Tales From A Day Of Blackouts And Blowouts

Chelsea vs. West Ham United : 23 April 2011.

A quite magnificent day.

This is a good week for us here in England; Good Friday and a day off work, Chelsea at home on St. George’s Day against West Ham, Easter Sunday, Easter Monday and another day off work, then just three days of toil before the Royal Wedding – another day off – and finally the second home game of the week against the old enemy, Tottenham. All of that, plus the added bonus of tons of American visitors in town to share this great week with my usual match day companions.

The Easter weekend began on Friday with another visit to nearby Rowde for a Chelsea Legends night. Back in November, Ron Harris and Charlie Cooke were down in the West Country. This time, it was the turn of Peter Bonetti and Bobby Tambling to accompany Chopper. Our two highest appearance makers and our highest ever goalscorer.

It doesn’t get any better than that, does it?

Suffice to say, we had a lovely time and I particularly enjoyed talking to Bobby Tambling out in the sunny beer garden about a variety of football-related topics. He is from Hayling Island, down near Portsmouth, and he told me the story about the 1953 F.A. Cup Final. He was a boyhood Blackpool fan, lured by the two Stans Matthews and Mortensen. In probably the most famous F.A. Cup Final of all, Bobby told me that he watched the game through a shop window and was mortified to see Blackpool losing 3-1. He decided to cycle back to his house but was met by the news that Blackpool, inspired by typical wing-wizardry from Matthews and a hat-trick from Mortensen, had turned it around to win 4-3. He had mixed emotions; happy his team had won, but deeply frustrated that he had missed the comeback. It was lovely to hear him recount this story, his boyish enthusiasm shining through. Bobby now lives in Cork in Ireland with his lovely wife Val and he told another football-related story. He was recently coaching some youngsters and he decided he needed to illustrate his teachings with some practical illustration. He took aim and chipped a ball through for the kids, but felt immediate pain in his groin. Val was still giving him loads of grief for this “silliness” but I just had to admire his love of the game. I hope that I am still playing at the age of seventy.

I collected Lord Parky at 10am. To celebrate St. George’s Day, we listened to the light and breezy English pop of The Sundays’ 1997 album “Static and Silence.” I first became a fan of this band way back in 1989 when they brought out the gorgeous “Can’t Be Sure” single. This has some lovely lyrics, laced with humour, and almost Smithsesque in their content.

“Give me a story and give me a bed.
Give me possessions.
Oh love luck and money they go to my head like wildfire.
It’s good to have something to live for you’ll find.
Live for tomorrow.
Live for a job and a perfect behind, high time.
England, my country, the home of the free, such miserable weather.
But England’s as happy as England can be.
Why cry?”

By 12.15pm, the two of us had walked down the North End Road – warm weather, getting warmer – to “Lloyds” at Fulham Broadway and had met up with The Wild One, plus three first-time visitors from across the pond; JR, Dennis and Anna, all from Michigan, all members of the Motor City Blues. JR kindly bought us pints and soon began questioning me on a few Chelsea topics. Beth had warned me that she had a “little gift” for me, but with increasing disbelief, I was swept away with the contents of her Chelsea carrier bag.

I was presented with two magnificent bespoke bounded albums containing all of my various match reports from seasons 2008-2009 and 2009-2010.

Oh boy – I was speechless.

So, a fantastic gift from you to me and I thank you all. I began posting on CIA in 2006 at the time of my trip over to Chicago for the MLS All-Star Game and immediately felt “at home” on CIA. This has always been a two-way street; I love sharing my passion for this wonderful club and, in turn, I get a massive buzz from all of your enthusiasm too.

We toasted each other – “Friendship and Football.”

We spent a nice relaxing time at “Lloyds” before it got too busy. We were joined by Gill and Graeme, who I know get just as much satisfaction out of their new trans-Atlantic friendships as me. Parky and I wolfed down a burger and chips as the American guests flitted around, buying CFCUK fanzines and St. George pin badges.

Another pint.

Then, we moved on to Stamford Bridge. The weather really was heating up now and many fellow fans had decided on shorts. I took a few candid shots of the three Bridge virgins as they rounded the corner and set eyes on the West Stand for the first-ever time. I remember my first sighting in 1974. These are magical moments.

Then, some photos of The King, Peter Osgood, bathed in sunshine, standing proudly outside The West Stand. A lovely time.

Our next port of call was – of course – the hotel bar area where we met up with Bobby and Val Tambling again. Bobby just chatted away to JR, Dennis and Anna as if they had known each other for years; he is a naturally charismatic fellow and a lovely ambassador for our club. Ron Harris then appeared and also gave the American guests some lovely memories with his friendly comments and humorous asides. Of course, these two Chelsea greats (Mister 795 and Mister 202) posed with JR, Dennis and Anna for some photographs.

Another pint.

In the background, the Manchester United vs. Everton game was on a TV, but I was ignoring it in the main. There were a few “oohs” and “ahhs” but the game was scoreless. Then, Parky uttered the horrible words “they’ve scored” and the jolly pre-match atmosphere changed. I had ironically predicted that “United will probably score in the last five minutes” and I wasn’t too far out. So, that makes our task even more difficult this season but let’s not get too downhearted.

Gill had just bumped into Frank Lampard and was all of a shake. The manager was having his pre-match team talk in an adjacent meeting room and a few players were flitting about. One day I’ll provide a plan of all the rooms, walkways and hidden nooks and crannies of the hotel for you all. The daily pre-match routines do tend to vary a bit each game, though. Frank had even given Gill a quick kiss and I joked with Graeme that I would soon be on the ‘phone to the “News of the World” to report that Frank had a secret rendezvous with a “mystery blonde.”

Gill whooped with laughter.

Next, the neat silver hair of Carlo Ancelotti appeared at a window – he was on the ‘phone – and Anna was convinced that he had waved at her.

A quiet respectful chorus of “Carlo” echoed around the bar area.

It was now 2.45pm and time was moving on. We all decamped up to The Goose, a fifteen minute walk away. Andy Wray and his wife were on their way and soon joined us. The Goose was absolutely rammed and, with the heat and the cigarette smoke in the beer garden, not as enjoyable as on other days. There was simply nowhere to move. I was now on the Cokes and had a slight headache, too; drat. Not only were my usual mates standing in groups, but there was a 15 strong group from Herr Grupenfuhrer Neat’s New York Blues to attend to. Amidst all of this, Beth was chatting to Andy, JR, Anna and Dennis and I am sure they were having a blast. I quickly showed a few of the lads the album from last season and they were suitably impressed. Not only are the match reports included, but the album contained many of my photographs, too. Of course, a lot of my mates are featured and this was met with much merriment and Mickey-taking.

I asked Walnuts, who lives in Brighton, if the rumours were correct about us opening up Brighton’s new stadium at Falmer were correct. He wasn’t sure, but promised to keep me informed.

I disappeared off for twenty minutes to take the albums back to the car, grab a headache tablet and I had a little moment to myself amongst the mad activity of the afternoon. It had been a lovely day thus far, but there was a fear that the match would be a massive ant-climax.

How wrong could I be?

By the time I had met up with His Lordship back at The Goose, there spots of rain in the air. I could hardly believe this; English weather…maybe The Sundays were correct! Parky had heard rumours that West Ham had launched an attack on The Malster and I hoped that nobody was hurt; specifically, our CIA friends who were planning to call in and see the Fancast team. As we walked down the North End Road, we heard unfamiliar songs and we soon spotted a line of OB guarding around forty West Ham fans standing on the pavement outside The C0ck and Hen. As far as I could see, none were wearing colours. They were youngsters, maybe the latest incarnation of their “Under Fives” and I envisaged that they may well have been on the Thames boat which had transported a hundred or so West Ham fans from the East End. I guess they had split up into ones and twos and then mustered enough in the pub to create a scene. Anyway, they were full of bravado. I just rolled my eyes at one song which they were singing –

“Chelsea’s a 5hit-hole, I wanna go home.”

West Ham aren’t known for their irony, so I just cringed at this.

Urbane, cosmopolitan, expensive, sophisticated SW6 versus raggedy-arsed Gor Blimey Land.

Simply no contest.

I could tell Parky was itching to hang around and see what developed, but I moved him on. Outside the old tube station, a West Ham fan – foolishly wearing a replica shirt – was obstructed by an indignant Chelsea fan and bumped off him. I only saw two West Ham fans wearing colours the entire day; old habits die hard. Mind you, when we go East, Chelsea never wear colours. Too risky. At the Hammersmith & Fulham town hall, a St. George’s flag was flying proudly atop the flagpole.

As we lined up the turnstiles to the MHU, the clouds darkened and the rain increased. Everyone was in short-sleeved shirts and even flip-flops.

Inside with five minutes to go; phew. I noted that quite a few West Ham had not yet made it in; maybe they had indeed decided to go home, back east to the land of pie and mash, discount supermarkets, used-car salesmen, fake designer wear and old-fashioned violence to anyone outside of the “manor.”

I kept an eye out for the steward who had troubled me against Birmingham City with his warnings about using my camera. I planned a lengthy game of cat-and-mouse with him; I had packed a compact camera too.

The teams – Ivanovic for Ferreira, but thankfully no Scott Parker for them.

Neil Barnett had announced that Scott Parker had won the Writers’ Player of the Year award and this was warmly applauded by the Chelsea supporters. I can’t imagine the bitter West Ham fans doing likewise.

Ah – the John Terry & Wayne Bridge Non-Handshake Act Two.

I didn’t agree with the booing of Wayne Bridge all afternoon, but there you go.

At kick-off, all of the itinerant wastrels from the East were inside and making quite a din. There was every colour under the sun on show except much claret and light blue.

We began strongly in the first twenty minutes. After just two minutes, Florent Malouda was played in and only had Robert Green to beat. His weak shot was straight at the much-maligned ‘keeper. With the rain now falling heavily, a lot of spectators in the front rows of the West Stand scarpered to watch, presumably, on TVs in the stand. Wimps!

Kalou wasted a good chance when clear and then Ba forced a save from Petr Cech on 23 minutes. This was West Ham’s first effort on goal, but they then enjoyed a period of possession. Soon after, a break and despite a desperate run from Ashley Cole to stop the cross, the ball was played in and Petr Cech nimbly pushed the resulting header around the post.

On 27 minutes, Didier did well to create space and he advanced down the right, but selfishly blasted over. This was met with groans from the frustrated home crowd.

On 28 minutes, the loudest thunderclap I have ever heard rumbled around The Bridge. The rain was falling relentlessly and the early evening atmosphere was quite strange. There was a weird feeling. An intense, heavy, gloom hung around. Meanwhile, the pastel coloured away fans were singing away and I don’t think Chelsea were retaliating with the required amount of volume and venom. I was hoping that the American guests weren’t disappointed.

After 31 minutes, a West Ham corner was flighted in and after a kick and a lunge, Petr Cech fell on the ball just before it crossed the line. The natives were restless, especially when a wild shot from Branislav Ivanovic careered off for a throw. Then, Kalou lost possession with a very loose ball and we were very lucky not to concede a goal; a courageous block from David Luiz saved us.

Then, salvation. We attacked down the left on 44 minutes and a delightful ball from Didier Drogba was played between some defenders to Ashley Cole (“f***ing ball of the season” I said to Walnuts) and our left-back played the ball across the West Ham goalmouth. Before I could blink, the ball fell to none other than a previously subdued Frank Lampard and he joyously slammed the ball in to the roof of the net.

We hollered our joy and I saw Frank reel away, leaping in front of 3,000 enemies. It was a lovely moment. I jumped down and looked at Alan.

Alan : “They’ull ave ta cam at us naaaa.”
Chris : “Cum on moi little doimonds.”

At half-time, two treats. Chelsea boxer Darren Barker was introduced to the crowd by Neil Barnett just as a massive fork of lighting lit up the sky just behind the towering East stand. Then, Bobby Tambling was on the pitch, initially carrying a massive blue umbrella to fend off the rain. However, the wind took it and it reversed itself. After a couple of attempts to right it, Tambling said “f it” and threw it to one side. As he strode around the pitch with Neil Barnett, he got absolutely drenched. I bet Ron Harris was grinning up in the executive area.

After the break, more Chelsea possession. A lovely Drogba cross found Malouda who cutely set up Kalou. In space, he took his time but drilled the ball well wide.

On 54 minutes, Michael Essien pulled up and was soon replaced with Yossi Benayoun. After 60 minutes, a great Drogba free-kick was played with pace into the danger area, but evaded all of our lunging bodies. Two minutes after, an almost identical ball from Didier was played in to Frank Lampard but he miraculously couldn’t get the desired touch.

The chances were coming thick and fast now. A thunderous shot by Frank from way out was parried by Green and Malouda slammed the loose ball wide.

“Chim, chimeny, chim, chimeny, chim, chim, cheroo – We hate those ba5tards in claret and blue.”

On 68 minutes, David Luiz gathered the ball 25yards out and steadied himself. He unleashed a venomous dipper which rocked the bar.

At the other end, an equally vicious blast from Ba was well stopped by Petr Cech, who then did well to gather the follow up.

On 69 minutes, Nicolas Anelka came on for Kalou.

Robbie Keane (oh, how we all love him at Chelsea) came on for the injured Noble and was soon sent in with only our Great Dane to beat. Unlike on so many previous occasions, the Irish fecker shot wide and we were spared the sight of his pathetic summersault.

On 77 minutes, Fernando Torres came on for the revitalized Drogba and we shouted his name. He was industrious for seven minutes, full of movement and guile. He soon selflessly set up Anelka but his shot was blasted straight at Gabbidon.

Then, it happened.

It is with regret that I did not have my camera to capture this, but here are my memories. A perfectly paced ball by Anelka was played centrally into space for an onrushing Torres to run on to. The offside trap had been breached.

We stood up. We gulped. We hoped.

Just as he was about to dispatch the ball with his right foot, the ball held up in a Stamford Bridge puddle and we immediately groaned all of those usual Torres thoughts. Unperturbed, Torres kept his footing, moved the ball onto his left foot and – off balance – calmly swept the ball into the net. I think this slight pause caused by that puddle heightened the drama and intensified our emotions.

Stamford Bridge went into orbit. The noise was thunderous. Delirium. Absolute delirium.

I glanced down and, amid screams, I reached down for my camera, resting atop my bag. I felt my brain doing something very strange – it felt like it was about to explode with joy. This goal obviously meant a lot. Too much, maybe. At that moment in time, Torres’ goal seemed like the most important goal I would ever witness.

I then blacked out momentarily and fell back on my haunches. For a split second – I guess – I was gone. I tried to jump up, but my legs were like jelly. For a moment, I didn’t know where I was. I clambered to my feet and – so embarrassed…I thought everyone must be looking at me – I steadied myself and unscrewed by camera lens cover.

Snap – an unsurprisingly blurred shot of Torres and team mates on their feet in the far corner. I think I had missed the massive pile of bodies.

Wow. That has never happened to me before. I have felt very light-headed at moments of joy (Gallas against Spurs in 2006, for example) but I’ve never blacked out before.

As I explained to Alan and Walnuts about what had just happened to me, The Bridge was rocking and the noise didn’t let up.

West Ham were silent.

The rest of the game was a massive blur. Just time for a diving JT chest pass (a first?) and then, on 90 minutes, the coup de grace.

A pass into space from our boy Fernando and Malouda slammed the ball in. Camera at the ready I took ten photographs of the joy amongst our players as Malouda welcomed a smiling Torres to join him. Both were mobbed by the rest of the team and the day was complete.

What an amazing end to the game. I can only imagine what was going through the minds of Anna, Dennis and JR. On my first ever visit to Yankee stadium, my hero Don Mattingly hit his 100th home run (on film!) and I was a very happy man.

But this…this was something else!

Out through the joyous crowds, past the So Bar, onto Vanston Place, we were all singing…it didn’t take long for a new song to be borne.

“Fernando Torres – He sent West Ham down.”

I soon caught up with His Lordship as we sauntered back to the car. We did well and left Chelsea Town at 8pm.

A text from JR : “Does it get any better?”

As we drove past Windsor Castle on the M4, I glimpsed at the famous round tower and spotted a St. George’s flag atop its flagpole. We stopped at Reading for a little indulgence… coffees and a couple of Krispy Kreme doughnuts. Parky did a lucky dip of my CDs and pulled out “Soft Cell.” He then fell asleep and I drove on, heading west, not thinking about the title, just thinking of being Chelsea.

However, just two miles from Parky Towers, there was a rumble and I knew that I had a flat tire. We pulled over and, in the darkness of a Wiltshire night, I quickly changed the wheel. It had been a blow out and I thanked the lucky stars I was only doing thirty miles per hour. This delayed my return home; after dropping Parky home, I reached my house at 10.50pm. I only had to wait a minute to see Fernando Torres’ goal on “Match of the Day” and I just thought –

“Perfect timing.”

We’re still in with a shout of the title, you know. It’s a long shot of course, but please prepare yourselves for yet more drama next weekend when we play Tottenham at home.

Love it.

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