Football: Fan's eye view Chelsea: Managers taking note not to lose their heads
Saturday 12 December 1998
There were no such problems for Hoddle in his days as Chelsea manager because, when it came to communication, he only ever had one head on - his writing head. Admittedly, his column in the matchday programme could become a bit precious in its homage to "playing football the right way" - especially when, in his first 18 months at Chelsea, the "right way" tended to mean short pass, short pass, back- pass, short pass and then, as the opposition settled down for a game of cards, hoof it into the box from the halfway line. That apart, though, his programme notes were an oasis of sanity - neither paranoid after defeat nor gloating in victory. Here was a man who could keep his head while all around him people were changing theirs.
You can tell a lot about a manager from his programme notes. Take John Hollins, in charge at Chelsea between 1985 and 1988, who increasingly came to resemble the demented policeman played by Herbert Lom in The Pink Panther. Here is one revealing passage, taken from a matchday column in 1986: "It takes two teams to make a great game of football and one of the teams was Chelsea and we were 3-2 in front. There were a lot of good points, as I said, the only thing is you look at the end result. If the game had been 80 minutes we would have won 3-2..." The punchline was still to come: "But we didn't, we lost 5-3."
Eventually, Hollins was on his way, his cunning plan to outfox opposing managers by leaving all his best players out of the team having mysteriously backfired. In his place came Bobby Campbell, a manager blessed with resilience and integrity but also a gift for philosophy at which Eric Cantona would have marvelled.
Campbell did not just adorn his programme notes with wise sayings, he would get them printed in capital letters. "A bottle of Scotch can be either half empty or half full," he shouted from the top of one column. The reader's reaction was to finish the bottle off for him. However, worse was to come because Campbell did not do things by halves.
In one crucial relegation match at Upton Park, Chelsea had gone down 4-1 and replaced West Ham in the danger zone. But all was explained in Campbell's programme notes for the following home game. "It's all psychological," he reasoned. "The man with half a loaf doesn't fight as hard as the man without any bread."
Chelsea were relegated but the lesson had been learned; operating on a yeast-free diet, they bounced back up again with a record number of points. West Ham, meanwhile, clearly spent the close season dining out on bread, croissants and sweet pastries; the following May they were relegated.
Campbell's philosophy was vindicated and a variety of cliches went on to make more comebacks than Peter Shilton. Among these, in the wake of one particularly poor performance, was "we weren't at the races". On one hand it could be seen as a denial: "we weren't at the races... honest!" On the other hand, it was the early stages of a mystery story, "we weren't on the pitch, we weren't at the races, so where the hell were we?" Either way, it was clear just who had been at the Scotch in the first place.
And so to more recent times and a man who evokes the celebrated film Being There. You may recall the Peter Sellers character who deals in horticultural homilies but, thanks to his impassive face and understated delivery, manages to convince world leaders that he has the answer to everything.
You have got it. Chancey Gardiner is Ruud Gullit - the "Dutch master" whose every "also", "for sure" and "that is normal" is viewed as a philosophical gem by dint of his dreadlocks, laid-back demeanour and just slightly-flawed linguistic skills. We swooned at his matchday column when he declared sagely that "a good striker needs only one piece of action". We swooned when Gianluca Vialli took his one piece of action... and blazed it high over an open goal.
So say what you like about Chelsea, but when it came to sexy programme notes, we were the champions.
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