Southampton vs. Chelsea : 14 April 2018.
We were back at St. Mary’s for another Southampton vs. Chelsea match. An easy away game for most Chelsea fans, I haven’t missed a game at their new stadium, going all of the way back to the first match in August 2001. It seems like Southampton have always been in the top division, but they were out of it from 2005/2006 to 2012/2013. Our opponents, under new manager Mark Hughes, were entrenched in the relegation mire. Going into the game, we all agreed that this was a match that we surely had to win. Of course, we were in an awful run of form too. But we had to win it. We just had to. On the following Sunday, at Wembley, there would be an F. A. Cup semi-final against Southampton too. Wins in both games were so important, for reasons that are too obvious to spend too much time talking about.
The 12.30pm kick-off meant that there was little time for any lengthy pre-match drink. There were five of us in the Chuckle Bus, and it was Young Jake’s first visit to St. Mary’s with Chelsea. On the short drive down to Southampton, he asked a few questions about Southampton’s old ground The Dell. Over the past few weeks, I have added a new feature to this website in which I have posted seventy photographs – so far – of the changing face of Stamford Bridge.
As a way of explaining how unique The Dell was, I include a few photographs here – two from 1994/1995, one from 1995/1996 and three from 1996/1997 – and it certainly brings back some memories.
It is perhaps hard to believe, but these are the only away games that I saw at The Dell. Tickets always seemed to be difficult to get hold off in the days before I became a season-ticket holder, and a few of us only managed to get tickets for the latter two games via Matthew Le Tissier, who went to school in Guernsey with my pal Neil. The Dell was intimate alright. And it was nestled in among leafy streets and semi-detached houses, with no floodlight pylons to indicate a football stadium was in the vicinity. It would have been quite possible to have walked within twenty yards of The Dell and not realise that it was there. As an old romantic who dotes on stadia which are no longer with us, I miss The Dell.
St. Mary’s – a mile or so further east – is one of many bland and boring football stadia that have appeared over the past twenty years. I am sure many of Southampton’s supporters are annoyed that the close and intimate feel to The Dell has not at least been attempted at their new stadium. A more spacious stadium with a larger footprint equates to more income though.
I battled my way through the massed ranks of the Chelsea supporters in the dark concourse beneath the Northam Stand and headed up the steps into the seats.
“World In Motion” was on the PA, a fine choice.
It was soon apparent that I needed to take my coat off. It was already a warm afternoon, and we were not far from the front. It was fantastic to see Alan at a game, his arm still in a sling after his broken shoulder caused him to miss a few games. As Parky arrived on the scene, he noted one of his favourites from a few decades ago.
“The Saints Are Coming” by The Skids.
The PA announcer urged the home crowd to “wave your flags” and “make some noise.”
I looked around and was pleased to see that hardly a seat in our section was unoccupied. Despite a dip in form since Christmas, the loyal three thousand had continued to attend each and every away game. This was reassuring to see.
Azpilicueta – Christensen – Cahill
Zappacosta – Fabregas – Kante – Alonso
Willian – Morata – Hazard
As ever, Saints had two from “Munich” – Ryan Bertrand (their captain, in fact) and Oriel Romeu.
The first-half was a pretty depressing affair. We controlled much of the game but without seriously testing the Southampton ‘keeper Alex McCarthy. Southampton’s attacks were rare. We poked a few balls into their penalty box, but there was no dynamism and little threat. Again there was a tendency to over-elaborate. On more than one occasion I was heard to yell “shoot” to Willian, Kante and Hazard, amongst others. I didn’t remember hearing it against Tottenham nor West Ham, but there was a rousing rendition of “Antonio, Antonio, Antonio” not long into the game, and our manager responded briefly with a clap towards us. I looked over at him, aware that many fans have commented that he has not seemed anywhere as involved as last season. I spotted him, and he did show some level of engagement, urging the players on. But what a difference a year makers. Last year he was our leader, our charismatic manager, full of calmness and charm, and he became only our fourth championship-winning manager. I suspect we will never know the full extent of what has happened in the corridors of power at Stamford Bridge and Cobham in the intervening twelve months, but I can never forget his role last season. It ultimately saddens me to read and hear what some sections of our fans think of Antonio Conte now.
On around twenty minutes, a rapid break down our right flank which involved Ryan Bertrand caught us unawares. Our former left-back managed to race past Cesar Azpilicueta and clip a perfect pass back to Dusan Tadic from just inside the penalty box. Tadic was on his own, with Marcos Alonso trailing, and the Serbian rolled the ball in. The home crowd found their voice at last, and our heads in the away end dropped.
A typical piece of nonsense from Courtois annoyed us all. Instead of hoofing a ball clear, he ludicrously played it square to Dave, who was soon charged down right on the edge of the box. It was lucky that nothing more came of it. There had been similar foolishness from our lofty Belgian earlier; suffice to say he is not flavour of the month at the moment. However, he made amends with a double-save just before the break.
I remember saying to Gal :
“If a person who had never seen this sport was here today, they would think that the main objective of the game was to give the fellows in blue shirts out on the edge of the pitch the ball as often as possible.”
Alonso and Zappacosta must have had more touches than anyone.
A couple of Chelsea long-shots were deflected high and over the Southampton cross-bar as the half ended.
At half-time, with the sun beating down on the front section of the away terrace, there was a noticeable melancholy and lethargy as I looked around at my fellow supporters. It looked to me that we were almost resigned to yet another league defeat.
It seemed that we were at a low ebb.
Whether or not a few hundred half-time pints helped loosen inhibitions, but the second-half began with a fantastic barrage of noise cascading towards our players from the away section. One song dominated. It was a chant that I have always looked on as an away game speciality, and during the second-half of away games too. To the tune of “Amazing Grace.”
“CHELSEA. CHELSEA. CHELSEA. CHELSEA.
CHELSEA. CHELSEA. CHELSEA.
CHELSEA. CHELSEA. CHELSEA. CHELSEA.
CHELSEA. CHELSEA. CHELSEA.”
And we repeated it over and over and over.
I joined in, we kept it going, and I realised that I had not really sung too much up until then. My throat was so sore, so painful, but I kept going, just like in days of yore. All around me, others kept it going. It was life-affirming stuff. The chant went on and on. And it made me proud. Call me old-fashioned, but this is a mark of a true supporter. We might be supported, or followed, by millions around the world, but they’re worth nothing to me if they ever attend a Chelsea match and don’t sing and shout with all their might in games when the team needs it. Years ago, I often used to sing until I was hoarse. It used to happen to me all the time. Very often, perhaps following an evening game, I would appear at work the next day with my voice shot to pieces.
“Go to Chelsea last night, Chris?”
And I would nod.
The singing continued.
“YOU ARE MY CHELSEA.
MY ONLY CHELSEA.
YOU MAKE ME HAPPY WHEN SKIES ARE GREY.”
How this pleased me. I was hoping that my pals watching at home would hear us. The Chelsea of old. Underperforming but singing on.
“COME ON CHELSEA. COME ON CHELSEA. COME ON CHELSEA.”
I had a second wind now, and my throat wasn’t hurting quite so much. A couple of shots from Hazard and Willian hinted at better things.
And then it all went Pete Tong.
On an hour, a long free-kick from James Ward-Prowse looked like missing everyone, but it landed past the far post and was remarkably volleyed home by Jan Bednarek, whoever he is.
The crowd roared again and the Southampton players raced over to the far corner. I looked around and spotted a few empty seats in our section. Maybe they had disappeared off to turn their bikes around, but I suspected that the lure of Southampton’s city centre pubs was too much for some. Almost immediately, my admiration of my fellow fan took a battering. Several began singing “we’re fucking shit” and I just turned around and gave the perpetrators a Premium Class A Glower.
I was inwardly fuming.
The manager made some changes.
Pedro for Zappacosta.
Giroud for Morata.
There was, apparently, a change in shape but I was too busy in supporting the team to notice. There seemed to be an immediate reaction. On seventy minutes, Alonso delivered an early ball into the Saints’ box from a relatively deep position. Giroud used all of his physical strength to get to the ball before his marker and he headed the ball firmly down and past McCarthy.
Southampton 2 Chelsea 1.
The away crowd roared, and we were – unbelievably – back in it. A clenched fist from Giroud signalled his intent.
Just four minutes later, Willian jinked into the box from the Chelsea left. His low bouncing ball across the box found the unmarked Hazard. His first touch killed the ball dead, and there was a beautiful moment of anticipation – I always call it a Platini moment after his touch in the 1984 European Championships set up a slight delay in the eventual shot – before he slammed it home.
Now we really celebrated.
Southampton 2 Chelsea 2.
“A Bishop Desmond.”
All eyes were on Eden as he raced back. He turned and pointed towards the badge. A little moment that made me think a million things at once.
“That might shut the people up who think you are off.”
“But a lot of fans want you to “Quote-unquote” fuck-off to Madrid anyway.”
“Easy to point at the badge, wonder what you really think.”
“Don’t you dare disappear off to Madrid after pointing at the badge.”
“Just crack on, less of the nonsense, and work hard for a winner.”
After just another three more minutes, we were awarded a free-kick in prime Willian territory. Rather than play the ball in towards the players assembling in the box, he played it out to Hazard. A dink into the box was headed up by Alonso under pressure, then it was Christensen’s’s turn to keep the ball alive with another header. The ball fell towards none other than Giroud.
We inhaled and prepared to yell.
He slammed it home.
I brought my camera down momentarily and yelled along with three thousand others.
I then caught the slide from Giroud just as a photographer at the other end did the same, and – not for the first time this season – the photograph would later find its way onto the official Chelsea website. And there I am, still and focused among the lunacy, next to Gary and Parky, who ended up with a bump on his head after the bloke behind him landed on top of him. Look at the joy on our faces.
Ecstasy in the away end.
Southampton 2 Chelsea 3.
What a comeback.
“Two nil and you fucked it up” echoed around the stadium. I was amazed how a few of our players kept a straight face.
There was still time for a couple of fine Courtois saves – making amends for his earlier brain dead indiscretions – but we held on. With four minutes remaining, Victor Moses replaced Eden Hazard. Many fans in the away end serenaded Eden with his own song.
“EDEN. EDEN EDEN. EDEN EDEN. EDEN EDEN HAZARD.”
I turned around and barked “you two-faced bastards.”
I was half-serious.
Gary laughed anyway.
We bounced out of the ground, just happy to see Chelsea win an unlikely game of football. We tried to remember the last time that we had come back from a 0-2 deficit in the league. The five of us struggled but news came through that it was, evidently, away to Charlton Athletic on the opening day of 2002/2003. We were bouncing that day too.
We stopped off for a few pints on the drive home, extending the day, going over the game, chatting about our immediate future and the matches ahead.
It had been a fine day out.
No midweek jaunt to Turf Moor for me on Thursday so my next one is Southampton at Wembley on Sunday.
See you there.