Ron Green – The Shrew Ron Ron

26/11/1988 Chelsea 2 Shrewsbury Town 0

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cheers Ron.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Buon Natale!

zolaxmas

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

One Micky Hazard?

October 18th 1986 – Chelsea 2  Manchester City 1

Capture1

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It needed Micky Hazard.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Micky started regularly under the new boss until the injury at West Ham but Bobby would ultimately prove to be yet another apparent advocate for brawn over brains. Like Hollins his treatment of Hazard devotees like me reminded me of my grandfather teasing our first dog with peanuts when I was small. He would get the dog, a crossbreed with a lame front left paw, to beg, offer up a peanut & then swiftly remove both his hand & the nut just as she went to claim her prize. This would happen several times before he would relent & allow her the treat. She had to beg 3-4 times per peanut. Hollins had once been interviewed by Neil Barnett on Chelsea Clubcall the day before a home game against Luton Town. He was asked about Luton’s impressive striking duo of Mick Harford & Mike Newell, sidestepping the question by saying he would rather talk about our Mike, Mike Hazard, instead. The interview finished without the name Hazard being mentioned again even once, & almost inevitably he was then completely missing from the lineup the following day. Campbell taunted us by expressing delight when it was announced that Micky was staying at Stamford Bridge in the summer of 1988, offering a gushing endorsement of Micky’s abilities in the process. Surely Division 2 would be a breeze & promotion a formality with a creative talent like that orchestrating the midfield? Yes & no it transpired. 99 points & 96 league goals tell their own story, & after a spluttering start there was a pleasing reverse of the previous season with only one league defeat occurring after October, a 2-0 defeat at Filbert Street on the awful day of the Hillsbrough disaster. Micky Hazard remained in absentia for most of the season however, making just four league appearances in February. He became largely a forgotten man, the only squad member not to be paraded in front of the fans during the end of season celebrations following the last game at home to Bradford City. Bobby was now keeping his peanuts firmly in his pocket & Micky’s Chelsea career seemed set to slip away unheralded & largely unnoticed. I am hopelessly loyal to my footballing favourites & was pretty despondant about the situation. I was delighted & relieved by Chelsea’s promotion charge, the thought of another lengthy stint outside the top flight was unbearable. Nevertheless it was an efficient rather than joyous brand of football, a definite case of ends justifying the means, & I missed the chance to enjoy the deft, classy midfield touches that had shone much of the light into the murky tunnels of the previous two seasons.

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

Peculiar was also an appropriate description of an evening of reserve team football at Oxford United in mid-December 1988. Following a slow recovery from the injury at West Ham Micky had come no closer to a first team return than a solitary, non-playing appearance on the bench for a home match against Shrewsbury Town in November. Living a short walk away from the Manor Ground I braved the bracing midweek winter weather in the hope that the name Hazard would be among those entertaining the geeky, library ticket, footballing trainspotter types frequently found at Football Combination  games in those days. Oddballs who believed themselves morally superior to other fans by mere virtue of attending second string affairs like this were commonplace. The sort of people who would advise me as a young autograph hunter to collect the signatures of the  unknown players because they were the future, rather than out of favour first team players who represented the past. Taking this advice might lead you to miss out on Charlie George for someone who might be struggling to get a game at Enfield in 6 months time but they always knew best these weirdos, shaking their heads sorrowfully as excitable ten year olds ignored their supposedly sage advice. Fifteen years earlier I would have been happily seeking Chelsea signatures for this game, as Kevin Hitchcock, John Bumstead, Colin West &, yes, Micky Hazard, took their places in a line up facing a decent U’s team including a teenager who would become a celebrated part of footballing folklore in Oxford, rather less feted elsewhere, especially in East London & Wiltshire. Step forward Joey Beauchamp. The weirdos already loved him  & for once they were right, he was the future. Sort of. Manager Bobby Campbell ominously chose to grace the Chelsea dugout. Despite the foul weather & even more foul jade green away strip, mercifully now abandoned by the first team I stood near the player’s tunnel at the Beech Road  awaiting a bird’s eye view of the forthcoming Hazard masterclass. In vain. Oxford’s former Spurs striker David Leworthy scored the only goal of an ill tempered game, an ill temper seemingly largely inspired by one man. Micky Hazard. Struggling to recover from his ankle problem & doubtless frustrated at the direction his career was heading at this point, he cut a simultaneously angry & depressed figure. Four years earlier he had been playing a leading role in Spurs EUFA Cup Final win at White Hart Lane. Now he could be heard in front of a small Manor Ground crowd snapping at fellow Division 2  reserve team mates. An earnest, rather gauche young full back fell foul of his displeasure at one point as a move broke down & a futile attempt at explanation fell on stony Hazard ground. ‘Micky! Micky! Micky’ the full back implored like a spurned lover. ‘I’m not fucking interested, just give me the fucking ball’ was the less than amicable response. Further debate discouraged, the brash young defender slunk back to his defensive position. Whatever did happen to Graeme Le Saux? Conversations like that are naturally ten a penny on football pitches, just usually lost in the crowd. This audience could hear the exchanges & began to revel in Hazard’s ill temper. In the second half, clearly rattled, he eventually scythed down an opposition player in the centre circle & was sent off. Some sad freaks ran towards the tunnel to goad Micky as he trudged off, waving & gesticulating as they indulged in the oh so English pursuit of revelling in the sight of someone better than them being dragged down to their pitiful level. Who breaks a butterfly upon a wheel as the great poet Alexander Pope would doubtless have said if he had been watching alongside me on the Beech Road terrace instead of being dead for the past 200 years. Even a butterfly as spectacularly mardy as our Micky was that evening. I got into an undignified spat with two smartarses as they tut tutted away in the most irritating & sanctimonious fashion imaginable. It was a frankly ludicrous effort to justify Micky’s behaviour, I was simultaneously furious for & with him. Rowing with rival fans at a reserve game is about as uncool as it gets. How low we were all falling by this point! The challenge was entirely untypical of Micky Hazard’s standard footballing template but utterly representative of the toxicity that had burned off him all evening. One onlooker looked less than impressed. Stood on the touchline, Bobby Campbell’s face was a picture. Micky’s only first team action for the rest of the season was as short term replacement for the injured Clive Wilson. Fine player Clive Wilson but no Micky Hazard. Suspension for the red card was not the real punishment. 25 games in the reserves that season was. In mitigation though, he did speak to the Daily Star at one point ( I suppose someone has to) openly acknowledging his poor behaviour at Oxford in injuring a fellow professional & expressing despair at his lack of first team action. The piece implied he was near suicidal. I hoped this was a gross distortion. It was the Daily Star after all. Whatever the future held it seemed destined to be played out away from Stamford Bridge.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And for me there definitely was only one Micky Hazard.

I Remember, I Remember

March 5, 1988 Coventry City 3 Chelsea 3

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

I look away & keep moving in the opposite direction.

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

004 (2)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

World Cup Willies

DSC_0902 (2)

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

2010pen (3)

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

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

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

DSC_0904 (2)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Roy Of The Rovers Comic Launches

Oh Melchester – So Much To Answer For

September 25, 1976

Portsmouth 0 Reading 2, Blackpool 0 Chelsea 1

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Welcome back Roy.

Song Sung Blue

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Madonna American Pie (Rotterdam March 14th,2000)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Television Personalities Part Time Punks

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

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

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

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

Okay. Guilty your honour. Spin on.

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

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

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

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

Elvis Costello Hoover Factory

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

RIP Alyson.

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Police Every Breath You Take

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

It is Every Breath You Take by The Police.

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

Nothing Can Take Away These Blues

April 1, 2018 – Chelsea 1 Spurs 3

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

 

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

Vertongen

It Was 20 Years Ago Today

002 (7)Coca Cola Cup Final

Chelsea 2 Middlesbrough 0 (AET) 29/03/1998

It  doesn’t feel like 20 years ago until I look at this photo. Let’s just say the years have not been kind to the gawky individual unconvincingly striving to hold up the Coca Cola Cup in his right hand while cradling the Cup Winner’s Cup in his left, apparently threatening the safety of Graeme Le Saux’s face & Eddie Newton’s genitals in the process. The presence of the latter trophy helps date the photo as taken a few months later, namely a Boxtree book launch at Stamford Bridge. We were promised players. There were no players, although fitness coach & former Olympic sprinter Ade Mafe popped in. The late socialite Tara Palmer-Tomkinson showed up too, although she had seemingly vamoosed by the time I arrived. Ken Bates was there. Of course Ken Bates was there. The press were in attendance & Bates & the British media were the Jack & Vera Duckworth of English football in these days, apparently full of mutual antipathy, mistrust & resentment but inextricably joined at the hip, both equally dependant on the other. Ken duly obliged with a bullish speech which needlessly included a cheap shot at former manager Glenn Hoddle & his faith healing accomplice Eileen Drewery. Glenn would talk himself out of the England job shortly afterwards. If we do come back & pay for our sins in prior existences then what ghastly fate will behold cuddly Ken? Being ignored by the media presumably.

I wasn’t bothered about not meeting players, or Tara Palmer-Tompkinson for that matter, but had hoped to snaffle up some promised free books. Sadly they had all been grabbed by the representatives of the press, who according to their visitor badges mostly seemed largely to come from the plethora of lads mags, Loaded, FHM & the like, which dominated the publishing scene at the time. They had also consumed most of the advertised drinks & canapes. In fairness I am bound to say they may have been low on the lad mag food chain, most looking  more like their target audience than the jaded, ex music rag hacks whose purple prose expressing their  newly discovered love of old footballers & well cantilevered female soap stars littered these publications. Presumably Melanie Sykes or Helena Christensen were doing a bra & knickers shoot somewhere else. Does sound better than listening to Ken Bates in fairness. Tara, Loaded & canapes eh. None more ’90’s! The event took place in the Galleria & was my first visit to the site of the old Shed since the hotel development had been completed. It would have been nice to have had a view of the ground, but famously windows are in short supply in the building. Legend has it that dear Ken’s apartment in the hotel was the only one with a window facing the pitch. As the event took place in late summer this may have been a good thing for Tara Palmer-Tomkinson, who given her legendary nose candy habit at the time may have been rendered a trifle twitchy by a clear view of 90-100 yard long lines of white powder marking the touch lines. A cheap shot. Batesy would doubtless approve. TP-T at least looked more comfortable than I do in the photo I saw of her at the event, which I recall appearing in her column in the Sunday Times magazine, a weekly literary feast she selflessly allowed someone else to write for her. What a trooper.

There is a context to my unease in the photo. The queue betrayed the fact that very few present at this event were match going Chelsea fans. I may have been the only one who had attended both finals that garnered these two trophies. The photographer had a series of unwelcome props. I declined the white away shirt bearing the name of Brian Laudrup. Lovely player who never settled and was gone within 6 months, & had not been at the club when these cups had been won. Unfazed, the photographer jammed a Chelsea  jester’s hat on my head just as the photo was about to be taken. I promptly removed it. I had waited more than a quarter of a century to hold meaningful trophies in my hand. I didn’t need a white Laudrup away shirt. Or a fucking jester’s hat. By the time this had been quietly established the trophies were beginning to sag in my grasp. The woman issuing the photos told her sidekick that I was miserable. I was not miserable in the slightest, just not a publicity hungry it girl. That photo had been earned by years of being subjected to often god awful football in cold, unwelcoming grounds, following a team that was frequently regarded as a joke, with & fan base largely regarded as social pariahs by the media, football authorities, police, politicians & public alike. I had worked for my photo with these trophies. My civvies & ugly mug would suffice for once, unencumbered by club shop tat. Up yours dearie. I didn’t say that of course, just feigned deafness, said thank you & continued a vain search for remaining canapes.

 

  The Wonderful Gianluca Vialli. Class In A Glass.

The Coca Cola Cup Final was the second 2-0 win over Middlesbrough inside a year. Strangely, as one of life’s sporting pessimists (with plenty to justify that condition over the years where Chelsea are concerned!) on neither occasion did I doubt Chelsea would end up the victors. Bill & I repeated the normal matchday ritual, travelled into London & had a pre-match pint in our favourite pub, The Duke Of Wellington in Belgravia. In 1994 we had travelled direct to Wembley via Bicester on the train. We lost 4-0 & this diversion from the norm was clearly as responsible as the brilliance of Cantona, Giggs, Keane & co. Hence the trip into central London & the chance to see other travellers at Marylebone Station reminded again, loudly & repeatedly by our fellow supporters, via the familiar lilting ballad, that West London is wonderful, being full of tits, fanny & Chelsea. North London was once more less fortunate, replete merely with shit, shit & more shit. A few beers in The Duke Of Wellington had set us up nicely for the journey. Genial landlord John Bond pleasingly conformed to the cliche that being Irish meant he would keep a good pint of Guinness, & would always supply a free one several times a season too. The pub also had a footballing pedigree. George Best & Bobby Moore would meet there during the Fulham years. The last time Stamford Bridge had hosted an FA Cup Semi-Final was in 1978 when Arsenal played Orient. At some point over that weekend both teams had elected to bolster team spirits by going out for a few pints. Remarkably, they both ended up in The Duke Of Wellington, facing each other over a bar that could fairly be described as compact & bijou. It must have been fascinating to witness the reaction of the two groups at both descending on the same venue. Of all the bars…

The Coca Cola Cup final was reached via a pulsating 3-1 second leg semi-final win over Arsenal, featuring another scorching long range goal from Roberto Di Matteo which nearly took the roof off a vibrant Stamford Bridge. Or would have done had Stamford Bridge actually had one. This was the first game under the newly appointed player-manager Luca Vialli, who beckoned in the new era by handing out  a glass of champagne to each player in the dressing room prior to the kick off. Always a class act, Vialli’s new role would eventually drive a wedge between him & several first team colleagues, but team spirit was clearly good at this time. Having had to sit on the bench for the FA Cup Final under Ruud Gullit the year before, the new boss selflessly left himself out of the Wembley line up completely on this occasion, & the players insisted he go up & collect the trophy at full time. Prior to the kick off, the man to my left announced that he would have a wank later that evening in the event that Frank Sinclair scored a goal. I loved Frank to bits, but had never envisaged him as a likely aid to onanistic fulfilment. As luck would have it, especially for the man to my left, plus any tissue sellers near his gaff, Frank proceeded to open the scoring with a cracking header from a superb Dennis Wise cross early in the first half of Extra Time. Frank & his mate Eddie Newton were coming to the end of their careers at Stamford Bridge. Both had been vital components in keeping the club in the Premier League a few years earlier. Eddie had scored in the FA Cup final, which had been the icing on the cake that day. They were both Chelsea to the core, local boys who had made good  & were popular with supporters, which hacked off those with a racist agenda no end. Frank was quick, fearless, good in the air & had the heart of a lion. He was prone to clumsiness & reckless challenges, & having moved to Leicester the following season nurtured an unfortunate tendency to score spectacular own goals, though with typical loyalty managed one of these to rescue his former club a late point at Filbert Street in 1999. He did win the League Cup again at Leicester however, & certainly deserved better than the scorn he received in certain quarters. The broadcaster, Spurs fan & dickhead Danny Kelly once sneeringly referred to him as a ‘sort of footballer.’ Frank Sinclair played in the Premier League for a decade & continued his career into his forties, won domestic & European medals & represented his country at the 1998 World Cup Finals. Along with Keith Jones, Keith Dublin, Ken Monkou, Michael Duberry & Eddie Newton he succeeded in walking through the door so bravely opened for future black players at Chelsea by Paul Canoville in the the 1980’s. Dismissing him as a ‘sort of footballer’ is akin to the rest of us describing the multi-chinned, arse-lipped  Mr Kelly as a  ‘sort of’ smug, flabby buttocked disgrace. Prior to the FA Cup Final Kelly had sniggered away with another bastion of masculine perfection called Danny at the prospect of the match & likened it to the pre-match episodes of It’s A Knockout that used to fill the hours before the main event back in the day. Hilarious chaps, & Spurs-QPR in 1982 really gripped the nation by the way. Kelly hosted a dismal late night ‘sort of’ sports show called Under The Moon during this era. A mug of cocoa & an early night soon lost its sting. The biggest name I can remember gracing this carnival of shite  was Wimbledon’s Stewart Castledine, who made 28 appearances for Wimbledon throughout the ’90’s. Fine by me but Kelly predictably honoured the Michael Parkinson tradition of most hypocritical media parasites by kissing the arse of someone he would doubtless have derided in print. The brave soldier. I wonder if he could ever pass a football. He certainly can’t pass the Krispy Kreme display in Tesco. A cheap shot & I should hold fire on the sizeism having long left the lean category myself but do find it staggering that athletes can be mocked with such puerility by a man in Kelly’s physical condition. He has found his true spiritual home now at ‘sort of’ radio station TalkSport. They deserve each other. If there is a Hell TalkSport is surely piped in there 24 hours a day.

It was a little difficult not to feel some sympathy for ‘Boro, losing their third Cup Final in less than a year, & still reeling from a relegation caused by a massively unfair points deduction the season before. Not that difficult however. They had beaten Chelsea in the famously ugly play offs of 1988, possibly the most painful of the three relegations I have witnessed, & certainly the most avoidable. There is also lingering emotional scarring from a 7-2 defeat at Ayresome Park in 1978. Their line up in 1998 featured plenty of familiar faces, & one who would become one later, the terrific Mark Schwarzer in goal, new to English football at the time, but later, much later, to turn up at Stamford Bridge during the second Mourinho era. Boyhood Chelsea fan Paul Merson featured, as he did for Aston Villa two years later in the last FA Cup Final at the old Wembley Stadium. Fine player Merson, but on both occasions  he gave post-match interviews stating his belief that the better team had lost. On both occasions he was talking arrant nonsense. Always good to see the birth of a future Sky Sports pundit in action. Warming his buttocks next to Bryan Robson on the Teesiders bench was the extraordinary Paul Gascoigne, making his first appearance in an English club match since his disastrous brainstorm playing for Spurs at the same ground nearly seven years earlier, & eleven years after I first saw him displaying his remarkable talent as a precocious young man for Newcastle in a 2-2 draw at Stamford Bridge. Earlier in the ’97-98 season, in the immediate aftermath of the death of Diana, I had seen him joyously  take Moldova apart in a World Cup qualifier at Wembley. He came on in the second half here & immediately was on the receiving end of a challenge from Dennis Wise that would earn an automatic red card these days. He responded furiously by committing a challenge on Dennis Wise that would earn an automatic red card these days. They both were clearly revelling in this barrage of foul play. Dennis adored Gazza & the feeling was apparently mutual, Gascoigne phoning up as the little imp was being interviewed by Chris Evans on TFI Friday shortly afterwards. Gazza. Chris Evans. TFI Friday. The none more 90’s count rises yet again. Sadly, Gazza missed out on the 1998 World Cup. ‘Boro were promoted at the end of the season, but during another 2-0 defeat to Chelsea shortly after the Galleria book launch Gazza appeared a shadow of his former self, the pace & power that used to see him brush off opponents with ease having evaporated. It was sad. Many blamed Glenn Hoddle for not picking him for the World Cup & knocking the heart out of this beguiling but clearly highly troubled man. Some of the finger pointers might be advised to look closer to home, namely nauseating media & ‘celebrity’ types happy to be seen tumbling out of bars with Gascoigne prior to Hoddle selecting his squad, noticeably less visible these days, as the obvious demons tormenting the man have escalated the slide into chronic alcoholism & acute mental illness. They know who they are & so do we. There are plenty of victims in the Paul Gascoigne story, not just the man himself, but he brought enormous pleasure to lots of people & that will never be forgotten. I can almost forgive him playing for Spurs. Almost. There is no higher tribute to his talent from a Chelsea fan than that.

Following Frank Sinclair’s potentially hand shandy inspiring opener, the win is sealed by another Di Matteo goal, a soft one this time from a Dennis Wise corner, & assisted, like his more momentous effort in the FA Cup Final, by an error from Oxford born Robbie Mustoe. Cheers Robbie. Mustoe now pops up on American  coverage of Premier League matches for those following games on illegal internet streams. So I’m told. Some of these pundits apparently made no mistakes in their own careers so damning are they of the fallabilities of modern players. Robbie Mustoe is ok though, far from the worst offender here, that dubious honour bestowed on toothless, charmless former Chelsea midfielder Craig ’20 years sulk because they left me out of the FA Cup Final’ Burley. Some of us have better, less selective memories than you Mr Burley.

Another former Blue who had queered his pitch with Chelsea fans during this decade was former skipper Andy Townsend, who also appeared at Wembley for Middlesbrough. Townsend was signed in the summer of 1990 alongside Dennis Wise & for 3 years they rivalled each other for the title of most popular player with the fans. A terrific player in an average team, he got frustrated at the team’s maddening inconsistency & baled out to Aston Villa just as the Glenn Hoddle  era dawned at Stamford Bridge. Townsend had made unconvincing noises about having been a Chelsea fan at the time, but footballers themselves are rarely fans in the same way diehard supporters are. He had chosen Southampton over Chelsea when he first ventured into professional football from non-league Weymouth. On a cool headed, professional level there was nothing wrong with that. Southampton were an established top tier outfit, Chelsea had only just emerged from five years in the gloom of Division 2. Objectively, the move to Villa was also professional common sense. Ron Atkinson had built an entertaining team after Graham Taylor had taken them close to the league title prior to his ill-fated spell as the national team manager. Unfortunately, actual supporters of football clubs rarely see things from anything but a perspective that no player should ever want to leave their club. When Kerry Dixon fell out with John Hollins in 1987 & requested a move he was relegated to the subs bench for an FA Cup game at Watford. As he warmed up there was some jeering from Chelsea supporters. Enter co-commentator  Brian Clough, who eschewed the standard sanctimonious denunciations of such behaviour, saying simply that ‘the Chelsea fans  think they support the best club in the country & can’t understand why anyone would want to leave, they’re booing him & quite right too.’ Delightfully off message & displaying an acute understanding of fan mentality beyond most pundits & commentators. Kerry won the supporters back over pretty quickly. Townsend won the League Cup at Villa but alienated Chelsea fans forever, celebrating a brilliant goal he scored for his new team at the Shed End in 1996 by lifting up an imaginary trophy to goad the home supporters at their club’s lack of honours. I’m all for players being barracked by opposition supporters having the right to fire back with both barrels on such occasions, providing they are not former players who were treated royally during their time at the club. Townsend had been & it was a cheap shot, especially as when he joined Villa he teamed up with that snivelling little shit Dean Saunders, a man who had ended the career of Townsend’s Chelsea colleague Paul Elliott with a nasty stamp in 1992. Career ending challenges on one of your team’s players is my other exception to the rule that players are entitled to give it back to crowds that are abusing them. The first time that Saunders had come on to the pitch at Stamford Bridge after the Elliott incident he was greeted with a chorus of boos, but lacking any class or dignity chose not to keep his own counsel, instead running over to the West Stand benches with his ear cupped & a supercilious grin all over his stupid little face. To this day I cannot see the  features of this smug wretch appear on my television without being filled with a desire to kick in the screen like that lorry driver when the Sex Pistols swore at Bill Grundy all those years ago. Townsend signed for Villa a few months later. Nice company you’re keeping these days Andy was the only sane response. Elliott never played again, & lost a court case against Saunders. The incident is on YouTube & we can all draw our own conclusions. Some of Paul Elliott’s Chelsea team mates went missing in court when the time came to rally round their stricken colleague. As with Gazza & the showbiz leeches they know who they are & so do we. During his Chelsea days Townsend once collapsed during a ZDS match & it was feared he had swallowed his tongue. Fortunately he hadn’t, but in future years, during his unbearable ITV co-commentary stint with Clive Tydesley it was possible to occasionally pray for a more conclusive repeat performance. When Chelsea beat Napoli 4-1 in a thrilling Champions League game in 2012 our former hero claimed that ‘Chelsea haven’t been great tonight.’ Too right mate, if only Lampard, Terry, Drogba etc  could have repeated the form shown in that 3-0 home defeat to Norwich in 1991.

Chelsea signed a lot of foreign players during the late ’90’s, becoming  the first team in the history of English football to field an entire team of foreign players at the Dell in late 1998. MIchael Ballack in 2006 was not, as is commonly believed, the first acquisition of German descendancy at the Bridge however.  A man called Schadenfreude had popped up far earlier to  put the likes of Townsend in their place. As we celebrated the Coca Cola Cup win, little more than 18 months after he had mocked us, thousands of Chelsea fans witnessed Townsend looking back over his shoulder at the happy blue throng  as he trudged wearily off the Wembley pitch. Within 6 months two European trophies would be added to the two domestic knockout cups. If only we could have found a Chelsea supporting octopus to properly shove Townsend’s insult back at him. My picture will have to suffice here. In true Jim Bowen off Bullseye style here’s some of what you could have won Andy. Now piss off.

I didn’t celebrate this day quite as vigorously as the FA Cup win. I went to Pizza Hut in Victoria with Bill, tucking in to my garlic bread to the strains of High by the then ubiquitous Lighthouse Family. Oliver Reed eat your heart out. I got home in time to watch a re-run of the match having caught up with the ongoing calamities unravelling in the life of Deirdre Rashid in Coronation Street. Deirdre had been falsely imprisoned after being stitched up by a con man, causing such a rumpus that the then Prime Minister Tony Blair, always a man to jump on the bandwagon of cheap publicity (& ironically something of a con man himself) intervened with a hammy plea for her release. Better than sending us into a war by feeding us all a pack of lies about weapons of mass destruction of course. We had that to look forward to. Like Andy Townsend I guess phoney Tony just ended up falling in with the wrong crowd. Shame really. He should have just chilled & had a look around. I believe he used to live at Connaught Square in West London. And West London, as anyone at Marylebone Station could have told him on the afternoon of March 29th 1998, is wonderful.

 

 

 

 

 

Miss Brown’s Knickers!

 

It’s a unique, life affirming noise, a familiar friend to all football fans. At its best, ideally in the very early stages of a game, when hope still springs eternal throughout the stadium, the moment will be enjoyed & participated in by all, regardless of who they support or where they are in the ground. The sound a football crowd makes when responding to a wildly miscued shot is almost impossible to recreate & certainly impossible to resist. The higher & wider the shot the better. I have my own name for this joyous phenomenon. For the past 40 years it’s been a Miss Brown’s Knickers moment.

At some point in the late 1970’s I am in the backyard of the council flats where my mate & future Chelsea accomplice Bill lives. We are playing football, as kids who  got off their arses during school holidays in the 1970’s were wont to do. I go for goal but my shot goes horribly wrong & spirals wildly off the outside of my foot. Fortunately, there is no broken window or smashed plant pots to incur the wrath of Bill’s neighbours. Unfortunately, this is because this dismal apology of a shot is only halted by the ball cannoning into a nearby washing line, populated by a sparse array of clothing belonging to Bill’s neighbour Miss Brown. The main victim of my footballing ineptitude, other than the hapless Miss Brown herself, is  a pair of what only be described as old ladies’ bloomers. They now differ from countless similar bloomers hung on washing lines by ladies over a certain age around the surrounding estate. For now, adorning the gusset, is a  fresh, glistening, muddy  imprint of the football of choice for all young boys in this era. Miss Brown’s knickers. Sponsored by Wembley Trophy. On reflection, I’m not actually sure if gusset is the right word for that part of an old lady’s bloomers. I was not an afficionado of ladies lingerie then nor am I now. We all have our regrets. Then again it would be disturbing if I had too much knowledge on the subject. I’ll leave that to the Arnold Layne types, although given the style of garment  & the age of their owner on this occasion maybe it should be one for Wayne Rooney.

The match clip above, from 1990, is in truth, not a bona fide example of the genre. The backdrop is far too angsty & grim. Chelsea were already losing to their West London opponents at Loftus Road, high on my personal list of least favourite football grounds. Worse, they were losing to another penalty, & one converted by a man who used to play for Chelsea, South African Roy Wegerle, joined by further fellow ex Blues in the QPR ranks, namely Clive Wilson &  Ray Wilkins. Former loanee &  S****  favourite Mark Falco is in the mix too. A schoolboy packing blunder by the Chelsea kitman explains the ghastly combo of jade green Chelsea Collection away shirts  with blue shorts & socks. Pipsqueak  Etonian David Ellerary was the ref, already a reliable bromide in the tea of life, years before helping to wreck our long awaited 1994 FA Cup final appearance. I post it merely because the great Kerry Dixon’s penalty here is technically terrible enough to qualify as a textbook example of the sort of shank I am referring to. Rumour has it that the ball eventually fell to Earth only by virtue of colliding in Space with the one struck in Italy several months earlier, in a penalty shootout against Germany, by  mulleted pillock Chris Waddle during the  World Cup semi final. The same Chris Waddle who later disparaged 19 year old Theo Walcott’s performance in a World Cup qualifier against Croatia in 2008. Walcott scored a hat trick in that game, half as many goals in one game as Waddle scored in 62 for his country. He always enjoys a sneer at Chelsea too, does the man who famously worked in the sausage manufacturing business before becoming a talented if massively overrated footballer. Appropriate really, given that sausages, like Waddle, are frequently found to be full of shit.

A missed penalty will rarely fit the criteria for a Miss Brown’s Knickers moment, as they inevitably lead to heartbreak for one half of the ground. The fun stops there for all but the ecstatic QPR fans behind the goal, blissfully unaware how little cheer the next quarter of a century holds for them. Enjoy it while you can lads. A hard rain’s gonna fall. For 30 seconds West London was  yours. Did you enjoy it? Good. It’s over now.

One rare exception to the penalty rule occurred at Oxford United’s Manor Ground, not so long after my soiling of the old lady’s pants. With the final whistle beckoning, 5-0 up & with barely an opposition fan left in the ground, U’s striker Hugh Curran stepped up to take a penalty. In goal for Hereford was Peter Mellor, Fulham keeper in the 1975 FA Cup Final & between the sticks for Burnley on my first ever trip to Stamford Bridge. Both men are at the veteran stage of their career. Both are sporting hideous perms, bizarrely popular at the time. Mellor is very blonde & also balding. It would have been understandable if the ball had taken flight of its own accord when confronted with such follicular horror. Hughie had a lethal left foot & usually hit a dead ball harder & better than most. He was later manager at Banbury United when my brother-in -law played there (briefly alongside future Chelsea striker Kevin Wilson) & I am reliably informed that there was widespread dread at the prospect of forming part of the defensive wall whenever the boss decided to practice his free kicks. On this occasion he leans back & blasts the penalty clean over the London Road stand  & out of the ground. No one cares. Oxford are 5 up. If they had been drawing, or narrowly losing, there would have been much wailing, & gnashing of teeth aplenty, though not from Hugh Curran. He has very few teeth left to gnash. It’s a spectacularly awful penalty & a prime Miss Brown’s Knickers moment. The same end, a decade or so earlier, a ball was punctured on the top part of the stand following an inept scissor kick by Ken Skeen, a loyal U’s club man but one of many Oxford strikers who didn’t score goals prior to Curran. I also recall talented midfielder Graham Atkinson regularly scaring the birds out of the trees behind the goal at the Cuckoo Lane, as another match ball sailed into the grounds that now house the massive John Radcliffe Hospital. Good times.

Nonetheless, it is to Stamford Bridge, & the phenomenal Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink, for my favourite Miss Brown’s Knickers moment. You couldn’t get more Dutch than Jimmy if you sat next to a little mouse with clogs on in a field of tulips, smoking a spliff while leafing through ‘Ann Frank’s Diary.’ During the 2002 World Cup JFH sat in the ITV studio writing off Germany’s chances of winning the tournament. Gabby Logan asked him why. ‘ Because I don’t like them’ was the emphatic if not especially professional reply. Chelsea didn’t win one trophy during his 4 years at the club,but nobody entertained me more during that time. Jimmy was arrogant, selfish, argumentative & frequently lazy. A classic striker in other words. Things didn’t start well. The team started his first season badly & Luca Vialli was quickly sacked. JFH rowed openly on the pitch with colleagues, once memorably grappling with Christian Panucci. He seemed more trouble than he was worth. Things looked up with the arrival of Claudio Ranieri though. Jimmy scored a screamer at Old Trafford to usher in the era of The Tinkerman, & very soon I couldn’t help loving a man who loved himself quite that much. An extraordinary 30 yard daisy cutter shot against Spurs didn’t do any harm either, the mystery being how the man could kick a ball like an Exocet missile with barely any backlift from that sturdy right leg. Jimmy loved scoring goals & succeeded in doing just that, something of a relief after previous big money striker signings like Chris Sutton & Robert Fleck. He also had a massive arse & when it comes to footballers I have a small, or possibly, in this context, large confession to make. I like big butts & I cannot lie. Very few great footballers have a skinny rear end. George Best I guess, but that level of genius makes its own rules. Cruyff was another, presumably the 40+ fags a day aided the sleekness of figure in his case. Peter Bonetti looked like he lived on nuts & berries too, but goalkeepers are famously different, though Gordon Banks added to my theory with his ample rear. Pele. Big arse. Eden Hazard. Big arse. The real Ronaldo. Big arse. Francesco Totti. Big arse. Sir Frank Lampard. Big arse. Maradona? Small man. Big arse. Like Jimmy Floyd’s ego, & indeed anus, the list is vast.

Jimmy once scored the perfect hat trick against Spurs, one with the right foot, one with the left & one with his head. His greatest strike from a free kick was probably for Middlesbrough, against Man City, in his twilight footballing years. One of the worst was in a Chelsea shirt several years earlier, when he did his best to decapitate someone in the Matthew Harding Stand, where I sat alongside Bill, always happy to remind me of my muddy knickered day of shame all those years before. Jimmy settled at Chelsea but he never mellowed. Nothing was ever his fault. Apart from this occasion. His dreadful ballooning of a free kick into the upper tier left him with nowhere to hide. Unlike small boys in backyards, professional footballers don’t have a bolthole when they make a bollocks of things. He looked around. His team mates could not be blamed. Nor the opposition players. The ref? Had merely blown a whistle to allow our hero to humiliate himself. In these pre-Abramovich days The Stamford Bridge pitch was frequently a disgrace, but Jimmy was reluctantly forced to rule that one out too. And then it happened. Possibly for the first time in his life. Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink publicly apologised. Not to his colleagues but to us fans, with a sheepishly raised right hand & the sort of guilty face small boys pull when desecrating the contents of a pensioner’s washing line. The comparison ends there though, for had it been Jimmy’s badly off target howitzer that had collided with Miss Brown’s bloomers they would have been instantly transformed into split crotch panties.

I never did know what Miss Brown’s reaction was to my own footballing faux pas because I did the sensible thing & fucked off a bit sharpish. She wasn’t my neighbour. Bill would have done the same, & the supposed strong bond of friendship among small boys can always unravel in the face of one’s innate cowardice & an angry elder, although Miss Brown was supposedly a decent old stick most of the time. He who fights & runs away lives to fight another day as the great Bob Marley, another football lover, once informed us. Bill got his own back anyway. His mum won a football at the Bingo when I was on holiday with his family in Southsea, & I christened it by playing an unsuccessful 1-2 off the wall near the amusement arcade. It landed in the sea. Despite it being dark I was ordered to go & rescue it by my deeply unimpressed mate, & rather foolishly did so.

Try getting Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink to do that.