It was the first time I’d been in the home dressing room at Chelsea for half a century. In fact, I hadn’t visited Stamford Bridge at all since Roman Abramovich took over. Many ex-players love going back to the scenes of former glories, and each to their own, but Boris Becker summed it up for me while talking wistfully about Centre Court at Wimbledon, as he watched Pete Sampras heading towards another title. “This place used to be all mine but it’s his court now – it all belongs to Pete.”
That’s why I rarely return either to the Bridge or White Hart Lane. When you used to be the main man, the king of the hill, it feels discomforting to turn up and watch someone else in your place. It was my 11-year-old grandson Harry who brought me back to the Bridge. He’s the only one of my 10 grandchildren who supports Chelsea. My missus Irene, who has supported the Blues since I was a kid there, made damned sure of it by sticking a plaque on his bedroom wall saying: ‘A Chelsea fan sleeps here.’
So for the Boxing Day derby against Fulham, I went along with my son Andy and Harry, and the club invited us on to the pitch at half-time as well as arranging for Harry to meet his hero Didier Drogba, post-match. Given the disappointing 1-1 scoreline, I didn’t expect to be ushered into the dressing room – approximately twice the size it was in my own playing days – but there we found ourselves, in the inner sanctum.
Harry enjoyed a good chat with Drogba, John Terry gave him his shirt and I had a chat with Frank Lampard, whose dad used to be my West Ham team-mate. Sticking my head around the corner to the treatment area I spotted Ashley Cole having a massage. “A massage?” I asked him, “What’s that all about?” “Someone trod on my foot,” said Ashley. “I suppose in your day you’d be having a beer and a fag by now?” “Too bloody right,” I told him. “It wouldn’t be a bad thing if we went back to those days,” he said. “I don’t think, so, Ash, the money wasn’t quite the same!”
He could hardly disagree with that one, given his infamous comments about negotiating a contract with Arsenal, but when you meet Cole you get the distinct impression that his public image is all wrong. There was a bit of speculation in the press about whether I’d offered Fernando Torres any advice. We did meet and say hello but the last thing he’d have wanted was some fat old bloke telling him how many goals he had scored for the club.It was interesting to watch Torres from up in an executive box in the West Stand, which used to be the vast West Terrace, one of the biggest standing areas in football, and a place I was unfortunate enough to have to sweep as an apprentice.
The most remarkable thing for me was how incredibly supportive the Chelsea fans were towards him. For a £50million striker, who has only scored three goals in a year, to be backed to the hilt, without a murmur of criticism, is a great credit to those supporters and a real blessing for Torres. The Spaniard actually put in a decent all-round team performance but his lack of confidence was all too apparent.
Alan Shearer was right when he said Torres is spending too much time with his back to goal, and that Andre Villas-Boas needs to be seeing the No.9 on his shirt more often. But a goal drought is an awful thing for any striker. It eats away at you and Villas-Boas needs to give Torres more support – I’d love to have seen him play up front with Drogba more often.
I don’t buy into the opinion that they cannot operate together. They are two top players, they aren’t particularly similar and it’s the manager’s job to find a way of accommodating both. In the meantime, though, Torres will be on his own up front, with Drogba away at the African Cup of Nations. It ain’t going to be easy, but I know one little 11-year-old who would be delighted to see Torres succeed.