A Familiar Haunt…
A solitary beam of sunlight filters through the tall stained glass window in the Grand Hall of St. Chelsea of Stamford Bridge School for Bi-Polar Excellence, illuminating the particles of dust dancing in the glow of the morning’s first light. With the sunlight comes a warm current of air permeating the darker areas of the huge atrium lined on either sides with the soon to be filled pews. Outside the songs of the Sparrows and Starlings do battle with the menacing tones of the Ravens. The sounds of summer indeed. The parquet has been polished, the silverware cleaned up, the medals sparkling in their velvet bound and lined trays.
The Right Reverend Dr. Anthony Jockstrap Blueheart-Glover flared his nostrils and breathed in deeply. A smile meandered across the thinning lips as the nostalgia filled memories of another passing season flooded back in.
The heady bouquet of polish, mixed with the sweet scent of the freshly cut flowers either side of the stage and the faint chemical aroma of the Goddards Long Term Silver Polish combined with the illicit smell of the pre-ceremony Don Ramos Cuban added up to one thing for the good Doctor – the smell of success.
The smell of achievement.
The aroma of faith, belief, dedication and bloody hard work.
He reigned himself in lest he portray too much jollity… that would never do for the boys or the staff. This was a ceremony about celebration but the sombre weight of duty and expectancy to underpin the dignity and gravitas of the institution had to be maintained. An image needed to be maintained and God help him for admitting to this… the ‘brand’ needed to be protected. Damn those marketing types and their weird bastardisation of the beautiful English language. He despaired every time he sat with them and a shiver ran down the spine at the thought of yet another marketing moron using phrases such as ‘waterfall cascades of knowledge‘ or ‘keeping everyone on the same page‘ and just one more person uses the phrase ‘picking the low hanging fruit‘ and he was sure he’d transition into a cross between an agitated Keith Moon and a Terminator T-1000. But he had to accept that the fine institution had seen enough threats to its image this year. The School was still learning how to deal with the peaks and troughs that accompany success, and learning how to counter the evil acolytes plying their trade in the Fourth Estate. Those shysters and thugs, those imbeciles filled with alcohol (and more in all likelihood), bile, vitriol and envy, would go to any length to dig the dirt on his beloved establishment. Let’s get it started he thought, the damned ceremony had been delayed enough with a lot of the pupils off on some overblown festival in South Africa. But they were all back now and ready to be rewarded.
Outside the gathering pupils started to turn up, more mature somehow, as if elements of last year’s ceremony had finally sunk in. They seemed to realise the importance of the event. This year though, the joshing and banter was embellished with a prevailing veneer of pride layered over the obvious joy of the School’s most successful year to date. 105 years old and finally… finally on the map. History may well be mostly bunk, but patience and bloody hard work brings the rewards of trophies, confidence, joy and satisfaction he thought… mentally adding the line ‘and money’.
The cloister bell rung its familiar tone and the boys, one by one shuffled in, some faintly smiling, some with the look of stoic defiance. All standing tall and proud and resplendent in the school blazers and ties.
Above the muffled commotion a cry of “Please remain standing for your Headmaster, the Right Reverend Dr. Anthony Jockstrap Blueheart-Glover” echoes around the atrium. Quiet descends upon the Great Hall interrupted by the sure steps and comforting sound of quarter-tipped heel on wood. This was never easy, but this time it seemed a little lighter in tone. He wasn’t sure how he felt about that.
‘Gentlemen, please be seated.’ He turned his head upwards and glanced at both sides of the upper balcony, newly refurbished to include seats so that the ceremony could be watched by… hmmm… well… ‘others’.
‘I would ask that the assembled throng of proud parents, relatives, friends and… ahem… acquaintances… of our pupils please remain seated and quiet until the appropriate time. I will clearly signal when it’s right for you to… ahem… acknowledge the team.’
He thought he glimpsed some blonde haired, white stiletto heeled vacuous bimbo snigger… but in a rare moment of apathy he decided not to pursue any further comment. besides the marketeers would find a way of bringing it to the attention of the board, and he already had the feeling that they were looking at ways of ‘modernising’ his beloved institution. No need to pinch the tiger’s tale he thought… not yet anyway. The beginning of the speech was as always, word for word the same as the previous year, a tradition held over decades. He liked tradition, he liked heritage and he liked history.
‘Today we are gathered here for annual public report covering the performance of all involved with St. Chelsea of Stamford Bridge School for Bi-Polar Excellence… Gentlemen, this is a very important day for the school. Today you will find out just exactly where you stand on the things you did throughout this school year. For some this will be a chance to celebrate your achievements and to receive the deserved credit from your peers for your hard work. For others it will be an experience from which you should listen hard and learn from. For some, it will be painful, hard to hear and… as you know we believe the chance to be part of this esteemed establishment is one of life’s greatest honours. For those who have dishonoured our great establishment, there will be public scorn.’
He did what any self respecting Principal would do and took a fleeting moment to send a panoramic glare across the hall over the top of the even newer funky designer varifocals. It never occurred to him that the irony of the juxtaposition of his sense of tradition combined with his penchant for trendy glasses and clothes was a well worn subject of debate with everyone at the school.
‘Gentlemen, we start of course with the pupils… the people upon who we trust to take us forward and through the delivery of great results, to take us to glories anew. To boldly go where no ‘Blue’ has gone before. Gentlemen, as always this means starting with our defensive line…’
‘Mr. Petr Cech, please stand up…’ This was new… the pupils had never had to stand up before. Cech stood up, not nervously, but slightly shocked by this change of tack from a man they all looked up to.
‘Well done young man, the road to recovery is often long and strewn with setbacks, but you’re showing more and more resilience and there’s no doubt that when you’re injured we are more nervous than usual. A good overall 8 from 10 on results and 9/10 on sheer effort. Be proud and enjoy the break. Sit down now and enjoy the rest of the ceremony.’
Sniggers and gasps flitted around the hall, stopped immediately by one of his best disapproving over the glasses stares. Cech sat down and smiling he visibly relaxed in his seat.
‘Mr John Terry… get up young man.’
Terry stood up and looked at the good Doctor, but the reciprocated glower made him bow his head suddenly.
‘My God, you’re a great Captain. You fight to the death metaphorically speaking, you battle and you always try your hardest. For that I cannot fault you.’
The smile went over his lips, but the subsequent words cut him short…
‘BUT young man,’ said the Doctor accentuating the sentence but not quite to the level of an enraged shout, ‘you’re behaviour away from this fine institution stinks. You seem to be incredibly stupid when the ball isn’t within your vicinity… allegations of acts with team mates’ ex… ahem… acquaintances… allegedly dodgy payments in return for tours of our facilities… your PR isn’t good at all. It MUST improve or I have no doubt the Marketeers and The Board will make some big decisions on your behalf. But there’s no denying you have been the Captain under the school’s most successful ever period and for that alone you get 9/10 on both counts. Now sit down, think long and hard and try and keep things under control… you know exactly what I mean!’
Even the Principal had to smile at that… the resultant sniggers and giggles were allowed to ripple around for a few seconds. At heart thought the Doctor, he’s just a typical hard working man led by primeval urges rather than brains. He smiled just a little… after all we’ve ALL had those moments and yes, he meant ALL of us!
Terry sat down, thankful it hadn’t been worse, because frankly he knew he deserved it.
“Mr. Ashley Cole…’ and before he could finish saying the words, Cole was stood bolt upright and looking straight at him. The message had got through.
‘Well done boy. You’ve had troubles, but they’ve been entirely of your own doing, and it’s obvious by the lack of any… ahem… presence in the Gallery that you’ve paid a heavy personal price. The best lessons are the most painful. Your effort in supporting the goals for this school have been noted and you also deserve a 9/10 on both counts, plus a special notation on the report because of your refusal to cave in when that injury threatened your continuing contribution. Well done young man, but learn those lessons.’
Cole smiled and sat down. Was the old boy getting a bit soft?
‘Ricardo Carvalho…’ Up stood the Portuguese gent in question…
‘Not your best year, plagued by injuries and uncertain form… it seems that change doesn’t sit well with you.’
Carvalho nodded slightly as if he already knew this, but he had a point to prove… all he had to do was convince the boss that he was till the man at centre-back.
‘6/10 on both counts and a warning to pull your socks up next year… you are very talented… but your lack of commitment when things are uncertain make it look like your a bit of a sulker. I want you to succeed whilst you’re here so let’s look forward young man not back… now sit down.’
Carvalho duly obeyed. Not a whisper was heard around the great Hall. He was on a roll now and the tone and speed of his voice picked up… after all this was a celebration for the most part. He wondered if he was going a bit soft.
‘Next – Branislav Ivanovic… what can I say?’ The young man looked shyly upwards.
‘Marvellous young man, marvellous. A shining example of hard work, following instructions, great ability and superb reading of every situation. Top marks, and a special distinction for this year. No one gets 10 from 10, so you get 9.5 on delivery and effort. Enjoy the summer and come back strong. You were very nearly St. Chelsea’s Top Boy this year.’
As Branislav sat down, he could feel the pride bursting from his young chest. A small ripple of applause started up and the good Doctor was momentarily mortified, but he let it build and and then intervened…
‘Please everyone, there’ll be plenty of time for that later… Michael Ballack… quiet, deadly efficient and once again a head scratching contribution. It’s sometimes hard for those not in the know to see what you bring to the party but I see it, and I thank you for it. I know you’re off to pastures new, but you go with our thanks and our best wishes for the future. Who knows you may be back one day in a different capacity. We all know you have the intelligence to go far, your final report will show 8’s on both counts.
‘Francis Lampard… I won’t dwell. Wonderful again. Model pupil. 9/10 on both counts. Terry… take a leaf from Lampard’s book on behaviour.
‘Florent Malouda… your best year yet young man. You’ve matured and learnt the lessons from last year. Keep it up and well done. 9/10 on results and 8/10 on effort.
‘Joseph Cole… a mystery wrapped in an enigma. All of the skills, loads of effort but none of the results. We know your demands and I tried to argue the case but The Board, headed up by the Very Learned Lord Kaiser Jonathan Dyer Esquire including Doctor B.L. Uebayou, Lord Marco of Manni, Sir Dave BlueBoy, Count PeteW and young Baron Haberdashers have all decided that your time is over here. We wish you luck but with regrets over so much unfulfilled promise.’
Cole sat down, he’d known this for some time. He was determined to show them… anyway he had to call that nice Mr. Wenger up after this ceremony. He seemed a pleasant chap… perhaps he could help?
‘At this time I’d like to mention some casualties for whom we can’t grade… Mr. Jose Bosingwa and Mr. Michael Essien. You have big futures here and you have our sympathies for the bad luck on injuries. Mr. Bosingwa especially has a huge challenge getting his place back from young Ivanovic!’
Both young men looked at each other. Both were a mixture of sad and angry at having been denied the chance to be part of the great achievements this past year.
‘John Obi Mikel… a good all round effort. I’d like to see more positivity in your play, running forward more often. You had big boots to fill and did a good job overall. 8/10 on results, 7/10 on effort.
‘Mr. Alex… another fine season proving last year was no fluke. Well done and let’s see you do it even better next year or Mr. Carvalho will be ready and waiting! 8/10 on both disciplines.
‘Nicolas Anelka… a bit lower key this year, but then we know why. Your selfless attitude towards your fellow striker is to be admired even if it has cost you goals. I still maintain your ability to hold the ball and keep it under control is unmatched by any of our rivals. You have earned your extension young man, 8/10 on both counts.
‘Mr. Kalou… well, well, well… another season of sublime and ridiculous, and yet you’ll be staying. This is because your attitude is utterly faultless and just because you make poor decisions I do see enough there to continue to persevere with you. Now, get more goals and things might be even better for you… 7.5/10 on both counts.
‘Yuri Zhirkhov… it looks good and you must be patient. I admire your flexibility and willingness to play in a number of positions. Your attitude us good despite not always being a first choice. I like what you show. 7/10 on both counts which as everyone knows… is a good start here.
‘Mr. Deco. I know what you can do. The fact that you decide to show it only sporadically does for you here now. Lengthy sick-notes didn’t help and overall the attitude just wasn’t good enough. You are the weakest link… goodbye.’
The brazilian boy was conspicuous by his absence… and the sad fact remained that no-one had really noticed. How very apt thought the Doctor. The pupils look utterly apathetic although a few laughed at the weak joke. The Principal knew it was weak, but humour wasn’t really his bag on occasions like this.
‘Mr. Didier Drogba…’ and even before the big Ivorian had stood up the applause, defiant in its nature thundered across the hall. To his own surprise, even the good Doctor found himself smiling and applauding. He was going soft dammit! But this boy was an enigma. Deep and mysterious, complex and commanding respect, yet strangely susceptible to moments of utter madness. And utter brilliance. He continued…
‘…your best with us yet young man. A record tally of goals getting you our own Golden Boot award but the overall one as well. Goals at Wembley and finally… at the Theatre of Nightmares. To think that jug eared balloon faced Rooney chap beat you to Footballer of the Year… even I think that’s an insult. You have been inspirational and even when I doubted you, you came back even stronger. You are this year’s St. Chelsea Top Boy. Well earned for the 10/10 you get on both counts…’ The watchers all gasped to a man and woman… this was unheard of before. It was akin to the Korbut Olympic perfect 10’s… unprecedented. Even Drogba himself look shocked.
‘Sit down young man, you’re now a major part of our great and growing history.’
‘Before we go into the team’s achievements, let me cover off some of those who have been on the fringes. They don’t get rated and yet at some point have all made contributions to this, our most successful year. Juliano Belletti, you leave us with thanks and admiration, we wish you well. Daniel Sturridge, you have a potentially great future with us, I look forward to seeing you develop. Paulo Ferreira… a stalwart who we know we can rely on… Gael Kakuta… we can see the confidence and potential, carpe diem young man, carpe diem. Hilario, thanks for coming to our aid when needed, the same goes for Ross Turnbull. Keep plugging away Turnbull. Jeffrey Bruma, Patrick Van Aanholt, Sam Hutchinson, Fabio Borini and Nemnaja Matic continue to show us that we can and will develop the new breed to take this great club forward.
‘And finally we turn to the new man and his assistant… Signor Carlo Ancelotti and Raymond Wilkins… The Board would like to express their heartfelt thanks for bringing such success to the Club, but also bringing quite confidence, an aura of calm and stability as well. Mr. Wilkins, you have shown your value across the whole team, helping coach the first team and the younger players, liaising between all players and Signor Ancelotti… and yes… even being happy to put the cones out. Well done. Signor Ancelotti, even the most suspicious amongst us have had to admit our misgivings were a mistake. You have made this club great and returned us to where we feel we belong. And more importantly where our kind benefactor, Mr. Abramovich, expects us to be. A simply stunning start, and all done without tarnishing our image, or affecting our… ahem… brand.’
He knew that would annoy some, especially the hinted sarcastic intonation on the word ‘brand’… he allowed himself, as deeply reverend as he was to utter the thought words… ‘Fuck ‘em!’ His cheeks blushed at the use of such industrial language, albeit internally.
No-one noticed this small slip… the change in stance meant he was now addressing the whole of the Great Hall… he continued.
‘To all of you gathered here today let me tell you about this season. Like all of you the memories of Premiership glory were starting to fade. The level of joy that brings to every soul who loves this august institution cannot be matched. We felt joy last year at winning the grand old trophy, the FA Cup, after what we all thought might be yet another silverware drought season. To do that again is of course a great reason to celebrate, but to win it after securing the pinnacle of English football prizes is indeed a source of immense pleasure. That sense of pleasure is made even more acute in my own case, as such was the turbulent nature of the season on the field and in some cases, off the field…’
His eyes flashed towards Terry. His and everyone else’s as it turned out.
‘I am fortunate enough to remember the epic battles between Muhammed Ali and Joe Frazier, and the Rumble in the Jungle between Ali and George Foreman. These were fights which swung to and fro as to comparative old stagers stood toe to toe and slugged it out to the very end. This season was like those fights. From the very start we were in truth battling against our enemy in Manchester United. For three years they won the top prize, whilst in truth we ate the remaining crumbs left on then table. It’s almost as if that fateful Moscow night had injected fear into our renowned steely heart. It’s taken time, different coaches and finally a combination of experience and calm with some new blood to take us back to the level we were at under Mr. Mourinho. Are we there yet? No… would be my opinion, but we’re damn close!’… A slight intake of breath…
‘And from the ups and downs of a season, a season incorporating hard fought wins against those who did humiliate us last year through scintillating displays bringing us 5, 7 and 8 goals on several occasions to strange muted defeats at Wigan, and the new hated money rivals in Manchester sky blue. Do not forget Tevez and his ridiculous diving antics against all and sundry this year. Mr. Drogba has learnt the folly of that way, but like him I find it odd that Tevez barely gets mentioned for his swan dives, whereas this year’s Top Boy will always be mentioned in the derogatory manner, irrespective of how true it is now. Do not worry young Drogba, it’s just an example of the hideous anti-Chelsea bias prevalent in a predominantly Arsenal, Liverpool and Manchester United loving press. Putting the downs aside, the highs were fantastic and the coach, his assistant and the players have a lot to try and live up to next season. Can we win the Champions League next year? Of course… but that prize may be at the cost of others… history, despite being mostly bunk, does show that few teams win their league and win the Champions League, but it isn’t impossible and we all know which prize Mr. Abramovich covets the most… even so, we now have the belief and Mr. Ancelotti has already promised some of the younger elements that they will be part and parcel of the first team squad. We’re saying some goodbyes but will be saying some hellos as well. Mr. Benayoun, formerly of The Liverpool School for Underprivileged Kids Who Are Gullible and Don’t Read Too Good will be joining us, and… well… let’s wait and see what the summer period brings us.’
He paused, adjusted the glasses and prepared to finish proceedings…
‘We tried to progress our European adventure, but as luck, or UEFA would have it we met up with our old friend, Jose Mourinho, and despite being confident it was was obvious that no-one knew better how to thwart us than our former hero. But despite that disappointment and the subsequent poor away draw against a much inferior Blackburn, we entered the end game part of the season head to head against Manchester United. Yes Arsenal were still there despite being emphatically beaten by us and United. But despite their easier run in they… choked… I believe that’s the in-phrase nowadays… and you people didn’t. In fact you went further than secretly any of us expected and ended the season, knowing we needed to win against a potential banana skin team in Wigan, and you dished out an 8-0 lesson. Listen, there is no better way to decide where the title is coming and even in our greatest moments in the past, I think we can all say we’ve never felt the old place rock quite like that. Capping it off a week later, eschewing the chance to really celebrate to ensure this great club joins the small list of those who can say they have done The Double. Let people decry it as no longer the achievement it was. And then ask them who they support and when the last time they did it was!
‘And so we come to the end of this ceremony. It’s been a very good year. It’s pre-season very shortly, and it’s coming to the beginning of the next adventure. It will be tough, no-one else has weakened, but neither have they strengthened to any great degree… as yet. Our focus will be the Champions League and that will be the top priority, but we can at least get to the last four again. And once there… well… why not us? I can also see another tight battle for the Premier League, between us, the Academy of Manchester United and now the College of Manchester City, and The Arsenal Kindergarten will be there. A four way battle should whet everyone’s appetite! That scoundrel Redknapp has improved the vile Tottenham Hotspur Approved School who might well be dark horse for the top four coveted positions. The Liverpool School for Underprivileged Kids Who Are Gullible and Don’t Read Too Good will battle it out with Aston Villa College. And… well who cares about anything else… you’ve all earned the right to celebrate, even if big expectations and improvement is expected from some. Overall, as a team, as a unit, as a group who wanted that taste of glory, you’ve done this school proud.’
The audience stood without the cue… the tension and expectation filled the musty air…
‘We now look to Signor Ancelotti to guide us onto more and greater glories. We wish him luck. We wish you luck, but then we also know you have the ability to minimise our reliance on that fair Lady. I now declare this ceremony officially over. For some our holidays start now, and as per usual I will be away for August… my deputies will be watching you all closely… now please celebrate in the time honoured tradition and… err… well… party on and let’s keep The Blue Flag Flying High!’
The hats fly into the air, proud parents clap from the sides. Wives and girlfriends squeal with delight, some even cry. The boys break into broad smiles but not delirious cheering, they all seem a little more mature now… but they still look towards the stage and and again they uniformly give three cheers for the Head.
He once again peers over the rims of the glasses, a moistening around the eyes forms, which he immediately dismisses as sweat… probably the Stilton and Crackers he had for lunch accompanied by a very tasty, but highly illicit glass of Rioja. It wasn’t a tear and he wasn’t going soft, he semi-convinced himself. He wasn’t even tired as would be usual at this ceremony, but he’d had the break and this was a late occasion due to the soiree down South Africa way. Yes, as usual during the season he’d kicked every ball, tackled every player, and headed every cross. He’d jumped and slumped all within minutes, he berated and complimented the same boy within seconds. Yes, it was in his heart and soul. He had and always would be fully encased within the St. Chelsea of Stamford Bridge School for Bi-Polar Excellence. He wouldn’t have it any other way.
The Right Reverend Dr. Anthony Jockstrap Blueheart-Glover slips away quietly, slowly closing the huge wooden door behind him. He sat in his office, the whoops and cheers, the laughter now moving away from the building toward the marquee. He’d pop down later for a Pimms and a pint of Old Thumper. When the fuss had died down. For now, he kicked off the shiny metal heeled shoes, slipped off the robe, removed the bow tie, undone the buttons on the Tyrwhitt shirt, leant back in his battered old leather chair, stockinged feet on the leather embossed desk. The no smoking sign caught his eye. He smiled… he knew that wise caretaker Benfield… in his eyes the real boss… had used his techno-geek knowledge to disable the smoke alarm in the office. Good chap that Benfield he thought. He pulled n ashtray from the draw, unravelled the 9” Cohiba Cuban special… an hour’s smoke at least, he fiddled with the engraved Zippo lighter. He poured the Rioja from the decanter into the large tulip crustal glass, a reassuring ting rang out when glass touched glass. The sunlight streamed through, and as the computer played the first strains of Shine On You Crazy Diamond… he lit the cigar… sometimes life was just perfect… if there is a heaven… could it ever match this?