The scene is the grand hall of St. Chelsea of Stamford Bridge School for Bi-Polar Excellence, somewhere in a leafy suburb in South West London Town. The uniformed students in varying degrees of piety and wretchedness stand in front of the main stage area, smirking and generally joshing as young men do. Some are mere scruffy haired urchins, others the model of senior pupil sartorial elegance. The Master of Ceremonies bangs the gavel three times onto the raised dais and in a slow but calm booming voice calls out the assembled throng.
“Please be standing for your Headmaster, the Right Reverend Dr. Anthony Jockstrap Blueheart-Glover.”
Silence descends upon the sniggering hordes and expressions change from boyish grins into respectful… nay fearful… frowns. Their moment is near. The Headmaster stands at the dais, peers over his funky designer vari-focal glasses, his authority visible through the glowering eyes and furrowed brow. The mortar board is tilted slightly as if just ever so slightly being positioned for a launching across the sea of faces at the first person to snigger, cough or twitch. No smile shows on his face. He merely exhibits a blank tableau of emotionless coldness. This is the moment of truth for the everyone in the school, from pupils to teachers and patrons alike.
“Gentlemen, you may sit… quietly.”
He gathers his thoughts through a moment’s pause, allowing the fear and trepidation to build just a little more…
“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.”
The mood is sombre, for no member of the school can be sure of what to expect. Everyone has the nagging pain of doubt and fear.
“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, our defensive line first…”
“Mr. Petr Cech…” a pause and the tall slender figure looks up to the stage… “You’ve shown promise which still flickers on occasions, but you’ve let your fears overcome you and you have gone into your shell on too many occasions. You’re still a big hope for this school but I fear complacency has crept in because you don’t have to fight for your place. This will change and you must try harder if you’re to reach your earlier potential young man. 7/10 for results, 6/10 for effort.”
The young man looks downward to hide the merest hint of a smile. He knew he’d not been at his best but… he had another chance.
“Mr. John Terry…” the young man looks downwards… he is not sure what will follow… “Stand proud young man. You are the School Captain and of course, the captain for your country. You have been immense yet again. You sir, are a true leader and despite your shortcomings, you make up for all of this with effort, pride, passion and leadership. You have every right to be proud. 9/10 for results and 10/10 for effort.”
“Mr. Alex… what can I say? You fooled us into thinking you were a makeweight… a stand-in… a deputy… but this term you have been a revelation. When Senor Carvalho decided to get himself crocked you selflessly and tirelessly looked into the breach and then stepped into it. You’ve made one or two minor errors but young man, you can be proud of this term’s achievements. Of course we will want more. 8/10 for results and 9/10 for effort.”
He looks down concealing the broad smile. Damn… he knew he was better than they said.
“Mr. Ashley Cole…” the fresh faced youngster looks bright eyed to the stage… “Despite your apparent problems keeping the old chap out of trouble, you have buckled down and produced your finest results since we rescued you from that North London School for Sleaze. You have ignored the hostility of the baying mobs from other schools to show your real capability. Well done young man. Just try to keep the trouser snake in its house… OK? 9/10 for results and 10/10 for effort.”
So far so good. The ensemble warms to the presence of the man they fear, loathe and love in equal measure.
“Sr. Jose Bosingwa… you show great promise but have a tendency to operate outside of the role we have planned for you. Occasionally you can’t decide which of your minds to operate… the great defender, or the marauding wing back. It has led us into some unnecessarily sticky situations, but you have great ball skill, score the odd goal and can cross the ball. In anyone’s books you’ve made a decent start. 7/10 for results and 7/10 for effort.”
“Sr. Carvalho… look at me boy! I don’t know what happened, but you’ve had so many injuries it’s affected your form. And now I am told you’re looking for pastures new with barbed comments about a lack of support from us. This school is a meritocracy young man, no-one has an automatic right to a starting place… well apart from Mr. Terry… and maybe young Francis Lampard. It’s a shame because you’ve been a good servant to us. Maybe it is time to part, but I’d rather hoped it was as friends rather than bitter former colleagues. 4/10 for results and 4/10 for effort. Good bye.”
“Mr. Ivanovic. I had my doubts. Under former Principle Grant I was even convinced that just like the badger, you were a made up entity. No-one ever saw you in the flesh. I am happy to say you’ve proved me wrong. You have a great future here, unless we get a silly offer. 8/10 for results and 9/10 for effort.”
“Master Mancienne. Keep it up lad, keep it up. You’re coming along nicely, just don’t rush things. 7/10 for results and 8/10 for effort.”
He pauses and with a lower, almost apologetic tone he says, “Paulo Ferreira and Joseph Cole, you are excused from any ratings on the basis of injuries sustained in the line of duty, however… young Joseph, you did display disturbing signs of a lack of awareness, focus and effort prior to your injury. One can only hope your absence has given you time to think and reflect on your early season folly.”
The back line breathes a sigh of relief. None can be too unhappy with their assessment. Sweaty palms are now dry, and pride swells as the Headmaster leads the congregation in a hearty round of applause.
Silence descends as the Head’s patience suddenly seems to run out.
“Now we hear about the midfield, the linchpin between our brave defensive line and the front line boys of attack. Mr. Lampard… what can I say? You are a model of professionalism and consistency, an icon of this school and a man for whom the word professional could have been invented. You have big balls lad, and defended your honour well against that hideous radio oik who tried to besmirch your name. Your efforts alone in the FA Cup Final bought us that wonderful old trophy again. Gentlemen, I hereby announce that yet again, Francis Lampard is St. Chelsea’s Top Boy. 9/10 for results and 10/10 for effort.”
The crowd erupts into applause, including the Head. Only a small dejected figure refuses to join in. The Head spots this truculent boy and immediately stops clapping. He glowers at the quivering student… and the hush falls again. The reddened cheeks of the Head tell everyone in advance that this will not be pleasant. Then the roar starts…
“Sr. Deco! Yes, you boy, stand up will you! I had great hopes for you, but you’ve let me down badly. You’ve let the school down and you’ve let all these colleagues of yours down. You didn’t even try to adapt. You’re lazy… a quitter… you are NOT sufficiently bi-polar which makes you NOT the type of person we want at Chelsea. 2/10 for results and 1/10 for effort. Sir… you are dismissed… you are the weakest link… good bye.” At this point an embarrassed silence is rent asunder by the roar of laughter from the boys at a rare joke from Sir. And no, they’re not laughing with Deco, they are laughing at him.
“Herr Ballack… your arrogance serves you well. Sometimes I wonder what you do, but when you’re missing from the team, nothing seems to work quite so well. You are the archetypal midfield general. Unspectacular mostly, but mightily efficient. 7.5/10 for results, 8/10 for effort.”
“Essien… yes boy… you… wake up now. You also have what the Spanish call ‘cojones’. You battled back from injury to give everyone a lift in the latter part of term. Your success against Barcelona was indeed worthy of the biggest stage, it’s a shame your error led directly to that night of pain and anguish. However, you will have learnt that a Row Z punt is sometimes the right option and for your effort on returning we all forgive you that error. 7.5/10 for results and 9/10 for effort.”
“Obi. Obi… Obi… Obi. A big term for you which saw big improvements in your game. You are calm on the ball and reassuringly solid in midfield. You are very much part of the future. 8/10 for results, 7/10 for effort.”
“Mr. Salomon Kalou. Kalou-less as we like to call you. You have talent but seem to lack intelligence. You are our Scarecrow. For all this I believe you can still be a great player and this season has seen some improvement, especially when linking with Monsieur Anelka and Mr. Drogba. 7/10 for results and 7/10 for effort. Must try harder.”
All that could be heard was the shuffling of rich young backsides shuffling in their seats. A swarthy young Frenchman sat quietly with beads of sweat pouring down his face. He knew what was next.
“Monsieur Florent Malouda. Stand up boy. You had a disastrous year last term, and for much of this year you were equally as bad. But of course our relief teacher Mr. Hiddink came in and saw something in you. It is a credit to the man that whatever he did, it saw you transform into a model pupil finally achieving close to the potential we first saw in you. For that you are to be congratulated but it must continue. Another term of slacking will see you spending time with Sr. Deco. 8/10 for results eventually and 7.5/10 for effort… sit back down and think about what I’ve said. You have the ability, now just continue to show the desire.”
“Sr. Belletti, a sterling effort but I fear we must part. On good terms of course. 7/10 for results and 7/10 for effort.”
“Gentlemen, before we move on, honourable mentions here for Masters Stoch and Di Santo, especially for their efforts against Stoke City which helped us win a game that looked to have slipped from our grasp. Both have futures, maybe with us maybe not, but I do hope our new Principle does give them the chance to show their mettle…” he turns the page and smiles… “Now onto the attack dogs…” the boys laughed as this was a perennial school joke term for what was often viewed as the most thankless of roles, but often the most rewarding.
“Monsieur Anelka. The great misfit, the great wanderer and the moody one. Top scorer huh? We all knew you would score goals because it’s what you do, but to see the work rate and the effort, the selflessness and the sheer ability on the ball has been revelatory for many. A very good year indeed and we fully expect you to take a leaf from Top Boy’s book and repeat this next year. It’s good to see you working so well with the team. 9/10 for results and 8/10 for effort.”
“Gentlemen, onto the last of the pupils…” a tall muscular boy stands up… the Head looks down. This boy is the puzzle inside the riddle wrapped in the enigma.
“Mr. Drogba. The most bi-polar of all. Dissenting one minute, unswervingly loyal the next. A complex boy, a thinking boy… a boy who maybe thinks too much. Comfortable in his skin one minute, fighting the world the next. But on your day there is no-one better and for that you may find yourself indulged a little longer. One last bit of advice. Even if something is a fucking disgrace, it’s best you don’t share that with a cameraman. 8/10 for results and 6/10 for effort… mainly due to the idiocy of your early season performances. Although I do understand the issues you had with our former Principle, this alone cannot excuse your performance at the Theatre of Nightmares that is Old Trafford.”
The boy smiles. He knows where he’s well off but it’s taken a long time to work it out. He also knows… he just knows he can make it up to the lads. He just needs to stop thinking so much…
The Head looks across the crowd. Not bad he thinks. The new Principle, Signor Carlo Ancelotti looks on from the side of the front row. He has been taking copious notes and his face gives no clue as to the future of this group.
“We give thanks to Mr. Abramovich for the support he has given us, and we continue to acknowledge his part in this school’s progress towards bi-polar excellence. To Mr. Kenyon, the Chief Purser we throw a nod as acknowledgement for your part in building our new brand. Your Mancunian roots still serve as a point of distrust in your desire to see the team become successful though. To Sr. Scolari… all I can say is this: After a promising start it became all too obvious that we severely misjudged your ability to operate on a daily basis at this level with such talented athletes. Unfortunately for you our rivals also saw through your one and only game plan and therefore it was without much regret that you had to go. 6/10 for results and 6/10 for effort… mainly due to the fact that you really didn’t seem too bothered about whether you stayed or departed.”
“Finally, to Mr. Guus Hiddink, the school and its devoted followers and staff would like to doff an almighty mortar board in your direction. Despite my own personal misgivings you showed that game plans needed to change, you restored fitness, pride and most of all belief. You made us close to being a title winning side, you got us close to the Champions League Final again after Sr. Scolari had stumbled us through the group stages. And you brought us a first trophy for two years, whilst at the same time finally extinguishing the ghost of The Special One. Francis Lampard Jr. maybe Top Boy, but you get the award for Top Man. 9/10 for results and 10/10 for effort. You will always have a special place in our hearts and will be most welcome to come back in some capacity after your Russian adventure is over.”
Spontaneous applause erupts and no-one can hear the sobbing of the Brazilian Portuguese boy standing alone outside holding a suitcase. The Head casts a final eye across the crowd… and once again speaks…
“Good people, this has been an eventful year, a rollercoaster ride of highs and more lows than we care to experience. All of which makes us stronger. The highs came against Juventus and Liverpool in the Champions League, beating an old Principle from this school whilst remembering fondly his efforts to move us on during… less affluent times. The Liverpool games will live long in all our hearts… well… those that carried on beating afterwards!” A ripple of laughter washes around the hall. “The win over Arsenal in the FA Cup and the Premier League more than compensated for them being the second team to come to our revered home ground and beat us publicly. Our marvellous away record is another point to be proud of, and of course who can forget the FA Cup Final day and the joy that saw us bring the oldest trophy in football back to this special place. Of course the lows were out in force as well, notably our first home defeat in four years to our mortal sworn enemies from the red half of Merseyside. The Arsenal defeat stuck in the craw especially when the winning goal was so blatantly offside. The defeat… well the technical defeat against Barcelona hurt a lot as well, but no-one this year anywhere gave them such two hard games as we did. And for me, the real lows were pathetic displays at home against Newcastle and Hull. It was the Hull game that sealed Sr. Scolari’s fate. The owner patently having seen enough to know his investment was in danger of being set adrift, but not on memory bliss. We now look to Signor Ancelotti to guide us onto more and greater glories. We wish him luck. I now declare this school term officially over – enjoy your holidays boys. We’ll see some of you next year.”
The hats fly into the air, proud parents clap from the sides. Wives and girlfriends squeal with delight. The boys break into broad smiles and a spontaneous three cheers for the Head.
He once again peers over the rims of the glasses, a taut smile starting to form as the pride swells inside him. He is tired. He’s kicked every ball, tackled every player, and headed every cross. He’s laughed, he’s cried, and he’s shouted and screamed. He’s looked on in a silent mixture of dismay and disbelief. He’s jumped for joy and hugged more strangers than is probably appropriate. He has lived and breathed the St. Chelsea of Stamford Bridge School for Bi-Polar Excellence. These are his boys. Now he can rest and recharge, and like everyone else can watch the summer madness unravel in front of him.
The Right Reverend Dr. Anthony Jockstrap Blueheart-Glover slips away quietly, slowly closing the huge wooden door behind him. Time to think about next week’s edition of the Bi-Polar Express.
Keep the Blue Flag Flying High!