In his weekly column, Chelsea fan Giles Smith has found himself increasingly devouring morsels of memorable moments from our past, but before delving into that, he begins with his opinion on this week’s big game…
Disappointed, it goes without saying, about the result at West Ham on Monday. Thought the performance merited at least a point. But obviously the Zouma penalty incident and the subsequent sending off (harsh, in my opinion) changed the balance of the game very early on.In that circumstance, to be able to reorganise and to continue to get forward, create problems and fashion those two goals for Olivier Giroud (giving his all, as ever) showed a commendable amount of spirit and stamina, which is exactly what you want to be seeing from the players at this point of the season. So there were definitely positives to take away, even on the back of a 3-2 defeat at a ground where we would always be expecting to do better.Class work from Mason Mount, too – not just with the extremely mature decision to substitute himself in the second half for the sake of a more solid 10-man central platform, but also with the resourceful way in which he snuck in a blast of ‘The Liquidator’, both as the sides came out before the game and on the half-time whistle. That was an act of colonisation at the London Stadium to which Declan Rice ultimately had no response. (He needs to get a home bubble-machine, clearly.)I probably ought to add that I don’t play computer games myself, and I thought I had even less interest in watching other people do so. But that was before a global pandemic came along and effectively shut down the world. In which context, the Rice v. Mount isolation showdown on FIFA 20 has arguably been the highlight of my footballing week – in fact of my week, full stop.
Fandom under lockdown, Day 20 or so – and things seem to have reached a certain point. We’re at the stage, clearly, where, at a random moment in the middle of the day, my son can silently hand me his phone to show me a clip of Eden Hazard scoring at Stamford Bridge a year ago – that one where he takes the straight road into the penalty area at the Shed End and gives half of West Ham’s first team (including Declan Rice, as it happens) an early lesson in what we would now call social distancing.And we’re at the stage, by extension, where I can look at that brief clip on that small screen and be consumed by a whole deluge of longings (for football, for the Bridge, for crowds, for night games, for defeats of West Ham) and only narrowly succeed in summoning the will power not to watch it, with glassy eyes and a quivering lower lip, on repeat for the rest of the afternoon.
Day 20, and we’re at the stage where an Arsenal-supporting friend emails to say he’s reading old football results on Tik-Tok and would I like to know how Chelsea got on on 29 September 1984? And where I discover that I’m actually extremely keen to know – maybe even desperate to know, actually. (It was good news. We beat Leicester 3-0, with two goals from Kerry Dixon and one from this website’s own Pat Nevin. In other results, Spurs beat Luton Town 4-2, unfortunately, but Watford lost 4-5 at home to Everton, which you don’t often see.)
Day 20, and we’re at the stage where a friend texts to say he’s watching the 2004/05 edition of The Premier League Years on the app, and highly recommends that I do the same. And I join him back there for a while and feel a bit like children must have felt after the war when they spotted a banana.In these current extraordinary circumstances, in what is effectively the absence of a present, the past gathers a whole new weight until, if one isn’t careful, one basically ends up weepily rolling a giant snowball of nostalgia round and round the kitchen.Else explain why I should have spent quite so long this week marvelling at a random social media post about the performance of Didier Drogba in the 2009/10 Double-winning season: 29 goals in 32 appearances (the Prem’s top goalscorer that year) and 10 assists in a campaign in which he missed six games because he was in Angola taking part in the Africa Cup of Nations. Incredible, always - yet somehow, at the moment, even more than incredible.
And look out, because on Saturday, it’s the 50th anniversary of the 1970 FA Cup final – the seminal event for an awful lot of us, and likely to make us come over all dewy-eyed even if we weren’t banged up at home in a state of permanent dread. They’ll be showing the whole game from 3.00pm on the app and, really, the timing couldn’t have worked out better, in a way, because it’s exactly the entertainment for which these times cry out.What’s more, eventually, on 29 April, they’ll be putting out the replay at Old Trafford – which might seem like a long time to wait to find out what happens, but trust me, it’ll be worth it. Let the app be your DeLorean, then, although, at the same time, I’m slightly worried that, somewhere in the middle of having my tender atoms thrust back through time like this, I may actually burst.
Aside from that, all credit to the current players for their continuing determination to entertain us in the desert with genuinely new action, whether it’s through FIFA 20 match-ups or the #KTAchallenge (quality, again, from Mount, but also from Billy Gilmour). Maybe this is the way to get the season done: play out the remaining fixtures as a series of head-to-heads on FIFA or via a set of competitive keepy-uppy scenarios against garden walls. There have been worse ideas – including knocking off those fixtures in a couple of weeks behind closed doors, which is possibly one of the worst ideas in the entire history of worst ideas.
But it’s interesting, isn’t it, how, at the very beginning of this, people so specifically went after footballers for their wages – stridently insisting that they accept pay cuts, make donations. Which, of course, they have just announced they are doing, on an admirable, sensibly organised basis in partnership with the NHS charities. Yet why them, first and foremost, rather than, say, the hedge fund managers or the owners of airlines and pub chains? Like footballers don’t do enough for the national life already by playing football. What would we talk about, think about and do in the absence of footballers?We’re currently finding out.