So, William said that if he was selected for Chelsea, he’d score an own goal. Chelsea were outraged, and included him as part of the deal to sign Ashley Cole. And so it is that the putrid state of “tension” that has arisen between Arsenal and Chelsea rumbles on. They haven’t even kicked a ball against each other yet, and the daggers are drawn already.
This is a new phenomenon, this rivalry between teams with no geographical rivalry (non-London readers beware: Spurs are Arsenal’s traditional rivals, whilst it’s Fulham for Chelsea). This rivalry is little more than a clash of egos, and you can add Manchester United to it as well. These three teams affect to hate each other now, and it’s big business. Their matches are hyped endlessly by Sky, the BBC and the tabloid press, and their constant sniping at each other fills the back pages of the daily newspapers, even if there are more worthy stories to print.
It is, I guess, a sign of the times. These three clubs aren’t just happy to sweep all before them in terms of money and trophies. They have to have all the attention too. And people keep buying it. On the Guardian newspaper’s all-new Sports Blog (which I post to – you can see my full thoughts on the behaviour of these clubs on there), a supposed debate on the rivalry between Chelsea and Arsenal has turned into a 180 message long slanging match between the two clubs’ supporters, whilst a genuinely interesting perspective on Roy Keane’s arrival at Sunderland (which, as you may have noted, I have taken more than a passing interest in) has warranted just a couple of responses. The game has gone mad, I tells ya. I suppose we should, at least, be grateful that there are only another eight months or so of this nonsense to go.
Elsewhere (because I don’t want to don’t want to dwell upon it too much), Scotland are angry at the state of Lithuania’s pitch, ahead of their international match against Lithuania tomorrow night. Heavy rain, and by the look of it, some sort of Baltic grass seed shortage, has left the pitch in Kaunas looking, in the words of Nigel Quashie, “like a superbike track”. As you’ll find if you ask any football supporter over the age of seventy, “mud is a great leveller”. The famous FA Cup win that Hereford United achieved that famous, famous win against Newcastle United wouldn’t have occurred on a lush lawn like that at Wembley. It was played, as anyone that has ever watched it will attest, on a pitch that seemed to have been imported in about 1917 from The Somme. It’s famous for John Radford’s thirty-five yard equalizer, two pitch invasions comprised entirely of thirteen year-old boys in green snorkel jackets, and, of course, the pitch. For me, the pitch is the key thing.
I’m not sure exactly when football clubs starting taking care of their pitches. It was probably when they brought in plastic pitches, or maybe when the Premiership started up. But, as anyone that owns the “Match Of The Day” DVD Box Set can attest, they didn’t concern themselves with that sort of thing. So it was that a match between Manchester City and West Ham in 1970 was played in a paddling pool rather than on a football pitch. Derby County played Manchester United without bothering to clear the snow from the pitch. Arsenal played Swindon Town at Wembley in the 1969 League Cup Final a week after The Horse Of The Year Show. What was the Wembley groundsman’s idea to clean the pitch after it had been trampled on by hundreds of horses? Sand. Loads of it. So it was that this match (and, a couple of months later, the FA Cup final between Manchester City and Leicester City) was played on something approximating to Southend beach. Technology has moved on since then, of course. Even down in the semi-pro game, the pitches are pretty decent these days. But the great leveller is still there. Anyone can come a cropper on a pitch covered in divots and pot-holes. Scotland beware.