Tales From The Only Place To Be Every Other Saturday

Chelsea vs. Everton : 9 February 2011.

Parky and I rolled in to The Goose just after 10.30am. Reg had opened up early at 10am and the place was already busy.

“A pint of Fosters and a pint of Carling please love.”

Over in the corner, Alan, Rob and Daryl were already mid-way through their first pints. Handshakes and greetings. My last game was the Liverpool defeat and, although less than a fortnight had since passed, it had seemed a lifetime ago. A few other good friends were nearby and it was good to be back in the groove. However, to be truthful, I hadn’t thought too much about this cup replay. I have been particularly busy at work this past week, plus I have had a few other things keeping my mind occupied.

We spent ninety minutes in the pub and the talk was varied. Alan and Rob are following the lads in Denmark and leave on Monday. I’m still waiting for my European away debut this season – things just haven’t panned out for me on that front yet, but I’m hoping we get into the last eight for a trip to foreign climes to materialise. The nearest that Parky and myself are getting to a European trip at the moment is the upcoming jaunt to Blackpool. We spoke briefly about ticket prices. The £57.50 I have to pay for my Copenhagen home ticket came as a massive shock, but at no stage did I think about not going. It’s pathetic really – Chelsea has us by the short and curlies and it hurts. This is nothing on the Champions League Final ticket prices, though, which were announced during the week; the cheapest general sale ticket comes in at a monstrous £176. For the participating teams, prices begin at a mere £80, though I am unsure if this includes an obscene £26 booking fee as per the general sale tickets. I had a chat with my mate Andy, who had been up to Ibrox again last weekend. In Scotland, prices are not so heavy and the game remains a working class pastime. He reminded me that former Chelsea team mates Jody Morris and Michael Duberry are currently plying their trade north of the border for St. Johnstone. I have always enjoyed watching football in Scotland – for many reasons really. I’ve witnessed games at eight grounds in Scotland, including five matches at Rangers, three at Dundee United and two apiece at Celtic and Hearts. It’s just enjoyable to catch a game in a different country – and I enjoy the working-class grit of the Scottish game.

Outside, there was misty rain as we walked down to the stadium.

Everton had sold 6,000 tickets for this game and we were all amazed at these numbers. At the 1-1 game at Goodison Park, the Chelsea choir had asked –

“Will you come to Stamford Bridge?”

Clearly, the answer was a resounding “yes.”

As we walked past Walham Green, Simon, Daryl and myself confirmed that Everton have never really brought large numbers down to Chelsea. Forefront in our mind was the game on a gorgeous sunny Saturday in the autumn of 1985 when Everton – the reigning champions remember – only brought down about a thousand away fans in a gate of 27,634. On the approach to the turnstiles, I bought a programme and there was a picture of Frank Lampard on the front, his trademark red belt clearly visible.

With perfect timing yet again, I got to my seat just a couple of minutes before the teams appeared. Chelsea in the lovely blue, Everton in their dirty cream. At The Shed End, the 6,000 Evertonians were ready and waiting in the two tiers. For the entire game, the 2,000 in the lower tier stood and the 4,000 above sat. It was a solid block of black, dark grey and navy jackets, with relatively few club colours on show. Only four flags though. Everton clearly don’t “do” flags, unlike their city rivals.

I find it fascinating how certain clubs have developed different approaches to flags and banners. For the F.A. Cup Finals in the ‘seventies, banners were always of “witty slogans” using plays on words. Into the eighties, Union Jacks appeared at England games and then at club games (though usually at away games – to brighten up dreary terraces with fences). At the 1982 World Cup in Spain, I remember that most of the Scotland flags appeared with individual bar names – a new approach. Liverpool led the way with banners on The Kop from the early ‘seventies and theirs usually tend to involve white text on red; usually a statement about their glorious past (insert comment here). Manchester United’s banners now tend to involve red, white and black horizontal bars. Chelsea has moved on in recent years; five years ago it was all St. George flags, with blue text, but our banners are now more varied. I like a lot of our banners and my favourite has to be the simple “Born Is The King.” Personally, I would like a little more humour and self-deprecating irony to be honest – a Chelsea trademark of the grim periods in our past. I’ve produced three hand-crafted banners over the past fifteen years ( “Ruud Boys”, “Vinci Per Noi” and the Peter Osgood one) and would like to get some more done. I have a few ideas knocking around. Watch this space.

However, I don’t approve of the “official” flags which are waved with gusto by the youngsters in front of the West Stand. That’s all just too corporate and too contrived for me.

I was surprised to see that Essien was not in the starting eleven, though I could understand why; his form has not been great. Anelka was on the bench too; Kalou in.

We created enough chances during the game to win easily, but a mixture of woeful finishing and dogged resistance from the Evertonian rear-guard resulted in a frustrating afternoon.

After a few early exchanges, the first real chance came on 21 minutes. A Chelsea free-kick was thumped in from deep and the ball avoided all attempts by the defenders to clear. The ball bounced right on the six yard line, with Tim Howard unwilling to meet it. The ball bounced up onto the right post, with Howard unable to get a hand on the ball and push it to safety. Ivanovic was waiting at the far post, but the ball rebounded into the path of the waiting John Terry. However, JT was clearly off balance and his left-footed effort ballooned over. I seem to remember a similar miss from The Captain against Hull City in Scolari’s last game in 2009.

Everton were pressing our midfield and we were struggling to get a rhythm going. Ramires broke into the box, but was booked for diving after a “coming together” with Tim Howard. Of course, we were miles away and couldn’t really see what had happened, but why would he go down when he was trying to push the ball past the ‘keeper and shoot at goal? The referee Phil Dowd, never a favourite, was roundly booed. We had further chances from Florent Malouda, Didier Drogba and Frank Lampard during that first-half, but the shots were blocked, saved or failed to hit the target. Ramires was playing well and one break from deep got me purring. However, it was a generally disjointed first forty-five minutes. On many instances throughout the match, Alan, Zac and I spoke of the Arsenal vs. Barcelona game on Wednesday. Barca’s performance in the first hour was as near to footballing perfection as you’ll get; relentless pressing, clean tackling, formidable team awareness, sublime close control, slick passing, tremendous movement off the ball, with Lionel Messi the master and chief. I can’t wait for the second leg at Camp Nou.

Midway through the first-half, I noticed three new flags which had appeared on the highest of the East Stand balconies –

Chelsea Hungary

Mighty Blues Belgium

Philly Blues

I quickly texted 612Steve to tell him the good news about his adopted home city’s banner being on show at The Bridge. There are now around twelve American banners on show at HQ. I wonder what American visitors who drop in to The Bridge on a holiday visit and who are not fans of the club wonder about these flags. It must be a shock for residents of Boston, Orange County or Texas, to name but three, to see flags from those areas proudly displayed in deepest London SW6. No other club in Europe has so many American flags on display at their home stadium.

I’m wondering if Chelsea can now inform the Dallas Cowboys that we are now America’s Team.

You can tell them, Beth.

Michael Essien came on for the ineffective Mikel at the break. We played better as the second-half began and a Didier Drogba free-kick was nervously smothered by Tim Howard.

Ah – Tim Howard. Once it was announced that Manchester United had signed the Tourette’s-suffering Howard, I knew it wouldn’t be too long before my mate Alan would come up with a witty nickname for him. After his move to Goodison, with more games and more exposure, Alan soon decided on an apt moniker. He delved back into his childhood and picked a character from “The Whacky Races.” For the past four years, whenever Tim Howard plays us, Alan refers to him as Klunk.

“Whizz-buuuuuuur-badoing-whirrrrrrr-woop-crash-peeeep.”

On fifty-five minutes, a Drogba free-kick was headed over by Frank. Ten minutes later, another Lampard effort was saved by Klunk, and then the resultant corner produced a shot from Branislav Ivanovic which was bundled off the line. It was turning out to be one of those days. At the end of a rare Everton break, full-back Seamus Coleman headed straight at Cech. To be honest, for all of Everton’s running and pressing, they rarely threatened.

However, the Everton support got louder and more involved as the game wore on. One song stood out –

“We shall not be moved.
We shall not, we shall not be moved – we shall not, we shall not be moved.
We are the team that’s gonna win the F.A. Cup, we shall not be moved.”

This song is usually only sung when teams are ahead in a Wembley-bound cup tie, so I found it odd that Everton were singing it with such vigour with the scores just level. Maybe they knew something that we didn’t.

On eighty-two minutes, a lovely passage of play found Lampard a few yards out but his decision to chip Klunk was met with derision as it flew over. We had a few late chances but the Everton goal lived a charmed life. We then had a huge scare as a ball was whipped in to our box. However, as Fellaini prodded home, I immediately saw the bright yellow flag raised by the linesman in front of the West Stand. What a pleasure it is to be a nanosecond ahead of 6,000 away fans as they jump around in joyous exultation. It was offside. Phew.

With the scores level, into extra-time we went. Anelka came on for the patchy Malouda and brightened the play up a little. Frank Lampard, profligate again, screwed the ball a yard wide with a weak left-footed shot.

Then, at last – a breakthrough. On 101 minutes, Anelka, the fresh man, chased a ball in to corner and did so well to beat off the challenge of his two defenders. His lovely cross was chested down by Didier Drogba into the path of Frank Lampard. I was in direct line with the ball’s trajectory and as he swung his boot, I could easily see that the ball would go unhindered into the net. I turned and began my triumphant jump up the steps – I didn’t even see the ball go in. I lept and punched the air and The Bridge was rocking. I rejoined Alan and, in our best Scouse accents…

“Dey’ll ‘ave to come arruz now.”
“C’hum on my little diamondsssssss.”

Thoughts of Reading at home on the first day of March were taking shape. Then, a silly and clumsy challenge by our Serbian and a very scary free-kick on the edge of our box. The Matthew Harding tried to raise our confidence with a quick chant, but I was too nervous to join in.

As Leighton Baines clipped the ball up after a very short approach, I uttered two words under my breath –

“Oh fcuk.”

First I thought it was going in, and then I thought it was drifting wide. It hit the back of the net and the 6,000 away supporters went crazy.

Penalties. Just the word makes every Englishman squirm.

West Germany 1990. Germany 1996. Argentina 1998. Portugal 2004. Portugal 2006.

Chelsea? I won’t even bother listing them – I’ll be here all day.

“The Liquidator” and then “Blue Is The Colour” were played in an attempt to raise the spirits. I took a photo of the two teams lined up on the half-way line as Frank Lampard strode forward for the first one. I didn’t fancy taking photographs of the penalties, though…too nervous. I wondered if John Terry would be involved.

Frank Lampard – high and in. Not much applause, just relief.

Leighton Baines – a save from Cech and a mighty roar.

Didier Drogba – low and in. Phew.

Phil Jagielka – in.

Nicolas Anelka – a nonchalant chip and an easy save for Klunk.

Mikel Arteta – in.

Michael Essien – in the middle and in. Phew.

John Heitinga – in.

Ashley Cole – looking nervous on his approach and well over. Fans got up and started to leave even before the last Everton player had the ball in his hands.

Phil Neville – in.

Our historic attempt to win three F.A. Cups in a row was over and it hurt. How often do we see teams go a goal behind in penalty shoot-outs and come back to eventually win? It happens all the time. Dare I mention Moscow? Sorry.

The rest of the lads were planning a post-game meet in “The Jolly Malster” as they attempted to get as much out of a Chelsea game as is practicably possible, like somebody squeezing hard on a tube of toothpaste to get the last portion out. However, Parky and I just wanted to beat the traffic and head home. He was soon asleep and I was full of melancholy.

Three trophies lost and just the one remains. Oh boy.

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