You have to be careful what you celebrate these days. Last Sunday Aston Villa players jumped about with each other for a while after scrambling to safety from the cliff-edge of relegation and received a stern ticking-off from the always schoolmasterly Roy Keane.
This was not an occasion for exuberant pleasure, according to the slate-faced former Manchester United player. Rather than leaping around, Keane seemed to be suggesting, those Villa players should have been walking away quietly to reflect at length on the personal shortcomings that had brought them to the edge of the cliff in the first place.
Well, it’s a point of view. On the other hand, if you can’t dance for joy when your apparently knocked-out team somehow rises off the floor, gives the Championship the slip and therefore doesn’t have to go to Millwall next season, I’m not entirely sure when you can dance for joy.
Similarly, the scenes on the final whistle at Selhurst Park – Jose Mourinho and his Tottenham coaching staff in a bouncing group-embrace at the conclusion of a plucky 1-1 draw with Crystal Palace – drew some raised eyebrows, and even some Keane-style scorn in some quarters. ‘Where was these people’s dignity?’ seemed to be the drift.
Again, though, I’m inclined to think, why not? That coaching staff had met their target for Spurs in 2019/20, and one which had looked unattainable at certain points as the season unfolded: they had kept them up. A lot of work had clearly gone into that project, and I would say they were entitled to a moment of celebratory togetherness however demeaning it might have looked to people from the outside.
But we seem to live in a time of creeping misery about other people’s expressions of joy, with scornful disapproval becoming the norm. It started with players entirely innocently (and, actually, from a fan’s point of view, rather enjoyably) posting photos of themselves in the dressing room enjoying wins in routine league games. (‘What are they actually celebrating?’) And then it seemed to expand outwards to encompass celebrating victory in the Carabao Cup (not big enough), victory in the Europa League (not big enough, either)… And now escape from relegation seems to be on the proscribed list, too. Pretty soon the only thing you’ll be allowed to celebrate is clinching the Champions League – but only if it’s not your first, of course.
I spotted no leaping around in unison by our coaching staff in the television coverage last Sunday, and Frank Lampard’s comments after the defeat of Wolves and the confirmation of Champions League football next year, were modest and classy, as ever. But some jumping around wouldn’t have been amiss, in my opinion. People have been talking about expectations being met, but let’s take a moment to remember how few expectations many people with a professional understanding of the game had for this club in 2019/20, and how meagre the general expectation actually was.
Read: Lampard reaction to Wolves win
Just three of the 17 pundits whom the BBC asked to predict the top four last summer had Chelsea anywhere on their lists: Mark Schwarzer (formerly of this parish, of course) said we would finish third, and Ruud Gullit, bless him, weighed up the situation (new manager, best player off to Real Madrid, transfer ban in place) and decided we would only come second this time. Matthew Upson soberly and, as it happens, correctly put us fourth. But he thought Spurs would finish above us, so obviously he loses an enormous number of soothsayer points on his Platinum Frequent Pundit card for that.
He was by no means alone, though. Fully 15 out of 17 pundits thought Spurs were going to be a top four side in 2019/20. The two who didn’t were Karen Carney and, bless him all over again, Ruud Gullit.
Less than half (eight out of 17) had Liverpool beating City to the title. Only three pundits managed to name three of the final four, albeit in various wrong positions – Danny Murphy, Alan Shearer and Matthew Upson.
And only one pundit had all four: stand up Ruud Gullit. But he had none of them in the right place. All of the right notes, but not necessarily in the right order, then, like Eric Morecambe playing Grieg’s Piano Concerto in the famous sketch. (Ruud thought Man United would win the league and Liverpool would finish third.)
Don’t get me wrong: I like the idea that, for Chelsea these days, a top four finish is the ‘minimum’ expectation. But this season, in the particular circumstances in which we found ourselves, it simply wasn’t. Consequently, then, everyone involved in the outcome that was so efficiently concluded with that victory over Wolves is entitled to a quietly satisfied fist-pump – and, hell, even some leaping around. Just as long as Roy Keane isn’t looking. And, frankly, even if he is.
Anyway, that’s the league done and dusted. Just the two more trophies to play for. We are blessed, truly blessed.