Chelsea vs. Bolton Wanderers : 28 October 2009.
During the day, my head was full of the first game of the 2009 World Series. I found myself thinking about this possibly more than the evening game against Bolton Wanderers. Here we were, in the middle of six Chelsea games in eighteen days and my head was in The Bronx. Throughout the drive to London and while at the game, my twin loves of football and baseball flip-flopped into my consciousness at various stages with both sports vying for attention. At least part of me was spiritually at Stan’s Sports Bar, adjacent the old Yankee Stadium, even if I was physically tied to England.
I left work at 4.30pm and, via a refuelling stop at Reading services that Jenson Button would have been proud, I entered The Goose at 7pm. I noted that, on the approach to The Goose, all of the other pubs were pretty empty. The Goose, however, was rammed solid. I bought a lager and headed out for a quick chat with the lads. We were full of gossip about our upcoming trip to Madrid, but Daryl and myself spent a few minutes discussing the Yankees. Daryl is a fan too and has been so for a bit longer than me. He has visited NYC on a few occasions. We were both relishing the Series – and even planning on trying to catch a game while in Spain on the Monday night.
Throughout the day, I kept thinking back to the first World Series that I saw live on TV. I bought a Sky TV package especially to watch the 1996 Series and it turned out to be an emotional week. I saw Chelsea get gubbed 4-2 at home to Wimbledon on the Saturday, then the first game at Yankee Stadium that night was rained off. Not a great start to the week! Atlanta took the first two games on the Sunday and Monday night. By the time I got into work, exhausted, on the Tuesday I was pretty low. The Yanks were 2-0 down and Chelsea had just been exposed by the physical nature of Wimbledon ( Frank Leboeuf especially ). I caught up on some sleep during Tuesday evening, woke up to find out that Chelsea had won at Bolton in the League Cup, then settled down to watch a phenomenal Game Three, with a Jim Leyritz homer inspiring the Yanks to a win. The game ended at about 5.30am. I caught an hour’s sleep. While at work, I heard from a mate that Mathew Harding had been killed on his way back from Bolton, no doubt just before Game Three had begun. I was dazed. Matthew was a great director – well loved – and it seemed that our brave new future, with him at the helm, was no more.
We were all devastated.
The Yanks tied the series on the Wednesday and went ahead in Game Five, the last ever game at Atlanta Fulton County Stadium…this took me up to Friday morning. On Friday night – at last – I could catch up on sleep. On Saturday, we reconvened at a sombre Stamford Bridge, armed with a blue and white floral tribute for Matthew, and paid our respects. I had a few pints of Matthew’s favourite Guinness and remember being numbed. The opponents that day were Tottenham Hotspur. Everyone stood silent for a minute before the game…a pint of Guinness on the centre circle…it was the most emotional I have ever felt at a game.
Chelsea beat Spurs 3-1 and, that night, in the small hours, the Yankees won their first World Series since 1978. When Charlie Hayes caught that fly ball down by third base, I yelped for joy.
What a night. What a day. What a week.
The fact that – here we were, thirteen years on – we had another Chelsea vs. Bolton League Cup game and another New York World Series Game was not lost on me.
Yet more lines at the scanners outside the MHU meant that I got in a couple of minutes late. I spotted lots and lots of young kids in and around me. This was a good sight indeed. I was impressed that Bolton filled their 1,400 allocation. Not bad for a weekday game. Compare this with Blackburn’s paltry 400 on Saturday. Proof if any was needed that the financial climate affects attendance. The ticket prices for League games are £45, for League Cup games it’s £19.
We opened the scoring with a great Kalou header and it looked like being an entertaining game. Juliano severely misjudged a cross, but the Bolton striker’s shot was bravely blocked by Hilario. Our reserve ‘keeper was soon replaced by home debutant Ross Turnbull. We scored our second when a ball took a deflection off Zat Night’s knee for the previously quiet Malouda to smash home. Two-nil and coasting.
I wanted us to soften Bolton up ahead of the second game in our double-header against them and it looked like more goals would follow as we carved them open. Joe Cole was again buzzing and looked as though he was making up for lost time.
Throughout the match, Alan and myself spoke further about our plans for Madrid, while Rousey behind us kept telling us of a lap dancing club in Madrid called, temptingly, Chelsea Girls. At half-time, Chelsea TV was previewed on the big screens and I spotted Jonny Gould, who used to host the Channel Five MLB coverage from 1997 to 2008. Bizarrely, he was sat a couple of rows behind me I Moscow. Small world. Back came the Yankees into my consciousness once again. Also at half-time, our U12 and U13 teams paraded around the pitch with two cups we had recently won in Eindhoven. They were roundly applauded.
I noted that the guy sat in Glenn’s seat, between Alan and Tom, sat through the entire game without talking, without singing, without doing anything. I wonder if he even bothered clapping our goals.
We weren’t really sure why Essien and then Drogba came on during the second-half…especially as we were in the middle of such a busy period. Sorry Carlo – couldn’t fathom that one. We all felt sorry when Daniel Sturridge shot twice from similar positions within a couple of minutes. A goal there would have done his confidence the world of good. A nice move down below me was finished off with a well placed Deco strike and – with Bolton quickly losing interest – Didier headed a fourth. Thirteen goals in three home games…superb stuff. Does anyone else realise that, from Seattle onwards, we have scored in all our games this year? Long may it continue. It was a good game. It seemed that at times Joe and Deco were trying to out-do each other, but why not? Let’s entertain the kids!
I stayed in the stadium for about ten minutes at the end. I noticed that, like Saturday, Juliano headed towards the MHL at the end of the game and presented his match shirt to an adoring young fan…a nice touch indeed. With only a few hundred souls left in the stadium, one last moment catapulted me from SW6 to North America. On the stadium PA, Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing” was played and I had a laugh to myself. This was the song chosen for the final scene in The Sopranos ( how my mates and I loved that show…for me, it helped cement my love for that whole NJ / NY area ) and I also, poignantly, remember it being played in Stan’s Sports Bar after my last ever game at old Yankee Stadium in June 2008.
I believe that the White Sox chose it as their anthem in their march towards their pennant and World Series in 2005, too.
So yet again on this strangest of nights for me, football and baseball intertwined.
I listened to Radio Five Live on the drive back to Somerset and it was lovely to hear former footballer Steve Claridge contrasting Liverpool with us. Liverpool seemed a confused club, whereas Chelsea ( he had been at The Bridge for the game ) had “great togetherness.” Music to my ears. It is always so nice to hear positive stuff about us from a neutral.
Despite a few foggy patches on the A303, I reached home at midnight.