Chelsea vs. Bournemouth : 5 December 2015.
Alan, Glenn and myself were in the stadium far earlier than normal. After the sad loss of our dear friend Tom on Friday 27 November, whose season ticket was right next to our line of three, we had planned to mark this first home game without him with a small floral tribute. Glenn and I were the last to arrive at seats 369 to 371 in row D of the upper tier of the Matthew Harding. Alan, who had arranged with a florist outside Fulham Broadway to assemble a fitting bouquet, had already secured the flowers to Tom’s seat.
It was around five o’clock and Stamford Bridge was only just starting to fill up. There were probably less than a few thousand inside and the stadium was still. In our little section of the wraparound, housing maybe five hundred seats, there were only forty or fifty inside. It seemed right that we had the time and the space to ourselves. All three of us took a photograph of the blue and white flowers, and the hand-written note from Alan. A few friends came over to pay their respects. Alan used his mobile ‘phone to send a couple of photographs of the bouquet to Tom’s daughter. Although Tom’s last appearance at Stamford Bridge was back in May when we were presented with the 2014/2015 trophy, and his seat has been unused this season, there was a huge sadness as we looked down on his seat, knowing that we would never see him at Chelsea again. Alan’s words were chosen well.
As the stadium filled up, and as the players appeared down below us on the floodlit turf, our thoughts slowly turned towards the early evening game with newly-promoted Bournemouth. On the drive up to London, we had agreed that our form was slowly improving and we should be able to harvest nine points out of the home games in December against three of the lesser teams in the division.
“Two tough away games, but maybe a little run. There’s a little bunching ahead of us, so we could easily get up in to the top half by the New Year. And then push on.”
It definitely felt, especially after a well-fought point at Tottenham, that the worst was behind us.
Pre-match had been a little different. While Parky and PD joined up with the usual suspects in “The Goose”, Glenn and I had decided to meet up with Dave for a cheeky Peroni or two and some nosh at Salvo’s restaurant on Old Brompton Road. We met up with Dave in “The Pembroke” but all was not well. Dave reluctantly told us that Salvo’s restaurant – “Dall’Artista” – was closed. My heart sank. We had not visited it this season, but I was truly saddened that there would be no more visits, no more laughs with the owner, no more fun. We have been visiting it since around 2003. Countless Chelsea fans – and friends – have accompanied us. How many? Maybe a hundred. Many from the United States. It really was a home from home for us. Tons of memories. What a great place.
And then my thoughts wandered. I hoped and prayed that Salvo, now in his late ‘sixties for sure, was OK.
We still decided to have a bite to eat, and chose a relatively new restaurant nearby – “The Bottlery” – where, after a very tasty meal and another lager, I was relieved to hear that Salvo was fine. He had just decided to move on. He might have even headed back to his home town in Italy. We were relieved. I just didn’t want any more bad news in 2015.
Dave and Glenn joined the others in The Goose.
My pre-match was still gathering pace. I headed down to the stadium, through the eerie Gothic majesty of West Brompton Cemetery, to meet up with Beth, who heads up the Chelsea In America supporters group. As an aside, Beth had visited Salvo’s with us after a game at Arsenal in 2009 I seem to remember. One of many. Beth presented me with my honorary CIA membership card for the season and we had a little chat. Back in 2006/2007, after getting to meet many of the US-based fans at a Chelsea game in Chicago, I decided to start detailing a few Chelsea tales on the Chelsea In America bulletin board. Ad hoc postings after games – sometimes a few sentences, sometimes several paragraphs – eventually lead to a weekly match report, which people seemed to like, and the positive feedback gave me the impetus to create this current website. Beth, from Texas, and Andy, from Michigan, encouraged me in those early seasons to get my own personal blog up-and-running, and I am grateful for their support.
This is my 381st consecutive match report.
You don’t like it?
Blame Beth and Andy.
In The Goose, alongside my mates, it was clear that many a boozy session had taken place. The team news came through in a sudden rush of Facebook alerts.
“Hazard playing as a false nine again. Costa sub.” It had worked really well at Tottenham, but playing without a recogniseable striker – or at least a target man, a finisher, a “presence” – was, well, odd.
Thibaut Courtois was back between the sticks, but strangely Dave was not playing.
Glenn and I popped into “The Malt House” en route to the game for a quick livener before heading on to join up with Alan. There were positive noises being made about our recent improvements. Glenn – excited like an eight year old – was a little wobbly as we walked along the Fulham Road and it reminded me of his lurching walk towards a certain stadium in Germany in May 2012, bless him.
Outside by the West Stand entrance, stood a Christmas tree, bedecked in blue and white.
We had heard that Stoke City had defeated Manchester City 2-0.
Oh this crazy season.
Just before the 5.30pm kick-off, the Stamford Bridge floodlights were extinguished, leaving only the smaller marker lights of the balconies. The grass became strangely lusher, the stadium more dramatic. The teams entered the pitch. The three thousand away fans were already in their seats, whereas there were many late arrivals in the home areas.
After a very encouraging start, with the ball being played quickly between our attacking four – Oscar, Willian, Pedro, Hazard – we had to be grateful for two blocks from the recalled Courtois. They were easily the best two chances of the game thus far and gave us food for thought. As the half continued, Bournemouth did not threaten our goal quite as much, yet certainly made life very difficult for us with their desire to close down space.
At last, a shot on target. Eden Hazard cut in from the right and forced a fine save from Artur Boruc. Soon after, Pedro – flitting about, looking to get involved – advanced and steered a shot towards the far post. Boruc again saved well. As the game wore on, I was having to re-evaluate my hopes for the evening. This would clearly not be as easy a game as I had hoped.
The atmosphere was pretty dire. The away fans were heard. Only occasionally did the home support rouse itself.
At half-time, I had a quick word with the Chelsea Supporters Trust chairman Tim, who sits a few rows behind us, regarding the recent planning proposal for our new stadium which was submitted to the local council. On the Friday evening, I had flitted through some of the incredibly comprehensive diagrams and associated design details; I was very impressed indeed. The level of information available to access is breath-taking, but so too is the research that the architects – and the club – have obviously undertaken.
I have said it before, but the new stadium looks a winner.
I was especially pleased to note that the “corporate” middle tier, will only be so in the new East and West Stands. Behind both goals, there will be three tiers of general seating, thus hopefully enabling some noise to be generated. I also noted that the away fans will be split in to three tiers – see my comments about Manchester City away this season – but this section will move over to the west side of The Shed, where the Bovril Gate will act as a separate entrance for away fans. This seems to be a common sense approach.
In fact, the entire planning proposal is full of sense, from the Chelsea insignia detail on the brickwork, to the use of every spare inch of space, to the iconic and unique design.
I heartily recommend taking a peek.
On the pitch, former centre-forward Steve Finnieston was walking the pitch with Neil Barnet. After Neil did the introduction, “Jock” grabbed the microphone and began an increasingly manic monologue involving name-checking many Chelsea supporters in the four stands. He didn’t want to stop. This seemed to go on for minutes on end. It was one of the great half-time shows. Who needs Janet Jackson’s nipples when we have Jock Finnieston and his ramshackle ramblings? He would probably still be talking now if it wasn’t for the second-half.
Ah, the second-half. Do I have to?
Jose decided to replace the very quiet Oscar with Diego Costa. With us attacking the Matthew Harding goal, scene of many a second-half deluge over the years, we hoped that a bona fide striker inside the box would pay off.
However, a rasping drive from Matt Richie – who? – just cleared our goal, and again I wondered if I had to rethink my hopes for the day.
Our first real chance of the second-half followed a corner from Willian. The ball flew off a near post head towards the waiting Matic, but the ball came too quick for him to react. The header flew over. A penalty appeal for handball on a sliding Simon Francis – who? – was waved away. The portents were not looking good. To be honest, we were dominating possession throughout the second-half. However, I lost count of the number of times that crosses were admirably whipped in by Ivanovic and even Baba, but with no threat inside the penalty area. Further back, Matic and Fabregas were very poor.
Only rarely did the home support rally behind the team. Despite all the possession, there was rising levels of anxiety at our lack of a killer punch. One ridiculously optimistic effort from Ivanovic almost went out for a throw-in. Our much troubled Serbian was having a pretty reasonable game in all honesty, and his constant jaunts up the right touchline resulted in many good crosses. Willian too – of course – was constant movement, and how we wished that others could replicate his touch and drive. Hazard, often marked by three players, was struggling and Pedro was tiring. Fabregas and Matic were simply not involved.
With around ten minutes to go, and after a very rare foray by Bournemouth in to our half, we conceded a corner.
Stamford Bridge tensed up.
I leant forward and whispered to the lads in front –
“Here we go. Corner. Far post.”
It seemed that the entire crowd was besieged by the same fear.
The ball was swung over. Courtois flapped and the ball dropped to a Bournemouth player, who clipped the ball back towards the other post. In a scene that seems to have become oh-so familiar over the years, a seemingly unmarked Bournemouth player – Glenn Murray, who? – headed home. I leant back and sighed.
We were losing 1-0 at home to A bloody F bloody C Bournemouth.
Jose replaced Baba with Traore, Fabregas with Remy.
It was no good.
Our play went to pieces, and our support started to go home.
At the final whistle, there were boos from some home areas, though not from Alan, nor Glenn, nor myself.
As I edged out of my seat, I reached over and touched the empty seat next to where Glenn had been sitting.
“God bless Tom.”
I spoke with a clearly miserable Long Tall Pete out on the Fulham Road, who could not fathom why Mourinho had not played with a striker in a home match.
“4-4-2, Costa and Remy.”
I had to agree.
Back in the car, after the initial flurry of moans from all four of us, I soon headed home. I am usually quite sanguine and philosophical after such defeats, but on this occasion I really was pretty low. This was a game that we should have won easily, yet our deficiencies were exposed once again. There had been little fight from any of our players – perhaps one exception, the redoubtable Willian – and it left me jaded, upset and confused. As Gaspar, Balthasar and Melchior slept for virtually the entire trip back to the West Country, I was left with my thoughts.
“Porto. Wednesday. We simply have to win that fucker.”