The Bi-Polar Express: FA Cup Souvenir Edition

This was a momentous week in the lives of all those who love Chelsea Football Club, which by any standards is an experience like few others in how to experience such extremes of despair and joy. After two years of a trophy room starting to smell a bit musty due to nobody having any reason to open it, two years of Champions League heartbreak, two years of missed Premier League opportunities, two years which saw us lose to the detestable Spurs in full public view at Wembley, the rot was finally stopped by a superb and well deserved win over fellow Blues Everton at Wembley.

Much has been said over the last few years about the tarnished image of the FA Cup, about its faded romance and its dimming light under the full on glare of allegedly greater competitions. When I say greater I actually mean richer and more financially lucrative. The All Conquering Sky Premier League and The Megabucks Behemoth that is The Champions League have certainly done their utmost to relegate the season’s showpiece finale to that of nothing more than an amusing folly. The influx of foreign coaches has further encouraged this view as well, steeped as they are in footballing cultures where the idea of a knockout competition is an anathema to a season’s toil of strategy and skill. For the likes of the triumvirate of evil, Tubby Benitez and Arsehole Wenger, and now surely to his eternal shame Sir Purplenose of Manchester Village, the other competitions were games of chess in comparison to the roulette table. Skill and planning for one, pure luck and guesswork for the other.

Mastermind versus Deal or No Deal.

These three fools all wax lyrical about the importance of the cup competitions before putting out second string sides but then purport to be aggrieved when lesser sides, desperate for success, capitalise on luck and reserves of inner spirit to overcome their own great leaps into the unknown that come from playing ‘reserve’ teams, full of pre-pubescent rosy cheeked cherubs barely able to comprehend the sudden necessity for copious amounts of Oxy-10. To our eternal credit we have not, as yet, succumbed to this selective attitude towards success. In fact from the top four we are honestly the only club that hasn’t gone down the ‘play our foetal range’ route, something for which barely no-one has given us credit for. Chelsea Football Club respects every competition it enters and tries to win it. Claims from Manchester Village, Liverscum and Airline FC along similar lines can be dismissed as empty, dishonest and meaningless platitudes.

To a degree it’s easy to understand this viewpoint, after all any success that comes down to hard work, planning, dedication, patience, belief and skill has to be more rewarding and satisfying personally. Doesn’t it? To most of us we’d agree that this is indeed worthy and virtuous, but of course what it does is remove the thrill of the unknown, the thrill of not knowing how the dice will fall, the thrill of the gambler. Work hard and earn your corn is an honourable way to live, but then why do so many of us do the lottery? Want to toil away for 40 odd years for a semi-decent pension and the proverbial gold watch, or would you rather scoop this Saturday’s lottery rollover of £8m? I know what would make me happier.

The FA Cup isn’t devoid of skill, it’s just harder to plan for unknown or unfamiliar opponents and every game is effectively a one-off. In that 90 minute period any great side having an off day can be unceremoniously dumped on its podgy Premier League posterior. Humiliation is a spectre that is never far away. Maybe the triumvirate of evil fear this spectre that hangs over knockout games, and maybe we, having faced down and been beaten by the ghost of humiliation many times before, know deep inside that it isn’t Freddie Kruger or Michael Myers. No, I think we realised some time ago that it’s the Slimer from Ghostbusters. It’s sticky, uncomfortable and tastes vile, but you can wash the slime of humiliation away and come back with some proton packs and beat it next time. We are the Ghostbusters! Ruud Gullitt was our Dr. Egon Spengler, Gianluca Vialli was the stressed Ray Stantz, and of course Jose Mourinho was our mischievous Peter Venkman. Guus Hiddink was merely a hybrid of all three rolled into one uber-Ghostbuster.

All true football fans of course aren’t wrapped up in the business of football, but are inextricably meshed into the romance of the game. That’s why local derbies count, that’s why relegation cuts so deep, that’s why a trophy is a trophy… it’s symbolic of achievement, of reward, of being valued and just for once, of being winners. The arrogance of the triumvirate of evil will never let them consider the feelings of their fans about a trip to Wembley for the Carling Cup, despite Manchester Village winning it this year. Does anyone really think Sir Purplenose really gave a stuff about winning that trophy? Deep inside does Wenger really care one jot what the Arsenal fans think about yet another trophy-less season when he displays such utter contempt for a competition that his first team stood a damn good chance of winning? Sadly, they appear to feel the same way about the FA Cup and that along with Manchester Village’s reviled decision to withdraw a few years back may have inflicted a serious wound on the old girl. But it didn’t, and their disregard for the world’s oldest competition hasn’t dimmed it in most people’s eyes, including their own fans.

My whole Chelsea life began with an FA Cup Final. The 1970 Final to be precise. Until that time I had merely been a football mad kid with a vacant footballing soul. I was a football club virgin. I’ve told the story many times, but in essence most of the school mates I had wanted Leeds to win. The reasons as far as I could make out were that Leeds had finished above us in the league in second place (Everton were first) and the name Leeds implied ‘leaders’… well we were only nine at the time. Even back in those days kids latched onto the more successful teams and my own area of West London had its unhealthy share of Leeds fans, Spurs fans and Manchester Village fans (sucked in by the Best/Charlton glory years). However, when I questioned my dad about who I should follow for the cup he was absolutely firm in his view that we would support Chelsea because they were the London team and the underdogs. At this point the explanation of the term underdogs was required to ensure that I wasn’t confused by seeing certain dogs underneath others in the park that I’d assumed were just playing an unsuccessful version of doggy leap frog. That sealed it. The romance of supporting the team no-one expected to win and that happened to be reasonably local as well excited me. Although London was a very big city to a small boy, and Stamford Bridge may well have been in… ahem… Yorkshire as far as I was concerned… imagine my shock when I found out many years later that the original was in bloody Yorkshire! The idea that I was gambling self esteem and credibility amongst my mates took its grip and Chelsea Football Club had taken moved all its baggage and belongings into the vacant echoing rooms of my footballing soul and put a sign outside saying ‘All Rooms Taken’. A blue flag was raised above the roof of that soul declaring permanent residency and will only come down on the day I shuffle my way off this mortal coil. And even then, in the afterlife, if one exists, I’ll be a true Blue. All because of the FA Cup.

Within days I knew everything there was to know, every player, every manager and the history of the club. Way prior to any posters from Look-In magazine of The Sweet, Slade and T-Rex adorned my room, pride of place belonged to Ron Harris, Ian Hutchinson, Peter Houseman, Peter Osgood, Bobby Tambling, Alan Hudson, Peter Bonnetti, Eddie Macreadie, Charlie Cooke, David Webb, John Hollins, John Dempsey, Tommy Baldwin and Marvin Hinton. They were the reason I am who I am now. They are why I love this club and they are the reason I fork out several hundred pounds each year for a season ticket and merchandising. I cried when we were losing the replay at Old Trafford. My heroes had let me down, the full brutal cruelty of football fandom was hitting home at the first hurdle. Within minutes of being despatched to the kitchen for the customary evening treat and comforter of two biscuits, as my small boyhood hand rummaged around the tin, and my brain feverishly tried to work out how to wolf down a few more before going back in I heard the howl of delight from my dear old dad as Osgood latched onto a dream ball from Cooke to equalise. The rest is history and the brutal cruelty had been transformed into the sheer joy of winning. There are fewer more addictive drugs and from that day I was as hooked as the person experiencing their first trip on acid.

That’s why it matters. It forms children’s (and adults) allegiances. It teaches them about the cruelty and majesty of life’s lows and highs. It is truly a character forming experience. It is the beginning of a love affair at the hands of the cruellest yet most beautiful of mistresses. That’s the romance of the cup.

There’s not much to add to Nick’s fine post match report. Not a single Chelsea player had a bad game, and exceptional performances were once again visible from Malouda (my Man of the Match again… who’d have thought?), the superb Anelka and the newly humble but persistent Drogba. Young Mikel Obi also had an outstanding game, proving to me it would be utter madness to even consider letting him go after such a consistent and progressive season for the lad. Everton were the stereotypical plucky challenger, stunning us with the early goal. Well, maybe not stunning us… it was more akin to being slapped on the wrist for dozing off at the start of the lesson. It’s a long time since I’ve been less worried about an opponent scoring against us first. After the early goal we simply took calm and cool control of the game and the equaliser was barely a surprise to anyone, including Everton. After that goal and despite the game petering out for a while at the start of the second half mainly due to 41 degrees of searing early summer heat, it was clear that only one team would go on to win. The more we held the ball, the more plucky Everton chased, and the more tired they became. Frank’s goal was utterly sublime, and of course had Stevie-Me scored it then as the Good Kaiser himself said to me, it would have surely been named The Gerrard Final. The newly revitalised Malouda had a superb strike ruled out as the referee and linesman couldn’t be sure it crossed the line. Hardly their fault when one watched the sheer speed and dip of the shot. But yet another example of how we seem to get less decisions rather than more. Just one minor downer was the utter bile spewed from Craig Burley on Setanta Sports (whose all day coverage was utterly superb… they do seem to get the romance of the cup), despite the rather excellent commentary from Jon Champion. I know as ex-Chelsea he won’t want to seem biased, but honestly he barely gave us credit for anything, and his dismissal of Frank’s goal as being more down to Howard’s poor goalkeeping than Frank’s thunderbolt was downright disrespectful.

What else can I say about the day?

As special as 1970? No, cynicism affects me as much as anyone these days and that win was experienced through the blue tinted eye glasses of childhood innocence and wonderment.

As special as 1997? No, because that ended 27 years of a success wilderness patch. That win was a glass of water to the dying man crawling through the desert of failure and underachievement.

As special as 2000? Yes, probably even though the old Wembley was weeks away from the wrecking ball.

As special as 2007? Even more so. As welcome as that win was it also came at a time when the acquisition of trophies seemed a regular occurrence and our expectation levels had been inflated to new and unreasonable levels.

The last two years have been as trauma filled as I can remember as we lurched from the success highway to the cobbled street of failure and heartbreak discarding managers like cabinet ministers discard their posts. The sun shone, Wembley looked great, we played in yellow, the Magners flowed, the champagne flowed, I went from coolness personified to gibbering wreck the minute Abide With Me, stunningly performed by the London Community Gospel Choir (surely a permanent fixture after that), started and the last 10 minutes saw me transformed into a Tourette’s afflicted lunatic, screaming into ChelseaBob’s plasma screen. The final whistle felt like someone had finally punctured me before I exploded. The rest of the evening is a blur due to the excitement, the heat and in no mean part the alcohol. I loved it. Every last nerve shredding minute of it. It’s times like this that one remembers how great it is to be alive. I truly hope it’s the start of another period of success.

I’ll leave my thoughts on the season and the huge news that our new coach is Carlo Ancelotti until the next Bi-Polar Express. That may appear next week or the week after as I’m off to ‘le Sud de France’ for a long overdue bit of downtime. The season review will also follow with the full array of player ratings, fan ratings and lies, damned lies and statistics. Plus an early look into Madam Chelsea Tony’s crystal ball for some early predictions. Order your copy now!

And here we have the usual collection of facts, gossip and lies with my very own BS rating alongside where 0 is fact, 1 is possibly true and 5 is a heaving smelly dung pile of utterly rotten putrefying bullshit.

Carvalho ready to leave Chelsea – TG BS Rating 2 – Quite possibly true. As much as I love Riccy he hasn’t featured this season and it’s arguable whether we’ve even missed him. Both Alex and Ivanovic have proven to be worthy understudies and at nearly 32 and seemingly injury prone perhaps it’s time to cash in.

AC Milan midfielder Andrea Pirlo has ruled out a summer move to Chelsea to link up with his old manager Carlo Ancelotti – TG BS Rating 2 – Who needs Pirlo… what on earth can he add to our current squad? Good, stay where you are.

Chelsea placed a record bid for Kaka in order to gazump Real Madrid – TG BS Rating 4 – Highly unlikely – even we’re not daft – £75m was being spoken of in total – if Roman is releasing £100m then there are three or four others we could and should get. Ribery, Villa and Aguero spring immediately to mind as a collection to excite and rejuvenate the current squad.

Frank Ribery, David Villa, Ashley Young, Ross Turnbull, Sergio Aguero, Glen Johnson, Alexander Pato and even Samuel Eto’o are on their way, probably amongst many others – TG BS Rating 3 – Who knows, the silly season is well under way and maybe one or two will arrive with the exception of Eto’o as we don’t need another ageing Barcelona dud after the last one.

Jose Bosingwa is being courted for a possible move to Bayern Munich – TG BS Rating 2 – As part of a swap deal for Ribery perhaps? I like Bosingwa, but Johnson was ruined by Mourinho and looks a decent player at Pompey. With Ivanovic able to play anywhere across the back four then maybe this is not such a bad move.

Chelsea misfit Deco is on the verge of a move to Inter Milan – TG BS Rating 1 – Dear lord please let this be true. Anyone of the loyal readers of this blog would drive him to the airport just to make sure he’s gone. A waste of money, possibly our biggest, even bigger than Shevchenko who at least tried his best.

And finally, culture corner, lyrics dressed as poems; with a tangential relationship to Chelsea at best… these words are not far off how I felt on Sunday morning.

I’m a phallus in pigtails
And there’s blood on my nose
And my tissue is rotting
Where the rats chew my bones
And my eye sockets empty
See nothing but pain
I keep having this brainstorm
About twelve times a day
So now, you could spend the morning walking with me, quite amazed
As I’m Unwashed
and Somewhat Slightly Dazed

Keep the Blue Flag Flying High!