Tales From A Cold One

Chelsea vs. Portsmouth : 16 December 2009.

This was far from a polished performance. It was decidedly ragged around the edges, but when we all left the ground at 9.30pm, there was a lovely warm, fuzzy, Christmassy buzz in the air. It was a typical Chelsea performance of late with a few players under-performing, but a couple of nuggets too.

I had met with my bosses briefly in the morning to discuss my proposed transfer to the new company in the New Year. There were no agents involved, no signing-on fee, no bungs, no sell-on clause. At this time of year, not even a Santa clause. I tried my damnedest to get away as soon as I could, but I didn’t leave until 4.45pm. This is the latest I had left for ages. The weather was cold and wet and I struggled with the visibility outside in the Wiltshire night. I had heard from Alan and Daryl that snow had been falling in The Smoke. Oh great. My proposed pre-match meet-up was in severe jeopardy once again. In fact, I knew that I would struggle to make the kick-off.

I am sure that my long unbroken home sequence which goes back a few years will come to and end later this season and I’m a bit miffed about this. I am preparing myself for this grey day. Let’s hope it’s not an important CL game. As I am nearing the end of this run, I’m aware of the total on this stretch…the Pompey game would be number 170.

A quick bit of maths – 170 games, 37,400 miles, 6 defeats…one defeat every 6,233 miles. Let’s look at those losses – none of them by a large margin.

Arsenal League – 2004 – lost 1-2
Charlton CC – 2005 – lost on pens
Barca CL – 2006 – lost 1-2
Liverpool League – 2008 – lost 0-1
Arsenal League – 2008 – lost 1-2
Burnley CC – 2008 – lost on pens

What a run we have enjoyed since 2004. And there are still “fans” who boo us.

Sad, sad, sad.

Oh well – off I sped into the night. I saw a signpost for London as soon as I entered the M4 –

London 94

…and my heart sunk.

However, I passed Windsor at just gone 6pm and so I wasn’t hanging around. I foolishly thought I would be parked-up by 7pm but then the traffic slowed and it got frustrating. I heard Carlo Ancelotti being interviewed on Five Live and he said the players still had great confidence in Petr Cech.

I parked up at 7.30pm and I was out into the cold drizzle. From inside the warm car, this was a shock. I knew I wouldn’t make the kick-off, so I didn’t rush. I passed Cathy and Dog outside The Maltsters. There was a slight queue getting into the Matthew Harding but I sat down in Seat 369, Row 4, Block D at 7.50pm.

Made it.

Alan welcomed me and said “you haven’t missed anything.” A quick look around – lots of empty seats…Pompey had only sold 900 of their 1,100 allocation, but I estimated that only 500 showed-up. A bit unlike them. I did see three PFC Santas, though. The gate was given as over 40,000 but I am beginning to think that our league has adopted the US way of quoting “ticket sales” and not spectators actually present. I spotted many empty seats all over the ground – a block of about 40 in The Shed Upper for starters.

This helps to explain that over 60,000 “allegedly” show up at Arsenal, but even their fans acknowledge that, at some games, there are hundreds of seats not used. Football is the victim of spin too these days…anything to hide the truth that games are not always as “sold out” as they might appear.

Every one seemed to be wearing caps of various shapes and sizes. Tom came dressed for a Polar expedition, bless him. In the end, I saw no snow…thankfully. There was a new flag in the East Middle…”Waterford Blues” from Ireland.

So, a few changes…we think Drogs is being saved for Sunday…Joe out, Alex in.

It was really lovely to hear the old Chelsea favourite “Come On Chelsea – Come On Chelsea” being aired soon into the game. Whenever the fans acknowledge that the team is trying their hardest but not getting the breaks, this old chant is sung. I love it. You can almost pinpoint the time in any game when the crowd realises “right, the team needs us, let’s get behind the boys.” I’m not sure if any other teams have this same chant. Another example of how Chelsea is special.

Alex began with a few timely tackles and looked highly motivated. He had an amazing run down the right and reached the goal-line….I heard myself saying these words –

“Brilliant – but get rid – get rid – oh he’ll lose it now.”

With that, he fended off one last challenge and played in an inch-perfect ball for Anelka to slot in. Alan laughed at my commentating. What do I know?

Pompey had a few chances, but Cech looked in control. Just. Alex had a stupendous effort from a fee-kick which was just wide of the right-hand post. I thought we exhibited slight over-elaboration in our approach play…come on, we’re not Arsenal. Kalou was on the periphery. The game by-passed Ballack yet again.

More of the same in the second-half. A few chances for us. Then – calamity. I caught the Pompey free-kick on film which lead to their goal. I had the camera in front of me, so my view wasn’t clear, but the ball came back off the wall and the loose ball was smacked home. The away fans scampered around like drunken sailers on shore leave. For a moment, I thought Avram might have the last laugh.

Oh dear.

But – to my pleasure – we responded…

“Come On Chelsea – Come On Chelsea – Come On Chelsea – Come On Chelsea”

The noise levels weren’t great, but here’s the point – the spirit and tone was right. We encouraged the team the whole night and it felt great. I think we made more noise when we were 1-1 against Pompey than we did when we were beating Everton.

Which is surely the way it ought to be.

The hopeless Kalou was replaced – I had actually forgotten he was playing at one stage – and the support continued. Big John in front of me banged the MHU balcony. On a cold day, that must have hurt. In his first contribution, sub Joe Cole made a great run deep into the Pompey penalty box. This stirred our souls a bit more.

“Come on Chelsea.”

Then, much relief…Ivanovic was pole-axed and Frank slammed the resultant penalty home. I captured this – of course – on film. Of all the places for me to have a season-ticket, I am so grateful I am in the NW corner, where the Chelsea players tend to prefer running towards once a goal is scored at the North End. Look out for those snaps.

Beautiful.

The last part of the game was notable for the superb show of skill and determination provided by sub Fabio Borini. We really took him to our hearts and he was so unlucky not to score when he lost the ‘keeper but shot wide from an angle down below me. A rasping shot was then saved by the Pompey goalie.

He showed more in 25 minutes than Kalou has done all season. Sad but true.

OK – we weren’t wonderful, Pompey had made seven team changes, they are a poor team – but we kept going. At the end, it felt probably better than it was, but I’m just so pleased to get back into the winning mentality. I was pleased with our support too.

Oh – one final thing…Tal Ben Haim…what an odd-looking chap. Was his spell in our colours the weirdest thing ever? He doesn’t look like a footballer even now…even playing for Pompey.

We took a few moments to shake each others hands and I wished my neighbours a Merry Christmas and the descent down to street level was full of smiles and cheer. It felt great. I briefly met up with David and Wes – the two Texans who were at the Blackburn game – outside The So and had a chat. We agreed Borini was really impressive. I also thought Ashley was solid and at his speedy best.

Wes is hoping to make it to the Boxing Day game at Birmingham along with two friends from his home state. But, they don’t get in to Heathrow until 9.30am. I said I wished them all of the best for that – it’ll surely be a mad rush to get up to Brum for the 12.45pm kick-off.

Again I bumped into Cathy and Dog on the North End Road. Dog, unzipping his coat, said to me “I’ve got something to show you” and I did wonder what I would be looking at. He was proudly wearing an LA Dodgers sweatshirt – a present from Danny – and as I walked away, I realised what I had just seen.

A Dodger Dog. Well tasty. He looked “mustard.”

I had hardly eaten all day, so I dipped into The Lily Tandoori opposite The Goose for a curry. On a cold night, that certainly warmed me up. After more slow moving traffic, on the M3 this time, I didn’t get in until 1.45am…the only thing keeping me from falling asleep at the wheel being the sugar rush I got from a bumper packet of Rowntree’s fruit pastilles.

Yet more junk food on a Chelsea road trip – I wouldn’t have it any other way.

After a game against one poor team, let’s keep it going against an equally shocking team on Sunday.

“Come On Chelsea.”

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