Tales From A Night Of Nerves And Noise

Chelsea vs. Paris St. Germain : 8 April 2014.

Despite our vivid memories of our “come from behind” triumph against Napoli in the round of sixteen in 2012 – and it was referenced thousands of times around the Chelsea world since the first leg in Paris – I was far from convinced that we would prevail. Throughout the day at work, I was asked if I thought Chelsea would “do it” against Paris St. Germain.

On each occasion, there was the vague “I’m not sure” or the negative “no, I don’t think we will.”

Of course, I lived in hope. We all live in hope. There was just something down, way down, in my being that taught me to do me wary. My view was that I could see us scoring (how? We have no goalscorers?) However, I could also see us conceding (how? We have the best defensive record in the Premier League.) Sometimes, in Planet Football, there is no logic.

Maybe it was the realist in me. Or the pragmatist. Maybe the Chelsea pessimist. I was just wary of too many Chelsea fans getting carried away with our hopes of advancing. I just aimed for a sense of balance. In an attempt to try to put some empirical value on my thoughts, I gave us a 40% chance of getting into the semis. I knew one thing; should my pre-game predictions be way out, I would be in for one of the greatest ninety minutes of football at Stamford Bridge in over forty years.

I collected Lord Parky at 3.30pm and I was able to inform him how I had managed to get him a ticket for the upcoming game in Swansea at the weekend. Parky, unlike me, was more upbeat about our chances against PSG and he took the good news about Swansea to be a fantastic omen for the evening’s game. As I have mentioned before, there is nothing quite like the buzz for a springtime trip to Stamford Bridge for a midweek Champions League knock-out game. With the evenings now lighter, there is a magical feel to the whole proceedings. As I drove east, I revaluated my predictions.

Maybe 42%.

We were delayed by a nasty crash ahead of us around Reading, so our pilgrimage took us a lengthy three hours.

At 6.30pm, we were in The Goose. I spent some time with some of the New York supporters’ group; the lucky five or six who had stayed on from the Stoke City game at the weekend.  After the damp squib atmosphere on Saturday, at least the noise would be a hundred times better against PSG. I was itching to head down to The Bridge and so rounded up the troops and headed south and then east.

The fifteen minute walk was soon over. Frank disappeared to buy half of the contents of all of the stalls on the Fulham Road, while Taryn joined the line for the Upper Tier of the West Upper. This would only be her second game at Stamford Bridge; the Stoke game, on her birthday, was her first. I hoped for great things.

Inside, that “Chelsea Champions League Feeling.”

Just a magical buzz…I could sense the atmosphere building with each minute. Over in the far corner, the three thousand Parisians were adorned with brightly coloured red, white and blue. Noticeably, one section, just above the corner flag, was devoid of scarves, flags and shirts. I presumed this was the PSG version of our executive club.  I wondered if Nicolas Sarkozy and Gerard Depardieu were present – maybe in the West Stand directors’ box – just like in Paris last Wednesday.

The team had been announced while we were in the pub; I guess that it picked itself. The only slight surprise was seeing Frank Lampard. Then, with not long to go, there was the typical pre-game Champions League routine. We had each been given a nylon flag, and some of these were waved as the rather embarrassing opera singer belted out “Blue Is The Colour.” I looked over to the East Middle and noted that the spectators had each been given blue and white bar scarves; the sight, rather than stirring me, made me shudder. I remembered that scarves were similarly given out to spectators in the East Stand for the Internazionale game in 2010. I hoped there would not be a similar result; on that occasion Jose Mourinho was the foe.

Just before the teams entered the pitch, eyes turned towards the balcony of the Matthew Harding Upper. We had already seen the Champions League flag for the first time at the Tottenham game, and it was joined by the Europa League flag against Galatasaray. Now, a third flag – that of the European Cup Winners’ Cup – was unveiled alongside.

Three flags representing four triumphs.

1971 and 1998.

2012

2013

Our European pedigree.

As the game began, I was so heartened to hear loud and passionate support booming around the stadium. Talk before the game was of us getting an early goal. It didn’t happen. With each passing glance at the stadium clock…5 minutes, 10 minutes, 15 minutes…we sensed that our golden moment had passed us by. Throughout the first period, the away fans provided constant noise, but without many familiar tunes. A defiant tricolour was constantly held aloft in the Shed Lower. PSG possibly began stronger with Lavezzi showing good involvement, but then Chelsea began to bite back. A few Frank Lampard corners and free-kicks from wide areas were fizzed in, but we were unable to hit targets. Samuel Eto’o was neat in possession, but was often out wide rather than being in the midst of the penalty area. Hazard had shown a few neat touches out on the left, but we were shocked to see him substituted after only around twenty minutes. Without Hazard, our creativity would surely suffer. On came Andre Schurrle. The noise quietened slightly. The nerves began to jangle.

It seemed that the referee, Pedro Proenca, he of the 2012 Final, seemed to book anyone who moved. The frustrations began to increase. Midway through the first-half, maybe caused by a poor refereeing decision, a new chant was born. Maybe someone deep down in the MHL began singing “Fcuk UEFA – We’ve Seen It Before”, but a new chant soon boomed around Stamford Bridge.

“CHAMPIONS OF EUROPE – WE’VE DONE IT BEFORE.”

This was immediately the song de jour.

“WE’VE DONE IT BEFORE. WE’VE DONE IT BEFORE. CHAMPIONS OF EUROPE – WE’VE DONE IT BEFORE.”

The noise was fantastic. The whole crowd latched on to the song. Love it.

Our play was typical of this season. A fair bit of possession, but we hardly got behind them. The cutting edge, of course, was missing. A Lampard free-kick was whipped in and the ball took a deflection, but Sirigu pulled off a stunning save. Just after – on 32 minutes – a lofty throw-in from Ivanovic was flicked on by David Luiz. The substitute Schurrle was the first to react and he stroked the ball in.

“YEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEES.”

1-0 and the game came alive.

There was the usual interchange between Alan and myself.

“Zey will have to come at us now.”

A pause, a shrug, and a look of insouciance.

“Come on my little diamonds.”

It was far from an early goal, but – bollocks – it was a first-half goal.

Soon after, Schurrle was clearly energised by his goal and wriggled into the PSG box, but was met with the brick wall of a challenge by Verratti. A loud appeal was turned down. The game continued, with more yellow cards being brandished. At times, as PSG attacked us, I felt myself looking away from the pitch. I can never remember doing this with such a regular occurrence ever before.

After all these games, I was reassured that football – no, wait, Chelsea – still means so much.

Two songs at the break –

“Sweet Dreams.”

“Reasons To Be Cheerful – Part Three.”

Off the pitch, positive feelings. On the pitch, Peter Bonetti was given a tour of the Stamford Bridge turf.

Soon into the second-half, a beautiful strike by Andre Schurrle crashed against the bar. Only seconds later, an Oscar free-kick thudded against the exact same portion of woodwork. The groans were desperate. A Cech save from Lavezzi cheered us. In truth, Cech had not been called on too often. Blanc brought on the impressive Cabaye. Mourinho replaced Lampard with Ba, who was soon flicking on balls for others to run on to. It seemed that, at least for a few minutes, Ba played upfront with Eto’o.

The damned clock kept ticking away. I must’ve glanced at it every two minutes. Cavani blasted high. I noted the reoccurrence of a song that I had heard from the Boulogne Boys in Paris – a PSG version of “Flower Of Scotland.” Javier Pastore – yes him, the scorer of that bloody goal – came on for them. PSG peppered our goal with a few efforts.

The clock ticked.

As PSG broke, I looked away once more. Cavani wasted a golden opportunity, firing just high of Cech’s goal once more.

With ten minutes to go, Jose Mourinho played his final card, replacing Oscar with Fernando Torres. Three forwards were now on the pitch and the crowd, like the players supporting them, realised the rarity of this and upped the level of support.

“And It’s Super Chelsea – Super Chelsea Eff Cee.”

The clock ticked.

Alan and I didn’t know whether to stand or sit. We were up and down like West Bromwich Albion. I had decided not to take many photos. My focus was elsewhere. The team needed my support, so I did my best to roar the team on. Throughout the evening, however – despite the noise – at times the nervousness on the stands resulted in a few periods of quiet. Then, out of nowhere, the noise would begin again. Big John played a great role in galvanising our support; on three or four occasions, he thudded against the balcony wall.

Clap clap – clap clap clap – clap clap clap clap :

The Matthew Harding responded –

“CHELSEA!”

However, there was no denying it; this was tough. Alan rued –

“That third goal in Paris.”

Tick, tick, tick, tick, tick.

It looked like our European campaign was ending. I momentarily looked back on trips to Bucharest, Istanbul and Paris. It had been a good run. No complaints.

With three minutes remaining, the ball found itself being pin-balled around the PSG box. The ball eventually came out to Dave, who had been excellent all night, and our Spanish right-back come left-back fired the ball in to the box. Miraculously, Demba Ba pounced from close in and the net billowed.

Scream.

Shout.

Let It All Out.

We had done it.

I was triumphant, bellowing noise deep from inside my being.

Out of nowhere, Rob bounced down the steps and hugged me and we soon found ourselves bouncing up and down, acting like fools.

“Bonnet de douche you fcuker.”

I turned around and screamed at a few fans right behind me.

Bruges 1995, Vicenza 1998, Barcelona 2000, Barcelona 2005, Liverpool 2008, Liverpool 2009, Napoli 2012, Barcelona 2012 and now PSG 2014.

What a litany of magical nights in deepest gorgeous SW6.

The referee signalled four minutes of extra time and Alan began the countdown on his phone. Again, we didn’t know if we should sit or stand. PSG poured forward and – bless him – Petr Cech was able to repel everything. I am not sure if I was more nervous when we were chasing the second goal or after we had scored it.

Nerves?

My whole body was riddled with fear and worry. Why do we do this? Why does it mean so much? Will I ever know?

I was quiet. I looked at the referee.

He brought his whistle to his mouth.

We were through.

Rob, Gary and Alan bounced to “One Step Beyond” and everyone was exhausted. My smiles were wide, my throat was sore. Then, as the fans slowly left, another song…

“Cus Chelsea…Chelsea Is Our Name.”

We sang as we exited the stadium –

“Portugal, Portugal – We Are Coming.”

As I walked past the Peter Osgood statue, I touched his right boot. It is a little superstition that I have developed on big European nights. More songs walking along the Fulham Road, a few PSG fans sprinkled in among us, but no trouble. I met up with Parky and gloriously headed back to the pub. After a few minutes, Taryn joined us.

“Oh…My…God.”

I knew what she meant.

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6 thoughts on “Tales From A Night Of Nerves And Noise

  1. “Frank disappeared to buy half of the contents of all of the stalls on the Fulham Road…”

    “Bonnet de douche you fcuker.”

    These write ups get better and better. Thanks again. Munich or Madrid as your next possible European stops. Glory Boy at it again.

  2. Well Chris, seeing as how you didn’t make it to Madrid, here’s my little account:

    It was an excellent trip to Madrid, very convivial off the field and successful on it. The injuries and suspensions were a negative but we overcame this in Munich before – and will again next Wednesday.

    I stayed at a new hotel, the NH Ribeiro de Manzares which is on the east bank of the river, just 250m from the Calderon. It is in an area now being called Madrid Rio.

    This riverbank area of Madrid has been transformed over the past 7 years. 45km of tunnels were built to take all the traffic on a 6km stretch of the Manzanares river underground, and the space was then transformed into a marvellous linear park with cycling ans walking amenities, skate parks, treescapes, footbridges and restaurants. On Wednesday afternoon, relaxing after the night’e events, I walked across the footbridge near my hotel and had a beautiful al fresco lunch in the shade of the trees, with a view of the river and the Calderon stadium. It was a relaxing end to a short trip before I took a taxi to Barajas Airport and headed back to Dublin. The absence of traffic, the cyclists and walkers passing by, kids feeding their ice creams to the birds – just idyllic.

    In the balmy afternoon breeze, I had a few raciones and Heinken with my pal Rich Clements who happened to be in the area though he had been staying at Atocha. We kicked back in the sun and discussed the events and the twittersphere’s reaction. Matt Dickinson of the Times we agreed was a tosser. Martin Samuel of the Mail had got it right. In any case, the Heineken was pleasant and satisying.

    The previous day had been hectic.

    I got into Barajas Terminal One about 1:30 pm and took the long walk to the metro near Terminal 3. The journey was smooth enough apart from a Rumanian scally trying to pick my pocket. He was clumsy and in any case, after my previous experiences in Barcelona, he was fishing in an empty well. I confronted him and he and his accomplice/girlfriend, plus two other guys standing at the next door, all legged it at the next stop. A local told me there were several Rumanian gangs operating in Madrid metro – we know the same thing is happening in the London Underground.

    Shaken but not stirred, I reached Piramides station. From here, it was a 20 minute bus or 30 minute walk to the hotel. But my exit took me onto the Avenida de las Acacias, which was where my friend Mark Edwards aka CeleryCelery had said we would meet about 4pm, in the Acacias Cafe, where we had been treated royally on our last visit in November 2009.

    As I passed the cafe, I saw Mark in the window, sat in his bright yellow Chelsea teeshirt regaling the locals in pidgin Spanish. I decided to pop in and say hi on my way to the hotel.

    That was a mistake.

    As soon as I got in the door I recognised Jesus the portly proprietor and his wife Consuelo. Greeting were exchanged, tapas were offered and accepted, and Mahou beer was served, in frsted glasses and so cold it had little icicles in the head. Beautiful. We settled in and soon the bar was filling with Atleti in the red and white striped shirts. A very friendly group sat next to us, two girls and two guys. One of them proudly showed us his business card and pointed out that he was the manufacturer of the olive oild used in the cafe. Celebrating this we were presented with miniatures of olive oil. They settled in to tapas and deserts and the most amazing conconction of spirits. The girl nearest me looked like she was about 16 but assured me she was 20. She was served a monster tumbler of gin and ice to which was added a dollop of Sprite. There must have been five measures of gin by Irish bar standards. I expected her to keel over after drinking it but she showed no signs. She had a similar vodka drink, then a yellow liqueur, then one of those ubiquitous Flan de Huevo deserts – that’s creme caramel to you.

    By now we were the official away corner of the bar and the boisterous Atleti were giving it socks, singing and chanting in good nature. We sang right back at them. Jesus hoisted an Atletico flag despite the fact that it covered his spirits section. He led the singing of their anthem, having added an Atletico crest to his teeshirt with a safety pin.

    We ordered pork chops and french fries which came in a delicious tomato-based spicy sauce. Perfect food for beer. The beer flowed and eventually at 5pm Mark said he would pop my bag into his room at the Holiday Inn next door rather than have us interrupt the flow of the day. Good call.

    Rich Clements had texted me to say he was on the way bearing my ticket, which he had kindly collected for me from the Chelsea box office on Monday. He arrived around six and the fun continued.

    The Acacias had a sign up announcing they did not allow tabs on match days, but we appreared to be getting special treatment having arrived early – and perhaps some brownie points for our return four years later, like prodigal sons. The local fans were now being served in plastic cups, we continued to get our frosted glasses. Lovely. We met lots of Atleti, took photographs, echanged photographs using Bluetooth, exchanged numbers, and generally had the kind of away experience that we often do, but that the newspapers never bother to report.

    By 8pm it was time to close the tab and head down the hill towards the Calderon. The bill, which included 16 beers and two lunches – we were told the tapas were complimentary – came to just €73. We added a tip and promised to return after the game.

    Down the hill we walked among the Atleti, in the evening light. It had been a pleasant sunny day and now the evening was balmy. No need for more than a shirt. We found the away end and took our places. Mark and Rich were in the upper deck, and I was in the lower.

    In the lower deck I found my place – the first time I had ever been able to stand in my actual place away in Spain. Usually it is a free for all with the police doing the allocations. In my end the stewards and police were low key. My neighbour on the left was a young London-based obstetrician, Malaysian born but educated at the Royal College of Surgeons of Ireland in Dublin. On the left was David and his 16yr old daughter Lucy, two West Lower season ticket holders. I had not met them before but I will again. It was Lucy’s first away Chelsea game. What a great treat.

    The atmopshere in the ground was marvellous from the start to the finish. Torres got a wonderful reception from the home fans, reminding me of how Chelsea had love-bombed Drogba earlier in the season.

    We defended brilliantly, and worried as we were when Cech was injured, and then later Terry, we stifled them well. I thought Ashley Cole and Mikel were especially good. Mikel took a yellow arguing but in doing so saved Frank getting a second yellow. The minutes wore on but even with JT gone we were confident by the end that they had not the wit to break us down. It felt like a victory at the final whistle. We sang our hearts out as the Atleti trailed out of the stadium. We were kept in for an hour and never stopped singing. We were entertained by the passing under us of the both sets of players who left in dribs and drabs. Courteois got a round of applause. Diego Costa was serenaded with “We’ll see you next year” and acknowleged the fans with a clap to a huge cheer. Blatter and Platini appeared and the Chels sang “Blatter Blatter you’re a cnut” to which he eventually waved. He too got a huge cheer. JohnTerry came out alone, walking gingerly but without any assistance – legend, hero, captain. Our hearts almost burst with pride as we applauded him. Huge cheers, huge respect. Same for Lampard.

    We did not see the Special One but Bruce Buck was the last of the Chelsea entourage and then the police let us leave. It was almist midnight.

    Outside I met Rich who told me that upstairs there had been a lot of trouble caused by over aggressive policing at half time, and people has been hit with batons. Some of the stewards had used batons. There was a Metropolitan Police stand in the away car park and many Chelsea fans were registering complaints. Lucky we had experienced none of that. We walked up the hill to the Acacias in good spirits.

    Jesus was anxious to close – normally it was 11 pm closing, and regardless, he would have to open at 7 next morning – but he had promised us a post-match drink and was true to his word. Mark had escaped faster than us, and was well ensconced when we arrived. He told us that Jesus was keeping the last beers of the evening for us. There was a small crowd of locals, we had more free tapas, one beer, and then we bade our farewells. Jesus directed us to a nearby bar , Obelisco, that would be open until 2am. I collected my bag from Mark’s room in the Holiday Inn next door, and we headed across the street to Obelisco.

    By now Mark was thinking of his bed – he had plans to take the fast train early to Barcelona, spend the day there and fly home later in the evening, but he would need to be up at 7am. What a trip he made – flew in to Seville on Monday, fast train to Madrid that day, then out via Catalunya. I told him he should have popped over to Valencia just for good measure..

    We persuaded Mark to have one more beer. After a quick Amstel he headed off. Rich and i had Paulaner on draft and met more Atletico fans including a brother and sister whose dad was an Englishman from Halifax, and their friend a Londoner who now lived in Spain but was originally a Crystal Palace fan. He had his fun with us.

    One beer led to another and at 2 am the shutters came down but we were not asked to leave. Service continued. We were asked if we would mind if the locals smoked. We thought it would be churlish to refuse. Ashtrays were broken out but nobody bothered to smoke. By 3 am we were feeling the pressure and decided to call it a night. The shutters were rised and we headed out onto a deserted street. Eventually a cab came along and we shared it. My hotel was nearest. I checked in to my hotel at 3:45 am and was soon asleep.

    Tomorrow would bring the delights of the Madrid Rio, a relaxing day to bask in our reasonable result (1-1 would have been even better but no matter), and to look forward and speculate about what mind games The Special One has in store for Brendan Rogers in advance of Sunday.

    Onwards to Anfield!

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