GILES SMITH: HOST WITH THE MOST
Back from a brief European sojourn in time for absolutely no club football this week, Chelsea supporter Giles Smith uses this week's column to assess recent changes by the game's administrators, and to influence their future policy…
I didn't expect to care so much. After all, it was only the Super Cup, which is, let's face it, basically a posh Community Shield. So, if you had told me that, in Prague last Friday night, I would spend two entire periods of extra-time in a state of high anxiety, and that, when it came, a last-second equaliser by the opposition would feel like a kick in the stomach from a fully-grown horse, I'd have said, 'I don't think so. After all, it's only the Super Cup which is, let's face it, basically a posh Community Shield.'
Yet that's what happened. The match became important in ways that perhaps we weren't necessarily expecting - the result of the intensity with which it was played (nobody seemed to have used the phrase 'posh Community Shield' near any of the players) and the circumstances arising, with the sending off, leading to the long rear-guard action, culminating in the manager wheeling his arms at us to encourage us to suck the ball up our end for a while and relieve some of the last moments of pressure.
In that context, the equaliser really did come as a blow, compounded soon afterwards by the disappointment in the penalty shoot-out. Yet, at the same time, the deflation hardly lasted a moment. In fact, we left the stadium on quite a high.
After all, it was only the Super Cup, which is, let's face it, basically a posh Community Shield. And we had seen two staggeringly good goals, a display of almighty and enormously promising excellence against last season's Champions League winners, and a demonstration, just four games into the season, of team spirit so thick you could virtually reach out and hug it. It wasn't really about the Super Cup, in the end, then. It was about so much more.
What an excellent host city Prague turned out to be - and certainly a lot better than Monaco, which, until this year, had been the Super Cup's settled home.
Don't get me wrong: this isn't just anti-Monaco prejudice talking here - prejudice arising from that somewhat bewildering experience we endured in that location in the Champions League semi-finals nearly a decade ago, the night of Claudio Ranieri's massive, unforgettable 360-degree plot-loss. Although I do confess that, as a direct result of that night, I find it hard to hear the words 'Monte Carlo' in any context without shuddering slightly.
Even despite that, though, I would be prepared to put a hand up and defend Monaco as, clearly, a perfectly decent place to park your yacht and go ashore to buy an evening dress. But it would be fair to say that it has never really felt like a football-centred city. Indeed, if memory serves, the stadium there is one of a very small number in world football whose outside wall partly comprises a BMW dealership. I know the game has gone a long way up-market in recent years - but even these days, that strikes an odd note.
Behind us in the ground at the match was a Czech woman in a replica shirt whose commitment could not be questioned, and who screamed, at aircraft-like volumes, the name of any Chelsea player who either had, or went near, the ball - and who did this for 120 minutes plus penalties. 'Ivaaaaaanoviiiiic! Tooooooooreeeesss! Haaaaazzaaaaard!' Trying to watch The Beatles in about 1964 must have been a lot like this. Working as part of the ground crew for a Harrier Jump Jet, the same.
Having taken the decision to move the match, it was a bit peculiar, though, surely, to continue to stage the draw for the Champions League back in Monaco as usual, thus dividing the draw/Super Cup package between two locations across two days, when traditionally the one has been the support act for the other. Why didn't the whole carnival shift to Prague? Maybe the UEFA contingent feel reluctant to pass up their annual, officially-sanctioned opportunity for yacht-parking and evening dress-buying.
Whatever, the idea from now, apparently, is that the Super Cup match will tour Europe and take place in cities with a thriving interest in football and yet which don't get to see too much Champions League action. That's a UEFA initiative which I'm sure all of us would happily applaud and support. And, with those excellent criteria in mind, next year, or soon, how about staging the match in Liverpool? Just a thought.
We were back home for Super Sunday on the television, the results of which couldn't really have worked out better from our point of view.
First of all there was Liverpool's narrow victory over Manchester United - a fairly startling outcome when you consider that the home side barely touched the ball for about 70 minutes. Galling for United, of course, but, as far as we are concerned, looking longer-term, it's always handy when what will presumably eventually be a mid-table side takes points off what could well be a potential title rival, so I expect all of us were thoroughly grateful to Liverpool for their backs-to-the-wall heroics.
Meanwhile, Spurs were defeated by an injury-hit and (at that point) entirely unenhanced-by-transfers Arsenal, raising the first of what seems certain to be a long succession of question marks over the astuteness or otherwise of their manager and the strength in depth of their squad. I don't know about you, and this is just a hunch, but I think they look like they're at least one player light in the attacking midfielder department.
Certainly Spurs' opening two victories of the season both came as a result of penalties, meaning that they have now gone four and a half hours in the Premier League without scoring a goal in open play. Time for them to spend some money, you could argue. Oops: they already did that. And anyway, it's too late.
Now there's the best part of a fortnight with no football in it, unless you count World Cup qualifiers, which I don't. Every year, just as the new season is beginning to catch fire, an international week comes along and dumps a bucket of damp vegetable-peelings on it. And every year I complain about it in this space - yet nothing changes. Honestly. You'd think this website column had no influence whatsoever along the corridors of power. But that can't possibly be true, can it?