Tales From Home

Chelsea vs. Cardiff City : 19 October 2013.

The phases of the moon were providing a timetable to this season; another full moon, another home league game. Aston Villa on 21 August, Fulham on 21 September, Cardiff City on 19 October. At this bloody rate, the 2013-2014 season won’t be finished until 2015. It has been an odd first two months of the campaign. There seems to be an odd rhythm to this season and I can’t be the only one who thinks that this one hasn’t really begun yet. Thankfully, the latest – disliked – international break was over and Chelsea, recently competing at four away venues, were now heading home.

Chelsea at Stamford Bridge. 3pm. Saturday.

Just like it always should be.

I didn’t reach the pub until 12.30pm. Parky and I edged our way through the packed bar and eventually ordered two pints of Peroni. There were familiar faces at the bar. After a month’s absence, it was good to be back home. All of my mates were outside in the beer garden; they were eschewing the Newcastle vs. Liverpool game which was being watched half-heartedly by the clientele inside. Within a few minutes of meeting up with Daryl, Alan, Rob and everyone, the rain started. Clearly, there was not room inside for the seventy or so souls in the beer garden, so we stood stoically under the large awnings of the beer garden as the rain sheeted down , nestling pints, shuffling from side to side, maybe like a pack of penguins, keeping warm, on an Antarctic ice field.

“Your turn to stand on the outside, Ed.”

It was a scene which was begging for someone to take a photograph; looking down on the group of Chelsea supporters nestled together as the rain tormented us. For those around the world who mock the miserable weather of England – what? How dare they! – this was a self-deprecating photograph waiting to happen.

“Greetings from England.”

Rob had represented us at the Ian Britton fundraiser in Cheam on the Friday night. If I lived closer, I would have gone. Rob reported back that it was a brilliant night and many of Ian’s team mates attended including Ray Wilkins, Colin Pates, Ray Lewington, Paul Canoville, Tommy Langley, Steve Finnieston and Garry Stanley. After Peter Osgood left Chelsea, Ian Britton was my favourite Chelsea player for years and years. We all loved his energetic style and his cheeky smile. I followed his fortunes after he left us, which included a Scottish Championship medal at Dundee United in 1983, and a goal for Burnley which kept them from relegation out of the Football League in 1987. Meeting him at an old boys’ game at Southampton in 2010 was one of the highlights of recent years. The news that he is battling prostate cancer hit me hard.

We all wish him well.

Talk was of the upcoming away games. Many were heading out to Germany on Monday and Tuesday; the internationalists were buzzing with talk of Dusseldorf, Dortmund, Gelsenkirchen, Cologne and Bochum. I chatted to Andy, boasting a fine new brown Barbour, and Ed about the away game at Newcastle in a few weeks. I am staying overnight in that mythical city on the banks of the Tyne. I have stayed overnight up there for a game on a couple of other occasions – 1997 and 2000 – and am quite giddy with excitement about doing so again in 2013. I’m treating it as a European away.

Andy : “It’s like the wild west, mate. You won’t see anything like it anywhere else in Britain.”

Chris : “Someone punched a police horse after the Sunderland game last season.”

Ed : “A group of us stayed up there a while back. The only town I’ve visited where cab ranks are policed.”

Andy : “Yeah, better get a cab back to your hotel early. You’ll see fights over cabs at 2am.”

Ed : “And the women…”

Chris : “I remember locals wearing black and white kilts up there in 1984.”

Andy : “You know when you look around a bar, late at night, and you see one or two people grimly hanging on to the bar, wavering, clearly pissed out of their heads…in Newcastle, everyone is like that.”

I let my imagination run riot…I pictured a scene, at a Chelsea game in the near future.

“Anyone see much of Chris these days?”

A hushed silence…

“Um…you didn’t hear? Grab yourself a pint mate, have a seat.”

“What happened?”

“Newcastle away.”

“What about it?”

“Well – it’s like this. He was spotted before the game drinking with some locals. Someone said they saw him knocking back some whisky, which he hates. Nobody saw him at the game. Alan reckoned he had a text from him  midway through the game saying he was in the directors box…the story goes that he was mixing with Geordies, one thing lead to another…there was a bet…there was a netball team involved…Mike Ashley’s niece, it got messy…seems he ended up in a casino down by the river late on….for ten minutes, he actually owned Newcastle United Football Club, but Ashley bought it back when Chris wanted to change the team colours to blue and white…with the profit, it seems he ended up buying a house up there…no, actually, three houses…and a cab firm. And a nightclub. And a ship. And a zoo. He tucked Ashley right up.”

Andy and I also spoke about the more subdued Mourinho of 2013, compared to the more bombastic Mourinho of 2004. Maybe – deep down – there is less bravado because, simply, Jose believes that silverware is no certainty in this current campaign.

“Why look like a fool?”

Despite the hooliganism which surrounded the Cardiff game in 2010, I saw no evidence of any anti-social behaviour this time. The police in the four vans at Vanston Place were apparently minding their own business. Thankfully, the rain had stopped on the walk to the ground. I quickly scanned the match programme; again, there is an in-depth article from our glorious, fabled, 1983-1984 campaign. On 15 October 1983 – oh God, over thirty years ago – we played Cardiff City on a wet and windswept afternoon. The game was memorable for me in that it was my first sighting of Pat Nevin in a Chelsea shirt. Pat scored the opening goal and Colin Lee, partnering Kerry Dixon upfront for one of the very last times, scored the second. I can remember the feeling of being under The Shed roof, sheltering again like penguins, on that autumnal day three decades ago like it was yesterday. Ah, memories.

Another Chelsea vs. Cardiff City memory was from October 1976…even further away, yet the reminiscences remain strong. I had travelled up to London with my parents and an uncle. For once, Ian Britton didn’t fill the number seven berth – that position was filled by Brian Bason, remember him?  Stalwarts Ken Swain and Ray Lewington scored as we won 2-1 in front of a healthy 28,409. Lewi didn’t score many, but his goal was a net buster from 30 yards. In those days, I always seemed to manage to choose Chelsea home games that were marred by football hooliganism. Earlier in 1974, there had been trouble at the Spurs home game. Later in 1976-1977, we witnessed untold agro at the Chelsea vs. Millwall game. Then, more of the same at the Chelsea vs. Spurs game in 1978. I think my parents weren’t fazed by it; it never took place in the new East Stand. I can definitely remember punches being thrown at the Cardiff fans as we walked past the old North Stand entrance after the game. I remember my father telling me –

“Always rough, that Cardiff lot.”

Another strong memory was the presence of TV cameras at the Cardiff game in 1976. Ah, the excitement of spotting a huge TV camera – the ones with the cameraman sitting on the back of it, ready to pivot around and follow the action – behind The Shed goal was magical in those days. It meant that the game – the game that I had seen in person – would be shown on TV, usually “The Big Match”, and much chat at school on the Monday would no doubt follow. On one memorable occasion, I even saw myself on TV. What a thrill.

Inside the ground, I met up with Bournemouth Steve, who was sitting alongside Alan, Tom and I. Although Steve isn’t a Chelsea fan, I was pleased to hear him refer to Chelsea as “we” on a number of occasions.

Unlike in 2010 when 6,000 Cardiff fans attended the game, barely 1,500 were present. There was one solitary Welsh flag. A poor show.

After the initial buzz of seeing the team back on home soil for the first time in a month, the atmosphere was typically muted. At least the rain had headed off to cause misery elsewhere. The sun was out. It was a fine day for football.

In 1976 and 1983 – more strong memories – Cardiff played in all yellow due to the colour clash. Due to the ludicrous decision of Malaysian owner Vincent Tan to change the Bluebirds’ colours to red and black in 2012, a change was not required.

Ryan Bertrand was in for the wounded Ashley Cole and Samuel Eto’o was preferred to Fernando Torres. Frank Lampard and Ramires again paired up in the deep-lying midfield positions. It seems to me that Jose likes this pairing. He also prefers Brana to Dave at right back. Elsewhere in the team, there are still question marks. With JT recalled after being ignored by Benitez, Jose seems unable to choose between partnering him with Luiz or Cahill. Does the midfield of Oscar, Hazard and Mata pick itself? Clearly not. Up front, I think that Mourinho favours Torres, but don’t quote me.

Chelsea’s first chance fell to Juan Mata, but Eto’o’s pass was met with an “air shot” from our little number ten; from the follow-up, Branislav Ivanovic blasted over.

My mind was distracted for the Cardiff goal, thinking about 1983 or 1976 maybe, so I only caught the Luiz / Cech “after you Claude” manoeuvre which resulted in Jordon Mutch – who? – being able to chip an effort into our goal.

In the far corner, the Welsh were buoyant :

“One nil to the sheepshaggers.”

Oh boyo.

We were rusty for most of the first-half. John Terry came close with two headers from corners. At the other end, Peter Cech leapt high to turn a Cardiff free-kick past the far post. Apart from a couple of rare excursions into our half, Cardiff offered little. It was a half to forget, though. I spent an inordinate amount of time watching the airplanes on their approach into Heathrow, just like we all did during those grim days in the ‘eighties.

On 32 minutes, I was watching one of the famous Chelsea pigeons swoop through the sky and settle on the north stand roof; I therefore momentarily missed Marshall lose control as Eto’o pounced. I only saw the ball with Eden Hazard – up to then, quite invisible – and wondered what on earth had happened. Then, the disbelief as Eto’o buggered up his chance, to be quickly displaced with relief as Hazard slammed home the loose ball.

I’d missed the build-up to the first two goals, though; not good enough.

Luiz was booked for a silly block; he had endured a poor first-half.

We all had.

There was a treat at half-time. Pat Nevin, my favourite ever Chelsea player by a ridiculously wide margin, was on the pitch with Neil Barnett.

A nice bit of 1983/2013 symmetry Chelsea. Thank you.

There was one of those lame half-time competitions, this time involving various star struck youngsters dribbling and – mainly – scoring past Stamford at the Matthew Harding end. Neil Barnett then demanded that Pat tried his luck; for a few seconds we were transported back in time as Pat dribbled towards goal. Alas, almost typically, his shot was saved.

Don’t worry Pat; at least it wasn’t as bad as that penalty against Manchester City in 1985.

The second-half began and I relied on my mantra of “we always play better attacking our end in the second period” to see us through. I had been cheered by Liverpool’s dropped points at Newcastle, but this was a “must win” for us. Marshall was booked for time-wasting, which had been noted by the referee and home supporters alike. A shot from Eto’o straight at Marshall but other Chelsea chances were rare. Mourinho replaced the subdued Mata with Oscar. Soon after, Torres entered the pitch, replacing Ryan Bertrand.

Jose was clearly going for it, with just three at the back now.

Mourinho was seemingly sent to the stands for an argument with the fourth official; at the time, the reasons were unsure.

After a Lampard corner had been cleared, a pass from Hazard right down below me found Eto’o inside the Cardiff penalty box. He moved his body to the right, caught the defender off balance, and drilled his shot home, low just inside the near post. I caught his exultant sprint, arm-raised Shearer-like, and his jump into the air over in the far corner. At last, a Chelsea striker had scored a league goal for us. Get in you beauty.

Alan, as Tom Jones : “THTCAUN.”

Chris, as Rob Brydon : “COMLD.”

Tidy.

Typical Mourinho now; with a lead, he reverted back to playing four at the back as Dave replaced Eto’o. Although Cardiff substitute Kim ran at the heart of the Chelsea defence, causing Petr Cech to save on a couple of occasions, we increased our lead in the last quarter of an hour.

Firstly there was a gorgeous goal by Oscar. Our Brazilian picked the ball up and went on a little run before chipping an exquisite dipper that just grazed Marshall’s bar before bouncing down and into the net.

Secondly, Eden Hazard danced into the Cardiff box, shooting low. His shot hit Marshall. Just like at Carrow Road, the goalkeeper took the sting out of the shot, but was helpless to stop the ball roll over the line.

I’ll be honest. The 4-1 score hugely flattered us.

However, our record in the league is now a healthy 5-2-1.

We’re in second place.

And we haven’t even “clicked” yet.

Very tidy.

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4 thoughts on “Tales From Home

  1. I hope that many more can enjoy your Tales, old and new, since launching CHELSEA/esque.
    It’s tough to judge by readers’ replies but… hopefully we can start a good discussion here among your faithfuls.

  2. Haven’t even “clicked” is right indeed Chris. This seems to me to have been the most laborious 2nd place climb in recent memory and not because we’ve worked our socks off against all odds to get here, but because our efforts and even successes have looked so uncomfortable (at times) along the way.

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