Tales From London And Donetsk

Chelsea vs. Nordsjaelland : 5 December 2012.

So, the day of destiny had arrived. I’m not sure how many days of destiny the average Chelsea supporter faces in his or her life, but this was the latest one. I had travelled up to London, alas, without Lord Porky once again. For the last hour of the journey, my thoughts had been not of the imminent game, nor the consequences of elimination from this season’s Champions League, but of my imminent trip to Japan. In truth, I really haven’t thought too much about it until just recently. Flights and hotels were booked during the summer, but my usual meticulous planning hadn’t really advanced too much. Ironically, I received a disturbing email during the day which told me that one of my connecting flights (from Beijing to Tokyo) had been cancelled.

What?

Thankfully, a phone call later and I had been booked onto a slightly later flight. Sorted.

So, to sum up my feelings as I neared central London; I had already “moved on.” I didn’t really have much hope of Shakhtar beating Juventus. In truth, I just wanted the game to come and go – regardless of the result – and for there to be as little “bad atmosphere” at the Bridge as could be hoped. Our chances of progressing (involving Chelsea and Shakhtar wins) was personally ranked by myself at 10%.

As I slowly edged around Hammersmith roundabout, the evening commuters swarmed all around me. I quickly made the connection; I immediately thought of the thousands of pedestrians who habitually use the iconic Shibuya Crossing in Tokyo, underneath acres of shimmering neon. In ten days I would be one of those pedestrians. I caught a little buzz of excitement, and then continued on my safe passage around the busy roundabout, navigating it safely before hitting the Fulham Palace Road and my final approach into home territory.

It was another bitter night in London. The wind chilled me to the bone. I needed warming and so I popped into my old favourite, The Lily Tandoori, and enjoyed a king prawn bhuna while I defrosted. The place was virtually empty. I chatted with the Fulham-supporting waiter about the state of play at my club. Was it me, or did he slightly resemble Rafa Benitez?

Oh dear, I think I was losing the plot. On leaving, I said “I usually come in here after a Champions League game. Should a miracle happen tonight and we go through, expect me in here ordering king prawn bhuna for the rest of this season before each Champions League game.” My comment drew a hearty laugh from the other two customers – Chelsea – in the restaurant.

Over in The Goose, things were quiet and subdued. There were rumours of plenty of “spares” for the night’s game. Out into the night, there was the usual volume of football-going traffic along the Fulham Road. Inside the stadium, thankfully the crowd looked pretty reasonable. This was to be another near full-house. I spoke with John and we both shared the same sentiments –

“Let’s just get this over with, whatever the result.”

I briefly chatted to Kevin and Anna, who will both be in Tokyo. Like me, they took some convincing to do the trip, but are really looking forward to it. No doubt our paths would cross in Japan.

Despite the cold weather, Pensioner Tom was sat alongside Alan. All credit to him for endeavouring to drive up from Sutton on such an inclement night for football. The game began and Chelsea attempted to inflict some early damage on the Danish visitors. However, on a clearly odd evening, the Chelsea support in the Matthew Harding Lower had one eye on events in the Ukraine. On more than one occasion, we supported another team.

“Come on Shakhtar, come on Shakhtar, come on Shakhtar, come on Shaktar.”

We managed to get the ball played into the opposing penalty area on a number of occasions, but our luck was not with us. Chances for Torres and Hazard went begging. At times, I lamented the lack of movement in our midfield. I was reminded of the great Tony Hancock line –

“I thought my mother was a bad cook but at least her gravy used to move about.”

At times our gravy was solid.

Then, a Nordsjaelland attack and Gary Cahill handled. Oh fcuk.

Thankfully, Stokholm’s penalty was struck at a good height for Petr Cech to move to his right and save. As in Munich, he had come to our rescue once again. The crowd roared and Alan commented that maybe this was just what the crowd needed in order for some noise to be generated. It had been another quiet evening. There had been a small amount of booing as the TV screens showed Benitez taking to his seat at the start of the game. I had clapped throughout the sixteenth minute, but there was thankfully not much negative noise. The Chelsea fans are still trying to find their feet – a common ground – after the calamitous events since Black Tuesday in Turin.

Soon after, we were awarded a penalty, but Eden Hazard’s low shot was saved too.

Oh boy.

Bizarrely, another penalty was awarded to us for yet another handball, but this time David Luiz confidently struck home, the ball tearing a path high into the net. We breathed a massive sigh of relief.

Alan and I went through our usual post-goal routine, with accents coloured with a Scandinavian lilt. In the last kick of the first-half, Torres broke and poked a ball home after seeing his initial effort saved. It was a fine piece of intuitive goalscoring, so sadly missing from Torres’ play of late. It was his twentieth goal for Chelsea and – yes, here I go again – I’ve seen every one of the buggers.

20/20 vision.

Pat Nevin was on the pitch, briefly, at half-time and commented about the three penalties. He couldn’t resist a self-deprecating dig at himself, mentioning this beauty from 1985.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C0u4lTUl39I

Proper Chelsea.

In Donetsk, it was still 0-0.

After just twenty seconds into the second period, our visitors broke down our left and Cech was beaten by a crafty lob.

Soon after, I asked Alan –

“With the way things have gone here with the three penalties, do you get the feeling this could be one of those crazy nights of football?”

I was clearly grasping at straws.

A Gary Cahill header – looping up and in and over the line – from a Mata free-kick restored our two-goal cushion. Surely our game was won. Soon after, a strong run down the left down below me from Hazard and the ball was pulled back from the bye-line for Torres to prod home. Get in.

21/21.

However, I soon received a text from Tullio in Turin. It ruined my celebrations.

“0-1.”

We were virtually out and in to the Europa League.

A nice move involving Ramires, Hazard and Mata gave us our fifth goal after Mata followed up after his initial shot was parried. There was tons of Chelsea possession in the second half and some of it was lovely to watch. Flicks and turns, albeit against secondary opposition, at least warmed me a little. Eden Hazard even attempted to play a ball back to Oscar by turning and letting it him firmly between the shoulder-blades.

Prowling in the Chelsea technical area was the figure of Rafa Benitez, but I largely chose to ignore him. This is how I am dealing with all of this at the moment. There have been two vaguely similar scenarios to the di Matteo sacking in my memory; the Vialli sacking in 2000 and the Mourinho “mutual agreement” in 2007. Both were horrible affairs, both bring me moments of pain in remembering them.

I loved Vialli as a man, as a Chelsea player and as a Chelsea manager. In his place came the unknown figure of Claudio Ranieri. It took ages for me – and other Chelsea fans – to warm to him. I can well remember a horrible trip to The Valley (some new fans might have to Google this stadium) in November 2000 when we lost 2-0 and the Chelsea support was wailing in displeasure. Didn’t Dennis Wise play wing back for a period in this game? I don’t know. It was a bleak old time. Ranieri’s predilection for playing Slavisa Jokanovic (remember him?) really infuriated the support at the time. Jokanovic was Ranieri’s man and we never warmed to him. The poor bloke was the most hated player of that odd 2000-2001 season.

We then experienced the move from the sublime to the ridiculous in September 2007 when the idolised Jose Mourinho was replaced by the shambolic figure of Avram Grant. Dark days again. It’s no bloody wonder us Chelsea fans sometimes have to throw our hands up to the footballing gods and yell “what the hell is going on?”

In the current climate, Chelsea fans are split into various factions. Some support the team, but boo Benitez. Some support the team but stay silent on the manager. Some support the team at games, but want the team to lose in order for Benitez to be sacked as quickly as possible. Some support the board and the team regardless. Some stay silent. Some even boo players.

A common ground will eventually be found, but – in my mind – not for a while. This could well turn out to be the ultimate winter of discontent.

At 5-1, I spotted a gaggle of tourists in the corner of the Shed Lower continually attempt to initiate the loathed “wave.” Thankfully, it never made it past a third of the way down the lower tier of the West Stand. We don’t do waves in England. It shows utmost disrespect for the players on the pitch and it detracts from the reason why supporters attend games. I pulled my telephoto lens up to my eyes just in time to see a Chelsea lad remonstrate with the entire section and I can easily imagine what words were spoken. I have the bemused reaction of the “happy clappy” tourists on film.

This match report is dedicated to that lone Chelsea fan. Good work son.

On the pitch, Oscar side-footed home to make it 6-1. Mata was replaced by Paolo Ferreira and both players were given a great reception. More chances came to Chelsea, who were now hitting the visitors hard. I captured a perfect rabona by Fernando Torres down below me on film. Torres’ confidence has taken a massive hit since those halcyon days of – when? – October (ha!) but I hope he recovers and recovers quickly. His play, let’s be honest, in the past month has been shocking.

The game ended with a 6-1 win, but we were out of the Champions League. I stared in disbelief at the end, but I soon ended up being annoyed with myself. I had clearly been guilty, in our embroilment with the Champions League since 1999, to have been rather dismissive of the other trophies on offer. The Europa League is the second most prestigious prize in the UEFA portfolio. Back in 1977 or 1983 or 1990 or 1993 I would have given the world to take part in any European competition. Let’s win the Europa League in Amsterdam.

As for the Champions league, at least we had Munich.

We’ll always have Munich.

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