Let’s Play Master & Servant

Sunday January 26, 1997

Chelsea 4  Hughes (50) Zola (58) Vialli (63,76)

Liverpool 2  Fowler (10) Collymore (21)

Attendance 27,950

Two days ago Chelsea beat Luton Town 3-1 in this year’s FA Cup 4th Round, at a bleak, snowy Stamford Bridge. Fan & atmosphere free, it was a joyless, bloodless, undernourished pastiche of a real cup tie. Yesterday saw the sacking of Frank Lampard. Mr Abramovich & his boardroom lackeys may or may not recruit (& shortly after sack) better coaches in the next few years. They certainly won’t appoint anyone who understands the club & its genuine supporters better. Social media has been packed to the rafters with oddball anti-Lampard trolls during the recent barren run that all top sides have had to endure at some point in this oddest of seasons. The nadir was reached when Frank’s wife recently announced her pregnancy on Instagram. One Chelsea ‘fan’ responded by imploring her to miscarry. You can’t help but wonder if the Lampards aren’t better out of it. Vile, disembodied voices like this seem to resound & find audiences more readily than normal at present, or is it simply that the true fans cannot drown out perennial backgound malevolence by showing the appropriate trademark love for a legend like Frank Lampard at matches?

Recalling my favourite ever Chelsea game, which took place 24 years ago today, is a welcome release from the all pervading sourness around Chelsea Football Club at present, & I  pity the haters, most of whom have likely never even visited Stamford Bridge, let alone enjoyed the vibrant, manic, action packed match I am about to try & describe. Reliving both the events on the pitch & the crowd reaction to those events is all the more poignant given present pandemic circumstances.

“It is only by way of pain one arrives at pleasure” – Marquis de Sade

Operation Spanner. The title of a book recalling the managerial hiring & firing policies of Roman Abramovich since 2003? No. It is actually the name of a cause celebre that reverberated around the British (& eventually European) law courts for nigh on a decade following the Greater Manchester Police being handed the first of a series of videotapes in the autumn of 1987. These contained a variety of wince inducing acts of violence committed & received by men. A nail was passed through a hole in a foreskin prior to said nail being hammered into a block of wood. Ouch. The man’s penis was then subjected to a series of cuts with a scalpel. Double ouch. Leather straps, canes & nettles were used as objects of torture, with some branding thrown in for good measure too. Hair dryers & ice cubes came into play as instruments for alternate supplies of painful hot & cold  applications to the genitals. Hot wax & ball weights were involved. Ball weights?  One man had his testicles sandpapered. Try that on me & you would definitely need to put a dust sheet down. Expecting to discover a trail of grotesquely injured & possibly dead bodies the police instead tracked down a group all steadfast in claiming all the activity was consensual. As gay men in an era when more conventional sexual practices could be a death sentence many civil liberties campaigners supported their right to evade criminal procedures for indulging their preferences, odd & unfathomable as they appeared to many others. In 1989 16 men were eventually charged with a range of offences. This at least deflected The Sun from lying about Hillsborough for a while. 8 men were eventually jailed & 3 unsuccessfully appealed to the European Court Of Human Rights around the time this match was played, a decade on from the beginning of the original investigation. Caning a man’s cock & inflicting injury, willing victim or not, was thus officially unlawful as well as an affront to the sensibilities of the guardians of social morality. An Englishman’s home maybe his castle, but lose the scalpel & the ball weights matey. Ball weights?

One thing still baffles me now. Other avenues of suffering existed in the mid to late 1980’s. It was  possible for grown men to inflict  pain & torment on each other, to torture themselves & watch others endure unimaginable agonies at the same time. Legally & played out in public, all for a fiver apiece. Just get yourself & your pals along to Stamford Bridge once a fortnight, where John Hollins & Ernie Walley were respectively manager & coach of Chelsea Football Club. The Operation Spanner crew may still have ended up feeling like they were serving some kind of a  sentence, albeit in an open prison, but think of the saving in hot wax & nails.

Happily, by 1997 watching Chelsea had become fun again. We all loved player-manager Ruud Gullit almost as much as he loved himself, & a cosmopolitan & flamboyant team was being constructed. Like the 1970 team it emulated when winning the FA Cup, this Chelsea team could be as infuriating & inconsistent as it was often brilliant, & unlike the sides imprisoned in the Hollins/Whalley era it was rarely dull. I am advised by people with drug knowledge that a shot of pure China White heroin is likely to be the pathway to a blissful death should you be bedridden when the moment comes. I would settle for shutting my eyes & enjoying a 25 minute rerun of the second half of this extraordinary FA Cup tie, starting with Mark Hughes opening the Chelsea scoring & concluding with Gianluca Vialli (or ‘Gianluca Of Vialli’ as John Motson excitedly mispronounces his name at one point in match commentary) heading his second & Chelsea’s fourth goal 25 minutes later. This insane, pulsating, thrilling match had everything & is undoubtedly my favourite Chelsea game of all time. It would be crass to say that this game enabled its spectatators to completely cover the waterfront of human emotional responses, but it is difficult to think of many life experiences that enables us to be aquainted with such a variety of them over such a short period of time. In the final at Wembley four months later a stunning Roberto Di Matteo strike after 43 seconds gave me one of my happiest single memories ever, but as a consequence we spent the next 89 minutes wishing for nothing but the sound of the final whistle. Imagine going to see Prince in the same era, hearing him start with a stellar version of Little Red Corvette & immediately wanting to pack up & go home after that on the grounds it can’t get better. No music fan reacts like that. Football supporters do. For an hour this Liverpool game was a tortuous, painful, bleak & embarrassing nightmare for Chelsea fans. Less than an hour later it was Liverpool fans left with the feeling that someone had just nailed their todgers to a collective block of wood. Both sets of supporters enjoyed the extreme discomfiture of the other as events unravelled. Sadomasochism was alive & well at Stamford Bridge on this chilly January day. However it was blue joy that was unconfined  as we spilled out of the Stamford Bridge forecourt to the exits, gliding across fresh layers of black ice now forming on the pavement courtesy of countless recently deposited Liverpudlian tears.

My physical & emotional responses to this match on the day, from several hours before kick off until the end of the day, can broadly be broken down as follows:-

  • Twitchy apprehension
  • Increasing tension & nervousness
  •  A growing sense of impending doom
  • Despondency as this pessimism increasingly seems to be justified
  • Dejection
  • Disillusionment
  • Fear of abject humiliation.
  • Anger
  • Resignation
  • Laughter in the face of adversity & opposition scorn
  • Forlorn clinging to any remaining shreds of hope
  • Cautiously embracing a heartening & unexpected lifeline
  • Simultaneous relief & delight
  • Ecstasy
  • Hyterical ecstasy
  • Euphoria

Euphoria after a football match ends usually subsides to be replaced by the need for sleep within hours. This time it survived through the rest of the day & for several days after. Roll the rollercoater video.

 

After 27 years of much suffering I was attuned to my careworn brand of masochism, but the sadistic glee I took from seeing Liverpool fans squirm was a little surprising. Usually I responded to glorious victory by saying little or nothing to followers of the vanquished opposition, remembering how irksome their crowing had been to me on the more usual occasions that the boot had been on the other foot. Not reacting in kind threw them, giving me a moral high ground (possibly illusory) on top of the other spoils of victory, a sort of kind to be cruel tactic. Outwardly I maintained this even on this occasion but inwardly there was an additional glow. Liverpool were different, a fanbase never slow to gloat, not attuned to much on the pitch adversity themselves. I had been scoffed at enough by Liverpool fans over the years. I had earned that additional inner, glow, tinged with sadism as it was.

‘It’s so so easy being a Liverpool fan isn’t it?’ said Dave to his pal Euan, observing their victorious opponents swaggering into the Birmingham night all around them as they make their way to the car for the weary trudge home. It is April 1992 & after two matches & four hours of FA Cup Semi-Final football, during which Liverpool have never once been ahead, their team Portsmouth have finally tanked miserably in the penalty shootout at the end of this goalless Villa Park replay. Euan has flown back from Australia especially for the match. Quite possibly he may have mentioned this a few times in the intervening years. For Liverpool it’s another day at the office. Another Cup Final beckons. Doubtless they are delighted to win but their ecstasy appears to be on a vastly diminished scale to Euan & Dave’s deflation. Dave was right in the purest footballing sense, but off the pitch Liverpool as a city as well as a fanbase had plenty to contend with back then, not least the club’s presence at two of three hideous stadium disasters. What Dave cannot be expected to know is that Liverpool’s predominant position within English football, which has lasted since the early 1970’s, is about to be put on hold for at least a quarter of a century. They will still be major players but not the biggest boys in the playground. Manchester United will win the league for the first time in 26 years the season after this game, & enjoy a  spectacular twenty years of similar triumphs until Sir Alex Ferguson retires in 2013. Arsenal will be their main rivals for many of the coming years, winning the Premier League without losing a game in 2004.  I experience a similar sensation to Dave & Euan at a rain soaked Wembley Stadium Rail Station after Man Utd clinch the Double in 1994. Their fans regularly prove to be vainglorious, glib & smug in victory. Think scores of Terry Christian clones. Yeah, that unbearable. Arsenal fans are generally glib & smug anyway, it’s in the Gooner genes. When Chelsea’s turn arrives in the noughties the sense of entitlement escalates horribly & very, very quickly. Having had far more barren years than the aforementioned clubs you might expect Blues fans to have a bit more humility, but in truth it is pretty well concealed, especially in the first era of Jose Mourinho, always a man whose default standpoint of more talent than grace rarely strays far from the surface. I have gone into fan exile by then, happy that the club are thriving, but uncomfortable at the financial doping that both accompanies & fuels this success. Somebody refers to me as a foul weather fan at the time. Others see the timing of my exit from the Matthew Harding Upper as mere perversity.

Hindsight thus permits us to view the bumptiousness of Liverpool fans in the last quarter of the twentieth century with a little more tolerance. A little more. Numerous league titles & 4 European Cups in seven years would warp anyone’s perspective as well as  blowing their mind. Contending with the recent horrors of Heysel & Hillsbrough was anything but easy, unimaginably awful in fact. On the pitch failure was usually a stranger, but beneath it all their fans were not hugely different to anyone else’s. I stood on The Kop once. In 1982, a disappointing 0-0 draw against bitter enemies Man Utd. After half an hour without a goal supporters around me started getting on the back of one of their forwards,  struggling for form & goals at the time. His Name? Kenny Dalglish, quite possibly their greatest ever player. Dalglish soon returned to his brilliant best, but the speed with which terrace impatience manifested itself on the day was telling. The club’s recent renaissance under Jurgen Klopp has reminded many of us of the stuff that was unbearable all those years ago. The endless, nauseating media love & the Scouse not English, People’s Republic Of Liverpool bollocks, as if nobody else in England rejected Brexit in 2016 & a Johnson administration in 2019. This member of the electorate but would doubtless be regarded as both a Chelsea Tory boy by many Merseysiders, keen to invoke negative cliches on the likes of me that they understandably resent when similarly broad & sloppy sweeps of the stereotype brush are applied to themselves. As it can be with Chelsea fans I did encounter Liverpool followers in the 1980’s through until the early ’90’s only too happy to conform to the steretype. Dave, the emigre Scouser, who spent many a Friday afternoon & early evening in my local bemoaning that Oxford ‘wasn’t a place for a real drinking man, not like Liverpool’ while spending years living in Oxford & seemingly doing little else beyond proving that the city actually provided ample recourse for the drunken bore. There was the unbearable young woman I spent two days with on a course, who championed all things Liverpool & trashed all things southern constantly. It later transpired this was her first visit to the south & throughout it she never once left the site of the course, an Alan Partridge like travel tavern on the outskirts of Oxford. One late ’80’s summer night in the pub a lairy young Koppite had me pointed out as a Chelsea fan by an unhelpful & idiotic work colleague. ‘Yeah, he looks like a fuckin’ southerner’ he exclaimed, leering at me scornfully from the bar. A southern born man, living in the south, in a southern pub, looking like a southerner. Spotter’s badge Mr Einstein. Some of us wear our place of origin more lightly than others, accepting it as an accident of birth rather than something that has to define us. I must try walking into a Liverpool pub one day & trying the same routine in reverse, &  doubtless could look forward to sampling some of that much vaunted superior northern friendliness in the  process.

Football was an escape from an unhappy period at work throughout this 1996-7 season. Inconsistency, including too many home draws, & a 2-4 mugging by Wimbledon, failed to dampen my enthusiasm at being able to watch the likes of Lebouef, Petrescu, Vialli, Di Matteo & the recently arrived Gianfranco Zola weave their magic. I broken my leg in July during a kick about on an all weather pitch & spent the rest of the summer in a large plaster cast not apeing the one sported by Oliver Hardy in the sublime County Hospital. Stan Laurel doesn’t bring me any hard boiled eggs & nuts but my first journey of any distance gets me to Stamford Bridge to see Roberto Di Matteo score the first home goal of the season in a mid-week game against Middlesbrough, Juninho, Ravanelli & all. Too embarrassed to use the lifts I struggle up & down the steps to & from my seat in the Matthew Harding Upper & arrive home exhausted as a result of this brainless act of bravado. When Frank Lebouef cancels out Andy ‘Judas’ Townsend’s opener for Aston Villa a few weeks later the false teeth of the man next to me fall out in the celebrations. As he scrambles haplessly around my oversized cast in  search of them I fear I am about to be the unwilling recipient of an accidental act of fellatio. At least he already had his teeth out.

My 6 year old nephew Nick’s remarkably accurate depiction of my broken leg incident in July 1996. He had hitched his star to Liverpool Football Club by the time the FA Cup tie in 1997 came around, & I am reliably informed that he burst into tears as Chelsea’s remarkable second half renaissance unfurled in front of his sorrowful young eyes back home on BBC1.

This one is from my friend Andy’s son Matt (scarily now older today than I was then). Following his unwise decision to support Man Utd I had given him a few old programmes from Cup Finals & games at Old Trafford over the years. I fear  ‘Sporting Hero’ may be pushing it somewhat!

Eventually returning to work I am overlooked for promotion, correctly as my rising bitterness has affected my performance & added to a growing lack of respect between myself & immediate colleagues, mutual & justified from both sides, but nothing compared to the contempt I feel for the mendacious, cowardly, & arrogant standards of management on display higher up the ladder. This is a family firm where brothers refuse to be seen in the same room as brothers. The chairman would have suited the football world to a tee. Every two or three years he makes an inappropriate high level appointment, presents them as a new messiah, tires of his new toy & pays them a handsome lump sum to disappear prematurely into the sunset. Sound familiar? The current retail MD  has had his honeymoon period & is on the verge of being deposited into an affluent wilderness. When he  disapproves of something in my department he puts an angry note in the customer suggestion box rather than deign to speak to shopfloor guttersnipes like me. Staggeringly puerile. Other members of the management team kowtow to this weapon, displaying little respect for anyone else in the process, not least themselves.  He is supposedly a ladies’ man, despite being an arrogant, socially inept dick looking like post-Roxy Music era Brian Eno on a spectacularly bad day. Minus the talent.  ‘It’s in the eyes’ says the shop manager. I suspect it’s more in the job title & wallet but can’t comment on the eyes as the  brave soldier has avoided eye contact with anyone in our department since the pathetic suggestion box fiasco. Eno does go beyond eye contact with at least one deluded female member of staff, caught in flagrante in his (doubtless deliberately)  unlocked office by another member of the managerial team, a classic, cringey, paper shuffling,’I’ll Come Back Later’  No Sex Please We’re British moment. What was her name? Virginia Plain reputedly. I may have been mediocre but strangely had usually used our office to conduct book related tasks rather than turning it into a filing cabinet, paper clip & sellotape filled alternative brothel. While he is being paid an inflated salary to boost his inflated ego by inserting his sweaty, inflated phallus into the lower orifices of the terminally dim, half hearted secondments are offered to me in the wake of my failed job interview. It is considered desirable to put some distance between me & the new boss in my existing department. They don’t trust me to conduct myself with enough professional decorum to assist the new incumbent on his arrival the day after the Liverpool match. They had trusted me to run the department during the massively busy Christmas period of course. Politely declining any exciting new side alleys I instead take two weeks holiday leading into the Liverpool match. I promptly go down with the flu. Happy New Year.

It is more than my traditional Eeyore fearing the worst pre-match tension that makes me fear the worst as I make my way to London on the day of the match. Liverpool are top if the league, but I am less concerned by the early season 5-1 gubbing they handed out at Anfield than our recent avenging of this defeat on New Year’s Day courtesy of a neat, first half Roberto Di Matteo finish. A cup game shortly after a league encounter between two clubs frequently comes up with a different result. The match tickets arrive alarmingly & unusually late & are for the Matthew Harding Lower. Bill & I have largely plumped for  Upper since sitting in Lower for the first game ever in the  stand, a 1-0 home defeat to Everton in November 1994.  Being sat there fuels my superstitious side in a bad way. On taking our seats we find we are scrunched together at the back of the stand, & a decent view of most of the pitch can only be achieved by straining the head at a slightly odd angle. Claustrophobic & uncomfortable, the discomfort is soon accentuated by the first half action. Liverpool score twice at the deserted Shed End, then under reconstruction, through Robbie Fowler & Stan Collymore. They should have scored more. A well placed Fowler heads wide, Steve McManaman shoots weakly instead of squaring the ball to Fowler for an easy tap in. McManaman also dribbles a shot mere inches past Kevin Hitchcock’s right hand post. Chelsea don’t get started. The recently out of favour Gianluca Vialli neatly evades a Liverpool defender only to balloon over the bar horribly with only David James to beat. Otherwise the best effort is a long range, right foot drive by Scott Minto, & when your best effort is a long range right foot drive by your left back you know you’re in trouble. Half time comes &  0-2  is, if anything, a relief. As the teams leave the field Dennis Wise overhears John Barnes say ‘ this is easy, no problem’ to Robbie Fowler. Few could have disagreed with this appraisal of events  at that moment.

Bewitched

Scouse joy unconfined as their team leads & dominates

Half time is usually respite, sometimes a temporary life raft before an impending monsoon but at least renewed hope, however foolhardy, can be allowed to breathe & expand. Here it appears to be stifled at birth. Half times at Chelsea are dominated by the pitchside antics of Neil ‘Spy’ Barnett, a man inordinately fond of the sound of his own voice at the best of times. This is not the best of times but Neil either misreads the mood horribly or bravely invites the noisy scorn from the Liverpool fans that his fuckwitted intervention invites on this occasion. Thay are massed in the East Stand Lower tier,  next to where Spy dispenses his traditionally smartarsed pitchside addresses. Amongst the ususal announcements, Chelsea Pitch Owers Share purchases & the score & scorers of the youth team’s morning 6-3 win over Gillingham, he will frequently make provocative, humorous asides at the opposition fans with varying degrees of success. A former player will  be introduced & that man today is Eric ‘Rabbit’ Parsons. It would have been ungallant to cancel this but Neil gives it the big ‘un when introducing Eric, including the fact that he was in our Championship winning team, then our ONLY Championship winning team, back in 1955 no less. Liverpool have won 18 Division 1 titles at this point. Had we known there would be no advance on this until 2020 during which Chelsea would win the league 5 times Neil’s unveiling of dear old Eric might not have tickled Scouse funny bones as much as it did. Clearly nobody did know this, so Neil bigging up our sole title win in front of a fanbase with 17 more of the same was staggeringly cretinous. Barnett could have done the introduction in a more understated way & kept all the same informtion in the same process, but Neil doesn’t do understated, so there is a dramatic sweep leading to  Eric’s pitch entrance. ‘He’s 73 now’ he bellows & on hobbles the former winger, now on a walking stick. Cheers Spy. Scouse glee knows no bounds. In all honesty you can’t blame them but at this moment I don’t want to live this life anymore. (a reminder at this point that this is my favourite Chelsea match ever!)

Barnett’s love of the spotlight has seamlessly played into opposition hands & our misery appears all but complete. Despair turns to rage for Bill as Barnett continues to crap on rather than slink away like any normal person with a semblance of humility would do after opening a 73 year old man up to quite unwarranted ridicule. I want everything to stop, the game to be cancelled, to call it quits & slink back home. The thing Bill most wants to stop is Neil Barnett. ‘What are we getting next, a fucking meat draw’ he shouts in frustrated fury as Spy’s self absorbed waffle continues unabated.  I need this. Nobody else but me responds in any way or laughs. Bill is apolplectic. The combination of his rage & the absurdity of this entire interlude transfers me from a state of despair to one of helpless laughter. For the first time all afternoon I am, perversely, beginning to enjoy myself. Years later we go to a 3rd round FA Cup tie at Watford & they actually DO have a half time meat draw on the pitch. Fortunately Neil Barnett is unavailable for comment. We’ve heard quite enough from Neil by then.

Minto is replaced at half time as Ruud rolls the dice & puts Mark Hughes up alongside Vialli. Sparky is a famously rugged & spiteful physical presence &  Norwegian defender Bjorn Kvarme,Liverpool’s newest signing, is about to experience a 45 minute footballing hurricane his Anfield career never really recovers from. Hughes has form against Liverpool from his glory years at Old Trafford. I can even remember a loud radio commentary reporting him scoring as I waited to board a packed post-match tube train back to Victoria at Fulham Broadway late one Wednesday evening. We cheered the goal. Cheering a Man Utd goal was rare, cheering a goal scored against Liverpool less so. Alongside Kvarme in the Liverpool defence is England’s Mark Wright, who went to school in Oxford a few hundred yards away fom where I am typing this. Dominic Matteo is also in the centre of the Liverpool rearguard, with Stig Inge Bjornebye at left back & Republic of Ireland international Jason McAteer at right back. McAteer is the star of a shampoo advert for Wash & Go around this time. He is a perfectly pleasant looking man, but I am led to believe this is a prime time for  handsome footballers, Davids Beckham & Ginola to the fore. In this match alone there is the aforementioned Scott Minto & Jason’s pretty boy colleagues Patrik Berger & Jamie Redknapp. You suspect the big cheese at Wash & Go settled on Jason after a flurry of rejections, but fair play to him anyway, a decent player who seems like a good lad & shares my healthy dislike of Roy Keane to this day, not least his confirmation that the latterday eccenticities & perversity of the latter’s wildly overrated punditry are a carefully contrived & bogus construction.

Hughes arrival sparks a turnaround in fortunes so dramatic that McAteer’s shiny haired head will be spinning by the final whistle, Kvarme will already be pining for the fjords & John Barnes will be choking on his half time complacency. Five minutes after the restart Hughes chests down a Steve Clarke cross on the edge of the box, holds off the advances of Wright & Kvarme with ease, & hits a low right foot shot past James. The start of something good, a partial saving of face, or the tail tweak incurring the wrath of the beast that had all but devoured our cup hopes in the first half? It takes eight minutes for the moment in the game that swings momentum inexorably towards the first & most pleasing of these alternatives. A Chelsea move finds them on  the edge of the Liverpool penalty area once again, the ball breaks untidily & Hughes emphatically overcomes John Barnes in working the ball back to Zola using what looks like a full, menacing set of studs in the process. The stunning, powerful left foot drive that follows dips & swerves as it passes the helpless James  & roars into the top left hand corner of the net. 2-2! Bedlam!! I don’t buy into the big happy football family fan myth. Frequently I feel alone in the crowd at Chelsea, adrift from the general mood & linked only by an entirely illogical affinity for the same 11 men out on the pitch, who equally I share little else in common with. The beauty of moments like the Zola equalizer is that all that melancholy introspection evaporates, at that moment you really are one. Everyone, regardless of race, gender, political persuasion or relative wealth, is consumed by it. The Hughes goal brought hope & kept the tie alive. Zola’s gem is on another level. Gianfranco has only been in the country for 2 months but had already cemented himself in every Chelsea fan’s affections. The man was a delight & already had his own song, the first (& best) of several over his 7 year stint at Stamford Bridge, an amendment of an old Ray Davies classic. Zola. La la la la Zola.

Bothered

Tight lips & folded arms abound as half time Liverpudlian smugness evaporates in the London mist

Liverpool are stunned. I don’t know it at the time but they have not surrendered a two goal lead in nigh on 33 years, when Blackburrn Rovers beat them 3-2 at Ewood Park in August 1964. The atmosphere is now electric in all areas bar the lower tier of the East Stand. From the depths of despair less than 10 minutes before hope now springs eternal. Perversely the joy is more intense for the suffering endured in the previous hour. Like losing your wallet & after a sweat drenched, panicky search finding it in the last place you look, in my case traditionally entangled in the laundry basket among the grubby t-shirts & Calvin Kleins. The difference here is that you are with more than 20,000 people reacting with similar joy & relief.

The cramped seating  & crooked neck are irrelevant now. All 6 goals are scored at the other end of the ground, populated only by advertising hoarding obscuring the rubble where The Shed had once stood. I don’t have the greatest view but it’s good enough to witness all the vital action. The West Stand to my right, itself to be replaced & demolished at the end of this season, is rocking. Even the staider areas of the East Stand, the middle & upper tiers, the posh seats, seem to have been taken over by the growing hysteria. Five minutes after Zola’s goal  Chelsea take the lead, a clever slide rule pass from Dan Petrescu wrongfooting the Liverpool defence & putting in Vialli for a one on one with David James. Luca wins, flicking the ball past James with the outside of his right foot, & all around is now gleeful chaos, save for the now static, stunned, punch drunk away following. Their numbness is clear, so swift & unfathomable has been the change in fortunes for their team, so masterful a mere half an hour earlier. Like we care. The wallet has not only been retrieved intact but closer inspection now reveals that the 1967 incarnation of Brigitte Bardot has slipped her phone number into one of its inner pockets on the back of a Gitanes fag packet. Luca’s goal would now undoubtedly be put on hold pending a monstrous, life sapping VAR offside check, starving the moment of it breathless, urgent, electric flow. During the home game against Derby the previous week  Dennis Wise had celebrated his goal by running up to Vialli on the subs bench & ripping off his shirt to reveal a t-shirt bearing the amatuerish but heartfelt marker pen message Cheer up Luca we love you. The love was all around him now. The deft movement to elude the opposition defence was peak Vialli, a perfect foil to Hughes. His blunderbuss strike partner has instilled the traditional fear & loathing in his opponents which has paved the way for this devastating turnaround.

Bewildered

Man up & face the camera ponytail

Face the camera ponytail! The rest of us regularly get to feel like this chaps

Logic should ensure a sense of sobriety at this point, foreboding at what this Liverpool team can conjure up. They pile on the pressure at times during the rest of the match, & Kevin Hitchcock’s goal survives a few scares. However, football at both its best & worst frequently shows contempt for logic & I would guess very few people at this match deflected from this doomy old twat’s instincts that this was now Chelsea’s day. A team that had looked like piling up a cricket score in the first half could probably have stayed  on the pitch until the following day & not scored again now. It has been decreed, God only knows by who. James makes a fine save from a long range Di Matteo shot but the next goal, 12 minutes after the last, also goes to Chelsea. From wide on the right Zola floats a lovely inswinging free kick across the Liverpool goalmouth. Vialli meets it & powers a header into the net, virtually unchallenged by a defence that would probably have cleared the ball without blinking in the first half. Vialli’s second goal heralds the sudden arrival of 25,000 people into football heaven, 25,000 people who had expected a forthcoming  week wearing ear plugs & averting the eye of every rival fan on the planet. For the first time in 33 years Liverpool have blown a 2 goal lead & they know it. Hands clasped despairingly to the sides of the head is their template in the aftermath of this goal, on & off the pitch. One exception is Mark Wright, one hand on each hip as he stands forlornly, staring into space, looking for all the world like a man who has just had his balls sandpapered red raw. The game is up. And over. I doubt that Rabbit Parsons was ever familiar with the ode to S&M that is the Velvet Underground’s masterly Venus In Furs. It’s a shame, because in an ideal world Eric would now have applied fresh dubbin to his 1955 shiny shiny boots of leather, thrown his walking stick into the Liverpool end & made a late, glorious comeback, rolling back the years & leaving the dandruff free head of Jason McAteer for dead with a pinpoint cross onto Viall’s gleaming head for the Italian’s hat trick.

Beaten

Nice to see Lily Savage putting in an appearance

Dry your eyes la

Chelsea went on to win the FA Cup & break their 26 year trophy drought, a fortnight after 18 years Of Tory rule had been ended with a landslide Labour election victory. Less than 3 weeks after the big day at Wembley I watched England bowl out Australia for 118 on the first day of the Ashes series at Edbaston. England won the test handsomely. Things were going swimmingly but Australia soon hit back & won the series comfortably in the end. My penchant  for repeatedly backing the winning team had lasted around a month but it was great while it lasted. Liverpool finished 4th in the Premier league. The League Cup in 1995 would be their last silverware of the millenium. I am not sure this was ultimately such a terrible thing. Taking success for granted may have been an inevitable consequence of their most golden of years but this was a fanbase so unused to failure that recalibration through an enhanced sense of perspective was long overdue. Unlike those poor birds,the Grey Landes goose & the Barbary and  Mulard ducks, hideously force fed corn and fat through a tube to unnaturally enlarge their liver so that gluttenous fools can eat foie gras, the liver of the liver bird had been engorged via a similarly ceaseless diet of glory & silverware. In 1997 I craved a taste of success, not an endless stream. Had I been offered a Faustian pact at the final whistle of this magnificent match, whereby Chelsea would win the 1997 FA Cup & nothing else again in my lifetime, I would probably have taken it. Had it been offered at half time, at 2-0 down, with only Neil Barnett’s ego, Eric Parson’s walking stick & Liverpool laughter for company, I would have bitten the devil’s hand off. As it was I enjoyed more triumphs at home & abroad before I stopped going in 2004 & walking away then ensured I never got the advanced sense of entitlement & ennui that afflicted many Chelsea fans when the ruthless, relentless pursuit of glory began in earnest during the Mourinho years. As for Liverpool, they had to wait 30 years for a league title, but still managed to accumulate trophies in a manner that remained the envy of many. There was a domestic & European treble in 2001 & the small matter of two more Champions League victories, one achieved from a half time position of three goals down against AC Milan in 2005. Liverpool are a great team again now. Humility still appears to have often eluded them in the meantime, but pulling their trousers down in 1997 is still a thrill that lingers, & offered a sharp reminder of the realities of fandom that came with the territory for most of us during those 25 years that they imperiously strutted through the football grounds of Britain & Europe. For Chelsea this was one of a handful of games that were the bridge between the old days & Chelsea of today, a half great team in a half finished stadium offering a glimpse of the potential this club had. Standing on that bridge was an enormous thrill even if I failed to make it all the way across to the other side. Would I swap the memories of this match for a seat at Bolton in 2005 or Munich in 2012? Scoff if you like but the answer is no. We all have our time & this was mine. I’m back watching Chelsea now anyway, happy that merely spending money doesn’t even guarantee a place in the top 4 these days, let alone a league title, though only too aware that the finances of football remain horribly skewered in favour of the big teams.

Returning to a job after two weeks off is usually difficult, not least when your work colleagues & managers have thumbed their collective noses at your abilities & made it clear your presence is no longer welcome. No matter. I floated into work the following day. The first thing my new boss did after shaking my hand was congratulate me on the epic events of the previous day. Adam was a Geordie & consequently a fan of the Toon. He only stayed a year or so, but we worked well together & I can’t remember a single cross word being exchanged between us during this time, though his partner objected to my polishing off a full bag of chocolate footballs she had left in our office for him prior to luring him away for an extremely long coffee break. Like Sparky, Gianfranco & Luca I saw the chance & took it. No big deal anyway, there was never a chance that the sandpaper & ball weights would come out.

Ball weights?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


It Was 20 Years Ago Today

002 (7)Coca Cola Cup Final

Chelsea 2 Middlesbrough 0 (AET) 29/03/1998

It  doesn’t feel like 20 years ago until I look at this photo. Let’s just say the years have not been kind to the gawky individual unconvincingly striving to hold up the Coca Cola Cup in his right hand while cradling the Cup Winner’s Cup in his left, apparently threatening the safety of Graeme Le Saux’s face & Eddie Newton’s genitals in the process. The presence of the latter trophy helps date the photo as taken a few months later, namely a Boxtree book launch at Stamford Bridge. We were promised players. There were no players, although fitness coach & former Olympic sprinter Ade Mafe popped in. The late socialite Tara Palmer-Tomkinson showed up too, although she had seemingly vamoosed by the time I arrived. Ken Bates was there. Of course Ken Bates was there. The press were in attendance & Bates & the British media were the Jack & Vera Duckworth of English football in these days, apparently full of mutual antipathy, mistrust & resentment but inextricably joined at the hip, both equally dependant on the other. Ken duly obliged with a bullish speech which needlessly included a cheap shot at former manager Glenn Hoddle & his faith healing accomplice Eileen Drewery. Glenn would talk himself out of the England job shortly afterwards. If we do come back & pay for our sins in prior existences then what ghastly fate will behold cuddly Ken? Being ignored by the media presumably.

I wasn’t bothered about not meeting players, or Tara Palmer-Tompkinson for that matter, but had hoped to snaffle up some promised free books. Sadly they had all been grabbed by the representatives of the press, who according to their visitor badges mostly seemed largely to come from the plethora of lads mags, Loaded, FHM & the like, which dominated the publishing scene at the time. They had also consumed most of the advertised drinks & canapes. In fairness I am bound to say they may have been low on the lad mag food chain, most looking  more like their target audience than the jaded, ex music rag hacks whose purple prose expressing their  newly discovered love of old footballers & well cantilevered female soap stars littered these publications. Presumably Melanie Sykes or Helena Christensen were doing a bra & knickers shoot somewhere else. Does sound better than listening to Ken Bates in fairness. Tara, Loaded & canapes eh. None more ’90’s! The event took place in the Galleria & was my first visit to the site of the old Shed since the hotel development had been completed. It would have been nice to have had a view of the ground, but famously windows are in short supply in the building. Legend has it that dear Ken’s apartment in the hotel was the only one with a window facing the pitch. As the event took place in late summer this may have been a good thing for Tara Palmer-Tomkinson, who given her legendary nose candy habit at the time may have been rendered a trifle twitchy by a clear view of 90-100 yard long lines of white powder marking the touch lines. A cheap shot. Batesy would doubtless approve. TP-T at least looked more comfortable than I do in the photo I saw of her at the event, which I recall appearing in her column in the Sunday Times magazine, a weekly literary feast she selflessly allowed someone else to write for her. What a trooper.

There is a context to my unease in the photo. The queue betrayed the fact that very few present at this event were match going Chelsea fans. I may have been the only one who had attended both finals that garnered these two trophies. The photographer had a series of unwelcome props. I declined the white away shirt bearing the name of Brian Laudrup. Lovely player who never settled and was gone within 6 months, & had not been at the club when these cups had been won. Unfazed, the photographer jammed a Chelsea  jester’s hat on my head just as the photo was about to be taken. I promptly removed it. I had waited more than a quarter of a century to hold meaningful trophies in my hand. I didn’t need a white Laudrup away shirt. Or a fucking jester’s hat. By the time this had been quietly established the trophies were beginning to sag in my grasp. The woman issuing the photos told her sidekick that I was miserable. I was not miserable in the slightest, just not a publicity hungry it girl. That photo had been earned by years of being subjected to often god awful football in cold, unwelcoming grounds, following a team that was frequently regarded as a joke, with & fan base largely regarded as social pariahs by the media, football authorities, police, politicians & public alike. I had worked for my photo with these trophies. My civvies & ugly mug would suffice for once, unencumbered by club shop tat. Up yours dearie. I didn’t say that of course, just feigned deafness, said thank you & continued a vain search for remaining canapes.

 

  The Wonderful Gianluca Vialli. Class In A Glass.

The Coca Cola Cup Final was the second 2-0 win over Middlesbrough inside a year. Strangely, as one of life’s sporting pessimists (with plenty to justify that condition over the years where Chelsea are concerned!) on neither occasion did I doubt Chelsea would end up the victors. Bill & I repeated the normal matchday ritual, travelled into London & had a pre-match pint in our favourite pub, The Duke Of Wellington in Belgravia. In 1994 we had travelled direct to Wembley via Bicester on the train. We lost 4-0 & this diversion from the norm was clearly as responsible as the brilliance of Cantona, Giggs, Keane & co. Hence the trip into central London & the chance to see other travellers at Marylebone Station reminded again, loudly & repeatedly by our fellow supporters, via the familiar lilting ballad, that West London is wonderful, being full of tits, fanny & Chelsea. North London was once more less fortunate, replete merely with shit, shit & more shit. A few beers in The Duke Of Wellington had set us up nicely for the journey. Genial landlord John Bond pleasingly conformed to the cliche that being Irish meant he would keep a good pint of Guinness, & would always supply a free one several times a season too. The pub also had a footballing pedigree. George Best & Bobby Moore would meet there during the Fulham years. The last time Stamford Bridge had hosted an FA Cup Semi-Final was in 1978 when Arsenal played Orient. At some point over that weekend both teams had elected to bolster team spirits by going out for a few pints. Remarkably, they both ended up in The Duke Of Wellington, facing each other over a bar that could fairly be described as compact & bijou. It must have been fascinating to witness the reaction of the two groups at both descending on the same venue. Of all the bars…

The Coca Cola Cup final was reached via a pulsating 3-1 second leg semi-final win over Arsenal, featuring another scorching long range goal from Roberto Di Matteo which nearly took the roof off a vibrant Stamford Bridge. Or would have done had Stamford Bridge actually had one. This was the first game under the newly appointed player-manager Luca Vialli, who beckoned in the new era by handing out  a glass of champagne to each player in the dressing room prior to the kick off. Always a class act, Vialli’s new role would eventually drive a wedge between him & several first team colleagues, but team spirit was clearly good at this time. Having had to sit on the bench for the FA Cup Final under Ruud Gullit the year before, the new boss selflessly left himself out of the Wembley line up completely on this occasion, & the players insisted he go up & collect the trophy at full time. Prior to the kick off, the man to my left announced that he would have a wank later that evening in the event that Frank Sinclair scored a goal. I loved Frank to bits, but had never envisaged him as a likely aid to onanistic fulfilment. As luck would have it, especially for the man to my left, plus any tissue sellers near his gaff, Frank proceeded to open the scoring with a cracking header from a superb Dennis Wise cross early in the first half of Extra Time. Frank & his mate Eddie Newton were coming to the end of their careers at Stamford Bridge. Both had been vital components in keeping the club in the Premier League a few years earlier. Eddie had scored in the FA Cup final, which had been the icing on the cake that day. They were both Chelsea to the core, local boys who had made good  & were popular with supporters, which hacked off those with a racist agenda no end. Frank was quick, fearless, good in the air & had the heart of a lion. He was prone to clumsiness & reckless challenges, & having moved to Leicester the following season nurtured an unfortunate tendency to score spectacular own goals, though with typical loyalty managed one of these to rescue his former club a late point at Filbert Street in 1999. He did win the League Cup again at Leicester however, & certainly deserved better than the scorn he received in certain quarters. The broadcaster, Spurs fan & dickhead Danny Kelly once sneeringly referred to him as a ‘sort of footballer.’ Frank Sinclair played in the Premier League for a decade & continued his career into his forties, won domestic & European medals & represented his country at the 1998 World Cup Finals. Along with Keith Jones, Keith Dublin, Ken Monkou, Michael Duberry & Eddie Newton he succeeded in walking through the door so bravely opened for future black players at Chelsea by Paul Canoville in the the 1980’s. Dismissing him as a ‘sort of footballer’ is akin to the rest of us describing the multi-chinned, arse-lipped  Mr Kelly as a  ‘sort of’ smug, flabby buttocked disgrace. Prior to the FA Cup Final Kelly had sniggered away with another bastion of masculine perfection called Danny at the prospect of the match & likened it to the pre-match episodes of It’s A Knockout that used to fill the hours before the main event back in the day. Hilarious chaps, & Spurs-QPR in 1982 really gripped the nation by the way. Kelly hosted a dismal late night ‘sort of’ sports show called Under The Moon during this era. A mug of cocoa & an early night soon lost its sting. The biggest name I can remember gracing this carnival of shite  was Wimbledon’s Stewart Castledine, who made 28 appearances for Wimbledon throughout the ’90’s. Fine by me but Kelly predictably honoured the Michael Parkinson tradition of most hypocritical media parasites by kissing the arse of someone he would doubtless have derided in print. The brave soldier. I wonder if he could ever pass a football. He certainly can’t pass the Krispy Kreme display in Tesco. A cheap shot & I should hold fire on the sizeism having long left the lean category myself but do find it staggering that athletes can be mocked with such puerility by a man in Kelly’s physical condition. He has found his true spiritual home now at ‘sort of’ radio station TalkSport. They deserve each other. If there is a Hell TalkSport is surely piped in there 24 hours a day.

It was a little difficult not to feel some sympathy for ‘Boro, losing their third Cup Final in less than a year, & still reeling from a relegation caused by a massively unfair points deduction the season before. Not that difficult however. They had beaten Chelsea in the famously ugly play offs of 1988, possibly the most painful of the three relegations I have witnessed, & certainly the most avoidable. There is also lingering emotional scarring from a 7-2 defeat at Ayresome Park in 1978. Their line up in 1998 featured plenty of familiar faces, & one who would become one later, the terrific Mark Schwarzer in goal, new to English football at the time, but later, much later, to turn up at Stamford Bridge during the second Mourinho era. Boyhood Chelsea fan Paul Merson featured, as he did for Aston Villa two years later in the last FA Cup Final at the old Wembley Stadium. Fine player Merson, but on both occasions  he gave post-match interviews stating his belief that the better team had lost. On both occasions he was talking arrant nonsense. Always good to see the birth of a future Sky Sports pundit in action. Warming his buttocks next to Bryan Robson on the Teesiders bench was the extraordinary Paul Gascoigne, making his first appearance in an English club match since his disastrous brainstorm playing for Spurs at the same ground nearly seven years earlier, & eleven years after I first saw him displaying his remarkable talent as a precocious young man for Newcastle in a 2-2 draw at Stamford Bridge. Earlier in the ’97-98 season, in the immediate aftermath of the death of Diana, I had seen him joyously  take Moldova apart in a World Cup qualifier at Wembley. He came on in the second half here & immediately was on the receiving end of a challenge from Dennis Wise that would earn an automatic red card these days. He responded furiously by committing a challenge on Dennis Wise that would earn an automatic red card these days. They both were clearly revelling in this barrage of foul play. Dennis adored Gazza & the feeling was apparently mutual, Gascoigne phoning up as the little imp was being interviewed by Chris Evans on TFI Friday shortly afterwards. Gazza. Chris Evans. TFI Friday. The none more 90’s count rises yet again. Sadly, Gazza missed out on the 1998 World Cup. ‘Boro were promoted at the end of the season, but during another 2-0 defeat to Chelsea shortly after the Galleria book launch Gazza appeared a shadow of his former self, the pace & power that used to see him brush off opponents with ease having evaporated. It was sad. Many blamed Glenn Hoddle for not picking him for the World Cup & knocking the heart out of this beguiling but clearly highly troubled man. Some of the finger pointers might be advised to look closer to home, namely nauseating media & ‘celebrity’ types happy to be seen tumbling out of bars with Gascoigne prior to Hoddle selecting his squad, noticeably less visible these days, as the obvious demons tormenting the man have escalated the slide into chronic alcoholism & acute mental illness. They know who they are & so do we. There are plenty of victims in the Paul Gascoigne story, not just the man himself, but he brought enormous pleasure to lots of people & that will never be forgotten. I can almost forgive him playing for Spurs. Almost. There is no higher tribute to his talent from a Chelsea fan than that.

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

Another former Blue who had queered his pitch with Chelsea fans during this decade was former skipper Andy Townsend, who also appeared at Wembley for Middlesbrough. Townsend was signed in the summer of 1990 alongside Dennis Wise & for 3 years they rivalled each other for the title of most popular player with the fans. A terrific player in an average team, he got frustrated at the team’s maddening inconsistency & baled out to Aston Villa just as the Glenn Hoddle  era dawned at Stamford Bridge. Townsend had made unconvincing noises about having been a Chelsea fan at the time, but footballers themselves are rarely fans in the same way diehard supporters are. He had chosen Southampton over Chelsea when he first ventured into professional football from non-league Weymouth. On a cool headed, professional level there was nothing wrong with that. Southampton were an established top tier outfit, Chelsea had only just emerged from five years in the gloom of Division 2. Objectively, the move to Villa was also professional common sense. Ron Atkinson had built an entertaining team after Graham Taylor had taken them close to the league title prior to his ill-fated spell as the national team manager. Unfortunately, actual supporters of football clubs rarely see things from anything but a perspective that no player should ever want to leave their club. When Kerry Dixon fell out with John Hollins in 1987 & requested a move he was relegated to the subs bench for an FA Cup game at Watford. As he warmed up there was some jeering from Chelsea supporters. Enter co-commentator  Brian Clough, who eschewed the standard sanctimonious denunciations of such behaviour, saying simply that ‘the Chelsea fans  think they support the best club in the country & can’t understand why anyone would want to leave, they’re booing him & quite right too.’ Delightfully off message & displaying an acute understanding of fan mentality beyond most pundits & commentators. Kerry won the supporters back over pretty quickly. Townsend won the League Cup at Villa but alienated Chelsea fans forever, celebrating a brilliant goal he scored for his new team at the Shed End in 1996 by lifting up an imaginary trophy to goad the home supporters at their club’s lack of honours. I’m all for players being barracked by opposition supporters having the right to fire back with both barrels on such occasions, providing they are not former players who were treated royally during their time at the club. Townsend had been & it was a cheap shot, especially as when he joined Villa he teamed up with that snivelling little shit Dean Saunders, a man who had ended the career of Townsend’s Chelsea colleague Paul Elliott with a nasty stamp in 1992. Career ending challenges on one of your team’s players is my other exception to the rule that players are entitled to give it back to crowds that are abusing them. The first time that Saunders had come on to the pitch at Stamford Bridge after the Elliott incident he was greeted with a chorus of boos, but lacking any class or dignity chose not to keep his own counsel, instead running over to the West Stand benches with his ear cupped & a supercilious grin all over his stupid little face. To this day I cannot see the  features of this smug wretch appear on my television without being filled with a desire to kick in the screen like that lorry driver when the Sex Pistols swore at Bill Grundy all those years ago. Townsend signed for Villa a few months later. Nice company you’re keeping these days Andy was the only sane response. Elliott never played again, & lost a court case against Saunders. The incident is on YouTube & we can all draw our own conclusions. Some of Paul Elliott’s Chelsea team mates went missing in court when the time came to rally round their stricken colleague. As with Gazza & the showbiz leeches they know who they are & so do we. During his Chelsea days Townsend once collapsed during a ZDS match & it was feared he had swallowed his tongue. Fortunately he hadn’t, but in future years, during his unbearable ITV co-commentary stint with Clive Tydesley it was possible to occasionally pray for a more conclusive repeat performance. When Chelsea beat Napoli 4-1 in a thrilling Champions League game in 2012 our former hero claimed that ‘Chelsea haven’t been great tonight.’ Too right mate, if only Lampard, Terry, Drogba etc  could have repeated the form shown in that 3-0 home defeat to Norwich in 1991.

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

Na na na na na na na na na na SPACKMAN!

 

 

KERPOW! No time to get the Keown Repellent Spray from his utility belt so Spackers settles for clouting the bugger instead.

Martin Keown lives in the same city as I do but in truth we live in very different worlds. It is fair to say he has done rather better in life than I have & our paths have never really crossed. His son worked behind the bar in one of my old locals. His brother assessed my tiny flat before giving me a quote for the installation of a burglar alarm. Very polite & pleasant he was too, despite looking & sounding alarmingly like his more famous sibling. I have occasionally seen the man himself prowling the streets of Oxford looking faintly bored. I can understand that. He is thoroughly rich & what else do former footballers in early middle age do when they aren’t spouting tedious & hysterically biased shite about the game on television? I did also stumble upon him living the dream & buying suitcases in Debenhams before the 2016 European Championships. Debenhams eh? To think John Terry got stick for buying Xmas decorations in Poundland!  Strangely, News International weren’t interested in my Keown revelations. Can’t think why.

Mr Keown also went to school with my mate Joe, who bumped into him just after Arsenal had won 2-0 at Stamford Bridge in 1993. He told Joe that George Graham had apparently instructed him to man-mark Dennis Wise for the entire match. I didn’t need to be told that in truth, having been at the game. He had done just that, & supremely well too. A 2-0 defeat flattered Chelsea that day as Merson & Wright ran riot up front for the ghastly Gooners. I never usually regretted going to a Chelsea match but we had Muhammad Ali doing a book signing at work that day, & missing that to watch another ritual humiliation was galling in the extreme.

Having said that, there proved to be another, hitherto unforeseen, top quality pugilist in the Chelsea ranks when Arsenal returned two seasons later, at the start of the 1995-6 season. There had been much excitement in both camps with the arrivals of Ruud Gullit to Chelsea & Dennis Bergkamp to Arsenal but pre-match hopes of an imminent masterclass of Dutch Total Football were soon dashed as a typically ill-tempered & scrappy  London derby emerged. Keown was to the fore in much of the ugliness as usual. Dennis Wise may have played his part….

Stopping other people from playing was Keown’s speciality & he was superb at it. You like players that nullify the top talents from opposing teams when they play for your team. You hate them when they play for the other lot. Those T-shirts they used to sell on the stalls on the Fulham Road, depicting Keown  as Galen from ‘Planet Of The Apes,’  said it all about the low regard for him among Chelsea fans during his playing career. He was an unlovely presence on the pitch, but part of a famously formidable defence which went a long way to explaining our consistent inability to get results against them. However, in 1995 we did get a result, a Mark Hughes goal being enough to send the smuggest supporters in footballing history home with their charming & not remotely grating ‘Fuck Off Till You’ve Won The League’ chants silenced for once. How times change. Karma anyone?

On top of this rare win, we had the added bonus of Nigel Spackman repaying my loyalty to the cause in missing the Ali event in 1993 by invoking the spirit of The Louisville Lip himself & recreating the  ‘Rope a Dope’ tactic employed by the latter against George Foreman when regaining his World Heavyweight Title in Zaire in 1974. Spackers was no shrinking violet. You didn’t get to play for Liverpool in the ’80’s or the Souness era Glasgow Rangers without being able to look after yourself. He was an energetic, competitive, resourceful & highly competent player. But nobody would say he was dirty. However, after an afternoon of typical Keown grappling, pushing, jostling, tugging & tearing he finally responded to an attempt to dismantle his shirt collar by administering a truly nasty, spiteful & wholly unexpected right hand jab to the back of the big lummox’s head. Keown was well & truly pole-axed, hitting the deck like the proverbial sack of shit. Spackers should have done his Ali shuffle at that point but you can’t have everything.

Violence is terrible & all that but surely at its best football plays out  the fulfilment of a fan’s own on pitch fantasies. That can mean Zola volleying in a back heel against Norwich in 2002, Di Matteo thumping in a 43 second opener at the beginning of an FA Cup Final, or Drogba  powering in an extraordinary header against Bayern Munich, just as another Champions League season seemed set to end in failure. It can also mean Nigel Spackman twatting Martin Keown. Nigel got a red card & a huge round of applause for his sins. Keown got a bruised ego & developed an apparent chip on his shoulder, which if anything has grown larger over the years. Like all those latte drinkers who follow his former team he can’t quite accept that Chelsea crashed the party, took it over & have at times controlled it since his heyday. Perhaps that’s why his media profile where Chelsea are concerned remains as sour & joyless as his conduct on the pitch was on the day he got a clump off Spackers. Get over it mate. You can afford to buy suitcases in Debenhams & wander the streets of Oxford looking bored. Verily your cup runneth over.

And I was dead chuffed with my alarm.

 

 

Not A Pheasant Plucker

 

‘My Husband He’s The Keeper’

12th  September 1992 – Chelsea 2 Norwich City 3

In the Autumn of 1990, along with a Pompey supporting work colleague & his mate, I watched a hopelessly mundane League Cup tie against Portsmouth from the atmosphere free confines of The East Stand Upper tier. Goalless at the end, my only memory of the game is of my colleague’s mate, a nice chap but not a massive football fan, referring throughout the entire, dreary,  90 minutes to our goalkeeper Dave Beasant as Pheasant & imploring him to ‘BUST IT!!’ every time the ball came to him, a nod to his considerable contribution to former club Wimbledon’s long ball successes during the mid to late 1980’s. This hardly adds to the pantheon of comic genius footballing observations but in my head big Dave has been Pheasant ever since, a testimony to my puerility along with a later habit of singing ‘Flo’ to myself in the style of Spandau Ballet’s Tony Hadley singing ‘Gold’ every time our big, highly likeable Norwegian striker got the ball at Stamford Bridge. I merely confess, I don’t ask for clemency.

Not being one of life’s visionaries, when the Premier League started in 1992-3 I don’t believe I fully grasped the implications of what was about to occur to the English game. The first match that season was against Oldham, & the main changes seemed to be referees swapping their kit colour & an adaptation to the back pass law, goalkeepers now being prohibited from picking the ball up when a teammate returned it to them. The former drew immediate benefits as a new chant arose early in the first match. Admittedly, singing ‘Who’s The Wanker In The Green?’ to the tune of ‘Bread Of Heaven’ wasn’t hugely different to its predecessor ‘Who’s The Wanker In The Black?’ sung to the tune of, er, ‘Bread Of Heaven’ but hey ho, Rome wasn’t built in a day & a change is as good as a rest. The latter caught Dave Beasant out straightaway, when he thwarted expectations that his Wimbledon exploits would see him thrive with the ball at his feet by rushing out of his goal & miskicking horribly to Latics midfielder Nicky Adams in  the dying minutes of the match. Adams promptly struck it into an open goal from 45 yards. Three points were reduced to one at one fell swoop & Beasant’s personal nightmare commenced. Chelsea were playing some decent football in the early stages of the season, but traditional defensive frailties were costing them dear. Two goals in a minute were conceded at Norwich, while an entertaining 3-3 draw at Hillsborough saw some gifts to opponents Sheffield Wednesday that were as horribly inept as Graham Stuart’s dazzling dribble & finish at the other end was brilliant. In the week prior to the return match against Norwich,  a well-earned point at Anfield was squandered in the last minute as Beasant unfathomably fumbled a weak cross in front of The Kop & allowed future Sky Sports clothes horse & bore Jamie Redknapp to scramble home an undeserved winner. A horrendous, ultimately career ending injury to Paul Elliott courtesy of the hateful Dean Saunders added immeasurably to the gloom.

At home to Norwich all seemed well at first. Chelsea surged into a two goal lead, courtesy of Mick Harford & former Canary Andy Townsend. Robert Fleck looked lively. That remains the nicest thing one can ever say about the performance of this particular Carrow Road exile during his unhappy Chelsea career. I was not the only Chelsea fan jumping for joy when he was signed the month before this match. Tread lightly in your dreams. They might come true for you tomorrow. Fleck had scored twice at Stamford Bridge the previous season, the second a stunning volley at the Shed end which led to a fan next to me in the West Stand Benches  bellowing ‘Sign him up!!’ at the top of his lungs. He only ever scored one more goal at The Bridge in the rest of his career, a penalty at home to Walsall in the League Cup, which he celebrated like a Lottery winner returning home to find Angelina Jolie sat on his sofa in naughty night attire. The nearest he came to repeating this Herculean feat (if indeed, with all due respect,scoring a penalty against Walsall can ever be thus described) was in a King’s Road pub when he scored during a game of Bar Football with Nigel Spackman & reputedly celebrated with almost as much gusto. It didn’t work for Fleck at Chelsea but he always seemed a difficult man to dislike. The glee with which fans greeted his arrival remains a cautionary tale however, one which all fans might like to consider before getting het up about apparently underwhelming signings made by their club. I got terribly excited when Mini leaping, golf ball throwing smoker Duncan McKenzie arrived in 1978. Ditto Chris Sutton in 1999. Stellar signings Fleck, McKenzie & Sutton scored a combined total of seven league goals for Chelsea between them. Someone, somewhere, owes Alan Mayes a written apology! But not Dave Mitchell. Never Dave Mitchell.

The second half against Norwich, for all the wrong reasons, remains one of the most memorable & idiosyncratic 45 minutes of football I can ever remember. Chelsea, or more specifically Beasant, simply crumbled. Big Dave, presumably unnerved by the mistakes of previous weeks, or perhaps suffering from some Samson like repercussions from having recently shorn his once considerable mop of hair, seemed to undergo some sort of on pitch nervous breakdown, like a footballing version of that episode of ‘Boys From The Blackstuff’ when Yosser Hughes totally loses the plot. Only more harrowing. From the moment he fluffs a feeble Mark Robins effort & allows the visitors back into the game, his unease creates a communal tension  & sense of apprehension, the team starts to flounder & the crowd’s irritation & anger towards their hapless goalkeeper grows. Some generally pathetic defending leads to a Norwich equalizer. Shortly afterwards a poorly struck shot from distance by Dave Phillips is moving slowly enough for someone to begin saying ‘he’ll probably let that in’ before, remarkably, Beasant does just that, remaining on the floor in a crumpled heap for some time, his despair clear, in the immediate aftermath. The crowd noise that greets the goal is a unique combination of anger & anguish, a howling, wailing, distressed, furious, outpouring of incredulity, interspersed with the buoyant celebrations of the Norwich fans behind Dave’s goal, who clearly can’t believe their luck, & are clearly laughing their heads off at the same time.They bait their former hero Fleck but this is a mere bagatelle compared to the ugliness brewing among home fans, furious about the squandering of a comfortable lead & quick to point the finger of blame squarely at the forlorn, temporarily broken figure that is our giant goalkeeper.Norwich players moving towards Beasant to shake hands at the final whistle engenders more outrage, but this is not gloating but transparent sympathy for a fellow professional suffering a horrendous crisis of confidence.

Following the game, manager Ian Porterfield makes it clear that Beasant must be replaced. He reacts like a fan and not a professional. Not many Chelsea supporters would have said much differently to Porterfield but effectively sacking his beleaguered goalkeeper publicly within minutes of the final whistle seems cruel & inappropriate. Alec Chamberlain quickly arrives on loan & Kevin Hitchcock comes in to the team  the following week as the team win (& keep a clean sheet) at Man City.  Beasant keeps his own counsel & maintains a dignified silence for 6 months, during which time the team has undergone a boom & bust run of form which sees them close to the top of the table at Christmas, inevitably followed by an all too familiar slump which costs Porterfield his job by mid February. Any goalkeeping blunder during this period leads to an inevitable chorus of ‘Are You Beasant In Disguise?’ to the tune, you will not be surprised to learn, of ‘Bread Of Heaven.’ Five days before Porterfield’s dismissal, a 0-0 draw against Liverpool was significant for one reason only, as the pre-match warm up featured a familiar, if recently forgotten figure, coming out from the cold as the substitute goalkeeper. The Shed quickly stirs itself as news of this hitherto discreet rebirth spreads & ‘Are You Beasant In Disguise?’ gets an enjoyably affectionate airing. Dave returns to the fold & contributes handsomely to fighting off growing relegation fears, keeping a clean sheet against Arsenal & performing heroics in a crucial home victory against fellow strugglers Everton. He wins Evening Standard Footballer Of The Month for March & his wholly deserved rehabilitation seems complete. He continues playing professionally until deep into his 40’s & remains a friend of the club to this day. My last Stamford Bridge memory of him in a Chelsea shirt saw him returning to play (& scoring twice) against Spurs in Kerry Dixon’s testimonial in 1995.

 

He wasn’t to remain at Chelsea for long after the end of the 1992-3 season though. Caretaker boss Dave Webb was replaced by Glenn Hoddle at the end of the season & Dave’s Stamford Bridge career effectively ended when he dropped a bottle of salad cream on his foot & sustained a nasty tendon injury. You really couldn’t make that one up. Stories that his wife had remarked that ‘he will probably drop that’ as he removed the bottle from the kitchen cupboard & followed it up with a chorus of ‘Are You Beasant In Disguise?’ when he did remain entirely apocryphal.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Spurs Are On Their Way To Wembley

24/08/1991  Spurs 1 Chelsea 3

Farewell then White Hart Lane. In early May it was all lined up. Spurs would win at West Ham, Chelsea would slip up at West Brom & victory over a distracted Man Utd in the swan song at their venerable old ground would see a new leader in the title race. Sadly, while Spurs & the TV companies were simpering at each other like Peter Perfect & Penelope Pitstop in the cartoon classic ’Wacky Races’, Chelsea Football Club did a Dick Dastardly & pissed in both their petrol tanks, us supporters snickering loudly in the background like Muttley.

However, it does seem a little unfair that Chelsea fans have been excluded from the general White Hart Lane love in. After all, who has more happy memories of the place than we do? From Alan Hudson’s free kick, creeping under the boot of Cyril Knowles & beyond Pat Jennings in the 1972 League Cup Semi Final, to the unravelling of AVB’s fairy tale return to English football  in 2013, the opportunities to bask in a warm glow of contentment when reflecting on past exploits at The Lane are varied & many. The 6-1 in 1997. Thumping, Micky Hazard inspired wins in 1986 & 1989. Yes, you did play for us Micky. And you celebrated those wins! The ‘normal service is resumed’ 4-0 FA Cup win in 2002. The 6-1 in 1997. Bernard Lambourde being the unlikely hero with a spawny winner in 2000. Eddie Newton scoring twice playing as a makeshift striker in 1992. The 6-1 in 1997. Great individual goals litter this period too. How about Bjarne Goldbaek’s thunderbolt in 1999 or Shevchenko’s glorious effort in the FA Cup in 2007? Oh, and did I mention the 6-1 in 1997?

My favourite was a 3-1 win in August 1991. We feared the worst as we made our way to the ground, past the club shop on the corner advertising ‘Full Match Videos Available Within An Hour Of The Final Whistle.’ Spurs were the FA Cup holders. They had lost Gazza but still had grinning crisp thief Gary Lineker up front, joined a week or so earlier by our former striker Gordon Durie. Hmm. Gordon Durie. Last seen by us Chelsea fans kissing the club badge after scoring against title chasing Liverpool at the tail end of the previous season, presumably to reassure us that rumours that he yearned to return North were untrue. Pitching up in North London instead sealed his transformation from Jukebox to Judas in one fell swoop, but surely would also invoke the immutable law of the ex, whereby former players come back to haunt us with goals, a venerable Chelsea tradition observed faithfully over the years by the likes of Jim McCalliog, Peter Rhoades-Brown, Neil Shipperley, David Luiz & even our traditionally goal shy full back Gary Locke.

The teams are announced. We shudder as Erland Johnsen lines up beside the  excellent Paul Elliott. Erland is, rightly, fondly remembered now, in no small part due to his being so shocked at finding himself in such close proximity to the opposition goal that he fainted inside the Leicester City box, late on in Extra Time during an FA Cup Replay in 1997, winning a crucial penalty in the process. He was still struggling to adapt to English football in 1991 though.

We needn’t have worried. An early goal from Kerry Dixon at our end quickly settles the nerves, swiftly followed by a lovely chip from Kevin Wilson, a former team-mate of my brother-in-law at Southern League Banbury United. Durie is floundering,  & subjected to the most sustained campaign of wholly justified abuse I have ever heard at a football ground from formerly adoring Chelsea supporters. He exchanges words with his close friend & Scotland team-mate, the great Steve Clarke, referring to the stick he is getting as ‘just banter’. ‘No’, says Clarkey, ‘they really hate you.’ The crisp thief tries to turn things round, striking  a Superman like pose in the box that sees his fist guide the ball towards the Chelsea goal where Kevin Hitchcock turns it round the post. Cheating isn’t going to save the day today Gary. At half time Spurs decide to liven their subdued fans up by introducing them to the non Arsenal supporting contestant in the forthcoming World Title boxing match at The Lane. Enter the perennially absurd Chris Eubank, who poses & prances like a tit towards the centre circle. ‘I support Spurs because they support me’ he proclaims, but if he says anything else we don’t hear it such is the deafening volume at which the Chelsea fans are singing ‘There’s only one Michael Watson.’ There was to be a tragic postscript to that fight but this afternoon just gets better. Andy Townsend gets a third. Kerry has another ruled out for offside but I am not too worried about more goals. It is a hot day & all those raised arms in acrylic Commodore Amiga replica shirts have proved a job too far for Messrs Right Guard & Lynx. Durie is also continuing to stink the place out. The abuse never does abate, & at one point, with his back to us, he lifts up a weary right hand in our direction, a tacit acknowledgement that he has been beaten by it. He never really does it for Spurs in his time there, & strangely is never fit to play against Chelsea again. Funny that. Lineker gets a soft goal back but it is too little too late.

As we file out into the streets, a merry, albeit BO addled throng, an extremely long, orderly queue is forming outside the Spurs club shop but it is not Erik Thorstvedt key rings or ‘I support Spurs because my dad says so’ baby outfits that are in demand today. For the queue is entirely composed of Chelsea fans, patiently waiting for their full match video. Available within an hour of the final whistle. Doubtless with a match summary from a prepubescent Jermaine Jenas assuring us that Spurs were the better team.

Happy Days. And farewell again to the Lane. I wish Spurs well as they make their way to Wembley, doubtless, to quote those great late twentieth century philosophers Chas & Dave, with their knees going all trembly. Equally, I am sure we will all wish them well in their new stadium when it eventually opens.

While hoping they lose every game they play there.