Ned Stratton's blog

Why an improbable victory over Man Utd this season would emulate our 2009/10 triumph.

Source: Mail Online

The red and white flags, shirts and scarves were out in force late afternoon yesterday on Holloway Road and Highbury Corner to celebrate a 1-0 Arsenal victory over title favourites Manchester United.

For once this made being a Chelsea fan in Highbury a positively excellent thing because the result benefits both teams. It is a much needed source of hope and pride for The Gunners after the disappointment of dropping out of the title race, but also a crucial helping hand for our boys – now only three points behind Man Utd, level on goal difference and due to play them next Sunday – in the race for an unlikely fifth Premiership title.

Picture this scenario: 22nd May 2011, 5pm – Goodison Park.  Chelsea captain John Terry lifts the Barclays Premiership trophy aloft after a 3-2 win over Everton on the last day of the 2010/11 season.

The victory follows a 4-0 crushing of punchless, safe-in-mid-table Newcastle at Stamford Bridge the weekend before, but more importantly a dramatic smash-and-grab 1-0 away victory over “Champions elect” Man Utd the weekend before that.

After 92 minutes of dominance from Rooney, Hernandez et all, an otherwise lacklustre Fernando Torres majestically lept up to score a stoppage time header from a hotly disputed free kick.

The three results leave Chelsea, with 38 games played, League Champions on 79 points, the same tally as Man Utd (who win their two other games against Blackpool and Blackburn), but on a higher goal difference; + 44 to Man Utd’s +42. 

Such an outcome is still improbable, but it seemed impossible a few months ago when Man Utd led Chelsea by 15 points in the title race. A comeback like this would be almost as sensational as that of 1995/96 when Alex Ferguson’s team pipped Newcastle to the post having trailed by 12 points earlier on.

This time, the shoe will be well and truly on the other foot if Chelsea can pull it off. Indeed, this is partly why, from a Chelsea fan’s perspective, a victory this season would be even sweeter than our Premiership title last season.

In 2009/10, Chelsea set the standard with relentless attacking football which resulted in a deserved League title, sealed in style with an emphatic 8-0 thrashing of Wigan on the last day of the seasonWith 86 points and over 100 goals, few could dispute it being Chelsea’s year.

And few did. But nonetheless, the Chelsea-loathing English fan base and punditry – clutching at straws to take away the gloss from the Blues’ success – found a plan B; they wrote the season off as mediocre. On BBC’s last Match of The Day in 2009/10, Gary Lineker ended the show by asking the two Alans for their opinion on the season as a whole. The verdict ran along the lines of “quite high on drama, short on quality”, with Shearer adding an equally gloomy throwaway comment about “English teams losing a lot of ground in Europe”.

Likewise, United fans offered up the “Green and Gold” movement as their way of writing the history of 2009/10 not as Chelsea’s victory or their own team’s failure, but as the wretchedness and parsimony of their nasty American owners (under whose  six-year ownership they have so far won three Premierships, three League Cups and a Champions League).

The consensus was thus: Chelsea were worthy winners, but since 2009/10 was so bland and forgettable their achievement was a hollow and meaningless one.

And this is why my scenario of a few paragraphs ago would be so sweet. Yes, partly because of the “smash-and-grab” factor.  It would leave Ferguson – and the Old Trafford faithful who’ve lost interest in ousting their owners with green and yellow scarves now that they’re satisfied their team is winning again – bloody-nosed and indignant at refereeing decisions.

More importantly though, it would see Chelsea taking the plaudits in an extraordinary twist at the end of a dramatic and indisputably entertaining 2010/11 season. We’ve seen bizarre sackings, hilarious outbursts from a batshit Blackpool boss, wondergoals, comebacks from 4-0 down, and a relegation battle go down to the wire. This season will never be forgotten, and Chelsea would love to be remembered as its victors.

And a Chelsea victory would be a guilty pleasure because, truth be told, we probably don’t deserve it. We’ve hit rock bottom at times this season. Losing 3-0 at home to Sunderland, sacking our influential and hugely popular assistant manager for no apparent reason, breaking the British transfer record in a £50 million vanity buy for an out-of-form player in a position in which we already have strength and depth. The list goes on. And with goalie blunders and key refereeing decisions going our way, we’ve been very lucky too.

But we’re still in with a chance, and with seven Premier League wins in our last eight, it is feasible to suggest we will take that chance. And if we do, let the nay-sayers point to our short-comings.  We will point to the final league table after 38 games as the blue flags fly high and the legend of 2011 lives long on the King’s Road.

Sirloin steak or wild mushroom risotto? – The worries of a prosecution witness in the British Magistrates’ Court system

The CPS - Doing a "Grand" job of prosecuting non-crimes

I had pretty much decided the theme of this week’s post, when a nostalgic flick through my digital photo album brought me to this photo from January.

It is of a friend standing outside The Grand, a “luxury hotel” in the centre of Bristol charging £115 a night for a single room with dinner and breakfast. He has come down from Manchester on an open return train ticket costing well in excess of £200.

Business trip? City break?

Erm, no. He and I were down in Bristol on 9/10 January 2011 to give evidence for the prosecution at Bristol Magistrates’ Court, in a trial for the heinous and socially destructive crime of “using threatening and abusive language or behaviour to provoke violence” (swearing threateningly). All expenses paid.

This doesn’t relate to me being “A Chelsea fan in Highbury”, and I don’t have a topical “peg” for it. Well, apart from Italian PM Silvio Berlusconi’s imminent court hearing this coming Wednesday, when a case implicating him with an underage prostitute will come to trial in Rome.

But although the blue form in the photo is a “CPS Expense Claim Form for Ordinary Witnesses”, the story behind all this is certainly not ordinary, and deserves to be told.

It started in mid-June 2010. We and a few others were cycling through Bristol. Trying to stay together without missing a green light, we took a left onto a main road, meaning the last of us in the pack prevented the oncoming traffic from moving off straight away after their lights went green.

A young man in a hatchback didn’t take kindly to this. When we pulled up next to each other at the next set of red lights, he got out of his car, “used threatening language/behaviour to provoke violence” and then sped through a red light. A bit of swearing, a few pushes, a bit of “I’m gonna beat you up”.

Unnecessary, uncivilised and, given he sped through a red light on a main road, probably worth reporting. But not Watergate or The Great Train Robbery.

Nonetheless, in a democracy the rule of law is absolute and applies to all. So if the statutes say that threatening and swearing at people is illegal, it goes to court.

Fair dos, but lets factor in something else: targets. The police love to be seen to be doing their job, and the Criminal Justice System loves to be seen to be working. Which of course means that the Crown Prosecution Service – the middle man – gleefully laps up easy-to-solve cases of little consequence like the one Ben and I were “victims” of.

So to bring the case of our midsummer cycling kerfuffle to court, the CPS waited on us hand and foot. A liaison officer from the Witness Protection Service, Jackie, gave us constant phone calls with emotional support and progress updates and, knowing we had both moved away from Bristol, booked our trains for the big day. Jackie was so nice to us that my friend remarked: “I might even add her on Facebook.”

It takes about three hours to give a statement in court. Arrive, get security checked, receive guidance, re-read police statements, tea and biscuits in the witness room while the solicitors wrangle over points of law, give evidence, go.

For this laborious, time-consuming chore, we’d been given free open returns to Bristol. So we made a day trip out of it. Pub lunch with friends, Man Utd v Liverpool on Sky Sports, even time for a cinema trip.

Then things got even sillier. As we walked out of the Bristol Odeon, I asked my friend where he was staying the night. I had stupidly missed a trick when I told the lovely Jackie over the phone three months ago that I could crash on my mate’s sofa. He laughed and informed me that the CPS’s hospitality towards him extended to a free night at The Grand Hotel in Broadmead, complete with a three-course dinner and breakfast.

We went our separate ways, and at around 8:30pm – dinner time – I received the following text:

“Ciabatta garlic bread followed by crumbed veal escalope. Tough this crime-fighting business!”

The morning after, we gave our evidence in court and a guilty verdict was reached. Another great day for criminal justice, another vindication of Avon & Somerset Police‘s crime fighting efforts, and another way to blag a free city break.

Oh, and another way to run up a huge budget deficit.

Source: uwau.org

The inadequacy of a beergut

Sunday 27th March. The clocks have gone forward. The sun is out past 7pm. The punters are drinking outside and the coats have been left in wardrobes. Summer is here…

But my summer body certainly isn’t.

“Stop running bloody marathons”

I have also noticed the pavements of Highbury and Islington are being ever more pounded by trainer-clad sweaty types. This can mean only one thing: The Virgin London Marathon 2011 is three weeks away.

A veteran of last year, I don’t miss the blisters or the lonely, tiring 15-mile training runs.

But the exhilaration of crossing the finish-line past Buckingham Palace after 26.2 miles distance run? And the health, fitness and body confidence that comes with it all? I do miss that.

When I was told to “stop running bloody marathons” to stave off knee damage in later life, I knew I had to replace the training with something else.

So I turned to swimming. No strain on specific muscle groups. Full cardiovascular workout. No blisters or sweaty gym kit. Perfect.

My eighty lengths three-times-a-week regime started well but was scuppered badly by the transition this year from student life (having lots of lime on my hands) to working nine to five.

After a full day as an office “assistant” (bitch), swimming’s disadvantages seem more acute. The monotony. The chlorine. The infuriating lane-hoggers and breast-stroke slowcoaches. And to top that, Highbury Pool and Fitness Centre have kindly restricted my access to the sauna to between 2pm and 4:30pm when I’m at work. I know this is an age of austerity, but that’s just petty.

Pleased as punch

So with motivation sapping and laziness creeping in, I Googled “boxing classes” and “London N1” and up popped FighterFit.

Offering evening boxing classes in neighbouring Hackney for £50 a month, FighterFit welcomes boxers of all abilities.

Despite warnings from my nearest and dearest about black eyes, bruised ribs and the vibrant youth (drug) culture in the area (dubbed “Crackney” in reference to this), and the gut feeling that with my slight physique I might feel out of place among yer average boxer, I went along, signed up and had a brilliant time.

I was not the Chelsea fan in Highbury, or the ant in a hornets’ nest. The people there were like me and after what I wanted: challenging physical training, a grounding in boxing technique for self-defence purposes, and a friendly vibe and good fun.

Through a fast-paced mixture of sparring, one-to-one technique coaching and circuits, FighterFit achieves these objectives and is definitely worth picking yourself up for after a hard day’s work.

As a newcomer I was integrated into the class with a minimum of fuss, and received a one-t-one overview of the basics of punching and blocking as well as plenty of time to bed myself into the group and make friends. Moreover, whilst I was told to up my game and “gimme 20 crunches” when like everyone else I was flagging towards the end, I was not pushed beyond my limits or made to feel out of my depth.

The high which followed my first class on Thursday has since been replaced by the aches of muscles called into action for the first time, but the motivation to get fit, lean and prepared to defend myself if the worst comes to the worst on the streets of Crackney means I will go to FighterFit at every opportunity.

And unlike Highbury Pool and Fitness Centre, it ain’t surrounded by kebab shops.

Fighter Fit, 140 Pitfield St., London N1 6JR. Classes Tuesday, Thursday and Friday evenings, and Saturday lunchtime.


Captain, Leader, Legend

I popped into Shoreditch to watch the Man City game this weekend – a thrilling 2-0 victory – a game that saw much improved possession, tactical shrewdness from Ancelotti and a new star in the making in man of the match David Luiz.

But while the chants of Luiz’s name rang round a jubilant Stamford Bridge this afternoon, the “Captain, Leader, Legend” banner gracing the Shed End refers to his partner in central defence.

Number 26. Chelsea first team regular since 2000. Skipper since 2004. Three League Championships, three FA Cups, two League Cups.

John Terry, England captain August 2006- January 2010, March 2011- …

Along with the pleasure of playing alongside the stylish Luiz, Terry can revel in the joy of his reinstatement to this position, stripped from him a year ago amid reports in the British tabloid press about his affair with Vanessa Perroncel (the former partner of Wayne Bridge).

A dithering U-turn from Capello (the Italian said last year that Terry would never be England captain again under his management, now it is “the end of a year of punishment”), the decision has met predictable indignation from England fans (London-based football customers).

“Disgrace. John terry is not fit to wear the shirt never mind the armband,” cry the comment feeds underneath online newspaper reports; “it just shows you that you can lay your team mates woman be forgiven and get your old job back” laments another outraged reader.

Harsh words indeed. And yes, having an affair with your team-mate’s missus is bad. Hurtful. Disloyal. Dishonest.

But it’s human. People up and down the country have affairs, be it for a source of happiness and an escape from a failing marriage, or a simple falling for someone else. It’s a poor way to handle an amorous situation, but you can’t repress your feelings.

This, however, in no way applies to the indiscretions of England fans favorite Wayne Rooney.

He’s a gifted footballer and an integral part of any success enjoyed by the England national team, but he’s also a man who slept with a prostitute seven times in four months while his wife was pregnant with his son.

That’s not a poor handling of feelings for someone else. It’s a perverse nymphomania and an arrogant belief in the right to sex on demand.

Colleen Rooney has a bit of a dilemma next time: Does she put out for darling Wayne in extreme discomfort when she’s 8-months pregnant? Or does she stay at home alone in the knowledge that her husband is out having sex with prostitutes?

The England fans who vilify Terry for his love affair worship 50-grans-a-week Rooney’s stuffed corpse. Question his importance to the international team or fail to join in with the prayer vigil when he breaks a metatarsal, and they’ll brand you a traitor.

I’m all for patriotism, but cheering on a person in an England shirt whose latent contempt for his own wife and seedy sex addiction arguably shames everything that makes England great – that’s a bit hollow.

I’m not arguing for the exclusion of every privately indiscreet footballer from England call-ups. What I’m doing is putting John Terry’s short-comings in context, explaining and supporting his rehabilitation, and highlighting the pig-headedness of many England fans.

Or to put it in bullet point form:

– People up and down Britain have affairs,
some of whom are elected politicians who are then forgiven by their own parties for them. John Terry is no better and no worse, and he acted out of feelings for another woman rather than to satisfy a sex addiction.

– Previous England captains have been sacked for private mistakes and then reinstated later (Tony Adams). Capello has done nothing new and is right to re-appoint someone if he thinks it is necessary.

The same expectations of personal morality apply to each player from 1 to 11. If England supporters think sleeping with prostitutes is forgivable of the indispensable Wayne Rooney, then they should get over the sins of an experienced, world-class defender and back Terry to the hilt as captain.

So I’m finally blogging, looking forward to a long happy relationship with online journalism (ranting).

The observant reader will notice that I use the politically correct terminology in my writing, followed by what I actually mean in brackets for the straight shooters.

In future posts my sometimes (often) controversial viewpoints about football and the news in general will come to light.

If you agree – wonderful.

If you disagree or are offended, I’m not losing sleep over it. You’ve wasted 5 minutes of your own time reading my posts and getting worked up – 10 minutes if you’re dyslexic.

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March 2017
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