Tales From The Big Easy

Chelsea vs. Blackpool : 19 September 2010.

With the Stoke City game a distant memory, the Blackpool match couldn’t come quick enough for me. Three weeks with no Chelsea game for me represented a real mid-season drought and the longest time I had “gone without” since late summer in 2003, when my mother’s ill health resulted in me missing four home games. I can remember my huge pleasure at getting back into the swing of things with a game at Wolves and I realised then how much attending Chelsea games meant to me. Back in 2003, I had missed the first three weeks of the Abramovich era – who were all these new players? That Wolves game was a landmark game in my Chelsea life…I can’t put into words the joy I felt at seeing the team play again.

Back to 2010 and an extra bonus – my mate Glenn volunteered to drive up, so I was able to kick back and relax. He called for me at 10am, dressed like a spokesman for Quicksilver ( his VW van even had a Quicksilver logo ) and Lord Parky was collected by 10.30am.

We were on the road.

The first portion of the drive up to London was spent discussing some sad news that has befallen one of our fellow Chelsea mates. PD had been working for one of the many tarmac gangs of Frome ( due to the many limestone quarries in our home area, Frome seems to be the centre of the road-gang industry in southern England ), when a piece of heavy machinery crashed into his lower leg. Details are still a bit sketchy, but PD is in a Bristol hospital and has already had three operations in an attempt to save his ankle and foot. We haven’t seen much of PD at Chelsea games recently, but he is a well-liked member of our little crew and the news came as a massive shock.

Our thoughts and prayers are with him.

The usual drive up the M4…a bit of chat about the team’s form of late, some musings on the Hate Derby taking place at Old Trafford at lunchtime, we even – briefly – spoke about the Somerset county cricket team…surely a first. Somerset are the “nearly men” yet again this season…the team lost two one-day finals this year, but also missed out on a first county championship in 135 years ( you think the Cubs have it bad! ) to Nottinghamshire. Both teams finished level on 214 points, but Notts won one more game during the season. I can’t say I’m a cricket fan, but I was gutted that my county lost out yet again. I played cricket for my school during the summer of 1980 and I was constantly reminded of the adage that the sport is “9 parts complete boredom and 1 part complete terror.” My maternal grandfather was the cricketer in my family and he was quite the sportsman, playing for my village cricket and football teams.

I had only ever seen Blackpool play once before – a game way back in the autumn of 1975. It was my fourth Chelsea game and the first one in the old second division. My parents were with me and we also invited my Uncle Geoff – a Spurs fan – from the nearest village to attend too. I remember little of the game, except the distinctive tangerine of the away team, plus players Bob Hatton and Mickey Walsh. We won 2-0…the most memorable part of the day was when Tommy Langley came off the bench to score the second goal. He ran straight back towards the bench from the North Stand end and, as our seats were right behind the Chelsea bench, it appeared that Tommy was running straight towards us. His face was a picture, his arms were outstretched and, for a moment, I thought he was running straight towards me to give me a hug. Mum took a shine to young Tommy from this moment and he was her favourite Chelsea player for many a year. I reminded Tommy of my Mum’s infatuation with him when I first met him a few years back. Lovely memories, eh?

12.30pm Glenn had parked his van on Bramber Road.

The usual start to the day in Chelsealand…breakfast, then into the boozer. Reg the landlord must have found his feminine side as the pub was festooned with colourful hanging baskets.

With the United vs. Liverpool game on Sky, the pub was rammed and the twelve or so of my mates were huddled together in a corner. There were five or six Blackpool fans on the next table and there was no trouble. I nipped out to get a “Get Well Soon” card for PD which we all duly signed. I showed a few of the lads some of my photos from my recent trip to Philadelphia and spoke with Daryl about my visit to Yankee Stadium, then our proposed “50th Birthday Bash” to NYC in 2015…we hope to see the Mets vs. Yankees series that summer as it coincides with our fiftieth birthdays, plus Daryl’s brother Neil too. That promises to be a memorable holiday, no doubts.

The United goals were met with stony silence, but the pub erupted when Gerrard’s too goals were scored. Then silence again on 84 minutes.

Pah.

Alan spoke of the enjoyable trip to Slovakia during the week. He said that they spent a few moments in the bar at the Holiday Inn, where the team were staying. Dutch Mick had walked over to Patrick Van Aanholt and spoke to him in Dutch. Florent Malouda appreciated this show of fraternity and apparently bought Dutch Mick ( who is originally from London ) a bottle of wine as a “thank you.” It is not known how many times Dutch Mick mentioned the phrase “for sure” in his dialogue with Patrick.

Mike from the New York Chapter – in his trademark shirt from last season – showed at about 2.30pm and I showed him the US photos too…it didn’t seem real that we had met up in a bar in Greenwich Village only ten days earlier. Then Burger and Julie called in, full of pleasing stories of how they are acclimatising to life in Staffordshire, duck.

On the walk to The Bridge, I read with interest in the programme about a 21 year old “avid” Chelsea fan from Lancashire, who was attending her first ever game.

Avid, eh?

I had to wonder why she never saw us play at Manchester United in 1995, Bolton in 1997, Blackburn in 2003, Wigan in 2005 or Burnley this year?

Just before the teams entered the pitch, there was a moment’s applause in honour of the late Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur forward Bobby Smith, who played for us in the ‘fifties. The away corner in The Shed housed the eager Blackpool support and they resembled the orange-clad hordes of Nicosia from last season. Just two flags, though.

What a first-half.

We only had to wait two minutes for the opener. We played the ball around with ease and I think Blackpool’s only touch was the hoof out for the resultant corner. Drogba whipped the ball into the six yard box and Kalou smashed it in.

Here we go again.

On eleven minutes, a strong run and endearingly unselfish play from Drogba set up Malouda with a sweeping ball into the goal area which was inch perfect in its execution. Malouda couldn’t miss – and didn’t.

I unfortunately was in the middle of a comfort break when our third goal was scored, a Drogba deflected goal after nice work by The World’s Best Left Back.

Oh boy – coasting.

As Drogba came deep to help defend, Glenn piped up –

“Drogba…what are you doing back there?”

With that, he won the ball easily, advanced and spun a delightful ball into the path of Kalou with the outside of his foot. Kalou sent in a ball to Malouda and we were four goals to the good. Alan and myself had great pleasure asking Glenn –

“You were saying, mate?”

Every attack was a joy to behold. Each time we broke, I sat back and wondered “how will we create a goal scoring chance this time?” What a goal scoring run we are on at the moment and long may it continue. Amazing times in our history…and all this without Messrs. Anelka, Lampard and Terry.

At half-time, I heard a PA announcement and I recognised a mate’s name. Steve works for a former supplier of our company and his name was announced as part of a treat his wife had arranged for him – he was watching in one of the executive areas of the West Stand. It reminded me of when I was a child and my parents would often write in to Chelsea DJ Pete Owen and I would often get my name read out on the “Pre-Match Spin” show. The first time this happened – it may well have been the Blackpool game in 1975 actually – I remember being very embarrassed, with me thinking that everyone in the stadium was aware it was me.

Dennis Wise was on the pitch at the break.

I’ll be honest, the second-half was a let down, but we are – of course – so splendidly spoilt these days. To be fair, Blackpool – spurred on by the deep Bristolian twang of Ian Holloway – put on a good show and tested Petr Cech on a few occasions. They did well and played it on the floor, probing away. We are so lucky these days – even the less successful teams play it on the grass, unlike the “route one” football employed by many teams back in the grim ‘eighties. In those days, teams like Sheffield Wednesday and Wimbledon would start every attack with a hoof up the field from a ‘keeper, there would be a midfield scramble, the ball would break to a full back who would then chip it up into “the channels.” A further heading duel would ensue, then possession would be lost.

Back in those days, the atmosphere at games was better, but the football could be bloody awful.

The away fans mainly stuck to their “This Is The Best Trip I’ve Ever Been On” chant throughout the game and it certainly seems to sum up their Premiership experience perfectly. They’ll probably get relegated, but I’m sure they will have fun along the way. There will be as many ups and downs for them this season as a rollercoaster on their famous Pleasure Beach.

We took our foot off of the pedal in the second-half and, looking back, it seemed inconceivable that we didn’t score any more. We had a typical Kalou one-on-one fluff on 63 minutes, a Malouda volley was palmed over on 64 minutes and Ashley Cole annoyingly decided to take an extra touch with his favoured left peg on 75 minutes when he really should have slammed it in with his right.

The World’s Best Left Back Who Can’t Kick With His Right Foot.

On 86 minutes, Drogba blazed over.

The finishing was so woeful that I am convinced I saw Alan Mayes miss an open goal on 73 minutes, Teddy Maybank head the cross-bar rather than the free ball on 85 minutes and Dave Mitchell fall over his feet in the last minute when clean through with only the ‘keeper to beat. Blackpool then scored a consolation goal via a Graham Wilkins own goal at the death. What a strike. He doesn’t miss from there.

Our support had become pretty docile as the game progressed. We had only been momentarily roused on a few occasions. I think we need a stern test to re-focus ourselves…we have had it too easy. Manchester City next Saturday will be just about perfect.

As I joined the buoyant crowd on the Fulham Road – even the Seasiders looked happy – I enjoyed a bit of banter with a colleague by phone who is an “avid” Manchester United fan. He commented that we had enjoyed the easiest start to a new season he had ever seen.

I replied –

“True. We haven’t played Everton or Fulham yet.”

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