WATER UNDER THE BRIDGE
Blues fans the shrinking world over cant fail but to have been seduced by the epic drama unfolding at Stamford Bridge this season. The opinions, aphorisms and heretical thoughts that cascaded along the ever flowing river that is Chelsea Football Club at the time of Jose Mourinho’s dramatic departure less than three months ago have long since been washed out to sea, dragged beneath the waves by the strong undertow of absurdity associated with the remarkably incongruous appointment of Avram Grant as manager, and a run of results which has seen his new charges swiftly re-establish their footballing credentials on all competitive fronts.
In recent weeks the relentless media attention has been diverted away from SW6 by a combination of two critical factors. Firstly, Steve McClaren, the wally with the brolly, confirmed his ineptitude as an international coach … something that everyone apart from his wife, kids and dog had long suspected, by embarrassingly leading England out of Euro 2008 at the qualification stage. Secondly, Chelsea under Avram Grant have not fallen flat on their face as was widely expected, and dare I say hoped for, in certain quarters.
The Blues have strung together an impressive run of results which even the fiercest critics of the boardroom machinations which ultimately led to the departure of the Special One and his quixotic replacement cannot fail to applaud. We are the Chelsea and we are the best … we are the Chelsea so f*ck all the rest … sounds good again doesn’t it. So can we all look forward to a glittering trophy laden future of peace and prosperity? I hope so, but don’t forget … this is Chelsea. There’s always a gloriously unpredictable sting in her whippy little blue and white tail.
In the midst of this turbulent period one thing that became apparent to me was how divisive the whole Abramovich/Mourinho/Grant saga has been in the quarters housing Blues supporters. It was whilst flying to frosty Trondheim for the recent Champions League fixture with Rosenborg that I found myself doodling on a piece of paper as I chatted idly away with Long Way Round Pete and his brother, Moody Michael, my travelling companions on what turned out to be a more than memorable Norwegian escapade. As we talked about the good-old-bad-old Boys in Blue Division Two days, I began to plot a simple straight –line graph which mapped out the relationship between longevity of support for Chelsea and degree of burning rage exhibited at this latest palaver.
With a few notably honourable exceptions it was the more youthful Blues fans that were apoplectic with rage when Jose Mourinho ‘mutually consented’ to receive his P45. Fair enough, talking in decades, for those who started following the Blues from 2000 onwards, the Special One was just that. An iconic figure who walked the walk, talked the talk and delivered what everyone had hoped and prayed for. Chelsea’s fortunes fizzed in the latter half of the 90s too, these were the salad days for people like myself who’d endured the mediocrity of the 80s … a period when being a Blues fan was by and large a true labour of love, when supporting the Chels was all about camaraderie and bonhomie and trophies were only won by players who wore red shirts. Go back even further to the mid 70s and you get into Long Way Round Pete territory. This is a steely survivor of a man who has persevered through a pantheon of problems on and off the Stamford Bridge pitch. A man truly qualified to chant we were there when we were shit. A man unfazed by the bumpy ups and downs on the road to true Blue glory along which the histrionics associated with the Mourinhogate pothole have been skilfully avoided … this is the man you may have seen stripped to the waist in sub-zero temperatures cheering on the Blues to victory over Rosenborg. This is what is sometimes referred to in hushed reverential tones as ‘proper Chels’.
Ten years ago, in the midst of a blizzard which would have kept Scott of the Antarctic in his tent, Chelsea found themselves 2-0 down at half-time away to Norwegian part-timers Tromso in a Cup Winners Cup Second Round First Leg tie. Realising that Chelsea’s players needed reminding how fortunate they were to be earning the incredible sums of money to be had in professional football and that the 250 diehards who’d made the trip from London to watch them deserved better, Long Way Round Pete valiantly got his kit off thereby inspiring a visibly shocked Gianluca Vialli to pull a couple of late goals back for the Blues who still ended up losing 3-2 on the night but prevailed 9-4 on aggregate. Chelsea went on to win the trophy the following May and it was a symmetrical thought that zapped through the gnarled old warrior’s mind which led him to reprise his legendary naked stunt … albeit wearing a Russian bearskin hat this time!
Superstitions may not count for much in the modern era … but you’ll remember this story when John Terry lifts the Champions League trophy above his head in Moscow’s fabulous Luzhniki Stadium next May, and there’ll be none more deserving a Chelsea supporter applauding the Blues to the rafters than my mate Long Way Round Pete who’s been there, seen it, done it and never moaned about it once … er well maybe once, or maybe even twice … but not that much.
Up the Chels!
Mark Worrall is the author of cult terrace classics ‘Over Land and Sea’ and ‘Blue Murder … Chelsea till I die’, his new book ‘One Man Went to Mow’ will be published on January 15th 2008. Copies, signed if you so wish, are available to buy with a discount of up to 30% and free postage within the UK at www.overlandandsea.net