Tales From The Last Chelsea Weekend Of Season 2009-2010

Chelsea vs. Portsmouth : 15 May 2010.

When I was growing up back in the ‘seventies, the only three teams to win The Double were Preston North End, Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal. I always used to think that the chances of any team replicating these feats were pretty remote. Back in those days, the FA Cup was won by a wider selection of teams than the current era of The Big Four. It was with some amazement when I looked on as Liverpool won the double in 1986 ( and winning the league at The Bridge in the last game of the season to boot. )

Since then, it’s all got a bit crazy.

Manchester United won their first double in 1994 ( and beat us in the FA Cup Final ). Arsenal again won it in 1998 and United won their momentous treble in 1999. Arsenal then repeated winning both League and Cup in 2002 ( and guess who they beat in the Final? ). With all of the power in English football now being narrowed to three or four financially potent clubs year on year, I can only see Doubles becoming more commonplace.

Time, then, for Chelsea Football Club to make our mark.

Throughout the week – what a week, one of the best ever – with my mind full of the thought of being Champions once more, I was buzzing with excitement not only for the FA Cup, but for thoughts of The Double.

The Double.

Just the sound of it makes me go all light-headed.

We had the day planned perfectly – the tickets, the pubs, the logistics, the accommodation, the timings – and when I left work on Friday, the whole weekend lay ahead…a tantalising thought.

FA Cup Final Day 2010 began for me with my ‘phone alarm sounding at 6am. After a few minutes of deliberation, I decided to keep the lucky Henri Lloyd polo theme going – navy blue, this weekend. I left at bang on 7am and I soon received a text from His Lordship.

“Buzzin mate. Are we there yet?”

The last five seconds of a Depeche Mode song came to an end on the CD player and then the familiar synthesised opening sequence of their version of “Route 66” started. The route from my home to Wembley Stadium is becoming my own version of The Mother Road these days. The UK version though – west to east – not the US one, headed west from Chicago to LA, more than three thousand miles all the way.

In three years, this would be Chelsea’s eighth visit to the sparkling and shiny new Wembley.

We live in interesting times, alright.

The weather wasn’t sure. It couldn’t make up its mind. I collected Parky from his house – three Chelsea flags on posts on the front lawn – and flew a similar flag from my rear window.

We were on our way.

The weather brightened but then soon clouded over. Parky opened up a can of Fosters at 8.30am and he toasted our club as we headed past the Madejski at Reading. The mood in the car was super-confident and we were both buzzing. Just a wonderful feeling of anticipation pervaded our conversation. We were parked-up at Chesson Road, just of the North End Road, at 9.30am and soon met up with two visitors from six thousand miles away. Bob Clark and Andy Wray were in town, visitors from The Golden State, and we met up at Bob’s hotel. We then caught a red London bus up to Marble Arch – a lovely route past Harrods and Hyde Park Corner – and we reached The Tyburn at about 10.30am. The sun was out and the vibes were perfect.

Several members of The Bing – Daryl, Ed, Rob, Neil and Alan – had just arrived and we greeted each other and ordered breakfasts and pints. There were a couple of Pompey fans in the pub and I wished them the best of luck.

“I think we’ll need it” said one.

We then sauntered up to The Duke Of York and stayed there from 11.30am to 1pm. The place was busier than previous years and again we spotted a few Pompey fans. Two ladies of a certain age were ridiculously attired in bizarre headwear ( one had an Appache head dress on ) and they both had the Full Monty of Pompey shirts and scarves. It’s all well and good supporting your team in the club colours, but there’s no need to look like Christmas trees. We looked on aghast. A few more troops arrived – Mike and Steve, then Alex, from the New York Chapter.

Lacoste Watch

Parky – lemon
Bob – navy blue
Millsy – white
Daryl – royal blue

Deano was inside the boozer and he had a spare. I made a few phone calls but couldn’t shift it. I’m not sure if it was used or not. I was going easy on the beer intake and didn’t fancy missing the pre-match this year. Andy left us and made his way to The Green Man at Wembley. At about 1pm, we agreed to make a move and we walked the half-mile to Baker Street tube.

We passed quite a few pubs and each one had an assortment of Chelsea fans spilling out onto the pavements. And there, opposite the tube at Baker Street, was the daddy of them all… The Globe. There were about 300 Chelsea out on the pavement, ringed by police, celery flying. We spent our pre-match in 1997 at The Globe, but it gets too manic for our liking. The tourists on the double-decker busses were looking on and I wondered what was going through their minds.

We caught the tube up to Wembley Park, the tube station which sits at the northern end of “Wembley Way” ( or rather Olympic Way to give it the correct title. ) I thought back to my first ever visit. I am not sure of the exact timings, but I am pretty confident that in around 1972 or 1973 ( before my first game at The Bridge in fact ), I managed to talk my father into visiting Wembley Stadium after we had paid a visit to an uncle in Southall. In those days, Olympic Way wasn’t pedestrianised and so my father, in his Vauxhall Viva, parked up outside one of the many warehouses and exhibition halls and we walked up to the grand old stadium, site of so many incredible football games from its debut in 1923. I remember scampering around, walking up to the base of the Twin Towers, like it was yesterday. The abiding memory is of the dirty cream colour of the towers and the battle-ship grey of the stadium walls. It was certainly in need of a lick of paint, but it looked wonderful. It had presence, even to a seven year old.

We – SF Bob, NY Mike, NY Steve, NY Alex and myself – slowly walked towards the stadium, the arch dominating the skyline. The arch is obviously much higher, but nothing can beat the Wembley towers for visual impact in my mind. All that history, all those memories from 1923, 1953, 1970, 1997 and more. The White Horse Final, Sir Stanley Matthews, Ian Porterfield, Bobby Stokes, Alan Sunderland, Ricky Villa, the Scousers scaling the walls in 1986, Robbie Di Matteo…

Outside the imposing Bobby Moore statue, which overlooks the whole area, I briefly met my Pompey mate Rick and his excited eight year old son Matthew. From the darkness of our sixth form days when our teams were in Divisions Two and Three to an FA Cup Final together. What a wonderful moment as we smiled and shook each others hands.

Then, inside the stadium and the walk up to the top level…I was saddened to see that none of the escalators were working. I was wondering if the Tory governmental cuts were already having an effect. We had seats right behind the west scoreboard, as central as it is possible to get. I was inside at just after 2pm. I scrambled down to the front of the upper tier and painstakingly tied “VINCI PER NOI” to the balcony. I didn’t think either team had many flags and banners and I wondered why none of the large Chelsea banners which are ever-present at The Bridge had made it to North London. Looking back, my banner may well have been the longest Chelsea banner present. It was it’s first appearance at Wembley, actually. I hoped Carlo might spot it. At the other end, more Pompry fans were inside early and I noted a couple of their flags –

“Against All Odds.”

“You Can’t Break Our Spirit”

“PFC 6.57”

The sun was shining now, but the place was quite subdued. There was none of the manic noise of 1997. I looked around and thought about how football has changed in my lifetime. When I was growing up, it was all about the atmosphere and the songs, the sense of belonging, the sense of making our own noise. In 2010, each fan was given a flag to wave, but the atmosphere seemed contrived. My mate Alan said as much to me as we chatted, waiting for our other mates to arrive. It’s a familiar irritant – the football may be better, but not the singing. Maybe we’re getting complacent. I don’t think the vastness of the new stadium at Wembley helps.

Unlike last year against Everton, when we arrived late and missed all of the pre-match – I swore never to be so disrespectful to the FA Cup Final ever again – I was able to sit back and take it all in. My match day companions Alan and Tom were in too. At about 2.45pm, the marching band appeared and a young female singer beautifully sang the Cup Final hymn.

“Abide with me, fast falls the eventide.
The darkness deepens, Lord with me abide.
When other helpers fail and comforts flee.
Help of the helpless, O abide with me.

Hold now your cross before my closing eyes.
Shine through the gloom and point me to the skies.
Heaven’s morning breaks and Earth’s vain shadows flee.
In Life. In death. Oh Lord – abide with me.”

I love this hymn and my bottom lip is usually quivering during the singing of this. However, in 2010, it seemed nobody else shared my sense of occasion and hardly anyone was joining in. This is again different to Cup Finals past. I remember bellowing it out in Cardiff in 2002. Oh well. Thankfully, once the teams entered the field and were presented to Prince William, lots joined in with “God Save the Queen.”

The Chelsea team provided no surprises for us. The new kit looked fine, at least from a hundred yards away. The pitch looked awful. All of my mates were alongside me now. We hoped for no repeat of Louis Saha. At kick-off, I noted many empty seats and some remained unused all game. The attendance was around 1,000 below capacity.

What a crazy first-half.

Chelsea enjoyed so much of the ball and constantly tried to move the ball into the danger areas. Our attacks were frequent and our chances came regularly. The Chelsea fans were in reasonably good voice but were not able to sing together as one unit. Portsmouth were not as loud as I had expected, despite their more rigorous flag-waving. Shots reigned in on the Portsmouth goal – and I almost lost count. A Frank shot flashed wide, then he saw a shot graze the angle of bar and post and Didier Drogba had two attempts blocked by James. On a rare break up field, a Portsmouth shot was diverted and Petr Cexch pulled off one of the saves of the season. Stupendous stuff from Big Pete.

Our support was heavily reliant on the “Campeones” chat and at times we were in good voice.

Ashley Cole had a great run deep into the Pompey box and he set up Salamon Kalou who was waiting in the area, just outside the six yard box and the whole goal at his mercy. We got ready to celebrate. He shot, but it hit the bar and the groan was heard all over the South-East. Soon after, JT hit the bar with a brilliant header. On 38 minutes, Didier hit a swerving shot which David James clawed the ball onto the bar, but the ball bounced tantalisingly close to the goal line. I envisaged the TV crews going into meltdown to see if the ball crossed the line. Texts were adamant that it was a goal, though later in the day, texts had the opposite view. Soon after, Didier hit the post again. This was just ridiculous.

Chelsea 5 Portsmouth 0 – if only!

It seemed that lots of spectators were late in getting back to their seats for the start of the second half, the corporate areas especially.

The first period of the second-half was rather worrying. Our domination had subsided and Pompey were enjoying a marked improvement in fortunes. Our end was quiet.

Michael Ballack was injured and was replaced by Juliano Belletti. It seemed that he had only been on the pitch for a few seconds when he had lost his man. My mate Alan sensed the danger and shouted –

“Don’t dive in! Don’t dive in!”

Belletti made an awful challenge and referee Chris Foy had no choice but to point towards the spot.

I decided not to take a photo of the penalty which followed – some kind of superstition I think. Thank heavens Peter Cech kicked the ball away with his trailing leg as he dived to he left. Seeing the ball bounce away is an image that will live long in my memory. That got us bouncing and the Chelsea end began roaring the team on.

“And it’s super Chelsea – Super Chelsea FC.”

Soon after Cech’s fantastic save, a free-kick was awarded and we waited for Drogba.

How he loves Wembley.

I steadied my aim and held the camera, zoom lens to the max.

As he shot, I snapped. We all saw the ball drift in to the goal off the far post and we erupted in a wild roar. Alan and myself grabbed each other and bounced.

“They’ll have to come at us now – Come on my little diamonds.”

For a moment, I felt dizzy, with blood rushing through my body – what a buzz.

Our end was did a bouncy and reminded everyone who was champions.

Soon after, Kalou shot wide and it hadn’t been his best of days. He was substituted by Joe Cole. Didier was put through, one on one, but James made another great save. The ball rebounded back to Joe Cole but his shot was subsequently blocked. We peppered the Pompey goal, but we had a scare of our own when a rare Portsmouth attack ended up with the ball being struck low across the six yard box. Thankfully no attackers were near.

A new Chelsea song –

“We’re Making History.”

Late on, we moved forward again and Joe Cole took the left back wide with a great run off the ball. Frank Lampard was able to exploit the space left and he drove into the box. Frank was fouled and we held our breath again. This time I was a little more willing to capture everything on film.

I snapped just before Frank scuffed the penalty wide. It was typical of Frank’s game as he had not enjoyed the best of performances really.

I thought Alex had been magnificent, covering space so well. Big Pete with two fantastic saves. John Terry solid at the back. The inevitable Drogba Wembley goal.

Towards the end, a few hundred fans in the top tier began clapping and urged everyone not to worry.

At the final whistle, I was quite dazed.

We then stood back and tried to take it all in. It was the same feeling as 2009. Just lovely to see everyone so happy.

The Portsmouth fans – and Uncle Avram – were warmly applauded. They received their medals.

We then waited for our heroes in blue. John Terry seemed to want to share centre-stage with the rest of the team and there was quite a wait until everyone was in position. For the sixth time in our ever-growing history, the Football Association Challenge Cup was tied with blue and white ribbons and for the sixth time, a Chelsea captain raised it high.

Snap. Snap. Snap.

The air was filled with silver and blue streamers and – almost immediately, perfectly – “Blue Is The Colour” filled the North London air. This lovely song immediately transports me back to my youth – maybe to around 1972, when houghts of The Double would have been just silly. We all joined in, singing every word, loving the shared experience.

“Cus Chelsea – Chelsea Is Our Name.”

Then, the Black Eyed Peas –

“I’ve Got A Feeling – Tonight’s Gonna Be A Good Night.”

You bet.

Next up – “One Step Beyond” and the stands were vibrating as 25,000 Chelsea fans bounced.

We made our way back to the Duke Of York and had a lovely relaxing time, drinking, chatting. I had a few more beers and Parky bought me a gin and tonic.

A double – of course.

We caught a cab back to Earl’s Court and ended-up at Salvo’s. After a little deliberation, we decided not to head back to The Bridge, but instead stay for a few hours at this homely Italian restaurant, much beloved by us all. Bob, Parky, Steve and Mike were then joined by Rob, Andy, Sophie and Woody – then Danny. We drank some Peronis and watched the Cup Final replayed on about three different channels – in English, in Italian, in Spanish. We chatted about the season, but also about the future and we raised our glasses to our great club.

We each had some food and it was a lovely, relaxed time. I had visions during the week of throwing beer down my neck in celebration of our historic win, but it in all honesty it was all rather sedate and civilised.

As we said our goodbyes at about midnight, Salvo appeared with a bottle of champagne and sprayed us all with it. It was a crazy gesture – I was stunned – but we were all cowering as the champagne ended up all over our designer clothes. It was a funny and spontaneous end to quite an amazing season.

In a scene reminiscent of Baltimore in the summer, Bob, Parky, Rob and myself settled down to a night in a crowded hotel room. We slept fitfully through the night and by 8am, we were all awake.

On the Sunday, I was still in a Blue Daze.

We had breakfast – The Breakfast Of Champions – and made our way to The Bridge. Inevitably, we found ourselves with the New York Blues, then Pete from San Francisco – and then even more inevitably we ended up in The Imperial – Matthew Harding’s preferred pub – on the Kings Road. We had some more drinks and watched the Chelsea coaches leave the West Stand entrance. At about 1.20pm, we popped outside and waited on the pavement for our heroes to appear.

The first bus appeared over the bridge and I began snapping.

There it was, emblazoned on the bus.

“The Double 09-10.”

At last, it had all sunk in.

Oh boy.

The busses slowly approached us and my camera clicked away. Rob was upstairs getting great video film of the players’ wild celebrations. JT and Frank were at the front and it was magical to see the looks of excitement and joy on their faces.

The front of the bus passed me and I just looked up at the rest of the players, Chelsea scarves knotted around their necks.

“Come On My Boys – Come On My Boys – Come On My Boys.”

Back in the pub, there was Cathy and Mo, who were there right from the very start.

What a blast.

What a weekend. What a week. What a month. What a season.

The best pre-match ever in Baltimore, the last minute winners at Stoke and Burnley, the trip to Madrid, men against boys at The Emirates, the Watford game on my Mum’s birthday, the disappointment of Inter, the car drive home from Ewood Park, the Wednesday night in Portsmouth, the phenomenal trips to Old Trafford and Anfield, the 8-0 against Wigan, the Cup Final, the goals, the goals, the goals.

Our most successful season ever.

Chelsea Football Club – I salute you.

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Tales From The Champions

Chelsea vs. Wigan Athletic – 9 May 2010.

What else could I call this?

Oh Boy – What a game.

From the quiet cave of Anfield, subdued apart from three thousand Chelsea loyalists, to the bubbling cauldron of noise and emotion at HQ.

Just a spectacular day.

I will be honest, I was still more nervous than I perhaps ought to have been throughout the build-up to the Wigan Athletic game. A lot of people were telling me to relax, but how could I? This was a potential disaster waiting to happen. The more I thought of the match, the more worried I became. There have been numerous examples of teams failing at the last minute and I couldn’t face my Chelsea being the next. I think it is safe to say that I was just glad that there was no Wigan player called Mazeroski.

The alarm sounded at 6.30am on Sunday and the first task of the day was to decide on match-day apparrel. This often takes a good many minutes as I weigh up the choices. I kept thinking back to the Bolton championship game in 2005 and I remembered that I wore a white Henri Lloyd polo on that incredible day…I superstitiously decided to mirror this choice, but this time the chosen colour was royal blue. I kept the Bolton theme going by wearing a pair of HL jeans that I bought in a store outside The Reebok before the game last autumn. I needed all the good luck charms I could muster. My new Barbour jacket worked a treat at Anfield last week, so that got the nod, too. The weather looked dull and overcast as I set off at 8am.

Parky, sporting some new Forest Hills, was collected at 8.30am and we were on our way. We shot through the familiar towns of Devizes, Marlborough and Hungerford on the A4. Passing through the Savernake Forest, thousands of bluebells were spotted in woodland glades alongside the silver birch trees. It was a spectacular sight. Gill texted me –

“Jack Kerouac?”

I replied –

“Writing And Arithmetic.”

I had been in touch with Jamie ( crowtrobot ) who was lucky enough to be over for Game 38. Jamie was nervous, just like me.

On parking up at Chelsea, the weather was cold but a breakfast soon sorted ourselves out. Frankie Two Times was in the cafe too and he updated us with details of his recent health scare. He’s doing much better now thank heavens. Daryl, Ed andNeil then appeared, all wearing the requisite polo shirts. Daryl was wearing a lovely Fred Perry – and there was an element of superstition about this choice, too.

“If it was good enough for the first game of the season, it’s good enough for this one too” he said.

There was an element of classic Chelsea about it too as the white shirt had green and red trim…shades of the much-loved red / white / green of the 1970’s away kit.

We got the nod that US visitors Ashley and Jamie were close by, so we sauntered off to The Goose. There was a sizeable crowd waiting for Reg to open up. In we went, bang on mid-day. Over the next hour or so, all of my mates showed up and joined the throng. By 2pm, Reg had decided to limit the amount of people entering as it was so full. We had our little corner of the bar, beneath the TV set showing the Leicester vs. Cardiff game ( which nobody was watching…) and the pre-game rituals were taking place. The laughs, the stories, the jokes.

Lacoste Watch

Parky – black

Ed – lime green

Of my mates, Parky and Andy were the most stressed, whereas Daryl and Simon seemed rather chilled out and confident. I still wasn’t sure.

“Bottom of the ninth, Mazeroski swings…”

Jamie and Ashley – plus also Jason and his girlfriend – were being entertained by Lord Parky, the resident CIA-Social Secretary, and the beers were flowing nicely. Talk also included plans for the FA Cup Final pre-match, but also of the friendlies in Holland and Germany. Wes showed up a bit later, thus missing the other Americans who had left to sample the pre-match, and he was buzzing as per normal. He grabbed me and shouted “let’s do this.” I showed a few mates some photos from Anfield, but also from the Chelsea Old Boys game I had seen in Southampton on Monday…great photos of former players such as Johnny B., Tore Andre Flo, Clive Walker, Canners, Ian Britton and Colin Pates.

At about 3.15pm – a bit earlier than normal – we set off for The Bridge. There were lines of fans waiting to get into the packed pubs around Fulham Broadway and I guessed these unlucky souls were without tickets. There was an air of carnival, but I only felt the tension. I quick word with Mark on the CFCUK stall, wearing his lucky trainers.

By 3.40pm, Steve and myself had taped ‘VINCI PER NOI’ up against the back wall of the Matthew Harding Upper, right in my NW corner. Bizarrely, there were still marks from the tape which I must’ve used all those years ago. I used to bring the banner along in the Vialli / Zola era, but ‘VINCI’ was last seen at Stamford Bridge in around the year 2000. My goodness, the years have flown.

Unfortunately, the banner was hid for most of the game by a few fans who had decided to stand. Oh well. I was hoping that Carlo might spot it at some stage.

The Bridge, though under grey skies, was a riot of colour and more flags then usual were dotted around the balconies.

Den Haag.

Newry.

Cornwall.

Polska.

The rumours were true, though – Wigan hadn’t sold all their tickets and I was pretty annoyed with the gaps in that section. There were even clumps of empty seats in the “complimentaries” ( players families, friends, etc ) in the middle of the Shed Upper. Work that one out. Also empty seats in the “Abramovich” tier of the West…

Building up to the game, I had yearned for an early goal – by ten minutes would be perfect. Wigan, in a truly horrendous kit, had the best of the early exchanges though. The Bridge was on fire, however, with everyone seemingly buoyed by extra pints.

“We love you Chelsea – we do.”

On just five minutes, a Drogba free-kick was cleared but the ball was played back in. A touch back from Malouda and Anelka was waiting.

A shot.

YEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEESSSSSSSSSSSSSS.

What a start – Oh my, I wanted to explode. After the shouting, the screaming and the back-slapping had died down slightly, Alan turned to me…

“They’ll have to come at us now.”

“Come on my little diamonds.”

We then struggled a little bit and I thought Wigan got back into the game. However, just as the crowd was cooling down a little, along came a burst into the box and we were given a penalty, though my view was impeded. Not only that – a red card.

This isn’t happening. This is going exactly to plan.

Frank took the ball. However, Alan had told me that Didier had allegedly been promised a penalty in order for him to get a shot at The Golden Boot. In the imediate build-up to the penalty, there seemed to be “words” between Frank and Drogba.

I caught Frank’s emphatic stab on film and the resultant celebrations. This was wonderful wonderful stuff. The texts started to fly in.

The Bridge was then bouncing like never before…whole sections of stands were joining in…it resembled a sight akin to a bouncing Mexican wave. Heady stuff indeed.

The rest of the half seemed a blur, but we were well aware that Drogba was sulking. I had to remind myself that he was our Player Of The Year. I wasn’t impressed. At the half-time break, I couldn’t help but think that there was still an air of uncertainty amongst my fellow fans.

Two-nil up, Wigan down to ten men and we’re still not convinced.

“Proper Chelsea” I thought.

I heard one soul utter “we only need to let in one goal and…” His voice trailed off, but we all knew what he meant.

At the break, Roy Bentley and Ken Monkou made the half-time draws. Great to see Roy again – was it really a year ago that his antics on the pitch after the Blackburn game gave us so much joy?

The Chelsea eleven re-entered the pitch well ahead of the opposition and – for the first time I can ever remember – had a pre-second half huddle. I imagined that it had kicked-off a bit between Drogba and the others at the break ( maybe out of earshot of the manager ) and now JT was bringing them all together.

“Let’s do this together, boys.”

Well, the second half was an absolute blur. At the end of it all, we were having trouble remembering who had scored or how they had scored. It was the third goal that really made it safe. A lovely one-two between Kalou and Frank and a slick finish. I think I celebrated this goal the most as I just knew we couldn’t be caught. Photos of Kalou, minus his shirt, posing right down below me and in front of Cathy and Dog in the corner.

The Anelka goal – the fourth – was just mesmeric…the deep cross from Ivanovic and the first-time volley. The place erupted again. The players raced over to celebrate in the same corner and the expressions on their faces are a joy to behold.

OK, we were now on 99 league goals and ( despite my nervousness ) I had toyed with the notion of a 5-0 win to give is a ton. It soon came…a great angled header by Drogba from a lovely Lampard cross. Drogba was euphoric.

One hundred league goals!

“Boring Boring Chelsea – Boring Boring Chelsea.”

And so it continued…Ashley was clipped by former blue Mario Melchiot and Drogs was handed the ball. I raced down to the front and steadied myself. Just time for aquick word with Big John.

“I think we’re safe” he said.

Snap.

6-0. The place erupted again. Up to 101 now…

We couldn’t repeat the 7-0 of the very last home game could we? Well, a bit of interplay between Juliano and Joey set up Drogba to push home from close range. On this goal, I just smiled and laughed…this was just crazy.

The songs continued.

Then a break, a shot from Moses – the shot of the game – and a World class save from Petr, who had been a spectator for virtually all of the game. Then – a beautiful moment – and a chant which some fans will not have heard ever before…

“That’s Why We’re Champions.”

Memories of 2005-2006. We’ll be singing that again next season.

Then, the final act of 2009-2010 and the beautiful finish from Ashley Cole after a deep Joe Cole cross.

Eight.

8-0.

Un-believable.

I had received a flurry of late texts and was mid-text at the final whistle. While the rest of the crowd roared, I sent a simple text to a few mates – mainly Chelsea, but also Manchester United, Liverpool and Rotherham United too.

“My team. My life.”

I crouched down, weak with joy, and my eyes were momentarilly moist.

Payback for Moscow.

I hugged a few friends – especially Alan, who is now up to about 140 consecutive Chelsea games, home and away, Europe and all. We love our club and we love our friendship too. I’ve known Alan since March 1984 and we know what it means to be Chelsea. There was Rousey behind, going crazy, there was Tom alongside, quiet and contented, there was Mick behind with his ailing father, there was Kev and Anna, new aquaintances since the California trip in 2007, Russ and his daughter, Old Joe and his sons.

All of us together.

I had taken around one hundred photographs during the game and I then took an equally high amount in the aftermath.

The songs, the banners, the laughter, the build-up to the trophy being handed over to JT.

The colour, the noise, the red of the Chelsea Pensioners, the royal blue in the four stands, the Wigan fans staying behind, the anticipation…

The booing of Scudamore…Game 39 will not be forgotten.

The youth team with the FA Youth Cup – winners for the first time since 1961.

The back-room staff, Ray Wilkins – a big roar – the manager – a bigger roar, the reserve players.

The first-teamers, Michael Essien – a massive roar – the slow build up.

The veterans, Petr Cech, Didier Drogba.

The East End Boys, the Blood Brothers, the vice-captain Frank Lampard and the captain John Terry.

The walk.

The handshake.

The glint of the gold and the silver of the trophy.

The roar.

The sky exploded with white, silver and blue streamers and the next few minutes was joy unbounded. The players did a triumphant lap of honour and it was wondrous. I thought about what must have been going through the minds of Jamie, Wes, Ashley and Beth – especially Beth.

I thought about my mates dotted around the stadium.

We live for days like this.

An hour or so later, we were drinking in The Lily Langtry and the place was mobbed. We had heard that the OB had closed a lot of the pubs around The Broadway and all of the fans were out on the road drinking from cans. It was a crazy scene.

Across the way, a hundred fans outside The Prince Of Wales were goading us in The Lily for a song.

“CAMPIONES – CAMPIONES – OLE – OLE – OLE.”

Later, heading out of London, I called Steve in California and we spoke for a few moments. I commented that the day reminded me so much of the game which clinched promotion from the old Second Division in 1984. We beat Leeds 5-0 that day and there was wild euphoria in SW6 all those years ago. I experienced the same feelings twenty-six years later. It was a phenominal scoreline. As I spoke to Steve, 6,000 miles away, I turned a gentle corner on the M4 and the sky ahead was lit with a sunset of incandescent beauty. To my north, the sun’s rays caught the Wembley Arch. It was a magical moment.

Life…it truly does not get any better.

TEW06069944_00557

Tales From Anfield Road

Liverpool vs. Chelsea : 2 May 2010.

I awoke – ahead of the alarm, never a good sign – at 5.30am and after pouring myself a coffee for the journey, I set off for Liverpool bang on 7am. This had the historic feel of the momentous trip up to Bolton in April 2005.

A day of destiny.

On that never-to-be-forgotten day, I drove up with Glenn and Frank, but this was going to be a solo trip north. Unfortunately, the first signs were not good. The weather which accompanied me for the first hour or so was sombre and grey with rain showers. I had an Elvis Costello CD on the go – a mixture of old classics, plus a few new songs which my mate Pete ( a United fan, no less ) had compiled especially for me. I had never realised how far Costello looked towards America in his musical leanings. As I headed past Bristol on the M5, my car was reverberating to the sounds of blues and country. The trees lining the motorway were now full of leaves and for a few moments, with Costello’s guitar providing twangs usually associated with America, I could easily have been headed north of Atlanta, heading up through Georgia towards The Smokies. These trees – in Gloucestershire – though, were not suffocated by kudzu, that bizarre plant of the south-eastern states which envelops and masks anything that gets in its way.

My mind was being easily distracted from thoughts of the game and I was very happy about this. On the rare occasions it entered my mind, I quickly moved onto something else…I didn’t need the worry, the anxiety, the possibility of failure. I thought about allsorts as I raced north. It was a shame that Parky would not be accompanying me on this one, but I knew that a few other mates were heading north too. Alan and Gary on the coaches, Daryl and Rob in a car, Beth with Gill and Graeme.

The last of the Costello songs ended as Tewkesbury Abbey came in to view. I then kept the American vibe going by putting on some John Lee Hooker.

“Boom Boom Boom Boom.”

Better some blues, I thought, rather than the red of Costello, a Liverpudlian in terms of place of birth and football team alike.

Thankfully, the rain stopped at Worcester and, soon after, a streak of blue was spotted in the sky. Although the sun soon broke through, this was a false dawn as it stayed pretty cloudy for the rest of the day. I spotted the first “Liverpool car” at Droitwich, then my first “Chelsea car” on the M6 around Wolverhampton. I stopped at Keele services for a coffee refill and noted the place was filling up with Adidas shirts of both the red of Liverpool and the royal blue of Chelsea.

My mind was still doing a grand job in blotting out any thoughts of the game. I thought back to a funny tale from my early childhood. My grandfather once went on a coach trip for a week – to North Wales I believe – in around 1971 and was told by my father to “bring Chris back something to do with football.” I would have only been six, but it was obvious that my love of the game was clear for all to see. To my horror ( and to my parents too, no doubt ), my grandfather brought me back a red Liverpool duffle bag, with white liver bird crest. I am sure I rolled my eyes heavenwards and my parents gave my poor grandfather ( who wasn’t a football fan at all, unlike his late wife ) the third degree on why ( oh why! ) didn’t he bring back a Chelsea bag. I think his response was along the lines of –

“Oh, I’m sorry – I just thought it was OK to bring back anything to do with football.”

Even at the age of six, football equalled Chelsea in my eyes.

So – for the next few years, whenever we went swimming at the old baths in Frome, my swimming trunks and towel were taken in using this red Liverpool bag and I was forever having to defend the actions of my poor grandfather. The friends, who obviously recognised my status as a keen Chelsea fan, couldn’t understand it either. I seem to remember that I stuck a couple of Yogi Bear badges on the bag and unconvincingly claimed that it was Yogi’s team, not mine.

So – Liverpool and Chelsea…it goes back a long way!

This was my fifteenth trip to Anfield and I had only seen us win a league game on one occasion before, that momentous game in 1992 which resulted in Chelsea’s first victory at Liverpool’s stadium since 1937. Since 1992, there had been a further three victories, but I had not been present.

Of course, the build up to the game in the media was dominated by Liverpool’s relationship with Manchester United…and their pivotal role in the destination of this year’s title. It could be a case of most Liverpool fans wanting Liverpool to lose and all United fans wanting Liverpool to win.

A funny game, football.

I reverted to type and whacked the old stalwarts New Order on the CD as I drove the last hour into Merseyside. I know I have mentioned it before, but that view as I headed over the Manchester Ship Canal is the classic North-West away game moment for me…let me recreate it again. Manchester, full of worried and paranoid United fans, just 15 miles to my east and Liverpool, full of depressed and confused Liverpool fans, just 15 milers to my west. And ahead – Winter Hill and The Reebok, scene of that game at Bolton in 2005.

I headed west on the M62, the road linking the old adversaries of Liverpool, Manchester and Leeds ( whatever happened to them? Ho ho ho ) and was soon hurtling along Queens Drive, the road which provides the final few miles of my trips to Anfield and Goodison. I’m always superstitious and, in lieu of last season’s CL triumph at Anfield, I parked in the same road as on that momentous night when Ivanovic became an instant Chelsea legend.

I was parked up at 10.45am. Job done. But now, with the stands of Anfield clearly visible at the top of Utting Avenue, the nerves began again. Their was a chill in the air.

After popping into The Arkles, already full of Chelsea, I then headed down to meet Chopper from New York in The Flat Iron. It gave me a moment to mull over the immediate environment around Liverpool’s home ground. The area to the north is dominated by Stanley Park – the intended site of their new stadium ( start date 2075 ), but on all other sides there are stereotypical terraced streets, with houses of various colours, some red brick, some painted, some clad in various materials. It’s a solid working class area. The area around Goodison is the same. Maybe I imagined it, but the streets looked bleaker than normal. I found Chopper at the bar in The Flat Iron, nursing a pint of Strongbow. He was glad to see me. He was wearing a variety of neutral colours ( purple sweatshirt, green baseball cap ) and was just a bit paranoid about being “outed” as an away fan. The pub was OK, though, half and half home and away fans. Only the Liverpool fans were wearing colours though. We spoke about Liverpool – its role as one of the World’s great ports, but now a UK Detroit, on the decline forever.

We then moved further away from Anfield, down to The Cabbage Hall, where an entertaining time – as always – was spent with Cath and Dog. At 12.45pm, we wanted to move on. I fancied stopping just outside The Kop, just to gauge the mood of the restless natives, but everyone was so quiet. We moved all of the way around the stadium – what a lot of gloomy faces. As we moved past the south-west corner, I mentioned to Chopper that at the 1992 game, I remembered seeing a “half-time” turnstile ( for people locked out at the start of any games, this would open up if anyone were taken ill during the first-half, or if the stadium authorities believed The Kop to be safe to squeeze any more into its packed interior ). In all my travels, I had never seen such a feature at any other ground.

At the Hillsborough Memorial, we took our caps off and stood silent for a few seconds.

A chat with a few faces outside the away turnstiles and then inside. The place was buzzing.

Alan, Gal and myself had prime seats, row 8, just to the left of the goal. After all these trips to Anfield since 2005, what a familiar place it is. That scoreboard – and clock – in the corner of The Kop seemed to hover menacingly. How often have I begged for that clock to stand still at so many games. Beth was in, but way over by the Scousers in the main stand. Graeme and Gill were spotted a few rows below. Cathy and Dog a couple of rows behind. I took some snaps of the boys “kicking in” out on the green carpet of the pitch.

Before the game, our Chelsea away flag was held overhead as a reaction to the home fan’s ritual singing of “that song.” I’ve never heard it sang so quietly.

The teams re-entered the pitch and I took many shots of the Chelsea players hugging, high-fiveing each other, shaking each others hands and offering encouragement against the backdrop of those brightly coloured Liverpool flags and banners at the base of The Kop.

Just a great scene-setter.

The game began and I quickly glanced over our formation.

We began poorly and gifted too much early possession to Liverpool. However, the Chelsea choir were in great voice. The home fans were eerily silent. The pace of the game was slow and – bit by bit – the significance of the game became oh-so apparent.

Lose – and we’d be out of it.

A couple of early Liverpool corners and two identical Drogba headed clearances. That’s the spirit. On 13 minutes, Aquilani hit a rasping drive right towards me which just clipped the bar. Liverpool continued to pass the ball around at will and our midfield were second-best. The defensive line – JT and Alex especially – were being tested again and again, but were repelling every attack.

Cathy did a Zigger Zagger and we all joined in.

“Oi oi oi.”

We urged Malouda to get involved but he seemed to be playing a deeper role. He needed to find his form of late. We had a few sporadic attacks, but nothing to give us much cause for comfort. Half an hour had passed and we were anxious. Our singing continued and we called on The Beatles’ “Hey Jude” to inspire the team. Our end was rocking. Elsewhere, it remained deathly still. What was going through the minds of the Scousers? We tried to rattle Gerrard with a song about his recent alleged misdemeanours.

“She’s only sixteen, she’s only sixteen – Steven Gerrard, she’s only sixteen.”

I can’t claim he even heard this, but soon after, he had more worrying things on his mind. A bizarre backpass ( we knew not from whom until half-time ) and Drogba pounced. He went wide of Reyna and stroked the ball into the empty net with The Kop looking on, aghast.

I lost it. I probably celebrated like at no other time since Frank’s goal in Moscow. I’m sure it looked great on the TV. Loads of screaming faces, loads of arms pumping.

Who needs drugs when football can do this to the brain?

Chelsea came on a bit stronger after the goal and peppered The Kop goal. Of course, we couldn’t see the fine detail involved in the tangle of legs which resulted in Kalou ending up on the floor inside the box, but texts from TV Land suggested he fell over his feet.

Typical Kalou.

At half-time, I couldn’t stand still and so went on a bit of a wander down to the front. A chat with Lovejoy, a few words with a couple of others. Then a tap on the shoulder and Kent Blues Graeme appeared alongside me. We shared a few words and returned to our seats.

Soon into the second-half, Kalou went on a beautiful run deep into the Liverpool box, right in front of me, but his ball across the goalmouth travelled the length of the six yard box without a touch. Oh boy.

Quite a few rows behind me, a gaggle of Chelsea fans sang “Three Little Birds” but it wasn’t a very loud or sustained effort. I was just about to comment to Gary that Frank was having a quiet game, when the ball was played out to Nico and we realised that the angle was perfect for the ball to be played into the “corridor of uncertainty” in front of the ‘keeper. In it came and we all held our breath. Frank arrived, stuck out a leg and in the ball went.

“YEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEESSSSSSSSSSSS.”

We lost it again. I immediately knew that it was so similar to the “cross – anticipation – shot” goal from Drogba in the CL game last season. My adrenal glands went into overdrive and we again cheered manically. I managed to scramble onto my seat, above the flailing arms, to take a few snaps of an exultant Lampard. I had to fight to keep my hand steady…snap, snap, snap. Frank’s face was a picture. Shades of Bolton 2005.

OK – Party Time, Liverpool 2010. Let’s this baby started.

“We all hate Leeds and Leeds and Leeds.”

We were on fire – the players, the fans, the entire away end bouncing as one. I lost count of the number of timers that we raided down the left wing. Kalou was on fire and Malouda’s second-half performance was much better. Down below me, I chuckled at a young boy wearing a 1981 original home shirt. It seemed a long way away, but 1981, eh? Clive Walker, Ian Britton, Micky Fillery and Colin Pates.

“Come along, come along, come along and sing this song – we’re the boys in blue from Division Two, but we won’t be there for long.”

Then – a new song for the Liverpool fans, so obsessed with their past.

“We saved your history.”

We had a few chances, Liverpool wilted. Never have 40,000 fans made less noise.

Before I knew it, the whistle went and the players came over to celebrate with us. A few more snaps – I looked for Frank and JT, our two leaders, as always. I was beaming and really didn’t want to leave. But I had a long drive ahead and I needed to be away. I bounced down Utting Avenue and took a short-cut back to my car. While I answered the first of many incoming texts from friends far and near, I found myself walking down a terraced street, but it was lined with tree after tree full of white blossom. It was a beautiful, idyllic, almost surreal scene.

I thought to myself – “Heaven must be a bit like this.”

Please excuse the sentimentality – I was in Liverpool after all.

Even my getaway was perfect as a lot of the Scousers were still inside Anfield, applauding their team for a magnificent season of mediocrity. I was soon on the M62 at 4pm and headed south. I was so pleased and contented, that I didn’t want Manchester United to spoil it. I avoided their match and listened to more music…Cocteau Twins, Keane…but then gave in to the last five minutes of the United game. Sigh.

I raced home, getting home in just over three hours. I popped into Frome where I knew that a few old schoolfriends ( Leeds United, Manchester United, Liverpool, Bristol City and Portsmouth ) were meeting up after the usual five-a-side at Frome Sport Centre. I made sure I was the first to arrive. I wasn’t finishing second at anything.

We had a great time, talking about football as always – it was the first time all six of us had been together since about twenty years ago, as the one Leeds fan has moved to the Far East.

The laughs and smiles continued for a while, but I then realised – with United winning – “oh hell, we have to go through this all over again next week.”

So – it boils down to this…

One Game – One Win – One Champion.

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Tales From The Wild Side

Chelsea vs. Stoke City : 25 April 2010.

Not so much a matter of cups being half-empty or half-full. Against Stoke City, our cup overflowed.

But – really – if only I had known that we would triumph so remarkably, I would have been able to enjoy the prolonged pre-match a little more.

I awoke early on Sunday morning and was sick with nerves. Outside, the weather was surprisingly damp and drizzly. My mood had taken a downward swing after United’s predictable win against Spurs and I knew that the Stoke game would be a tense affair. Steve Azar was still in town – what luck! – and I got him a seat next to myself as Glenn couldn’t make it due to work. We texted each other soon after 8am –

Chris – Up early, already Jack Kerouac. Nervous as hell. Joining us for breakfast?

Steve – I’ll be there. We need to defend those corners.

Chris – What, at breakfast?

I kept thinking that an early goal would settle us nicely. One at around 11am would be perfect. I picked up Parky at about 9am and we spent the first hour nervously chatting away about the Spurs game ( we both thought that it was bad policy for the Chelsea team to be watching the Manchester derby – it certainly affected us. This was foolish and a black mark against the manager ), the Stoke game, the Liverpool game, the Cup Final, the whole nine yards. Sartorially, we were like two peas in a pod.

Lacoste Watch

Parky – black
Chris – navy blue

I joined the M4 at Hungerford. Depeche Mode were on the CD and the chat quietened down. The music added to the drama and those drum beats banged away at me. There were the usual familiar sights on the approach into town. At around 11am, the rain worsened, but we joined Steve for a Full Monty breakfast in good time. It was to be Steve’s last “proper” breakfast for a while. Again, the talk was full of our predictions for the day ahead. Despite the problems with air travel, many Americans had flown over and it was going to be another hectic one. We zipped past three NYBs waiting for The Goose to open at midday as we headed down towards The Bridge. Thankfully, the rain had subsided.

For about an hour and a quarter, Parky, Steve and myself – to be joined by Beth, who was in the UK for a week after swapping her flights rather dramatically – stayed in the hotel foyer along with the legendary triumvirate of Ron Harris, Charlie Cooke and Peter Bonetti. It was a lovely time and I could see that Steve was enjoying the chat with Chopper and The Bonnie Prince. A few photos – of course! It was of course great to see Beth again and I was very pleased to receive my copy of the CIA DVD from the summer tour. Ironically, I had spent Saturday evening viewing my own personal camcorder film of California 2007.

We then spent two hours in the beer garden of The Goose. There was a cast of thousands, chatting away. A few familiar faces from the NYBs – the Caminski Family, Mike, Chopper, Carrie, Henry, plus many few more…the biggest surprise was right at the end, when Napoli Frank showed up. I first met Frank on the way to a Mets game in 2008 and he left a big impression on me…a real character. One of the NYBs joked that Frank is such a typical New Yorker that he is on the city flag. Anyway, a big old hug for Frank and plenty of laughter – we last saw each other in Baltimore. For five NYBs, this would be their first ever game at Stamford Bridge…for a couple, their first ever Chelsea game.

Meanwhile, in a corner, The Bing were chatting away.

Lacoste Watch –

Rob – brown

News came through that the rumours about the Old Firm playing a game at Fenway on July 21st appeared to be true and we spent a good twenty minutes shaking our heads at this crazy decision. Boston won’t know what will hit it. I was still nervous – of course! – about the game and I almost didn’t want to go to the game…like a school exam, I never wanted it to come. I walked down the North End Road with Parky, Wes and Steve, our paces quickening. Steve spotted Cathy and Dog.

Smiles for familiar friends.

Daryl and Simon were being cautious about our chances. I shared a few worries and my stomach churned once more. Into the stadium and blue skies overhead, with white fluffy clouds too. Real Chelsea weather – we always play better in the sun. I noted gaps in the away corner, maybe only 700 Stokies. We had noted a couple in The Goose…no worries.

Our team, without the suspended JT, was very attack-minded, but I wasn’t sure about Kalou in for Joe. Ballack was holding.

OK – game on. Let’s go.

We began very brightly and I immediately said to Steve that Ballack was covering lots more ground than usual. With him playing a more withdrawn role, he appeared to have more time and space and he seemed to be revelling in it. Our chances came thick and fast. On 11 minutes, a Lampard shot was parried by the Stoke ‘keeper but Ashley Cole miscued. Ashley began as if he hadn’t been away. Great to see him back, but we were sad that Yuri had been dropped. On 18 minutes, Herr Ballack shot high after a corner. We were peppering the Stoke goal. A great cross from Paolo was glanced goalwards by Drogba, but a great save. Drogba then blazed over from two similar wide positions. Surely a goal would come. This was great stuff.

On 20 minutes, we went ahead…what a touch by Drogba out on the right – that was just amazing – and an equally fine cross low into the danger area. Kalou stooped and we went wild. Steve had an up-close-and-personal performance of our goal celebrations –

Alan – “They’ll have to come at us now, duck.”

Chris – “Come on my little diamonds, duck.”

On 31 minutes, Drogs set up Frank with a sublime touch and the resultant shot was fumbled into the path of Kalou. He doesn’t miss from there! I turned around and noted that Anna ( who was over in California in 2007 ) was right behind me after getting a drink. I gave her a hug and a kiss – and so her bloke Kevin didn’t feel left out, I did the same to him.

Happy days.

We were purring. A wonderful sweeping move, from Malouda down in the left-back position all of the way through the midfield, with Paolo taking a defender wide with a run outside, the ball was lofted out to Kalou who was pulled down – penalty! Frank blasted it home and the New York Blues – right behind the Shed goal in the lower tier – went into orbit. I imagined Napoli Frank smiling from ear to ear. This was just blissful stuff and I felt all off that nervous worry dissipating in the Spring sun.

At half-time, Neil brought six of the 1970 team out onto the pitch to perform – for one afternoon only! – a special rendition of “Blue Is the Colour” and I heard Ron Harris’ voice dominating the singing. The crowd joined in and it was fantastic. The six of these Chelsea legends – Chopper, The Cat, Charlie, Huddy, Holly and The Sponge – then walked around the pitch, with applause cascading down. As they reached The Shed, a song began –

“The Shed looked up and they saw a great star.
Scoring goals past Pat Jennings from near and from far.
And Chelsea won – as we all knew they would.
And the star of that great team was Peter Osgood.”

A lovely moment.

In the second, there was a slight lull, but we then began again…Kalou shot over, Ashley had a great dribble into the box but couldn’t connect when it counted, a few free-kicks from distance. Stoke rarely threatened, but Tuncay looked busy.

“Come on – don’t give them a goal.”

Ivanovic was having another magnificent game. He really has been our most consistent performer this year. Alan likens his upright stance to Gary Locke. I always think his ‘eighties hair-style gives him the appearance of Joy Divisions’s Ian Curtis ( a man whose hairstyle, it was once said, was imposed upon him )…we love Ivan, Ivo, Branno – whatever we call him – to bits and he is a true Chelsea great. He would have fitted well into that 1970 team. I can just see him alongside Ron Harris.

Ouch.

On 65, Nico shot wide, but soon after, Kalou beat the offside trap to score his third and our fourth, though he needed two bites of the cherry to do so. Like Anelka last year against Sunderland, an “inside the six yard box” hat trick.

On 71, Joe Cole’s first run at the nervous Stoke defence resulted in the miss of the season for Malouda…oh boy, how did he manage to miss-cue from a yard? The substitute Sam Hutchinson then sent over a stupendous cross for Frank Lampard, whose exquisite flick over Bergovic was just amazing. It reminded me of Zola’s last ever goal for us, that other deft lob from the same angle, although further out. Five-nil. Superb. It was appropriate that a player called Hutchinson was involved on a day we remembered the 1970 cup win, some forty years on.

Late on – as we joked about 7 – two more goals…another beautiful through ball from Didi dissected the Stoke defence and Daniel Sturridge swept in his first-ever league goal for us. Then, a ball from Ballack to Joe – buzzing now – and a first-time cross for an exuberant Malouda to belt into the roof of the net.

Screams of delight from us all.

Oh my.

After the 7-2 against Sunderland and the 7-1 against Villa – now the biggest ever top flight Chelsea win. And, it goes without saying, my biggest ever Chelsea win in almost 800 games. Steve didn’t want to leave and so as the crowd slowly filtered out, we stayed for a few more minutes, breathing deeply, taking it all in. Way after the final whistle, on the PA, Bob Marley was wailing again…

“Don’t Worry – About A Thing.”

We spent an enjoyable time in The Goose, smiling, laughing and sharing the joy of the lucky souls who had flown over for this one game only. What a performance. I know nothing is certain in this crazy season, but this massive confidence boost is just perfect. A nervy 1-0, with the crowd on the team’s back, would have helped for the points total, but not on any other level.

It had been superb having Steve over and it was a bittersweet moment as we said our “goodbyes.”

Heading out of London on the M4, at Brentford, I spotted a massive ( 20 metres by 20 metres ) advertisement for Pepsi-Max featuring an image of Frank Lampard, streaked in paint, exhorting us to “Max Your Wild Side.” How appropriate. I wonder if the Americans, heading back to Heathrow, spotted it. I wonder if Beth will.

OK – if win it at Anfield on Sunday lunchtime and United lose at Sunderland later that afternoon, expect my car to swerve uncontrolably around 6pm on the M5 Southbound…around Stroud, I reckon.

These are the days of our lives.

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Tales From The Third World

Tottenham Hotspur vs. Chelsea : 17 April 2010.

And so the season continues on a knife edge.

I collected His Lordship from Parky Towers and we were full of chat on the drive up the M4. There was not a single cloud in the sky throughout the drive. Once we parked-up at the usual place, the sun’s warmth shocked us.

We hoped that it would turn out to be a lovely day. To quote a line from a famous film –

“Tottenham Away. Love It.”

We had arranged to meet “Folsom Blue” Steve Azar at Earl’s Court at 1pm, but we were a bit late in arriving. We bounced into “O’Neils” on the corner of Brompton Road and Earl’s Court Road at about 1.25pm, with the Manchester derby on the TV screens. Also present were Ashley, from San Jose, and her mate Jason, from even further away. Jason is from the Far East and was at college in Newcastle, but has since been living and working in London for over a year. The reason he decided to stay on and reside in England?

Chelsea Football Club.

Excellent stuff. Shades of Burger, even. This would be Ashley and Jason’s first ever away game.

Anyway, we got the beers in, chatted away and stood at the bar throughout the second-half of the City vs. United game. It didn’t appear to be a particularly exciting game. A few half-chances for both teams. I was happy when Rooney was taken off…even happier when his replacement Berbatov headed meekly wide. City didn’t appear to be playing well, Tevez was quiet. As we supped our pints, we continued chatting. We had sorted out our plans for the rest of the trip up to N17 and were thinking about our game against our hated rivals. We contemplated the gap being narrowed to just three points. Three minutes of extra time…

When Scholes headed in, our spirits dive-bombed. The previously quiet pub erupted with noise, while I walked away in disgust. I had the feeling that there were more than a few Spurs fans in the pub watching. This was a terrible result and we knew it.

The five of us hopped on a tube and then got a cab from Finsbury Park to White Hart Lane. We wanted to get there early in order for Parky to collect his match ticket from Lovejoy. The cabbir dropped us off opposite The Corner Pin pub – no windows, just shutters. My phone was already buzzing away with a few Chelsea-related texts, from near and far. One text came in from Pete all of the way over in San Francisco. It contained an amazing photograph of a football pitch – or rather a goal – with the Golden Gate Bridge in the background. An image of football which made me smile. I have often toyed with the idea of getting a photographic project up-and-running containing football pitches from wherever my travels take me. The sort of images that often pop up in “When Saturday Comes.” Anyway, by means of a contrast, I took a photo of a boarded-up shop, right on the High Road, right outside White Hart Lane.

I entitled it “Greetings From Tottenham.”

For anyone who is yet to visit, the area around White Hart Lane is pretty rough. The difference between Spurs’ HQ and our HQ is immense. Boarded-up shops, empty premises, council flats, chip shops…I’d hate to have to visit it every fortnight.

Lovejoy was running late and so we just circumnavigated White Hart Lane.

It was a painful operation.

Still, no skin off my nose.

The surroundings are truly gruesome and there were copious amounts of horse5hit – from the police horses – everywhere. Just about summed the place up really. There was the usual selection of T-Shirt stalls. One T-shirt design was poking fun at Arsenal’s title aspirations and I thought this was a bit rich coming from a club who last won the championship in 1961.

We walked around to the heavily-policed away turnstiles and spotted a few familiar faces arrive. There was quite a subdued air about the place though…not the noisy hub-bub you get walking along the Fulham Road. At long last, Lovejoy arrived with Woody and Andy and Parky got his sweaty mitts on the ticket. He would be up in the top tier, not far from me.

We got in with ten minutes to spare, just as Alan and Gary arrived. And there we were – the assembled masses of the Chelsea away support, all 3,000 strong, and us in the middle of the block of 511 away season-ticket holders.

The plasterers, the office managers, the painters and decorators, the laboratory technicians, the estate agents, the sales managers, the French polishers, the project managers, the export co-ordinators, the account clerks, the millionaires, the directors, the shop owners and the students.

All of us Chelsea – all of us up for it.

Spurs began strongly and had us reeling as they found space in and around our box. Gareth Bale was running at Paolo and we were worried. Our play struggled to get going. A Pavlochenko effort from way out was tipped over by Petr Cech and I gasped. It was a superb save. The first of the three or four “Oh When The Spurs Go Marching In” dirges – painfully slow – were sung and the whole place joined in.

Apart from us of course – we rallied with our usual supply of passionate songs and it was a good atmosphere.

Then – no! – a handball and Dowd pointed to the spot after a moment of thought. Defoe smashed it in and we had to watch the home support pumping their arms in mad jubilation. It was a truly hideous sight. There must be worse things that could possibly happen to me on my journey through this life, but at that particular moment, I could not think of any.

We equalised – how we celebrated – only for us to spot the yellow flag for offside. Gutted.

Ballack on for Mikel.

Cech made another stupendous save down below me.

The Spurs cockerel was glinting high atop the East Stand – home to the Shelf in years gone by – and it made me feel ill.

Eidur Gudjohnsen was warming up down below and I neither applauded nor booed. Not a nice sight, though. During the closing stages of the first-half, we were getting back into it a bit. Of course, Bale then cut inside with ease and slammed the ball in to give Spurs a deserved 2-0 lead at half-time. Paolo Ferreira ended-up on his knees and he looked truly befuddled.

At the break, the toilets were full of cigarette smoke and depressing opinions from the Chelsea faithful. This wasn’t going well.

Anelka on for the quiet Joe Cole, Ivanovic on for the out-classed Paolo.

We began the second-half with a bit more spirit, but the two stupid John Terry yellow cards put paid to us. JT – what were you thinking mate? Why did you make such a rash challenge way out on the right wing? An awful bit of football.

The Spurs fans were now in their element, but we quietened them down pretty easily –

“Have You Ever Seen Tottenham Win The League?”

Eidur came on and I hated it. Gary, my companion for so many away games, was a constant barrage of abuse. It was quite a performance. Never before had I heard such constant negativity. Let’s leave it there.

If it wasn’t for Petr in goal, we would have conceded more. However, down to ten men, we showed a bit more drive, but of course our defence was left wide-open as we chased the goals we so craved.

I photographed Ballack’s fine cross into the box for Frank to score and our section – minus about 400 early leavers – erupted. We pressed and pressed and it reminded me of the last few minutes from the 2008-2009 game.

It was not to be.

We soberly made our way past the line of police by the Spurs shop and headed over to the White Hart Lane train station. The home fans were bouncing and it sickened me. One noisy bloke said “first Arsenal, then today – I’ve died and gone to heaven.”

“If only” I thought.

As we queued up to get on the train, one Spurs fan in front of me said he “truly despised John Terry” and I imagined a right jab to his head. We eventually reached civilisation at about 9pm and had a meal at “Salvo’s.” Wes came up to join us – this was to be Steve’s last game of his two month stay – and we wished him the best of luck in getting back to the US, what with all of the air-traffic delays. We joked about him being still here for Stoke City.

What a crazy season. United aren’t good enough to win it. Arsenal aren’t good enough to win it. Liverpool aren’t good enough to win it. Chelsea aren’t good enough to win it.

Who knows? It could be us, it could be us.

I sent out a glimmer of hope to a few mates, by text –

“3 Games. 3 Wins. 1 Champion.”

I reached home, eventually, at 11.45pm and there, on the front doormat, was my ticket for Liverpool vs. Chelsea.

And so it continues…

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Tales From A Nervous One Hundred Minutes

Chelsea vs. Bolton Wanderers : 13 April 2010.

Since the wonderful events of the weekend, I had been walking tall. Not many people wanted to talk football with me at work though. Strange, eh? However, I awoke nervous and I stayed nervous all day. This was to be a huge day in our season.

Despite the concerns I had about missing a midweek home game with the new people at work, I pulled out of the car-park bang on 4.15pm, my earliest “get away” for ages. It was a stress-free trip up through Wiltshire and Berkshire and into the Thames Valley. I made Steve Azar aware of my progress using the usual shorthand –

Kerry Dixon.

David Brent.

Rifles.

This was to be Steve’s last home game on his two-month sabbatical and we had planned a post-match curry. Throughout the trip up to HQ, my only thoughts about the line-up was the “Drogba or Anelka” conundrum. As I neared London, the weather brightened, with the sun breaking through. The sky was full of vapour trails from the planes flying in and out of Heathrow and, higher, cirrus clouds were everywhere. It was a glorious evening. The traffic was light. I was on target. The Killers gave way to Morrissey and all was good with the world. As I drove past the former Chelsea training ground at Harlington ( the coldest place on Earth, according to Marcel Desailly ), I noted that the trees and hedges were almost starting to turn green with new shoots and buds. The odd cherry blossom was already in bloom. I noted the twin sights of the Wembley Arch to my north and Brentford’s Griffin Park to my south. To be honest, this had the “feel” of a mid-week CL game, such was its importance to us. Past the Fuller’s brewery at Chiswick and the sky was gorgeous blue, devoid of any clouds. Lovely stuff. I had good vibes, despite the odd nervous moments of doubt.

I was parked-up at 6.25pm – that cherry blossom in Normand Park was smelling wonderful – and I soon arrived at The Goose.

With the 8pm kick-off, I had a good hour to relax out in the sunny, but cold, beer garden with the usual suspects. Time for two pints and a chat with the boys – perfect. We were neither confident and cocky nor nervy and pessimistic. We were realistic, to be fair. We knew Bolton would be a tough set of opponents, but the game was certainly “winnable.” Immediate chat focussed on the game against Villa at Wembley. Steve told us of two “big Frank Lampard fans” who left on 80 minutes and all of us were outraged by the hordes who left at 2-0. Daryl said he bumped into more than a few Chelsea fans later in the evening who had left the ground early and had thought we had only won 1-0.

Not my Chelsea.

Our fans dominated a lot of our talk. Whitey spoke about the 2006 league-winning game against United…he couldn’t get a ticket for love nor money and watched the game unfold on the TV in The Slug at FB. He spoke of the shame of seeing hundreds drift past, immediately after the whistle, obviously oblivious – or uninterested – to see the league trophy being presented to the team.

Truly shameful behaviour. Who are these people?

I walked down to the ground just in time to make the kick-off. My first thoughts were about the truly pitiful away support…no more than 120. I then looked to the right and say a lovely new banner on The Shed balcony ( and I knew Beth would be pleased ) –

BENTLEY’S BOYS

Lovely stuff.

The line-up that Carlo chose surprised a few of us…both Drogs and Nico. We were amazed that Malouda was on the bench, along with a surely disappointed Joe Cole. Our midfield seemed solid, but having Mikel and Ballack in there always slows things. The enigma of Kalou upfront. Oh boy.

Within five minutes, our flying Russian was hurtling down the wing as if his life depended on it and set up Didier who shot over. During the first-half, we had the usual majority of possession, with a few Bolton counter-attacks keeping us on our toes. We were worried when JT appeared to twist his ankle, but he’s no Rooney. He soon rejoined the fray. Soon after, Yuri suffered a cut to the head and lay in the six-yard box for some time. He was patched up and resembled Bert from Sesame Street, a tuft of hair peaking over his bandaged forehead.

We were nervous – that word again – and The Bridge was muted for long periods. It should have been jumping.

I thought that Frank – playing deep again – and Ballack were quiet. The Bolton tackles were flying in from all angles. They were upsetting our mood. The fans were growing restless and the clock was ticking. Yuri popped off to get his head wound stitched and Frank filled in at left-back for five minutes. Kalou was miss-firing upfront, but Anelka was roving well.

With me chatting to Alan about a lack of movement, we worked the ball well out to Didier on the left, in front of the taxi-cab load of Bolton fans. He had space and time to curl in a perfect cross, on the money, and Anelka headed down – and in – from close range.

A huge sigh of relief, mixed in with a euphoric yelp. That was massive.

Six minutes of added time…

Wes was sitting next to me and at half-time Alan entertained him. Alan is a master of a thousand voices and Alan chatted to Wes in the style of “Boomhauer,” the fellow Texan from “King Of The Hill.”

“Get-on-that-Chelsea-dang-flying-through-there-the-middle-ball-whoop-goal-whoo-woo-you-hear?”

Health issues from two fellow fans called Frank at half-time…London Frank, recovering from a heart-attack, getting better day by day…Frome Frank, chest pains, but still able to attend games and watching fifteen feet away. We wish them well. Peter Bonetti came out onto the pitch again at the break.

With the Chelsea players awaiting their opponents to rejoin them on the Stamford Bridge pitch, Bob Marley’s “Three Little Birds” was played on the Chelsea PA.

“Don’t Worry About A Thing, ‘Cus Every Little Thing Is Gonna Be Alright.”

This is yet to really catch on…watch this space.

Yet another Yuri run down the left, yet another fluffed chance. After Drogba shot high and wild from way out, Tom commented “Drogba is either caviar or cabbage” and we knew what he meant. Salomon Kalou broke through but the ‘keeper parried and the same player shot wide barely a minute later. He was annoying large sections of the crowd. This didn’t help the collective nerves of us all. Then, out of the dark London night, a chant which lit up the entire evening. It took until 57 minutes, but at last we got behind the team –

“And It’s Super Chelsea, Suuuuuuper Chelsea Eff Ceeee – We’re By Far The Greatest Team The World Has Ever Seen”

It was the loudest, most coherent chant for ages. Good stuff.

After Drogba skied a clearance, Petr Cech back-pedalled and reached up to stop the ball going out for a corner. It reminded me of a famous catch from my other favourite sport. I spoke to Wes and texted Danny, no doubt watching in deepest Rancho Cucamonga –

“Did you see that Willie Mays at the Polo Grounds catch from Cech?”

Danny soon replied –

“I did. I was expecting him to turn and hit the cut off man. Which would be Mikel.”

I laughed. A bit of baseball humour from 6,000 miles away. I will call Mikel “the cut off man” from now on in. It seems appropriate.

The nerves increased as Bolton improved around the hour mark. However, it was becoming a game of half-chances for both teams.

Another Zhirkov run deep into their box.

We moaned when the industrious Anelka gave way for Malouda…it ought to have been Kalou in our minds. More Bolton possession. Soon after, Joe took Kalou’s place. At last, a flurry of Bolton yellow cards and these were long overdue. Joe Cole danced into the box on a few occasions…the chances were starting to come again. Frank flashed a shot against the left post. Joe set up Ballack with a super cross, but he headed weakly at the goal. From a Florent Malouda corner, JT shaped beautifully and struck a low daisy-cutter which narrowly missed that left post.

Oh boy.

Bolton had chances too and every time the balls came across our box, my heart was in my
mouth…too many late goals at that end ( the one we usually defend in the second-half ) were heavy in my mind.

The clock was ticking.

80 minutes.

Oh those nerves.

85 minutes.

Zirkov again raced forward and set up Joe, who was clean through, but with the whole crowd about to explode, Joe contrived to tread on the ball and the chance was lost.

Four minutes of added time.

Tick – tick – tick.

At last, the referee ( much berated by all ) blew up and we roared. It had been a middling performance, but the result was all-important. We headed out just as that old warhorse of a song by Journey was played on the PA. It seemed appropriate –

“Just a small town boy, born and raised in South Detroit…”

Wes, Steve and myself spent from 10pm to almost midnight in The Lily Tandoori, chatting away about all things Chelsea ( 1983, 1988, 1994, 1997, 1999, 2002, 2005, 2006…) and I could honestly have stayed all night. We visited this same curry house – the same table – after the Inter game and the mood was way different. Steve and myself chatted away like fools – all those games, all those Chelsea days out, all those laughs – and Wes watched, open-mouthed at our memory. The curries were fantastic too. Dutch Mick, also present after Inter, was across the room.

Good times. No – great times.

I was exhausted driving home and even the combined forces of Johnny Rotten and Elizabeth Fraser’s disparate voices couldn’t help. I had to stop between 1am and 2am to get some sleep.

I eventually reached home at 2.40am and watched the highlights before crashing out soon after.

And here we are – five games from Heaven.

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Tales From Our Second Home

Chelsea vs. Aston Villa : 10 April 2010.

At work on Friday, I received a few emails and texts from a few mates, everyone anticipating the build-up and the game at Wembley. If had been a tough old week at work and nobody was looking forward to the day more than myself. With a full day of beer ahead, Parky and myself booked ourselves onto a train so that I didn’t have to worry about the drink / driving problem. I was relishing it all – I was buzzing on Saturday morning.

Clear blue skies, lovely weather – even at 8am.

We caught the 8.29am train from Bradford-On-Avon to Bath, then the 9.13am from Bath to Paddington. I very rarely catch the train these days, but it brought back some memories of those 1981-1984 games when I would catch trains from Frome and Westbury up to London. To be fair, it’s a lovely journey, passing through some nice countryside along the way. We expected the train to be full of Chelsea, but we were the only ones. We spotted two Villa in the next carriage. At Chippenham, we noted about ten young lads get on the train – all clobbered up, wearing football gear – but we couldn’t work out who they were supporting. We hadn’t seen them at Chelsea. We wondered if they were Swindon lads. It brought back memories of train trips down to London Euston from my college town of Stoke, when there were clearly football fans on the train, but nobody gave anything away…save for the odd half-inch pin badge, much beloved by all at the time.

Heading in to Reading, we passed along the side of the River Thames and it was a lovely scene, full of rowers, barges and riverboats. We spotted a football ground, enclosed and well appointed…it was the ground of Reading Town, a team I had never heard of. At the train’s busy station, more Chelsea joined us. Reading has always been a Chelsea stronghold.

Heading into Paddington, the spindly floodlights of QPR were spotted. I was remembering all of the sights from those trips on this line from my youth. I had a word with those ten casuals and it turned out that they were off with Swindon Town to Colchester United. They were good lads and were keen to hear of our views on the atmosphere at The Bridge these days, plus our general take on a few topics. They all came from Calne, a few miles from where I work, and clearly loved their footy – and their labels. Parky and myself saw a bit of ourselves in them.We wished them well.

Steve Azar, met us at Paddington and we were soon tucking in to a large breakfast at The Tyburn pub on Marble Arch. A few of the boys – the lads I often write about, the members of The Bing – were already there…we could feel the buzz of anticipation in the air already. Rob was already passing around the amaretto.

Wes soon joined us and we then headed off to the Duke Of York, ten minutes away, the classic London boozer on a street corner. It was a predictably enjoyable pre-match…we love this pub. It never gets too busy and the landlord always looks after us. More and more troops arrived. Chelsea historian Rick Glanvill was present and I had a quick word. I spent a large proportion of my time chatting with Steve and Wes about my particular take on what being a Chelsea supporter should be about. I think it’s my favourite subject. The previous weekend’s game at Old Trafford acted as a good reference point and a catalyst for some good blue-blooded discusion. Looking at the assembled masses flooding the pavement outside the pub, of around thirty people, only one replica shirt ( worn by a young boy ) was on show and Wes asked for Steve and my opinions on this. Clearly, the sub-culture of football in the UK is well-developed , getting fine-tuned and altering with each passing season. I joked with Steve that the first thing a new Chelsea fan wants to do is buy a replica shirt these days. I’d prefer new fans to buy books, buy DVDs, talk to fellow fans…find out what it really means to be Chelsea. I retold the story of a friend of a friend who met us at a pub in Frome to watch the Liverpool vs. Chelsea 0-0 game in 2005. He hadn’t been into football much as far as I could tell and clearly wanted to impress the three of us…he showed up wearing a Chelsea shirt. The look I gave my mate Glenn said it all. Suffice to say, this chap hasn’t shown any interest in going with us to games since, save for one solitary trip to Cardiff for a Community Shield game.

Beers were being ordered, conversations buzzing away, more friends were joining us. It was a lovely time.

Lacoste Watch

Milo – royal blue.
Andy – dark blue.
Simon – white.
Steve – white.
Daryl – orange.
Lord Parky – lemon.
Chris – buttermilk.

Wes darted off to meet Mo to collect his match ticket. We were then joined by Ashley – from San Jose – and her friend James – currently studying in Dirty Leeds – and I could relax. Everyone was accounted for. I dished out the remaining match tickets. James was 7-0 watching Chelsea…great stuff. We then made our way to Marylebone, a ten minute walk away. I raced ahead and took an “Abbey Road” photo of everyone crossing the road…or was it more like “Resevoir Dogs.” I said to Steve that we hadn’t spoken about the game once.

We caught the train from Marylebone to Wembley Stadium and this only takes ten minutes. I was nicely buzzing. We heard a few new Chelsea songs – pretty original actually – from a group of lads. On that slow walk up to the turnstile entrances, I found myself walking alone amidst some Villa, with some Chelsea lads to my right. All of a sudden, a shouting match started, then some pointing and gesturing, then a lone Villa fan waded into a group of Chelsea. The police – on horseback and on foot – arrived too late and I think the Villa fan came off the worse for wear. This sort of incident – spur of the moment, unplanned – is pretty rare these days. I went over to talk to one of the Chelsea involved –

“Come on mate, you’re too old for all this nonsense.”

I met Jonesy outside Entrance A and handed over the very last of my match tickets. We ascended the many flights of stairs and I then had to walk up to row 42 to reach my seat. We were four rows from the very top, along the side, opposite the royal box. My goodness, we were high up.

I was sat alongside Walnuts, Parky, Alan and Gary, friends from 1984 and onwards.

That first-half was tedious. As dire as it gets. I remember two Joe Cole efforts, lots of passing, no pace. Lots of players were slipping on the greasy surface.

The Villa fans were outsinging us. Lots more pointing and gesturing.

“Have you won a European Cup?”

“Where were you at Stamford Bridge?”

Lots and lots of empty seats…great clumps of empty seats in both Villa and Chelsea sections. The corporate areas were only 75% occupied. The FA should be proud of themselves.

At half-time, we heard rumours of the grass being kept long in order for a Saracens rugby union game next weekend. This was met with howls of complaint…Wembley is a football stadium…why can’t club rugby be played at Twickenham? The grass was kept long but then watered in order to allow the ball to be zipped, despite the long grass, but the result was a slow game with players slipping. All for rugby game in a week’s time. Pathetic.

I noted that it wasn’t until the 51st minute that the whole Chelsea support rallied as one –

“We All Follow The Chelsea – Over Land And Sea – And Leicester
“We All Follow The Chelsea – Onto Victory.”

To be fair, I got the impression our section was trying to get the singing going, but Villa were definitely the noisiest. Memories of that hideous 2008 Carling Cup Final.

Gary was berating a few players, frustration was creeping in…he mentioned the quoted Ancelotti game plan of waiting until Villa tire on about the 70th minute.

Well – game plan or not – it worked.

Goals from Didier Drogba ( how he loves Wembley ), Florent Malouda ( his second Wembley goal ) and Frank Lampard ( how he loves Wembley – his third Wembley goal ) gave us a 3-0 win in those last tewnty minutes. The first was a poke in from close range after a corner, the second was from the best move of the game and a sublime Ballack cross, the last one a classic Frank finish, cooly finding time for an extra touch before blasting home. The Villa support was silent after Didier’s goal and swathes of their support departed after Malouda’s. However, a few thousand Chelsea decided to leave at 2-0 too.

You can imagine my views on this. The five stalwarts in Row 42 glowered at those who “excuse me’d” past us.

It was a poor game, but we deserved to win it. The realisation of us getting to another FA Cup Final hit home and I was loving it. A few team photos, everyone happy. Parky and myself slowly walked down to the front rows of the upper tier and took a few cheesey photos of each other, bathing in the early London evening sun. We were some of the very last to leave.

We bumped into Steve, Ashley and James ( 8-0! ) outside and the usual hugs and kisses.

The line for the train was long, but the time soon passed. By 8.15pm, we were back in The Duke Of York, where the post party was in full flow. I was gasping for a drink and chose a couple of double G and Ts for a change.

How refined!

Rob was tucking into some nachos, Parky was hopping about, guzzling some Staropramen, plans were being made for The Final. The texts had been arriving too…”see you for the final,” “can you get me a ticket?”, “where are we sitting?” We spoke of The Double.

The Double!

Good times, everyone, good times.

We got back in plenty of time to catch the 9.30pm from Paddington. A couple of Villa fans were singing…I said to one –

“You outsung us, but we outplayed you.”

“Fair comment mate.”

Parky still had time to have an altercation with a trappy Millwall fan on the platform. Oh well. The mood was of quiet euphoria on the return back to Wiltshire…one more G and T, a chat with two Newcastle United fans who had been to Toon Town…Chelsea and Villa mingling in the buffet.

It had been a long day, but start making plans for Saturday 15th. May.

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