Chelsea vs. Queens Park Rangers : 23 September 2009.
Throughout the day, I was wondering when I would be able to leave work for the game against QPR. For a spell, with work getting a bit more complex than I had anticipated, I did wonder if I wouldn’t get away until 5.30pm. If so, I would miss the kick-off. If I was delayed further on the drive east – like against Porto – I would have to contemplate giving up and returning home. There has to be a point when showing up for just ten minutes gets pretty pointless! To add to the drama, I had to change a tyre at about 2pm!
It’s just this damned home stretch I have going. I haven’t missed a first-team game since January 2004. A stretch of maybe around 110 games or so. Surely, under normal circumstances, I would give the game a miss, like I used to. I can’t imagine the stresses and strains that Cathy ( thirty years and counting ) is under.
I left at 4.40pm.
Chris – Jack Kerouac
Alan – Al Murray
Chris – Roxy Music
As it happened, it was a brisk trip up to London, without the rain of last week. It was almost as if I was on auto-pilot. As I drove through West London, I passed a Police Dog Unit van and I was reminded that after the cup game with QPR last year, Cliff was attacked outside The Goose by some police dogs and was badly injured. His crime was protecting his sons from the dogs. I didn’t see any Chelsea or QPR fans in any of the pubs from Hammersmith through to the North End Road. Once parked up, it was a different story. There were two policemen on horseback by the flats on Lillee Road and then four police crossing the road by junction with the North End Road. As I turned the corner, two more police horses were stood right outside The Goose. Reg had a bouncer on the door, but Reg allowed me in. This was at about 6.50pm. Into the crowded pub and there was a pint of lager waiting for me.
Parky and his ( long suffering! ) partner Jill was with three lads from Wiltshire, while the “London contingent” of Simon, Milo, Rob, Daryl and Ed were nearby. I flitted between the two groups and gulped the pint down.
We left in good time – past some QPR fans “larging it” in The Slug – and got in with time to spare this week.
QPR are an odd club really…in my mind the biggest clubs in London are Arsenal, Chelsea, Spurs and West Ham. Not just in terms of attendances, honours and image, but the spread of their support throughout the UK. Growing up in the south-west, I never bumped into Charlton, Fulham, Palace, Millwall or QPR fans. QPR had their period of pomp from 1976 to about 1990. They finished second to Liverpool in 1976, but never really had great gates. I disliked them in the 1982-86 period when they often beat us, but I think I would have to be a West Londoner from Hammersmith and Fulham to truly hate them. For once, I felt like an outsider in this inter-borough spat.
There were 6,000 QPR fans in The Shed ( with one poxy flag ) and this was five times as many as they used to bring to The Bridge in the ‘eighties.
Before the game, I devoured another steak and ale pie…the business.
It was great to see Joe Cole playing again. He buzzed around joyously in the first-half, with one turn being ( almost ) worth the admission price alone. We were on top during the first period but there weren’t too many clear cut chances. Kalou saw a lot of the ball, but his retention wasn’t great. Sam Hutchinson defended well. In the last minute of the half, Juliano whipped in a great free-kick, a real blooter, which their keeper pushed over.
The away fans were singing loudly, but the Chelsea support got involved too. The MH balcony wall was festooned with banners, including one for the CYF – “London’s Finest” – and I pondered the “political correctness” of this.
The atmosphere was bubbling along nicely and it was turning out to be a gem of a game. There were no surprises when Frank came on in the second-half. It seems that every domestic game in which he is rested is level at the break and he then comes on as a substitute. He looked very lively and played in Zhirkov and Kalou down below me many times. Kalou’s goal was very neat and I managed to capture his approach, shot and celebrations on film. Borini, after a quiet first-half, grew in confidence and had a good shot saved. Even Kalou grew stronger as the game progressed. However, QPR had a few half-chances, notably when Zhirkov headed off the line. Hilario made a few good stops.
It was a good game and I was enjoying it. Joe began to tire in the second half. What about our three substitutions, eh? Frank Lampard, John Terry and Ashley Cole! Our England lions. Ashley was given his best reception yet.
In the last part of the game, Belletti had a barn-storming run down the right flank but shot weakly…the place was on fire. Memories of Zola. Kind of. Then Joe had a screamer saved.
Lots of shots in the second half, lots of atmosphere. And I thought the referee had a good game, too.
All games used to be like this!
I walked back to the car, thinking that I simply could not wait for the next game at Wigan. We are doing well and long may it continue. As I approached my car, a very tame fox was sniffing around some rubbish on the pavement, one of the thousands of urban foxes in London these days.
He looked at me as if to say “don’t tell me, the Rs lost again.”
Ray Wilkins was waxing lyrical on Five Live about the game – lots of “supers, delightfuls and wonderfuls” – and I raced home, stopping only for the now customary top-ups of junk food.
Home at 12.30am. Job done.