Columnist

Giles Smith: The Cup’s magic can heal our cuts and bruises

Chelsea season ticket holder and columnist Giles Smith holds his hands up upon the realisation fate is not yet falling our way, but he is confident his next prediction will come true to spark 2021 into life…

I would like to take a moment to apologise for reaching a completely misleading conclusion on this website exactly a week ago. Shoddy work on my part for which I accept full responsibility.

It happened like this. Having watched Kepa Arizabalaga dive backwards to save a wildly sliced cross during our FA Cup Third Round tie against Morecambe on, 10 January, I floated the suggestion - somewhere round about paragraph four, as I recall - that, perhaps, finally and miraculously, our luck had turned.

After all, in any other game over the past month or so, a wildly sliced cross was more or less bound to defy science and mathematical probability and end up in our goal – just as it did at Arsenal on Boxing Day, for instance. So if we had some hard empirical evidence, courtesy of our televisions, that that kind of thing had finally stopped happening… well, maybe the planets were finally aligning in a different way and a new phase had dawned – hopefully a phase a bit like the one we had been enjoying as recently as December, when people’s freakish crosses weren’t ending up in our net and we were riding high.

Foolish thinking, of course. Flash forward to the other Tuesday night where, only six minutes into the game, a ball falls loose on the edge of our penalty area, one of Leicester’s defensive midfielders closes his eyes, swings a leg at it, catches it with the outside of his boot and then we all watch it carve through the air on a hilariously unlikely trajectory before bouncing into the net off the inside of our post (pictured top).

So Wilfred Ndidi joins Bukayo Saka on the list of people who have scored cartoon-worthy and momentum-shifting goals against us this season that (let’s be honest about it) they wouldn’t be able to duplicate if given the chance to stage 1000 full-scale simulations of the moment under laboratory conditions on the ground of their choosing.

And once again fate’s fickle finger decides to poke us in the face, quite contrary to my assessment of the situation, fate’s finger-wise.

Sincere apologies. Trying to reckon in advance with luck is a mug’s game, and especially around football, and, at my age, I ought to have known better.

Tuesday’s game seemed to unwind from there, really. We’re still reeling from having a penalty (which would have been extremely useful) downgraded in retrospect to a free kick on the edge of the penalty area (next to no use at all) and, while we’re gathering our thoughts, Leicester run up the other end and increase their lead.

And then, much later, Timo Werner scores but gets flagged offside – except it’s OK because, watching it back on the telly, there’s a defender’s trailing arm in the picture, so you just know that VAR is going to step in and over-rule the decision because that’s what VAR and the video jockeys down at Stockley Park have been doing ever since the system’s inception.

Indeed, that’s the whole point of VAR, as we now understand it: to belittle the work of the appointed officials on the pitch and to open the game to absolute ridicule by ruling goals either in or out on the grounds of microscopic calculations whose accuracy everybody is obliged to take on faith. 

But no. On this occasion VAR elects not to let the small matter of a defender’s fingertip ride in favour of the attacking side, and with that we have to give up for the night and digest another defeat in the Premier League. 

It kind of makes you miss 2020, doesn’t it? Which, I know, is an unfashionable view, all things considered. (Caption from a New Yorker cartoon: ‘It’s 2021, but I’m still writing ‘yearlong fever dream of chaos and despair’ on my cheques.’) 

And yet I look back through time’s mists and, whatever else you want to say about it, that was the year I got into the stadium and watched us thrash Leeds 3-1 and go top of the table. I know 2020 had its low points but actually, by contrast with the year that’s currently underway, aspects of it are beginning to take on the golden hue of a fondly remembered holiday from one’s childhood.

Still, here, potentially to the rescue, come three highly winnable home games on the trot. And here comes in particular, and right on cue, the FA Cup, whose magic is famously known to work as a kind of Savlon on cuts and bruises. 

Indeed, as we get ready to play Luton for the right to face either Barnsley or Norwich in the fifth round, I’m going out on a bruised limb. The year ends in one, so, of course, Tottenham fans are getting all excited about themselves. But we, too, have a small history of winning things in years that end in one (the Cup Winners’ Cup, 1970-71) and also, Spurs fans may care to note, in years that end with a 2, a 3, a 5, a 6, a 7, an 8, a 9 and a 0. We’re not really as fussy as they seem to be in that regard.

However, my prediction for this particular year that ends in one is that our team will yet again go all the way to the final of the FA Cup, for the umpteenth time in recent history including last year, and, moreover, that Timo Werner will become the first player to score in every round of the competition since Peter Osgood in 1970.

It’s just a hunch, of course. But it’s one I’m prepared to put on the record. And when was this column ever wrong about anything?

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