Tales From The Dock Of Tiger Bay.

Cardiff City vs. Chelsea : 11 May 2014.

One final game, one final trip, one final tale.

For all intents and purposes, it had felt like season 2013-2014 had already ended. Our home campaign had concluded in a rather meek fashion. The loss against Atletico Madrid and the draw against Norwich City had meant that there would be no silverware for only the third time in ten seasons.

So, whereas our season-ending foray across the Severn Estuary was, until only recently, viewed as a potential championship-deciding occasion, it was now of little real relevance. Not to worry; it would be one last chance to support the team up close and personal in this season of meandering intent interspersed with odd moments of blinding excitement.

I called for Parky at around 10am. Not long into the trip, he realised that the all-important match ticket was not on his person. Back at his house, there was the sudden rush of panic when he couldn’t remember the ticket arriving by post. This was turning out to be a fated season. I missed the first game and now Parky was about to miss the last one. After a few minutes of silence from within, Parky emerged holding a white envelope.

“Get in.”

We both beamed. I punched the air. We were on our way to Wales.

This would be my forty-seventh game of the season; considerably down on the last two campaigns. Looking back, it’s difficult to see where the shortfall came from. I’ve only missed one home game in the league; that home opener against Hull City. I’ve only missed two away; Sunderland and West Brom. Oh well, I do what I can do. I’m happy with 35/38 league games. I’ve been rather obsessed with numbers of late. I recently celebrated the fortieth anniversary of my very first Chelsea match. As I reviewed the games, the years, the dates of my active support, it dawned on me that good – significant – things happen every ten years.

1974 : This was the year of my first Chelsea game. As I have said before, my life would never be the same – ever – again.  I don’t think that my parents could ever imagine how grateful I would be for that first magical journey from Somerset to London. I was overwhelmingly smitten by Stamford Bridge on match day. Everything became real. Everything made sense. I wanted to be part of it. The journey had begun.

1984 : This was the time of my life. We were the boys in blue from Division Two. A year in which my love for Chelsea helped me defeat some personal demons in my life and when several long-standing friendships were formed. It was a year of geographical landmarks too. My first away game in the north – Newcastle – and my first game outside England – Cardiff – and my first away game in the top flight – Arsenal.

1994 : This was the year that dear old Chelsea changed. There was the sheer disbelief of our first F.A. Cup Final in twenty-three long years and, with it, the utter excitement of European football returning to Stamford Bridge. There was my first game outside the United Kingdom – the away game in Jablonec in the Czech Republic. My attendance rocketed from fifteen games in 1993-1994 to twenty-nine games the next season.

2004 : This time, it’s all very personal. My Aunt Julie, bless her, passed away and left me a few thousand pounds in her will. This enabled me to take my Chelsea story to the next level. That summer, I saw Chelsea play outside Europe for the first time – Pittsburgh. It would be the starting point for a succession of incredible experiences, following Chelsea worldwide, but making new friends from thousands of miles away too.

2014 : Maybe Chelsea will announce a pre-season tour of Saturn, Mars and Venus. I’d best book some holiday.

Both Parky and myself were rather miffed that Cardiff City had managed to get themselves relegated in this their first season in the top flight for five decades; I’ve always liked visiting Cardiff and – of course – it is only an hour and a half away by car or train. This was another reason why the day was set up to be rather bittersweet.

“Ah, Cardiff – we hardly know you.”

We drove over the brown muddied waters of the River Severn.

“Second largest tidal range in the world, Parky. Second only to the Bay of Fundy in Canada.”

Oh dear. I had turned into the Severn bore.

We were soon in Wales. There were immediate memories of our recent visit to Swansea, but also of previous soirees to the Welsh Capital with Chelsea. From 2002 to 2006, Chelsea played five matches at the city’s fine Millennium Stadium. We won three (the 2005 and 2007 League Cup Finals against Liverpool and Arsenal, the 2005 Community Shield versus Arsenal) and lost two (the 2002 F.A. Cup Final versus Arsenal and the 2006 Community Shield against Liverpool). The over-riding memory is of a magnificent stadium, right next to the city centre, tons of noise, proper support, a great laugh. I would vote for Cardiff and Old Trafford to host F.A. Cup semi-finals ad infinitum, leaving the mystique of Wembley for the final itself.

As I drove in to the city on a long bridge over the recently rejuvenated dock area, with the high land of Penarth behind me, I was able to take in the full sweep of the city. The city centre – a few tower blocks, the roof supports of the Millennium Stadium – seemed distant. Beyond, there were the brooding Brecon Beacons and the valleys to the north. I was quite taken aback at the considerable amount of bay side redevelopment. I parked-up in a multi-storey and we walked over to Mermaid Quay.

Cardiff was once a hugely busy port. The coal from the mines of the valleys was shipped around the globe from the Cardiff Docks, or Tiger Bay as it was colloquially known. As we walked past shining steel buildings, high-rise offices and headed towards a lively oasis of pubs, restaurants and cafes, I tried to imagine the docks in their hey-day. Due to international trade back in the nineteenth century, Cardiff was one of Britain’s earliest and most cosmopolitan cities. It had a similar immigrant mix to Liverpool.

Of course, I am always reminded of an Ian Dury song…

“In the dock of Tiger Bay.

On the road to Mandalay.

From Bombay to Santa Fa.

Over hills and far away.”

As we neared a pub on the quay called “Terra Nova” (how appropriate – there would soon be a new ground for me to experience), the sense of the area’s sea-faring past was enhanced by the sight of a brass rendering of a poem from my schooldays.

“Cargoes” by John Masefield.

“Quinquireme of Nineveh from distant Ophir,
Rowing home to haven in sunny Palestine,
With a cargo of ivory,
And apes and peacocks,
Sandalwood, cedarwood, and sweet white wine.

Stately Spanish galleon coming from the Isthmus,
Dipping through the Tropics by the palm-green shores,
With a cargo of diamonds,
Emeralds, amythysts,
Topazes, and cinnamon, and gold moidores.

Dirty British coaster with a salt-caked smoke stack,
Butting through the Channel in the mad March days,
With a cargo of Tyne coal,
Road-rails, pig-lead,
Firewood, iron-ware, and cheap tin trays.”

In football terms, the dirty British coaster need not worry. It is well-loved by others. This game would be attended in person by visitors to these shores and would be watched the whole world over by lovers of the British game.

We ordered pints of “Sagres” and waited for Dave and Lawson (visiting from NYC) to join us; newly-arrived by train from London. They were joined by Robert, last seen in Paris on one of the great away trips of the season. With the weather fine and the beer tasting finer, we enjoyed a lovely hour or so overlooking the waters of good old Tiger Bay. Here was an away game I could quite easily repeat again and again. Damn you Cardiff City, why did you have to get relegated?

I parked up about ten minutes to the south of Cardiff City’s spanking new stadium, just across from the former site of Ninian Park on Sloper Road, last visited by Chelsea some thirty years ago.

Ah, back we go to 1984 again.

I remember the trip to Cardiff so well. We were travelling by train from Frome and I had arranged to meet Glenn at the Wallbridge Café opposite the station. As I walked in, I scanned the busy scene. Glenn was there with Winnie, a Leeds fan from my year at school, but so too were three of the town’s known ne’er-do-wells…two of them weren’t even Chelsea…they had obviously come along for a bundle.

“Oh great.”

I remember that I had purchased my very first first casual garment, a Gallini sweatshirt, around that time – a yellow, grey and navy number from “Olympus” in Bath. However, it wasn’t really a known name…although I had seen a few Gallini items at Chelsea, it wasn’t on the same scale as the other names of the time. At least it was a start.

I met a mate from Frome at the station in Cardiff – he was a Pompey fan who was at college in the “delightful” valley town of Pontypridd. He was lured into Cardiff for the game, but for some reason chose to watch from the Bob Bank, the large home terrace. We avoided going into any pubs as we were sitting targets. We made a bee-line for the ground. As I remember it, I was the first Chelsea fan who went through the turnstiles onto the uncovered away terrace…I was with Winnie and Glenn. The other chaps from Frome had splintered away from us by then. Good luck to them, I thought.

Well – believe it or not, we played awfully. Cardiff were no great shakes, but they raced to a 3-0 lead. This was not on the cards at all. This was going to be our worse defeat of the season by a mile. There must have been around 5,000 Chelsea in the 13,000 crowd and during the last quarter of the game, the lads in the front were pulling the fences down. I was watching from the rear in the middle. There had been outbreaks of trouble in the main stand too.

With six minutes to go, we pulled a goal back to make the score a bit more respectable. Then Kerry scored a second…game on! The Chelsea support urged the team on and in the last minute of the game we were awarded a penalty.

Nigel Spackman slotted it home and our end went mental…hugs, kisses, shouts, screams, arms thrusting heavenwards, our voices shouting and singing roars of triumph.

As we marched out onto the bleak Cardiff streets, we were invincible.

What a team. My team. Nothing could stop us.

On the train back to Frome, we regrouped, but two of our party were missing. Dave and Glyn had been arrested for something or other. It had to happen. They were dressed in boots and jeans – sitting ducks for the Welsh OB…me and Glenn were a bit more street-wise. On that train home, I met Paul ( aka “PD” ) for the first time and he was a fearsome sight…real Old School Chelsea…and I remember him looking into our small compartment as the Frome lads serenaded him –

“Daniels is our leader, Daniels is our leader.”

Despite the well-publicised trouble at the 2010 F.A. Cup game against Cardiff, we saw no hint of trouble throughout the day. We bumped into a few of those international visitors from afar outside the away end; Joe and Michelle from Chicago, Beth and BJ from Texas. I was inside just before kick-off. I soon bumped into five lads from Trowbridge; it is very likely that they were on the same train home from Cardiff as me in 1984.

The Cardiff City Stadium is not one of the worst new stadia, but it has no unique feature to enamour itself to visitors. It is a little similar, inside, to Reading’s stadium. There are single tiers behind the goal, two tiers to one side, but with an extension already going up opposite. However, I find it hard to believe that it will host August’s UEFA Super Cup.

Cardiff City, the bluebirds, in a stadium of blue and white, with blue seats, now play in red and black. The jarring sight of their kit is difficult to take in. Vincent Tan, their idiot chairman, needs to find a buyer for Cardiff City and go elsewhere. The sight of hundreds of home fans holding up blue and white bar scarves was a triumphant “fuck off” to Tan and his cronies. I felt for the home fans. This must have been, undoubtedly, a difficult season for them. Relegation – I suspect – was easier to stomach than the sickening rebranding carried out by the club’s demonic chairman.

If they don’t get promoted quickly, there is a chance that Cardiff City will stay half-blue, half-red, marooned forever.

However, proving that football fans are able to poke fun at the most unfortunate of circumstances, Chelsea then proceeded to taunt the City fans with many songs about their new club colours. Oh, and a song about the Welsh being sheepshaggers.

I bet Cardiff never heard that one before.

With JT and Lamps out, Ashley Cole wore the captain’s armband. We wondered if this might be his last game. I wondered if it might be Fernando Torres’ last game.

We squandered chance after chance in the first-half, with Torres, Oscar and Salah the main culprits. The Chelsea fans, in good voice at the start, were silenced when a Craig Bellamy shot was deflected by Cesar Azpilicueta past the stranded Mark Schwarzer.

“1-0 to The Championship.”

We groaned.

At least Liverpool were losing. There had been – I didn’t want to think too hard about this – the horrid thought of City losing and Liverpool…well, you know. As it turned out, we had no reason to worry. In fact, the afternoon turned into quite a Demba Ba / Steven Gerrard / Brendan Rodgers songfest.

Midway through the half, I remembered that Eden Hazard was playing; his involvement had been minimal. Our chances came and went.

There were only mocking songs to bring smiles to the Chelsea away support.

“You sold your soul and you’re going down.”

Jose Mourinho decided to bring on Andre Schurrle for Mikel after yet more Chelsea possession had yielded nothing more than shots without precision. Schurrle was immediately in the game, running effectively at the Cardiff defence. Thankfully, with less than twenty minutes remaining, a cross from Oscar was met by a stooping header from Dave. Marshall saved and Dave spun to fire the rebound against the bar. As it fell, Schurrle struck.

1-1.

Very soon after, Azpilicueta – one of my favourites this season – pushed a ball in from the right. The ball bobbled about, but Torres calmly struck home. It was his easiest Chelsea goal by some margin; he looked embarrassed and hardly celebrated.

2-1.

Alan : “They’ll have to come at us now, boyo.”

Chris : “Come on my little diamonds, emeralds, amythysts, topazes, and cinnamon, and gold moidores.”

Youngsters Nathan Ake (I’m disappointed that Mourinho has not played him this season) and John Swift – the debutant – appeared in the closing segment. The points were won and the game dwindled on.

It was now time to serenade Ashley Cole. We begged him to take a last minute free-kick. At the end of the game, all of our attention was on him. He walked over to us and clapped the three thousand. I guess this is the last we will see of our Ashley. He has been, surely, our greatest ever left-back. I looked too, at Torres, taking a back seat in what could have been his final match in Chelsea blue.

It had been a rather flat afternoon. No surprises, I suppose. With Liverpool and City winning, we stayed third, ahead – as always – of Arsenal…and Tottenham…always Tottenham.

I was thankful to be able to say “have a great summer” to many of my match-going accomplices at half-time and after the final whistle.

We stopped off for two final pints on the way home – one in Caldicot, Wales, one in Bath, England – and the final day of 2013-2014 was over.

With a pint of Peroni in each of our hands we shared a toast :

“To next season.”

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Tales From An Alcoholic Afternoon.

Chelsea vs. Norwich City : 4 May 2014.

The Gang of Three was on the road again, aboard “The Chuckle Bus” for the last home match of season 2013-2014. With Parky sitting in the rear of Glenn’s VW camper, and yours truly alongside the driver in the front, we were all looking forward to seeing how the day’s events would unfold.

For once, chat between Glenn and I was all about football. This might seem a strange statement, but it is of course one of the great contradictions about our football life that although Chelsea is the reason why we have all found each other, very often it is all of the other things in our lives which dominate our conversations on match days.

Maybe it was our exit out of the Champions League on the previous Wednesday which stimulated our desire for footy chat; defeats and losses always seem to generate debate rather than victories and triumphs.

Glenn posed the question : “Looking back over the season, what is your main memory?”

I thought for a few minutes and answered.

“Apart from the wins at Manchester City and Liverpool, plus the wins against Arsenal and Tottenham, I think it was trying to fathom out Jose Mourinho throughout the season, trying to see where he is taking the club, trying to analyse his comments, trying to get inside his head.”

Although we admire the current batch of Chelsea players and although Roman controls the purse strings, this season it has felt that this is Jose’s club once again. From his initial “happy one” statements in the summer to his controlled reticence in the autumn, downplaying our chances throughout, to his occasional barbs at foes in the media, to his sudden outbreaks of surliness, to his comments about his players, his presence has been the overwhelming feature of this season. Sometimes he makes me cringe, sometimes he makes me smile. He is the master of the scripted sound bite, the whimsical aside, but also of the petrifying stare at those who have crossed him. He is fascinating character to have at the epicentre of our club.

Parky commented too.

“Just glad to be back, after missing so much of last season.”

Indeed. It seems like ages ago, but Parky hardly accompanied me on any away trips last season. It has been lovely to have him back in the fold.

It was Glenn’s turn.

“It’s our club again…after last season. There was fighting in the stands. Unrest. Jose has created unity.”

There is no denying that. Although the football hasn’t always been exciting to watch, there has been a genuine feeling of some sort of linear growth in 2013-2014.

So, we were back in SW6 yet again. With Glenn taking care of driving duties, I was able to relax and enjoy a few bevvies. In essence, I was Parky for one day. Shudder. Our first port of call was the bar in the Copthorne Hotel. Dennis, living life to the full during his week in England, joined us for a pint. The bar area was relatively quiet. I tut-tutted at the sight of a couple of Chelsea supporters wearing Star Wars face masks…well, no, I was rather more forthright.

“What the fcuk is that all about?”

Dennis quickly explained…”today is May the Fourth.”

I shook my head…”oh bloody hell.”

As we left the hotel, Glenn spotted Roy Bentley being ushered out in to the sunny May afternoon. He was with his family, celebrating his 90th. birthday a week or so early as a guest of the club. As Roy is originally from Bristol, I briefly mentioned the sad news about the relegation of Bristol Rovers from the Football League. A photograph of Roy with Dennis, Parky and Glenn was taken and we wished him well. I love the fact that Chelsea plays host to many of our ex-players each week.

Our next destination was “The Pelican”, but we were shocked at how quiet the place was. It was about 1.30pm, but the large bar only had around twenty customers. It is so strange how pubs wax and wane in popularity.

Next up “The Malt House” (aka “The Jolly Malster”) and this was dead, too. This established Chelsea boozer underwent a makeover – like many more in the immediate hinterland of Stamford Bridge – a few years ago, but now seemed to be full of diners rather than drinkers.

“The Goose” was a completely different story. The large bar and beer garden were crammed full of Chelsea supporters. Outside, the usual suspects were mid-session. The drinking continued under blue skies. A round of amaretto brought the inevitable “Alouette”

“Amaretto – Chelsea Amaretto.”

On the walk down to the ground, Parky, Dennis and I popped into “The Barrow Boy” (previously “The Hobgoblin” and “The Victualler” and “The Fulham Tap” – where the inaugural start-up meeting of the CST was held last season) for another shot of the almond-scented liquor.

As we walked past the entrance to the Fulham Broadway tube station, I happened to spot another Chelsea old-boy. It was Paul Canoville. The three of us have an evening with Canners – plus Pat Nevin and Doug Rougvie – lined-up in a couple of weeks down in Raynes Park and so it was lovely to see him ahead of that, to tell him how much we are relishing that night. We may not have a European final this season, but that will be a wonderful evening to see off season 2013-2014.

Inside Stamford Bridge, there seemed to be a post-Champions League hangover among the assembled masses. Even before the game began, there was a soporific air to the afternoon. The apparent fall-out between Mourinho and Hazard had resulted in our number seventeen being relegated to the bench. Demba Ba got the nod in attack.

Schwarzer, Ivanovic, Terry, Cahill, Cole, Lampard, Matic, Schurrle, Willian, Salah, Ba.

This was an altogether tedious affair; at least what I remember of it.

In the first-half, Andre Schurrle struck a firm effort against the far post, but all other chances are lost in the mists of time and fumes of alcohol. I remember being dismayed about the lack of support for the team in a game which we had to win to stand any chance of winning the league should both Liverpool and Manchester City falter in the final run in.

At the break, Mourinho replaced Frank Lampard and Mohamed Salah with David Luiz and Eden Hazard. Soon into the second-half, Brana tee’d up Luiz, who took aim at Ruddy’s goal. The Brazilian’s shot dipped and swerved, only for the ball to come crashing back into play off the bar. Soon after, Hazard appeared to be taken out of the game inside the Norwich box, but an offside decision was given instead. With each passing minute, there was growing concern that we wouldn’t be able to break Norwich down.  The frustration among the fans must have filtered down on to the pitch. Despite overwhelming possession, we found it difficult to get behind the Norwich defence. At the other end, on a very rare break, a sublime block from Gary Cahill came to the rescue as Snodgrass shot.

Mourinho added Fernando Torres in to the mix; he replaced Matic. A few late chances were exchanged in the final few minutes, but almost out of sympathy for the watching thousands. It had been a very flat afternoon of football.

There had been a few boos as the teams left the pitch at the interval and, sadly, there were more at the final whistle too. Worse was to come. After a pause of around ten minutes, the Chelsea players returned for the usual “lap of appreciation.” I had stood and watched, with sadness, as thousands upon thousands of supporters decided to leave; as the players emerged, I felt so sad. I wanted to apologise. It was a horrible sight. There were row upon row of empty seats. The players, with their replica-kitted children following on, clapped us and although I returned the favour, I felt disjointed, apart, unsettled, and adrift.

Sigh.

Outside, Glenn and I met up with Parky and Dennis.

We dipped into “The Harwood” – where we used to do our drinking from 1995 to 2000 – and the game was soon forgotten. Dennis was in line for more Chelsea history.

“After the F.A. Cup Final in 1997, we all came back to Fulham Broadway for a celebratory drink, but the police had closed virtually every pub. This place was one of the very few open. Thankfully, we were served. There’s a photo of us – exhausted, euphoric, blissful – right where we are stood now. Fantastic memories.”

We joined up with the others for one last hurrah at “The Lillee Langtry.” One final beer, one final laugh, one final moan…

For some, this would be the final get-together of 2013-2014.

For a few, one game remains.

Over the bridge to Cardiff.

See you there.

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Tales From The Home Of Four European Trophies.

Chelsea vs. Atletico Madrid : 30 April 2014.

How frequently did I think about the Chelsea vs. Atletico Madrid second leg during the day at work? Maybe once every five minutes. Maybe once every three minutes. Maybe once every two minutes. Several work colleagues asked me how I was feeling about the evening’s game. To my surprise, I tended to reply that I was “quietly confident” that we would progress. This is unlike me, especially when it comes to Champions League semi-finals. I don’t think that I have ever been “quietly confident” ever before.

This would be Chelsea’s seventh Champions League semi-final in only eleven seasons.

Time for some numbers.

This would be the fourth time that the second-leg would be at home -

2004 : Monaco – drew 2-2, but lost on aggregate.

2008 : Liverpool – won 3-2, and won on aggregate.

2009 : Barcelona – drew 1-1, but lost on away goals.

In the other years, the results were –

2005 : Liverpool – drew 0-0, but went out on aggregate at Anfield.

2007 : Liverpool – won 1-0, but went out on penalties at Anfield.

2012 : Barcelona – won 1-0, and went through on aggregate at Camp Nou.

For a football club that were deprived of European football from the autumn of 1971 until the autumn of 1994, these represent an amazing treasure trove of memories and emotions.

Jesper Gronkjaer, Fernando Morientes, Luis Garcia, Eidur Gudjohnsen, Joe Cole, Jan Arne Riise, Frank Lampard, Michael Essien, Andres Iniesta, Didier Drogba, Ramires, Fernando Torres.

More heartache than joy.

In truth, the heartbreak of 2005, 2007 and 2009 are surely some of our most awful memories as Chelsea supporters. Somehow the loss in 2004 – our club’s first semi – seemed quite tame by comparison. After a tough away leg in Monaco, the return was always going to be difficult. We raced into a 2-0 lead, but then…well, you know the story.

As for 2005, 2007 and 2009; well you know those stories too.

After the sublime afterglow of Anfield, I gathered together two of the three troops who accompanied me to Liverpool on the previous Sunday. Lord Parky was collected from the pub opposite where I work in Chippenham and Dennis was collected from the town’s train station.

Let’s go.

I had watched the previous night’s semi-final between Bayern Munich and Real Madrid. Bayern’s capitulation had surprised me; despite odd successes, their recent Champions League story has predominantly featured misery and not joy.

So, Real Madrid – with our former manager Carlo Ancelotti at the helm – awaited the winner in Lisbon on Saturday 24 May. This pleased me, for numerous reasons. Should we be successful against Atletico, the stage would be set for a simply classic confrontation at Benfica’s Estadio da Luz.

Real Madrid vs. Chelsea.

White vs. Blue.

Carlo Ancelotti vs. Jose Mourinho.

1971 all over again.

I am sure I wasn’t the only Chelsea supporter to let their mind run away with the notion of this. I had gambled on us reaching the final after our win against Paris St. Germain; I had booked flights from Bristol to Lisbon. After the creditable 0-0 at the Vicente Calderon, a hotel room on The Algarve was booked, too.

Personally, there was an extra dimension to all of this.

Should we reach the 2014 Champions League Final, it would be my one thousandth Chelsea game.

In all honesty, this was all too surreal for me to comprehend at times. After the shocking defeat in Moscow, I was convinced that we would never win the European Cup. And yet, just six years later, here we were, with one trophy tucked in our back pockets and another one just 180 minutes away.

Dennis, Parky and I met up with some mates in the beer garden of The Goose. A couple of Atletico fans were inside. There was no hint of bother. Dave – the last of the Anfield Four – was in good spirits; he would be sitting next to me for the game. For once, talk was dominated by the game itself. Simon was “quietly confident” too. This was all very worrying.

News of the team broke and the big surprise was the appearance of Ashley Cole at left-back, presumably forcing Cesar into a midfield role, strikingly reminiscent of Ryan Bertrand’s role in Munich. The absence of Oscar was noted. Fernando Torres was given the start.

As Dennis remarked, it was turning into quite a week for him with visits to his two former homes.

I wanted to get inside the stadium earlier than usual, so I left at around 7pm. It was a perfect evening in London. I was in shirtsleeves and stayed the same the entire evening. At 7.15pm, I was inside. I was initially shocked to see how few fellow supporters were inside. Maybe, on this day of tube strikes, people were forced into a late arrival.

Over in the far corner, a sea of red and white striped shirts.

We waited for the kick-off.

Although the scene before me represented a familiar one; sunny skies, a boisterous away contingent, Champions League logos, familiar names on the advertisements, there seemed to be a lack of anticipation within the home ranks. For a while, all was still. Maybe it was the collective nerves among the home support which made for the quieter-than-expected ambiance.

The TV cameras picked out Diego Maradona and then Claudio Ranieri in the executive areas of the West Stand.

A card had been placed on every seat in the MHU; on it were instructions to hold these cards aloft just before the teams were due to enter the pitch. The overall effect would be of a blue-white-blue-white bar scarf. This was met with unsurprising cynicism from the chaps in the row in front, but I approved. I remember the CISA arranging for the 17,000 Chelsea fans at the 1994 F.A. Cup Final to hold 17,000 blue cards aloft as the players strode across Wembley’s finely manicured lawn, only for the TV cameras to ignore it completely. With around five minutes to go, the hideously embarrassing opera singer wheeled out by the club on European nights sang “Blue Is The Colour” and the usual blue and white scarves, derided by the Scousers at Anfield on Sunday, were waved in the West Lower and the Matthew Harding Lower.

As the teams entered the field, it was our moment. Some 3,000 blue and white cards were held aloft. From the MH balcony, four flags were unfurled.

The European Cup Winners’ Cup : 1971 and 1998.

The Super Cup 1998.

The European Cup : 2012.

The Europa Cup : 2013.

The only British club to win all four. It was a fantastic sight. I noted that, over in the East Middle, the inhabitants had been given 3,000 bar scarves.

Flags, mosaics, scarves.

I know that this kind of “forced-participation” is often frowned upon, but Stamford Bridge looked a picture.

As Dave arrived in time for the kick-off, there was a brief interchange.

Dave : “Great seats, mate.”

Chris : “This is where the magic happens.”

At 7.44pm, Stamford Bridge fell silent momentarily as two of football’s family were remembered.

Tito Villanova RIP.

Vujadin Boskov RIP.

I wasn’t happy that Chelsea were kicking “the wrong way” in the first-half. There are not many times that we attack the Matthew Harding in the first-half these days. Of course, prior to 1994 and the demise of The Shed, this was the norm.

At last, some semblance of noise boomed around the stadium as the few attacks from both sides began. Atletico brought the first heart tremor when a dangerously looping cross out on their left caused panic in our defence. It wasn’t readily apparent what had happened after Koke’s cross bounced off the bar. How could it go off for a corner? There was confusion in our defence and in my head too.

Next up, came a Chelsea chance. Ramires was fouled and we prayed for a goal from the free-kick. I caught a Willian’s effort on film, but it flew wide. Atletico were in this game and we tended to stand off as their mobile players raided. There was nervous tension on the pitch and off it. An overhead kick from David Luiz narrowly missed Courtois’ far post, bouncing safely away.

This was a tight game. Fernando Torres, prone to an indulgent dribble – maybe too eager to impress – was not ably supported by Azpilicueta, Willian and Hazard. For too long in the first half, he foraged alone. I noted a lack of intensity all round; from players and supporters alike. Was it the nerves? On several occasions when Atletico cleared, the ball boys threw balls back quickly, yet Chelsea players were often not paying attention and were unable to unsettle Atletico with a quick break. It was a metaphor for our half. We were just too lackadaisical. Jose would not approve.

The crowd tried to generate some noise.

“Champions Of Europe – We’ve Done it Before.”

With tem minutes to go before the break, a strong run from Willian into the Atletico box stirred us all. He held off two strong challenges – and did well to stay on his feet – and the ball ran free. Dave was supporting our Brazilian dynamo and he picked up the loose ball, and played it back into the path of Torres.

The former Atletico captain swept it into the goal.

“YEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEES.”

I jumped up and looked over to Nando. He held his hands up, indicating his reluctance to celebrate fully. Elsewhere, we more than made up for it.

We were on our way to Lisbon.

“GETINYOUFUCKINGBEAUTY.”

Alan : “They’ll hath to come at uth na-ohhhh.”

Chris : “Come on my little diamonth.”

Atletic seized the gauntlet and probed away. Mark Schwarzer, after his fine performance at Anfield, seemed to be coping ably.

Then, on forty-four minutes, misery.

Tiago, our former champion from 2005, swept a ball over to the far post to an unmarked attacker. The ball was knocked back…clenching of muscles…and Lopez struck home.

They had the advantage; that dreaded away goal.

It had been a first-half of few chances; six to us, five to them. At half-time, we presumed that Atletico would sit and protect their narrow advantage. They would, surely, do to us what we did to Liverpool on Sunday.

After the opening few minutes of the second period, Simeone’s game plan was evidently more adventurous. They attacked from the whistle. A Schwarzer save from Turan saved us. At the other end, we gasped in amazement as Courtois dropped to save a John Terry header. Samuel Eto’o replaced Ashley Cole, with Azpilicueta filling in at left-back. He joined up with Torres, with the midfield realigning themselves behind. Then, more calamity.

I was momentarily looking away, so missed Eto’o’s clip which resulted in the Italian referee pointing towards the spot.

Costa struck home.

Game, surely, over.

We now had to score three times to progress.

The away fans were in triumphant mood.

“Leti. Leti. Leti. Leti.”

Chelsea offered moments of hope. David Luiz, strong in tackle, but prone to awful finishing all night, struck a post. Atletico broke away down our right and Turan saw his header crash against the bar. We watched in horror as he easily followed up with a tap in from the rebound.

Stamford Bridge fell flat. It was time to reflect. At least there was no sense of horrendous injustice this time. At least there was no Iniesta-style dagger to the heart. I’d rather take a 3-1 loss than a last minute 1-1 exit. We had met our match, no excuses. Maybe the efforts of the game on Sunday had taken everything. Our one hope, Hazard, had been on the periphery all night. The game fizzled out. Mourinho made some late changes, but an unforgettable recovery was never on the cards. It had been a horrible second-half. We looked second-best. I longed for the whistle to blow.

The Atletico contingent, who had been relatively quiet until their first goal, were now rejoicing. There were songs for their former hero Fernando Torres and for their hated rival Jose Mourinho.

Some home fans had left by the time of the final whistle, but I was heartened by the many Chelsea supporters who stayed to not only thank our players for their efforts throughout the campaign but to applaud the victors.

Top marks.

Rob walked past and tapped me on the shoulder.

“Not tonight, Chris.”

“We’ve lost five out of seven semi-finals, but we’d give it all up for Munich.”

Rob agreed.

At least we have Munich. We’ll always have Munich. And Munich made defeat against Atletico Madrid on a night of harsh reality almost…ALMOST…bearable.

Outside, I waited silently with Dave for Dennis to arrive underneath the statue of Peter Osgood. I looked at his name etched in stone and I looked up at his image. It was a moment for me to give thanks to Ossie, possibly the determining factor in my decision to not only choose Chelsea in 1970 but to stick with the club ever since. After a while, a clearly saddened and emotional Dennis arrived. He was sad we had lost – of course – but was more disgusted by the “fans” around him in the West Lower who had hardly uttered words or songs of support to the team all night.

Then, Dennis spoke and his emotive words made me smile.

“I just need a few moments with The King.”

Outside on the Fulham Road there was an air of quiet reflection of the better team having won as the Chelsea faithful made their way home. Back in The Goose, Dennis – the visitor from over six thousand miles away – was philosophical and humbly grateful. He stood with a pint of lager in his hand and said –

“I’m just happy to be at this latitude and this longitude, right here, right now.”

We all knew what he meant.

As for me, there will be no grand finale in Lisbon. That landmark will have to wait.

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Tales From The Storm Chasers.

Liverpool vs. Chelsea : 27 April 2014.

Here was a match that I had been dreading for some time. As our league campaign has spluttered and faltered over recent weeks – defeats against the combined talents of Aston Villa, Crystal Palace and Sunderland perhaps convincing all of us to believe the manager’s comments of us being likely championship bystanders – the Liverpool juggernaut continued at a heady pace. How grateful I was that a Manchester City win last week meant that a defeat for us at Anfield would not hand the title to them.

We are not friends.

The mild dislike of ten years ago seems like a distant era; another time and two different clubs. Since then, the increasing animosity between Liverpool and Chelsea has grown. I was once ambivalent to Liverpool to be honest. Their glory years were in the past. As our stock gradually rose, theirs appeared to stagnate. Then came Mourinho, the ghost goal in 2005, a chant about “history” and one of modern football’s newest and most bitter rivalries.

Liverpool, confidence high after a stretch of winning games, were now championship favourites. To some in the media, the title was already won. As I prepared for the trip to Merseyside – sandwiched between the high drama of Champions League dates with Atletico Madrid – my whole body was filled with dread. Our team would be weakened. Liverpool were on fire. The momentum was with them. In addition to concerns about the football side of things, there was also the worry of going into the cauldron of red noise of Anfield and the jibes between both sets of fans. I wondered if the atmosphere would be blighted by the “H” words of Hillsborough, History, Hooligans, Heysel and Hate. I missed the game at Anfield last season; I wasn’t sorry.

On this occasion, though, I was drawn in like a moth to a flame. This was a game I had to attend; despite my concerns about a possible mauling and the horrendous mocking that would accompany it, there was an unquenchable desire to attend. Regardless of the outcome, I had to be there. I wanted to be part of it. I wanted the buzz, the thrill, the risk of danger, the chance of sweet success. I likened my desire to attend the game at Anfield to mirror that of storm chasers in the United States; lured by the awesome strength and power of a tornado, regardless of the threat to human life, like sailors swept up against rocks answering the song of a siren.

We were the storm chasers.

The Scousers sing about walking through a storm.

On the morning of Sunday 27 April 2014, as I left my sleeping Somerset village at 7.45am, I wondered if it was our turn to walk through a storm.

I collected Oscar Parksorius just after 8am, then diverted back to Bristol to collect Dennis from his hotel in Clifton. Dennis is one of the many fine American Chelsea fans who I have made friends with over the past ten years. He was in Bristol with work for a week but, what luck, was able to attend three Chelsea games during his spell in the south-west. As I drove north, we chatted about all sorts. I was, however, keen to give him a couple of facts about Liverpool Football Club which, I am sure, he was not familiar.

“Dennis…let me tell you this. Liverpool fans, along with many others, always harp on about us having no history, no past…that we are a small club with money. Well, let’s talk about attendances. If Liverpool’s highest ever gate at Anfield was ranked among Chelsea’s highest ever gates at Stamford Bridge, where would it come?”

Dennis : “I have no idea.”

Parky : “Eleventh?”

Chris : “At number sixty-seven.”

Dennis : “Wow.”

Yes, it’s true.

Stamford Bridge – 82,905.

Anfield – 61,905.

And sixty-six gates at The Bridge between the two figures.

“And here’s another one, Dennis. All-time averages. These figures are from 2004. Chelsea’s all-time average home gate in the league, dating back to 1905, was around 31,000. In that time…1905 to 2004…one league championship. Liverpool’s average all time…with a mighty eighteen championships, was around 34,000. That is just three thousand more. So tell me – doesn’t that suggest to you that it is our fans that are more loyal? In ninety-nine years, one title. Yet in in 2004, we were the club with the fifth-highest lifetime home attendance. I know we were blessed with a big ground, but we still had to fill it.”

We stopped at Strensham for a McBreakfast and then headed north through Birmingham. We dipped into Stafford to collect Dave The Hat, newly arrived on a train from The Smoke.

“The train was full of Scousers. Ugh.”

We drove on, the weather brightening with each mile. The laughs were roaring. The others supped on lagers, ales and ciders while I concentrated on the road.

“Dennis – this will be my nineteenth trip to Anfield with Chelsea. In all that time, just three wins. The 2-1 in 1992, the 3-1 in 2009 and the 2-0 in 2010. Hardly rich pickings.”

This would be both Dennis’ and Dave’s first visit.

Lacoste Watch -

Dennis – Brown.

We spoke briefly about the game. Dave and I both foresaw an early goal and a potential gubbing. We were, of course, going to be without key personnel. I inwardly groaned. In the back of mind was another piece of trivia. Our last really heavy league defeat against any team was the 5-1 loss at Anfield in 1996. By itself, that is a rather astounding statistic; in almost eighteen years, we haven’t conceded a heavier loss. In that period we have beaten other teams by mightier scores; Tottenham (6-1), Arsenal (6-0) and Manchester United (5-0) to name just three.

As we drove over the Manchester Ship canal, we were diverted by a barrage of Madonna / food puns and it took our mind off the game.

“Hollandaise.”

“Poppadom Preach.”

“Like A Pear.”

“La Isla Fajita.”

“Like A Gherkin.”

As I slowed at traffic lights before sweeping north on Queens Drive, Dennis exclaimed –

“Oh look at that.”

Over on the side of the road, just by the pavement, was a hubcap, welcoming us into the city.

Too funny.

On previous visits to Merseyside – and certainly in the hooligan era of the mid-‘eighties – trips to either Goodison or Anfield could be tense affairs. On one occasion I was chased by a few Liverpool scallies around Lime Street. On other occasions, the threat of physical harm was never too far away. Although I didn’t expect the same level of danger in 2014, I did warn the others that a visit to a pub would be silly in light of the animosity twixt Liverpool and Chelsea. There is no love lost. The idea, once I had parked up a mile to the south of Anfield, was for us to keep our heads down, avoid the locals and then let our hair down in the bar in the away end.

Imagine my surprise, then, when Dave – who is a man of Kent – bounced towards two locals, leaning back, arms all over the show, doing his best Micky Flanagan impersonation, and enquired –

“Owright mate – gotta liiiiiight?”

Dave couldn’t have given the game away more easily if he was wearing hob-nail boots, a Pearly-King suit, eating jellied eels, singing a Tommy Steele number and doing a Cockney knees-up.

Good grief.

We walked up Utting Avenue towards the grey steel of Anfield at the top of the hill. The streets were full of red favours. A gaggle of local women in onesies walked past; surely the perfect item of clothing for the city of Liverpool. There were three police vans outside “The Arkles.” Once inside the away end on Anfield Road, we could relax.

A pint of lager for the driver.

My mood was still sombre, though. I still had visions of a defeat. And possibly a heavy one.

5-1, 1996.

We chatted to four lads from Trowbridge who had been involved in a head-on collision at some lights at 8am. Thankfully, despite the car being written-off, they were OK.

The storm chasers were in town.

I pulled a face as Big John walked past.

“It’s all about Lisbon, mate.”

And I guess it was.

The general mood among my friends in the crowded bar was that we would be very grateful for a 0-0 draw. The team flashed up on the TV screen.

Schwarzer, Dave, Brana, Kalas, Cole, Mikel, Matic, Lamps, Schurrle, Ba, Salah.

I didn’t flinch. It was as I thought it might be. It was hardly a team of youth players.

For a change, I was watching the game alongside Lord Parky. Our seats were in row two. As I edged in to seat 80, I looked down at a carrier bag in front of a middle-aged chap; in it was a Manchester United logo’d match ball.

…mmm.

I didn’t recognise the people immediately around me, except Cathy who was sitting five seats along to my right. Like me, her camera was at the ready. I was hoping for some nice photographs in this game. Thankfully, my large lens was not garnering too much attention from the match day stewards. Behind me – five rows back – was Dennis. Dave was sitting – OK standing – with Alan and Gal, further towards the rear. Our end was packed. There wasn’t a spare seat in the house. There was an over-riding feeling of nervous tension.

The flags and banners were being waved with gusto in The Kop. Ah, The Kop. On one memorable occasion, I watched Chelsea from the old, vast, unruly and unregulated old Kop; the 1992 game, the 2-1 win. I have in fact, watched Chelsea from all four sides at Anfield. I’d guess not many Chelsea fans can claim that.

The stadium then sang “You’ll Never Walk Alone” and I took it all in. The benchmark for me was the infamous Champions League Semi-Final in 2005. Anfield was electric that night. In 2014, it was loud, but not as loud as in 2005. I remember the European-style whistling in 2005, too. It was one of the noisiest atmospheres I have ever experienced. By contrast, when we went to Anfield four years ago and virtually set up the championship with a 2-0 victory, I have never known Liverpool’s stadium to be so subdued.

The game began and after one minute, I was already watching the clock high up between the Centenary stand and The Kop. It always gets my attention. I have become obsessed by the clock at Anfield.

Let’s keep them out. One minute, five minutes, ten.

The stadium was rocking during the first twenty minutes as Liverpool dominated possession. An early shot from Ashley Cole was not followed up with any other real Chelsea chances and we dug in. Coutinho blasted over right in front of me. This was torrid stuff. Cole cleared off the line and Sakho shot over. I watched him as he shouted in despair. Being so close to the pitch was wonderful, though. I was able to marvel at the speed and skill of both sets of players. Liverpool kept finding players out wide, but cross after cross was either blocked or headed away. I was unhappy with our time-wasting and was worried that it would end up with bookings or worse.

As the minutes edged past – twenty, twenty-five – the noise quietened and I was more hopeful. Chelsea began to cause the home team problems, especially from set pieces. On more than one occasion, corners were whipped in. Our presence was increasing. The Chelsea choir responded. In the home areas, a new song –

“We Are Liverpool – Tra La La la La.”

We responded –

“Oh Dennis Wise.”

Thirty minutes.

A third of the way there.

“Come on Chels.”

Ba was toiling well, and we began to enjoy periods of possession, moving the ball around, making Liverpool chase. The noise was definitely lessening. I don’t often sit/stand with Parky and his fervour was astounding. It seemed that every time a Liverpool player had possession for more than two touches, Parky would bark out :

“Hit him, stab him, hit him with a brick.”

My eyes picked out Luis Suarez – I’ll admit it, my eyes hurt each time I saw him, such was his prowling presence and threat of danger. His one real chance was spurned though; his shot flashed over.

In front of The Kop, another corner flashed in and the leaping Tomas Kalas – the debutant – headed wide when he really should have tested Mignolet.

Thirty five minutes, forty minutes.

Then, a miracle. A slip from a Liverpool player and Ba pounced. He ran untroubled from just inside the Liverpool half. What a daunting sight if he dared look; twelve thousand steely eyes on The Kop praying for him to fail. Ba kept his composure and shot. The ball was struck low. I kept my composure and snapped just as the ball crossed the line. Twelve thousand Liverpudlians in The Kop looked on aghast. Three thousand Chelsea fans in the away corner erupted.

“YEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEES.”

I turned to my left in order to hug someone, anyone, but was met by four stony faces. There had been warnings of Scousers somehow – how??? – getting tickets in our area, and here was proof. I smiled at one chap, and pointed  –

“Sussed.”

He looked worried, but I was in no mood to grass anyone up. The mother and daughter next to me…mmm, half-and-half scarves, surely a telling sign…were quiet too. I just smiled at them.

“Get in Chelsea!”

A song swept our end –

“Steven Gerrard – You’ve Done It Again.”

Oh boy…so it was his slip. I simply hadn’t noticed who was involved, being so low. After his back-pass to Didier Drogba in 2010 on the same ground – and the same end, too – he had done it again. I may be hung, drawn and quartered for saying it, but Gerrard is a great player; I love the way he pings long passes around, knee over the ball, textbook. On this occasion, though – with thoughts of the premature celebrations and his protestations in the Liverpool huddle a few games back – I could only laugh.

There was a sense of huge bewilderment in our end at the break; we had weathered the storm. We had defended heroically. We just might do this.

We just might do this!

The second-half followed along similar lines. There was much possession from Liverpool, but simply magnificent and resolute defending from the entire Chelsea team. The second-half of Chelsea at Anfield in 2014 will be remembered by these few motifs…

The sight of Steven Gerrard, alone, in acres of space at the centre of every Liverpool move. I was surprised how much room we gave him, but I think it was decided that we would simply defend deep and repel all of his prods into the runners ahead. He resembled an NFL quarterback, but whose wide receivers kept running into blocks.

The Liverpool finishing; so poor. On not one occasion did I feel that our goal was under threat. There was not one single expectant hush from The Kop, as so often happens before a goal is scored. Even the “oohs” and “aahs” after each wayward shot were quiet.

The performance from Mark Schwarzer was magnificent. He kept on coming and claiming cross after cross, then scrambled down on a few occasions to foil Allen and others. Seeking extra confidence ahead of the return leg with Atletico, this game was a Godsend.

Willian replaced Salah. As the sun beat down on us in the away end, it was our turn to play. Runs from Willian and Schurrle caused panic in the home support and Mignolet reacted well to deny Schurrle. A Matic shot skidded wide. Ba held the ball up so well and proved to be quite a handful for the Liverpool defence. Behind him, everyone had run their proverbial socks off.

Gary Cahill replaced Schurrle, and Jose went with three – no, five – at the back. I am not a fan of changes to shape late on, but – there again – I know fcuk all about football. The Chelsea fans seemed too nervous to sing. It was excruciating. The minutes ticked by.

That bloody clock.

More wayward shots from Liverpool.

With the end in sight, Mourinho acted as chief cheerleader, beating his chest, pointing at the watch, scowling at us, demanding more support. It was an incredible sight.

To be honest, I felt myself bracing for an equaliser in the last fifteen minutes. This was my game plan. I remembered my pre-game thoughts; an equaliser, though tough, would be “OK.”

Into four or five minutes of added time, we were tested at a corner but Schwarzer saved from Suarez. Thankfully, space had been at a premium all day long in our box and those intricate through balls from Gerrard into Suarez had been noticeably missing.

Space, however, took on an extra dimension in the last minute. Chelsea won the ball just inside our own half and the ball was played to Fernando Torres.

“Oh my God, son – go on…do it.”

I had time to raise my camera and photograph his run at Mignolet, his pass to Willian and the walking in of the ball into the empty net.

Game. Set. Match.

The Chelsea end exploded once more.

It was time for a few crazy, magical photographs of the players celebrating just yards from me. I probably heard their voices, but it is a beautiful royal blue blur. I scrambled up on to the seat in front. Arms outstretched. I yelled until I could yell no more.

At the final whistle, complete bliss.

From behind, came a raucous chant –

“We’re Gonna Win The League…”

I joined in, but I was far from convinced, despite our magnificent performance at the home of the champions-elect. Another song brought me greater cheer :

“Portugal, Portugal – We Are Coming.”

I shook hands with Cathy, our smiles wide. Parky was going mad, as per normal. Dennis, the Anfield virgin, was beaming. I could only begin to imagine his emotions. Then, Dave, arms wide, lapping it up.

I was now 4 wins in 19, but Dennis and Dave were 1/1.

There had been a storm and the storm was caused by us.

Walk on now, Liverpool.

As we sidled out into the evening sun, we roared once more. I looked at the reactions of a couple of grizzled Liverpool stewards, maybe veterans of Rome 1977, Wembley 1978, Paris 1981, Rome 1984 and Istanbul 2005. I think I caught one of them smiling as we sung once more. England’s new European specialists were taking centre stage now –

“Portugal, Portugal – We Are Coming.

Portugal, Portugal – I Pray.

Portugal, Portugal – We Are Coming.

We Are Coming In The Month Of May.”

We kept quiet on the steady walk back to the car, save for a few knowing winks with some Chelsea faces. Once inside the sanctity of my car, we roared. We were soon met with a dilemma of the game taking place at Selhurst Park, though. Really, we should have wanted City to drop points, but we just wanted the whole day to be remembered as the day that Liverpool were knocked out of the title-race.

“They won’t come back from this. I think its City’s now.”

“Unless Everton can beat them…”

“Nah. We’ll probably finish third.”

“Just like Jose says.”

“And who can argue with him?”

It was a gorgeous drive south. Dennis, especially, was just so happy. We smiled as we heard Brendan Rodgers and then a few Liverpool fans on “606” blaming Mourinho and Chelsea for their defeat. It was just like old times…Liverpool blaming Chelsea…

Jog on.

I had whispered to Dennis, walking back to the car in Liverpool –

“This could be the best week of your life.”

On Wednesday, let’s make sure it is.

Image

 

Tales From Typical Chelsea.

Chelsea vs. Sunderland : 19 April 2014.

This was a match that I just couldn’t wait to attend. In this bewildering football season, a rather forgotten striker by the name of Connor Wickham had effectively opened the fight for the title right up. His two goals at The Etihad during the week had taken the edge away from Manchester City. Suddenly, miraculously, Chelsea were back into contention. Although the media love-fest with Liverpool had shown no sign of abating, the tantalising truth was this –

If we rolled off four league wins in a row, Chelsea Football Club would be league champions for the fifth time in our history and for the fourth time in just ten seasons.

I was up early – too early, 6.45am – and began the day with a few errands. At 11.45am I had collected Young Jake from Trowbridge, at midday Lord Parky joined us and Bournemouth Steve was picked up at Amesbury Services, close to Stonehenge, at 1pm. The sense of anticipation was palpable. Talk was now of the league, whereas en route to Swansea the Champions League had taken precedence. Of the two, I found it hard to choose. But, to be honest, why did I have to choose? Whatever will be will surely be. After a few miles, I gulped down a can of Starbucks double-espresso (my second of the trip) while Parky and Jake were on the lager.

On the way up, Young Jake asked Parky and I about our favourite Chelsea goals that I had seen live. My stock answer to this question has always been the same. Had I been present at the Chelsea vs. Norwich City cup replay in 2002, I might have chosen Gianfranco Zola’s impudent flick. My answer came from a few years earlier.

What was my favourite ever Chelsea goal? It was Gus Poyet’s scissor-kick volley from Gianfranco Zola’s sublime lob in our league opener against Sunderland on Saturday 7 August 1999. As I reminisced, I easily remembered the complete joy that I had experienced on that sunny Saturday almost fifteen years previously. Although the shot from Poyet was magnificent enough, it was the other-worldly lob from our Sicilian maestro which made it so wonderful. Zola’s vision and intelligence, plus his perfect application, still makes warms me after all these years.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F_lkik83PMc

I love the way that Zola controls the ball and touches it – caresses it – into the correct position in order for his audacious assist. It was pure artistic brilliance. The goal sent the Stamford Bridge stadium into a blue frenzy. Immediately after, I recollect that my friend Glenn and I clambered up to the walkway immediately behind our seats and, there and then, recreated the high-kick from Poyet. We were already calling it the goal of the season. What wonderful and happy memories.

The irony of Poyet (who has had a love-hate relationship with us Chelsea supporters since his departure in 2001) returning to Stamford Bridge with Sunderland was not lost on me.

So, Connor Wickham. I pondered what role his two goals at Manchester City might play in the final outcome of the league title. In truth, the goals may not mean much at all. The championship is decided after each participant has played thirty-eight games. The two goals at City may be a minor detail. However, with just four games to go, it meant that City’s final position was not, now, in their hands. It pushed the advantage back towards firstly Liverpool, but also us. I was bristling with excitement throughout the last few miles of the journey. It was a fine day in London. Let the fun begin.

It was a typical pre-match in The Goose. Talk was of other things – not really the Sunderland game – and a few lads were full of Madrid and, whisper it, Lisbon. As I lined up in the queue for the turnstiles underneath the blue sky above the Matthew Harding stand, it dawned on me that a win against the bottom team in the division was perceived by many to be a foregone conclusion.

Did I? Well, maybe yes. Guilty.

I checked the team.

In came Mark Schwarzer to replace Petr Cech. The back-four picked itself. Matic and Ramires holding. The attacking three were Willian, Oscar and Salah. Upfront, alone, Samuel Eto’o.

Sunderland only brought around eight hundred fans.

We were a little laboured at the start and I commented to Alan that there was a lack of a spring in our step. Was this the result of our number of games this season? Debateable.  A shot from our former striker Borini flashed wide, but soon after a Chelsea move led to a corner, from where we struck. A nicely played delivery from Willian, with just the correct amount of pace and dip, found Samuel Eto’o, with held off a half-hearted challenge to volley home from the six-yard box.

Eto’o wheeled away to celebrate in front of the Chelsea match.

Alan : “They’ll have come at us naaaa, like.”

Chris : “Come on wor little diamonds.”

Pressure off? Not a bit of it.

Sunderland worked a corner well, though our collective lapse in concentration was culpable, with the ball being played back to the unmarked Alonso. He volley flew through a pack of players and Schwarzer was unable to gather. The ball spilled away from him and Connor Wickham, yes him, neatly flicked home.

1-1.

The game opened up, and Oscar had shots on goal. On thirty-five minutes, another Willian corner produced more uncertainty in the Sunderland box. On this occasion, a thundering Ivanovic header was forced up on to the underside of the bar by Manone. Matic  fancied a dig from outside the box, but Manone saved. Sala, playing well on our right, reacted well but Manone just reached the cross before Eto’o could pounce.

There was frustration at the break, despite some good work from Salah, Matic, Oscar and Willian. Eto’o had shown good control, eager to go and find the ball, but I sensed the need for an extra presence in the box. I suggested that Ramires should be replaced by Demba Ba, with us playing 4-1-3-2. Did we need two defensive midfielders at home against lowly Sunderland?

“I won’t worry. Mourinho will sort it out.”

The second-half began and we began well. Willian, from deep, ran with the ball for what seemed an eternity. With the Sunderland defenders back-peddling and seemingly over-stretched, Eto’o was played in. His deliberate shot curled tantalisingly past the post. I was already up and celebrating. I howled in agony. On the hour, Jose replaced the fitful Oscar with Demba Ba. I was very pleased to hear the home support rallying behind the team in their half-hour of need. This was good stuff. I felt encouraged and hoped that the players could feed off the positivity. Willian teed up Ba, but our striker was off balance and his shot was screwed off target.

Mourinho replaced the tiring Salah with Schurrle and I implored him to stay wide and hug the line. Some half-chances came and went. A shot from Schurrle drew a save from Manone. We were on top, but lacked a finish. The cutting edge, the cliché of our season, was nowhere to be seen.

With a quarter of an hour left, Fernando Torres replaced Eto’o. A spectacular bicycle-kick from one of many Willian corners flew over. A Torres header was saved. The clock ticked. The atmosphere grew more nervous.

With less than ten minutes remaining, the usually steady and reliable Azpilicueta slipped calamitously as he brought the ball out of defence, with Altidore lurking. I sensed danger immediately.

“Oh no.”

Altidore galloped away, but Azpilicueta lunged at him just before the American was able to pull the trigger. Dave’s challenge – to my eyes, some hundred and twenty yards away – looked like a definite penalty. Mike Dean – “the Scouser in the black” was never more apt – had already ignited a great deal of animosity within our ranks all afternoon and he added to his role as a figure of hate by pointing to the spot.

Two things hit me.

If they score this, we will probably be right out of the league title race.

If they score this, the Mourinho league run could be over.

Borini – on loan from Liverpool, ugh – calmly slotted home.

Chelsea 1 Sunderland 2.

Schurrle broke in from the left and Mannone flew himself into the air to dramatically tip over. For all of our possession – and chances – the Sunderland ‘keeper had few saves to make all game. Torres’ claim for a penalty was waved away by Dean, now the devil incarnate, and the derisory boos grew louder. Five minutes of extra time was signalled, but our attacking spirit had dwindled to a memory.

I was in agony during those final minutes. I looked away. I stared at the floor. My mind was full of defeat. It was such an alien feeling after our dominance at Stamford Bridge over the past ten years.

At the final whistle, hideous and hateful boos behind me.

Yes, it’s true. Some of our “fans” are spoiled fools.

What is the saying…”if you can’t support us when we are bad, don’t support us when we are good.”

Versus Sunderland, I don’t think we were bad. Several players did themselves proud. But our finishing was bad.

It has become the story of our 2013-2014 season.

Young Jake, Steve, Lord Parky and I met up at the Fox & Pheasant after walking past a few ridiculously upbeat Mackems. I spotted an American wearing a Philadelphia Phillies cap and I blurted out “Let’s Go Phillies” to which his friend, wearing a Chelsea tracksuit top, replied, with a pitiful smirk on his face –

“Yeah. And they suck too.”

I just glowered at him.

Back at my favourite Italian restaurant, we tried to lighten the mood a little. Pizzas hit the spot, but conversation was difficult. The rug had been pulled from underneath us and our hope of a title had been seemingly extinguished. I can cope with near misses and missing out on silverware – of course – but it was just the sudden shock of defeat, when we appeared to be hitting some form, which made this defeat seem so tough. It was, as the phrase goes, just typical Chelsea.

Beat the strong teams, lose to the weak ones. It was our way for years.

However, after Villa and Palace, it was also the third game where we had prefaced a Champions League game with a meek league defeat.

Ah, the Champions League.

I looked ahead briefly and quickly to a potentially riotous second-leg against Atletico Madrid in around ten days’ time and experienced a flutter in my heart.

Maybe. Just maybe.

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Tales From Swansea / Hanesion O Abertawe.

Swansea City vs. Chelsea : 13 April 2014.

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Parky, Glenn, Bob, Chris.

So there we were; the four of us, basking in the early-afternoon sun at Bracelet Bay, just south of The Mumbles on the Gower Peninsular. We had just enjoyed a fine lunch at the Castellamare restaurant – where Parky and I enjoyed a similar pre-game meal before the January 2012 game – and were just about to head back into town to join the rest of the supporters for the Swansea City vs. Chelsea game. It had been a fine trip thus far. Due to the – relative – close proximity of the Liberty Stadium to my home (110 miles in case anyone is wondering) and the relatively “newness” of this venue, this always was going to be one of the most anticipated away days of 2013-2014. The four of us were having a blast, in fact. The story of how the trip came about is an interesting one.

Parky.

Until about a week before the game, Parky wasn’t going to be attending this game. Although he is a Chelsea season ticket holder, he had missed out in the application process. This was a real shame. We had enjoyed our first league game in Wales for 28 years on that trip in 2012 and were keen to repeat it. I was hopeful that a ticket might somehow become available from a Chelsea mate, but I also had a back-up plan. I work in logistics and one of our suppliers is based in Swansea. About a month ago, after we learned of Parky’s cruel twist of fate, I enquired if they could possibly muster up one ticket from somewhere. After a couple of subtle hints, the dialogue dwindled. I wasn’t too hopeful. Then, out of the blue, I received the great news that not one but two tickets had been acquired. Not only that, they were gratis…free…complimentaries. This was a result of the highest order. I quickly ‘phoned His Parkyness to tell him; he was, as the old cliché goes, “over the moon Brian.” I quickly decided that Parky would have my ticket, alongside Alan and Gary in the away section, while I would make use of one of the complimentaries. Who would get the other one? It was an easy decision.

Glenn.

My good friend – in fact, my oldest Chelsea friend by a good few years – Glenn was free on Sunday 13 April and so he unsurprisingly jumped at the chance to travel with me to Swansea for the game. Glenn has been keeping an extra special eye on my ailing mother of late and so here was a lovely way to reward him for his time, not that a reward was being sought of course. It was just nice that he was free, that we could watch the game together. Originally, I had visions of us schmoozing in a corporate area, but I found out on the Wednesday that the two tickets were located within the home end. This wasn’t a problem. The tickets – two season tickets – were posted to me and arrived on the Friday. This was coming together rather well. I longed for the weekend. It was, quite possibly, going to be the best weekend of the year so far. On the Friday, I saw iconic punk poet John Cooper Clarke in my home town with a few old (non-Chelsea, gasp) friends and on Saturday I awaited the arrival in town of a Chelsea friend from afar.

Bob.

I first met The Bobster in Palo Alto in 2007, ahead of our game against Club America on a perfect Californian summer day, and we have become very good mates during the intervening period. Bob has travelled over to England on around six or seven occasions since then – plus away games in Rome and Paris – and has even travelled down to my home town in Somerset to see my local team play. Bob had this trip booked, in that meticulous way of his, some months ago. There was always going to be a trip to Frome on the day before the jaunt to Swansea, and Parky was always going to be accompanying us, regardless of match ticket. Additionally, there was always going to be a boozy rendezvous around the pubs of Frome (aka “Dodge City”) too. What made it all the more enjoyable was the sudden news about the extra two tickets. Four of us were going to South Wales and it was going to be a cracker.

Chris.

I followed up the night out on the Friday with a well-planned pub crawl around Dodge on the Saturday. I invited two local Chelsea stalwarts – PD and Brian – to join Glenn, Bob and I and the evening’s entertainment began at PD’s local “The Crown.” I had warned Bob that this pub would be as “old school” as they came. The linoleum on the floor and the – ahem – minimalistic décor proved my point. Bob’s enquiry if the pub served food was met by a quick rebuttal from me. We assembled just after 7pm, but were saddened to see Wigan squander a 1-0 lead and to end up losing their F.A. Cup semi-final against Arsenal. The drinks went down well. It was lovely to be out in my local town with four other Chelsea supporters. We felt untouchable. Glenn and I ended up at an “80’s Night”, where the drinking continued, and where – in one surreal moment – we found ourselves up on stage dancing to Tiffany’s “I Think We’re Alone Now.” It was a good night. Thankfully, I awoke the next day hangover-free. Glenn didn’t fare quite so well.

I had collected The Bobster outside his hotel in Frome’s Market Place at 9.15am and I called for Glenn soon after. To be honest, I was just thankful that he was in the land of the living. However, on a day when our behaviour in among the home fans would probably be under intense scrutiny (“who are those two, by there?) – and heaven knows we had joked about us putting on Welsh accents, and growing moustaches, to blend in – I was taken aback by Glenn’s choice of puffa jacket.

It was royal blue.

“Nice neutral colours, Glenn.”

“Oh shit. I got dressed in a hurry. Look!”

He had a royal blue Quiksilver polo, too.

“Oh boy.”

We swung over to collect His Lordship. A quick breakfast at McMelksham (“look at those two twats with their Arsenal shirts on”) and then up onto the M4. It was a splendid day. The weather was superb. As we rose on a hill to the north of Bristol, we could easily see the hills of Wales on the horizon. The view was exceptional.

I drove over the new (well, circa 1997) Severn Bridge and we were soon in Wales.

“You been to Wales before, Bob?”

“Nope. First time.”

Bob was soon chuckling at the dual road signs on show as I thundered past Newport, then Cardiff, then Bridgend, then Port Talbot. In a little more than two hours after leaving Parky’s Wiltshire village, I had parked-up outside the Swansea train station to allow Bob to deposit his overnight bag in the Grand Hotel opposite. A few Chelsea faces were already drinking in the hotel bar – I paid it a visit last season in fact, during the dying embers of Roberto di Matteo’s tumultuous reign. Parky didn’t accompany me on that trip. Both of the league games at the Liberty Stadium ended as 1-1 draws. As for the League Cup semi-final (which none of us attended), the less said the better. So, three visits to Swansea and three draws. On the trip, little was said about the up-coming match. I have sensed that there is a shifting of focus by Chelsea supporters from the domestic league towards European glory. Although I was hopeful of a Chelsea win later that evening, and with it a continued presence in the crazy and unpredictable title race, I was surely not alone in thinking that our league campaign might end with most Chelsea fans focussing on Madrid and Lisbon. This, to be honest, was unlike me. I have always counted league glory over European glory. And yet…and yet…Munich gave me the best night of my life and the best weekend of my life. How could I not want a second European Cup? These are heady days.

For an hour or so, the four of us chatted over lunch. Glenn’s hangover had subsided, but Bob gave us all headaches when he informed us that Manchester City had let in two early goals at Anfield.  In that moment, had the power shifted towards the city of Liverpool?

As I drove slowly back into the city, we were given a sightseeing tour by Parky. He had been so smitten by The Mumbles on our visit in 2012 that he had soon returned back with his far-better half Jill for a few days. As I passed through The Mumbles, Parky spoke of that visit. It seemed that there were few pubs that Jill and Parky hadn’t frequented.

Then, mayhem. The news came through that David Silva had not only scored once but twice at Anfield. When the second one was announced on Five Live, we roared. My car may have shifted a few lanes. Suddenly, in Swansea, with the terraced houses clinging to the surrounding hillsides, and the sky so blue, we were back in it.

Then, just after the stadium came into view…utter dismay.

Liverpool 3 Manchester City 2.

I parked up and we sauntered down to the neat stadium, the sun warming the Welsh air. Outside, I said my goodbyes to The Bobster. He walked with Parky up to the northern end of the stadium, while Glenn and I headed to the other end. After a few paces, I spotted a Swansea face; one of the wannabee hooligans featured in that laughable documentary about an ill-fated trip to Notts County game a few years ago.

Johnny The Brains.

Oh boy.

We had no problems entering the stand. In a quiet moment, I whispered to Glenn –

“The last time we were sat in the home end together was in Barcelona in 2005. Wonder if a bloke will prod you with his walking stick like at Camp Nou.”

Glenn laughed.

“I don’t think he was too impressed when I said ‘VIVA MADRID’ was he?”

Inside, we had great seats. We were in only the fifth row in the lower tier, just yards from the goal. Around us, of course, were natives. We spoke in hushed tones. I have watched games in home areas before of course; Liverpool, Arsenal, Everton, Blackburn Rovers, Bristol Rovers, Bournemouth, Bristol City to name a few. I have never encountered any trouble. However, this game was a little different. I was using someone else’s season ticket; it was likely that we would soon be sussed. We vowed, therefore, to randomly cheer the odd Swansea move, but – obviously – stay silent should Chelsea score. I also didn’t want the kind benefactor to be reprimanded by the club for letting in away fans.

I already had a story : “We’re visiting our sons at Swansea University and had the chance of tickets.”

Glenn : “What subjects?”

Chris : “I don’t bloody know. Football?”

The Chelsea end slowly filled-up. I spotted Bob, Alan and Gary. This was going to be a weird sensation for me. For once, I would be the outsider looking in. There were a few flags. But quite a few empty seats.

The teams entered the pitch and the hitherto quiet home sections were roused.

Then, a whistle.

We remembered the ninety-six Liverpool fans, including one lad from Swansea, who tragically perished twenty-five years ago.

R.I.P.

At 4.07pm, the game began and it was pretty surreal to be among strangers. We had made a point of clapping some of the Swansea players as their names were announced, but one lad behind us kept giving us some very old-fashioned looks. It was great to be so close to the action. Swansea began well. A lot of our early play came down our right, just where we sat, and I so wanted to give support to Mohamed Salah, Branislav Ivanovic or Demba Ba, so found it hard to sit motionless. A fine move found Brana but his excellent cut-back was tucked wide by Salah. Willian buzzed around and Matic looked in control. Another Salah effort, then a header from Bony. The home support was predictably loud –

“Gary Monk’s Barmy Army”

CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP.

But the Chelsea fans matched it well –

“He Hates Tot’num, He Hates Tot’num.”

The game, however, changed when Chico Flores was booked twice within a few minutes. Swansea were down to ten men. The home fans were incandescent with rage.

One chap behind said –

“I fcuking hate Chelsea.”

We seemed to have all of the possession then, but never looked like getting behind their back-line.

“If we can’t beat ten men…”

A few chances were exchanged, with Salah and Willian heavily involved. When Andre Schurrle was booked, the Swansea fans cheered and clapped. I joined in.

“Bloody hell Glenn, I’m confused.”

It had been a strange game. Our play was slow and I wondered what magic might issue forth from Jose Mourinho’s mouth at the interval. At the break, two changes – Oscar for Ramires and Eto’o for Schurrle. We were now on the offensive and Oscar was very involved. We stepped up the pressure, moving things nicely in the Swansea half. A Ba header was flicked wide. Then, with Eto’o just yards from goal and centrally placed, he shanked it wide. I silently sighed. Then, a shot from Ba. The chances were mounting up.

The home fans responded –

“And We Were Singing, Hymns And Arias, Land Of My Fathers, Ar Hyd Y Nos.”

And so did the team. Only a timely block from John Terry denied Routledge. The clock was ticking and I again wondered if we would ever score. Would our league title challenge end with a whimper in Wales?

A quick throw in by Dave found an unmarked Matic. This was poor defending by Swansea, but their ten men had chased us down for an hour. They were starting to tire. Matic wasted no time in toe-poking the ball up-field to Demba Ba. Our number 19 adeptly brought  the ball down. He edged left and shot early. Vorm could only deflect the ball in. I remained silent and still. Two thousand Chelsea fans were doing the celebrating for me. It was a great, immediate, bellow of noise.

A few more Chelsea chances. Mourinho then put the bolt across our defence and brought on Mikel for Ba. A great reflex save by Petr Cech from Shelvey, just ten yards away from Glenn and I, kept us ahead. I wanted to yell out my support. Instead, I whispered to Glenn –

“That’s why he’s still our ‘keeper.”

By then, many of the home fans around us had already left.

The final whistle blew. Our foray behind enemy lines had been a huge success. However, it had been an odd game. We had enjoyed tons of possession, and had peppered the home goal with a multitude of shots, but it was all much laboured. But let’s be honest, at this stage of this very strange season, all we can do is win.

Job – most definitely – done.

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Tales From A Night Of Nerves And Noise.

Chelsea vs. Paris St. Germain : 8 April 2014.

Despite our vivid memories of our “come from behind” triumph against Napoli in the round of sixteen in 2012 – and it was referenced thousands of times around the Chelsea world since the first leg in Paris – I was far from convinced that we would prevail. Throughout the day at work, I was asked if I thought Chelsea would “do it” against Paris St. Germain.

On each occasion, there was the vague “I’m not sure” or the negative “no, I don’t think we will.”

Of course, I lived in hope. We all live in hope. There was just something down, way down, in my being that taught me to do me wary. My view was that I could see us scoring (how? We have no goalscorers?) However, I could also see us conceding (how? We have the best defensive record in the Premier League.) Sometimes, in Planet Football, there is no logic.

Maybe it was the realist in me. Or the pragmatist. Maybe the Chelsea pessimist. I was just wary of too many Chelsea fans getting carried away with our hopes of advancing. I just aimed for a sense of balance. In an attempt to try to put some empirical value on my thoughts, I gave us a 40% chance of getting into the semis. I knew one thing; should my pre-game predictions be way out, I would be in for one of the greatest ninety minutes of football at Stamford Bridge in over forty years.

I collected Lord Parky at 3.30pm and I was able to inform him how I had managed to get him a ticket for the upcoming game in Swansea at the weekend. Parky, unlike me, was more upbeat about our chances against PSG and he took the good news about Swansea to be a fantastic omen for the evening’s game. As I have mentioned before, there is nothing quite like the buzz for a springtime trip to Stamford Bridge for a midweek Champions League knock-out game. With the evenings now lighter, there is a magical feel to the whole proceedings. As I drove east, I revaluated my predictions.

Maybe 42%.

We were delayed by a nasty crash ahead of us around Reading, so our pilgrimage took us a lengthy three hours.

At 6.30pm, we were in The Goose. I spent some time with some of the New York supporters’ group; the lucky five or six who had stayed on from the Stoke City game at the weekend.  After the damp squib atmosphere on Saturday, at least the noise would be a hundred times better against PSG. I was itching to head down to The Bridge and so rounded up the troops and headed south and then east.

The fifteen minute walk was soon over. Frank disappeared to buy half of the contents of all of the stalls on the Fulham Road, while Taryn joined the line for the Upper Tier of the West Upper. This would only be her second game at Stamford Bridge; the Stoke game, on her birthday, was her first. I hoped for great things.

Inside, that “Chelsea Champions League Feeling.”

Just a magical buzz…I could sense the atmosphere building with each minute. Over in the far corner, the three thousand Parisians were adorned with brightly coloured red, white and blue. Noticeably, one section, just above the corner flag, was devoid of scarves, flags and shirts. I presumed this was the PSG version of our executive club.  I wondered if Nicolas Sarkozy and Gerard Depardieu were present – maybe in the West Stand directors’ box – just like in Paris last Wednesday.

The team had been announced while we were in the pub; I guess that it picked itself. The only slight surprise was seeing Frank Lampard. Then, with not long to go, there was the typical pre-game Champions League routine. We had each been given a nylon flag, and some of these were waved as the rather embarrassing opera singer belted out “Blue Is The Colour.” I looked over to the East Middle and noted that the spectators had each been given blue and white bar scarves; the sight, rather than stirring me, made me shudder. I remembered that scarves were similarly given out to spectators in the East Stand for the Internazionale game in 2010. I hoped there would not be a similar result; on that occasion Jose Mourinho was the foe.

Just before the teams entered the pitch, eyes turned towards the balcony of the Matthew Harding Upper. We had already seen the Champions League flag for the first time at the Tottenham game, and it was joined by the Europa League flag against Galatasaray. Now, a third flag – that of the European Cup Winners’ Cup – was unveiled alongside.

Three flags representing four triumphs.

1971 and 1998.

2012

2013

Our European pedigree.

As the game began, I was so heartened to hear loud and passionate support booming around the stadium. Talk before the game was of us getting an early goal. It didn’t happen. With each passing glance at the stadium clock…5 minutes, 10 minutes, 15 minutes…we sensed that our golden moment had passed us by. Throughout the first period, the away fans provided constant noise, but without many familiar tunes. A defiant tricolour was constantly held aloft in the Shed Lower. PSG possibly began stronger with Lavezzi showing good involvement, but then Chelsea began to bite back. A few Frank Lampard corners and free-kicks from wide areas were fizzed in, but we were unable to hit targets. Samuel Eto’o was neat in possession, but was often out wide rather than being in the midst of the penalty area. Hazard had shown a few neat touches out on the left, but we were shocked to see him substituted after only around twenty minutes. Without Hazard, our creativity would surely suffer. On came Andre Schurrle. The noise quietened slightly. The nerves began to jangle.

It seemed that the referee, Pedro Proenca, he of the 2012 Final, seemed to book anyone who moved. The frustrations began to increase. Midway through the first-half, maybe caused by a poor refereeing decision, a new chant was born. Maybe someone deep down in the MHL began singing “Fcuk UEFA – We’ve Seen It Before”, but a new chant soon boomed around Stamford Bridge.

“CHAMPIONS OF EUROPE – WE’VE DONE IT BEFORE.”

This was immediately the song de jour.

“WE’VE DONE IT BEFORE. WE’VE DONE IT BEFORE. CHAMPIONS OF EUROPE – WE’VE DONE IT BEFORE.”

The noise was fantastic. The whole crowd latched on to the song. Love it.

Our play was typical of this season. A fair bit of possession, but we hardly got behind them. The cutting edge, of course, was missing. A Lampard free-kick was whipped in and the ball took a deflection, but Sirigu pulled off a stunning save. Just after – on 32 minutes – a lofty throw-in from Ivanovic was flicked on by David Luiz. The substitute Schurrle was the first to react and he stroked the ball in.

“YEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEES.”

1-0 and the game came alive.

There was the usual interchange between Alan and myself.

“Zey will have to come at us now.”

A pause, a shrug, and a look of insouciance.

“Come on my little diamonds.”

It was far from an early goal, but – bollocks – it was a first-half goal.

Soon after, Schurrle was clearly energised by his goal and wriggled into the PSG box, but was met with the brick wall of a challenge by Verratti. A loud appeal was turned down. The game continued, with more yellow cards being brandished. At times, as PSG attacked us, I felt myself looking away from the pitch. I can never remember doing this with such a regular occurrence ever before.

After all these games, I was reassured that football – no, wait, Chelsea – still means so much.

Two songs at the break –

“Sweet Dreams.”

“Reasons To Be Cheerful – Part Three.”

Off the pitch, positive feelings. On the pitch, Peter Bonetti was given a tour of the Stamford Bridge turf.

Soon into the second-half, a beautiful strike by Andre Schurrle crashed against the bar. Only seconds later, an Oscar free-kick thudded against the exact same portion of woodwork. The groans were desperate. A Cech save from Lavezzi cheered us. In truth, Cech had not been called on too often. Blanc brought on the impressive Cabaye. Mourinho replaced Lampard with Ba, who was soon flicking on balls for others to run on to. It seemed that, at least for a few minutes, Ba played upfront with Eto’o.

The damned clock kept ticking away. I must’ve glanced at it every two minutes. Cavani blasted high. I noted the reoccurrence of a song that I had heard from the Boulogne Boys in Paris – a PSG version of “Flower Of Scotland.” Javier Pastore – yes him, the scorer of that bloody goal – came on for them. PSG peppered our goal with a few efforts.

The clock ticked.

As PSG broke, I looked away once more. Cavani wasted a golden opportunity, firing just high of Cech’s goal once more.

With ten minutes to go, Jose Mourinho played his final card, replacing Oscar with Fernando Torres. Three forwards were now on the pitch and the crowd, like the players supporting them, realised the rarity of this and upped the level of support.

“And It’s Super Chelsea – Super Chelsea Eff Cee.”

The clock ticked.

Alan and I didn’t know whether to stand or sit. We were up and down like West Bromwich Albion. I had decided not to take many photos. My focus was elsewhere. The team needed my support, so I did my best to roar the team on. Throughout the evening, however – despite the noise – at times the nervousness on the stands resulted in a few periods of quiet. Then, out of nowhere, the noise would begin again. Big John played a great role in galvanising our support; on three or four occasions, he thudded against the balcony wall.

Clap clap – clap clap clap – clap clap clap clap :

The Matthew Harding responded -

“CHELSEA!”

However, there was no denying it; this was tough. Alan rued –

“That third goal in Paris.”

Tick, tick, tick, tick, tick.

It looked like our European campaign was ending. I momentarily looked back on trips to Bucharest, Istanbul and Paris. It had been a good run. No complaints.

With three minutes remaining, the ball found itself being pin-balled around the PSG box. The ball eventually came out to Dave, who had been excellent all night, and our Spanish right-back come left-back fired the ball in to the box. Miraculously, Demba Ba pounced from close in and the net billowed.

Scream.

Shout.

Let It All Out.

We had done it.

I was triumphant, bellowing noise deep from inside my being.

Out of nowhere, Rob bounced down the steps and hugged me and we soon found ourselves bouncing up and down, acting like fools.

“Bonnet de douche you fcuker.”

I turned around and screamed at a few fans right behind me.

Bruges 1995, Vicenza 1998, Barcelona 2000, Barcelona 2005, Liverpool 2008, Liverpool 2009, Napoli 2012, Barcelona 2012 and now PSG 2014.

What a litany of magical nights in deepest gorgeous SW6.

The referee signalled four minutes of extra time and Alan began the countdown on his phone. Again, we didn’t know if we should sit or stand. PSG poured forward and – bless him – Petr Cech was able to repel everything. I am not sure if I was more nervous when we were chasing the second goal or after we had scored it.

Nerves?

My whole body was riddled with fear and worry. Why do we do this? Why does it mean so much? Will I ever know?

I was quiet. I looked at the referee.

He brought his whistle to his mouth.

We were through.

Rob, Gary and Alan bounced to “One Step Beyond” and everyone was exhausted. My smiles were wide, my throat was sore. Then, as the fans slowly left, another song…

“Cus Chelsea…Chelsea Is Our Name.”

We sang as we exited the stadium –

“Portugal, Portugal – We Are Coming.”

As I walked past the Peter Osgood statue, I touched his right boot. It is a little superstition that I have developed on big European nights. More songs walking along the Fulham Road, a few PSG fans sprinkled in among us, but no trouble. I met up with Parky and gloriously headed back to the pub. After a few minutes, Taryn joined us.

“Oh…My…God.”

I knew what she meant.

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