Tales From The Team At The Top

Chelsea vs. Norwich City : 6 October 2012.

Who would have possibly thought that our league season would have started so well? The rather lacklustre pre-season seems distant. Not even the most optimistic Chelsea supporter could have envisaged such a fine opening six league matches. We went onto our home game with Norwich City at the top of the table. Throughout the few days leading up to the match at Stamford Bridge, one thought kept entering my head.

“Let’s just keep grinding out some wins.”

There is a strong likelihood that our league campaign will throw some stern tests our way. There will be pitfalls ahead. There will be challenges. There will be blips. However, let’s keep winning the home games, let’s keep going. Let’s keep amassing the points, in the same way that squirrels plunder nuts, before the treacherous winter hits us.

For a change, Gunner Parkins was able to meet me in Frome. At 9.15pm, I collected him from outside The Cornerhouse pub and we were on our way. Parky enjoyed the different approach into London; like Arsenal last week, I was able to drive in via Salisbury Plain, the A303 and the M3. It was another picture perfect autumnal morning.

Once in London, I quickly walked down to Stamford Bridge. I met up with Gill and Graeme for a few moments in the hotel foyer. I wondered how many of the Chelsea fans were oblivious to the two gentlemen quietly sitting in their usual alcove. Ron Harris and Peter Bonetti, the two heroes from our ‘seventies team, are often untroubled by the hotel guests.

Outside, I took a few photographs of the old Shed wall. There are now photographs from Munich interspersed with images of past players.

Ashley Cole, Dennis Wise, Didier Drogba, Peter Bonetti, Frank Lampard, Gianluca Vialli, Fernando Torres, Ron Harris.

Back in The Goose, I spent my time talking to Steve, a friend from Kent, whose company I used for Italian haulage at work a while ago. While others were talking about all things football, Steve and I chatted about European road haulage. I kept to my habit of supping slowly at just one pint. My friend Simon, who I have known for the best part of twenty years, has some exciting times ahead. He is involved in the making of a film and the shooting starts in November. I’m not sure he’ll be attending many Chelsea games during the shooting; the agenda will involve twelve hour days and working for six days a week. There a few well-known actors taking part in the film, including John Hurt of “The Elephant Man” fame, but Simon has already confirmed that he is going to find a little walk-on part for his son Milo somewhere in the filming. In another life, Simon used to produce the occasional pop video, and has worked with Paul Weller amongst others. His most well known, and successful video, was for the sublime “Brimful of Asha” by Cornershop in 1997.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lM7H0ooV_o8

Steve and I made sure there was no last minute scramble and reached our seats a good twenty minutes before kick-off. I was able to take a few photographs of the team going through their pre-match routines; I very rarely see this. I’m usually in my seat with seconds to spare.

Chelsea and Norwich City. Our paths haven’t crossed too often over the recent years. Everyone remembers the Gianfranco Zola back-heel during the run to the 2002 F.A. Cup Final, but I was sadly not present at that game. I forget the reasons why; I guess I was caught on the wrong shift, in the days when Parky and I used to work in the same Trowbridge warehouse.

I always remember our game against Norwich City on opening day in August 1994. We had lost the F.A. Cup Final in the May, but the vibes were good going into the 1994-1995 season. Not only were Chelsea taking part in European competition for the first time since 1971, but Stamford Bridge was being reconstructed. The sweeping north terrace – sadly I never stood there – last saw active service in 1993 and was demolished through the closing months of that season. In its place, the new North Stand rose beyond some high advertising hoardings. It was the first new stand at Chelsea since the East Stand was constructed between 1972 and 1974. The Shed terrace’s last game was against Sheffield United in May 1994. For some reason, we decided to watch that game high up in the East Stand and that was a decision I often regretted. In its place, Chelsea decided to go with a temporary stand until planning permission came through for the new Shed and hotel. Around 3,000 seats were bolted together, on a criss-cross of scaffolds, and the temporary stand lasted two seasons.

For the game with Norwich City in August 1994, Glenn and I travelled up from Frome with Russell. At the time, he was a 15 year old schoolboy and the game would be his first ever game at Stamford Bridge. He had attended an infamous F.A. Cup game at Ashton Gate in 1990, but the less said about that the better. I remember his mother waving us off from his house. This would be the first time that Glenn and I had been entrusted with the welfare of a “youngster.”

The baton was being passed on.

I remember that we visited a long forgotten pub on the Fulham Road called “The Stargazy” ( I think it became a restaurant around ten years ago) for pre-match drinks. My mate Daryl used to work with a QPR fan, who grew up with the then Chelsea youth team player Craig Norman. On this particular day, Craig met up with us for a while. This was quite a thrill for young Russell. Craig Norman never made the grade at Chelsea and drifted off to play for Wycombe Wanderers and ended up as captain of Kettering Town. Russell and I always joked that the main reason why he never made it at Chelsea was because, as the story goes, he once told the then youth team coach Eddie Niedzwiecki to “fcuk off, you Welsh tw&t.”

The over-riding memory from that game in the August sun from over eighteen years ago was of the new temporary stand. For the first time in almost ninety years, a section of the crowd was now mere yards from the goal-line. It was quite a sensation. We were sitting towards the West Stand side and it felt so exciting to be – at last – part of the action. The Benches, to our left, seemed within touching distance. It fired up my imagination to let my mind wander and visualise what it would be like once all four stands were tight against the pitch.

Good times were ahead.

With no spectators in the north stand, capacity was cut to around 23,000. However, with the denizens of The Shed now shunted forward twenty yards, Stamford Bridge was a riot of noise on that inaugural day of the new temporary stand.

On the pitch, we easily beat the Canaries 2-0.

Under Glenn Hoddle, we finished mid-table in that season, but the campaign will be fondly remembered for our unexpected onslaught on the ECWC, when we reached the semi-finals. In the November, the North Stand opened with the visit of Everton. Times were changing and it was a thrill to attend games in that 1994 to 1997 era, not only for the football, but for the constantly evolving stadium which confronted us every two weeks. In that 1994-1995 season, I really ramped up my support of the team. My previous “bests” had been during my college years – around 20 games a year – but I went to 29 in 1994-1995, including forays to the Czech Republic, Austria and Spain.

Along with 1983-1984, it was my “breakout” season.

Russell, now 33, still comes along to a few Chelsea games these days. We obviously didn’t put him of.

In 1994, I remember the away fans were given 1,500 seats in the lower tier of the East stand. In 2012, the Norwich fans – some 3,000 strong – were in the Shed. They boasted just one flag; a green and yellow “Union Jack.”

Far from grinding out a narrow win, thankfully the goals flowed as we put together a very confident and entertaining performance.

Despite gifting Fernando Torres the chance to open the scoring in three minutes, the chance was spurned. I’m not exactly sure why he didn’t shoot with his favoured right peg. Why would he come back onto his let foot?

Norwich took the lead against the run of play when the troublesome Grant Holt fired home a loose ball from inside the penalty area.

Thankfully, this just inspired us.

A delightful sweeping move found Juan Mata who back-heeled into the path of Branoslav Ivanovic. The ball was clipped in to the box and Torres rose to steer the ball past Ruddy into the goal.

Eighteen goals now for Chelsea and, yep, I’ve seen ‘em all.

Frank Lampard crashed the ball in from the edge of the box. He just has the knack of being in those places, picking up the pieces. It was a typical Frankgoal.

Then, the pass of the season so far. Juan Mata dribbled forward, with the defence back-peddling and threaded the ball inside the Norwich defenders and into the path of the advancing Eden Hazard. The ball was passed into the net. Marvellous stuff.

At half-time, Neil Barnett advised us that Frank had now tied Bobby Tambling’s record of 129 goals in the top flight of English football. I wonder if Frank will reach Bobby’s overall total. It will be a close run thing. In light of Great Britain’s excellent performance at the Olympics and Paralympics, we were treated to a fantastic parade at the interval. Around twelve of Team GB’s medal winners walked onto the pitch, with a large Union Jack flying proudly. All medal winners were Chelsea season ticket holders.

Superb.

With three goals to the good, it was the time for gluttony in the second half. Let’s score some more goals. Let’s boost our goal total. Let’s make our upcoming opponents even more fearful of our prowess.

If the truth be known, despite the lovely approach play from the attacking players, the second-half was a little disappointing. Even at 3-1, Alan and myself were sure that Norwich would score a second and make the rest of the game a nervous affair. I guess almost forty years of watching Chelsea play has made us who we are; we’re never safe until the referee blows for time. Fernando Torres spoiled another gift-wrapped chance after a gorgeous defence-splitting ball. On another day, Nando could have scored three. However, our number nine has now scored four goals in seven league games this season. Bobby Tambling is way off, but it’s a lot more encouraging, isn’t it?

And some of the interplay was wonderful. Although Mata was the star, I was again very impressed with Oscar, who rarely loses possession. We’re in for some thrills at the old stadium this season for sure.

Ivanovic volleyed home like a master predator to seal a 4-1 win.

Lovely stuff.

The only negative involved the support. Apart from a few roars of “Champions of Europe – We know what we are” and “Super Chelsea” there were many moments when I heard several pins being dropped in Knightsbridge, Battersea and Pimlico.

We now break for two weeks. Even if we allowed everyone else in the division a free game, they still wouldn’t be able to get past us at the top.

Good times.

See you all at Tottenham.

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