Tales From Another Unbeaten Run

Chelsea vs. Everton : 22 February 2014.

I picked two good games to miss. Due to other much more important matters, I chose to not to attend the disappointing back-to-back away games at The Hawthorns and The Etihad. What a couple of stinkers they were too. We were on top, although not on song, during the first period against West Brom, yet bizarrely took our foot off the pedal after the interval and conceded an equaliser that was on the cards for quite some time. Immediately after this capitulation, Jose Mourinho’s comment about “winning 1-0 at football is easy” seemed rather ridiculous. Then, at Manchester City, we never ever got going at all. It was as one-sided a match as I can remember; we were lucky to get naught. The difference twixt League and Cup performances against City was huge.

Leading up to the game with Everton, there was a feeling that the manager and team “owed us one.” For the six thousand loyal fans that travelled in the wind and the rain last Saturday, that feeling must have been immense.

Thankfully, the weather was devoid of the typhoon conditions that have paralysed parts of England for the past two months; as I drove to London with PD and LP, it was a clear and sunny Saturday morning and the car was soon rocking to the sound of PD’s infectious laughter and to the music of The Specials.

We reached The Goose in good time; we were inside at around 11.15am. Despite a rather truncated pre-match session, we enjoyed tons of laughs and banter.

…mmm…I’d like a £10 for every time I have written words to this effect in these Tales over the years.

Amidst the general merriment, I was glad to hear disapproval from two good friends of the manager’s latest sound bites, which this time involved a distasteful personal dig at Arsene Wenger. I know that the Arsenal manager is a cantankerous old duffer, but to hear Jose Mourinho label him a “specialist in failure” seemed rather classless and – yes, I’ll say it – embarrassing. A couple of us agreed that we enjoyed the earlier part of the season when the Chelsea manager (perhaps reacting from a gentle tap on the shoulder from those above) chose to play the silent game and let our results, as the old cliché goes, speak for themselves. Mourinho’s virtues are many; he is a master of men, he empowers his charges with supreme confidence, he is meticulous in his planning, he is a charismatic leader. When he is on form, his comments to the media can be fascinating, humorous and wise. I do not understand why he needs to belittle others – his rivals – at times.

Our view was that if Chelsea were ten points clear of the chasing pack, in the month of April, then the bombastic Jose of old might have been easier to stomach. With everything so tight at the top, at present, there was a feeling that Mourinho’s comments were not needed and might well result in eggs on our collective faces come May.

And maybe not Waitrose ones, either.

There was a quick rush down to Stamford Bridge, past Paul Canoville who was at the CFCUK stall, in order to get to the turnstiles in time. Thankfully the weather was still holding up; it was, in fact, a gorgeous winter day. I think a few of us were regretting the choice of a warm jacket or pullover.

Inside, there was a quick glimpse over to the away segment to see a full allocation of three thousand Evertonians, but only one Everton flag, the size of a tea cloth.

Our team seemed strong. Over on The Shed balcony, the orange “Drogba Legend” banner loomed large. I wondered if our collective minds might be on Wednesday’s encounter with Didier’s Galatasaray.

No. I hoped not. This was a massive game (aren’t they all these days?) and I trusted that manager, players and supporters alike would be fully-focussed.

This game felt like a game we simply had to win.

The portents were undoubtedly good.

I have been lucky enough to see every one of our league games with Everton since the 1994-1995 season; a span of almost twenty years. Ironically, we lost that game in November 1994, but have remained unbeaten ever since.

Won 9

Drew 9

Lost 0

I can easily remember the sense of disappointment after a single Paul Rideout goal gave the visitors a slender 1-0 win on that day over nineteen years ago. Why should I remember that particular game after all these years? Well, it was a big day in the history of Chelsea Football Club. It marked the opening of the new North Stand.

The last game of the sweeping North terrace took place a year earlier. The last time I saw it in person was during a horrible Ian Wright-inspired loss to Arsenal in November 1993. Its last game was a little later against Manchester City. I never watched a game from this terrace; I wish I had. For many years, I chose to stand in The Shed, before gravitating to The Benches. For the big games, the North Stand became a battle ground for the more – ahem – maladjusted elements of our support; despite segregation, a wild time was often had on that open expanse of old time terracing.

The new North Stand gradually rose over the next twelve months. At the time of the 1994-1995 opener against Norwich City, The Shed had disappeared too. In its place was a temporary stand housing around three thousand. At the other end, the North Stand appeared to be a fine looking structure, albeit slightly smaller than I had hoped. Over the first few months of the season, more and more seats were added until it was ready; the stand’s first game, with a slightly reduced capacity, would be for the visit of Everton on 26 November 1994.

Russ, Glenn, Alan and I had tickers behind the goal in the upper tier for this game; we just had to be there. For a stadium enthusiast like myself, I couldn’t miss being there for its first game. It was Stamford Bridge’s first new structure in over twenty years.

I can remember us being in the old Black Rose, which was to latterly become The So Bar, opposite the old West Stand entrance. There was a real buzz about the place. I can remember that the BBC1 lunchtime programme “Football Focus” was live at Stamford Bridge; this felt like a big honour, that the occasion was being suitably marked.

Once inside the new stand, it felt fantastic to be so high above the Stamford Bridge pitch and – of course – so near to the action. Away in the distance we could see the flats above the Fulham Road and the towers of the Lots Road Power station. Our little part of London suddenly came alive. It was, of course – as the saying so often goes – “typical Chelsea” for us to lose to Everton on this auspicious day.

It still rankles, even now.

However, since that day…Chelsea have played nineteen league games against The Toffees at HQ and have enjoyed another unbeaten run. That Everton were playing in an away kit which greatly resembled Tottenham’s home kit of last season felt like an added good luck omen. We haven’t lost at home to Spurs since…well, you know…since when Adam was a boy.

Before the game, the teams stood together in the centre of the pitch and Sir Tom Finney was fondly remembered. There are those who say Sir Tom was even better than Sir Stan, that his game was more rounded, more complete. He will be missed by the proud folk of Preston and elsewhere.

The bright sunlight above SW6 cast strong shadows on the green sward down below. It felt like the game was perhaps taking place in May; ah, memories of that sweet Fernando Torres strike last May which completed that rather tumultuous league campaign.

Samuel Eto’o was again chosen to lead the line and was assisted by a midfield of Oscar, Willian and Hazard ahead of Matic and Lampard. At the back, JT was paired alongside GC. The full-backs picked themselves. Where this leaves Ashley Cole is anyone’s guess. As always we began with bucket loads of possession. However, our players sadly seemed reticent to get Tim Howard involved in the game. There was the usual over-elaboration and a shyness to shoot. I made the point to Alan that it often seems that away teams visit Stamford Bridge with our reputation, heightened since Mourinho’s return, ahead of us. Very often there is nothing more than a “weathering of the storm” from most visitors in the first quarter of the game. I feel we need to exploit this lack of enterprise from the away team from the first whistle. We need to give them ten shades of hell in the opening attacks. If not, teams get a foothold – mental as well as physical – and often build in confidence.

Lo and behold, Everton soon grew in confidence and, with their usual attributes of hard-working midfielders, managed to stand firm against us. Before we knew it, Everton were giving us a real battle. The highlight of the early exchanges was a fine finger-tipped save from Petr Cech which denied a rasping shot from Leon Osman. Chelsea tried to break and to find space, but our play floundered in the final third. There was little movement off the ball. Things were getting to be a little frustrating.

Our best chance of the half involved several players down our right, with the ball eventually reaching Eto’o. He showed fine footwork to move the ball in to space but his low shot was saved well by Howard. There had been little else to cheer. Few Chelsea players had shone. Oscar and Hazard hadn’t caught the eye. Willian’s enthusiasm to cover every blade of grass was the one positive. However, our defence rarely looked in danger.

At the break, Alexey Smertin walked the pitch with Neil Barnet. In the programme, with the lovely review of the iconic 1983-1984 season continuing, there was a great piece on the 3-3 draw at Cardiff City. With PD alongside me, this was just right; I first met him on the train home after that match almost thirty years ago.

Mourinho chose to replace the quiet Oscar with Ramires at the break; I hoped for more urgency. We had no more than a succession of half chances, but just before the hour, Petr Cech reacted supremely well to a deflected shot from Osman, palming it away at his near post.

Soon after, Tim Howard was to foil Chelsea twice within a few seconds, first parrying a low shot from Hazard and then miraculously blocking a thunderous volley from Ivanovic.

The atmosphere inside Stamford Bridge was tense. There were pockets of support roaring the team on, but few times when the entire stadium was one.

Jose rang the changes, replacing Willian with Fernando Torres. To my consternation, rather than play Torres and Eto’o upfront together – a new problem for the Everton defenders – Eto’o moved out to the right and the two never linked up. Then, another change.

Eto’o off and Andre Schurrle on.

A bit more pace maybe?

Although Torres never really received many quality passes, at least his energy seemed to energise the crowd. Nemanja Matic and Ramires began causing Everton problems with a couple of runs. A sublime cross from Ivanovic found Schurrle but his volley was rushed; Howard was untroubled.

I felt that a momentum – at last – was coming but, alas, the clock was ticking…

However, with only five minutes to go, some of the home supporters had decided that “enough was enough” and began their way home. I’ll never understand the rationale of that.

Tick, tick, tick.

With the full ninety minutes almost on the clock, Ramires advanced and set himself up for a shot. Earlier, an effort from way out was ridiculed.

“Why shoot from there? You never score from there, Rami.”

This effort, a low rasper, whizzed past Howard’s right post. It was wide by the narrowest of margins. The assistant referee signalled a full five minutes of additional time and I still had faith.

Another Ramires run, bursting away from markers in the inside-right channel, was halted by a clumsy challenge from the otherwise impressive Jagielka.

We waited for Frank to settle, for the wall to retreat. The position of the free-kick was just right for Frank, who had not enjoyed the best of games, to send an in swinger into the six yard box. Here was a chance for the ball to possibly tempt Howard to come and claim, but how often do we see ‘keepers caught in no man’s land and end up being beaten by the slightest of flicks?

We waited.

I looked down at Big John in the front row and silently urged him to do what he does best.

I knew he would.

“BANG BANG.

BANG BANG BANG.

BANG BANG BANG BANG.”

The MH responded –

“CHELSEA!”

I snapped a photograph as Frank clipped the ball in.

A flurry of activity – confusion – and a roar from the Stamford Bridge crowd as the ball ended-up crossing Howard’s goal line.

“YEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEES.”

One half of me continued to yell, the other half took some photographs of John Terry (oh my goodness, it was JT who scored!) running away, hotly pursued by others.

I turned to the supporters in the row behind me – strangers – and we just yelled at each other.

Magical, magical times.

My heart was pounding, my head had gone.

The picture I took of Alan, yelling, is a classic.

An Everton attack came to nothing. There was no response. The referee blew for full time.

Get in!

As I made my way out, I felt exhausted…I’m sure I wasn’t alone.

Phew.

The unbeaten home run against Everton now advanced to 10-9-0 and we were, if only for a few hours, a lovely four points clear at the top of the table. I made my way back to The Goose after collecting a couple of extra tickets for Fulham next Saturday and met up with a few of the chaps. On my way, a white mini-bus, crammed full of Evertonians, slowly edged past me and one Scouser looked at me and mouthed an obscenity.

I ignored him.

The poor buggers; beaten in the last minute after a dogged display and now a hot and cramped trip back to Merseyside in a mini-bus.

Rather them than me.

There was a lovely little post-game laughter session involving Lord Parky, PD and Dave The Hat in our corner of The Goose. We all agreed that it had been a tough game, but one that we were so happy to win. I was pleased to hear Dave say that the atmosphere from where he watched the game (down below me in the MHL north-west corner) was the best he had experienced for a while.

Good stuff.

Next stop – Istanbul.

I will see some of you out there.

IMG_4911

3 thoughts on “Tales From Another Unbeaten Run

  1. “The last game of the sweeping North terrace took place a year earlier. The last time I saw it in person was during a horrible Ian Wright-inspired loss to Arsenal in November 1993. Its last game was a little later against Manchester City. I never watched a game from this terrace; I wish I had.”

    I rarely stood on the north terrace because I was afraid the North Stand might collapse and fall on top of me.

  2. Pingback: Tales From Another Unbeaten Run. | jose's people of chelsea

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s