Tales From A Happy And Victorious Afternoon At The Vitality

Bournemouth vs. Chelsea : 6 May 2023.

Yet another crazy Chelsea season was nearing completion. There were five games left; three away, two home. The next match was Bournemouth away, the easiest of trips for me.

With PD resting at home and out of action until the new season, we called in a last minute replacement. Mark, from nearby Westbury, was able to pick up a spare ticket and would join Parky – recovering after his own hospital appointment this week – and little old me as I made my way from Somerset to Wiltshire to Dorset, via the slightest of incursions into Hampshire.

I left home just after 7.30am. I knew that a few fans had already travelled down on Friday to make a weekend of it. I collected Parky at 8am and I picked Mark up in the Market Place in Westbury at 8.25am.

This brought back memories from almost forty years ago. The first time that I ever met Mark was on a trip up to London to see Chelsea play Leeds United in April 1984 when we went up in the same car. The driver was Mark’s mate Gary, but he has not been seen for years. Also in the car was PD and Glenn who obviously still go. Thirty-nine years later, four out of five ain’t bad, is it? We beat Leeds 5-0 that day and on the way back to Frome, we stopped off at the Market Place in Westbury and enjoyed an evening pint in “The Crown”.

My route from Westbury was simple enough; down the A350 to Warminster and then down the A36 to Salisbury, then the A338 – via a brief stretch on the A331 – to Bournemouth. As the crow flies, from my house, it is an hour and a half. With my two pick-ups, it took me two hours and ten minutes.

I had not seen Mark since the away game in Milan, so we had a good old catching-up session while I ate up the miles. We agreed on lots of things.

“Why hasn’t Badiashile featured at all? He was calm and efficient in his starts. Since then, nothing.”

“Can’t understand what Frank sees in Sterling. Hope he doesn’t start today.”

“Mudryk is a raw talent and needs game time.”

“In a four, no reason why Chalobah can’t play right back.”

“I like Enzo, though.”

For some reason, I fancied us to win at Bournemouth. I told everyone that I met before the game that “we surely can’t lose all our matches this season?” Although I was never sucked into believing that we had a bona fide relegation fight on our hands, we knew that a win would make us mathematically safe.

In fact, deep down, I suspected that those in our support that were genuinely worried about relegation had not really understood the complexities involved in a relegation struggle. I also think that some of our newer fans were almost revelling in a mock concern about this alleged relegation fight to help them get some “sufferance” brownie points among their peers.

For those who have been reading about 1982/83 this season…now then…THAT was a relegation fight.

I dropped Parky and Marky off outside “The Moon In The Square” and joined them a few minutes later. We breakfasted like kings while many in the pub sat watching the royal coronation on TV.

We met up with a few friends and the time soon passed.

At 1.30pm, we drove the ten minutes out to the Vitality Stadium, spotting a few Chelsea fans along the way. I squeezed my car into the allotted “JustPark” space on Holdenhurst Road and made my way towards the away end. It was ironic that while we have enjoyed many fine days out in Bournemouth since 2016, from October to April, here we were in May and there was drizzle in the air.

I stood alongside Gal, John and Al in the fifth row.

Just before the teams appeared, the noisy and overly-enthusiastic PA announcer pleaded for each of the individual four stands in turn to make “noise for the boys” and my eyes continually rolled.

The teams stood at the centre-circle and “God Save The King” was sung with gusto by all.

As the players lined up in readiness of the kick-off – we attacked our “end” in the first-half, not usually the case here – I absolutely loved Frank’s choice of a starting line-up.

I checked position by position. It was the team that I would have picked in a 4/3/3.

Kepa

Chalobah – Silva – Badiashile – Chilwell

Kante – Enzo – Gallagher

Mudryk – Havertz – Madueke

Did Frank read the comments in my Arsenal blog?

I relaxed knowing that Raheem and Pierre-Emerick were not involved.

The drizzle had mostly petered out but the floodlights were still on. I noticed a surprising number of empty seats in the home areas. Sadly, a fair few were not filled behind me in our section. I find it inconceivable that one of the top fifteen clubs in Europe can’t fill all 1,200 tickets for an away game just one hundred miles away.

It was an open start to the game. The home team – ouch, those nasty zig-zag stripes – created a couple of tasty chances, but Kepa spread himself at his near post to save our blushes while another flashed past a post.

There were a couple of positive chants in support of Frank in those first few minutes.

“Super, Super Frank…”

“Scored two hundred…”

My man Noni Madueke had settled in well on the right flank, twisting and turning, running past defenders, a threat. On just nine minutes, from that right flank, Trevoh Chalobah touched the ball to N’Golo Kante who had time to cross. Conor Galagher moved towards its flight glanced it in at the far post past the marvellously named Neto.

GETINYOUBASTARD.

I just couldn’t bring myself to sing along to the “we are staying up” chants, nor could the young lad next to me. I get the desire for self-deprecation.

But.

Just.

Not.

Right.

Now.

Enzo set up Chalobah but Neto saved well. We looked neat on the ball, with Enzo looking to play in whoever he could whenever he could. Alas, on twenty-one minutes, Dominic Solanke and Ryan Christie set up Matias Vina who ghosted past defenders and, as he set himself up for a shot, I absolutely feared the worst. His lofted curler was perfectly placed beyond the reach of Kepa.

The game was tied 1-1.

I liked the way that Madueke feared nobody as he attacked down the right. His shots on goal showed confidence even if his shot selection and execution were awry. Down our left, seemingly within touching distance, a growing relationship between Gallagher and Mudryk was starting to flourish. The Ukrainian is certainly fast.

I glimpsed into the future at the potential of our very own “M & M” boys – “Mad/Mud” anyone? – causing havoc down the wings, the days of Arjen Robben and Damien Duff reincarnated perhaps, if not the days of Peter Rhoades-Brown and Phil Driver.

Ah, 1983.

Forty years ago, on Friday 6 May, I had an uneventful day at school but the twin nightmares of “A Levels” and a probable relegation were lying heavily on my mind. The very next day – Saturday 7 May 1983 – Chelsea were to visit Bolton Wanderers, one point and one place above Chelsea, in a pure “relegation six pointer”, and my diary noted that if we lost I felt that we would surely be relegated.

Despite seeing the game against Bournemouth being advertised by a few people, who really should have known better, as a “relegation six pointer”, this game wasn’t. It really wasn’t.

We were decent enough in that first-half and at the break I was quietly confident that my pre-game prediction of a Chelsea win would prevail. Kante was producing another 8/10 performance and while he is in the midfield, and Thiago Silva is in defence, we have a chance.

We lost our way a little at the start of the second-half, however, and while Bournemouth created a few chances, we slowed.

I turned to Gal : “Havertz always wants to take one touch too many, doesn’t he?”

This was a strange game now. There were patches of quality; we loved a magical twist out on the touchline from Madueke that made his marker look foolish. This had us all purring. But these were matched by moments of farce; an optimistic volley from Kante went high and so wide that the ball didn’t even leave the pitch.

The pro-Frank songs continued. However, on sixty-three minutes, he had us scratching our heads.

Ruben Loftus-Cheek for Kante.

He was our best player. There was no midweek game to worry about. Was he carrying a knock?

Raheem Sterling for Mudryk.

Oh bloody hell, Raheem…you again?

In the away section, things were getting a little testy. A chant for Roman Abramovich was loud, and an undoubted reaction to the substitutions that seemed to exemplify the current, failing, regime. A chant about the current owner was more forthright.

“Boehly – you’re a cunt.”

There were punches exchanged between two Chelsea fans a few seats behind me.

Christie blasted over. A superb sliding tackle on Solanke by Silva inside the penalty area went to VAR, but there was no foul. Havertz took an extra touch as he broke in on goal from an angle and the moment was lost.

The game rumbled on, with the mood seeming to change inside the away section every few minutes. Ben Chilwell pulled up on the far side and we feared the worst. Dave replaced him. At the same time, Hakim Ziyech replaced Madueke.

The appearance of Hakeem didn’t thrill me, or many, with much joy, but he hugged the near touchline and looked to cause trouble with that tip-tapping style of his.

Vina was clean in on goal to my left, but Kepa made an absolutely brilliant shot, his arm outstretched, strong wrists, magnificent. A Ziyech cross found the head of Havertz, but the effort was saved. On seventy-eight minutes, a corner was headed back across the face of the goal but Dango Ouattara headed over from virtually underneath the bar.

At this stage, it seemed we had lost the momentum and that a Bournemouth goal would be the typical, obvious, sad conclusion.

“Why did I think we’d fucking win this?”

On eighty-two minutes, Sterling and Ziyech stood over the ball at a free-kick on the right hand side of their defensive third. Ziyech floated an in swinging curler towards the penalty spot. The cross had everything. It always looked like it might trouble the defence and ‘keeper. The trajectory, pace and dip were all to perfection. A few Chelsea players rose and the leg of my boy Badiashile flicked the ball past Neto.

The net rippled beautifully.

YES!

His joyous run and slide was lovely to see, his smile wide.

We were back in front.

Phew.

Another substitution, just after, Joao Felix for Havertz.

“How long to go, Gal?”

“Six minutes.”

“Let’s hang on.”

The Chelsea crowd were rocking now.

“We’re gonna have a party, when Arsenal fuck it up.”

On ninety minutes, a beautiful run by under-fire Sterling set up Felix who calmly slotted the ball low past Neto.

I screamed my joy at this one. The game was safe.

AFCB 1 CFC 3.

What a beautiful sight.

These were good times now at The Vitality.

“…when Arsenal fuck it up.”

One win doesn’t make a season, but this bugger was a long time coming. After six consecutive losses, at last three points for Chelsea, and for Frank.

After the game, the players walked over to reciprocate our applause for them. We were happy. They were grateful.

Back in the car, we realised that we had risen to eleventh place.

I made a very quick exit out, and dropped Salisbury Steve off on the way back. I was home by 7.30pm.

Easy.

Next up, two-time European Champions Chelsea take on two-time European Champions Nottingham Forest at Stamford Bridge.

See you there.

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