Tales From Benny’s First Game.

Chelsea vs. Southampton : 3 October 2015.

This was our homecoming after three games on the road at Walsall, Newcastle and Porto. It would also be our last game for a fortnight, with another international break looming. After the disappointment of our game in Portugal – the stinging defeat on the pitch allied with the spate of robberies off it – I was hopeful that the game against Southampton would put us back on track.

No, let’s be honest and exact here, this was a game we had to win. I knew that the Saints, continuing their fine play from last season under Ronald Koeman would be no pushover, but I was adamant that we could – and should – prevail.

However, my main focus as I drove up to London with Parky and Bournemouth Steve was centred upon seeing my close friend Ian and his young son Ben, who would be watching from the East Lower. It would be Benny’s first ever Chelsea game; a present for his eighth birthday during the late summer.

Ian and I go back to 1984, when we found ourselves on the same human geography course at North Staffs Poly in Stoke. Our friendship slowly grew over the three years, aided by our love of football and music, and was solidified on a trip around Europe on a three week Inter Rail holiday in the September of 1987. Ian was with me, memorably, on my first ever European football match, an Internazionale vs. Empoli game in the San Siro. During that trip we also visited the Bernabeu, Camp Nou and Munich’s Olympic Stadium. Our first afternoon in London after that Inter Rail trip was spent at Stamford Bridge – a good 2-2 draw with Newcastle United, Paul Gascoigne and all – and this was Ian’s first game at Chelsea.


Ian has watched a few more games with me at The Bridge since. In our thirty plus years of friendship, football has never been too far away.

Ian is from South Yorkshire and a lifelong Rotherham United fan. Ian was at one of the most infamous games in Chelsea’s history; our 6-0 loss at Millmoor in the autumn of 1981. A few of my close Chelsea mates were there too, though I wasn’t. I can remember playing a school football match on that particular day, strangely on a Saturday afternoon, and coming in at half-time in our match to find the boys three-nil down at Rotherham. I can distinctly remember – always an optimist – thinking to myself that we would come back to win 4-3 with Alan Mayes scoring the winner. Sadly it was not to be. For those newish Chelsea fans who think that our current run of poor form entitles them to proudly boast that they can claim that they were there when we are “shit”, watch this and think again.


In 2015, we are League Champions, League Cup Winners, in the Champions League and one of the top twenty clubs on the planet.

In 1981, we were a struggling Second Division team, with no trophy of any description for ten years.

Later in the season, the same Rotherham United beat us 4-1 at Stamford Bridge.

Compared to 1981, 2015 doesn’t even come close.

Since leaving college, Ian and I met up again in 1989 for our never-to-be-forgotten adventure in North America; cycling down the East coast, visiting city after city, living some sort of American dream. We drove down through France for a Juventus vs. Sampdoria game in 1992. Ian now lives in Fareham, close to Portsmouth, with his wife Maria – I was the best man at his wedding in 2006 – and their two boys Tom and Benny. Both boys have teams; Tom is Arsenal, Ben is Chelsea. Once I managed to secure match tickets for the Saints match, I am sure that Ben has been so excited. But so was I. I couldn’t wait to meet up with him for the game.

We had arranged to meet up at the Peter Osgood statue at 1.30pm. It was magical to see them both, smiling and full of anticipation of the day ahead. Benny was wearing a blue and white bar scarf, and it made my day. During all of our years of friendship, who on earth would have predicted that Ian’s son would be a Chelsea fan.


We spent an hour in the hotel foyer. I am not honestly sure if Ben will remember too much of his first ever Chelsea game, nor the people that he met, but I made sure that I took enough photographs to help. Although it seemed that a camera was always on hand to take key photographs of my formative years, it is one of my big regrets that neither of my parents took any photographs of my first Chelsea game in 1974.

We chatted with Bobby Tambling, as always a lovely man, and it was good to look back on the summer tour in the US. I explained to Ben that Bobby scored 202 goals for Chelsea and Ben’s face was a picture. Coming from Hayling Island, Bob explained how everyone naturally presumed that he would play for Portsmouth after his impressive English schoolboy career. Instead, they made no offer, and despite an approach from Wolves, Bobby ended up at Stamford Bridge.

There were photographs with John Hollins, and Ben predicted a 10-0 win for Chelsea, and our former captain and manager loved the optimism.

There was a prolonged chat with former captain Colin Pates concerning his current job at the Whitgift School in Croydon, where he spotted the potential in a young Victor Moses, and also a few words from Colin which answered Ian’s enquiry about how difficult it was to make the transition from player to another trade.

“Put it like this. It’s like being at the best party you have ever been to. Then someone comes along and says it’s over.”

Ian and I knew exactly what he meant.

I commented back, looking at Ian –

“Colin found it so difficult, that he ended up playing for Arsenal.”

Colin and Ian laughed.

However, I chose not to talk to Colin about the Rotherham game in 1981, since he had played in that game. Neil Barnet called by and reminded us that it was Petar Borota’s last ever game for the club. What a wayward player he was, but loved by all. Bless him.

Paul Canoville joined us and I explained that this was Ben’s first-ever game. Paul spent a good few minutes with the three of us, welcoming Ben to the Chelsea family, and entertaining Ian with anecdotes from his various travels over the past summer.

I really appreciated the time that these three former players took in spending time with young Ben. And I am sure that Ian got a kick out of it too. Outside the main reception, there was time for a team photo with Ron Harris.

IMG_3505 (2)

Back in The Goose, it was lovely to see Alan and Gary again after their tribulations in Porto. I also bumped into a cheery Stan, too, and he seemed unperturbed, and showing no signs of distress after temporarily losing his passport. It was a sublimely beautiful Saturday evening and it was hard to believe that it was October now. The team news came through via various ‘phone updates.

John Terry was back.

Parky bought a round of amaretto shots and we then set off for the Bridge.

Southampton opted for the smaller away allocation for this fixture; around 1,500.

After the initial sparring, we were awarded a free-kick to the left of the Southampton goal. Willian swung in a looping free-kick which bamboozled Stekelenburg in the Saints goal. The ball struck the far post and rippled the net. For what seemed the umpteenth time already this season, we had scored with a free-kick from the left, and this was yet another one from Willian. He ran off to the East Stand and I can only imagine how excited young Ben must have been. Ian Hutchinson scored after ten minutes in my first game in 1974 and Willian did exactly the same for Ben in 2015.

Alan and myself attempted the Hampshire burr of cricket commentator John Arlott as we went through our “come on my little diamonds / they’ll have to come at us now” routine.

Chances were rare. Oscar and Eden Hazard struggled to find the target. Southampton burst through our ranks on several occasions. Sadio Mane was booked for diving. On more than one occasion, the alert Asmir Begovic saved our blushes.

However, a certain amount of sleepiness in our defence allowed Pelle to chest down for Davis to strike a low drive past Begovic.

At the break, Nemanja Matic replaced Ramires.

Southampton bossed the early moments of the second period. They are a fine team these days and they continually exposed the increasing self-doubt within our team. Then came a major talking point. Fabregas played in Falcao, who stretched to go past the Southampton ‘keeper, but fell. A penalty was not given, but the referee added insult to injury and booked Falcao for simulation. Our Colombian beat the Stamford Bridge turf in frustration.

The visitors were on the front foot now and several periods of Keystone Cops defending from our back line began to turn an already edgy Stamford Bridge crowd over the edge. With too much ease, Mane broke through after we lost possession, twisting past the recalled Terry to score.

Pedro replaced Willian.

There were boos.

Hazard, so obviously lacking any sort of confidence, gave the ball away and Southampton broke with pace. There was a feeling that this break would result in another goal. The ball was played outside to Pelle, who struck a low shot past Begovic from an angle. It was no more than Southampton deserved.



To my dismay, many spectators decided to leave.

Fuck them.

The substitute Matic was replaced by Loic Remy.

More boos.

I was just surprised that consistently underperforming Fabregas managed to avoid the manager’s axe yet again. Of all the disappointments this season, Cesc must rank as one of the biggest. Despite us losing 3-1, and despite hundreds of Chelsea supporters having vacated their seats, I was really pleased with the way that most Chelsea fans responded.

First of all, though, I noted a few hundred Chelsea fans in the Matthew Harding Lower singing – to my annoyance – “we’re fucking shit” and I really am lost for words to explain that.  However, a far greater number throughout both levels of the MH really got behind the team with rousing renditions of several Chelsea favourites. The noise boomed around Stamford Bridge and I so hoped that the watching millions around the globe could hear us.

Although we came at Southampton towards the end, a goal never really looked like coming.

So, no surprises, at the final whistle, there were loud boos.

We’re in a bad moment, no doubt.

We’re in a bad moment together and we’ll hopefully get out of it together too.

If we lose a few of our number along the way, so be it.

I have no logical reasons for our current malaise and I am not sure that many fellow Chelsea fans do either. We are a team so obviously low on confidence, and without that elusive “spark.” However, as I said to one or two others on the walk back to the car, it doesn’t really matter.

“I’ll be here next game, and the one after.”

However, it saddened me to receive a text from Ian later in the evening to say that Ben cried his eyes out at the end of the game.

At the age of eight, my first game, I would have done the same.


Tales From Planes, Trains And Cable Cars.

Porto vs. Chelsea : 29 September 2015.

Our troublesome season was continuing and, after away games in the West Midlands and the North East, I was on my travels again. It was a heady time following The Great Unpredictables. There were three away games in rapid succession in the space of seven days in three different competitions. It was another case of “planes, trains and automobiles” in my support of the team and I was loving it. Chelsea and I were almost as one. In fact, on two consecutive nights, I slept in Newcastle and Porto. Never before have my sleeping arrangements been so intrinsically linked to the fixture list of Chelsea Football Club.

After returning from Newcastle on the afternoon of Sunday 27 September, I met up with Parky in the departure lounge of Bristol airport. We toasted our return visit to Portugal, almost exactly a year after our last one, with a pint of lager, and chatted to a few Chelsea fans that had been in Newcastle too. Bristol airport had acted as home for less than four hours.

Sunday was spent in Newcastle, Bristol and Porto, with no time to breathe in between. It had been one of the oddest days of my life.

The flight was slightly delayed, but the pilot made good time. We landed with a rather disconcerting bump at Porto’s Francisco Sa Carneiro (yes, really) airport at around 8pm. Outside there was mist and fog. We quickly caught a cab into town, not wishing to waste any time. After checking in to the Dom Henrique hotel – just to the north of the immediate city centre – we met up with Kev, who had been alongside me in Newcastle, and who had travelled out from his Edinburgh home earlier in the day. He had completed a quick “reccy” of the waiting city.

“Not much around here. The centre has lots of bars. And it’s all uphill from the city back to here.”

Throughout the trip, there would no doubt be frequent comparisons between the cities of Lisbon and Porto, especially since the three of us were together in Lisbon in September 2014. There were immediate similarities in my mind. Both on the north bank of a river. Both with historic centres. Both with many interesting tourist attractions. Both football cities. Both with modern stadia. Both with a famous footballing heritage.

Benfica, Sporting, Belenenses, Porto and Boavista.

As we tumbled down through ornate squares, past historic churches and civic buildings, it had the feel of a cramped version of Lisbon. There were notoriously narrow streets, with barriers and traffic lights, which mirrored those in the Portuguese capital. At the epicentre of the city, the small square on the river, Praca da Ribeira, we exited the cab. As we walked towards the river, the sight which greeted us was jaw-droppingly spectacular. Away to our left was the illuminated Ponte Luis I bridge, yellow-tinted and wonderful, with a monastery, also illuminated, above. The river gorge was deeper than I had expected. On the other side of the river were the reflections of several of the wineries which housed barrels upon barrels of the city’s famous port, waiting for consumption by the visiting Chelsea away support.

We sat in the small square, ordered some beer – Super Bock yet again, Lisbon all over again – and I quickly ate a plate of calamari.

We chatted, we laughed, we toasted a few fine days away from the daily toil. We saw no other Chelsea fans. It did not matter. On the walk away from the square, at just after midnight, we dropped in to a small bar, and decided to sample some of the city’s most famous product.

“Three ports, please.”

I immediately knew the error of my ways. This silly request is akin to going in to a pub and asking for “three drinks” or a supermarket and asking for “some food please.” We were given a small port apiece, with a waiter keen to widen our knowledge of the drink on one hand and rip us off spectacularly with the other. The first one – I am not sure if it was tawny, rose or ruby – was stronger than I expected. I called it smoky and fumy. The second one was crisper and lighter. We were in our element, giggling away.

Kev : “I’m getting blackberries. Tobacco.”

Chris : “I’m getting wet leather. Gravy browning.”

Parkao : “I’m getting…pissed.”

At the end, when we asked for our bill, we stopped laughing.

It was thirty-eight euros for just six small drinks.


However, it had been a laugh. One of the waiters was a keen Porto fan and he spent a few colourful moments recreating the glory years under Jose Mourinho, the returning hero. His view was that Porto had seen the best aspects of Mourinho’s notoriously difficult character – imagine the complexities in texture, aroma and taste of one of the city’s stronger ports – while fans in London, Milan and Madrid had witnessed the more unpalatable nature of it.

One thing was certain in the eyes of the waiter.

Wherever he goes, it will always be about Mourinho.

A final nightcap in the hotel bar rounded off a fantastic first night in the city on the banks of the River Douro.

On the Monday, we had a whole day of leisure. The two other main protagonists from Lisbon 2014, Alan and Gary, were not arriving until the morning of the game on the Tuesday. This took the pressure of having to arrange a place to meet up later. Kev, Parkao and myself hunted out the nearest metro station, Trindade, and purchased a three day “Andante” pass for just fifteen euros. Each of the city’s train stations are ultra-modern blocks of concrete, sleek and stylish, and they contrast with the city’s older dustier buildings.

It was quickly evident that Porto was a beguiling and dramatic city, with an enchanting mix of old and new buildings tumbling down to the dramatic Douro River. We caught the metro over to the southern bank of the Douro, and the train passed over the top of the dramatic Pont Luis I bridge, designed by a partner of Gustave Eiffel, with the semi-circular arch so reminiscent of the tower in Paris.

Down below, the city was as dramatic as any that I have seen, with the wide river disappearing off to the ocean to the west and the ridiculously photogenic – “Portogenic”- city centre to the north, full of towers, tiled houses, churches, and a bewildering mix of pastel shaded buildings blinking in the sun. There was, of course, pure blue skies overhead. There were no clouds. It was already heating up. We caught a cable car down to the riverside, while I snapped away with my trusty camera to capture the ever-changing vista all around me. Down below were acres of wine warehouses, with EasyJet orange roof tiles, helping to create a tantalising mix of colours and forms.

Light blue skies, faded orange roofs, tiled walls and the deep blue of the river.

Get the picture?

We were falling in love with the city.

We followed this up with an hour-long river boat tour, which took us under several bridges of various shape and character to the inland east, then out to the rougher waters towards the Atlantic, where a sand bar could be spotted on the horizon. On the south bank, there were large signs announcing the various port wineries.






And the sun beat down.

We slowly walked along the riverside. It was an intriguing area. Souvenir stalls, leather goods, pottery, roasting chestnuts, port wineries, an Art Deco building looking rather the worse for wear, trees casting shadows, port boats bobbing up and down in the river, the water lapping at the river wall.

For three hours, we simply sat back in deck chairs outside a bar, and took it all in. Across the river, the city of Porto rested in the afternoon heat. It was a magnificent site. It will be, quite possibly, one of the sites of the season. Although obviously different in scale, it was almost as if Lisbon had been compacted, tipped on its side and gravity allowed to take its course, with all of the city’s important buildings now on show, teetering on the edge of the river. There was almost some sort of forced perspective. It was almost as if the view that we enjoyed of Porto was only in two dimensions. That there was no depth. That everything that Porto had to offer was now on show. It was as if there was simply nothing left of the city to see that could not already be seen. I almost expected to see the concrete of the Estadio Do Dragao peeping over the Archbishop’s Palace, keen to join in.

We dipped in to a cool restaurant above Praca da Rebeira and enjoyed some tapas with a beer in a frosted glass.

Black pudding, apple chutney, potatoes with chilli.

We returned to our hotel, and met up at around 7.30pm in the magnificent bar on the seventeenth floor. We sipped on lagers as we watched the night fall in every direction. The city’s lights were blinking at us. We could even see the distant ocean. It was a beautiful sight indeed.

The moon slowly rose into the night sky.

Super Moons and Super Bocks.

After alighting at Sao Bento metro station, we quickly dipped into a bar before descending further down towards the centre. We spotted a few familiar faces outside “Ryan’s Bar” and so dropped inside for one. It is one of the great ironies, and has been for many a year, that despite an antipathy among certain elements of our support towards Ireland – anti Irish, anti-Celtic, anti-Catholic, anti-Irish Republicanism – the rowdier elements of our travelling army in Europe always tend to congregate in Irish bars.

We bumped into Chicago Michelle and Chicago Joe, and headed down to the bars in the central square. We settled at a table outside and spoke of Newcastle and there were laughs as we discussed all things Chelsea. The heaters outside were on, and the air was getting chillier. There were few other Chelsea fans in the city. Brighton Tony and his crowd, but not many more.

Back at “Ryan’s Bar” the place had filled up with more Chelsea. We chatted away in to the night. I was intrigued by a new song, unheard of until then.

“When we find ourselves in trouble, Jose plays the 4-3-3. He’s not quite Makelele, Jon Obi, Jon Obi.

Jon Obi, Jon Obi, Jon Obi, Jon Obi.

He’s not quite Makelele, Jon Obi, Jon Obi.”

Boozy photographs ensued, but this was a quiet night. I’d guess only around seventy were in “Ryan’s Bar” – Chelsea Central – on the night of Monday 28 September.

We returned back to our hotel at around 2am.

Game Day was a fine day indeed.

After a lovely breakfast, Parkao and I headed over to the designated hotel where we were required to show up with our “ticket voucher” and passport in order to collect our sacred match ticket. We headed up past a line of art deco buildings – lovely, most unexpected – and spotted a few Chelsea fans encamped outside a bar at the bottom of the hill. None other than Alan and Gary, newly arrived, joined us. We had heard that Chelsea had sold 1,100 tickets. Not a bad show, to be honest, though slightly less than against Sporting in 2014.

A grand total of around twelve – twelve! – suited Chelsea officials met us in the hotel lobby and we were soon handed our tickets.


Kev was on the lookout for a match ticket, and we constantly reassured him that there would be touts at the stadium at least.

We then spent the rest of our time at leisure – and pleasure – in the charming central area. A drink outside Sao Bento, then a walk down to the Pont Luis I once again, where more photographs of the city ensued.

The area by the river was now far livelier than on the Monday. Chelsea flags were draped over walls and from balconies. A few Chelsea shirts were worn, but in the main it was the usual Chelsea dress code of polo shirts, Adidas trainers, Stone Island badges, various shades of Lacostery, and suchlike. We bumped into what seemed like hundreds of friends. There were Chelsea songs, and these drew inquisitive looks from tourists, if not locals, who are surely used to their bars being taken over on European matchdays.

There were songs in praise of former players and the mood was of great fun and enjoyment. Bottles of Super Bock were able to be purchased for just one euro. Alan purchased a small bottle of port and we all had a small nip.

“Under the hot sun, Englishmen drinking lager and port. What could possibly go wrong?”

Tons of laughs and giggles. There had not been a single mention of the game by anyone (and woe betide anyone who did.)

A few battle-hardened Chelsea fans could not resist harking back to the 1940’s with a couple of dirges. Why the local populace had to be treated to “if it wasn’t for the English, you’d be Krauts” is beyond me.

An elderly woman had volunteered to tie a Chelsea flag – John, Ben, Charlie and the wonderfully titled “Micky Foreskin” – to her high balcony overlooking us all, and at the end of the afternoon, she was asked to lower a basket from her vantage point. In it, the Chelsea fans below placed a bottle of port for her, as a token of thanks.

This was a lovely time. The hours sadly raced by.

Kev, Parkao and myself needed sustenance so excused ourselves.

Steak for Parkao, chicken for Kev, chicken for me. Beers for all of us.


Porto and Chelsea. Two clubs undeniably linked and only, really, since Jose Mourinho swapped clubs in 2004. I thought back on players that had played for both sides.

Carvalho, Ferreira, Maniche, Deco, Quaresma.

Was that it?

Kev and Parkao were stumped.

A friend in the US texted me with some more.

Falcao….oh dear, of course…Bosingwa…Hilario.

Quite a few in only eleven years.

At around 6.30 pm, we headed up to the stadium, the air cooling, and thoughts of the match beginning to emerge. We changed trains at Trindade. At the next stop – Bolhao – more Chelsea fans boarded the already crowded train. There was a large push from outside and a commotion. A familiar face from many a Chelsea game, Wycombe Stan, suddenly appeared in front of me, no more than two feet away. Next, a few shouts.

“They took my wallets.”

There was an almighty commotion and a couple of Chelsea fans gave chase. Then, a heart-breaking moment.

Stan exclaimed “they took my wallet too, and passport.”

I felt sick.

The doors closed before Stan could move. We told him to report the robbery to the local police as soon as possible. The mood had changed. The locals were devastated that we had been abused in their city. We were gutted for Stan and the two others. At the stadium, at around 7pm, we had quickly heard that one of the Chelsea fans had successfully caught up with one of the assailants and had even rescued Stan’s passport. I tried to get a message to him. Within ten minutes, we had heard that the passport was with Goggles, one of the Fulham Police who accompanies us on away escapades.

We had a moment to ourselves.

Of course, in the drunken fumes on a foreign metro, a football fan in an alien city, distracted, is an easy target for those who haunt the subway stations in search of easy prey. I was lucky. Both my passport and wallet was in my back pocket, too. It could so easily have been me. Though I am not belittling the infamous Paris metro incident in any way, I knew that the robbery that I had just witnessed at close hand would not be reported in any newspaper anywhere in the world the following day.

It did not help, let’s admit it, that many Chelsea fans similarly traveled around Porto with passports in back pockets throughout the day, since the new collection procedure required passports to be shown. This is unfortunate, at least, and quite worrying for future pick-ups in Kiev and Tel Aviv, where British passports are surely gold on the black market.

Something for Chelsea Football Club to think about for sure.

Outside the clean and light concrete curves of Porto’s fine stadium, Kev spotted a ticket office. While we chatted to fellow fans about the metro incident, Kev disappeared. He returned so quickly that I presumed that he had been quickly knocked-back. But no. He presented us with a fifty euro ticket, in the northern home end, job done.

“Superb, mate. Makes a complete mockery of us having to show passports to pick up our tickets though, eh?”

At the line to enter the stadium, an over-zealous steward spotted my camera. I quickly remembered that in Lisbon, I was allowed to take my wide angle in, but had to leave my zoom lens at an office. In Porto, despite pleading, I was not so lucky. I had to hand everything in.


Inside, we were located in the upper deck of the stand opposite the main stand. Sadly my phone died after just three photographs. The last time that I was at a game and without a camera? Moscow in 2008 (…the battery died) and I quickly realised that there was a bad vibe about this.

I had also forgotten to bring my glasses (originally there was a plan to head back to the hotel, but the drinking session on the banks of the Douro put paid to that…) and the scoreboards were out of sight. I was left to work out the team by myself.


Ivanovic, Cahill, Zouma, Azpilicueta.

Mikel, Ramires.

Willian, Fabregas, Pedro.

Diego Costa,

So, no John Terry. I was amazed to be honest. Surely the manager realised that the defence needed to be shored up with the presence and wise head of our captain? And no Eden Hazard, either. Nor Nemanja Matic, the hero in Lisbon.

The usual mosaics before the game and long shouts of “Pooooorto.”

With the ends open to the elements – though under a high roof – the city below could be seen in the huge space between fans and roof support at the south end.

The Chelsea support was in fine form all of the way throughout the first half with heavy rhythmic clapping accompanying the constant “Matthew Harding’s Blue And White Army – We Hate Tottenham.”

Chances were not too plentiful but we enjoyed a fair share of the ball and matched Porto for goal attempts. However, with only around five minutes of the first-half remaining, Brahimi toyed with the back-peddling Ivanovic. The under-fire Serbian seemed reluctant to challenge, allowing a rising shot to be struck goal wards. Begovic did well to get a strong palm to it, but the ball fell to the ridiculously named Andre Andre. Where is Micky Foreskin when you need him?

I turned and shouted “Ivanovic. Again.”

We reacted well, though. The effective Ramires was cut down outside the box. I was right behind the flight of the ball as Willian, also impressive, struck a curler past the motionless Casillas.

The away support roared.

It was the last action of the first-half. At half-time, the mood on the concourse was suitably buoyant. We had deserved a share of the points. The Willian song was being repeatedly sung, along with some impromptu dancing from a few. I don’t think they noticed that their lagers were alcohol free. It is one of the strangest ironies that Heineken are one of the Champion League’s biggest sponsors, yet cannot be consumed on match days. I was concerned, though, that I had not managed to spot Alan and Gary anywhere within our ranks.

The second-half was a different story. We soon conceded a weak second when Maicon rose to meet a low corner at our near post. It silenced us and our support. For the rest of the game, as we watched from high as Chelsea struggled everywhere, our singing slowed to almost a stop.

A fine strike from Diego Costa rattled the bar, and this was tough to see. A goal then would have spurred us.

Hazard replaced Mikel and soon went close.

Matic and Kenedy came on for Ramires and Pedro.

Porto, to be fair, looked more like scoring and a header hit our woodwork with Begovic beaten. Our play was slow and Porto easily matched us. Agonisingly, a last minute move found Kenedy roaring through, but his stretched touch was defected away. The final whistle blew right away.

How disappointing it had been.

At the end of the game, a few minutes after the last of the Chelsea players had disappeared in to the tunnel opposite, I meandered down to the concourse under our section. The mood was quiet and sombre. At half-time, the mood had been much different. I bumped into a few friends – Tim from Bristol, Orlin from Bulgaria – and we shared a few bleak words. Then, I heard some singing and chanting from those supporters that had remained in the seats. From their words, it was obvious that John Terry, the exile from the night’s battle, was out on the pitch. I immediately wondered if others were warming down alongside him. I clambered back up the dozen steps, with the songs ringing his praises continuing. What greeted me was a rather odd, surreal and peculiar sight.

Alone in the vast emptiness of the Dragao, a lone figure dressed in 1986 Chelsea Collection jade jogged slowly inside the nearest penalty area, then stopped to stretch by the goal. John Terry was there, alone with his thoughts for several minutes. There were no home fans left; I had commented to Parkao how quickly they had left once the celebrations had ended. There was only 50,000 empty blue seats, a man in a light green tracksuit top, and around one thousand Chelsea supporters, high above. The songs continued.

“John Terry, John Terry, John Terry.”

“And the shit from the Lane have won fuck all again. John Terry has won the double.”

And then this one :

“We want our captain back.”

I watched intensely to see if our captain would acknowledge this telling statement from the Chelsea hard-core. In a way, it did not surprise me that John chose not to wave or clap, though I am sure he heard us.

My immediate thought was that his acknowledgement of our song demanding to see him return to our starting eleven would be incorrect in the current climate. It would create an extra dimension to the possible rift between him and the manager. I admired him for that.

Instead, he continued his stretching, with no show of emotion.

I have no idea why JT chose to go through his post-match stretches out on the vast pitch, alone. Had there been words with other players? Did he chose to do so out of the way of the immediate post-mortem taking place in the changing room? Did he want to be close to the fans and not anyone else? Had there been an almighty tiff with Mourinho? I was puzzled.

As John Terry turned to head inside, there was a final singing of his name. He jogged away from us. I was left with my thoughts. Was there nothing to worry about here? Was this the simple act of John Terry choosing to go through his stretches away from those who had been taking part in the game, not wishing to get in the way? Or was this a stage-managed “I am the victim” moment from our captain, chosen for impact, like a Chelseaesque version of the famous Princess Diana photograph of her on that marble bench outside the Taj Mahal in 1992?

I suspected that the truth would eventually materialise at some stage over the next few days, weeks, months.

We were not kept waiting inside the cool concrete of the stadium for too long. I collected my camera and we slowly walked down to the adjacent metro station, past a line of police standing under the now waning super moon. We had spoken about heading back to Praca da Ribeira, but our mood had changed. Instead, we alighted at Trindade, and slowly retraced our steps to our hotel. There was time for a couple of ice cold beers and a bite to eat up in the stunning bar on the seventeenth floor, with Porto’s beguiling orange lights providing a magnificent panorama all around us. There was, in a moment honouring the fun that was had almost exactly a year ago in Lisbon, time for a morangoska cocktail.

I summed things up.

“Porto is a great city, very dramatic, but Lisbon is grander and I give it the edge. It has it all. But Porto is a fine city, we have enjoyed it, but – if nothing else – we won in Lisbon and we lost in Porto. So, Lisbon for me. And the morangoska cocktails were better in Lisbon.”

The day after the game, we were up early. We enjoyed one final breakfast and Parkao bought a couple of famous Pastel de Nata custard tarts in a nearby café. We caught the subway out to the airport and met up with a couple of others who were on the same flight back to Bristol. The post mortems continued. Our four day escapade in Porto was coming to an end. We were going home.

As soon as we landed at Bristol, my phone brought some very sad and disappointing news. There was a reason why my usual match day companions Alan and Gary had not been spotted at the stadium. In the rush to get up to the stadium from the riverside, Alan had been robbed, with the assailant taking his wallet and both of their match tickets. My heart sunk. For a few moments, my view of Porto deteriorated further.

In the ranking of all of these great European cities that I have visited with Chelsea over the years – I think that my current favourites are Prague, Seville, Munich, Lisbon and Turin – Porto was losing ground quickly.

“You could have been a contender, Porto, you could have been a contender. But you blew it.”

Lisbon 2014 was definitely better.

Especially on the pitch.

These are strange times at the moment. As many Chelsea supporters said to me in Portugal, “something is definitely up.” The problem is that nobody is really sure what. On Saturday, against a tough Southampton team, we will continue the search for the answers.


Tales From The Toon.

Newcastle United vs. Chelsea : 26 September 2015.

When I left the office at around 5pm on Friday, and slowly paced across to my waiting car, there was a rising feeling of contentment. My week’s work completed, I would now be on holiday for five days, with a couple of Chelsea trips, to Newcastle and Porto, thrown in for good measure. Five days of relaxation with a few good mates and The Great Unpredictables.

Life rarely gets much better.

On the Saturday morning, I needed to be up early. I set the alarm for 4.30am, and meticulously packed for two trips. On the Sunday, the schedule was tight. I would be arriving back from the North-East at Bristol airport at 2.15pm, but heading out from the same airport to Portugal at 6pm. It is just as well that some good friends of mine live but a five minute car ride from the airport. It meant that I could leave my car, and bag for the European leg, at their house without having to drive back home.

I left home on the Saturday at around 6.15am. There was a great feeling of escape. The Mendip Hills were waking, and the air was crisp and perfect, with mist hugging the lower levels of land. Childhood memories flooded my mind. At Burrington Combe – a less dramatic version of Cheddar Gorge – one distinct memory returned. When I was a young’un, from the age of four or five onwards, whenever we went on a trip, I always seemed to take my football. There might be a lawn at the house of an uncle and aunt where I could pop out and kick a ball around while conversations inside continued. I always took my ball to beach visits. It was a constant companion.

A boy and his ball.

On one particular occasion, when my parents and I visited Burrington Coombe – I was surely no more than six years of age – we walked up to the top of a hill overlooking a deep valley. Until then, my father would always kick the ball back to me. On this occasion, I always remember that my mother joined in too. And I always remember being really impressed with this. It showed my mother in a new light, happy to join in a previously “father and son” activity, with dear Mum laughing and smiling as we kicked the ball between ourselves. That afternoon always sticks in my mind. It was one of those early moments of my childhood that brings me great pleasure in remembering.

A father, a mother, a son and a ball.

It has been a tough year, but these memories bring me great sustenance.

On the short drive from Pete’s house to the airport, we chatted about football, family and work (possibly in that order, I can’t remember) and it is ironic that Pete supports Newcastle United. When Newcastle United were newly-arrived in the Premier League in 1993, we always said that we would drive up to Newcastle for a game against Chelsea. We never did. I hope we can do it over the next few seasons, especially since air travel between Bristol and Newcastle has made this such a great option. Sadly, Pete has – like many Newcastle supporters – become totally disillusioned with the way the club is run of late. He would be tuning in to the England versus Wales rugby match after the game between our two clubs, and I had a horrible feeling that I knew which game he was looking forward to more.

I had to laugh when we spotted a gathering of magpies in the middle of a country lane as we approached the airport. They soon flew off. I quickly counted them.


“One for sorrow, two for joy, three for a girl and four for a boy.  Five for silver.”

“Silverware, Pete.”

“You’re joking aren’t you?”

“Yes, perhaps you are right. Silver hair maybe.”

As Pete dropped me off at Bristol airport, we exchanged pleasantries.

“Cheers mate. Enjoy the Toon. See you tomorrow.”

“Cheers Pete. Enjoy…the rugby.”

The flight left Bristol at 8.40am and I recognised a smattering of West Country blues on board. I don’t attend every Chelsea game at St. James’ Park – far from it – due to the long distances involved. This would only be my ninth such trip. But I have enjoyed them all. Newcastle is one of my favourite away destinations. In 2013, I flew up for the first-time and, despite the 0-2 defeat, had an enjoyable time, though I am still struggling to remember how I managed to get back from the centre of the city to my hotel that evening. In 2015, there would be no boozy repeats; I needed to keep a clear head for Sunday.

On the metro in to the city, I chatted to a Chelsea fan from Weston-Super-Mare who was on the flight. He used to sit right behind me in the MHU for around five seasons. I see him sporadically. It was great to see him again.

Although the West of England was full of early morning sun, a bank of cloud enveloped the North of England as we crossed the Pennines. Newcastle was grey, but thankfully not cold. As soon as I reached the city centre at around 10.15am, I retraced my steps from 2013 and headed down to the quayside where I enjoyed a late breakfast, overlooking the River Tyne.

This area is wonderfully photogenic, with four or five bridges of various styles traversing the river. My camera clicked away madly, especially when the Gateshead Millennium Bridge was raised to allow a yacht pass underneath.

The iconic rail bridge was adorned with a “Rugby World Cup 2015” banner and I noted many rugby fans drinking in the river-side bars. Maybe there is a game at St. James’ Park on the Sunday. I really would not know, nor even care. I enjoyed a pint in the “Hop and Cleaver”, which is a wonderfully renovated old pub, with exposed brickwork and high ceilings. I then huffed and puffed my way up the 107 steps to the high land by the site of the original castle. Porto, too, is a city located on a river with high gorges and iconic bridges. It will be a theme for these few days.

At around 1pm, I met up with Kev from Edinburgh in “The Victoria Comet.” I passed over his match ticket, and we chatted about our trip to Porto. I first met Kev over in Lisbon virtually a year ago and here we were again. I then met up with Joe and Michelle, from Chicago, who I first met in Turin in 2009, and – most recently – in Charlotte in the summer. Another ticket was handed over, amid talk about their plans for Porto, too. Joe and Michelle distribute “CFCUK” in the USA and it was a pleasure to see them again.

I excused myself and headed up to my hotel in West Jesmond to check in. I enjoyed a pint in a local pub, The Lonsdale, as I waited to catch a metro train back in to the centre. I overheard a group of Newcastle fans bemoaning the state of their club. I had a quiet chuckle to myself when I heard one of them recount the famous story of the loathed Joe Kinnear, as their director of football, hearing good stories from a club scout about a player playing in a foreign team and making tentative requests to sign him. This player, infamously, already was a Newcastle player and was merely on loan with this team.

As they say :

“You couldn’t make it up.”

On the walk to the stadium, on that little cut through in the Chinatown area, I happened to spot “The Back Page” which was an Aladdin’s Cave of football memorabilia, and not just of the home town team. I have mentioned before in these reports of my fascination with the former Newcastle United and Chelsea player Hughie Gallacher, a ticking time bomb of a centre forward, who starred for both teams in the ‘thirties. I have long wanted to buy a book written on the 5’ 6” firebrand by Paul Joannou, so I thought I would try my luck. At first, I was met with a negative response from Kev, the shop owner.

“Maybes on Amazon like, and then yez talking silly money, maybes £150.”

We continued talking and he could tell that I knew my football. He then seemed to think they might have copies and so disappeared downstairs. He came back with not one but three copies.

“We have so many Newcastle books down there. I had this inkling we might have one.”

I was ecstatic, but the price was a £50.

“Put it to one side and I’ll be back after the game.”

On the short walk up to the stadium, I stopped to take a photograph of the Bobby Robson statue.

After the 107 steps earlier in the day, I was now confronted with 140 steps to the top of the towering stand at the Leazes End. I had forgotten how small the pitch looks from the top tier. The Chelsea support, as always in Newcastle, was swollen by a large number of Rangers – and Hearts – fans, who took over the bar areas with some of their songs and chants. I momentarily spotted Simon’s son Milo – eighteen now, and travelling independently of father – soaked in beer. His face was a picture, though.

We had tickets for three thousand and there were only a few empty seats.

The home areas took forever to fill up. At 5pm, the ground looked empty.

Newcastle were in a terrible run of form, and many conversations that I enjoyed throughout the day included these words :

“Surely we will win today.”

The news was that Jose Mourinho had again decided to go with Cahill and Zouma; no JT. Upfront, I was glad to see Loic Remy given the start. Elsewhere, there were few surprises.


Ivanovic, Cahill, Zouma, Apilicueta.

Matic, Fabregas.

Oscar, Hazard, Pedro.


There were unfamiliar faces aplenty in the home team. At last the home areas were populated, but I spotted many empty seats; those of disinterested and disenfranchised Toon fans.

We began OK – lots of the ball – but as the first-half progressed, there were rising levels of frustration within the Chelsea support at our general play. After our three consecutive wins and a presumed upturn in our confidence, we were showing exactly the types of problems inherent within our poor start to the season.

Lack of movement off the ball.

No pace.

No width.

A lack of intensity.

No pressing.

Defensive frailties.

Exposure down our right.

Possession with no penetration.

A lack of leadership.

The nine deadly sins.

As the half progressed, our noisy support waned. I remember a Remy snapshot and a fine effort from Febregas. But Newcastle were creating more chances than us, and we had to rely on Asmir Begovic to keep us from going behind. The mood in the away seats was of disbelief and at times anger.

“Cam on Chowls, get in to them.”

Blame the first goal on me. I stupidly commented to Gary :

“Oh God, the last thing we want is to conceded just before half-time.”

With that, an innocuous cross from the Newcastle right from Anita drifted over the head of Kurt Zouma and Perez, to our disbelief, was able to bring the ball down, with Ivanovic too far away to act, and adroitly touch the ball in off the post.

It was a goal which absolutely summed up our woes in 2015.

The home support roared, we were gobsmacked.

During half-time, this typical of my comments :

“Shite. Absolute shite. We had two or three chances, they have had six or seven. Have we won a tackle? We have made a very poor team look good. With City losing again, here was a chance for us to make a statement.”

In the second-half, the roundly booed Remy (who played for Newcastle in 2013/2014 and scored against us in the corresponding fixture that season) had two headers, though one was offside. Our play improved, with a little more drive, but a goal seemed as distant as ever. After a fine run by Hazard, the move broke down, and Newcastle immediately broke away in one of their first real attacks of the game. A corner ensued and we watched – absolutely aghast – as Wijnaldum managed to get his stooping head to a low cross to head home past Begovic. I am not usually angry with our heroes, but on this occasion I screamed “free header” in absolute anger.

I was silent, stewing in my own juices, for minutes after.

“For Fuck Sake.”

I wondered what John Terry was thinking.

So, here we were.

0-2 in 2013.

1-2 in 2014.

0-2 in 2015.

Despite our slight improvement in our play, we were staring defeat in the eyes. The away end was now full of supporters who were venting more and more scorn on the manager and the players. The manager had been wanting to bring on Falcao – for Remy – and Willian – for Matic – for a while, but they now appeared.

“To be honest Kev, I can see them getting a third.”

Our play was still frustrating us all. Some supporters left to return to the bars of The Bigg Market.

Ramires replaced Oscar. His impact was great.

Eden Hazard was showing a little more spirit, and he played the ball square to our Brazilan number seven. Without hardly a thought, he ripped a fine shot high past Krul in to the top corner.

“Get in.”

It was as surprising as it was impressive.

The spirit raised within our ranks, our support levels climbed several notches. Hazard led the way, but was often crowded out. A magnificent ball from deep from Fabregas, his head bandaged now, picked out a run from Pedro, but his touch was heavy and the chance gone.

With three minutes remaining, Willian swung in a free-kick towards Krul’s goal. I had my camera poised and clicked just as the ball evaded Ramires’ lunge and dropped in past the dithering Newcastle ‘keeper. It was a goal which was so similar to the one against Tel Aviv recently.


Kev and I grabbed each other around the waist and bounced up and down for ages.

We were loud now.

“Champions Of England. We Know What We Are.”

There was joy and also disbelief in our and. It was an amazing turnaround. We even had the chance to win it in the last few minutes, but Ramires’ header was dramatically clawed away by Krul.

Two points dropped or a point gained?

We will know in May.

I bounced down the 140 steps and we were out in to the Newcastle night. I said my goodbyes to Kev outside “The Back Page” – it billed itself as “A Football Pervert’s Paradise” – and went in to purchase the book on Hughie Gallacher. The shop owner slipped in a couple of other books too. That was a nice gesture. We had a good old chat about the game and our two respective clubs. Perfect.

It had been a fine day on the banks of the River Tyne.


Tales From Underneath The M6.

Walsall vs. Chelsea : 23 September 2015.

Following our stirring 2-0 victory over Arsenal, there followed a midweek match in the League Cup – I’m going to resolutely refrain from calling it by its current pseudonym – against League One, er Third Division – high flyers Walsall.

Here was a game which I was really relishing, although the main reason was due to me being able to tick off another new ground in the never-ending list of venues where I have seen Chelsea play. Of course, there have been Chelsea games at Walsall’s former home Fellows Park before. Everyone had been referencing the 7-0 win during our 1988/1989 promotion campaign, but I also recollect a League Cup match in 1984. Neither of these did I attend.

Walsall is just a few miles further north than West Brom’s stadium, so here was a relatively easy away game. After work, I collected Parky and we were soon on our way up the M5. This would be the first of three back-to-back-to back away games for myself; the game in the West Midlands would be followed in quick succession by games on Tyneside and in Portugal. At Gloucester Services, we happened to bump in to four of Trowbridge’s finest, who themselves were heading up to Newcastle at the weekend. Three of them would be on the same flight from Bristol as myself.

I must pass Walsall’s compact Bescot Stadium, nestled alongside some huge advertising hoardings which overlook an elevated section of the M6 as it works its way out of Birmingham, five or six times every season. The upper deck of one of its stands is a familiar sight as I head north on numerous Chelsea away trips. On this occasion, I would be stopping by and paying it a visit.

We made good time, and I was parked-up in a quiet residential street about a mile from the stadium at around 6.30pm. The match programme mentioned our most recent encounter with Walsall, and it was a game that I had forgotten all about; a 1993 League Cup game at Stamford Bridge, which had followed on from the first leg at the Bescot Stadium, back in the days when the early round was a two-legged affair. Those of a nervous disposition might want to look away now, but the gates at the two games were 5,510 in Walsall and just 7,646 in West London. The home game included that rare event, a Robert Fleck goal. More of him later.

Inside the stadium, we enjoyed a pint in the cramped bar which ran beneath the terraces of the away stand. Originally, the stadium consisted of four small stands, but the home end is now double-decked with a line of executive boxes splitting the two tiers. The songs soon started, and there were the first of many “Zigger Zaggers” which continually popped up throughout the evening. I was right behind the goal, towards the back of the slight stand. There were many familiar faces nearby within the 1,500 away support. Parky’s seat was only seven seats away from me, so he soon sauntered over to join me.

If some Chelsea games were films, then some of our most dramatic encounters could be likened to tense thrillers. Some of European nights fall in to that genre. How about those games in the Champions League with Barcelona and Liverpool. Some could be likened to sweeping epics, like some of our domestic cup ties, rolling on, with replay after replay. Others could be mysteries – how did we lose that game? – or maybe even whodunits – who was responsible for that loss? The game at the Bescot Stadium on Wednesday 23 September 2015, watched by an easily distracted away support, almost resembled an old style Ealing Comedy, or maybe a Carry On film, with a catalogue of comedic moments, ribald jokes, typical British humour, and allied high-jinks. It was a – to coin an often used phrase in the Chelsea lexicon of late – “proper” old school evening out.

I thoroughly enjoyed it.

The team selection soon filtered through. It was a mix of old and new.

Begovic, Ivanovic, JT, Cahill, Baba, Mikel, Ramires, Loftus-Cheek, Kenedy, Falcao, Remy.

Despite a lot of League Cup games drawing pitiful crowds these days, I was happy to see a full house, with few seats unused, as at Shrewsbury almost a year ago. As the Chelsea players ran towards us, I wondered what was going through captain John Terry’s mind, now playing for his place alongside a few others not now guaranteed automatic selection.

Not only did the team begin well, but the buoyant away crowd were soon delving in to the well-thumbed pages of the Chelsea songbook. The night of song and revelry began.

“We all follow the Chelsea, over land and sea…”

“Here for the Chelsea…”

“Diego, Diego, Diego…”

There were sporadic and unconvincing shouts of “Zigger Zagger.”

Our noisy support was rewarded with a headed goal from Ramires at the far post after a fine cross from Kenedy on just ten minutes. The songs continued.

“In Dublin’s fair city…”

“Double, double, double…”

“Oh Dennis Wise, scored a fucking great goal…”

“Knees up Mother Brown…”

“Bertie Mee said to Bill Shankly have you heard of the North Bank Highbury..?”

“The Shed looked up and they saw a great star, scoring goals past Pat Jennings from near and from far…”

“Oh Jimmy Jimmy – Jimmy Jimmy Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink…”

We played some nice stuff as the game continued and I remember being impressed with the neatness of Ruben Loftus-Cheek’s touch and the eagerness and speed of Kenedy. One earnest run, direct and forceful, was scintillating. However, Walsall had their moments and matched us for attempts on goal. It is just as well that their shots were truly woeful. Ivanovic, had a patchy first-half, and looked to be way off the pace one minute, yet strong the next. Overall, it was a pretty decent Chelsea performance. We just looked, obviously, fitter and faster than our opponents. A superb ball from Mikel found Falcao, who went close. I liked the relationship between Kenedy and Baba on the left. It looked a far more fluid attacking area than the stop / start nature of our attacks down the opposite flank. Among it all, Loftus-Cheek was keeping things solid and picking some fine passes. We went two goals up when Ramires picked out Remy, himself impressive, who smashed the ball home.

“You’ve had your day out…”

“Jose Mourinho…”

However, just as it looked like the game was won before half-time, Walsall managed to get a goal back. I thought Begovic did ever so well to foil an effort from a free-kick; he had moved slightly to his right, but quickly flung himself to the left to push out an effort. Alas, the ball ran to O’Connor who nudged the ball over the line from an angle. The home crowd made a racket as they celebrated a surprise goal.

Soon in to the second period, Kenedy struck home after a fine move and we regained our two-goal lead. Bolstered by some half-time drinks, the songs continued.

“Number one is Robert Fleck, number two is Robert Fleck…”

“One man went to mow…”

Then, a moment of comedy. Over in the far corner, a jet of water from a pitch side sprinkler suddenly started spraying the pitch. It wouldn’t stop. It continued for a minute or two. The sprinkler then started spraying the crowd in the lower tier of the home end. The Chelsea contingent immediately conjured up a few songs.

“Is there a fire drill…?”

“Sacked in the morning…”

“You’ve had your shower, now fuck off home…”

The Chelsea support was in full-on “Micky-Taking” mode now and the songs continued.

There was even a solid attempt at “Chelsea Ranger”, a song more suited to pre-match pubs and bars than during actual games. It is rarely heard during matches.

Pedro came on for Kenedy.

“Ooh, Pedro Rodriguez…”

Matic replaced Loftus-Cheek.

“In the middle of our pitch…”

Walsall had a few chances. A fine dribble from Remy, looking confident, was good to see. However, it was disheartening to see Radamel Falcao floundering in front of goal in front of us. I am just so pleased he scored against Palace, or we could be suffering a Torres-style goal drought. In the closing moments, Pedro advanced and shimmied before sending a low shot towards goal, which the Walsall ‘keeper should have saved, but the ball was possibly too close and low for him to react.

Walsall 1 Chelsea 4.

In the last few seconds, Falcao was replaced by Papys Djilobodji.

…mmm, no song for him yet.

As I made my way slowly out of the away seats, a young policewoman called me over, pointing at a few sticks of celery which had found their way on to the grass.

“What’s with the celery?”

I smiled and partially explained it, but didn’t elaborate fully.


This had been an enjoyable evening, plenty of songs, lots of familiar faces, and four goal scorers. We soon learned that we had been drawn away at Stoke City, just up the road, in the next round. Would I be heading past Bescot Stadium once more next month? It’s highly likely.

But first, we take on Newcastle United and Porto in their home cities.

See you there.


Tales From The Last Picture Of Summer.

Chelsea vs. Arsenal : 19 September 2015.

As soon as I walked into the beer garden of “The Goose”, pint of Peroni in hand, I was met with smiles from the usual suspects. Without wasting any time, Duncan looked me in the eye and asked me of my thoughts for the lunchtime game against our North London rivals. I summed things up quickly.

“I’ll take a draw, now.”

Duncan nodded sagely.

“Yeah, that’s what I’ve been saying.”

Daryl was not in agreement.

“We’ve got to win.”

I immediately wondered if this viewpoint might lead to disappointment later in the day. It was clear to everyone that we had not started the season well, and I – for one – was not going to read too much in to our easy victory over our Israeli opponents during the week. The thought of us losing to Arsenal, and therefore garnering only four points from a possible eighteen, was not worth thinking about.

A point would suffice for me.

The football talk continued as we spoke about the team and its well documented problems so far in to the season. I spoke about Eden Hazard. I noticed that there was a moment during the second-half during Wednesday’s game when he came over to retrieve the match ball from a ball boy before flicking it over to Cesc Fabregas who was waiting to take a corner. Eden’s face was anything but a picture; he looked thoroughly down, quite depressed, and his whole body language was off. Here was a man who did not appear to be enjoying his football. He had ballooned a penalty in the first-half and had miss-placed several passes in the second-half. I felt for him. I could not remember seeing a player so obviously suffering a “dark moment” so vividly for ages. I hoped for a recovery soon.

Other facets of our game were discussed.

There certainly seemed to be a lack of intensity, of fight, in most of our matches this season. I wondered if the way that we won the league during the closing months of 2014/2015, plugging away and eking out narrow wins, but under no real pressure from a chasing pack, meant that we had been playing under an “easy” environment for a good five months. Maybe it has proved difficult to re-focus after playing with a particular mind-set for so long.

I don’t know.

However, I certainly didn’t need football pundits and experts with pointy sticks and stop/go technical gadgetry for me to realise that we were missing “bite” in our midfield at Everton, our worst performance of the season, and that we were simply affording opposing teams too much space. That lack drive and urgency from all of our players, a trademark of the first half of last season, was key to our woes in 2015/2016 in my mind.

While we were stood in the beautiful September sun, the team news came through.


Ivanovic, Cahill, Zouma, Azpilicueta.

Matic, Fabregas.

Oscar, Hazard, Pedro.

Diego Costa.

Initial reactions were not favourable. We were not keen on Cesc Fabregas remaining in what is basically a defensive midfield position. Ivanovic’ inclusion annoyed many, but did not surprise me. I found it unlikely that the youngster Baba would get two games in four days.

Arsenal’s midfield was discussed.

Ed was forthright.

“We could get run ragged.”

Of course, John Terry was not playing, with Mourinho instead opting with the “Zorro and Zouma” (copyright Alan Davidson 2015) combination instead. Our fastidious manager was backing up his declaration on picking his starting eleven based on current form rather than reputation, though the pace of Arsenal’s attacking thrusts were an obvious reason why our captain was omitted.

The Goose was full of Chelsea. Arsenal would not dare enter within.

Elsewhere there was talk of New York baseball, the lesser known characters in the 1970 sitcom “Porridge” and of China Crisis songs.

It’s not always about football.

I didn’t see a single Arsenal fan on the walk in to the stadium. I have no idea where they did their pre-match drinking, but I am sure it wasn’t in the Chelsea heartland.

There was a case of squad rotation within the stands too. Instead of watching alongside my usual match-day companions Alan and Glenn – who were on holiday and at work – I took my seat alongside my good mates Neil and Walnuts. The weather was holding firm. Next week, at Newcastle, there might well be a different feel. This game, a lovely old London Derby, under a blue sky seemed like the last picture of summer.

Throughout the day – I know why, all will be explained – I kept thinking back to another Chelsea vs. Arsenal game, again in late September, but from thirty years ago.

September 1985.

I can distinctly remember bumping in to Glenn around the pubs of Frome on the day before the game, the Friday, and – because I had not been to any of the three home games so far in that season – Glenn ribbing me about my lack of attendance.

“You’ll get some stick tomorrow.”

I remember smiling. At least I was missed. It made me feel wanted.

It was only the second time that I had witnessed Arsenal down in SW6, and I look back fondly on that game, with Arsenal taking a lead but Chelsea recovering with a Pat Nevin header to equalise and then a late penalty from Nigel Spackman giving us a dramatic 2-1 win. Watching on the benches, right in the midst of it, with Alan and Glenn, and a few other lads who I still see to this day. It was a fantastic result. I remember seeing Micky Hazard play for us for the first time. And Chelsea in all blue for the first time in my life, having jettisoned the classic white socks over the summer. That evening, I always remember, I travelled back on the Chelsea supporters coach from Yeovil, and met up with some school friends on a night out in my home town of Frome, recovering from its annual autumnal carnival. There is a fuzzy photograph of me, post victory beer in hand, in a town pub, wearing a paisley button-down shirt, which was all the rage at football in the autumn of 1985 and it is hard to believe that thirty years have since passed. I would be doing the same after the game in 2015 – no paisley shirt this time – with some school friends from that era, on carnival night too.

History repeating itself, thirty years on.

Lovely stuff.

As the teams came on to the pitch, it surprised me that I had not contemplated the fact that Petr Cech would be returning to his former home. Of course, I gave him a fine welcome back as he walked slowly to take up his position below us at the north end of the stadium.

But that was it, no lingering sense of what could have been. Asmir was our man, now.

It was an evenly-contested first half. Each team had small spells of domination. There was a significant step-up in our performance and the crowd seized on this. The noise was better. The players moved for each other, with several instances of fine play. Oscar was winning tackles, Pedro was spinning out of tight areas, and Hazard was more like his old self. But Arsenal themselves too were causing us occasional problems.

Tackles were made, bodies crashed against each other. I had heard that the first-half of the recent Manchester United vs. Liverpool match had been a tepid and timid affair, with none of the passion and intensity of yester year. Well, by contrast, this contest between “soft Southerners” was full of bite.

The main chant emanating from the replica shirts and the scarves of the travelling Goons in the Shed End was this :

“Fuck Off Mourinho.”

And they question our class.

We countered :

“Ashley Cole’s Won The European Cup.”

A few chances were exchanged by both sides. It was a fine half of football.

A determined run by Eden Hazard deep in to the Arsenal box ended up with a coming together with Gabriel, but the referee Mike Dean chose to rule that both were guilty of tangling arms and legs.

A fierce effort from King Kurt zipped over Cech’s bar from forty yards. Pedro tested him too. We were in the ascendency, but only by a narrow margin.

Then, the game’s big talking pint.

I didn’t see Costa’s flailing arms as he ran with Koscielny, but I did see the chest bump, which resulted in the Arsenal defender falling back and ending up on the floor. I feared the worst. Thankfully the linesman on the far side did not flag anything untoward. Then, with me not really paying too much attention to the ongoing chat and back chat between several protagonists, they walked back towards the centre of the pitch. The dialogue seemed to be continuing for a while. Nobody really knew what was going on. Then, a rise in the noise from the crowd and a brandishing of a red card to Gabriel, which resulted in a roar from the home support and incredulity from the Arsenal players.

Of course, the viewing millions throughout the world were better placed than myself and those watching in SW6. It was all a bit of a mystery. One thing was certain, though. Diego Costa was agent provocateur in all of this. A couple of texts and posts on Facebook from a couple of respected friends backed up my initial thoughts. Our man Diego was lucky to stay on the pitch. His combative nature is admired by many, but his pernicious tendencies do not sit well with me. Of course there are two sides to every story here. If we ask Costa to reign himself in, we might well dampen his effectiveness. Yet I remember the first couple of seasons of Didier Drogba at Chelsea, when his play-acting disturbed me. After channelling all of that negative stuff in to more positive play, he became a better player, a more respected team mate and a more potent striker.

I wonder if Diego Costa will change.

I won’t hold my breath.

At half-time, John Dempsey – a scorer in Athens – was paraded at half-time. The away fans again showed their class :

“Oo The Fackin’ell Are Yooo?”

Dempsey conducted them, then gave them a full blown “double V.”

Oh boy.

With Arsenal a man down, I wondered if Daryl’s wish might come reality.

Pedro went close with a volley. Then, seven minutes in to the second-half, a foul by an Arsenal defender resulted in a free-kick to us. I waited as Cesc Fabregas sent in a magnificently placed ball deep in to the Arsenal box. I snapped as Kurt Zouma rose – with no Arsenal defender in sight – and headed down past Petr Cech. In a blur, the net rippled, the crowd roared and I watched through my lens as King Kurt sped off on the best celebratory run so far this season. He bounded along the goal line and jumped for joy.

Snap, snap, snap, snap, snap.

I knew I had a couple of beauties among that little lot.

My photos taken, I roared my approval.

From the island of Menorca, a text message from Alan : “THTCAUN.”

From Stamford Bridge : “C1-0MLD.”

Our young defender had shone defensively in the game thus far – one magnificent tackle the highlight – but now he was writing himself in to Chelsea folklore. Eden Hazard forced a fine save from Cech, but Sanchez and Walcott fired shots in on Begovic too. More chances to us. This was more like it.

Ramires replaced Oscar.

An errant, miss-timed tackle by Cazorla on Fabregas, meant that Mike Dean had no choice but to award Cazorla a second yellow. Off he went. We howled with pleasure.

Arsenal were down to nine.

Surely we were safe, now?

With Diego Costa getting in the face of Arsenal players everywhere, it was no surprise that the manager chose to substitute him. To lose him to a second yellow, and a subsequent ban, would be silly. Of course, he exited the pitch to a deafening roar of approval. He was replaced by Loic Remy.

For a while, it looked like we would play the ball to oblivion, across the back four, keeping possession, not threatening, waiting for the time to tick by.

The fat lady was gargling, off stage.

We waited for the final whistle.

However, Eden Hazard had the last laugh. The ball came out to him on the edge of the box and he slammed the ball goal wards. It took a wicked deflection, Cech was beaten, and the ball nestled in the net.


This was a much better performance from the boys. Even the recently lampooned Branislav Ivanovic, captain for the day, so often out of position this season, did well. The star of the show, though, was King Kurt. He was immense. This was clearly a much better performance from the boys. There was much to admire, and – God bless him – Eden Hazard was obviously enjoying himself on the Stamford Bridge turf once more.

In fact, it was so good, it could have been from September 2014.

On the drive home, the airwaves were full of Diego Costa, as I knew they would be. Thousands of different opinions, thousands of different viewpoints; it’s never boring watching Chelsea.

To top off a cracking day, West Ham won at Manchester City.

“Get in.”

I had enjoyed myself immensely, but the fun was only just beginning. I met up with the class of 1985 (…followers of Chelsea, Manchester United, Liverpool, Leeds United, Portsmouth and Derby County) in a Frome pub at 7.45pm, and we then set off on a lovely pub crawl, and chatted about all sorts of nonsense – but mainly football – deep in to the night. I bumped into my Uncle Mike, whose father we used to take to Chelsea games in the mid-to-late ‘seventies, and we reminisced on how Uncle Geoff used to love those trips to Stamford Bridge.

Football, always football.

Six mates, six pints, five pubs, three points and one large doner kebab.


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Tales From The Third Season.

Chelsea vs. Maccabi Tel Aviv : 16 September 2015.

Immediately after the Everton game, with Dean and myself driving down the M6, we listened to an interview with our troubled manager on Five Live. I thought that Jose spoke calmly and succinctly about the team’s poor performance, and he was clear that the blame should lie firmly with him. It was just the sort of bullshit-free statement that I was longing for. His tongue-in-cheek comment, undoubtedly used to defuse the tension of the moment, about a malfunctioning computer was just a comic aside, illustrating how nothing was going right for him and the team, and nothing more than that.

Yet some within the Chelsea ranks were keen to pounce on this, claiming that Mourinho had “lost it.”

I didn’t share that opinion.

Yet it seemed to be typical of some supporters within our ranks at the moment, so quick to criticise and moan, yet so unwilling to praise and support.

We needed more of the latter in our next match.

The evening game against Maccabi Tel Aviv in the first fixture of our Champions League campaign was, to use a well-worn phrase, a “must win” game. We needed it desperately.  We needed it to breathe life in to our faltering season.

My new place of work, Melksham, is fifteen minutes closer to my home. It is, however, fifteen minutes further away from Stamford Bridge. It is therefore, regarding this fact in isolation, possibly a toss-up if I am better off working in Melksham or Chippenham.

Parky’s days of meeting me for midweek jaunts to football at “The Pheasant” were now over. At just after 3.30pm, I collected him from “The Milk Churn” pub, just opposite the new factory and warehouse just south of Melksham. Parky had spent enough time in there to quaff three pints of cider and also to run in to TV presenter Jeremy Kyle, who had stopped in there for a meal on the way home after filming at a location nearby.

Jeremy Kyle, Melksham, Parky…so many jokes, so little time. I have a match report to write.

After two weeks of inaction during the despised international break, we were now in the thick of it. As I battled the truly awful weather on the rain-lashed M4, we worked out that Chelsea were now in the midst of a seven games in twenty-two days marathon.

The beats from a ‘seventies compilation accompanied our final miles as the traffic worsened near London.

It took me a weighty three-and-a-half hours to reach my parking spot on Chesson Road. There was no time for The Goose, no time for anything. The wet and grey streets around Fulham Broadway seemed rather quiet. I knew that many spares were being spoken about on Facebook leading up to the game. I hoped there would not be swathes of empty seats.

The team was announced and the manager had indeed made considerable changes.

Asmir in goal. Dave at right back with Ivanovic out. Cahill and Zouma in the middle with JT out. A debut from Baba Rahman at left-back. Loftus-Cheek alongside Cesc, so no Matic and no Mikel. Oscar in, alongside Willian and Eden. Remy up top, with Diego Costa out.

Clearly a chance for some to shine, but a time for soul-searching and contemplation for those dropped.

In truth, this game against Maccabi Tel Aviv should – and I emphasise the word “should” – have been the easiest of the entire group, so it is quite likely that Mourinho would have rotated his chess pieces in any case, regardless of the poor start to the season.

I met up with Alan in our usual seats and looked over to the three thousand brightly-coloured away fans, bedecked in yellow and blue. They were already poised for action, all standing, and holding a large “Fanatics” banner at the front of The Shed Upper. This would be, undoubtedly, yet another night when we would be out sung by our numerical inferiors.

The teams, the walk, the flashing cameras, the anthem.

Another European night in SW6.

Let’s not take them for granted.

Two returning ex-Chelsea players were looking to inflict further pain to our slow start to the season; manager Slavisa Jokanovic (you try forget about him, and he bloody shows up twice in the same year) and centre-half Tal Ben-Haim (who still looks more like a sodding lorry driver than a professional footballer).

There were empty seats everywhere as the game began, but thankfully these were virtually all filled not long in to the game. The Champions League debutant Loftus-Cheek was harshly yellow-carded for a high tackle after only a few minutes.

Willian was put clean through by Remy, but was taken out by goalkeeper Rajkovic. A penalty was given, but alas the ‘keeper was not shown a red card. We waited for Eden Hazard to strike. His shot cleared the bar and almost the hotel too.

“Oi vey.”

It was all Chelsea in the opening period. After a quarter of an hour, Willian curled a free-kick in to the box, and the ball bounced in “no man’s land” and up in to the goal without striking anyone. It was eerily similar to the goal which Oscar scored on the opening day of the season against Swansea, although from a straighter angle.

Alan and I relished our first Champions League “THTCAUN/COMLD” routine of the season.

Sadly soon after, Willian was injured, to be replaced by Diego Costa.

Remy moved wider to accommodate him.

After a complete half-an-hour, the visitors enjoyed an effort on goal, but this was largely one-way traffic. We enjoyed tons of the ball, but with only a few real strikes on goal. Ben-Haim, as clumsy as ever, fouled Diego Costa, and Oscar calmly slotted the ball in from the second penalty of the night.

I was impressed with the cool authority of Loftus-Cheek throughout the opening period. In the second-half, I was looking forward to seeing the slim newcomer Baba Rahman up and down the left-flank down below me.

At the half-time break, I met up with Brad and Sean, visiting for just two days from New York, and over just for the Chelsea game. They were thrilled to be witnessing a European Night for the first time. They had great seats in the second row of the MHU. Yes, some of the “tourists” who frequent Stamford Bridge are no more football people than Tal Ben-Haim, but many, like Brad and Sean, are ardent Chelsea supporters. They should not all be tarred with the same brush.

Two goals to the good, I hoped for a few more in the second period.

As I looked over at the three-thousand Israeli supporters, with several Star of David flags being flown, I could not help think back on a time when the presence of so many Jewish supporters at Stamford Bridge might well have resulted in no end of unsavoury comments, songs, and chants from a faction of our support of the time.

I’m so glad those days are gone.

I loved the noise and intimidating atmosphere of those times, but songs celebrating concentration camps have no place at football.

It was again all Chelsea in the second-half. A nice run deep in to the Tel Aviv box from Baba Rahman hinted at greater things. He looks a natural on the ball.

On the hour, a lovely ball from Cesc Fabregas was played in to the waiting Diego Costa. His right foot rose to cushion it high into the Tel Aviv goal, and it immediately reminded me of Fernando Torres’ goal at Arsenal in the autumn of 2012.

It was a fantastic strike.

The players crowded both Diego and Cesc. That chemistry seemed to be back, thank heavens.

Just after, a notable event happened in the long and undulating relationship twixt Jose Mourinho and the Chelsea supporters. Previously in the game, there had been elongated shouts of “Jose Mourinho” to which our manager quickly took his right hand out of his pocket or alongside his waist and flicked a quick wave of the hand. This time, though, it was different. From somewhere within the bowels of the stadium came a warm chant of “stand up for the special one” which lasted for quite some time, perhaps the best part of a minute. To this, Mourinho waved to all parts of the stadium and, though it is of course conjecture, looked both surprised at the noise levels and touched by the sentiment. Here’s the thing though; rather than just words, there were actions too. Virtually everyone in the Matthew Harding rose to their feet, and even those in the West Lower too. And the noise was probably the loudest of the entire night. I am sure The Shed followed suit.

I know that Mourinho sometimes annoys me with his petulance and – yes, I’ll say it – arrogance, but there shouldn’t be many Chelsea fans that would like to see him gone. I have a feeling that his behaviour over the next few seasons will keep us occupied for certain, though I doubt that his more curmudgeonly traits might wane.

It had, of course, been a tough time for Mourinho since the poor loss at Goodison Park on Saturday. The media were only too pleased to be able to prod him with a few verbal barbs, though Mourinho typically came out of it all unscathed. I particularly enjoyed him reacting to a reporter asking about the potential for 2015/2016 to become a typically tough “third season.” Jose bit back well citing his far from wretched record during his third season at Chelsea, in which he won two domestic cups, reached a Champions League semi-final (losing on penalties, sorry to have to remind everyone) and finished second in the Premier League.

A typically “tough” third season, very similar to 2006/2007, would not go amiss in the current circumstances to be honest.

A fine rampaging run from Baba, with defenders nervously scurrying around in his wake like wasters awaiting DNA results on the Jeremy Kyle Show, was roundly applauded by the home supporters.

I hoped and prayed for more goals. A nice 6-0 would shut the doubters up. Although the away fans had been jumping around for parts of the first-half, their songs soon quietened after our third goal.

Ramires replaced Oscar, who had looked lively throughout the game.

Maccabi Tel Aviv were, quite honestly, one of the worst teams that I have seen at Chelsea, certainly at the European level, for ages.

Bertrand Traore, replacing Loftus-Cheek, came on for his full Chelsea debut.

A quick break, typical Chelsea, ended with Loic Remy striking a ball low which the Tel Aviv ‘keeper pushed away. The ball ended up at the feet of Cesc Fabregas, who looked marginally offside, but who calmly slotted home.



In the closing moments, Traore came close and then Igiebor missed a sitter.

I was pleased that we kept a clean sheet. I was pleased that we had won. Yet there was no over-the-top reaction from neither Parky nor myself. Our opponents had not tested us at all. It was time to be thankful for a win, but also to keep our heads clear and focused. We were not relegation material before our game against Maccabi, nor are we front runners in the march to Milan in May after it.

Keep it steady, Chelsea.

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Tales From The Great Unpredictables.

Everton vs. Chelsea : 12 September 2015.

With the game petering out in the final few minutes, I spoke to Gary, wanting reconfirmation that our start really was as bad as it appeared. I knew that our imminent 3-1 loss to a tight Everton team would be our third loss in this nascent league campaign, but my poor mind was struggling to believe that we had only played just five games. Losses at City and at home to Palace, then this one. But surely it wasn’t three losses out of five. My mind back-peddled. What were the other two? A win at The Hawthorns and a draw on the opening day against Swansea City.

Five games.

But I still wanted to be convinced.

“Three losses out of five games, innit Gal?”

“Yes, mate.”

Three losses out of five.


I stood, with my hands in my pockets, leaning against the wall of the upper tier in the Bullens Road stand at Goodison. Fate had decried that Alan, Gary and myself would occupy the first three seats in row D, thus giving us a far from perfect view, way behind the goal line, of the day’s game.

I had seat “0001” and so was presented with the worst view of all, with the corner flag on the far corner out of view, behind the stand wall.

Yet this was the least of my problems.

I absolutely love returning to Goodison Park season after season, for reasons that I have enlarged upon during many other match reports. The poor view was not a problem in the first-half, since all three of us shuffled along a little, taking up empty spaces in our row. Throughout the second-half I had decided on a different solution; I merely stood on the plastic seat – there was nobody behind me, nobody that I would be annoying – and this afforded me a fine view of the game. It meant I could snap away every few minutes with my camera. The Goodison Park pitch, angled towards me, and backed by those lovely Leitch stands of old, was at times covered in sun, at times coloured in a brooding shadow.

At the final whistle, there were no boos from the Chelsea faithful, a few shy of the allotted three thousand. The shouts of anguish had increased after the third goal had been scored, but thankfully there had been no mad, and bad, exodus after the third Everton goal. I was looking for small crumbs of comfort on another bleak day following the Great Unpredictables. At least our support had stayed firm until the end. There had been defiant shouts of support throughout the game, but it was not one of the noisiest away crowds of recent memory.

I said my goodbyes to my two closest friends in the Away Club, the ever-present Alan and Gal, and wished them well on their travels back to South London.

“See you Wednesday.”

Gary had awoken at 3.30am for this game, before catching a night bus to Stamford Bridge in order to catch an official Chelsea coach up to Everton. It would be a long, and painful, trip home for them both.

I spotted an acquaintance from Texas, who I had last seen during the summer tour, and sidled over to him. I offered a hand to shake, but was unable to engage in a conversation at all. My face must have looked a picture. Neil Barnett was with him, and we shook each other’s hands, again without words being exchanged. It seemed – ridiculous I know – that nothing needed to be said, nor could be said. Neil and myself both had our Marlene Dietrich “I vont to be alone” faces.

Three defeats out of five.

It kept ringing in my ears.

Outside, I soon met up with Dean, who had traveled up for the game with me from deepest Somerset. There was no Parky on this trip; an early evening Madness gig in Bristol had meant that he was unable to attend. We walked, quietly, away from Goodison Park, and back to our waiting car on Utting Avenue, the long and familiar road which rises up from the city by-pass towards Anfield. The Evertonians alongside us were full of it, and quite rightly. Their team had soaked up our possession, and had ripped us to shreds with three fine goals.

We had set off at just after 7am with a rather guarded approach towards the day’s game. We were just desperate for us to grab a result, silence the critics, and begin an upward trajectory towards better times.

Yet this was never going to be an easy one. Everton are one of the grand dames of English football – exactly the same number of league championships as Chelsea and Manchester City combined – and despite a change in manager after the Moyes era, they have proven to be tough opponents of late. There was a time when Everton’s league positions used to lurch from one extreme to the other (15th in 2002, 7th in 2003, 17th in 2004, 4th in 2005, 11th in 2006), but they have been a consistently-placed team within the top third for many a season.

However, our results against them in recent seasons have been rather “hot and cold” and this last defeat follows this pattern.

2011-2012 : Everton 2 Chelsea 0

2012-2013 : Everton 1 Chelsea 2

2013-2014 : Everton 1 Chelsea 0

2014-2015 : Everton 3 Chelsea 6

2015-2016 : Everton 3 Chelsea 1

A graph of these recent five games would resemble the Loch Ness Monster.

Down, up, down, up, down.

So, it was never going to be an easy one.

There was plenty of chat in the car on the way north, of our current malaise, of previous Chelsea experiences, but also of other topics.

The weather was overcast and there had been rain at various periods. We drove past The Hawthorns, the site of our last win, and then the Bescott Stadium, where we play Walsall within two weeks. We were making fine time.


At around 10am, with the rain steadily falling, there was a moment of drama for the both of us when the car in front began slowing rapidly, but I was able to drive past unhindered. There had been a shunt several cars ahead and the traffic was stalled in the outside lane. In my rear view mirror, as I drove on, a car careered on to the hard shoulder after hitting a car that had slowed too.

It was a lucky escape.

We drove on, with the sky hinting at a sunnier day ahead.

As we drove up Utting Avenue just before 11am, I spotted one of the last “free” parking spaces.

I spoke to Dean.

“We’re on time. We’ve got free parking. And we’re alive. Time for a drink.”

We joined a pub full of Chelsea supporters in “The Arkells”, the pub of choice for many at Everton, ironically only a few hundred yards from Anfield. It is highly likely that I have had more visits to “The Arkells” over the last ten years than visits to my local village pub.

On the wall, in a dark corner, was a faded photograph of the last Liverpool team to win the league championship in 1990.

You would think that the owner would take it down, not wishing to draw attention to it.

Scousers, eh?

On the walk to Goodison, two yellow cranes loomed over the steel of the new stand at Anfield, growing quickly behind the existing structure, with the huge roof truss balanced above the existing stand. The top row in the upper tier of the new stand will be ridiculously high. Liverpool are nobody’s favourites within the Chelsea support, but a part of me is pleased that they are redeveloping Anfield rather than looking to move.

Outside the main stand at Goodison, I was so pleased to be able to give Dog a warm embrace after his spell away from Chelsea. He was with Cath and Becky; it was a real joy to see the three of them once more.


Outside the reopened “Winslow Hotel” – with a lovely Dixie Dean pub sign – a few Evertonians were defiantly screeching “Money Can’t Buy You Stones.”

That road underneath the old main stand at Goodison still remains one of my favourite match day locations in 2015. That my father once visited that same street in around 1942 – his only visit to a football stadium until my first game in 1974 – makes my continued visits all the more meaningful.

Ah, Goodison.

Lampooned and chastised by many, but I continue to love its old charms.

I have been lucky enough to have watched Chelsea games from three sides.


1985-1986 : The Park End.


1992-1993 : The Main Stand.


2004-2005 : The Bullens Road.

Only the Gwladys Street remains unvisited. I once made it in to the old Kop at Anfield for a Chelsea game in 1992, so maybe one day I will set foot in the Everton home end to complete the set.

I met up with Alan and Gary with fifteen minutes to go, high above the enclosure below, with the wooden steps of the Bullens Road stand reminding me of its age, and uniqueness.

The team.

With Thibaut out, in came Begovic.

Ivanovic still at right back, Zouma in with JT.

Mikel recalled alongside Matic.

Fabregas pushed forward with Hazard and Pedro.

As the teams entered the pitch, the stirring “Z Cars.”

Another lovely moment to savour.

First thoughts as the game started were positive. We seemed to be dominating possession, which is the first obvious stepping stone to greater deeds ahead. At the time, the injury to Muhamed Besic after around ten minutes seemed of little importance to anyone within the Chelsea ranks. However, the peroxide white hair of substitute Steven Naismith – as the replacement – caused a few of us to step anxiously from one foot to the other.

“He seems to enjoy scoring against us, this one.”

I was cheered when a couple of timely interceptions by Ivanovic were loudly applauded by us. This was good to witness. We were there to support the team, irrespective of players’ form. The negative comments could wait until after, in bar or internet chat-room, surely. Supporters should, in my book anyway, be there at games to provide a platform of positive noise to spur our players on.

Despite enjoying possession – but with only Pedro showing any real urgency – we succumbed to two goals within just five painful minutes.

A cross from young Galloway was perfectly weighted for Naismith – yes, him – to nod past Begovic, arriving late and unmarked.

It was a huge body blow.

“Here we go again.”

The Chelsea support rallied, and were warmed by two spectacular saves from Begovic.

However, with Ivanovic backing off, a long range laser from Naismith from outside the box fired Everton into a 2-0 lead.

And now the negative noises rumbled around the Bullens Road.


We had dominated, but were losing 2-0.

I wanted to tell Gary that “they have only had two shots” but there were those two saves too.

Everton, then, it was obvious to all were deservedly in front.

Azpilicueta hit the side netting, but our play was oh-so laboured, with the usual suspects – Hazard, Fabregas, Costa – quiet.

Out of nothing, the ball was played square to Matic. I was right behind the flight of the ball as our Serbian touched it forward and then unleashed an unstoppable blooter past Howard.


Back in it.

Our play improved

Surely we would get an equaliser.

Soon into the second-half, Mikel was sacrificed as Kenedy entered the fray. Fabregas dropped back alongside Matic, where – truth be told – he played an even more withdrawn role in more ways than one. Mikel had been one of our better players to be fair but I understood why Jose changed it.

A few chances for Everton ensued and the Chelsea supporters continued to bemoan our play. The support became more disjointed. However, the Everton fans, despite seeing their team winning, were ridiculously quiet.

Falcao replaced Pedro.

Again, Pedro been one of our better players. A more worthy substitution in my book would have been the misfiring Hazard.

A back-pass by JT to Begovic was not rewarded with an Everton free-kick, which let us off the hook.

Only rarely did we threaten the Everton defence, where young John Stones looked remarkably comfortable alongside Jagielka. I can see why a bright future is forecast for him. Hazard only buzzed past his marker on a few occasions. A header from Falcao, a run and heavy touch from Costa.

These were rare chances.

Willian for Fabregas.

I couldn’t fathom the new formation, but I didn’t waste time trying.

I was focussed on the game, trying to will the boys on.

Further calamity, however, as Barkley – I think –played in Naismith in the inside right position, and he beat Begovic with a low drive. That his run was not picked up by anyone was typical of our defensive frailties all season long.

At last the Everton support roared.

In the closing minutes, all was quiet in our section.

Truth be told, I was lost in thought, trying to put some sort of reasoning or rationale behind our ridiculous start to the season.

I won’t lie, I hated it.

I hated losing.

So many players under performing, so little fight, so little enjoyment. I do not have any FA coaching badges, nor am I a sport psychologist. I’ve never even played FIFA, so what chances have I got to come up with any reason for all this?

I don’t know. I just don’t know.

Like a shy and awkward teenager at a school disco, I just can’t put my finger on it.

All I can do is to pay little attention to those who have lots to say and yet say nothing, and to look after my own little group of respected and cherished Chelsea mates. Sometimes the noise and nonsense espoused by some Chelsea supporters is just not worth the bother.

But, oh boy.

Three defeats out of five.

It still keeps ringing in my ears.

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