Sunday, 23 September 2007

Thanks for the memory

Eurostar has got to do something at la Gare du Nord. The configuration of the ticket machines, the French and British immigration checks means that logical queues are nigh impossible.

I don’t want to veer into the standard rubbish about Latin and British temperaments but the laissez-faire approach of staff doesn’t help.

It’s rare to see Eurostar footsoldiers intervene, marshal a queue and deter the “join anywhere” brigade.

I was shuffling my way to the British immigration desks this morning behind quite a tall young man, three women and a family.

From out of nowhere came a well-dressed chap in his early 50s, well-groomed and expensive of smell. He stopped, squinted to the left and then the right and went off in that direction. Seconds later he was back and he was hovering. The tall young man looked at him, the ladies didn’t seem to notice as he stood to the side of them, slightly ahead of me.

The young bloke and the women went to the desk on the left and the family advanced to the desk in front of me. Mr Well–groomed just stood his ground. When the family was finished he simply moved in ahead of me.

I said to him that I thought I was next and he told me that he was looking for his family and that he had children waiting. He did back away. However he must have got in behind me because by the time I was in the Frequent Travellers Lounge he was breezing past me heading towards the magazine rack.

I went up to him and said: “You didn’t have to push in front of me like that.” He replied: “As I explained I have children waiting for me.”

“I’m sure you do,” I said, even though no sign of his family was to be found in the lounge. “But you could have asked me to allow you in rather than pushing in like that.”

He harrumphed and there wasn’t much to say after that. Must admit he didn’t look too keen to find his offspring as he tucked into an array of goodies in the lounge.

As I stood in the buffet car, looking out at the onset of the countryside, I wondered to myself whether I appeared the type to brook such rudeness.

I focused my gaze on my image in the window and thought I don’t look psychopathic nor do I look a puny diminished being. I look quite ordinary. And I guess that was at the heart of the clash.

Maybe his values system had broken down because he was desperately seeking his family. I should have followed him to see if he was telling the truth.

I tried to visualise his reaction as I started raging: “Where’s your family? Where’s your family queue barger?”

That would have freaked him out.

Clearly this avenue of thinking stems from utter disgust that the lounge did not have any British newspapers for the benefit of passengers on the 0807.

Of the thousand Sundays I’ve travelled between Paris and London, this was the one when I wanted to read the papers. Namely on the deconstruction of José Mourinho’s exit from Chelsea on Thursday.

I even asked the lounge’s receptionist. Nothing.

Despite the barbarity of the situation I remained zenic.

“I think I’m turning Japanese, I think I’m turning Japanese, I really think so….”

Oh yes, the marvellous refrain from the Vapors song from 1980. And indeed I am. For though I’m south London born, I’m going to adopt the Japanese stance in terms of my sporting affiliations.

In the days when Channel 4 showed Italian football, there was a feature on how the Japanese fans followed a particular player rather than a team.

So in 1998 when the Japanese midfielder Hidetoshi Nakata joined Perugia – a lowly team in Serie A – the minnows suddenly saw their gates rise by 400 million Armani-clad Japanese tourists. The additions all loved Nakata and had opted to see him in Italy now that he had left Bellmare Hiratsuka

Perugia gained mid table respectability with the two-time Asian player of the year in their ranks.

Lo and behold he was snapped up by Roma who were accused of succumbing to the marketing department.

The iron fist motivator Fabio Capello, who was in charge of the team, said that wasn’t the case and I doubt many journalists would argue with Fabio if he says so.

Capello was vindicated when Nakata hit two late goals to secure a draw with title rivals Juventus.

Nakata’s reaction on scoring the equaliser from 30 yards would have graced an Akira Kurosawa movie.

It was as if Nakata was at one with the air as he breathed out his delight in a slow, grimace transcending not only the savagery of the strike but the significance of the blow.

Roma went on to win the title that year.

Since Mourinho strolled into Chelsea, it’s been nothing short of sensational and I speak as an old supporter.

I can date my Blueness to about the mid 1960s. The couple who used to look after me while my mum was at work — let’s call them nanny and granddad — since that’s what I called them — came from west London, from just around the Fulham Road near Chelsea’s ground at Stamford Bridge. He was a Chelsea fan and since nanny’s favourite colour was royal blue. Well the rest is schoolboy fanaticism.

At primary school supporting Chelsea was also the smart life choice. Clifford Rashbrook, who was in my class, was a Chelsea fan. No one messed with Clifford. Firstly because he was pretty tough. Secondly he had an elder brother, Glenn and the clincher was the eldest Larry, who — so the playground word went — had form.

As an old Chelsea fan. There was the joy of the 1970 FA Cup win against Leeds. The European Cup winners Cup victory in 1971 against Real Madrid.

And then the desert following the League Cup loss to Stoke in 1972.

The flourish after the 1997 FA Cup win under Ruud Gullit and more trophies under Gianluca Vialli was all about knockout tournaments. Pundits said: “They can beat anyone on their day.”

But the sad truth was they could just as easily lose to anyone.

Seeing a team succeed on the basis of consistency has been marvellous. Crushing pragmatism with the intermittent flourish.

But after two league titles, two League cups and an FA Cup in three years, the fabulously wealthy owner Roman Abromovich has dispensed with the services of the self-styled ‘Special One’. And since Roman is paying……

At the press conference on Friday, the new man, Avram Grant looked petrified in front of the assembled media.

At a similar unveiling for Mourinho three years before, the Portuguese was affability incarnate. After his side had vanquished yet another side, Mourinho could babble Euro foot. Spanish, English, I even saw him do it in French.

Roman and his generals Peter Kenyon and Bruce Buck say they want the club to move forward and that Grant shares the same vision as them.

What on earth could that be given the success of the past three years?

Apparantly it’s to play sexy, entertaining soccer. But that’s just what Chelsea used to do and they won very little while Manchester United and Arsenal and especially United cleaned up the trophies.

So the glory with gruel has gone and hedonism will be restored.

The schism between the two big men was probably inevitable . I think Abromovich will find that extravagance on the field won’t bring success unless it’s tempered with patience. Arsenal are the English model for that elusive alloy.

Do fans want pretty football or trophies? If the owner has billions in his bank account he can opt for whatever he likes. Roman has clearly feasted on success now he appears to want aesthetics.

Nanny and grandad didn’t live to see the Blues win a title. I’ve seen two. And I’ll never forget the joy when Frank Lampard scored the second goal at Bolton in 2005 to clinch the first title in 50 years

But I’m off my club of 40 odd years. I’ve turned Japanese.