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.
Now depending on the film, it goes one of two ways: the hero slips their bindings, escapes and lives to fight the evil genius another day or the hero is forced to kneel in the hastily dug grave in the woods (or some such scenario), a pistol pressed to the back of the head while the baddie drones on interminably, the hero’s buddy/wife/partner, left for dead some frames before, appears in the background, bloodied, limping, shovel in hand and proceeds to twat the evil bastard right round the back of the head.
Job done. Evil is dead. And we all live happily ever after.
Well, a couple of minutes from the end of yesterday’s game, as Luiz scooped a ball across the box to the far post and Mata, last seen limping from the pitch, popped up, corkscrewed Jonny “’ere have a wee set o’ me studs in the ribs” Evans, we all sharply in-took the breath as he swung the shovel… but no, it was only a glancing blow instead of the skull crusher we all believed we were about to witness. So the baddie escaped but we live to fight another day.
Twenty minutes into yesterday’s match, a two-all draw, with United hanging on to the cliff edge for dear life by the end, was certainly not the outcome many were anticipating.
Hazard and Mikel (as well as JT) were on the bench as the game got underway and the Ramires/Lampard combo were set up behind Oscar, Mata and Moses with Ba alone up front. It was one, further iteration of a team shape that has not really worked in the previous few weeks. With neither tempo, thrust or defensive solidity to recommend it, I for one feared the worst.
Who amongst us, contemplating the turgefest in Bucharest, coming on top of 50 shades of turge in previous weeks, was not fully expecting a rampant United to rampantly set about wronging the right that was done to them last Tuesday, by giving our beloved Chelsea the biggest rogering since Roger Roger rogered Mrs Roger in an orgy of rogering?
And, as so often with football, trying to second guess just how humiliation will be served upon you is a thankless pursuit.
Yes, you guessed that Hernandez would score. Yes, you guessed that Rooney, pausing to crush a Benson & Hedges under his heel, while taking a last sip from his glass of scotch would get in amongst the goals, but a Cech howler in the first few minutes followed by the simple defensive ploy of everyone failing to get any body part on a decently taken free kick from wide right only minutes later, left the game poised nicely somewhere between a rout and a bloodbath while 15 minutes was still in the dressing room applying the last touches to its makeup.
Two goals down after 11 minutes! Well the upside was we still had 11 men on the pitch. Ah but there was little dapper Howie Webb. Surely a blizzard of cards and penalties must be the guacamole and salsa side orders to the stale burrito of degradation that was now being served up?
Oh pass the sick bag, Alice, I just can’t take no more.
But somehow the slow, stumbling wagon train of our hopes made it to the fort of half time safety with no further damage inflicted.
How? You tell me. There had been plenty of alarming moments, not least when Luiz nearly turned it into his own net. It was Sir Peter of Cech, the Knight of Bohemia, fresh from fasting and praying in the Chapel of the Divine Redeemer, begging for a quest with which to redeem himself and thereby earn redemption, who appeared and saved the day, while we all wept piteously like a distressed damsel who has been saved this time, but knows that in a pre-enlightenment, feudal patrimony, where dragons roam free, there’s more distress where that lot came from.
Well, by half time, we’d been here before. Two early goals. The blitzkrieg. Then the pause. While not mounting very much of a threat, there had been a vague steadying of the ship. United weren’t going to make it into double figures it seemed. We had 11 men, we hadn’t conceded a penalty. We couldn’t could we? Nah! There were 45 minutes and a whole heap of pain to come. Yes it probably is the hope that kills you, but sitting and watching a right old pasting while wreathed in a thick fog of despair, can also leave you feeling like the winding sheet is just a little tight; asking,”Couldn’t they have chosen matching pants and socks to bury me in?” and “Will the mystery blond with the dark glasses be standing under the shade of the old yew tree as they lower me down?”
This is probably a good time to pause for breath, to try and lower the emotional temperature, crack open a refreshing cold one and steady the heart rate. Time, perhaps, for a change of scene, for a quick biographical note.
March 10th is the birthday of the Cajun/Swamp Pop legend Johnnie Alan. He is best known for his seminal interpretation of the Chuck Berry classic, “Promised Land”.
I am lucky enough to have seen him live. “Really?” you say, as you picture me in a steamy, low-ceilinged beer joint out in the prairies of South Louisiana, surrounded by sultry Cajun girls dancing ‘til dawn or maybe cowering under a table in a Houma nightclub, deep in the swamps, while drunken roughnecks fresh off the Gulf rigs knock seven shades out of each other in an orgy of pent up violence.
“Yes I did,” I reply, “It was Romford Leisure Centre sometime in the early 90s.”
And as the half time break winds down, we are as far from the Promised Land as you can get. So I put a dime in the metaphorical jukebox of my memory and listen to Johnnie singing “One More Chance”.
But we’re not going to get one are we? Rafa wouldn’t make a like for like change ‘til it was 6-0 and 70 minutes gone, would he? Oh why bother wondering?
What’s this? Begob. There’s only 52 minutes on the clock.
Rafa has had enough and like John Wayne in McLintock (1963) with that unmistakeable drawl, says to one and all:
“I know, I know. I’m gonna use good judgement. I haven’t lost my temper in forty years [cough, come on now Rafa that’s not strictly true is it?] but pilgrim you caused a lot of trouble this morning [err Rafa it’s maybe late afternoon, early evening], might have got somebody killed… and somebody oughta belt you in the mouth. But I won’t… I won’t… The hell I won’t!” [belts us all in the mouth]
And on come Hazard and Mikel. Within 10 minutes it’s 2-1 and within 20, it’s 2-2. Chelsea are running the game. United start to sit too deep and with one or two worrying exceptions can’t use the trademark long break out ball. The game has turned on its head and we are now seeing the kind of Chelsea that’s been lurking in hibernation and which we feared had disappeared entirely. There is a pace, a rhythm, a tempo to what Chelsea are doing. From somewhere they have found a belief.
ITV would have us believe that United are tired, while ignoring the obvious fact that Chelsea have played more games than anyone and have been to Bucharest and back in the same time that Rio and his mates have driven to and from whatever posh bit of that part of the world they inhabit.
And speaking of Rio, if Azpilicueta can be booked for some off the ball nonsense that I still haven’t seen, what will happen to the England captain-in-waiting? It was petulant and vindictive, though far from the “assault” that some were claiming. But plenty of players have had first choice of the shower gel for less. I expect the FA to come down with the full weight of their disciplinary powers with maybe all the weight taken off, just for once.
We didn’t concede a needless penalty and implode. There were no red cards. We had 10 men and Torres on the pitch at the end. No that’s mean. It was a team effort. So we can only assume the gods have some special torture to visit on us for the replay. But until then we can savour a classic Chelsea performance. For who among us did not just wonder secretly in a small mouse pocket of their mind, if there was a comeback like that Liverpool game at the Bridge still in this team?
If only Mata had gone “Short–side top shelf…Where grandma keeps the peanut butter” as @MRC_UK tweeted, no doubt, like myself, seeing De Gea’s save as more reminiscent of the ice rink than the football pitch. It seems a lot to be asking for the win, when they’ve come back from 2-0 down, but it would have been deserved.
To maintain the upbeat feel, look at the team that turned it around. No Lampard, no Terry. I am not dismissing the contribution they can make to this team, but merely pointing out that with only Cech and a still-young Mikel left from the days of glory, there is plenty to work with.
So I will finish with a Johnnie Allan double header, and why not.
Here he sings “Promised Land” on an old Jools Holland documentary, with a display of poor lip synching unequalled in the history of filmed music.
And after weeks of pain and anguish, for the many whose relationship with the club is now so fraught, the old Merle Haggard toon “Today I Started Loving You Again”.
Ladies and gentlemen, I thank you.
The Guardian, Daniel Taylor: “For a long time it had looked as though this could be added to the considerable list of indignities engulfing Rafael Benítez. It is not often the chants of “sacked in the morning” emanate from both sets of supporters and, at 2-0, it was shaping up to be the kind of result to accelerate the process of changing that word he dislikes so much. “Interim” might conceivably have become “former” if Chelsea had finished this match as they started.”
The Daily Telegraph, Henry Winter: “Benítez will never endear himself to Chelsea fans, following ill-considered past remarks, but he deserves praise for bringing on Eden Hazard, who swiftly scored a wonderful goal, and John Obi Mikel, who brought some resilience to a previously passive midfield. A counter-argument could be presented that Benítez should have started Hazard but at least he reacted, at least he made the right call. He is off in the summer but at least he will take the satisfaction of knowing he outwitted Ferguson here with his changes from the bench.”
The Independent, Sam Wallace: “Rafael Benitez looked like the loneliest man in football for the best part of an hour yesterday and then his luck started to change. Luck? It was the Chelsea manager who brought on Eden Hazard and John Obi Mikel, both of whom had a major effect on turning around a tie that looked well beyond them with 11 minutes gone and United two goals ahead. And then a strange thing happened, Chelsea transformed into a team capable of winning the tie. In fact, they looked like a team capable of winning the FA Cup.”
The Official Chelsea FC Website: “Our unbeaten FA Cup run continues thanks to a second-half fight back at Old Trafford. We have not lost a game in this competition in open play since this quarter-final stage five years ago, and thanks to second-half goals from Eden Hazard and Ramires, we live to fight another day in 2013 after a terrible start away to the Premier League leaders.”