I’ve been doing a lot of research for my latest book in the First Football Histories series: The Chelsea FC story (available in all Amazon stores).
One of the key moments in Chelsea’s football history came almost 52 years ago against the same Associazione Sportiva Roma club that Chelsea faced on Tuesday evening in the UEFA Champions League (not the same side, obviously, as that would have required Zimmer Frames and oxygen tanks, all of which Ron Harris would probably have tackled from behind).
Chelsea had won the League/Milk/Rumbelows/Coke/EFL/Carabaou/Caribou/Elton John Cup in 1965 and qualified for Europe for only the second time in their history (they had first done so after their League Title win, 10 years earlier, but the Football Association and the Football League had ever so nicely persuaded them not to enter the new European Cup as, well, it wasn’t a very English thing to do and probably only about money really).
In the First Round of the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup competition, on 22nd September 1965, in what subsequently became known as the ‘Battle of the Bridge,’ Chelsea beat Roma, 4.1, in a match simmering on the edge of barely controlled violence – including Eddie McCreadie being sent off for punching Roma winger Francesco Carponetti, after Carponetti had kicked him and then grabbed him by the throat.
The return leg took place in Roma’s Stadio Olimpico two weeks later, with a 0.0 draw eventually seeing Chelsea through to the next round but only after violence had periodically broken out on the pitch and in the stands. Chopper still remembers it, as clearly as a soothing chat with Jack Charlton:
“It was a frightening experience over there to come away with all the coach smashed up…players hiding under the seats at the back with glass flying about. But we qualified and that was the most important thing.”
I mention this by way of a historical context for football in the ‘Modern Era’ but also in light of comments allegedly made by Chelsea’s newest star – Alvaro Morata – in which he has given us a flavour of what it’s like to be a Chelsea player these days. Thanks in part to technology, I’ve been able to offer up what I think could be a fairly accurate English version of what his words might really mean.
Morata: “In Spain, technique is dominant. In Italy, it’s tactics. In England, the most relevant aspect is physical strength.”
Translation: “As long as you don’t have two left feet like Chris Sutton, or hit your head on overhead bridges like Micky Droy, anyone could play over here; but don’t be surprised if you get substituted for no obvious reason. They kick you lots, push you out of the way without first saying ‘excuse me’ and sometimes try to spoil your beautiful face, without any concern about image rights. And that’s just in training. Apparently, there’s a tradition of hard men here – something to do with limestone in the water.”
Morata: “The disappointment was huge (when I returned to Real Madrid). I went right back to the start. They treated me like the kid I was before the two seasons in Italy. I should never have left Italy and Juve.”
Translation: “I thought, after two domestic Doubles in Italy, I would walk straight back into Real’s first team. When I didn’t, I had a few more doubles at the bar and thought ‘sod this, if they don’t listen to me when I tell them how good I am, I may as well go and get some extra cash to pay for my new ego.’”
Morata: “When I say London is a stressful city, I’m talking about the traffic and a lot of people.”
Translation: “You might find this hard to believe but nobody gave up their seat for me on the London Underground the other day. I had to stand all the way to Fulham Broadway. It was as if nobody knew who I was. It’s difficult, very difficult.”
Morata: “I’m really happy here and enjoying London with my wife.”
Translation: “I miss the sunshine and all those hot chicks at the training ground, but need to stick it out until Catalonia is settled, as Pedro thinks things might get nasty and keeps making throat-slicing actions with an imaginary knife. Not that he’d know much about it – he was born on an island. They call this sort of thing ‘Brexit’ here. Ha Ha Ha.”
Morata: “I really miss Italy. My wife would like to live in Spain; I’d like to live in Italy.”
Translation: “She’s being a nightmare, but I dream about Antonio. He is my true love and (just saying) ‘please take me with you when you return to Italy next year. I’d even play for Roma, if absolutely necessary.’”