Tales From Deep In The Heart Of Texas

Chelsea vs. Club America : 26 July 2009.

On Saturday morning, I needed to catch an American Airlines flight to Dallas / Fort Worth. I set the alarm for 7.30am but was awake at 6am and couldn’t get back to sleep. So – just two hours’ sleep. Ho hum. I vaguely remember saying “see you in Dallas” to Julie, but Burgs and Farmer John were still in slumberland. I was able to get a lift with Roma down to the Baltimore airport – although this was beset with difficulties when Roma misplaced her car from the previous night in the multi-story car park…eventually we found it amidst much laughter.

Arriving late for the game, misplacing the car – just classic Roma! Love her to bits.

It had been wonderful to see her again – albeit for just twelve hours. When I first met her in Florida in 1989, I gave her my little Chelsea pin badge as a memento. Who would have thought that almost twenty years later we would be watching Chelsea in Baltimore?

Crazy. I’m sure she mulls over this constantly.

Lo and behold, as soon as I said my goodbyes to Roma, I soon realised that I would not be alone on the flight. Detroit Bob, Detroit Mary, Andy Wray, Tim from Philly and Layla from NYC were also on the three hour flight to Texas. Thankfully, I was able to get a little sleep on the plane and we touched down at the massive DFW airport at around 1pm. While we waited for our lift – Beth’s friend Nanette – Andy and me chatted to a guy from London’s “Evening Standard” and a chap from “Sky Sports”, both over in the US to cover our four games.

Nanette soon arrived and I braced myself for the intense Texas heat. Thank heavens for air-conditioned cars. Before we knew it, we were at the Storm Cellar in Euless and I soon pinned VPN up on the wall. I met a few old friends – Andy B., Kevin, Phil and Ira from Iowa and Kyle – and sunk a couple of beers. Andy didn’t waste any time in searching me out for yet another discussion about video-technology! Kyle presented me with two New York Yankee rookie cards – my all time favourite Don Mattingly and also Bernie Williams – and I was dead chuffed. At around 4pm, a gang of us drove about five miles so we could experience a Texas BBQ. It was one of the highlights of the trip and something that I am not used to. As soon as Andy Wray opened up the door, the aroma of the wood smoke hit me between the eyes, ears and nostrils and I filled my boots with a plateful of Texan hospitality. A “Lone Star” beer hit the spot, too.

Back to the Storm Cellar and a few others had arrived – the main stays from Baltimore…you know who you are.

Lacoste Watch

Tommy Langley – salmon pink

I had a quick chat with Kevin and Ian, fellow UK based fans. Next on the agenda was a trip to the new Cowboys’ stadium for the practice and Beth had arranged me to get a lift with her friend John, an ex-pat who has been living in Texas for twenty years or so. The stadium looked massive from a mile or so out and dominated the skyline. From the classical new Yankee Stadium to the retro-look of Camden Yards to the gargantuan shell at Dallas, my hunger for new stadiums was being satiated. I had already visited the Cowboys’ website a few times, so I knew what to expect. As we marched across the car park, the late afternoon sun glinted against the armadillo-like stadium and I was very impressed.

I was a bit annoyed that I was unable to take my telephoto lens into the stadium.

“But it’s not even a game” I moaned.

I made plans with Andy for him to smuggle it in on the Sunday. We would not be defeated.

To be quite honest, I think I hit “the wall” at the practice. My throat was very sore from all of the singing in Baltimore and so I was very grateful for Danny’s lozenges…ah yes, I had met Danny ( Blue Celery ) at the pub and it was great to meet a new Chelsea face. I was pretty tired, too. However, the two hours or so we spent at the new Cowboys’ stadium was notable for a few things.

Firstly, of course, the stadium…it’s just huge and almost over-whelming. The tiers – we counted ten – go on and on, upwards and beyond, almost to the heavens. I was particularly taken with the two end sections, plate glass, but a couple of tiers of seats too, as if floating in mid air.

And then the high-definition screen, high above the pitch. The one in centre field at new Yankee Stadium was impressive, but the Dallas was even more so…words don’t do it justice. And yet, there is a part of me that thinks that it is almost obscene – that such vast amounts of money should be spent on it.

Not to worry, as soon as Frank and JT came onto the pitch – the first two Chelsea players to appear – they both took pot shots at the scoreboard and we screamed with laughter. JT hit the lower reaches on two occasions and we cheered him. This was followed by an announcement on the PA to stop! Hilarious.

I went up to sit with the Naughty Boys in the second tier, just in time for Cathy to do a hearty rendition of the “Zigger Zagger.” A few Mexicans invaded our patch and this gave Mark ( I think ) the inspiration to utter the infamous and instant classic –

“You started swine flu, you started swine flu.”

To be fair, the Club America fans were in good spirits and were full of smiles. I had a beer, but still felt tired. I hardly watched the lads go through their paces as I was busy keeping an eye on the Chelsea fans…they were clearly pleased to be seeing the boys in the flesh. However, I did note that JT and Billy McCulloch were laughing and jostling with each other and I remember thinking –

“That doesn’t look like the behaviour of a player who is leaving for Manchester City next week.”

I guess the practice finished at about 8.30pm or so and we returned to the Storm Cellar.

Tel went through his quiz, but I had decided not to enter – I dropped a few hints for a few teams…the picture round especially.

I had a few more drinks during the evening ( and managed to avoid Gumby – wink…where were you all day, mate? ) but the highlight for me was being able to go upstairs to the mezzanine area and sit down with Wobley, his son Nathan, and Danny for a good old discussion about Chelsea ; fandom, club policy, Chelsea In America, rivalries, new fans, songs…the whole shooting match. I wish more people could have joined us really. I mentioned to the lads of my fears of what football has become, how it has changed – not always for the better – and how I see it all going. We spoke at length and with great passion and I found it to be a very interesting end to the evening.

Maybe on the next tour, for us serious folk who like to chat forever about Chelsea, we could arrange some real life chat rooms. Wink.

I really enjoyed Danny’s insights into baseball too.

At around 1am or so, Andy was kind enough to drive us back to Monique’s house to the north of Fort Worth. With the music blaring, the iconic green road signs flying past and the road-side restaurant signs clamouring for attention, I was lost in America once again and it was heady stuff. There is something about the American road which never fails to leave me transfixed and begging for more.

At last, I was able to get a serious night’s sleep on the Saturday night. After feeling tired during Saturday afternoon, I felt refreshed and ready for the match. My phone buzzed at around 9am on the Sunday morning with the wonderful news that JT had issued a statement to say he was staying. I checked with Andy and he was twittering on about the same thing.

The highlight of the trip.

“JT – CAPTAIN, LEADER, LEGEND.”

Via a quick call at Beth’s ( I must admit that it felt odd seeing a friend’s house on DVD before I saw it in the flesh…), we made our way to the Storm Cellar. At around lunchtime, we approached just as New Order’s “True Faith” came on the radio. A memory of home. From the M6 and an away game up North to a Chelsea away game in the heart of Texas.

“I feel so extraordinary.
Something’s got a hold on me.
I get this feeling I’m in motion.
A sudden sense of liberty.”

Once inside, I noted that a lot more fans were in attendance. I met Seb Blau for the first time and renewed friendships with a few others. I briefly spoke to JR. The free beer flowed, I got stuck into the Mexican food and even had time to play football on the indoor court for twenty minutes or so. Charles ( Cicero ) kept lining up some crosses for Andy and me to gallantly miss.

Great stuff.

I listened to Neil, Tommy and Jock talking about various things and one thing which Neil said really hit home.

“Following Chelsea is great – and, you know, more than anything – it keeps you young.”

I smiled in agreement at this very true statement. I looked around and there we all were – all of us in our ‘forties, all behaving like teenagers. It had been the same in Baltimore too. And it’ll be the same at Wembley against United, at home to Hull City and beyond.

At around 4.30pm, we all clambered onto the waiting buses and I was lucky to choose The Naughty Boys’ coach, sitting opposite Tommy and Jock.

Someone smuggled some beers onboard and the laughter continued. Simon came out with a classic, aimed at Cliff ( aka Alf Garnett. )

“He’s old, he’s broke, he’s gonna have a stroke, Alf Garnett, Alf Garnett.”

We drove past the Texas Rangers stadium and were soon circling the Cowboys’ Stadium. Time for a few songs aimed at the Club America fans. I snapped away at the gleaming stadium and probably overdid it. We were off the coach at about 5pm and I soon arranged for a photo to be taken of VINCI PER NOI with the stadium behind.

On the walk down to our section, I noted many Club America fans, some with musical instruments, some dancing…tantalising stuff.

We don’t get that at Wigan on a Wednesday night.

I slowed down to take a few more snaps and lost contact with the other Chelsea. I attempted to enter the stadium, but two stewards stopped me from taking my wide-angle lens in. This really aggravated me and I was rude to them both. I was beginning to develop a dislike for Dallas Bloody Cowboys. I was further aggrieved when I saw a Liverpool fan approach. We exchanged pleasantries.

As I approached the wide open entrance plaza behind the eastern goal, I stuffed the camera down inside my shorts ( insert punchline here…) and the wide angle lens in my pocket. I showed my ticket and ambled in, just as Kyle ( breadnbutters ) showed up. I was walking rather awkwardly and a steward asked to see what I had in my shorts ( insert punchline here…) and so I came clean and explained the whole sorry tale. Thankfully, the guy let me enter the stadium. By this stage, Kyle was wetting himself.

Oh boy.

Of all things to welcome me in, I spotted a fresh fruit stall, being manned by the squeaky voiced adolescent from “Krusty Burger.”

“Got any celery mate?”

“Celery? No.”

Missed an opportunity there, mate, I thought.

I soon found myself in the bosom of The Chelsea Family and what a fun time we had. I was a bit dismayed to find some Club America fans in front of me ( although I wasn’t as upset as Cliff…that geezer needs to chill. Sigh. )

The US anthem was sung. Garth Brooks was in attendance. Or was it Garth Crooks?

Of course, we stood the entire game and did our best to get behind the team. Due to the amount of beer consumed over the four days since we arrived in Baltimore, I think the game was a bit of a blur.

Did we play in blue?

No – to be honest, this wasn’t as good a game as the Milan match, but I didn’t really care. I was in Texas watching Chelsea play and it was a dream. It was good to see some of the youngsters play, but I wonder when we will see the likes of Scott Sinclair ( from Bath, my place of birth ), Sam Hutchinson and Michael Mancienne play again. It was great to see Riccy alongside Alex – and I had a good look at Sturridge for the first time, too. There was that mad scramble on the goal-line in the first half and it was quite a scrappy game.

What about the fan’s support? It was generally good, I thought. The NYBs were behind the goal in a standing section and then we were down by the corner flag. However, we have to do something about the God-awful “Let’s Go Chelsea” chant which a lot of the locals were singing. I hope a lot of them join up to CIA and learn the proper way to support us. I think our section must have been the noisiest of the entire stadium as it kept getting shown on the massive screen. I have a few lovely shots of us on the screen – the look on Beth’s nephew’s face is a picture. We did “The Bouncy” and I noted lots of fans videoing us on their phones. Apart from the tedious “Aguilas” chant, didn’t think the CA fans made much noise. I was already aware of the wrestling face-masks which are favoured by Mexican fans, but it still came as a shock to see so many…even a couple of CFC fans with them. Can’t see it catching on down the North End Road next season. Mind you, we have had ski hats in 1985 and inflatables in 1988…anything is possible in Football World.

At half-time, I went off to get a beer and was dismayed by the lines for the toilets…even in a $Billion stadium, still lines at half-time. Some things will never change.

With a 0-0 result looking very likely, it was time for action. Cathy did a lengthy, rasping “Zigger Zagger” in the row behind me and, just after, Franco Di Santo scored his first ever goal for us…I turned around and applauded Cathy. Apparently, this was the third time in which a Chelsea goal followed a “Cathy ZZ” on the tour. Top notch. We were in full voice now and the team pressed on. A fine finish from Florent Malouda ( which I captured on film ) gave us a 2-0 win and my abiding memory of the last few minutes is of our support. The wedge of support between the CIA and the NYBs joined in – albeit with the most basic “Chelsea, Clap, Clap, Clap” – and for a few fleeting moments, if I didn’t look too hard, it felt like an away game in the Premiership.

It had been a lovely occasion – not the best of games – but so enjoyable. JT received the trophy from Jerry Jones and we sang “Champions.” I have to say, it had been a perfect trip…for me, two Yankee wins and two Chelsea wins…for Chelsea, four wins out of four.

It simply does not get any better.

As we slowly made our way out of the stadium, we found ourselves walking through the Cowboy’s club shop and I couldn’t resist a loud shout of

“Chelsea Here, Chelsea There, Chelsea Every YOU KNOW Where.”

Outside, we saw evidence of the horrific rain shower which had taken place at half-time. Back on the coaches to the Storm Cellar and a few quiet beers before calling it a day.

Before leaving Texas on the Monday evening, a few of us visited the historic Fort Worth Stockyards. It was a little drizzly, but we had an enjoyable time…starting with my first ever Mexican breakfast with Beth, Andy, Wobley, Nathan, Jeremy and Danny. I bought a few gifts for some friends back home. The end of the tour was approaching.

Just time for one last thing – Nathan wanted to try some Sarsaparilla and we eventually found some. In a shop selling cowboy boots, cowboy hats, Western wear and Texas nick-nacks, there was a little bar tucked away in a corner, like something from a Western. We sat down and chatted. Soon after, Beth showed up with Neil, Jock and Tommy. Then Detroit Mary and Bob. Virtually the last scene of the 2009 Tour was being enacted before my eyes.

It was surreal. We stood around drinking Sarsaparilla and cracking jokes. Tommy sat on a shoe-shine seat. Neil, Jock and Tommy had some beer.

In a hat shop.

A local guy spotted our Chelsea gear and approached us with a smile on his face. He shouted out “Manchester United” and we booed him.

Much laughter.

If only he knew who we were.

We had a meal at “Cattlemens Steak House” and said our sad goodbyes…

“Love ya.”

Andy kindly drove Tommy, Jock and myself to the airport. I was on the same flight back to Blighty as them – these legends from the 1976-77 promotion campaign…childhood heroes of mine – and this was another surreal moment.

America 2009 had been superb.

Let’s do it again.

TEW04985330_00975

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s