Chelsea vs. Ajax : 5 November 2019.
I was born in 1965. I was therefore alive when England won the World Cup in 1966, and even though I am well known for my memory, it would be impressive if I could recollect seeing that one. 1970 seemed to pass me by, and I have no recall of that tournament nor that final. The first one that I can fully remember seeing – and being part of, which is what it is all about – is the 1974 World Cup in West Germany. We were used to just one club football match per year on TV in those days – the FA Cup Final – and also the yearly England vs. Scotland match in The Home Internationals. But there was the odd international game too. I can certainly remember watching the England vs West Germany qualifier for the European Championships on 29 April 1972. I am positive that this is the first football match that I can ever remember seeing on TV. This narrowly beats the 1972 FA Cup Final between Leeds United and Arsenal on 6 May 1972.
The 1974 World Cup Finals – England failed to qualify after memorably, and infamously, drawing 1-1 with Poland on 17 October 1973, I remember seeing that one too – were shown on TV at reasonable viewing times and I loved every minute of it. It was a magnificent time. In those days, it seemed OK to want Scotland to do well. They were the United Kingdom’s only qualifiers. I remember that they were drawn against Brazil and The Netherlands in their group. Although I had heard of the Ajax team of around that time – European Champions in 1971, 1972 and 1973 – I had not been exposed to many of their actual games on TV. So, the World Cup in 1974 would open my eyes to Dutch football, and to the many Ajax players involved. A quick scan of the Dutch players who lost the 1974 final to West Germany brings back some rich memories.
Jan Joengblood – FC Amsterdam
Wim Suurbier – Ajax
Wim Rijsbergen – Feyenoord
Arie Haan – Ajax
Ruud Krol – Ajax
Wim Jansen – Feyenoord
Johan Neeskens – Ajax
Wim Van Hanegem – Feyenoord
Johnny Rep – Ajax
Rob Rensenbrink – Anderlecht
Johan Cruyff – Ajax
The venerated Ajax Amsterdam therefore provided six of the starting eleven, with their arch rivals Feyenoord three. I always thought it odd that the wonderful winger Rensenbrink plied his football in Belgium and it is only through research for this report that I found out that the ‘keeper Joengblood played for a lesser team.
But they were a magical team. The World was bowled over by them in 1974, and in my village school their players captivated us all. How ironic that there were six Ajax players, and four called Wim.
[Shit joke coming up. You know it’s coming.]
No wonder they wiped the floor with most teams.
And now, at long last, the famous Ajax were playing at Stamford Bridge for the very first time.
I could not wait.
On the drive to London in PD’s car I mentioned that I really hoped that they would show up in their famous red and white kit. Of all the sporting kits in the world, none can be more – and I am sorry for using an overworked word – iconic than that of Ajax. Back in the early ‘seventies it really captured my imagination.
I was inside Stamford Bridge at about 7.45pm ahead of the 8pm kick-off. There had been an emergency scare, with an ambulance, outside the West Stand and so I was asked to walk all of the way around Stamford Bridge and access the Matthew Harding from right behind the stand rather than the usual entrance on the corner of the West Stand. I was worried that the delay would make me late, but all was well. I walked under the illuminated Shed Wall, and past “the away entrance” to The Shed near the East Stand. Except there would be no away fans on this night. They had been banned, en masse, from attending. We had even been warned, via email, that we needed to bring photo ID to the game to ensure that we were valid spectators. Quite how this might have affected my pals Mark, Paul and Mick who live in The Netherlands is not known.
Anyway, I was in.
The Shed was all Chelsea, save for a gap in the lower tier where around eight hundred seats that had originally been set aside for Ajax were left unused.
Kick-off was approaching.
The team was the same as against Watford, apart from Alonso for Emerson.
Apilicueta – Zouma – Rudiger – Alonso
Jorginho – Mount – Kovacic
Pulisic – Abraham – Willian
Thankfully I spotted the famous red and white Ajax kit as the players emerged from the tunnel. I honestly felt cheated in 2009 when Juventus showed up in SW6 wearing a bronze shirt.
Over in The Shed, somewhere, was my friend Dennis and his wife Kazuko, who live in Virginia. They had met us for a few drinks in “The Goose” and had followed us down to “Simmons” where we treated them to a Chuckle Brothers pre-match. On the walk down the North End Road, the night fizzed with fireworks on Bonfire Night. I assured Dennis that this didn’t happen every night, nor was it a special Chuckle Brothers welcome for them both. I met Dennis on the 2015 US Tour and this was his first-ever visit to England, to London, to Stamford Bridge. Thankfully he didn’t follow Chelsea because of playing FIFA. Top marks to Dennis who didn’t seem to have a problem, unlike some US visitors – no names, no pack drill – in understanding the concept of “rounds.”
My pre-match beers went down well, a rare treat these days.
Just before kick-off, I spoke to PD.
“Part two, mate.”
The game began, and how. I had just finished uploading one of my customary photographs on to Facebook –
“Ajax. In their classic kit. Priceless. Let’s go to work. Chelsea Football Club, 8.01pm, London.”
And then the bastards scored. After one poxy minute. Ajax had taken a free-kick down below me in The Sleepy Hollow. I had just slipped my ‘phone back in my pocket to see the ball crashing towards the net. As the Ajax players celebrated right below us, the stadium was eerily quiet. But it annoyed me that there was a little knot of around two-hundred Ajax fans in the corporate tier of the West Stand. It was a real metaphor for modern football. The normal rank and file were banned, but their Executive Club were allowed in. I can understand club officials being allowed in; directors, squad players, doctors. But not two-hundred of them. Shameful really.
Anyway, we had succumbed to a Tammy Abraham own goal, apparently.
We’ll have to go at them now.
Thankfully, just a few minutes later, we worked the ball through to Christian Pulisic and he was clipped just inside the box (pictured) by Joel Veltman. It looked a sure penalty.
“Jorginho. Jorginho. Jorginho, Jorginho, Jorginho.”
A hop on his approach, and a fine penalty (pictured).
It was 1-1 after just five minutes.
…little did we know.
In the Matthew Harding, an attempt at humour.
“Your support is fucking shit.”
I spotted that one of the electronic hoardings behind The Shed mentioned the phrase “Intelligent Mobility” and it flashed-up right in front of where Parky was stood.
Good old Parky.
Highly intelligent. Highly mobile.
The images of the Heineken logo brought back memories of the away game.
Ajax looked more of a threat at Stamford Bridge than the away match. They certainly impressed me with their passing and movement in the first quarter of the game. They looked technically sound and they kept the ball with the minimum of fuss. But we were the next to threaten. Kovacic passed forward to Tammy, who looked offside (pictured) and he seemed to look across at the linesman such was his guilt. He finished impeccably but – yes – it was offside.
Ajax continued to drift in to decent areas, and carved out some good chances. On twenty minutes, there was another free-kick in a wide position, this time on our left. Noussair Mazraoui (“what a fine assemblage of vowels”) whipped-in a sublime cross into the danger area. I always thought that a corridor of uncertainty was an ill-lit alleyway in Amsterdam’s Red Light District, but it could certainly be used to describe this cross. It was exceptional, played in with pace and curve between ‘keeper and stranded defenders. Quincy Promes stooped to conquer and then came over to celebrate below us, his shorts pulled up as he jigged away.
He was met with some abuse.
I said to PD : “well, we can’t concede again.”
However, this was becoming a good tussle with both teams moving the ball well. I did feel that, despite our midfield trio seeing much of the ball, we were missing some killer passes in the final third. Sadly, with ten minutes of the first-half remaining, we became unstuck once again. Another delivery from wide – on our left again – caused our undoing. A free-kick, not far from the corner flag, was whipped in towards the goal. With painful precision, I captured the ball just before it cannoned off the far post and Kepa’s face before making the net bulge.
Chelsea 1 Ajax 3.
At the time, nobody realised that the ball had hit Kepa.
But the madness was starting.
Two Chelsea own goals.
We kept prodding away with shots at the Ajax ‘keeper, playing in front of banners which said “Keep The Blue Flag Flying High” over the empty seats in the Shed Lower. Willian and Alonso tested him.
I said to PD, and Big John at half-time, “it’ll be 5-5 tonight” and I was only half-joking. To be honest, despite our pitiful defending, I had enjoyed the first-half. I thought that Ajax were good – very good – and it felt like a traditional European game, despite the lop-sided support. Big John and I chatted about Tammy. We both love him to bits, but we agreed that – constructive criticism here, not moans for the sake of it – Tammy needs to toughen up still, be more physical. I used the phrase about him using his body as a shield. John said that he needed to learn “the dark arts.”
So, two goals to the worse at half-time, but Ajax had not completely dominated the game. I hoped that another goal in our favour would help to turn the tide.
Reece James replaced Marcos Alonso, with Dave swapping flanks to allow the substitute a run at the Ajax left. Soon after the re-start we were treated to a ridiculous run from deep from Kurt “Total Football” Zouma. He raced through, striding like a mad man, right into the heart of the Ajax defensive half, then third. A couple of ridiculously good step overs had us all wondering if we were about to witness the best goal ever at Stamford Bridge from a central defender. He took aim and the ball ended up in the MHU. As shots go, it was a great defensive clearance.
But the madness had started.
And the noise too,
The volume kept going up and up and up.
I was rightly proud.
Tammy twice threatened the Ajax goal as we looked a far more decent team. A header down (pictured) was an easy save. And he then forced a one-handed save from Andre Onana in the Ajax goal but really should have done better. The raiding of Reece James on our right certainly added a fresh dimension to our play. The crowd were invigorated.
But ten minutes into the second-half, the game took another twist. Ajax, against the run of play, broke away and a cross from our left was turned in with the minimum of fuss by Donny Van de Beek.
Chelsea 1 Ajax 4.
“This will be our heaviest home defeat in Europe. Bollocks.”
In the other game, Valencia were creeping ahead of Lille.
This was going pear-shaped.
But we kept going and the crowd too.
Frank made another positive change.
Callum Hudson-Odoi replaced Mason Mount.
On sixty-three minutes, a fine run into the box from Pulisic – in and out of the game, but always dangerous – resulted in a low cross into the danger area. The course of the ball was deflected slightly by Tammy, and Captain Dave pounced to touch the ball over the line (pictured).
There was a slight delay for a VAR moment.
Offside? Surely not.
The goal stood.
Was the comeback on?
The crowd seemed to think so.
We roared the boys on.
“COME ON CHELSEA.”
On seventy-minutes, the night turned into one of pure drama. Fireworks had been lighting up the sky all over the UK, but nowhere was filled with more wide-eyed excitement and awe than at Stamford Bridge. Daley Blind was adjudged to have tackled late on Tammy but the referee – fair play – let play continue. He then spotted that a shot from Callum hit a defender’s hand inside the box. In a surreal moment, the referee blew up, raced over to red card Blind, and then pointed at the spot.
By now the place was electric.
But it got so much better. The referee brandished a red card again and in that nano-second, I just thought that he was re-emphasising the Blind sending-off. But no, Veltman was sent packing too. For dissent? We did not have a fucking clue but we did not fucking care.
Ajax were down to nine men, we had a penalty to make it 4-3 and there were still twenty-minutes on the clock.
“Jorginho. Jorginho. Jorginho, Jorginho, Jorginho.”
A hop on his approach, and a fine penalty (pictured).
Chelsea 3 Ajax 4.
“Fasten your seat belts, lads.”
More MHumour : “you’re not singing anymore.”
Just three minutes later, a corner from our right was met with a high leap under pressure from Zouma (pictured) and his powerful header rebounded back off the bar. With our hearts in our mouths – and other cliches – we watched, mesmirised, as substitute James slotted the ball in with consummate ease.
Chelsea 4 Ajax 4.
My head was boiling over but I managed – heaven knows how – to capture Reece’ run and slide on film, although only a few photographs are of sufficient quality to share.
Stamford Bridge had rarely seen a night like it.
I leaned forward and spoke to Albert.
“Remember the 4-4 with Liverpool in the Champions League? That was a mad one. But not many people talk about that. I guess because it followed that 3-1 win at Anfield. There was always a cushion.”
I spoke to the bloke beside me.
“My 5-5 might still might happen.”
It seemed that, unbelievably, we were now favourites to win. Fifteen minutes, plus stoppage time, were still to be played. Understandably, the noise was the best all season.
It was just beautiful.
Heaven knows what was going through Dennis’ mind.
In the pub, he had spoken about future travel plans for the next year and probable trips to Mexico City and back to Japan where he met his wife while serving for the US Marines. I replied “nah, after one game at Chelsea, you’ll scrub those plans and be back at Stamford Bridge within six months.”
Just four minutes after the equaliser, an attack developed down the Chelsea left. I shouted “spare man.” Callum received the ball and ran. He played in Dave, the spare man, overlapping and not spotted, with a deft flick. A near-post cross. The ball was pushed towards goal. There was a scramble and the ball was booted away. Jorginho let fly outside the box. A headed clearance. The ball flew back out. Dave pounced. A shot. Pictured.
FUCKING PANDEMONUM IN SOUTH-WEST LONDON.
The next few moments were mad, mental, mesmerising, magnificent.
The photographs tell the story
But they are greyed-out because, alas, VAR stopped our celebrations and after a horrible wait…tick tock, tick tock…the referee ruled that there had been a handball somewhere.
I have thought long and hard about including these photographs. My rule is usually to not bother if a photographed goal is disallowed. But I have to include these. They are a huge part of the night’s story.
The minutes, sadly, raced past.
Ajax, to their credit, kept attacking and Kepa repeated his heroics at Vicarage Road with another fine save to his left to deny the Dutch masters a horrible fifth.
I lost count of the chances that we had in the final minutes. Michy Batshuayi replaced the excellent Kovacic on eight-seven minutes as Frank went for a top-heavy formation. And it was Michy who, undoubtedly, had the best chance, turning to shoot low, but Onana dropped to his left and saved magnificently. I remember a lame header from Tammy that went well wide, but it was all a blur.
Scandalously, the referee decided that only four extra minutes were to be added to the night’s play.
How? Why? What? Who? When?
This was plainly wrong.
If we have to endure VAR…sigh…OK.
But don’t fucking short-change us.
I hate modern football.
At the final whistle, I was light-headed. It was no surprise. It had indeed been mad, mental, mesmerising, magnificent and more.
This game had it all.
PD shot off to get a head start on the walk back to the car. I gathered my thoughts, let the crowds disperse and shook hands with a few mates. I packed away my camera.
“I got a few tonight.”
Down in the basement of the Matthew Harding Stand, I heard a bloke dissing Tammy but, alas, with a little bit more venom and nastiness than Big John and I had chosen to use at half-time, but I thought to myself “I’ll hear him out.” But I then had the misfortune to float past – it honestly felt like I was floating – the same bloke a few minutes later and I heard the same geezer moaning about another player.
Some people are never bloody happy, eh?
We are going through a rather enjoyable learning experience at the moment – it has taken everyone by surprise, and how wonderful it all is – yet some in our midst seem to avidly enjoy the negatives.
Does my nut.
I thought this season was all about giving everyone time and space…to let Frank bed all this down.
Among the overjoyed at Fulham Broadway, I treated myself to a cheeseburger and onions at “Chubby’s Grill” to cap off a bloody magnificent evening in SW6. I know how to live.
Next up Crystal Palace.
See you there.