Tales From The Darwen End

Blackburn Rovers vs. Chelsea : 21 March 2010.

A bleak weekend.

First of all, Arsenal winning and then Eidur scoring for Tottenham. This was not good news at all. Blackburn – irrespective of the United vs. Liverpool result – was now a “must-win.” We were still licking our wounds from the Inter game, which seemed to be ages ago. Oh well, nobody said being a Chelsea fan was ever easy.

I awoke early on Sunday morning and, faced with doing an hour’s extra housework or getting to Blackburn earlier than I had planned, I opted for the former. What an indictment on the Lancastrian town.

I was aware that Steve Azar had continued his whirlwind tour of UK football grounds by going to QPR vs. Swansea on Saturday. This got me thinking about the relatively small amount of non-Chelsea games I have witnessed in my 44 years. I worked out I had been to around 25 non-Chelsea games in England…add to this around 10 non-Chelsea games in Scotland…and a pretty miserly total of only 5 England games. To put this in perspective, I am up to about 780 Chelsea games lifetime…clearly, Chelsea comes first. I looked back on the smattering of non-CFC games I have seen and I concluded that the majority were either local ( Yeovil Town Swindon Town, Bristol City, Bristol Rovers – and Stoke City and Port Vale from my student days ) or with mates, supporting their various teams.

Mates, eh? Why else would I go to Brighton vs. Scunthorpe or York City vs. Swindon?

One of these non-CFC games was back in 1997 when I accompanied my work colleague ( and good friend ) Mark up to the Blackburn Rovers vs. Villa game as guests of one of our then company’s suppliers. It was a good day, but a poor game and it felt totally un-natural to be watching from behind a window. This hospitality package was repeated later in that same year when we were invited back to see the Rovers vs. Chelsea game. However, Chelsea lost in another poor game. These remain my only forays into the world of Prawn Sandwiches and I don’t see myself ever wanting to go back.

I left my Somerset village at 9.15am. There are now bunches of wild daffodils alongside the snowdrops in the hedgerows around my home. The sun was out – clear skies overhead, too. I shall be using the weather as an un-subtle metaphor throughout this match report. You have been warned. As I drove through the streets of Bristol, I noted the usual smattering of morning joggers and cyclists…cycling clubs in the UK are out in force on Sunday mornings. This day was no exception. For some reason, the visibility was incredible and I clearly saw Brunel’s Clifton Suspension Bridge in the distance, not far from City’s Ashton gate, the venue of three of those non-CFC games. I headed past the former home of Bristol Rovers, Eastville, now the site of an Ikea. Four Chelsea visits from 1975 to 1981 and three painful defeats. Ouch – those memories.

With the visibility remaining very clear, I even glimpsed the River Severn as I drove up the M5. The Forest Of Dean – that strange land of trees, coalmines and cottage industries – was in the distance. On the CD player, The Killers gave way to Coldplay as I headed past Gloucester. I was playing “guess my location” with Steve, who was on the second Chelsea coach.

Chris – WG Grace

Steve – Cobblers

Chris – Sauce

Steve – Gordon Durie

Chris – The Three Degrees

A Robin Guthrie CD at Bromsgrove then gave way to Japan Greatest Hits at Stoke-On–Trent. I wasn’t thinking much about the game ahead, more about getting some food inside me. I stopped at Sandbach, just off the M6 – not far from Matthew Harding’s fatal crash in 1996 – for an overpriced roastie. Before I knew it, I was zipping over the Thirlwall Viaduct, with Runcorn to the west and Manchester to the east. I tried to peak the towering steel frames of Old Trafford’s stands some twelve miles away, but with no luck. A moment was spent thinking about the gargantuan encounter between the two red sides of Liverpool and Manchester due to start very soon. I hoped for an upset, but knew it would be a tough one.

It was clouding over on my approach to Blackburn, but the southern edge of the Lake District was clearly visible. The hills provided a brooding presence. I was parked up at Darwen Vale School by 1.30pm – £4 – and found it ironic that this was my mate Mark’s former school. His mother still lives nearby and was a season ticket holder at Ewood for a while.

It had been a long drive – a pretty boring one, too – and after 214 miles I was able to relax. Steve texted me to say that Liverpool had gone ahead, but United had soon equalised. Drat. I made a bee-line for The Fernhurst, one of the first away fan only pubs in England. I bought myself a pint of Carling – in a plastic glass, horrible – and said “hi” to a few familiar faces. Most of the 300 Chelsea were inside watching the United game, but I couldn’t bring myself to do it. I waited outside for Steve, Alan and Gary to arrive at around 2.15pm. A quick word with Cathy – on crutches – and Dog. I chatted with Steve outside in the pub car park and I have to admit I wasn’t on good form. The hangover from the Inter debacle was hanging over me and the general mood amongst my fellow fans was sombre. Meanwhile, the skies was getting darker. We had a quick chat with Mark Coden who had travelled up on a whim – I hadn’t seen him for quite some time. We had heard that United were 2-1 up. Oh dear…

Alan took a nice photo of Gary, Steve and myself outside the away stand and we climbed the stairs to the upper tier, arriving just in time to see Torres fluff his lines with a few minutes to go. That miss-hit could prove to be oh-so costly. I was still hungry and so bought a meat and potato pie…I think it must be a ploy by Rovers to damage the vocal chords of away fans as the pie’s contents were as hot as volcanic lava.

We were high up, behind the goal…the first time in the upper deck for me. I remember watching Zola’s first ever game for us at Ewood in November 1996, sat with Mark in the home stand along the side. The little magician’s presence had enticed 5,000 Chelsea fans to travel up for that game and it was a joy to see so many away fans in that Darwen Stand. Our support was nearer 3,000 this time…the upper deck was 90% full, with a few hardy souls down below, as per usual.

We began well – despite the dreaded unlucky kit – and applied good early pressure. Anelka did well to provide Didier with a good chance, but Didi swept it past the right post. However, soon after, a similar combination – Anelka to Drogba – resulted in us taking the lead. I grabbed Alan as we bounced around like fools. The noise was great in that first twenty minutes and we looked like scoring again. We were moving the ball well, getting behind them. Nice movement.

Malouda had a lovely shimmy as he lost his two defenders, but shot weakly with his right foot.

We noted Paolo Ferreira wearing lavender and pink boots.


At half-time, I told everyone and anyone “we need a second.” We had enjoyed a lot of the ball, but 1-0 to Chelsea was not the certainty it once was. I spotted Lovejoy and showed him the photo of him being “anointed” by Mourinho from Tuesday. Alan, Gary and myself suggested options for possible captons…

Gary – “Is that hair real?”

Alan – “The shampoo used for that hair is not from the bottle…it is a special one.”

Despite this laughter at the break, the game provided less and less for us to be happy with. Zhirkov cleared off the line soon into the second period. Our play went to pieces for a while and we struggled to get in the game. There was frustration amongst the 3,000. Quite a few of our fans had northern accents and Blackburn always tends to be a focal point of our quite considerable Northern support. I noted a York blues flag nearby. The groans continued. Ivanovic limped off and this was grave news. I’d say he has been our most consistent player this season – every game is a 7/10 performance – and we had to re-schedule our defence. We seemed rattled – the midfield were getting outfought, never a good sign.

A deep cross from the Rovers right, Paolo caught out beneath the ball and Douf headed down and in.

Oh God.

Eventually, our support – which was declining with each misplaced pass – was roused and we got behind the team. That was good to hear. But it was so frustrating. A Drogba volley – blocked. Corner after corner. The tension grew. Deco came on, despite Joe Cole warming up, but was only involved sporadically. There were injuries, clashes of heads, a typical Blackburn encounter. Men against men. The pitch appeared to be soaked…it is always wet at Ewood. I have one photo of Yuri dancing down the left, the whole pitch lit up with puddles.

We had some half-chances, a penalty appeal, a blocked shot, frantic stuff.

Despite a big final push, it was not to be. I quickly descended the stairs. Let’s get home.

A text from Steve –


There was drizzle in the air as I quickly sped back to the car. The Rovers fans were loud and enjoying their next game, against local foes Burnley.

“Bring on the Dingles.”

I had to walk up a hill – I didn’t notice it being so steep earlier – and my calves were aching. A quick “hi” to Gill and Graeme, who looked cold and bedraggled. I sometimes like to think that there is something wildly romantic and endearing about following my team around the highways and byways of England. Not on this occasion. My return trip was just painful. I set off from Blackburn at 6.15pm and had a weary trip south, driving through a never-ending procession of “50mph” speed limit signs as I drove the 214 miles home.

I got home at 10.30pm, totally knackered and having just missed “Match Of The Day Two.” After our poor performance, perhaps it was just as well.

Ho hum.

At least Ballack had his best game for ages.




Tales From The Lily Tandoori

Chelsea vs. Internazionale : 16 March 2010.

This was a tough day at work and a tough day at play.

I had booked a half-day holiday and just knew I’d struggle to get everything finished by 1pm. With this in mind, I came in to work early at 7.30am and just wanted to get my head down…try not to think too much about the game…get stuck in. However, the best laid plans of mice and men…when I pulled up at half-seven, Pat Nevin was on the radio, enthusing about the return of Jose Mourinho. I couldn’t escape. It seemed the whole of the UK was waiting for this classic match-up.

For half-an-hour, my head was full of doubts and worries about the game in the evening.

By 8am, work was getting worse…however, the problems I was encountering were at least taking my thoughts away from the match.

By 1pm, I should have left Chippenham.

By 1.30pm I did.


I then faced a horrible trip up to London, caught in roadworks and traffic jams. I eventually reached Base Camp, aka The Goose, at just gone 6pm. I gulped down two pints and chatted excitedly to some mates from near and far. I made the point that it was such a big game, it seemed only right that the eventual winners be handed a place in the final, not just the last eight. People were nervous. I wasn’t sure which way it would go.

We walked down to the ground, then split up as we all had seats in various locations. I was sitting in the Shed Upper with Danielle.

Thirty-six years ago to the very day – March 16th 1974 – I had seen Chelsea play for the very first time. What fates would befall me, 700-odd games on?

There was an eery air inside the stadium as I chatted briefly to Danielle before the entrance of the teams. In the pub, my mate Alan had passed me a packet of “European Game Lucky Wine Gums” and had cheekilly commented “there you go son, use them if you need to.”

The Inter fans to our right were singing, but their chants were muffled, with so many home fans standing in the way. I’m sure they appeared louder back in from the Matthew Harding. The teams had been announced, the changes noted. Neil welcomed the Inter management team back to SW6. The CL anthem and the teams walked on to the pitch. A lot of the fans had been given flags and these were waved enthusiastically. For some reason, the cardboard cut-outs in the East Middle were given bar scarves instead. Nobody waved these. Why would they? They just sat like statues the entire game. Danielle and myself matched each other photo for photo. A quick chorus of “Jose Mourinho” and I snapped our former idol wave briefly to the Matthew Harding.

The atmosphere was strange. It seemed tense. In the first twenty minutes, the crowd reached 8/10 noise levels, but quickly faded to the 5/10 of a normal league game.

The first-half rattled by with predominant Chelsea pressure – going nowhere – interspersed with rapid breaks and crosses from Inter. I liked the look of our options down the left, with Malouda and Zhirkov beginning to threaten. I snapped a couple of long-distance photos of Mourinho, gesticulating to his attackers. In one uncanny photo, he appeared to be annointing the famous Lovejoy ( who sits right behind the away dug-out ) – his finger appearing to touch Lovejoy’s head as he stretched out his arm.

We had a couple of half-chances as the first-half ended…shots from Malouda and Anelka painfully blocked.

Just one goal!

What was up? Our approach play was stilted, Frank was playing too deep, Anelka and Drogba were too far apart. There was no intensity. No pace.

The crowd seems to fade away. We tried our best in The Shed – a few songs…I always try – but nothing constant. Nothing like those historic European nights against Bruges, Vicenza, Barcelona and Liverpool. I had my camera to my eye when the Drogba rugby tackle took place and only saw the aftermath, but the shouts of “penalty” from The Shed were testament enough to the vailidity of the claim. Danielle was swearing like a trooper. The frustration rose.

A youth in the seat in front disappeared off for a few minutes as the second-half began. Who is more worried about getting pies and coffees than watching Chelsea in the Champions League?

As he bit into a pie, I bit my lip.

I said to Danielle “in desperate times, come desperate measures” and opened up the wine gums. We needed all the good luck we could muster. After an initial flurry, we couldn’t raise our game to the necessary level. We just couldn’t do it. Ballack was woeful and was replaced by Joe Cole, but he flitted around like a butterfly on the periphery.

No sting.

What a shocking second-half. Our best player by a mile was Malouda, but the manager swutched him to left-back. I don’t understand that. The Inter goal – that fellow Eto’o slamming home from a ball from the impressive Sneider – came as no surprise. Eto’o put us out in 2006 and he did the same, at the same goal, in 2010.

The mood deepened and I sat silent, only rousing myself to sing a couple of defiant songs once Drogba had been sent-off. Many fans left before the end. This report is not dedicated to any of them.

At the whistle, a roar from the Interisti and a song

“Bye bye Carletto – bye bye Carletto.”

I was – what’s the word? – gutted, but I’m used to all this by now. Danielle collected a load of flags to take back to Orange County and I bade her a fond farewell and safe travels.

“You make sure you come back.”

I bumped into a stern Tommy Langley outside the megastore and he was lamenting the poor showing of our big name players. We both agreed that Malouda was the only one who appeared to be on song. Too many stars had gone missing. Outside the Kings Arms, a blockade of police on horseback were guarding several hundred Inter fans who had obviously watched the game on TV in the pub. A few shouts and scuffles. On the walk up the North End Road, I felt sick at the sight of many Chelsea fans smiling and laughing. Where is the hurt you fools? Where is the pain?

I met up with Steve Azar, Mike Neat, Bob Clark and Joe ( from San Antonio – his first ever game ) outside The Goose and we sloped over for a curry at a nearby Indian. Dutch Mick was already eating. A friendly smile from Mick – he’d seen it all before, too. There was a funereal air for the first twenty minutes, but Joe’s high spirits took our mind off the dire game we had sadly witnessed. We devoured our curries and eventually we spoke of the match. No positives. Not this time. We need to refresh the team in the summer. It then dawned on me that my Euro travels were over for another season, but with probably no US Tour either. Further groans. Joe is over for about a week and is soon off to Manchester. I ran through a few tourist options for him. However, when I told him that we would be playing at nearby Blackburn at 4pm on Sunday ( his flight leaves on Monday ), his eyes lit up. In one moment, despite the pain of Mourinho’s return, I had moved on and was making plans for Ewood.

Screw the JCLs and the cluless “fans” who so annoy me. Let’s get myself amongst the 3,000 loyalists.

Blackburn Away – Mow That Meadow.


Tales From The Tribal Gathering

Chelsea vs. West Ham United : 13 March 2010.

Although this was a fine day out in Chelsealand, the spectre of Jose Mourinho and his Internazionale team visiting us was never far away. It was as if I was thinking about two games at once throughout the entire day.

For a change, my good mate Glenn was driving, allowing me to relax a bit. Because I have been doing a lot of the driving of late, this came as a welcome break for me. Glenn has a VW van and we made good progress in the morning, heading up the M4, with me in the front with Glenn and Lord Parky bouncing around in the back. We hoped that if Parky was seated in the back, alone, he might give us a break from his incessant jabber.

Alas not.

I texted a few of the main protagonists from North America, who would be meeting up at various stages of the day. It would be a big day for a few visitors…more of all that later.

Glenn screeched around the streets of Hammersmith and was soon parked-up at about 10.30am. We park up near the Queens Club – just a few minutes from The Goose – and we noted that the other Frome car, containing Frankie Two Times and Big Dave, was parking a few yards away. Frank commented that Glenn had cut him up coming around the Hammersmith roundabout.

Some things will never change.

Back into the usual match-day routine…straight into the café, soon to be joined by San Francisco Bob, the first of the many CIAers to join us. Bob had been in Rome for a few days and was wearing his latest purchase, a nice dark blue Paul & Shark number. I left Bob in the capable hands of the Frome Four as I had to zip down to HQ to meet Danielle, over for her first ever game at HQ.

The day was gathering speed.

Kent Blues Gill and Burger then sent me updates. It was going to be a manic old day. I met Danielle outside the megastore and we made a bee-line for the Copthorne Hotel foyer, where I knew Ron Harris would be based for an hour or so. We stayed there for about two hours and it was a lovely time. Danielle had her photo taken with Chopper and was able to meet Peter Bonetti, too. The infamous Autograph King, Mick, was also in our little group and before I knew it, we were joined by Pete, Gary and Dave from LA and SF. Next to arrive was Jens, Scott, Tim and Lalo, the Texas contingent. Ex-player David Lee – “Rodders” – was having a drink in the bar, too. One of the highlights of this particular part of the day was Ron Harris winding up Texas Tim by saying the alarm will go off in the hotel if Tim attempted to leave without paying Mick for his match ticket. A lovely memory for Tim to take away with him.

At about 12.30pm, Mick was able to prep Danielle to stand in a prime location for the players “walk-through” down by reception. By about 1pm, Danielle had managed to get around 6 players – plus Carlo Ancelotti – to sign her shirt. Frank signed the back – by his name and number – and added a little “X” too. By the time Danielle returned to the foyer, she needed a sit-down to gather her thoughts. To be honest, it was lovely to see her enthusiasm. I spent some time chatting to Lalo, too – and he was bowled over by the days’ events. I supped up my pint and then headed up to The Goose, passing Mark Worrall’s stall, where copies of “CFCUK” were purchased.

Danielle, Tim and Lalo were going to experience the packed Goose with me, leaving Jens and Scott in the hotel. As I neared the pub, I passed Burger heading down to get his tickets. Into the pub and it was absolutely rammed. I meet Julie, chatting with Jon and Lee, then popped out to the beer garden to see Dutch Mick chatting with Bluemick, mates from Chicago in 2006. Who else? Kent Blues Gill and Graeme were in the thick of it and my usual mates were clustered around too. I gulped down two pints and was able to relax a bit. I had a nice chat with Lalo about baseball, believe it or not. He was loving the pre-match routines that us UK-based fans take for granted. Wes – another Austin Blue – was in The Goose, too. Friends were being reunited everywhere I looked.

Good times.

Into the stadium and let battle commence.

Of course, West Ham were very poor, so I don’t think we need to write too much into the score. It was a comfortable performance. John Terry was the subject of some typically offensive chanting from the West Ham fans, but within five seconds, the ball was played out to Malouda and his lovely cross was headed firmly in by Alex.

The first-half was a little similar to the Manchester City game. It was all Chelsea in the first 25 minutes, but we then allowed the returning Scott Parker the space to let fly from 25 yards. I said “goal” as soon as it left him.

1-1…damn it.

We had more pressure before the break, with Malouda shining, but no more goals. At half-time, I was positive we would push on, but the mood around me wasn’t so upbeat. I met up with San Francisco Pete, who has a seat in the very back row of the MHU, and we had our usual half-time moan and groan, albeit tongue-in-cheek. Even when it’s bad, it isn’t that bad.

I thought both sets of fans were pretty quiet. Yet again, I didn’t hear a peep from either of the side stands.

A fantastic run from midfield by John Terry was wildly cheered by everyone, and the ball broke to Florent Malouda down below me. I snapped his cross with my camera and it was headed in by Drogba. Didier gathered the ball and ran towards JT, the joy there for all to see. Malouda joined the celebrations and blew a kiss to the Matthew Harding.

Malouda was on fire, in fact. When he gathered the ball outside the box, he took a touch in order to bring the ball under control. This brought a few grumbles of discontent from the seats behind me, but I knew instinctively that he needed that extra touch. A shimmy later and he swept it in. The crowd roared. Just like last spring, our wide Frenchmen is now finding the best form of the season. Long may it continue.

Carlton Cole was widely applauded when he came on as a substitute.

Likewise, when Malouda was substituted, the whole ground clapped him off and it was a joy to see this. As Alan commented, like a lot of wide players, Malouda is such a confidence player and this reception would have touched him. Let’s hope he is warmed by it and can go on to produce another top class performance against Inter.

In the last minute, the ball was swept in by Drogba after a Lampard shot was fumbled by Green. This mirrored the 4-1 win against the same opposition back in 2006…Burger’s first ever game at HQ, in fact. The plus points for me were Malouda’s best ever game for us and a solid performance from the defence. I thought Frank and Ballack were pretty quiet. Maybe they were saving themselves…

We all met up outside the hotel and marched off to Earls Court where post-game activities were planned. First though, a couple of drinks in the Finborough Arms and a chance to chat with Burger, Julie and Danielle about the game we had just witnessed. Danielle loved the noise levels, but I warned her that on Tuesday the volume would be cranked up several notches.

I had booked the downstairs room at “Dall Artista” on the Brompton Road and I think I can say that everyone present had an enjoyable time.

Lacoste Watch

Burger – navy blue

We got stuck into some cold Peronis, then ordered some choice Italian fare. Salvo – as ever – was the convivial host and he was aided by his side-kick waiter from “And Leicester.” As the evening wore on, the fourteen of us ( NY Mike, Burger, Mrs Burger, Tim, Danielle, Wes, Jens, Scott, Lalo, Lord Parky, Mr and Mrs San Francisco Bob, Glenn and myself ) joined in with some choice CFC songs, then had a few toasts to our beloved club.

A few quotes from the evening –

“Parky – behave yourself!” – Chris.

“Today, I lost my Chelsea Virginity” – Lalo.

“This has been better than my Prom Night” – Danielle.

“Today was all about the friendships, but Tuesday will be about the game” – Julie.

“The famous Tottenham Hotspur went to Rome to see The Pope” – Burger.

“Amoretto, Chelsea Amoretto” – Mike, Burger, Bob and Chris.

“Damn it – Arsenal have won 2-1” – Chris.

“Carefree” – all fourteen of us.

At around 9pm, Salvo waltzed down the stairs carrying fourteen glasses of champagne, on the house. He was smiling, in that lovely way of his.

We toasted each other and then said our goodbyes out in the cold of Brompton Road. All of the alcohol – Peronis, a Sambuca, a Limocello and an Amoretto -were having a grave effect on me. I slept all of the way home.

Meanwhile, somewhere, in Italy, Jose Mourinho was making plans for Tuesday…


Tales From The F.A. Cup Quarter-Finals

Chelsea vs. Stoke City : 7 March 2010.

And so there were eight teams left…

Portsmouth vs. Birmingham City.

I had a busy Saturday, doing a few chores, but managed to sit down and watch the first of the four televised F.A.Cup games. It was nothing to shout about, but I was pleased that Pompey defied the odds to advance into the semis. At around 3pm, my phone rang and there was a young child’s voice on the other end singing “que sera sera, whatever will be will be, we’re going to Wembley.” I soon realised it was my Pompey mate Rick’s young son Matthew. Sadly, Rick has had a tough time of it of late – redundancy from his job and then the shambles of the Pompey administration. Suffice to say, they had both been to Fratton and were dreaming of Wembley once again.

One team through, three to go.

Fulham vs. Tottenham Hostpur.

Boy, this was a pretty dull game. I was aware that Steve Azar was watching this with a Fulham mate of his, along with those docile home fans and their pitiful noisemakers. I was able to see this on TV too. A dreadful first-half, but it got a little better in the second. I was cursing Duffer every time he missed those three chances. I was hoping Spurs would fall out of the cup to be honest, but it came as no surprise that they eked out a hard-fought draw.

Both teams went into the bag for the semi-final draw.

On Sunday morning, I made a solo-trip up to London, the rest of my usual match-day companions otherwise engaged. It was a lovely drive up, me alone with my thoughts and The Stranglers on the CD player. On my last final approach on the A4, the main road from Bristol to London, which actually passes a few yards from my workplace, I peeked over at the River Thames, barely one hundred yards away. The winter sun was glinting on the water. With clear blue skies overhead, it was another perfect Sunday in the capital.

The meet was arranged for 1pm in The Goose. I spent a lovely two-and-a-half hours in the pub, chatting with a few Chelsea mates from near and far. Steve soon showed-up, having just about thawed out from the previous night’s game at Craven Cottage. He was lamenting Fulham’s unsurprisingly quiet support. We spoke about the Chelsea / Fulham rivalry “that isn’t” – oh, how it winds up Fulham fans that most Chelsea have a soft-spot for them. A few words with Daryl and Rob, who were chatting with Steve for the first time proper – talk focussed on a few games from the past which threw up a few anecdotes…Rob’s eventual getaway in a bright yellow Ford estate after the Millwall game in 1984 caused much hilarity…also talk of Spurs away in 1975 and Fulham at home in 1976. All of these tales of past games help bind our friendships.

There’s a part of me that would much rather meet up on match days, talk about these games from our childhood when the experiences were wilder and more intense, rather than go to the actual games. I know I’m not alone in this thought. Sometimes the trigger of “Bristol Rovers away in 1980” garners more chat than that for the up-coming game. ( We lost 3-0 and Tony Pulis scored, in case anyone is wondering…) Daryl then told of his father and a few mates from Guernsey hiring an old ambulance ( yes, really ) to tour the venues of Italia 1990 following England. I really should have gone to Italia 1990 – almost the last time I really felt connected to the national team. Steve had been to the England game on Wednesday and how things have changed since 1990. He spoke of jester hats, painted faces and Mexican waves. I stood aghast as he described all this to me. The last England game I saw in person – sitting alongside Daryl – was the “Zola” game at Wembley in 1997. This was Daryl’s last game, too.

“Another pint boys?”

Mick ( bluemick ) and his son soon showed-up to join our little group and it was lovely to see him again. I first met Mick in Chicago in 2006 and he now lives in Denver, one of my favourite US cities. We spoke about the 1972 League Cup Final ( we lost 2-1 to Stoke ) and Orient away the same year…not that I remember those two.

Next to arrive was Wes, from Texas, via South London. More stories, more laughter. Glad to hear he was sorted with a ticket for next week against West Ham, where there will be quite an influx of CIAers.

I made the point to Steve that Chelsea’s resurgence since around 1997 has been perfectly timed with the onset of the internet, which has maximised our reach around the globe. Think back to Aston Villa and Everton’s periods of success in the ‘eighties…lost in the ether. Our rapid rise in global support has certainly been greatly aided by the internet.

There wasn’t much chat about the day’s encounter with Stoke. With the League causing us the jitters – and with Arsenal and United winning – I was pleased that we had a Cup tie. Maybe the chance for us to relax a bit, though Stoke would be no mugs.

Reading vs. Aston Villa.

I had my back to the TV which was showing this game, but was pretty contented to see the un-fancied home team race to a 2-0 lead. However, John Carew ( he played against us for Valerenga in 1999, another away game to remember ) got his act together and Villa had a great second-half. We spoke of the 2000 F.A.Cup Final – against Villa – and how it was such a poor game.

Into the semis went Villa.

Chelsea vs. Stoke City

We left these stories, and many more, behind as we made our way to The Bridge. For a change, I would be sitting alongside Steve in The Shed Upper. I grabbed a programme. Sad to see that one of the old women who sat quite near me until around 2005 had passed away…people who have John Ingledew’s books will know of her as the “scarf lady.”

We had superb seats, row five, just behind the goal. Probably the best seats I’ve ever had at Chelsea in over 35 years of games, in fact. However, the fact that I was sitting in such a prime location worked against me as I spent the first-half snapping away like an idiot, finding it hard to concentrate on the actual game. I was trying to capture some new angles with my camera…a Paolo cross here, an Anelka dribble there. Plenty of shots of the Stoke defence standing firm as corner after corner rained in.

The Stoke fans were in good voice, although we all expressed surprise that they only brought 3,000 down from my former stomping ground in The Potteries.

“Go On Stoke, Go On Stoke, Go On Stoke!”

I looked over to my left at the towering West Stand, the winter sun lighting up the glass screens. Two things worth commenting on…another new banner ( County Down ) on the balcony, but hundreds and hundreds of empty seats ( yet again ) in the Millennium Boxes. Chelsea really does need to re-market these at a more realistic price. These were the only seats unsold, though, apart from a few pockets here and there. Another full house at HQ.

Stoke had a few chances in the first-half, but we were the stronger side. I was impressed with Anelka and Malouda’s movement, swarming around the Stoke defence, but of course they defended deep and it was difficult for us to break them down. Alex and JT were repelling the bombardment, via crosses from Tuncay and throw-ins from Delap. Good to see Hilario involved with a few stops.

We peppered the Stoke goal – a mere 25 feet away from me – and a deflected shot from Frank gave us a deserved lead at the break. There’s certainly less foot room in The Shed than the MH, though – I had nowhere to leap when Frank scored. From Alan, up in the NW corner, came the expected text message.


To which I replied “COMLD.”

Of course, the away fans were on John Terry’s back the entire game, though even my trained ear for the Stokie accent found it difficult to decipher what they were singing…

“John Terry – He’s Shagging His Gums.”

“John Terry – He’s Shagging A Laugh.”

“John Terry – He’s Shagging Giraffes.”

Who knows? After Frank swung in – at last!!! – a corner with pace, JT rose like a freshwater fish with pink coloured flesh native to Scotland to plant the ball firmly in the Stoke net. We roared our approval. I had my camera at the ready for his trot back to our half and was able to capture his rolling up of his left sleeve and the stare at the 3,000 away fans. Then the point to the captain’s armband.

Not sure if there was any reference to England – I just think it was a case of saying “I’m the Chelsea captain and I’m not going away.”

Of course, The Shed responded – in clear English.

“John Terry – Has Knocked You Out.”

Into the semis we went. Our ninth such appearance in the past seventeen years – that’s just fantastic. By contrast, from 1970 to 1993 – twenty three years – we made not one single semi-final appearance. JT, Alex and that man Ivanovic were fantastic all afternoon. Let’s hope we are back on track.

As Steve and myself walked back up the North End Road, I half expected my phone to be buzzing with news of the draw. By 6.10pm, all was quiet. If we had got Pompey, my mate Rick would have phoned. If we had drawn Tottenham, all of the world and his dog called spot would have phoned. I surmised, therefore, that it had to be Villa.

At 6.14pm, a text from Steve –



Tales From The Chelsea Soap Opera

Chelsea vs. Manchester City : 27 February 2010.

This hadn’t been a great week for me, what with missing out on the trip to Inter, then having to endure a gruelling time at work. I was so busy that I even forgot to book my own seat for the FA Cup game with Stoke. I was just happy for the weekend to finally arrive. I picked up Glenn at 8am and the two of us drove up to London. At times, the weather was rotten, but we still had a good old natter about work, football and everything.

There would be a mini Californian get together for this game and I had already texted the three participants of my whereabouts and plans. Very often my mates will enquire of me “any Yanks coming over today, Chris?” I’m in a lovely position having got to know so many new Chelsea faces from America since my travels first took me to the US for the Roma game in Pittsburgh in 2004. Then, of course, there are these “Tales” which have become so much of my Chelsea routine over the past two years. I am a great diarist anyway, so these reports are second-nature for me…but I do wonder how long I can keep doing them. Maybe, in 2025, I’ll still be writing about our rubbish support at home games, making corny jokes, reminiscing over the past ( “of course, things were much better in 2005” and “of course, things were much better in 1984” ), lamenting our newest multi-million pound signing, talking about my CIA pals ( “is Gumby still in jail?” ), laughing at Lovejoy’s latest conquest and mumbling on ad infinitum about The Smiths and Depeche Mode. I wonder.

Steve Azar was waiting for us at the cafe on Lillee Road at around 10.30am. There was no time to waste, so while Glenn and myself wolfed down a brekkie, Steve updated us with details of his trip to Italy. I approved of Steve’s classy Victorinox top. He had brought over a copy of The Sporting News baseball preview for me and we spoke of me being able to hopefully combine some baseball with the Chelsea games on the East coast in the summer.

Rush, rush, rush.

We popped into The Goose at just after 11am and we stayed for about an hour. The place was typically busy. A few mates arrived – Steve was able to meet Lovejoy and a few more of my friends, most of whom had been over in Milano. Everyone had reported back of a good time. The funniest story involved a mate “W” who had been stopped on his way through the airport in Milano – an Italian sniffer dog had molested him in searching for some contraband, and I just have images of all hell breaking loose. It seems the dog was all over him. You can just imagine how we all reacted, giggling with laughter, at this news. The saddest story from Italy involved my mate Neil who succumbed to a tummy bug on the Wednesday and – shades of Gumby – never made it to the match.

Andy and Tom, in on a flying visit from LA, arrived at about 11.15am and it was great to see them again. We chatted about all things Chelsea, but these 12.45pm starts are killers for pre-match chats. Andy left early to get his flags up. Sky TV was on in the pub and I was really dismayed to hear a chorus of boos in the boozer greeting footage of Wayne Bridge getting off the team coach.

I walked down to the ground with Tom and Steve, then bade them a fond farewell outside The West Stand. The three Californians – sitting in the fifth row of The Shed Upper – were soon spotted with my telephoto lens. Andy had got the three flags in and up on the balcony. I wasn’t so sure he would be successful with his two “OC Hooligans” flags.

City only brought 1,500 away fans and I thought this was poor. Three flags, including one which stated simply “1910 Mancunian Purification.” I am guessing this was the date Manchester United left their stadium in Clayton, inside the city, out to Old Trafford in the then separate city of Salford.

I’m afraid that I succumbed to photographing the entrance of John Terry and Wayne Bridge onto the pitch. I took several photos. In two photos, Wayne Bridge is glaring at JT. I guess he has every right to. I took a few photos of “the handshake that wasn’t” but evidence from my seat was inconclusive. I was saddened to hear boos each time Bridge touched the ball, but it was lovely to hear the volume decrease on every touch. Wayne Bridge will still be a Chelsea hero in my eyes and virtually all of my mates share the same view.

Well, having seen over 500 games at Stamford Bridge, few were as mad as this one.

The first-half was one-way traffic – albeit rarely getting out of second gear. Florent Malouda, still at left-back, had a lovely rising drive after eleven minutes. That boy can certainly strike a ball. Looking at the team line-up, I was convinced it was another 4-3-3, but Joe did pop up all the way along the front line. Mind you, so did Drogba and Anelka. Was it 4-3-3 or a narrow 4-4-2? Either way, the two full backs were pushing on. Ivanovic – the most improved player for me – sent over three magnificent crosses for Drogba, unmarked for two of them, and he should have tested Given. We were doing OK. The crowd was quiet, as is often the case with early starts. The Shed were especially docile. Joe had been quiet too, but then set Frank up with a sublime pass into space. A great finish, one-up and coasting.

What could possibly go wrong?

Hilario had only touched the ball three or four times the entire half, but after a poor attempted header by Mikel, Tevez sensed fear in the heart of our defence, twisting away from our two centre-backs. This defending was hapless and hopeless. The slightest of touches from Tevez and the ball crept over the line, past a floundering Hilario. How often do we hear the phrase “typical Chelsea”? The howls of derision from ghosts of previous defensive calamities echoed around The Bridge as the away fans – quiet beyond belief until then – rejoiced.

Peter Bonetti was on the pitch at half-time. If nobody said it hundreds of us thought it –

“Get your boots on, Catty.”

We also witnessed a truly awful “Crossbar Challenge” – with Kerry Dixon on the pitch too – when five youths made pitiful attempts on the MH goal cross-bar.

The second-half. Do I have to?

We had good early pressure, but a wicked break from Bellamy ( with our defence out of shape ) caused us all to sense fear again. He’s a horrible bloke Bellamy, but has awesome pace. A cross-shot crept in to the goal at the far post and we all knew – 41,000 of us – that Petr Cech would have blocked it. Well, at last, the crowd was roused with some noise coming down from the stands. However, some substitutions confused us…I still thought we were losing the battle in midfield and wanted a change in formation. Boos when Joe was substituted, but I thought he had been poor again. Belletti came on, only to soon haul down Barry to give away a penalty. The break had again caught us out and he was sent-off. Oh hell. City scored through Tevez and I was so disappointed to see more than a few home fans get up and leave. Anelka had a lovely shimmy past two defenders down in my corner, but shot straight at Given. In fact, many of our shots went straight towards him. Then a preposterously stupid challenge by Ballack and we’re down to nine. Unbelievably, some fans around me were berating the ref for issuing the red, but he had no choice. That is not to say Dean didn’t have a poor game, but Ballack – already booked for dissent – was just bloody stupid to tackle in such a way. Ballack – and Frank – was having another poor game. It was a typical Ballack tackle…how often is he done for pace, then scythes a player down from behind? I was trying to remember if I had ever seen two Chelsea players sent off in the same game before. I think not.

With Ballack’s dismissal, things got a whole lot crazier. We applied more pressure, but got caught on the break with SWP setting up their fourth. With this, hundreds of home fans decided to leave. I stood up, glowered at the ones leaving behind me and – OK, rather sarcastically – clapped them and said “thanks for your support.” One chap took exception and swore, only for one of Rousey’s mates to say something similar to him. He swore at Rousey’s mate, then looked back and repeated what he had said to me.

Bizarrely, those that were left in the stadium, made a great racket and it pleased me no end. That was more like it – support in the face of adversity, no booing, good old-fashioned support. I was so pleased and proud to see that all of the regulars in our section who I have got to know since 1997 all stayed until the end. I was well pleased. Frank made it 4-2 with a calm penalty and there was a massive roar when “five minutes of extra time was announced.” We had all of the ball in those last few crazy minutes and it shows what a fantasist I am that I still expected us to draw. Oh, how I would have loved that, for the fans who had left early especially!

As we exited at the end, we were met by my good mate Andy, always stoical in defeat. He made two great points. He thought that Chelsea fans were above booing former players. He also said that the 6,000 who left with ten or twelve minutes to go will be the ones moaning about not getting cup final tickets.

For a change, Glenn and myself decided to have “a couple” before heading back to sleepy Somerset. We slowly walked over to join in with the post mortem taking place in “The Lillee Langtry,” over by West Brompton tube. I was still numbed by the defeat and unable to shed any light on the match. Sometimes, I sit back and let others talk. This was one occasion. The mood was gloomy, but we had seen it all before…”typical Chelsea” it had certainly been. Daryl was leading the analysis with some great points and we all eventually chipped in with some comments. We mused on how we had the world at our feet in the summer of 2005 – we appeared unstoppable. The players are now five years older, the team doesn’t have that same vigour. But – back in October, or November after Arsenal away, we were odds on to become champions again and so let’s not give up just yet. We have a tough road ahead, we have key players missing, the fallout of JT’s misdemeanours still haunts us. It will be a tough one, but it’s still in our own hands.

With Glenn dozing, all of these thoughts – and many more – rattled around me on the drive home. I was sad to hear of Ramsey’s awful leg-break on the radio at Stoke…even more upset to hear Arsenal won. They have an easy run-in and are still in the mix. It’s not often I hate watching “Match Of The Day,” but this was certainly the case. I watched the highlights of our loss, grimacing…the John Terry handshake, the Bridge boos, the Ballack tackle, the fans leaving early…our first home defeat in 25 league games.

God. Not a good day at the office.


Tales From The Old Gold And Black Country

Wolverhampton Wanderers vs. Chelsea : 20 February 2010.

What a shocking game of football. It reminded me of the dark old days when you came away from a game with only a few lasting memories.

I collected Parky and, via a short stop in Bath to collect my mended camera, we were on our way to the midlands. We stopped at Strensham services and noted a Chelsea supporters’ coach from Devon. We thought about it and decided that a trip to Wolverhampton may be their nearest away game this season. They seemed chirpy and rosey faced, replica kits to the fore. I think there must be a formula flying around somewhere which dictates that the probability of football fans attending games is inversely proportional to them wearing team shirts. I remember a work colleague, an Everton fan, telling me that he “can’t afford to get up to Goodison, so he always buys all the replica shirts.” There’s some sort of twisted logic there, somewhere.

The Malvern Hills looked a picture, dusted with snow once again. We pulled off the M5 and headed up towards Wolverhampton, on the northern edge of The Black Country, that former industrial heartland of England. Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark were on the CD player as we slowly edged through Dudley, Tipton and Cosely…I thought about calling this piece Tales From Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Black Country.

At 12.45pm, we were parked up in the town centre and were on the look out for a quiet, welcoming pub. The first one we entered was full of locals – football lads – and I didn’t fancy it. I’m always wary of being in the wrong place at the wrong time at away games. It’s always best to play the probability game. Instead, we spotted The Walkabout and entered…there were bouncers on the door and we noted two policemen inside. This would be a safe haven. We stayed there until just after 2pm. A quick look around and we soon noted lots of familiar Chelsea faces, though few I knew to speak to. Parky spotted an old mate – Gary – and we stood with him while we watched the Everton vs. Manchester United game. There was no cheering when Berbatov scored, but plenty when the Toffees equalised. It didn’t take long for the first “Carefree” to echo around the large boozer. There were about 150 Chelsea in there, a reasonable cross-section of our away support, if not our home support in general. Hardly any women, one child, two replica kits, plenty of geezers in our forties and fifties. A few faces. More than a few Stone Island pullovers. A bit of chat with Gary and Parky. We toasted the recent arrival of Parky’s grandaughter – Kayla Ellen, a Chelsea fan for the future – and talked about the usual stuff which attaches itself to a Chelsea Away Day. We commented about “how many Chelsea fans around the world would like to be in our shoes.”

Outside, we were forced to our right by two policemen, thus keeping us away from the centre. We played “dot to dot” with clusters of policemen, tracing our route to Molyneux at the bottom of the hill.

Like Newcastle, the stadium in Wolverhampton is right at the heart of the city and I like it. The long natural incline leading down from the town centre once formed the basis of the huge Kop until the ground was slowly – very slowly – remodelled in the ‘eighties. When I think of the Wolves of my childhood, not only do I think of players such as Jim McCalliog, David Wagstaffe and Derek Dougan, but I also I think of the idiosynchratic Molyneux stadium. There was the immense Kop to the right and the unique multi-spanned roof opposite. All of these individualistic stadia are long gone these days and it’s a shame. I can also hear the gentle burr of the ‘seventies ATV commentator Huw Johns telling of some action on the pitch. He had such an evocative voice and often commentated on Wolves games. Before my time, Wolves were the team of the ‘fifties – winning three league titles – and they captured the imagination of the nation with their unique set of friendlies against teams such as Honved. In their distinctive old gold shirts, they were some team, lead by England captain Billy Wright. If the Munich air crash had not happened in 1958, catapulting Manchester United into the nation’s hearts, maybe Wolves would be a major player these days. I think that their black and old gold is a simply classic combination, though the current shade is a bit too close to Hull’s amber for my liking.

Everyone of a certain age remembers our promotion-clinching game at Wolves in 1977 – I was only eleven, so didn’t go – but I remember the euphoria it engendered. My only previous visit to Wolverhampton was in odd circumstances in 2003. My mother had been poorly and in hospital. I therefore missed four consecutive home games ( thus missing the Abramovic hysteria at HQ ) and my first game “back” was the 5-0 demolition job we gave Wolves. It was fantastic to be back “on the treadmill” at that game – special memories.

As soon as I entered the away area, Steve ( folsom blue ) yelled out to me. It was just fantastic to see him – we have been emailing each other for a month or so and I could tell he was so pleased to be back in the UK, with work, for two months. He said he hadn’t slept the previous night. I could believe it. He had travelled up with Al and Gal on one of the official CFC coaches. Gary got a beer for me and we had a nice pre-match chin-wag in the dark, crowded area beneath the seats of the Steve Bull Stand. The songs started – the uncensored ones – and I joked that Steve could relax and join in, knowing his family were 6,000 miles away. I said there might be a few “unchained melodies” from Steve over the next two months. The rumourmill was in full force, with news that Everton had scored a second…then a third. Oh, how we laughed. That set things up lovely for our game.

From my seat in the lower tier, Molyneux looked a picture. The four stands were trimmed with gold and the stadium looked trim. Strangely, there is a wedge of “temporary” seats in one corner – though these were present in 2003, too. I was sat in almost the same seat as in 2003, too. In the programme, some 100 pages of it, there were stats about the two teams. It claimed that we had gone 225 league games without consecutive defeats. I found that very hard to believe. I noted that the three Wolves Life Presidents were very diverse – Steve Bull, footballer, Rachel Heyhoe-Flint, female cricketer and Robert Plant, rock star!

The first-half was dire, wasn’t it? Not only did the team seem to have other things on its mind – an engagement with Jose coming up – the fans seemed a bit subdued. Wolves give the lower tier of the side stand to away fans and this doesn’t help…our support was thinned-out along the pitch. The Wolves midfield were giving our three no space. We lacked desire and spirit.

“Come on – move for each other! “bellowed Alan.

The winter sun made viewing difficult, so I doubled up with a pair of sunglasses and a baseball cap. Wolves had a few half-chances. We went ahead with the only really good move of the first-half. Zhirkov played a lovely one-two with Herr Ballack and then zipped in a killer ball for Drogba to pounce. We celebrated – but knew we had got off lightly. We simply hadn’t performed, none more so than Florent Malouda.

Into the second-half and Ballack upset the home fans in the stand which housed the more vocal elements of the home crowd. They rewarded him – quite oddly – with a full rendition of “Ten German Bombers” and this small-town xenophobia quite surprised me. Towards the end of its conclusion, Petr Cech saved superbly at point blank after a defensive lapse. Soon after, JT kicked and missed – groans from us all – and Big Pete saved our blushes once more.

This was clearly a poor game. I felt for Steve, but at least he has more games on his sabbatical.

With the support getting quieter by the minute, a punt forward by Cech and Drogba easily outfought the last man.

“Oh – that’s embarrassing” I whispered.

He made a yard and stroked the ball in. Two-nil. Phew. Drogba lapped up the praise down in that far corner and I realized how lucky we had been.

At the final whistle, JT handed over his jersey and boots to two different Chelsea fans. A nice touch. I hugged Alan and there was emotion in my voices as I wished him a great time in Milano. I won’t be going – work commitments, I’m afraid. Outside, a quick word with Steve – “5hit game, mate” – and wished him a good time in Italy too. Alan will take good care of Steve. He will be an associate member of The Bing during his stay with us.

We got a police escort – of sorts – up to the town centre. The streets on which we were walking were devoid of Wolves fans. It felt like being back in the ‘eighties. About six lads from Trowbridge caught up with us and there was a comment from Andy that “this is the last chance for this current team to win anything – we need to change it.” I knew what he meant. It had been a strange day in Wolverhampton, for sure. We pulled out of the centre at 5.30pm and listened to the latest sad episode of Pompey’s demise on the drive south.

Some Depeche Mode, some fruit pastilles, Parky sleeping – the usual return trip home.

Our record is 19-4-4 and this is pretty good, you know. The swagger of the Mourinho championships is missing, but I’m not complaining. We have eleven league games left. I have a feeling the last three away games – Manchester United, Tottenham, Liverpool – will make or break us. The potential to win the league at any of these locations is making me salivate, but the risk of failure ( imagine if we were to lose it at any of these hideous locations ) haunts me too.

By the way, our win at Wolves was our 141st league game without back-to-back league defeats.


Tales From February 13th. 1982 And February 13th. 2010

Chelsea vs. Cardiff City : 13 February 2010.

An early kick-off at HQ meant that I collected the two Glenns by 8.30am and, by the time we hit the M4, the banter was flying. We passed quite a few coaches from South Wales en route. We spoke of the FA Cup…May 2009 was fresh in our minds, but I was more interested in remembering a game from my youth.

Leading up to our encounter with Cardiff City, I was well aware that there was a favourite Chelsea game from the past which also took place on February 13th. At the time, it was the best game I had ever witnessed in the flesh. Throughout this week, my mind was full of memories of our game with Liverpool on FA Cup Round Five day in 1982. On the Friday, in order to get the juices flowing, I emailed a few CFC mates and we bantered back and forth with memories of that day…we mentioned the players, the atmosphere, the thrill of that great game. I’m lucky – so lucky – to have so many Chelsea mates who “know their stuff” and can help rebuild memories of games in the distant past.

In 1981-82, Chelsea were floundering in the old Second Division, but had hit a bit of form over the Christmas and New Year period. This was our third season in the second tier. Our swish Le Coq Sportif kit was worn by such stalwarts as Clive Walker, Mike Fillery and Colin Pates. Personally, I was floundering in the Sixth Form – I had soon realised I had picked the wrong subjects – but was living for football. Playing for my school team kept me sane, but following Chelsea was my passion. For the first time, I was travelling up to games at Chelsea by myself. I was sixteen and the train fare was only £6. I had seen us play against Bolton and Wrexham and had watched these two games in The Shed for the first ever time. For the Wrexham game, a red-head from Texas was watching her first ever Chelsea game and we must’ve been no more than twenty yards away from each other. We had struggled to get past Hull and Wrexham, after replays, to meet Liverpool in Round Five. Liverpool, meanwhile, were in their absolute pomp…European Champions and on their way to three consecutive titles. It was a huge miss-match. In the Daily Mail, Ian Wooldridge had written that “the only hope I can give Chelsea is that they have no hope at all.” I think I knew what he meant. To add to our plight, I’m pretty sure that Liverpool had lost to Ipswich in a League Cup semi-final first-leg on the Wednesday and were looking for revenge. We looked easy targets. Things were mighty ominous.

I remember so many things from that day. Let me share more of them. My parents and myself caught the 8am train from Westbury and there were a gaggle of Doctor Marten-wearing Chelsea fans on the platform…no doubts, I would get to know some of these lads over the next few years. At Paddington, Mum and Dad went off to do some sightseeing, while I headed down to The Bridge to savour the pre-match atmosphere. I arrived at Fulham Broadway at around 11am and the place was already buzzing. No doubt I walked up to the East Stand, but I remember staying down by the entrance to the old West Stand for ages. I had never been to the Bridge so early and I was amazed how many fans were milling around the area by The Brittania pub ( now The So Bar. ) There seemed to be many more street vendors than usual. I specifically remember an old chap in his seventies selling old black and white photos of players from the ‘forties and ‘fifties. For some unfathomable reason, I bought one of United’s Duncan Edwards. Like all of this chap’s photos, he was pictured as he ran out onto the pitch, on those wooden running boards which used to go over the dog track.

We had West Stand seats and I remember being thankful. I am pretty sure that the game wasn’t all ticket, hence the massive crowds outside. For the 24,000 fans who would be using the terraces, it would be a case of “first come, first served.” I remember looking at the ever-growing line of Liverpool fans lining up outside the buildings of the Oswald Stoll Foundation. I looked on in awe. These lucky so-and-sos had enjoyed successes since the early ‘seventies that I could only dream of. I can’t, unfortunately, remember if the legions of scallies were wearing Adidas Stan Smiths or Slazenger and Lacoste pullovers.

The gates opened at 1pm and, for the first time since my debut in 1974, I ascended those lovely steps on that huge embankment of the West Stand. Our seats were right by The Shed – seats 1, 2 and 3, row 2 or 3. Magical stuff. My parents arrived at about 2.15pm. By then, The Shed was heaving. I believe the gates closed at 2pm. For an hour, I watched on as 14,000 Chelsea fans in The Shed sang and swayed, anticipating the game ahead. A few hundred fans were watching from atop a block of flats across the Fulham Road. I watched aghast as the shared North terrace bore witness to several charges by the Chelsea boys at their Liverpool counterparts. Two pens were Chelsea, two pens Liverpool, with a line of police somewhere in the middle. I remember seeing some Chelsea scamper through the Brompton Cemetery behind the East Stand, rush over the train lines and attack the Scousers from behind. I had never seen the like of it. To be truthful, I was sick of it. Our big day, the whole of Britain watching and these loons were dragging our name through the dirt. I was yet to learn the nuances of hooliganism. I was only 16 remember.

I remember, right down below me, about twenty Chelsea kids in their late teens, jumping over The Shed fence into The Benches in order to run up to the North Stand to join in the fray. To my huge displeasure, my mother was shouting at them to get back! I grimaced, as you can imagine.

The game kicked-off at 3pm with 41,412 jammed inside the grand old stadium. I can distinctly remember looking across at the towering East Stand, so out of place with the rest of the stadium, and noting that every single seat – row upon row – was occupied. I saw 10,000 heads, with not one single gap. Surely that doesn’t happen often. This reassured me of our massive potential. We were a middling second-tier team, but could draw in 41,000. As a comparison, our highest league gate in 1981-82 was barely 20,000.

The game was a classic. Liverpool boasted such legends as Rush, Dalglish, Souness, McDermott, Hansen and Lawrensen. After just eight minutes, we won the ball in midfield and Peter Rhoades-Brown broke away in the inside left channel. He shot early and I had an unimpeded view as the ball crept into the goal by the far post, just evading Grobbelaar’s dive.

The Bridge erupted and so did I.

For the rest of the game, Liverpool probed away without creating too many chances. Colin Pates and Kevin Hales were an odd choice in midfield, but they nullified Liverpool’s midfield maestros. At half-time, we heaved a sigh of relief. We wondered about the task ahead. Could we do it?

All I remember of the second period is the action down in front of me at The Shed End goal on about 84 minutes. We had held on – teeth grinding tension throughout – and after a goalmouth melee, the ball broke kindly to Colin Lee, who stabbed the ball in from close-range.

In that split second – I can still see the net bulge – I knew we were safe at 2-0 and I celebrated again. A different kind of celebration…the fear had gone. We were going to beat Liverpool! The thrill was almost too much. I had seen us beat Liverpool 3-1 in 1978 and we had done it again. Unbelievable.

Back to 2010. It took a while for us to find a parking space, but I eventually found one near The Elm pub. Who should be outside, pints in hand, but Cathy and Dog. There were police outside. We were on the look out for Cardiff, but hadn’t spied any apart from on the M4. We were expecting a big show from them. This was the first time I had seen Cardiff at Chelsea since 1983. I remember they sang the Welsh national anthem throughout the minute’s silence for a Chelsea fan killed at Huddersfield. We responded with boos and a chant about Aberfan, the site of a landslide which wiped out a primary school in the Welsh valleys in the ‘sixties. A different era.

Parky dipped into The Elm – he later reported that the pub was full of some Chelsea faces from the past – while Glenn and myself sat down for a fry-up at the refurbished Yadana cafe. I met a mate from work. Tickets were exchanged. The Goose was shut – not opening until 12.30pm – and I can understand why. The threat of violence pervaded most of our conversations throughout the morning.

On the walk down the North End Road, the bitter chill still in evidence, we saw no Cardiff, except in The Kings Head, which was guarded by twenty policemen and around five on horseback. For a change, we had a pint in “Jimmy’s” inside the Matthew Harding.

Unbeknown to me, Petar Borota had passed away on the Friday. How ironic that this player from 1981-82 ( he didn’t play in the Liverpool game, his place was taken by the young Steve Francis ) which a few of us had mentioned in our emails on Friday should be taken from us that very same day. He was as mad as a bucket of frogs, but was well loved at Chelsea. We applauded him for a minute before kick-off.

RIP Petar.

I spotted two inflatable sheep being passed around the MHL. There is now a “Malta” flag in the West Stand. About time more American flags showed up, I reckon. I almost missed our opener. I was looking down at the MHL singing “Ingerland” at the Welsh hordes when I looked up to see Didier clean through on goal. An easy finish and 1-0 to us after a couple of minutes. Good stuff. The rest of the first period was a bit messy. A few long-range efforts…a lob from Drogba from just inside the Cardiff half, a thunderous strike from Sturridge, a tame Lampard effort. At the other end, Bothroyd and Chopra were being given too much space and Cardiff were getting into the game. Their support was roaring. We accused them of doing “unmentionables” to sheep. Virtually all of the Cardiff fans were standing, but I did see gaps. Maybe they hadn’t made it past The Elm! A cross from Burke and Chopra headed in, totally unchallenged. Not a set piece this time, but as good as. Like Dracula, we hate crosses. With The Bluebirds flying high, I became mesmerized by three pigeons flying around the stadium. Suffice to say, it wasn’t a great game! Joe Cole was poor…he’s trying too hard. A sublime ball from Ballack, into space, was the highlight.

Mumbles and grumbles at half-time. Daryl’s son Ed came down to bemoan our woefully quiet support. Charlie Cooke was paraded at the break by Neil Barnett. I spotted Michael Essien watching from the same seat in the West Middle as Jose Mourinho versus Fulham. How we miss Essien.

We played better – much better – in the second period. Kalou came on for Joe Cole and he did well. Drogba was akin to a one man wrecking crew, full of strength and running. His ball to Ballack carved open the entire Cardiff defence and was just gorgeous. Ballack finished with aplomb. Phew. Cardiff’s support soon quietened down – and their team tired.

I had said to Alan at Preston that Daniel Sturridge would go on to emulate Peter Osgood in 1970 by scoring in all of the rounds – a pretty rash statement, I’ll admit. He wasn’t playing particularly well, but the ball broke to him down below me. The trouble was that it was on his right side…”and he hasn’t got a right foot” I said to Alan. With that, the ball broke kindly and he slotted it in wuith his left. How we laughed. Up and down we bounced. Three-one and coasting. Salomon capped a fine performance with a lovely header from a stunning Ferreira cross. Roman’s smiling face was shown on The Shed screen and we serenaded him…he responded with a wave. About time we gave him some love – his reign has not been without flaws, but he’s no Glazer, no Hicks, no Gillette.

On the walk back to the car, police sirens were wailing and we heard rumours of post-game naughtiness. We were soon on the road West. It felt strange heading along the M4 at 2.45pm…so odd to be heading back so early on a Saturday. I spotted the Wembley Arch in the distance, as we listened to some Depeche Mode. They were in the charts with “See You” in February 1982 and, like us, are still going strong. We drove past The Madejski, where Reading and West Brom were eking out an FA Cup draw…and we then overtook an armada of Cardiff City coaches. We pondered options for the Quarters. With us due to play Pompey in the league on March 6th., we wondered if we just might get them on that same date in the cup instead.


Tales From A London Derby

Chelsea vs. Arsenal : 7 February 2010.

What a tough old week for us as Chelsea fans. By the time Sunday came around, I was bored to death thinking about “Vanessagate,” let alone talking about it.

I picked-up Parky at just after 9am and was in London by 11.15am. We had a breakfast by West Brompton and then went our separate ways. Parky sloped off to The Goose to meet the usual suspects. He would also take care of Wes, who was arriving at about 1pm. I had my hands full meeting Eddie, who I briefly met in Baltimore in the summer, and also John from LA, who I had not previously met before. John was over with work – a real flying visit – and was visiting Stamford Bridge for the very first time. We had exchanged emails and texts during the previous few days and I could tell he was bursting with excitement.

Eddie had just had a breakfast at Lloyds when I called by at about midday. He was with his wife and a Watford-supporting mate. Lloyds was quiet, but it was getting busier. I wasn’t sure when John would be arriving, so I popped over to see Mark Worrall at “the stall.” Paul Canoville had just called by and had signed two copies of “Chelsea Here Chelsea There.” I quickly called Eddie and he sprinted down to buy one.

I spent a while outside the tube station. This was a different experience for me – I’m usually esconced in the pub from midday to 2.30pm or 3.30pm on Sundays at Chelsea. I noted many people who I either know by name or by sight. Around five touts were plying their trade. They were asking £175 a ticket. With each train arriving, more and more fans were alighting at Fulham Broadway. There was a nice buzz of anticipation. The weather had tuned colder. My jacket was buttoned up around my neck. I noted a few Gormless Goons slouching around. John arrived at just before 1pm and it was great to see him. This was his first ever visit to this part of London, so as we turned towards The Bridge, I said that “these are historic footsteps, then.” John was with a mate from LA – an Ipswich supporting fan from Iceland. Everyone welcome! John was impressed with the façade of the West Stand and I explained all about the Shed as we approached the hotel. I knew that Ron Harris would soon be leaving the hotel foyer, so we were lucky to catch him. John had his photo taken with Chopper. John was loving it. Job done.

We then spun around, over the bridge, to The Fox And Pheasant, the tiny pub in the shadows of the towering East stand. I have lost count of the number of US visitors I have taken to this lovely boozer. We toasted to “Friendship and Football.” We chatted about all things Chelsea – John got into our club via Gianfranco Zola, which is a fine reason. I joked that it sure beats finding out about Chelsea via a game on Playstation. However, mid-way through our pint, we found ourselves talking about MLB baseball and college football for quite a few minutes.

“Wait – why the hell aren’t we talking about Chelsea?!”

We all laughed.

We walked back down the Fulham Road and just happened to be passing The So Bar at the exact time that Paul Canoville was going inside. Canners looked well and I reminded him I spoke to him at last year’s CPO. Amazingly, he remembered. Top man. Another photo opportunity for John and by now he was buzzing…and saying “awesome” far too many times for his general well-being. After Ron Harris and Canners, I said to John “I wonder who you’ll meet next?” just as the immortal Lovejoy strolled past, chewing gum, looking dapper. I had to laugh. We called by at the stall and John invested in the other “Paul Canoville-signed copy” of “CHCT.” John grimaced when I explained that the original tube station is now a “TGI Friday’s” but I approve of the way this lovely red-brick building has been refurbished, with the booking hall still intact.

We strolled up to The Goose, where festivities were in full flow. It was rammed. The Birmingham vs. Wolves game was on TV. Conversations were taking place at a pace. Wes was chatting with Parky. Thankfully, not much banter about JT. We heard of a pub opening at 9am for the Cardiff game next Saturday. That will do nicely. Daryl joked that Parky and myself ought to throw some cartoon-style tin tacks onto the M4 to derail the Cardiff coaches. A nice idea. John and Otley set off at 2.45pm to take in the pre-match atmosphere. I can’t say I blamed them. It was great to see John so thrilled with the Chelsea match day experience.

I got in the ground at 3.45pm and was ready. It had been a tough week.

Let’s play football.

As with last season, just one poxy Arsenal flag. I noted a new “Carefree In The UAE” banner in the West stand. It looked like Carlo had chosen a 4-3-3 formation to me. I exchanged texts with John, who had lucked out with tickets. He was in the East Middle – negative – but was in the very front row – positive. I just about picked him out with my telephoto just as he was getting stuck in with a “Carefree.” I could see his smile from 100 yards away. Happy days.

A few choruses in praise of John Terry and then the teams entered the pitch.

Let’s get it on.

After just a few moments, a Drogba free-kick was cleared for a corner. I snapped my camera just as JT leapt to head it on. At the far post, a smudge of red and blue shirts and I saw the net bulge.

The Bridge erupted. I doubt if the record 82,905 in 1935 made as much noise. I took a few shots of the celebrations taking place in the SE corner, then panned over to John in the East.


In response to a Gooner chant about us, we replied “You’re Not English Any More.”

Arsenal then dominated for quite a period. Cech saved superbly from the impish Arshavin. We appeared to be giving them too much space in midfield and we were worried. Then – a rapier like break and Drogba was on goal. A shimmy inside and he slammed the ball in. My head exploded and I jumped up onto the steps. I looked back at Alan and we pointed at each other. No words were needed. Such joy. We then controlled the game until the break. Arsenal’s support was wounded. Our support was good, without being deafening. Until the second goal, we seemed to be a bit nervous.

In a pathetic attempt to rile us, the away fans sang a song in praise of Wayne Bridge. Of all people! What idiots. Do they not remember 2004? This is like us praising Dean Saunders or David Elleray. Anyway, we sung a song about Wayne Bridge, too. You can guess which one.

At half-time, John Hollins was on the pitch. He got a great reception. It seems that, at last, we have forgiven him for destroying the classic 1983-1985 team. He’s a nice guy. A Chelsea legend. Great to see him so happy.

It was more of the same in the second-half. Lots of Arsenal possession, but little end product. I soon witnessed the awesome ( that word again ) power of Drogba, bursting forward down below me. Truly an amazing spectacle. However, we still gave Arsenal lots of space in the midfield, despite great individual performances. It was a strange game.

Arsenal let off a flare in the Shed lower, but this inspired the home support and we produced the noisiest few minutes of the season. I bet John was falling in love with Chelsea all over again.

Then, that Drogba free-kick which slammed against the bar. Oh boy.

How Didi loves playing Arsenal. He has certainly got onside their head. I realised how similar this game was to the 3-0 win at The Emirates in November. If that Drogba free-kick had gone in, it would have been even more so. Lots of Arsenal possession, but lightweights versus heavyweights. Boys versus men. We defended with raw power. They shall not pass. We were still a bit nervous, though – we daren’t concede a goal as it would have given Arsenal confidence. I checked with Alan just to make sure Kanu wasn’t on the bench, with memories of late Arsenal comebacks at The Bridge still fresh in my mind. I needn’t have worried – Petr Cech was enjoying his best game for ages. We defended deep and it paid off.

Throughout the game we sang “One England Captain” and this will probably develop into the song of our season.

The final whistle and a huge roar. We could smile and relax.

“We Are Top Of The League. Say, We Are Top Of The League.”

JT stayed on the pitch for a few moments by himself, thanking all four stands for the support we had given him. He threw his shirt into the MHL. As he walked towards the tunnel, alone, I saw John looking on. One hug from Carlo Ancelotti and our captain disappeared down the tunnel.

A text from John – “UNREAL.”

It had been a tough week.

From a position of strength and power, let’s move on.


Tales From Beneath The Pennines

Burnley vs. Chelsea : 30 January 2010.

This was a classic trip north to support my team. So many things to shoe-horn into this match report.

This has been a strange week for me at work as I begin with a new company on Monday and there are the usual worries and concerns. But, I tried to put all non-Chelsea thoughts to one side. With football the focus, nothing else matters.

The kick-off at Turf Moor was 5.30pm, thus allowing me a little lie-in, for once. This would be my first ever visit to Burnley and made it two new grounds in eight days, after last Saturday’s foray to Preston. To say I was looking forward to my solo mission to Lancashire would be a big understatement.

But first, a quick shopping expedition to Bath. I set off at 9.30am. My goodness, the weather was spectacular. A heavy frost and bright sunlight greeted me. No clouds. I spent about 45 minutes in Bath and I made a bee-line for “John Anthony.” I have been visiting this well-known menswear shop for about 15 years as it has always sold a great selection of “football clobber.” There was a post-Xmas sale on and I picked up a couple of half-price bargains…a muted blue Lacoste rain jacket and a deep red Victorinox baseball cap. I had a bit of banter with the Arsenal-supporting sales assistant. He was surprised to hear I was going to Burnley. It’s always fascinating, for me, to note how the clothes at football change and develop over the years. It’s a shame we no longer have the regional differences in terrace fashion that we had in the ‘eighties – it’s a homogenised look these days. For a while, the usual brands such as Lacoste, CP, Paul & Shark, Henri Lloyd, Armani, Boss and Hackett have held sway, with only the occasional new brand, such as Victorinox, coming to the fore. I wondered what the Burnley lot would be wearing. I was wearing a warm Schott jacket, which I bought at “John Anthony” many years back. I well remember the look on my mate Glenn’s face when I showed up at his house to take him to football and he came to the door wearing the exact same coat. Oh boy – we were known as the Schott Brothers. I have to say, he “won” the bragging rights on that as he bought his first, but I got it cheaper. Happy days. For my mates and me, who have been brought up in terrace culture since we were in our youth, we feel happy eschewing replica kits and the associated garb. We know who we are. If we’re in that away end, we are Chelsea. Maybe a little in badge here or there. That’s enough for us.

JT was being discussed on the radio and so I turned it off. As I headed north, with the Malvern Hills dusted with snow to my west, I listened to Everything But the Girl, that under-appreciated band from my ‘twenties.

“Wherever You Go I Will Follow You.”

Alan and Gary were coming up on the official Chelsea coach. As I hit the outskirts of Manchester, I was listening to “The World Of Morrissey” and I was bouncing. I don’t listen to him much these days, but when I do, it always pleases me. I was chuckling along to the lyrics of “You’re The One For Me, Fatty.” Who else writes such fruity lyrics?

I was now in my element. In my search for new footballing experiences, I had planned to travel around Manchester on the eastern ring-road, simply because I hadn’t ever driven it before. With the two Manchester clubs located in the inner-city area, Manchester is ringed by five “satellite” teams, from Bolton in the NW, via Bury, Rochdale and Oldham, to Stockport in the SE. This greater Manchester area, so important in the industrial revolution and the formation of the professional game, has played a simply massive role in Chelsea Football Club’s history. Our first ever game at Stockport in 1905, the Khaki Cup Final at Old Trafford in 1915, our first FA Cup win at Old Trafford in 1970, Clive Walker’s goal at Bolton in 1983, the tragedy of Matthew Harding at Bolton in 1996 and our first championship in 50 years at Bolton in 2005.

At Bury, I noted wind turbines on the snow-capped moors overlooking the town. Lots of red-brick mill buildings. Smoke stacks. Still no clouds – a perfect day. As I turned off the M60 – Manchester’s M25 – onto the M66, there were signposts for classic Northern towns such as Ramsbottom, Rawtenstall and Clitheroe. With those names came images of a by-gone era, of boyhood comics telling the stories of football-mad boys playing in the streets with tennis balls and of long-forgotten teams such as Glossop and Worksop. On the approach to my destination, I noted rows of small houses perched on the hillsides the colour of which, sombre grey, that I had never seen before. As I drove over the brow of a hill, Accrington was down below me to my left, an absolutely classic Northern town, rows upon rows of terraced houses, with chimneys puffing grey smoke. Then, ahead, a magnificent view of the moors above Burnley, devoid of trees, naked, ancient brown. It was – to be blunt – just what I had expected.

I remember watching Burnley many times on TV in my childhood. They were a good little team, managed by former player Jimmy Adamson…the names trip off my tongue. Frank Casper, Dave Thomas, Peter Noble, Bryan Flynn, Martin Dobson…and my favourite, the Welsh winger Leighton James. They won the league in 1960 and had a fantastic scouting network, especially in the North-East. Burnley is the smallest town – only 75,000 – to have sustained a top flight team for any length of time. I remember being entranced by the classic Turf Moor ground on TV – a terrace to the right with houses and moors behind, but a modern stand – with seats! – behind the goal to the left. You didn’t always get seats behind the goals in those days.

On the last roundabout before I entered Burnley, to my left, yet more slate grey houses. How bleak. I was getting a proper buzz about this. A real sense of place. There are certainly footballing cities further north in England, but I was strongly sensing that there are few that evoke such a strong sense of “northern-ness.” I had looked at Burnley on many maps and thought of it as “the end of the line for Lancashire” – beyond, only the Pennines and that foreign land, Yorkshire.

My mother, just after the war, had befriended a mill-worker from Burnley and had stayed with her one week. What my mother thought of it, in austere post-war Britain, one can only imagine.

I reached Burnley at 3.45pm and paid £5 for “secure match day parking” in the town centre. I popped my head inside one local pub, noted a few local “boys” and decided against it. I back-tracked and walked the half mile to the stadium, the chill wind biting at me from every direction. Police vans were parked on the approach to Turf Moor. There were about ten policemen outside “The Princess Royale” pub, another grey building. There were a few pubs on this main road, but I didn’t fancy it. Too risky. I noted several billboards promoting the club under the slogan “Together – We Are Burnley.” Outside the main stand, a montage of former Burnley players and I was s0 pleased to see a large photo of former Chelsea winger Ian Britton, arms outstretched, in ecstasy, having just scored one of the most decisive goals in their history. In May 1987, Burnley were facing relegation to non-league football in the first-ever year of automatic relegation. On the day, Burnley beat Orient 2-1 and Ian Britton scored the second. The look on his face, always cheeky, is a picture.

For the best part of an hour, I waited for mates to arrive. The weather was getting worse. Everyone was wearing hats and caps. I was wearing my trusted Yankee one. There were the inevitable gaggle of reporters and cameramen questioning us about JT. I was asked by a BBC bod to comment, but declined. We’ll close ranks and see what happens. Chelsea will stand by him, no issue. We have had bigger worries than his infidelity – bankruptcy, tragedy, hooliganism – but I still feel let down. I had to laugh at one Burnley fan who was being interviewed. He ended his piece to camera with a prolonged howl which I could only liken to a rebel yell, that Southern speciality, now evident Up North.

Nick and his son Robbie arrived. Nick’s sister now lives in Accrington and is a Burnley season-ticket holder. She was there with her husband .They wanted to arrange a family photo, but Robbie was having none of it! No inter-club friendliness in that family. The Nuneaton boys arrived – Andy, Jonesy, The Youth, his son Seb and Lovejoy. Andy was wearing a fantastic mid-brown Berghaus jacket which gets better every time I see it. I noted quite a few Chelsea arriving with Aquascutum scarves wrapped around their necks. These were so popular in the 1985-1989 period. Classics to this day. More faces arrived. A quick word with Cathy. A few people mentioned our last visit – a painful 0-3 defeat in the last few weeks of the 1982-83 season. After that, I was absolutely convinced that we would be relegated to the Third Division. Convinced! Dark days.

Alan and Gary eventually arrived at about 5pm. Seems all the Chelsea coaches had been parked in a holding area out of town after rumours of trouble involving Chelsea and the Burnley mob, the wonderfully blunt “Suicide Squad.” I met Ajax again and sold him a spare for Arsenal.

Inside, we had superb seats, in the second row, to the right of the far post. Gill from Kent was ten seats away. Since redevelopment, the TV cameras swapped sides, like at The Bridge. Turf Moor holds 22,000 and this represents one-third of the town’s population. Putting club loyalty to one side, that’s an amazing achievement. However, my mate Mark, from eight miles up the road in Darwen, is a Blackburn fan and loathes Burnley. He calls them The Bastards, or The Dingles, after a family of low life ne’er do-wells in the UK soap opera “Emmerdale.”

Burnley, ably supported by a noisy home support, gave us a tough game. This was one we had to win, though. Burnley made life hard for us and I kept thinking of the old adage “there are no easy games in The Premiership.” We scored after good work from Malouda and a simple tap-in from Anelka right in front of us. Eagles seemed to be a threat on their left, but it was a first-half which simmered without producing many chances. We seemed to be unable to stretch the home defence. Cech didn’t really have to make a save. I was snapping away like a fool and half-expected a steward to ask me to put my camera away. Thankfully this never happened. I took a lovely shot of Malouda, our best player in the first-half, whipping a ball in. I noted a full moon appear in the gap between north and east stands, just above the scoreboard. It seemed to add to the drama…

Ian Britton made the half-time draw and he waved over to us, with that endearing cheeky smile of his. We responded with a chant from the ‘seventies –

“Ian – Ian Britton – Ian Britton on the wing.”

I also had a – sadly – great view of the mess which lead to their equaliser. Not Alex’ finest moment. All of a sudden, we became more urgent and the second-half was all ours really. Branislav Ivanovic had a great game and caused more of a threat than the poor Joe Cole. Lamps and Ballack seemed to be labouring. JT was having a stormer, though, and was ignoring the boos from the home support. We peppered Jensen in their goal and a Joe Cole was disallowed for offside. Our support found it hard to battle the vociferous locals. Alan, Gary and myself kept singing. We stood the entire game. After a typically robust piece of defensive play by our captain, I commented to Gary

“JT will score the winner tonight.”

As the game continued, I was still confident we’d get a goal. With five minutes left, Frank swung in a corner, JT leaped and the ball bounced in.

We went ballistic. I grabbed Gary – looking back, quite violently! – and we bounced up and down with me yelling “I told you! I told you! I told you!” After the build-up to the day, it just had to be. Some things are just meant to be.

The away end was now bouncing. My mate Glenn texted me to say he saw us on TV. The players made a quick getaway – clearly under orders. JT kissed the badge and a stern Frank gave us a thumbs up. We sang a few songs beneath the stand. We were all happy. I said to a few friends “that is a defining game in our season.” It reminded me of that tough night just up the road at Ewood in early 2005. Five years on, the same feeling. This will be our year. This was not a great Chelsea performance. Hell, at times, it wasn’t even good. But we look the likeliest team to win the league. So, let’s enjoy it.

I left Burnley at 8pm and wondered if I would ever be back. I retraced my steps, stopping off for a filling Chinese buffet in Ashton-Under-Lyme, the place full of Mancs of both hues no doubt. There was heavy snow near Stafford and I feared the worst. However, it didn’t follow me south. Japan were now on the CD player. More memories of those tough Chelsea winters of my youth. Then a tiring detour through Wolverhampton, with Molyneux sleeping in the distance, followed by a couple of Red Bull pit stops, resulted in me not getting home until 2.15am.

Another long day, but a magical day of childhood memories, of new experiences, of music, of terrace culture, of laughter, of friendship and of football.

Hull and Arsenal next. Let the Chelsea roll continue.


Tales From Pole Position

Chelsea vs. Birmingham City : 27 January 2010.

I was able to get away from work at 4.15pm.The first part of the journey, maybe until Swindon, was spent running through the up-coming games with Parky…who is doing what, travel plans for Arsenal and Cardiff, tickets for Wolves, tickets for various friends for the games against Cardiff City, Arsenal, West Ham and Inter…I think my brain was frying at the thought of it all. I think I need to set up a spreadsheet ( with monies in and out ) to keep on top of it all. I’ll have a word with my personal IT department!

The traffic was reasonable and with Parky yakking constantly, the time flew. We reached a packed Goose at 6.45pm and Wes was at the bar to meet us. Monies changed hands, beers were bought. We trotted down to join the rest of the boys. I spent a few minutes chatting with my mate Russ – originally from Frome, now in London – who we took to his first ever game at The Bridge back in 1994. He is off to Toronto, Boston and NYC with his wife in April and I lent him a few guide books. We spoke of America – he has tickets for Fenway – but also of the game against Birmingham. As we walked down the North End Road, we both commented that this could be a pivotal game on our season…a great chance to make a statement and reclaim our position at the top.

Wes sat with me in Glenn’s seat – his first game from the Matthew Harding Upper. We unfortunately missed the first couple of minutes.

I noted that our visitors had gone Dutch on us and were sporting an Ajax kit.

I looked around and took it all in. I always try and take in the whole picture. Birmingham only had around 700 fans. There were gaps again in the central ( comps? ) Shed Upper. There was a large “German Blues” flag draped over The Shed balcony. I quickly spotted that all of the supporters clubs banners were missing from the East Stand…they had been moved to the higher of the two balconies in the West. I wondered why. I think I sussed it. I spotted the seven Chelsea Pensioners sitting in their usual seats in the East Middle…above them was the plain white banner from Remembrance Day and I presumed that this would now be permanently placed above the Pensioners, with no other banners on show in the East, to highlight it. If so, I approve – a correct decision.

After five minutes, Joe Cole courageously advanced down the right, fighting off challengers, before chipping a fantastic ball into the six yard box. It had tons of back spin and “sat up” beautifully for Malouda to head home. Get in you beauty. Hugs with Alan and Wes.

We passed the ball around nicely, with Joe Cole very involved. Deco was playing in the holding role and, to be fair, did pretty well. He even made a few timely tackles and Alan dubbed him “Decolele.” I like it…Claude Decolele.

The City fans sang about themselves “supporting their local team.” Another silly song in my opinion. What does it matter where people live in relation to their chosen team? As long as they “go”, as long as they get involved and support.

Then a shock down at the Matthew Harding end, with a deflected shot spinning past our goal. It was the only real chance our visitors had on our goal in the first period. Riccy hit the base of the post with a header. Then a move found Lampard about twenty-five yards out. He looked up and quickly struck a laser into the Birmingham goal. I was right behind its trajectory and tracked it all of the way. What a lovely goal. More hugs and “high fives.” We had played well in the first-period. Frank seemed to be playing quite deep, but he chased everything.

I couldn’t help but note that the crowed was desperately quiet. Wes, Alan and myself did our best, but it seems that the legendary Chelsea support is dieing on its feet.

At half-time, I shot Tommy Langley. With my camera – he was on the pitch with Neil Barnett. His first goal for us came against Birmingham some 35 years ago.

In the second half, more of the same. I noted how much ground Ashley Cole covers in a game. Watch him – he is constant motion, up and down that flank. Anelka was in good form, roving like a lone gunslinger, rarely losing the ball. The movement was good. Joe Cole, despite a promising start, was a bit disappointing really. He seemed to lose control too often and some of his final balls were Gronkjaeresque.

JT attempted an outrageous over-head kick from a corner. I can still hear the dead thump as it hit his shin-guard. I think the ball is still up in the air.

There were groans when we heard United had eased ahead of City in the League Cup. But – better news! – Arsenal were drawing at Villa and so we were top on points. It was a great feeling, sadly not shared by many in the 41,000 crowd, who were still deadly silent. I commented to Wes that the West Stand had not uttered a single song the entire game.

A chance close in from Malouda was blocked by Hart, so impressive at St. Andrews. The visitors quickly broke, but McFadden screwed the ball wide. Our play was getting a little more ragged and JT gave the ball away cheaply, but Cech saved superbly. I do not remember any other attempts on our goal. However, at 2-0, I still feared us letting in a goal. I guess that’s the Chelsea fan in me. I think Wes wasn’t so worried, the fool!

Just after another Malouda shot was flashed wide, we scored again. Thankfully, I snapped just as Frank swept the ball in with his left foot. Again, I like the look of Zhirkov. I’d give the Man Of The Match award to Anelka, though. He was always involved.

With the game coming to an end, with five minutes to go, I was dismayed to see thousands of empty blue seats throughout the stadium. Oh dear. We had gone top and yet it seemed that 20% of the fans did not want to celebrate with the team at the game’s conclusion. I always stay to the end. Leaving early is a sign of weakness. We should be there till the referee blows. If nothing else, it gives other clubs fans an easy excuse to wheel out the old clichés about our support being aloof and fickle. A football club is not just the players on the pitch. It includes the supporters too. I can’t stress that enough. Hate using the word, but we need to be united.

We heard that the Goons had only drawn up in Birmingham. Excellent. Wes and myself made our way out onto the Fulham Road. The So Bar was full of song and we met up with Parky. Wes is yet to witness a Chelsea loss on his year long sabbatical in the UK and let’s hope for this to continue. We peered into The Goose to see that United had won 3-1. Poor old City.

Parky and myself popped into The Lily Tandoori for an hour and celebrated Chelsea’s win with a curry. It was a lovely end to the evening. A family in the adjacent booth were United fans from Chelsea and we exchanged friendly barbs. Chelsea fans from Somerset and Wiltshire, Manchester United fans from Chelsea. What does it all mean?

My opening gesture, which the father appreciated, was the re-working of a modern day fact about the UK…

“You’re a United fan? Well, you know what they say…in the UK, you’re never farther than eight feet from a rat.”

I drove back west, eventually reaching my village at 1.45am.

Top of the league. Lovely.