Tales From Route 66

Chelsea vs. Ipswich Town : 24 January 2009.

No complaints.

I was a lone soldier for this one. Glenn was returning from Austria, while PD, Dave and Karen had decided to give the game a swerve. I had decided to make a “day of it” and so left Somerset much earlier than usual at 7.15am. I stepped back and looked at the city of London as a huge blank canvas…what would I choose to do before I made my way to The Bridge? I was tempted by The Tate, by the banks of The Thames…maybe. I would contemplate my options on the drive up.

Our usual route eastwards takes us over Salisbury Plain, onto the A303 and then the M3.

However, for a change, I decided to take our old route up to HQ – the one which my father always favoured whenever he took me up to Chelsea in the 1974 to 1990 period. It would bring back some nice memories and that’s the way I like it…driving along, on a sea of consciousness, remembering various events from Chelsea trips past. I have over 700 to choose from.

Dawn was breaking and the countryside was delicately covered in a frost. I headed past Trowbridge towards Devizes on the A4, the pre-curser to the M4. My goodness, how excited I used to be back in the ‘seventies each time we were on this road, headed for a game at Chelsea. I don’t think I could wish for a better way to spend a day. And here I am, thirty years on, still ploughing the same furrow. I really enjoy the stretch of the A4 from Devizes towards Beckhampton. I always think that the scenery resembles a lunar landscape, the undulating plains devoid of trees and hedges. It’s one of my favourite pieces of road. At Beckhampton, I drove past the thatched Wagon And Horses pub. My Dad was stationed at RAF Yatesbury in around 1942 and his training would often include a quick nip into the pub for refreshments. From there, Silbury Hill ( the largest man-made hill in Europe ) appears – very spooky. The stone ring at Avebury is close by. The majestic market town of Marlborough next, then Savernake Forest before hitting the M4 at Hungerford. Whereas I am enchanted by place names such as Tuscaloosa and Chatanooga, maybe Devizes and Savernake are just as beguiling.

This route – my Route 66 – is very pleasurable for me and there are many roadside features which I find iconic. The Devizes duck pond ( where, legend has it, the locals tried to “rake the moon” ), Silbury Hill, The Roebuck pub at Marlborough…they remind me of my childhood, more so than any other road.

I was loving the drive. If you can distil my life, then this would be it – on the road, travelling to Chelsea, thoughts of friendships and games. All worries of work ( of which there are more than usual at the moment ) put to one side.

As my friend Glenn says…”Chelsea? It’s what we do.”

I joined the M4 and put Portishead’s third album on the CD. I was making good time. I flew past Heathrow and was soon up and over Hammersmith flyover. I turned right onto North End Road ( for any film buffs, this junction is featured in “Trainspotting” – the flat above the shop on the corner is the one the heroes attempt to sell…)

I had the usual Super Breakfast at the café and dealt with a few phone-calls. Glenn had asked me to try and shift his ticket for ‘Boro and John ( mgoblue06 ) was happy to take it off our hands. Job done.

I walked to Earls Court and hopped on a tube to Knightsbridge. I had decided to forego culture at The Tate in favour of some retail therapy instead. “Harrods” was having its last day of sales but – aftershave apart – I didn’t indulge. Bought a very nice half-price pullover a few doors down, though. Very nice. I then departed on a leisurely walk down the Fulham Road. The air was crisp and not too cold.

How different this approach to Stamford Bridge is compared to our usual one. The twin boroughs of Hammersmith & Fulham and Kensington & Chelsea abut each other right behind the East Stand. Of course, The Bridge is on the Hammersmith & Fulham side. Only until the last few hundred yards, did I get any evidence of a game taking place. I mused on the fact that it seemed that Chelsea Football Club had turned is back on the borough bearing its name. The two boroughs are quite different in fact. The Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea is very up-market, very expensive…although Hammersmith & Fulham has been gentrified since the ‘eighties, it is still more working class. The estates north of The Goose certainly bear witness to this.

Maybe Chelsea Football Club has a split-personality…firmly based in Fulham, wishing it was in Chelsea. There’s a topic for discussion!

Picked up the new copy of CFCUK ( Cathy on good form…) and headed past the old tube station which has been tastefully refitted as a “TGI Fridays.” Another film reference…one of the opening scenes in “Sliding Doors” is shot in the red brick old station. For any Old School Chelsea out there, it’s a nice memory of how the old station used to look. The booking hall – with train signs and fittings – is still part of the restaurant. It’s worth a look.

I spent just an hour in The Goose. Happy to hear that Andy and three mates are booked onto the same flight for Turin as me in March. The more the merrier. Being a reduced price game, there were quite a few Chelsea kids in the pub. This reminded me of a game about three years ago when Reg was having trouble with the kids and so they were banished to the beer garden. At about 2.30pm, I glanced out to see the beer garden full of about twenty Chelsea / Adidas / Samsung clad children of the damned running amok while their fathers were inside chugging beer. It made me laugh anyway.

So – what about 1983-1984? I am tempted to repeat my 1984 diary entry – my match report is quite detailed. However, let’s keep it brief.

Twenty-five years ago, Chelsea played the then-leaders Sheffield Wednesday, the last of our home games against the big three fellow promotion chasers. This would be my sixth game of the season. During the previous season, our average gate had been around 13,000. For this game, over 35,000 were at The Bridge. My diary tells me that this was second only to the 40,000 at Old Trafford on January 21st January 1984. We got out of the traps early and new signing Mickey Thomas nabbed a brace in the first-half. Wee Pat scored a third, but the gloss was taken off the win when Wednesday scored two late goals and we squeaked a 3-2 victory. After the euphoria of our 4-0 win over Newcastle in November, this was more of a hard-earned win. My diary tells me that, for the first time in a while, The Shed was full and so an overflow section in the north stand was used. Back in those days, there were four pens on the north terrace and the away fans were usually allocated the middle two. They were a good measure to see which teams brought the numbers – always an important topic amongst us. Each pen held about 2,500. So far that season, Newcastle brought 5,000, Portsmouth 3,000, Manchester City a paltry 1,000 and Wednesday about 4,000.

Back to 2009.

I noted a new banner to my left – “SUPER FRANKIE LAMPARD” – in the same style as the JT one. The Ipswich fans released a few balloons pre-mach. They had one large banner which stated “Anti Modern Football.”

A guy from Kazakhstan was sat next to Alan.

“Blimey – he’s got a long bus ride home.”

We began freshly and carved open a few nice chances. I lifted up my camera just in time to take a few photos of the celebrations following Der Kaiser’s opener. I was aware that the game wasn’t on TV in the US, so I texted the “gathering” in Orange County a few items of news.

I couldn’t believe an advertisement on the match programme for an estate agents – the ones who are selling the apartments at Highbury. A picture as well. Shocking!

Malouda seemed to be involved but was it his annoying best. Our chances dried up as we seemed to sit back. We paid the price when an excellent free-kick was drilled into the heart of our defence…I feared danger…and Ipswich scored. What a surprise. Our defending from set pieces again at fault.

Two great free-kicks from Ballack and SFL gave us the win and I think we deserved it. Ipswich gave us a good game though – they were narrowly wide with a few efforts in the second half and never gave up. Despite Ballack’s brace, I thought he was pretty woeful. I was lucky enough to capture both free-kicks on film – just before the moment of impact. After Frank’s, I kept snapping away and I have a nice series of seven shots…the strike, the point heavenwards, the beating of the chest, the embraces.

Watford – you are next.

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2 thoughts on “Tales From Route 66

  1. Hi Chris, I enjoyed reading about the away support at the Bridge during 1983/84.Its a shame they never printed away numbers in programmes like they do nowadays. Have you any more information on away numbers from other teams at the Bridge during 83/84?

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