A little preamble
Football eh? Bloody hell!
So said Sir Rednose Baconface of Salford Quays once upon a time. A man I hate and admire in almost equal measures based purely on jealousy. I have a theory that no one knows anything about football but maybe, just maybe the crusty old Scottish troll currently guarding the toll gate of Old Trafford might have more of an inkling than most. In reality I suspect that last night, as the cheeks reddened, the claret flowed more freely, even Sir Alex himself was scratching his head and tearing up every theory of football he thought he knew. Of course in reality because the very game itself is such a potpourri of chance, skill and downright anti-logic. Any ‘professor’ of football is a charlatan who bases opinion on statistics and tenuous connections. And that includes every single one of us fans. Every one of us illogical, superstitious fools. You want an oxymoron? How about ‘Logical football fan’.
Other brief observations. Barcelona are our uber-nemesis. They are the footballing equivalent of Samantha Brick… not quite as beautiful as they like to think. They have no plan B. If they can’t walk the ball through you then they enter some kind of football processing loop whereby they end up living the mantra of Einstein that stated ‘the definition of madness is repeating the same thing over and again and expecting different results’.
They are the worst kind of football narcissists ever seen. I have a word for this. It’s Barcissism. They can’t pass a mirror without a sideways glance and an imaginary pass of the ball. I imagine they have the sort of dressing room that might be packed with John Frieda-style crimpers and preeners, air heavy with the aroma of Chanel Pour Monsieur, but specially repackaged as Chanel Por Senor. I have another thought. Perhaps the ball itself has a sadistic streak and is sick of being passed to death. Tickled constantly when what it really wants is a large slap across its imaginary arse.
Some might call us the anti-football, but last week and last night I prefer that Chelsea be thought of as the antidote to the sickly sweet poison of tiki-taka football conveyed through the medium of dance.
The game – first half
As any fule kno I don’t really give a stuff about tactical formations, and even less so to statistics. For me tactics often get slung out of the pram with the toys when the other team does something unexpected. Statistics are the root of all scaremongering or oneupmanship and if anything proved the sheer bollocksness (new word?) of statistics as the sole premise of debate or argument then our recent games versus Benfica and Catalonia FC shows just how rotten and meaningless they can be. Apart from one stat, the one in the goals column, nothing else matters that much.
I was full of nerves and as daft as it sounds it took a real effort to sit down and watch as the tippy-tappy ballet dancing prima-donnas started to waltz through us in their flouncing, prancing, diving manner. Within five minutes, despite a bright start for us, it was obvious we were going to be subject to football’s equivalent of Rorke’s Drift yet again. That or Little Bighorn.
Nine minutes in and Cahill slides awkwardly after being turned by Messi in the box. This was a bad omen as Cahill was so impressive at the Bridge. The obvious move was to bring on Bosingwa at right-back and move Ivan to centre-back. Bosingwa did come on but even now it’s not obvious what took place in defence. In my eyes it looked like we lost a right-back and gained an extra centre-back. When the inevitable Barcelona goal came it was because whoever our right-back was supposed to be had disappeared. I doubt there was a Chelsea fan who was surprised at their overall match-equalizing goal but that wasn’t game over by any means.
No that came shortly after from an act of monumental stupidity from John Terry. That sentence says it all. I’m sure we will cover this in the Podding Shed but those words will ring loud. Monumental stupidity. So, with 10 minutes of the half left we were a goal down, a key defender down through injury and now without our captain and other main centre-back. Inevitably, rattled by this run of events, our heads dropped fractionally and within minutes Barcelona had doubled their on the night lead and taken the aggregate lead in the match. Was I alone in thinking this was the end? I doubt it. I bet even the red nose troll was thinking it was game over with some glee.
Then came the turning point. With one minute of the added time up, we finally got the ball and with a stunning move that the Barcissists themselves would have been proud of Lampard played the perfect ball to the hard working and deeply impressive Ramires to score a goal of pure impudence and skill.
Our lead is restored. Football eh? Bloody hell!
At this point I had unrolled my white flag ready for it to be hoisted atop the pole. When Ramires scored, despite my joy, the overriding thought was ‘Oh no, what have you done?’ Once again the Demon of Hope had reared its head and lifted its skirt showing me the merest glimpse of stocking top to tempt me into believing a result was due.
The game – second half
At this point the checklist was complete. Daughter doing homework upstairs. Check. Laptop off. Check. Defibrillator ready. Check. Mobile phone off. Check.
I had raised the flag of surrender. I had looked the Demon of Hope in the eye. Felt her hot breath on my face, glimpsed the lacy stocking top of temptation and done the right thing. I had walked away. I write this précis of the second half as someone who had the diluted joy and pain of watching after I knew the result. And because of my strength I am alive this morning because I’m damn sure one of my internal fuses would have popped had I watched it all ‘live’.
In summary, Barcelona laid siege on us. Fabregas showed he has learnt new skills with a dive to get a penalty and give Messi the chance to finally score against us. But the Demon of Hope could not cast a greater spell than the God of Sweet Revenge. Messi hit the bar and if there was a second turning point then this was it. It was as if the bubble of Barcissism had been finally pricked. After this they went into an endless processing loop of pass and move. Time and again they tried to weave through a defensive wall that stood solid. It was like pounding the granite walls of a castle with snowballs. The more the half went on, the more the frustration crept into the Barca game and the more their game went awry. Passes failed to reach targets. Moves broke down. Messi began to think he was alone. And Chelsea showed just how a band of brothers can beat the odds. Yes, we’d lost a man due to his own stupidity, but we’d gained spirit and belief. No Chelsea player was being carried. Kalou had one chance but froze in the headlights. He’s a goner for sure, but we’ll need him to do the right thing for the remainder of the season. Bosingwa cleared the ball like a pub player for the most part but that’s what we needed. Vanilla clearance, not precision clearance.
Drogba was replaced by Torres which seemed odd as Didier was revelling in being the ultimate utility player, defending, marauding, left-back, centre-back, right-back, midfield general and striker. But Torres is a Madrid boy and has a good record of goals versus Barca. Like Meireles’ joy in putting one over on Benfica, Torres now had the chance to do similar to Barcelona. And boy was that about to come to fruition. In the last 10 minutes of the game, as the Demon of Hope battled the God of Sweet Revenge one felt that a moment of magic from Iniesta or any of their players might destroy us as it did at the Bridge on that infamous Ovrebo night. But as the Demon of Hope was being weakened she finally succumbed and stood side by side with the God of Sweet Revenge to let our brave knights slay the Dragon of Barcissism.
If you haven’t listened to the Sky commentary then I urge you to find it and listen because as Torres ran up the field and rounded Valdes, the noise from Gary Neville showed you that despite being a committed Manc, the man has football in his veins. I can only describe the noise as orgasmic as Torres coolly ran the sword through their heart. A moment of joy for us and an iconic moment for Sky who will no doubt get full mileage from this extraordinary piece of commentary.
Player ratings on such a night would be churlish because they all deserve a 9/10 bar John Terry. The good speaks for itself but honourable mentions for Ramires, Lampard, Drogba, Torres, Ivan, Cole and Mikel Obi should be made. The bad would have to be the fact that we lose four top players for the final due to bookings, which may have been inevitable and a red, which was unarguable but completely avoidable. I wonder if we can ask for an amnesty on the yellow cards bearing in mind we’re sweating on Cahill and Luiz being fit.
The ugly would be that stupid act from JT. His punishment is to miss what in all likelihood will be his last final in this competition. This is a very heavy personal price for him, which makes the act even more mystifying. His defence that ‘he is not that sort of player’ rings rather hollow to me. It just begs so many questions, the key one being ‘if that’s the case, John, then why… just why?’
But as stated, we will no doubt cover that in the Podding Shed. Let’s not allow it to detract from the fact that last night we made the seemingly impossible become possible. The reason I started supporting Chelsea was because of our underdog status and in general I will always favour the underdog. If ever there was David and Goliath analogy then last night was it.
We haven’t won anything of course so let’s not break out the cigars and bubbly just yet. However, in terms of great performances, great comebacks and sheer terror and joy then last night is amongst the greatest ever Champions League nights. Hell, even some of my Manchester Untied and Arsenal supporting friends have doffed their caps in our direction.
And now we sit back, in two finals and just waiting to see who we’ll meet. As much as I love Jose I don’t want to face Real Madrid because if any team knows how to dig in like us it will be them. I’ll take Bayern then please.
Keep the Blue Flag Flying High!
The press reports
The Guardian, Daniel Taylor: “There are many emotions inspired by Chelsea’s arrival in the final but, more than anything, it is sheer wonder. They refused to be cowed after John Terry’s red card and deserve their place in Munich on 19 May because of the heroism that went into a night of rare achievement and glory. As triumphs in adversity go, the night they went down to 10 men and knocked out Barcelona on their own ground will take some beating.”
The Daily Telegraph, Henry Winter: “Let’s kill the anti-football jibes. Faced with technically superior opponents, Chelsea had to defend deep, particularly after Terry’s red, often leaving Drogba a distant figure, almost in Andorra. Let’s celebrate a triumph of willpower, of a sheer gutsy determination to resist the Catalan waves that flowed towards them.”
The Independent, Sam Wallace: “On the occasion of the great Nou Camp siege of 24 April, 2012, the ten men of Chelsea held the fort and through the drama, the desperation and their sheer bloody determination they saved the best moment until last.”
The Official Chelsea FC Website: “There cannot have been many nights more dramatic nor heroic in the history of Chelsea Football Club. Having gone 2-0 behind on the night and one man down in the first half, we scored in stoppage time at the end of each half to book a date in Munich for our second Champions League Final.”