Someone help me out here. I thought us Brits were fond of a good, old-fashioned ‘have-a-go hero’. You know the story; 85 year-old granny with two new hips fights off thugs using hatpin and shopping trolley, that type of thing?
Well, now I’m baffled. In Cardiff this weekend, our team of elder statesmen battled away and repelled a gang of marauding kids, but the pesky youngsters seem to have become the heroes of the hour.
David Cameron will be wanting to hug them next.
I’m sure this Arsenal obsession with kids and youth actually contravenes the law of the land. Aren’t there regulations about not overlooking elderly folk in favour of someone younger if they are still capable of performing the job? Lauren and Pires could probably sue.
The Sky coverage predictably droned on about the nation’s new favourite youngsters, with Richard Keys, Andy Gray and co. doing passable impressions of those simpering middle-class parents who can’t stop harping on about how their little angels are ‘just that little bit brighter for their age’ than everyone else’s.
(They didn’t mention what it would have been like on the Arsenal coach down to Cardiff though, did they? A bloody school trip, that’s what. Two hundred litres of fizzy pop, jammie dodgers, snot and vomiting accompanied by lots of crying. Bugger that.)
The first half seemed to follow the script perfectly. Arsenal’s toddlers zipped around the field like Wenger had hidden their Ritalin. Chelsea seemed slightly bemused by it all, with the thirty-somethings wearing wistful “remember when we were like that?” looks.
Cech, or the Cat in the Hat as he shall now be known, had already made a couple of smart saves when little Theo Walcott burst forth from his amniotic sac to give the Gunners a deserved lead after eleven minutes. Things, it seemed, were not good. I can’t imagine what Keys (who reminded me of the easily-aroused bear from ‘Bo Selecta’ on the subject of the Arsenal Kiddies) was wiping from his fur at that point.
A nation rejoiced.
But as those of us who’ve been around for a little while know, youth and innocence generally tends to get trampled upon by those with a bit of experience and guile up their sleeves. Hard-hearted buggers that they are.
Drogba, not even half a cornrow offside, latched on to a perfectly weighted ball from Ballack, another elderly chap with a bit of nous about him. Much waving at the linesman ensued as Didier slotted home his twenty-seventh goal of the season.
After a fairly torrid first half in which Mourinho’s men lacked any real outlet, Robben was introduced for Makelele to inject a bit of much-needed youthful pace into the Blues’ game. Arsenal continued where they had left off. Cech denied Diaby, Fabregas shot wide. This, I started to suspect quietly, may not be our day.
If the game hadn’t been particularly enjoyable for the average Chelsea fan until then, what happened next turned the stomach. John Terry, not looking at his best after a seemingly miraculous recovery from his midweek injury dived to meet Robben’s corner and met the full force Diaby’s boot coming the other way.
The reaction of players on both sides spoke volumes about the gravity of the situation. Credit to Gary Lewin, the Arsenal physio who was in attendance within seconds; seven minutes and a spinal board later Captain Marvel was on his way to hospital. Concentration on the rest of the game became rather tricky in the circumstances.
But we forget that JT is actually the Keith Richards of the football world. Indestructible – no quarter given, none expected. Unconscious and hospitalised at 4.30; back at the ground celebrating by 6.00 having discharged himself. Rumours that he had to push the ambulance the last half mile are as yet unconfirmed.
I can’t describe the winner as anything other than perfection; the perfect illustration as to why Chelsea’s name is on the cup and why the Arsenal kids are left with spoils of a supposedly ‘moral’ victory. Over-elaboration met brutal simplicity and Drogba met Robben’s perfect cross with Senderos nowhere to be seen (again). Didier, where would we be without you?
Then the toys left the pram. The Goonies showed the classic symptoms easily recognised by any parent after a busy day; as the fracas ensued, you could almost see Wenger roll his eyes and mumble “overtired…” as he went to sort his charges out. Bed with no tea or cartoons for Adebayor, Toure and for some reason, Mikel. How Eboue and Fabregas (a boy in serious need of an ASBO) fare on the basis of video evidence is open to question.
And so the Blues lifted (hopefully) the last major English football trophy in Cardiff. Five pots in under three years and still in with a fair shout of another three. Several of the Blues on the pitch were under twenty-five years of age, first team regulars and in many cases fully capped internationals, not that anyone bothered to mention it. Too busy telling the losers how they hadn’t really lost at all, no doubt. Modern parents, eh?
History, football or otherwise, is littered with talented nippers who are keeping thirty-somethings out of the first team or passing physics ‘A’ levels when their contemporaries are still filling nappies. Some fulfil their potential. Some are destined to spend their lives winning friends in the Carling Cup. As a PR exercise, the Arsenal kiddies are faultless. As a football team, they still have some way to go.
One final thing – do we really have to cheer Liverpool on next weekend?
- Carling Cup Final – Quote Unquote
- Pat Nevin: Reflections on the silverware
- FA charges teams over cup brawl