Tales From Matchday Four

Chelsea vs. Spartak Moscow : 3 November 2010.

An alternative title –

“Friends And Roman’s Countrymen.”

It seems rather obvious to state, but the history of Chelsea Football Club has changed dramatically since the arrival of Roman in 2003. However, the game against Spartak Moscow got me thinking about our other links with that nation. Of course, the Champions League Final in 2008 comes immediately to mind – and I have detailed that emotional day elsewhere – but there have been other dalliances with Russian teams and players in our recent and not so recent past.

If there is one game in our ancient history that I wish I had seen it was the momentous 1945 game against the crack Russian team Moscow Dynamo. This game was one of four games that the touring Russians played on that tour and the others were at Rangers, Cardiff and White Hart Lane ( against Arsenal ). The tour is wonderfully evoked in a great football book called “Passovotchka” by David Downing which I bought a while back. My great friend John, who was a schoolboy in South London during the war, spoke to me once about going to the game at Tottenham on a murky winter day in 1945. His memories helped solidify the images in my mind which the author’s words had planted. The few photographs from that tour are priceless of course. It is one of those occasions which I often daydream about – I can almost smell the spectators’ tobacco smoke, the mustiness of soldiers’ demob suits, the greyness of the London air, the sense of anticipation amongst the thousands upon thousands swarming on Fulham Road, the joy of a top flight game after years of ersatz friendlies during the preceding six years, the noise and the colour of the Moscow team in blue and the Chelsea team in red.

When I visited Moscow on that monumental day in 2008 – another grey day in more ways than one – I wanted to pick up a Dynamo souvenir in honour of that game from our history. On Arbatskaya, midway through a drinking session with a few close mates, I purchased a Dynamo scarf from a stall. It’s great. I love that great big “D” – the Dynamo logo. I did think about wearing it to the game against Spartak, but thought better of it. Of course, Moscow is like London in its many teams…in addition to Spartak and Dynamo, there are Torpedo, Lokomotiv and CSKA. I think that Dynamo’s fortunes have waned since the break-up of the communist regime, but I’m hoping that we play them again one day.

I was worried about getting caught in horrendous traffic on the journey up to HQ as there was a tube strike taking place in London. I mentioned it to my bosses during the day – oh, at least five times – and I was thankfully allowed out early at 3.50pm. My colleague Bill, an Aberdeen fan from Brechin was travelling up with his Chelsea supporting son. I said I’d tip him off if the traffic got heavy.

Every second counts.

I collected Parky and made great time…until the last two miles, when time stood still.

Not to worry – into The Goose at 6.40pm. Bill wasn’t far behind me, happy I had texted him with some parking options. Just time for two pints of lager with the chaps. San Francisco Bob is over for a week and it was great to see him again. He is coming down to The Wild West on Friday and we are catching the Frome Town ( five league wins on the bounce! ) versus Clevedon Town game on the Saturday ahead of our assault on Anfield the following day. Bob’s excitement was palpable.

Texas Wes and his Russian mate Sergey soon arrived and I handed over the Shed tickets I had managed to get for them. Mo was able to come up trumps with another of Wes’ mates too – quite a hive of activity. Lots of laughter and Mickey-taking of course. Bob’s eyes lit up when I told him that there is a Henri Lloyd shop in Street and we planned a flying visit on Saturday morning before I give him a tour of my home town.

I checked my phone and sat at my seat exactly at 7.45pm. It was just a shame that my phone was obviously two minutes slow.

Drat.

The Russians were encamped in the away section and soon unfurled a massive red flag with a diagonal stripe and this was passed overhead for a few minutes. No words, but the familiar iconic silhouette of Lenin in the top left corner. It was quite striking. I checked the starting line up with Alan and there was no JT. Ivanovic was shifted into the middle and Paolo took over at right-back. As soon as the game began, ex-CSKA player Zhirkov was roundly booed by the visiting hordes. I imagined that the Russians had been queuing since breakfast – they like a good queue, the Russians.

The next thing I spotted was that ex-Celtic winger Aiden McGeady wearing blue boots. I immediately thought of legions of “Cellic” followers in Cambuslang, Easterhouse, Cumbernauld, Dublin and Boston spitting out their pints of Buckfast fortified wine and turning the air – er, blue. It certainly came as a surprise to me.

The first-half was poor wasn’t it? Our Russian visitors were surprisingly unadventurous, but we seemed to be quite ponderous in our attacks. I can hardly remember anything specific. Anelka cut in adeptly in that favoured inside-left channel, but his firm strike flew high and wide. From a whipped-in corner, the ball found Alex lurking on the far post, inside the six yard box. He flung himself at the ball but managed to deflect the ball up and over the crossbar. This action was up the other end and so I think the magnitude of this miss was lost on us in the Matthew Harding. It certainly looked a shocker, though. Chances were few and far between.

I heard the Muscovites singing, in English – “We Are Top Of The League.”

At half-time, Charlie Cooke was on the pitch with Neil while the Lenin flag was being passed overhead in the SE corner again. A right-winger and a left-winger together. On the PA, the classic Ian Dury song “Reasons To Be Cheerful” was being played.

“Some of Buddy Holly, the working folly
Good Golly Miss Molly and boats
Hammersmith Palais, the Bolshoi Ballet
Jump back in the alley, and nanny goats

Eighteen-wheeler Scammels, Domineker camels
All other mammals plus equal votes
Seeing Piccadilly, Fanny Smith and Willy
Being rather silly and porridge oats

A bit of grin and bear it, a bit of come and share it
You’re welcome, we can spare it, yellow socks
Too short to be haughty, too nutty to be naughty
Going on forty, no electric shocks

The juice of the carrot, the smile of a parrot
A little drop of claret – anything that rocks
Elvis and Scotty, the days when I ain’t spotty
Sitting on the potty, curing smallpox.”

To be honest, I could find few reasons to be cheerful in our pale first-half performance. I flicked through the programme and Ric Glanvill had written a great piece on the Dynamo game in 1945. A couple of great photos showed the sheer volume of spectators ( anything up to 125,000 ) plus the iconic shot of players such as John Harris, Len Goulden, Vic Woodley and Tommy Lawton clutching posies of flowers. What an iconic photograph. I’m sure you have all seen it. There was also a Q&A with our most famous Russian player, Dmitri Karin, our respected goalkeeper from the ‘nineties. He is now a goalkeeping coach at Luton town. I remember him famously saving a penalty against Viktoria Zizkov in 1994, our first European away game since 1971. He also played in the 1994 F.A. Cup Final.

The programme detailed our complete European record at Stamford Bridge and it really is phenomenal.

Played – 80
Won – 56
Drew – 20
Lost – 4

The game was being shown live on ITV1, one of our main channels, but I imagined thousands flicking through their TV guides on the back of the paucity of entertainment on offer in the first half. However, this became the hackneyed “game of two halves” with Chelsea hitting the net on four occasions in the second period. Nicolas Anelka was sent through, but I didn’t give him any chance of hitting the target from such a tight angle. Indeed, after he shot, the ball hit the side netting.

No – wait? Everyone else apart from Alan and me were cheering and Anelka was seen celebrating by running over to the far corner. This came as a complete surprise to me and I hardly celebrated, I was so shocked. This probably goes down as being the “least celebrated opening goal” in 36 years of Chelsea games. For the second goal, Didier tussled with the right back in that corner of the penalty box below me and I had a great view of his utter strength. It was amazing to see up close. What an ox.

An errant challenge, a penalty kick, two-nil to The Champions.

The Stamford Bridge faithful was surprisingly quiet all night – you knew that, right? However, we sang the old classic

“Che Sera Sera
Whatever Will Be, Will Be
We’re Going To Wembley
Che Sera Sera.”

The Cup Final song with a new European twist.

It was nice to see the three youngsters get some time on the pitch as the game progressed. With millions watching at home, some great PR for the club, too.

My camera was playing up all evening – very annoying – but I captured Ivanovic’ second goal in five days on film. However, the image was blurred and there is a white smudge from his forehead…to be honest, the image is pretty effective, though. He celebrated wildly by sliding on his knees into the arms of Didier, who I think had supplied the cross. We peppered the Moscow goal with a few late chances.

I noted that the Russian fans were doing the same as the Marseille fans – splitting themselves into two groups and chanting at each other. Meanwhile the middle of The Shed and the west side of The Shed were quiet.

We then went to sleep to allow a rapid Spartak break and a close-range goal. Not to worry, that man Ivanovic soon popped up with the fourth. A crazy game.

I briefly met up with Bill outside the Ossie statue and he had enjoyed the game. Parky, Bob, Wes, Sergey and myself met up at The Lily Tandoori at 10pm and we spent ninety minutes chatting away over some curries as the tube-strike induced traffic slowly moved outside. It was a time for celebration for Wes as he has recently nabbed a job as a schoolteacher in Ealing. He will be around for a while yet – after the Double last season, his sabbatical in west London is looking to be a perfect period in his life. Sergey tried a chicken tikka masala and it was his first taste of the English national dish. We spent a while debating if we had qualified for the final sixteen, but the football seemed to be of secondary importance on this particular night. From the gathering of the clans in The Goose to the curry after the game, it was all about laughter amongst friends to be honest.

We said our goodbyes – I’ll be seeing The Bobster on Friday – and departed at 11.30pm. Parky was soon asleep and the 110 miles were eaten up in double-quick time.

A double header coming up – Frome Town vs. Clevedon Town and Liverpool vs. Chelsea.

Reports to follow.

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