Tales From The Beautiful North.

Hull City vs. Chelsea : 22 March 2015

On the long car journey north to Humberside for our match with Hull City, one thing was agreed; this was a “must win” game. Our main title rivals Manchester City had easily won at home to West Brom on the Saturday, thus narrowing the gap at the top of the league table to three points, although Arsenal were closing in too. With ten games left for us this season, there were still many points up for grabs. Although the end of the campaign seemed somewhat nearer, over a quarter of the season was still left to play. There were obviously many points to win, but also many points to lose.  After faltering performances against PSG and Southampton at Stamford Bridge, the Chelsea army were travelling north with a hope that we would see a much-needed win. This was no time for the weak-hearted, among players or supporters. Despite the long day ahead, it felt good to be back on the road following the team once again.

It was, in fact, the second football away day of my weekend. On the Saturday, I was at a loose end and decided to head down to the neighbouring county of Dorset to watch my local team Frome Town play at Dorchester Town in a relegation dog-fight in the Southern League. I thoroughly enjoyed myself; it was a glorious day for football, with the early spring sun combining with clear skies overhead.  I watched from the very rear row of the impressive main stand of Dorchester’s neat stadium, The Avenue. I remember that Chelsea, in October 1990, were the first team to play at Dorchester’s new ground, although I didn’t attend. I was dismayed when Dorchester went ahead with a quarter of an hour to go, but ex-Bristol Rovers forward Lewis Haldane equalised for Frome with five minutes to go. I roared from my seat and punched the air; ah, I love how the simple pleasure of a goal can produce such emotion. It was a well-deserved draw. I had bumped into a handful of friends at the game. It was a super day out. Unbeknown to me at the time, Dorchester’s assistant manager is Nick Crittenden, who played a couple of games for Chelsea in around 1997.

The chap filming the match for the home club was positioned only a few yards to my left. My shout of “yes, come on” when Haldane scored can clearly be heard at 7 minutes, 49 seconds.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9yDHbIqXuq8

The second day of my footballing weekend began at around 7.30am on the Sunday when I collected PD Wetherspoon and Lord Parky soon after. The two of them were soon opening up the first of their cans of cider. We were on our way.

This was a bittersweet trip for me. At the time of our game at Hull City in January last year, my mother was in relatively good health. However, just after – the following Friday – Mum was stricken with arthritis and her life changed. As is my wont, I always seem to remember landmark events in my life with football matches; Hull City on Saturday 11th January 2014 was one of them. How I wished that things could have stayed the same as on that day, with my mother in robust health, contented. As I ate up the miles on my way to Kingston-upon- Hull, my dear Mum would never be far from my thoughts.

This would be my sixth visit to the much-derided city on the banks of the River Humber. My first visit came in the autumn of 1973 when my parents took me on a day trip, while staying with friends in nearby Grimsby. There were two visits to Hull with work – P&O Ferrymasters had an office just under the impressive Humber Bridge – in 2003 and 2008. Memorably, towards the end of an important meeting in 2008, my boss nobly excused me with the following comment –

“Right, at this point, we are allowing Chris to head off down to London for tonight’s Chelsea game.”

At 4pm, I set off and tried my best to get down to Stamford Bridge for the Reading game. I was on target, but hit some nasty traffic around Luton, and parked-up just as I heard the crowd roar a Michael Ballack goal. I got in just before half-time and my unbeaten home run – which eventually stalled at 240 games – was able to continue.

This would be my third visit with Chelsea.

I was hoping that I would get a chance to take a look around the city’s marina before the game; Hull is not known as a particularly interesting city, but I was hoping to unearth a few hidden jewels. Last season, on that fateful day, I was fed-up that I had travelled all that way “just” for ninety minutes of football. I’m always a bit dismayed by stereotypical views of cities in the north being grim and unwelcoming. I was hoping that Hull might surprise me. Last season, I mentioned that Hull was where one of my favourite bands, Everything But The Girl, were formed. It was also where The Housemartins – who morphed into The Beautiful South, an ironic stab at London and the Home counties by the band members – were formed at around the same time.

On this day of football, I was hoping for anything but London 0 Hull 4.

Despite some speed restrictions north of Nottingham on the M1, we made good time and I was parked-up in the city centre at around 12.15pm. It had taken four hours and three-quarters. There would be similar travel times for the majority of other Chelsea fans.

We based ourselves in a large, but bland, city centre pub called “The Admiral Of The Humber.” Pints of cider at just £2.25 made PD and Parky smile. We were joined by two-transatlantic visitors; Tuna from Atlanta and Luke from Boston. Luke was back in England for his father’s funeral, and it was the first time that I had met him, having befriended me on Facebook via a couple of other mates in Boston. Luke grew up close by, in Wiltshire, before heading off to fresh fields.

Tuna, Luke and I left the drinkers to it, watching the Liverpool vs. Manchester United game, while we visited the marina on a quick little walking tour. The weather was perfect and it was good to get out of the pub for a while. We chatted about all sorts, and were impressed with a few quaint side streets. A historic pub – red brick, real ales, far more interesting than the other one – was highlighted for our next visit. At 3pm we took a cab to the stadium.

The Chelsea contingent this season was wrapped around a corner flag, rather than being right behind the goal; Alan, Gary and I took our seats a few rows back. The KC Stadium is a pleasing stadium, with a main stand that rises over the other three sides, like a mini version of The Etihad. The locals love their amber and black bar scarves.

Manchester United had won at Anfield, and closed in on us too. The pressure was on.

Pressure, what pressure?

After just two minutes, the ball was worked to Eden Hazard, who advanced on goal. With a swing of his left leg, he hit a perfect shot past McGregor in the Hull goal. I was right in line with the flight of the ball, as I often am. Get in.

We were one up and flying.

Hull then had a great chance to level, with Hernandez breezing past a static defensive line, but Thibaut Courtois blocked the shot with ease.

After nine minutes, Cesc Fabregas picked out Diego Costa, who ran at the Hull defence down the left flank. I was expecting a cross, but instead, he curled the ball past the ‘keeper and the ball nestled inside the far post. It was, frankly, a relief to see our striker back among the goals.

Two up and flying high.

This was ridiculous; two shots, two goals.

There was talk of another “Swansea” and a repetition of our five goals.

We then appeared to go to pieces. What a strange sport this can be. From a position of strength, and with our confidence presumably high, we collectively collapsed. Hull were excellent, moving the ball well, and causing panic in our defensive third. Our midfield were second best and the anxiety within the away contingent grew with each passing minute.

On twenty-seven minutes, Robertson easily escaped a poor challenge by Ivanovic and rattled in a perfect low ball in to the six yard box. The prod from Elmohamady just beat out an attempted clearance from Filipe Luis and Hull were back in the game. Just one minute later, yet more calamity. Ivanovic played a back-pass back to Courtois, but instead of a “safety first” approach, which could have involved him hacking the ball off for a throw, our young ‘keeper attempted to play the ball back to Ivanovic, but Hernandez nipped in to equalise.

The home crowd roared. Egg on faces. Ugh.

Nerves were frayed now. Our play continued to disappoint. At the break, a friend texted me to say that shots on goal in the first-half were –

Hull 14 London 3.

There was talk of tough games against Arsenal – not out of the title race – and Liverpool and Manchester United. There was talk of our lead being frittered away. Our collapse was mysterious; everywhere in the team, with maybe one or two exceptions, players were poor shadows of themselves. We needed another invigorating team talk from the manager.

Thankfully, after the break, we enjoyed most – if not all – of the early possession and we were able to threaten the Hull goal. Chances came and went, but McGregor wasn’t overly tested. We were at last finding space out wide, but a goal would not come. Ivanovic, Matic and Fabregas did not impress. All three were poor. With one mistimed challenge by Ivanovic, both Gary and myself likened the splayed legs of our big Serbian to that of Devon Loch, the horse who bizarrely stumbled, mid canter, on the homeward segment of the Grand National. A bad omen, surely, as we approached the final few hurdles of this long campaign.

Oscar came on for Ramires.

Then, against the run of play – completely – Hull broke away and a piece of sublime football followed. Thibaut Courtois, making up for his previous error, made three amazing saves from Elmohamady, Livermore and Ramirez in the same move. It was an astounding succession of saves. It reminded me of Jim Montgomery’s saves in the 1973 Cup Final.

Loic Remy – the oddly forgotten man – came on for Diego Costa.

Within two minutes, Willian – increasingly involved down below me – played in Remy who struck a low shot towards goal. The hapless McGregor was able to block, but not fully, and the ball had just enough momentum to roll slowly over the line.

We roared again.

A quiet away following were now roused and we turned the air blue.

A few late scares came to nothing.

We held on.

The final whistle blew.

I pointed skywards.

Phew.

Hull 2 London 3.

I turned to Alan and Gary –

“I’ll tell you what. City will be absolutely gutted, gutted with the way we won that, playing poorly, but still winning.”

We all met up outside and walked back to the city centre, where Luke and Tuna were parked too. I remarked to Tuna –

“Kinda reminds me of a game around this time of year, thirty-one years ago, when we came back from 0-3 down to draw 3-3 at Cardiff. Different result, but same feeling.”

At 6.45pm, we left the city, with Tuna driving right behind me. The sun was setting beyond the Humber Bridge, the crescent moon high, the sky clear. Again, another long journey lie ahead, and I reached home at 11.30pm. It was another four hours and three-quarters on the road.

It had been a very strange game of football. We had struggled throughout the game and doubts about our championship calibre would no doubt be raised by those both inside and outside our football club. Our current form is quite poor, and we have nine games left to win our fifth league title. There is worry in the air. However, remember this; in forty-five competitive games this season, we have lost just three.

Championship form?

The next nine games will answer that question.

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Tales From Mothering Sunday.

Chelsea vs. Southampton : 15 March 2015.

On the eve of Chelsea’s clash with Southampton, I visited the local music venue in my home town. Big Country – or at least the latest incarnation, with Bruce Watson and Mark Brezezicki as the two original members being augmented by three others – played a tight and evocative set at Frome’s “Cheese & Grain” and I thoroughly enjoyed it. The swirling guitars brought back memories of a time in the mid-‘eighties when they were one of my favourite bands. There was one very specific memory. It is football-related. Does that surprise anyone?

On St. Valentine’s Day in 1986, Chelsea played a Friday night friendly against Rangers at Ibrox Stadium. I was at college in Stoke-on-Trent and with time on my hands. I only found out about the game late on but I quickly managed to get a message to a mate who was studying at Strathclyde University. I asked him if I could crash at his flat and I bought a train ticket. I was on my way to Glasgow to follow Chelsea and it would be the most exotic trip of my Chelsea story at that time. Excited? You bet. The one thing that sticks in my mind features the train trip through the Southern Uplands, north of Gretna, south of Carstairs, when a fellow passenger had an old-school stereo system and played the Big Country’s debut album “The Crossing.” It seemed a bit of a cliché at the time, but it was the perfect addition to our trip north through snow-dusted hills. Magical memories.

“I’m not expecting to grow flowers in the desert, but I can live and breathe and see the sun in wintertime.”

The night also brought a few bittersweet memories too. The guitars, often sounding at times like bagpipes, and the lyrics, paying homage to Scotland’s dramatic countryside and gritty urban landscape, brought back vivid memories of my trips to Scotland with my mother over the past twenty years. How Mum enjoyed those trips north. Our list of towns visited list like a Proclaimers song; Edinburgh, Glasgow, Perth, Stirling, Brechin, Inverness, The Kyle Of Localsh, Portree, Inverness, Arbroath, Dundee. At times my eyes were moist.

After my mother’s passing, it has been a difficult time, but I have slowly improved. With the weekend – including Mother’s Day – following hard on the heels of the funeral on the Thursday, I felt that an important staging post would soon be reached. As far as the grieving process was concerned, I likened it to a Winston Churcill quote. The weekend would not mark the end, nor even the beginning of the end, but it would mark the end of the beginning. Since many close friends read these match reports, and since I feel it appropriate to do so, I include herein the eulogy that I wrote for my dear mother and which the vicar shared with those attending the service on Thursday 12 March.

IMG_1136 My dear mother Esmé lived a most wonderful life.

Mum was born on the third of January 1930 in one of the small cottages opposite The Talbot Inn, not more than one hundred yards from this beautiful church and lived virtually her entire life in her beloved Mells. Mum was an only child, born to two devoted parents; Ted Draper, a gardener, and his wife Blanche, a cook and housewife. Mum attended the local village school and there is no doubt that she had an idyllic childhood in this rural haven, making friends and enjoying the comforts of her family. The church was never far away, physically and spiritually. Life was simple, but rich with love. Her father would sometimes have the use of the parish vicar’s motor car and there were trips to visit local family but also occasional trips to the seaside. What a treat for young Esmé.

After excelling in the “eleven plus” at Mells School, my mother attended Frome Grammar School, cycling in from her village for the first few years. Although her studies were under the dark cloud of war, my mother had a carefree time. Mum studied hard and again excelled in all subjects. Rather reluctantly, I feel, Mum played as a goalkeeper in the girl’s school hockey team alongside her three great friends Barbara, Mary and Marda. During the war, there were occasional dances at the village hall. Mum passed all of her exams and began a teacher training course at a college in Bath. However, Mum soon decided that this was not for her and so began working as a dispensing chemist at a shop in Frome’s Cheap Street.

Just after the war, Mum travelled to Hanover in Germany with several other teenagers; it was one of the first ever exchanges after the hostilities. My mother had a wonderful time in Germany, making great friends with Liesel, the young German girl whose house Mum stayed in. While working at Roberts Chemists, my mother’s wavy hair and sparkling blue eyes attracted the attention of Reg Axon, a shy shopkeeper working a few doors away at John Dance. My father summoned some courage to ask my mother out and the rest, as they say, is history.

My parents married on April 25th 1957 in this very building. They honeymooned in London and set up home in New Street. They were, I am sure, blissfully happy. My parents were incredibly well suited. Both were kind and gentle, both loved home life. My mother moved on to work in a women’s clothes shop, again in Cheap Street. Of course, my parents longed for children. After eight years of waiting, I was born on 6th July 1965. However, my birth was tinged with sadness since my twin brother was stillborn. It is something which weighed heavily on my mother’s mind for many years. Both my mother and I contracted salmonella – I was born prematurely – and it was a miracle that I lived. For the first few weeks, Mum stayed in a nursing home, while I remained in an incubator at hospital; the distance between us must have been unbearable for dear Mum.

I know it sounds like a cliché, but my parents really were the best parents in the world.

They were always so industrious and busy. Both enjoyed gardening, but my mother’s great talent was as a home-maker and especially as a cook. Visiting friends and relatives often gasped at the enormity of the “spread” which Mum conjured up, with the dining room table creaking under the weight of sandwiches, sausage rolls, cakes, trifles and desserts. I always remember a Canadian relative talking in awe of the “suppers” which Mum provided. Nobody ever went hungry in the Axon household.

As I followed Mum’s path, with attendance at schools in Mells and then Frome, my mother continued to work tirelessly, maintaining her parents’ house in addition to her own. Mum was also a great servant to the village too, assisting in church affairs, village fetes and various committees. My mother also kept a close eye on those in the village who required an extra little care and attention. This was probably Mum’s greatest attribute; the selfless willingness to put others first.

Sadly, my mother often suffered with asthma and was admitted to hospital on several occasions.

In 1974, my parents announced that they were to take me to Stamford Bridge to see Chelsea for the very first time. For that simple act, I owe them so much. Our summer holidays were great highlights; there were five trips to Italy and Austria. Diano Marina in Italy was our favourite destination and in 1975 I ended-up playing football on the beach with a young Italian boy called Mario. Thanks to my mother, who swapped addresses with Mario’s mother, we became pen friends. We are still friends to this day.

My school days were not always happy and at times of upset and distress, my mother was always there to comfort me and to take away my pain. Through my teenage years, Mum suffered a little with depression and if I am truthful, our relationship became a little fraught. When I left Mells to go to college in Stoke-on-Trent in 1984, I am sure my mother missed me tremendously. Mum’s frequent letters to me throughout my three years in Staffordshire were testament to this. My parents continued to enjoy their holidays; there was a grand tour of Italy, and also a skiing trip to Austria. Yes, my mother has skied. How wonderful is that?

However, at the end of the ‘eighties, my mother lost both parents within ten months. Mum had cared for her parents, virtually until the end. The losses of her mother in April 1988 and her father in February 1989 were huge. Depression returned once again and my mother was in a fragile state of mind. I toured North America for ten months at around this time; looking back, I am sure Mum missed me enormously. On my return in 1990, things gradually improved and in 1991 my parents departed on a three month “round the world” trip, taking in Hong Kong, Singapore, Brisbane, Fiji, Hawaii, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, San Francisco and Vancouver. Sadly, my mother contracted shingles just before the start and the trip was cut short. The planned visits to Toronto, New York and Philadelphia never materialised. But more of that later.

In April 1993, my dear father passed away at the age of sixty-nine. The sense of loss was huge, but I was immediately impressed with my mother’s strength and resilience. We became significantly closer. For the next few years, Mum’s depression came and went at regular intervals. We visited Scotland every autumn for six years and how Mum enjoyed these trips. When depression lifted, Mum would resume her high levels of industry in the home and village, enjoyed coach trips with other villagers and continued to attend the church. After a while, shopping trips to Frome faded, and despite occasional car trips with me, Mum rarely ventured from Mells. Our cat Gemma was a lovely companion. Mum especially enjoyed watching Formula One on TV. I even caught her watching some Italian football occasionally.

There were trips to Calais, Cornwall and North Wales. In truth, my mother first started to suffer with dementia in around 2005. Its advance was slow, but steady. Throughout it all, my mother remained happy and contented. As I moved between jobs, my mother was keen to hear of my progress and Mum took great delight in hearing of my travels. Her cheerfulness was an inspiration. There were visits to local pubs for Sunday lunch and one or two trips to Chelsea. Friends and relatives called in to see Mum. Life had changed, but things were still fine.

In around 2009, Mum began visiting a local dementia centre and then carers called in to keep an eye on her while I was at work. Mum visited both Critchill Court and Emma Shepherd Day Care Centre over the past few years; as recently as fourteen months ago, Mum was heading in to Frome on four days each week.

In September 2010, I took my dear mother to the United States for an unforgettable week. We were based in Philadelphia – where our relatives resided in the nineteenth century for a few years – but we also visited New York. Mum was a real trooper, up every morning by eight o’clock, and we had a fantastic and joyous time. One moment will live with me forever. We had visited Yankee Stadium in The Bronx one Tuesday evening and I was driving back to Philly. I was high over the Hudson River, on the George Washington Bridge, with my mother in the back seat, quietly taking it all in. I glanced over to my left and I saw the bright lights of Manhattan. My heart leaped. I felt like the luckiest man on the face of the earth.

Only eighteen months ago, we drove to Scotland, staying in Dundee. After attending around thirty Chelsea games, my mother’s last football match was in Brechin. From The Bronx to Brechin, Mum was a lovely companion.

Sadly, Mum was hospitalised with arthritis just over a year ago. My mother would never walk again. For the past year, Mum’s life has consisted of being cared for at home, watching TV, singing along to some CDs – Mum had a lovely voice – and sharing some smiles and laughs with me. Mum never complained.

The carers loved visiting Mum. Mum was always so appreciative. Everyone loved her.

Last summer, I was able to take my mother out in her wheelchair around Mells and to sit out on the lawn to sip a cup of tea in the fresh air. I so wanted to do the same this summer. Last month, Mum was again hospitalised with pneumonia. As you all know, I was full of hope that Mum would make a full recovery on her return home. It was not to be.

My dear mother passed away at home on February 26th with me by her side. Mum was a sweet, gentle and kind woman, a devoted daughter to her beloved parents and a loving wife to her husband Reg and a compassionate and respected presence in her home village. Mum was the owner of the most amazing smile; wide and welcoming one moment, mischievous and cheeky the next.

She really was the best mother that I could have ever asked for.

Mum was an angel. It was an honour to be her son.

IMG_7606 I left my home village on Mothering Sunday 2015 just before 8am and soon collected PD and LP. The pre-match was rather rushed, but hugely enjoyable. I met Roma and Shawn outside the West Stand, opposite the Peter Osgood statue, and it was obvious that a visit to the megastore had taken place; Shawn was wearing a fantastic Chelsea tracksuit. There was a Delta Airlines football competition underneath the old Shed wall; Shawn had participated here, too. Roma had certainly made the most of her Chelsea match day. The two of them had been at Stamford Bridge since 9am.

We then headed off to see Mark at the stall and I bought his latest book for Roma, highlighting the little section on Frank Lampard which I had penned. Roma adores Frank and is as confused as any of us after his move to City.

We then headed off to The Goose and enjoyed a chat with a few mates. I had fortuitously bumped into a mate, Brian – from Belfast, now Los Angeles – and it was great to see him again. In the beer garden, it was cold and crisp. Familiar faces everywhere. I then arranged to meet Tom, the Vodfather, down at Fulham Broadway to collect two tickets for Shawn and Roma. At just before 1pm, all was sorted.

We headed inside the turnstiles to the MHU and I shared a story with Roma as we ascended the flight of stairs to the upper tier. Back in 2005, my mother and my good friend Glenn’s gran, attended the Chelsea vs. Birmingham City game; it was one of the great Chelsea memories. We met Peter Osgood in the megastore and then had lunch in the Butcher’s Hook. On reaching the top of the stairs in the MHU, the two ladies – my mother 75 and Rose 79 – disappeared off in to the ladies. A split second later, Glenn and I heard both of them let out a massive laugh.

“Oh blimey, what have they said…or done?”

It transpired that on entering, they thought they had seen a man in the ladies. They had looked at each other and couldn’t resist a spontaneous giggle. Every time I walk past this spot in the MHU concourse, I think back to Mum’s laughter.

Sigh.

I took a few photos of an excited Roma and Shawn before they took their places high up behind the goal. They were fantastic seats. Alan arrived with Tom, who has been very poorly of late. He is in his ‘seventies now. It was great to see him again. The match programme, marking our 110th anniversary, was in the style of the original “Chelsea Chronicle” and it looked fantastic. The flags were passed overhead. The teams appeared. One change from Wednesday’s anti-climax; Willian in for Ramires. There was a return for Ryan Bertrand, a hero from that night in Bavaria.

We began well. After only ten minutes, Eden Hazard worked the ball to Branislav Ivanovic out on the right. Very often this season our right-back is often the outlet for our attacking plans, yet often his final ball is disappointing. On this occasion, he lofted an inch perfect ball in, which picked out the lone leap of Diego Costa who easily scored past Forster. It was a fine goal.

Southampton, a fine team under Koeman who gave us a tough game on the south coast earlier in the season, did not let our goal stop them from moving the ball well. The impressive Sadio Mane tested Courtois, and then soon after a joint lunge on Mane by Matic and Ivanovic resulted in referee Mike Dean awarded a penalty. The consensus in our little group was that it was indeed a penalty. Tadic despatched it and although Courtois got a touch, the ball still hit the back of the net. 1-1.

For the rest of the first-half, with the atmosphere at times being ridiculously quiet, Southampton moved the ball around with aplomb, and were the more incisive. We, by contrast, looked tired and lacking in confidence. Our right flank was constantly exploited; the Willian and Ivanovic partnership looked disinterested. Oscar and Fabregas made little impact. It was as poor as I have seen for a while.

The away fans, again, aired the rather amusing and self-deprecating – “The Johnstone Paint Trophy, You’ll Never Win That.”

Sadly, around five thousand Chelsea fans didn’t get the joke and responded – “Champions Of Europe, You’ll Never Win That.”

Oh boy.

An overly theatrical response by Ivanovic to a tap tackle did not result in a penalty. It was the only Chelsea “moment” worth commentating on. At the other end, Courtois pulled off a few more saves. Southampton deserved to be 3-1 up at the break. Oh dear.

Yet again, we needed an inspiring team talk from the tongue of our manager at the break. Right from the first few seconds of the second-half, it was wonderful to hear the home support rising to the occasion with thunderous noise. It was a magnificent reaction. Well done everyone. However, a rasping free-kick from Alderweireld forced a full-stretch save from that man Courtois. First class.

Mourinho made a change; Ramires for Matic.

It felt like a goal must come. A Willian effort was deflected on to the post by Diego Costa. A shot from Oscar was blocked, and then a header from Oscar was parried by Forster. Surely, our goal would come.

Big John was up to his balcony-bashing best. “THUMP THUMP – THUMP THUMP THUMP – THUMP THUMP THUMP THUMP – CHELSEA.”

Another Oscar effort was saved. Remy for Oscar, Cuadrado for Willian.

Cuadrado failed to impress and dragged a shot wide. Then Azpilicueta went close. In the last minute, we could hardly believe what we witnessed; the Southampton goal was under attack and how. Remy had a shot blocked off the line, and the rebound was sent goal wards by JT but his effort was blocked, but the ball rebounded out to our captain who then stabbed the ball over. As the ball flew past the goal frame, the groan could be heard for miles and miles.

The much-hoped for eight point gap was now “only” six. I felt sure that many new Chelsea fans were about to pepper the internet with a plethora of negativity.

Another sigh.

After the game, at the Copthorne Hotel, Roma and Shawn met some Chelsea royalty; Ron Harris, Paul Canoville, Bobby Tambling and Roy Bentley. There were photographs of course, but also a couple of lovely conversations. Roma especially enjoyed hearing about Bobby Tambling’s close relationship with Frank Lampard, her personal favourite, which developed as Frank drew nearer and nearer to 202 Chelsea goals.

Roma’s smile was wide.

It was a beautiful end to Mother’s Day.

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Tales From Shawn’s Home Debut.

Chelsea vs. Paris St. Germain : 11 March 2015.

I had been back at work for three days, and it had generally felt right for me to be back in the swing of things. The seemingly mundane routine of work had certainly helped my gentle and steady recuperation following the sadness of recent weeks. However, throughout Wednesday, I felt myself getting quieter and quieter as the hours passed. The quietness and the stillness were of course due to my mother’s funeral on the Thursday. The Wednesday evening game at Stamford Bridge between Chelsea and our new rivals PSG was of course still important, but much less so.

Much much less so.

Of course, it goes without saying, that I wanted us to reach the last eight of this season’s competition. For some reason, I had doubts that we would do so. There was just something about the law of averages; we got past them a year ago, it might be their turn this time. Our draw at the Parc des Princes was largely due to the excellent performance by our young ‘keeper. However, as the day progressed I was just aware that my focus was elsewhere. My mother’s funeral was looming over everything.

In addition to the emotion of Thursday, a great deal of my focus throughout Wednesday was centred on the safe arrival of my good friend Roma and her eight year old son Shawn, who had arrived at Heathrow during the morning, and were planning to meet me at West Brompton underground station at 6pm. I first met Roma in her home town of St. Augustine, Florida in 1989 and we were a long distance item for a few years. Our friendship has remained intact after all this time. On hearing of my mother’s passing, it filled me with joy when Roma, now living in Tennessee, told me that she would like to attend my mother’s funeral. I last saw Roma and Shawn in “Stan’s Sports Bar”, just after our friendly with Manchester City at Yankee Stadium in 2013; the two of them had to leave early to head home, while I stayed on for a few after match beers. Shawn had also witnessed our game with PSG at Yankee Stadium the previous summer too, and I have lovely memories of the two of them, plus Roma’s eldest daughter Vanessa, posing for a photograph with Paul Canoville after that game. Shawn has lovely curly locks, and I called him David Luiz Junior at the time. Now, in 2015, Shawn and Roma would be reunited with me, Chelsea, PSG and David Luiz once more.

Just like me, in 1974, Shawn’s first Chelsea game at Stamford Bridge would be at the age of eight. It felt right that the torch was being passed to another generation.

The stalwarts from my home area, Lord Parky and PD, travelled-up with me from Chippenham. I made good time and was parked up in a little over two hours. They disappeared to The Goose while I zipped over to West Brompton. Now, for my good friends in the US, some of you will have met Roma and her three children on many occasions over the past eleven seasons, since Roma has attended matches from every single one of Chelsea’s tours to the US. Roma even has “one up” on me, since I didn’t bother to attend any of the three games during the 2013 summer tour, but Roma and Vanessa visited DC for the Chelsea vs. Roma game. A few close friends also know that Roma’s time-keeping is – and I know Roma won’t mind me saying – rather errant. I received a message from Vanessa that Roma’s ‘phone wasn’t working, either. I had visions of waiting at West Brompton for…well, for quite a while.

Imagine my elation and relief when, at just before 6pm, I spotted Roma and Shawn outside the station. I gave them big hugs. From the South Bronx to West Brompton, our friendship was rekindled. Without any prompting from his mother, Shawn quickly said how sorry he was to hear of my mother’s passing.

I melted, and gave him another hug.

Until this point, I had only managed to secure one ticket – for Shawn, he would be sat next to me – for the evening’s game. Roma was going to watch in a pub or bar. However, soon after setting foot in The Goose, another ticket became available and – an extra bonus – we were able to move people around so that Roma and Shawn could sit together in the MHL.

What utter joy.

My good mate Tuna, who has been living in the US for around thirty years, had flown over from Atlanta for a few games and, of course, Roma and Tuna have met on many varied occasions, stemming as far back as the Chelsea vs. Roma game in Pittsburgh in 2004. It was lovely to see him in the pub, too.

Things were going well.

In some respects, this was all turning out to be a typical way for me to cope with my grief of recent weeks; I had spent a few hours over the previous week or so sorting tickets, planning to meet up with friends, planning itineraries, making ‘phone-calls, sending emails. There was a complex transfer of tickets planned for the Southampton game on the following Sunday, too, with the focus again on getting Roma and Shawn two seats together. All of this football-related activity was a lovely balance to the weightier issues also on my mind.

Chelsea therapy, if you will. Lovely.

Roma, Shawn and I departed from the pub in good time and I chatted about a few Chelsea-related items on the way down to the ground. I spent a few moments trying to explain the peculiarities of European games to Roma, the aggregate score, and the “away goals” scenario. Of course, there was also the threat of penalties. Roma was far from the naïve American though; she soon impressed me with a few comments about Harry Kane and his goal tally this year. Roma had previously visited The Bridge once before, for a Chelsea vs. Fulham derby in 2002. Roma watched many of the World Cup games in the summer on American TV. She has come a long way since that 2002 game.

Programmes were purchased and photographs were taken.

I escorted them down to the turnstiles for the MHL and then made my way into the stadium myself. It was earlier than normal, maybe 7.30pm, and there was no line at the gate. Inside there was a hug from Alan. PSG had brought around 2,500 maybe. Throughout the night, there seemed to be a split in their support; the rowdier elements with scarves and songs were stood in the lower tier, while those in the upper tier remained seated, and quieter.

Before I knew it, the stadium was bathed in blue, with thousands of the new-style, predominantly blue rather than chequered, flags being waved during several pre-match songs. It was a fine image. Just before the entrance of the teams, a new flag was held aloft in the MHL. The front cover of the match programme had been devoted to a message aimed at addressing the nasty incident in a Parisian metro station prior to the away leg.

“We Are All Blue # Equality.”

The same message was on the flag.

I quickly ran through the team.

Thibaut.

Dave – JT – Gary – Brana.

Matic – Cesc.

Hazard – Oscar – Ramires.

Diego Costa.

No Zouma, no Willian. In Jose we trust.

By now, several days after the game, no doubt that every kick of the ball will have been dissected a million times by a million experts. I am not going to say too much. It was clearly a game of football that was easily within our grasp of winning, yet we failed. Throughout the game, I was not my usual self. I hardly sang at all. Other things flitted in to my mind, and stayed.

Overall, the atmosphere wasn’t great. In fact, it was rubbish. Even the away fans weren’t particularly noisy. As I looked down at the spectators standing en masse in the Matthew Harding Lower, I wondered if young Shawn was able to see anything. I wondered where their tickets were. At times there was noise in that section; for Roma and Shawn, I wanted it to be rocking.

It wasn’t.

One song rang out loud and clear :

“Fcuk PSG.”

Not exactly our wittiest or most erudite moment, but I guess it summed things up.

In the first-half, PSG played some good stuff, with their attacking play occasionally stretching us. Of course the most important moment was the crunching tackle on Oscar by Ibrahimovic. To be quite honest, my focus was on Oscar’s outstretched leg going for the ball and I only really saw a coming together of limbs. I commented soon after to Alan that a split-second later, perhaps it could have been Oscar seeing red.

Regardless, off went PSG’s talisman. The portents were looking good.

A run by Diego Costa – a wonderful run actually, with him keeping the ball tight to his body amidst lunges by several defenders – was ended with a trip by Cavani, but I noted that the referee’s view seemed to be blocked and no penalty was given.

At the break, I wondered if it might stay at 0-0 and it would be a night of equality.

Willian replaced the very poor Oscar and soon tested Sirigu with a direct free-kick which surprised everyone.

On the hour, we had a massive escape. Our defence was caught upfield and the impressive Cavani ran clear and then rounded Courtois, only for his shot to hit the far post, although I was pleading for our defenders to hack it clear if it had been on target.

I kept thinking, as did millions worldwide –

“Bloody hell, which team has eleven?”

Players were being booked right, left and centre.

We rarely tested the PSG goal, but a corner on eighty-one minutes caused deliberation in their box. I snapped as Diego Costa swung a leg at a loose ball, but completely missed. Gary Cahill was close by to thump the ball home.

We were one-up with ten minutes to go. I snapped the run of Cahill into the arms of substitute Drogba, warming up on the far corner.

Zouma replaced Matic. Mourinho was solidifying the ranks.

PSG kept pressing and Courtois was able to beat out a couple of attempts. However, on eighty-six minutes, David Luiz rose at the near post to head home a corner.

Him. Of all bloody people. He had been booed by a section of our support all night. He celebrated wildly.

Extra-time, then. Great. With a big day ahead of me, this wasn’t going to plan.

Mourinho replaced Ramires with Drogba. Inwardly, I wasn’t happy. Drogba is hardly the player of old. I wondered if this was a wise move.

On ninety-six minutes, Thiago Silva’s leap for a high ball alongside Zouma was ill-timed and the ball hit his outstretched hand. It looked a penalty from my seat, but there is this theory among some Chelsea supporters about us and referees in Europe…

Although the referee pointed to the spot, there didn’t seem to be a reaction at all from the home crowd. It was a very weird sensation. It was as if we didn’t believe it.

Eden Hazard calmly rolled it home.

A roar.

Advantage Chelsea.

Possibly, probably, almost certainly undeserved, but advantage Chelsea.

Just after, an incredible, dipping free-kick from David Luiz was expertly tipped-over by Courtois.

As the second period of extra-time began, there was nervousness in the West London air. A corner for PSG was headed down and goal-ward by Thiago Silva, but Courtois dropped to his right and palmed it wide. It was a magnificent save. I was still praising his efforts when the resulting corner was lofted high and the very same Brazilian player connected. It looped up, and dropped in to the net, in horrible ghastly slow motion.

Advantage PSG.

There was no way back.

I gathered a few spare flags for young Shawn and said my goodbyes to the boys. It was not to be.

There would be no repeat of Munich in Berlin.

C’est la vie.

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Tales From Seventy-Nine Minutes.

West Ham United vs. Chelsea : 4 March 2015.

In many of these match reports, I have often spoken about running a few errands in my local town before eventually setting-off on a trip to see Chelsea play. It is with great relief that my pre-match on Wednesday 4 March 2015 will never have to be repeated ever again. On the face of it, the three hours that I spent in Frome were as sombre a period of my life that I have had to endure. I firstly collected my mother’s death certificate and I then spent an hour at the undertaker’s as plans for my mother’s funeral took shape. However, if I am honest, I managed to get through this potentially traumatic period with few moments of heartache. That I was with a very dear friend throughout made this testing time so much easier.

We had a small lunch in the café adjoining my village post office and as the time passed, I admitted that I was not relishing the drive to London and then the evening game at West Ham.

My friend reassured me :

“Once you get going, you’ll love it.”

I collected Parky at around 3.30pm and my friend was of course correct. As I drove east, stopping for a large coffee en route, my mood had perked-up considerably. I made great time. The roads were clear, and I was parked-up at around 6pm. We rushed to Earl’s Court and met Dave The Hat in the increasingly familiar Courtfield pub. There was just time to knock back a pint of lager before catching a District Line train at just after 6.30pm. Halfway through the journey, all was well. We were eating up the miles and we envisioned that our arrival time at Upton Park would be just after 7.15pm. The laughs were bouncing back between the three of us and all was well with the world.

Or so I thought. There were several moments when I was overcome with horrible pangs of guilt. I was just uneasy with the fact that the pint of lager had loosened my mood slightly and that the three of us were having a proper laugh. I felt as if this was all too soon after my mother’s passing. I felt conflicted. And yet, as I looked around the packed tube train, with several supporters of our opposition sporting the famous claret and blue, there was a reassuring inevitability that I would be here, on this train, on this day, heading over to East London to see Chelsea. I inwardly smiled and silently “tut-tutted.”

Me and my football.

However, at around 7.15pm, the train came to a standstill. It occasionally lurched forward a few yards, but then stopped further. Progress was slow. As we achingly passed through a procession of stations at a ridiculously slow speed, the three of us began to re-evaluate our predicted arrival time. As the minutes passed, we realised that we wouldn’t make kick-off. An announcement detailed heavy traffic at Upton Park. Dave hoped that the kick-off would be delayed; the voices of some West Ham fans in our compartment watching the game unfold on their mobiles told the true story. At around 7.55pm, a full ten minutes after the match had begun – I hadn’t heard any squeals of pain or shouts of joy from the West Ham contingent – we alighted at Upton Park, just after a full train load had deposited some other fans on the platform. Again, progress was slow.

Out into the night, past the market and the Queens pub, we hurriedly walked. We were drawn towards the floodlights of the Boleyn Ground like moths to a flame. Many Chelsea fans were walking with us. At last, I entered the turnstiles and then in to the narrow concourse behind the away enclosure.

A check of my ticket again…row Q…ah, there’s Alan and Gary, good stuff.

It was still 0-0. There were twenty-one minutes on the clock.

Gary quickly updated me :

“We began well, Chris, then they’ve got into it.”

It was the same team as on Sunday save for the additions of Courtois and Oscar. Despite the floodlights, it seemed particularly murky. I could hardly believe that we chose to wear our dark and dingy black number. Why not the bright yellow? It simply made no sense. This was my first ever night game at Upton Park; it was only my tenth ever visit. For many seasons, I wasn’t tempted to venture. From 1995 to 2008, there was just one trip.

In a horrible fore-shadowing of recent events, our 4-1 defeat in May 1988 is remembered by me as being particularly sad. That loss would eventually cost us our place in the top division within a few weeks, though the loss is not the only reason that causes that game to haunt me so. My maternal grandmother’s funeral was to take place the next day. Those two days were tough. I shan’t really miss Upton Park once West Ham move to their new home in 2016.

And then, only a minute or so after reaching my place on the away terrace, the away fans saw Eden Hazard move at will towards the opposition. The noise around me grew as the move developed. The ball was played out towards Ramires, who quickly played the ball back in towards the six yard box. There was a thrust towards the ball by a Chelsea player in black.

The net rippled. The Chelsea fans roared.

I smiled, I shouted,

“It’s all about timing, Al.”

We were ahead and I had only been in the stadium for about a minute.

Phew.

The remaining twenty-three minutes, with an added four minutes of extra-time, seemed to race past. We peppered their goal with a few chances, but West Ham really should have equalised when a horribly unmarked Sakho headed tamely at Courtois. Zouma was a dominating presence in our midfield, but was injured just before the break; thankfully he was able to carry on. There had been bookings. This was going to be a tough, old-fashioned London derby. Billy Bonds versus Chopper Harris, the Krays versus the Richardsons, Julian Dicks versus Dennis Wise, James Collins versus Diego Costa.

There was an extra four minutes at the end of the half.

“That’s for us poor buggers who got in late.”

At half-time, my recent past caught up with me and a few good friends wanted to share their condolences about the loss of my dear mother and to give me a hug. The reaction among my Chelsea mates to my mother’s recent passing has not surprised me; I knew that I could count on my closest friends to smother me in comforting words and warm wishes. However, the reaction of others, outside my immediate circle of friends, has simply blown me away. I was informed that my mother was remembered with a toast in Nashville and New York before the game on Sunday. There have been the kindest of words from many other locations too.

I thank you all.

Unlike the first-half, the second-half dragged on so slowly. Neither Gary nor I could believe that only fifteen, then twenty, then twenty-five minutes had passed.

There is no doubt about it; we rode our luck in the second period. For many minutes, West Ham dominated possession and it seemed inevitable that an equaliser would come. They went close on a number of occasions, but we had to thank the magnificent agility of Courtois to keep their efforts out. I lost count of the number of times that Chelsea defenders threw themselves at the ball in order to block a shot or pass. In our midfield, both Oscar and Fabregas were struggling to get any foothold in the game. Eden Hazard, as always, was our leading light. A superb run from deep was followed by a pass to Ramires, who twisted past Collins before rolling a ball past the impressive Adrian and against the base of the far post. For all of the home team’s dominance, we ought to have increased our lead. The same combination, our number ten and seven, again linked but Adrian easily saved from a Ramires header.

This was a tempestuous and spirited game of football.

More efforts on our goal by Sakho, but also more wonderful saves from Courtois.

Willian replaced the lacklustre Oscar.

A clear moon, almost full, looked down on the game, which became even more heated as the minutes slowly passed.

Terry and Kouyate clashed heads and there would be extra minutes at the end because of it. Ivanovic, a hero of late, took his time and crashed a shot goalwards, only for his shot to seemingly strike the lower arm of a defender. Another free header at the other end was wasted by Sakho.

We were hanging on.

The referee added on an extra six minutes at the ninety minute mark. Within that period, we had another gift-wrapped chance to score another. Eden Hazard jinked into the box, and surely should have curled a low shot past Adrian, but instead elected to roll the ball square to Willian. His firm shot was blocked on the line, as dramatically as it gets, by Cresswell.

The away end howled.

Diego Drogba entered the fray, replacing Diego Costa. Thankfully, we withstood some pressure and then killed time in the West Ham half.  I didn’t even notice that Loic Remy came on for Hazard.

All eyes were on the referee.

At around 9.45pm in the heart of the East End, Andre Marriner blew his whistle.

Another vital three points were loudly celebrated by us all and the players took great pleasure in slowly walking towards us to accept our cheers. This felt like a massive win. It also felt like a somewhat fortuitous win.

As I met up with Parky outside the gates, I simply said –

“File under lucky.”

There was a long and tedious return back to civilisation, involving a walk to Plaistow and then a wait in a queue to reach the platform. We eventually boarded the train and headed west. At 11.30pm, we met up with Bob from San Francisco at a familiar Italian restaurant known by many. It had been a tough game and at times we had struggled. Yes, Manchester City had won against a lowly Leicester, but we had won a potentially awkward game at West Ham.

The omens, whisper it, were looking good.

The temperature of the night air was now dropping fast as we walked past the familiar hostelries near West Brompton. I set off for home at 12.30am and was so tired that I needed to stop at Membury Services, deep in Wiltshire, at around 2am, to sleep for thirty minutes.

I eventually reached home at around 4am.

It had been a long day, but the twin comforts of friends and football had served me well.

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Tales From A Blue Day.

Chelsea vs. Tottenham Hotspur : 1 March 2015.

On the morning of Sunday 1st. March, I was in no mood for a game of football. And now, a day later, if I am honest I am in no mood to write this match report. This is a “Tale” that I have feared for some time. Its inevitability was certain. It was only a question of time.

At around 10pm on Thursday 26th. February, my dear, sweet, gentle and kind mother sadly passed away. Words will be difficult to find, words might struggle to flow, but no end of words will ever do justice to the life of Esme Amy Axon, who left us a few days ago at the age of eighty-five. In the last chapter, I spoke about my mother’s recent short stay in hospital and how I was buoyed by her seemingly good recovery from ill-health, but it was a horrible false dawn. Worried by my mother’s weight loss, I decided to miss the Burnley home game to stay and look after my mother and I stayed away from work all week, too. I am so grateful that I made that decision. As the days passed throughout that week, with my Mum’s health faltering and then momentarily improving, I quickly sensed that work didn’t matter too much and neither did football. Chelsea, my obsession, was put into bleak perspective; after attending seven games in January, I only attended one game in February. It eventually became the darkest month of my life.

The first day of March would be a testing day for me, but I had soon decided that I needed to attend our Capital One Cup Final against Tottenham. To stay at home, possibly alone, would have been unthinkable.  As I awoke after a solid and sound eight hours of sleep on Sunday morning, football itself seemed an irrelevance, but my main desire was to meet up with some of the most wonderful friends anyone could ask for. I collected PD at 7.30am and Parky at 8pm. To give me a break, we caught the 8.37am train from Chippenham. Soon into the journey my two companions were knocking back the cider. I sipped a strong coffee. I was doing OK. I was quiet but content. Zipping through the towns of Reading, Maidenhead and Slough brought back fresh memories of a trip by train to Chelsea with both my parents in 1981 and 1982. Good memories. Strong memories. As the day developed I was sure there would be more.

It was a cold but sun-filled morning. We hopped on the tube at Paddington and were soon meeting up with others at The Tyburn at Marble Arch. We soon bumped into Gal, and I received the first of many warm embraces from friends throughout the day. Bob, over from San Francisco for a couple of games, was already in the pub. Daryl, then Neil, then Alan soon arrived. More hugs. Breakfasts were ordered. Again, I was OK. It was lovely to be among friends.

At around 11.15am, we shifted to our old favourite, The Duke Of York. The pub was already full of Chelsea. A sizeable portion of The Goose’s regulars had simply shifted a few miles north. More hugs. To be honest, after we toasted the memory of my mother, I was hardly in the mood for lager. I don’t think I have ever sipped two pints so slowly in my life.

There was time for me to detail the events of the past few days, weeks and months. Friends shared a few memories of my mother, who made the occasional trip to Stamford Bridge in her later years, and who also met friends on their visits to Somerset. Off the top of my head – and few friends would doubt my memory –  my mother’s last five trips to Stamford Bridge were against Charlton Athletic in 1988, Everton in 1991, PSV Eindhoven in 1996, Birmingham City in 2005 and Watford in 2010. It was a joy for me to be with my mother for the 2005 game; my mother had witnessed a part of our first League Championship in fifty years.  What joy! The Watford game five years later was on my mother’s eightieth birthday. Again, a wonderful memory. Does anyone think that was my mother’s last ever live sporting event? If you do, you are wrong. Later in 2010, I took my little mother to the US and we saw baseball games in Philadelphia and at Yankee Stadium. And only sixteen months ago, on a trip to Scotland, Mum was alongside me at Brechin City’s outrageously picturesque Glebe Park for a game versus Ayr United. Mum loved her trips to Scotland; after my father passed away in 1993, it became a regular event. For six straight years, we made an autumnal trip to various cities in Scotland. Mum saw Scotland – and Pat Nevin – at Hampden Park in 1994 and we also paid a lovely visit to Arbroath in 2009. I have photographs from most of these trips and – of course – I will be hunting these out over the next few emotional and delicate weeks.

All told, my mother went to a few games shy of thirty Chelsea games.

Two other games are worthy of re-telling.

In around 1972, I saw my first-ever Frome Town game. I had watched my local village team, who I later played for on a few occasions, at the local recreation ground, but the trip to Badger’s Hill for a Western League game on a wet autumn afternoon was the first time that I had seen a ‘’proper’’ game. Sadly, Frome lost that day – I remember being really sad – but my most vivid memory is of sitting alongside my mother (my father was working in his menswear shop in the town centre) and sharing a bag of cherries at half-time. Yes, that is correct – my mother took me to my first ever ‘’real’’ game of football. Bless her.

One of the travelling salesmen who used to periodically call in at my father’s shop was a chap from Exeter. My father soon told him of my love of football and, in a pre-curser to corporate hospitality, the salesman managed to obtain three of Exeter City’s allocation of tickets for the 1978 Football League Cup Final between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest. I must admit at feeling rather guilty about travelling to a game not involving my team, but seeing a match at Wembley was a huge thrill. We had three lower-level wooden bench seats near the Forest end. It was a pretty dull 0-0 draw, and I remember thinking how small Wembley seemed. I expected it, from the fish-eye lens perspective of TV cameras to be ridiculously huge. I remember thinking Stamford Bridge to be smaller than I had imagined on my first visit, too.

Anyway, there you have it. In 1978, my dear mother attended a League Cup Final at Wembley.

Thirty-seven years later, I was too. Of course, our two most recent League Cup wins were in Cardiff. In fact, our sole Wembley win in the competition was back in 1998 versus ‘Boro. Our other win – one of only four major trophies that our club had won in its first ninety-two years – was a two-legged final in 1965.

I fancied a little time to myself, so left the other drinkers, and walked to Marylebone. It really was a crisp and sunny day, but with a wicked swirling wind.

I was soon alighting at Wembley Stadium at around 2.45pm. There was a quiet calm. To be honest, the walkways around the stadium seemed eerily silent. Maybe the old Chelsea adage of “one last pint” was in full effect. This game, incredibly, would be our thirteenth game at the new Wembley.

I had managed to source a ticket from a mate for another mate who was travelling down from Glasgow, but arranging to meet both parties at 3.30pm meant that I was caught up in a major melee to enter the block K turnstiles. Frustrations were running high; sadly, I missed the kick-off by a couple of minutes. I took my seat alongside nine friends.

Daryl, Neil, Alan, Gary, Parky, PD, Walnuts, Milo, Simon, Chris.

We were in the very last row of the upper tier above the corner flag where Frank Lampard did his spontaneous homage to his father after scoring against Everton in 2009. We stood the entire game.

Chelsea in all blue.

The scale of the new Wembley is quite staggering, especially from our lofty perch. The side stands go on for ever. I spotted a few Chelsea flags draped on the balcony walls, but very few Tottenham ones. Although I hated the defeat to them in the 2008 final, my worst memory of that day was the fact that Chelsea were heavily out sung by them. I did not want a repeat. In all honesty, I thought both sets of fans were rather quiet, especially in the first-half.

The big surprise was the appearance of Kurt Zouma in a midfield role alongside Ramires. Petr Cech in goal. A midfield three of Cesc, Eden and Willian. There were few chances in the first-half. Chelsea had a few headers which did not cause Spurs too much anxiety. After a run by Kane, the undoubted danger man, a free-kick was rewarded to Spurs outside our box. A hard strike by Eriksen thumped against Cech’s bar. Hazard shot wide. Our play seemed to be a little unadventurous at times, with most of our chances coming from set plays. I thought John Terry had a magnificent first-half, with Willian buzzing around tirelessly. Dave, too, was solid. With half-time approaching, I looked across at the huge upper tier opposite; I could hardly believe that so many fans – and they were mainly our fans – had vacated their sets with still a few minutes left. Why would they choose a pie, a pee, or a pint over watching a Chelsea Cup Final?

On forty-five minutes, a lofted ball by Terry was sent over to Ivanovic, but Chadli fouled our right-back. The resultant free-kick by Willian seemed to ghost past several Spurs defenders before eventually being deflected back to John Terry. To be honest, I was watching all of this through my camera lens, so details are scant. I did, however, see the net bulge and I did hear the resulting roar.

I did not react. I don’t think I will ever react to a Chelsea goal at Wembley as calmly as I did at around 4.45pm on Sunday March 1st. 2015. I think that the events of the previous three days had taken their toll. Sure, I had encouraged the team on with shouts of support during the first-half, but I did not feel the need to “lose it” on this occasion. I simply took a few photographs of John Terry – so glad it was him – running away towards a Tottenham corner and being mobbed by his comrades.

Phew.

There were a few lovely smiles towards me from the chaps.

Just after, unbelievably, we had a great chance to double our lead. Cahill rose to head low, but Loris reacted superbly and clung on to the ball.

At half-time, I had time to explain to a few of the lads why I was wearing my “Chelsea The Blues” scarf, which last saw the light of day on a rainy day in Moscow. After my very first game at Stamford Bridge in 1974, while I was talking to my father outside the West Stand, my mother – on the quiet, quite unannounced – shot off to buy me this scarf from one of the blue wooden huts which teetered at the top of the bank of steps leading down to street level. It has stayed with me for the past forty-one years. It is in remarkably good condition. Now, I’m not a wearer of club colours, but I chose to wear it in Stockholm – definitely a lucky charm – in 1998 and then again in 2008. Wearing it in 2015 was a simple choice.

With noise levels noticeably higher in the second-half, we went from strength to strength. A surprising overhead kick from the otherwise quiet Fabregas tested Loris and we were clearly the better team. A neat move found Costa advancing on Kyle Walker and as he shimmied past his man, I confidently blurted out –

“He’ll never score from there.”

He did. His powerful shot miraculously ended-up in the net (it was a mystery to me at the time how it evaded Loris) and the strangers to my right were hugging me and laughing at my comment. Now I could celebrate a little more. This felt great. I snapped as Costa ran to the corner. The noise boomed around Wembley. More lovely smiles from the lads.

The heavens opened and the rain poured down. The wind seemed to be blowing it towards the Tottenham fans, and many in their lower tier hid for cover. The first few red seats were starting to appear. Two good chances from Hazard and Fabregas came close. We were rampant. The noise increased. A lovely rendition of “Born Is The King” swept around the western terraces. Although I had been too subdued to sing along to many of the Chelsea standards, I knew I had to join in with that one. I commented continually to Simon; I was able to relax and enjoy – if that is the right word – the last thirty minutes, twenty minutes, ten minutes, five minutes. A fine defensive performance was highlighted by a couple of wonderfully-timed blocks by Cahill and Terry. The kid Zouma was fantastic. We simply gave them nothing. Our end was awash with royal blue flags. The minutes ticked by.

At the final whistle, there was a smile from myself to my mother and a kiss of her scarf.

The boys came over, one by one, to hug me.

In Munich there were tears of joy.

There were no tears at Wembley. There had been little moments of silence, of quietness, of tears, throughout the day, but at Wembley I was just happy that the team had won. A defeat, after the past few days, would have been awful.

We did it.

Simon took a photograph of me and the scarf. It was a very special moment. I looked behind me and spotted that the Wembley arch had turned blue. As the cup was presented and as the players joyfully cavorted in a time-honoured Chelsea tradition dating back to May 1997, I was calm. There were the usual Chelsea songs at the end of the celebrations; I quietly whispered the words of “Blue Is The Colour” and a few of the boys were dancing to another favourite. As always, we were some of the last to leave. As we began the descent, our hymn from 1997 boomed out.

“The only place to be every other Saturday is strolling down the Fulham Road.”

What lovely memories of one of the best Chelsea weekends ever. The words washed over me, and I sang along. However, I held back in order to hear a few words. I was waiting for one specific line, delivered by Suggs with a subtle key-change…

“Now even heaven is blue today.”

I kissed my scarf again.

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Dedicated to the memory of my little Mum, who gave me so much and expected so little in return. In my heart forever. 

Esmé Amy Axon : 3 January 1930 to 26 February 2015.

Tales From Life.

Chelsea vs. Everton : 11 February 2015.

As the minutes ticked by, late in the game, my thoughts splintered along two different paths. One thought encompassed the fact that Manchester City, winning by a large margin at Stoke City, would now only be five points behind us. Our inability to convert chances to goals against Everton would result in an entertaining but fruitless 0-0 draw. From a position of power, there would be an unwelcome intrusion of doubt, now, in our ability to stay at the top of the table. The other thought, more fanciful, with diminishing strength with each passing minute, would be that Chelsea would, somehow, manage to strike a late winner, and maintain that healthy and possibly insurmountable seven point lead over our newest title rivals.

The clock kept advancing; the time moved on, the night grew older.

With only four minutes remaining, a thunderous strike from Nemanja Matic took the slightest of deflections off Branislav Ivanovic. The ball flew hard into the net. Stamford Bridge erupted and our salvation was complete. As the stands roared with noise, I captured the run of Ivanovic towards the corner flag below. The powerful defender had scored another huge goal. The stadium was rocking. We were back to a seven point gap. Then, a look of concern on his face – captured through my lens – forced me to glimpse up and across towards the lone linesman on the far side.

A raised flag. Bollocks.

We slumped in our seats.

The five point gap came back in to my thoughts.

Soon after, another errant challenge by Gareth Barry – a player that is so boring that I am amazed he has never played for Arsenal – resulted in a long-overdue second yellow of the night. Everton were down to ten men, but I was pragmatic enough to realise that the likely result of this would be even more resourceful defending from the Everton back-line, rather than an advantage to us.

Five points.

The free-kick which resulted from the Barry challenge on Willian was pumped into the Everton box. It was cleared by a defender, but only reached as far as Willian, in space and unmarked. With little time for any other option, he swiped at the ball, endeavouring to keep the ball low. Through a crowded penalty area, taking the slightest of deflections, the ball flashed past Tim Howard and into the net.

I screamed. We all screamed. The noise was louder than ever. With camera raised, I snapped. I could feel the whole upper tier bouncing and vibrating beneath me. It is the reason these photographs are occasionally blurred.

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Willian – that was surely something.

The gap was back to seven.

Photographs completed, I simply turned to Alan and our faces were full of wild joy. I looked to my right and a fellow fan was leaning towards me, arms out, screaming. I reciprocated. I looked over at Joe, a few seats away, past Alan. Joe is around eighty-five and his face was a picture. He too was stood, arms out-stretched, looking straight towards me. We just looked at each other, our faces and our bodies were mirror-images of each other. Wide smiles but arms wider. It was a fantastic and magical moment.

Chelsea smiles everywhere.

Seven points.

Despite my thoughts about our lead being reduced to just five points, this had been a very enjoyable game of football. Sure, our team missed the clinical finishing of Diego Costa, but elsewhere there had been an awful lot to admire. I kept saying to PD that I simply could not fault a single player. Everyone had been excellent. Rather than get too troubled with the lack of goals, I had simply admired the play of all eleven on the pitch and, regardless of the end result, knew that I had witnessed a fine team performance.

However, I am positive that my perspective on the evening’s football in SW6 had been greatly affected by the events of the previous few days. Let me explain.

On the day of the Aston Villa match, with Parky and myself set to travel to Birmingham for a long-awaited away game after three home games on the trot, my dear mother was admitted to hospital in Bath. Saturday afternoon and Saturday evening was spent worrying about my mother’s health rather than getting too wrapped up in events at Villa Park. I was in the Accident & Emergency Department of the Royal United Hospital in Bath when Eden Hazard opened our scoring on Saturday and I was in Parky’s front room when Villa equalised and when Brana gave us the lead. A win at Villa Park was welcomed, but my thoughts were elsewhere. I was able to visit my mother later on Saturday evening and was relieved to hear – and see – that she was responding well to a course of antibiotics, while both nurses and doctors calmed me with positive news. Mum continued her rehabilitation on Sunday. What a relief.

On Monday, however, another twist.

After work in Chippenham, I drove over to visit my mother in hospital. As I drove past Bath race course, then down the steep and narrow Lansdowne Lane, I was relishing to see my mother’s smiling face once more. Just after 4pm, I noted that traffic was halted ahead of me. I waited. I saw a couple of cars reverse and head through a housing estate. The road was obviously blocked ahead of me. I followed suit, but just happened to glance past where a bus had stopped. I was saddened to see a young chap, plainly distressed and agitated, pacing the road and talking on his mobile phone. Then, a horrific sight. I saw a woman, lying on her side, amid debris. Sadly, I also saw a rug or blanket seemingly covering a body completely. My heart sank. I looked up and saw another person on the phone, in tears. As I slowly drove to the hospital, police cars and ambulances flew past. My head was spinning. An accident – maybe involving the bus – had only just happened. I immediately remembered that I had stopped off, for around five minutes, in Chippenham for a sandwich wrap, some crisps and a drink. I had been annoyed at the length of the queue in the shop. Looking back, those five minutes might have saved my life. After visiting my mother – more improvement, more smiles – I listened to the radio on the drive through Bath and the breaking news was that four people – four! – had been killed when a tipper truck careered out of control down Lansdowne Lane.

I was numb. I needed to talk to someone, so I ‘phoned a work colleague.

Five minutes.

I slept uneasily on Monday night.

My mother continued to improve on Tuesday. On Wednesday, I was required to meet a doctor around midday, so I booked a half-day of holiday. The doctor confirmed that Mum had experienced a mild bout of pneumonia, but was well on the road to recovery, with a discharge likely to happen by the weekend. What relief.

I drove to Parky’s, met up with Young Jake for his first game of the season, then we all piled in to PD’s Chuckle Bus as he drove to London. It was time for me to relax. It had been a tough few days. I slept for an hour; I guess I needed it.

We were in the pub by 4.30pm.

“And relax.”

And it was a relaxing time in The Goose. Friends showed concern for my mother, but also for me, following the road traffic accident. It was lovely to see my mate Orlin, just in from his home in San Francisco, and en route to his home city of Sofia before dropping in to Paris on his way home again next week. Orlin is a member of the UEFA away scheme and our paths often cross in a variety of exotic locations; Tokyo, Istanbul, Turin, Bucharest.

And Fulham.

There were, typically, moments of roaring laughter, but also moments of quiet contemplation.

A friend – The Youth  – spoke earnestly with me and with great understanding about aging parents, dementia and care. It was good to talk with someone who can relate to my circumstances; he lost his father only recently. At times of need, my Chelsea Family are always there for me, rain or shine, just like we are always there for the team.

The simple fact should never be forgotten.

On this day, more than others, I was able to stand back and take a wide-angled look at life, football, the whole 110 yards. In The Goose, among friends, I liked what I saw.

As an aside, I was reminded of that ridiculous statement, claimed as an original by Bill Shankly, but possibly purloined from a US football coach, about football being more important than life or death. Although I understand the underlying message, it is of course, utter nonsense.

Life, death, football, in that order.

Inside the stadium, I think Alan was surprised to see me. In the circumstances, a half day holiday worked just fine. Sadly, one of our match-going friends, Tom, isn’t so well and there was concerned conversations among a few of our near neighbours. Warm wishes go to him.

Everton had brought around two thousand; around a thousand had been returned. Their season has been a strange one; one of promise unfulfilled. The 6-3 game at Goodison in the warm August sun was a crazy game of football. There would be no repeat on a cold night in February.

It was a fine game of football, however. New signing Juan Cuadrado, wearing Carlo’s old number 23 shirt, started alongside Willian and Eden Hazard in midfield, with Loic Remy up top. Matic was paired with Ramires. Mourinho elected to chop and change his defenders again; in came Zouma, out went Cahill. Between the sticks, in came Petr Cech. I was glad to see Mourinho rotating slightly. Over the course of the whole season, nothing can replicate game-time for our squad members.

I liked the way that our midfield three ran at Everton in the first-half, often changing positions along the line. The Tottenham loanee Aaron Lennon was roundly booed. We peppered the Everton goal early on, but Petr Cech did well to save from Lukaku. A crunching tackle by Kurt Zouma on the returning Romelu Lukaku, down in front of me, was simply wonderful theatre. I was thrilled by the dominating presence of Nemanja Matic, who patrolled the middle of the park in a regal fashion, breaking up play, tackling, then turning and opening up the Everton defence with clever passes and strong dribbles. Cuadrado looked sharp. We just needed a goal. Remy and Terry went close, but the game remained without goals at the break.

At half-time, Frank Sinclair walked the pitch and it was time for Alan’s sublime and irresistible impression of Frank Sinclair’s mother :

“My bwoy Franklyn.”

In the concourse, I bumped into another mate from the west coast of America; Pete, once of San Francisco, now in Seattle and the proud father, at the age of forty-eight, for the first time. It was lovely to see him again.

In the second-half, more pressure from Chelsea, with Hazard and Willian in devilish form, spinning away from markers, causing panic everywhere. Tim Howard was enjoying a brilliant game, thwarting many of our strikes on goal. Off the pitch, the noise was encouraging without being too loud. Everton were quiet.

With Chelsea on top by quite a margin, it came as a blow to the stomach to see a cross from the Everton left pick out an unmarked Lukaku inside the Chelsea six-yard box. Here was an Everton goal surely?

Miraculously he missed. To be exact, miraculously Petr Cech saved.

It was a stunning block.

With twenty minutes to go, Remy and Cuadrado – both had played well – were replaced by Didier Drogba and Cesc Fabregas. Everton rang the changes too. Substitute Mirallas went close.

With four minutes to go, the game came alive.

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Tales From On And Off The Pitch.

Chelsea vs. Manchester City : 31 January 2015.

I was in my own little spell of Chelsea Mania. The trip to SW6 for the long-awaited appearance of Manchester City would be my fourth visit to Stamford Bridge within just eight days. In addition to the three Chelsea home games, encompassing FA Cup, League Cup and League, there was also the Chelsea Pitch Owners AGM on the Friday.

I don’t always attend these meetings; in fact, the sad truth is that, until the tumultuous events of autumn 2011, I had not bothered too much with the CPO. However, following the club’s toxic handling of the attempted buy-out, I have eagerly awaited any news emanating from the CPO. Other shareholders, I am sure, have felt the same. It certainly galvanised the shareholders and caused all of us to re-focus our thoughts on Stamford Bridge. I attended the EGM in 2011 and also the AGM in 2012, when feelings were still feverish, but did not attend any others. Why did I bother this year? I was keen to hear if there had been any substantial updates on the rumoured expansion plans of the stadium and also to see how the CPO was faring in general terms.

Around one hundred and twenty shareholders, to my reckoning, attended the meeting in the plush surroundings of the Hollins Suite on the third floor of the West Stand. The meeting lasted just over an hour-and-a-half. To be honest, it was all relatively quiet and calm, with few moments of heated discussion. Dan Levine – journalist, Chelsea supporter and CPO shareholder – had requested to be allowed to post immediate updates from the meeting via Twitter and this was put to the vote. It was carried.

It was announced that one of the company’s biggest objectives was to nullify the impact of the over-selling of approximately 1,500 new shares in the period leading up to the football club’s attempted buyout in 2011; that figure will be reached within the next two months.

Questions were asked from the floor regarding the plans to increase the capacity of Stamford Bridge. The CPO board confirmed that there had been no communication whatsoever between the football club and the CPO regarding this. So, no news on that score, unfortunately. I think that many in the room were hoping for progress on this, but alas not.

However, there had been consultation between the local council and 120 interested parties – stakeholders – including the CPO, regarding plans to upgrade the immediate area around the Stamford Bridge site. I, for one, was intrigued by this, since it shows a level of intent by the Hammersmith & Fulham council to develop the relationship between themselves and the football club. It hasn’t always been so. Any positive communication, of which this is a clear example, is to be lauded. It shows a desire by the council to work with Chelsea Football Club. Questions were asked about the size and scope of this possible improvement in the “streetscape” around Stamford Bridge, but very little detail was given. A brief mention of the planting of trees, benches and possible pedestrianized areas whetted my appetite (maybe it evoked memories of an urban geography course I took at college) but elsewhere such talking points were dismissed as being rather boring and not worthy of further elaboration. It was mentioned that Rick Glanvill – club historian and CPO shareholder – was counselled on a possible colour scheme for the area, and I had visions of Rick flicking through a book of pantone references, but there was little other detail. I was keen to ask about the geographical limits of this potential upgrade to the Stamford Bridge streetscape (I presumed it would stretch from the area outside the tube station along the Fulham Road to the railway bridge), but the moment soon passed and the discussion moved on.

There were questions about the selling of new shares, which carries on at a reasonable pace. The board reminded us that they took the decision to set up a “pay as you go” payment plan for those unable to lay out £100 in one hit. This was news to me, and a few others to be honest, but which was well received within the meeting. I raised the issue of overseas supporters and wondered if there had been a change in the geographical profile of new shareholders, since a desire to grow the share base around the world was mentioned at the 2012 AGM. I was pleased to hear that there had been an increase in supporters outside the UK buying new shares and I was keen to point out that, due to the vast size of our global support, this should be encouraged.

It was a good meeting and it was lovely to see a few familiar faces present. It still gives me great comfort to know that I am one of the 19,000 or so landlords of Stamford Bridge.

Chairman Steve Frankham’s statement can be found here :

http://www.chelseafc.com/fans/chelsea-pitch-owners/cpo-news/chairman_s-agm-statement.html

Details on how to buy shares are found here :

http://www.chelseafc.com/fans/chelsea-pitch-owners/buy-cpo-shares.html

It is worth noting that as I left Stamford Bridge after the meeting, I was approached by a tout who was asking after spare tickets for Saturday’s game.

Yep. This was going to be a big one alright.

It was my turn, once again, to drive to London. I travelled with Glenn and Parky. At Membury Services, just to the east of Swindon, we stopped at a Starbucks and Glenn spotted an old school mate – a Sheffield Wednesday fan – who was headed to their game at Reading with his wife. I remembered him from way back too, though I haven’t seen him around town for years. There was a time when Sheffield Wednesday was, briefly, one of our biggest rivals. The 1983-1984 Football League Division Two season has been detailed here before, but another mention will do no harm. In that wonderful campaign, six of English football’s big hitters found themselves in the second tier; Chelsea, Newcastle United, Manchester City, Leeds United, Derby County and Sheffield Wednesday. Although Leeds United’s promotion challenge, along with pre-season favourites Derby County, soon withered away, the other four battled for the top three places throughout the season. In the end, it was Manchester City who just missed out.

I wonder whatever happened to them.

During the next campaign, in addition to two feisty league games with Sheffield Wednesday, there were the classic three game set in the League Cup too. What a host of fantastic memories from thirty years ago. A trip to Hillsborough is long overdue.

Before hitting The Goose, we paid a quick visit to another Chelsea pub, a hundred yards further along the North End Road, The Old Oak. The place was rammed with Chelsea “of a certain generation” and we spotted a few mates. One day I’ll make sure I visit every single one of the many pubs which surround Stamford Bridge, although not in one day, unless Parky is buying.

We reached The Goose at around 3.30pm. A few of the lads had been “on it” since midday. The place was heaving. There were a few City fans dotted around. I was told that a few of them even had a little sing-song at the front of the pub. This is a very rare occurrence in The Goose. There was no trouble, though. In fact, their presence was probably the reason for a little spell of singing, which again is a rare event in The Goose.

There was no talk of Frank Lampard during the time I spent – ninety minutes – in the pub.

I reached the seats just as the teams entered the pitch. Again, the club had chosen to dim the lights in the same style as against Liverpool the previous Tuesday. Additionally, the four huge flags denoting out four European trophies hung proudly from the balcony of the MHU.

It was a lovely sight.

Forced to make changes, with no Fabregas and no Diego Costa, Mourinho chose Zouma ahead of Cahill and Remy ahead of Drogba.

Courtois – Ivanovic, Terry, Zouma, Azpilicueta – Matic, Ramires – Hazard, Oscar, Willian – Remy.

There were four young’uns on the bench; Christensen, Loftus-Cheek, Ake, Brown.

The home crowd continued on in the same fashion from Tuesday against Liverpool, with greater noise levels than usual. Soon into the game, the MHL produced an x-rated ditty aimed at a Sky pundit who may not be allowed back to these parts ever again –

“Frankie Lampard – Your Cousin’s  A C**t.”

Although City brought a full three thousand, they were pretty quiet. I only remember one song of note –

“Champions of England, we know what we are.”

We countered with –

“Champions of Europe, you’ll never sing that.”

This was entry-level banter and it never really got any better.

It was a rather tight first-half with chances at a premium. City probably had the best chances. Fernandinho shot wide, then Courtois was called in to action to save from Sergio Aguero. A John Terry error allowed Aguero a strike on goal, but the dangerous striker – always a threat in these games –  screwed wide. Elsewhere, there was passing and possession from both sides, but little penetration. A sublime tackle by Zouma on Aguero was given God-like status.

This boy looks good and – boy – we’ll let him know it.

With five minutes of the first-half to go, a fine deep cross from right to left by Ivanovic found Eden Hazard, who had stealth fully crept behind his marker. His first time cross was met by the unmarked Remy who slotted in from inside the six yard box.

Chelsea 1 Manchester City 0

Alan tee’d me up.

“Come On My Little Diamonds.”

There was an immediate thought of an eight point gap.

Ridiculously, we allowed City right back in to the game just before the break. City were allowed too much space down our right and Courtois, usually so trustworthy in the air, jumped but failed to stop a cross. The ball fell to Aguero who slammed the ball in and Silva dabbed past the stranded Courtois and the two Chelsea defenders standing on the posts.

Ugh.

If City had edged the first-half, they completely dominated the first part of the second period. City dominated possession and we constantly reshaped to soak up their probing. I was impressed with Ramires, ably closing down space and nibbling away at City attackers. Matic, too, was impressive. In contrast, this wasn’t one of John Terry’s best games. Alongside him, Zouma continued to shine.

With Chelsea starting to enjoy a little more possession, I spotted a familiar figure on the far touchline. Frank Lampard, track suit off, in City sky blue, stood next to his new manager Pellegrini.

Ugh.

Here we go, then.

He replaced Fernando.

Initially, I detected boos but these were soon drowned out by warm applause. No name calling – no “Super Frank” – like we experienced at City in the autumn, but just a growing number of Chelsea fans showing their pleasure in seeing an old friend by simply clapping. That this clapping soon morphed into a “Chelsea” chant was perfect. I was proud of my fellow fans. Well done.

I’ll be honest; I spent an inordinate proportion of my time during the remainder of the game keeping an eye on Frank.

My worry was obvious.

“Just put someone on Lampard” I whispered to Alan.

“Two if necessary.”

This was genuine concern amidst our nervous humour.

Please Frank – don’t score.

Mourinho rang the changes and on came Drogba, Cahill and Loftus-Cheek.

We kept them at bay. On at least one occasion, Frank gave the ball away.

“Good boy.”

With five minutes still to play, a few fans left. I was speechless. Not only were they missing the most crucial part of the game, they were also missing out on the chance to say thank you and farewell to one of our finest ever players.

“…mmm…maybe you were the ones booing. Best you leave, then.”

One last period of City pressure was repelled and the final whistle was met with relief all around me.

Phew.

Our first dropped points at home this season and a pretty dour performance. We shouldn’t complain, though. Robbed of two of his key players, this was typical Mourinho.

I watched as the players shook each other’s hands and there were embraces between others. All eyes were on Frank Lampard. He walked alone from The Shed towards us in the Matthew Harding. He clapped us and we reciprocated. No boos, no silliness.

I don’t know the intricacies of Frank’s departure from Chelsea, or the exact detail of his employment at New York City or his temporary deployment at Manchester City.

All I know is that at the away game in September and at the home game in February, on his long walk to say goodbye, there were no smiles from Frank.

He was sombre. He was alone with his thoughts.

He simply looked gutted – on both occasions – that it had to be like this.

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