Tales From The First Premiership Game Of The Season

Chelsea vs. Hull City : 15 August 2009.

Pre-Match One.

On Friday, six of us ( Rob, Glenn, Andy, Daryl, Alan and myself ) were having our usual weekly / daily email chat about all things Chelsea and touched on a variety of topics…concerns about the lack of width in Carlo’s preferred Diamond, the loans of Mancienne and Stoch, Chelsea subsidised away travel, the realisation that most of our new supporters are middle-class and quiet…and the feeling that Chelsea’s main push is growing the Global Brand ahead of getting the “next generation” of local youngsters to games. The six of us, with around 6,000 games between us, agreed on virtually every point made. Chalk it up – this rarely happens.

Pre-Match Two.

On the BBC evening news on Friday, there was a three minute news story about the Premiership’s appeal throughout the rest of the World. It emphasised that the EPL is the real global game. There was a section involving a stadium full of Korean Liverpool fans singing “You’ll Never Walk Alone” and then action from a few games from last season. Frank’s goal at Manchester City was featured ( and yes – there was Lovejoy in the crowd yet again…or ought that to be Chris De Burgh? ). The last section involved film of us in Baltimore – match action, close-ups of Frank and JT and – inevitably – a few seconds of the CIA section on the TV screen at the stadium…with Burger prominent, as always.

http://news.bbc.co.uk/sport2/hi/footbal … 199528.stm

This was a nice pre curser to our opener against Phil Brown’s Hull City on Saturday lunchtime.

We set off from Frome at 8.30am and it was a blustery morning, with slight drizzle. Lots of chat about the Community Shield and the new season ahead. We made our predictions. I think that the Premiership splits into two and I think that the top half will consist of Chelsea, Manchester United, Liverpool, Manchester City, Tottenham, Arsenal, Aston Villa, Everton, Fulham and West Ham. I had Sunderland down as my dark horses – or dark cats – to break into the top half.

Before we knew it, Karen was parked up at 10.30am. I shot off down to the ground as I had to get a replacement season ticket – I don’t know how I had managed it, but I had already mislaid my original one. The replacement cost me £25 – drat. However, box office manager Eddie Barnett ( who gets a bad press, well justified ) thanked me for my honesty and gave me back the £25. Nice one. Just outside the Megastore, I saw Neil Barnett approach. I caught his eye and said “here we go again”, not really knowing if he would stop and chat or give me the time of day. His reaction was nice – he gave me a hug and we chatted very briefly about the tour, before his attention was taken up by Lorrie Fair…I can understand this. I would rather talk to Lorrie Fair than me.

The next lovely surprise was inside the match programme – a small photo from the game in Pasadena with nice close-ups of Danny, Jeremy, Mark and Rick. The programme is in much the same style as last year’s edition…in fact, all of the ones since 2003 are very similar in design. There was a nice piece by Ric Glanville about the Chelsea vs. Arsenal game in 1935 ( the 83,905 game ) with comments from a 91 year old fan who was present. I love stuff like that. I bought a copy of “CFCUK” and hot-footed it up to The Goose for 11.15am. I passed lots of Chelsea supporters wearing the new away kit and every time I had a mental picture of Cary. Have you taken it off yet, mate? I also noted the new Hull City shirt and it is pure retro from 1982. A shame – I thought their kit from last season was one of the most distinctive in the league.

I only had time for three pints in The Goose beer garden and it was much too rushed for my liking. It was all very manic. I showed a few of the lads my photos from America. There was a battle royale of 1930’s tennis players taking place – Daryl and Rob sporting Fred Perry polos with Lord Parky and Jocka sporting those of Rene Lacoste.

It was deuce.

I bumped into Carrie from Manhattan, having last seen her in Baltimore. She had just flown in from Dublin and was talking with an Irish brogue which I found amusing. After the game, she was off to see U2 at Wembley. We had a nice chat and I reintroduced her to a few of The Bing. Glenn got “one last pint” in just as the pub began to drift off to the game. We were up against it. I bolted the beer down and left at 12.20pm.

We reached the entrance by the North-West corner at 12.35pm, but there was yet another new scanning device being used. Everyone tried blaming the delay on that, but we all knew that “one last pint” was to really blame. At 12.46pm, we heard an “ooooh” from inside the ground and this was unnerving.

“Don’t score yet – I’m still outside.” This, of course, was the miss from the boot of Didier Drogba.

Anyway, I got inside at 12.52pm and settled as quickly as I could…I had a game update from Alan, clocked the line-up ( no complaints ), texted a few people, took a few snaps and sat back to enjoy the league opener. I noted a couple of new flags draped over The Shed balcony ( Chelsea Teeside and Chelsea Bristol And Bath ). I really should have taken up “Vinci Per Noi” to welcome Carlo Ancelotti to SW6, but clean forgot. There seemed to be no structural or cosmetic changes to the stadium over the summer. It seemed as if I hadn’t been away to be honest. We created a few half-chances in the first period. I got back from a quick visit to the loos to see Stephen Hunt ( of all people ) knock in a goal for the visitors. The amber away section went mad and taunted Ancelotti with a chant about “getting sacked in the morning.” How we laughed.

Not long after, we were awarded a free-kick about 25 yards out and I went for a wide-angle option as Drogba shaped to take the kick. He struck the ball and, a moment after, I snapped. The ball dipped and ended up in the goal and I was pleased I had captured League Goal Number One on film. Shame I chose the wide-angle, though. I thought we had struggled a bit in the first-half to be honest, but was impressed with Drogba. I made the point to Alan that I wished that ( at least at the very start of the season ), Drogba and Anelka would play closer together…if anything, just to get to know each other…there were very little “diagonal” / off the ball / crossover moves between the two. We need that relationship to develop and I don’t think it can if they are continually twenty yards apart.

Definitely room for improvement in the second-half.

I looked around as the second-half began and realised that the place had been pretty quiet. These 12.45pm starts are always the same. A few more pints would have loosened us up more. “The Shed Singing Section” clearly weren’t. I noted swaths of replica shirts in the lower tiers of both side stands, plus all of The Shed. Conversely, not so many in the Matthew Harding Upper. In my own “Sleepy Hollow” section by Gate 9, I counted just two replica shirts in the thirty closest spectators. It has always been the same. However, perhaps inspired by me in Baltimore, I did note two other replica shirts ( originals, not copies ) from 1983. Nice work.

What with Hull’s amber shirts and Phil Brown’s permatan, I did wonder if Ray Wilkins might have thought he was in the middle of another Tango advert.

The game continued and Drogba looked the liveliest Chelsea player by a mile. We had lots of possession, but were playing into Hull’s hands. We had no width in the final third and our fears about The Diamond were being realised. I thought back on the two other periods when we have played this system…1976-1977 with Ray Lewington holding, Butch at the apex, but genuine width with Ian Britton and Garry Stanley…1993-1994 with Steady Eddie at the rear, Gavin Peacock in the hole and Craig Burley and Dennis Wise out wide…not so effective. At this early stage, it seems that the defence and attack is sorted…we just need to pick the correct four in the middle.

A real conundrum for our new man.

I was getting frustrated with our lack of incision into the Hull defence, but also with the lack-lustre support. We seemed to have around four or five headers which went over during the game. With six minutes of extra time signalled, I noted a few Chelsea fans leaving and I shook my head.

On 92 minutes, Drogba crossed into space and we could not believe it when the net bulged. Oh you beauty.

Mad celebration and I looked over to Alan. We broke the protocol and both said, in perfect unity, with beaming smiles –

“They’ll Have To Come At Us Now – Come On My Little Diamonds.” It was a perfect moment. We hooted with laughter.

I thought back to our game against Hull last November. On that occasion, Frank’s delightful chip was intentional. In this game against Hull, Drogba’s chip clearly wasn’t. At long last, the Chelsea support got it going and the noise echoed around the MHU. It was a long time coming, but it felt great.

Sunderland – minus me – next!


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