White Trash

WSL September 8, 2019

Chelsea 1 Spurs 0

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

In February 1994, a mere 18 months after football apparently began, with the formation of the Premier League, a thunderous last gasp penalty from Mark Stein sealed the points in a seven goal thriller against Spurs at Stamford Bridge. The game was Sky’s Sunday 4 p.m fixture, so a blue riband game in the eyes of Murdoch’s media bully boys despite both teams struggling at the lower end of the table.

The crowd that day?  16,807

There were 24,564 people at Stamford Bridge to see Chelsea Women kick off their league season with a narrow victory lit up by Beth England’s early superb long range winner. 8,000 extra people do not recreate the fiery atmosphere engendered in 1994. Women’s football is making huge inroads into the sporting mainstream but here passions are not yet fuelled by past triumphs & disappointments, lit up by decades of terrace tribalism, the subsequent pub goadings from friends, & post-match Monday morning work inquests. This is rather nice. I enjoy watching Chelsea beat Spurs without ever worrying about having to endlessly relive  the horror of the result being reversed, watching the game unravel  without all the dyed in the wool, mouth foaming loathing I normally reserve for anyone in a white shirt, an unbecoming but instinctive response for a Chelsea fan of my age. Traditionally the pre match playing of instrumental reggae classic Liquidator has always been accompanied with a chant of Chelsea! in the appropriate gaps but in recent times that has been replaced by We Hate Tottenham! which when the match is against any other team but Spurs betrays a regrettable preoccupation with a despised rival outfit that lends them far more importance than they warrant. The different composition of this crowd means the We Hate Tottenham! chants are diluted, & at least they were today’s opponents. I could still do without it though, it feels wrong in the context of the overall atmosphere at this game.

England’s splendid early goal aside, & the fact that it was the first ever WSL goal at Stamford Bridge, the game will not linger long in the memory. Spurs battled back well & the hoped for avalanche of Chelsea goals never materialised. I missed both Fran Kirby & Ramona Bachman, stars in the 2018 FA Cup win over Arsenal, the last women’s game I had attended. Both appear to have been struggling for form & fitness ever since. Until injury forces her off Hannah Blundell has a  really good game on the left hand side of the defence, & the towering  Millie Bright at centre half is a reassuring presence as Spurs mount a decent series of attacks in search of an equalizer that never comes. I am a little disappointed by the skilful Ji So-Yun, whose contribution promises more than it delivers, but she has shown enough on many other occasions to suggest that this may just be one of those days. Goalkeeper Ann-Katrin Berger keeps a clean sheet on her Stamford Bridge debut. Less than two years ago she was diagnosed with thyroid cancer, her speedy recovery & return to the game a heartwarming & inspirational tale if ever there was one.

Holding this game at Stamford Bridge with free admission is clearly a positive move. Tickets for women’s games at Kingsmeadow are not hugely expensive, but waiving the cost entirely at Chelsea’s spiritual home, with its 41,00 capacity, lures many, including myself, to this opening WSL fixture of the season. Fulham Road is significantly less bedecked with the merchandise stores that always line the street on normal matchdays, but there are plenty of fans wearing replica shirts. Many of them are pre-teen children, & a large percentage of these are girls. Hopefully England, Bright & Berger can inspire a long term love of Chelsea the way Bonetti, Cooke & Osgood did for me many, many years ago. Matchday shirt wearers are traditionally prone to be pot bellied & frequently balding men, with sweat stains under the armpits sometimes betraying the combined aroma of Lynx & pints of Wife Beater recently quaffed in one of the nearby pubs. Today’s contrast is not unwelcome. Many of the kids are inevitably accompanied by one or both parents. I’m guessing this may often be the first professional football match ever seen by mum & dad as well as child. Once inside the ground I take my seat in the Shed Upper Stand surrounded by parents & small children. One among a gaggle of young girls sat behind me throws a hairband at me. I’ve been spat on, had bottles thrown at me, been hit with low flying celery & had to flee from stampeding police horses in & around football stadiums but a 9 year old’s hairband as object of menace is a Shed end first. There is also the uneasy feeling that they may view me like the weirdo who sits too near the swings in the park, sat on my own with spare seats around me as I am. I resist the temptation to tell them to grow up. There will be others far more deserving of that rebuke, & with far less excuse on grounds of tender years. I chuckle at the memory of a school trip to Lords to see England play the West Indies when a row of us spent far too long  decorating the wild Hair Bear Bunch barnet of the man sat in front of us with multiple pieces of the inside of a banana skin. After twenty minutes or so of this his wife, like him a  posh hippy type, turned to us & quite calmly & pleasantly asked if we would please not  put any more bits of banana in her husband’s hair. Restrained Englishness at its finest. Chuckling to myself over 43 year old memories probably ups my weirdo status, though there is the distraction of pre-match entertainment from DJ Marvin Humes, whose previous incarnation as a member of JLS even I am aware of. It strikes me that I am too old to appreciate Marvin’s presence & the kids around me maybe too young, but my instincts are no longer sound on issues like this. I saw Cat Power in the summer & still regard her as an up & coming talent. She’s 47.

In the bad old days when violence in football grounds was rife politicians would talk wistfully about attracting families back to football, as if the sport had once offered a day out with a picnic at Whipsnade Zoo type experience. I doubt many complete family units had ever gone to football, but maybe they will frequent the WSL from now on. There is no reason why not. Nobody is carrying the traditionally bitter Chelsea-Spurs rivalry too intensely into this arena are they? Largely speaking the answer is no until the noisier element within the Tottenham following briefly let themselves & everyone else  down with a sad moment of lazy, arrogant, spineless & self satisfied cretiny in the first half.

These are good times for the women’s game. 31,000 attended the Manchester derby match at the Etihad the day before this one, where unlike this game the punters were charged entrance money. Fran Kirby has already offered a sensible rebuttal  of the voluble Megan Rapinoe’s repeated assertion that women players should be paid the same as the men. This will only happen when punters regularly cough up £60+ to fill the biggest stadiums in the country. The success of the American women’s team has eclipsed their male colleagues but generally it is unclear where else the money tree can be  shaken to meet Rapinhoe’s demands. There is method in her mardiness though. Star of this summer’s World Cup, Rapinoe is obviously highly intelligent as well as stridently opinionated, particularly where her country’s Sunny D faced President is concerned. Openly gay & also clearly totally in love with herself, she is  a walking recipe for boiling the piss of misogynists everywhere, already raging with disproportionately high levels of resentment at the extended television coverage the tournament received in comparison to previous years. Rapinoe may be a publicity junkie as well as a top player but if being an overbearing, egotistical pain in the arse was a deal breaker the men’s game would have been shorn of hundreds of top players & managers in recent years (not forgetting obnoxious match officials like Mike Dean) & with it many miles of column inches. Her ability to attract attention & animosity in equal measure offers an extra passageway to an already massively increased profile for women’s football. Love or loathe her, Megan Rapinoe is provoking interest & debate & helping to build the greater investment & media coverage that will help drive the women’s game closer to economic parity with their male counterparts. Reaching that goal may ultimately prove unattainable, but the older onlookers among us will remember women’s tennis waging a similar war in the 1970’s & also being widely scoffed at. This was spearheaded by Billie Jean King, a tireless campaigner for both tennis & women’s rights generally, who had an abortion at the height of her career & an extra marital affair with another woman. She scandalized many in the process, but the fruits of her hard nosed, steely determination allied to consistent on court brilliance are apparent today. Tennis only went professional in the late 1960’s so the old school ties were reeling after a decade of Billie Jean on & off the tennis court. Nowadays men will generally still outstrip women in earnings on the tennis circuit but the top prizes at the majors have parity & women’s finals often attract the biggest viewing figures. If you are larger than life & completely brilliant like Serena Williams then the sponsors will flock. Whether Rapinoe has a similar aptitude to Billie Jean in fighting for the greater good of all women in her sport through interminably dull negotiation behind the scenes  remains to be seen. It is going to be a very long journey & unfortunately for Meg Rapinoe the cameras will not always be on, & when they are will not eternally be focussed on her.

Rapinoe is far from being the only recipient of misogynistic ire however. The hostility shown towards Alex Scott & Eni Aluko for having the temerity to offer opinions as invited pundits on BBC & ITV panels during the 2018 men’s World Cup was frequently widespread & neanderthal. For decades the likes of Des Lynam, Brian Moore, Frank Bough, David Coleman  & Dickie Davies anchored high profile games with no obvious qualifications to back up the opinions they also frequently proferred in the process. Apart from being white & male of course. Both Scott & Aluko have over 100 international caps to their name. Both had clearly prepared extensively prior to matches, leading fellow panellist Patrice Evra, former France & Man Utd defender & past, present & future dickhead, to ostentatiously feign surprise & applaud sarcastically when Aluko revealed her tactical awareness & knowledge of the personnel on show during one match. Evra had neither done his homework or contributed anything intelligent at this point. Fellow panel member Henrik Larson also allowed this fool to get away with his condescending & ill mannered behaviour. Aluko ploughed on, having got used to being treated with much scorn & contempt within the game & media circles after accusing  her former national team manager Mark Sampson & his backroom staff of making racist comments towards her & fellow team mate Drew Spence. After an attempted cover up had failed the FA acknowledged the complaint as justified & Sampson belatedly apologised. Her other detractors have been disgracefully slow to follow suit. Perhaps being male & representing a club other than Chelsea  gives a player a better chance of having such a complaint taken seriously. The furious debate within social media around Scott & Aluko’s punditry betrayed a staggering array of furious responses to this stampeding through the sacred gates of the hitherto male bastion of sitting around talking bollocks about football. Relax everyone. Most of us are largely happy just to watch the game anyway. The increased coverage of this summer’s women’s World Cup further fanned the flames & I just don’t get it. If it was knocking the men’s game off the screen it might be more understandable, but as it was  summer this was simply not the case. I don’t like Strictly Come Dancing ergo I don’t watch Strictly Come Dancing. The button on the top left of my remote control does the work for me. The nonsensical media furore caused by the American tea sip goal celebration, mocking their English opponents during the Semi Final between the two nations, is indicative of the increased media attention women’s football is now garnering. This is commensurate with a greater general widespread interest but dissenting voices are not confined merely to the dinosaurs, indeed quite a few detractors seem to be female fans of the men’s game who feel that the standard of women’s football is not sufficiently high enough to justify the increasing hype. Personally I enjoy watching women’s football & the skill level in the higher echelons of the game is generally high. References to a preponderance of poor goalkeeping standards has long been a cliche, & its referencing  a source of irritation to Emma Hayes, Chelsea’s fantastic boss, but it has often been a valid critical observation, though less so now than when I first saw matches on television in the 1990’s.

There was a time, in my long lost youth, when I had an admiration for Spurs, grudging as it was. For the 1971-2 season the author Hunter Davies, a Spurs fan himself, was granted access to all areas of the club, especially the dressing room, that was unforeseen then & unimaginable now. The result is The Glory Game, a brilliant football book that stands tall even now as one of the finest works in the genre. He is honest about some of the casual racism within the dressing room, especially from one of the coaching staff. These views would not have been unusual at other clubs, nor indeed any British workplace in that era so this is not a stick to beat Spurs with exclusively. West Ham were the only London club with black first team players in 1971. 10 years later & the Spurs 1981 FA Cup winning team was a walking advert for increasing diversity in the game despite the majority of the team still being British born. The admirable Steve Perryman was the only player left from the exclusively white, British dressing room Davies has witnessed at first hand a decade before. Spurs set the trend for signing players from overseas with the 1978 signings of Argentinian World Cup winners Ossie Ardiles & Ricky Villa. In goal was Milija Aleksic, who grew up in a small Serbian community in Staffordshire. Full back Chris Hughton had a Ghanian father & Irish mother. He also wrote a column for a newspaper funded by the Worker’s Revolutionary Party. The front three may have been an Englishman, Irishman & a Scotsman but the Englishman was black (Garth Crooks) the Irishman a graduate in Russian Studies (Tony Galvin) & the Scotsman an intriguing eccentric (Steve Archibald) who went on to excel for Barcelona under Terry Venables. For animal lovers there was centre half Paul Miller. Nowadays a team can field an entirely non-English team & nobody bats an eyelid, but madcap Yugoslavian international keeper Petar Borota aside, Chelsea lagged way behind in fielding a team representing changes in the game & society as a whole. The failure of the fans to truly accept a black player from the outset until Clive Wilson & Ken Monkou arrived in the late 1980’s tells its own sorry tale. Spurs had seemingly seamlessly added Danny & Mitchell Thomas as well as winger John Chiedoze to their first team ranks long before then. They were also successful, winning the FA Cup again in 1982 & The EUFA Cup in 1984, playing good football in the process. With Glenn Hoddle also in their team, easily the most gifted English footballer of the age, it would be churlish to deny Spurs their due at the time, also the existence of a tinge of envy at the trophies they won while Chelsea languished in the lower reaches of Division 2. Britain was a hotbed of racial unrest in the early 1980’s & in 1985 Tottenham joined Bristol, Brixton & Toxteth in staging a fully fledged riot protesting against brutal policing sponsored by a brutal government backed by rabid & often racist apologies for newspapers. This culminated in the horrific murder of PC Keith Blakelock on the Broadwater Farm Estate. A sorry tale for sorry times, but manager Keith Burkinshaw’s cosmopolitan team at least offered black youth in Tottenham some joy & hope sadly lacking elsewhere.

How times change. It is a long time since jealousy was an emotion felt towards Spurs as either a team or a club by any Chelsea fan, though the combination of their magnificent new stadium, allied to the shelving of the spectacular plans for redevelopment of Stamford Bridge, may yet give many of us some cause for future concern. Otherwise the past quarter of a century have seen a dramatic reversal of roles since the dog days of the early ’80’s with Spurs supporters now claiming exclusive rights to communal readings from the gospel of envy. I’m far too kind to list the respective trophy counts, but suffice to say the sourness from the Cockerel Chorus about Mr Abramovich & the source of the wealth that has bankrolled Chelsea so handsomely since 2003 has been a convenient smokescreen that fails to obscure certain cast iron facts. Between 1988 & 2005 Spurs failed to beat Chelsea once in the league on their own ground. They failed to win at Stamford Bridge for 28 years in any competition until 2018. When they did beat Chelsea at White Hart Lane in 2001, a handsome 5-1 Worthington Cup Semi Final victory, their fanbase seemingly increased tenfold overnight. Friends who had not talked football to me in years sprung out of the closet to gloat. They lost the final. To rub it in further, Chelsea returned to White Hart Lane a few weeks later for an FA Cup game, turning the tables handsomely with a resounding 4-0 win. Three days later the two teams met again in a league match at Stamford Bridge & Chelsea again won 4-0 thanks largely to a sublime Jimmy Floyd Hasslebaink hat trick. A deflated Spurs following were serenaded with a chorus of ‘Normal service is resumed‘ & left to cultivate their hatred of all things blue. It was difficult not to laugh so I didn’t try. Their one trophy this century aside, a 2-1 Carling Cup final win over Chelsea in 2008, the footballing gods have happily conspired to continually overlook the ghastly North Londoners. In 2012 Spurs were denied a Champions League place for the first time after Chelsea grabbed the fourth slot courtesy of winning the tournament with arguably the worst team they had ever put out in that esteemed competition. Chelsea also won the FA Cup that season, hammering Spurs 5-1 at Wembley in the semi-final. For several years under the excellent Mauricio Pochettino Spurs have seemingly had a stronger & more talented squad of players than Chelsea. In that time Chelsea have won two Premier Leagues, one Carling Cup, One FA Cup & the Europa League. Spurs have won nothing. The sense of injustice & thwarted entitlement was best summed up during BBC coverage of the 2017 FA Cup Semi Final. Spurs played well but it was Chelsea who won the game 4-2, the victory sealed with a magnificent piledriver from Nemanja Matic who only ever manages one of those a season. After the game a surly, pouting Jermaine Jenas, a hopelessly biased Spurs loyalist, came close to descending into a lisping Violet Elizabeth Bott from Just William ‘I’ll thcweam & I’ll thcweam & I’ll thcweam till I’m thick’ tantrum after the game, as Alan Shearer & Frank Lampard struggled to control their smirks sat next to him in the studio. There is an expression that has entered footballing parlance in modern times & it was epitomised by both the game that day & Jermaine’s deluded meltdown. Spursy my friends. Spursy.

One day, quite possibly sooner rather than later, the wheel will turn but in the meantime Tottenham bitterness grows & is mutating into something both putrid & pathetic. Earlier this year I saw the Carabao Cup Semi Final 2nd leg against Spurs at Stamford Bridge. Recent incidents had seen Chelsea’s name dragged through the mud again, regrettably prematurely due to a trial by television & the usual media gobshites (Piers Morgan, Matthew Syed, Gary Lineker etc) whose appetite for indulging their considerable egos once again stymied the authorities & the police being given time & space to conduct a thorough investigation first. Raheem Stirling, undeniably on the wrong end of unpleasant verbal abuse regardless of the eventual outcome, is the only person to have emerged from that ugly episode with any credit, offering an intelligent & measured response both to the actual event & the behaviour towards him from sections of the media in recent times, often displaying its own rancid whiff of insidious racism. The banana thrown at Arsenal striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang by a Spurs fan around this time was also reported but seemingly forgotten quicker than you can say media agenda. Some credence was even given to the argument that it just happened to be a banana & its proximity to Aubameyang, who just happens to be black, was also an unfortunate coincidence. Spurs fans as a group do not deserve to be universally denounced for the idiocy of the odd twat but then Chelsea fans should not be defined by a handful of pricks denying a black man access to their compartment on the Paris metro. They often are though, & during the Carabao Cup game Spurs fans played on this with a second half chorus of You’re All Racist at The Bridge, their achingly soulful take on the huge 1975 Rod Stewart hit Sailing. They then followed this up in the most knowingly provocative way with a rousing two word racist ballad. Y_Army! Y_ Army! Y_ Army! they bellowed, doubtless congratulating themselves on the glorious irony of baiting Chelsea fans (who I genuinely did not hear use the word y__ once) with racist behaviour that they currently appear to be bulletproof from in the eyes of both the police, football authorities & despicably their own wretched club owner, the odious Daniel Levy. After the game, with their heroes having choked  during the penalty shootout I passed their Fulham Broadway bound massed ranks as I moved away in the opposition direction. A sizeable percentage of them were uttering the same, sinister, low volume chant in unison. Y__s Y__s Y__s. Were they all Jewish? No. Are more than a small percentage Jewish? Highly unlikely. They are all c___s though.

Their other favourite recent pastime is taking the moral high ground over Marcos Alonso’s involvement in a fatal car crash in Spain in 2011. He was a Bolton Wanderers player then, but strangely the news has only really filtered through to North London since Alonso joined Chelsea in the 2016-7 season. In August 2017 he struck twice at Wembley Stadium to seal a slightly streaky Chelsea victory over Spurs at their then temporary home. Sloop John B  has become Marcos Alonso He Murdered A Girl. They have actually created a flag relaying this message & I saw one wankstain online proudly holding a custom made mug bearing this lie. All out of deep concern for the victim & her family I am sure, or at least since 2017. The precision of the moral compass shown by this far too large element within the Spurs fanbase has been called into question since October 2018 however, when their World Cup winning goalkeeper Hugo Lloris was arrested in West London for erratic driving & found to be more than twice over the legal limit. The response from the Seven Sisters chapter of born again teetotalism? A deafening silence. Alonso will have to continue living with the events of that night in Madrid. Rightly so, but all of those directly affected could probably do without malicious simpletons indulging their obsessive bitterness at their football team’s chronic underachievement by dredging up a tragic death to score cheap & irrelevant points against a consistently superior opponent. The WSL game saw less of this malign drivel aside from a staggeringly inappropriate outburst halfway through the first half. Unlike the Chelsea support, as stated supplemented on this day by many footballing virgins of all ages, Spurs had brought a sizeable & vocal adult following. Nothing wrong with that, although ironically they reminded me of rival Arsenal fans at the first leg of the FA Youth Cup Final in 2018, trying to goad an often uncomprehending Chelsea end with the standard call & respond spite that is grist to the mill for a Premier League fixture. It simply felt less appropriate in this context.  I can’t help but wonder if both these sets of fans are trying a little too hard to ease their frustration with Chelsea outstripping them on the trophy front for so long by trying to hoover up crumbs of comfort wherever they can. Chelsea won both these games too so if so it’s another fail guys & gals. Shall we sing a song for you? gets rolled out. Why not? A bit of Bieber for the older kids perhaps, a rousing chorus of The Wheels On the Bus for the tots? We didn’t get either of those, as the self appointed moral conscience of London football regaled us once again with their familiar hymn. Y__ Army! Y__ Army! Y__ Army! Once again I curse the absence of any active intervention from the charmless Levy over the past few years but first there is a more spontaneous response to these pointless inadequates.

Do Fuck off.

As early as the late 1960’s the brilliant & militant Last Poets angrily reclaimed the word n____r as their own. Twenty years later the gay community adopted queer to disarm homophobes traditionally using it as a term of abuse. Spurs fans are not predominantly Jewish  so the use of yid by their non-Jewish supporters is not reclamation but racism. Plain, naked, unvarnished racism. I am angry with everyone where the y__/y___o chant issue is concerned, not least with myself. No one here gets out alive on this one. Back in the mid ’80’s when I first became aware of the word being used  against the boys from White Hart Lane the battleground against racism was largely constructed around the disgraceful & shameful abuse aimed at black players. The quoted alternative anti semitic version of  10 Men went To Mow, 10 Men Went to Gas A Y___o, was disgusting but apart from a small group of cretins singing it coming away from the ground once I never heard it sung in the ground, or at least don’t remember, & I’m sure I would. This does not mean it never was of course. We were 40 years away from the end of World War 2 then, we are now only a few  years shy from being a similar distance in time from that era. For an ostensibly liberal, left leaning opponent of racism to drop the ball on this one seems unforgivable. It IS unforgivable. Back then it seemed both a random & abstract term to bait Spurs with, & as such most of us took it far less seriously than the more usual forms of racism habitually meted out in stadiums. Chelsea fans were famously at the forefront of such behaviour then, & as a high profile club are still a focal point for media investigation into such conduct to this day. People wear hijabs at Stamford Bridge these days. That would have been unimaginable once. It is not for me to say that racism has abated since those bad old days of the 1970’s & 1980’s, perhaps more people bite their lips & keep it to themselves now. A football crowd can only ever be a reflection of the views inherent within society as a whole. The reduction of an important political debate to gammon faced Brexiteers versus leftist, whinging Remoaners has not helped the cause of greater tolerance & racial harmony in recent years. None of this obscures the fact that the y__/y___o label was thown around in the most cavalier manner imaginable for many years, & it didn’t massively bother me nor others holding similar values who would normally have balked at the use of such language. Shame on all our heads. I am not a hugely brave man but occasionally put my head over the parapet at games back then to tell a racist to shut up but although I never sang anti semitic songs at matches I never objected to others doing so. I know, I know….

In 2011 Jewish brothers (& Chelsea fans) David & Ivor Baddiel joined forces with Spurs greats Gary Lineker & Ledley King to lobby football supporters  against the continued use of anti semitic language. Decades of hearing your own team’s fans dispensing  hatred aimed at people with the same cultural/religious upbringing as you can’t have been pleasant. Spurs were central to the campaign on the grounds that if their fans continued to use a word once used as a slogan in the East End by Mosley’s fascist Blackshirts then it was going to be difficult to get others to follow suit. The Tottenham Supporters Trust announced it would poll members about its continued use in 2013, the same year police arrested some Spurs fans for chanting it during a home game against West Ham. The CPS dropped the charges in 2014 as it considered that the chants were not threatening, abusive or insulting. PM David Cameron had also weighed in by then, undermining the Baddiel campaign by supporting the Spurs fans right to chant it as he did not consider it to be motivated by hatred. There may have been some truth in this once but surely no longer. His memoirs are published shortly, after which we can hopefully look forward to him disappearing from public life, albeit a decade too late. Another product of the idiot tree, one Katrina Law, then secretary of the Tottenham Hotspur Supporters Trust, triumphantly announced in the aftermath of the CPS decision that Spurs fans would continue using the so called Y word. Spurs fans were not being malicious using the word, & though mindful of the offense it caused the Jewish community she insisted that no further arrests should be made & her club’s supporters should be free to continue chanting y__ & y___o  ‘using it as a badge of honour and as a call to arms.’ Yes, she really said that. Not remotely mindful of the Jewish community at all while applauding the fact that future arrests of any football fan from any clubs using the words was now likely to become a legal minefield. As these chants are heard less & less at Stamford Bridge the lone voice performing it solo near me in the Matthew Harding Lower at a recent game attempted to justify it by saying ‘they sing it themselves so nobody can stop me from fucking singing it.’ He was a dick but sadly he had a point, so well done the THST & Katrina, was is it obligatory or optional to have shit for brains to get elected to this august body back in 2014 one wonders? Spurs fans now like to regale us all with updated ditties like this:-

We sang it in France, We sang it in Spain, We sing in the sun and we sing in the rain, They’ve tried to stop us and look what it did, The thing I love most is being a Y__

Chelsea have many black players at present, & a tradition of many Italian players & coaches since the 1990’s. If old, fat, white blokes like me had at any time started referring to ourselves en masse using racially offensive terms more usually aimed at black or Italian people would or should there have been any tolerance for this in the media or the law courts? Rightly not. Of course some direct intervention from Daniel Levy might have helped not just the Baddiel campaign but us all. Roman Abramovich, in despair at continued use of anti semitic chanting from Chelsea fans, has started his own campaign attempting to explain & re-educate the uninitiated. He paid for a 150 strong delegation of fans & club officials to go on a trip to Auschwitz in June 2018 with a view to future miscreants also being given the chance to make the journey rather than face a ground ban. Increasingly the antisemitic chanting is disappearing inside the ground although it was to be heard loudly & at length outside The Globe pub in Marylebone Road prior to the Carabao Cup Final against Manchester City earlier this year, & those on European trips have also told a different story. Racist chanting at Chelsea matches has always been more commonplace at matches elsewhere in Europe which seems to attract some people, albeit a small sub section, not entirely motivated by a love of football when following the Blues over land & sea. Levy & Abramovich are both Jewish, & the latter clearly feels passionately over this issue, but maybe more Chelsea fans respect their owner & take notice of his wishes than Spurs followers do Levy. I have disliked him ever since watching Spurs lose at home to Getafe in the EUFA Cup in 2007. Rumour had it that he had recently been negotiating with Sevilla boss Juande Ramos to replace the likeable Martin Jol as Head Coach. The rumours had been denied. Jol spent the match prowling the touchline looking like the condemned man under huge pressure that he was, but when Spurs went 2-1 down the cameras shot to the director’s box where Levy had a ‘got him’ smirk written all over his face as he whispered into the ears of nearby associates like a combination of a low rent Mafia boss & a better dressed Del Boy. Jol had been labouring with a team containing a collection of below par but expensive signings that he was not thought to have requested or desired. It would appear that he was effectively sacked before the final whistle that night but appears to have been the last person to know, finding out not from Levy but via a text message from his nephew. Charming. Who was promptly appointed in his place? Juande Ramos. Fancy that. Abramovich has also treated coaches shoddily, especially Claudio Ranieri & Carlo Ancelotti, but never quite as sadistically. I liked Jol & remember him as a player at WBA. Levy’s classless & spineless behaviour that night spoke volumes, so perhaps we should not have been too optimistic of a wholehearted support for the Baddiel Y Word initiative. Maybe, just maybe, there is some cause for hope however. Spurs recently launched another consultation with fans over the matter. We await the results. Given that thousands of Spurs fans do not spend their football watching time spouting terms of racial hatred under the spurious guise of reclamation we can only hope for a positive outcome. What I heard outside Stamford Bridge after the Carabao Cup game was not celebratory or without hate Mr Cameron, & if Katrina Law thinks shouting Y__ Army! at prepubescent children during a woman’s football match is celebratory & a ‘call to arms’ then she is clearly even more stupid than I first feared. Chelsea fans continue to live with the consequence of racist behaviour down the years from malign elements within the fanbase. I have to live with my own implicit indulgence of the y___o chants at games in the latter part of the last century. It is now time for Spurs & their less intelligent fans to stop hiding behind hollow delusion & help us all to forward the cause against anti semitism at football matches. Will they? Time will tell.

The women’s game?  How nice it would have been just to concentrate on that! Doing just fine as it goes. And what a goal from 5 Feet 5 Beth, the most agreeable little Englander in the ground today.

* December 2019 Update

On December 16 Spurs announced the results of their survey (to which they had more than 23,000 responses) as follows:-

  • 33% of respondents use the Y-word ‘regularly’ in a footballing context
  • 18% of respondents that do not use the term in a footballing context consider it ‘offensive’, with the number rising to 35% among Jewish respondents
  • Only 12% of respondents would use the term outside of a footballing context
  • 94% of respondents acknowledge the Y-word can be considered a racist term against a Jewish person
  • Almost half of all respondents would prefer to see supporters choose to chant the Y-word less or stop using it altogether

Interesting stuff. The last bullet point stat here seems to offer the most hope, although it must be remembered that many of the more poisonous supporters are unlikely to ever fill in a survey like this. Great response from Spurs fans though & hopefully the club do not view the exercise as literally a form filling exercise.

 

Bury Bad News

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

Sat Aug 17, 2019 Bury FC Did Not Play

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

Tue Aug 27, 2019 Bury FC Expelled from EFL

“If it’s going to be a world with no time for sentiment, it’s not a world that I want to live in.” –  Christopher Isherwood, A Single Man

I always love the first home match of the season. The sunshine, the cock eyed optimism, the chance to view new signings. For the first time in 3 months I get to see The Albert Bridge, &, of course, Stamford Bridge, & to ponder, on splashdown at Victoria, the eternal question. Does H.Stain Ltd Jewellers (Established 1929) ever actually open? Because P. Munday Chelsea fan (Established 1970) can never remember seeing it so.

Sadly, things did not go entirely to plan this time. The sun had absconded along with Mr Stain long before I arrived in London, a serious road crash near High Wycombe  having worryingly extended the journey nearer to kick off time than I would have liked. I refrained from throwing a Jezza. Unlike the well known petrolhead cretin Jeremy Clarkson, who recently complained about the length of time taken to clear a road after a (fatal) car crash I am aware that the world does not revolve around me. Devout Chelsea fan Mr Clarkson of course. Often used to be seen on The Shed back in the day. Not. I would apologise for reverting to the vocabulary of the ’90’s  here, but given the wooly headed, posh nobber’s dress sense it feels weirdly appropriate. What is it about Chipping Norton? I played cricket there as a kid & have no memory that being a celebrity dickhead was a prerequisite for living there back in those days. Ronnie Barker had an antique shop  & it was always freezing. That was it. Now it is alive with despicability as Clarkson, David Cameron & that Grade A weapon Alex James off Blur hob nob together in the most nauseating  fashion. Sir John Betjeman owes Slough a posthumous apology.

On the purely footballing front it has been a troubling week, the Chelsea ride through it being the standard blue & white clad rollercoaster. The transfer ban imposed by UEFA has already had its upside, primarily the appointment of bona fide legend Frank Lampard & his assistant Jody Morris. Both are Chelsea to the core & the latter having  coached at the Academy means he brings extensive knowledge about the young players who will now finally get their chance. One, Mason Mount, scores a fine goal against Leicester. The new regime seems to have reawakened the dwindling spirits among the diehard, & the atmosphere early on reflects this, the gloom of the fractious Sarri era  lifted. How diehard is diehard though?  Come the last ten minutes & the moans & groans are back to the fore & many proclaiming eternal love for Frank have vacated their seats & trudged out of the stadium. Many fans understand that the loss of Eden Hazard & necessary introduction of largely untested younger players promises an exciting but uneven journey through the season. In the past seven days a promising start foundered badly due to defensive ineptitude at Old Trafford. 4-0 was an unfair reflection of the game but a 4 zipping to one of the worst Man Utd teams for decades is still disappointing in the extreme. This was followed up by a heartening performance in the European Super Cup. A 2-2 draw against the European champions is more than creditable, & defeat on penalties, horrible though any defeat to Liverpool is, was less than catastrophic. The fallout on social media was both disproportionate & deeply unpleasant as Tammy Abraham, who missed the vital spot kick, was subjected to sustained & sometimes racist abuse from the PS4 masturbators on Twitter, most of whom have likely never been to Stamford Bridge or in many cases ever glimpsed the white cliffs of Dover. Abraham first started at Chelsea in the under 8 age group so to see him dismissed as a viable representative of the team off the back of one tired penalty is absurd in the extreme. John Terry missed a more important penalty in the same circumstances in Moscow in 2008. Christiano Ronaldo had missed his kick earlier in that particular shootout. The great Roberto Baggio did likewise for Italy in the 1994 World Cup final. Anyone can miss a penalty & anyone can drip hatred from a keyboard sat in their bedrooms surrounded by crusty mounds of Kleenex. We all talked shite when we were 14 but the amount of posts appearing with pictures of unfavoured players with red crosses struck through their faces was sickening this week. Abraham joined the likes of Willian & Azpi in being awarded this dubious accolade so he’s in good company. The latter have been great for Chelsea  & hopefully Tammy will come good too. He came on against Leicester & sliced a shot nervously & horribly over the bar, a likely sign of over eagerness to silence the doubters. The season will be long & more chances will present themselves for young players like Abraham. I just hope the emptying seats around me at the final whistle are not a milder sign of similar fan impatience. We will all need to be braver than this & do more than pay pre season lip service to the concept of a rebuilt side that may fail more than it succeeds at times this year. The change is exciting but also a little scary. Eden Hazard’s swansong was a magnificent rebuttal of Sarriball, at no times did he moderate his game to fit into the chainsmoker’s tactical straitjacket, & hallelujah to that. He is a huge loss. We are still Chelsea is the cry. No man is bigger than the club. All true, but with no opportunity to buy in the summer realism has to be the order of the day. If you cut Roger Federer’s right arm off he can still enter Wimbledon but he won’t make a final again any time soon.

Come what may Chelsea will survive. Comfortably. They have come close to the brink of financial ruin several times in the past. In the mid 1970’s they overstretched building the East Stand, got relegated & went four years without buying a player. By 1975 there were begging baskets around the ground for fans to throw spare coppers into. After Ken Bates bought the club for £1 in 1982 there was a long period of fighting off the developers who owned the lease on the ground, intent on capitalizing on escalating property values as the decade proceeded. Relegation to Division 3 was avoided by a whisker in 1983, & in 1992 a flurry of deadline day transfer sales are thought to have been an attempt to stall attempts at foreclosure by some of the club’s creditors. In 2003, the players were warned beforehand that the last game of the season, effectively a  Champions League qualifying shootout with Liverpool, needed to be won. Any other outcome & the consequences for the club were potentially calamitous. The team did win & Claudio Ranieri had successfully steered a team unable to sign any new players that season to the now crucial 4th place spot. One day some of his sneering detractors among the Chelsea fanbase may even remove their tongue from Jose Mourinho’s butt crack long enought to have the grace to acknowledge that, but I won’t be holding my breath just yet. Hopefully they are holding theirs.

Having already extensively redeveloped Stamford Bridge & established themselves as a trophy winning team, Chelsea would, I am sure, have been dug out of the hole they were in in 2003 even if a Champions League place had not been forthcoming & a certain Russian billionaire had looked elsewhere to invest in a football club. However, the fate of Leeds, relegated the following year & still waiting to return to the top level now, 15 years later, remains a cautionary reminder of the dangers of overstretching following a Champions League run in that era. Chelsea did exactly the same  & got away with it, but by the skin of their teeth for sure. On the previous occasions the club had run into economic problems the potential for it becoming extinct was far greater.

Consequently it is a pretty poor fit for supporters of a club indulged by a decade & half of hitherto unprecedented trophy success, bankrolled by a billionaire, to loftily remind us all that football clubs are ‘commercial entities’ when Chelsea have achieved spectacular playing success while frequently running up record financial losses off the pitch. Most clubs do not have benefactors with limitless bundles of cash, nor are they based in fashionable West London & able to construct a platform of building a global brand off the back of these two happy, sizeable slices of good fortune. Chelsea were playing Russian roulette prior to Abramaovich via Ken Bates gambling on Champion’s League football being a regular occurrence. Leeds did the same without a billionaire to bale them out & slumped from main players to League 1 paupers in half a decade. Smartarsed tweets about the impoverished state of other clubs do not become Chelsea fans, but they are not in short supply at present.

Football fans generally don’t care much for each other most of the time, but the one thing that unites them is the very thing that causes the divide. They love their own club above all other sporting considerations, & cannot imagine life without it, & they need rival teams, even the ones they loathe, ESPECIALLY the ones they loathe, for the competitive spirit to thrive & retain meaning. Consequently, I would never want current & traditional hated opponents of Chelsea to go out of business, be they Spurs, Liverpool, or even Leeds, dirty Leeds, let alone a club like Bury plugging away in the lower regions of the football league. Spurs, Liverpool, or Leeds fans have as much right to support their horrible clubs as I do mine, & I am baffled by the desire of so many to see other teams wiped off the map, usually expressed at maximum intensity on toxic media platforms like Twitter. If they got their way, their teams would only have nice, cuddly opponents left & for how long would that continue to be any fun? Especially when there is such a widespread complacent & disinterested attitude to a club like Bury dying, a club who won the FA Cup twice at the beginning of the last century, &  produced one of the greatest post-war English footballers in Colin Bell, as fine an English midfielder as I have ever seen.

The responses of some fellow Chelsea supporters have both saddened & angered me as Bury seemingly bit the dust this month. The short video included at the top of this page includes a heartrending piece with Kenny, a fan of over 70 years. There is also a Twitter post recounting the despair of one fan whose brother’s ashes were scattered on the pitch after his death. Sad stories abound, & it is increasingly clear that outside of the Premiership the English footballing pyramid, long the envy of many other nations, is loaded with clubs in dire financial straits. Bolton Wanderers, a grand old name of English football, not so long ago an established Premier League team playing in Europe, are hanging on by the skin of their teeth, surviving on a skeletal paying staff that promises to see them get royally stuffed every week. The warning signs have been there for some time. North Ferriby won the FA Trophy Final in 2015 beating Wrexham at Wembley. On March 15th this year they were wound up, their outstanding debt a mere £7,645.25 at a time when Man Utd were paying Alexis Sanchez a reported £350,000 a week to stay at home cuddling his dogs. Does believing no club  should be allowed to fold over such a paltry sum make me a naive sentimentalist. Apparently it does, & if so I am proud to be one. The demise of Rushden & Diamonds was a sobering warning. They were the team that Dr Martens built, boasting a swanky ground with a Nandos in it. They entered the Football League in 2001 & were promoted in the 2002/3 season. 8 years later they were out of business, their Nene Park stadium still used by athletes for training purposes during the 2012 Olympics. No more. It was demolished in 2017.

Kenny can’t tweet pithily about Bury games at present because there aren’t any. I doubt he would want to. The right to hear the click of the Gigg Lane turnstile behind him a couple of dozen times a season as he has for 70 years is all he asks. Fans like him are worth their weight in gold & his lengthy devotion to The Shakers renders that wish a divine right as far as I’m concerned. Andy Saunders from The Chels podcast is a different beast entirely. He greets devoted followers to his Twitter page with the following, Kevin Rowland from Dexy’s penned paen to his own highly advanced sense of self worth:-

But now just look at me
As I’m looking down at you
No, I’m not bein’ flash
It’s what I’m built to do

Never knowingly undersold! Andy Saunders is a PR man in the music business, high up the food chain at Creation Records in those peak commercial years following the staggering success of that band with the two monobrowed Mancunian brothers, the ones who can’t even be civil to each other. One of them has been known to turn up at Man City games in August wearing a full length Parka, the other sits  at the Etihad in mid winter wearing sunglasses. They think cool. Others think of a word of identical length starting with the same consonant. The music was rousing & the tunes were great early on (though usually purloined from superior artists – T.Rex, Burt Bacharach, Neil Innes, New Seekers) & being part of that ’90’s rollercoaster must have amazing. I don’t know who Andy works with now, although apparently he had a hand in helping to hype The Cheeky Girls at one point. Doubtless this has paid well & been more fun than most of us will ever have at work, but does it really justify looking at him while he looks down on us? Nah. I stopped listening to The Chels largely because of Saunders himself, endlessly rattling off the dullest of stats & droning on about high presses & low blocks. Teams from other parts of Europe were routinely dismissed as pub teams & at one point the Chelsea career of Mark Hughes was belittled. Yes, the man who joined from Man Utd the same summer as Ruud Gullit, instantly raising the profile of the club enormously, & then scored vital goals in FA Cup, League Cup & Cup Winner’s Cup matches in 1997 & 1998. The club went on to win all 3 trophies. Mark Hughes may have been a dour managerial presence in the modern Premier League but show me a Chelsea fan who denigrates his contribution to the development of the club in the 1990’s & I will show you either a 24 carat plum or an inveterate, perverse attention seeker. Mr Saunders could even be both. He is also a supporter of Chelsea Together, the ostensibly worthy but ultimately sanctimonious &  pointless fan collective that seemingly exists merely to tell us that racism & homophobia are bad. No shit Sherlock. Chelsea as a club are actively promoting both these causes, so what are Chelsea Together bringing to the party? Not a lot so far save for wagging a reproving finger alongside all the Chelsea hating media at any fan misbehaviour. Existing  just to announce their moral superiority over less politically correct fans will achieve the sum total of nothing. I can see no sign that they are engaging with anyone in any constructive way. Yes, racism & homphobia are poisonous evils within both football & society as a whole  but If you have no proactive campaign planned to counteract it then leave the club to get on with the sterling work they have been doing. The police are there to deal with the law breakers.

Unlike Kenny I have not spent my 50 years following a team primarily in the lower divisions  but I have seen an awful lot of football covering the whole spectrum of the game in England. Many Oxford United games between 1968 & 1980, Hull City as a student between 1981 & 1984 & Bournemouth sporadically between 2004 & 2009 with my dad, after his retirement to Dorset but before the money came rolling in for The Cherries. I watched Isthmian League football at Oxford City with my grandfather as a child & various non-league competitions watching my nephew play as an adult. During my self imposed Chelsea exile from 2004-2016 I sat with Barnsley fans at the first ever MK Dons league fixture, & saw Portsmouth & Leyton Orient games home & away with friends. There is also the small matter of hundreds of fixtures attended since 1970 as I have followed the Chelsea over land & sea. If not Leicester.  I have seen matches at Leicester but not actually a Chelsea game. Like Kenny I have paid my dues & respectfully suggest I might deserve to have my say without it being ignored &/or treated with contempt. Despite his unconvincing disclaimer I would seriously question whether Mr Saunders has even the vaguest sympathy for Bury, nor any true understanding of the impact their demise will have on their followers.  My Twitter response to him was measured & polite, so of course ignored. Fair enough. I have a paltry amount of followers & will not enhance his Twitter reach. I know how important that is to him, hence his tendency to preach rather than engage in an intelligent debate. Fortunately the glorious democracy of the football experience (1 person, 1 ticket, 1 voice regardless of who you are or how much you earn) allows me the luxury of putting all the egotistical drivel spouted on social media to one side & enjoying the game once I’m there. Bury fans are not so lucky at present hence my irritation.

A football club folding is not akin to the demise of HMV or Woolworths. They were commercial entities in the truest sense, existing to supply the populace with goods in exchange for profit. When we no longer wanted those goods in enough number to enable that profit the train to oblivion beckoned. As part of our past going back to childhood we may have waved them off mournfully from the platform but a human barricade across the tracks was never on the cards. Football clubs going to the wall is far more complex. Like libraries or public parks they are an essential cog in the wheel for many communities, living, breathing assets to the population that outweigh a simple devotion to Mammon. The need to run them in a businesslike way is undoubted but Andy Saunders’ cliched, middle management training day apology for a tweet is a crass summary of a situation that highlights a crisis in English football that is only going to escalate if debate & action among the footballing hierarchy do not arise from the current fallout.

I had tweeted a couple of times about the Bury situation & pleasingly not all Chelsea fans responded with the low key but nonetheless hackneyed & smug defensiveness of Saunders & his two cohorts displayed at the top of this piece. I never mentioned Chelsea but there have been other contributions elsewhere on Twitter that betray a similarly paranoid assumption that a belief in the need for those from the higher echelons of football to play a bigger part in assisting the poorer represents an attack on specific clubs. Elsewhere many people did predictably single out big clubs, especially those  in the Lancashire area, & also high profile football personalities. Football regulations mean other clubs cannot pump money directly into the coffers of another. Gary Neville, who has strong family links to Bury, is heavily involved at Salford so similarly cannot intervene directly to help resolve the crisis at Gigg Lane. Collectively however the bigger clubs SHOULD be ashamed at the plight of many smaller outfits throughout the pyramid, & when the notion that they should dig deeper to help avert these situations is dismissed by Saunders as ‘sentimental nonsense’ he exposes nothing else than  his own pointless, self satisfied preference for playing to the gallery. As for no football clubs having a divine right to exist what does this banal comment even mean? Possibly very few things in life have a divine right to exist, but Kenny & 4,000 other regulars at Bury believe their club does, as do fans of every football club all over the world. If you don’t get that Mr Saunders then I suggest you stick to the noble art of plugging low grade aural tat by one of Lembit Opek’s increasingly odd retinue of ex girlfriends.  Steve Palmer refers to #footballfanignorance while listing previous occasions when clubs in trouble, Chelsea included, have not been helped out by other clubs. Fair point well made Steve, but if you read that an OAP had been mugged in the street & nobody had gone to their aid would you then cross the road & ignore a similar incident if you witnessed it? Despite Steve’s jibe I am sure I have more direct & vivid memories of Chelsea teetering towards bankruptcy in the mid 1970’s than at least two of the people involved in this exchange. Valky makes the frankly idiotic observation that he supposes I think all other clubs would chip in should Mr Abramovich walk away & leave Chelsea owing billions. My tweet specifically referenced bigger clubs helping those lower down the pyramid so Valky is emerging as a worthy successor for Roger Irrelevant from Viz here. Chelsea are now a known global brand anyway, so would obviously find attracting new investment rather easier than Bury. Billionaire Jim Ratcliffe, possibly Britain’s richest businessman is already reputed to be sniffing around should Roman pull the plug. He already has a season ticket. Were Valkey’s unlikely scenario to arise I would not expect charity from other clubs anyway. If Bury going bust is an OAP mugged in the street to general indifference from onlookers, Chelsea going bust in 2019 would be like seeing Bill Gates made bankrupt having maxed out on all his credit cards without ever paying off so much as one month of interest. There was a like for both Steve & Valky’s rather sour denunciations of my tweet however. Step forward Andy Saunders. I would say let the circle jerk commence but there were only three of you given the general indifference of most Chelsea fans to the subject , & especially my view of it! Like Saunders neither replied to my polite responses. Chelsea together.

However, I would like to issue a Mr Wolf in Pulp Fiction style warning for Andy, Valky & Steve not to suck each other’s dicks just yet. Comparisons between two television deals 30 years apart reveal just how much the financial landscape has changed in the football world since Chelsea had begging baskets scattered around Stamford Bridge in 1976. In 1985 there was a TV blackout in England as the Football League sought a better deal than the one on the table for them that summer. The live football offer was for £19 million over 4 seasons incorporating 6 league, 4 FA Cup & 3 League Cup matches. In December 1985 the Football League caved in & accepted a 1 year deal for 9 Division 1 & League Cup games for £1.3 million. A separate deal was struck for 4 FA Cup games. £1.3 million! A couple of months wages for a top Premier League player now. I suppose Sanchez would have enough for dog food. The combined BT/Sky deal in 2015? A staggering £5.14 Billion. I would say bigger clubs putting their hands in their pockets was a moral imperative. The money IS clearly there to help.

As it stands a new Colin Bell at Bury cannot be spotted for Manchester City to swoop on. The pub next to the ground will lose the biggest portion of its custom, along with other assorted businesses. What other social activities in Bury regularly attract 4,000 people, all of whom will be feeling a huge sense of loss at the moment? The fact is that not enough money has been fed through the pyramid, & the ensuing cracks are now going to cause massive subsidence.  It is easy to see how finanacial desperation led to Bury letting a rogue like current owner Steve Dale through the door. Of course the clubs have a responsibility to run themselves along commercial lines but this is a lot easier said than done. The EFL have a supposed right & proper person’s criteria for letting individuals like Steve Dale take over clubs like Bury. Dale has a string of failed business ventures to his name, & by his own admission no affinity either for Bury as a place or its football club, or indeed football at all. Is it impossible to create an insurance policy with contributions from all clubs relative to their stature to protect clubs in Bury’s position from themselves, tighten up the right & proper person’s test &/or apply it correctly? If new owners had to sign an agreement that they would waive any financial stake & walk away if they were no longer able to pay wages then asset stripping would not be an option & the likes of Dale would be forced to fail elsewhere. The emergency funds could be used to prop up the club while new buyers are found. If this is ‘hopelessly naive’ then I apologise. It seems preferable to arrogant complacency though. Good luck Bury. As for Andy Saunders, I’m not sure if The Cheeky Girls opus he was responsible for promoting was that touch my bum, this is life abomination but I think Kenny should continue the honourable music industry tradition of the answer song & record his own single as a riposte. Less touch my bum than kiss my arse. He’s the real, loyal selfless deal.

Ah yes. The match.  1-1. Chelsea could have been 3 up in the first 10 minutes, but Leicester will feel hard done by that they didn’t take all 3 points by the end. I thought James Maddison was an irksome pinhead who missed a sitter & kept falling over too easily, then endlessly whining like a child about it to the referee. Post match opinion would suggest that everyone else in the ground thought he was brilliant, & it seems my Chelsea goggles may have been on a little too tight. Thank goodness I don’t do post match tweeting. Compared to the plight of Bury the transfer ban is not a big deal. It will still be a fascinating & challenging season.

Upwards & onwards.

 

 

 

Adios Amigo

The longest ever footballer’s goodbye letter to us supporters was a touch of class, but, fond farewells aside, seeing Eden Hazard destroy Real Madrid’s rivals with his brilliance next season will still be torture for Chelsea fans. Like a eunuch watching Pornhub.

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

I don’t use a camera during a match. Strangely I go to watch the game. I would happily go in early to see Eden Hazard warm up though. The oldest fanboy in captivity!

 

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

EH17

May 9, 2019 – A last farewell to fans in the Matthew Harding Stand, having scored the winning penalty against Eintracht Frankfurt with his last kick of a football as a Chelsea player at Stamford Bridge, securing a place in a European final as a consequence. Some player. Missing him already.

 

 

Thrills, Shrills & Bellyaches

Women’s FA Cup Final 05/05/18

Chelsea 3 Arsenal 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I may need that pacemaker after all.

Ron Green – The Shrew Ron Ron

26/11/1988 Chelsea 2 Shrewsbury Town 0

Hats off to Ron Green – lord of all he surveyed on this grey autumnal day at Stamford Bridge 30 years ago. A small sample of his brilliance recorded above.

 

Ron Green. Even the name conjures up images to engulf the ageing fan in the warmest of retro glows. His superb performance at Chelsea in 1988 remains one of the greatest goalkeeping performances I have ever witnessed & in retrospect a last hurrah for the era so readily evoked by the name itself. Ron Green. A solid yeoman with a solid yeoman’s name, a worthy holder of the flame for those great keepers (& characters) who were everywhere in the 1960’s & ’70’s, cornerstones of the English game. Harry Dowd. Charlie Wright. Roy Burton. Ken Mulhearn. Bill Glazier. Colin Boulton. You can imagine any one of those names belonging to a peripheral character in Coronation Street back then, one of those types hanging around the bar at the Rovers Return just long enough to garner a one night only bunk up with Elsie Tanner before beating a hasty small hours retreat, the old warhorse of crushed romantic dreams left once again with little more than additional heartache & badly smudged mascara. These are names evoking fast fading memories of Players No 6, pink evening sports papers, roasted chestnuts & Double Diamond, & also, lest we go full jumpers for goalposts here, fans amending Build A Bonfire to sing ‘You Ain’t Got One ‘Cos You’re A Bastard, You’re A Bastard Referee.’ Football & society may be much changed but the contempt for match officials at  football remains firmly intact & is all too often well deserved. Blame the likes of Clive Thomas, Graham Poll & Mike Dean equally. I  always do.

Admittedly It was easy to be generous to Ron Green on this occasion. Chelsea were 2-0 up  against Shrewsbury before Green really got into his stride, Bobby Campbell’s team riding the crest of an unbeaten wave that would last another five months. Shrewsbury were never going to stage a comeback based around their loanee goalkeeper’s impressive exploits, & there was a fund of goodwill towards the opposition that day, their former Chelsea ranks swelled by terrace legend Micky Thomas, former youth & reserve team midfielder Phil Priest  & the simultaneously hilarious & terrifying Doug Rougvie. Ian McNeill, John Neal’s popular assistant at Chelsea in the first half of the decade, was also the Shrews boss at the time.

Within barely a year of Ron’s successful efforts of depriving Chelsea a near double figure victory we entered the 1990’s. Things then changed. Quickly. There would still be the occasional Fred Barber to keep Ron company in his goalkeeping dotage but soon we were ensconced in a world of foreign goalies as the long held, seemingly unassailable British belief that our keepers were the best in the world foundered. Move over Perry Digweed, it’s time for Ludek Miklosko, Espen Baardsen, Dmitri Kharine, Hans Segers & Pavel Srnicek. Mysterious, exotic sounding names redolent of cold war Bond villains & high end international drug barons. Goalkeeping duties at Man Utd back in 1990 were shared between Les Sealey & Jim Leighton. Names that would have fitted your local brickie or plumber. After the departure of Peter Schmeichel the new century at Old Trafford began with the arrival of Fabien Barthez via a short disastrous flirtation with the ill fated Massimo Taibi, both sounding like they could be casino based international playboys. Now the English game has Claudio Bravo, Hugo Lloris & Rui Patricio, sounding glamorous & intriguing regardless of the reality of their respective backgrounds. Fabien Barthez even had a supermodel girlfriend, Linda Evangelista, notorious for saying she would not even get out of bed for less than £10,000 a day. Ron Green probably struggled to clear £10,000 a year at the start of his career. Never mind Ron. Balding of pate with a minor hint of paunch you nonetheless put on a goalkeeping masterclass at Chelsea that day. Here we come to praise the stalwart, traditional British goalkeeper that time & Murdoch billions has done its best to bury. Despite denying me an avalanche of Chelsea goals against Shrewsbury Town the memories are curiously fond. The selection of clips from that season’s highlights video are a sample of Ron’s excellence. A splendid tip over the bar from a near post Kevin Wilson flick & a superb point range block from a close range Kerry Dixon diving header are the best on show here, not to mention thwarting the valiant attempt of defender Doug Rougvie to repeat his famous own goal at Wembley wearing the blue of Chelsea in the 1986 Full Members Cup final. Ron spared Doug’s blushes this time but not future nightmares for the rest of us at Stamford Bridge. Big Doug leant his head back & laughed in the aftermath of this incident,  revealing a ghoulish smile, punctuated by missing teeth, that rendered Freddie Krueger’s cinematic grin  less terrifying than that of Bungle from Rainbow in comparison.

It is always pleasing to doff your cap at such an outstanding performance for goalkeeping is a precarious existence. No other performer in football walks the hero to zero tightrope with the same frequency. When things are going well a keeper is frequently a figure of wonder & sometimes mystery. In my formative years we heard tales of the enigmatic, black clad Russian Lev Yashin, lithe, agile & exotic. Sadly there was not much footage available to view with Yashin spending most of his career playing behind the Iron Curtain. Here we had the all encompassing brilliance of the late, great Gordon Banks. I had the very real pleasure of seeing him play a couple of times, so imposing he appeared to fill the goal yet in one of the last pictures I saw of him he was dwarfed standing next to the current Stoke stopper Jack Butland. Stature on a football pitch can clearly not be measured merely by height & weight. Nonetheless some of the man mountains in the modern goal have scaled similar heights of brilliance, namely Denmark & Man Utd’s belligerent  Schmeichel in the 1990’s, & presently the splendid  Bayern Munich keeper Manuel Neuer, both earning less affection but almost as much admiration as the men from yesteryear. The supernatural reflexes of  Atletico Madrid & Slovakia’s Jan Oblak also see him currently vying for the joint accolades of  current best keeper in the world & all time great. It must be said there were fewer plaudits for Mr Schmeichel’s mercifully shortlived ’90’s rap career.

This rather melancholy novel was a staple on many a young boy’s bookshelf in the early 1970’s. It is a rather cynical but doubtless honest riposte  to the lovable 1950’s style cliches that infused comic book football legends like Roy Of The Rovers (Tiger) & Billy’s Boots (Scorcher)

Brian Glanville did not eschew cliche with the book’s title though, albeit one superglued to the truth. Goalkeepers are indeed different. Always have been & hopefully always will be. Maverick eccentricity abounds in the world of the goalkeeper & has done since the early days of the professional game. Chelsea bought Sheffield United’s legendary shot stopper William Fatty Foulke for £50 in 1905. He reputedly weighed in regularly around the twenty stone mark & plenty of tales are attached to his legend, often as tall as he was wide. At the tail end of the twentieth century we enjoyed World Cup sightings of Colombian Rene Higuita & Jose Luis Chilavert of Paraguay. Higuita’s extravagant mane of hair left him looking like Charles II in a tracksuit when he played at Wembley against England in 1995, during whch he famously unveiled his outrageous scorpion kick, contemptuously flipping his legs over his head & clearing  a strange cross cum shot from Jamie Redknapp with his heels. Higuita clearly had as much regard for Mr Redknapp’s footballing prowess as most of us have for his tedious modern day punditry. Rene scored nearly 50 professional goals from free kicks & penalties, & frequently indulged his fondness for joining in the play a long way from the goal he was primarily supposed to be defending. Sadly he missed the 1994 World Cup in America due to a spell in prison, courtesy of having received money for acting as a go-between in a child kidnapping case involving the infamous drug baron Pablo Escobar. Makes Peter Shilton’s pre-senile pro Brexit sloganeering  & one time alleged extra marital auto-erotic activities seem pretty tame. Rene’s contemporary Chilavert aced him on the goalscoring front, scoring 67 career goals including eight in international football for Paraguay. With both Jose Luis’s prison sentences having been suspended Higuita retains the edge on the porridge serving front though. Recent photographs of the long retired Chilavert suggest that William Foulke might sue anyone using the perennial soubriquet attached to his name were he alive today. Suffice to say that the Paraguayan is now one big chunk of hunk. All power to both him & Higuita anyway. Shine on you crazy diamonds.

There can undoubtedly be a dark side to the life of a goalkeeper. The most dramatic example of this is undoubtedly the sobering story of Robert Enke, deputy keeper in the German national team when he shocked an unsuspecting football world & threw himself in front of a train in 2009. He had struggled with deep periods of depression for many years & endured personal off pitch tragedy but his father later confirmed that football had also been a major contributory factor towards his awful & horribly premature death. Specific incidents & episodes in his career conspired to encourage the black dog to fester & linger throughout Enke’s career. After  making a vital mistake in 2003 playing for Fenerbahce he was traumatised at being bombarded with bottles, firelighters & mobile phones by angry fans. At Barcelona the sense of isolation felt by many a goalkeeper, frequently outsider loners in a team sport, had been compounded by a sense that coaches & playing colleagues generally did not believe in his abilities or facilitate his settling in at the club. While there he was reduced to the occasional appearance in domestic cup tournaments, never a high priority in Spain. Generally though it was continuing to conceal the fact of his serious depressive tendencies from the football world at large that proved the most debilitating, constant & ultimately fatal hurdle to overcome. In the case of goalkeeper John Budgie Burridge what seemed to be a peculiar but harmless, childlike obsession with his craft masked a problem that would only manifest itself fully on retirement. At a quite advanced stage of his career Burridge once claimed in an interview that he liked to take both his goalkeeping gloves & a football to bed with him, sometimes wearing his boots as well. He eventually retired at 47 after playing for more than two dozen clubs between 1969 & 1997. The career longevity was telling, a preoccupation with physical health supporting the continuation of the football life he loved seemingly overriding similar considerations for his mental well being. He ended up in The Priory simply unable to come to terms with the prospect of an existence without playing football. Thankfully he is now back in the game coaching  goalkeepers overseas.

The absurdist philosopher Albert Camus was a goalkeeper himself in his teenage years. ‘There is only one really serious philosophical question, and that is suicide’ he once wrote. If its shits & giggles you were after then an evening round at Albert’s was probably not the place to start but did he first formulate his ideas on acknowledging the true futility of human existence while standing between the sticks as a callow youth? Either way both his philosophical beliefs & goalkeeping exploits would doubtless have led him to appreciate the cruel irony of the stray dog incident at Griffin Park in 1969 when Brentford’s goalkeeper Chic Brodie was felled by a canine pitch invader running full pelt into him. Cue widespread mirth on the terraces. Not so funny for Chic. He sustained serious ligament damage in this freak incident & never played again, the laughter that rang around the ground as he lay in agony probably still ringing in his ears decades later.

The problem for all goalkeepers is that there is nowhere to hide when things go wrong. Miss three sitters as a striker but score a late winner & your aberrations are swiftly forgotten. A miskick or underhit pass to a colleague by any outfield player & there is a good chance a colleague will rescue the situation & spare your blushes. Often that colleague will be your goalkeeper. Unfortunately a string of brilliant saves made in a match will soon be overlooked by media & fans alike if you let one through your legs in the 89th minute & your team loses the game. Take lovely Peter Bonetti. A Chelsea hero with 600 appearances who famously helped the club to its 1970 first FA Cup win on one leg having been battered by Mick Jones of Leeds in the replay at Old Trafford. A year later a breathtaking late save secured a Cup Winners Cup final win over Real Marid. He was our Yashin, a slight but wonderfully agile & supremely fit man who still turned out for the veterans team into his ’60’s. Outside SW6 however, his name is eternally greeted with laughter & disdain in many quarters. He won seven international caps, keeping clean sheets in five with England winning six of these matches. Unfortunately the odd game out was the small matter of a World Cup quarter final, the first game he had played since his Old Trafford heroics. Bonetti had an off day. Somebody had to carry the can for the nation’s misery & it was the man known as The Cat, forever reminded about it by smartarses everywhere outside The Shed for the rest of his playing days. Several of his defensive colleagues went missing that day & appear to have been absent ever since whenever the postmortem recommences & the buck inevitably stops with Bonetti yet again. Another Chelsea goalkeeper, Dave Beasant, famously threw in three horrendous second half goals to cost his team the match against Norwich City in 1992. Within an hour of the final whistle his manager swiftly threw him to the lions, or more accurately the assortment of weasels regularly infesting the Chelsea press box back then. Many Blues fans were howling with rage long before he commenced his bowed head walk of shame off the pitch. As a fan I found his ineptitude that day infuriating but it was a hard heart that could not at least spare a thought for a broken looking Beasant at that moment. Inciting the rage of your own fans allied to the inevitable aftermath of frenzied media ridicule is a potent cocktail. Big Dave looked like the loneliest man in the world at quarter to five that day. God alone knows how poor Loris Karius coped after his notorious cock ups playing for Liverpool on the massive stage that was the 2018 Champions League Final against Real Madrid.

Being abused by your own fans may well be the worst experience for any footballer, but dealing with opposition supporters can also be a huge ordeal. Being closest to the terraces on the old days frequently involved goalkeepers running the gauntlet of a variety of missiles, from the ubiquitous toilet roll to darts, knives, coins, fireworks, ball bearings & whisky bottles. The fact that these were more commonly aimed at goalkeepers above other players was usually more logistical than personal but this was probably scant consolation at the time. Sometimes things did get personal too, especially for higher profile players, & often emphasising the complex & contradictory nature of the relationship between goalkeeper & fan. When Chelsea played Derby in the first match of the 1990-1 season Rams veteran goalkeeper Peter Shilton was given a resoundingly warm & effusive ovation by The Shed as he took his place between the sticks. Recently retired from international football & already over 40, Shilton had been part of the Italia ’90 England team that had helped restore faith in the national game after years of doom, gloom, terrace violence & Terry Fenwick. For the previous decade he had not always been so fortunate though. After lurid reports of a late night marital misadventure in his car Shilton was goaded by supporters of rival clubs throughout spells at Nottingham Forest & Southampton. He was a brilliant keeper in his prime but in the first game after the story broke the taunts of the Arsenal crowd were loud even on television highlights & the game was lost for Forest after an uncharacteristic Shilton blunder. When injury required on loan Eric Nixon to briefly replace him in the Southampton goal at the Manor Ground a few years later the Oxford fans regaled him constantly with chants of Shilton’s With Your Missus. Nixon found it amusing apparently. Shilts may have found it harder to raise a smile. In 1995 David Seaman ran out at Stamford Bridge to a sea of theatrically flailing arms singing Let’s All Do The Seaman. Four days earlier Arsenal had lost the Cup Winners Cup final to Real Zaragoza, the winning goal an outrageous 45 yard shot from former Spurs midfielder Nayim which induced the  panicked & futile physical response from the Arsenal goalie now being reproduced by Blues fans in all four corners of the Chelsea ground. Seaman threw his head back & laughed & continued to smile thoughout most of the game depite the endless goading. His good humour departed only once, quite understandably, towards the end of the game, when a small section of supporters decided to bring his private life into the equation with Seaman Seaman Where’s Your Kids. Once again the proximity to the crowd rendered a goalkeeper vulnerable & exposed to pointless & wholly undeserved personal abuse.

Happily all is not torture & torment  in the world of the goalkeeper. I know little or nothing about Ron Green’s life away from the football pitch but like to believe that he was one of those many stalwarts of the goalkeeping game who seem to have played through their careers bereft of existential angst. I fondly imagine him as a Banks’s Bitter & Dominoes in the snug at his local kind of chap. I have no evidence for this of course. He may have spent his spare time paragliding & dropping acid for all I know, but he cut a calm, steady, frill & fuss free figure on the pitch. He was not a big name in football but this performance was remembered by the Chelsea faithful. Two years later he returned to Stamford Bridge for a 1990 League Cup tie against Walsall, unchanged save for the balding pate looking to have slightly advanced. Walsall were the exception to the knockout rule in this era which usually decreed that Chelsea would  lie down happily & spread their arse cheeks for any lower division opponent. Not Walsall though. We always battered Walsall. The first leg away had been won 5-0 & the second leg saw another comfortable win. Ron failed to repeat his 1988 heroics & conceded another four goals but The Shed showed they had not forgotten him, chanting Ronnie Ronnie Give Us A Wave, warmly delivered & reciprocated with the requested response by the man himself despite having just shipped eight or nine goals over the course of the two legged tie by this point. His name would not generally have been tripping off the tongues of too many in the SW6 area. The Shrewsbury game was the only explanation. In fact, while generosity & opposition players were usually alien concepts in The Shed during the 1980’s, it was goalkeepers who were usually the exception. For four years prior to the club’s absurd relegation in 1988 there had been frequent visits from Liverpool & Everton, then the two best teams in the country. Opposition to be respected but not usually engendering any love. Nevertheless I can recall both their goalkeepers, Bruce Grobbelaar & Neville Southall respectively, being warmly clapped when taking their place in the goal at Chelsea, & both readily acknowledging that applause. Liverpool & Everton had some truly hateful players at the time. Steve McMahon, John Aldridge, John Bailey & Pat Van Den Hauwe to name but a few. A veritable Who’s Who of 1980’s footballing shithousery. There was more chance of Chelsea fans turning up in white shirts with a cockerel logo on them & singing Nice One Cyril for 90 minutes than giving any of those charmless characters a clap or a cheer. Even in this feral era goalkeepers were not only different but frequently treated differently by opposition supporters. Grobbelaar & Southall were both brilliant & fascinating characters. Grobbelaar was the larger than life soldier from Rhodesia, a flamboyant attention seeking showman, egotistical & acrobatic, happy both to play to the gallery & engage with it. Southall was a natural scruff who sometimes looked like he both lived in & dressed from the dustbins he had emptied for a living before he turned pro. He largely let his considerable talent do the talking for him & may well have been the best goalkeeper in the world for a time. In retirement he has also shown himself to be a unique & admirable man, entirely untypical of someone from his footballing background & all the more impressive as a consequence. He is now a champion of all sorts of good causes, committed to defending & supporting oppressed & underprivileged members of society, & doing so with the same intensity & obsessiveness that drove him to such great heights during his time at Goodison Park.

Grobbelaar became famously embroiled in one of the more squalid episodes in recent footballing history before he retired, but a quarter of a century later still comes across as a boorish, unpleasant, spivvy chancer. The reckless arrogance which made him such a charismatic presence on a football pitch clearly translates rather less palatably into civvy street.  Sadly he would fit perfectly into the modern game. I suspect it would be anathema to Big Nev. These are two goalkeepers who were definitely different though. Not least from each other.

And Ron Green? It must be said that Ron’s Google footprint is almost invisible apart from a Wikipedia entry & a few statistical career breakdowns dotted about the place. He retired in 1992 after a career taking in two stints at both Shrewsbury & Walsall as well as spells with Bristol Rovers, Scunthorpe, Wimbledon, Kidderminster Harriers, Colchester Utd & Bromsgrove Rovers. The glamour &  glitz may have eluded him but we can be confident that he deserves to rest easier in his dotage than the likes of Bruce Grobbelaar. Photos of Ron also proved difficult to come by online. At least I did eventually come across a doubtless dated heads up at https://www.where-are-they-now.co.uk . In a similarly presumptuous & patronising manner to my prior imaginings of his social existence I envisaged him to be indulging the traditionally linear retired footballer’s route from playing days to pension. Running a newsagents or a pub. Was this correct or was there to be a delightful twist, the erstwhile guardian of the Gay Meadow goal morphing into a spy or an international jewel thief in his latter years? Neither according to https://www.where-are-they-now.co.uk  – they  last have him working as a postman in Sutton Coldfield. Maybe my pint of Banks’s & Dominoes in the snug theory is not so far off after all. You would imagine the Post Office would have to up their pay structure a smidgen before Linda Evangelista joins their ranks though doubtless she would rock a pair of those shorts better than Ron. I think we can also be confident that neither Fabien Barthez or Claudio Bravo are ever likely to see out their working lives delivering the Royal Mail in Sutton Coldfield, or indeed anywhere else. Then again neither has ever remotely put up as good a show at Stamford Bridge as Ron Green did on that chilly, drab November afternoon 30 years ago, earning not millions but a deserved & prolonged respect from those of us who witnessed it. Sadly this pays no bills in 2019 but for what little it is worth, in a sport now sickeningly consumed by greed, remains a proper football fan response to a proper footballer.

Cheers Ron.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Buon Natale!

zolaxmas

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

One Micky Hazard?

October 18th 1986 – Chelsea 2  Manchester City 1

Capture1

 

A short collection of masterly midfield string pulling from Micky Hazard’s Chelsea days. The Spurs video has long been consigned to the bin. Warning – crowd celebrations may contains traces of celery.

 

I maintain that I have only let Chelsea down three times in nearly half a century. Not good but let’s put things into perspective. Peter betrayed Jesus three times in one night. They made him a saint.

My long exile from Stamford Bridge following the Abramovich takeover is not included in the list of dishonour. Chelsea didn’t need the likes of me by 2004. They don’t need me now. Whether the club liked to admit it or not things were different in the good old bad old days, & I fell short on three occasions. I’m at ease with the first aberration, which took place in December 1985, when as Chelsea played at Oxford in the Full Member’s Cup I was sat in a pub half a mile away trying to impress a woman. Even in younger, marginally prettier days, finding a winkle free member of the human race prepared to watch me quaff  bottled Guinness, smoke Marlboros & talk drivel was not that common  an occurrence. The Full Member’s Cup was also a joke tournament entered largely by clubs not good enough to win a proper competition. Chelsea won the match 4-1 & ultimately the trophy. My amorous misadventure? Suffice to say that Kerry Dixon scored three times more than I did that night.

Like Peter’s day of shame my other two failings also involved the crowing of a cockerel, mine from the markedly less biblical surroundings of White Hart Lane.  Sainthood, sadly, will never be bestowed on me, but unlike poor old Peter at least I won’t be crucified upside down, merely left to live with my days of ignominy, one of which will undoubtedly haunt me to my grave. Not being canonised at least meant I avoided falling under the radar of great art works like the glorious Denial Of St Peter. Thankfully Caravaggio was not around to depict my worst aberration (reportedly he was browsing in Our Price instead) in the early months of 1990, when I wandered into my local HMV, strode purposefully into the Video section & purchased the artefact featured below.

I know, I know. It’s criminal conduct on a par with OJ Simpson popping round for a word with the ex, Gary Glitter hitting PC World with a faulty laptop, or the entire punditry career of Jermaine Jenas. Pleas for clemency will undoubtedly & deservedly fall on deaf ears. In my youth one of the local vicars would visit a local newsagent to buy pornography under the mistaken impression that if he wore a scarf to conceal his dog collar he would be preserving his anonymity as he shuffled to the counter, a trusty copy of Razzle discreetly tucked inside that day’s Times. This feeble effort would certainly not have fooled the big boss man upstairs. Neither did it fool Mr Hathaway, the aforementioned newsagent. You can’t fool yourself either, & had I donned a Phantom Of The Opera mask while wearing a Dusty Springfield beehive wig before entering  HMV on that fateful day, the intent behind my visit  remained the same. Needless to say they didn’t peddle hardcore pornography in HMV,  but the burning sense of shame experienced when procuring a copy of Spurs – Greavsie’s Six Best Matches Of The ’80’s would not have been greater had I been caught snaffling up a copy of Cum Guzzlers 5 in a dank, darkened room in a Soho side street. Even less had it been Vol 4 which in fairness I understand to be something of a classic of the genre.

There is plenty of revisionism these days about the man whose recent departure from Stamford Bridge had inspired this act of apparent folly. Micky Hazard’s Twitter page nowadays is awash with a tireless (& to Chelsea fans tiresome) tidal wave of love towards the club he began & ended his professional career with, spats with supporters of rival clubs, usually Arsenal, punctuating the steady stream of gushing Tottenham love, the COYS (Come On You Spurs) acronym decorating his homepage as freely as lies from the lips of Boris Johnson. Micky is something of a Twitter tart these days, refreshingly happy to engage with fans in a way few football luminaries do. He even spared some time for me, as reproduced above, & despite this happening on a day of great pain for me (Spurs winning at Chelsea for the first time in 28 years) I remain rather chuffed he took the trouble. Sadly he can also be extremely thin skinned & in the aftermath of the infamous 2-2 draw at Stamford Bridge that killed Spurs title hopes for good in 2016 he joined fellow Spurs loyalist (& ex Chelsea player of the 1980’s) Graham Roberts in a mass blocking spree of Blues fans goading them about Eden Hazard’s crucial & glorious equalizing goal. It had been a game of unparallelled ugliness & spite, the Twitter fallout for the next 48 hours picking away at its many scabs with relish. Some of those squabbling with Hazard  doubtless viewed him quite differently in the 1980’s. For a couple of seasons this most gifted of midfield playmakers was the man most likely to alleviate the gloom descending on Stamford Bridge as the John Hollins/Ernie Walley coaching regime alienated the dressing room & slowly strangled the life out of all the advances made in the John Neal/Ian McNeill era preceding this unhappy time.

I followed the 2016 Twitter feuding at a distance & with some sadness, not at the generally high level of distress emanating from White Hart Lane, which was joyous to behold, but at the growing mutual bitterness between gloating Chelsea fans & Hazard. Roberts throwing his toys out of the pram I could live with. He had one great season playing a major role in getting us back to the top division in 1988-9 but had left under a cloud with the club later being investigated for illegal payments, one of which involved Roberts himself. The man currently betrays no affection for either Chelsea or its supporters. He had added some much needed steel & swagger in that promotion season, but I was always happy to view him as a footballing mercenary providing a welcome means to a desired end. He did a job and moved on but always came across as arrogant, boorish & unpleasant. I couldn’t care less which football team he waves his dick at these days. It was different with Micky Hazard. It always was different with Micky Hazard.

A few years ago I listened to a Spurs podcast. Normally a handjob from Edward Scissorhands would be a more enticing prospect but this was spying mission rather than betrayal as Micky Hazard was the guest. I was intrigued to hear how he would talk about Chelsea in the company of men routinely referring to my club & its supporters as ‘the scum’. Love you too darlings. He reminisced about scoring twice for The Blues on his first return to White Hart Lane a few weeks before this 1986 Manchester City game, & how he had felt he was scoring the goals in the wrong net & playing for the wrong team. Nonetheless Micky celebrated those two goals with relish. Pretending not to enjoy putting one over on your old club was not de rigueur in the 1980’s like it is now. He recalled Spurs boss Peter Shreeves frantically trying to buy him back very shortly after his £300,000 transfer to Stamford Bridge in September 1985. His love for Spurs was evident, he had originally joined them as a schoolboy from Sunderland & after Chelsea days he returned there from Swindon in 1993. The Spuds podcast boys he was talking to did not get the dirt they might have wished for though. His unbecoming 2016 Twitter meltdown aside Micky has always been steadfast in acknowledging the love & support he recieved from the Chelsea fans during his time in West London & to the possible chagrin of this audience (bar one interloper!) he reiterated that here. The only jarring note  was a confession he had joined the North London parade celebrating Tottenham’s last FA Cup win in 1991 & allowing the podcast bozos to promote the lie that he was still a Chelsea player at the time. By 1991 Micky was at Swindon via a short stint at Portsmouth. Chelsea was already two moves away. The overall impression was that Micky had enjoyed playing for the Chelsea fans but had never fallen in love with the club. Chelsea was a sporadically unhappy place during the 1980’s so this is hardly a crime, & the fact remains that on a rabidly pro Spurs platform he declined to denigrate a hated rival to score cheap points with their devotees. This was pleasing. I retain a fondness to greater or lesser degrees for most Chelsea players of the last 50 years. Those that lose it have usually worked hard to mislay my affections. There are only a small, select band who fall into the category of special players, who for a combination of reasons have lifetime elite status, an indestructible hold over my heart & mind when assessing the football I’ve watched at Stamford Bridge. Micky Hazard remains one of those players, despite the fitful nature of his Chelsea career, the sublime moments of brilliance being frustratingly fleeting.

I needed him back then. Having missed so much of the Neal years to distance & poverty I was out of kilter with certain prevailing attitudes from many fellow fans, & an interloper on existing bonds formed between terrace & dressing room. Of course I loved Pat Nevin, Kerry Dixon & Eddie Niedzwiecki too. Even if I did not buy into the adoration of David Speedie to the same extent I could still  love the talent & desire, but only when it rose above the endemic arsiness, which now seemed to be undermining rather than enhancing his performances, as had previously been the norm. Fiery to the last, Speedie was always the boy who would have been kept well away  from the paper guillotine at school. Returning to the match going fold I needed a player less firmly established to think of as my own.

Why Micky Hazard? What was it that led me to disgrace myself so publicly in HMV all those years ago? Well, he was hugely skilful, with great ball control & a sweet touch. Two footed, with a full range of unerringly precise short & long passes, along the ground or in the air, stroked, chipped, lofted, or driven. A top golfer requires a caddie to carry a full bag of top of the range clubs to achieve on fairway & green what Micky Hazard could conjure up on a football pitch with his left & right feet.He could shrug off opponents with a shimmy or a swivel & leave them for dead. He was capable of scoring great goals & would have scored far more in a better team. Pat Nevin astutely compares his passing ability to Cesc Fabregas, & he certainly shared a similar long ball radar to the Frenchman, famous for his seemingly telepathic penchant for finding Diego Costa from distance without even looking. An astonishing inch perfect forty yard lofted through ball for Kerry Dixon to latch on to against Coventry in October 1987 could have been a prototype for the immaculate 21st century Fabregas long ball model. Like Cesc he was less keen on tracking back, & liable to let an opponent leave him for dead if possession was lost, which in fairness usually was not that often, although for a small man he was always good for a few headed goal line clearances a season. At Spurs he had developed a reputation for lacking stamina & a liking for junk food had been mooted as the reason. Either ‘too many Mars Bars Hazard!’ or ‘too many burgers Hazard!’ was a frequent cry in response to any drop in standards from this delightful footballer, although one West Stand comedy visionary did once amend it to ‘too many kebabs Hazard!’ after rumours of a potential move to Olympiakos had been circulated in the press. Unlike some of the other talented recent Chelsea arrivals he had a certain style & charisma. On his day Gordon Durie was an accomplished & dynamic striker  but there was scant evidence of an on pitch charm or personality that lent itself to hero worship as well as admiration. Hazard was a distinctive figure who loved to both bask in & acknowledge the loud affection he inspired in the crowd, with a mop of fair curly hair & a habit of not tucking in his shirt. This often obscured those tight, minimalist ’80’s shorts the team wore back then  & sometimes left Micky’s shirt resembling a Kings Road Mary Quant ’60’s mini, our own Sandie Shaw tribute act. Sandie had better legs though. The tongue of his boots were generally raised in a way that led someone near me at one match to constantly compare them to floppy bunny rabbit ears. He wasn’t the tallest but he always stood out did Micky.

The Manchester City game in 1986 was my first glimpse of Micky Hazard & in many ways represents his entire Chelsea career in microcosm. I thought manager John Hollins needed to play him more regularly before the game. Afterwards  knew it. I had been away from Stamford Bridge for too long but the timing of my return was inauspicious. In the 1983-4 Division 2 Championship season I was still at university, in my final year. The only game I saw, an early season 2-1 win over Cambridge United, was in some ways the last gasp of a previous era. The team had been radically transformed with excellent signings but the winning goal that day came from Clive Walker & Colin Lee remained up front alongside one of the new boys, one Kerry Dixon. This was Walker’s last goal at Chelsea before he returned with Sunderland 18 months later & scored twice against his old team in an infamous League Cup semi final. He broke his jaw shortly after the Cambridge match & Pat Nevin replaced him for good. David Speedie soon joined Kerry Dixon up front to forge a fractious but profitable partnership. Lee stayed at the club as a successfully converted full back. By the time my final exams loomed Chelsea had sealed promotion with a thumping 5-0 win over Leeds. Dirty Leeds. The championship was sealed with a last day win away at  Grimsby. Despite being a manageable trip from Hull I still missed it, choosing to swot over my exams instead. While Kerry Dixon’s first half header was clinching a Div 2 title win my head was trying to get round the role of the Soviet Union in determining American foreign policy in China between 1941 & 1946. Reliving history while Chelsea were making it. Not the first or last person to have done that. One of the girls in my house went with her boyfriend who turned out to be the cousin of former Chelsea centre forward Trevor Aylott, a Bermondsey boy whose name was briefly in lights  when he scored the winning goal in both of his first two first team appearances at Stamford Bridge. Sadly he never scored again & went off on a nomadic career journey including Barnsley, Luton Town, Birmingham City & Oxford. His cousin kindly brought me back a programme after the Grimsby game & informed me it was a terrible game. Not that anyone cared, Kerry’s header ensuring the blue half of a dangerously over crowded stadium went into the summer with permanent smiles on their faces.

I not only missed almost all the 1983-4 but the entire campaigns in the following two seasons. My northern tenure was followed by a lengthy spell on the dole in a record year for graduate unemployment. When I eventually started a job I had to work every Saturday for the best part of the first year. These were  largely successful & quite exciting years for the club, marred by the Heysel tragedy in 1985 leading to a blanket five year ban for English clubs. A disastrous Easter in 1986 killed any lingering title hopes, but the trajectory for the club seemed very much on the up, & the 1985 signing of Micky Hazard from Spurs was a coup. He had played a major role in FA & EUFA Cup wins in 1982 & 1984 without ever truly nailing down a guaranteed starting place. Spurs had the most gifted English midfield player of the age in Glenn Hoddle, & the 1978 World Cup winning Argentinian duo Ossie Ardiles & Ricky Villa were also around for large parts of Micky’s first spell at the Lane. Exalted company but by 1985 Chelsea were able to swoop as the player became frustrated at being left on the bench & sought a move.

After a year even the most devout Chelsea fan would have forgiven Micky for wondering why he had bothered. For sentimental reasons I forked out the princely sum of £6 to sit in the West Stand for the Man City game. My first match in 1970 had been viewed from there. After a couple of years absence, witnessing the continuing decay of the stadium was a poignant moment. Chelsea had started the season badly & were without a home win in the league. The previous week had seen a 5-3 defeat at Upton Park & the mood around the club was gloomy. Rumours of behind the scene dissension were rife, & the departure of John Neal, architect of the on pitch revival that now seemed to have stalled, was imminent. John Hollins had taken over the management of the team after Neal stood down following ill health. Hollins had not felt the need to sound out his predecessor for advice. Neal now had a general manager role that increasingly seemed a merely ceremonial title, & grew increasingly resentful at being excluded from any active, constructive part in matters. He eventually went public in expressing his frustration & was sacked. A mere 12,990 turned up for the match on a suitably bleak afternoon, the paltry attendance reflecting both the poor start the team had made to the season & the generally straitened circumstances English football now found itself in following the Heysel disaster. Back in the 1970’s Rodney Marsh had  left Man City to play for the Tampa Bay Rowdies inthe NASL, lamenting that English football was now a grey game played by grey people on grey days. It seemed a harsh assessment in 1975 but acutely prescient now. Even Manchester City’s traditionally strong away presence was depleted.

Despite all this I was thrilled to be back. The view from the West Stand was pretty unbecoming to the impartial eye. There were weeds on the terraces, more obvious given the sparsely occupied status of the latter throughout much of the ground. Grotty refreshment kiosks still sold the standard fare of poor quality hot dogs, undrinkable coffee, weak tea &  Wagon Wheels to tempt the rows of pasty English faces quickly finding themselves watching rank, sub standard, footballing fare. The giant East Stand, still only 12 years old, cast its giant shadow over the other side of the pitch, looking relatively grand & modern. It was  completely out of keeping with the rest of the stadium, the folly of its construction a large part of the reason for the piss stained squalor of the other three sides of the ground. The money had run out in 1974 & next to nothing had been spent on the rest of the ground since. Behind The Shed remained the old buildings with ancient fading adverts still embossed to the brickwork. One was for Gordon’s Gin but my favourite bore the following pre-decimal legend – Blue Star Batteries £2 18/6. I get dewy eyed thinking about it to this day, doubtless unfathomable to the neutral but Chelsea fans of a certain vintage know. The nerves & excitement I felt on childhood visits to the Bridge had not abated. Deconstructed logically the surroundings I was returning to was little more than a glorified dump but love is blind. I was home again. The football for the first 60 minutes was abysmal, so bad that the reignition of my love affair with Chelsea football club might have stalled eternally then & there had I been a less hardy & masochistic soul. The much travelled Imre Varadi was making his debut for City & opened the scoring with a goal from an unlikely angle that nonetheless deceived the admirable Tony Godden in goal, probably helped by a deflection. Varadi unwittingly became a standard bearer for a lightening in terrace mood towards the end of the decade, as the ecstasy generation ushered in a mellower vibe & some City fans’ habit of mispronouncing Imre’s surname as Banana rather than Varadi (no, me neither) led to them turning up at matches with inflatable bananas. This craze caught on everywhere & gave the matchday ‘scarves & badges, wear your colours’ hookey merchandise sellers on the Fulham Road  a fresh line to tag on the end of this mantra for the first time in decades. ‘Get your celery!’  For Chelsea’s plastic inflatable of choice was, of course, celery. I didn’t mind. The real stuff hurled around at some velocity could sting. Inflatable celery? Do your worst lads.

There were no inflatables to lighten the mood in 1986 however. Chelsea were  woeful. At one point two of the bigger players in the team (John McNaught & Kerry Dixon I believe) went to head the ball at the same time, crashed into each other & ended up in undignified heaps on the floor. Left back Doug Rougvie was an undoubted character who tasted European glory under the tutelage of Alex Ferguson at Aberdeen, but too often appeared to have been plucked out of the crowd to make up the numbers during his Chelsea career, displaying the touch & timing of a house brick in the gob. At the time Channel 4 had issued a special discretion warning device on its screen while showing a series of oddball Friday night arthouse films usually failing to supply the anticipated acres of naked flesh.  Or so I’ve been told. The warning was supplied by an omnipresent red triangle on the screen. One match report after this game suggested big Doug’s archetypally cumbersome & thuggish performance had been deserving of a red triangle all of its own. Midfielder Keith Jones was a focal point for crowd displeasure. Jones was a local boy & black. The fond desire to see  home grown talent flourish at Stamford Bridge these days frequently emanates from a generation that forgets how little patience it showed in the days when local lads stood more chance of getting a game. The colour of Jones’ skin clearly didn’t help him either. His Chelsea career had started well but fell away against a consistent background of barracking from his own team’s followers. I won’t dignify them with the word fans. This was not the Man City we know now, not Aguerro, Silva, Mendy, Laporte & De Bruyne but David White, Andy May, Neil McNab, Kenny Clements & Mick McCarthy. Good honest pros but not world beaters who probably could not believe their luck at the shapeless, incoherent, apparently disunited rabble that formed the opposition line up for most of the game. The myopic romantic in me was thrilled to be back at Stamford Bridge but the realist could not avoid the unpalatable truth that this was a Chelsea team hurtling back towards mediocrity. It desperately needed some creativity, poise & flair, a player with vision who could pick a pass & alleviate the gloom of the dank, grimy, hungover London afternoon, mirroring the quality of the football with a precision that was sorely lacking in the home side’s game play.

It needed Micky Hazard.

For hunched up in the cramped home dugout was the one substitute allowed back then. Micky Hazard had escaped the mighty shadows of Ardiles, Villa & Hoddle only to find himself once again benched, only now at the expense of the markedly more prosaic talents of John McNaught, Keith Jones & Darren Wood, the latter once Malcolm Allison’s golden boy at Middlesbrough, rather less ensconced, putting it mildly, in the affections of the Chelsea faithful. Mercifully Hazard eventually replaced the lumpen McNaught halfway though the second half to dramatic effect. Within 10 minutes the game had been transformed, a one man rebuttal of the fetid hideousness of the previous hour.  Split seconds are everything in football & the greater the quality of player the more time they appear to have, along with the ability to use it to optimal effect.  Having previously huffed & puffed without remotely looking like breaking the City defensive door down Chelsea got back on level terms as Micky collected the ball for a free kick wide on the right hand side, played a short one two with  Wood, ran at the opposition defence with purpose & hit a lovely 25 yard left foot drive which curved past the previously untested Perry Suckling in goal, a hint of prime Ian Botham outswing sending the ball past his right hand & into the far corner. For the first time all afternoon a player in Chelsea blue seemed to want the ball at his feet, regarding it as a friend & ally rather than a Semtex laden suspect device. For once the shot was taken on early & to stunning effect, the mood change it inspired instant & dramatic. Stamford Bridge was once again a place of wonder & mystery, the gloom & drizzle a mere meteorological irritant, the weeds, rust, piss, horse shit  & Wagon Wheels mere details. The braindead sheep within the Stamford Bridge faithful were distracted from pursuing their alternately latent or explicit racism & the unfairly maligned Keith Jones finally caught a much deserved break. In one short, decisive moment of brilliance Micky Hazard had lifted a turgid mess of a game & elevated it into a different sphere. He wasn’t finished either. Picking up the ball in a similar position to the free kick he floated an enticing cross on to Kerry Dixon’s head on the left hand side of the box. Dixon steered the ball into the middle of the area where the wonderful John Bumstead ended his run into the box with a perfectly timed diving header. Poor Perry Suckling. Having previously had time to get measured for a new suit, eat a three course meal & complete the Times crossword he now found himself picking the ball out of the net for the second time in a matter of minutes. Three years later he played at Anfield for Crystal Palace & conceded nine so there were worse days ahead. Micky’s cameo had been brilliant & decisive & I left the ground with a spring in my step replacing the weary trudge that would have sufficed had the last twenty minutes of the game mirrored the first seventy. All was well & everyone lived happily ever after?

Mmm. Not quite. Life is not generally like that, & certainly not Chelsea life in the mid 1980’s. By Christmas the team were rooted at the bottom of the table. Micky appeared only sporadically, injury playing a role but weird team selection often proving the order of the day. In Kelvin Barker’s masterly Celery! Representing Chelsea In the 1980’s the author recounts a miserable 1-3 home defeat to Newcastle, the Geordies propping up the table themselves at the time, a defeat all the more infuriating for the likes of Hazard, David Speedie & Nigel Spackman putting Reading Reserves to the sword in a 9-2 rout on the same day. Colin Pates was apparently a preferable option to Hazard, Spackman & Bumstead in midfield at this time. Pates was a centre half. A very good one too. Perhaps playing him there might have stopped three goals being conceded at home to a poor outfit like Newcastle. Micky expressed his disquiet publicly, & Speedie appeared to give up the ghost around this time. Clearly neither were renewing their subscriptions to the Ernie Walley fan club. Hollins’ number two was widely cited as the unpopular enforcer of a style of play that favoured blood, sweat & tears over style, flair & imgination.

I started going to Stamford Bridge regularly again, negotiating my way through staff rotas wherever possible, but did not see Micky play again until February when Sheffield Wednesday, managed by the charmless Howard Wilkinson, graced us with their muscular presence. 12,403 hardy souls turned up this time. Bumstead, Speedie & Spackman had been returned to the first team fold though the latter was about to decamp to Anfield. A short while ago apparently only fit to play in the stiffs at Reading, but good enough to sign for Kenny Dalglish’s Double winners from the previous season. Madness. Only at Chelsea. The absent Kerry Dixon had also been transfer listed, Tony Godden wanted away & by now Hazard was also up for sale. Speedie’s attitude & general demeanour during this match reeked of dissatisfaction laced with extreme boredom, like a wayward teenager halfway through an especially dull detention. I remember one particularly feeble air shot at the ball that came closer to a kick up the arse of a Wednesday defender. Normally you might suspect that to have been the intention of the famously combative Scot but he didn’t even seem to be out for a tear up, & a David Speedie who doesn’t fancy a tear up has to be part of a demotivated & dispirited dressing room. He would gain his freedom at the end of the season, moving to newly crowned FA Cup winners Coventry City. As the West Stand had seen victories against Man City & QPR superstition led me there again. Once again Micky Hazard was substitute & there was an overwhelming sense of deja vu. Sheffield Wedneday favoured returning the ball all the way back to goalkeeper Martin Hodge whenever possible. Goalkeepers could still pick up backpasses in 1987 & the more negative teams would endlessly play the ball back to the keeper, who then spent an inordinate amount of time cradling the ball in his arms before releasing it. Not only did Hodge do this but he also then favoured pumping the ball high & seemingly aimlessly into the sky. Chelsea’s tactics were equally unimaginative. After 5-10 minutes of footballing garbage the die was cast. The person sat in front of me turned to his mate saying ‘this will be 0-0 for 70 minutes then we’ll bring Hazard on & win 2-0.’ Telepathy was subsequently married to deja vu as that, dear readers, is exactly what happened. Shortly after Micky’s introduction for Darren Wood he sent Gordon Durie away & the future White Hart Lane traitor won a penalty. Hazard grabbed the ball & gleefully struck it high into the net to Hodge’s right. The celebration was passionate & pointed. He was happy in the moment but clearly not generally satisfied with his Chelsea lot. He also started the move for the second goal, with a typically deft shimmy & swivel past a Wednesday midfield lunk & a neat pass that leads to a left side attack & cross that Lawrie Madden slid into his own goal. Afterwards he gave the press a field day with a fabulously indiscreet pop at the club hierarchy, fending off questions about his transfer listed status by facetiously suggesting the club would probably demand umpteen millions or a swap deal with Diego Maradona. Messrs Bates & Hollins ears must have been burning but just as it appeared Micky was doing the same with his boats the  tide turned.

Hollins picked him to start against Oxford three days later, he scored another penalty early on & then ran the show completely as the U’s got drubbed 4-0. He further cemented his already warm relationship with the crowd, wallowing in the love & playing to the gallery with claps, waves & thumbs up at every opportunity, at one point conducting the crowd with his right hand as they sang his name, the ball at his feet, seamlessly controlling both the game & its audience simultaneously. There were very few others players interacting with the crowd during this largely undistinguished season. Sadly there were only 9,546 there that evening, those absent doubtless put off by the icily rainy midwinter weather & the for once unfounded fear that Darren Wood would be picked ahead of Hazard as usual. Oxford’s manager in those days was Maurice Evans, an eminently decent man who won the Milk Cup with Oxford, & who Chelsea fans have plenty to be thankful for due to his mentoring of Kerry Dixon during the blonde bomber’s Reading days. He lacked the PR licks of more media savvy managers & usually looked uncomfortable in post match interviews, partly because he was not a born raconteur & possibly because the top of his head was decorated with a strange hairstyle that resembled a well trampled on cow pat. ‘Hazard took the mick’ is the only quote I saw attributed to him after this game. Don’t give up the day job Maurice. The hair’s hilarious but leave the one liners to Cloughie. Having said that Oxford legend has it that he once stood mute while his assistant Ray Graydon angrily tore dressing room strips off the players after one dismal first half showing. In a pleasingly cliched manner there were tea cups flying around the room as the former Aston Villa winger, scorer of the winner in the 1975 League Cup Final, vented his spleen. Finally running out of steam he turned to the ever implacable Oxford boss saying ‘Maurice, is there anything you want to add?’ There was a slight, silent pause before Evans replied in the affirmative. ‘Yes. Would anyone like another cup of tea?’

If Hollins was applying a similar good cop bad cop approach via the dreaded Walley then it was significantly more heavy handed. Hazard stayed in the team for a while though, starring in a home win over West Ham & scoring a neat equalizer against Man Utd after some lovely interplay with Pat Nevin. There was also an impressive win at Forest. Only an abysmal performance in a 3-0 gubbing at Highfield Road queered the pitch as Chelsea rose to the heady heights of mid-table mediocrity. An Easter Monday home game against Southampton saw Ken Bates begin the Save The Bridge campaign as the club stepped up its battle to fend off property developers trying to evict them from their home of 82 years. Micky remained in a team heralding another apparent new dawn by featuring teenage goalkeeper Roger Freestone, who went on to be a long serving legend at his next club, Swansea. He was always a big fella & was later memorably if cruelly derided by the Chelsea Independent as Roger Forty-Freestone. I liked Roger but seemed to be in a minority. The Chelsea Independent comparing Micky Hazard with Charlie Fairhead from Casualty was less insulting, both sporting a generous mass of curly, fair hair back then. Charlie’s clipboard was omnipresent with him on the wards back then, along with a quizzical frown. Micky passed on the clipboard but can be forgiven for wearing a similar frown given the way the hierarchy at the club managed both his Chelsea career & the team’s fortunes generally. Most fans were keen on Micky though, & he ran out second to Pat Nevin in the supporter’s player of the year at the end of the season despite a paltry sixteen starts. We all hoped for better things for the 1987-8 season. Better had other plans sadly.

Micky played 28 times the following season but the behind scenes bickering spilled over on to the pitch even after John Hollins & Ernie Walley had departed. Bobby Campbell’s first game in charge saw a disjointed performance at home to Southampton, matchwinner Graham Baker relaying to the press just how much disunity the Chelsea players had displayed as they openly squabbled amongst themselves to opposition disbelief. Yet again it was a story of promise unfulfilled with a sad ending, Micky’s four & a half year stint at the Bridge encapsulated in one topsy turvy season which culminated absurdly in relegation via the play offs. It started well enough as Micky slid a tidy pass through to Kerry Dixon for the opening goal four minutes into the first match of the campaign, at home to our old friends Sheffield Wednesday. Early on in the second half he was substituted to a crescendo of boos, aimed not at him but Hollins. Generally the team made a decent start & Kerry Dixon was the main benificiary of Micky displaying his expansive range of passing. There was a stabbed left foot ball under pressure from a  defender to set up the winner against Norwich. Canaries keeper Bryan Gunn’s agility was the only barrier to a second for Dixon after another unerringly accurate left foot Hazard pass. This was long range & lofted akin to a Seve Ballesteros short iron, landing a mere couple of feet in front of the big striker from 40 yards away. A few weeks later an almost gentle chipped ball was  carressed on to Kerry’s head against Newcastle. At times like this it was baffling to think that both Hazard & Dixon were not appreciated more by Hollins, & the aforementioned Coventry goal was from the top drawer, Hazard turning a wrong footed Lloyd McGrath deep in the Chelsea half & this time the right foot  set Dixon free with a 40 yard lofted pass of exquisite perfection, Steve Ogrizovich in the opposition goal left helpless as a left foot thunderbolt crashed into the top corner. Sadly Dixon was stretchered off shortly after & didn’t score again at home until a play off game against Blackburn the following May, by which point injury had also seen to it that Hazard’s season was over. Dixon ended his Chelsea career on 193 goals, nine short of Bobby Tambling’s club record at the time. A quick viewing of the video montage at the top of this page offers a persuasive argument that had Micky Hazard played the dozens of extra games in a Chelsea shirt he really should have then Kerry would have smashed that record quite comfortably.

1987-8 ended with relegation via the playoffs against Middlesborough, Micky standing behind the goal at The Shed cheering his team mates on alongside goalkeeper Eddie Niedzwiecki & a fan in a wheelchair. Eddie’s season had been curtailed with a knee injury sustained at home to Oxford in October. He never played again & was a massive loss. Micky was injured during the May Day Bank Holiday 4-1 defeat at West Ham, ironically in a challenge with future Blues colleague Alan Dickens. This catastrophic result against fellow strugglers had left the team needing to win their last home match against Charlton to avoid the play offs. Chelsea’s away form was pathetic but there were only two home defeats that season, both by a single goal. It was the draws that proved costly at Stamford Bridge & did so again against Charlton, yet another 1-1 result. A flash of Hazard brilliance, leaning back on a half cleared free kick & striking a gorgeous left shot past Peter Shilton, had seen off Derby a few weeks earlier. Micky then gloated to the press that he had also successfully picked out Daring Destiny as the Grand National winner that day. Pleasingly, Chelsea’s first league win since Halloween had also coincided with my birthday, cementing my belief in Micky Hazard as the Chelsea talisman of the age. He had also benefitted from a moment of creative brilliance by Pat Nevin to sidefoot home & rescue a point against Arsenal the week before. Despite wee Pat’s presence one moment of inspirational guile to overcome Charlton was not forthcoming & even three wins from four  in the play offs failed to save the team from the dreaded drop. As a fan you recall individual moments that helped tip the scales the wrong way. One of them was the failure to overcome future Hazard employers Portsmouth at home in January. I’m not sure what was the bigger abomination that afternoon, the abysmal standard of football or the away team’s repulsive tight fit salmon pink shirts, striving to defy all sane prediction & contain the ample bellies of two of Pompey’s better players, Micky Quinn & former Chelsea playmaker Mike Fillery. Deep into the second half salvation had beckoned as Hazard broke through for a one on one with Alan Knight, rounding the veteran keeper only to sidefoot the ball tamely into the side netting as an empty net beckoned. The angle was tight but not so tight it should have foiled a player of such quality. This vied with Paul Miller’s flukey equalizer for the opposition in the Charlton game as the nearly moment that I most rued after the season had ended. Nearly moments in isolation fail to tell the whole tale though. This is a Chelsea team that not only blew a three goal half time lead at Oxford but can count themselves mighty fortunate to have escaped with a point. Away defeats were frequently comprehensive & betrayed the desperate absence of team spirit that always lend the lie to any public utterances of unity & commitment to the cause. Dressing room tittle tattle had continued to leak to the press, notably Nigel Clarke in the Daily Mirror, throughout the Hollins-Whalley era, emphasising the discontent that lay within its walls. Was Micky Hazard, always amenable in his dealings with the media, one of the sources of this gossip? It seems highly possible but however unhelpful & disruptive such leaks were, they surely served largely to illustrate a deeper malaise within the club. If there is a widespread tendency for employees to air grievances to a third party rather than directly to the management within any organization then there is an inherent failing within that organization. External whingeing was surely a symptom rather than a cause of the team’s plight.

There was clearly rather more than one player using the media in this way at the time. It was hardly surprising. The reliably magnificent turnout of travelling support for a 4th round FA Cup tie at Old Trafford were rewarded with a limp, pallid, poorly executed defensive display. An untroubled United won 2-0 at a canter & only a fine penalty save from Roger Freestone stopped the scoreline being worse. Back then clubs were allowed two outfield substitutes in the FA Cup. Instead of going for it at a ground where Chelsea frequently tended to thrive Hollins revealed his hand before kick off by naming Pat Nevin & Micky Hazard as his bench dwellers. The thousands of away fans would see their boys vainly try to do no more than cling on for a replay. The FA Cup mattered then, really mattered, so for the game but seemingly inferior Kevin McAllister to be preferred to Pat Nevin just seemed wilfully perverse. Eleven days earlier Chelsea had been trounced 4-0 at Swindon in the Simod Cup & Hollins ruefully remarked that this marked the first time both sets of supporters had sung Hollins Out in unison. Perhaps he thought that a low scoring defeat at Old Trafford would serve his future prospects better than another hammering but to the fans it looked like the white flag had been hoisted as soon as the team sheet had been pinned up. This view was supported by a quote from United’s new signing Steve Bruce, who confirmed the widespread delight in the opposition dressing room on hearing Hazard had been left out of the starting line up. If you have a player that opponents fear it is surely a potent weapon best employed. Instead Micky was left kicking his heels alongside Nevin on the sidelines. By the time they entered the fray the die was cast, the team too entrenched in negativity for their two most talented players to assist in turning the tide. The following week Chelsea entertained Man Utd in the league. Bruce scored his first United goal as Chelsea suffered their first home defeat of the season. Hazard was omitted again. Whether it was loyalty or plain obstinance on the part of Ken Bates (he had confidently asserted that Hollins would prove to be a managerial great) he appeared to twig much later than most that a change was needed. Despite the Swindon & Man U debacles however, it remained clear that this Holly was not going to go lightly. It would be the 4-4 draw at Oxford in March that signalled the end of the road. Having taken a late 4-3 lead at the Manor Ground John sank to his kness in double clenched fist gratitude at the emphatic Kerry Dixon finish, somewhat ironically as the  striker loomed large on the list of players he was poised to shift out of the club. Oxford still had time to equalize & have another effort ruled out for offside before the game ended. By this time Ernie Walley had already been removed as coach by chairman Ken Bates, against the wishes of John Hollins, & replaced with Ken’s friend Bobby Campbell. From that moment the writing was surely on the wall for Hollins, a well liked man & a great Chelsea player seemingly undone by both his loyalty to Walley & penchant for bizarre team selection & gameplans. Holly had not gone lightly but finally, mercifully, he & Walley were both out. Two drifters off to see the world. Or Rochdale, Swansea & Crawley in John’s case, who sadly never did attain the stature of managerial greatness still being predicted for him by Ken Bates even as he was showing him the door. Hollins was trying to sell both Dixon & Hazard at the time of his sacking, maddening & obtuse to the end. I was not sure what became of dear old Ernie, who may well have been as much of a fall guy as he was an ogre, but there would appear not to have been such a lot of world for him to see either, at least not in the football sense. Bangor City in 1992 is all Wikipedia report him rolling up at after his stint at the Bridge, though doubtless scouting opportunities would have come his way.

Nobody was shocked when Campbell was named as Hollins’ successor, but I can’t pretend I was thrilled either. The manner of his arrival, a cuckoo in the Hollins nest, seemed like a sneaky move on the part of Bates to force a resignation & shoehorn in a boss who had not set the Thames or Solent on fire, at Fulham & Portsmouth respectively, in previous management roles. He had been at Craven Cottage when George Best & Rodney Marsh were at Fulham in 1976 which at least suggested an aptitude for giving flair its head. Sadly, on closer inspection he had not been manager when they first rolled into town, Marsh disappeared from first team action swiftly once he did take over the reins &. When Campbell succeeded Alec Stock the team prompty went three months without a win. Getting Portsmouth promoted as champions from the old Division 3 was the only real notable high prior to nudging Hollins out of the Stamford Bridge hot seat.

Micky started regularly under the new boss until the injury at West Ham but Bobby would ultimately prove to be yet another apparent advocate for brawn over brains. Like Hollins his treatment of Hazard devotees like me reminded me of my grandfather teasing our first dog with peanuts when I was small. He would get the dog, a crossbreed with a lame front left paw, to beg, offer up a peanut & then swiftly remove both his hand & the nut just as she went to claim her prize. This would happen several times before he would relent & allow her the treat she should never have been offered in the first place. She had to beg 3-4 times per peanut. Hollins had once been interviewed by Neil Barnet on Chelsea Clubcall the day before a home game against Luton Town. He was asked about Luton’s impressive striking duo of Mick Harford & Mike Newell, sidestepping the question by saying he would rather talk about our Mike, Mike Hazard, instead. The interview finished without the name Hazard being mentioned again even once, & almost inevitably he was then completely missing from the lineup the following day. Campbell taunted us by expressing delight when it was announced that Micky was staying at Stamford Bridge in the summer of 1988, offering a gushing endorsement of Micky’s abilities in the process. Surely Division 2 would be a breeze & promotion a formality with a creative talent like that orchestrating the midfield? Yes & no it transpired. 99 points & 96 league goals tell their own story, & after a spluttering start there was a pleasing reverse of the previous season with only one league defeat occurring after October, a 2-0 defeat at Filbert Street on the awful day of the Hillsbrough disaster. Micky Hazard remained in absentia for most of the season however, making just four league appearances in February. He became largely a forgotten man, the only squad member not to be paraded in front of the fans during the end of season celebrations following the last game at home to Bradford City. Bobby was now keeping his peanuts firmly in his pocket & Micky’s Chelsea career seemed set to slip away unheralded & largely unnoticed. I am hopelessly loyal to my footballing favourites & was pretty despondant about the situation. I was delighted & relieved by Chelsea’s promotion charge, the thought of another lengthy stint outside the top flight was unbearable. Nevertheless it was an efficient rather than joyous brand of football, a definite case of ends justifying the means, & I missed the chance to enjoy the deft, classy midfield touches that had shone much of the light into the murky tunnels of the previous two seasons.

Prior to the 1988-9 season there were very few doubts circling in my mind that Micky Hazard was the victim rather than perpetrator of  activity undermining his Stamford Bridge career, aside from the suspicion he may have possibly aided & abetted the spreading of anti Hollins/Walley intelligence through sympathetic media contacts. The pre-season signings of Graham Roberts & Peter Nicholas were a clear indicator of the new manager’s desire to add some defensive steel. Roberts had shared early ’80’s domestic & European cup glory at Spurs with Hazard before his move to Ibrox Park. He was reminded of this during his first Chelsea Clubcall interview on the day his transfer was announced but came across as less than pumped when questioned about the forthcoming reunion. ‘Yeah. Funny lad Micky,’ he said, with a tone & emphasis that suggested peculiar rather than ha ha. They work together as Spurs ambassadors these days. On this occasion though, on a club platform where banal platitudes about colleagues were the more usual order of the day, this hardly represented a resounding thumbs up for his past & future team mate.

Peculiar was also an appropriate description of an evening of reserve team football at Oxford United in mid-December 1988. Following a slow recovery from the injury at West Ham Micky come no closer to a first team return than a solitary, non-playing appearance on the bench for a home match against Shrewsbury Town the previous month. Living a short walk away from the Manor Ground I braved the bracing midweek winter weather in the hope that the name Hazard would be among those entertaining the geeky, library ticket, footballing trainspotter types frequently found at Football Combination  games in those days. Oddballs who believed themselves morally superior to other fans by mere virtue of attending second string affairs like this were commonplace. These sort of people would advise me as a young autograph hunter to collect the signatures of the  unknown players because they were the future, rather than out of favour first team players who represented the past. Taking this advice might lead you to miss out on Charlie George for someone who might be struggling to get a game at Enfield in 6 months time but they always knew best these weirdos, shaking their heads sorrowfully as excitable ten year olds ignored their supposedly sage advice. Fifteen years earlier I would have been happily seeking Chelsea signatures for this game, as Kevin Hitchcock, John Bumstead, Colin West &, yes, Micky Hazard, took their places in a line up facing a decent U’s team including a teenager who would become a celebrated part of footballing folklore in Oxford, rather less feted elsewhere, especially in East London & Wiltshire. Step forward Joey Beauchamp. The weirdos already loved him  & for once they were right, he was the future. Sort of. Manager Bobby Campbell ominously chose to grace the Chelsea dugout. Despite the foul weather & even more foul  jade green away strip mercifully now abandoned by the first team I stood near the player’s tunnel at the Beech Road  awaiting a bird’s eye view of the forthcoming Hazard masterclass. In vain. Oxford’s former Spurs striker David Leworthy scored the only goal of an ill tempered game, an ill temper seemingly largely inspired by one man. Micky Hazard. Struggling to recover from his ankle problem & doubtless frustrated at the direction his career was heading at this point, he cut a simultaneously angry & depressed figure. Four years earlier he had been playing a leading role in Spurs EUFA Cup Final win at White Hart Lane. Now he could be heard in front of a small Manor Ground crowd snapping at team mates. An earnest, rather gauche young full back fell foul of his displeasure at one point as a move broke down & a futile attempt at explanation fell on stony Hazard ground. ‘Micky! Micky! Micky’ the full back implored like a spurned lover. ‘I’m not fucking interested, just give me the fucking ball’ was the less than amicable response. Further debate discouraged, the brash young defender slunk back to his defensive position. Whatever did happen to Graeme Le Saux? Conversations like that are naturally ten a penny on football pitches, just usually lost in the crowd. This audience could hear the exchanges & began to revel in Hazard’s ill temper. In the second half, clearly rattled, he eventually scythed down an opposition player in the centre circle & was sent off. Some sad freaks ran towards the tunnel to goad Micky as he trudged off, waving & gesticulating as they indulged in the oh so English pursuit of revelling in the sight of someone better than them being dragged down to their pitiful level. Who breaks a butterfly upon a wheel as the great poet Alexander Pope would doubtless have said if he had been watching alongside me on the Beech Road terrace instead of being dead for the past 200 years. Even a butterfly as spectacularly mardy as our Micky was that evening. I got into an undignified spat with two smartarses as they tut tutted away in the most irritating & sanctimonious fashion imaginable. It was a frankly ludicrous effort to justify Micky’s behaviour, I was simultaneously furious for & with him. Rowing with rival fans at a reserve game is about as uncool as it gets. How low we were all falling by this point! The challenge was entirely untypical of Micky Hazard’s standard footballing template but utterly representative of the toxicity that had burned off him all evening. One onlooker looked less than impressed. Stood on the touchline, Bobby Campbell’s face was a picture. Micky’s only first team action for the rest of the season was as short term replacement for the injured Clive Wilson. Fine player Clive Wilson but no Micky Hazard. Suspension for the red card was not the real punishment. 25 games in the reserves that season was. In mitigation though, he did speak to the Daily Star at one point ( I suppose someone has to) openly acknowledging his poor behaviour at Oxford in injuring a fellow professional & expressing despair at his lack of first team action. The piece implied he was near suicidal. I hoped this was a gross distortion. It was the Daily Star after all. Whatever the future held it seemed destined to be played out away from Stamford Bridge.

As things happened, in a manner entirely typical of the stop/start nature of the previous four years, the late summer & autumn of 1989 brought us an all too brief but hugely enjoyable Indian summer chapter for the Hazard at Chelsea story. Returning to the top flight after a year long hiccup, the unnecessary long Division 2 mystery tour that Hollins built, the season started well. Four games in though, a 3-0 defeat at Charlton ushered in both the standard Chelsea reality check & the cavalry. If you can have a horseless, one man, Sunderland born, 5 foot 7 inch cavalry, which on reflection you can’t. No matter, Micky was back, greeted with effusive warmth from the Stamford Bridge faithful for a 2-2 draw with Brian Cough’s reliably competitive Nottingham Forest team. A la Graham Roberts the year before team mate Peter Nicholas was rather less effusive when questioned about the return of my midfield messiah. ‘Yeah, well, the crowd love Micky….’ was the airy gist of it in an ITV inteview that evening  (Match Of The Day was off air at the time) on their highlights programme. ‘But I/we don’t’ or ‘but they don’t love me, why?’ seemed to be the subtext of this apparently snide & sour observation. Once again there is a lot of reading between the lines here, but it was hardly a ringing endorsement of the return to the fold of a man whose abilities dwarfed those of the interviewee. Peter Nicholas was what Eric Cantona once unfairly derided Didier Deschamp as, a water carrier, there to win the ball & relinquish it to somebody more gifted as soon as possible. An important role that actually should not be belittled, but if footballers were drugs nobody would ever have got addicted to Peter Nicholas. Were they foodstuffs he would be a brussel sprout or swede, a winter hardy cropper representing a winter hardy crop. Worthy & reputedly good for you but oh so very dull. Defensive midfield may not be a glamorous  role but it can also delight. Think Mikel in Munich. Think Makelele & Kante. Perfectly timed interceptions & tackles. Crisp & excellent close passes. Impressively coordinated speed of thought & movement. Nicholas clearly did a good job for Chelsea in the promotion season but all I can really remember is one paced movement & ball distribution, allied to lots of pointing & shouting & some calculated foul play. He did get booed on occasions. Not by me, I have never booed a Chelsea player in my life, but after this interview no tears were shed when others gave him the bird. A typically pathetic League Cup exit at lowly Scarborough aside, all was well for a while & Micky held down a regular place as the team lost only one of  the next ten league games following the Forest game. This included a spectacular 4-1 win at Spurs & a 4-0  home win over Millwall. Following a Hazard inspired 1-0 win at Everton in November goalscorer Steve Clarke lavished praise on his colleague to the press as Chelsea briefly went to the top of the table. They then slipped to fourth after consecutive draws, one of which was at Old Trafford, where Dixon was denied a late winner by a last ditch Steve Bruce goalline block following yet another precise Hazard through ball. Three points were denied against Southampton courtesy of a brilliant Tim Flowers save from a late Hazard volley after a frenetic second half comeback from two goals down. Peter Nicholas scored one of them, proving he did hobble over the halfway line occasionally, slotting home after a goalmouth scramble while two fans behind me were noisily fighting over whether or not he was shit! All looked well going into December. Sadly Winter was coming. With a vengeance.

Were I a believer it would be tempting to believe the gods were dabbling in a spot of divine intervention to prevent me making the home game against Wimbledon on Dec 2, 1989, Micky’s last appearance in a Chelsea shirt at Stamford Bridge. A heavy mist descended from early morning onwards although sadly it was not heavy enough to obscure the game itself. The traffic conditions entering London were horrendous & eventually I had to beg to be let off the coach in the middle of a sizeable tailback. The driver would not be allowed to do this any more. It would have been a blessing if he hadn’t this time. Having sampled the delights of Chiswick & found my way to the nearby station I arrived at Stamford Bridge just in time to take my seat & see the murky but unmistakable figure of Kerry Dixon fire Chelsea into an early lead. There were to be six more goals. Unfortunately five of them were scored by Wimbledon, two of them for a man who would be lining up for Chelsea eight months later. Signing players who perform well against Chelsea has long been a popular ruse & frequently a recipe for disaster (see Fleck, Robert & Sutton, Chris) but regardless of his public enemy no.1 status elsewhere I think we can say Dennis Wise did okay in a blue shirt. One of Wisey’s goals was a header, as was one of the two scored by the equally vertically challenged Terry Gibson. Goalkeeper Dave Beasant took the visit of old friends a little too far by unfathomably fumbling a harmeless looking high ball & allowing a grinning &  incredulous Alan Cork to wheel away in triumph having capitalized on such baffling incompetence. In fairness big Dave did make up for it with a point saving display of brilliance at Hillsborough the following month. Wimbledon were often maligned but they were great on the day, spreading the ball out wide at every opportunity & crossing accurately into dangerous areas that troubled leaden footed Blues defenders all afternoon. With a bit more luck at the other end, & minus Beasant’s howler, it could easily have finished 4-4 on another day but the suspicion that Chelsea had hitherto been (once again) flattering to deceive, had been laid bare for all to see. The following week saw a 4-2 reverse at Loftus Road. The wheels off, heads were bound to roll. Predictably the visit of Liverpool saw Micky Hazard bombed out of the squad completely by Campbell. He never played for the club again. Liverpool won at a canter, another 5-2 zipping though the Scousers could have doubled their goal tally easily had they chosen to break sweat. That team change worked well then Bobby. I seethed throughout the game & for the first time ever at a Chelsea match didn’t even celebrate a home goal, Gordon Durie’s thunderous free kick, which briefly raised hopes after Liverpool had scored twice in the opening five minutes. The fuming subsided, but only to make way for an extended sulk. Another comprehensive three goal defeat took place when high flying Aston Villa came to town on Boxing Day. There was the requisite flirtation with FA Cup disaster at the hands of lower division opposition in early January where a late Steve Clarke equalizer spared our blushes against Crewe Alexander. It proved a short lived reprieve however, as the team capitulated in insipid fashion to Bristol City at Ashton Gate in front of a hostile home crowd in the next round.

A couple of days after the Crewe game, a week into the new decade, Micky Hazard had finally been sold to Portsmouth for a modest £100,000, scoring on a winning Pompey debut away at Stoke the following weekend. Chelsea were at home to Charlton the following weekend but this marked my third betrayal as I ducked it to travel to Fratton Park for Micky’s Portsmouth home debut, a comfortable home win against Bradford City. Another former Chelsea Micky, Mr Fillery, opened the scoring with a neat header, looking less constrained in a home blue shirt after the salmon pink abomination a couple of seasons earlier. Chelsea won too, but still in high dudgeon I missed a few home games immediately after the Hazard transfer, which was highly unusual in the long period between the Man City game in ’86 & me eventually giving up my season ticket in 2004. A bald appraisal of the stats question my judgement. Chelsea slowly got back on course for the rest of the season, even winning at Highbury for the first time since 1974, & finished in fifth place in Division 1. Having taken over the reins too late to take much, if any, of the blame for the 1988 relegation, Bobby Campbell had followed up  a runaway promotion season by securing the club’s  highest league placing since 1970. They also won the ZDS Trophy at Wembley, though I missed that for idealistic reasons rather than as part of my prolonged strop, adamant that  Wembley visits should be saved for a trophy that really mattered. Plenty enjoyed the day out & the win, as they had the Full Members victory in 1986. For me it was like visiting the National Gallery to view a Rembrandt & finding it had been replaced with one of those pictures of large, sad eyed Sicilian children that  used to be sold upstairs in Boots when I was a boy. Ain’t nothing like the real thing, & I didn’t want to dilute the pleasure of that experience when, IF, it ever came. I got that right at least.

It may have seemed ungrateful but I’m not sure my slightly lukewarm response to Bobby Campbell lifting the club to relatively heady heights was entirely unmerited either. It was great not to be permanently looking over our shoulders at a looming relegation battle but Kerry Dixon’s last 20 goal season, capped on the last day of the season with a fabulous perfect hat trick at Millwall, covered a multitude of sins. Flair & invention took a back seat to a direct, muscular approach which more aptly suited the style of the English game at the time. Micky Hazard was not the only player to fall foul of Campbell’s preferences. Alan Dickens also fell by the wayside after Christmas & rarely featured again before the manager was eventually shunted upstairs at the end of the 1990-91 season. Dickens ended up dropping down the divisions at Brentford & Colchester where the more subtle elements of his talent, once so evident at Upton Park, were even more laid to waste. My last memory of him is seeing him warm up on the touchline at Griffin Park in 1993 with another ex-Blue, striker Joe Allon, both substitutes & thus forced to watch a truly dreadful game in freezing cold weather against Peterborough. Unlike the rest of us they were at least spared the indignity of having to pay to get in. He ended up drifting out of the game far too early & joined Micky Hazard in learning the knowledge & becoming a cabbie. In his autobiography Dennis Wise makes clear his lack of enthusisam for the managerial abilities of Bobby Campbell & recalls Dickens being berated & belittled by the boss in training. Coming from a key member of the famously brutal & unsympathetic Crazy Gang dressing room at Wimbledon it must have been quite some abuse for Wisey’s eyebrows to have been raised. It also begs the question why he was signed by Campbell in the first place when Wise & Andy Townsend, both signed in the summer of 1990, were much more suited to the physical, blunderbuss type of football the manager clearly favoured. Like Micky Hazard his Chelsea career may have borne greater fruit had it begun a few years later under Glen Hoddle. By then English football was recalibrating in the wake of the Taylor Report, the 1990 World Cup in Italy, the inception of the Premier League & the arrival of scores of overseas players lending their silky skills to supplement the frenzied pace & muscularity of the domestic game.

The mountain may have failed to come to Mohammed but Micky managed to hook up with Hoddle again anyway, at Swindon, having originally arrived at the County Ground in  1990 courtesy of another Spurs compatriot, then manager Ossie Ardiles. The Pompey honeymoon period had been brutally short & Micky never played there again after being substituted at half time during a home match against Wolves. His mojo swiftly returned under Ardiles & continued to flourish under player manager Hoddle despite him strongly challenging the latter’s tactical briefing in a training session during a tv documentary. By now he was a senior professional & was clearly never backwards in coming forward with his opinions anyway. He also appeared to be right! After a thrilling 4-3 play off victory over Leicester Premier League status was finally achieved, helping to lay the ghost of the promotion denied to them a few years earlier due to financial irregularities. Hoddle was swiftly poached by Ken Bates as an on & off pitch reconstruction of the club began at Stamford Bridge. Ardiles had vamoosed to take the Spurs job & somewhat incestuously lured Micky back to White Hart Lane during the 1993-4 season, where he stayed until hanging up his boots in 1995. I would have loved to have seen him in a Glenn Hoddle, Ruud Gullit or Carlo Ancelotti Chelsea team. As Pat Nevin says he would have been better suited to modern football in many ways, & the vastly superior playing surfaces, not least at Chelsea, would definitely have been to his liking. He came back a couple of times to play at Stamford Bridge, acknowledging the polite ripples of applause that came his way rather than the universal acclamations of love that used to greet him. Both games were low key, the first a 1991 ZDS tie against Swindon settled by a last minute header from Vinnie Jones. Micky looked crestfallen, standing at the goalpost as the ball flew in. Not many shared his dismay, the game had been poor & it was a cold night that was unlikely to be improved by the extra time that loomed before Jones put the rest of us out of our misery. The other appearance was in Kerry Dixon’s 1995 testimonial, another cold night & low attendance, where he appeared alongside Jason Cundy & a collection of young colleagues in an otherwise star free makeshift Spurs eleven. Both he & Dixon deserved better for a last Stamford Bridge hurrah.

Some while after Micky Hazard left for Portsmouth an interview in the Chelsea club newspaper with Steve Clarke appeared. His talent was acknowledged but the pay off was the last line of the quote saying that the move to Fratton Park had been the right move for both Micky & the club, once again a colleague appearing to hint at my favourite player of the era being a possibly divisive & disruptive dressing room presence. Maybe the genial, media friendly Hazard presence displayed in public masked another side, perhaps nearer the one showing itself at the reserve game at Oxford. Maybe. No fully rounded personality is ever depicted via TV, radio or print media, it can only ever be a snapshot. There are plenty of fakes who come over as likeable for the cameras when fans who have met them tell a different tale. I don’t believe this to be true in this case as Micky always seems to have time for supporters, & I recall seeing him happily chatting to people on the concourse at Stamford Bridge back in the day. Given the often farcical way the club operated in the 1980’s I am not inclined to be too quick to condemn players who expressed their disquiet, & given his immense if mercurial talent would argue that this should have been better utilised & managed irrespective of whether or not the player was a difficult character. Furthermore, if he was that much of a problem, & I have no concrete evidence he was, why did it take more than four years to get him off the books? He was never short of suitors.

I missed Micky Hazard enormously when he went, hence the regrettable video purchase. Nowadays I could take sneaky YouTube peeks of his Spurs days to my heart’s content, but available footage of your departed favourites was thin on the ground in 1990 unless you could afford £15 a time for poor quality VHS full match highlights tapes. I had some of those too but there were only so many hours of watching endless clips of Darren Wood taking throw ins a man could take. Those oddball feral Willian haters on Twitter today really do not know how lucky they are. His performances against Hull City in the FA Cup, & Barcelona in the Champion’s League, earlier this year, offered up enough smatterings of brilliance on their own to have kept all but the most ungrateful, immature & impatient Stamford Bridge regular happy for weeks in the late 1980’s. I wanted much more than we got of  Micky Hazard’s guile & invention back then, but when Chelsea did escape from the clutches of mediocrity, as in the ’86 Man City game, it was frequently down to the quick thinking & feet of this hugely underused, enigmatic & beguiling footballer. He’s definitely Spurs through & through again these days but ignorance was bliss three decades ago regarding that grisly but now unavoidable fact. He may or may not have been a pain in the arse to manage or play with on occasions. Ultimately I’m happy to judge him on the enormous pleasure he gave me wearing the blue of Chelsea.

And for me there definitely was only one Micky Hazard.

I Remember, I Remember

March 5, 1988 Coventry City 3 Chelsea 3

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

I look away & keep moving in the opposite direction.

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

004 (2)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

World Cup Willies

DSC_0902 (2)

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

2010pen (3)

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

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

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

DSC_0904 (2)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Roy Of The Rovers Comic Launches

Oh Melchester – So Much To Answer For

September 25, 1976

Portsmouth 0 Reading 2, Blackpool 0 Chelsea 1

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Welcome back Roy.