Ahead of this coming weekend’s fixture against the Geordies at the Bridge, columnist and Chelsea legend Pat Nevin remembers his involvement in a meeting 36 years ago and an important lesson learned, a lesson just as important today…
For once I would like to get just a little bit nostalgic here. I always have a nice memory to fall back on when Newcastle United turn up at Stamford Bridge. In my first season playing for Chelsea it was this game, and one specific moment in this game, that started my relationship with Chelsea fans. It wasn’t a goal or even an assist but a mazy dribble the length of the pitch beating, depending in who you talk to, six or nine players en route. Some of them might have been beaten twice, I will admit.
The reason for the uncertainty is that the game wasn’t filmed, something that is hard to imagine these days when every game and just about every training session is on camera, whether that is the senior team or the youths. So I can exaggerate how many players I went round if I want to, but I don’t because sometimes a memory, however blurred by the years, is a pleasant enough thing to have. Even more pleasant are the consequences.
Back then Newcastle had a former European Player of the Year in their side in one Kevin Keegan, alongside other world class players such as Peter Beardsley and Chris Waddle. Years later Chris and I became friends through the media, while Peter and I became team-mates at Everton but it was Keegan who had the biggest influence on me that day. As we battered them 4-0 and I was having one of those days when beating players was embarrassingly easy, I noticed that with five minutes to go, Keegan, a player of world renown and now well into his thirties, was working harder than any other player on the pitch.
I loved the fact he had such a positive attitude even in those hopeless circumstances. He knew there was no chance of winning the game but there was a pride in his performance that shone through for me. I might have been getting the acclaim of the fans and all the headlines the next day as well, and Kevin Keegan was being ultra-positive about me to the assembled media, but the real lesson came from watching him.
It is a lesson that not every player takes on board, it isn’t always easy when you are being lauded by everyone to see the value of having pride in your work even when things are not go so well. I watched Newcastle a few weeks back against Manchester United and I saw an echo of that spirit, which is handy for them, as the week before when losing to Leicester the spirit was notable only for its absence.
The young Longstaff brothers in midfield last week were the epitome of the pride in their play and in their shirts that the home fans wanted to see. Every football fan knows it when he or she sees it. All players try during games, but there is something over and above the norm that we as fans are looking for. At Chelsea I think we should consider ourselves lucky that we have that attitude all the way through our entire current side.
You do not have to go back generations to find one or two players whose total commitment was questioned by some Chelsea fans. That is the case at every club, not everyone is the hardest worker and some aren’t giving 100 per cent all the time but right at this moment, I do not have a single complaint about one Chelsea player in this area.
There is a great affinity being built between our fans and the players just now. We know the initial reasons; this is Frank’s team so we are bound to be on board, the kids coming through are our kids so once again we are onside. But look around and consider everyone else and the obvious work-rate and spirit from them, it has been superb this season even during the tougher times.
When we lost 4-0 up at Old Trafford, yes Frank in his debut game was always going to be excused, but neither were the players abused by the fans. This was because all the effort and a good deal of quality was there for everyone to see. You can’t fake that stuff for too long with the fans. Take Jorginho, the statistics alone will tell you about his incredible work-rate but it is his passion for every tackle and every chase that shines almost as much as his ability on the ball. Willian obviously is reborn as well but try thinking of someone in the group that isn’t giving everything for every moment, it is impossible.
Tammy Abraham works until his legs run out and is often replaced but that is a positive sign that he is giving everything, not a negative one that he is playing badly. There looks as though there are two Mason Mounts on the field most weeks as he seems to have the ability to turn up everywhere. On top of that have a look at the attitude of those coming off the bench. None of the subs are giving anything less than everything they have, whether it is for 30 minutes or 10.
So why is it happening? Is it the professional pride every player should have? Is it the influence of the strongest characters all being positive characters in this team? It’s the bounce everyone has got from these youngsters coming along with their passion, vibrancy and fearlessness? It is all of these things obviously but on top of it all it is the ethos of the group which can only be fully imprinted by the management.
For all the positives we have enjoyed so far this season, including the exciting style, the large number of goals and the hope that has been brought for the future, it is the total effort we love. Every single player has been pressed to give their best every time by a coach who was exactly like that throughout his career with the Blues. It may well be that this is Frank’s secret weapon, one that I can promise you not every coach has in his armoury. We Chelsea fans in the stands and around the world admire, like and respect Frank. It would appear that everybody in that dressing room feels the same way too. Long may it last because that is precisely how you get the best out of any group of players.