When it comes to football terminology, last night’s superb showing has Blues fan and columnist Giles Smith thinking, as he has been about the challenges of being part of the supporter squad at a big club like Chelsea…
What are we calling that? A quad-trick? A quattro? Tier Four? Doesn’t matter. Whatever we call it, it was extremely impressive and a further cause for joy across an already celebrating nation. First the authorities announce clearance for a vaccine and then Olivier Giroud bangs in four in the Champions League: there will be worse Wednesdays.Giroud’s perfect hat-trick (left foot, right foot, header) would have been tidy enough on its own, but then it got even better. I’m not absolutely sure how it works, and greater minds than mine will know: but I think, for it to qualify as a perfect quad-trick, he would have needed to score the penalty with his chest. And frankly you wouldn’t have put it past him at that point, with the confidence visibly flowing through him.
But you can’t have everything. And it was a perfect penalty, in any case: hard, high, despatched with what the football reporters call ‘aplomb’, football reporters being the only people using that word since Victorian times. (See also ‘ajudged’, as in ‘the defender was adjudged to have handled.’ Only football reporters talk like that these days, and it’s why we cherish them.)So, 4-0: another clean sheet (our eighth in the short space since 20 October) and top place secured with one game to play, which means, among other distinct advantages, that we can’t meet Bayern Munich in the next knock-out round, which didn’t end especially well for us last time.All this was achieved with nine changes from the team that managed on several occasions to climb through the slightly ajar windows of Tottenham’s bus last Sunday afternoon, but couldn’t quite finish the opportunities they created for themselves when they jumped down on the other side of the parking space.
Even that slight set-back, galling though it was, left us only two points off the top of the Premier League, and this team, in its various flexible line-ups, is now 15 games undefeated (allowing for the fact that the loss to Tottenham on penalties in the Carabao gets registered in the real world as a draw) and has conceded only two goals in its last 900 minutes of football which, if you want to think of it another way, is only one every seven and a half hours.Little wonder, then, that some people have been tempted to put all this together, throw in that big vaccination news, and joyfully anticipate that by the time we are bearing down on the pointy end of the Champions League and shaping up to clinch the title, we’ll all be there to witness it in proper numbers.To which, at the risk of coming across like a killjoy, I would only say that people probably ought not to jump the gun and get too carried away with the optimism at this stage. After all, it might take a while to get the vaccine out.On the subject of supporters returning to the ground, I was feeling pretty disappointed when it got to midway through yesterday afternoon and I finally admitted to myself that I wasn’t going to be selected for the Leeds game this coming Saturday night. I felt I’d done enough in the build-up to show what I could bring to the table, support-wise – or even just coming off the bench for the second half - but the management had chosen to go another route.I also felt this might have been one of those occasions when my age and experience could have been useful. I’m old enough to remember the time before Leeds United disappeared into a dusty box in the attic, and to recall what the rivalry between our clubs used to mean. Of course, by contrast, there are younger fans, including my own children, on whose horizons Leeds are only now appearing for the very first time and to whom they are pretty much an object of obscure, historic curiosity, a bit like a trolley bus or gas lights. My feeling was that it would have been handy to have a few wizened people like me in the stadium on Saturday to offer context and guidance for the younger minds.
At the same time, I was ready to accept the situation. There’s a lot of depth in the fan-base at this club – and you know that when you come here. So I was ready to accept that it just wasn’t to be this time. I knew that if I got my head down and continued to work hard, my opportunity would come round eventually. Because that’s the kind of club this is.And then, what do you know? Even as I was shaping up to write a rueful but ultimately optimistic column to this effect, my laptop pinged and into my inbox fell the confirmation email. ‘Congratulations! Your ballot entry has been successful.’So, it turns out I’m in. I’ve won the lottery at the first time of entry, and I’ll be one of the 2000 at the Leeds game. I probably don’t need to say how fortunate that feels, or how exciting the prospect is. Inside the ground for the first time since 8 March! There are people who have been playing for Chelsea for more than two months whom I have never seen in the flesh. This is a baffling situation to me, unprecedented in my adult lifetime, and one which I am glad to have the opportunity at last to rectify.What it will be like, with just a handful of us dotted about the place, in this tentative opening phase, I am struggling to imagine. But I’m grateful to have the chance to find out. And I’ll let you know.