GILES SMITH'S THURSDAY THOUGHTS

Posted on: Thu 12 Dec 2013

As the festive period draws near, it's simple comforts that are heartening columnist Giles Smith as he makes sense of the last week as a Chelsea supporter…

So, the crisis deepens. A measly 1-0 victory last night over Steaua Bucharest, the reigning Romanian champions, means we have only managed to qualify for the Champions League knock-out phase by winning our group.

Meanwhile, in the domestic competition, a startling 3-2 defeat away at Stoke City has left a situation in which it is perfectly possible that we may be obliged to go into the Christmas period on top of the Premier League.

And I haven't even begun to mention the disaster whereby we are through to the quarter-finals of the Capital One Cup.

Sometimes don't you feel like the ceiling of your world is falling in, directly onto your head, all day long?

It needs correcting slightly, doesn't it, this impression that our team is somehow presently clinging on rather grimly to a small lump of wood following a shipwreck?

True, there had been passing evidence of some highly unusual flakiness in our last two league games - the aforementioned Stoke debacle, and the fine-in-the-end but perhaps unnecessarily see-saw 3-4 victory at Sunderland.

Did you spot what those games had in common? Correct: three goals conceded. Twice. Making (let me just do the maths here) a total of six goals conceded in all. Inside 180 minutes plus time added on.

Strange, it can't be denied, and certainly not what we're used to. I'm not sure when, if ever, was the last time a Jose Mourinho-managed side gave away three goals in two consecutive games, but I'm assuming it's right back in a time when knights in armour roamed the land on horseback, and a football club couldn't get into the Champions League for love or money.

And, OK, last night's performance won't have been anyone's definition of a rip-snorter, nor the major work of demolition, sparing no buildings, which a lot of fans seemed to feel they were owed, following the Sunderland/Stoke situation.

Nevertheless, someone on the radio as I drove home last night was talking some very good sense about simple targets and the importance of meeting them.Needing a victory to guarantee top place in the group, our team went out and got a victory to guarantee top place in the group.

Contrast - to pluck an example out of the sky - Manchester City, who also needed a victory to guarantee top place in their group, and who also went out and got one, but whose manager forgot to do the maths with the result that his team ended up one goal short and in second place.

Or contrast Arsenal, who needed a draw to guarantee top place in their group and went out and got a man sent off and lost 2-0, and so will also be in the pot of second-placed teams when the draw for the knock-out stages is made in Nyon next week: which, when, you look at the teams sitting in the pot containing the top-placed finishers (us now blessedly among them), is less like a draw, really, and more like walking in front of a firing squad with your hand outstretched for the bandage.

Of course, there's a perfectly reasonable argument that, if you're in the Champions League in the first place, what you want is to face the big sides: the Real Madrids, the Barcelonas, the Bayern Munichs, the PSGs. And I fully subscribe to that point of view, while at the same time pointing out that there's plenty of time for that kind of excitement later, in the quarters, the semis and the final. Why rush into things?

As for the possibility of being top of the table at Christmas, it's a perfectly reasonable prospect. If we beat Crystal Palace on Saturday, and Arsenal lose to Manchester City, and if we then turn over Arsenal at the Emirates on December 23, as history indicates that we surely must, and assuming a couple of other things fall into place, it'll be Chelsea who gather round the groaning festive table with shiny faces come the big day, while Arsenal fans shiver in the cold and press their noses against the frosty glass in the hope of being lobbed a spare walnut.

So, like I say, the crisis deepens. Crisis at Christmas? It sounds like a charity. And, actually, it is.


I can't have been alone in noting the deeply regrettable behaviour of certain supporters at the Matthew Harding End last night. They will know who they are, and one can only hope they are feeling ashamed of themselves this morning.

I'm referring to the minority (and it's always a minority, although, on this occasion, sad to relate, it was quite a sizeable minority) who distracted themselves during some of the more boring passages in the second half by cheering on the goalline official.

Or, to be more specific, by waiting for the goalline official to commence another set of the kicks and stretches he was doing in order to keep warm, and lending those kicks and stretches a musical accompaniment.

This lack of respect for a visiting official brought those supporters and our club no credit. That goalline adjudicator was innocently going about his important business relative to the running of the match, namely… umm… you know… whatever it is they actually do down there, apart from stare across the pitch, get cold and end up having to do kicks and stretches to keep warm. He did not deserve to have people immediately behind him going 'Wooooooo!' and singing 'Stretch in a minute, he's going to stretch in a minute.' (Assuming he noticed it, which he didn't seem to, which only made it funnier. Or at least, so it seemed to the aforementioned regrettable minority.)

Please, everyone. Awaken to your responsibilities. This satirical behaviour needs to be nipped in the bud. Otherwise, before you know it, it will have spread and got out of hand and no one will be able to take those goalline officials seriously.


More magical big-screen moments last night. These are rapidly becoming a feature of the Champions League match-night experience at the Bridge, when the scoreboard - normally the repository, it goes without saying, of undiluted truth and accuracy - has to be given over to the official computer feed from UEFA.

Last time out, in the game against Schalke, the big screen sent us all cheerfully on our way with news that Arsenal were a goal down to Borussia Dortmund - only for us all to discover belatedly in the car, with an accompanying sense of let-down, that in fact Arsenal had won, 1-0.

This time, for one extraordinary minute, part-way through the second half, Steaua were apparently ahead, 1-0, courtesy of an own goal by Demba Ba.

But hang on, hadn't Demba Ba actually… Yes he had. But a person could get confused.

Still, that's glitches: they can happen anywhere and to the best of us.

Meanwhile, isn't it incredible? Just 13 days to Christmas. Unless you're looking at the scoreboard on a Champions League night, in which case it's 43 days. And Arsenal are 4-0 down in Napoli.