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? ( and John Terry got stick for buying Xmas decorations in Poundland! )  Strangely, News International aren’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 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 In 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.

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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

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.