In the latest column by Chelsea season ticket holder Giles Smith, he also notes new life for an old Eden Hazard song and considers football without crowds…
Sunday’s emphatic deconstruction of a solidly built Everton side will go down among the season’s best performances, and took place, naturally enough, to a soundtrack significantly dominated by booing – but the good kind, of course.What with Toni Rudiger, Olivier Giroud and Kurt Zouma all on the pitch and all receiving periodic outbreaks of acclaim from the stands in the traditional manner, and what with increasingly frustrated Everton fans jeering (and therefore further inspiring) Ross Barkley, scientists believe these may have been the highest levels of mass lowing ever recorded over 90 minutes at Stamford Bridge. It was good to hear.Meanwhile, with just one full-length Premier League appearance to his name, and on the back of one emphatic demolition of Liverpool’s midfield in the FA Cup, Billy Gilmour is already getting the old Eden Hazard song. I know it’s about syllables, at the end of the day. But even so. It felt somehow resonant. There was a gap to be filled there, and it’s getting filled.
Given that our last two fixtures have provided so much to feel positive about, it was a bit of a dampener to learn that the second leg of our Champions League tie in Munich next week has fallen victim to the current global health crisis and will take place behind closed doors, and therefore in the absence of any kind of singing whatsoever.It’s a sensible decision, of course, but it’s also hugely disappointing because it means that when our players pull off arguably the most stunning 1-4 away victory in this club’s storied European history and advance in glory to the quarter-finals of the game’s ultimate top-table competition, none of us, barring essential club personnel and a handful of only professionally interested press types, will be there in person to witness it.Of course, there’s always the television coverage. Yet I suppose, overall, I’m with Pep Guardiola, the Manchester City manager, who suggested this week that it was probably better to cancel football than to play it without people in the ground. I had half an eye on PSG v Borussia Dortmund last night and it felt desperately hollow. Fair play to the players for taking it seriously enough to clear the benches for a multi-man brawl near the end, but in the absence of a crowd, even that had an air of going through the motions about it – possibly even felt a little silly. This kind of thing needs fans in order to make sense.
Like Guardiola, I cling to the increasingly unfashionable idea that the crowd is an integral part of the football experience, and not just an adjunct to it that can be shipped in and out as scenery by the television producers. Football without witnesses is a nonsensical concept, and the alternative – suspending these competitions completely until this thing is under control – seems altogether more logical.And if that means that Liverpool won’t, after all, be picking up their much-vaunted first League title in three decades, then I guess we’ll all just have to take that unfortunate outcome on the chin as best we possibly can. As this situation unfolds, it’s likely that each and every one of us will have to make some sacrifices, somewhere in our lives. That will just have to be Liverpool’s. But hey: they can always try again next year, no?Elsewhere, my eyes alighted at the weekend on a profile of Priti Patel, the Home Secretary, in the Sunday Times. Ordinarily, I would have been turning over fairly fast, but the pull-quote from the piece, emblazoned on the article in large letters, read: ‘Priti is the Dennis Wise of the cabinet: short, aggressive and very angry.’Now, I’m sure Dennis Wise has endured far worse slights and comparisons down the years. Or, actually, has he? It’s a question for another column, in another forum, probably.Certainly the man doesn’t need me to defend him at this point in history. Yet, reading that line, I couldn’t help but feel a protective instinct bubble up inside me. Because, yes, you could pin the term ‘aggressive’ to Dennis Wise, and also, if those things really matter to you, the term ‘short’. But how wildly wrong it was to describe Wise as ‘very angry’.There was no anger in Dennis Wise the footballer. Okay, he did get caught up in a couple of regrettable altercations in what was, by any standards, a colourful career, both on and off the pitch. But surely you misrepresent him entirely (and miss what was great about him) by suggesting that rage was chief among his motivations – or anywhere among them. Impish devilment might have been. It was one of the reasons we loved him so much. But rage? No.
One other fundamental difference between our former captain and any member of the current cabinet, really (and the point, in fact, where any attempt to compare the two of them entirely dissolves, even as a quick joke in a newspaper column): Wise never gave anything other than the impression of knowing exactly what he was doing. So enough with the Dennis Wise/Boris Johnson’s government analogies.