Tales From The Last Sixteen

Chelsea vs. Juventus : 25 February 2009.

A lovely evening at HQ, but there is still a nagging doubt that our 1-0 lead may not be enough over the two legs.

I had booked a half day holiday. I had a dental appointment first thing and then worked 9.45am to 2.15pm. Well, I say “worked” but it was very quiet indeed. I had been “working” on my account of my personal journey into Italian football for Dave Johnstone’s “CFCUK” and I fine-tuned it in the morning before submitting it. This is my first article for this fanzine and I just knew I had to do it. Just had to share it with the Chelsea Nation. Glad I completed it just in time for the game. “The Game Of My Life” just about sums it up. I submitted this on CIA, too, so that I can refer back to it once I get to write up my recollections of Torino in March.

Parky was collected from the pub opposite and we set off for Chelsea. There was the usual banter flying around on the drive east, but he was quiet for the longest ever time in living memory as he read through my recollections of Italy. We both agreed that the internet is a wonderful medium to share such things with people around the World. I am sure Parky could tell a few tales, so to speak. Best not encourage him though.

Before we knew it, we were parked-up just off Lillie Road at about 4.15pm. This was always going to be a extra special game for me, but I had planned an extra level of enjoyment by arranging for Ohio Silver Lining / Farmer John / mgoblue and a mate, Bob / unagi1 and two stalwarts from across the pond ( Chopper and Hoss ) to meet me for a meal at “Dall Artista” at 5pm. Bob was already settled with a pint in the Lillie Langtry as Parky and myself strolled in. Bob had visited Barcelona since Villa on Saturday. Then two phone calls in quick succession. John was on his way and needed directions. Then my friend Tullio in Torino called, but he was off work with a high temperature. I wished him well and said I would see him in a fortnight.

I met John’s college mate Greg, a guy from Salonika in Greece and a Juve admirer. We sunk the first beer of the evening and I was buzzing. Chopper was on his way too. We walked past Brompton Cemetery which sits behind the East stand and arrived at the restaurant bang on 5pm. A big hug from my good friend Salvo – who has met Teri and Starla – and also a hug from Hoss, who was already there. I first met Hoss in Chicago in 2006 and he now lives in Missouri…he’s over for two games. He told us of a great deal he managed to strike up at the Chelsea Hotel, paying about £48 a night! Introductions were made and the air was full of chat and laughter with everyone chipping in with comments about Chelsea and life…there, that’s profound, eh?

I made the point that if my life could be distilled, with all the nonsense and irrelevancies turned to ether, this is what it would be…sat around a table with close friends, jabbering away like fools about all sorts of Chelsea chat.

“And then, in about two hours’ time, we are going to watch our eleven heroes play for us.”

We raised a toast.

We asked for the menus just as Chopper, his daughter Kelly and her Chelsea-debutant boyfriend Shaun arrived. Happy days. More beers please Salvo. Parky was in good form and we were having a good laugh. Because of the differences in the sense of humour between us Brits and North Americans, I often feel we need to put on a bit of a show for our guests and Parky is my ideal partner for this, full of wisecracks, plays on words and sideway glances to camera! I last saw Chopper in NYC in June and it’s always good to see him. I phoned Beth and was pleased she was able to join in our little party.

I had brought up a few photographs from the ‘eighties of myself with my friend Mario, his parents and some shots of his home town. It is Salvo’s home too and I suppose – in the light of things – it came as no surprise that he recognised Mario’s father Franco. It turned out that Salvo played for the same town football team – Dianese – in the ‘sixties as Mario did in the ‘eighties. We ordered our pizzas – an Americana, how appropriate, with anchovies – and more beer, Salvo! I had to put the brakes on though…four small bottles would be my limit. In a quiet moment, I asked Salvo if he was excited and he said he hadn’t been able to eat all day! Bless him.

Henry, who I met in NYC in June, but was now back home in Blighty, popped in and this was a surprise for us all. Fantastic.

It was 6.40pm and we really needed to move on. We marched down to The Goose and joined the milling throng. Unfortunately, we lost Chopper’s lot but Salvo, Parky, John, Greg, Bob and myself were soon chatting with Alan, Gary, Walnuts, Russ, Daryl, Ed, Simon, Milo, Rob, Andy and Lovejoy.

Bada bing!

At 7.15pm we set off for The Bridge and I called Mario. After meeting on that beach in 1975, here we were talking thirty minutes before the first ever Chelsea vs. Juventus game. We wished each other well. It was lovely to hear his voice.

Then a text from Tullio…”tick tock tick tock.” The game was approaching. We were walking along on a tide of adrenalin as the lights of the stadium appeared. I bought Chelsea / Juventus scarves for Tullio and Mario, plus four programmes. Managed to lose Bob and Parky, but Salvo was close by as we entered the stadium.

“Welcome to my home” I said to Salvo, who smiled. Just as we entered the arena, a red Juventus flag was being carried around the pitch and met us in our corner. Salvo beamed. Into our seats in good time and the Champions League build-up began. John was down below me in the corner. The disappointing thing for me was that La Vecchio Signora were not playing in the famous black and white.

On many occasions throughout the game my gaze was centered on the 3,000 Juventus fans in The Shed. I noted the banners and tried to pick out any slogans. Juventus, like all of the Italian teams, have an array of various supporter groups, which tend to constantly evolve through time. The fan leader Beppe Rossi seems to be the Juve leader of note and I have a book at home called “Il Gruppo” which is a photographic record of the various factions since the first fan group in around 1973. Not all groups are hooligans, but it is safe to say that they are all “ultras”, that Italian definition of rabid support. I have lost count of the many Juve groups, but names include “Vikings”, “Indians”, “Black And White Supporters”, “Fighters” ( I have a scarf ) and the infamous “Drughi” and “Arancia Meccanica” ( literally Clockwork Orange ) inspired by Kubrik’s iconic film. There is an amazing photograph from around 1984 of around 500 Juve ultras at an away game in Milano wearing black bowler hats, in homage to Kubrik’s “horrorshow.” That must have been a spine-chilling sight for opposing fans. Juve, Inter, Verona, Atalanta and – most famously of all – Lazio align themselves to the political right, whereas Milan, Roma and Livorno are to the left…historically at least, maybe not quite so much these days.

The Juve fans made a fair bit of noise. I noted several held-aloft signs showing four silhouetted figures with the word Drughi below. One guy in white was the cheerleader, sitting on the balcony wall, looking back towards the fans and instigating the rhythmic singing. Italians often do this. You see it all over. Fans as an organic body, singing their allegiance. For many fans the world over, this is the real battle.

Never mind the game, just show up, sing and win the battle of noise on the terraces.

The game was a bit of a blur. My mind was racing, trying to capture some nice photographs, making sure Salvo was enjoying himself, trying to get some singing going, trying to make out how the game was going, texting a few friends. After some early pressure, I had my telephoto lens centered on the Shed goal. On twelve minutes, Drogba shot and so did I. I depressed the button and loved it as I saw his strike head towards goal… but was gutted when I realised the camera switch was off. I saw Drogba’s goal through my inactive camera! Not really mixed emotions – I was ecstatic we had scored so soon.

Get in!

I prayed we would be treated to more early goals, thus killing the tie off even before the away leg. I couldn’t be more wrong. Juve tended to increase their possession throughout the game. It turned out to be a fractious, nervy game and I was surprised how quiet the Chelsea support was in the main. I tried my best, but not even I was getting stuck into the singing. Thought Frank was lively and honest, moving the ball around well. Ballack? Another missing-in-action performance. We were solidly sticking to the 4-3-3, but I thought Anelka did OK, rarely losing the ball. It was a pleasure to see players like Nedved ( whose hair appears to live a life of its own ) and Del Piero ( or Bruce Springsteen, as Al called him…I can see the resemblance…he was born to run, too ). Not really sure why Malouda came on and not Stoch. Generally speaking, though, despite the win, I am rather worried for our future in the competition.

Not so much has the Fat Lady sung, but has the Old Lady sung yet?

Gutted to hear Liverpool won away in Europe again. You know the rest!

After the game, I received a congratulatory text from Tullio and we then moved onto “Barbarella’s” where I had arranged to meet my mate Buller. This is the little bar and Italian restaurant where a lot of the ‘seventies players hung out. As luck would have it, Ron Harris was in there…small world…and so I introduced him to Salvo, who appreciated meeting a Chelsea legend.

As we came out onto the Fulham Road, a little mob of around forty Juve ultras were being ushered along by the police. Not sure if we had missed some action or not.

Loads of traffic meant that I didn’t get home until 2am. Parky the Nodding Dog was away in some dream world for most of the journey, no doubt dreaming of more Peronis.


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