Tales From Seven-Sisters And Beyond

Tottenham Hotspur vs. Chelsea : 22 December 2011.

For the second year in a row, the league computer had churned out another away game at Tottenham in December. Last season, a bleak Sunday afternoon and this season a grey Thursday evening. This was another solo mission for me. Parky had missed out on a ticket for this away game, but was still feeling the effects of his recent bout of gastro-enteritis in any case. I had finished work on Tuesday, but I dropped into the office in Chippenham on the drive up to London; I finished off a couple of spread sheets and collected a few Christmas gifts from some suppliers. Working in European road haulage has its perks; my plunder included a twelve pack of Peroni from an Italian supplier and a selection of chorizo from a Spanish one.

If I am perfectly honest, I was sick to the back teeth of all of the unwanted bad press involving John Terry leading up to the game. I was also dreading the vitriol that would be yelled at him by the Spurs supporters. I was hoping we would not buckle. Of all games for us to play just after his court appearance was announced, too. There is no other fixture in the Chelsea calendar which has had such a back catalogue of venomous chants – from both sides – as Tottenham. My work colleague Mike, a United follower, acknowledged the toughness of this fixture for JT and Chelsea alike. I agreed. As I left the office, Mike suggested that a 1-1 score line would be just fine.

Music from Keane’s second album and a festive gingerbread latte from Costa at Reading Services fortified me on my drive east. As the journey continued, the negative vibes were disappearing and I began thinking about the chances of getting a positive result at White Hart Lane.

I soon found myself hurtling over the elevated section of the M4 just as the sun began to set. There was a line of twelve illuminated Christmas trees at Fullers Brewery to welcome me to Chelsealand and I was soon parked up at my usual place at around 5pm. I walked to Earl’s Court, stopping in to see my good friend Salvo at his restaurant en route. He was nursing a glass of red wine and was looking forward to watching the Chelsea game on TV. I had a cappuccino on the house and promised him that I would return after the game.

I reluctantly paid the £7 for the return fare to Seven Sisters; I was overdressed with a thick pullover and coat and the tube journey was very uncomfortable. Out into the cool evening air and I was glad to be able to have a relaxing stroll up the High Road. The one and a half mile walk took me thirty minutes and I was able to focus on the night’s game. But also of other games over the years, too.

As I crossed a road, I spotted the site of a former pub that my mate Glenn and I nipped in before the game in August 1987. On that particular day, we lost 1-0 to a last minute Nico Clausen goal, but the thing I remember from that game was the size of the Chelsea support in the massive 37,079 crowd. In those days, that was a very large attendance. We had opened up with two wins and the Chelsea fans responded in typically enthusiastic fashion. Glenn and I had seat tickets above the Chelsea terrace in the original Park Lane stand. We watched with growing pride as more and more Chelsea fans appeared. If memory serves, there seemed to be a lot of concern that the masses of away fans were being tightly squeezed in the available pens, complete with fences. I remember that the outcry from the Chelsea fans forced the police to open up a couple of pens in the terrace in front of The Shelf. This was a massive statement of intent from Chelsea.

Take that Tottenham.

Our away section was rammed and the atmosphere was red hot. If anything, this was the quintessential Chelsea memory from that period; without any silver wear for 16 years, we still took massive volumes to away games. How I miss the days when we could simply turn up on the day and fill away sections with 5,000 to 10,000 fans. Great times. For the record, despite the good start to that season – on until Christmas in fact – a second-half slump saw us relegated.

Altogether now; Typical Chelsea.

As I neared the centre of Tottenham, I noted blue and white Christmas lights adorning the street lights. I wondered if this was an attempt by the local council to spruce up the area after the ignominy of the riots in the summer. To be honest, I expected more burned-out shops, but the around White Hart Lane is never the most salubrious. Three police vans, sirens wailing flew past me. At Bruce Grove, police vans were parked outside The Ship pub. I’ve only ever had drinks at Tottenham on a couple of occasions and it isn’t pleasant. There are no designated away pubs.

You pay your money and you take your choice.

An enterprising vendor was selling Arsenal toilet rolls opposite the entrance to the Park Lane stand. There was hustle and bustle. Four folk dressed as cockerels were collecting for a charity. One major Spurs boozer was busy. I noted that a previously derelict pub, on the corner, was now the Tottenham ticket office. More police vans blocked the entrance to Park Lane. No hint of trouble, but the threat always there.

I ascended the several flights of stairs to the upper tier. Soon inside the bar area, I met up with Simon from Atlanta and it was great to see him again; our paths last crossed in the madness of Baltimore and the heat of Texas. We waited for other people to arrive. The access to the upper tier area at Tottenham is through a double door. Waiting for familiar faces to arrive was strangely akin to the wait for friends at an airport arrival terminal. The doors would be pushed open and faces would suddenly appear. Lots of unfamiliar ones, but then a few friends emerged from the stairwell. We all agreed that the game ahead could be a proper “backs to the wall” performance. We had heard that Bale was starting and the mood deepened.

The commonly held view of giving Fernando Torres a start was not shared by the manager and a few “tut tuts” were uttered by various mates.

Into the seats and I quickly spotted Alan and Gary. We have been away season ticket holders together since the autumn of 2006 and we must’ve seen around 80 league away games in each other’s presence since then. It’s always a pleasure to see them. We went through the teams, murmured something about it being a tough old evening, and then got behind the team. Just before the teams appeared from beneath the West stand, the Chelsea Christmas Choir sang a carol in praise of our captain.


Alan said that Drogba pulled up in the pre-match stretches, but he was playing. Jose Bosningwa was given the unenviable task of marking Bale. The atmosphere was prickling with barbs from both sets of fans.

White Hart Lane, despite being home to one of my personal enemies, is a great stadium. However, I liked it more when the idiosyncratic East Stand towered over The Self below and the rest of the other stands. The rest of the stands have since caught up, with a constant roof level, and the East Stand now looks half the size as the original despite it being exactly the same size. The mind plays tricks, I guess.

Spurs came at us straight from the off and we were encamped in our own half without relief.

The home fans began their slow dirge-like “Oh When The Spurs…”

A lightning break from that man Bale down the left and I was quickly reminded of the threat he poses. He advanced a yard or two past the chasing Bosingwa and sent in an inch-perfect cross into that part of the penalty area that TV commentators have dubbed “the corridor of uncertainty.” Cech seemed worried to commit fully and Adebayor bundled the ball in from close range before ambling over to our section and rubbing our noses in it with a silly dance.

Never mind players getting booked for taking their shirts off when they score; they should be cautioned for purposefully running to wind up the away fans. So, our worst fears were realised and I sent out a text –

“It’s going to be a long night.”

Up until that point, we were second best to everything and the home fans were roaring.

Well, we were never as low again during the whole night and we ended up producing one of our most invigorating displays of the season. Soon after I sent out that doom-mongering text, Juan Mata unleashed a long shot which Brad Friedel could only parry into the path of Daniel Sturridge. Unfortunately, the ball came at him on his right side and he screamed it over from an angle. Alan commented that our chances would be rare and we needed to take them.

Our support, not exactly quiet, were now in full flow and taunted the surprisingly subdued home fans with a classic –

“You burned your own town, you burned your own town – you stupid bastards, you burned your own town.”

The home fans simply had no answer for that. I’ve noted, actually, that the Spurs’ support always seemed to be more rabid – to put it bluntly, there was more pure hate – when we were on our historic run of dominance against them.

What was it? 32 league games home and away without defeat.

These days, The Lane…like The Bridge…has grown quieter.

Spurs’ early dominance was subsiding and we were getting more of a toe-hold in the game. A stinger from Raul Meireles was held by Friedel. A sublime piece of control by Drogba – letting the ball hit his chest, a turn, a volley – struck the near post with the Spurs ‘keeper beaten. That was just classic Drogba. Spurs countered on a few occasions, but our defence held firm. Neither Modric nor van der Vaart seemed at ease.

The Chelsea fans were in great voice.

“You are my Chelsea. My only Chelsea. You make me happy, when skies are grey. You’ll never notice how much we love you until you’ve taken my Chelsea away.
until you’ve taken my Chelsea away.
until you’ve taken my Chelsea away.”

This roared for minutes on end and Tottenham were silent. The spirit of 1987 lives on.

There’s another song which also draws silence from Tottenham –

“We won 6-1 at The Lane.”

However, we experienced injuries to first Ivanovic and then Mikel. We substituted these two players with Feirreira and Romeu. With memories of Paolo’s catastrophic game at centre-back against Sunderland last season fresh in everyone’s minds, we were placated by seeing him take up residence at full back.

But Bosingwa in the middle alongside JT? Not sure.

Talking of JT, it goes without saying that his every touch was loudly booed by the Spurs fans, but he just used that to stir him on. He hardly put a foot wrong as the first-half drew on.

I met up with Simon and also Burger at half time, out in the bar area, in the crowded walkway. I think this was Burger’s first visit to White Hart Lane. While I was lining up to use the facilities, I wondered to myself where the toilets actually ended and the rest of Tottenham began.

On the balcony walls at Tottenham, there are hardly any flags or banners draped. Instead, they have gone for a few choice Spurs phrases which appear every few yards. There is the asinine “Come On You Spurs.” But there is also “To Dare Is To Do” which is the translation of the club’s motto “Audere Est Facere.” Well, this should be changed to “To Dare Is To Win Fcuk All.”

In fact, if there was any team doing the daring on this crisp night in N17, it was Chelsea. We attacked and attacked throughout the second half and it seemed like we were the home team. With every prolonged bout of possession, or with every Ramires run or Sturridge dribble, the home fans grew quieter and quieter. We were revelling in the ascendency and the same old chant kept echoing around the packed stands.

“Until you’ve taken my Chelsea away.
until you’ve taken my Chelsea away.”

A magnificent through ball from Drogba set Ramires on his way, but he took an extra touch and missed the target. He was full of energy, though, and encapsulated our fine display. A JT header from a corner was saved by Friedel.

Oh how I would have loved to see him score.

I kept saying to Alan that this was a mightily brave performance from us. Full of movement, running and endeavour. Tackle after tackle upset Tottenham’s flow. The performance against Wigan seemed light years away. What a strange game football can be. Still the chances came; a flicked header from JT from a free-kick flashed agonisingly over. However, a free header from a whipped-in corner by Sandro flew past the far post and we heaved a massive sigh of relief.

“Until you’ve taken my Chelsea away.
until you’ve taken my Chelsea away.”

Sandro found room for another effort on goal and his shot spun up off a Chelsea defender’s leg. Cech changed position in mid-air and palmed it over; quite an exceptional save, reminiscent of a Carlo Cudicini save at White Hart Lane many years ago.

This was pulsating stuff. Still we pressed for the winner. Tottenham were given a new lease of life with those close efforts on goal and William Gallas flashed wide at the near post. He held his head in his hands and I wondered about the way his career path has changed since he left us in 2006. There was always a lot of noise from the Arsenal supporters immediately after the infamous Gallas / Cole swap in that year. A lot of Goons claimed Arsenal had the best deal.

Ashley Cole has since won three FA Cups, one league title and one league cup.

William Gallas has won sweet FA.

“To Dare Is To Do”, eh William?

The game progressed at a pace. Torres replaced the redoubtable Drogba. Heartbreaking stuff now as a Mata free kick found the leaping Ramires – unmarked in the box – but his header flew narrowly wide. Oh how we rued that miss.

In the last Spurs attack of the game, an Adebayor break down the left. He took the ball on into the box. We held our collective breaths.

Memories of a late Robbie Keane goal at that end in 2008.

Adebayor swept the ball goal wards. It flew along the floor and from my seat I was not able to see how it drifted wide. The resultant corner suggested a Chelsea touch, but by whom I did not know.

At the final whistle, a massive cheer from the three thousand Chelsea loyalists. The players, God bless ‘em, slowly marched towards us and several threw their sweaty shirts into the crowd. John Terry, his every movement shadowed by a TV cameraman, gave his shirt away and stood before us, pounding his chest with his palm.

An iconic site.

He had been quite magnificent all evening to be honest. I thought that it was his best performance since his equally spectacular showing on the same pitch just over a year ago.

Outside on the High Road, I drifted away and quickly walked down to the Seven Sisters tube station. A lone police surveillance helicopter was whirring overhead, but I didn’t see or hear of any trouble. My three mile cardiovascular workout completed, I reached Salvo’s at 11.15pm and treated myself to a single Peroni and a pizza. It looked like Salvo had finished off a bottle of red wine since my previous visit and he was full of smiles and laughter, chatting about all sorts, but mainly football.

It was a great end to a lovely night in London Town; a battling performance at one of our main rivals and a hearty sing song to boot. My fellow Chelsea fans did me proud.

I eventually reached home at 2.30am and soon discovered on the internet that it was none other than John Terry who had blocked Adebayor’s goal bound effort; I should have guessed really.

John Terry – Captain, Leader…you know the rest.


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