Chelsea – or as we in either our pomp or our provincial density call them ‘Chelski’ – have long been a symbol of metropolitan arrogance; we’ve hated them for that for yonks. Way before the Putinesque assassin with silencered WOMP secreted about his black leather jacket wafted poisonously in. We hated Chopper Harris – with some moral justification. We hated Peter Osgood for his flashy bird-pulling brilliance and whiff of Kings Road boutiques. Less obviously, we even hated David Webb for his (surely fake?) stolid yeomanhood, believing that to be the sole preserve of Northerners like er… Nemanja Vidic. Chelsea were and are, easy to hate.
Man City are more recent arrivals at this general bile-fest. Traditionally they had been pretty close to admirable, what with their perennial hopelessness just very rarely – like Once in a Blue Moonish, actually – spoiled by the classy shimmies and undeniable running of a Colin Bell or somebody. (Rodney Marsh did complicate this other half of Mancunian experience by coming over all gaudy Landun The-attah on us at one stage – but this is simply a historical aberration; clearly he should have moved across to The Bridge, not Up North.) No, City are a 21st century horror; one created entirely out of The Prem’s seduction by ‘Arab (or somebody Other’s) Money’. Suddenly, we’re all lost in a sandstorm where the barchans are made of banknotes; where the origins of everything are unknowable; where there really is no foundation.
Chelsea got there first – before City, anyway – with the money thing. Abramovic bought success and stuck around, presiding in a fashion we can only speculate about, his degree of control/interference/dictation being (again) unknowable. The club has been his though. Championships and even a turgid but triumphant Champions League campaign have followed, with (in my view) shockingly little dissent from the fans over his utterly amoral metier. Managers have been brutally hoofed in a way that suggests Abramovic is indeed both a brute and a geezer ‘oo don’t knar ‘is fackin’ futtee. Eventually and quite possibly ironically he has a frazzled, destabilised Benitez somewhere near the helm. The club has gone from flash to kindof sordid, has it not? You could only be proud of Chelsea, as a fan, in an aggressive/defensive kindofaway; not proud of how the club is.
In this respect City have come towards Chelsea. The cheap blitz of wealth and acquisition now having passed through that anschluss/honeymoon phase into something truly hollow but still competitive. Players who clearly owe negligible allegiance to the City Cause – but Big Name players. Factions. Noises off. A kind of ugliness, symbolised (and I attempt to reflect the cruelty and bad taste of the average opposition fan here, perhaps foolishly) by the unattractive fizzog, as well as the unattractive activity of the boy Tevez. City as some brash new ego-maniac brand; sometimes sparkling, sometimes depressingly disappointing; a metaphor for the new age in and out of the game. For all these reasons, today’s cup semi is no popularity contest.
The game was nearly fabulous. Certainly exciting, with a coronary-inducing openness and that familiar stamp of a footie match where defenders often looked like they simply could not be arsed to defend. (Surely this is weirdly and maybe disturbingly characteristic of the current Premiership?) Unfortunately this was not the only stamp of note – Aguero two-footedly clumping Luiz in a fashion that should have seen him dismissed – he wasn’t.
It would, however, be churlish to overstate that moment of callousness in a game that had much to recommend. From the opening, City were bright and penetrative, bristling with ideas and running power; Chelsea were simply overrun. Out wide and central, where Mikel was displaying either the nerves or the qualities of a rather ordinary player (you delete…) the disciplinarian structuralist Rafa’s posse were ragged, whilst the faux-bully classicist-fascist male-model Mancini’s unruly horde were impressively ON IT. So no surprise – indeed predictably – that symbol of thin undeservinghood Nasri (see earlier gripes/continue at will) bundled through with some good fortune to notch a goal; for himself mainly… but also his estranged team… and yeh, the supporters. I didn’t see Mancini’s reaction; I suspect a shrug and a turn away.
It took Chelsea a good half-hour to turn up. By then we had seen frailties all round the park, including the obvious thing around there being too many diminutive ball-players in midfield – an alarmingly counter-Rafa state of affairs that continues, rather charmingly. Notable I thought was Azpilcueta’s discomfort; with like everything. The Blues (in black) did need Ramires and Mikel to enter meaningful contact with the game. They continued to refuse all offers, though they did come, for City – with Milner again in infuriatingly one-paced and wasteful mode – were far from perfect. ‘Twas one nil at the break and this seemed about right.
I have been known to air my displeasure at City’s striker’s greed around the box, as though this was in some way emblematic of yaknow, their selfishness and the shameless humbug that is free-market egonomics. This persisted today, for me. Tevez and Aguero seemed as likely to square one to each other for a tap-in as Arthur Scargill is to read the eulogy at the #Thatcher funeral. Whether this single-mindedness (stroke greed) is coached at City I can’t say. It suits my purposes, I guess, to continue to use it against them, in an unlicensed moral fury, until they grow up and jolly-well pass to each other. The point is this game could have been over had they showed any public-spiritedness of the sort that tends to form an essential part of a sports team; not at City, apparently.
Aguero, as if shut up folks like me who maybe under-appreciate his brilliance, scored with a header. Then Ba, on the half-turn, following poor defending, got Chelsea back in it. There followed a period where City, in their turn, drifted and sat, giving Oscar and co the chance to create and me the time to indulge reservations about the clunkiness of Barry as Oscar and co breezed past him. (Couple of years ago both Barry and Milner looked proper England players; now they could barely be more limited, more uninspiring; what happened? Oh – they’re England players!!) On the plus side this meant the match was pretty close to exhilarating at times, as Chelsea poured forward for the inevitable equaliser. It never came. City won.
Many of us have mixed feelings about football being in the hands of people who don’t know the game, or worse still could never convince us they want to listen to our understandings of its daft joys. In that way there are parallels with capitalist politics, yes? (He asked, absurdly.) Maybe I’m a pompous arse but I am not entirely able to untangle my feelings about these clubs/this match from the crassness and delusion and cynicism at the heart of the contemporary game. Chelsea FC and Manchester City FC, as well as having some of the world’s significant footballing talents to call upon, represent now a lot of stuff that ain’t good. I don’t say them alone… but they are the apex of a crappy Premiership triangle; or maybe polygon; or maybe something bit more insidiously amorphous.
Things aren’t simple anymore; the exposure is so massive, the intensity so SO unreally high definition that we are being invited to pay homage rather than view. This troubles me. Odd to be so dissenting of a really pretty captivating match? Perhaps. Perhaps.