Tales From Another Step In The Right Direction

Chelsea vs. Blackburn Rovers : 15 January 2011.

There were grey skies over head as I made the familiar pilgrimage up to HQ.

The plan had been for Trowbridge Kris to drive up, in order to give me a little break from the driving, but unfortunately his car developed a mechanical fault on Thursday. The plan had been for a North End Road pub crawl, but that will have to wait for later in the season. We ought to wait for the re-opening of The Seven Stars – a lovely art deco building – and we could then do a little pub crawl involving The Famous Three Kings, The Old Oak, The Seven Stars, The Elm and The Goose. We are so lucky at Chelsea to have so many pubs in and around The Bridge. The main areas for pre-match sessions are The North End Road, Lillee Road, Fulham Broadway, Fulham Road and The Kings Road. I drove up with Kris, Lord Parky and Trowbridge Andy – it made a nice change to have a full car for once. For a variety of reasons, my fellow Frome mates have not been quite so regular this season. PD is still off work and struggling with his ankle as a result of his horrific accident at work.

We spoke about all sorts. Parky usually keeps the chat going and we were entertained by a few of his famous rambling monologues. One story involved one of his next door neighbours, who had asked Parky to accompany him out to an area of common land in their village. It seemed that there had been a serious rat infestation problem and so Parky’s neighbour had a plan. He had his two Jack Russell terriers with him. They were let loose on the rat “nest” and within a couple of seconds the air was full of squeals from the panic stricken rats as they attempted to flee. Within minutes, the immediate area was one of devastation, with the dead rats lying everywhere. Just picture the scene. Carnage.

“He should send those dogs to Tottenham” chirped the previously silent Andy in the back seat.

I needed to pop into the centre of London in order to get a replacement part for a jacket, so I left the other three to it. As I walked towards West Brompton tube, I noted quite a few Chelsea supporters who had obviously got off at that station rather than Fulham Broadway. There is another little bunching of pubs at Lillee Road here – The Tournament, The Imperial, The Lillee Langtry, The Prince Of Wales and The Atlas. These pubs tend to be a little less expensive than the ones closer to The Bridge, so they obviously have their appeal. These pubs are decidedly working class, rather than the more upmarket joints further south.

On the return journey from Beak Street in the heart of Soho, I changed trains at Earls Court. As I ascended the elevators up to the platforms in order to catch the District Line train, I thought back to my first ever game in March 1974. I would have walked those exact same steps, along with my two parents, and I had a little moment thinking how excited I must have been all those years ago. I won’t overdo it, but that day was one of pivotal importance in my life and I often think back to that first monumental trip to Chelsea.

I was able to meet up with all the usual lads in The Goose – another Saturday, another beer – for about an hour. There was the usual talk of games past, present and future.

This was an overcast and blustery day in London – I guess it was a typical winter football Saturday.

Kris was sitting next to me in the Matthew Harding Upper and we timed our approach to perfection. We got in with five minutes to spare. I had a quick look over to the South East corner and there was, of course, a predictably poor turnout from the former cotton town of Blackburn and its surrounding areas. There were probably 200 in the lower tier and around 100 in the upper tier. I never know why Chelsea doesn’t force such a small away following into the lower tier and then sell the other section to home fans. The club would probably trot out the old “segregation” line, but it seems crazy to see around 1,000 empty seats when we play the likes of Blackburn, Wigan and Bolton.

The consensus around us was that it was a shame that Josh had not retained his place instead of the struggling Essien. Likewise Daniel Sturridge, who had just rifled in five goals in a reserve team friendly against Tottenham and two against Ipswich Town. However, our starting eleven was arguably our most experienced players and so there was no hiding place for them.

Let’s go to work.

Soon into the game, Florent Malouda swung in a corner and the ball broke to Ramires who swiped at the ball, with several defenders scrambling to close him down. His rather rushed shot crashed against the top of the bar. For the first ten minutes, our play was pretty positive and the signs were good. Ramires followed up with another strike, but this one ended up about twenty yards wide. Frank Lampard dropped a corner on Michael Essien’s head but his free header was well wide. This was met with the usual groans.

A few rows in front, Big John was bellowing “Come on Chelsea – They’re 5hit!” However, to be fair, John shouts this at every opponent during every game. I suspect that he would shout it even if the Brazilian or Spanish national team showed up to play us. Alan made the point that we again seemed to be obsessed with hitting Ashley Cole early with long diagonals. At times, Jose Bosingwa was alone and adrift in acres of space on the right, but our midfielders seemed unwilling to give him the ball. Alan suggested that Carlo should give Jose a mobile phone so he could keep in contact with his team mates, whereas I wondered if he had contacted a highly contagious and debilitating disease. At times, Bosingwa appeared to be playing in a separate game on a separate pitch in a separate town.

Ramires again impressed us with his constant motion and he initiated a great move by winning a loose ball down below me. He accelerated up field and played a perfect ball in to Didier Drogba, but his first and second touches were poor and Givet was able to get back and put in a timely tackle. On a rare Blackburn break, Petr Cech got down well to block a low shot from Hoilett and the ball was cleared.

Chances from Anelka and Lampard came and went, but Paul Robinson was not really threatened. Robinson had been taking some “stick” from The Shed as a result of his Tottenham and Leeds past (as bad a combo as you can get, maybe only surpassed by a certain Robbie Keane.) Alan and myself spoke last week about Branislav Ivanovic and his tendency to hold his hand up (“not guilty, didn’t touch him ref!”) when he gets close to a player he is marking. Over on the left wing, he got close to an attacker (possibly the Steven Hawking lookalike Morten Gamst Pedersen) and started nibbling away and his arms came up again. Alan and myself laughed at his little trademark move. It got me thinking about other players’ trademarks…

The John Terry chest pass, the Ashley Cole sudden stop and the placing of his left foot on the ball as he looks for options, the Frank Lampard spin and turn as he looks up for a player to pass to (with his thumbs always pointing up…), the Nicholas Anelka sudden stop in the middle of a dribble, the Florent Malouda rolling of his foot over the ball as he sets off on a dribble, the Paolo Ferreira head thrust from side to side as he manically tries to get back into position after losing the player he is meant to be marking, the Michael Essien surge away from a marker (holding him off through sheer grit and determination), the Didier Drogba slow walk back from an offside position, the Jose Bosingwa touch-touch-touch as he attempts to get the ball into the perfect position for a cross (rather like the way a cat constantly toys with a mouse…) and the Salomon Kalou extra touch and the inevitable stumble to the floor…

Thankfully, there were no boos at the half-time whistle. Marvin Hinton was warmly applauded at the break as he strode around the pitch and I realised that he has more than a passing resemblance to Carlo Ancelotti. I was sure that goals would follow in the second period. Paul Robinson was applauded by a section of the Matthew Harding Lower as he took his place in the goal. This is a strange habit of English football fans – one that gives us our reputation of being passionate but also fair. It’s something we don’t always do at Chelsea, but very often home fans applaud the opposing ‘keeper as they walk towards the home end. I think it is fair to say that this used to happen more often in days gone by.

Soon into the second half, Anelka drilled wide from a very similar position from where he scored against Ipswich last week. The chances began to stack up. On 57 minutes, Florent Malouda zipped in a corner and John Terry flicked the ball on. The ball fell at the feet of Ivanovic and – after what seemed an eternity – he managed to thread the ball through a forest of limbs. The ball crept over the line and The Bridge roared in noisy praise.

In our best Lancashire accents –

“They’ll Have To Come At Us Now.”

“Come On My Little Diamonds.”

Ivanovic was overjoyed and did a massive long slide towards the corner flag opposite. Soon after, a Frank Lampard shot bounced towards the goal and JT audaciously flicked the ball goal wards, but it spun agonisingly past the far post. To be honest, Frank was having a pretty quiet game. On 75 minutes, a terrible Rovers back pass was intercepted by Drogba, but he squandered the chance. Soon after, another corner from Malouda down below me and the ball was floated very high towards the far post. Ivanovic had a gargantuan leap and headed the ball down and goal wards. The ball flew into the net and we cheered noisily. Everyone in my immediate area didn’t see the slight Anelka touch, so imagine our surprise when it was announced that our number 39 had been credited the goal. At 2-0, we could relax.

We couldn’t evaluate Carlo’s reasoning in substituting Anelka with Kalou and not Sturridge. We wanted to give the boy a chance. We lustily sang his name and – eventually – when he did come on to the pitch, he jinked and narrowly shot wide. I’d like to see him given more minutes over the next few games. We had a few late shots from the miss-firing Lampard and Anelka, but it remained at two. We dominated from start to finish and we “out-cornered” Blackburn fourteen to one. That just about summed it up.

This game won’t be remembered in the years to come, but this was a solid and competent Chelsea performance. There are obvious signs that our confidence is slowly returning and – again – the continual improvement in form of little Ramires is very heartening. John Terry and his Serbian partner are now back to their best and we kept a much needed clean sheet. Kris and I commented about Ashley Cole’s unbelievable energy…if there is a fitter player in the UK, I’d like to know who it is.

As I slowly made my way to the exits, I couldn’t help but notice that John Terry was still on the pitch, clapping the fans in all of the four stands. With him in the team – encouraging the players, providing inspiration, and showing the way through this dip for all of us – we still have a chance this season. I still think that the League is one step beyond us – but our three games against the two Mancunian teams may well be our salvation. Three wins there and who knows? But it is a tough ask and I have to be realistic. To be quite blunt, I’ll go so far as to say that if we lose at Everton in the F.A. Cup, we won’t win anything this season.

Whatever will be will be.

During the last segment of the journey home, Andy and I spoke of Chelsea’s amazing run of success since 1997. We both remembered, only two well, that in over 90 years of history we had only won four major honours. From 1997 to date – only fourteen years – we have won a further twelve. Those figures don’t even include a U.E.F.A. Super Cup win and three F.A. Community Shield wins. We agreed that if someone had promised such a run of trophies in, say, 1996 we would have suggested that the perpetrator of such nonsense should be subjected to a strait jacket and a padded cell. So, we have been spoiled rotten. We may taste defeat more than victory over the next few years, but let’s roll with the punches. Supporting Chelsea was never easy. And while I am obviously concerned about the way the club seems to be going at times (poor PR, woeful atmosphere at home games, an increasingly absent chairman, numpty fans, an ageing squad…) “my” Chelsea will roll on regardless.

I am not going to Bolton next Monday evening, so my next game will be that ultra-important F.A. Cup game at Goodison Park, one of my favourite stadia, in a fortnight. That should be a good old fashioned cup tie and we’ll do well to reach the last sixteen. Parky will be going along and Andy was thinking about it too. Can’t wait.


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