Pat Nevin: Important moments
column Tue 24 Jan 2017
Columnist and Chelsea legend Pat Nevin looks back at the weekend results, ahead to cup-tie plans and sends his best wishes for a speedy recovery to Ryan Mason…
There is an old saying, ‘Make hay while the sun shines.’ Well there hasn’t been a lot of sunshine in west London recently but metaphorically, Chelsea have certainly been harvesting the points while others have been caught napping.
For the second week in a row, others near us have frittered points away and Chelsea haven’t. It is slightly infuriating that from our point of view, Arsenal managed to somehow get an extra two points with a last-second penalty that shouldn’t have been a penalty and was offside anyway. Still it was another fine weekend in an ever-increasingly heartening season.
It is however impossible not to think about the most important moment in the game and that was when Ryan Mason and Gary Cahill clashed heads in the first half. We all wish Ryan the best of course, and echo the words from Hull City about how impressed they were with the very quick and professional treatment he got on the field and then at hospital.
It is a situation that every player knows is always possible at any moment in a game, whether you are a top pro or a Sunday pub league player. For Chelsea fans we all remember the horrific injury Petr Cech received at Reading, the time it took for him to recover and the three months before he played again, and indeed the fact he still wears protective headgear when he plays. Every time you go into a challenge you have to be brave and if you are a keeper, sometimes you even have to be bordering on the reckless with regards to your own safety. With the speed of the game and the power of the players, there will always be a risk.
My own worst head injury was a depressed fracture of the cheekbone after a literally sickening clash at training near the end of my career at Kilmarnock. I knew my team-mate was not at fault, it was just a piece of bad luck. I think he was surprised that I went flying to score a header at the back post. It was not something I was renowned for. The operation was a success and I was back in the first team less than a month later, far too soon if truth be told. The triple fracture of the bone hadn’t fully healed but that is the way most players are. We want to play and generally accept the risks, even to the extent of not telling the medics the entire truth all the time, just so we can get back as soon as possible!
When I meet up with other ex-pros now, more often than not the first topic of discussion isn’t some great game or shared football experience but how the injuries we all acquired during our careers are affecting us now. I think I am lucky; I have got two new hips due to the rigours of the game, probably my own fault due to excessive and extreme twisting and turning. I say my own fault because I was warned by specialists later in my career to be careful with some specific moves, but like every other player I accepted the risk and indeed accepted there would be a price to pay later.
My price is small, the hips are great – go for the Birmingham Hip Resurface if you have the option – and other back problems, damaged ankles and muscle weaknesses are perfectly manageable most of the time unless I do a particularly long hill run of over 90 minutes. Stupidly, I still do that fairly regularly, it’s an addiction. The point is that medication, surgery and the aid of the PFA has made a big difference to me and just about every other ex-pro.
Some clubs including Chelsea have also been very kind to ex-players who need help. The game gets a bad rap sometimes but there are many good works being done behind the scenes. I happen to know that our old assistant manager Ian McNeill, now back home in Aberdeen, is still helped hugely by Aberdeen FC for problems he has in his old age. It is a very common and rarely told story.
So I am blessed but other ex-players suffer more, though I have yet to meet one who feels he would have given up the joy of playing for that suffering later. The one fear in the background is, however, serious head or spinal injuries which are rarely discussed by players. It is a much more common problem in rugby but all you do is hope that it doesn’t happen and happily it is very rare in football.
That is why everyone in the game was and is so concerned about Ryan this week. It also may seem like a small thing in the context, but the reaction of the Chelsea fans at the game was superb while Ryan was being treated and when he was being stretchered off. We almost take it for granted now, but I can remember in days gone by there were much less respectful reactions from some groups of fans, happily that is rarely if ever the case now.
Our thoughts are with Ryan and his family and we hope for a speedy recovery of course, but the game has to go on. So this week coming is Brentford in the FA Cup and then it is the double-header of Liverpool away and Arsenal at the Bridge. Those two games are vital but have to go on hold as the FA Cup this year is very important to Chelsea, not just because we want to win it. This is the perfect opportunity, as we all know, to give fringe players competitive game time. The more games in this cup run the better for them, because those players will be needed. The stability of the side has been almost as incredible as this fine run of form the team has been on, but it cannot last indefinitely; injuries, suspensions and maybe even the odd form dip may occur.
We all have dips in form or make mistakes and right here I must admit I am certainly not immune to that. Last week I did something I very rarely do and if I had not had my embarrassment gene surgically removed at birth, I would be hugely embarrassed now. I was wide of the mark with a statistic on this page and it was not just wrong but monumentally wrong, which is annoying because I am usually quite proud of my arithmetical acumen. I wrote last week that we had lost an average of one goal every 1350 minutes in the last 15 games. Actually the correct figure should have been roughly one goal every 350 minutes. So the update after another clean sheet is that we have lost something around one goal every 370 minutes, unless I have it wrong again of course. Suffice to say I will wait until after I finish my columns before that first sip of white wine from now on.