“Now it’s Spring again,
I’ll sing again,
’bout turnips and hamstered jam”
(an excerpt from “Bygrave’s Songs, But Only Dimly Remembered” by Springy Le Marr)
[Editor’s Note: Springy Le Marr (1939-?), poet and small time kangaroo rancher is now wreathed in obscurity, but was once referred to by the great critic F R Leavis as head and shoulders above his fellow poets in the 1950’s Queensland Neo-Realist movement, “… just as a dwarf on a pogo stick can sometimes be seen to bob above the heads of a group of pygmies.” High praise indeed.]
Yes folks, Spring is here. The promise of sunshine; long, lazy summer days, the smoky haze of a million barbecues blocking out the clear blue sky. But on the fresh warming breeze is the tang of regret, for April presages the end of yet another season.
And so like a smart, upright, gleaming bottle of full cream milk, we find ourselves one bright morning deposited on the doorstep of anticipation, waiting for the front door of glory to open and the bath-robed arm of fate to pluck us away and pour us onto the cornflakes of eternal satisfaction.
But in these precious moments as we anticipate the good things to come, there is that small fear that at any moment some common tit will come and puncture the taut, foil gold top of our expectations.
Instead of being enveloped by the fridge-cool freshness of entitlement we will be left warming in the heat of derision slowly curdling into claggy sourness, ready only for the plughole of despair or, if you’re one of those who can take it in their stride, perhaps kneaded by the skilled hands of acceptance into the soda bread of vague disappointment.
In deference to the lactose intolerant and those who think humour should be in some way be amusing, I will now desist from milk related references.
This international break has given us a chance to pull our trousers up to our ribs, tuck our knitted sleeveless jumper inside our pants and Brylcreem the side parting into a ferociously straight line before entering pater’s study to ask for a significant raise in one’s allowance.
Which is another way of saying we’d better be ready, because the next few weeks are season-defining for Chelsea.
And yes we are lucky to still be saying that, as the daffodils give way to whatever it is they give way to (look I’m not Monty Don). Those of us who’d completely lost our grip on reality during the early Autumn goal-fest would have expected the Premiership trophy to have only left our clutches long enough for the cleaners to give the cabinet a light dust before it was put back in there for another year, just about now.
The rest are probably relieved to be staggering away from the mid- season plane wreck: feeling perhaps a little thankful that despite our singed hair, we listened to mother and wore new, clean underwear for the journey. Because all that flying by the seat of the pants has left our arses dangerously exposed.
We have to ask ourselves whether this break came at a good or bad “moment” for the team. In Ancelottiville we exist at all times in a “moment”, ever-changing in nature, but always a “moment”. With the win over Citeh coming on top of success against the Mancs and Blackpool (henceforward known as the Donkey Botherers… oops), it felt as though we were building up a head of steam. And, while the performances were not outstanding, confidence was growing with key players finding some form. So did we really want it to stop?
On the other hand a it does give a little more time for some players to get over niggles and the long-term injured to get that bit closer to game readiness. It would be stating the obvious to say that given the upcoming glut of games, the more fit and functioning players available for the coming couple of months, the better. So there, I’ve stated the obvious.
I had a look to see what effect the previous breaks had on the team. Back in September when we were haring along, we hardly missed a beat as the Spammers were swept aside 3-1 at the Boleyn. However it was a somewhat different story when we played Villa after the October hiatus, with a 0-0 draw again away from home.
To a great extent the results seemed to fit the general pattern of form at the time. The Villa draw may be the exception, although you could argue that along with the defeat by Citeh a couple of games before, it was an indication that we might not be as good as early season form suggested rather than wracked with fatigue from international duty.
So, we just don’t know what to expect on Saturday and the weeks to come.
But what of us, the fans. What has the break done for us?
To many the job of re-arranging the deck chairs on the Titanic is a metaphor for futility and blind perseverance when all hope is gone. But with the bright evenings of Spring now upon us, I am determined to see it as an opportunity to make a strong statement about how key the placement of demountable furnishing in any outdoor context but particularly in extreme marine conditions, really is. Yes, I’ve decided to view the break as a “good thing” from the point of view of the fan.
This is indeed a moment to be savoured: one of those singular slivers of existence where time seems to have stopped still. The guns have momentarily fallen silent, there is a brief halt in the action. So, crouched with a cheek pressed to the cold mud of the salient wall, we pause, perhaps for the last time, to gaze upon the sepia image of a loved one before closing the locket and pressing it to our chest. Or we scribble our last thoughts and wishes and wedge them, with other valuables, in the splintered wood of a trench prop. Then on the piercing blast of the whistle we surge over the top to meet destiny head on.
There are eight games in April. Eight games in 28 days: more a hockey schedule than a football fixture list, as JM might put it. If the results keep going our way, the excitement will build with every passing game. To begin with we’ll start to feel that fourth place is secure, then third, then maybe second. In between times we might get a little step closer to another round of the Champions League. And yet… And yet one bad result and the sense of deflation could be nearly overwhelming. Every result is that critical.
We are walking the high wire. One slip and the upturned, expectant faces of the Big Top below will turn away in horror and disbelief. And if we don’t end in a crumpled corpse on the sawdust, we will at the least severely bruise our collective knackers (or lady-bits) on the steel rope.
But we have been here before. Last year was a roller coaster. Yes it was ours to lose, whereas this year we are doing the chasing, but as in this Sunday’s great one day Spring Classic, the Tour of Flanders if, after the battering of the cobbles (or the cobblers from the media in our case), the lung searing climbs, the cross winds and the rain, we are still in touch down the final straight, you have to fancy our chances in a sprint.
The late goal glut has maybe erased the memories of just how despondent we felt at times. I still cannot hear the words “Chessington World of Adventure” without a chill running up my spine. And that isn’t caused by the wallet damage or the Vampire Train, but by the chilling memory of United’s last-minute winner against Citeh and our defeat by the Spuds, later in the evening.
A chance to pause, to draw breath before we head into this turbulence is very welcome to me. Just as with the first scent of Spring, maybe the joy is in the anticipation and then, like those fond remembered, hot Summer days, where we forget the sweaty discomfort and the wasps in the sandwiches, it’s the savouring of the memories.
For it is a given that no sooner is the moment passed than the mind starts to work on filtering the lived experience into memory and so recollection is inevitably a changed world.
Do we really enjoy living through the anguish of knowing that one mistake, one lapse could end the quest for success? Can we face the inevitable despair when smiling fate once more snaps on the surgical glove of indifference and dips his cruel finger into the K-Y Jelly of ignominious failure?
I’m not sure. But I am sure that I welcome this opportunity to take stock and prepare for the emotional wringer. Starting with Saturday, every day of the next month will be some form of mental torture. Either we’re still going strong but waiting for the axe to fall or every step is a slow, painful progress to the knackers yard.
And lurking are the Mancs and the double header in the Champions League. Playing an English club has echoes of all those excruciating nights in Scouseland and Moscow. Whether your glass is half full or half empty, like a Humphrey with a red and white straw, they threaten to drain every last drop of joy from the milk glass of our souls.
But first things first. Stoke await us on Saturday. It’s a big, big, game. It will surely set the tone for the run-in. Having spent over a week in joyful relaxment and dreamy anticipation, the stomach is starting to tighten, the palms to sweat.
Yes, maybe like listening to Max Bygraves, you’re just happy before it starts and when it’s all over there’s the blessed relief. But let’s not think too deeply about how we’re going to live through it.