THURSDAY THOUGHTS

Giles Smith is away this week so writer and long-serving Chelsea supporter Ivor Baddiel takes on columnist duties and with one of the season's big games approaching fast, considers what this weekend's fixture means to him...

Sleeping giants. Football is full of them. For men of a certain generation (mine) the likes of Leeds, Derby, Wolves, Nottingham Forest and others are all such dormant clubs waiting to rise again like phoenixes (phoenii?) from the ashes (now where have I heard that expression in a football context before?).

Let's not forget however, that not so long again (though getting more and more distant all the time thankfully), we were in a very similar boat. Though it still hurts to speak of it there was a time (1983) when we only narrowly avoided dropping down in to the third tier of English football (then Division Three, now League One).

We weren't just a sleeping giant, we were almost in a coma, and one from which we may not have arisen. We did though of course, and the rest is history, and the present day, as well as the future hopefully.

So now we're simply 'giants', as are our opponents on Sunday Manchester City. (What a coincidence, it's almost as if some thought has gone in to this). Champions a couple of seasons ago and now pretty much dead certs for at least a top-four finish, it was even more recently, 1998, that they did in fact crash in to the third tier of English football.

It's because of that shared loss of giant status that I have always had a sense of kinship with City. I mean, of the two Manchester clubs, there's clearly no way I could feel anything positive about the other one, but to me it feels as if City fans have suffered in the same way as we have. For us older folk, we were all there when we were ****

I wouldn't say we've quite suffered together - physical and temporal distance put paid to that - but I think we share that same sense of gratitude and humility about our current status.

Yes, though other clubs' fans might guffaw, us Chelsea fans, and if I'm right, City fans as well, are not arrogant big heads bloated on success. We are all too aware of how precarious things can be at the top and how we must never take our success for granted.

To be fair, there's another reason I quite like City. I was there, not when they were really ****, but in the early Eighties when they were just a bit rubbish. I studied at Manchester Polytechnic (polys were like universities only better and for more intelligent people) and lived for a time round the corner from their old ground, Maine Road. Twenty minutes from the end of every home game they'd open the gates to let people out - a lot of them wanted to leave early. I, on the other hand, took the opportunity to stroll in and, more often than not, was rewarded with a goal or two, usually scored by the away side because, as I said, City were a bit rubbish back then.

1984

Of course this was the time when we were more than a bit rubbish as well, which possibly cemented that bond I feel with the lighter Blues. In fact, I was there at Maine Road in 1984, for the whole game, when we beat them two-nil (pictured above), a result that having already sealed promotion back to Division One, kept us on course for the Second Division championship and meant that they missed out on promotion. Sadly, the game mainly sticks in my memory for the violence outside the ground after the game, at least that's one giant that has been put to bed for good.

So having come out and said that I quite like City and feel a parity with them, I'd like to make it quite clear that I hope we stuff them on Sunday in the clash of the giants turned sleeping giants turned giants again.

But, it's a tall order. They're playing well at the moment and Aguero seems to be scoring for fun. If Kompany returns to marshall the defence, then breaking them down will be even harder, but for me, their main man is Yaya Toure. Far be it from me to tell Mr. M how to go about his business, but I reckon if he can solve the Toure conundrum - and I'm sure he has an encyclopaedic dossier on the player - we'll beat the northern giants and maybe set them off on the path to sleep again. (Don't worry City fans, I can't see that happening for a good while).

I predict a tough game ending in a well-deserved win for us and, for 90 minutes at least, all thoughts of kinship banished.