Columnist

Giles Smith: Even in lockdown there are pluses

Following on from Tuesday’s anniversary Watch Party for Munich 2012, columnist Giles Smith writes about how little has changed in any Chelsea’s fans reaction to witnessing that game again…


So, we did go to Munich after all. And we did reacquaint ourselves with the rich pleasures of the Allianz Arena. The difference was, we did so a couple of months later than we originally intended to, and online rather than actually.

But never mind those mere details. It all worked out perfectly in the end. On Tuesday night, as the final kick rippled the back of the net, our players ran in all directions out of the centre circle, in a blue star-burst of pent-up energy, before variously dropping onto their knees, their faces and each other.

Indelible scenes. We had just won the Champions League on penalties after extra-time and experienced the greatest night in our club’s long and distinguished history – and, indeed, the greatest night in the history of any London club.
 

Oh, and Tottenham will have to settle for the Europa League in 2013/14, where, before going out in the Round of 16, they will meet Sheriff Tiraspol of Moldova, Anzhi Makhachkala of Russia and Ukraine’s Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk. You simply can’t write stories like these on an otherwise unremarkable Tuesday night in May when there’s absolutely nothing else to do.

It’s clear that some great things have emerged from the largely dispiriting situation in which we currently find ourselves. There have been some creative responses to the suspension of all normal communal activity which have proved a real and lasting boon as these vacant and troubling weeks have gone by.

Back at the beginning of this, we thought that lockdown was going to be all egg shortages and no toilet roll, plus a lot of staring at the wall. Yet here we are, eight weeks on: toilet roll and eggs have by and large remained available, and we are plugging the gap where our social lives used to be by drifting contentedly between the myriad ‘listening parties’ and ‘watching parties’ that have blossomed around the internet, and not least on our club’s media platforms.

And I have to confess, even though, like almost everybody, I will be very happy to see lockdown lifted and look forward eagerly to the resumption of things like football, cafes and rooms with people in them, it’s also clearly the case that, in many respects, I am completely comfortable with the world that lockdown proposes: a world in which people are gathering to reminisce while listening all the way through to Aztec Camera’s ‘High Land, Hard Rain’ album, and in which Didier Drogba is forever walking towards the penalty spot with the ball in his hands and with a look of absolute self-determination on his face and his rightful destiny just a handful of seconds away from him.
 

I mean, come on: who wouldn’t want to live in a world like that? And yes, we’re going to have to find a way to leave it eventually because we can’t stay here forever. But while we have to… well, there are plus sides, is all I’m saying.

Eight years on (and forever, I don’t doubt) one’s reaction to the footage of 2012 remains utterly visceral. Consider the Drogba penalty. Every time you see it, you’re back there watching it fresh, and some part of you goes through the whole ordeal again: feels the weight that somehow wasn’t in his legs yet certainly would have been in yours if that had been you; wonders how someone can even walk straight at a moment like that, let alone line up a penalty; seriously contemplates the possibility that this time, finally, Neuer’s purchase of a few extra tension-ratcheting seconds by drawing an admonishment from the referee will pay off, or that he will go right rather than left. It’s written, yet it’s like you’re reading it for the first time.

Read: Drogba reveals inspiration in Munich final

Even just the other night, watching Arjen Robben burrow menacingly into our penalty area in extra time and then watching Cech somehow see clean through Jose Bosingwa to get his foot and hand to the ensuing patently goal-bound shot, I felt my palms glow hot. Ditto the sight of Cech finger-tipping Schweinsteiger’s penalty onto the post, a vital contribution so fine that it takes a slow-motion replay to excavate it.

Cech, of course, routinely ate penalties for breakfast. Of the 62 he faced in his career he saved 17, which is to say more than a quarter of them, a spectacularly good yield. In Munich when it really mattered (faced six, stop three), he upped that rate to a phenomenal, probability-defying 50 percent. Off the charts.
 

Read: Cech on Champions League glory

There’s a wonderful justness, then, to the way that the anniversary of Munich (19 May) is forever welded on the calendar with the anniversary of Cech’s birth (20 May) – a 48-hour celebratory twin-pack, if you will, the one merging seamlessly into the other. It’s fitting, of course, because the simple reality is that we wouldn’t have the first of those anniversaries to celebrate if it wasn’t for the second one.

Elsewhere this week, some news did manage to filter through from the present, and it was encouraging news. Top-flight football tentatively resumed in Germany. Okay, it looked more like a low-budget, single location sci-fi movie than football. And the socially distanced goal celebrations looked as mournful and as unnatural to me as that photograph of French schoolchildren sitting in designated chalk-boxes on a playground. But it was something.

Also, even better, the players are back at Cobham. Training has resumed, albeit it at distance. There are glimmers, then. The past is strong, but the present is still with us.
 

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