Chelsea vs. Liverpool : 29 November 2011.
During my recent report from the League match a week or so ago, I had already established that one in nine of all the Chelsea games I have seen have involved Liverpool . So, it’s fair to say that there was a certain element of truth to the old saying about “familiarity brewing contempt” as I anticipated the Carling Cup Quarter Final against them.
There were very real fears of another potential disaster against Liverpool , but also – after the reasonable level of improvement against Wolves on Saturday – a growing expectation that we could gain revenge for the two most recent painful home defeats against them.
We live in a town called Hope, in a county called Hopeshire, in a country called Hopeland.
You get my drift.
I had a busy day at work but left Chippenham bang on 4pm. I collected His Lordship. He was still groggy with a cold and I had a slight headache. Not the best of conditions with which to set off on a drive up to London. As Liverpool had taken the full 6,000 allocation for The Shed, Parky would be displaced for this game, instead watching down in the quietness of the West Lower. As I drove towards Swindon on the M4, I could not help but notice the dark foreboding clouds which were ominously awaiting me in the east. These compared unfavourably with the clearer skies behind me in the west, past Bristol and beyond, the setting sun tainting a few white clouds with an orange glow.
Thankfully, the rain abated and the weather was reasonable, but – oh boy – I felt tired. I pulled in at Membury Services for a large Starbucks cappuccino and then battled the growing traffic as I headed towards Reading. This rush of caffeine invigorated me and I was able to relax a little. There was even the occasional thought about the imminent game. At Heston, just past Heathrow airport, I stopped for a Red Bull to keep me from flagging. Throughout it all, Parky was alongside, chattering away about all sorts. These midweek dashes from Chippenham to London are well-chronicled in these reports and I suppose that there will be a game in the future when I will say to myself –
“No. Enough is enough. I’m not going.”
The home streak will come to an end and I will find myself at home, maybe listening to the game on the radio or watching the game on TV or my laptop.
Until then, I’ll keep battling the rush hour traffic, the occasionally malevolent weather, the headaches and the tiredness.
The traffic grew slower as we approached Chiswick and then Hammersmith. We soon realised that we wouldn’t be able to join the regulars in The Goose for a pre-match tipple. With the traffic crawling down the North End Road , I took evasive action and parked a good few hundred yards further out than my normal parking place. I had just received delivery of a new hire car at work – a black Volkswagon Polo – and this was my inaugural journey.
I made special note of where I had parked. There was a slight risk that I would not be able to locate the new car, with an easily forgettable set of number plates, in an unfamiliar setting. I had visions of us at around 3am, stumbling around in the darkness of West London .
“Well, it must be around here somewhere, Parky.”
It had taken me a full three hours to reach my destination. We strode on past The Goose, barely slowing our pace to glimpse inside to see if any of our mates were inside. I quickly spotted the baseball cap, festooned with Chelsea badges, of Digger. Another Chelsea character, “Shorts Al”, was also spotted (so called because – go on, guess – he wears shorts at every Chelsea game, irrespective of the weather).
With tickets a reasonable £25, I expected another full house and the Fulham Road, past the old tube station to the West Stand entrance, was packed with people. I detected a few stray Liverpudlian accents.
As I waited in line outside the turnstiles outside the entrance to the Upper Tier of the Matthew Harding, I looked down at the Chelsea fans milling around and filing past to enter the Lower Tier turnstiles. To my left was the wall which marked the northern perimeter of the stadium, with the embankment of the District Line beyond. This would be the site of the oft-mentioned northern walkway which Chelsea have allegedly contemplated building to ease egress from the stadium should expansion take place. Just above a couple of large refuse bins, just to the right of a hot dog stand, perched on the top of the wall, was a fox.
The Chelsea fans walked past it, barely within four or five feet away. It slunk down on its haunches, hiding in the shadows, possibly waiting to pounce on a half-eaten burger. It had a decrepit appearance, its fur bedraggled and its eyes mean. It looked rather pathetic. It had seen better days.
It made me wonder if it really should have been down at The Shed End.
I made it to my seat with barely five minutes to spare before kick-off. Yes, another full house. A few more Liverpool flags and banners than the home game. They looked in a boisterous mood.
Before the game, the players assembled in the centre circle and the crowd fell silent as Stamford Bridge paid respects to Gary Speed. What a tragic story. Within seconds, both sets of supporters began applauding and this lasted a full minute, with everyone clapping for the entire time. This is a relatively new phenomenon in the UK, borrowed from Italy. The first time I can remember this happening was down on the south coast on a murky December evening in 2005, when Portsmouth and Chelsea fans broke years of protocol by spontaneously erupting in applause after 20 seconds of silence at the memory of George Best.
Gary Speed – A life lost way too soon.
Rest In Peace.
Andre Villas-Boas rang the changes and played Torres, Lukaku and Malouda in attack, It was great to see Young Josh alongside the freshly shaven Oriel Romeu and the recalled Frank Lampard in midfield. At the back, young Ryan Bertrand took the left back position, with the Brazilians Luiz and Alex in the middle. Bosingwa at right back, Ross in goal.
Two Brazilian centre-backs. I suppose at that moment I should have been prepared for a rough old night.
The all red of Liverpool versus the classic blue, blue and white of Chelsea.
My 56th. game involving the two teams.
After just two minutes, a forward run of David Luiz resulted in a fall inside the box at the Shed End. We all presumed a penalty, but no! Referee Phil Dowd (never a favourite at Chelsea) booked the Brazilian for diving. I really could not see clearly enough to see if this was the correct decision. Chelsea and Liverpool shared possession in the first few minutes, but the next talking point came on 21 minutes. Carroll went up for a high ball in the Chelsea box and, as soon as he landed, raced over to the referee along with three or four team mates. Again, I couldn’t see what the problem was. But Dowd didn’t do anything. I presumed that he would wave them away and continue.
To our disbelief, he pointed to the spot and I was stunned. It had been a good 15 seconds after the initial incident. The lino wasn’t flagging. Was his decision down to the boisterous appeals of the away players?
Not to worry – Ross Turnbull did well to block the penalty from Andy Carroll.
A massive roar.
After the penalty misses by Fulham and Everton, the trend in this year’s competition was continuing.
The highlights of the rest of the half were few and far between. Chelsea had most of the ball, but did very little with it. The midfield overpassed and the front three were impotent. A good ball into the path of Lukaku in the inside right channel, but the youngster was easily brushed aside. He then made amends with a strong run down to the goal line, but his ball into the box was blocked. Liverpool came back into the game as the half came to its conclusion, with the irritant Bellamy buzzing around like a pest. Sadly, Josh had received a knock and was replaced by Ramires.
Chelsea now contained three Brazilians.I filmed a few seconds from the tight and narrow area beneath the upper tier seats, looking out at the pitch from one of the vomitories.
Eventually, at some stage in the future, I will have captured every brick, every seat, every blade of grass, every angle, every inch of Stamford Bridge.
Just before the break, our best chance of the game. A superb early ball from Bos found the head of Lukaku. His firm header looped over the intersection of the far post and the bar. It missed by a whisker.
Throughout the first-half, the Liverpool fans had stood, singing the usual songs…the “History” song, the “Li – ver – pool” dirge and the (stolen from Celtic) “Fields of Athenry / Anfield Road.”
At the break, they unfurled a new banner which said –
“Christmas is coming.
Lampard’s getting Fat.
Torres is a lady boy.
Mereiles is a twat.”
Ooh, that Scouse humour.
Neil Barnett introduced a face familiar to a certain generation of Chelsea fans.
“He scored 24 goals in the 1976-1977 promotion season. I toured with him in 2009 with the American fans and he hasn’t been able to stand since – Jock Finnieston!”
My mate Gal came over to chat for a few minutes at the break. He is a French polisher by trade and is still employed on a daily basis at Stamford Bridge, where his work has taken him into the executive areas of the West Stand. He quipped –
“Yeah, I’ve been here longer than some of the managers.”
It had been a poor first-half from Chelsea, but we began the second period in a far livelier fashion. This invigorated the home supporters and the noise levels increased. On 54 minutes, a Lampard free-kick ended up with an odd effort from the quiet Florent Malouda which eventually bounced onto the bar. David Luiz couldn’t quite turn the rebound in.
Soon after, the defence went missing as a ball was played out to Craig Bellamy on the right. From my biased perspective, he looked offside. He played in an early ball and there was Maxi to pounce at the far post. The away fans went ballistic and I felt nauseous.
Soon after, a Liverpool free kick and the slightest of touches from Kelly.
Anelka and Mata came on, but our form did not improve. On 74 minutes, Anelka was one on one with Reina, but took too much time to decide what to do and the moment was gone. Just after, a Lampard corner picked out a great leap by Fernando Torres, but his header was ably saved by the ‘keeper. Our frustrations grew louder and the Chelsea players became more frantic and dispirited. With ten minutes to go, the home fans headed home and by full time, the place was about 60% full. I received a text from 612steve in deepest Philadelphia.
“They’re leaving by the dozen. What I wouldn’t give to be there.”
Steve is yet to visit Stamford Bridge and I felt his pain. It seems that our support needs a kick up the arse in addition to the playing staff. Over in The Shed, the away fans were singing long into the night. At times, they were the noisiest I have heard at Stamford Bridge for a while. I suppose – thinking about it – it shows how far we have come. Ten years ago, Liverpool would not have been overly excited about a League cup victory over us.
Since then, we have grown, they have stagnated.
But the rivalry has moved on further.
We simply don’t like each other.
Liverpool are the new Leeds.
After the game, I met up with Parky and Josh outside The Goose and we spent an enjoyable hour or so in The Lily, drinking lager, eating curry and chatting about Chelsea. Josh had loved his time in England – and Germany and The Netherlands. He was already talking about his next visit in 2012. He had watched the match from a central location in the front row of the East Upper.
Great view, poor match.
We said our farewells and I managed to find the car.
I eventually reached home at 2am.
My head was still racing. I surfed the internet and spotted a few comments about the game. I was too numb to think too much about things really. Time for introspection would come later.