Arrayed like snowy cotton lie, the tents of Chelsea’s horde,
Wherein they rest from bloody toil, split shield and blunted sword.
They wait for news of Champions new, the fate of Champions old,
Will their tri-pillared English spine remain within the fold?
Last night’s game against Sunderland in some ways defies description. Jose Mourinho was obviously so flummoxed that in his post match interviews he had to fall back on the succinct and forensic summary provided by one of the game’s finest analytic minds. This appeared on Twitter in the moments after the game and before TSO stood before the cameras:
“Why Should I Love My Sport So Well?” – Isaac Watts, 1715
Should occasion ever bring you to Abney Cemetery in Stoke Newington, which nestles in North London between the Emirates and White Hart Lane, you would see standing proudly a statue of the great Non Conformist hymn writer and thinker, Isaac Watts. He wrote over 700 hymns during his 74 year sojourn on this earth before departing in 1748. Some of these would be familiar even to non-church goers, particularly “Oh God, Our Help in Ages Past” and the carol “Joy to the World”. He is buried in Bunhill Fields in Islington but lived for a time in various parts of Stoke Newington, particularly with the Abney family, hence the memorial in the cemetery that carries their name. He was, however born in Southampton. So in honour of the visitors and as it was a Sunday game, I will pepper this report with the hymns of the great man.
It was approaching the middle of a typical, sixties black and white, social-realist sort of a Saturday afternoon, when the sound of a key scrabbling for the lock, brought the dapper figure of Mike into the neat, compact hallway of the small terraced house. Dressed in flannel shirt, cable stitched, knitted, sleeveless jumper and corduroy trousers, his tartan slippers squeaked uneasily on the worn, linoleum floor as he watched the door open.
As Keegan notes, ‘the effect of a cavalry charge had always depended more on the moral frailty of those receiving it than on the objective power of horse and rider,’ and in withstanding a charge the Switzers were unparalleled.
An Everyday Story of Football Folk and Their Intellectual Property
The Scene is Set
Here was the deal going into last night’s action:
Arsenal with two games left have 67 and can hope for a maximum of 73.
It is perhaps only the TEFL teachers and students of language amongst us who could glean any scintilla of satisfaction from Sunday’s events.
I have little experience of teaching English as a foreign language. One college summer holiday teaching Spanish youths, having unwittingly stumbled into the employ of Opus Dei, (oh strange days indeed), followed by being on the cusp of heading to Turin as a TEFL teacher a few years later.
Last time we caught sight of Manchesterford United in the league, we were unbeaten and four points ahead of them. At the end of an ugly afternoon we still had a point in hand, but since then they’ve disappeared over the horizon with a turn of speed that suggests their collective arse was on fire.
A Sunday Soujourn in Salford, South Louisiana and err, Romford
There is a theme running through so many cinematic genres; the cop thriller, the horror movie, the spy movie, to quote just three examples, where the “baddie” finally has the hero within his grasp and ultimate victory beckons. And yet the evil genius, who in some cases has built whole empires of evil, who has meticulously planned some astonishing, evil feat of criminal activity or worse still a series of evil, horrifying, toe curling, sadistic murders, all of which are typified by an evil attention to the smallest detail and subtleties of timing, somehow feels the need to pause and soliloquise about their motives, their hatred for the hero, the reasons for their maladjusted behaviour, their dysfunctional relationship with their mother, you name it, you’ve all watched ‘em. They just have to ramble on. And in that pause, that hesitation, that unfathomable and uncharacteristic hiatus between opportunity and action, all is lost.
(with suitable apologies and homage to John Le Carre)
(Author’s Note: The main character of George Smallie should be imagined as Colin Hutchinson, Alec Guinness and perhaps a dash of Alan Bennett thrown in the blender and given a quick whizz. Whether you then imagine Delia or Nigella doing the blending is your own private hell for which I have no remedy.)
Somewhere between talking to the trees in Paint Your Wagon (1969) and talking to a chair at the Republican Convention in 2012, Clint Eastwood made a film called Gran Torino, which my Italian translates as the Granny of Torino? And no, it isn’t another name for Juventus, that’s La Vecchia Signora (The Old Lady). Not to be confused with the Belgian cycling classic “La Doyenne”, which is French and simply means the oldest in this context, but is feminine and can refer to a lady of advanced age.
The curious headline is prompted by young Junior, scion of the noble House of Bayou, who made his competitive feetballs début a few weeks ago, the very weekend we played our emotionally challenged cousins from up the road.
You will have noted that Nick, blog owner and master of Podding Acres, wherein lies the humble structure from whence emanates that sporadic outpouring of general guff, known to its small band of faithful adherents as The Podding Shed, and to which he extends his not inconsiderable patronage, let slip that it is about to make its hugely un-awaited return.
The Harder They Come, The Harder They Fall
It is difficult to credit now, but there was a time when Chelsea winning the FA Cup was deemed so unlikely, it provided the comic material for a popular song written circa 1933. “On the Day That Chelsea Went and Won the Cup” (sung by Norman Long) describes ever more unlikely scenarios coming true purely because the world has been stood on its head by Chelsea winning the FA Cup. The fact that Chelsea were a team who’d spent most of their life in the top division and should have been well capable of winning such an important trophy only made the song more pointed.
I will start by saying that my views are invariably coloured by having grown up in Tottenham and being related to a number of Spurs fans as well as counting some among my closest friends. These days I rarely take the deep joy that is afforded most Chelsea fans when we discomfit them. Like an Aintree vet, destroying Spurs is something I see as necessary but unpalatable, so this report may be too restrained for some tastes. (And it’s interesting to note how the term “destroy”, which was once the standard way of referring to putting down injured race horses seems to be disappearing from the racing lexicon. Not good for the marketing I presume.)
A trip to Manchester City was going to really test the mettle of a team that was showing signs of improvement in their recent four games under Robbie Di Matteo. The realists amongst us were looking for a point, the dreamers were hoping that this would be the great leap forward and the eternally pessimistic were hoping Stoke and Everton might limit the damage.
The image of the potter’s wheel is an iconic one. There’s something hypnotic about watching disembodied hands throw something as basic as a clod of humble clay onto the wheel and then gradually coax it into a light, symmetrical, spinning ceramic. There is magic in the transition from formless, brown lump to delicate, refined object ready to be kiln fired and fixed forever in its shape, which is then far more susceptible to damage and shattering than the formless agglomeration from which it came.
(title borrowed from The Low Anthem)
Here at Chelsea FC Blog, with our ear ever pressed to the bedroom wall, the better to hear what the lusting youth of the zeitgeist may be getting up to with our rumbustious neighbour of fate, we have been poking around in those nether regions where our sense of the rational gives way to ridiculously inexplicable emotion, with a survey of fans’ particular rituals and superstitions. Our enquiry into whether statistics, strategy, diet, preparation can really be countered by wearing a pair of 15 year old “lucky blue pants” has mirrored the clash of science and religion that has erupted in the courts, media and legislature of this land.
On a weekend that saw Gael Kakuta mark the start of his loan period at Dijon with a goal, Chelsea were just down the road from the historic home of Colman’s but singularly failing to cut the mustard.
“Resurrection Man can’t stay dead for long, though – and with each rebirth comes new and unexpected powers. But his many returns have not gone unnoticed, and forces are gathering to learn what’s so special about him”
(or as Wotan says, “Valhalla may not be burning yet, but I wouldn’t light a ciggie in here.”)
Bayer Leverkusen v Chelsea – The Down to The Wire Edition
Leverkusen, Bayer Leverkusen. The name speaks to us of an industrial Germany, a modern Germany. Pharmaceuticals. Clean rooms, antiseptic surfaces, cool, calm research.
(with apologies to J. Keats)
Given that Genk is in the Limburg Province of Belgium, a region known until around the 14th century as Loon, the title is a fitting description of the rather hapless defensive performance from Chelsea’s opponents last night.
The newspaper reports
The Guardian, Kevin McCarra: “Valencia merited a 1-1 draw that diminished the significance of the night for Chelsea and, in particular, for one senior figure. Frank Lampard had scored the opener, as if to prove his value despite the advancing years. Another old hand, the substitute Nicolas Anelka, might have restored Chelsea’s advantage but was denied by a block from Diego Alves. It had been a tense occasion, with Ashley Cole cautioned for an incident that followed the full-time whistle.”
Just before I went “in absentia” or if you like “in feriae”, as Julius Caesar might have put it although he, unlike myself was in “Gaul” for business not a holiday, I read under the Stoke report that Nick’s rededication to the cause and intent to purify his football soul was partly inspired by my words. This led me to wonder whether or not is was time to become a full time guru bringing healing and succour to those crushed by the remorseless grind of the twin mill stones of overblown sports punditry and the “will to whinge” exhibited by the average sports fan these days.
A Season Opener (For Sale or Rent)
(with sincere apologies to Roger Miller)
I sat down to write this wondering whether to start with an almost painfully tortuous quip or just go with a plain workaday title and ease into matters with the insightful use of a scene from a major work of modern literature.
Well look above, you have your answer.
That’s football you see. From team selection to bloggage (that’s pronounced with an “arje” sound rather than an “idge” sound, thus attaining a suitable level of pretentiousness from which we won’t be deviating at any point in the ensuing drivel), it’s all about decisions.
By Random Chandlery
The sign on the door says Doc. Bayou. Data Analysis. But that doesn’t tell half the story. What do I do? I scan, I read, spot patterns, watch, observe. People pay for the right sort of information. People in the background, people in the shadows. But sometimes what you see is best forgotten. Like catching your mum naked with Santa on the sofa, Christmas Eve.
So I made a mistake, I saw something and remembered. Moved it on. Now it’s getting hotter than Fishy Fred’s chip fryer on a busy Friday night.
It started when I gave Nick the Blog a steer in the direction of the District Line. Strange goings on. Too many bodies by the tracks. And I could see trouble for the Italian.
(Or How Close to Barking Can You Get a Sphinx?)
In keeping with the melancholy and wistful mood engendered by all the speculation over the future of our Double winning manager, I find myself humming the Louvin Brothers classic version of an old American folk standard, “In the Pines”, which features the following lines, in amongst lots of woohooing and general yodelling.
[We’re thinking of this: ‘Sagging’ is the direct opposite of hogging. When a vessel is supported at bow and stern by wave crests, she will tend to sag in the middle. High buoyancy forces occur at the extremities of the ship. High gravitational forces, from the weight of the ship’s structure, act vertically down about the midship’s point, in opposition to the buoyancy forces. Source: General Cargo Ship.
The Guardian, Kevin McCarra: “Manchester United have been as relentless over the course of the years as they were in the three hours of this Champions League quarter-final. It is Chelsea, winners of the Double last season, who allowed themselves to grind to a halt following that glory.”
Daily Telegraph, Henry Winter: “Manchester United’s glorious obsession with the Champions League proved far stronger than Chelsea’s. Ryan Giggs, Wayne Rooney, Ji-sung Park, Michael Carrick and company were simply far hungrier than their visitors, whose interest in the season’s grand prizes ended in embarrassing circumstances with the listless Fernando Torres hauled off and Ramires sent off.”
The Independent, Sam Wallace: “The Champions League is over for another year for Abramovich and Chelsea and this time it has not ended in recrimination and tantrum with the match officials, just the weary acceptance that they are a long way off the pace. Chelsea lost Ramires to a harsh second yellow card in the 69th minute but by then the game had already slipped away from them.”
Official Chelsea FC Website: “A goal conceded shortly before half-time and a second from the home side soon after substitute Didier Drogba had scored to pull the second leg level ended Chelsea’s Champions League campaign for this season. The Blues largely matched Manchester United on the night but the psychology blows dealt by strikes from Javier Hernandez and Ji-Sung Park, plus playing much of the second half with 10 men following a red card shown to Ramires, were too much to overcome.”
“Now it’s Spring again,
I’ll sing again,
’bout turnips and hamstered jam”
(an excerpt from “Bygrave’s Songs, But Only Dimly Remembered” by Springy Le Marr)
[Editor’s Note: Springy Le Marr (1939-?), poet and small time kangaroo rancher is now wreathed in obscurity, but was once referred to by the great critic F R Leavis as head and shoulders above his fellow poets in the 1950’s Queensland Neo-Realist movement, “… just as a dwarf on a pogo stick can sometimes be seen to bob above the heads of a group of pygmies.” High praise indeed.]
The Guardian, Paul Wilson: “Chelsea won where Tottenham had lost to move three points ahead of their London rivals and strengthen their claim on a Champions League place, though Fernando Torres is still waiting for his first goal in five appearances for his new side.”
Daily Telegraph, Rory Smith: “Some couples just click. Others need to work at their relationship. That Chelsea now stand nine points behind Manchester United, boasting a game in hand, their Premier League title not yet wholly relinquished, owes rather more to the natural partnership of John Terry and Frank Lampard than the forced union of Fernando Torres and Didier Drogba.”
The Independent, Tim Rich: “When Chelsea arrived at Bloomfield Road, where they had last been beaten in 1965, a vast sun the colour of a tangerine shirt had sunk into the Irish Sea, which seemed an omen of sorts. Lampard thought the fixture “a banana skin; a Monday night, late in the season,” and well though Blackpool fought, Kalou’s intervention once Drogba had limped theatrically off, was decisive.”
Official Chelsea FC Website: “Three goals and three points made it a successful trip to the seaside for Chelsea on Monday night, bringing us within touching distance of third place.”
A little time has elapsed since the unseemly events around the sacking of our beloved Mr Wilkins as first team coach, in that somewhat sudden and brutal fashion. There has been pause to recover and consider, but we are no nearer gaining an understanding of what really happened. We may never know the truth. But that does not mean we cannot mark the departure of a Chelsea great in proper Bardic fashion.
Great poetry arises from the residues of reflective thought filtering down to accumulate through time, deep in the memory. The action of remembering, of recall, moulds and compresses this sediment, which the poet then mines selectively, carefully polishing the condensed ideas to lustrous, shining verse.
Safe to say nothing even remotely like that has occurred here, indeed, my work was once cruelly described by a particularly acerbic critic as “merely fridge magnet versifying, without the benefit of either fridge or magnets”. Well at least it rhymes a lot.
But a Chelsea legend has been ill-used and this cannot go unremarked.