As the tinsel begins to be put away and many people return to work after the festivities, it is time to take stock of what has been anything but a holiday period for the Chelsea team. Columnist Giles Smith gives his fan’s view in his latest article…
It’s extraordinary, isn’t it, the lengths some people will go to to try and ruin other people’s Christmases? Take Southampton, for instance. Southampton seemed to have spent almost the whole of 2019 asleep, so far as I am aware. Yet, with apparently no regard whatsoever for our jollity at this special time of the year, that same side somehow found it in their hearts to wake up mid-way through the afternoon on Boxing Day (of all days) and, out of nowhere, produce what will surely go down as one of the team-goals of the season. Talk about trying to ruin the mood.Or take Alireza Jahanbakhsh. We all knew the story because it had been all over the media just a couple of days before. Jahanbakhsh scores goals for Brighton at the rate of one every 27 appearances. By my reckoning, he wasn’t due another one (give or take the possibility of a long Brighton FA Cup run) until the beginning of October at the earliest.
And yet there he was, in the dying minutes, pulling off a stunt-man’s special to tie up a game that we had been leading since minute 10 and, again, doing his best to trample on our Christmas tangerines. 7,999 times out of 8,000, that scissor kick ends up on Brighton’s generous concrete forecourt. But not this time. This time it flies on a perfect, unstoppable trajectory into our net. At Christmas. With the lights in the streets and the wreaths on the doors and everything.And yet… Christmas survived, didn’t it? Christmas was still good. Any season in which we beat both Arsenal and Spurs would automatically have a lot to recommend it. Any season in which we do so in successive away games, in the same week, over Christmas… Well, despite the very best efforts of Brighton and Southampton, it was hard not to feel that all our trees were blessed with a really strong showing of baubles this year.And if we’re going to give the gift of goals at Christmas, at least let them be good ones, that people have to work a bit for. (We’ll quietly draw the veil over Southampton’s second. And Arsenal’s goal, come to think of it. Who knew a theoretically crowded penalty area could still have such big holes in it?)The fact is, for all that other people tried to stop him, Grinch-style, Father Christmas still came. When the whistle blew at the Emirates, Arsenal had lost four consecutive home fixtures in all competitions for the first time in 60 years, and it’s always nice to play your part in the key moments of history at any time of the year. But at Christmas, when the tinsel is glistening and excited children are rosy-cheeked in the winter cold, it’s extra special.
The record books will also show that right now we are unbeaten at Tottenham’s posh new stadium. Simple fact: never in the history of Christmas – never, indeed, in the history of mankind – have we lost there. In fact, we haven’t even conceded a goal in that ground. Not ever. Little wonder that some of us already think of Tottenham Hotspur Stadium as a place we love to go and are even now wondering if, in 16 years’ time, as 2036 dawns, we’ll be looking back and saying, ‘It all started that day, you know – which was actually the first day on which it could have started.’Back in the past, of course, after a long and highly amusing period of dominance, White Hart Lane became known fondly to us all as Three Point Lane. It’s now clear that we need a witty replacement for that nickname, post re-build. I’m proposing 'Three Point Stadium.' OK, it doesn’t quite have the rhythm or the snap and crackle that Three Point Lane did. But it does the job and until someone comes up with something better, I’m going with it.
‘The Christmas period has probably been a small showing of our season,’ Frank Lampard said after the Brighton game. Exactly so. And how unusual to be saying that. Far from calmly holding a mirror up to nature, Christmas is normally a time when the season gets re-fashioned as a balloon-animal by a grinning children’s entertainer. Mad, random things happen in the rush and the noise, and rare is the team that just soldiers on as normal. As I recall, we even lost to Tottenham once at Christmas. Hence the old expression: what happens at Christmas stays at Christmas.Not with this one, though. Not for us. It was almost as if someone had commissioned an artist to whittle the story so far in miniature. The record for the four Christmas period fixtures was Won 2, Lost 1, Drawn 1. It included a handsome win on the back of a league-bestriding performance at Tottenham; a win pluckily (and a touch luckily) carved out of a largely awful game of football at Arsenal; and, in and around those pleasurable things, points wince-inducingly dropped following unexpected power-outages against teams you would have expected a team playing like the team that crushed Tottenham to sail past.Oh, and with away performances far exceeding home performances, too. And with too many clear and timely opportunities to put games out of reach badly squandered by poor or naïve decision-making. And with no successive wins in there. (We haven’t managed that since the start of November.)And yet, for all its imperfections, it was still a good Christmas, wasn’t it? How could it not have been?
Watch more past Chelsea games vs Arsenal and Spurs on The 5th Stand in the box set series of videos