Chelsea vs. Arsenal : 29 October 2011.
We had heard that Reg was going to open up The Goose at 10am and so we set off early from the West of England. I picked up Parky just after 8am and headed east. Barely over 48 hours earlier, we had travelled the self-same 100 miles for the CPO meeting, unsure of the outcome and riddled with doubts about the future of the club.
We need not have worried. In a watershed day in the history of the club, a solid message was sent back to the board by the CPO shareholders.
“Don’t tread on us.”
This was going to be a long day for Parks and yours truly. In addition to the Chelsea vs. Arsenal game at 12.45pm, we were staying up in London for the Sham 69 gig in Brixton in the evening. On the drive up to town, we spoke about all sorts. As people have commented, it has been an exhausting and troublesome week for us at Chelsea.
Lots to chat about, no doubt.
However, on this busiest of days, part of my focus was elsewhere. My home town club Frome Town have been enjoying a very enjoyable season in the Evostik Southern League (formerly the Southern League, the League that Chelsea leap-frogged way back in 1905.) This season represents the highest that the Robins have ever played in the non-league pyramid. I have been to three games thus far (a great win, a dull loss and an entertaining draw) and hope to go to a few more as the campaign develops. After the game against Brackley a few weeks ago, I went out in town with Glenn and San Francisco Bob and we ended up watching a Two-Tone tribute band and for a few silly hours, I felt like Frome was the centre of the universe, not Stamford Bridge, as I spent time chatting with old school friends about the town and the team, drinking lagers, reliving some memories and feeling connected. It was a great night. It made me realise a few simple truths about the role of the club within the local community and that feeling will stay with me. I obviously feel a sense of family with Chelsea, but I sometimes let my mind wander and contemplate how lovely it must be to support a “one team town” such as Newcastle United or Portsmouth and to be a local resident of that town. I feel a strong bond to Chelsea Football Club, but not necessarily to London itself. For residents of SW6, I guess that bond to CFC is even stronger.
I saw my first ever Frome game in around 1972, some two years before my first Chelsea game. For many years – 1986 to 2009 – I don’t think I saw a single Frome game, but my interest has been rekindled recently, lured no doubt by recent successes, but I was also keen to contrast my experiences with Chelsea.
Get some perspective. Get another angle on the madness of this obsession with football.
However, not everything was rosy. Part of the deal for Frome’s promotion in May was that a new stand – including seats – has to be built by the end of March or the club, currently in seventh place, would be automatically relegated.
Now is not the time to rail against this ruling, but it does annoy me that Frome’s ground at Badgers Hill is neat and tidy, nicely appointed, safe and secure. It has a stand for around 80 seats, a covered stand holding 200 and the place can easily hold 2,000 I’d imagine. Yet the powers-that-be have enforced this absurd ruling on the club and so £20,000 needs to be raised.
The Fighting Fund currently stands at £4,500 and the pressure is now on to step up the fundraising to reach the target. There has been talk on the unofficial fans’ forum about asking the town’s most famous new resident Johnny Depp for a few thousand, but I’m not sure if that has any mileage.
Step forward my good mate Steve, a real football enthusiast, who has supported Frome Town through thick and thin since his first game in around 1974. While we were heading east to Chelsea by car, he was heading East to Frome by foot, covering the 12 miles from his home in Shepton Mallet by foot on a sponsored walk in order to raise funds. San Francisco Bob, NYB Mike and I had already pledged a substantial sum towards Steve’s walk and my target was to raise additional funds from my mates at Chelsea during the day.
As the day developed, the pledges increased and Steve updated me on his progress –
“Halfway…getting warm now…Chantry…Whatley…three miles to go…sat in the Vine Tree…100 yards to go.”
In London Town, I was parked up at 10.30am and we were soon in the Yadana Café. Breakfasts were ordered and I spoke with CSG’s Pete, Liz and Cliff – and Parky – about the last three weeks, the CPO meeting on Thursday, the way forward, the whole nine yards.
And I left the café with £12 for Steve’s walk – a great start.
Ideally, I set the target at £20 for the day, but I was off to a flyer.
We headed around the corner and entered The Goose, already busy with morning boozers. Here, the chat continued about the CPO meeting – and so did the pledges for Steve.
It was great to spend some nice time chatting with Julie and Burger for the first time since the game against West Brom. We exchanged stories about all sorts. They are now 18 months into their England adventure and the biggest compliment I can pay is that they just feel like locals. I can sense that they are desperate for their first Champions League away game. That is always a seminal moment in the life of any Chelsea fan.
In The Footsteps Of Rene Lacoste.
Burger – black.
Chris – dark blue.
As we left the pub at about 12.15pm, I can honestly say that the game against Arsenal had not been mentioned once the entire day; not in the car, the café or the pub.
Too much other stuff going on.
As for the sponsored walk, another £16 had been added to the coffers.
Ironically, Glenn’s season ticket was being used by his mate Steve Malpas, who used to play for Frome Town back in the early ‘eighties in the glory days of Bertie Allen, Colin Dredge and Steve Walkey…but I digress
As I turned the corner outside the site of the former So Bar, I heard the usual “WWYWYWS?” being uttered by a little mob of Arsenal fans as they made their way towards the away end. By the way, it seems that the knuckle-draggers amongst our support that used to frequent the So Bar have now decamped to The Imperial on the Kings Road. I very rarely used to go inside the “So”, but after hearing a few songs about Auschwitz on my last visit two years ago, I soon decided it was not the place for me.
I bought a programme, then put some money in the collecting tin being held out by two members of the armed forces and was given a poppy. On the walk to the turnstiles, I had a quick chat with CPO director Rick Glanvil. I passed on my best wishes to him and said that I hated to see him caught in the crossfire on Thursday at the CPO meeting. He is a good man and I hope he escapes unscathed.
I got to my seat just in time to capture the Pride of London flag being passed above the heads of the denizens of the MHL.
This would be our nearest home game to Armistice Day, November 11th, and so the Chelsea Pensioners walked the teams out onto the pitch. We played with a red poppy embroidered into our royal blue shirts, always a nice touch.
I have to be honest; I had no problems with the starting eleven being selected by the manager. There are still unanswered questions about the right side of our defence (which two out of Alex, Luiz, Ivanovic and Bosingwa?), but I had to go with the manager. He alone knows how the players have trained this past week, who has injury niggles, who are best suited to the upcoming game. I surely had no problems with the midfield three of Mikel, Lampard and Ramires, nor the front three of Mata, Torres and Sturridge.
After the game against QPR last Sunday, I mentioned that it had been a crazy game.
Well, this one surely matched it.
A brief synopsis.
We began the livelier, with Ashley Cole playing in Fernando Torres in the inside-left channel, but the Boy from Fuenlabrada shot wide. Soon after, Daniel Sturridge attacked the bye-line right down in front of Parkyville, but his week right-footed cross was easily smothered by Szxcsxzscxzesny. Torres, loitering on the far post un-marked, would surely have scored had the ball reached him.
Then, Arsenal attacked at will, with Gervinho and Rip van Winkle spurning easy chances. Our defence was at sixes and sevens, or at least at twenty-sixes and seventeens. I lost count of the number of times that poor finishing or just bad luck stopped Arsenal from scoring in that first-half. However, we took the lead when the busy Mata sent over a lovely cross which Frank headed past the Arsenal ‘keeper.
We’ll take that – get in.
This was a very open game and, on 38 minutes, Arsenal equalised with another intricate passage of play which left our defenders flat-footed and embarrassed. Gervinho – he of the most ridiculous hairstyle ever – squared for Rip van Winkle to score past Cech. The Arsenal fans erupted.
Yet again, the away fans were out singing the 38,000 home fans and I’m only going to say one thing, damning though it is; this game was no different to any other.
Lo and behold, an in-swinging corner just before the break was deftly flicked home by The Captain and he reeled away in front of the away section, no doubt enjoying the moment.
2-1 at the break, riding our luck, but contented.
I popped out to the concourse to have a quick chat with San Francisco Pete, fresh from his Berlin marathon, and it made a change for us not to be moaning at the break.
The second-half was a horror show.
Arsenal equalised on 47 minutes just as I found myself putting my programme away; I only saw the shot from Santos fly past Cech.
Then the game’s pivotal moment. A break down below me involving Ramires and his path was blocked by a terrible challenge by their ‘keeper. It was obvious that the ‘keeper was not the last man, with two or three Arsenal defenders racing back to cover, but I honestly thought that the recklessness of the challenge warranted a red by itself.
Andre Marriner issued a yellow and we yelled our abuse.
That Frank’s fine effort from the resulting free-kick was superbly saved by Szxcsxzscxzesny just rubbed it in further.
Then, Arsenal went ahead with a goal from Walcott.
3-2 to the visitors and their fans celebrated wildly. Why do my eyes always get drawn to the away section in such circumstances? I hate that.
AVB made some substitutions and the game remained open. For 25 minutes, we chased the game, but without much pattern. Then, substitute Meireles chased down a loose ball and found Mata, who unleashed a dipping and swerving blast from 30 yards. While everyone around was wildly celebrating this amazing counterpunch, I was very impressed with the way that our new Spanish talisman shrugged off his advancing team mates and raced back to the halfway line for the re-start.
That said a lot to me. We unearthed a good’un, there.
Then, the screw turned further and JT slipped from a half-hearted Malouda back-pass on the halfway line. Van Persie raced away and netted past Cech.
Then, further ignominy as van Persie flashed a cracker past Cech from an angle and we groaned a thousand groans.
I quickly dipped into my memory bank of past Chelsea games and tried to remember the last time we had conceded five in a league game. It was way back in the autumn of 1996 and a 5-1 loss at Anfield. Yes, over 16 years ago…we’ve been pretty lucky to be honest. It just goes to show how consistent Chelsea have fared over the most recent seasons. And the last time we conceded five at home in the league? Even further ago…Liverpool again, on my Dad’s birthday in December 1989.
Twenty-two years ago.
I think other teams would envy that record.
Ask Manchester United. They conceded six at home last weekend.
That, of course, does not mean that this loss to a resurgent Arsenal didn’t hurt.
Oh boy it did.
I sat, slumped, in my seat for ages at the end of the game and it made me ill to see the Arsenal fans, all three thousand of them, staying in the away section long after the home fans had left, bouncing like fools.
And yet – we had won 4-1 and 3-0 at the Emirates in recent years and those were the best of days. If we play football in the top flight, there will always be occasional thumpings. As the above comments prove, we have avoided these like no other team in the top flight in recent years. And so, this craziest of seasons continues on with yet another wild scoreline.
Manchester United 8 Arsenal 2, Manchester United 1 Manchester City 6, Chelsea 3 Arsenal 5.
We had best be wary of Manchester City…they beat United, who beat Arsenal, who beat us.
After the game, we arranged to meet up at the Lillee Langtry, under the shadow of the Empress State Building and Earls Court Two at West Brompton. I walked along the infamous Seagrave Road, the road mentioned repeatedly by Bruce Buck on Thursday as the debate about walkways and bridges to the north of The Bridge grew hotter and hotter.
I had to admit to myself, the distance between Stamford Bridge and Earls Court would not be far. It would be almost as close as Highbury and their new stadium.
Still the CPO proposal dominated my thoughts and I sighed once more.
We reached the pub at 3pm and had a quick post-mortem. It wasn’t pleasant. Simon’s son Milo was especially subdued. This had been his heaviest home defeat in his 15 years. The fact that he lives in deepest Arsenal territory made his gloominess all the more relevant. He was dreading school on Monday.
Burger and Julie, then Andy Wray and Daz arrived. Within about twenty minutes, we had moved on past the depressing events we had just witnessed. Andy, always fearing the worst of the weather in England, was wrapped up for the cold with a heavy jacket, gloves, scarf, balaclava, snow goggles and wellington boots.
I thought he was slightly overdressed to be honest.
And still the pledges for Steve’s walk came in thick and fast.
It ended up at £50. A great effort.
I spoke to Steve on the phone – Frome had drawn 1-1 – and he was very pleased with the support from SW6.
While Andy and Parky spoke about the clothing requirements for his next visit in November, Daz and I rabbitted for ages about the CPO meeting and the fallout from it. We spoke of the way forward. We both reflected on one of the closing statements uttered by Bruce Buck on Thursday, once we had asked him what the board’s next move would be.
“Well, we’ll go back and talk to Roman…”
…and Daz and I both shouted
“NO…TALK TO US!”
In a nutshell, that demonstrates the gulf that exists between the interested parties.
Time was moving on. I heard Parky talking to Andy about bearskins for the Liverpool game, but we had to leave. We bode fond farewells and headed on.
We walked to Earls Court tube, then headed down to Pimlico. Back in the early to mid ‘seventies, Parky was in the army and was stationed at Pimlico Barracks for a few years, luckily no more than two miles from Stamford Bridge. He gave me a great little tour of his old stomping ground and we stopped off at his old local, The Morpeth Arms, on the banks of the Thames. It was a superb, cosy pub. I enjoyed hearing his tales from his youth and we knocked back a Peroni apiece.
From there, we caught the Victoria Line to Brixton, south of the river.
Brixton is Brooklyn to the Manhattan of Kensington and Chelsea. It certainly felt odd to be south of the river.
However, we thoroughly enjoyed the concert at Brixton Electric, formerly The Fridge, and we saw three bands…The Skets, Control and Sham 69.
I was into the punk movement in my early teens and Sham’s “Tell Us The Truth” album was the very first LP I bought, way back in 1978.
Well, they didn’t disappoint. Parky and I loved it. Jimmy Pursey, the gregarious front man, was mesmerizing and had the crowd in his hands. We bumped into two other Chelsea fans during the evening and I am sure there were many more. Sham were always firm favourites in The Shed.
The gig finished at 10.15pm and we slowly made our way back to the car. By this time, the chats in the Lillee, the visit to Pimlico and the concert in Brixton had helped dissolve the stern memory of the football.
In fact, despite those five goals, it had been a fantastic day.