Giles Smith’s Thursday Thoughts
column Thu 16 Mar 2017
Columnist Giles Smith gives his own, fan’s-eye take on the week’s events, including some memory stirrers and cricketer close shaves…
Football would be a lot less fun if people didn’t feel free to give a visiting manager some stick when events seem to call for it – and sometimes even when they don’t. It’s all part of the beautiful game. But calling Jose Mourinho ‘Judas’? As Andy Townsend used to say, back in the golden days when ITV still had some football to show: ‘Not for me, Clive.’
He didn’t need to hold up the fingers and point to the pitch on Monday night. We all know. Three titles. Four properly glorious seasons bringing about a revolutionary expansion of this club’s horizons and its expectations for itself. People move on and times change, but that stuff doesn’t go anywhere. It sticks around.
And let’s face it, he was always going to get another job. Jose was only 52 when he left here, and I don’t suppose any of us seriously expected him to see out the rest of his days weeping quietly in a retirement bungalow in Hove.
And yes, he joined United, and one can think of any number of places one would rather have seen him end up, from AC Milan to MK Dons, where he would have had our permanent, unalloyed blessings (or, at least, until such time as we met them in a cup). But let’s not forget that by passing from Chelsea to Manchester United, Mourinho was merely retracing a career path taken by the late, great Dave Sexton, whom we hardly think of these days as one of the great betrayers of our legacy.
So, yes, he’s working for someone else now. But Judas? Only in the mistaken heat of a particularly hot and passing moment, surely. And not really even then.
Idly browsing social media in the wake of the match – and therefore wasting time that I will never have again - I came across a tweet from Michael Vaughan, a Sheffield Wednesday supporter who was in a position to offer a neutral’s view on the events that had just taken place. ‘Not many United players would get in the Chelsea team,’ the former England cricket captain asserted, without fear of controversy, ‘but I reckon Chelsea would want all 7,000 United fans.’ He rounded off with a hashtag: ‘#noisy.’
Now, ordinarily one might have bridled a little at this suggestion, and pointed out that, as the atmosphere at the Bridge comprehensively demonstrated on Monday, we are perfectly capable of being #noisy on our own, thank you very much. On the other hand, I suppose new recruits are always welcome. And on this occasion, still vivid in my memory was the warm applause given up by the away end for members of the late Peter Houseman’s family, who toured the pitch at half-time. That was #noisy and also #classy, and, on those grounds, those 7,000 visitors would be very welcome to join us on a regular basis, should the urge to cross over to the bright side ever be upon them.
Plus, of course, it wouldn’t be far for them to come. (Sorry. Couldn’t resist.)
As a Chelsea fan, the chances are you can never watch matches in Monaco’s Stade Louis II without remembering, with an accompanying chill up the spine, our own struggles in that stadium in 2004. That was the baffling night when, with a place in the Champions League final available for the virtual sealing, pending the home leg, and with an away goal in the bag and the opposition down to 10 men, Claudio Ranieri, God bless him, got in a right old muddle with his substitutions and blew it. With no special reason to chase the game, Ranieri withdrew half our defence and unbalanced the side so severely that, despite the man advantage, we promptly lost 3-1.
Directly after this game, leaving the ground while still in a daze of disbelief, I came very close to running over Alec Stewart in a hire car. Not my fault: he stepped off a narrow Monaco pavement right in front of me. Needless to say, though, having just watched us blow a seemingly water-tight opportunity to advance to the pinnacle of European football, it would have been no immediate consolation to me to see a Chelsea-supporting legend of the England cricketing scene disappear under my bonnet.
As if the night hadn’t contained enough indignities, the kitchen was closed at the unlovely hotel in the suburbs of Nice where my travelling companion and I were staying and all we could get to eat was a plate of old Camembert. Literally, hard cheese. It was like the entire evening had been scripted by someone who had read too many comics.
All these things were reeling around in my mind again last night, watching Manchester City’s by no means untypical capitulation in the so-called ‘millionaires’ playground.’ And, again, what frustration. I mean, obviously, there is almost always some kind of joy to be found in the sight of English teams who aren’t your own struggling in Europe. But with the broader picture of the Premier League table in mind, it probably wouldn’t have hurt us if City had gone through, as they really ought to have done, and found their schedule cluttered up with Champions League action for at least a couple more rounds. Hard cheese all round, then.
Still, I assume Alec Stewart was safe.