Cole recoups some dignity by ignoring 90 minutes of bile

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So much for the gentrification of football. Ninety minutes of abuse about the alleged sexual proclivities of Ashley Cole and Arsène Wenger - all utterly baseless - sullied this otherwise engrossing match, as such taunts do so many games these days. As usual, despite the dire threats of both clubs and the Metropolitan Police, there was no obvious indication that anyone so engaged was ejected, let alone arrested. There were thus plenty of opportunities to ponder what the collective noun might be for a display of inflatable mobile phones, and to wonder where such things are sold.

It was ever thus and it is pointless to note Arsenal fans seemed less concerned about the "disloyalty" of Sol Campbell when he deserted Tottenham for the Gunners. Tribalism is part of football and it remains both an escape from the mundanities of life (whether these are experienced on the factory floor or the futures desk), and an opportunity to lose oneself, emotionally and physically, in the mob.

For the fans, that is. Cole would doubtless have preferred to be anonymous yesterday but apart from an untypically reckless foul on Alexander Hleb, for which he was booked, he dealt well with his ordeal. His response to the obscenities of the visiting support was to ignore them. In this he recouped some dignity after his self-serving book.

Unlike their fans the Arsenal players carried no obvious animus against Cole. They are professionals, they accept players move. In time they will themselves. At the final whistle several embraced Cole and Gaël Clichy, his replacement at left-back, swapped shirts. The only pre-match criticism of the former team-mate had been muted, Jens Lehmann saying it was ill-advised for him to write a book so young.

An example of the way things used to be done was present in the form of the Stamford Bridge legend Charlie Cooke who, at 64, has just released his own autobiography, an invocation of Chelsea in the swinging Sixties rather than a score-settling exercise. For a few minutes yesterday, as Cooke took a half-time lap of honour, we were briefly transported back in time to what seems, at this distance, a more innocent era. Footballers did not then nearly crash their car in horror at being told they were only being paid £55,000 a week, managers did not dominate the headlines, and the only phone many people used was housed in Giles Gilbert Scott's red box. And when Cooke was asked if, in his day, they fell over at the slightest nudge as Didier Drogba and Jens Lehmann did so theatrically yesterday, he laughed.

But, 35 years ago, fans were more likely to be chasing each other across the terracing, steel toecaps at the ready. A few verbals are preferable to that. And, as Cooke's gait underlined, ball players such as the Scottish winger received scant protection. The game has moved on, and many of the developments have been an improvement. What has been lost, perhaps irredeemably, is the sense that anyone can win the title. In the last decade only three clubs have. In the 10 years Cooke played for Chelsea eight clubs did. So much for progress.

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