The Matt Holland Column: Thousands work normally, we should do the same

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The Independent Online

Quite a rumpus over the six Chelsea players who decided not to travel to Israel for their Uefa Cup match in midweek. The matter seems to have been blown a little out of proportion, but maybe that is the way of all things football at the moment.

Quite a rumpus over the six Chelsea players who decided not to travel to Israel for their Uefa Cup match in midweek. The matter seems to have been blown a little out of proportion, but maybe that is the way of all things football at the moment.

Once the players were given the option of staying at home with no recriminations, it should have stayed exactly that. Instead, a few barbed comments have escalated a non-story into front page news.

Now, opinions as to whether the players should have travelled will differ and all are worthy. For my part I think they should have gone and done the job they are handsomely paid for, but I cannot blame any of them for accepting the offer to make up their own minds that was afforded them by the club.

The sniping comments suggesting cowardice are wrong, and quite frankly after the offer had been made with the promise that decisions would be accepted and honoured without reaction, they are, well, for want of a better word, cowardly.

I would have travelled and played. We are sports-people and in the grand scheme of things quite irrelevant. Yes, I am desperate to win for Ipswich Town and the Republic of Ireland and if I have a kick-about with my friends and our collection of children, then I still want to win, but there are thousands of people going to work normally, and we should do the same. Soldiers do not get the choice. Nurses and doctors do not get the choice. Pilots and stewards and stewardesses are not getting the choice. Should we?

Most people have to continue as normal to pay the bills and some are fretting over potential job cuts. Should our inflated wages protect us? The other reason I would have gone is because you are not only representing yourself and the club, but the many thousands of fans, without whom we would not enjoy the elevated status and wages we receive. If it could be shown that the players were running an unacceptable risk, then none should go; if the converse was true, then all should go.

Mind you, Chelsea still had a pretty decent side out there. Reports that this was a team of youngsters are a bit wide of the mark. Yes, youngsters were drafted in but they still had players of the calibre of John Terry, Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink, Boudewijn Zenden and Gianfranco Zola.

Our Uefa game had little of the hype and was a disappointing affair. The problem we are having at Ipswich this season is that teams are taking us more seriously. Last season people thought they were going to walk over us and we could surprise them, ambush them if you like and steal the game and the points.

Now we are afforded respect and are finding it difficult. The manager, George Burley, kept us in the dressing-room for one hour after the match against Helsingborg and there was a fairly full discussion between him and the players.

I've no doubt we will win in Sweden, particularly as they will have to come out and play rather than just put five men across midfield and attack on the break. However, we were fortunate to escape 0-0 and Matteo Sereni was exceptional, following in the fine traditions of our previous goalkeeper, Richard Wright. He was superb for Arsenal and I know having kept two clean sheets and commanded his area, he will expect to be and consider himself number one.

Arsène Wenger has a problem there but it is a good problem, two top-class keepers expecting to play. Those that patrol between the posts really do lead a curious existence. Rarely do they receive the plaudits of a glory-drunk striker; their plight is to be remembered as a match loser when they err.

Witness Fabien Barthez on Wednesday. Huge mistakes, yes, but I believe over a season he is as big a matchwinner as Ryan Giggs or Ruud van Nistelrooy. At 1-0 a great save is as good as a goal but how many discussions at the bar will remember a brilliant reflex save in the 72nd minute?

Anyway, thanks to Sereni we still have a good chance in Sweden. Let me repeat that, a good chance in Sweden. This time last year I was worried about relegation. Expectation is a thrill but can also be a hindrance.

When there are few expectations, teams can develop a camaraderie born of shocking teams that underestimate you. A kind of collective two fingers. If you study two of this year's promoted sides and their differing hopes, you can see how one is struggling and one excelling. Fulham dominated the First Division, had almost won it by December and yet despite a thrilling opening fixture against Manchester United which they were a little unlucky to lose, have struggled.

Bolton were considered nothing more than an easy three points. Led by Sam Allardyce, they have refused to be cowed and are in mid-table having actually been at the top for a while. Fulham had grandiose dreams of being one of the most attractive and successful clubs, and every other club realised that ambition and acted accordingly. Bolton knew it was going to be a scrap for survival and have fought like a cornered animal.

We are at Fulham today if our coach manages to pass Stamford Bridge without mishap, both sides in need of goals and a result. All set up for a 0-0 draw then.

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