Swansea City vs. Chelsea : 17 January 2015.
As I slowly pulled away from the busy roundabout at the bottom of the hill, with the white steel supports of the Liberty Stadium roof still glowing from the floodlights beneath, and with thousands of home fans making their way back to their cars, Jose Mourinho was being interviewed on Radio Five Live, only a few hundreds of yards away. There are times when I wonder if Jose might suddenly lose his composure after being asked yet another clichéd and banal question by those in the media, but I am always impressed how he usually takes a pause, waits, and then simply answers the question truthfully and with ease.
On this occasion, Mourinho stated that the game against Swansea changed within the first minute of play; that goal caused the home team to instantly re-assess their game plan, but it also gave our players belief and self-confidence. And how true this was. Imagine how easier each of our working days would be if we got the equivalent of a goal within the first five minutes of our shift, perhaps in the guise of an email of thanks from a manager, or some good news from a client who had previously made life difficult. With such a lift, everything would become easier and decisions would be made with a greater degree of trust in ourselves and others.
With a goal to the good, and less than a minute on the clock, our working day had begun perfectly.
I had left my home village at around 9am, but was met with snow and then sleet on the drive to collect Parky. The wintry weather reminded me of the occasion of our League Cup semi-final second leg against Swansea City in 2013, when the threat of snow and ice caused me to miss the game – the one featuring the ball boy incident, if anyone had forgotten – in case I ended-up being stranded in my car in darkest Wales. This would be our fourth League match at the Liberty Stadium; it hasn’t been the richest of hunting grounds. Previously there had been two draws and a narrow win.
It was an easy drive into South Wales. Although the Brecon Beacons to the north were dusted with snow, driving conditions were fine. I headed straight into Swansea, but didn’t stop. Rather than spend a couple of hours in a generic city centre hostelry drinking lager out of plastic pint glasses, we had decided to head on out to The Gower. Even though it was the middle of January, we were happy to head off out of the city and spend an hour or two on this peninsula of fine countryside and unspoilt beaches, maybe to do some reconnaissance for that moment when the FA give us an away trip to Swansea in August or May and when we could truly make use of the stunning scenery on offer.
When I was growing up, Wales was close-by. Living in the west of England, our local independent television station – HTV – had a sister station in Wales, and we would often get treated to television programmes in Welsh, perhaps when the TV aerial had managed to be dislodged by half-an-inch or so. We occasionally visited relatives in Llanelli. We holidayed in both South and North Wales – Tenby and Criccieth – and although I loved these coastal resorts, there was still an over-riding feeling that Wales was a dark and moody country. These trips were full of industrial landscapes, deep valleys, impenetrable accents and a subtle dislike by some natives of the English.
On the drive out to our end destination on the Gower – the little village of Port Eynon – I was reminded of another facet of Wales; it always seemed to be raining. The trees were coated in moss, lichen and ivy, the air was damp. I began to doubt the decision of heading further away from the city. However, the scenery was splendid and it reminded me fully of the New Forest in Hampshire. There were even wayward sheep and ponies just roaming the moors, unfettered by anything as organised and English as a hedge or a fence.
We spent an hour or so in The Ship at Port Eynon. I treated myself to a bowl of soup called Welsh Cawl – pronounced “Cow-ul” – and the Peronis went down well. I even meandered out to the beach in order to take a few photographs of the sand dunes and the broad bay. By the time I had returned, Parky had finished his last pint, and it was time to move. The match had hardly been mentioned.
The slow drive back in to the city was increasingly fraught as match-going traffic slowed everything down; eventually, I reached my usual parking place, but with only twenty minutes to spare.
The capacity of the Liberty Stadium is just over 20,000. Therefore, the rules of the Premiership dictate that we only received 2,000 tickets; the ruling is “10% or 3,000 – whichever is smaller.” I have been in the away scheme since 2006-2007, so thankfully I don’t need to go through the rigmarole of applying game-by-game on the club website, the constant inspection of loyalty points and the tedious checking of updates (to say nothing of the box office page crashing on occasion), which is a modern day hell for some fans. As recently as 2004-2005, all of this was much different. Fixtures for the forthcoming season were announced mid-June and it was my anointed task, among my match-going friends – all season ticket-holders – to send a letter off to Chelsea. After a week or so of the new fixtures being studied, mates sent me a list of away games and I simply wrote Chelsea a letter; it was as simple as that. I really can’t remember if many did the same; away games were not so much of a political hot potato in those days. Of course there was a clamour for some tickets, but not every game sold out. In these days of online booking, and immediate confirmation, I just find it odd, looking back, that we could apply for a ticket some nine months in advance. And that Eddie Barnett didn’t lose my letter.
However, I know one thing. I am truly thankful that in the summer of 2004, I applied, in a hand-written letter to the box office at Stamford Bridge, to ask for seven tickets for the Bolton Wanderers vs. Chelsea game on Saturday 30 April 2005.
I reached my seat – towards the rear of the lower tier – just before the game kicked-off.
I was in, alongside Alan and Gary, with around five seconds to spare.
Chelsea in all blue.
Petr in goal, Luis at left-back, Gary in…mmm, who else?
There was just time for me to talk through the team with Gary, when the ball broke after a little early home possession and Oscar was in on goal. I was begging him to curl one, away from the ‘keeper’s clawing leap, towards the right hand post. Instead, he whipped a shot past the ‘keeper into the other corner, and we were 1-0 up on around 45 seconds.
Parky suddenly appeared behind me, and there was much back-slapping, mayhem and mirth.
Rob Brydon : “They’ll have to come sat us now, boyo.”
Dylan Thomas : “Of course they always accuse the Welsh of using too many words, too much emotion, or perhaps too much sentiment, but at this moment in time, with my heart pounding and my body spinning in tumultuous jest, without any fear of contradiction, I can truly say to you – come on my little diamonds.”
“The shot seemed to go through the goalkeeper, Gal.”
Soon after, Sigurdsson came close with a fine shot which clipped our right-hand post. But it was then time for us to totally control the rest of the first-half. Willian and Oscar rifled shots at the Swansea goal, and we played the ball around the entire pitch with tons of confidence. On nineteen minutes, a beautiful move, tight on the edge of the Swansea “D”, eventually found the ridiculously unmarked Diego Costa.
I shrieked – “Gotta be a goal.”
We were now 2-0 up and were laughing.
There had been a fair bit of noise from both home and away fans until this point, but as our domination continued unabated, I sheepishly admitted to Alan “we seem to be safe here…unless we score four or five, I reckon our support will be crap.”
We were treated to the usual “WWYWYWS?” from the home fans in the side stand to our left. Alan reminded me that “WE WERE HERE” in late 1983 when we were happy enough for Swansea to pull our game with them forward a week or so in order for funds to be raised as there was a risk of Swansea going under.
Our breath-taking one touch football – I almost hesitate to use the much-derided phrase tiki-taka – was exceptional. Swansea just couldn’t get the ball from us. Costa shot over, Willian slammed a powerful shot against the post. Then, a suicidal back-pass was seized upon by Costa and he scored from an angle. Soon after, Costa provided Oscar with a goalscoring chance and our Brazilian rifled home.
3-0, then 4-0, bang bang.
To our merriment, one Swansea supporter had decided to dress in a Teletubby “onesie” – why? For the love of God, why? – and then left when his team were losing 0-3.
Who are these people and how are they allowed out in public without a carer?
Then Willian hit the woodwork a second time. Diego Costa was then set up by his partner in crime Fabregas, but he was forced too far wide to shoot and the chance petered out
Alan : “I ain’t seen so much domination since you lent me that dodgy DVD, Gal.”
At half-time, it could have been 7 or 8.
Of course, no surprises, we never lived up to our scintillating performance of the first forty-five minutes after the break. Fair play, though, to the home supporters – or at least the two thousand in that noisy section to our immediate left – who created a wall of noise in the first fifteen minutes of the second half. It irritated the away fans, but I had to tip my hat to them. They were losing 0-4 at home, but they were making a hell of a din.
“Gary Monk’s black and white army.”
Deep-down, very deep-down, I was almost jealous of them.
“Twenty years ago, that would have been us.”
Our support was OK, but if I am honest, it didn’t befit a team still going strong in all four competitions this season.
The changes were rung and the substitutes appeared. Eden Hazard and Oscar went close. A surging run from Hazard set up Branislav Ivanovic, who tee’d up an easy tap in for substitute Andre Schurrle.
Swansea City 0 Chelsea 5.
Another substitute Loic Remy fired in one last shot at the hapless Fabianski, but no more goals were forthcoming, despite the away fans clamouring for six.
It had been an enjoyable match – of course – but it was almost too easy. As we walked back to the car, the game was soon behind us. There would soon be bigger, tougher matches ahead.