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FA Carling Premiership, 26/2/00
The last crusade?
By Matt Rowson

It's hot.

Not the humid hot of the jungle, but the dry, listless hot of the arid desert. Around you, the Arab market is bustling with life...people buying, people selling, people shouting, and people moving, everyone moving.

Above the general bustle, a concentration of noise becomes evident across the crowd to your left. The urgent shouting gets closer and closer, until without warning a man breaks past you through the crowd. He is white, a Westerner, wearing khaki with a wide brimmed hat. He is sweating, unshaven, and has a glint in his eye which seems to say "you're all clear kid, now let's blow this thing and go home".

Without the prompt of any perceivable signal, the crowd suddenly silences and backs away from the man leaving him in a clearing but penning him in. At the far end of this arena the crowd parts, and there emerges an imposing figure dressed entirely in black with a veiled face. The figure elaborately wields two long sabres, which he spins aggressively and with formidable skill around his head, finally settling in a challenging pose, awaiting a response from the white man. Unimpressed, his adversary draws a pistol and unfussily shoots him dead.

Where are you now? What are you thinking of?

If you were anywhere but Vicarage Road on September 18th last year, you're in an Indiana Jones movie.

However, if you were watching our home tie with Chelsea, you're probably being drawn back to an incident at the end of the game… Zola, on as a sub, faces Steve Palmer on the edge of the Watford area. The diminutive Italian attempts to bamboozle his stationary opponent. Trick, trick, shimmy, stepover. Unimpressed, Palmer effortlessly and contemptuously removes the ball and proceeds upfield. One of the highlights of the season.

This analogy doesn't follow the thread of this preview at all, but I've been waiting nearly six months to use it. (Any comments on inaccuracies in the Indiana Jones bit above should be forwarded to ig; it's his bloody site after all. Apologies to all those for whom the "parting of the crowd" reference brought back memories of Highfield Road or Selhurst Park.)

Chelsea are bloody arse. Pompous, arrogant arse. Load up the official site and time how long it takes for you to swear at the screen. Personally, about five seconds - long enough to load and read the random "witty" quote that was presented - this time from Jason Lee:

"I want to be regarded as a serious Premiership player and make a reputation for myself strictly on merit".

...whilst at Forest, one assumes. Now whatever Big Jase's footballing merits or otherwise, who could argue with the sentiment? After all, despite only twenty forlorn minutes lumbering around in midfield for Watford's Internet Team WIFC, I still haven't given up all hope of this goal myself (my number's in the book, Graham...ring, we'll talk).

But far as Chelsea are concerned, this is laughable. Quaint, probably. The response one would expect if an unwelcome guest asked for the wrong brand of sherry at one of cretin Bates' dinner parties. And this, despite Chelsea being the club responsible for introducing the likes of Steve Livingstone, Darren Wood, Gareth Hall and Doug bloody Rougvie to top-flight football. Memories, it appears, are short.

Chelsea are a proper football club now of course. A Premiership club. Gone forever are the days of bumming around the purgatory between the top two divisions. You can watch "Blue Tomorrow", Chelsea's own TV show, on Cable & Wireless. You can order a Chelsea moped at the Chelsea superstore (Guildford branch). You can find the nauseating conceit that characterises so much of the Premiership dished out in (branded) ladlefulls by the official site - check out the report on the Wimbledon fracas, and the disdainful dismissal of "uninformed" media coverage.

Chelsea have released no official statement, apparently...the line seems to be "Why can't the dashed tabloids hold fire until we do?" Thing is, of course, nobody needs a creative tabloid reporter to paint any pictures of what happened in the tunnel after the Dons game. Chelsea's squad is not only characterised by world class footballers (or more precisely, ex-world class footballers), it is characterised by petulant stroppy wankers like Dennis Wise (whose praises, naturally, are sung by the site, along with a call for Wise to be given his "well-deserved" international central-midfield berth against Argentina).

The FA has charged both Wise and Chelsea with misconduct. Thanks Ken, we'll draw our own conclusions.

September 18th was, clearly, hugely funny - even ex-Chelsea captain Dennis Rofe described it as "a great result for football". But perhaps it's too much to hope that the Blues will be so absurdly complacent again (they lost the game, remember, the Hornets just played a bit part). Despite the fact that Wise and Leboeuf will again be absent, this time suspended. Despite the fact that many of Chelsea's "stars" don't like being denied the space to strut their stuff. Despite the fact that Chris Sutton and Gabriele Ambrosetti are still playing like turkeys. Despite the fact that the magnificent Chelsea support will get on the side's back if they're not three up by half time. Despite the fact that they're flying to Marseilles on Monday....

Two thoughts to finish with. First, on a Chelsea messageboard, evidence of a tediously cyclic discussion on the subject of "who's a better fan?" ("You're New Chelsea aren't you?"... "It's very hard to get to games from Surrey, I can only do the big ones"... "Haven't we had this discussion before?"). Sounds strangely familiar. Must be another Premiership phenomenon. Not one we'd miss.

Second... an anomaly, an oversight. Inexplicable.

You can still buy Bovril at Stamford Bridge.