Tales From Wembley

Chelsea vs. Everton : 30 May 2009.

So, the final on Saturday had all of Britain glued to their TV sets. I am sure they weren’t disappointed.

Well done Diversity – worthy winners.

…bad luck, Susan Boyle.

I jest…

With the Champions League Final taking place on the Wednesday, the media coverage of this year’s FA Cup Final has been very low-key. The fall-out to United’s non-performance in Rome was still being discussed everywhere on Friday. Our game with Everton wasn’t getting much of a mention.

For the record, this was Chelsea’s ninth Cup Final. We were losing finalists in 1915, 1967, 1994 and 2002, but winners in 1970, 1997, 2000 and 2007. My life as a Chelsea fan began with the 1970 win versus Leeds, though I remember nothing of the game…it was the discussions in the school playground after which led me to choose Chelsea…surely more success would follow. If only I knew.

I am sure everyone is aware of our lack of success in the league from 1955 to 2005. Growing up as a kid in the ‘seventies and ‘eighties, I had to endure year after year of taunts from friends as Chelsea flitted in and out of the top two divisions. It was a tough upbringing and not even the FA Cup could bring me any respite. In fact, we were even worse in the cup than the league. From our appearance in the 1970 final to our next appearance in a final in 1994, we did not reach one single FA Cup Final. As a comparison, here is a list of the London teams who reached the FA Cup Final in this period.

1975-Fulham and West Ham
1980-Arsenal and West Ham
1982-Tottenham and QPR
1990-Crystal Palace

Doesn’t that make grim reading? Look at some of those teams…Fulham! QPR! Wimbledon! In this period of time, my team Chelsea did not even reach one FA Cup semi-final!

Yes it was as bad as that.

Every year, I watched the FA Cup Final on TV in early May and wondered if I had not read the small print on my Chelsea Fan Contract…years of under-achievement guaranteed. Throw in three relegations for good measure, too…what a period in our history.

A terrible 0-4 defeat to Manchester United in the 1994 Final rubbed salt in the wound, but all of this hardship – 26 years with no trophies – was forgotten on a never-to-be-forgotten day in 1997 when we beat ‘Boro 2-0 and celebrated like never before. I still get goose-bumps at the thought of that wonderful weekend. In fact, immediately after this game, for quite a period, I felt as if my relationship with my club had been irretrievably changed…I was now supporting a successful team and my brain and body did not know how to cope. I felt very odd. For so long, we wore the “no trophies but passionate support” mantle as a badge of honour and now…I don’t know…it seemed different, somehow.

Wembley 1997 was up there with the very best though…only behind Bolton 2005 in my book.

All these dates in our history…

And here’s more history – as you know, I have been harking back to 1983-84 all season and for this final game, my mind went back to May 1984. After the game against Barnsley, I did something very silly – I went and got myself a job in a local dairy. I hated the first few days to be honest…I was forever humming words from a Smiths’ song…”I was looking for a job and then I found a job and heaven knows I’m miserable now.” Our last game was at Grimsby but I was not going…I had made no plans, though I suppose with my first ever job starting on the Thursday, I could have gone up by train. Not to worry – I had enjoyed a good run in 1983-1984; a best ever eleven games.

Two other strange echoes from 1984…

Everton reached the FA Cup Final and the European Cup Final was held in Rome.

Back to 2009. On Thursday, over a period of an hour, my Cup Final Weekend plans took a hammering…first we were to learn that Saturday evening’s Depeche Mode gig was cancelled and then we heard that Friday’s Morrissey gig was cancelled too.


I was going to stay with Alan for the weekend, but these plans changed…I would now be going up with Karen, Dave, Glenn and PD.

The Frome Five set off at 8am and it was already a lovely sunny morning. Unfortunately, PD is not renewing his season ticket next season but all of my other mates are doing so. There wasn’t too much chat about the Final on the way up…the only thing I remember discussing was the likelihood of Mikel coming in for Ballack…and the likelihood of Everton packing their midfield, leaving only Saha up front.

“And he’s rubbish” I said.

We marked the likely starting line-up’s performances this season.

Cech 6
Bosingwa 6
Cole 7
Terry 7
Alex 8
Mikel 6
Essien 6
Lampard 9
Malouda 6
Drogba 7
Anelka 8

Nearing London we hit some bad traffic caused by a crash by Twickenham. We reversed down the motorway slip-road along with many more cars ( quite illegal ) and headed in via some back roads around Heathrow and then the M4. We were parked up by 10.15am, but were behind schedule. The others were meeting in a pub at Marble Arch, but we had our usual breakfast in Fulham. We walked to West Brompton – that breeze was nice – and caught the tube to Marble Arch. Then a quick walk up to The Duke Of York where the rest of the lads were now based. We arrived at 11.45pm.

What a pre-match…fantastic times!

Simon, Milo, Rob, Gary, Alan, Daryl and Ed were already there. And…Neil?

The first bit of good news involved Neil who was originally unable to get a ticket. His nephew Ed had fatefully bumped into a bloke at a gym on Thursday who “knew someone who knew someone” who had a spare. An hour later, Neil was booked on a flight from Guernsey. I was made up for him.

Detroit Bob had been in touch and he was sat around the corner with a pint of Strongbow…I first met him in Chicago in 2006. I introduced him to the boys and I downed a pint of Staropramen. Russ from Frome showed up and he had a ticket from a mate working at ITV. Then Mike and Alex from New York rolled in, minus Chopper, who was ill in bed.

I pinned my Peter Osgood flag up against the pub window and a few photos were taken. The sky was clear, the sun was shining and the beers were going down smoothly. I chatted to Mike, Bob and Alex, but felt a bit bad about it. All of these friends from America can’t be ignored, but I hardly spoke to Alan and Gary, for example. A special word for these two stalwarts. It has been a long season and the game at Wembley would be my 55th game, matching my total number of games in 2007-2008. However, Alan and Gary had been to all 59 games. A fantastic performance.

Lacoste Watch

Daryl – canary

Alex had been lucky enough to go to the Boca vs. River Plate game in Buenos Aires and he regaled me with amazing stories from that game. We spoke a little about the summer tour…Mike and Bob are doing all four, Alex just Baltimore. I had brought the visitors from The States a little gift from Somerset – a little bottle of scrumpy cider apiece.

Good times.

Walnuts and Whitey showed up – alas without tickets – and then Andy and Smithy.

With everyone now assembled, I ushered everyone together and took a few photos of The Bada Bing Firm, with invited guests! The only absentees were Parky, who was getting hammered at The Bridge, and San Francisco Pete, who never made it to the pub despite promptings!

The plan…ha!…was to leave between 1.30pm and 1.45pm so I could get in to the stadium in good time to put up my Peter Osgood banner. One drink lead to another and we eventually left for Marylebone at just before 2pm. On the walk to the station, I chatted to Rob about the game in Baltimore and he was keen to go. He had been drinking amoretto all day…”Amoretto, Chelsea Amoretto” was sung with gusto.

Massive crowds at the station forecourt and a frustrating time. The station echoed to Chelsea songs. Good vibes, but let’s get going! We eventually got through and got into an empty carriage. The train didn’t move for ten minutes as the carriage filled-up. We pulled away at about 2.30pm, but thank heavens, it’s only a ten minute trip.

I had awoken at 6.45am with a sore throat, but I didn’t care. I led the singing with a classic “Zigger Zagger” ( oh, my throat! ) and the carriage was rocking.

On the quick walk up to the stadium, I noted only Chelsea fans heading towards the game. Just a gaggle of Evertonians – ticket-less, miserable – heading in the opposite direction. It was now 2.50pm and so much for my plans! Quickly inside and up several escalators, bumping into Andy from Trowbridge and Fun Time Franky from Frome at the top. In the two minutes inside Wembley, Frank had managed to lose his ticket. Nightmare!

I heard the national anthem – I was fed up I had missed all of the pageantry this year – and made my way into my seat in row 11 of section 544 high above the far corner flag. There were eight of us in a row. Great seats. I glanced around. I had got in at 2.55pm. I wouldn’t be able to pin my Ossie flag up…not yet anyway. I noted the balcony in the Everton end absolutely festooned with flags, yet our balcony was only a third-covered. Our big flags though – JT, Frank, Matthew Harding – were out in force. I saw that Mikel was playing…good.

At 3pm I took a photo of Saha and Fellaini waiting for the kick-off whistle.

After 12 seconds, I took a photo of the ball being pumped up-field.

After 25 seconds, misery.

What a start. Oh boy. Here we go. We’ll have to do this the hard way. So be it. To be fair to everyone, we didn’t panic and stroked the ball around confidently. I had no doubts that we would win. I sent a text message out to a few people to this effect.

Malouda was getting lots of space down the left and after a fine cross, Drogba lept with no challenge from the defenders. I was perfectly positioned to see the ball drop straight into the Everton goal…I was watching the trajectory of the ball and it was a joy to behold.

Get in.

I grabbed my camera and took two impromptu shots of Glenn and Daryl. They are classics!

We continued to dominate for the rest of the half and our support, out sung by the Evertonians, grew louder. It was definitely a case of “game on!”

During the interval, I grabbed my Peter Osgood flag and marched down to the front. I carefully threaded some string and hung the flag up, high above the NW corner flag. I sent a few texts out and asked people to keep an eye out for it. Way across the stadium in the lower tier, Mike from New York took a photo of it. Pete from San Francisco, too. I kept scanning the crowd to see if I had missed anything, any detail, any flag or banner…I couldn’t help but notice a block of about 25 empty seats in the Chelsea upper tier on the other side to me. I’d love to know how and why they never got sold. Very strange.

Everton came back into the game a little after the break, but our defence was rarely troubled. Essien had been replaced by Ballack and our dominance continued. With about twenty minutes to go, the ball broke to Frank and I wanted him to move it out to Malouda. What do I know? He stumbled, regained his balance and unleashed a belter past Howard.

The net bulged.

The Chelsea end, yellow and blue, erupted. I tried to take a few snaps of Frank celebrating, but the lens found it difficult to focus with all of the arms in the way. Hugs with Tom and Glenn. We were back in front in a repeat of the semi-final…1-0 down, 2-1 up. Lovely.

Soon after Lamps was booked for a silly dive – the only blot on another exceptional performance by him. JT may be our captain, but I think this season Frank has become our leader. The Malouda whizzbang shot looked like it didn’t cross the line, but it apparently did. Not to worry.

We waited for Howard Webb to blow the final whistle and it was a lovely moment when we heard that shrill sound.

I then took many more photos of the following thirty minutes…during the course of the day, I took around 275…I will put a lot of these on my Facebook page.

It was odd to see us playing in yellow, but on that perfect sunny day in North West London it just made it even more special.


What a wonderful time we had, clapping and singing, shouting our praises. I like to think that the appearance of Peter Osgood made all the difference – it was but a fleeting appearance as my flag had to be taken down as it was spoiling the view of the denizens in the Club Wembley seats.

JT lifted the cup and I snapped away. Silver and blue streamers floated down from the sky.

Snap, snap, snap.

“Blue Is The Colour” echoed around and, unlike 1984, the acoustics were very very loud. I love that song. Then “Blue Day” – memories of 1997. Then “The Liquidator” – the place rocking now. Lastly, “One Step Beyond” – I look back and there are Simon, Daryl, Alan and Gary doing a Nutty Boys Shuffle, with Milo doing a “Britain’s Got Talent” solo dance in the row in front.

Hilarious. Smiles all around.

At about 5.30pm, we eventually left, but I lost the others, too busy texting somebody or other. Out in the sun, smiles from Chelsea and songs from Everton. Detroit Bob bumped into me and then I found myself right behind Russ in the queue for the train. Good times. Russ had a ticket in the Everton end and had to bite his lips on many occasions.

The three of us caught the 6.15pm train back to Marylebone. I said to Bob that it was deathly quiet…I began singing

“We won the cup, we won the cup – ee-aye-adio, we won the cup.”

Apart from Bob, not a single Chelsea fan joined in.

“You should be ashamed!” I said. Not a flicker. Is this the club we have become?

We met up at the Duke Of York at 6.45pm…two more pints of Staropramen…lots of hugs and handshakes. Chelsea historian Rick Glanvill was there – always a pleasant chap – and I had a few words. Chopper joined us and he was his usual ebullient self. Still blue skies overhead. However, Glenn and myself had a big dilemma. Our drive home was waiting for us at West Brompton. Damn! We finished our pints and shook hands with everyone.

“Love ya.”

We sloped off at 7.15pm. Detroit Bob was with us and he was headed down to The Bridge. By the time we had reached Marble Arch tube, he had talked us into crashing at his hotel on the North End Road…let the pub crawl continue! Glenn spoke to his wife Sara and all was cool. We took a 74 bus down to Earl’s Court and popped into The Prince Of Wales and then The Lillie Langtry where we met Dutch Mick and his crew. It was still only 8.30pm. We caught a bus down to The Bridge, expecting the place to be jumping.

What a let down. We popped into Frankie’s – formerly The Shed Bar – and there were only about twenty people inside. We had a beer and left. The whole of the Fulham Road appeared quiet and subdued.

A big disappointment! In 1997, the place was buzzing…there was a sofa in the middle of the road at Fulham Broadway I remember.

By this time, Glenn was past it, so we tucked him up for the night in Detroit Bob’s hotel, then back to The Lillie for a couple more. We ended up, inevitably, at Salvo’s at 11.30pm. More Peronis, more pizza, the game highlights on TV…Bob was still yakking but I was getting tired. As a nightcap, Salvo poured us out some grappa on the house and we eventually left at 2am.

It had been a great day.


Tales From The Final League Game Of The Season

Sunderland vs. Chelsea : 24 May 2009.

I awoke at 5.15am with a long day ahead of me. To be brutally frank, I was in a mixed mood leading up to this game. It has been a long season for us all and I have mentioned before that I am limping over the finish line. The fact that the fixtures computer spewed out an away trip for Chelsea in far-away Sunderland on the last weekend of the season seemed to be typically cruel. However, in all of my years of supporting the club, I have never attended all of our league games in one season. Last season, I did fifty-five games in total, but didn’t go to a handful of away games. Ironically, the last league game I missed was the away fixture at Sunderland last March, when I succumbed to a flu bug and couldn’t face the 600 mile round trip. So, for this reason alone, I had to be there. Staying at home was not an option. I set off at 6am.

“For the last time this league season : Jack Kerouac.”

Into Frome for a McBreakfast and their large coffee buzzed me to life. I fuelled up at Beckington as the bright sun began burning away the early-morning fog.

I was on my way. I drove up The Fosseway for the fourth time this season and was in no rush. I had again arranged a lift from Nuneaton with my mate Andy and, boy, was I grateful. My head was a bit fuzzy on the way north…my mind flitted from thoughts about the past season, the game at Sunderland, the FA Cup Final and the trip to America in the summer. My mind seemed to lack focus. To be expected I guess – all these games, all these plans flying around my brain. I had only visited Sunderland once before…that horrible 4-1 defeat in December 1999. Strangely, just after that, we all regrouped on the Monday at Heathrow and flew off for a Champions League game in Rome. How it so easily could have been the same this year!

I thought back on season 1983-84.Our penultimate game was a match against Barnsley on Bank Holiday Monday. I travelled up with my parents for this game, who went off to do some shopping or sightseeing around London during the day. Promotion was already secured, but still over 29,000 attended the game. It was a lovely feeling to know that I would know some friends at the game, even though no plans had been made. I merely made my way into The Benches and sat with Alan, Paul and Mark, my new friends at Chelsea. I think I am correct in saying that Keith Dublin, our second black player, made his debut in the game. David Speedie opened the scoring from yet another piece of Pat Nevin magic, but Barnsley equalised through David Geddis. With ten minutes remaining, a Dale Jasper shot was swept in by Nevin and the crowd, in a repeat of the Leeds game, surrounded the pitch. I have quite a few blurred photos from this game and they capture the excitement of the day very well. In the last move of the game, Nevin dribbled through the Barnsley defence and everyone just knew we were going to score again. Kerry Dixon seemed to get in the way of the shot, but Wee Pat smashed it home from an angle. Brilliant! Another pitch invasion and then the final whistle. Another home win for us. The players came out onto the balcony of the East Upper again and I was on the pitch in a repeat of the Leeds game. I made a point of walking to both goalmouths and loved seeing the stands from the pitch. I eventually left the ground, scene of many fantastic memories during that unforgettable season. Meanwhile, Sheffield Wednesday were held 0-0 at home by Manchester City and so Chelsea went into the final game, at Grimsby, on top of the pile.

Twenty-five years on, I drove through Coventry and picked up Lovejoy just before 9am. Then, the short drive to Nuneaton to meet Andy. We collected Woody at 9.45am and headed north. Talk was of the FA Cup Final, but also of the fight against relegation. I fancied Newcastle to nick a point at Villa and stay up. So did Andy. I made the point that in days gone by, on such a day, over 10,000 Geordies would have invaded Villa Park. These days, a different ball game – the most any team gets for an away fixture is 3,000, or 5,000 at Wigan or Blackburn, whose home fans don’t always turn up. After an initial flurry of chat, I gave way to some sleep – quite a surprise on the way to a game. The season was obviously taking its toll.

Lacoste Watch –

Andy – racing green
Chris – beige

The weather was perfect and Andy made good time. Lovejoy was in the front passenger seat and I was able to admire his beautifully constructed barnet. It surely is a thing of beauty and it all stays intact via a series of strings and pulleys. At 1pm we pulled into a pub in Sunderland and stayed for an hour or so. Three pints of “Coors Light” and the third Toby Carvery of the season. It was the business. I wondered if Andy has named his dog Toby for this reason alone. After we devoured our food, we were able to observe the eating habits of the locals as they spooned various foodstuffs onto their plates.

“That one has just meat and about twenty potatoes!”

“Go on girl, get stuck in!”

“Look at that, the greedy get – two Yorkshire puddings!”

“Good job they bloody wear stripes.”

“What a bunch of fat gets.”

Andy was able to park up no more than twenty yards from the away end. Sunderland used to play at Roker Park but moved into the oddly-named The Stadium Of Light in around 1997. I wanted to take a few shots outside so disappeared off for a few moments. The stadium, which holds 48,000, has been built on the site of the old Monkwearmouth Colliery, high on a hill overlooking the River Wear. Out in the car park, two remnants of old Roker Park remain…two forty foot sections of Archibald Leitch ( yeah, him again ) balconies from the old stadium have been placed amid flower beds and the effect is quite striking. Just love those cross-hatch supports. Outside the main entrance, there is a wheel from the colliery in Sunderland red.

I find it a bit odd that Sunderland chose such an ill-fitting name for their new stadium. It is the same name as Benfica’s stadium and appears to be named for that reason alone. However, “light” in Portuguese is “luce” which is the area of Lisbon where the stadium is built. So – are you all still paying attention? – a stadium in Sunderland named after the anglicised version of the name of an area in which a stadium in Lisbon is built. Work that one out! I find it odd they chose the new moniker of “The Black Cats” to coincide with the move out of Roker, too. That a club with such a rich history should reinvent itself is a bit bizarre.

I bought a programme for a change and it was a good read. They put the “away fans” figures in the programme and it was interesting to see how other London teams fared at Sunderland this season –

Arsenal – 2,715
Tottenham – 1,378
West Ham – 807
Fulham – 251

Into the stadium and I quickly found Alan and Gary nursing pints. Alan said that Sir Bobby Robson, ailing with cancer and in a wheelchair, was seen entering the stadium. He was given a rousing reception by both seats of fans. I bought a pint of “Fosters” and played “spot the face” amongst the Chelsea support. Of my immediate mates, Alan, Gary and Andy had not missed a league game all season, while Lovejoy missed just one.

Out into the stadium, blue skies overhead. I was in a seat right next to the Sunderland fans in the corner, the noisiest section of the entire stadium. They were wearing red and white shirts like they were going out of fashion. I think we have to acknowledge that their hated rivals Newcastle were the first set of fans to take to wearing replica shirts en masse at games, circa 1994.

Can’t see the fascination, myself.

A big surprise that Frank didn’t play…we wondered why. I also wondered why we were back to wearing the “old” shirts…and why we were wearing blue socks.

I spotted several lads, mainly in their late forties and early fifties wearing Ben Shermans, braces, jeans and DMs…I guess an “old school fancy dress away game” had been planned amongst a certain section of our support. In addition to Cathy and Mo, I bumped into two other Chelsea fans – Kevin and Ian – who will be in Baltimore and Dallas.

Of course, the Sunderland fans to my left made a right racket throughout the game, but their focus was on the games at Hull, West Ham and Villa too. They celebrated wildly when goals at the KC and Upton Park were scored. Our support wasn’t fantastic. To be honest, I felt a bit dazed. It was weird for nothing to be “on” this game for us. It was just a case of us being there, to get the game done. A quiet first half ended with Malouda rattling the crossbar.

What a fantastic strike from Anelka…loved the way he just refused to pass on his meandering run from inside his own half. With Ronaldo not even on the bench, his Golden Boot was assured. Then some poor defending allowed Sunderland to equalise. The stand shook as the home fans celebrated. And then again when news leaked through of Villa’s goal against Newcastle. Not to worry, substitute Kalou whacked home a great goal which I captured on film. This restored our lead.

The home fans in the corner sang throughout the game, but I couldn’t decipher much of it. Ashley Cole’s wife came in for a bit of predictable abuse.

“Your wife’s a Geordie slag.”

“Yeah – as if you’d turn her down” bellowed Gary.

I was then the target of some “banter” from a few of the natives…one of whom seemed to make a deal of the way I was provocatively wearing some sunglasses.

I was deeply hurt.

Ashley tucked in a third and my protagonist left…what a muppet. Still time for Kenwyne Jones, who I rate, to make it 3-2. And so it ended. Another away win for us. The players came over to applaud us.

“See you next Saturday, boys.”

Game 38 – tick.

I had worked out I had travelled 9,300 miles from my home in Somerset to follow the boys during the league campaign this season. Definitely a proud moment for me.

We were soon out and away, the natives still bouncing with the demise of Newcastle United. Andy drove down the A19 on the way south, a route which gave us lovely views of the North Sea, but then of Middlesbrough, the other relegated team on this most brutal of days.

And so, the end of our league season…

…third place for us. No complaints.

I have to commend Fulham for nicking a European place, especially since they got it at the expense of Spurs. Fulham in Europe – crazy!

And next year’s teams have been decided. Up come Wolves, Birmingham and Burnley…I’m pleased about Burnley. I remember how they almost became a non-league team in 1987 and survived on the last day of the season with my boyhood hero Ian Britton scoring one of their two goals. They have been out of the top flight since 1976. With Burnley, Stoke City, Birmingham City and Wolves in the division, the league is starting to resemble something from my childhood in the early-seventies.

Funny – in 1983-84, I was looking forward to loads of new stadia to visit in the new season. In 2009, I’m still desperate for new stadia. Next season, it will be just Burnley…oh well, better than no new grounds at all.

We got back to Andy’s at 9am and I dropped off Lovejoy at 9.30pm.

“Be lucky.”

As I drove south, I felt increasingly tired and even picked up a banging headache during the last few miles. I reached home at 12.30am, totally knackered.

One game to go.

See you at Wembley.


Tales From Roy Bentley’s Birthday Party

Chelsea vs. Blackburn Rovers : 17 May 2009.

It’s hard to believe that the end of the season is now in sight. That home opener against Portsmouth seems like last week. I’m personally crawling over the finish line – I’m pretty much “all played out,” to coin a famous phrase…my eyes are set on FA Cup Final Day and then I’ll have a good old rest.

During the build-up to the game against Blackburn Rovers, four tickets became available from friends who couldn’t make the game. It looked like they would go unused, but two friends of a chap from New Jersey I met at the Juve game picked up two, then Steve and his son Charlie fortuitously picked up two in the East Lower Family Section.

Steve called around at 9am and I drove over to collect Parky at 9.30am. In all of my reports this season, I have been harking back to 1983-84 and I last commented on the Leeds game which clinched promotion. Daryl has added a section on the euphoric win at Manchester City in a previous thread. Although, we are a bit out of synch, the day after the Manchester City game ( which I did not attend ), I accompanied Steve to the Bristol City vs. Swindon Town game. Steve follows Frome Town, our local team, but back in our youth, he used to go to Ashton Gate a fair bit too. His first ever game was the 2-2 draw against us in April 1976. That game at Ashton Gate in 1984 is a blur now, a feint memory, but over 12,000 ( a massive gate for the old fourth division at the time ) saw City win 1-0 and gain promotion. It was a big deal for them, but I was non-plussed. It seemed odd to be at a game which didn’t involve Chelsea. We spoke about this game on the drive up to London.

Charlie is the middle of three sons and has chosen Chelsea as his team. He takes defeat pretty deeply and I can sense that he looks to me a bit for guidance in troubled times. This would be his third Chelsea game…I went with him and Steve to his last one, the Community Shield loss to Liverpool in Cardiff in 2006. I occasionally get him a few things from HQ. With no children of my own, it’s nice to have a young Chelsea fan to have a chat with.

I made good time as I zipped up the quiet, for a change, M4. The weather couldn’t make up its mind…one minute showers and the next sun. A metaphor for our season, eh? Parky was in good form, but it is a shame that he won’t be going to the FA Cup Final. I parked up at 11.30am. Within a few minutes, we were the first to arrive at “Dall Artista” where we were to have our last pizza and beer session of the current campaign. Dave and Karen from Frome were the next to arrive. Already this season, Salvo has hosted John Schaeffer, Bob Clark, Chopper, Hoss and Larry from across the pond, and within a few minutes, Stu from Atlanta and Todd from DC joined our little group.

This is the first time I had met Stu and Todd, but Stu was at the 2006 game in Chicago. We must’ve brushed past each other in “Fado” at one time or another. As we demolished our pizzas, we chatted about the whole Chelsea Team / Supporters / Rituals / Celery / Fandom / America “thing.” I think we only touched the surface really. I wagged a finger at Todd when he wanted to talk politics…definitely out of bounds on match days! Another great meal and we said our “ciaos” to Salvo until next August.

We trotted over to The Goose where a pre-match was in full flow…the West Country lot were in the bar, but the rest were out chancing their arms against the elements in the beer garden. Daryl handed over my Cup Final ticket and it was a great reminder that we still had the greatest of days still to come. Steve and Charlie exited early and headed towards HQ for some shopping in the Megastore. I chatted to Stu and Todd about all sorts, including an explanation of the rules of cricket to Todd ( tough! ) and Cockney rhyming slang to Stu ( equally tough!). I’ve said it before – how am I supposed to cover all the important points to first time visitors to The Bridge? Maybe I should write up a few points and hand them out in a booklet. I hope enough questions were answered.

Lacoste Watch –

Daryl – apple green
Parky – orange

Parky, Todd, Stu and myself left the boozer at about 3.20pm and we walked down the North End Road for the last time this season. It’s a real “league of nations”, with many ethnic shops and cafes at the north end, a few pubs and the usual KFC, McDonalds, Burger King mix too. On all days except Sundays, there is a street market on one kerb. It’s a pretty vibrant place, no doubt. As we waited for some stragglers, Cathy and Dog strolled by. I made sure the two Americans bought a copy of “CFCUK” and we were then outside The So Bar. Parky sloped off for a cheeky final pint as we turned and faced the West Stand. I heard Stu and Todd go “Wow!” and it surprised me. I don’t think the facade of the stand is either particularly grand or special. I took a photo of them as the Chelsea supporters milled around them. Oh, the bustle of match days! Just time for a little history of Stamford Bridge as we approached the stairs to the Upper turnstiles. Todd was sitting by himself in the MHL and Stu was with me in the MHU. We scrambled up the stairs and as we approached the vomitory ( OK – the gate! ), I turned around and said “Welcome To The Bridge.” Within a few seconds, I introduced Stu to Alan, Tom and Zac, my match day neighbours. After my “altercation“ with the three lads in the row infront in November, things are still lukewarm between us. Their loss, not mine.

Blackburn had around 300 fans and I didn’t hear a single peep from them the entire game. Stu wondered why there were empty seats either side of them…I had to explain about the alien concept of segregation. I noted other empty seats, in one, twos and threes around the stadium, especially in the “comps” section in the middle of the Shed Upper. Crazy. The Blackburn fans held up a banner in praise of Tugay, who used to be a great player. This is his last season for Blackburn. I always think he looks like Sarah Bernhard.

The new kit looks great from a distance, but the shirt has “too much going on.” Less is more.

We watched as a lovely move built up down our right flank…first Essien, down below us, retaining the ball until he was able to release the ball to Bosingwa, thrusting forward and then a ball out to Anelka to stretch the defence. A crisp first-time ball into a good area and there was Florent Malouda to head home, a bullet from fifteen yards. Lovely-jubbly. Malouda has been a revelation these past two months and his re-birth still leaves me struggling for explanations. The chances came and went in a reasonable first half. A shot from Anelka and then two close-range Blackburn misses. Frank hit the bar. The weather was holding fair and it wasn’t a bad half. The crowd were pretty subdued, though.

Dennis Wise came on to the pitch at half-time and the crowd responded with the loudest noise of the day. A little ditty dating from 1999 – some of you might now it!

The second-half was even better and we should have scored more as Blackburn chased shadows. Alan and myself were surprised that Hiddink started with what looked suspiciously like our Cup Final starting eleven…great, no Ballack…but we guessed he might rest them against Sunderland. We were surprised that no subs came on. Maybe one big work out and then a rest next week.

Anelka drilled home a lovely shot to make the game safe and we came close a few other times. The second-half, though, was really a time for a few songs of praise for Guus Hiddink.

“One Guus Hiddink, There’s Only One Guus Hiddink, One Guus Hiddink.”

“We Want You To Stay, We Want You To Stay – Guus Hiddink, We Want You To Stay.”

“Sign Him Up, Sign Him Up, Sign Him Up.”

As is customary during the last home game of the season, stewards lined the pitch during the last ten minutes and I prepared my camera for a few photos of the boys on their lap of appreciation.

The final whistle.

Before the players came back on, an extra special moment. Ron Harris, Dennis Wise and John Terry – three of the four trophy winning Chelsea captains – were on the pitch to honour the eighty-fifth birthday of the fourth, Roy Bentley, the championship winning captain of 1955. It was a truly magical moment and I know that Stu was loving it. Roy Bentley is a lovely, lovely man and I was able to meet him briefly in November at the CPO. The photo I have with him is one of my most-prized Chelsea possessions. He was in great form. He did a little jig as he made his way to the Lower Tier of the Matthew Harding. He was hilarious and Ron, Dennis and JT were in stitches. We all were.

“Looks like he’s been on the sherry” chirped Alan.

He had been presented with a shirt with “Bentley” on the back, but he threw it into the crowd…shades of Mourinho.

God bless you, Roy.

Then the players and their families came onto the pitch and it was a joyful time which left me dewy eyed once more. Virtually everyone had stayed in the stadium, “The Liquidator” was booming out and I fell in love with my club all over again.

Frank, holding two of his children, handed out socks and shin pads. He then crouched down and asked his eldest daughter to go and give his game-worn boots to a fan in the front row, right down below us. His daughter obviously became shy, so they walked over together.

It was a lovely moment.

Then a guard of honour by the players for Mr. Hiddink and it was a fitting send-off for him. Let’s hope the club – or Roman, I guess it is all down to him – can keep him. But I’m not sure. I said “cheerios” to a few people…”if I don’t see you at Wembley, have a great summer.” These times are always strange.

“Blue Day” was played and we left the stadium. Todd rejoined us ( he had been doing The Bouncy during the game and I think we have a convert! ) and we shuffled around in the rain to meet Parky, Steve and Charlie. I had one last treat for them all – a photo opportunity with Ron Harris, one of the Chelsea Four.

It was a perfect end to the Stamford Bridge season.

On the drive home, Steve said that he and Charlie had great views of the post-game stuff. Steve commented that he almost felt like a fan of Chelsea himself. This is good to hear…it is often invaluable to have “an outsider” in on a private party and to hear their views. He even said that Chelsea was pretty much a “special club.” I thanked him for that.


Tales From The Singing 3,000

Arsenal vs. Chelsea : 10 May 2009.

On Saturday, I went with a few Chelsea regulars – with our wives and girlfriends – down for a fiftieth birthday near Southampton. The theme of the evening was ska / two tone and we presumed that a local ska band had been booked. There were about twenty skinhead types milling around…the main man, Alan ( from The Goose ), was wearing a Ben Sherman, jeans, braces and DMs. He looked a picture. Imagine our surprise when a trio of guys in their sixties appeared on stage…the original band couldn’t make it and so replacements were sought. The lead guitarist and singer introduced himself as Beaky from the ‘sixties band Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick and Tich…and the music they played was just a total mismatch for the evening. Nobody was dancing! We excused ourselves and headed back to pub where “Tony Two-Tone” was halfway through a Ska / Northern Soul set.

PD, Glenn and myself lit up the dance floor ( stop sniggering at the back!) as the ladies watched dumbfounded and aghast from the sidelines.

I was in a quandary though – I was headed up to London the next morning, so had to watch my beer intake. The last thing I wanted was to be driving up the M4, with alcohol seeping out of every pore. I also needed to protect my unbroken league stretch going for this season…for the first time ever, I am honing in on Game 38 and I had to make sure I wouldn’t fail on Game 36. Funny the priorities at this stage of the season…with just a few games left, I am sure we turn up out of habit, punch drunk from all of the travels and games…on any other year, I could so easily have given this one a swerve.

Glenn drove back to Frome and I, thankfully, wasn’t hung over at all. After a quick change into game gear, I set off and collected Lord Parky from his place at 11.45am. This was therefore going to be a bit of a strange one with a truncated “pre-match.” I hit a bit of traffic nearing London, but was parked up at West Brompton at 1.45pm. It was a hot and sunny day and we were soon on the tube to Holborn.

For every game at Arsenal since about 2002, we have met at “The Shakespeare’s Head,” handily placed a few stops away from Arsenal on the Picadilly Line.

We haven’t had a great record at Arsenal over the years. My first trip to Highbury was the iconic 1984-85 opener and I suppose I have visited Highbury seven or eight times in total, plus two visits to The Emirates. I had yet to see a Chelsea win. Since 1990, we have only won there three times…the first one was the 5-0 League Cup demolition job in 1998, the second one was the Wayne Bridge game in 2004 and the other one was the Robben / Cole 2-0 game in 2005-2006. I was really miffed that I couldn’t get a ticket for that last one. I used to love going to Highbury as I am a big art deco fan and, of course, this was Chelsea’s last ever visit to Arsenal’s grand thirties’ masterpiece. Since that season, I have been an away season ticket holder – I’m therefore guaranteed tickets for all of our games.

Anyway, enough history for now.

I had decided to stay off the beer, so Parky got me a coke. I headed out towards the rear of the pub and there they all were…a fine turn out from The Bing after Wednesday’s sadness…Parky and myself joined eight other close friends, plus Burger and Julie, visitors once again to our shores. I got the impression that I had missed a good pre-match, but I soon felt at home, with updates from the party in Southampton. We had a pretty heated discussion about the state of the club and the way forward. Suffice to say, we doubted that the club was in good hands. We need a long term plan and a manager to stay for more than six months! Hiddink was our choice, but we were not sure if he would stay, for various reasons. Daryl called our current team “Mourinho’s Third Or Fourth Best Team” and we all nodded. I said that Mourinho still haunts us all.

Lacoste Watch –

Ed – Chocolate
Parky – Lemon
Rob – Blue
Myself – Lavender

At 3.20pm, Parky and myself set off and our timings were impeccable. Gary, Alan and Whitey had left before us, but we still got there before them…we had left Simon, Milo, Daryl, Ed and Rob with Burger and Julie – just finishing off their drinks / ordering new ones!

Out from the rabbit warren of Arsenal tube and into the bright sunlight. As we walked the five minutes around to the new stadium, I glimpsed the old West Stand on Highbury Hill, now housing apartments. The usual hubbub of match day colours, sights and smells…fanzines, T-shirts, touts and burgers.

Into the concrete coolness of the stadium at 3.55pm – perfect timing. All of us away season ticket holders, all 500 of us, were along the side and I was four rows from the rear, thankfully shaded from the sun. The Gooners were about ten seats to my right. Parky was a few rows in front and there was Les from Melksham, too. Rob and Daryl were fifty yards away, right behind the goal and adjacent to The Goons.

Pre-match, I had predicted that we would be more “up” for it than Arsenal, but the opening exchanges disproved this. We were second best in all areas and I lost count of the number of chances which Arsenal squandered…at times it was laughable, but beneath the smiles and cheers, there was deep concern for us. Gary, alongside me, was especially worried. Mind you, he always is – he always seems to have the troubles of the World on his shoulders, bless him.

“Come on Chels, wake up.”

“Chels” – our own little word of encouragement to our heroes, which we only ever use at actual games…it really winds me up to see this special little word used out of context so often these days.

I have known Alan for twenty five years and not once has he talked about Chelsea as “Chels” outside of the stadium…ditto Daryl, Gary, Glenn, Walnuts, Rob, Blowmonkey and all. It’s usually only used to tease out a better performance from the team…never as a word to be used to express joy…

Never –“oh well done Chels!”

But rather – “Get into them, Chels!”

“Come on, Chels!”

“We’re better than this Chels!”

“Keep going Chels!”

Midway though the first-half, we got a free-kick and I saw Drogba setting himself. A shot? No – a deep cross for Alex to head home! Get in! Virtually our first real effort on goal – beautiful. Soon after, Anelka broke from deep and guided a superb shot in at the far post – easily his best goal for us. Lovely that it was against his old team.

2-0 up and in control – totally against the run of play, even better! Up until this point, Alan and Gary were eyeballing two Goons in our row, about fifteen yards away. Gary was winding one of them up constantly and the Gooner was doing the “outside, I’ll cut your throat” move…of course, at two-nil, the two Goons disappeared from view…never to be seen again!

There was so much laughter coming from our section – and the funniest selection of songs this season…

“Here for the sunshine, you’re only here for the sunshine!”

“Ooh to – ooh to be – ooh to be a Loser!”

“We’re surprised, we’re surprised, we’re surprised that you’re still here, we’re surprised that you’re still here!”

“You’d might as well go home!”

“Let them out, let them out, let them out!”

And – throughout the game – our song of the moment…

“We’re staying at home, we’re staying at home, F UEFA, we’re staying at home.”

Only Chelsea fans could get a song going about missing out on the CL Final – I love this club!

I took a few snaps of Ed, Simon and Milo giving me the “thumbs up” at half-time. For a period in the second, it got a bit surreal, with the singing from our section taking precedence of the action on the pitch. An Arsenal substitution, gave the Chelsea choir another opportunity to get singing. On came Nicholas Bendtner…

“Where’s yer trousers gone, where’s yer trousers gone?”

And mine – “Down with yer trousers, you’re going down with yer trousers!”

The third goal came and it got even better.

“One team in London, there’s only one team in London!”

“Ash is going to Wembley, Ash is going to Wembley, tra, la, la, la, tra, la, la, la.”

Only when did Bendtner score did we hear anything from Arsenal – their support was truly pitiful. The last goal from Malouda resulted in even more home supporters leaving for the exits and it was a joyous sight.

Alan – who really despises Arsenal – was in heaven. I’ve never seen so many grinning faces. Still Arsenal kept missing their goal-scoring chances.

How we laughed.

By the time I met up with Parky, we were right at the back of the stampede out…it took forever to get back to west London – not helped by closures on a few tube lines.

Never mind. We called in for a pizza at our favourite Italian at West Brompton – and sat back and savoured a great away day. I always remember my first visit – with Beth – to The Emirates in May 2007, when a 1-1 draw resulted in us relinquishing our title to United…the day of the “chins up” from Jose. Despite losing the title that day, the support we gave the boys made me so proud to be a Chelsea fan.

In defeat, strength.

Fast forward to 2009 and our revenge was complete…

Arsenal 1 Chelsea 4.

My first ever win at Arsenal – just fantastic. I put Depeche Mode on the CD player on the drive home – we were singing aloud, loving it.

“All I ever wanted, all I ever needed, was here in my arms.”


Tales From The Heart

Chelsea vs. Barcelona : 6 May 2009.

Our club has reached five Champions League Semi-Finals in the last six years – this is a phenomenal achievement. Let’s not lose track of how far we have travelled. I have been detailing our exploits 25 years ago to give some idea of contrast to the current season and, I have to say, such accomplishments back in those days would have been scoffed at. It would have been totally unbelievable. Utter craziness to even think about it.

During the day, I exchanged a few emails and texts with a few mates who had Rome in mind. Yet again, the Mancs had got to the flights first, leaving us with the scraps. A day trip was looking like £450, so we had a plan of flying to Nice, a train to Milan ( passing through my old haunt of Diano Marina ) and a train to Rome…around £250.

I tried not to think about the game too much during the day, but I knew that nerves would eventually get the better of me.

I tried to get away for 4pm, but was only able to leave at 4.20pm…these minutes make all the difference on the congested M4. Parky was accompanying me yet again – his payment would be a dozen eggs from his chickens and two pints of lager in The Goose. There was the usual constant batter about football and music as we headed east. To be fair, we made good time and made the pub at 6.30pm…just enough to say all we had to say to the boys, who were in a little corner of the beer garden. Burger had collected his brace of tickets from Alan and had left for the ground for some pre-match atmosphere. I am sure he wasn’t disappointed.

Parky got the beers in – The Goose still provides outstanding value…he bought a pitcher of four pints of Carling for just £7.50. The beer went down well. Our group was about ten strong and I noted that four of us were wearing classic Lacoste polos.

Walnuts – pink
Blow Monkey – racing green
Rob – mid blue
Myself – navy blue

To complete the picture – Parky had a black Lacoste baseball cap and Ed had a navy Lacoste pullover.

I stood on the table and took a photo of The Bing, all smiling confidently…for the moment. To be fair, talk was more of travel to Rome than of the game ahead, but I was now getting very nervous. I had predicted, in an email to a guy from a supplier ( Chelsea fan ) during the day that the score would be 1-1. Overall, others were more confident than me.

We left the boozer at 7.15pm and the area around the ground was heaving. I had the distinct impression that a lot of fans had travelled in to watch in the adjacent pubs, of which there are a good twenty-five within ten minutes of the stadium. Good vibes walking in behind The West Stand…I took some snaps of the CL banners adorning the area. Parky was watching down below me in the MHL. I reached my seat at 7.30pm – easy! – and spent a good few minutes walking around nervously, chatting to faces that I have got to know since my season-ticket era began in 1997. Everyone was edgy and my view was that “it could go either way…very tight, they could score three, we could too.”

As “Blue Is The Colour” was heartily sung by us all, the place looked a picture. The 3,000 away fans had their yellow and red Catalonia flags and their distinctive deep red and navy FCB scarves. Elsewhere, the Chelsea support waved the white and blue flags…and down below in the MHL, the iconic “Pride Of London” flag floated along. It was a wonderful sight. The Champions League “ball” in the centre circle was waved, the anthem began and the teams strode onto the green turf. The fading sun seemed to tint the back wall of the hotel a subtle pink colour.

I stood the entire game. For the first time that I can remember, a large section of The Shed Upper did the same.

First impressions were that Barca were continuing in the same fashion as the first leg. I noticed Messi was being deployed in the middle of their attack. Barca were full of crisp passing. The Chelsea support were doing a good job and I noted lots of people close by who normally sit in silence joining in. Good signs. I thought back to my school days, circa 1973, and here I was at a Chelsea game…at an actual game…”Chelsea – clap, clap, clap, Chelsea – clap, clap, clap.” It made me proud. Here I was – being part of it.

Then, a high ball came out to Michael Essien.

A shot.

We all stood in awe as the ball ( hit with his left foot! ) crashed goalwards…it smacked the bar and bounced down. We waited…we waited for what seemed like ages for the ball to bounce back up…we waited…until it hit the netting and the place erupted.

YES! Get in! Get in! I punched the air…I stood on my little platform to my right ( how many goals have I celebrated there! ) and then had a moment of awareness…we were winning…I took a deep breath and roared again. My voice has never been more loud. I looked down at Alan and we motioned towards each other –

“They’ll have to come at us now.”

“Come on my little diamonds.”

Soon after, I said to Alan “don’t get the lucky wine gums out – save them for Rome” just at the exact moment he took them out of his pocket to offer me one. Superstitions, eh? Last season for the CL semi, I wore a Yankees jacket and cap…this year, they were in my bag. Alan held his lucky Osgood badge the entire game.

Phew. We were winning. A few texts came in from Planet Chelsea. Barca continued to pass the ball around us, but Messi only really had one mesmeric dribble through the middle…balls were played too high, too wide…they were wasting all of their possession. The noise quietened as Barca continued their dominance. They were using a delicate scalpel to cut us open. We used a hammer. Midway through the half, I bumped into a guy who I had first met in Vienna for the Chelsea game in 1994. Even that seemed like light years away. In 1994, we were naïve Euro novices…in 2009, we were the real deal. I spotted “Tubes” from “Soccer AM” too.

I captured JT’s great leap and header on film. We had a few chances, but not many.

The two first-half “penalties” were down the other end to us. I didn’t get a clear view of the Malouda one, but the Drogba one looked borderline…I think Didier’s reputation preceded him though. On the TV screens at the break, both challenges looked like more certain penalties and the crowd booed their disapproval.

The second-half continued in much the same way as the first. Lots of Barca pressure with Iniesta and Xavi seeing so much of the ball. Our defence was magnificent, but I felt the midfield surrendered too much space to the influential Barca playmakers. Cole was shackling Messi. Malouda was tracking back well and offering good movement going forward. He is the club’s most improved player since March.

Within a manic period, Drogba shot at the Barca keeper and Frank blasted wide.

Oh boy.

The support roused itself, but then the nerves took over. Pockets of support all over the ground tried their best to get it going, but the result wasn’t coherent. Barca obviously sang, but we didn’t hear them over the general hubbub.

Anelka was through on goal and a rough challenge…a red card! It surprised me as another defender was close by. Things were looking good, but we didn’t seize the chance. We didn’t stretch them.

Twenty minutes to go…a Barca goal, I had to keep reminding myself, would kill us. I watched the clock like never before. Still Chelsea’s midfield gave up too much space.


Anelka through on goal right down below us and Pique handles. This is the one – this is the one where the conspiracy theorists will go to town. It was a penalty, referee…it was a penalty.We screamed our abhorrence.

Ten minutes to go. I daren’t talk to Alan. I daren’t upset the karma.

Five minutes to go…86…87…88…89…Come on boys.

“We’re going to Rome, we’re going to Rome …F your history, we’re going to Rome.” What a city to win the Big One….

The PA announced “four minutes of extra time.” I glanced at my phone and it was 9.33pm. By 9.37pm, it would be all over. All was quiet…I kept glancing at Alan, not knowing what to say.

Then, a flat ball in to the edge of the “D” and a wild swipe at the ball from that man Iniesta.


It looked a goal as soon as it left his foot. It seemed to spin further away from the stretching Cech…it hit the back of the net and I stood, mouth open, still…motionless…disbelieving…for five or ten seconds. My body did not move. My eyes acknowledged the away support falling over themselves.

Then – a few spectacularly odd and random thoughts crashed into my mind.

We’re out.

Not this year.


Not like this please!

Not after the two Liverpool defeats in 2005 and 2007.

No trip to Rome.

No added expense.

More money for America.

No need for holiday cover at work.

Guilt for thinking these things.


Self pity.

All those plans for Rome.

Snap out of it Chris – COME ON!

An inner smile.

More guilt.

Blow up ref – put us out of our misery.

Then – a corner…camera poised for the Greatest Goal Ever Bar None. Cech raced upfield. A delay added to the tension.

One last chance. The corner kick, and a scramble, click, click, click…a shot…handball!

The agony of the referee not blowing for the penalty.

The sadness.

I slowly and quietly left the stadium, bumping into a few mates on the way back to the car.

“We’re making a bloody habit of this aren’t we?”

Gallows humour.

I was OK – I was numb really. I think I was OK.

Parky and myself talked through the shared experience of yet another CL semi defeat as I drove west…we came out with some home-spun philosophy on the way home. We were fine. We’d seen worse, much worse.

We were Chelsea.

As I dropped him off at 12.45am…”take care, mate…see you Sunday.”


Tales From Chelsea In America On Tour

Chelsea vs. Fulham : 2 May 2009.

I think I am suffering from battle fatigue at the moment. It’s not surprising. Fulham at home was match number fifty for me this season and I think it’s all starting to take its toll.

I even went to a game on Friday evening. My local non-league team, Frome Town, are on the brink of promotion to the Southern League for the first time in their history. My mate Steve tried to round up a few old school friends, but I was the only one who joined him and his two sons Harry ( United ) and Charlie ( Chelsea ) for the game with Bitton. Harry’s claim to fame was being an England mascot at a game in Manchester four years ago – and Frank Lampard was the player he held hands with. Lampard, back in the days when he wasn’t booed by Ingerland’s supporters, even scored a goal that night.

A crowd of around two-hundred watched as Frome scored twice within a five minute period in the first half to beat the champions 2-0. The ex-Southend player Mark Salter even missed a penalty just after the second goal. Salter is a bit of a cult hero at Frome and is The Robins’ highest ever scorer. It wasn’t a bad game…under lights, with the misty rain creating its own particular atmosphere, it was a nice place to be on a Friday evening.

The Frome Five assembled at around 9.15am, but we were met with some bad news. It seems that Dave and Karen are not renewing their Shed Upper season tickets next season. They have recently moved house and I think the “spend” was more than they budgeted. They are doing the FA Cup Final though – we all have tickets. We all overdosed on pig flu’ jokes on the drive up. There was a rugby game on at Twickenham ( what a waste of a Saturday! ) and this held us up somewhat. I spotted that there seemed to be a baseball tournament taking place in the park next to Richmond RFU ground. I even spotted a Yankee fan in a Thurman Munson shirt…respect!

You all know the score by now – we parked up at 11.30am, a breakfast and straight around the corner to The Goose. This was yet another manic pre-match, with me meeting many Americans in the boozer. For those that are new to this website, maybe some people are wondering why I contribute to this site. Without wishing to go into my whole bloody life story, I first visited North America in 1989 and love going back. I know New York, St Augustine in Florida and the Asheville area in North Carolina very well. Chelsea toured America in 2004 and, at first, I was unable to afford to go. However, thanks to being left some money in a will, I decided to go to the Roma game in Pittsburgh in that year. I really do have to thank my aunt Julie for leaving me that money. It has since opened up my Chelsea-supporting life and has been a fantastic experience. I went again in 2005 – games in DC and NJ – but I only really got involved on this site just before the 2006 trip to Chicago. There are around seven or eight UK fans ( Mark, Cathy, Mo, Ian, Kevin, Anna and myself… maybe some more ) that have been to most of these US tours and I love being able to pass on my passion to new people. You might have guessed.

We arrived in The Goose bang on midday and the first people to great me were Pete ( “PJK” ) and Becky from San Francisco. I first met Pete on the coach back from the Suwon game in LA in 2007. He’s a season ticket holder, despite having lived in America for twenty years or more. He comes over a few times each season. Parky was in the pub with the Trowbridge boys and I reintroduced him to Pete, who he last met for the Roma home game last autumn. I walked out into the beer garden and briefly chatted to Rob about Barcelona. The beer garden was drenched in sun and had never been more packed.

As I got the beers in, I spotted Jenni ( “bluebelle” ) and Mo ( “shovelgirl” ) and – after a few words – the girls were directed to our section of the beer garden. Alan, Daryl, Ed, Glenn, The Youth, Seb, Andy, Lovejoy, Chopper, Gary, Simon, Tim, Georgie and what seemed like a million others were milling around, drinking and laughing. Jenni had sat next to Alan and Gary in Barcelona. I was aware that Andy ( “wrayman” )from the OC Chapter was in town for one game, but I think he stayed close to The Bridge. I texted Beth ( #26 ) a few times, but didn’t meet her this time.

Simon arrived, minus his son Milo, who came in for a scathing attack from us all.

“Typical fair-weather JCL Chelsea fan…as soon as we are out of the league, off he goes paintballing – disgraceful.”

Milo is eleven.

We all laughed.

Next to arrive was Brian from LA, who I met in 2007 too. He is originally from Belfast and has a “Norn Iron” / London / LA accent…he had just flown in during the morning and was pumped. He’s over for The Specials too. He posts on the board as “cfcshed65”. On another walk to the bar, I detected a few American accents amongst a group of around seven sat quietly at a table. Before I knew it, Parky was ploughing straight in and it transpired that “comeonyoublues” was at the head of the table and so I introduced myself to his little group and welcomed them all to The Goose. They were all from the DC area, so I asked if they were going to the Baltimore game. The four chaps were, but not so sure about the three ladies, one of whom I had to correct –

“Football, not soccer!”

Before I knew it, the DC lot and Brian had all left to acquire their match tickets and I was able to spend a bit more time with Jenni and Mo. Then, the time came for them to leave.

Daryl, Parky and myself were the last to leave the pub at 2.40pm – we would be cutting it fine for sure. As we strolled past Fulham Broadway, we could hardly believe our eyes…two slow-moving police vans, with about fifteen OB on foot, were escorting a mouthy little mob of Fulham fans. They numbered no more than twenty-five and were certainly enjoying their five minutes of fame. No doubt they told of this to all of their school friends by text.

“Yeah – we walked right through. Chelsea didn’t want to know.”

Bless ‘em.

What a lovely free-flowing move which lead to Anelka’s first league goal in ages. Just a shame I was still climbing the last of the stairs when it was scored! Yep – I missed it. I don’t miss many.

As I sat down next to Alan, I shared his surprise at the strength of team we put out…very surprising indeed. “I hope Guus knows what he’s doing.” Before I had a chance to get my camera out, Fulham equalised with a shot which Cech really should have saved. The 3,000 away fans roared their approval.

A lovely sweeping shot from Malouda made it 2-1. Just a shame I was outside in the gents – alone – at the time. Yep – I missed that goal too. I came back with a sheepish grin on myself and quite a few so-called mates were shooing me away

“Stay out!”

I laughed – I’ve never missed two Chelsea goals in the same game before. Oh boy. This pre-match drinking has a lot to answer for…

This game had the air of a friendly…heaven knows what the game against Blackburn will be like. We played OK, without overdoing it. I had a drink with Brian ( who was sat ten seats away ), Becky and Pete in “Dixons” at half-time…but sadly Andy wasn’t spotted. Next time, mate!

At last I saw a Chelsea goal, with that inch-perfect pass from Anelka to set up Drogba. We were well deserving of our three points. The Fulham fans made a bit of noise. Let’s hope we make a hell of a lot more noise against Barca. After a little bit of Fulham banter, the MHU replied with –

“ You never won fuck all!”

Call me a pedant, but this really annoys me – this is a double negative and it grates every damn time I hear it. It should be – roll on drums…

“You’ve always win fuck all!”

On the walk out of the ground, I found myself next to a young Fulham kiddie and he was talking to his mate.

“Yeah, really poor Chelsea support.”

“Well, at least we don’t need thunder sticks mate.”

He bristled with annoyance at me upsetting his applecart and blatantly lied…

“We don’t have thunder sticks.”


Footnote – I got back to Frome at 7.30pm, but soon drove over to Judy’s home town of Westbury for a party at the old railway social club, opposite Westbury train station. The train station was where I used to depart for Chelsea back in those heady days of 1983-84 and was recently featured in the “hoolie porn” flick “Green Street” ( in the guise of Macclesfield train station, for some reason. )

There you go – obligatory 1983-84 reference completed.


Tales From Green Street And Fulham Road

West Ham United vs. Chelsea : 25 April 2009.

This is what we call the “business end of the season” – just a shame we have to do business in the hell hole that is Upton Park.

I picked up two lads – Ashley and Andy – from Trowbridge en route to collecting Lord Parky at 8.15am from his village between Trowbridge and Melksham. There was strange weather as we headed up the M4…the phrase “sunny intervals and scattered showers” was never more appropriate. Luckily, the inclement weather had finished by the time we hit Chelsealand. I was parked up by 10am and a breakfast soon followed. The plan was to meet up at The Spotted Dog in Barking, JT’s home town, a couple of stops past Upton Park on the District Line. From West Brompton to Barking is a full twenty-five stops…we set off at 11am and hit Barking at midday. For anyone who cares, the West Ham ground is at Upton Park tube, not West Ham.

On the train, I was talking to Parky about the rivalries between the big London clubs. West Ham seem to hate Millwall and dislike Spurs and us intently. Not sure what they think of Arsenal. I personally dislike Spurs most and Alan loathes Arsenal. What of West Ham? Back when I was a youth, in the early ‘eighties, West Ham and Chelsea were both in the Second Division and I bracketed us together in terms of “size” at the time, though we were always potentially massive. Since then, Arsenal have moved on in terms of comparisons with Tottenham, while we are on a different footballing planet to West Ham. And how we love it.

Twenty-five years ago, Chelsea were hitting the business end of the 1983-84 season. Our entertaining team was on the brink of promotion, having let a 2-0 lead at Pompey slip, ending up with a 2-2 draw. I didn’t go to that game, on a Wednesday evening, but was going to the next game…the momentous encounter with Leeds ( yeah them – of all teams ) on Saturday 28th April. For those new to this site, I have been detailing my matchday experiences over this season and that fantastic season, all those years ago.

But in some ways – it seems like yesterday.

On that Saturday morning, my father dropped me off in Frome and I met Glenn near his house before we walked down to PD’s flat. Gary and Mark, from Westbury, arrived outside by car and we were soon off. I was sat in the back with Glenn and PD ( just as I often do in 2009! ) and the talk was of Chelsea all the way up to London. We parked near the ground – near Worlds End I reckon – and were soon heading back towards the North End Road. The others had some food in the Pie And Mash Shop ( now long gone, alas ) before hopping over the road for pre-match bevies in The Cock ( now The Cock And Hen ). This was a historic day for me. I was eighteen, but this was the first time I had ever been in a pub at Chelsea. Before then, I was always broke, and I seem to remember having a single lager and lime. The pub filled up and I remember talking to a lad from Reading. The songs started up and “One Man Went To Mow” was the song of that season…we all sat until “nine”, then exploded onto our feet on “ten.” The pub was a riot of noise. I felt as if I was coming of age…this was my tenth game of the season…not bad for someone who spent the entire season on the dole, getting by on £25 per week. I guess a trip to Chelsea used to cost me £15 in those days. It was my life – maybe even more so than now.

Glenn and myself headed off to get into The Shed at 1.30pm or so – no tickets in those days, we had to be sure we could get in! We paid the extra £1 to get a transfer on to The Benches, that hot bed of young and exuberant Chelsea support. The weekend before, I had travelled to Bath to buy my first ever bona fide casual garment, a mid blue and white Pringle, which cost me £25 or one week’s dole. I wore that with my Chelsea shirt underneath, some jeans and a pair of white shoes. I felt the business. I belonged.

It was a gloriously sunny day. I was hoping that our season best gate of 35,000 would be surpassed – I hoped for one of 40,000. The place was buzzing. Lo and behold, the lads who had been sat in front of us against Fulham were now sat behind us…perfect. I think they admired the fact we were from Somerset. Extra kudos for us! Amongst the lads ( Alan, Paul, Mark, Leggo, Rich, Dave and Simon ) the labels were out in evidence. It was like a fashion parade.

And Chelsea were going up! We just had to get a draw, I think.

For anyone who was there, I am sure these words are taking everyone back. It was as near a perfect game as I can ever remember..

Chelsea beat Leeds United – our old foes, both on the pitch, on the terraces and in common folklore – by five goals to nil that sunny April day in 1984. The atmosphere was electric. Mickey Thomas – our unlikely new hero – opened the scoring. Kerry Dixon scored a hat-trick and Pat Nevin – I remember – wove in and out, around and around, before setting Kerry up for one of the goals. Johnny Bumstead hit the post, in the same place, twice. Ken Bates, the chairman, came onto the pitch at half-time to appeal for us all to stay in the stands. He was applauded – and his name was song with gusto. There is a classic picture taken by John Ingledew of The Benches that day, looking up and back at thousands of Chelsea faces…99% male, 99% white, 75% between the ages of 18 and 25. It’s a picture that is worth a million words and – every time I see it – I am taken back to a wilder, crazier time. Believe it or not, at 4-0, Leeds got behind their team with a noisy song and the Benches stood up to applaud them.

In the last ten minutes, thousands of pastel-clad Chelsea fans lined the pitch in preparation for the final whistle. We were winning 4-0 and the PA had to keep telling the fans to stay in the stands. Then, a mazy dribble from supersub Paul Canoville and – you silly boy! – he scored at The Shed End.


Thousands of hysterical Chelsea fans flooded the pitch and the players were lost. After five minutes of pleading, the pitch was cleared and the referee soon blew up. Within seconds, the stands emptied and about 5,000 Chelsea fans invaded the pitch. I was one of them – my first foray onto the sacred turf – and it was fantastic to be there. The Leeds fans, unsurprisingly were not enjoying the proceedings. This must have been purgatory for them. A few of them began smashing our scoreboard. There was a charge by some Chelsea towards them, but the police kept the two factions apart. To be fair, the Leeds fans ( the Service Crew and all ) were penned in, anyway. There were about 3,000 of them.

The players and the management team appeared in the front row of the East Upper – I remember Pat Nevin sitting on the balcony! – and all was perfect in my world. After five years of ridicule by my peers, jettisoned in the Second Division – Chelsea were back,

You’d better beware!

We eventually left the pitch. I remember the dry dirt being kicked up by us all and there was a smell of football in the air – a heady mix of grass, mud, beer and testosterone. We walked off behind the Shed goal and a stranger came up to me and said “We’re playing Tottenham!” and I said

“Yep…Tottenham…and Liverpool…and Man United…and Arsenal..and West Ham!”

He gave me a big hug.

We got back to the car and began an oh-so slow drive home…on Radio Two, coach John Hollins was describing Pat Nevin’s cross for Kerry Dixon.

…”and Pat, bless him, went on this amazing run…I don’t know if he beat three players four times or four players three times.”

On the elevated section of the M4, Chelsea cars were blaring their horns…thumbs up from strangers…one car slowed down and passed us a can of beer. It was an idyllic moment as we drove west into the setting sun, past Slough and beyond…oh just beautiful.

Chelsea were back.

Of all my current friends at Chelsea, virtually all of them were at that iconic game in 1984. We have come a long way, baby.

On Saturday, a few of us were enjoying our pre-match meet in Barking. Parky and myself were chatting to Bob from San Francisco – he flew over for just one game. At the adjacent table, laughter was booming out from Daryl, Gary, Alan and Whitey. Soon, Beth and Jenni joined us, but Mo and Tom were yet to appear. The beers flowed and stories were exchanged. At last Mo showed up at about 2pm and it was soon time to leave for the game. Tom eventually arrived by cab ( despite Beth telling him to take the tube ) and I had to say

“There has to be anotherway, Motherway.” He grimaced.

Parky, Bob and myself lost the others and got to Upton Park at 2.40pm…out into the bright sunshine of Green Street.

Ah, Green Street…I did find it superbly ironic that American Bob had successfully infiltrated our tight little crew. Maybe we can make a film about it.

Through the terraced streets behind the away end – no fear of an ambush these days – and we were soon inside the Centenary Stand. We arranged to meet up after…I was stood next to my two away buddies, Alan and Gary. The three beers had set me up nicely. It was sunny, with white fluffy clouds taking over from grey ones as the afternoon drew on.

A minute’s applause for ex-hammer Jimmy Neighbour was well respected by us. Good to see.

The game? We had so much possession, in the first period especially, but West Ham had the best two chances, especially the shot from Dyer which Cech saved. All eyes were on Bosingwa, getting some practice ahead of a potentially messy time on Tuesday night in Catalonia. I was impressed with the solid midfield of Mikel, Belletti and Frank. Mancienne did well. It was just upfront where we became unstuck. Kalou had a lot of the ball but was frustrating the hell out of Gary. Anelka was having one of his lazy days too. At half-time we wondered if all of our easy possession would account for nothing.

Ball juggler Billy Wingrove put on a superb show of skills at half-time. I watched, mesmerized.

Soon into the second period, Frank did so well to hook out a ball from the goal-line and Kalou slammed the ball high into the net. Get in! A couple of women in front unfurled an Ivory Coast flag and muttered something about Gary being “happy now” about Kalou. Until that point, they had watched in silence. 1984 seemed a long way off.

I thought the West Ham fans were pretty quiet, but they apparently sung some nasty songs about Frank and JT. What a deeply jealous, odious, set of fans they are. Jealousy seeps out of every pore.

What a phenomenal penalty save from Cech, down to his left, a mere five yards away from me. I wish I had taken a photo, but I don’t often like taking snaps of opposing penalties. We controlled the game and should have scored more. However – players rested, three points, job done!

The funniest part of the entire day was seeing Frank slowly walk towards us at the end, the last player to come over. He glanced over towards the last few West Ham fans left in the Chicken Run and – for want of a better word – swaggered towards us, just like a casual from 1984, legs wide, arms outstretched. It was poetry in motion. He acknowledged us and pumped the air…he milked the applause and why not? We love him and he loves us. West Ham can perish for all I care.

I caught the tube with Bob and at 6.15pm we were back at Earls Court. Eventually, Parky, Ashley and Andy arrived too. Straight around the corner for a pizza at Salvo’s. United were on the TV, losing 1-2, but within ten minutes of us sitting at a table, they were 5-2 up. What a mad game, but we didn’t care. The League is over this season, but we have Wembley and Rome ahead.

In 1984, we listened to Slade on the drive back to Wiltshire.

In 2009, we listened to Drum And Base.

Yep – we’ve come a long way, baby.


Tales From The Dress-Rehearsal

Chelsea vs. Everton : 22 April 2009.

My mates always commend me on my memory, but I think I will have trouble remembering too much from this game in a few weeks, let alone a few years.

Is this the game our league hopes were extinguished? I think so. Let’s get the black armbands out.

I had a call from Parky during the day to say that Les from Melksham wanted a lift, too, and would I oblige? The more the merrier, in my book. I don’t know Les too well, but I happened to be stood next to him in Turin a few weeks ago…he, like Parky, has been going to Chelsea for ages and has a season ticket about thirty seats away from me. Les is “Class A Old School”, with many misdemeanors from the good old bad old days to his name. I left work bang on 4pm, after manipulating some work into Thursday ( priorities! ), and I made great time up the M4. I amazed myself – I was parked up at 6pm and we were soon charging through The Goose to meet the rest of the boys in the sunny beer garden. I had forgotten that this game was to kick-off at 8pm, so we had a good ninety minutes of banter ( we didn’t change ends at half-time ) before we needed to leave at 7.30pm.

I squeezed in three pints, but it left me a bit weary at the end of it all.

Les shot off to make an unproductive raid on the box office for Gooner tickets, leaving Parky and myself to represent the West Country in the pre-match chat. It was another great time. There was a fairly substantial post-mortem on Wembley. Some things to ponder –

1. At the end of our little pub crawl, we were all buzzing – some more than others. It was a brilliant pre-match.
2. Claire really enjoyed herself – her first game since the Liverpool crunch game in 2003.
3. We are all happy to pay a cheaper price for the FA Cup Final – the view in the Lower Tier won’t be worth £90 plus.
4. Everton were by far the noisiest of the four semi-final teams over the weekend. They will out sing us at Wembley, no doubt.
5. I made the point that Everton are at an advantage because the fans only know three songs.
6. Rob made the point that we were singing three songs at the same time on Saturday.
7. The Lower Tier was being targeted by the CSG and CFCUK as the “dedicated singing section” on Saturday – we must do better!
8. We are getting Bada Bing “leisurewear” for Neil’s wedding ( reception ) in Guernsey in the summer – you have been warned.
9. Daryl has spent untold amounts of £££ on match tickets for himself and Ed the past four weeks.
10. Ed’s repayment is to be the dedicated beer collector once we are drinking. He knows his place!
11. We are annoyed that for the second year running, should we reach Rome, the other team will be a day ahead of us in booking all of the cheap flights and hotels.
12. Should we get a favourable result in Barca, a few of us might “gamble” on flights to Rome.
13. Simon confirmed that his son Milo, eleven, has been to about 35 games this season and will mysteriously fall ill should we get to Rome. I hope his teachers don’t read this.
14. Glenn was the wobbliest of all of us on Saturday – by a mile.
15. Russ – from Frome, now Croydon – had just got back from four weeks in Oz and is seriously considering Rome. Watch this space.
16. Lovejoy was absent, but was with his lady friend in La Reserve…five minutes of Lovejoy stories followed with much laughter from all.
17. Alan spoke of “the meet” for West Ham and hoped that those Americans coming ( you know who you are ) realise we will be behind enemy lines. No colours, no girly shrieks – especially from you, Bob!
18. Season tickets for next season were discussed, with the conclusion that a ) we can’t afford them and b ) we will get them regardless.
19. Provisional plans for gigs coming up over the next month were discussed – The Specials, Morrissey, Depeche Mode. It’s not just the football that keeps us as mates.
20. Parky – get the beers in!

It was such a pleasant Spring evening in that packed beer garden, full of friends and acquaintances built up over the years, that we could have stayed there all night. I am sure as the years progress, our departure time will get later still. Parky and myself trotted down the North End Road and, without trying, got rid of Parky’s spare ticket. In to the ground at 7.57pm – perfect timing.

The programme had a fantastic shot of Alex, just after the point of impact of his shot which crashed into the goal against Liverpool…veins pumping, muscles taught, legs fully extended. I took a shot, a split second after, in fact.

We half-expected there to be empty seats in the away section, but they filled their 1,400. Credit to them. Despite going to about ten games with Lord Parky this season, I was sat next to him for the first time – he was in Glenn’s seat. I chatted with Tom, thankfully having no ill effects from last week’s health scare.

Everton harried and chased all night long and tested Cech on a few occasions, especially in the first half. I remember a Ballack free-kick which went quite close for us. But, not a great performance at all. Meanwhile, United were 1-0 up at home to Pompey. Groan. Cech was our best player, I reckon…nobody else stood out really, although Malouda wasn’t too bad, following on from his best two games in our shirt. Alan asked me who would be my Player Of The Year. I said “Frank – by a mile.” Mikel began the season well, but has faded. What do others think?

It was pretty quiet for most of the night. I wondered how Beth was doing in The Shed – hopefully not falling out with a few “day trippers” like during her last visit.

What a run from JT – with the whole MH shouting “shoot!” – he let fly and forced a save from Tim Howard. Kalou got behind the defence a few times but this was one of those games, I am afraid. That dynamic shot from Drogba on about 93 minutes just about summed it all up. What a difference from eight days ago against Everton’s city neighbours.

Phil Neville got his usual customary, friendly welcome.

At the whistle, a few boos, which obviously annoyed me. We had arranged to meet Beth in the hotel, but ( despite a tricky manoeuvre by myself to elude the doormen ) the other two were denied access to the bar area as we weren’t staying in the hotel. Just a quick chat with Beth – I will see her again on Saturday. We dipped into a KFC and eventually left Chelsea at 11pm. The other two fell asleep and I found the driving terribly tiring. Home eventually at 1.15am. I had confessed to Parky on the last segment that, for the first time in years, I had a strange thought during the game along the lines of “almost £50 tonight – that’s a lot of money…I could do a lot with that!”

West Ham next – with Gary, Alan, Daryl, Ed, Andy, Ashley and Parky ( plus honoured guests from CIA Land ). Oh, and a mammoth report about Chelsea vs. Leeds United from 1984.


Tales From Section 131

Chelsea vs. Arsenal : 18 April 2009.

When I was in my teens, very often I would hear that a few lads from Frome, invariably Liverpool and Manchester United fans, were going to FA Cup Semi-Finals at various grounds. I looked on from afar and my mind was not so much tinged with jealousy, but full of a certainty that such events were not for the likes of us. We were mired in the second division, our time would never come.

Well, our time has come – and how!

From 1970 to 1994, maybe my first phase of Chelsea support, we took part in no FA Cup semi-finals at all. Since 1994, we have had eight semi-finals, with successes in six out of those eight. I vividly remember the first of these, against Kerry’s Luton Town 1994…Simon, Neil, Daryl, Tony and myself met at a pub near St Johns Wood and we all agreed that the game was massive. It was looking likely that United would win the league again that year and would also play us in the Final. So – all we had to do was beat Luton and ( smelling salts please nurse ) Chelsea would be entered into the ECWC…and we would have European football for the first time in our supporting lives. I can’t think of a more important game in all the years of supporting the club, apart from the game at Bolton in 1983. With European football in 1994, came exposure on a larger scale…Gullit, Hughes signed in 1995, then Vialli and co in 1996. Our history was being re-written.

The Frome Fun Boy Four set off from Somerset at 9am and there was plenty of banter flying around. It was going to be sunny day, if not a little windy. Glenn drove up, but Dave – happy to get by on cokes – was scheduled for the return home.

A very strange thing happened as we neared the turning for the M25. I lost my father back in 1993, April 17th…and so with the anniversary of his passing on Friday, my mind has been full of memories, to say the least. My Dad, Reg, was a bit of a sportsman in his youth, but only really got into football through my love of Chelsea. He saw his first ever game during World War Two at Everton. His first ever game with me was in 1974, against Newcastle United…his last Chelsea game was with me, versus Everton in 1990.

At around 10.45am, a car sped past us with this registration plate –


It certainly made me smart. I smiled and Dad came back into my thoughts again.

After a cracking breakfast, we sauntered over to West Brompton tube, bumping into Mike, Steve and Chopper ( the three remaining members of the NYC contingent ) right outside Earls Court Two…perhaps the site of a new stadium, should we ever, sadly, leave the Bridge. We changed trains at Notting Hill Gate and bustled into a packed compartment. Who should be there but Parky, with his step-daughter Clare, who I used to work with. Parky, his back-turned, had recognised Glenn’s Cockney/Somerset crossover accent and bumped into him…imagine the look of surprise on Glenn’s face when he turned around, intending to give somebody an earful! A small world.

We bounced into The Tyburn, a Wetherspoons pub at Marble Arch. Alan, Gary and Rob were tucking into a breakfast and we were soon joined by Neil, who flies in from Guernsey for our games, plus Walnuts from Brighton. A nice bit of banter and three pints of Carling. We then walked a few hundred yards to the Duke Of York for the drinking to continue…the Father/ Son combinations of Daryl / Ed and Simon / Milo were already there. We sat – or rather hovered – outside in the Spring sunshine. Alas the Staropramen was off, so I made do with four pints of Becks Vier. Lots of chat and laughter, too much to remember.

Fifteen of us all told, only one girl, only two replica shirts…too bloody Old School for own good.

We had plans to catch a 4.09pm train from Marylebone, but we were lured into one last pub, The Lark, for one last pint. By this stage, we were all buzzing. I had heard from Beth, but was pretty much resided to the fact that we wouldn’t bump into each other. Unlike the Carling Cup final against Spurs, there was no police presence at the station and it surprised me. I somehow lost the others, so travelled the five miles up to Wembley on my own, trying my best to ignore the beer-induced hiccups which were annoying the hell out of me. Alan and Glenn phoned me – they were on the same train, but seemed like we had all been split up.

We pulled into Wembley at about 4.45pm I guess…up and over the “White Horse Bridge” with the Stadium, its arch glistening in the sun, ahead. I managed to annoy a seller of Chelsea / Arsenal “friendship” scarves and we ended our little chat by calling each other “mugs.” I think my ire was misdirected – it should have been for the numpties who buy such things.

I joined the massive queue for toilets – at Wembley, some things will never change – and then joined the rest of the lads in row 21 of section 131…inline with the penalty box. It would prove to be a great seat come the 84th minute.

From the left – Neil, Ed, Daryl, Gary, Rob, myself, Alan, Simon and Milo.

Walnuts, Glenn, Dave and PD were up in the Gods.

Parky was in Parky World.

We were back in the same lower section as where we watched the 2007 FA Cup Final…we were back row that time, though. I didn’t care for being so low down. I think I prefer to be higher up. Before we knew it, the teams were on the pitch. I would much rather have preferred for the dressing rooms to be behind the East goal at the new stadium, to mirror the old place…to enable that wonderful, iconic, long march of the teams onto the playing surface.

The Hillsborough “applause” was reasonably well supported. Was it really twenty years ago? Those images remain vivid.

There were blue skies overhead with no clouds at all. The sun was hitting the Arsenal fans at the other end full in the faces, but there were strong shadows being formed by the massive stands too. The contrasts between light and dark were very strong. The first worrying sign, picked up by Rob and myself, was that the entire lower tier of Arsenal fans were standing, just like Spurs in the Carling Cup Final. This, to us, was bad news – they were clearly “up” for it. Rob and myself pleaded to get everyone of us on our feet. We really did not want to be out-shouted, out-supported and out-muscled in this game too…memories of that Carling Cup Final remained vivid for us. We did not want a repeat.

For most of the first-half, vast sections of our support sat. It infuriated Rob, especially. We had a little chat about it. Those incredible years of our away support in the ‘eighties had left a painful legacy – nothing these days can compare to it and we get so frustrated harking back to those days. It hurts us to see sections of our support simply not getting involved. I could write a book on it.

While I was out taking a second “comfort break,” Arsenal scored. I don’t miss many goals…those eight pints were taking their toll. To be honest, we had started rather slowly and Arsenal were playing the better stuff. We then got into it and started to dominate possession. A great ball from Frank and before we knew it, Malouda had swept the ball in at the near post.

Manic celebrations ensued, but Rob started to stumble – he had been pushed from behind – and fell on top of me. I lost my balance and for a moment we looked a right picture…Rob’s a big lad, but thankfully Alan hauled him off me. At moments like this, Hillsborough or not, seats just get in the way. So – a goal apiece, game on. As the team got more confident, the crowd rallied and at the start of the second period, more and more were standing. Along the side sections, I noticed more Chelsea than Arsenal were standing. These were good signs.

We created a few half-chances – a shot from Frank, a header from JT. Chances were at a premium really. I still found my viewpoint frustrating – concentrate Chris, concentrate!

On 84 minutes, a ball from Frank into space and it’s all a blur. Drogba, all strength and power, beat off a challenge in that inimitable way of his and rounded the advancing ‘keeper. He was no more than thirty yards away from me.

We gasped and Drogba shot early, not wishing another, potentially wasteful, touch.

In it went.


Up came my camera as he raced over to the left-hand corner flag. More photographs for the album. Mayhem amongst our little group and hugs with strangers.

The game ended and out came the camera again – shots of Frank, clearly loving it, just yards away. A few snaps of my mates – smiles as big as the Wembley arch. Before we knew it, the Arsenal replica shirts had given way to empty red seats and we were left to enjoy ourselves in our own little party with no fear of voyeurism.

“Blue Day” and then – everyone singing – “Blue Is The Colour.”

I was standing on my seat, arms outstretched, smiling, singing…looking heavenwards.

…”cus Chelsea – Chelsea is our name.”


Tales From A Shaking Matthew Harding Upper

Chelsea vs. Liverpool : 14 April 2009.

In some ways, I am tempted to keep this a really brief one and – tried and tested football cliché coming up – let the football do the talking for me.

What an incredible, pulsating game of football. If anyone of us live to see a richer example of a sporting contest, we should feel very blessed.

I had to pull a few tricks to get away from work at 4.15pm. However, I soon ran into trouble – an eleven mile tailback on the eastbound M4. For an hour or so, I was convinced that I would get in late…very late in fact. In the first 90 minutes, I had covered just 40 miles. Luckily, I had my wits about me and diverted south at Marlborough and was back on the M4 at 6pm. As I drove past Heathrow, Radio Five’s Mike Ingham was reporting from The Bridge with the great news that Steven Gerrard wasn’t even on the bench. I forwarded this info to a few people and two replied exactly the same way…


Believe it or not, I parked up at 7.15pm, and – programmes purchased, rush, rush, rush – I entered the seating area with the Liverpool players hovering over the ball at kick-off. I sat down and the game began. Perfect timing. The place was buzzing from the start. How familiar those Liverpool scarlet red banners are. This was the twenty-fourth time the two teams had met since the start of the 2004-2005 season. By any stretch, that’s a lot of familiar contempt. Arriving so late, I had no time to acquaint myself with the team. I had to grasp at some notion of who was where. Riccy in for JT, a solid midfield, Malouda and Kalou. What fates would befall us all over the next two hours? Well, we didn’t have to wait long.

A free-kick, not sure why…all eyes on Torres, offside, onside, offside, onside, leading Ivanovic a merry dance. The focus was towards that cluster of players on the penalty spot. Then Arbeloa’s strike and Cech woefully beaten at the near post. Game on.

Chelsea struggled in the first-half…we weren’t at it. Despite a head cold, I was bellowing at the midfield who were allowing the visitors untold space. We all agreed Drogba should have been carded for rolling – “injured” – back onto the pitch. What a loon. Then, an intelligent ball was played into the box – right in the danger area, but Cech gathered. Relief. Then – NO! – the referee pointed to the spot. We were dumbfounded. Alonso scored the penalty and my jaw dropped. This was a horror story being enacted right in front of us all. I glanced at the Scousers celebrating. It was a terrible sight.

All was doom and gloom at the break. I chatted to a few fans and we were doubting our ability to limit the damage to just two. We began the second-half in much the same manner. One particularly poor passage of play left us fuming…miss-placed back-passes, balls being miss-controlled, no unity. Then the ball found Anelka just as I commented to Alan about “the one way to get our confidence back is to run for everything and work harder.” Bless him – Anelka must have heard me. He held off a challenge and played in a great ball, hard and low. Drogba was lurking – in fact, his run was perfectly timed. To my eyes, Reina appeared to palm the ball into the net.

Mayhem – oh you beauty. We all got up and yelled our support. I gathered myself and reached down for my camera and took a few telephoto shots of Drogba, alone, yelling at the MHU to get behind the team…he was in his element. That posturing gait we all know. With the crowd rejuvenated, we got back into the game and our confidence grew. A Drogba free-kick flashed past the goal.

Soon after, it was Alex’s turn. I held the camera still and caught him in mid air, just after the ball was smacked. It flew into the net and the stadium bounced. I took nine photos of the players collapsing in a beautiful pile on the pitch right in front of me.

Carnage. What a game. It was now 5-3 on aggregate and we heaved a collective sigh.

Now the crowd was rocking. The noise thundered around the four stands and it was a bloody lovely sight. The Shed were singing “One Man Went To Mow” and even the West Lower was animated. A lovely shuffle from Malouda made us all gasp – was that really happening? Then, as memory serves, a sublime reverse ball from Ballack found Lampard. I can’t remember exactly what happened, but Frank scored a third. He came over to celebrate on the same piece of turf where he had pointed to the sky after the penalty against the same team in the semis last year. More photos. As Frank pointed skywards again, I crouched down on the steps and felt myself “going.” I wiped away a tear.

Bloody hell – don’t do this to me. What a game – what emotion. I was right…words simply cannot do it justice.

“We’re going to Rome, we’re going to Rome – F your history, we’re going to Rome.”

Soon after, Drogba unselfishly set up Ballack, but the shot was weak. Amongst the goals going in, a few of us had to be reminded of the score…and what the aggregate was. Get that abacus out, boys.

At this point, I wryly noted that the Liverpool fans had changed their tune. Instead of talking of cup glory, they were singing about “winning the league.”

“Yeah, you won’t win that either!”

Yet more drama and a deflected shot made it 3-3. For there to be so many goals was sensational. I was getting texts from the most unlikely of people. Our good friend Tom – who had a heart attack after the semi-final last May – had decided that enough was enough. He left his seat. I wished him a safe trip home to Sutton and watched him head out just as a Kuyt header made it 3-4.

The Liverpool support erupted again.

For a few moments, the highly unlikely ( after the first game, then at 3-2 a mere ten minutes earlier ) was now looking a possibility. I think it was at this moment that we all aged ten years.


Then, more Chelsea pressure and another Lampard effort. This really is a blur, but I have a memory of the ball coming off a post or the bar or maybe Peter Osgood’s leg. Who knows? And there was Frank, running away once again, this time towards the West Lower, followed by Malouda and then Ash.

Another point heavenwards towards his dear mother.

Alan and myself were gasping for breath and struggling to find the right words to describe what we had just witnessed.

“Best Champions League game ever. Bar none.”

Daryl joined us – I think he had been in The Shed, but couldn’t take much more and so he decided to come and join us for the last few seconds. Approaching the final whistle, the white and blue flags came out and the place was at its photogenic best.

Click. Click. Click.

The shrill sound of the whistle and then a familiar sound.

“One Step Beyond!”

I was one of the last few to leave the stadium. My eyes were moist and I knew that I had witnessed one of the greatest games I could ever wish to see. Another cliché coming up – it was like a heavyweight boxing match…each brave team slugging it out, exchanging punches. This had to be one of my all-time favourites…in fact, the game at Anfield last week was in my top ten. This one had to be in the top two or three. Maybe the best ever.

I briefly dipped into The Goose on the slow, trance-like, walk back to the car. I attempted to have a meaningful chat with a few friends, but for some reason my brain let me down and all I could utter was a lot of banal babble such as “what a game.” I had been sapped of all strength and intelligence, including the art of communication. I had a little chuckle to myself.

“Go home, Chris.”

I left London at 10.15pm. The texts from everywhere slowly subsided and I drove, silently, peacefully, home, totally mesmerized by this wonderful game of ours. Let’s not fool ourselves, there were many defensive frailties in the game, but sometimes you just have to stand back, take a deep breath, and thank our lucky stars for such a monumental match.