Chelsea vs. Cardiff City : 13 February 2010.
An early kick-off at HQ meant that I collected the two Glenns by 8.30am and, by the time we hit the M4, the banter was flying. We passed quite a few coaches from South Wales en route. We spoke of the FA Cup…May 2009 was fresh in our minds, but I was more interested in remembering a game from my youth.
Leading up to our encounter with Cardiff City, I was well aware that there was a favourite Chelsea game from the past which also took place on February 13th. At the time, it was the best game I had ever witnessed in the flesh. Throughout this week, my mind was full of memories of our game with Liverpool on FA Cup Round Five day in 1982. On the Friday, in order to get the juices flowing, I emailed a few CFC mates and we bantered back and forth with memories of that day…we mentioned the players, the atmosphere, the thrill of that great game. I’m lucky – so lucky – to have so many Chelsea mates who “know their stuff” and can help rebuild memories of games in the distant past.
In 1981-82, Chelsea were floundering in the old Second Division, but had hit a bit of form over the Christmas and New Year period. This was our third season in the second tier. Our swish Le Coq Sportif kit was worn by such stalwarts as Clive Walker, Mike Fillery and Colin Pates. Personally, I was floundering in the Sixth Form – I had soon realised I had picked the wrong subjects – but was living for football. Playing for my school team kept me sane, but following Chelsea was my passion. For the first time, I was travelling up to games at Chelsea by myself. I was sixteen and the train fare was only £6. I had seen us play against Bolton and Wrexham and had watched these two games in The Shed for the first ever time. For the Wrexham game, a red-head from Texas was watching her first ever Chelsea game and we must’ve been no more than twenty yards away from each other. We had struggled to get past Hull and Wrexham, after replays, to meet Liverpool in Round Five. Liverpool, meanwhile, were in their absolute pomp…European Champions and on their way to three consecutive titles. It was a huge miss-match. In the Daily Mail, Ian Wooldridge had written that “the only hope I can give Chelsea is that they have no hope at all.” I think I knew what he meant. To add to our plight, I’m pretty sure that Liverpool had lost to Ipswich in a League Cup semi-final first-leg on the Wednesday and were looking for revenge. We looked easy targets. Things were mighty ominous.
I remember so many things from that day. Let me share more of them. My parents and myself caught the 8am train from Westbury and there were a gaggle of Doctor Marten-wearing Chelsea fans on the platform…no doubts, I would get to know some of these lads over the next few years. At Paddington, Mum and Dad went off to do some sightseeing, while I headed down to The Bridge to savour the pre-match atmosphere. I arrived at Fulham Broadway at around 11am and the place was already buzzing. No doubt I walked up to the East Stand, but I remember staying down by the entrance to the old West Stand for ages. I had never been to the Bridge so early and I was amazed how many fans were milling around the area by The Brittania pub ( now The So Bar. ) There seemed to be many more street vendors than usual. I specifically remember an old chap in his seventies selling old black and white photos of players from the ‘forties and ‘fifties. For some unfathomable reason, I bought one of United’s Duncan Edwards. Like all of this chap’s photos, he was pictured as he ran out onto the pitch, on those wooden running boards which used to go over the dog track.
We had West Stand seats and I remember being thankful. I am pretty sure that the game wasn’t all ticket, hence the massive crowds outside. For the 24,000 fans who would be using the terraces, it would be a case of “first come, first served.” I remember looking at the ever-growing line of Liverpool fans lining up outside the buildings of the Oswald Stoll Foundation. I looked on in awe. These lucky so-and-sos had enjoyed successes since the early ‘seventies that I could only dream of. I can’t, unfortunately, remember if the legions of scallies were wearing Adidas Stan Smiths or Slazenger and Lacoste pullovers.
The gates opened at 1pm and, for the first time since my debut in 1974, I ascended those lovely steps on that huge embankment of the West Stand. Our seats were right by The Shed – seats 1, 2 and 3, row 2 or 3. Magical stuff. My parents arrived at about 2.15pm. By then, The Shed was heaving. I believe the gates closed at 2pm. For an hour, I watched on as 14,000 Chelsea fans in The Shed sang and swayed, anticipating the game ahead. A few hundred fans were watching from atop a block of flats across the Fulham Road. I watched aghast as the shared North terrace bore witness to several charges by the Chelsea boys at their Liverpool counterparts. Two pens were Chelsea, two pens Liverpool, with a line of police somewhere in the middle. I remember seeing some Chelsea scamper through the Brompton Cemetery behind the East Stand, rush over the train lines and attack the Scousers from behind. I had never seen the like of it. To be truthful, I was sick of it. Our big day, the whole of Britain watching and these loons were dragging our name through the dirt. I was yet to learn the nuances of hooliganism. I was only 16 remember.
I remember, right down below me, about twenty Chelsea kids in their late teens, jumping over The Shed fence into The Benches in order to run up to the North Stand to join in the fray. To my huge displeasure, my mother was shouting at them to get back! I grimaced, as you can imagine.
The game kicked-off at 3pm with 41,412 jammed inside the grand old stadium. I can distinctly remember looking across at the towering East Stand, so out of place with the rest of the stadium, and noting that every single seat – row upon row – was occupied. I saw 10,000 heads, with not one single gap. Surely that doesn’t happen often. This reassured me of our massive potential. We were a middling second-tier team, but could draw in 41,000. As a comparison, our highest league gate in 1981-82 was barely 20,000.
The game was a classic. Liverpool boasted such legends as Rush, Dalglish, Souness, McDermott, Hansen and Lawrensen. After just eight minutes, we won the ball in midfield and Peter Rhoades-Brown broke away in the inside left channel. He shot early and I had an unimpeded view as the ball crept into the goal by the far post, just evading Grobbelaar’s dive.
The Bridge erupted and so did I.
For the rest of the game, Liverpool probed away without creating too many chances. Colin Pates and Kevin Hales were an odd choice in midfield, but they nullified Liverpool’s midfield maestros. At half-time, we heaved a sigh of relief. We wondered about the task ahead. Could we do it?
All I remember of the second period is the action down in front of me at The Shed End goal on about 84 minutes. We had held on – teeth grinding tension throughout – and after a goalmouth melee, the ball broke kindly to Colin Lee, who stabbed the ball in from close-range.
In that split second – I can still see the net bulge – I knew we were safe at 2-0 and I celebrated again. A different kind of celebration…the fear had gone. We were going to beat Liverpool! The thrill was almost too much. I had seen us beat Liverpool 3-1 in 1978 and we had done it again. Unbelievable.
Back to 2010. It took a while for us to find a parking space, but I eventually found one near The Elm pub. Who should be outside, pints in hand, but Cathy and Dog. There were police outside. We were on the look out for Cardiff, but hadn’t spied any apart from on the M4. We were expecting a big show from them. This was the first time I had seen Cardiff at Chelsea since 1983. I remember they sang the Welsh national anthem throughout the minute’s silence for a Chelsea fan killed at Huddersfield. We responded with boos and a chant about Aberfan, the site of a landslide which wiped out a primary school in the Welsh valleys in the ‘sixties. A different era.
Parky dipped into The Elm – he later reported that the pub was full of some Chelsea faces from the past – while Glenn and myself sat down for a fry-up at the refurbished Yadana cafe. I met a mate from work. Tickets were exchanged. The Goose was shut – not opening until 12.30pm – and I can understand why. The threat of violence pervaded most of our conversations throughout the morning.
On the walk down the North End Road, the bitter chill still in evidence, we saw no Cardiff, except in The Kings Head, which was guarded by twenty policemen and around five on horseback. For a change, we had a pint in “Jimmy’s” inside the Matthew Harding.
Unbeknown to me, Petar Borota had passed away on the Friday. How ironic that this player from 1981-82 ( he didn’t play in the Liverpool game, his place was taken by the young Steve Francis ) which a few of us had mentioned in our emails on Friday should be taken from us that very same day. He was as mad as a bucket of frogs, but was well loved at Chelsea. We applauded him for a minute before kick-off.
I spotted two inflatable sheep being passed around the MHL. There is now a “Malta” flag in the West Stand. About time more American flags showed up, I reckon. I almost missed our opener. I was looking down at the MHL singing “Ingerland” at the Welsh hordes when I looked up to see Didier clean through on goal. An easy finish and 1-0 to us after a couple of minutes. Good stuff. The rest of the first period was a bit messy. A few long-range efforts…a lob from Drogba from just inside the Cardiff half, a thunderous strike from Sturridge, a tame Lampard effort. At the other end, Bothroyd and Chopra were being given too much space and Cardiff were getting into the game. Their support was roaring. We accused them of doing “unmentionables” to sheep. Virtually all of the Cardiff fans were standing, but I did see gaps. Maybe they hadn’t made it past The Elm! A cross from Burke and Chopra headed in, totally unchallenged. Not a set piece this time, but as good as. Like Dracula, we hate crosses. With The Bluebirds flying high, I became mesmerized by three pigeons flying around the stadium. Suffice to say, it wasn’t a great game! Joe Cole was poor…he’s trying too hard. A sublime ball from Ballack, into space, was the highlight.
Mumbles and grumbles at half-time. Daryl’s son Ed came down to bemoan our woefully quiet support. Charlie Cooke was paraded at the break by Neil Barnett. I spotted Michael Essien watching from the same seat in the West Middle as Jose Mourinho versus Fulham. How we miss Essien.
We played better – much better – in the second period. Kalou came on for Joe Cole and he did well. Drogba was akin to a one man wrecking crew, full of strength and running. His ball to Ballack carved open the entire Cardiff defence and was just gorgeous. Ballack finished with aplomb. Phew. Cardiff’s support soon quietened down – and their team tired.
I had said to Alan at Preston that Daniel Sturridge would go on to emulate Peter Osgood in 1970 by scoring in all of the rounds – a pretty rash statement, I’ll admit. He wasn’t playing particularly well, but the ball broke to him down below me. The trouble was that it was on his right side…”and he hasn’t got a right foot” I said to Alan. With that, the ball broke kindly and he slotted it in wuith his left. How we laughed. Up and down we bounced. Three-one and coasting. Salomon capped a fine performance with a lovely header from a stunning Ferreira cross. Roman’s smiling face was shown on The Shed screen and we serenaded him…he responded with a wave. About time we gave him some love – his reign has not been without flaws, but he’s no Glazer, no Hicks, no Gillette.
On the walk back to the car, police sirens were wailing and we heard rumours of post-game naughtiness. We were soon on the road West. It felt strange heading along the M4 at 2.45pm…so odd to be heading back so early on a Saturday. I spotted the Wembley Arch in the distance, as we listened to some Depeche Mode. They were in the charts with “See You” in February 1982 and, like us, are still going strong. We drove past The Madejski, where Reading and West Brom were eking out an FA Cup draw…and we then overtook an armada of Cardiff City coaches. We pondered options for the Quarters. With us due to play Pompey in the league on March 6th., we wondered if we just might get them on that same date in the cup instead.