Chelsea vs. Wolverhampton Wanderers : 23 October 2010.
I love going to football during the month of October – it feels like the football season is up to full speed, the European campaigns are shaping up, the English countryside is entering its most picturesque period and there is a lovely “nip” in the air. My parents used to guarantee me ”one game before Christmas and one after” and this would often result in a game at The Bridge in October. Back in the seventies, Dad used to park at Ealing Common and we’d get the Piccadilly Line in to Fulham Broadway. I have distinct memories of walking back across Ealing Common at around 6pm, the autumn light fading, my mind full of Chelsea memories from the game we had just witnessed and me kicking conkers across the common, maybe recreating a Garry Stanley pile-driver or a Ray Wilkins blast.
I collected His Lordship at 9am and we were soon heading east. I made the mistake of asking Parky about his army days as we passed Swindon and he was still talking about it as we reached Slough. We were parked at 11am and this was followed by a hearty breakfast and a quick spin around the corner to The Goose.
The usual faces began to appear over the next hour. I spoke with Mark from nearby Westbury and sorted out plans for Anfield. For once, I’m not driving and that will be a nice break for me. Of all the people I would meet in the pub, I’ve known Mark the second-longest. Let’s think…Alan 1984, Mark 1984, Andy D. 1984, Gary, 1989, Daryl 1991, Neil 1992, Frank 1993, Simon 1993, Andy B. 1994, Woody 1998, Parky 2001 and Rob 2006. My closest Chelsea mate ( Glenn 1977 ) wasn’t attending on this occasion. I hate it when work gets in the way of Chelsea. The Tottenham vs. Everton game was on the TV, but nobody was bothering with it. Simon’s son Milo ( 2000 ) was the centre of attention for a few moments…he’s growing up fast these days, his voice is breaking, he’s getting taller…I’m convinced he is noticeably different from the time I last saw him against Arsenal, merely three weeks ago. At his current rate of change, he’s going to have stubble on his chin by Birmingham away and a full beard by the time we play Villa at home on New Year’s Day. He was wearing a lovely Lyle and Scott navy pullover and has long outgrown the desire to cover himself in Chelsea / Adidas / Samsung leisurewear. He’s fitting in nicely with our little family of old school Chelsea die-hards. Milo mentioned his fashion favourites are Fred Perry, Lyle and Scott and Carrhart and I had the distinct impression that he made sure his father was in earshot. It’ll soon be Christmas after all.
The week had been dominated by all of the Rooney nonsense and I was still trying to work out all of the strange developments, the statements, the rumours and counter-rumours. One minute Ferguson appeared crestfallen, the next everything was rosy. I spoke with Parky and Alan about it. I just think it was just horrendous PR from United. I can’t believe that this was a plot by Ferguson and Rooney to engineer funds to become available from the board – especially since the name of Manchester United was dragged through the mud, Rooney’s reputation was hurt and the fans must have been let-down too. I can’t believe Ferguson would have sanctioned that. Let’s hope that the United dressing room is as confused by the events as I am. Let’s hope they continue to drop points. Anyway, that’s enough about United.
Schadenfreude has certainly been rife this past week or so…Liverpool are still in a state of self-inflicted turmoil, Manchester United have endured a nightmare spell and at 8.30pm on Wednesday, Tottenham were 4-0 down at the Giuseppe Meazza.
However, I was pretty dismayed to hear that Portsmouth were possibly playing their last game at Hull City, with their former owner demanding payment on monies owed. What a sad story. I just wish the FA would thoroughly overhaul their “fit and proper persons” check…however, I did make the point that football clubs have been run by useless chairmen for years and years. There’s nothing new in football. It’s just the scale of things these days.
2.30pm soon came around and we departed for the match. I noted to Parky that, apart from a quick comment about Didier Drogba coming back into the team, we had not spoken about the imminent game all day. I met up with Bournemouth Steve ( 2005 ), who was having Glenn’s season ticket for the day, outside the tube and we walked past the Peter Osgood statue on the way in to the Matthew Harding Upper. I bought an extra programme for our mate PD ( 1984 ) who is still in a poor way, struggling to come to terms with his horrific ankle injury. The programme contained confirmation of our Asian tour dates next summer – as it stands, I’m thinking about doing just the Kuala Lumpur and Bangkok games. I have a mate, originally from Frome ( the best footballer in my school year, in fact ) in Thailand and I’d like to spend some time with him and his wife. It would be rude to just call in for a couple of days. They were back in Frome in April and May, just as we were nearing the League title, and I promised them a visit over the next couple of years. With us playing in Bangkok, there are simply no excuses. I’ve never visited Asia – it ought to be a wonderful experience.
Yep, Drogba was back in the team. Good.
As the game began, I had the usual scan of the stadium to see what was going on. Wolves had 1,500 fans in the SE corner. The “Devizes-Wolves” flag was present again. In two weeks, a few of us are going to a Ron Harris and Charlie Cooke evening at a pub near Devizes and that promises to be a good craic. I noted that a few permanent banners had been repositioned…the Roy Bentley, John Terry, Frank Lampard and “Fulham Road” banners were now on the rear wall of the MHU. However, not a good move…lots of fans in the back row constantly stand during the game ( I know I would…) and so the banners are partly hidden. A re-think is needed there.
Wolves began brightly, but we then got into the groove. After 12 minutes, Jose Bosingwa made one of his trademark advances deep into enemy territory and was played in. He unleashed a low shot, but Marcus Hahnemann did well to divert it past his right post. I think everyone in the ground believed he had scored. After 18 minutes, we wondered why Drogba was lining up to take a free kick from about 40 yards out. Surely he should be in the box, for heaven’s sake. However, a great free-kick was played in to a leaping John Terry – completely unmarked – who then headed poorly wide. Wolves had a few attacks – a free header being the best chance.
A lovely move involving Nico and Yuri ended with a great ball being played into Florent Malouda. He was just perfectly positioned and coolly finished. I immediately thought of Danny, out in Rancho Cucamonga, whose first game at HQ last November was against Wolves and Malouda scored first in that game too. Like me, Danny used to get so frustrated by Malouda, but we both acknowledge his massive improvement in form. Soon after, Nico was clean through but shot wildly. He didn’t even hit the target. Despite the lead, the crowd were desperately quiet.
The Wolves fans bellowed “1-0 and you still don’t sing” and I sighed.
At the break, Neil Barnett paraded former Chelsea manager Tommy Docherty around the Stamford Bridge pitch and the applause was heart-warming. He’s now 82 years old, but looks very well. As he walked in front of The Shed, he crouched down and put his hand on the penalty spot – his own little homage to Peter Osgood.
At the start of the second period, Wolves substitute Stephen Hunt was gently reminded of the word with which his surname rhymes.
Soon after the second-half began, Yuri played in Ashley Cole on one of his world-famous overlaps. It was a delightful ball. However, with three on-rushing Chelsea attackers grouped together on the edge of the box, Ashley seemed to be unsure of which teammate to play in. The chance was lost. As the minutes progressed and as Wolves got more and more into the game, the agitation amongst the home support grew and grew. We were definitely restless. But still the crowd were quiet…only moans were heard, not rousing support.
Shots from Nicolas Anelka, Didier Drogba and Michael Essien were blasted high and wide.
A tremendous through-ball from Ivanovic was played into acres and acres of space for Didier Drogba. We held our breath and expected a goal. However, a poor touch from Drogba and the Wolves ‘keeper smothered the chance. Wolves peppered our goal, but Cech managed to be in the right place at the right time on all of the occasions that an attack developed.
More unrest. More anxious yelps. How we craved a second goal in order to kill off the Wolves threat.
I mentioned to Alan that JT was making more and more forward runs from defence – something I have noticed in recent weeks. This is something which would never have happened under Mourinho and – I have to be honest – I am not so sure I approve. However, I am sure that one day, maybe not for a few years yet, John Terry will go on a 30 yard run and hit an unstoppable shot into the net. Of all his career goals, I cannot remember a JT strike from outside the box.
Salomon Kalou came on for Florent Malouda on 72 minutes. Within ten minutes, a lovely move ended with a perfect pass from Michael Essien into the path of the substitute. Without blinking an eye, Kalou despatched the ball into the net…
“Thank Heavens For That.”
Not a great game, not a great performance. Our finishing was thoroughly atrocious. No attacking player warranted more than 6/10, though the defence was solid. Drogba was in one of his moods and was more miss than hit. On the way home, I dropped in to Reading Services and a Chelsea fan said that Wolves had been the better team. I simply couldn’t agree with that, but they had certainly given us a good game and looked much-improved from last season. Not to worry, teams tend to struggle after long trips back from Champions League games…after the arctic temperatures in Moscow during the week, at least we won. When I got home, I did some maths. Our last eight Premier League games at Stamford Bridge have all resulted in Chelsea wins. Eight in a row. How many goals have we scored in that run? A mighty thirty-two. How many goals have we conceded? None…none at all.
Our form at home is truly remarkable and I am convinced that the lack of a loud and constant support at home games these days is a direct result of this…we have grown bloated and spoilt as our victories have continued . To remind everyone, our last 126 league games at Stamford Bridge have resulted in just 3 defeats. There is every chance that there are many Chelsea fans who began watching us in the Spring of 2004 and have only seen us lose three times at home in the league. Is it any wonder that some fans think that success is easy – expected, almost – and so why should they bother to sing, shout and get involved? I very well remember the horrible boos last December after we “only” drew 3-3 with Everton. Factor in the obvious socio-economic changes in our support since 1996 and this is what we are up against, everyone. We are victims – atmosphere wise – of our own success.
I’m told we have sold over 3,500 tickets for the away game at Ewood Park next Saturday, so at least I’ll be amongst the more passionate element of our much-maligned support. I’ll be there with Burger and Julie ( 2006 ). There will be a certain poignancy about next week – I’d suggest the away game at Blackburn was the low point of last season. We had just lost at home to Inter, we had a grumbling post-mortem in The Fernhurst car park, United defeated Liverpool just before our game began and we only drew 1-1 against Rovers. I hated the drive home…we were adrift of United and time was running out. Here’s hoping for a better day out in Blackburn this season.
Be sure of one thing though – it will be raining.
You’ll need to bring your jacket – see you all in The Fernhurst.