Tales From The Return Of Jesper Gronkjaer

Chelsea vs. FC Copenhagen : 16 March 2011.

Ah, the 16th of March – a momentous date in my life.

Our game with Copenhagen coincided with the 37th anniversary of my first ever Chelsea game. Ironically, our defeat at the hands of Inter last season was on the same date – but I was pretty confident that a similar fate would not befall Chelsea in 2011. In fact, I had hardly thought about the game against Gronkjaer and co – yet another game that had snuck in under the radar.

I took a half day holiday as I had just about had my fill of stressful sorties up the M4 motorway for midweek games. As it happened, this was a very fortuitous move. At around 4pm, with His Lordship alongside me, I received a text from Bristol Tim on the M4. It seemed that there had been a major snarl-up around Maidenhead and that the eastbound motorway would be closed until 6.15pm. I contemplated my options and took the A34 down to the A303 and headed in on the M3.

From my home in Somerset, I had headed north to collect Parky, then east towards Hungerford, north to the M4, east towards Newbury, and then I took that well-timed diversion south to the A303, then east again to the M25 and eventually north to the M4 and then finally east towards HQ. My route to Stamford Bridge had mirrored an elongated Pat Nevin dribble. A bit like that famous one against The Geordies in 1983, maybe.

With much pleasure, we stumbled into The Goose at 5.45pm – my journey had grown to 141 miles, but I could relax. Tim, however, was still struggling to get in and was still stuck on the M4.

We spent a lovely 90 minutes in the pub, chatting and looking forward to possible venues for “the last eight.” One of our topics of conversation – and consternation – was the price of the game…my ticket had cost me £57. That’s a lot of money for a tie which, hopefully, was already won in Denmark. But what can we do? Maybe one day, I’ll resist. To be fair, Rob had looked at the price and had resisted. However, he made it in from Essex for the pre-match banter (which is what 75% of “Chelsea” is anyway, let’s be honest) and then had plans to disappear off to The Imperial to watch the game on the box. I respected his opinion – he had paid ?50 to fly to Copenhagen for the first leg, but had really felt disgusted about paying more for his own seat at The Bridge. I was left with explicit instructions for me to text him my guestimate of the crowd.

In our little corner, surrounded by familiar faces, it was a typical scene.

Smiles and laughter, groans at shocking puns, pints of Carling, mobile phones being checked for messages, friends arriving, faces noted, talk of past games, the Blackpool post-game party and the inevitable hangovers, Barbour jackets, pints of Fosters, new pullovers, shrieks from the far corner, friends from far off places, the excitement of the imminent draw, “get the beers in Parky”, more tales from Blackpool, plans for Stoke away, Russell’s new job, “mind yer backs”, more beers, blokes in work clothes, shared memories of distant fashions and distant games, Bayern Munich away, Juventus two years ago, the classic moments relived one more time, lads in Adidas trainers, “one more beer”, tangled conversations, jokes, banter, football.

Inside the stadium, it soon became apparent that fewer people than we had expected had resisted the game. All areas, with the exception of the very back rows of the East Upper and the upper corners of the West Stand were full of spectators. Of course, the three thousand away fans were in early and were making the expected din. I suspect that they had been on the Carlsberg all day. Alan had met a couple in The Imperial and he reported that they were buzzing. Their balcony was covered in club banners and flags. Throughout the game, they did themselves proud. Lots of noise. Balloons when the two teams entered the pitch. Lots of planned and choreographed waving of scarves and bizarre hand-jives…lots of singing, lots of fun.

It was back to the CL style programme – white cover, spine – for this game. The programme seller gave me an extra one and I noted a photo of Gill and Graeme inside.

Carlo was testing the 4-4-2 once more and I was a little surprised to see Fernando Torres on the bench.

We had a reasonably well observed moment’s silence in memory of the poor souls who lost their lives in Japan and then the MH serenaded John Terry with the much-loved –

“One England Captain.”

The game?

We couldn’t hit a cow’s arse with a banjo.

We couldn’t hit a donkey’s arse with a saucepan.

We couldn’t hit a chef’s arse with a soup ladle.

We couldn’t hit a spaceman’s arse with a ukulele.

We couldn’t hit a red-headed Bourbon Street floozie’s arse with a trombone.

We couldn’t hit Peter Piper’s arse with a peck of pickled peppers.

We couldn’t hit a banjo’s arse with a cow.

The most memorable moments of the entire night’s football involved the banter between the two sets of fans. Again, fair play to the Danes. In superb English, they goaded us with –

“Can you hear the Chelsea sing? I can’t hear a fcuking thing.”

“Sing when you’re winning, you only sing when you’re winning.”

The MH responded with a classic of our own –

“Speak fcuking Danish, why don’t you speak fcuking Danish?”

The Danes also gave many rousing renditions of the theme from “The Great Escape” too. Generally speaking though, we were subdued and were only roused intermittently. As I looked around to check on the gaps in the seats, I spotted a few more American flags…notably those from Southern California, Austin and the Bay Area. Good work.

It was enjoyable to see Jesper Gronkjaer once again. He was a bit of an enigma was Jesper, to say the least. He had blistering pace, but the end product was usually woeful. We ought to name The Shed roof after him, since a high proportion of his crosses ended up heading towards it. Whenever he received the ball, loads of us would often shout “Run Forrest.”

And he usually did.

He had a peculiar running style too, as though his upper body was in a different plane to his legs. His arms tended to move sideways.

We carved out plenty of chances in the game, of course…a few early chances including one for Yuri with the entire goal begging, a Drogba curler which was well saved, a great deep cross from Bosingwa which was volleyed wide by Didier, a couple of Anelka one-on-ones wasted, a Ramires strike saved, some head tennis in the six yard box and a Mikel header hitting the bar, a strong run from the substitute Torres and a deft flick, a deflected Torres shot and an Essien blast saved.

The pick of the bunch though, was a nonchalant shot from Didier which ballooned about fifteen yards in the air and went off for a throw-in down below the TV studio in the NE corner.

Oh boy.

Overall, I thought Drogba and Anelka played two far apart, especially in the first-half. They need to work on their partnership and that can’t be done when they are so distant. The midfield did not really support the front two that well…I have the impression that Carlo advised the team to play within themselves and not overly exert themselves. I can see the reasons for that. Despite the 25 shots on goal, the mood was of frustration amongst the Chelsea faithful, though. Torres looked sharp…I keep saying it…the goals will come. Copenhagen didn’t really threaten too much, but of course the free-kick which rattled our woodwork certainly gave us a scare early on.

As I left the stadium, there were murmurs of discontent, but it only took me a few sobering moments to remember March 16th. 2010 and I was just glad that had made it into the final eight. Carlo’s pragmatism over wild adventure had succeeded and we all eagerly await the draw on Friday.

On the drive home, I contemplated the draw options while listening to a few Spurs fans on “606.” They were just too full of themselves and I’m just dreading our two names to be drawn together in the quarters. Looking ahead, I am hoping to travel to any venue apart from Donetsk. I have visited all of the other six stadia over the years, though I haven’t seen a game at Real Madrid. As I missed out on the trip to the San Siro in 1999 and 2010, a game against Inter would be my personal favourite, though a return trip to the grimy industrial town of Gelsenkirchen would not be a problem either.

On Sunday, let’s beat City.

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