The other morning I was woken from my slumber by REM’s Shiny Happy People, provoking what can only be described as a Fred West style assault on the radio alarm clock.
Today the first words to enter my transom from the badly bruised and nervy alarm clock was a reminder that Chelsea had crashed out of the Champions League in front of their home fans. Slowly, but surely the alarm is working its way back into my good books.
There is nothing good about Chelsea Football Club nor its oafish fans and I should know. For most of my life I lived in Worcester Park which is a Chelsea stronghold, often tripping in the grooves in the pavement made by the years of knuckles dragging against the ground. In two pubs The Huntsman and the ghastly Tone’s, the latter decked out in memorabilia and the location for fan interviews in a feature length documentary about Chelsea, a bad word about ‘Wisey’ or Zola (Gianfranco not Emmanuel) could quite easily result in a glassing.
Yet where did they come from? They weren’t there when I was growing up in the 1980’s and Chelsea for much of that time weren’t even in the top division. Look carefully at their fat, bald or shaven sweaty heads. That isn’t dandruff you can see but filings from where they’ve emerged from the woodwork at the scent of money and success.
Chelsea weren’t even in contention before being fuelled and revved up by the billions of a Russian oligarch. Instead the Champions League has become something of an open wound that now festers with the failure of every season. With every departure from the tournament there is also recrimination usually directed at some refereeing decision and a UEFA or Sepp Blatter conspiracy. If truth be told there have even been times they have deserved to win the thing, on the cusp of doing so, only to throw it away spectacularly.
Level with Manchester Utd on penalites in Moscow, the fulfillment of that ambition and struggle seemed to come to ferment in the perfect scripted ending. Up stepped John Terry, Mr Chelsea, as he was known around Worcester Park, Cheam and the Kings Road, cut him, they say, and he bleeds blue (though that has most recently proven to be not blue but the murky green of greed, avarice and money – much of it the ‘hush’ variety) representative of all that is Chelsea and all that is ugly about football.
This was every football purists nightmare. The man Chelsea loved unquestionably was about to take the kick to win them their first ever Champions League in a moment the fans of CFC would treasure for the rest of their lives and the last thing they would see to make them smile on their mortal passing. This was about to be the defining moment of their lives.
He missed. He slipped, hit the post and fucking missed. Man Utd scored. Chelsea lost. Within seconds, without prior forethought, I was straight in the car roaring down to Tone’s in Cheam. There, as expected, were about 100 Chelsea fans sobbing into their pints and walking into walls, blue and white flags on the ground soaked in beer and spittle. I mingled. Felt their pain. Not dissimilar from when a killer joins in the search party knowing that there is no life to be found except for a grisly body. Sure enough it was only minutes before they started fighting amongst themselves and I left them to it with the sounds of howls, breaking glasware and recrimination in my wake.
Last year I caught the last minutes of the Chelsea – Barca semi-final poolside from Bellagio in Las Vegas. Having completely forgotten about the game, the heart sank at the scoreline. As the final seconds ticked away with Chelsea leading Barcelona 1-0 and having been denied in all probability two cast-iron penalities. Even in these opulent surroundings and 100 degree heat, I found myself dragged back to Cheam, to Tone’s and pictured the scene, just as I could see them signing and celebrating at Stamford Bridge. Chelsea weren’t just winning, they’d dominated and battered the best team in the world into submission. This year was, at last, going to be their year and we all had to brace ourselves.
And then up popped Andres Iniesta. Barcelona mustered one shot after 94 minutes of football. It flew into the top corner. Goal. Game over. Out Goodnight. She Who Loathed Football, sat in the sun in her bikini, glared at me disapprovingly over her mango prosecco as I pounded the bar with my fists. All I needed was a few more seconds of those uncomprehending, wounded, twisted pie-fed faces, the faces who’d been taunting and celebrating seconds before. Then I was done. Back to the pool, back to the sun and a fresh round of cocktails ordered, knowing that we can rejoice for another year.
Now they’ve not even made the semis. Not only taken apart and humbled at home in the first qualifying round, but at the hands of their own beloved ‘Special One’, Jose Mourinho and his Inter Milan side. ‘Mr Chelsea’ left the pitch, face snarling like a Rottweiler with a finger up its posterior, spewing bile and spitting feathers. Immediately followed the post-mortem, ingraciousness and high-pitched wailing of another UEFA conspiracy. The rest of the right-minded football world looked on from Shepherds Bush to the San Siro: shiny happy people."