Chelsea vs. Bournemouth : 31 January 2018.
After two consecutive cup ties, we were back to the bread and butter of the League and a home game against Eddie Howe’s Bournemouth. We had already beaten them on two occasion thus far in 2017-2018. As we assembled in the pubs, bars and boozers around Stamford Bridge on another cold midweek night, there was a simple hope for three points, while maybe Tottenham and Manchester United could force a draw at Wembley. It was a night when we hoped to narrow the margins in the hunt for second place. As we met up with some friends, there was minimal talk of Emerson Palmieri and Olivier Giroud among our little group.
I once described Giroud – only last season – as “the doyen of every self-obsessed, hipster, bar-scarf wearing, micro-brewery loving, metrosexual, sleeked back hair, bushy bearded and self-righteous Arsenal supporter everywhere.”
I am happy to welcome any player into the fold at Chelsea but be warned that it might take be longer than usual with this player.
Still, I think I felt the same about Mickey Thomas, Graham Roberts and Ashley Cole. And things worked out perfectly well with those three.
The ex-Arsenal target man had appeared as a substitute at Swansea City the previous night, so there was no hope of a George Weah-like appearance from the wings against Bournemouth. I knew nothing of the acquisition from Roma, but hoped that it would give the occasionally jaded Marcos Alonso both cover and competition. Our transfer window had concluded with Michy Batshuayi heading off to Borussia Dortmund on loan. The upshot of all of this was that Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang went from Dortmund to Arsenal.
And there was much wailing.
Fans so used to the club spending millions and millions in recent years were clearly not happy. Maybe we need to accept that we will be a little less-active in the transfer market over the next few seasons while the new stadium takes centre-stage. Initially, it was reported that Roman was going to pay for it himself, but then came news that costs had – surprise, surprise – spiraled and that the club was looking for outside investment. Regardless, we may well see a little austerity at Chelsea for a while, and our aims and aspirations might need to be tempered slightly.
So be it. I’m not going anywhere.
Personally, I was just happy that the latest transfer window was over. It is the time of the season that irritates me to high heaven. It is the mating season for the thousands of FIFA-loving nerds who come to life with all sorts of absurd and unlikely transfer options for our club. At least they will be quiet until the summer.
After another stressful day at work, the lager was hitting the spot in our now regular midweek jaunt down the North End Road. There was a relaxation that comes with being among great friends, old and new. The football was an afterthought. The game was hardly mentioned. It made me realise that there is no need for transfer activity among my friends, bless ‘em.
At the top of the stairs leading into the Matthew Harding Upper, there was a quick chat with Daryl, who had been in one of the pubs, but who I had not really spoken to. We summed up our frustrations with how the club is being run in a succinct and memorable couple of sentences.
“If the club said to us that we were in a rebuilding stage – the stadium and the team – and we were going to stick with the manager through all of it, I don’t think there would be many complaints. We’d aim to consolidate – top four, top six, whatever – and there would be some notion of a plan.”
“That we could all buy into. Yes!”
If ever we needed a five or ten year plan it was now.
The rumours surrounding the manager would not go away, but in all honesty I try to ignore them. I rarely buy a paper these days. I do not suck at the nipple of Sky Sports News. I just concentrate on showing up at Chelsea games and try to support the lads in royal blue. I am tired of the rumours. I am tired of the negativity. I am tired of the bullshit. I am tired of the over-analysis. I am tired of the same old same old. I am tired of the nonsense. I am just tired of it all.
Clearly the manager is a decent coach and he has seemed a decent man over the time that he has been in charge. His last four domestic seasons have resulted in three championships for Juventus of Turin and one for Chelsea of London; this is no mean feat. And yet he has shown signs of frustration in recent months, and I would surmise that this is as a direct result of the atmosphere present in the club. Of course, nobody really knows how or why decisions are made among the corridors of power at Stamford Bridge and at Cobham, but my guess is that everything leads to uncertainty and doubt.
It was against the backdrop of rumour and counter-rumour that we assembled for the Bournemouth match. The team had been announced and without the injured Alvaro Morata, the loaned Michy Batshuayi and the unavailable Olivier Giroud, the manager was forced to play a team with no focal point.
Azpilicueta – Christensen – Cahill
Zappacosta – Kante – Bakayoko – Alonso
Barkley – Hazard – Pedro
On the front cover of the programme were Eden and N’Golo, bearing a “Say No To Antisemitism” message. There was a large banner being held in the centre-circle for a good fifteen minutes before the teams took to the field. I looked over to the West Stand and spotted that Roman Abramovich’s personal bodyguard was stood in the back row of his box.
“Blimey, Roman is here” I chirped to Alan.
Alan replied that it was probably to do with the anti-Semitism theme for the night.
Yes, it probably was. And I saw no issue with that. While there are still morons who sing about Auschwitz following the club, there has to be a desire to remind everyone of this message. I just wished that Roman would appear at more than a handful of games these days. We need leadership, however understated. Lo and behold, on page five of the programme, the owner had written a personal message about his desire to “create a club that is welcoming to everyone.”
The teams entered the pitch and they were forced to walk around the large circular banner, just as on a Champions League night.
Under a clear night sky – getting colder by the minute – a full moon appeared over the East Stand and it continued its arc as the game progressed. It was, apparently, a Super Blue Moon. In the spirit of the age, I wondered if this was the hallmark of an advertising guru, a brand salesman, taking nature to the next level.
“Get your Super Blue Moon sweatshirts, brochures and DVDs here.”
Nathan Ake appeared in the Milan-esque red and black of the visitors. I caught his wide smile on camera as he shook hands with former players.
As the players broke and sprinted to their respective ends, the Matthew Harding Lower roared –
“We Hate Tottenham.”
It seemed to be a reaction to the theme of the night.
The game began. Around 1,400 away fans. Ross Barkley in his league debut looked a bit lively at the start. Once or twice an early ball was pushed through to the attacking three. With our usual way of playing tending to resemble a game of chess of late, I have often harped on to Alan of late how I would like to see us mix things up a little, knocking the occasional early ball over the top, to encourage uncertainty in an opposition defence.
“Do they drop back, do they push up? Let’s mess with their heads. Let’s do things that they aren’t expecting.”
It was a rather timid and uneventful start to the game in all honesty. There was a desire from all of the front three to “make things happen” but with no real end result. The game moved on and the atmosphere was as timid as the action on the pitch. The away fans were soon having a dig.
“Is this The Emirates?”
I wanted the Matthew Harding to sing “Roman, give us a song.”
On nineteen minutes, the spectators applauded the memory of young Chelsea season ticket holder Jack Winter who had sadly passed away recently. A banner was held aloft in The Shed Upper.
There was a sublime piece of skill down below us in The Sleepy Hollow. A Bournemouth move had developed but there was a split second when the ball was equidistant from a few players. N’Golo Kante appeared to feint a challenge, and the Bournemouth player took the bait. The ball remained loose, in no man’s land, and Kante collected it, adeptly side-stepping a challenge and moving the ball on with the minimum of fuss. From there, a lovely move developed, with some excellent movement throughout the team. The ball was moved up the field and I watched in awe. The ball was played in from the right with a Zappacross but the ball was routinely hoofed clear. It was the highlight of the match thus far.
Bournemouth threatened occasionally.
This wasn’t much of a match.
With twenty-five minutes gone, we were sad to see Andreas Christensen leave the pitch – a strain of some description? – and our young starlet was replaced by Antonio Rudiger.
Things momentarily improved as Gary Cahill headed onto the top of the net from a corner. A cross from Alonso would undoubtedly have been perfection itself if a tall central striker been lurking; Hazard failed to connect. There was some occasionally pleasing play from Barkley. Alonso shaped to volley at the far post but a team mate chose to attack the ball too. The Spaniard headed wide just after.
As first-halves go, it was as poor as I had seen for a while. It was all very humdrum. Was this a sign of tiredness? This was the ninth game in January.
At the break, Neil Barnett introduced the two new acquisitions Palmieri and Giroud.
I applauded, just.
With that, the Super Blue Moon disappeared from my view as it hid above the West Stand roof.
As a metaphor for the evening’s events, it was pretty much spot on.
There was very little Super Blue about the game’s second forty-five minutes.
With us attacking the Matthew Harding, there was hope for a goal when Marcos Alonso steadied himself for a strike on the Bournemouth goal from a free-kick. It was close, but not close enough and Asmir Begovic was not called into action.
After just six minutes gone in the second period, Bournemouth sauntered through alarming gaps in our defence and the lively Callum Wilson slotted home. Ugh. We watched as the away team celebrated at the far end in front of the Cherries away support. This goal somehow inspired the Chelsea faithful to get behind the team.
“COME ON CHELSEA. COME ON CHELSEA. COME ON CHELSEA. COME ON CHELSEA.”
The noise generated from the supporters in the same stand as me brought me great pleasure. This was what supporting a team is all about. In adversity, noise. Great stuff.
Conte chose to replace Barkley – an uninspiring debut – with Cesc Fabregas. We hoped for a little more ingenuity and guile. The fans were still getting behind the team.
And then the lads and lasses in The Shed let me down.
They goaded the away fans with “Champions of England, you’ll never sing that.”
This was AFC Bournemouth here. They were in the bottom tier in 2010. Their ground holds less than 12,000. Truly, truly pathetic.
There seemed to be a tangible improvement in our play. Eden huffed and puffed and tried his best, but often ran into a wall of red and black. Antonio Rudiger crossed low but there was nobody in a danger area to tap home. We obviously missed a target man. A lovely ball found Eden, who forced a save, but was flagged offside anyway.
On sixty-four minutes, we went further behind. Bournemouth cut through our stagnant defence and Junior Stanislas slotted home after racing away from Cahill.
The away players again celebrated in front of their supporters.
I then spent a few seconds watching, with increasing incredulity, as the Chelsea team walked back to their positions for the restart. Their body language was awful. They walked slowly, heads mainly down, silent. I focused on Gary Cahill. He did not speak. He did not talk to his fellow players. He did not engage with them. He did not encourage them. He did nothing to endear himself to me.
He simply dropped to his knees and tied his bootlaces.
For fuck sake, Gary.
I popped down to have a moan with Big John who shares the same opinions as me on many facets of supporting this great club.
“Shocking. No leadership.”
The manager brought on Callum Hudson-Odoi – wearing the very iconic number seventy, a Chelsea number if ever there was – to take the place of Zappacosta.
Just after, a run by Stanislas was not stopped and his low shot was touched past Courtois by Ake.
Chelsea 0 Bournemouth 3.
I have to be honest, our defence at this time looked blown to smithereens. We were all over the place. But by the same token, this didn’t seem like a 0-3 game. They had simply taken their chances, whereas we had not enjoyed a cutting edge to our play and therefore – no real surprises – our attack was blunted. The rest of the game was played out against a decreasing amount of home supporters. There were tons of Super Blue seats on show with each passing minute.
We had a couple of late efforts, but the game petered out.
Ironically, the noisiest few salvos of support during the entire game occurred right towards the end of the match with thousands scurrying out to their respective homes.
On ninety-two minutes, Stamford Bridge roared.
“CAREFREE. WHEREVER YOU MAY BE. WE ARE THE FAMOUS CFC.”
I roared along with the rest. Bloody hell that felt good. It reminded me of years gone by when we made some noise irrespective of on-field glory.
I suppose that there were only around ten thousand – probably many less – present as the game came to its conclusion. It would be easy for me to make some comment about the fans who chose to leave early. That might upset a few people, eh? I am not so sure I care too much. Imagine if the game had finished with no fans present. What sort of message would that give the world?
So, yes. I stayed to the end.
However, you can be sure that there were a few Chelsea fans who would be making some snide remarks about “new fans” and “plastic fans” and “tourists” being the ones who left early. I am not so sure. There is a bit of a myth that “old school” supporters have always supported the team through thick, thin and thinner. Although we have enjoyed some fantastic periods of support, not always have Chelsea packed Stamford Bridge to the rafters in the way that we do know.
Think back to 1994, long before Stamford Bridge was inundated with tourists, day-trippers, new fans and the moneyed classes.
We had reached our very first cup final – the FA Cup no less – in twenty-two years. In our second-from last home game of the season, we played Coventry City on a Wednesday night, a mere ten days before our date with Manchester United at Wembley Stadium. Our capacity at Stamford Bridge that season – no North terrace – was around 29,000. Was our stadium packed to the rafters on that Wednesday evening, cheering the boys on to a fine finish to the season ahead of the Cup Final?
No. The gate was just 8,923.
We have come a long way, for better and for worse, for richer and for poorer, in the past few decades.
On the drive home, all was quiet. We didn’t even bother to listen to the rest of the results. I was sure, though, that the bitching and the moaning was lighting up the internet. And I am so fucking tired of all that too.
See you at Watford on Monday.