Burnley vs. Chelsea : 18 August 2014.
My first ever Chelsea game took place in 1974. I’ve detailed that match on a few occasions before. I don’t think it’s being too pompous for me to say that it changed my life. On that day in West London, I became part of Chelsea Football Club. The abiding memory of Ian Hutchinson’s high leap at the North Stand end and scoring past the Newcastle ‘keeper is a strong one.
I occasionally wear the “Chelsea the Blues” scarf that my mother bought me after the game. I still occasionally flick through the tattered 5p programme. That game was a key moment in my life.
As the last few months of last season progressed, I kept calculating – and recalculating – if I would reach my one thousandth Chelsea game before the end of the 2013-2014 campaign. Sadly, we fell one match short. We just ran out of games. Our defeat against Atletico Madrid – match number 997 – meant that there would be no Champions League Final in Lisbon for me to celebrate my landmark moment. Games against Norwich City – 998 – and Cardiff City – 999 – left me hanging, stranded over the summer, awaiting news of our 2014-2015 fixture list. I wasn’t tempted with any of the pre-season friendlies. There would be European trips in the Champions League to savour instead. I’d best save my money for those. I didn’t fancy hitting one thousand against Real Sociedad in a home friendly either. Nope, I’d wait for the league opener. Our first league game of 2014-2015 would be it.
Number one thousand.
I silently hoped for a home match. I love my synchronicity and a game against Newcastle United – our opponents on 16 March 1974 – would have been perfect.
Burnley away it was and Burnley away it would be.
Not exactly Lisbon is it?
As the summer meandered by, with the World Cup in Brazil an enjoyable distraction (but nothing more than that) my focus gradually turned towards the opening weekend of the new season. Fate had dealt us travelling fans a rough hand. Our game – over two hundred miles from HQ – was to take place at 8pm on a Monday evening.
I booked a half-day as soon as the fixture change was announced, and waited.
Thoughts about the new season centered on our new players. How would they settle in? Which of the new acquisitions would we immediately “take to” and fully embrace as Chelsea players. For some reason, we regard some of our players as “more Chelsea” than others. Is there any fathomable reason for this? Is it due to personality rather than talent? Is there some secret unquantifiable element to some players’ psyche which endears them to us more than others? I wanted the new season to begin; I wanted to assess Diego Costa’s body language, Cesc Fabregas’ demeanour, Filipe Luis’ passion and Thibaut Courtois’ personality in addition to their playing strengths.
The summer of 2014 was imbued with a healthy dose of positivism in the Chelsea camp. There was a general feeling of hopeful optimism among the Chelsea ranks, both locally in the UK and elsewhere. There was a feeling that a fine new team was taking shape, with a healthy competition in all positions. Prolonged debates were held over the relative merits of our twin goalkeeping giants. Some loanees were brought back to the fold. Others were passed over. Meanwhile, Chelsea fans in Nerdistan were getting all sweaty at the thought of Didier getting his number 11 shirt back.
Predictions? I kept telling friends that we had a great chance to win the title for the first time in five years. My guess was that it would be between us and the new powerhouse in Manchester.
“Between us and City. Too close to call. But those two teams will be clear of the rest.”
Elsewhere, I was wondering if my passion – for the want of a better word – for football was subsiding a little. I always have these troublesome worries every summer; that the next season could be the one where football loosens its grip and I go off and live a more sedentary lifestyle. For example, I had already written off the twin games in the North-East this winter…too far, too much money, within one week of each other. I was thinking about knocking Man City on the head too; 4pm on a Sunday, stuff that. Due to a change in my working hours, plus the need to assist with the care of my mother who has dementia and arthritis, European and domestic midweek games might take a hit this year too. After all these years, there has to be a moment when Chelsea means that little bit less, doesn’t there?
A few weeks ago, I saw one of my favourite bands Stiff Little Fingers in Bath. I enjoyed it, of course. However, I had only seen them in Exeter in April and I explained to my mate Pete that I was having trouble getting “up” for the gig. Two SLF gigs in four months had resulted in me questioning myself, and inevitably comparing my ability to get “up” for football. In a nutshell, I don’t ever want Chelsea to be a chore. Let’s see how this season goes.
At 2pm on Monday 18th August, I set off from my home town in Somerset. Alongside me were Glenn, PD and Parky. I allowed four-and-a-half hours to reach Turf Moor, sheltering beneath the bare moorlands of The Pennines. After only a few miles, PD selected one of a few compilation CDs that he had brought for the trip. Parky slipped it in the CD player. The first track?
“One Step Beyond.”
The others knocked back some ciders.
We were on our way.
In truth, it was a dreadful trip. Just shy of Birmingham, the signs on the M5 warned of slow-moving traffic ahead. For two hours, the traffic slowed. It was a grim trip North.
Accelerate – brake – slow down – stop – wait – moan – accelerate – brake – slow down – stop – wait – moan – accelerate– brake – slow down – moan – stop – wait – accelerate – brake – slow down – stop – wait – accelerate – brake – slow down – stop.
With each passing mile, I could see the pained expressions on my fellow travellers worsening and worsening.
“I can see why I don’t do too many away games now.”
We sighed when “I Don’t Like Mondays” was played not once, but twice, on two consecutive CDs.
Bristol Tim was ten miles ahead of us and advised us to avoid the M62 around Manchester. This always was my plan. Thankfully, the traffic quietened after the signs for Liverpool and then Wigan. I veered off on to the M65, past Blackburn, and the sudden release of a clear road resulted in me venting my pent-up frustration on my accelerator pedal. I almost took off on a brow of a hill. The music CDs were from the punk / ska / mod revival days of the ‘eighties and I wondered if a Stiff Little Fingers – yeah, them again – song would appear before Burnley.
They didn’t let me down. Racing past Accrington, I sang along to “At The Edge” and I smiled…
“It’s exams that count not football teams.”
I’ve only ever visited Burnley once before; that 1-0 win back in 2009-2010, when a John Terry header created headlines just as the Vanessagate story surfaced. In all honesty, that solitary trip to the heart of Lancashire was one of my favourite trips of that season. Our paths have rarely crossed in the league. Those two encounters in 2009-2010 have been our only games against Burnley since 1982-1983. Glenn and PD were yet to visit Turf Moor. Parky had been once.
At 7.30pm, I eventually parked up. It had been a tedious journey; if I’m honest, one of the worst in those forty-odd years.
Turf Moor was reached in around ten minutes. The weather had been changeable en route. At least the rain held off as we raced to meet Gary, who had tickets for Glenn and PD, outside the away end. Burnley, a small town of around 75,000, could well be the stereotypical northern town. Its grey stone buildings exude weather-beaten bleakness. Its mills have closed and it faces unemployment and austerity. Racial tensions have blighted the area’s recent social history. However, at the heart of the city, possibly binding it together is Burnley Football Club, league winners in 1920-1921 and 1959-1960. On the wall outside Turf Moor is a collage of former players. Just along from the away turnstiles is a fuzzy photo of ex-Chelsea midfielder Ian Britton, caught in an ecstatic pose after scoring a goal which helped keep the team in the Football League when they faced relegation in 1987. Ian Britton, after Peter Osgood left, became my favourite Chelsea player as a child and he is well respected by my generation. Meeting him after an old boys’ game in 2010 was a real thrill. Today he lives in Burnley and is fighting a battle against prostate cancer. Everyone at Chelsea wishes him well.
Gary was full of moans because the match programmes had all gone. He too, like hundreds of others, was snarled up on the M6 too. I said “hi” to a few mates and headed inside with only minutes to spare.
Despite the evening kick-off, some four thousand Chelsea foot soldiers had battled work commitments, family pressures and the motorway network.
We were there in force.
We had the entire David Fishwick Stand; a single-tiered structure dating from the early ‘seventies, full of surprisingly wide wooden seats. Parky and I were right behind the goal in the front row. I looked around and spotted a few mates. A nod here and there.
The Chelsea choir were in fine voice.
Just before the teams entered the pitch, from a corner this time, rather than from the centre of our stand as in 2010, the home fans in the opposite stand held up claret and light blue mosaics:
“OUR TURF – BFC.”
The clouds were gathering overhead and the evening was turning murky.
Within seconds, the teams appeared.
The big news was that Thibaut Courtois was starting ahead of Petr Cech.
Elsewhere, Cesar Azpilcueta held off the challenge of Filipe Luis and started at left-back.
Cesc Fabregas lined up alongside Nemanja Matic, with a “three” of Eden Hazard, Oscar and Andre Schurrle, whose last competitive game was the World Cup Final.
From the Maracana to Turf Moor.
Upfront was the swarthy Diego Costa, our new number nineteen, looking trim and no doubt eager to impress.
To be honest, the pleasure of the first sightings of all these new Chelsea players was balanced by the realisation that my mate Alan, my away match companion for years now, was not at the game. He was unable to get time off work. He doesn’t miss many. It felt odd not seeing him.
It also made me feel sad for me to report to Parky that I did not know a single Burnley player. Long gone are the days when I could reel off the starting eleven of most teams in the top division, maybe even a few in the old second division. The Burnley team of my childhood featured players such as Leighton James, Frank Casper, Peter Noble and Bryan Flynn. They were a cracking team. I think I almost had a soft spot for them.
I have strong memories of that old open terrace at Turf Moor, packed with spectators, with those bleak moors behind. It is a shame that modern football stadia now separate the game and spectators from the immediate setting of the club. I always enjoyed seeing the buildings which abutted old Stamford Bridge, or the trees over in Brompton Cemetery. They added to the character of a stadium.
The game began. My view of the match was through the nets of the near goal. Despite the close proximity of several stewards I was able to snap away with impunity. A little drizzle fell.
Chelsea were roared on by the away contingent, virtually all standing.
A couple of chances were exchanged before the home team took the lead. Our defence was caught flat-footed and a ball was played into the box where the waiting Scott Arfield, given time to take a touch by the closest defender, drilled a rising ball hard past a possibly unsighted Courtois. I was right behind the path of the ball. The net rippled a mere fifteen feet away.
Turf Moor boomed.
This was not good. This was not how this was meant to be.
“Come on Chelsea. Come on Chelsea. Come on Chelsea.”
The home support, with memories of an opening day victory over Manchester United in 2009, was laughing, but they were not laughing for long.
Within minutes, an attack resulted in Ivanovic drilling in a low cross which bizarrely evaded everyone, before rebounding off the base of the far post. Luckily for us, it fell right at the feet of the waiting Diego Costa who slashed it high into the net.
Our new striker couldn’t have wished for a better start to his league career at Chelsea. The thoughts of Fernando Torres at this exact juncture would have been interesting to hear.
A blue flare was set off to my right.
Within minutes, another Chelsea goal.
Eden Hazard, afforded time and space, ran at the home defence before setting up Ivanovic. His pass in to the waiting Cesc Fabregas was met on the volley by our new Spanish midfielder. His fantastically weighted ball into the onrushing Andre Schurrle made me gasp. It was simply magnificent. It disrupted the time space continuum. It was sublime. Schurrle slotted in and we were 2-1 up. In the away stand, we erupted.
I turned to a chap behind me:
So mesmerised were the Burnley players by this incredible feat of fantasy football, which defied all spatial logic and temporal reasoning, that they suddenly found themselves in the 1930’s wearing heavy cotton shirts, chasing shadows in blue, and calling each other names such as Grimsdyke, Ogglethorpe, Sidebottom, Blenkinsopp, Eckersley, Butterworth, Snotter and Crump.
Never mind his Arsenal past; in one special moment, Cesc Fabregas had arrived.
For a while, we purred.
Diego Costa was then booked for a dive in the box, according to the referee, after he broke free.
Alan, watching in South London, texted me.
Not to worry, a third goal was soon scored by a dominant Chelsea. A Fabregas corner evaded everyone and Ivanovic prodded in from close range.
3-1 and coasting.
The Chelsea choir aired an old favourite from the late ‘eighties.
“OLE, OLE, OLE, OLE – CHELSEA, CHELSEA.”
With the team on top, the noise continued with loud songs of support for heroes past and present; Frank Lampard, Dennis Wise, Peter Osgood, Willian, Diego Costa.
With the new ‘keeper in earshot…”Thibaut! Thibaut! Thibaut!”
A quick nervous wave was cheered by the away fans.
The oddest moment of the entire night was the continued sight of the blue-shirted number 8 playing for Chelsea; the slight body of Oscar. On many occasions, my mind quickly saw Frank Lampard, so engrained is he in my football memory.
I met up with a few of the usual suspects at the break.
“A few more goals, boys?”
Parky had predicted a 4-1 win.
“I fancy six.”
“Definitely more goals to come.”
Sadly, the second-half was a let-down. The undoubted highlight was the fine leap and finger-tipped save from our young ‘keeper which stopped Blenkinsopp from scoring. The noise fell away and at times Turf moor was silent. Jose Mourinho rang the changes with Willian and Mikel replacing Oscar and Schurrle.
The two sets of fans exchanged a volley of antagonistic, lame and predictable chants at each other as the game wore on.
“Where were you when you were shit?”
“Here for the Chelsea, you’re only here for the Chelsea.”
“We support our local team.”
“You’ve had your day out, now fcuk off home.”
“Your support is fookin’ shit.”
It was abuse by numbers and the home fans soon gave up, preferring to turn their attention to their most hated, local, rivals.
“And it’s no nay never.
No nay never no more.
Till we play bastard Rovers,
No nay never no more.”
Didier Drogba had sprinted past me – a mere ten feet away – at the start of the second-half and the sight of him, so close, thrilled me. Indeed, all eyes were on our returning hero throughout his warm-up and subsequent appearance as a late substitute for Eden Hazard. One sublime touch and volley wide was a hint of his prowess, though if I am honest, I was as surprised as anyone to see him return to Chelsea.
At the final whistle, I watched as the management team, with the substitutes, walked across the pitch. They acknowledged our support. There was a shake of the hand from Mourinho for Diego Costa. Torres and Costa shared a joke. Petr Cech, smiling too, bless him. Didier threw his shirt in to the crowd and there was a mad scramble.
Outside, we assembled.
“We’re top aren’t we?”
“Yeah, top, deffo.”
We walked back to the waiting car amidst subdued locals. Ahead, another long journey was waiting.
Thankfully a sudden downpour on the M6 amounted to nothing. My spirits dived when I saw a sign for Birmingham (not even half-way home) :
The roads were quiet. Only fools – and Chelsea fans – are out in the small hours of Tuesday mornings.
Eventually I reached home at 3am.
Here’s to game 1,001.
The Story So Far :
Played – 1,000
Won – 578
Drew – 227
Lost – 195
For – 1,817
Against – 934