions had turned elsewhere. The miner’s cause was done no favours when two strikers threw a concrete block off a motorway bridge through the car window of a taxi driver, David Wilkie, who was driving a non striking miner to work. Mr Wilkie was killed. Scargill supposedly condemned this monstrous act though I cannot recall the NUM official position being all that resounding at the time. Refusing to call a secret ballot on industrial action meant the strike was proclaimed illegal six months into a year of crippling deprivation for the mining communities who supported the walkout. Thatcher was already well versed in appealing to people’s self interest, brilliantly exemplified by the widescale sale of council houses, a boon to those lucky enough to be in a position to buy them, still a problem to this day for those affected by the inevitable, chronic shortage of available social housing that ensued. Privatising public utilities led to hugely successful promotional drives, encouraging people to buy shares in something all of us had already hitherto owned collectively. It took her until 1989 to privatise water, England & Wales becoming the only countries in the world to have done this. If she could have done the same with fresh air she undoubtedly would have, though the air around her every move was usually heavily laced with a unique stench of shit. The move towards a look after number one society, assuming you believed in the concept of society at all, was all but complete & has largely continued ever since. All this meant that any trade union planning major industrial action were in a tricky position. People were sick of trade unions after years of disruption in the ’60’s & ’70’s. Preaching to the converted at raucous public meetings in Barnsley or South Wales might have rallied the troops there & bolstered Scargill’s always substantial ego, but the failure to hold a secret ballot meant he lost the support of the Nottinghamshire miners before we even get to the rest of the nation. Scargill was undoubtedly a fighter but boxing clever proved beyond him. Admittedly, he did not have council houses to offer on the cheap but the man never seemed to understand the value of extending the appeal of the cause beyond the mining strongholds through calm, reasoned persuasion. The finger pointing, hectoring, transparently politically motivated, doctrinaire ranting did not sit well elsewhere in the country, as it needed to for awareness of the reality of the miner’s plight to communicate itself nationwide. Logically, the miners were never going to win. Thatcher knew this & twisted the knife with relish, but Scargill has a lot to answer for. He should have been intelligent enough to know that the strike was doomed from the outset & that rather than bringing down Margaret Thatcher he was in fact playing calamitously into her hands. Both these monsters should have been ashamed of themselves but clearly neither were, which explains the very real human tragedy that saw striking miners & their families, pawns in a pointless & bloody chess game, undergo a year of hellish suffering before their communities were indeed ripped asunder.

In my late teens & early 20’s I had almost as much passion for supporting the Labour Party as I did Chelsea. Almost. Politics came a close third behind sport & music in my arrogant, youthful, know all quest to educate the rest of the world. Most people who knew me would have that staple of the music bore, the cassette mix tape, foisted on them at some point or other, because my record collection is better than yours, right? How many of my contemporaries would have benefited from the existence of Spotify, the final nail in the coffin for these geekish endeavours, back in the 1980’s! In similarly misguided fashion I truly believed that anyone who accompanied me to Stamford Bridge in these halcyon days would automatically fall in love with the place the way I had on my first visit a decade earlier, back in the days of Peter Osgood & Nigel Chelsea Brown. It took many years to disabuse me of this notion. Annoying though the comparison might seem to many on either side, Chelsea FC & the Labour Party were actually quite alike in the 1980’s, both frequently batshit crazy & with seemingly suicidal tendencies, desperate to alienate unimpressed, non partisan onlookers, sometimes offering hopes of revival with spells of improved performance only for those hopes to crumble into dust as mismanagement & self destructive tendencies among grass root support manifested themselves with monotonous regularity, continually inciting media hostility. Badly dressed gangsters & prats ran Liverpool in the name of the Labour Party at one point. Chelsea had seriously malign elements within their fanbase which, like the conduct of egotistical extremist hypocrites within the Labour ranks, guaranteed many yards of unfavourable, frequently hysterical, newspaper stories. In Chelsea’s case endless negative media fun & games were also whipped up via the arrival of wilfully perverse chairman Ken Bates, the maverick eccentric’s maverick eccentic. Labour had its own football team of colourful characters all too ready to regularly shoot both their mouths off & their party’s fortunes in the foot. Chelsea & mix tapes continued into my 30’s but by then I realised that supporting a political party was different to blind love for your football team. Changing the team you support is unthinkable. Political parties need to earn & retain your trust. We eventually got a Labour administration of sorts in the same month as Chelsea ended a 26 year trophy drought, in May 1997. The FA Cup Final triumph was a glorious & emotional event for me, the main joy of future war criminal Tony Blair’s New Labour landslide a fortnight earlier had been seeing the back of the malign spivs running the show for the preceding 18 years. Gullit, Wise, Di Matteo & the rest of the boys finally gave us a Blue Day, the British electorate, mercifully, having at last chosen, emphatically, to do the opposite. Happy days, but the slippery & mendacious Blair proved to be a predictable wolf in sheep’s clothing, sickeningly in thrall both to Thatcher, & the main legacy of Thatcherism, selfishness & greed, that he inherited. To this day the nation largely appears to remain in thrall to the latter, if rather less to the former with the passing of the years. Thatcher was a wicked but serious, commited, relentlessly hard working politician. Nobody still kneeling at her altar could possibly back the current incumbent at No 10, a lazy, directionless, venal, slovenly slob with a quite unjustified belief in his superiority over the rest of us, the dress sense of a 5 year old boy & a fat, smug, entitled, intellectually barren head, that appears to enjoy regular bouts of backwards journeys through a car wash, topped off with that absurd crop of tatty, tousled, don’t care hair as it is. Could they? They could? God preserve us. Thatcher held us in contempt but not THAT much contempt.

As we left the 1980’s the evangelical zeal & youthful idealism for political discourse that had long left me chomping at the bit for a Labour Government had already begun to wane. The Tories had already won 3 successive elections with handsome majorities by then. This was never better illustrated than my disengagement from the Poll Tax riot in London on March 31, 1990. Estimates vary on the amount of people who joined the protests against what turned out to be Thatcher’s last in a long list of acts of open contempt for the less well off in society, the concept of which she once famously looked befuddled by during a television interview. A later police report on the whole business, which involved over 300 arrests & more than 100 injuries, placed the figure at around 200,000. I was in London that day. What had drawn me to the smoke & distracted me from the widescale uproar over the latest governmental act of malevolent folly? A Chelsea match at Stamford Bridge of course, a dues paying, humdrum 1-1 draw with Derby County alongside 186,00 less hardy souls than were giving it to the man in Whitehall. I managed to spend the entire day (& arrive back home from our fair capital city that evening) still in blissful ignorance of what had taken place, momentous events that effectively sounded the death knell for the leaderene’s 11 year stint as Prime Minister. My memories are rather less earth shattering. Fresh from the slim pickings offered by victory in the previous week’s irrelevant ZDS Cup Final victory, ex Derby striker Kevin Wilson’s opener for the Blues was cancelled out by a late, audacious long range lob over the head of a hapless Dave Beasant by future Chelsea target man Mick Harford. After the match, as the sun shone, I witnessed a posh Rupert wearing a cricket jumper turn left off the Kings Road & drive his open topped sports car into the back of a bus. His car appeared to have come out of it worse than the bus. As Mrs Thatcher had once declared that any man still using the latter mode of transport in adulthood could consider themselves to have failed in life I later viewed this incident to be a neat metaphor for the fallout from the day’s riots, the rich elite finally falling foul of the rest of us plebs. In real time I merely laughed, unkind for sure but nobody appeared to have been hurt, apart from Ruper Cricket-Jumper’s pride. And car bonnet. Hard luck Rupes. Doubtless daddy paid the repair bills. Goals aside, my only memory of the game itself was the appearance of Derby’s 6 foot 7 substitute Kevin Francis. Living in Oxford meant Central TV & Midland football highlights which forewarned me about Kevin’s sheer enormity, but a man nearby was completely taken aback by West London’s first sighting of the big fella. ‘FAAACCCCKKKKING HELL!’ he roared as Francis entered the fray in the second half. It was a pity Chelsea couldn’t have put Kevin in their goal that day. Mick Harford would have struggled to lob him. At the other end of the decade, in the early months of 1999, Francis made another substitute appearance at Stamford Bridge, as an Oxford United player, & was sarcastically cheered to the rafters by the home supporters. It was an FA Cup replay & Chelsea had saved their worst performance of the season for the first match at the Manor Ground. Deservedly heading out of the competition via a Dean Windass header The Blues were handed a lifeline by Mr Francis, now plagued with injury. Having once again come on as a substitute he famously proceeded to miscue a gilt edged chance to clinch victory horribly wide of the Chelsea goal before conceding a much disputed late penalty at the other end of the pitch, courtesy of an injudicious challenge on player manager Gianluca Vialli. I saw it again recently. It would be a penalty awarded without complaint any day of the week now, but within both the context of those times & the balance of play a spirited Oxford team had undoubtedly been robbed on the night. Chelsea were appalling. Francis didn’t stay much longer & his career rather fizzled out, the aforementioned injury problems preventing him from ever again recreating his prolific goal grabbing glory years at Stockport County from 1991-5. The Chelsea game was the last time I ever went to the Manor & the only time I saw Kevin Francis again he was in his civvies opposite Tesco on Oxford’s Cowley Road, on the outskirts of the city centre. He was unmistakable of course, being both huge, & walking with a pronounced limp. I was snubbed by some Oxford supporting work colleagues for several days in the aftermath of the penalty incident & it is unwise to this day to broach the subject with many of that club’s followers. The response will doubtless be short, vociferous, & in the context of the role of Kevin Francis in proceedings, possibly rather familiar. ‘FAAACCCCKKKKING HELL!’

Norman Tebbit left the government after the 1987 election, having fallen out with Thatcher over the tactical approach to that campaign. She had already identified that he was an unsuitable candidate to succeed her, clearly lacking vote pleasing charm & warmth for all his operational efficiency. He also wanted to spend more time overseeing & participating in the extensive care required by his wife Margaret, who had been horrifically injured by the IRA bombing at Brighton during the 1984 Tory Party conference. Even after Thatcher went we still had years of Conservative rule, under the Chelsea fan & greasy spoon fry up enthusiast John Major. Rumours that his much vaunted, everyman love of sausage, bacon & eggs had at one time been supplanted with a passion for curry was a misapprehension based on a fatal spelling error. Major’s administration spluttered on for a full five years after his win over Neil Kinnock’s Labour Party on my 30th birthday in April 1992. ‘The sun’s out & so are The Tories’ proclaimed a beaming Mr Kinnock as he arrived to place his vote that morning. Half right Neil. It was a lovely day. In fairness a politician who could get something even half right these days would be venerated. I got drunk on an unwise mixture of Guinness & Brandy that evening, but at least my hangover passed within a day. Major endured a miserable few years attempting to ward off both incessant & wholly accurate allegations of governmental sleaze & his own crackpot anti-European right wing backbenchers. It is depressing to reflect that these aforementioned lunatics appeared to have taken over the asylum by the time of the Brexit referendum in 2016. Major is still noticeably bitter about these idiots to this day, the one thing aside from supporting Chelsea we share in common. Oh, and the fry ups. Mustn’t forget the fry ups.

While Major clung on to power I was struggling to meet the financial demands of a new mortgage on my paltry bookseller’s salary, & reluctantly had to choose between spending less time in the pub or at Stamford Bridge. Chelsea naturally got the nod & the focus of my evenings gravitated from my favourite boozer The White Horse to Sunset Video, the nearest VHS rental emporium to my new home. The 1980’s boom days for video rental had long gone & it’s fair to say Sunset Video had seen better days. It had a dark, dingy, delapidated look about it. The smell of Golden Virginia & disillusionment hung heavily in the air, both largely attributable to Jeff, the shop owner. I liked Jeff, with his latter period Beach Boys beard & baseball cap, shuffling round in his flip flops with a roll up on the go, grey trackie bottoms usually just about winning the battle to conceal the crack of his anus. The problem was that the bulk of Jeff’s clientele liked the kind of action hero films that I loathed. This was the era of Arnie, Seagal, Van Damme & Jackie Chan. ‘Sex & violence, that’s what people round here want’ was one of Jeff’s two mantras. Jeff’s shop covered the violence with a plethora of the dreaded action & martial arts films, supplemented by scores of low budget thrillers made directly for the cable or straight to video markets, frequently featuring a stable of actors seemingly born to be in these largely humdrum affairs, or others descending from previous highs in better days. Wings Hauser. Randy Quaid. Michael Ironside. Ben Cross. Julian Sands. Erik Estrada off CHIPS. I watched scores of these thrillers. My God, the things I did to stay out of the boozer so I could watch Tony Cascarino & Robert Fleck fail to score for Chelsea. The sex in Sunset Video was covered by a separate Adult film section requiring a walk of shame into its partitioned corridor of sin. Despite being an unrequited lover rather than a fighter I only ever once troubled this section, naturally for research purposes only. At nearby Park Stores, an under the counter service existed to tickle the fancy of connoisseurs of smut . Or men as they are sometimes known. I was not a member at Park Stores but someone I knew who was once thought it a wheeze to accept the opportunity to view some illicit Frankie Vaughan, taking their brown paper wrapped evening’s entertainment home & proceeding to record highlights of that evening’s British Open Golf over all the crucial moments. The dulcet, mellifluous tones of commentator Peter Alliss thus replaced the overheated moans of conjugal ecstasy, & the Pringle clad likes of Nick Faldo & Sandy Lyle brandishing their own wood doubtless proved for future viewers an unwelcome substitution for the original writhing array of sweaty torsos, siliconed tits & absurdly oversized phalluses. One assumes nobody ever complained about this act of subterfuge, the distribution of (then) illegal hardcore material presumably binding both vendor & future borrowers in a mutual vow of silence. Back at Sunset Video Jeff was clearly feeling the pinch, narrowing the range of new titles being introduced to the shop. Any request about upcoming releases would be met with a standard question. ‘Is it an action movie?’ If it wasn’t, in my case it never was, the request would likely fall on stony ground. Martin Scorsese’s masterly & lavish adaptation of Edith Wharton’s The Age Of Innocence? No chance matey. Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven did make the shelves but 4 Oscars, including best picture & best supporting actor (for the wonderful Gene Hackman) cut no ice with its remorseless clientele. The age & relative vulnerability of Eastwood’s character contrasted sharply with earlier, effortlessly cooler & more virile cowboy roles. For me this lent the film additional pathos but not for Jeff or his regulars. ‘No good. It’s not an action movie,’ he told me gloomily. He actually did sell me an under the counter hooky video, not pornography but the magnificent A Clockwork Orange, the film long banned in the UK at the time, as requested by director Stanley Kubrick, following a number of acts of copycat violence seemingly inspired by dimmer members of cinema audiences in the wake of its initial release in the early 1970’s. Aston Villa fans invaded the pitch & held up kick off at a game I went to around that time, quite a number of them dressed in the style of Malcolm McDowell’s Alex & his psychotic gang of droogs from the movie. A stabbing took place in the crowd that day too. Some of A Clockwork Orange was shot in the Chelsea Drugstore on the King’s Road, & a few years ago I tried some night photography around the Albert Bridge, unaware that I was within yards of the scene where Alex gets his comeuppance & receives a retaliatory beating from vagrants. I got politely asked for a light from one of a small gaggle of homeless people during my catastrophically bad photo misadventure but emerged unscathed despite not having any matches. Jeff & I eventually bonded one day over a film called The Rapture, starring Mimi Rogers & David Duchovny, a genuinely intriguing film about a woman who turns her back on her previous swinging lifestyle & joins a religious sect. This definitely wasn’t an action movie but when I raved to Jeff about it his eyes lit up to. He had watched & liked it too, chummily offering me a slice of his recently arrived takeaway pizza in the process. Lamenting that precious few other Sunset Video punters had shared our opinion of The Rapture, he paused, allowing both for maximum impact for the profundity to come, & the chance have another drag on his roll up. ‘One man’s meat is another man’s poison. That’s what I always say,’ he observed somewhat mournfully. You & lots of other in truth Jeff, apparently it’s a proverb that’s been around since at least the sixteenth century. Fair point well made all the same. 

Which brings me back, via an admittedly tortuous & circuitous roiute,to the dreaded Tebbit. No, he didn’t nip into Sunset Video & buy one of Jeff’s female mud wrestling videos (though some of his erstwhile Cabinet colleagues were widely thought to have been up to far, far worse a few years earlier). He has continued to prove himself a one man vindication of dear Jeff’s somewhat hackneyed meat/poison proverb. He possesses an uncanny ability to have a polar opposite stance to me (or anyone imbued with the mildest liberal tendencies) on just about any issue you care to mention. Empathy for asylum seekers? Nah. Gay marriage? Not on your nelly. Aid to Africa? Dusappears into a ‘sink of iniquity, corruption & violence’ rather than ever helping the poor apparently. Bit like our taxes under your mob Norm, although he did implore us to eschew the Tories & vote UKIP in the late Noughties, to sate his slavering Europhobia. The racially dubious 1960’s speeches of the brilliant but dangerous Enoch Powell have been referred to approvingly. On the rare occasion he relents he soon relapses into intolerance. With a track record of supporting anti-gay legislation going back to Thatcher’s infamous Section 28 in the late 1980’s, he did, in 2013, concede that his 1998 call for homosexuals to be barred from holding the position of Home Secretary was now an outmoded standpoint. He reverted to type in 2018 though, refusing to attend a church where the dean was ‘a sodomite’ who had entered into a same sex civil partnership, Lord Tebbit, needless to say, disapproving of both these practices. I’m not sure all gay men practice sodomy but doubtless Tebbit has a deeper knowledge on the subject. Or access to a hidden camera in the vicarage. And the cataclysmic outcome for the mining communities following the collapse of the strike in 1985? A quarter of a century later, in 2009, the old bruiser did actually confess to some regrets, acknowleding there had been considerable hardships & societal problems arising from the inevitable mass unemployment. No shit Sherlock. Better late than never? Not really. The fallout in the wake of the dispute wasn an obvious accident waiting to happen. Thatcher’s fervent desire to take any & every opportunity to crush the Trade Union movement always overrode trivialities like compassion, decency & social responsibility. The government was fully aware  of the consequences of what it was doing. Crocodile tears decades later from her fascilitators were unwanted, wholly disingenuous & frankly rather distasteful. Norman does didingenuous rather well for a noted plain speaker. In a bizarre 2010 episode he was acused of kicking a child in a dragon outfit up the arse during a Chinese New Year Parade in his home town of Bury St Edmonds. Claiming he was first barged by the dragon before barging it back, he later conceded that he ‘might have done something like kick it.’ Either you did or you didn’t you barmy old nobber. Pushing 80 at the time, he is now 90, so hopefully children in dragon’s costumes are safe from his trusty Tory boot these days. Dear old Norman though. What a charmer. Keeping it surreal to the last.

I still vote Labour, largely due to the happy accident of being based in Oxford East, & have the unusual non-Tory distinction of never ticking the box of a losing General Election candidate in my life. I was living in Hull in 1983, & Oxford East was one of only 2 seats in the South East outside of London to swing to Labour in 1987, who have held it ever since, only once coming close to losing it, in 2005 following the fallout of Tony Blair’s shameful involvement in the invasion of Iraq. I spoiled my paper that time, & would not hesitate to vote for anyone else were they more likely than Labour to deny the modern day likes of Norman Beresford Tebbit another wretched Conservative colleague in Parliament.

I thought I knew everything in the 1980’s. The only certainty I have now is that I know nothing. Or next to nothing. For when I shuffle off my coil I will do so in the sure & certain knowledge that among my meagre selection of possessions ending up in various charity shops, one, a book, dusty & unloved, will eventually be picked up & opened by an unwitting stranger, who will then learn that it once belonged to someone called Chelsea Phil. This will mean jackshit to the unwitting stranger, but in an odd, doubtless rather sad way I find the prospect of this fleeting future moment rather comforting.

Chelsea & me. Together forever.

Forza Tammy, Iyi Sanslar Michy

 

Fare Thee Well Tammy Abraham  – Stand By Your Man Sr Mourinho, He’s Worth It
More Than Just The Joker? Once More To The Batmobile For Michy

So it’s arrivederci  & hoşçakal to Tammy Abraham & Michy Batshuayi respectively. Tammy has completed a move to Roma for a reported £34 million, Michy is on the verge of what must surely be the last of a seemingly interminable series of loan moves, this time to Besiktas in Turkey.

The Batman is considered a joke player by large swathes of the Chelsea fanbase but scored for fun during one of those loan moves, for Borussia Dortmund in the Bundesliga no less. He also has 22 goals in 35 international appearances for Belgium. Some joke player.  Someone, somewhere, is surely to reap the benefits of having a born goal getter like Michy in their ranks eventually, but it clearly will not be at Chelsea, where an apparent absence of tactical nous & ability to hold the ball up for his colleagues has frustrated all the Chelsea coaches during his 5 year stay & ensured he never rise beyond bit part player. Scoring the winner at WBA to clinch the title in the 2016-17 season nonetheless guarantees his place in club folklore, & away wins in the Champions League were also clinched by Michy goals, at Ajax, and, most memorably, a last gasp 2017 effort in the Wanda Metropolitano against Atletico Madrid. However, more commonly first team appearances have been limited to the early rounds of domestic cup competitions. These were the only games I could usually get a ticket for when  returning to Stamford Bridge as a spectator so I saw plenty of Michy early on, before his marathon run of loan stints  began & my loyalty point level rose enough to grant me the dubious honour of more regular company with Alvaro Morata. Along with the likes of the recently departed Willy Caballaro & the currently disenfranchised Davide Zappacosta (yet to be granted either another loan, a permanent move or a Chelsea squad number) I associate The Batman with my first, faltering steps back into the matchday fold so will always retain a fondness for all three of them. All  have been widely derided but are genuine football eccentrics, & even in these relentless, ruthless, ultra professional trophy hunting times, I rue the day that Stamford Bridge does not have a place for a few wildcard footballers in the squad. Tough titty for me then. That day may well have arrived. My last two memories of Michy at Stamford Bridge are both from the pre-pandemic stages of the 2019-20 season. One was a superlative long range Carabao Cup goal at the Matthew Harding end against Manchester United ,the other a spiteful & cowardly assault on his genitals via a stamp courtesy of the studs on the right boot of that odious yob Harry Maguire during a league game against the same opposition. The Bat proceed to badly fluff his lines a couple of times during the game & has not made a first team appearance since. Maguire escaped unpunished & proceeded to score a crucial opening goal when he should have been sat on his rancid arse in the stand. Cheats never prosper my dad used to tell me. Got that one wrong sadly. Better luck in Turkey Michy.

Former Chelsea players have to work hard for me not to retain some level of fondness for them. It’s a small band usually distinguished by retrospective carping about the club, sometimes out of bitterness, occasionally for financial gain, in one specific instance a uniquely enduring combination of the two. The highest degree of fondness is usually reserved for players who to us fans will always remain, at heart, a Blue. Tammy Abraham is surely destined to be one of these. New coaches will always take to certain players more than others, & clearly Thomas Tuchel has never fancied Tammy, who scored a hat trick in Frank Lampard’s last match  but has rarely featured since. What Tuchel has clearly succeeded in doing is to engender an inclusive team spirit that keeps out of favour players onside. This is no mean feat & does both parties credit. We have heard no whinging or bitterness from Tammy Abraham, quite the opposite in fact. He has been at the fore during the immediate celebrations following both European triumphs of the past few months. With not even a place on the bench found for him in Porto for the Champions League final Tammy was nonetheless found celebrating wildly with his colleagues on the pitch at the final whistle, dressed in full kit a la John Terry, happily without a similarly absurd, overblown outpouring of widespread scorn & ridicule!

The timing & circumstances of Tammy’s departure are heavily laced with irony courtesy of his new coach at Roma. Step forward the one & only Jose Mourinho, the eternal would be ghost at the modern Chelsea feast if only he hadn’t trashed the club & its supporters so often that many have ceased to care what he says, thinks or does these days. Tammy Abraham was an Academy player during Mourinho’s second stint at Chelsea between 2013-15. Reputedly his office was right next to the Academy’s playing area at Cobham but Jose showed little or no interest in the activities occurring there. Not renowned for promoting youth from within during his Chelsea years, Mourinho appears to have been cut from the same cloth as current West Ham CEO Karren Brady during her time as Managing Director at Birmingham City. At one point she oversaw the dismantling of The Blues youth set up as St Andrews. Birmingham, under manager Barry Fry, instead concentrated on sustaining a constant conveyor belt of frenzied, wheeler dealer first team ins & outs via the transfer market. The neglect of the youth team was countered angrily by Brady, who at one point observed that when people buy a can of beans they don’t  care about the process that leads to the beans getting into the can. This  ill judged metaphor for fan attitude to youth development was not only arrogant but plainly incorrect. Supporters love to see their clubs engaging in high powered tansfer activity, but they also love to see their own breaking into the first team fold. A philistine like Brady could be expected to know no better but Jose is a proper football man for all his many failings. Unfortunately he is never around at any club for more than 2/3 seasons, so the short term fix of big money, ready made solutions is hardly surprising. It must also be noted that Chelsea’s ruthless hiring & firing of its coaches have ensured that Jose Mourinho is far from the only man in the Stamford Bridge hot seat this century to deflect his gaze away from the development of young players.

The irony arises not just from Jose Mourinho splashing out £34 million on a player who he likely paid little attention to in his Chelsea years (Guus Hiddink subsequently handed Tammy his Chelsea debut at Anfield in 2016, a few months after Jose’s second sacking) but also from the identity of the man whose own second Stamford Bridge coming sealed Abraham’s fate. For even when Jose was handed top, imported young talent from outside the Chelsea Academy he declined the opportunity to successfully integrate them into his first team squad. Romelu Lukaku, Mo Salah & Kevin De Bruyne were all deemed to have fluffed their lines sufficiently from fleeting first team opportunities afforded to them & sold out of the club under Mourinho’s watch. All three have emerged as elite talents since, the return of the supremely accomplished De Bruyne especially likely to figure as one of most Chelsea fan’s genie wish options. He stunk out the place during a Carling Cup tie at  Swindon. Gone. Salah did likewise in the same tournament away to Shrewsbury. Gone. Lukaku missed the deciding penalty in the European Super Cup shootout against Bayern Munich in 2013, was loaned out to Everon immediately after & never kicked a ball for Chelsea again. Until now. A man of greater humilty & self awareness might admit to making three colossal errors. Humility & self awareness seemingly being in short supply in the Mourinho household the great man naturally washes his hands of all culpability, claiming the decision to sell all three players was taken at board level. The humble coach had no say in who he kept in his squad apparently. Yeah, right. Michael Emanelo, then in charge of recruiting young talent from around Europe, & oft maligned by supporters at the time, was reportedly (& correctly) horrified by the departure of these future major players for relatively scant profit. He had headhunted all of them. Lukaku was especially seen as his baby. Still, Jose proved who was boss, albeit at massive cost to Chelsea Football Club. Bravo Jose.

Lukaku returns for a reported £97.5 million, just under 80 million more than was paid for him from Anderlecht in 2011 & just under 70 million more than the club got from Everton when the loan move became permanent in 2014. Antonio Conte wanted him back at Stamford Bridge in 2017 but was pipped at the post by Man Utd, who paid a reported £68 million to take him to Old Trafford, then being coached by………yes, you’ve guessed it, that perverse little tinker Jose Mourinho. Conte eventually got his man in Milan, where he is credited with overseeing vast improvements in Lukaku’s game which his former employers will hopefully now benefit from. As for  Abraham linking up with Mourinho at Roma, hopefully there will be some similar ironing out of deficiencies in his game under the tutelage of the erstwhile Special One. Already a great finisher, in possession of a decent turn of pace, & clever & fleet of foot with the ball in his possession, Tammy nonetheless seemed unable to bully opposition defenders & powerfully lead the line in the way Lukaku does. For a tall man he is also disappointingly weak in the air, & his goal tally from headers reflect this. He has done himself & Chelsea proud since Frank Lampard introduced him following the 2019 transfer ban though. My favourite memory among many is the winning goal at The Emirates against his boyhood idols Arsenal at Christmas  that year. Like Lukaku, Tammy had a false start with a deciding missed penalty in the European Super Cup, this time against Liverpool at the start of that 2019-20 season. Unlike Lukaku, he had a coach who continued to support & play him, though in fairness to Mourinho this time it was a coach without the luxury of a primetime Diego Costa to fall back on. In the aftermath of this game Tammy was then subjected to some disgusting abuse on social media, some of it racial, some merely the red cross through the head statement of contempt that other emerging talents like Mason Mount were also subjected to, with just as little justification. There was little evidence of similar antipathy within match going circles & the goals soon came. Tammy has plenty of time to fulfill his immense potential & with any luck we may also see him back at Stamford Bridge before his race is run.

Go well Tammy. Ditto Michy. Welcome back Romelu.

The Green Green Grass Of Home

14/08/21 Chelsea 3  Crystal Palace 0

‘London, you’re a dirty old sod. But tonight you’re MY dirty old sod.’

Thus spake the late, impossibly great Kirsty MacColl, having latterly conquered the stage fright that had bedevilled her career & wowed an appreciative audience at The Forum in Kentish Town back in May 1995. Not a line to compete with the rich humour & lyrical skill associated with many of her wonderful songs but a heartfelt aside that betrayed an emotional stirring driven by a successful return to the London stage. And so it came to pass, as I made my way back to Victoria after my first Chelsea game in 525 days ( or 1 year, 5 months,7 days if you prefer) that the words of one of the great British  songwriters of my lifetime came back to me. Taking a detour off the Kings Road I was admiring the blue plaque at 42 Oakley Street that commemorates former resident Bob Marley. A minute or so later I pass No. 56, once home to Scott Of The Antarctic. By then I am almost within touching distance of the Albert Bridge, my favourite landmark in our fair capital city. There is never a time my heart does not sing at the sight of the Albert Bridge. My God how I have missed London. My God how I have missed Chelsea. The Embankment remains eternally a place of rich history & magical mystery. Its water remains as murkily rancid  as ever. Dirty old sod. But my dirty old sod. Your dirty old sod. Our dirty old sod. The heart & soul of London remains magnificently intact, seemingly impervious to threat via incompetent & corrupt political leaders, terrorist idiocy & hideous pandemic alike. The essence of this heart & soul resides within its river & bridges, one of them the inspiration for the greatest opening line, from the greatest song, in the history of British popular music, Waterloo Sunset by The Kinks. ‘Dirty old river, must you keep rolling, flowing into the night.’ From that to the  hot air braggadocio of Noel Gallagher, the B&M Beatle, in little more than a quarter of a century. How far we fell. Praise the Lord for the gift of Ray Davies, & similarly our fair capital city. Long may they both continue to flourish. As for Noel, well he is strangely subdued of late, after undermining his typically arrogant & unintelligent anti vaxx stance to get jabbed in order to see his beloved Man City in the Champions League Final in Porto on May 29, only to see them outwitted by Chelsea. The silence from this vacuous plagiarist in the immediate aftermath of the match was both deafening & hugely welcome, although it is a moot point as to who was more devastated by the result, little loudmouth Noel, estranged neanderthal brother Liam, or the British media, be they operating within TV, radio, newsprint or online, all so taken with the expected City victory that it was sometimes impossible to glean from the pre-match coverage that there was another English team involved, let alone that they might have a prayer of pulling off a win. On the morning of the game, the back page of one nameless broadsheet merely featured large images of the hallowed trophy with the big ears & City coach Pep Guardiola. Chelsea? Thomas Tuchel? Meh. There was no retrospective hanging of heads in shame from the smug, lazy, biased, shit for brains egotists of our second rate media though. It was yet another case of bring out your braindead following Kai Havertz’s first half winner but all that ensued was a muted shuffling of collective feet & a swift change of subject at the earliest opportunity. Shame & the British media do not generally go together, especially where acknowledgement of distorted coverage of Chelsea Football Club is concerned. Given the past 17 months I shall refrain from wishing a plague on all their houses, merely that they end up in their own version of media hell, gagging on their own self satisfaction in a confined space where late period Oasis albums are piped in 24 hours a day. May God have mercy on their souls. Thank the lord the vanquished opposition was Manchester City rather than Liverpool, or the occupants of both the Sky & BT studios would all still be clad in black from head to toe, mournful hymns permanently playing in the background.

Arsenal 1 Chelsea 1. The great Ray Davies & Damon Albarn run through Waterloo Sunset washed down with a small slice of Parklife from some point in the mid 1990’s. Damon is clearly a bit starstruck, & rightly so!

Absence has not made my heart grow fonder where London is concerned, merely refined & enhanced the genuine existing love I already knew I had for the place. Stamford Bridge itself is a slightly complex exception to the rule. My love for the old, increasingly derelict stadium I grew up with knew no bounds, especially when the first fixture of the season was a home game. This happened a lot in the 1990’s, days usually bathed in sunshine reflecting the good cheer & optimism all fans generally feel at the start of a new campaign. The visit of Derby County in 1990, or Oldham Athletic in 1992 would inevitably start with what became an annual ritual, me looking over the old place, breathing a sigh of contentment at returning after the summer break & murmuring ‘home again’ to myself. Corny but true. I vividly recall repeating this annual mantra for the Norwich City match in 1994 but by then things were changing. The cold, haemorrhoid facilitating steps of the West Stand benches, on which I normally parked my bony buttocks back then, were replaced by a seat in the temporary stand where The Shed terraces had previously stood. The North End terraces had also been demolished & an unfinished new stand, later named after Matthew Harding, was waiting to greet me as its home for the next decade, finally opening three months later. The old West Stand, where I has seen my first ever game 24 years earlier, had another 3 seasons left before it too was pulled down & another new construction joined the other completed Legoland stands springing up around the shadow of the once imposing 1974 East Stand. Times were changing & a stadium hitherto instantly recognisable from pictures taken 90 years earlier was transformed into the relatively sterile modern ground it is today. I still loved the rituals, the walk to the ground, the pre & post match drinks, the latter washed down with my traditional Lemon Sole & Chips in our favourite haunt, The Duke Of Wellington in Belgravia. The football got better & better as the ’90’s progressed. The opening game of the season in 1999 was against Sunderland, a rampant Chelsea winning 4-0, capped off by the final goal, one of my favourite ever, a 20 yard Gus Poyet volley scooped up for him by the impudent right boot of the wonderful Gianfranco Zola. The dream of a title challenge fuelled by such brilliance failed to materialise that season. Nevertheless, the younger me could only have dreamed of watching football of that quality week after week a decade earlier. By the late ’90’s the revamped stadium had been joined by a revamped team, bringing forth a a handful of knockout trophies at home & abroad. This swiftly ushered in an often nauseating sense of entitlement & smug complacency within much of the crowd. Both these unattractive traits have persisted ever since, as Premiership & Champions League wins have racked up throughout the 21st Century. In the early 1990’s one video company sought so vainly for recent available footage of Chelsea for the club’s edition in their 6 Great FA Cup Games’ series that they were reduced to including a 1990 replay win over Crewe Alexandra. We fans were ravenous for success then, how quickly it came to be taken for granted, sat in our glossy new plastic seats with our newly acquired season tickets (nobody had needed one until the success came) nestled in our pockets proving our devotion to the cause. When the football was consistently bad it was understandable that the atmosphere at games often suffered. You will often read old timers like myself proclaiming that we continually sang our hearts out back in the day & got behind the team. Win or lose up the blues. This is romantic nonsense, rose spectacled in the extreme, though the away support frequently passed muster, & has continued to do so ever since.  The quality of football is more often than not excellent these days, but that aforementioned smug complacency too often leads to a vacuous, damp squib, half hearted, ‘go on impress me’ spirit that has too often draped an invisible, suffocating cloak of near silence negatively impacting the Stamford Bridge ambience for many years now.

But not for this match against Crystal Palace. I had anticipated the first competitive game with full attendance to be either a euphoric occasion, a triumphant release of 17 months of combined held breath, or an impossibly emotional event, everyone overwhelmed by the worldwide catastrophe that the pandemic continues to be. It feels far less intense in the end, but there is a sense of relief at the long awaited resumption of what once we took for granted as normal service. Optimism for the new season is married to the hugely satisfying knowledge that Thomas Tuchel’s charges are the current European Champions, a magnificent, initially unforeseen but wholly deserved achievement capitalizing brilliantly on Frank Lampard guiding the team unbeaten through the group stage of the competition. Success on this occasion has brought excitement, expectancy & the best atmosphere outside of a blue riband match that I can recall for years. The traditional opening game sunshine threatens not to materialise earlier in the day, but has emerged triumphantly to capture the mood perfectly. People are happy. It feels good. I hope it lasts.

Ending the 525 day vigil since last stepping off the coach at Victoria felt good enough in itself. Belgravia. Pimlico. The Embankment & the King’s Road. How wonderful to be pounding the Chelsea beat again, striding through those streets with all their history & mystery. They haven’t missed me but I sure as hell have missed them. Some things haven’t changed. The enigmatic H.Stain Ltd Jewellers (Established 1914) in Victoria is, as ever, closed for business. As I turn left out of Grovesnor Gardens & quickly right into Lower Belgrave Street The Plumbers Arms quickly reveals itself to be shut too. It’s as we were there too. Presumably the often large congregation of bodies stood outside in the early evenings during fairweather weekdays helps bring in enough bunce to permit weekends off. The Plumbers Arms is famous for being the emergency refuge for Lady Lucan after her idiot husband badly bungled an attempt to bludgeon her to death, shortly after the children’s nanny had been murdered at the family home a couple of hundred yards away, way back in November 1974. Having always been somewhat obsessed with this case it appears something of a mystery that  I have never actually stepped foot in the Plumber’s Arms. Then again it is always closed at weekends & for midweek games populated with braying work suits quaffing shit lager & stubbing their Marlboros out on the pavement. Lady Lucan would probably just have kept on running nowadays, & I do likewise, though it’s more a brisk walk in my case. It may be  no business as usual here, as it is for the elusive H.Stain Ltd Jewellers (Established 1914) but elsewhere there are scores of other businesses throughout the city whose doors remain closed, many for good. A sobering & rather depressing reminder of the havoc wreaked by the Covid peril which I intend to counteract by making a long awaited visit to the famous Chelsea Physic Gardens as I make my way towards Cheyne Walk with plenty of spare time before my boys dismantle the mighty Crystal Palace. Ground control to Monty Don to steal a line from the ever brilliant Half Man Half Biscuit. One fly in the ointment . That’s right. It’s closed.

Determined to maintain the sense of joie de vivre instilled in me by my return to London I opt for a bit more blue plaque spotting in nearby Tite Street. In truth joie de vivre was thin on the ground here in November 1974 when two IRA bombs injured twenty people  here as part of a sustained campaign of attacks in London & the South. The protagonists were the Balcombe Street Gang, so named because 4 of its 6 members were eventually captured after a 7 day siege in Maylebone’s Balcombe Street, where they held a married couple hostage before surrendering on December 12, 1975. I remember the siege, especially one banal fact that emerged when John & Sheila Matthews sold their story to the press, revealing that a day after they were taken hostage in their own home they were made to watch The Big Match & suffer the previous afternoon’s ‘highlights’ of Chelsea’s 0-1 home defeat to Bolton Wanderers, incorporating a Roy Greaves goal for the visitors & a third successive Chelsea penalty miss from the late, much loved Ray Wilkins. I suspect Mr Matthews being tied up with his wife’s tights while she was threatened at gunpoint was rather more traumatic, & dealt with in greater length in their newpaper account than Ray’s dodgy spot kick, but the mind of a football obsessed 13 year old boys sets its own agenda sadly. The same could also be said of incompetent & plain bent members of the police, judiciary & body politic at the time. On arrest the Balcombe Street Gang made it clear they were responsible for the 1974 attacks in Woolwich & Guildford for which 4 people were already serving time. It took 15 years for that miscarriage of justice to be acknowledged. Power, corruption & lies, a never ending British saga as we are currently being reminded all over again. The threat of IRA bombs hung heavy over many a boyhood trip to London. The closest I can remember coming to a direct encounter with their terror was going to the West Ham match on December 21st 1974, 2 days after a bomb exploded in the doorway of Selfridge’s in Oxford Street, also courtesy of the Balcombe Street Gang .48 hours away is not really that narrow a squeak, but the frequency of attacks around that time increased apprehension that further strikes would ensue, especially on the Saturday before Christmas, the busiest shopping day of the year. A football ground would have been a potent target, as indeed it must remain to terrorist groups now. Good game though that one. A 1-1 draw, & fans of both clubs ensuring there was quite enough standard football violence on display without any need for Balcombe Street Gang intervention.

Oscar Wilde’s old house is in Tite Street & easily found, a builder’s advertising board out front betraying the fact that we are no longer in 1884. Morrissey was a disciple of the legendary poet & playwright, by all accounts one of the wittiest people ever to draw breath. One famous Morrissey photo session took place at Wilde’s former residence here, years before the full extent of his true twattishness had revealed itself.  Keats & Yeats are in your side while Wilde is on mine, wrote Mozzer on Cemetry Gates, one of countless stellar songs he created in the glory years of The Smiths, assisted by the brilliant musicianship  of the great Johnny Marr. Musical & moral compass seemingly long departed following his split with Marr in 1987, he sometimes seems more influenced by Oswald Mosley than Oscar Wilde these days, aligning himself with a variety of loathsome political figures & organisations. There were hints of dubious beliefs in earlier years, but even the less ardent fans of the music, of which I was one, chose to look the other way. Ignorance is a delicate exotic fruit, touch it & the bloom is gone as Wilde  wrote in the majestic The Importance Of Being Earnest. Eventually thrown in jail for his sexual preferences he would doubtless be delighted that some progress has been made in modern societal attitudes towards homosexuality but possibly slightly depressed at the high levels of bigotry & intolerance that continue to thrive generally, as exemplified by the likes of Nigel Farage, Tommy Robinson, Juliet Hartley-Brewer & the horrendous For Britain Party, all name checked favourably in recent years by Morrissey the maudlin Mancunian. Never mind Oscar, your old gaffe looks to be in fine fettle, & at the top of the street, on Royal Hospital Road, to top things off nicely there’s now a Tesco Express, with a Bar & Grill owned by tousled hair oaf Gordon Ramsey next door to it. What that potty mouthed bully would have made of being confronted with a man of your superior intellect, humour & verbal dexterity in one of his establishments is anyone’s guess. Doubtless the creases in that famously furrowed brow would have intensified & the word fuck may have been heard a few more times before the evening was out. At least the profusion of meat on the menu ensures Morrissey’s absence.

I am aware that taking detours into the late nineteenth century while most are reuniting with mates in the pub for a pre-match pint,the first in a considerable while, mark me down as something of a no-mates loser to some. So be it. I spent years watching Chelsea on my own in the 1980’s & the wheel has now turned full circle. In between I have spent many a happy hour in pubs before & after matches & loved every minute of it. Drink being off the menu for me at present seals the deal in any case, so solitary jaunts to Pret A Manger & blue plaque box ticking it is. Be youself, everyone else is already taken. Take another bow Mr Wilde. Neil Shipperley, who played for both Chelsea & Crystal Palace in a nomadic playing career, appeared on the relentlessly laddish football podcast Undr The Cosh a couple of years ago. Two of the three presenters, Chris Brown & Jon Parkin, were workaday pros & the guests are frequently the same, often of the same ’90’s & Noughties vintage as Shipperley, who I saw score on his professional debut for Chelsea against Wimbledon in 1993. The programme usually involves two hours of anecdotes, many of the stories relaid presenting life at most football clubs during their careers as a seemingly endless stag night/morning after with all the attendant schoolyard practical jokes, bullying & dick waving, usually merged with lengthy whinges about wage inequities & incompetent managers & coaches who have failed to acknowledge the guest’s footballing prowess sufficiently. By the time we arrive at the inevitable late career battles with drink, drugs, gambling &/or metal health issues any sympathy I might usually have for their plight has often been eroded. I once spent an evening in a small, crowded, noisy bar after a staff Christmas meal being force fed Jagerbombs (yes, as an adult I know I did have a choice about that) as everyone else in the room nodded along mechanically to Reel2Reel’s frankly hideous I Like To Move It. Most of the people, like me, had seen better days. I thought then that I was being offered a glimpse into what Hell has to offer. I now know I was wrong. In fact Hell is being a footballing colleague at a club with most of the guests on Undr The Cosh. Big Neil Shipperley was far from the worst but bemoaned his treatment at the  Chelsea ticket office after his playing days had ended. On one occasion they could only offer him one ticket. ‘Who goes to football on their own?’ said Ships plaintively to the show hosts, his grimace suggesting only those flirting with social death was the answer, lepers by any other name. Me Neil. I go to football on my own & I bloody love it. Ironically, a couple of months after this aired Neil Shipperley made a rather less welcome 2019 yuletide appearance in court, during which one of his own preferred activities while alone in public was laid painfully bare. I’ll leave it there but suffice to say any social stigma attached to watching football on your tod soon withers in comparison!

Chelsea have made it clear that proof of Covid free status is required before entry at present, so I fumbled around ineptly on my phone on arrival at Stamford Bridge to bring up the NHS App confirming I am considered lurgy free at present. 41,000 checks have to be putting a significant degree of extra strain on the stewards & I wondered how this would work. Not terribly effectively in my case, as the barcode on my phone was so oversized on presentation that neither my name or NHS details & status were visible on the screen. It could have been a barcode for me to pick up a click & collect parcel from my nearest corner shop but the steward waved me through happily anyway. Masks are to be worn in the concourses but not in the playing arena apparently. I saw no masks at all in the concourse. Enforcement is clearly impractical anyway. It still feels great to be back though. Even the Peter Osgood statue in front of the West Stand entrance looks marginally less unconvincing than normal, though in fairness it generally holds up  better than many of its competitors elsewhere, one spectacularly awful Christiano Ronaldo bust at a Portugese airport leading the way in true, inauthentic hideousness. I’m surprised he hasn’t sued. It is famously difficult for sculptures to depict the precise facial features of its subject & the Osgood statue doesn’t buck the trend. Ossie is undoubtedly a bona fide Chelsea legend, the first representative of the club I ever saw in the flesh, in the late 1960’s, knocking up on a tennis court with his mate, a few yards away from the cricket pitch in Windsor my dad was playing on. He also scored on my first visit to Stamford Bridge in 1970. There is all too little footage of his early career, cruelly interrupted by a broken leg at Blackpool in 1967, but one dazzling glimpse shows him dribbling at high speed through a number of hapless Liverpool players in an FA Cup tie. He came back from that setback having lost a touch of pace & gained some weight, along with an extra layer of cynicism, as post-Blackpool Ossie either acquired or refined a nasty streak as a suitable device to assure his future self preservation. I can recall one particularly evil foul, in his Southampton days, on Oxford United’s slight winger Brian Heron, that was brutal, spiteful & wholly unnecessary. They didn’t take prisoners on the football pitches of Britain in the 1970’s! I cherish the memories of his brilliance, not least the diving header against Leeds in the 1970 FA Cup Final replay, but personally find the statue a slightly stuffy, lifeless, over reverential tribute to this most mercurial, flamboyant, colourful & flawed figure from my youth. No matter, lots of people love it & he is a deity to many fellow supporters. To each their own. I just find gazing at the photo tributes to other players of yesteryear on the remaining wall of the old Shed more genuinely affecting.

Navigating my way through the maskless concourse, eschewing the poor quality food & drink (at top quality prices) the 17 month hiatus lends an added pleasure to my my first view of the lush playing surface  for the new season. Time was when players & spectators alike had a limited time window available to appreciate this. Come Chrismas the pitch was traditionally  a lumpy, bumpy, largely grass free atrocity back in the day, a situation that persisted into this century, certainly up until the dawn of the Abramovich era. When the players emerge for their warm up I join the throng down by the pitch with no small amount of discomfort. A man of my age taking pictures is not a dignified look but hopefully enables me to brighten up these pages without breaching copyright. Sadly the pictures are usually terrible, partly because of my discomfort, partly due to the fact I usually make way for a plaintive child behind me whose view i am blocking, a disapproving parent alongside them usually fixing me with a get a life stare. Today I move aside for a fan in a wheelchair. Rightly so, but it once again means I am behind the front row trying to use my limited photographic skills to avoid the limbs, torsos & airbound phones of those ahead of me. The man stood next to me until I move accomodates the man in the wheelchair by moving all of 3 inches to the left. He isn’t even taking any photos. What a charmer. Other grown men are excitedly calling out player’s names, particularly Kai Havertz, scorer of the winning goal in the Champions League a few short months ago. Havertz fails to respond to these living, breathing dignity vacuums. Whether this is down to shyness, a Germanic aloofness or a pointed rebuttal of the spectacle of grown men acting like 11 year old girls at a 1974 Bay City Rollers concert is unclear. I hope it was the latter but applaud the snub either way. As a small boy I had several encounters with the cricketer Geoffrey Boycott, & my time in the book trade brought forward further colourful tales from publishers & fellow booksellers alike of his propensity to do a stunningly accurate impersonation of an objectionable git.  However, on one occasion in my youth I will forever defend to the death his behaviour wholeheartedly, when after a game in the University Parks in Oxford he was loading his kit into the boot of his car as a man knelt at his feet, like a leper awaiting a cure from Jesus Christ. In his hand was an empty wine bottle & he was begging Boycott to sign the label. The harder he implored the more obvious it was that the future Sir Geoffrey had no intention of acknowledging this fool, & dignifying the spectacle he was making of himself in the process. Nowadays it is adults at football with those  bits of cardboard begging for a certain player’s shirts that are embarrassing themselves & the rest of humanity, Can I Have Your Shirt ? scaled in felt tip like similar Please Help – Hungry & Homeless signs seen widely on British streets. One borne out of  desperate need & frequently addiction, the other from puerility or simple greed. How many end up on ebay? Signs asking players for shirts are the domain of the small child, the little girl at The England match whose day was made by Mason Mount during the Euros, or the small boy who caught Eden Hazard’a attention away at Brighton a few years ago. Anyone past the point of puberty who debases themselves by attempting the same should be banned from football grounds , clipped firmly round the ear & thrown into the army. Nobheads all. My discomfort grows around people like this. The Kai! Kai! Kai! shouts continue for a while but pleasingly never elicit a response of any kind. I blush at being among this throng. My pictures grow ever worse in quality & I slink away to my seat earlier than planned.

Ross Barkley – perennial nearly man derailed by the pandemic?

It is a sobering thought that the new season is the third to be affected by the pandemic, but with the (hopefully permanent) return to full capacity I am able to ponder on he changes in personnel at Stamford Bridge since my last visit. Pedro had been prominent in the midweek  2-0 FA Cup win over Liverpool, Olivier Giroud even more so in the 4-0 drubbing of Everton the following weekend. Both are now plying their trade in Italy, seeing out long & successful careers that continued to bear fruit during their Chelsea years. Willian has spent a pleasingly unfruitful year at Arsenal that will not undermine the significant contribution he made to Chelsea successes over the previous seven seasons. Ross Barkley  played starring roles in both matches but is currently without a squad number or, as yet, a move away from Stamford Bridge. He scored a wonderful goal against Liverpool & helped boss the midfield against former club Everton. All appeared to bode well for Barkley having added a welcome maturity to his game, both in his own play, especially pass selection, allied to his visibly taking young substitute Tino Anjorin under his wing during the Everton game with words of advice & instruction. Sadly, in keeping with the stop/start nature of the career of this undoubtedly talented player, he has once again failed to build on this. Despite a neat FA Cup winner at Leicester during the summer restart of 2020 he continued to flit in & out of the starting line up & Frank Lampard loaned him out to Aston Villa at the start of last season. He started well , scoring in a stunning 7-2 win over Liverpool, & netting  another winner at Leicester, also playing a starring role in a 3-1 victory at Arsenal. He was linking brilliantly with Jack Grealish & Villa fans were clamouring for their club to break the bank & make the move permanent. By the end of the season they were queuing up to offer him a lift back to SW6. Ross had once again flattered to deceive, not helped by injuries to both himself & Grealish, nor another in a series of negative tabloid tales concerning off the pitch indiscretions, another pub brawl this time to add to previous rows in hotels & a dropped bag of chips in the back of a Liverpool taxi. Pretty tame by the sorts of scrapes modern footballers have got themselves into since the money flowed into the Premiership, if anything quite pleasingly old school behaviour, & at least Barkley always appears in immaculate physical condition, unlike in the days of Ossie when the odd team mate had to have another, slimmer body suprimposed on to his head for the pre-season photo roll call after too many cold drinks & pies during the summer. Barkley has clearly failed to impress Thomas Tuchel & his career appears to be in freefall,  33 England caps having also failed to undermine the overriding impression that he continues to lack a requisite level of both matchplay & life choice intelligence. I have no light to shed on accusations he is lacking in grey matter. This was levelled at him during his Everton days in a disgusting, racist piece in The Sun by the repugnant Kelvin Mackenzie (he also said Barkley, a man of mixed race heritage, reminded him of a gorilla) whose entire career has been a celebration of crass English cretiny at its worst. When your detractors are scum like that it is easy to retain sympathy for Ross Barkley, wish him well & hope he can still find the right club, & importantly coach, to make the most of what should now be his peak years. Either way he will remain more talented & considerably richer than 99.9% of his many critics, disproportionately irked by his twin crimes of inconsistent playing performance & not being blessed with the IQ of Professor Stephen Hawking.  Take him down to the cells? Maybe not.

Graduates from the Chelsea Academy are increasingly resisting the hitherto well worn path to innumerable loans offering little prospect of future first team berths at their parent club. Chelsea have done very well financially from farming out players in this way, & it is ironic an era when home grown talent has finally started to establish itself at first team level coincides with a significant penchant among current young players to look to make permanent moves away from the club rather than take their chances on getting a chance further along their career path. I can’t say I blame them entirely. Lewis Baker is 26. He was once considered one of Chelsea’s top up  coming talents & has had eight loan moves in the last six years taking in spells in Holland, Germany, Turkey & a  number of Championship & League 1 teams in England. LIke Ross Barkley he now finds himself back at Chelsea, where he has never once troubled the first team with an appearance, minus either a squad number or willing temporary or permanent suitors. Three years ago I saw Chelsea beat Arsenal 3-1 in the first Leg of TheFA Youth Cup Final at a rainy, windswept Stamford Bridge. Reece James & Calum Hudson-Odoi both played that night. The buck trending Hudson-Odoi had already made an appearance with the first team at the tender age of seventeen. Billy Gilmour played too. All three were in Porto when Chelsea clinched the Champions League in May & James & Gilmour both represented their countries in the Europena Championship a month later, along with Mason Mount, another considerable talent made in Chelsea. Gilmour has just made his first loan move to Premier League newbies Norwich in order to play regular first team football, but others not quite as highly advanced up the Stamford Bridge food ladder are jumping ship. Two very highly rated young players, full back Tino Livramento & midfielder Lewis Bate, have transferred to Southampton & Leeds United respectively. The diminutive but brilliant Tariq Lamptey, another member of the triumphant Youth cup squad in 2018, moved to Brighton two seasons ago. All three transfer fees were relatively paltry. The excellence of Reece James may well have been a telling factor in making up the minds of Lamptey & Liveramento that their best option was to bale out now rather than risk ending up in a Baker style quandry. Dominic Solanke & Rhian Brewster started this trend a few seasons ago when moving to Liverpool. Neither of them cut it at Anfield but both were sold on again at a handsome profit, netting the Scousers over £30 million for very little investment. A case of the biter bit for Chelsea, always happy to raid the youth set ups of smaller clubs. The presence of Marc Guehi in the Crystal Palace line up today is a continuation of this trend. He also played against Arsenal for the youth team backin 2018, now he has opted for a clean break after an impressive  loan at Swansea in the Championship last season. Palace have paid £20 million for him, hardly small change for a youth graduate, but it seems sad that he does not feel he has any chance of breaking through at Chelsea, especially after the sale of Fiyoko Tomori to AC Milan, a player who had emerged brilliantly until a baffling fall from grace under Frank Lampard, who had championed the player originally by taking him & Mount on loan to Derby three years ago. The promising Conor Gallagher is also at Crystal Palace having accepted the loan route for the third successive season. It will be intersting to see if he continues to wear this for much longer, especially if he impresses at Selhurst Park. He also played in that Youth Cup Final but being a loanee is excluded from this match.

It is also symptomatic of the ever changing nature of top level football to consider where Chelsea & coach Frank Lampard were as we teetered on the Covid cliff edge at those Liverpool & Everton games in March 2020. Those victories underlined the team’s ability to compete for domestic trophies &  Top 4 placings despite the transfer ban in place that season. A few weeks earlier a sobering  0-3 home defeat to a superb  Bayern Munich team seemed to illustrate just how far away from being a serious Champions League prospect the club now were. Lampard ended the first Covid hit season with a Top 4 place & a disappointing FA Cup Final defeat. Thomas Tuchel ended last season with a scrambled Top 4 place courtesy of a superb run of away wins & (of all teams!) Spurs winning at Leicester on the last day of the season. There was also another diasappointing FA Cup Final defeat. The victory in the Champions League, deserved & astonishing in equal measure, was a stunning feather in Tuchel’s cap & also a vindication of both the squad investment under Lampard the previous Summer, & a comprehensive Group stage qualification under his watch too. Tuchel’s team overcoming Atletico & Real Madrid en route to beating Man City in Porto was a dazzling achievement though, all the more so when recalling the glaring gulf in class so evident against Bayern the season before.

I was rude about Crystal Palace & their fans the last time I shared an afternoon at Stamford Bridge with them. Their much vaunted Croydon Ultras, aka The Holmesdale Fanatics, had been rather subdued that day save for loudly sharing the same four letter expletive outside the ground prior to the game. In fairness they were probably worn down by years of attritional, frequently tedious football under Roy Hodgson’s watch, guaranteeing Premiership safety year in year out at the expense of retaining the will to live. Watching that very week must have been tough. They have been known to put Chelsea fans to shame on previous occasions, fortified on one famous occasion by then Blues coach Jose Mourinho visibly intoning  ‘fuck off’ repeatedly to himself on hearing his team’s followers singing songs of love to the recently departed Frank Lampard as his current charges stood on the brink of clinching the Premier League title in 2015. It is this kind of behaviour that explains why Mourinho himself is no longer similarly serenaded, & also how sour snippiness like that towards the people who had always backed him ferociously has empowered all sets of rival fans when denigrating Chelsea supporters ever since. There is undoubtedly some snobbery & sneery superiority towards the Holmesdale Fanatics from opposition supporters too, though it is offset by a love-in between them & the media that is more than a tad nauseating. On this occasion I was staggered to hear the volume at the Palace end as represented by the television coverage, which appeared to comprehensively drown out the Chelsea support. I am all too aware that home matches have frequently found the Blues crowd ceding bragging rights to the travelling support & lapsing into long,  passionless bouts of silence. What BBC & Sky did with their mikes today was some feat of audio manipulation because this match was not in keeping with so many games of recent vintage. The Chelsea support was loud . The main chant may have been Champions Of Europe, We Know What We Are to the tiresome tune of Sloop John B, but it was sung triumphantly & noisily, & why not? It is the first competitive game after a hideous absence of full capacity stadia, & Chelsea ARE European champions. This chant’s arrival will be hated & dreaded by all opposition fans throughout the season. So what? If you can’t enjoy triumphs like this we might as well all go home. It was great to hear the decibel level rise above the Stamford Bridge norm & conspiracy theorists may wonder how the  footage failed to reflect this. Palace fans started like their players. Slowly. Unlike their team they did rally as the afternoon progressed but I can recall them making little noise until Marcos Alonso’s superb free kick had given Chelsea an overdue first half lead.  All they mustered then was Is This A Library? & the inevitable Mourinho’s Right, Your Fans Are Shite. Pretty ironic given we have barely had a peep out of them until then, & also mind numbingly dull & predictable. If Oscar Wilse’s old crown of the funniest man in London is up for grabs today it is unlikely to be seized by anyone here at Stamford Bridge today, & definitely nobody in the Palace end. The Holmesdale Fanatics are kitted out in black but, as a fellow scruff trying not to be sneery or superior, they still fail to cut the  Ultra mustard. It’s all more Littlewoods than Lazio. There are plenty of post-match suggestions they won the day as far as making noise goes but this is utter guff. They do keep up the singing at 3-0  down but this does them less credit than it would had they made more effort while the game was in the balance. Proving you are battle hardened stoics by resolute chanting in the last 10 minutes is all very well, & frequently admirable, but on this occasion is akin to a two year old triumphantly sitting on the potty having already shat themselves an hour earlier. Too little too late chaps. Don’t believe the hype, not today anyway. I have failed to be nice again. Them singing that awful Dave Clark 5 song Glad All Over doesn’t help. Dave Clark is a Tottenham boy to his core, even tried to buy Spurs once. They could probably do with your help now Dave. They seem to be in pieces. Bits & pieces.

The Chelsea Fancast preview show the evening before the game featured the traditional opposition fan, Palace being represented on this occasion by an eminently likeable & intelligent man clearly excited about a new era dawning under new boss Patrick Vieira, a fiercely formidable & grudgingly respected opponent to Chelsea as a player in his Arsenal days, still finding his feet as a coach. He was clearly on message about the departed Roy Hodgson, equal parts grateful for his contribution in solidifying the club as a Premiership mainstay, relieved that the negativity that has swamped so much of Palace’s play in recent seasons might now be replaced by a more progressive style of play . The widespread  changes in personnel will require patience & with some notable absences in midfield he was expecting a difficult afternoon at Chelsea. So it proved. This was a poor performance, lacking both quality & passion, & enterprise was as thin on the ground as it has been at Stamford Bridge under Hodgson in recent years. Early days though. Very early days. Even Wilfred Zaha was becalmed, waiting until late in the afternoon before reminding us that he remains, as ever, a  strong contender for this season’s Premier League whiniest bitch award. Only Everton’s Richarlison & Jack Grealish come close usually, & at least the latter spends at least some pitch time with a smile on his face. Man Utd’s manbaby coach Ole Golum Sulker may yet put in a strong non-playing challenge, with his recent, tedious sub Ferguson  laments about United not getting a fair crack of the whip from officials, as laughable a suggestion as it is irritating & breathtakingly crass. For all his brilliance Ferguson was also an obnoxious prick when he played these pathetic games lest we forget. Two seasons ago Zaha was thoroughly schooled by a teenage Reece James & reacted with predictable petulance & immaturity, gloating at us Chelsea fans when conning a free kick out of Mike Dean, but otherwise endlessly bleating at the Bald Ego for not showing him similar favour throughout the rest of the match. For a player of immense skill he comes across as remarkably joyless but doubtless he enjoys better days elsewhere. Palace fans clearly adore him. He seems destined to see his career fail to reap the rewards his ability hinted at when he moved to Man Utd at a young age, & there frequently seems to be precious little end product for all the dribbling & ball playing trickery. He reminds me a little of all those female X Factor candidates who almost used to make me feel sympathy for Simon Cowell, trying his limited patience as they destroyed  hackneyed standards ( I Will Always Love You a frequent favoured choice) by painfully attempting to prove they could hold & extend the high notes a la Whitney Houston & Maria Carey. Singing as gymnastic exercise rather than a tool for lending warmth & humanity to the interpretation of the song. If you want to hear someone interpret a song with subtlety & class while holding a high note I refer you to Dionne Warwick’s version of Unchained Melody (3:36-3:50) on Spotify. You can thank me later. Dionne is more like Eden Hazard, blessed with a natural ability allied to a measure of restraint that more frequently leads to getting the job done than her contemporaries. Zaha is more Maria, flash but  vulgar & more inclined to miss the  target. He is well out of sorts this afternoon & fluffs Palace’s best chance, put clean through & failing to even get a shot away. Good. Sod off & cheer up Wilf.

In truth this was an ideal opener for Chelsea, & once the deadlock was broken the result was never in doubt, Alonso’s splendid free kick one of those dead ball moments that come along every so often when you just know the taker is going to score. Gascoigne for Spurs here in 1990. Zola on several occasions. Perhaps most remarkably Marcus Rashford here in the Carabao Cup in 2019, He was a long, long way out & yet you instinctively knew he was going to hit the target. Alonso is always a good bet 25 yards out when the kick is adjacent to the far right hand corner of the penalty box, & the anticipated left foot curler simply flew in. Christian Pulisic adding the second was a welcome moment, though he continues to struggle for the awesome form he displayed before being injured in the 2020 FA Cup Final last summer. Timo Werner was greeted with cult hero like fervour & I just hope he isn’t going to be the 21st century Robert Fleck, backed to the hilt by a sympathetic crowd but destined never to see the initially anticipated flood of goals materialise. Like Fleck it won’t be for lack of effort but currently cow’s arses & banjos spring to mind far too readily when the German is faced with a decent sight of the opposition goal. Nonetheless it is a solid, enjoyable team performance capped off with a splendid, long range, low drive from debutant Trevoh Chabolah. Trevoh is one who has had to wait a long time for his chance After several season long loans, abroad & in the lower divisions, he is now transcending the established norm for generations of Academy players to drift away without troubling the first team. The response to his goal was uproarious, although doubtless BBC & Sky considered having a  stab at dubbing in some Palace chanting from elsewhere in the game over the footage of the young man’s glorious moment in the sun.

A happy day for Trevoh & a happy day for me. Back on the Fulham Road, as we pour out of the ground after the final whistle, one hoarse Palace fan on the way out is loudly, bitterly & swearily informing us Chelsea fans that our support is not terribly good. Or something like that. Call yourself a proper Palace fan fella, you’re not even wearing black. He is 6 foot 4 & 15 stone of solid muscle though so needless to say I keep such smartarsed thoughts to myself. No sweat mate, as Oscar Wilde would doubtless have told you, we are all in the gutter but some of us are looking at the stars. Champions League winning stars at that. The chequered history of Chelsea Football Club suggests any current feelings of invincibility will likely crash & burn sooner rather than later. For now though we’re feeling, well, glad all over.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Just Woke Up

 

The undignified spectacle of right wing fruitloops scrambling to realign themselves with Gareth Southgate & his admirable England team has been simultaneously hilarious & stomach churning this week. Those who daily pollute the well of intelligent debate in our beleagured nation with their cheap, banal, hatefilled soundbites have lost their once seemingly unassailable populist touch. Badly. Boris Johnson & Priti Patel have hitherto steadfastly refused to denounce the  racists who boo the team when they take the knee, attempting to undermine rather than support the calm integrity of Southgate’s position on this vexed issue. What days to be alive when we are governed by people like this. Guess what you bigoted cretins, it is about decency standing up to hate rather than Gareth & his millionaire boys being secret reds under the football bed.  Is it possible to question the continued value of taking the knee? Of course it is. We all know Wilfred Zaha of Crystal Palace now refuses to do it. He doesn’t boo while it happens though. Only racists do that. Johnson wouldn’t condemn it though. Patel, quite possibly the most stupid individual ever to hold high office, effectively gave the jeering bottom feeders a resounding thumbs up & red light. Why have they adopted this morally bankrupt position? Because it is a chunk of their core vote doing the booing is why. Says it all. A few Harry Kane goals later & both these hideous chancers are frantically squeezing England shirts over their bloated, empty heads. Johnson had his name on the back of his shirt. Of course he did. It’s all about him now things are going well. Pritti’s shirt looked suspiciously creased in a ‘just out the bag from the JD Sports down the road’ kind of way. A reminder here that under the new immigration policy many of the current England team would not be allowed to settle in this country now. Neither would last week’s new Wimbledon sensation Emma Raducanu whose family settled here in 2005 when she was two. If she ever takes the women’s title doubtless Johnson & Patel will have prime seats on Centre Court for the final. The Home Secretary shares at least one thing in common with Emma. Patel’s family would no longer be able to gain entry into this country courtesy of her own department’s new immigration policy either. Shameless. Sickening. Typical.

Further (even further!) to the right the hypocrisy knows no bounds……

The reliably odious Farage & the Matalan Mosley – the morally bald vainly searching for a comb. As for the worst elements within our rabidly arrogant, spiteful, glib, money grubbing modern media representatives….

Rima says it all in the tweet at the top of the page really. Tony Parsons of The Sun, a man who regularly displays more faces than a sixteenth century spike at Traitors’ Gate, is doubtless preparing a mawkish, flag shagging, Last Night At The Proms paen to Southgate’s boys to try & cover his sneering, duplicitous tracks. It is worth pointing out that the virtue signalling Marxists of the national team all these bastards are now scurrying around to support are preparing to give any winnings to NHS staff. Marcus Rashford’s shaming of the government over school meals for the poor is already rightly famous, Reece James feeding the poor on the streets of London less so. Harry Kane’s rainbow armband & Jordan Henderson’s supportive tweet to a gay fan have both been received with widespread approval. On a smaller scale Mason Mount has made the year of a 10 year old girl by singling her out to receive his prized match shirt from Wednesday’s Semi Final against Denmark. Kalvin Phillips wears boots with a memorial to his recently deceased grandmother inscribed on them. There is a lot of decency within this team, & can we politely suggest that decency rather than bloated chauvinism is a preferable patriotic look going forward. These lads are a credit to both Gareth Southgate & the nation. Maybe, just maybe, they have earned the right to continue making a silent protest at them &/or their colleagues & friends being racially abused by halfwits via taking the knee without being harangued by these malignant fools either running & ruining the country, or stirring up hatred within whatever media platform thay can take refuge in, or worse, profit from.

Whoever wins the European Championship tonight there have been some significant gains for old style English courtesy over mindless, gloating xenophobia in the last few weeks. Southgate is more Attlee or Macmillan rather than Thatcher or Johnson. It’s a start, though it may  represent a welcome blip rather than any significant, sustained sea change after the hugely poisonous Brexit years. We live in hope. As an Englishman I will enjoy seeing a home victory, but should it happen will spare a thought for the great Gianluca Vialli in the Italian camp, a Chelsea legend beset by serious illness in recent times. If Italy triumph his joy will still be a pleasure to behold amidst the disappointment.

Johnson, Patel, Farage, Fox, Hartley-Brewer, Parsons & their rancid ilk can wrap themselves in flags & shirts as much as they like. Like gatecrashers at a party, bringing not even one can of cider between them, their presence is neither needed or welcome. Sadly it won’t stop them of course. This has already appeared today.

Nigel Farage preparing to cheer on the Marxist propagandists at Wembley. After he has finished furiously booing them for taking the knee presumably? Bit early Nige, kick off at the soccerball game is 10 hours away yet. Know you’re a big fan. And an even bigger prick. Please go away. Forever.

As for real human beings everywhere else – enjoy the game!

It’s A Mad Mad Mad Mad Chelsea World

 

So another season ends. Fear not though round ball haters, the European Championships start in a couple of weeks. You’re not out of the woods yet. Hopefully, when the club game resumes in August, we will start with full stadiums, & proper football will replace the limp, blow up doll impersonation of the sport inflicted on us all  by the hideous pandemic for the remarkable last 15 months.

As far as my own team goes, I remain as lost for meaningful words as most of the players were on Saturday night. Chelsea is a batshit crazy football club. I hate writing about the current set up because I never make a right call. In December I applauded the progress the team were making under club legend Frank Lampard’s tutelage. There was a 17 game unbeaten run & at the end of the group stage of The Champions League the team completed a comfortable qualification for the last 16 with a  resounding 4-0 away win against Sevilla. Before January was done Lampard had been sacked. He had taken over after EUFA had imposed a transfer ban on the club. Eden Hazard, the club’s best player, saviour of the team’s fortunes in the previous season under Maurizio Sarri, had departed for Real Madrid. None of the supposedly elite managers the club has more usually appointed  would have touched the job with a shitty stick at this juncture. Despite this the 2019-20 season saw a top 4 finish & an FA Cup Final appearance. Academy players were integrated successfully into the squad. One of them, Mason Mount, is already an England regular &  silencing his many peabrained critics as he threatens to blossom into one of the club’s all time greatest players.

In April this year the club then angered its own supporters further by signing up for the disgraceful ESL venture, designed to prop up the wobbly finances of Real Madrid, Barcelona, Juventus & AC Milan at the expense of the heart & soul of English football, its wonderful pyramid & every club & its fanbase within it. Fortunately, common sense has prevailed (this time) but not before Chelsea Football Club had once more cemented its reputation as a pariah, this time minus the often valid excuse that a media agenda is fuelling much of the antipathy with lies, smears, gross distortion & misrepresentation.

Nothing will change here. I have already given up on the Be Kind sloganeering bandied hopefully around this country earlier in the pandemic period. People clapped for the NHS but will still vote for self interest & greed, seemingly happy to allow the country to be run by corrupt criminals. Hating a football club seems like small beer in comparison, & it isn’t as if I have never spat bile at rival clubs. Haters gonna hate. Fill your boots boys & girls. Whatever gives you a hard on.

So how are Chelsea Football Club generally labelled at the end of this bizarre season? Pretty much as they were at its start I would guess.

Vile. Classless. Plastic. Ruining football since 2003. A small club propped up by ill gotten Russian gains. Supported by rentboys &/or Gammon, Boris loving racists.

Oh. And Just one more thing……….

EUROPEAN CHAMPIONS !!

AGAIN!!

 

 

Let’s Talk About 6 Baby

After this afternoon’s feeble 0-1 defeat to Fulham, Jurgen Klopp’s team have now lost an extraordinary SIX home games on the trot. Chelsea got relegated in 1988 & only lost two home games all season. No fan attendance & the long term injury to the pivotal Virgil Van Dijk are undoubtedly key factors in this. Liverpool will be back of course, doubtless bigger, better & noisier than ever, & sooner rather than later. Nevertheless, the fall in grace from the triumphs of the last two seasons is, to quote the late David Coleman, quite remarkable.

And, let’s face it, for the rest of us it’s pretty hilarious too!

Admiring Our Balls

May 19, 1973   England 1 Scotland 0

 

In truth the YouTube footage here describes the action better than I can after 48 years. The winning goal aside, it is only Shilton’s excellent late save from  Dalglish’s well struck left foot crosshot that lingers in the memory. I hadn’t remembered Bobby Moore’s awful challenge on Lorimer. It was the only time I saw the great man play for England & the fact manager Sir Alf Ramsey had relegated him to the bench before his own dismissal in 1974 spoke volumes of the decline in Bobby’s form, exemplified by a shocking mistake away to Poland in a crucial World Cup qualifier during the summer following this match. Ramsey was usually hopelessly loyal to his tried & tested performers. I do  remember the goal exactly as it appears here however, Martin Peters ghosting through an unwitting Scottish defence like Keyser Soze eluding the police to head Alan Ball’s invitingly curled free kick past Ally Hunter in the Scottish goal.

The British Championship was an end of season tournament with all 4 home nations playing each other once over a 7 day period, starting a week after the English & Scottish domestic FA Cup Finals. A welcome addition to the season for us fans, starved of live football throughout the season, less welcome for the players at the end of a gruelling 42 game Division 1 season. The Scotland-England fixture was always live & sometimes one or both of the England matches versus Wales or Northern Ireland would be too. Home advantage would be alternated from one year to the next.

This was my first international match, ticket courtesy of my lifelong friend Richie Hewer’s eldest sister Annie. How she got them I don’t know but I am suitably grateful to this day anyway. The occasion may have outshone the quality of the game but it was a great day out & Richie & I spent a lot of time collecting autographs, freeing up his dad Eric to escape us & doubtless snatch the odd half or two before & after the game. Later in life, in the 80’s & ’90’s, there was a spell when I saw Eric more often than Richie, selling him a Bobby Moore biography at work once but more usually finding him sat at the bar, affable as ever, nursing a half pint in The White Horse Or Kings Arms or any one of a number of the Morse friendly pubs in the academic heart of Oxford. He became known by some within those quarters as Half Pint Eric, the lightwight image a canny facade as Eric regularly & happily supped a number of halves an evening in a number of these pubs.

The old Wembley lived off its own name in the most complacent manner imaginable in terms of facilities & comfort but there was magic in seeing those twin towers, especially at a showpiece event like this. As for the first sight of that lovely, lush turf on entering the arena……..well, anyone who has seen the scene in Fever Pitch when the misguided Arsenal fan views Highbury for the first time will understand. Many will have experienced the thrill themselves at one sporting stadium or another.

Memories of this day out at Wembley? Whisky fumes. Jordan sulks. All around, sound of breaking glass, to quote a Nick Lowe  hit five years ahead of its release, as endless  beer cans & scotch bottles were casually discarded, strewn liberally around the walkways & unlovely car parks around Wembley Stadium. An environmental horror maybe, but also a triumph for the respective shareholders of McEwans Export & Bell’s Whisky. Nick Lowe is one of a select bunch of musicians I have seen perform at  a football ground, knocking out a few pre-match tunes at Oxford United as part of Brinsley Schwarz a year or so after this game. Frankly the mists of time ensure I haven’t a clue if they performed the Lowe penned (What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace Love & Understanding, later adopted by Elvis Costello & The Attractions & now rightly regarded as a minor classic. It would likely have fallen on deaf ears in a mid 1970’s football stadium, neither peace, love or understanding being concepts looming large on the aggro heavy terraces of the day. For the England-Scotland match we had eighty minutes of The Massed Bands Of H.M. Royal Marines, Portsmouth, the last twenty minutes seeing them support Radio 1’s Ed Stewpot Stewart. Given Ed’s normal gig as presenter of Radio 1’s children’s staple Junior Choice we might have expected renditions of Puff The Magic DragonA Windmill In Amsterdam & Terry Scott’s My Brother. One suspects  the H.M. Marines might have struggled to get a handle on Sparky’s Magic Piano. No dice anyway as he cajoled the crowd into a mass singalong of a mess of hoary old standards such as The Happy Wanderer, with a decent smattering of Scottish fare also thrown in for good measure, including I Love A Lassie. Stalwart pre-war standards were supplemented by newer atrocities like Jimmy Osmond’s Long Haired Lover From Liverpool &, apropos of nothing, the latest Spurs terrace hit Nice One Cyril. Is it any wonder riots at football grounds became commonplace?

 

Fraternal love towards the English from large sections of the other populations within the British Isles was never better hidden than in this fractious era. IRA bombs, & a liking for feigned deafness at the sound of an English accent, from some of the population of Wales, during childhood family holidays, had already prepared me for a lifetime of antipathy from other corners of the United Kingdom. British military intervention into the Troubles in Northern Ireland in 1969 was by now intensifying rather than quelling sectarian strife, & the Northern Ireland – England Home International fixture the week before had been transfered from Belfast to Everton’s Goodison Park on security grounds.  Devolution referendums in Scotland & Wales at the end of the 1970’s eventually rejected any moves away from political control remaining in Westminster but that didn’t prevent a continuing fad for burning down English owned holiday cottages in Wales, nor the eternal Scottish resentment towards England from many of the bell bottomed, hirsute, tartan clad  hordes at this match.

Narrow defeat on the pitch aside, it must be said the 1973 Tartan Army owned this day. Raucous & passionate, they seemed to dwarf us English numerically, filling up large pockets of the ground throughout the arena. They certainly scored higher on the decibel count. Much higher. For an 11 year old boy it was all a bit daunting to arrive at Wembley to be greeted with the opposition’s fans singing, shouting , gesticulating wildly & none too amicably, & genuinely giving off an air of menace fuelled by a sense of historic injustice. And alcohol. Lots of it, & early in the day too. There were Scotland fans everywhere in & around Wembley, with their silk scarves & yellow flags, crowd segregation a non-starter. There was  plenty of anti-Englishness abounding within Caledonian ranks but it was not all naked hostility, &  I can only remember witnessing one act of intended fan violence, a small Scotsman, emboldened by being what used to be quaintly known as ‘in drink,’ running on the pitch during the second half & attempting to batter England’s 1966 World Cup winning midfield hero  Alan Ball. Like his father out on the Wembley concourse earlier (of which more later) Alan Jr, a similarly hot tempered character to his dad, conducted himself with commendable aplomb under severe provocation. It was a day for admiring our Balls. Our Alan Balls. He later said he respected his assailant’s fighting spirit, but was possibly still glad to have his Arsenal colleague Peter Storey swiftly arrive on the scene. No stranger to m’learned friends after retirement, future jailbird Storey was also a steely presence on the pitch. Or a right dirty bastard in layman’s terms.

Being confronted by a drunken Scotsman in the day was not entirely new to me. The pockets of Oxford city centre now populated with homeless, often drug addicted people, were then populated with alcoholics, more often than not male, over 35 & with a sizeable Scottish representation, frequently kitted out in Oxfam suits that, like their latest owners, had known better days in the 1960’s. Later on, in the ’70’s, as fashions shifted again, I waited in vain for their successors to start appearing at Bonn Square in the town centre kitted out in  afghan coats, kaftans, flares & platform shoes discarded by previous owners. It never happened. Even the most chronic alcoholic had more pride than that. Incidentally, the high level of Scottish representation within the street drinking ranks is a statement of fact rather than a lazy regurgitation of hackneyed prejudice. I used to be fearful of the street pissheads when they lurched towards you, all cider breath & piss stained trousers, cut foreheads & stubble. A nimble pre-pubescent could swerve their inebriated staggering easily so the verbals were effectively just background noise. Many of the fans at Wembley, off the leash for a big weekend in the smoke rather than 24/7 juicers, proved either disinterested or inapable of indulging in violence When one Scot made for our group just next to the turnstiles, slurring in a thick Scottish brogue, he merely took off his Scotland silk scarf & sweetly stuck it around Richie’s neck instead.

Scottish fans who were up for a rumble may have struggled to find any true opposition anyway. Prevalent though terrace biffo was by 1973, the standard England crowds at international games remained, along with the aforementioned military band pre-match entertainment, a Pathe Newsreel, collar & tie throwback to more placid times. Scotland’s win at Wembley four years later in 1977 may well have been the final nail in the coffin for that era. Seeing their oldest rivals tearing down the goalposts & ripping up chunks of the hallowed Wembley turf seems to have combined with poor performance in ushering in the dawn of a new age where our national team suddenly attracted the rowdier elements that had been causing much mournful head shaking in club football for the past decade. By the early 1980’s it was routine for Bobby Charlton, watching internationals as a pundit, to intone his mantra of being ashamed to be English as the fists, boots, bottles & smoke bombs flew.

Richie & I met as 5 year olds when I was placed next to him on my first day at infant school. The desk was decorated with pieces of cheap wood carved into the shape of animals, intended to be drawn around. Richie & I fought a grimly determined battle against each other to gain possession of them. When he wanted the elephant or giraffe so did I & vice versa. I don’t think we exchanged one word all day, though 1967 is a way off to be too certain about that. I  remember the highlight of the day was another boy in the toilets revealing the inner lining of the retractable, upper end of his foreskin to be populated with fluff, which he proudly announced to have collected there via his pyjama bottoms. This impressed me no end, & I fervently hoped that one day I too might get to successfully store pyjama bottom fluff in a similar fashion. Good to have a dream so early on in school life. It had been an inauspicious start but Richie & I soon became friends, although long before our trip to Wembley he could have been excused had he turned his back on me. In our first year we had a class known as Musical Movement, in the main assembly hall. Sadly, during one afternoon the only part of me the music moved was my bowels, as I shat my pants & was subsequently rendered immobile for obvious reasons. Moving into our second year we had a teacher, Miss Ellis, who frowned on any of us interrupting a lesson to request a trip to the toilet. Mindful of this I unwisely chose to piss myself instead. The humiliation was compounded by a total absence of spare pants within the school, meaning I spent the rest of the day wearing a duffle coat to cover my malfunctioning willy. My blushes remained unspared. Richie forgave me despite the widespread sniggering, but later foolishly joined me in a different but still inadvisable anatomical misadventure, namely the placement of unsuitable objects up one’s nose. I had form with this at home, when a chipple got wedged in my nasal passage, to my panic & everyone else’s amusement. Chipples are mercifully long gone now, a cheap alternative to crisps, shaped rather like oven chips are now & spectacularly lacking in taste. I was a greedy little boy so my sticking them in an orifice other than the mouth speaks volumes. Miss Ellis’s classroom offered other alternatives, & one quiet afternoon I dared Richie to join me in sampling nasal insertion options for a collection of crayons of varying shapes & sizes. This time I emerged unscathed but Richie had to seek medical assistance. I had at last learned something at infant school. Never work with amateurs.

Despite the crayons, piss & shit, Richie remained my friend. By the time we moved from infant to junior school football had got a hold on us. He might deny it now but Richie had a love for Man Utd back then. I liked them too, especially Bobby Charlton. Small boys of the late 1960’s tended to love all three of the holy trinity of Best, Law & Charlton unreservedly. Baldie headed Bobby was my favourite because the relatively paltry TV football coverage back then was stuffed to the gills with his trademark, piledriving 25 yard shots, hit with either foot with equal ferocity. Content rather than fashion was all that interested me & Bobby was a thrilling, dynamic player. Denis Law was impish & aggressive, & also the scorer of spectacular goals. He was the first player I ever saw score from a bicycle kick. George Best was beautiful, brilliant & in today’s parlance, a generational talent. No wonder Richie’s head was initially turned but he got over it.

As we moved into the 1970’s I spent quite a few evenings around at Richie’s house, laughter & cigarette smoke filling the room as his mum, dad & sister Sheila shared their liking for lively chat & frequent piss taking that neither Richie or I were exempt from. I loved it. We saw less of Richie’s older brother Michael, who had an older brother’s record collection, which fascinated me, & needless to say varied wildly to my older sister’s musical preferences. Crosby, Stills & Nash featured strongly. Michael not only had a hippy friendly record collection but also a hippy girlfriend called Flea, at least she seemed like a hippy to me, & had, Richie proudly informed me, once had tea at JRR Tolkien’s house. Impressive stuff, though I was happy enough having my tea at Richie’s, courtesy of his lovely, larger than life German born mum, which would frequently be supplemented before I went home with an ice cream from the van that always turned up outside their house in the early evening. I always plumped for a Screwball, with its ball of bubble gum at its base to keep the sugar rush going once the ice cream had been swiftly devoured. 2 for 1, I always liked to get my money’s worth. Sometimes we would  get involved in kickarounds with the older lads on the Town Furze housing estate where he lived. Being smaller than me Richie inherited my unusual but prized red Kingswell Gordon Banks football boots when I grew out of them. I had christened them by scoring a hat trick in my first ever school team match, the third scored as I searched in vain for a screw in stud that had dropped out. The ball came towards me by chance & I swung a left foot at it lazily & weakly. To everyone’s amazement the keeper fumbled it & it ended up, not in the net, as nets were a luxury our school could not afford, but over the line into the far corner of the goal. I never scored a hat trick again, & was soon rumbled for the one paced coward I was. By the time we made this Wembley trip the game was already up on that front, although I trundled away in boy’s football to no great end for another 3 or 4 years. Observing rather than participating in the beautiful game was to be my fate. Seeing England play Scotland was to be an early highlight.

I got the good end of the bargain with this Scotland game. Richie had  been invited to stay over at our house two weeks earlier to watch the FA Cup Final & see The New Seekers at the Oxford New Theatre in the evening. We had not had a colour television very long & I was keen to show it off, also to see a major sporting event without the television breaking down, as our old black & white set had for the 1969 Man City – Leicester final, the fatal defeat to West Germany in the following year’s World Cup & a 1968 rainswept Ashes Test when  Derek Underwood span the home team to victory at The Oval with the Aussie batters surrounded by both a mass of ludicrously close in fielders & the odd puddle. All viewed at our kindly & long suffering next door neighbours. Sadly, the new telly also played up on the day, not packing up completely but effectively reverting mainly to poor quality black & white save for applying an insipid pinky hue to Sunderland’s famous red stripes. Richie’s family had their own colour set a while before we did so I feel responsible to this day for hampering his enjoyment of seeing the Rokerites delightful, shock triumph over Leeds, courtesy of a first half goal from a future Chelsea manager, the late Ian Porterfield. As for inveigling Richie into my shadowy New Seekers world, I can only hang my head in shame. I doubt he ever saw them again but I did. More than once. I was even in The New Seekers Fan Club & went to a convention at the Alexander Palace, compered by the seemingly ubiquitous Ed Stewart, minus any vampire lesbians sadly. More of that later. Conveniently I expunged this from my gig going CV for many years &  maintained my first live band were The Undertones at Oxford Poly in 1979. A lie. It is strange how often when  people of my vintage are asked  about their first musical loves they claim to be have been out there grooving to the first Velvet Underground album. Their first purchased single is invariably cited as one by the eternally groovy T.Rex or David Bowie, never Benny Hills’s Ernie. I think they are usually fibbing. As a prepubescent my first purchased album was not Frank Zappa’s Hot Rats, neither was I listening to Led Zeppelin  around the clock. I liked The Jackson 5, Simon & Garfunkel’s Greatest Hits, All The Young Dudes by Mott The Hoople & anything by The New Seekers. I had several albums & a first crush on one of the band members, Lyn Paul. George Best had beaten me to Lyn’s band mate Eve Graham. Ed Stewpot Stewart was also linked to Eve, but she later said he was more like a brother & she had enough of them back home already. Ouch. Nevermind, Ed had his vampire lesbians. More of that later. Liking The New Seekers sometimes entailed a playground walk of shame  that resonates to this day so advanced was the gleeful scorn & disdain of classmates. They had a point. The New Seekers were a bland, antiseptic, sickeningly sweet confection, the sort of group people’s parents approved of. The taunts in the playground came from people who had mostly adopted a new musical hero by 1973. Marc Bolan was on the wane & David Bowie seemed largely the preserve of older kids. The new man on the block had a forest of revolting chest hair that was presumably real, unlike the fulsome wig & fake sideburns on his head. Seemingly wrapped in Bacofoil, overweight & wearing absurdly high stacked heels he was enjoying a last, late stab at pop stardom. He is now better known  as the most famous predatory paedophile in the country. Step forward Gary Glitter. If only I had known then what we all know now. I was mocked by people for being sweet on a woman who later sang the theme tune for a film score composed by the impossibly great John Barry, for many years a Chelsea resident. They liked a fat, bald sex offender. Hindsight was no help in a 1970’s playground though & I should have been a better mate & kept Richie away from this unpleasantness. His family got me a ticket for England-Scotland, he got a ticket for the uncoolest music combo imaginable, having watched the FA Cup Final on a knackered telly. I think the highlight of that weekend for Richie was discovering we had an offcut from our living room carpet laid in the bog, rather than the lino more commonly used back then. On such slim pickings were relative levels of poshness ascribed back in 1973!

Come the big day & the trains funneling us to & from Wembley Stadium pleasingly featured the sort of compartments you still see in old black & white films & television programmes like Dad’s Army & The Fall & Rise Of Reginald Perrin On the last leg of the journey to Wembley there was a reminder that some Scotland fans were as busy hating each other as well as us English. With the compartment now packed to the rafters, one grizzled old campaigner emabarked on a lengthy diatribe about the brilliant Kenny Dalglish, still four years away from crossing over the border to Anfield from Parkhead. The longer he rambled the clearer it was that this is driven not by any actual impediments in the wonderful Celtic man’s immaculate playing credentials but merely in his representing the Catholic, green hooped half of Glasgow. The attributes of former Rangers striker Colin Stein, by now at Coventry City but also featuring in the day’s Scotland squad, were held up as far superior to those of Dalglish. It’s all nonsense. Stein was a fine player but no Kenny Dalglish. They were not even that similar as players. Has a failure to disentangle sectarian differences held Scotland back from fulfilling their potential, particularly later in the 1970’s when they had such an excellent squad? The reaction to the appointment of former Chelsea favourite Steve Clarke, the current Scotland coach, suggests it is still an issue today given the intense hate spewed out towards him by Rangers fans on social media, even after subsequent qualification for the forthcoming European Championships. Clarke never played for Celtic but is known to have a soft spot for them. Spain took years to fully assert themselves on the international stage for similar reasons so the Scots should not give up just yet. Then again, when Spain eventually won the World Cup in 2010 they waited until after the final whistle to celebrate rather than beginning the party before they had even left their own country, as Scotland did prior to setting out for Argentina in 1978.

The autograph hunting starts quickly on arrival at the stadium. Richie starts getting signatures added to his match programme. I am slightly smug about this, thinking, with a huge absence of logic, that he is somehow tainting it & needs to collect the autographs separately  to preserve the programme in its barest, pristine form. I am using my copy of Goal magazine, comprised of cheap print on thin paper, & unlike the glossy programme not built to last. Decades later Richie has the ultimate match souvenir. I have indecipherable scrawls cut out of the decaying magazine, signed against alternative backgrounds of smudgy black text, the borders of full page player pin ups. One autograph is on a Puma football boot from an advert featuring Alan Sniffer Clarke, another on the paisley shirt collar of a disembodied man touting the dubious virtues of  Barclays Bank. I had an autograph book, but bafflingly never seemed to have it at the correct moments, including a 1972 trip to the University Parks to see that year’s touring Australian cricket team. My mum took Richie & Bill along as well, and we got an early introduction to the differing responses of top sportsmen when dealing with eager & sometimes overbearing schoolboys. Aussie skipper Ian Chappell, a man generally regarded as prickly, who has subsequently conducted an ugly, puerile & seemingly ceaseless feud with Ian Botham, sat on a bench in the early evening sunshine & calmly & patiently worked his way through the queue while whistling Waltzing Matilda. Brother Greg was equally placid & amenable, which was apparently not always the case. Seems we got both of them on a good day but speak as you find. Wicketkeeper Rodney Marsh produced a packet of fags from his flannels & lit up before he had even left the playing area. An unassuming man who had yet to play a test match called Bob Massie signed readily but David Colley, who had played in the recent 1st Test, had clearly let his arrival on the international scene go to his head. Arrogant & offhand, the 24 carat tit contemptuously told us to buzz off. Could have been worse I suppose. Massie came into the team for the next Test at Lords & famously took 16 wickets (8 in each innings) with truly prodigious swing bowling. He never repeated this feat again but carved his name in Ashes history forever. If you can find anyone who  remembers Colley (6 test wickets at an average of 52) it is likely to be a rebuffed autograph hunter from the early 1970’s, & I can assure you they will remember him as an arsehole.

We get lucky early on at Wembley as two England reserves walk go by, strikers John Richards & Malcolm Macdonald. Richards had first announced himself as an emerging talent with two goals against Derby County for Wolves in 1971, a game I attended, to this day my only visit to Molineux. A terrific servant to Wolves & a superb player. Like Macdonald he is carrying a suit in a Sketchley dry cleaning cover, but unlike Macdonald he manages to quietly sign his name without snapping at me. Regularly betrayed himself as a proper bellend did Supermac, continuing into his managerial career. A proper legend of the game, Sir Matt Busby, emerges from a car & I am genuinely awed, so much so he is gone before I can approach him, though I think Richie may have been quick enough to react in time & beat me to the punch. Nevertheless, seeing the man who rebuilt his beloved, brillant young Man Utd team after the Munich disaster so effectively is still exciting enough to help me quickly forget Macdonald’s rudeness. Billy Wright approaches, sees us, & immediately breaks into a jog as he promises to return in five minutes. He never does return. Shortly to relinquish his status as the most capped England player of all time (105 caps) to Bobby Moore, Billy was Head Of Sport at ATV at the time. ATV had a sizeable stake in Wembley Stadium which as a young boy served me well. One ATV big cheese called Bill Ward had a son, Dave, who worked with my dad at British Leyland in Cowley. Dave got tickets for all the big games at Wembley, so my programme collection flourished in these years. Billy Wright had also given Dave one of his England caps which my dad brought home to show me one day. Nowadays mobiles & decent quality digital cameras would ensure a decent snapshot or 20 of me wearing the cap would now exist. Sadly my Kodak Instamatic was all we had & my dear mum proved to be as adept with a camera as she was with the hairdressing scissors, as the grainy image of me reproduced here illustrates all too well. At least Billy’s cap obscures some of the disastrous pageboy haircut recently imposed on me. Suffice to say that the word curtains followed me around at school for quite a while. Thanks mum.

Little Lord Fauntleroy capped by England. No Chopper or racing bike for this hipster, but his much derided Hercules Jeep, which according to one schoolmate he rode ‘ like a doddering old policeman ‘ Best days of your life my arse.

I collar a few managers too, albeit less exalted than Sir Matt. Benny Fenton of Millwall, the younger brother of ex West Ham manager Ted, was one, Wolves boss Bill McGarry another. He would return triumphantly to Wembley with his team the following season & win the League Cup, courtesy of a Richards winner against Manchester City. Ayr United’s Ally McLeod is one of a number of Scottish faces to emerge from a collection of coaches arriving within a short space of time. Five years later Ally would become one of the most instantly recognisable (& with that extraordinary nose, unforgettable!) faces in Britain when leading an extremely talented Scotland squad to a doomed stab at World Cup glory in Argentina. A great character who promised the earth was Ally. Couldn’t deliver pizza on the big stage sadly. A Hibs coach parks up & we snaffle the autographs of former Scotland & Liverpool goalkeeper Tommy Younger, plus Celtic legend Bertie Auld, a Lisbon Lion who was easing into retirement off the back of a leisurely, uneventful two seasons at Easter Road. Full back John Brownlie also obliged us. He had played in the corresponding fixture the year before, 119,000 people leaving Hampden Park disappointed as England won 1-0 courtesy of a goal by Alan Ball.

Alan Ball eludes us but his father, Alan Ball Sr. hoves into view & I feel an appropriate sense of trepidation as I approach him. Earlier on in the 1972-3 season I had seen his Preston team win 2-0 at Oxford United. The manager’s dugouts at Oxford were at the opposite side of the pitch from the dressing rooms. Ball & his assistant, a military looking man with a severe crew cut, in an era of overflowing locks & fulsome sideburns, were making their way to their dugout at the start if the second half. Around the pitch at the Manor Ground, immediately in front of the walls that separated the fans at the Osler Road from the action, were layers of a bright orange clay/gravel like substance. Having said something to attract Ball Sr’s attention one fan elected to lean over the wall, scoop up some of this stuff & throw it at close distance into the face of the Preston boss. Ball Sr promptly lunged across the wall into the crowd & engaged in some wholly justified fisticuffs with his new found adversary. Fortunately, his deputy extricated him from the melee before things got too involved, but the furious response from Ball underlined that despite his dimunitive stature he is a man it was unwise to cross. His formidable assistant’s name was Arthur Cox, later a well known manager himself, & reputedly every bit as hard as he looked. The orange clay incident is fresh in my memory, & my trepidation was compounded by the knowledge that Mr Ball had been freshly sacked by Preston. Bobby Charlton has been appointed in his place, recently retired after his glittering playing career with a parting gift of a cigarette holder from last opponents Chelsea. I meekly request Alan Ball Sr’s signature & randomly throw open the magazine. On the plus side it doesn’t land on the page with an application form for entering the Goal Girl Of 1973 competition. Unfortunately, it’s worse. Much much worse, as the eyes of the feisty one home in on the banner headline Why I Chose Preston underneath which regular Goal columnist Bobby Charlton is sat at a table smiling as he signs the contract confirming his assumption of the role hitherto occupied by Mr Ball. There is nothing I can do at this point. Alan Sr stares at the page & there is a dramatic pause, as the Earth stands still long enough for the entirety of my admittedly short 11 years & 1 month existence to flash before me. I haven’t come this close to shitting myself in public since the days of Musical Movement. Luckily age may well have come to my rescue as Alan turns his now slightly mad eyed gaze from the page & briefly to my feeble, quivering presence. ‘I’m not signing THAT. I’m not signing anything with Preston on it,’ he says with deadpan firmness but, in all fairness, without significantly raising his voice quite as much as I anticipate. I would like to think that deep down he has seen the funny side but evidence for this is slight. He deftly turns the page himself & signs somewhere else, managing both to avoid adding his monicker alongside the grinning Bobby Charlton & mistakenly applying to enter Goal Girl Of  1973. I smile weakly, pathetically grateful less for the autograph than the continued presence of my front teeth. Alan Sr has shown himself to be a pretty good egg under the circumstances. Sadly he died in a car crash in 1982 at the age of 57, leaving us at an even earlier age than his son, a mere 61 when he succumbed to a heart attack in 2007.

On entering the inner sanctum of the stadium the sheer volume of away support is again apparent. There are Scots everywhere. In years to follow I will see Chelsea away games  where my team’s followers make a more than decent stab at appearing to swallow up the home support. This is the first time I experience the phenomenon however, & from the reverse standpoint. 95,950 is the official attendance & to this day I would love to know what percentage of the crowd were supporting Scotland. A lot!

One man sat in front of us is certainly Scottish & introduced to us as Oxford United striker Hugh Curran’s dad. He greets us with a friendly smile, as indeed did his son when we got autographs from him at the Manor Ground. He would always have a little chat, ask your name & query if your parents knew where you were if you were at a night game. He had scored in the last England-Scotland game at Wembley in 1971 so he trumped some of his countrymen appearing in the line up today in in both achievement & social graces. Not that Hugh was a shrinking violet on the pitch. My brother-in-law played under him at Banbury United & it is fair to say Pep Guardiola has little to learn from some of Mr Curran’s pre match instructions, one being ‘John, go straight up to the centre half at the start & kick him hard. If he asks why just say it’s  in case you were thinking of  doing the same to me.’ Old school for sure was Hugh, & only at Oxford because of a dodgy knee, but a fantastic player & character, still working as a security guard at the local Park & Ride in Oxford as he approached his seventies. Joe Jordan has never had to do that. Then again, this afternoon’s late substitute Jordan proved to be a miserable git to autograph hunting kids. Unlike Hugh he also never scored at Wembley for Scotland.  11  goals in 52 games suggest image rather than achievement allows the word legend to be mistakenly applied to Jordan, who proved a typical Leeds cheat in winning a penalty during a crucial World Cup qualifier at Anfield against Wales in 1977, handball given against the defender marking him when the handball was actually committed by the man with even less charm than teeth. Maradona does it & is called out everywhere, while Joe’s despicability, appealing for, & celebrating, the wrongly awarded penalty, is largely ignored everywhere but Wales. Puke inducing double standards within British football are not confined to the modern game & messrs Kane, Harry & Maguire, Harry.

We are at the opposite end of the stadium from the player’s tunnel but the moment when the teams emerged, to a crescendo of noise, remains a highlight of the day. Both team’s kits were wonderful back then, not a sponsor’s name in sight, just the national badge. Simplicity being genius, England’s kit is plain white socks & plain round, white collarless shirt, with blue shorts. The familiar three lion badge on the shirt ensures they can never be mistaken for anyone else. Sadly Scotland had swapped to the v neck shirt with floppy collars recently returned to favour by most club teams at this juncture. I think Man Utd had started the trend. I’m blaming them anyway. The traditional shirt of old had been equally as beautiful as that of England, with its familiar dark blue alongside white shorts & red socks.  18 months later new boss Don Revie had assumed the reins of England boss & the transformation of our footballers into walking billboards began.

As stated, the YouTube footage says more about the game than I can hope to after 48 years. I am glad I got to see two top Scotland full backs, Sandy Jardine & Danny McGrain, who never plied their trade at clubs south of the border. Two of this Scottish team went on to play for Chelsea, the versatile but injury plagued David Hay & Derek Johnstone, who could play up front but lined up in defence on this day alongside  Man Utd cult figure Jim Six Feet 2 Eyes Of Blue Holton. Johnstone joined Chelsea a decade later, by then sadly overweight & over the hill. He made just one first team appearance in two years. In the England defence alongside Moore was Derby County’s Roy McFarland, a wonderful player who nearly 10 years later I saw playing in the old Division 4, at York, as Player Manager for Bradford City, not needing to break sweat or move around at much more than walking pace so superior was his reading of the game compared to rival players. In fairness he often gave that impression in his pomp at a much higher level. Truly one of the great signings of the Clough/Taylor managerial partnership before it all went sour. I never saw Leeds & England striker Alan Clarke or Man Utd & Scotland’s Lou Macari playing at club level either, so it was good to atch up with them here. Excellent footballers both.

The other major footballing figure of the era that I only ever saw live during this game was Billy Bremner. The contrarian impulse within me allows me to offer a more generous assessment of Billy Bremner than Joe Jordan or Peter Lorimer, both Leeds colleagues & fellow Scotland teammates. For those not around in the late ’60’s & early ’70’s, when Bremner was in his prime, it is difficult to adequately convey how much he united opinion within two camps in entirely different directions. Leeds United fans loved & revered him. The rest of us hated the fucker. He appeared to epitomise the club he played for. Aggressive, belligerent, ultra competitive, frequently brilliant, & horrible. A flame haired, pocket sized midfield dynamo, Billy, despite his captaincy status & closeness to crooked manager Don Revie, the Richard Nixon of English football, may ultimately have been given a bum deal from those of us who despised  Leeds United & all who sailed in her. In many ways Johnny Giles, also brilliant but a more quietly calculating midfield assassin, was closer to Revie in his cooler form of cynical brutality. When Bremner was famously sent off in the 1974 Charity Shield, for a dust up with Liverpool’s Kevin Keegan, the catalyst had been a quite outrageous Giles right hook to the Liverpool man’s jaw a few moments earlier. There is a recent YouTube podcast clip  where the smug thug happily admits to the crime under the title Why I punched Kevin Keegan By Johnny Giles. Don’t bother watching it, the answer is simple. Giles was a psychotic little shit who nonetheless would not have dared try something similar on Keegan’s team mate, pock marked, man of granite Tommy Smith. Billy liked to wear his heart on his sleeve as well as opposition blood on the soles of his boots, & consequently seemed more likeable than the odious Giles as a consequence. It was rumoured that colleagues of the famously tight Elland Road unit often avoided Bremner off the pitch so keen on a drink & a ciggie was he. There is also a touching naivety reviewing his observations on the famous Chelsea – Leeds emnity when interviewed on the terrific 1995 documentary series Kicking & Screaming. Billy described it as a nice rivalry in which Leeds tended to win out in league games, Chelsea the cup matches. Cut to Chelsea’s Ian Hutchinson for his impressions. ‘Hate. No other word to describe it.’ Bremner sadly died at 55 but I am glad I got to see him play his heart out, especially in the blue of Scotland rather then the white of Leeds. Dirty Leeds. The first Leeds fixture after Billy’s death, in December 1997, was at Chelsea. Despite my trepidation (silences for both Bobby Moore & Sir Matt Busby in the same decade were rudely interrupted at Stamford Bridge) the minute’s silence was immaculately observed,the death of a small man clearly casting a giant shadow over the football watching lives of anyone there over 30. By half time Leeds were down to 9 men having had Alf Inge Haaland & Gary Kelly sent off, but still held on for a bloodyminded, defiant, ugly goalless draw.

It’s what he would have wanted.

Mick Channon – in the England line up on this day wearing a much nicer kit than this eyesore! Some people remember this post Ramsey Admiral England  kit with fondness. Not me, it evokes unhappy memories of an era when the crooked Don Revie turned all matters surrounding our national team into a circus, its players into clowns. Mick Channon was an excellent player & one of England’s better performers throughout the mid ’70’s. He signed this for me at the opening of a sportshop in 1975, & was thorougly obliging & pleasant to everyone, despite my Uncle Tony haranguing him to ‘tell your mate Osgood to cut out the rough stuff’ at the same time as my Auntie Freda was inviting him round for his Sunday dinner any time he chose. Channon had scored a hat trick for Southampton at Oxford the year before, in  a 4-0 win capped off by Peter Osgood nonchalently hitting a shot into the roof of the net. Osgood had earlier committed a shocking foul on U’s winger Brian Heron, having stalked him from one end of the pitch to the other following Heron’s shocking decision to legally nick the ball off the former Chelsea legend. I suspect Mick Channon failed to pass on Uncle Tony’s message sadly. He never did turn up for his roast beef & Yorkshires either, but did diplomatically imply he preferred the Ramsey England era to that of Don Revie when asked about their contrasting managerial styles. ‘Alf was Alf. Revie’s ‘The Boss.’

After the game, Richie & I continued our quest for autographs. The Scottish hordes evaporated surprisingly quickly, en-route for continued drinking throughout the hostelries of Central London, prior to a hazy, hungover, Irn-Bru laden Sunday morning. An air of stately quiet Englishness is quickly restored & Richie & I are free to pursue more autographs as Eric leaves us to our own devices & slips off for another quiet half or two. Perhaps Billy Wright will reappear. Perhaps not. There is nothing doing for a short while but eventually we see two well dressed young men, in conversation & pacing the concrete aimlessly. The sky has been moody all day, mirroring the Wembley concourse. Grey. There is nobody near the two men as we check them out. It is two of Scotland’s Leeds United contingent, Peter Hotshot Lorimer & striker Joe Jordan, a 74th minute substitute for the splendid Lou Macari during the match, still not that well known then, now regarded as the totem for toothless ’70’s line leading muscular aggression. In 1973 Mick Jones is still the Leeds number 9 that most of us recognise, but injuries are taking their toll & will force him into premature retirement by 1975. Lorimer is already a legend, owner of the most ferocious right foot shot in Britain . I approach him first & he silently adds his signature to my copy of Goal. Fortunately I do not proffer the cover page showing Sunderland captain Bobby Kerr gleefully holding aloft the FA Cup won a fortnight earlier at this very venue. Lorimer was denied an equalizing goal in that game courtesy of a now legendary & utterly breathtaking close range save by  Sunderland’s stalwart keeper, the wonderful Jim Montgomery. Today, Lorimer had squandered Scotland’s best chance with a tame effort which Peter Shilton had dealt with rather more comfortably. He couldn’t look more miserable if he had simultaneously discovered his wife had left him, his dog had been run over & his todger was caught in the zip fly of his flared suit trousers. Nonetheless, he had given me his autograph. I am less lucky with Jordan. He ignores my polite request, & indeed my very existence. Richie has less luck with Lorimer than I do. Perhaps in solidarity with his mate he decides he cannot spare another 5 seconds of his life to sign Richie’s programme too. This pettiness almost seems worse, at least Jordan consistently remains a surly prick throughout our short & joyless encounter. With the battle hardened optimism of the seasoned autograph hunter I plaintively request Jordan’s signature again, lest he has merely not seen me as he continues mumbling to Lorimer. Richie has also persisted  with Lorimer, not unreasonably given that Hotshot has already come across for me. No joy. Richie also asks Jordan. Eventually there is a sotto voce two word response from the man soon to become one of the most fearsome target man in Europe. The second word’s off. Softly spoken as it is I think the first word is buzz. We’ll give him the benefit of the doubt. Big Joe has gone full David Colley on us. At some point Richie offering up his programme leads to it tumbling to the floor but this fails to move our two star footballers either, as he stoops & scrambles to recover his prized possession around their feet. Off the pitch Jordan & Lorimer are conducting themselves in a manner befitting their match status that day. As losers. You never forget the rude ones. Looking back objectively it is possible to have some sympathy. Two proud Scots who have just lost to the auld enemy, a fortnight after defeat to Division 2 opposition in the showpiece event of the season, looking for a few moments peace without being hassled by these pesky kids. But was 10 seconds apiece to scrawl their names & help make the day of two prepubescent boys really too much to ask? Nobody was asking them to mine coal or recite a soliloquy from Hamlet. The irony these days is there are  legions of players from the 1970’s only too happy to sign photos for  memorabilia sites to help supplement their pension funds. It is a popular contemporary device for many players of this era, often a way to make a few extra bob when plodding the after dinner & golf club evening beats. I note that ebay  isn’t short of material like this  featuring Lorimer & Jordan, & doubtless the market for such stuff largely hails from dewey eyed nostalgics around during their playing days. Many of them were probably 11 year old boys in 1973 too. Evidently, Peter & Joe can spare the time now. It’s a no from me. 48 years too late. I am confident Richie feels the same. Players in the modern era are often dismissed as pampered, overpaid primadonnas too distanced from today’s fans. Ex-players from my youth are often quick to condemn this & cite the greater closeness to the fans they enjoyed in days of yore. A lot of them are being, at best, slightly disingenuous here. Furthermore, a couple of seasons ago I mooched around the Fulham Road after a game waiting for the obnoxious Cardiff City away support to make themselves scarce. On returning back towards the ground, pending my walk back to Victoria, I found the traffic there had come to a standstill, impatient motorists beeping away less than merrily on their horns at the three vehicles nearest to the Stamford Bridge forecourt, apparently the root of the problem. The drivers of the three cars were Eden Hazard, Willian & Victor Moses. No autograph or (more commonly these days) selfie was refused, & if making people’s day meant holding  up traffic & incurring the wrath of idiots dumb enough to  drive past a Premier League ground on matchday so be it. I can think of plenty of players from the 1960’s & ’70’s who would have driven out of the ground without winding down their windows, or indeed giving these fans as much as a second look. Two names spring to mind immediately….

 

We only catch up with one other Scotland player who had featured on the day, Man Utd’s Willie Morgan, who toys with us by dragging us a decent distance all the way to a hideous car park before signing for us. Why? Because he can presumably. I am fond of Willie because he was the star on one of my first ever football cards, a handsome young man in a Burnley kit. I suspect Willie didn’t want for female attention although our brief (but not as brief as it should have been) encounter here suggested his biggest admirer confronted him via reflection first thing every morning in the shaving mirror. Still pops up here & there does Willie, & the old bugger still has an impressively full head of hair. A couple of years later the legendary England wicketkeeper Alan Knott showed a canny & mutually agreeable propensity for exploiting schoolboy attention by agreeing to sign his name only if we carried his kitbag to the boot of his car. We were then summonsed into the Kent dressing room where West Indian John Shepherd was in conversation with Deadly Derek Underwood. Deadly, one of the finest slow left handed bowlers in the history of the game, was clagging off a cigarette. We got to see behind scenes, which was cool. In return Knotty, a funny little man wearing a funny little hat, looking like an extra from The Sound Of Music, got the requested errand fulfilled before signing. Fair exchange is no robbery. Willie was just pulling our plonkers for the sake of it.

We do snare one England player, & a significant one at that. He is wearing a light coloured raincoat, a tall, slim figure hunched under a shelter in the car park. By his feet was an Adidas bag, a bit posher than the ones we usually had at school but not hugely different. Nobody but us took a blind bit of notice of this unassuming figure as he stood there, seemingly waiting for his lift or a taxi. It was Martin Peters. An hour earlier he had scored the winning goal. Martin didn’t engage in cheery banter with us either, & though we would have loved it if he had, just giving us the prized autograph is enough. It is not untypical of his career that during match commentary Brian Moore disparages Martin’s overall performance on the day. A clever, elusive, frequently misunderstood player, who would definitely thrive in the modern game, there seemed to be many occasions when his contribution to a match was ridiculed only for him to have scored or made crucial goals at the crunch. Suffice to say Sir Alf Ramsey didn’t leave him out too often, & he scored in a World Cup Final. He sadly died in December 2019 having suffered from dementia for several years beforehand, all the more shocking as when I last saw him walking into Stamford Bridge, prior to a Spurs match in the early noughties, he looked, then approaching 60, little or no different from his goalscoring pomp on this day in 1973.

The need to locate Eric coincides with a murmer that Ed Stewpot Stewart is around, fresh from his  attempt to lead us all in a communal, singalong rendition of Long Haired Lover from Liverpool. Mercifully this has been erased from my memory, the match programme my only guide to the grisly setlist. I’m not sure we ever catch up with Ed on this occasion, although the ownership of many of the illegible scrawls on my cheap, yellowing, Goal magazine originating scraps of paper are a head scratching mystery to me now. He also popped up at Blenheim Palace the following year, when Richie’s mum & dad accompanied us to a charity cricket match featuring Goodie Tim Brooke-Taylor, a Womble, & one each from the cast of Please Sir & The Benny Hill Show, the wonderful Bob Todd, who lived near a friend of mine & used to wear his slippers down the local. It turns out Ed was something of an amorous swordsman in these days, linked with both Ingrid Pitt & Madeleine Smith, who co-starred in a film called Vampire Lovers long beloved by many from my generation, largely due to a scene in which the former seduces the famously buxom latter. A saucier Hammer horror film than usual, it featured on ITV’s regular 10.30 Friday night horror film series one summer night towards the end of the seventies & I get the impression that every teenage boy in the country saw it.  I  once watched one of those list type documentaries where one of the celebrity interviewees that wasn’t  Stuart Maconie summed up the effect of Vampire Lovers on both himself & countless other hormone frenzied youths in the 1970’s. ‘I started watching it a boy & finished it a man.’ We’ll leave it there. Stewpot wooed them both? Respect. Losing out on Eve Graham to George Best must have lost its sting pretty rapidly. If only Ed had appeared at Wembley with a vampire lesbian.

We eventually find ourself weaving our way round a bar/eaterie which has a uniformed doorman, posh hat & all. He looks fed up, & a colleague sniggers at him that he is narked because Cloughie wouldn’t  give him his autograph. In the latter stages of his glorious Derby County managerial career, & also revered for his idiosyncratic punditry, we prick our ears up at the prospect of nabbing Brian Clough’s autograph but we don’t track him down either. We do find Eric & as we do another man comes up  from a stairway towards us. With the eternal optimism of the schoolboy signature hunters on the prowl we sense he is famous. I am not sure why, because neither Richie or I have ever set eyes on him in our lives, although for a split second I wrongly think it might be Colin Stein. Our prey has seen us &, via body language, betrayed  his eligibility. He signs my magazine & on Richie’s programme he also kindly reveals his identity. He is a well built chap with chiselled features that are offset by the kindly smile he wears while dealing with us. Screw you Joe Jordan. We initially think he has written Poland’s number 5 on Richie’s programme but  it was possibly number 2. His name is Jacek Gmoch, a former Polish international, by then the assistant to their national boss Kazimierz Gorski. A few months later they both return to Wembley with Poland & break our collective hearts by claiming a 1-1 draw & qualifying for the World Cup ahead of England, effectively finishing the reign of Sir Alf Ramsey. Poland go on to claim third place, proving they were no mugs in the first place. In 1978 Jacek has the top job & Poland go out in the group stage behind Argentina & Brazil. England again fail to qualify. Scotland reach both both the 1974 & 1978 tournaments but never make it out of the group stages despite possessng a fine array of talent within both squads, & making, as ever, a huge amount of noise. Now 82, Jacek Gmoch later had a long coaching career extending deep into the first decade of this century at club level, including two stints in charge of Panathinaikos, a quarter of a century apart. He was nice. I hope he’s well.

The journey back home is more subdued & free of Glaswegian bitterness. An elderly lady sat opposite from Eric bemoans the fact that the West End tickets her son has given her are to see Anthony Newley in The Good Old Bad Old Days rather than for the Max You’re A Pink Toothbrush Bygraves schmalz fest she had originally anticipated. Being both a polite man, & possessed of some musical taste, Eric does his best to discreetly persuade her that she has in fact got a better deal than she imagines. Newley, recently divorced from Joan Collins at the time, was a fascinating character with a long & distinguished showbiz career, still widely recognised, accurately, as the man who had David Bowie’s voice before David Bowie did. A cursory listen to either of their recorded outputs, epecially Bowie’s early albums, will quell any opposition to this theory. He was the Artful Dodger in David Lean’s 1948 cinema adaptation of Oliver Twist, & also the man who broke the fourth wall on British TV for the first time in the visionary, ground breaking 1960 comedy series The Strange World Of Gurney Slade. Like Nina Sinone’s Feelin’ Good? Newley wrote that, along with several musicals in tandem with Leslie Bricusse, including Willy Wonka And The Chocolate Factory in 1971. Bygraves was a hideous, Apartheid friendly old ham famous for his hugely popular Singalonga Max series of records, undoubtedly beloved by the blue rinse brigade back then, & undoubtedly, irredeemably, awful. The actor Keith Allan, working as a West End stagehand in the mid 1970’s, once joined the high kicking chorus calls at the curtain call for a Bygraves show at the Victoria Palace, totally undermining Max’s wringing the last drops of audience adulation by also being completely naked. A furious Bygraves advised him incorrectly that he would never work again, whereupon Allen decamped to a pub over the road where he was besieged with autograph requests from simultaneously shocked & delighted elderly, female audience members. For the ending alone that may have been one Bygraves performance more worthy of a visit than Anthony Newley in The Good Old Bad Old Days, by all accounts not his best work, but with a jaunty theme tune very apt for 1973, befitting so much about the era, football & all, at least as far as these eyes & ears are concerned.

Trapped in the middle of the changeover to the comprehensive system, Richie & I subsequently spent two years at Margaret Road Middle School, until then a secondary modern, & effectively a glorified holiday camp where little happened save for blowing out Mr Jackson’s bunsen burner whenever his back was turned in Science lessons, & the occasional sound of teenage boys’ balls dropping. At 13 we went to different schools. Being coerced to stick crayons up your nose or go to see The New Seekers had possibly lost its allure by then. As the years passed Richie & I saw each other less & less, the odd night in the pub aside, but it was always good to catch up with him. I visited him in hospital when he had a motorbike accident in our teens. In 1999 we bumped into each other on the coach back to Oxford after supporting opposing teams at Stamford Bridge, Chelsea winning a 4th round FA Cup Replay against Oxford United having pushed their luck as far as was humanly possible in the first game at the Manor Ground. A few years later, not having seen Richie in a couple of years, I had a random dream that I was back in my schooldays & visiting  him & his family once again. About to go through the front door at work the following day I heard a voice call out to me & there parking his car in Broad Street was Richie. In my last job he came to do some work on the telephone system & we had a chat about our 1973 Wembley trip. Confused by my stupidity in using Goal for autograph collecting purposes he kindly obtained a match programme for me 45 years after the game, assuming I had failed to buy one. A lovely gesture. I had crudely scrawled the substitution details on the centre pages of mine back in the day so another copy was still welcome. Eric sadly died in 2019, having taken to his bed for the last 10 years of his life. Given the current mess we’re in he may have had the right idea. Prior to that he had continued his half pint pub crawls deep into his 70’s, latterly staying out for longer than had been usual. Richie went looking for him one night, the puzzle of this change in pattern explained when he found Eric in The Old Tom. This is a pub I can never take entirely seriously since a friend recounted seeing mutton chopped actor Ronald Magill in there many years ago, ardently pursuing a couple of young male friends  around its confined spaces. Ronald played Amos Brearly, the irascible co-owner of The Woolpack  in Emmerdale Farm, for what seemed like forever tha knows. Ask your grannie. Eric was well away on the evening Richie found him in there, having quietly taken to adding Jagerbombs to the hitherto strictly half pint menu. No wonder it was taking him longer to find his way home. He is much missed. Richie assures me his mum is as physically robust as ever, but sadly she is now stricken by Alzheimer’s Disease, that most hideous form of dementia. Richie is currently back at home acting as her full time carer. This makes meeting up difficult, especially during the pandemic, but we have stayed in touch, & plan to have a drink together very soon.

I got home from Wembley that night & proudly offered up to my dad the pitiful presentation offered up by the signatures on my copy of Goal. He had his customary swipe at the poor handwriting of many of the players before his brow became furrowed & he looked at me quizzically prior to asking the inevitable question. ‘Why on earth didn’t you just get them to sign your programme?’ Game, set & match Richie & with my own father confirming his belief in my own idiocy another appropriate tune is evoked. It was released in 1973, & I first heard it in Richie’s bedroom on his tiny cassette player all those years ago. Memories, like idiocy, can be sweet too.

Unless they involve asking Joe Jordan for an autograph of course.