Tales From The Fortress

Chelsea vs. Arsenal : 30 November 2008.

Fortess Stamford Bridge – yeah, big joke, eh?

I’ll try to keep things nice and concise for this report, but will be referring back to 1983 at least once, and to Friday a few times too.

Fasten your seat belts – it’s gonna be a rough ride.

A late start from Frome, where we had sleet and snow as we departed at 10am. I had watched the highlights of Saturday’s games on “Match Of The Day” and rarely had the weather at all of the games been so bad. The poor souls at Sunderland looked frozen. As we teared past Stonehenge, I did wonder what weather the Gods would throw at us again. I’m fed up with all of this football in the rain. Sad to report that Dave and PD aren’t getting much work still – this, along with the utterly depressing performance from the boys on Wednesday, gave the trip up to London a bleak feel. Even six hours before kick-off, we were all fearing the worst.

Anyway, into the café on the Lillee Road and a gorgeous fry-up again. Now then, the first reference to Friday. For the first time in my life, I attended an official Chelsea Football Club function – the 2008 CPO Luncheon at the Hilton, Park Lane…Beth always goes and she coerced me into going this year. We met up at Stamford Bridge at 9.15am and – until we departed our separate ways at 11pm – had a fantastic time. I won’t mention every minute detail, but my mate Glenn, from Frome, was a big Marcel Desailly fan ( he favours Milan, too – the poor misguided soul ) and so I presented Glenn with a signed “Desailly 6” photograph I had for him. He was well chuffed.

Into “The Goose” at 12.45pm and a few pints of lager. Some of you will remember that we bumped into Pat Nevin, amongst others, in Moscow…well, I knew that Wee Pat would be at the CPO Lunch and so I got him to personally sign two 8 by 10 photos of Pat with both Alan and Daryl. This was a surprise for my two mates, so they were pleased too. I must have around ten to fifteen close Chelsea mates, but I would describe Alan, Daryl and myself as the Inner Circle…between the three of us, all the important decisions are made!

To be fair, the mood in the boozer was quite subdued. The Bordeaux game was the topic of conversation. I guess any team is only as good as their last performance and ours was flat and lifeless. So – lots to groan and moan about. Daryl voiced the opinion that getting Eidur back from Barca wouldn’t be a bad move come January…a fine idea. Rob arrived and was full of chat about France…he had met up with Alan and Gary out there. After a shedful of beers one night, they found themselves drinking the almond liquor amoretti.

After six of these, Rob was leading the singing of “Chelsea Amoretti.”

The pub got busier and busier. I was wary I had to meet Beth at some stage…I owed her some money, £20 of which was for a bet I had lost with her. I had bet her that she would show at least one former Chelsea player at the lunch on Friday her new silver CFC belly button ring. The plan didn’t work and, despite a plan I had hatched with Clive Walker, Beth won her bet. Beth was doing a mini pub crawl by the sounds of it and I eventually met up with her in La Reserve, where she was enjoying a quiet drink with Mark Coden ( if that is possible…)

Into the ground nice and early for once, thus avoiding problems at the turnstiles.

Arsenal had the usual 3,000, but only two flags…a poor show. One of them was quite simple and effective – The Arsenal – but I knew this would wind Alan up as he hates the way Arsenal are sometimes referred to in this manner, like as if they are The Bank Of England or The Royal Family or something. For virtually all of their history Arsenal Football Club have hosted some of the most pragmatic and boring football teams to come out of these Isles…only since Wenger took over, in 1996, has the more expansive style of football been evident. Tell that to the JCL Gooners in America…they were called Lucky Arsenal in the thirties because they only did “enough” to win, nothing more…1-0 To The Arsenal is about right. The football Arsenal played in my childhood and youth was dire, with Liam Brady a rare entertainer.

A nice atmosphere to start – this is more like it…the extra hour in the various bars and pubs that surround Stamford Bridge on match days seemed to have a nice effect. In between Chelsea attacks, I spoke to Alan about some of the events on Friday…the highlights were nice chats with Paul Canoville, Bobby Tambling, Ken Shellito, Ken Monkou, Colin Pates and Tommy Hughes. I think I worked out I managed to say a few words to 19 of the 63 former players present. I batted .332 – pleased with that!

I thought we were fine in the first half and played the nicer stuff. After a barrage of abuse at the start, Gallas got away quite lightly really. However, it was so funny when there seemed to be a bizarre reaction when Bosingwa’s fine cross was put into his own net by Djourou – it seemed that the whole ground thought that Gallas had scored. There were almost boos when we heard that #20 and not #10 had scored! Hilarious. Even more hilarious was Alan’s off the cuff comment…”when it comes to crosses, I’m like a midget nymphomaniac…I like them low and hard.”

To me, the formation resembled 4-4-2, rather than 4-4-3, with Deco very withdrawn and Kalou quite central. What did anyone else think? Although we were playing some reasonable football, I was concerned that the Chelsea players weren’t getting very close to the Arsenal midfielders. Thought Fabregas was being given too much respect. Why not man mark him? He was always going to be their main threat.

At half-time, I noted in the programme that Chelsea have recently tied up a deal with Los Angeles Futbol Club in which training programmes will be set up with Chelsea, plus coach-exchanges. They will be known as LAFC Chelsea. They play in Simi Valley. Anybody heard of this club before?

Of course, we all know what happened after the break. We did let Arsenal have a bit more of the ball, but at 1-0 I still didn’t see a real threat from them. The first goal did look a bit close to being offside from my position – admittedly many yards away – and this was borne out on TV. The calls went against us, no doubt. But we threw the game away in three crazy minutes. I was standing the entire time – evidence I wasn’t happy.

Too many players had poor games – Deco especially, but nobody came out with too much credit. However, fair’s fair – again thought Ivanovic played well. A solid performance from the man with the 1980 haircut. We had a good viewpoint of Terry’s awful two-footed challenge which should have resulted in a red. He’s having a patchy spell right now, no doubts.

At this point, I go back to Friday night – and also 1983-84 again. I had a lovely few words with Colin Pates, the captain of that fabled team and I made the point to him that in those days the fans weren’t experts on formations or playing systems – we just had ten pints in the pub beforehand and sung our hearts out. Colin laughed and agreed that there really wasn’t too many tactics in those days. A far more simple era really, though we didn’t realise it at the time. Players played – supporters supported. Easy.

Now then – excuse me while I get on my soap-box here. I have often lamented – at length – the decreasing levels of our home support of late. At times, I get so frustrated with the lack of effort, I honestly feel like only going to away games. With Chelsea 2-1 down to Arsenal ( Arsenal FFS! ), not only did our team not react in the right way, the home support simply did nothing. It’s like my car at the moment – the turbo is broken – and we just couldn’t get that extra boost…I was putting my foot to the floor, but not getting a response. My mate Daryl has commented to me today that we all thought that the Carling Cup Final in February was a low point, but yesterday was just as bad.

It grieves me like you can not imagine.

I noted the three lads – in their forties, been going for years, been sat behind them since 1997, but they rarely sing – just sat, arms crossed, not even talking, let alone singing and clapping. I leaned forward and said –

“Is there any chance you lads can start putting your hands together and supporting this team of ours?”

Albert turned around, annoyed with me, claiming he does support the club.

“Yeah, whatever mate, whatever.”

Of course, I felt bad about it on the drive home, but please tell me – who is right?

Managers manage. Players play. Supporters support.

We support – we don’t spectate.

Of course, things got very frustrating and Deco became the poster boy for the hate and derision raining down from the stands around me. I have a rule here – and I try my hardest to keep to it. When a player miss-hits a pass, or skies a shot, I try my damned hardest to say nothing, to stay silent. Not the fans around me – in the last horrible twenty minutes, with the noise getting louder and louder with every poor pass, I had to wonder what was going through the collective minds of those around me. If they truly love the club, why the hate towards certain players. One guy behind me was truly venomous. It made me feel sick.

On one occasion, JT lofted a lovely pass into the pass of Ash down below me and not one clap…not one. These people make more noise when players play badly than when we play well.

Can someone please explain that to me? I just think us Chelsea fans have been spoilt rotten and as soon as a defeat is on the cards, suddenly implode. We can’t cope. We blame referees. We blame the coach. We pick on players. We behave like petulant kids.

Not my Chelsea.

Back in 1983-84, my fourth game of the season was a horrible 1-0 defeat a home to Manchester City…twenty five years ago on Wednesday.

In 1983-84, I was gutted we lost. In 2008-2009 I am gutted we have lost our support.

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