It would be tempting to indulge in some footballing revisionism and claim that the Community (née Charity) Shield has fallen from grace. In truth, the breathless football calendar – with what now passes for a close season – has simply buried whatever curtain-raising thrill we might have felt whenever the fixture comes round.
The Shield has, fortunately, remained fairly intact from commercial tinkering. There have been no efforts to rebrand it as the English “Super Cup”, while tentative whispers of taking the annual showdown abroad have so far been resisted by the enduring appeal of Wembley – although it seems inevitable that it will eventually follow the lead of the Supercoppa Italiana, which has been transplanted to New Jersey, Beijing, Doha and Riyadh in recent years and was even held in the Libyan capital of Tripoli as far back as 2002.
While the weeds of the bloated International Champions Cup (18 teams, 23 venues, virtually nobody caring) grow around it, though, the Community Shield endures as the emotional gateway to the new season. It’s a one-off, 90-minute game – unlike the two-legged inconvenience of the Spanish Super Cup – and retains most of the pomp and ceremony of an actual final…just without any of the anticipatory spirit or the gnawing tension.
The real problem with the Community Shield – being, as it is, the first official day back at school for players, managers, fans, correspondents, and so on – is that it compels us to read far too much into its contents. Long seasons ahead are diagnosed on the basis of one second-gear defeat to a rival, even before the whole squad has reconvened after their summer exploits and, conversely, its winners are simply off to an artificially flying start.
So, with the intention of reading too much into the practice of reading too much into something, what are the cautionary tales of getting carried away by the cumbersome, octagonal honour of the Community Shield?
The Curse of the Community Shield?
A phenomenon noted as far back as 2005, since when plenty have pointed out that Community Shield victory is not much of an indicator of success for the forthcoming season. Only seven of its 26 winners in the Premier League era went on to be champions the following May, including a particularly inglorious period of eight clubs in a row between 1997 and 2004 who fell short in the league after lifting the Shield back in August. Even the kit-men were getting complacent about the whole thing.
Correlation 1 Causation 0 (latest score) perhaps: after all, the Treble-winning Manchester United side of 1998/99 flew out of the blocks with a 3-0 defeat to Arsenal, while Arsene Wenger’s Invincibles of 2003/04 started off in eminently vincible style by losing on penalties to United in Cardiff.
Shields are down for Arsenal
Under Arsene Wenger’s stewardship, Arsenal account for seven of the last 20 Community Shield wins, but their trophy haul from those seasons extends to just three FA Cups.
It might not be complete coincidence that this particular penchant for premature silverwaring – the Gunners have comprehensively beaten Manchester City and, twice, edged out Chelsea in the last four Shields – belongs to a club whose collective emotional state over the last decade has veered from one extreme to the other, often in the space of a few days and on the back of one or two results.
Quite simply, beating a bitter rival with the nation’s undivided attention in the late-summer Wembley sunshine is not a habit for the easily excitable.
Andriy Shevchenko’s curtain-raising audition
“Everybody knows him as a player, tactically he can play in the Chelsea system no doubt.”
The dubious wisdom of spending a club-record £30m on Andriy Shevchenko in a misguided attempt to kick on from two successive league titles might have become clear in hindsight, but Jose Mourinho would have been forgiven for being hugely satisfied with his new man’s introduction to English football.
Chelsea went on to lose the 2006 Community Shield to Liverpool, but Andriy Shevchenko’s 44th-minute equaliser exuded the sort of elite-level quality that Mourinho had been hoping to add to a club still trying to make a Champions League impact with their Roman Abramovich windfall.
That instant control on the chest and immaculate side-footed finish was supposed to be the start of a talismanic highlight reel in a Chelsea shirt. Instead, just four Premier League goals that season and an alarmingly swift physical demise that culminated in former Olympic athlete Darren Campbell being hired to train Shevchenko how to sprint again.
Kolasinac’s fleeting cult heroism
Heroes are anointed rather easily these days, and cult heroes – a very specific heroism sub-genre – are especially prone to the hype. When the Range Rover-shaped Bosnian defender Sead Kolasinac rocked up at the Emirates last summer, and announced himself with a crashing header against Chelsea in the Community Shield, the Arsenal fans fell instantly in love.
That affection was enhanced by wide-eyed accounts of Kolasinac’s prodigious work in the London Colney weights room – “an absolute tank,” enthused Theo Walcott, “honestly, he is an absolute animal. He’s incredible” – only for him to drift towards the periphery of Arsene Wenger’s squad as the season wore on. But he will always have Wembley.
No charity for David Moyes
The words “David Moyes era” spent only a brief summer together but, after his first official engagement as Manchester United manager earned him his one and only piece of silverware, there was hope that Sir Alex Ferguson’s terrified-looking successor would finally be able to settle into the job.
Relegated Wigan hadn’t put up a fight at Wembley, though, and the Community Shield’s often irresistible status as the platform for hopes and dreams eventually claimed another victim: Moyes was sacked just ten months into his five-year contract.