Chelsea vs. Middlesbrough : 28 January 2009.
As is so often the case, the pre-match was better than the actual game, but we dug out an important victory against The Smoggies.
So often we talk of a “must-win” game, but after Aston Villa and United’s wins on Tuesday, nothing less than three points would do. We needed to have a solid base from which to feel confident for our summit meeting at Anfield on Sunday.
Work is quiet at the moment and I was able to release myself from the daily grind earlier than usual at 3.30pm. Parky had been dropped off at The Pheasant by his better-half at 2.30pm and was well on the way, three pints to the good.
It was a murky, horrible drive up to London…a few stretches of fog. Not enjoyable driving. But Parky, the lager working nicely, was full of chat. Heaven knows what we talked about – the usual load of blokey tripe, no doubt. I had agreed to meet John ( mgoblue06 ) and Chris ( captdf ) in The Goose at about 5.30pm. We were parked up and made our way into the steamy interior of The Goose at just after half-five…Parky went off to get the lagers in while I located Chris, his wife Abbey and their mate Keith. They had all been in London for about a week, but were obviously saving the best to last. Introductions over ( I vaguely remember Chris from LA 2007 ), I headed over to the rear of the bar to sup my beer and say “hello chaps” to the cluster of mates already present. It was a pretty good turnout. The towns of Frome, Westbury and Trowbridge were represented by Frank, Parky, Mark, Andy and myself. Nice to see some familiar faces from home.
Soon after I received a call from John who was on his way up the North End Road from the tube station. It was good to see him again. He was with fellow Reading student Lisa, who was going to be seeing The Mighty Blues for the first time. It would be Keith’s first game too. Great stuff. I’m a lucky chap to be able to share the excitement of others’ first games. I hoped they were in for a good time. I introduced John and Chris to each other – I joked with Abbey “hi, my name is Chris and I am your host tonight.”
We had a nice time in The Goose, chatting about all sorts of nonsense. John’s new mate Lovejoy was in attendance, flitting around, smoking cigarettes in the beer garden, talking on his moby, sipping a few glasses of Rose. I inwardly cringed when I saw John introduce him to Lisa. To say Loveloy has a reputation would be an understatement. I spoke to Keith about Chelsea and what it all means to all of my mates. He was keen to learn about the club and it was a pleasure explaining a few things to him. As is always the case, the time in the pub went by all too quickly and it was soon time to leave.
There was slight drizzle as we fastened our coats and headed south down the North End Road. Chris spoke to me about the circumstances which lead to his first ever game at Chelsea, way back in 1998 and I promised to try to send him some photos from that game, a 3-1 over Coventry City. Mark Nicholls scored apparently – whatever happened to him? This would be his fourth game at HQ, I believe. We stopped for a group photo outside The So Bar, the mammoth West Stand in the background. Programmes were purchased and we went our separate ways – Chris, Abbey and Keith had seats in The Shed Upper, Lisa, John and myself were headed for the Matthew Harding Upper.
We weren’t expecting a great turnout from The Smoggies and I suppose they brought about 300 or so. Pitiful really. I had picked up PD’s spare ticket so I wasn’t sat in my usual berth. I was further towards the North goal, but only one row further back. It’s a good seat and I was able to lean on the barrier in classical “concerned sports fan” style. Frank, Andy and Mark were three seats down. Chris and Lisa were sat next to Alan in The Sleepy Hollow. All of us within a few yards of each other.
Well, it wasn’t a great first-half at all. In fact, we were rubbish. We had tons of possession, but had no real clean cut chances. The whole crowd appeared to be docile too…maybe the rain had dampened their spirits…what an under-whelming experience for poor Lisa and Keith. Of course, there are 40,000 experts at every home game and I am no different. I usually try to give the players the benefit of the doubt, though. But on this occasion I was getting as frustrated as the next man.
A quick synopsis of our first-half woes coming up.
Pass, pass, pass – to the point of distraction. And so slow. Everyone knows that I am not Ballack’s biggest fan, but he frustrated me more than anyone. How often does he receive the ball and choose to play the simple ball – giving the onus to somebody else? How often do you see him get the ball under control and look up, ears perked, salivating at the chance to make a quick, killer ball? I think you all know the answer. The man is too languid for me. If we had pace elsewhere in the team, I could accommodate him, but he just adds to our problems. I can accept Mikel being pedestrian, but not two of our three midfielders. To be fair, Mikel did OK. Frank was buzzing about as per normal, always involved, but unable to break down the defence. Of course, it can’t be easy against ten men behind the ball. But – I don’t know…where is the movement, the drive, the pace, the commitment to work for each other? We lack pace upfront and it hurts. Anelka looked disinterested in the first period. I know he doesn’t thrive on the early ball, but we never hit him with a quick release from the back once. Malouda and Kalou were unable to shrug off their markers. The whole thing was so laboured. Add to this Frank’s woeful one-paced chipped corners and Cech’s pitiful clearances and you get a frustrating performance. The team seemed to lack confidence in each other. Deeply worrying.
Only one thing gave me a smile. I looked over towards the ‘Boro bench and there was Lovejoy in his front row seat, head bowed, sleeping. Both Alan and John had noticed too. He had slept through the entire first-period. Perhaps he knew something that we didn’t. Wise choice.
Behind the seats at half-time, next to the tea bar in the MHU a familiar face ( name unknown ) was “going into one”, effing and blinding, Scolari this, Scolari that. It was quite a spectacle. One bloke in the queue for the gents said “don’t worry, he was like that when we won the league.”
I walked over to chat with Alan and John. Oh dear – what a dab spectacle. We hoped for some goals in the second period.
To be fair to the team, the performance was better. And after a while, the crowd awoke from their slumbers. Well, everyone but the Joy Of Love, who resolutely refused to be awoken throughout the half-time period. What a star.
Everyone knows, too, that since Moscow ( and maybe, if I am honest, well before ) I am not Didier’s biggest fan. But – credit where credit is due, he ruffled a few feathers when he came on for Malouda ad genuinely looked motivated, with points to prove. More of the same please, Drogba. But the formation still stayed as 4-3-3, with Anelka out on the right for the most part.
After a Kalou header which, somehow, was flicked over from three yards, our luck changed.
Thank heavens for the two Frank Lampard corners and for the two close range Salomon Kalou goals. Much relief all round. Once the first one went in, I glanced over to John and we both roared and punched the air. Alan and myself have this little routine every time we score, which I may have mentioned before. In a Chelsea video from around 1991, there is a sequence featuring Tommy Docherty, high up in the old East Stand gantry, on film, just after Chelsea have scored. He looks at the camera and says “Come on my little diamonds. They’ll have to open up now.”
Of course, we misquote this, but every time we go ahead, Alan says to me “They’ll have to come at us now” and I say to him “come on my little diamonds.” We even text “THTCAUN” and “COMLD” to each other from different parts of Europe. After Kalou’s first, he raced over, grinning like a Cheshire cat.
“They’ll have to come at us now.”
“Come on my little diamonds.”
The goal woke Lovejoy up too!
I captured both Frank’s corner, down below me, and Kalou’s header on film. Keep a look out for those. We then heard that Wigan had equalised at home to Liverpool. Fantastic. A medley of Liverpool songs followed. That’s more like it – a bit more of an atmosphere for my American friends.
Stoch came on – way too late, but looked keen. Let’s play him for the full game at Watford.
After the game, we all reassembled outside the entrance to the Chelsea Hotel. One last treat…I had again arranged for Ron Harris to meet Chris, Abbey, Keith, John and Lisa. He was up in the bar area with his son Mark, a former Chelsea youth player. He happily posed for a team photo.
From both ends of the spectrum…Ron Harris 795 games, Lisa and Keith 1 game.
We said our goodbyes to Chris, Abbey and Keith – they are soon headed back to Orange County. I dropped John and Lisa back at their digs in Reading, then Parky fell asleep as I drove back West.
I would be meeting up with John in Liverpool on Sunday. Perfect – we had just edged above them at the top end of the table.
Got home, knackered, at 1.30am…altogether now…”Awesome.”