Who Dairies Wins – Musing on the Human Kind of Milkiness

The Diary of a Dorset Dairy (well a holiday near a dairy farm actually)

The Rural Idyll

My soul enervated by the stresses and disappointments of our Champions League campaign, I was driven to seek solace and spiritual rejuvenation in the Deep South.

Yes, a week in the bucolic loveliness that is the county of Dorset. What better tonic for the flagging spirits than the mythical Wessex of Thomas Hardy (1840-1928), one of England’s great men of letters.

Hardy always considered himself a poet first and foremost. Indeed following the hostile reception from a conservative middle England to his last two great novels, Tess of the D’Urbervilles and Jude the Obscure, he concentrated on his poetry which, while considered decent enough and championed by some, never reached the heights of his best prose.

Surely, there is something instructive here for those who would react to the hostility that greeted two fine, compelling League titles, by hankering for recognition through the very different form of the Champions League?

How best to summarise the work of Thomas Hardy? The Oxford Companion to English Literature is a good place to start.

“The underlying theme of many of the novels, the short poems, and the epic drama The Dynasts is, in Binyon’s words, ‘the implanted crookedness of things’; the struggle of man against the indifferent force that rules the world and inflicts on him the sufferings and ironies of life and love.” [my italics]

Oh to be blessed with such fine a sense of the footballing condition, without first enduring the pain of watching Chelsea!

Hardy Country it was then. What better place to contemplate another season spent supporting Chelsea Football Club? A place to take pause before the Cup Final. Indeed, a place from where to observe the final weekend of the Premier League, the demise of the Geordie nation and, in mid-week, everybody’s “Dream Final” [sic].

Appropriate too that I should take to a rural setting just as Chelsea prepared to bid farewell to a Dutchman, who in his youth expected to become a “Stront Boer” (a farmer who makes a living from selling his livestock’s manure), and made ready to welcome an Italian who grew up on a pig farm.

Surely it is only a question of time before the team starts running out to the theme tune from the Archers (a long running BBC Radio 4 soap detailing the everyday lives of country folk). What with the media damning our approach as “agricultural” when compared to the suave, slick urbanity of Barcelona, we might as well plough on and go the whole hog.

A Dutchman Flying High

And what a great farewell to Guus it proved to be on Saturday. The day’s events were ably summarised by Nick in his match report and I have little to add. At one and the same time I sat choking back a tear while asking myself the age-old question of why we invest so much emotion (not to mention hard earned wedge) into 22 blokes chasing a ball around a pitch? Needless to say no immediate answer presented itself.

It was a good team performance and once more demonstrated the inner strength and cohesion that has become a trademark of Chelsea in recent years. Irrespective of tactics and injuries, it was his inability to foster this aspect of the group that damned Scolari’s regime in many fans’ eyes, I believe.

Well done to Everton and their fans. That is not said in a patronising “pat on the head” tone but in recognition that losing hurts whether you are the underdog or not. I would certainly have been gutted to lose but can honestly say I would not have begrudged them a day in the sun. Would I have stayed to applaud them? I’d hope so, but am equally glad not to have my resolve tested.

See See Rider

A quick word on the ITV coverage. So as not to be reduced to a jellied wreck, I didn’t watch the build up and only tuned in some 25 minutes before kick-off. It was just in time to hear Steve Rider refer to “The all Blues Final”, or some such, before we were treated to a bit of film featuring Seasick Steve with his singular take on the Delta Blues tradition.

Back live, the cameras lighted on his somewhat bemused looking self, standing by a stairway. I couldn’t make out who he might be supporting.

Continuing the distinctly “Southern” tinge we were then treated to the traditional singing of Abide With Me led in Gospel stylee by the London Community Gospel Choir, before the spell was broken when the expected Bluegrass treatment of the National Anthem failed to materialise. Still, can’t blame ITV for that.

On the commentary front, I was thankful they partnered Tyldsley with Jim Beglin (ex-Liverpool and rumoured to be a Chelsea fan) so we were guaranteed some semblance of good sense and fair play.

The whole shebang signed off with Bruce Springsteen’s version of the old American folk song “Keep Your Eyes on The Prize”.

So for a fan of Americana like myself it wasn’t a bad day at all. Fair play to ITV. The play on the “Blues” may have been a little heavy handed but it made a change from the usual arias, rock anthems and Mariah Carey nonsense they usually choose for these occasions or, as was the case with the use of Elbow’s “Beautiful Day” over a montage of Manure winning the Prem a few weeks ago, wilful spoiling of a wonderful song for the rest of us (though I don’t begrudge the band the royalties – they’ve paid their dues).

Getting The Boot

Our last Premier League game was a curious affair. Thousands of Sunderland fans going mental, (a friend of mine says it was the loudest noise he had heard in a football ground) as their team lost but Newcastle disappeared through the trap door.

Anelka scored a beautiful goal that went largely unremarked as did his earning of the Golden Boot. Indeed we saw more of Phil “The Tan” Brown’s execrable rendition of “Sloop John B” at the end of Hull’s great escape. (Any watching Manc fans probably thought that was the worst thing they were likely to see on a football pitch that week. It wasn’t.)

Inflation v Deflation

There was no time for the media to reflect on Anelka’s “Goal of the Season” contender (except it wasn’t; Match of the Day didn’t consider any of Chelsea’s 68 goals worthy of inclusion) because by then the enormous bouncy castle of media driven Mancunian expectation was already being slowly inflated culminating on Wednesday with the likes of Henry Winter driving away like a piston at the footpump of overblown puffery.

Pity the Manc fans who saw this as an invitation for the swinging leg of fate to boot them firmly in the bracket.

I did not wish to disturb my regenerative commune with nature by torturing myself through the build up to the “Dream Final”. I was dreading but expecting a Manure victory. I restricted myself to a few minutes during the first half and a few Teletext updates (a service that was still showing the score 1-0 when the game had been over for five minutes). I passed the time reading about the exploits of the legendary Fausto Coppi (1919-1960), a great, if not the greatest, racing cyclist, who encapsulated both the light and dark which are intrinsic to that, and indeed any, sport. A man who seemed to carry with him a melancholia borne of the knowledge that to struggle against his fate was indeed futile and no longer seemed to have the will to quit when years of competition had destroyed his physical condition. Malaria made the decision for him in 1960. Sobering reading indeed.

But it didn’t take too long for my mood to lighten when I found out the result. I also then understood where the annoying hissing sound, like a slowly deflating balloon came from.

I Knock ‘Enry Down

It wasn’t until the following day that my sister passed me Henry Winter’s article from Wednesday’s Daily Telegraph. Take a moment to savour this. Be careful though, have a medical professional in attendance, as you will be in danger of dying with laughter. Yes Henry, by all means nail your colours to the mast but don’t hit your hand with the hammer.

The phrase that stood out, among many, was this:

“Yet Barcelona allow opponents to breathe, to express themselves”.

No Henry they don’t. If they have the ball you can’t get it back and if you do they try to dispossess you as close to your 18 yard line as they can.

With Iniesta and Xavi they play a possession game of real quality, but the other side of the coin is that they are equally as good at pressing to deny you space and time. You need to defend well, move the ball quickly and accurately past the midfield and get at their back four. It means they usually have more possession than you, but you might just beat them. Man United didn’t do this well enough, apparently.

From what I can tell Barcelona were impressive but United disappeared for large parts of the game. I get the feeling this game won’t feature in the top 10 European Dream Finals of all time when the lists are compiled in years to come.

But He Gets Up Again

Having given our ‘Enry (Winter that is) a bit of a pasting, I must now warmly embrace his pummelled torso and kiss his bruised face. For he went on to write the following finely crafted piece of sports journalism.

Irrespective of talent, you win nothing unless you get a group of players who want to play for each other and the club. They don’t have to be friends, they don’t even have to particularly like each other. They do, however have to have that indefinable quality founded in mutual respect that means they will function as a group and sublimate the personal for the good of the team. Careful, skilled man management is central to building this. Another period in Chelsea’s recent history clearly highlights the importance of these elements, which I was reminded of by another book I read during my country convalescence.

We Got Knocked Down

Instead of burying myself in the works of Thomas Hardy, centred as they are in a pastoral England on the cusp of the Industrial Revolution, an England soon to change forever, I looked to the world of the vegetable and immersed myself in Celery – Representing Chelsea in the 1980s by Kelvin Barker. A book centred on a club on the eve of a financial revolution and soon to change, perhaps forever but certainly for the better, in terms of achievement.

Now I should declare an interest here. Kelvin used to work with my partner and I have spoken to him on the telephone on one or two occasions. Knowing I was a fan, he gave her a copy to pass on to me when it first came out a couple of years ago. I must confess that it has taken me some time to get around to reading it. As someone who didn’t get more than half way through Harry Harris’ turgid All the Way Jose, I have fought shy of football books.

So it was a pleasant surprise to read an entertaining account of the ongoing madhouse that is our beloved CFC, as we trampolined between divisions and regularly imploded just when things were going in the right direction. The whole tale is leavened with often humorous, at times thought provoking anecdotes of a dedicated fan following his team through a difficult period for British society (when isn’t) and League football, let alone Chelsea FC.

It is the authenticity of personal experience that makes the first part of the book distinctive. The second part frames the memories of some of the main characters in the drama. Figures such as Colin Pates, John Bumstead, Micky Thomas, Pat Nevin, David Speedie, Kerry Dixon and John Neal to name quite a few of them. Freed from the usual media interview speak, their thoughts seem imbued with a refreshing honesty while a love for the club and its fans shines through.

For those who were there, I’m sure there will be much that chimes with your own memories. I myself was too busy to have seen much live football in the 80s. Too busy battling back through the following cars in one last desperate bid to stay in touch with the peloton before the next big hill, on yet another windswept day somewhere in Essex (or Hertfordshire, Surrey, Bucks, Berks, it’s all one painful blur), only returning to the Bridge in time for the joys of the Porterfield years. So it was enjoyable to piece together my own disparate memories while filling in the gaps left by being a part time lightweight.

But We Got Up Again

For me, the theme that resonates through the book and through the memories of the players is both the success of John Neal’s team and the wasted potential once he was forced to retire (by whom or what seems a matter for debate). The key ingredients were his man management skills and Ian McNeill’s scouting ability combined with the players attributes of commitment and drive (and no little skill) that meant a willingness to go the extra mile: to train and play harder. There was an innate understanding amongst them, which, in combination with Neal’s ability to get the best out of those players, promised so much. Sadly it all leeched away under the stewardship of John Hollins and Ernie Walley.

To my mind that same heady mix has come together again. I think Ranieri went some way to concocting the brew, Mourinho of course ignited it, before the flame was very nearly doused by his successors. But Hiddink has primed the wick and the flame is strong again. Can Ancelotti keep it alive? We shall see.

I would certainly recommend the book as a worthwhile read. Don’t dismiss it as being some sort of geeky trainspotter type nonsense because it isn’t backed by a big publisher and written by a name. It was a labour of love and is well worth the time and effort in my opinion. I’d lend all of you my copy but hey, Kelvin deserves some financial reward and what’s a tenner to us blinged up chavs, for 400 hundred pages, an index and some photos, if it buys you a bit of history (as some of those so called “neutrals” might put it).

And I So Nearly Got Locked Up Again

Kelvin’s book doesn’t shy away from the more unsavoury aspects of following Chelsea in the 80s and he recounts many tales of the good and bad apples in some of Britain’s constabularies. I myself am in debt to the generosity of the Dorsetshire Constabulary, who dissuaded the local RSPCA representative from pressing charges of cruelty to a defenceless animal through the irresponsible use of a musical instrument.

Being football men themselves, they understood how a city dweller rarely gets the opportunity to find out just how easy it is to hit a cow’s arse with a banjo. (It’s actually not too difficult provided the animal is tethered, as they can move at a fair lick if you have to chase them round a field.)

We’d Herd It On the Grapevine

So it only remains to bid welcome to our latest managerial recruit. My father was raised on the subsistence farms round the hills and bogs above Kilgarvan in County Kerry and would often wish you well with the saying “May your hand kill a pig, and the pig be your own”.

Carlo will understand I’m sure, being a pig man himself and something of a personality, if those excerpts from his book are to be believed. He seems to have the respect and affection of his players at Milan and we’ve seen how important that can be.

[Safety notice: No animals were harmed in the composing of this bloggery]