There was so much to relish during the wonderful win in the Wanda Metropolitana this week, obvious highlights being Hazard’s long overdue emergence as a player of true greatness, Morata’s lovely headed equalizer & the brilliant last gasp winner that epitomized the joyous harmony & fluency that ran through the team’s performance the entire match. All life affirming & tremendous stuff.
For me it was capped off beautifully by the presence of anti Chelsea sourpusses Steven Gerrard & Rio Ferdinand in the BT studios. It is of course traditional for both Sky & BT to fill their punditry seats with the expanding buttocks of ex pros with no love for Chelsea, nor indeed anyone but Liverpool, Man Utd or Arsenal, but BT really pushed the boat out here, presumably because having finally found a former Blue to accompany them, in the shape of the living legend that is Sir Frank Lampard, they felt the need to tilt the balance firmly back in favour of the usual carping & sneering at the boys from the Bridge by sitting him next to two men who both have agendas against Chelsea that are well-known, deep-rooted & long term.
By full-time, however, they were left with no choice but to suck it up in front of the watching millions & give Chelsea props for a truly scintillating win. At least presenter & crisp thief Gary Lineker, the one time Spurs striker & full-time narcissist, had the grace to smile & pretend he was happy about it, & he genuinely seemed to have enjoyed the match. Frank remained remarkably restrained, but the fun for him, like all Chelsea fans, had been in watching the previous 90 minutes of effervescent splendour. It was excruciating watching the other two though. All the right platitudes were duly rolled out, but it clearly hurt. Gerrard seemed especially pained at having to give Chelsea any credit, appearing for all the world that as the words of praise were extracted from his traditionally joyless face he was fighting a severe dental abscess. He couldn’t have looked less happy if Lineker had ordered him to lick out the contents of Gary Glitter’s slop bucket.
I’m confident that during his dismal three-year spell at Chelsea the chant ‘There’s Only One David Mitchell’ never rang round Stamford Bridge. It would have been a lie if it had. There is a best-selling novelist with the same name before you even get to the bloke off ‘Peep Show.’ There probably IS only one Khalid Boulahrouz. Not that you will ever have heard that sung either. All three of these members of the clan David Mitchell do share one thing in common though. None of them ever scored a goal for Chelsea.
Mitchell may have retired to lick his wounds over his inferior Google footprint compared to namesake novelists & comedians, but for those of us given the dubious pleasure of seeing him in a Chelsea kit it is the Mitchell & Mayes situation that detains us. Namely, who was the worst striker to wear a Chelsea shirt in the 1980’s? Was it Dave, the lanky Australian with the Beadle beard or Alan, the diminutive one time QPR reject? The debate still rages, at least among men over 50 who support Chelsea & are happy to bore the tits off statues talking about that bygone, sometimes forlorn, era. I always vote Mitchell.
In 2004 Jeff Stelling produced a stocking filler called ‘England’s Worst Footballers’ naming & shaming the worst player to have played for all of the 92 Premiership & Football League clubs. I gave a copy to my brother-in-law that Christmas. He was none too impressed. He had played for Southern League Witney Town in the ’80’s & a recent club programme had featured a club supporter choosing their all time worst ever Witney eleven. My brother-in-law was in the team! Cue plenty of yuletide grumbling about people who had never played the game & the cruelty of outing allegedly crap players by the uninformed fan.
That is one, perfectly valid, viewpoint, countered by the Danny Baker argument that fans are the only people who pay to get into a game & can therefore boo whoever & whatever they like as often as they like. Then again, Baker is a malicious moron who delights in wishing cancer on fellow human beings. You are, of course, free to boo players at matches, but does anyone believe that jeering our young, black midfielder Keith Jones in the 1980’s did anything but destroy the promising start he made to his Chelsea career? Or that his colour was a mere coincidence? Most of us indulge in stream of consciousness moaning & groaning during games, it’s a symptom of caring & desperately wanting the team to win, but the systematic booing & barracking of players like Jones, Peter Houseman, Jesper Gronkjaer, & yes, Alan Mayes, always seemed spiteful & cowardly, the fan equivalent of pulling the legs off a spider.
I retain a fondness, albeit of varying degrees of strength, for most players I have seen in a Chelsea shirt over the years. Chris Sutton strikes me as an obnoxious individual, but he has never shirked from acknowledging his own failings during his wretched stint at Stamford Bridge, despite being clearly the wrong type of striker to fit into Gianluca Vialli’s team at the time. You have to respect him for that. I never warmed to Marcel Desailly either, because he seemed to pick & choose the games he turned up for, & I never sensed a great development of feeling for the club & its supporters during his six-year stay at the club. He was a fabulous player though, & I certainly never booed him. I despised Winston Bogarde (the Chelsea player selected as the worst in Stelling’s book incidentally) for his laziness, greed & ineptitude but such was the advanced level of his flabby arsed indolence we never really got the chance to boo him! In any case, the signings of the dreaded Winston & Desailly heralded in the era in which we now reside, whereby cold, hard cash generally dictates who clubs sign & who players sign for, so the prospect of many of these players harbouring any prior affection for the club is pretty much zero. You can have whatever view of Diego Costa you like, but he was never likely to hang around for the long haul. He’s a renegade hired gun, akin to a Charles Bronson style character in one of those Sergio Leone spaghetti westerns he would fit into so well.
My dislike of any Chelsea players since 1970 is usually retrospective, invoked when they leave & the lie that they love the club, never an affectation that Costa has bought into, unravels. Or they join the ranks of the media baying for Chelsea blood for their miserable thirty pieces of silver. For the former stand up Andy Townsend & Romelu Lukaku, both Chelsea ‘supporters’ who showed their true colours when the prospect of greater glory & cash presented itself elsewhere & their professional instincts kicked in. Understandable, but don’t lie in the first place chaps. Or hold up an imaginary trophy on your return as Townsend did after scoring a stunning goal at The Shed for Aston Villa. In the latter camp you have Alan Hudson, a beautiful combination of elegance, grace & power as a player, but unable to pass up any opportunity to churlishly slag the club off in the media since 1974. If I spent 43 years whining to the press about my treatment from a former employer for the price of a pint I wouldn’t expect much charity from them. Hudson does. Great player. Odd chap. Craig Burley is another, an expert on ESPN who forgets how many saw his awful back pass that put David Beckham through at Villa Park in 1996 & cost us an FA Cup final appearance. He got left out when we made it to Wembley the following year & has ground an axe about Chelsea ever since. Then you have those who just passed through briefly to stink the place out before retiring to slag the club off from a distance, like ex England defender Paul Parker & former postman & Shamrock Rovers ‘legend’ John Coady. There will always be a special place on the podium of contempt for Gordon Durie of course, kissing the badge while pining for a return to Scotland until a cockerel embossed cheque book appeared in the summer of 1991. I DID boo him when he played against Chelsea & make absolutely no apologies for it.
So why Mitchell and not Mayes in my personal league table of antipathy? I respect the feelings of fans worn down by several seasons of Mayes missing sitters & bow down to their far greater exposure to his apparent general incompetence than me. I lived in The North for most of his Chelsea career between 1981-3, but I did see Alan Mayes score. Twice, & both beauties, a low struck shot away at Orient on a Monday night in 1981 & a stunning long-range left foot howitzer in the FA Cup at Hull in January 1982. Without that goal Chelsea might not have had the chance to beat Liverpool later in the tournament. (or lose to Spurs, though Mayes scored in that match too) In short, Mayes contributed, he missed chances but got into positions to miss chances. He was appalling the first time I saw him, in a home game against Blackburn in 1981, but so was everyone else. It was one of those days at the old, open plan Stamford Bridge, when the wind was blowing the corner flags at right angles on arrival, always a portent for a drab 0-0 with no one able to control the ball. The pre-match military band’s hats & sheet music flew everywhere around the pitch & opposition player manager Howard Kendall had no chance of covering up his ever-growing bald patch with his large handful of wrap around hair. It was also clear that Mayes had been elected by a significant section of the crowd as chief whipping boy for the team’s overall failings & I hated that. It was bullying by another name. So I willed him to succeed, & continued to do so from a distance over the next few seasons.
I have only one abiding memory of Mitchell as a Chelsea player, which happened in his last game against Wimbledon in 1991. It was his overwhelming, all-encompassing mediocrity that irritated me so much. He never scored for Chelsea, but worse than that I cannot even recall him having a shot. Or a penetrating run with or without the ball. Or managing a cross into the opposition box. He entered a team on the crest of a wave in the 1988-9 season, a team that ended up walking away with the Division 2 title, amassing just under 100 points & goals along the way. He played in a 3-2 win over future employers Swindon. No shots or goals. He played in a 2-2 draw against Oldham. No shots or goals. He played alongside Durie at Walsall. Chelsea won 7-0. Durie scored five. Mitchell didn’t. I still didn’t boo him but he was about as much use as an ashtray on a motorbike. Some of my reasons for not liking Mitchell were irrational. His Beadle beard, the way he wore his socks, the way he ran for God’s sake, all trivialities but exacerbating my yearning to see him return from whence he came.
Which he did, sort of, cooking his goose in the process. Having been signed from Feyenoord, Mitchell was loaned out to NEC Nijmegen in 1990 & foolishly chose to share negative sentiments about his parent club to the Dutch press. Even in those pre-internet days, such a move was pretty dumb. You had to forgive curly mulleted goalkeeper Dmitri Kharine’s similar indiscretion to the media in his Russian homeland a few years later, largely because so much of what he allegedly said to them was lost in translation, the best being ‘Even Tony Cascarino, the great Irish striker, is dead!’ There are three lies in that short quote alone so we can treat anything else allegedly said by Kharine with a large dose of Siberian salt. Mitchell returned to a less than warm welcome & played just one more game, the aforementioned Wimbledon match. The game was beamed live on Scandinavian television. No wonder they had such high suicide rates. The end of season club highlights video shows just one snippet from this game, Hans Segers needlessly deflecting a Dennis Wise shot that was always going wide into the side netting. There was some light relief though. The announcement of ‘Number 9 – Dave Mitchell’ over the tannoy at 2.45 heralded a spontaneous & unanimous gale of laughter from The Shed. Several minutes into the match, the match ball spiralled up high into the air. The opponents were Wimbledon, where else was it going to spend the majority of the match? Mitchell might have expected this to happen but lost it & his own bearings, & as he looked around helplessly for its whereabouts, the ball hurtled back down from whichever galaxy it had been propelled to & hit the poor sod hard on the back of the head, leaving him in a spreadeagled heap on the floor. Cue a second gale of laughter, one which has lasted much longer than the first. Twenty five years later, former Chelsea colleagues from the era were still to be found sniggering among themselves about it on Twitter, namely the egregious Burley, Graham Stuart & the wonderful David Lee. Harsh, but Mitchell hadn’t earned much loyalty from his teammates. Nor his manager. The usually genial Bobby Campbell was quizzed about Mitchell’s performance after the game. ‘Well he didn’t pull any trees up did he?’ was the gruff response. The message from Campbell was clear. Taxi for Mitchell. Presumably of the big yellow variety. Neil Barnett chose his match commentary of Mitchell’s pratfall as the season’s highlight on ‘Chelsea Clubcall’ a few months later, which speaks volumes about both the hapless Australian & the general state of the club. Glenn Hoddle did us his first big favour by taking Mitchell to Swindon with him shortly after, ironically the home of Mayes’ finest footballing hours as well. He did well there, & returned in triumph to Chelsea in 1995, as part of a Millwall team that undeservedly won an FA Cup replay on penalties, after Chelsea had been denied two blatant spot kicks in normal time. Fortunately, he did not successfully invoke the immutable law of the ex & score himself. However, after the game he did lead the charge towards their shootout hero, goalkeeper Kasey Keller, leading him off the pitch in triumph, the Beadle beard still very much in situ on the face of our happy former ‘striker’ as Millwall’s delirious band of psychotic thugs celebrated in the temporary seating at the Shed end. Funny old game my arse.
KERPOW! No time to get the Keown Repellent Spray from his utility belt so Spackers settles for clouting the bugger instead.
Martin Keown lives in the same city as I do but in truth we live in very different worlds. It is fair to say he has done rather better in life than I have & our paths have never really crossed. His son worked behind the bar in one of my old locals. His brother assessed my tiny flat before giving me a quote for the installation of a burglar alarm. Very polite & pleasant he was too, despite looking & sounding alarmingly like his more famous sibling. I have occasionally seen the man himself prowling the streets of Oxford looking faintly bored. I can understand that. He is thoroughly rich & what else do former footballers in early middle age do when they aren’t spouting tedious & hysterically biased shite about the game on television? I did also stumble upon him living the dream & buying suitcases in Debenhams before the 2016 European Championships. Debenhams eh? ( and John Terry got stick for buying Xmas decorations in Poundland! ) Strangely, News International aren’t interested in my Keown revelations. Can’t think why.
Mr Keown also went to school with my mate Joe, who bumped into him just after Arsenal had won 2-0 at Stamford Bridge in 1993. He told Joe that George Graham had apparently instructed him to man-mark Dennis Wise for the entire match. I didn’t need to be told that in truth, having been at the game. He had done just that, & supremely well too. A 2-0 defeat flattered Chelsea that day as Merson & Wright ran riot up front for the ghastly Gooners. I never usually regretted going to a Chelsea match but we had Muhammad Ali doing a book signing at work that day, & missing that to watch another ritual humiliation was galling in the extreme.
Having said that, there proved to be another, hitherto unforeseen, top quality pugilist in the Chelsea ranks when Arsenal returned two seasons later, at the start of the 1995-6 season. There had been much excitement in both camps with the arrivals of Ruud Gullit to Chelsea & Dennis Bergkamp to Arsenal but pre-match hopes of an imminent masterclass of Dutch Total Football were soon dashed as a typically ill-tempered & scrappy London derby emerged. Keown was to the fore in much of the ugliness as usual. Dennis Wise may have played his part….
Stopping other people from playing was Keown’s speciality & he was superb at it. You like players that nullify the top talents from opposing teams when they play for your team. You hate them when they play for the other lot. Those T-shirts they used to sell on the stalls on the Fulham Road, depicting Keown as Galen from ‘Planet Of The Apes,’ said it all about the low regard for him among Chelsea fans during his playing career. He was an unlovely presence on the pitch, but part of a famously formidable defence which went a long way to explaining our consistent inability to get results against them. However, in 1995 we did get a result, a Mark Hughes goal being enough to send the smuggest supporters in footballing history home with their charming & not remotely grating ‘Fuck Off Till You’ve Won The League’ chants silenced for once. How times change. Karma anyone?
On top of this rare win, we had the added bonus of Nigel Spackman repaying my loyalty to the cause in missing the Ali event in 1993 by invoking the spirit of The Louisville Lip himself & recreating the ‘Rope a Dope’ tactic employed by the latter against George Foreman when regaining his World Heavyweight Title in Zaire in 1974. Spackers was no shrinking violet. You didn’t get to play for Liverpool in the ’80’s or the Souness era Glasgow Rangers without being able to look after yourself. He was an energetic, competitive, resourceful & highly competent player. But nobody would say he was dirty. However, after an afternoon of typical Keown grappling, pushing, jostling, tugging & tearing he finally responded to an attempt to dismantle his shirt collar by administering a truly nasty, spiteful & wholly unexpected right hand jab to the back of the big lummox’s head. Keown was well & truly pole-axed, hitting the deck like the proverbial sack of shit. Spackers should have done his Ali shuffle at that point but you can’t have everything.
Violence is terrible & all that but surely at its best football plays out the fulfilment of a fan’s own on pitch fantasies. That can mean Zola volleying in a back heel against Norwich in 2002, Di Matteo thumping in a 43 second opener at the beginning of an FA Cup Final, or Drogba powering in an extraordinary header against Bayern Munich, just as another Champions League season seemed set to end in failure. It can also mean Nigel Spackman twatting Martin Keown. Nigel got a red card & a huge round of applause for his sins. Keown got a bruised ego & developed an apparent chip on his shoulder, which if anything has grown larger over the years. Like all those latte drinkers who follow his former team he can’t quite accept that Chelsea crashed the party, took it over & have at times controlled it since his heyday. Perhaps that’s why his media profile where Chelsea are concerned remains as sour & joyless as his conduct on the pitch was the day he got a clump off Spackers. Get over it mate. You can afford to buy suitcases in Debenhams & wander the streets of Oxford looking bored. Verily your cup runneth over.
Baldness and relegation. The two main fears of Terry Collier, one of the two great comic characters spearheading the brilliant 1970’s sitcom ‘Whatever Happened To The Likely Lads?’ Terry may have been an avowed Chelsea hater but many a Blues fan will have identified with his twin phobias at the time. No Advanced Hair Studio or Roman Abramovich to save the day back then sadly. Happily, modern Chelsea fans are spared the once frequent flirtation with demotion, all those horrible moments of collective, morale sapped numbness as another opposition goal heralded the unmistakable, combined sound of dozens of wooden & plastic seats being angrily & noisily vacated as the less hardy made yet another early exit towards the long, silent trek home via car or Fulham Broadway Station. Contemporary disappointments still abound of course. Fernando Morientes’ second half deal breaker against Monaco in the Champions’ League Semi Final in 2004. The ‘Ghost Goal’ at Anfield the following season. Moscow. Iniesta’s heart breaking equalizer for Barcelona amidst a refereeing disgrace in 2009. The no-show at the FA Cup Final in 2017. The difference is that all these denied Chelsea moments of glory. Tough, but you have still climbed a significant chunk of mountain to get there. Relegation is different. Confirmation that you are crap. I have known that feeling three times. The last, in 1988, was by far the worst. Why? Because it should never have happened.
In 1975 the drop beckoned because the team was (& had been for several years) jaded & severely in need of the footballing equivalent of an enema that Eddie McCreadie subsequently administered. Tommy Docherty had performed a similar trick at Old Trafford after Man Utd’s relegation the year before & Spurs went down the following season. Being relegated was almost fashionable in the mid ’70’s but then so were tartan flares, Platform shoes & Jimmy Savile. In 1979 the team were truly terrible & overseen by the bizarre Danny Blanchflower. After a 6-0 defeat at Nottingham Forest he declared that maybe his team had to learn how to lose before it could learn how to win. Not a theory that would have held much water in the opposition dressing room where Clough & Taylor were in their pomp. You can’t imagine Bill Shankley, Jock Stein, Don Revie, Alex Ferguson or Jose Mourinho echoing the sentiment at any point in their careers either. Probably because it was utter bollocks. One of the few high points in that dismal season was the signing of Eamonn Bannon, a terrific young midfield player. Before the year was out the club had sold him to Dundee United for less than they had paid Hearts for him in the first place! He shone throughout the ’80’s, & played in the 1986 World Cup for Scotland, while Dundee United reached the European Cup Semi Final in 1984. Still, we had Kevin Hales. Well done Chelsea.
1988 was different. The team had defenders like Steve Clarke, Colin Pates & Tony Dorigo. Pates ended up at Arsenal. Dorigo won the league a few years later at Leeds. Dirty Leeds. Clarkey, legend that he is, hung around long enough to see the sun finally emerge from the clouds at the Bridge. It was a long wait. 1988 Chelsea also had one of the most creative midfielders of his generation in Micky Hazard, a winger with flair & skill in Pat Nevin & strikers with the power & finishing ability of Kerry Dixon & Gordon Durie. Relegation should not ever have been more than a dot on the horizon.
So how & why did play off regulars Charlton come to Stamford Bridge knowing that avoiding defeat to a team that had won only one match in six months would see them lounging on sunbeds listening to S-Express while that year’s relegation trapdoor beckoned for a team that had challenged for the title only two seasons earlier? Well, we all know of the detrimental, long-term effect of smoking on our health & in 1988 fags finally did for Chelsea. Stress & ciggies had led to John Neal being succeeded by John Hollins in 1985. Sad but seemingly not disastrous. Hollins had been a great servant to the club as a player & had served as coach under Neal, who remained at the club as general manager. With his wise counsel only a knock on the door away surely the transition would be seamless?
Sadly not. It would seem that the two men had never really got on. Hollins chose not to knock on the door & an increasingly marginalized Neal was sacked by cuddly Ken Bates after publicly expressing his frustration at being excluded from all important decisions affecting the club he had rehabilitated to such great effect just a few seasons earlier. In the two years leading up to this game Hollins presided over an increasingly unhappy dressing room, stories of malcontent regularly leaking into the press via disgruntled members of the playing staff. If Micky Hazard could not understand why Hollins could substitute his sublime, midfield creativity by playing a centre back like Colin Pates in his place instead (& he was not alone!) then Nigel Clarke of the ‘Daily Mirror’ was always on hand to publish a story on the following day’s back page, usually quoting ‘a source close to the player.’ Who was clearly the player himself. The relentless, poisonous dripping of negative stories to the press seemed frequently inspired by the unwelcome dressing room presence of coach Ernie Whalley, a Hollins appointment quickly laden with a training ground image, fairly or otherwise, akin to that of Windsor Davies’ cartoon like Sergeant Major character in ‘It Ain’t Half Hot Mum.’ Whalley was eventually replaced, against the wishes of John Hollins, by former Fulham manager Bobby Campbell in the early part of 1988, following a long, winless run stretching back to the previous October. Hollins’ own unhappy tenure came to an end after a bizarre 4-4 draw at Oxford in March. A three goal lead had been sacrificed in that match. An early two goal lead was squandered in the previous away game at Coventry. Additionally, while Bates was cruising around the Med on his boat, Hollins had attempted to solve the team’s problems by selling Hazard & Kerry Dixon. The return of Bates saw a swift cancellation of these baffling transfers & Hollins found that his ship had also sailed, his penchant for sweat over skill finally trying his chairman’s for once surprisingly deep reservoirs of patience once too often. Campbell predictably stepped into the breach with more than the mildest hint of indecent haste. Unfortunately, the introduction to the dressing room of Bobby’s undoubted enthusiasm & JimmyTarbuck jokebook did little to stem the tide. Hazard’s sublime left foot strike past Peter Shilton secured a win over Derby in April but that remained the only win since a scrappy home victory against Oxford on Halloween. A dismal Bank Holiday 4-1 defeat at West Ham was compounded by a nasty injury to Hazard & so we approached the Charlton game with a proper sense of trepidation. The cigarettes that had damaged John Neal’s heart were finally about to break ours.
It started well, a bright, sunny Spring day & a lively atmosphere with a crowd of 33,000, a more than decent turnout for any club in those post Heysel days. Chelsea took the lead with a penalty from Gordon Durie after he was brought down by a Charlton defender several light years outside the penalty box. Charlton had the lanky, goal shy Carl Leaburn up front. They also had former Spurs lump Paul Miller at centre back & fellow White Hart lane refugee (& future BBC lump) Garth Crooks alongside Leaburn. In midfield they had Steve Mackenzie, scorer of a wonderful FA Cup final goal in 1981 & goalkeeper Bob Bolder had been at Liverpool. They did not want for experience. Nonetheless, the game moved into the second half with a lot of huffing & puffing but not much else going on. And then it happened….
Goals are scored in a split second. All goals. With one exception. This one. It has now spent nigh on 30 years making its tortuous route from Steve Wicks knee into the Chelsea net, because it remains the goal I have most endlessly replayed over in my head. It seemed to take an eternity on the day, as Leaburn’s long throw into the box sparked a scramble that led to aforementioned lump Miller’s unconvincing stab at the ball ricocheting off Wicks, ballooning up in the air, & slowly, agonizingly, making its descent, under the crossbar but over keeper Kevin Hitchcock’s flailing, flapping, giant gloved hand. Not waving but drowning. However long it took, or seemed to take, its final destination was never in doubt. 30,000 of us descended into one of those eerie communal silences. The Charlton fans & players went berserk. I believe Garth Crooks has been dining out on the moment ever since. It certainly looks like it.
The game ends 1-1. There were a lot of 1-1 draws that season. As the match ends a man two seats down from me bursts into tears. I had never seen anyone cry at a football match before. It’s like he knows that the play offs will be futile, that relegation is an inevitability. If so, he is entirely correct. Modern sporting cliché has it that it’s the hope that kills you. That was partially true in 1988. From Durie’s penalty to a resounding win over Blackburn in the play off semi finals, there were always glimmers of hope surfacing before we were nutted by reality. Ultimately though, it was also death by 1-1 draws, John Neal’s fags, the perverse team selections of John Hollins and the knee of Steve Wicks. Poor Wicks, a really good player but not a lucky one, only spared the further ignominy of a transfer to Spurs that summer by a back problem that prematurely ended his career. He remains the only Chelsea player to have appeared in three different relegation seasons while Jose Bosingwa has a Champion’s League winner’s medal. It might take 30 years for those two disparate & desperately unfair facts to sink in too.
In the Autumn of 1990, along with a Pompey supporting work colleague & his mate, I watched a hopelessly mundane League Cup tie against Portsmouth from the atmosphere free confines of The East Stand Upper tier. Goalless at the end, my only memory of the game is of my colleague’s mate, a nice chap but not a massive football fan, referring throughout the entire, dreary, 90 minutes to our goalkeeper Dave Beasant as Pheasant & imploring him to ‘BUST IT!!’ every time the ball came to him, a nod to his considerable contribution to former club Wimbledon’s long ball successes during the mid to late 1980’s. This hardly adds to the pantheon of comic genius footballing observations but in my head big Dave has been Pheasant ever since, a testimony to my puerility along with a later habit of singing ‘Flo’ to myself in the style of Spandau Ballet’s Tony Hadley singing ‘Gold’ every time our big, highly likeable Norwegian striker got the ball at Stamford Bridge. I merely confess, I don’t ask for clemency.
Not being one of life’s visionaries, when the Premier League started in 1992-3 I don’t believe I fully grasped the implications of what was about to occur to the English game. The first match that season was against Oldham, & the main changes seemed to be referees swapping their kit colour & an adaptation to the back pass law, goalkeepers now being prohibited from picking the ball up when a teammate returned it to them. The former drew immediate benefits as a new chant arose early in the first match. Admittedly, singing ‘Who’s The Wanker In The Green?’ to the tune of ‘Bread Of Heaven’ wasn’t hugely different to its predecessor ‘Who’s The Wanker In The Black?’ sung to the tune of, er, ‘Bread Of Heaven’ but hey ho, Rome wasn’t built in a day & a change is as good as a rest. The latter caught Dave Beasant out straightaway, when he thwarted expectations that his Wimbledon exploits would see him thrive with the ball at his feet by rushing out of his goal & miskicking horribly to Latics midfielder Nicky Adams in the dying minutes of the match. Adams promptly struck it into an open goal from 45 yards. Three points were reduced to one at one fell swoop & Beasant’s personal nightmare commenced. Chelsea were playing some decent football in the early stages of the season, but traditional defensive frailties were costing them dear. Two goals in a minute were conceded at Norwich, while an entertaining 3-3 draw at Hillsborough saw some gifts to opponents Sheffield Wednesday that were as horribly inept as Graham Stuart’s dazzling dribble & finish at the other end was brilliant. In the week prior to the return match against Norwich, a well-earned point at Anfield was squandered in the last minute as Beasant unfathomably fumbled a weak cross in front of The Kop & allowed future Sky Sports clothes horse & bore Jamie Redknapp to scramble home an undeserved winner. A horrendous, ultimately career ending injury to Paul Elliott courtesy of the hateful Dean Saunders added immeasurably to the gloom.
At home to Norwich all seemed well at first. Chelsea surged into a two goal lead, courtesy of Mick Harford & former Canary Andy Townsend. Robert Fleck looked lively. That remains the nicest thing one can ever say about the performance of this particular Carrow Road exile during his unhappy Chelsea career. I was not the only Chelsea fan jumping for joy when he was signed the month before this match. Tread lightly in your dreams. They might come true for you tomorrow. Fleck had scored twice at Stamford Bridge the previous season, the second a stunning volley at the Shed end which led to a fan next to me in the West Stand Benches bellowing ‘Sign him up!!’ at the top of his lungs. He only ever scored one more goal at The Bridge in the rest of his career, a penalty at home to Walsall in the League Cup, which he celebrated like a Lottery winner returning home to find Angelina Jolie sat on his sofa in naughty night attire. The nearest he came to repeating this Herculean feat (if indeed, with all due respect,scoring a penalty against Walsall can ever be thus described) was in a King’s Road pub when he scored during a game of Bar Football with Nigel Spackman & reputedly celebrated with almost as much gusto. It didn’t work for Fleck at Chelsea but he always seemed a difficult man to dislike. The glee with which fans greeted his arrival remains a cautionary tale however, one which all fans might like to consider before getting het up about apparently underwhelming signings made by their club. I got terribly excited when Mini leaping, golf ball throwing smoker Duncan McKenzie arrived in 1978. Ditto Chris Sutton in 1999. Stellar signings Fleck, McKenzie & Sutton scored a combined total of seven league goals for Chelsea between them. Someone, somewhere, owes Alan Mayes a written apology! But not Dave Mitchell. Never Dave Mitchell.
The second half against Norwich, for all the wrong reasons, remains one of the most memorable & idiosyncratic 45 minutes of football I can ever remember. Chelsea, or more specifically Beasant, simply crumbled. Big Dave, presumably unnerved by the mistakes of previous weeks, or perhaps suffering from some Samson like repercussions from having recently shorn his once considerable mop of hair, seemed to undergo some sort of on pitch nervous breakdown, like a footballing version of that episode of ‘Boys From The Blackstuff’ when Yosser Hughes totally loses the plot. Only more harrowing. From the moment he fluffs a feeble Mark Robins effort & allows the visitors back into the game, his unease creates a communal tension & sense of apprehension, the team starts to flounder & the crowd’s irritation & anger towards their hapless goalkeeper grows. Some generally pathetic defending leads to a Norwich equalizer. Shortly afterwards a poorly struck shot from distance by Dave Phillips is moving slowly enough for someone to begin saying ‘he’ll probably let that in’ before, remarkably, Beasant does just that, remaining on the floor in a crumpled heap for some time, his despair clear, in the immediate aftermath. The crowd noise that greets the goal is a unique combination of anger & anguish, a howling, wailing, distressed, furious, outpouring of incredulity, interspersed with the buoyant celebrations of the Norwich fans behind Dave’s goal, who clearly can’t believe their luck, & are clearly laughing their heads off at the same time.They bait their former hero Fleck but this is a mere bagatelle compared to the ugliness brewing among home fans, furious about the squandering of a comfortable lead & quick to point the finger of blame squarely at the forlorn, temporarily broken figure that is our giant goalkeeper.Norwich players moving towards Beasant to shake hands at the final whistle engenders more outrage, but this is not gloating but transparent sympathy for a fellow professional suffering a horrendous crisis of confidence.
Following the game, manager Ian Porterfield makes it clear that Beasant must be replaced. He reacts like a fan and not a professional. Not many Chelsea supporters would have said much differently to Porterfield but effectively sacking his beleaguered goalkeeper publicly within minutes of the final whistle seems cruel & inappropriate. Alec Chamberlain quickly arrives on loan & Kevin Hitchcock comes in to the team the following week as the team win (& keep a clean sheet) at Man City. Beasant keeps his own counsel & maintains a dignified silence for 6 months, during which time the team has undergone a boom & bust run of form which sees them close to the top of the table at Christmas, inevitably followed by an all too familiar slump which costs Porterfield his job by mid February. Any goalkeeping blunder during this period leads to an inevitable chorus of ‘Are You Beasant In Disguise?’ to the tune, you will not be surprised to learn, of ‘Bread Of Heaven.’ Five days before Porterfield’s dismissal, a 0-0 draw against Liverpool was significant for one reason only, as the pre-match warm up featured a familiar, if recently forgotten figure, coming out from the cold as the substitute goalkeeper. The Shed quickly stirs itself as news of this hitherto discreet rebirth spreads & ‘Are You Beasant In Disguise?’ gets an enjoyably affectionate airing. Dave returns to the fold & contributes handsomely to fighting off growing relegation fears, keeping a clean sheet against Arsenal & performing heroics in a crucial home victory against fellow strugglers Everton. He wins Evening Standard Footballer Of The Month for March & his wholly deserved rehabilitation seems complete. He continues playing professionally until deep into his 40’s & remains a friend of the club to this day. My last Stamford Bridge memory of him in a Chelsea shirt saw him returning to play (& scoring twice) against Spurs in Kerry Dixon’s testimonial in 1995.
He wasn’t to remain at Chelsea for long after the end of the 1992-3 season though. Caretaker boss Dave Webb was replaced by Glenn Hoddle at the end of the season & Dave’s Stamford Bridge career effectively ended when he dropped a bottle of salad cream on his foot & sustained a nasty tendon injury. You really couldn’t make that one up. Stories that his wife had remarked that ‘he will probably drop that’ as he removed the bottle from the kitchen cupboard & followed it up with a chorus of ‘Are You Beasant In Disguise?’ when he did remain entirely apocryphal.
There were hoots of derision when John Terry wore a Chelsea kit as a non-playing member of the 2012 Champion’s League squad. Daniel Sturridge did likewise As did Raul Meireles. And Branislav Ivanovich. Terry copped for all of it though. Plus ca change. His decision to wear shin pads did, however, seem very odd & somewhat laughable. Until you consider his well-earned reputation as one of the most superstitious players in the modern game. Wearing the same shin pads is just one of dozens of match day rituals performed throughout his career by our apparently Satanic, baby eating former skipper.
I like superstitious footballers because it indicates they care about the outcome of the event they are about to take part in. I don’t imagine Winston Bogarde had many pre-match routines, probably plumping for doing the same as he did the rest of the week, namely sitting on his big fat arse counting my season ticket money as he rescued it from down the back of his much used sofa. Players that do are mirroring the similarly absurd little rituals being played out by fans all around the world on match days, all imagining that they are somehow advancing the cause of their team by donning the same, fading Calvin Klein’s, whistling ‘Come On Eileen’ as they leave the house, avoiding all the cracks in the paving slabs as they make their way to the corner shop to buy their chewing gum. Their lucky chewing gum. Nothing wrong with that. It was good enough for the late, great Johan Cruyff, who used to spit his gum into the opposition’s half before all games. He forgot to do it before Ajax’s 1969 European Cup Final match against AC Milan. They got battered. He never forgot again.
All of this should be encouraged, because there is too much science in sport now. Many of the greatest players in history have been extremely superstitious. Many have not. The wonderful Bobby Moore used to insist on being the last player to put on his shorts, leading Martin Peters to develop a habit of taking his off again just when the great man thought he was in the clear. When JT decided that walking along hotel corridors with the lights switched off was beneficial to the next match result, it was Diego Costa who delighted in walking behind him switching them all back on.
There is a nice, democratic quality about all this hogwash that forms a rare bridge between the increasingly disenfranchised fan & the handsomely paid modern player. Mundane, daily tasks become significant. David James would apparently spit on the walls in the urinals. Terry & various colleagues merely liked to use the same urinal in the changing rooms each match, though hopefully not at the same time. He also liked to park in the same parking space & also to sit in the same seat on the team bus, a pleasingly common option for many. I always sat 3/4 of the way down the coach on the left hand side on my coach trip to Stamford Bridge, or in the same place on a bus if leaving work prior to a midweek game I was unable to attend. JT also proved as brave a figure off the pitch as he was on it by spending several seasons selflessly subjecting himself to the same Usher CD before a game. Makes that boot in the head against Arsenal at Cardiff in the 2007 League Cup Final seem like child’s play. Chelsea still won that match of course, so good old Usher came through again. They should have given him a medal.
He is not the first musical figure to win a trophy for Chelsea. I only missed out on seeing Chelsea in one round of the FA Cup in 1997, the quarter-final tie at Portsmouth. I did not have a ticket for the match. I did not have Sky. I could not go to the pub because me watching Chelsea matches in pubs is bad luck. The last time I had tried was back in 1992, also an FA Cup quarter Final, at Roker Park against Sunderland. When Dennis Wise’s late equalizer was confirmed on Teletext I had run down to my local ‘The Fairview’ to watch our glorious extra time victory. As I passed the window on my way in I saw a red & white striped shirt wheeling away in triumph on the big screen. Gordon Armstrong had scored an even later winner for The Mackems in the dying embers of normal time. Nursing a pint & watching Spurs exit the Cup Winners’ Cup instead was the smallest of consolations that night & I have never watched a Chelsea game in a pub since. Being too nervous to listen throughout to radio commentary I had taken to switching on every 15 minutes for score updates on Chelsea games. Not 12 minutes. Or 17. 15. Exactly. Otherwise I am hexing the team. In younger days I would startle my family by washing dishes during these 15 minutes. That Gary Stanley equalizer against Millwall in 1977. All down to my over zealous use of mild green Fairy Liquid. Later it became vacuuming, inspiring a late, late Jimmy Floyd goal one gloomy winter afternoon at Leicester in the Ranieri era. I even tried praying in my teenage years when things got really grim, but that never worked. If there is a God he/she clearly knows when someone’s taking the piss.
I am too nervous to go the virtuous route for the Portsmouth game. Instead, I stick a cassette tape in my Walkman ( last teenager out turn off the lights please!) of all the worst songs owned by barman Big Steve in my local. It is largely the mix tape from Hell. However, having been reunited with The Rubettes & Lieutenant Pigeon my ears prick up on hearing the jaunty intro to the undervalued Gilbert O’Sullivan’s ‘Ooh-Wakka-Doo-Wakka-Day.’ In truth it isn’t his finest hour, especially lyrically, but it lures me back for a second, then a third time. I keep returning to it, & every 15 minute check on events at Fratton Park brings good news. Chelsea win 4-1 & listening to ‘Ooh-Wakka-Doo-Wakka-Day’ becomes a new matchday ritual, eventually crashing & burning (as all such rituals do sooner or later) on the back of my leaving its refrain just as Ole Gunnar Solskjaer saves a point for Man Utd against us in a mid-week evening fixture the following season. Gilbert immediately goes from hero to zero & a new absurdity is sought. But he won us the FA Cup that season. Trust me.
I do hope John Terry has passed the torch to a new champion of ritualistic nonsense in the Chelsea dressing room. Feeling a bit peckish before the Leicester home game last season I ambled down to the shop to buy chocolate. Plumping for a large Aero with the white filling I amble a little too much on the way back & miss the start of the game. Chelsea are already a goal up when I get home. Ah. I’m on to something here. By the time the corresponding fixture is played at The King Power Stadium in the New Year the die is cast. Prior to this, Chelsea score early, televised goals against Everton & Man Utd en route to handsome victories. it happens again at Leicester, & at home to Arsenal. Then again away at Bournemouth. There is one common theme. On each occasion Chelsea score an early goal as I waddle back home with my Aero. With white filling. When Diego Costa has a Winter spat with Conte & a big money transfer move to China is mooted for our leading scorer I genuinely believe that losing him will be less injurious to Chelsea’s title hopes than my local shop running out of white filled Aeros. Ultimately, neither of these disasters occur & all ends well.
As a new season beckons, I have popped in to the shop today to check out the current Aero situation. Looking good Chelsea. They still have loads. Leaving Gilbert O’Sullivan stuck, not for the first time, in the ‘Where Are They Now?’ file. Alone again naturally. Or perhaps not. Maybe he’s spitting on urinal walls somewhere with Usher as they both wait for the other to put their shorts on first. Be lucky chaps.
Never meet your heroes. It’s a hoary old sporting cliche but one that I should always abide by. In the late ’90’s my mate Bill nudged me & pointed out a proudly displayed photo on a mobile phone screen belonging to someone sat in front of us in the Matthew Harding Upper. On the screen was a picture of said person with Gianluca Vialli. Both Bill & I adored Vialli unreservedly. When Ruud Gullit exiled him to the bench during his first season we watched him pointlessly limbering up prior to one game. ‘Worth 27 Grand a week just to watch him do that’ said Bill with as near an expression of man love on his face as I have ever seen. Now that the selfie has replaced the autograph book pictures like that are commonplace,but at the time it seemed like a major coup. How did you get to be in that position & how did you pluck up the courage to ask for it to be taken?
I suspect former ‘Chelsea Fancast’ podcast stalwart Chel Tel would have pulled it off. He once told a story on the show of a drunken New Year’s Eve night spent in 1986 with the wayward (& sadly departed) John McNaught. The great aspect of that story was that John’s finest hour in a Chelsea shirt came when he scored twice at home to QPR. On New Year’s Day 1987! I wonder if he even went to bed….
On one occasion I was merely a little unlucky in my lily-livered approach to interacting with players. In the late ‘60’s, before I had even been to Stamford Bridge, I am watching my dad play cricket in Windsor on a lovely Summer’s day. Adjacent to the cricket pitch are some grass tennis courts. Wielding the racket on the far side of the occupied court is a lean, tanned man, stripped to the waist wearing a pair of long trousers. I recognise him immediately, largely because I am obsessed with my A&B football card collection. I love the long, flat strips of pink bubble gum that comes with them & that the smell of the gum lingers on them for some while afterwards. I also love memorizing all the player profile facts on the backs of the cards. The topless tennis player is none other than Peter Osgood. Centre Forward. Debut 1964 v Workington. I look around for someone to share my joy at this discovery. I quickly find someone & return but the tennis court is deserted. The great man has departed, seemingly in some ‘Field of Dreams’ sort of way because I haven’t been gone long. For several years after I tuck my autograph book next to the mangey nodding dog in the back of our Wolseley 1500 car when the Windsor fixture comes around. Peter Osgood remains conspicuous by his absence. Eventually, I mention him to one of the Windsor cricketers. ‘Oh, yeah, he used to live here. He’s moved now. Epsom or somewhere.’ I am crushed & never get to meet Peter Osgood. Though I did, briefly, get to see him play tennis, seeing him score in Athens in 1971 would have been rather more impressive.
On other occasions I am simply rubbish. In the ‘80’s & ‘90’s I work in a bookshop that gets occasional visits from Dave Sexton. He is working for the FA at Lilleshall at the time, & is apparently a devotee of our Philosophy section. I am a West Stand Benches regular in these years. Philosophy isn’t big there. Kant is just something you shout at Teddy Sheringham. I once serve our extremely handsome first FA Cup winning manager, selling him some Gardening books, but do I tell him of the impact he has had on my life? No. I say ‘Hello’ ‘Thank You’ & ‘that will be £42.97 please.’ Hopeless.
And so it has always been. I walk down a narrow alley way one day in Oxford & realise that the person walking towards me is Peter Houseman. He looks at me but I don’t speak. His face is as familiar to me as The Queen’s head on a stamp but in truth I don’t know him so can’t think of anything to say. A decade later, prior to the ill fated 1988 Play Off against Middlesbrough, a similar thing happens around Stamford Bridge, when an injured Micky Hazard walks past me. Now a 24/7 Spurs bore, Micky was a great favourite of mine, one rare ray of sunshine in the general gloom of the Hollins/Whalley era. I still don’t speak & his company is quickly snapped up by somebody with a spine. After my parents retire to Dorset the local newsagent is former Blues,Coventry & Ipswich striker John O’Rourke but I don’t find out until he has retired. One wintry afternoon there I am walking along the largely deserted beach along the Jurassic coast at Mudeford when a familiar, short, stocky figure is ambling towards me. Lock up your wingers. It is none other than Ron Harris. He strolls by. I don’t speak. Pathetic. A couple of years later I am walking along the same stretch of beach in the opposite direction, remembering my non-encounter with Ron. I look up & a familiar, short, stocky figure is ambling towards me. It is Ron again. I still don’t speak . Again. Pathetic. Again. The truly daft thing about this is I know several people who have had dealings with Ron Harris & confirm that he is a top man, including one friend who hitched a lift off him one night & said he was great value. Although I had met him, briefly, once before, in 1976 after a game at Oxford, when he belched loudly as he signed his name in my autograph book. Or attempted to. The pen failed. Perhaps it’s just me.
I emailed the ‘Chelsea Fancast’ show asking if anyone had better tales to tell than my feeble shaggy dog stories. Had anyone ever crashed into Winston Bogarde on the dodgems at Southsea or had Celestine Babayaro ask to borrow their lawnmower? There was one lovely reply from a listener who had been woken up in the early hours of the morning by the sound of his hitherto impeccably behaved Au Pair (Au Pair eh, get you!) being noisily dropped off outside his house in the wee small hours of the morning, in an expensive sports car, by none other than the aforementioned Babayaro. The trail then ran cold but I live in hope…
In the early days of his extraordinary, magnificent Chelsea career there was a song about John Terry to the tune of Adam & The Ants ‘Prince Charming’ minus the original line ‘ridicule is nothing to be scared of.’ With the benefit of hindsight it should have been kept in. For when the collective braying scorn & rage of the rag bag of sneering pseuds, cynics, liars & hypocrites who feast on every setback & failing of the finest centre half of his generation finally abates, we will still be able to reflect on endless memories of his footballing brilliance.
We are all aware of his many on field achievements & the esteem he is held in at the club for his support for, & mentoring of, players throughout the staff. There is a fabulous blog by former youth player Sam Tillen on the subject. Equally we are aware of his (admittedly not insubstantial) rap sheet. But how about the lives of some of the more vociferous JT/Chelsea haters & critics? An eclectic mix they make too, ranging from Prime Ministers to internet trolls all manipulated expertly from the movers & shakers within all sections of the modern media.
Come hither David Cameron, expressing his delight at JT being suspended from the Champions League Final in 2012.’He’s done some bad things’ he said to Angela Merkel. And doubtless he has, although unlike our Dave he hasn’t ever belonged to a club whose members smashed up restaurants, burned £50 notes in front of tramps & allegedly inserted their Old Etonian old chaps into the mouths of dead pigs. John Terry has had a life of wealth & privilege thrust upon him by virtue of his enormous talent rather than an accident of birth & this really sticks in the craw of so many of his detractors, brought up to consider themselves superior to the rest of us regardless of their own, frequently appalling, behaviour.
Some of our leading politicians have cause to thank him though. Step forward Tony Blair, sneaking into the Iraq inquiry in 2010 whilst JT’s alleged relationship with an ex colleague’s ex- girlfriend detained the attentions of our flawless media. Meanwhile, London’s then Mayor & our current Foreign Secretary, who has fathered a child outside of his marriage, & impregnated another woman on two occasions, was busy telling us that his private life was nobody’s business but his own. Up to a point I am inclined to agree with him but it seems odd that a footballer has an apparent duty to prevent his genitals from wandering & be a role model rather than those who govern our lives. JT lost the England captaincy over that spurious piece of tittle-tattle, whilst the next footballer engulfed in a lurid, super-injunction sex scandal became captain of the British Olympic team after the fact, presented as the ideal figure to mentor the younger players in that team. The fact he played for media darlings Manchester United is pure coincidence of course.
At the other end of the food chain from our unimpeachable leaders are the faceless spooks hiding at the end of every online John Terry article, dispensing their own distinctive brand of malignancy. You know the sort, all hiding behind names like ‘Chelski Oil Est.2003’ & ‘Sir Alex 13 Times’. Not only do you suspect they have never darkened the doors of their apparently ‘beloved’ Old Trafford or Anfield or Emirates, it seems probable they haven’t actually left the house since their corner shop stopped selling Roy ‘Chubby’ Brown videos & Linda Lusardi calendars. The internet came along at a perfect time for them, just as ITV cancelled ‘Baywatch’ & left them looking for something else to do with their right hands on Saturday teatimes. As a sad, single man myself I understand their pain but don’t respect the response. It’s the media leeches that fuel these people’s prejudices that are the real problem.
These include the slimy slap head mafia. Matt Dickinson & the ludicrous Duncan Castles are to the fore here, but both are outshone by the perennially insidious Matthew Syed. Matthew is apparently an expert on leadership with an impeccable moral compass, baffled by the loyalty of Chelsea fans to both John Terry & indeed to the club itself, being a fierce critic of the club’s owner & the role he played in the post Glasnost reshaping of the old Soviet Union. It is okay for Syed to shamelessly continue to take the Murdoch shilling by writing for ‘The Times’ of course. After all, this man has only owned newspapers that have continuously ruined lives by spreading malicious lies about innocent people for decades, gloried in the slaughter of Argentinian conscripts in the Falkland war, hacked into the phone of a dead schoolgirl & demeaned both the victims & survivors of the Hillsborough disaster. So Chelsea fans should rebel against JT & Abramovich, examine their consciences & walk away from Stamford Bridge forever, many of them having had an emotional commitment to the place since they were small children, but Syed’s commitment to earning a dollar holds no such constraints. He can address multi-national corporations (Goldman Sachs are a LOVELY company aren’t they?) with his motivational speeches, safe in the knowledge that they are all squeaky clean & entirely free of corruption. He can stand for Parliament under the banner of New Labour, the brainchild of a leader we now know is a serial liar & probable war criminal. He needn’t apologise for any of this because he is cleverer & better than us, and not remotely an oily, hypocritical toad who wouldn’t know a scruple if it boned him up the arse. Let’s face it we are all compromised by the stranglehold the reptilian Murdoch has had on modern football but the gall of Syed is truly breathtaking. Karma has apparently intervened anyway, as he is now reduced to doing a podcast with fellow Terry critics Robbie Savage, the uber-cretin of modern punditry, & Andrew Flintoff, the worst England captain in Ashes history, a man whose own conduct has not always stood up to too much scrutiny. I haven’t ever listened to it. Frankly I would rather pour vomit in my ear.
On Twitter we have the little Bullingdon club of minor celebrity, its chief enforcers being Alan Davies & the writer, broadcaster & bellend Danny Baker. Davies is a vociferous Chelsea hater when he isn’t biting tramp’s ears after a drinking binge (most of us make do with a bag of chips or a kebab Al) or cyber bullying people who think his mate Stephen Fry is a bit boring, or telling Liverpool fans that they should ‘get over’ Hillsborough & that their team’s refusal to play on the date of its anniversary gets on his tits. What a charmer. Baker’s obsessive Chelsea hatred has long crossed the borders of the truly pathetic, & examples of it would fill a very large & dull book. Many Chelsea fans backed his club Millwall’s campaign to stay at the New Den. Our Dan tells us he hopes Abramovich sells up & Chelsea ‘fuck off to Turkey.’ When Leicester won the league he hailed the blow against the fat cats & asked ‘can we have our ball back now?’ Our ball Mr Baker? With your Murdoch newspaper columns, radio stint under the leadership of the disgusting Kelvin Mackenzie & numerous tacky book, video & DVD cash ins (the videos outing this bumptious wazzock as the original full kit wanker by the way) we might suggest it has long ceased to be your job to claim to represent the ordinary fan. And if you are so concerned about the dominant role of the fat cats why do you whine like a 5-year old when Sky show Crystal Place v Everton and not Liverpool v Man Utd? On a personal note Mr Baker was diagnosed with cancer at the same time as my father. Thankfully he survived, unlike my father, only to more than once publicly wish this most horrible of illnesses on fellow human beings , the first time less than a year later during the 2011 London riots. This led to fellow cancer survivor John Hartson describing him as ‘a twat of a man.’ Seems about right. Baker never apologised for his despicable comments & we can only imagine the furore if John Terry himself had made them. Vile & classless anyone?
Quick off the mark to scorn JT’s acquittal after the unpleasant Anton Ferdinand escapade was the delightful Robbie Fowler. We will probably never know the truth regarding the context of what was said in that mutually abusive exchange of views during an ugly, heated West London derby. We do know that the ferrety Liverpool striker openly showered Graeme Le Saux with homophobic abuse at Stamford Bridge in 1999, accompanied with a lengthy, provocative wiggling of his already expanding (& deeply unappetizing) Scouse arse at our happily married full back. We also know that such antics have empowered every cretinous ‘Chelsea Rentboys’ chant ever since. Cheers Robbie. Strangely, Ian Herbert, Brian Reade, Duncan Castles et al don’t seem quite so keen to take the moral high ground about this one. We also know that Stuart Pearce used unacceptable, racially abusive language to well-known wind up merchant Paul Ince during a match in 1993. The two sorted it out afterwards, remained England colleagues for years after & Pearce later became a national hero during Euro ’96. Amazing what you can get away with if the media are on your side & you don’t play for Chelsea.
Or sometimes if you do. Didier Drogba has a cringey send off in a meaningless end of season game against Sunderland in 2015 & nobody bats an eye lid. Terry has a cringey send off in a meaningless end of season game against Sunderland & Garth Crooks is choking on his Lardy cake within 10 seconds. Incidentally, Drogba is one of many high-profile, articulate & strong-minded black players (Desailly, Hasselbaink, Makelele among many of the others) to have played alongside Terry. You imagine that after twenty years, a large chunk of it spent as club captain of a truly multi cultural & ethnically diverse football team, that at least one of these voices would have broken rank & outed him if anybody at Chelsea, the place where people really know him, seriously believed he was a racist.
Hopefully, his departure will be a chance to subdue the torrent of hate filled, third rate journalism about the club I have loved for nearly half a century. Terry not being a Chelsea player may mean they give him a slightly easier ride too. I wont hold my breath though. When I admire a Caravaggio painting I shelve the knowledge that he was a murderer. The sculptor Eric Gill’s works are still widely exhibited & enjoyed despite him having sexual encounters with not only his sisters & daughters but also the family dog. Makes briefly parking in a disabled space seem relatively small beer really, but woe betide the working class boy who succeeds as a Chelsea footballer & openly enjoys his success, making the sort of mistakes that young, talented, cocky & rich people do in all spheres of life. A different moral code will apply to you.
I saw John’s first game in a Chelsea shirt, a League Cup game in 1998, ironically against his new employers Aston Villa. He looked a bit ungainly & I wondered if he would go the way of Nick Crittendon & Steven Hampshire, players who had also made fleeting appearances in that competition before disappearing off to Yeovil, Brechin or other relative backwaters of football. Instead, he developed into a player of true greatness & it has been a pleasure to behold. I revere his talent, am grateful I got to see him display it regularly at first hand, & wish him well at Villa Park.
Farewell then White Hart Lane. In early May it was all lined up. Spurs would win at West Ham, Chelsea would slip up at West Brom & victory over a distracted Man Utd in the swan song at their venerable old ground would see a new leader in the title race. Sadly, while Spurs & the TV companies were simpering at each other like Peter Perfect & Penelope Pitstop in the cartoon classic ’Wacky Races,’ Chelsea Football Club did a Dick Dastardly & pissed in both their petrol tanks, us supporters snickering loudly in the background like Muttley.
However, it does seem a little unfair that Chelsea fans have been excluded from the general White Hart Lane love in. After all, who has more happy memories of the place than we do? From Alan Hudson’s free kick, creeping under the boot of Cyril Knowles & beyond Pat Jennings in the 1972 League Cup Semi Final, to the unravelling of AVB’s fairy tale return to English football in 2013, the opportunities to bask in a warm glow of contentment when reflecting on past exploits at The Lane are varied & many. The 6-1 in 1997. Thumping, Micky Hazard inspired wins in 1986 & 1989. Yes, you did play for us Micky. And you celebrated those wins! The ‘normal service is resumed’ 4-0 FA Cup win in 2002. The 6-1 in 1997. Bernard Lambourde being the unlikely hero with a spawny winner in 2000. Eddie Newton scoring twice playing as a makeshift striker in 1992. The 6-1 in 1997. Great individual goals litter this period too. How about Bjarne Goldbaek’s thunderbolt in 1999 or Shevchenko’s glorious effort in the FA Cup in 2007? Oh, and did I mention the 6-1 in 1997?
My favourite was a 3-1 win in August 1991. We feared the worst as we made our way to the ground, past the club shop on the corner advertising ‘Full Match Videos Available Within An Hour Of The Final Whistle.’ Spurs were the FA Cup holders. They had lost Gazza but still had grinning crisp thief Gary Lineker up front, joined a week or so earlier by our former striker Gordon Durie. Hmm. Gordon Durie. Last seen by us Chelsea fans kissing the club badge after scoring against title chasing Liverpool at the tail end of the previous season, presumably to reassure us that rumours that he yearned to return North were untrue. Pitching up in North London instead sealed his transformation from Jukebox to Judas in one fell swoop, but surely would also invoke the immutable law of the ex, whereby former players come back to haunt us with goals, a venerable Chelsea tradition observed faithfully over the years by the likes of Jim McCalliog, Peter Rhoades-Brown, Neil Shipperley, David Luiz & even our traditionally goal shy full back Gary Locke.
The teams are announced. We shudder as Erland Johnsen lines up beside the excellent Paul Elliott. Erland is, rightly, fondly remembered now, in no small part due to his being so shocked at finding himself in such close proximity to the opposition goal that he fainted inside the Leicester City box, late on in Extra Time during an FA Cup Replay in 1997, winning a crucial penalty in the process. He was still struggling to adapt to English football in 1991 though.
We needn’t have worried. An early goal from Kerry Dixon at our end quickly settles the nerves, swiftly followed by a lovely chip from Kevin Wilson, a former team-mate of my brother-in-law at Southern League Banbury United. Durie is floundering, & subjected to the most sustained campaign of wholly justified abuse I have ever heard at a football ground from formerly adoring Chelsea supporters. He exchanges words with his close friend & Scotland team-mate, the great Steve Clarke, referring to the stick he is getting as ‘just banter’. ‘No’, says Clarkey, ‘they really hate you.’ The crisp thief tries to turn things round, striking a Superman like pose in the box that sees his fist guide the ball towards the Chelsea goal where Kevin Hitchcock turns it round the post. Cheating isn’t going to save the day today Gary. At half time Spurs decide to liven their subdued fans up by introducing them to the non Arsenal supporting contestant in the forthcoming World Title boxing match at The Lane. Enter the perennially absurd Chris Eubank, who poses & prances like a tit towards the centre circle. ‘I support Spurs because they support me’ he proclaims, but if he says anything else we don’t hear it such is the deafening volume at which the Chelsea fans are singing ‘There’s only one Michael Watson.’ There was to be a tragic postscript to that fight but this afternoon just gets better. Andy Townsend gets a third. Kerry has another ruled out for offside but I am not too worried about more goals. It is a hot day & all those raised arms in acrylic Commodore Amiga replica shirts have proved a job too far for Messrs Right Guard & Lynx. Durie is also continuing to stink the place out. The abuse never does abate, & at one point, with his back to us, he lifts up a weary right hand in our direction, a tacit acknowledgement that he has been beaten by it. He never really does it for Spurs in his time there, & strangely is never fit to play against Chelsea again. Funny that. Lineker gets a soft goal back but it is too little too late.
As we file out into the streets, a merry, albeit BO addled throng, an extremely long, orderly queue is forming outside the Spurs club shop but it is not Erik Thorstvedt key rings or ‘I support Spurs because my dad says so’ baby outfits that are in demand today. For the queue is entirely composed of Chelsea fans, patiently waiting for their full match video. Available within an hour of the final whistle. Doubtless with a match summary from a prepubescent Jermaine Jenas assuring us that Spurs were the better team.
Happy Days. And farewell again to the Lane. I wish Spurs well as they make their way to Wembley, doubtless, to quote those great late twentieth century philosophers Chas & Dave, with their knees going all trembly. Equally, I am sure we will all wish them well in their new stadium when it eventually opens.
While hoping they lose every game they play there.
We all know someone like it don’t we? The friend who claims to have had walk on parts in iconic moments in history, like a sporting version of Woody Allen in ‘Zelig’. Prone to delusion & fantasy when it comes to recounting their presence at those special moments for their team. The further away from the moment, the greater the exaggeration becomes, allied to the inevitable tangle between fact & our declining memories of what was actually seen or done. I once worked with a serial fantasist who was also my boss. When somebody commented favourably on his playing of ‘Abbey Road’ by The Beatles in his car he smiled proudly & stated boldly ‘yes, they played all of it when I saw them live.’ Impressive stuff given that the Fab Four played their last concert in 1966 & ‘Abbey Road’ was released in 1969. He once claimed to have seen his team (not Chelsea) lose a midweek League Cup tie at Old Trafford despite having been spotted leaving work at 6.30 that evening. In Oxford. Perhaps Concorde was on standby. Doubtless he saw Botham flaying The Aussies at Headingley in 1981, sat next to Blair & Brown as they thrashed out their unholy alliance at The Granita Restaurant in 1994, & can solve the puzzle of what happened to Lord Lucan, apart from the four months we know he spent partnering Alan Mayes in the Chelsea frontline in the early part of 1981.
Chelsea fans of a certain vintage are perverse creatures though, so it is often the more tortured & dismal experience that gets woven into the personal history. Those over 50 are as likely to boast about being in the dispirited few at Rotherham, during the 6-0 drubbing handed out to their team in 1981, as they are about being in the happy throng in Munich on May 19 2012. Some of them will even be telling the truth.
Those that do fib are, I think, missing a trick because some of my favourite, quirkier Chelsea memories relate to things I was doing while not at a match. Mock duelling with plastic swords in Selfridge’s with a mate (who would later become my regular Stamford Bridge companion) as Eddie McCreadie’s brave experiment with youth came unstuck at The Battle Of White Hart Lane in 1975. Dancing deliriously round the empty Fray Bentos tins, filthy coffee mugs & discarded Marlboro fag butts in my student hovel as Ron Gubba on ‘Sport on 2’ announced that Clive Walker had scored THAT goal at Burnden Park in 1983. Getting a letter with match reports from my Millwall supporting grandfather when staying with relatives in Omaha, Nebraska in 1976, to find that Steve Finnieston had scored a late winner at Orient on the opening day of the season. For what it’s worth I never made it to either Rotherham or Munich, watching Blyth Spartans play Scarborough for the former & viewing the latter at home on my own, bathed in a warm glow, assisted by a blessed combination of Drogba’s header, missed German penalties, red wine &, ultimately, champagne, stored from a significant birthday the month before.
Coming from Oxford marks me as the original tourist I guess, my nose perennially pressed against the West London glass, Chelsea & Stamford Bridge the focal point. My first ever trip to Stamford Bridge was for a 4th Round FA Cup tie against Burnley in January 1970. Three months later Chelsea beat Leeds to win their first ever FA Cup. I had just had my 8th birthday & my newly adopted football team & I were invincible. Or so it seemed. The Peters Osgood & Bonetti were off to Mexico to defend the World Cup with England. What could possibly go wrong? The rude awakenings began that summer, & the illusion was further destroyed by a 3-0 home defeat to Man City in the following season’s FA Cup. I reacted to this setback by bursting into tears & throwing the mother of all tantrums, disappearing up to my bedroom & ripping up any football cards in my collection featuring the Maine Road club’s players. The tattered remnants of Booth, Lee, Bell, Doyle, Oakes & co & all over the floor did not reverse the result sadly, the first signpost to the long, slow, painful road to realization of what being a Chelsea fan through the rest of the ‘70’s would be like.
‘Chelsea are shit.’ It is the late ‘70’s & my chief tormentor at school regularly taunts me with this mantra during Art lessons. He is clearly delighted to impart me with this knowledge, & delivers it regularly. He is an armchair Liverpool fan, a harrowing gig given that his team are the current English & European champions. By 1978 I can recall Chelsea fans at our school on the fingers of one hand. There are a couple of harder lads who don’t show that much interest but clearly enjoy the fan’s reputation as a fighting firm of repute. The most notable supporter is another classmate, Nick Bradley. He has a Season Ticket with his father near the tunnel in the new East Stand. They take me to loads of games during the brilliant 1976-7 promotion season, including a Boxing Day win over Fulham with 55,00 others & a crucial, if fortuitous, late season win over Brian Clough’s Nottingham Forest. Being near the tunnel we get a bird’s eye view of George Best flicking the V’s at the ref after the Fulham game, which later leads to the future Chelsea resident denying a disrepute charge in one of his many appearances before an FA disciplinary tribunal. You did it George, you impossibly handsome old rascal. The Easter period that season takes us to 3 Chelsea matches in 4 days, & after a Best inspired Good Friday morning defeat at Craven Cottage I also manage to get back to Oxford in time to watch a goalless draw with hated rivals Swindon Town. Mr Bradley was a mix of Trilby doffing chivalry & volatile excitability, the latter especially to the fore when steaming along the A40 towards London at the wheel of his Morris Minor. He may have been a stranger to political correctness, like most of us in the ‘70’s, but he got me to some of the most treasured games in my football watching life & I can never thank him or Nick enough for that. At school we also have one notable alumni from the school with a Chelsea link. I had watched him for the Oxford Schools Under 15 team in the early ‘70’s, a quite brilliant centre forward with a substantial blond mane. The English Schools trophy was a big deal in the early 1970’s & in 1972 the brilliance of this player took Oxford all the way to the final. One goal, which memory serves me as being, appropriately enough, against Liverpool Boys, was a sublime, long-range, dipping left foot shot which flew into the goal at Oxford’s Cuckoo Lane End. Clive Walker was comfortably the most talented schoolboy footballer I have ever seen.
None of this is of any interest to my tormentor. I am a soft target. An open goal. A football geek, neither cool, hard or witty enough to respond to his abuse. But I continue to nail my colours to a failing, footballing mast because I do have qualities which my tormentor & his ilk can neither erode, or truly understand, & which all true fans must display at various times. I am both extremely loyal & extremely stubborn. Living in Oxford & supporting Chelsea as a 15-year-old schoolboy is a challenge. The fair weather 1970 cup winning glory seekers have long since departed, some ill-mannered enough to defect to Bertie Mee’s drearily efficient Arsenal in the wake of their double winning season barely a year later. There follows a steady trickle towards the likes of West Ham, Derby, Man Utd or Liverpool. Those who had taken up with Leeds at the beginning of the decade tended to stick with them as they clogged (& allegedly bribed) their way through the Revie years, moving to calmer waters later in the decade via the considerably more avuncular managerial style of pipe smoking Jimmy Armfield. I haven’t budged since 1970. Despite relegation, a 7-1 drubbing at Wolves in 1975 & various cup embarrassments, the die has long been cast. In 1972 a 2 goal lead at Orient is frittered away & the FA Cup is exited, followed a week later by defeat to Stoke City in the League Cup Final. Only the release of ‘Blue Is The Colour’ alleviates the gloom. Tired of my pleading, one Friday afternoon my mother hands me an envelope full of pennies & 50 pence worth are swiftly deposited on the record counter of the nearest WH Smith, to my delight & the bemusement & irritation of their staff. I run around the corner to my Uncle Tony’s house to find he has recently installed a jukebox in his kitchen. He indulges me & ‘Blue Is The Colour’ blares out. Love is evidently deaf as well as blind as I unreservedly adore it to this day. Following George Eastham’s late winner for Stoke I go up for a bath & come down wearing my Chelsea kit. My mum laughs at this crude but heartfelt statement of intent. There will never be a defection to Arsenal or Liverpool. Or Leeds. Dirty Leeds.
Having already been beaten by Liverpool in The League Cup Chelsea, almost inevitably, draw them again in the 3rd Round of the FA Cup during the 1977-8 season. The FA Cup Draw always invokes memories of this era, when the greatest & oldest club knockout tournament of all was still regarded with a genuine & appropriate degree of reverence & excitement by participants & supporters alike. In the early ‘70’s, the draw would take place on a Monday lunchtime on Radio 2. News of this would work its way round the playground via the kids who went home for their lunch. Failing that the stop press of the local evening paper would usually fill in the gaps. By the mid ‘70’s though the draw was taking place on BBC1 on Saturday tea time, usually overseen by then FA secretary Ted Croker (Eric Dier’s grandad no less) with various luminaries within the footballing hierarchy drawing out the balls from the velvet bag. These old duffers are generally composed of a selection of the self-made businessmen & Old Etonian establishment types who alternatively administered the game or ran football clubs. Newcastle United’s Lord Westwood, with his eye patch, was one regular. Sam Bolton, chairman of Leeds United, was another. My possibly jaundiced memory (he was chairman of Leeds United, is further comment required?) is of him being codger most inclined to clumsily drop the balls loudly onto the studio floor, not an uncommon occurrence given the average age rarely dropped below 90, or so it seemed to my teenage self. On one occasion the draw was halted due to one team being given two separate opponents in the same round. The amateurish nature of the proceedings contrasted hilariously with the po-faced, Politburo like solemnity in which the participants conducted themselves through this endearing shambles. They should probably have got contestants from ‘Bruce Forsyth’s Generation Game’ to do it instead, our Brucie being a somewhat slicker compere of light entertainment than dear old Ted Croker. It wouldn’t have been as funny had it been deliberately played for laughs though.
Following the draw my tormentor’s smirk becomes an even more common sight. He doesn’t for one second imagine that Chelsea will beat Liverpool in the FA Cup. Only the romantic streak that lurks within every fan permits me to dream it will happen. I don’t get a ticket for the game, so will have to settle for walking a mile down the road to watch the reserves in action at Oxford. My visits to Chelsea are sporadic until Nick & his dad come to my rescue, so Oxford’s Manor Ground is a second home for me & I go with my dad, uncle & cousins to most home games. After a meteoric rise from Non-League they survive 8 seasons (1968-76) in what is now known as The Championship, then known by its correct name of Division 2. This survival is largely based on a solid defence with two good centre halves, Colin Clarke & Welsh international Dave Roberts, both notable performers, along with full back & occasional makeshift striker John Shuker. Things looked up with the arrival of Hugh Curran from Wolves in 1972, already struggling to pass medicals but a terrific centre forward. He adds much-needed flair & star quality to an otherwise humdrum attack, previously led by the sturdy figure of Nigel Cassidy, whose moderate abilities & unspectacular scoring record do scant justice to his charismatic on pitch persona & magnificent Zapata moustache. Cassidy came from Scunthorpe & local legend has it that Oxford had to choose between him & the other leading light in the Scunthorpe attack. They passed over him for Nigel. Chap by the name of Kevin Keegan. They had also had stalwart service from the Atkinson brothers. Ron AKA ‘The Tank’ with his heavily Wintergreened thighs & impossibly tight shorts, is a commanding midfield presence. His brother Graham is a more gifted, if less robust, figure with a decent eye for goal. Oxford may often have lacked flair in this era but they don’t want for characters. Two goalkeepers spring to mind, the ungainly but deceptively agile Roy Burton who was a magnificent shot stopper but less adept at keeping his shorts in place, leading to an unwelcome propensity to regularly display his arse to the crowd, like some ‘70’s footballing equivalent of Kim Kardashian. His understudy for several seasons is a former Portsmouth regular called John Milkins, otherwise called Dracula, not, in line with the oft-repeated goalkeeping joke, because of a fear of crosses, but because of his unfashionable, heavily Brylcreemed, jet black hair. The nickname was rather undermined by the absence of front teeth however. The Dracula theme spilled over to the Osler Road terrace where another Transylvanian lookalike, who strangely I only ever noticed at night games, would stand immaculately dressed in raincoat, collar & tie, with a wooden handled black umbrella & only ever be heard to utter one word, loudly & regularly. ‘Wankers!’ The golden days of terrace wit? Possibly not.
The schoolboy exploits of Clive Walker aside, there was not much cross pollination between the two clubs in my formative football going years, although I vividly remember running on to the Manor Ground pitch in my Parka & Winfield (Woolworth’s own brand) trainers to get Peter Bonetti’s autograph at an end of season reserve game, incurring the displeasure of stooped, curmudgeonly Oxford groundsman Les Bateman, rightly proud as he was of the playing surface he had created, a veritable bowls green compared to the threadbare, glorified sand pits that personified most club’s pitches from October onward in that era. Peter had lost his first team place to the late John ‘Sticks’ Phillips at the time, a player who spent most of that decade at Stamford Bridge. John had contributed admirably to the 1971 European triumph, most notably in the away leg at Bruges, but I largely remember him for two things unrelated to his talent, namely having his face kicked in by Tommy Taylor at Upton Park (Tommy Langley went in goal & a 1-0 lead turned into a 3-1 defeat) & his contribution to the programme player profiles in the 1973-4 season. That season’s player questionnaire included each player being given the chance to tell us one thing they would do if they ruled the world. John spurned the chance to end world poverty or ban the bomb, plumping instead for topless bathing to be allowed in Britain. You’ve got to have a dream. It could have been worse. Midfielder Steve Kember wanted to bring back hanging. Sensible policies for a happier Britain eh Steve? Peter Bonetti, gentleman that he was, signed this pre-pubescent scruffbag’s autograph book readily. A player of his stature must have hated playing reserve team football, & given that he had to listen to every gobshite in England reminding him of the 1970 World Cup & his overstated role in England’s demise, these sparsely attended affairs must have been especially painful, with every jibe audible. He rose above it like the classy & dignified man he is, being a better person than all his detractors, & better at his job than any of them as well.
In 1973, two Chelsea stars play for Oxford in Graham Atkinson’s testimonial against Coventry City, Peter Osgood & Alan Hudson being enrolled as guest players for the night. Whether they or an agent on their behalf had requested it I know not, but they were given separate changing facilities from the other players. They entered Oxford’s compact ground along the narrow alley way that led to the changing rooms, Hudson wearing a huge lapelled floral shirt seemingly unbuttoned down to his naval, with a sizeable medallion around his neck. He looked like a West Coast rock star, not that I knew what one looked like in 1973.They were ushered to what can only be described as a large shed, probably because it was a large shed, presumably host to the curmudgeonly groundsman’s mower. Nobody had managed to get an autograph but my friend Richard lived a few doors away from an Oxford apprentice called Keith Baker. He had been in the same Oxford Boys team as Clive Walker & both had played for England schoolboys, alongside Walker’s future teammates Ray Wilkins & John Sparrow. As luck would have it Keith had been given the job of attending to the needs of our two heroes, so Richard collared him by the doorway to the luxury changing room/shed & we became the only people to acquire the coveted signatures. Aside from that all I can recall is that after they had changed, two luridly coloured pairs of those revolting nylon underpants worn by all of us in that era could be viewed hanging up on two hooks through the window of the shed. The male pant world had only recently exploded into colour after a strict, white Y front only formality during my early years. Indeed, the first time my mother had produced a new pair for me that went against type, a conservative pale blue pair, I had burst into tears thinking it was an attempt to transform me into a girl. My sister was at this match & I asked her later if she had met Osgood & Hudson. ‘No’, she replied, ‘but I did see their pants.’ Must have been a hell of a game. Keith Baker sadly died a few years ago, & played just one league game, in a loan spell at Grimsby Town, during his career, the transition from schoolboy star to established professional not always being as seamless as the likes of Wilkins & Walker made it look.
A couple of years after this the clubs were in the same division, albeit for one season only. Chelsea’s first match at Oxford was not rendered memorable for Bill Garner’s goal in a 1-1 draw, or even Ron Harris’s late thunderous drive against the hosts crossbar, but for some traditional mid ‘70’s aggro in the London Road end after Mick Tait’s equalizer for Oxford, followed by Chelsea fans throwing a bike through the windows of ‘Shergolds’, the local ironmongers at the end of the game, reputedly the most controversial thing to happen in Headington since one time local resident C.S. Lewis went mad one night on completing ‘The Chronicles Of Narnia’ & had that dangerous third half in one of the local hostelries. Peter Houseman played a starring role for Oxford in that game. He had left Chelsea at the end of the previous season, part of Eddie McCreadie’s clearing out of the old guard, much-loved cup winning colleagues John Hollins & Tommy Baldwin also having exited stage left. His ill-fated spell at Oxford ended in tragedy a year later after a home game against Crystal Palace, when he, his wife Sally & their two friends were killed in a car crash, caused by a ‘reckless’ driver whose insane exploits at the wheel, travelling between 90-100 mph in his Maserati in an accident black spot, left 6 children without parents. Consequently, there were two benefit matches, one at Stamford Bridge between the current Chelsea team & the 1970 FA Cup winning team, & one between Oxford & Chelsea at the Manor Ground. I attended both, going with Nick & his dad to the first game, & still feel bad at how annoyed we were that the late Alan Ball played for Chelsea in Peter Houseman’s place that night. It was a patently decent gesture on his part & he also valiantly defended Peter Bonetti in a documentary about the 1970 World Cup many years later, when other members of that squad were happily sticking the boot in. Top man. On a personal note there was a sad postscript to this saddest of events when I went to a cricket awards dinner the following winter as a callow youth to discover that the drunken, posh prat heckling the speeches, a man called Barty, was in fact the driver of the car that had killed the Housemans & their friends. He had been banned for driving for 10 years & fined £4,00 but escaped prison & a conviction for drink driving despite smelling heavily of alcohol, & the court being told by the doctor that had examined him that he was convinced he was intoxicated. Doubtless he had a heavy burden to carry, regardless of the sentence meted out, but being the son of a Tory MP probably came in handy, & his presence & behaviour at that dinner remains one of the more dismal experiences of my life.
There is a growing sense of trepidation as the Liverpool tie beckons, & not without reason. Our opponents are the best team in Europe. Chelsea are broke, nearly four years on from their last forays into the transfer market in the summer of 1974 (David Hay & John Sissons) & six months away from the next, the less than earth shattering signing of goalkeeper Bob Isles from Weymouth for £10,000. Roman Abramovich is 12 years old. The club is in huge debt to creditors after overstretching their finances to build the East Stand. In echoes of the role played by Trevor Birch during the early part of this century, the most newsworthy activity at Chelsea is often centred around a man called Martin Spencer, the club accountant. After the 1976-7 promotion winning campaign with a youthful squad managed by Eddie McCreadie, the following season had started slowly. There was a very simple explanation for this beyond the club’s arse hanging out of its threadbare trousers. On July 1st a national outpouring of joy erupted during Jubilee year when perennial nearly woman tennis player Virginia Wade finally won a Wimbledon title. I had avoided this open invitation to communal nausea by disappearing off to play cricket with my cousins, only to return home to less joyous news, imparted as soon as I got through the door. ‘Eddie McCreadie’s resigned’ said my dad, looking up from his decorating. It was true. Devastating. In a row over a car reputedly. To say the summer ended there would be a trifle melodramatic but the winter promised to be a long one.
The following season had indeed been a struggle to begin with, but in the aftermath of the cup draw Chelsea had at last roused themselves into a decent run of form. A 3-1 away win at Wolves had been followed up over Christmas with wins over West Ham and Birmingham, the latter a 5-4 away victory that their manager, a certain Sir Alf Ramsey, described as being ‘like Fred Karno’s Army.’ Any New Year’s disappointment I felt at a dropped point (still only 2 for a win in 1978) at home to a very decent WBA side was partly atoned for by the brilliantly pissed match updates on ‘Sport on 2 ‘ by the late, great Geoffrey Green, who had clearly had more than one or two more for the road the night before. The level of inebriated incoherence emanating from this notable man of sporting words reached such a level that I fear my radio would have failed the breathalyzer simply for transmitting his post-match summary. Drunk in charge of a journalist’s voice.
My cousins go with me to the reserve game. I am 3 months away from my 16th birthday so don’t share their wish to collect autographs after the game. Evidently I am too cool for autographs. It is the only thing I am too cool for. In my brown, hand me down anorak & flares it is fair to say that they aren’t queuing up at the door. The anorak has a Chelsea patch on the sleeve, which helps to deflect from the damage elsewhere on its arms, caused by kindly classmates daubing it with sulphuric acid during one of Mr Bailey’s interminably dull Chemistry classes. I carry a radio which is too big to fit in my pockets, but if things are going badly at Stamford Bridge I want to be the first to know and not hear the news bellowing out via a third-party, as had happened during the 7-1 fiasco at Wolves in 1975. Punk is something that has happened to others, but it will not hit me for another six months when ‘Hong Kong Garden’ by Siouxsie & The Banshees is released, my life is transformed, & John Peel becomes a more significant figure in my life than John Motson. In truth, it is not a stellar Chelsea line up at Oxford on this day for the autograph hunter. The season before had seen a forward line of Bill Garner, Tommy Langley, our not so old friend Clive Walker & (returning from injury) that season’s top scorer Steve Finnieston rip a hapless Oxford defence apart en route to winning that year’s Football Combination. Digging out an old home programme containing the match details at Oxford in 1978 causes some head scratching. John Dempsey’s name appears & I have no memory whatsoever of him playing. This is strange, because he was a significant figure at Chelsea in the 1970’s. He had played in both epic FA Cup Final matches against Leeds in 1970, & scored a magnificent volley in the Cup Winners Cup Final win over Real Madrid the following season. This belter rarely gets a mention strangely, presumably because it wasn’t scored by Peter Osgood. By 1978 his first team days have been behind him for a couple of years, along with his remarkable recent attempts at staving off the effects of male pattern baldness. From about 1975 the results of this have seen the development of an absurd & unruly thatch of comb over madness, resulting in a bizarre combination akin to music hall comedian Max Wall colliding with an angry 70’s militant feminist. John disappears off to the USA shortly after this match to see out the rest of his career & I can only believe that the barnet had been attended to if he was marshalling the defence at Oxford that day. Otherwise It would have been far more memorable than the match. Only two other players had been near the first team at that point, midfielder Brian Bason & a personal favourite of mine, right back Gary Locke, a cultured full back unlucky enough to break into the first team when it was in decline & leave it before the renaissance under John Neal had really taken off. Lee Frost was up front & was to have a few moments in the sun a couple of seasons later, most notably a hat trick in a 7-3 win at Orient, before being shipped off to Brentford along with the unfortunate Gary Johnson, who did not feature on this day. The late David Stride was at left back & I was to see him endure a torrid first team début at St Andrews later that year at the hands of a winger called Steve Fox. With hindsight the most significant name on the team sheet, also to make his first team debut later that year, was that of John Bumstead, now rightly seen as one of the great Chelsea servants, with a decade or more of blood, sweat, tears & great diving headers to come, on this day just another name among the rest in the line-up, some of whom who never quite make it. These include a Wilkins brother who is neither Ray the artist or Graham the artisan (in Gary Locke’s berth at Stamford Bridge for the Liverpool match) but Steven, an aspirant midfielder in his brother’s mould. There is also a chirpy, auburn haired goalkeeper by the name of Bradley. Brother Ray is injured for the Liverpool game & this is of concern. Those of us who had the pleasure of seeing Wilkins play for Chelsea remember a player of style, flair & vision, scoring sublime goals & spraying long distance passes with aplomb. This is at odds with the received wisdom from certain quarters who should know better, among them the sad, bitter churl that is Alan Hudson, self-appointed head denigrator of all things Chelsea since 1974. Our old friend Ron Atkinson didn’t help. Having swapped the Wintergreen of his playing days for Ambre Solaire & dodgy shades he called Wilkins ‘The Crab’ referring to Ray’s habit of passing sideways, having inherited him when taking over from Dave Sexton as Man Utd manager in 1981. It was extraordinary cheek on Atkinson’s part. In 1982 I stood on The Kop (?!) & watched Wilkins play for Atkinson at Anfield, holding the fort selflessly while Bryan Robson rampaged up & down the pitch to no discernible effect. Another midfielder, Arnold Muhren, spent the entire 90 minutes hugging the left touch-line 10 yards either side of the halfway line. You would imagine a manager would appreciate a huge talent working his arse off to liberate teammates, but Big Ron would fail to hold his tongue to far more spectacularly disastrous effect many years later, ironically a Chelsea player once again being disparaged, albeit in a far more odious way. Man Utd got to the FA Cup Final in the same season as my Kop experience, & I watched as a room full of Northern voices relentlessly bad mouthed Ray. When he curled a sublime shot into the Brighton net I broke my silence & let them all know what I thought of the crass nonsense my ears had been forced to endure for over an hour. There may have been expletives involved. Standing on The Kop? Cheering a Man U goal? I was a long way from home but my heart was still in the same place. As was Ray’s I suspect. Chelsea to the core that boy.
The reserve game kicks off at 2. Revisionists try to argue that Britain was not as doom laden & depressed during this era as it is usually portrayed, but times were hard at Oxford United as well as Chelsea, & the opportunity to avoid switching on the floodlights is grabbed eagerly. By 1978 most of Oxford’s iconic players from the early ’70’s are gone, though Curran has returned on a free from Bolton, sporting a spectacularly unbecoming perm, bad hairdressing evidently among the few trades to thrive in these winters of discontent. Given the early kick off there would have been no sign of ‘Wankers’ either. John Milkins is still around & may well have been in goal. Things are about to look up for The U’s however, starting on this unlikely occasion in the fearsome form of Gary Briggs, making his first appearance for the club, on loan from Middlesboro. Briggs goes on to have a fantastic career at The Manor, surviving the madness of the Fatty Maxwell inspired Thames Valley Royal Years to help the club enter the top division & win a major trophy before the mid 1980’s are through. Kerry Dixon often mentions him as a worthy opponent, along with his equally rugged defensive sidekick Malcolm Shotton. With his curly black hair & ‘Magnum’ tache Briggs occasionally has a quiet pint in my mid ‘80’s local ‘The Chequers.’ He is no trouble at all but has the kind of eyes that suggest it would be unwise to spill his pint. Not that anyone is in a hurry to do so. We have all seen him play.
To be truthful I remember little of the reserve match. Chelsea won 2-0 despite a good performance by Gary Briggs. I remember Lee Frost darting around up front & the Wilkins brother who wasn’t Graham or Ray drifting around midfield in a slightly unconvincing, ’Stars In Their Eyes’ style impersonation of his illustrious older brother. It’s half time at Stamford Bridge as the match ends & remarkably Chelsea are 1-0 up on the European Cup holders, Clive Walker reliving his youthful exploits & hammering a glorious left foot shot past Ray Clemence. I join my cousins outside the dressing rooms so they can collect the autographs. This being 1978 the radio is all we have to update us on the progress at Stamford Bridge. On normal match days the half time scores are communicated by a man hooking up numbers like those used at village cricket grounds, the games only identified by an alphabetical sequence available only to those who have bought a match programme. But this is not a normal match day, this particular game has finished & there is no match programme, just the usual hurriedly typed up sheet containing the two line ups for the day. As it is 1978 there are, of course, no mobile phones, no internet. Neither is there Ceefax or Teletext , soon the staple diet for all non-attending football fans. We are years away from Neil Barnett’s match reports on premium rate phone line Chelsea Clubcall, which shows up in the mid ‘80’s offering live commentary at the princely rate of 46 pence a minute. Knowing Oxford United’s impecunious state there is not much chance of there being even a portable black & white TV for the visiting team to watch badger haired Dickie Davies in the ‘World Of Sport’ studio, or sheepskin clad ‘Grandstand’ regulars like Motson, Barry Davies, Peter Lorenzo or Alan Weekes communicate the twists & turns of that day’s cup action. To cut a long story short, which clearly I am failing to do, the Chelsea Reserve team squad do not know the score when they emerge all lank haired from the showers, having doubtlessly doused themselves liberally with Blue Stratos, the great smell of Brut, or Denim, with its advertising pay off line ‘For the man who doesn’t have to try too hard.’ 20 years later Chelsea play at Oxford in the FA Cup & Marcel Desailly presages a monumentally half hearted & arrogant performance by yawning as he performs a desultory set of sit ups in the pre-match warm up. Presumably he had discovered a late century variant on ‘Denim’ instructing him he didn’t have to try at all.
By the time the players emerge Chelsea have gone 3-0 up at Stamford Bridge. The Reserves of ’77 are on fire. Walker has been joined on the score sheet by Finnieston & Langley, & Bill Garner is to distinguish himself by giving the man who broke Peter Osgood’s leg, Emlyn Hughes, a well-deserved shove in the face, leading to an absurd show of histrionic floor writhing from the squeaky voiced Thatcherite. This earns the derision & contempt of commentator Brian Moore, & proponents of the theory that foreigners introduced us to the dark arts of cheating are referred to its presence on YouTube, along with Man City & Derby striker’s Franny Lee’s propensity to trip himself up in the penalty box (he scored 13 penalties in one season alone!) or punch the ball into the opposition goal.
As the players make their way towards the team coach,& Brian Bason’s signature is obtained, some of the players look over towards us. Gary Locke has the wary, weary look of a man who would rather be elsewhere. Stamford Bridge presumably. Bradley appears as chirpy & effervescent off pitch as on. I instantly like Bradley, but you suspect he won’t make it as a footballer, being seemingly far too wide-eyed & void of cynicism to make it in a world then largely populated by persons entirely opposite to this, as depicted in the bitter book ‘Only A Game’ by scrawny ex-Millwall grouch Eamon Dunphy. ‘What’s the Chelsea score lads?’ he asks us. ‘They’re winning 3-0’ we chorus, delighted to have such glorious knowledge to impart. Heads turn among the players but there is a short period of silence. Clearly, this is not Dunphy styled resentment at their first team colleagues astounding success & its implications for their first team futures, but because, like all of us, they simply don’t believe it is happening! Poor Gary Locke glances at me with an even warier & wearier ‘don’t take the piss son’ look on his face. ‘No really lads, what’s the score?’ says Bradley. By now a bigger lad has appeared. He has a bigger & better radio. There’s always a bigger lad. With a bigger & better radio. He confirms the score. Doubts are allayed, autographs signed, & Bradley has an even jauntier spring in his step as he makes his way on to the coach & it departs into the January gloom. Garner sets up Walker for a fourth Chelsea goal as we make our way home. Kenny Dalglish gets a late consolation for Liverpool but it is too little, too late. The Champions have been conquered, & Sam Bolton can prepare to drop a Chelsea rather than Liverpool, ball on to the cold, hard BBC floor when the 4th Round draw takes place. Bob Paisley makes ominous press conference references to the fact that Liverpool will be returning for a league fixture before too long. Amazingly, Chelsea win that one too, 3-1 this time. When Chelsea win the FA Cup in 1997, beating Liverpool 4-2 again along the way, Emlyn Hughes pops up in the media sneering that in his era Liverpool had beaten Chelsea for fun. 1978 didn’t happen apparently. Paisley, along with chairman John Smith, does his best to point the finger of blame at Chelsea fans at the Heysel Inquiry a decade later. Paisley & Hughes are considerable footballing figures in post war English football but as a Chelsea fan I find them both diminished by such actions & words.
After the Liverpool win it is a long, agonizing wait until Sunday afternoon for any TV highlights. Oxford is in the ATV region, so it’s ‘Star Soccer’ presented by the great Hugh ‘and Birtles says mmm yes, I’ll have a piece of that’ Johns, usually still pretending to be sat in the gantry at Molineux or St Andrews talking into his massive microphone 21 hours after the game has finished. Being in this region means we are feeding on scraps where Chelsea are concerned. The Liverpool game is relegated to a goal round-up at the end of the programme. We are still in an era when the only live domestic club game shown live is the FA Cup Final & not even highlights of midweek league matches are allowed, so clips of Chelsea games are like a banana to a wartime evacuee. ‘I always said that boy would go far’ says my mum as Clive Walker’s wicked shot thunders past the despairing hand of Ray Clemence from the unlikeliest of angles. I am relishing the prospect of speaking to my chief tormentor at school the following day. I approach him in the corridor between lessons & mention the match with a smile. ‘I don’t support Liverpool any more’ he says. ‘I’m an Arsenal fan now.’ In denying me my moment he also denies himself any genuinely fulfilling future moments of pleasure as a football supporter. With one brief sentence he enters the fan’s equivalent of Purgatory.
Chelsea’s ability to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory soon resurfaces. In a pleasing rerun of 1970 we draw Burnley at home in the 4th round but the game is postponed as Nick’s dad speeds towards White City & we don’t join an apparently sizeable invasion of Chelsea fans at Highbury for the Arsenal – Wolves tie, where the visitors’ centre half Bob Hazell causes a post-match storm by accusing Arsenal players of racially abusing him. Walker has managed to undermine his growing on pitch reputation by appearing in court after an embarrassing off pitch indiscretion which follows him around for the rest of his career. The Burnley game is finally played 3 days later & The Shed teases him rather more fondly than any away crowd ever do from now on as he warms up with Ray Lewington. I swear it’s the only time I’ve seen a footballer blush under floodlights. Chelsea manage to concede a goal in the first minute from a free kick (despite kicking off!) but bully Burnley for the rest of the game & run out 6-2 winners. Walker scores a beauty & Peter Bonetti shakes hands with Burnley striker Steve Kindon immediately after the latter’s late consolation goal, the only time I’ve ever seen a goalkeeper do this on a football pitch. The second win over Liverpool aside, the season fell apart from there, a 5th round defeat to a Peter Kitchen inspired Orient followed by a long, desperate run of defeats that were a feature of this era. Relegation was avoided but the trapdoor beckoned with a vengeance once again the following season, with inevitable consequences.
At some point in the mid 1990’s, a decade & a half after the events of January 1978, I see my chief tormentor in a drab local shopping centre. He is wearing an Aston Villa shirt, doubtless via a Blackburn Rovers phase & prior to a flirtation with Keegan era Newcastle. I suppose it is possible that Chelsea have entered his radar since, which would be hilarious. He reminds me of two other school friends, who had paper rounds with the same newsagent. They stole a couple of boxes of Panini football stickers from their employer, disappearing off to the nearby woods to hide their ill-gotten gains. God alone knows how many duplicates of Austria’s Helmut Koglberger they ended up with because I had at least a dozen from buying them one pack at a time over the counter. I do know one thing though. They never got the set & were left feeling slightly unfulfilled. You often are when you cheat.
There was a lot of rain between January 1978 & the Di Matteo induced rainbow of the FA Cup triumph of 1997, but that only made the enjoyment all the sweeter when it arrived. Modern Chelsea fans who rush onto social media & radio phone ins with their knee jerk responses to any dip in form might like to reflect on that too, especially those who had Antonio Conte sacked after the dismal defeat at Arsenal last season. I never did learn to hide my support of Chelsea, to widespread hilarity on occasions. What do I wear to an Undertones gig at The Birmingham Odeon in 1980, shortly after a resounding 5-1 defeat to promotion rivals Birmingham City? My Chelsea shirt of course. Not a sensible choice, but I believed, like some deluded sporting Moonie, that I supported the best club in the world, even when all the available evidence suggested that was rather a long way from the truth. It’s a lot closer now, but I don’t regret the dog days spent on bleak terraces. They also serve who watched the reserves at Oxford in ’78 or the ZDS tie against Swindon in ’91. Oxford United no longer play at The Manor Ground, moving to a soulless, three-sided, flat pack hell hole named after their then owner a decade or so ago, a resolutely charmless figure who presumably bought it in a B&Q sale, & continues to own it 10 years after he sold the club. The Manor itself is now a hospital, which is at least better than chintzy apartments or a car park, the fate of other sports stadiums of my youth. There was a period of resentment, when I would look at various Johnny-come-lately types at Stamford Bridge & have my own footballing equivalent of ‘I fought the war for the likes of you sonny’ moments. Ultimately, it led me to relinquish my season ticket but that’s another story & I feel differently now. Let people enjoy football, Chelsea & Stamford Bridge as it is now, it shouldn’t be preserved as a shrine to earlier generations of supporters. Which is not to suggest that the past does not matter, or should be forgotten. The important thing is that unlike less fortunate supporters, Chelsea fans now look likely to see the club stay in its spiritual home forever. This upsets egotistical media bores like Danny Baker & local resident Henry Blofeld, united in their mutual antipathy to Chelsea on the self adoring former’s radio programme a few years back. Blofeld was especially resentful about his Saturday afternoons being disturbed by blue clad oiks. A word to the wise Blowers. Chelsea have been around since 1905. It only feels like you have. Those who once paid to get into cold, unwelcoming football grounds with no agenda other than to follow their team deserve better than the scorn of these smug, overfed, pampered twerps. People like that fellow in the raincoat with the umbrella at The Manor. He may have had a limited match day vocabulary but he had the perfect word to sum up the likes of Baker & Blofeld.