Chelsea vs. Manchester City : 20 March 2011.
Saturday had seen beautiful Spring weather in Southern England, mixed in with yet more faltering footsteps from our protagonists at the top of the table. When I awoke on Sunday morning, I was hoping for another pristine day – more clear skies and sunny weather please – and a continuation in our steady upturn in form. As I collected Glenn and Parky, the skies were a little less inviting than the previous day, but the buzz was there alright. We had a brilliant drive up to London, hardly pausing for breath as we discussed all sorts of topics. The chat continued over a Full English in the caff. Good vibes, good friends, good fun.
I left them to it and – yet again – sauntered off down to Stamford Bridge. This is a familiar routine for me these days. As I drive to 90% of all of the games these days, I need other distractions than drinking in a pub for three hours. I limit myself to just a couple of pints; any more would be silly. I met up with Mick The Autograph King and also had a little chat with Ron Harris, Clive Walker and Kerry Dixon. I collected a signed photo of Fernando Torres from Mick, plus I got Chopper to personalise a photo – “To The Philly Blues” – for 612Steve to get framed up and hang behind the bar at the meeting point of the Philly Chapter.
I breezed back down towards the pub, with the skies lightening and the sun slowly coming out. There were fans everywhere. Outside the tube, I brushed past the usual dozen or so touts plying their trade and I silently tut-tutted. Over at the CFCUK stall, Mark Worrall was wearing a Luiz wig. A quick “hello Cathy, hello Dog” and I was then on my way through Vanston Place, past the upmarket restaurants on the left, and then onto the more down-at-heel North End Road.
I joined the boys in The Goose at about 1.30pm and – of course – everyone was out in the ridiculously busy beer garden. Two pints of “Carling, me darling.”
Faces everywhere, conversations taking place, beers being quaffed.
Somebody asked me for my prediction of the day’s game.
“Two-nil, I reckon.”
The news soon came through from the ground that Fernando Torres had been paired with Salomon Kalou and nobody saw that coming. The general view had been another stab at the Drogba / Torres partnership…and I use that term loosely. It certainly hadn’t worked yet, but has to be the way forward this season. I had spoken to Glenn and Parky about Kalou on the way up in the car, in fact. Of course, everyone knows that Kalou isn’t the most liked of our players and I wondered if this was fair. At Chelsea – and I am sure we are not alone – we always seem to have a scapegoat. If it isn’t Kalou, it’s Mikel. However, in his defence, Kalou tries his best and keeps his head down. He never grumbles. Do fans really expect that Chelsea can maintain four top line A list strikers? There will always be room in our squad for bit-players, squad players, players that can be relied upon to come in and know they will play every third game. We know he’s infuriating, we know his choice of final ball often lacks judgement, but he fills a role for us. Out in the beer garden, a few more of my vocal friends were at it already – slagging him off – and the game hadn’t even started.
The pub was rammed and the beer garden too. It’s nothing special – dark brown brick walls surround a patio area with around ten low-lying benches and tables – but the pre-match chats are always nicer out in the fresh air than in the stifling and crowded pub itself. I had a quick chat with Jon and Lee, whom many on CIA know, plus Digger, his baseball cap laden with around 100 badges. This was our first foray out into the beer garden since the Arsenal game in October.
Our hibernation was over. We were out and about and lapping up the early Spring sun. At last, blue skies dominated. We were some of the last to leave the boozer – even though I was looking forward to the game, a little bit of me wanted to just stay there, chatting in our small groups, enjoying our friendships. Having a giggle.
We set off from The Goose at 3.30pm. By 3.45pm, we had all splintered off to line up at our various entrance turnstiles. By 3.55pm, I was inside and the two teams were being read out by Neil Barnett. There was the confirmation of the team – yep, it wasn’t a lie, Kalou in – and Tevez was out for our visitors. City only brought down 1,500 for this game. We always take 3,000 up to Eastlands. For all of their new found wealth, I can never hate Manchester City. They have suffered too much at the hands of their local rivals. Their support has always held up. I’ve always got on really well with their fans to be honest. They don’t take themselves too seriously and seem well grounded. They had a few flags and the largest one was in City sky blue, white and claret –
“MCFC – Warrington – Don’t Look Back In Anger.”
Elsewhere, it seemed like the home flags had multiplied. I spotted that a lot of the supporters clubs flags had moved from the East stand to the West stand. I noted the Motor City Blues flag down towards The Shed. There were others, but my vantage point was too far away for clarification of their origin. Along from me, a small flag was just visible on the MH balcony.
Who knows what this refers to? I know: just wonder if anyone else does. It’s a toughie.
I couldn’t miss the huge Pimlico “We’ll Never Be Mastered” flag on The Shed wall, too. It’s strange that we don’t have too many local flags at games these days – in fact I can only think of this one and a Battersea one – but this is confirmation of how our support really comes from the suburbs and beyond these days. Not many of the local populace in Lambeth, Battersea and Putney are Chelsea fans. A similar situation exists for Tottenham and West Ham too. For whatever reason, these more ethnically diverse populations are not match goers.
For five minutes before the game began, The Bridge was rocking to the sound of “One England Captain.”
On the cover of the programme, a lovely photograph of David Luiz, hair wild, after scoring against United recently. Inside, one game was featured in two separate articles. Firstly, our former striker Colin Lee spoke about his two goals during our 1986 Full Members Cup victory over Manchester City. Then, Rick Glanville dissected several photographs from that game twenty-five years ago. It brought back some memories alright. The Full Members Cup was the “brainchild” of our former chairman Ken Bates who recognised the need to generate extra revenue amongst the teams unable to participate in UEFA competitions after the Heysel ban. This was a strange competition in a strange era for football in England. Hooliganism was rife, crowds were down, the long-ball game dominated. But I loved it. I was at Stoke, at college for a second season – er, year – and attended 22 games in that 1985-1986 campaign.
I remember that we played in a league game at The Dell on the Saturday – I didn’t go – but then played the very next day at Wembley against City. I went out for a few drinks around a couple of pubs close to my digs in Stoke and caught a very late train down to London at about 2am.
The train was packed with City fans, or should I say their lads. Everyone who was involved in football in the ‘eighties will recognise this term.
Their lads. Their boys. Their chaps.
Their firm, in other words.
If I am not mistaken, while we were beating Southampton, City had played a Manchester derby against United at OT. As I stepped inside the train, the carriages were full to overflowing. There was no room to sit, hardly any room to stand. There were City lads everywhere. I had to stand next to the doors, cheek by jowl with a couple of Mancs. I was soon sussed, but thankfully the lad I was talking to – drunk beyond words, clutching a can of lager, his accent punctuated with classic Manchester words and phrases – didn’t spill the beans. After a while, the rumours came through that a few Chelsea had been spotted towards the rear of the train and had got a pasting. I remained quiet and tried to stay clear of eye contact and didn’t make conversation with passers-by as they roamed the train chatting to other lads.
Eventually, I sidled off to a first class carriage – which, in the classic joke of the era…was empty! – and tried to get some sleep. Outside Wembley Stadium, I bumped into my mate Alan and we posed from particularly cheesy photos outside the Twin Towers. I watched the game with two lads from my college in Stoke who I also bumped into. Despite gates for this cup being really low, over 68,000 attended this game. It was Chelsea’s first game at Wembley since 1972 and our end was packed. I would suggest we had 50,000 there, City just 18,000. We went a goal down, but then stormed into a 5-1 lead with goals from David Speedie (the first Wembley hat-trick since a Sunday afternoon in the summer of 1966) and Colin Lee. We were buoyant and in great voice. I had a spot on the terrace in the west end. It was only my third ever visit to the famous old stadium. Then – typical, oh so typical Chelsea – we let City score three times in the last six minutes.
Chelsea 5 Manchester City 4.
Unbeknown to me, Chelsea’s lads had “got it on” with City’s firm (they were called The Mainline) before and after the game, yet this would be the final chapter in the original Headhunters story. On the following Friday morning – just before our game at home to West Ham and the ICF – all of the main Chelsea faces were rudely awoken by various members of the police and things would never be the same again.
Back to 2011.
Manchester City – in that classic kit – began the stronger and had the best of the initial exchanges. After just five minutes, the ball broke to Yaya Toure but his low shot was stopped, low down, by Petr. And then, we slowly got into the game with a few half-chances. Kalou was played in but – stumbling – his effort was smothered by Hart.
While we were watching, Alan and I chatted about a few things and – I am not sure what initiated it – he spoke about another crazy day in that 1985-1986 season. On New Year’s Day 1986, our game at Upton Park was called off. I heard the news when I was about ten stops away on the tube so turned tail and sadly returned home. Alan, however, had found out at the ground and was with around one hundred Chelsea fans who then decided, on the spur of the moment (excuse the pun), to attend the Arsenal vs. Tottenham Hotspur game. They filtered in to the Clock End amongst the away support, keeping it quiet. Just before the teams came out, they burst into song –
“Chelsea – clap, clap, clap – Chelsea – clap, clap, clap.”
Tottenham soon scarpered and the one hundred Chelsea had a police cordon around them for the rest of the game.
Oh, how I wish I had been there.
On thirty-five minutes, a sublime back-heel from Fernando Torres set up Ramires who crossed for Frank, but the chance was squandered. We had a few more attempts, but our finishing was off. Malouda set up Kalou, who swivelled nicely on the penalty spot, but his shot was hit squarely at Hart. The Kalou- Booers were out in force.
The best moment of the first-half was the sublime ball that new hero Luiz chipped out to Ashley Cole. Central defenders just don’t do that! The weather was now gorgeous – blue skies overhead and strong shadows on the pitch for the first time in 2011.
We continued to dominate possession into the second period but I rued my mate Neil’s comment that “goals will be hard to come by today.” David Luiz then provided me with another moment to remember for a while. He chased down a City attacker, tackled cleanly, hustled for the loose ball and strode away majestically before playing a perfect ball inside. It was as perfect a piece of defending that I have seen for years and years. There is clearly something about David Luis’ instant relationship with us fans that is so reminiscent of Frank Leboeuf’s first few games in 1996. A ball playing, confident central defender. But Luiz offers so much more. He looks the real deal and his play got better and better. A lone Dzeko header was City’s only real attempt on our goal. Cech was rarely bothered.
A cross found the head of Ivanovic, but his strong header was blocked. I eventually realised that our support had waned a fair bit during the second-half and I hadn’t even noticed. After Carlo signalled for Torres, and not our friend Kalou, to come off, the crowd suddenly came to life and roundly booed. At least they didn’t sing “YDKWYD.” An image of Roman, slumping in his seat when he saw Torres walking off, was splashed on to the TV screen in the stadium. However, a double-substitution involving Didi and Nico energised the whole stadium and we took it to City. Then Yuri came on for Kalou and our domination stepped up even more.
Now, we were roaring.
Down below me, the David Luiz master class was ready for another inspirational moment. 15 yards away, he faced a defender and tapped the ball rapidly between his feet.
Left, right, left, right, left, right, left, right, left, right.
Oh boy. What a player.
The City defender didn’t enjoy this and hacked into him. Thankfully, Frank Lampard did not fancy taking the free-kick (his set pieces were yet again slow and inaccurate). Instead, Didier whipped in a fantastic ball and there he was.
Luis. A forward thrust. A header, A mass of hair. The ball going in.
Such drama. With ten minutes to go, we had timed it right. The Bridge erupted.
There was still time for another memorable Luis moment. Inside his own half, he was faced with a City attacker. Leaving the ball completely alone, he moved to his left, stepped and moved again and the City player lurched to his right, off balance. With that, Luis returned to the ball and passed it out to a team mate. I’ll be honest, that ranks up there with the very best Pat Nevin and Ruud Gullit shimmies.
This boy can play.
And then, the stunning denouement. Ramires – he of the surging runs and beautifully timed tackles – spun past three immobile defenders and despatched the ball into the net. The sense of anticipation before the strike was worth the entrance fee alone. The Bridge again erupted and the world was a very fine world once again. In the closing seconds, I remembered how out-of-sorts Ramires was at the corresponding game at Eastlands back in October. He just wasn’t in it. I wondered about his size and his skill level. I need not be worried. Although he scored at Bolton, this was his crowning glory. This was a lovely result and augurs so well for the future. We are changing our personnel at the business end of a testing season, evolving as we go. Once Torres – I simply cannot fault his effort – gets going he will be fine. But the game was all about two other new players.
David Luiz and Ramires. Simply Braziliant.
It had been quite a sideshow.