Tales From The Bridge

Chelsea vs. Roma : 22 October 2008.

A messy, tiring journey, but we got there in the end.

This phrase relates to my journey up the M4 to Chelsea, but could also, easily, refer to the game too.

My mate Glenn ( Parky ) was waiting for me in The Pheasant pub car park at 3.45pm. Had a few last minute things to sort out at work, but we left at 4pm. Parky goes to all the midweek games – one of the main reasons being that you get more loyalty points for these ones. A wise decision.

Unfortunately, there had been a six car smash up at Datchet on the M4 and we were snarled up in about 45 minutes of slow-moving traffic. We tried to remain calm, but we got progressively more feisty as the journey lasted.

I had arranged to meet Pete and his wife Becky from San Francisco ( who I first met in Palo Alto before the Club Mexico match in July 2007 ) in The Goose before the game. Pete left the UK in 1988, but has kept his season ticket and makes it over for a few games each season. We tried desperately to meet up in Moscow, but couldn’t quite work out the Cyrillic alphabet in time…a shame. I was also meeting my next-door neighbour Adam ( an Aussie who has been living in deepest Somerset for about five years ) in the pub. He had travelled up to London with work and was relishing his first ever Chelsea game. I had joked with his wife that she would lose him to Chelsea over the coming months and I was only semi-joking. So – text messages were relayed to say I was running late. A bit frustrating. I usually give Chelsea newcomers a good old tour of The Bridge, but Adam’s tour will have to wait for next time.

We parked up just after 6.30pm and raced ( well, Parky is on crutches, but you get my drift ) to the boozer for 6.40pm. Parky took care of the drinks as I located, Pete, Becky and Adam, plus the rest of my mates – Daryl, Ed, Rob, Big Al, Simon, Milo, Paolo ( a Lazio fan from Italy ), Walnuts and Russ. We had half-an-hour of “pre-match” – it was all a bit frantic, but it was so good to see Pete again. We jabbered away about all things Chelsea – trying our best to try to explain to Adam that the most rewarding thing about Chelsea is not the football, but all the peripheral stuff. I think Adam understood.

I mentioned that Danny Baker is now back hosting 606 on BBC Radio Five Live…it’s well worth a listen. Baker avoids the clichéd phone calls of fans talking about their team ( of interest only, really, to other fans of that team ) and instead relies on hilarious anecdotes from the world of football fandom that I find so funny. On the programme on Tuesday, he talked about football pitches on an island in the middle of The Nile, surrounded by crocodiles – “you get the ball, Ahmed” – and even a pitch on top of a block of flats in Zagreb or somewhere ( and a player fell off, apparently. )

Quality stuff.

Russ had brought along a book I had purchased – I think it was written by one of his work colleagues…”Moody Blues” by James Clarke chronicles a fan’s perspective on last season. I dipped into it a bit and it looks like standard fare…I’ll read it and report back.

I am trying to get Pete to join up to CIA. I mentioned my match reports this season and my inter-weaving of the 1983-84 season amid current match reports.

For the record, 25 years ago to the day, Chelsea drew 0-0 at Carlisle United in the Second Division in front of a paltry 6,774. I didn’t go. My second game of that season had been the week before – a home game against Cardiff City on a rainy afternoon, with me sheltering under The Shed roof. I saw Pat Nevin play for the very first time that day. We won 2-0, with Wee Pat and Colin Lee scoring ( gate 15,459 ). The team was coming together, but David Speedie had yet to start…John Neal had preferred the Dixon / Lee strike force up until that point. At the Cardiff game, I distinctly remember quite a few punts upfield for Lee to head on for Dixon…but we were able to vary it that season, with Nevin, especially, being able to run and jink his way past players, get them off balance and then play in balls to Kerry at all sorts of odd angles. We were third in the table after that Cardiff game. I was unemployed for all that 83-84 season, but retaking exams in the November. Chelsea were able to provide me with a lovely distraction from my studies on those cold autumn evenings as I daydreamed of – possible, whisper it – promotion in May.

Back to 2008.

We were running late – it’s still so difficult to pull ourselves away from the pub with chatter going on and on – and unfortunately, with the ticket-scanning system still underperforming, there was a sizeable line at the turnstiles.

We got in ten minutes late.

Another sell-out crowd…and yet more free giveaway scarves on our seats. At this rate, if we get to the semis, I’m going to end up with six bar-scarves! I soon popped in to use the loos and – I had to laugh – somebody had draped a scarf over the urinal…not quite sure why!

The Roma fans – some 3,000 strong – were making a lot of noise in the Shed…many many different banners, all with varying messages, different styles, very “Italian” ( the UK banners tend to be more standard…St. Georges flags, blue ones with white lettering, CFC crests and fans’ names ) I even spotted a Roma / Lacoste banner.

I thought back to the only ever time I had seen Roma…back in Pittsburgh in 2004, when my first US trip proved to be so enjoyable. I had travelled up with my friend Roma ( yes, really – some of you met her in NYC, Chicago and LA ) and her daughters from North Carolina. We had a blast in Pittsburgh, even meeting both squads in their respective hotels. The photos I have of all of us with JT and Roma with Francesco Totti are beautiful. Just beautiful. Only Totti, Mexes and Panucci remain as far as I could gather…I kept Roma informed of the game via texts ( she was actually at a nice sporting event of her own, meeting NASCAR’s Tony Stewart in Georgia )

What of the game? It was a messy affair, wasn’t it? Roma closed down any space going and did the stereotypical Italian away performance. I think their manager must have lambasted them after their 0-4 home loss at the weekend and they were well drilled. Our support, not exactly buoyed by the lacklustre performance, was quiet.

It was a frustrating night for sure.

At half-time, Alan handed over my Roma away ticket, which he had collected in the afternoon. I won’t bore everyone to death, but my mates have been embroiled in an email discussion about all of the security checks and scare tactics which have engulfed the return game in two weeks. Daryl isn’t going, but has bought his ticket for Bob in San Francisco…now, it appears the tickets have encoded names on them and id needs to be shown at the turnstiles. If the names don’t match, you don’t get in. We are not sure if this is just scare tactics or what. Meanwhile, Bob is trying to source his own ticket for the game in Rome.

Watch this space.

Malouda had been really ineffective in the first half and so was replaced at the break. No complaints. I have to honest – I don’t think many players shone. Maybe Carvalho. I thought Deco was poor. There were no Frank surges from midfield. Maybe Mikel did OK. I was preparing for a 0-0 to be honest. Roma didn’t really create much. Totti, though full of nice touches, didn’t get too involved.

A corner to us, right down below me and I captured Frank on film. JT headed the resultant delivery home. Yes…get in!

News came through that Liverpool had conceded a late goal in Madrid…that got a cheer.

We walked back to the car, I said “adios” to Adam and then drove back West with Parky. He had been in the very front row of the Shed Lower and reported back that the Roma fans were singing all night…they certainly didn’t let up. However – not good news – he also reported that several Roma fans had thrown bottles of ( avert your eyes and ears ) urine at the Chelsea fans. Parky wasn’t impressed. Neither was I.

Roma in two weeks’ time might be a bit naughty.

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