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Giles' midweek review


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GILES SMITH'S MIDWEEK VIEW

They may be the first to the tube station ticket barrier, but do they really live a fulfilling life? Giles Smith ponders those who depart before the final whistle.

Leaving early to 'beat the rush': never a brilliant idea.

OK, so you might get home a quarter of an hour earlier. And maybe you will have travelled on a tube train that wasn't so rammed with passengers that, as a result of sheer pressure, you ended up actually inside the carrier bag of the person next to you.

All well and good. But as far as you are concerned, Stoke won 1-0, Chelsea are officially in free-fall, five points behind Manchester United at the top of the table, and Luiz Felipe Scolari is getting sacked in the morning.

Truly, it's another world altogether for people who leave early. And a much darker, less hospitable world. I, for one, wouldn't want to live there.

Happily, though, I don't live there, because I didn't attempt to beat the rush. And that wasn't just luck, I should add. Leaving early is, quite simply, not my approach. Never has been. Never will be.

Indeed, there aren't many things that I would claim to have 'got right' in my life. But this is one of them: I won't ever leave a football match before it has finished. Never. Not in any reasonable - by which I mean non life-threatening - circumstance.

And neither should you. It's the most basic, most fundamental rule of football attendance. Why does the referee blow his whistle in that particular way? It is to let you know that the game is over and that you may now leave.

This is a code of behaviour - a code of honour, really - that I have solemnly instilled in my children, in the hope that they, too, will, in due course, instil it in their children. I don't see how a responsible parent should be expected to do any less than that.

I have never been interested in beating the rush. On the contrary, the rush can beat me, every time - league or cup, home or away. Three points? Help yourself, rush. Place in the quarter-finals? On you go, rush. All yours, son.

Even the prospect of sneaking a late draw against the rush, courtesy of a dodgy pen or a 35-yard, Steven Gerrard-style hit-and-hoper, has never been anywhere near my match-day agenda.

Because football teaches us that anything can happen at any time. And if anything can happen at any time, then it follows logically that this includes the final four minutes, plus time added on by the fourth official.

Think about what can go on, in that blink of an eyelid. Think about what we know with the evidence of our eyes - assuming we stayed. Mark Stein can send down Sheffield United. Tore Andre Flo can rise above the entire Aston Villa defence and send us to the top of the table for what was, for many of us on that particular occasion, the first time in living memory.

And Miroslav Stoch can get in behind the Stoke defence twice within about 30 seconds and create some chaos, out of which Frank Lampard will blast a winner, leading the entire team to pile all over the manager on the touchline in a scene which people who have written about a 'broken spirit' at Chelsea might have been interested to witness.

Anything can happen. And the prospect of being halfway up the Fulham Road when it does is too appalling to contemplate.

I know exactly where to source the origins of this deep-seated and unshakeable belief in staying to the end. It goes back to Chelsea v. Carlisle in the 1976-77 season - the first Chelsea game I ever attended.

I was taken by a friend's dad and, to my lasting horror, the friend's dad turned out to be an early-leaver. With Chelsea comfortably ahead, 2-0 (Finnieston, Swain), I was obliged to turn and stamp my way up the terracing of the old Shed and then turn right at the exit and run down to Fulham Broadway.

Yes, run! Amid, I seem to recall, other people, some of whom who were also running. Running away from the football! And the people who weren't running were doing that incredibly important-looking, extremely concentrated, fast walk that people do when they are on a mission to reach a tube station before other people reach it.

And fair enough, I got a blisteringly good seat on the District Line back to Liverpool Street. Couldn't fault it. That was a seat to feel smug about, and no mistaking. Room for me and my legs and my programme and everything.

But it couldn't ease me past the basic absurdity of the situation, as it struck my young and still tender mind - which was this: I'd been to the match (achieving a lifelong ambition by finally attending a game at Stamford Bridge), and yet, had you stopped me on the street at that point, I would not have confidently been able to tell you the final score.

Because the fact is, while I was busy running up the Fulham Road in a state of shocked amazement, Carlisle were busy running up to the north end of the ground and sneaking what the laws of football writing oblige me to refer to as a 'consolation goal'.

And you would be right to suggest that this made little difference, in a way. That late goal noticeably altered nothing about the course of either Chelsea's season or Carlisle's.

It made a big difference to me, though. You could say it formed me as a person. I swore, there and then, that this was never going to happen to me again for as long as I was in charge of my own destiny.

Onwards, then, to Saturday, and Ipswich in the FA Cup - all 90 minutes-plus of it. It would be nice, I suppose, not to leave it quite so late to score two goals on this occasion. On the other hand, leaving it late to score two goals undoubtedly has its explosive and purgative and possibly even season-turning charms. Either way, I'm not going anywhere until the referee tells me I can. And I politely suggest that neither should you.

excellent article indeed :)

Edited by terry26
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Me neither!!Esp fans who have been shouting off for the last part of the game such as the guy near me! 'its only Stoke yaba' and off

All those fans who left early against Everton/Wigan last season thinking we'd won only to find out we hadnt.Its mental.If you've stayed for 88 mins might as well stay for the rest

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