Thrills, Shrills & Bellyaches

Women’s FA Cup Final 05/05/18

Chelsea 3 Arsenal 1

‘Do you have a pacemaker or anything like that?’ Nine words administering the last rites to any lingering delusion on my part that on a good day I can still pass myself off as residing at the sprightlier end of middle age. The policewoman asking the question as I get zapped with one of their security scanners isn’t being rude, although the ‘anything like that’ rider is intriguing. How many electrical devices keeping my ravaged old body ticking over does it look like I might have? In truth my maker’s mark identifies me nowadays as of an age in synch with pacemaker patronage. Contributory guiding lines include a receding hairline, topping off a face now more wrinkled than an elephant’s anus with a belly that has now travelled so far south it is in danger of being added independently to the electoral roll at Lizard Point. The accompanying police officer senses my anguish. ‘Of course he hasn’t got a pacemaker’ he says, directing this observation at his colleague but clearly for my benefit. God bless you bud but it’s too little too late. Nobody else being searched appears to be getting asked the same question as this latter day Rip Van Winkle makes his way up the stairs from the London Designer Outlet shopping centre towards Wembley Stadium, the previous spring in his step on this lovely sunny day sizeably reduced.

There was a certain irony in my shuffling ever closer to the tartan slippers, battenburg cake & Cash In The Attic repeats stage of life being outed by such an official source at this particular match. I actually like battenburg cake so one out of three is a start. Queuing for the train back to central London after any Wembley game is also good practice for all that standing around in the post office waiting to buy stamps that traditionally seemed the lot of so many in their dotage. That’s rehearsal rather than irony though. All these reference points for old age are probably outdated now. Do they still do line dancing I wonder? I’m not doing line dancing. The irony was that I was on the way to a football match which proved to have an atmosphere evoking super strong memories of my first ever visit to the old Wembley Stadium, as an eleven year old boy in the spring of 1973, to see a schoolboy international  between England & The Netherlands. Forty five years may have gone by but seeing the lush turf on entering the playing arena, having glimpsed the much missed Twin Towers for the first time, is a treasured & abiding memory, as was the noise. A crowd predominant with prepubescent young boys like me created a high pitched noise I have never heard replicated since. Until now. This is a record crowd for a women’s match, a handsome 45,000, & there are a large number of young people again, though on this occasion the girls far outweigh the boys. The noise is similar though, & commentator Jonathan Pearce offends the sensibilities of many onlookers by describing it as shrill. Pearce appears to rub large numbers of followers of the women’s game up the wrong way, his commentary style now reputedly stuffed full of condescending if not outright sexist remarks. He generally adopts a far more measured tone at the BBC than in earlier days but it is not for me to comment generally on the criticism of his calling of women’s matches. He has to be defended on this occasion though. The noise is indeed shrill, shrill is the only word that comes to mind when I’m in the stadium too, because excitable young voices, regardless of gender, will create that sort of sound when employed by their thousands in unison. As it was in 1973 so it was today. I tend to ignore match commentataries these days, at worst the mute button is employed. Pearce has always been an acquired taste dating back to the 1990’s when his excitable Capital Gold & Channel 5 commentaries frequently bordered on the hysterical & inspired horrified reactions from traditionalists brought up on the clipped tones of Kenneth Wolsenthome. Who can forget classics like ‘Easy peasy lemon squeezy – Vialli!’ & the Ronnie Barker Open All Hours inspired ‘ It’s G-G-G-G-G-G-G Granville & it’s open all hours in the Bratislava defence.’ Overcooked wasn’t in it but sometimes I  enjoyed the gusto with which the younger Pearce operated. It’s football not a state funeral, & the disdain with which Pearce was treated by some other commentators, especially that odious, sanctimonious, monk haired sack of hot air Alan Green, who laughably sees himself as the sage voice of sanity within the mad world of football. Wolsentholme died in 2002, doubtless pompously denouncing his successors to the end. I know someone who had the misfortune to be paired with him at a golf event once, somewhat less than a barrel of laughs by all accounts. He did manage to cash in on his legendary 1966 World Cup fame by reproducing THAT line for the godawful BBC1 sports ‘comedy’ programme They Think It’s All Over. He also popped up on Eurotrash in 1998 commentating on a game of blow football between the great Martin Peters & the extraordinary & tragic Lola Ferrari, famous for her 22 times enlarged 71 inch breasts, each of which were recorded in the Guinness Book Of Records as weighing 6.2 lb & containing three litres of saline. Even the young Pearce might have baulked at that gig. Ken was clearly inclined to be less snooty when the prospect of a Channel 4 cheque was waved before him. The reaction from his detractors if Pearce appeared on something like that now can only be imagined but they need to get over themselves re: the shrill line, a mere statement of fact rather than a shot across the bows of political correctness on this occasion.

Needless to say the schoolboy match all those years ago was all about future promise. Those that played have reached their sixties recently. One of them, Tommy Langley, made his Chelsea debut little more than 18 months later as a sixteen year old. Alan Curbishley also played, his early West Ham appearances a couple of years later hinted at a glittering international career that never happened, but he still played well over 400 professional matches in a career also taking in Aston Villa, Birmingham City, Charlton & Brighton. His once blooming managerial career finally stalled at West Ham after a long & fruitful stint in charge at The Valley, including eight years in the Premier League, Charlton’s longest run in the top flight since the 1940’s & ’50’s when they had been one of the top clubs in the country. The real star against The Netherlands had been left winger Shaun Penny, who scored two of the goals. Penny was educated at Milfield, the most elite sporting school in the land, courtesy of his club Bristol City. In 1979 he finally made the short journey from Ashton Gate to Eastville to join  bitter rivals Bristol Rovers. He never made a first team appearance for City & his rich promise remained largely unfulfilled as he drifted out of league football after sixty games & thirteen goals for Rovers. One of those thirteen barely counted as it was scored against Chelsea, whose early ’80’s defensive line up was frequently as obliging to opposition strike forces as Cynthia Payne’s house was to luncheon voucher waving, spanking enthusiasts in the same era. In all honesty the 6-0 defeat at Rotherham in 1981 suggested that if anything it was harder to score in a brothel.

The Women’s FA Cup Final is more a joint homage to distinguished & notable careers drawing to a close alongside others currently in mature full bloom. Katie Chapman & Eni Aluko represent the former, Fran Kirby & Ramona Bachmann the latter. Chapman announced her retirement five days after the match, the last curtain call on a fabulous, pioneering twenty year career garnering a tenth FA Cup winners medal. Yes, tenth, many won with the day’s opponents, Arsenal. Eat that Ashley Cole! Aluko’s cameo appearance at the end of the game is prior to her eventual departure for Juventus, announced a few weeks later. She played a pivotal role in Chelsea’s first FA Cup win in 2015 but had been a more peripheral figure this season, though the double clenched fist & sinking to the Wembley turf celebration at the final whistle suggested this win was still massively important for her. I have covered her fight to have racial harrassement claims against the England coaching staff taken seriously before. Now vindicated despite gross dereliction of duty within the FA, & media ridicule from halfwits like David James & Matthew Syed, she leaves the English arena held high with a winner’s medal & a huge smile on her face. Eni spurned the Wayne Bridge approach to handshake avoidance with a foe & accepted the one proffered by FA chairman Greg Clarke during the pre-match preliminiaries. It was Clarke who did his best to sweep the matter under the carpet. For reasons I can’t quite fathom he always reminds me of Mr Gilbert in The Inbetweeners, & displayed about as much sensitivity & empathy with the Aluko complaint as Gilbert does when dealing with his pupils. At least Gilbert’s funny though. Additionally he doesn’t really exist. Clarke looks about as much fun as an evening spent listening to Tom Yorke records in the company of Gareth Southgate & Arsene Wenger.

The final was fun though, save for one fly in the ointment, a nine stone fly at that. It is not the usual gathering of rival clans at Wembley, lacking the bile that decades of emnity grounded in fear, triumph, contempt & bitter disappointment have nurtured between these two teams in the men’s game. The atmosphere as we await kick off in the late afternoon sunshine is relaxed & the prospect of supporting a Chelsea team without the usual dread of defeat tugging at my sleeve is rather pleasant, not because victory is certain but because the endless post mortems in media & workplace are not going to occur with anything like the intensity should Arsenal triumph. Were it not for modern terrorism threats there  would have been no need for the pacemaker episode. It isn’t going to kick off here. The beergut & wanker sign brigade are missing today, testosterone levels reduced to the level of long ago childhood days out, & I think back 45 years & more to a pantomine on ice at nearby Wembley Arena where Charlie Cairoli’s clown troupe provided the half time entertainment. Better than the  meat draw they once had at Watford halfway through an FA Cup tie. There is plenty of crowd excitement, enthusiasm & eagerness but little or no venom, none of the standard opposition baiting, call & respond chanting. I’d miss it normally but today a change is as good as a rest. At the recent FA Youth Cup Final at Stamford Bridge, also against Arsenal, Gooner fans had been notably keen to try to replicate the vocal battle lines usually drawn up at a first team match & it all felt rather silly. My ears only encounter one lone, feeble attempt to do the same today. Unfortunately its source is the well lubricated throat of the person sat next to me. Falling prey to the nutter on the bus syndrome once again, the vacant seats to my left are taken up not long before kick off by a rather scrawny man & his daughter. She is about ten years old, takes her seat two places from me & turns out to be a credit to him. He is somewhere in his thirties, takes up residence, inevitably, immediately next to me & turns out to be an an absolute spanner.

During the warm up I watch & enjoy the Chelsea strikers, Kirby & Aluko included, practicing their shooting at substitute goalkeepr Carly Telfer, who gets a thorough workout as the precision is sensational. I can only recall one effort hitting the side netting. Otherwise Telfer either saves or the net bulges. The approach is rigorous, professional & thorough, & in stark contrast to what I see sat behind the goal  in the Shed Lower at Stamford Bridge four days later, when relegation threatened Huddersfield Town appear to take huge pleasure in raining in wild, ferocious & inaccurate shots during pre-match practice, the aim of which seems largely to avoid the protective netting & maim myself or one of my neighbours in the stand. Cheers lads. Congratulations on the niggling, time wasting strewn draw that helped delay the inevitable for one season at least. Who knows, using the warm up to practice shooting in a professional manner rather than like excitable ten year olds on the local rec may help you live the dream even longer.

People can say what they like about women’s football but the approach to the game by both sides is utterly professional throughout. The first half is goalless. Ramona Bachmann comes close to making the most of a lovely dragback in the Arsenal box which leaves her marker queuing to get back into the stadium. Sadly the shot goes wide. The redoubtable Millie Bright horribly misjudges  a headed clearance to let Arsenal in for a rare but ultimately fruitless foray into the Chelsea penalty box. As this is my first live women’s match I inevitably find myself comparing players to male counterparts. Millie Bright is both taller & generally more physically imposing than anyone else on the pitch & consequently stands out on the landscape among the other twenty one players as much as anyone I have seen since our huge bearded centre half Micky Droy in the 1970’s. I thought he had stepped straight off the pages of Gulliver’s Travels the first time I saw him in the flesh. Millie may not be six foot four & fifteen plus stone, or have a beard, but her striking mass of blonde hair  tops off the beacon effect. Micky’s form would regularly swing from the formidable to the fallible, but some poorly executed long balls aside the opposition don’t get much change from Millie after failing to profit from her early error. At the other end Fran Kirby allies immense skill to a busy, bustling approach that must make her a headache for any opponent. A small, sturdy figure on the pitch, the wonderful close control, speed of thought & intelligent movement are reminiscent of former Newcastle & Liverpool striker Peter Beardsley. Fortunately the resemblance ends there. Fran seems as delightful off the pitch as she is on it whereas Beardsley is a horrible little man, who once spent the first half of a 1996 FA Cup tie rotating the task of brutalizing Dennis Wise with a handful of other Geordie team mates, an interesting reversal of reputations. Wise got his own back a decade later by bizarrely taking up a chief executive position at St James Park & making a total hash of it, hastening the departure of iconic manager Kevin Keegan in the process. Keegan had also been in charge when the sustained & clearly premeditated assaults on Wise had taken place. Tut tut Saint Kevin. Dish best served cold eh Den? In midfield, Bermondsey born Katie Chapman is brilliantly adopting the Roy Keane/Patrick Vieira enforcer role, starting & breaking up play as required, her use of the ball immaculate. A month shy of 36, Chapman is one of the true greats of the women’s game, in the last throes of a magnificent journey that has taken in five London clubs, starting at Millwall, & a spell in America playing for the Chicago Red Stars. She made her international debut at seventeen, playing 94 games  between 2000 & 2016 including five matches in the 2015 World Cup campaign. England eventully finished third in a tournament that has proved pivotal in ensuring the recent, rapid growth of the women’s game here. Both combative & talented, Chapman has clearly made a huge contribution to this growth & a true woman amongst girls at one particular moment later in this match when she incurs the wrath of two Arsenal players in one incident. Words are exchanged but there is also a lingering look from Chapman that ensures discretion is the better part of Gooner valour. I saw it on the highlights later & Pearce suggested in commentary that there was only ever going to be one winner from a spat like that, one piece of commentary that nobody could argue with. You can take the woman out of Millwall….

Another pioneer is less prominent on the touchline than usual, namely Chelsea coach Emma Hayes, set to give birth any day now. She also had coaching stints with Arsenal & over the pond with Chicago Red Stars before taking the Chelsea job in 2012. Katie Chapman has three children which explains why she fell short of 100 England caps, a dispute over childcare with then England manager Hope Powell at one point leading to her central contract being cancelled & a disputed, premature international retirement that she claims never to have announced. Pregnancy is not an obstacle facing many in the men’s game, although many will recall Martin ‘Mad Dog’ Allen once incurring the wrath of his QPR manager Trevor Francis by refusing to play one Saturday so he could attend the birth of his child. This was the early 1990’s & Allen was fined, leaving for West Ham not long after. Francis was a rather young manager to be playing the dinosaur but the ensuing media furore helped pave the way for a subsequently more enlightened future approach from most clubs to similar situations.

Emma’s imminent new addition to the family ranks sees her remaining in her seat for much of the afternoon. This is more than I can say for some. The bloke next to me is up & down more often than Boris Johnson’s trousers, presumably allying a natural restlessness to the combined weight of the lagers he has already crammed down his neck. It’s a reliable procession of toilet, food, toilet, more drink, toilet all afternoon. From the off he gets royally on my tits, my horrible man tits, almost literally at one point when he starts waving a flag maniacally to his right, blocking my view as he does so & digging his bony elbow into my left rib cage at the same time. Luckily there is plenty of fleshy protection from this scrawny assault, although it is sad to announce that while the rest of me has bloated my own arms remain scarily puny too. At least his are in proportion to the rest of him. His daughter holds her flag upright & aloft, waving it proudly & merrily way above her head, inconveniencing nobody. Can she really be the fruit of his loins? Wonders never cease. My anti-hero for the afternoon has already misjudged the mood by singing a few Chelsea terrace anthems from the past that somehow just don’t sit right in this crowd. At one point a small boy a couple of rows directly ahead of us, turns round & eyes him quizzically, clearly bemused at the relative aggression he is displaying. A middle aged woman sat next to the boy, who is no more than 8 years old, if that, notices this, & turns to explain that he is supporting Arsenal. Opposition fans in the wrong end has long been a bitter bone of contention at football grounds, for myself as much as anyone, but clearly the vibe is different here. As has long been the culture at cricket or rugby there is no issue to be found here in a supporter of a rival club, especially an 8 year old boy, sharing the same quarters of the stadium. Or so you might think. The Carlsberg kid has an alternative viewpoint. ‘Well he shouldn’t be sat here then should he?’ he tells the woman with sullen, petty inaccuracy prior to disappearing to the toilet once again, nobhead status now firmly intact. In the period between then & going to buy a feast of chicken nuggets & chips just before half time, which he consistently wafts invitingly in front of my hungry, fat old face, he actually watches some football. From their conversation it becomes clear that he & his daughter are regulars at Chelsea Ladies’ games at Kingsmeadow. It is also clear that she adores him despite my already near hour long inner monologue of irritation at his mere presence by this point. She is clearly a sweet girl & therefore a credit to him, her very existence signifying he has achieved something I never will. I feel slightly ashamed at my mean spiritedness but being a miserable old sod I soon get over it. Less than halfway through his banquet he goes off again to buy a half time beer. ‘You’ve already had five dad’ she reminds him. We are clearly in a gender revised reboot of the Edina & Saffy relationship in Absolutely Fabulous here. Undeterred he goes off to procure more ale leaving his unfinished banquet behind, on the floor, tantalisingly close to my feet. I don’t know what would be preferable, to eat his chips or piss on them. Both prospects appeal but clearly it has to be one or the other. Attempting both would be ill advised.

My nemesis fails to return for the restart  & his daughter goes to look for him. As a consequence they miss the first goal of the game, as all that pre-match shooting practice pays handsome second half dividend. Neat interplay between Bachmann, Ji & Kirby sees the ball returned to Bachmann on the right hand side of the box & a sweet, rising, right foot strike gives Arsenal keeper Van Veenendaal no chance, though she does get a touch to the ball as it fizzes into the top of the net. Father & daughter return as everyone else around us celebrates, & he loses any previous credits immediately by berating her for leaving her seat, apparently oblivious to the  fact that he had left her all alone for too long in the first place, if not for the first time. They have been denied the chance to see the team they support every week open the scoring. I’m gutted for her but merely wish I had indulged my latest spiteful desire to stomp on his chicken nuggets with my left shoe & add further to his self induced, beer chasing woes. Swiss international Bachmann adds a second, aided this time by a cruel deflection. Arsenal briefly threaten a comeback after pulling a goal back, but their hopes are snuffed out for good when Fran Kirby curls in a left foot shot  shortly after. Chelsea bring on substitutes of the calibre of Aluko & the energetic Erin Cuthbert which emphasises their strength in depth on a day when they had displayed superior all round quality to their opponents, who managed only two shots on target all game. At 2-1 Drew Spence is substituted & my noisy neighbour leaps up & for some reason starts barracking her in an agitated & animated manner. ‘Booooo! Booooo! Get her off! She’s useless! Lazy! Lazy! She’s lazy!’ His daughter is busy clapping Spence off while damning her idiot father with a priceless riposte at the same time. ‘She’s still a Chelsea player dad.’ Touche. Real fans don’t boo their own. Message received, over & out. I don’t know what to do first, cheer or call social services. Eni Aluko’s arrival on the pitch is greeted with dismay. ‘Past it! Past it! She’s past it! Get off Aluko, you fat arsed donkey! She’s a fat arsed donkey! Useless! She’s finished!’ There are several points to make here. Spence & Aluko were the two players subjected to racial harrassement by the Engand coaching staff & a little support from their own team’s fans seems a small ask, not least when a cup final is in the process of being won. I may mock my own body shape, & occasionally those who ridicule footballers via the media while in poor physical shape themselves. I have even mocked another man’s bony elbows here. I also doubt I would have blanched too much back in the day at someone calling out former Chelsea striker Tony Cascarino as a fat arsed donkey. Body shaming abuse of a role model & successful professional athlete like Eni Aluko in front of an impressionable ten year old daughter though? Not big, not clever. Fortunately the Spence incident suggests she has already begun to successfully navigate the delicate middle ground enabling her to love her father while being aware he is somewhat of a cock. Her mother must be an angel by the way.

The game is won with no further hitches. Emma Hayes does not give birth in the dugout, but ten days later, & Eni Aluko manages a graceful smile as she is forced to shake hands once again with Clarke when collecting her medal. I nearly miss this as one spectator jumps around in front of me, taking doubtless poor quality photos on his mobile as the trophy is presented. Not a crime in fairness, though he then makes a breathless phone call bragging to the poor unfortunate at the other end that he is at the game, like nobody has ever known a person to be present at a televised live football match before. It really is all about him. Our very own Mike Dean for a day. His daughter just smiles, continuing to enjoy the moment appropriately by waving her flag in celebration, & patiently waits for him to grow up. You suspect it will be rather a long wait. At least he has helped produced a stellar Chelsea Ladies’ fan, hopefully for life.

Chelsea Ladies win the league too & it was a pleasure to see these eventual double winners in action. The football was good, the sun shone, & even the tortuous queue for the train journey back to London from Wembley Stadium is less hassle than usual. The normal wait is about as inviting a prospect as escorting Anne Widdecombe to a barn dance. Blimey, how about that for a nightmare vision of old age.

I may need that pacemaker after all.

Nothing Can Take Away These Blues

April 1, 2018 – Chelsea 1 Spurs 3

Until yesterday’s well deserved Easter Sunday victory Spurs had not won at Stamford Bridge since February 1990, when one of these two women was still Prime Minister & the other was No 1 in something we once called the Hit Parade. ‘Nothing Compares 2 U? Kojak does!’ to quote another great 90’s feminist icon, the gorgeous & seductive Pauline Calf. Chelsea fans have procreated & seen those children through university in the meantime. Mortgages have been taken out & paid off. The late Amy Winehouse was 6 years old when Gary Lineker scored a late winner that day. She left us as the latest of the unwanted 27 club in 2011, itself now  a remarkable seven years ago. Lineker himself is pushing 60 now. It has been a proud record, allied to the fact that Chelsea also went 20 years unbeaten in league games at White Hart Lane between 1987 & 2007. Its ending is undoubtedly painful, & verily multiple Tottenham cocks are already crowing. Social media is ablaze with the preening self-satisfaction always associated with supporters of this team, currently in its pomp, riding high in, er, 4th place in the table, one position above one of the poorest Chelsea teams for a decade or more. This morning we have also been treated to a picture of a man in full Spurs kit, pristine white shorts, socks pulled up to their fullest extent & that horrible shirt (bearing the name of the repugnant Vertonghen on its back) swaggering into his local LIDL, hands laden with wallet, car keys & phone because he has no pockets & has forgotten that no self-respecting adult walks around dressed in the style of an 8-year-old boy. The bemused look on the face of the woman opposite pushing a shopping trolley as he strolls manfully towards the ‘Buy 1 Get 1 Free’ confectionary speaks volumes. If he had been around on the first Easter Monday, after the resurrection of Jesus, you suspect the Good Lord would have taken one look at him & asked to be nailed back to the cross. Spurs have been a very good side for  several years, but have won diddly squat since 2008. God help us all when it happens. Another roll call of Chelsea’s numerous triumphs & trophies since 1990 seems brash & unnecessary here. Suffice to say that I worried about this record falling when missing the 1994 match due to a stocktake at work. A two goal deficit was reversed & the unfairly overlooked Mark Stein slammed in a last-minute penalty for a dramatic 4-3 win. A point was rescued the following year by a Dennis Wise diving header from a pinpoint cross from, irony of ironies, former Spurs great Glenn Hoddle. In 2000 a jet lagged George Weah clambered off the subs bench for his début & scored an undeserved late winner. There have been plenty of splendidly memorable & emphatic victories but the fact that we were fearful of the record going several times during its first ten years indicates just how remarkable its surviving  deep into a third decade has been. Enjoy your win Spurs fans, well done for your generous applause for Ray Wilkins before the match, & if you ever pull off anything of similar significance to this extraordinary 28 year saga then your current smugness may be belatedly vindicated. Not that I’ll be around to acknowledge it, partly because I’ll be dead, but more pertinently because it’s never going to happen. And don’t forget Mr Vertonghen below. He’s one of your own too. Bless him.

 

Supermarket Sweeper?  Father forgive him for he knows not what he does. With thanks & apologies to Gate 17 Publications supremo Mark Worrall for the steal from his brilliant Twitter post here.

Vertongen

Sweet FA

Eni – One Who Had A Heart

Congratulations to Chelsea striker Eni Aluko, whose England career was ruined & personal integrity put under intense media scrutiny after allegations about  her ex England coach Mark Sampson became public knowledge. Finally, after two FA led inquiries concluded there was no case to answer for Sampson, she has been vindicated. Both Eni & Chelsea colleague Drew Spence have received a long overdue apology for the dismissive response to allegations of offensive comments made to & about them.

The FA needs to take a long, hard look at itself over this one. I doubt it will, given its long history of generally overpowering arrogance, corruption & breathtaking hypocrisy. The case is fascinating because FA kangaroo courts are famous within football. Players & managers facing disciplinary charges are inevitably found guilty. Members of the Monmouth Rebellion had more chance of being cleared by Judge Jeffreys than a footballer generally has at a standard FA tribunal. All the more despicable then that Aluko, an innocent party here, had to endure months of mud-slinging while two successive FA led inquiries falsely exonerated their employee & members of his coaching staff, one of whom apparently once spoke to the Nigerian born striker in a mock Caribbean accent. It is 2017 by the way. God preserve us.

Your heart sinks to think this crass nonsense lingers on from my youth, where it was commonplace. Even then, it seemed to be largely the preserve of  generations before my own, the sort of nitwits that either thought Alf Garnett was a political visionary rather than a comic grotesque, or, as appears the case here, that this kind of behaviour merely represented heavy-handed ‘Love Thy Neighbour’ style banter.

At school 40 years ago there were a couple of boys on schoolboy forms with Southampton. One, Colin, got disenchanted with the prospect of making football a career quite quickly, & told me of the casual racism of senior players at the club towards one of the apprentices, a lad called Tony Sealy. He went on to have a decent & lengthy journeyman career, stopping off after Southampton at QPR, Crystal Palace & Leicester among others. Suffice to say that the first teamers he listed were household names. All were internationals. Apparently, Sealy was routinely called Kunta Kinte after the main character, a slave, in Alex Haley’s ‘Roots’ , then a popular TV series. If it upset a 15-year-old white boy to see grown men conduct themselves in this way God alone knows what Tony Sealy must have thought, although doubtless it  helped prepare him for sustained barrages of abuse from terrace cretins over the following decade. If a player blows the whistle on examples of this stupidity persisting now, then they surely deserve a more sympathetic & compassionate response from the authorities than Eni Aluko has received?

Almost as much to blame as the FA are certain sections of our beloved media, not to mention former England goalkeeper David James, whose idiotic tweet blasting Aluko & demeaning her personally & professionally has long been deleted. Brave boy the recently bankrupted Mr James, whose head would appear to be as empty as his piggy bank. We have also had to endure the unedifying spectacle of relentless self publicist & Murdoch lickspittle Matthew Syed rushing to defend Mr Sampson, assuring us we should not assume someone is a racist based on a few ill-chosen words. Hanging out with Robbie Savage & Andrew Flintoff (the sporting world’s very own ‘Dumb & Dumber’) has clearly dulled the slimy ex wiff waff choker’s memory & intellectual capacities somewhat. He will happily assume the worst of anyone at Chelsea & fit the evidence around it to prove his jaundiced case, rabidly hanging John Terry’s dirty linen out behind the Murdoch paywalls for years, not to mention fanning the flames of Chelsea hate happily on Twitter. Now he thinks social media has dealt a cruelly unfair hand to Mr Sampson. If only everyone else would just shut up & let Matthew Syed tell them what has happened. A more cynical person than myself might wonder if Syed might leap as voraciously to Sampson’s defence were he a Chelsea coach. Or dismiss the evidence presented by the players were the victims from the Arsenal rather than Chelsea Ladies team. Happily I am not that cynical. Dear old Matthew. The man who put the pong in ping-pong.

In 2012 Terry was famously cleared of a charge of racial abuse in a court of law. The evidence against Terry was limited to YouTube footage, which clearly failed to undermine his case that he HAD used abusive language towards opponent Anton Ferdinand (which had been reciprocated) but not in the context presented by the prosecution. It was an ugly & unpleasant incident which did nobody any favours, not least John Terry, or indeed football itself. Having been cleared in court Terry was swiftly found guilty by the same authority which has been furiously defending Sampson & belittling Aluko. Rumour has it that Stephen Fry reprised his role of General Melchett at the Terry hearing, donning a black cap,summoning a firing squad & also finding the accused guilty of murdering his pigeon in the trenches during World War 1. The Independent, edited by a Spurs supporter, gleefully led with a ‘Captain Leader Racist’ headline the following day. All off the back of an inquiry which had no more evidence than that presented in court. Terry was simply hung out to dry. Contrast this with Sampson cowering under FA petticoats for months, clutching Greg Clarke’s glib 14 word email dismissal of Aluko’s case for comfort. Lest I be accused of FA/Syed style hypocrisy I would simply say that we have never heard any intimation from the many black players that John Terry has played alongside that he has betrayed racist beliefs. Equally, he cooperated with the authorities & freely admitted using obscenities in the heat of the moment, not engaging in off the cuff, insidious banter away from a high-octane footballing encounter. Nobody else came forward with compelling evidence, nor indeed ANY evidence, to contradict his own version of what happened at Loftus Road that day. Sampson has flatly denied all allegations about himself from day one.

As to whether Mark Sampson is a racist, how the hell should I know?  It is likely he is prone to the same sort of laddish, locker room buffoonery that often prompts stupidity among sportsmen, & that John Terry has also fallen prey to far too many times during his career. Consequently, Sampson’s behaviour has likely been more idiotic & insanely insensitive  than malicious, a point repeatedly made by Eni Aluko herself throughout this sorry saga. Football is a world where it is possible to stay a schoolboy until middle age, possibly even longer if your name is Jose Mourinho. What the Aluko case proves is that it should no longer be a world  governed by an authority picking & choosing when to clamp down on allegations of racism depending on how it makes them look. Nor do we need agenda driven hacks & trolls choosing sides seemingly dependent on whether the alleged perpetrators or victims are wearing Chelsea blue or opposition colours.

Hopefully, Eni Aluko can return to the England fold & add to her 102 caps. Count them David James, looks like she CAN play a bit! We should all raise a glass to her anyway as she has made one invaluable, emphatic point on the issue of racism that players, coaches, administrators & fans alike should all take some time to absorb.

It really is time we all grew up.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

To Be Fair

Stevie G reflecting the euphoria in the BT studio after Chelsea’s magnificent victory on Wednesday night.

There was so much to relish during the wonderful win in the Wanda Metropolitana this week, obvious highlights being Hazard’s long overdue emergence as a player of true greatness, Morata’s lovely headed equalizer & the brilliant last gasp winner that epitomized the  joyous harmony & fluency that ran through the team’s performance the entire match. All life affirming & tremendous stuff.

For me it was capped off beautifully by the presence of anti Chelsea sourpusses Steven Gerrard & Rio Ferdinand in the BT studios. It is of course traditional for both Sky & BT to fill their punditry seats with the expanding buttocks of ex pros with no love for Chelsea, nor indeed anyone but Liverpool, Man Utd  or Arsenal, but BT really pushed the boat out here, presumably because having finally found a former Blue to accompany them, in the shape of the living legend that is Sir Frank Lampard, they felt the need to tilt the balance firmly back in favour of the usual carping & sneering at the boys from the Bridge by sitting him next to two men who both have agendas against Chelsea that are well-known, deep-rooted & long term.

By full-time, however, they were left with no choice but to suck it up in front of the watching millions & give Chelsea props for a truly scintillating win. At least presenter & crisp thief Gary Lineker, the one time Spurs striker & full-time narcissist, had the grace to smile & pretend he was happy about it, & he genuinely seemed to have enjoyed the match. Frank remained remarkably restrained, but the fun for him, like all Chelsea fans, had been in watching the previous 90 minutes of effervescent splendour. It was excruciating watching the other two though. All the right platitudes were duly rolled out, but it clearly hurt. Gerrard seemed especially pained at having to give Chelsea any credit, appearing for all the world that as the words of praise were extracted from his traditionally joyless face he was fighting a severe dental abscess. He couldn’t have looked less happy if Lineker had ordered him to lick out the contents of Gary Glitter’s slop bucket.

A great end to a fantastic night.

Sock It To Em JT

In the early days of his extraordinary, magnificent Chelsea career there was a song about John Terry to the tune of Adam & The Ants ‘Prince Charming’ minus the original line ‘ridicule is nothing to be scared of.’ With the benefit of hindsight it should have been kept in. For when the collective braying scorn & rage of the rag bag of sneering pseuds, cynics, liars & hypocrites who feast on every setback & failing of the finest centre half of his generation finally abates, we will still be able to reflect on endless memories of his footballing brilliance.

We are all aware of his many on field achievements & the esteem he is held in  at the club for his support for, & mentoring of, players throughout the staff. There is a fabulous blog by former youth player Sam Tillen on the subject. Equally we are aware of his (admittedly not insubstantial) rap sheet. But how about the lives of some of the more vociferous JT/Chelsea haters & critics? An eclectic mix they make too, ranging from Prime Ministers to internet trolls all manipulated expertly from the movers & shakers within all sections of the modern media.

Come hither David Cameron, expressing his delight at JT being suspended from the Champions League Final in 2012.’He’s done some bad things’ he said to Angela Merkel. And doubtless he has, although unlike our Dave he hasn’t ever belonged to a club whose members smashed up restaurants, burned £50 notes in front of tramps & allegedly inserted their Old Etonian old chaps into the mouths of dead pigs. John Terry has had a life of wealth & privilege thrust upon him by virtue of his enormous talent rather than an accident of birth & this really sticks in the craw of so many of his detractors, brought up to consider themselves superior to the rest of us regardless of their own, frequently appalling, behaviour.

Some of our leading politicians have cause to thank him though. Step forward Tony Blair, sneaking into the Iraq inquiry in 2010 whilst JT’s alleged relationship with an ex colleague’s ex- girlfriend detained the attentions of our flawless media. Meanwhile, London’s then Mayor & our current Foreign Secretary, who has fathered a child outside of his marriage, & impregnated another woman on two occasions, was busy telling us that his private life was nobody’s business but his own. Up to a point I am inclined to agree with him but it seems odd that a footballer has an apparent duty to prevent his genitals from wandering & be a role model rather than those who govern our lives. JT lost the England captaincy over that spurious piece of tittle-tattle, whilst the next footballer engulfed in a lurid, super-injunction sex scandal became captain of the British Olympic team after the fact, presented as the ideal figure to mentor the younger players in that team. The fact he played for media darlings Manchester United is pure coincidence of course.

At the other end of the food chain from our unimpeachable leaders are the faceless spooks hiding at the end of every online John Terry article, dispensing their own distinctive brand of malignancy. You know the sort, all hiding behind names like ‘Chelski Oil Est.2003’ & ‘Sir Alex 13 Times’. Not only do you suspect they have never darkened the doors of their apparently ‘beloved’ Old Trafford or Anfield or Emirates, it seems probable they haven’t actually left the house since their corner shop stopped selling Roy ‘Chubby’ Brown videos & Linda Lusardi calendars. The internet came along at a perfect time for them, just as ITV cancelled ‘Baywatch’ & left them looking for something else to do with their right hands on Saturday teatimes. As a sad, single man myself I understand their pain but don’t respect the response. It’s the media leeches that fuel these people’s prejudices that are the real problem.

These include the slimy slap head mafia. Matt Dickinson & the ludicrous Duncan Castles are to the fore here, but both are outshone by the perennially insidious Matthew Syed. Matthew is apparently an expert on leadership with an impeccable moral compass, baffled by the loyalty of Chelsea fans to both John Terry & indeed to the club itself, being a fierce critic of the club’s owner & the role he played in the post Glasnost reshaping of the old Soviet Union. It is okay for Syed to shamelessly continue to take the Murdoch shilling by writing for ‘The Times’ of course. After all, this man has only owned newspapers that have continuously ruined lives by spreading malicious lies about innocent people for decades, gloried in the slaughter of Argentinian conscripts in the Falkland war, hacked into the phone of a dead schoolgirl & demeaned both the victims & survivors of the Hillsborough disaster. So Chelsea fans should rebel against JT & Abramovich, examine their consciences & walk away from Stamford Bridge forever, many of them having had an emotional commitment to the place since they were small children, but Syed’s commitment to earning a dollar holds no such constraints. He can address multi-national corporations (Goldman Sachs are  a lovely company aren’t they?) with his motivational speeches, safe in the knowledge that they are all squeaky clean & entirely free of corruption. He can stand for Parliament under the banner of New Labour, the brainchild of a leader we now know is a serial liar & probable war criminal. He needn’t apologise for any of this because he is cleverer & better than us, and not remotely an oily, hypocritical toad who wouldn’t know a scruple if it boned him up the arse. Let’s face it we are all compromised by the stranglehold the reptilian Murdoch has had on modern football but the gall of Syed is truly breathtaking. Karma has apparently intervened anyway, as he is now reduced to doing a podcast with fellow Terry critics Robbie Savage, the uber-cretin of modern punditry, & Andrew Flintoff, the worst England captain in Ashes history, a man whose own conduct has not always stood up to too much scrutiny.  I haven’t ever listened to it. Frankly I would rather pour vomit in my ear.

On Twitter we have the little Bullingdon club of minor celebrity, its chief enforcers being Alan Davies & the writer, broadcaster & bellend Danny Baker. Davies is a vociferous Chelsea hater when he isn’t biting tramp’s ears after a drinking binge (most of us make do with a bag of chips or a kebab Al) or cyber bullying people who think his mate Stephen Fry is a bit boring, or telling Liverpool fans that they should ‘get over’ Hillsborough & that their team’s refusal to play on the date of its anniversary gets on his tits. What a charmer. Baker’s obsessive Chelsea hatred has long crossed the borders of the truly pathetic, & examples of it would fill a very large & dull book. Many Chelsea fans backed his club Millwall’s campaign to stay at the New Den. Our Dan tells us he hopes Abramovich sells up & Chelsea ‘fuck off to Turkey.’ When Leicester won the league he hailed the blow against the fat cats & asked ‘can we have our ball back now?’ Our ball Mr Baker? With your Murdoch newspaper columns, radio stint under the leadership of the disgusting Kelvin Mackenzie &  numerous tacky book, video & DVD cash ins (the videos outing this bumptious wazzock as the original full kit wanker by the way) we might suggest it has long ceased to be your job to claim to represent the ordinary fan. And if you are so concerned about the dominant role of the fat cats why do you whine like a 5-year old when Sky show Crystal Place v Everton and not Liverpool v Man Utd? On a personal note Mr Baker was diagnosed with cancer at the same time as my father. Thankfully he survived, unlike my father, only to more than once publicly wish this most horrible of illnesses on fellow human beings , the first time  less than a year later during the 2011 London riots. This led to fellow cancer survivor John Hartson describing him as ‘a twat of a man.’  Seems about right. Baker never apologised for his despicable comments & we can only imagine the furore if John Terry himself had made them. Vile & classless anyone?

Quick off the mark to scorn JT’s acquittal after the unpleasant Anton Ferdinand escapade was the delightful Robbie Fowler. We will probably never know the truth regarding the context of what was said in that mutually abusive exchange of views during an ugly, heated West London derby. We do know that the ferrety Liverpool striker openly showered Graeme Le Saux with homophobic abuse at Stamford Bridge in 1999, accompanied with a lengthy, provocative wiggling of his already expanding (& deeply unappetizing) Scouse arse at our happily married full back. We also know that such antics have empowered every cretinous ‘Chelsea Rentboys’ chant ever since. Cheers Robbie. Strangely, Ian Herbert, Brian Reade, Duncan Castles et al don’t seem quite so keen to take the moral high ground about this one. We also know that Stuart Pearce used unacceptable, racially abusive language to well-known wind up merchant Paul Ince during a match in 1993. The two sorted it out afterwards, remained England colleagues for years after & Pearce later became a national hero during Euro ’96. Amazing what you can get away with if the media are on your side & you don’t play for Chelsea.

Or sometimes if you do.  Didier Drogba has a cringey send off in a meaningless end of season game against Sunderland in 2015 & nobody bats an eye lid. Terry has a cringey send off in a meaningless end of season game against Sunderland & Garth Crooks is choking on his Lardy cake within 10 seconds. Incidentally, Drogba is one of many high-profile, articulate & strong-minded black players (Desailly, Hasselbaink, Makelele among many of the others) to have played alongside Terry. You imagine that after twenty years, a large chunk of it spent as club captain of a truly multi cultural & ethnically diverse football team, that at least one of these voices would have broken rank & outed him if anybody at Chelsea, the place where people really know him, seriously believed he was a racist.

Hopefully, his departure will be a chance to subdue the torrent of hate filled, third rate journalism about the club I have loved for nearly half a century. Terry not being a Chelsea player may mean they give him a slightly easier ride too. I wont hold my breath though. When I admire a Caravaggio painting I shelve the knowledge that he was a murderer. The sculptor Eric Gill’s works are still widely exhibited & enjoyed despite him having sexual encounters with not only his sisters & daughters but also the family dog. Makes briefly parking in a disabled space seem relatively small beer really, but woe betide the working class boy who succeeds as a Chelsea footballer & openly enjoys his success, making the sort of mistakes that young, talented, cocky & rich people do in all spheres of life. A different moral code will apply to you.

I saw John’s first game in a Chelsea shirt, a League Cup game in 1998, ironically against his new employers Aston Villa. He looked a bit ungainly & I wondered if he would go the way of Nick Crittendon & Steven Hampshire, players who had also made fleeting appearances in that competition before disappearing off to Yeovil, Brechin or other relative backwaters of football. Instead, he  developed into a player of true greatness & it has been a pleasure to behold. I revere his talent, am grateful I got to see him display it regularly at first hand, & wish him well at Villa Park.