Busman’s Holiday

Swindon Town 1 Plymouth Argyle 1

Saturday 12th October, 2019

There are many modern two word combinations that instill a potent sense of life sapping nausea & dread & in this ageing Englishman’s battered psyche. Fake news. Top Gear. Brexit update. Bowel screening. Michael Gove (a man with a body rendered uniquely ineligible for a bowel screening on account of the revolting head being wedged so deeply up its own arse). Bike bell. Dance off. Gym membership. Bono interview. Sun journalist. Tottenham Hotspur. My trip to the County Ground was inspired by the final entry on this far from exhaustive list.

International break.

International break. May God have mercy on all our souls. Regularly giving us the chance to squander our meagre salaries betting on the outcome of Andorra v Lithuania, & avoiding the glitter flecked clutches of Strictly Come Dancing, rather than getting out & watching our own teams. My heart aches, and a drowsy numbness pains my sense as Keats had it. Zip-a-Dee-Fucking-Doo-Dah in more modern parlance. Fortunately, Swindon are at home  & I take the chance to eschew my staff bus pass & lord it up on a train to dance off to Wiltshire & the County Ground, my first visit to Swindon since watching them draw 2-2 with Leyton Orient  back in 2010.

It turns out to be a good decision, two good teams deservedly sharing the spoils, on loan Eoin Doyle finishing off a neat 4 man move for Swindon in the first half, & midfielder Joel Grant capping off an equally slick passage of play for Plymouth in the second. There are a lot of loanees on display, & Argyle has also become  a refuge for a handful of former employees of Bury, four players & manager Ryan Lowe now gainfully employed at Home Park after The Shakers were disgracefully allowed to be driven out of existence by a despicable & unscrupulous owner, & a pitiful indifference from many others in the football world, some of whom may find themselves similarly shafted at some stage. ‘Never send to know for whom the bells tolls; it tolls for thee.’ Rave on John Donne. Once again, I find myself marvelling at the pace of the modern game & the excellent fitness levels of the muscular, supremely athletic  modern player compared to all those lower league cult hero centre forwards of the 60s, ’70’s & ’80’s, frequently brilliant finishers but with barrel chests that betrayed a liking for the beer sold in the pubs a lot of them ended up owning when a newsagents wasn’t available. The ‘player who could have been a contender’ slot, a reliable staple at lower division games through the ages, is filled by Argyle sub Jose Baxter. A first teamer at Everton at 16, later seeing a promising career at Sheffield United stubbed out when he tested positive for Ecstasy, Baxter is now 27. He comes on & shows from a deep lying role that the touch is still there, if not yet the match fitness. One of the many impressive gym toned specimens on show, imposing & composed on the ball for Swindon, turns out to be former Chelsea midfielder Anthony Grant,on loan from Shrewsbury. He appeared in my exile years & I have never seen him before in the flesh. He’s massive! Not a spare ounce on him though. I can’t help but wonder how Chelsea’s mid ’90’s team of minnows including Jody Morris, Mark Stein, John Spencer & Dennis Wise would cope now. Then I recall 18 year old Billy Gilmour, a slip of a boy physically, owning a 7-1 Blues Caraboa Cup win over a big Grimsby Town side a fortnight ago. If you’re good enough…. Dennis Wise probably isn’t a  name to drop in Swindon after he accepted the manger’s job back in 2007, only to walk out after a couple of promising months when his old mucker Birdseye Bates lured him to the then sinking ship that was Leeds. Dirty Leeds. A foolish move destined for disaster & he hasn’t managed since, notwithstanding hindsight always being a wonderful thing.

There is something palate cleansing about going to matches that don’t involve your own team. It is far more relaxing & helps sustain a healthier overall interest in the game. One of the sad ironies of modern football is the fact that its ubiquity on television often has a counter-productive effect in this regard. Most of us are busy people, if we can watch live feeds or extended highlights of every match our own teams play why bother watching anybody else? In my long lost youth, only highlights were shown, & Match Of The Day or The Big Match would have a maximum of 2/3 games. If you wanted to see some football, you had to watch these programmes, & consequently expose yourself to the experience of watching a match just as that, minus the passion & prejudice that automatically kicks in watching your own club. Small boys now will be au fait with the respective FIFA 20 stats for all the top players of the world. I would play table football creating knockout cups having familiarised myself with the current line ups of all 92 clubs in the old Football League. This may have made me an insufferable, anally retentive little know all, but also bred an inherent interest in all these clubs & their players. It was a thrill to see them in the flesh at actual matches, & to follow their careers. Unlike the FIFA kids I did not get disappointed when in real life they failed to dribble past 6 opponents & tee themselves up for a thumping 40 yard bicycle kick into the roof of the opposition net. There are no morality tales here, if I had been given access to computer games as a kid I would have stayed in my room all day too. Empty recreation grounds & a steepling average age of people actually attending matches are rather sad though, & a real threat to the much vaunted English footballing pyramid. The trip to the County Ground offers me an opportunity to doff an outsider’s cap at one of the footballing figures who helped define my attitude to football. The death of Peter Downsbrough, Swindon goalkeeper in their finest hour, the 3-1 humbling of Arsenal in the 1969 League Cup Final, is remembered with a minute’s applause prior to kick off, generously supported by the sizeable gathering of Plymouth fans. Swindon’s first away match after the sad news was announced was at Bradford City, the club Downsbrough left them for, a pleasing irony that assured his memory was observed with due respect & affection on that occasion too. The 1969 League Cup was the first domestic cup final I ever watched on television, & Peter Downsbrough greeting a collection of Arsenal corner kicks & crosses with safe hands or a firm punch is an abiding memory. Is it just a rose tinted childhood memory or are we fans all a more spiteful clan these days? I recall people being more pleased for Swindon than revelling in Gooner dismay. This even seemed true when Colchester beat dirty but mighty Leeds in the FA Cup in 1971, or Hereford beat Newcastle the following year, although there was some relish in the latter largely aimed at that eternal gobshite Malcolm Macdonald, who had confidently predicted he would score a hatful for the Geordies in the fateful replay. He tripped up again in 1974 when making all kind of bold claims prior to the FA Cup Final against Liverpool, who won 3-0. Supermac never got a kick. As Fulham manager he dismissed Chelsea’s promotion credentials just before the two teams met in 1984. Chelsea won 4-0. I delight in all this as he also is in my little black book of players who were rude to me in my autograph hunting years, calling me son in the process which I have always hated. Nonetheless, deserved though his humiliation at the hands of non league Hereford was,  the pleasure once again seemed more sharing the joy of the victors rather than sneering at the losers. How times change.

To emphasise the earlier point I followed the careers  of many of the Swindon tankard winning heroes of 1969 (no medals for players in the League Cup back then!) for the rest of their careers. Full back Rod Thomas went to Derby & won the old Division 1 title there under the management of a former Town player-manager, the legendary Dave MacKay, a truly great player still capable of controlling games effortlessly from midfield in his Swindon years despite by this time sporting bigger tits than a Russ Meyer starlet, allied to an enormous belly straining against his red shirt & seeming likely to drag against the turf like a pregnant dog. Downsbrough won Division 4 with Bradford. Left back John Trollope MBE stayed at the County Ground for his entire career, playing over 700 games. Someone I knew refereed him in a reserve game towards the end of his career & maintained he was the most courteous & professional footballer he ever had the pleasure of dealing with. The wonderful Don Rogers, scorer of two of the goals on the mudheap Wembley pitch, moved on to Crystal Palace & scored more virtuoso goals for this most frustratic & erratic of teams  before ending up back at Swindon, running a sports shop & happily thriving to this day. At school I claimed to have had tea with him once after my dad had played against a showbiz football team at Thame United in the early ’70’s. Technically this is true, Don was indeed there with me for the egg sandwiches & battenburg cake stage of proceedings, but so were countless others! Gave me his autograph though. Good old Don. I also saw the late Stan Harland playing for a Division 1 bound Birmingham City alongside Roger Hynd (Bill Shankly’s nephew) in defence, with the goals & flair supplied by Bob Latchford & a brilliant 17 year old, Trevor Francis, whose obvious talent belied his youth, betrayed on the pitch only by the perennial adolescent curse that is acne. That disappeared, but the talent persisted through to European Cup glory, scores of England caps & a spell in Italy with Sampdoria. Dull pundit. Great player. The most poignant memory I have of watching one of these Swindon immortals was at Hull in 1982, when Peter Noble, then at nearly 38 approaching the fag end of his career, rolled up with Blackpool in  a tame end of season match at an unusually sun blessed Boothferry Park. In fact, apart from Hull winning 1-0 I remember very little else about the game other than one of the fellow students I went with, a Blackpool fan, spending most of the game mindlessly abusing one of his own players, David Hockaday, another future Swindon player. Noble had enjoyed a very successful spell at Burnley in the top division after leaving Swindon, converting from striker to full back  in the process. The Falklands War was happening at the time, & the cretinous jingoism of The Sun under its reliably repulsive editor Kelvin Mackenzie was transmitting itself to many of the  excitable overgrown schoolboys in my hall of residence. We returned from the match to a packed, but curiously silent television room. The HMS Sheffield had been sunk by an Argentinian exocet missile, the Boy’s Own gung ho atmosphere now replaced by the reality of war. People die on both sides. Who knew? Seemingly not Kelvin Mackenzie, who ended the decade printing vile lies about Liverpool fans in the aftermath of the horror of the Hillsborough disaster, still as disgusting a maggot infested sack of shit as this country’s newspaper industry has ever produced, & that’s up against some pretty stiff opposition. The relevance of this? Maybe not much at all, but if I had been given a Playstation as a boy I might never have known who people like Peter Noble were, never gone to Boothferry Park that night, perhaps never have been torn away from it long enough to even know that the HMS Sheffield had gone down until the following day. No man is an island. Rave on John Donne pt 2. Peter Noble, who famously took 28 penalties in his career & never missed one (eat that Messi & Hazard!) died in 2017. Dementia has also now established its hideous grip on some of his colleagues from their finest footballing hour 50 years ago. PFA chaiman & gutbucket Gordon Taylor really needs to step up to the plate given the growing number of ex players, often rugged defenders & strikers back in the day, who headed the ball constantly & have now been struck down with dementia. Football’s response (or rather lack of it) thus far has been a monumental disgrace.

Swindon are Angie’s team & Angie is the benchmark for what a proper football fan should be, loyal, devoted & clubbable (she has a sizeable core of friends she travels to, watches games & socialises with. The vagaries of team fortunes & club finances do not impact these tendencies one iota. I owe my seat next to her at the game to Malc, a big lad, but not as big as he looked on the pitch as his alter ego, on pitch matchday mascot Rockin’ Robin. Angie & I first talked football over a quarter of a century ago after our staff Christmas party had spilled over into the pub next door, as I became  aware that there was a rare interested ear cocked to  one of my regular, loud & tedious denunciations of the truly appalling former Chelsea player Dave Mitchell. The goal shy Australian had by then moved to Swindon, where he thrived, so Angie did not share my views. Swindon had a string of players who did well for them but failed to pull up any trees at Stamford Bridge, including the much maligned Alan Mayes (a County Ground legend) & fellow strikers Duncan Shearer & Sam Parkin. Roy Wegerle had a short loan spell there too before being sold to Luton for £75,000. Not long after he was a million pound player. True, Gareth Hall also played at the County Ground for a while but to every good rule there is an exception as my French teacher Mademoiselle Defay always used to say. Then again she always called me Vincent the mad old trout. Or should I say vieille truite folle?  CSE Grade 1 French  (1978) my friends. CSE Grade 1. A sort of O level for tramps. Angie soon revealed herself to be several leagues above the other football fans at work, myself included. On one dark January night in 1994 she sidled me up to at the bar (or home as it was known to me back then) & shamefacedly admitted that she had not made it to Swindon’s FA Cup 3rd Round replay defeat at Ipswich 2 days earlier.  She was entirely blameless, her promised lift had merely failed to materialise, but it was the first game she had missed in years. Gutted doesn’t cover it. On October 17, 1995, in the midst of another day of working tedium Angie waved a quick goodbye as she sped past our counter to watch Swindon in an Auto Windscreen Shield Southern Area 1st Round tie at Plainmoor, home of Torquay United. A 364 mile round journey. For an Auto Windscreen Shield Southern Area 1st Round tie. In midweek. The rest of us alleged club supporters should really have stolen a prevalent phrase in ’90’s popular culture, formed a circle around Angie & loudly & repeatedly chanted ‘We are not worthy’ though I doubt  other Waynes’s World catchphrases applied to the match itself, some grainy footage of which is supplied below. Party time?  Excellent? Not the appalling Torquay shot over the bar recorded below! I remember suggesting to her that developing an addiction to crack cocaine would probably prove less expensive & injurious to her mental (if not physical) welfare than following Swindon Town. Made no difference to Angie. Why would it? These days Angie does allow herself to duck the odd game & the EFL Trophy, the Auto Windscreen equivalent now, is understandably boycotted due to it being a plaything for bigger clubs to test their Academy staff against older, more physically developed opposition.

18 months earlier Swindon had been relegated after one season in the Premier League, manager Glenn Hoddle having been lured away by Chelsea chairman Ken Bates immediately after a thrilling 4-3 Wembley play off victory over Leicester had secured promotion in May 1993. The courting of Hoddle by Bates had been typically less than subtle  & less than helpful for Swindon’s preparation for this game. Having to start their one season in the Premier League without their influential player manager didn’t help much either. A few years earlier, in 1988, the ending of the reign of a previous Chelsea manager had moved ever closer after John Hollins saw his increasingly beleagured charges thumped out of sight 4-0 in a third round Simod Cup match at a muddy County Ground. The first time he had heard both sets of fans singing ‘Hollins Out’ the soon to be ex Chelsea boss ruefully admitted. Angie went to that game. I didn’t. In 1994, Angie was in the crowd of 11,180 watching an end of season game between Chelsea & Swindon at Stamford Bridge. I had spent the early part of that day at the ground queuing for FA Cup final tickets, & had to return back to Oxford for what was left of the working day, giving me no chance of travelling back for the match. It’s an excuse of sorts but in the same situation Angie would have found a  way to do both. Swindon were rock bottom of the table with a minus goal difference of 51 at the time, 53 by the end of the game despite £2.1 million flop Robert Fleck making a rare Chelsea appearance up front. Many would have found a reason not to go, but Angie is made of sterner stuff. One game we were both at was a ZDS cup tie at Chelsea in 1991 a cold evening with 5,712 fellow brave souls, though I still believe that when Vinnie Jones headed in a last minute winner at the Shed end that Angie & I may have been the only people left in the stadium, albeit at different ends. Stamford Bridge was an awfully big ground for such a sparse crowd back then. In 2015 I spent Easter on the coast at my mother’s & watched on television as Chelsea beat Stoke on the way to a fourth Premier League title in 10 years. I was 11 years into my self imposed Stambord Bridge exile by then. At the same time Angie  joining the 92 club made the Swindon Town programme. Given the plethora of new grounds & different clubs coming in & out of the league she has probably got nearer to 120 grounds visited now. She has followed the Swindon, over land & sea. And Leicester. (both Filbert Street & the Walkers Stadium no doubt). Her late father, who first took her to Swindon & accompanied her to matches for many years would be mightily proud. And rightly so. What memories are in there too. The Lou Macari years of the mid to late 1980’s, Wembley play offs, relegation rather than promotion for financial irregularities, seeing Dave Mitchell score a goal, entire weekends in Blackpool to tie in with the fixture at Bloomfield Road, & once being chatted up by the Seasider’s own legend, Wembley play off hero Brett Ormerod. I can’t begin to compete with the sheer volume of varying football based experiences Angie has enjoyed watching Swindon, many of which I envy, though not, in fairness, the Brett Ormerod incident. Sorry Brett you’re just not my type. Nor Angie’s as  it turned out!

Opposites attract. Another two word beacon of semantic banality & rarely is this cliche true. A flipside of like minds repel works better for most football fans. The majority of most followers of the beautiful game spend large chunks of their time vehemantly disliking supporters of opposing teams & expressing that dislike in the strongest of terms. Ironically this is triggered by universal & identical tuning forks regardless of which team you back. The illogical refusal to allow opposing fans to make the same criticisms of your club that you frequently express yourself.  The week to week victory to defeat wavering from believing you support the best club in the world to having been cursed in pursuing a lifelong relationship with a gutless, spineless, pampered, overpaid ragbag of disinterested mercenaries, overseen by greedy, egotistical, uncaring owners. The universal conviction that referees discriminate against your boys more than any others, rather than the simpler, more accurate conclusion that their ranks are apparently terminally riddled with gross incompetence. One minute we’ll support you evermore, the next preparing to hurl your season ticket at the nearest steward. If you are an Oxford United fan then Swindon fans are vile, inbred scumbags with little or no right to walk this earth. Swindon fans feel similarly towards Oxford. This is hilarious when you stand outside the bubble of rivalry. I can happily recount that if blindfolded when listening in to a group of supporters from either side venting their spleens that the anecdotes & conclusions each have & draw about the other are almost indivisible, & bleeping out the names of players, teams & grounds involved in the conversation would make which of the two clubs are their own almost impossible to decipher. This pattern could be repeated around the football world from Burnley to Buenos Aires, with similar results. Indulging in a wholesale painting of opposing teams & their fans with the scum brush is, of course, illogical, mad &  plain wrong. Unless it’s Chelsea fans ripping anything or anyone Spurs a new one of course, which will for eternity be both perfectly acceptable & enormous fun.  Why? Because I say so.

There is often a certain schizophrenia which dilutes all this apparently pure hatred though. Friendships are formed between supporters of rival clubs in a milder form of Alf Garnett style racists befriending the black person at work or next door. You know the sort. ‘He’s alright it’s the rest of them I can’t stand’.

Angie depises Oxford United more than anyone, but being a thoroughly nice, balanced human being she can’t carry it through beyond a certain point. Annette, her close friend & colleague from the days when we all worked for Blackwell’s bookshop in Oxford, has a season ticket at the Kassam Stadium, seated near a collection of fellow former colleagues from those days, none of them ever dealt with in a vitriolic way by quite possibly the truest football fan I have ever met. When I first met Angie she was actually married to an Oxford fan. It didn’t last, but the fact that they married in the first place betrayed an ability to compartmentalize her loathing for the boys from up the hill, as Oxford were sometimes called back in the day when they played in Headington. Somebody once told me that the wedding cake had been iced one half in red, the other in yellow, as a nod to their different teams, but I don’t believe Angie has ever confirmed this to me. Never mind, it’s a nice image, & harmless if untrue. Print the legend!

None of this denies a genuine aversion to Oxford United on her part though, not diminished one iota by the dismal Joey Beauchamp saga of the mid 1990’s. Beauchamp was a very talented footballer indeed, a winger who was quick & skilful, blessed with good dribbling  & crossing abilities allied to a happy knack of scoring goals, often long range & spectacular. I first saw him play as a 17 year old in a reserve game against Chelsea, a game I attended beacause my then favourite player Micky Hazard (also a Swindon player a few seasons later) was playing. A frustrated & disgruntled Hazard was sent off for an awful & uncharacteristic foul, soon to be followed to the dressing room by team mate Colin West, but Beauchamp played well & was clearly already a darling of the reserve set within the Manor Ground faithful, admittedly as weird a bunch as you are ever likely to share football ground space with. His conduct during his brief stay at West Ham may have seen him derided as a wimp by former Hammers boss Billy Bonds & pathetic by almost teammate Tony Cottee (who rejoined West Ham shortly after Beauchamp’s miserable 58 day stay had ended) but on the pitch he had shown the cojones to continually make a monkey out of another Irons legend, the fearsome Julian Dicks, in a game a year or so before his £1.2 million pound transfer to Upton Park in the summer of 1994. The desire to sign him was probably inspired that evening so comprehensively was Dicks embarrassed, a feat equalled a few years later at Stamford Bridge when Gianfranco Zola twisted the old bruiser’s blood in the most humiliating fashion when scoring the opening goal. Beauchamp got Man Of The Match by the sponsors, a well known publisher, which I remember only because I was one of their guests & got a vote, plumping unsuccessfully for midfielder Les Phillips.

Beauchamp has recently given an interview to Sky, offering a wheedling & somewhat unconvincing version of his 1994 transfer to West Ham, claiming that he was guaranteed he could travel from Oxford for training each day, did not know how much travel that involved as the negotiations took place at Heathrow, only 45 minutes drive away from Oxford, & that he simultaneously did not want to leave Oxford but did want to play for West Ham. He also cited having suffered from depression twice in his life, but did not clarify that this era was the scene of either of these  (we do know that drink & a gambling addiction contributed to one breakdown years after he retired). The progression in support networks for modern players compared to 1994 was also mentioned, & the fact that he had been made very aware that Oxford United were in dire need of the money. In short the failure of the move & the ensuing debacle of a flag of convenience transfer to Swindon was everyone’s fault rather than his. I do not downplay the effects depression can have on a person’s life, having had to walk away from a job because of it myself, but the interview offered a few pointers towards an arrogance & sense of entitlement possibly not untypical within the football world. Firstly, by 1994 the Premier League was in full swing. If not the bloated cash cow it is now, a player with the potential to become an international footballer moving into the big league from the Championship in a seven figure transfer would not have been short of offers from agents who could have clarified the terms of his contract, including daily travel arrangements. Secondly, it is safe to assume that Beauchamp received handsome salaries at West Ham & Swindon, & having not requested a transfer from Oxford would have also taken a nice slice of that fee too. Rumour had it that before signing for Swindon he asked West Ham to pay the loyalty bonus included in his contract, after 58 days & no competitive appearances. A decade & a half earlier another gifted local born Oxford player, Kevin Brock, rejected a move to Brighton just as he was due to put pen to paper. Still a teenager, unlike Beauchamp, 23 but already a seasoned professional by the time the West Ham move surfaced, Brock had enough presence of mind & strength of character to stand  his ground in a room surrounded by angry & desperate men. These included Brighton boss Alan Mullery, a fiery character at the best of times, & Jim Hunt, secretary of a financially imperilled Oxford, who despairingly told me & a collection of other people this story a few days after it happened. Brock stayed at Oxford until his mid 20’s before moving on to QPR having both won Division 2 & the Milk Cup,   growning up a bit in the process. Fair play. Are we really to believe that Beauchamp had not considered the journey from Oxford to London? If not, then stupidity is his only bargaining plea, it is a common one for many in Oxford. Scores of people travel to London & back there for work every day, some of them struggling with stress, anxiety & depression, most working 8 hours a day or more rather than a couple of hours training to do the thing they love. Beauchamp could have commuted & still have been home long before any of them most days, but was still in tears on one of his early appearances at the West Ham training according to Harry Redknapp, who took over as manager from Billy Bonds at this time, Beauchamp’s attitude cited by some as a contributory factor in the latter’s disillusionment. Joey never kicked a ball in anger in a meaningful match for West Ham, but he did play in a pre-season friendly at Oxford City, conveniently close to home (he arrived separately from his colleagues) & distinguished by Harry Redknapp inviting  a courier from Milton Keynes called Steve Davies out of the crowd after hearing him loudly barrack Hammers’ striker Lee Chapman. A 30 a day smoker with a few beers already on board, Davies took Redknapp up on the offer & proceeded to score a second half goal, which remains one more goal in the claret & blue than Mr Beauchamp ever mustered. He was deemed to have shown little or no commitment during the game, & the Hammers cut their losses a month later, selling him to Swindon in a deal valued at £800,00 with centre half Adrian Whitbread moving to Upton Park as the makeweight in the deal. Now everyone was pissed off. West Ham had lost both money & face given their feeble rejection from a player seemingly with the world at his feet. Oxford fans were livid that he had ended up at their most hated rivals, though  subsequent alleged death threats & harrassment of family members were  clearly disgusting. Swindon ended up with a player who continued to appear lethargic & unhappy, having also seen a valued defender sacrificed in the process of acquirng him. Joey  was correctly perceived by Town fans as an Oxford man to the core &  the clearly underwhelmed Robins manager Steve McMahon, an old school hard man as a player in his ’80’s Liverpool pomp, was happy to see him sold back to Oxford for litle more than two bob & a pickled egg 39 appearances, 3 goals & little more than a year later. The next time Swindon visited the Manor Ground the misery of a 3-0 defeat was compounded by  Beauchamp scoring the final goal at the Cuckoo Lane end directly in front of the away supporters. He played another seven years for Oxford before injury curtailed his career prematurely, showing  frequent flashes of his old brilliance in the process.

In truth, I wouldn’t like Joey much if I were a West Ham or Swindon fan. In truth, despite admiring his football ability, I don’t like him anyway. After he retired I would frequently see him in my local Ladbrokes or William Hills when placing my weekly £10 accumulator. Beauchamp would be sliding a bundle of neatly banded notes on to the counter from his back pocket to place on the next race at the dogs, usually revealing an identical bundle of banded notes sat behind it ready for the following race. He was then a professional gambler, an enviable existence on the surface, approaching his ’40’s having never had a proper day of working drudgery in his life. Good luck to him I thought, though it did occur to me that maybe helping coach the kids at Oxford might have been a constructive idea if time hung so heavy on your hands that you could seemingly live in the bookies. Ultimately, the wheels came off, depression & heavy drinking apparently fuelling a breakdown. Oxford belatedly gave him a jont testimonial with Dave Langan, & in his early ’40’s he did join the ranks of the workers for the first time. I know because instead of standing in front of me in the queue at the bookies it was him who served me. This seemed a bit like a crackhead getting a job as a drug dealer & when  I say he served me, it is more accurate to say he took my bet. Having worked in customer service roles for years I can confirm that it is difficult to conclude any transaction with even the most objectionable customer (I like to think I’m not one of these) without saying as much as a please or thank you very much in the process. Traditionally, Ladbrokes staff  usually say ‘good luck mate’ when handing you your betting slip. Not our Joey, mute throughout, as dim, dismissive & arrogant as anyone who has ever served me anywhere. I have never betted in Ladbrokes since & my response all these years later when recalling the incident is identical to any West Ham or Swindon fan of my vintage recalling his career. Fuck off Beauchamp. As stated previously, on Sky last month, tongue now miraculously restored, he claimed both to have not wanted to leave Oxford but be nonetheless keen to play in the Premier League with West Ham & further his international ambitions. On joining Swindon he said that a move there had always interested him (they originally bid for him at the same time as West Ham)  & wished he had gone there from the start. Long after retiring, In 2010, he was quoted in another newspaper as saying he had not wanted to go to either West Ham or Swindon!  He does get awfully confused doesn’t he? I believe he managed to accept all the cash that came his way & bought him the house in Oxford that doubtless enabled his booze & gambling fuelled lifestyle for many years. To repeat, depression is a terrible, frequently indiscrimanate illness & Beauchamp was but a callow youth back then, but sympathy outside of the ranks of the Oxford United faithful, where he presumably (& justly) remains a hero, wears rather thin for this seemingly still rather deluded & self pitying individual.

Lots of retired footballers get stuck in a web of depression, often with drink & gambling as contributory factors. It is a short career &  filling the void when the roar of the crowd subsides must be tough. Like an ageing, once beautiful woman, walking into a room & not immediately turning heads for the first time, they have to adapt to navigating their way through the rest of their life coming to terms with no longer being an effortlessly acquired focus of public attention. For all the money & adulation many footballers get I sometimes think that supporters like Angie & her mates get the best deal in the end. Over the years they may  get fleeced  by their club, have their opinions ignored, be treated with contempt by some of its playing staff, get sold out to the television companies by the football authorities & mishandled by stewards & police. However, they form bulletproof friendships in the process, taking time off work to travel the length & breadth of the country backing their team, forging bonds that have nothing to do with earning money or furthering professional ambitions, in the process achieving a genuine togetherness that endures.

After the Plymouth game we return to the pub. As Angie had tried to warn me the Arkells I am drinking is indeed suspect. It might be a long trek home. I can’t drink for shit these days as it is. Rockin’ Robin (Malc) announces that a Plymouth fan has just snarled ‘fucking four eyes’ at him coming out of the ground. Clearly we may have to extend our search for the country’s next comic God beyond the south coast of Devon. The Plymouth fans have generally been decent though, they always travelled well in my experience, right back to the 1970’s when they had Paul Mariner & Billy Rafferty up front, before Mariner went on to play  for England & bequeathed Chris Waddell his mullet. There had been an old school atmosphere on arriving at the first pub before kick off, with Plymouth fans stood rather ominously on the other side of the road & a healthy smattering of Old Bill present to oversee any potential action. As far as I can tell nothing had really happened though, & the atmosphere at the game had certainly been an improvement on the deadly combination of entitled elders & box ticking tourists that frequently make Stamford Bridge feel like a pre-match minute’s silence has been extended to 45. As the Plymouth team coach starts the long journey home another of Angie’s mates runs out into the middle of the street, bends over, drops his trousers & moons its occupants . I would never dare do that. With my dodgy back & increasingly massive arse I might never get back up & end up being mistaken for another of Swindon’s many roundabouts. Malc insists I must be rich as a Chelsea fan, not understanding that supporting Chelsea has been one of many factors ensuring that I will never be rich. It would be tempting to point out that I walk the 6 mile return journey from Victoria to Stamford Bridge every home match, unlike Angie & pals catching a taxi between boozers as they had done earlier. Flash gits! Malc also tells me that I  came to watch some proper football for a change, as if a season of Eden Hazard last year had been some kind of hardship. I am happy to take a back seat & understand my place. I am a Chelsea supporting ponce from Oxford. I go to Stamford Bridge on my own these days so it is nice to stand in a pub & witness the natural camaraderie. There is a lot to be said for suporting your local team, but my blue plaque tourist walk to the ground & escape from my home town is a massive part of my matchday ritual, & Chelsea grabbed me in its greedy Child Catcher from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang like paws when I was 7. I had no real say in the matter, & no apologies will be forthcoming at this late stage. Angie is actually travelling to Oxford later for a night out. Malc is considering going too, but is clad in clothing extensively advertising his allegiance to Swindon Town. I suggest he goes the whole hog & travels to Oxford in his Rockin’ Robin outfit. This is understandably ignored. He is convinced that gloating Oxford United fans will be flocking into town that night still wearing their scarves & team shirts, celebrating their own team’s 3-0 win over Doncaster Rovers. Those days are gone in Oxford. Malc also has memories of being on a Swindon supporter’s coach that broke down in Blackbird Leys, a notorious housing estate close both to The Kassam Stadium & my own home. It has to be said, there are better places for a Swindon supporter’s coach to break down. Eventually alternative clothing is found & I decide to travel back to Oxford with them on a bus. They are good company. Malc does other things bar dressing up as a 7 foot tall robin, which includes being a proud father. The trip home includes some nostalgic YouTube viewing of Swindon’s finest Premier League performance, a 2-2 draw with Man Utd, that season’s Double winners. Malc & Angie add some lively accompanying commentary that annoys a man in a shabby looking Man Utd shirt, who pointedly gets up & moves to the other end of the bus, fixing us with a series of angry looking stares over his shoulder as he does so. They are passionate these bus dwelling, badly dressed 60+ Man Utd fans from Swindon. At least the reliving of Cantona’s despicable stamp on John Moncur, Mark Hughes exchanging blows with the Swindon crowd & Luc Nijholt’s wickedly deflected shot flying into the Man Utd goal distracts me from the absence of a toilet to relieve my bladder, reeling from the combined effects of old age & dodgy Arkells & from Faringdon onwards screaming  ‘why didn’t you get the fucking train back too you stupid old twat?!’ at its hapless owner. Angie & Malc kindly offer me the chance to join them on their evening out, unaware of the war I am waging against a first  brush with public incontinence. I politely decline. When splashdown at Oxford occurs (not literally I am relieved to report) they go their way & I go mine. Their matchday ritual is very different to mine but in our differing ways we love our teams, & football itself. The day has been spent in the company of good people, Strictly Come Dancing has been avoided & William Hill have failed to profit from my ignorance of the footballing merits of Andorra or Lithuania. I have also managed not to piss my pants on a bus.

Result.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

White Trash

WSL September 8, 2019

Chelsea 1 Spurs 0

Who put the ball in the Tottenham net? Beth England celebrates her stunning strike.

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 passions are not fuelled by past triumphs & disappointments, then lit up by decades of terrace tribalism & the subsequent pub goadings from friends, & 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 man 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 the presence Of Fran Kirby & Ramona Bachman, stars in the 2018 FA Cup win over Arsenal, which was 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 presence of 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 usually predominantly 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. 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 though the club website doesn’t mentioned this once in the piece trumpeting his appearance today . It strikes me that I am too old to appreciate Marvin’s presence & the kids around me are 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 sadly all too typical 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 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 hate her (& I suspect 90 seconds in the same room would be 89 too much for many of us) she 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 Manchester United rather than a female Chelsea player gives a person 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, some 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. 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. Don’t buy The Sun. 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 is resumed‘ & 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’ll thcweam 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 idiots 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. Yid Army! Yid Army! Yid Army! they bellowed, doubtless congratulating themselves on the glorious irony of baiting Chelsea fans (who I genuinely did not hear use the word yid 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. Yids Yids Yids. Were they all Jewish? No. Are more than a small percentage Jewish? Highly unlikely. They are all cunts 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 bought 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 for you? 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. Yid Army! Yid Army! Yid 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 nigger 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 yid by their non-Jewish supporters is not reclamation but racism. Plain, naked, unvarnished racism. I am angry with everyone where the yid/yiddo 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 Gas A Yiddo, 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 yid/yiddo 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 upbriging 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 yid & yiddo ‘using it as a badge of honour and as a call to arms.’ 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 then attempted to justify it by saying ‘they sing it themselves so nobody can stop me from fucking singing it.’ He is a dick but sadly he has 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 Yid

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 elsewhere in Europe & it sounds like these matches still 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. Classy Danny boy, classy, and who was promptly appointed in his place? Juande Ramos. Fancy that. Abramovich has also treated coaches shoddily, especially Claudio Ranieri & Carlo Ancelotti, but never so publicly & sadistically than Levy on this occasion. I liked Jol & remember him as a player at WBA. This may well have been the last time I felt any empathy for anyone connected to Spurs. 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 Yid Army! at prepubescent children during a woman’s football match is celebratory & a ‘call to 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 yiddo 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 braindead 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.

 

Bury Bad News

Kenny – the sad, bewildered but quietly dignified face & voice of the traditional fan facing the loss of his football club after 70 years of loving, loyal support. Sorry, did I say football club? I meant commercial entity.

Sat Aug 17, 2019 Bury FC Did Not Play

Sun Aug 18, 2019 – Chelsea 1, Leicester City 1

Tue Aug 27, 2019 Bury FC Expelled from EFL

“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 worringly 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 does 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 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 another four letter word beginning with c. 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 Chelsea Together 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 going to football following the same team in the Football Leagues but I have seen an awful lot of foootball 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 have watched Isthmian League football at Oxford City 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. And Leicester. Like Kenny I have paid my dues & possibly deserve to both have my say & see it treated with something other than 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 have an intelligent conversation. 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 derision & ignorance 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 & defensive 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 clubs 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 increasingly odd 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 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 why Bury let a rogue like current owner Steve Dale through the door. Financial desperation. 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 the 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 you were responsible for promoting was that touch my bum, this is life abomination but I think Kenny should continue the honourable music industry tradition of the answer song & record his own single. 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.

Upwards & onwards.

 

 

 

Adios Amigo

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.

April 8, 2019 – This as close as most West Ham players got to Hazard all night. Majestic doesn’t cover it. The Hammers Goon Squad in the background had given up abusing him by this point. Muted by genius.

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 5, 2019 – following the last Premier League game of the season younger members of Clan Hazad become the smallest forward line to appear at Stamford Bridge since the iconic ’90’s trio Stein, Spencer & Peacock. Sign them up. Now!

EH17

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.

 

 

Buon Natale!

zolaxmas

It actually did feel like Christmas everyday between 1996-2003 having Gianfranco Zola light up Stamford Bridge on a regular basis. Now back at Chelsea as part of Sarri’s coaching team. Legend.

I Remember, I Remember

March 5, 1988 Coventry City 3 Chelsea 3

I watch him as he runs past on the other side of the road, a river of fresh blood coating large areas of his face, his clearly traumatized body, especially the hands, shaking like a leaf. He is making a distressed wailing noise & this, combined with the way he is moving, reminds me of a child that has just fallen over in a playground & hurt themselves, looking for a parent’s consoling presence. In seconds he has passed me. I glance back at him momentarily, then do what many thousands of fellow football fans, the clubs they support,the authorities governing football & our esteemed politicians have largely been doing for the previous twenty years.

I look away & keep moving in the opposite direction.

1988 marked twenty years since I had attended my first football match. Back then crowd trouble was quickly identifiable as endemic, & my six-year-old self would stand by the corner flag adjoining the London & Osler Road ends at Oxford United’s Manor Ground, watching with my dad as fights broke out week in week out behind the London Road goal before kick off. Every time the same police officer would walk past us having arrested a culprit, right arm twisted behind their back with a malicious, sadistic, twisted sneer all over his face. Truly a man who loved his work. God knows what happened once he got them in the Black Maria. Another formative memory is entering the ground as a row of skinheads, decked out in regulation Brutus shirts, sta press trousers & Crombies, stood bare footed next to their 8 eye Doctor Martens, forced to remove the laces & minimize the damage they could inflict once through the turnstiles. Goalkeepers at league grounds would be greeted with a lavish  bombardment of toilet rolls at the beginning of most games, their first task being to clear it all away from the goalmouth prior to kick off, sometimes resembling prototypes for the puppy in the future Andrex adverts in the process. That bog roll got everywhere. While the tabloids raged & sociologists pontificated endlessly, there was always an awareness that many tutting onlookers gained a vicarious, voyeuristic thrill  from the widespread spectacle of young men kicking the crap out of each other. When Chelsea lost to 3rd Division Crystal Palace in the FA Cup in 1976, the taunting at school was muted due to the decision of Match Of The Day producers to show action replays of the Kung Fu kick meted out by one fan as rucks broke out. Jimmy Hill shook his head mournfully but they still showed it, my admittedly shaky memory tells me  in slow motion, for the nation’s delectation. Boys being boys all his backdrop to the main business of the game itself crept into our hitherto innocent football inner psyches. You could be pushed down any staircase at school with the cry ‘Anfield Kop! accompanying the shove in the back. Break time matches on the school field might be interrupted by pitch invasions from lads excluded from the action. Subbuteo table football  games were regularly disrupted by (usually) playful fights when a goal went in, which in my case was often. I was hopeless at Subbuteo. One lad at school even prepared for the iconic flick to kick game by carefully rolling up small pieces of toilet roll to throw on the hallowed green cloth prior to kick off!

By 1988 the joke, to quote one Steven Patrick Morrissey, the arch miserabilist of the decade, wasn’t funny anymore. People were dying at football matches. Crowd behaviour, combined with the more normal greed & incompetence of football clubs & the authorities governing them, had been a major contributory factor to the grotesque events at Heysel in 1985. Hillsborough was little more than a year away, an awful culmination of decades of neglect & contempt for proper crowd safety at football grounds across the country.  The popular opinion for decades was that if fans wanted to behave like animals they could be treated like animals, empowering the arrogant disregard most clubs had for their own supporters, most of whom did not behave like animals. In truth I can’t think of any animals that deserved to be treated like football fans were in the 70’s & ’80’s. Ken Bates had tried to install electric fences at Chelsea akin to those he used to rein in cattle on his farm. Many more owners & directors, tut-tutting at the worst fan excesses of their fans contented themselves with shutting the boardroom door & opening another bottle of 1953 Chateau Margaux. Leaving the crumbling terraces, wooden stands & inadequate entrance & exit points to another day. The all-encompassing obsession with keeping fans off the pitch was a major contributory factor to Hillsborough.

As I started writing this, more than 30 years after one of the grimmest days in my football watching life, random memories came to mind that revealed how strangely the human brain computes the unpalatable. There is one defining image locked in my head, that of the whimpering, blood soaked victim of a callous, cowardly & apparently unprovoked attack, but denial seems to push forward much more trivial snapshots of a game that defines an era of football that was reeling from recent disaster & disgrace, & unwittingly on the brink of its biggest, the seismic scandal of Hillsborough 13 months later. These recollections include a young Chelsea couple taking a pre-match photo of midfielder Micky Hazard cradling their baby in his arms. Imagine being that baby, in its fourth decade now, &, presuming the Chelsea gene transmitted successfully, one of the lucky ones, nine years old when the club’s major trophy drought ended in 1997, & indulged with on pitch glory ever since with an intensity unimaginable to those proud parents at Highfield Road that day. For no reason at all the memory of American teen sensation Debbie Gibson’s Only In My Dreams  crackling through the inadequate speaker system at our end of the ground stays with me. I also recall shouting shut up at someone behind me making monkey noises at Coventry winger Dave Bennett, a rare overt expression of my growing despair at spending my football watching existence alongside too many (a minority, but any is too many, & there were more than a few) who saw matchdays as an opportunity for neanderthal expressions of racial hatred. A slightly more humorous form of xenophobia was reserved for Scotland & former Chelsea striker David Speedie. The players entered the pitch via the corner of the ground we were inhabiting, & Speedie’s arrival for the warm up  was greeted with an outpouring of love & affection from the Chelsea faithful. He was cheered with equal enthusiasm when returning to the dressing room prior to kick off. It was different when the game began. On his first venture towards the Chelsea enclosure he was greeted by a chorus of impressively loud pantomine booing & someone bellowed out Fuck off Speedie you sweaty sock!! as loud as their lungs would allow. All bantz though, as I believe the young people have it today. He scored a first half goal for Coventry, invoking the inevitable, immutable law of the ex that plagues Chelsea to this day, but still returned to a further round of applause from the followers of his former club as he made his way off at half time.

It would nice to dwell longer on the football, Chelsea untypically taking a two goal lead then entirely typically lousing it up & clinging to a draw by the end of the game. The first goal of the game was a sublime Pat Nevin volley, the last a searing drive off the crossbar by young Coventry substitute David Smith, who tore the Chelsea defence new ones throughout the second half & rarely seemed to show similar signs of sustained brilliance throughout the rest of his career. In goal for Chelsea was Perry Digweed, making the first of three appearances on loan from Brighton. Chelsea were unbeaten during these three games. Sadly they also failed to win any of them. Two weeks later a three goal first half lead would be squandered at Oxford. A United fan in front of me stalked out in disgust after half an hour. I could have warned him this was folly. Chelsea were hanging on for a point at 4-4 little more than an hour later. In between these two games Perry kept a clean sheet at home to Everton courtesy of him saving a fierce point blank volley from the excellent Graham Sharp. With his face. It would get worse for him when he returned to Brighton & incurred a severe genital injury courtesy of the studs of West Brom forward John Paskin. YouTube footage exists for those of a grisly persuasion. Happily he recovered & later had a bit part in  ‘The Mean Machine,’ though as this cinematic treasure boasted Vinnie Jones as its star Perry appears to have remained a glutton for punishment.

I have no beef with Coventry either as a city or a  football club, but never seemed to be lucky when going there. Michelin stars may not adorn the walls of Pizza Hut but I managed to dine there safely on all occasions bar one when I was violently sick shortly afterwards. Step forward Pizza Hut in Coventry. A late ’70’s school trip to see a production of Shakespeare’s Henry IV Part One set the tone for future off beat visits. There appeared  to be an air of depression around the place, soon to be alleviated somewhat by the emergence of The Specials, paradoxically raising spirits via  brilliant songs highlighting the gloom. The Shakespeare play was performed by a troupe kitted out in contemporary clothing, though it was not clear whether this was due to a trendy alternative approach to presenting the works of the bard or finanacial constraints. Henry IV was played by a man in a brown leather coat, with Falstaff decked out in ill fitting, saggy tracksuit bottoms. These barely concealed the actor’s ample & doubtless hirsute behind, his arse almost literally hanging out of his trousers. After the play ended, the actors filed back for a Q&A session. I recognised one of the actors, already some years into a lengthy film & television career,  including appearances in The Great Escape &The Avengers, with  Dr Who & Emmerdale among dozens of future credits waiting in the wings. Unfairly but inevitably his performances on a long running advertising campaign for the furniture warehouse company DFS’s ceaseless sale promotions linger longest in my memory with his ‘but remember, all offers end at midnight on Sunday’ sign off, prompting the inevitable & accurate rejoinder by my father, sat in his non DFS armchair, ‘before starting again on Monday morning at one minute past midnight.’ On being asked how he responded to critical appraisals of theatrical productions, the somewhat haughty reply was that it depended on who the critic was. If it was Levin ‘one’ took notice, but a hack from the local rag could be comfortably disregarded. Get you Sir Larry. A few years earlier I had been to a celebrity cricket match at Blenheim Palace, where our esteemed thespian had starred alongside Tim Brooke-Taylor of The Goodies, one of the cast of Please Sir, Bob Todd from The Benny Hill Show & a Womble. God alone knows what Bernard Levin would have made of that. Levin was  one of those suffocatingly self absorbed bores who clogged up the media in my youth, forever impressing his superior intellect on the hoi polloi. One dismissive theatre review did him no favours when he was punched mid-monologue on That Was The Week That Was by the husband of an  actress whose performance he had belittled. Our esteemed Coventry thespian eventually passed the  DFS gig on to Michael Aspel, & later moved on to assisting the flogging of  Stannah stairlifts. Sadly he was  denied a suitably lofty critical appraisal of these stellar performances, Mr Levin having sadly lapsed into early onset dementia before shuffling up the non Stannah stairway to Heaven in 2004, the fate of both men a cautionary warning to all of us against taking ourselves too seriously. Levin is actually buried next door to Stamford Bridge in Brompton Cemetry but I rather doubt he ever helped repel a West Ham takeover of The Shed while alive. Shame really as he was evidently no stranger to a bit of biffo.

One man who didn’t seem to take himself too seriously, off the pitch anyway, was the home team’s captain & centre half Brian ‘Killer’ Kilcline, on the scoresheet against Chelsea for the second season running, having fired home a penalty in the corresponding fixture the season before, which I had also attended.  Another in an impressive roll call of ’80’s football characters featuring at Highfield Road (Speedie, long serving keeper Steve Ogrizovic, full back  & future copper Greg Downs & the late, great Cyrille Regis) Kilcline was a decent centre half, &  had captained Coventry to their splendid win over Spurs in the previous year’s FA Cup Final. He was also a fully blown, bona fide eccentric, his muscular presence & blonde frizzy mane a familiar sight throughout this era. If reality tv hero Dog The Bounty Hunter had been an 80’s footballer he would have been Brian Kilcline. I think it was during his time at Newcastle that Kilcline took to wearing bootlace ties & pointy cowboy boots to express an undoubted taste for the flamboyant. Was there some stetson wearing too? I fear there may have been. As ever, one man’s cult hero (he was adored on Tyneside) is another’s bit of a twat. Not that many would have said that to Kilcline’s face. He was hard. Witness Eric Cantona pipe down pretty sharpish after Killer moves to confront him during  the Swindon – Man Utd game at the County Ground in the 1993-4 season, the Gallic hero having hitherto thought himself terribly brave & clever to have stamped on Swindon midfielder John Moncur as he lay prone on the ground. Funny how that contrary old hypocrite Sir Alex Ferguson saw fit to lay into Dennis Wise so much in his autobiography, having labelled him as a man who could start an argument in an empty room years earlier, conveniently ignoring the unsavory antics of both Cantona & the borderline psychotic Roy Keane as he said it. Perhaps all that rain they get up there addled the old boy’s formidable brain in his latter years. Maybe it was red wine. Kilcline was living on a canal boat during his Swindon days, entertaining team mate Andy Mutch there for games of chess. Not your average Premier League player’s standard existence even in those formative years. I reacquainted myself with Kilcline’s otherworldliness in an abortive attempt to find the 6 goals from this 1988 game. What I found instead was 2009 footage of Kilcline, top knot & wizard’s beard to the fore, in a darkened room, with what appears to be a startled looking golliwog next to him on the sofa. Having his back waxed by his better half. I was relieved that views in the preceding decade were still  below four figures, slightly abashed that they had now increased by one. Another 4 minutes 18 seconds of my life needlessly squandered. Mercifully, if a sack & crack section of this cinematic masterpiece exists it presumably resides within the murky confines of the  Dark Net. Long may it remain there.

 

The year before I had spent most of the afternoon dodging low flying celery, housed at the side of the pitch in a seated stand. Former Coventry chairman, the aforementioned Jimmy Hill, had fought hard but ultimately in vain to establish  Highfield Road to an all seater stadium years before the Taylor Inquiry & the inception of the Premier League. Chelsea fans had recently begun to deflect from the on pitch agony of a woeful Blues display by inflicting real physical pain on each other, plentiful suplies of the recently adopted fibrous stalks emerging out of paper brown grocers’ bags & being hurled around forcefully. I’m here to tell you now that the stuff kills, but throwing celery around & singing nursery rhyme Ten Men Went To Mow were two of the less malevolent diversions from continued on pitch mediocrity. On my way throught the turnstiles I had been searched by a policeman, who, on finding a Clubcall card in my wallet accused me of being a Chelsea Headhunter, famed for reputedly leaving their calling cards on the torsos of injured victims. I enclose a scan of the aforementioned card in my possesion for general perusal, with the gentlest suggestion that my uniformed interrogator was possibly not the sharpest tool in the Coventry plod box. He was definitely a tool though.

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The Headhunters were mythical beings to me, & my jobless status in the mid ’80’s meant I had also missed the inception of the ultimately dubious Chelsea-Glasgow Rangers fan alliance. It had kicked off outside Highfield Road in 1987 as well, scruffy skirmishes rather than mass brawling, but enough to ensure a large police presence on arriving back at Coventry station. I decided to while away an hour or two, scouring the nearby streets for entertaining diversions while  the menace subsided. They proved elusive as night descended & the good people of Coventry drew their curtains in preparation for Casualty & Blind Date. Rare is the surrounding area of any English railway station that gets mistaken for one of the fun capitals of Europe. A dreary hour having subsided, there were still a few Chelsea fans on the platform when I returned to Coventry Station, & a welcome reminder that it wasn’t all feral malice between rival fans, via an amiable exchange with a group of Swansea fans, reliving the days of the early ’80’s when their boys had trounced a hapless, Bobby Gould led Chelsea team 3-0 at Vetch Field. Swansea had gone from top division highs to impoverished 92nd in the league lows in just a few short years since then. The conversation was a welcome diversion as icy, lonesome evening vigils at Coventry Station were something of a regular ritual for me, usually following weekend visits to fellow ex Hull university graduates in nearby Rugby. There is a plaque there now commemorating a famous son of Coventry, the late poet Philip Larkin, the librarian at Hull University during my time there. Odd really, because Larkin was sniffy about Coventry, famously describing his childhood there as ‘unspent.’ It sounds less unspent than unpleasant, as his father, the city treasurer in the 1930’s, was a Nazi sympathiser & attended at least two Nurenberg rallies in the 1930’s. They really did fuck him up his mum & dad. Larkin lived in Hull for many years prior to his death in 1985, though never betrayed any great love for that place either, & certainly not its students, communication with the latter largely restricted to shushing people in the Brynmmor Jones Library or getting them removed from the Staff bar on campus. Neither fate befell me, I liked his poetry but the sizeable, stuffy looking man in outdated  1950’s suits & shiny black shoes who occasionally passed me on campus wasn’t the approachable type. Matters weren’t assisted when he was forced away from his booze & porn  to vist the library late in the evening after the students had occupied it in  a protest against a supplementary facilities fee imposed by the university the previous year. I subsequently failed to pay mine, treating myself to a pair of Doc Martens boots with the money instead. I still have them, & along with the box of my beloved Four Tops Super Hits cassette (the tape itself perished in my  player around the time of my Finals) & a coffee cup given to me by Vicky, my best friend  at university, they form one of a paltry collection of physical reminders I have of my time in Hull. Larkin was interviewed about the student library occupation, & unsurprisingly was less than impressed when asked if he empathised with the students. ‘Empathise? Of course I don’t empathise’ barked the grouchy old racist. I did once see him entering a nearby off license carrying a shopping bag  impressively laden with a vast array of his & alcoholic partner Monica Jones’ empties. From a distance he came across as a pompous, reactionary old bore but with the passing of time I have come to view him more tolerantly. Let’s see, a socially inept man called Philip in his late ’50’s, wearing outdated clothes, uncomfortable in both his own skin &  circumstances of the world around him, a history of drinking too much & an intrisic hatred of students. Empathise? Of course I empathise. Now if not then.

I never managed to write a poem about Coventry, only make a belated attempt to appease my troubled conscience in the aftermath of the brutal assault I had caught the tail end of after the 1988 match. It would be convenient for me to claim a guilt ridden, sleepless night after making my way home that day, but all I remember is phoning Chelsea Clubcall & listening to Micky Hazard, in what sounded like a farewell speech, reassuring us that Chelsea had no chance of being relegated. In fact, Micky & Kerry Dixon’s proposed transfers to QPR & one of Arsenal or West Ham were cancelled by Ken Bates & manager John Hollins walked the plank instead before the month was out. Sadly not before time, & sadly not enough to prevent the relegation through the play offs that Mr Hazard had confidently dismissed in his interview with Neil Barnett. I adored Micky Hazard, so was glad we got to keep him a while longer & hopefully it provided proud new Chelsea loving parents a few more baby cradling photo opportunities before he eventually decamped to Portsmouth in 1990.

It was only on returning home from work two days after the match that my strong instinct for denial was nutted by reality, as I walked into the house to a news item featuring a still photo of a man with a face riddled with dozens of stitches, life changing wounds by anyone’s reckoning. I am not even sure to this day that this victim of the most mindless of casual football violence had even been to the game. I believe he had been dragged out of his car prior to being attacked by three men, simply caught in the wrong place at the wrong time. It was the same distressed man who had run past me outside Highfield Road. The fists laying into him as he was penned in against a disused shop front had contained Stanley knives, cutting his face to ribbons in the process. I could no longer delude myself the blood pouring down his face had been caused by a lone, powerful right hander to the nose. This explained the horrified scream of the elderly lady, out shopping with her husband, as they witnessed this  barbaric, hateful, cretinous attack from an extremely close distance. Police are appealing for witnesses says the news report. I knew what I had to do.

The following day I reported to my local police station & was interviewed by a pleasant but probably rather bored plain clothed policeman. Knowing what to do was one thing, evaluating the usefulness of my evidence quite another. My view of the attack was limited & long distance, all I could really recall was the standard football punch up flurry of fists & flailing legs, the screams of the elderly shopper (who up to that point had not been mentioned by anyone else) & one of the protagonists, a swaggering, pumped up slimeball dancing around blocking much of my view of the incident, his neat hair, smug, sneering, impossibly young face, dark tracksuit & white trainers. Even here I stumbled. Was the piping on his top purple? Was the rest black? Dark blue? The trainers were white weren’t they? No point in asking me brands, the whole Casual thing had largely passed me by. Three days after the incident, & my indecision was final, even to a sympathetic audience. What a lawyer would do in court was another matter. Which suited me fine of course, for several reasons. I had salved my conscience by going to the police, but did not want my evidence to be strong enough for me to called into a witness box. There may have been no colours betraying the loyalties of the participants in this miserable business, but it was a classic hit & run attack beloved of away fans, soon lost in the crowds heading back home in cars, coaches or trains. Instinctively I knew from the outset that the assailants had been Chelsea fans, & that my appearance in court would signal the end of any comfortable future existence for me at Chelsea matches. My card would be marked, & my card, as has already been established, was defiantly not of the Headhunter calling variety.  I wanted to help assist the police, but not enough to put me at the forefront of a prosecution case. I loved Chelsea & the thought of jeopardising my match going future horrified me. It was a self centred & cynical young man who walked  out of the interview room that day & made his way back out into the street (although not before taking a wrong turn & heading in the direction of the cells) shamefully relieved that I had offered such slim pickings to the investigation. My trips to football could continue, & my features would hopefully avoid rearrangement, unlovely enough as they were to start with.

Or so I thought. As the season progressed, culminating in the misery of relegation, fan misbehaviour reared its head several times again. Chelsea started the next season playing their first six Division 2 games in front of empty terraces at Stamford Bridge, following a pitch invasion on a boiling hot day in early June, when relegation was confirmed via a two leg defeat to Middlesbrough. A friend of mine informed me his wife had left him a few days  later. ‘I know how you feel mate. Chelsea have just been relegated’ was my only response. Scarily, I was probably only half joking. My complacency about the Coventry incident was then  rudely terminated by a letter informing me that I was required to attend court as a prosecution witness. Three people were to go on trial. Their names were listed, but the letter has long since disappeared,  as has the second one, confirming the details of the first, & politely reminding me that failure to show up in court was itself an offence. Following the second letter there was a period of silence, one of thirty years & rising as I never heard from the CPS again, & have no idea whether or not the case collapsed, or whether the slim pickings of my evidence were ultimately deemed insufficient to assist a successful prosecution. I do hope the victim rebuilt his life & that karma caught up with the nobscraper in the tracksuit.

That day in Coventry sums up the dilemma many Chelsea fans faced in this era. Singing nursery rhymes & throwing celery to deflect from the awfulness of much of the football was harmless fun. Chelsea’s away following was rowdy & raucous, & it was thrilling to be part of it. However, for supporters like me, who genuinely would have struggled to fight his way out of a paper bag, there was, in truth, also a vicarious thrill from knowing that the notoreity of the violent fans within our motley throng often provoked a mixture of awe, reverence & naked fear from residents of the towns & cities graced once a season with its presence for a few hours. I’m not proud of that, but it would be dishonest not to acknowledge it. It is often said that football compounds a tendency in people to remain in a perpetual state of retarded adolescence. There is something in this, but on the flip side it also frequently  helps to shine a light on our own inherent puerility, which the sport neither creates or is responsible for.

In the early years of the 21st century, many veterans of the fan mayhem  of yesteryear began to resurface as their antics received a reappraisal courtesy of film & documentary makers. Fat & forty (ish) with mortgages paid & supposedly ready to return to action. Danny Dyer, star of the most successful of the former, Football Factory, revelled in a sycophantic series of interviews with significant figures from crews past & present. Most toed the party line that proper hooligans, like the Kray twins, only hurt their own.  I am inclined to reply to this in the same way a contemporary of Ron & Reg did when this lazy, half baked cliche was applied to them all those years ago. Yeah, just their own. Human beings. Were all the people attacked wearing team shirts victims of despicable, low rent renegades inferior to the the real deal yobbos with their laughable code of honour? I once saw a young Brentford fan’s scarf ripped off his neck by one of the best known hooligans of their opponents of that day, something we are constantly told was never on the agenda for any self respecting face. The idea that it was all like minds seeking each other out in an adrenaline fuelled game that invoved nobody else but each other & the police is utter nonsense. No innocent victims ever? No traumatised bystanders who just happened to be in the wrong time & place? Bull. Shit. Despite Chelsea charmer Jason ‘Know What I Mean’ Marriner rampaging along the streets to invoke his imagined golden years, when Cardiff City came to town in 2010, the hooligan version of Michael Palin’s sublime Golden Gordon from his beloved Ripping Yarns series never bore true fruition. Why bother when there are books & DVD’s to sell, & evenings with diamonds like Jase, whereby like (simple) minded punters are privileged to purchase these cherished items after an evening of wit & repartee reliving punch ups past. The human equivalent of dogs eating each other’s shit. The Chelsea-Rangers fan alliance (founded off the back of a friendly game to raise charity funds following the Bradford City fire) may have started as fans bonding in an entirely positive way, but Marriner, with his poisonous, pig-ignorant Loyalist views & allies, apparently bolstered by regular visits to Glasgow, represents the  sinister & horrible mutation from such a seemingly innocent starting point. Still, last time I checked Marriner had over 14,000 Twitter followers, former Chelsea players I am fond of  included in that tidy amount. One of them wrote a foreward for one of his literary masterpieces. He played in a recent Chelsea-Rangers ex- players charity game. For Rangers. Does a lot of good work for charity apparently. The Krays would be proud of him, doubtless delighted that philanthropy remains a reliable refuge for the wrong ‘un. Never mind the Nazi salutes & references to black people swinging throught the trees eh? Good old Jase. The only thing I would fill a bucket next to him with is vomit. Apparently, I would not be brave enough to say any of this to his face. Maybe, maybe not, who knows? I’m old now, not that much to lose. Fear of bully boys fuelled the rise of terrace violence, but despising these twats while other suck up to them still seems a perfectly acceptable pastime to me. Know what I mean?

I wonder how many parents walking their blue clad children to Stamford Bridge witnessed Marriner’s 43 year old body marauding along the King’s Road, dispensing whatever menace it could muster among the layers of flab on the day of that Cardiff game in 2010, & thought twice about attending matches in future. Not to mention the pregnant woman who fled the scene by speeding away in her car, fearful for her life & that of her unborn child. Like many small boys in the late ’60’s I was in awe of George Best & Bobby Charlton. The reputation of their team’s fans at the time meant I never got to see them play together for Man Utd when they eventually played at Oxford in 1972. My dad took me to see Chelsea & Millwall but drew the line at Man Utd. Dads eh?  Charlton scored one of his trademark 30 yard screamers in the last minute. Violent football fans deprived me of that moment, as they did countless young fans similar exeriences before & after. I hate them for that. On leaving a Division 3 match in my teens one Friday night, a Chesterfield fan walking quietly behind me with his three friends was kicked to the ground. His leg was broken. His cowardly attacker disappeared immediately into the night. The victim was due to drive the others back to Chesterfield, wearing a Chesterfield scarf his only crime. By the time of the Coventry attack in 1988 I was thoroughly sick of this kind of shit. Hillsborough was an appalling collision of corruption & incompetence by the police & football authorities, but without violent terrace bellends there would have been no fences to keep people off the pitch, & most if not all of the 96 lost lives could have been spared. In 1990 after Chelsea had played Everton a man behind me left his seat, accompanied by his 2 young lads, both in full Chelsea kits, & shouted ‘Chelsea celebrate Hillsborough 89’ at the opposition fans. Clearly a shining beacon of morality to his sons. As two policeman approached him I waited for the inevitable, deserved arrest. However, after a short conversation both parties dispersed in opposite directions, beaming smiles covering their collective faces. I genuinely despaired at times like that. Many contemporary self proclaimed experts throughout both professional & social media have been known to berate people like me for not doing more to combat such behaviour in these now far off days. Who was I supposed to report that incident to, the laughing policemen?

The dilemmas presented by modern football were starting to surface when I made my next visit to Highfield Road in 1991, my first & last experience of luxury box matchday viewing. On arrival, we were handed complimentary match programmes & referred to as sir. Nobody accused me of being a Chelsea Headhunter or threw celery at me. In the box itself, Coventry & Chelsea fans mingling together politely, we were fed & watered amply, & advised that if we poured our beer into available Coke beakers we could continue drinking alcohol during the game. Job done. I even cleaned up on the sweepstake for the time of the first goal, the only one of a tame end of season affair, scored by the Sky Blues pint sized midfielder Micky Gynn, offering Dennis Wise a rare opportunity to look like a giant amongst men on a football pitch. It was a thoroughly pleasant afternoon, & the recently completed motorway extension between Coventry & Oxford saw us back on our doorsteps in little more than an hour after the final whistle. What it was not was anything resembling a genuine live footballing experience, my nose pressed against the glass of a luxury box keeping out the atmosphere as well as the cold. Everything was too polite & sanitized, a foretaste of the muted, soulless feel that hits you throughout so many modern stadiums nowadays. You need some grit in the oyster, though sat somewhere else in Coventry that day may well have been a man with extensive tramline slashes on his face, doubtless shedding very few tears for my predicament.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

World Cup Willies

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The onset of another World Cup always makes me a little queasy. This is partly because I feel the need for a rest from football once the domestic season has ended. For me, football is a welcome & essential distraction from the misery of winter, a vastly less vital  presence in summer. The World Cup arrives like a box of Hotel Chocolat’s finest being waved under your nose at 9 O’clock in the evening on Christmas Day. Magnificent but I’m full up. Oh alright. Just the one. That was nice. I’ll have another. On both occasions righteousness may lose out to gluttony but the queasiness never quite departs. This is partly due to the prospect of endless plays of Three Lions, which gets on my tits as successfully as it keeps Frank Skinner’s bank balance nicely topped up. At least it ensures the cheeky smile remains on his face, along with that remarkably unfurrowed sixty year old brow. During Euro 96 a friend  was harangued, then kicked, then accused of being ‘a fucking jock’ for not joining in with a chorus of Three Lions. England weren’t even playing that day. Its appeal has palled ever since, blameless though the wretched song itself was in the incident. It may also be partly down to the prospect of 4 weeks of wondering how many minutes into a game Glenn Hoddle can last before using the word cute or mispronouncing Chelsea’s Brazilian midfielder as Willun when everyone else in the world, most of whom are not paid handsomely to get these things right, know him as Willian. Then there is the predictable debate about the confused state of our national identity, fast approaching critical proportions in the post 2016 referendum hell we now find ourselves in. Flying a St George’s flag outside your window during the World Cup does not make someone a boneheaded Tommy Robinson follower, but the bullying mentality towards people who don’t like football can also be quite unbearable. As England beat Sweden this year, Martin Keown, always a reliable standard-bearer for an intoxicating sporting brand of arrogance & stupidity, sneered that there were probably people out there reading a book instead of watching the game & they should get a life. Those that were reading at the time weren’t listening to a monstrous bellend  like you Mr Keown, & that sounds like a plan for enriching anyone’s life. Apart from being a cretinous, witless attempt at preaching to the converted, Keown, as ever, missed the point entirely. One of the more tedious elements of the World Cup madness is having to listen constantly to the opinions of just about anybody on just about every aspect of the tournament. People who are not interested & don’t pretend to be should not be scorned, but cherished.  The background noise is deafening enough as it is.

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Many people who generally remain impervious to the charms of football are still drawn in by the magic of the World Cup however. These lovely people in the picture above may look as if they have just been shown the  Dele Alli sex tape, but this is not so. I’ll venture  that most of them had not strolled often, if ever, into a football ground before this picture, & that this state of affairs has persevered ever since. This is an educated guess as I know most of them. To them the World Cup was an entertaining back drop to a summer night in the pub, & there is nothing wrong with that. The picture dates from 2010  & there is a pretty good chance that nobody captured here remembers the match, let alone the incident, that inspired such animation. They are reacting to the moment Ghana missed a last-minute extra time penalty against Uruguay, after the second-rate vampire & future honorary Scouser Luis Suarez introduced himself to our wider consciousness by punching a goal-bound shot over the bar. Suarez got sent off but Uruguay went through. On penalties. Yet again sport at the top-level had given the lie to the adage that cheats never prosper, but the fact that this scene will have been mirrored all around the world is testimony to the grip the tournament can have on people, irrespective of whether they have a direct, vested interest in the protagonists on show.

I was 4 years old when England won the World Cup, so my memories of the day itself are not of Geoff Hurst’s hat trick, Bobby Moore wiping his hand before shaking that of Her Majesty, or the Russian linesman instructing the referee to give the third goal. Not even Nobby dancing. Some people may well have been on the pitch, but I was probably up in my tiny bedroom playing with my teddy bear. My memories are confined to the morning of the game, & are as mundane as it gets. It rained. And, stood in the rain, outside the shop at the end of our road, was a boy called Neil Keylock. A small boy. With a big, big voice. ‘WORLD CUP FINAL TODAY’ he proclaimed to anyone within earshot, probably three old women, Mr Sainsbury, who used to puncture our balls if they went into his garden & threatened his beloved plants (‘Cost me sevenpence each they did. Now bugger off!’) & at least one of Mrs Simpson’s twenty plus identical mongrels that perennially roamed the street growling at me & depositing plentiful supplies of dog shit everywhere. And yes, sometimes it was white. Neil, a year older than me, would later put his booming vocals to good use in junior school, when selecting his dinner in the assembly hall. The etiquette was to ask for small, medium or large portions of the culinary joy on offer, be it mutton, liver, soggy cabbage, gravy, lumpy mashed potato, swede, prunes, rice pudding with a dollop of jam, or, if we were lucky, a splendid rock hard chocolate tart with chocolate flavoured custard. No wonder my generation never bought a World Cup home. Neil always eschewed the first two of the standard sizing options & created one of his own. I never heard him ask for anything but ‘LARGE PLEASE!’ or  ‘EXTRA LARGE PLEASE!’ & believe me, I always heard him. If Motorhead had been rehearsing next door they would have popped their head round the door & asked if he could keep the noise down. So when others hark back to their memories of the Jules Rimet Trophy gleaming away in Bobby Moore’s recently cleaned hands, I always think of Neil Keylock, his splendid voice, school dinners, & being nothing if not truly English, the inclement morning weather. What joy  for those who can remember watching the match on the day itself mind. An EXTRA LARGE slice  of joy if you please.

Everyone thinks that the first World Cup they can remember watching was the best one ever. They certainly don’t come any better than the 1970 World Cup in Mexico. What better time to be an 8-year-old discovering football. England was a far more insular country & large portions of the world a far more exotic & unknown prospect than is now the case. There were no foreign stars in the domestic game back then, & no wall to wall television watching options of games from round the globe, so the brilliance of some of the players from other nations were far more of a revelation than they would be now. To discover Rivelino, Gerson, Tostao, Jairzinho, & Carlos Alberto beside the wonderful Pele in the brilliant, triumphant Brazilian team of 1970 was beyond normal levels of excitement. Morning highlights would be shown as we prepared for school, presented by Frank Bough, then an apparent  bastion of middle class middle England, now harshly remembered largely for alleged cross dressing & coke snorting with hookers in Mayfair S&M torture chambers during his breakfast television days in the following decade. Poor old Frank. He gave me his autograph at Edgbaston during a John Player League cricket match once so I still like him. Apparently drug free & dressed as a man I must add. Early on in the tournament Ladislav Petras of Czechoslavakia scored against Brazil & crossed himself in celebration, the first time any of us had seen a player do that, & aped by every school boy who scored on the school field at lunchtime for the rest of the summer. Pele came close to scoring from the halfway line in that match. None of us came close to repeating that. Germany had the ultimate goal poacher in the great Gerd Muller & the footballing Rolls Royce that was Franz Beckanbauer, who famously played on with his arm in a sling as they lost 4-3 to Italy in the semi finals. The Italians  had Facchetti, Rivera & Luigi Riva. Peru brought the fabulous Teofilo Cubillas & Hector Chumpitaz, that decade’s winner of the Roger Miller ‘how old is he really?’ award. England had terrific players too. Moore, Charlton, Ball, & the great Gordon Banks, supplier of the highlight of that, indeed any, World Cup, via his extraordinary save from Pele’s lethal downward header as Brazil beat us 1-0 in the group stages. ‘What a save’ said my dad from his armchair, doubtless alongside countless millions of others, a split second before David Coleman’s commentary, delayed slightly by satellite transmission, repeated the very same words.

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Sadly, there is rarely that much pleasure without pain, as Frank Bough could doubtless tell us. The World Cup that thrilled us so much also set the template for disappointment, pain & fear, as just before England’s Quarter Final against West Germany the great Banks succumbed to Montezuma’s Revenge (basically a more exotic sounding Mexican version of what you & I would call the shits) & was replaced by Chelsea legend Peter ‘The Cat’  Bonetti. His last meaningful action had seen him play a blinder at Wembley in the FA Cup Final, before battling bravely through the pain barrier after being crocked by dirty Leeds representative Mick Jones  in the replay at Old Trafford. Hours before the Germany game  kicked  off our television broke down & we all decamped next door to watch the game. England sauntered into a 2 goal lead but then Bonetti misjudged a relatively innocuous looking effort from Beckanbauer, a speculative Seeler back-header looped into the corner of the net, & a nation’s hopes evaporated as fast as the entire English defence to leave Bonetti face to face with the deadly Muller for the by now inevitable extra time German winner. The Cat’s England team mates have largely continued to desert him ever since, shamefully happy to let him shoulder the entire blame for the defeat, the late Alan Ball being a noble & notable exception. On a side issue, the latter also handed us all a quandary that has haunted me for years, by publishing an autobiography titled It’s All About A Ball. The best title of a sports biography or the worst? Dear, fabulous Peter Bonetti had to carry the burden of the nation’s despair following that afternoon in Leon for the rest of his career. Before the match had ended, unable to bear the torture that was unfolding before us, I ran out the back door of my neighbours, jumped over the garden wall in an impressively catlike way, albeit a cat in pyjamas,  & ran up to my tiny bedroom. As far as the England football team was concerned I would have been better staying there for the next 20 years. In the last 20 years many small boys have apparently carried this out, spawning the unwelcome emergence of the keyboard warrior. Three years later our television broke down again, shortly before England played a crucial World Cup qualifier away in Poland. Radio Rentals came to the rescue with a replacement set this time, but England lost disastrously again, Bobby Moore’s dreadful error letting in the lethal Lubanski for a killer goal before Alan Ball was sent off. In fact, England were not to qualify for 12 years after Mexico. The 1978 qualifying stages foundered after a  tame 2-0 submission to Italy, although at least one person got something out of the day. QPR’s wayward striker Stan Bowles, discovering he got a fee for wearing the boots by the company sponsoring the national side, decided to wear one of their boots & one belonging to his usual sponsors, pocketing two fees in the process. He had a stinker by the way. We actually exited the tournament in 1982 without losing a match, due to there being 2 group stages in that tournament, Ron Greenwood’s boys drawing both games 0-0 in the second phase. At least we had a run for our money that time, long enough for the only local pub  in Cottingham to allow us students through its doors to add This Time We’ll Get It Right by the England squad to its worthy jukebox alongside more durable staples such as Frankie Valli’s Northern soul classic The Night  & Led Zep’s Trampled Underfoot. ‘We’re on our way, we are Ron’s 22, hear the roar of the red,white & blue.’ Happy memories. Maradona’s Hand Of God infamously did for us 4 years later, & even the memories of the splendid efforts of the team in 1990 seem somehow to have slightly faded against the backdrop of fan violence, Gazza’s open top coach comedy breasts, & Gary Lineker literally shitting his pants during the dreadful 1-1 draw with the Republic Of Ireland. By the time we failed to qualify in 1994 I had largely given up on the England team, & when qualification once again became the norm, the large influx of foreign players into Stamford Bridge allowed me to indulge my unhealthily burgeoning parochial side, cheering a Tor Andre Flo goal for Norway against Brazil in 1998 as loudly as most did Michael Owen’s memorable effort against Argentina. Despite our absence the 1994 tournament in America  did have its moments, especially THAT penalty. No, not Roberto Baggio’s howler in the final shootout, which handed Brazil the trophy & me £24 (via a workplace sweepstake – I didn’t spend it all at once) but the one taken by soul diva Diana Ross in the extraordinary opening ceremony, scuffed so badly that onlooker Micky Mouse allegedly tried to renounce his US citizenship. Ain’t no mountain high enough, ain’t no goalposts wide enough.

So what, as the hangover subsides, are we to make of the 2018 World Cup? There was plenty of Eeyore like pessimism at the outset, certainly from yours truly, based on its backdrop being that of a corrupt nation hosting it following a typically crooked selection process from FIFA, as decrepit & bent an organization that has ever existed in the history of professional sport. I was dreading it  but inevitably ended up  happily bingeing on a month of football that offered more than its fair share of thrills, spills, triumph, disaster, laughter, tears, &, for England, anyway, the traditional anti climax. Despite the unusually low-key & understated approach that greeted England at the start, sponsored & approved  by the intelligent & admirable Gareth Southgate, our sun drenched nation still managed to get lured into a state of delusional mid summer hysteria after a few wins over modest opposition. Fellow Chelsea fans who regularly bemoan the dreaded international breaks that regularly disrupt the domestic club season were suddenly appearing on social media in England shirts & clearly getting caught up in the general hysteria. Some Chelsea fans even berated others for pursuing an anti-Spurs agenda throughout. I shuffle uneasily on both feet at this juncture. I can acknowledge the brilliant displays of Kieran Trippier, & only the worst kind of churl would deny the pedigree of Harry Kane.  But 5 Spurs players sniffing around the starting line up, alongside Kyle Walker, a relatively recent refugee from Satan’s North London living room, was just too much. Dele Alli tests my patriotic resolve most. I loathe Dele Alli, with his spineless leg breaking challenges, diving, 8-year-old boy’s face & 5-year-old girl’s celebratory dance routines. It doesn’t help that like the despicable Sergio Aguero, who has twice tried to end the career of David Luiz, Alli has it over Chelsea at present, seemingly able to score against us at will. Aguero is a truly great striker, but Alli can score double hat tricks  home & away for eternity against Chelsea & I would still rather eat my own teeth than ever see him in a blue shirt. When he scores against Sweden I am simply unable to celebrate the goal. This says more about me I guess, but I cannot help but pray that the closest this jerk ever gets to World Cup greatness is allegedly (I don’t read the tabloids, an acquaintance told me about the sex tape, honest) having a passable replica  of the great Jairzhino’s splendid 1974 afro stuffed down the front of his pants. Someone should tell him that  Jairzhino had performed far better with a shorter cut 4 years earlier. Feel free to insert your own Brazilian joke here.

By the time England lost to Belgium Reserves in a match rendered memorable only by the transparent wish of both teams not to win the match & thus the group, Brazil & France prowling round the corner for the victors, I was beginning to feel like the only person at a 1967 Pink Floyd gig not to have taken acid. Immediately after this game ITV treated us to an evening version of the breakfast show hosted by Susanna Reid & the repulsive Piers Morgan. Stephen Fry was once asked to define the word countryside on one of those smug, Radio 4 panel games. ‘Killing Piers Morgan’ he replied. All hail the usually insufferable Mr Fry, who redeemed himself & indeed Radio 4 smug panel games forever with this one moment of comic genius, even if he did steal it from Willie Rushton. The guests included Danny Dyer, Pamela Anderson & hapless Gooner Jeremy Corbyn. Against all expectations Dyer & Pammy won the day handsomely, the former with a glorious tirade about the farce of Brexit (a process handsomely aided by the pathetic leadership of the overshadowed Corbyn)  the latter by rising above Morgan’s insidious innuendos about her sex life. By the time the programme ends I suspect I am now on acid too. Summer madness has descended on all of us. There is nothing to do but give in to it.

Any critical observations of the team are deemed treason by the time I meekly ventured the opinion that it would be a damning indictment of world football were this game but limited England team to emerge triumphant at the close of the competition. This followed the abysmal last hour of the Colombia game, a tired team failing to test keeper David Ospina once from open play, or even to string two passes together for long stretches. I enjoyed seeing England winning World Cup matches for a change, but it was tedious being dismissed as a snowflake for gently querying the growing assumption that it was coming home. This was not always stated in a self deprecatory way, no matter what Gary Lineker claimed from his vantage point in  Russia. Funny how the rest of us plebs back home couldn’t possibly gauge the national mood as well as him despite actually being in the country at the time.

Ultimately, of course, it turned out it wasn’t coming home, & for a while it seemed that the tournament’s best player, Chelsea’s magisterial Eden Hazard, might not return to these shores either. Back to life, back to reality. My thoughts have been with myself during this difficult time. The best team won this time, for sure, with the next best teams finishing second & third. Sounds trite but it doesn’t always work out this way. The main victor aside of France was the endlessly sinister Putin, who allayed widespread doubts about the tournament hosts by presenting the world with a very successful, entertaining & seemingly peaceable month of football. The Russian psychos who marred the 2016 Euros were conspicuous by their absence, & most of our Herberts stayed at home, presumably less sure of displaying their hackneyed, Stella Artois soaked machismo when the potential of a lengthy stint in one of Vladimir’s jails beckoned. I still don’t think Russia should have been given the World Cup & handed Putin the opportunity to display some undoubted PR genius but this is irrelevant now. They did get it & the football shone like the sun. Best ever? It was consistently entertaining, with lots of great games & goals but I  wouldn’t have thought so, if only for want of a truly great team, the unreal Ronaldo & Messi both exiting limply due to the inadequacies of those alongside them, only emphasising the extraordinary achievement of Maradona almost single-handedly (ahem) carrying Argentina to two successive World Cup Finals in 1986 & 1990.

Diego also outstripped all competitors for the maddest person at this year’s tournament, his surely chemically induced displays of stadium eccentricity leaving behind pretenders like Roy Keane, whose displays of wilful perversity in the ITV studio became increasingly tired as the competition progressed. Keane is like a sober, unfunny Father Jack Hackett, the loner in the pub whose eye everyone avoids. This time, however, his colleagues seemed to suss him as the only person in the room determined not to enjoy himself, & he became almost as much a figure of fun as Maradona, who may be a hate filled, coked up mess but at least does it all with gusto as he hurtles ungently towards that good night. It is sad that mad Roy, one of the best footballers I have ever seen, has lapsed into self parody so badly at such a relatively young age. Keane can lecture Ian Wright about his immaturity & berate unprofessional play at every turn, but he is also the man who walked out on his own country on the brink of the 2002 World Cup telling his manager to shove it up his bollocks, an anatomically impossible demand  lacking not only in professionalism & maturity, but also grammatical accuracy. He didn’t care enough to play in the tournament then so why should anyone care what he thinks about those that do? It would have been more honest had he stayed at home & walked his labrador like he did after his little tantrum in 2002. Keane was at least less spiteful than the petty, SNP twots who dragged out a debate in the House Of Commons so that their English counterparts missed the opening  stages of the match against Tunisia. Doubtless they sniggered wildly when England eventually departed the tournament, having won more World Cup final matches in 3 weeks than Scotland have managed in their entire history. Might we politely remind them that in 1978 the Scotland team held a triumphant victory parade around Hampden Park before the World Cup had even begun, following a match against England, which they lost incidentally. Less it’s coming home than we haven’t even got on the plane yet. When they got to Argentina, they discovered, to their evident dismay, that actually playing some matches before picking up the trophy was required. Come hither our old Peruvian friends from 1970, some older than others. Written off as has-beens & mediocrities being led to the inevitable Scottish slaughter, the sublime Cubillas, ably assisted by a now 52-year-old Hector Chumpitaz, tore their vainglorious Caledonian opponents to shreds in the opening match. There should be a statue of Teofilo erected in Westminster for that. Scottish Nationalist MP’s might find this objectionable. So was denying rank and file Parliamentary workers, earning a fraction of an MP’s salary, the chance to watch their country in the World Cup over a summer pint. Never fear smug, small-minded ones, we could always have a debate about it. Perhaps on Hogmanay. Or Burns night.

The next World Cup is in Qatar. I’m dreading it already. It isn’t even happening in Summer, thanks to Sepp Blatter & his band of FIFA embezzlers, leaving the domestic season savagely disrupted in the middle of winter, all my nightmares coming true to satisfy the greed & ego of rich old men.  I’ll be proved wrong, & it will probably overwhelm us all once again, eclipsing The Olympics, Ryder Cup, Ashes, Wimbledon, Formula 1 or any other sporting event you care to mention, ultimately for one reason & one reason alone. It’s football, and football is best. Who knows, maybe the miracle will happen & we will bring it home this time. Just one small request from this old cynic. Dele Alli not to get the winner please.

Roy Of The Rovers Comic Launches

Oh Melchester – So Much To Answer For

September 25, 1976

Portsmouth 0 Reading 2, Blackpool 0 Chelsea 1

https://www.independent.co.uk/news/long_reads/roy-of-the-rovers-new-comic-stories-race-melchester-rebellion-a8357786.html

 

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Heartwarming news! Rebellion, an Oxford based company, are reviving the Roy Of The Rovers franchise with a series of Graphic Novels, the first of which arrives in September, 42 years after the late,lamented Roy Of The Rovers COMIC was launched.

 

During my student years, spent at what Edmund Blackadder once described as one of the three great universities (Oxford, Cambridge & Hull) we had a Students Union President who seemed to have stepped fully formed out of The Kinks song David Watts so flawless did his existence appear. Academically bright, & pleasant looking, he was also a star striker for the university football team. One day he walked into the Union refectory, something of a second home for me as it allowed me to indulge my main diet of coffee, toasted cheese sandwiches, Mars bars & cigarettes for hours on end. Evidently unimpressed by his seemingly bland mixture of perfections, a female friend who had joined me at my table, prior to finding someone more interesting to talk to, looked up him up & down with true Northern disdain & sneered  ‘Here he is. Roy Of The Fookin Rovers.’

If you are expecting a sting in this tale, that this exceptional young man ended up freebasing cocaine & found dead in a sparse hovel, dressed only in exotic lingerie, you will be severely disappointed. He is now  the CEO of a major publishing company, working for John Prescott at one point possibly dimming any political ambitions he may once have had. The nearest he ever came to blotting his copybook at Hull was reputedly discussing the allegedly poor personal hygiene of the lead singer of 2 hit wonders JoBoxers too loudly prior to their appearance at the University. Just got mucky?

The irony of the Roy of The Rovers putdown, a staple insult for any Goldenballs types combining sporting & academic achievements with a worthy public image, is that dear old Roy Race himself has endured many a torrid experience since his original incarnation in 1954. He may never have been booked, & won dozens of trophies, but it has been rather a long way from plain sailing off the pitch. He was kidnapped on numerous occasions, doubtless based on the misconception that all small boys would grow up & pass the reading baton on to the next generation who would be oblivious to repeated plot lines. He was once shot by an embittered actor called Elton Blake. In 1986 eight of his team were killed by a terrorist bomb. His wife was the delightfully named Penny Laine. It would be nice to think that he met her behind the shelter in the middle of a roundabout. He didn’t. She was the secretary of then Melchester manager Ben Galloway. After a sometimes turbulent marriage she died in a car crash, which left Roy struggling with amnesia, & a son convinced our hero was the one to blame. Roy’s own, near 40 year playing career, ended when he lost a foot in a helicopter accident in 1993. Not an entirely enviable existence all things considered.

Rebellion are going all the way back to the beginning, with football’s very own Dr Who regenerating in the modern age as a 16 year old starting out with his beloved Melchester Rovers now struggling in the second tier of English football. I doubt we will be seeing Roy’s best friend, the unfortunately named Blackie Gray this time around, & the size police may also do away with goalkeeper Tubby Morton & Defender Lofty Peak too. It would be nice to see some of the stout yeomans of the past, perhaps Jimmy Slade or Geoff Giles, resurrected with the many maverick team mates Roy played beside in previous incarnations. Roy Of The Rovers usually kept pace with change. Melchester had a black player long before it was the norm, in the shape of winger Vernon Eliot, likewise a foreign player in Paco Diaz. One of my favourites among the more flamboyant characters was Mervyn Wallace, with flowing locks & fulsome moustache pleasingly redolent of Jason King era Peter Wyngarde combined with that bloke off  The Flashing Blade. Once again, would the last teenager out please switch off the lights. There were many others, though strangely I can remember little of ’70’s ex circus juggler turned striker Sammy Spangler. He must have moved into films alongside Dirk Diggler with a name like that, presumably borrowing Mervyn’s ‘tache along the way. I don’t want all the old players back anyway, Tubby’s successor between the sticks Charlie The Cat Carter for one. Any Chelsea fan of a certain vintage knows there is only one goalkeeper worthy of that particular feline epithet, the impossibly great Peter Bonetti. Charlie never cut the mustard for me, & also appeared at one point to be rivalling the eternally youthful Roy in a late ’70’s Leif I Was Made For Dancing Garrett lookalike contest. I saw a photo of former skateboarder Leif recently. Eternal youth, alas, sadly appears to have bypassed him. The drugs really don’t work.

Having finally escaped from the pages of Tiger, leaving long-term colleagues like Native American wrestler Johnny Cougar & F1 driver Skid Solo (another unfortunately named individual) Roy Race  led fellow footie strips Hot Shot Hamish  & Billy’s Boots into his own, eponymous comic at the end of a week I spent on holiday in Southsea with my mate Bill & his parents. It was a good week for Chelsea, with league wins over Bolton & Blackpool either side of a League Cup victory over Huddersfield Town. The home win over Bolton featured a rare goal by my favourite player of the time, the injury plagued David Hay.  At home we got Star Soccer on Sunday afternoons, for years wedged between  The Champions or Randall & Hopkirk Deceased The Golden Shot. The upside of all this was the chance to enjoy the golden larynx of former World War 2 pilot Hugh ‘That’s A Naughty One’ Johns, prone to mispronouncing the odd name (Ray Lewington becoming Kenny Lewiston on one occasion at Molineux) & giving players nicknames nobody else knew they had, including them, but always a welcome vocal presence in the prevalent Midlands gloom, his voice enriched by a smoking habit that had survived the loss of a lung to TB. Southsea would mean Brian Moore & The Big Match, & David Hay’s toothless grin after his splendid header from Steve Finnieston’s cross. Except it didn’t, because Bill’s dad had the revolutionary idea that a holiday meant more than sitting around watching football & took us on a boat trip round the Solent. Licensing laws were more stringent back then, & on a chilly afternoon there was a flurry of latecomers on to the boat who disappeared straight into the bar & stayed in there the whole time, things being a little more relaxed on the ‘time gentleman please’ front for those electing for a life, or at least an afternoon, on the ocean wave. Missing David Hay’s header against Bolton on The Big Match was clearly not an issue for these old juicers.

Roy Of The Rovers was launched the following Saturday. Bill & I both bought it. I don’t remember much about any of the newer comic strips, except for one called Millionaire Villa about a wealthy young man who spent a couple of million on a football club with the proviso that he be given a game. He would need billions now of course, though I can’t see it being revived. The concept may be the ultimate fantasy fulfillment for the super rich club owner, but people like that seem unlikely to spend too much time reading comics. In truth, we were a little old for Roy Of The Rovers in theory, but I still dutifully filled in the promotional wall chart in my scruffy handwriting, & notice that I elected that day’s away win at Blackpool, courtesy of one of Steve Finnieston’s many goals that year, as the best performance away from Stamford Bridge all season. My pubescent peripheral vision must have been exquisite because I was at Fratton Park watching an impoverished home team lose 0-2 against Reading in the old Division 3.

Portsmouth were managed by former Liverpool hero (& future TV sidekick to Chelsea great Jimmy Greaves) Ian St John. He had a fellow Scouse refugee in veteran full back Chris Lawler in his squad, along with a clutch of youngsters of varying quality, including future England centre half Steve Foster, current Sky Sports favourite Chris Kamara (a decent if one paced player & a considerably less cuddly proposition for opposing team’s players than he is to Goals On Sunday viewers nowadays) & a spectacularly unpopular forward by the name of Maitland Pollock. The Viz character that got away. Times being hard at Fratton Park, one player who featured in this match, the late Billy Wilson, eventually subsidized his salary by taking over The Pompey pub with his wife. The pub was a stone’s throw from the pitch. The aforementioned licensing laws meant it shut half an hour before kick off, reopening an hour or so after the final whistle. Billy had a stinker against Grimsby one afternoon, but was still back behind the bar serving the fans at 6, & queried why one punter had given him way over the odds for a large round of lagers. The rest is for you, we want you to buy a length of rope and hang yourself!’ he was told. They still sang One Billy Wilson to him. Different times The pub has gone now, spewing bile on social media the modern poison for many contemporary fans.

It is ex Portsmouth players I largely recall from this week. Bill & I had tracked down the sports shop of Oxford United (& former Pompey)  goalie John ‘Dracula’ Milkins & stood aghast peering through the window as he held court with customers wearing a pair of those horrendous Rupert Bear trousers only ever donned by golfers (& Rupert himself in fairness) outside of this inglorious era for the British wardrobe. The other  Fratton favourite briefly appeared for Reading in this match, limping off with an injury to sympathetic applause shortly after the game began. Ray Hiron had previously played over 300 games for Portsmouth  & scored over 100 goals. He wasn’t remotely sexy or rock ‘n’ roll , but he was one of those stalwarts that supplied the backbone to many football clubs in this era. As someone who went to lots of games back then, I always remember  players like this fondly. There were more colourful & controversial characters playing for Reading at the time but Hiron’s poignant departure remains my main memory of the game, other than Bill & I being collared by a dipshit Reading fan who found out we were from Oxford & proclaimed ‘Oxford? Shit team. Good fighters though.’ Thanks for coming Confucius. Roy Keane’s future biographer & spiritual father, the wilfully gittish, cantankerous & perverse Eamon Dunphy, was his usually skin & bones self in midfield. Dunphy & Keane fell out after the book was published. Quelle surprise. Combative, beardie Welsh international midfielder Trevor Hockey once clashed with Dunphy & spat out the old ‘how many caps have you got?’ line to which the old curmudgeon, rarely short of an answer, gleefully replied ’25.’ 17 more than poor Trevor as it happens, who clearly did not realize he was baiting a Republic Of Ireland regular.

The other big personality at Reading was Robin Friday. An habitual drinker, drug user & woman chaser throughout his adult life, Friday died in 1990, reportedly of cardiac failure brought on by a heroin overdose. His all too brief career had ended before the ’70’s were over, but his name was belatedly & posthumously put in lights in the late ’90’s via a book called The Greatest Footballer You Never Saw by ex music hack Paolo Hewitt & a member of Oasis who wasn’t one of the tedious Gallagher brothers. Friday died around the time English football started to emerge from the doldrums. It was nice to move away from the era of stadium disasters like Bradford, Heysel & Hillsborough, nice to see people who had turned their back on the game engage with it once again, nice to see a new generation of fan attracted  to football matches, especially nice to see more women going to games. Cliche though it has become, the pivotal moment in this transformation was the England-Germany match in the 1990 World Cup, capped off by the tears of Paul Gascoigne. By Euro 1996 the national team could get away with drawing against Switzerland, winning an undeserved penalty shootout against Spain (after their opponents had a perfectly good goal disallowed for offside)  & losing (on penalties again) to Germany on home soil. The cracks were papered over not just by a moment of Gazza brilliance against Scotland, allied to an emphatic win over a deeply divided Dutch team, but more generally by what seemed like a collective national hysteria. Three Lions topped the charts, politicians were embracing a sport they had treated as an infectious disease for decades, & the tournament was a vibrant showcase for the new & improved stadia that had sprung up in the wake of the money pouring into the game via the Murdoch/Sky sponsored creation of the Premier League. There was a downside though, & one of them was an influx of people poncing off the sport & its newly regained popularity. The aforementioned politicians, especially the liar & future  Prime Minister Tony Blair, were among this obnoxious & unwanted breed. Give me a football hater who stays true to their code any day. To go to football in the late 1980’s was to be seen as a weird mix of sporting geek & social pariah. Suddenly, God help us, it was fashionable again. It was laughable to see ageing music writers, belatedly sussing  they could not sustain a living any longer by wearing baseball caps the wrong way round & pretending to like Public Enemy, now adopting football as a meal ticket into middle age. I shared football grounds with some desperate people in the 1980’s but at least knew that all of them, for whatever reasons they had, wanted to be there, not merely to be seen there.

The Greatest Footballer You Never Saw seemed to typify this trend. Plenty of people did see Robin Friday play. I saw him at least twice, a clearly talented & charismatic performer. Sadly, I can’t remember anything about him at Fratton Park on this occasion. If the title of the book was aimed at younger readers fine, but clearly there are scores of greater players than Robin Friday they never saw. As for old farts like Hewitt & me, if you didn’t see him perhaps you didn’t go to enough matches until it was deemed cool to do so again. In fairness, however, the book is a decent read, largely because of the frenetic lifestyle of its sadly doomed subject. Robin was never going to make old bones & must have been a nightmare to be around. His 38 years witnessed three marriages. One wedding ended in a free for all with the wedding gifts being purloined, including an apparently generous stash of cannabis. Robin apparently also took LSD in his playing days & was an enthusiastic drinker, once taking to the dance floor in a Reading nightclub to strut his funky stuff totally naked save for the hobnail boots on his feet. He once left a bar citing boredom only to reappear shortly afterwards carrying a swan he had acquired in the intervening period. He was a wild presence on the football pitch too on occasions, managing to get sent off seven times in his Isthmian League career prior to joining Reading. Even legendary hard men like Tommy Smith & Chelsea’s own Ron ‘Chopper’ Harris found it quite difficult to get sent off in those days. Not Robin. A few months after the Portsmouth game, he left Reading for Cardiff City, his last appearance for The Royals being one I witnessed at a snowy, ice-cold Manor Ground in the last few days of 1976. His arrival at his new club was delayed by him only having a platform ticket for the entire journey & being detained by Transport Police until his new manager arrived & settled the debt. This set the tone for a short & unhappy stay at Cardiff despite a glorious 2 goal debut performance & his wrongfully being credited with dealing with  Bobby Moore as an opponent by spitefully grasping the great man’s testicles. This is one story that is not entirely true if only because Bobby Moore only had one testicle, having had the other removed due to cancer in the mid 1960’s, prior to his World Cup heroics. Another story in dispute about Friday is that having been sent off for kicking Mark Lawrenson in the face (yes, that Mark Lawrenson) he returned to the dressing rooms & compounded the felony by defecating into the latter’s kit bag. Hewitt’s book does not mention this, & Lawrenson has, to my knowledge, never confirmed or denied it. If it is true it’s  no wonder he always sounds so world-weary. Mr Friday did have form in the fecal department, once reacting to a poor Reading performance at Mansfield, to which he had been excluded, by depositing a sneaky  Richard The 3rd into the team bath. It may be fun recounting these tales, but I can’t help thinking of Jack Dee’s response to a zealous hi-fi salesman trying to sell him a system that would make it sound, he was assured, like the band were actually in the room. ‘I like The Pogues but I don’t want them in my living room.’ Friday slipped out of football & into obscurity, then prison, for impersonating a police officer in an attempt to steal everyone else’s drugs. He was just 38 when he died. RIP Robin & a Happy 75th Birthday for his former team-mate Ray Hiron next month.

In many ways Bobby Moore was a real life, defensive Roy Of The Rovers. Robin Friday was the anti Roy Race. Roy’s life may have been blighted by tragedy & disaster, but they were rarely self-inflicted. It’s great to have him back in the trusty hands of Rebellion &  I look forward to sneaking into Oxford’s best bookshop to buy a copy of the first graphic novel in the series later in the year. Good old Waterstones.  Doubtless there will be less kidnappings at the hands of swarthy bandits on ill-advised summer tours. He’ll have enough on his hands warding off internet trolls. Hopefully he doesn’t lose either a foot or a wife this time, & though there will be a need to adapt to changing times, I think we can be confident we will never see him carry a swan into a pub, impersonate a police officer to snaffle other people’s drugs, or poo in anyone’s kit bag. Not even one belonging to Mark Lawrenson.

Welcome back Roy.

Song Sung Blue

Joni Mitchell regaling fellow Shed regulars with the splendid ‘Chelsea Morning’ in 1969. Shortly after there was an attempted stage invasion by West Ham fans, leading to an untypically angry encore of ‘If I Had The Wings Of A Sparrow’ segueing into ‘Come And Have a Go If You Think You’re Hard Enough’ via ‘You’re Gonna Get Your Fucking Heads Kicked In.’ Peace & love Joni. Peace & love.
‘Woke up it was a Chelsea morning, & the first thing that I saw, was a song outside my window, & the traffic wrote the words’

Football & music. Not always the happiest of bedfellows. Think Gazza with Lindisfarne. Think Anfield Rap or Good Old Arsenal with its oxymoronic, Jimmy Hill penned lyrics. There have been some aural horrors at Chelsea too, such as Ruud Gullit blowing his previously cool persona forever by getting the team to run out to Europe’s abysmal The Final Countdown , or Simply The Best blaring out in the early ’90’s to herald a team in 19th place preparing to delight that week’s expectant crowd of 12,117. The anthems are great though.  Blue Is The Colour, Liquidator, Parklife, One Step Beyond & Blue Day all honourable contributors to the canon, essential components of the Stamford Bridge tapestry.

However, there are also songs that we associate with our teams, or at least certain days following them, that inveigle themselves into our match day memories in a more random way.  Some are swiftly forgotten. Other probably should be. Many more remain embedded in our inner footballing consciousness forever, & can never be heard again without memories of  Rotterdam in 2000 or Burnley at home in 1978 being invoked, & bathing us in a warm & ever so slightly soppy nostalgic glow. Cool has to take its turn on my list next to cosy pullover wearing crooners & ultra dodgy cover versions. Rightly so says the man fast approaching the pipe & slippers stage of life himself…

 

  1. Perry Como Magic Moments
  2. Jilted John Jilted John
  3. Madonna American Pie
  4. The Pogues Misty Morning Albert Bridge
  5. Television Personalities Part Time Punks
  6. The Slits Typical Girls
  7. Elvis Costello Hoover Factory
  8. Room 5 (Ft. Oliver Cheatham) Make Luv
  9. Bill Withers Lovely Day
  10. The Police Every Breath You Take

 

Perry Como Magic Moments (Stockholm May 13th, 1998)

It is no longer merely Stockholm to  me. It is Aah Stockholm. Mad coach drivers. Aah Stockholm. Ice cream & boat trips. Aah Stockholm. Zola & THAT goal. Aah Stockholm. European glory. Aah….well I think you get the picture. A beautiful city full of beautiful people. On the second day, the afternoon of the Cup Winners Cup final itself, I passed a Stuttgart fan who was at least as ugly as me, possibly even more so. I could have kissed him. Actually, scrub that. Shaken him firmly by the hand. Randomly kissing German men is not really my bag. Either way, I thank him for being mildly repulsive. After the game, relieved at finding our coach amidst dozens of others, the post-match euphoria quickly subsided into a subdued lull, not unusual or surprising as physical & mental tiredness overcame the adrenaline fuelled euphoria of the previous two days. This was an inadequate state of affairs for one fan, who approached the aforementioned mad driver & pressed a cassette tape (for yes readers, it is still the 1990’s & cassettes are still most regularly used in cars)  into his hand. He plays it. We do not get grunge, or Brit pop, or rap. Neither, thank God, do we get the Nuremberg rally pop of Queen’s horrendous We Are The Champions, always an unwelcome staple at such moments, a revolting skid mark in the pants of many a sporting triumph. Instead we get Perry Como’s Greatest Hits. And it fits, the old smoothie’s velvety tones reverberating around the coach and complimenting the general air of weary contentment. ‘Magic moments, memories we’ve been sharin’ indeed. Fortunately, nobody attempts a reprisal of the playground version of the song starting ‘I’ll never forget the smell of the sweat from under her armpits.’ My dad was a fan of the crooners & a formative memory is of hearing him sing Perry Como songs in the bath prior to going out on the bevy with his mates on a Friday night. He loved to whistle too so Magic Moments ticked all the boxes. As it did in Stockholm. Aah Stockholm. ‘Time can’t erase the memory of these magic moments filled with love’…..you tell ’em Perry

Jilted John Jilted John (Barcelona April 18th, 2000)

We are at the airport in Barcelona after a Luis Figo inspired 5-1 drubbing. A more than creditable first Champions League season has ended & we are a forlorn & bedraggled bunch, overseen by unimpressed policemen & airport staff, both keen to see the back of us, exuding an air of boredom laced with mild hostility. The mood is transformed by a Chelsea geezer (there really is no other word ) standing up & performing an impromptu, word perfect, version of one hit wonder’s Jilted John’s eponymous 1978 new wave curio. The humiliation of the evening is momentarily put to one side, memories of Rivaldo, Kluivert & Luis bloody Figo humiliating Ferrer, Babayaro, Lebouef et al shelved as everyone joins in at the chorus & the good people of Barcelona are forcefully informed several times that ‘Gordon is a moron.’ The geezer has put more heart & energy into his 150 seconds of glory than the stagestruck Chelsea players had managed between them in two hours at the Camp Nou but is enraged when his magnificent efforts are met with premature cheers & applause from the rest of the Chelsea supporters. He has not completed the spoken word ‘I ought to smash his face in yeah yeah not fair’ refrain immortalized by the artist how known as John Shuttleworth, & waves his arms furiously to shut everyone up until it is completed. It is a performance of true bravura & the cheers are even louder when he eventually finishes. They are not universal however. The police & airline staff are bemused & have their own, apparently collective response to the spectacle written all over their faces. ‘Get these idiots out of our country.’

For the first time all day I feel proud to be British.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2fEbReX2Ozs

Madonna American Pie (Rotterdam March 14th,2000)

A month earlier we had been put into the ground hours before kick off lest we engage in combat with the more lairy element of Feyenoord’s fan base. They have history with Spurs going back to the 1970’s (who doesn’t?!). It is a cold night, not improved by some pointless wretch throwing beer over a hapless steward & various unwelcome renditions of ‘No Surrender to the IRA’ when the match eventually begins. This song has not been heard at Stamford Bridge in recent times so whether this is due to some some Combat 18 infiltration or merely less focused pin headed jingoism I am unable to say. Generally speaking, however, the Chelsea fans are well behaved & in good voice. Frank Lebouef misses an early penalty but a Zola cracker flies in off a post & we go in 1-0 up. The break only reinforces how cold we are. Cue American Pie. I make no defence against the argument that Madonna’s version of the classic Don Mclean original is a cowpat of a record but it comes on at just the right time. We all know the words, it blares out around the ground & it bounces along perkily, crap though it undoubtedly is. In the words of Don, via Madonna, we started singing. The need to blot out the cold, combined with the raised spirits arising from Gianfranco’s recent moment of magic leads to a rare old singalong. Smiles abound & the driving wind coming off the North Sea is briefly forgotten. At this moment we know we are not going to lose this game. Feyenoord equalize early in the second half, but Dennis Wise scores a diving header, Tor Andre Flo gets another & the final victory is comfortable & emphatic. We are kept in the ground for what seems like an eternity after the final whistle, so long in fact that we get to enjoy another, singular & surreal sing song when the players come back out for a post-match training session & Wisey responds to our cajoling by leading us in a rendition of Carefree. Having briefly heard the little scamp sing I am loath to further condemn Madonna’s cover of American Pie &  am always strangely moved on the rare occasions I hear it.

The Pogues Misty Morning Albert Bridge (League Cup v Newcastle 28th October,1992)

I dreamt we were standing
By the banks of the Thames
Where the cold grey waters ripple
In the misty morning light

A happy accident on this particular night created the  cockeyed walk to the ground which was to become my pre match template for many years. Arriving at Victoria early for this League Cup clash with Kevin Keegan’s resurgent Newcastle, & tiring of the hustle & bustle of the King’s Road, I randomly take a left at the Chelsea Town Hall. There is barely a soul in sight along the side streets, & I don’t have a clue where I am heading, but end up in Oakley Street, a stone’s throw away from the Albert Bridge. I am not a well travelled man but from childhood have been enchanted by the Embankment at night, & confident there are few sights that could bring me more pleasure. In the middle of one of the world’s most congested cities I relish a few moments of peace & tranquility staring at the beautifully illuminated Albert Bridge, with its indefinable magic.

Held a match to your cigarette
Watched the smoke curl in the mist
Your eyes, blue as the ocean between us
Smiling at me

Misty Morning Albert Bridge was released in 1989. It was always a great tune  but hampered, along with the rest of the album from whence it came, by an uncharacteristically muddy Steve Lillywhite production, apparently due to the latter lacking confidence in Shane MacGowan’s vocal performance. A 2013 remix has redressed this unhappy state of affairs & lended greater clarity to the marvellous Jem Finer lyric, not referring to the Albert Bridge’s nocturnal delights, true, but capturing its allure with a poetry beyond most of us.

I do not know it but Oakley Street has a pedigree of A list residents. David Bowie lived there. George Best lived next door. In Oscar & Lady Wilde’s old house. Nearby Cheyne Walk has been home to numerous movers & shakers of their respective ages. Lloyd George. Bram Stoker. Bertrand Russell. Mick Jagger & Marianne Faithfull. More Stellar Street than Stella Street. I decide not to bother the local estate agents. After Marianne had flown the nest to sit on Soho walls taking heroin Mick was known to pop round to Mr Bowie’s house, possibly for more than just a cup of sugar. Brown sugar. Just around midnight.  From this night on my walk to the ground always involved this detour & it is particularly cherished for night games when a short, leftwards glance towards an illuminated Albert Bridge helps set up the evening perfectly. Stamford Bridge was lit up magnificently on this particular evening too, as Frank Sinclair & Mick Harford goals saw off a lively, well supported Newcastle team, for whom a Rob Lee goal was scant consolation for the long, empty handed trek home. Never mind eh?

 

Television Personalities Part Time Punks

Walking down the Kings Road
I see so many faces
They come from many places
They come down for the day
They walk around together
And try and look trendy
I think it’s a shame
That they all look the same

Recently there was a YouTube video accompanying this 1978 gem, with its perennially hummable tune from my long departed youth, featuring some lovely archive footage of punks arsing around on the Kings Road. It would be slightly fraudulent to post it here because by the time I started regularly walking to Stamford Bridge from Victoria Station even the cartoon ’80’s punks with their mohicans & Exploited t-shirts had mugged up for the last camera wielding tourist, wriggled out of their bondage trousers & finally buggered off to be quantity surveyors or UKIP leaders. Nevertheless, It always remained a permanent fixture on the match day jukebox in my head as I sauntered past Sloane Square. I first heard it on a terrific Rough Trade compilation called Wanna Buy A Bridge, cleverly nestled next to a track referenced in its lyric, Swell Maps splendid Read About Seymour. By the late ’80’s the Kings Road is not the cool & vibrant place it once was, although I still expect an imminent & wholly warranted arrest from the fashion police when making my way to the football. The only trend it is embracing is the one nudging us towards  the homogenized tedium that is the modern retail world. The fate of 49 Kings Road says it all. Once The Chelsea Drugstore, a late addition to swinging London in the  1960’s, a three floor building housing among other things a pharmacy, record store, boutiques, newsstands & various eateries. It was famously name-checked by The Rolling Stones in You Can’t Always Get What You Want, & frequented by Malcolm McDowell’s Alex in A Clockwork Orange. It is now in its third decade as a branch of McDonald’s. Globalization come on down.

Of course,  geeky voyeurs like me are, in truth, more at home in McDonalds than we would ever have been trying to rub shoulders with the groovy cats who doubtless frequented the Chelsea Drugstore. This misses the point though. I might not ever have fitted in but as a cultural tourist I want to experience the feeling of not fitting in while having a gawk at the people who do. Which returns us neatly to Part Time Punks. Is it a swipe at the small, resentful London punk elite upset that their fun has been invaded by the outside world or a 158 second sneer at dullard proles arriving far too late for the original party & somewhat missing the original point of the whole thing?  Whatever, it remains a thing of joy & I would need to be entirely be lacking in self awareness to think that teenage hicks from the sticks like me avoided its perceptive lyrical glare.

They play their records very loud
And pogo in the bedroom
In front of the mirror
But only when their mums gone out

Okay. Guilty your honour. Spin on.

The Slits Typical Girls (Chelsea 1 Birmingham City 2 – Sep 8, 1979)

This match took place a mere day after the release of The Slits debut album Cut, a suitably unruly & brilliant record by a band that looked, sounded & behaved like no other female group in pop history up to that point. A documentary featuring John Peel at that time showed band members spitting & simulating masturbation in the direction of the camera. John Lydon married the mother of one of the band, the late Ari Up, so doubtless polite society blamed the parents. You didn’t get that from Dana or The Nolans, though Lemmy once alleged that one of the latter once calmly said to him ‘while you’re down there’ when he bent down to pick something up in front of them. Clearly in the mood for dancing that day. On this day, there is a large billboard advertising the album on the opposite side of the road as you walk towards Fulham Broadway Station. Three women, topless & daubed head to toe in mud, stare forbiddingly out. It is not difficult to see images of naked women in Britain in 1979, but this picture is entirely at odds with the plentiful array of bouncing bristols found everyday in the best selling tabloid newspapers of the day. The Slits are not passive, or simpering, or attempting to appease slobbering male fantasy. Catch  their eye in the wrong way & you suspect they would rip your nuts off.

Stamford Bridge is not a happy place at this time. Ray Wilkins had  departed for Man Utd that summer, & this game sadly turns out to be the end of the line for two legendary post-war footballing icons, Danny Blanchflower & Peter Osgood. Osgood, stood pretty close to where his ashes are now buried, lays on the Chelsea goal for Clive Walker with a noncahlent flick of his right foot, but a Birmingham City team, led by Archie Gemmell (surprisingly & apparently prematurely sold by Brian Clough a short time earlier) win more comfortably than the 2-1 scoreline suggests. Future Charlton & West Ham manager Alan Curbishley scores the winner after Walker’s goal had cancelled out an opener from Steve Lynex, himself bearing the sort of name that would have fitted nicely into that era’s contemporary music scene. Blanchflower resigns after this defeat, to be replaced by Geoff Hurst. Prior to his dismal 9 month stint as Chelsea boss, the Spurs Double winning skipper had been writing odd, Lewis Carroll inspired articles on modern football in the Sunday Express using Tweedledee & Tweedledum as stooges to make whatever points it was he was trying to make. Such whimsy  may have sat well with Sunday Express readers but it seems not to have translated well to the modern football dressing room. I had  given up on him after he attempted to play mercurial striker Duncan McKenzie in midfield & reacted to a 6-0 defeat at Nottingham Forest by suggesting his young players maybe needed to learn to lose before they could learn to win. They really didn’t Danny. Osgood follows him out of the door as Geoff Hurst is promoted to the hot seat. Hurst is one of the least popular managers in Chelsea history, but one of Osgood’s complaints is that Alan Hudson offered his services at the time & was asked to prove his fitness first. This outraged both Hudson & Ossie, but given their previous track record for skipping training for the pub, & Hudson’s subsequent admission that he once played drunk during a match at Highbury (for Stoke, where Hurst was a colleague, & initially put a roof over Hudson’s head) the former World Cup hero’s request does not seem entirely unreasonable. A penchant for going on the piss is one thing. Taking the piss is something else. Chelsea lose 3-0 at Shrewsbury the following week but things look up after that, & they end up narrowly missing out on promotion as Birmingham pip them on goal difference, aided by a 5-1 drubbing in the return match at St Andrews the following March. In April I go to see The Undertones at the Birmingham Odeon & get openly sniggered at. I am wearing a Chelsea shirt, as is guitarist Damien O’Neill in the My Perfect Cousin video. Snigger away boys, at least I don’t come from a place that gave Crossroads to the world. May God have mercy on your souls.

There is an undercurrent of depressing ugliness & malignancy around Stamford Bridge in this era, & I specifically recall an unwelcome  National Front presence outside both the main gates & the Bovril entrance on this afternoon as they try to impose their abhorrent views on us all by waving about copies of their doubtless delightful newspaper Bulldog. This was known to feature a Top 10 of the most racist fans in the country, Chelsea frequently faring rather well apparently. The Slits failed to trouble the musical Top 10 but remain an inspirational force of nature whose influence extends way beyond their record sales. Twenty years later I work with a quiet, bespectacled, studious looking chap called Ben. We don’t share a lot in common but one day I mention The Slits & his face lights up. Proudly he extracts a small, glossy piece of paper from his wallet which turns out to be a photo of the cover of Cut. Bassist Tessa Pollitt, one of the three Amazonian figures in the photo (& on that Fulham Road billboard all those years earlier) is his sister. I would never have guessed. Ben is a nice lad & at no time when we worked together did he betray any preference for publicly spitting or simulating the act of masturbation. Which, I’ve got to be honest, was something of a relief.

Elvis Costello Hoover Factory

Singing this song to myself while appreciating the art deco wonder of its subject, the one time Hoover Factory, in Perivale, was always one of the staples of my match day coach trip on both legs of the journey in & out of London. The song itself, written by fellow admirer Costello, is a mere 104 seconds long, but the advantage of its existence is that it was penned when its author was on both lyrical & musical fire, working as a computer operator for Elizabeth Arden in nearby Acton in 1977.

Five miles out of London on the Western Avenue
Must have been a wonder when it was brand new
Talking ’bout the splendour of the Hoover factory
I know that you’d agree if you had seen it too

This building is a welcome diversion to this day from long stretches of motorway, nearby disused golf courses, self storage units & idiots talking horseshit loudly on their phones. Great building, lovely song. Elvis saying it all sadly allows me to indulge myself in another of my continuing series of inconsequential tales of minor brushes with fame of wafer thin interest to anyone but myself. In December 1984 I have a Christmas job at Dixon’s, electing to stay in the stockroom rather than try to sell Commodore 64’s or Alan Sugar’s appalling Amstrad tower systems (3 sold one Saturday afternoon, 3 returned within 2 days, God knows how you’ve got away without being fired you Spurs loving midget.) I worked over 70 hours in my first week & took home £49. After 4 weeks the prospect of rejoining the dole queue was losing its sting, but a friend from college days contacts me to say he has a spare ticket for an Elvis Costello solo concert at the Royal Festival Hall. I ask to leave work early that day & explain why. The store manager, a man called Malcolm Dennis, agrees without comment, probably relieved to avoid me grinding more Marlboro stubs into his otherwise immaculate new stockroom floor. All I know about Malcolm was that he has a background selling cameras & an alleged liking for Frankie Goes To Hollywood. The concert is great, but Dixon’s are out of my life as soon as Christmas is out of the way, the dreaded Amstrad tower systems at least giving me somewhere to hide while listening to Chelsea updates during a great 4-3 win at eventual champions Everton, 3 days before that year’s celebration of the birth of our lord. A couple of years later I buy a biography of Elvis Costello. Leafing through the photos reveals a mid ’70’s picture of his first band Flip City.  Peering through rather more hair than he was wearing the following decade is a strangely familiar face. It is Flip City’s drummer & his name is Malcolm Dennis. It is clearly one & the same & the rotten sod never said a word about his connection to the biggest musical hero I had in those years!

Green for go, green for action
From Park Royal to North Acton
Past scrolls and inscriptions like those of the Egyptian age
One of these days the Hoover factory
Is gonna be all the rage in those fashionable pages

Great songwriter but no Nostradamus our Elvis. Tesco brought it in the early 1990’s as they began spreading their vile, corporate wings ever further. Still a fabulous building though.

Room 5 (Ft Oliver Cheatham) Make Luv (Arsenal 2 Chelsea 2, FA Cup 6th Round, Mar 8, 2003)

2002-3 can now be seen as a pivotal season in the history of Chelsea but things were a whole lot less clear cut at the time. Chelsea teeter on the brink of financial ruin, as the failure to go beyond the one season of Champion’s League football 3 years earlier has seen the club overstretch disastrously. Only one signing was made in the summer, & that proves a temporary one due to Deportivo Alaves  having a longer term claim to the services of the underwhelming Enrique De Lucas. As 2003 unravels, the paramount need to qualify for the Champions’ League becomes increasingly apparent, the target eventually reached via a last day shootout with Liverpool.

Lack of new signings were not the only symptom of the club spiralling towards insolvency. John Terry, now establishing himself as a brilliant defensive presence, was rumoured to be on a relatively paltry salary & Arsenal were among those sniffing around as a new contract beckoned but remained unsigned. Against this rather gloomy backdrop the team performed magnificently to finish in the top 4, a 36 year old Gianfranco Zola performing out of his skin, outscoring the splendid Jimmy Floyd Hasslebaink &  Eidur Gudjohnsen & complementing the emerging talents of Terry & Frank Lampard, the former still learning his trade alongside top quality defensive partners in Marcel Desailly & William Gallas.

There had been fun & games aplenty in the build up to this match, January seeing some media preoccupation with the wretched state of the Stamford Bridge pitch, which by the time Charlton arrived in the middle of the month had been completely covered in sand. Chelsea won the game 4-1 & were totally brilliant, but Charlton boss Alan Curbishley squealed like a pig to the press & another spurious anti-Chelsea media campaign limped along for a few weeks. Had Chelsea played at The Valley to find similar conditions & whined after a battering the words overpaid primadonnas would have been bandied about with gay abandon of course. On this occasion many in the press backed the ludicrous argument that the result should have been declared null and void. Clearly nobody in the press had ever seen the state of Derby County’s Baseball Ground pitch during their ’70’s heyday.

I had more serious things on my mind than uneven playing surfaces & standards of journalism at the time. Alyson, a friend & colleague for nearly 20 years, had been taken ill over the Christmas period. Taken into hospital before New Year the rest of us returned from the holiday season to the news that half her stomach had been removed. I have a couple of phone conversations with her, one of which is quite upsetting & which has to be curtailed while I go to sort out a customer complaint at work. A programming error on the tills means a man has been overcharged £1 & this apparently entitles them to swear at me in front of their very young daughter. Still, being well spoken means it doesn’t count right? He gets his quid but will never know how lucky he was not to be spitting teeth out of his ringpiece. I plan a visit on the afternoon of the mid-week game against Leeds but get a phone call from Jon, her husband, advising me that she is  to have another medical procedure. The match is brilliant, a five goal thriller, one of which is a truly majestic Eidur Gudjohnsen bicycle kick, comfortably ensconced  in the canon of all time great Chelsea goals. It is rivalled a few days later by an extraordinary, ridiculously sublime  Zola free kick at home to Spurs, on the way home from which I bump into Alyson’s brother, Richard. Her family is in bits. Richard & I had once travelled up to Stamford Bridge together, & Jon had  stood in the Shed with me on New Year’s Day 1992 to watch a twice deflected Mike Sheron shot rescue his team, Man City, an undeserved last minute point.

Doubtless my recollecting goals from football matches while a friend was in the process of dying will confirm the prejudice of football phobics, proof of the infantilization of lovers of the game, burying themselves deep in something essentially meaningless in an attempt to divert themselves from confronting the harsh realities of the real world. The Oz founder Richard Neville used to lament to John Peel that football had replaced religion as the opiate of the masses, to which the latter responded that they needed one. I am not sure that a passion for football is any more puerile than spending spare time line dancing, trainspotting, going to Take That reunion concerts or cladding oneself in lycra to speed along footpaths abusing pedestrians strolling along the riverside. I might also counter that the fact that I can date these footballing events so precisely is because something else so momentous was occurring. There has to be some light among the general darkness on such occasions. You celebrate a goal with as much gusto, if not more, at times like this, but the euphoric feeling wears off quicker. Having grown up in the era of football tragedies such as Ibrox, Bradford, Heysel & Hillsborough I don’t accept that football cushions you from the harsher elements of life anyway. On a lighter note, I had to go into school after a 7-1 defeat at Wolves in 1975 & face the music. There was no hiding place for the supporter of a misfiring football team. Nobody harangues you if you didn’t win at Bingo the night before, or had the camera on the wrong setting when you took that picture of a Kingfisher. Nothing prepares you better for disappointment & public ridicule than football.

With my customary, immaculate timing I eventually visit Alyson the day after she has been told that nothing more can be done for her. The look on her face when she tells us will never leave me. We already know & I think she knows we know too. Within a fortnight she is dead. Bill tells me he has tickets for the Arsenal & WBA away games ‘because you’ve had a rough time recently.’ Not compared to others I haven’t, but your friends truly show themselves at times like that. Having to shuffle work commitments around home games I do no get to as many away games as I would like so any trip away from Stamford Bridge is an adventure for me.

There is a relatively new phenomenon in 2003. The 5:35 kick off.  Like most people, Bill & I fail to adapt by treating the day as if the match was starting at 3. Like most people, we’ve had a few by the time we enter Highbury.  JT’s thumping header is quickly cancelled out by a rare Gunners goal for Scouse pinhead Franny Jeffers who celebrates in front of us. We are near the front at The Clock End. ‘I saw you in the crowd’ a work colleague tells me a couple of days later. I hope she didn’t see my reaction to Franny Jeffers. Thierry Henry has put Arsenal in front by half time. I am adamant it is offside. The big screen tells us otherwise. The spouting of sporting bollocks. Sponsored by Guinness. It looks like we are going home to nurse our hangovers with yet another cup exit to Arsenal. We only ever seemed to lose to Man Utd or Arsenal in the FA Cup during this era. Chelsea poke, prod, grunt & sigh their way around the Arsenal penalty box but an equalizer seems unlikely, until a goalmouth scramble leads to an attempt to clear the ball ricocheting off Frank Lampard’s shin & into the Arsenal net. Pandemonium. I lose Bill. He has  joined the merry throng attempting to jump on the back of the elated goalscorer.  He is 40  & full of ale. That’s Bill not Super Frank of course. An honourable 2-2 draw ends with us still in the cup & still able to cram some more beer in at The Shakespeare Tavern at Victoria, a less than salubrious choice of venue that betrays the fact that enough has already been taken on board by now.

By the time I waddle across the road to catch my coach home I am, for the first time in a while, suitably merry. We are still in the FA Cup. We lose the replay of course, & Arsenal beat us again the following year, but that is all ahead & the failure to  get the tune that has been circling around my brain all day leads to desperate measures. I release it by singing. This is inadvisable. I have a terrible voice & fellow passengers at Grovesnor Gardens are unwilling listeners, but I’m pissed & I don’t care.

I like to party mmhmm
Everybody does
Make luv and listen to the music
You’ve gotta let yourself go go go go go oh

This is my equivalent of jumping on Frank Lampard’s back & probably more undignified, albeit prompted by the same source. I am 40 & full of ale. Eventually I realise that passengers queuing for the Oxford Tube are either exceptions to the rule or Room 5 are a bunch of fucking liars. Nobody shows an inclination to party, so not everybody does like it apparently. They also fail to make luv. They briefly have no choice but to listen to the music, although me singing is music in the loosest possible sense, & they definitely don’t let themselves go go go go go oh. I could try haranguing the queue (or suing Room 5)  but by now all I have learnt from 40 years on the planet is that life is far, far too short. So I shut up.

RIP Alyson.

Bill Withers Lovely Day (Chelsea – Burnley ,FA Cup 4th Round, Jan 31, 1978)

‘If you’re on your way to Stamford Bridge for this afternoon’s 4th Round tie against Burnley – don’t bother!’

So said the Sport on 2 anchorman (quite probably a pre-Werthers Original era Des Lynam) as Mr Bradley, father of my school friend Nick drove us towards White City 3 days before this tie was eventually played. The rain had been incessant & remained so as we turned back towards Oxford. We are hopeful for the first time in years about our chances in the FA Cup. The previous round had seen a stunning 4-2 win over Liverpool, then both reigning League & European champions. The omens are good too. In the 1970 we had played Burnley in the 4th Round too, my first ever game to boot. Ron Harris revealed that his wife was expecting a baby, as she had been in 1970. The team were conceding plenty of goals but usually scoring more. We wouldn’t allow a waterlogged pitch to be any more than a diversion.

The weather was barely any better as we entered a sodden Stamford Bridge for the rescheduled tie 3 days later. Manager Ken Shellito had announced in the press that muddy conditions would suit striker Steve Finnieston as his recently injured ankle would appreciate the extra give in the pitch. He gets his wish. Despite conceding a goal in the first minute (having kicked off themselves!) Chelsea win the game 6-2, & excitement at the prospect of a serious cup run gathers pace. They lose in the next round, to the mighty Orient, who get to the semi finals before being trounced by Arsenal. At Stamford Bridge to rub it in.

This did not trouble us on the night, a resounding win rendering the bleak, wet winter’s night an irrelevance & Bill Withers current hit Lovely Day serenading us as we revelled in a 3-1 half time lead is  a strangely enduring memory.  Current at the time, Lovely Day remains a thing of beauty despite its charting again a decade later with a truly horrible remix. The match day DJ at Chelsea in the 1970’s was a man called Pete Owen. He may have played Lovely Day as an ironic reference to the truly awful weather of the previous few days, although ’70’s DJ’s were not generally over imbued with ironic sensibilities. Poor Pete once fell for one of the oldest PA banana skins, namely acceding to a request from  ‘friends’ to ask if Mike Hunt was in the ground. Nick & I found this hugely amusing. We were 15. Never mind Pete. Through the wind, rain, mud & general wintry gloom Lovely Day spread its lush, warm glow around Stamford Bridge that night. Props for playing it. I’m guessing Mike Hunt never did show.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sYi7uEvEEmk

The Police Every Breath You Take

I am unable to supply the relevant year, let alone the match, when Sting’s 4 minute stalker’s charter first invaded my journey to Stamford Bridge. I’m guessing late ’80’s or early ’90’s. The Sony Walkman now invades the peace of the coach journey. At one stop on the way out of Oxford a rather disconsolate young man trudges on to the coach, sits behind me & commences the predictable ritual as he searches for his preferred choice of song. Rewind tape. Click to stop. Wind tape forward as you have now rewound it too far. Click to stop. Click to play. Hallefuckinglujah. The songs starts. It is Every Breath You Take. Its riff is unmistakable, especially to blues great Freddie King who Sting once admitted he stole it from. Freddie is not on the coach, having died in 1976, so it is left to me to recognise it & feel anger on his behalf. Given that the entire history of popular music is littered with similar steals this is somewhat sanctimonious of me. Never mind. Sting deserves it. Every Breath You Take is a good tune for sure, whether its true author is Freddie King or everyone’s least favourite narcissistic Geordie. Its sinister, creepy lyric , all about obsessive love, is entirely the property of the artist once known as Gordon Sumner, composed in the aftermath of Sting leaving his wife for their next door neighbour, who he subsequently married. On this day, the song finishes & the familiar  click, rewind, click, wind forward ritual begins again, until the next tune is ready to play. Eventually it starts.

It is Every Breath You Take by The Police.

By the time we reach White City I have heard a muffled rendition of Every Breath You Take, filtered through the tinny headphones of another person’s Walkman, at least a dozen times. I begin to fear for my mental health. I am terrified for his. When reaching The Westway at this stage of the journey I had always enjoyed conjuring up sounds of The Clash, but since that day have always struggled to expunge the memory of The Police’s biggest ever hit from my brain as the flyover towards Marylebone Road & Shepherds Bush beckons. I do hope he got over her eventually. Or him. Could have been gay. Whoever the object of his tortured affections was I sincerely hope they emerged unscathed too. Don’t have nightmares.

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