Birthday Blues

It was my birthday this week. I was 29 (give or take) again.

My 10-year-old daughter bought me a 3D model of Stamford Bridge (officially licenced of course) that was allegedly created with something described as 'easyfit technology.' Although I found it anything but. It took Antonio Conte less time to assemble a championship-winning team than it took me to put my replica together.

But by that evening I had an off-kilter, skew-whiff, model of Chelsea’s stadium. Older fans may recall that the real ground had a similar feel in the seventies and eighties. (Incidentally, it comes with a team bus but that’s a different scale to the rest of the project. If you place it on the model pitch it stretches from one goalmouth all the way to the other, meaning if it was scaled up it would be about 100 yards long.

Anyway, the point is how easy it was for my child to buy me an official Chelsea product here in the States. Both soccer stores in New Orleans carry a range of Blues gear: slippers, t-shirts, backpacks - it is remarkable how ubiquitous our merchandise is now.

My first visit to the USA was in 1980 with my parents (I may have lied about being 29) and back then there was no football stuff in the shops. As a football-crazy kid, I was desperate to track down an exotic North American Soccer League shirt to take back to Northern Ireland.

My mum dialled sports places she found in the Yellow Pages until her fingers went numb and finally tracked down a store with stock run by an Eastern European immigrant. We took a taxi to the outskirts of Fort Lauderdale and bought the one top he carried, the Tampa Bay Rowdies. That was how big football merchandising was back then. Also incidentally, ex-Chelsea striker Roy Wegerle played for the Rowdies in the NASL. He is one of only two players who appeared in both the NASL and Major League Soccer. The other? Mexican Hugo Sanchez.

How things have changed. When I was my daughter’s age I had to trek all over southern Florida to find, 'a soccer uniform.' A generation later she can walk into a local shop and choose from a selection of Blues gear. The youth of today have no idea how good they have it…