GREAT RESULT GRANTED, BUT STILL WORK TO DO
‘F*ck all … you’re gonna win f*ck all, you’re gonna win f*ck all, you’re gonna win f*ck all’. The chant had rung loudly in my ears, tinnitus-like, as I’d made my way down Tottenham High Road in the direction of Seven Sisters tube station last Wednesday night. The yellow light from the streetlamps illuminated the dank rubbish strewn pavement of this forbidding street, reflecting off the windows of the myriad kebab houses, cheap and not so cheerful takeaways and taxi offices that feature prominently along its unforgiving length.
Shifty looking sallow-skinned men silhouetted in shuttered doorways looked out on the world through narrowed eyes, the faint aroma of the herbal mix they smoked suffusing with the stench of urban decay. This isn’t a part of town you would choose to take a gentle evening stroll, a place to wander for the sights or soothing ambience … this is Rottenham, home to a once mighty football team whose supporters were once more bathing in the glory to be had from upsetting the now diamond-encrusted applecart of their nouveau-riche adversaries from West London, a wonderful place that as we all know is full of tits, fanny and Chelsea.
‘F*ck all … you’re gonna win f*ck all, you’re gonna win f*ck all, you’re gonna win f*ck all’. For those of you that have never had the dubious pleasure, it’s a long walk … an unyielding 25 minutes, which Ossie, one of my partners in Chelsea-following crime always likens to the 70s cult film ‘Warriors’. You know the one were a New York street gang finds itself well off its Coney Island manor and has to make its way back to safety. ‘Wa-rri-ors come out to play’.
25 minutes was long enough for us to dissect the discombobulated madness we had just witnessed as our beloved Chelsea had thrice thrown away a precious lead against opponents who’d spent long periods of the game chasing the Willo the Wisp shadow of man-of-the-match Joe Cole. A young man of immense talent whose unfathomable withdrawal in favour of Michael Ballack had complemented the incongruous absurdity of the Blues adopting an unfamiliar looking defensive sweeper system when Alex had replaced Salomon Kalou in the 71st minute with the game all but won.
Indeed it would have been interesting had we had the pleasure of Avram Grant’s company for the duration of our perilous jaunt back to Seven Sisters, to get inside the mans head … with a meat cleaver some Blue bloods might have encouraged … to try and make some sense of it all. ‘Only a fool tests the depth of the water with both feet Mr Grant’, I would have said politely, reflecting on what had gone before, on what had happened against Barnsley and of course ‘that’ cup final defeat. ‘Please explain the dilution of authority you seem to advocate Mr Grant. It is that isn’t it? This allegedly symbiotic relationship you have with Henk ten Cate and Chelsea folk hero Stevie Clark? Ahhh the bright lights of Coney Island beckoned, my bed also … and an uneasy nights sleep punctuated by heretical thoughts and bitter sweet but comforting memories of Jose Mourinho.
‘F*ck all … you’re gonna win f*ck all, you’re gonna win f*ck all, you’re gonna win f*ck all’.
And so to Easter Sunday. The clash of the Titans. Chelsea versus ‘the’ Arsenal. Grant versus Wenger. The Blues versus ‘the’ Reds. I’d seen an interview with Mr Grant on the morning of the game in which the Israeli stated that he admired Wenger’s style of football, but saw no reason to replicate it. “All over the world, people want to watch Arsenal – me too,” he’d said. “But a big club like Chelsea don’t need to copy how Arsenal or Barcelona play. Of course we want to provide entertainment, but our supporters have enjoyed Chelsea this season and like what we’re doing.” At this juncture I wondered if the frontal lobes of his brain had been removed, a surgical process designed especially for him to obliterate bad memories eg ‘that’ cup final defeat, and the ability to recognize future consequences from current actions. Was he saying he deserved more credit? Surely not! “What is praise?” he’d asked, with a cynically mocking smile. He might just find out if the Blues came out on top, but on the other hand he might not.
Under Jose Mourinho, certainly in those back-to-back title winning seasons, there was an aura of machine tooled perfection about Chelsea Football Club. The Blues ground out results in the relentless pursuit of silverware. Chelsea went into the Arsenal match a record 77 games unbeaten at Stamford Bridge, and there was something uncomfortably symmetrical about the fact that the Gunners had been the last team to win in SW6 back in hey day of Claudio Ranieri … Remember him?
Defeat for Chelsea would have increased the pressure on Avram Grant to such a point that he might have decided to walk away from the job, and there were a good few people that I spoke prior to the game who were half willing this to happen. But this is Chelsea Football Club. Tales of the unexpected and glorious unpredictability go hand in hand with the Blues like cod and chips, always have, and seemingly always will, no matter how deep the pockets of our munificent patron Roman Abramovich.
For an hour the Blues played the scintillating style of one touch football which Mr Abramovich had craved but been denied in King Jose’s reign. It got Avram Grant, the increasingly unwelcome pretender to the Stamford Bridge throne, and his team precisely nowhere, worse still ‘the’ Arsenal had the audacity to take the lead. Then with 20 minutes left, and Stamford Bridge echoing to chants of ‘1-0 to the Arsenal’, Avram Grant pressed the gamble button on the Chelsea fruit machine and invoked another set of what at face value appeared to be mind-boggling substitutions.
For those Blues fans’ whose confidence in Mr Grant’s ability to get it right was running thin, this was the straw that momentarily broke the camels back. Ballack hadn’t been playing at all badly, but Avram Grant wanted to move Michael Essien into midfield, Juliano Belletti in at right-back and sacrifice Makelele for the extra striker Nicolas Anelka. I can’t say it was a blindly obvious strategy to me at the time because I was caught up in the drama of supporting Chelsea. Sadly, for me at any rate, there was a sizeable portion of the Blue congregation who took up the chants ‘You don’t know what you’re doing’ and ‘Jose Mourinho Jose Mourinho’ by way of a reaction to Grant’s substitutions.
The rest as they say is history. Chelsea abandoned the fancy footwork and bludgeoned their way to a famous victory. That it was Drogba who sublimely won the game for Chelsea was bitterly ironic. The Ivorian is a staunch Mourinho loyalist whom we can surely expect to depart the Bridge and reunite with his former master when the season draws to a close and the managerial merry-go-round spins into action. As the Drog came off the pitch at the end to rapturous applause there was but the briefest of handshakes with Mr Grant but a hug for his assistant, Stevie Clarke. It spoke volumes for the mountain Avram Grant still has to climb if he is ever to win over the confidence of the entire dressing room and of course a large section of the match-going Chelsea support.
Ask anyone who plays a fruit machine and they’ll tell you that when you gamble, you sometimes win, but then again sometimes you lose and you probably lose more times than you win. Against Arsenal, Avram Grant thankfully got it right and won.
‘F*ck all … you’re gonna win f*ck all, you’re gonna win f*ck all, you’re gonna win f*ck all’. At the final whistle it was the turn of ‘the’ Arsenal’s supporters to traipse away dejectedly from a game with that all too commonplace chant ringing in their ears. It’s been a few years now since the Gunners won any silverware, however I’ve yet to hear chants of ‘You don’t know what you’re doing’ directed at Mr Wenger from the faithful who flock to the all new Emirates sponsored library in large numbers every other week.
I wondered if Jose had remained at the reigns and endured such a fallow period if his delicate Portuguese ears would have been treated to this disrespectful chant. I doubt it, but then you just never know with Chelsea. You just never know. Football is a fickle business, but following the Blues needn’t be. As fans we all crave success but it seems to me that the expectations of some supporters are so urgent that they provoke a reflex knee-jerk reaction demanding change when a little patience is all that is required. The arrival of Mr Abramovich catapulted Chelsea into a trophy-laden stratosphere we could only previously have dreamed of but let’s not lose sight of the days when, as we are often reminded by our adversaries, we were sh*t.
Jose Mourinho was an iconic figure but he has gone, never to return … except perhaps as the coach of another club. Today we have Avram Grant, tomorrow we will have Avram Grant and so we will the day after that and the next one after that as well. In fact we will have Avram Grant right up until the day that Roman Abramovich decides to change things for what he believes to be the good of Chelsea Football Club and not before.
Do you really want another highly paid, highly strung quick-fix mercenary at the helm? Or would you rather wait for the prophetic return of messianic Chelsea legend Gianfranco Zola who believes that one day he will return to Stamford Bridge in a coaching or managerial role. “At the moment I am coaching the Italian Under-21s, and enjoying it very much,” Zola said recently. “Will I come back to Chelsea? We’ll see. I think so. I think sooner or later I’ll have a go. But at the moment it is important to get the knowledge. Playing football is one thing, but coaching is another.”
Imagine that! A careful piece of succession planning on the part of Mr Abramovich could enrapture us for years to come. Gianfranco ‘gets the knowledge’ and Avram slithers obsequiously upstairs to sit at the right hand of our ever-gracious benefactor. I’ll drink to that thought as I patiently celebrate supporting Chelsea Football Club. ‘We are the Chelsea and we are the best, we are the Chelsea so f*ck all the rest.’
See you at the game!
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’ is out now. Copies are available to buy with a discount of up to 30% and free postage within the UK at http://www.overlandandsea.net