The curious case of the Chelsea Headhunter (his invisible umbrella) and Alex McLeish.
Chelsea used to be an intimidating place to go for fans, in the 80s it was a challenge to get to Stamford Bridge without meeting trouble! For young kids like me, the Armstrong Galley supporters club buses were the safest option, however even those were not immune as on one occasion I can recall a cold trip home as the bus I was on was bricked on Putney bridge.
Fast forward to last Saturday and I found myself making a solo trip to Chelsea in the forlorn hope we might sneak a point. I often go to away matches alone as the middle aged motleys I go to the home games with have long since stopped going away. In fact even home games these days are becoming a challenge for them as the lure of B & Q increases as the sands of time slowly catch up and engulf them! They think I am insane for still going away!
Back to last Saturday and coming out of Fulham Broadway tube, I thought find a pub, sit quiet with a few beers and watch the early game. These days the challenge is not getting to Stamford Bridge unhindered but actually getting into a licensed establishment, as anywhere that sells beer adopts a strict home fans only policy. When you think about the opposite attitude of the pubs in Newcastle, it does annoy you somewhat.
In days gone by the area around Stamford Bridge was made up of dark unwelcome pubs that were best avoided, however nowadays it has become a cosmopolitan rich man’s paradise; posh wine bars, tapas bars, top class restaurants, steak houses, up market pizzerias etc
Again back to last Saturday and trying to get a pint was proving difficult, I was met with a variety of obstacles such as; “have you booked?”, “are you eating?”, one place even wanted to see my match ticket or CFC Season ticket!
Eventually I decided on an honest approach at what looked like a pub, the name (Malt Shovel ) suggested it was, the doorman was a canny chap and as I was on my own he let me in. This was more of a restaurant than a pub however, but as I was inside and at the bar I cared not, even the £4.60 a pint cost did not deter me (yes £4.60).
Alas there was no Sky Sports, in fact there was not even a TV, but the expensive lager was going down really well, making a quick phone call to home my accent was picked up by another fellow who was on his own, and once off the phone he engaged me in an hour or two of pretty good conversation.
Clearly he had a past, he regaled in tales of times gone by much as we often do, away games were spoken about, he had seemingly been arrested in virtually every country in Europe following England and Chelsea, he spoke about trips all over the UK and I was not surprised to learn that in the 80s, Chelsea and their Headhunters while not fearful of visiting Newcastle, always knew it was a challenge! He went on to say he hated the Chelsea fans of today; tourists, bandwagon jumpers, modern day yuppies et al, people who follow his club with no sense of CFC identity! In essence, nowadays fans go to the games because it is the social thing to do!
As the £4.60 beer flowed I have to admit the conversation was quite entertaining and with the lack of sky sports it killed time, he strangely had a genuine sense of jealousy about the support NUFC get, proper fans, although he could not understand my lack of enthusiasm for following a England!
Ex premier league manager Alex McLeish was stood behind us and when I noticed this I offered a throwaway comment to him. I have a memory of him turning down a move to Newcastle many years ago, so I said ” alreet Alex, why did you not sign for Newcastle all those years ago?”
Not only did he provide an answer but duly joined our conversation, and for the next 30 mins we spoke about nothing but Newcastle United, he spoke about the ex Newcastle players he knew, speaking highly of Bob Moncur and Kevin Keegan, and he was genuinely intrigued when I waxed lyrically about Tony Green ( not the overweight BBC Darts commentator ).
I asked if he wanted another go at football management, he said he would, I then asked if given the opportunity would he ever consider managing the poisoned chalice that is Newcastle United, his reply was very honest, ” there would not be a better job in football, because winning a trophy for Newcastle would mean a lifetime of not buying a drink,” however he then went on to say he could not work under the current regime and has full admiration for Alan Pardew!
Obviously he knew Pardew well and maybe he was just being diplomatic when he said he is a very good manager and all round nice bloke. When I mentioned the fact some Newcastle fans (incl me) see him as a puppet he did disagree, saying Pardew was in an impossible position, it is impossible to say the right things to the press for both fans and such an owner – fair point but my opinion remain unchanged!
He also told me why he did not sign for NUFC all those years ago, it was simply because Newcastle sacked the manager before he signed on the dotted line and it put doubts in his mind, Jim Smith was the sacked manager!
The Chelsea headhunter who was now just a bit part player in the conversation wanted a pic with Alex and of course he duly obliged, me I just wanted to talk football!
Overall we had a really good 3 hours before the game, but glancing at my watch it was quarter to three and the ground was ten minutes away, so it was time to go, Alex McLeish, a manager who previously I had little or no thought for, had been genuinely good company!
The final amusement before the debacle of the football was walking to the ground with the aforementioned former Chelsea Headhunter, we passed stall upon stall of sellers selling all kinds of tat memorabilia , those awful half and half scarves for example, he had genuine hatred that his club was seemingly turning into the tourist attraction that is Man Utd, the heavens then suddenly opened and out of nowhere he produced an umbrella.
I smiled inside as thoughts off huge wasteland dust ups between Chelsea and Milwall being suddenly halted due to rain came to mind, “hang on lads I need to get my coat”, maybe the changes in and around Stamford Bridge had got to him more than he knew, and for a few seconds I wondered if that was a good or bad thing?