Columnist

Giles Smith: Searching for positives

Chelsea season ticket holder and columnist Giles Smith searches for the positives after a frustrating night for the Blues across the capital, concluding that our social distancing over the chasing pack remains slender but significant...

On the plus side, at least the new shirts looked good. Properly blue, elegant, classic with that fashion-forward darker detailing at the seam… And quite without the ‘graphic underlay’ which last time drew unflattering comparisons with the fabric on bus seats. It’s a big ‘yes’ from me.

It was just a shame we couldn’t beat West Ham in it – not least with West Ham looking so entirely beatable and with Leicester’s defeat at Everton having made third place look as ready to occupy as a triple-length parking space.

When the team you’re playing against converts a measly 29 percent of the possession into three goals, it’s obvious that you’re not defending very well. How to explain that? Maybe it was the players’ sheer surprise at finding themselves playing against a ‘long-throw’ team in the Premier League in 2020. You really don’t see many of those these days, do you? It was like coming across a video recorder or a red phone box. The mind reeled back to times long-gone.

I’m holding up a hand, though. I’ll take my share of the blame. Foolishly abandoning the tactics that had seen us maintain a 100 percent record in all competitions since the restart, I abandoned the feed of piped crowd sounds drawn from computer gaming to make the actual ‘in-ground atmosphere’ the accompaniment to my at-home sitting-room ‘match experience’.

Partly I did this because I thought the natural, unadorned soundtrack of echoey shouting from far-away stands would most naturally simulate the usual conditions within West Ham’s rented shopping centre stadium. But I mostly did it because people I trust had been telling me how informative it was to be able to hear the players and the coaching staff – how it gave you privileged and enlightening access to a side of the game that is normally concealed.

Hmm. As it was, the only thing that really caught my ear was Tammy Abraham loudly berating himself for unnecessarily giving away the corner that led to West Ham’s VAR-cancelled effort. The microphones didn’t pick up what Toni Rudiger must have said to himself after even more needlessly conceding the corner that led to their first goal, but that’s probably just as well.

Some things are made to be smothered in crowd noise, or said by the manager in dressing rooms. Anyway, I’m reverting to the bogus soundtrack next time. Foolish to meddle with a winning formula, and I want to apologise to everyone connected with the club for having my head turned. That’s not who I am, and it won’t happen again.

On that subject of that VAR decision, by the way, people seemed to be raging about it, not least Sky’s oracle, Gary Neville. And yes, it did seem to take the Stockley Park brains trust an awfully long time to reach their conclusion in that instance. Now, I’m unswervingly in the camp that would like to see the VAR hardware dismantled and quietly forgotten about – or perhaps even taken to a workshop and repurposed as something useful, such as a ventilator.

Nevertheless, if West Ham players are going to lie in the six yard box in offside positions right in front of our goalkeeper, then on the whole I’m in favour of having a system which notices it, though I still don’t really understand why the officials on the pitch can’t be that system, the way they used to be. Well, more or less.

Of course, it’s hard this morning not to be feeling a bit sore when reflecting on what a win would have done for our all-important social distancing from Manchester United. That said, you won’t need me to point out that even at two points that distance entirely complies with, and indeed exceeds, the government’s new ‘one plus’ recommendation.

We’re still behaving responsibly, remaining in control and staying alert. If only a few more people in the country – notably the ones who think the virus must be over because they’re bored - could say the same. It’s no less than we would expect from our football club whose conduct throughout this pandemic has been exemplary.

On the week’s broader topic, I’m sure many of us have been addressing the question of how we talk to the young about the present moment. After all, this is something that has simply never happened in their lifetimes and their feelings about it are bound to be confused and raw. They’ll be asking questions, searching for answers.

Wondering about the best approach to take, I tried to remember my own feelings the last time Liverpool were confirmed as worthy champions. But actually it’s too long ago now for me to recall, clearly. One thing is for sure: I know it didn’t feel great. But I also know that we got over it. Times like these are difficult, yes, but that difficulty can be very binding.

It can help you rediscover and reappreciate what you value, the things that are most dear to you. We pull together, move forward and begin afresh. So I guess those are the kinds of things I will be saying to the little and not-so-little ones about where we all are right now. If that’s useful to anyone else, then I’m glad.

Mind you, by the looks of the Championship table, barring a highly unlikely derailment, very soon we’re going to be having to be talking to the young about Leeds. That’s a whole different conversation, and a whole different history lesson. May need to start doing some hard thinking about that one.

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