Manchester United vs. Chelsea : 8 May 2011.
As the days passed, the sense of anticipation rose throughout the week. By Saturday, I could hardly think of anything else. This comes as no surprise I am sure. I think everyone was thinking the same thoughts. Everyone nervous. Everyone excited.
Sunday arrived and I was ready.
I cleared the debris from the last Chelsea trip from my car and made sure that I had all the necessary match day essentials.
Ticket – check.
Camera – check.
Wallet – check.
Phone – check.
Bottles of Peroni for Parky and Burger – check.
Cans of Coke for me – check.
CDs – check.
Head full of memories from past matches at Old Trafford – check.
Hope eternal – check.
At about 9.45am, I set off from my village in Somerset, now overflowing with late spring greenery and vibrant colours. I collected His Lordship and we were on our way. It looked like it would be a day of sunny intervals and scattered showers, with the sky full of clouds. For a change, no music on the road north; we just chatted away about all sorts. After a McBreakfast at Melksham, we hit the M4, then the M5, then the M6.
Heading towards Birmingham, a car sped past with the number plate “KI55 UTD” and I commented
“Kiss United Goodbye more like, mate.”
At 12.45pm, we swung into Stafford and called in to collect Burger. There had been a flurry of activity earlier in the morning with a ticket up for grabs. However, the ticket in question was quickly snapped up by another Chelsea fan and so Julie was unable to come with us. A coffee apiece and we were on our way.
Burger quickly updated us with news from his hectic life – I hadn’t seen him since Everton away in the F.A. Cup – but talk soon swung around to talking about our great shared obsession; Chelsea Football Club. As we sped up the M6, my two passengers opened up some bottles of beer and I had provided a Midwest Blues Chicago 2006 koozie for Burger. Our paths didn’t actually cross during that crazy Chelsea weekend, but I first met Julie and Burger at Stamford Bridge the following December. We were in deep conversation about the Chelsea trip to Baltimore and Texas in 2009 and I completely missed the turning for Manchester. So, we had to fly over the Thelwall Viaduct and on to the M62 and approach Old Trafford from the north and not the south. This was the same way that I approached Old Trafford on my first ever visit over a quarter of a century ago, when a Somerset coach driver got a little lost on his way to the stadium.
In April 1986, I was a student at North Staffs Poly in Stoke and I had arranged for the Yeovil Branch to collect me, plus my college mate Steve and his twin brother Sean, outside the old Victoria Ground on the way through. Steve was a Derby County fan but was relishing the trip to Old Trafford. He had christened me “Chel” on a boozy night out earlier that season, though this wasn’t, believe it or not, due to my love of Chelsea.
It was, instead, a nod to the London nickname for people called Derek.
“Chris – we should call you Chel.”
For a few nights, Steve was “Stel” – but only “Chel” stuck.
I wonder why.
The coach reached Manchester in good time – I can remember spotting the towering United Road stand across the warehouses of Trafford Park – but the coach driver then seemed to get lost on his final approach to the stadium. We eventually parked up at the adjacent Old Trafford cricket ground, home of Lancashire, and we were given a police escort on the 15 minute walk to the home of Manchester United. I remember that I got inside with only a few minutes to go and soon lost contact with Steve and Sean. I was positioned right at the back of the small terrace area in front of the infamous K Stand. In 1985-1986, United had begun the season very strongly and had won all of their first nine or ten games – including a narrow 2:1 win at The Bridge in October – but had since slumped, allowing their old enemies Liverpool back in the mix. We had been in the top six all season, along with West Ham and Everton, but had recently slumped ourselves. We had recently lost 1:4 at home to West Ham and 0:6 at QPR. United, as far as I can remember, had enjoyed a recent resurgence, though, so the United faithful – all 45,000 of them – had assembled at Old Trafford to see their team defeat the declining Chelsea.
I remember straining to be able to see any of the ensuing action as the game unravelled before me. Life on the terraces back in the eighties was certainly wild and “carefree” but it wasn’t the greatest place to watch for me, not being the tallest. I’d often watch on my toes, steadying myself with my hands resting on the person in front of me, then end up getting jostled and moving feet and yards in the ensuing scrambles, with fellow fans literally moving as one organic unit. You would often get surges as shots went in and it was like being in a football mosh pit. After many games, I’d be physically exhausted. The tightest of away ends were Anfield and Old Trafford and the buzz was unbelievable.
Actually, despite the usually rubbish views, I miss it badly.
We weathered the storm in the first-half, but – attacking our end – Kerry Dixon broke through soon into the second-half. It was Kerry against Chris Turner, the United ‘keeper, and Kerry coolly slotted the ball past him. There were wild scenes amongst the 4,000 away fans, but the home fans were far from happy. I kept looking around and the seated United fans were only a few feet away. It felt like the whole ground was rocking to the sound of “United – clap, clap, clap – United – clap, clap, clap” as the home team attacked us. I seem to remember a few missiles – possibly darts – raining down on us and I remember thinking –
“F***ing hell – we’re like sitting ducks here.”
Doug Rougvie, good old Doug the Thug, thighs like tree-trunks, gave away a penalty – a penalty at the Stretford End? Surely not! – and Jesper Olsen equalised. With thoughts of getting out alive – who knows what was waiting for us in the dark hostile streets of Stretford – we then broke in the very last move of the game. Speedo squared for Kerry and the rest is history.
We went ballistic; jumping, screaming, pushing, hugging, falling, yelping, punching the air.
The referee soon blew up and the United hordes were silent: we were euphoric. It then dawned on me that we had compounded issues on the hooligan front and my walk back to the waiting coach would be even more precarious than had it stayed at 1:1. I soon met up with my mate Swan, from Radstock, and we safely returned to the coach…one of my most memorable walks back from a stadium ever. To say I was buzzing would be a massive understatement.
We even had a police escort – sirens wailing, lights flashing, policemen on motorbikes – all of the way back to the ring road and Steve and Sean hadn’t seen anything like it. Chelsea had a right old name back in those days and they were loving it.
“Bloody hell, Chel, does this happen at every away game?”
I suspect that I just gave him an old-fashioned look.
No words were spoken, but a lot was said.
I can’t remember what clobber I was wearing at Old Trafford in 1986 – it was the season that sportswear fully gave way to a new code which included fully-buttoned paisley shirts and leather jackets, worn with Burberry and Aquascutum scarves around the face, like urban guerrillas – but I am pretty sure I had a pair of Hard Core jeans, which were de regueur in the 1985-1987 period.
It was the era of scally perms too – check.
At 2.30pm – back to 2011 now – I parked up in the same suburban street as in the Champions League a month or so ago. I was parked about a mile from the stadium, but only about 500 yards from where the Yeovil coach had parked way back in 1986. I wondered if any of those Somerset lads would be at the game; I hadn’t seen Swan since around 1987. With the coffee and beers taking a toll, my two passengers quickly exited the car in need of relief. With nobody looking, they quickly took it in turns to disappear inside a hedge which bordered the garden of a small block of flats.
We were in Manchester. It was the least they could do.
The Battle Of The Polo Shirts –
Parky – Fred Perry.
Burger – Rene Lacoste.
Chris – Henri Lloyd.
Out onto the Chester Road, past the Gorse Hill pub and a few more United pubs. The red replica shirts were everywhere.
“Come come, nuclear bomb.”
The Bishop Blaize – always full of song, the United version of the So.
Burger – his first visit – and I took a few photos. Down Sir Matt Busby Way – it sounds grandiose, but it’s just a narrow terraced street with open ground and a car dealership on one side – with fanzine sellers shouting their wares.
“Red Issue – out today.”
“United We Stand – only two quid.”
“Get your Red News today.”
Further down, Dave Johnstone was there –
“The Chelsea fanzine, only a pound, hurry up.”
David Moyes, the Everton manager, hustled past and Parky yelled “Moyesy” as if they were long lost friends.
I wanted to take Burger down to the Munich memorial and we stood, in silence, for a few seconds. I turned towards Burger and Parky and said “I wonder how many United fans can name the players who died in Munich, you know?” I then reeled off a few names, my back to the memorial, just to prove a point…
“Duncan Edwards, Tommy Taylor, David Pegg, Billy Whelan…”
We then walked back up to the road and I stood amongst the United fans for a few moments. I know it’s a cliché, but the United tourists – the “Daytrippers” as the local lads call them, with derision – were out in force. I issued Burger and Parky with a little task for the next few minutes –
“Ruin as many photos as you can.”
With that, Parky spotted his chance and slowly ambled through a group of United fans from Asia just as their leader was about to take a photo.
This group had even brought their own inflatable thundersticks. No wonder the lads in the Paul & Shark pullovers and Berghaus rainjackets from Crumpsall, Clayton and Ordsall mock some of their own fans. In the rush for global supremacy, the local populace feel as though the identity of their club is being changed irrevocably, with tourists paying high prices for match tickets at the expense of the local working classes.
“Oh Manchester, so much to answer for.”
It used to annoy me – back in the ‘eighties – that whenever Chelsea’s “potential” was spoken about, we were often cited as having the fan base and stadium location to become the “Manchester United of the South.” I just wished that our two clubs would never be compared in this way because, even then, United attracted the glory-hunters and idiots. You know the type – people who purport to follow United, but can’t name their opponents at the weekend. I squirm when I think that there are JCLs at Chelsea now who now resemble the United stereotype.
One more thing…outside the East stand (aka the old K stand), there are two statues. One, facing out, is a lovely bronze statue of Sir Matt. Facing him, twenty yards away, is another statue – of Best, Law and Charlton. It’s the “meeting place” at Old Trafford and, pretty much, the epi-centre of all things United. What a shame then, that there was a massive advertisement for Audi draped behind Sir Matt and four Audi cars, on display stands, right behind the Holy Trinity statue.
There is a famous saying – if United had a heart, they’d sell that too.
I know that United’s fans have complained about similar displays of crass commercialism in the past and I can sympathise with the United hard-core on this. There was, for example, a similar sponsor’s advertisement which adorned a banner on the East stand frontage which tried to commemorate the memory of the 50th anniversary of the Munich air crash in 2008.
“Ten” said Burger.
We barged in to another Asian photo opportunity and I whispered “Come On Chelsea.”
We met up with a gaggle of Chelsea lads and then went inside. Parky and Burger were in the corner, I was in the little section of 500 in the South stand. There was a Scouser on the turnstile –
“Hope you win today, lad – and Torres scores.”
Inside, up the stairs and two bottles of “Singha” in the cramped and stifling bar. It was like a bloody sauna. I met up with a few friends – too many to name – and we watched on as Arsenal lost at Stoke City. Although the game was massive, I completely agreed with Alan’s take on things –
“I’m surprisingly not too bothered actually. Whatever will be will be. Just glad we’ve put ourselves back in contention, we’ve done ourselves proud.”
The team flashed upon the screen – I would have found room for Ramires (possibly instead of Mikel) and would have played Anelka instead of Kalou (who, as the world knows is an impact player, best suited to coming off the bench.) My confidence was being tested.
Alan, Gary and I had seats in the second from last row; right at the top of the stand (the same stand that was bombed by the Luftwaffe in WW2) and my mate Millsy was just behind us. He had a lovely experience against West Ham; he took his son to his first ever game and the two of them were picked out in the crowd by the TV cameras at the end of that most emotional match. What a lovely memento of Game #1.
At 4pm, we were roaring – to the tune of “Amazing Grace.”
“Chelsea – Chelsea – Chelsea – Chelsea
Chelsea – Chelsea – Chelsea
Chelsea – Chelsea – Chelsea – Chelsea
Chelsea – Chelsea – Chelsea
Chelsea – Chelsea – Chelsea – Chelsea
Chelsea – Chelsea – Chelsea
Chelsea – Chelsea – Chelsea – Chelsea
Chelsea – Chelsea – Chelsea.”
At 4.10pm, the game kicked-off.
At 4.11pm, Park had played the ball through to Hernandez and we were 1-0 down, the United fans in a frenzy.
For the rest of the game, we were second best. The midfield was woeful in the first period, with only Mikel showing the occasional bit of form. We were slow and lacked fizz. The second, from Vidic, made our task even more difficult.
Rooney came in for torrents of abuse and showed his class by giving us a “Winston Churchill” – he loves playing the victim, typical Scouser.
We expected a more enthusiastic show from the boys in the second period, but – although we did play better – the step up wasn’t great. To be fair, Ramires played well and gave us lots more options out wide. Frank’s close-range stab brought cheer, but nobody seemed that convinced we would fully recover, despite the chants of “we’re gonna win 3:2.” To be truthful, it was only through miraculous blocks – Alex was great – and woeful finishing that we didn’t concede more. I thought Rooney would score on many occasions, cutting in from the left, working the ball onto his right.
United’s support was quieter, though, during the last 20 minutes…we definitely had the fans worried, if not the team. Torres came on and screwed a shot wide. We knew it was not to be. The Chelsea fans around me began leaving and the United fans began roaring again in the final five minutes.
“Giggs – Giggs Will Tear You Apart Again.”
I texted a curt “well done” to four United fans at the final whistle and I was soon out on the forecourt, battling the gentle slope and the crowing United fans alike. Burger had been delayed in his exit; he had said that two United fans – not from England – had somehow got tickets in the away seats and had unzipped their jackets at the end of the game to reveal red shirts. A punch in the face from an enraged Chelsea fan was the response.
Not big, not clever, but totally understandable.
Just after we reached the car, the heavens opened, thus providing a perfect Mancunian ending to the time spent in United Land. We gobbled down some Cornish pasties and slowly nudged our way onto the A56. Thankfully, the traffic moved relatively quickly and we were soon on our way south, hemmed in, no doubt, by 20,000 United fans.
We were philosophical – as you would expect – and the day had been enjoyable, despite the result. Burger had thought that the singing from his section was good, but I knew it was a lot better in 2010. With good reason. We stopped for a toilet break at Knutsford – the place absolutely teeming with AON shirts – and as Parky and Burger got out of the car, I asked them…
“Toilet, boys? Need a pee? You’ll need to find a bush or a hedge won’t you? Who are you, the Chelsea Hedgehunters?”
We dropped Burger off in Stafford at about 8.30pm – Julie had watched the game in their local and was sad, but happy to see us. It had been a tough old day. The chat and laughter, so therapeutic, continued on as we headed south, through Birmingham and beyond. As a mark of respect for the recently deceased Poly Styrene, His Lordship had brought along an X-Ray Spex CD and – despite an already sore throat – I belted out a few old favourites from 1977 and 1978.
Then, the last few miles, and a compilation of songs from the early 1980’s – our era, don’t you know? I love the song, but I just grimaced when it came on –
“When routine bites hard,
And ambitions are low,
And resentment rides high,
But emotions won’t grow,
And we’re changing our ways,
Taking different roads.
Then love, love will tear us apart again.
Love, love will tear us apart again.”