Tales From Stamford Bridge

Chelsea vs. Everton : 15 October 2011.

A fortnight ago, we won at The Reebok and all was well with the world. The day after, Chelsea Football Club announced their proposal to buy the CPO shares and the subsequent ramifications of this has dominated my thoughts ever since, like some never-ending stream of consciousness.

Stamford Bridge – I thought about it when I crawled out of bed on Tuesday 4th. October.

Stamford Bridge – I thought about it when I was sat at my desk at work on Wednesday 5th. October.

Stamford Bridge – I thought about it when I drove into work on Thursday 6th. October.

Stamford Bridge – I thought about it when I was watching England on a scratchy streaming site in the evening on Friday 7th. October.

Stamford Bridge – I thought about it when I was doing some ironing on Saturday 8th. October.

Stamford Bridge – I thought about it while I was getting changed to play five-a-side on Sunday 9th. October.

Stamford Bridge – I thought about when I was shopping in Bradford-On-Avon on Monday 10th. October.

Stamford Bridge – I thought about it when I was in a meeting at work on Tuesday 11th. October.

Stamford Bridge – I thought about it when I was filling up with petrol at Beckington on Wednesday 12th. October.

Stamford Bridge – I thought about it when I was listening to a work colleague bore me with talk of cars on Thursday 13th. October.

Stamford Bridge – I thought about it when I was trying desperately to get to sleep on Friday 14th. October.

I know this – I was in no mood for a Chelsea game last weekend. I needed time to ruminate over the severity of the situation that we found ourselves in and I needed time to reflect on the way forward.

My preparations for the game with Everton were dominated with thoughts about the CPO vote and the future of football at The Bridge. As I collected Parky at 10am, I was pretty sure that other thoughts – our line-up, the threat of Everton, the other games, the drinking, the pre-match, the coming games with Genk and QPR – would be pushed to one side. All along, this didn’t seem like a normal Chelsea Saturday.

Above us, clear blue skies and this incredible October was continuing…the weather was magnificent. We dipped into Swindon en route to London in order for a little retail therapy, stopping at the Designer Outlet. This is an oft-visited site by me over recent years and it is housed in the former engineering sheds of Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s famous Great Western Railway, sympathetically making use of an otherwise potentially redundant location.

Purchases were made at two stores, but as Parky and I circumnavigated the outlet, it soon dawned on me how certain labels have always been “in” for football and how many have always been “out.” Of the thirty-six stores listed under “fashion” in the Swindon shopping guide, we have the following breakdown –

Yep.

Aquascutum.
Henri Lloyd.
Hugo Boss.
Lacoste.
Polo Ralph Lauren.
Timberland.

Nah.

Bench.
Cotton Traders.
Gap.
Petroleum.
Tommy Hilfiger.

We stopped at Reading Services for a coffee and we reached Chesson Road in deepest Chelsealand bang on 1.30pm. A text from Rick in Ohio alerted me to the fact that the Liverpool vs. Manchester United game was a dour affair but, to be brutally frank, I had completely forgotten that it was on. If I was having trouble focussing on Chelsea vs. Everton, all other games were certainly off the radar.

The Goose was surprisingly quiet as we made our way out to the sun-drenched beer garden. However, it soon dawned on me that we were still four hours away from kick-off. The old place soon filled up and our little group, growing steadily, out in the far corner grew to around fifteen in total by 3pm. Rob had a few hundred round “SAY NO CPO” stickers and we saw a few others arrive with fliers throughout the afternoon. A few were wearing black “SAY NO CPO” T-shirts. There was a sense of rebellion in the air and I loved it. It has often troubled me that due to the many Chelsea fan groups and the inherently spatial diversity of our support, we might struggle to unite together under one umbrella should the need arise to muster troops for any particular grievance. I need not have worried. The meeting on Monday allayed that fear with representatives of the CSG, CFCUK, CFCNet and even the original CSC combing forces to fight the cause.

Of course, the debate about the future of Stamford Bridge dominated our pre-game conversations. A couple of protagonists knowingly played devil’s advocate to ruffle a few feathers and stir up some emotions (if anybody knows our little firm, they will know exactly who these two were likely to be), but I was generally calmed by the noises emanating from my mates’ mouths. There was a general consensus which aligned itself to the views stated by the SayNoCPO lobby.

At about 3pm, Tuna arrived on the scene clasping a pint of Guinness and The Youth’s boisterous son Seb quickly stuck a SayNoCPO sticker on his leather jacket. Over the past few years, Tuna has got to know most of the lads that I regularly drink with at Chelsea and there was the usual banter on his arrival. He then proceeded to regale us with a story about a bear which confronted him up while he was on a shooting trip up in the mountains of Georgia. Not the sort of story we usually hear in The Goose, to be honest.

I couldn’t help but notice that in our little corner of the beer garden – a group of around fifteen to twenty like-minded souls…let’s see…Andy, Woody, The Youth, Seb, Rob, Parky, Daryl, Neil, Chris, Matt, Gary, Alan, Mark, Simon, Milo, Ronnie, Fiona, Barbara, Tuna and myself…the only one wearing colours was young Seb. And he was making up for the rest of us by wearing a Chelsea home shirt over last season’s black and orange away shirt.

Maybe he was finding the cold, bless.

It was no good. I had to move on at around 4.15pm. I wanted to saunter down to the ground to judge what the mood of the nation was. I bade my farewells – “see you Wednesday” – and walked down the North End Road, the sun still blazing overhead. What a gorgeous day. There was not one single cloud in the sky.

I quickly chatted to Mark at the stall and picked-up the latest issue of CFCUK. It’s a fantastic edition, actually, with great contributions throughout. It has always been a slight moan of mine that the same issues get written in each edition, but on this occasion I did not object to the plethora of valued articles devoted to the NO campaign. Cliff from the CSG introduced me to Tim Rolls, who has played a major role in the supporters’ voice against the proposal and he was surrounded by well-wishers. I quickly mentioned that I would be the proxy voter for a substantial number of loyalists from across the pond and I thanked him for his time and efforts.

I had time on my hands and slowly ambled on up towards the stadium, past the infamous Loudhaler Man (who even has a Facebook page devoted to him, albeit from an irreverent and mocking perspective), asking for us to stop and think about a few religious ideas. He made a few topical references to “the pitch, the team ” and I hope somebody stuck a SayNoCPO sticker on his jacket.

I took a few photographs of the stadium as I circumnavigated it, hopefully capturing a few new angles. At the main gates, opposite the pub where the club was formed in 1905, I spoke to Trizia from the CSG as she handed out a few more fliers. She had heard that I was voting as a proxy for a few fans in America and – you know what? – I got a tingle knowing that I was doing my little bit to assist. It also made me realise how close-knit we are as a club. We may have upwards of 100 million fans worldwide, but there is a very tight little community amongst the regular match-goers at Chelsea. That is something to be lauded.

This was new for me, being outside the hotel with about 45 minutes to go before kick-off. I continued my walk around the stadium and I walked past around 15 Scousers. The thing was – none of them were wearing colours, but I just knew that they were Evertonians. Their predilection for tracksuit bottoms, plus their general appearance (gaunt faces and suedehead haircuts) easily gave the game away.

I walked down past the East Stand, past the players’ entrance and I remembered the time that my mate Glenn and I had to assemble there at 2.45pm, just ahead of Glenn getting presented with his CPO certificate on the pitch by Wisey against The Geordies in 1995.

Further on round, on the corner with the Matthew Harding Stand, I remembered “Drakes” which was the first real bar at Stamford Bridge for normal fans. It is now re-labelled “Champions Club” or something and presumably hosts corporate clients these days. “Drakes” was a lovely little bar and for the first season or two, it was restricted for CPO shareholders only. It then opened-up for season-ticket holders only. We met the 1970 team there in 1995 and I have photos of Glenn and I with Ossie, Chopper, Charlie, The Cat and a few more. Often, Alan, Glenn and I would often meet there for a reasonably-priced pre-match meal and a pint of Coors. Those days now seem long gone. As I walked past the new Chelsea Museum, the sun was reflecting off the stand supports and the sky was still brilliantly blue. I can’t overstate how wonderful the weather was. As I strode past the crowds waiting to enter the MHL, I again thought back to the mid-nineties, when Glenn and I were up at Chelsea dead early and spotted Ruud Gullit walking down from the car park to the changing room. I took a photo of Glenn, looking shell-shocked, next to Ruud, who had a pink Gazzetta Dello Sport tucked under his arm.

Memories, memories.

Up in the Matthew Harding Upper, Alan and I were joined by Simon, a chap that I have known since that iconic 1983-1984 season, when we would assemble early (often as early as 1.30pm) on our favourite spot on The Benches. Back row, half-way line and woe betide anyone who got there before us.

Fantastic stuff.

I didn’t see Simon at all from Hillsborough 1985 to Molyneux 2003 and I think he stopped going regularly for a while and travelled a fair bit. I know he is a keen snowboarder. For anyone who has seen it, Simon is the Chelsea fan featured in his brother Andy’s famous video from the momentous Champions League game at Highbury in 2004. It is Simon’s face which is seen at the end, holding his ticket, close to tears, revelling in that fantastic win after all those years of drought.

Simon is from the St. Albans area and, by some quirk of fate, Frome Town had been playing up at St. Albans during the afternoon. Unfortunately, my mate Steve texted me to say that Frome lost 2-1. Ex- Chelsea forward Paul Furlong still turns out for St. Albans, in fact, and came on as sub for the last twenty minutes. I am looking forward to seeing him play down in Frome in the New Year.

On the pitch, I was in early enough to see the last few minutes of the lads going through their routines, just as a seminal song from The Clash was being aired on the PA.

https://www.facebook.com/#!/video/vi…50412502597658

I noticed that the yellow “The Only Place To Be Every Other Saturday” banner, which usually flies to the left of me in the MH, had been centrally positioned in The Shed. I hope Roman saw it. I spotted Steve…or was it Daz?…no, it was Steve, to my left and helped him raise the blue flag above the heads of the supporters in the MHU. Over in The Shed Lower, a twenty foot square banner was passed over the heads of the fans and it simply said

“THIS IS OUR HOME.”

It continued on through the West Lower and I’m glad it made it that far. I would hate to have seen it confiscated after a few seconds by over-zealous stewards.

It was a full house. Our first game at home in three weeks.

To be honest, despite a few Everton half chances which skidded across the box in the first twenty minutes, we never looked troubled. However, it took us a full twenty minutes for us to register a shot on goal, a long-range effort from Bosingwa. On 31 minutes, Mata (who seems to have complete licence to drift in from the left whenever he feels the need) spotted Ashley in an advanced position and delicately lobbed the ball into his path. Ash only took one touch and dinked the ball towards the on-rushing Sturridge and 1-0 to Chelsea.

Simon, who usually sits right below me in the MHL was loving the view from the Upper Tier. Unbelievably, it was his first ever visit. He was shocked to see that we get a bigger choice of pies in the upper, plus internet access on our phones.

“Not only that, but they’ll be round with hors d’oeuvres at half-time, Si.”

However, Simon was disappointed by the lack of noise coming from our section and, to be honest, the place was pretty subdued. Just before half-time, with a free-kick out on our left, I commented to Simon that “now would be a pretty good time to score.”

Frank whipped the ball in, JT rose, 2-0 Chelsea.

Hugs and backslaps.

I watched JT slide towards the SW corner and his smiling team mates soon joined in.

At the break, Peter Bonetti – now seventy – was paraded by Neil Barnett and the MHL sang his name. Out in the toilets at half-time, I saw the sun set over West London, past the Empress State Building and beyond.

Simon and I spoke about the lack of atmosphere.

“Go back twenty-five years, mate…imagine if they had said about a kick-off on a Saturday at 5.30pm…in the pub since midday, plenty of booze, The Bridge – all close to the pitch – would be rocking…we’ll have some of that!”

Instead, it was like a morgue.

Alan chipped in…”don’t worry, we’ll soon be playing in front of sixty thousand who don’t sing.”

Soon into the second period, Leon Osman struck the base of Cech’s right post, but Everton were never in it for the rest of the game.

After a few more minutes, the night had fallen and the sky was black. It was still warm though and I, like many others, watched the entire game in our shirtsleeves. At last – on 55 minutes – the first “Carefree” which united both ends of the stadium. At times, however, only the three of us were singing.

Alan jibed…”we’re the three tenors – which one of you fat fcukers is gonna be Pavarotti?”

I captured the cross from Mata – our best player – which lead to our third goal on film and there was Ramires to prod the ball in from close range. It had been a fine move…Mata to Drogba to Mata to Ramires. Drogba had endured a quiet game, though, and a long shot from distance towards the end was his only effort of note.

The MHL now responded with a prolonged version of a nice old favourite, which I think I am safe to say is Chelsea’s and Chelsea’s alone…

“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.
LA LA LA LA LA – OOH! – LA LA LA LA LA – OOH!
OOH OH OH OH OH, OH OH OH OH
OOH OH OH OH OH, OOH OH OH OH OH
Until you’ve taken my Chelsea away.”

Good stuff.

How on earth did Everton score their goal? That was just shoddy defending and it annoyed us all that we can’t keep clean sheets, especially at home, this season.

Good to see Frank getting back towards his better form and only a miss-placed pass early on sticks in my mind. Mata was the boy, though – I love his movement and his eagerness to get involved, to say nothing of his touch and awareness.

Superb.

We flicked on “606” as we joined the slow-moving procession of match-going traffic out of Fulham, but a moaning Chelsea fan (“Drop Drogba – he hasn’t scored in two games”) made me fume.

Should we move to a new pad, I have a feeling that there will be a few more idiots like him, too.

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