Chelsea vs. Watford : 4 January 2015.
This was a rather dull F.A. Cup draw. With many potentially unusual away trips up for grabs – Rochdale, Dover Athletic, Cambridge United, Yeovil Town, plus a nice selection of others – the hands of fate gave us a rather tedious home draw against Watford. At least, on paper anyway, there was a very good chance for us to progress in the competition.
This was another “rest day” for me. Glenn very kindly took his turn to drive. On the journey to Stamford Bridge we were chatting about all sorts of stuff in the front two seats of Glenn’s camper van, while Oscar Parksorius was relaxing in the back, headphones on, listening to Clodagh Rodgers’ Greatest Hits. We updated each other with what has been happening in our lives since the last time we had the chance to speak, and football was only occasionally spoken about. After the heavy loss at Tottenham, we only skirted over a few related topics.
“I wish this was a league game today mate. It would give the players a chance to make up for Thursday and get some points on the board.”
We briefly spoke about the occasional rumours about expansion plans at Stamford Bridge.
“To be honest, there’s a fair bit of space behind the West Stand even now. It’s not out of the question to build some support pillars on the forecourt and slap an extra twenty rows on the top tier. If you look at Manchester United, Celtic or even Manchester City, their stands are higher than ours. That could add another five or six thousand seats. Then the same thing on the Matthew Harding. We could be up to 55,000 with not too much inconvenience.”
While Parky slid off in to The Goose, Glenn and I made tracks for the stadium. It was a bitterly cold day. However, I had warm memories of almost exactly five years ago to the day. On Sunday 3rd. January 2010, we were also drawn at home against Watford in the third round of the Football Association Challenge Cup. The day also marked my mother’s eightieth birthday and so I treated her to a couple of days in London, culminating in the game on the Sunday. It would be, I am sure, my dear Mum’s last trip to Stamford Bridge since she is now suffering with arthritis and is unable to walk. We had a lovely time; we had a meal at Salvo’s on the Saturday and stayed at the Copthorne Hotel, met a few players from the ‘seventies, Chelsea won 5-0, a friend bought Mum a cup of tea at half-time and we ended the day with pie and chips in a café on the North End Road. I even caught Mum singing along during the game. Perfect.
Glenn and I met up with a few friends in the same hotel foyer this time around too. The Christmas tree was still up and there was still a lovely festive feel. I had a chat with Tommy Baldwin, who was playing for Chelsea in my very first game in 1974 against Newcastle United. There were also a few laughs with Gary Chivers, who scored one of the goals of the season during the 1980-1981 season, again against The Geordies.
We then walked back to The Goose, via a quick stop at The Wellington, to join up with the troops, who were in the middle of a lively pre-match. The Tottenham match was discussed at greater length and not everyone was of exactly the same opinion. We all agreed, though, that Eden Hazard shone like a beacon on that most dismal of evenings.
Watford were going to be cheered on by around six thousand, just like in 2010, and so Parky was dutifully moved elsewhere. His ticket was in the West Upper, so I volunteered to swap seats with him, allowing me the chance to watch – and photograph – the game from a different angle, while he didn’t have to scramble up ten flights of stairs. Parky would watch alongside Alan and Gary in the MHU.
It is a fantastic view from row seven of the upper tier of the West Stand at Stamford Bridge – my seat was padded and there were red hot heaters blowing warming air towards me from underneath the stand roof – but the whole experience left me stone cold sober. I know that I bemoan the lack of atmosphere at many games these days, cursing the inhabitants of the West Upper at regular intervals for their reluctance to support, but being stranded amid thousands of so-called supporters sitting in almost complete silence is such a depressing experience.
I’m 49 now, well past the exuberant days of my youth, when I used to return from games involving Chelsea with sore throats due to endless chanting. I’m a quiet chap outside of a football stadium, but the emotion of watching my team play has always resulted in me getting involved; singing, chanting, smiling, laughing, chatting to the person next to me, “supporting.”
To be dumped among thousands who don’t do the same was just horrible; if I can help it, I won’t venture there again. I absolutely dread to think what it must be like to have season tickets up there. And let me say that the vast majority of spectators who were in my section were from the UK, so there can be no lazy stereotyping about “bloody tourists.”
In his autobiography entitled “The Clown Prince Of Soccer”, former Sunderland centre-forward Len Shackleton memorably devoted an entire chapter entitled “The average director’s knowledge of football.”
It consisted of a blank page.
I could pen something as equally scathing entitled “My great memories watching Chelsea from the West Upper.”
To be honest, to add to the silent gloom, it wasn’t a very good first-half at all.
Jose Mourinho had rung the changes, as expected, and our team lined up with Petr in goal, a back four of Dave, Gary, Kurt and Filipe, Ramires and Mikel holding, the attacking three of Andre, Oscar and Loic, with the talismanic Didier alone up front. We enjoyed tons of possession, but were unable to break down the Watford defence. It was slow, slow stuff.
To my right, the away fans, were hardly making a great deal of noise themselves, but one song kept repeating and repeating and repeating –
“Mourinho’s right, your fans are shite.”
From my lofty perch in the West Upper, I agreed.
All around me, there was silence. I had been buoyed by fellow spectators joining in with The Liquidator before the game – positive signs – but once the game commenced, there was nothing. And I mean nothing. Not only were the people around me not singing, neither were they clapping. In fact, the vast majority of them were not even talking.
On the half hour mark, Didier came close with a header, but the Watford ‘keeper Bond clawed it away. Naturally, I leaped to my feet and clapped, offering the team some encouragement. I sprang up, then realised that everyone else had remained seated. Out of devilment, I quickly scanned the entire tier – to my left, to my right, behind – and I spotted only one person who had jumped to their feet, too.
Two out of four thousand.
Welcome to my world, 2015.
Of course, the Watford team are now managed by former Chelsea midfielder Slavisa Jokanovic, whose performances in a royal blue shirt, under the then new manager Claudio Ranieri, drew derision from the Chelsea regulars. Before Claudio affectionately won us over, Jokanovic was the dithering Ranieri’s poster boy.
To say that he was disliked would be an understatement. We just couldn’t work out what he brought to the team. He was a tall, but relatively frail defensive midfielder who was slow and ponderous. His performance at Derby in 2001 is, sadly, one of the worst Chelsea performances ever. We nicknamed him The Joker. In typical moments of self-deprecation, when we were struggling, we chanted his name, but I am not sure he got the joke.
We certainly didn’t.
People who moan about Mikel in 2015 should have seen The Joker in 2001.
In light of the poor first-half, Jose “went for it” at half-time. Oscar and Schurrle were replaced by Diego Costa and Willian.
Yes – Didier Drogba, Diego Costa, Loic Remy were all on the pitch.
However, the visitors came close after ten minutes when a shot from Deeney was deflected by Filipe Luis and narrowly screwed past the post. In my eyes, Cech got a final touch, but I may be mistaken.
Thankfully, we took the lead soon after. A rampaging Costa fed the ball to Remy who passed to Willian. He curled a delightful shot past the Watford custodian.
One nil to us.
Alan, Matthew Harding Upper : “THTCAUN.”
Chris, West Upper : “COMLD.”
Soon after, a shot from Didier was blocked, but Remy readjusted his body to volley home. How he celebrated that one.
Three minutes later, Azpilicueta sent over a fine cross, which was met by a great leap by Kurt Zouma, and his perfectly placed header flew in to the Watford net. It was a goal which had capped a fine performance by the young central defender. Nathan Ake replaced Didier with ten minutes to go. Diego Costa struck the base of a post with a viciously whipped free-kick, but the score remained 3-0.
After meeting up with the chaps back in the van, I sadly relayed my experiences in the lofty heights of the West Stand.
“You know what I was saying about putting another five thousand in the West Upper? Forget it.”