It’s the night before Barcelona.
God, I detest the Champions League. It’s a vile, overblown, self-important and elitist clique that makes the Bullingdon Club look welcoming and all-inclusive. That awful, angelic opening anthem brings the bile racing to the back of my throat like Monday’s school dinner of Spam, cold beetroot and greying lumpy mashed spud used to some thirty (OK, thirty plus plus) years ago.
Take tomorrow night’s showdown with Saint Lionel and his chums. Pep’s all singin’, all dancin’ football machine who play the right way, win with purity and righteousness and afterwards dry the tears of the little children who wept with joy as they tika-taka’d around the pitch like the saints of the game that they will surely be canonised as in due course.
I mean – I just can’t stand that we’re supposed to have any kind of rivalry with them. Barcelona? It’s seven hundred miles away, for heaven’s sake. Spurs. Now that’s a rivalry. Not Barcelona. If we’re lapsing into coarse sexual innuendo for a moment, our rivalry with Spurs is a full-on, rock solid boner that you could proudly hang a wet donkey jacket on. Barcelona? Well, it’s a languid, disinterested semi at best, artificially stoked up by the Viagra of the Champions League hype machine that everyone gets carried away with every time it bowls into town.
As such, when that sodding anthem rings out at Stamford Bridge, I will be at home, practising the minor pentatonic scale on my guitar, sipping tea and possibly catching up on series three of The Wire (what can I say – I’ve got a lot of boxed sets to work through). I’ll be doing anything but paying attention to proceedings in SW6.
And if you believe that, you’ll probably believe that Dani Alves won’t dramatically fall over clutching his face the moment anyone in a blue shirt farts in the same postcode he happens to be gracing his presence with at the time.
I should, in the interest of declaration and clarity, point out that I am a colossal hypocrite. I make the average politician look like a bastion of unshakeable moral principle. Some of the volte-faces I’ve performed would make Ken and/or Boris blush (delete as applicable to your political preference) at the sheer brass neck on me.
Yes, to demonstrate my ambivalence towards it all, I’ve handed over sixty-five notes to be in the West Lower on Wednesday night (another reason to detest the bloody competition – it shuts off my bloody seat in the Matthew Harding Upper). I will contain equal quantities of European lager and bad, simmering blood. I suspect that at certain points I will be so swivel-eyed and incensed, I’ll look like Marty Feldman having his plums squeezed. Should we be denied any obvious penalties, I fear that the authorities may move to section me for my own good.
I hate them. And even worse, I hate it that I hate them. I’ve bought into all the hype, the hysteria and the artificial grudge against a team we’ve played just ten times in the last decade or so. It’s ridiculous. But to paraphrase a red-nosed Glaswegian and a slightly unhinged Geordie(ish), I’d love it, LOVE it, if we knocked them off their perch.
To travel back to the weekend, for a moment (so I can ham-fistedly try to link everything together) and the game against Spurs – proper rivals – which was bloody good. Twatting them all over North London on prime-time terrestrial TV stuck a silly perma-grin on the collective CFC face that still hasn’t shifted. If the season had finished on Monday, we’d have crossed the line (crossed the line – geddit?) in style and given what a debacle it was all looking a few weeks back, I’d have taken a finale like that without a second thought.
On Sunday evening after a beer or several, somewhere in the back of my tiny, slightly inebriated mind, a little grain of hope sprung into life. We can beat them on Wednesday if we play like that, you know. We can get to Munich (it would be nice – I know this lovely little hotel with a great wine cellar, young ladies in dirndls…)
This is another riff on the old ‘it’s the hope that kills you’ line. We don’t really stand a chance. Do we? Like Frank said in the press conference today, every time you turn the TV on Messi seems to score twice.
(Maybe if no-one turns their TV on, he won’t score?)
I digress. Another game against a team I can’t stand in a competition I can’t stand. But the thought that some of the best players I’ve ever seen in blue shirts will have a gap on their otherwise glittering CV’s that they may never have another chance to fill is almost as unpalatable as the Champions League itself.
In truth, I just want to see us lift that lousy trophy that we’ve become obsessed with, so I don’t have to think about it any more. Exorcise the demons. Tick it off the list and move on. So I don’t have to think about the width of the post and Terry’s tears in the Muscovite rain. So I don’t have to think about Frisk, Ovrebo and penalties that never were. So I don’t have to listen to any more UEFA-related conspiracy theories. So I can go back to being happy with a proper semi against Spurs (so to speak).
And so I find myself, nine hundred words later with no satisfying pay-off. Because when it comes to Chelsea, Barcelona and the Champions League, the last words just haven’t been written yet.