Wolverhampton Wanderers vs. Chelsea : 8 April 2023.
After the 0-0 draw at home to Liverpool on Tuesday, things only remained quiet at Stamford Bridge for a couple of days. While rumours swirled around about potential new managers – Julian Nagelsmann and Luis Enrique being the favourites – by the time we reached Thursday, one name from out in left-field gathered momentum.
Really? Yes, really, if only as a short-term stop-gap to last until the end of this season.
At first inspection, though, this seemed absurd. Why would Chelsea Football Club want to re-employ a former manager only two years and three months after dispensing of his services in January 2021? However, this would only be for nine league games, plus a stab at the Champions League, so there would not be much of a risk, at least to my eyes anyway.
I mulled it over. I was soon in favour, though many weren’t. I reminded a few that it was for just ten games or so. Hopefully, the move would inject some high-pedigree Chelsea DNA into our under-achieving squad, but would crucially give Todd Boehly and his team a few months in order to assess all candidates and to choose, this time, correctly.
Yeah, I know. Thus far, Clearlake have not impressed me with their – lack of – football acumen, but I live in hope.
I explained to a few friends that the Lampard move was so ridiculous it was ingenious.
If nothing else, the remainder of the season suddenly became a whole lot more interesting. Deep down, I am hoping that Carlo Ancelotti, so poorly treated by the previous regime in 2011, might fancy another stab at Chelsea. If he gave Everton a go in 2019, maybe he would fancy us four years later.
Watch this space.
One last comment about Frank Lampard, for now. I always thought that it was horrible that we never had the chance to say “goodbye and thank you” to Frank as a player. His last action for us involved being substituted at half-time in a dull 0-0 draw at home to Norwich City in 2013. He was then sacked as manager in the middle of the socially-distanced COVID season of 2020/21. Both instances must have weighed on his mind. At least, come May, we will be able to say “thank you” in the right way.
Our next game in this seemingly tortuous season paired us with Wolverhampton Wanderers at Molineux. Glenn had volunteered to drive to this one, enabling me my first game-day drink-up since Newcastle away in November. I looked at a few options for a pre-match venue and soon settled on “The Bluebrick”, a modern pub adjacent to a Premier Inn, just a stone’s throw from the city’s railway station but also very close to the football stadium too. It is also one of two pubs that are designated for away supporters. It ticked all the boxes.
On waking at 7am, my main objective was to convince myself to indulge in a few rounds of lager later in the day rather than stick to my usual dose of “Diet Cokes”; I was tempted to avoid alcohol for this game as I honestly have not missed drinking at all this season. This has to be a good sign.
However, I suspected that Frank Lampard had weightier issues on his mind.
Glenn, along with PD and his son Scott, called for me at 8am and Parky was on board soon after. We stopped briefly at Melksham for a bite to eat then made a bee-line for Wolverhampton. The plan was to arrive at 11am to give us three hours of drinking before the game. Coming in to the city from the south, by-passing Dudley, was a familiar route. The last couple of miles took us through classic Black Country scenery; passing narrow streets, climbing over bridges that took us over canals, shuffling through industrial estates, past small business, a few old-fashioned pubs, but also a few converted buildings now housing modern businesses. Glenn reached our destination just a few minutes past the eleven o’clock target.
“Good work, mate.”
We arrived just at the right time and claimed a sturdy table and bench combo outside the modern pub building. It was located just to the east of the city’s train station, alongside some railway arches, on a plot of land that has been the scene of recent urban renewal. I used to travel through Wolverhampton by train from Stoke to London on many occasions, and I have a feeling that the site of the current pub is pretty close to an old “Mitchell & Butlers” – a local brewery – illuminated sign that I used to spot in the ‘eighties. I always used to try to look out for the lofty Molineux floodlight pylons in those days too.
Talking of the ‘eighties…
Although there is no game to recall from 1982/83 in this report, as we are playing Wolves – one of our opponents in both that season and the current one – it would be apt to look at the fortunes of all teams that have appeared in both seasons. This briefest of summaries makes for quite alarming reading.
Chelsea since 1982/83
Major honours: 21
Highest position : Champions in 2004/5, 2005/6, 2009/10, 2014/15 and 2016/17.
Lowest position: 2nd in Level Two 1983/84
Crystal Palace since 1982/83
Major honours: none.
Highest position : 3rd in Level One 1990/91.
Lowest position: 21st in Level Two 2000/1 and 2009/10.
Fulham since 1982/83
Major honours : none.
Highest position : 7th in Level One 2008/9.
Lowest position – 17th in Level Four 1995/96.
Leeds United since 1982/83
Major honours : 1
Highest position : Champions in 1991/92.
Lowest position : 5th in Level Three 2007/8.
Leicester City since 1982/83
Major honours : 4
Highest position : Champions in 2015/16.
Lowest position : 1st in Level Three 2008/9
Newcastle United since 1982/83
Major honours : none.
Highest position : 2nd in Level One 1996/97 and 1997/98.
Lowest position : 11th in Level Two 1990/91.
Wolves since 1982/83
Major honours : none.
Highest position : 7th in Level One 2018/19 and 2019/20.
Lowest position : 4th in Level Four 1986/87.
What a momentous four decades, eh? And our honours do not even include the lesser-valued UEFA Super Cup ( x 2 ) nor the FIFA World Club Cup ( x 1 ).
The staggering piece of info here is that Newcastle United, always one of the best supported teams in England, have not won a single major trophy in forty years, and in fact their drought goes back to 1969, a period of fifty-four years. Additionally, Wolves our next opponents once dropped down to the old Fourth Division and are themselves trophy-less in these forty years too.
We had a grand time outside The Bluebrick. We were joined by many friends throughout the afternoon and the pints – of “Madri”, not “Diet Coke”, I buckled – went down well in the beautiful spring sun. Not too long into our stay, one young lad got things going with a “Super, Super Frank” chant and at one stage some old-school celery was flying around. I watched as one small piece flew through the air and hit me square on the forehead.
It felt like I had been chosen to be anointed by the Chelsea Gods.
At 2pm, we set off for the stadium and I could not resist using the architecture of the old railways as a backdrop for a few photographs. Our walk took us under a railway line via a brief underpass and then over a canal using a narrow footbridge. Walking towards the away turnstiles, I stopped to chat with Neil Barnett who proffered a few differing opinions to mine regarding the return of Lampard.
There was just enough time for one more lager – a lovely “Pravha” – before reuniting with more mates. There was a riot of noise in the concourse. I hoped that the positivity seeped onto the pitch. I made my way into the elongated away section; my seat, alongside Scott, was way down towards the home fans in the once huge South Bank. PD was alongside Parky towards the middle. Glenn was away in the distance towards the North Stand. Glenn had visited the old Molineux with Bristol Rovers but this was his first visit to the remodelled version.
“The Wonder Of You” by Elvis Presley was followed by “Hi Ho Silver Lining” by Jeff Beck.
My jacket was draped on my seat; the temperature was rising despite occasional clouds. There were the usual flames before the players arrived on the far side.
I recollected my last two visits to Molineux. Back in August 2019, in the blinding sun, we put on a scintillating display under Frank Lampard as we won 5-2 with Tammy Abraham grabbing a hat-trick. Alas, in December 2021, in clinging fog, we stumbled in a desperate and dour 0-0 under Thomas Tuchel. You can imagine my thought process. Luckily, the weather was warming up.
Frank Lampard chose these players :
James – Koulibaly – Fofana – Cucarella
Gallagher – Kovacic – Enzo
Sterling – Havertz – Felix
I never really expected Mason Mount to start. I suppose that was a headline too far even in this crazy season; I am glad that Frank resisted. I personally would have preferred a 3/4/3 as I suspect would most. Who else was surprised to see Raheem Sterling start? Regardless of the formation, I just wanted way more aggression, much more passion, and an increase in efforts on goal.
Frank appeared in the haze on the far side. It was as if COVID had never happened. Just before play was cruelly halted in March 2020, we had beaten Tottenham 2-1, Liverpool 2-0 and Everton 4-0, and things seemed to be coming to fruition. I guess we will never know how that season will have ended up. But there’s no time for blue-tinted glasses; Fran’s managerial record has been hit and miss. Decent at Derby, mixed at Chelsea, mixed at Everton. The next instalment began.
What a let-down.
More aggression, much more passion, and an increase in efforts on goal?
It just didn’t happen.
In those insipid white and jade hoops, we attacked the South Bank in the first-half and generally had much more of the ball, but despite many corners, we rarely threatened Jose Sa – another Lavender Lad – in the Wolves goal. Our efforts on goal amounted to blocked headers, miss-hit shots and crosses zipping past knees, shins and ankles on the way through for goal-kicks. Joao Felix looked the only person who looked like he may or may not have been a top level player at some stage in his life.
The Wolves fans to my left were full of “rent boy” jeers.
The home team grew into the game as our early form soon faded. A few half-chances for them, but there was no real threat. Our attacking was as lethargic as ever. Sterling, away on the far side, did nothing of note.
A Mario Lemina effort from outside the box was blocked by Wesley Fofana. This was already a poor game of football. On the half-hour mark, a cross was headed out by Kalidou Koulibaly. The ball came towards Matheus Nunes, standing wide but just in the penalty box. A thought flashed through my head :
“This could go bloody anywhere.”
Well, it bloody well didn’t go anywhere. It was slammed with laser-like precision into the far top corner of Kepa’s goal.”
Just after, Diego Costa – still yet to score for Wolves this term – forced a save from Kepa. At this stage, Wolves were well worth their lead.
Just before the break, Felix – our best player I think – got a shot away, our first on target but it was easily gathered by Jose Sa.
The noise that had been present in the concourse before the game and at the start of the game had lessened and lessened. I commented to a friend in the break that this relatively decent set of players were proving to be as difficult to like as ever.
“Nobody can get a tune out of them.”
The second-half began. The sun was getting warmer and warmer. Thank goodness I had packed some sunglasses. But it was more of the same. More dull crosses, nobody making blind-sided runs into space, no movement up front, and nobody overlapping with pace down the flanks.
I hate to say it but it was as flat a performance as I have witnessed for ages.
I was so deflated that I only took twenty photos in that tedious second-half. I couldn’t even be bothered to make more than rudimentary notes on my ‘phone, not that anything was bloody happening anyway.
The support along that long lower tier soon petered out.
Reece James sized up a free-kick but it flew off target.
On the hour, Christian Pulisic replaced the hideously woeful Kai Havertz.
Wolves attacked sporadically but with purpose. We attacked more often but almost apologetically. It was as dire as it gets. A shot from Conor Gallagher after a counter-attack was blocked. The Felix effort in the first-half was the only one that Sa had needed to save.
My forehead was burning up.
On sixty-eight minutes, a triple substitution.
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang for Felix.
Mykhailo Mydruk for Sterling.
Ben Chilwell for Cucarella.
Our play continued to mystify, bewilder and annoy. I longed for a midfielder to spot James flying down the wing. I longed to see us chasing down second balls. I longed to see our players encouraging and cajoling each other to improve. I longed to see an occasional clenched fist.
This was bleak stuff.
We staggeringly picked up five bookings throughout the afternoon. Oh the irony.
It stayed 0-1.
I slowly walked out of the seats with no emotion on my face.
I met up with the lads and we slowly walked, forlorn, back to the pub. Glenn, bless him, had bought himself a coffee and had lined up four pints for us others.
There was the most solemn of most-mortems, but our spirits were raised when we called in, yet again, at “The Vine” at West Bromwich. There, I washed down my curry with a pint of “Thatcher’s Gold”, the eighth and final pint of my day.
Chelsea – it’s enough to drive you to drink.
We reached home at around 10pm.
May I wish all my friends a safe trip to Madrid during the next few days.
My next game is the home match with Brighton next Saturday; maybe we should steal their manager again?
See you there.