Tales From The Only Team In London

Chelsea vs. Arsenal : 3 October 2010.

This was another manic whirl-wind of a match day at Stamford Bridge – a frantic twelve hours overflowing with travel, chat, laughter, friends and football.

It was a wet and windy Sunday morning and there was considerable “debris” on the road into Frome, following a rough old Saturday night, with small branches and leaves littering the roads. The leaves have started to turn colour over the past week and this felt like a proper autumn day. I collected Glenn and his first words were –

“Yep, it’s a day for the big jackets.”

We picked up Lord Parky and we headed east on the M4, the spray on the motorway making driving a little tiresome. The pre-match vibes were good. We didn’t exactly dismiss Arsenal’s threat out of hand, but we all agreed that we had enough in our collective locker to win the day’s game. Two words alone would strike fear into the Arsenal psyche –

Didier Drogba

It was a very busy pre-match. After a quick breakfast, we left Parky to head into The Goose when it opened at midday, but Glenn and myself hot-footed it down to The Bridge where the clans were gathering. As I turned the corner and headed towards the West Stand, I was able to spot the Peter Osgood statue for the first time. It certainly dominates the West Stand forecourt and quite right too. The statue stands centrally, beneath the club crest, looking out. Initially I thought the body was spot-on, but the face wasn’t that great. However, as I looked at it later, I realised that it was a pretty reasonable likeness. The most important person to judge is The King’s widow Lynn and her praise has been well documented. That’s good enough for me. We met Jules and Steve outside the West Stand, cowering from the rain, then four NYBs soon appeared in the mist – Mike, Stan, Pat and Linda. We then collected the brothers John and George and headed up to spend thirty minutes or so in the Copthorne Hotel. “Kent Blues Gill” was there too…handshakes all round. I acted as cameraman as several group photos were taken of everyone with Ron Harris, Peter Bonetti and Bobby Tambling. Most of “the guests” got to speak with the three Chelsea legends, if only for a few seconds. John especially was bowled over by being able to chat to these former players. A slight glitch with a ticket for John was eventually sorted via a few transatlantic phone calls and all was good.

However, one sight in the hotel bar made me see red ( and blue. )

Two numpties were stood across the way, each wearing Chelsea leisurewear, but with Chelsea / Arsenal friendship scarves tied around their necks. I am not a violent person ( and for those of a delicate disposition, please look away now ), but I was sorely tempted to march over and bang their two heads together, causing severe and lasting pain to them both for the rest of their sad lives.

Instead, I glowered at them as I descended the elevator.

We all heard The Goose calling. I popped back to take a few snaps of the Peter Osgood statue and John and George took photos by the new Chelsea Collage on the perimeter wall. By the time we reached the pub, the place was unsurprisingly rammed, but still offering the best value for pre-match tipples at Chelsea for miles around. I spent my time flitting between the bar, The Bing in the pub and the US guests in the beer garden. The Bing were awash with the usual assortment of Henri Lloyd, Lacoste, CP, North Face, Barbour and the like and I noted that we had all made a “special effort” for Arsenal. The City vs. Newcastle game was on TV, but I gave it a wide berth. In the far corner of the beer garden, we were discussing the rivalry between the Red Sox and the Yankees ( friendship scarves anyone? ), the Ossie statue, the phenomenon of UK-based JCLs, the predilection of Americans to annoyingly quote complete passages of “Monty Python”, John and George’s overuse of the word “Dude”, a host of various Chelsea games from the past and – for a brief moment – Shakespeare.

“Two nil or not two-nil, that is the question.”

All of the NY guests were over for just this one game – a fine effort! Linda’s one previous game at The Bridge was the Wigan 8-0 game last May. I probably said something like “you lucky so-and-so.” Glenn and myself spoke about or friendship which goes back to 1977 and John was lapping up our stories from the past. Parky and his Famous Crutches appeared on the scene and I feared for the two girls who were in our little group. He didn’t disappoint –

“I’m Parky – kiss, kiss.”

As we left, I realised that the rain had stopped and the sun was trying hard to break through. I walked down to the ground with Daryl and we spoke about Bobby Tambling, who scored some 52 more goals than Ossie, but is not well known outside the Chelsea support. He was a fine player in his own right. But it just goes to show how highly Peter Osgood was regarded by us all that Ossie was “the star of that great team,” as the song goes, by quite some margin.

There were a couple of articles about Peter Osgood’s involvement in Chelsea vs. Arsenal games in the match programme, but the game I always remember was the 1973 F.A. Cup quarter-final between the two teams. This is the very first game that I can remember being excited about before it took place. I was seven…my friend Andy Cox ( who I bumped into last week, the first time since about 1992 ) was an Arsenal fan and I was Chelsea. Not sure about the quantity nor quality of the banter in the week before, but I can remember that Arsenal went 1-0 and 2-1 up, only for Hollins ( I think ) and Peter Osgood to equalise. It ended 2-2 and I well remember watching the highlights on TV that evening. Then, on the following Wednesday, I can remember being allowed to stay up to watch the BBC News at 9pm to see brief glimpses of the replay at Highbury. We lost 2-1 and I was heartbroken. But Ossie had the last laugh. On Cup Final day ( when Sunderland beat Leeds United 1-0 ), I can vividly remember that Peter Osgood’s volley at The Bridge was voted “Goal Of The Season.” And there he was – my hero – standing in the TV studio amidst a massive pile of envelopes and postcards with the correct answer and it was Ossie’s job to pick a winner.

I got to hear my hero speak – this was all too much!

We love you Ossie.

There was the usual scrum to get in to the Matthew Harding, but I reached my seat just as the teams came onto the well-watered pitch. Alan and myself quickly scrambled down to the front of the upper tier and held by hand-made Peter Osgood banner aloft for a minute or two. I was hoping that Sky might spot it, but I think it went unnoticed. The US guests were huddled together in the Shed Lower, by the SW corner flag and Mike soon texted me to say he had snapped the banner as it was held aloft.

We weren’t sure if Zhirkov or Ramires would complete the midfield, but Carlo Ancelotti chose the latter. I noted just two Arsenal flags – pathetic.

Within thirty seconds, a Chamakh header flew at Cech’s goal and, from the resultant corner, another header was put over the bar. This seemed to set the tone for the early exchanges. Arsenal – as they do – moved the ball around at will and we seemed to be content to give them space. An Arshavin screamer was saved by Cech, at full stretch, but Arsenal were generally reluctant to shoot. A Nasri shot went narrowly wide, but Cech was largely untroubled.

Didier bore down on the Arsenal goal in the inside-right channel on 34 minutes, but could only force a save at the near post. However, we were getting in to the game and five minutes later, Ramires won a tackle, then slid in Ashley Cole with a perfect pass behind the full back. In front of the Arsenal support, Ashley slid a ball in. Didier arrived and I’ll be honest – I didn’t know how he did it, but I soon saw the ball nestling inside the far post.

We erupted – and I immediately thought of our trans-Atlantic guests being able to see the players celebrate right down in the SW corner.

With the news that Blackpool had won at fellow relegation strugglers Liverpool, the place was buoyant at the break. Lynn and Darren Osgood came on to the pitch to a warm reception and then Neil Barnett walked Erland “Moon Man” Johnsen around the pitch to an equally fine show of affection.

It was more of the same in the second period. Lots of Arsenal possession and mounting nervousness all around me. Arsenal were again goal-shy though and it was Chelsea who managed to carve out the more clear cut chances. Ramires was growing with each passing minute, but Mikel and Essien were the real stars in my eyes. The destructor Mikel, so strong and determined and looking more and more settled in our midfield. The rampaging Essien, no tackle too hard, no challenge too tough, no foraging run too difficult. Ramires set Didier Drogba off with the ball of the game, a delightfully paced pass using the outside of his foot, curving beautifully into Drogba’s run on the left.

Anelka sensed frailty in the centre of the Arsenal defence and pestered the defender into losing the ball. He calmly approached Fabianski, rounded him but then inexplicably hit the side netting. Anelka then lofted the ball into the path of Cole, but his shot into the net was ruled offside. It looked level in our eyes, but maybe we are biased. Chamakh had another clear header, but headed over.

Then, a free kick about thirty yards out. Drogba had taken a few free-kicks during the game, to no avail. The crowd were again bellowing for Alex. I pulled my camera up to my eyes and focussed on the ball. I widened the lens a little to spot Alex’ advance and waited.

A blur of blue – snap! – and I pulled the camera away from my eyes.

The ball flew.

It was a bludgeoning hammer, a swerving thunderbolt, a screaming torpedo. I gasped at its ferocity and, as the back of the net bulged, Stamford Bridge roared like hardly ever before.

A roar from me too, then I honed in on Alex on his run towards the West Lower.

Snap, snap, snap, snap. The look on John Terry’s face as he jumped on top of the huddle of players was really fantastic…one of absolute pleasure. I looked up and the Arsenal fans were leaving and it was another beautiful sight. The Chelsea fans, I felt, had been too nervous to fully get behind the team in the way I would have liked, but we soon made up for it. With the Arsenal support speeding for the exits we bellowed –

“One Team In London, There’s Only One Team In London – One Team In London, There’s Only One Team In London.”

I’m sure you all heard us.

We even had time for a few more good goalscoring chances in the dieing embers of the game, but 2-0 would be enough. What a fantastic result.

As we drifted past the Peter Osgood statue, the fans serenaded him once more and a Chelsea tradition was surely borne there and then. After every game – win, lose or draw – let’s do the same.

We sat in traffic for ages and ages, listening to the moaning Gooners on “606” – but we could almost share their frustration. They do play some good stuff, up until the penalty box, but they desperately need a 25-goal per season striker. They miss Thierry Henry and the current team is a pale shadow of the 2003-2004 team. Why Wenger doesn’t spend is a real mystery and I can sense that the Arsenal fans are losing their patience. The three of us, maybe typically underestimating our performance, had recognised Arsenal’s superior possession and were pleasantly surprised by the radio commentator’s praise of both our strength and Arsenal’s weaknesses.

Parky made a comment that we had “chiselled out a win” and I think this was a fine summation. We had defended deep, content with our defensive abilities – JT’s positioning was superb all game – and were far more direct when we attacked. With that, Parky slumped and fell asleep, his exertions taking its toll. Glenn soon joined him, leaving me to steer the ship home.

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