Tales From The Borough

Fulham vs. Chelsea : 28 December 2008.

There are three professional football clubs in the Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham.

Chelsea, Fulham and Queens Park Rangers all lie within about three miles of each other – the three grounds must be the closest three in all of the UK. I have an inherent dislike of QPR and I know this stems from the brief period of my youth when – despite small gates – QPR were able to Lord it over us on the pitch. That really hurt.

Fulham are a bit different. I, like most Chelsea fans I know, have a genuine soft-spot for them…but that winds the Fulham fans up even more.

You see – they don’t like us. They don’t like us one little bit.

The last time Fulham finished above us was in 1982-83 when they narrowly missed out on promotion to the top division. This is how bad it was – QPR were already in Division One and Chelsea were trying to fight off relegation to Division Three. Yes, dear reader, in Spring 1983, Chelsea Football Club was bottom, by some distance, in The Hammersmith & Fulham League Table. But more about 1983 later.

Craven Cottage, down by The Thames, is one of my favourite away games.

I set off alone – in the end,Cookie was making his on way up with some more friends from Shepton Mallet – at 8.45am and for the first hour it was yet another crisp, clear and sunny winter morning. As I approached Stonehenge, the roads were icy and I needed to slow my speed. I received a call from my mate in Turin, Tullio, checking about accommodation for the Juventus trip – I’m really hoping that both he and Mario ( now residing in Germany ) can get tickets for that one.

Stopped at Fleet for a McBreakfast and had a chat with some Yeovil fans en route to Millwall. Yeovil are Somerset’s only league team and I look out for their results. The weather got a bit greyer as I approached London. Cookie was already parked-up and I gave him directions of how to get to our “meet”, the Duke’s Head in Putney. As I veered off the usual approach to Chelsea, heading south of the river, in through Mortlake, Barnes and Putney, I couldn’t help but notice the huge amount of Young’s pubs. A real London brewery. I parked up at 11am and headed for the pub, wondering if I would be the first one in.

No chance – Alan, Daryl, Ed and Neil were already at a long table in the corner, pints in front of them. Daryl was supping on a Young’s Light Ale. Gary soon joined us. Ed, the youngster – Daryl’s 17 year old son – had been on the ale the previous night and was nursing a hangover…bottled water for him. I bought a pint of Nastro Azzurro and was knocked out by the price – £4.05. Welcome to Putney!

The pub filled up quickly – a mixture of Fulham and Chelsea. My mate Andy from Nuneaton joined us for a beer. He rarely misses a game. Eliot from the New York Blues popped in – he was over visiting relatives for the Xmas period and it was good to see him. I last saw him out in LA, where he masterminded the fans’ football competition. No sign of Cookie!

We set off on the twenty minute walk to The Cottage – up and over Putney Bridge, the icy wind blowing off The Thames. My new Victorinox coat was passing its first real test with flying colours. I know that a few CIAers have visited Craven Cottage and it’s a very nice ground…I can’t really call it a stadium as such. It’s homey rather than grand. I am told that the Johnny Haynes Stand – the old one on Stevenage Road – has exactly the same dimensions as the old East Stand at Chelsea – both Leitch stands.

Back in 1983-84, one of Chelsea’s defining moments took place at Fulham, where about 25,000 saw us win 5-3 in the October. Alas – I didn’t go, but my mate Glenn did. Oh – and Daryl, Andy, Alan, Gary and Neil. I was gutted I missed it…”how dare you score five without me being there!”

My fifth trip to HQ in 1983 was for the Portsmouth game on December 27th…I travelled up with my parents…they had seats in the East Lower, but I had decided to get in amongst The Benches, for the first time in fact since my first ever game in 1974. Up until that point, all of my games that season had been in The Shed, but both Glenn ( who was staying in London with his grandparents ) and myself fancied a change. Portsmouth, newly-promoted, brought a good following to The Bridge and we were both looking forward to some banter with the away fans on that huge slug of terrace to our left.

And – it would give us a chance to get in amongst the trendies.

Yep – December 1983 against Pompey was when I was brought up to speed with the football fashions of the time. Both Glenn and myself had entered the season completely oblivious to the movement which had, unbeknown to us, been developing in the main football cities since 1977. Now, many books have been written and many magazine articles devoted to this vibrant sub-culture…”the thing with no name” one Manc calls it…but I can only describe it from my perspective.

Most youth trends are music based. God knows, Britain in 1983, had many – there had been the Mod revival of 1979, skinheads, suedeheads and two-tone / ska boys and girls were in abundance, the punks were still around, the Goths were about, the soul boys ( definitely a London phenomenon ) too…then we had the lighter end of it all – the new romantics, the Duranies, the girls who dressed like make-up was going out of fashion…and hip hop was making inroads too.

But – as Glenn and myself were to find out over the remaining months of that most seminal of footy seasons, here was a movement which was solely based around what young people wore to football. It was a tantalisingly “underground” movement – that’s what made it so amazing to us. None of my friends back in Frome would be clued up about it for years and years – some still aren’t. Not only was Chelsea playing some great football, but I was going to more games and now this.

“What – a totally new way of dressing up, based on football? YES PLEASE! Where do I sign up?”

There’s no point trying to reinvent history – up until December 1983, I really had no clue. However – looking back – I guess by some kind of fashion fluke, I could have been mistaken for a football trendy. I have a photo of myself, taken on holiday in the summer of 1981 in Italy with Tullio and Mario, polo shirt, cords and a pair of Dunlop green flash. If I squint and avoid the glaring mistakes, I guess I could be mistaken for a football trendy. But I’d really have to squint hard. The horrible bog standard English schoolboy haircut gave it away. If I had been in the know, I would have realised that The Wedge was the way forward. There are people in their forties who coolly claim that the whole movement, the whole football thing, began with The Wedge in Liverpool in 1977. Who am I to argue? However, during the summer of 1983, I had helped myself to a great new haircut…before it the standard fringe and hair over the ears…we all had this haircut. Horrible it was. But, I decided to change all that..get a side-parting and sort myself out. Without really knowing it, my transformation from clueless fan to wedged-up trendy was beginning.

So – The Benches 1983 – a crisp sunny winter morning, my first Chelsea Xmas game and Glenn and myself clocking all of the hitherto unnoticed fashions of the time.

Why were those lads only wearing light blue jeans, many with side splits? Look at all those pastel-coloured jumpers! Look – they’re either Pringles ( small lion rampant, how Chelsea! ) or Lyle and Scotts ( yellow eagle )…why are all the trainers either Nikes or – what are they? What make are THEY? Diadoras? Dunno. Never seen them before.

Then the hairstyles…those side-partings, those huge flopping fringes, the famous flick… lads with hands in pockets, posing, walking up and down the Benches like a catwalk…what is that badge…a crocodile? And another! What is that?

John McEnroe’s Sergio Tacchini and Bjorn Borg’s Fila. Desert boots. Scarfs. Ski-jackets. Bright colours. Swagger.

Glenn and myself were hooked. Funny – at the time, it really was the cult with no name. Glenn called them “trendies”, quite correctly as it happens…but the cult was never really sure of itself…I would learn later – after much research! – that “the football trendies” were known as “casuals”, “scallies”, “perries”, “dressers” and “trendies.”

And here’s the thing – it was all about the football, the terraces, the away games, the specials, the buzz, the noise, the colour, the lifestyle.

Chelsea versus Pompey at Xmas 1983 opened my eyes. The game ended 2-2 and was notable for two things…Kerry Dixon missing two penalties and a lone Pompey fan, high on the terrace, hanging on to a fence, gesturing to us down below…dressed in pink.

The Benches were roaring…”who’s the poser in the pink?”

But deep down – we all knew.

Fast forward twenty five glorious years and the assembled ranks of Chelsea Football Club, all 4,000 of us, were making a racket in the Putney End. Alan, Gary and myself had seats high up in the middle, sat alongside John Terry’s Barmy Army, with Big John bashing the wire mesh every few minutes to our left. Fulham – bless them – had given out several thousand cardboard concertina’d noise-makers. The Fulham fans vigorously used these, but the resultant “noise” was pitiful.

Sod that – we’re Chelsea and we’ll make our own noise.

The game was so frustrating. We had a lot of the ball in the first half, but fell to a poor bit of marking to go 1-0 down. The fans weren’t happy. Thought Joe Cole was poor, but Mikel was doing OK. He has been my player of the year – I think – so far. We had a few chances, but it wasn’t convincing at all. Gary was having a go at Joey – a bit unfair I think. I noticed that “Familiar Fan Name Unknown” was glaring at Gary in these moments.

We played a lot lot better in the second-half. Very encouraging – I couldn’t doubt the team’s spirit. A quick move, a blunder from the ‘keeper Schwarzer and Frank is there to knock it in. Get in, you beauty…I took a few shots of the resultant aftermath, fans’ arms flailing, Frank running to the corner flag. “Familiar Fan Name Unknown” was yelling at Gary “JOEY COLE, JOEY COLE, JOEY COLE!” with a look of aggression…Joe had certainly upped his performance in the second and was having a blinder. Bizarrely, Joe was then subbed and this was met with boos from us. I took a few more snaps, but then – with typical bad luck – put the camera away just before Frank lined up a free-kick. I was right behind the flight of the ball and Schwarzer really should have done better. Yet more wild celebrations. It reminded me of his free-kick at Fulham in 2004 – virtually the same place too. Surely we would score more. Drogba was leading the line well and the Chelsea fans were rewarding him with his song. I – notably – was clapping along, but not singing his name. I remember Moscow.

We had heard of Liverpool’s win – we needed these points.

Dempsey’s goal at the death knocked all of the stuffing out of me. Silence in our section. Disbelief.

But then one last, agonising, chance for Frank at the end, but a double block. A mighty groan.

A damned fine game of football – but not good enough.

“Happy New Year – see you on Saturday.”

I walked briskly back to the car, over the Thames, the floodlights lighting up the winter sky. The Fulham fans were bubbly, the Chelsea fans were downbeat.

At 3.30pm, we were singing “There’s only one team in Fulham” and at the final whistle, it was their turn.

Pah.

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