Yes, I know I’ve been conspicuous by my absence over the summer, and there are very good reasons for this. First there was the annual family sojourn to the South of France for the whole of August and alongside this was the utter sense of deflation I got from England’s pathetic and dismal World Cup showing, a situation I blame Sven Boring Eriksson for entirely. The milk of football was soured by the whole debacle and consequently I decided to take a complete break from the game in order to try and rejuvenate my enthusiasm using the “absence makes the heart grow fonder” philosophical approach.
However, Saturday morning saw the return, after four long months, of the strange ritualistic “match day” regime in the Jack household. The ritual of getting up earlier than normal after a big night out on the Guinness; the ritual of choosing exactly the right branded Chelsea shirt to wear, the choice being between the new Adidas shirt or a fine selection of previous Umbro shirts and others dating back to the Commodore Amiga days. The only one I’ve never had the bottle to wear was the tragically poor red and white diamonds from some time in the late ’80s. It’s a testament to my faith in the club that I spent good money on such an awful shirt and nowadays it only gets an outing when some house painting or tedious gardening needs doing.
Following this, the choice of watch is then made. Do I stick with my normal Seiko Perpetual? Or do I wear the Chelsea centenary watch from our first successful Premiership campaign in 2004/5 which has put me on the mailing list from hell with Danbury Mint now sending new “special offers” almost monthly? And yes, that included a celebratory Liverpool watch to commemorate their fluky victory in last year’s FA Cup final. Of course there are other choices to be made: Chelsea boxers or normal Matalan cacks? It may seem trivial but in my strange obsessed world of Chelsea fandom all are critical factors in how the team will perform. Then comes the choice of match day breakfast: do I go for the deadly dull but healthy muesli, some toast, or the full bacon and/or sausage baguette? To be honest the latter only occurs when Mrs Jack is up and about, in a good mood and I haven’t morphed into John McCririck… well not personality wise at least. Then, if it’s my rostered turn to drive it’s whether to take my car or shovel the others into Mrs Jack’s car, a mini people carrier with suspension set so hard that the ride is similar to that of the average shopping trolley.
I am only superstitious about one aspect of my life and that is Chelsea, hence breakfast, choice of shirt and various other things are all decided by what was worn on previously successful visits. At the moment I’ll revert to last season’s centenary shirt for the Pompey game as every outing of the new Adidas shirt has resulted in defeat or draw (Liverpool Community Shield, Middlesbrough and now Aston Villa).
This week, even though this my first visit to Stamford Bridge this season, somehow or another it was my turn to drive. Why my first visit? Simple. My ticket is “owned” by a brother of a friend who lives in Australia most of the year. He doesn’t want to give the ticket up but he recently came back to sell his house during September and the arrangement is that he pays me for the games he wants to attend when he’s back in Blighty. The fact he’s sold his house hopefully means some activity in the transfer market will occur that’s more critical to me than any player activity! In fact I’m on the verge of writing to the Australian embassy regaling the guy as the next Bill Gates in the hope that they’ll shove a citizenship document under his nose.
And so I collected Mr. and Mrs. Chelsea, along with Big Dave for the drive into London. Buoyed by a wonderful edition of perfect pre-match radio Fighting Talk on the, as ever, excellent Five Live, we parked and ate a sumptuous meal in The American Café Bar. Just the arrival here alone had my pulse rate increasing as the all conquering heady atmosphere of match day kicked in. Inside I was shaking with pre-match nerves, mixed with excessive wind caused by the heady chemical mixture of the previous night’s Guinness intake now having to deal with Spanish omelette and chips. Toxic is a word that springs to mind at this point! Walking through the gates was to walk into the welcoming bosom of a 42,000 strong Blue family. One never tires of the strange sights and sounds around the ground, be it the plastic perfection of the Spearmint Rhino girls, the arrival of huge blacked out limousines no doubt containing obscenely rich and famous celebrities or the eccentrically placed gospel choir belting out the clean terrace song in essence restricting them to “We love you Chelsea we do!”. Truly the whole place gets into the blood, and I would defy even the most vehement football ignoramus or naysayer to not get carried along with the buzz and increasing tension.
The first surprise was the change in the club shop, great inside but truly piss poor in terms of the lines available. Maybe Adidas are finding their feet, but personally the Umbro ranges seemed far more varied and wide reaching. Then the second surprise of being given a free flag on entering the Matthew Harding Lower. I was given a free flag! I sincerely do not remember ever getting anything free from the club before, especially under the vile Ken Bates regime, which seemed to have the sole policy of taking money from my pocket at every opportunity. Even the bloke who gave me the flag seemed to be in a state of near shock. Anyway, the real thrill was meeting the small gang of people by the entrance to Block 12 and being greeted like an old friend! None of us know any names, we’re all just called “mate” and we chatted and bantered whilst watching gleefully as Prince Rafa of the Wirral’s tinkered team again performed dismally against Crooked Sam’s bunch of misfits. The warmth of this welcome back was then overshadowed by the one I received from the people immediately around me in row V. Handshakes all around, more banter, more Gallas comment and memories of that day four months ago when Manure FC were crushed under the mighty juggernaut wheels of the new Biggest Club in London. I can honestly say there was barely a dry eye in my head when the teams came out such was the rush of emotion mixed with unbearable PMT (pre-match tension!).
The game itself was a mixture of delight from a bright and profitable start, with the increasingly totemic and iconic Didier Drogba (la la la la) getting on the scoresheet with a frankly scrappy goal. Amazing isn’t it, the bloke couldn’t hit a cow’s arse with a banjo on his arrival two years ago, and now he scores them off his arse, his shin and no doubt many other bits of his finely tuned body. Undoubtedly since he cut out the near BAFTA winning theatrics after being told by the rest of the players what a pillock it made him (and the team) look, he is now truly looking worth every penny of the £24m we spent. And long may it continue. But then, just as we might have expected, the old Chelsea from the Clownio days made a comeback. For the last 20 minutes of the first half we turned into the pub team with a collective hangover. Passing became a distant memory as we gifted possession away with unswerving ability. Normally sensible players with great skill and ability were suddenly transformed into new born giraffes trying to walk on ice. Players’ heads became dodecahedron shaped as headers went off in all directions but the one they wanted. The ball turned into a metaphorical wet bar of soap for the boys in blue. Villa, themselves boosted by O’Neill’s masterful motivational skills, started to get a real grip on the game, and you could see the self belief growing second by second. The equalizer was inevitable and received in the MHL by a collective sighed shoulder shrug. To be fair, had not Cech made a wonder save Villa might have gone into the break a goal up. It was time for JM to earn his corn.
Second half saw a transformed Chelsea come out to play. The collective loss of memory on how to pass had disappeared. Hunger was visible throughout the team and passion duly restored. Chelsea battered Villa, despite what some said on 6-0-6 on the way home. Chance after chance was created, SWP hitting the bar and then missing an open goal, Kalou morphing into a version of Drogs two years ago with an embarrassing miss near the end, Super Frank scuffing a perfectly teed up ball which wouldn’t have made the ladies tee (knob out for the rest of the game… can’t see the FA allowing that), and then later sticking one into row Z that nearly took some poor dopey sod’s head off. My only criticism was the removal of Robben, who quite frankly had Villa shitting themselves with every attack down left or right. I think him and SWP together would have unlocked the Villa fortress. But one thing separated the teams and that was Superman Sorenson who produced world class save after world class save in both halves. I don’t know about anyone else, but frankly I’m sick of goalkeepers turning up at Stamford Bridge, running onto the pitch with their metaphorical pants on the outside and the flowing cape aiding their ability to fly through the air. The save he made from the impressive Sheva shot which had the word “goal” illuminated in bright red flashing lights all over it was simply sensational.
In the end Chelsea can count themselves unlucky not to have won despite overwhelming dominance on possession and attempts on goal. But we can also count ourselves lucky we didn’t lose because Angel really should have buried his chance a few minutes from the end. Believe me, MHL heads were in hands and hearts were in mouths when that chance went their way. All in all a great game to watch, with Villa putting in a creditable and stoic display of dogged defending and good football when they had possession. Martin O’ Neill and Jose seemed to get along fine despite the Porto-Celtic history, and both managers post match comments were good natured in humour, intelligence, graciousness and dignity.
For me personally, the flame of passion has been re-ignited, the post season and post World Cup apathy diminished under a sea of thrills and spills. Of course the only way to finish the day was to consume far more Guinness than is officially allowed, but the subsequent Sunday hangover was worth every second of the day Jack came back!
Now bring on Pompey and let’s see a display for the whole 90 minutes to match the second half we saw against Villa.
Keep the Blue Flag Flying High!