Tales From 1983 And 2008

Chelsea vs. Burnley : 12 November 2008.

I have to admit that I wasn’t particularly overly-excited about this one.

This would be my seventeenth game so far this season and my lack of enthusiasm did trouble me. But, I guess, once I see as many games as I do, I suppose it is natural for there to be occasions when I get under-whelmed. The Carling Cup is certainly priority number four for us all this season. Should we progress, I was already writing off the chances of me going to an away game.

Time and money.

Parky from Trowbridge had made his way to Chippenham and we departed at 4pm. Constant chat on the way up – he loves to rabbit. Talk was of Chelsea, work and a fair bit of time remembering Remembrance Day. Parky had been in the army and had actually visited The Cenotaph in London on Tuesday.

We hit a bit of traffic around Hammersmith and reached The Goose at 6.30pm. It was pretty quiet – only five chaps from our lot were there…Alan, Daryl, Ed, Rob and Gary. Just time for two pints and a few memories of Rome shared with the boys – and a few preliminary plans made for Saturday…West Brom away, ten of us meeting up for our biggest away gathering of the season. Looking forward to that one.

I had already exchanged emails with Daryl during the day about the events of Saturday 12th. November 1983. Daryl is the other great “historian” amongst our little group and we have been chatting all season about 1983-1984. Daryl still contends that this is his favourite season ever. So let’s re-cap on 1983.

I was unemployed throughout the season…but had been to the home games against Derby in August and Cardiff in October. The biggest game of the season was to be against Arthur Cox’s Newcastle United. They were the favourites for promotion and had Keegan, McDermott and Waddle. A good team. I had travelled up alone for the first two games, but had arranged to travel up by train with Glenn, from Frome, for the first time for the Geordies’ game. We would have reached Chelsea at about 10.30am and I distinctly remember having a cuppa in the old “Stamford Bridge Restaurant” with him. Two Geordies were sitting with us.

“Keegan will score a hat-trick today, like.”

I remember we got inside the ground when the gates opened at 1.30pm. Even to this day, I can remember peering out on a misty Stamford Bridge, Eurythmics playing on the pre-match show, in amazement how many people were “in early.” By 2pm, The Shed was getting very full. Back in those days, we were used to average gates of around 12,000 in the Second Division. In April 1982, we infamously only drew 6,009 for a league game. In the First Division, in 1983-84, even champions-to-be Liverpool only drew 32,000. Football was at a bit of a low ebb. The recession was biting. After narrowly avoiding relegation to Div Three in May, however, Chelsea were rejuvenated in the first few months of 1983-84 and the Chelsea support was rallying around the team. We drew 30,000 for the Newcastle game in November 1983…a monster gate, when the average Div Two gate was around 11,000. We watched from The Whitewall.

Chelsea slaughtered Newcastle 4-0 and I fondly look back on that game as one of my favourite games ever. We absolutely dominated. Mention this game to anyone who was there, though, and they will say two words.

“Nevin’s run.”

Just before half-time, with us leading 1-0 , ( and my memory is still strong ) Pat Nevin won a loose ball from a Newcastle attack in the Shed penalty box on the West Stand side. I read a report from “When Saturday Comes” founder Mike Ticher that Pat nut-megged Keegan ( but I can’t confirm this ) and then Pat set off on a mesmerizing dance down the entire length of the pitch, around five yards inside the West Stand touchline. This wasn’t a full-on sprint. Pat wasn’t that fast. At five foot six inches he was the same height as me. Pat’s skill was a feint here, a feint there, a dribble, a turn, a swivel, beating defender after defender through a body-swerve, a turn…it was pure art, a man at his peek…he must’ve left five or six defenders in his wake and I guess the whole run lasted around 20 seconds…he may well have beaten the same man twice…each time he waltzed past a defender, the noise increased, we were bewitched, totally at his mercy…amazingly he reached the far goal-line…a dribble of around 100 yards. He beat one last man, looked up and lofted a ball goalward. Pat’s crosses always seemed to have a lot of air on them, he hardly ever whipped balls in…his artistry was in the pinpoint cross rather a thunderbolt…a rapier, not a machine gun. The ball was arched into the path of an in-rushing Kerry Dixon. We gasped…we waited…my memory is that it just eluded Kerry’s head and drifted off for a goal-kick, but Gary reckoned Kerry headed it over. Whatever – it didn’t matter. On that misty afternoon in West London, we had witnessed pure genius. I loved Pat Nevin with all my heart – my favourite player of all time – and most Chelsea fans of my generation felt the same. When I met him in Moscow in May, you can not comprehend my happiness.

So, on the walk to the ground – 25 years on – Pat Nevin was remembered with affection.

Into the stadium. Another full house. Burnley had 6,000 noisy fans in The Shed.

“Stand up if you hate Blackburn.”

We had a poor start, then got into the game. This really was a B Team for us. We had a lovely move down the right, but Kalou took an extra touch. Often he will do that. Carlo fluffed a catch and was lucky to escape unpunished. Burnley were neat. Belletti went off injured and Frank came on. I noted that every time Frank gets rested, he always seems to have to come on early to cover an injured player. But he certainly lit up our play. A lovely finish from Drogba ( our reserve striker? ) gave us a 1-0 lead. Ivanovic then hit the bar after a sweet fee-kick from Malouda.

I noted six red-coated Chelsea Pensioners in the East Middle. Chelsea have always given the Royal Hospital free tickets for the Pensioners as far back as I can remember. I think that’s fantastic. A lovely little piece of Chelsea History. I have noted, though, that whereas in 1983, their tickets were right on the half-way line, every year they seem to get shunted further towards the wings. A shame.

I noted every Burnley pass was enthusiastically cheered by the away fans. How odd that Blackburn and Burnley share the same song…”The Wild Rover” / “No Nay Never.” But with vastly differing words. Blackburn in reverence, Burnley with animosity.

At half-time, I popped over to see Jamie – she had a fantastic seat in the front row of the MHU, right behind the goal. The news came through that Spurs were 3-0 up.

Mikel came on for a poor Deco. Thought Mikel was great, actually.

Burnley is a small town in Lancashire ( population 77,000 ) and like Rovers, does well to sustain a relatively big club. In the ‘sixties they were a great club with a good team. Believe it or not, this was my first sighting of their famous claret and blue. I wondered that if the Burnley flags might possibly reflect the very parochial nature of their support.

Not so much “Manchester Clarets” and “Burnley – London Branch” as “19 High Street Clarets” and “Burnley – Top End Of Our Street.”

For the first time since the shame of Moscow, I clapped the substituted Drogba. However, soon after, Burnley scored through Akinbyi ( a well-travelled gun for hire if ever there was ) and things looked ominous. The away support erupted. Our support – typically – was quite subdued all night. Lots of kids around us, but a lot of people sat on their hands, not involved.

Extra-time and Di Santo had a knock…down to ten men. Another ominous sign. We went to 4-3-2, but unfortunately this left the night’s two most ineffectual players ( Malou and Kalouda!! ) upfront. Not good. With six minutes to go, Alex ( one of the few plusses ) skied it over from right in front of the goal – and Jamie. Oh hell. Then a Burnley chap was sent off for a second yellow.

Ten versus ten, but it didn’t help us. The inevitable penalty loss was oh-so predictable…our last success was back in 1998 apparently…six failures since. Are we England in disguise?

Let’s move on. A poor performance, but we could and should have easily won. Fortress Stamford Bridge is beginning to sound like a sick joke.

Due to the prolonged game, didn’t get home until 1.30am.

Good job we are at The Hawthorns on Saturday. Mow That Meadow.

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