Saturday, 14 February 2009

that's why I love football - chelski

I’ve been resisting the temptation to blog about footy in recent weeks but now that the game has scaled new heights of absurdity I can resist no longer. The catalyst for this post is the latest machinations at Chelski. Here is a side that three years ago threatened, or at least talked about, world domination but who are determined to become the laughing stock of the national game. Only a few months ago Chelski were one penalty kick away from winning the Champions League and then up stepped John Terry; the rest as they say is history and my beloved Man Utd took the European crown. I confess that at the time I had mixed feelings as my two brothers, both Chelski fans, were in Moscow for the final and had endured the travel and the rain only to be denied that moment of glory right at the end.

There is one incident from that evening that sticks in my mind and sums up so much of what I despise about the beautiful game. The losers went up to collect their medals and leading the way was their chief executive Peter Kenyon. He was handed a medal and had the nerve to put it round his neck. He had a smile on his face while behind him stood the players looking as if their world had just imploded. Some could barely look at the trophy so nearly within their grasp, while others could only raise an exhausted arm to wipe away the mixture of rain and tears streaming down their faces. Who could not feel sorry for this brave band of sportsmen who had completely spent themselves over 120 minutes and a penalty shoot out? Here were lions led by a donkey (Chelsea’s emblem is a lion by the way). In contrast Sir Bobby Charlton led the victors up the stairs to receive the trophy and when handed a medal shook his head to indicate he didn’t deserve it, stood out of the way and let the players take all the glory. If ever anyone could have justified putting that medal round his neck it was this knight of the game who is a legend of both club and country. But written into Charlton's DNA are the true values of sport that meant he couldn’t wear the winner’s medal.

What a contrast between the two men that says everything about the direction football has taken. Ironically, Kenyon had previously been chief executive of Man Utd and had boasted of his life long allegiance to the club. However, money talks and BS walks so when Abramovich (owner of Chelski) came calling Kenyon sold his birthright for a mess of pottage. Here is the true face of football at Stamford Bridge. Not John Terry, who was inconsolable after his penalty miss, nor my brothers who hauled themselves around the country supporting their team even in the dark days of relegation and Ken Bates as chairmen. Instead, a suit with an inane grin and a loser’s Champions League medal round his neck who has seen the club entrusted to his stewardship go through five managers in six years. This week Chelski revealed that they have paid out over £23 million in compensation in the last financial year to managers and coaching staff that they have sacked – in one year! This figure doesn’t even account for payment to the latest casualty Luiz Philipe Scolari, who, despite managing Brazil to a World Cup win and creating a fantastic Portuguese national team, is not considered good enough to manage Chelski after only a few months in charge.

The reason for my vitriol is that Chelski should be more than just the play thing of a billionaire Russian oligarch. They are a club with a proud tradition of stylish football: the swagger of the King’s Road, the heart of steel represented by heroes like Ron ‘Chopper’ Harris and the safe hands of Peter ‘the cat’ Bonetti creating a platform for the flair of Osgood, Hutchinson, Hollins, Hudson et al. The first F.A. Cup Final I remember watching was Chelsea v Leeds – the beauty verses the beast. They may have won two Premier League titles under ‘the special one’ Jose Mourinho in recent years but at the same time they have forfeited the affection many held for them and their style of football. And now it looks like the owner has closed the cheque book and the one thing Chelski still had going for them, an inexhaustible bank balance, is disappearing; the Roubles going over the Urals as it were. They are outbid in the transfer market by the second biggest team in Manchester, with an aging squad and divided dressing room, the possibility of missing out on the Champions League next season and having just employed a part time manager doing a favour to the owner.

Chelski stand as a stark warning to football in general – a club run by people who know the cost of everything but the value of nothing. This great club’s tradition and supporters deserve so much more.
Check out Marina Hyde's article to see the same sorry tale being played out at Manchester City.

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