Tales From A Nervous One Hundred Minutes

Chelsea vs. Bolton Wanderers : 13 April 2010.

Since the wonderful events of the weekend, I had been walking tall. Not many people wanted to talk football with me at work though. Strange, eh? However, I awoke nervous and I stayed nervous all day. This was to be a huge day in our season.

Despite the concerns I had about missing a midweek home game with the new people at work, I pulled out of the car-park bang on 4.15pm, my earliest “get away” for ages. It was a stress-free trip up through Wiltshire and Berkshire and into the Thames Valley. I made Steve Azar aware of my progress using the usual shorthand –

Kerry Dixon.

David Brent.

Rifles.

This was to be Steve’s last home game on his two-month sabbatical and we had planned a post-match curry. Throughout the trip up to HQ, my only thoughts about the line-up was the “Drogba or Anelka” conundrum. As I neared London, the weather brightened, with the sun breaking through. The sky was full of vapour trails from the planes flying in and out of Heathrow and, higher, cirrus clouds were everywhere. It was a glorious evening. The traffic was light. I was on target. The Killers gave way to Morrissey and all was good with the world. As I drove past the former Chelsea training ground at Harlington ( the coldest place on Earth, according to Marcel Desailly ), I noted that the trees and hedges were almost starting to turn green with new shoots and buds. The odd cherry blossom was already in bloom. I noted the twin sights of the Wembley Arch to my north and Brentford’s Griffin Park to my south. To be honest, this had the “feel” of a mid-week CL game, such was its importance to us. Past the Fuller’s brewery at Chiswick and the sky was gorgeous blue, devoid of any clouds. Lovely stuff. I had good vibes, despite the odd nervous moments of doubt.

I was parked-up at 6.25pm – that cherry blossom in Normand Park was smelling wonderful – and I soon arrived at The Goose.

With the 8pm kick-off, I had a good hour to relax out in the sunny, but cold, beer garden with the usual suspects. Time for two pints and a chat with the boys – perfect. We were neither confident and cocky nor nervy and pessimistic. We were realistic, to be fair. We knew Bolton would be a tough set of opponents, but the game was certainly “winnable.” Immediate chat focussed on the game against Villa at Wembley. Steve told us of two “big Frank Lampard fans” who left on 80 minutes and all of us were outraged by the hordes who left at 2-0. Daryl said he bumped into more than a few Chelsea fans later in the evening who had left the ground early and had thought we had only won 1-0.

Not my Chelsea.

Our fans dominated a lot of our talk. Whitey spoke about the 2006 league-winning game against United…he couldn’t get a ticket for love nor money and watched the game unfold on the TV in The Slug at FB. He spoke of the shame of seeing hundreds drift past, immediately after the whistle, obviously oblivious – or uninterested – to see the league trophy being presented to the team.

Truly shameful behaviour. Who are these people?

I walked down to the ground just in time to make the kick-off. My first thoughts were about the truly pitiful away support…no more than 120. I then looked to the right and say a lovely new banner on The Shed balcony ( and I knew Beth would be pleased ) –

BENTLEY’S BOYS

Lovely stuff.

The line-up that Carlo chose surprised a few of us…both Drogs and Nico. We were amazed that Malouda was on the bench, along with a surely disappointed Joe Cole. Our midfield seemed solid, but having Mikel and Ballack in there always slows things. The enigma of Kalou upfront. Oh boy.

Within five minutes, our flying Russian was hurtling down the wing as if his life depended on it and set up Didier who shot over. During the first-half, we had the usual majority of possession, with a few Bolton counter-attacks keeping us on our toes. We were worried when JT appeared to twist his ankle, but he’s no Rooney. He soon rejoined the fray. Soon after, Yuri suffered a cut to the head and lay in the six-yard box for some time. He was patched up and resembled Bert from Sesame Street, a tuft of hair peaking over his bandaged forehead.

We were nervous – that word again – and The Bridge was muted for long periods. It should have been jumping.

I thought that Frank – playing deep again – and Ballack were quiet. The Bolton tackles were flying in from all angles. They were upsetting our mood. The fans were growing restless and the clock was ticking. Yuri popped off to get his head wound stitched and Frank filled in at left-back for five minutes. Kalou was miss-firing upfront, but Anelka was roving well.

With me chatting to Alan about a lack of movement, we worked the ball well out to Didier on the left, in front of the taxi-cab load of Bolton fans. He had space and time to curl in a perfect cross, on the money, and Anelka headed down – and in – from close range.

A huge sigh of relief, mixed in with a euphoric yelp. That was massive.

Six minutes of added time…

Wes was sitting next to me and at half-time Alan entertained him. Alan is a master of a thousand voices and Alan chatted to Wes in the style of “Boomhauer,” the fellow Texan from “King Of The Hill.”

“Get-on-that-Chelsea-dang-flying-through-there-the-middle-ball-whoop-goal-whoo-woo-you-hear?”

Health issues from two fellow fans called Frank at half-time…London Frank, recovering from a heart-attack, getting better day by day…Frome Frank, chest pains, but still able to attend games and watching fifteen feet away. We wish them well. Peter Bonetti came out onto the pitch again at the break.

With the Chelsea players awaiting their opponents to rejoin them on the Stamford Bridge pitch, Bob Marley’s “Three Little Birds” was played on the Chelsea PA.

“Don’t Worry About A Thing, ‘Cus Every Little Thing Is Gonna Be Alright.”

This is yet to really catch on…watch this space.

Yet another Yuri run down the left, yet another fluffed chance. After Drogba shot high and wild from way out, Tom commented “Drogba is either caviar or cabbage” and we knew what he meant. Salomon Kalou broke through but the ‘keeper parried and the same player shot wide barely a minute later. He was annoying large sections of the crowd. This didn’t help the collective nerves of us all. Then, out of the dark London night, a chant which lit up the entire evening. It took until 57 minutes, but at last we got behind the team –

“And It’s Super Chelsea, Suuuuuuper Chelsea Eff Ceeee – We’re By Far The Greatest Team The World Has Ever Seen”

It was the loudest, most coherent chant for ages. Good stuff.

After Drogba skied a clearance, Petr Cech back-pedalled and reached up to stop the ball going out for a corner. It reminded me of a famous catch from my other favourite sport. I spoke to Wes and texted Danny, no doubt watching in deepest Rancho Cucamonga –

“Did you see that Willie Mays at the Polo Grounds catch from Cech?”

Danny soon replied –

“I did. I was expecting him to turn and hit the cut off man. Which would be Mikel.”

I laughed. A bit of baseball humour from 6,000 miles away. I will call Mikel “the cut off man” from now on in. It seems appropriate.

The nerves increased as Bolton improved around the hour mark. However, it was becoming a game of half-chances for both teams.

Another Zhirkov run deep into their box.

We moaned when the industrious Anelka gave way for Malouda…it ought to have been Kalou in our minds. More Bolton possession. Soon after, Joe took Kalou’s place. At last, a flurry of Bolton yellow cards and these were long overdue. Joe Cole danced into the box on a few occasions…the chances were starting to come again. Frank flashed a shot against the left post. Joe set up Ballack with a super cross, but he headed weakly at the goal. From a Florent Malouda corner, JT shaped beautifully and struck a low daisy-cutter which narrowly missed that left post.

Oh boy.

Bolton had chances too and every time the balls came across our box, my heart was in my
mouth…too many late goals at that end ( the one we usually defend in the second-half ) were heavy in my mind.

The clock was ticking.

80 minutes.

Oh those nerves.

85 minutes.

Zirkov again raced forward and set up Joe, who was clean through, but with the whole crowd about to explode, Joe contrived to tread on the ball and the chance was lost.

Four minutes of added time.

Tick – tick – tick.

At last, the referee ( much berated by all ) blew up and we roared. It had been a middling performance, but the result was all-important. We headed out just as that old warhorse of a song by Journey was played on the PA. It seemed appropriate –

“Just a small town boy, born and raised in South Detroit…”

Wes, Steve and myself spent from 10pm to almost midnight in The Lily Tandoori, chatting away about all things Chelsea ( 1983, 1988, 1994, 1997, 1999, 2002, 2005, 2006…) and I could honestly have stayed all night. We visited this same curry house – the same table – after the Inter game and the mood was way different. Steve and myself chatted away like fools – all those games, all those Chelsea days out, all those laughs – and Wes watched, open-mouthed at our memory. The curries were fantastic too. Dutch Mick, also present after Inter, was across the room.

Good times. No – great times.

I was exhausted driving home and even the combined forces of Johnny Rotten and Elizabeth Fraser’s disparate voices couldn’t help. I had to stop between 1am and 2am to get some sleep.

I eventually reached home at 2.40am and watched the highlights before crashing out soon after.

And here we are – five games from Heaven.

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