40 years ago today I started my first full time job as a trainee bank clerk at Barclays Bank. I had chosen them because (unlike NatWest) they gave me 50p to cover my bus fare following the interview, which survived one sticky moment when the pleasant lady conducting it raised the issue of my alleged passion for disco dancing. The school had sent the wrong pupil notes, those of my namesake, a boy a couple of years younger than me. Suffice to say this Philip Munday never made Travolta sweat, my exquisite James Brown pelvic thrusts back then a clandestine arrangement between me, my huge stereo headphones, cheap alcohol & a darkened bedroom. Then, & only then, would I discover ants in my pants & a need to dance. My banking misadventure lasted less than a year. The highlight at my first branch was the presence of Brian, the assistant manager. He would spend large portions of his day sat in the tea room smoking his pipe & ogling the scantily clad lovelies in that day’s copy of The Sun, pausing twice a day to spit out the coffee I made him & pronouncing it disgusting. I didn’t take it personally. Instant coffee powder is as instant coffee powder does, & like Brian I didn’t buy into doing the MaxwellHouse shake. Only a small step up from the bland nightmare of Mellow Birds, which certainly failed to make me smile. Brian was always good for an aged anecdote about his youthful days sharing a flat in London with Leonard Rossiter, a big name in television by 1980, star of Rising Damp, The Fall & Rise Of Reginald Perrin & a phenomenally successful & long running ad campaign for Cinzano Bianco with Joan Collins. Each advert would culminate in the Division 2 diva being drenched in this frankly revolting vermouth. I drank a bottle of it once on top having polished off a tidy amount of red wine & suffice to say spent the rest of the following day wishing Leonard Rossiter had also been around the previous evening to cause me to spill it all over my front rather down my foolhardy gullet. One day, contentedly filling the room with Bruno Flake pipe smoke & wincing at the prospect of drinking the coffee I had just brought him, Brian reminisced that he & Rossiter had once bumped into Richard Burton & Elizabeth Taylor in Covent Garden & had a chat with them. ‘Nice girl, bit on the chubby side’ was his considered view of the lady who brought Cleopatra to the silver screen & was once considered by many to be the most beautiful woman in the world. Given his preferred tea room reading matter perhaps he was just peeved La Taylor didn’t get her melons out amidst the Covent Garden fruit & veg. Suffice to say that Brian was not himself blessed with matinee idol good looks. The rot really set in after 4 months when I was transferred to another branch & it slowly dawned on everyone, including myself, that I was a truly terrible junior bank clerk. I once spent an hour trying to telephone a customer by repeatedly dialling their bank account number. Never did get through. My resignation was accepted with indecent haste & the admission from my boss that I was on the verge of getting the push anyway. This would have been some feat. Getting sacked took some doing in the banking world back then unless you were caught with your hand in the till. John was a testimony to this. He worked in the branch I had started in, but lived in a flat above the manager’s office in my second billet. During the Cheltenham Festival John invited some fellow racing enthusiasts round one afternoon & their cheering & stomping, clearly facilitated by some plentiful daytime drinking, led to an enraged Roy, the branch manager, banging on the ceiling with his walking stick. Peter O’Sullivan’s iconic commentary booming out at remarkable volume from John’s television & accompanying the raucous revelry was clearly not conducive to Roy discussing prospective mortgages & bank loans with bemused customers. John was a character, always friendly to staff & customers alike but frequently smelling of booze & seemingly half cut. He once tried to sell me a revolting, threadbare, filthy looking nylon brown suit for £4 that he had left hanging in the gent’s toilets next to his half eaten box of Ritz biscuits. The fact I was the best part of 6 inches taller than him did not diminish the enthusiasm of his sales pitch. Unfortunately the suit was not only the wrong size & hideous but hanging up in a room permeated with the stench of the combined shits of half a dozen male colleagues. For similar reasons I was not minded to dip into his Ritz biscuits either. I liked Brian & John but I hated Barclays. One local building business had their takings paid in daily by a nice man liked by all the cashiers. He broke his leg & was laid off work unpaid so asked for a small overdraft to tide him over. It was refused. When franking the post one afternoon I was asked to remove the bank logo from envelopes being sent to South Africa because ‘there are some funny people over there.’ Or oppressed black people rebelling against the disgusting apartheid system still in full flow back then as they might more accurately have been described. A system Barclays thrived on & exploited to the full, as my painfully ignorant teenage self was belatedly in the process of discovering. Selling books & bus travel haven’t made me rich but at least exploiting the misery of others is less prevalent than in banking, a very dirty business masking under a cloak of largely unwarranted respectability.
5 years & 6 days after my inauspicious working career staggered into life future Chelsea fan Boris Becker won his first Wimbledon title at the tender age of 17. Already an imposing unit he combined power with agility & irrepressible energy, throwing himself around the court with an exhilarating, youthful, reckless abandonment that thrilled everyone. Apart from me. I loathed Boris Becker in 1985, largely because he became the first Wimbledon champion to be younger than me (6 years younger at that) & partly because he wasn’t Jimmy Connors, whose combative, streetfighting style I adored, had grown up with & wasn’t ready to see sacrificed at the altar of a generation younger than me just yet. Connors now resembled Gregory Peck in The Gunfighter, grizzled but unbowed, deep down knowing a younger man’s bullet would be getting him shortly but stubbornly refusing to bow to the inevitable. He was still going a decade later, finally retiring at 43 as magnificently cussed & bloody minded as ever. He never won Wimbledon again though.
Being young, carefree, unseeded & cocky Becker was rightly untroubled by the petty concerns of the like of me. Connors had been crushed in the semi finals by South African born Kevin Curren. My dislike of Boris Becker was underpinned hugely by the green eye of jealousy. At 17 I was still at school & my most noteworthy achievement was eating so many sweets I required a staggering nine fillings at the dentists that summer. I achieved little else, & harbouring the notion that the place to a teenage girl’s heart was through plying her with Pear Drops & Rhubarb & Custards got me nowhere, unless you count even more time in the dentist’s chair. It was not the way to a girl’s heart, at best they thought I was, well, sweet. No 17 year old boy wants to be considered sweet. One girl at school professed a liking for Bassetts LiqouriceAllsorts so I went for broke & bought her a box. They were returned to me swiftly after the side of the box confirmed the sell by date had expired. Sadly I was slowly learning that lovers, unlike dental cavities, are born not made. Adopting similar tactics to those employed by dodgy strange men in grubby overcoats was never likely to be a winner. I once accepted the offer of some sweets off a man just like that walking home from school when I was about 8. Strangely enough they were also liqourice allsorts. Very nice they were too, so much so that I excitedly told my mum all about it when I got home. That went well. At least they weren’t stale.
In 1985 it was Harry Bassett rather than Bertie Bassett at the local football club in Wimbledon, where Boris Becker now lives, as the then Dons manager was in the process of taking his raucous band of yobbish misfits all the way to the top division. Ultimately they went on to win the FA Cup, beating Liverpool at Wembley in 1988, but Bassett had moved on by then. My dad had played at Plough Lane in his youth, but I never went there, something I rather regret now. I have never been to the tennis either, though my sister went several times on school trips in the mid 1970’s, joining the hysterical, clumpy shoed, flare wearing adolescent hordes terrorising the traditional fans as they pursued the teenage wonder Bjorn Borg around the outside courts at every opportunity. Borg was young, Swedish, blonde, attractive & wore impossibly tight shorts. Women are so shallow compared to men aren’t they?
My desperate need to see someone stem the tide of teenage brilliance found me hoping for Curren to triumph in the 1985 final. By then I was an unemployed History graduate & no longer naive about apartheid. The chances of me supporting a white South African (although Curren now had US citizenship) back then in any situation would normally have been about as likely as me purchasing a copy of that summer’s Black Lace single I Speaka Da Lingo, as gratuitously offensive a record as it is musically abject, but confounding the more cynical of us in 1985 by proving it was physically possible to convert dog shit into seven inch vinyl. In today’s toxic climate I may well have to bend the knee one day just for mentioning I Speaka Da Lingo once, even in an obscure blog piece read by nobody. Make that twice. Might as well be hung for a sheep as a lamb. I once saw the two members of Black Lace leaving Dixon’s, laden down with Saisho carrier bags, absurd perms, oversized garishly coloured sunglasses & tight jeans to the fore. Two tits with tat. Club 18-30 had come to Oxford for the day, looking suspiciously older than its target audience. In stature both of these imbeciles resembled their talent. Tiny. Already the much maligned 1970’s were demanding a written apology from all of us. It has taken far too long but here’s mine for what it’s worth. I am deeply sorry 1970’s. I should also apologise to Kevin Curren, no more responsible for an accident of birth than the rest of us, & Boris Becker himself who stormed to victory in 4 sets & quickly won me over in the following years. Nonetheless, his first Wimbledon triumph was still my sporting equivalent of all policeman suddenly looking younger than you, & 23 is a little early to start sensing a progression towards middle age.
Becker won Wimbledon again the following year before a shock early round exit to the late Peter Doohan in 1987, by which point he had become a target for The Sun under its swaggering, bullying cretin of an editor, the loathsome Kelvin Mackenzie, living proof that an entire human body can be taken over by its unwashed arsehole. The Sun is often called a rag but we can all find a use for a rag from time to time. Leave rags out of it. The discovery that a rich, successful testosterone filled 19 year old male quite liked sex was manna from heaven for this cesspit of puerility & Becker became known as Bonking Boris. 30 years later the same organ were strangely more muted by the middle aged antics of a man of the same name knocking out inbred copies of himself all over the place. Quelle surprise. The likes of Elton John & ‘Allo ‘Allo! star Gordon Kaye may not have produced work that filled me with glee in the 1980’s but once The Sun made their desire to systematically destroy the lives of people like this clear in the 1980’s I felt huge empathy for their plight. David Pleat’s alleged kerb crawling antics were a little more of a challenge to my better nature but only because he was manager of Spurs at the time. Becker joining the ranks of those persecuted by Mackenzie & his parasitical lackeys saw him added to the list & by the time he won Wimbledon for a third time, beating Stefan Edberg in 1989, I was firmly in his camp. He also won the US Open that year.
He was never a self effacing character in the way we frequently & unfairly expect British sports people to be, but on a good day he could be as charming & witty off court as he was exciting on it. Compared to the charisma vacuums that were the brooding & surly Ivan Lendl & the stunningly brilliant automaton Pete Sampras there was a welcome streak of humanity to Becker, & unlike Andre Agassi he never had a mullet. Despite the best efforts of malignant moron Mackenzie he quickly identified as an Anglophile & also boiled the piss of the twattier end of the more narrow minded sections within German society by twice marrying black women. Like many who come to fame young there is still an air of unworldly immaturity about some of his actions over the years. Despite the many millions he has earned playing & coaching (he oversaw Novak Djokovic’s career between 2013 & 2016) bankruptcy still beckoned in 2017 & was extended after hidden assets were discovered two years later. He famously fathered a child on a stairway in the appropriately named Nobu restaurant in London, describing it amusingly as the most expensive five seconds of his life, but originally denying paternity. Only yesterday he got embroiled in a social media war of words with the underachieving walking irritant that is Aussie tennis player Nick Kyrgios, actually achieving the unlikely aim of making the latter look like something other than the egotistical streak of six foot spite he usually resembles. Kyrgios referred to Becker as a doughnut & still came out looking more like the adult. The striped blazers & cravats of recent times have also added a further air of contrived flamboyance, & the suspicion that Boris can be somewhat of a dick.
No matter, he was a great tennis player & is now an avid Blue. His belated support for Chelsea began when he was living on the Kings Road after retirement & coincided with the early Abramovich era of Lampard & Drogba, which amusingly Becker thinks predates Chelsea as a truly successful & cool team. One day Boris we must sit down & discuss the 2-4 home defeat to Shrewsbury in 1980. Bless him. He claims ownership of an impressive array of Chelsea scarves, randomly & surely innocently buying one from a matchday street stall that celebrated the existence of the Headhunters, Chelsea’s famous hooligan firm of the 1980’s. With doubtless similar innocence he proceeded to wear it to a Champions League game against PSG in 2015, causing something of a stir in the process! Supporting Chelsea will probably be the only thing Boris Becker & I ever have in common but despite both of us being somewhat past our own sell by dates nowadays the adage that proved a bum steer as far as kickstarting my romantic teenage existence remains curiously apt as a template for a desirable football club fanbase.
Shola Ama was discovered by chance while singing to herself on the platform at Hammersmith Tube Station as a 15 year old. At 18 she released her first album True Love which duly won a Brit award. Truly the stuff of fairytales. Less magical for Shola would appear to be her Big Breakfast appearance that year (1997) when a drooling, touchy feely young man by the name of Rick Adams (apparently a main presenter then – I don’t remember him at all) was perfectly happy to stroke the latest soul sensation’s teenage thigh live on air as he sat next to her on The Big Breakfast sofa. At least wait till you get to the BBC mate. This was the day before that year’s FA Cup Final between Chelsea & Middlesbrough & Shola escaped the myopic groper’s clutches long enough to reveal a fingernail decorated with a Chelsea logo to indicate who she was backing for the big match. I suspect his sweaty little nuts would double up as earrings pronto were he to attempt something similar on Shola today. Mercifully, within a minute we were at the Stamford Bridge cafe with a promising young Big Breakfast roving reporter by the name of Davina McCall. I think we do remember her. She interviewed Mark Meehan, a man who I have never met but have several times enjoyed chats with on social media & is clearly a thoroughly good egg. Mark correctly predicted the score (2-0 Chelsea) which doesn’t surprise me in the slightest as he has forgotten more about the Blues then most of us will ever know. He recently recalled the interview, verifying that Davina was great fun, & doubtless she kept her hands to herself as well. Shola lost her way a bit after her stunning early success, developing a potentially ruinous drug habit as the hits dried up. Happily she came out the other side long ago, that wonderful voice firmly intact, as illustrated in the 2015 clip above. Appropriately this was filmed at Under The Bridge, the venue under the East Stand at Stamford Bridge. A YouTube interview confirms that she is still a Chelsea fan. Way to go fellow traveller Shola. Keep the blue flag flying high!
Rick Adams currently resides in the Where are they now? file. In truth I didn’t look too hard.
It was unclear what this season held in store for Chelsea when it began in August. It is safe to say that browsing eBay looking for face masks the following June, with a quarter of the league programme still to be completed, was not an option anyone considered.
No of course I didn’t buy one of these rather gaudy accessories. Do you really think I am so feeble & emotionally undernourished that I need to proclaim my love for a football team while wearing an item intended to help protect the lives of others?
‘You’re a pussy who gives a shit about 1955 go fuck your grandad’
Making up with passion what it lacks in grammatical accuracy this contribution to my Twitter feed from the charmingly named Liverpool ‘fan’ only white girls are attractive back in 2018 followed a 1-1 draw that afternoon at Stamford Bridge between Chelsea & his heroes. I somehow doubt he has ever seen them in the flesh himself. That evening Chelsea fans were once again being branded vile, classless & 100% racist. Alternatively Stamford Bridge was a plastic haven for the casual tourist ignorant of the true tradition & history of a proper, decent football club, with a proper, decent fanbase. The polar opposite of Liverpool we were told. Again. Four days before the game a below strength Chelsea had beaten a below strength Liverpool team at Anfield in an underwhelming Carabao Cup tie, enlivened by a brilliant Eden Hazard cameo performance off the bench, culminating in a stunning winning goal. Gilly added to the anti Chelsea gaiety by describing this win as a Blues fan’s idea of history. A couple of hours into feral abuse & Scouse contempt for the club I hold dear finally drew a polite demurral of Gilly’s somewhat lame comic observation, which had probably attracted several times more likes than I will ever have followers. My idea of history, I told him, was Chelsea winning the league in 1955, when unfortunately no result information versus Liverpool was available due to them finishing that season in 11th place in Division 2. Gilly’s mildly sarcastic response drew more applause from the more rabid end of the adoring, red clad Twitter masses, history seemingly less important when it fails to support your lazy prejudices. An hour later he was posting pictures of the plane wreckage from the 1958 Munich disaster. Thanks for coming Gilly. only white girls are attractive, as previously quoted, was less forgiving, so I merely blew him a virtual kiss & moved on. This seemed to throw him until he accused me, several hours later, of being ‘a bit noncey.’ What a sweetheart. Don’t knock what you can’t afford darling. As an ageing Chelsea rent boy only white, what did you honestly expect? My grandad died in 1985 by the way, so an incestuous coital encounter was never on the cards, lest I be accused of necrophilia on top of noncing.
The point of all this, aside from the obvious reminder to self to avoid social media in the aftermath of a Chelsea-Liverpool match, is ultimately not to pointlessly stir the pot further, but contrast Gilly & only white girls are attractive with The Lad’s Dad, who, like me, will actually be attending the forthcoming Chelsea Liverpool FA Cup game in early March rather than carping spitefully from the online sidelines. He is the first (& probably last) Liverpool fan to follow me on Twitter, & a pleasing reminder that the loudest & ugliest social media voices are not representative of an entire fanbase. For every Tommy Robinson fanboy (& I am aware there are plenty of them) there are scores of Chelsea fans who do not fit the identikit created by the media & rival fans, nor are the rest of the seats at Stamford Bridge filled exclusively by bewildered Japanese tourists clutching their plastic bag of clubshop tat & failing to find the right seat. Not yet anyway. The Lad’s Dad goes home & away with Liverpool along with his wife & disabled son. He recently tweeted a message congratulating Chelsea on being the only Premier League club he is aware of that do not charge an entrance fee for disabled away fans, having obtained tickets for the aforementioned FA Cup tie. This may well be the only positive comment on Chelsea ever made on social media by a Liverpool fan & also begs the question why other clubs do charge. Actually, I think we probably know why.
I would wish The Lad’s Dadan enjoyable evening at the Bridge next month but am confident this can only be achieved via a Liverpool win & I am equally keen on a Chelsea victory, less for bragging rights than the fact that I have one major beef with Liverpool’s excellent coach Jurgen Klopp, namely his despicable approach to the FA Cup. Liverpool are so good at present that I fear them winning the trophy half heartedly putting out second to third string teams along the way. They have already beaten recently resurgent neighbours Everton this way. The FA Cup deserves more respect than that, as indeed do the Liverpool supporters who turned up in numbers at Shrewsbury in the last round for an evening kick off on a Sunday. They clearly retain due reverence for a tournament that once mattered so much, even if the club & its coach do not.
In truth I am tiring of the constant hate infesting the relationship between the two clubs & their followers, while aware I have frequently been a far from innocent bystander as the bullets have flown. Traditionally the loathing of Liverpool has not grieved me but the animosity is overwhelming now, as is the obsession for constantly pursuing the well worn grudges that feed it. The 30th anniversary of the Hillsbrough disaster last year was marked by the continued failure of the judicial system to supply any comfort for the victim’s families & the many traumatized survivors of that awful day. Like many others I spent years in football stadiums that were potential death traps. Another day, another time, another place…..insert your club’s name & imagine its fans enduring a similar ordeal. However, it was Liverpool fans who were the victims & it was most definitely not their fault. Using Hillsbrough as a banter tool is similar conduct to those Liverpool fans & club representatives who years ago attempted vainly to shift the blame for Heysel on Chelsea supporters. Sickening & shameful.
Factor in Liverpool’s current overwhelming on pitch superiority to every other team in England, allied to them being the current European champions, & the obsession with demeaning every aspect of their existence seems as desperate, hollow, petty & pathetic as the sneers & smears flowing incessantly in the other direction since Chelsea’s dominance in the first Mourinho era. I am enjoying watching club legend Frank Lampard & his coaching staff blending home grown youth with established stars in the wake of the transfer ban imposed by EUFA last summer. However it has knocked the club out of contention for any serious challenges for the biggest honours, namely the Premiership & Champion’s League. Chelsea’s main rivals currently are Spurs, Arsenal, Man Utd & Leicester City. Liverpool & Man City reside on a different footballing planet. Before March is done Liverpool will possibly be crowned runaway champions, which given the extraordinary wealth of City will be a remarkable achievement. We don’t have to like it, & I for one fervently hope regaining their European title eludes them. Nonetheless the constant jibes about mass unemployment, blame culture & Steven Gerrard slipping up in 2014 are sounding mighty tired these days. When the latter chant rang out at Stamford Bridge during a Group stage Europa League fixture against Belarusian opponents at Stamford Bridge last season I let out a heavy sigh. As with singing We Hate Tottenham! during the traditional pre-match spinning of reggae classic Liquidator (regardless of who the opposition is) the message to a hated rival is sent loud & clear. We are obsessed with you & we don’t have enough to sing about ourselves. West Ham have been doing this to Chelsea for years with Stick Your Blue Flag Up Your Arse now being joined by the morphing of Rotterdam by The Beautiful South into Chelsea Are The Rent Boys. Come on Chelsea, do we really need to reduce ourselves to the level of West Ham? With no on pitch success in decades & shorn of their spiritual home they sometimes appear to have only bitterness & spite holding them together, & not enough brain cells to realise that by devoting so much time to expressing it they succeed only in blowing smoke up our arses instead of bubbles in the air. In the last 3 seasons Chelsea have won a European trophy, the FA Cup & the Premier League. 25 years ago Stand Up If You Hate Man U was the chant to get everyone off their seats at Stamford Bridge. Sat next to me Bill would always refuse to join in, saying he’d stand up when we were in a position to compete with them on an equal footing & not before. I thought he was being a tad pompous back then, now he looks like a soothsayer. There is an episode of Whatever Happened To The Likely Lads? where Bob Ferris & Terry Collier are forced to share a bed. When Bob cannot sleep Terry suggests he closes his eyes & has a fantasy. To his disgust Bob discloses that the object of desire in his chosen fantasy is not Brigitte Bardot or a MIss World contestant but his fiancee Thelma. Terry responds by referring to his own (broken!) marriage, stating that his wife ‘was there when I went to sleep & there when I woke up but in between she didn’t get a look in.’ This behaviour may be a poor recipe for domestic contentment but is a sound template for matchday behaviour. I may dislike Spurs & Liverpool with varying degrees of intensity but unless they are that day’s opponents I couldn’t give a toss what they are up to when my own team are playing. Liverpool were the predominant footballing force of my youth as Chelsea withered on the vine, imposing, powerful & brilliant. Allowing them to occupy too much of my time now is like cowering in a darkened corner at a school reunion as the class bully from 40 years ago stands centre stage holding court. Hold your head up, enjoy what you have & let them get on with it. Bury fans don’t have a team to watch at all, let alone one bursting with promise like the current Chelsea line up.
There is an element of tactical manouevre to this personal ceasefire where Liverpool are concerned. It is fair to say there appears to be no general appetite on the part of fans from either club to join me in a more cordial form of mutual antipathy. However, I also genuinely like Jurgen Klopp, & the club hierarchy also deserve credit for there being no doubt that he would be given the time & resources to take the club from where they were when he took over in 2015 to where they stand now, seemingly on the verge of another golden era. He can be an arsehole on the touchline, berating officials in a manner that would spell greater trouble for some coaches, but generally Klopp represents a refreshing & welcome change from the tedious squabbling & mind games of the Ferguson, Wenger & Mourinho era. Mourinho may still be around, but his perennial penchant for petty point scoring over rivals renders him an anachronism. At one point during the 1-1 draw at Stamford Bridge in 2018 Klopp flashed those extraordinary teeth, seemingly transplanted from the mouth of Bingo from Banana Splits, at Chelsea coach Maurizio Sarri. The resulting beaming smile betrayed not only his superior dentistry compared to the nicotine stained gnashers of the Italian but also his evident enjoyment of the tactical battle taking place on the pitch. This is fun was the clear message. Yes, fun. Remember that Jose?
He smiles & laughs a lot during matches does Klopp, & I find it hard not to warm to him. We live in a time when hysterical xenophobes are cheering on the indolent, spineless, mendacious, tousled haired blonde bullshitter currently preparing to ruin our country simply because he has hitched his star to Brexit. They do not seem to realise that for Boris Johnson the whole campaign is a means to one end & one end only, namely the furtherance of his own career. He was a Remainer until it was pointed out that he could destabilise the Cameron government by opposing that administration’s desire to stay in the EU. Liverpool coach he may be, but there is some solace & amusement to be drawn from watching a team threaten to sweep the board domestically & win the Champions League courtesy of the tactical acumen & drive of a man who could not be more European if he tried. We probably know less than nothing about the real Jurgen Klopp (I believe he frequents his local regularly so props for that) but his public image ticks many of the hackneyed stereotypes of apparent European naffness lingering in the memory banks of people my age. Eurovision meets Eurotrash. You could imagine him inspiring glibTerry Wogan witticisms while asking the Cyprus jury for their votes in 1982, or in the following decade stood naked save for a pair of Jesus sandals explaining to Antoines De Caunes his use of female ejaculate as the primary base material for his paintings. Indeed, the cringey let’s talk about 6 interview included below is more like a clip from Eurovision than a triumphant post match football conversation. It is a telling moment, ultra cheesey & lacking in cool but so much so that Jurgen effectively ends up catching the dude bus by default given that zero are clearly the amount of shits he gives about such considerations. Ferguson, Wenger & Mourinho are managerial greats but what hard work they could be, both individually & collectively. Messrs Guardiola, Klopp & Lampard eschew portraying themselves as masters of modern Macchiavellian manouevres by virtue of endlessly showing their watch faces to 4th officials or reducing the likes of Kevin Keegan to a histrionic seething wreck. The latter 1996 Fergie achievement is surely a living definition of shooting fish in a barrel. The Mourinho-Wenger feud had its moments of amusement but culminated in the dying embers of Mourinho’s second Chelsea spell with Jose visibly flinching after an insipid touchline push from the bristling Gallic stickinsect. Wenger had his tie flicked in return. Middle aged men recreating a scene that would have been left on the Grange Hill cutting room floor as just too drearily puerile for words. Mourinho gave the illusion of cool once, but it has evaporated now. Even then, back in 2004-5, his first season in England, Manchester City inflicted the only Premier League defeat of the season on Chelsea & their fans taunted the self styled & undoubtedly well attired Special One with the one off chant YourCoat’s From Matalan. Klopp would have laughed at that. Jose didn’t. Cool is a great concept but only if you can sustain it. If Klopp’s undoubted temper led to physical confrontation with a rival coach I am confident it would be conducted face to face. At Real Madrid in 2011 Mourinho sidled up on the blindside of Barcelona’s Tino Vilanova, gouged him in the eye with his finger then hurriedly sloped off & hid behind his players & coaching staff. Classless, cowardly & uncool in the extreme.
Twelve points from the Liverpool jury. Eurovision rigged again.
Unfavourably comparing Mourinho to Klopp will not win me brownie points with many Chelsea fans but no matter. Earlier this season Klopp berated an interpreter at a Champion’s League press conference in Salzburg. The next day he began the conference by making a full & frank personal apology in front of the assembled throng. Cool. In 2015 Mourinho heralded the new season by berating & bullying two Chelsea physios for doing their job & treating an injured player, Chelsea’s best player, Eden Hazard, to boot. One of them, the much respected & popular Dr Eva Carneiro, was also subjected to misogynistic abuse in Portugese. Mourinho not only failed to apologise, he relieved both physios of their first team duties. Carneiro eventually left taking the club & Mourinho to court in the process. Not cool. For all his prodigious achievements in football Jose frequently shows himself to be a sour, spiteful little man, whose loyalties lie chiefly with himself. Referring to past triumphs in interviews it is always ‘I won 3 Premier Leagues,’ ‘I won 2 Champions Leagues.’ We is a word rarely heard, Deco, Zanetti, Milito, Terry, Lampard & Drogba mere bit part players apparently. When it comes to Chelsea selling Kevin De Bruyne & Mo Salah for a fraction of what they are now worth Jose is less keen to talk up his omnipotence. That was the club’s decision, he was just the coach at the time. We tend to hear the word I rather less when the question of these monumental transfer blunders are put to him. Last season’s Champions League aside, Klopp has yet to scale such heights in terms of trophies, but however many cups end up in the Anfield Road cabinet under his tutelage you can be sure all successes will be referred to in a collective rather than individual context. Neither will the fans be treated with the disrespect Mourinho has shown to Chelsea supporters ever since returning to England in 2013, empowering the Mourinho’s right,your fans are shite brigade to this day. His major achievement second time round was leading the team to the Premier League in 2014-15. The title was clinched during a home game against Crystal Palace. As Chelsea fans sang the name of the recently departed club legend Frank Lampard, the surly little bleeder sat scornfully in the dugout shaking his head & clearly mouthing two words. Fuck off. It really is all about him. Can you imagine Klopp doing likewise in a few weeks as the Kop serenade Steven Gerrard? No, me neither.
Nonetheless I think Jurgen Klopp & his employers have their approach to the FA Cup all wrong. If they beat Chelsea with a vastly weakened side (& given Chelsea’s dismal home record this is distinctly possible) they could end up winning the trophy by default, picking stronger teams from now on if the title is clinched early & they get knocked out in Europe. Liverpool fans will doubtless be as steadfastly loyal to Klopp as Chelsea supporters were to Mourinho as the team slumped horribly in the last few months of his second tenure, but their club has not served English domestic cup football well so far this season. One thing you have to say for Jose Mourinho is he always likes to compete for every trophy going, even the Community Shield, & that is to his eternal credit. In the Carabao Cup Liverpool were a victim of circumstance as they were in the World Club Championship at the same time as they were due to play their Quarter Final against Aston Villa. What was effectively their youth team lost heavily. This had echoes of Man Utd in 2000, also competing in the World Club Championship but withdrawing completely from the FA Cup. This was at the behest of the football authorities & the government to supplement the sucking up to frequently corrupt FIFA officials in an abortive attempt to win the race to host the 2006 World Cup. The FA Cup has never recovered from the blow to its status caused by those ultimately fruitless shenanigans. Will the failure to rearrange the fixture at Villa Park do likewise to the Carabao Cup? I doubt Klopp & his paymasters will be bothered unduly. The football authorities have also conspired to undermine the FA Cup again this year. Following Shrewsbury grabbing a surprise draw at Gay Meadow in January, the 4th round replay date at Anfield was set slap bang in the middle of the supposed mid winter break initiated this year. Jurgen consequently threw his toys out of the pram & announced he would not be attending the replay. A severely weakened side would once again be fielded with Under 23’s coach Neil Critchley at the helm. He was true to his word. First team regular James Milner did turn up at the ground to cheer on the team to a narrow victory, a welcome touch of old school solidarity. Jurgen kept in touch via his mobile, quite literally phoning it in. Nobody comes out of this well but before all the blame is left at the door of the increasingly repellent FA it must be said Klopp has form. He picked a pitifully weak team away at Exeter in the 3rd round during his first season at Anfield. They finished 8th in the Premier League that season so that cannot have been the main cause for treating the tournament with such cavalier disregard, although they did get to the final of the Europa League. The brief from the club & its coach has been clear ever since, & that is sad. Liverpool are big on citing history & tradition. There is a fantastic documentary on their legendary manager Bill Shankly which makes clear that he considered their first ever FA Cup final victory over Leeds in 1965 as more pivotal in establishing the club as a major force in the game than clinching the league title the year before. There is footage of him in 1971 passionately informing fans in a packed Liverpool city centre how aware he has made the players of their responsibility not to disappoint as they had just done in losing to Arsenal at Wembley. Times have changed & football has changed, but there will still be plenty of Liverpool fans making the mid-week journey to Stamford Bridge for Round 5 next month, taking time off work, & facing a long journey home in the early hours of the morning. To play a depleted team again cheats not only them but also Chelsea & their followers, my humble self included.
Keep smiling Jurgen, hopefully not too much on the night, one assumes you will be there? If not give the Shankly documentary a watch. You will learn more in 90 minutes about what really matters about English football than a lifetime talking to your club’s owners.
They would probably just tell me to go fuck my grandad….
Following the regrettable EUFA ban on Ajax supporters for the bonkers 4-4 Bonfire Night Champions League thriller 4 days earlier, it was reassuring to pass a sizeable amount of Crystal Palace fans making their way through the main gate for this fixture. In theory at least. The home seats at Stamford Bridge seem largely now to consist of creaky boned old soaks like me, alongide selfie obsessed tourists. The latter are generally happy to visit the club shop & relieve of it of some of its overpriced tat, eat the equally overpriced, desperately poor quality food & often largely ignore huge swathes of the actual football. These two disparate groups do not, it must be said, make for a lively atmosphere, & it is usually only the away fans who manage to occasonally crank the volume up to 11. However, along with their team the Palace faithful were a little off song today, given their reputation of being a noisy & passionate throwback to the days when top English grounds had proper fans, creating genuinely electric atmospheres. The Croydon Ultras who passed me going in were probably at their liveliest all afternoon at that very moment, 40 minutes or so from kick off. What a motley crew they were too, quite the skankiest away fans I’ve seen since Cardiff City last season, many of whom appeared to have been living in their latest team shirts for a decade non-stop even though the season was still in August. Palace were equally tatty looking, & left me, no lounge lizard himself, wondering whether South London is currently lacking shower & laundry facilities. Removing the word cunt from the English language would also have largely rendered them mute so all hail the word cunt, not always universally acclaimed in fairness, if only for ensuring the entire Fulham Road did not descend into total silence.
I am not having much luck with away fans at present, having run into the Man Utd fans leaving the ground following Marcus Rashford’s stunning free kick winner in the Carabao Cup 10 days previously. I can refute the oft held myth that none of their fans hail from Manchester, as there were plenty of feral Mancunian ratboys mixed in among a decent smattering of 2014 hipster beards. Their reaction to victory over a below par, under strength Chelsea team was massively over the top. In keeping with Harry Maguire’s celebration in front of the Matthew Harding stand at the final whistle, you could have been mistaken for thinking they had won the World Cup. My response to both was a retro, inner Michael Winner voice saying, inevitably, ‘CALM DOWN! IT’S ONLY THE CARABAO CUP.’ My retro, inner Michael Winner voice was sadly no match for one particular ratboy, accompanied by his equally repulsive female accomplice, whose physical presence & warm Mancunian banter I failed to shrug off for several hundred yards along the Fulham Road. Resistance seemed futile but I must politely, if belatedly, put the record straight. I am actually neither a rentboy or a cockney. Opinion may be divided on whether or not I am a cunt (that word again) though those that do concur would usually base it on more substantial evidence than my walking along a public street in the dark of night minding my own business. Given the female of their species can reproduce up to 5 times a year I do hope this lovely rodent couple are using contraception or Old Trafford will shortly need another 15,000 seats just to house their offspring. If they are anything to go by, either the gene pool in Manchester has declined since his death or former Factory Records boss Tony Wilson’s belief in Manchester as the centre of the universe was massively overstated. The general exuberance on & off the pitch over this Pyrrhic victory certainly indicates how far Man Utd have fallen in recent times.
I have fond memories of Crystal Palace from my very early football watching days, not least their propensity for wearing a series of extremely snazzy kits in the late ’60’s & throughout the following decade. My favourite was the first I ever saw them wear, a claret top with light blue pinstripes & gold collar, cuffs & club crest. They also had a fine goalkeeper, John Jackson, who later went on to play for Orient, & was one of many great keepers with redoubtable, now old fashioned British names who lit up my Saturday afternoons. Stand up Peter Grummitt, Les Green, Mike Kelly, Bryan King & Jim Herriot of Birmingham City, who inspired one aspiring author of veterinary novels to rename himself James Herriot for the purposes of his fiction writing career. Another one, Charlie Wright of Charlton, had a goalkeeping cap more akin to something old men who kept whippets might wear. With the exception of Calcutta born Kevin Keelan of Norwich City, who brought a touch of swarthy, Englebert Humperdinck style pizazz to the East Anglian outfit, they were a decidely unglamorous bunch, but I remember them all fondly, & they were all really good goalkeepers. Flamboyance should have been the middle name of mid ’70’s fedora wearing Palace manager Malcolm Allison, & even though he got them relegated twice in successive seasons he is still fondly remembered for bringing in players of verve & dash, including Chelsea hero Charlie Cooke, who flopped & then returned to Stamford Bridge for peanuts, rediscovered his form & won an international recall. They also had Swindon’s 1969 League Cup winning hero Don Rogers, who was also brilliant, & also had a magnificent moustache. Another fantastic winger, Peter Taylor, whose goalscoring debut I witnessed at Oxford, later made the mistake of going to Spurs, & sustained a series of injuries which led to premature retirement from professional football, but was still able to run games without breaking sweat at Dartford & Enfield after that, witnessed by my brother-in-law, who played against him & insists he was the finest player he ever came up against, impossible to win the ball off even with by then severely reduced mobility. The current team have done well to consolidate their position in the Premier League but have little of the charm of teams of old. In fairness my antipathy towards Crystal Palace started on a rainy night at Selhurst Park in January 1993. It was bad enough losing to a below strength Palace team & having our League Cup dreams dashed. Yes, we dreamed about winning the League Cup, ANY cup, in 1993. It was bad enough that a waterlogged pitch led to an underhit Frank Sinclair back pass being swept just over the muddy goal line at our end by future Wales boss Chris Coleman. It was even worse when Steve Clarke finished more emphatically at the same end in the second half, only for the mud to be so thick by that point that having passed under Nigel Martyn’s body the ball stuck steadfastly to the goal line & did not lead to the goal that it would have been on 999 times out of a thousand. The tin lid sealed on the top of this farrago of shite was the half time break, as the rain hammered down ever harder on the open terrace failing to shelter us, when the Palace mascot, predictably an Eagle, sauntered past us & reminded us, pointedly & provocatively with his dopey Eagle mascot fingers, that the score was at that point 2-1. Two fingers raised with the left dopey Eagle hand, a middle dopey Eagle finger with the right. A man in an Eagle suit taking the piss as our League Cup dreams were literally drowning in the misery of a South London monsoon. If there had not been a fence up he would have got lynched & I would have applauded louder than I had Andy Townsend’s earlier, fantastic first half goal. I have hated Crystal Palace & club mascots ever since. Including Stamford the bloody Lion, whose outfit was stolen a decade or so later, the thief attempting, sadly unsuccessfully, to exort a ransom fee for it before eventually it was returned safely. If you know who that man was, buy him a drink every day for the rest of his life. I will gladly foot the bill.
The negative approach of Crystal Palace boss Roy Hodgson this time was difficult to fathom. Thay have already won at Old Trafford & drawn at The Emirates, & last season had a famous victory at the home of eventual champions Man City, a victory sealed in spectacular fashion, with one truly remarkable goal by Andros Townsend. I first saw Townsend play for Orient at Brentford around 10 years ago, during a loan spell from Spurs. He looked a great prospect then, but I can honestly say he was so invisible for the first half of this game that I genuinely forgot he was out there. Fun though this season has proved so far watching Frank Lampard use the younger players at his disposal to such impressive effect, the fact remains that this Chelsea team leaks goals as readily as lies tumble from the mouth of Boris Johnson, so Hodgson’s excessive caution was a bad call. This was a poor day for Palace & especially their star player Wilfred Zaha, thwarted throughout by 19 year old Reece James, who followed up his match saving goal against Ajax in the week with a performance of poise & maturity. Zaha is the sort of flair player you want to excel against anybody but your own team, & a full flowering of his potential has been on the verge of emerging in the past few seasons. An earlier move to Man Utd probably just came too soon, but by last season his importance to the Palace cause was underlined by his becoming the most fouled player on the Premier League. Unlike the divine Eden Hazard, who largely restricted himself to the occasional pounding of his fists against the turf, as yet another musclebound mediocrity went unpunished having clogged him to the floor, Zaha has wailed long & hard in the press about a lack of protection from referees. He wailed long & hard throughout this game to referee & fellow narcissist Mike Dean about a series of perceived injustices, largely linked to Reece James having the temerity to repeatedly rob him of the ball, & on occasions his dignity. Eventually, he threw himself theatrically to the floor near my seat in the West Stand. Dean, denied much opportunity in this largely tepid affair to indulge his favourite pastime, namely making himself the centre of attention, ludicrously awarded Palace a free kick in a dangerous area of the pitch. Zaha turned to us Chelsea fans & flashed a cheesy, provocative, ‘look what I got away with there’ grin. Presumably the camera angles for the free kick were favourable for Dean’s sumptuous profile. Well done Mike, we had almost forgotten you were here. We’ve remembered now, okay, it’s all about you, right? Fortunately, the free kick was taken by Luko Milvojevic, Zaha’s main rival as whinger in chief, who floated the ball straight out for a goal kick. Luko also takes the Palace penalties, one assumes as a tactic by Roy Hodgson to remind him that he can occasionally make contact with the ball rather than the skin & bone of opposition players. So negligible is his footballing contribution to this match that he need not really have changed into his kit. Hodgson praises his team after the match, which is remarkable. If they play like this every week I would rather use my tongue to remove broken glass from the anal cavity of Piers Morgan than watch Crystal Palace more than once a season. No wonder so many of those Palace Ultras had looked like they hadn’t changed clothes or washed for days. They are probably all clinically depressed.
At least Gary Cahill emerged with some credit from the afternoon for the visitors, giving & receiving due credit to & from both sets of supporters respectively, a rare feat indeed. A superb block had prevented Chelsea from taking a first half lead late in the first half, reminding Palace fans what an asset they have gained & a churlish & not insubstantial section of Chelsea fans of the considerable defensive ability of a man too often berated in his last couple of years at Stamford Bridge. His fractious relationship with the unpopular Maurizio Sarri last year had won him back some brownie points prior to his departure at the end of last season, & he had been sent off with a deservedly warm & prolonged display of affection after the last home game of the season against Watford. Sarri had even given him a few minutes on the pitch that day, but spurned a prime opportunity shortly afterwards to give one of the most prolific medal collectors in Chelsea history the same pleasure in Baku, with Chelsea 4-1 up & coasting to victory in the Europa League final against Arsenal. Many thought the conduct towards our club captain by the Neapolitan Fag Ash Lil was shabby & unbecoming throughout last season, but the online abuse he had received from supposed Chelsea fans before that had also been unsavoury & completely unjustified. In seven years with Chelsea he won Two Premier Leagues, Two FA Cups, Two Europa Leagues, one Carling Cup & the small matter of a Champions League winner’s medal, earned with himself & David Luiz both playing with barely one good leg between them, both climbing off the treatment table with John Terry having been ruled out through suspension. Not bad for a ‘donkey’ eh? When the Matthew Harding end rose to acclaim him at the beginning of the second half he responded with a bizarre, apologetic handclap which started below the genitals, as if not wanting to annoy supporters of his current employers. At the end of the game, won deservedly by Chelsea with another goal from Tammy Abraham, & the first at the Bridge for the rapidly emerging Christian Pulisic, Cahill made a point of applauding the Palace fans first before taking a final bow from the blue sides of the ground. A touch of class is our Gaz.
For Mr Zaha however, the afternoon never got better than winning a free kick by cheating. On leaving the stadium by car he was reminded, probably unnecessarily, by one (admittedly irritating) onlooker that he had been in Reece James’ pocket for the past hour and a half. ‘You’re mum’s in my fucking pocket’ was the response from a disembodied voice in the backseat, generally thought to be that of the beleaguered winger himself. Keep it classy Wilf. Zaha is linked to Chelsea regularly but on the evidence of this performance, on & off the pitch, the money would best be spent elsewhere. When he rolls up at Stamford Bridge in Chelsea colours next year this will, of course, all be forgotten by yours truly with the standard, heightened level of hypocrisy unique to partisan football supporters.
Thwarted here in their usual desire to entertain as consistently as often as they would like, Frank Lampard’s bold new team still appear to be shaping up nicely. The atmosphere in the ground is still sadly funereal & the 2019 competition to see who can dig their knees into the back of my seat continues unabated. Often it’s a small child with restless, flailing legs & I can make allowances for that. Today it was an oblivious, self centred man comfortably old enough to know better & eventually I turned round to remonstrate with him, only to be totally fazed by his creepily sinister, Anthony Perkins as Norman Bates in ‘Psycho’ half smile. I’ve hardly slept since, & am definitely thinking twice before having a shower. Oh my, perhaps I’m a Crystal Palace fan in the making after all.
In February 1994, a mere 18 months after football apparently began, with the formation of the Premier League, a thunderous last gasp penalty from Mark Stein sealed the points in a seven goal thriller against Spurs at Stamford Bridge. The game was Sky’s Sunday 4 p.m fixture, so a blue riband game in the eyes of Murdoch’s media bully boys despite both teams struggling at the lower end of the table.
The crowd that day? 16,807
There were 24,564 people at Stamford Bridge to see Chelsea Women kick off their league season with a narrow victory lit up by Beth England’s early superb long range winner. 8,000 extra people do not recreate the fiery atmosphere engendered in 1994. Women’s football is making huge inroads into the sporting mainstream but here passions are not yet fuelled by past triumphs & disappointments, lit up by decades of terrace tribalism, the subsequent pub goadings from friends, & post-match Monday morning work inquests. This is rather nice. I enjoy watching Chelsea beat Spurs without ever worrying about having to endlessly relive the horror of the result being reversed, watching the game unravel without all the dyed in the wool, mouth foaming loathing I normally reserve for anyone in a white shirt, an unbecoming but instinctive response for a Chelsea fan of my age. Traditionally the pre match playing of instrumental reggae classic Liquidator has always been accompanied with a chant of Chelsea! in the appropriate gaps but in recent times that has been replaced by We Hate Tottenham! which when the match is against any other team but Spurs betrays a regrettable preoccupation with a despised rival outfit that lends them far more importance than they warrant. The different composition of this crowd means the We Hate Tottenham! chants are diluted, & at least they were today’s opponents. I could still do without it though, it feels wrong in the context of the overall atmosphere at this game.
England’s splendid early goal aside, & the fact that it was the first ever WSL goal at Stamford Bridge, the game will not linger long in the memory. Spurs battled back well & the hoped for avalanche of Chelsea goals never materialised. I missed both Fran Kirby & Ramona Bachman, stars in the 2018 FA Cup win over Arsenal, the last women’s game I had attended. Both appear to have been struggling for form & fitness ever since. Until injury forces her off Hannah Blundell has a really good game on the left hand side of the defence, & the towering Millie Bright at centre half is a reassuring presence as Spurs mount a decent series of attacks in search of an equalizer that never comes. I am a little disappointed by the skilful Ji So-Yun, whose contribution promises more than it delivers, but she has shown enough on many other occasions to suggest that this may just be one of those days. Goalkeeper Ann-Katrin Berger keeps a clean sheet on her Stamford Bridge debut. Less than two years ago she was diagnosed with thyroid cancer, her speedy recovery & return to the game a heartwarming & inspirational tale if ever there was one.
Holding this game at Stamford Bridge with free admission is clearly a positive move. Tickets for women’s games at Kingsmeadow are not hugely expensive, but waiving the cost entirely at Chelsea’s spiritual home, with its 41,00 capacity, lures many, including myself, to this opening WSL fixture of the season. Fulham Road is significantly less bedecked with the merchandise stores that always line the street on normal matchdays, but there are plenty of fans wearing replica shirts. Many of them are pre-teen children, & a large percentage of these are girls. Hopefully England, Bright & Berger can inspire a long term love of Chelsea the way Bonetti, Cooke & Osgood did for me many, many years ago. Matchday shirt wearers are traditionally prone to be pot bellied & frequently balding men, with sweat stains under the armpits sometimes betraying the combined aroma of Lynx & pints of Wife Beater recently quaffed in one of the nearby pubs. Today’s contrast is not unwelcome. Many of the kids are inevitably accompanied by one or both parents. I’m guessing this may often be the first professional football match ever seen by mum & dad as well as child. Once inside the ground I take my seat in the Shed Upper Stand surrounded by parents & small children. One among a gaggle of young girls sat behind me throws a hairband at me. I’ve been spat on, had bottles thrown at me, been hit with low flying celery & had to flee from stampeding police horses in & around football stadiums but a 9 year old’s hairband as object of menace is a Shed end first. There is also the uneasy feeling that they may view me like the weirdo who sits too near the swings in the park, sat on my own with spare seats around me as I am. I resist the temptation to tell them to grow up. There will be others far more deserving of that rebuke, & with far less excuse on grounds of tender years. I chuckle at the memory of a school trip to Lords to see England play the West Indies when a row of us spent far too long decorating the wild Hair Bear Bunch barnet of the man sat in front of us with multiple pieces of the inside of a banana skin. After twenty minutes or so of this his wife, like him a posh hippy type, turned to us & quite calmly & pleasantly asked if we would please not put any more bits of banana in her husband’s hair. Restrained Englishness at its finest. Chuckling to myself over 43 year old memories probably ups my weirdo status, though there is the distraction of pre-match entertainment from DJ Marvin Humes, whose previous incarnation as a member of JLS even I am aware of. It strikes me that I am too old to appreciate Marvin’s presence & the kids around me maybe too young, but my instincts are no longer sound on issues like this. I saw Cat Power in the summer & still regard her as an up & coming talent. She’s 47.
In the bad old days when violence in football grounds was rife politicians would talk wistfully about attracting families back to football, as if the sport had once offered a day out with a picnic at Whipsnade Zoo type experience. I doubt many complete family units had ever gone to football, but maybe they will frequent the WSL from now on. There is no reason why not. Nobody is carrying the traditionally bitter Chelsea-Spurs rivalry too intensely into this arena are they? Largely speaking the answer is no until the noisier element within the Tottenham following briefly let themselves & everyone else down with a sad moment of lazy, arrogant, spineless & self satisfied cretiny in the first half.
These are good times for the women’s game. 31,000 attended the Manchester derby match at the Etihad the day before this one, where unlike this game the punters were charged entrance money. Fran Kirby has already offered a sensible rebuttal of the voluble Megan Rapinoe’s repeated assertion that women players should be paid the same as the men. This will only happen when punters regularly cough up £60+ to fill the biggest stadiums in the country. The success of the American women’s team has eclipsed their male colleagues but generally it is unclear where else the money tree can be shaken to meet Rapinhoe’s demands. There is method in her mardiness though. Star of this summer’s World Cup, Rapinoe is obviously highly intelligent as well as stridently opinionated, particularly where her country’s Sunny D faced President is concerned. Openly gay & also clearly totally in love with herself, she is a walking recipe for boiling the piss of misogynists everywhere, already raging with disproportionately high levels of resentment at the extended television coverage the tournament received in comparison to previous years. Rapinoe may be a publicity junkie as well as a top player but if being an overbearing, egotistical pain in the arse was a deal breaker the men’s game would have been shorn of hundreds of top players & managers in recent years (not forgetting obnoxious match officials like Mike Dean) & with it many miles of column inches. Her ability to attract attention & animosity in equal measure offers an extra passageway to an already massively increased profile for women’s football. Love or loathe her, Megan Rapinoe is provoking interest & debate & helping to build the greater investment & media coverage that will help drive the women’s game closer to economic parity with their male counterparts. Reaching that goal may ultimately prove unattainable, but the older onlookers among us will remember women’s tennis waging a similar war in the 1970’s & also being widely scoffed at. This was spearheaded by Billie Jean King, a tireless campaigner for both tennis & women’s rights generally, who had an abortion at the height of her career & an extra marital affair with another woman. She scandalized many in the process, but the fruits of her hard nosed, steely determination allied to consistent on court brilliance are apparent today. Tennis only went professional in the late 1960’s so the old school ties were reeling after a decade of Billie Jean on & off the tennis court. Nowadays men will generally still outstrip women in earnings on the tennis circuit but the top prizes at the majors have parity & women’s finals often attract the biggest viewing figures. If you are larger than life & completely brilliant like Serena Williams then the sponsors will flock. Whether Rapinoe has a similar aptitude to Billie Jean in fighting for the greater good of all women in her sport through interminably dull negotiation behind the scenes remains to be seen. It is going to be a very long journey & unfortunately for Meg Rapinoe the cameras will not always be on, & when they are will not eternally be focussed on her.
Rapinoe is far from being the only recipient of misogynistic ire however. The hostility shown towards Alex Scott & Eni Aluko for having the temerity to offer opinions as invited pundits on BBC & ITV panels during the 2018 men’s World Cup was frequently widespread & neanderthal. For decades the likes of Des Lynam, Brian Moore, Frank Bough, David Coleman & Dickie Davies anchored high profile games with no obvious qualifications to back up the opinions they also frequently proferred in the process. Apart from being white & male of course. Both Scott & Aluko have over 100 international caps to their name. Both had clearly prepared extensively prior to matches, leading fellow panellist Patrice Evra, former France & Man Utd defender & past, present & future dickhead, to ostentatiously feign surprise & applaud sarcastically when Aluko revealed her tactical awareness & knowledge of the personnel on show during one match. Evra had neither done his homework or contributed anything intelligent at this point. Fellow panel member Henrik Larson also allowed this fool to get away with his condescending & ill mannered behaviour. Aluko ploughed on, having got used to being treated with much scorn & contempt within the game & media circles after accusing her former national team manager Mark Sampson & his backroom staff of making racist comments towards her & fellow team mate Drew Spence. After an attempted cover up had failed the FA acknowledged the complaint as justified & Sampson belatedly apologised. Her other detractors have been disgracefully slow to follow suit. Perhaps being male & representing a club other than Chelsea gives a player a better chance of having such a complaint taken seriously. The furious debate within social media around Scott & Aluko’s punditry betrayed a staggering array of furious responses to this stampeding through the sacred gates of the hitherto male bastion of sitting around talking bollocks about football. Relax everyone. Most of us are largely happy just to watch the game anyway. The increased coverage of this summer’s women’s World Cup further fanned the flames & I just don’t get it. If it was knocking the men’s game off the screen it might be more understandable, but as it was summer this was simply not the case. I don’t like Strictly Come Dancing ergo I don’t watch Strictly Come Dancing. The button on the top left of my remote control does the work for me. The nonsensical media furore caused by the American tea sip goal celebration, mocking their English opponents during the Semi Final between the two nations, is indicative of the increased media attention women’s football is now garnering. This is commensurate with a greater general widespread interest but dissenting voices are not confined merely to the dinosaurs, indeed quite a few detractors seem to be female fans of the men’s game who feel that the standard of women’s football is not sufficiently high enough to justify the increasing hype. Personally I enjoy watching women’s football & the skill level in the higher echelons of the game is generally high. References to a preponderance of poor goalkeeping standards has long been a cliche, & its referencing a source of irritation to Emma Hayes, Chelsea’s fantastic boss, but it has often been a valid critical observation, though less so now than when I first saw matches on television in the 1990’s.
There was a time, in my long lost youth, when I had an admiration for Spurs, grudging as it was. For the 1971-2 season the author Hunter Davies, a Spurs fan himself, was granted access to all areas of the club, especially the dressing room, that was unforeseen then & unimaginable now. The result is The Glory Game, a brilliant football book that stands tall even now as one of the finest works in the genre. He is honest about some of the casual racism within the dressing room, especially from one of the coaching staff. These views would not have been unusual at other clubs, nor indeed any British workplace in that era so this is not a stick to beat Spurs with exclusively. West Ham were the only London club with black first team players in 1971. 10 years later & the Spurs 1981 FA Cup winning team was a walking advert for increasing diversity in the game despite the majority of the team still being British born. The admirable Steve Perryman was the only player left from the exclusively white, British dressing room Davies has witnessed at first hand a decade before. Spurs set the trend for signing players from overseas with the 1978 signings of Argentinian World Cup winners Ossie Ardiles & Ricky Villa. In goal was Milija Aleksic, who grew up in a small Serbian community in Staffordshire. Full back Chris Hughton had a Ghanian father & Irish mother. He also wrote a column for a newspaper funded by the Worker’s Revolutionary Party. The front three may have been an Englishman, Irishman & a Scotsman but the Englishman was black (Garth Crooks) the Irishman a graduate in Russian Studies (Tony Galvin) & the Scotsman an intriguing eccentric (Steve Archibald) who went on to excel for Barcelona under Terry Venables. For animal lovers there was centre half Paul Miller. Nowadays a team can field an entirely non-English team & nobody bats an eyelid, but madcap Yugoslavian international keeper Petar Borota aside, Chelsea lagged way behind in fielding a team representing changes in the game & society as a whole. The failure of the fans to truly accept a black player from the outset until Clive Wilson & Ken Monkou arrived in the late 1980’s tells its own sorry tale. Spurs had seemingly seamlessly added Danny & Mitchell Thomas as well as winger John Chiedoze to their first team ranks long before then. They were also successful, winning the FA Cup again in 1982 & The EUFA Cup in 1984, playing good football in the process. With Glenn Hoddle also in their team, easily the most gifted English footballer of the age, it would be churlish to deny Spurs their due at the time, also the existence of a tinge of envy at the trophies they won while Chelsea languished in the lower reaches of Division 2. Britain was a hotbed of racial unrest in the early 1980’s & in 1985 Tottenham joined Bristol, Brixton & Toxteth in staging a fully fledged riot protesting against brutal policing sponsored by a brutal government backed by rabid & often racist apologies for newspapers. This culminated in the horrific murder of PC Keith Blakelock on the Broadwater Farm Estate. A sorry tale for sorry times, but manager Keith Burkinshaw’s cosmopolitan team at least offered black youth in Tottenham some joy & hope sadly lacking elsewhere.
How times change. It is a long time since jealousy was an emotion felt towards Spurs as either a team or a club by any Chelsea fan, though the combination of their magnificent new stadium, allied to the shelving of the spectacular plans for redevelopment of Stamford Bridge, may yet give many of us some cause for future concern. Otherwise the past quarter of a century have seen a dramatic reversal of roles since the dog days of the early ’80’s with Spurs supporters now claiming exclusive rights to communal readings from the gospel of envy. I’m far too kind to list the respective trophy counts, but suffice to say the sourness from the Cockerel Chorus about Mr Abramovich & the source of the wealth that has bankrolled Chelsea so handsomely since 2003 has been a convenient smokescreen that fails to obscure certain cast iron facts. Between 1988 & 2005 Spurs failed to beat Chelsea once in the league on their own ground. They failed to win at Stamford Bridge for 28 years in any competition until 2018. When they did beat Chelsea at White Hart Lane in 2001, a handsome 5-1 Worthington Cup Semi Final victory, their fanbase seemingly increased tenfold overnight. Friends who had not talked football to me in years sprung out of the closet to gloat. They lost the final. To rub it in further, Chelsea returned to White Hart Lane a few weeks later for an FA Cup game, turning the tables handsomely with a resounding 4-0 win. Three days later the two teams met again in a league match at Stamford Bridge & Chelsea again won 4-0 thanks largely to a sublime Jimmy Floyd Hasslebaink hat trick. A deflated Spurs following were serenaded with a chorus of ‘Normal service isresumed‘ & left to cultivate their hatred of all things blue. It was difficult not to laugh so I didn’t try. Their one trophy this century aside, a 2-1 Carling Cup final win over Chelsea in 2008, the footballing gods have happily conspired to continually overlook the ghastly North Londoners. In 2012 Spurs were denied a Champions League place for the first time after Chelsea grabbed the fourth slot courtesy of winning the tournament with arguably the worst team they had ever put out in that esteemed competition. Chelsea also won the FA Cup that season, hammering Spurs 5-1 at Wembley in the semi-final. For several years under the excellent Mauricio Pochettino Spurs have seemingly had a stronger & more talented squad of players than Chelsea. In that time Chelsea have won two Premier Leagues, one Carling Cup, One FA Cup & the Europa League. Spurs have won nothing. The sense of injustice & thwarted entitlement was best summed up during BBC coverage of the 2017 FA Cup Semi Final. Spurs played well but it was Chelsea who won the game 4-2, the victory sealed with a magnificent piledriver from Nemanja Matic who only ever manages one of those a season. After the game a surly, pouting Jermaine Jenas, a hopelessly biased Spurs loyalist, came close to descending into a lisping Violet Elizabeth Bott from Just William ‘I’ll thcweam & I’ll thcweam & I’llthcweam till I’m thick’ tantrum after the game, as Alan Shearer & Frank Lampard struggled to control their smirks sat next to him in the studio. There is an expression that has entered footballing parlance in modern times & it was epitomised by both the game that day & Jermaine’s deluded meltdown. Spursy my friends. Spursy.
One day, quite possibly sooner rather than later, the wheel will turn but in the meantime Tottenham bitterness grows & is mutating into something both putrid & pathetic. Earlier this year I saw the Carabao Cup Semi Final 2nd leg against Spurs at Stamford Bridge. Recent incidents had seen Chelsea’s name dragged through the mud again, regrettably prematurely due to a trial by television & the usual media gobshites (Piers Morgan, Matthew Syed, Gary Lineker etc) whose appetite for indulging their considerable egos once again stymied the authorities & the police being given time & space to conduct a thorough investigation first. Raheem Stirling, undeniably on the wrong end of unpleasant verbal abuse regardless of the eventual outcome, is the only person to have emerged from that ugly episode with any credit, offering an intelligent & measured response both to the actual event & the behaviour towards him from sections of the media in recent times, often displaying its own rancid whiff of insidious racism. The banana thrown at Arsenal striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang by a Spurs fan around this time was also reported but seemingly forgotten quicker than you can say media agenda. Some credence was even given to the argument that it just happened to be a banana & its proximity to Aubameyang, who just happens to be black, was also an unfortunate coincidence. Spurs fans as a group do not deserve to be universally denounced for the idiocy of the odd twat but then Chelsea fans should not be defined by a handful of pricks denying a black man access to their compartment on the Paris metro. They often are though, & during the Carabao Cup game Spurs fans played on this with a second half chorus of You’re All Racist at The Bridge, their achingly soulful take on the huge 1975 Rod Stewart hit Sailing. They then followed this up in the most knowingly provocative way with a rousing two word racist ballad. Y_Army! Y_ Army! Y_ Army! they bellowed, doubtless congratulating themselves on the glorious irony of baiting Chelsea fans (who I genuinely did not hear use the word y__ once) with racist behaviour that they currently appear to be bulletproof from in the eyes of both the police, football authorities & despicably their own wretched club owner, the odious Daniel Levy. After the game, with their heroes having choked during the penalty shootout I passed their Fulham Broadway bound massed ranks as I moved away in the opposition direction. A sizeable percentage of them were uttering the same, sinister, low volume chant in unison. Y__s Y__sY__s. Were they all Jewish? No. Are more than a small percentage Jewish? Highly unlikely. They are all c___s though.
Their other favourite recent pastime is taking the moral high ground over Marcos Alonso’s involvement in a fatal car crash in Spain in 2011. He was a Bolton Wanderers player then, but strangely the news has only really filtered through to North London since Alonso joined Chelsea in the 2016-7 season. In August 2017 he struck twice at Wembley Stadium to seal a slightly streaky Chelsea victory over Spurs at their then temporary home. Sloop John B has become Marcos Alonso He Murdered A Girl. They have actually created a flag relaying this message & I saw one wankstain online proudly holding a custom made mug bearing this lie. All out of deep concern for the victim & her family I am sure, or at least since 2017. The precision of the moral compass shown by this far too large element within the Spurs fanbase has been called into question since October 2018 however, when their World Cup winning goalkeeper Hugo Lloris was arrested in West London for erratic driving & found to be more than twice over the legal limit. The response from the Seven Sisters chapter of born again teetotalism? A deafening silence. Alonso will have to continue living with the events of that night in Madrid. Rightly so, but all of those directly affected could probably do without malicious simpletons indulging their obsessive bitterness at their football team’s chronic underachievement by dredging up a tragic death to score cheap & irrelevant points against a consistently superior opponent.
The WSL game saw less of this malign drivel aside from a staggeringly inappropriate outburst halfway through the first half. Unlike the Chelsea support, as stated supplemented on this day by many footballing virgins of all ages, Spurs had brought a sizeable & vocal adult following. Nothing wrong with that, although ironically they reminded me of rival Arsenal fans at the first leg of the FA Youth Cup Final in 2018, trying to goad an often uncomprehending Chelsea end with the standard call & respond spite that is grist to the mill for a Premier League fixture. It simply felt less appropriate in this context. I can’t help but wonder if both these sets of fans are trying a little too hard to ease their frustration with Chelsea outstripping them on the trophy front for so long by trying to hoover up crumbs of comfort wherever they can. Chelsea won both these games too so if so it’s another fail guys & gals. Shall we sing a song foryou? gets rolled out. Why not? A bit of Bieber for the older kids perhaps, a rousing chorus of The Wheels On the Bus for the tots? We didn’t get either of those, as the self appointed moral conscience of London football regaled us once again with their familiar hymn. Y__ Army! Y__ Army! Y__ Army! Once again I curse the absence of any active intervention from the charmless Levy over the past few years but first there is a more spontaneous response to these pointless inadequates.
Do Fuck off.
As early as the late 1960’s the brilliant & militant Last Poets angrily reclaimed the word n____r as their own. Twenty years later the gay community adopted queer to disarm homophobes traditionally using it as a term of abuse. Spurs fans are not predominantly Jewish so the use of y__ by their non-Jewish supporters is not reclamation but racism. Plain, naked, unvarnished racism. I am angry with everyone where the y__/y___o chant issue is concerned, not least with myself. No one here gets out alive on this one. Back in the mid ’80’s when I first became aware of the word being used against the boys from White Hart Lane the battleground against racism was largely constructed around the disgraceful & shameful abuse aimed at black players. The quoted alternative anti semitic version of 10 Men went To Mow, 10 Men Went to GasA Y___o, was disgusting but apart from a small group of cretins singing it coming away from the ground once I never heard it sung in the ground, or at least don’t remember, & I’m sure I would. This does not mean it never was of course. We were 40 years away from the end of World War 2 then, we are now only a few years shy from being a similar distance in time from that era. For an ostensibly liberal, left leaning opponent of racism to drop the ball on this one seems unforgivable. It IS unforgivable. Back then it seemed both a random & abstract term to bait Spurs with, & as such most of us took it far less seriously than the more usual forms of racism habitually meted out in stadiums. Chelsea fans were famously at the forefront of such behaviour then, & as a high profile club are still a focal point for media investigation into such conduct to this day. People wear hijabs at Stamford Bridge these days. That would have been unimaginable once. It is not for me to say that racism has abated since those bad old days of the 1970’s & 1980’s, perhaps more people bite their lips & keep it to themselves now. A football crowd can only ever be a reflection of the views inherent within society as a whole. The reduction of an important political debate to gammon faced Brexiteers versus leftist, whinging Remoaners has not helped the cause of greater tolerance & racial harmony in recent years. None of this obscures the fact that the y__/y___o label was thown around in the most cavalier manner imaginable for many years, & it didn’t massively bother me nor others holding similar values who would normally have balked at the use of such language. Shame on all our heads. I am not a hugely brave man but occasionally put my head over the parapet at games back then to tell a racist to shut up but although I never sang anti semitic songs at matches I never objected to others doing so. I know, I know….
In 2011 Jewish brothers (& Chelsea fans) David & Ivor Baddiel joined forces with Spurs greats Gary Lineker & Ledley King to lobby football supporters against the continued use of anti semitic language. Decades of hearing your own team’s fans dispensing hatred aimed at people with the same cultural/religious upbringing as you can’t have been pleasant. Spurs were central to the campaign on the grounds that if their fans continued to use a word once used as a slogan in the East End by Mosley’s fascist Blackshirts then it was going to be difficult to get others to follow suit. The Tottenham Supporters Trust announced it would poll members about its continued use in 2013, the same year police arrested some Spurs fans for chanting it during a home game against West Ham. The CPS dropped the charges in 2014 as it considered that the chants were not threatening, abusive or insulting. PM David Cameron had also weighed in by then, undermining the Baddiel campaign by supporting the Spurs fans right to chant it as he did not consider it to be motivated by hatred. There may have been some truth in this once but surely no longer. His memoirs are published shortly, after which we can hopefully look forward to him disappearing from public life, albeit a decade too late. Another product of the idiot tree, one Katrina Law, then secretary of the Tottenham Hotspur Supporters Trust, triumphantly announced in the aftermath of the CPS decision that Spurs fans would continue using the so called Y word. Spurs fans were not being malicious using the word, & though mindful of the offense it caused the Jewish community she insisted that no further arrests should be made & her club’s supporters should be free to continue chanting y__ & y___o ‘using it as a badge of honour and as a call toarms.’ Yes, she really said that. Not remotely mindful of the Jewish community at all while applauding the fact that future arrests of any football fan from any clubs using the words was now likely to become a legal minefield. As these chants are heard less & less at Stamford Bridge the lone voice performing it solo near me in the Matthew Harding Lower at a recent game attempted to justify it by saying ‘they sing it themselves so nobody can stop me fromfucking singing it.’ He was a dick but sadly he had a point, so well done the THST & Katrina, was is it obligatory or optional to have shit for brains to get elected to this august body back in 2014 one wonders? Spurs fans now like to regale us all with updated ditties like this:-
We sang it in France, We sang it in Spain, We sing in the sun and we sing in the rain, They’ve tried to stop us and look what it did, The thing I love most is being a Y__
Chelsea have many black players at present, & a tradition of many Italian players & coaches since the 1990’s. If old, fat, white blokes like me had at any time started referring to ourselves en masse using racially offensive terms more usually aimed at black or Italian people would or should there have been any tolerance for this in the media or the law courts? Rightly not. Of course some direct intervention from Daniel Levy might have helped not just the Baddiel campaign but us all. Roman Abramovich, in despair at continued use of anti semitic chanting from Chelsea fans, has started his own campaign attempting to explain & re-educate the uninitiated. He paid for a 150 strong delegation of fans & club officials to go on a trip to Auschwitz in June 2018 with a view to future miscreants also being given the chance to make the journey rather than face a ground ban. Increasingly the antisemitic chanting is disappearing inside the ground although it was to be heard loudly & at length outside The Globe pub in Marylebone Road prior to the Carabao Cup Final against Manchester City earlier this year, & those on European trips have also told a different story. Racist chanting at Chelsea matches has always been more commonplace at matches elsewhere in Europe which seems to attract some people, albeit a small sub section, not entirely motivated by a love of football when following the Blues over land & sea. Levy & Abramovich are both Jewish, & the latter clearly feels passionately over this issue, but maybe more Chelsea fans respect their owner & take notice of his wishes than Spurs followers do Levy. I have disliked him ever since watching Spurs lose at home to Getafe in the EUFA Cup in 2007. Rumour had it that he had recently been negotiating with Sevilla boss Juande Ramos to replace the likeable Martin Jol as Head Coach. The rumours had been denied. Jol spent the match prowling the touchline looking like the condemned man under huge pressure that he was, but when Spurs went 2-1 down the cameras shot to the director’s box where Levy had a ‘got him’ smirk written all over his face as he whispered into the ears of nearby associates like a combination of a low rent Mafia boss & a better dressed Del Boy. Jol had been labouring with a team containing a collection of below par but expensive signings that he was not thought to have requested or desired. It would appear that he was effectively sacked before the final whistle that night but appears to have been the last person to know, finding out not from Levy but via a text message from his nephew. Charming. Who was promptly appointed in his place? Juande Ramos. Fancy that. Abramovich has also treated coaches shoddily, especially Claudio Ranieri & Carlo Ancelotti, but never quite as sadistically. I liked Jol & remember him as a player at WBA. Levy’s classless & spineless behaviour that night spoke volumes, so perhaps we should not have been too optimistic of a wholehearted support for the Baddiel Y Word initiative. Maybe, just maybe, there is some cause for hope however. Spurs recently launched another consultation with fans over the matter. We await the results. Given that thousands of Spurs fans do not spend their football watching time spouting terms of racial hatred under the spurious guise of reclamation we can only hope for a positive outcome. What I heard outside Stamford Bridge after the Carabao Cup game was not celebratory or without hate Mr Cameron, & if Katrina Law thinks shouting Y__ Army! at prepubescent children during a woman’s football match is celebratory & a ‘callto arms’ then she is clearly even more stupid than I first feared. Chelsea fans continue to live with the consequence of racist behaviour down the years from malign elements within the fanbase. I have to live with my own implicit indulgence of the y___o chants at games in the latter part of the last century. It is now time for Spurs & their less intelligent fans to stop hiding behind hollow delusion & help us all to forward the cause against anti semitism at football matches. Will they? Time will tell.
The women’s game? How nice it would have been just to concentrate on that! Doing just fine as it goes. And what a goal from 5 Feet 5 Beth, the most agreeable little Englander in the ground today.
* December 2019 Update
On December 16 Spurs announced the results of their survey (to which they had more than 23,000 responses) as follows:-
33% of respondents use the Y-word ‘regularly’ in a footballing context
18% of respondents that do not use the term in a footballing context consider it ‘offensive’, with the number rising to 35% among Jewish respondents
Only 12% of respondents would use the term outside of a footballing context
94% of respondents acknowledge the Y-word can be considered a racist term against a Jewish person
Almost half of all respondents would prefer to see supporters choose to chant the Y-word less or stop using it altogether
Interesting stuff. The last bullet point stat here seems to offer the most hope, although it must be remembered that many of the more poisonous supporters are unlikely to ever fill in a survey like this. Great response from Spurs fans though & hopefully the club do not view the exercise as literally a form filling exercise.
“If it’s going to be a world with no time for sentiment, it’s not a world that I want to live in.” – Christopher Isherwood, A Single Man
I always love the first home match of the season. The sunshine, the cock eyed optimism, the chance to view new signings. For the first time in 3 months I get to see The Albert Bridge, &, of course, Stamford Bridge, & to ponder, on splashdown at Victoria, the eternal question. Does H.Stain Ltd Jewellers (Established 1929) ever actually open? Because P. Munday Chelsea fan (Established 1970) can never remember seeing it so.
Sadly, things did not go entirely to plan this time. The sun had absconded along with Mr Stain long before I arrived in London, a serious road crash near High Wycombe having worryingly extended the journey nearer to kick off time than I would have liked. I refrained from throwing a Jezza. Unlike the well known petrolhead cretin Jeremy Clarkson, who recently complained about the length of time taken to clear a road after a (fatal) car crash I am aware that the world does not revolve around me. Devout Chelsea fan Mr Clarkson of course. Often used to be seen on The Shed back in the day. Not. I would apologise for reverting to the vocabulary of the ’90’s here, but given the wooly headed, posh nobber’s dress sense it feels weirdly appropriate. What is it about Chipping Norton? I played cricket there as a kid & have no memory that being a celebrity dickhead was a prerequisite for living there back in those days. Ronnie Barker had an antique shop & it was always freezing. That was it. Now it is alive with despicability as Clarkson, David Cameron & that Grade A weapon Alex James off Blur hob nob together in the most nauseating fashion. Sir John Betjeman owes Slough a posthumous apology.
On the purely footballing front it has been a troubling week, the Chelsea ride through it being the standard blue & white clad rollercoaster. The transfer ban imposed by UEFA has already had its upside, primarily the appointment of bona fide legend Frank Lampard & his assistant Jody Morris. Both are Chelsea to the core & the latter having coached at the Academy means he brings extensive knowledge about the young players who will now finally get their chance. One, Mason Mount, scores a fine goal against Leicester. The new regime seems to have reawakened the dwindling spirits among the diehard, & the atmosphere early on reflects this, the gloom of the fractious Sarri era lifted. How diehard is diehard though? Come the last ten minutes & the moans & groans are back to the fore & many proclaiming eternal love for Frank have vacated their seats & trudged out of the stadium. Many fans understand that the loss of Eden Hazard & necessary introduction of largely untested younger players promises an exciting but uneven journey through the season. In the past seven days a promising start foundered badly due to defensive ineptitude at Old Trafford. 4-0 was an unfair reflection of the game but a 4 zipping to one of the worst Man Utd teams for decades is still disappointing in the extreme. This was followed up by a heartening performance in the European Super Cup. A 2-2 draw against the European champions is more than creditable, & defeat on penalties, horrible though any defeat to Liverpool is, was less than catastrophic. The fallout on social media was both disproportionate & deeply unpleasant as Tammy Abraham, who missed the vital spot kick, was subjected to sustained & sometimes racist abuse from the PS4 masturbators on Twitter, most of whom have likely never been to Stamford Bridge or in many cases ever glimpsed the white cliffs of Dover. Abraham first started at Chelsea in the under 8 age group so to see him dismissed as a viable representative of the team off the back of one tired penalty is absurd in the extreme. John Terry missed a more important penalty in the same circumstances in Moscow in 2008. Christiano Ronaldo had missed his kick earlier in that particular shootout. The great Roberto Baggio did likewise for Italy in the 1994 World Cup final. Anyone can miss a penalty & anyone can drip hatred from a keyboard sat in their bedrooms surrounded by crusty mounds of Kleenex. We all talked shite when we were 14 but the amount of posts appearing with pictures of unfavoured players with red crosses struck through their faces was sickening this week. Abraham joined the likes of Willian & Azpi in being awarded this dubious accolade so he’s in good company. The latter have been great for Chelsea & hopefully Tammy will come good too. He came on against Leicester & sliced a shot nervously & horribly over the bar, a likely sign of over eagerness to silence the doubters. The season will be long & more chances will present themselves for young players like Abraham. I just hope the emptying seats around me at the final whistle are not a milder sign of similar fan impatience. We will all need to be braver than this & do more than pay pre season lip service to the concept of a rebuilt side that may fail more than it succeeds at times this year. The change is exciting but also a little scary. Eden Hazard’s swansong was a magnificent rebuttal of Sarriball, at no times did he moderate his game to fit into the chainsmoker’s tactical straitjacket, & hallelujah to that. He is a huge loss. We are still Chelsea is the cry. No man is bigger than the club. All true, but with no opportunity to buy in the summer realism has to be the order of the day. If you cut Roger Federer’s right arm off he can still enter Wimbledon but he won’t make a final again any time soon.
Come what may Chelsea will survive. Comfortably. They have come close to the brink of financial ruin several times in the past. In the mid 1970’s they overstretched building the East Stand, got relegated & went four years without buying a player. By 1975 there were begging baskets around the ground for fans to throw spare coppers into. After Ken Bates bought the club for £1 in 1982 there was a long period of fighting off the developers who owned the lease on the ground, intent on capitalizing on escalating property values as the decade proceeded. Relegation to Division 3 was avoided by a whisker in 1983, & in 1992 a flurry of deadline day transfer sales are thought to have been an attempt to stall attempts at foreclosure by some of the club’s creditors. In 2003, the players were warned beforehand that the last game of the season, effectively a Champions League qualifying shootout with Liverpool, needed to be won. Any other outcome & the consequences for the club were potentially calamitous. The team did win & Claudio Ranieri had successfully steered a team unable to sign any new players that season to the now crucial 4th place spot. One day some of his sneering detractors among the Chelsea fanbase may even remove their tongue from Jose Mourinho’s butt crack long enought to have the grace to acknowledge that, but I won’t be holding my breath just yet. Hopefully they are holding theirs.
Having already extensively redeveloped Stamford Bridge & established themselves as a trophy winning team, Chelsea would, I am sure, have been dug out of the hole they were in in 2003 even if a Champions League place had not been forthcoming & a certain Russian billionaire had looked elsewhere to invest in a football club. However, the fate of Leeds, relegated the following year & still waiting to return to the top level now, 15 years later, remains a cautionary reminder of the dangers of overstretching following a Champions League run in that era. Chelsea did exactly the same & got away with it, but by the skin of their teeth for sure. On the previous occasions the club had run into economic problems the potential for it becoming extinct was far greater.
Consequently it is a pretty poor fit for supporters of a club indulged by a decade & half of hitherto unprecedented trophy success, bankrolled by a billionaire, to loftily remind us all that football clubs are ‘commercial entities’ when Chelsea have achieved spectacular playing success while frequently running up record financial losses off the pitch. Most clubs do not have benefactors with limitless bundles of cash, nor are they based in fashionable West London & able to construct a platform of building a global brand off the back of these two happy, sizeable slices of good fortune. Chelsea were playing Russian roulette prior to Abramaovich via Ken Bates gambling on Champion’s League football being a regular occurrence. Leeds did the same without a billionaire to bale them out & slumped from main players to League 1 paupers in half a decade. Smartarsed tweets about the impoverished state of other clubs do not become Chelsea fans, but they are not in short supply at present.
Football fans generally don’t care much for each other most of the time, but the one thing that unites them is the very thing that causes the divide. They love their own club above all other sporting considerations, & cannot imagine life without it, & they need rival teams, even the ones they loathe, ESPECIALLY the ones they loathe, for the competitive spirit to thrive & retain meaning. Consequently, I would never want current & traditional hated opponents of Chelsea to go out of business, be they Spurs, Liverpool, or even Leeds, dirty Leeds, let alone a club like Bury plugging away in the lower regions of the football league. Spurs, Liverpool, or Leeds fans have as much right to support their horrible clubs as I do mine, & I am baffled by the desire of so many to see other teams wiped off the map, usually expressed at maximum intensity on toxic media platforms like Twitter. If they got their way, their teams would only have nice, cuddly opponents left & for how long would that continue to be any fun? Especially when there is such a widespread complacent & disinterested attitude to a club like Bury dying, a club who won the FA Cup twice at the beginning of the last century, & produced one of the greatest post-war English footballers in Colin Bell, as fine an English midfielder as I have ever seen.
The responses of some fellow Chelsea supporters have both saddened & angered me as Bury seemingly bit the dust this month. The short video included at the top of this page includes a heartrending piece with Kenny, a fan of over 70 years. There is also a Twitter post recounting the despair of one fan whose brother’s ashes were scattered on the pitch after his death. Sad stories abound, & it is increasingly clear that outside of the Premiership the English footballing pyramid, long the envy of many other nations, is loaded with clubs in dire financial straits. Bolton Wanderers, a grand old name of English football, not so long ago an established Premier League team playing in Europe, are hanging on by the skin of their teeth, surviving on a skeletal paying staff that promises to see them get royally stuffed every week. The warning signs have been there for some time. North Ferriby won the FA Trophy Final in 2015 beating Wrexham at Wembley. On March 15th this year they were wound up, their outstanding debt a mere £7,645.25 at a time when Man Utd were paying Alexis Sanchez a reported £350,000 a week to stay at home cuddling his dogs. Does believing no club should be allowed to fold over such a paltry sum make me a naive sentimentalist. Apparently it does, & if so I am proud to be one. The demise of Rushden & Diamonds was a sobering warning. They were the team that Dr Martens built, boasting a swanky ground with a Nandos in it. They entered the Football League in 2001 & were promoted in the 2002/3 season. 8 years later they were out of business, their Nene Park stadium still used by athletes for training purposes during the 2012 Olympics. No more. It was demolished in 2017.
Kenny can’t tweet pithily about Bury games at present because there aren’t any. I doubt he would want to. The right to hear the click of the Gigg Lane turnstile behind him a couple of dozen times a season as he has for 70 years is all he asks. Fans like him are worth their weight in gold & his lengthy devotion to The Shakers renders that wish a divine right as far as I’m concerned. Andy Saunders from The Chels podcast is a different beast entirely. He greets devoted followers to his Twitter page with the following, Kevin Rowland from Dexy’s penned paen to his own highly advanced sense of self worth:-
But now just look at me As I’m looking down at you No, I’m not bein’ flash It’s what I’m built to do
Never knowingly undersold! Andy Saunders is a PR man in the music business, high up the food chain at Creation Records in those peak commercial years following the staggering success of that band with the two monobrowed Mancunian brothers, the ones who can’t even be civil to each other. One of them has been known to turn up at Man City games in August wearing a full length Parka, the other sits at the Etihad in mid winter wearing sunglasses. They think cool. Others think of a word of identical length starting with the same consonant. The music was rousing & the tunes were great early on (though usually purloined from superior artists – T.Rex, Burt Bacharach, Neil Innes, New Seekers) & being part of that ’90’s rollercoaster must have amazing. I don’t know who Andy works with now, although apparently he had a hand in helping to hype The Cheeky Girls at one point. Doubtless this has paid well & been more fun than most of us will ever have at work, but does it really justify looking at him while he looks down on us? Nah. I stopped listening to The Chels largely because of Saunders himself, endlessly rattling off the dullest of stats & droning on about high presses & low blocks. Teams from other parts of Europe were routinely dismissed as pub teams & at one point the Chelsea career of Mark Hughes was belittled. Yes, the man who joined from Man Utd the same summer as Ruud Gullit, instantly raising the profile of the club enormously, & then scored vital goals in FA Cup, League Cup & Cup Winner’s Cup matches in 1997 & 1998. The club went on to win all 3 trophies. Mark Hughes may have been a dour managerial presence in the modern Premier League but show me a Chelsea fan who denigrates his contribution to the development of the club in the 1990’s & I will show you either a 24 carat plum or an inveterate, perverse attention seeker. Mr Saunders could even be both. He is also a supporter of Chelsea Together, the ostensibly worthy but ultimately sanctimonious & pointless fan collective that seemingly exists merely to tell us that racism & homophobia are bad. No shit Sherlock. Chelsea as a club are actively promoting both these causes, so what are ChelseaTogether bringing to the party? Not a lot so far save for wagging a reproving finger alongside all the Chelsea hating media at any fan misbehaviour. Existing just to announce their moral superiority over less politically correct fans will achieve the sum total of nothing. I can see no sign that they are engaging with anyone in any constructive way. Yes, racism & homphobia are poisonous evils within both football & society as a whole but If you have no proactive campaign planned to counteract it then leave the club to get on with the sterling work they have been doing. The police are there to deal with the law breakers.
Unlike Kenny I have not spent my 50 years following a team primarily in the lower divisions but I have seen an awful lot of football covering the whole spectrum of the game in England. Many Oxford United games between 1968 & 1980, Hull City as a student between 1981 & 1984 & Bournemouth sporadically between 2004 & 2009 with my dad, after his retirement to Dorset but before the money came rolling in for The Cherries. I watched Isthmian League football at Oxford City with my grandfather as a child & various non-league competitions watching my nephew play as an adult. During my self imposed Chelsea exile from 2004-2016 I sat with Barnsley fans at the first ever MK Dons league fixture, & saw Portsmouth & Leyton Orient games home & away with friends. There is also the small matter of hundreds of fixtures attended since 1970 as I have followed the Chelsea over land & sea. If not Leicester. I have seen matches at Leicester but not actually a Chelsea game. Like Kenny I have paid my dues & respectfully suggest I might deserve to have my say without it being ignored &/or treated with contempt. Despite his unconvincing disclaimer I would seriously question whether Mr Saunders has even the vaguest sympathy for Bury, nor any true understanding of the impact their demise will have on their followers. My Twitter response to him was measured & polite, so of course ignored. Fair enough. I have a paltry amount of followers & will not enhance his Twitter reach. I know how important that is to him, hence his tendency to preach rather than engage in an intelligent debate. Fortunately the glorious democracy of the football experience (1 person, 1 ticket, 1 voice regardless of who you are or how much you earn) allows me the luxury of putting all the egotistical drivel spouted on social media to one side & enjoying the game once I’m there. Bury fans are not so lucky at present hence my irritation.
A football club folding is not akin to the demise of HMV or Woolworths. They were commercial entities in the truest sense, existing to supply the populace with goods in exchange for profit. When we no longer wanted those goods in enough number to enable that profit the train to oblivion beckoned. As part of our past going back to childhood we may have waved them off mournfully from the platform but a human barricade across the tracks was never on the cards. Football clubs going to the wall is far more complex. Like libraries or public parks they are an essential cog in the wheel for many communities, living, breathing assets to the population that outweigh a simple devotion to Mammon. The need to run them in a businesslike way is undoubted but Andy Saunders’ cliched, middle management training day apology for a tweet is a crass summary of a situation that highlights a crisis in English football that is only going to escalate if debate & action among the footballing hierarchy do not arise from the current fallout.
I had tweeted a couple of times about the Bury situation & pleasingly not all Chelsea fans responded with the low key but nonetheless hackneyed & smug defensiveness of Saunders & his two cohorts displayed at the top of this piece. I never mentioned Chelsea but there have been other contributions elsewhere on Twitter that betray a similarly paranoid assumption that a belief in the need for those from the higher echelons of football to play a bigger part in assisting the poorer represents an attack on specific clubs. Elsewhere many people did predictably single out big clubs, especially those in the Lancashire area, & also high profile football personalities. Football regulations mean other clubs cannot pump money directly into the coffers of another. Gary Neville, who has strong family links to Bury, is heavily involved at Salford so similarly cannot intervene directly to help resolve the crisis at Gigg Lane. Collectively however the bigger clubs SHOULD be ashamed at the plight of many smaller outfits throughout the pyramid, & when the notion that they should dig deeper to help avert these situations is dismissed by Saunders as ‘sentimental nonsense’ he exposes nothing else than his own pointless, self satisfied preference for playing to the gallery. As for no football clubs having a divine right to exist what does this banal comment even mean? Possibly very few things in life have a divine right to exist, but Kenny & 4,000 other regulars at Bury believe their club does, as do fans of every football club all over the world. If you don’t get that Mr Saunders then I suggest you stick to the noble art of plugging low grade aural tat by one of Lembit Opek’s peculiar retinue of ex girlfriends. Steve Palmer refers to #footballfanignorance while listing previous occasions when clubs in trouble, Chelsea included, have not been helped out by other clubs. Fair point well made Steve, but if you read that an OAP had been mugged in the street & nobody had gone to their aid would you then cross the road & ignore a similar incident if you witnessed it? Despite Steve’s jibe I am sure I have more direct & vivid memories of Chelsea teetering towards bankruptcy in the mid 1970’s than at least two of the people involved in this exchange. Valky makes the frankly idiotic observation that he supposes I think all other clubs would chip in should Mr Abramovich walk away & leave Chelsea owing billions. My tweet specifically referenced bigger clubs helping those lower down the pyramid so Valky is emerging as a worthy successor for Roger Irrelevant from Viz here. Chelsea are now a known global brand anyway, so would obviously find attracting new investment rather easier than Bury. Billionaire Jim Ratcliffe, possibly Britain’s richest businessman is already reputed to be sniffing around should Roman pull the plug. He already has a season ticket. Were Valkey’s unlikely scenario to arise I would not expect charity from other clubs anyway. If Bury going bust is an OAP mugged in the street to general indifference from onlookers, Chelsea going bust in 2019 would be like seeing Bill Gates made bankrupt having maxed out on all his credit cards without ever paying off so much as one month of interest. There was a like for both Steve & Valky’s rather sour denunciations of my tweet however. Step forward Andy Saunders. I would say let the circle jerk commence but there were only three of you given the general indifference of most Chelsea fans to the subject , & especially my view of it! Like Saunders neither replied to my polite responses. Chelsea together.
However, I would like to issue a Mr Wolf in Pulp Fiction style warning for Andy, Valky & Steve not to suck each other’s dicks just yet. Comparisons between two television deals 30 years apart reveal just how much the financial landscape has changed in the football world since Chelsea had begging baskets scattered around Stamford Bridge in 1976. In 1985 there was a TV blackout in England as the Football League sought a better deal than the one on the table for them that summer. The live football offer was for £19 million over 4 seasons incorporating 6 league, 4 FA Cup & 3 League Cup matches. In December 1985 the Football League caved in & accepted a 1 year deal for 9 Division 1 & League Cup games for £1.3 million. A separate deal was struck for 4 FA Cup games. £1.3 million! A couple of months wages for a top Premier League player now. I suppose Sanchez would have enough for dog food. The combined BT/Sky deal in 2015? A staggering £5.14 Billion. I would say bigger clubs putting their hands in their pockets was a moral imperative. The money IS clearly there to help.
As it stands a new Colin Bell at Bury cannot be spotted for Manchester City to swoop on. The pub next to the ground will lose the biggest portion of its custom, along with other assorted businesses. What other social activities in Bury regularly attract 4,000 people, all of whom will be feeling a huge sense of loss at the moment? The fact is that not enough money has been fed through the pyramid, & the ensuing cracks are now going to cause massive subsidence. It is easy to see how finanacial desperation led to Bury letting a rogue like current owner Steve Dale through the door. Of course the clubs have a responsibility to run themselves along commercial lines but this is a lot easier said than done. The EFL have a supposed right & proper person’s criteria for letting individuals like Steve Dale take over clubs like Bury. Dale has a string of failed business ventures to his name, & by his own admission no affinity either for Bury as a place or its football club, or indeed football at all. Is it impossible to create an insurance policy with contributions from all clubs relative to their stature to protect clubs in Bury’s position from themselves, tighten up the right & proper person’s test &/or apply it correctly? If new owners had to sign an agreement that they would waive any financial stake & walk away if they were no longer able to pay wages then asset stripping would not be an option & the likes of Dale would be forced to fail elsewhere. The emergency funds could be used to prop up the club while new buyers are found. If this is ‘hopelessly naive’ then I apologise. It seems preferable to arrogant complacency though. Good luck Bury. As for Andy Saunders, I’m not sure if The Cheeky Girls opus he was responsible for promoting was that touch mybum, this is life abomination but I think Kenny should continue the honourable music industry tradition of the answer song & record his own single as a riposte. Less touch my bum than kiss my arse. He’s the real, loyal selfless deal.
Ah yes. The match. 1-1. Chelsea could have been 3 up in the first 10 minutes, but Leicester will feel hard done by that they didn’t take all 3 points by the end. I thought James Maddison was an irksome pinhead who missed a sitter & kept falling over too easily, then endlessly whining like a child about it to the referee. Post match opinion would suggest that everyone else in the ground thought he was brilliant, & it seems my Chelsea goggles may have been on a little too tight. Thank goodness I don’t do post match tweeting. Compared to the plight of Bury the transfer ban is not a big deal. It will still be a fascinating & challenging season.
The longest ever footballer’s goodbye letter to us supporters was a touch of class, but, fond farewells aside, seeing Eden Hazard destroy Real Madrid’s rivals with his brilliance next season will still be torture for Chelsea fans. Like a eunuch watching Pornhub.
I don’t use a camera during a match. Strangely I go to watch the game. I would happily go in early to see Eden Hazard warm up though. The oldest fanboy in captivity!
May 9, 2019 – A last farewell to fans in the Matthew Harding Stand, having scored the winning penalty against Eintracht Frankfurt with his last kick of a football as a Chelsea player at Stamford Bridge, securing a place in a European final as a consequence. Some player. Missing him already.