Tales From The League Leaders

Chelsea vs. Stoke City : 22 September 2012.

After a period of inactivity with no Chelsea game for me personally for three whole weeks, we were now well and truly in the thick of it, with two games per week for a while. And yet, I was in a downbeat and melancholy mood on Saturday morning. It was brewing up to be a lovely autumnal day and, if I am truthful, I was almost wondering if I could have put my twelve hours to better use. Frome Town were playing at home against Weston-super-Mare in the F.A. Cup for starters, plus I had some jobs to complete around the house and I kept thinking “that lawn won’t cut itself you know.” The prospect of yet another 220 mile round-trip hardly filled me with joy. In a nutshell, the lure of a home game was not as appealing as it should have been. I drove over to collect Young Jake at Trowbridge using my auto-pilot facility, hoping that my drowsy state would disappear once I became focussed on the day ahead.

Lord Parkins was taking a break for this game; it was just Young Jake and I representing the two towns of Frome and Trowbridge for the visit of Stoke City.

A little banter kept us occupied on the drive up and – yes – my enthusiasm soon returned. Jake is 24 and has seen Chelsea on around 25 occasions. He is still to see a Chelsea away game, but we hope to break that duck this autumn…maybe Swansea, maybe West Brom. I was lucky in that two of my first seven Chelsea games were away games, in Bristol, and I have very strong memories of both those matches from season 1975-1976. Away games are quite different to home games and I can sense that Jake was desperate to experience them. I can’t understand Chelsea fans who attend games at Stamford Bridge only; they do exist, I have met a few of them. They don’t know what they are missing.

It did feel odd to be driving up to The Smoke later in the day than usual. There was a reason for this; I had plans to attend the “start-up” meeting of the Chelsea Supporters Trust later in the evening. More of that later.

I slid into Archel Road at just before 1.30pm and it was a glorious day in London Town. I spent just an hour in the pub – or, rather, the beer garden – and it was the usual hubbub of noise.

On the twenty minute walk to Stamford Bridge, I noted the same old faces trying their best to punt tickets. These touts – or scalpers – are present at every game and, for the life of me, I never understand why Chelsea can’t work in unison with the OB to flush these away from Stamford Bridge.

I bought a programme and noted that Jon Obi Mikel was featured on the front cover. Was this a tacit endorsement of our midfielder by the club, so soon after the brouhaha following his errant pass against Juventus? I hope so. I hope that it wasn’t just a strange coincidence.

I soon noticed a large swathe of empty seats towards the back of The Shed upper. Maybe the touts hadn’t been so successful on this particular day. However, these empty seats eventually filled up over the first twenty minutes of the game.

Over on the western side of The Shed, a new banner caught my attention.

“Welcome to Chelsea FC. The first London team to win the Champions League.”

Nice sentiments, but way too “wordy.”

If I had my way, it would just say –

“Arsenal didn’t. Tottenham didn’t. We did.” (with a small gold star as decoration.)

Frank Lampard and John Terry were sidelined. This meant that Gary Cahill started alongside the erratic David Luiz.

I won’t dwell too much on the game itself on this particular occasion. However, what a contrast in styles; not only between Chelsea and Stoke City, but between Chelsea 2011-2012 and Chelsea 2012-2013. Our little triumvirate of “number tens” were the focus of our attacking play. This, of course, was the first time that Mata, Hazard and Oscar had started together. If we were playing in Italy, I have a feeling that these three players would have already been given a little moniker all of their own. For some reason, Napoli came to mind. Not only the three tenors of Cavani, Lavezzi and Hamsik of last season, but the “Ma-Gi-Ca” trio from the late ‘eighties…Diego Maradona, Bruno Giordano and Careca.

Mata. Hazard. Oscar.

Ma-Ha-Os.

Ma-Os-Ha.

Ha-Os-Ma.

Os-Ha-Ma.

I’ll work on that.

Despite or domination of the game, we hardly troubled Begovic in the Stoke goal. If anything, the visitors had the best two chances of the first-half. At the break, Gary was fuming, but I tried to make the point that this was only the fifth game of the news season and that the team was noticeably different to the team of previous years, with a new way of playing, a new style, new tactics.

Mike Fillery was on the pitch at the break. For four seasons, from 1979 to 1983, he was the kingpin of our midfield. He was a skilful touch-player with a great range of passing, who chipped in with a fair share of goals, too. His team mates included Clive Walker, Tommy Langley, Colin Pates, Ian Britton and Colin Lee. His style was often called languid but the inhabitants of the whitewall, the tea-bar and the benches often called him “lazy.” Both Alan and Gary commented that, despite him now having a limp, he moved around the pitch quicker than when he was playing for us. He left us in the summer of 1983 for the promise of First Division football at QPR. Ah, QPR – where Chelsea players go to retire. In some ways, he left us at just the wrong time. It would have been interesting to see how he would have fitted in as a midfielder in the all-action team of Dixon / Nevin / Speedie (or “Di-Ne-Sp” as we didn’t call them at the time). On the day we beat Derby County 5-0 on the opening day of 1983-1984, Fillery made his QPR debut at Old Trafford and I remember seeing him on “Match of the Day” that night. I’ll be honest, he had been one of my heroes and it just didn’t seem right. Anyway, twenty-nine years later, it was good to see him back at Chelsea.

The second-half continued in a similar vein. The Holy Trinity dominated the play and there were more flicks and back-heels seen at Chelsea for many a year.

There were more flicks on show than at a wedge haircut convention.

Mikel was having a solid game and Ramires was a looking lot more at ease alongside him. I’d suggest that Ramires stays in this position all season long.

As the half progressed, at last the crowd started to make some noise. Victor Moses made his home debut as a substitute and added some instant energy. Fernando Torres was full of honest endeavour, but it just wasn’t working for him. Some of his passing was excellent, though. I made a comment that if only Torres could be on the end of his own through-balls. During the last quarter, Stoke began a few raids on our goal. When substitute Michael Owen appeared – and also Kenwyne Jones – I feared the worst. I made the point – only half in jest – that with Jones, Owen, Crouch and Walters, Stoke probably had a better four attackers in their squad than us.

With five minutes to go, substitute Frank Lampard helped to work the ball out wide. The ball was played in towards Juan Mata who stepped over the ball to allow it to reach the waiting Ashley Cole. With a deft flick, the ball spun up and over the ‘keeper’s despairing block. The ball nestled inside the netting, the crowd burst into life and Ash raced over towards the north-east corner. It was a well worked goal.

Phew.

John Terry came on to protect the lead, replacing Juan Mata in one of the oddest substitutions seen at Chelsea for a while, and we played with five at the back.

We held on.

After the game, I did my annual raid on the club shop and bought a few items. After a quick bite to eat at the “Pizza Express” at Fulham Broadway, I made my way up to the Barrow Boy pub on the North End Road (formerly The Hobgoblin, formerly The Victualler).

Upstairs on the roof terrace, around seventy Chelsea fans assembled for a “Supporters Trust” start-up / feasibility meeting which was hosted by Tim Rolls, Neil Beard, Dave Johnstone and Cliff Auger. The scene was rather plush with the terrace’s perimeter bedecked in canvas; it had the ambience of a Bedouin tent. All very decadent, all very Chelsea. The meeting lasted around ninety minutes.

A representative of Supporters Direct was present to talk through the concept of football trusts, of which there are around 150 in the UK. The meeting, at times, was predictably heated, but I found it very worthwhile. Tellingly, the SD guy stated that virtually all football trusts are formed at times of crisis.

“Crisis? What crisis?” I hear people cry…”we’re Champions of Europe!”

The raison d’etre for this meeting at Chelsea was no doubt instigated by the ramifications of the CPO affair last autumn, but was also linked to the general feeling amongst fan groups that Chelsea Football Club are continually out of touch with its match-going support. Another reason for a supporters trust, I think, is to try to unite the many various Chelsea fan groups which currently exist; in many cases, a trust acts as an umbrella for various factions.

Examples were given to explain how trusts work. Some are very active, some are virtually dormant. It depends on the individual circumstances of each club. On one hand, the Manchester United trust has over 100,000 members but is not acknowledged by the United board. At the other extreme, the trust at Swansea virtually runs the club. In between, there are many different shades. Arsenal only has 1,000 members in its trust, but is seen as a media savvy, political pressure group with a surprising amount of power. Newcastle United, like Chelsea, has many different supporters groups, but they came together to form a 35,000 strong trust. Mike Ashby ignores them, but the NUFC trust has strong links with the local media and council. Clearly, a trust is seen as a more bona fide and credible entity than a normal fans’ group.

It is inevitable that football trusts have more clout at smaller clubs where revenue is more dependent upon match-going fans. At Exeter City, where gates average 3,000, the football club is obviously going to listen to a 1,000 strong football trust since it is in its best interests to have an appreciation of what fans require out of their club. At financially opulent clubs, trusts have a bigger battle.

It was stated that trusts tend to have short term, medium term and long term goals. At many clubs, the long term goal of getting a trust member onto the football board has been accomplished.

Mighty oaks from little acorns grow.

Despite a couple of unsure voices, it was decided to go ahead with the general notion of the Chelsea supporters trust. A follow-up meeting will take place in October or November.

Three points were made which are worthy of further comment.

The Supporters Direct representative emphasised that the Chelsea Pitch Owners are incredibly important to the future of the club. He stated that Chelsea is the only club in Europe whose ground is owned by its fans. Virtually every other club would love to have what we have. It is, as one fan said, the jewel in our crown.

One of the long term goals for a Chelsea trust, rather than aim for the board (unlikely…let’s be honest), might be to get a normal fan to take the internally-appointed Graham Smith’s role as the club’s Supporter Liaison Officer.

A short term goal will be to get many overseas supporters groups to buy in to the idea of a supporters trust. At the meeting, Chelsea in America was mentioned on a few occasions. This is a win-win. The club is desperate to grow its overseas fan base and by getting various foreign groups on board, the club would have to take the trust seriously.

As I left the meeting, I was invigorated by the passion and the common sense of brotherhood engendered amongst my fellow fans. It was a great meeting. It was a great day. I momentarily wandered back to my thoughts in the morning.

How silly of me to think it might have been anything else.

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