Tales From The Bottom Of The Ninth

Chelsea vs. Stoke City : 17 January 2009.

For one Chelsea In America regular, at least, a day to remember!

John from Ohio ( mgoblue06 ) is over studying at Reading University and his first ever game was planned for Anfield. However, he contacted me on Friday to enquire about doing a Stadium Tour. I told him that no tours take place on match days. As he was keen to come into London anyway, I soon talked him into going to the game. He didn’t need much persuasion of course. The only stumbling block was a match ticket – but I assured him that we would get him a ticket, by hook or by crook.

Let me say here and now – as long as anyone in America is a True Blue member, I will help them out as best I can. But you people will need to make that initial commitment. It’s only fair.

Glenn was off skiing in Kitzbuhel and his place in the Frome car was ably taken by Brian, whose last game was the season opener against Portsmouth. We set off from Frome at 9am and the banter flying between Brian, PD and myself was ruthless…we were rolling with laughter. It was a great start to the day. My good friend Andy called to confirm that Woody had failed to show up and so – thankfully – we had a spare for John. He was already on his way into Paddington and was dead chuffed when I texted him –

East Stand Lower  Front Row  £30

Karen produced a top performance behind the wheel and we were in the café on Lillee Road at 11am. A Super Breakfast always hits the mark. I was soon walking down the North End Road, full of Saturday shoppers, and met up with John outside the Megastore at 11.45am. I relayed the story of myself back in 1984…my first weekend away at college in Stoke-On-Trent…I hadn’t planned to go to Chelsea on the Saturday but after a typically less-than-successful attempt at wooing a girl at the Fresher’s Ball on the Friday, I decided, while walking home in the small hours, to head down to Chelsea a few hours later. “In case of trouble revert to type!” And here was John – his first weekend in the UK and going to Chelsea…brilliant. In the words of a famous film character – “What else you gonna do on a Saturday?”

John had already purchased a few things in the Megastore. I had a little surprise for him. I took him up to the hotel foyer and there was Ron Harris, along with his brother Alan and Peter Bonetti. I introduced John to them all – Peter Bonetti made a lot of John’s accent. I explained that this was his first game and John posed for a photo with the three former players. We listened while Ron spoke about Craig Bellamy refusing to train at West Ham. I think it is safe to say Ron was bemused to say the least. Who else should be there but Mick ( the autograph king ) who very kindly gave John two 8 by 10 prints for Ron to sign. It was a nice start to John’s first ever game. I did the usual Tour Guide bit and took John into the Fox And Pheasant just over the bridge. John kindly bought me a pint, but I made the toast

“Friendship and Football.”

I received a text from New York Blue Mike and he popped in to the pub too. The Fox and Pheasant is a lovely little pub, down a side road by the Black Bull. It has a great garden in the rear. We finished our drinks and headed down past the ground. We dipped into the So Bar, hoping to bump into Mad Mark and Lab Rat. There they were – on the stage, pints in hand. It was the first time Mike had seen Mark since Moscow. A few words with Mark Worrall on the stall – he kindly passed on free copies of CFCUK to the two visitors from The States. Things were going well. I forget how many times John used the word “awesome” during the day!

We walked back up the North End Road and reached The Goose just a few minutes before 1pm. My goodness – the place was rammed. My usual drinking companions were standing in a large group…loads of faces, loads of chat. The Preston vs. Burnley game was on the TV. Mike got the beers in and I introduced John to just a few of my mates, but everyone was involved in their own chats…it was hectic. I thanked Daryl for his unexpected Southend match report. He handed over my ticket to The Specials in April. Mike and John decided to get some fresh air and headed out to the beer garden. We were joined, at various stages, by a few more people. Firstly, Mike’s friend Henry – who I had met in NYC in June. He was now back home in London and it was good to see him again. Lovejoy popped out for a few smokes – it was his spare ticket that John would be using. Ever the character, he was full of stories and jokes. He knows Turin well and we had a little chat about the city. I look forward to seeing him out there. Dutch Mick popped out for a few words with Mick…it really seemed like the clans had gathered…in a tight little circle we had John ( Reading via Ohio ), Mike ( Brooklyn via London ), Mick ( Holland via London ), Henry ( London via New York ) and Lovejoy ( Coventry via Planet Lovejoy.)

We set off for the ground in good time, but we typically lost touch with Lovejoy who still had John’s ticket. We dipped into La Reserve – introduced John to Cathy – and eventually stumbled across Lovejoy outside. I wished John an enjoyable time and went my way.

It had been a great pre-match.

I took my seat alongside Brian and Alan. I looked over the East Lower and saw that John was in. I wondered what was going through his mind. There was a minute’s applause in appreciation of the life of Chic Thompson, one of the two ‘keepers used by Chelsea in our 1955 Championship season. He had sadly passed away ten days earlier. He had been one of the special guests at the CPO lunch that I had attended with Beth in November. I remember him sincerely thanking the club for effectively paying for some hospital treatment. The audience were visibly moved by his kind words. It was very touching.

Rest In Peace.

Stoke only brought 1,500, but I guess the economic climate is tough for us all these days. Their last league game at The Bridge was in May 1989, back in the old second division. I remember being impressed with their flying winger Peter Beagrie.

Their team included Amdy Faye and Abdoulaye Faye and I noted that their sister Dunaway Faye was on the bench. Of course, this was Frank’s Lampard’s 400th Chelsea game and the match programme highlighted other members of our 400 club.

Ron Harris 795
Peter Bonetti 729
John Hollins 592
Dennis Wise 445
Steve Clarke 421
Kerry Dixon 420
Eddie McCreadie 410
John Bumstead 409
Ken Armstrong 402

Lamps ought to be up to position number 5 by May. I have seen all of these payers apart from Eddie Mac and 1955 team member Ken Armstrong. And to think that John had just met numbers 1 and 2 in the hotel. Awesome.

Also in the programme was an article about former Chelsea and Stoke player Mark Stein, who played for us in the 1994 Cup Final.

I think I read somewhere that the total shot count was something like Chelsea 27 and Stoke City 3. That seemed about right. To be fair – Stoke, despite having to make two substitutions in the first thirty minutes, chased and harried us at every opportunity. We watched through our fingers every time Delap hoisted the ball into the box.

I kept an eye on John – I remember Ballack came over to take a throw right next to where he was sat. What was that like John? But I also noticed that the copious amounts of rose that our friend Lovejoy had quaffed pre-match had an unfortunate effect. He appeared to be asleep for almost the entire first-half. Legend! However, this is nothing – once at a game in May 1999, Brian had slept through the entire game. He is still getting stick for that. We presented him with a shirt which said “No Sleep Till Kick-Off.”

It was the usual story of tons of possession – it resembled a chess game – and pretty woeful finishing. I wasn’t happy with Malouda’s performance. He never ceases to amaze me with his lack of “nous” about off-the-ball movement. Hey ho. I met up with Mike at half-time, who was watching for the first time ever in the MHU, and we moaned away.

The moaning was intensified when that man Delap sprang a surprise on our sleeping defence to give Stoke an undeserved lead. Oh hell. Our World caved in. I lost count of the number of shots which spun past the Stoke goal…that wayward Ballack header too. As the game reached the latter stages, Chelsea fans were seen heading for the exits. The frustration mounted. Our support was painfully quiet…I had really wanted us to put on a show for John. I felt for him.

Di Santo was playing wide, but wasn’t convincing…play him upfront with Anelka! Nice to see Miro come on, but he hardly touched the ball. However, we all know how it ended. A Kalou cross deep to the far post, a Di Santo knock-down and Belletti headed in at the far post…get in! William Gallas used to score goals like this for fun. We were just so relieved. Phew. At least a point – we deserved it.

Then the news that we had an extra four minutes and the crowd at last responded.

“COME ON CHELS!”

Miro had a great chance…blocked. Hateful. He then put in a great cross…Stoke couldn’t clear, the ball fell to Anelka…blocked…the ball fell to Lamps, who laced it into the net, through the packed penalty area. It was one of those occasions when my head just exploded – I was transported to “another place.” I scrambled up and over my seat to the walkway behind…I climbed up onto the barrier behind and kissed the two ladies “of a certain age” behind me…YEEEESSS! Hugs with everyone close by – high fives with Rousey. The stadium, dormant for so long, had erupted to life.

Just perfect.

“One Step Beyond” came on the PA. It was an amazing finish. In over 450 games at Stamford Bridge I can’t ever remember such two late goals.

This was definitely “bottom of the ninth, 1-0 down, 3-2 count…he swings…it’s outta here!”

A nice feeling as I walked back to the car, but what a shame United eked out a narrow 1-0 win at The Reebok.

I exchanged texts with John, who was still buzzing.

Perfect.

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