Tales From The Garden Of Eden

Chelsea vs. Newcastle United : 8 February 2014.

After our monumental and, possibly, season-defining triumph at Manchester City on Monday, I was chomping at the bit to see us play Newcastle United at Stamford Bridge. However, for the first part of this particular Football Saturday, my focus was again elsewhere. I shot in to Bath in order to pay a visit to my rapidly-improving mother at the hospital.  At 11.30am, I collected His Lordship from Parky Towers. However, our short trip over to Trowbridge to collect Young Jake was beset with flood-induced traffic congestion at Bradford-on-Avon; I have never seen the river so high. We were held up for quite some time. This was not good. Eventually, Jake was collected and we were on our way. However, more slow-moving traffic in Westbury caused me to momentarily wonder if we’d be able to make the kick-off.

It was 12.20pm and I still had a hundred mile drive ahead of me.

Thankfully, once I veered around Warminster on the A36, and then shot past Stonehenge, I was eating up the miles. London was reached in good time; at 2.20pm I was parked-up and we were on our walk to The Bridge.

A Chelsea vs. Newcastle United fixture is a common one for me. Allowing for Newcastle’s one recent relegation season, I have seen every single one of their games at Stamford Bridge since they re-joined the top-flight, under Kevin Keegan, in 1993.

This game, therefore, would be the twentieth consecutive league fixture between the two teams at Stamford Bridge that I would have seen. I always enjoy the visit of the black and whites from Tyneside. It’s always a special fixture for me. I am rapidly approaching the fortieth anniversary of my very first Chelsea game. That too, was against Newcastle United.

…let’s go back.

…way back.

I became a Chelsea supporter just after the 1970 F.A. Cup Final. From that moment on, what are my memories? They are, not surprisingly, vague. I began looking out for Chelsea’s results, but my recollections are not particularly great about individual games, on TV or otherwise. I certainly can’t remember the 1971 Final in Athens for example. To be honest, my parents were not particularly big sport fans…I think that my football genes came from my maternal grandfather who had played football and cricket for the village in his youth (and incidentally, visited Stamford Bridge when he was a young man, the only ground he ever visited). Additionally, I am sure that he said on a few occasions that he favoured Newcastle and Aston Villa for some reason.

In those first few years of the ‘seventies, in my small Somerset school classroom, the alliances were starting to emerge. Leeds United led the way with three supporters in David, Tony and Wayne, while Andy was Arsenal and Paul was Liverpool. However, as far as I can recall, I alone was Chelsea, out on my own, on a limb. I wonder if there was any peer pressure to choose one of the other teams. Looking back – and I haven’t thought long and hard about this ever before – I’m rather proud of myself to pick a team which had garnered no other support at school. There was, however, a vague memory of some neighbours who lived opposite – a family, who soon disappeared to live in Gloucestershire. There was a son, also called Christopher, quite a few years older than me – maybe a teenager – who I think favoured Chelsea too. Maybe it’s in the name.

An important event happened around 1971 or 1972. A friend of ours in Windsor worked with Peter Osgood’s sister Mandy at a factory making Caterpillar vehicles and he said that he could obtain Ossie’s autograph for me. Once my father had explained what an “autograph” was, I was so excited and couldn’t wait for it to arrive. The only two names that I knew at Chelsea at the time were the two Peters, Osgood and Bonetti. I still have that signed photograph and it really cemented my affection for Peter Osgood and Chelsea Football Club.

I have no recollection of the 1972 League Cup Final loss to Stoke, but I do remember hearing “Blue Is The Colour” on the radio at around that time and that really affected me too. Just to hear the name “Chelsea” sent me dizzy. I obviously saw Chelsea on TV on Saturday evenings and Sunday afternoon highlight programmes but I only have vague recollections of the old East stand which came down in the summer of 1972. Incidentally, the first F.A. Cup Final that I can remember was the 1972 one; Leeds United beating Arsenal in the Centenary Final.

The first Chelsea game that I can honestly remember seeing on TV was the 1972 opener against mighty Leeds. Their goalie was injured and Peter Lorimer replaced him; Chelsea won 4-0. Peter Osgood, my hero, scored.

What other memories do I have in those nascent years? I remember – specifically – the build-up to the March 1973 F.A. Cup game with Arsenal. I remember Ossie’s goal in the first game and then watching the action on the 9.30pm news of the replay at Highbury. The sadness from that night still lives with me. I remember Bobby Charlton’s last ever game – at Chelsea – being shown on TV highlights in May 1973.

Anyway – you get the picture…I loved playing football at school break times, on Saturdays at the village recreation ground (“the rec”) and in the street. I was a football fan and Chelsea was my team. My first Chelsea kit was purchased – with a number nine sewn on shirt and shorts – and then football boots and a leather football. Football was taking over. Every Saturday morning, I would walk down to the village shop to collect a loaf of bread and then spend a few pennies on packets of football cards. Imagine my absolute elation when – without prompting from me – my parents announced (either on Christmas Day 1973 or soon after) that they would take me to see Chelsea play.

In London.

At Stamford Bridge.

I still get chills when I think of that feeling almost forty years later.

By a cruel twist of fate, of course, both my idol Peter Osgood and also Alan Hudson had left Chelsea in February of 1974, a month ahead of my Chelsea debut on March 16th against Newcastle United. I was upset, but the thought of seeing the team in the flesh more than made up for this. My mother wrote to the club asking for ticket and travel information and I still have the letter that the club sent back, nicely embossed with the club crest. In due course, the West Stand benches tickets arrived…priced at just 60p each.

Just to hold those little match tickets…

Looking back, I don’t think that any of my school pals could actually believe I was going to see Chelsea play. This was unheard of amongst the village kids. I was only eight remember. At last the great day arrived and it is amazing that I remember so much. My father was a local shopkeeper and so he pulled a few strings with his co-owner to get the Saturday off. Unfortunately, he wasn’t in great health at the time. He had been diagnosed with throat cancer and was due radiation treatment in the May. Thankfully, this was eventually successful, but he was feeling a bit under-the-weather throughout the journey to and from London.

One small memory; on trips to London, my father always drove north and joined the M4 at Bath. After consultation with others, it was decided that an alternative would be used on that particular day. Instead, Dad would drive east on the A4 and picked the M4 at Hungerford. There was a little part of me – the worrier – that hoped that this new itinerary wouldn’t backfire and we’d end up getting lost.

“Not on my first trip to Chelsea, surely Dad!”

Leading up to the game, there had been a pitch invasion at Newcastle United’s F.A. Cup game at home to Nottingham Forest on the previous Saturday and, during the week at school the hooliganism – or at least, over-exuberance and a little vandalism – had been the talk of the classroom.

This heightened the frisson for my first-ever Chelsea game.

We had arranged to park our car at a nursing home at Park Royal, where an uncle had recently been staying. I suppose we reached there at around 12.30pm. We then walked the short distance to Park Royal tube station and caught the train to Fulham Broadway. I visited Park Royal station recently and it did bring back some memories…I recalled walking over the footbridge over the tracks and the art deco façade of the station. In March 1974, my heart must have been beating fast as we boarded the eastbound train. I had been on a tube train before, but this felt so exciting – doing what thousands of Chelsea fans do each week…this is what stuck with me the most I think; a small boy from Somerset being a Londoner for the day.

My first game sticks with me for so many reasons. I can recall waiting in line at the bottom of the West Stand steps at the turnstiles. As the West Stand was the stand with the TV gantry, I wasn’t particularly sure what the stand looked like. I distinctly remember walking up the banked steps as if it was yesterday…I can recall the sense of anticipation, the noises of the crowd and specifically the blue paintwork at the back of the stand, the blue of the turnstiles, the blue of the souvenir huts…just writing these words I am transported back to my childhood. We bought a match programme, which I still have. I remember that the smudge from my mother’s wet leather glove is still visible…strange, though, I remember the day as being sunny.

We walked behind the West Stand, right to the end (the seats were laid on top of the terraces and the access came right at the top of the stand) and I caught a glimpse of the pitch and the inside of the stadium which had previously been obscured from view. I was mesmerized. We walked down the access steps and found our seats…six rows from the front, level with the penalty spot at the North Stand end.

We had a black and white TV set at home and of course it was breath-taking to see Stamford Bridge bathed in spring sunshine and in glorious colour. The East Stand was still mid-construction on the other side of the pitch. There was a smattering of away fans mixed in with Chelsea fans on the North terrace to my left. I remember the closeness of those fans to me.

The Chelsea team included such players as Ron Harris, John Phillips, John Hollins, Steve Kember, Dave Webb, Ian Hutchinson and Charlie Cooke. Newcastle United fielded Malcolm Macdonald, Stewart Barrowclough, Terry McDermott and Terry Hibbitt amongst others.

The gate was 24,207 on that day in March 1974.

What do I remember of the actual game? I remember the middle part of The Shed twirling their blue and white bar scarves. I remember the goal after ten minutes…a header close in from Ian Hutchinson, which bounced up off the ground before crossing the line. I remember two or three Newcastle fans, resplendent with black and white scarves, being sat right in front of me. I remember shouting out “we want two!” to which one of them replied “we want three!” I remember actually thinking “did I stand up and celebrate the goal correctly?” after the Chelsea goal. I promised myself that if there was to be further goals, I would celebrate better…I guess I wanted to fit in. Of course, a second goal came along and I stood up and shouted, but it was disallowed.

I think that the two Geordies smirked as I quickly sat down.

I remember a “Topic” chocolate bar at half-time. I remember Gary Locke doing many sliding tackles in front of us in the second half. I remember debutant Ken Swain (previously unheard of by me) as a substitute. I paid just as much attention to the songs coming out of The Shed as to the play on the pitch. Generally, I remember the overwhelming feeling of belonging…that this was right, that I should be there.

As the game ended and the crowd drifted away, I know that as I reached the very top of the steps, I looked back at the pitch and the stands with wonderment and hoped I would be back again. My mother bought me a “Chelsea The Blues” scarf at one of the souvenir huts behind the West stand as we slowly walked out. I wore that same scarf in Stockholm for the 1998 ECWC Final and then in Moscow ten years later for the CL Final.

I can remember that we enjoyed a hamburger meal at the Fulham Broadway Wimpy Bar (a big extravagance, believe me) – the site of a café to this day. We caught the tube train back to Park Royal and then home to Somerset, but that is a blur.

So, Saturday 16 March 1974…it was the day that my love affair with Chelsea Football Club jumped a thousand notches. In truth, my life would never be the same again.

Back to 2014…

Despite fine weather on the approach to London, there was a sudden shower as we started our walk towards The Bridge. Up above the Empress State Building, a striking rainbow lit up the grey sky. I wondered if a pot of goals would be at the end of it. Very often the visit of the Geordies has resulted in a heavy loss for them in SW6. Their team would be depleted. They have had a tough time of it recently. I was supremely confident that a Chelsea win would be forthcoming. We bypassed The Goose and reached the turnstiles for the MHU in good time. This was a strange pre-match for sure, though. When was the last time I had attended a home game on a Saturday and had not set foot in a pub? Maybe 1984.

The half-and-half scarves on sale next to the CFCUK stall were matched overhead by a half-and-half sky. One part was brilliant blue, one part was grey cloud. The rainbow had disappeared. I quickly bought a programme and flicked through it as I waited in line at the turnstiles. Club historian Rick Glanvill had written a piece on the Newcastle game in 1980 which I had attended with a couple of school friends and, ironically, my father and his then retired co-owner at the shop. A 6-0 win that day is fondly remembered.

Over in the corner, Newcastle had brought 2,000 away fans; the same as West Ham United. It seems there is a change in Chelsea’s policy on away tickets. It used to be solidly set at either 3,000 or 1,500. The away fans began singing about a fat cockney bastard leaving their club alone, but other, more rousing, songs were not forthcoming. Back in 1974, I thought it implausible that Newcastle fans could travel such a distance to see their team play; I remember being suitably impressed. These days, the friction of distance seems to be of little importance.

John Terry wasn’t in the line-up. Mourinho still fancied Dave ahead of Ashley, so the defence was rejigged with David Luiz alongside Gary Cahill and Branislav Ivanovic at right-back. Frank Lampard returned alongside the impressive Nemanja Matic. The midfield “attacking three” were Oscar, Willian and the new all-conquering idol Eden Hazard. Samuel Eto’o led the line. As expected, the visitors’ line-up was depleted and contained a couple of players of whom I knew nothing.

Chelsea began on the front foot and dominated the first part of the game. However, Ben Arfa found space but fired at Petr Cech to sound out a warning to a perhaps complacent home crowd. The atmosphere seemed to be one of expectation, with the home support unwilling to provide a noisy backdrop, despite our early dominance. The half-chances continued for Chelsea.

Eden Hazard advanced with the ball and played it out wide to Ivanovic. The Belgian dynamo continued his run and when Brana returned the ball, he whipped it low past Krul into the far corner. It was as simple as that.

Eden ran away to the far corner to celebrate and The Bridge rejoiced. I hoped for a little pay-back for our defeat up at St. James’ Park in November; our second-half performance that day was quite shocking in its lack of desire.

A lone Newcastle effort at the Matthew Harding was abated by Cech, but we were soon on the attack again. Eden Hazard, the crowd buzzing whenever he touched the ball, ran deep into the Geordie penalty box. He played the ball in to a heavily marked Eto’o, who charmed us with an exquisite back heel into Eden’s path. A simple stroke of the ball into the goal gave us a 2-0 lead. A slide on his knees, right in front of Parky, then another gathering of players down in the corner. We love our corners at Chelsea. Does any other team always celebrate with a run to the corners after almost every goal? I can’t think of any.

In the after-goal glow, the spectators in the Matthew Harding took a moment to honour our manager, under a little criticism before Christmas, but now lauded by the loyalists –

“Stand Up For The Special One.”

At the break, Tommy Baldwin appeared on the pitch alongside Neil Barnett. I only ever saw The Sponge play once for Chelsea; not in game number one in 1974, but against Tottenham in game two in 1974. He was the leader of the team…

While Alan and I joked about 20,000 spectators not knowing who he was, sadly it seems Chelsea Football Club didn’t either. Alongside Tommy’s career stats on the TV screen was a picture of Charlie Cooke.

Oh boy.

Soon into the second-half, the Newcastle ‘keeper rushed out to meet a Luiz high ball, slipped, but was relieved to watch the ball speed away past the post before Oscar could reach it. Then a whipped Frank Lampard free-kick from an acute angle brought a fine save from Krul. A corner was swung in by Willian and the ball was knocked away. Although I didn’t spot the offence, the wonderfully-named Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa was adjudged to have pulled down Eto’o inside the box. The much-maligned Howard Webb pointed to the spot. It didn’t even occur to me that Frank Lampard would normally take it; all thoughts were on Eden Hazard and his opportunity to score his first-ever Chelsea hat-trick. While I remonstrated with an over-zealous steward about using my camera, the penalty was easily dispatched.

Chelsea 3 Newcastle United 0.

After a relatively quiet start to this season under Mourinho, despite a steady supply of goals, Eden Hazard is now the darling of the Chelsea support. I am mesmerized every time Eden has the ball at his mercy. I get a lovely rush of adrenalin as I watch him run at defenders, scuttling back to try to annul his threat. I love his sudden acceleration. I admire his tenacity. Above all, I love his confidence with the ball at his feet. When he is at the top of his game, Eden has the ability to turn any moment into a great moment.

Let all of us stand up and enjoy it.

Back in 1980, Colin Lee had scored a hat-trick in the 6-0 rout. With almost half-an-hour remaining, I hoped for a similar score line. In reality, we eased off a little. Newcastle instead managed to carve out a couple of half-chances but their finishing was poor. Mourinho rang the changes; Ba for Eto’o, then new buy Mohamed Salah for Willian and then Andre Schurrle for the magical Hazard. Within a few minutes of his Chelsea debut, Salah had one half-chance and one fine chance in which to score, but failed to hit the target. He impressed me in the games against Basel in 2013; I’m sure he will prove to be a fine addition to our squad.

As the game wore on, all eyes and ears were focussed on score updates from Carrow Road where, amazingly, Norwich City were managing to hold Manchester City to a 0-0 score-line. Howard Webb signalled the end of our match and the crowd applauded the players off. It immediately felt like an easy win. In fact, it felt like a typical Chelsea versus Newcastle United result; a few Chelsea goals and a clean sheet. As I packed away my camera, it was announced on the PA that Manchester City had indeed dropped two points at Norwich.

It meant that Chelsea were top.

Get in.

We’ve all seen a list of our remaining league games. We will have a tough one at a resurgent Liverpool, plus a couple of home derbies against the North London teams might stretch us, but all of the others seem…whisper it…”winnable.”

Maybe, just maybe…

…with Eden Hazard in our team, we have a chance.

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2 thoughts on “Tales From The Garden Of Eden

  1. Really enjoyed reading about your first time, it brought back the memories of seeing a football stadium flood lights for the first time 😉
    Enjoy your “Ruby” anniversary, looks like it will be Villa away.

    P.S. May this run of Tales continue for another 40.

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