19 March 2006

Fulham 1, Chelsea 0

All right, I know most of you aren't football (soccer) fans, so I won't bang on about it at great length, but what a glorious welcome home to England. Fulham and Chelsea are longtime neighbourhood rivals, but for many years the rivalry has been largely one-sided. Fulham supporters lived for the day that we might finally triumph over Chelsea, whereas you got the idea that fans of multi-zillionaire-backed Chelsea, home to arguably the most spectacular (and certainly most expensive) collection of football players in the world today, thought of us as that cute but inconsequential club down at the poorer end of the Fulham Road.

We often played well against Chelsea, and seldom got thoroughly played off the pitch the way we did against, say, Liverpool (last week, 5-1) or Arsenal (week before last, 4-0). But the best we ever accomplished was a couple of draws, both of which were celebrated as though we'd won the Premiership and the Champions League in one go. I was beginning to think that I'd never see a Fulham victory over Chelsea, and with several of our best players out of commission, I certainly wasn't optimistic about this week's encounter. In fact as I walked to the ground into the teeth of a nagging northeasterly gale, I couldn't help thinking, "I had to get off the beach in Australia and hurry back to England for this?"

It was true; I had arranged my Oz trip so that I'd be back in time for the Chelsea match, but that was last year, at the beginning of the season, when everything looked hopeful or at least possible. Things have turned a lot grimmer since then, Fulham-wise, and I was fully expecting to see us get brutally hammered today, but hope also springs eternal, and there was even a bit of sunlight splashing about the pavement on my way to Craven Cottage, encouraging me to think, "Well, it could happen. We have to beat them one day, don't we?"

And sure enough, today (well, yesterday, now) turned out to be that day. A lot of Fulham fans went mental, and some of the younger ones even staged a pitch invasion, something which hasn't been seen in England for a few years now, and got involved in skirmishes with some similarly benighted Chelsea lunkheads. As for me, I just stood there speechless, looking on in wonder at the unpredictable vagaries of football, and trying not to remember how I had fluffed my own moment of glory.

You see, somewhere in the second half, the ball came flying into the stands and landed right behind me. I fished it out, and while the players, the officials, and 22,286 fans (in the stadium; millions more were watching the telecast around the world), lifted it over my head to throw it back onto the field. Waiting for it was Chelsea's John Terry, one of the best defenders in the league and a sure starter for England's World Cup team. Determined to show what I was made of, I flung the ball with all my might, and barely managed to clear the barrier separating the stand from the pitch. John Terry, instead of catching my masterful throw-in, had to walk ten yards toward the stand and pick the ball off the pitch instead of catching it, as he seemed to have been expecting. I might have imagined it, but I thought I saw him giving me a look that said distinctly: "What a wuss."

On the other hand, the delay allowed the Fulham players to get back in position and prevented Chelsea from taking a quick throw-in, so maybe in my small, inept way, I even contributed to a momentous victory. That's about the only consolation I get for being exposed to a worldwide audience as someone who throws like a girl.

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