In his weekly summing-up from the point of view of a Chelsea fan, columnist Giles Smith selects the best goal from last night’s defeat and has good reason to dig into his record collection for a copy of Blue is the Colour…
Just the seven wins on the bounce, then. I suppose if your magnificent run of form has to come to a shuddering halt somewhere, then, of all the available options, you would probably rather it was in the Carabao Cup than anywhere else. But it did niggle a bit.In the past, of course, you would have been able to say that there was no shame in losing to Manchester United, but these days that consolation isn’t quite so readily available. Last night we were confronted by a United whose ambition seemed mostly limited to clogging the midfield like a blocked sink with soap and hair, before taking the lead through a desperately soft penalty and scoring again with a free-kick from four miles north of Hammersmith. Still, it was another kind of experience for our excitingly emergent side, and I for one will cherish the memory of the closing minutes, when we were pressing energetically for an equaliser and had them pinned back in their penalty area, time-wasting and hacking the ball upfield like a panicked school rugby team.I suppose I should have known something was up, though, when I got to the top of Britannia Road, opposite the ground, and found, not the two police horses which usually stand on guard duty there before matches, but, for some reason, four of them. The four police horsemen of the apocalypse. And what those four horsemen were saying, obviously, was, ‘Tonight your team will play all the football, and you will be impressed by the calm maturity of many of your young understudies, especially Marc Guehi. Yet United will somehow get streaky and scuff a victory out of it.’ And lo, it came to pass.
Much fuss has been made of that Rashford free-kick, and hats off to him for closing his eyes like that and giving it a good old lash. But we all know, of course, that it was only the second best strike of the night, the best coming from Michy Batshuayi, who chased onto his own midfield header and, by sheer force and ingenuity, reduced Harry Maguire to the status of an abandoned supermarket trolley, before absolutely thundering the ball into the bottom corner from 25 yards. Top class.Very late in the game, right when we were to trying to crack on with things and attempt to get an equaliser together, Maguire was to develop a mysterious limp while deep in his own penalty area, attracting the attention of the referee. People in the ground seemed rather ungenerously to infer that the United defender was just blatantly malingering in order to waste a few more precious seconds. I wondered, though, whether at that precise moment it was all coming back to him – that he had just been visited yet again by a vision of Batshuayi reducing him to a battered metal basket and had momentarily come over all weak at the haunting memory of it. It happens. And it may well continue to happen, so look out for it.
Still, a win at the end of all this would have been nice, and not least by way of tipping a cap to David Balfe, who, under the pseudonym Rod McQueen, co-wrote the Chelsea anthem ‘Blue is the Colour’ with Daniel Boone, and news of whose death reached us this week. People sometimes connect ‘Blue is the Colour’ with the 1970 FA Cup campaign, but the song was recorded to commemorate an appearance in a League Cup final (1972, against Stoke), so marching further into the Carabao to its strains last night would have been entirely fitting.Ah well. I still have my copy and I fished it out last night in Balfe’s honour - on the Penny Farthing label, perfect condition, in original ‘juke box centre’ edition with pop-out black plastic ‘spider’ adapter. (Kids will be familiar with these terms, I’m sure.) It’s also actually a fully old-school mono recording, which I hadn’t realised before now. If anyone thought it would be a good idea to spend a bit extra on the mix and have David Webb, Eddie McCreadie etc. swinging from speaker to speaker in glorious stereo, they didn’t act on it.
For some reason, its original pale orange paper sleeve seems to have my handwriting all over it, thereby almost certainly reducing by about 85 per cent its re-sale value, by comparison with a mint one in an un-biro’d sleeve. (I’ll need to ask the Chelsea supporter who co-owns the Record Album vinyl store in Brighton for a professional estimate on this damage next time I’m in there. Not that I’m selling.) The stencilled number eight indicates, presumably, that it was the eighth single to take its place in my private collection. The weird decorative brackets around the middle are… well, weird decorative brackets, I guess. Around the hole in the centre I have carefully written in block capitals, for the avoidance of all doubt, ‘THIS RECORD BELONGS TO GILES SMITH’. I don’t know what to tell you about these neurotic markings really, except that I grew up in Essex and you could never be too careful.
However, sleeve aside, it’s perfect. But of course we all know that. For its purposes ‘Blue is the Colour’ is ‘Land of Hope and Glory’ blended with ‘Please Please Me’ and arranged for a choir of about 16 footballers, and has become that almost preposterously unlikely thing: a single by a football team with 47 years of vigorous life in it and still going strong. What a composition – one for which we owe David Balfe our unending gratitude. And it will be unending. For as long as there is a Chelsea, and for as long as Chelsea have a ground with speakers in it, that record will be played.