Chelsea vs. Swansea City : 13 September 2014.
At the top of the Premier League table, two teams stood alone, perfect and unblemished. In first place were Chelsea with nine points out of a possible nine. In second place, marginally behind on goal difference, came Swansea City also with nine points out of nine. The fixture between the two sides would pit the best team in England against the best team in Wales. Just before the fixture list became enriched with European adventures, here was a chance for us to move ahead, to keep gathering points before winter, to keep the momentum rolling.
I had left the pub earlier than usual. I approached the West Stand and soon set my gaze on the nearest programme seller. I was warmed to see that the club had decided to adorn the match programme with the jovial face of the late Lord Attenborough. The monthly club magazine, on sale at the same stall, also contained an image of our former Life President on the front cover.
I also smiled when I overheard a Chelsea supporter explain to a friend, in revered tones, how Lord Attenborough had helped deter potential developers from ending Chelsea’s presence at Stamford Bridge by not selling his shares in his beloved club.
It had been a typical Chelsea pre-match. I had travelled up from Somerset with PD and LP. The beer garden in the pub had been heaving with fellow supporters. A friend from the US, Scott, had called in for a couple of pints, a chin-wag, and had left with a couple of small metallic pin badges – two for a fiver – from the young chap who often sells them in a few of the local pubs on match days, and also a couple of Chelsea stickers, which a mate has produced, and which will decorate away ends the length and breadth of UK and beyond in increasing numbers this season.
“Chelsea Football Club – Ruining Football Since 2003.”
There had been genuine surprise in the pub that Frank Lampard was starting for Manchester City in their game at Arsenal. I had previously wondered if he would start any games at all. By the time I had reached the concourse in the MHU, Arsenal and City had shared the points in a 2-2 draw.
“Good result, that.”
I was inside, chatting to Tom, as early as 2.35pm. I was amazed how few spectators were inside. The players, wearing those training tops which bear too much of a resemblance to the jade away shirts from 1986 for my liking, quickly disappeared after a pre-match stretch. I quickly skimmed the programme, and then looked up once more; all of a sudden, the stands had filled. There were around two thousand away fans in the opposite corner. There was just one flag though and it made me chuckle; a blue and white Scotland flag, no doubt showing solidarity with that country’s imminent vote for independence.
Annoyingly, around four rows of some two hundred seats were unused in the Shed Upper; the ones above the Swansea City fans in the extended area of the lower tier. Weird; I always thought that away fans could either have 3,000 or 1,400, not a “sale or return” policy on the larger amount.
There was sun, but clouds too.
I studied the Chelsea team; an unchanged defence, but with two alterations in midfield from the fire-cracker at Goodison.
And what a bench.
Neil Barnett spoke about former players Pat Nevin, Mickey Thomas and Paul Canoville being present in the stadium, and there was a little cheer from the home stands, but the mood of the spectators changed as the players from both sides slowly walked towards the centre-circle.
Images of Lord Attenborough danced on the large TV screen above the Swansea fans as Neil began a short eulogy in memory of one of our finest and most esteemed supporters. Rather than somber silence, which used to be the norm until around ten years ago, the packed stands echoed to the sound of rapturous applause.
And I found myself smiling throughout; here was a life to truly cherish, a life lived to the full, a life of many magnificent accomplishments, a life full of fun, and a life to be praised.
Stamford Bridge will not be the same – Chelsea Football Club will not be the same – without you.
May you rest in wonderful royal blue peace.
The game began and it was the away team, dressed in red and black, who started brightly. After a couple of chances were shared, the impressive Ki Sung-Yeung played in Taylor, whose low ball in to the “corridor of uncertainty” caused a retreating John Terry to stab at the ball in an attempted clearance. We watched in horror as the ball spun into the goal, past Courtois, and JT slammed his forearm down on the turf in exasperation.
1-0 to the Welsh.
“We are topoftheleague, say wearetopoftheleague.”
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again; why do fans of any team adopt a Geordie accent when they sing this?
Swansea’s early lead was a wake-up call.
“They’ve been threatening” I admitted to PD.
Rather than step up, we struggled. Our midfield continued to gift the confident and precise Swansea team too much space and, for a while, we were clearly second best. Wayne Routledge and new signing Bafetimbi Gomis were the stars for Swansea with their forceful running and intelligent play. For half an hour we laboured under the September sun. Apart from two Matic tackles, I cannot remember any other significant challenge by any of our midfielders. Fabregas, Oscar and Schurrle – especially Schurrle – were hardly involved. After a Chelsea move ended up with the ball going off for a throw-in, the nearest ball boy optimistically placed the ball on the corner quadrant, before being corrected by the referee Kevin Friend. It was almost our best move of the entire half.
Then, a few forays into the Swansea box caused the Chelsea support to finally get behind the team;
“CAM ON CHOWLSEA, CAM ON CHOWLSEA, CAM ON CHOWLSEA.”
A succession of Chelsea corners increased the pressure on Fabianski –who? – in the Swansea goal. With one minute remaining in the half, Cesc Fabregas planted a corner in to the middle of the six yard box. Who else but Diego Costa, starved of service until then, rose to head the ball past the former Arsenal goalkeeper and we were level.
I captured both his goal and subsequent leap – his trademark – on film and his joy was mirrored in the stands.
1-1 and one big almighty “phew” at half-time.
“What’s that now for Costa? Five in three-and-a-half games?”
There was no surprise that Jose Mourinho made a change at the break. On came Ramires in place of Schurrle; no complaints there. Within a few seconds of the restart, Rami made a crunching tackle and the tone was set for the rest of the game.
And what a game it turned out to be. We began much more positively with chances for both Hazard, now more involved, and Costa. After ten minutes, neat play between Hazard and Fabregas down below me cut open the Swansea defence. Fabregas played the ball back to the waiting Diego Costa, having miraculously avoided detection, who slammed the ball high in to the net.
2-1, GET IN!
Six goals for Diego Costa, pass the smelling salts nurse.
Another leap down below us, and the Matthew Harding are in rapture. As the players surged around the scorer, I noted that Diego Costa pointed at Cesc Fabregas, keen to publicly thank our number four for the magnificent pass which set him up.
Although these are very early days in the development of this team – Mourinho’s second Chelsea team, if you will – the symbiotic relationship between our new midfield general and our rampaging striker bodes well for the future. Diego Costa has already fed off a few Fabregas assists. Let’s hope that this on-the-field friendship continues to thrive. It has certainly warmed all of us Chelsea supporters. Let it grow and grow. Let it strike fear within the hearts and minds of all of our future opponents.
Cesc Fabregas to Diego Costa.
I’m wondering if this relationship, already – after just four games – will define this season. In fact, it reminds me of a feared combination from another sport and another era. Although much lampooned these days for their lack of success, the Chicago Cubs once possessed a fearsome infield back in the ‘twenties, consisting of Joe Tinker, Johnny Evers and Frank Chance. It was so common for this trio to work double-plays which nullified opposition bats, that a New York Giants writer once penned a few lines in grim honour of their combined prowess on the baseball diamond.
Baseball’s Sad Lexicon.
These are the saddest of possible words:
“Tinker to Evers to Chance.”
Trio of bear cubs, and fleeter than birds,
Tinker and Evers and Chance.
Ruthlessly pricking our championship bubble,
Making a Giant hit into a double –
Words that are heavy with nothing but trouble:
“Tinker to Evers to Chance.”
Maybe there will be a similar version of this in honour of our players.
“Words that are heavy with nothing but trouble; Eden to Cesc to Costa.”
Then, a break up field from Gomis – the Chelsea defence pushed on, too square, guilty of ball-watching – but thankfully the advancing Courtois did enough to nullify the striker’s effort, which dropped wide and out of danger.
With twenty minutes remaining, solid Chelsea pressure resulted in the ball being pushed square to Ramires. His rather scuffed shot was turned in by the lurking Diego Costa. We roared once more.
3-1, Diego Costa seven goals in five.
But no leap this time.
For the middle period of the second-half, we purred. Although Oscar was not heavily involved, he treated us to several impudent back-heels, including one on goal. Eden Hazard was full of fire and fun. The difference compared to our limp first-half show was huge.
Mourinho replaced the hat-trick hero Diego Costa with new signing Loic Remy, who is taller and leaner than I remembered him last season. Obviously, Diego Costa was given a fine sending off as he left the pitch :
“Diego! Diego! Diego!”
Remy soon shot over the bar, but he looked undeterred and confident.
When Gomis was substituted by the Swansea manager Garry Monk, many in the Stamford Bridge crowd clapped him off. I joined in. This is a rare occurrence these days and I think it was great; Lord Attenborough would have approved I am sure.
Eden Hazard then ran and ran and ran at the bewildered Swansea defence before abruptly stopping, then turning, then setting up Oscar to, in turn, play the ball to the substitute Remy. I watched as the ball was met with a confident swing of the right leg. In my mind, after the events of the previous twenty minutes, a goal was a foregone conclusion.
There was still time for a final twist, with Chelsea’s defence sleeping and a goal for Shelvey, who neatly rolled the ball past Courtois after a defence-splitting pass from substitute Bony.
What a great game of football. Swansea City are a fine team. I genuinely wish them well this season.
Meanwhile, their fans over in the far corner had the last word as the game entered the last few minutes.
“4-2 and you still don’t sing.”
On the drive home, the three of us were full of cheer after the events of the day; dropped points for City, Arsenal and Tottenham, then three dropped points for Liverpool.
It had been a great day.
The season is only four games old, yet we are already five points up on our strongest rivals, Manchester City, who we meet at The Etihad next Sunday.
But first, Schalke on Wednesday and that Champions League anthem.
See you there.