Whether it’s deciding moments in last night’s match, rituals beforehand or bewildering inconsistencies elsewhere, columnist and Chelsea fan Giles Smith has been counting them...
What a release!
There’s seeing your team score a last-gasp winner – which is, of course, just about the greatest pleasure football-watching can produce.
But then there’s seeing your team score a last-gasp winner when you’ve already seen your team score a last-gasp winner, only then to see that last-gasp winner ruled out for offside.
Because once you’ve seen your team score a last-gasp winner and known, very briefly, the full, seat-departing elation of that moment, just before having that elation guttingly hollowed out by the glimpse of a linesman’s flag out of the corner of your teary eye… well, it’s very hard to imagine that you’re going to see your team score another one in the time remaining, last-gasp winners being, of their very nature, not the kinds of things that come along in bunches.
Instead, those are the moments when you start thinking things like, ‘Well, that’s what a cushion’s for, I guess,’ and ‘Five points isn’t so bad, really.’
Don’t forget, this was after the best part of 90 minutes of agonisingly thwarted attacking play by your team, probing and trying to find a way through an Everton defensive line which was so wide and so well-constructed that it must surely have been visible from space.
And this was also after yet another ungiven penalty in the first half. We seem to be making quite a collection of those this season. Maybe there should be a sticker book, or something.
Incidentally, had the penalty been given, as it ought to have been, it would most likely have led to an Everton red card, too. But there you are. We had to wait until the second half for one of those. On the topic of which, Roberto Martinez claimed after the match that Gareth Barry was sent off ‘just because of the reaction of the Chelsea players.’ It would be more accurate to say, surely, that Barry was sent off for the second yellow card offence – and that without that second yellow card offence, there would have been no reaction from anybody. It’s a cart and horse situation, really, if you look at it rationally. Or certainly a player and card situation.
Anyway, once all that has gone on, and once you’ve thought the game was won at the last, only to be proved wrong, it’s not easy to imagine that your battered nervous system is ready to be winched that high on the roller-coaster again, in the event that a second last-gasp winner – one that counts this time – comes along immediately afterwards.
But such was last night, as the ball fell to Willian in the 88th minute. What a game, and what a pleasure – a doubled pleasure: the joy of a last-gasp winner, twice.
We’ll wait, I guess, to see whether the FA takes any retrospective action over Kyle Walker’s rather extravagant challenge on Emre Can (him again) in the match between Liverpool and Tottenham this week. As well as putting the unusually trouble-prone Can on the ground with a tackle that seemed to draw its inspiration from skills more regularly associated with cage-fighting, Walker also appeared, in some of BT Sport’s subsequent replays, to have used the necessarily chaotic aftermath of the incident to – in the standard euphemism - ‘leave a foot in’.
Anything there for the review committee? Probably not. The FA is, as we know, very choosy in these matters. They haven’t, for example, gone after Robin van Persie of Manchester United for what looked, from some angles, like a carefully measured forearm smash on James Tomkins of West Ham last Sunday afternoon – and that incident, in all honesty, came across even worse, at the time, than Walker’s Hulk Hogan impression.
Similarly, last Saturday, a manager put his hand around the throat of a prone member of the opposing team on the touchline, and then, for a bizarrely long time, refused to let go of his shirt and permit him to re-enter the field of play. No retrospective charge necessary, though. ‘Play on,’ says the FA.
Yet they banned Diego Costa for three matches for lowering his foot onto the ground and finding Can’s leg in the way. You’d be hard pressed, weighing up these vagaries, to put a finger on exactly what inspires the authorities to act (let alone to put your foot on it, which probably wouldn’t be worth risking in the circumstances), but it looks like it can be a number of things, including feeling under pressure from a sense of broad public outrage, which is very easily simulated by television and newspapers.
Why, only last night, on “Match of the Day’, with Martin Keown in full moral battle cry (always a sight to see, for those of us with longer memories), you could sense the will to create a retrospective kerfuffle around the so-called ‘headbutt incident’ involving Branislav Ivanovic during the widespread peace-keeping activities that followed that second Gareth Barry yellow card incident. Really, though? That wasn’t a headbutt, and even Keown seemed to be suggesting that the FA probably had better things to do with its time.
Anyway, with regard to the Van Persie ‘hand-off’, you could argue that there were questions over the damage actually done. (Not that such considerations entered into the Diego Costa case, but anyway.) The Dutchman’s arm certainly didn’t break Tomkins’ nose. That happened later, in a separate clash with Marouane Fellaini, which is also unlikely to interest the reviewers.
Yet those who maintain there was no significant impact from Van Persie may like to consider this: that on Tuesday, fewer than 24 hours after the incident, it was announced that Tomkins had signed a new five-year deal with West Ham. Now, I’m not pretending to be a doctor here, but surely, taking that further detail into consideration, we can’t entirely rule out a delayed concussion or, at the very least, some level of bewilderment. Because why else would anyone do that? Five more years! At West Ham! That’s not a career-choice. It’s a penal sentence.
On the other hand, it’s not just Tomkins. We all feel a bit bewildered right now, don’t we? If only because the rules with regard to what gets reviewed and what doesn’t are simply bewildering.
One thing which, as a spectator at the Bridge, I’ve been heartened to see developing over the course of this season, and including last night, is the role in the pre-match build-up of Blur’s ‘Parklife’.
Time and again this term, the song has seized the opportunity offered to it and proved its worth – to the extent that it has now virtually attained the status of an official club vice-anthem, after ‘Blue Is The Colour’ (pictured above) and ‘The Liquidator’ which, of course, have the main anthem position for life on a time-share.
For those of you who aren’t in a position to get along to the ground, or who like to make your entry at the last minute, ‘Parklife’ normally gets spun about 10 minutes before kick-off, with the volume-knob on the in-house PA suddenly twisted up around the 11 mark, and comes attached to a video on the big screen of various goals being banged in and banged out, and of various passes being passed and of various chests being thumped and triumphal dances being danced. The combined effect (the song, the images, the potentially rhino-stunning volume) stands the hair up on the back of my neck on every run-through.
Indeed, I’d go so far as to say that the sound of Damon Albarn singing ‘All the people, so many people’ now has almost as emotional an impact on me in the necessarily sensitive moments before a game as the sound of Ron Harris going up for a high note in the final choruses of ‘Blue’. (Chopper marginally misses it – but at the same time, he takes the conductor out of the equation, so job done.)
And, of course, it doesn’t make one’s heart feel any less attached to ‘Parklife’ to know that its composer and singer (Albarn) and the actor who does the timelessly great spoken-word stuff about being rudely awoken by the dustman (Phil Daniels) are both Chelsea fans, so that the whole thing has a properly home-grown, one-of-our-own (two-of-our-own, I guess) flavour to it.
So, great work by whoever was responsible for bringing the song into the club. It’s a squad game these days, as everyone will tell you, and, as such, it’s fantastically reassuring to know that you have the necessary depth. If ‘Blue Is the Colour’ ever picks up a knock, and ‘The Liquidator’ for some reason isn’t available for selection, we know we can rely on ‘Parklife’ to come in and do a job. Does any other club have a bench as deep, anthem-wise? I would suggest not, and I think we can all draw a lot of comfort and inspiration from that.