Tales From A Heavyweight Fight

Chelsea vs. Liverpool : 29 December 2013.

So, the final game of 2013. We had started the year with a depressing home defeat at the hands of Queens Park Rangers when we were all mired under the dark cloud of Rafa Benitez, unrest in the stands and an uncertain future. Almost twelve months on, our circumstances have improved in so many ways, yet there was no doubt that I was rather fearful of our match with Liverpool.

I was suffering with all too many recent memories of The Shed End at Chelsea rocking to the chants and anthems from the Liverpool fans as they plundered points. Fernando Torres’ first game for us in February 2011 was particularly painful. I still contend that if Nando had scored when he was one on one against Reyna in the first-half of that game, his Chelsea career would have been a lot more successful.

We last defeated Liverpool at home in the league during our double season. Since then, three games, two defeats and one draw. They also turned us over in the League Cup at Stamford Bridge in 2011-2012. We struggled to get past Swansea City on Boxing Day while our visitors were embroiled in an apparently fine game of football at Manchester City. Liverpool lost that one 2-1 of course. Another defeat might take some of the wind out of their sails. However, I was wary of Luis Suarez. Who wasn’t? It was another game to concentrate our minds.

After the storms and gales of the previous few days, I had to contend with icy roads – and a couple of slow-moving horse-boxes – on the short trip to collect Lord Parky.

The trip to London went well. There were perfect blue skies and there was dazzling winter sun. Whereas my mind was muddied with negative thoughts of our potential performance against the unloved Scousers, at least the skies were crystal clear. During the last section…Heathrow, Brentford, Chiswick, Hammersmith, Fulham…Parky slapped on a Slade CD. It is pretty ironic that although Slade were the archetypal “boot boys” band of the early to mid-‘seventies Glam Rock era, it has taken until 2013 for one of their songs – “Cum On Feel The Noize” – to make it onto the terraces of England. I always remember travelling back from that fantastic 5-0 annihilation of Leeds United in 1984 and the car rocking to some of Slade’s finest chart hits, heading back through Marlborough and Devizes before a celebratory pint of lager in a pub in Westbury Market Place.

“I’ve seen the morning in the mountains of Alaska.
I’ve seen the sunset in the East and in the West.
I’ve sang the glory that was Rome and passed the ‘Hound Dog’ singer’s home.
It still seems for the best.
And I’m far, far a-way
With my head up in the clouds.
And I’m far, far a-way
With my feet down in the crowds.
Letting loose around the world
But the call of home is loud
Still as loud.”

A simple song can send me travelling back through time.

This would be my thirty-eighth Chelsea vs. Liverpool match at Stamford Bridge. Only seven Liverpool wins though; overall, we have enjoyed a good record against them over the time of my support. My own little personal run got off to a fine start with three wins out of three games, back when the Liverpool team were Champions of Europe, on all three occasions in fact.

The first of these took place in March 1978. Liverpool had beaten Borussia Monchengladbach in Rome in 1977 to become European Cup holders for the first time. By the time they came to Stamford Bridge the following season, they were still smarting from a shock 4-2 defeat at the hands of Chelsea in the FA Cup in January. I travelled up to London with my parents and watched as Chelsea again defeated the reigning league champions, this time by a score of 3-1. I’m always annoyed when the 4-2 cup win always gets the attention from that season; for me, because I was there damn it, the 3-1 league win was just as magnificent.  Those two Liverpool victories were easily the manager Ken Shellito’s finest moments at the helm. On that sunny day almost forty years ago, Steve Finnieston grabbed two goals and Tommy Langley the other. I walked tall at school on the Monday for sure.

The next occasion took place in February 1982. Liverpool had beaten Real Madrid in Paris in 1981 the previous season. Chelsea were mid-table in the Second Division. To my utter elation, we defeated the European champions 2-0 with two famous goals from Peter Rhoades-Brown and Colin Lee. The Bridge, packed to a 42,000 capacity, was buzzing that afternoon. I was again walking tall, in the sixth-form now, on the Monday.

Then, December 1984. Liverpool had beaten Roma on their own turf in the European Cup Final, but came to Chelsea the following season and were well beaten 3-1, with goals from Kerry Dixon, Joe McLaughlin and David Speedie. We were newly-promoted from the Second Division, but a vibrant crowd roared us on. At college in Stoke, I was walking tall once more.

Three Chelsea versus Liverpool games, three Chelsea victories.

Magnificent.

In many ways, the pre-match was a case of “Kelly & Mitch Go Mad In London Part Two.” We met up with the two visitors from California outside the hotel, and soon arranged for photographs with Ron Harris, Peter Bonetti and John Hollins. Back when I was growing up in the ‘seventies, these three players were the three leading appearance makers in the history of the club. I explained to Mitch that Ron Harris and John Hollins played in the very first Chelsea game that I ever saw. I mentioned to Holly that I had seen one of his previous teams – he was manager at Weymouth for a short period in 2008 – the previous day against Frome Town, my local team.

From there, we walked over to West Brompton. We passed more familiar Chelsea landmarks…”The Fulham Dray, now The Lazy Fox, The Harwood Arms, The Atlas, The Lillee Langtry, The Prince Of Wales, The Imperial.”

OK – you’ve sussed this. When I said landmarks, I really meant pubs.

We settled in at The Imperial so that Mitch and Kelly could meet a few mutual friends. Parky and I then back-tracked to The Goose to meet the usual suspects. We heard that Samuel Eto’o was to lead the line, rather than Fernando Torres. Big surprise. David Luiz holding. Another big surprise. We watched as Arsenal eked out an important away win at Newcastle. Like an unpleasant smell, they just won’t go away will they?

On the walk down to The Bridge, I did my best to try and spot any away fans. Apart from a few divs with half-and-half scarves, Liverpool colours were hidden.

Inside Stamford Bridge, unlike on so many occasions, there was an expectant atmosphere. The sky was still cloudless. The away fans were assembled in the far corner, but behind just one solitary Liverpool flag.

It dawned on me, as the two teams entered the pitch and slowly walked over to the anointed positions for the handshakes and pre-game rituals – for the TV viewers, I always feel – that Chelsea are almost alone in walking across the pitch in order to do this. At all other top flight stadia, teams line up right next to the tunnel, or at least on the same side as the tunnel. The only other ground where teams walk across the pitch before the game for the line-ups? Fulham. It must be a SW6 thing.

Anyway, I approve. It heightens the drama. It adds to the sense of occasion, especially on European nights. Top marks Chelsea.

So – the team.

Petr, Brana, JT, Gary, Dave, Luiz, Lamps, Oscar, Hazard, Willian, Eto’o.

It was John Terry’s 600th game for Chelsea.

1. Ron Harris 795.

2. Peter Bonetti 725.

3. Frank Lampard 634.

4. John Terry 600.

Still no place for Juan Mata. That hurts.

Despite my niggling doubts about us getting a result, I scanned the Liverpool team and highlighted maybe only Suarez who would walk into our starting eleven.

Within the first ninety seconds, a foul by Eto’o on Jordan Henderson caused an immediate delay of a couple of minutes. Maybe the pause in action caused us to lapse into lethargy, but the resulting free-kick, whipped in with spin towards the near post, proved to be difficult to defend. Bodies lunged at the ball, but the ball spun free for Martin Skeletor to prod home. The Liverpool players celebrated right down below us.

I looked up to catch the away fans leaping around wildly.

Ugh.

Within a few moments, the Scousers were in full voice.

“Stevie Highway on the wing, we had dreams and songs to sing.”

Another ugh.

Not to worry. Chelsea did not retire into a shell of self-doubt. Instead, chances came in rapid succession and the Chelsea fans played their part in rallying behind the boys. We were soon to be rewarded. A move through the middle broke down, the ball hitting a Liverpool defender, but the ball fell at the feet of Eden Hazard. Without adjusting, he methodically but yet intuitively struck the ball with pace and a little curve past the outstretched claws of Mignolet.

The Bridge roared.

“Game on, boys.”

Hazard, to be fair, had begun on the right, but such is the fluidity of our team this season, had just swapped with Willian. How lucky that the ball broke to him on the left, where his right foot is so dangerous.

Soon after, we roundly applauded as a sublime last-ditch tackle from Gary Cahill kept the teams level. Then, on the half-hour, Ivanovic was replaced by Ashley Cole after twisting his ankle. A simple change; Ash to left-back and Dave to right.

In the middle, David Luiz was covering a lot of ground. Being negative again, I wondered if his enthusiasm would eventually see him get a yellow or a red. This was turning into an absorbing game. It was so good to hear the home supporters roaring.

Then, the ball out on the right, Luiz finding Dave. Oscar then was able to play in a low ball towards the onrushing Samuel Eto’o inside the six-yard box. He appeared to be falling, but still managed to poke an outstretched foot at the ball. It almost reluctantly crawled over the line, off the far post.

YEEEEEEEEES!

Eto’o’s run towards the corner of the stadium housing Kelly and Mitch was full of joy. His arms were stretched down; clearly his trademark. His team mates were in quick pursuit and there was an almighty melee down in that noisy south-west corner. I think the American visitors enjoyed that.

Alan, Brooksidesque : “Dey’ll ‘ave ta cum at us now.”

Chris, Black Stuffesque : “K’hum on my little diiii’muns.”

The Chelsea fans roared on. The Liverpool fans soon fell silent and were hardly heard for the rest of the game.

I turned to Bournemouth Steve : “Cracking game of football, mate.”

Chelsea? I was impressed with them all. A special mention for the midfield three of Willian, Oscar and Hazard, all three full of verve and complete midfield performances. Oscar kept tracking back to tackle. Hazard always a threat. Willian effervescent and working hard. At the back, JT and Gary oozed calmness.

I spoke to Alan : “Sometimes a forced change can work out for the best. Who’s to say we’ll now go on a run with Ash at left-back, Cahill and Terry in the middle, Dave at right back, but with Luiz in the midfield? It might just drop in to place.”

At the break, a typical Mourinho substitution; Mikel for Lampard. Soon into the half, bookings for John Terry and – surprise, surprise – David Luiz. Howard Webb was soon getting it.

“Who’s the Scouser in the black?”

A rare threat on our goal and Sakho headed against the intersection of bar and post with a looping header.

Luiz set up Eto’o who blazed at Mignolet. Then chances for Liverpool. This really was a great game. I was so pleased to hear the home support urging the team on, just like in seasons of old, when the team appeared threatened or tired.

“Cam on Chowlsea, cam on Chowlsea, cam on Chowlsea.”

Big John was up to his old cheerleading tricks – minus pom poms, of course – of banging noisily on the advertising hoardings a few rows below. Good work, sir.

Eto’o wriggled inside but his shot was blocked.

The two teams traded punches.

Cahill was booked.

Mikel was as steady as a rock in front of the defence. Luiz kept us all on tenterhooks with some typically rash challenges but avoided a second yellow. I lost count of the times that I was able to capture the dribbling prowess of Eden Hazard on film. What a joy to be able to see this player perform like this; his season hasn’t been great, despite the goals, but his dribbling leaves me breathless. Such ease, such acceleration, such confidence. Sometimes he runs head first into trouble, but it’s always exciting to see him extricate himself from being heavily-shackled by a turn here or a feint there. Simply fantastic.

As the battle continued, I found myself clock-watching.

“Has that bloody clock stopped Alan?”

A big shout from the three thousand away fans as Suarez was sent sprawling. I was unsighted. So too, apparently, was Webb. We breathed again. To be fair, Suarez had been quiet for most of the game.

85 minutes.

“Come on you blue boys.”

Mourinho replaced Samuel Eto’o with Fernando Torres. After only a few moments, Nando set off on a strong dribble, drifting past defenders with ease. One final shimmy, the goal opened up for him.

We held our breath, but his weak left foot let him down, the ball hit right at Mignolet’s right leg. The Liverpool ‘keeper cleared.

If only.

If only.

The place would have erupted.

In four minutes of extra-time, there was a flare-up between Brazilian team mates Oscar and Lucas. I saw fists raised and so was surprised when only a yellow was given to Oscar.

All eyes were now on Howard Webb. I saw him bring his whistle to his mouth one final time.

I roared one final time, too.

“Bloody superb, boys.”

At the Weymouth game on Saturday, in one of the Frome pubs, I had admitted to a friend – a Liverpool fan, no less – that maybe, just maybe, I was starting to lose the desire to go to as many Chelsea games as before.

“Maybe I’ve seen us win too much mate. Maybe that desire is starting to fade.”

After a good old-fashioned “come from behind win” against one of our biggest rivals, with the home crowd roaring throughout, that desire had been re-ignited.

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5 thoughts on “Tales From A Heavyweight Fight

  1. Lovely write up. How anyone ever beats Ron record of games for CFC…(ONE STEP) beyond me. Mata will not be the Juan to do it.

  2. Do you have a Twitter account? I’d love to follow you and have your blogs on my timeline, I often forget to look them up.

      • Right. How would I go about doing that? Can I do it without making a wordpress account?

      • In the bottom right corner of the page there is a little gray tab that says “Follow.” Once it is clicked a larger tab opens up where you can enter an email address. Simples. Thanks for your support Alex.

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