Tales From The Champions Of The World

Crystal Palace vs. Chelsea : 19 February 2022.

PD and I returned from Abu Dhabi on the Monday. I was back in work – dreading it – on the Tuesday but the week went pretty well. However, England was ravaged by Storm Eunice on Friday. It meant that our trip up to London for our game at Selhurst Park took ages; it seemed that all of the traffic that had been stalled on the Friday was now let loose. The flow was especially grim on sections of the M3 and parts of our trek across west London to south London.

I had picked PD up at 8am and it took me until 12.30pm to eventually reach a pub that was a stone’s throw from Crystal Palace’s home ground. That schlep across London took an hour. And throughout it we were on the lookout for a pub for a couple of drinks before the afternoon’s entertainment. Our route took us past Hampton to Kingston and on to New Maldon, Merton, Morden, Mitcham and eventually Norbury, home of our match-day mate Gary. Could we find a suitable pub? Not one that was open, and had suitable parking. We were about to give up when I spotted a Wetherspoon’s – never my first choice of hostelry, but needs must – and we darted inside just as the rain increased in strength. Some “Thatcher’s” for PD and Parky. Some “Pepsi Max” for me. We could relax a little. Roy – last seen in Abu Dhabi – came in and slotted in next to us.

There was, of course, plenty of chit-chat regarding our time away in the sun the previous week.

A few “Abu Dhabi add-ons” to mention.

Every Chelsea fan had behaved themselves. It’s not always the case on foreign shores. In fact, the only time that I personally saw any silliness – ironically – involved the replica-kitted “scarfers” of the Dubai Supporters Club at the end of the game. Thiago Silva had trotted over to the Chelsea corner and threw his shirt into their section. There ensued an almighty ruckus as fans fought for the royal blue jersey. I am sure I saw at least once punch being thrown.

Ah, the Chelsea corner. After the game, this was where the Chelsea players, quite rightly, celebrated with the fans. It was where 80% of the Chelsea support was positioned. But we noticed that Romelu Lukaku, scorer of two goals in Abu Dhabi remember, did not join in. Instead, he chatted quietly to members of the coaching staff a good thirty yards away. I found that odd. Really odd.

One more story and one little moment of last minute terror. Foxy, PD and I were up at 3am to catch a 4am cab over to the airport in readiness for our 7am and 7.30am flights home. At the check-in desk, the Etihad official caused PD and I a great deal of stress when he claimed that we were required to show a negative PCR test result from within forty-eight hours of the flight. Our tests had taken place on Friday morning, seventy-two hours earlier, as per Etihad’s ruling. There was now no requirement for a negative test travelling back to the UK; these regulations had changed on the Friday. You can imagine what was going through my mind. Thankfully, after he had a word with a colleague, he was able to let us on the flight. Our guess was that this was his first shift since the change in the ruling.

I smiled as he handed back our passports and gave us our boarding passes.

In my head : “you prick.”

Thankfully, the trip to Selhurst Park did not involve passport checks, PCR tests nor locator forms. After our little moment of calm in the pub, I drove the mile or so to my pre-paid parking spot outside a house on Bensham Manor Road. I had soon spotted the huge Crystal Palace TV transmitter up on the hill that overlooks the entire area and it brought back bad memories of my first-ever visit to Selhurst Park in 1989; attempting to go top of the table in late August, we were stuffed 0-3 by Charlton Athletic. During that game, from the terraced Holmesdale Road end, I kept looking up at that TV mast for some reason. It was something that I had never seen on the TV as it was on the wrong side to the camera position.

It was 2.15pm. Sadly, the rain continued on the walk to the away turnstiles. We sorted out a spare ticket for Orlin the Bulgarian in the wind and the rain. There were a few comments with a couple of lads who had been on our flights to and from Abu Dhabi.

“Bloody hell, a week ago the weather was a bit different, Chris.”

At last I was looking forward to being able to join in with the “We’ve won it all” chant, but – how typical – the Chelsea support had sprung a surprise on me. In the queue to get in, and then throughout the resulting damp afternoon, a new song dominated.

“Champions of the World, of the Word, Champions of the World.”

…to the tune of the KC and the Sunshine Band’s 1983 hit “Michael Essien.”

It took ages to get into the cramped away end. I got wetter and wetter. There was just time for a last-minute visit to the league’s worst-ever gents’ – “shallow end or deep end?” – and we found our seats in row seven with about ten minutes to go.

I had only been stood at my seat for a minute when a horrendous gust of wind blew the rain in at us and I had to turn my back to the pitch to shelter myself.

Bloody hell. From Arabian sun to London storms. Welcome home.

This was the second game of a run of five games that placed Chelsea in five different competitions. This has to be a first, right?

Palmeiras : World Club Cup

Crystal Palace : Premier League

Lille : Champions League

Liverpool : League Cup

Luton Town : FA Cup

Alongside me were Gary and Alan. Gary lives two miles to the west of Selhurst Park. Alan lives two miles to the east. This was very much their local game.

I soon spotted that the much-maligned Palace “ultras” had been re-positioned in a central area in the lower tier of the home end to my left under the banner “Holmesdale Fanatics”; their little group could be easily spotted, dressed in black. To be frank, I heard bugger all from them all game.

That ship has sailed.

“Probably back to Poland” added Gary.

Crystal Palace were in their blue and red diagonal stripes. Chelsea in yellow and black.

The team?

Mendy

Christensen – Silva – Rudiger – Sarr

Jorginho – Kante

Ziyech – Pulisic – Havertz

Lukaku

Or something like that. Being so low down, discerning formations and patterns was almost impossible. With everyone stood, the far corner of the Holmesdale Road end was completely out of sight. When the ball disappeared into that area, I just hoped that Herr Havertz was doing OK. Years ago, watching football was always like this. Some games at Old Trafford, Goodison and Tottenham only offered up around 75% of the pitch, if that.

It was a full house in South London. The game began and the home team looked the brighter with Wilfred Zaha looking lively as he attacked from the inside-left channel. A shot from Michael Olise was sent low across our goal and thankfully the ball was wide of the far post. Palace were, of course, without Conor Gallagher, and it was just as well. The lad has played so well for them this season.

I hope that we pull back Gallagher, Billy Gilmour and Armando Broja for next season. It will be like three new signings. I look forward to that day.

I was on tip-toes, my neck straining every time we attacked the home end. A shot from Christian Pulisic didn’t trouble the Palace ‘keeper Vicente Guaita. The first-half began to develop an oh-so familiar pattern; possession-based football, over-passing, setting up to go back to go forward. There was no cut and thrust. Yet as I have said so often, with space in the final third almost non-existent, stretching Palace out was always going to be tough. On more than one occasion, a lofted ball towards Lukaku in the air was meet and drink to the Palace defence. In truth, Lukaku did not get close to anything.

At a ground that is rather infamous in our past – Paul Canoville, Easter Monday 1982 – at least there were no racist comments aimed at our under-performing striker. The worst that I heard all afternoon was Lukaku being called “Sack of Spuds” by Pink Shirt Frank behind me.

To say we laboured in that first-half would be an understatement.

But the Chelsea support, with a rich variety of songs, were magnificent.

At last I sang along :

“We’ve won it all. We’ve won it all. We’ve won it all, we’ve won it all, we’ve won it all.”

Fackinell.

The highlight of the first forty-five minutes was that pile driver from – what? – thirty-five yards from Antonio Rudiger. What a strike. And what a save, too, from the Palace ‘keeper, pushing the ball out of the top left corner at the very last minute. This positive play was then matched by a lovely through-ball from Malang Sarr, surprising everyone, not least the flat-footed Palace defenders, that reached N’Golo Kante. However, his shot was too close to Guaita.

A shot from an angle from Lukaku was well-saved, but the out-of-touch Belgian was offside anyway.

And that was about it really.

Two memorable moments of play from Chelsea in forty-five minutes.

Champions of the World?

We looked like we would struggle to be the champions of Fulham at this rate.

At least with Edouard Mendy close by, we could serenade him with a song that has not been aired for a while due to his winning performance in the Africa Cup of Nations.

“Tsamina mina, eh, eh.

Edouard Edouard Mendy.

Tsamina mina zangalewa.

He comes from Senegal.”

This was followed by an “Eddie, Eddie – give us a wave” – shades of 1983/84 – and he duly reciprocated. Bless him.

Just before the break, the close-at-hand referee David Coote – sadly, he was not bald – waved away our justified claims for a foul on Pulisic. The ball broke and the home team stormed up field. Thankfully, Zaha was wasteful, drilling a low shot wide.

The linesman in front of us, who had been slow to keep up with play all through the half, was the nearest man in black and so he took the brunt of our anger.

“Linesman, you’re a James Blunt, linesman, linesman you’re a James Hunt.”

As he raced away, he waved his left hand as if to say “keep going, keep going.”

Pink Shirt Frank uttered “well, that’s us fucked in the second-half then.”

Yep. No decisions for us. Sigh.

The mood was pretty sombre at the break. Tons of possession. Not many shots that troubled anyone apart from the spectators. As per fucking normal.

A strange substitution for Palace at the break; Guaita was replaced by Jack Butland who used to be a footballer.

It was a tiresome start to the second-period and we often gave the ball away cheaply. It is worth noting that Lukaku was offering little. I spotted one moment, the ball on the half-way line maybe, Chelsea probing away, and Lukaku in among some defenders. What annoyed me that not only was he static, he was visibly resting on his standing leg, all his weight on his left foot. Surely an attacker, a central striker, needs to be on his toes at all times. If not twisting a marker out of position – clearly not Lukaku’s forte – then he should be at least ready to be alert and be “on his toes” in case, say, a deflected ball puts the ball his way. To say that Lukaku looked disinterested would be a mismanagement of the English language.

Fackinell.

Gary was more direct.

“Seen more movement in my bowels.”

The second-half rumbled on. Above, at least the rain had stopped and the sky was lighter. With fifteen minutes to go, Thomas Tuchel went for drastic change.

Marcos Alonso for Sarr.

Ruben Loftus-Cheek for Jorginho.

Mateo Kovacic for Kante.

Kovacic immediately set a new tempo. He launched himself at various Palace midfielders and won a few challenges. If he was wearing long sleeves, no doubt he would have rolled them up.

There was a new vibrancy, at last. A ball was played through to Lukaku, on the last man. His shot was parried by Buckland and Ziyech tapped in the rebound.

YESSSSSSSSSSSSSS!

I fell over myself, the fans around me were jostling for space as the scorer raced towards us, mayhem in the Arthur Waite. A blue flare landed at Ziyech’s feet.

GET IN.

Then. Whadya know. VAR. No goal.

The pressure continued. Havertz and a header.

The clock ticked away.

Eighty-nine minutes.

Marcos Alonso had the ball at his feet away on the far touchline, in front of the original Archibald Leitch Stand that closely resembles our old East Stand and which is featured on the front of “Hoolifan” from a few years back. He sent over a high and mighty cross and it landed past the back post. Or rather, it didn’t land at all. It met Ziyech’s left foot; as beautiful and calm a finish that anyone is likely to see. The ball was pushed through Butland’s legs and my camera told the story.

GET IN YOU FUCKER.

This time, no offside, no flag from the linesman, nothing but pure celebration.

Oh football I love you.

More pandemonium in the Arthur Waite. I tried to stand on the seat in front to get some photos. I was elbowed in the face. Parky was grabbing hold of me to stop me from falling.

Roars.

Fists punching.

Chelsea going mad.

Bliss.

…”of the world, Champions of the World.”

1 thought on “Tales From The Champions Of The World

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s