West Ham United vs. Chelsea : 1 December 2012.
The boys were losing 2-1 and the assistant referee signalled three minutes of extra time. Some of the Chelsea supporters around me had already decided to leave. I had a terrible decision to make. Although it is something that I hate doing (I can only recall four other instances in over 38 years that I had left early), I had decided “enough is enough” and I excused myself.
“See you Wednesday.”
I made my way out into the tight and narrow concourse of the stand and headed for the exit. At least I would soon be on the train. At least I wouldn’t have to endure a long wait in the queue as it snaked away from the red-brick entrance to the old tube station. Just as I crossed the threshold of the pavement, I heard a roar. Momentarily, I prayed for an equaliser, but I soon heard the home fans in the upper tier banging their hands and fists against the plastic screens. It was an agonising sound.
I retraced my steps out onto Tudor Road, hands in pockets, head down, black scarf wrapped high around my face. Alongside me were fellow foot soldiers of the Chelsea nation, uttering oaths of displeasure at the current state of affairs.
I looked up and saw a familiar figure, walking fast and ahead of me. It was Gill. She was talking on the phone. To be honest, I was shocked that she had left before me. Not like her to leave before the end of the game. Not like me to leave before the end of the game.
I sprinted to catch up with her and we didn’t need to say anything.
We walked briskly back to Upton Park station and quickly hopped on a train which soon took us away from the scene of the latest debacle. As we were joined in the carriage by West Ham fans, we spoke quietly.
“When was the last time we lost here?”
“I know. Shocking.”
In truth, we had been coasting at the break. The songs of disdain which had coloured the chants from the away enclosure in the first portion of the game had even changed to songs of mockery of our opponents. However, the shocking capitulation in the second-half had been utterly depressing. And then the tone changed again in that away section. The air was turned royally blue. The Chelsea support was kicking out, not caring who they hit. Everyone was fair game.
As the train moved from station to station, we spoke of the bleakness of the immediate situation. Our conversation touched a variety of subjects and we attempted to lighten the mood with some cathartic support for each other. But it was difficult. Hearing the Chelsea supporters turning on the club sickened us both. It was clear that there had been a lot of rage in the away end. We continued to chat. We even discussed the slight possibility of at least one of us not attending the upcoming game on Wednesday. Was this a worrying sign of the future? Would my support of the club be severely tested over the next few months? Again, more questions than answers.
And then a morsel of comfort.
Gill mentioned that she was thinking about watching the youngsters up at Middlesbrough on Tuesday. I was truly warmed by her support for the boys.
Even in the blackest skies, there are sparkling crystals of light.