We want a re-run of Dec 4 1999 so please let the Everton cup game have tired them out; he wants Malouda to clinch a 1-0 revenge win. David Harding*, a Fleet Street foreign editor, has supported Chelsea since early boyhood and has written a book about a special hero, Gianfranco Zola,. After yesterday’s sampler, this is the full interview with refreshing thoughts on money-driven success, this season’s Premier shakeup, the Darren Bent transfer and Sunderland players he’d welcome in Blue …
Thrashed at home by Sunderland. We were ecstatic, but did subsequent results for Chelsea make it less an achievement than it seemed?
Not at all. I am not saying this to be polite but Sunderland’s performance that day was one of the best by an away team at Stamford Bridge in recent seasons. The passing and movement was wonderful. Onuoha’s goal would be replayed constantly if his name was spelt Rooney. Welbeck was sensational that day. If I was a Sunderland fan the thing I would have cherished most after my joy/laughter at the scoreline had finally died down was the performance. It showed there is a real team there, not an XI capable of fashioning a one-off result. It ranks alongside the Inter Milan (0-1, though it should have been more), Everton (3-3, Fellaini was magnificent) and Liverpool (0-1 in 2008) games in recent years in terms of away teams’ performances at the Bridge.
I don’t think our other many defeats this season should diminish the achievement. We were dire against Liverpool and Wolves, lucky at Blackburn but Sunderland thrashed us. It was notable also that it was the first time I can remember a Steve Bruce team coming to Stamford Bridge and attacking.
Do you agree with Gus Poyet that the Premier League is no great shakes this season – and if so, does that give you hope you may yet end the season with the title?
I am not sure about no great shakes but it is undeniable that standards have declined, especially at the top. The most ordinary Man Utd side for about 15 seasons going 22 games unbeaten is proof enough. But, as a fan, I think it is much more exciting. When we won the league in 2006 it was so tedious, the title was only going to one place after about 10 games. Who wants to watch that? Football is meant to be about competition. The league is unpredictable, giving it a more 1970s feel. The ‘big four’ are no longer a given, almost every team can beat the other, WBA and Newcastle won at Arsenal, Wolves beat Chelsea and Man City, Blackpool at Liverpool etc. Let it be more ordinary if it is more exciting, I say. I have no desire to replicate Scotland or Spain in terms of competition. As for Chelsea, we have no chance of winning the league. This team’s time is up, the bunch of players who have served us so brilliantly are coming to an end. Our aim should be top four.
Labouring the theme, but how does uncertainty compare with approaching each match assuming you’ll win?
It is funny, I was only talking about this with a friend after the Wolves defeat. Some of we pre-Abramovich fans secretly hanker for the old days. Then Wolves happened and we weren’t quite so sure. That really felt like we were back to the dog days of the 1980s where defeat was the norm for long periods. I have to admit I didn’t like it (the uncertainty/certainty of defeat) and I can remember us losing at home to Shrewsbury, beaten 6-0 at Rotherham and missing two penalties in the same match.
The Abramovich millions have undoubtedly been good for Chelsea and few fans would turn away a saviour bearing pots of gold. But do you feel they have been good or bad for football generally?
Overall – bad. Football has never been an equal playing field – else, say, Bournemouth would have as many titles as Arsenal – but the levels of money in the last few years have distorted the game and compromised the competition between teams. That is why Wolves pitched up with a second team at Man Utd last year, they knew there was no point in trying to force a result. Chelsea were the latest symptom of that rather than the cause. Also, money may have helped to build better stadia – but are atmospheres in the ground better? It has pushed wages up continually but we cannot connect in the way with players that I did with Droy. And playing standards? I am not so sure that we are producing better players nowadays. If you look at the 1990 World Cup squad to the one which played in South Africa, I think I know which team is better.
Chelsea are not the most loved team in the country. Does this bother you would you welcome a little more fondness to go with the appreciation?
Not really. Even before Roman’s millions we were never loved/liked. Then we represented anything that was bad about fancy-dan, brash, fey yet lairy Londoners/Cockneys; now we represent everything that is bad about the modern game. I can see why supporters dislike us. The one aspect of it though which really does rankle is the dismissal of our club’s history prior to 2004. We were a Champions League side when Roman arrived not solely after; we had won every honour in the English game plus a couple of European trophies; we are one of a handful of teams which have never been outside the top two divisions; top five when it comes to average home attendances across the history of the English game, the first English team to qualify for the European Cup, the holder of the European record for the biggest ever aggregate score. I could go on. We are not MK Chelsea Dons.
Name the greatest players you’ve seen in Chelsea colours – and those who should never have been allowed anywhere near Stamford Bridge.
In terms of heroes, there have been so many over the years. The ones that stand out and in no particular order….
Micky Droy – a woolly mammoth in ill-fitting shirt and shorts, but he could play and it was his misfortune to star in a collection of the crappiest Chelsea teams ever. But he cared so much and as a fan you knew it. Pat Nevin – Hard not to like a player like this and responsible for the most thrilling moment of football I have ever seen at Stamford Bridge. He must have beaten 7 or 8 Newcastle players in a crucial Division 2 promotion clash, dribbling from one box to the other. Beautiful. He crossed for Kerry Dixon, who missed. But the buzz from 40,000 around the ground afterwards was something to behold. David Speedie – A snarly, nasty, small man’s syndrome of a forward. Loved the way he celebrated when he scored. Gianfranco Zola – How could you not idolise this man? A wonderful footballer, beautiful temperament. His goal in the 1997 FA Cup semi-final against Wimbledon was, I believe, the best goal scored in a Chelsea shirt. The player we would all like to be. Claude Makelele – Never the most glamorous of players, but he hardly ever put a foot wrong and not many players have a position named after them.
Special mentions to these: Marcel Desailly, Ruud Gullit, Glen Hoddle, Michael Fillery, David Lee, John Spencer, Carlo Cudicini.
Those who I did not like are very few and far between, but, and I have never said this out loud before, I always failed to take to Kerry Dixon. Sacrilege considering the amount of goals he scored for us but he never/rarely celebrated when the team scored only when he did. I never liked that.
And your own high and low points as a Chelsea supporter?
High – the 1997 FA Cup Final. By this point I had spent 18 years supporting Chelsea and quite a few watching them. For the most part of that time they were rubbish, never got anywhere near winning much, spent large parts of it in mid-table in Division 2 and flirted with Division 3. A freak appearance in the final in 1994 saw us thrashed by Man Utd 4-0. That day in May changed all that and it was with a mixture of star names (Zola, Di Matteo, Gullit) and players who had been there years (Eddie Newton, Steve Clarke, Frank Sinclair). All I ever wanted as a kid was to watch Chelsea win at Wembley and it was finally happening. It helped that Middlesbrough pitched up with an appalling team and Ravanelli decided to play even if he was unfit. But it was a truly happy, wonderful day, I didn’t ever want to leave the stadium at the end. (Btw, that cup run made me loathe Newcastle. We played them in the 3rd round and they sneaked a draw at ours with a 90th min equaliser. Met some Newcastle fans outside the ground and one of them told me Chelsea ‘weren’t bad for a small club’. This was the Newcastle of Ginola and Ferdinand. From that moment I have revelled in their misery. We won the replay on penalties).
Low – 1992 FA cup quarter final v Sunderland: After coming out of the first game at Stamford Bridge I remember telling a friend that I would never see Chelsea win anything after Johnny Byrne, I think, equalised for you with about 15 mins to go. That year was the best opportunity for us to do anything in a long time and we knew we had blown it. Then the replay at Roker was just as awful. We spent most of the game trying to equalise, did so, then you went down the other end of the pitch and scored. I was in a pub in London watching the game and when you scored the winner the whole place erupted apart from me and a good friend who supported Newcastle. Awful.
Name this season’s top four in order and the major trophy winners. Who will go down and where will Sunderland finish?
1 Man Utd
2 Man City
20 West Ham
Sunderland – 7th
Any memories, good or bad or funny, of games between our two clubs and the players and staff – Ian Porterfield, Clive Walker and – er – Gareth Hall spring to mind – common to both?
The biggest memory is the 1985 Milk Cup Semi Final. A disaster for us from start to finish. We had a decent side, pitched up at yours for the first leg, lost a player (Dale Jasper) to a broken collar bone early on, and lost 2-0. Then the return leg at Stamford Bridge was one of the most notorious games at ours ever. I distinctly remember more policeman being in the penalty area than players at one point there was so much trouble. I am not exaggerating, I think it was when you scored your third goal. A Chelsea fan attacked Clive Walker, and the whole game had a menace that a post-Sky audience could never imagine. Mounted police inside the ground, bottles and benches thrown. Genuinely scarey. To this day I cannot believe the fan punched Walker, that has always annoyed me. The Porterfield years were dreadful though he was in charge of a team including Wise and Vinny Jones, it can’t have been easy. Two other players I would mention are Pop Robson, who pitched up at ours in the twilight of his career but was still the best goalscorer on our books at the time. And Mickey Hazard. He may not have played for you but he is from Sunderland and was a wonderful player, criminally underused by England. The other big thing that always struck me about Sunderland was how windy Roker Park was.
Is there any player in our squad who, in your view, could make it for Chelsea? Was Darren Bent worth that much money?
Quite a few I would imagine. Welbeck looks like becoming a very good player. I have always been impressed the few times I have seen him by Phil Bardsley. I like unobtrusive, go-about-their-business full-backs. At least he appears like that when I have seen him live. Craig Gordon always impresses as well. Gyan would obviously get in. Onuoha on the basis of his performance at the Bridge. No, Bent was not worth that much money but he can hardly be blamed for Villa offering such a ludicrous price. I know Sunderland fans must be angry now but I think it is a good deal for you. That money can buy a few decent players. Bent deserves success as well for his treatment by Redknapp and Spurs. The only thing I cannot understand is why he left you for Villa. Are they really bigger? They are certainly not better and never very settled. How long will Houllier last?
Theo Walcott admitted recently that he’d dived in the vain hope of winning a penalty and added, crucially, that many players had told him they routinely went down at the least contact. He said he was ashamed: a hero among villains, or blindingly naive in the modern game?
All players dive nowadays I have almost given up moaning about it or even complaining about referees’ decisions. Cheating is, unfortunately, part of the modern game. I actually think Arsenal are one of the worst, they actually want to make football a game without tackling. Watching them is like watching a version of a FIFA Playstation game, despite their self-aggrandisment and thinking they are Barcelona-lite. They are the lite bit, that’s for sure.
The World Cup: gutted that England lost out for 2018 or was South Africa so bad you wouldn’t want to see the tournament here?
I am glad it is not here but for another reason – the amount of sucking up (and that is the politest term I can say) to the likes of Blatter and Jack Warner you have to do to get the the tournament here. As much I would like to see games played in England, the less we have to do with the FIFA gang the better.
What will be the result or our game. How will you keep tabs, if not at the match?
I am going for a low-score revenge. 0-1 with a Malouda goal. I fear I might start looking out for the game from my desk, waiting for the first edition to go.
* David Harding on David Harding:
I have supported Chelsea since the age of five, mainly because of Peter Osgood being the first player to make an impression on me. I am like many Chelsea fans who turned old enough to support a team in the mid-1970s then latched onto a side to discover they were crap. And broke. Because we lived just outside London my dad took me to the ground once a season as a treat from about the age of 10. From aged 15 in 1983, I bought a season ticket (you used to be able to get cut-priced, one-third of the price tickets after so many games had been
played). Since then I have been a regular fan and am still a season ticket-holder. Away games are largely a thing of the past, alas. I have seen us lose at Carlisle, thrashed consistently by, Wimbledon, never seen us win at Selhurst Park, watched a riot at the Baseball Ground been hit at Hillsborough, heard the Harrods IRA bomb as we lost at home to Grimsby, and seen us win the ECWC in Sweden.
I am the Foreign Editor of the Daily Mail, a position I have held for a year. I have been a journalist for 16 years and worked for a variety of newspapers and magazines and even managed to write a book on Gianfranco Zola – buy it via Salut! Sunderland by clicking here. I have been at the Mail for 3 years. Possibly the biggest story I have covered was the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami.