Friday, 25 May 2007

It's only a game

My sister phoned from London to taunt me that Manchester United would beat Chelsea 2-1 in the FA Cup final later that day.

These kind of calls had stopped while Chelsea were bulldozing their way to two Premiership titles. But in 2006-7 Chelsea had managed to make everyone love Manchester United. Even those who really, really used to hate them.

As I was on the verge of going out to the bank, I didn't rise to the bait. In fact, I thought she was probably right. United have been a free-scoring fantasy while Chelsea have been a dreary, politics-ridden fiasco.

I got to the radio station and watched on one of the sports channels Roger Federer fretting past the Spaniard Carlos Moya in the semi-finals of the Hamburg Masters.

The Swiss tennis maestro was a bundle of nervous backhands and ineffective shots on the German clay. It's easy to see why he's edgy once he gets to the French Open in Paris. They say the terre battue at Roland Garros is unforgiving.

But then Chelsea used to be like that.

I saw the first 20 minutes of the cup final before going to do the bulletin. I returned to find a colleague watching it. I lasted 10 minutes. I couldn't take it any more so I headed out with the papers to take a coffee break in the sun at a nearby cafe.

I returned with about eight or so minutes to go. Still 0-0. The colleague was slumped in front of the box fast asleep.

As for the tennis......Federer had squeezed past Moya to get to the final. Now it was the second semi-final and it was the former world number one Lleyton Hewitt against the clay court caesar Rafael Nadal.

Unvanquished in 80 consecutive matches on the surface, Nadal was struggling against the Aussie scrapper. Even lost a set. But the Spaniard won that one and Chelsea won the cup - courtesy of a Didier Drogba goal four minutes from the end of extra time.

My first reaction to Chelsea's victory was: Are you watching Shevchenko? Are you watching Shevchenko? My colleague who'd been jolted back into life said he had been. Likewise Michael Ballack - two star signings absent through injury. Hopefully they were looking at their future.

For Drogba was not a success in his first season back in 2004-5. True Chelsea won their first title in 50 years but people said £24 million? What a donkey. Fast forward 2006-7 and 33 goals in all competitions and no one mentions the price. Sheva and Micky you can come good. Glory awaits.

I'm preparing for my own tilt at greatness. The veterans team I've been playing with for the past three seasons is first in the league's second division.

My own part in this season's odyssey is intermittent. I've scored goals - I haven't kept the tally as I've been trying to knuckle down to the midfield role I've been assigned rather than pusing for the forward positions where I used to play.

However my status since returning from a calf injury has been little short of talismanic.

Coming on in the second half a few weeks ago, we were trailing two one and I was sent up front so as none of the midfielders wanted to go in attack. I scored the equaliser, had some part in the goal for 3-2 and then limped off with a thigh injury.

My next contribution was even more spectacular. Down 2-0 at half time, I came on and we scored two goals. I limped off and we didn't score again. Fortunately neither did the other side.

So with one game to go, a win is all that's needed. On June 2 we play the second from bottom team - the side that's conceded the most goals against the team with the most potent attack, which we've needed because in 19 games we've let in on average two goals a game.

The left thigh is being rebuilt through rest, cycling and swimming for the crunch.

If promotion happens, then the higher division will be a better standard and we'll probably get thrashed each week. But we might not. We might all get better and survive. However to use the old cliche: one game at a time. Focus. Perform.

Which is exactly what my computer stopped doing. The mother board is no more on the laptop.

After being given an estimated cost of repair my immediate reaction was: scrap it. But I'm feeling sentimental. This was my first laptop. We've travelled together many times. It's the first thing in my bag as I prepare for the weekly journey on the Eurostar. I'm reluctant to see it go when it could be repaired. What to do?

I love the Eurostar trip. And though I've been doing this voyage for nearly seven years, this one seems new as I'm experiencing it without the laptop. I sit and read the papers. The sports pages tell me that the FA Cup final was dull.

They also tell me that Federer is going through a seminal moment in his career as Roland Garros approaches. He hasn't conquered Nadal in their previous five meetings on clay. His progress at Hamburg doesn't lead anyone to think he can alter this and so master his internal demons.

The French papers recount Sgt Major Sarkozy's latest actions. They say he's going to be more involved than his predecessor as he ushers in an era of dynamism. The new world order will be powered by a PTT - président à tout terrain.

The person who came up with that line should get on their vélo à tout terrain.

Quizzical about the land I'll return to in a few days, I look out at the landscapes rushing by in a breeze of greens. I think almost as fast as I'm travelling.

Buy a new computer in London and get the old one repaired in Paris and give it to my computerless partner.

Thereby I forge into the technological future while keeping something familiar. This train of thought doesn't, like the Eurostar, stop at Ashford. It goes on. It's win, win, win.

And that's exactly what Federer does later that day. 6-0 in the final set. Nadal's record streak of 81 ended. The monkey off Federer's back and fresh heart for Roland Garros.

Well, at least Roger is jolly. My computer world is jeopardised when I'm back in Paris and told just how much repairing it will be.

London is the cheaper option on that score which reminds me, I wonder if I will on June 2.