Chelsea vs. Newcastle United : 13 March 2022.
As a pre-curser to our game at home to Newcastle United on the Sunday, I followed my local team Frome Town to Bath for a derby with Larkhall Athletic on Saturday afternoon. This was a first-time visit to Plain Ham for me and my first Frome game since just after Christmas. Larkhall play at a picturesque ground atop a hill overlooking the city, and as I settled in to cheer on the Robins on a sunny but blustery afternoon, I chatted to a couple of friends.
“It’s weird. I usually use Chelsea as a break – a getaway – from the stresses of normal life, of work, of everything. Today, I am using Frome Town as a break from Chelsea.”
The noise concerning the sanctions against Roman Abramovich and all of the associated rumours were loud and showing no signs of abating.
I fancied keeping a low profile. It felt like that I would be easy prey for a few fellow Frome supporters who followed other clubs. It felt like I was walking around with a large target on my back. In the end, I got off quite lightly. A few lads even felt sorry for the predicament of us Chelsea fans; how we were getting punished for the sins of others. The game was a poor one; a 0-0 draw but we improved our lot as the team below us, Cirencester Town, lost. Our lead at the top of the Southern League Division One South was extended to two points.
On the Sunday morning, I awoke early with a classic, if not slightly uncomfortable, match day ahead of me.
The football Gods had shone on me favourably. My first-ever Chelsea game was way back in 1974 against Newcastle United, and by a nice quirk of fate, the actual forty-eighth anniversary was out by just three days.
Game 1 : Chelsea vs. Newcastle, Saturday 16 March 1974.
Game 1,340 : Chelsea vs. Newcastle United, Sunday 13 March 2022.
That Ron Harris was again joining Paul, Parky and myself on the trip to London made it all a bit sweeter. We were away by just after 7.15am for the 2pm kick-off at Stamford Bridge. I soon explained to Ron about the lovely synchronicity of the two games. In the programme from that first game, Ron was originally due to miss out in favour of young John Sparrow at left-back, who had debuted the previous Wednesday afternoon – the days of fuel shortages and the three-day week – against Burnley, but I memorably crossed his name out and replaced it with Chopper’s name. Ron was keen to see how the current Chelsea supporters were going to react to the news of the sanctions, the selling of the club, the whole nine yards. I was hoping that everyone would be respectful of our delicate position. To be honest, I wanted the game to pass with as little negative noise as possible.
As I drove through the Wiltshire village of Tilshead on Salisbury Plain, six armoured vehicles passed us. It brought everything into sharp focus. Despite our obvious thoughts about the safeguarding of Chelsea’s immediate and long-term future, everything of a football nature seemed to disappear as each of those trucks, carrying soldiers, passed us.
Salisbury Plain, if not the headquarters of the British Army then certainly its training ground and its playing field, is not far from our four West Country homes. I remember that as a child I would often see tanks in training on one stretch of the road between Warminster – a garrison town and Ron’s former home – and Chitterne. I remembered how, during the First World War the army commandeered the village of Imber and forced its inhabitants to flee so that the buildings could be used for street-fighting purposes. In the late ‘eighties, on that same Warminster to Chitterne road, it was easy to spot a newly built village that was said to resemble that of a Polish town since that is where it was thought that any battle in a potential World War Three would take place. Much of the recent war film “1917” was filmed on the Plain too. We wondered if those young British soldiers that had passed us would soon be sent to foreign lands, maybe not to Ukraine, but to bolster the NATO presence elsewhere.
It seems odd, and awful, to be writing about a potential World War Three in a Chelsea blog.
We made good time. I dropped PD and Parky off outside “The Eight Bells” at 9.30am and they disappeared off for a coffee outside Putney Bridge tube station while they waited for the pub to open at 10am. I dropped Ron off near Fulham Broadway and then shot off to park up at the usual place further north.
I walked back down the North End Road and called in to see Mark Worrall at the CFCUK stall opposite the Fulham Broadway tube station. Here, I picked up my free copy of “Tales From The Shed” that had gone to print recently and was now on sale. I am one of thirty-four Chelsea supporters to have submitted a piece on various aspects of the club. Marco gave me a special extension to detail my experience in Abu Dhabi when Chelsea – gasp – became World Champions. I know eleven of the other folk and I chatted briefly to a few of them during the day. The book is the latest of Marco’s “Gate 17” publications and acts as a fundraiser for the Stoll Foundation, which benefits from Chelsea’s charity work in the local area, including “The Big Sleep Out.”
Details are given at the end of this piece.
It is, of course, heartily recommended. But I would say that, wouldn’t I?
Down at “The Eight Bells” we then enjoyed a cracking pre-match yet again. The three of us were joined by Daima from San Diego – her first game, against the Geordies, just like me – plus Deano from Lancashire via Yorkshire, Rich from Edinburgh and four of the lads from Kent who often call in. We had a ball.
It actually felt rather odd to be back at Stamford Bridge once again. Due to a variety of reasons, I missed the Tottenham league match, the Plymouth FA Cup tie and the Lille Champions League game. My last match at Chelsea was the Chesterfield cup tie. The last game that I witnessed from my season-ticket seat was the Tottenham League Cup game way back on the fifth day of January. Since the Chesterfield game, there had been ten games at other venues. This Newcastle game seemed like a homecoming for me.
I settled in alongside Alan, Clive and PD in The Sleepy Hollow section of Block 9 and waited for things to develop.
I spotted “The Roman Empire” banner that had apparently drawn some negative comments from the media earlier in the day. Its presence summed up our predicament.
Were we to airbrush our current owner from our history? No, of course not.
Should the club have taken it down? That would have been disrespectful.
Should we have left it up? That could well have been seen as disrespectful too.
Oh what horrible muddy waters.
Down below, “Three” was still being advertised around the perimeter of the pitch.
Confused? So was I.
Since the news of the sanctions against Roman had broken just four days earlier, my head had been sent into a constant spin. I am sure that elsewhere it was a similar case. It was difficult to find lucid and straightforward commentary and insight.
It certainly felt like we were the whipping boys.
But I kept thinking back to the terrible summer of 1976 when Chelsea appeared to be going belly-up. I can remember one moment that I often think back on.
Before I disappeared into my bedroom – one that was quickly becoming a shrine to Chelsea Football Club – I can remember sobbing as I pinned a note up on my bedroom door.
“1974 : Division One. 1975 : Division Two. 1976 : nothing.”
It was a cry-for-help to my parents and, looking back, it was of course all rather embarrassing. My poor parents spoke to me about it the next day and tried to allay any fears of my beloved club disappearing, but of course these were just empty words as they had no real clue.
So, I have been there before.
My have parents passed away now, but maybe I need to see if I have any Blu Tack for a 2022 version.
I was worried about a repeat of Burnley with some unwanted chants taking place during a minute of applause for the people of Ukraine. I hoped that Chelsea would not be holding a similar minute before this game and immediately hated myself for it. Did I really want to see the reputation of the club being upheld instead of us all joining in for a minute for Ukraine? Sadly, yes. Again, I hated myself.
I had spoken to a few friends in the pub that I liked the idea of us wearing yellow shorts for this one game.
Blue shirts. Yellow shorts. United with Ukraine. A big message to the world. And a message to our support that chanting our current owner’s name during the minute of applause was not deemed acceptable.
Among all of this, there was a game to be played. I hadn’t thought much about it.
The teams appeared. Lo and behold, the Chelsea players were all wearing “3” on the shirts and a state of confusion reigned. At one stage, it looked like both sets of players were converging on the centre-circle and my fears about a “minute of applause” was going to come to fruition. In the end, they all backed away. There was the knee, but no more.
The game began. The Geordies, backed by three thousand, must have won the toss because we attacked the Matthew Harding, where Daima was watching from the opposite corner.
Oh, the team?
It looked like a back four, but was Hakim Ziyech playing right wing-back?
No, a four surely.
Chalobah – Rudiger – Christensen – Sarr
Jorginho – Kante – Mount
Ziyech – Havertz – Werner
The fact that we were playing against Newcastle United, a club now bankrolled by the oil-rich but highly dubious Saudis, provided a dark undercurrent both before and during the game. I hoped that the possible, no probable, chanting from both sets of supporters would not darken things further.
The first-half was a pretty poor affair and had little real merit. An early shot from Andreas Christensen flew high into the crowd. A header from Antonio Rudiger soon after did not trouble Martin Dubravka in the Newcastle goal.
Thinking to myself : “In 1974, we were already one-up at this stage.”
The game settled but it didn’t really thrill. Unsurprisingly, we dominated but struggled to break down a resilient Newcastle team. There were slim pickings.
A long corner was aimed for a waiting Mason Mount but his speculative volley from way out flew high and wide. On twenty-eight minutes, I noted the best move of the match down our right but the end shot, from Werner, was always drifting wide.
While we were attacking, some supporters in the Matthew Harding Lower sung “Roman Abranomovich” but the general noise and commotion in that section meant that it was missed by the rest of the stadium; it had no chance to picked up and carried by others.
I was relieved.
I just didn’t want the negativity that would have accompanied it.
“We’re grateful Roman for everyting. But you’re not part of our future now. Let’s move on.”
On the half-hour, a Newcastle chance was spurned, and we held on.
The away fans sang : “Mike Ashley he’s coming for you.”
The Matthew Harding responded : “Boris Johnson he’s coming for you.”
The sun appearing overhead was a welcome addition to the afternoon, but the football itself didn’t really warm up at all.
The away fans were still chipping away at us.
The home fans rallied with a loud and defiant “Carefree” as the half entered the last ten minutes. Until then, the support had been subdued, tamed, thoughts elsewhere perhaps.
Efforts from Kai Havertz and Mount were hardly worthy of the name.
Right at the end of the poor first-half, we were soon roaring our approval of a magnificent save by Mendy from Miguel Almiron through a crowd of players.
The second period began.
On fifty-five minutes, a superb ball was lofted forward by Andreas Christensen but after a poor touch from Werner, the chance evaporated.
The second-half followed much the same pattern as the first.
There was untidy play from us, a few half-chances from the visitors, resolute defending from them and a Roman Abramovich chant half-way through the half from the MHL that was again lost in the general hubbub and not spotted by the rest of the support. I again heaved a sigh of relief.
I summed up proceedings to Alan in an embarrassingly poor way :
“Fucking shit, innit?”
But it was. This was a poor match. One to forget.
On the hour, Thomas Tuchel changed it around.
Mateo Kovacic for Mount.
Romelu Lukaku for Werner.
We huffed-and-puffed to no avail and, as happens on these occasions when I know that there are friends watching their first games at Chelsea, I was sad for Daima.
On the seventy-five-minute mark, a header from the leap of Havertz after a cross from Havertz gave us a false rush of hope. The header was easily claimed by Dubravka.
Christian Pulisic replaced Sarr.
The game ambled along. We had almost given up hope. Clive disappeared off with a minute of normal time remaining.
Then, out of absolutely nowhere, a dream of a ball from Jorginho, who at last gets a mention right at the end of this report and not without good reason. He played a ball over the top and into space for the perfect run of Havertz.
One touch, a shot low.
Stamford Bridge exploded.
I turned to my left and stared, eyes wide, at the yellow steps and double-punched my arms in a frankly disturbing way. I’d lost control. But fuck it. Seconds later I grabbed by camera to snap the celebrations.
Alan : “They’ll have to come at us now, like.”
Chris : “Come on wor little diamonds, like.”
Incredibly, the same player almost made it two a few moments later when he raced through in the inside-right channel but saw his delicate chip knocked away by Dubravka.
The Geordies were silent. The final whistle blew.
An incredible ending to a very poor game had given us three more points. I was especially elated for Daima over in Block 16.
The players clapped us as they slowly walked around the pitch. I have usually departed by this stage, but I stayed momentarily to clap them too. It was one of those moments.
“Blue Is The Colour” never felt sounded so emotional.
“Cus Chelsea, Chelsea Is Our Name.”
“Tales From The Shed.“
The price for a limited edition version from the CFCUK stall on matchdays at Stamford Bridge is just £9, of which £5 goes to the Stoll Foundation.
This version can also be purchased via the eBay link at www.gate17books.co.uk – here there is also a 10% auto donation to the Alzheimer’s Society and £2 will also go to Stoll.
A standard paperback version of the book is also available worldwide via Amazon – sales via this platform will generate £2 per copy for Stoll.
This is the link for Amazon UK https://amzn.to/3tLUg0K
Additionally, I have a spare copy which I am happy to send to a fellow Chelsea supporter – or not as the case may be – as a prize. The competition? I have been thinking long and hard about this and I am stumped for a question. Therefore, I am going to turn the tables a little.
What question should I ask for this competition to win a copy of “Tales From The Shed”?
Let’s see how your minds and your imaginations work.
Please email me your answer…er, question…to : firstname.lastname@example.org
Closing date : Friday 25 March.