All of these London derbies seem to be arriving all at the same time – rather like London buses but with greater frequency.
Arsenal’s 5-3 humdinger victory against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge over the weekend followed closely on the heels of last weekend’s fiery, feisty London ding dong between QPR and Chelsea in which racist comments, contentious refereeing decisions and a whole barrel load of controversy were the order of the day.
Now most of us know that London derbies are all about petty jealousies. spiteful tiffs and passionate local pride seemed to swallow up the games and then simply choke them as spectacles. There must be always time to settle old scores and patch up festering resentments. If you’re going to take out your frustration on somebody you can’t stand then its best to leave it for some dusty boxing ring.
The fact is that a London derby is one of those strange creatures of habit whereby even the most civilised of football supporters will still get all hot and bothered if their rival team gets the better of them. Here we are confronted with those famous of football”s social issues. London derbies are all about hot blooded tribalism, finger jabbing insults and those endless chants that seem to echo around the ground almost incessantly.
Students of human behaviour would immediately assume that football has never really grown up. Every season London derby supporters pour out of their Tube stations in their thousands, bellow out some of the most deplorable and offensive drivel, shout and holler at the tops of their voices before laughing at each other’s so called deficiencies.
At Stamford Bridge the obvious target for silly abuse was Chelsea skipper John Terry who allegedly had a nasty dig at Anton Ferdinand’s colour. Terry insisted it was blown wildly out of proportion, a load of baloney that could have been avoided had common sense prevailed. But those malicious muck rakers will make something out of nothing and besides football is an intense and serious game. These things just happen and Terry just wanted to move on.
Still events at Stamford Bridge are getting rather juicy and steamy with just a hint of sleaze. The supporters and the board are quarrelling over Chelsea’s right to better themselves. A move away from Stamford Bridge seems to be the sticking point and murmurs of expansion are thick in the air.
Chelsea, for their part are stuck in the middle of this prickly predicament. Do they move away from their Stamford Bridge spiritual home or do they make a financial killing on a new home. True they have won back to back Premier League titles in recent seasons and they do possess a Russian billionaire who could probably buy the entire Brazilian and Argentinian team if he so wished.
But with talk of double dip recession and stringent cut backs in the air as well even Chelsea may be forced into belt tightening. Yesterday Chelsea’s new man at the helm Andre Villa Boas was very smartly dressed rather like a barrister waiting for his next case. He stood very politely in the Chelsea dug out, occasionally got rather hot and bothered but avoided the temptation to kick bottles of water when things went wrong.
The game itself was a memorably pulsating, end to end, palpitating cracker that lived up to everything that most London football suporters have come to expect. Sometimes even London derbies seem to become bogged down in a messy scruffy scrap that just wither away never to be seen again. But this was one of those fabulous football banquets that became tastier by the minute.
There was a time though when amid all the meat and gristle of a London derby times were hard. Back in the 1970s Chelsea were just a middle of the road old First Division club with arty pretensions and a taste for the high life. The players were of course simply outrageous show offs, showbiz celebrities with ideas way above their station.
Open up the pages of the Chelsea history book and the names are engraved on the memory.Charlie Cooke was the scheming, pickpocketing midfielder, Ian Hutchinson was the man with the longest throw in 1970s football, Alan Hudson was deliciously inventive and a connoisseur of football’s finer arts. Dave. Webb was the rock at the heart of Chelsea’s defence. Ray Wilkins was one of the most precious of Chelsea’s young treasures, a player of masterful skill, beautiful balance, the silkiest of touches and a player of finery and feathery finesse.
Then there was the late Peter Osgood, the kind of striker Chelsea must have dreamt about night after night. Centre forwards are rather like big battleships with shoulders the size of a house, thighs as large as boulders and feet that can hit the ball like a rocket. Once Osgood thumped home a volleyed goal past Arsenal keeper Bob Wilson that flew in with all the speed of a missile.
Sadly though those days of wine and gallons of alcohol are consigned to a small page in Chelsea history books. There comes a time when you have to leave the past behind you and the present day Chelsea side are as removed from their predecessors as its possible to be. In fact thee are so few Englishmen left at Stamford Bridge that it may be advisable to pretend that the 1970s was just another country.
The eight goals that Chelsea and Arsenal shared may be regarded as something of a novelty value. Still the goals flowed like vintage plonk.Firstly there was the Frank Lampard header that opened the scoring before the likes of Robin Van Persie added his goal- scoring genius to proceedings. the valiant John Terry delivering the goods just before half time and then the floodgates opened.
There were goals neatly constructed, wonderfully timed and a feast of fluent football. The all travelled around the pitch like one of those silver balls on a pinball machine. At times you wondered whether football could reach another point of excellence. London derbies were not supposed to be like this and you had to rub your eyes with sheer wonderment.
Frank Lampard was battling desperately to blot out Arsenal’s rising supremacy. Ramires, Chelsea’s Brazilian blend of class and culture and John Obi Mikel were gradually losing their stranglehold. It was at this point Juan Mata, surely one of Chelsea’s most intelligent of signings cracked home a thunderously brilliant shot from way outside the Arsenal penalty area. But this was a shortly lived moment of rejoicing for the home fans.
Now Arsenal, hurt and wounded by the 8-2 Old Trafford batterings, sore after a North London sucker punch by Spurs, went to town on a creaking, wobbling Chelsea. Theo Walcott finally revealed the burning pace and urgency in his football that some believed had gone missing. Santos is beginning to stamp his identity on the Arsenal team.Mikel Arteta, a snip from Everton will never be another be another Fabregas although he still looks as studious and positive on the ball as his fellow countryman.
Robin Van Persie, after one or two niggling injuries powerfully returned to his goal scoring best and the shadows of Dennis Bergkamp and Thierry Henry may be of some comfort to Van Persie. Van Persie is once again Arsenal’s accelerator and starting engine. a player of undoubted creative juices with that unique ability to influence and dicate a game that seems to going nowhere.
Van Persie was the singular difference between what seemed another Arsenal away day setback and the triumphant victory that followed. For Arsenal, normality may just have been restored and the rest of the season appears far more encouraging. Chelsea, for their part may be regretting what might have been had Fernando Torres decided to play. Poor Torres looks like a fish out of water and his days may well be numbered.
London derbies – don’t you just love them.