Monthly Archives: November 2012

50 years of ‘Lawrence’ – plus an Intermission

My favourite movie – David Lean’s ‘Lawrence of Arabia‘ – celebrates its 50th birthday this year and is enjoying a limited cinema release with a new digital print by way of commemorating this anniversary.

I can still recall my Dad taking me to our local ‘fleapit’ on Wellingborough Road to see ‘Lawrence’ when it first came out.  I had only the vaguest idea who T.E. Lawrence was (or had been) but even at a very tender age, I was captivated, both by Peter O’ Toole’s astonishing turn as the eponymous, troubled hero as well as the wide-screen landscapes of the desert which are a substantial part of the movie’s unique signature.

Since that first ‘sighting’ of Lawrence on the big screen, I have, like many Englishmen of a certain age, become embroiled with the whole mythology of the man’s life.  I have read Lawrence’s  own books and many other books written about him, I have visited his cottage at Clouds Hill and his grave at Moreton and have already written about him on this blog, here:

The enduring impact of T.E.Lawrence…..

in February of 2010.

David Lean directs  a smiling Peter O’Toole somewhere in the Jordanian desert

Lawrence ‘s  ‘enduring impact’ has, of course, been substantially enhanced by  David Lean’s wonderful film but also, in my view, has something to do with this country’s post-Imperial status and the way in which we, as a nation have dealt with that.   Lawrence almost became a poster boy for a dysfunctional, crumbling Empire; emotionally conflicted and battered by circumstance, whilst retaining a certain fundamental English decency.  His fury and bafflement at the slings and arrows of the politicians,  the diplomats and the media somehow echoed the frustrations of thousands of ordinary servicemen and women who felt that they had fought in  (one or both of) the war to end all wars and if they were supposed to have won it, why did they so often feel as though they’d lost it?  For the story of a detached and reserved Oxford academic’s adventures in the deserts of Arabia to capture the imagination of so many ordinary British people is little short of extraordinary.

At the outset 0f the movie , in Cairo, O’Toole plays Lawrence as the Army misfit with his distracted manner and awkward exchanges with colleagues and  superiors.  He seems to inhabit, rather than wear his ill-fitting uniforms and is regarded with suspicion and ill-concealed irritation by his superiors.  In his first foray north-eastwards from Yenbo to meet up with Prince Feisal’s irregulars, he sits awkwardly on his camel and only as he gradually adopts local attire and becomes more comfortable with his life among the Bedouin does he seem more at ease.  In fact, only once in the film, after the fall of Akaba, whilst being interviewed by George Kennedy’s American journalist, does he ever really seem at peace with his role as the arbiter of the Desert Revolt.  The rest of the time he seems to veer from self-doubt and self-loathing to manic over-confidence and reckless humour.  It’s a tour de force performance and one from which O’Toole’s career never really recovered;  subsequently,  most people saw those vivid blue eyes and just remembered Lawrence.

Omar Sharif makes his unforgettable entrance……

Despite this ‘tour de force’ , after nearly 4 hours –   3 hours & 45 minutes plus a 10-minute intermission – we are  in many respects none the wiser about Lawrence’s motives;  – patriot or romantic?  pragmatist or accidental hero?  man of action or poetic dreamer?

And there are more questions about him…..  Away from the  War and the politics, there has been continuing speculation in this prurient age about Lawrence’s sexuality.  In 1962,  Lean was unable to tell what he thought was the full story of Lawrence’s capture and imprisonment in Deraa,  though the movie hints that Miguel Ferrer’s Turkish officer sexually assaults  Lawrence and he himself suggests this in his book, ‘Seven Pillars of Wisdom’.  Yet again, we are forced to observe that so much of Lawrence’s story is untold and despite this movie and all the other books and documentaries and press articles, the man remains the proverbial enigma, elusive,  shrouded in mystery and so on.

Within the movie, Lean’s visual strategies often hint at this – Lawrence the public figure is often seen backlit atop a train carriage or in silhouette,  as a shadow or as a muffled figure, wrapped in his keffiyeh.  At the very end of the film, with Lawrence on his way to take ship to England, he’s back in Army khakis and being driven by an NCO in a jeep.  They pass a group of Bedouin who are returning to the desert.  Lawrence rises as if to salute them, but they do not recognise him.  He sits down again and (prophetically) a motorbike overtakes them – part of the extended ‘journey’ metaphors with which David Lean bedecks the movie.   Lawrence stares ahead – a man who is part of 2 very different worlds but not altogether at home in either of them.   Here in the very final frames of a 4-hour film, the hero remains  both obscure and obscured due to the fly-spattered, dusty windshield of an Army jeep.

We  cannot really see his face.  What do we actually know about him?

The official publicity materials for the movie tended to reinforce this approach – Lawrence’s face is similarly shrouded here……who was that masked man?

Without wishing to demean the efforts of a superb supporting cast – Anthony Quinn and Jack Hawkins were particularly effective – the other undoubted star of Lean’s movie is,  of course, the desert itself.  Some parts of the film were filmed in Morocco and Spain, but the most dramatic sequences were filmed in Jordan, particularly in the spectacular landscapes of Wadi Rum.  Seen on a super-large IMAX screen, these scenes are even more overwhelming and demonstrate a crisp, compositional flavour that just makes today’s CGI  epics look  flat and one-dimensional by comparison.  For all that it is 50 years old, ‘Lawrence’ has worn pretty well and for me it was a joy to see the film on an even larger screen than the one where I saw it originally.

 Some autographed publicity stills with Peter O’Toole and  Anthony Quinn as the larger-than-life Auda

 However,  the opportunity to see such a classic movie as it was meant to be seen does not seem to have transferred overmuch to a younger generation of fans. There was no more than a sprinkling of takers for this showing and most of them were as old, if not older than myself.  In the car park outside, we met some friends who were on their way in to see the latest James Bond movie – 007, of course,  being a character at least partly inspired by Lawrence.  Sadly, I suspect that box office business would have been somewhat brisker for Bond than it was for Lawrence.  Whether or not people will still be turning out to watch ‘Skyfall’  in 2062, however, is rather less likely.

Wayne Shorter Quartet @ Birmingham Town Hall, 01 November 2012

Been mulling this one over for nearly a fortnight now, not really knowing what to say.  Wayne Shorter is clearly a major name in postwar jazz, having contrived to be in the right place at the right time in terms of being a member of three hugely influential bands – Art Blakey’s  Jazz Messengers, the mid-60’s Miles Davis Quintet and the peerless Weather Report.  This would probably be my fifth or sixth encounter with Mr Shorter in a live context and I have to say that, like each of the previous encounters, this one left me disappointed in some ways, though this time, I think we can excuse him to a large extent.

Wayne Shorter 

Shorter’s recorded legacy up to the dissolution of Weather Report in the late 1980’s is pretty impressive.  Musical partners like Blakey,  Miles and Zawinul always seemed to be able to get the best out of him in the studio and apart from his work with them, there was an impressive run of solo albums with Blue Note, beginning with 1964’s ‘Night Dreamer’ .

Once Weather Report got going around the end of the 60’s,  Shorter  initially seemed an equal partner with Joe Zawinul and they survived a rotating slate of drummers and bassists through the mid-70’s before apparently settling on the ‘classic’ line-up with the extraordinary Jaco Pastorius on bass and the marvellous Peter Erskine on drums towards the end of that decade.

From that point, it seemed to be Jaco who took on the role of Joe Zawinul’s sparring partner in the band and in a succession of Weather Report gigs I attended through the late 1970’s and early 1980’s,  it was noticeable that Wayne Shorter’s presence and contribution appeared to be diminishing.  He would seemingly emerge from his shell only to duet with Zawinul on a medley that usually turned into ‘In a silent way’ and to lead the way on the marvellous  ‘A Remark you made’ .

Increasingly, it was a similar story in the studio,  with Zawinul adding layers of polyphonic synthesiser riffs from which Shorter’s horn emerged only sporadically.  During this era, it could easily be argued that it was the astonishing bass playing of Jaco Pastorius that became the main counterpoint to Zawinul’s huge multi- keyboard concoctions.  Either Wayne had lost his chops or he had lost interest due to the impossibility of competing with the band’s electronic barrage.

The classic Weather Report line-up from 1978;                    (L-R)Pastorius, Erskine, Zawinul, Shorter.

Emerging from the wreckage of Weather Report in the late 1980’s, it surprised no-one to see Shorter opting for  more acoustic settings for his playing.  He made a succession of albums in this style, often collaborating with the likes of Herbie Hancock and Tony Williams whilst continuing to slum a little with  Steely Dan and  Joni Mitchell.  What really couldn’t be said was that escaping from late-period Weather Report’s electronic world music ghetto had provided Shorter with a new lease on his playing.  The solo cd’s that emerged from this period revealed someone whose playing and style both lacked conviction.  Of course, there had been problems;  Shorter lost his daughter, Iska, to an epileptic seizure in the mid-1970’s and his second wife in the 1996 TWA Flight 800 disaster off Long Island,  but he has been a practising Buddhist for many years, so maybe he was somehow able to come to terms with these awful occurrences.

By the millennium, he had put together a new  acoustic quartet featuring Panamanian pianist Danilo Perez,  multi-talented drummer Brian Blade and bassist John Patitucci.  This band have made a number of critically acclaimed albums in the 12 years they’ve been together, but I must confess that whilst I am familiar with Patitucci’s work with others and (in particular) with Blade’s superb Fellowship band, I have heard only snatches of this quartet and was therefore sufficiently intrigued to check out what someone told me – and it may even be true – was their only UK performance at the Town Hall on 1st November.

We had seats quite close to the front of the hall and my first surprise was to see how old Wayne Shorter looks, but then I hadn’t appreciated that he is nearly 80.  As he led the Quartet on to the stage,  it was quite noticeable that Pianist Danilo Perez was close behind him with his arms slightly extended in case the main man was to keel over.  Similarly, Shorter was fenced in with the piano at his back, a music stand in front of him and a stool (unused) to his left.  Seemingly, balance is now an issue and there were a couple of points in the performance where he would grab at the piano, presumably in order to support himself.

Wayne Shorter & Danilo Perez at Birmingham Town Hall, 1/11/12

The band were impressive, particularly Blade, who would play as softly as falling thistledown, then  punctuate proceedings with sporadic explosions from his kit that reminded me of Animal from ‘The Muppet Show’.  Patitucci was muscular and effective, despite intermittent technical problems that had techies crawling about underneath the piano in order to sort out the connections to his bass.  Perez, as might be expected of a pianist with a Latin American background, utilised a highly percussive approach with his left hand whilst plunging into occasional rhapsodic interludes.

In amongst all this, Shorter bobbed and weaved with occasional interjections that could best be summed up as intermittent phrases rather than flowing thematic statements.  Unsurprisingly, he was infinitely more fluent on his soprano sax than on his tenor, but even on the soprano, his presence among the shifting ebb and flow of the music was an ephemeral butterfly which flitted and fluttered and occasionally caught the eye (or the ear) without ever really imposing itself on proceedings.

Shorter is, of course, one of the last representatives of that whole post-bebop generation dominated by the likes of Miles, Mingus and Coltrane. Perhaps because of this, there is perhaps a tendency to allow veneration to overcome common sense.  Since this gig, I have read a number of glowing reviews suggesting that here was something extra-special, but the reality is that Shorter’s extremely accomplished quartet spent much of the gig papering over the cracks in their leader’s contributions;  it wasn’t that he was bad per se, but he is 79 and clearly not in the best of health.  Clearly, despite any financial incentives, he cares enough to get up on stage at an age when most of his peers were either dead or retired and that should be applauded.  However, both his contributions and his inspiration are severely diminished from his heyday and what I heard made me a little sad.

Sad, yes, because I never seem to have heard Wayne Shorter at his best in a live setting.  All the previous Weather Report gigs I saw failed to show him at his best; often drowned out by thundering bass guitar or tsunami keyboard washes.  And now, he just doesn’t have the chops any more, I’m afraid and as I close in on my sixtieth birthday,  I am perhaps more aware of  mortality than ever before.  We spend the first 50-odd years of our lives feeling immortal, then wake up to realise that we have very little time left.  Wayne Shorter is one of the last members of a generation whose musical endeavours and achievements have  stretched a long shadow across my life and now virtually all of them are gone.  Only Shorter, Herbie Hancock and McCoy Tyner come to mind as members of a constituency that have retained their abilities into their late 70’s, but it has to be said that Wayne Shorter is just clinging on by his fingernails.

As I remarked to someone afterwards, the problem with sax players is that when they’re young, you just can’t shut them up and when they get to Wayne Shorter’s age, they don’t really have anything left to say or lack the puff to say it. Like the man said,  sic transit gloria mundi……..

Pond-life in SW6…..

Following on from the previous piece, it would seem appropriate to stop and take track of 2 wildly contrasting  Stamford Bridge encounters between Chelsea and Manchester United that have taken place over the last few days. 

Whilst it would be wrong to read too much into 210 minutes of 20-odd blokes chasing an inflated pig’s bladder round a grassy rectangle, these two matches have served to crystallise a few issues – some specific to football and, indeed to the contrasting philosophies of the two clubs, whilst some have wider implications outside the narrow confines of the national pastime.

 Wednesday’s  thrill-a- minute League Cup encounter went to extra time before Chelsea finally got the upper hand and won  5-4.  That followed on from Sunday’s more controversial Premiership encounter that saw Chelsea reduced to 9 players and United winning 3-2.

From a United perspective, the one to win was the Premiership game as Chelsea were starting to pull away at the top of the League.  Having said that, there will  be considerable irritation among United players & staff that we didn’t win the League Cup match as well.  We were probably within about 60 seconds of  a 3-2  victory in ‘normal’ time, when our erratic Portuguese winger,  Nani, decided – not for the first time in the game –  to try something clever when he should have just laid the ball off to a colleague.  Chelsea duly dispossessed him and briskly moved the ball to the other end of the pitch, where Scott Wootton’s clumsy challenge on Ramires produced Chelsea’s second penalty of the game.  Eden Hazard fired it home without undue fuss and we were off into extra time.

However,  I’m getting ahead of myself here….

Going into Sunday’s league game, the context was that Chelsea, newly-minted European champions, had – unlike United – invested heavily during the off-season in a couple of A-list creative  midfielders in the young Brazilian starlet, Oscar, and high-priced Belgian import, Eden Hazard, who joined from Lille.  Hazard was apparently coveted by United as well but ultimately chose to relocate to London rather than venture north in to dark, satanic mill territory.  Oh well, that’s his loss and any disappointment that United fans might have felt about his decision to opt for the nouveaux riches at the Bridge was at least partially offset by Hazard’s bizarre use of ‘social media’ to tease everyone about his destination for a couple of weeks before his transfer went through.  Talented? Undoubtedly.  Dickhead?  In all probability, yes. 

Eden Hazard: “Excusez-moi, mais qu’est-ce que c’est, le ‘Vimto’?”

Chelsea’s winning of the European Cup has caused some pained expressions elsewhere in London – particularly at the Emirates, where Arsenal’s self-proclaimed school of Wenger-driven cultured football has proved unable to deliver anything in the way of silverware for the past 7 years (and counting: see  )

Arsenal fans clearly saw their team as a natural fit for London’s first Champions League winners but have now found themselves gazumped by the spawn of Abramovich’s vulgar spending spree along the King’s Road.  Arsenal may have the history but since the Vieira/Henry era imploded, a succession of talismanic players have either failed to deliver for a  variety of reasons(Arshavin, Wilshere) or have jumped ship (Fabregas).  The latest Gooner icon to abandon north London’s culture club was Robin van Persie, who – to my considerable surprise – has ended up at United.

United’s strategy in recent years – according to their PR schtick – has been to invest only in young players who might have some resale value once they move on.  When Sir Alex Ferguson completed the purchase of 28-year old Dimitar Berbatov back in 2008, he said that Berbatov would be the last such player that United would buy and that they would subsequently concentrate on bringing in or bringing through young players.  Hence my surprise when van Persie,  injury-prone and cusping on his 29th birthday was brought in for big bucks on a 4-year contract in August.

Still can’t quite get used to RvP in United red!

Whatever reservations any of us might have had about RvP’s arrival, he has done his level best to assuage  anyone’s fears by beginning his United career like an express train.  To date, he has scored nine goals in League and European competition and has definitely added considerable menace to our forward threat.  Importantly, he also seems to have established a good rapport with Wayne Rooney, so if we can keep him fit, the portents are promising.

Van Persie also has a terrific goal-scoring record at Stamford Bridge, scoring a hat-trick there for the Gooners in a 5-3 trouncing last year, so he will have had few apprehensions about the game.  However, much of the pre-match chat at the weekend centred around the absence of  CaptainLeaderLegendScumbag John Terry, so beloved of this blog, who had finally deigned to concede that appealing a four match ban for racist remarks he made to Anton Ferdinand of QPR was not worth the extra negative publicity it would bring to him and his club.  He even managed an apology, which whilst extremely general in scope – never specifying Anton Ferdinand as the victim of his remarks –  was more fulsome than anything Luis Suarez managed.  So, Terry banned for both games against United and everyone hoping that with his destiny sorted  for now, football might take over from racism. 

For a while, this seemed a likely outcome on Sunday afternoon as United, generally dozy and dilatory in the opening  minutes of most games this year, came out the traps like greased whippets and opened the scoring after just 3 minutes thanks to a van Persie shot that smashed against the post, rebounded to strike David Lee Roth lookalike David Luiz and from there back into the net.  Just 9 minutes later and it was 2-0 thanks to an even better goal from van Persie. This one began with Rio Ferdinand; roundly booed all afternoon for having the temerity to be Anton’s brother, who scooped a great ball out to Rafael on the right.  The little Brazilian fed it further on for Tony Valencia to chase and once he reached it, he drove a low ball across the Chelsea area and into the path of van Persie, who swept home imperiously from about 8 yards out.

Robin van Persie & Tony Valencia celebrate United’s second goal

On this occasion,  it was Chelsea, not United,  who hadn’t really started playing, but towards half-time, they began to  get back into the game, with Jonny Evans lucky not to join Luiz on the own goal sheet as he deflected a cross against De Gea’s near post. The pressure built and built and just before half-time, the otherwise impressive Wayne Rooney, dispossessed by Hazard about 20 yards out, snapped back at the Belgian with a brainless foul which set up the impressive Juan Mata to curl home a free kick and reduce the arrears.  It felt like United had blown their great start and, sure enough, after the break, Chelsea continued to pressure us, with De Gea making some typically unorthodox stops to keep them out.

In the end, with United on the back foot and the ball pinging backwards & forwards across the goalmouth, it was the diminutive Ramires who got up above the largely disappointing Tom Cleverley to head home an equaliser. With over half an hour left to play, I braced myself for the Chelsea onslaught, so what happened next was more than a little surprising.  Picking up the ball near the halfway line, van Persie played a peach of a through ball into the path of the onrushing Ashley Young, who, as he shaped to shoot from the edge of the area was summarily upended by the uncompromising Branislav Ivanovic.  Clear red card for Ivanovic and a free-kick from a promising position which United duly wasted.  Down to 10 but largely unbowed, Chelsea continued to drive forward and the next significant action saw John Obi Mikel bursting forward into the United half before feeding the ball to Fernando Torres. Confronted by Jonny Evans, Torres pushed the ball past him as Evans went in for the tackle.  If there was contact from Evans, it was minimal and nothing like enough to impede Torres’ forward run.  However, with Rio Ferdinand coming across to cover, Torres could clearly see his options diminishing and – in my opinion – threw himself to the floor.

Referee Mark Clattenburg clearly agreed, rushing past an apprehensive Evans to brandish a yellow card at the kneeling Torres.  This was the Spaniard’s second card, having already been booked for a horrible chest-high ‘tackle’ on Cleverley in the first half.  So, out came the red card and Chelsea were down to nine men.  The atmosphere in the ground, already fairly volatile,  now became toxic as Chelsea fans,  already aggrieved by the John Terry Scandal, now became even more convinced that the world,  and in particular the FA & Mark Clattenburg, were against them.   Every decision in United’s favour was greeted with howls of dismay and anger by the Matthew Harding Stand, but Fergie has been down this road before and after a series of untidy fouls by Wayne Rooney, he was withdrawn in favour of Ryan Giggs – a wise move given that referees often try to ‘even things up’ by issuing a red card to the opposition, even when it isn’t really deserved. 

Javier Hernandez, fresh from scoring twice against Braga during the week, had also been introduced in place of the anodyne Cleverley.  The Mexican, like van Persie, has a terrific scoring record against Chelsea and his movement was soon creating problems for Luiz and Cahill.  Almost inevitably, it was he who scored what proved to be the winning goal on 75 minutes, but this, too, was mired in controversy.  Van Persie received the ball near the penalty spot and whipped in a shot that Cech partly blocked.  The ball spun slowly towards the goal line and a whole posse of players, including Hernandez, converged on it, but it was Cech who fly-hacked it away from the foot of the post.  The ball flew straight to the feet of Fabio, who advanced into the area and smashed in a wildly inaccurate right-footed shot which flew across the face of the goal rather than into it.  Hernandez had by this point disentangled himself from the Chelsea net and he emerged in time to deflect Fabio’s cross-shot into the Chelsea net.

Javier Hernandez wheels away after scoring United’s winner

What was obvious from replays was that Hernandez was either offside or had come back from an offside position before diverting the ball into the net.  He was also unwise enough to celebrate his goal in front of the Matthew Harding Stand, prompting a cascade of debris from the literati of that parish, one piece of which felled a CFC steward, which qualifies as ‘friendly fire’ I suppose.  Chelsea’s players protested the referee’s decision to allow the goal and it was at this point that he seems to have had some verbal exchanges with Juan Mata and John Obi Mikel which were to have further repercussions.  The remaining 15 minutes or so of the game were played out in a rancorous atmosphere where every decision that went against Chelsea was greeted with abuse and hostility.  Tony Valencia was booked for ‘simulation’ – a quite ludicrous decision and an obvious attempt by Clattenburg to redress the balance – and then missed a gilt-edged chance to make the result doubly secure, miscuing horribly when it looked easier to score.

And that appeared to be that; the final whistle went, the Chelsea fans booed, the United fans celebrated and the gap at the top was closed to a point.  However, in the aftermath, stories began to emerge about some of the verbal exchanges between Clattenburg and certain Chelsea players – specifically Mikel and Mata.  Said exchanges were allegedly racist in tone and though Mata’s complaint has now been quietly dropped,   Chelsea are pursuing Mikel’s accusation that Clattenburg called him a ‘monkey’.  Suddenly, the whole ‘racism in football’ issue, which the FA and numerous other bastions of the sport and the media no doubt hoped was about to recede into the  background, was back on the front page again.

Clattenburg and Mikel in discussions 

Various investigations are now under way, but there are suggestions that a deputation of Chelsea players and staff paid a visit to the referee’s dressing room 15 minutes after the game ended, in clear contravention of all the relevant rules.  It would seem that Chelsea are not only developing an almost Scouser-esque taste for self-pity and victimisation, but are also becoming a lightning rod for controversy.  Clattenburg has denied any wrongdoing and the assistants who could hear his remarks in their headsets have been quick to defend him.  Unless Mikel and Chelsea have some killer evidence, they seem likely to emerge from this self-inflicted scenario with their already tarnished reputation further diminished.  It’s good to see them wearing their European Champions crown with such dignity.

Anyway, whatever the outcome of the Clattenburg /Mikel affair, what was beyond doubt was that Chelsea and United had a repeat engagement just 3 days later in the League Cup.  United had a far larger ticket allocation for this cup-tie and a large and noisy entourage effectively took over the whole of The Shed end.  Mancunian wags had been busy producing posters, too, with this one parodying Chelsea’s John Terry love-in…..

This one, meanwhile, though a good deal less sophisticated, did a good job in celebrating Chelsea’s sudden conversion to the anti-racist lobby…

For this League Cup tie, Fergie fielded a team that had far more of a makeshift feel to it, with a mixture of fringe players and youngsters lining up against a  Chelsea team that was more experienced and featured a bench filled with  expensive talent. 

Chelsea had the better of the early stages with Sturridge tripping over the ball when in on goal, but it was United who took the lead thanks to some determined pressing high up the pitch .  Cech played a short goal kick out to Romeu, who dwelt on it, allowing Andes Ron to get a foot in and toe-end the ball away to Giggs. who had time to compose himself before curling a precise shot just inside Cech’s right-hand post.  An impressive finish to finish off some equally impressive work from Andes Ron, who had one of his best games for United.

Chelsea, however, were soon level, thanks to the pace and persistence of Victor Moses who was already giving Alex Büttner a tough time.  Another driving run and an injudicious lunge by Büttner  – a clear penalty, which  Luiz just squeezed past Lindegaard’s dive.

 Chelsea’s David Luiz

Despite this setback, United kept pushing forward in what was proving to be a breezily open encounter.  United retook the lead just ahead of half-time thanks to another great bit of work from Andes Ron, who sent Hernandez through with a precise pass after Poodle Boy Luiz had given the ball away in midfield.  A great first touch from the Mexican and a low shot made it 2-1 at the interval.

Andes Ron – impressive performance  from a guy I’d written off.

Into the second half and Fergie replaced the struggling Büttner with Nick Powell and the ex-Crewe midfielder soon brought Cech into action with a low drive that forced the Chelsea keeper into a sprawling save.

United’s makeshift centre-back pairing of Scott Wootton (21) and Michael Keane (19) had done pretty well up until this point, but the whole defence were looking shaky at set pieces, so Chelsea’s equaliser just on the hour mark came as no real surprise – Cahill arriving at pace to bullet a  free header  past Lindegaard.

Di Matteo now began to wheel out the big guns, with Hazard replacing the ineffectual Piazon.  Again, though, it was United who got their noses in front thanks to the goal of the night scored by the enigma-wrapped-in-a-conundrum that is Luis Nani.  A spectacularly slick interchange with that man Andes Ron saw Nani running free about 8 yards out on the angle and his dinked finish over the advancing Cech was just perfect. 

More big guns from Chelsea as Oscar replaced Romeu and with Andes Ron’s puzzling lack of fitness finally beginning to tell and the less experienced Ryan Tunnicliffe being introduced , it had really become a question of whether a substantially ‘greener’ United line-up could hold out.  Until Nani’s moment of unneccessary showboating United were close, but with Hazard drilling home the penalty with the last kick of the 90 minutes, we were into extra time and the momentum was definitely with Chelsea.

Poor Scott Wootton had already given away that penalty and he was at fault again early in the first period of extra time, trying to head a ball he should have left alone and simply playing in Daniel Sturridge for a routine finish.  With United looking stretched, Hazard broke away and dummied several United defenders before playing in Ramires for a simple finish.  At 5-3, that looked to be it, but then Hernandez was clattered by Spanish full-back Azpilicueta and Giggs slotted home another penalty to make it 5-4 in injury time at the end of extra time.

That was to be it, however; no more miracles and though United will have been disappointed to  lose having pushed Chelsea so close, they will know that Di Matteo had to wheel out most of his available ‘big guns’ to earn a hard-fought victory.  Youngsters like Michael Keane and Ryan Tunnicliffe will have learned a great deal from such a defeat and it will probably help them mature and progress.   Keane, in particular, played brilliantly for much of the game and once his brother, Will, is fit again, I think we can look forward to another set of brothers as first-team regulars, as with the Nevilles and the Greenhoffs in earlier years.

Chelsea can look forward to a period of controversy as the Clattenburg Fiasco is resolved, but their cause hasn’t been helped by the long lenses of the tabloids, who captured a particularly noxious piece of pond-life named Gavin Kirkham in the Matthew Harding Stand making monkey-like gestures towards United’s Danny Welbeck, albeit at some distance.

Gavin Kirkham; another of Chelsea’s diamond geezer supporters

Here’s how young Gavin likes to spend his time when he’s not making racist  gestures at black footballers…..

N.B. ‘Playboy’ pillowcases – Gavin is clearly a ‘renaissance man’!

Obviously with fans like Gavin packing out the Matthew Harding Stand, the case against Mark Clattenburg is as good as proven.  It must offend the season ticket holders at such a hotbed of racial egalitarianism that a referee can abuse black footballers in the way Clattenburg has done.  Shocking……