Tales From The East Upper

Chelsea vs. Southend United : 3 January 2009.

So – we are getting into an annoying habit here – another poor performance at home.

Although it is difficult to find any positives from the actual performance, I personally had a very enjoyable time at HQ.

The Frome contingent consisted of just Glenn and myself – he picked me up at 9am and gallantly drove up to Chelsea, as payback for my jaunt to Goodison. Yet another crystal clear winter day…not a cloud in the sky, just perfect. Heavens, it was bloody freezing, though. Straight into The Caff on Lillee Road and a fry-up hit the spot. I had lost my match ticket and so had to get myself down to the box office ( populated by mainly South Africans – we call it the Boks’ Office ) to get a reprint sorted. This unfortunately cost me an extra fiver. Where else, apart from at football, would customers be treated with such contempt? Had a very quick word with Ron Harris as he walked past.

Bumped into Mad Mark outside The So Bar…someone who shall remain nameless forgot to get tickets, so Mark was on the scrounge…Gumby was on his way and he would be needing a ticket too. Did it all work out OK lads?

By the time I had reached The Goose, it was 12.30pm and was filling up nicely. Glenn’s distant relative ( through marriage ) Bob had travelled in with Daryl and Ed from Southend. Bob has been living in Randolph, NJ, since 1995 and was back visiting relatives for Christmas. He was made up when his Southend got drawn against us and so was on cloud nine. In order for Bob and Glenn to sit together, I had agreed to watch from the East Upper, alongside Gary. Had a few pints of Carling and had a lovely chat with Bob…in addition to the usual football chatter, we touched on a few other topics…OK, mainly baseball, the Mets and the Yankees, but also Bob’s trips to see the NY Giants. He has been lucky enough to see a Yankee World Series game and was also present at Jeter’s “The Catch” game a few years ago. Lots to talk about. He told of the shocking story of some friends who have had Giants season tickets for forty years, only to be priced out of seats at the new stadium, currently being built at the Meadowlands. A familiar story the world over – corporate slime taking the place of normal sports fans. Where will it end?

Due to the long lines to get into the East Stand, I departed early at 2.15pm…the Southend fans, with their navy blue scarves, were visible as we made our way past the Fulham Town Hall and all of the busy match day stalls. I noted some Chelsea / Southend scarves…had to laugh. I would imagine not many CFC fans would purchase these.

It was great to watch a game from a different position within Stamford Bridge. Due to various circumstances, I have watched about five games alongside Gary. His seat is very close to the wraparound by the Matthew Harding. Thankfully, I had warmed up in time for the kick-off. I looked over and saw Glenn, Alan and Bob arrive, high above the corner flag on the other side of the penalty box. The winter sun was slowly disappearing behind the towering West Stand.

Dave, who sits alongside Gary, took his seat and we renewed acquaintances…I had last seen him at the Schalke away game last season. A couple of familiar Chelsea faces nearby.

I looked over at the third tier of seats in the West Stand. These house the so-called Milleneum Suites…where Roman has a box. Yet again, around 80% of the 1,000 seats in this section were completely empty. What sort of a football club are we that our marketing department can be so inept as to continually fail to sell these premium seats? Ever since this stand was opened in 2001, thousands upon thousands of seats have not been used. I find this particularly galling in that these seats should be raking in untold revenues every game. I would imagine each seat should be sold for around £5K to £10K per season – all that potential revenue going to waste each season…all that potential revenue not able to subsidise the seat prices of the rest of us.

Truly shocking.

Southend had the usual 6,000 away fans in The Shed…a few yellow balloons bounced around as the teams came onto the pitch. A few flags were draped over the balcony – one England flag said “Bucket And Spade FC.” I have to be honest – and a few of us agreed – Southend’s fans were pretty quiet…by far the quietest of any of the lower level teams who have been given the Shed since 2001. Huddersfield, Burnley and Gillingham made a lot more noise.

As we continually said throughout the match, Gary and myself both thought that Chelsea were playing well below our capacity. The easy Kalou header on 31 minutes should have been the stating point of a dominant and polished performance. We did play a nice few moves, but our play was yet again so slow and laboured. At times we seemed to be running in quicksand, so slow was our speed of attack. Mikel looked good, Carvalho covered a lot of ground but what of the rest? Nobody shone. Joe was quiet, Kalou too. I made the point to both Gary and Dave that at any point in a attack, there is a critical point when a “killer ball” needs to be played – the time when we have a numerical advantage or when the defence is stretched. Too bloody often we go past that point – more intent on keeping possession – and it drives me to distraction. Too often that ball is not played, either because there is pitiful movement off the ball or the man in possession does not spot the ball to play. Our play is so slow. How we miss Essien – at least he drives on. We really need to address our pace of attack, but also our movement. All I can say is that Ballack doesn’t help – he seems happy to play balls square after the obligatory three touches, rather than pass and move.

The East Upper is quiet. Really quiet. Gary and myself kept yelling encouragement – “Come On Chels” – and every time we did this, I noted four young boys, each in a separate row in front, look around with a look of astonishment and / or envy. It was obviously not what they had expected. How times change. I almost expected their fathers to tell us to keep the noise down. I did note that when we scored, three chaps directly in front of me didn’t even stand up. Unbelievable.

A few grumbles at half-time, but Southend were pretty quiet to be fair. Surely a few more Chelsea goals were on the agenda. At half-time, ex-Chelsea and Southend striker Bill Garner was paraded on the pitch. He dates from the 1972-1977 era. I’d forgotten how tall he was. He now coaches Southend’s U-18 team.

How we never scored one, two or three in the second period escapes me. We were so dominant – BUT…never looked likely to score. Lampard’s final ball was often lacking…a pass rather than a shot, or a shot rather than a pass. Why on Earth was Drogba keen to take the corners?

“Get in the fucking box, Drogba!”

Blame Scolari if you must, but blame the players too…their lack of invention at times is painful.

Southend’s goal was a bitter pill. The throw-in, Riccy’s misplaced flick-on, the player unmarked. Oh God. Then the Di Santo chance right at the death…a game which came down to two Chelsea headers really…Riccy’s flick and Franco’s at the keeper. A matter of inches made all of the difference.

Southend were dead lucky, but we only had ourselves to blame.

The crowd, so quiet during the game, came to life on the walk out to the Fulham Road, everyone full of opinions, fingers pointing at Scolari, the players too.

As I waited outside the Black Bull, the crowd jostled past me…two youngsters were trying their best to sell copies of Dave’s fanzine.

“The Chelsea fanzine – only a pound – hurry up.”

The Chelsea / Southend half and half scarves were going for a quid. A little group of Southend fans marched past.

“We hate Orient, we hate Orient, we hate Orient, we hate Orient.” Good grief. Parochialism gone mad.

Bob was beaming. We walked up to the Brompton Road for a nice meal at Salvo’s. I decided against going to the replay – instead I promised my ticket to Daryl. A pizza and a couple of beers helped ease the pain – and Bob was left trying to swing a work trip back to Blighty for the replay!

The magic of the cup.

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