Chelsea Were A Different Class
I was truly proud of the effort, workrate and attitude of every one of the 14 Stoke players that were involved on Saturday and on a display like that, I left the ground on reflection, quietly confident that the attitude was there with the new signings to see us not succumb to the most ill fated of footballing diseases, second season syndrome.
The following morning after the game, reading the various reports in the papers about our encounter, the plaudits that Chelsea received and the occasional patronising pat on the head that we got, I found myself getting rather angry. Has football come to such a point whereby the antics of the Chelsea's of this world are now considered part of the game, or are a chosen few above the law?
It is sad to think that a team like Chelsea, who have multi-million earning megastars, resort to the most petulent, and at times embarrasing to watch, unsportsman-like behaviour that was ignored by every match report I watched and read that weekend. Anyone who has ever watched a football match will have witnessed a player rolling their eyes in disgust when a decision doesn't go their way, maybe a muttered comment, a shrug of the shoulders or arms outstretched to the sky.
On Saturday, even after years of watching football matches, I was taken aback when every decision, even the most innocuous was greeted with 4 or 5 Chelsea players immediately surrounding the referee vehemently protesting from all sides or trying to get the opposition players booked when a foul was committed. It wasn't the fact that a player was questioning the referee, it was the fact that the players within two seconds of the whistle being blown were around the referee like a pack of wolves, something that Chelsea have been accused of a number of times before. Ashamedly, it was mainly the English contingent in the Chelsea side that were the ringleaders, Ashley Cole, John Terry and Frank Lampard. Even as Chelsea scored the winner and play was about to restart, Ashely Cole looked to the Seddon Stand gesticulating, laughing and inticing the crowd.
Ironically, shortly after the FA launched the Respect campaign, John Terry, said this:
"Last year, was there or wasn't there a rule where you couldn't surround the referee? I couldn't tell you. Now there's a rule. You can't. It's the captain who has that responsibility to go and speak to the referee. The others guys are going to get booked. Now we all know that, there's some consistency - from the referees' association, from the panel, from the players."
The far and wide reaches of football and indeed footballers actions are amazing. It is mind-boggling to think that Stoke are in the world's most popular and most watched sporting league, with over 500 million people in 202 countries watching worldwide. Indeed in the far east, matches attract between 100 million and 360 million viewers. With that kind of interest, must come an extra responsibility for players in relation to their conduct, as well as a responsibility for the people governing the sport to ensure this is done.
We have only to look at the Manchester City vs Arsenal game last weekend to see that a 3-4 match estimated ban Adabeyor may be hit with for stamping on a former teammate's face and a goal celebration that sparked a melee in which a steward was injured, is tame when compared to Eduardo's two match ban for diving.
The fans of these so-called top teams who say that they couldn't watch our supposed hoofball tactics all the time, I say this to you. The way in which your teams conduct themselves at times towards the referee, other players and the petulence of some of your players, if that is playing football the 'correct way', I couldn't watch that every week either.
I have not got a case of sour grapes, neither am I saying that Stoke are angels. Anyone who has watched Liam Lawrence contesting a decision will know that. Our team have an honest, hard-working ethos and a genuine togetherness with eachother and the fans, which is something that you cannot buy, as is our manager, who is a gentlemen, often critisised for praising the opposition too much. Rather that than ranting at referees, injustices and decisions that didn't go our way in after-match interviews.
So when one journalist said that Chelsea were a different class to Stoke, that was the truest thing which was printed in that report.