Chelsea vs. Cardiff City : 15 September 2018
During the recent international break, England played matches against Spain on Saturday 8 September and against Switzerland on Tuesday 11 September. On both of those days, I did not see a single kick of the England games. Instead I chose to attend my local team Frome Town’s FA Cup matches against Winchester City, first at home – a 1-1 draw – and then the subsequent replay – a 1-2 loss – and that just about sums up my feelings about international football in the current climate. I would rather make the effort in supporting my local team, pay the money at the turnstiles, travel to games, feel connected, than gormlessly gawp at the international game in a rowdy pub full of people who would probably annoy me no end.
I feel like I am the footballing equivalent of a music lover with one of those yellow “Keep Music Live” badges on his rucksack.
To me, in 2018, football is all about the live experience.
And it always has been, ever since I was bitten by the bug – I hope there is no cure – in March 1974, at Stamford Bridge.
Or maybe even earlier still.
With help from my fellow Frome Town friend Steve, we worked out recently that my first Frome Town game was in the autumn of 1970, when I was aged just five.
Another game is worth talking about too.
In around 1971 or 1972 – I can’t be certain – my village team Mells and Vobster United won the Mid-Somerset League and I can vaguely remember watching the championship-decider on the Saturday. At school on the Monday or Tuesday, I was to learn that the team were to take part in the “Cup Final” at nearby Stoke St. Michael on a weekday evening. I can vividly remember excitedly pleading with my parents to take me to the game. My mother would undoubtedly have said, in that time honoured fashion, “wait until your father comes home”, as she prepared my tea after school. I can honestly remember saying the phrase “everyone is going to be there” – knowing full well that I was exaggerating somewhat – and then managing to persuade my father to drive the five or six miles towards the Mendip Hills to the nearby village, which was chosen as a neutral venue. There is no doubt that I would have taken my ball with me – I went everywhere with my white plastic football – and I can certainly remember the sense of pride and involvement in seeing my team at an away game. I can’t remember the opposition. But I am sure that Mells won the game, and hence “the double.” It is a memory which has remained with me for decades. It is, I am sure, where my passion of seeing live football, and supporting my team, was born.
Sadly, after a proud history of one-hundred and thirteen years, Mells and Vobster United are no more. Last season was their final tilt at glory. The news really saddened me. My grandfather played for the village team in the 1920’s, and I played a smattering of games for the reserves from 1978 to 1981. I always remember my first game, when I was only thirteen – playing against men more than twice my age – and being full of pride when I told my parents about it when I returned home. I had just shown up at “the rec” with my boots and my ball on a Saturday afternoon just intending to watch from the side-lines. The manager asked me if I fancied coming on as a “sub” during the game. I was not a very confident footballer – I would eventually slide out of the school first team and into the dreaded “B team” later that season – but I jumped at the chance. Fifty years after my grandfather represented the village, I was playing too. It was against Ashwick and Binegar. But there is no fairy-tale ending; I am sure that we lost.
At the end of May, I retraced my steps and stood for a few solitary minutes behind one of the goals at Stoke St. Michael’s football pitch, and my mind cartwheeled back to around forty-seven years earlier when my footballing journey had taken a massive step. It was the first time that I had been back since that evening with my parents – in Dad’s green Vauxhall Viva, and my football – and it was, of course, such a bittersweet moment.
This football life, eh?
Visits of Cardiff City to Stamford Bridge do not come around too frequently. This would only be the fifth time that I would be seeing “The Bluebirds” play at Stamford Bridge. And as the saying goes, you never forget your first time.
On the second day of October in 1976, a Chelsea team which included old hands Peter Bonetti, David Hay and Charlie Cooke, plus a smattering of youngsters including both Ray and Graham Wilkins met the visiting Cardiff City. For once, Ian Britton didn’t fill the number seven berth; that position was filled by Brian Bason. Stalwarts of that promotion-winning campaign Ken Swain and Ray Lewington scored as we won 2-1 in front of a healthy 28,409. Lewi – recently assistant manager to Roy Hodgson at England – didn’t score many, but his goal was a net buster from 30 yards. I can distinctly remember watching the action from the lower tier of the East Stand, with me peering over at the sizeable following from South Wales. I can definitely recollect punches being thrown at the Cardiff fans as they attempted to get at the waiting Chelsea fans as we walked past the old North Stand entrance after the game. I remember my father telling me –
“Always rough, that Cardiff lot.”
The match highlights – of which there were more than these three minutes – appeared on that evening’s “Match of the Day” with the trainspotter-esque squeals of John Motson accompanying the action.
Since then, our meetings have been rare. I first saw Pat Nevin in a Chelsea shirt on a windswept and rainy Saturday afternoon at Stamford Bridge in 1983. There was no TV coverage of that game, so no match action is available, although there are a few grainy images of both sets of fans running at each other outside the North Stand – once again – on the internet – from a news programme – should anyone feel the need to get nostalgic. My next Cardiff game was the notorious 2010 Cup game, when hundreds of hours of film of the various members of the Soul Crew and the CHH – or the 388 as they are now apparently known – bouncing towards each other on the Kings Road and elsewhere resulted in banning orders for many.
The 2013 league game at Stamford Bridge – the season when Vincent Tan became public enemy number one in Cardiff for his desire to kit out the team in red and black rather than blue and white – passed without incident. I am no fan of Cardiff City – why should I be? – but at least their fans have the pleasure of seeing their team in the hallowed top flight wearing the correct colours this season.
In 2018, a sunny day in September welcomed both teams, and supporters, to Stamford Bridge once more.
In the build-up to the game – drinks in the Famous Three Kings and The Goose – I had unfortunately spotted a few people wearing the new third kit. Apparently, this design is meant to pay some sort of – non-ironic – homage to the tangerine and graphite kit from 1994 to 1996.
They have done a great job.
They have referenced the worst fucking Chelsea kit ever with a messy and insipid tribute.
Up close, the images of “Landon Tahn, Fackinell” are out of focus and made my eyes hurt.
It’s bloody shocking.
But Nike have surpassed themselves this season. The even more ridiculous checked warm-up gear featuring blue, red and white squares, is truly horrific. I wonder if it was intended to confuse the opposition by making their eyes twist out of shape.
Modern Football…you know the rest.
Amidst all of these negatives, a word of praise for the match programme this season. It is now £3.50, but seems a lot more stylish. There is a spine – like the European ones of recent memory – and the covers have a certain gleam to them. The cover for the Cardiff game features a stylised photograph of Kepa Arizabalaga, with an image akin to that of a sporting poster from the former Eastern Bloc, all angles and strength.
I approve, anyway.
There was no surprise that the boyos from Cardiff, the valleys and the Vale of Glamorgan took their full three thousand. But there was just one flag; the red, white and green of Wales with the legend Llanishen Bluebirds.
Over on the East Stand, a banner – from the West Ham game in March – remembered Ray Wilkins – RIP – who would have been 62 on Friday. A nice touch.
Maurizio Sarri made the slightest of changes to the team that had defeated Bournemouth; in came Olivier Giroud for Alvaro Morata and Pedro replaced Willian.
Yet more nonsensical flames and fireworks went with the entrance of the teams.
Good fucking grief.
The game began, and the Welsh legions were in good voice. Thankfully, we did not have to wait too long for the home support to get going, even though the noise was hardly stratospheric. We dominated the early moments, and Cardiff were happy to sit back and soak it all up. A Giroud header dropped onto the roof of the net. We kept moving the ball, with much of the play coming down both flanks. For two defenders, both Alonso and Azpilicueta certainly found themselves in high areas on many occasions. Another chance came and it was an Alonso cross which was headed wide by that man Giroud.
A leaping Bamba wasted a good chance from close in, misdirecting a header down rather than on target. Sadly, we did not heed this warning sign. A long cross from a free-kick found Morrison who easily out-jumped the back-peddling Alonso, who was the wrong side of his man. The ball was headed into the six-yard box, and the Chelsea defenders looked startled as the ball dropped. The tall Bamba pounced, nipping in to cause havoc amidst our defence. We looked as ill-equipped to counter the threat of high balls into our box as Amish kids at a gaming show.
The net rippled and the Welsh legions roared.
“One nil to the sheepshaggers” sang the Cardiff City supporters.
Alan noted, and I agreed, that the shock of a goal conceded woke up both players and supporters alike. There was now a real sense of urgency from both.
“CAM ON CHOWLSEA, CAM ON CHOWLSEA, CAM ON CHOWLSEA.”
The stadium woke up.
We struck at Cardiff’s goal via Hazard and Kovacic. Our play improved. When needed, N’Golo Kante would shine. In exact copy of what happened against Bournemouth, he chased an attacker down from his usual right-midfield berth to a position just in front of the left-back Alonso. He accomplished it with such a minimum of effort that it had me purring.
What a player.
A curling effort from Pedro went close. Our chances were piling up. Pedro again, at his best, twisting and turning, leaving defenders in his wake.
My friend Rick, in Iowa, has a great nickname for Pedro.
It is a perfect description.
Yet another effort from Pedro.
Surely a goal would come.
Twenty minutes after the Cardiff goal, we watched a beautiful move develop. A Rudiger pass was left by Hazard so that Giroud could collect. A divine touch from the centre-forward played in Hazard. A delicious feint – “see you later, a bientot” – gave him space to move away from a marker.
As he broke on goal, my mind leaped into gear.
“Come on Eden. You are a fantastic player. But you are not a great goal scorer. To move on, to improve, to become an even better player, you need to get more goals. Come on. Score this.”
He drilled a low drive into the goal, as perfect a finish as there could ever be.
Chelsea were back in the game.
Just before half-time, we worked an opening down their right, and a subtle touch again by Giroud allowed Hazard to poke a ball home, albeit off a luckless Cardiff defender.
We were in front.
As the second-half began, with Chelsea attacking our end at the Matthew Harding, I fully expected more chances and more goals. After just five minutes, Mateo Kovacic – injured – was replaced by Ross Barkley, who immediately looked keen and involved.
After the constant activity in the last moments of the first-half, the second half took a while to warm up.
Cardiff rarely threatened our goal. But for all of our possession, we struggled to get behind their defence. As the game wore on, I kept thinking “2-1 is not enough.”
We needed that elusive third goal.
David Luiz, on more than one occasion, looked rather lackadaisical. How much better a player would he be with John Terry alongside him?
Pedro created some space and curled one wide. Then another from Pedro squirmed wide.
With twenty minutes remaining, Peds was replaced by Willian, and there was a hearty show of support for our little Spaniard.
The clock-ticked on.
A low shot from Reid narrowly missed the framework of our goal.
We again found it hard to create anything of any substance. Our chances all seemed to come in that first-half. We still bloody needed that third goal.
With ten minutes remaining, Willian charged into the box, but was scythed down by Bamba. A penalty was an easy decision for the referee to make.
Jorginho handed the ball to Eden.
Eden gave the Cardiff ‘keeper the eyes and planted the ball in the corner.
A hat-trick for Hazard.
A minute later, Willian created some space for himself and – despite a bobbling ball – crashed a fantastic curling effort past the hapless ‘keeper and into the goal.
His run towards us was just too good an opportunity to miss.
Snap, snap, snap, snap, snap, snap, snap.
There was even an impromptu Brazilian dance-off twixt Willian and Luiz, all under the disbelieving gaze of Rudiger.
Late on, there was a fine full length save from Arizabalaga, but in truth the young lad had not really been troubled during the second-half.
There was more raucous applause as Davide Zappacosta replaced Eden Hazard, who had undoubtedly been the star of the show. His dribbles have always made us dribble, but on this occasion, his goals had been a very welcome addition to his armory.
So, another 4-1 win for Chelsea at home to Cardiff City; the same result as in 2010 and in 2013. They must be sick of us.
With Liverpool winning at Spurs 2-1, we needed that extra goal to prise our way onto the top of the pile.
I looked back on the game. The visitors were a poor team, but we had to persevere to get past them. Five wins out of five is a very fine start to the season, but I am not getting carried away at all with any of it. We still look frail defensively, while we honestly have not been tested by any of the tougher teams yet. I will reserve judgement for a few more matches.
No trip to Greece for me this upcoming week; stay safe those of you who are making the pilgrimage.
Next up for me is our away fixture in Deepest East.
See you there.