There have been many adaptations of Gabrielle-Suzanne de Villeneuve’s 18th century fairy tale Beauty & The Beast. Those of my vintage remember the ’80’s TV series starring Linda Hamilton & that bloke off Sons Of Anarchy. David Mellor, sometimes a Chelsea fan, sometimes a Fulham fan, QC & MP for Putney between 1979 & 1997, doubtless displayed a theatrical bent on occasions both in Parliament & court. Had it been transferred to the stage the combination of Mr Mellor & Hollywood A lister Charlize in another variant on the B&TB theme would have been a casting director’s wet dream. In reality there is only one reason to band this oddest of couples together here. Both have been linked erroneously to the wearing of Chelsea shirts, one publicly, one privately. One I would happily see clasped to the bosom of the Chelsea family, the other preferably disappearing out of its bottom.
The Charlize question is resolved quite quickly, & sadly would appear to be answered in the negative. The 2003 Oscar winner, awarded courtesy of her extraordinary performance as serial killer Aileen Wuornos in Monster, is known to be a keen football fan & did a lot of publicity for the 2010 World Cup in her native South Africa. She may have been presented with a Chelsea shirt in Pasadena but unlike Will Ferrell & Matthew McConaughey I am not aware she has ever visited Stamford Bridge, indeed the one London Premier league ground she has been spotted at since was the Emirates watching an Arsenal- Man Utd match. Welcome anytime though Charlize.
It ill behoves someone of my unbecoming physical appearance to cast aspersions on any human being, let alone a fellow Chelsea fan, but I think we can make an exception on this occasion when considering the standard Tory blueprint jamboree bag of styleless pomposity, elitism, wholly unwarranted self adoration & breathtaking snobbery that is David John Mellor. I seem to recall someone once describing a meeting with the erstwhile Minister Of Fun as like being hit in the gob with a tub of Brylcreem. They say you end up with the face you deserve. Were this glibbest of cliches to be true, & I can think of countless exceptions, then one would require a remarkably twisted imagination to dredge up the full extent of a life of depravity necessary to explain Mellor’s remarkable television appearance during the Brexit fallout. Standard ageing Tory Boy face like a slapped arse merged with an unflattering, tight, collarless white shirt & an extraordinarily coiffured barnet, social media quickly nailing his breathtaking new look as an unholy mix of Andy Warhol & Alan Carr. All very unkind of course. On Warhol & Carr.
Is Mellor all bad? In the interests of balance I would have to say no, despite him starting his political career working for the delusional liar & crook Jeffrey Archer, then joining the Thatcher government ranks at the tender age of 32. This was the most brutal, vicious & self serving post-war administration we have had to endure thus far, though possibly not for much longer if the incompetent in Macchiavellian clothing Dominic Cummings continues to pull the idiot Bullingdon ballsack’s strings for any length of time. Mellor’s record in government did have positive moments though. He played notable roles in the introduction of tape recording police interviews before they could be considered admissable in court, also the passing of legislation to faciliate reinvestigation of miscarriages of justice. There was also the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986 which increased provision for protecting animals used for the purposes of vivisection. Not exactly Francis Of Assisi but in a malign era for British politics participation in the passing of any vaguely humane &/or liberal legislation was noteworthy. He was also rebuked by Thatcher during his stint at the Foreign Office after angrily berating an Israeli army colonel in front of television cameras for allowing his troops to brutally mistreat Palestinian civilians. The carpeting from the leaderene followed his refusal to apologise afterwards, which threatened to cause an international incident. After his return to the backbenches he led a revolt campaigning against handgun use in the wake of the Dunblane massacre in 1996. Intellectually & politically he was streets ahead of the inbred buffoons supposedly running the entire show now.
In an era when the administration he served largely treated football & its followers with at best disdain, at worst naked hostility, he returned to Chelsea as a supporter after a spell watching Fulham, which he credibly claimed was provoked by the vile racism that had infected the Stamford Bridge terraces throughout the late ’70’s & large chunks of the 1980’s. You would suspect with his political clout & legal contacts he was a useful ally during chairman Ken Bates’ steadfast rearguard action against property developers striving to evict the club from Stamford Bridge. Thatcher may have hated the game but her successor, John Major, was another Chelsea fan & following the Taylor Report there was a welcome thaw in government/football authority relations. I used to see Mellor on the way to evening matches occasionally, tumbling out of a taxi before strolling towards the ground from the Chelsea Conservative Club a few doors down from Vivien Westwood’s shop, an ungainly figure in unfashionably flarey trousers (though doubtless the suit would have cost a pretty packet) & quite possibly the only man in London less likely than me to be given a welcome in the latter establishment, in its 70’s guise as Sex essentially the birthplace of punk. By the mid ’90’s Mellor had succeeded another bumptious egotist, Danny Baker, as the host of BBC’s popular football radio phone in 606, presenting himself rather uneasily as a champion of the match going supporter, unthinkable a few years earlier, laughably unconvincing at the time. ‘I know many of you guys like a can of beer on the way to a game’ he once announced chirpily after someone had phoned in complaining about public transport restrictions on alcohol consumption on matchday away trips. Just one of the ‘guys’ eh Dave? I think I’m going to be sick. He had long been a source of queasy embarrassment to this Chelsea fan by then but my feelings were far from universally shared in SW6. He was high profile & a prominent visible presence near Bates on matchdays back then. People would stop & ask for his autograph on the Stamford Bridge concourse. We had gone from glamorous (if fleeting) visits to the Bridge from Hollywood icons Steve McQueen & Raquel Welch in the 1970’s to John Major, Seb Coe & Mellor by the early ’90’s. God preserve us. The late Tony Banks at least restored a semblance of political balance though none of them were ever going to rock a Chelsea shirt like Raquel had in her session with the legendary photographer Terry O’Neill, another Chelsea fan, sadly recently deceased. Not that Banks, Coe, Major or Mellor were ever likely to have donned a Chelsea shirt. Or were they?
On the surface this front page represents a relatively light hearted tissue of lies compared to disparaging the dead at Hillsbrough, hacking into the phone of a murdered teenager or more recently employing the most successful fusion of man & weasel in history, the malodorous Tony Parsons, the only person I have ever known to transfer his footballing allegiance from Spurs to Arsenal. His road to Damascus conversion from Labour to Tory ( & constant subsequent rimming of his former Islington neighbour Boris Johnson) is almost less remarkable given its running parallel with a big money transfer from TheMirror to The Sun. Great at telling us what we think is Tony, once the reptilian Murdoch has told him what to say & think in return for wadges of cash. Verily a working class hero is something to be. Maintaining a pattern of logical, consistent intellectual thought & behaviour having proved beyond him Parsons has now plumped to permanently indulge his avaricious appetite for money grubbing shithousery. Perfect for The Sun. A marriage made in Hell, like the bent organ’s liaisons with the late sex offender Max Clifford. Back in the day Mr Clifford would regularly have access to the front page to spout a flood of bullshit to advance the fortunes of himself & his client. Freddie Starr Ate MyHamster anyone? That was Max. And the Mellor in Chelsea strip was another, as his former lover Antonia de Sancha had regrettably employed the disgusting Clifford by this time. Had any of the cash guzzling liars involved in this sham story had any real sexual imagination they would know that any decent fan of this era would have got far more of a charge from working their dubious bedroom magic with the unfortunate young lady sporting the Chelsea shirt rather than them. Especially a short sleeved 1970 FA Cup winning cotton replica shirt of the sort available in the club shop during the 1990’s. So rumour has it….
Mellor’s extra marital dalliance proved an amusing diversion for the nation in the late summer of 1992, bringing forth a torrent of ridicule for both the hapless Heritage Secretary, aka the Minister for Fun, & the unfortunate de Sancha, by all accounts a rather nice person with a low key acting career that had purportedly included a role in a soft core porn film where she had been embroiled in a tryst with a one legged pizza delivery man.* Many thought this an upgrade on the aesthetically unpleasing Mr Mellor. Though Antonia conceded his intelligence & charm, along with his bank balance, had been substantial enough to turn her head, more commonly the prospect of sexual congress with the honourable member for Putney turned only stomachs. Ms de Sancha has long since confessed that the more lurid claims that subsequently appeared in the tabloids were untrue, but Mellor is still remembered by many these days as the politician who wore a Chelsea shirt during sex. It did him no harm with sections of the crowd at Stamford Bridge. Having lain doggo for weeks at the beginning of the 1992-3 season, as the tabloids feasted on his discomfort, he eventually emerged as Autumn approached. Quickly spotted taking his seat in the posh seats in the middle section of the East Stand our man was greeted with a rousing chorus of ‘There’s only one David Mellor’ from both The Shed & West Stand benches, where I was sat, to his evident delight & my mortification. Even I had to laugh though, as he acknowledged the serenade with both arms raised triumphantly, as if he had scored the winning goal in the EUFA Cup final. He might have been better served by reacting with a greater sense of decorum given the hideous charade of the infamous, 5 bar gate press conference he subjected his long suffering wife, in-laws & children to in the aftermath of this ludicrous interlude, clan Mellor supposedly united together in an ultimately abortive effort to save his ministerial career. Many years later this farcical put up job was lampooned effortlessly in an episode of Little Britain. The inevitable divorce duly followed. Ironically, the final nail in Mellor’s political career at the highest level did not come from the de Sancha affair, as widely believed, but when he & his family were found to have enjoyed a gratis month long holiday in Marbella courtesy of his friend Monica Bauwens, daughter of the then finance director of the PLO. It is also ironic & nauseating that the scumbag newspaper that prides itself as the scourge of nonces everywhere regularly gave up its front page to a man like Max Clifford, jailed for 8 years in 2014 for sexual assaults on women aged between 15 & 19. The judge made it clear that he also believed Clifford had assaulted a 12 year old girl in Spain but this was not presented to the court because of the location of the incident. Mellor was understandably quick to revel in Clifford’s well deserved fall from grace, the latter’s death in December 2017 also inspiring the clumsiest but best deserved bad taste joke of that yuletide.
Q: What has 14 windows that will never be opened?
A: Max Clifford’s advent calendar.
Mellor’s 606 man of the people schtick has itself long been exposed as a convenient contrivance. In 2010 he had a heated exchange with a chef from the River Lounge, a bar & restaurant near the plush home Mellor shares with Lady Cobham, his long term partner, repeatedly telling the man to ‘fuck off’ having labelled him a ‘fat bastard’ & perhaps most tellingly instructing him ‘go & do your £10 an hour job somewhere else’. Power to the people. 4 years later Mr Mellor celebrated his partner’s CBE award by abusing the cab driver on the way home, referring to him as a ‘sweaty, stupid little shit’ adding ‘you’ve been driving a cab for 10 years, I’ve been in the cabinet, I’m an award-winning broadcaster, I’m a Queen’s Counsel. You think that your experiences are anything compared to mine.’ Given that the row was instigated by a disagreement over the route the cabbie chose to take is it too impertinent to suggest to the great man that on this occasion the 10 years hard labour behind the wheel should indeed have held sway? The boast about being a QC is also grounded on a 1987 conceit enabled by parliamentary privilege, Mellor invoking a thankfully now defunct custom that an MP who was also a barrister could choose to be acknowledged as a QC, despite having practiced at the bar for a mere seven years prior to entering Parliament in 1979. Once again his adversary was told to ‘fuck off.’ Anyone would think the ‘guy’ had enjoyed having a can of beer on the way to & from a Buckingham Palace investiture. Were the fellow Chelsea fans who serenaded him in 1992 disillusioned at the true face of the man revealing itself two decades later? Not sure. Probably not. I am unaware how often, if ever, Mellor goes to Chelsea these days but the ghastly Michael Gove is now a regular. Dominic Raab, another elitist parasite, is a reputed fan too. These simultaneously corrupt & inept chancers have been shitting on the rest of us for so long that some people seem to have grown to like it. With slimeballs like those in the posh seats the failure of Charlize Theron to follow up her Pasadena photo opportunity with a stroll along the Fulham Road becomes less of a mystery.
Always welcome though Charlize. It’s much nicer in the West Stand Lower btw.
*It has subsequently been suggested to me that Ms De Sancha did not appear in a film where she had a tryst with a one legged pizza delivery man. She did, in fact, play a one legged prostitute herself, dallying with a pizza delivery man in the process. A pizza delivery man in possession of a full set of limbs. Sadly it isn’t on Netflix so it’s all hearsay anyway. Apologies to all.
40 years ago today I started my first full time job as a trainee bank clerk at Barclays Bank. I had chosen them because (unlike NatWest) they gave me 50p to cover my bus fare following the interview, which survived one sticky moment when the pleasant lady conducting it raised the issue of my alleged passion for disco dancing. The school had sent the wrong pupil notes, those of my namesake, a boy a couple of years younger than me. Suffice to say this Philip Munday never made Travolta sweat, my exquisite James Brown pelvic thrusts back then a clandestine arrangement between me, my huge stereo headphones, cheap alcohol & a darkened bedroom. Then, & only then, would I discover ants in my pants & a need to dance. My banking misadventure lasted less than a year. The highlight at my first branch was the presence of Brian, the assistant manager. He would spend large portions of his day sat in the tea room smoking his pipe & ogling the scantily clad lovelies in that day’s copy of The Sun, pausing twice a day to spit out the coffee I made him & pronouncing it disgusting. I didn’t take it personally. Instant coffee powder is as instant coffee powder does, & like Brian I didn’t buy into doing the MaxwellHouse shake. Only a small step up from the bland nightmare of Mellow Birds, which certainly failed to make me smile. Brian was always good for an aged anecdote about his youthful days sharing a flat in London with Leonard Rossiter, a big name in television by 1980, star of Rising Damp, The Fall & Rise Of Reginald Perrin & a phenomenally successful & long running ad campaign for Cinzano Bianco with Joan Collins. Each advert would culminate in the Division 2 diva being drenched in this frankly revolting vermouth. I drank a bottle of it once on top having polished off a tidy amount of red wine & suffice to say spent the rest of the following day wishing Leonard Rossiter had also been around the previous evening to cause me to spill it all over my front rather down my foolhardy gullet. One day, contentedly filling the room with Bruno Flake pipe smoke & wincing at the prospect of drinking the coffee I had just brought him, Brian reminisced that he & Rossiter had once bumped into Richard Burton & Elizabeth Taylor in Covent Garden & had a chat with them. ‘Nice girl, bit on the chubby side’ was his considered view of the lady who brought Cleopatra to the silver screen & was once considered by many to be the most beautiful woman in the world. Given his preferred tea room reading matter perhaps he was just peeved La Taylor didn’t get her melons out amidst the Covent Garden fruit & veg. Suffice to say that Brian was not himself blessed with matinee idol good looks. The rot really set in after 4 months when I was transferred to another branch & it slowly dawned on everyone, including myself, that I was a truly terrible junior bank clerk. I once spent an hour trying to telephone a customer by repeatedly dialling their bank account number. Never did get through. My resignation was accepted with indecent haste & the admission from my boss that I was on the verge of getting the push anyway. This would have been some feat. Getting sacked took some doing in the banking world back then unless you were caught with your hand in the till. John was a testimony to this. He worked in the branch I had started in, but lived in a flat above the manager’s office in my second billet. During the Cheltenham Festival John invited some fellow racing enthusiasts round one afternoon & their cheering & stomping, clearly facilitated by some plentiful daytime drinking, led to an enraged Roy, the branch manager, banging on the ceiling with his walking stick. Peter O’Sullivan’s iconic commentary booming out at remarkable volume from John’s television & accompanying the raucous revelry was clearly not conducive to Roy discussing prospective mortgages & bank loans with bemused customers. John was a character, always friendly to staff & customers alike but frequently smelling of booze & seemingly half cut. He once tried to sell me a revolting, threadbare, filthy looking nylon brown suit for £4 that he had left hanging in the gent’s toilets next to his half eaten box of Ritz biscuits. The fact I was the best part of 6 inches taller than him did not diminish the enthusiasm of his sales pitch. Unfortunately the suit was not only the wrong size & hideous but hanging up in a room permeated with the stench of the combined shits of half a dozen male colleagues. For similar reasons I was not minded to dip into his Ritz biscuits either. I liked Brian & John but I hated Barclays. One local building business had their takings paid in daily by a nice man liked by all the cashiers. He broke his leg & was laid off work unpaid so asked for a small overdraft to tide him over. It was refused. When franking the post one afternoon I was asked to remove the bank logo from envelopes being sent to South Africa because ‘there are some funny people over there.’ Or oppressed black people rebelling against the disgusting apartheid system still in full flow back then as they might more accurately have been described. A system Barclays thrived on & exploited to the full, as my painfully ignorant teenage self was belatedly in the process of discovering. Selling books & bus travel haven’t made me rich but at least exploiting the misery of others is less prevalent than in banking, a very dirty business masking under a cloak of largely unwarranted respectability.
5 years & 6 days after my inauspicious working career staggered into life future Chelsea fan Boris Becker won his first Wimbledon title at the tender age of 17. Already an imposing unit he combined power with agility & irrepressible energy, throwing himself around the court with an exhilarating, youthful, reckless abandonment that thrilled everyone. Apart from me. I loathed Boris Becker in 1985, largely because he became the first Wimbledon champion to be younger than me (6 years younger at that) & partly because he wasn’t Jimmy Connors, whose combative, streetfighting style I adored, had grown up with & wasn’t ready to see sacrificed at the altar of a generation younger than me just yet. Connors now resembled Gregory Peck in The Gunfighter, grizzled but unbowed, deep down knowing a younger man’s bullet would be getting him shortly but stubbornly refusing to bow to the inevitable. He was still going a decade later, finally retiring at 43 as magnificently cussed & bloody minded as ever. He never won Wimbledon again though.
Being young, carefree, unseeded & cocky Becker was rightly untroubled by the petty concerns of the like of me. Connors had been crushed in the semi finals by South African born Kevin Curren. My dislike of Boris Becker was underpinned hugely by the green eye of jealousy. At 17 I was still at school & my most noteworthy achievement was eating so many sweets I required a staggering nine fillings at the dentists that summer. I achieved little else, & harbouring the notion that the place to a teenage girl’s heart was through plying her with Pear Drops & Rhubarb & Custards got me nowhere, unless you count even more time in the dentist’s chair. It was not the way to a girl’s heart, at best they thought I was, well, sweet. No 17 year old boy wants to be considered sweet. One girl at school professed a liking for Bassetts LiqouriceAllsorts so I went for broke & bought her a box. They were returned to me swiftly after the side of the box confirmed the sell by date had expired. Sadly I was slowly learning that lovers, unlike dental cavities, are born not made. Adopting similar tactics to those employed by dodgy strange men in grubby overcoats was never likely to be a winner. I once accepted the offer of some sweets off a man just like that walking home from school when I was about 8. Strangely enough they were also liqourice allsorts. Very nice they were too, so much so that I excitedly told my mum all about it when I got home. That went well. At least they weren’t stale.
In 1985 it was Harry Bassett rather than Bertie Bassett at the local football club in Wimbledon, where Boris Becker now lives, as the then Dons manager was in the process of taking his raucous band of yobbish misfits all the way to the top division. Ultimately they went on to win the FA Cup, beating Liverpool at Wembley in 1988, but Bassett had moved on by then. My dad had played at Plough Lane in his youth, but I never went there, something I rather regret now. I have never been to the tennis either, though my sister went several times on school trips in the mid 1970’s, joining the hysterical, clumpy shoed, flare wearing adolescent hordes terrorising the traditional fans as they pursued the teenage wonder Bjorn Borg around the outside courts at every opportunity. Borg was young, Swedish, blonde, attractive & wore impossibly tight shorts. Women are so shallow compared to men aren’t they?
My desperate need to see someone stem the tide of teenage brilliance found me hoping for Curren to triumph in the 1985 final. By then I was an unemployed History graduate & no longer naive about apartheid. The chances of me supporting a white South African (although Curren now had US citizenship) back then in any situation would normally have been about as likely as me purchasing a copy of that summer’s Black Lace single I Speaka Da Lingo, as gratuitously offensive a record as it is musically abject, but confounding the more cynical of us in 1985 by proving it was physically possible to convert dog shit into seven inch vinyl. In today’s toxic climate I may well have to bend the knee one day just for mentioning I Speaka Da Lingo once, even in an obscure blog piece read by nobody. Make that twice. Might as well be hung for a sheep as a lamb. I once saw the two members of Black Lace leaving Dixon’s, laden down with Saisho carrier bags, absurd perms, oversized garishly coloured sunglasses & tight jeans to the fore. Two tits with tat. Club 18-30 had come to Oxford for the day, looking suspiciously older than its target audience. In stature both of these imbeciles resembled their talent. Tiny. Already the much maligned 1970’s were demanding a written apology from all of us. It has taken far too long but here’s mine for what it’s worth. I am deeply sorry 1970’s. I should also apologise to Kevin Curren, no more responsible for an accident of birth than the rest of us, & Boris Becker himself who stormed to victory in 4 sets & quickly won me over in the following years. Nonetheless, his first Wimbledon triumph was still my sporting equivalent of all policeman suddenly looking younger than you, & 23 is a little early to start sensing a progression towards middle age.
Becker won Wimbledon again the following year before a shock early round exit to the late Peter Doohan in 1987, by which point he had become a target for The Sun under its swaggering, bullying cretin of an editor, the loathsome Kelvin Mackenzie, living proof that an entire human body can be taken over by its unwashed arsehole. The Sun is often called a rag but we can all find a use for a rag from time to time. Leave rags out of it. The discovery that a rich, successful testosterone filled 19 year old male quite liked sex was manna from heaven for this cesspit of puerility & Becker became known as Bonking Boris. 30 years later the same organ were strangely more muted by the middle aged antics of a man of the same name knocking out inbred copies of himself all over the place. Quelle surprise. The likes of Elton John & ‘Allo ‘Allo! star Gordon Kaye may not have produced work that filled me with glee in the 1980’s but once The Sun made their desire to systematically destroy the lives of people like this clear in the 1980’s I felt huge empathy for their plight. David Pleat’s alleged kerb crawling antics were a little more of a challenge to my better nature but only because he was manager of Spurs at the time. Becker joining the ranks of those persecuted by Mackenzie & his parasitical lackeys saw him added to the list & by the time he won Wimbledon for a third time, beating Stefan Edberg in 1989, I was firmly in his camp. He also won the US Open that year.
He was never a self effacing character in the way we frequently & unfairly expect British sports people to be, but on a good day he could be as charming & witty off court as he was exciting on it. Compared to the charisma vacuums that were the brooding & surly Ivan Lendl & the stunningly brilliant automaton Pete Sampras there was a welcome streak of humanity to Becker, & unlike Andre Agassi he never had a mullet. Despite the best efforts of malignant moron Mackenzie he quickly identified as an Anglophile & also boiled the piss of the twattier end of the more narrow minded sections within German society by twice marrying black women. Like many who come to fame young there is still an air of unworldly immaturity about some of his actions over the years. Despite the many millions he has earned playing & coaching (he oversaw Novak Djokovic’s career between 2013 & 2016) bankruptcy still beckoned in 2017 & was extended after hidden assets were discovered two years later. He famously fathered a child on a stairway in the appropriately named Nobu restaurant in London, describing it amusingly as the most expensive five seconds of his life, but originally denying paternity. Only yesterday he got embroiled in a social media war of words with the underachieving walking irritant that is Aussie tennis player Nick Kyrgios, actually achieving the unlikely aim of making the latter look like something other than the egotistical streak of six foot spite he usually resembles. Kyrgios referred to Becker as a doughnut & still came out looking more like the adult. The striped blazers & cravats of recent times have also added a further air of contrived flamboyance, & the suspicion that Boris can be somewhat of a dick.
No matter, he was a great tennis player & is now an avid Blue. His belated support for Chelsea began when he was living on the Kings Road after retirement & coincided with the early Abramovich era of Lampard & Drogba, which amusingly Becker thinks predates Chelsea as a truly successful & cool team. One day Boris we must sit down & discuss the 2-4 home defeat to Shrewsbury in 1980. Bless him. He claims ownership of an impressive array of Chelsea scarves, randomly & surely innocently buying one from a matchday street stall that celebrated the existence of the Headhunters, Chelsea’s famous hooligan firm of the 1980’s. With doubtless similar innocence he proceeded to wear it to a Champions League game against PSG in 2015, causing something of a stir in the process! Supporting Chelsea will probably be the only thing Boris Becker & I ever have in common but despite both of us being somewhat past our own sell by dates nowadays the adage that proved a bum steer as far as kickstarting my romantic teenage existence remains curiously apt as a template for a desirable football club fanbase.
Shola Ama was discovered by chance while singing to herself on the platform at Hammersmith Tube Station as a 15 year old. At 18 she released her first album True Love which duly won a Brit award. Truly the stuff of fairytales. Less magical for Shola would appear to be her Big Breakfast appearance that year (1997) when a drooling, touchy feely young man by the name of Rick Adams (apparently a main presenter then – I don’t remember him at all) was perfectly happy to stroke the latest soul sensation’s teenage thigh live on air as he sat next to her on The Big Breakfast sofa. At least wait till you get to the BBC mate. This was the day before that year’s FA Cup Final between Chelsea & Middlesbrough & Shola escaped the myopic groper’s clutches long enough to reveal a fingernail decorated with a Chelsea logo to indicate who she was backing for the big match. I suspect his sweaty little nuts would double up as earrings pronto were he to attempt something similar on Shola today. Mercifully, within a minute we were at the Stamford Bridge cafe with a promising young Big Breakfast roving reporter by the name of Davina McCall. I think we do remember her. She interviewed Mark Meehan, a man who I have never met but have several times enjoyed chats with on social media & is clearly a thoroughly good egg. Mark correctly predicted the score (2-0 Chelsea) which doesn’t surprise me in the slightest as he has forgotten more about the Blues then most of us will ever know. He recently recalled the interview, verifying that Davina was great fun, & doubtless she kept her hands to herself as well. Shola lost her way a bit after her stunning early success, & later admitted developing a potentially ruinous drug habit as the hits dried up. Happily she came out the other side long ago, that wonderful voice firmly intact, as illustrated in the 2015 clip above. Appropriately this was filmed at Under The Bridge, the venue under the East Stand at Stamford Bridge. A YouTube interview confirms that she is still a Chelsea fan. Way to go fellow traveller Shola. Keep the blue flag flying high!
Rick Adams currently resides in the Where are they now? file. In truth I didn’t look too hard.
If you can watch the heartwarming clip above without it instilling a goodly measure of much needed joy in your heart (& a tear in the eye at around 1:22) then you are either not human or a member of our malevolent & shambolic Dominic Cummings led Tory government. I guess it is possible to be both. Well done Ashington AFC, truly a grass roots football club embracing its community responsibilities & lifting spirits in the process, not least for dear David.
There has also been some heartening activity within the upper echelons of the game in England during the current pandemic. Some of the widely held, lazier assumptions deemed to be true of all within the cash rich world of the Premier League have been challenged, not least by the recent activity of Manchester United’s Marcus Rashford. I did think the stunning free kick I saw him score against Chelsea in the Carabao Cup last October would be my abiding memory of Rashford this season but it is fair to say his current wrong footing & shaming of the government eclipses it somewhat! During lockdown he has worked with poverty & food waste charity FareShare to raise over £20 million to provide food for children who would usually have been receiving free school meals, assisting 3 million schoolkids in the process. Following the government’s decision not to extend free school meal vouchers through the summer period Rashford sent an open letter yesterday imploring them to rethink. Boris Johnson has backed down today, although not before his arrogant & miserly indifference to the plight of the less fortunate has been publicly exposed once again. Marcus Rashford grew up in a family that relied on free school meals & food banks. He knows. The blonde bullshitter & his wretched band of venal, corrupt & inept weasels have no such real life experiences to draw on. It sure shows. Johnson has today praised Rashford’s efforts in trying to eradicate poverty, doubtless through clenched teeth & seemingly oblivious to the fact that achieving this aim is actually his job. None of us are holding our breath.
The humbling of these top hatted chancers by a 22 year old footballer is all the more ironic given the early efforts of the government to reveal their usual class prejudices in specifically singling out football as an industry that should pull out all the philanthropic stops during the current health crisis. Charisma free Health Secretary Matt Hancock played to the gallery in a speech on April 2nd. “Given the sacrifices that many people are making, including some of my colleagues in the NHS who have made the ultimate sacrifice I think the first thing that Premier League footballers can do is make a contribution, take a pay cut and play their part.” Nice one Matt. Seem to remember your chaps all cheering in Parliament when denying nurses a pay rise in the Commons the last time MP’s voted on it. No matter, turn the heat on footballers while doctors & nurses die, nothing to do with years of government NHS cuts, absurdly inadequate PPE & a sickening indifference to the potential of the virus that saw the Prime Minister vitally duck all 5 COBRA coronavirus meetings in February. He was on holiday some of the time, having not had a break since his Christmas vacation ended in early January the poor lamb. Billionaire Richard Branson furloughed 8,000 Virgin staff & is now reported to have seen his net worth rise from £2.7 to £3.34 billion in the last 3 months. How anyone knows this is unclear but if true it is nauseating in the extreme. Branson originally requested the government bail out Virgin Airlines to the tune of £500 million to counteract the fallout from the pandemic & ensuing lockdown. It is a similarly puke inducing story with Sir Jim Ratcliffe, once linked with a buy out of Chelsea, reportedly adding to his £12 billion plus while brazenly using the government furlough scheme for 800 staff. Have Formula 1 drivers, tennis players or golfers, also paid ludicrous sums at the top of their respective sports, been cajoled similarly to footballers in public? Of course not. There is plenty of cash wafting around racecourses too. The headquarters of flat racing are at Newmarket. The sitting MP has been the beneficiary of many thousands of pounds in donations from the more affluent quarters of the sport. His name? Come on down Matt Hancock…
Football has always been both a convenient whipping boy & smokescreen for governments in this country. The repulsive antics of far right extremists last weekend, defending statues, monuments & memorials by pissing on them, attacking the police & abusing people enjoying picnics saw much reportage linking individual miscreants to the football team they supposedly support. There hasn’t been any football anywhere in England for 3 months, let alone in London last Saturday. Is the sport or society as a whole responsible for the hatred that clearly burns within these simultaneously scary & pathetic wretches? There is nothing new here. Hooligans were never stored in freezers for 6 days a week & just thawed out ready for action on match days. After rampaging Liverpool fans contributed to the appalling Heysel disaster in 1985 Margaret Thatcher seemed open to a blanket ban on football & told FA Chief executive Ted Croker that something had to be done about his hooligans. Croker replied that they were society’s hooligans, therefore her hooligans, & football wanted rid of them too. Unlike his predecessors Croker never got a knighthood when he retired in 1989. A year later Thatcher bestowed one on Jimmy Savile having been advised against doing so on 4 separate previous occasions owing to his dubious private life. Haven’t we been governed by some charmers?
What makes Hancock’s speech so despicable was the way it ignored significant efforts made weeks before & prior to lockdown. On March 18th Chelsea announced that their Millenium Hotel would be exclusively available free of charge to NHS workers with owner Roman Abramovich picking up the tab. On the same day Gary Neville did the same with his two hotels in Manchester. Neville deservedly received many plaudits, Abramovich significantly less. I believe The Guardian failed to even mention it when giving Neville the thumbs up the following day. The Premier League liaised with the PFA to ask the players to take 30% pay cuts, with a welcome £125 million to be handed down from the Premiership to clubs in the Football & National leagues. Better late than never on that one. £20 million was also pledged to the NHS, communities & vulnerable groups. Some clubs furloughed their non- playing staff, most inexcusably a couple of bigger boys usually quite happy to puff out their chests & boast of their impressive financial returns. Some backtracking did fortunately ensue in their cases. Chelsea did not agree a pay cut for their players. Instead Roman Abramovich retained all staff at the club on full wages & implored the players to make charitable donations at their own discretion. The government has thus benefitted from there being no significant reduction in player tax returns during the pandemic. Along with Liverpool, Everton & West Ham Chelsea also pay all staff the living wage. The other 16 Premier League clubs, appallingly, are still dragging their heels. Sainthood may never be bestowed on Roman but we’ll take him over the likes of Jim Ratcliffe & Daniel Levy thanks very much.
At this rate I see a statue for Marcus Rashford being erected one day too. With a few vacant plots emerging in the landscape as icons of the slave trade are removed we need some suitable heroic figures of the modern age.
It was unclear what this season held in store for Chelsea when it began in August. It is safe to say that browsing eBay looking for face masks the following June, with a quarter of the league programme still to be completed, was not an option anyone considered.
No of course I didn’t buy one of these rather gaudy accessories. Do you really think I am so feeble & emotionally undernourished that I need to proclaim my love for a football team while wearing an item intended to help protect the lives of others?
Here we go rocking down the West London motorway
And on your left you’ll see the tower blocks
Built in 1963
With hard cash payments from the GLC
And over there you’ll see Westbourne Park
You don’t wanna go there
When it gets dark
I went to four matches in four days during the Easter weekend of 1977. Many footballers played three times in that period. We can only imagine the reaction of Chelsea striker Alvaro Morata, currently on loan to Athletico Madrid (mercifully with no plans to return) if he were ever asked to play so many games in so short a time. Suffice to say he would be aghast at having to curtail such pleasures as posting footage of himself brushing his wife’s hair on Instagram & actually be expected to concentrate intensively on the activity that sustains his affluent lifestyle. One delicate flower is Mr Morata.
As things currently stand Alvaro can brush away to his heart’s content, stuck in lockdown limbo like the rest of us as a hideous global pandemic kills thousands every day & brings nation after nation to a social & ecomomic standstill. The sun shines as I write this, as it did in 1977, but there the similarities end. There will be no football, no family Easter gatherings & for myself & many others little or no direct social interaction at all. Back then the fears of those around me were based on the havoc wreaked by fellow Chelsea fans & the presence of predatory paedophiles in central London. Now a two metre or less intrusion into your personal space from the most innocuous fellow human imaginable could lead to them unwittingly writing you a death warrant. The economic uncertainty, urban decay & racial tensions of the 1970’s are well documented but I still feel like spending a little time back there today. Being 15 & frequently (if incorrectly) believing yourself to be invulnerable suddenly feels hugely preferable to being 58 & knowing you have never been more at the mercy of the fickle finger of fate. For those of us lucky enough to survive this nightmare, & see their clubs do likewise, the first football match attended afterwards will be a huge celebration of some kind of return to normality, walking to the grounds we love, smelling the onions & dubious burgers & hot dogs from the refeshment stalls lining the surrounding streets, drinking in pubs with friends, dodging the tedious ticket touts & sharing the joy or misery of a goal with the stranger in the next seat. We will not be so quick to take these things for granted again. Things did not go so well on the pitch for Chelsea on this Easter of 1977, but I loved it anyway. When you have actually been to the game & experienced it as an event defeat still stings but never feels quite as bad. The dreadful results at Fulham & Charlton hurt. The final score at the next Chelsea match will be irrelevant. Everyone there will be a winner regardless of the outcome.
FRI APRIL 8 1977
Fulham 3 Chelsea 1
The Long Good Friday. History has it that the debut album by The Clash was released on this day. Naturally before the morning was out I had raced out into the street to declare war on the powers that be having set fire to all my flares, chopped off most of my hair, applied peroxide to what remained, pierced my ear with a compass from my school pencil case, sniffed the cheap glue normally used to paste match reports into my Chelsea scrapbook, smashed up my Emerson, Lake & Palmer albums & gobbed on my next door neighbour, the amusingly named Mrs Alcock. Quite a full morning really.
Remarkably none of this is actually true. The only punk rock thing about me in 1977 was not actually owning any Emerson, Lake & Palmer albums, a personal badge of honour for me to this very day. The Clash became a very important band for me but I did not have a clue who they were at this time. My meagre record collection at the time was confined to cassette tapes of The Beatles Red & Blue anthologies, a Four Tops collection, some Diana Ross albums, Gallagher & Lyle’s Breakaway & most recently, & at no little expense, Stevie Wonder’s magnificent Songs In The Key Of Life, purchased in instalments via my Auntie Freda’s Freeman’s catalogue. The kids are not yet on the street, at least not round our way. My hair was still a shapeless, page boy gone awry mess, the flares remained in place for another year, I was yet to develop any coherent political ideals & poor Mrs Alcock never did me any harm & also made magnificent rock cakes. When the smell of these drifted out of her kitchen window I would hang around the alleyway between her house & ours in the hope she would once again invite me in to sample one straight out of the oven, still piping hot. I was getting past the stage of doing this by 1977 but the memory still lingered. She was a funny old stick but was never going to be gobbed on, nor indeed was anyone else. Mmmm. Hot rock cakes. Why CBS, the not very punk rock record label to The Clash, released their debut on a Bank Holiday is a mystery, but Wikipedia records it as fact so it must surely be so….
What I really did that Good Friday was rise unfashionably early for a boy on the eve of his 15th birthday & make my way round to my friend Nick Bradley’s flat on the nearby Wood Farm housing estate. Chelsea were away at Fulham in the old Division 2 , an 11.30 morning kick off. Nick’s dad was driving us to the game, but Nick lived with his mum. His parents were divorced & not on good terms, so we were primed for a toot on the horn of his dad’s trusty old Morris Minor as he won’t come to the door. Nick told me his dad sometimes phoned the flat to speak to him & just said something rude & hung up if his mum answered, lacking the PA that Alan Partridge employed to do the same on his behalf a couple of decades later. The more trying practical issues of having divorced parents had not really occurred to me before, busier envying kids at school in the same boat joining a shorter, separate queue to collect their dinner tickets, which they didn’t have to pay for either. Possibly I was a tad shallow back then. I do remember being in a state of nervous excitement, a pre-match standard for me until my late 30’s when the football had improved, the team were winning more regularly & it belatedly occurred to me that there might be more important things in life to worry about. Fulham was to be my first away London derby & the season had entered an important phase. Having not signed a player in nearly 3 years, manager Eddie McCreadie had built a new team around Ken Shellito’s successful youth squad of the mid ’70’s, ditching several colleagues from his own, illustrious playing career in the process. The transition had not been painless but the current season had been exhilarating with the last three games all won, the most recent a 3-1 home victory against Blackburn, earned while I was watching the late Laurie Cunningham crown an impressive home debut for WBA with a goal against Jack Charlton’s joyless but ruthlessly efficient Middlesbrough, all as Red Rum won his third Grand National at Aintree. The finishing line is approaching in the football season as well, & dreams are growing of Chelsea breasting the tape in a promotion winning position. With the anticipation comes the nerves however. Chelsea have been letting fans fans down consistently since 1971 & the thought of being overtaken by Bolton & Nottingham Forest (Wolves seem sure to be promoted) & killed by the hope once again is too much to bear.
Once Mr Bradley had picked us up my anxiety about the game would have grown. I cannot remember my exact thoughts as we made our way to London that day, but can have a pretty decent stab at it. For the home game against Fulham a few months earlier Nick had a box set of Sherlock Holmes novels in the back of the car & I enjoyed a first introduction to the brilliant detective via Conan Doyle’s debut Holmes novel A Study In Scarlet. There were no distractions this time so my thoughts would have been concentrated on the match, possibly punctuated by wonderment at Mr Bradley’s favourite driving party trick, informing us all of the exact place of origin of whatever fellow motorist incurred his wrath & inviting them to fuck off back there. He had a temper did Mr Bradley, though this had its comic moments. At one game a Chelsea goal caused enough of a celebratory scrummage in the East Stand Lower for the person next to him to hurtle into him at force. Mr Bradley’s reaction veered in a split second from an expletive laden barrage of abuse to a contrite ‘I’m terribly sorry madam’ accompanied by a simultaneous doffing of his trilby on realising that his unwitting assailant was female. This was carried off with some elan & I have never seen such a complete volte face applied so seamlessly since. He was not a glad sufferer of fools & naturally this made me, a fool on the verge of his 15th birthday, a little anxious on occasions.
The sound of the Westway. Legendary frontman Joe Strummer coined this phrase to describe the music of The Clash. London’s Burning was written from a derelict house as he witnessed the cars weaving their way around this elevated dual carriageway connecting central London to the urban sprawl in its Western quarter. The Westway is not a beautiful construct & once at White City the concrete greyness of London was overwhelming, ageing, decaying housing dwarfed by the ugly high rise tower blocks bedecked with people’s washing, the Portobello Road street market adding some much needed humanity & colour every Saturday then as now. In 1977 the country was firmly in the doldrums economically & the occupants of such sub standard living quarters were having to deal with inflation, rising unemployment & perennial industrial unrest. The seeds for growing racial intolerance, planted by the sinister mischief of politicians like Enoch Powell less than a decade earlier, are seemingly flourishing. Chancellor Denis Healey had been forced to go to the International Monetary Fund for a huge, record breaking loan to bail the country out the year before. By the time North Sea Oil revenue began to flood in Healey (a formidable politician who would eat Boris Johnson alive in Parliament today) was in the Shadow Cabinet & had the time to buy books on Spitting Image & Chinese art from yours truly, working in a bargain book shop after more than a year on the dole. Leaderene Thatcher, the great patriot, subsequently greeted the North Sea windfall by crushing the miners & their communities, alongside other traditional British industries, selling out home produce by swamping us with imported foriegn goods & fighting an old style colonial war in the South Atlantic caused by the incompetence of her own government.
Joe Strummer finished off London’s Burning with guitarist Mick Jones at the latter’s flat near The Westway. Jones is a QPR fan. At the height of the band’s fame Strummer lived in a flat at the World’s End, a mere hop, skip & jump from Stamford Bridge. Many Blues followers claim him as one of ours. He never stood next to me on The Shed or helped rock the teabar in the old West Stand but at least one biographer claims he did go in the 1970’s & I am more than happy to acquiesce. In an NME interview Paul Weller once recalled watching Chopper Harris in his youth & included a Chelsea programme among the artefacts on a Style Council album cover but other then The Jam once playing at Stamford Bridge in their formative years there is little evidence of him strolling down the Fulham Road on matchdays too often. Steve Jones of the Sex Pistols supports Chelsea from his home in LA now but didn’t back in the day, & John Lydon may also have lived just down the road but has always been a (predictably vocal!) dyed in the wool Gooner. Their drummer Paul Cook remains the one figure from the iconic early days of punk to have nailed his Chelsea colours to the mast ever since. You still see him at games now. The image at the top of this piece is therefore something of a conceit based on the band’s association with The Westway, my gateway to London since it opened in 1970, the same year as my first ever trip to Stamford Bridge.TheClash is a 35 minute angry tirade encapsulating the frustration & anger engendered by the state of the nation’s capital in 1977. It is also a salute & clarion call to those finding (or searching for) ways of countering the suffocating, overpowering emotion the status quo provokes in its youth. Boredom. Songs about dreary Labour Exchange experiences, incompetent bureaucracy, police brutality & lying, drug addicted girlfriends sit next to celebrations of minor pop stars turned sex party hosts, the black community’s response to growing prejudice & inequality, cramming as much pleasure into your weekend as you can & the dubious joys of obtaining cheap prophylactics from pub vending machines. You can’t fit all of London life in 1977 into a 35 minute snapshot but The Clash remains a pretty decent stab at it. I don’t listen to it often these days but it shits all over Gallagher & Lyle.
Driving along The Westway may be a mundane daily necessity for thousands of motorists daily, but it has inspired art since its opening, & continues to, from two works by the author JG Ballard, Crash in 1973 & The Concrete Island in 1974, through to Blur’s lovely Under The Westway in 2012, penned & sung by Damon Albarn, another Chelsea supporter. Crash delves into the world of symphorophilia, specifically those whose erotic demands are only satisfied by the staging of traffic accidents, sometimes watching, sometimes directly participating. Sustaining serious injury is an incentive rather than a barrier, the prospect of death likewise. Not how most of us get our kicks on route 66 but a genuine phenomenon nonetheless. Crash was eventually adapted for cinema in 1996, directed by David Cronenberg & starring James Spader, Holly Hunter, Elias Koteas, Rosanna Arquette & the stunningly beautiful Deborah Kara Unger. I would say pulchitrudinous but that would be pretentious. Oops. Too late. Good word pulchitrudinous. One day I’ll learn how to pronounce it as well. Musical tributes to Ballard’s novel had begun before the ’70’s were out via The Normal’s Warm Leatherette, this pervy opus later covered by the great Grace Jones shortly after on the album of the same name.
A tear of petrol Is in your eye The hand brake Penetrates your thigh Quick – Let’s make love Before you die
More tea vicar? In the absence of Nick’s Conan Doyle box set teaching me about Sherlock Holmes’ cocaine habit a distraction on the way to Craven Cottage would have been welcome but perhaps not that sort. Mr Bradley would not have approved of 1977 incarnations of James Spader & Deborah Kara joining me in the back seat & at best merely soiling the upholstery. The hundreds of coach trips to & from London I have made since have all been marked by an absence of symphorophiliac activity. I suppose Morris Minors & public transport are not conducive to getting your car crash rocks off. One of my big regrets from my bookselling career is not staying to the JG Ballard event we held one evening in the late ’80’s. I went to the pub instead. Ballard would probably have understood though. Even in those less puritanical times the rider requests of most authors were usually fairly modest, a glass of wine or mineral water frequently sufficing. Muhammad Ali & his entourage had a McDonalds. Ballard asked for a bottle of scotch. Good man. Hope he didn’t drive home though.
On Good Friday 1977 the journey will have involved two hours hours of ruminations on the threats posed by an out of form Fulham & the recent injury to my favourite player, Scotland international David Hay, beset with a detached retina & out for the season. Two years earlier a dismal home defeat to Manchester City had opened the relegation trapdoor ever wider. A cheeky Steve Kember chip had set up Hay inside the opposition 6 yard box & he contrived to miss his kick completely. He had a cataract problem & was suffering from blurred & double vision. He later recounted that in one game he had missed an easy chance on account of the double vision leading to him kicking the wrong one of the two balls on view to him! I have a pretty good idea what game that was. He had played well in the 1976-7 season until receiving an elbow in the face. Subsequently he lost the sight in one eye. Professionally the move from Celtic to a financially imperilled Chelsea immediately after impressive performances in the 1974 World Cup was a disaster but he has never been remotely disparaging towards the club, & turned up at the Eddie McCreadie reunion/book launch 40 years after this season apparently as courteous & gentlemanly as ever. A class act. There are more iconic Chelsea players from this troubled decade for the club who could learn a thing or too from David Hay. They never have & never will. Their loss.
There are two players who concern me in the Fulham team. One is Teddy Maybank, recently replacing Rodney Marsh as the cocky, blonde medallion wearing central striker in the Cottagers line up. Teddy had been loaned out there successfully from Chelsea earlier in the season, recalled to Stamford Bridge for a goal free three game spell owing to Steve Finnieston’s injury, then sold to Fulham for £75,000 prior to the transfer deadline. Maybank had scored twice in the previous match against Sheffield United & the odds are short on him invoking the immutable law of the ex & scoring against a Chelsea side containing so many of his successful youth team mates from a few years back, first team colleagues mere weeks ago. The relish with which fans of other teams goad you about a goal scored by a player you have sold to another club is never easy to stomach. If it involves a local rival in a vital, high profile match it promises to be unbearable. Fulham have plenty of experience, former Spurs full back Ray Evans & seasoned Division 2 midfielder Alan Slough amongst them, not to mention the great Bobby Moore, in truth no longer at his best & set for retirement but still a legend likely to pull out all the stops in this match. Hard man Peter Storey, a fellow England international & Double winner with Arsenal in 1971, has also signed just before the deadline, doubtless set to put his foot in & ruffle a few opposition feathers with Fulham just one point off the bottom three. Bar Maybank there is only one other player who truly troubles me & that, needless to say, is George Best. Why? Because he’s George Best. Just back from a car crash thought likely to rule him out for the season, George had played well in the corresponding Christmas fixture at Stamford Bridge. Heavier & slower than in his pomp, but still only 31 & able to control large passages of play from the midfield role he had now adopted, George had taken defeat badly in that game. Referee John Homewood had been confronted in the tunnel & a heated argument led to George being shown a belated red card. Red cards had only been introduced in 1976 & George was one of the first to see one, away at Southampton on October 2nd, the late David Wagstaffe narrowly beating him to the dubious honour of being the first player ever to get one earlier on the same day. Following his tunnel dismissal at Chelsea George had flamboyantly flicked the V’s at Homewood, later denying he had done so at the disciplinary tribunal. Nick & his dad had their season tickets right next to the player’s tunnel & we had seen the whole thing. The old rascal was as guilty as sin. He had a habit of turning it on against Chelsea throughout his career & I feared he might have a point to prove. Loaded editor/Creation Records types who started sucking football’s blood following Gazza’s weepy Italian meltdown have encouraged a received wisdom that primetime George Best is the bearded renegade in red, as depicted on the cover of The Wedding Present’s album from 1987, entitled, logically enough, George Best. Dave Gedge & his boys may have been ahead of the curve but they unwittingly helped spawn a tedious phenomenon, namely music biz tossers flooding the media with their mindless revisionism regarding football generally, & George’s career specifically. How many of them set foot in a football ground during George Best’s career? The birds, booze, incessant public scrutiny & carrying a declining Man Utd team around on his back for 4 years were telling on the man by the time the beard surfaced regularly. You simply cannot compare the George Best of the late 1960’s with the slower, chunkier, facially hirsute Best struggling not to kill manager Tommy Docherty in the 1973-4 season. As he was a genius there will be some fount of footballing knowledge who will produce the odd clip of George coming up with the goods wearing the face fur, but there are lots more when he isn’t. In football as in life George was actually immeasurably better when clean shaven. Best’s first wife Angie told an interesting tale in the last of the plethora of Best documentaries that have appeared over the years. She explained that the painful progression towards an imminent alcoholic binge was aways signified by George putting down the Gillette & developing stubble. It was all downhill from there. Ignore the now geriatric hipsters. Beards are bad man.
Craven Cottage remains a unique ground, & undoubtedly one of the more attractive football stadiums in England. In 1975 Chelsea fans had misbehaved as the team slumped to a 2-0 defeat but rightly or wrongly I never sensed a great hatred towards the club from Fulham supporters back then. Perhaps that incident was the tipping point, but the vocal abuse & vandalism from the surprisingly large feral element within their own fan base during Fulham’s last trip to Stamford Bridge in 2018 certainly reflected how much things have changed. It may be grounded in resentment as younger supporters have grown up watching Chelsea win umpteen trophies, or maybe tickets for Chelsea matches became so difficult to obtain that some of them were thrust into Fulham’s arms by default. I am not sure but the hatred is not reciprocated & maybe they find that infuriating too. Like other close neighbours QPR obsessive hate will largely be met with indifference by Chelsea supporters, too busy fixing their dislike on Spurs, Leeds, Liverpool or Barcelona. I just can’t hate Fulham & Craven Cottage remains a joy. Sorry Chelsea haters, this is not an attempt to patronise but a simple statement of fact.
Archibald Leitch, the architect of many an old British football stadium, designed the pavilion & the main stand at Fulham, both now listed buildings. The pavilion sits on the corner behind us as we take our place on the packed terraces at the Putney End, & I will not be the first or last away fan to believe it is the cottage that gives the ground its name. That sadly was destroyed in a fire at the end of the nineteenth century. Situated right next to the River Thames the ground offers Boat Race enthusiasts a first rate view of the first mile of the that famous encounter. It’s a great setting, though that is one sporting spectacle that holds no interest for me whatsoever. The turnout for this morning kick off was spectacular. It is a local derby of course, but my first experience of standing with Chelsea’s awesome away following. When the teams emerge George Best is ominously clean shaven. Chelsea are wearing their away kit, red shirts & shorts, with the green socks topped off with red & white. I loved this kit, a homage to the great, Puskas inspired Hungarian team of the early 1950’s, apparently the brainchild of former manager Dave Sexton. In the same way Don Revie had changed the Leeds kit to white in the early 1960’s as a homage to Real Madrid, the kind of team & club the crooked old spiv was trying to create. There remains much boiling of piss about Chelsea wearing red as an away strip & I cannot understand why when the alternatives are presented. Spurs & Leeds wear white. Arsenal & Spurs have frequently had yellow away strips. Referees wear black. Not many wear jade green like we did in the ’80’s nor the Coors sponsored grey & orange away togs of 1995. There are reasons for this. They were both hideous. You can make negative associations with any colour, even ludicrous political ones. I had managed to track down the green socks eventually, buying them from a recently opened sports shop that later gained a steady track record of losing young female staff very quickly due to the wandering hands of its owner. Here we go again. The 1970’s eh.
The atmosphere was cracking, the crowd at just under 30,000 was 25,000 less than for the game at Stamford Bridge, but in a much smaller stadium it’s perfect. What can go wrong as Chelsea defend the goal we are stood behind? Pretty much everything as it goes. Fulham raced into a 2-0 lead & Chelsea never recovered. The considerable frame of striker Alan Warboys stooped to deflect a header past Peter Bonetti & Best scored the other goal in front of a silenced Chelsea away gathering. Objectively, it was a lovely goal, a sweetly struck right foot volley that Peter Bonetti could only dream of stopping. Best’s famously handsome face broke out into an instant broad smile. I am glad I saw him score it now, as I am a Paul Gascoigne free kick at Stamford Bridge in 1990. For Spurs of all people. An original press copy photo of Best’s goal was available on ebay a few years ago. Despite its exhorbitant price & me being one of the sea of soon to be anguished faces behind the goal I was tempted to buy it. It is a testimony to talents like Best & Gascoigne that when the dust settles their ability to produce footballing moments of wonder transcends traditional tribal loyalties, & the often grim facts of their turbulent lives off the pitch. The smile said it all, when on song George Best, like Gascoigne, who he sadly seemed to resent, both found & dispensed enormous joy & happiness. Of course at the exact moment it happened I momentarily hated his guts, & wanted that smirk wiped off his face permanently. We’re a funny lot us football fans. Nobody went to the ballet to see Nureyev & Fonteyn perform hoping that one of them had an off day or slipped & broke their ankle, but if a football legend is wearing the wrong shirt you want them to be out of sorts or injured rather than do damage to your team. I think this era signifies when this reaction became universal. The holy trinity 1960’s heyday of Best, Law & Charlton at Manchester United is probably the last hurrah of the days when people went to watch & enjoy the performances of opposition players regardless of the result. My father used to recall Blackpool once playing Charlton at The Valley & when it was announced that Stanley Matthews was not in the opposition line up there was a sizeable number of home fans heading straight for the exits before the game had even kicked off!
People are interested that I saw George Best play & score, not in the result that day, but at the time the result was all. After two years of staving off bankruptcy we really wanted that promotion. The two points Fulham gained in this match eventually saved them from relegation, a mere one point standing between them & Division 3 a month later. John Mitchell scored a third goal for them early in the second half, & a comeback never looked likely as George Best continued to pull all the strings as adeptly as an increasingly lairyTeddy Maybank pulled his former colleagues plonkers. Maybank not scoring became the last remaining ambition as hopes of a comeback withered on the vine. Fortunately he didn’t, although he did provoke a couple of flare ups with Ray Lewington & Ian Britton, as did Peter Storey after a typically spiteful tackle. Towards the end a free kick on the edge of the Fulham box was touched to our brilliant 20 year old skipper Ray Wilkins & he blasted a splendid consolation goal into the roof of the Fulham net, a token moment of brilliance in an otherwise miserable 90 minutes for those whose sympathies lay with the team from Fulham Road rather than Fulham. Teddy Maybank was a Chelsea boy at heart. He eventually went to Brighton for a lot of money, & also had a spell at PSV Eindhoven & a second spell at Craven Cottage before injury finished his career prematurely. He later surprised everyone, reputedly including the then Mrs Maybank, by turning up as a contestant on the hugely popular Blind Date. Nobody’s idea of a shrinking violet our Ted.
FRI APRIL 8 1977
Oxford United 0 Swindon Town 0
I can recall the journey home from Craven Cottage largely due to the glorious early afternoon sunshine, taunting us so strongly did it contrast with the gloomy atmosphere within the car. White City Stadium, host to the 1948 Olympic Games, may have been a largely unwanted relic of the past by 1977 other than for speedway & dog racing, but I liked it, & it was a welcome distraction as we trudged through the post match Westway traffic. At the time it was the home of speedway champions White City Rebels, a franchise that had moved there a couple of years before from Oxford & the currently disused stadium near where I live now. I wasn’t a speedway fan but several of my friends were, & would sometimes involve me in a baffling speedway game involving no more than a pencil each & an exercise book. We had to make our own entertainment back then Vol 215. The names of some of the Rebels still linger on now. Gordon Kennett. Trevor Geer. Dag Lovaas. Especially Dag Lovaas. Give the recent spate of deaths of footballers from this era I checked them out online with bated breath. They are all still going strong. Good to know. We must have got away pretty promptly once through Uxbridge, most shops being shut for bank holidays back then, as we arrived in Headington just after 3 & Nick’s dad dropped me off immediately outside the Manor Ground. The turnstiles were still open & I nipped in to join my dad, uncle & cousins for the A420 derby between Oxford & Swindon. This remains the only time I have seen two matches in one day. The previous year Oxford had played Bolton on Easter Saturday & the United players had come out with an Easter egg each. Derek Clarke, a pocket sized, Corinthians model doppleganger of his famous brother Sniffer, the legendary Leeds & England striker, trotted over to us & with a pleasant smile gave my cousin Stuart his egg. Had it been his brother the box would probably have been covered in stud marks. There were no gifts on this occasion, on or off the pitch. I can honestly remember precisely nothing about the match. This is no reflection on either Oxford or Swindon. Bitter derby games in England were almost always dour affairs in those days, usually goalless or 1-0. A 1-1 draw was the best you could usually expect. In truth I also recall little about previous Oxford-Swindon matches other than as a 7 year old boy infuriating my dad when I chose to announce that he would have to escort me through a packed crowd from the Osler Road through to the toilets behind the London Road stand for me to take my first (& to date last) football ground dump. Can’t remember the score though. 0-0 or 1-1 for sure. Ron Atkinson was playing. The toilets were a predictable disgrace. I do remember that. For this Good Friday fixture my home knit blue & white Chelsea scarf (thanks Nan) attracted me to the usual wisecracks from those who had heard the details from Craven Cottage, which I bore with reasonably good grace as I was expecting it. I found the common question from those who had not increasingly trying. No! Teddy fucking Maybank didn’t score!!
If he had I would have been at home avoiding Grandstand.
SAT APRIL 9 1977
Chelsea 2 Luton Town 0
I celebrated my 15th birthday by taking my small Kodak camera to this match. The pictures were terrible, which is a shame as one is of Ray Wilkins & another has the great Peter Bonetti embracing opposite number Milija Aleksic as they entered the player’s tunnel near to where we were sat. Another lovely, sunny Spring afternoon with a far happier conclusion as two first half goals from Steve Finnieston & left back John Sparrow saw off Luton, then managed by Harry Haslam, Happy Harry as he was always referred to, supposedly owing to his permanenetly genial demeanour. I have no reason to doubt it, he did always seem to be smiling. The presence in the Hatters boardroom of director & comedian Eric Morecambe, probably the country’s most universally loved popular entertainer at the time, can’t have done any harm. The win was both a boost & a huge relief after the previous day, but apart from the goals, the sunshine, my out of focus pictures & Luton’s horrible orange kit I remember very little about the game. Sparrow’s arrow, as it was coined by one of the Sunday papers, was a low left foot drive from the edge of the Luton box, the second & last Chelsea goal of his career. The journey home was undoubtedly more buoyant than the previous day. The day ended with an attractive brunette asking me how my birthday had been as I stood at the bar in an Oxford pub. Sadly she was old enough to be my mother, my parents were the people keeping me company in the pub & I was drinking fruit juice. The Clash were unavailable for comment but my punk rock credentials would appear to have remained dubious. The answer was simple enough though. Chelsea had won 2-0. My 15th birthday had been just fine. Exactly 17 years later my 32nd was marked with a trip to Wembley for the FA Cup Semi Final. The opponents? Luton Town. The score? 2-0. Welcome to The Twilight Zone. You can pay your mortgage off via Betfred if the same fixture occurs on April 9th again.
There were no games on the Easter Sunday so I watched the highlights from the Luton game I had attended the previous day on London Weekend Television’s The Big Match presented by the splendid Brian Moore, baldy head later recorded for posterity by Half Man Half Biscuit as ‘looking uncannily like the London Planetarium’ on their 1986 single ‘Dickie Davies Eyes.’ Both Brian & the Planetarium are now long gone sadly. We could not get a signal for London Weekend Television at home, so Sunday football highlights there were confined to the Midlands & Star Soccer with match commentary from the genius that was Hugh ‘what a whacker’ Johns. Hugh’s brilliance was no consolation for missing Chelsea matches though so it was good to give him & Gary Newbon the swerve on this occasion. Fortunately we were having a family meal at my cousins’ house & the Sunday roast tasted even better for my being able to relive Steve Finnieston’s opener, quickly followed by Sparrow’s arrow, both accompanied by Brian’s reliably excitable commentary. Later that evening we all watched the culmination of Lew Grade’s lavish television extravaganza Jesus Of Nazareth, then considered both a triumph & something of a televisual milestone. It never seems to get shown now, I have no idea why. It must surely have inspired Monty Python’s Life Of Brian & a glance at the cast list might offer other reasons that people might not be able to take it entirely seriously. Jesus was played by Robert Powell, & the last thing I can recall him doing was playing a supposedly comic foil to Jasper Carrott in the painfully unfunny The Detectives. He was also married to blonde & brassy Babs, one of Pan’s People, the clunkily choreographed dance troupe ( take an out of synch bow Flick Colby) ruining one of the main hits on Top Of The Pops every week throughout the 1970’s. I must have always been a bit odd because I seem to have been the only heterosexual male in the country who remained impervious to their supposedly erotically charged charms throughout the decade. The man who played Young Mr Grace from Are You BeingServed? also popped up in Jesus Of Nazareth, as did Mark Eden, later to be notoriously flattened to death by a Blackpool tram as the evil, Rita Fairclough abusing Alan Bradley in Coronation Street. Ian McShane had a major role as Judas Iscariot, looking rather like the bearded version of George Best. The link does not end there, as a couple of years later he played a thinly veiled version of Best in the remarkable, Jackie Collins penned Yesterday’s Hero. In this cimematic extravaganza McShane, whose father Harry actually played for Manchester United, conquers a drink problem long enough to become a valedictory FA Cup winning hero with two goals against the lazily named Leicester Forest?! Despite his family background McShane’s efforts in the film failed to lure audiences to the cinemas at the time, & reviews of this camp classic remain less than flattering. ‘Irresistibly bad’ from Time Out is the best I can find. Currently unavailable on any format. Sort it out Netflix or Amazon Prime.
MON APRIL 11 1977
Charlton Athletic 4 Chelsea 0
‘Let’s get out of here.’ After 75 minutes & with Chelsea 4-0 down Mr Bradley had seen enough. Dismal defeat on the pitch was one thing, having it accompanied by a mini riot & bonfires on the terraces quite another. This was the third & last time I have ever left a football match early, & on every occasion Charlton Athletic were one of the teams playing. The first time was in torrential rain & the final whistle had blown before my dad & I had left the stadium. The second time was a mid-week League Cup tie at Oxford United. When Charlton scored the opening goal in the dying minutes of extra time I thought it safe to make my way home. The ensuing roar told me all I needed to know. Oxford had gone straight up the other end & Steve Aylott had equalized. You wait two hours for a goal & then two come along at once…
An enjoyably sunny Easter weekend had been interrupted by rain earlier in the day. By the evening the only thing raining at The Valley was goals. Charlton goals. Oh, & planks of wood. A notorious evening in the annals this one, as a significant number of fellow Chelsea supporters took umbrage at the comprehensive shellacking meted out to our hapless heroes & smashed up as much of Charlton as they could, vandalising turnstiles & breaking windows in the adjoining Valley social club. Sparks flew as well as fists. Planks were stripped from a stand & either hurled towards the pitch or used to start bonfires. Perhaps copies of The Clash were already circulating with London’s Burning being taken a tad too literally. A bus transporting terrified passengers home after the game was bricked. There was an upside to all this for a shallow teenage boy, namely that it meant nobody wanted to talk about the football on my return to Oxford, the notoriety around Chelsea fans continued to grow & my presence at the game briefly bestowed on me a temporary cachet of adolescent cool that neither I or the event warranted.
There was an away ban on Chelsea fans imposed after this game. My mother had threatened me with one earlier in the day. As the rain threatened to ruin yet another English Bank Holiday we sat in the living room that afternoon & to alleviate the boredom she challenged the entire family to pick winners from the horse racing on the television. None of us were usually that interested in the gee-gees & I don’t recall us ever doing this before or again. I proceeded to pick several winners in a row. I don’t recall that ever happening again either sadly, though as no money was on the table the empty pocketed status it left with me with was to become familiar. Growing a bit cocky at my run of beginner’s luck I was banished from the living room & threatened with being denied a trip to The Valley that night. That was never going to happen. Unlike the weather I wasn’t that wet, & my last successful gamble of the day was to sit it out in my tiny bedroom & let things calm down before requesting the necessary readies to join Nick & his dad at the game a few hours later.
The Charlton game was my first foray into South London to watch a match, & we left the car at Park Royal to catch an underground train on the journey that seemed to take forever in a classic ‘are we there yet?’ 15 year old’s way. Nick & I’s spirits were lifted on the train by an entirely serious piece of advice from his dad that we found completely hilarious. If either of us get lost, he advises us, we should only ask assistance from a policeman, nobody else, ‘not even a parson, because some of these fucking perverts dress up as parsons.’ Nick catches my eye & we both corpse like Dudley Moore halfway through a Peter Cook rant in a Derek & Clive sketch. I think it is the use of the word parson that sets us off. The advice is sound & doubtless inspired by a famous two part television documentary called Johnny Go Home, a memorable, powerful & wholly depressing tale of paedophilia & murder centred around a man called Roger Gleaves, aka the Bogus Bishop or the Bishop Of Medway, who prowled the streets & railway stations of London befriending juvenile runaways & under the pretence of concern for their well being luring them to low rent accomodation. You can probably guess the rest. Gleaves, a figure of true evil, was still making headlines decades later when on yet another release from prison he was found to be living perilously close to a school. He was 84 then. in the mid 1970’s I had attempted briefly to learn the trumpet before being thrown out for gross ineptitude. I had also broken the trumpet. The man taking the classes moved from school to school in the area failing to unveil the next Louis Armstrong & also ran a rival boy’s football team, Skylarks, mainly comprised of lads who weren’t good enough to get a game anywhere else. He drove an old Bentley & small boys from the team would clamber into it ready for the journey home after the game had finished. He was lauded for keeping a team used only to heavy defeats together for no other reason than a love of the game & sense of community spirit. He was an oddball, but that was hardly unique. Johnny, the manager of another bottom of the table team, always clad in a battered old hat, lived near some of the lads I went to school with. One of them once visited his house to find a mound of human shit perched proudly on the living room carpet. He once greeted my dad like they were bosom buddies addressing him by his first name. My dad had no recollection of ever having met him before. Good job really. We might have been invited round for tea. Despite my trumpet rejection the tutor would stand in the school car park & regale myself & my friend Philip James with pictures of his cars & proud boasts about their rareness. He also invited me to join his football team, which despite my lack of pace & innate cowardice I was not quite talentless enough to join. We mocked him mercilessly but he didn’t seem to care, quite unlike any other teacher at the time. It was several years later, as I lay in a hospital bed reading the local news, that his crimes against children & subsequent imprisonment were finally reported. It was shocking to read but at least I had broken the fucker’s trumpet. Another local teacher taught chess to children, satisfying the middle class aspirations of many a parent. It took even longer for that sorry saga to unravel. Johnny may have been a bit slow getting the Shake N Vac out but at least he wasn’t a nonce. I think. Nor probably was Frank, who ran another boys football team near to my middle school & was referred to by players there as Benny ‘because he’s a fucking bender.’ I recall evidence to back this up being rather thin on the ground. A few weeks after the Charlton game I attended cricket trials for the county schools under 15 team. The man running the trials, Dick, was the headmaster of a rival school & took a shine to my rather innocuous inswing bowling. ‘Keep bowling those wobblers Munday’ was his mantra throughout the summer of 1977, to my horror & everyone else’s huge amusement. I made the team which occasionally meant getting into his car. Dick, in late middle age, still lived with his mum & reminded me of the randy vicar in the ’70’s BBC1 version of Poldark. Neither of which is in itself a crime. However, in the car he would fondle my inner thigh frequently & with great enthusiasm, my eyes drawn to the seemingly ever present crust of dried spittle glued to the corner of his lascivious, repulsive randy vicar from Poldark mouth, as the inevitable words ‘keep bowling those wobblers’ tumbled out. Clearly he wasn’t just a cricket loving refugee from a top private school in Kent, applying a balm to his own thwarted dreams via coaching the game to those in the lowlier world of the newly initiated comprehensive system. Another lad who foolishly accepted a solo ride in Dick’s car had a road map spread out on his lap in the car as Dick’s finger conveniently located the desired destination in the section adjacent to his genitals. He may have been merely a deeply frustrated pederast who went no further than these pathetic car antics, but would you trust a man like that with the cane, which he readily employed to punish boys at his own school? The answer in 1977 was clearly yes. The universal reaction to our separate tales of woe? Hilarity. Everyone thought it was funny, schoolkids & parents alike. Myself & the other boy also laughed & spoke openly about it with amusement. Nowadays they would be forming a lynch mob & giving dirty Dick an Edward Woodward Whicker Man style send off within the hour. Nick & I laughed at the word parson but also, I susect, because we thought real, ruinous sexual abuse was something that only happened to other kids, kids in care or on the street like in Johnny Go Home. Looking back we had more luck than judgement.
It was fine & dry again once we reached The Valley. Charlton moved away for a considerable while in the ’80’s & the ground has been considerably transformed, but like Fulham had its own unique style in its original incarnation. It had hosted handsomely attended concerts in recent years for The Who & Lou Reed, & in the team’s Division 1 heydays attracted crowds of over 60,00 so the official figure for this match of 25,757 was dubious. The ground was packed. John Phillips replaced Peter Bonetti in goal & this was ominous, as the Welsh international had played in both the 4-0 beating at Luton & the 3-0 FA Cup home defeat to Southampton earlier in the season. Charlton had lost prolific striker Derek Hales to Derby earlier in the season. Hales looked like an off duty pirate. It didn’t matter one iota as Mike Flanagan, another beardie, not only kept the face fungus quotient up but plundered a splendid hat trick. Charlton were terrific & Chelsea truly woeful, snuffed out completely after conceding Flanagan’s two first half goals, dead on the floor after winger Hugh McAuley added a third ten minutes into the second half. Hales, the only man to reply to Shoot magazine’s famous player profile question ‘What would you be if you weren’t a footballer?’ with the reply ‘a robber’ later reunited with Flanagan briefly at The Valley. Sadly they were sent off for fighting each other as the team laboured at home in an FA Cup tie against non-league Maidstone, Flanagan having responded to Derek questioning his ability by referring to his colleague as a ‘one bollocked bastard.’ That begs a question to which I can offer no definitive answer. Hales was sacked but then reinstated & Flanagan left for pastures new very soon after. My Auntie Pam once gave me advice you should have heeded Mike. Never trust a man with a beard, he always has something to hide. Oh dear, you’ve got one yourself.*
Leaving early did us no good. The next train did not arrive until after the game had finished, the last 15 minutes, on the pitch at least apparently proving uneventful. The defeat had been resounding & the fear that promotion was to slip through our hands began to grow, though the following day’s headlines were not going to be about football. By the time the train arrived its potential clientele were a motley crew indeed, & we shared our compartment with a colourful array of lumps, bumps, cuts & bruises, though their proud owners were reasonably subdued by this point. This did not stop the emergency cord from being pulled several times on the way home, extending a tedious trek back to West London to get back to the car even further. The tube stations all seemed to be bearing the same poster, seemingly of a mystic called Bagawat Soham. Eastern gurus were ten a penny in Britain during the 1970’s. Nick & I had been scornful of the bowl cut our 19 year old striker Tommy Langley was sporting. Clips of him from 1977 now see him actually coming out of this monstrous era for male hair rather better than the rest of the younger Chelsea players, & God knows how I had the gall to point the finger at anyone else’s barnet. Nick was always well turned out so can be excused more readily. After several Underground sightings of the Bagawat Soham poster we decide that Tommy’s haircut was down to him having joined a religious cult & for the rest of the journey & indeed our schooldays he is always referred to as Bagawat Langley. I have searched in vain for the existence of Bagawat Soham recently to no avail. Bagawat translates as an uprising or mutiny. Bhagwan means god. Soham means to identify with the universe or ultimate reality. Sohan is an Indian name for a boy meaning charming or handsome. Maybe it’s down to a typo, or maybe the poster referred to a general Hindu spiritual meeting or happening rather than a gathering for a guru. Maybe I imagined the whole thing. If not, then in his dotage Bagawat Soham has drifted further into obscurity than John Sparrow, Teddy Maybank or Derek Hales’ testicular status. He nonetheless remains in the back of my memory bank as a tribute to my puerility. Sorry Tommy. Many apologies to you & every Hindu on the planet.
I am bloodied but unbowed by this eventful but not terribly fruitful Easter. Five days later Nick, his dad & I are back at Stamford Bridge again. Ken Swain & Gary Stanley are dropped & replaced by Langley & veteran Charlie Cooke, the coolest man in London, with a haircut that would still pass muster today. Chelsea scramble past promotion rivals Nottingham Forest 2-1, & both teams eventually reach the promised land of Division 1 at the end of the season. Langley scores the goal that ensures promotion in a 1-1 draw at Wolves, who go up as champions. Following the Charlton fiasco Chelsea supporters are banned from this game by then Home Secretary Denis Howell. Thousands turn up anyway & most gain admission in what ends up as a joyous & largely amicable joint knees up. Trepidation temporaily abates at the prospect of further Chelsea fan misbehaviour as the football season comes to a close. However, the world of under 15 schools county cricket will shortly have a new menace to contend with as summer arrives &, under the watchful eye of my very own Uncle Monty from Withnail & I, my wobblers are unleashed on an unsuspecting world.
Since writing this piece it has been pointed out that Mike Flanagan, while sporting masses of hair & a faintly hideous moustache, was not usually seen with a beard. Many apologies Mike.
‘You’re a pussy who gives a shit about 1955 go fuck your grandad’
Making up with passion what it lacks in grammatical accuracy this contribution to my Twitter feed from the charmingly named Liverpool ‘fan’ only white girls are attractive back in 2018 followed a 1-1 draw that afternoon at Stamford Bridge between Chelsea & his heroes. I somehow doubt he has ever seen them in the flesh himself. That evening Chelsea fans were once again being branded vile, classless & 100% racist. Alternatively Stamford Bridge was a plastic haven for the casual tourist ignorant of the true tradition & history of a proper, decent football club, with a proper, decent fanbase. The polar opposite of Liverpool we were told. Again. Four days before the game a below strength Chelsea had beaten a below strength Liverpool team at Anfield in an underwhelming Carabao Cup tie, enlivened by a brilliant Eden Hazard cameo performance off the bench, culminating in a stunning winning goal. Gilly added to the anti Chelsea gaiety by describing this win as a Blues fan’s idea of history. A couple of hours into feral abuse & Scouse contempt for the club I hold dear finally drew a polite demurral of Gilly’s somewhat lame comic observation, which had probably attracted several times more likes than I will ever have followers. My idea of history, I told him, was Chelsea winning the league in 1955, when unfortunately no result information versus Liverpool was available due to them finishing that season in 11th place in Division 2. Gilly’s mildly sarcastic response drew more applause from the more rabid end of the adoring, red clad Twitter masses, history seemingly less important when it fails to support your lazy prejudices. An hour later he was posting pictures of the plane wreckage from the 1958 Munich disaster. Thanks for coming Gilly. only white girls are attractive, as previously quoted, was less forgiving, so I merely blew him a virtual kiss & moved on. This seemed to throw him until he accused me, several hours later, of being ‘a bit noncey.’ What a sweetheart. Don’t knock what you can’t afford darling. As an ageing Chelsea rent boy only white, what did you honestly expect? My grandad died in 1985 by the way, so an incestuous coital encounter was never on the cards, lest I be accused of necrophilia on top of noncing.
The point of all this, aside from the obvious reminder to self to avoid social media in the aftermath of a Chelsea-Liverpool match, is ultimately not to pointlessly stir the pot further, but contrast Gilly & only white girls are attractive with The Lad’s Dad, who, like me, will actually be attending the forthcoming Chelsea Liverpool FA Cup game in early March rather than carping spitefully from the online sidelines. He is the first (& probably last) Liverpool fan to follow me on Twitter, & a pleasing reminder that the loudest & ugliest social media voices are not representative of an entire fanbase. For every Tommy Robinson fanboy (& I am aware there are plenty of them) there are scores of Chelsea fans who do not fit the identikit created by the media & rival fans, nor are the rest of the seats at Stamford Bridge filled exclusively by bewildered Japanese tourists clutching their plastic bag of clubshop tat & failing to find the right seat. Not yet anyway. The Lad’s Dad goes home & away with Liverpool along with his wife & disabled son. He recently tweeted a message congratulating Chelsea on being the only Premier League club he is aware of that do not charge an entrance fee for disabled away fans, having obtained tickets for the aforementioned FA Cup tie. This may well be the only positive comment on Chelsea ever made on social media by a Liverpool fan & also begs the question why other clubs do charge. Actually, I think we probably know why.
I would wish The Lad’s Dadan enjoyable evening at the Bridge next month but am confident this can only be achieved via a Liverpool win & I am equally keen on a Chelsea victory, less for bragging rights than the fact that I have one major beef with Liverpool’s excellent coach Jurgen Klopp, namely his despicable approach to the FA Cup. Liverpool are so good at present that I fear them winning the trophy half heartedly putting out second to third string teams along the way. They have already beaten recently resurgent neighbours Everton this way. The FA Cup deserves more respect than that, as indeed do the Liverpool supporters who turned up in numbers at Shrewsbury in the last round for an evening kick off on a Sunday. They clearly retain due reverence for a tournament that once mattered so much, even if the club & its coach do not.
In truth I am tiring of the constant hate infesting the relationship between the two clubs & their followers, while aware I have frequently been a far from innocent bystander as the bullets have flown. Traditionally the loathing of Liverpool has not grieved me but the animosity is overwhelming now, as is the obsession for constantly pursuing the well worn grudges that feed it. The 30th anniversary of the Hillsbrough disaster last year was marked by the continued failure of the judicial system to supply any comfort for the victim’s families & the many traumatized survivors of that awful day. Like many others I spent years in football stadiums that were potential death traps. Another day, another time, another place…..insert your club’s name & imagine its fans enduring a similar ordeal. However, it was Liverpool fans who were the victims & it was most definitely not their fault. Using Hillsbrough as a banter tool is similar conduct to those Liverpool fans & club representatives who years ago attempted vainly to shift the blame for Heysel on Chelsea supporters. Sickening & shameful.
Factor in Liverpool’s current overwhelming on pitch superiority to every other team in England, allied to them being the current European champions, & the obsession with demeaning every aspect of their existence seems as desperate, hollow, petty & pathetic as the sneers & smears flowing incessantly in the other direction since Chelsea’s dominance in the first Mourinho era. I am enjoying watching club legend Frank Lampard & his coaching staff blending home grown youth with established stars in the wake of the transfer ban imposed by EUFA last summer. However it has knocked the club out of contention for any serious challenges for the biggest honours, namely the Premiership & Champion’s League. Chelsea’s main rivals currently are Spurs, Arsenal, Man Utd & Leicester City. Liverpool & Man City reside on a different footballing planet. Before March is done Liverpool will possibly be crowned runaway champions, which given the extraordinary wealth of City will be a remarkable achievement. We don’t have to like it, & I for one fervently hope regaining their European title eludes them. Nonetheless the constant jibes about mass unemployment, blame culture & Steven Gerrard slipping up in 2014 are sounding mighty tired these days. When the latter chant rang out at Stamford Bridge during a Group stage Europa League fixture against Belarusian opponents at Stamford Bridge last season I let out a heavy sigh. As with singing We Hate Tottenham! during the traditional pre-match spinning of reggae classic Liquidator (regardless of who the opposition is) the message to a hated rival is sent loud & clear. We are obsessed with you & we don’t have enough to sing about ourselves. West Ham have been doing this to Chelsea for years with Stick Your Blue Flag Up Your Arse now being joined by the morphing of Rotterdam by The Beautiful South into Chelsea Are The Rent Boys. Come on Chelsea, do we really need to reduce ourselves to the level of West Ham? With no on pitch success in decades & shorn of their spiritual home they sometimes appear to have only bitterness & spite holding them together, & not enough brain cells to realise that by devoting so much time to expressing it they succeed only in blowing smoke up our arses instead of bubbles in the air. In the last 3 seasons Chelsea have won a European trophy, the FA Cup & the Premier League. 25 years ago Stand Up If You Hate Man U was the chant to get everyone off their seats at Stamford Bridge. Sat next to me Bill would always refuse to join in, saying he’d stand up when we were in a position to compete with them on an equal footing & not before. I thought he was being a tad pompous back then, now he looks like a soothsayer. There is an episode of Whatever Happened To The Likely Lads? where Bob Ferris & Terry Collier are forced to share a bed. When Bob cannot sleep Terry suggests he closes his eyes & has a fantasy. To his disgust Bob discloses that the object of desire in his chosen fantasy is not Brigitte Bardot or a MIss World contestant but his fiancee Thelma. Terry responds by referring to his own (broken!) marriage, stating that his wife ‘was there when I went to sleep & there when I woke up but in between she didn’t get a look in.’ This behaviour may be a poor recipe for domestic contentment but is a sound template for matchday behaviour. I may dislike Spurs & Liverpool with varying degrees of intensity but unless they are that day’s opponents I couldn’t give a toss what they are up to when my own team are playing. Liverpool were the predominant footballing force of my youth as Chelsea withered on the vine, imposing, powerful & brilliant. Allowing them to occupy too much of my time now is like cowering in a darkened corner at a school reunion as the class bully from 40 years ago stands centre stage holding court. Hold your head up, enjoy what you have & let them get on with it. Bury fans don’t have a team to watch at all, let alone one bursting with promise like the current Chelsea line up.
There is an element of tactical manouevre to this personal ceasefire where Liverpool are concerned. It is fair to say there appears to be no general appetite on the part of fans from either club to join me in a more cordial form of mutual antipathy. However, I also genuinely like Jurgen Klopp, & the club hierarchy also deserve credit for there being no doubt that he would be given the time & resources to take the club from where they were when he took over in 2015 to where they stand now, seemingly on the verge of another golden era. He can be an arsehole on the touchline, berating officials in a manner that would spell greater trouble for some coaches, but generally Klopp represents a refreshing & welcome change from the tedious squabbling & mind games of the Ferguson, Wenger & Mourinho era. Mourinho may still be around, but his perennial penchant for petty point scoring over rivals renders him an anachronism. At one point during the 1-1 draw at Stamford Bridge in 2018 Klopp flashed those extraordinary teeth, seemingly transplanted from the mouth of Bingo from Banana Splits, at Chelsea coach Maurizio Sarri. The resulting beaming smile betrayed not only his superior dentistry compared to the nicotine stained gnashers of the Italian but also his evident enjoyment of the tactical battle taking place on the pitch. This is fun was the clear message. Yes, fun. Remember that Jose?
He smiles & laughs a lot during matches does Klopp, & I find it hard not to warm to him. We live in a time when hysterical xenophobes are cheering on the indolent, spineless, mendacious, tousled haired blonde bullshitter currently preparing to ruin our country simply because he has hitched his star to Brexit. They do not seem to realise that for Boris Johnson the whole campaign is a means to one end & one end only, namely the furtherance of his own career. He was a Remainer until it was pointed out that he could destabilise the Cameron government by opposing that administration’s desire to stay in the EU. Liverpool coach he may be, but there is some solace & amusement to be drawn from watching a team threaten to sweep the board domestically & win the Champions League courtesy of the tactical acumen & drive of a man who could not be more European if he tried. We probably know less than nothing about the real Jurgen Klopp (I believe he frequents his local regularly so props for that) but his public image ticks many of the hackneyed stereotypes of apparent European naffness lingering in the memory banks of people my age. Eurovision meets Eurotrash. You could imagine him inspiring glibTerry Wogan witticisms while asking the Cyprus jury for their votes in 1982, or in the following decade stood naked save for a pair of Jesus sandals explaining to Antoines De Caunes his use of female ejaculate as the primary base material for his paintings. Indeed, the cringey let’s talk about 6 interview included below is more like a clip from Eurovision than a triumphant post match football conversation. It is a telling moment, ultra cheesey & lacking in cool but so much so that Jurgen effectively ends up catching the dude bus by default given that zero are clearly the amount of shits he gives about such considerations. Ferguson, Wenger & Mourinho are managerial greats but what hard work they could be, both individually & collectively. Messrs Guardiola, Klopp & Lampard eschew portraying themselves as masters of modern Macchiavellian manouevres by virtue of endlessly showing their watch faces to 4th officials or reducing the likes of Kevin Keegan to a histrionic seething wreck. The latter 1996 Fergie achievement is surely a living definition of shooting fish in a barrel. The Mourinho-Wenger feud had its moments of amusement but culminated in the dying embers of Mourinho’s second Chelsea spell with Jose visibly flinching after an insipid touchline push from the bristling Gallic stickinsect. Wenger had his tie flicked in return. Middle aged men recreating a scene that would have been left on the Grange Hill cutting room floor as just too drearily puerile for words. Mourinho gave the illusion of cool once, but it has evaporated now. Even then, back in 2004-5, his first season in England, Manchester City inflicted the only Premier League defeat of the season on Chelsea & their fans taunted the self styled & undoubtedly well attired Special One with the one off chant YourCoat’s From Matalan. Klopp would have laughed at that. Jose didn’t. Cool is a great concept but only if you can sustain it. If Klopp’s undoubted temper led to physical confrontation with a rival coach I am confident it would be conducted face to face. At Real Madrid in 2011 Mourinho sidled up on the blindside of Barcelona’s Tino Vilanova, gouged him in the eye with his finger then hurriedly sloped off & hid behind his players & coaching staff. Classless, cowardly & uncool in the extreme.
Twelve points from the Liverpool jury. Eurovision rigged again.
Unfavourably comparing Mourinho to Klopp will not win me brownie points with many Chelsea fans but no matter. Earlier this season Klopp berated an interpreter at a Champion’s League press conference in Salzburg. The next day he began the conference by making a full & frank personal apology in front of the assembled throng. Cool. In 2015 Mourinho heralded the new season by berating & bullying two Chelsea physios for doing their job & treating an injured player, Chelsea’s best player, Eden Hazard, to boot. One of them, the much respected & popular Dr Eva Carneiro, was also subjected to misogynistic abuse in Portugese. Mourinho not only failed to apologise, he relieved both physios of their first team duties. Carneiro eventually left taking the club & Mourinho to court in the process. Not cool. For all his prodigious achievements in football Jose frequently shows himself to be a sour, spiteful little man, whose loyalties lie chiefly with himself. Referring to past triumphs in interviews it is always ‘I won 3 Premier Leagues,’ ‘I won 2 Champions Leagues.’ We is a word rarely heard, Deco, Zanetti, Milito, Terry, Lampard & Drogba mere bit part players apparently. When it comes to Chelsea selling Kevin De Bruyne & Mo Salah for a fraction of what they are now worth Jose is less keen to talk up his omnipotence. That was the club’s decision, he was just the coach at the time. We tend to hear the word I rather less when the question of these monumental transfer blunders are put to him. Last season’s Champions League aside, Klopp has yet to scale such heights in terms of trophies, but however many cups end up in the Anfield Road cabinet under his tutelage you can be sure all successes will be referred to in a collective rather than individual context. Neither will the fans be treated with the disrespect Mourinho has shown to Chelsea supporters ever since returning to England in 2013, empowering the Mourinho’s right,your fans are shite brigade to this day. His major achievement second time round was leading the team to the Premier League in 2014-15. The title was clinched during a home game against Crystal Palace. As Chelsea fans sang the name of the recently departed club legend Frank Lampard, the surly little bleeder sat scornfully in the dugout shaking his head & clearly mouthing two words. Fuck off. It really is all about him. Can you imagine Klopp doing likewise in a few weeks as the Kop serenade Steven Gerrard? No, me neither.
Nonetheless I think Jurgen Klopp & his employers have their approach to the FA Cup all wrong. If they beat Chelsea with a vastly weakened side (& given Chelsea’s dismal home record this is distinctly possible) they could end up winning the trophy by default, picking stronger teams from now on if the title is clinched early & they get knocked out in Europe. Liverpool fans will doubtless be as steadfastly loyal to Klopp as Chelsea supporters were to Mourinho as the team slumped horribly in the last few months of his second tenure, but their club has not served English domestic cup football well so far this season. One thing you have to say for Jose Mourinho is he always likes to compete for every trophy going, even the Community Shield, & that is to his eternal credit. In the Carabao Cup Liverpool were a victim of circumstance as they were in the World Club Championship at the same time as they were due to play their Quarter Final against Aston Villa. What was effectively their youth team lost heavily. This had echoes of Man Utd in 2000, also competing in the World Club Championship but withdrawing completely from the FA Cup. This was at the behest of the football authorities & the government to supplement the sucking up to frequently corrupt FIFA officials in an abortive attempt to win the race to host the 2006 World Cup. The FA Cup has never recovered from the blow to its status caused by those ultimately fruitless shenanigans. Will the failure to rearrange the fixture at Villa Park do likewise to the Carabao Cup? I doubt Klopp & his paymasters will be bothered unduly. The football authorities have also conspired to undermine the FA Cup again this year. Following Shrewsbury grabbing a surprise draw at Gay Meadow in January, the 4th round replay date at Anfield was set slap bang in the middle of the supposed mid winter break initiated this year. Jurgen consequently threw his toys out of the pram & announced he would not be attending the replay. A severely weakened side would once again be fielded with Under 23’s coach Neil Critchley at the helm. He was true to his word. First team regular James Milner did turn up at the ground to cheer on the team to a narrow victory, a welcome touch of old school solidarity. Jurgen kept in touch via his mobile, quite literally phoning it in. Nobody comes out of this well but before all the blame is left at the door of the increasingly repellent FA it must be said Klopp has form. He picked a pitifully weak team away at Exeter in the 3rd round during his first season at Anfield. They finished 8th in the Premier League that season so that cannot have been the main cause for treating the tournament with such cavalier disregard, although they did get to the final of the Europa League. The brief from the club & its coach has been clear ever since, & that is sad. Liverpool are big on citing history & tradition. There is a fantastic documentary on their legendary manager Bill Shankly which makes clear that he considered their first ever FA Cup final victory over Leeds in 1965 as more pivotal in establishing the club as a major force in the game than clinching the league title the year before. There is footage of him in 1971 passionately informing fans in a packed Liverpool city centre how aware he has made the players of their responsibility not to disappoint as they had just done in losing to Arsenal at Wembley. Times have changed & football has changed, but there will still be plenty of Liverpool fans making the mid-week journey to Stamford Bridge for Round 5 next month, taking time off work, & facing a long journey home in the early hours of the morning. To play a depleted team again cheats not only them but also Chelsea & their followers, my humble self included.
Keep smiling Jurgen, hopefully not too much on the night, one assumes you will be there? If not give the Shankly documentary a watch. You will learn more in 90 minutes about what really matters about English football than a lifetime talking to your club’s owners.
They would probably just tell me to go fuck my grandad….
“In three words I can sum up everything I’ve learned about life: it goes on.” – Robert Frost
Two Wingers – Brian Munday & Peter Brabrook
‘Remember when we played against Bobby Charlton in the Army?’ My dad’s best friend Bert’s eyes would light up as he repeated this question every so often to him, & the response was usually a tight lipped, barely perceptible nod of the head. My father was too polite to deny Bert his pleasure at recounting the tale, but too honest to wholeheartedly encourage it. Why? Because there was one fatal flaw in this otherwise pleasing anecdote.
It wasn’t true.
I was reminded of this in December 2016 while listening live to the Chelsea Fancast podcast in the Mixlr chatroom. The former Chelsea & England winger Peter Brabrook had just died & Fancast supremo David Chidgey, aka Stamford Chidge, was intrigued by my mentioning in the chatroom that my father had once shared a pitch with a man who later played in West Ham’s victorious 1964 FA Cup final team. For dad may not ever have played against the great Sir Bobby but he did once line up against a Chelsea team including Brabrook & John ‘Snoz’ Sillett, whose brother Peter scored a famous penalty winner against Wolves 18 months later which helped seal the club’s first ever League title. John later went on to co-manage Coventry City to their only major silverware, an FA Cup win in 1987, pleasing all virtuous souls as it was against Spurs. Later on he shared punditry duties at ITV with his old Chelsea team mate Jimmy Greaves. Brabrook only played 3 games in Chelsea’s 1955 League Championship season but eventually made over 250 appearances for the club before moving on to West Ham, where he was managed by Ron Greenwood, another member of Chelsea’s only pre Premier League title winning team.
My dad, a small but speedy winger, eventually saw his football career ended at 26, around the time I was born, following a dreadful challenge by ‘that bastard of a full back at Wycombe Wanderers’ which caused a knee ligament injury severe enough for him to be advised that he should retire or risk ending up in a wheelchair. Afterwards, he played squash, & his beloved cricket into his early ’50’s, when his hips began to give out, but serious football was given the swerve after that fateful day at Loakes Park, Wycombe’s home in their non-league days. Until I discovered he had played against Chelsea I always assumed his finest hour was in the early 1970’s when he played for a Thame United veterans team against a TV All Stars X1 & a small boy eschewed the chance to chance to claim the autographs of luminaries from the entertainment world like Dennis Waterman (pre-The Sweeney) Richard O’Sullivan (pre-Man About TheHouse) Robin Asquith (pre-Confessions films) or Radio 1 DJ ‘Diddy’ David Hamilton (pre-toupee) & preferred instead to get the immaculate signature of the legend that was Brian Munday in his book. I accept that few of these names will resonate with anyone under the age of 50 but take it from me they were famous enough at the time. Certainly more famous than my dad. Sadly for me Ray Davies of The Kinks, who regularly turned out for the TV All Stars, was a no-show, but I do recall goalkeeper Jess Conrad, clad all in black in the style of the legendary Russian stopper Lev Yashin. Suffice to say the resemblance ended there, Jess’s performance in the Yashin kit being akin to me buying a cheap King Of Vegas outfit on ebay & kidding myself I’m Elvis Presley. Well, it’s a hobby. Conrad later gained fame by having three of his own execrable songs from the early rock’n’ roll era justly included in an album of the worst records of all time, compiled by the late Kenny Everett. Suffice to say that one of them was entitled Why Am I Living? & most of us who have had the misfortune to hear it have immediately found ourselves asking the very same question. The only celebrity to linger at the bar after the game was Tony Booth, then famous for playing Alf Garnett’s son-in-law rather brilliantly in Till Death Us Do Part, later perhaps most renowned for being father-in-law to our former Prime Minister & walking, talking, lying disgrace Tony Blair. Dad’s friend Alan also played for Thame that day, & as his daughter left the clubhouse I distinctly recall Mr Booth, known to like a drink & presumably well lubricated by this point, turning to the man next to him as he propped up the bar & saying ‘come back in a couple of years love’ out of the corner of his mouth. I was 9 or 10 at the time so Kim would have been around 12. Men said weird things like that quite routinely in the 1970’s but even to my young ears the remark seemed beyond the pale. Booth later came close to burning to death when a drunken escapade led to him falling into a drum of paraffin. He may have played Sid Noggett in the appalling Confessions Of A Window Cleaner & got his tackle out on stage in Oh Calcutta but unlike the other Tony in the family at least he never got us involved in a war justified by a whopping untruth, namely insisting on the presence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Dodgy buggers both in truth.
My dad never took me to a Boxing Day fixture at Chelsea, & my grandfather never went to Stamford Bridge with me, but they will both be in my thoughts when I take my seat for the Southampton game this year. With just the one quoted exception, Boxing Day was the one day I can remember as a child when my dad would dig out his boots & play football in the morning, with his cricket mates at one of Oxford’s many college grounds, usually Brasenose. If Oxford United were at home in the afternoon this would then be the one time in the season my grandfather would foresake Isthmian League Oxford City & join us at The Manor Ground. The Osler Road terrace was always jollier on Boxing Day, as yuletide cigar smoke mingled merrily with my Uncle Tony’s Embassy cigarettes & my grandfather adding to the then omnipresent football ground aroma of piped tobacco. This combined attempt to recreate Didcot Power Station would usually be accompanied by the passing around of a hip flask, us kids having to settle for the normal match day diet of Trebor mints & Wrigley Spearmint gum. In 1974 the opponents were my grandad’s boyhood team Millwall, Oxford winning 3-1 & leaving him, never much of a drinker anyway, slightly less jolly than the rest of the adults. My 12 year old self didn’t need nicotine or hip flasks that day as Chris Garland scored twice to give Chelsea a rare away win at Highbury. On Boxing Day two years earlier Oxford had beaten a pitifully poor Brighton team 3-0 with two goals from a young man called Keith Gough, recently signed on a free transfer from Walsall. Gough never set the Thames on fire after that, although he did once make a decent stab at winning a bravery award by responding to a brutal challenge from Nottingham Forest’s long-legged full back John Winfield, booting his redoubtable opponent back hard enough in the upper thigh to poleaxe one of the many physically imposing Division 2 defenders of the age. Wingate was a man with what would politely be described as a robust approach to playing the game. The Brighton Boxing Day team included two of Chelsea’s fine crop of 1960’s talent, utility player Bert Murray & former England striker Barry Bridges. Bridges had also appeared in recent years at the Manor for QPR & Millwall but it was fair to say he was past his considerable best by the time he moved to the Goldstone Ground. Lest we seem to romanticize the past a tad too much, on one occasion in his QPR years Barry got caught on the ground with the ball trapped between his legs, & as Oxford defenders prevented him from regaining his feet by hacking away at the ball the home fans responded to this amusing spectacle with the chant ‘Bridges is a spastic.’ Charming. Brian Clough took over at Brighton after their inevitable relegation in the season of the 3-0 loss at Oxford, but things would still get worse before they got better. Shortly after Cloughie’s arrival they played high flying Bristol Rovers, featuring their famous ‘Smash ‘N’ Grab’ strike duo of Alan Warboys & Bruce Bannister, both of whom were to impress against Chelsea with different clubs in future years. Brighton lost that game 8-2. At home! Even Cloughie had his off days. As did my gran on that Boxing Day of the Brighton match, who stayed in the pub with the rest of the womenfolk after the men had gone to the football. Being nothing if not a polite person, she was famous for waiting to find out what the person sitting next to her was having before deciding she would have the same. Presumably she must have had quite a few people sitting next to her that lunchtime, as a combination of sherry & whisky macs saw her disappearing regularly to the toilet on arriving back at our house, a rueful ‘I shouldn’t have had that last drink’ lament apparently accompanying each journey up the stairs. By the time Keith Gough had enjoyed his finest hour in professional football she had taken to her bed. Never mind Nan, happiness makes up in height for what it lacks in length to quote the estimable Robert Frost a second time.
Although my dad had told me about his game against Chelsea I could not even answer Chidge’s question about who he had been playing for. I was guessing at it being a friendly game & possibly Oxford City or the Army. Wrong on both counts. My mother reminded me that he had in fact been playing as a guest player for Headington United & thechels.info surprisingly filled in the gaps, listing the day, date, result, attendance, & indeed the Chelsea line up, Sillett & Brabrook’s involvement confirming the match as the one dad played in despite the Headington teamsheet being disappointingly blank. I certainly never knew it was an FA Youth Cup game, or even that the tournament even existed back then, apparently having started in 1952. Only the venue remains in doubt, Oxford for sure & likely either The Manor or Oxford City’s White House Ground, my money being on the latter. Chelsea won 1-0 & Greavsie’s future short-term television sidekick Sillett evidently scored the winning goal. Dad never played for Headington United again but later became a loyal fan after his own career ended & Headington had changed their name to Oxford United in 1960. Two years later they entered the Football League, & twenty four years after that, in April 1986, their victorious open top bus passed me as I walked home from work following their splendid 3-0 Milk Cup Wembley triumph over QPR. Chelsea were 15 years into a trophy drought at that point, a barren spell that still had 11 years to run. QPR had recently beaten them 6-0, & had knocked them out of the Milk Cup earlier in the tournament as well. Oxford also won 4-1 at Stamford Bridge a couple of months before the final. For a so-called gloryseeker I was doing spectacularly badly. I had also attended far more Oxford United matches than had most U’s fan who carped at me about my love of Chelsea. My father went to the final though. I still have his ticket. I didn’t begrudge Oxford United or their followers the Wembley triumph but had no desire to go to the game at the time, nor regrets about missing it ever since, my colours long since having been nailed to a blue rather than yellow mast. I would much rather be able to time travel back to 1953 & see my dad play against Chelsea, but in the absence of a suitable tardis remain inordinately chuffed that he did so in any case.
So why bring all this up now? Two reasons really. It is Christmas, & Christmas is a time for family, celebrating with those that are still here & remembering those who are no longer around, but were such significant figures in the yuletides of our youth. As a child I thought my grandparents would live forever, let alone Uncle Tony or my father, all no longer with us, though in fairness my grandparents would be 112 now! My grandfather was the first close relative under 90 to die. I was 23 & the last time I saw him was on Christmas Eve. I visited him in hospital, taking a bunch of flowers ( you could still take flowers into hospitals in 1985) & spent a short time sat by his bed as he lay unconscious, slowly dying from the undiagnosed peritonitis that would kill him. At one point his eyes opened briefly, he recognised me & said ‘Hello Phil’ very quietly before they closed again. I instinctively knew then that the hello doubled up as a goodbye, the final farewell, & I never visited him again over Christmas, aware that others needed to share a similar moment & that it wasn’t going to get better from there.
Most of my earliest ‘Match Of The Day’ memories involved being allowed to stay up way beyond my normal bedtime at my grandparents tiny living room to watch David Coleman present the then paltry two game edited highlights on their sizeable black & white telly. I watched my first ever live football match in that room, with my father & grandfather, the 1968 Fairs Cup Final 1st Leg between Leeds United & Ferencvaros. Dirty Leeds. When I stayed there at weekends, the illicit ‘ Match Of The Day’ viewings would be followed up the following morning with a kick around in nearby Florence Park, comfortably the most beautiful park in Oxford, with its perfectly kept flower beds & Weeping Willows. My grandfather, over 60 then, would don football boots & tracksuit bottoms, though unfortunately the only football he owned had the valve rattling around inside it & would not stay fully inflated for very long. He loved football, & talking about football, frequently recounting the same anecdotes of matches & characters from the past, a trait I fear has been passed down. The difference was that he always had at least one happy recipient of the umpteenth retelling of the same tale. Me. On Saturday 28th December, 1985, there would normally have been plenty for us to chew over with that day’s results. Chelsea beat Spurs 2-0 & his beloved Millwall put 5 past Hull, where I had only just severed my ties a few months earlier. He died that evening with the most minute of small consolations for me that his last ‘Grandstand’ teleprinter results service, or whatever it had morphed into by then, brought good news for us both, albeit without him being conscious of the fact. I miss him very much.
My father died of cancer in 2011, reduced to mere skin & bone in the three months from diagnosis to death, but still able to raise a quizzical eyebrow the last weekend I saw him at the news that Chelsea had just paid £50 million for Fernando Torres, & a broad smile at finding out that Babestation was on the options menu on the small television next to his hospital bed. Next month marks 50 years since he took me to my first Chelsea game, a 2-2 4th Round FA Cup draw with Burnley. The nearest fixture to this anniversary in January? A Premier League fixture against…….. Burnley. This poignant twist of fate is slightly contrived, as there is a fixture nearest to that date, the Arsenal game, but that is kicking off at 8.15 & destined to lead me still wending my way home deep into the early hours of the next morning. My £70+ is staying in my pocket, my ageing limbs at home. So Burnley will be the game nearest to the anniversary that I am actually present for at Stamford Bridge, unless there is a home draw in this year’s FA Cup 4th Round. Perhaps that will be Burnley too. As on Boxing Day I will be attending the Burnley game by myself, but there will be a feast of memories, overwhelmingly happy ones, swirling around my head & keeping me company as I take my seat in the West Stand, just as I did with my dad all those years ago in 1970.