Tales From Raintown

Manchester City vs. Chelsea : 13 September 2008.

I picked up my good friend Glenn at 10am. I was a bit surprised he was wearing a lovely sky blue Napapirji sweatshirt – maybe he was hedging his bets for later in the day.

On the way to his house, I drove past the Frome Town ground…for over a century it was known as Badgers Hill. This season, a sign of the times if ever there was, it has been renamed after a local firm. Yes, Frome’s ground is now known as the Alder Smith Stadium. Corporate-naming rights hits the Screwfix League. Ridiculous. However, my mate Steve, who follows Frome home and away, tells the story that the stadium is now known by his cohorts as the “ASS” and it is now common practice for Steve to ask of his fellow fans “are you taking the wife up the ASS next week?”

Glenn has recently chosen a new career path – working for the same care company as Judy actually – and we talked about this for the first hour as we drove through a few towns on the way up to the motorway. It will probably mean he will miss more games, but there aren’t as many jobs around these days. He’s looking forward to the change anyway.

Glenn has been going to Chelsea with me since 1983. We looked back on those days. In my year of 200 fellow pupils at school, I was the only Chelsea fan. He knew of two more Chelsea fans but we were a bit of a rare breed in those days. We talked about other games involving Manchester City. I will often speak of the 1983-1984 season in these reports as that great season is a full quarter of a century away now and we talked of the home game against City in December of that year. We pummelled their goal, but lost 1-0 to a Jim Tolmie free-kick. What I remember more than anything from that game is looking down at the City bench from high up in The Shed and seeing comedian and die-hard City fan Eddie Large sat on the City bench! I can just imagine Bates telling him to get lost when he asked for a complimentary seat in the East Stand.

I lent Glenn last season’s “Blue Pride” DVD, plus the “Blue Revolution” one…should keep him occupied. I also lent him Phil Thornton’s “Casuals” – a thorough book which sums up the rise and spread of casualdom over the years. Looking back to that 1983 season, both Glenn and myself, living in Somerset, were blissfully unaware of what had been going on in Liverpool, Manchester and London over the previous six seasons. I think Glenn, on an away trip up to Carlisle, began talking to some Chelsea dressers on the special and had reported back to me about this “new trend” – actually, he probably spoke to me about this on the train on the way up to that City game in December 1983. I have the feeling we hunted around the “Mod” shops in Carnaby Street on that day and Glenn was wearing a “no-name” polo-neck shirt. He was a bit of a Mod back in those days, so his was an easy transition. By the time of the Pompey game just after Christmas 1983, I was like a kid in a toy shop, suddenly now able to spot all of the labels on display in The Benches. I was on the dole that season, so my time would come…my priorities were to see the games, not dress up too.

Anyway, I digress.

Stopped at a couple of service stations on the way up north, listening to Five Live on the radio…we were dismayed when Tevez put United ahead, but we then punched the air as Liverpool equalised. Into Manchester, through the notorious Moss Side district, a stone’s throw from City’s former home Maine Road…rows and rows of red brick terrace houses to the right and a newer, but still foreboding, estate to the left. I wondered how odd it must be for a club’s home to be transplanted to a different part of the city. How strange it must be to have to give up your favourite drinking establishments for some new ones three miles away. Let’s hope it doesn’t happen to us.

I thought back to a classic City vs. Chelsea game in March 1989…both teams in the Second division again, we took 10,000 up to City, we won 3-2 and it was mad. I remember United were playing Forest in the Cup at the same time…90,000 fans in the city on the same day…I arrived by train at Piccadilly and we were told to make our own way, by foot, to Maine Road. We were dead lucky not to have been run all over Moss Side. This game was at the height of the inflatables craze, initiated by those mad fans at City and their bananas…crazy days.

Parked up at Piccadilly…couldn’t believe the weather – hot and sunny. We popped into a restaurant for an all-you-can-eat Chinese buffet, accompanied by a couple of beers. The food was not only cheap, but bloody gorgeous. That set us up for the evening’s game. We popped into a nearby “Hurley’s”, a famous chain of Manchester menswear shops, to view their latest clothes on offer. Although not as marked as in the ‘eighties, there are still subtle differences between fans of the NW teams and the London teams. I’ve always said the London teams dress to look smart, but the originals from Manchester and Liverpool dress to be different. There was a whole room devoted to the wonderful Italian brand “Paul And Shark” and it was all good stuff. A couple of my mates, Daryl and Rob, have a few items, but “Paul And Shark” is still mostly favoured by the Mancs.

Found a local boozer, with some City lads spilling out onto the pavement…I popped in to get some San Miguels, only to spot Cathy, Dog and Mark sat right outside the door. We had a few laughs with the city lads at the expense of United, who we had discovered had lost 2-1. Oh joy of joys. Glenn, in his sky blue top, was getting asked by the City boys if he thought City would win and Glenn, not being too diplomatic, replied “no, I bloody hope not.” He was talking to a couple of chaps about the same age as us and they mentioned how great the 1983-1984 season was…four massive clubs ( us, them, Wednesday, Keegan’s Newcastle ) were locked in a battle-royale all season to get out of the division. Brilliant times, remembered with reverence and awe by all of us. They mentioned the game at Maine Road, Chelsea’s first-ever live game on TV, on a Friday night…we won 2-0 and the City fans said that they had never seen so many away fans at Maine Road.

We caught a cab to the stadium and I thought back to the game in April when Beth, Andy, Rey and Cynthia were with us. Spotted many City fans wearing towels on their heads – they were certainly getting into the spirit of things. Rather than buy a match programme, I decided to get a copy of the City fanzine “King Of The Kippax.” Back when fanzines came to the fore in the 1987 to 1989 period, I often bought other teams’ ‘zines…they were usually pretty funny and were more relevant to me than the bland programmes of the time. I wanted to get a City fans’ view on the Abu Dhabi takeover, especially since we had experienced a similar thing back in 2003.

The Kippax was the home of the city die-hards at Maine Road – along the side of the pitch, rather than the ends like The Shed, Kop, North Bank, and I noted that City’s most vociferous fans at Eastlands are along the side, too. By chance?

Soon into the stadium and I met up with Gary and Alan. I was gagging for a coke – while lining up at the kiosk, I wondered if they were selling milk-sheikhs.

This was a great Chelsea performance. Typical of Robinho to score, but the wall seemed to be ragged and too stretched out. Immediately after, Petr and JT were going at it hammer and tongs. The City fans erupted with Robinho’s strike, but thank heavens we weren’t put off. Thought we controlled the entire game and, after Riccy slammed the ball home, we could’ve been 3-1 up by the break. By the way, Glenn missed the equaliser – on the way back from the gents, he had been stopped and searched by the OB after a steward had claimed Glenn was on drugs! This is just crazy and typical of the stuff that us fans still have to go through after all these years.

We purred in the second period…thought Ashley and Bosingwa were great again, but my man of the match was Carvalho…a goal, plus several timely blocks. The man is wonderful. The only players not to perform, in my book, were the inept Malouda ( I was heard to shout “Go past someone – you’re a winger!” ) and Anelka, who seemed incapable of making the correct run at the right time…apart from the goal.

I took some nice snaps of the goal celebrations at our end and I will post some photos from the game on my Facebook page later in the week.

Joe Cole’s Dad was sat five rows in front and, as is always the case, once Little Joe was subbed, he left! But he’s always there when Joe plays, supporting his son. Top man!

City were in great voice for twenty minutes, but their support soon fell silent as our dominance continued. We were getting behind the team well – never easy at Eastlands, with our support cut in half, being in two tiers.

A few lads near us got the “Scolari – Scolari” chant going, but after a minute of that, God it hurts…that “hard C” really takes it out on your throat!

Met up with Glenn outside – he had been watching in the lower tier, quite near Lovejoy and Andy’s daughter Sophie. We had a nice chat with a City fan as we walked back to the car. We talked about the expectations that City fans now have. I was very pleased to hear him say to us “well, you lot are well liked up in these parts.” That was nice I thought – hands across the blue ocean.

We got back to the car in twenty minutes and I pulled out of Piccadilly at 8pm. Glenn soon fell asleep, until Brum, but I had New Order on the CD player to accompany me on the long drive south…I thought back on what had been a near perfect day out…and how I would chose which things to write about in this match report!

I dropped Glenn off at 11.45pm – the time had flown past. Home at midnight, a very happy Chelsea fan…a year ago, across Manchester at Old Trafford we were a club in disarray…in September 2008, at Eastlands, we showed we are once again a confident club, ready for any challenges that lie ahead.

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