Monday, 12 November 2012

The Agony and the Ecstasy of Chelsea FC!

Chelsea FC are Champions of Europe, FA Cup Winners, riding high in the league and playing beautiful creative attacking football. Everyone’s talking about Chelsea. Trouble is, nobody’s talking about football.

Being a True Blue Chelsea fan can drive a man crazy. Cancel that - you have to be crazy to be a Chelsea fan. Blimey, how embarrassing. It’s taken the 43 years since Dad first took me to watch Chelsea play to realise that. Mind you, it explains a lot, like why it is that wherever I’ve lived in the world I’ve been drawn to those who subsequently turn out to be Chelsea fans. Be it in west Connemara or a bar in San Francisco, I’ve made friends who suddenly become top notch types, as they reveal their Blue hearts.

Nutters, every one of them, but as a nutter myself, I’m biased, and digressing. I’m steering clear of illustrating the pain of being a Chelsea fan. There have been moments of intense pleasure and pride alongside times when I just want to curl up and die of embarrassment. Maybe there’s a psychological reason why Blue is the colour? Even Chelsea’s good times test me to the limit.

When we made it to Wember-lee for the FA Cup Final in 1970, Chelsea had a team of flashy wide boys, whose exciting skills on the pitch were unburdened by any moral or intellectual substance. As excited as a 10 year-old can be, I went to the game with my Dad and watched the longest-ever Cup Final, which ended in a draw, followed by a replay. For your young scribbler this was a disaster. All I’d wanted to do was to see Ron ‘Chopper’ Harris lift the cup for Chelsea, or failing that at least be at Wembley when somebody lifted the bloody cup, but no. Dad went to the replay up in Manchester 4 days later, but I wasn’t allowed to go. It was a school night.


The following year, when Chelsea beat the mighty Real Madrid to win the European Cup Winners Cup, my mum decided I should spend Chelsea’s night of glory stuck on a train to Devon to visit Aunty Sandy. Frantically trying and failing to find commentary of the game on a tiny transistor radio I clasped to my ear, I yet again missed the chance to experience Chelsea winning a trophy.

Later that year Dad and I went to Wember-lee again, where we watched Stoke City defeat Chelsea in the League Cup Final. At last I saw a captain lift a cup. Shame that his shirt had red and white stripes. I think I may have cried a bit, but consoled myself that it was only the League Cup and not the FA Cup, which then carried enormous cachet.

For the next 30 years Chelsea drifted around footballing backwaters, making exciting yet infrequent excursions out to win cups and play sexy football. Mixing anguish with triumph, they tortured us fans by confirming they could win when they could be bothered. Fantastically inconsistent, we’d beat the giants of the day, the Liverpools and the Leeds, and then lose to a team of part-time Norwegian fisherman who had a striker with a wooden leg and a one-eyed goalie.

Everything changed with the arrival of the super-rich Russian, who bought us a team of international superstars and put the handsome, charismatic and outspoken José Mourinho at the helm. Chelsea became consistent overnight. The Portugueeser (with just a little fascist ripple running through his raspberry) won back-to-back Premierships in his first two seasons, breaking league records for points earned, goals scored and wearer of the most perfect overcoat.

As a True Blue I loved the titles and the cups he won for us. Sadly though, I didn’t care for Mourinho’s gruelling and efficient football. Yes, I’m a Chelsea fan, but also a football fan. I love to watch the game played beautifully, so even when Chelsea were unbeatable for two years, while revelling in our success, I also pined for missing pride.

Anyway, nobody gets to be bigger than an oligarch, so Mourinho was fired, to be followed by a ‘Who’s Who’ of international football managers: Scolari, Hiddink, Ancelotti and, er, Grant. Bless him. Stylish and wise, Carlo Ancelotti produced an attacking Chelsea team that played with flair and freedom, winning by margins of 7 and 8 goals. I loved watching his team more than any previous, but unlike dynastic Northern clubs, Chelsea’s culture is horribly fickle. Having won the League and FA Cup Double in his first season, Carlo was fired too. I still miss his ironic raised eyebrow.

After we dumped that ‘Mini-Me Mourinho’ AVB fella on Spurs, Roberto di Matteo guided us to Champions League glory last year. But the ecstasy of being Champions of Europe was severely tempered by the agony of winning it by putting 10 men behind the ball and focusing like a collie on speed. While incredible to watch, once more our glory came tainted. Punters talked about ‘Doing A Chelsea’: winning a game despite rarely having possession of the ball.

I hated it.

This year, as butterflies emerging from that dark cocoon of ultra-defence, we are playing magnificent football, with a trio of skilful midfielders scoring for fun. Everyone's talking about Chelsea.

They (and I) want to know why our captain was too weak to admit that he said something disgusting. They can’t understand why, having finally got past that dreadful episode, Chelsea set its own PR machine to self-destruct and accused a referee of calling Mikel a monkey.

This isn’t about racism, it’s about Chelsea: the agony and the ecstasy. Here we are, finally playing the game in a way that makes my heart fill with joy and pride. Everyone is talking about Chelsea, but nobody's talking about football.

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