Not again not twice not both of them not in the same week. You hardly dare think about the possibility. On Sunday they were out on their feet after 70 minutes, after 120 they were the living dead. It’s OK, they did enough on Wednesday. You always want more, in that delicious five minutes before kick-off, when all that has gone before is forgotten and time begins, always hope for more. For so long we couldn’t beat them at all. Yet twice in one week.
The surprise of spring sunshine in the afternoon is pleasant on your back but it’s not right for a derby. The journey is too easy, park up with no problem, it’s all just too – nice. Early evening football is wrong somehow. The teams emerge and there’s a phone call.My boy, a man now, tall and strong, is cut down. As passionate and silly and consumed and soppy about the club as you were at his age, he lives for each match. The news is delayed by the discordant and irrelevant Premier League anthem.No music fires us like the sight of white shirts and navy blue shorts. The call confirms the worst. His friend, the same tender age, has hours, his insides eaten away by cancer ravaging his organs and his spirit. My boy leaves to be with him for the last moments, we blink away tears and scream louder than ever at the kick off. From inside, let it out, screaming and shouting to get it out somehow.
And we play. Oh how we play. Ball to feet, one touch and pass, then move on. The others are moving too. Ball to feet, they want the ball, no one hides, they pass and move. It flows upfield and endangers their goal. Modric leads. Luka little Luka ball to feet moves it with a touch to me to me, in comes the tackle but he moves it on with sway and swivel, in his stride, theopponent thinks he has a chance but Luka is away, the defender left spurned and forlorn by the object of his desire, wondering where it all went wrong. But Luka, lovely little Luka, is already looking fo rmore, to me to me, head up gliding into space, balanced and poised amidst the turmoil, who wants it who needs it. The pass is angled and perectly weighted, he moves on I’m here to me to me. It is a masterclass in creativity and he runs the midfield. It is beautiful.
Huddlestone too, cumbersome and unfit perhaps this past few days. How could a man of his bulk disappear on Sunday? Yet he’s put that behind him because time begins at kick off. He moves, he’s available to me to me, pass it on, long and short to me to me. Pav wanders when on Wednesday he stood still, Bentley wide, Bale running, running. To me to me. Pav shoots, Bentley messes up, Defoe’s power blocked.
After ten minutes you draw breath. This is happening.You thought it could not get any better after Wednesday night but this is happening. Deco, Lampard, Mikel, Cole, they are all there but look at the space in midfield. Arsenal did not let us rest for a second, they tackled and nicked and nipped and smothered, but Chelsea watch us play. This is a training match. Ancellotti is the tactical master at every level but hasn’t he watched the DVDs. What about all those blokes with clipboards and notepads who sit behind him, or Arnesen who left us behind because we were not good enough for him? Just Watch the DVDs for five minutes,or ring Mick McCarthy, Tony Pulis orPhil Brown (he’s got time on his hands), this isn’t the way to play against Spurs. Later, Mikel injured and you make Deco the defensive midfielder. Idiot. Ta.
Bale stampeding forward is stopped only by an outstretched leg but nothing. Then handball. Not him,someone else give the ball to someone else anyone else not the shimmy please not the shimmy just plant it please not the shimmy. Bang! That’s what you do best bang it, one up and fully deserved. Chelsea top of the league and outplayed by the living dead.
Bale is unstoppable, a force of nature rampaging down the left. He is a sprinter with the build of a middleweight and the touch of an angel. He rips huge gaping holes in the defence from first to last. Again he’s on the ball, off then slowed, almost stumbled, they close in but he is away, all is well we’ve shifted him to his right foot and Cech has the angles covered, then low and firm, near post, as Cech dives he thinks he has it, my near post that’s mine but it’s gone before your hand is fully outstretched grasping only thin air. This is happening.
Space in midifled means they have more men up front. We organised superbly against the Arsenal but this lot have Lampard, Ballack and Drogba, they have bodies waiting as it comes forward. But we have Gomes. Ridiculed by pundits and fans throughout the land, the icy fear in his bulging eyes when he came for crosses sent shivers down the spine. Past tense. Lampard lightening volley and Gomes leaps to his right, all arms and legs but look at those hands, together and strong, just as they were for an earlier stinging long shot. We have Gomes and wouldn’t have anyone else. We have Gomes.
Corners and pressure, just keep them out,hang on until halftime, the better team, well on top, don’t let yourselves down, hold onto halftime. You won’t let me down, you’ve done enough to prove yourselves this week, the living dead, don’t let yourselves down.
Half time.Time to catch your breath, slap a few backs, shaking heads. Can’t last. Not Wednesday and tonight. Is this really us? Can’t last.The whistle blows, they attack, balls into the channels, Drogba absent in the first period, moaning now and a better player for it. Balls into channels, where’s Ledley? They were saving him for tonight, for Drogba, pace over ten yards, strength to hold him off, intelligence and anticipation to get there first. Where’s Ledley, I wish Ledley were here, wish Capello could see Ledley.
But we have Dawson,strong and tall. We have Gomes, sweeping up the loose. We have Bassong, inspired and surprisingly strong. They have too many men forward, if only we could set Pav and and JD free, just keep them out. JD on the break, one on one, game over – he’s missed it! Bale unstoppable, missed it! Pav moving well, drops back working so hard.This is what English football is all about, hear the noise, work back, sprint forward,work back.It’s worth it, enjoy it, you understand now what it’s all about, you are working so hard and enjoying it. Here’s the chance you’ve worked so hard for- missed it! How many more, how many more….
Terry unblinking as the abuse washes around him. Looking tough but inside it’s getting to him. Wayne, Vanessa, we don’t care, your mother or your father, couldn’t give a flying one. Just now, just this moment. It’s not pleasant but it is all we have. The Land Rover with the tinted windows, the PR machine, your media mates, the electric gates at the house, cut off from the real world, cut off from us, all that money, no protection now. It’s all we have and it’s getting through. Two fouls and gone. You have a word with Bale, somehow his fault that he was too fast for you, old man. The kids smiles and answers you back, didn’t expect that did you?
The abuse, the songs, the chants, the noise. Great slabs of noise rise from the stands of this old ground, high and close to you, feel the noise, closing in. No escape. Chelsea fans sing about the library. Meanwhile the Lane is rocking and rolling, shaking to the foundations, ten on the richter scale. A roar from deep down, all those defeats, those years of pain, now we have a team. Down and out on Sunday evening, they have dragged themselves up somehow, some way, and we are beating the top of the league easily. Easily the better team. They are giving everything and so shall we. From the Park Lane, the Paxton, East Upper, new songs roll around, picked up on all sides. Chelsea surrounded, no escape. This is as good as it has ever been. Steep stands and devoted fans. A proper football ground.
Keep the ball, keep it. They always come back, can’t if we have the ball. Stay on your feet, don’t dive in. Keep it Bentley you greasy haired poser, stay on your feet that’s it nice and easy keep it. Working hard, never stop, no one stops, every last one of them. Just keep it.
Dawson, our mighty leader, we’ve got Dawson at the back. First to every ball, blocking with every fibre of his body, get in the way. Drogba dozing no more, through, shoots, far corner but there! Dawson from nowhere and blocks. The crowd rise and roar, the mask of fierce concentration slips for a moment and he grins to himself. One of us, a remarkable performance, leading from the front.
As Luka moves towards the ball already in the background Bale is off. Lung-busting surges from deep, unstoppable endless energy, how many times in the last week, how many? Ferreira, international,broken and substituted at half time, as before him Salgado then Kelly. Magnificent physicality and atheticism.They can’t stop him,but the ball slides tantalisingly past the post. Pav clear, hit it turns, hit it! Flickity flick fuckety fuck wide. Just hit it!
And they score, same goal as the Arsenal, same time, same anxiety in the noise. Then it’s over, sweet relief then overwhelming joy. Both of them vanquished. Tears for the team, for my boy, for his friend, his family. A wild and crazy week,contrasting emotions but those emotions, wretched and ecstatic both,were profound and lasting. This is our team, our wonderful wonderful team. This why we do it. Our wonderful team.