Tales From A London Derby

Chelsea vs. Arsenal : 7 February 2010.

What a tough old week for us as Chelsea fans. By the time Sunday came around, I was bored to death thinking about “Vanessagate,” let alone talking about it.

I picked-up Parky at just after 9am and was in London by 11.15am. We had a breakfast by West Brompton and then went our separate ways. Parky sloped off to The Goose to meet the usual suspects. He would also take care of Wes, who was arriving at about 1pm. I had my hands full meeting Eddie, who I briefly met in Baltimore in the summer, and also John from LA, who I had not previously met before. John was over with work – a real flying visit – and was visiting Stamford Bridge for the very first time. We had exchanged emails and texts during the previous few days and I could tell he was bursting with excitement.

Eddie had just had a breakfast at Lloyds when I called by at about midday. He was with his wife and a Watford-supporting mate. Lloyds was quiet, but it was getting busier. I wasn’t sure when John would be arriving, so I popped over to see Mark Worrall at “the stall.” Paul Canoville had just called by and had signed two copies of “Chelsea Here Chelsea There.” I quickly called Eddie and he sprinted down to buy one.

I spent a while outside the tube station. This was a different experience for me – I’m usually esconced in the pub from midday to 2.30pm or 3.30pm on Sundays at Chelsea. I noted many people who I either know by name or by sight. Around five touts were plying their trade. They were asking £175 a ticket. With each train arriving, more and more fans were alighting at Fulham Broadway. There was a nice buzz of anticipation. The weather had tuned colder. My jacket was buttoned up around my neck. I noted a few Gormless Goons slouching around. John arrived at just before 1pm and it was great to see him. This was his first ever visit to this part of London, so as we turned towards The Bridge, I said that “these are historic footsteps, then.” John was with a mate from LA – an Ipswich supporting fan from Iceland. Everyone welcome! John was impressed with the façade of the West Stand and I explained all about the Shed as we approached the hotel. I knew that Ron Harris would soon be leaving the hotel foyer, so we were lucky to catch him. John had his photo taken with Chopper. John was loving it. Job done.

We then spun around, over the bridge, to The Fox And Pheasant, the tiny pub in the shadows of the towering East stand. I have lost count of the number of US visitors I have taken to this lovely boozer. We toasted to “Friendship and Football.” We chatted about all things Chelsea – John got into our club via Gianfranco Zola, which is a fine reason. I joked that it sure beats finding out about Chelsea via a game on Playstation. However, mid-way through our pint, we found ourselves talking about MLB baseball and college football for quite a few minutes.

“Wait – why the hell aren’t we talking about Chelsea?!”

We all laughed.

We walked back down the Fulham Road and just happened to be passing The So Bar at the exact time that Paul Canoville was going inside. Canners looked well and I reminded him I spoke to him at last year’s CPO. Amazingly, he remembered. Top man. Another photo opportunity for John and by now he was buzzing…and saying “awesome” far too many times for his general well-being. After Ron Harris and Canners, I said to John “I wonder who you’ll meet next?” just as the immortal Lovejoy strolled past, chewing gum, looking dapper. I had to laugh. We called by at the stall and John invested in the other “Paul Canoville-signed copy” of “CHCT.” John grimaced when I explained that the original tube station is now a “TGI Friday’s” but I approve of the way this lovely red-brick building has been refurbished, with the booking hall still intact.

We strolled up to The Goose, where festivities were in full flow. It was rammed. The Birmingham vs. Wolves game was on TV. Conversations were taking place at a pace. Wes was chatting with Parky. Thankfully, not much banter about JT. We heard of a pub opening at 9am for the Cardiff game next Saturday. That will do nicely. Daryl joked that Parky and myself ought to throw some cartoon-style tin tacks onto the M4 to derail the Cardiff coaches. A nice idea. John and Otley set off at 2.45pm to take in the pre-match atmosphere. I can’t say I blamed them. It was great to see John so thrilled with the Chelsea match day experience.

I got in the ground at 3.45pm and was ready. It had been a tough week.

Let’s play football.

As with last season, just one poxy Arsenal flag. I noted a new “Carefree In The UAE” banner in the West stand. It looked like Carlo had chosen a 4-3-3 formation to me. I exchanged texts with John, who had lucked out with tickets. He was in the East Middle – negative – but was in the very front row – positive. I just about picked him out with my telephoto just as he was getting stuck in with a “Carefree.” I could see his smile from 100 yards away. Happy days.

A few choruses in praise of John Terry and then the teams entered the pitch.

Let’s get it on.

After just a few moments, a Drogba free-kick was cleared for a corner. I snapped my camera just as JT leapt to head it on. At the far post, a smudge of red and blue shirts and I saw the net bulge.

The Bridge erupted. I doubt if the record 82,905 in 1935 made as much noise. I took a few shots of the celebrations taking place in the SE corner, then panned over to John in the East.

Snap.

In response to a Gooner chant about us, we replied “You’re Not English Any More.”

Arsenal then dominated for quite a period. Cech saved superbly from the impish Arshavin. We appeared to be giving them too much space in midfield and we were worried. Then – a rapier like break and Drogba was on goal. A shimmy inside and he slammed the ball in. My head exploded and I jumped up onto the steps. I looked back at Alan and we pointed at each other. No words were needed. Such joy. We then controlled the game until the break. Arsenal’s support was wounded. Our support was good, without being deafening. Until the second goal, we seemed to be a bit nervous.

In a pathetic attempt to rile us, the away fans sang a song in praise of Wayne Bridge. Of all people! What idiots. Do they not remember 2004? This is like us praising Dean Saunders or David Elleray. Anyway, we sung a song about Wayne Bridge, too. You can guess which one.

At half-time, John Hollins was on the pitch. He got a great reception. It seems that, at last, we have forgiven him for destroying the classic 1983-1985 team. He’s a nice guy. A Chelsea legend. Great to see him so happy.

It was more of the same in the second-half. Lots of Arsenal possession, but little end product. I soon witnessed the awesome ( that word again ) power of Drogba, bursting forward down below me. Truly an amazing spectacle. However, we still gave Arsenal lots of space in the midfield, despite great individual performances. It was a strange game.

Arsenal let off a flare in the Shed lower, but this inspired the home support and we produced the noisiest few minutes of the season. I bet John was falling in love with Chelsea all over again.

Then, that Drogba free-kick which slammed against the bar. Oh boy.

How Didi loves playing Arsenal. He has certainly got onside their head. I realised how similar this game was to the 3-0 win at The Emirates in November. If that Drogba free-kick had gone in, it would have been even more so. Lots of Arsenal possession, but lightweights versus heavyweights. Boys versus men. We defended with raw power. They shall not pass. We were still a bit nervous, though – we daren’t concede a goal as it would have given Arsenal confidence. I checked with Alan just to make sure Kanu wasn’t on the bench, with memories of late Arsenal comebacks at The Bridge still fresh in my mind. I needn’t have worried – Petr Cech was enjoying his best game for ages. We defended deep and it paid off.

Throughout the game we sang “One England Captain” and this will probably develop into the song of our season.

The final whistle and a huge roar. We could smile and relax.

“We Are Top Of The League. Say, We Are Top Of The League.”

JT stayed on the pitch for a few moments by himself, thanking all four stands for the support we had given him. He threw his shirt into the MHL. As he walked towards the tunnel, alone, I saw John looking on. One hug from Carlo Ancelotti and our captain disappeared down the tunnel.

A text from John – “UNREAL.”

It had been a tough week.

From a position of strength and power, let’s move on.

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