I am a Pilgrim and a Stranger

A sideways look at some of Chelsea’s away games for 2008/2009

It’s a bit late for a "Season Preview" but one thing’s for sure, you’ll have read plenty of previews that are more relevant, talk more sense and provide you with far more footballing insight than will this post. However you are unlikely to read any that combine bluegrass, gospel, Geoffrey Chaucer and the history of Paraguay, not to mention Marian worship, Catholic doctrine and reference to the Byzantine Church. Interested? I thought not. But read on anyway.

The sound of fiddle, guitar and the inimitable Byrds… "I am a pilgrim and a stranger, travelling through this worrisome land…"

So goes the old bluegrass/gospel standard and I wouldn’t be surprised if Luiz Felipe Scolari finds himself humming this old tune from time to time.

In common with many of my fellow Chelsea fans I combed through the myriad profiles that littered the media following the appointment of The So-So One/Le Grande Felipe. Apart from the many references to Gene Hackman (already covered on this blog in the review of Possible Managers as Fictional Detectives), something else made me don my hard hat, check my Davy lamp and reach for my caged canary. Oh yes, here was a rich seam and I was going mining!

I am referring to Big Phil’s devout Catholicism and in particular his devotion to the Virgin Mary. Much was made of his visit to his ancestral home near Milan and the subsequent 12 mile walk to the local Shrine of Our Lady of Caravaggio.

Well, as someone raised in the Church of Rome, who has washed up for the Jesuits as a boy, thought he had a vocation to the De La Salles as an adolescent and inadvertently taught in an Opus Dei establishment (not an experience I would want to repeat) as a student, this was all grist to my theological mill.

Now I don’t want to cause offence, mock a man’s sincerely held beliefs or put myself in the way of eternal hellfire and damnation, but this is all just too good an opportunity to miss.

So put on your sandals, grab your staff, take a firm grip on your rosary beads for it’s that time "Than longen folk to goon on pilgrimages". [Line 12, the prologue to The Canterbury Tales, Geoffrey Chaucer, (c. 1340 –1400)].

Yes we will take Phil on a pilgrimage to the…

Selected Premier League Shrines of England

Like all good pilgrims we will spend our time in prayer and contemplation of our mortality and sinfulness, and then have a rest, a beer and a fag.

In order to maintain the religious and prayerful nature of this disquisition, each Shrine is given a rating based on how I think the result is likely to go for us: win – Heaven; draw – Purgatory; lose – Hell.

Bearing in mind that we were the most successful outfit on the road last year we should be looking for a lot more heaven than hell, but who knows?

The North East

The Shrine of St. James – Newcastle United, 4th April 2009

Currently in the throes of waving goodbye to the Second Coming. Notable for the Feast of St. Pius, a martyr famous for being eaten by cannibals, when on the coldest day of the year overweight Geordies expose their flesh as the watching crowd sings “Who ate all the Pius?”. Such devotion notwithstanding it is a shrine notably lacking in silverware.

We often struggle at this northerly outpost but it’s a critical stage of the season – Heaven.

The Shrine of St. Okoe – Sunderland, 24th May 2009

Legend has it that the Roker Roar is the voice of God. It certainly elevates the soul and evacuates the bowels. The twin

Irish Saints, Niall and Keano are currently engaged in feverish missionary activity, imbuing a discipline and order to the natives, not seen since the Jesuits in Paraguay during the 17th century.

As they have adopted a missionary position I predict a right royal rogering on the last day of the season (oops, we’re on pilgrimage) – Heaven.

The Shrine of St. Jack of Charlton – Middlesbrough, 18th October 2008

Where the great man prepared himself before going off to bring enlightenment to the Irish. A shrine that always promises great things but somehow disappoints. Notable for the McClaren Festival where the locals all carry an umbrella and practise a wonky smile.

Well I just don’t know, they look weak but… Purgatory.


The Shrine of Blessed Dean Windass – Hull City, 29th October 2008

A new shrine raised in honour of the popular Blessed Dean of Windass. There was an attempt to promote him to Sainthood when a local eight year-old was cured of heroin addiction after claiming to see his face in a melting welly, but this was later established to be another apparition of the well known Northern Irish martyr St. Ian of Dowie.

Our first visit, they’ll be up for it but class will out – Heaven.

The North West

The Shrine of the Truly Cross Manchester United, 10th January 2009

Why so called? Because every visiting pilgrim is heard to mutter "Jesus, they’re nailed on to get a penalty". Should this not happen and victory somehow elude them, then someone, usually the referee, will be crucified. Notable for the feast day of St. Fergus of Govan, when the locals (and all the faithful from Cornwall to Kent) paint their faces red and refuse to ring any BBC phone-in.

I’d like to hope we revert to the old days where we had a string of victories but I’ll be happy with… Purgatory.

The Shrine of Eternal Hope Manchester City, 13th September 2009

Standing to the east, as the Byzantine (Orthodox) Churches stand in opposition to Rome to the west, Citeh has always been a home for those who see themselves as invested with greater doctrinal rigour and self-denial. Now sharing the fate of Byazntium and falling into the hands of the followers of Islam. The locals wear their rosaries around the neck in memory of Blessed Sven who always had trouble keeping his in his trousers.

Bound to be a more severe examination than under the Blessed Sven, they’ll be up for it after recent events – Purgatory.

The Holy of Holies – Liverpool, 31st January 2009

Anfield, the Holy of Holies, the spiritual home of football, tended by the chosen nation, a holy people set apart, football’s high priests… Yeah right, if you believe Radio 5 Live. A singular history of unbridled success way back in biblical times, but of late they’ve too much time spent worshipping the golden calf of Champions League success while wandering the Premier League desert. In an effort to be their Moses, Rafa’s grown a beard but it’s a long way from matching Charlton Heston’s and every time he comes down the mountain with the Tablets, the line-up has changed. Notable for St. Gerard’s Day. A moveable feast, usually around February, when their most revered son appears to many and concedes it won’t be salvation this year but (almost) certainly next year.

Having said all that it’s heartbreak for us – Hell.

The Shrine to St. Jack of Walker – Blackburn Rovers, 8th November 2008

Jack heard the Lord say, “Build it and they will come.” Trouble is that in his excitement he ran off before the Lord finished and so didn’t hear him say, “… but only for a while.” So he built, they came and now they don’t.

With Ince keen to help his old mucker a tough road to Heaven.

The Midlands

The Shrine to St. Stanley Stoke City, 27th September 2008

A shrine to the great man whose disciplined and humble ways meant in 320 years and 40000 games of football he never got a booking, a fate that some of us wish might have befallen the Spice Girls. Notable for Saliva Day when the locals go around dribbling in honour of St. Stanley.

We should have too much for them – Heaven.


The Abbey of the Beautiful Game – Arsenal, 9th May 2009

Under the ascetic intellectualism of Abbot Arsene of Wenger, the Abbey of the Beautiful Game has come into pre-eminence. Thriving under the strict Wengerian Rule imposed by the Abbot, it is notable for its learning, evinced by the Great Library and the strict vow of silence taken by those sitting within.

I fear the worst despite recent joy – Hell.

The Shrine of de Sales – Tottenham Hotspur,  21st March 2009

Takes its name from the nearby Church of St. Francis de Sales and not as many believe from being a selling club. When young, St. Francis believed that he was damned to hell and so great was his despair that he was physically ill and bedridden for a time. This of course is the natural state of body and mind for most habitués of this shrine once the early season optimism has worn away.

Ooo err, I hate to say this but – Hell.