x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Chelsea singing the blues?

There is a tradition at Chelsea FC which requires new players to stand on a chair and sing for their assembled teammates.

The Chelsea players loved Ray Wilkins, left, the club’s former assistant coach.
The Chelsea players loved Ray Wilkins, left, the club’s former assistant coach.

There is a tradition at Chelsea FC which requires new players to stand on a chair and sing for their assembled teammates.

The choice of song is entirely up to the new boy, although you might think there are some obvious pitfalls to avoid. (I Don't Want To Go To) Chelsea by Elvis Costello and the Attractions springs to mind, as do any tracks closely associated with rival clubs.

So it was a surprise to learn that Yossi Benayoun, the former Liverpool player, sang the Anfield anthem You'll Never Walk Alone on his first day at Stamford Bridge.

According to Didier Drogba, who told this anecdote, the rest of the players "threw towels at him" for his impertinence. (Perhaps this was pre-season training, as they appear to have got rather good at throwing towels, at least in the boxing sense, having capitulated in their last two matches to lowly opponents Sunderland and Birmingham City.)

Drogba reveals that he sang an Ivory Coast folk song on his initiation, although non-Chelsea fans may suggest a more suitable track for the easily felled striker would be the Chumbawumba classic Tubthumping, with its rousing chorus: "I get knocked down, but I get up again."

He also revealed that Alexi Smertin performed a Russian love song, which seems apt. Chelsea fans have good reasons to love Russians. As for the song choices of Drogba's other teammates, we can only hazard educated guesses.

For John Terry, My Best Friend's Girl by The Cars would have been a prescient clue to his tangled love-life.

Ashley Cole, newly freed from the outrageous "slavery" (his lawyer's term, not mine) of a £55,000-per-week contract with Arsenal, would surely have chosen something to celebrate his emancipation. Redemption Song by Bob Marley, perhaps, or I'm Free by The Rolling Stones.

Frank Lampard was out of shape when he arrived from West Ham United, so Sir Mix-A-Lot's Baby Got Back would have been a crowd-pleaser. As for Petr Cech, who knows? Anything by Helmet, probably.

To be fair, I rather like the image of Chelsea players making each other stand on a chair and sing. It has a wonderful whiff of the old-school about it, although the reality is no doubt different to my romanticised image, with teams of physios helping players on to the chair and agents demanding 20 per cent of any subsequent recording deal. Perhaps for the same romanticised reasons, I was saddened by the abrupt sacking of Chelsea's assistant coach, Ray Wilkins, 10 days ago.

To some in the club hierarchy, Wilkins probably seemed as crusty and outdated as the forced singing initiation: an old-school throwback with little relevance to their thrusting, professionalised, multi-million-pound operation. How important could an overpaid bibs-and-cones man be to such a brave new world?

Since his departure, however, Chelsea have lost those two matches to Sunderland and Birmingham, which must have surely been marked as six points in the bag before the start of the season.

The players loved Wilkins, and are reportedly displeased with his replacement, Michael Emenalo, a former Nigeria international who has previously been a scout and the coach of a girls' football team in the US.

Not the most impressive CV, some might say, but at least it gives Emenalo an obvious choice for his initiation song - anything by Scouting For Girls.

Altogether now: He's so luvverly, He's so luvverly, He's so luvverly ... Ancelotti!"

Cameron vs Murray would have made for a much-anticipated draw

If, as a child, you ever played illicit ball games inside your house, you will remember that nauseous feeling which quickly followed the sound of breaking glass.

Now imagine how much worse that feeling would be if your home was 10 Downing Street and the shattering glass was not an Ikea fruit bowl but an antique crystal chandelier originally gifted to the nation by King Louis XIV of France.

This was the fate which nearly befell Andy Murray, the British tennis player, and David Cameron, his prime minister, last week.

Murray was visiting 10 Downing Street in advance of the ATP World Tour Finals in London. He was surprised when Cameron borrowed a racket from Rafa Nadal – who must have surely been thinking the Spanish equivalent of “It’ll all end in tears!” – and challenged the young Scot to a knockabout.

“He began to hit the ball really hard and he missed the chandelier by a couple of inches,” said Murray. “It was scary. I wouldn’t call it embarrassing or even difficult, the only word for it was downright frightening.” Never mind “scary”, it could have caused a constitutional crisis. Who is entitled to tell the PM off for such behaviour? Would the Queen have to send him to his room, with an ominous warning like: “Just you wait until the speaker of parliament gets home!”

Still, in an age of increasingly soulless new stadia, the staging of sporting matches in historic seats of power could be quite a draw.

Who would not fancy watching some ping pong in the Politburo, some soccer in the Senate, or, ladies and gentlemen, live from the Oval Office, the world heavyweight title fight, to be contested over 15 rounds, or as many as we can get away with before Mrs Obama gets home.