Giles Smith’s Thursday Thoughts

Moments worth cherishing for a prolonged period, whether they be from as recent as the weekend or as distant as two decades ago, are the theme of supporter Giles Smith’s column this week…


Sometimes – and perhaps we don’t say this often enough – international breaks can serve a useful purpose. Timed right – directly after a beautifully managed 1-0 home victory over Manchester United, for instance - they can provide a handy space for reflection; a period of tranquility in which one can pleasantly mull things over.

Or, to put it another way, international breaks are a kind of blank canvas, on which you can continue to express your admiration for recent feats for longer than you would normally be able to without another fixture getting in the way and moving you on.

So, yes, it’s in some ways irritating that the Premier League programme has just adjourned again for the third time this season – and on this occasion just so that a few remaining bits of admin can be done on the qualification phase for next year’s World Cup while everybody else fiddles about playing meaningless friendlies. On the other hand, however, it means that Sunday’s masterpiece of a performance can remain pinned to the metaphorical noticeboard for pretty much a whole fortnight before it is necessarily displaced or slightly covered over by the general onward rush of things.

I don’t know about you, but I certainly plan to spend this conveniently vacant weekend, and the days just beyond it, in the same way that I have been using the unoccupied week so far: i.e. going back over a few of my fondest memories from November 5th, and replaying in my mind some of that day’s extremely cherishable scenes.

In particular, of course, it will be a chance to recall the sight of Alvaro Morata, rising until his feet were practically parallel with the middle tier of the West Stand, to head in the game’s solitary goal. In normal circumstances, nobody gets to climb that far into the air without the help of firemen’s equipment and if another goal in recent history has been scored at the Matthew Harding End from that height, the memory of it currently escapes me. 

EVERY ANGLE: Watch Alvaro Morata's brilliant header again and again and again!

It’s also an opportunity to recall various bits of play involving Andreas Christensen and his part, alongside Cesar Azpilicueta, in the near-eclipsing, for large portions of the match, of Marcus Rashford, which takes some doing these days.

And it will also be a chance to think again about the welcome return of N’Golo Kante, who didn’t seem to need to ease his way back in after injury, which is widely regarded as the conventional way of going about things, but instead went from nought to imperious in the opening seconds and then stayed there for 90 minutes. I won’t by any means be the first to suggest that his presence was missed, not least in the Roma game.

I’ll also be taking a moment, I’m sure, to recall Eden Hazard’s gifted contributions, and also those fraught final minutes, not least the four added-on ones, and the defensive organisation and dedication that were shown in those moments, and how much a draw, after all that, would have felt like the worst kind of defeat.

Incredible scenes afterwards, too. Later that evening, round my way, the popping and banging threatened to go on all night as people went out into their gardens and let off fireworks in celebration – and from what I can gather, it was very much the same story all over the country on Sunday night: rockets and Catherine wheels and families with shiny faces in the light of bonfires up and down the land.

A bit over the top in the circumstances? Well, it was certainly tempting to wonder as much. After all, nothing was won against Manchester United apart from a match; it was only November and this - though it was precious, and came at the right time - was only one victory in the course of a season which still has an awfully long way to run.

Yet, on the other hand, if that’s the way people felt about it, then why not? The fact is, almost within minutes of the final whistle blowing at the Bridge, people were spontaneously inviting friends and relatives over and treating them to sausages and mulled wine and a packet of sparklers in the back garden, in a way which transcended both footballing allegiances and geography, and I guess that’s just another mark of how solid and determined and, above all, entertaining that performance was.

Something else we can all consider warmly during the upcoming downtime: the signing by our club of Gianfranco Zola, which, as this website will already have reminded you, took place 21 years ago this week. Do we do 21st birthdays of player signings? Are they a thing? In Zola’s case, definitely. Cards, cakes – the works, surely.

Many of us, of course, will be astonished to reflect that so many years have passed since that formative moment in the late 20th-century re-generation of Chelsea. The best part of a quarter of a century, no less. I’ve got to say that, personally speaking, it all feels a lot more recent than that – closer to a couple of months ago, in fact. Then again, Zola always did have the ability to perform mind-boggling feats of compression involving the time-space continuum, as Julian Dicks, Jamie Carragher and an entire Manchester United back four, to name only those, will no doubt willingly attest. 

He may never have scored a goal from a position as high in the air as the one from which Morata scored last Sunday, because he just wasn’t built to be that kind of player. But he did countless other things that were contradictions of the known science and we all owe the man an eternal debt for them. Happy 21st signing birthday.