David Hirshey writes regularly for Deadspin about soccer.
Even I had a lump in my throat when I saw Chelsea take the field on Saturday in black armbands, honoring the recent death of Frank Lampard's mother. Turns out that my lump was just some undigested French Toast, but still you have to admire the Oprah-like sensitivity this bunch of preening, squabbling egomaniac multimillionaires showed for a brief, shining moment.
"We did it for Frank and his family," said Michael Ballack after Chelsea beat ManU 2-1 and drew level on points at the top of the Premier League. Ballack was referring to his midfield partner Lampard, who was on "compassionate leave" for the fractious battle at Stamford Bridge that ended in a total meltdown for United.
By now, we're used to seeing Sir Alex, his face resembling plush velvet, raging at the officials for perceived injustices, but it's not every day you see Rio Ferdinand kick a female usher (by accident, of course) and ManU's reserves exchange punches with Chelsea's grounds crew. It's still United's title to lose because of their superior goal difference, but considering how they've responded to the sphincter-tightening pressure of the stretch run, anything's possible over the next two weeks, even the sight of, God forbid, Chelsea hoisting the trophy.
To be fair to the Blues — something I've never been — they've displayed impressive resilience to get to this point but one big happy family? Yeah, maybe in a Texas polygamy cult sort of way.
Let's not forget that this is the same team who earlier in the season gave us:
— a bustup on the training ground between captain John Terry and an assistant coach over Grant's decision not to reveal his starting lineup til the day of the game.
— Drogba and Lampard declaring their undying love toward Mourinho and begging The Special One to rescue them from Stamford Bridge.
— Defender Tal Ben Haim saying he would never have come to Chelsea if he knew his fellow Israeli Grant would be in charge.
— a death threat in the form of a mysterious white powder toward Grant from the Chelsea faithful who continue to serenade him with "You Don't Have A Clue."
Chelsea is a family all right. Of course, so are the Lohans. And the Mansons. And yet somehow here they are, with a chance to win both the Prem and the Champions League, and you've got to ask yourself "How the fuck did this happen?"
Let's start with Drogba and Ballack, two world class players who lead their respective national teams and think they're each The Man. (Only Drogba is right.) On Saturday, they combined for the first Chelsea goal and then underlined the team's true family spirit by almost pummeling each other to death for the right to take a free-kick. Drogba had already made his mark on the game early on when he introduced his knee to Vidic's face, resulting in the United defender getting stretchered off with a bloody mouth. Then, just before intermission, Drogba, given enough time and space at the edge of the box to book his flight to Milan for the inevitable reunion with Mourinho, picked out Ballack at the back post. The German's powerful header had barely nestled in the net when he ripped off his jersey revealing a pair of nipples that would have made Heidi Klum jealous. Or maybe Simon Cowell.
Meanwhile, the rest of the Chelsea players celebrated by waving a jersey with the words Pat Lampard RIP printed on it.
It was such a touching gesture that there was hardly a wet eye in the house at Kinsale. "I hear that Lampard called Terry today and asked him to keep Drogba away from the funeral," Dublin Dave said "He was worried about him diving in the box."
We all cracked up, and by "we," I mean the mob of United fans I found myself drinking and chanting with at the end of the bar. "Don't you feel bad supporting ManU?" asked Cardillo, who got up at 5 a.m. to make the two and half hour pilgrimage from Connecticut to Kinsale. "Isn't it a bit like rooting for Palestine?" No, Mike, Chelsea is Palestine, ManU is only Saudi Arabia.
At any rate, I couldn't have been happier when Ricardo Carvalho gifted ManU the equalizer shortly after halftime . Normally Chelsea's most reliable defender, Carvalho was positively Riise-esque as he passed the ball directly to Rooney 30 yards out from his own goal. The United striker shrugged off Terry's challenge and a painful hip injury to lash the ball into the bottom corner. Rooney hobbled off soon thereafter and was replaced by Ronaldo, who along with Tevez, had been left out of the starting lineup in order to rest for tomorrow's Champions League return match against Barca. It was a gamble that would come back to bite Sir Alex in the ass.
The Best Player In The World had barely stepped onto the pitch when Ballack wrestled him to the ground inside the penalty area, only for the official to wave play on. But a few minutes later, the referee did call a penalty; this time it was against United, their first of the season. Essian's cross was generously ruled to have hit Carrick's arm, and Ballack slotted home the ensuing penalty kick before hugging it out with Drogba and the rest of Chelsea's dysfunctional family.
As for Grant, he had spent most of the game hunched forward in his seat like he was having an enema, but now there he was, dancing a little hora on the touchline. This was the second straight game in which Uncle Avram received an early Chanukah present and he has to wonder if his good luck will continue to the end of the season.
If it does, I'll be the one wearing the black armband.