Charlton’s Burning

 

FRI APRIL 8 1977

Fulham 3 Chelsea 1

Oxford United 0 Swindon Town 0

SAT APRIL 9 1977

Chelsea 2 Luton Town 0

MON APRIL 10 1977

Charlton Athletic 4 Chelsea 0

Here we go rocking down the West London motorway
And on your left you’ll see the tower blocks
Built in 1963
With hard cash payments from the GLC
And over there you’ll see Westbourne Park
You don’t wanna go there
When it gets dark
London’s burning!

Strummer/Jones 1977

I went to four matches in four days during the Easter weekend of 1977. Many footballers played three times in that period. We can only imagine the reaction of Chelsea striker Alvaro Morata, currently on loan to Athletico Madrid (mercifully with no plans to return) if he were ever asked to play so many games in so short a time. Suffice to say he would be aghast at having to curtail such pleasures as posting footage of himself brushing his wife’s hair on Instagram & actually be expected to concentrate intensively on the activity that sustains his affluent lifestyle. One delicate flower is Mr Morata.

As things currently stand Alvaro can brush away to his heart’s content, stuck in lockdown limbo like the rest of us as a hideous global pandemic kills  thousands every day & brings nation after nation to a social & ecomomic standstill. The sun shines as I write this, as it did in 1977, but there the  similarities end. There will be no football, no family Easter gatherings & for myself & many others little or no direct social interaction at all. Back then the fears of those around me were based on the havoc wreaked by fellow Chelsea fans & the presence of predatory paedophiles in central London. Now a two metre or less intrusion into your personal space from the most innocuous fellow human imaginable could lead to them unwittingly writing you a death warrant. The economic uncertainty, urban decay & racial tensions of the 1970’s are well documented but I still feel like spending a little time back there today. Being 15 & frequently (if incorrectly) believing yourself to be invulnerable suddenly feels hugely preferable to being 58 & knowing you have never been more at the mercy of the fickle finger of fate. For those of us lucky enough to survive this nightmare, & see their clubs do likewise, the first football match attended afterwards will be a huge celebration of some kind of return to normality, walking to the grounds we love, smelling the onions & dubious burgers & hot dogs from the refeshment stalls lining the surrounding streets, drinking in pubs with friends, dodging the tedious ticket touts & sharing the joy or misery of a goal with the stranger in the next seat. We will not be so quick to take these things for granted again. Things did not go so well on the pitch for Chelsea on this Easter of 1977, but I loved it anyway. When you have actually been to the game & experienced it as an event defeat still stings but never feels quite as bad. The dreadful results at Fulham & Charlton hurt. The final score at the next Chelsea match will be irrelevant. Everyone there will be a winner regardless of the outcome.

FRI APRIL 8 1977

Fulham 3 Chelsea 1  

The Long Good Friday. History has it that the debut album by The Clash was released on this day. Naturally before the morning was out I had raced out into the street to declare war on the powers that be having set fire to all my flares, chopped off most of my hair, applied peroxide to what remained, pierced my ear with a compass from my school pencil case, sniffed the cheap glue normally used to paste match reports into my Chelsea scrapbook, smashed up my Emerson, Lake & Palmer albums & gobbed on my next door neighbour, the amusingly named Mrs Alcock. Quite a full morning really.

Remarkably none of this is actually true. The only punk rock thing about me in 1977 was not actually owning any Emerson, Lake & Palmer albums, a personal badge of honour for me to this very day. The Clash became a very important band for me but I did not have a clue who they were at this time. My meagre record collection at the time was confined to cassette tapes of The Beatles Red & Blue anthologies, a Four Tops collection, some Diana Ross albums, Gallagher & Lyle’s Breakaway & most recently, & at no little expense, Stevie Wonder’s magnificent Songs In The Key Of Life, purchased in instalments via my Auntie Freda’s Freeman’s catalogue. The kids are not yet on the street, at least not round our way. My hair was still a shapeless, page boy gone awry mess, the flares remained in place for another year, I was yet to develop any coherent political ideals & poor Mrs Alcock never did me any harm & also made magnificent rock cakes. When the smell of these drifted out of her kitchen window I would hang around the alleyway betwen her house & ours in the hope she would once again invite me in to sample one straight out of the oven, still piping hot. I was getting past the stage of doing this by 1977 but the memory still lingered. She was a funny old stick but was never going to be gobbed on, nor indeed was anyone else. Mmmm. Hot rock cakes. Why CBS, the not very punk rock record label to The Clash, released their debut on a Bank Holiday is a mystery, but Wikipedia records it as fact so it must surely be so….

What I really did that Good Friday was rise unfashionably early for a boy on the eve of his 15th birthday & make my way round to my friend Nick Bradley’s flat on the nearby Wood Farm housing estate. Chelsea were away at Fulham in the old Division 2 , an 11.30 morning kick off. Nick’s dad was driving us to the game, but Nick lived with his mum. His parents were divorced & not on good terms, so we were primed for a toot on the horn of his dad’s trusty old Morris Minor as he won’t come to the door. Nick told me his dad sometimes phoned the flat to speak to him & just said something rude & hung up if his mum answered, lacking the PA that Alan Partridge employed to do the same on his behalf a couple of decades later. The more trying practical issues of having divorced parents had not really occurred to me before, busier envying kids at school in the same boat joining a shorter, separate queue to collect their dinner tickets, which they didn’t have to pay for either. Possibly I was a tad shallow back then. I do remember being in a state of nervous excitement, a pre-match standard for me until my late 30’s when the football had improved, the team were winning more regularly & it belatedly occurred to me that there  might be more important things in life to worry about. Fulham was to be my first away London derby & the season had entered an important phase. Having not signed a player in nearly 3 years, manager Eddie McCreadie had built a new team around Ken Shellito’s successful youth squad of the mid ’70’s, ditching several colleagues from his own, illustrious playing career in the process. The transition had not been painless but the current season had been exhilarating with the last three games all won, the most recent a 3-1 home victory against Blackburn, earned while I was watching the late Laurie Cunningham crown an impressive home debut for WBA with a goal against Jack Charlton’s joyless but ruthlessly efficient Middlesbrough, all as Red Rum won his third Grand National at Aintree. The finishing line is approaching in the football season as well, & dreams are growing of Chelsea breasting the tape in a promotion winning position. With the anticipation comes the nerves however. Chelsea have been letting fans fans down consistently since 1971 & the thought of being overtaken by Bolton & Nottingham Forest (Wolves seem sure to be promoted) & killed by the hope once again is too much to bear.

Once Mr Bradley had picked us up my anxiety about the game would have grown. I cannot remember my exact thoughts as we made our way to London that day, but can have a pretty decent stab at it. For the home game against Fulham a few months earlier Nick had a box set of Sherlock Holmes novels in the back of the car & I enjoyed a first introduction to the brilliant detective  via Conan Doyle’s debut Holmes novel A Study In Scarlet. There were no distractions this time so my thoughts would have been concentrated on the match, possibly punctuated by wonderment at Mr Bradley’s favourite driving party trick, informing us all of the exact place of origin of whatever fellow motorist incurred his wrath & inviting them to fuck off back there. He had a temper did Mr Bradley, though this had its comic moments. At one game a Chelsea goal caused  enough of a celebratory scrummage in the East Stand Lower for the person next to him to hurtle into him at force. Mr Bradley’s reaction veered in a split second from an expletive laden barrage of abuse to a contrite  ‘I’m terribly sorry madam’ accompanied by a simultaneous  doffing of his trilby on realising that his unwitting assailant was female. This was carried off with some elan & I have never seen such a complete volte face applied so  seamlessly since. He was not a glad sufferer of fools & naturally this made me, a fool on the verge of his 15th birthday, a little anxious on occasions.

The sound of the Westway. Legendary frontman Joe Strummer coined this phrase to describe the music of The Clash. London’s Burning was written from a derelict house as he witnessed the cars weaving their way around this elevated dual carriageway connecting central London to the suburban sprawl in its Western quarter. The Westway is not a beautiful construct & once at White City the concrete greyness of London was overwhelming, ageing, decaying housing dwarfed by the ugly high rise tower blocks bedecked with people’s washing, the Portobello Road  street market adding some much needed humanity & colour. By every Saturday then & now. In 1977 the country was firmly in the doldrums economically & the occupants of such sub standard living quarters were having to deal with inflation, rising unemployment & perennial industrial unrest. The seeds for growing racial intolerance, planted by the sinister mischief of politicians like Enoch Powell less than a decade earlier, are seemingly flourishing. Chancellor Denis Healey had been forced to go to the International Monetary Fund for a huge, record breaking loan to bail the country out the year before. By the time North Sea Oil revenue began to flood in Healey (a formidable politician who would eat Boris Johnson alive in Parliament today) was in the Shadow Cabinet & had the time to buy books on Spitting Image & Chinese art from yours truly, working in a bargain book shop after more than a year on the dole. Leaderene Thatcher, the great patriot, subsequently greeted the North Sea windfall by crushing the miners & their communities, alongside other traditional British industries, selling out home produce by swamping us with imported foriegn goods & fighting an old style colonial war in the South Alantic caused by the incompetence of her own government.

Joe Strummer finished off London’s Burning with guitarist Mick Jones at the latter’s flat near The Westway. Jones is a QPR fan. At the height of the band’s fame Strummer lived in a flat at the World’s End, a mere hop, skip & jump from Stamford Bridge. This leads some Blues followers to claim him as one of ours, but I am not aware there is any substance to this. He never stood next to me on The Shed or helped rock the teabar in the old West Stand. In an NME interview Paul Weller once recalled watching Chopper Harris in his youth & included a Chelsea programme among the artefacts on a Style Council album cover but other then The Jam once playing at Stamford Bridge in their formative years there is little evidence of him strolling down the Fulham Road on matchdays too often. Steve Jones of the Sex Pistols supports Chelsea from his home in LA now but didn’t back in the day, & John Lydon may also have lived just down the road but has always been a (predictably vocal!) dyed in the wool Gooner. Their drummer Paul Cook remains the one figure from the iconic early days of punk to have nailed his Chelsea colours to the mast ever since. You still see him at games now. The image at the top of this piece is therefore something of a conceit based on the band’s association with The Westway, my gateway to London since it opened in 1970, the same year as my first ever trip to Stamford Bridge.The Clash is a 35 minute angry tirade encapsulating the frustration & anger engendered by the state of the nation’s capital in 1977. It is also a salute & clarion call to those finding (or searching for) ways of countering the suffocating, overpowering emotion the status quo provokes in its youth. Boredom. Songs about dreary Labour Exchange experiences, incompetent bureaucracy, police brutality & lying, drug addicted girlfriends sit next to celebrations of minor pop stars turned sex party hosts, the black community’s response to growing prejudice & inequality, cramming as much pleasure into your weekend as you can & the dubious joys of obtaining cheap prophylactics from pub vending machines. You can’t fit all of London life in 1977 into a 35 minute snapshot but The Clash remains a pretty decent stab at it. I don’t listen to it often these days but it shits all over Gallagher & Lyle.

Driving along The Westway may be a mundane daily necessity for thousands of motorists daily, but it has inspired art since its opening, & continues to, from  two works by the author JG Ballard, Crash in 1973 & The Concrete Island in 1974, through to Blur’s lovely Under The Westway in 2012, penned & sung by Damon Albarn, another Chelsea supporter. Crash delves into the world of symphorophilia, specifically those whose erotic demands are only satisfied by the staging of traffic accidents, sometimes watching, sometimes directly participating. Sustaining serious injury is an incentive rather than a barrier, the prospect of death likewise. Not how most of us get our kicks on route 66 but a genuine phenomenon nonetheless. Crash was eventually adapted for cinema in 1996, directed by David Cronenberg & starring James Spader, Holly Hunter, Elias Koteas, Rosanna Arquette & the stunningly beautiful Deborah Kara Unger. I would say pulchitrudinous but that would be pretentious. Oops. Too late. Good word pulchitrudinous. One day I’ll learn how to pronounce it as well. Musical tributes to Ballard’s novel  had begun before the ’70’s were out via The Normal’s Warm Leatherette, this pervy opus later covered by the great Grace Jones shortly after on the album of the same name.

A tear of petrol
Is in your eye
The hand brake
Penetrates your thigh
Quick – Let’s make love
Before you die

More tea vicar? In the absence of Nick’s Conan Doyle box set teaching me about Sherlock Holmes’ cocaine habit  a distraction on the way to Craven Cottage would have been welcome but perhaps not that sort. Mr Bradley would not have approved of 1977 incarnations of James Spader & Deborah Kara  joining me in the back seat & at best merely soiling the upholstery. The hundreds of coach trips to & from London  I have made since have all been marked by an absence of symphorophiliac activity. I suppose Morris Minors & public transport are not conducive to getting your car crash rocks off. One of my big regrets from my bookselling career is not staying to the JG Ballard event we held one evening in the late ’80’s. I went to the pub instead. Ballard would probably have understood though. Even in those less puritanical times the rider requests of most authors were usually fairly modest, a glass of wine or mineral water frequently sufficing. Muhammad Ali & his entourage had a McDonalds. Ballard asked for a bottle of scotch. Good man. Hope he didn’t drive home though.

On Good Friday 1977 the journey will have involved two hours  hours of ruminations on the threats posed by an out of form Fulham & the recent injury to my favourite player, Scotland international David Hay, beset with a detached retina & out for the season. Two years earlier a dismal home defeat to Manchester City had opened the relegation trapdoor ever wider. A cheeky Steve Kember chip had set up Hay inside the opposition 6 yard box & he contrived to miss his kick completely. He had a cataract problem & was suffering from blurred & double vision. He later recounted that in one game he had missed an easy chance on account of the double vision leading to him kicking the wrong one of the two balls on view to him! I have a pretty good idea what game that was. He had played well in the 1976-7 season until receiving an elbow in the face. Subsequently he lost the sight in one eye. Professionally the move from Celtic to a financially imperilled  Chelsea immediately after impressive performances in the 1974 World Cup was a disaster but he has never been remotely disparaging towards the club, & turned up at the Eddie McCreadie reunion/book launch 40 years after this season apparently as courteous & gentlemanly as ever. A class act. There are more iconic Chelsea players from this troubled decade for the club who could learn a thing or too from David Hay. They never have & ever will. Their loss.

David Hay

There are two players who concern me in the Fulham team. One is Teddy Maybank, recently replacing Rodney Marsh as the cocky, blonde medallion wearing central striker in the Cottagers line up. Teddy had been loaned out there successfully from Chelsea earlier in the season, recalled to Stamford Bridge for a goal free three game spell owing to Steve Finnieston’s injury, then sold to Fulham for £75,000 prior to the transfer deadline. Maybank had scored twice in the previous match against Sheffield United & the odds are short on him invoking the immutable law of the ex & scoring against a Chelsea side containing so many of his  successful youth team mates from a few years back, first team colleagues mere weeks ago. The relish with which fans of other teams goad you about a goal scored by a player you have sold to another club is never easy to stomach. If it involves a local rival in a vital, high profile match it promises to be unbearable. Fulham have plenty of experience, former Spurs full back Ray Evans & seasoned Division 2 midfielder Alan Slough amongst them, not to mention the great Bobby Moore, in truth no longer at his best & set for retirement but still a legend likely to pull out all the stops in this match. Hard man Peter Storey, a fellow England international & Double winner with Arsenal in 1971, has also signed just before the deadline, doubtless set to put his foot in & ruffle a few opposition feathers with Fulham just one point off the bottom three. Bar Maybank there is only one other player who truly troubles me & that, needless to say, is George Best. Why? Because he’s George Best. Just back from a car crash thought likely to rule him out for the season, George had played well in the corresponding Christmas fixture at Stamford Bridge. Heavier & slower than in his pomp, but still only 31 & able to control large passages of play from the midfield role he had now adopted, George had taken defeat badly in that game. Referee John Homewood had been confronted in the tunnel & a heated argument led to George being shown a belated red card. Red cards had only been introduced in 1976 & George was one of the first to see one, away at Southampton on October 2nd, the late David Wagstaffe narrowly beating him to the dubious honour of being the first player ever to get one earlier on the same day. Following his tunnel dismissal at Chelsea George had flamboyantly flicked the V’s at Homewood, later denying he had done so at the disciplinary tribunal. Nick & his dad had their season tickets right next to the player’s tunnel & we had seen the whole thing. The old rascal was as guilty as sin. He had a habit of turning it on against Chelsea throughout his career & I feared he might have a point to prove. Loaded editor/Creation Records types who started sucking football’s blood following Gazza’s weepy Italian meltdown have encouraged a received wisdom that primetime George  Best is the bearded renegade in red, as depicted on the cover of The Wedding Present’s album from 1987, entitled, logically enough, George Best. Dave Gedge & his boys may have been ahead of the curve but they unwittingly helped spawn a tedious phenomenon, namely music biz tossers flooding the media with their mindless revisionism regarding football generally, & George’s career specifically. How many of them  set foot in a football ground during George Best’s career? The birds, booze, incessant public scrutiny & carrying a declining Man Utd team around on his back for 4 years were telling on the man by the time the beard surfaced regularly. You simply cannot compare the George Best of the late 1960’s with the slower, chunkier, facially hirsute Best struggling not to kill manager Tommy Docherty in the 1973-4 season. As he was a genius there will be some fount of footballing knowledge who will produce the odd clip of George coming up with the goods wearing the face fur, but there are lots more when he isn’t. In football as in life George was actually immeasurably better when clean shaven. Best’s first wife Angie told an interesting tale in the last of the plethora of Best documentaries that  have appeared over the years. She explained that the painful progression towards an imminent alcoholic binge was aways signified by George putting down the Gillette & developing stubble. It was all downhill from there. Ignore the now geriatric hipsters. Beards are bad man.

George Best in his late ’60’s pomp playing at Craven Cottage for Manchester United. Fellow Fulham legend Les Barrett in the backgound. A 7th birthday present from my Auntie Elsie. 5 Bob well spent!

Craven Cottage remains a unique ground, & undoubtedly one of the more attractive football stadiums in England. In 1975 Chelsea fans had misbehaved as the team slumped to a 2-0 defeat but rightly or wrongly I never sensed a great hatred towards the club from Fulham supporters back then. Perhaps that incident was the tipping point, but the vocal abuse & vandalism from the surprisingly large feral element within their own fan base during Fulham’s  last trip to Stamford Bridge in 2018 certainly reflected how much things have changed. It may be grounded in resentment as younger supporters have grown up watching Chelsea win umpteen trophies, or maybe tickets for Chelsea matches became so difficult to obtain that some of them were thrust into Fulham’s arms by default. I am not sure but the hatred is not reciprocated & maybe they find that infuriating too. Like other close neighbours QPR obsessive hate will largely be met with indifference by Chelsea supporters, too busy fixing their dislike on Spurs, Leeds, Liverpool or Barcelona. I just can’t hate Fulham & Craven Cottage remains a joy. Sorry Chelsea haters, this is not an attempt to patronise but a simple statement of fact.

Archibald Leitch, the architect of many an old British football stadium, designed the pavilion & the main stand at Fulham, both now listed buildings. The pavilion sits on the corner behind us as we take our place on the packed terraces at the Putney End, & I will not be the first or last away fan to believe it is the cottage that gives the ground its name. That sadly was destroyed in a fire at the end of the nineteenth century. Situated right next to the River Thames the ground offers Boat Race enthusiasts  a first rate view of the first mile of the that famous encounter. It’s a great setting, though that is one sporting spectacle that holds no interest for me whatsoever. The turnout for this morning kick off was spectacular. It is a local derby of course, but my first experience of standing with Chelsea’s awesome away following. When the teams emerge George Best is ominously clean shaven. Chelsea are wearing their away kit, red shirts & shorts, with the green socks topped off with red & white. I loved this kit, a homage to the great, Puskas inspired Hungarian team of the early 1950’s, apparently the brainchild of former manager Dave Sexton. In the same way Don Revie had changed the Leeds kit to white in the early 1960’s as a homage to Real Madrid, the kind of team & club the crooked old spiv was trying to create. There remains much boiling of piss about Chelsea wearing red as an away strip & I cannot understand why when the alternatives are presented. Spurs & Leeds wear white. Arsenal & Spurs have frequently had yellow away strips. Referees wear black. Not many wear jade green like we did in the ’80’s nor the Coors sponsored grey & orange away togs of 1995. There are reasons for this. They were both hideous. You can make negative associations with any colour, even ludicrous political ones. I had managed to track down the green socks eventually, buying them from a recently opened sports shop that later gained  a steady track record of losing young female staff very quickly due to the wandering hands of its owner. Here we go again. The 1970’s eh.

The atmosphere was cracking, the crowd at just under 30,000 was 25,000 less than for the game at Stamford Bridge, but in a much smaller stadium it’s perfect. What can go wrong as Chelsea defend the goal we are stood behind? Pretty much everything as it goes. Fulham raced into a 2-0 lead & Chelsea never recovered. The considerable frame of striker Alan Warboys stooped to deflect a header past Peter Bonetti & Best scored the other goal in front of a silenced Chelsea away gathering. Objectively, it was a lovely goal, a sweetly struck right foot volley that Peter Bonetti could only dream of stopping. Best’s famously handsome face broke out into an instant broad smile. I am glad I saw him score it now, as I am a Paul Gascoigne free kick at Stamford Bridge in 1990. For Spurs of all people. An original press copy photo of Best’s goal was available on ebay a few years ago. Despite its exhorbitant price & me being one of the sea of soon to be anguished faces behind the goal I was tempted to buy it. It is a testimony to talents like Best & Gascoigne that when the dust settles their ability to produce footballing moments of wonder transcends traditional tribal loyalties, & the often grim facts of their turbulent lives off the pitch. The smile said it all, when on song George Best, like Gascoigne, who he sadly seemed to resent, both found & dispensed enormous joy & happiness. Of course at the exact moment it happened I momentarily hated his guts, & wanted that smirk wiped off his face permanently. We’re a funny lot us football fans. Nobody went to the ballet to see Nureyev & Fonteyn perform hoping that one of them had an off day or slipped & broke their ankle, but if a football legend is wearing the wrong shirt you want them to be out of sorts or injured rather than do damage to your team. I think this era signifies when this reaction became universal. The holy trinity 1960’s heyday of Best, Law  & Charlton at Manchester United is probably the last hurrah of the days when people went to watch & enjoy the performances of opposition players regardless of the result. My father used to recall Blackpool once playing Charlton at The Valley & when it was announced that Stanley Matthews was not in the opposition line up there was a sizeable number of home fans heading straight for the exits before the game had even kicked off!

People are interested that I saw George Best play & score, not in the result that day, but at the time the result was all. After two years of staving off bankruptcy we really wanted that promotion. The two points Fulham gained in this match eventually saved them from relegation, a mere one point standing between them & Division 3 a month later. John Mitchell scored a third goal for them early in the second half, & a comeback never looked likely as George Best continued to pull all the strings as adeptly as an increasingly lairyTeddy Maybank pulled his former colleagues plonkers. Maybank not scoring became the last remaining ambition as hopes of a comeback withered on the vine. Fortunately he didn’t, although he did provoke a couple of flare ups with Ray Lewington & Ian Britton, as did Peter Storey after a typically spiteful tackle. Towards the end a free kick on the edge of the Fulham box was touched to our brilliant 20 year old skipper Ray Wilkins & he blasted a splendid consolation goal into the roof of the Fulham net, a token moment of brilliance in an otherwise miserable 90 minutes for those whose sympathies lay with the team from Fulham Road rather than Fulham. Teddy Maybank was a Chelsea boy at heart. He eventually went to Brighton for a lot of money, & also had a spell at PSV Eindhoven & a second spell at Craven Cottage before injury finished his career prematurely. He later surprised everyone, reputedly including the then Mrs Maybank, by turning up as a contestant on Cilla Black’s hugely popular Blind Date. Nobody’s idea of a shrinking violet our Ted.

FRI APRIL 8 1977

Oxford United 0 Swindon Town 0  

I can recall the journey home from Craven Cottage largely due to the glorious early afternoon sunshine, taunting us so strongly did it contrast with the gloomy atmosphere within the car. White City Stadium, host to the 1948 Olympic Games, may have been a largely unwanted relic of the past by 1977 other than for speedway & dog racing, but I liked it, & it was a welcome distraction as we trudged through the post match Westway traffic. At the time it was the home of speedway champions White City Rebels, a franchise that had moved there a couple of years before from Oxford & the currently disused stadium near where I live now. I wasn’t a speedway fan but several of my friends were, & would sometimes involve me in a baffling speedway game involving no more than a pencil each & an exercise book. We had to make our own entertainment back then Vol 215. The names of some of the Rebels still linger on now. Gordon Kennett. Trevor Geer. Dag Lovaas. Especially Dag Lovaas. Give the recent spate of deaths of footballers from this era I checked them out online with bated breath. They are all still going strong. Good to know. We must have got away pretty promptly once through Uxbridge, most shops being shut for bank holidays back then, as we arrived in Headington just after 3 & Nick’s dad dropped me off immediately outside the Manor Ground. The turnstiles were still open & I nipped in to join my dad, uncle & cousins for the A420 derby between Oxford & Swindon. This remains the only time I have seen two matches in one day. The previous year Oxford had played Bolton on Easter Saturday & the United players had come out with an Easter egg each. Derek Clarke, a pocket sized, Corinthians model doppleganger of his famous brother Sniffer, the legendary Leeds & England striker, trotted over to us & with a pleasant smile gave my cousin Stuart his egg. Had it been his brother the box would probably have been covered in stud marks. There were no gifts on this occasion, on or off the pitch. I can honestly remember precisely nothing about the match. This is no reflection on either Oxford or Swindon. Bitter derby games in England were almost always dour affairs in those days, usually goalless or 1-0. A 1-1 draw was the best you could usually expect. In truth I also  recall little about previous Oxford-Swindon matches other than as a 7 year old boy infuriating my dad when I chose to announce that he would have to escort me through a packed crowd from the Osler Road through to the toilets behind the London Road stand for me to take my first (& to date last) football ground dump. Can’t remember the score though. 0-0 or 1-1 for sure. Ron Atkinson was playing. The toilets were a predictable disgrace. I do remember that. For this Good Friday fixture my home knit blue & white Chelsea scarf (thanks Nan) attracted me to the usual wisecracks from those who had heard the details from Craven Cottage, which I bore with reasonably good grace as I was expecting it. I found the common question from those who had not increasingly trying. No! Teddy fucking Maybank didn’t score!!

If he had I would have been at home avoiding Grandstand.

SAT APRIL 9 1977

Chelsea 2 Luton Town 0  

I celebrated my 15th birthday by taking my small Kodak camera to this match. The pictures were terrible, which is a shame as one is of Ray Wilkins & another has the great Peter Bonetti embracing opposite number Milija Aleksic as they entered the player’s tunnel near to where we were sat. Another lovely, sunny Spring afternoon with a far happier conclusion as two first half goals from Steve Finnieston & left back John Sparrow saw off Luton, then managed by Harry Haslam, Happy Harry as he was always referred  to, supposedly owing to his permanenetly genial demeanour. I have no reason to doubt it, he did always seem to be smiling. The  presence in the Hatters boardroom of director & comedian Eric Morecambe, probably the country’s most universally loved popular entertainer at the time, can’t have done any harm. The win was both a boost & a huge relief after the previous day, but apart from the goals, the sunshine, my out of focus pictures & Luton’s horrible orange kit I remember very little about the game. Sparrow’s arrow, as it was coined by one of the Sunday papers, was a low left foot drive from the edge of the Luton box, the second & last Chelsea goal of his career. The journey home was undoubtedly more buoyant than the previous day. The day ended with an attractive brunette asking me how my birthday had been as I stood at the bar in an Oxford pub. Sadly she was old enough to be my mother, my parents were the people keeping me company in the pub & I was drinking fruit juice. The Clash were unavailable for comment but my punk rock credentials would appear to have remained dubious. The answer was simple enough though. Chelsea had won 2-0.  My 15th birthday had been just fine. Exactly 17 years later my 32nd was marked with a trip to Wembley for the FA Cup Semi Final. The opponents? Luton Town. The score? 2-0. Welcome to The Twilight Zone. You can pay your mortgage off via Betfred if the same fixture occurs on April 9th again.

There were no games on the Easter Sunday so I watched the highlights from the Luton game I had attended the previous day on London Weekend Television’s The Big Match presented by the splendid Brian Moore, baldy head later recorded for posterity by Half Man Half Biscuit as ‘looking uncannily like the London Planetarium’ on their splendid 1986 single ‘Dickie Davies Eyes.’ Both Brian & the building resembling his gleaming dome are now long gone sadly. We could not get a signal for London Weekend Television at home, so Sunday football highlights there were confined to the Midlands & Star Soccer with match commentary from the genius that was Hugh ‘what a whacker’ Johns. Hugh’s brilliance was no consolation for missing Chelsea matches though so it was good to give him & Gary Newbon the swerve on this occasion. Fortunately we were having a family meal at my cousins’ house & the Sunday roast tasted even better for my being able to relive Steve Finnieston’s opener, quickly followed by Sparrow’s arrow, both accompanied by Brian’s reliably excitable commentary. Later that evening we all watched the culmination of Lew Grade’s lavish television extravaganza Jesus Of Nazareth, then considered both a triumph & something of a televisual milestone. It never seems to get shown now, I have no idea why. It must surely have inspired Monty Python’s Life Of Brian & a glance at the cast list might offer other reasons that people might not be able to take it entirely seriously. Jesus was played by Robert Powell, & the last thing I can recall him doing was playing as a supposedly comic foil  to Jasper Carrott in the painfully unfunny The Detectives. He was also married to blonde & brassy Babs, one of Pan’s People, the clunkily choreographed dance troupe ( take an out of synch bow Flick Colby) ruining one of the main hits  on Top Of The Pops every week throughout the 1970’s. I must have always been a bit odd because I seem to have been the only heterosexual male in the country who remained impervious to their supposedly erotically charged charms throughout the decade. The man who played Young Mr Grace from Are You Being Served? also popped up in Jesus Of Nazareth, as did Mark Eden, later to be notoriously flattened to death by a Blackpool tram as the evil, Rita Fairclough abusing Alan Bradley in Coronation Street. Ian McShane had a major role as Judas Iscariot, looking rather like the bearded version of George Best. The link does not end there, as a couple of years later he played a thinly veiled version of Best in the remarkable, Jackie Collins penned Yesterday’s Hero. In this cimematic extravaganza McShane, whose father Harry actually played for Manchester United, conquers a drink problem long enough to become a valedictory FA Cup winning hero with two goals against the lazily named Leicester Forest?! Despite his family background McShane’s efforts in the film failed to lure audiences to the cinemas at the time, & reviews of this camp classic remain less than flattering. ‘Irresistibly bad’ from Time Out is the best I can find. Currently unavailable on any format. Sort it out Netflix or Amazon Prime.

Ian McShane as Judas Iscariot – looking more like George Best than he did playing a fictionalized version of  George Best in Yesterday’s Hero. Lovejoy never had a beard. Nor did George Best in his finest hour. No further questions your honour.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

MON APRIL 11 1977

Charlton Athletic 4 Chelsea 0

‘Let’s get out of here.’ After 75 minutes & with Chelsea 4-0 down Mr Bradley had seen enough. Dismal defeat on the pitch was one thing, having it accompanied by a mini riot & bonfires on the terraces quite another. This was the third & last time I have ever left a football match early, & on every occasion Charlton Athletic were one of the teams playing. The first time was in torrential rain & the final whistle had blown before my dad & I had left the stadium. The second time was a mid-week League Cup tie between Oxford & Charlton. When Charlton scored the opening goal in the dying minutes of extra time I thought it safe to make my way home. The ensuing roar told me all I needed to know. Oxford had gone straight up the other end & Steve Aylott had equalized. You wait two hours for a goal & then two come along at once…

An enjoyably sunny Easter weekend had been interrupted by rain earlier in the day. By the evening the only thing raining at The Valley was goals.  Charlton goals. Oh, & planks of wood. A notorious evening in the annals this one, as a significant number of fellow Chelsea supporters took umbrage at the comprehensive shellacking meted out to our hapless heroes &  smashed up as much of Charlton as they could, vandalising turnstiles & breaking windows in the adjoining Valley social club. Sparks flew as well as fists. Planks were stripped from a stand & either hurled towards the pitch or used to start bonfires. Perhaps copies of The Clash were already circulating with  London’s Burning being taken a tad too literally. A bus transporting terrified passengers home after the game was bricked. There was an upside to all this for a shallow teenage boy, namely that it meant nobody wanted to talk about the football on my return to Oxford, the notoriety around Chelsea fans continued to grow & my presence at the game briefly bestowed on me a temporary cachet of asolescent cool that neither I or the event warranted.

There was an away ban on Chelsea fans imposed after this game. My mother had threatened me with one earlier in the day. As the rain threatened to ruin yet another English Bank Holiday we sat in the living room that afternoon & to alleviate the boredom she challenged the entire family to pick winners from the  horse racing on the television. None of us were usually that interested in the gee-gees & I don’t recall us ever doing this before or again. I proceeded to pick several winners in a row. I don’t recall that ever happening again either sadly, though as no money was on the table the empty pocketed status it left with me with was to become familiar. Growing a bit cocky at my run of beginner’s luck I was banished from the living room & threatened with being denied a trip to The Valley that night. That was never going to happen. Unlike the weather I wasn’t that wet, & my last successful gamble of the day was to sit it out in my tiny bedroom & let things calm down before requesting the necessary readies to join Nick & his dad at the game a few hours later.

The Charlton game was my first foray into South London to watch a match, & we left the car at Park Royal to catch an underground train on the journey that seemed to take forever in a classic ‘are we there yet?’ 15 year old’s way. Nick & I’s spirits were lifted on the train by an entirely serious piece of advice from his dad that we found completely hilarious. If either of us get lost, he advises us, we should only ask assistance from a policeman, nobody else, ‘not even a parson, because some of these fucking perverts dress up as parsons.’ Nick catches my eye & we both corpse like Dudley Moore halfway through a Peter Cook rant in a Derek & Clive sketch. I think it is the use of the word parson that sets us off. The advice is sound & doubtless inspired by a famous two part television documentary called Johnny Go Home, a memorable, powerful & wholly depressing tale of paedophilia & murder centred around a man called Roger Gleaves, aka the Bogus Bishop or the Bishop Of Medway, who prowled the streets & railway stations of London befriending juvenile runaways & under the pretence of concern for their well being luring them to low rent accomodation. You can probably guess the rest. Gleaves, a figure of true evil, was still making headlines decades later when on yet another release from prison he was found to be living perilously close to a school. He was 84 then. in the mid 1970’s I had attempted briefly to learn the trumpet before being thrown out for gross ineptitude. I had also broken the trumpet. The man taking the classes moved from schoool to school in the area failing to unveil the next Louis Armstrong  & also ran a rival boy’s football team, Skylarks, mainly comprised of lads who weren’t good enough to get a game anywhere else. He drove an old Bentley & small boys from the team would clamber into it ready for the journey home after the game had finished. He was lauded for keeping a team used  only to heavy defeats together for no other reason than a love of the game & sense of community spirit. He was an oddball, but that was hardly unique. Johnny, the manager of another bottom of the table team, always clad in a battered old hat, lived near some of the lads I went to school with. One of them once visited his house to find a mound of human shit perched proudly on the living room carpet. He once greeted my dad like they were bosom buddies addressing him by his first name. My dad had no recollection of ever having met him before. Good job really. We might have been invited round for tea. Despite my trumpet rejection the tutor would stand in the school car park & regale myself & my friend Philip James with pictures of his cars & proud boasts about their rareness. He also invited me to join his football team, which despite my lack of pace & innate cowardice I was not quite talentless enough to join. We mocked him mercilessly but he didn’t seem to care, quite unlike any other teacher at the time. It was several years later, as I lay in a hospital bed reading the local news, that his crimes against children & subsequent imprisonment were finally reported. It was shocking to read but at least I had broken the fucker’s trumpet. Another local teacher taught chess to children, satisfying the middle class aspirations of many a parent. It took even longer for that sorry saga to unravel. Johnny may have been a bit slow getting the Shake N Vac out but at least he wasn’t a  nonce. I think. Nor probably was Frank, who ran another boys football team near to my middle school & was referred to by players there as Benny ‘because he’s a fucking bender.’ I recall evidence to back this up being rather thin on the ground. A few weeks after the Charlton game I attended cricket trials for the county schools under 15 team. The man running the trials, Dick, was the headmaster of a rival school & took a shine to my rather innocuous inswing bowling. ‘Keep bowling those wobblers Munday’ was his mantra throughout the summer of 1977, to my horror & everyone else’s huge amusement. I made the team which occasionally meant getting into his car. Dick, in late middle age, still lived with his mum & reminded me of the randy vicar in the ’70’s BBC1 version of Poldark. Neither of which is a crime. However, in the car he would fondle my inner thigh frequently & with great enthusiasm, my eyes drawn to the seemingly ever present crust of dried spittle glued to the corner of his lascivious, repulsive randy vicar from Poldark mouth, as the inevitable words ‘keep bowling those wobblers’ tumbled out. Clearly he wasn’t just a cricket loving refugee from a top private school in Kent, applying a balm to his own thwarted dreams via coaching the game to those in the lowlier world of the newly initiated comprehensive system. Another lad who foolishly accepted a solo ride in Dick’s car had a road map spread out on his lap in the car as Dick’s finger conveniently located the desired destination in the section adjacent to his genitals. He may have been merely a deeply frustrated pederast who went no further than these  pathetic car antics, but would you trust a man like that with the cane, which he readily employed to punish boys at his own school? The answer in 1977 was clearly yes. The universal reaction to our separate tales of woe? Hilarity. Everyone thought it was funny, schoolkids & parents alike. Myself & the other boy also laughed & spoke openly about it with amusement. Nowadays they would be forming a lynch mob & giving dirty Dick an Edward Woodward Whicker Man style send off within the hour. Nick & I laughed at the word parson but also, I susect, because we thought real, ruinous sexual abuse was something that only happened to other kids, kids in care or on the street like in Johnny Go Home. Looking back we had more luck than judgement.

 It was fine & dry again once we reached The Valley. Charlton moved away for a considerable while in the ’80’s & the ground has been considerably transformed, but like Fulham had its own unique style in its original incarnation. It had hosted handsomely attended concerts in recent years for The Who & Lou Reed, & in the team’s Division 1 heydays attracted crowds of over 60,00 so the official figure for this match of 25,757 was dubious. The ground was packed. John Phillips replaced Peter Bonetti in goal & this was ominous, as the Welsh international had played in both the 4-0 beating at Luton & the 3-0 FA Cup home defeat to Southampton earlier in the season. Charlton had lost prolific striker Derek Hales, a man who looked like an off duty pirate, to Derby earlier in the season. It didn’t matter one iota as Mike Flangan, another beardie, not only kept the face fungus quotient up but plundered a splendid hat trick. Charlton were terrific & Chelsea truly woeful, snuffed out completely after conceding Flanagan’s two first half goals, dead on the floor after winger Hugh McAuley added a third ten minutes into the second half. Hales, the only man to reply to Shoot magazine’s famous player profile question ‘What would you be if you weren’t a footballer?’ with the reply ‘a robber’ later reunited with Flanagan briefly at The Valley. Sadly they were sent off for fighting each other as the team laboured at home in an FA Cup tie against non-league Maidstone, Flanagan having responded to Derek questioning his ability by referring to his colleague as a ‘one bollocked bastard.’ That begs a question to which I can offer no definitive answer. Hales was sacked but then reinstated & Flanagan left for pastures new very soon after. My Auntie Pam once gave me advice you should have heeded Mike. Never trust a man with a beard, he always has something to hide. Oh dear, you’ve got one yourself.

Leaving early did us no good. The next train did not arrive until after the game had finished, the last 15 minutes, on the pitch at least apparently proving uneventful. The defeat had been resounding & the fear that promotion was to slip through our hands began to grow, though the following day’s headlines were not going to be about football. By the time the train arrived its potential clientele were a motley crew indeed, & we shared our compartment with a colourful array of lumps, bumps, cuts & bruises, though their proud owners were reasonably subdued by this point. This did not stop the emergency cord from being pulled several times on the way home, extending a tedious trek back to West London to get back to the car even further. The tube stations all seemed to be bearing the same poster, seemingly of a mystic called Bagawat Soham. Eastern gurus were ten a penny in Britain during the 1970’s. Nick & I have been scornful of the bowl cut our 19 year old striker Tommy Langley was sporting. Clips of him from 1977 now see him actually  coming out of this monstrous era for male hair rather better than the rest of the younger Chelsea players, & God knows how I had the gall to point the finger at anyone else’s barnet. Nick was always well turned out so can be excused more readily. After several Underground sightings of the Bagawat Soham poster we decide that Tommy’s haircut was down to him having joined a religious cult & for the rest of the journey & indeed our schooldays he is always referred to as Bagawat Langley. I have searched in vain for the existence of Bagawat Soham recently to no avail. Bagawat translates as an uprising or mutiny. Bhagwan means god. Soham means to identify with the universe or ultimate reality. Sohan is an Indian name for a boy meaning charming or handsome. Maybe it’s down to a typo, maybe the poster referred to a general Hindu spiritual meeting or happening rather than a gathering for a guru. Maybe I imagined the whole thing. If not, then in his dotage Bagawat Soham has drifted further into obscurity than John Sparrow, Teddy Maybank or Derek Hales’ testicular status. He nonetheless remains in the back of my memory bank as a tribute to my puerility. Sorry Tommy. Many apologies to you & every Hindu on the planet.

I am bloodied but unbowed by this eventful but not terribly fruitful Easter. Five days later Nick, his dad & I are back at Stamford Bridge again. Ken Swain & Gary Stanley are dropped & replaced by Langley & veteran Charlie Cooke, the coolest man in London, with a haircut that would still pass muster today. Chelsea scramble past promotion rivals Nottingham Forest 2-1, & both teams eventually reach the promised land of Division 1 at the end of the season. Langley scores the goal that ensures promotion in a 1-1 draw at Wolves, who go up as champions. Following the Charlton fiasco Chelsea supporters are banned from this game by then Home Secretary Denis Howell. Thousands turn up & most gain admission in what ends up as a joyous & largely amicable joint knees up. Trepidation temporaily abates at the prospect of further Chelsea fan misbehaviour as the football season comes to a close. However, the world of under 15 schools county cricket will shortly have a new menace to contend with as summer arrives & under the watchful eye of my very own Uncle Monty from Withnail & I  my wobblers are unleashed on an unsuspecting world.

Jurgen’s Cups Runneth Over

Bingo
Klopp
‘You’re a pussy who gives a shit about 1955 go fuck your grandad’

Making up with passion what it lacks in grammatical accuracy this contribution to my Twitter feed from the charmingly named Liverpool ‘fan’ only white girls are attractive back in 2018 followed a 1-1 draw that afternoon at Stamford Bridge between Chelsea & his heroes. I somehow doubt he has ever seen them in the flesh himself. That evening  Chelsea fans were once again being  branded vile & classless, & 100% racist. Alternatively Stamford Bridge was a plastic haven for the casual tourist ignorant of the true tradition & history  of a proper, decent football club, with a proper, decent fanbase. The polar opposite of Liverpool we were told. Again. Four days before the game a below strength Chelsea had beaten a below strength Liverpool team at Anfield in an underwhelming Carabao Cup tie, enlivened by a brilliant Eden Hazard cameo performance off the bench, culminating in a stunning winning goal. Gilly added to the anti Chelsea gaiety by describing this win as a Blues fan’s idea of history. A couple of hours into feral abuse & Scouse contempt for the club I hold dear finally drew a polite demurral of Gilly’s somewhat lame comic observation, which had probably attracted several times more likes than I will ever have followers. My idea of history, I told him, was Chelsea winning the league in 1955, when unfortunately no result information versus Liverpool was available due to them finishing that season in 11th place in Division 2. Gilly’s  mildly sarcastic response drew more applause from the more rabid end of the adoring, red clad Twitter masses, history seemingly less important when it fails to support your lazy prejudices. An hour later he was posting pictures of the plane wreckage from the 1958 Munich disaster. Thanks for coming Gilly. only white girls are attractive, as previously quoted, was less forgiving, so I merely blew him a virtual kiss & moved on. This seemed to throw him until he accused me, several hours later, of being ‘a bit noncey.’ What a sweetheart. Don’t knock what you can’t afford darling. As an ageing Chelsea rent boy only white, what did you honestly expect? My grandad died in 1985 by the way, so an incestuous coital encounter was never on the cards, lest I be accused of necrophilia on top of noncing.

The point of all this, aside from the obvious reminder to self to avoid social media in the aftermath of a Chelsea-Liverpool match, is ultimately not to pointlessly stir the pot further, but contrast Gilly & only white girls are attractive with The Lad’s Dad, who, like me, will actually be attending the forthcoming Chelsea Liverpool FA Cup game in early March rather than carping spitefully from  the online sidelines. He is the first, & probably last Liverpool fan to follow me on Twitter, & a pleasing reminder that the loudest & ugliest social media voices  are not representative of an entire fanbase. For every Tommy Robinson fanboy (& I am aware there are plenty of them) there are scores of Chelsea fans who do not fit the identikit created by the media & rival fans, nor are the rest of the seats at Stamford Bridge filled exclusively by bewildered Japanese tourists clutching their plastic bag of clubshop tat & failing to find the right seat. Not yet anyway. The Lad’s Dad goes home & away with Liverpool along with his wife & disabled son. He recently tweeted a message congratulating Chelsea on being the only Premier League club he is aware of that do not charge an entrance fee for disabled away fans, having obtained tickets for the aforementioned FA Cup tie. This may well be the only positive comment on Chelsea ever made on social media by a LIverpool fan & also begs the question why other clubs do charge. Actually, I think we probably know why.

I would wish The Lad’s Dad an enjoyable evening at the Bridge next month but am confident this can only be achieved via a Liverpool win & I am equally keen on a Chelsea victory, less for bragging rights than the fact that I have one major beef with Liverpool’s excellent coach Jurgen Klopp, namely his despicable approach to the FA Cup. Liverpool are so good at present that I fear them winning the trophy half heartedly putting out second to third string teams along the way. They have already beaten recently resurgent neighbours Everton this way. The FA Cup deserves more respect than that, as indeed do the Liverpool supporters who turned up in numbers at Shrewsbury in the last round for an evening kick off on a Sunday. They clearly retain due reverence for a tournament that once mattered so much, even if the club & its coach do not.

In truth I am tiring of the constant hate infesting the relationship between the two clubs & their followers, while aware I have frequently been a far from innocent bystander as the bullets have flown. Traditionally the loathing of Liverpool has not grieved me but the animosity is overwhelming now, as is the obsession for constantly pursuing the well worn grudges  that feed it. The 30th anniversary of the Hillsbrough disaster last year was marked by the failure of the judicial system to supply any comfort for the victim’s families & the many traumatized survivors of that awful day. Like many others I spent years in football stadiums that were potential death traps. Another day, another time, another place…..insert your club’s name & imagine its fans enduring a similar ordeal. However, it was Liverpool fans who were the victims & it was most definitely not their fault. Using Hillsbrough as a banter tool is similar conduct to those Liverpool fans  & club representatives who years ago attempted vainly to shift the blame for Heysel on Chelsea fans. Sickening & shameful.

Factor in Liverpool’s current overwhelming on pitch superiority to every other team in England, allied to them being the current European champions, & the obsession with demeaning every aspect of their existence seems as desperate, hollow, petty & pathetic as the sneers & smears flowing incessantly in the other direction since Chelsea’s dominance in the first Mourinho era. I am enjoying watching club legend Frank Lampard & his coaching staff blending home grown youth with established stars in the wake of the transfer ban imposed by EUFA last summer. However it has knocked the club out of contention for any serious challenges for the biggest honours, namely the Premiership & Champion’s League. Chelsea’s main rivals currently are Spurs, Arsenal, Man Utd & Leicester City. Liverpool & Man City currently reside on a different footballing planet.  Before March is done Liverpool will possibly be crowned runaway champions, which given the extraordinary wealth of City will be a remarkable achievement. We don’t have to like it, & I for one fervently hope regaining their European title eludes them. Nonetheless the constant jibes about mass unemployment, blame culture & Steven Gerrard slipping up in  2014 are sounding mighty tired these days. When the latter chant rang out at Stamford Bridge during a Group stage Europa League fixture against Belarusian opponents at Stamford Bridge last season I let out a heavy sigh. As with singing We Hate Tottenham! during the traditional pre-match spinning of reggae classic Liquidator (regardless of who the opposition is) the message to a hated rival is sent loud & clear. We are obsessed with you & we don’t have enough to sing about ourselves. West Ham have been doing this to Chelsea for years with Stick Your Blue Flag Up Your Arse now being joined by the morphing of Rotterdam by The Beautiful South into Chelsea Are The Rent Boys. Come on Chelsea, do we really need to reduce ourselves to the level of West Ham? With no on pitch success in decades & shorn of their spiritual home they sometimes appear to have only bitterness & spite holding them together, & not enough brain cells to realise that by devoting so much time to expressing it they succeed only in blowing smoke up our arses instead of bubbles in the air. In the last 3 seasons Chelsea have won a European trophy, the FA Cup & the Premier League. 25 years ago Stand Up If You Hate Man U was the chant to get everyone off their seats at Stamford Bridge. Sat next to me Bill would always refuse to join in, saying he’d stand up when we were in a position to compete with them on an equal footing & not before. I thought he was being a tad pompous back then, now he looks like a soothsayer. There is an episode of Whatever Happened To The Likely Lads? where Bob Ferris & Terry Collier are forced to share a bed. When Bob cannot sleep Terry suggests he closes his eyes & has a fantasy. To his disgust Bob discloses that the object of desire in his chosen fantasy is not Brigitte Bardot or a MIss World contestant but his fiancee Thelma. Terry responds by referring to his own (broken!) marriage, stating that his wife ‘was there when I went to sleep & there when I woke up but in between she didn’t get a look in.’ This behaviour may be a poor recipe for domestic contentment but is a sound template for matchday behaviour. I may dislike Spurs & Liverpool with varying degrees of intensity but unless they are that day’s opponents I couldn’t give a toss what they are up to when my own team are playing. Liverpool were the predominant footballing force of my youth as Chelsea withered on the vine, imposing, powerful & brilliant. Allowing them to occupy too much of my time now is like cowering in a darkened corner at a school reunion as the class bully from 40 years ago stands centre stage holding court. Hold your head up, enjoy what you have & let them get on with it. Bury fans don’t have a team to watch at all, let alone one bursting with promise like the current Chelsea line up.

There is an element of tactical manouevre to this personal ceasefire where Liverpool are concerned. It is fair to say there appears to be no general appetite on the part of fans from either club to join me in a more cordial form of mutual antipathy. However, I also genuinely like Jurgen Klopp, & the club hierarchy also deserve credit for there being no doubt that he would be given the time & resources to take the club from where they were when he took over in 2015 to where they stand now, seemingly on the verge of another golden era. He can be an arsehole on the touchline, berating officials in a manner that would spell greater trouble for some coaches, but generally Klopp represents a refreshing & welcome change from the tedious squabbling & mind games of the Ferguson, Wenger & Mourinho era. Mourinho may still be around, but his perennial penchant for petty point scoring over rivals renders him an anachronism. At one point during the 1-1 draw at Stamford Bridge in 2018 Klopp flashed those extraordinary teeth, seemingly transplanted from the mouth of Bingo from Banana Splits, at Chelsea coach Maurizio Sarri. The resulting beaming smile betrayed not only his superior dentistry compared to the nicotine stained gnashers of the Italian but also his evident enjoyment of the tactical battle taking place on the pitch. This is fun was the clear message. Yes, fun. Remember that Jose?

He smiles & laughs a lot during matches does Klopp, & I find it hard not to warm to him. We live in a time when hysterical xenophobes are cheering on the indolent, spineless, mendacious, tousled haired blonde bullshitter currently preparing to ruin our country simply because he has hitched his star to Brexit. They do not seem to realise that for Boris Johnson the whole campaign is a means to one end & one end only, namely the furtherance of his own career. He was a Remainer until it was pointed out that he could destabilise the Cameron government by opposing that administration’s desire to stay in the EU. Liverpool coach he may be, but there is some solace & amusement to be drawn from watching a team threaten to sweep the board domestically & win the Champions League courtesy of the tactical acumen & drive of  a man who could not be more European if he tried. We probably know less than nothing about the real Jurgen Klopp (I believe he frequents his local regularly so props for that) but his public image ticks many of the hackneyed  stereotypes of apparent European naffness lingering in the memory banks of people my age. Eurovision meets Eurotrash. You could imagine him inspiring glibTerry Wogan witticisms while asking the Cyprus jury for their votes in 1982, or in the following decade stood naked  save for a pair of Jesus sandals explaining to Antoines De Caunes his use of female ejaculate as the  primary base material for his paintings. Indeed, the cringey let’s talk about 6 interview included below is more like a clip from Eurovision than a triumphant post match football conversation. It is a telling moment, ultra cheesey & lacking in cool but so much so that Jurgen effectively ends up catching the dude bus by default given that zero are clearly the amount of shits he gives about such considerations. Ferguson, Wenger & Mourinho are managerial greats but what hard work they could be, both individually & collectively. Messrs Guardiola, Klopp & Lampard eschew portraying themselves as masters of modern Macchiavellian manouevres by virtue of endlessly showing their watch faces to 4th officials or reducing the likes of Kevin Keegan to a histrionic seething wreck. The latter 1996 Fergie achievement is surely a living definition of shooting fish in a barrel. The Mourinho-Wenger feud had its moments of amusement but culminated in the dying embers of Mourinho’s second Chelsea spell with Jose visibly flinching after an insipid touchline push from the bristling Gallic stickinsect. Wenger had his tie flicked in return. Middle aged men recreating a scene that would have been left on the Grange Hill cutting room floor as just too drearily puerile for words. Mourinho gave the illusion of cool once, but it has evaporated now. Even then, back in 2004-5, his first season in England, Manchester City  inflicted the only Premier League defeat of the season on Chelsea & their fans taunted the self styled & undoubtedly well attired Special One with the one off chant Your Coat’s From Matalan. Klopp would have laughed at that. Jose didn’t. Cool is a great concept but only if you can sustain it. If Klopp’s undoubted temper led to physical confrontation with a rival coach I am confident it would be conducted face to face. At Real Madrid in 2011 Mourinho sidled up on the blindside of Barcelona’s Tino Vilanova, gouged him in the eye with his finger then hurriedly sloped off & hid behind his players & coaching staff. Classless, cowardly & uncool in the extreme.

 Twelve points from the Liverpool jury. Eurovision rigged again.

 

Unfavourably comparing Mourinho & Klopp will not win me brownie points with many Chelsea fans but no matter. Earlier this season Klopp berated an interpreter at a Champion’s League press conference in Salzburg. The next day he began the conference by making a full & frank personal apology in front of the assembled throng. Cool. In 2015 Mourinho heralded the new season by berating & bullying two Chelsea physios for doing their job & treating an injured player, Chelsea’s best player, Eden Hazard, to boot. One of them, the much respected & popular Dr Eva Carneiro, was also subjected to misogynistic abuse in Portugese. Mourinho not only failed to apologise, he relieved both physios of their first team duties. Carneiro eventually left taking the club & Mourinho to court in the process. Not cool. For all his prodigious achievements in football Jose frequently shows himself to be a sour, spiteful little man, whose loyalties lie chiefly with himself. Referring to past triumphs in interviews it is always ‘I won 3 Premier Leagues,’ ‘I won 2 Champions Leagues.’ We is a word rarely heard, Deco, Zanetti, Milito, Terry, Lampard & Drogba mere bit part players apparently. When it comes to Chelsea selling Kevin De Bruyne & Mo Salah for a fraction of what they are now worth Jose is less keen to talk up his omnipotence. That was the club’s decision, he was just the coach at the time. We tend to hear the word I rather less when the question of these monumental transfer blunders are put to him. Last season’s Champions League aside, Klopp has yet to scale such heights in terms of trophies, but however many cups end up in the Anfield Road cabinet under his tutelage you can be sure all successes will be referred to in a collective rather than individual context. Neither will the fans be treated with the disrespect Mourinho has shown to Chelsea supporters ever since returning to England in 2013, empowering the Mourinho’s right, your fans are shite brigade to this day. His major achievement second time round was leading the team to the Premier League in 2014-15. The title was clinched during a home game against Crystal Palace. As Chelsea fans sang the name of the recently departed club legend Frank Lampard, the surly little bleeder sat scornfully in the dugout shaking his head & clearly mouthing two words. Fuck off. It really is all about him. Can you imagine Klopp doing likewise in a few weeks as the Kop serenade Steven Gerrard? No, me neither.

Nonetheless I think Jurgen Klopp & his employers have their approach to the FA Cup all wrong. If they beat Chelsea with a vastly weakened side (& given Chelsea’s dismal home record this is distinctly possible) they could end up winning the trophy by default, picking stronger teams from now on if the title is clinched early & they get knocked out in Europe. Liverpool fans will doubtless be as steadfastly loyal to Klopp as Chelsea supporters were to Mourimho as the team slumped horribly in the last few months of his second tenure, but their club has not served English domestic cup football well so far this season. One thing you have to say for Jose Mourinho is he always likes to compete for every trophy going, even the Community Shield, & that is to his eternal credit. In the Carabao Cup Liverpool were a victim of circumstance as they were in the World Club Championship at the same time as they were due to play their Quarter Final against Aston Villa. What was effectively their youth team lost heavily. This had echoes of Man Utd in 2000, also competing in the World Club Championship but withdrawing completely from the FA Cup. This was at the behest of the football authorities & the government to supplement the sucking up to frequently corrupt FIFA officials in an abortive attempt to win the race to host the 2006 World Cup. The FA Cup has never recovered from the blow to its status caused by those ultimately fruitless shenanigans. Will the failure to rearrange the fixture at Villa Park do likewise to the Carabao Cup?  I doubt Klopp & his paymasters will be bothered unduly. The football authorities have also conspired to undermine the FA Cup again this year. Following Shrewsbury grabbing a surprise draw at Gay Meadow in January, the 4th replay date at Anfield was set slap bang in the middle of the supposed mid winter break initiated this year. Jurgen consequently threw his toys out of the pram once again & announced he would not be attending the replay. A severely weakened side would once again be fielded with Under 23’s coach Neil Critchley at the helm. He was true to his word. First team regular James Milner did turn up at the ground to cheer on the team to a narrow victory, a welcome touch of old school solidarity. Jurgen kept in touch via his mobile, quite literally phoning it in. Nobody comes out of this well but before all the blame is left at the door of the increasingly repellent FA it must be said Klopp has form. He picked a pitifully weak team away at Exeter in the 3rd round during his first season at Anfield. They finished 8th in the Premier League that season so that cannot have been the main cause for treating the tournament with such cavalier disregard, although they did get to the final of the Europa League. The brief from the club & its coach has been clear ever since, & that is sad. Liverpool are big on citing history & tradition. There is a fantastic documentary on their legendary manager Bill Shankly which makes clear that he considered their first ever FA Cup final victory over Leeds in 1965 as more pivotal in establishing the club as a major force in the game than the league title the year before. There is footage of him in 1971 passionately informing fans in a packed Liverpool city centre how aware he has made the players of their responsibility not to disappoint as they had just done in losing to Arsenal at Wembley. Times have changed & football has changed, but there will still be plenty of Liverpool fans making the mid-week journey to Stamford Bridge for Round 5 next month, taking time off work, & facing a long journey home in the early hours of the morning. To play a depleted team again cheats not only them but also Chelsea & their followers, my humble self included.

Keep smiling Jurgen, hopefully not too much on the night, one assumes you will be there? If not give the Shankly documentary a watch. You will learn more in 90 minutes about what really matters about English football than a lifetime talking to your club’s owners.

They would probably just tell me to go fuck my grandad….

 

 

 

Living Our Best Chelsea Lives

The thrills have just kept coming this month. Maybe this was a  last gasp effort to lure Diego Costa back on Transfer Deadline Day. Not that big a deal really, we have long known of certain footballers happy to share a Nut roast. Roll on February.

 

 

Father Christmas

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

October 10, 1953

Headington United 0-1 Chelsea

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

Two Wingers – Brian Munday  & Peter Brabrook

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I am never truly alone at a football match.

 

 

 

 

That’s The Way Reece Likes It Zaha Zaha

09/11/19  Chelsea 2 Crystal Palace 0

Another welcome Tammy Abraham goal  against a niggly Palace.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Does anyone have an address for Piers Morgan?

Busman’s Holiday

Swindon Town 1 Plymouth Argyle 1

Saturday 12th October, 2019

There are many modern two word combinations that instill a potent sense of life sapping nausea & dread & in this ageing Englishman’s battered psyche. Fake news. Top Gear. Brexit update. Bowel screening. Michael Gove (a man with a body rendered uniquely ineligible for a bowel screening on account of the revolting head being wedged so deeply up its own arse). Bike bell. Dance off. Gym membership. Bono interview. Sun journalist. Tottenham Hotspur. My trip to the County Ground was inspired by the final entry on this far from exhaustive list.

International break.

International break. May God have mercy on all our souls. Regularly giving us the chance to squander our meagre salaries betting on the outcome of Andorra v Lithuania, & avoiding the glitter flecked clutches of Strictly Come Dancing, rather than getting out & watching our own teams. My heart aches, and a drowsy numbness pains my sense as Keats had it. Zip-a-Dee-Fucking-Doo-Dah in more modern parlance. Fortunately, Swindon are at home  & I take the chance to eschew my staff bus pass & lord it up on a train to dance off to Wiltshire & the County Ground, my first visit to Swindon since watching them draw 2-2 with Leyton Orient  back in 2010.

It turns out to be a good decision, two good teams deservedly sharing the spoils, on loan Eoin Doyle finishing off a neat 4 man move for Swindon in the first half, & midfielder Joel Grant capping off an equally slick passage of play for Plymouth in the second. There are a lot of loanees on display, & Argyle has also become  a refuge for a handful of former employees of Bury, four players & manager Ryan Lowe now gainfully employed at Home Park after The Shakers were disgracefully allowed to be driven out of existence by a despicable & unscrupulous owner, & a pitiful indifference from many others in the football world, some of whom may find themselves similarly shafted at some stage. ‘Never send to know for whom the bells tolls; it tolls for thee.’ Rave on John Donne. Once again, I find myself marvelling at the pace of the modern game & the excellent fitness levels of the muscular, supremely athletic  modern player compared to all those lower league cult hero centre forwards of the 60s, ’70’s & ’80’s, frequently brilliant finishers but with barrel chests that betrayed a liking for the beer sold in the pubs a lot of them ended up owning when a newsagents wasn’t available. The ‘player who could have been a contender’ slot, a reliable staple at lower division games through the ages, is filled by Argyle sub Jose Baxter. A first teamer at Everton at 16, later seeing a promising career at Sheffield United stubbed out when he tested positive for Ecstasy, Baxter is now 27. He comes on & shows from a deep lying role that the touch is still there, if not yet the match fitness. One of the many impressive gym toned specimens on show, imposing & composed on the ball for Swindon, turns out to be former Chelsea midfielder Anthony Grant,on loan from Shrewsbury. He appeared in my exile years & I have never seen him before in the flesh. He’s massive! Not a spare ounce on him though. I can’t help but wonder how Chelsea’s mid ’90’s team of minnows including Jody Morris, Mark Stein, John Spencer & Dennis Wise would cope now. Then I recall 18 year old Billy Gilmour, a slip of a boy physically, owning a 7-1 Blues Caraboa Cup win over a big Grimsby Town side a fortnight ago. If you’re good enough…. Dennis Wise probably isn’t a  name to drop in Swindon after he accepted the manger’s job back in 2007, only to walk out after a couple of promising months when his old mucker Birdseye Bates lured him to the then sinking ship that was Leeds. Dirty Leeds. A foolish move destined for disaster & he hasn’t managed since, notwithstanding hindsight always being a wonderful thing.

There is something palate cleansing about going to matches that don’t involve your own team. It is far more relaxing & helps sustain a healthier overall interest in the game. One of the sad ironies of modern football is the fact that its ubiquity on television often has a counter-productive effect in this regard. Most of us are busy people, if we can watch live feeds or extended highlights of every match our own teams play why bother watching anybody else? In my long lost youth, only highlights were shown, & Match Of The Day or The Big Match would have a maximum of 2/3 games. If you wanted to see some football, you had to watch these programmes, & consequently expose yourself to the experience of watching a match just as that, minus the passion & prejudice that automatically kicks in watching your own club. Small boys now will be au fait with the respective FIFA 20 stats for all the top players of the world. I would play table football creating knockout cups having familiarised myself with the current line ups of all 92 clubs in the old Football League. This may have made me an insufferable, anally retentive little know all, but also bred an inherent interest in all these clubs & their players. It was a thrill to see them in the flesh at actual matches, & to follow their careers. Unlike the FIFA kids I did not get disappointed when in real life they failed to dribble past 6 opponents & tee themselves up for a thumping 40 yard bicycle kick into the roof of the opposition net. There are no morality tales here, if I had been given access to computer games as a kid I would have stayed in my room all day too. Empty recreation grounds & a steepling average age of people actually attending matches are rather sad though, & a real threat to the much vaunted English footballing pyramid. The trip to the County Ground offers me an opportunity to doff an outsider’s cap at one of the footballing figures who helped define my attitude to football. The death of Peter Downsbrough, Swindon goalkeeper in their finest hour, the 3-1 humbling of Arsenal in the 1969 League Cup Final, is remembered with a minute’s applause prior to kick off, generously supported by the sizeable gathering of Plymouth fans. Swindon’s first away match after the sad news was announced was at Bradford City, the club Downsbrough left them for, a pleasing irony that assured his memory was observed with due respect & affection on that occasion too. The 1969 League Cup was the first domestic cup final I ever watched on television, & Peter Downsbrough greeting a collection of Arsenal corner kicks & crosses with safe hands or a firm punch is an abiding memory. Is it just a rose tinted childhood memory or are we fans all a more spiteful clan these days? I recall people being more pleased for Swindon than revelling in Gooner dismay. This even seemed true when Colchester beat dirty but mighty Leeds in the FA Cup in 1971, or Hereford beat Newcastle the following year, although there was some relish in the latter largely aimed at that eternal gobshite Malcolm Macdonald, who had confidently predicted he would score a hatful for the Geordies in the fateful replay. He tripped up again in 1974 when making all kind of bold claims prior to the FA Cup Final against Liverpool, who won 3-0. Supermac never got a kick. As Fulham manager he dismissed Chelsea’s promotion credentials just before the two teams met in 1984. Chelsea won 4-0. I delight in all this as he also is in my little black book of players who were rude to me in my autograph hunting years, calling me son in the process which I have always hated. Nonetheless, deserved though his humiliation at the hands of non league Hereford was,  the pleasure once again seemed more sharing the joy of the victors rather than sneering at the losers. How times change.

To emphasise the earlier point I followed the careers  of many of the Swindon tankard winning heroes of 1969 (no medals for players in the League Cup back then!) for the rest of their careers. Full back Rod Thomas went to Derby & won the old Division 1 title there under the management of a former Town player-manager, the legendary Dave MacKay, a truly great player still capable of controlling games effortlessly from midfield in his Swindon years despite by this time sporting bigger tits than a Russ Meyer starlet, allied to an enormous belly straining against his red shirt & seeming likely to drag against the turf like a pregnant dog. Downsbrough won Division 4 with Bradford. Left back John Trollope MBE stayed at the County Ground for his entire career, playing over 700 games. Someone I knew refereed him in a reserve game towards the end of his career & maintained he was the most courteous & professional footballer he ever had the pleasure of dealing with. The wonderful Don Rogers, scorer of two of the goals on the mudheap Wembley pitch, moved on to Crystal Palace & scored more virtuoso goals for this most frustratic & erratic of teams  before ending up back at Swindon, running a sports shop & happily thriving to this day. At school I claimed to have had tea with him once after my dad had played against a showbiz football team at Thame United in the early ’70’s. Technically this is true, Don was indeed there with me for the egg sandwiches & battenburg cake stage of proceedings, but so were countless others! Gave me his autograph though. Good old Don. I also saw the late Stan Harland playing for a Division 1 bound Birmingham City alongside Roger Hynd (Bill Shankly’s nephew) in defence, with the goals & flair supplied by Bob Latchford & a brilliant 17 year old, Trevor Francis, whose obvious talent belied his youth, betrayed on the pitch only by the perennial adolescent curse that is acne. That disappeared, but the talent persisted through to European Cup glory, scores of England caps & a spell in Italy with Sampdoria. Dull pundit. Great player. The most poignant memory I have of watching one of these Swindon immortals was at Hull in 1982, when Peter Noble, then at nearly 38 approaching the fag end of his career, rolled up with Blackpool in  a tame end of season match at an unusually sun blessed Boothferry Park. In fact, apart from Hull winning 1-0 I remember very little else about the game other than one of the fellow students I went with, a Blackpool fan, spending most of the game mindlessly abusing one of his own players, David Hockaday, another future Swindon player. Noble had enjoyed a very successful spell at Burnley in the top division after leaving Swindon, converting from striker to full back  in the process. The Falklands War was happening at the time, & the cretinous jingoism of The Sun under its reliably repulsive editor Kelvin Mackenzie was transmitting itself to many of the  excitable overgrown schoolboys in my hall of residence. We returned from the match to a packed, but curiously silent television room. The HMS Sheffield had been sunk by an Argentinian exocet missile, the Boy’s Own gung ho atmosphere now replaced by the reality of war. People die on both sides. Who knew? Seemingly not Kelvin Mackenzie, who ended the decade printing vile lies about Liverpool fans in the aftermath of the horror of the Hillsborough disaster, still as disgusting a maggot infested sack of shit as this country’s newspaper industry has ever produced, & that’s up against some pretty stiff opposition. The relevance of this? Maybe not much at all, but if I had been given a Playstation as a boy I might never have known who people like Peter Noble were, never gone to Boothferry Park that night, perhaps never have been torn away from it long enough to even know that the HMS Sheffield had gone down until the following day. No man is an island. Rave on John Donne pt 2. Peter Noble, who famously took 28 penalties in his career & never missed one (eat that Messi & Hazard!) died in 2017. Dementia has also now established its hideous grip on some of his colleagues from their finest footballing hour 50 years ago. PFA chaiman & gutbucket Gordon Taylor really needs to step up to the plate given the growing number of ex players, often rugged defenders & strikers back in the day, who headed the ball constantly & have now been struck down with dementia. Football’s response (or rather lack of it) thus far has been a monumental disgrace.

Swindon are Angie’s team & Angie is the benchmark for what a proper football fan should be, loyal, devoted & clubbable (she has a sizeable core of friends she travels to, watches games & socialises with. The vagaries of team fortunes & club finances do not impact these tendencies one iota. I owe my seat next to her at the game to Malc, a big lad, but not as big as he looked on the pitch as his alter ego, on pitch matchday mascot Rockin’ Robin. Angie & I first talked football over a quarter of a century ago after our staff Christmas party had spilled over into the pub next door, as I became  aware that there was a rare interested ear cocked to  one of my regular, loud & tedious denunciations of the truly appalling former Chelsea player Dave Mitchell. The goal shy Australian had by then moved to Swindon, where he thrived, so Angie did not share my views. Swindon had a string of players who did well for them but failed to pull up any trees at Stamford Bridge, including the much maligned Alan Mayes (a County Ground legend) & fellow strikers Duncan Shearer & Sam Parkin. Roy Wegerle had a short loan spell there too before being sold to Luton for £75,000. Not long after he was a million pound player. True, Gareth Hall also played at the County Ground for a while but to every good rule there is an exception as my French teacher Mademoiselle Defay always used to say. Then again she always called me Vincent the mad old trout. Or should I say vieille truite folle?  CSE Grade 1 French  (1978) my friends. CSE Grade 1. A sort of O level for tramps. Angie soon revealed herself to be several leagues above the other football fans at work, myself included. On one dark January night in 1994 she sidled me up to at the bar (or home as it was known to me back then) & shamefacedly admitted that she had not made it to Swindon’s FA Cup 3rd Round replay defeat at Ipswich 2 days earlier.  She was entirely blameless, her promised lift had merely failed to materialise, but it was the first game she had missed in years. Gutted doesn’t cover it. On October 17, 1995, in the midst of another day of working tedium Angie waved a quick goodbye as she sped past our counter to watch Swindon in an Auto Windscreen Shield Southern Area 1st Round tie at Plainmoor, home of Torquay United. A 364 mile round journey. For an Auto Windscreen Shield Southern Area 1st Round tie. In midweek. The rest of us alleged club supporters should really have stolen a prevalent phrase in ’90’s popular culture, formed a circle around Angie & loudly & repeatedly chanted ‘We are not worthy’ though I doubt  other Waynes’s World catchphrases applied to the match itself, some grainy footage of which is supplied below. Party time?  Excellent? Not the appalling Torquay shot over the bar recorded below! I remember suggesting to her that developing an addiction to crack cocaine would probably prove less expensive & injurious to her mental (if not physical) welfare than following Swindon Town. Made no difference to Angie. Why would it? These days Angie does allow herself to duck the odd game & the EFL Trophy, the Auto Windscreen equivalent now, is understandably boycotted due to it being a plaything for bigger clubs to test their Academy staff against older, more physically developed opposition.

18 months earlier Swindon had been relegated after one season in the Premier League, manager Glenn Hoddle having been lured away by Chelsea chairman Ken Bates immediately after a thrilling 4-3 Wembley play off victory over Leicester had secured promotion in May 1993. The courting of Hoddle by Bates had been typically less than subtle  & less than helpful for Swindon’s preparation for this game. Having to start their one season in the Premier League without their influential player manager didn’t help much either. A few years earlier, in 1988, the ending of the reign of a previous Chelsea manager had moved ever closer after John Hollins saw his increasingly beleagured charges thumped out of sight 4-0 in a third round Simod Cup match at a muddy County Ground. The first time he had heard both sets of fans singing ‘Hollins Out’ the soon to be ex Chelsea boss ruefully admitted. Angie went to that game. I didn’t. In 1994, Angie was in the crowd of 11,180 watching an end of season game between Chelsea & Swindon at Stamford Bridge. I had spent the early part of that day at the ground queuing for FA Cup final tickets, & had to return back to Oxford for what was left of the working day, giving me no chance of travelling back for the match. It’s an excuse of sorts but in the same situation Angie would have found a  way to do both. Swindon were rock bottom of the table with a minus goal difference of 51 at the time, 53 by the end of the game despite £2.1 million flop Robert Fleck making a rare Chelsea appearance up front. Many would have found a reason not to go, but Angie is made of sterner stuff. One game we were both at was a ZDS cup tie at Chelsea in 1991 a cold evening with 5,712 fellow brave souls, though I still believe that when Vinnie Jones headed in a last minute winner at the Shed end that Angie & I may have been the only people left in the stadium, albeit at different ends. Stamford Bridge was an awfully big ground for such a sparse crowd back then. In 2015 I spent Easter on the coast at my mother’s & watched on television as Chelsea beat Stoke on the way to a fourth Premier League title in 10 years. I was 11 years into my self imposed Stambord Bridge exile by then. At the same time Angie  joining the 92 club made the Swindon Town programme. Given the plethora of new grounds & different clubs coming in & out of the league she has probably got nearer to 120 grounds visited now. She has followed the Swindon, over land & sea. And Leicester. (both Filbert Street & the Walkers Stadium no doubt). Her late father, who first took her to Swindon & accompanied her to matches for many years would be mightily proud. And rightly so. What memories are in there too. The Lou Macari years of the mid to late 1980’s, Wembley play offs, relegation rather than promotion for financial irregularities, seeing Dave Mitchell score a goal, entire weekends in Blackpool to tie in with the fixture at Bloomfield Road, & once being chatted up by the Seasider’s own legend, Wembley play off hero Brett Ormerod. I can’t begin to compete with the sheer volume of varying football based experiences Angie has enjoyed watching Swindon, many of which I envy, though not, in fairness, the Brett Ormerod incident. Sorry Brett you’re just not my type. Nor Angie’s as  it turned out!

Opposites attract. Another two word beacon of semantic banality & rarely is this cliche true. A flipside of like minds repel works better for most football fans. The majority of most followers of the beautiful game spend large chunks of their time vehemantly disliking supporters of opposing teams & expressing that dislike in the strongest of terms. Ironically this is triggered by universal & identical tuning forks regardless of which team you back. The illogical refusal to allow opposing fans to make the same criticisms of your club that you frequently express yourself.  The week to week victory to defeat wavering from believing you support the best club in the world to having been cursed in pursuing a lifelong relationship with a gutless, spineless, pampered, overpaid ragbag of disinterested mercenaries, overseen by greedy, egotistical, uncaring owners. The universal conviction that referees discriminate against your boys more than any others, rather than the simpler, more accurate conclusion that their ranks are apparently terminally riddled with gross incompetence. One minute we’ll support you evermore, the next preparing to hurl your season ticket at the nearest steward. If you are an Oxford United fan then Swindon fans are vile, inbred scumbags with little or no right to walk this earth. Swindon fans feel similarly towards Oxford. This is hilarious when you stand outside the bubble of rivalry. I can happily recount that if blinfolded when listening in to a group of supporters from either side venting their spleens that the anecdotes & conclusions each have & draw about the other are almost indivisible, & bleeping out the names of players, teams & grounds involved in the conversation would make which of the two clubs are their own almost impossible to decipher. This pattern could be repeated around the football world from Burnley to Buenos Aires, with similar results. Indulging in a wholesale painting of opposing teams & their fans with the scum brush is, of course, illogical, mad &  plain wrong. Unless it’s Chelsea fans ripping anything or anyone Spurs a new one of course, which will for eternity be both perfectly acceptable & enormous fun.  Why? Because I say so.

There is often a certain schizophrenia which dilutes all this apparently pure hatred though. Friendships are formed between supporters of rival clubs in a milder form of Alf Garnett style racists befriending the black person at work or next door. You know the sort. ‘He’s alright it’s the rest of them I can’t stand’.

Angie depises Oxford United more than anyone, but being a thoroughly nice, balanced human being she can’t carry it through beyond a certain point. Annette, her close friend & colleague from the days when we all worked for Blackwell’s bookshop in Oxford, has a season ticket at the Kassam Stadium, seated near a collection of fellow former colleagues from those days, none of them ever dealt with in a vitriolic way by quite possibly the truest football fan I have ever met. When I first met Angie she was actually married to an Oxford fan. It didn’t last, but the fact that they married in the first place betrayed an ability to compartmentalize her loathing for the boys from up the hill, as Oxford were sometimes called back in the day when they played in Headington. Somebody once told me that the wedding cake had been iced one half in red, the other in yellow, as a nod to their different teams, but I don’t believe Angie has ever confirmed this to me. Never mind, it’s a nice image, & harmless if untrue. Print the legend!

None of this denies a genuine aversion to Oxford United on her part though, not diminished one iota by the dismal Joey Beauchamp saga of the mid 1990’s. Beauchamp was a very talented footballer indeed, a winger who was quick & skilful, blessed with good dribbling  & crossing abilities allied to a happy knack of scoring goals, often long range & spectacular. I first saw him play as a 17 year old in a reserve game against Chelsea, a game I attended beacause my then favourite player Micky Hazard (also a Swindon player a few seasons later) was playing. A frustrated & disgruntled Hazard was sent off for an awful & uncharacteristic foul, soon to be followed to the dressing room by team mate Colin West, but Beauchamp played well & was clearly already a darling of the reserve set within the Manor Ground faithful, admittedly as weird a bunch as you are ever likely to share football ground space with. His conduct during his brief stay at West Ham may have seen him derided as a wimp by former Hammers boss Billy Bonds & pathetic by almost teammate Tony Cottee (who rejoined West Ham shortly after Beauchamp’s miserable 58 day stay had ended) but on the pitch he had shown the cojones to continually make a monkey out of another Irons legend, the fearsome Julian Dicks, in a game a year or so before his £1.2 million pound transfer to Upton Park in the summer of 1994. The desire to sign him was probably inspired that evening so comprehensively was Dicks embarrassed, a feat equalled a few years later at Stamford Bridge when Gianfranco Zola twisted the old bruiser’s blood in the most humiliating fashion when scoring the opening goal. Beauchamp got Man Of The Match by the sponsors, a well known publisher, which I remember only because I was one of their guests & got a vote, plumping unsuccessfully for midfielder Les Phillips.

Beauchamp has recently given an interview to Sky, offering a wheedling & somewhat unconvincing version of his 1994 transfer to West Ham, claiming that he was guaranteed he could travel from Oxford for training each day, did not know how much travel that involved as the negotiations took place at Heathrow, only 45 minutes drive away from Oxford, & that he simultaneously did not want to leave Oxford but did want to play for West Ham. He also cited having suffered from depression twice in his life, but did not clarify that this era was the scene of either of these  (we do know that drink & a gambling addiction contributed to one breakdown years after he retired). The progression in support networks for modern players compared to 1994 was also mentioned, & the fact that he had been made very aware that Oxford United were in dire need of the money. In short the failure of the move & the ensuing debacle of a flag of convenience transfer to Swindon was everyone’s fault rather than his. I do not downplay the effects depression can have on a person’s life, having had to walk away from a job because of it myself, but the interview offered a few pointers towards an arrogance & sense of entitlement possibly not untypical within the football world. Firstly, by 1994 the Premier League was in full swing. If not the bloated cash cow it is now, a player with the potential to become an international footballer moving into the big league from the Championship in a seven figure transfer would not have been short of offers from agents who could have clarified the terms of his contract, including daily travel arrangements. Secondly, it is safe to assume that Beauchamp received handsome salaries at West Ham & Swindon, & having not requested a transfer from Oxford would have also taken a nice slice of that fee too. Rumour had it that before signing for Swindon he asked West Ham to pay the loyalty bonus included in his contract, after 58 days & no competitive appearances. A decade & a half earlier another gifted local born Oxford player, Kevin Brock, rejected a move to Brighton just as he was due to put pen to paper. Still a teenager, unlike Beauchamp, 23 but already a seasoned professional by the time the West Ham move surfaced, Brock had enough presence of mind & strength of character to stand  his ground in a room surrounded by angry & desperate men. These included Brighton boss Alan Mullery, a fiery character at the best of times, & Jim Hunt, secretary of a financially imperilled Oxford, who despairingly told me & a collection of other people this story a few days after it happened. Brock stayed at Oxford until his mid 20’s before moving on to QPR having both won Division 2 & the Milk Cup,   growning up a bit in the process. Fair play. Are we really to believe that Beauchamp had not considered the journey from Oxford to London? If not, then stupidity is his only bargaining plea, it is a common one for many in Oxford. Scores of people travel to London & back there for work every day, some of them struggling with stress, anxiety & depression, most working 8 hours a day or more rather than a couple of hours training to do the thing they love. Beauchamp could have commuted & still have been home long before any of them most days, but was still in tears on one of his early appearances at the West Ham training according to Harry Redknapp, who took over as manager from Billy Bonds at this time, Beauchamp’s attitude cited by some as a contributory factor in the latter’s disillusionment. Joey never kicked a ball in anger in a meaningful match for West Ham, but he did play in a pre-season friendly at Oxford City, conveniently close to home (he arrived separately from his colleagues) & distinguished by Harry Redknapp inviting  a courier from Milton Keynes called Steve Davies out of the crowd after hearing him loudly barrack Hammers’ striker Lee Chapman. A 30 a day smoker with a few beers already on board, Davies took Redknapp up on the offer & proceeded to score a second half goal, which remains one more goal in the claret & blue than Mr Beauchamp ever mustered. He was deemed to have shown little or no commitment during the game, & the Hammers cut their losses a month later, selling him to Swindon in a deal valued at £800,00 with centre half Adrian Whitbread moving to Upton Park as the makeweight in the deal. Now everyone was pissed off. West Ham had lost both money & face given their feeble rejection from a player seemingly with the world at his feet. Oxford fans were livid that he had ended up at their most hated rivals, though  subsequent alleged death threats & harrassment of family members were  clearly disgusting. Swindon ended up with a player who continued to appear lethargic & unhappy, having also seen a valued defender sacrificed in the process of acquirng him. Joey  was correctly perceived by Town fans as an Oxford man to the core &  the clearly underwhelmed Robins manager Steve McMahon, an old school hard man as a player in his ’80’s Liverpool pomp, was happy to see him sold back to Oxford for litle more than two bob & a pickled egg 39 appearances, 3 goals & little more than a year later. The next time Swindon visited the Manor Ground the misery of a 3-0 defeat was compounded by  Beauchamp scoring the final goal at the Cuckoo Lane end directly in front of the away supporters. He played another seven years for Oxford before injury curtailed his career prematurely, showing  frequent flashes of his old brilliance in the process.

In truth, I wouldn’t like Joey much if I were a West Ham or Swindon fan. In truth, despite admiring his football ability, I don’t like him anyway. After he retired I would frequently see him in my local Ladbrokes or William Hills when placing my weekly £10 accumulator. Beauchamp would be sliding a bundle of neatly banded notes on to the counter from his back pocket to place on the next race at the dogs, usually revealing an identical bundle of banded notes sat behind it ready for the following race. He was then a professional gambler, an enviable existence on the surface, approaching his ’40’s having never had a proper day of working drudgery in his life. Good luck to him I thought, though it did occur to me that maybe helping coach the kids at Oxford might have been a constructive idea if time hung so heavy on your hands that you could seemingly live in the bookies. Ultimately, the wheels came off, depression & heavy drinking apparently fuelling a breakdown. Oxford belatedly gave him a jont testimonial with Dave Langan, & in his early ’40’s he did join the ranks of the workers for the first time. I know because instead of standing in front of me in the queue at the bookies it was him who served me. This seemed a bit like a crackhead getting a job as a drug dealer & when  I say he served me, it is more accurate to say he took my bet. Having worked in customer service roles for years I can confirm that it is difficult to conclude any transaction with even the most objectionable customer (I like to think I’m not one of these) without saying as much as a please or thank you very much in the process. Traditionally, Ladbrokes staff  usually say ‘good luck mate’ when handing you your betting slip. Not our Joey, mute throughout, as dim, dismissive & arrogant as anyone who has ever served me anywhere. I have never betted in Ladbrokes since & my response all these years later when recalling the incident is identical to any West Ham or Swindon fan of my vintage recalling his career. Fuck off Beauchamp. As stated previously, on Sky last month, tongue now miraculously restored, he claimed both to have not wanted to leave Oxford but be nonetheless keen to play in the Premier League with West Ham & further his international ambitions. On joining Swindon he said that a move there had always interested him (they originally bid for him at the same time as West Ham)  & wished he had gone there from the start. Long after retiring, In 2010, he was quoted in another newspaper as saying he had not wanted to go to either West Ham or Swindon!  He does get awfully confused doesn’t he? I believe he managed to accept all the cash that came his way & bought him the house in Oxford that doubtless enabled his booze & gambling fuelled lifestyle for many years. To repeat, depression is a terrible, frequently indiscrimanate illness & Beauchamp was but a callow youth back then, but sympathy outside of the ranks of the Oxford United faithful, where he presumably (& justly) remains a hero, wears rather thin for this seemingly still rather deluded & self pitying individual.

Lots of retired footballers get stuck in a web of depression, often with drink & gambling as contributory factors. It is a short career &  filling the void when the roar of the crowd subsides must be tough. Like an ageing, once beautiful woman, walking into a room & not immediately turning heads for the first time, they have to adapt to navigating their way through the rest of their life coming to terms with no longer being an effortlessly acquired focus of public attention. For all the money & adulation many footballers get I sometimes think that supporters like Angie & her mates get the best deal in the end. Over the years they may  get fleeced  by their club, have their opinions ignored, be treated with contempt by some of its playing staff, get sold out to the television companies by the football authorities & mishandled by stewards & police. However, they form bulletproof friendships in the process, taking time off work to travel the length & breadth of the country backing their team, forging bonds that have nothing to do with earning money or furthering professional ambitions, in the process achieving a genuine togetherness that endures.

After the Plymouth game we return to the pub. As Angie had tried to warn me the Arkells I am drinking is indeed suspect. It might be a long trek home. I can’t drink for shit these days as it is. Rockin’ Robin (Malc) announces that a Plymouth fan has just snarled ‘fucking four eyes’ at him coming out of the ground. Clearly we may have to extend our search for the country’s next comic God beyond the south coast of Devon. The Plymouth fans have generally been decent though, they always travelled well in my experience, right back to the 1970’s when they had Paul Mariner & Billy Rafferty up front, before Mariner went on to play  for England & bequeathed Chris Waddell his mullet. There had been an old school atmosphere on arriving at the first pub before kick off, with Plymouth fans stood rather ominously on the other side of the road & a healthy smattering of Old Bill present to oversee any potential action. As far as I can tell nothing had really happened though, & the atmosphere at the game had certainly been an improvement on the deadly combination of entitled elders & box ticking tourists that frequently make Stamford Bridge feel like a pre-match minute’s silence has been extended to 45. As the Plymouth team coach starts the long journey home another of Angie’s mates runs out into the middle of the street, bends over, drops his trousers & moons its occupants . I would never dare do that. With my dodgy back & increasingly massive arse I might never get back up & end up being mistaken for another of Swindon’s many roundabouts. Malc insists I must be rich as a Chelsea fan, not understanding that supporting Chelsea has been one of many factors ensuring that I will never be rich. It would be tempting to point out that I walk the 6 mile return journey from Victoria to Stamford Bridge every home match, unlike Angie & pals catching a taxi between boozers as they had done earlier. Flash gits! Malc also tells me that I  came to watch some proper football for a change, as if a season of Eden Hazard last year had been some kind of hardship. I am happy to take a back seat & understand my place. I am a Chelsea supporting ponce from Oxford. I go to Stamford Bridge on my own these days so it is nice to stand in a pub & witness the natural camaraderie. There is a lot to be said for suporting your local team, but my blue plaque tourist walk to the ground & escape from my home town is a massive part of my matchday ritual, & Chelsea grabbed me in its greedy Child Catcher from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang like paws when I was 7. I had no real say in the matter, & no apologies will be forthcoming at this late stage. Angie is actually travelling to Oxford later for a night out. Malc is considering going too, but is clad in clothing extensively advertising his allegiance to Swindon Town. I suggest he goes the whole hog & travels to Oxford in his Rockin’ Robin outfit. This is understandably ignored. He is convinced that gloating Oxford United fans will be flocking into town that night still wearing their scarves & team shirts, celebrating their own team’s 3-0 win over Doncaster Rovers. Those days are gone in Oxford. Malc also has memories of being on a Swindon supporter’s coach that broke down in Blackbird Leys, a notorious housing estate close both to The Kassam Stadium & my own home. It has to be said, there are better places for a Swindon supporter’s coach to break down. Eventually alternative clothing is found & I decide to travel back to Oxford with them on a bus. They are good company. Malc does other things bar dressing up as a 7 foot tall robin, which includes being a proud father. The trip home includes some nostalgic YouTube viewing of Swindon’s finest Premier League performance, a 2-2 draw with Man Utd, that season’s Double winners. Malc & Angie add some lively accompanying commentary that annoys a man in a shabby looking Man Utd shirt, who pointedly gets up & moves to the other end of the bus, fixing us with a series of angry looking stares over his shoulder as he does so. They are passionate these bus dwelling, badly dressed 60+ Man Utd fans from Swindon. At least the reliving of Cantona’s despicable stamp on John Moncur, Mark Hughes exchanging blows with the Swindon crowd & Luc Nijholt’s wickedly deflected shot flying into the Man Utd goal distracts me from the absence of a toilet to relieve my bladder, reeling from the combined effects of old age & dodgy Arkells & from Faringdon onwards screaming  ‘why didn’t you get the fucking train back too you stupid old twat?!’ at its hapless owner. Angie & Malc kindly offer me the chance to join them on their evening out, unaware of the war I am waging against a first  brush with public incontinence. I politely decline. When splashdown at Oxford occurs (not literally I am relieved to report) they go their way & I go mine. Their matchday ritual is very different to mine but in our differing ways we love our teams, & football itself. The day has been spent in the company of good people, Strictly Come Dancing has been avoided & William Hill have failed to profit from my ignorance of the footballing merits of Andorra or Lithuania. I have also managed not to piss my pants on a bus.

Result.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

White Trash

WSL September 8, 2019

Chelsea 1 Spurs 0

Who put the ball in the Tottenham net? Beth England celebrates her stunning strike.

In February 1994, a mere 18 months after football apparently began with the formation of the Premier League, a thunderous last gasp penalty from Mark Stein  sealed the points in a seven goal thriller against Spurs at Stamford Bridge. The game was Sky ‘s Sunday 4 p.m fixture, so a blue riband game in the eyes of Murdoch’s media bully boys despite both teams struggling at the lower end of the table.

The crowd that day?  16,807

There were 24,564 people at Stamford Bridge to see Chelsea Women kick off their league season with a narrow victory lit up by Beth England’s early superb long range winner. 8,000 extra people do not recreate the fiery atmosphere engendered in 1994. Women’s football is making huge inroads into the sporting mainstream but passions are not fuelled by past triumphs & disappointments, then lit up by decades of terrace tribalism & the subsequent pub goadings from friends & Monday morning work inquests. This is rather nice. I enjoy watching Chelsea beat Spurs without ever worrying about having to endlessly relive  the horror of the result being reversed, watching the game unravel  without all the dyed in the wool, mouth foaming loathing I normally reserve for anyone in a white shirt, an unbecoming but instinctive response for a man of my age. Traditionally the pre match playing of instrumental reggae classic Liquidator has always been accompanied with a chant of Chelsea! in the appropriate gaps but in recent times that has been replaced by We Hate Tottenham! which when the match is against any other team but Spurs betrays a regrettable preoccupation with a despised rival outfit that lends them far more importance than they warrant. The different composition of this crowd means the We Hate Tottenham! chants are diluted, & at least they were today’s opponents. I could still do without it though, it feels wrong in the context of the overall atmosphere at this game.

England’s splendid early goal aside, & the fact that it was the first ever WSL goal at Stamford Bridge, the game will not linger long in the memory. Spurs battled back well & the hoped for avalanche of Chelsea goals never materialised. I missed the presence Of Fran Kirby & Ramona Bachman, stars in the 2018 FA Cup win over Arsenal, which was the last women’s game I had attended. Both appear to have been struggling for form & fitness  ever since. Until injury forces her off Hannah Blundell has a  really good game on the left hand side of the defence, & the towering presence of Millie Bright at centre half is a reassuring presence as Spurs mount a decent series of attacks in search of an equalizer that never comes. I am a little disappointed by the skilful Ji So-Yun, whose contribution promises more than it delivers, but she has shown enough on many other occasions to suggest that this may just be one of those days. Goalkeeper Ann-Katrin Berger keeps a clean sheet on her Stamford Bridge debut. Less than two years ago she was diagnosed with thyroid cancer, her speedy recovery & return to the game a heartwarming & inspirational tale if ever there was one.

Holding this game at Stamford Bridge with free admission is clearly a positive move. Tickets for women’s games at Kingsmeadow are not hugely expensive, but waiving the cost entirely at Chelsea’s spiritual home, with its 41,00 capacity, lures many, including myself, to this opening WSL fixture of the season. Fulham Road is significantly less bedecked with the merchandise stores that always line the street on normal matchdays, but there are plenty of fans wearing replica shirts. Many of them are pre-teen children, & a large percentage of these are girls. Hopefully England, Bright & Berger can inspire a long term love of Chelsea the way Bonetti, Cooke & Osgood did for me many, many years ago. Matchday shirt wearers are usually predominantly pot bellied & frequently balding men with sweat stains under the armpits sometimes betraying the combined aroma of Lynx & pints of Wife Beater recently quaffed in one of the nearby pubs. Today’s contrast is not unwelcome. Many of the kids are inevitably accompanied by one or both parents. I’m guessing this may often be the first professional football match ever seen by mum & dad as well as child. Once inside the ground I take my seat  in the Shed Upper Stand surrounded by parents & small children. One among a gaggle of young girls sat behind me throws a hairband at me. I’ve been spat on, had bottles thrown at me, been hit with low flying celery & had to flee from stampeding police horses in & around football stadiums but a 9 year old’s hairband as object of menace is a Shed end first. There is also the uneasy feeling that they may view me like the weirdo who sits too near the swings in the park, sat on my own with spare seats around me as I am. I resist the temptation to tell them to grow up. There will be others far more deserving of that rebuke, & with far less excuse on grounds of tender years. I chuckle at the memory of a school trip to Lords to see England play the West Indies when a row of us spent far too long  decorating the wild Hair Bear Bunch barnet of the man sat in front of us with multiple pieces of the inside of a banana skin. After twenty minutes or so of this his wife, like him a  posh hippy type, turned to us &  quite calmly & pleasantly asked if we would please not  put any more bits of banana in her husband’s hair. Englishness at its finest. Chuckling to myself over 43 year old memories probably ups my weirdo status, though there is the distraction of pre-match entertainment from DJ Marvin Humes, whose previous incarnation as a member of JLS even I am aware of though the club website doesn’t mentioned this once in the piece trumpeting his appearance today . It strikes me that I am too old to appreciate Marvin’s presence & the kids around me are too young, but my instincts are no longer sound on issues like this. I saw Cat Power in the summer & still regard her as an up & coming talent. She’s 47.

In the bad old days when violence in football grounds was rife politicians would talk wistfully about attracting families back to football, as if the sport had once offered a day out with a picnic at Whipsnade Zoo type experience. I doubt many complete family units had ever gone to football, but maybe they will frequent the WSL from now on. There is no reason why not. Nobody is carrying the traditionally bitter Chelsea-Spurs rivalry too intensely into this arena are they? Largely speaking the answer is no until the noisier element within the Tottenham following briefly let themselves & everyone else  down with a sadly all too typical moment of lazy, arrogant, spineless & self satisfied cretiny in the first half.

These are good times for the women’s game. 31,000 attended the Manchester derby match at the Etihad the day before this one, where unlike this game the punters were charged entrance money. Fran Kirby has already offered a sensible rebuttal  of the voluble Megan Rapinoe’s repeated assertion that women players should be paid the same as the men. This will happen when punters regularly cough up £60+ to fill the biggest stadiums in the country. The success of the American women’s team has eclipsed their male colleagues but generally it is unclear where else the money tree can be  shaken to meet Rapinhoe’s demands. There is method in her mardiness though. Star of this summer’s World Cup, Rapinoe is obviously highly intelligent as well as stridently opinionated, particularly where her country’s Sunny D faced President is concerned. Openly gay & also clearly totally in love with herself, she is  a walking recipe for boiling the piss of misogynists everywhere, already raging with disproportionately high levels of resentment at the extended television coverage the tournament received in comparison to previous years. Rapinoe may be a publicity junkie as well as a top player but if being an overbearing, egotistical pain in the arse was a deal breaker the men’s game would have been shorn of hundreds of top players & managers in recent years (not forgetting obnoxious match officials like Mike Dean) & with it many miles of column inches. Her ability to attract attention & animosity in equal measure offers an extra passageway to an already massively increased profile for women’s football. Love or hate her (& I suspect 90 seconds in the same room would be 89 too much for many of us) she is provoking interest & debate & helping to build the greater investment & media coverage that will help drive the women’s game closer to economic parity with their male counterparts. Reaching that goal may ultimately prove unattainable, but the older onlookers among us will remember women’s tennis waging a similar war in the 1970’s & also being widely scoffed at. This was spearheaded by Billie Jean King, a tireless campaigner for both tennis & women’s rights generally, who had an abortion at the height of her career & an extra marital affair with another woman. She scandalized many in the process, but the fruits of her hard nosed, steely determination allied to consistent on court brilliance are apparent today. Tennis only went professional in the late 1960’s so the old school ties were reeling after a decade of Billie Jean on & off the tennis court. Nowadays men will generally still outstrip women in earnings on the tennis circuit but the top prizes at the majors have parity & women’s finals often attract the biggest viewing figures. If you are larger than life & completely brilliant like Serena Williams then the sponsors will flock. Whether Rapinoe has a similar aptitude to Billie Jean in fighting for the greater good of all women in her sport through interminably dull negotiation behind the scenes  remains to be seen. It is going to be a very long journey & unfortunately for Meg Rapinoe the cameras will not always be on, & when they are will not eternally be focussed on her.

Rapinoe is far from being the only recipient of misogynistic ire however. The hostility shown towards Alex Scott & Eni Aluko for having the temerity to offer opinions as invited pundits on BBC & ITV panels during the 2018 men’s World Cup was frequently widespread & neanderthal. For decades the likes of Des Lynam, Brian Moore, Frank Bough, David Coleman  & Dickie Davies anchored high profile games with no obvious qualifications to back up the opinions they also frequently proferred in the process. Apart from being white & male of course. Both Scott & Aluko have over 100 international caps to their name. Both had clearly prepared extensively prior to matches, leading fellow panellist Patrice Evra, former France & Man Utd defender & past, present & future dickhead, to ostentatiously feign surprise & applaud sarcastically when Aluko revealed her tactical awareness & knowledge of the personnel on show during one match. Evra had neither done his homework or contributed anything intelligent at this point. Fellow panel member Henrik Larson also allowed this fool to get away with his condescending & ill mannered behaviour. Aluko ploughed on, having got used to being treated with much scorn & contempt within the game & media circles after accusing  her former national team manager Mark Sampson & his backroom staff of making racist comments towards her & fellow team mate Drew Spence. After an attempted cover up had failed the FA acknowledged the complaint as justified & Sampson belatedly apologised. Her other detractors have been disgracefully slow to follow suit. Perhaps being male & representing Manchester United rather than a female Chelsea player gives a person a better chance of having such a complaint taken seriously. The furious debate within social media around Scott & Aluko’s punditry betrayed a staggering array of furious responses to this stampeding through the sacred gates of the hitherto male bastion of sitting around talking bollocks about football. Relax everyone, some of us are largely happy just to watch the game anyway. The increased coverage of this summer’s women’s World Cup further fanned the flames & I just don’t get it. If it was knocking the men’s game off the screen it might be more understandable, but as it was  summer this was simply not the case. I don’t like Strictly Come Dancing ergo I don’t watch Strictly Come Dancing. The button on the top left of my remote control does the work for me. The nonsensical media furore caused by the American tea sip goal celebration, mocking their English opponents during the Semi Final between the two nations, is indicative of the increased media attention women’s football is now garnering. This is commensurate with a greater general widespread interest but dissenting voices are not confined merely to the dinosaurs, indeed quite a few detractors seem to be female fans of the men’s game who feel that the standard of women’s football is not sufficiently high enough to justify the increasing hype. Personally I enjoy watching women’s football & the skill level in the higher echelons of the game is generally high. A preponderance of poor goalkeeping standards has long been a cliche, & its referencing  a source of irritation to Emma Hayes, Chelsea’s fantastic boss, but it has often been a valid critical observation, though less so now than when I first saw matches on television in the 1990’s.

There was a time, in my long lost youth, when I had an admiration for Spurs, grudging as it was. For the 1971-2 season the author Hunter Davies, a Spurs fan himself, was granted access to all areas of the club, especially the dressing room, that was unforeseen then & unimaginable now. The result is The Glory Game, a brilliant football book that stands tall even now as one of the finest works in the genre. He is honest about some of the casual racism within the dressing room, especially from one of the coaching staff. These views would not have been unusual at other clubs, nor indeed any British workplace in that era so this is not a stick to beat Spurs with exclusively. West Ham were the only London club with black first team players in 1971. 10 years later & the Spurs 1981 FA Cup winning team was a walking advert for increasing diversity in the game despite the majority of the team still being British born. The admirable Steve Perryman was the only player left from the exclusively white, British dressing room Davies has witnessed at first hand a decade before. Spurs set the trend for signing players from overseas with the 1978 signings of Argentinian World Cup winners Ossie Ardiles & Ricky Villa. In goal was Milija Aleksic, who grew up in a small Serbian community in Staffordshire. Full back Chris Hughton had a Ghanian father & Irish mother. He also wrote a column for a newspaper funded by the Worker’s Revolutionary Party. The front three may have been an Englishman, Irishman & a Scotsman but the Englishman was black (Garth Crooks) the Irishman a graduate in Russian Studies (Tony Galvin) & the Scotsman an intriguing eccentric (Steve Archibald) who went on to excel for Barcelona under Terry Venables. For animal lovers there was centre half Paul Miller. Nowadays a team can field an entirely non-English team & nobody bats an eyelid, but madcap Yugoslavian international keeper Petar Borota aside, Chelsea lagged way behind in fielding a team representing changes in the game & society as a whole. The failure of the fans to truly accept a black player from the outset until Clive Wilson & Ken Monkou arrived in the late 1980’s tells its own sorry tale. Spurs had seemingly seamlessly added Danny & Mitchell Thomas as well as winger John Chiedoze to their first team ranks long before then. They were also successful, winning the FA Cup again in 1982 & The EUFA Cup in 1984, playing good football in the process. With Glenn Hoddle also in their team, easily the most gifted English footballer of the age, it would be churlish to deny Spurs their due at the time, also the existence of a tinge of envy at the trophies they won while Chelsea languished in the lower reaches of Division 2. Britain was a hotbed of racial unrest in the early 1980’s & in 1985 Tottenham joined Bristol, Brixton & Toxteth in staging a fully fledged riot protesting against brutal policing sponsored by a brutal government backed by rabid & often racist apologies for newspapers. Don’t buy The Sun. This culminated in the horrific murder of PC Keith Blakelock on the Broadwater Farm Estate. A sorry tale for sorry times, but manager Keith Burkinshaw’s cosmopolitan team at least offered black youth in Tottenham some joy & hope sadly lacking elsewhere.

How times change. It is a long time since jealousy was an emotion felt towards Spurs as either a team or a club by any Chelsea fan, though the combination of their magnificent new stadium, allied to the shelving of the spectacular plans for redevelopment of Stamford Bridge, may yet give many of us some cause for future concern. Otherwise the past quarter of a century have seen a dramatic reversal of roles since the dog days of the early ’80’s with Spurs supporters now claiming exclusive rights to communal readings from the gospel of envy. I’m far too kind to list the respective trophy counts, but suffice to say the sourness from the Cockerel Chorus about Mr Abramovich & the source of the wealth that has bankrolled Chelsea so handsomely since 2003 has been a convenient smokescreen that fails to obscure certain cast iron facts. Between 1988 & 2005 Spurs failed to beat Chelsea once in the league on their own ground. They failed to win at Stamford Bridge for 28 years in any competition until 2018. When they did beat Chelsea at White Hart Lane in 2001, a handsome 5-1 Worthington Cup Semi Final victory their fanbase seemingly increased tenfold overnight. Friends who had not talked football to me in years sprung out of the closet to gloat. They lost the final. To rub it in further, Chelsea returned to White Hart Lane a few weeks later for an FA Cup game, turning the tables handsomely with a resounding 4-0 win. Three days later the two teams met again in a league match at Stamford Bridge & Chelsea again won 4-0 thanks largely to a sublime Jimmy Floyd Hasslebaink hat trick. A deflated Spurs following were serenaded with a chorus of ‘Normal service is resumed‘ & left to cultivate their hatred of all things blue. It was difficult not to laugh so I didn’t try. Their one trophy this century aside, a 2-1 Carling Cup final win over Chelsea in 2008, the footballing gods have happily conspired to continually overlook the ghastly North Londoners. In 2012 Spurs were denied a Champions League place for the first time after Chelsea grabbed the fourth slot courtesy of winning the tournament with arguably the worst team they had ever put out in that esteemed competition. Chelsea also won the FA Cup that season, hammering Spurs 5-1 at Wembley in the semi-final. For several years under the excellent Mauricio Pochettino Spurs have seemingly had a stronger & more talented squad of players than Chelsea. In that time Chelsea have won two Premier Leagues, one Carling Cup, One FA Cup & the Europa League. Spurs have won nothing. The sense of injustice & thwarted entitlement was best summed up during BBC coverage of the 2017 FA Cup Semi Final. Spurs played well but it was Chelsea who won the game 4-2, the victory sealed with a magnificent piledriver from Nemanja Matic who only ever manages one of those a season. After the game a surly, pouting Jermaine Jenas, a hopelessly biased Spurs loyalist, came close to descending into a lisping Violet Elizabeth Bott from Just William ‘I’ll thcweam & I’ll thcweam & I’ll thcweam till I’m thick’ tantrum after the game, as Alan Shearer & Frank Lampard struggled to control their smirks sat next to him in the studio. There is an expression that has entered footballing parlance in modern times & it was  epitomised by both the game that day & Jermaine’s deluded meltdown. Spursy my friends. Spursy.

One day, quite possibly sooner rather than later, the wheel will turn but in the meantime Tottenham bitterness grows & is mutating into something both putrid & pathetic. Earlier this year I saw the Carabao Cup Semi Final 2nd leg against Spurs at Stamford Bridge. Recent incidents had seen Chelsea’s name dragged through the mud again, regrettably prematurely due to a trial by television & the usual media gobshites (Piers Morgan, Matthew Syed, Gary Lineker etc) whose appetite for indulging their considerable egos once again stymied the authorities & the police being given time & space to conduct a thorough investigation first. Raheem Stirling, undeniably on the wrong end of unpleasant verbal abuse regardless of the eventual outcome, is the only person to have emerged from that ugly episode with any credit, offering an intelligent & measured response both to the actual event & the behaviour towards him from sections of the media in recent times, often displaying its own rancid whiff of insidious racism. The banana thrown at Arsenal striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang by a Spurs fan around this time was also reported but seemingly forgotten quicker than you can say media agenda. Some credence was even given to the argument that it just happened to be a banana & its proximity to Aubameyang, who just happens to be black, was also an unfortunate coincidence. Spurs fans as a group do not deserve to be universally denounced for the  idiocy of the odd twat but then Chelsea fans should not be defined by a handful of idiots denying a black man access to their compartment on the Paris metro. They often are though, & during the Carabao Cup game Spurs fans played on this with a second half chorus of You’re All Racist at The Bridge, their achingly soulful take on the huge 1975 Rod Stewart hit Sailing. They then followed this up in the most knowingly provocative way with a rousing two word racist ballad. Yid Army! Yid Army! Yid Army! they bellowed, doubtless congratulating themselves on the glorious irony of baiting Chelsea fans (who I genuinely did not hear use the word yid once) with racist behaviour that they currently appear to be bulletproof from in the eyes of both the police, football authorities & despicably their own wretched club owner, the odious Daniel Levy. After the game, with their heroes having choked  during the penalty shootout I passed their Fulham Broadway bound massed ranks as I moved away in the opposition direction. A sizeable percentage of them were uttering the same, sinister, low volume chant in unison. Yids Yids Yids. Were they all Jewish? No. Are more than a small percentage Jewish? Highly unlikely. They are all cunts though.

Their other favourite recent pastime is taking the moral high ground over Marcos Alonso’s involvement in a fatal car crash in Spain in 2011. He was a Bolton Wanderers player then, but strangely the news has only really filtered through to North London since Alonso joined Chelsea in the 2016-7 season. In August 2017 he struck twice at Wembley Stadium to seal a slightly streaky Chelsea victory over Spurs at their then temporary home. Sloop John B  has become Marcos Alonso He Murdered A Girl. They have actually created a flag relaying this message & I saw one wankstain online proudly holding a custom made mug bearing this lie. All out of deep concern for the victim & her family I am sure, or at least since 2017. The precision of the moral compass shown by this far too large element within the Spurs fanbase has been called into question since October 2018 however, when their World Cup winning goalkeeper Hugo Lloris was arrested in West London for erratic driving & found to be more than twice over the legal limit. The response from the Seven Sisters chapter of born again teetotalism? A deafening silence. Alonso will have to continue living with the events of that night in Madrid. Rightly so, but all of those directly affected could probably do without malicious simpletons indulging their obsessive bitterness at their football team’s chronic underachievement by dredging up a tragic death to score cheap & irrelevant points against a consistently superior opponent. The WSL game saw less of this malign drivel aside from a staggeringly inappropriate outburst halfway through the first half. Unlike the Chelsea support, as stated supplemented on this day by many footballing virgins of all ages, Spurs had bought a sizeable & vocal adult following. Nothing wrong with that, although ironically they reminded me of rival Arsenal fans at the first leg of the FA Youth Cup Final in 2018, trying to goad an often uncomprehending Chelsea end with the standard call & respond spite that is grist to the mill for a Premier League fixture. It simply felt less appropriate in this context.  I can’t help but wonder if both these sets of fans are trying a little too hard to ease their frustration with Chelsea outstripping them on the trophy front for so long by trying to hoover up crumbs of comfort wherever they can. Chelsea won both these games too so if so it’s another fail guys & gals. Shall we sing a song for you? gets rolled out. Why not? A bit of Bieber for the older kids perhaps, a rousing chorus of The Wheels On the Bus for the tots? We didn’t get either of those, as the self appointed moral conscience of London football regaled us once again with their familiar hymn. Yid Army! Yid Army! Yid Army! Once again I curse the absence of any active intervention from the charmless Levy over the past few years but first there is a more spontaneous response to these pointless inadequates.

Do Fuck off.

As early as the late 1960’s the brilliant & militant Last Poets angrily reclaimed the word nigger as their own. Twenty years later the gay community adopted queer to disarm homophobes traditionally using it as a term of abuse. Spurs fans are not predominantly Jewish  so the use of yid by their non-Jewish supporters is not reclamation but racism. Plain, naked, unvarnished racism. I am angry with everyone where the yid/yiddo chant issue is concerned, not least with myself. No one here gets out alive on this one. Back in the mid ’80’s when I first became aware of the word being used  against the boys from White Hart Lane the battleground against racism was largely constructed around the disgraceful & shameful abuse aimed at black players. The quoted alternative anti semitic version of  10 Men went To Mow, 10 Men Went to Gas A Yiddo, was disgusting but apart from a small group of cretins singing it coming away from the ground once I never heard it sung in the ground, or at least don’t remember, & I’m sure I would. This does not mean it never was of course. We were 40 years away from the end of World War 2 then, we are now only a few  years shy from being a similar distance in time from that era. For an ostensibly liberal, left leaning opponent of racism to drop the ball on this one seems unforgivable. It IS unforgivable. Back then it seemed both a random & abstract term to bait Spurs with, & as such most of us took it far less seriously than the more usual forms of racism habitually meted out in stadiums. Chelsea fans were famously at the forefront of such behaviour then, & as a high profile club are still a focal point for media investigation into such conduct to this day. People wear hijabs at Stamford Bridge these days. That would have been unimaginable once. It is not for me to say that racism has abated since those bad old days of the 1970’s & 1980’s, perhaps more people bite their lips & keep it to themselves now. A football crowd can only ever be a reflection of the views inherent within society as a whole. The reduction of an important political debate to gammon faced Brexiteers versus leftist, whinging Remoaners has not helped the cause of greater tolerance & racial harmony in recent years. None of this obscures the fact that the yid/yiddo label was thown around in the most cavalier manner imaginable for many years, & it didn’t massively bother me nor others holding similar values who would normally have balked at the use of such language. Shame on all our heads. I am not a hugely brave man but occasionally put my head over the parapet at games back then to tell a racist to shut up but although I never sang anti semitic songs at matches I never objected to others doing so. I know, I know….

In 2011 Jewish brothers (& Chelsea fans) David & Ivor Baddiel joined forces with Spurs greats Gary Lineker & Ledley King to lobby football supporters  against the continued use of anti semitic language. Decades of hearing your own team’s fans dispensing  hatred aimed at people with the same cultural/religious upbriging as you can’t have been pleasant. Spurs were central to the campaign on the grounds that if their fans continued to use a word once used as a slogan in the East End by Mosley’s fascist Blackshirts then it was going to be difficult to get others to follow suit. The Tottenham Supporters Trust announced it would poll members about its continued use in 2013, the same year police arrested some Spurs fans for chanting it during a home game against West Ham. The CPS dropped the charges in 2014 as it considered that the chants were not threatenening, abusive or insulting. PM David Cameron had also weighed in by then, undermining the Baddiel campaign by supporting the Spurs fans right to chant it as he did not consider it to be motivated by hatred. There may have been some truth in this once but surely no longer. His memoirs are published shortly, after which we can hopefully look forward to him disappearing from public life, albeit a decade too late. Another product of the idiot tree, one Katrina Law, then secretary of the Tottenham Hotspur Supporters Trust, triumphantly announced in the aftermath of the CPS decision that Spurs fans would continue using the so called Y word. Spurs fans were not being malicious using the word, & though mindful of the offense it caused the Jewish community she insisted that no further arrests should be made & her club’s supporters should be free to continue chanting yid & yiddo ‘using it as a badge of honour and as a call to arms.’ Yes, she really said that. Not remotely mindful of the Jewish community at all while applauding the fact that future arrests of any football fan from any clubs using the words was now likely to become a legal minefield. As these chants are heard less & less at Stamford Bridge the lone voice performing it solo near me in the Matthew Harding Lower at a recent game then attempted to justify it by saying ‘they sing it themselves so nobody can stop me from fucking singing it.’ He is a dick but sadly he has a point, so well done the THST & Katrina, was is it obligatory or optional to have shit for brains to get elected to this august body back in 2014 one wonders? Spurs fans now like to regale us all with updated ditties like this:-

We sang it in France, We sang it in Spain, We sing in the sun and we sing in the rain, They’ve tried to stop us and look what it did, The thing I love most is being a Yid

Chelsea have many black players at present, & a tradition of many Italian players & coaches since the 1990’s. If old, fat, white blokes like me had at any time started referring to ourselves as niggers or wops en masse would or should there have been any tolerance for this in the media or the law courts? Rightly there would not. Of course some direct intervention from Daniel Levy might have helped not just the Baddiel campaign but us all. Roman Abramovich, in despair at continued use of anti semitic chanting from Chelsea fans, has started his own campaign attempting to explain & re-educate the uninitiated. He paid for a 150 strong delegation of fans & club officials to go on a trip to Auschwitz in June 2018 with a view to future miscreants also being given the chance to make the journey rather than face a ground ban. Increasingly the antisemitic chanting is disappearing inside the ground although it was to be heard loudly & at length outside The Globe pub in Marylebone Road prior to the Carabao Cup Final against Manchester City earlier this year, & those on European trips have also told a different story. Racist chanting at Chelsea matches has always been more commonplace elsewhere in Europe & it sounds like these matches still attract some people, albeit a small sub section, not entirely motivated by a love of football when following the Blues over land & sea. Levy & Abramovich are both Jewish, & the latter clearly feels passionately over this issue, but maybe more Chelsea fans respect their owner & take notice of his wishes than Spurs followers do Levy. I have disliked him ever since watching Spurs lose at home to Getafe in the EUFA Cup in 2007. Rumour had it that he had recently been negotiating with Sevilla boss Juande Ramos to replace the likeable Martin Jol as Head Coach. The rumours had been denied. Jol spent the match prowling the touchline looking like the condemned man under huge pressure that he was, but when Spurs went 2-1 down the cameras shot to the director’s box where Levy had a ‘got him’ smirk written all over his face as he whispered into the ears of nearby associates like a combination of a low rent Mafia boss & a better dressed Del Boy. Jol had been labouring with a team containing a collection of below par but expensive signings that he was not thought to have requested or desired. It would appear that he was effectively sacked before the final whistle that night but appears to have been the last person to know, finding out not from Levy but via a text message from his nephew. Classy Danny boy, classy, and who was promptly appointed in his place? Juande Ramos. Fancy that. Abramovich has also treated coaches shoddily, especially Claudio Ranieri & Carlo Ancelotti, but never so publicly & sadistically than Levy did on this occasion. I liked Jol & remember him as a player at WBA. This may well have been the last time I felt any empathy for anyone connected to Spurs. Levy’s classless & spineless behaviour that night spoke volumes, so perhaps we should not have been too optimistic of a wholehearted support for the Baddiel Y Word initiative. Maybe, just maybe, there is some cause for hope however. Spurs recently launched another consultation with fans over the matter. We await the results. Given that thousands of Spurs fans do not spend their football watching time spouting terms of racial hatred under the spurious guise of reclamation we can only hope for a positive outcome. What I heard outside Stamford Bridge after the Carabao Cup game was not celebratory or without hate Mr Cameron, & if Katrina Law thinks shouting Yid Army! at prepubescent children during a woman’s football match is celebratory & a ‘call to arms’ then she is clearly even more stupid than I first feared. Chelsea fans continue to live with the consequence of racist behaviour down the years from malign elements within the fanbase. I have to live with my own implicit indulgence of the yiddo chants at games in the latter part of the last century. It is now time for Spurs & their less intelligent fans to stop hiding behind hollow delusion & help us all to forward the cause against anti semitism at football matches. Will they? Time will tell.

The women’s game?  How nice it would have been just to concentrate on that! Doing just fine as it goes. And what a goal from 5 Feet 5 Beth, the most agreeable little Englander in the ground today.

* December 2019 Update

On December 16 Spurs announced the results of their survey (to which they had more than 23,000 responses) as follows:-

  • 33% of respondents use the Y-word ‘regularly’ in a footballing context
  • 18% of respondents that do not use the term in a footballing context consider it ‘offensive’, with the number rising to 35% among Jewish respondents
  • Only 12% of respondents would use the term outside of a footballing context
  • 94% of respondents acknowledge the Y-word can be considered a racist term against a Jewish person
  • Almost half of all respondents would prefer to see supporters choose to chant the Y-word less or stop using it altogether

Interesting stuff. The last bullet point stat here seems to offer the most hope, although it must be remembered that many of the more braindead supporters are unlikely to ever fill in a survey like this. Great response from Spurs fans though & hopefully the club do not view the exercise as literally a form filling exercise.

 

Adios Amigo

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

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

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

 

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

EH17

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

 

 

Buon Natale!

zolaxmas

It actually did feel like Christmas everyday between 1996-2003 having Gianfranco Zola light up Stamford Bridge on a regular basis. Now back at Chelsea as part of Sarri’s coaching team. Legend.

I Remember, I Remember

March 5, 1988 Coventry City 3 Chelsea 3

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

I look away & keep moving in the opposite direction.

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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