Match of the Day is always worth watching when it promises the extra frisson of a Chelsea player being punched unconsciousness. I’m not a spiteful man, but I would have been content if the Beeb had lingered over a few more replays of Didier Drogba getting socked in the jaw by Norwich’s goalkeeper. Spinning and gangling, Drogba was sleeping like a baby long before he hit the ground, and the 5.9 the judges awarded meant nothing to him as he was stretchered away under an oxygen mask.
Then the incredulity began. “Didier,” they said gravely. “Could be out for several weeks.” Come again? Several weeks? I thought this guy was supposed to be tough? Football’s most physical striker, in its most physical league? And he’s going to cry off for a month with faceache? What Drogba may not know is that there is already a high watermark for how strikers should behave when unconscious, set in 1991 by Lee Chapman. If Drogba were to see the video of what happened to Chappy, he may count himself lucky. He might also be sick. It happened at White Hart Lane, when Chapman ran down a loose ball near the dugouts – what he was doing out of the penalty area, I have no idea. Steve Sedgley tried to hook the ball back into play, and instead hooked Chapman’s head out of it. Lee was knocked out instantly, and fell on to the cinder running track around the pitch. All six-foot-two of Chapman landed on his face. And then he slid two feet across the cinders. On his face.
How long was he unconscious for? A couple of minutes. Chapman was revived and led away to the dressing room, protected by that most sophisticated of medical appliances, a towel. Things were, actually, quite serious. Chapman had cuts full of grit that had to be cleaned out, and a plastic surgeon was required to pull the skin of Chappy’s forehead down to cover the bridge of his nose. He looked like he’d been in a car crash, and his kids wouldn’t go near him.
That was Saturday, and the following Sunday Leeds had a televised League Cup semi-final to play – at Old Trafford. With a real chance of winning a trophy, this was a massive game against our newly reacquainted rivals, but it looked much less winnable without our talismanic top scorer. The solution? Simple. Rub some vaseline on Chappy’s face, send him out there, and hope his nose doesn’t fall off.
Leeds didn’t win the game, but Chapman played the full ninety in usual Chapman style; and next day the back pages exulted in photos of his heroics. I never thought I’d get to the age when I’d say stuff like this, but here I am: Didier Drogba? He ain’t fit to clean the blood off Lee Chapman’s boots.
From The Square Ball magazine 2011/12 issue two.