Sunday 8 March 2015


Last Sunday afternoon I turned my phone off. I didn’t want to know what was happening in the vital Ireland v England rugby match, because an hour after that game kicked off, Chelsea were meeting Tottenham Hotspur at Wembley in the League Cup Final.

Naturally I was going to watch the Chelsea game, recording the rugby to enjoy in its entirety after my boys in blue had lifted their first trophy of the season.

While chatting on the phone to my father-in-law back in England a few days earlier, he’d jokingly advised me to remember where my loyalties lay.

“No problem! I’m a Chelsea boy, through and through!” I responded, mistakenly thinking he’d been referring to my choice of which sport to watch.

Later I realised that he’d been advising me to support England and not Ireland in the rugby. Indeed, my own Dad, whom I miss very much (especially when I write about sport) used to refer to Ireland teams as ‘Your boys’, understandably imagining that my love for this country somehow interfered with my identity as an Englishman.

Not a chance. There’s a reflexive defensive gene in human beings which kicks in when ones identity is under attack. I’ve never felt as English as I do now, living in the Republic of Ireland. English identity carries with it many historical crosses to bear, yet also pride at belonging to something special.

So while I’m happy that the Irish could celebrate a crushing victory over England last Sunday, there’s no doubt in my mind that my team lost.

Without wishing to take anything away from the Irish victory, in some ways rugby was the loser. 
Well, Rugby Union to be more precise.

As an unwilling schoolboy I was forced to play rugby. The memory of the twisted contorted pain endured playing tight-head prop I carry to this day.

In the 60s and 70s my father took me to Twickenham to watch England and Wasps, a local team. In those days Rugby Union was a free-flowing game compared to Rugby League. To us urbane Southerners, that was just the stop-start version for numbskull Northerners. These days the reverse is true: Union has deteriorated into a game of endless rucks, mauls and points scored by kicking, while League has adapted and thrived, becoming thrilling and fast.

Anyway, the England team lost, but Chelsea won the cup, so I was happy.

Given the many and varied ills of the Beautiful Game, from the despicable racist morons who claim to support multi-racial teams to the absurd amounts the players earn to the morally bankrupt monolith that is FIFA, there is no shortage of reasons to hate football, yet still I love it.

I love to watch football, and in particular Chelsea FC, on those occasions when they are enjoying themselves, playing the game beautifully with panache and a foolhardy spirit.

That was the nature of the Chelsea team I fell in love with back in 1969, but since then the club has changed its very nature. Everything that Chelsea was it is no more, changing from a bunch of capricious cavaliers into a dogged and predictable outfit that can be brilliant.

I love to watch Eden Hazard pirouette as he passes defender after defender; marvel at how Willian is able to run and run and run and yes, I enjoying winning, of course I do, while at the same time remembering ancient colyooms written about how I felt real life was like Chelsea, not Manchester United, because our rare victories in those days felt so precious.

The current Chelsea team has sufficient flair to empower me to ignore our manager José Mourinho’s mind games. He deflects media attention away from his players by creating a paranoid bunker mentality, in which everyone is against his team, because it works. It wins Premierships, but I hate it.

It doesn't feel like Chelsea. It’s tiresome; nothing but the mean-spirited and unsporting result of a corporate culture that demands winning at all costs.

When he arrived back Mourinho promised to be the “Happy One”, but for months darkness and mendacity are all we have had from the Chelsea manager, and it was driving me crazy.

We have a great team capable of playing astounding football, but I feared instead that Chelsea were destined to become a miserable whining winning machine.

Then a few weeks ago I watched the game at Stamford Bridge against Burnley. Alongside the Matic ‘incident’, two penalties were denied, ‘stonewall’ as the jargon demands, while our Premiership rivals Manchester City slaughtered Newcastle.

On such days the season changes. I’m never going to like Mourinho’s constant griping, but watching those refereeing errors and all the subsequent and similar game-changing gaffes every week, I long for two things to come from the world of rugby into football.

Let there be video technology. It is beyond absurd that the entire stadium can see a blatant error on the big screens, while referee has to continue, forced to pretend he’s seen everything. Allow these poor referees to ask for video help, as they do very successfully in rugby.

Let the captain of each side be the only one who speaks to the referee, so that we might obliterate much of the dramatic nonsense of prima donna players.

Within London families football loyalties are complicated affairs. My nieces and their father are solid Chelsea, as was my father, is my mother and myself. My Brother’s wife’s son is Spurs as is my father-in-law, but his son is pure Gooner, an Arsenal fan, as are his two sons and doubtless his daughter.

Now my niece has become engaged to another Gooner and so the soccer merry-go-round spins, but it’s all well-natured, while deeply heartfelt.

English football is not the GAA. In England the various colours of your home city's teams are marbled through your extended family - unless you’re from Newcastle, where there’s only one team in town: Toon.

©Charlie Adley

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