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Wednesday, 25 April 2012

There's a lot of heartache for the truly committeed football fan. I follow two teams. There's York City, because I've lived there for two eight-year spells of my life, starting in the mid-1970s; and there's Chelsea. Growing up in the south in the 1960s I was able to get to all the London grounds, but it was Chelsea I fell in love with - not because they were the best, but bcause they gave me so much entertainment. It started on a Wednesday night in 1967. I was in Newcastle, visiting my brother, who'd moved up there after marrying a Geordie girl. I went to St James Park and saw Newcastle destroy Chelsea, 5-1. A guy called Davies (Wyn, a Welshman) scored three. Three days later I was back in London and went to see the Blues host Southampton, who also had a guy called Davies (Ron) up front. He scored 4 and Chelsea lost 2-6. That was when I decided that the Blues were the team for me. Cussid? Perhaps.

Scroll forward 45 years. Last night Chelsea played Barcelona in the Champions League. The Mighty Barcelona. The 'Best Team in the World', beloved of the crooning, drooling, star-struck media. We went there with a fragile 1-0 lead from the first leg of the semi-final tie and everybody expected an easy Barcelona victory. (I must go on record as saying that I was always convinced we would get through. Seemed to me we were destined to confront former coach Jose Mourinho and his Real Madrid team in the final.)

So, let's keep this brief: we lost one centre-back to a hamstring injury early on, a second to a red card (for a silly foul) soon after; and were two goals down before half-time, penned in our own penalty area. Then we broke out, and Ramires beat the Spanish goalkeeper with a delicious chip to put us level on aggregate, in front on the 'away goals' rule. Under constant Barcelona pressure, we conceded a penalty. Up steps 'wunderkind' Lionel Messi - and misses.  Laugh? I nearly bought me own beer, as the saying goes. Chelsea then weathered wave after wave of Barcelona attacks, defending heroically. Ten minutes from time we brought on Fernando Torres. We paid £50,000,000 for this renowned goal-scorer a couple of years ago and he has been an unmitigated failure.  But not tonight. Oh no. He's been on the pitch seven or eight minutes when he breaks from the halfway line, shrugs off a defender, sidesteps the goalie and slides it in to wrap up the tie and break Spanish hearts.

So Chelsea are in the European Champions League Final - as well as the FA Cup Final; and little York City are in the FA Trophy Final, and the semi-finals of the Conference play-offs, wth a Wembley date at stake.  Yes, there are moments of heartache for the football fan. There are also moments of sheer, mind-boggling delight.

Today I'm off to London to check out a possible new agent. He's buying lunch. Expect more literary news tomorrow.

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