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Chelsea vs. City: 50-50 Challenge

50-50 Challenge

Grudge match kicks off new English season

50-50 Challenge
 By Adam Hurrey

Community Shield value shown by a history of memorable moments

The merciful silver lining to the punishingly compressed preseason cloud is that several English and Belgian players will be spared the dubious honour of ending one season and starting the next by participating in two of the most meaningless games in football. That's right: Just 22 days after the World Cup third-place playoff, Chelsea and Manchester City will drag themselves out at Wembley for the Community Shield on Sunday (10 a.m. ET, ESPN+).

However, as the traditional structure of the close season and its three perennial stages -- reflection, disconnection, anticipation -- evolves amid time off for some stars following international exertions and foreign tours for those who remain, the status of the new campaign's "curtain raiser" looks increasingly tenuous.

But beyond how the Community Shield -- once a clear sign to English clubs and their fans that "proper" football was about to start again -- might be defined these days, it is worth recalling what it has meant down the years. From punch-ups to glimpses of potential and goalkeepers taking penalties, this fixture has provided many a fond memory.

Letting off some preseason steam

Pitting together as it does the winners of the previous season's league and FA Cup in a one-off showdown, the Community (née Charity) Shield can be the stage for some marvellously personal score-settling.

The template will forever be the 1974 edition between Liverpool and Leeds, which warmed up with brutal fouls from Tommy Smith and Norman Hunter and then reached its climax in the second half when the irritatingly energetic Kevin Keegan was punished for his dogged pressing with a right hook from Johnny Giles and then, moments later, another strike from Billy Bremner.

Before and after the turn of the millennium, perennial winners Manchester United were at the heart of most aggravation. In 2000, three years after welcoming Chelsea's Gustavo Poyet to English football with a whack on the head in the same fixture, Roy Keane livened up proceedings by earning straight red for applying Irish studs to Uruguayan calf.

Then, in 2003, the simmering United-Arsenal pot was given a friendly stir at Cardiff's Millennium Stadium. Phil Neville and Ashley Cole were booked for late tackles within the first 72 seconds, before Eric Djemba-Djemba somehow got away with planting his studs into Sol Campbell's groin and Francis Jeffers was sent off for kicking a grounded Neville approximately six inches from the referee.

A strange-shaped trophy it might be, but the Shield is still a trophy. Throw in the baking early August sunshine, subtract a preseason half-yard of match sharpness and you tend to find some surprising tempers.

Getting mistakes out of the way

As a glorified friendly -- until 1992, the Shield was often shared if the game was drawn -- this match should still be one last opportunity to blow away any footballing cobwebs. However, given the inherent prestige of any Wembley fixture, the inevitable remnants of ring-rust can be a little more significant.

Take, for example, Liverpool goalkeeper Bruce Grobbelaar's 1984 slapstick own goal in Everton's favour: an instinctive, shinned finish into the bottom corner.

In 1997, English football had only embraced players' names on the back of shirts for a mere four years, which apparently wasn't enough experience for the Manchester United kitman to ensure that the up-and-coming youngster David Beckham's surname was spelled correctly.

Freak occurrences

One-off games deserve one-off moments. As such, the 1967 Charity Shield -- a thoroughly enjoyable 3-3 draw between Manchester United and Tottenham at Old Trafford -- is remembered for one thing and one thing only: Spurs goalkeeper Pat Jennings scoring via a clearance from his own penalty area.

The entire stadium reacted with the sort of muted hubbub that normally greets a horrific injury or half-hearted pitch invader. Even the commentator, the great Kenneth Wolstenholme, was reduced to some befuddled syllables: "Ooh!...'s... a fantastic effort... Jennings has scored... for... Tottenham!"

Announcing yourself

The competitive status of the game is something of a moral grey area that is governed awkwardly by the "Trophy if You Win, Just a Friendly if You Lose" rule, but it is nevertheless a high-profile way of laying down a gauntlet for the season ahead.

In 1992, the first Premier League-era Charity Shield was a highly telegenic seven-goal thriller between Leeds and Liverpool. What it lacked in the sheer nastiness of its 1974 prequel, it made up for with this from Gordon Strachan, as well as the sheer star quality of Eric Cantona, who scored a hat trick in Leeds' 4-3 win. 

"He's got exceptional potential, but he's got to keep hard at it," Leeds manager Howard Wilkinson said after the game. Cantona joined Manchester United three months later and the rest is history.

Meanwhile, though new signings might have the burden of a price tag, they retain an all-conquering air until they prove otherwise. With that in mind, Chelsea's £30 million outlay on a nearly 30-year-old Andriy Shevchenko in 2006 looked like reasonable business after 43 minutes against Liverpool...

... only for his Stamford Bridge career to crumble into something of a sorry mess within months. Beware the false prophecy of the Community Shield.

Low-pressure theatre

The trouble with the delicate balancing act of 1) trying to win the Community Shield and 2) trying to pretend it doesn't matter if you don't win the Community Shield, is that penalty shootouts are all-or-nothing. Saving one is still hugely thrilling, while missing remains a crushing experience.

With that in mind, there have still been novel moments when deciding the destination of the silverware. In 1993, it came down to David Seaman having to beat Peter Schmeichel from 12 yards; in hindsight, he perhaps lacked the spot-kick pedigree to be trying the one-step approach.

If Schmeichel's reaction was sympathetic toward a fellow member of the Goalkeepers' Union, he was in no such mood against Chelsea four years later. After saving Frank Sinclair's tame effort, the Great Dane got up to thwart the futile follow-up and then left Sinclair in no doubt that he was ready for a third attempt.

The Community Shield is not the first age-old fixture of the football calendar to struggle to keep up with modern developments -- the FA Cup also faces an annual struggle to justify its own existence -- but its importance remains in the eye of the beholder.

For fans still programmed to read too much into performances from undercooked players still feeling the effects of double training sessions, the raising of the season's curtain seems to arrive a little early.

However, with nine months of near-unbearable, high-pressure football around the corner, perhaps the Community Shield should be enjoyed for the purely ornamental, administrative event that it is.

Adam Hurrey analyses the language of football. You can follow him on Twitter: @FootballCliches.


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