‘ello ello, what’s all this then? Top of the league? ‘aving a laugh? Why do I get a sense of déjà vu?
Yeah, ok, enough gloating. It’s unattractive and it will make me look stupid this evening when the mighty Portsmouth defence sees out a 1-0 win over Bolton and knocks us straight off the top spot.
More to the point the performances that have brought Chelsea, albeit temporarily, to the top of the league mark a welcome return to form. Perhaps a little scrappy at times at Fulham, and perhaps a little fortunate against Liverpool, Chelsea are once again starting to deliver the type of performance that wins championships. That’s to say, not flamboyant five-nil victories which may look fancy but don’t really serve much purpose, (Barça take note) but instead gritty hard-fought victories that earn three points where many would have dropped two. Performances that defend a one-nil lead when down to ten men against strong attacking sides, or ones that pick up maximum points down the road during hotly contested derbies. These are the effective performances that make the difference at the end of the season, and deep down we all know it.
I watched the Liverpool game with a previously impartial, now staunchly pro-Liverpool girlfriend. Naturally that made the victory all the sweeter, if perhaps a little less overtly celebrated.
“Bad luck,” I said in my generous, forthright way, “better luck next time.” Inwardly however, I was saying, “phew! Thank goodness for that. Thank goodness Stevie G hit Cech’s knee, thank goodness Crouchy picked him out point blank in injury time. Thank goodness we got away with one-nil.” But outwardly I was magnanimous. “Yes well, you can hold your head high after a display like that darlin’, you can hold your head high.” Nothing rubs salt in the wound of defeat quite like calling someone darlin’. Fortunately for me we were distracted before she could punch me in the eye, by Man U hosting Arsenal. Now I have a sweepstake strategy for this game, which is normally televised, that makes it a lot more exciting for the impartial viewer. As with standard sweepstakes everybody pays to enter and draws a name from a hat. Each person gets one player from each team. The pot is split evenly between the first and last goalscorers and whoever gets a red card has to buy a (usually expensive) round. The beauty of this is that it doesn’t take long before everybody is screaming “Off! Off!” At the TV, regardless of who has fouled, or alternatively yelling at Wes Brown to shoot from the halfway line. Admittedly since the loss of Fat Pat Viera and Roy Keane things have calmed down a little, but the new rule of a missed penalty being as good as a red card saw my brother headed for the bar cursing the name Gilberto. Lovely stuff.
It turns out, by the way, that the reason the said girlfriend has moved firmly into the Liverpool supporters’ club was a radio interview with Stevie G wherein he was asked what his favourite cheese was. After mulling it over a while he answered: “melted.” Now I like Stevie G, and anyway I like melted cheese too, so I’m not going to say anything about that.
In fact my favourite viewing partner for Chelsea games is my niece. Knowing relatively little about football (her father supports Crystal Palace) she doesn’t normally disagree with my match analyses. Also, she doesn’t cheer when the opposition score, which most non Chelsea fans do, but instead follows my lead. And lastly, at seven months old, she looks like a small Winston Churchill, as do most of her seven month old friends. In fact, I wonder what Winston Churchill looked like as a seven month old baby? I imagine just a smaller version of himself, and over time he merely inflated like a life-size Winston Churchill balloon.
Still, being unable to speak English, my niece didn’t try and claim that Didier’s goal was a fluke, and she doesn’t talk drivel about Frank Lampard being past it. Basically, with the training she received during the world cup she’s turned into a fine football viewing partner, and if you haven’t got one already, I suggested you ask your siblings to get to work.
And so the campaign is now well and truly underway with big games and gritty games all under the belt; and although it may not be pretty, so far Chelsea are doing what’s required to remain champions. Just as Italy demonstrated during the World Cup, being champion is not about being attractive, it’s about making sure of victory. It’s about holing the six-footers.
Yes, well I can hardly not mention it, after all I’ve been doing little other than watch a bunch of fat athletes wander about in goofy clothes for three days. But there’s no shame in that, I’m not alone in being a fan of the Ryder Cup. The Ryder Cup is a great contest for any sport’s fan. And do you want to know why? Well, firstly because it’s matchplay, and secondly because it’s against the Americans.
Matchplay golf, you see, is much the best type because frankly it’s more sporting, particularly when I’m playing. The score is always more respectable because you can only lose by ten holes, as opposed to 37 shots, and better still, you get given putts. That’s like saying, “you know what? Don’t bother with this penalty, I’ll give it you.” And the Ryder Cup is the best form of matchplay because it’s against the Americans. The thing about playing sport against the Americans is that either they don’t understand the importance of your sport, or you don’t understand the rules of theirs. The Ryder Cup is one of the few occasions where both you and the Americans understand the sport, want to win and have an even chance of doing so. And we won. Which is lovely.
But let’s not get carried away, we’re talking football, and in football there’s no “European Team.” Wednesday sees the rough return to a continent that sparked religious schisms and centuries of warfare. It’s England vs. Johnny Foreigner, and although Ballack and Shevchenko and Cech and Makelele and Robben and Drogba and Carvalho and Ferreira and so on and so forth may not see it that way, for this campaign at least, they’re all honorary Englishmen. Bring on Barca!