Tales From The Second-Half Specialists

Chelsea vs. Tottenham Hotspur : 8 March 2014.

I drove through the quiet streets of my home town just before midday. There he was; standing on the crossroads by Victoria Park, the agreed meeting-place. It was a classic sight and I have to say that it made me chuckle; black Crombie, Chelsea shirt, jeans and brown Doctor Martens with yellow laces and short-cropped hair.

Classic PD.

A few moments later, I collected LP – a Lyle & Scott pullover, jeans, jacket and Adidas trainers if anyone is wondering – outside The Cornerhouse pub.

We were on our way.

I was buzzing about this game with Tottenham. The weather was bloody marvellous and we had the entire day ahead of us. Very soon into the drive east, my two passengers were working their way into several cans of “Strongbow dark fruits cider” and the laughter was booming. I think it caused my car to shake on a few occasions.

I ate up the miles, they drank up the cider.

“The Goose” was predictably packed. We gathered together in our usual corner. Outside, the beer garden was rammed; it felt like the first day of spring. The usual suspects were gathered together. Everyone was pleased to see PD once more. News came through of around fifteen mouthy Tottenham fans alighting at West Brompton, several Chelsea pubs emptying and the away fans getting run from arsehole to breakfast time within a few fleeting moments. I’ve never been an advocate of beating seven bells out of someone simply because they happen to follow a different football club than me, but such brazen behaviour by away fans within Chelsea territory was always going to end in tears. Occasionally, away fans drink in “The Goose” and there is usually no trouble, but I can never remember any London teams’ supporters doing so. It’s simply not the “done thing.” For fans of other clubs, it is a safe haven in the main. I can only think of a few instances over the past fifteen years when away fans have tried to make a name for themselves and “storm the gates.” In such circumstances – QPR and Leicester spring to mind – they have been easily repelled.

With the game kicking-off at 5.30pm, it was obvious that many had made a day of it. We only arrived on the scene at 2.30pm; others had been “at it” for hours. The beers were going down well, though I limited myself to only a couple. There is always a lovely buzz about Chelsea Tottenham. It doesn’t require any explaining really.

Simon arrived and was soon to utter the words “I’m worried about today.”

I told him to “hush.” This, although not a bad team, was far from one of the strongest Tottenham teams to come to Chelsea over the years. Everyone knows that we have enjoyed a magnificent home run of games against the once glamorous North Londoners since our last defeat in the league against them in early 1990.

The record has gone on and on and on.

A win later in the evening would stretch the run to twenty-four beautiful games; I’ve been lucky – I have seen all but two of the previous twenty-three. To tell the whole story, of the thirty Chelsea vs. Tottenham games that I have witnessed at Stamford Bridge, I have only seen two Spurs victories. A meek 0-2 loss during our awful start to the 1986-1987 season was the last time. That was bad – the gate was only 21,576, the atmosphere awful and our First Division future seemed uncertain.

However, the only other Tottenham victory in all of my visits was worse. Much worse.

In 1978-1979, Chelsea were atrocious. Although we had drawn 2-2 at White Hart Lane in the August sun, our autumn was poor and the winter looked bleak. Tottenham, newly-promoted after a solitary season in the Second Division, had shook the football world with the double signing of Argentinians Osvaldo Ardiles and Ricardo Villa in the summer. On Saturday 18 November 1978, I travelled up to Stamford Bridge with my parents. There was a huge buzz about the game. It was the usual routine; Dad would park the car at Ealing Common, which was followed by the ride in by tube, a few souvenirs and a programme, the wait outside the club offices to try to get player autographs and then in to our East Lower seats by just before 2pm, my excitement rising with every minute. On this particular day, there was a running battle between the two sets of fans on the large sweeping terraces before the game. I can specifically remember a scene opposite where the West Stand met the North terrace. Thousands of fans were separated by the royal blue fence which formed a natural barrier between the two stands. I can vividly remember the a long section of the fence – maybe about a forty foot stretch – being pushed and pulled as fans battled to get at each other. There had been similar crowd disturbances at several games that I had witnessed in my first few games as a youngster at Stamford Bridge (Tottenham 1974, Cardiff 1976, Millwall 1977 – I could certainly pick’em) but this memory is my most vivid memory of all of these occasions. Our team wasn’t bad on paper, but it never gelled for us all season. In front of the ‘keeper John Phillips were two poor full-backs Graham Wilkins and David Stride with Ron Harris and Steve Wicks in the middle. Our midfield consisted of Garry Stanley, Duncan Mackenzie and Ray Wilkins with Tommy Langley, Ken Swain and Clive Walker in attack.  Our manager was Ken Shellito, a loyal Chelsea servant who took over from Eddie McCreadie the previous year. A stunning Tommy Langley bicycle-kick gave us a 1-0 lead, but Spurs broke my heart and came back to win 3-1. There were simply thousands of away supporters in the North Stand that day and I remember being crestfallen that there were so many Spurs fans to my right. The gate was 41,594. There must have been 10,000 Spurs fans there. I can still hear their “We Are Tottenham, Super Tottenham, We Are Tottenham, From The Lane” to this day. It was a horrible day.

Bloody Tottenham.

However, despite this dark memory, we have dished untold misery on Tottenham since 1978.

They must bloody despise us.

Good.

That’s just the way it should be.

It was smashing to see Neil, visiting from Guernsey, for the first time for a while. He had watched the Three Bridges vs. Guernsey Isthmian League game at lunchtime. One day, I’m hoping for my own personal double-header with a Frome Town lunchtime game in the London area and then a Chelsea game at The Bridge. It was clear that Parky, especially, was enjoying the drinking session. I wondered what state he might be in at the end of the game.

On the walk down to Stamford Bridge, all was well in the world. It was a stunningly gorgeous London afternoon and Chelsea were playing Tottenham.

Bliss.

Inside the stadium, just before kick-off, I noted the reappearance of a relatively new flag being draped from the opposite end of the MHU; hanging from the balcony, it was being held by fans in the MHL, stretching it, to accentuate its simple message.

No words, no text, just a huge royal blue flag with the white outline of the European Cup in the middle.

The greatest memory of them all and one which causes even more pain for Tottenham supporters everywhere. Job done.

Tottenham had brought the maximum 3,000 away fans; a little different to 1978, but such are the rules these days. Hardly any flags though; certainly none with the European Cup on them. I was unaware that Fernando Torres had been injured in the pre-match. Our team still looked pretty strong. Frank Lampard was recalled in midfield. Tottenham’s team has changed a little over the past couple of seasons; the names Naughton and Bentaleb meant little to me. The presence of the invigorated Adebayor worried me, though.

The game began and the away fans, maybe not surprisingly, were making the greater din. It’s the same when we go to N17. It’s the same everywhere. Within the first five minutes, with the two teams trading a few jabs, Chelsea broke at speed down the right with Eto’o feeding Eden Hazard who rounded Lloris. A certain goal looked like the only outcome, but Hazard seemed to touch the ball a little too far just as he was taking aim and the ball spun just wide of the unguarded Tottenham goal. I jumped and screamed in pain.

“Aaaarrrrgggghhhh.”

Tottenham then seemed to enjoy plenty of possession and we struggled to get a foothold. Bentaleb’s shot went wide after we were caught out. Then Sandro forced a superb save from Petr Cech. There were few real shots on goal in the first-half. Samuel Eto’o evened-up the chances but didn’t threaten Lloris’ goal with a shot which again went wide.

The Chelsea crowd seemed a little subdued, but there was still time to remind the away fans that we’re the only team in London, only team in London, only team in London with a European Cup.

At half-time, there was frustration in the home ranks. It hadn’t been too impressive at all. The sunny weather gently eased and the early-evening light (almost a little misty) created a strange atmosphere. It had the feel of a famous Stamford Bridge late-season European game. We hoped for better things in the second period. Mourinho replaced Lampard with Oscar. No problems with that.

What a second-half.

Of all the various ways in which we have beaten Tottenham at home since 1990 – my favourite, by the way being George Weah’s “off the plane from Milan, off the bench” winner in 2000 – none could have prepared us for what occurred during the second-half on Saturday 8th March 2014.

Calamity One – 55 minutes.

Vertongen, under pressure, slipped and unwisely chose to pass the ball back to Lloris. His back-pass was wayward and ended up at the feet of a raiding Eto’o, who advanced and slammed the ball through the legs of the Spurs ‘keeper. I was already up and jumping when the ball hit the back of the net.

Alan, who had been in the middle of a Nelson Riddle when Eto’o had scored, quickly re-joined PD and me, full of smiles.

Alan : “They’ll have to come at us now.”

Chris : “Come on my little diamonds.”

Calamity Two – 59 minutes.

Samuel Eto’o burst through into the Spurs penalty box and slumped to the floor after a challenge from Kaboul. I wasn’t convinced that it was a penalty, but the referee Michael Oliver quickly pointed at the spot. The hapless Kaboul was soon given his marching orders. Oh boy. The game was dramatically lurching our way. Eden Hazard calmly stroked the ball past Lloris. The home support roared.

Calamity Three – 88 minutes.

With Chelsea in the ascendency and Tottenham second-best, an attempted defensive clearance from Sandro just diverted the ball into the path of substitute Demba Ba, who smacked the ball past Lloris from close range. This was met with joy and mirth in equal measure. There was more to come.

Calamity Four – 89 minutes.

Kyle Walker attempted to head the ball back to Lloris, but Ba was able to intercept it, hold off a rugged challenge from Lloris and stab the ball into the waiting net. By now, there was laughter mixed with pleasure, rather than wanton euphoria. Bloody hell. What a laugh. By this stage, the away end was virtually three-quarters empty. I couldn’t blame them.

I leaned over to Alan –

“Four? Skinned’em.”

As the players hugged at the final whistle, there was more unbridled joy at our humiliation of our arch rivals. It’s getting to the point now – and I say this with my tongue well and truly in my cheek – that I am starting to feel sorry for them.

After a repeat of our second-half turnaround against Fulham the previous week, Chelsea now sit seven points clear of the chasing pack. Jose Mourinho might still think that Manchester City are still ahead – nine points back, three games in hand – but I would rather have points in the bag. What’s that you say? Jose talks highly of Manchester City to put the pressure on them?

Ah, yes, of course.

This is a ridiculous season. Our record is now a highly impressive 20-6-3. We have endured just three losses in twenty-nine games. It is, unquestionably, championship form. However, who can argue that there have only been a handful of games this season where we have shown true championship form and quality? What an irony it would be that during the ultimate re-building, re-treading season of transition we actually go on to win the bloody thing.

Nine games to go.

Seat belts on.

It’s going to be a great ride.

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