writing, quill, books

Blue is the colour

YouTube is an extraordinary resource. Those of us from pre-internet generations often look for comparisons between the new technology and the former analogue world. Mobile phones v public telephone boxes, Wikipedia v the library. What is YouTube?

It’s a bit like a video version of Wikipedia. Yesterday I had to re-pressurise my central heating. I could have read the manual, but the boiler manufacturer had posted a five minute tutorial on YouTube that could not have been easier to follow. Whatever you want to do, there will be someone showing you how to do it. The people who post these tutorials are performing a great public service.

But YouTube offers much more than How To guides. I recently found film of the first football match I went to at Stamford Bridge, home of my team Chelsea. It was 15 March 1969, Manchester United were the opponents and I went with my dad and younger brother. I remember the match, not least because there were over 60,000 people in the crowd. This was a time when capacity was determined by how many could be squeezed in. I still have the programme and have never forgotten the score. 3-2 to Chelsea.

YouTube’s algorithms then went to work and I was directed to more Chelsea matches from the past. ESPN ran a series of ‘classic matches’, while the voices of commentators Brian Moore, David Coleman, and Kenneth Wolstenholme were heard from beyond the grave.

Several things stood out. Firstly, the pitches. If it was early in the season, there was a good chance of the match being played on grass. However, as autumn and winter arrived, it was as bad, if not worse than the park pitches on which we attempted to emulate our heroes. Stamford Bridge was notoriously bad and sand was routinely used to compensate for poor drainage.

It has become a cliche, but the physical side of the game was brutal compared with today. Savage tackles drew little criticism from commentators, unless limbs were actually lost. Even then, let’s applaud the plucky centre forward on the stretcher. ‘It looks like he’s unable to carry on,’ says Coleman as the wounded player disappears down the tunnel in obvious agony. This was how the game was played. Gifted and consequently targeted footballers such as George Best and Charlie Cooke just got on with it without complaint.

When a player goes to ground today claiming, usually, a penalty, the common refrain is ‘there was contact’. It’s impressive to see Best and others navigating a succession of kicks, trips, pulls, stamps, and all other attempts to halt their progress. Meanwhile, the referee stays silent while these assaults are being perpetrated. This and the fact that the playing surface resembles the Somme only makes you admire the skill of these abused artists even more.

Then there are the kits. There was no shirt sponsorship and numbers went from 1 to 11, with the single substitute wearing number 12. So your favourite player might wear a different number from week to week. The number referred to a position on the pitch, not an identifier in a squad. Left back = number 3, right wing = number 7. Seeing the current Chelsea playmaker Jorginho wearing the number 5 shirt doesn’t sit right. Number 5 is centre half … Jack Charlton, John Dempsey, Brian Labone.

David Webb became famous for wearing every number, including the number 1 goalkeeper’s jersey in a match against Ipswich. It wasn’t an injury replacement during a game either – not uncommon at the time, with physical attacks on goalkeepers allowed and only one substitute available. Webb started because at kick-off time none of the club’s regular goalkeepers was fit. I was at that match.

From a design perspective, there were some very smart kits in the seventies. Chelsea’s was one of them. The shade of royal blue has never been replicated, although this may be because the simplicity of a blue shirt and white logo is compromised by fussy detail and Amiga, Coors, Commodore, Autoglass, Samsung, Yokohama, and now 3 emblazoned across the front in corporate endorsement.

I always liked the bold white stripe down the side of the shorts, along with the matching shirt number on the left thigh. I’m sure other teams had a similar design, but it felt uniquely Chelsea. The socks were plain white and boots were predominantly black. When Alan Ball wore white boots, it caused quite a stir.

Seeing my childhood heroes and newly appreciating the classic kit made me wonder how I came to choose Chelsea as my team. I grew up in north east Surrey, so given that Wimbledon was still an amateur team at the time, Chelsea, Fulham, QPR, and Crystal Palace were the closest league clubs. This didn’t stop my older brother choosing Ipswich Town and my youngest brother choosing Arsenal. Choosing a team is a personal statement of allegiance and my closest schoolfriend was a Tottenham fan. We usually fell out twice a season, only for the friendship to be restored by the following Tuesday, the day after the post-Saturday playground gloat.

I tend to think of my early football awareness in terms of FA Cup Finals. The first one I remember watching on television was 1968, West Bromwich Albion v Everton. Chelsea had been in the final against Tottenham the year before and I have no recollection of that. So, I deduce, I was not particularly aware of football in 1967 and certainly hadn’t chosen my team. Clearly, by March 1969 I had become a Chelsea fan and was being taken to my first match.

What happened between 1967 and 1969? Blue was my favourite colour and I remember siding with Everton in the 1968 FA Cup Final, even though they played in their change colour of yellow. I have a vague memory of considering becoming an Everton supporter, but I don’t think it was serious. Chelsea were becoming quite glamorous – in a pop star way – the Kings Road and all that. I was already a huge Beatles fan and liked the long-haired look. Alan Hudson could have been a Beatle.

I don’t know exactly why or indeed when I chose Chelsea, but I suspect that particular shade of royal blue had a lot to do with it. Everton blue wasn’t the same, nor was Leicester City. I’ve always thought Manchester City’s sky blue was anaemic.

In 2020 Chelsea played their FA Cup third round tie against Nottingham Forest in a (sort of) replica kit to celebrate the 50 year anniversary of their first FA Cup win against the mighty Leeds United. The Yokohama tyres logo was still there, but in the same colour as the body of the shirt. So from a distance it appeared to be a plain block of colour. It looked fantastic and all the fan forums were begging for it not to be just a one-off. That was never going to happen, but it was a potent reminder of a more innocent time … a time I can experience again thanks to YouTube.

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