To me Snickers will always be Marathons. Opal Fruits will never be replaced by Starburst and you can change a letter but Jif will always be that and not Cif. I do not hate change – in fact I embrace it on a daily basis – after all having two young daughters means that they change their appearance on an almost hourly basis. But I do hate change for the sake of it.
The “curtain raiser” in the English season has traditionally always been the Charity Shield. Us modern day fans will always know it as the game which pits the league winners versus the cup winners from the previous season (or in the case of a double winner, the top two in the league). But at some point in the past (2002) to be precise it was renamed to be the Community Shield, and with it went any sign of prestige. In the past few years the game has been played at a snails pace, and has actually been decided on penalties in the previous three seasons. It always used to be the first proper game of the season, but again in the past few years it has actually been played after the Football League had started.
Players, managers and media “pundits” continue to pour scorn on the game. Sir Alex Ferguson, that shy retiring softly spoken manager said “It’s never a do or die game – we simply use it as a barometer of fitness.”. Mark Lawrenson describes it as a “glorified friendly. However, based on the ridiculous cost of watching Premier League football these days, it is good to see that ticket prices haven’t changed since 2006 and start from just £15 – so in some ways it is the opportunity for fans to get to see their team at Wembley as opposed to the Cup Final where tickets are unfairly distributed by the FA along the lines of “well if you are a REAL fan then of course you will pay around £85 (only £75 for your children of course) to see your team.
I am in a rare breed of football fans who can actually say they have seen their team play in the Charity Shield. Since 1981 only 14 teams have competed in the game – in fact since 1996 it has only been Arsenal (6 times), Chelsea (6 times), Liverpool (3 times), Manchester United (10 times) and Portsmouth (once). But in the summer of 1980 I walked up Wembley Way with my Dad and my brother to watch the FA Cup Winners West Ham United, still then in the second tier of football (in fact the last team from the second tier to play in the Charity Shield) take on the mighty Liverpool who had won the 1979/80 First Division which such style. I had my West Ham hat, my West Ham flag, my £2.50 standing ticket in my pocket (worth just £7.46 in today’s money) and my 50pence programme as we queued outside. My Dad started chatting to a nice bearded chap who snatched my programme and scribbled in it. I had never had an autograph before but here I was with a Alan Kennedy-signed programme. I would be the king of Longfield junior school when I went back – I had actually met a real Liverpool player.
I would months later be cursing the very same player after his goal against the Hammers in extra time of the League Cup final when Sammy Lee was clearing laying in an offside position. Kennedy would go on to also score the winner in the European Cup final against Real Madrid. Of course in the classroom I still refered to him as “uncle Alan” and gained instant kudos when I described the summer before when Uncle Alan had taken me fishing, played tennis with me and come over for tea – all the Walter Mitty type statements that either get you a real kick in or discreet flashes of girls underwear when you are ten.
So after such painful memories (Terry McDermott scored the only goal of the game) I paid little interest in the competition. Even in 2006 when West Ham so close to winning the FA Cup final versus Liverpool, as the game went into penalties, all I could think about was a potential nightmare trip back to Cardiff three months later for the game.
But then just a week ago, the legend that is Adam Lloyd Twittered to me that he had not one but two spares in his corporate box. Let me say that again – in his corporate box. Well, his companies box actually. And as a thank you for some work we had done he would like to invite me and Mr Last from EFW along to sample Chelsea versus Manchester United. Their Big Cheer Confetti promotion in the summer had been a great success and we had been proud to be part of it. See this was an act of Charity not community.
So bedecked in my finest jacket I wandered up to the stadium just in time to see Sir Bobby Charlton patiently sign every bit of merchandise, book, boob and bum pushed in his nose. Pat Jennings wandered past looking like an extra from the Sweeny with his trademark silver flowing locks, still reminding people he was the first (and last) goalkeeper to have scored in the Charity Shield final. Then Deadly Doug Ellis arrived, trying to inconspicuously blend in, arriving in his huge Bentley with the number plate AV1. Top marks to those who could be bothered to stop for the fans but zero marks to Ian Rush and Kenny Dalglish who went out of their way to ignore and push past fans who had the temerity to ask for a picture or an autograph.
Chelsea 1 Manchester United 3 – Wembley Stadium – Sunday 8th August
Despite what football authorities dream up, you will simply not get the English into their seats much before 2.55pm for a 3pm kick off. The Taylor Report saw the banning of alcohol in sight of the pitch (yet it is OK to drink in your seat in any FIFA competition such as the World Cup) which means most fans stay as close to a bar as possible for as long as possible. So the draw of Tinchy Stryker or huge pictures of Ancelotti and Ferguson floating around the pitch didn’t do it for thousands…hmm I wonder why.
With the last three Char…sorry Community Shield games ending with penalties it was too much of a temptation not to back that at 5/1. So in a strange situation for a West Ham fan I was rooting for Chelsea for the best part of the second half.
Now I am no tactical genius despite my plethora of awards from the game (Coca Cola Soccer Skills Bronze, Silver AND Gold I will have you know) but to me it looked obvious from the first minute that Ashley Cole was playing too far forward, Malouda wasn’t tracking back and Valencia was in fine form. So it was a surprise that it took 43 minutes before the first goal came. Scholes, already three miss timed tackles into the game, fed Rooney down the right in front of the booing Chelsea fans. He drew Terry and whipped the ball through his legs and that man Valencia slotted it home.
Such fast flowing football must have been against the Fergie policy of not enjoying this game as at half time young Wayne was withdrawn and in his place Man Utd brought on the Mexican Hernandez, or at least so we thought as he appeared to be advertising a Mexican fast food restaurant on his back – Chicarito. He wasted no time in making a mark on the game, falling over in the penalty area and allowing the ball to hit is chest, head and arm on the way into the net.
Look at me – actually enjoying a game played between two Premier League teams. Chelsea pulled one back to bring hope to our penalties bet but Berbatov in possibly his finest Cantona-esque moment restored the two goal advantage with seconds to go. So we lost our bet but in the end football was the winner as a crowd of 86,000 had helped fund a number of UK charities as well as some of the smaller clubs who will be taking part in the first round of the FA Cup next weekend (Lincoln Moorlands Railway v Friar Lane & Epworth for us next Saturday as you are asking).
Pies and beer welcomed us on our return inside and a full analysis of the game. What would it mean to the Premier League title race? Is Yosssi Benayoun just Yossi Benayoun as Ancelotti had told us earlier in the week and will other players such as Cashley Cold be allowed to put his nickname on his shirt? Do you know what we don’t actually care. There were over 300 members of the media at the game, all essentially reporting the same thing. Next week we will probably be the only person at the Moorlands Sports and Social Club when the FA Cup kicks off and we will love it, even more than the sumptuous Chicken Balti pies, well almost.
As a final thought. Let’s assume the average ticket price was £35 for the game and 75,000 paid that – totally around £2.6m. What if the players donated one weeks wages as well? That would surely double the amount that would be put back into football – or is that me just being an old cynic? Now that would be a real act of Char…sorry Community Spirit wouldn’t it!
If you really want to read a proper match report click here or here by proper journalists. If you want to read more of our day through star struck eyes then head on over to Danny Lasts’s excellent EFW blog.
For more of our pictures from the day head off here to our Flickr stream.