Southampton vs. Chelsea : 1 January 2014.
Outside, the rain lashed against the van windows in irregular gusts. The damp winter air was shrouded in a deadening blanket of dense cloud. There were many puddles of dirty grey rain water alongside roadside kerbs and pavements. The streets around Southampton Central train station were virtually deserted. The station car park was practically empty too. The New Year was only eleven hours old and the game was still four hours away, but here we were; ready for the first Chelsea match of 2014.
While it may be true that only mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun, one wonders if anybody or anything accompanies Chelsea fans in a late morning downpour in the middle of winter.
“Nice weather for ducks.”
“Right then boys. Shall we go for it? Head up to the first boozer and shelter there a bit?”
Glenn had collected me at 9am and Parky had been picked-up from an equally deserted Warminster station at 9.30am. The A36, a main trunk road which links Bath with Southampton, was almost devoid of vehicles. For once, there was no traffic jam in the city of Salisbury. However, it was 10am on New Year’s Day; what other idiots would be out and about at that time?
Chelsea fans, ducks, mad dogs and mad ducks.
The first pub – “The Encore” – was closed until midday.
“Let’s just aim for the main drag, then. Button up.”
The brisk walk from the station took us close to the city’s large civic centre, where I once saw Everything But The Girl in 1999, and which has a rather stunning white stone Italianate clock tower. It reminded me of a few of Mussolini’s brutal civic buildings in Italy.
Ten minutes later, having been buffeted by the wind and rain as we pitifully scampered across roads and pavements, we arrived at “Yates’s.”
“This will do, chaps. Base camp. Becks Vier for you Parky?”
We soon found a cosy corner upstairs and settled ourselves for three hours of drinking and community singing. Outside, looking through steamed-up windows, pedestrians were rare. The rain continued to fall. It seemed that every person baring the elements was headed for “Yates’s” too. The central area of Southampton was badly bombed by the Luftwaffe during World War Two; the result is a strange mix of open green space where buildings originally stood and a charmless shopping centre.
The pub soon filled with match-goers. Chelsea fans were in the majority. There were a few familiar faces from near and far. Very soon, the music began pumping out some songs much loved by the football-loving clientele.
The Jam, The Clash, Madness, you can guess the rest.
“Another pint, Chris?”
“Be rude not too, Porky.”
With Glenn driving, this was a chance – at last! – for me to unwind and enjoy a few game day liveners.
Soon, the Chelsea fans downstairs were singing along to “It Must Be Love” by Madness.
“I never thought I’d miss you
Half as much as I do.
And I never thought I’d feel this way.
The way I feel
As soon as I wake up
Every night, every day.
I know that it’s you I need
To take the blues away.”
Ah, the “Blues Away.”
In the adjacent booth, five foreign student types – presumably unused to an English match day vibe – were giggling to themselves at the sound of two hundred Chelsea fans singing about love, love, love.
Next up, “The Liquidator” and the whole pub was up.
“We hate Tottenham. Chelsea!”
Then, later, K.C. and the Sunshine Band got an airing.
“Michael Essien, Essien – Michael Essien.”
Rob, Graham, Dan and Kirsty – all from my home area – joined us. I last saw Graham on the lookout for tickets to the final in Amsterdam. It was great to see him again. Then, from down below, a loud voice took the lead for “Chelsea Alouette.”
Then “Three Little Birds.” I remember the Chelsea faithful singing that particular song – and meaning it – just down the road at an equally rain-soaked Fratton Park in 2010 when our league campaign took a sudden jolt with a fantastic 5-0 win. Good times then, good times now.
2014 was off to a good start. I was loving every minute of it.
At 2.15pm, we set off for the stadium, past the park, through the subway, past some down-at-heel shops. Thankfully, the rain wasn’t quite so strong on the fifteen minute walk to St. Mary’s. We were soon inside.
“One last pint, Parks?”
The youngsters serving pies and pints were wearing special blue Chelsea t-shirts; a nice touch, I thought.
The area beneath the away stand at St. Mary’s is a particularly dark and dismal place, but the Chelsea fans weren’t worried. The songs were coming thick and fast.
Inside the bowl of the stadium, the floodlights were on, the spectators were assembled and I giddily made my way to join up with Alan and Gary right behind the goal. It looked like virtually every seat was sold for this one. Chelsea were in good voice as the teams entered the pitch. Hopefully the game would follow our 5-1 F.A. Cup win last season – almost a complete year ago – rather than the lame 2-1 defeat in the league a few months after.
The rain was still falling. Despite being under the cover of the roof, we experienced the occasional splash of windswept rain. I pitied the poor fellows in the first few rows. At the same stadium in 2002, in similar circumstances, I was one of the unfortunates getting drenched down the front.
I quickly glanced at our starting eleven; with a few forced changes, we knew there would be a different selection from against Liverpool. Notably, in came Juan Mata, Andre Schurrle and Fernando Torres.
We began very brightly, with Fernando Torres the immediate star, dribbling his way into the Southampton penalty area on a number of occasions. Shots from Schurrle and Ramires, after a fine dribble from deep, suggested that the songs emanating from the Northam Stand would soon be replaced by cheers. However, I couldn’t help but notice that our play seemed to be mainly down our left flank. Very often Juan Mata, in acres of space out on the right, was not picked out. I felt his frustration. Slowly, our dominance seemed to fade as Southampton, strangely minus Ricky Lambert, grew more dominant. A succession of timely interceptions and brave blocks kept Southampton at bay.
On the terraces, there were plenty of songs.
Chelsea : “We’re the only team in London with a European Cup.”
Saints : “Johnstone Paints Trophy – you’ll never win that.”
Chelsea : “You’re only here for the Chelsea.”
Saints : “Live round the corner, you only live round the corner.”
At the break, I squeezed in another pint.
“I’m only here for the Carling.”
With us now attacking the three thousand predominantly neutrally-dressed away followers – I’ve never seen so few wearing Chelsea colours, Gourlay must hate us – we hoped for greater things in the second-period. Soon into the half, the manager made changes, replacing Schurrle and Mata with Willian and Oscar.
The away end was soon up in arms.
With Oscar clean through inside the penalty area, charging in on Davis in the Southampton goal, he attempted to push the ball to the ‘keeper’s right. He appeared to be swept off his feet and, in that split moment of thought, I was shouting with glee at an obvious penalty rather than being upset that he had not scored. I watched as Martin Atkinson reached for a card, so my immediate thought was “sending off or at least a booking for the ‘keeper.”
Well, we were incandescent with rage when – instead – Oscar was shown a yellow for a dive.
Soon, however, the texts came in to say that the little midfielder had indeed dived.
Oh you silly boy.
I was just filled with disbelief.
Surely…just try to bloody score?
On the hour, the same player jinked and weaved in from the left and his chipped effort was pushed onto the far post by a scrambling Davis. The ball bounced back into play and Torres was able to readjust quickly to head home.
The Chelsea fans screamed delight.
The supreme irony of no Chelsea striker scoring away in the league throughout 2013 and yet Nando taking just an hour into 2014 was not lost on me, nor the three thousand other away fans at Southampton nor the countless millions around the globe.
Chelsea : “You’ve had your day out. Now fuck off home.”
Southampton brought on Lambert to replace former blue Jack Cork. The bustling centre-forward was soon involved, but Chelsea added to our lead on seventy minutes.
Oscar enjoyed another lovely run, with gorgeous close control, to the edge of the “D” and then picked out Willian. A quick body swerve to throw the defender off balance and a fine low shot found its way inside the corner of Davis’ goal.
More screams of pleasure.
Chelsea : “Gone to the sales. You shoulda gone to the sales.”
More Chelsea pressure followed and Oscar capped a fine performance with another run into the Southampton box following a lofted ball into space from Eden Hazard. He struck quickly this time and the ball took a slight deflection before ending up in the Southampton net.
With that, there was a mass exodus.
Chelsea : “Oh when The Saints go walking out.”
With three points secure, there was just time for a cameo from Michael Essien and the chance for us to serenade him with his own personal song.
“Give it up” for The Bison.
The Mourinho magic – the substitutions, early in the second-half – were perfect. It’s unlikely that two substitutions will pay off so perfectly again for a while. Oscar and Willian added fresh drive to our team. They were simply superb.
Christmas 2013 and New Year 2014 had been excellent. We had tasted victory on three occasions and had shared the spoils at a title contender’s home stadium.
Ten points out of twelve.
Not perfect, but bloody good enough.
Just to complete the perfect away game, the DJ at St. Mary’s chose – bizarrely – to air a favourite song from the pen of Stephen Patrick Morrissey as we slowly descended the crowded steps. Alan’s face was a picture. And so was mine…
“You have never been in love until you’ve seen the stars reflect in the reservoirs.”
Sometimes, some moments are just there to be savoured.
I think 2014 is going to be fine, just fine.
See you at Derby.