Tales From The Caffeine Express

Bolton Wanderers vs. Chelsea : 2 October 2011.

This was a long and tiring excursion into deepest Lancashire, but yet another hugely enjoyable day following the boys in royal blue. With victories for both Manchester clubs on a sun-drenched Saturday, it was imperative that we stayed in touch with then by winning at The Reebok. Historically, Bolton Wanderers are a tough old team, but our record at Bolton’s stadium is almost perfect, with a series of highly convincing victories and not a single defeat. As I left my slumbering Somerset village at 7.45am, I was confident of a positive outcome.

I sipped at a coffee as I drove through the Somerset lanes and then headed through the winding and narrow streets of the Wiltshire town of Bradford-On-Avon. My mates Alan and Gary were already heading north on one of the official Chelsea coaches from London. I wondered how many we would take up to Bolton. It’s always a concern that our club isn’t embarrassed by a smaller than expected away following. As the coffee hit the spot, I became more and more tuned-in to the delights of the day ahead. However, my early progress was temporarily halted by some Sunday cyclists and a Land Rover pulling a horse box. I eventually collected Parky at 8.15am and then retraced my tracks, heading west and then north up past Bath and onto the M4. We were expecting another blisteringly hot day and the early morning sun was burning up the mist in the valley where Bath was nestled. Above, several hot air balloons were clearly visible in the pristine blue sky.

What a great feeling. A day of football and a day of Chelsea. Can’t beat it.

As these Chelsea trips north come and go, as these sorties up the M5 and the M6 follow on relentlessly after each other, I was well aware of how desperate I am for fresh fields and fresh destinations in order for new routes and experiences to befall me. Thank heavens for the much-anticipated jaunts to Swansea and Norwich this season. If these away day match reports start to feel eerily familiar, it only goes to illustrate the relentless nature of following football 24/7. However, I’ll never tire of an away game at Bolton. It will always be a special place in my heart. Need I mention April 30th. 2005?

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I refuelled at Strensham services and we then had a grotty Burger King coffee at Stafford services. As I travel around the motorway network, I have developed a nerdish knowledge of service stations and it’s not something I am proud of.

“There are always long lines at the Costa Coffee at Strensham, no breakfast menu at Burger King at Frankley, there’s an M&S at Keele. No KFC until Knutsford”

In order to save ourselves some money, Parky and I have started taking our own food for these away trips around England; with ticket prices higher than ever, it’s one way we can attempt to save some money in order to keep going to football. Over the course of a whole season, it will hopefully save us some money for a few more tickets.

As we headed north, the sky grew greyer and clouds became thicker. This was pretty surprising as the weather down south on Saturday had been magnificent. By the time we were headed over the River Mersey and the Manchester Ship Canal at Thelwell, the weather had deteriorated further. I know I have mentioned this many times before, but the view atop this bridge is one of my favourite football vistas. To the west, the Runcorn Bridge and the city of Liverpool and its twin clubs, to the east, the skyscrapers of central Manchester and United and City, with the moors beyond. And due north, Winter Hill and The Reebok (though out of sight) nestling below it. However, not on this day; the overcast weather meant that Winter Hill was not visible. I was making great time and before I knew it, I was heading east on the M62 and Bolton was just 16 miles away.

We veered off the Manchester orbital and then headed north on the M61. It is always a surprise for me how far out – and isolated – The Reebok Stadium is from Bolton city centre. It is located off the motorway at Horwich, adjacent a large shopping and entertainment complex. The rain was spitting as I headed east, with the floodlight pylons and roof supports of the stadium visible in the autumn sky ahead.

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The sight of this most unique stadium always brings a smile to my soul.

Four hours – to the dot – since setting off in the waking Somerset morning, I was parked up in the drizzle of a Lancashire stadium car park.

It’s grim up north.

Alan and Gary had just arrived and we joined them by the entrance to the main reception area, in preparation of the arrival of the Chelsea coach. Within five minutes, I had taken a few up-close-and-personal photographs of Petr Cech, Frank Lampard, Raul Meireles and Nicolas Anelka, though only two photos proved to be worthy of keeping. I managed to get a nice one of Frank, just after he had signed a few programmes and had had his photo taken with an eager fan. Amongst the throng of Chelsea fans, I noted a few northern voices. Parky was keen to head inside for a beer, but I fancied a mooch around the adjacent retail park. I didn’t fancy any beers as I had a long trip home. I needed to keep my head fresh. Parky’s ticket was for the lower tier, so I swapped my ticket for his; this enabled His Lordship to partake in a few pre-match bevvies with Alan and Gary in the Upper Tier bars.

As I slowly walked around the outside of the stadium, I spotted several slogans declaring “Bolton Central – Everything Wanderers” and this is typical of recent branding exercises at clubs these days. At Everton, there are signs declaring itself “The Peoples’ Club” and there are of course “Our City” signs everywhere at Eastlands.

I made a bee-line for the “Hurleys” shop, just a hundred yards or so away. I bought a pair of Henri Lloyd jeans there on my last visit and I spent a good few minutes examining the gear on show. The first “Hurleys” began in Manchester ages ago and there are a few dotted around the north-west. It’s a well-known mecca for football gear and I wasn’t disappointed; I flicked through a few rails of Lacoste, Fred Perry, Boss, Paul & Shark and Henri Lloyd. There were also a few items of Pretty Green, the label which Oasis front man Liam Gallagher has developed recently. Lots of shirts with button-down collars, lots of check patterned shirts, lots of polos, lots of heavy pullovers. I seriously considered getting a royal blue Paul & Shark polo – but the price tag was a hefty ₤75 and I had to seriously consider it. I headed opposite and had coffee number three of the day at a local “Starbucks.” After fifteen minutes, I had dismissed the idea and was annoyed with myself for even considering such a crazy notion.

What I want – of course – is a Bolton away game to coincide with the January sales. Can we play them away in the FA Cup in 2012 please?

Time was moving on now and I retraced my steps back around to the away entrance. I had a chat with a few familiar faces and was soon inside. Parky’s ticket was perfect; centrally located behind the goal and next to an aisle. I took a few photographs of the team doing their pre-match drills and noted plenty of smiles and laughter. A few shots on Petr Cech then followed. I had to laugh when David Luiz took a couple of shots but looked away right at the last minute. Typically Brazilan, eh? I think I saw Ronaldinho do this during an actual match once – and score. Heaven knows what would happen if I had ever attempted that.

By this time, the team had been announced and I was abuzz with news that Frank Lampard had been picked. I focussed on him with my camera and he did look energised.

Amidst a flurry of texts just before the kick-off at 1.30pm, I sent a simple message to a few friends which simply said –

“Frank Loves The Reebok.”

I had an inkling that this would be a game where Frank would shine; such is his record at The Reebok.

It seemed that the entire Chelsea contingent had similar thoughts as we serenaded our beloved number eight with a hearty rendition of “Super Frank” at the kick-off. Bolton had a quick attempt on our goal, but a lovely ball from an advancing David Luiz inside the left back found a rampaging Jose Bosingwa. I was right behind the path of that ball; it was a joy to watch. A cross from Bosingwa was turned behind for a corner and, from the centre, none other than Daniel Sturridge headed down and in to the Bolton goal.

And this was after just a couple of minutes.

The Chelsea end roared.

Alan, up above me in the upper tier texted me –

“THTCAUN.”

And I quickly replied –

“COMLD.”

We were in great voice at the start of the game (indeed, for quite a while before, too) and this opening goal gave us more reason to bellow our support of the team.

In the early part of the game, David Luiz had tons of space in which to roam and play balls through to various team mates. Daniel Sturridge, buzzing from his first goal back at Bolton after his loan spell, was playing with great spirit on the right and his great ball found Frank on seventeen minutes. Frank easily despatched the ball into the Bolton goal and how we celebrated.

I repeated the text I had sent at 1.26pm –

“Frank Loves The Reebok.”

On 25 minutes, Studge found himself wide on the right once again. I was wondering if the Bolton left-back had gone shopping in the retail park, such was his continued absence on the pitch. Maybe he was sat in “Starbucks”, mulling over a purchase. Studge whipped in a quick shot which beat the flailing dive of the cerise-shirted Bogdan and the net rippled.

3-0 to Chelsea. Phew.

I had struck up a conversation with the chap behind me about how I hoped that Bolton would stay up this season. Again, the memories of 2005 are the main reason for this. I always remember going back to The Reebok in April 2005-2006 – around the same time of the year as in 2004-2005 – and driving along the M61, just as I had done an hour or so previously. I always remember looking over to my right and spotting the bright white supports of the stadium roof in the distance and getting quite – ahem – emotional. There – on April 30th 2005, Chelsea Football Club had been crowned Champions of England for the first time in fifty years. And little old me – a Chelsea fan from the age of five, a Chelsea fan through the ragged ‘seventies and the false dawns of the ‘eighties, the renaissance of the late ‘nineties and beyond, a follower through thick and thin, good times and bad, from Stamford Bridge to Wembley – had been part of it.

It’s making me quite emotional now, six years on.

That day in 2006, we again triumphed 2-0…JT scored with a header in the first-half and then…of course…Frank Lampard drilled one in during the second period in front of us all. He ran towards us and – deliberately – found himself on the exact same piece of turf as the two celebrations the previous season. He beamed at us and pointed down at the pitch…

“Here!”

It’s one of my favourite memories from that second championship season…and I have both the shot and celebrations captured on a couple of photos.

So – in a way, memories of 2004-2005 and 2005-2006.

For these reasons, I hope we play at The Reebok every season from now to eternity.

Back to 2011. Bolton were in disarray and fell further behind when Sideshow advanced for what seemed like miles. His shot from way out was fumbled by the hapless Bogdan and who else but Frank Lampard pounced.

The text was repeated once more –

“Frank Loves The Reebok.”

At half-time, I had a look around the fellow citizens of the East Lower. I have to admit I didn’t recognise anybody. All of my acquaintances were obviously upstairs, where the 500 members of the away scheme were based. I spotted a row of around twenty identically track-suited Africans, all wearing red bobble hats. I was reminded that I had spotted these fellows way up in the East Upper last weekend against Norwich (I presumed it was the same chaps). My guess was that they were linked to an African club and maybe Chelsea were their hosts for a week or two. I’d like to have known what they thought of Lancashire.

Behind me, I spotted the Rangers captain David Weir, sat quietly with his young son amongst the Chelsea supporters. It took me a while to convince myself it was him…but then had this confirmed for me when I saw a Chelsea fan go up and ask for a photograph. I did the same – but I really didn’t want to take up too much of his time and certainly didn’t want to overly draw attention to the fact that he had been spotted. I presumed that his boy was a Chelsea fan and had gone through normal channels via the club for tickets. I know that he still lives locally – in Warrington – after his spell with Everton.

I quickly texted a few mates in the ground and elsewhere who favour the ‘Gers. It was quite surreal to be honest. It was nice that he was with us and hadn’t asked Bolton for executive seats in a box. Fair play to him. I saw him on the ‘phone a few times; maybe hearing from a mate that Celtic were losing at Tynecastle.

I missed the Bolton goal – I had arrived back from the loos at the break and was just settling myself.

I wondered how the second-half would play out. Just after the Boyata goal, the home supporters got behind the team for the first time in the game. To be fair, they made a fair racket, but it soon subsided. The Reebok is a funny stadium as the end opposite us never seems to make too much noise. Just a few Herberts to our right along the side. We ridiculed them with –

“Sit Down If You’re Going Down.”

To be honest, we were all hoping for a few more goals, but were only rewarded with one more. On the hour, a lovely move involving Frank and Didier resulted in a simple strike from Lampard which evaded the despairing lunge of the ‘keeper. Here we go again –

“Frank Loves The Reebok.”

For the rest of the game, it resembled a bit of a training session, and Meireles and Mata continued to impress. They couldn’t seem to tame Mata the entire game. At times, it was difficult for me to work out the formation as the fluidity of the players meant that Luiz would often go on mazy dribbles, Mata would come inside, Lampard would burst forward, Bosingwa and Cole too. OK – Bolton were poor, but we played some nice stuff. We could have scored a few more, but shots from Mata flew over, Drogba was blocked and Sturridge drifted wide.

Bizarrely, an Ivanovic clearance off the line and a Cech save which was palmed onto the post saved us from conceding a couple of goals.

It was nice to see Nicolas Anelka get a lovely and sustained round of applause from the home fans when he came on as a substitute, though I suspect that the Trotters were thinking –

“Bloody hell, two goals from Sturridge and now Anelka comes on.”

The Chelsea fans around me were stood the entire game – of course – and we enjoyed a particularly loud and boisterous “One Man Went To Mow.” As the fans joined in with each verse, it dawned on me that this famous Chelsea chant has subtlety altered over the years. Originally, everyone would slow down at eight and make the last three versus even more defiant. These days, the tempo stays the same.

It had been a fine afternoon in a special stadium. We will get sterner tests this season for sure, but let’s enjoy the good times, let’s enjoy the goals.

With the rain still falling, I headed back to the car and Parky soon joined me. Unfortunately, we didn’t move for ages and it was a full hour before we left the car park at 4.30pm. We then hit some awful weather and some slow-moving traffic on the road south…it was very frustrating and I could hardly believe that the weather being reported on the radio at White Hart Lane was of gorgeous sunshine.

On the M6 just south of Manchester, the rain was now bucketing down and I was finding it tough-going. I pulled into Knutsford services for a revitalising Costa Coffee and then ploughed on through the wind and the rain.

Parky put on his Big Country CD at Stafford and this kept our spirits up, along with the requisite supply of awful jokes and silly quips. At Walsall, we spotted an ice-cream van blocking an exit slip road.

Parky – “Best get hold of the police. Best dial 99.”

Chris – “The police are looking for a bloke who has covered himself in nuts and chocolate sauce. They reckon he has topped himself.”

And so it continued.

At Stensham, the last coffee of the day; a McDonalds cappuccino apiece. As I headed south through Gloucestershire, 612steve was sending me score updates from the American League Divisional Series, but there was no Chelsea / Yankee win double on the cards. I had hoped to have reached home to see the game against Detroit on my laptop, but the delays and inclement weather had destroyed that idea.

As we skirted Bath, the roads bizarrely dry, we were listening to some New Order and these classics kept us going for the last few miles.

“I feel so extraordinary; something’s got a hold on me.”

I eventually dropped Parky off at 9.15pm and I eventually got home at 9.45pm, some fourteen hours after I had embarked on the trip north.

Bolton 1 Sturridge 2 Lampard 3 Chelsea 5.

Job done.

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