Monday, 12 April 2010

Poetry, tragedy, mysticism and romance - yes, he's on about football again!

Dad looked down at me after the game.
“Well you must have been really excited. Look at the state of your programme!”
Clutched in my tiny 9 year-old wrist were the tattered remains of my Chelsea match day programme. Even though back in those days it probably only cost threepence ha’penny, it was a precious memento of a great day out, and Dad might have been a bit cross that I’d wrecked it.
But he wasn’t.
Instead he seemed to think that this tatty papery mess was evidence that I had really enjoyed myself. Throughout the game, I’d been so wound up that I’d twisted it and sweated into it and torn it out of exasperation and then raised it above my head in pure jubilation, as Chelsea scored the winning goal.
Dad was right. I had been excited, and for years to come, I’d make sure that my programme never made it through a game intact. As a young lad, I did it to impress my Dad, showing him how much I’d enjoyed myself at the game with him.
But years later, when I rode to Stamford Bridge on my own motorbike, I found myself subtly yet deliberately crumpling my programme during the games.
Dad wasn’t there, and anyway, being a teenager, I felt no desire whatsoever to impress my Dad.
So what was it? Why was I doing it? It couldn’t possibly be because Chelsea had won that very first game when I’d crumpled my programme, could it?
In the Beautiful Game, you never know.
To all those of you who cannot find any beauty in the game, I say look again.
There’s poetry, tragedy and glory in abundance.
Chelsea’s owner, Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich, is haunted. He is Ahab, and the Champions League is his great white whale. He bought the club solely to win that greatest of European cup competitions, and even though, thanks to his millions, we have won everything else we possibly can, his whale eludes him.
He hired the Special One, Jose Mourinho. Surely if he could win the Champions League with Porto, a lesser European club, he could do the same for Chelsea?
No. He couldn't.
Fired from the Bridge, the helm temporarily passed to Avram Grant, an Israeli known in my house as ‘Eeyore’, who took over the club knowing that nobody but a superstar could replace Jose Mourinho. Grant is many things, but footballing Hollywood he is not.
Under Avram we failed to win the Champions League by one little penalty kick in the final, but Abramovich fired him and hired superstar A-listers in the shape of Brazilian Luiz Felipe Scolari, fired, midseason, and Guus Hiddink, who we really loved, but was only helping out while his missis was down the shops.
Now we have Carlo Ancelotti, who our Ahab has hired because he has won the Champions League twice. Two dead whales.
Carlo is doing a great job, despite the fact that he leads the out-and out glamour club which is Chelsea, standing on the sidelines looking like a bored clerk waiting for his pyjamas to come out of the the dryer.
Chelsea were knocked out of the Champions League last month by Jose Mourinho’s Inter Milan. Abramovich must have been spitting pips as he watched the man he sacked kick us out of the European ocean.
Tragic maybe, but hold your breath. Football supplies yet more irony and poetry.
Avram Grant had gone from the Worst Job In The World at post-Mourinho Chelsea to The Other Worst Job In The World, managing Portsmouth, whose manager Harry Redknap had left for the mighty Tottenham Hotspur, taking most of his star players with him.
Portsmouth have gone broke, been relegated to a lower league, and will lose all of their star players next year. But in a flare of footballing solar wind, they managed to reach the semi-finals of the FA Cup, where they faced their old and unfaithful manager Harry and his ex-Spurs team laden with ex-Portsmouth players.
Nobody gave Portsmouth a chance, but they prevailed. Kicked out of the Premiership on the Saturday, they made it the the FA Cup Final on the Sunday, with Avram Grant not only laying waste to his A-lister predecessor, but gaining the chance to meet ... yes, Chelsea and his old boss Ahab in the Cup Final at Wembley.
How deliciously ironic and painful would it be for Abramovich to be knocked out of two major cup competitions in one year by two managers he sacked previously? How wonderful for Avram Grant to beat Chelsea in a cup final, having been fired for making it all the way to and then losing another final with Chelsea?
But ‘ang on a mo, guv’nor. Do I really want Portsmouth to beat Chelsea at Wembley?
I’m well aware that the entire country will be behind Portsmouth, the innocent Cinderellas who have suffered so cruelly at the hands of bankers and boardrooms.
If Chelsea beat Portsmouth, we will be the most unpopular winners of the trophy ever, but I don’t care, because if all goes well, when we lift the FA Cup on May 15th, we will have already won the Premiership League title the week before, and carried away the Double for the first time in our club history.
To today’s generation, the Double doesn’t carry much gravitas, as along with the club’s owner, it is the Champions League they all crave.
But to this London boy, the winning of both the English League title and the English Cup still means a massive amount. The Double would be a wonderful and romantic climax to one of the most exciting and closest seasons for decades.
But somehow I don’t see it happening, and it’s all down to that little boy with his crumpled programme.
You see, I know that the rustling of that paper in my sweaty childish palm was not really influencing my team, in the same way that I know that we didn’t lose the Champions League Final just because it was the night before my Wedding Day.
But equally, I cannot escape the fact that we did lose that Champions League Final the night before my Wedding Day.
Add a dash of absurdity, mysticism and bollocks into the mix, and I find myself strongly wishing that the FA Cup Final was not being played on the day before my 50th birthday, because clearly the universe turns round me and my major life events, and those 22 players in that distant country will feel bewitched by my impending half century.

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