Chelsea vs. Queens Park Rangers : 1 November 2014.
With two consecutive away games at Manchester United and Shrewsbury Town behind us, the home match with Queens Park Rangers represented a fine chance for Chelsea to maintain a healthy gap at the top of the pile. Having driven over seven hundred miles to Old Trafford and New Meadow, I was back in the driving seat once again for yet another trip to Stamford Bridge. After collecting PD and Glenn, Lord Parky joined us. It didn’t take too long for me to share my growing frustrations with work with my fellow match-goers. For the past few weeks, my life has existed against a dull rhythm of “work/sleep/work/sleep/work/sleep/work/sleep” albeit with the occasional “football” excursion thrown in, perhaps like a lifebelt, to allow me to survive under increasing work-related stress.
I hoped that a trip to HQ would help to reduce the pain.
Within a few miles of leaving Parky’s home village, my car was rocking with laughter as we headed east and the problems of work soon started to subside. As we neared Reading, our sides were hurting so much from all of the giggles which were erupting in The Chuckle Bus that I had to put on some music – “Dexy’s Midnight Runners”, thank you Parky – in an attempt to settle us all down.
However, after the tedious traffic jams of Sunday and Tuesday, we were hit with yet more delays, this time on the M4. I was immediately reminded of a horrible trip that my parents and I took to Stamford Bridge in March 1979 when horrendous traffic on the M4 resulted in the three of us arriving very late for a Chelsea vs. QPR game. In 1978-1979, Chelsea were quite awful. Relegation was inevitable from before Christmas. I have to be honest and admit that the season was a tough one for me. I didn’t enjoy much of it. It seemed quite apt, then, that the QPR game, which I had been anticipating for weeks before, should be such a negative experience. I only used to go to two games per season in those days. The whole day was crap. We took our seats a few minutes before kick-off, which meant that the whole pre-match was spent nervously checking my watch to see if we’d be late, rather than relaxing and taking it all in. Chelsea lost 3-1, some mouthy QPR fans were sat in front of us in the East Lower, and we were dismal. I think that day ranks as one of the least enjoyable in all of my visits to Chelsea in over forty years. And it wasn’t that QPR were half-decent either; at the end of the season, they too were relegated. Yep, 1978-1979 was a tough one.
In 1979-1980, although we were in the Second Division, I regained my passion for Chelsea Football Club.
A very enjoyable pre-match (the antithesis of the March 1979 game) took place within the beer garden of The Goose. Yet more laughter, yet more banter, yet more silliness. Again, my general mood lightened considerably. The weather was bright and cheerful. This was going to be a fine day.
News broke through that Diego Costa was starting; excellent. There was also a Newcastle United goal against Liverpool to bring added cheer.
Although we all left the pub in good time, there were long queues at the turnstiles and so my first regret of the day was that I missed the minute of silence in memory of the fallen. I hated myself because of that. At least I will have the chance to pay my respects properly at Anfield next Sunday.
During the past few days, there were internet rumours flying around that QPR had not sold all of their tickets – something I found surprising – but their section of 3,000 was full.
Blue skies overhead. An eager crowd. Chelsea in royal blue, QPR in Tottenham white.
Let’s keep winning, boys.
We began with a flurry of corners, but the first real chance fell to Oscar after a nice flick from Diego Costa. His shot was scuffed and QPR escaped. Soon after, an incisive move down our right resulted in Branislav Ivanovic hitting the side-netting from close in. These were positive signs.
Only a Charlie Austin looping header threatened Thibaus Courtois’ goal.
On 32 minutes, Cesc Fabregas – quiet at Old Trafford on Sunday – drove forward and spotted Oscar to his right. With an impudent flick with the outside of his right foot, he bent the ball out and then in to the goal.
We screamed. We shouted.
Alan and I – in the guise of two famous inhabitants of Oil Drum Lane – reverted to our tried and tested routine.
Albert : “They’ll have to come at us now.”
Harold : “Come on my little diamonds.”
There was every reason to think that more goals were on the agenda. We had enjoyed the majority of the ball, as is so often the case, and the visitors had shown little attacking aptitude. Just before the break, a sublime twist by Eden Hazard, down in the far corner in front of the travelling fans, made me gulp in astonishment. It was a stunning piece of skill, but I was amazed that his 180 degree turn, leaving his marker stranded, did not warrant any applause or cheer. Were we too stunned to clap or were we too spoiled to appreciate it? I had the feeling that if it had happened in the dark days of 1978-1979, maybe by Duncan McKenzie or Clive Walker, it would have gone down in Chelsea legend.
At the break, my second regret of the day; I missed my childhood hero Ian Britton on the pitch with Neil Barnett.
A lightening break down our right by Willian ended up with a teasing cross in to the box, but Eden Hazard was just unable to reach it. A second goal then would have opened the floodgates, surely.
Then, calamity struck. On one of a very rare number of Rangers excursions into our box, Vargas forced Courtois to make a stunning block. However, the rebound was smashed goal wards by Fer and was diverted past Courtois with a deft flick of Austin’s boot. We groaned. The Rangers fans celebrated wildly, but I was pleased to hear the strong reply from the home support, which immediately rallied to the cause.
To be honest, it hadn’t been a particularly noisy match, certainly not for a London derby. One peculiarity that I had noted throughout the game was that it often took a song or chant from the travelling support to rouse the home sections.
A “Hey Jude” of “la, la, la, laaa – Rangers” soon morphed into a “Hey Jude” of “la, la,la , laaa – Chelsea.”
A “Sit Down Mourinho” soon morphed into a “Jose Mourinho.”
A song ridiculing John Terry from QPR elicited “The Double” song from Chelsea.
I wondered if we were now relying on away supporters to be our cheerleaders.
Sure, there were songs and chants from the Matthew Harding, though I hardly heard The Shed. There certainly wasn’t one moment when I could honestly say that the whole stadium was united in song.
On the pitch, Mourinho went for the jugular and replaced Willian with Didier Drogba. He immediately stood close to Diego Costa. I was warmed at the thought of two strikers playing up front together for the first time in a while.
Didier and Diego.
Chances came and went for both sides, although the quality of play never lived up to the highs of previous weeks. Oscar lifted a free-kick over the Rangers wall, but Green saved. With a quarter of an hour remaining, Eden Hazard accelerated into the box, and Vargas clumsily checked him. Hazard went tumbling and the referee immediately pointed towards the spot.
Eden Hazard nonchalantly stroked the ball home, but there was not a wild outpouring of emotion from any of our players. Although, the Chelsea fans all around me were overjoyed, I sensed that the players on the pitch were just relieved.
Andre Schurrle then replaced Diego Costa, who had started to tire. The substitute came close. A trademark near post header from John Terry then drew another save from Green.
We held on.
It hadn’t been pretty.
But three points are three points.
We were back in the driving seat.
We listened to Radio Five Live just as I was caught up in the usual slow procession out of the area near Queens Club, my car edging slowly away, alongside other match-goers. We caught a few of Jose Mourinho’s irritable words concerning the team’s performance. It was obvious that his had been a frustrating afternoon. Perhaps his meticulous game plan had not been followed. There was tiredness to his tone. He seemed extra-ordinarily grumpy.
He then turned his attention to the home spectators. On a day when he had praised the away support at Manchester and Shrewsbury during the previous week in the match programme, Mourinho made a sarcastic remark about the quietness of the Stamford Bridge support; it was only when we scored did he realise that the stadium wasn’t empty.
I have written thousands of words in these match reports bemoaning the declining atmosphere at home games, and it is no secret that many Chelsea supporters feel the same way. It is also evident that this has not happened at Stamford Bridge alone. At virtually all stadia in England, fans complain about the dwindling atmosphere in home areas. There are a few exceptions to this rule; step forward Stoke City and Portsmouth in recent years, both solidly working class clubs with no pretensions of global branding and suchlike. But these are rare exceptions. And yet, away support thrives. It is seen as the last bastion of the good old days. I’m just desperately sad that I have noticed the buzz at home games deteriorate over the past ten years; it sadly shows no signs of abating. The usual reasons for this are instantly recalled; high ticket prices forcing the young and working classes away from the game, a gentrification of support, an aging of support, larger proportions of corporate tickets, over-zealous stewards, fans being displaced so that “singers” are never in the same stand together, an increasing number – at Chelsea especially – of visitors from abroad who decide to take in a Chelsea game while in London, the onset of “day trippers” and the over-riding feeling that the club has a real desire to attract a different class of fan. There is, at Chelsea, the added problem of expectation. Long gone are the days when a simple win was met with unbridled joy. With our continued success, there is an expectation to always win. We, as a club, have become bloated and spoiled. All the reasons are well known. Why did Jose decide to utter publicly what many think privately? I am not sure. Surely it wasn’t an attempt to mask a poor team performance? I’d hate to think that. Maybe Mourinho had thought this for a while and had just decided to “get things off his chest”? He certainly seemed in a foul and irritable mood.
To be honest I think I found his tone a little distasteful; rather than talk openly about the atmosphere being a little quiet and a few words of encouragement, his comments were riddled with sarcasm
He has, however, certainly got us all talking.
Maybe the singing will come later.