For many years, the team that we all adore, our beloved Chelsea Football Club, has paraded itself around the top tier of English football. Occasionally there have been brief sojourns into the tier below (the Championship nee Division 1 nee Division 2) and sometimes short flirtations with the unmentionable division below that, thankfully avoided due to what could well have been an injury time display of Divine Intervention. This parading we did with aplomb, strutting around like we were the dog’s jacobs. Generally we were crap though, if we’re honest, but this continual failure didn’t matter at heart because, like true fans, we love our club through thick and thin, be it Nimble balloon thin, Posh Spice thin, even Peter Crouch thin.
During this extended period of crapness we had brief spells of glory: a Division One championship in 1955 before most of us were probably even alive, the odd FA Cup, League Cup, a couple of European Cup Winners’ Cups (which I always believed was more prestigious than the UEFA/Fairs Cup), a Full Members (as opposed to half members?) Cup, a Zenith Data Systems Cup (a what?) and a couple of Second Division championships. Big stuff huh? Not bad when compared to, say, West Ham, QPR or Millwall, but shite when compared to the histories of Liverpool, Manchester United or Arsenal, and not really what Joe Mears envisioned when he talked of us being the biggest club in England.
We had some spectacularly barren years. From 1970 until 1997 we won virtually nothing of significance barring our very own survival, thanks to serial humiliation machine and PR disaster Ken Bates. During these barren years we had one thing to hold onto, and that was our record against Spurs, North London’s other team and, let’s face it, the dazzlingly less successful one, at least in modern times. From 1987 we remained unbeaten at their ground earning it the not unreasonable nickname of Three Point Lane. From 1990 onwards we were unbeaten by them in the league home and away and such an achievement was this that any game between the two clubs was always suffixed or prefixed with the caveat “Spurs haven’t beaten Chelsea in the league for x number of games and that equates to y number of years”. It was a de rigeur statement for any game covered by John Motson, and in truth an easy piece of statistical trivia for him to remember. It became almost legendary in football such was the length of time it lasted.
There was the occasional blip, most notably the heavy defeat we suffered in 2004’s League Cup, but that was followed a few days later by a crushing victory to ensure normal service was resumed. It was a proud record to have, and one that any club would enjoy having over any team they play regularly, but even sweeter for us by virtue of them being London neighbours, albeit distance ones.
However, I now ask this? We are virtually a new club, at the very least a reinvented one thanks to the departure of Bates and the intervention of the benevolent Roman Abramovich. Do we really care that much about the record against Spurs? As the club moves on to greater and greater things, maybe this was just a link to an inglorious, sporadically and moderately successful past that needed to be broken. It is a monkey off our back.
As the years passed it was inevitable it would happen, no matter what the superiority gap might be. If Chelsea played my local pub team every week then the law of averages says that just once, at some stage, they would lose. It’s simple statistical maths people, that’s all. The record has gone and we are still second and still a whisker behind a resurgent Manchester United yet to suffer any real blip. After two years of unparalleled success, with defeats being as rare as Arsene Wenger seeing something happen during an Arsenal match, we had to come a cropper at some point.
But we are moving onwards and upwards. We have two successive Premiership titles under our belt and if we miss this year then we’ll be back next year. We have our sights set on the Champions League while Spurs have the slim pickings of the UEFA Cup, their first European journey in a very long time. Barcelona might be a fly in that particular ointment should they fail to qualify from Group A. Our goals as a club are bigger than Spurs’, our ambition burns within us more and more, whilst their ambitions stop at winning the odd game against us, stealing points from Arsenal and achieving the fourth Champions League place. It’s a poor season if we finish second. We have a devoted supporter who shares this desire to be first, our owner, who is willing to put his money where his mouth is to drive this vision to be the best.
And for the doomsayers, I say this. When a baby gets to its feet and tries to walk for the first time it invariably falls over. Does it give up? If it did then we’d all still be crawling on all fours. No, it keeps on trying until it can totter a few steps and continues until it can walk, then run. Maybe as a ‘new’ club we’re still at the point of occasionally landing on our arse, and maybe acting like babies, dummy spitting and all. But we’re learning and as we grow so will our success. Compared to Manchester United and Arsenal we are novices to the success culture and all the things that come with it such as bad press, jealousy from other clubs and furrowed brows within the dictatorial, blinkered, and biased blazer-wearing brigades of The FA and its dismally dim and dull counterparts of UEFA and FIFA. We just need to see this single failure to beat Spurs in the context of a blip along the road to greater and greater glories, and to stick with the vision, remaining objective and calm in the face of mounting press and broadcast hysteria and envy based bigotry.
As for the aftermath of the match, well I understand the feelings being displayed by some of the visitors to this blog, but I think we’re in danger of feeding the current press frenzy about us whining whenever we are beaten. Although Graham Poll is way past his sell by date, as ably demonstrated by his piss-poor displays during the World Cup, we can’t get away from the fact that profligate finishing is an issue at the moment. I’ve been to two games thus far this season, Aston Villa and Portsmouth, and at both games we have been utterly dominant in terms of possession and attempts at goal and yet one game finished 1-1 and the other 2-1 with us hanging on for a period in the second half. I know Mourinho believes it is disrespectful to thump teams, but bollocks to that view, and to them.
What we need to do is grasp the mentality of burying teams like these. Manchester United and Arsenal have done this before, and arguably United are doing it now. On Sunday, Spurs could and should have been three or four down after 25 minutes, and yes, Drogba’s goal should have stood, but we missed so many chances it’s hardly right to pin the blame entirely on the referee no matter how bad he is. Nor is it right to deny Spurs some credit for taking advantage of poor defending, dodgy goalkeeping (for the first goal) and wasteful finishing to earn a hard fought and ultimately deserved victory after 19 years of trying.
What Mourinho needs to do now is sort out the right-back situation, which resembles the left-back situation of last year or the goalkeeping situation under Claudio Ranieri (De Goey our first choice… please). I see from the official site that Neil Barnett agrees with me that it really is time for one of the three capable of playing that role to stand up and be counted. Mourinho, stop rotating the right-backs and stick with one of them!
My money would be on Geremi because unlike Paulo Ferriera he has some pace. Ferreira is a shadow of the player from two years ago. As for Khalid Bhoularouz well, despite the plaudits for his performance against Barcelona at Stamford Bridge, he was made to look a bit of a muppet a week later in Camp Nou by Ronaldinho and then spat his dummy out Del Horno style when substituted on Sunday. Giving him the benefit of the doubt, I’ll call him a “work in progress”. Another option might be to try Wayne Bridge in that position, giving him the chance to learn a new role and to remain with the club. And does anyone else think we should make sure Glen Johnson comes back for next year having played well and impressed for Portsmouth?
In summary, time is a funny thing. We live in time and we look forward and back in time. We cherish what it gives us. But it can also be a burden and the expectation that it builds over long periods when things are going right means the feeling of deflation when time eventually runs out can warp our sense of reality. We lost to Spurs. Big deal. What we need to do now is dispose of Villa in a competition I can hardly be bothered to think about winning and then take a chance on destroying Watford and West Ham in the following games. Someone somewhere is due a spanking from us. Let’s show the passage of Time and its partner in crime, History, that neither mean much to us in our quest for greater glories and a place in the pantheon of English football greatness.