Tales From West London

Chelsea vs. Newcastle United : 22 September 2010.

Oh boy – on Saturday, I was trying to remember the last team to score against us at Stamford Bridge.

After three weeks of no Chelsea games for me, I’m now in the middle of a “four games in ten days stretch.” Busy times. I do love football at this time of the year, especially the mid-week matches, where the fading sun provides a lovely backdrop to the evenings’ entertainment.

I was able to leave work at just after 4pm. Unfortunately, the 96 miles to HQ took over two and a half hours due to congestion around Heathrow airport. As is usually the case, Parky and myself spent the time chatting about all sorts. We talked about the current TV mini-series “This Is England ‘86” which is an exceptional follow-up to the Shane Meadows film of a few years back. Gritty working class drama with magnificent characters, plus some unforgettably dark humour too. A shame there is just one episode left.

We drove past Brentford’s Griffin Park, where Everton – The Toffees – had become unstuck the previous night.

There is an advertisement for Lucozade ( an energy drink ) which has reappeared on this stretch of the elevated section of the M4. It was originally torn down in 2004 – and I hated the fact it had disappeared, as I always used to look out for it on our pilgrimages to Chelsea as a kid. It seems that other people missed seeing it, too, as there has been a warm response to it appearing in February, albeit in a location 200 yards away from the original. It brought a “whoop” of joy from Parky, Glenn and myself when we spotted it for the first time last season. I’m sure there are ex-pats living around the world will enjoy seeing it over the years too, on their taxi cab rides from London Heathrow.

Welcome back!

Parky usually has around ten classic “Chelsea stories” which get aired every few weeks.

“Yeah, I remember you telling me” never seems to work as he launches into yet another repeat of Nottingham Forest 1985, Watford 1981 or Preston North End 1980. However, a new story – a new story, I tell you! – had me laughing as we approached Hammersmith, the clock ticking towards 7pm. He told me the story of a game over the Christmas period back when he was in his ‘twenties and a gang of Chelsea travelling up by train from Trowbridge, standing in the area by the buffet, knocking back cans of lager and getting stuck into some riotous and aggressively non-PC Chelsea songs of the time. They were making a hell of a racket. However, every time the doors swished open and a family with small children appeared, they immediately switched to singing Christmas carols. I quickly imagined the scene –

“The famous Tottenham Hotspur went to Rome to see the Pope and this is what he said – Ding Dong merrily on high, in heaven the bells are ringing.”

“Spurs are on their way to – Old King Wenceslas looked out on the feast of Stephen.”

“Chelsea here, Chelsea there, Chelsea every – away in a manger, no crib for a bed.”

We were parked up at the usual spot at around 6.45pm and we hot-footed it to the beer garden of The Goose, where we bolted down a pint apiece. To be honest – and this happens quite a lot – the game against the Geordies hadn’t occupied too much of my mind since Sunday and I was more focussed on the trip to Eastlands on Saturday. Burger would be travelling with me for that one and was on the look out for another ticket for Julie. Luckily – very luckily – Rob happened to mention that Millsy had a spare…a few texts and phone-calls later, we were sorted.

We were only in the pub for twenty minutes. The place didn’t seem as busy as it is for weekend games…Parky and myself really wondered if we’d get anywhere near a full house, despite the ?20 tickets across all areas.

I picked up a match programme and flicked through the pages on the quick approach to the Matthew Harding. My attention was drawn again to the piece by Rick Glanvill detailing a game from our history.

October 25th 1980 – Chelsea 6 Newcastle United 0

This was a game I well remember – this was my eighteenth Chelsea game and I travelled up from Frome with my father, his former boss ( a cousin of the great English comedian Kenneth Horne ) and two school friends…Pete ( Manchester United ) and Kev ( Tottenham Hotspur ). It was a magical day as Chelsea played some really excellent stuff on that autumn day some thirty years ago. Colin Lee nabbed a hat-trick and we played with two old-fashioned wingers for the first time in a while. It really was a 4-2-4 formation, with Phil Driver and Peter Rhoades-Brown providing the crosses for Lee and Clive Walker. We were rampant against a team which included Chris Waddle in one of his first games. Our legendary ‘keeper Petar Borota was playing for us and I remember a particularly acrobatic save at The Shed in the first-half when it was 0-0.

An extra bonus was the fact that the TV cameras were present. At Sunday’s game, Rob mentioned the buzz we used to get back in those times when we used to get to The Bridge and see the TV cameras in position.

“Great – we’ll be on the highlights this weekend!”

The fans of today live in a different world.

I remember quite a bit from the game. In the 1974 to 1980 period, we used to watch from the lower tier of the East and on this occasion we were behind the away bench, maybe eight rows back. The Newcastle manager at the time was Arthur Cox and my cheeky mate Pete took great pleasure in shouting “Cox out! Cox out! Cox out!” when we were scoring our last few goals. To accompany Rick’s piece in the programme, there were around four black and white photos from the game…annoyingly, in one photo, we are out of shot by a matter of yards. I remember that Gary Chivers’ goal was selected as one of the Goals Of The Season in 1980-81 by the BBC and we could be seen in the build-up. There I am in a green jacket and a blue and white bar scarf around my neck. At the time, it was the best game I had seen, despite it being a second division encounter.

I texted Pete and he replied “Great – happy days” and we then exchanged some texts as the Chelsea vs. Newcastle United and S****horpe United vs. Manchester United games were played out. Pete is a great friend – my oldest – and he actually played against me in my first-ever 11-a-side game in the autumn of 1974. Where does the time go?

Another mate called Pete – a Newcastle fan from S****horpe – was in touch during the evening, too. Everyone keeping in contact, the football uniting us all – perfect.

I was amazed that it was another full house. Well done everyone. The away fans resembled a big jar of mint humbugs in the corner opposite. I noted a TV gantry positioned on the balcony wall above the away fans in the Shed Lower – I’ve never seen one there before.

“Great, we’re on TV!”

I noticed a new banner in the MHU – “History Makers.” This must’ve been the winner in the CSG competition I believe.

No complaints with the team selection – a nice mix of youth and experience.

But what a crazy game.

We began very brightly and scored yet another early goal, from a lovely finish from Van Aanholt. However, the immense and bulky frame of Sol Campbell soon retaliated with a header which flew past Ross Turnbull’s right post.

A warning sign.

However, we were playing some nice football in the opening fifteen minutes, with Benayoun especially making some nice runs and looking as though he was energised by the night’s encounter.

Pete The Geordie texted me –

“Scunny One Up – Come On!”

This piece of good news was not mirrored at The Bridge as Newcastle got back into the game and lead 2-1 at the break. Defensive frailties resulted in an equaliser on 26 minutes. Ameobi had an incredible “air shot” soon after and then an awful defensive wall failed to stop a bullet of a free-kick from Taylor. Ameobi was clean through on 38 minutes, but Brouma did ever so well to thwart him with a great sliding tackle.

There was a full moon arcing its way through the night sky as the game progressed and I took quite a few photographs…I’m not saying the football was that bad, though!

Moans and groans from the home support at the break.

Despite his links – on two separate occasions – with Spurs, Gus Poyet was given a superb reception at half-time.

“Poyet – There’s Only One Poyet.”

Into the second-half and two substitutions – Alex for JT and Kalou for a very quiet Gael Kakuta. However, an awful blunder at the back gave Ameobi a clean run before he placed a shot past Turnbull at The Shed End. We all thought Turnbull should have done a lot better.

Yet more groans.

On 53 minutes, Salomon Kalou pulled up as he was chasing a through ball. It annoyed me that not everyone clapped him off, nor clapped on his replacement Josh McEachran.

On 62 minutes, Yossi pulled up too. Oh hell – we were down to ten men.

After 64 minutes, Alex hit the post after following a free-kick which rebounded back off the wall.

And then it happened. With the team showing signs of being roused, the home fans turned up the volume with the best show of support I have seen this season at The Bridge. I was loving it and prayed that the team would sense the desire amongst our fans. An inch-perfect ball found Van Aanholt on an overlap and his first time ball was finished with glee by Nicolas Anelka. This was a spectacular bit of football and the crowd roared our approval.

“Come on Chelsea – Come on Chelsea – Come on Chelsea – Come on Chelsea.”

A few texts flew around as the game progressed, the noise increasing with every minute. We were all very impressed with substitute McEachren, who showed great poise and skill in that central midfield birth. Ramires, however, did not impress me with his passing…and Sturridge was poor too.

There was an amazing last ten minutes. On 85, Alex ( getting forward at every opportunity ) was fouled below me and a penalty.

Another roar.

I steadied myself and held the camera in place to capture Anelka’s impudent strike. The noise continued on and it was turning into an amazing game. Paolo Ferreira hit a stonking volley which crashed against the near post.

How would it end? I was preparing for extra time and penalties…

In the last minute of normal time, that man Ameobi glanced in a header from a corner and the ball nestled in at the far post. This was hard to take. Seeing the fans in that away segment bounce around like loons reminded me of a Les Ferdinand equaliser in the 95th minute of a FA Cup game in 1996. At this point, a lot of the home support decided to leave.

Why? Why? Why?

Six minutes of extra time was announced and this stemmed the flow of fans leaving. Big John thumped the balcony wall down below me and the supporters around me recommenced the chants which had so buoyed the team in the last twenty minutes.

We hoped and prayed.

It was not to be.

I texted a “well done” to Geordie Pete.

After the game, I collected the ticket for Manchester City outside the So Bar as the Newcastle fans trooped past – it had been their first win in any competition at The Bridge since November 1986. Good luck to them…there are teams in England I dislike more.

Parky and myself decided on a curry at the Garden Tandoori on the Lillie Road before we headed back along the M4 to Wiltshire and Somerset. It had been some game. We were concerned about the injuries we had sustained but the major plus points were the form of Josh McEachren ( when Frank hangs up his boots, he could be the man ) and our support which was loud and passionate.

When I eventually got home at 1.45am, I flicked on the TV and experienced a warm glow of schadenfreude when I saw that Liverpool had lost to Northampton in front of just 22,000 at Anfield.

“Oh dear”, I thought,” our obsession with Liverpool’s demise shows no signs of abating.”

Ho ho ho.

We reconvene at Eastlands at 12.45pm on Saturday.

See you all there.

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