Chelsea vs. Manchester United : 28 November 2021.
Chelsea drew 1-1 as the team failed to capitalise on almost total domination against a defence-minded Manchester United team on a bitterly cold afternoon at Stamford Bridge. The goals that were so forthcoming against Juventus in the previous home game never materialised and the points were shared when a penalty by Jorginho equalised a goal from Jadon Sancho that was scored earlier in the second-half.
Right, that’s the game sorted. What else happened?
Some numbers. The game against Manchester United was to be my twentieth match of the season. By the end of December, that total would – hopefully, health and lockdowns permitting – be up to twenty-eight. Starting against Watford on the Wednesday, December was going to be a very busy month indeed. And this obviously does not include the away game against Zenit, which may not even take place in St. Petersburg if the current rumours are true.
This would also be my seventy-seventh game against Manchester United.
“That’s more United games than all of my United acquaintances’ games combined.”
That’s almost a true story. My former college friend Rick, who occasionally gets a mention when we play at Old Trafford, is a season ticket holder at United and skews the figures. But apart from him, of the ten or so United fans that I know of, hardly any have seen United play more than a handful, at best, of times.
This was the second game in SW6 in six days. Juventus and Manchester United, eh? What a lovely double of home fixtures.
But first, a Saturday night in Old London Town. When I heard that my mate Jaro and his son Alex were coming over from the US for a week, we soon conjured up a plan to spend a little quality time with them around the United game. We would only see them for an hour at the Juventus match. I booked Parky, PD and yours truly into an apartment – a flat in usual parlance, right? – in Fulham for the Saturday night and I got to work on a pub-crawl in a part of town that would be new for all of us. I drove up to London in the early afternoon and thankfully the rumoured snow showers did not amount to anything. However, we were waylaid by some heavy traffic around Twickenham and didn’t get up to the apartment, where Lillie Road meets the Fulham Palace Road, until just after 2.30pm.
Not to worry, by 3.30pm we were sipping our first bevvies in a pub which we often spot on our drive-in to SW6 for match days.
“The Distillers” – on our walk to Hammersmith tube – and “The Duke Of Cornwall” – on our walk back to the flat late at night, a few doors down from the first pub, were to be the two book-ends of a hugely enjoyable drinking session. It lasted from 3.30pm to around 12.30am. The main action took place around St. James’ Park tube; “The Old Star”, “The Adam & Eve”, “The Buckingham Arms”, “The Albert” and “The Greencoat Boy.”
Jaro joined us for five hours in the last four pubs.
We had a blast. There had been a constant worry, of course, that both Jaro and Alex would succumb to COVID on this trip, but I can confirm that after the Saturday night with Parky and PD, Jaro became infected by a far more agreeable virus :
There is no cure.
Sunday, and game day, soon arrived.
As I was the dedicated driver for the return journey, there was no match day boozing for me. I dropped Parky and PD off at West Brompton tube and they sauntered down to “The Eight Bells” for the second heavy session of the weekend. They were to be joined for a couple of hours by two United lads from Frome – I was only vaguely familiar with them – and who, much to PD’s amusement, had to be constantly assured that they would be “safe”.
Meanwhile, I parked up and then spent a couple of quiet hours in and around Stamford Bridge itself. I was outside the ground as early as 10.30am. It was a bitter morning in London town. I took a photo of the Peter Osgood statue with a clear and deep blue sky above. Jaro and Alex duly arrived and there were chats with Ron Harris and Colin Pates, the captains of my childhood and late youth.
They then needed to head back to their Earls Court hotel so we said our goodbyes, but not before a couple of photos in front of the old Shed Wall.
I backtracked and caught the tube down to Putney Bridge tube to catch up with the lads again.
I had been doing a lot of back-tracking in preparation of this game.
A current total of seventy-six games against United put them at the top of my list of opponents, with Liverpool a close second on seventy-five.
41 at Stamford Bridge.
25 at Old Trafford.
8 at Wembley.
1 at Villa Park.
1 in Moscow.
A quick top five of favourites?
Chelsea 5 Manchester United 0 – 1999/2000
Manchester United 1 Chelsea 2 – 2009/2010
Chelsea 4 Manchester United 0 – 2016/2017
Manchester United 1 Chelsea 2 – 1985/1986
Chelsea 1 Manchester United 0 – 1993/1994
There is a famous photo that does the rounds on social media of that last game, a shot taken above the North terrace at Stamford Bridge looking towards The Shed. It appeared recently and took me back to that game. The match took place in early September 1993, with Chelsea playing its first few tentative games under Glenn Hoddle. Manchester United were rampant and in their pomp. They had been crowned English Champions in the May, their first title in twenty-six long years. I was in The Shed early, watching with the younger brother of my oldest mate Pete, both United fans. I had taken Kev up to three Chelsea vs. United games, once with Pete too, in the early ‘nineties.
My one abiding memory that day was of United fans being led out of The Shed and into the North terrace before the game began. There had been no hint of trouble, as far as I was aware, but the word must have got out that there were packs of United in amongst the home fans and the police must have acted with thoughts for their safety. I am guessing that the queues had been so long to enter the North terrace that many United fans had simply diverted to The Shed instead. I have since been reliably informed that the game at Chelsea in 1993 was the very last “pay on the day” away game for Manchester United Football Club.
Back in the days of less than full attendances at Chelsea, it was always – always! – part and parcel of the match day experience to guess, pre-match, how many away fans would dare to attend, and then guestimates of numbers immediately after. The huge sprawling North Stand held up to 10,000 in those days, and it was always impressive when away clubs filled it.
From personal memory, the best away followings I have personally seen at Chelsea were :
Manchester United 1993/1994
West Ham 1984/1985
Manchester United 1984/1985
Another memory from days out at the old Stamford Bridge. Very often the away team coach would appear in that gap between the derelict part of The Shed and the towering East Stand. It’s appearance always drew ribald abuse from The Shed regulars.
To complete the picture, we won 1-0 on that day in September 1993, a Gavin Peacock goal – a nemesis for United that season – and it remains as one of my favourite games against United.
Down in the “Eight Bells” PD and Parky had been joined by Rich and John from Edinburgh, and – yes – a full on session was in progress. Danny and Nick from Minnesota called in too. The pub was rammed.
It was still oh-so cold as we made our way to Stamford Bridge. I wolfed down a cheeseburger with onions outside the stadium in a vain attempt to get some (lukewarm) food inside me. It almost worked.
I was inside by around 4pm. For once the United end – 3,000 not 10,000 this year – was not festooned with flags and banners.
A solitary “One Love” banner timidly peeked out.
The Chelsea team?
Rudiger – Silva – Chalobah
Alonso – Loftus-Cheek – Jorginho – James
Hudson-Odoi – Werner – Ziyech
A big game for Reuben. Not a big game for Ronaldo, relegated to the bench.
We dominated early in the game, and we dominated all of the first-half. Timo Werner looked lively but continued his frustrating ability to freeze in front of goal. Hakim Ziyech, starting the game well, forced a save from De Gea. There was a fine shimmy from Callum Hudson-Odoi, running with that stooping style of his, his centre of gravity falling with each yard covered, and he slid a low shot across the goal that the United ‘keeper did ever so well to save. There was a header from Rudiger and another effort from Ziyech. A long cross from Reece to Alonso, but for once it was not met with a volley.
The atmosphere, I have to be honest, was not great.
In days of yore, a huddle of bodies on a packed terrace helped maintain not only noise, but assisted against the cold. On this day, I was just so aware of how cold a plastic seat could be.
The temperature was dropping, and the noise levels were dropping alongside.
On the half-hour mark, a strong dipping shot from Rudi forced a fingertip save onto the bar from De Gea.
As for United, there was just a lazy shot from Fernandez that drifted well wide and a couple of Rashford-led breaks that caused us minimum concern.
There were further efforts on the United goal; from Werner, from Callum, from James, from James again. If only Gavin Peacock was playing.
At the break, at Stamford Bridge and elsewhere, Chelsea fans were lamenting our failure to break the deadlock, and we hoped – and prayed – that such profligacy would not haunt us.
Oh dear. Just five minutes into the second-half, following a Chelsea corner, the ball was hoofed into our half. The lone figure of Jorginho was holding the fort. Sadly, a poor touch splayed the ball into the path of the otherwise quiet Jadon Sancho. His was an easy task. He raced up the pitch and knocked it past Mendy. The roar from the United support chilled me further.
To my absolute joy, the Chelsea support immediately bellowed a magnificent response to going behind.
“COME ON CHELSEA, COME ON CHELSEA, COME ON CHELSEA, COME ON CHELSEA.”
A half-volley for Werner, fail. A pattern was emerging. Sadly, Ziyech, so full of promise in the first-half, seemed to be nervous and unsure of himself.
Ronaldo replaced Sancho the scorer, but did little.
We regained our dominance.
We seemed to be enjoying corner after corner. After one, Wan-Bissaka chopped at Thiago Silva. To be truthful, I missed the challenge, but was overjoyed – if not a little surprised, Anthony Taylor was having his usual odd game “against” us – when a penalty was rewarded. Seventy minutes were on the clock. Jorginho stepped forward.
Albert in front of us, slid past and said “I’ll take one for the team, lads” and sprinted off to the gents. On many other occasions over the last twenty-four years, an Albert Toilet Break has resulted in a Chelsea goal.
Alan asked me : “Skip, or no skip?”
I gave it some thought.
A skip it was, and the ball flew to De Gea’s right.
Chris : skip.
Albert : to the loo.
Jorginho : my darlin’.
GET IN YOU FUCKER.
“Al, when he does his skip, he usually goes to the ‘keeper’s left. But it’s almost like Pavlov’s Dog now. A ‘keeper sees the skip and goes left. He’s won the mind games.”
The noise was, then, at last, stratospheric.
We kept firing in, but continued to miss-fire. An odd cross-shot from Werner, and another miss from the same man. On a good day, he could have nabbed a hat-trick. Those good days are few and far between.
Christian Pulisic for Alonso
Mason Mount for Hudson-Odoi
Romelu Lukaku for Werner
“The stage is set, Al.”
Despite a continuation of corners and crosses, the winning goal proved elusive.
At the other end, a Mendy error almost gave United an undeserved win. The United attacker’s lob was poor and our ‘keeper gathered. In the very last move of the game, a suddenly impressive Pulisic crossed for Rudiger but his first-time volley blazed way over.
“Coulda, woulda, shoulda.”
A frustrating game, a game devoid of real quality, with a United team that had rarely – ever – been set up so defensively.
Next up, Watford on Wednesday.
See you there.