Chelsea vs. Porto : 15 September 2009.
During the day, one of my bosses thought it would be funny to wind me up. At about 10am, this little beauty ended up in my inbox –
We have decided to do a presentation tomorrow…so could you make yourself available at 6 at the hotel to do a couple of practice run throughs? It will be no more than 25 slides so we should be finished at about 8 to 8.30 and you could grab a bite to eat with us afterwards if you like if you have nothing on?
Thanks in advance…
For a split second, I thought that my home run ( stretching back to Watford, January 2004 ) would come to an end, but I soon sussed that this was a wind-up…it’s a good job my bosses appreciate I need to zip up the M4 to The Bridge every few weeks. I guess one day it will come to an end…
I left work later than normal at 4.30pm. As I headed east, the skies got darker and the heavens opened…the radio had reported terrible rainstorms in London. It then got even worse – a vehicle had broken down on the A4 and the tail-back was stretching back to Heathrow. Oh great. I soon realised that there would be no pre-match beers with the usual suspects. The stretch from the M25 into London ( no more than 20 miles I guess ) took 90 minutes. I tried not to get too frustrated. To be honest, my mind was full of “work stuff”, but I did think back to a few previous European games. Maybe it was the rain, but my mind was centered on my first ever European game back in 1994 when we met Viktoria Zizkov from the Czech Republic. On that night, too, there was heavy rain. I remembered that I shook hands with Matthew Harding in The Gunter Arms with only about 45 minutes to go before the game began. He was no ordinary supporter, eschewing the Director’s Lounge. I remember that Glenn and myself had awful seats right behind Glenn Hoddle’s bench that night and we had to watch the entire game through perspex. Right before kick-off, I looked up and there was Matthew, now alongside Bates, smiling at me. That was a lovely moment. We raced into a 2-0 lead, they got it back level, but we won it 4-2. The gate was only 22,000, but the place was rocking. Our first European game in 23 years. Just imagine it!
I wondered if the noise levels on a September night in 2009 would match those of fifteen years previous.
I parked up at 7.10pm – rush, rush, rush. I picked up four more copies of “Chelsea Here Chelsea There,” for friends, from the stall…the rain had lessened, but I was already soaked. I had to get a reprinted ticket from the box office as the post had mislaid the original. The lines for the stadium were massive – clearly not aided by the new scanning system – and I joined the back of the queue for the MHU. Then the rain increased…oh great. I peered out at the fans lining up for the MHL and thought to myself –
“What am I doing here?”
I eventually got in eight minutes late and Alan was soon to tell me that Neil Barnett had mentioned Vic’s sad passing before the teams came onto the pitch. A round of applause was forthcoming.
My first sight was of JT out cold down at The Shed End…thankfully he soon recovered. There is something about JT wearing white boots, though, that just isn’t right. Chelsea began well, making good use of an advanced Ashley Cole on the left, but our form soon left us. Frank and Ballack were poor in the first period, but nobody shone. Michael Essien seemed to have a lot of the ball, but there were too many square passes and no movement upfront. We clearly missed Drogba. Porto were so typical of many European teams we see at Chelsea in that they were full of movement and passed the ball well. We had a few defensive lapses – space on their left down below me especially – but the first half ended with not many real chances for both sides. We had seemed to tire as the half progressed.
As 72 year old Tom brushed past me at the interval I said “get yer boots on Tom – you’re playing second half.”
Tommy Baldwin – The Sponge – was on the pitch at half time. He’s the leader of the team, you know.
Thankfully, our goal soon came…I thought Anelka was offside, but he shot on instinct. The goalie did well to block, but Anelka did even better in squeezing the ball in from an angle on the rebound. Soon after, Kalou shaped well and headed towards the goal, but Helton saved. As the game drew on, Porto got more and more into it. They were really positive, unlike a lot of European teams at The Bridge. They had many long shots, thankfully usually all at Cech, but they kept moving the ball intelligently. We seemed to be tiring again. Cech did well to claw out a shot from Hulk. Our support was poor and I seemed half-hearted too. Maybe I have just seen two many games. The Porto fans’ noise was constant, but never loud. It was a muted kind of evening. The rain never stopped.
When the PA announced an added two minutes, I couldn’t help think back to our last European game…the shocker against Barcelona…winning 1-0, the opposition attacking The Shed, Chelsea tiring fast, the ball being played in and around our box. Ring any bells?
Both Alan and myself agreed that Porto were worth a point. At the final whistle, we breathed a sigh of relief. This had been a sub-standard Chelsea performance. We looked tired. We had missed Drogba. We had lacked creativity.
As I had taken so long to reach London, I was in no mood to rush home. I took my time leaving my seat and I slowly walked back to the car. The mood amongst the home fans was far from the euphoria of 1994. I stuffed myself with a disgraceful array of junk food and drove home, weary and tired. I got home at 12.45am. A quick read of the programme enabled me to realise that this had been our 75th European game at The Bridge. Our record is phenomenal.
Played – 75
Won – 53
Drew – 19
Lost – 3
For – 158
Against – 43