After a week in which both Chelsea’s long unbeaten run and the idea of fans back inside Stamford Bridge came to an end, Blues supporter Giles Smith comes to terms with continuing unusual times in this week’s column…
Feels like Christmas has come early - and not in a particularly good way. Two full league programmes in unnaturally close proximity to one another, in which slightly tired-looking players produce unexpected and mildly slapstick outcomes? Don’t we normally have to wait until at least Boxing Day for that? It seems to come round more quickly every year, doesn’t it?I’ve got to admit I was nowhere near ready. Normally you try to get ahead a bit, but I was totally caught on the hop this year. In my defence, a 17-game undefeated run of the kind that our team had spent this past autumn exquisitely crafting, and which extended virtually three months, all the way back to 20 September, was perhaps an invitation to relax and take your eye off the ball somewhat, however unwise that always is.It certainly left one out of touch with a few actually quite common aspects of the football experience. Conceding two goals in one game, for instance, which hadn’t happened since 17 October. And losing, which hadn’t happened for a whole month longer.And, more specifically, losing to the opposition’s final attack in the dying seconds, as at Wolves this week – a proper evening-spoiler and an age-old rabbit-punch whose impact I had almost completely forgotten about, so long has it been since that kind of thing was a feature of our lives.
All of which would explain the slight sense of bewilderment and the accompanying deflation we have probably all been feeling since last Saturday, and which only expanded on Tuesday while watching the picture come in and out of focus on Amazon Prime on the laptop.But then, when you think about it, ‘tis the season. The season of enormous randomness. By which I don’t just mean Christmas, but 2020/21 as a whole. We only have to look around us this week to see that randomness in operation. Manchester City couldn’t find a way past West Brom at home. Southampton, who were in the relegation zone a year ago, are currently in the Champions League places. Manchester United are on and off like a dodgy strip-light, and Arsenal now haven’t won since the days of steam trains and Lyons Corner Houses and are so low in the table that only fully qualified specialists with the appropriate breathing apparatus should really attempt to approach them.Enormous randomness abounds – randomness so enormous, indeed, that Tottenham, in tandem with their new coach-hire company, have found themselves hymned in some ostensibly sensible quarters as genuine title contenders.Go figure. I don’t know whether you’ve ever read any books by the late Terry Pratchett, many of which are set on a flat circular world which is carried through space by four elephants standing on the back of a floating turtle, but it doesn’t matter if you haven’t because it’s basically, give or take the odd elephant, the Premier League this season.
It is against this backdrop that that 17-game run, now concluded, is to be judged for the estimable achievement that it so clearly was. To the immense credit of management and players, for three whole months a still blending team was able to find the one ingredient that is proving so generally elusive during this wildly skewed and destabilising pandemic phase: consistency.
It couldn’t last forever. But now that it’s over, we can at least look back and appreciate it for the extraordinary feat of concentration that it was. And then we can look forward to drawing a line, summoning that concentration again, and starting our next unbeaten run, which is scheduled to begin at home to West Ham next Monday.None of us will be there to witness it, of course. London has been relegated into Tier 3, which means the doors at Stamford Bridge are once again closed for the foreseeable future, just two games after opening again. It’s a huge shame, not least following all the effort that must have gone in to devising and implementing a workable system under the Tier 2 restrictions. I was fortunate enough to get a ticket for the Leeds game and I can only report that I felt far safer inside Stamford Bridge for those particular two hours than I feel at the checkout in my nearest Sainsbury’s Local yesterday afternoon.
Still, I get the point. And, let’s face it, not getting to see West Ham in the flesh is a relatively small sacrifice in the larger scheme of things. What goes without saying is that we’re all looking forward to a time when we can go to a football match – and, for that matter, a Sainsbury’s Local – without wondering whether it will be the death of us, or, inadvertently, the death of someone else. Realistically, that time may not be so far away now. Another three-month, 17-game unbeaten run starting next Monday, and who knows where we’ll all be? Back at Stamford Bridge, quite possibly, and seeing it continue, rather than come to an end.