Chelsea vs. Fulham : 10 November 2010.
After the misery of Liverpool, I was happy that we would be able to get back into the swing of things with two home games in five days against teams which we ought to beat.
That was the theory. How about the practice?
Andy from Trowbridge accompanied Lord Parky and me up to London. There was no tube strike-induced mayhem this week and so I was parked up at about 6.15pm. We quickly called in at the pub and the usual suspects were all clustered in a group. I spotted that more than a few were wearing the popular Royal British Legion poppy / Chelsea crest pin badge, no more than two centimetres in length. Remembrance Sunday is just around the corner after all. I remember when small beautifully crafted pin badges such as these were all the rage in the mid-‘eighties. They would often be the only sign of what team you were supporting. I often used to wander back from the buffet on trains down to London from my home in Stoke and eye-up which badges were on show. In those days, not even scarves tended to be worn. I often used to wear my Chelsea pin badge on the upper part of my pullover sleeve.
In those days, less was most definitely more.
I spoke with my mate Russ and predicted “a poor first-half, undoubted discontent and possible boos at the break, we’ll be out sung by the Fulham fans, but we’ll scrape through 2-0.”
I had to shoot off early and meet Paul, a friend of a friend, who was using Glenn’s season ticket for the Fulham game. We met by the Peter Osgood statue in front of the West Stand. He was impressed with our seats – my season ticket is in the fourth row of the “wraparound” of the Matthew Harding Upper, as it curves towards the West Stand. Alan, Glenn and I have had these three seats since 1997 and I wouldn’t swap them for the world. We briefly spoke about the rumours about Chelsea moving into a new stadium at nearby Earls Court. That’s the toughest question ever, eh? However, before we get swamped down in discussions of the pros and cons, it is worth pointing out that there were many empty seats on show for this encounter with Fulham. Don’t be fooled by the full house figures. I suspect there were a few thousand empty seats. Chelsea, like many clubs, perpetuate the myth of sell-out crowds at The Bridge, thus fuelling false demand, by publishing total ticket sales rather than spectators through the turnstiles.
Alan and I discussed the team. Drogba back in from the start, but Nico out. Bosingwa in and so Ivanovic alongside The Captain in place of Alex. I noted two new supporters club banners on show in the East – the Channel Islands and South Dorset ( which I believe is based in Weymouth ). It took me a few moments to realise that the Fulham number 16 was Duffer.
As with so many home games, Chelsea enjoyed long periods of possession as the game unravelled. We kept moving the ball around, but it wasn’t long before the home support grew a little restless. We seemed to be obsessed with hitting diagonals over the midfield to Ashley Cole. Very often, it seemed that this was our first thought once we had secured possession. Of course Fulham sat deep and so it is difficult to break such teams down. Fulham rarely threatened us to be honest. However, our desire to over-pass or over-dribble was driving us to distraction. I lost count of the number of times that Bosingwa or Kalou wanted to beat their marker rather than pick a man early. Far better, surely, to hit an early ball and catch the defenders off-balance. I looked to my left and spotted a new banner on the balcony. It simply said “House Of Blues” and I wasn’t too impressed. It’s hardly snappy is it? It sounds a bit bland in my mind. With Chelsea driving us to distraction against our little brothers from down the road, I wondered if “House Of Pain” might be a better nickname for The Bridge.
Yeah, that’s better – “House Of Pain” as a nod to our years of hurt when we stuck with the team despite 26 long seasons with no silverware, but also “House Of Pain” for our current run of victories over teams since 2004…3 league defeats in 126 games remember. “House Of Pain” for all of our opponents, for sure.
Drogba was not particularly involved and Essien was miss-hitting a fair proportion of his longer passes. The frustration was rising. To make matters worse, we were being out sung by 3,000 annoying Fulham fans. We often passed the ball back rather than forward and I shouted –
“Come on lads, it’s not rugby!”
Then, at last, a great cross to an unmarked Michael Essien who leaped up and headed the ball down and into the Shed End goal. Mark Schwarzer didn’t have a chance. Soon after, Duffer took a corner right down below me and I, plus hundreds of others, gave him some warm applause in recognition of his service for us between 2003 and 2006. On 41 minutes, Salomon Kalou broke through in the inside right position and ran unhindered towards the goal. We begged him to shoot, but he carried the ball on and on, deep into the box. From an acute angle, his low shot ripped past the ‘keeper, but also past the far post. Typical Kalou. Alan commented that Edvard Munch must have seen Kalou play in order for him to produce a work of art such as “The Scream.” I knew what he meant for sure.
Kerry Dixon – 193 Chelsea goals – was on the pitch at the break. How we needed a second goal for us all to relax. Soon after the restart, that man Kalou again broke through in that favoured inside-right channel. He advanced, shimmied, but his shot hit Schwarzer and was cleared off the line. It was one of those nights for him. It was much the same story for the rest of the second-half…lots of Chelsea possession, but not so many great chances. A shot from the quiet Malouda was blocked and then shots from Mikel and Didier were also repelled. The nerves were jarring as the minutes passed. A wicked swerving shot from way out was magnificently tipped over by Petr Cech on 74 minutes and then a fine volley was struck straight at our great Czech. Fulham were finding opportunities coming their way, but our defenders were in resilient moods. I thought John Terry was back to his best and Ivanovic threw his head at countless crosses. Drogba was getting more and more into the game though and on a couple of occasions he treated us to his rampaging runs. Kalou was hit and miss, but never gave up. He did create a fair few chances on the right in that second period. We broke away time and time again, but often our final passes went astray. We begged for that precious second goal.
The referee’s assistant signalled an extra four minutes – enough time for a Fulham equaliser for sure! – and we prepared ourselves for the worst. Essien was sent off, though I didn’t spot what for. Would we hold on? Fulham gave it their best shot, but we limped over the line. To be fair, it hadn’t been a bad game…a fair few incidents, a few moments of drama, but just the one goal.
Three points would do nicely though. No complaints.
As I walked past The Goose, I peered in at a TV screen which was showing the dieing embers of the Mancunian derby. It was 0-0 and soon realised that if I continued to watch, United would score. Back in the car, we heard that it had ended goalless, so we were four points ahead of the pack. Parky, Andy and I quickly discussed the night’s events before heading back to Wiltshire and Somerset. Kelly texted me and, of course, had been watching his first ever game at HQ and I felt for him…not a brilliant game, but I was more perturbed that the atmosphere had been non-existent for large chunks of the match. However, we go into the Sunderland game on Sunday, which he will be attending too, with a little dignity restored…and with still no goals conceded at home in the league campaign.