Tales From Green Street And Fulham Road

West Ham United vs. Chelsea : 25 April 2009.

This is what we call the “business end of the season” – just a shame we have to do business in the hell hole that is Upton Park.

I picked up two lads – Ashley and Andy – from Trowbridge en route to collecting Lord Parky at 8.15am from his village between Trowbridge and Melksham. There was strange weather as we headed up the M4…the phrase “sunny intervals and scattered showers” was never more appropriate. Luckily, the inclement weather had finished by the time we hit Chelsealand. I was parked up by 10am and a breakfast soon followed. The plan was to meet up at The Spotted Dog in Barking, JT’s home town, a couple of stops past Upton Park on the District Line. From West Brompton to Barking is a full twenty-five stops…we set off at 11am and hit Barking at midday. For anyone who cares, the West Ham ground is at Upton Park tube, not West Ham.

On the train, I was talking to Parky about the rivalries between the big London clubs. West Ham seem to hate Millwall and dislike Spurs and us intently. Not sure what they think of Arsenal. I personally dislike Spurs most and Alan loathes Arsenal. What of West Ham? Back when I was a youth, in the early ‘eighties, West Ham and Chelsea were both in the Second Division and I bracketed us together in terms of “size” at the time, though we were always potentially massive. Since then, Arsenal have moved on in terms of comparisons with Tottenham, while we are on a different footballing planet to West Ham. And how we love it.

Twenty-five years ago, Chelsea were hitting the business end of the 1983-84 season. Our entertaining team was on the brink of promotion, having let a 2-0 lead at Pompey slip, ending up with a 2-2 draw. I didn’t go to that game, on a Wednesday evening, but was going to the next game…the momentous encounter with Leeds ( yeah them – of all teams ) on Saturday 28th April. For those new to this site, I have been detailing my matchday experiences over this season and that fantastic season, all those years ago.

But in some ways – it seems like yesterday.

On that Saturday morning, my father dropped me off in Frome and I met Glenn near his house before we walked down to PD’s flat. Gary and Mark, from Westbury, arrived outside by car and we were soon off. I was sat in the back with Glenn and PD ( just as I often do in 2009! ) and the talk was of Chelsea all the way up to London. We parked near the ground – near Worlds End I reckon – and were soon heading back towards the North End Road. The others had some food in the Pie And Mash Shop ( now long gone, alas ) before hopping over the road for pre-match bevies in The Cock ( now The Cock And Hen ). This was a historic day for me. I was eighteen, but this was the first time I had ever been in a pub at Chelsea. Before then, I was always broke, and I seem to remember having a single lager and lime. The pub filled up and I remember talking to a lad from Reading. The songs started up and “One Man Went To Mow” was the song of that season…we all sat until “nine”, then exploded onto our feet on “ten.” The pub was a riot of noise. I felt as if I was coming of age…this was my tenth game of the season…not bad for someone who spent the entire season on the dole, getting by on £25 per week. I guess a trip to Chelsea used to cost me £15 in those days. It was my life – maybe even more so than now.

Glenn and myself headed off to get into The Shed at 1.30pm or so – no tickets in those days, we had to be sure we could get in! We paid the extra £1 to get a transfer on to The Benches, that hot bed of young and exuberant Chelsea support. The weekend before, I had travelled to Bath to buy my first ever bona fide casual garment, a mid blue and white Pringle, which cost me £25 or one week’s dole. I wore that with my Chelsea shirt underneath, some jeans and a pair of white shoes. I felt the business. I belonged.

It was a gloriously sunny day. I was hoping that our season best gate of 35,000 would be surpassed – I hoped for one of 40,000. The place was buzzing. Lo and behold, the lads who had been sat in front of us against Fulham were now sat behind us…perfect. I think they admired the fact we were from Somerset. Extra kudos for us! Amongst the lads ( Alan, Paul, Mark, Leggo, Rich, Dave and Simon ) the labels were out in evidence. It was like a fashion parade.

And Chelsea were going up! We just had to get a draw, I think.

For anyone who was there, I am sure these words are taking everyone back. It was as near a perfect game as I can ever remember..

Chelsea beat Leeds United – our old foes, both on the pitch, on the terraces and in common folklore – by five goals to nil that sunny April day in 1984. The atmosphere was electric. Mickey Thomas – our unlikely new hero – opened the scoring. Kerry Dixon scored a hat-trick and Pat Nevin – I remember – wove in and out, around and around, before setting Kerry up for one of the goals. Johnny Bumstead hit the post, in the same place, twice. Ken Bates, the chairman, came onto the pitch at half-time to appeal for us all to stay in the stands. He was applauded – and his name was song with gusto. There is a classic picture taken by John Ingledew of The Benches that day, looking up and back at thousands of Chelsea faces…99% male, 99% white, 75% between the ages of 18 and 25. It’s a picture that is worth a million words and – every time I see it – I am taken back to a wilder, crazier time. Believe it or not, at 4-0, Leeds got behind their team with a noisy song and the Benches stood up to applaud them.

In the last ten minutes, thousands of pastel-clad Chelsea fans lined the pitch in preparation for the final whistle. We were winning 4-0 and the PA had to keep telling the fans to stay in the stands. Then, a mazy dribble from supersub Paul Canoville and – you silly boy! – he scored at The Shed End.

Pandemonium!

Thousands of hysterical Chelsea fans flooded the pitch and the players were lost. After five minutes of pleading, the pitch was cleared and the referee soon blew up. Within seconds, the stands emptied and about 5,000 Chelsea fans invaded the pitch. I was one of them – my first foray onto the sacred turf – and it was fantastic to be there. The Leeds fans, unsurprisingly were not enjoying the proceedings. This must have been purgatory for them. A few of them began smashing our scoreboard. There was a charge by some Chelsea towards them, but the police kept the two factions apart. To be fair, the Leeds fans ( the Service Crew and all ) were penned in, anyway. There were about 3,000 of them.

The players and the management team appeared in the front row of the East Upper – I remember Pat Nevin sitting on the balcony! – and all was perfect in my world. After five years of ridicule by my peers, jettisoned in the Second Division – Chelsea were back,

You’d better beware!

We eventually left the pitch. I remember the dry dirt being kicked up by us all and there was a smell of football in the air – a heady mix of grass, mud, beer and testosterone. We walked off behind the Shed goal and a stranger came up to me and said “We’re playing Tottenham!” and I said

“Yep…Tottenham…and Liverpool…and Man United…and Arsenal..and West Ham!”

He gave me a big hug.

We got back to the car and began an oh-so slow drive home…on Radio Two, coach John Hollins was describing Pat Nevin’s cross for Kerry Dixon.

…”and Pat, bless him, went on this amazing run…I don’t know if he beat three players four times or four players three times.”

On the elevated section of the M4, Chelsea cars were blaring their horns…thumbs up from strangers…one car slowed down and passed us a can of beer. It was an idyllic moment as we drove west into the setting sun, past Slough and beyond…oh just beautiful.

Chelsea were back.

Of all my current friends at Chelsea, virtually all of them were at that iconic game in 1984. We have come a long way, baby.

On Saturday, a few of us were enjoying our pre-match meet in Barking. Parky and myself were chatting to Bob from San Francisco – he flew over for just one game. At the adjacent table, laughter was booming out from Daryl, Gary, Alan and Whitey. Soon, Beth and Jenni joined us, but Mo and Tom were yet to appear. The beers flowed and stories were exchanged. At last Mo showed up at about 2pm and it was soon time to leave for the game. Tom eventually arrived by cab ( despite Beth telling him to take the tube ) and I had to say

“There has to be anotherway, Motherway.” He grimaced.

Parky, Bob and myself lost the others and got to Upton Park at 2.40pm…out into the bright sunshine of Green Street.

Ah, Green Street…I did find it superbly ironic that American Bob had successfully infiltrated our tight little crew. Maybe we can make a film about it.

Through the terraced streets behind the away end – no fear of an ambush these days – and we were soon inside the Centenary Stand. We arranged to meet up after…I was stood next to my two away buddies, Alan and Gary. The three beers had set me up nicely. It was sunny, with white fluffy clouds taking over from grey ones as the afternoon drew on.

A minute’s applause for ex-hammer Jimmy Neighbour was well respected by us. Good to see.

The game? We had so much possession, in the first period especially, but West Ham had the best two chances, especially the shot from Dyer which Cech saved. All eyes were on Bosingwa, getting some practice ahead of a potentially messy time on Tuesday night in Catalonia. I was impressed with the solid midfield of Mikel, Belletti and Frank. Mancienne did well. It was just upfront where we became unstuck. Kalou had a lot of the ball but was frustrating the hell out of Gary. Anelka was having one of his lazy days too. At half-time we wondered if all of our easy possession would account for nothing.

Ball juggler Billy Wingrove put on a superb show of skills at half-time. I watched, mesmerized.

Soon into the second period, Frank did so well to hook out a ball from the goal-line and Kalou slammed the ball high into the net. Get in! A couple of women in front unfurled an Ivory Coast flag and muttered something about Gary being “happy now” about Kalou. Until that point, they had watched in silence. 1984 seemed a long way off.

I thought the West Ham fans were pretty quiet, but they apparently sung some nasty songs about Frank and JT. What a deeply jealous, odious, set of fans they are. Jealousy seeps out of every pore.

What a phenomenal penalty save from Cech, down to his left, a mere five yards away from me. I wish I had taken a photo, but I don’t often like taking snaps of opposing penalties. We controlled the game and should have scored more. However – players rested, three points, job done!

The funniest part of the entire day was seeing Frank slowly walk towards us at the end, the last player to come over. He glanced over towards the last few West Ham fans left in the Chicken Run and – for want of a better word – swaggered towards us, just like a casual from 1984, legs wide, arms outstretched. It was poetry in motion. He acknowledged us and pumped the air…he milked the applause and why not? We love him and he loves us. West Ham can perish for all I care.

I caught the tube with Bob and at 6.15pm we were back at Earls Court. Eventually, Parky, Ashley and Andy arrived too. Straight around the corner for a pizza at Salvo’s. United were on the TV, losing 1-2, but within ten minutes of us sitting at a table, they were 5-2 up. What a mad game, but we didn’t care. The League is over this season, but we have Wembley and Rome ahead.

In 1984, we listened to Slade on the drive back to Wiltshire.

In 2009, we listened to Drum And Base.

Yep – we’ve come a long way, baby.

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2 thoughts on “Tales From Green Street And Fulham Road

  1. I just wanted to say what a great effort this is from you. I grew up with football in the 1980’s and I love the noststalgia of the good old days of terraces. The way you describe the details from the 83/84 season, brings those days back to life. Thank you for sharing.

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