Chelsea vs. Bolton Wanderers : 25 February 2012.
My week of football was nearing its end. After the two cup ties with Birmingham City and Napoli, it was enough I could do to muster much enthusiasm for the game with Bolton Wanderers. As I drove the 12 miles to collect Lord Parky, I was struggling. For one thing, my heart, body and soul were still in Italy. I’m sure this is a common occurrence. I know that it always happens to me. It always takes me more than a few days to wash a holiday destination out of my mind.
Arrivederci Roma. Arrivederci Napoli.
It had been a great trip, with some fantastic friends. The game hadn’t gone our way, but I have to be honest and say that I half-expected a loss out in the crazy city of Naples. Yes, it was all doom and gloom on the bus escort away from the stadium and on the train back to Rome. But, there is no doubt that we can win 2-0 in the second leg. Should that be the case, that particular night will go down in the annals of Chelsea history, alongside games against Bruges, Vicenza, Barcelona and Liverpool.
There was a hint of guilt in my mind as I picked up Parky; I was sorry that he hadn’t been able to come out to Italy with me. On the drive to London, we exchanged tales. Games are coming thick and fast now; we went through a few plans for the next month or so. The game with Bolton would be my 37th. of the current season. I’m on target for around 51 at least. Parky and I have only regularly going to Chelsea together since around 2008. Before then, he would travel up by train. Hopefully my oldest Chelsea mate Glenn – I first met him at Oakfield School in Frome in 1977 – will be able to attend more games next season. I sometimes wonder what life I would be living if I didn’t have my fix of football each week. Best not dwell too much on that. This is the life I have chosen. In any case, as Tommy Johnson once said “what else are you going to do on a Saturday?”
It was just another Saturday in fact. The usual “café / pub / match” routine. The usual faces. In The Goose, there was the usual résumé of events and stories which accompany a European away game. In the immediate area of where I stood in The Goose, seven friends had been out in Italy. There is a fine balancing act involved here in providing commentary for the friends not able to travel and not droning on about every detail. I’m sure all of my mates would have like to have gone; it’s not always possible. There is nothing worse than a bore.
Mike and Chopper from New York called in. I joined them in the beer garden for a few minutes; it was a surprisingly warm day. I suddenly remembered that the last time the three of us were together was in a pub in Manhattan, during a holiday I had with my mother in 2010. Mike was in town for just one night. Chopper is over for five weeks with work. I look forward to meeting up with them again for the Napoli return game. Jesus, fresh-faced from his one day trip to Italy, momentarily called in to the pub. The West Ham vs. Crystal Palace game was on TV, but garnering scant attention.
I chatted with Cliff briefly on the way down the North End Road, Saturday afternoon shoppers darting in and out of the shops and market stalls. The street was a hive of activity. Past the pubs and the cafes. Cliff had been out in Italy. We both agreed that the police had, largely, been “on top” throughout the day of the game. We had heard of rare instances of attacks on Chelsea fans. Although the route taken by the escort had been lengthy, it was the only route they could have taken; it was the only elevated section of road in Naples. There was no point in risking normal streets, prone to gridlock, prone to ambush. I loved Naples and would go back in an instant. It ain’t Paris. It ain’t Vienna. And all the more colourful and vibrant for it.
Yes. Italy was still in my mind.
After the embarrassment of the 36,000 gate against Birmingham City, thank heavens we drew a far more respectable crowd for this one. The Bolton following was a shocking 300, though. Overhead, the sky was pure unadulterated azure with no clouds visible. Down below, the pink bibbed players were finishing off their drills.
A former work colleague, Steve, was alongside me in Glenn’s seat for the game. He used to go more often, but said that he just can’t muster up much enthusiasm for Chelsea at the moment. It would be his first game this season.
I quickly glanced through the programme; I usually head to the page which contains head shots of Chelsea fans celebrating birthdays, with famous players or half-way up Kilimanjaro waving a CFC flag. There was a photo of a chap who sits a few feet away – Mark – who was celebrating his imminent birthday. I once bought some photographs from him which he took at the 1998 ECWC Final. I was amazed to see that he has not missed a home game since 1969. Some record, that. Yet I hardly ever see him at away games.
The famous come-back game against Bolton from 1978-1979 was featured in the programme. Rick Glanvill always does a great job in reliving our history – what history? – for the younger generations. In that shocking season, I can well remember that the famous Yugoslavian coach Miljan Miljanic was linked with a role at Chelsea during that season and, indeed, Rick had chosen to include a photograph of Miljanic in his retrospective match report.
I also remember rumours of Johann Cruyff joining us in that 1978-1979 season.
Johann Cruyff and John Sitton in the same team. Quite a thought.
As the years pass by, all of the various football seasons, memorable games, players and memories intertwine and overlap. It all becomes one lifetime Chelsea experience really.
Just another Saturday? Don’t you believe it.
Andre Villas-Boas had recalled the old guard for this instalment of The Chelsea Story. With Ashley Cole, Frank Lampard and Michael Essien back in the team, there was no hiding place for us. Without a win since the narrow 1-0 victory at Loftus Road, we were in dire need of three points.
We began strongly. A lovely Frank Lampard tackle set Daniel Sturridge on his way upfield, but he was on his wrong side. A right-footed shot ended up at the ‘keeper’s feet. Frank was sent through but the ball bobbled away from him before going out for a corner. Then the play stagnated and the atmosphere turned funereal. It was so quiet at times that I wondered if my hearing had been affected by the noise of Naples. A curling shot from Studge flew past the far post. A great dribble from the bursting Ramires ended up with a lame shot at Bogdan. A shot from Ashley Cole flew wide. In a move that seemed to sum up our play at the moment, a delightful ball from Lamps found the on-rushing Drogba, but he was collided with Ivanovic. Both fell to the floor. I’m surprised that Didier didn’t appeal for a penalty. Our defence was rarely under pressure. I got to see two gut-busting runs from new boy Gary Cahill at close hand. He didn’t let us down. Bolton’s first effort on goal came from Ryo Miyaichi on 44 minutes. He had his own fan club in the lower tier of the away enclosure; four Japanese tourists waving Japanese flags.
The atmosphere stayed surreally quiet. It had been a pretty tedious performance really. The game was begging for a goal. At least there was no booing at the the half-time whistle. Jesper Gronkjaer appeared on the pitch with Neil at the break.
Ah, 2003…what a game that was.
David Luiz was all over our opening goal. I loved the way that he won the ball in the corner down below me. He continued on and, when the ball broke for him, he took a couple of touches along the edge of the penalty area. He looked up, took a glance at Bogdan in his ridiculous cerise shirt, and curled a shot in at the far post. We yelped with joy and I attempted to take as many shots of his typically exuberant celebrations as I could.
Fred Dibnah : “thay’ll ‘av ta com at us now, like.”
Peter Kay : “come on, my little diamonds.”
If the first-half was boring, the second-half was much more entertaining. Reo-Coker shot wide from a central position. A Mata corner found a leaping Luiz, whose header was blocked. Sturridge worked in Juan Mata who passed to Didier Drogba, but his flighted chip dolloped on top of the bar. Soon after, a Mata curler was deflected for a corner. We serenaded Super Frank as he trotted over to take the kick down below. He was smiling and so were we.
Snap, snap, snap.
His corner found the leap of Drogba, unhindered on the six yard box, and it was 2-0. I caught Didier’s goal on film, but it was too blurred for my liking. The chances still came…a low Michael Essien scudder, a delicate Mata chip. Fernando Torres came on as a substitute for Drogba and both players were warmly applauded. The way we have stuck with Nando this last season is something we can all be very proud of. He toiled for the rest of the game, but his goal efforts were off the mark.
Soon after, Frank wrapped up the points with a neat finish from a perfect cross from Mata. Again, he celebrated down below me, his face so happy, and his joy there for all to see. How many times have I been able to take up-close and personal photographs of Frank’s ecstatic goal celebrations in that little corner of SW6 down below me? It seems like hundreds. I’m so lucky to be able to take these photos, so soon after the goals are scored, bodies flying everywhere, the team in unison. I think it must be Frank’s most emotional part of the stadium, ever since that bittersweet night on April 30th 2008 when he struck that penalty to defeat Liverpool so soon after the passing of his mother Pat.
I suggest we call it “Frank’s Corner” from now on. Well, I will anyway.
There was a far more upbeat walk back to the car for me this week. On the way home, Parky fought a losing battle with a bottle of Jack Daniels but I received a text to say that Frome Town had lost yet another home game. The Robins’ visitors, St. Albans City, had former Chelsea forward Paul Furlong playing for them and I was a little annoyed that I didn’t get to see him grace the Frome Town pitch. Of course, Furlong had been the star of one of those European night games which I referred to earlier; Bruges at home, March 1995. It was, in fact, his finest hour.
Ah…another game, another memory.