Wolverhampton Wanderers vs. Chelsea : 2 January 2012.
As our manager said after the painful Aston Villa defeat, it was fortuitous that we only had to wait 48 hours for our next game; with any luck we could put New Year Eve’s defeat behind us with a win – any win – and move into the New Year with a little more confidence.
Yep, 2012 was to begin for Chelsea Football Club with a visit to Wolverhampton, with everyone hoping for three points.
The changing weather within the first hour of travel was ridiculous. For twenty minutes, the sun shone on a perfect winter morning with the blue sky looking perfect overhead. As I headed towards Bradford-on-Avon, I was amazed at the sudden mass of grey cloud ahead; there was even a double rainbow. As I collected His lordship at around 10.15am, the heavens had opened. However, after heading past Stroud on the M5, the skies were clear and a brilliant blue once again.
Parky and I had a rattling good conversation about all sorts of various topics and the time flew by. Despite our recent run of dodgy form, I commented that there is nothing like an away game on a bright winter day to get the pulses racing. Even at Wolverhampton. Even when we are seemingly in the middle of a depressing run of form. Even when we are at sixes-and-sevens. Even when we are the butt of many a joke amongst the football cognoscenti.
We encountered some travelling Swansea fans at Strensham services for the second time this season; we bumped into them as they visited Anfield and they were now heading off to Villa Park. We decided to stop off at a pub near Stourbridge for a pint and a bite to eat at around 12.30pm. The pub was busy with families enjoying their lunches but Parky noted that a couple of locals had overheard our accents and had mentioned us being “glory boys” on the way to Wolves.
Parky – first game 1961.
Myself – first game 1974.
Show me the glory from 1974 to 1997. I don’t remember much.
We manoeuvred our way through the red brick houses, the industrial units, the steel clad warehouses and the tattered shops of Dudley and were soon parked-up in the middle of Wolverhampton. My goodness, the temperature had dropped and their was a shrill wind whistling around our ears as we got out of the car, stretched our legs, donned jackets and sought liquid refreshment. We headed for the Walkabout pub – last visited in 2009-2010 – and we soon realised that this had turned into the dedicated “away fans pub”, being relatively close to both bus and train stations. We had to show our match tickets to the two bouncers. Inside, I soon spotted San Francisco Pete and two of his mates from Kent. As I queued at the bar, I also clocked Alan and Gary a few feet away. Alan told me of the Chelsea team and I tried to work out how the attacking six would line up. I doubted if it would be 4-2-3-1, but I wondered if Ramires would really be playing wide in a 4-3-3. Next to me was Terry from Radstock, a town no more than five miles away from my home, and I hadn’t seen him for three years or more.
Chelsea World is a small world indeed.
We were in the boozer for around 40 minutes. The place was a big cave of a pub – and full of Chelsea fans. Quite a few familiar faces of course. Generally speaking, hardly any colours. The drinkers were exhibiting the usual dress code of a Chelsea away game; quilted jackets, baseball caps, winter coats, thick pullovers, polo shirts, jeans, trainers and boots. The occasional sighting of a Chelsea replica shirt or a scarf only accentuated the fact that such items were relatively few in number. Towards the end of our spell in the Walkabout, a lone “Zigger Zagger” roared around the pub. It signalled the moment for us to brace ourselves and head out into the bitter winter weather and walk down to Molyneux, barely ten minutes away. We strolled past quite a few pubs on street corners, with locals with gold and black favours, and headed on. I loved the fact that two former Wolves players were mentioned amongst the commercial properties in that town centre; the Ron Flowers sport shop and The Billy Wright public house.
I spotted the roof of the new stand above the buildings to our left. Molyneux is nicely situated, just half a mile away from the town centre. It has changed beyond compare since my youth in the ‘seventies. It once hosted one of the deepest Kops in the UK, but went into disrepair in the ‘eighties. The ground was completely transformed in the early ‘nineties and became a trim stadium, with the use of the old gold club colours making it an aesthetically-pleasing mid-sized ground. I was surprised to hear that the club had to enlarge further to be honest; surely a capacity of around 28,000 would suffice? The North stand had been demolished during the summer to be replaced by a new two-tier structure. Work was obviously progressing well and the extra tier would bring the capacity up to around 31,000. For a stadium buff like me, I was keen to check on its progress over the past few months. I luckily stumbled across a fantastic site on the internet which details all of the new stadia developments around the world –
This excellent website contains photos, discussion points, diagrams; it’s superb. Further development at Molyneux is planned as and when finances permit…if and when Chelsea Football Club decides to launch their Battersea battle-plan, I expect to see a thread emerge on this website too.
Inside Molyneux, I was centrally located – row G – on the halfway line. Alan and Big John were reminiscing about their visit to the same ground in April 1977 when our fans were officially banned, but around 4,000 fans still attended. A Tommy Langley goal gave us shares in a 1-1 draw and secured our promotion. Those were heady days. That was a cracking season. I only saw three games in our promotion push, but the memories of those games against Cardiff City (won), Bristol Rovers (lost) and Millwall (drew) are strong. On the day of the Wolves match, I can vividly remember running up the slope outside my grandparents’ house once I had heard that we had secured promotion and jumping in the air. But then the realisation that, as the lone Chelsea fan in my village, I had nobody to share my enthusiasm with.
Just before the teams entered the pitch, the Wolves PA played “Fanfare For a Common Man” and the Chelsea fans began roaring, in an attempt to stir the team, but also to keep warm no doubt.
So, it was true – Ramires was playing wide right in a 4-3-3.
Within one minute, our pre-match concerns about defensive frailties were realised when right-back Jose Bosingwa cheaply gave the ball away to my left, but Wolves did not capitalise. I was reminded of last year’s abysmal game at Wolves – the nadir of Ancelotti’s reign – and Bosingwa’s starring role in that 1-0 defeat. After that initial scare we dominated the first quarter, and Fernando Torres set up both Juan Mata and Frank Lampard within a few minutes, but both shots were parried. Ramires was getting a lot of the ball out wide – making space well, but his final ball was often poor. The midfield three were rather slow in finding the front three. Where have we heard that before?
Frank Lampard was obviously very fortunate to stay on the pitch with a “studs up” challenge on a Wolves player. Alan and I looked at each other and each pulled a face to say “lucky, lucky, lucky.” I am sure that it was due to his previous record as being a relatively “clean” player that kept him on the pitch.
After thirty minutes of Chelsea dominance, but with few clear cut chances, Wolves came into the game. At the same time, fouls increased and yellow cards were brandished by Peter Walton. The Wolves fans in the south stand began baying – for five minutes or more, they were booing everything and even came out with a ridiculous chant –
“The Premier League Is Full Of 5hit.”
They’re obviously playing the underdog card a lot these days in the Black Country.
Two headed chances – close in – from Johnson and Ward flew past our post. The Chelsea support was groaning as the first-half came to an end. The gallows humour of those around me was reassuring, but the game seemed to be headed for a 0-0 draw. Two contrasting texts from home at the break; my mate Steve reported that Frome were 1-0 up at Chippenham in the derby, but Glenn said that, according to Sky Sports News, Drogba and Kalou were off.
The game grew more interesting with each minute of the second period. I was impressed with Torres’ ability to wriggle away from his marker and his luxurious dribble set up a corner. Juan Mata swept it in, JT rose and managed to glance the ball on. The ball ended up at Ramires’ feet and the diminutive Brazilian spun and thumped the ball into the top corner of the net.
The Chelsea support roared and soon serenaded the team with a boisterous “Hey Jude.”
At last, Lampard was breaking forward and Mata was twisting and turning. Meireles was quiet however. Chelsea chances came and went; a shot from Torres flew over, a bursting run from Ramires ended up with a shot straight at the goalkeeper, an effort from Mata went wide…and every Chelsea fan was rueing these misses. Wolves then got back in the game and a header was parried by Cech. The Chelsea support grew increasingly restless. Lo and behold, in the last ten minutes, a deep cross was swept back into the box and the ball was smashed in from close range. Chelsea’s defence had been punished for a second’s hesitation and the Molyneux crowd erupted. I turned around to see the line of Wolves fans in front row of the upper tier behind me; they were going berserk. One fan was “flicking Vs” at us all. I just groaned.
Oh God – yet another 1-1 draw.
But no…with the Chelsea crowd, stretched out along the length of the pitch, yelling for continued pressure, one final twist. The ball fell to Torres outside the box. He delicately played in Ashley Cole with an exquisite ball between two defenders. Our left back whipped the ball in at waist-height and we all anticipated a Chelsea strike. The pace of the ball surprised me, but there was Frank Lampard to stab the ball home.
After an initial roar, Alan and I turned to each other – our faces twisted with joy – and for some inexplicable reason, we began punching each other. I guess we needed to release some pent-up frustrations.
I jumped up on to my seat took a few photographs of Frank gesturing towards the 3,000 Chelsea supporters. It was a wonderful moment. After almost 38 years of seeing Chelsea live, I will never tire of such wanton joy.
Then, wickedly, more bloody drama. In the last minute, a Wolves throw in was flicked on and a point-blank header was pushed over his bar by Petr Cech. Immediately after, the referee blew his whistle and we roared again.
We rushed back to the waiting car, while Alan and Gary had to hang around until 6.40pm for a train back to The Smoke. They were headed for a few pints in a warm pub and I envied them. We made good time on the return trip south. I happened to tune in to an interview with Frank Lampard on the radio. Typically, the BBC were keen to focus on his wild foul rather than his goal. Frank was then asked about his allegedly strained relationship with Andre Villas-Boas and Frank replied that our manager “has his own style.” The reporter then made a meal out of this, implying that there was still distance between our manager and our number eight. How typical.
Not to worry, we had eked out a great win. Ramires, Torres and Romeu were excellent. Meireles, Bosingwa were not so. But these three points at a cold and blustery Molyneux afternoon certainly warmed the spirits of Parky and I, not to mention the other travelling fans.
It’s only one win, but let us hope that it signals the start of a more tranquil – and successful – period in our transition from the Chelsea of 2011 to the Chelsea of 2012.