Tales From Our Attempt To Win A Hat Trick Of F.A. Cups

Chelsea vs. Ipswich Town : 9 January 2011.

What a beautiful sunny Sunday morning. As I left the house, the sky was completely devoid of clouds and there was a lovely bite to the winter air. However, on the 30 minute drive to collect His Lordship from Parky Towers, my car was sliding on black ice. It was the worst I had ever known to be honest.I soon heard on the radio that there had been many accidents overnight and in the first few hours of Sunday morning. My other route up to The Smoke, the A303, was closed in Hampshire due to a smash. Not to worry, once I got onto the A350 and the M4, the dodgy road conditions were behind me.

On the Saturday evening, we had both attended a 50th birthday party for Andy, a Chelsea fan from Trowbridge, who I first met in 1984. He is mentioned, in fact, in my little segment in Mark Worrall’s “Chelsea Here Chelsea There” book. It was a great night and a few Chelsea fans “of a certain age” were in attendance from the surrounding towns…I was flying the flag for Frome, Mark from Westbury was there, plus Les from Melksham, to say nothing of Steve, Ashley, Mick, Shep, Parky, Andy and Ally from Trowbridge. It made me think about my youth as a Chelsea fan in the Somerset and Wiltshire area. Certainly in Frome, there weren’t so many Chelsea fans around. The chosen few certainly stuck together…and once our travels to games broadened our experiences, the other local lads soon became friends. I think this is different to the fans – say, in Frome – of the big two teams of Liverpool and Manchester United. Of a school year of 200 boys, there were probably 20 United fans and I am guessing that, because United fans were so widespread, I bet there was no special bond. Why would there be? Chelsea fans however – rare in Frome, for example – clung together desperately. It was a case of strength in numbers. For example, at Frome College in 1981, there were no Chelsea fans in the sixth form, I was the only Chelsea fan in my year and there were four Chelsea fans in the two years below me. So, only five Chelsea fans in a school of 1,300 kids (there were no Chelsea female fans of course, which goes without saying…it was the ‘eighties.) And we knew who we were alright…Chris, Dale, Richie, Troy and Glenn. The Famous Five.

I saw Troy at our game at Ashton Gate in 1976, I saw Dale at games in the ‘eighties, I sit next to Glenn at games to this day but I think Richie didn’t use to go to Chelsea. But we knew of each other alright. I think fans of “lesser” teams always have that bond. With our appeal so much bigger today, I really wonder if that relationship is there for the youngsters in the Frome area. I personally doubt it. However, for us lot – plus PD, Dave and a few more – we’ll always stick together. I think that barren spell in the ‘eighties helped to forge this special friendship and long may it continue.

For the entire length of the journey to London, the sky remained clear and cloudless. I had a quick breakfast and then joined the boys in The Goose at 12.45pm. There was a good turnout for this F.A. Cup game with Ipswich Town. A few of the lads had their children in tow, lured by the cheap ticket prices. It was £25 for an adult for starters. Surprisingly, my home area was only represented by Parky and myself, but the Midlands was represented by Burger, Andy (plus 2 children), Jokka, Neil, Chopper (plus wife and 2 kids), the Home Counties by Daryl, Simon (plus 1 child), Rob, Russ and Gary and finally The Channel Islands by Chris ( plus 1 child). Towards the end, I met up with four from the North – Phil (plus 1 child) and Malcolm (plus 1 child), lads I see rarely these days, but acquaintances from a while back.

So – 24 all told.

A good show.

Guernsey Chris informed me that his son’s first game was against Ipswich in 2001 and he is yet to see us lose. That just goes to show how successful we have been in that period, eh? The United versus Liverpool game was on TV, but not many were paying too much attention – why would we? I mentioned to Gary that I would be soon approaching my seventh anniversary of consecutive Chelsea home games – the first game in this run was on January 18th. 2004 – but Gary puts me to shame. He has missed just one Chelsea first team home game since 1975. To be honest, there should be an asterisk on my run because I missed the first team friendly against Celtic in August 2006, but I’m not counting that (though, if I am honest, I ought to…) Now I have put all of my Chelsea games on a massive spread sheet, expect more and more of these little statistical nuggets over the season. You have been warned.

I’ve mentioned before that the F.A. Cup does not seem to have the allure of times past; despite which ever TV channel has coverage of the games informing us otherwise. Thirty years ago, F.A. Cup games would warrant an extra 25% on the gate, but these days, it seems that the Cup attracts 33% less. Except at Chelsea, where we play to sell out gates at virtually all games, much to my pleasure. However, this is no doubt due to the cheaper tickets at domestic cup matches…one of the best innovations of recent seasons at Chelsea.

With perfect timing, I reached my seat just as “The Liquidator” was rousing the support – after each musical break, “CHELSEA” was lustily bellowed by all and sundry. This was a good sign. I had hoped that our fans would rally behind the team, putting recent past performances to one side.

The team was a pleasing mixture of old and new. Cech in goal, Boso at right back, JT and Brana in the middle and the promising Van Aanholt on the left, a midfield of Frank, the improving Ramires and young Josh, with Kalo, Anelka and Sturridge in attack. No complaints there. Ipswich had 3,000 away fans but no flags.

The game began and we peppered the Ipswich Town goal in the first fifteen minutes, but Daniel Sturridge in particular was guilty of carelessness in front of goal. We were playing some nice stuff, with a couple of flowing moves and there was a good vibe inside The Bridge. However, Ipswich threatened us on 16 minutes with a quick break down our right. The resultant shot was blocked, but Petr Cech appeared to wind himself in the process. He lay prone for a while, but then rose to a loud roar. On 22 minutes, a lovely move found Studge but he decided to leave it for Anelka who took one more touch than was necessary and his low shot was cleared off the line. I held my head in my hands. Soon after, we got behind them and pulled the ball back for Frank in a Prime Time Position.

Frank slammed the ball over. Oh hell – don’t say it’s going to be one of those games!

More efforts went the same way – shots from McEachren and then Anelka flew over the Ipswich goal. Then, at last, a shot from Anelka and a scramble inside the six-yard box and Kalou prodded the ball over – he doesn’t miss from there!

Immediately after, a lovely early ball – fast and low, just like the doctor ordered – into the six yard box from Jose Bosingwa was adroitly flicked in by Sturridge. Get in you beauty. That goal had the entire crowd on its feet. More was to follow – on 38 minutes, a bad tackle on JT and from the Lampard free-kick, the ball was flicked by an Ipswich Town defender into his goal and we were 3-0 to the good.

Phew – things were going well. The only downer was the relatively tough away draw in Round Four – yet another cup tie against Everton. Why does Chelsea always seem to draw the same teams in all cup competitions? How many more bloody times do we have to play Everton, Liverpool, Ipswich, Watford, Barcelona, Valencia and Porto? I was longing for an away game at Torquay, Orient, Burton Albion, Brighton…or Leeds United.

The bloke next to Alan looked a source of much amusement. As is the way with a lot of our supporters these days, he was silent for all of the first-half…throughout the game, he was listening to a radio via a set of little earphones and of course Alan and I suggested a comic reason for this. You know how we operate by now, eh? I suggested that rather than listen to the roar of the crowd and be involved, he was listening intently to the shipping forecast (probably the most boring piece of radio, ever). That then gave Alan and me the chance to air some truly horrendous puns about the various shipping areas, and out of respect to you all, I won’t repeat any of them.

Ex-Chelsea and Ipswich Town striker Kevin Wilson (Willo) was on the pitch with Neil Barnett at the break.

Rather than sit on our laurels, we kept going after the break and we were soon rewarded with a magnificent goal from Nicolas Anelka. After a quick interchange, he struck a lovely low shot from an angle which entered the goal just inside the far post. A superb goal. Three minutes later, the rarest of things – not only a Daniel Sturridge shot with his right foot, but a Daniel Sturridge goal with his right foot. From a Lampard pass, a delightful curler flew into the goal and the crowd erupted again.

At 5-0, the Matthew Harding serenaded our manager –

“Carlo – give us a wave, Carlo, Carlo – give us a wave.”

Despite no Ray Wilkins being alongside to translate, Carlo sheepishly acknowledged the fans.

“CARLO! CARLO! CARLO!”

Then, a period of lovely confident football…McEachren caressing the ball and prompting others, Lampard strong in the tackle and intelligent with his passing, Anelka devilish – the Anelka of old – and Ramires continuing to impress. Over the past five games, I would suggest that John Terry and Ramires have been our most consistent performers.

After the close bunching of our goals, two more ensued within a minute…two Frank Lampard strikes (the first from the edge of the box, the second from two yards out) and the place was bouncing. Frank – admittedly against a lower class of opposition – appeared to be approaching his old form and looked a lot more at ease than at Wolves on Wednesday. This is marvellous news. To be quite honest, we could have scored a few more, make no mistakes. I remember Gael Kakuta blazing over towards the end. Shipping Forecast Man decided to leave, not surprisingly I suppose, with five minutes of the game left. I guess he had endured far too much excitement for one day.

So – seven nil.

The seventh time we have scored six goals or more in a game in the last twelve months. It was just good to be back on track, despite the poor quality of the opposition. A win is a win is a win.

I met up with Parky on the Fulham Road and he was rather bemused. Why? He had slapped £3 on us to win 6-0! He had missed out on £100.

A typical drive home – Fruit Pastilles, a Krispy Kreme doughnut and a Red Bull at Heston Services to give me enough sugar and caffeine to get home safe, then some anthems from my youth – Scritti Politti, Japan, China Crisis, Talking Heads, Kraftwork and Ultravox…and Parky asleep – no doubt trying his very best to erase the memory of Frank’s last goal.

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