The boy wonder Adam is a top chap…Every so often he produces a big of sporting gold from his invisible utility belt that makes you believe in the human spirit. Two years ago it was a rather fetching rucksack that has seen its way around the world and has fired up a number of conversations with strangers. Last year it was an invite to sample Club Wembley at Fabio Capello’s first game for England, against Switzerland. Unfortunately I had to miss the private tour and lunch at Lords last summer but I was holding out for a Willy Wonka Golden Ticket for a personal tour of the Playboy Mansion. I am sure he is still working on the latter, but in the meantime he came up with a cracker. “How do you fancy a game against a team of ex-Professional footballers?” He asked a few months ago. “Sure – as long as its not Chelsea” I told him….
So on this fine sunny April day I made my way down to the ground with (In)Active Matt in deepest Surrey to line up against the likes of David Beasant, Clive Walker, Ray Wilkins and Paul Canoville for the game against Chelsea. I had swallowed my pride and agreed to play the Blues on the proviso that we would be allowed to win. I think not.
A week before the game we were given the Chelsea Squad:-
Beasant, Pates, Langley, G Wilkins, R Wilkins, Walker, Canoville, Cundy, Monkou, Hall, Dublin, Chivers, Britton, Bumstead, Lee (as in David Lee the Rodney Trotter look-a-like) and Dublin
Hmm…some real blasts from the past there. Adam used his motivational spin – “Come on guys some of these players were at their prime 20 years ago…” Yes Adam, but so were we and it wasn’t as professional footballers! My playing days really came to an end 7 years ago when I moved from Notting Hill. I was the defensive lynch pin for Hole in the Wall FC in the Chiswick & Ealing League, and for a number of years enjoyed the banter of Sunday League football where I looked good without having to actually run around. The toll of too much football when I was young had taken effect in my late twenties and I lost the yard of pace on the 21st November 1991.
I had played at a decent level, turning out for a number of non-League clubs before a bad ankle injury kept me out of the game for nearly a year on that said November day. Eighteen months later whilst in a loan spell to Kos Town FC in Greece I walked through a plate glass window (no I wasn’t pissed, or thrown) and the resulting injuries to my knee required over 80 stitches and two operations during the course of the next year. But even today I can still defend with the best of them – I just can’t run! I have turned out for my country in representative matches for the England Fans team in Macedonia, Croatia and Vienna (to be featured in the soon to be published Passport to Football book) but the pace has now gone. Was I bitter I hadn’t earned a fortune as a player? Absolutely, and this was a chance for some retribution!!!
Chelsea Old Boys 8 The Active Allstars 0 – Chelsea Training Ground, Cobham, Thursday 23rd April
We rolled up at Cobham at midday and were allowed to pass into the inner sanctum, although we were kept very separate from the first team who were training on the main pitch. Obviously they were getting ready for the hiding they would get on Saturday at Upton Park. We had a roll call and determined who would play where in the car park (in a similar situation to Mike Reid’s Runaround…..All the defenders in disabled space…Naaaaw). Our opposition where obviously taking this very seriously as they stood around in their shorts and flip flops, looking on scared at what they saw.
After our kitman handed the shirts out and I had the number five in my hand I knew I had made it into the starting XI. We walked over to the immaculate pitch – one of 72 – YES 72 pitches they have on the complex. The Chelsea starting XI were going through their warm up exercises with their fitness coach as we simply took pot shots at our goalkeeper. Their starting XI was:-
Dave Beasant, Keith Dublin, Jason Cundy, Ken Monkou, Clive Wilson, Ian Britton, Trevor Aylott, David Lee, Gareth Hall, Gary Chivers and Graeme Wilkins
Ours included a bloke who works at Waitrose, a failed Policeman and a dozen overweight over 40 year olds. We kept it tight at the back, working as a flat back four….until the referee blew the whistle to start and we went to pieces. My plan of making them do all the running didn’t really work and we were immediately under pressure, with the smallest (and oldest?) player on the pitch Britton pulling all the strings. After a few early scares, David Lee managed to beat our lame offside trap and despite my late tackle he managed to lift the ball over the keeper. Somehow we kept it to 1-0 for nearly 20 minutes. Richard Keys had somehow managed to wangle a game and thought he had scored on 30 minutes but his effort was ruled out as the ball had gone out before it reached him. He wasn’t bitter at all and spent the remainder of the half complaining about the goal.
The second came whilst I was off the field having a little breather and two nil at half time wasn’t bad. I suggested a tactical change at half time, with us switching to a back three and pushing our full backs wide. Great idea in theory but we were ripped apart in the second half. They brought on Clive Walker who was awesome. He pulled all the strings and scored a couple of great individual goals. Our issue was fitness, fitness and fitness as well as our wide men literally sticking to the touchline – we could hardly see them let alone kick the ball to him. I was determined not to let Keys get a sniff and I did all that I could including scoring an own goal. Walker’s ball was played across and with Keys unmarked behind me I tried to put the ball out for a corner only to see it hit my studs and the ball slowly roll towards the empty net. Gareth Hall was a real gent and could have put the ball in but allowed me the honour of getting my name on the score sheet.
Goals came at regular intervals in the second half and our “special guest” John Terry obviously left once he saw that I was no longer a threat for his England spot. The Veterans coach, Ray Wilkins, was so chuffed with the performance that he threw on Monkou up front. But this gave us our one and only real chance as Adam made some space on the edge of the box and fired over the bar. From our angle on the sidelines it looked like it skimmed the bar. From behind the goal it looked like it skimmed the corner flag.
So 8-0 was a fair result. We can blame it on the hot weather, the soft pitch or the fact we had never played before together. In truth it was a far result when you put together a team of over aged non-footballers playing ex-Professionals. Over lunch in the restaurant (no chips here – booo) we chatted with Langley and Chivers about the game today. Were they jealous of today’s players? “Only the money they get – don’t fancy the grub they get here every day!”
So wind forward 48 hours and move the venue some 20 miles north east to E14. Could West Ham gain revenge for this monsterous defeat? Hiddink was quick to put the game into perspective and stated with the Barcelona game coming just a few days later he would put a weakened team out at Upton Park. And sure to his word he rested Drogba, Ballack, Alex and Cole amongst others. Zola, fresh from signing his new contract did the same, leaving out Dean Ashton, Carlton Cole, Valeron Behrami, Jack Collison. Scott Parker and James Collins. The fact that none of the six were fit is neither here nor there. In fact if you take Ashton and Cole out of our team you essentialy take away the scorer of 60% of our goals this season. Their replacements are David Di Michele and Diego Tristan – who between them have scored less than Ashton and he has been injured since 31st August!
Walking to the ground on a lovely sunny afternoon we were accosted by a group of girls outside the stadium handing out flyers for a new film. Nothing wrong with that but dressing them in tiny white string bikini’s at a football match is probably not a very wise idea. The amount of fans who were trying to “accidently” catch the knot at the side of their bikini bottoms was amusing to say the least. Also I thought concealer was used by girls to cover up spots on thier face and not bikini line shaving rash…nice!
West Ham United 0 Chelsea 1 – Upton Park – Saturay 25th April 2009
We had our chances, that is the annoying part. If Keiron Dyer had slotted away a one on one with Petr Cech or James Tompkins toe poke which was cleared off the line in the first half the game would have been very different. Instead we had to put up with a dire first sixty minutes until Lumpard bounced free, crossed and Kalou poked the ball home at the far post for the only goal of the game. Then of course we had the opportunity to draw level after Illunga was hauled down and Noble had his spot kick saved.
So two games in three days against Chelsea and two defeats….I will have my vengence whether in this world or the next said Russell Crowe. As we haven’t beaten Chelsea for five years I think it will be the latter….