Although I try to be very right-on and a ‘man of the people’, I have to admit I could become very spoiled if I am not careful. When I go to most games around the country and the continent I get a very easy ride. As fans pay handsomely to travel, shell out for hotel rooms and then hamper the plastic again to get into the games, my arrangements are usually made for me and I also usually actually get paid for being there instead of putting my hand in my pocket! So in the last week I travelled to Chelsea v Lille, Bayern Munich v Spurs, Chelsea v Bournemouth and then Crystal Palace v Brighton last night.
It is hopefully a small crumb of comfort to you that I never take these ‘jobs’ for granted, even for a second. I found myself in Munich on Wednesday only to discover that the hotel that had been booked on my behalf by the BBC on this occasion, turned out to have been un-booked by mistake. After four hours trying to sort it out, one of my colleagues admitted to being surprised I was so sanguine about it all. After all, hadn’t I set off from Scotland at 4.15am, wasn’t I going to get even a bit annoyed? No chance. The flights were paid for, the hotel would get sorted in time and I would be sitting high above the halfway line in the best seat in the house watching Bayern Munich beating Spurs.
I’ll admit others in the media industry and yes, definitely some ex-players in particular, would at this point be throwing more hissy fits than a pit of vipers. I find this behaviour pathetic and infuriating but the tantrums of the ‘talent’ are often put up with by those in the industry, though not by me. Oh how I wish I could name a few names here.
So why am I telling you all this? Well this week I paid for my tickets and flew down from Scotland to the Chelsea v Bournemouth game along with my son in the capacity of a fan and nothing else. Sitting in the West Lower down by the 18-yard line at the Shed End as the players ran onto the field, it was a superb reminder of how things can look so different from a different angle.
There is no easy overview of the game from down there. On the positive side you certainly get more feel for the pace of the game this close to the action, but the perspective is totally different. I still could see the overviews in my mind’s eye. After all, nearly 850 professional games gives you a little bit of vision I reckon. There was however one thing that did hugely surprise me and it was pretty humbling. A good number of the fans around me could read the game fantastically well from that angle too, even in the second half when most of the play was 100 yards away up at the Matthew Harding End. Chelsea fans know their stuff.
Maybe even more than that tactical understanding, what came across was the deeper understanding of what the team and the manager is trying to do and of course, the fact that there were always going to be downs as well as the ups with the new regime. There was frustration and disappointment of course, we all want our Chelsea to win, but I didn’t witness a moment of anger aimed towards the team, the players or the management at any point. This attitude carried on even as we all filed out after the defeat.
It wasn’t even just that defeat of course, there was Everton and West Ham to add on top of that, but still there is an acceptance of the journey and the fact that it isn’t going to be an easy one.
The main topic of the conversation at that point was however already turning towards the upcoming game against Spurs, the fact that they have found some form in the league and that a certain Mr. Mourinho will be in the Tottenham dugout.
To be honest, very few of the Chelsea fans are absolutely delighted with the current detour on Jose’s personal journey and I will be intrigued to see and indeed hear how our fans react to his presence. I think we all agree that we would have preferred him to choose just about any other team in the world but quite simply that is the business.
As an ex-player I can say that we are generally professional about it and for evidence just watch the respect in which Frank Lampard treats Jose. Due respect will be given but nothing more on the day. We put everything behind us and think of only one thing, how to win the match. If any player or coach forgets that and starts considering anything else such as personalities and history, there is a chance it could cloud your judgement and lead to mistakes. I am convinced Frank will be cold-hearted and clear during the 90 minutes, he has witnessed at first-hand what a genius Jose is at mind games and will not listen to anything in the build-up coming from north London.
Obviously it is a huge game for the fans and we all know how difficult it is going to be but happily the team have generally been able to raise themselves when needed for the big games this season. It is probably worth keeping in Jose’s good books as far as Frank is concerned because even though I had a great view of our next Champions League opponents in Munich last week, Jose had a much closer view from the touchline. Any tips will be very welcome, however with an aggregate 10-3 defeat in their two group games I suspect it will be warnings about the quality of the German side more than anything else.
They did look brilliant going forward and Spurs, albeit with a very weakened side, could have lost far worse than the final score of 3-1 on the night. The games never seem to get any easier and the pressure never eases for our lads. Maybe this more than anything else is what our young guns have to learn to deal with this season. High expectations every week, even if it is mostly from the manager and from themselves, is what football is like at this level. I know now that the fans understand that as well as anyone and maybe they can afford to be a little patient, but football at the top level rarely is. And that is just the way it has to be if you are going to get to the very pinnacle one day.