ARE YOU LOCAL?
In the year 2000 we ran a piece looking at Chelsea’s west London neighbours. Beings as we played one of them on New Years Day and we are playing another on Saturday we thought that we would run it again.
In the light of what Marcel Desailly has described as a disappointing season for Chelsea, Mark Wheeler takes a look at the state of the Blues’ less illustrious local west London neighbours.
It is a mark of how expectations have evolved at Chelsea that this season is deemed a disappointment. Success over the past few years has seen us enjoy numerous cup runs, European adventures and an accumulation of trophies. Prior to this golden age supporters were used to seasons being over before the Christmas decorations had come down. Success was restricted to promotion from the old Second Division and triumphs in made up cup competitions. Should the Blues fail to qualify for Europe by the end of this season, the campaign will be considered a bigger flop than Glenn Hoddle’s singing career.
So while we bemoan our lot, sitting comfortably at the business end of the Premiership, perhaps now would be a good time to look at how our west London rivals are faring. While we may think that things are a little gloomy, some of our nearest and not so dearest are plunging the depths of depression and staring into the abyss, while others are beginning to get a bit uppity. The pecking order among our local opponents is also changing, so let’s start from the bottom.
Brentford are the plankton in the west London pond. They are currently languishing mid-table in League Division Two, a comfortable distance from the relegation zone but too far adrift of the play-off places to have a hope of promotion. Mediocrity would appear to have been their watchword this season, although their campaign has had its highlights.
April saw the Bees reach a minor cup final for the first time in sixteen years. In 1985 they got through to the final of the Leyland Daf Trophy, only to be spanked 3-1 at Wembley by Wigan Athletic. This year they emulated that achievement on the ploughed field that passes for a pitch at the Millennium Stadium, Cardiff, where they went down 2-1 to Port Vale in the LDV Vans Trophy final.
The low point for Brentford came last November, when they were knocked out of the FA Cup by non-league Kingstonian. That abject failure led to Ron Noades sacking himself as manager. The Bees chairman – possibly the only man in football with an ego to rival our Ken’s – had put himself in charge of the team when he bought the club.
The man chosen to take over from the deluded schizophrenic, initially as caretaker manager, was former Chelsea player Ray Lewington who was promoted from the coaching staff. When the team made it through to the LDV final, his crowningglory, he was made full-time boss. Lewington broke into the first team at Chelsea in the seventies, aged just 18, when the club was skint after building the east stand. Years may have passed but he is still at a skint club. Is it a co-incidence or does the man repel money?
Queens Park Rangers are making a gallant attempt to overtake Brentford as the smallest of west London small fry. The naff old Super Hoops have always lived in Chelsea’s shadow and have now been surpassed by Fulham as the region’s second club. This season has been a catalogue of spectacular disasters for them.
The club was reported to have run up debts of £11 million and was put into administration at the beginning of April. Chairman Chris Wright got upset after being verbally abused by QPR supporters – which sounds about as scary as meeting the Teletubbies in a dark alley – and decided to quit. Hats off to him for running the club into the ground though.
Just when you thought that it couldn’t get any funnier, Rangers went and got themselves relegated. The name of Delroy Facey should be familiar to Chelsea fans. It was his late goal for Huddersfield against the Rs in late April that condemned them to the drop. QPR used to be something of a bogey team for the Blues in the dim and distant past. Now they are in need of charity but they will continue to provide nothing but comic relief for some time to come.
Spare a thought for poor old Gavin Peacock though. The one time hero of the Shed is still wasting away at QP-ha-ha-ha. The midfielder who was instrumental in taking Chelsea to the 1994 FA Cup final is captain at Loftus Road these days – he deserves better. All he has to look forward to next season is a local derby at Griffin Park.
So to our nearest rivals, now in the league as well as geographically. Fulham have stormed to the First Division championship bankrolled by a shop-owner’s millions. Chelsea may have been accused of buying over-the-hill overseas players in the twilight of their careers, but the Lillywhites have taken it to a higher level. How can we take them seriously when their manager doesn’t even speak English?
In the past all we have done is patronize Fulham. Up until recently spectators wearing Chelsea colours on the Hammersmith Terrace was not an uncommon sight. Our derby there next season will be eagerly anticipated, especially as the away fans will be stood on a terrace. Just how Fulham managed to get past the Premiership’s regulations on all-seater stadia remains a mystery. Surely Mohammed Al Fayed’s dosh cannot have anything to do with it, can it?
His money cannot buy any credible famous fans though. If you thought that Hugh Grant was a pathetic celebrity supporter, Fulham managed to go one better when Al Fayed brought Michael Jackson along to a match at the Cottage. Reports that Jackson is running the club’s creche remain unconfirmed.
Ex-Chelsea wide boy Bjaerne Goldbaek has played a part in Fulham’s promotion push. The wispy haired Dane was well liked at the Bridge before he was abruptly shipped off to Stevenage Road with rumours about his extra curricular on-tour activities running rampant. Apparently he still gets on very well with his colleagues’ partners.
The moral of our tour of west London’s lesser lights is to remember, whenever you are feeling blue, that there is always someone worse off than yourself – and when that someone else is a local rival it helps to make you feel a whole lot better. We will have to see Fulham off next season, but thanks to Brentford and QPR we can put our own predicament into perspective. Long may they languish.