Chelsea vs. West Bromwich Albion : 20 August 2011.
The late kick-off at Chelsea meant that I didn’t need to leave for London until 11am. On the ten minute drive in to Frome to collect Glenn, my match-going companion at Chelsea for 28 seasons, I managed to contact Texas Wes and sell him a spare ticket. Well, two spare tickets to be precise. A few phone calls and everybody was happy.
Over to Trowbridge, where I used to work from 1992 to 2003 for two separate companies, and I collected Claire and Kris. Claire is Parky’s step daughter, Kris her fiancé. And then, at about 11.45am, we collected His Lordship, Lord Parky of Parky Towers, Parkyshire. He was resplendent in a new blue Aquascutum polo and mid blue Fred Perry tracksuit top. Glenn commented that his crutches matched the bright blues of his new clothes.
Blue clearly is the colour.
On the drive up towards London, the weather went from benignly overcast to annoyingly rainy. Kris hadn’t packed a jacket and was moaning. I was trying to fend off an irritating headache as I drove east and, as the precipitation increased, I had to concentrate further. While Parky and the rest chatted away, I remained quiet. To be honest, my lack of enthusiasm for yet another Chelsea season was playing on my mind. I guess there are myriad reasons for this, but I was hoping that as the day unfolded I would begin to lose this disturbing feeling. I drove past Windsor Castle, just a few miles to the south and was reminded of my return flight from Asia just three weeks previously. On our approach into Heathrow, our plane flew right over Windsor Castle and it was a lovely sight. In fact, that final thirty minutes of the twelve hour flight from Bangkok was magnificent; we approached Blighty from Holland, headed in over Essex and I was able to spot Southend’s mile long pier, the Thames Barrier, then the new Olympic Stadium and then the “London grounds tick list” included West Ham United, Orient, Tottenham, Arsenal, Chelsea, QPR, Fulham and Brentford.
That oh-so familiar approach into Chelsea Town and I felt a little better. My melancholic fog was lifting. Past the Lucozade sign, past the Ark, down off the Chiswick flyover and south at the lights. As we drove past “The Famous Three Kings” we spotted a Liverpool replikid heading in to watch his team’s game at Arsenal and he became the un-knowing recipient of a torrent of abuse from Parky, Glenn and I. The swearing tumbled towards him like waves breaking on a beach and it was a stunning performance.
“Good work boys.”
Glenn darted off to get a breakfast (I had dined at home – a rare pre-match treat these days) and we joined the massed ranks of the Chelsea faithful in the sweaty confines of The Goose. We stayed out in the beer garden from 1.30pm to 5pm. Unfortunately, the rain had followed us up the M4 and so we sheltered under the awning until the rain eventually stopped at about 3.30pm. Stuck under the awning, sipping at a lager, the mood was a little depressing. All the familiar faces eventually showed up throughout the afternoon. I handed out a few of the Chelsea Thailand plastic cups to a few friends and these were well received. Gary had a nice little tale from the summer. He is a French polisher and part of his work over the past few months has been working on the interior of the corporate boxes in the West stand at Chelsea. He also tipped me off about a new feature inside The Bridge, but more of that later.
Thankfully, the rain dispersed and the sun eventually came out. The clouds disappeared, it got warmer. I limited myself to three lagers and the vibe improved. Daryl arrived with a few family members and The Bing were now fully represented. The laughter and chat increased and I was feeling much more enthusiastic. My most insightful moment of the pre-match came in a little chat I had with Daryl’s Mum; “Do we change our players to fit AVB’s preferred formation, or do we fit the formation to suit the players?” But generally, talk was of other stuff, not of the game and the season ahead.
Texas Wes and his friend Chrissy arrived bang on 4pm, just in time for drinks at the bar. However, with the landlord away on holiday, the service in The Goose was awful. I must’ve waited 20 minutes for my round of ten drinks. The prices are still great though – ten drinks for £24. I guess that is why we keep returning.
We quickly dashed down to The Wellington in order for Wes to collect his ticket from Burger, who was drinking with Mark, Lee, Cathy, Dog and Beckie. We were running a bit late and so I had to rush on through the meandering supporters to get myself down to the ground. I bought the newest copy of “CFCUK” and headed on down the Fulham Road.
I bought the programme – still £3, Fernando Torres on the cover – and skipped past “The Chelsea Wall”, now bedecked anew with images from our history. Part of the wall is devoted to advertising the new Chelsea Museum, located behind the Matthew Harding, but the centre segment seems to be an extended Adidas advertisement, under the odd tagline “All Adidas.” I felt like adding “Chelsea Kits Are Crap.” I joined the long queue at the steps of the MHU. It was 5.20pm and I doubted I would be inside in order to see the kick-off. This annoyed me, but I only had myself to blame. I got up at 7am and here I was, ten and a half hours later, struggling to get in to see the kick-off.
However, by some miracle only known to the Footballing Gods, I was inside at 5.28pm and in my seat at 5.29pm.
And there it was – the new feature, as described to me by Gary.
Over on the Shed Stand wall, looking over the lower tier of the West Stand Lower, a lovely lovely sight. Over the summer, the beige bricks had been painted blue and the three words “Chelsea Football Club” had been painted. However, history buffs amongst the Chelsea support (you know who you are), surely recognised that the words – their design and layout – effectively mirrored those which were visible on the old Leitch East Stand from the early years of our existence to the early seventies.
There was also the modern Chelsea badge and the additional “The Shed End” added and I – for one – appreciated this new feature.
Good work, Chelsea.
At kick-off, the sky was cloudless and the sun beat down. We had heard that Liverpool had won at Arsenal, but the rest of the day’s results were not known. I had to keep reminding myself this was a late game. There were no new supporters’ flags on show on the various balconies. Gary has swapped his season ticket seat from the East Upper to just eight seats away from us in the MHU Wraparound. Nobody seemed to know if Juan Mata was soon to join us or not.
The team had just one change from the previous Sunday; Anelka in for Malouda. I was surprised that Kalou had got the nod over Malouda to be honest.
As I surveyed the scene, checking the friends and faces around and about, I was sadly reminded that one face was missing. I first met Kevin Barney, along with his friend Ally, in a bar in Vienna in 1994. I was over there by myself and was a little wary of certain sections of our support at the time, so it was with great relief that the three of us were able to sip lagers and discuss our love for Chelsea in a foreign city. We shared the same views, the same passion, the same outlook on Chelsea. It was one of those lovely times on only my second foreign trip to see the boys play. Since then, we would always say “hi” though I can’t say we were mates. Just a face I often saw at home and away – he sat only ten places away from me, behind me in the Wraparound. We would always shake hands and he would always say…
It was with sadness that I found out from Big John, who sits close by too, that “Barney” had passed away on 16th. June. I didn’t know him well, but I will miss him. He was a loyal Chelsea fan and I noted that there was a fine obituary for him in the current “CFCUK.”
West Brom were wearing a red / white / red kit and it reminded me that this most common of kits is not present as a first choice kit in this year’s top division.
A moment of shocking defending after just four minutes allowed Shane Long to evade the lunging Alex to calmly slot past Hilario in the Chelsea goal. Although West Brom had only sold around 50% of their 1,500 allocation, all we could hear was the guttural celebrations from the SE corner.
The rest of the first-half was pretty depressing, despite the occasional twists and runs from a rejuvenated Fernando Torres. After 13 minutes, a fine run from Salomon Kalou allowed him to shoot at Ben Foster in the WBA goal, but his effort was high, drawing the usual mumbles and grumbles from the whiners. We were struggling to escape from the mind-set of the previous season, with a lack of movement and a very slow approach. West Brom, defending deep of course, played a succession of fine balls out of their half which continually breached our back line. To be honest, they could easily have been 2-0 up. The Stamford Bridge crowed were quiet, too. So much for the 5.30pm start and all the extra intoxication resulting in a noisy atmosphere.
After 35 minutes, shades of Mourinho and a bold substitution. Well, not so much bold, as surprising. Villas-Boas hauled off Kalou and replaced him with Malouda. Good to see that AVB was on the front foot with game-changing substitutions. I liked Carlo, but one of his problems was late substitutions. I look forward to more positive changes in the new regime.
With every Torres tackle or run, he was applauded. It seems like we, as fans, are doing utmost to encourage him and to continue his improvement in form. That surely has to be our role for the whole team, too.
Our chances were few and far between. Shots from Torres and Ashley Cole, a low free-kick from Alex. Foster remained untroubled. A nice run along the goal-line, right in front of Parkyville, from Torres and he played the ball back to Bosingwa. His cross was headed down by Anelka and another easy save from the ‘keeper.
The half-time whistle and a mixed response from the spectators. Some clapped, some did nothing, some booed. The boos came as no surprise. To be honest, the volume wasn’t massive, but it was noted.
This is where we are everyone, this is what we have become, this is what we are up against.
I spoke to Gary at half-time and we agreed that it would be – at least – interesting to see how AVB would react and change things. And how the players would react. A big half-time talk. I returned to my seat and glanced at the match programme. Again, it hasn’t really changed too much over the past few seasons. The same design and typeset, the same articles. It’s not a bad read at all. I enjoyed the photo spread of the entire staff of the club from the fateful 1974-1975 season; players with ridiculous hair (step forward Walker, Britton and Dempsey) and some famous faces from behind the scenes (Ron Suart, George Anstiss, Eddie Heath and Ken Shellito). TV presenter Johnny Vaughan has taken over from Tim Lovejoy and has a column inside the back cover. My mates and I all remember seeing him in Stockholm in 1998, singing “WTFAMU?” outside “The Dubliners.” His view on AVB?
“I like the appointment because it came out of nowhere. It meant that the bloke down the pub (you know the one!) didn’t really have an opinion on him.”
We began the second period with a little more urgency. After a ludicrous dive from Frank Lampard, the ball fell to Anelka out on the right wing. He shimmied and approached the goal, before shooting low at goal. The ball took a slight deflection and I was able to follow the path of the ball into the goal, off the far post.
An almighty “phew.”
West Brom were not unbowed, though. They had a free header from beneath the bar, but the ball flew over. A shot from Florent Malouda was blocked at the other end. I noted that the first really noisy (I hate to use the word old school) chant came as late as around the hour mark. This is clearly not good enough. In the sleepy hollow, only Alan and myself bothered to rouse the troops.
Didier Drogba replaced Fernando Torres and I was a little sad. He had tried his best all day. Elsewhere, we were starting to test the Baggies’ defence. However, Tchoyi unleashed a curling shot at the Shed End goal, but Hilario sprang and twisted, palming the ball wide with his trailing hand. It was a fine save. Hilario gets a bad press, but he’s no mug.
Soon after, Mikel played the ball to a surging Bosingwa but his hard cross just evaded the lunge of a sprawling Drogba. Ivanovic replaced Alex with a good half hour still to play. All three substitutions made early; very Mourinho.
On 81 minutes, Ben Foster had a rush of blood to the head and was lucky not to be embarrassed as Anelka’s shot from 40 yards flew past his advance but narrowly missed the near post.
Well, what a fantastic piece of play from the much-maligned Bosingwa. He danced between two defenders and sent in an absolutely inch perfect low cross into the danger area. It almost appeared to travel too far, but Malouda arrived on cue to turn the ball in from an acute angle.
Perfect cross. Perfect finish. The Bridge awoke.
Alan – rather subdued, but no doubt relieved: “They’ll Have To Come At Us Now.”
Chris – rather subdued, but no doubt relieved; “Come On My Little Diamonds.”
Malouda raced over to our corner and leapt high. Big relief and big celebrations.
At the final whistle…”phew.”
I grabbed my camera and bag and said my goodbyes to the lads. It had been a painful afternoon and – if I am honest – there are tons of questions hanging over our 2011-2012 season. But, a win is a win is a win. “Blue Is The Colour” rang around the stadium and I smiled. This direct link to my childlike fanaticism of the early ‘seventies reminded me that although the players and seasons change, my love for the club will go on regardless. I’ll be OK this season. I’m not so sure about the players, though.
We made our way back to the car and, while we were waiting for the troops to arrive, Glenn and I spoke to a few out-of-town Chelsea fans, heading back to their cars. Everyone was of the same opinion; we are too set in our ways. We need flesh blood. We need to add pace and urgency. These are not new themes and the song remains the same.
I headed west and the game was discussed amongst the cramped confines of my car. But that can only last so long. The music CD took our minds of the football and Parky’s early-‘eighties compilation got us all singing along…music from Kirsty McColl, the Go Gos, David Sylvian, The Cure and the song of the night “Number One Song In Heaven” by Sparks (Giorgio Moroder at his finest, way ahead of his time.)
I reached home at 10.30pm and watched the highlights from our game. The most telling comment – and one that I hope didn’t go unnoticed by the booers and whiners – was from the manager commenting on the anxiety amongst the home support finding its way onto the pitch, resulting in anxiety from the team.
“Well said, AVB.”
Let us create a positive environment for the team to perform to their potential. Let’s cheer, let’s sing, let’s support. If we see a piece of poor play from our players, let’s not wail like children not being allowed to have sweets. Let’s cheer them. Show our love. Give a little. It ain’t all about us wanting to be pleasured. It’s all about us giving to the team.
…but, deep down, I have a feeling that there will be more childish wailing ahead.