Columnist and season ticket holder Giles Smith this week turns his attention to European competition matters, continental names and he remembers the late Dave Sexton…

So, two points from six, seven points off the top of the table, and no goals in two home games. No real sign of any goals, either, if we’re being honest.

On the bright side, though, I had a particularly nice take-away coffee from Fulham Broadway on the way to last night’s match. You know how some days, if you get the wrong barista, or if the place is really busy, or for some other reason, you can end up with a coffee that’s slightly stronger than you like it, or maybe a touch bitter, or a bit too milky? Well, last night wasn’t like that. Last night’s coffee was absolutely perfect.

So, that was nice.

‘What a waste of money,’ sang the Fulham fans at Fernando Torres. But they obviously haven’t done the maths. According to figures published by UEFA, our victory in last season’s Champions League earned the club just short of £48.5 million. We wouldn’t have won the Champions League if it hadn’t been for Didier Drogba’s last-gasp equaliser, headed in from a corner earned by… Fernando Torres. So that leaves the club just £1.5 million down on the striker’s £50 million transfer fee, which I’m sure you would find has been more than paid off in global shirt sales and other sundries. Fulham fans need to wise up and think of something else to sing. This is a piece of business which has already (as they say) washed its face.

One hasn’t yet had time fully to digest the report that UEFA are considering ditching the Europa League and expanding the Champions League to 64 clubs – doubling its size, in other words, at the expense of a competition which a lot of people seem to be fed up with, not least those who have to play in it. (A reaction, incidentally, which I don’t understand. And not just because, with one game to go, our team currently lies in third place – otherwise known as ‘the Thursday night slot’ – in its Champions League qualifying group.)

However, one of the implications of this possible reorganisation seems to be that the top seven sides in the Premier League would qualify for Europe’s elite tournament, rather than, as at present, the top four. And the consequence of that, I suppose, would be the enhanced, perhaps almost complacent degrees of security it would offer to the country’s top five or six clubs (among which we would surely number ourselves, even in a bad season), as well as the ray of hope it would cast down into the middle regions of the table. Why, under this new arrangement, even Liverpool may one day again come to be regarded as a plausible Champions League club. And possibly even in our lifetimes.

Instinctively, though, one prefers things in this area the way they are, doesn’t one?

One of the many pleasures of watching ‘Gillette Soccer Saturday’, Sky’s incoming goals and results service, this season is witnessing Paul Merson’s increasingly frenetic attempts to pronounce the name ‘Azpilicueta’.

OK, it’s not the most straightforward name in the game, unless you’re willing to set a little time aside and give it some practice. Even so, one of Merson’s most recent stabs – ‘Abillado’ – was surely as wide of the mark as it is possible to get without simply opening your mouth and making a noise while you waggle your tongue around.


For anyone still struggling, we recommend the ‘three separate words’ approach (recommended to us in turn by Barrie Collins, a Chelsea fan in Ontario): ‘Ass Pill Equator’. It’s a failsafe method which we published in this space a few weeks ago, but Merson obviously didn’t read it. Odd, that. Or maybe he did read it, and then forgot it. Anyway, there it is again – for him and for anyone else.

Dave Sexton was where I came in – the manager of that enduringly charismatic 1970 FA Cup-winning team, yet himself a quiet and enigmatic presence, as I recall it. Managers didn’t seem to do a lot of headline-grabbing sliding around on their knees in those days, although looking back at the condition of the pitches (and a handy reminder of the Somme-like fields on which football was obliged to do battle in the 1970s was provided by the touching film tribute to Mr Sexton on Chelsea TV this week) perhaps this shouldn’t surprise us. Time a touchline-based knee-slide wrong on surfaces as muddy and uneven as those and the chances of ending up mostly underground and having to be extracted by heavy duty agricultural machinery would have been high.

Managers back then did a lot less talking in public than they do now, as well. Television hadn’t learned openly to canvass them on-camera for their opinions and explanations at every convenient moment, making them minutely accountable – before the game, after the game, on their way back to the pitch after half time. And this may be an idealised boyhood impression, but the world didn’t seem to have got round to making a cult out of what a manager does, either. So I guess then it was possible to be a quiet, enigmatic manager. I’m not sure it would be now.


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