Tales From Our Second Home

Chelsea vs. Aston Villa : 10 April 2010.

At work on Friday, I received a few emails and texts from a few mates, everyone anticipating the build-up and the game at Wembley. If had been a tough old week at work and nobody was looking forward to the day more than myself. With a full day of beer ahead, Parky and myself booked ourselves onto a train so that I didn’t have to worry about the drink / driving problem. I was relishing it all – I was buzzing on Saturday morning.

Clear blue skies, lovely weather – even at 8am.

We caught the 8.29am train from Bradford-On-Avon to Bath, then the 9.13am from Bath to Paddington. I very rarely catch the train these days, but it brought back some memories of those 1981-1984 games when I would catch trains from Frome and Westbury up to London. To be fair, it’s a lovely journey, passing through some nice countryside along the way. We expected the train to be full of Chelsea, but we were the only ones. We spotted two Villa in the next carriage. At Chippenham, we noted about ten young lads get on the train – all clobbered up, wearing football gear – but we couldn’t work out who they were supporting. We hadn’t seen them at Chelsea. We wondered if they were Swindon lads. It brought back memories of train trips down to London Euston from my college town of Stoke, when there were clearly football fans on the train, but nobody gave anything away…save for the odd half-inch pin badge, much beloved by all at the time.

Heading in to Reading, we passed along the side of the River Thames and it was a lovely scene, full of rowers, barges and riverboats. We spotted a football ground, enclosed and well appointed…it was the ground of Reading Town, a team I had never heard of. At the train’s busy station, more Chelsea joined us. Reading has always been a Chelsea stronghold.

Heading into Paddington, the spindly floodlights of QPR were spotted. I was remembering all of the sights from those trips on this line from my youth. I had a word with those ten casuals and it turned out that they were off with Swindon Town to Colchester United. They were good lads and were keen to hear of our views on the atmosphere at The Bridge these days, plus our general take on a few topics. They all came from Calne, a few miles from where I work, and clearly loved their footy – and their labels. Parky and myself saw a bit of ourselves in them.We wished them well.

Steve Azar, met us at Paddington and we were soon tucking in to a large breakfast at The Tyburn pub on Marble Arch. A few of the boys – the lads I often write about, the members of The Bing – were already there…we could feel the buzz of anticipation in the air already. Rob was already passing around the amaretto.

Wes soon joined us and we then headed off to the Duke Of York, ten minutes away, the classic London boozer on a street corner. It was a predictably enjoyable pre-match…we love this pub. It never gets too busy and the landlord always looks after us. More and more troops arrived. Chelsea historian Rick Glanvill was present and I had a quick word. I spent a large proportion of my time chatting with Steve and Wes about my particular take on what being a Chelsea supporter should be about. I think it’s my favourite subject. The previous weekend’s game at Old Trafford acted as a good reference point and a catalyst for some good blue-blooded discusion. Looking at the assembled masses flooding the pavement outside the pub, of around thirty people, only one replica shirt ( worn by a young boy ) was on show and Wes asked for Steve and my opinions on this. Clearly, the sub-culture of football in the UK is well-developed , getting fine-tuned and altering with each passing season. I joked with Steve that the first thing a new Chelsea fan wants to do is buy a replica shirt these days. I’d prefer new fans to buy books, buy DVDs, talk to fellow fans…find out what it really means to be Chelsea. I retold the story of a friend of a friend who met us at a pub in Frome to watch the Liverpool vs. Chelsea 0-0 game in 2005. He hadn’t been into football much as far as I could tell and clearly wanted to impress the three of us…he showed up wearing a Chelsea shirt. The look I gave my mate Glenn said it all. Suffice to say, this chap hasn’t shown any interest in going with us to games since, save for one solitary trip to Cardiff for a Community Shield game.

Beers were being ordered, conversations buzzing away, more friends were joining us. It was a lovely time.

Lacoste Watch

Milo – royal blue.
Andy – dark blue.
Simon – white.
Steve – white.
Daryl – orange.
Lord Parky – lemon.
Chris – buttermilk.

Wes darted off to meet Mo to collect his match ticket. We were then joined by Ashley – from San Jose – and her friend James – currently studying in Dirty Leeds – and I could relax. Everyone was accounted for. I dished out the remaining match tickets. James was 7-0 watching Chelsea…great stuff. We then made our way to Marylebone, a ten minute walk away. I raced ahead and took an “Abbey Road” photo of everyone crossing the road…or was it more like “Resevoir Dogs.” I said to Steve that we hadn’t spoken about the game once.

We caught the train from Marylebone to Wembley Stadium and this only takes ten minutes. I was nicely buzzing. We heard a few new Chelsea songs – pretty original actually – from a group of lads. On that slow walk up to the turnstile entrances, I found myself walking alone amidst some Villa, with some Chelsea lads to my right. All of a sudden, a shouting match started, then some pointing and gesturing, then a lone Villa fan waded into a group of Chelsea. The police – on horseback and on foot – arrived too late and I think the Villa fan came off the worse for wear. This sort of incident – spur of the moment, unplanned – is pretty rare these days. I went over to talk to one of the Chelsea involved –

“Come on mate, you’re too old for all this nonsense.”

I met Jonesy outside Entrance A and handed over the very last of my match tickets. We ascended the many flights of stairs and I then had to walk up to row 42 to reach my seat. We were four rows from the very top, along the side, opposite the royal box. My goodness, we were high up.

I was sat alongside Walnuts, Parky, Alan and Gary, friends from 1984 and onwards.

That first-half was tedious. As dire as it gets. I remember two Joe Cole efforts, lots of passing, no pace. Lots of players were slipping on the greasy surface.

The Villa fans were outsinging us. Lots more pointing and gesturing.

“Have you won a European Cup?”

“Where were you at Stamford Bridge?”

Lots and lots of empty seats…great clumps of empty seats in both Villa and Chelsea sections. The corporate areas were only 75% occupied. The FA should be proud of themselves.

At half-time, we heard rumours of the grass being kept long in order for a Saracens rugby union game next weekend. This was met with howls of complaint…Wembley is a football stadium…why can’t club rugby be played at Twickenham? The grass was kept long but then watered in order to allow the ball to be zipped, despite the long grass, but the result was a slow game with players slipping. All for rugby game in a week’s time. Pathetic.

I noted that it wasn’t until the 51st minute that the whole Chelsea support rallied as one –

“We All Follow The Chelsea – Over Land And Sea – And Leicester
“We All Follow The Chelsea – Onto Victory.”

To be fair, I got the impression our section was trying to get the singing going, but Villa were definitely the noisiest. Memories of that hideous 2008 Carling Cup Final.

Gary was berating a few players, frustration was creeping in…he mentioned the quoted Ancelotti game plan of waiting until Villa tire on about the 70th minute.

Well – game plan or not – it worked.

Goals from Didier Drogba ( how he loves Wembley ), Florent Malouda ( his second Wembley goal ) and Frank Lampard ( how he loves Wembley – his third Wembley goal ) gave us a 3-0 win in those last tewnty minutes. The first was a poke in from close range after a corner, the second was from the best move of the game and a sublime Ballack cross, the last one a classic Frank finish, cooly finding time for an extra touch before blasting home. The Villa support was silent after Didier’s goal and swathes of their support departed after Malouda’s. However, a few thousand Chelsea decided to leave at 2-0 too.

You can imagine my views on this. The five stalwarts in Row 42 glowered at those who “excuse me’d” past us.

It was a poor game, but we deserved to win it. The realisation of us getting to another FA Cup Final hit home and I was loving it. A few team photos, everyone happy. Parky and myself slowly walked down to the front rows of the upper tier and took a few cheesey photos of each other, bathing in the early London evening sun. We were some of the very last to leave.

We bumped into Steve, Ashley and James ( 8-0! ) outside and the usual hugs and kisses.

The line for the train was long, but the time soon passed. By 8.15pm, we were back in The Duke Of York, where the post party was in full flow. I was gasping for a drink and chose a couple of double G and Ts for a change.

How refined!

Rob was tucking into some nachos, Parky was hopping about, guzzling some Staropramen, plans were being made for The Final. The texts had been arriving too…”see you for the final,” “can you get me a ticket?”, “where are we sitting?” We spoke of The Double.

The Double!

Good times, everyone, good times.

We got back in plenty of time to catch the 9.30pm from Paddington. A couple of Villa fans were singing…I said to one –

“You outsung us, but we outplayed you.”

“Fair comment mate.”

Parky still had time to have an altercation with a trappy Millwall fan on the platform. Oh well. The mood was of quiet euphoria on the return back to Wiltshire…one more G and T, a chat with two Newcastle United fans who had been to Toon Town…Chelsea and Villa mingling in the buffet.

It had been a long day, but start making plans for Saturday 15th. May.

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