Ron Green – The Shrew Ron Ron

26/11/1988 Chelsea 2 Shrewsbury Town 0

Hats off to Ron Green – lord of all he surveyed on this grey autumnal day at Stamford Bridge 30 years ago. A small sample of his brilliance recorded above.

 

Ron Green. Even the name conjures up images to engulf the ageing fan in the warmest of retro glows. His superb performance at Chelsea in 1988 remains one of the greatest goalkeeping performances I have ever witnessed & in retrospect a last hurrah for the era so readily evoked by the name itself. Ron Green. A solid yeoman with a solid yeoman’s name, a worthy holder of the flame for those great keepers (& characters) who were everywhere in the 1960’s & ’70’s, cornerstones of the English game. Harry Dowd. Charlie Wright. Roy Burton. Ken Mulhearn. Bill Glazier. Colin Boulton. You can imagine any one of those names belonging to a peripheral character in Coronation Street back then, one of those types hanging around the bar at the Rovers Return just long enough to garner a one night only bunk up with Elsie Tanner before beating a hasty small hours retreat, the old warhorse of crushed romantic dreams left once again with little more than further heartache & badly smudged mascara. These are names evoking fast fading memories of Players No 6, pink evening sports papers, roasted chestnuts & Double Diamond, & also, lest we go full jumpers for goalposts here, fans amending Build A Bonfire to sing ‘You Ain’t Got One ‘Cos You’re A Bastard, You’re A Bastard Referee.’ Football & society may be much changed but the contempt for match officials at  football remains firmly intact & is all too often well deserved. Blame the likes of Clive Thomas, Graham Poll & Mike Dean equally. I  always do.

Admittedly It was easy to be generous to Ron Green on this occasion. Chelsea were 2-0 up  against Shrewsbury before Green really got into his stride, Bobby Campbell’s team riding the crest of an unbeaten wave that would last another five months. Shrewsbury were never going to stage a comeback based around their loanee goalkeeper’s impressive exploits, & there was a fund of goodwill towards the opposition that day, their former Chelsea ranks swelled by terrace legend Micky Thomas, former youth & reserve team midfielder Phil Priest  & the simultaneously hilarious & terrifying Doug Rougvie. Ian McNeill, John Neal’s popular assistant at Chelsea in the first half of the decade, was also the Shrews boss at the time.

Within barely a year of Ron’s successful efforts of depriving Chelsea a near double figure victory we entered the 1990’s. Things then changed. Quickly. There would still be the occasional Fred Barber to keep Ron company in his goalkeeping dotage but soon we were ensconced in a world of foreign goalies as the long held, seemingly unassailable British belief that our keepers were the best in the world foundered. Move over Perry Digweed, it’s time for Ludek Miklosko, Espen Baardsen, Dmitri Kharine, Hans Segers & Pavel Srnicek. Mysterious, exotic sounding names redolent of cold war Bond villains & high end international drug barons. Goalkeeping duties at Man Utd back in 1990 were shared between Les Sealey & Jim Leighton. Names that would have fitted your local brickie or plumber. After the departure of Peter Schmeichel the new century at Old Trafford began with the arrival of Fabien Barthez via a short disastrous flirtation with the ill fated Massimo Taibi, both sounding like they could be casino based international playboys. Now the English game has Claudio Bravo, Hugo Lloris & Rui Patricio, sounding glamorous & intriguing regardless of the reality of their respective backgrounds. Fabien Barthez even had a supermodel girlfriend, Linda Evangelista, notorious for saying she would not even get out of bed for less than £10,000 a day. Ron Green probably struggled to clear £10,000 a year at the start of his career. Never mind Ron. Balding of pate with a minor hint of paunch you nonetheless put on a goalkeeping masterclass at Chelsea that day. Here we come to praise the stalwart, traditional British goalkeeper that time & Murdoch billions has done its best to bury. Despite denying me an avalanche of Chelsea goals against Shrewsbury Town the memories are curiously fond. The selection of clips from that season’s highlights video are a sample of Ron’s excellence. A splendid tip over the bar from a near post Kevin Wilson flick & a superb point range block from a close range Kerry Dixon diving header are the best on show here, not to mention thwarting the valiant attempt of defender Doug Rougvie to repeat his famous own goal at Wembley wearing the blue of Chelsea in the 1986 Full Members Cup final. Ron spared Doug’s blushes this time but not future nightmares for the rest of us at Stamford Bridge. Big Doug leant his head back & laughed in the aftermath of this incident,  revealing a ghoulish smile, punctuated by missing teeth, that rendered Freddie Krueger’s cinematic grin  less terrifying than that of Bungle from Rainbow in comparison.

It is always pleasing to doff your cap at such an outstanding performance for goalkeeping is a precarious existence. No other performer in football walks the hero to zero tightrope with the same frequency. When things are going well a keeper is frequently a figure of wonder & sometimes mystery. In my formative years we heard tales of the enigmatic, black clad Russian Lev Yashin, lithe, agile & exotic. Sadly there was not much footage available to view with Yashin spending most of his career playing behind the Iron Curtain. Here we had the all encompassing brilliance of the late, great Gordon Banks. I had the very real pleasure of seeing him play a couple of times, so imposing he appeared to fill the goal yet in one of the last pictures I saw of him he was dwarfed standing next to the current Stoke stopper Jack Butland. Stature on a football pitch can clearly not be measured merely by height & weight. Nonetheless some of the man mountains in the modern goal have scaled similar heights of brilliance, namely Denmark & Man Utd’s belligerent  Schmeichel in the 1990’s, & presently the splendid  Bayern Munich keeper Manuel Neuer, both earning less affection but almost as much admiration as the men from yesteryear. The supernatural reflexes of  Atletico Madrid & Slovakia’s Jan Oblak also see him currently vying for the joint accolades of  current best keeper in the world & all time great. It must be said there were fewer plaudits for Mr Schmeichel’s mercifully shortlived ’90’s rap career.

This rather melancholy novel was a staple on many a young boy’s bookshelf in the early 1970’s. It is a rather cynical but doubtless honest riposte  to the lovable 1950’s style cliches that infused comic book football legends like Roy Of The Rovers (Tiger) & Billy’s Boots (Scorcher)

Brian Glanville did not eschew cliche with the book’s title though, albeit one superglued to the truth. Goalkeepers are indeed different. Always have been & hopefully always will be. Maverick eccentricity abounds in the world of the goalkeeper & has done since the early days of the professional game. Chelsea bought Sheffield United’s legendary shot stopper William Fatty Foulke for £50 in 1905. He reputedly weighed in regularly around the twenty stone mark & plenty of tales are attached to his legend, often as tall as he was wide. At the tail end of the twentieth century we enjoyed World Cup sightings of Colombian Rene Higuita & Jose Luis Chilavert of Paraguay. Higuita’s extravagant mane of hair left him looking like Charles II in a tracksuit when he played at Wembley against England in 1995, during whch he famously unveiled his outrageous scorpion kick, contemptuously flipping his legs over his head & clearing  a strange cross cum shot from Jamie Redknapp with his heels. Higuita clearly had as much regard for Mr Redknapp’s footballing prowess as most of us have for his tedious modern day punditry. Rene scored nearly 50 professional goals from free kicks & penalties, & frequently indulged his fondness for joining in the play a long way from the goal he was primarily supposed to be defending. Sadly he missed the 1994 World Cup in America due to a spell in prison, courtesy of having received money for acting as a go-between in a child kidnapping case involving the infamous drug baron Pablo Escobar. Makes Peter Shilton’s pre-senile pro Brexit sloganeering  & one time alleged extra marital auto-erotic activities seem pretty tame. Rene’s contemporary Chilavert aced him on the goalscoring front, scoring 67 career goals including eight in international football for Paraguay. With both Jose Luis’s prison sentences having been suspended Higuita retains the edge on the porridge serving front though. Recent photographs of the long retired Chilavert suggest that William Foulke might sue anyone using the perennial soubriquet attached to his name were he alive today. Suffice to say that the Paraguayan is now one big chunk of hunk. All power to both him & Higuita anyway. Shine on you crazy diamonds.

There can undoubtedly be a dark side to the life of a goalkeeper. The most dramatic example of this is undoubtedly the sobering story of Robert Enke, deputy keeper in the German national team when he shocked an unsuspecting football world & threw himself in front of a train in 2009. He had struggled with deep periods of depression for many years & endured personal off pitch tragedy but his father later confirmed that football had also been a major contributory factor towards his awful & horribly premature death. Specific incidents & episodes in his career conspired to encourage the black dog to fester & linger throughout Enke’s career. After  making a vital mistake in 2003 playing for Fenerbahce he was traumatised at being bombarded with bottles, firelighters & mobile phones by angry fans. At Barcelona the sense of isolation felt by many a goalkeeper, frequently outsider loners in a team sport, had been compounded by a sense that coaches & playing colleagues generally did not believe in his abilities or facilitate his settling in at the club. While there he was reduced to the occasional appearance in domestic cup tournaments, never a high priority in Spain. Generally though it was continuing to conceal the fact of his serious depressive tendencies from the football world at large that proved the most debilitating, constant & ultimately fatal hurdle to overcome. In the case of goalkeeper John Budgie Burridge what seemed to be a peculiar but harmless, childlike obsession with his craft masked a problem that would only manifest itself fully on retirement. At a quite advanced stage of his career Burridge once claimed in an interview that he liked to take both his goalkeeping gloves & a football to bed with him, sometimes wearing his boots as well. He eventually retired at 47 after playing for more than two dozen clubs between 1969 & 1997. The career longevity was telling, a preoccupation with physical health supporting the continuation of the football life he loved seemingly overriding similar considerations for his mental well being. He ended up in The Priory simply unable to come to terms with the prospect of an existence without playing football. Thankfully he is now back in the game coaching  goalkeepers overseas.

The absurdist philosopher Albert Camus was a goalkeeper himself in his teenage years. ‘There is only one really serious philosophical question, and that is suicide’ he once wrote. If its shits & giggles you were after then an evening round at Albert’s was probably not the place to start but did he first formulate his ideas on acknowledging the true futility of human existence while standing between the sticks as a callow youth? Either way both his philosophical beliefs & goalkeeping exploits would doubtless have led him to appreciate the cruel irony of the stray dog incident at Griffin Park in 1969 when Brentford’s goalkeeper Chic Brodie was felled by a canine pitch invader running full pelt into him. Cue widespread mirth on the terraces. Not so funny for Chic. He sustained serious ligament damage in this freak incident & never played again, the laughter that rang around the ground as he lay in agony probably still ringing in his ears decades later.

The problem for all goalkeepers is that there is nowhere to hide when things go wrong. Miss three sitters as a striker but score a late winner & your aberrations are swiftly forgotten. A miskick or underhit pass to a colleague by any outfield player & there is a good chance a colleague will rescue the situation & spare your blushes. Often that colleague will be your goalkeeper. Unfortunately a string of brilliant saves made in a match will soon be overlooked by media & fans alike if you let one through your legs in the 89th minute & your team loses the game. Take lovely Peter Bonetti. A Chelsea hero with 600 appearances who famously helped the club to its 1970 first FA Cup win on one leg having been battered by Mick Jones of Leeds in the replay at Old Trafford. A year later a breathtaking late save secured a Cup Winners Cup final win over Real Marid. He was our Yashin, a slight but wonderfully agile & supremely fit man who still turned out for the veterans team into his ’60’s. Outside SW6 however, his name is eternally greeted with laughter & disdain in many quarters. He won seven international caps, keeping clean sheets in five with England winning six of these matches. Unfortunately the odd game out was the small matter of a World Cup quarter final, the first game he had played since his Old Trafford heroics. Bonetti had an off day. Somebody had to carry the can for the nation’s misery & it was the man known as The Cat, forever reminded about it by smartarses everywhere outside The Shed for the rest of his playing days. Several of his defensive colleagues went missing that day & appear to have been absent ever since whenever the postmortem recommences & the buck inevitably stops with Bonetti yet again. Another Chelsea goalkeeper, Dave Beasant, famously threw in three horrendous second half goals to cost his team the match against Norwich City in 1992. Within an hour of the final whistle his manager swiftly threw him to the lions, or more accurately the assortment of weasels regularly infesting the Chelsea press box back then. Many Blues fans were howling with rage long before he commenced his bowed head walk of shame off the pitch. As a fan I found his ineptitude that day infuriating but it was a hard heart that could not at least spare a thought for a broken looking Beasant at that moment. Inciting the rage of your own fans allied to the inevitable aftermath of frenzied media ridicule is a potent cocktail. Big Dave looked like the loneliest man in the world at quarter to five that day. God alone knows how poor Loris Karius coped after his notorious cock ups playing for Liverpool on the massive stage that was the 2018 Champions League Final against Real Madrid.

Being abused by your own fans may well be the worst experience for any footballer, but dealing with opposition supporters can also be a huge ordeal. Being closest to the terraces on the old days frequently involved goalkeepers running the gauntlet of a variety of missiles, from the ubiquitous toilet roll to darts, knives, coins, fireworks, ball bearings & whisky bottles. The fact that these were more commonly aimed at goalkeepers above other players was usually more logistical than personal but this was probably scant consolation at the time. Sometimes things did get personal too, especially for higher profile players, & often emphasising the complex & contradictory nature of the relationship between goalkeeper & fan. When Chelsea played Derby in the first match of the 1990-1 season Rams veteran goalkeeper Peter Shilton was given a resoundingly warm & effusive ovation by The Shed as he took his place between the sticks. Recently retired from international football & already over 40, Shilton had been part of the Italia ’90 England team that had helped restore faith in the national game after years of doom, gloom, terrace violence & Terry Fenwick. For the previous decade he had not always been so fortunate though. After lurid reports of a late night marital misadventure in his car Shilton was goaded by supporters of rival clubs throughout spells at Nottingham Forest & Southampton. He was a brilliant keeper in his prime but in the first game after the story broke the taunts of the Arsenal crowd were loud even on television highlights & the game was lost for Forest after an uncharacteristic Shilton blunder. When injury required on loan Eric Nixon to briefly replace him in the Southampton goal at the Manor Ground a few years later the Oxford fans regaled him constantly with chants of Shilton’s With Your Missus. Nixon found it amusing apparently. Shilts may have found it harder to raise a smile. In 1995 David Seaman ran out at Stamford Bridge to a sea of theatrically flailing arms singing Let’s All Do The Seaman. Four days earlier Arsenal had lost the Cup Winners Cup final to Real Zaragoza, the winning goal an outrageous 45 yard shot from former Spurs midfielder Nayim which induced the  panicked & futile physical response from the Arsenal goalie now being reproduced by Blues fans in all four corners of the Chelsea ground. Seaman threw his head back & laughed & continued to smile thoughout most of the game depite the endless goading. His good humour departed only once, quite understandably, towards the end of the game, when a small section of supporters decided to bring his private life into the equation with Seaman Seaman Where’s Your Kids. Once again the proximity to the crowd rendered a goalkeeper vulnerable & exposed to pointless & wholly undeserved personal abuse.

Happily all is not torture & torment  in the world of the goalkeeper. I know little or nothing about Ron Green’s life away from the football pitch but like to believe that he was one of those many stalwarts of the goalkeeping game who seem to have played through their careers bereft of existential angst. I fondly imagine him as a Banks’s Bitter & Dominoes in the snug at his local kind of chap. I have no evidence for this of course. He may have spent his spare time paragliding & dropping acid for all I know, but he cut a calm, steady, frill & fuss free figure on the pitch. He was not a big name in football but this performance was remembered by the Chelsea faithful. Two years later he returned to Stamford Bridge for a 1990 League Cup tie against Walsall, unchanged save for the balding pate looking to have slightly advanced. Walsall were the exception to the knockout rule in this era which usually decreed that Chelsea would  lie down happily & spread their arse cheeks for any lower division opponent. Not Walsall though. We always battered Walsall. The first leg away had been won 5-0 & the second leg saw another comfortable win. Ron failed to repeat his 1988 heroics & conceded another four goals but The Shed showed they had not forgotten him, chanting Ronnie Ronnie Give Us A Wave, warmly delivered & reciprocated with the requested response by the man himself despite having just shipped eight or nine goals over the course of the two legged tie by this point. His name would not generally have been tripping off the tongues of too many in the SW6 area. The Shrewsbury game was the only explanation. In fact, while generosity & opposition players were usually alien concepts in The Shed during the 1980’s, it was goalkeepers who were usually the exception. For four years prior to the club’s absurd relegation in 1988 there had been frequent visits from Liverpool & Everton, then the two best teams in the country. Opposition to be respected but not usually engendering any love. Nevertheless I can recall both their goalkeepers, Bruce Grobbelaar & Neville Southall respectively, being warmly clapped when taking their place in the goal at Chelsea, & both readily acknowledging that applause. Liverpool & Everton had some truly hateful players at the time. Steve McMahon, John Aldridge, John Bailey & Pat Van Den Hauwe to name but a few. A veritable Who’s Who of 1980’s footballing shithousery. There was more chance of Chelsea fans turning up in white shirts with a cockerel logo on them & singing Nice One Cyril for 90 minutes than giving any of those charmless characters a clap or a cheer. Even in this feral era goalkeepers were not only different but frequently treated differently by opposition supporters. Grobbelaar & Southall were both brilliant & fascinating characters. Grobbelaar was the larger than life soldier from Rhodesia, a flamboyant attention seeking showman, egotistical & acrobatic, happy both to play to the gallery & engage with it. Southall was a natural scruff who sometimes looked like he both lived in & dressed from the dustbins he had emptied for a living before he turned pro. He largely let his considerable talent do the talking for him & may well have been the best goalkeeper in the world for a time. In retirement he has also shown himself to be a unique & admirable man, entirely untypical of someone from his footballing background & all the more impressive as a consequence. He is now a champion of all sorts of good causes, committed to defending & supporting oppressed & underprivileged members of society, & doing so with the same intensity & obsessiveness that drove him to such great heights during his time at Goodison Park.

Grobbelaar became famously embroiled in one of the more squalid episodes in recent footballing history before he retired, but a quarter of a century later still comes across as a boorish, unpleasant, spivvy chancer. The reckless arrogance which made him such a charismatic presence on a football pitch clearly translates rather less palatably into civvy street.  Sadly he would fit perfectly into the modern game. I suspect it would be anathema to Big Nev. These are two goalkeepers who were definitely different though. Not least from each other.

And Ron Green? It must be said that Ron’s Google footprint is almost invisible apart from a Wikipedia entry & a few statistical career breakdowns dotted about the place. He retired in 1992 after a career taking in two stints at both Shrewsbury & Walsall as well as spells with Bristol Rovers, Scunthorpe, Wimbledon, Kidderminster Harriers, Colchester Utd & Bromsgrove Rovers. The glamour &  glitz may have eluded him but we can be confident that he deserves to rest easier in his dotage than the likes of Bruce Grobbelaar. Photos of Ron also proved difficult to come by online. At least I did eventually come across a doubtless dated heads up at https://www.where-are-they-now.co.uk . In a similarly presumptuous & patronising manner to my prior imaginings of his social existence I envisaged him to be indulging the traditionally linear retired footballer’s route from playing days to pension. Running a newsagents or a pub. Was this correct or was there to be a delightful twist, the erstwhile guardian of the Gay Meadow goal morphing into a spy or an international jewel thief in his latter years? Neither according to https://www.where-are-they-now.co.uk  – they  last have him working as a postman in Sutton Coldfield. Maybe my pint of Banks’s & Dominoes in the snug theory is not so far off after all. You would imagine the Post Office would have to up their pay structure a smidgen before Linda Evangelista joins their ranks though doubtless she would rock a pair of those shorts better than Ron. I think we can also be confident that neither Fabien Barthez or Claudio Bravo are ever likely to see out their working lives delivering the Royal Mail in Sutton Coldfield, or indeed anywhere else. Then again neither has ever remotely put up as good a show at Stamford Bridge as Ron Green did on that chilly, drab November afternoon 30 years ago, earning not millions but a deserved & prolonged respect from those of us who witnessed it. Sadly this pays no bills in 2019 but for what little it is worth, in a sport now sickeningly consumed by greed, remains a proper football fan response to a proper footballer.

Cheers Ron.

 

 

 

 

 

 

One Micky Hazard?

October 18th 1986 – Chelsea 2  Manchester City 1

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A short collection of masterly midfield string pulling from Micky Hazard’s Chelsea days. The Spurs video has long been consigned to the bin. Warning – crowd celebrations may contains traces of celery.

 

I maintain that I have only let Chelsea down three times in nearly half a century. Not good but let’s put things into perspective. Peter betrayed Jesus three times in one night. They made him a saint.

My long exile from Stamford Bridge following the Abramovich takeover is not included in the list of dishonour. Chelsea didn’t need the likes of me by 2004. They don’t need me now. Whether the club liked to admit it or not things were different in the good old bad old days, & I fell short on three occasions. I’m at ease with the first aberration, which took place in December 1985, when as Chelsea played at Oxford in the Full Member’s Cup I was sat in a pub half a mile away trying to impress a woman. Even in younger, marginally prettier days, finding a winkle free member of the human race prepared to watch me quaff  bottled Guinness, smoke Marlboros & talk drivel was not that common  an occurrence. The Full Member’s Cup was also a joke tournament entered largely by clubs not good enough to win a proper competition. Chelsea won the match 4-1 & ultimately the trophy. My amorous misadventure? Suffice to say that Kerry Dixon scored three times more than I did that night.

Like Peter’s day of shame my other two failings also involved the crowing of a cockerel, mine from the markedly less biblical surroundings of White Hart Lane.  Sainthood, sadly, will never be bestowed on me, but unlike poor old Peter at least I won’t be crucified upside down, merely left to live with my days of ignominy, one of which will undoubtedly haunt me to my grave. Not being canonised at least meant I avoided falling under the radar of great art works like the glorious Denial Of St Peter. Thankfully Caravaggio was not around to depict my worst aberration (reportedly he was browsing in Our Price instead) in the early months of 1990, when I wandered into my local HMV, strode purposefully into the Video section & purchased the artefact featured below.

I know, I know. It’s criminal conduct on a par with OJ Simpson popping round for a word with the ex, Gary Glitter hitting PC World with a faulty laptop, or the entire punditry career of Jermaine Jenas. Pleas for clemency will undoubtedly & deservedly fall on deaf ears. In my youth one of the local vicars would visit a local newsagent to buy pornography under the mistaken impression that if he wore a scarf to conceal his dog collar he would be preserving his anonymity as he shuffled to the counter, a trusty copy of Razzle discreetly tucked inside that day’s Times. This feeble effort would certainly not have fooled the big boss man upstairs. Neither did it fool Mr Hathaway, the aforementioned newsagent. You can’t fool yourself either, & had I donned a Phantom Of The Opera mask while wearing a Dusty Springfield beehive wig before entering  HMV on that fateful day, the intent behind my visit  remained the same. Needless to say they didn’t peddle hardcore pornography in HMV,  but the burning sense of shame experienced when procuring a copy of Spurs – Greavsie’s Six Best Matches Of The ’80’s would not have been greater had I been caught snaffling up a copy of Cum Guzzlers 5 in a dank, darkened room in a Soho side street. Even less had it been Vol 4 which in fairness I understand to be something of a classic of the genre.

There is plenty of revisionism these days about the man whose recent departure from Stamford Bridge  inspired this act of  folly. Micky Hazard’s Twitter page nowadays is awash with a tireless (& to Chelsea fans tiresome) tidal wave of love towards the club he began & ended his professional career with, spats with supporters of rival clubs, usually Arsenal, punctuating the steady stream of gushing Tottenham love, the COYS (Come On You Spurs) acronym decorating his homepage as freely as lies from the lips of Boris Johnson. Micky is something of a Twitter tart these days, refreshingly happy to engage with fans in a way few football luminaries do. He even spared some time for me, as reproduced above, & despite this happening on a day of great pain for me (Spurs winning at Chelsea for the first time in 28 years) I remain rather chuffed he took the trouble. Sadly he can also be extremely thin skinned & in the aftermath of the infamous 2-2 draw at Stamford Bridge that killed Spurs title hopes for good in 2016 he joined fellow Spurs loyalist (& ex Chelsea player of the 1980’s) Graham Roberts in a mass blocking spree of Blues fans goading them about Eden Hazard’s crucial & glorious equalizing goal. It had been a game of unparallelled ugliness & spite, the Twitter fallout for the next 48 hours picking away at its many scabs with relish. Some of those squabbling with Hazard  doubtless viewed him quite differently in the 1980’s. For a couple of seasons this most gifted of midfield playmakers was the man most likely to alleviate the gloom descending on Stamford Bridge as the John Hollins/Ernie Walley coaching regime alienated the dressing room & slowly strangled the life out of all the advances made in the John Neal/Ian McNeill era preceding this unhappy time.

I followed the 2016 Twitter feuding at a distance & with some sadness, not at the generally high level of distress emanating from White Hart Lane, which was joyous to behold, but at the growing mutual bitterness between gloating Chelsea fans & Hazard. Roberts throwing his toys out of the pram I could live with. He had one great season playing a major role in getting us back to the top division in 1988-9 but had left under a cloud with the club later being investigated for illegal payments, one of which involved Roberts himself. The man currently betrays no affection for either Chelsea or its supporters. He had added some much needed steel & swagger in that promotion season, but I was always happy to view him as a footballing mercenary providing a welcome means to a desired end. He did a job and moved on but always came across as arrogant, boorish & unpleasant. I couldn’t care less which football team he waves his dick at these days. It was different with Micky Hazard. It always was different with Micky Hazard.

A few years ago I listened to a Spurs podcast. Normally a handjob from Edward Scissorhands would be a more enticing prospect but this was spying mission rather than betrayal as Micky Hazard was the guest. I was intrigued to hear how he would talk about Chelsea in the company of men routinely referring to my club & its supporters as ‘the scum’. Love you too darlings. He reminisced about scoring twice for The Blues on his first return to White Hart Lane a few weeks before this 1986 Manchester City game, & how he had felt he was scoring the goals in the wrong net & playing for the wrong team. Nonetheless Micky celebrated those two goals with relish. Pretending not to enjoy putting one over on your old club was not de rigueur in the 1980’s like it is now. He recalled Spurs boss Peter Shreeves frantically trying to buy him back very shortly after his £300,000 transfer to Stamford Bridge in September 1985. His love for Spurs was evident, he had originally joined them as a schoolboy from Sunderland & after Chelsea days he returned there from Swindon in 1993. The Spuds podcast boys he was talking to did not get the dirt they might have wished for though. His unbecoming 2016 Twitter meltdown aside Micky has always been steadfast in acknowledging the love & support he recieved from the Chelsea fans during his time in West London & to the possible chagrin of this audience (bar one interloper!) he reiterated that here. The only jarring note  was a confession he had joined the North London parade celebrating Tottenham’s last FA Cup win in 1991 & allowing the podcast bozos to promote the lie that he was still a Chelsea player at the time. By 1991 Micky was at Swindon via a short stint at Portsmouth. Chelsea was already two moves away. The overall impression was that Micky had enjoyed playing for the Chelsea fans but had never fallen in love with the club. Chelsea was a sporadically unhappy place during the 1980’s so this is hardly a crime, & the fact remains that on a rabidly pro Spurs platform he declined to denigrate a hated rival to score cheap points with their devotees. This was pleasing. I retain a fondness to greater or lesser degrees for most Chelsea players of the last 50 years. Those that lose it have usually worked hard to mislay my affections. There are only a small, select band who fall into the category of special players, who for a combination of reasons have lifetime elite status, an indestructible hold over my heart & mind when assessing the football I’ve watched at Stamford Bridge. Micky Hazard remains one of those players, despite the fitful nature of his Chelsea career, the sublime moments of brilliance being frustratingly fleeting.

I needed him back then. Having missed so much of the Neal years to distance & poverty I was out of kilter with certain prevailing attitudes from many fellow fans, & an interloper on existing bonds formed between terrace & dressing room. Of course I loved Pat Nevin, Kerry Dixon & Eddie Niedzwiecki too. Even if I did not buy into the adoration of David Speedie to the same extent I could still  love the talent & desire, but only when it rose above the endemic arsiness, which now seemed to be undermining rather than enhancing his performances, as had previously been the norm. Fiery to the last, Speedie was always the boy who would have been kept well away  from the paper guillotine at school. Returning to the match going fold I needed a player less firmly established to think of as my own.

Why Micky Hazard? What was it that led me to disgrace myself so publicly in HMV all those years ago? Well, he was hugely skilful, with great ball control & a sweet touch. Two footed, with a full range of unerringly precise short & long passes, along the ground or in the air, stroked, chipped, lofted, or driven. A top golfer requires a caddie to carry a full bag of top of the range clubs to achieve on fairway & green what Micky Hazard could conjure up on a football pitch with his left & right feet.He could shrug off opponents with a shimmy or a swivel & leave them for dead. He was capable of scoring great goals & would have scored far more in a better team. Pat Nevin astutely compares his passing ability to Cesc Fabregas, & he certainly shared a similar long ball radar to the Frenchman, famous for his seemingly telepathic penchant for finding Diego Costa from distance without even looking. An astonishing inch perfect forty yard lofted through ball for Kerry Dixon to latch on to against Coventry in October 1987 could have been a prototype for the immaculate 21st century Fabregas long ball model. Like Cesc he was less keen on tracking back, & liable to let an opponent leave him for dead if possession was lost, which in fairness usually was not that often, although for a small man he was always good for a few headed goal line clearances a season. At Spurs he had developed a reputation for lacking stamina & a liking for junk food had been mooted as the reason. Either ‘too many Mars Bars Hazard!’ or ‘too many burgers Hazard!’ was a frequent cry in response to any drop in standards from this delightful footballer, although one West Stand comedy visionary did once amend it to ‘too many kebabs Hazard!’ after rumours of a potential move to Olympiakos had been circulated in the press. Unlike some of the other talented recent Chelsea arrivals he had a certain style & charisma. On his day Gordon Durie was an accomplished & dynamic striker  but there was scant evidence of an on pitch charm or personality that lent itself to hero worship as well as admiration. Hazard was a distinctive figure who loved to both bask in & acknowledge the loud affection he inspired in the crowd, with a mop of fair curly hair & a habit of not tucking in his shirt. This often obscured those tight, minimalist ’80’s shorts the team wore back then  & sometimes left Micky’s shirt resembling a Kings Road Mary Quant ’60’s mini, our own Sandie Shaw tribute act. Sandie had better legs though. The tongue of his boots were generally raised in a way that led someone near me at one match to constantly compare them to floppy bunny rabbit ears. He wasn’t the tallest but he always stood out did Micky.

The Manchester City game in 1986 was my first glimpse of Micky Hazard & in many ways represents his entire Chelsea career in microcosm. I thought manager John Hollins needed to play him more regularly before the game. Afterwards  knew it. I had been away from Stamford Bridge for too long but the timing of my return was inauspicious. In the 1983-4 Division 2 Championship season I was still at university, in my final year. The only game I saw, an early season 2-1 win over Cambridge United, was in some ways the last gasp of a previous era. The team had been radically transformed with excellent signings but the winning goal that day came from Clive Walker & Colin Lee remained up front alongside one of the new boys, one Kerry Dixon. This was Walker’s last goal at Chelsea before he returned with Sunderland 18 months later & scored twice against his old team in an infamous League Cup semi final. He broke his jaw shortly after the Cambridge match & Pat Nevin replaced him for good. David Speedie soon joined Kerry Dixon up front to forge a fractious but profitable partnership. Lee stayed at the club as a successfully converted full back. By the time my final exams loomed Chelsea had sealed promotion with a thumping 5-0 win over Leeds. Dirty Leeds. The championship was sealed with a last day win away at  Grimsby. Despite being a manageable trip from Hull I still missed it, choosing to swot over my exams instead. While Kerry Dixon’s first half header was clinching a Div 2 title win my head was trying to get round the role of the Soviet Union in determining American foreign policy in China between 1941 & 1946. Reliving history while Chelsea were making it. Not the first or last person to have done that. One of the girls in my house went with her boyfriend who turned out to be the cousin of former Chelsea centre forward Trevor Aylott, a Bermondsey boy whose name was briefly in lights  when he scored the winning goal in both of his first two first team appearances at Stamford Bridge. Sadly he never scored again & went off on a nomadic career journey including Barnsley, Luton Town, Birmingham City & Oxford. His cousin kindly brought me back a programme after the Grimsby game & informed me it was a terrible game. Not that anyone cared, Kerry’s header ensuring the blue half of a dangerously over crowded stadium went into the summer with permanent smiles on their faces.

I not only missed almost all the 1983-4 but the entire campaigns in the following two seasons. My northern tenure was followed by a lengthy spell on the dole in a record year for graduate unemployment. When I eventually started a job I had to work every Saturday for the best part of the first year. These were  largely successful & quite exciting years for the club, marred by the Heysel tragedy in 1985 leading to a blanket five year ban for English clubs. A disastrous Easter in 1986 killed any lingering title hopes, but the trajectory for the club seemed very much on the up, & the 1985 signing of Micky Hazard from Spurs was a coup. He had played a major role in FA & EUFA Cup wins in 1982 & 1984 without ever truly nailing down a guaranteed starting place. Spurs had the most gifted English midfield player of the age in Glenn Hoddle, & the 1978 World Cup winning Argentinian duo Ossie Ardiles & Ricky Villa were also around for large parts of Micky’s first spell at the Lane. Exalted company but by 1985 Chelsea were able to swoop as the player became frustrated at being left on the bench & sought a move.

After a year even the most devout Chelsea fan would have forgiven Micky for wondering why he had bothered. For sentimental reasons I forked out the princely sum of £6 to sit in the West Stand for the Man City game. My first match in 1970 had been viewed from there. After a couple of years absence, witnessing the continuing decay of the stadium was a poignant moment. Chelsea had started the season badly & were without a home win in the league. The previous week had seen a 5-3 defeat at Upton Park & the mood around the club was gloomy. Rumours of behind the scene dissension were rife, & the departure of John Neal, architect of the on pitch revival that now seemed to have stalled, was imminent. John Hollins had taken over the management of the team after Neal stood down following ill health. Hollins had not felt the need to sound out his predecessor for advice. Neal now had a general manager role that increasingly seemed a merely ceremonial title, & grew increasingly resentful at being excluded from any active, constructive part in matters. He eventually went public in expressing his frustration & was sacked. A mere 12,990 turned up for the match on a suitably bleak afternoon, the paltry attendance reflecting both the poor start the team had made to the season & the generally straitened circumstances English football now found itself in following the Heysel disaster. Back in the 1970’s Rodney Marsh had  left Man City to play for the Tampa Bay Rowdies inthe NASL, lamenting that English football was now a grey game played by grey people on grey days. It seemed a harsh assessment in 1975 but acutely prescient now. Even Manchester City’s traditionally strong away presence was depleted.

Despite all this I was thrilled to be back. The view from the West Stand was pretty unbecoming to the impartial eye. There were weeds on the terraces, more obvious given the sparsely occupied status of the latter throughout much of the ground. Grotty refreshment kiosks still sold the standard fare of poor quality hot dogs, undrinkable coffee, weak tea &  Wagon Wheels to tempt the rows of pasty English faces quickly finding themselves watching rank, sub standard, footballing fare. The giant East Stand, still only 12 years old, cast its giant shadow over the other side of the pitch, looking relatively grand & modern. It was  completely out of keeping with the rest of the stadium, the folly of its construction a large part of the reason for the piss stained squalor of the other three sides of the ground. The money had run out in 1974 & next to nothing had been spent on the rest of the ground since. Behind The Shed remained the old buildings with ancient fading adverts still embossed to the brickwork. One was for Gordon’s Gin but my favourite bore the following pre-decimal legend – Blue Star Batteries £2 18/6. I get dewy eyed thinking about it to this day, doubtless unfathomable to the neutral but Chelsea fans of a certain vintage know. The nerves & excitement I felt on childhood visits to the Bridge had not abated. Deconstructed logically the surroundings I was returning to was little more than a glorified dump but love is blind. I was home again. The football for the first 60 minutes was abysmal, so bad that the reignition of my love affair with Chelsea football club might have stalled eternally then & there had I been a less hardy & masochistic soul. The much travelled Imre Varadi was making his debut for City & opened the scoring with a goal from an unlikely angle that nonetheless deceived the admirable Tony Godden in goal, probably helped by a deflection. Varadi unwittingly became a standard bearer for a lightening in terrace mood towards the end of the decade, as the ecstasy generation ushered in a mellower vibe & some City fans’ habit of mispronouncing Imre’s surname as Banana rather than Varadi (no, me neither) led to them turning up at matches with inflatable bananas. This craze caught on everywhere & gave the matchday ‘scarves & badges, wear your colours’ hookey merchandise sellers on the Fulham Road  a fresh line to tag on the end of this mantra for the first time in decades. ‘Get your celery!’  For Chelsea’s plastic inflatable of choice was, of course, celery. I didn’t mind. The real stuff hurled around at some velocity could sting. Inflatable celery? Do your worst lads.

There were no inflatables to lighten the mood in 1986 however. Chelsea were  woeful. At one point two of the bigger players in the team (John McNaught & Kerry Dixon I believe) went to head the ball at the same time, crashed into each other & ended up in undignified heaps on the floor. Left back Doug Rougvie was an undoubted character who tasted European glory under the tutelage of Alex Ferguson at Aberdeen, but too often appeared to have been plucked out of the crowd to make up the numbers during his Chelsea career, displaying the touch & timing of a house brick in the gob. At the time Channel 4 had issued a special discretion warning device on its screen while showing a series of oddball Friday night arthouse films usually failing to supply the anticipated acres of naked flesh.  Or so I’ve been told. The warning was supplied by an omnipresent red triangle on the screen. One match report after this game suggested big Doug’s archetypally cumbersome & thuggish performance had been deserving of a red triangle all of its own. Midfielder Keith Jones was a focal point for crowd displeasure. Jones was a local boy & black. The fond desire to see  home grown talent flourish at Stamford Bridge these days frequently emanates from a generation that forgets how little patience it showed in the days when local lads stood more chance of getting a game. The colour of Jones’ skin clearly didn’t help him either. His Chelsea career had started well but fell away against a consistent background of barracking from his own team’s followers. I won’t dignify them with the word fans. This was not the Man City we know now, not Aguerro, Silva, Mendy, Laporte & De Bruyne but David White, Andy May, Neil McNab, Kenny Clements & Mick McCarthy. Good honest pros but not world beaters who probably could not believe their luck at the shapeless, incoherent, apparently disunited rabble that formed the opposition line up for most of the game. The myopic romantic in me was thrilled to be back at Stamford Bridge but the realist could not avoid the unpalatable truth that this was a Chelsea team hurtling back towards mediocrity. It desperately needed some creativity, poise & flair, a player with vision who could pick a pass & alleviate the gloom of the dank, grimy, hungover London afternoon, mirroring the quality of the football with a precision that was sorely lacking in the home side’s game play.

It needed Micky Hazard.

For hunched up in the cramped home dugout was the one substitute allowed back then. Micky Hazard had escaped the mighty shadows of Ardiles, Villa & Hoddle only to find himself once again benched, only now at the expense of the markedly more prosaic talents of John McNaught, Keith Jones & Darren Wood, the latter once Malcolm Allison’s golden boy at Middlesbrough, rather less ensconced, putting it mildly, in the affections of the Chelsea faithful. Mercifully Hazard eventually replaced the lumpen McNaught halfway though the second half to dramatic effect. Within 10 minutes the game had been transformed, a one man rebuttal of the fetid hideousness of the previous hour.  Split seconds are everything in football & the greater the quality of player the more time they appear to have, along with the ability to use it to optimal effect.  Having previously huffed & puffed without remotely looking like breaking the City defensive door down Chelsea got back on level terms as Micky collected the ball for a free kick wide on the right hand side, played a short one two with  Wood, ran at the opposition defence with purpose & hit a lovely 25 yard left foot drive which curved past the previously untested Perry Suckling in goal, a hint of prime Ian Botham outswing sending the ball past his right hand & into the far corner. For the first time all afternoon a player in Chelsea blue seemed to want the ball at his feet, regarding it as a friend & ally rather than a Semtex laden suspect device. For once the shot was taken on early & to stunning effect, the mood change it inspired instant & dramatic. Stamford Bridge was once again a place of wonder & mystery, the gloom & drizzle a mere meteorological irritant, the weeds, rust, piss, horse shit  & Wagon Wheels mere details. The braindead sheep within the Stamford Bridge faithful were distracted from pursuing their alternately latent or explicit racism & the unfairly maligned Keith Jones finally caught a much deserved break. In one short, decisive moment of brilliance Micky Hazard had lifted a turgid mess of a game & elevated it into a different sphere. He wasn’t finished either. Picking up the ball in a similar position to the free kick he floated an enticing cross on to Kerry Dixon’s head on the left hand side of the box. Dixon steered the ball into the middle of the area where the wonderful John Bumstead ended his run into the box with a perfectly timed diving header. Poor Perry Suckling. Having previously had time to get measured for a new suit, eat a three course meal & complete the Times crossword he now found himself picking the ball out of the net for the second time in a matter of minutes. Three years later he played at Anfield for Crystal Palace & conceded nine so there were worse days ahead. Micky’s cameo had been brilliant & decisive & I left the ground with a spring in my step replacing the weary trudge that would have sufficed had the last twenty minutes of the game mirrored the first seventy. All was well & everyone lived happily ever after?

Mmm. Not quite. Life is not generally like that, & certainly not Chelsea life in the mid 1980’s. By Christmas the team were rooted at the bottom of the table. Micky appeared only sporadically, injury playing a role but weird team selection often proving the order of the day. In Kelvin Barker’s masterly Celery! Representing Chelsea In the 1980’s the author recounts a miserable 1-3 home defeat to Newcastle, the Geordies propping up the table themselves at the time, a defeat all the more infuriating for the likes of Hazard, David Speedie & Nigel Spackman putting Reading Reserves to the sword in a 9-2 rout on the same day. Colin Pates was apparently a preferable option to Hazard, Spackman & Bumstead in midfield at this time. Pates was a centre half. A very good one too. Perhaps playing him there might have stopped three goals being conceded at home to a poor outfit like Newcastle. Micky expressed his disquiet publicly, & Speedie appeared to give up the ghost around this time. Clearly neither were renewing their subscriptions to the Ernie Walley fan club. Hollins’ number two was widely cited as the unpopular enforcer of a style of play that favoured blood, sweat & tears over style, flair & imgination.

I started going to Stamford Bridge regularly again, negotiating my way through staff rotas wherever possible, but did not see Micky play again until February when Sheffield Wednesday, managed by the charmless Howard Wilkinson, graced us with their muscular presence. 12,403 hardy souls turned up this time. Bumstead, Speedie & Spackman had been returned to the first team fold though the latter was about to decamp to Anfield. A short while ago apparently only fit to play in the stiffs at Reading, now good enough to sign for Kenny Dalglish’s Double winners from the previous season. Madness. Only at Chelsea. The absent Kerry Dixon had also been transfer listed, Tony Godden wanted away & by now Hazard was also up for sale. Speedie’s attitude & general demeanour during this match reeked of dissatisfaction laced with extreme boredom, like a wayward teenager halfway through an especially dull detention. I remember one particularly feeble air shot at the ball that came closer to a kick up the arse of a Wednesday defender. Normally you might suspect that to have been the intention of the famously combative Scot but he didn’t even seem to be out for a tear up, & a David Speedie who doesn’t fancy a tear up has to be part of a demotivated & dispirited dressing room. He would gain his freedom at the end of the season, moving to newly crowned FA Cup winners Coventry City. As the West Stand had seen victories against Man City & QPR superstition led me there again. Once again Micky Hazard was substitute & there was an overwhelming sense of deja vu. Sheffield Wedneday favoured returning the ball all the way back to goalkeeper Martin Hodge whenever possible. Goalkeepers could still pick up backpasses in 1987 & the more negative teams would endlessly play the ball back to the keeper, who then spent an inordinate amount of time cradling the ball in his arms before releasing it. Not only did Hodge do this but he also then favoured pumping the ball high & seemingly aimlessly into the sky. Chelsea’s tactics were equally unimaginative. After 5-10 minutes of footballing garbage the die was cast. The person sat in front of me turned to his mate saying ‘this will be 0-0 for 70 minutes then we’ll bring Hazard on & win 2-0.’ Telepathy was subsequently married to deja vu as that, dear readers, is exactly what happened. Shortly after Micky’s introduction for Darren Wood he sent Gordon Durie away & the future White Hart Lane traitor won a penalty. Hazard grabbed the ball & gleefully struck it high into the net to Hodge’s right. The celebration was passionate & pointed. He was happy in the moment but clearly not generally satisfied with his Chelsea lot. He also started the move for the second goal, with a typically deft shimmy & swivel past a Wednesday midfield lunk & a neat pass that leads to a left side attack & cross that Lawrie Madden slid into his own goal. Afterwards he gave the press a field day with a fabulously indiscreet pop at the club hierarchy, fending off questions about his transfer listed status by facetiously suggesting the club would probably demand umpteen millions or a swap deal with Diego Maradona. Messrs Bates & Hollins ears must have been burning but just as it appeared Micky was doing the same with his boats the  tide turned.

Hollins picked him to start against Oxford three days later, he scored another penalty early on & then ran the show completely as the U’s got drubbed 4-0. He further cemented his already warm relationship with the crowd, wallowing in the love & playing to the gallery with claps, waves & thumbs up at every opportunity, at one point conducting the crowd with his right hand as they sang his name, the ball at his feet, seamlessly controlling both the game & its audience simultaneously. There were very few others players interacting with the crowd during this largely undistinguished season. Sadly there were only 9,546 there that evening, those absent doubtless put off by the icily rainy midwinter weather & the for once unfounded fear that Darren Wood would be picked ahead of Hazard as usual. Oxford’s manager in those days was Maurice Evans, an eminently decent man who won the Milk Cup with Oxford, & who Chelsea fans have plenty to be thankful for due to his mentoring of Kerry Dixon during the blonde bomber’s Reading days. He lacked the PR licks of more media savvy managers & usually looked uncomfortable in post match interviews, partly because he was not a born raconteur & possibly because the top of his head was decorated with a strange hairstyle that resembled a well trampled on cow pat. ‘Hazard took the mick’ is the only quote I saw attributed to him after this game. Don’t give up the day job Maurice. The hair’s hilarious but leave the one liners to Cloughie. Having said that Oxford legend has it that he once stood mute while his assistant Ray Graydon angrily tore dressing room strips off the players after one dismal first half showing. In a pleasingly cliched manner there were tea cups flying around the room as the former Aston Villa winger, scorer of the winner in the 1975 League Cup Final, vented his spleen. Finally running out of steam he turned to the ever implacable Oxford boss saying ‘Maurice, is there anything you want to add?’ There was a slight, silent pause before Evans replied in the affirmative. ‘Yes. Would anyone like another cup of tea?’

If Hollins was applying a similar good cop bad cop approach via the dreaded Walley then it was significantly more heavy handed. Hazard stayed in the team for a while though, starring in a home win over West Ham & scoring a neat equalizer against Man Utd after some lovely interplay with Pat Nevin. There was also an impressive win at Forest. Only an abysmal performance in a 3-0 gubbing at Highfield Road queered the pitch as Chelsea rose to the heady heights of mid-table mediocrity. An Easter Monday home game against Southampton saw Ken Bates begin the Save The Bridge campaign as the club stepped up its battle to fend off property developers trying to evict them from their home of 82 years. Micky remained in a team heralding another apparent new dawn by featuring teenage goalkeeper Roger Freestone, who went on to be a long serving legend at his next club, Swansea. He was always a big fella & was later memorably if cruelly derided by the Chelsea Independent as Roger Forty-Freestone. I liked Roger but seemed to be in a minority. The Chelsea Independent comparing Micky Hazard with Charlie Fairhead from Casualty was less insulting, both sporting a generous mass of curly, fair hair back then. Charlie’s clipboard was omnipresent with him on the wards back then, along with a quizzical frown. Micky passed on the clipboard but can be forgiven for wearing a similar frown given the way the hierarchy at the club managed both his Chelsea career & the team’s fortunes generally. Most fans were keen on Micky though, & he ran out second to Pat Nevin in the supporter’s player of the year at the end of the season despite a paltry sixteen starts. We all hoped for better things for the 1987-8 season. Better had other plans sadly.

Micky played 28 times the following season but the behind scenes bickering spilled over on to the pitch even after John Hollins & Ernie Walley had departed. Bobby Campbell’s first game in charge saw a disjointed performance at home to Southampton, matchwinner Graham Baker relaying to the press just how much disunity the Chelsea players had displayed as they openly squabbled amongst themselves to opposition disbelief. Yet again it was a story of promise unfulfilled with a sad ending, Micky’s four & a half year stint at the Bridge encapsulated in one topsy turvy season which culminated absurdly in relegation via the play offs. It started well enough as Micky slid a tidy pass through to Kerry Dixon for the opening goal four minutes into the first match of the campaign, at home to our old friends Sheffield Wednesday. Early on in the second half he was substituted to a crescendo of boos, aimed not at him but Hollins. Generally the team made a decent start & Kerry Dixon was the main benificiary of Micky displaying his expansive range of passing. There was a stabbed left foot ball under pressure from a  defender to set up the winner against Norwich. Canaries keeper Bryan Gunn’s agility was the only barrier to a second for Dixon after another unerringly accurate left foot Hazard pass. This was long range & lofted akin to a Seve Ballesteros short iron, landing a mere couple of feet in front of the big striker from 40 yards away. A few weeks later an almost gentle chipped ball was  carressed on to Kerry’s head against Newcastle. At times like this it was baffling to think that both Hazard & Dixon were not appreciated more by Hollins, & the aforementioned Coventry goal was from the top drawer, Hazard turning a wrong footed Lloyd McGrath deep in the Chelsea half & this time the right foot  set Dixon free with a 40 yard lofted pass of exquisite perfection, Steve Ogrizovich in the opposition goal left helpless as a left foot thunderbolt crashed into the top corner. Sadly Dixon was stretchered off shortly after & didn’t score again at home until a play off game against Blackburn the following May, by which point injury had also seen to it that Hazard’s season was over. Dixon ended his Chelsea career on 193 goals, nine short of Bobby Tambling’s club record at the time. A quick viewing of the video montage at the top of this page offers a persuasive argument that had Micky Hazard played the dozens of extra games in a Chelsea shirt he really should have then Kerry would have smashed that record quite comfortably.

1987-8 ended with relegation via the playoffs against Middlesborough, Micky standing behind the goal at The Shed cheering his team mates on alongside goalkeeper Eddie Niedzwiecki & a fan in a wheelchair. Eddie’s season had been curtailed with a knee injury sustained at home to Oxford in October. He never played again & was a massive loss. Micky was injured during the May Day Bank Holiday 4-1 defeat at West Ham, ironically in a challenge with future Blues colleague Alan Dickens. This catastrophic result against fellow strugglers had left the team needing to win their last home match against Charlton to avoid the play offs. Chelsea’s away form was pathetic but there were only two home defeats that season, both by a single goal. It was the draws that proved costly at Stamford Bridge & did so again against Charlton, yet another 1-1 result. A flash of Hazard brilliance had seen off Derby a few weeks earlier, leaning back on a half cleared free kick & striking a gorgeous left shot past Peter Shilton. Micky then gloated to the press that he had also successfully picked out Daring Destiny as the Grand National winner that day. Pleasingly, Chelsea’s first league win since Halloween had also coincided with my birthday, cementing my belief in Micky Hazard as the Chelsea talisman of the age. He had also benefitted from a moment of creative brilliance by Pat Nevin to sidefoot home & rescue a point against Arsenal the week before. Despite wee Pat’s presence one moment of inspirational guile to overcome Charlton was not forthcoming & even three wins from four  in the play offs failed to save the team from the dreaded drop. As a fan you recall individual moments that helped tip the scales the wrong way. One of them was the failure to overcome future Hazard employers Portsmouth at home in January. I’m not sure what was the bigger abomination that afternoon, the abysmal standard of football or the away team’s repulsive tight fit salmon pink shirts, striving to defy all sane prediction & contain the ample bellies of two of Pompey’s better players, Micky Quinn & former Chelsea playmaker Mike Fillery. Deep into the second half salvation had beckoned as Hazard broke through for a one on one with Alan Knight, rounding the veteran keeper only to sidefoot the ball tamely into the side netting as an empty net beckoned. The angle was tight but not so tight it should have foiled a player of such quality. This vied with Paul Miller’s flukey equalizer for the opposition in the Charlton game as the nearly moment that I most rued after the season had ended. Nearly moments in isolation fail to tell the whole tale though. This is a Chelsea team that not only blew a three goal half time lead at Oxford but can count themselves mighty fortunate to have escaped with a point. Away defeats were frequently comprehensive & betrayed the desperate absence of team spirit that always lend the lie to any public utterances of unity & commitment to the cause. Dressing room tittle tattle had continued to leak to the press, notably Nigel Clarke in the Daily Mirror, throughout the Hollins-Whalley era, emphasising the discontent that lay within its walls. Was Micky Hazard, always amenable in his dealings with the media, one of the sources of this gossip? It seems highly possible but however unhelpful & disruptive such leaks were, they surely served largely to illustrate a deeper malaise within the club. If there is a widespread tendency for employees to air grievances to a third party rather than directly to the management within any organization then there is an inherent failing within that organization. External whingeing was surely a symptom rather than a cause of the team’s plight.

There was clearly rather more than one player using the media in this way at the time. It was hardly surprising. The reliably magnificent turnout of travelling support for a 4th round FA Cup tie at Old Trafford were rewarded with a limp, pallid, poorly executed defensive display. An untroubled United won 2-0 at a canter & only a fine penalty save from Roger Freestone stopped the scoreline being worse. Back then clubs were allowed two outfield substitutes in the FA Cup. Instead of going for it at a ground where Chelsea frequently tended to thrive Hollins revealed his hand before kick off by naming Pat Nevin & Micky Hazard as his bench dwellers. The thousands of away fans would see their boys vainly try to do no more than cling on for a replay. The FA Cup mattered then, really mattered, so for the game but seemingly inferior Kevin McAllister to be preferred to Pat Nevin just seemed wilfully perverse. Eleven days earlier Chelsea had been trounced 4-0 at Swindon in the Simod Cup & Hollins ruefully remarked that this marked the first time both sets of supporters had sung Hollins Out in unison. Perhaps he thought that a low scoring defeat at Old Trafford would serve his future prospects better than another hammering but to the fans it looked like the white flag had been hoisted as soon as the team sheet had been pinned up. This view was supported by a quote from United’s new signing Steve Bruce, who confirmed the widespread delight in the opposition dressing room on hearing Hazard had been left out of the starting line up. If you have a player that opponents fear it is surely a potent weapon best employed. Instead Micky was left kicking his heels alongside Nevin on the sidelines. By the time they entered the fray the die was cast, the team too entrenched in negativity for their two most talented players to assist in turning the tide. The following week Chelsea entertained Man Utd in the league. Bruce scored his first United goal as Chelsea suffered their first home defeat of the season. Hazard was omitted again. Whether it was loyalty or plain obstinance on the part of Ken Bates (he had confidently asserted that Hollins would prove to be a managerial great) he appeared to twig much later than most that a change was needed. Despite the Swindon & Man U debacles however, it remained clear that this Holly was not going to go lightly. It would be the 4-4 draw at Oxford in March that signalled the end of the road. Having taken a late 4-3 lead at the Manor Ground John sank to his kness in double clenched fist gratitude at the emphatic Kerry Dixon finish, somewhat ironically as the  striker loomed large on the list of players he was poised to shift out of the club. Oxford still had time to equalize & have another effort ruled out for offside before the game ended. By this time Ernie Walley had already been removed as coach by chairman Ken Bates, against the wishes of John Hollins, & replaced with Ken’s friend Bobby Campbell. From that moment the writing was surely on the wall for Hollins, a well liked man & a great Chelsea player seemingly undone by both his loyalty to Walley & penchant for bizarre team selection & gameplans. Holly may not have gone lightly but finally, mercifully, he & Walley were both out. Two drifters off to see the world. Or Rochdale, Swansea & Crawley in John’s case, who sadly never did attain the stature of managerial greatness still being predicted for him by Ken Bates even as he was showing him the door. Hollins was trying to sell both Dixon & Hazard at the time of his sacking, maddening & obtuse to the end. I was not sure what became of dear old Ernie, who may well have been as much of a fall guy as he was an ogre, but there would appear not to have been such a lot of world for him to see either, at least not in the football sense. Bangor City in 1992 is all Wikipedia report him rolling up at after his stint at the Bridge. Did they have a lovely time the day Ernie went to Bangor? Almost certainly not.

Nobody was shocked when Campbell was named as Hollins’ successor, but I can’t pretend I was thrilled either. The manner of his arrival, a cuckoo in the Hollins nest, seemed like a sneaky move on the part of Bates to force a resignation & shoehorn in a boss who had not set the Thames or Solent on fire, at Fulham & Portsmouth respectively, in previous management roles. He had been at Craven Cottage when George Best & Rodney Marsh were at Fulham in 1976 which at least suggested an aptitude for giving flair its head. Sadly, on closer inspection he had not been manager when they first rolled into town & Marsh disappeared from first team action swiftly once he did take over the reins. On Campbell succeeding Alec Stock the team prompty went three months without a win. Getting Portsmouth promoted as champions from the old Division 3 was the only real notable high prior to nudging Hollins out of the Stamford Bridge hot seat.

Micky started regularly under the new boss until the injury at West Ham but Bobby would ultimately prove to be yet another apparent advocate for brawn over brains. Like Hollins his treatment of Hazard devotees like me reminded me of my grandfather teasing our first dog with peanuts when I was small. He would get the dog, a crossbreed with a lame front left paw, to beg, offer up a peanut & then swiftly remove both his hand & the nut just as she went to claim her prize. This would happen several times before he would relent & allow her the treat. She had to beg 3-4 times per peanut. Hollins had once been interviewed by Neil Barnett on Chelsea Clubcall the day before a home game against Luton Town. He was asked about Luton’s impressive striking duo of Mick Harford & Mike Newell, sidestepping the question by saying he would rather talk about our Mike, Mike Hazard, instead. The interview finished without the name Hazard being mentioned again even once, & almost inevitably he was then completely missing from the lineup the following day. Campbell taunted us by expressing delight when it was announced that Micky was staying at Stamford Bridge in the summer of 1988, offering a gushing endorsement of Micky’s abilities in the process. Surely Division 2 would be a breeze & promotion a formality with a creative talent like that orchestrating the midfield? Yes & no it transpired. 99 points & 96 league goals tell their own story, & after a spluttering start there was a pleasing reverse of the previous season with only one league defeat occurring after October, a 2-0 defeat at Filbert Street on the awful day of the Hillsbrough disaster. Micky Hazard remained in absentia for most of the season however, making just four league appearances in February. He became largely a forgotten man, the only squad member not to be paraded in front of the fans during the end of season celebrations following the last game at home to Bradford City. Bobby was now keeping his peanuts firmly in his pocket & Micky’s Chelsea career seemed set to slip away unheralded & largely unnoticed. I am hopelessly loyal to my footballing favourites & was pretty despondant about the situation. I was delighted & relieved by Chelsea’s promotion charge, the thought of another lengthy stint outside the top flight was unbearable. Nevertheless it was an efficient rather than joyous brand of football, a definite case of ends justifying the means, & I missed the chance to enjoy the deft, classy midfield touches that had shone much of the light into the murky tunnels of the previous two seasons.

Prior to the 1988-9 season there were very few doubts circling in my mind that Micky Hazard was the victim rather than perpetrator of  activity undermining his Stamford Bridge career, aside from the suspicion he may have possibly aided & abetted the spreading of anti Hollins/Walley intelligence through sympathetic media contacts. The pre-season signings of Graham Roberts & Peter Nicholas were a clear indicator of the new manager’s desire to add some defensive steel. Roberts had shared early ’80’s domestic & European cup glory at Spurs with Hazard before his move to Ibrox Park. He was reminded of this during his first Chelsea Clubcall interview on the day his transfer was announced but came across as less than pumped when questioned about the forthcoming reunion. ‘Yeah. Funny lad Micky,’ he said, with a tone & emphasis that suggested peculiar rather than ha ha. They work together as Spurs ambassadors these days. On this occasion though, on a club platform where banal platitudes about colleagues were the more usual order of the day, this hardly represented a resounding thumbs up for his past & future team mate.

Peculiar was also an appropriate description of an evening of reserve team football at Oxford United in mid-December 1988. Following a slow recovery from the injury at West Ham Micky had come no closer to a first team return than a solitary, non-playing appearance on the bench for a home match against Shrewsbury Town in November. Living a short walk away from the Manor Ground I braved the bracing midweek winter weather in the hope that the name Hazard would be among those entertaining the geeky, library ticket, footballing trainspotter types frequently found at Football Combination  games in those days. Oddballs who believed themselves morally superior to other fans by mere virtue of attending second string affairs like this were commonplace. The sort of people who would advise me as a young autograph hunter to collect the signatures of the  unknown players because they were the future, rather than out of favour first team players who represented the past. Taking this advice might lead you to miss out on Charlie George for someone who might be struggling to get a game at Enfield in 6 months time but they always knew best these weirdos, shaking their heads sorrowfully as excitable ten year olds ignored their supposedly sage advice. Fifteen years earlier I would have been happily seeking Chelsea signatures for this game, as Kevin Hitchcock, John Bumstead, Colin West &, yes, Micky Hazard, took their places in a line up facing a decent U’s team including a teenager who would become a celebrated part of footballing folklore in Oxford, rather less feted elsewhere, especially in East London & Wiltshire. Step forward Joey Beauchamp. The weirdos already loved him  & for once they were right, he was the future. Sort of. Manager Bobby Campbell ominously chose to grace the Chelsea dugout. Despite the foul weather & even more foul jade green away strip, mercifully now abandoned by the first team I stood near the player’s tunnel at the Beech Road  awaiting a bird’s eye view of the forthcoming Hazard masterclass. In vain. Oxford’s former Spurs striker David Leworthy scored the only goal of an ill tempered game, an ill temper seemingly largely inspired by one man. Micky Hazard. Struggling to recover from his ankle problem & doubtless frustrated at the direction his career was heading at this point, he cut a simultaneously angry & depressed figure. Four years earlier he had been playing a leading role in Spurs EUFA Cup Final win at White Hart Lane. Now he could be heard in front of a small Manor Ground crowd snapping at fellow Division 2  reserve team mates. An earnest, rather gauche young full back fell foul of his displeasure at one point as a move broke down & a futile attempt at explanation fell on stony Hazard ground. ‘Micky! Micky! Micky’ the full back implored like a spurned lover. ‘I’m not fucking interested, just give me the fucking ball’ was the less than amicable response. Further debate discouraged, the brash young defender slunk back to his defensive position. Whatever did happen to Graeme Le Saux? Conversations like that are naturally ten a penny on football pitches, just usually lost in the crowd. This audience could hear the exchanges & began to revel in Hazard’s ill temper. In the second half, clearly rattled, he eventually scythed down an opposition player in the centre circle & was sent off. Some sad freaks ran towards the tunnel to goad Micky as he trudged off, waving & gesticulating as they indulged in the oh so English pursuit of revelling in the sight of someone better than them being dragged down to their pitiful level. Who breaks a butterfly upon a wheel as the great poet Alexander Pope would doubtless have said if he had been watching alongside me on the Beech Road terrace instead of being dead for the past 200 years. Even a butterfly as spectacularly mardy as our Micky was that evening. I got into an undignified spat with two smartarses as they tut tutted away in the most irritating & sanctimonious fashion imaginable. It was a frankly ludicrous effort to justify Micky’s behaviour, I was simultaneously furious for & with him. Rowing with rival fans at a reserve game is about as uncool as it gets. How low we were all falling by this point! The challenge was entirely untypical of Micky Hazard’s standard footballing template but utterly representative of the toxicity that had burned off him all evening. One onlooker looked less than impressed. Stood on the touchline, Bobby Campbell’s face was a picture. Micky’s only first team action for the rest of the season was as short term replacement for the injured Clive Wilson. Fine player Clive Wilson but no Micky Hazard. Suspension for the red card was not the real punishment. 25 games in the reserves that season was. In mitigation though, he did speak to the Daily Star at one point ( I suppose someone has to) openly acknowledging his poor behaviour at Oxford in injuring a fellow professional & expressing despair at his lack of first team action. The piece implied he was near suicidal. I hoped this was a gross distortion. It was the Daily Star after all. Whatever the future held it seemed destined to be played out away from Stamford Bridge.

As things happened, in a manner entirely typical of the stop/start nature of the previous four years, the late summer & autumn of 1989 brought us an all too brief but hugely enjoyable Indian summer chapter for the Hazard at Chelsea story. Returning to the top flight after a year long hiccup, the unnecessary long Division 2 mystery tour that Hollins built, the season started well. Four games in though, a 3-0 defeat at Charlton ushered in both the standard Chelsea reality check & the cavalry. If you can have a horseless, one man, Sunderland born, 5 foot 7 inch cavalry, which on reflection you can’t. No matter, Micky was back, greeted with predictable warmth from the Stamford Bridge faithful for a 2-2 draw with Brian Cough’s reliably competitive Nottingham Forest team. A la Graham Roberts the year before team mate Peter Nicholas was rather less effusive when questioned about the return of my midfield messiah. ‘Yeah, well, the crowd love Micky….’ was the airy gist of it in an ITV interview that evening  (Match Of The Day was off air at the time) on their highlights programme. ‘But I/we don’t’ or ‘but they don’t love me, why?’ seemed to be the subtext of this apparently snide & sour observation. Once again there is a lot of reading between the lines here, but it was hardly a rallying war cry endorsing the return to the fold of a man whose abilities vastly dwarfed those of the interviewee. Peter Nicholas was what Eric Cantona once unfairly derided Didier Deschamp as, a water carrier, there to win the ball & relinquish it to somebody more gifted as soon as possible. An important role that actually should not be belittled, but if footballers were drugs nobody would ever have got addicted to Peter Nicholas. Were they foodstuffs he would be a brussel sprout or swede, a winter hardy cropper representing a winter hardy crop. Worthy & reputedly good for you but oh so very dull. Defensive midfield may not be a glamorous  role but it can also delight. Think Mikel in Munich. Think Makelele & Kante. Perfectly timed interceptions & tackles. Crisp & excellent close passes. Impressively coordinated speed of thought & movement. Nicholas clearly did a good job for Chelsea in the promotion season but all I can really remember is one paced movement & ball distribution, allied to lots of pointing & shouting & some calculated foul play. He did get booed on occasions. Not by me, I have never booed a Chelsea player in my life, but after this interview no tears were shed when others gave him the bird. A typically pathetic League Cup exit at lowly Scarborough aside, all was well for a while & Micky held down a regular place as the team lost only one of  the next ten league games following the Forest game. This included a spectacular 4-1 win at Spurs & a 4-0  home win over Millwall. Following a Hazard inspired 1-0 win at Everton in November goalscorer Steve Clarke lavished praise on his colleague to the press as Chelsea briefly went to the top of the table. They then slipped to fourth after consecutive draws, one of which was at Old Trafford, where Dixon was denied a late winner by a last ditch Steve Bruce goalline block following yet another precise Hazard through ball. Three points were denied against a Matt Le Tissier inspired Southampton courtesy of a brilliant Tim Flowers save from a late Hazard volley after a frenetic second half comeback from two goals down. Peter Nicholas scored one of them, proving he did hobble over the halfway line occasionally, slotting home after a goalmouth scramble as two fans behind me were noisily fighting over whether or not he was shit! All looked well going into December. Sadly Winter was coming. With a vengeance.

Were I a believer it would be tempting to believe the gods were dabbling in a spot of divine intervention to prevent me making the home game against Wimbledon on Dec 2, 1989, Micky’s last appearance in a Chelsea shirt at Stamford Bridge. A heavy mist descended from early morning onwards although sadly it was not heavy enough to obscure the game itself. The traffic conditions entering London were horrendous & eventually I had to beg to be let off the coach in the middle of a sizeable tailback. The driver would not be allowed to do this any more. It would have been a blessing if he hadn’t this time. Having sampled the delights of Chiswick & found my way to the nearby station I arrived at Stamford Bridge just in time to take my seat & see the murky but unmistakable figure of Kerry Dixon fire Chelsea into an early lead. There were to be six more goals. Unfortunately five of them were scored by Wimbledon, two of them for a man who would be lining up for Chelsea eight months later. Signing players who perform well against Chelsea has long been a popular ruse & frequently a recipe for disaster (see Fleck, Robert & Sutton, Chris) but regardless of his public enemy no.1 status elsewhere I think we can say Dennis Wise did okay in a blue shirt. One of Wisey’s goals was a header, as was one of the two scored by the equally vertically challenged Terry Gibson. Goalkeeper Dave Beasant took the visit of old friends a little too far by unfathomably fumbling a harmeless looking high ball & allowing a grinning &  incredulous Alan Cork to wheel away in triumph having capitalized on such baffling incompetence. In fairness big Dave did make up for it with a point saving display of brilliance at Hillsborough the following month. Wimbledon were often maligned but they were great on the day, spreading the ball out wide at every opportunity & crossing accurately into dangerous areas that troubled leaden footed Blues defenders all afternoon. With a bit more luck at the other end, & minus Beasant’s howler, it could easily have finished 4-4 on another day but the suspicion that Chelsea had hitherto been (once again) flattering to deceive, had been laid bare for all to see. The following week saw a 4-2 reverse at Loftus Road. The wheels off, heads were bound to roll. Predictably the visit of Liverpool saw Micky Hazard bombed out of the squad completely by Campbell. He never played for the club again. Liverpool won at a canter, another 5-2 zipping though the Scousers could have doubled their goal tally easily had they chosen to break sweat. That team change worked well then Bobby. I seethed throughout the game & for the first time ever at a Chelsea match didn’t even celebrate a home goal, Gordon Durie’s thunderous free kick, which briefly raised hopes after Liverpool had scored twice in the opening five minutes. The fuming subsided, but only to make way for an extended sulk. Another comprehensive three goal defeat took place when high flying Aston Villa came to town on Boxing Day. There was the requisite flirtation with FA Cup disaster at the hands of lower division opposition in early January where a late Steve Clarke equalizer spared our blushes against Crewe Alexander. It proved a short lived reprieve however, as the team capitulated in insipid fashion to Bristol City at Ashton Gate in front of a hostile home crowd in the next round.

A couple of days after the Crewe game, a week into the new decade, Micky Hazard had finally been sold to Portsmouth for a modest £100,000, scoring on a winning Pompey debut away at Stoke the following weekend. Chelsea were at home to Charlton the following weekend but this marked my third betrayal as I ducked it to travel to Fratton Park for Micky’s Portsmouth home debut, a comfortable home win against Bradford City. Another former Chelsea Micky, Mr Fillery, opened the scoring with a neat header, looking less constrained in a home blue shirt after the salmon pink abomination a couple of seasons earlier. Chelsea won too, but still in high dudgeon I missed a few home games immediately after the Hazard transfer, which was highly unusual in the long period between the Man City game in ’86 & me eventually giving up my season ticket in 2004. A bald appraisal of the stats question my judgement. Chelsea slowly got back on course for the rest of the season, finishing in fifth place & even winning at Highbury for the first time since 1974. Having taken over the reins too late to take much blame for the 1988 relegation, Bobby Campbell had followed up  a runaway promotion season by securing the club’s  highest league placing since 1970. They also won the ZDS Trophy at Wembley, though I missed that for idealistic reasons rather than as part of my prolonged strop, adamant that  Wembley visits should be saved for a trophy that really mattered. Plenty enjoyed the day out & the win, as they had the Full Members victory in 1986. For me it was like visiting the National Gallery to view a Rembrandt & finding it had been replaced with one of those pictures of large, sad eyed Sicilian children that  used to be sold upstairs in Boots when I was a boy. Ain’t nothing like the real thing, & I didn’t want to dilute the pleasure of that experience when, IF, it ever came. I got that right at least.

It may have seemed ungrateful but I’m not sure my slightly lukewarm response to Bobby Campbell lifting the club to relatively heady heights was entirely unmerited either. It was great not to be permanently looking over our shoulders at a looming relegation battle but Kerry Dixon’s last 20 goal season, capped on the last day of the season with a fabulous perfect hat trick at Millwall, covered a multitude of sins. Flair & invention took a back seat to a direct, muscular approach which suited the style of the English game at the time. Micky Hazard was not the only player to fall foul of Campbell’s preferences. Alan Dickens also fell by the wayside after Christmas & rarely featured again before the manager was eventually shunted upstairs at the end of the 1990-91 season. Dickens ended up dropping down the divisions at Brentford & Colchester where the more subtle elements of his talent, once so evident at Upton Park, were even more laid to waste. My last memory of him is seeing him warm up on the touchline at Griffin Park in 1993 with another ex-Blue, striker Joe Allon, both substitutes & thus forced to watch a truly dreadful game in freezing cold weather against Peterborough. Unlike the rest of us they were at least spared the indignity of having to pay to get in. He ended up drifting out of the game far too early & joined Micky Hazard in learning the knowledge & becoming a cabbie. In his autobiography Dennis Wise makes clear his lack of enthusisam for the managerial abilities of Bobby Campbell & recalls Dickens being berated & belittled by the boss in training. Coming from a key member of the famously brutal & unsympathetic Crazy Gang dressing room at Wimbledon it must have been quite some abuse for Wisey’s eyebrows to have been raised. It also begs the question why he was signed by Campbell in the first place when Wise & Andy Townsend, both signed in the summer of 1990, were much more suited to the physical, blunderbuss type of football the manager clearly favoured. Like Micky Hazard his Chelsea career may have borne greater fruit had it begun a few years later under Glen Hoddle. By then English football was recalibrating in the wake of the Taylor Report, the 1990 World Cup in Italy, the inception of the Premier League & the arrival of scores of overseas players lending their silky skills to supplement the frenzied pace & muscularity of the domestic game.

The mountain may have failed to come to Mohammed but Micky managed to hook up with Hoddle anyway, at Swindon, having originally arrived at the County Ground in  1990 courtesy of another Spurs compatriot, then manager Ossie Ardiles. The Pompey honeymoon period had been brutally short & Micky never played there again after being substituted at half time during a home match against Wolves. His mojo swiftly returned under Ardiles & continued to flourish under player manager Hoddle despite him strongly challenging the latter’s tactical briefing in a training session during a tv documentary. By now he was a senior professional & clearly never backwards in coming forward with his opinions anyway. He also appeared to be right! After a thrilling 4-3 play off victory over Leicester Premier League status was finally achieved, helping to lay the ghost of the promotion denied to them a few years earlier due to financial irregularities. Hoddle was swiftly poached by Ken Bates as an on & off pitch reconstruction of the club began at Stamford Bridge. Ardiles had vamoosed to take the Spurs job & somewhat incestuously lured Micky back to White Hart Lane during the 1993-4 season, where he stayed until hanging up his boots in 1995. I would have loved to have seen him in a Glenn Hoddle, Ruud Gullit or Carlo Ancelotti Chelsea team. As Pat Nevin says he would have been better suited to modern football in many ways, & the vastly superior playing surfaces, not least at Chelsea, would definitely have been to his liking. He came back a couple of times to play at Stamford Bridge, acknowledging the polite ripples of applause that came his way rather than the universal acclamations of love that used to greet him. Both games were low key, the first a 1991 ZDS tie against Swindon settled by a last minute header from Vinnie Jones. Micky looked crestfallen, standing at the goalpost as the ball flew in. Not many shared his dismay, the game had been poor & it was a cold night that was unlikely to be improved by the extra time that loomed before Jones put the rest of us out of our misery. The other appearance was in Kerry Dixon’s 1995 testimonial, another cold night & low attendance, where he appeared alongside Jason Cundy & a collection of young colleagues in an otherwise star free makeshift Spurs eleven. Both he & Dixon deserved better for a last Stamford Bridge hurrah.

Some while after Micky Hazard left for Portsmouth an interview in the Chelsea club newspaper with Steve Clarke appeared. His talent was acknowledged but the pay off was the last line of the quote saying that the move to Fratton Park had been the right move for both Micky & the club, once again a colleague appearing to hint at my favourite player of the era being a possibly divisive & disruptive dressing room presence. Maybe the genial, media friendly Hazard presence displayed in public masked another side, perhaps nearer the one showing itself at the reserve game at Oxford. Maybe. No fully rounded personality is ever depicted via TV, radio or print media, it can only ever be a snapshot. There are plenty of fakes who come over as likeable for the cameras when fans or those within the game tell a different tale. I don’t believe this to be true in this case as Micky always seems to have time for supporters, & I recall seeing him happily chatting to people on the concourse at Stamford Bridge back in the day. Given the often farcical way the club operated in the 1980’s I am not inclined to be too quick to condemn players who expressed their disquiet, & given his immense if mercurial talent would argue that this should have been better utilised & managed irrespective of whether or not the player was a difficult character. Furthermore, if he was that much of a problem, & I have no concrete evidence he was, why did it take more than four years to get him off the books? He was never short of suitors.

I missed Micky Hazard enormously when he went, hence the regrettable video purchase. Nowadays I could take sneaky YouTube peeks of his Spurs days to my heart’s content, but available footage of your departed favourites was thin on the ground in 1990 unless you could afford £15 a time for poor quality VHS full match highlights tapes. I had some of those but there were only so many hours of watching endless clips of Darren Wood taking throw ins a man could take. Those oddball feral Willian haters on Twitter today really do not know how lucky they are. Earlier this year his performances against Hull City in the FA Cup, & Barcelona in the Champion’s League offered up enough smatterings of brilliance on their own to have kept all but the most ungrateful, immature & impatient Stamford Bridge regular happy for weeks in the late 1980’s. I wanted much more than we got of  Micky Hazard’s guile & invention, but when Chelsea did escape from the clutches of mediocrity, as in the ’86 Man City game, it was frequently down to the quick thinking & feet of this hugely underused, enigmatic & beguiling footballer. He’s definitely Spurs through & through again these days but ignorance was bliss three decades ago regarding that grim but now unavoidable fact. He may or may not have been a pain in the arse to manage or play with on occasions. Ultimately I’m happy to judge him on the enormous pleasure he gave me wearing the blue of Chelsea.

And for me there definitely was only one Micky Hazard.

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 this 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 would merit being 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 & uncorking 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. Henry IV Part One 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 them, 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 managerial 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 supplies 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 timely 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 visit 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 few powerful right handers 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 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 involved 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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Game For A Laugh?

Watch Out Mitchell’s About

I’m  confident that during his dismal three-year spell at Chelsea the chant  ‘There’s Only One David Mitchell’ never rang round Stamford Bridge. It would have been a lie if it had. There is a best-selling novelist with the same name before you even get to the bloke off ‘Peep Show.’ There possibly is only one Khalid Boulahrouz, not that you will ever have heard that sung either. All three of these members of the clan David Mitchell do share one thing in common though. None of them ever scored a goal for Chelsea.

Mitchell may have retired to lick his wounds over his inferior Google footprint compared to namesake novelists & comedians, but for those of us given the dubious pleasure of seeing him in a Chelsea kit it is the Mitchell & Mayes situation that detains us. Namely, who was the worst striker to wear a Chelsea shirt in the 1980’s? Was it Dave, the lanky Australian with the Beadle beard or Alan, the diminutive one time QPR reject? The debate still rages, at least among men over 50 who support Chelsea & are happy to bore the tits off statues talking about that bygone, sometimes forlorn, era. I always vote Mitchell.

In 2004 Jeff Stelling produced a stocking filler called ‘England’s Worst Footballers’ naming & shaming the worst player to have played for all of the 92 Premiership & Football League clubs. I gave a copy to my brother-in-law that Christmas. He was none too impressed. He had played for Southern League Witney Town in the ’80’s & a recent club programme had featured a club supporter choosing their all time worst ever Witney eleven. My brother-in-law was in the team! Cue plenty of yuletide grumbling about people who had never played the game & the cruelty of outing allegedly crap players by the uninformed fan.

That is one perfectly valid viewpoint countered by the Danny Baker argument that fans are the only people who pay to get into a game & can therefore boo whoever & whatever they like as often as they like. Then again, Baker is a malicious moron who delights in wishing cancer on fellow human beings. You are, of course, free to boo players at matches, but does anyone believe that jeering our young, black midfielder Keith Jones in the 1980’s did anything but destroy the promising start he made to his Chelsea career? Or that his colour was a mere coincidence? Most of us indulge in stream of consciousness moaning & groaning during games, it’s a symptom of caring & desperately wanting the team to win, but the systematic booing & barracking of players like Jones, Peter Houseman, Jesper Gronkjaer, & yes, Alan Mayes, always seemed spiteful & cowardly, the fan equivalent of pulling the legs off a spider.

I retain a fondness, albeit of varying degrees of strength, for most players I have seen in a Chelsea shirt over the years. Chris Sutton strikes me as an obnoxious individual, but he has never shirked from acknowledging his own failings during his wretched stint at Stamford Bridge, despite being clearly the wrong type of striker to fit into Gianluca Vialli’s team at the time. You have to respect him for that. I never warmed to Marcel Desailly either, because he seemed to pick & choose the games he turned up for, & I never sensed a great development of feeling for the club & its supporters during his six-year stay at the club. He was a fabulous player though, & I certainly never booed him. I despised Winston Bogarde (the Chelsea player selected as the worst in Stelling’s book incidentally) for his laziness, greed & ineptitude but such was the advanced level of his flabby arsed indolence we never really got the chance to boo him!  In any case, the signings of the dreaded Winston & Desailly heralded in the era in which we now reside, whereby cold, hard cash generally dictates who clubs sign & who players sign for, so the prospect of many of these players harbouring  any prior affection for the club is pretty much zero. You can have whatever view of Diego Costa you like, but he was never likely to hang around for the long haul. He’s a renegade hired gun, akin to a Charles Bronson style character in one of those Sergio Leone spaghetti westerns he would fit into so well.

My dislike of any Chelsea players since 1970 is usually retrospective, invoked when they leave & the lie that they love the club, never an affectation that Costa has bought into, unravels. Or they join the ranks of the media baying for Chelsea  blood for their miserable thirty pieces of silver. For the former stand up Andy Townsend & Romelu Lukaku, both Chelsea ‘supporters’ who showed their true colours when the prospect of greater glory & cash presented itself elsewhere & their professional instincts kicked in. Understandable, but don’t lie in the first place chaps. Or hold up an imaginary trophy on your return as Townsend did after scoring a stunning goal at The Shed for Aston Villa.  In the latter camp you have Alan Hudson, a beautiful combination of elegance, grace & power as a player, but unable to pass up any opportunity to churlishly slag the club off in the media since 1974. If I spent 43 years whining to the press about my treatment from a former employer for the price of a pint I wouldn’t expect much charity from them. Hudson does. Great player. Odd chap. Craig Burley is another, an expert on ESPN who forgets how many saw his awful back pass that put David Beckham through at Villa Park in 1996  & cost us an FA Cup final appearance. He got left out when we made it to Wembley the following year & has ground an axe about Chelsea ever since. Then you have those who just passed through briefly to stink the place out before retiring to slag the club off from a distance, like ex England defender Paul Parker & former postman & Shamrock Rovers ‘legend’ John Coady. There will always be a special place on the podium of contempt for Gordon Durie of course, kissing the badge while pining for a return to Scotland until a cockerel embossed cheque book appeared in the summer of 1991. I DID boo him when he played against Chelsea & make absolutely no apologies for it.

So why Mitchell and not Mayes in my personal league table of antipathy? I respect the feelings of fans worn down by several seasons of Mayes missing sitters & bow down to their far greater exposure to his apparent general incompetence than me. I lived in The North for most of his Chelsea career between 1981-3, but I did see Alan Mayes score. Twice, & both beauties, a low struck shot away at Orient on a Monday night in 1981 & a stunning long-range left foot howitzer in the FA Cup at Hull in January 1982. Without that goal Chelsea might not have had the chance to beat Liverpool later in the tournament (or lose to Spurs, though Mayes scored in that match too). In short, Mayes contributed, he missed chances but got into positions to miss chances. He was appalling the first time I saw him, in a home game  against Blackburn in 1981, but so was everyone else. It was one of those days at the old, open plan Stamford Bridge, when the wind was blowing the corner flags at right angles on arrival, always a portent for a drab 0-0 with no one able to control the ball. The pre-match  military band’s hats & sheet music flew everywhere around the pitch & opposition player manager Howard Kendall had no chance of covering up his ever-growing bald patch with his large handful of wrap around hair. It was also clear that Mayes had been elected by a significant section of the crowd as chief whipping boy for the team’s overall failings & I hated that. It was bullying by another name. So I willed him to succeed, & continued to do so from a distance over the next few seasons.

I have only one abiding memory of Mitchell as a Chelsea player, which happened in his last game against Wimbledon in 1991. It was his overwhelming, all-encompassing mediocrity that irritated me so much. He never scored for Chelsea, but worse than that I cannot even recall him having a shot. Or a penetrating run with or without the ball. Or managing a cross into the opposition box. He entered a team on the crest of a wave in the 1988-9 season, a team that ended up walking away with the Division 2 title, amassing just under 100 points & goals along the way. He played in a 3-2 win over future employers Swindon. No shots or goals. He played in a 2-2 draw against Oldham. No shots or goals. He played alongside Durie at Walsall. Chelsea won 7-0. Durie scored five. Mitchell didn’t. I still didn’t boo him but he was about as much use as an ashtray on a motorbike. Some of my reasons for not liking Mitchell were irrational. His Beadle beard, the way he wore his socks, the way he ran for God’s sake, all trivialities but exacerbating my yearning to see him return from whence he came.

Which he did, sort of, cooking his goose in the process. Having been signed from Feyenoord, Mitchell was loaned out to NEC Nijmegen in 1990 & foolishly chose to share negative sentiments about his parent club to the Dutch press. Even in those pre-internet days, such a move was pretty dumb. You had to forgive curly mulleted goalkeeper Dmitri Kharine’s similar indiscretion to the media in his Russian homeland a few years later, largely because so much of what he allegedly said to them was lost in translation, the best being ‘Even Tony Cascarino, the great Irish striker, is dead!’ There are three lies in that short quote alone so we can treat anything else supposedly said by Kharine with a large dose of Siberian salt. Mitchell returned to a less than warm welcome & played just one more game, the aforementioned Wimbledon match. The game was beamed live on Scandinavian television. No wonder they had such high suicide rates. The end of season club highlights video shows just one snippet from this game, Hans Segers needlessly deflecting a Dennis Wise shot that was always going wide into the side netting. There was some light relief though. The announcement of ‘Number 9 – Dave Mitchell’ over the tannoy at 2.45 heralded a spontaneous & unanimous gale of laughter from The Shed. Several minutes into the match, the match ball spiralled up high into the air. The opponents were Wimbledon, where else was it going to spend the majority of the match? Mitchell might have expected this to happen but lost it & his own bearings, & as he looked around helplessly for its whereabouts, the ball hurtled back down from whichever galaxy it had been propelled into & hit the poor sod  hard on the back of the head, leaving him in a spreadeagled heap on the floor. Cue a second gale of laughter, one which has lasted much longer than the first. Twenty five years later, former Chelsea colleagues from the era were still to be found sniggering among themselves about it on Twitter, namely the egregious Burley, Graham Stuart & the wonderful David Lee. Harsh, but Mitchell hadn’t earned much loyalty from his teammates. Nor his manager. The usually genial Bobby Campbell was quizzed about Mitchell’s performance after the game. ‘Well he didn’t pull any trees up did he?’ was the gruff response. The message from Campbell was clear. Taxi for Mitchell. Neil Barnett chose his match commentary of Mitchell’s pratfall as the season’s highlight on ‘Chelsea Clubcall’  a few months later, which speaks volumes about both the hapless Australian & the general state of the club. Glenn Hoddle did us his first big favour by taking Mitchell to Swindon with him shortly after, ironically the home of Mayes’ finest footballing hours as well. He did well there, & returned in triumph to Chelsea in 1995, as part of a Millwall team that undeservedly won an FA Cup replay on penalties, after Chelsea had been denied two blatant spot kicks in normal time. Fortunately, he did not successfully invoke the immutable law of the ex & score himself. However, after the game he did lead the charge towards their shootout hero, goalkeeper Kasey Keller, leading him off the pitch in triumph, the  Beadle beard still very much in situ on the face of our happy former ‘striker’ as Millwall’s delirious band of psychotic thugs celebrated in the temporary seating at the Shed end. Funny old game my arse.

 

 

 

 

 

Bury My Heart At Steve Wicks Knee

 

May 7th 1988 – Chelsea 1 Charlton 1

Baldness and relegation. The two main fears of Terry Collier, one of the two great comic characters spearheading the brilliant 1970’s sitcom ‘Whatever Happened To The Likely Lads?’ Terry may have been an avowed Chelsea hater but many a Blues fan will have identified with  his twin phobias at the time. No Advanced Hair Studio or Roman Abramovich to save the day back then sadly. Happily modern Chelsea fans are spared the once frequent flirtation with demotion, all those horrible moments of collective, morale sapped numbness as another opposition goal heralded the unmistakable, combined sound of dozens of wooden & plastic seats being angrily & noisily vacated as the less hardy made yet another early exit towards the long, silent trek home via car or Fulham Broadway Station. Contemporary disappointments still abound of course.  Fernando Morientes’ second half deal breaker against Monaco in the Champions’ League Semi Final in 2004. The ‘Ghost Goal’ at Anfield the following season. Moscow. Iniesta’s heart breaking equalizer for Barcelona amidst a refereeing disgrace in 2009. The no-show at the FA Cup Final in 2017. The difference is that all these denied Chelsea moments of glory. Tough, but you have still climbed a significant chunk of mountain to get there. Relegation is different. Confirmation that you are crap. I have known that feeling three times. The last, in 1988, was by far the worst. Why? Because it should never have happened.

In 1975 the drop beckoned because the team was (& had been for several years)  jaded & severely in need of the footballing equivalent of an enema that Eddie McCreadie subsequently administered. Tommy Docherty had performed a similar trick at Old Trafford after Man Utd’s relegation the year before & Spurs went down the following season. Being relegated was almost fashionable in the mid ’70’s but then so were tartan flares, platform shoes & Jimmy Savile. In 1979 the team were truly terrible  & overseen by the bizarre Danny Blanchflower. After a 6-0 defeat at Nottingham Forest he declared that maybe his team had to learn how to lose before it could learn how to win. Not a theory that would have held much water in the opposition dressing room where  Clough & Taylor were in their pomp. You can’t imagine Bill Shankley, Jock Stein, Don Revie, Alex Ferguson or Jose Mourinho echoing the sentiment at any point in their careers either. Probably because it was utter bollocks. One of the few high points in that dismal season was the signing of Eamonn Bannon, a terrific young midfield player. Before the year was out the club had sold him to Dundee United for less than they had paid Hearts for him in the first place! He shone throughout the ’80’s, & played in the 1986 World Cup for Scotland, while Dundee United reached the European Cup Semi Final in 1984. Still, we had Kevin Hales. Well done Chelsea.

1988 was different. The team had defenders like Steve Clarke, Colin Pates & Tony Dorigo. Pates ended up at Arsenal. Dorigo won the league a few years later at Leeds. Dirty Leeds. Clarkey, legend that he is, hung around long enough to see the sun finally emerge from the clouds at the Bridge. It was a long wait. 1988 Chelsea also had one of the most creative midfielders of his generation in Micky Hazard, a winger with flair & skill in Pat Nevin & strikers with the power & finishing ability of Kerry Dixon & Gordon Durie. Relegation should not ever have been more than a dot on the horizon.

So how & why did play off regulars Charlton come to Stamford Bridge knowing that avoiding defeat to a team that had won only one match in six months  would see them lounging on sunbeds listening to S-Express while that year’s relegation trapdoor beckoned for a team that had challenged for the title only two seasons earlier? Well, we  all know of the detrimental, long-term effect of smoking on our health & in 1988 fags finally did for Chelsea. Stress & ciggies had led to John Neal being succeeded by John Hollins in 1985. Sad but seemingly not disastrous. Hollins had been a great servant to the club as a player & had served as coach under Neal, who remained at the club as general manager. With his wise counsel only a knock on the door away surely the transition would be seamless?

Sadly not. It would seem that the two men had never really got on. Hollins chose not to knock on the door & an increasingly marginalized Neal was sacked by cuddly Ken Bates after publicly expressing his frustration at being excluded from all important decisions affecting the club he had rehabilitated to such great effect just a few seasons earlier. In the two years leading up to this game Hollins presided over an increasingly unhappy dressing room, stories of malcontent regularly leaking into the press via disgruntled members of the playing staff. If Micky Hazard could not understand why Hollins could substitute his sublime, midfield creativity by playing a centre back like Colin Pates in his place instead (& he was not alone!) then Nigel Clarke of the ‘Daily Mirror’ was always on hand to publish a story on the following day’s back page, usually quoting ‘a source close to the player.’ Who was clearly the player himself. The relentless, poisonous dripping of negative stories to the press seemed frequently inspired by the unwelcome dressing room presence of coach Ernie Walley, a Hollins appointment quickly laden with a training ground image, fairly or otherwise, akin to that of Windsor Davies’ cartoon like Sergeant Major character in ‘It Ain’t Half Hot Mum.’ Walley was eventually replaced, against the wishes of John Hollins, by former Fulham manager Bobby Campbell in the early part of 1988, following a long, winless run stretching back to the previous October. Hollins’ own unhappy tenure came to an end after a bizarre 4-4 draw at Oxford in March. A three goal lead had been sacrificed in that match. An early two goal lead was squandered in the previous away game at Coventry. Additionally, while Bates was cruising around the Med on his boat, Hollins had attempted to solve the team’s problems by selling Hazard & Kerry Dixon. The return of Bates saw a swift cancellation of these baffling transfers & Hollins found that his ship had also sailed, his penchant for sweat over skill finally trying his chairman’s for once surprisingly deep reservoirs of patience once too often. Campbell predictably stepped into the breach with more than the mildest hint of indecent haste. Unfortunately, the introduction to the dressing room of Bobby’s undoubted enthusiasm &  JimmyTarbuck jokebook did little to stem the tide. Hazard’s sublime left foot strike past Peter Shilton secured a win over Derby in April but that remained the only win since a scrappy home victory against Oxford on Halloween. A dismal Bank Holiday 4-1 defeat at West Ham was compounded by a nasty injury to Hazard & so we approached the Charlton game with a proper sense of trepidation. The cigarettes that had damaged John Neal’s heart were finally about to break ours.

It started well, a bright, sunny Spring day & a lively atmosphere with a crowd of 33,000, a more than decent turnout for any club in those post Heysel days. Chelsea took the lead with a penalty from Gordon Durie after he was brought down by a Charlton defender several light years outside the penalty box. Charlton had the lanky, goal shy Carl Leaburn up front. They also had former Spurs lump Paul Miller at centre back & fellow White Hart Lane refugee (& future BBC lump) Garth Crooks alongside Leaburn. In midfield they had Steve Mackenzie, scorer of a wonderful FA Cup final goal in 1981 & goalkeeper Bob Bolder had been at Liverpool. They did not want for experience. Nonetheless, the game moved into the second half with a lot of huffing & puffing but not much else going on. And then it happened….

Goals are scored in a split second. All goals.  With one exception. This one. It has now spent nigh on 30 years making its tortuous route from Steve Wicks knee into the Chelsea net, because it remains the goal I have most endlessly replayed over in my head. It seemed to take an eternity on the day, as Leaburn’s long throw into the box sparked a scramble that led to  aforementioned lump Miller’s unconvincing stab at the ball ricocheting off Wicks, ballooning up in the air, & slowly, agonizingly, making its descent, under the crossbar but over keeper Kevin Hitchcock’s flailing, flapping, giant gloved hand. Not waving but drowning. However long it took, or seemed to take, its final destination was never in doubt. 30,000 of us descended into one of those eerie communal silences. The Charlton fans & players went berserk. I believe Garth Crooks has been dining out on the moment ever since. It certainly looks like it.

The game ends 1-1. There were a lot of 1-1 draws that season. As the match ends a man two seats down from me bursts into tears. I had never seen anyone cry at a football match before. It’s like he knows that the play offs will be futile, that relegation is an inevitability. If so, he is entirely correct. Modern sporting cliché has it that it’s the hope that kills you. That was partially true in 1988. From Durie’s penalty to  a resounding win over Blackburn in the play off semi finals, there were always glimmers of hope surfacing before we were nutted by reality. Ultimately though, it was also death by 1-1 draws, John Neal’s fags, the perverse team selections of John Hollins and the knee of Steve Wicks. Poor Wicks, a really good player but not a lucky one, only spared the further ignominy of a transfer to Spurs that summer by a back problem that prematurely ended his career. He remains the only outfield Chelsea player to have appeared in three different relegation seasons while Jose Bosingwa has a Champion’s League winner’s medal. It might take 30 years for those two disparate & desperately unfair facts to sink in too.