Tales From Roy Bentley’s Birthday Party

Chelsea vs. Blackburn Rovers : 17 May 2009.

It’s hard to believe that the end of the season is now in sight. That home opener against Portsmouth seems like last week. I’m personally crawling over the finish line – I’m pretty much “all played out,” to coin a famous phrase…my eyes are set on FA Cup Final Day and then I’ll have a good old rest.

During the build-up to the game against Blackburn Rovers, four tickets became available from friends who couldn’t make the game. It looked like they would go unused, but two friends of a chap from New Jersey I met at the Juve game picked up two, then Steve and his son Charlie fortuitously picked up two in the East Lower Family Section.

Steve called around at 9am and I drove over to collect Parky at 9.30am. In all of my reports this season, I have been harking back to 1983-84 and I last commented on the Leeds game which clinched promotion. Daryl has added a section on the euphoric win at Manchester City in a previous thread. Although, we are a bit out of synch, the day after the Manchester City game ( which I did not attend ), I accompanied Steve to the Bristol City vs. Swindon Town game. Steve follows Frome Town, our local team, but back in our youth, he used to go to Ashton Gate a fair bit too. His first ever game was the 2-2 draw against us in April 1976. That game at Ashton Gate in 1984 is a blur now, a feint memory, but over 12,000 ( a massive gate for the old fourth division at the time ) saw City win 1-0 and gain promotion. It was a big deal for them, but I was non-plussed. It seemed odd to be at a game which didn’t involve Chelsea. We spoke about this game on the drive up to London.

Charlie is the middle of three sons and has chosen Chelsea as his team. He takes defeat pretty deeply and I can sense that he looks to me a bit for guidance in troubled times. This would be his third Chelsea game…I went with him and Steve to his last one, the Community Shield loss to Liverpool in Cardiff in 2006. I occasionally get him a few things from HQ. With no children of my own, it’s nice to have a young Chelsea fan to have a chat with.

I made good time as I zipped up the quiet, for a change, M4. The weather couldn’t make up its mind…one minute showers and the next sun. A metaphor for our season, eh? Parky was in good form, but it is a shame that he won’t be going to the FA Cup Final. I parked up at 11.30am. Within a few minutes, we were the first to arrive at “Dall Artista” where we were to have our last pizza and beer session of the current campaign. Dave and Karen from Frome were the next to arrive. Already this season, Salvo has hosted John Schaeffer, Bob Clark, Chopper, Hoss and Larry from across the pond, and within a few minutes, Stu from Atlanta and Todd from DC joined our little group.

This is the first time I had met Stu and Todd, but Stu was at the 2006 game in Chicago. We must’ve brushed past each other in “Fado” at one time or another. As we demolished our pizzas, we chatted about the whole Chelsea Team / Supporters / Rituals / Celery / Fandom / America “thing.” I think we only touched the surface really. I wagged a finger at Todd when he wanted to talk politics…definitely out of bounds on match days! Another great meal and we said our “ciaos” to Salvo until next August.

We trotted over to The Goose where a pre-match was in full flow…the West Country lot were in the bar, but the rest were out chancing their arms against the elements in the beer garden. Daryl handed over my Cup Final ticket and it was a great reminder that we still had the greatest of days still to come. Steve and Charlie exited early and headed towards HQ for some shopping in the Megastore. I chatted to Stu and Todd about all sorts, including an explanation of the rules of cricket to Todd ( tough! ) and Cockney rhyming slang to Stu ( equally tough!). I’ve said it before – how am I supposed to cover all the important points to first time visitors to The Bridge? Maybe I should write up a few points and hand them out in a booklet. I hope enough questions were answered.

Lacoste Watch –

Daryl – apple green
Parky – orange

Parky, Todd, Stu and myself left the boozer at about 3.20pm and we walked down the North End Road for the last time this season. It’s a real “league of nations”, with many ethnic shops and cafes at the north end, a few pubs and the usual KFC, McDonalds, Burger King mix too. On all days except Sundays, there is a street market on one kerb. It’s a pretty vibrant place, no doubt. As we waited for some stragglers, Cathy and Dog strolled by. I made sure the two Americans bought a copy of “CFCUK” and we were then outside The So Bar. Parky sloped off for a cheeky final pint as we turned and faced the West Stand. I heard Stu and Todd go “Wow!” and it surprised me. I don’t think the facade of the stand is either particularly grand or special. I took a photo of them as the Chelsea supporters milled around them. Oh, the bustle of match days! Just time for a little history of Stamford Bridge as we approached the stairs to the Upper turnstiles. Todd was sitting by himself in the MHL and Stu was with me in the MHU. We scrambled up the stairs and as we approached the vomitory ( OK – the gate! ), I turned around and said “Welcome To The Bridge.” Within a few seconds, I introduced Stu to Alan, Tom and Zac, my match day neighbours. After my “altercation“ with the three lads in the row infront in November, things are still lukewarm between us. Their loss, not mine.

Blackburn had around 300 fans and I didn’t hear a single peep from them the entire game. Stu wondered why there were empty seats either side of them…I had to explain about the alien concept of segregation. I noted other empty seats, in one, twos and threes around the stadium, especially in the “comps” section in the middle of the Shed Upper. Crazy. The Blackburn fans held up a banner in praise of Tugay, who used to be a great player. This is his last season for Blackburn. I always think he looks like Sarah Bernhard.

The new kit looks great from a distance, but the shirt has “too much going on.” Less is more.

We watched as a lovely move built up down our right flank…first Essien, down below us, retaining the ball until he was able to release the ball to Bosingwa, thrusting forward and then a ball out to Anelka to stretch the defence. A crisp first-time ball into a good area and there was Florent Malouda to head home, a bullet from fifteen yards. Lovely-jubbly. Malouda has been a revelation these past two months and his re-birth still leaves me struggling for explanations. The chances came and went in a reasonable first half. A shot from Anelka and then two close-range Blackburn misses. Frank hit the bar. The weather was holding fair and it wasn’t a bad half. The crowd were pretty subdued, though.

Dennis Wise came on to the pitch at half-time and the crowd responded with the loudest noise of the day. A little ditty dating from 1999 – some of you might now it!

The second-half was even better and we should have scored more as Blackburn chased shadows. Alan and myself were surprised that Hiddink started with what looked suspiciously like our Cup Final starting eleven…great, no Ballack…but we guessed he might rest them against Sunderland. We were surprised that no subs came on. Maybe one big work out and then a rest next week.

Anelka drilled home a lovely shot to make the game safe and we came close a few other times. The second-half, though, was really a time for a few songs of praise for Guus Hiddink.

“One Guus Hiddink, There’s Only One Guus Hiddink, One Guus Hiddink.”

“We Want You To Stay, We Want You To Stay – Guus Hiddink, We Want You To Stay.”

“Sign Him Up, Sign Him Up, Sign Him Up.”

As is customary during the last home game of the season, stewards lined the pitch during the last ten minutes and I prepared my camera for a few photos of the boys on their lap of appreciation.

The final whistle.

Before the players came back on, an extra special moment. Ron Harris, Dennis Wise and John Terry – three of the four trophy winning Chelsea captains – were on the pitch to honour the eighty-fifth birthday of the fourth, Roy Bentley, the championship winning captain of 1955. It was a truly magical moment and I know that Stu was loving it. Roy Bentley is a lovely, lovely man and I was able to meet him briefly in November at the CPO. The photo I have with him is one of my most-prized Chelsea possessions. He was in great form. He did a little jig as he made his way to the Lower Tier of the Matthew Harding. He was hilarious and Ron, Dennis and JT were in stitches. We all were.

“Looks like he’s been on the sherry” chirped Alan.

He had been presented with a shirt with “Bentley” on the back, but he threw it into the crowd…shades of Mourinho.

God bless you, Roy.

Then the players and their families came onto the pitch and it was a joyful time which left me dewy eyed once more. Virtually everyone had stayed in the stadium, “The Liquidator” was booming out and I fell in love with my club all over again.

Frank, holding two of his children, handed out socks and shin pads. He then crouched down and asked his eldest daughter to go and give his game-worn boots to a fan in the front row, right down below us. His daughter obviously became shy, so they walked over together.

It was a lovely moment.

Then a guard of honour by the players for Mr. Hiddink and it was a fitting send-off for him. Let’s hope the club – or Roman, I guess it is all down to him – can keep him. But I’m not sure. I said “cheerios” to a few people…”if I don’t see you at Wembley, have a great summer.” These times are always strange.

“Blue Day” was played and we left the stadium. Todd rejoined us ( he had been doing The Bouncy during the game and I think we have a convert! ) and we shuffled around in the rain to meet Parky, Steve and Charlie. I had one last treat for them all – a photo opportunity with Ron Harris, one of the Chelsea Four.

It was a perfect end to the Stamford Bridge season.

On the drive home, Steve said that he and Charlie had great views of the post-game stuff. Steve commented that he almost felt like a fan of Chelsea himself. This is good to hear…it is often invaluable to have “an outsider” in on a private party and to hear their views. He even said that Chelsea was pretty much a “special club.” I thanked him for that.

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