Chelsea. It wasn’t ever thus. There was once a time when the word evoked a different series of meanings, conjured other images. Fashionable clothes, big side burns, walking down the Kings Road, colourfully clad pensioners with shining medals and long memories, Charlie Cooke, John Hollins, Alan Hudson, the Chelsea Drugstore (architecture meeting modern art on the corner of Royal Avenue and Kings Road), students and the Chelsea Flower Show. Everyone thinks their memories are embedded in a time of greater innocence, a halcyon era of a more simple, happier way of life, and I know I’m no different. However I do sometimes hanker for a time when there wasn’t this bitter loathing of other clubs. Did I despise Revie in the same way that Ferguson, Mourinho and Pulis make my lip curl today? Didn’t I used to look forward to a match, any match, regardless of the opposition? Maybe, maybe not, perhaps this is no more than an old man pining for his lost youth.
One thing not shrouded in a nostalgic rose tint is the fact that I was nearly a Chelsea fan. I know I’ve told you this before but it comes back to me each time their name appears on the fixture list. They played the hated Leeds United in the first FA Cup final I ever saw and I found I rather liked David Webb for putting away the winning header. Coupled with my first league game as a spectator being at the Dell where Southampton entertained Chopper Harris & co. and it is always possible I might have decided that Peter Osgood was better looking than John Radford, west was better than north and blue was better than red. Had the planets aligned in this way then these words would appear on Positively Chelsea and I wouldn’t be on speaking terms with any of you. Makes you think.
In any event I was never, not in a million years going to decide blue was better than red was I? While the papers shrieked about Chelsea Headhunters and bovver boot boys stalked the streets of West London my dad was quietly filling my head with talk of a different club, a club famous for innovation (under soil heating, son) class (marble, son, the halls were built of marble) and getting Bob Wilson’s autograph for me. When it came down to it Charlie Cooke was pretty cool but Charlie George was the single coolest footballer in the land. George Best? Not for me. When the other boys at school sang about Charlie being a superstar, they may have gone on to suggest he wears women’s clothes and a see through bra but I only heard the first line of their song.
So even though he was a Portsmouth fan, and even though he went to the Valley to watch Charlton Athletic when he moved to London, my dad steered me towards a life of vicarious voyeurism and masochistic joy as an Arsenal supporter. After the early seventies Chelsea never really showed up on my radar screen. It wasn’t until the silly money came along and put an end to the Ken Bates pantomime years that they surfaced as first a threat and later more of a torment. Their current manager is either trying to deflect media attention away from his troubled players or is genuinely coming unglued. I can’t tell which and frankly I can’t be arsed to give it much thought. He may be obsessed with Arsène but I’m not obsessed with him so let’s leave him to stew in his own juice and move on.
We have to travel to Stamford Bridge exhausted, dispirited and with our excellent return to form halted in Zagreb. The players had to complete much of Wednesday’s game with only ten men and our main striker Olivier Giroud is having a wretched start to the season. Replaced in the pecking order by Theo Walcott who is scoring goals for club and country with some regularity, our debonair French forward with the fine first touch and fluid passing skills was repeatedly fouled before being sent off for nothing in Croatia. Even here on what is supposed to be a positive supporters blog people prefer to blame our man rather than the referee. Honestly when a player loses the unflinching backing of the most one eyed, shamelessly partisan blog on the planet you know he is in trouble. What can be done? Well, personally I’d like to see him score a hat trick at lunchtime today but as he may not even start one wonders what he can do. Booed by sections of French support, wrongly castigated on-line at every turn by people who don’t deserve the eyesight with which they can’t see his strengths and the subject of endless transfer tattle as to who will replace him I struggle to remember a man less deserving of such opprobrium.
But football of course is a team game and the tribulations of one of our best players cannot derail the purpose of the whole squad. Per is still recovering from whatever evil spirit entered him but Aaron and ‘Ector should be fresh after putting their feet up while everyone else toiled and ultimately despaired in midweek. I don’t know how footballers do it but they have proved in the past that they can mentally compartmentalise different competitions. The Invincibles had a torrid time in the FA Cup and Champions league being knocked out of both by their two closest rivals but picked up where they’d left off in the league thrashing Liverpool in their next game. Can the current squad put the disappointment of Zagreb behind them and continue the progress they’ve been making in the league? Will Chelsea lift themselves for the big occasion in the way they’ve been unable to against so called lesser teams? These are the questions the answers to which should determine the outcome of today’s match.
Chelsea have problems, we all know that, they’ve made a shaky start to their league campaign but in the back of my mind there’s always the feeling of the beast cornered, never more dangerous than when wounded and underrated. Having said that we haven’t been riding a wave of perfect form, it’s been more a case of steady progress so I don’t think there is an air of over confidence. A draw would not be a surprise today as much as I’d rather see a few players add to an OG hat trick and give us a thumping victory, we need to temper our enthusiasm sometimes. The champions are not a crap team just because they have endured some crap results.
So two teams, both with points to prove to themselves and their fans after some unexpected reversals. Chelsea with home advantage Arsenal with the nicer fans, more intelligent manager and better looking players. Its in the balance really. They will kick us and dive and time waste and cheat as they always do, we will attempt to weave our magic patterns. It’s all a little predictable – all except the outcome. In total we’ve come away from Stamford Bridge having won 32 %, drawn 32% and lost 36% so history suggests we are more likely to get something than nothing. But as the famous football philosopher once said football is played on television not in the history books. Or something.
So, on that note I need to bugger off and leave you to your pre match routines while I start sticking pins in my
Didier Drogba Diego Costa doll and polishing my lucky Arsenal mug. Not that I’m superstitious you understand, it’s just that, being entirely helpless to influence the result I feel a need to do something – anything – to appease the football Gods. I’ll be here to share the joys of victory with you, or should events unfold in confutation of this wholly desirable outcome then I shall retire gracefully into the shadows and pretend I never really liked football that much anyway.