Last week I ventured off to my local doctor’s surgery for my annual MOT with the clinic nurse. As an asthmatic this involves merely blowing into a contraption that feels like it’s been made by the Blue Peter team from old toilet rolls and Smartie tubes to ensure that I’m still breathing and that my lungs haven’t turned into lumps of strawberry jelly. I also have an annual flu jab because you can never be too careful with silly old middle-aged asthmatics and their capacity for apparently being super-susceptible to every media “superbug” scare story that shifts a bit more print. Being a normal person I don’t usually inform work of the jab just in case I need to chuck in a “man flu” sickie in order to keep the golf handicap in place.
So what’s this to do with Chelsea you may ask? Simple – after this I have a blood pressure reading taken and in one year my blood pressure has gone from 134/88 (good) to 177/116 (catastrophic) and the only thing that’s changed in that year is my “deal of the century” acquisition of a season ticket for my beloved Chelsea FC. Now I can guess what most of you are thinking. Why make such a huge assumption? And the answer is, to me, fairly simple and obvious.
As far as I can see this is one of those tenuous medical “links” you read about in the press… you know the sort of headline I’m talking about here… “Being short is linked to midwife’s car being a Mini”, “Gay tendencies linked to parents’ love of Liberace” or “Supporting Liverpool linked to insanity, homicidal tendencies, bed-wetting, Piles, Halitosis, car theft, having an alleged famous wit etc., etc.” (delete as appropriate). Hmm… maybe there’s something in that last one?
Anyway, I gave up smoking 5 years ago, with some ease, and have never suffered a relapse. I have always exercised in some way or another and the current exercise fad is jumping on my mountain bike and disappearing into the South Downs for a few hours per week, or walking 5 miles with a big bag of golf clubs. All of which is way more than Her Majesty’s
Nanny State Government recommends for the average person. I don’t eat excessive amounts of red meat or processed food, I never add salt and I drink once a week on a Friday (yeah… okay I do drink a gallon or more of Guinness on this night out, but I have done this for 20 odd years). My job is not overly stressful, my kids are well behaved in the main and my wife doesn’t nag me too much or stop me from doing what I want – after all I play golf, go biking and have a season ticket for Chelsea… not a bad life really.
So, this news shook me a bit and I looked for what else could be the cause of such a scary and dramatic change in my metabolism. Try as I might I couldn’t see anything obvious, and even when I sat down to my Chicken Kebab with Salad and Rice in the American Café Bar for my pre-match meal on Saturday I was lost as to what could be the underlying reason for having a heart that’s desperate apparently to push the blood out of its incarceration within the arteries and veins of my body.
At 15:00 sitting in my lovely seat 89, row V of the Matthew Harding Lower I became aware of an almighty crashing sound around me. It was the sound of a gigantic penny dropping as the realization dawned that suddenly I was agitated, nervous, dry mouthed, pulse racing and not a little light-headed. I’d usually put this down to nausea caused by a raging hangover from 12 pints of Guinness and a bottle of Rioja the previous night, but now I knew that this wasn’t the case. No, the cause was the 11 men good and true, standing in front of me wearing Royal Blue shirts and shorts and carrying every hope and aspiration for forty odd thousand fans on their collectively broad shoulders. Prior to attaining my season ticket I had only made the occasional journey to Stamford Bridge, via my membership coinciding with sufficient cash to purchase a ticket at some arbitrary area of the ground, or more often by freeloading onto a corporate jolly put on by suppliers desperate to get their grubby capitalist mitts on my employer’s filthy lucre. And yes, I did string many along with vague promises of business or whatever it took to get a freebie. When it comes to Chelsea I am a scruple-free zone. I had spoken to my seat neighbour (seat partner, seat associate, seat buddy… what do you call someone you only got to know through shoulder contact?) about the blood pressure issue and he had expressed concern and suggested that this might be the wrong place to be. I had laughed falsely and loudly in return, but it was a gallows style response. Grim and perhaps laced with the realisation that he might be right.
The game started and for the first 15-20 minutes it seemed to be case of “after the Lord Mayor’s Show” as Portsmouth showed the more urgency in possession and attack. An aura of mystification descended on the MHL as to how such supremacy over Barcelona could be transformed into apparent casual apathy against former division props. And then came the first rush of blood to my head when Matt “Hacker” Taylor cynically upended Arjen Robben. I jumped to my feet screaming at the ref, Mark RottenBugger, to book this cynical spoiler, safe in the knowledge that it was so obvious a yellow was a cert, but to my, and everyone’s amazement nothing more than a cursory ticking off was given. How could this be I asked myself internally, and as it happens externally at full expletive ridden volume? Seat Buddy again joked about blood pressure, but I was already too far gone, ensconced deeply into the ebb and flow of a game suddenly about to swing Chelsea’s way big time.
Chelsea woke up and wave upon wave of attack ensued, inspired by the marvellous Robben so obviously enjoying himself as he tormented Noe Pamarot and any other Pompey player who dared to get in his way. Man of the moment Didier Drogba hustled and bustled, running past defenders like they weren’t there. Andriy Shevchenko was smiling as if he knew it would happen today. But what we hadn’t banked on was that David James had been spiked with the same Superhero Goalie drug that we had seen inspire Aston Villa’s Sorensen two weeks ago, and almost every opposition ‘keeper to visit The Bridge last year. I am convinced someone has invented a drug which changes Clark Kent type goalkeepers into clones of the son of Jor-El for 90 minutes and peddles it en route to Stamford Bridge. Quite frankly James was bloody magnificent. He made three saves from Robben each looking like bankers to disturb the back of the net. The save he made from Sheva was utterly world class, to the point where Sheva must have been ready to ask for his P45 in respect of the fact that if that wasn’t going in then nothing was. Yes, he got out of jail for the Drogba push, and was lucky with his seemingly petulant throw to Primus which denied Sheva a stroll-in goal, but he is a goalkeeper re-born under good old ‘Arry Redknapp.
With each miss though the diastolic and systolic numbers must have been raised. RottenBugger’s decisions became more and more mystifying, allowing cynical tackles but blowing up for the small shove in order to gain advantage. The only positive was that he dished this madness out equally to both sides. He seemed to have the undying loyalty and devotion of his “assistants” as well, one of them flagging for a goal kick in front of the MHL after the ball had blatantly hit Primus before going out of play.
Half time arrived and the utter domination of Chelsea had yet to produce a legitimate goal. My blood pressure reflected the fact that deep inside myself, and a few others, thoughts prevailed that a repeat of the game in 2005 when a certain David James performed heroics for Man City at The Bridge to give them a barely deserved 0-0 draw might be about to recur. Someone in the crowd joked that Chelsea should present James with an England shirt to wear and that way we’d be 4 up after 10 minutes of the second half.
As it happens we didn’t need it as the Mighty Blues started the second half as they finished the first, quite a rarity to us seasoned followers. Inevitably the goal came after some sustained attacking pressure with Robben, Drogba and Sheva leading the charge, and Ballack coolly controlling the midfield with Essien and the back in-form SuperFrank (hit the ball Frank, don’t keep trying to tee it up, the goals will come!). And boy, what a team goal it was. The relief around the ground was palpable, and God only knows what Sheva felt when something finally went his way. His celebration showed everything though, and the crowd responded in kind as well. My blood pressure was no doubt still off the scale but this time it was with sheer joy and relief. In blood pressure terms I’m damned if things go badly and damned if they go well.
Then RottenBugger, in a fit of pedantism and jobsworthiness befitting that of this year’s winner of the Most Vindictive Traffic Warden award, decided a yellow card was necessary for Sheva actually touching the crowd. If this was the case then it begs the questions why the other players in the melee weren’t booked because they all went in as well. It was a display of the kind of killjoy mentality rife in the passion killing Football Association, who are seemingly hell bent on homogenizing the goal celebrations of scorers to nothing more than nodded and silent acknowledgement to colleagues and crowd. The card defied any logic at all, and worse it changed the mood of the crowd instantly from that of joy to that of anger. Is it any wonder that in the bad old days people used to run onto the pitch? Why not just tick him off? Why not just warn him not to do it again? Did it really need a yellow card? Was it really a worse offence to celebrate in front of your own fans without jumping the barrier than Taylor upending Robben?
And if that wasn’t bizarre enough, Ballack’s booking following his first goal was now into the realms of serious mental instability. Ballack (as replays testify) was in contact with the crowd for no more than 3-4 seconds before walking back onto the field of play. As Chris “it’s unbelievable Jeff” Kamara said in Goals on Sunday, he was in and then out. Mark RottenBugger with those two decisions immediately wins the Worst Ref This Season Award and it will take some stupendously moronic and pedantic referee to prise the title away from him in my eyes. Again the atmosphere went from joy to disbelief and anger and my blood pressure must have close to bursting point judging by the stream of foul-mouthed expletives leaving my reddened face. In fact it must have been off the scale in all likelihood when Drogba appeared to have capitalized on James’s parry from Frank’s shot a few minutes later. But with an air of inevitability the goal was disallowed. Three goals disallowed seemed to underline just how superior we were and I can’t remember ever seeing that from one side in any game before. But then talking of “airs of inevitability” a moment after Robben had trudged off the field patently knackered by his efforts, to be replaced by the recovering Joey Cole, Pompey exploited a sleepy Chelsea defence to get a goal back through the Ashley Cole bullying nemesis of Benjani.
After that the Mourinho mentality of preserving what you’ve got seemed to prevail and for ten minutes or so I don’t think many would have been surprised to see a mugging occur in the shape of an equaliser for Pompey. Eventually some desire returned to score another and put a much truer reflection on the game, and Drogba’s magnificent strike near the end, which seemed to be accompanied by a marching band and fireworks spelling out the word “GOAL!” was interrupted by the Superman theme tune and David James flying through the air at the last second to push the ball away. Remember when Superman caught the school bus before it hit the ground after falling of the bridge? Yeah, you’ve got my analogy then!
When the final whistle went I felt the weight of the world fall off of my shoulders and with it the mercury was finally falling. Whether my blood pressure was anywhere near where it should be I’ll never know. Three points in the bag and at last a performance, in part, to show the fans what they are capable of. An argument in the car with Mr Chelsea about whether my arrival back at the car five minutes after him made any difference to the traffic we get stuck in week after week may have either raised the pressure, or have been caused by its apparent elevation. Who knows? I think he was just being a miserable old sod.
To sum up though, I returned to the quacks Monday morning and the first re-test showed the same high levels. Then he decided to conduct the test with me closing my eyes and no chit chat going on between us. Four times he did the test like this and each time the pressure dropped to around 134/90. Why this should be is a mystery to both him and to me. Maybe I have a subconscious fear of machines inflating something around my arm, or maybe the sight of medical paraphernalia triggers off a reaction due to being reminded I’m likely to be getting closer to an age where things start to lose their, up till now, unswerving reliability. These readings are apparently good for someone of my age (ahem… 40-something). Apparently it’s meant to rise under stress and this is perfectly normal. I have a test every month now for three months to ensure this is no fluke and it’s heartening to know that my health, whilst maybe not rude, is not about to collapse. But I can’t help wondering if, having mitigated all the major publicised risk factors, visiting Chelsea is good for me or harmful. One thing is for sure, it would be kind of fitting, and I would be happy to finally shuffle off this mortal coil at Stamford Bridge shouting and screaming the boys onto a hard fought victory as long as my family were also there.
And I was aged 88 or over.