Tales From The Goalfest

Bolton Wanderers vs. Chelsea : 31 October 2009.

This was just a very very enjoyable day out…just perfect really.

With a three-day trip to Madrid coming up, I had to pop into work in Chippenham from 8am to 9.15am to do a few reports ahead of my holiday. I was soon on my way.

I would normally take the M4 west and up the M5, but chose to head up to the M5 via Malmesbury and Cirencester. In the end, this didn’t really save me any time, but at least I was rewarded with a stupendous view of the Severn vale as I descended the western edge of The Cotswolds. The autumn colours dominate our rural landscape at this time of year.

I was listening to the Danny Baker show on Five Live ( the usual mix of humour and football ) and it was a good accompaniment to my long drive north. Richard Hammond from TV’s “Top Gear” was Baker’s main guest and he admitted that he had never been a fan of sports, nor football especially. He knows he can’t “fake it” and I appreciated his honesty. When footy became fashionable again circa 1996, you could easilly spot the celebrities who were “faking it.” Nouveaux Celebrity Fans? Nothing worse.

With The Cotswolds to my east and The Malverns to my west, I continued my familiar path north. I had a coffee break just south of Brum and had a quick chat with a United fan from Kent, en route to Old Trafford. He admitted that United aren’t playing well at the moment. I noted that the division’s top two teams were playing only about 15 miles apart. At 11am, “Fighting Talk” began on the radio and this kept me amused as I headed north of Brum…past Stafford, past Stoke, then up and onto the M62 before it joined the M60, the Manchester ring-road. As I sped on, the signs overhead were for Rochdale, Preston, Oldham, Bury, Leeds, Manchester and Bolton. What a hot-bed of football…shame they’re all rubbish.

After a few miles on the M61, The Reebok was signposted and memories flooded back of that early evening game on Saturday 29th April 2005 ( no, I didn’t have to look it up ) when we became League Champions for the first time in fifty years. One of the best days of my life – probably the best if I am truthful. I have mentioned before that The Reebok is such a really bizarre location for such a monumental date in our club’s history. It is located a good eight miles away from the centre of Bolton in the area of Horwich and nestles below a massive Pennine summit called Winter Hill. There are a few miles of countryside, villages and ribbon development between the outskirts of Bolton and The Reebok. A more incongruous site for a Chelsea triumph you are unlikely to find. It is the first – and if I am honest, only US-style “out of town” stadium in the UK.

As I approached the stadium, I had this vision of a scene in the latter years of my life.

It’s 2055 – a nursing home in Somerset. This conversation is taking place.

Nurse One – “Mr. Axon in room 70 keeps asking us to take him to The Reebok.”

Nurse Two – “Do you mean that stadium in Bolton? The one where they used to play soccer? Don’t the NFL’s Bolton Pigskins play there?”

Nurse One – “That’s the one. Seems Chelsea – remember them? – once won the league there, years ago.”

Nurse Two – “And?”

Nurse One – “He wants to go back there, for old times sake.”

Nurse Two – “Bless him. I’ll take him.”

A voice from Room 70 – “And buy me some celery too, my love!”

I paid the £6 parking fee and had a wander around, snapping a few shots of the stadium and noting a few Chelsea fans waiting for the team coach to arrive. Alan and Gary were a few miles behind me on one of the two official Chelsea coaches. Alan had to leave his house in South London at 6am and would not be home until midnight.

There is a massive retail park adjacent to The Reebok – another US-style innovation – and I was aware that there was a branch of the famous Manchester clothes shop Hurley’s nearby. I was after something by Paul & Shark ( difficult to buy down south ) but bought a pair of Henri Lloyd jeans instead.

I spotted a Bolton fan wearing a Bolton / Atletico Madrid “friendship scarf” and wondered if he was trying to wind us up.

I entered the stadium at 2pm and quickly found Alan and Gary talking to Ajax, who is a mainstay of the North Wales Chelsea lot. I also stumbled into Andy, Ash, Mark M and Mark N from my local area who had travelled up by train. Then Gary spotted his mate Clive. Clive and his partner are from South London, but were enjoying a romantic break in Bath.

Yes, Bath – the town twelve miles away from my home. We had to laugh.

“Fancy going to Bath for a few days love? Only problem is, we’re playing in Bolton on Saturday, but don’t worry, I’ll treat you.”

I wondered that if for the away game in Portsmouth in March, would Clive be planning a weekend away in Blackpool?

I took my seat in the upper deck. For the game in 2005, we were thankfully placed in the lower tier, right where the goals were scored, right where the celebrations took place. The photos I took on that day are – I am not afraid to admit – some of my best ever.

I met Bristol Tim and paid for a spare ticket for Madrid ( for Dominic, one of the NYBs – more of that trip to follow later! ). I scanned the team and I was surprised Ancelotti chose Riccy ahead of Alex…we braced ourselves for the aerial bombardment. I noted three Portugeezers in the team for the first time in a while. I noted a guy in front of me taking swigs from a “fake” mobile phone and that made me chuckle.

We enjoyed excellent early pressure, but Bolton caused us a couple of problems. Riccy seemed to be ball-watching, allowing Davies a chance. Elmander came close, too. We had a goal disallowed, but were enjoying good possession, with Anelka involved…he rarely loses the ball. Drogba too was getting stuck in, holding the ball well. They are not a classic partnership, but they have found roles for each other and I am happy with the way they are playing. One passage of play summed up Frank’s importance to us…one moment he had a shot, but within a few seconds the ball broke and Frank was back making a tackle on the half-way line. Just before the break, Deco found Ballack who played a perfect ball to Drogba. Bolton’s well-marshalled defence had gone to sleep and Drogba was in on goal. I thought he had taken one touch too many, but he was then fouled from behind. His theatrical head jerk made me wonder about the validity of his fall, but the referee had made up his mind.

I captured Frank’s penalty on film. Get in. How silly of me not to bet on “Frank First Goalscorer” before the game…I had thought about it….he was 11/2.

A quick chat with Cathy at half-time, who was very uncomplimentary about my pullover! As the second-half began, I spotted Lab Rat and Mark sat a few rows in front of me. The Chelsea support was pretty good for most of the match. The 3,000 were in good voice as Bolton began the stronger in the second period. We urged the team on. Essien hooked away a clear Bolton chance and we looked a bit off-the-pace.

We had a few good chances. Then Frank hit the bar with a thunderous shot. But still Bolton threatened.

Not to worry – a fine flowing move down our left was finished off with aplomb by Deco. Oh, how we loved that. I turned around and screamed “what a goal” to anyone that would listen.

A beauty.

Time for some celebratory songs and time for us to relax a little. Alan spotted Gary Megson prowling his technical area and commented –

“Get that Halloween mask off, Megson. I’d give you a lollipop if you showed up on my doorstep.”

I had a text from Pete in San Francisco saying that Gill’s “CIA” flag had been spotted on US TV and there was a comment about the club’s growing global dominance.

As Bolton chased shadows, we spread the ball majestically and were rewarded with two more goals, thus repeating the 4-0 mauling on Wednesday. I took a lovely snap of Didier blowing us a kiss after his goal…the perfect end to a perfect game. It was that good a game ( Bolton powerful, Chelsea artistic ) that even if it had stated at 1-0, it would have been the best game of the season.

But 4-0 was blue heaven.

Seventeen goals in the last four games.

Top of the league.

Having a laugh.

There was a terrible delay in exiting the car-park ( motionless for 45 minutes ) and I would like to think that this wasn’t because we had beaten the home team 4-0 again.

“Open the gates, kidder – the cockneys can leave now!”

As I drove south, around the Manchester ring-road, the floodlit roof of Old Trafford visible some three miles away, I realised how much I loved visiting The Reebok. I’ve never seen us lose there. Frank always scores there. We won the league there.

I listened to an underwhelming United win on the radio as I drove the 200 miles south. A United fan phoned in to “606” to say that it was a poor league this year ( I agree ) but United were only playing at 60% of their capacity…but this was not a warning to others, but a comment that United were simply unlikely to suddenly improve. Music to my ears. Let’s stuff United on Sunday.

I couldn’t wait to get home to watch “Match Of The Day” – especially since we heard that Liverpool were experiencing a horror show on the banks of The Thames.

I reached home at 10pm and watched the day’s games with elements of glee and pleasure.

It had been a great day.

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