For the first time in my life I’m questioning whether I love football more than Chelsea FC. Of course I do appreciate how ridiculous that sounds; that such a question has no place in the life of a healthy and happy grown-up, but hey, that’s testicles for you.
The most exciting season in the history of the Premiership was heading to a conclusion. Chelsea were playing away at the footballing cathedral that is Anfield. Liverpool as a city was enveloped in emotional hysteria for the 96 dead at Hillsborough, fired up by a team flying high, playing beautiful flowing football towards the phenomenal goal-scoring partnership of Daniel Sturridge and arguably the finest striker on the planet, Luis Suarez.
The Chelsea manager, Jose Mourinho, is a brilliant tactician. Scrupulously, he plans and prepares like no other in the game. Sadly, his forte is ‘not losing’. From the first minute of that match against Liverpool it was clear that Chelsea’s players had been instructed to waste time.
Yes, they defended with great discipline, but that’s how Chelsea beat both European giants Barcelona and Bayern Munich.
Yes, they beat Liverpool, 0-2 at Anfield, in a famous victory.
But there it is, in plain words. I just typed ‘they’ in reference to Chelsea. A subconscious choice which not very long ago would have been ‘we’.
Time wasting from the start? Chelsea?
More than likely you’re simply delighted to have your TV schedules back. Have you spent a miserable six months flipping the channel-up button on your remote, muttering out loud to yourself “Football, football, bloody football! Why don’t they show any dramas? What about a good comedy? Is that too much to ask?”
No, my grumpy friend, it is not. To enjoy all of the above, simply abandon your channel surfing and watch the football instead. The Beautiful Game can satisfy those needs and add a touch of poetry too.
If only you better understood what you just missed. This season was phenomenal.
Cue twinkly-dinkly harpy music and wavy TV screen. Husky male voice:
“Previously on The Premiership...”
In a land not very far away at all, the Very Ancient King from the Very Far North, victor of countless battles leading the United Clan of the Not Really North stood down from his throne.
To replace him he called upon the blue-eyed Younger King of the Blue Not Really North But By The Sea Clan. Like the purple-nosed Very Ancient King, this young pretender was also from the Very Far North.
Unfortunately for the United Clan of the Not Really North, that was where the comparisons ended. A new time was born: a time for all who had suffered under the rule of the Very Ancient King to rise up, to fight back ... to make amends ...
Thrones were dangerous seats to sit upon this season. Only 11 of the 20 managers that started the Premiership survived in their jobs. Chelsea started this trend 10 years ago, when money arrived in the shape of oligarch owner Roman Abramovich, alongside power in the handsome charismatic style of Jose Mourinho.
The capricious entity that had previously been Chelsea FC, a vagabond collection of footballing artists and piss artists who played brilliantly one day and just couldn’t be bothered the next, turned into a corporate entity.
All that corporate entities require is results. Yes, it was great to win back to back League titles - brilliant! - but now I sit and cringe as a Chelsea fan.
Yet my love for football grows. Away from all the hyperbole of insane wages and grown men falling over far too easily, I cannot remember a season that I have enjoyed as much as this one. The fact that Chelsea won nothing at all doesn’t bother me in the least. That might sound strange. To be honest, I’m a bit confused myself.
My bonds with Chelsea were attached to a series of shared experiences with my father, setting them firmly in reinforced emotional concrete. I will live and die a Chelsea fan, even though my loyalty has been sorely tested this year. Happily, as they say in footballing parlance, “Hat ve hend ov da day, Brian, football was da winna dis year!”
Alongside Liverpool, Manchester City delivered exquisite football, both teams scoring over 100 goals in the 38 games, and I am delighted that City won the league: they were the best team. Liverpool absolutely deserved to come second, and along with these two great footballing sides there was so much to love this year.
There was the miracle of Sunderland, where like a latterday Moses, Gus Poyet took over a dejected dressing room from demented manager Paolo di Canio and delivered the Black Cats from the bottom of the table to the Promised Land of Safety.
The top of the table changed 25 times. Every single match mattered throughout, yet the very best thing about the Premiership is that even when it doesn’t matter, teams play their hearts out. No other league in the world offers the passion shown by lowly Crystal Palace, also playing Liverpool, on a night now known as ‘Crystanbul’.
0-3 down to the Champions-elect, the home crowd roared in a frenzy of support and Palace manager Tony Pulis injected pure passion into players who had nothing to play for but pride.
Lo, the score became 3-3. Every lover of football felt proud.
So sport haters, football offers you Game of Thrones drama, political thrillers, crime, sex and soaps, but my favourite moment of the season was pure comedy.
Sitting on a bar stool in Sweeney’s Village Inn, Killala, I wore a smile the size of the equator as Chelsea beat the Gooners (Arsenal) 6-0.
Such is the cult of personality prevalent in the Premiership, that with the Arsenal manager’s job contract under discussion, BT Sport billed the game not ‘Chelsea v Arsenal’ but:
“Mourinho v Wenger !”
As the goals piled up, the Chelsea fans started to sing:
“Arsene Wenger ... we want you to stay!”