In light of this week’s events at home and abroad, Chelsea fan Giles Smith decides to mix sport and politics in his latest column…
Even as Marcos Alonso was glancing home that near-post header (after an almost perfect dress rehearsal at the other post a few minutes earlier) to secure the points against Brighton on Boxing Day, the polling stations were opening in Liberia at the beginning of the election which would duly see George Weah installed as his nation’s president.
Admirable levels of achievement all round, then, for Stamford Bridge-related people this Christmas. We moved to within a point of a faltering Manchester United side in second place in the Premier League, on the back of another outstanding performance by Eden Hazard; and Weah became (and I think I’m correct in saying this) the first ever former Chelsea player to go on to occupy the highest political post in his country.
It also means that the former World Player of the Year and one of the most exciting footballers of all time now has the presidency of his birthplace to add to the FA Cup winners’ medal he won with us in 2000, in the last final played at the old Wembley. He’ll be happy with that.
Many of us will fondly recall the night (fully 18 years ago now) of Weah’s debut here at Chelsea. He was on loan from Milan and legend has it that he arrived direct from Heathrow, paused briefly on the bench to get his breath back, and then came on to rise to a height of many yards at the back post in the 87th minute and ensure that our tremendous league record against Tottenham, which at that point dated more or less back to the days of the horse-drawn tram, continued unchecked.
You may also retain in the precious photo-album of your mind the sight of Weah leaving the pitch at the end of that game with his arm around Jody Morris, and no doubt saying to him (or so we loved to speculate), ‘That’s the 10-year record intact, Jodes.’
Of course, he may have said no such thing. He may have been talking to him about his political ambitions, for all we know. But the memory lingers.
We knew ourselves back then, of course, to be in the presence of greatness; and somehow you understood, deep down, that the sky was naturally the limit for anyone who could fly in from Italy and sink Spurs about 10 minutes later. But I don’t suppose any of us foresaw the position of eminence Weah would eventually reach. Certainly nobody else who was on the pitch that night has gone on to become a world leader on the political stage, and especially not Darren Anderton. To be fair, Sol Campbell talked about having a crack at Mayor of London one year, but nothing came of it and, in any case, it’s not quite the same as running an entire country.
In all honesty, we can’t think of very many ex-Chelsea players who have sought political office upon leaving the game, let alone gained it. Didier Drogba has probably come closest, working as an ambassador for the peace process in the Ivory Coast, but, as yet, he has worked on a voluntary basis and hasn’t stood for election. In any case, though he may eventually prove me wrong, personally, I’ve always thought of him as more of a king-figure, really, than a president, and I don’t suppose I’m alone in that.
Otherwise, Dennis Wise had a stab at occupying the ‘King of the Jungle’ throne on ‘I’m A Celebrity – Get Me Out of Here!’, but that’s different. And anyway, he fell short and lost out to Georgia Toffolo from ‘Made in Chelsea’. (We all know there was only one contestant round that camp fire this year to whom the ‘made in Chelsea’ label properly applied, but, unlike a properly organised democratic election, a public phone-vote is a terribly fickle and unstable thing, and what can you do?)
I do recall a questionnaire in the Chelsea programme, back in the Seventies, in which Steve Kember (pictured right) completed the sentence ‘If I ruled the world…’ with the bracing line, ‘I’d bring back hanging.’ But so far as I am aware, Kember never formed that initial thought into a manifesto and, beyond that, into actual political campaigning. In fact, he briefly owned a wine bar in Croydon and is now chief scout at Crystal Palace.
But anyway, the story goes on. Weah now has a country to organise. And we’re at home to Stoke on Saturday. Here’s wishing success to both those missions, followed by a long period of stability and prosperity in both regions.