Chelsea vs. Fulham : 28 November 2012.
On the way in to work on Wednesday, I was pondering (I do a lot of pondering, has anyone noticed?) about the club’s hold on our emotions. Despite putting us through periods of strain, we are still slave to its hold on us. It is a very strange relationship, this; the club and the fan. It suddenly came to me in a flash. If being hitched to Chelsea was like a conventional marriage, then there is no doubt that the two parties would have divorced years ago. The fan base would have cited irreconcilable differences, to say nothing of periods of mental torture. And the inevitable question has to be; why do we keep coming back for more?
The glib answer is “because it’s part of who I am” but it has to run deeper than that. I don’t expect there will be any conclusions about this complicated question in this report, but it might for form the basis of what I’ll be thinking over the next few weeks and months.
“Why do I keep putting myself through this?”
Let it be said, Chelsea vs. Fulham on a Wednesday night in November, with all of the inherent negativity that would probably be evidence, was doing very little for me.
I left work a little earlier than usual. It was already getting cold on the short walk from the office to the car and I thought to myself “oh great – another bonus about going tonight. I’ll be freezing my bits off.” The journey, unfortunately without His Lordship once again, still took me two-and-a-half hours. A work-related problem unfortunately got me tied up in knots and kept me mentally occupied on the last hour, to such an extent that I suddenly looked up at the Chiswick roundabout and I thought to myself “hell, how did I get here.” I had been driving slowly and safely, yet my mind had obviously been elsewhere. Suffice to say, it hadn’t been one of my most enjoyable drives into the great city of London.
At just after six o’clock, I had arrived. I was right; outside the temperature had dropped and it was freezing. I made a bee-line for the boozer. I needed that one pint. It barely touched the sides. My good friend Russ, who I last saw on the night of the Reading home-opener, was already in the pub chatting to the lads. He would be sat alongside Alan and I for the night’s game. There was the usual banter flying about and the pub was full of the usual faces; the faces of the Chelsea lifers.
A chap was selling some special edition Christmas cards in the pub; “Merry Christmas from the Champions of Europe.”
Five for four quid. I had to indulge.
I just need to work out which five non-Chelsea fans receive them on December 25th.
We were in the stadium early, at around 7.30pm. My goodness, the place was empty. Surely the Chelsea nation were not as depressed as this? Surely we’d get another full house? Maybe the general malaise amongst the Chelsea support manifested in the masse late arrival.
The team was unchanged from the Manchester City game, except the insertions of Ryan Bertrand for Juan Mata and Oriel Romeu for Jon Obi Mikel, who have been two of our most consistent players so far in 2012-2013. We did our own little bit of second-guessing about Rafa Benitez (can I say his name?) and his own methodology.
Forget FIFA2013, it’s RAFA2013 that will be keeping us awake at night over the next few months.
As everyone knows, the game was a turgid affair. Eventually the stadium reached its capacity, but the mood among the viewing populace was of quiet suffering. There were no boos for the manager on the same scale as on Sunday. Thankfully I had the company of two good friends alongside me to get me through the ninety minutes.
The Fulham fans had sold out their three thousand allocation and were enjoying their time in the sun, seizing the moment to out sing the solemn home support.
“We are Fulham, we are Fulham…”
We chatted about Fulham for a few seconds. Although it still annoys Fulham fans that some Chelsea supporters still have a soft spot for them, a recent survey suggested that the newer Fulham fans ranked QPR as their biggest rival. I personally find that hard to believe. Alan chipped in –
“Fulham and QPR, eh? I like women’s football.”
By the time of the minute’s applause for Roberto di Matteo, which I supported by again clapping throughout, hardly any chances had transpired.
One of our brethren had decided that the bitterly cold weather was too much for him. Tom – in his ‘seventies – had stayed at home in Sutton. Alan called him from the match and assured him that he had made the right decision.
“You’ve made the right call, Tom, it’s dire.”
A few seats along, Joe – now in his mid ‘eighties, another Chelsea lifer – had braved the elements but was clearly not enjoying himself.
The cold weather had necessitated a few players to wear extra protection against the cold.
“More gloves out there than in the Harrods’ accessories department.”
Meanwhile, somebody in our midst was letting rip with a couple of trouser coughs. Jacket collars were pulled up to mouths.
“God, something’s died.”
“Yeah, our season.”
The chances were rare. A Ramires shot couldn’t have been further from the goal if he had tried. A David Luiz free-kick ended up in Wandsworth. A neat move found Fernando Torres who turned swiftly but shot right at Mark Schwartzer. A cross skimmed across the box with nobody able to connect. How we missed a late-arriving Frank Lampard.
And that was the first-half.
On the night that the club broke with the usual format of the home programme and instead chose to feature former Dave Sexton on the cover, one of the greatest-ever Chelsea players from the Sexton era skipped around the pitch with Neil Barnett.
It was none other than the Bonnie Prince himself Charlie Cooke. Charlie’s trips back to the UK from his home in Ohio are getting more and more regular. It’s great. He’s a lovely man. It has been my pleasure to meet him on a couple of occasions and he is indeed a prince and a gentleman. I think his smiles were the highlight of the evening. Great to have you back Charlie.
The second-half began and it was more of the same. Alan was full of it –
“Blimey, there are more headless chickens out there than at KFC.”
There was no doubt that our players were struggling to break down a team that was well marshalled by Martin Jol, but whose main aim was containment. On 54 minutes though, we lost the ball in midfield and were exposed for the first real time. A rapid Fulham break thankfully ran out of steam when Jan Arne Riise (we have a song about you, sir) shot meekly at Cech.
Soon after, Ramires found himself inside the box but a delicate toe-poke didn’t test Schwarzer. Juan Mata came on for the more defensive-minded Bertrand. A fine Mata corner was whipped in but the ball ended up going wide after a flurry of players attacked the ball. A Riise long-shot at Cech was followed by two half-chances (maybe quarter chances) from Torres. Torres has not been the subject of any boos yet. Who knows if that will last?
Fulham were content to defend, but I was always worried whenever Berbatov got the ball. Continental drift moves faster, but he does possess silky skills when he is in the mood.
The Chelsea team looked like a team which had lost a lot of its confidence and belief. Team mates were idly standing by. Team mates were not moving for each other.
Alan was at it again –
“More static than a pair of nylon underpants.”
At long last, Marko Marin made his league debut as he replaced the ineffective Hazard and Joe’s son “Skippy” was quite enthused.
“I haven’t seen him kick a ball yet.”
“Don’t worry, he won’t tonight” I was quick to add.
The home fans began to leave. The away contingent seized their chance.
“Is there a fire drill? Is there a fire drill?”
It was, I am quite sure, the funniest song ever to emanate from a Fulham supporter’s mouth. At this very moment, El Fayed is planning on erecting a statue in honour of this song smith to be erected at Craven Cottage.
The last ten minutes were played out and, despite some nice spirit from the substitute Marin, the game slithered away. The very last kick of the game was an Azpilicueta drive from distance which whizzed past the far post.
Outside, the winter was well and truly here.
Russ and I walked back to the car as quickly as we could, with the air now bitter. On the drive back to Reading, we had an excellent appraisal of the current situation at Chelsea, but ended up with more questions than answers. I dropped Russ off at his house and reached my home at 1am.
It had been a rotten night.