On Tuesday, I made a point of wishing good luck to all the Inter Milan fans clustering around Parliament. Not the big bloke with the twitch and the staring eyes, obviously. Big Ben, Westminster Abbey then Fulham Broadway. ‘All England wants you to win’, I shouted at one point. The group’s puzzled looks turned to smiles as someone translated. That might have been going a bit far, mind.
Watching later with some degree of satisfaction, I gasped at Schneider’s skills as if he were one of our own. No wonder he wasn’t interested in us when his name was mooted as a possible target, if he can play for a team as good as Inter were. I had to chuckle at Andy Gray’s comment that when Chelsea were up against it in the second half (make that – outplayed totally), ‘fans of the Premiership’ would be disappointed. The pundits really have absolutely no idea about the fans, do they. Motson said something similar a few years ago, invoking some crazy notion of London supporters solidarity when Arsenal were in the Cup Final, but he’s been going soft for a while now so it didn’t count.
I empathised with the joy of the Inter fans in their corner as Eto’o preened and posed in front of them like a model on the catwalk. Maybe I met you earlier in the day, that good luck wish worked, huh. Maybe they’ll take back to Milan the story of the mad Englishman who wanted them to win. Maybe even now it’s on a blog in Italian. Or maybe not.
Their support was in stark contrast to the home fans. I checked the TV to see if it ha switched to mute by mistake. New Chelsea don’t get it – part of being a fan is that if your team are down, you get behind them. The old school Chelsea supporters have been through more bad times than good in all honesty but it is a sobering thought that a whole generation of fans know nothing but success. You could have watched that team at home for the best part of a decade and never seen them outplayed as they were yesterday. Money and success has transformed the experience of being a football fan. An intrinsic element has been lost, of solidarity in adversity. They simply did not know what to do.
Enough of this. Back to the Lane and Huddlestone has signed a contract to take him through to 2015. Levy has done well to offer extended contracts with, presumably, better terms, to young players like Lennon before the vultures start to circle in earnest. It gives a positive message that they are wanted and they respond well, unlike a player such as Wright Phillips who was appalled recently at being offered ‘only’ £70k a week, bless him the poor little solider.
Hud deserves it. Harry tried several permutations in centre midfield, then opted early on this season to start him regularly, and the big boned one has taken his chance whereas Jenas did not. He can drift around in an infuriatingly lackadaisical manner at times but this is gradually disappearing from his game and his passing and general availability is important to us. He was missed straight away when he got injured a few weeks ago and still is. There’s more to come; he does not have an instinctive grasp of positioning and his anticipation requires a bit of polishing. He learns slowly but when he grasps that the first yard is in the head, he will be a real force.
He’s repaid his manager’s faith in him but sadly it does not guarantee that he will be around for the next five years. These days contracts are as much if not more about securing the value of the player should he be sold than keeping him at a club. Still, for the present he’s ahppy and once again Levy has done well for THFC on and off the pitch.
Finally, on my way home I spotted a reminder, once common but now extremely rare, of being a football fan in the old days. Next to the railway outside London Bridge, deep in the Millwall heartlands, someone has painted the letters ‘T H F C’. Not a tag and certainly not spray-painted street art, just that simple inscription, created with an ordinary paint brush.
Graffiti was run of the mill in the seventies and eighties. Fans would furtively visit all parts of the city in the dead of night, struggling to conceal a 5 litre tin of Dulux under their crombies or donkey jackets and daub their colours here and there. Usually it was simple initials, sometimes a more complex message, typically involving some threat of violence. ‘Spurs rule OK’ or some such. In those times, arriving at the Lane you would be met with freshly inscribed messages of welcome from the opposition, displaying a marked absence of fan solidarity and sometimes some nasty stuff about yids.
When we played Millwall in their season in the First Division, approaching the old Den we were funnelled under a railway bridge and greeted with the slogan ‘Turn Back or Die’. Given the frantic expectation surrounding this rivalry, the scrap yards and barbed wire around us plus their fearsome reputation, unfortunately there was an element of truth to it, a bit like a government health warning. Some graffiti was more benevolent: for many years the environment in Tottenham was improved in some way, I feel, by the burst of creativity that resulted in the painted words, ‘Ken Dodd’s dad’s dog’s dead’. No, I have no idea either.
These surreal outpourings have great appeal. Nothing to do with football, so far as I am aware, but Richmond had ‘Cats Like Plain Crisps’, Deptford the plea from a tortured artist in the midst of bleak council blocks, ‘Give Me Canvas’, whilst only recently has the legend ‘Big Dave’s Gusset’ fallen victim to the building work outside London Bridge.
Any more examples of football graffiti? I’ll put them up on a page if we have enough.