Chelsea vs. Burnley : 11 January 2020.
The home game with Burnley was our tenth match in thirty-seven days, a very intensive period for players and supporters alike. To continue a theme of recent weeks, by the time I would drop off Parky, PD and his son Scott at the end of the day, these ten games would equate to eight trips to London, one trip to Liverpool and one trip to Brighton.
Sixty-five hours of travelling by car to see Chelsea in just thirty-seven days.
Did someone say “gulp”?
I thought I heard it.
But as we have said so many times before :
“It’s what we do.”
This was a typical Chelsea Saturday in many ways.
Another early start for sure. I collected the lads by 7.30am, we Greggsed a breakfast en route, and I was parked up at just after 10am.
I was soon walking down the North End Road with the main intention of grabbing hold of a pair of those magnificent 1970 shorts. Once in the “Megastore” – my fist steps inside for maybe two years – I spotted many shirts, linked T-shirts and tops, but not one single pair of shorts.
“All the shorts have gone.”
Bollocks. Obviously many others of the same demographic group were of the same opinion as me vis a vis Majorca, Bodrum, Ko Samui and Orlando. I guess I will have to wait. And wait I will. I dislike the notion of having to spend £100 for an online order to facilitate a free delivery when I can pick the shorts up in the shop – “call me old fashioned” – for nothing.
In my never-ending quest to capture every nook and cranny of Stamford Bridge, at least I was able to devote myself to a little camera work. At about 10.30am, the forecourt was virtually devoid of supporters. I could pick my moments. Those Peter Osgood boots have scored a few goals, eh?
I took a District Line train down to Putney Bridge and met up with Parky, PD and Scott in “The Eight Bells” at 11.30am. We were in our usual spot, the cosy corner. During the week, a clip of the much-loved BBC comedy “Steptoe & Son” from the late sixties was aired on a Chelsea-related Facebook group and it showed the two protagonists exiting “The Eight Bells”, rather Brahms & Liszt, and getting collared for being drunk and in possession of a horse and cart.
We were sat right next to the same double-doors that Wilfred Bramble had stepped through fifty years ago.
No lager for me. I wanted to stay fresh. I was up at 6am, I would not be home until around 8.30pm. The procession of ice-cold Diet Cokes began.
I have to say that at times, in the now familiar confines of this little pub, it often feels that we are hosting a chat show. After guests this season from Perth in Australia, Edinburgh, Brighton, Chicago and Germany, we were joined by my good friend Russ from Melbourne in Australia.
“I’d like you to put your hands together and give a good Chucklevision welcome to Russ Saunders everyone.”
“Russ, welcome. Take a seat. You look well, have you been ill”?
“Thanks Chris. It’s great to be back in London.”
Russ is originally from Wokingham and was with his brother Nick. Both would be watching in the rear rows of The Shed Upper. The Reading / Bracknell / Wokingham axis is a particularly strong Chelsea heartland. I first met Russ in Perth in 2018, but our paths must have unknowingly crossed out in Tokyo in 2012 too. I was with him on several memorable nights in Baku in May.
Russ heads up the Melbourne Supporters Group and for many a minute we discussed the very complex ticketing policies that the club has in place for the overseas groups. It seems that many of the club’s relatively new fans in Australia mirror those of many in the US; some have no real grasp of reality.
“This one fan comes up to me and asks for ten tickets for Manchester United at home.”
I smiled and groaned. Then groaned and smiled.
And then we got on to the very contentious and emotive subject of tickets for Chelsea away games.
A lot more groaning this time. And not so much smiling.
Nick wondered how we would fare against Burnley.
I summed things up.
“We’ll begin well. They will defend deep. But the crowd will get frustrated when we don’t score and we’ll try to nick a goal.”
The pub was getting packed now. Thoughts turned to the next two away games. PD, Parky and I are flying up to Newcastle next Friday for the Saturday evening game. Please note that I will not be on Diet Cokes. The Edinburgh and Dundee connection will be with us. The following weekend brings us the FA Cup game at Hull City. I seized while the iron was hot and booked a ridiculously cheap set of rooms to enable PD, Scott, Parky and little old me to stay the Saturday night.
We have around 4,200 tickets for this game. And they are competitively priced at just £12.
Hotel : £7.50.
Ticket : £12.
We played against Hull City in the FA Cup in 1982. These prices echo that era.
“I can get used to this retro-themed FA Cup run this season.”
However – there always seems to be a however these days – the choice of 5.30pm on a Saturday night was a poor one, and certainly backs up the commonly-held view that the FA do not give a flying fuck about match-going fans.
On the wall on the forecourt, I had photographed these soundbites for modern football.
“Back at The Bridge. All fans coming together in blue. We’re here for the season-ticket holders and first timers. Without fans football wouldn’tt be the Beautiful Game.”
Maybe there should be an asterisk stating “*kick-off times permitting.”
The Chelsea Supporters Trust quickly issued a statement.
“The FA Cup is the oldest association football competition in the world. It is a competition attended and enjoyed by many. Chelsea’s (CFC) 4th round tie has been selected to be shown on television. Subsequently, the KO time for the game is 17:30. The CST is frustrated by the continued disregard towards match-going supporters. Over two back-to-back Saturdays, CFC KO in the North-East at 17:30 (18th vs. Newcastle United & 25th vs. Hull City). The CST would like to place on record with how disappointed it is. A 17:30 KO for games over 250 miles away from London continues to be widely opposed by supporters.
This has been exacerbated by no trains running back to London after the Hull City game. This is unacceptable. The train timetable was in place when deciding the KO time and as a result, has left many CFC supporters in a challenging position.
The Chelsea Supporters Trust would urge the FA to select more appropriate ties to be shown on television in future. Managers have been widely criticised for “not taking the FA Cup seriously.” The board believe that if unnecessarily difficult KO times are being chosen, supporters may follow in the same manner.
The CST would also like to thank Chelsea Football Club for its continued subsidised coach travel. For many supporters, it continues to be the only realistic option to attend away matches. The CST hopes that this will continue in its current format.
The team news came through.
“Barkley is starting.”
James – Christensen – Rudiger – Azpilicueta
Barkley – Mount
Willian – Abraham – Hudson-Odoi
The Crystal Palace versus Arsenal game was on TV behind us. A David Luiz own-goal resulted in a 1-1 draw, more dropped points, lovely. The time absolutely flew past. It was soon time to draw stumps and head north two stops on the District Line.
Fifteen minutes later we were at Stamford Bridge. Perfect.
I walked through the West Stand forecourt – much more crowded now – with Kim, who had been with us in the pub. Kim would me meeting up with me at the Peter Osgood statue after the game to sort out his Newcastle United ticket which I had sorted out with a friend.
“Does it get busy here after the game, Chris?”
“Too right it does. We need another meeting point. They should erect a Trevor Aylott statue too. It would be a lot quieter.”
I looked again at the words on display to my left.
“Without fans football wouldn’t be the Beautiful Game.”
Quite right. It would be rugby.
Inside our home, I soon spotted a yawning gap of around four hundred spare seats in the Burnley section. Everywhere else seemed at capacity.
No pristine 1970s kit this week, rather the children’s geometric stencil set aberration of the regular league shirt.
The game began.
A shot at Kepa was well wide in the opening move of the match but we began to get hold of the ball.
I spotted that within the first few minutes, in which we were treated to a couple of Willian bursts, much of our play seemed to be concentrated within a very congestion area down our left, Burnley’s right. Often play would run itself into a cul-de-sac and would have to be played out and then back in again. Meanwhile, often standing alone in lots of unguarded territory on the other wing stood Reece James waiting to run at the Burnley left flank.
“Let’s use him more, Al.”
Frank must have heard me. We began using him more, and a couple of crosses caused worry in the Burnley defence.
A Burnley goal was flagged as offside and – how dull – VAR upheld the decision.
“Move on, nothing to see here” as they say on the internet.
Tammy hesitated when seemingly clean through, but our play was drawing appreciation from the home stands. The first stadium-wide chant came within just fifteen minutes this time.
Good work everyone.
(He said sarcastically.)
On twenty-five minutes, a ball was played into Willian. He entered the penalty box. From one hundred yards away, I saw him touch the ball, then go down. It looked like the ball had got away from him and the defender’s touch – if there was one – was of no consequence. But the referee soon pointed at the spot.
Alan and I looked at each other.
Old fashioned looks.
Jorginho, like a dressage horse, all choreographed, skipped and hopped, then unseated Pope.
We were 1-0 up.
The race down to Parkyville and smiles from Ludo, Rachel, Donna, Parky and the two Daves.
Alan : “THTCAUN.”
Chris : “COMLD.”
Burnley, to their credit, had a go at us. The game opened up a little. A great spawling save from Kepa, a hack off the line from Ross Barkley.
We grew in confidence. I liked Barkley’s involvement.
On thirty-seven minutes, a ball was played forward with pace to catch an overlap from Our Reece. It looked a tall order. With defenders closing him, and the ball hurtling towards the by-line, I yelled “dig it out Reece.”
Dig it out he did. He sent over a long cross – and Tammy was perfectly placed.
I have to be honest, it reminded me of a cross that I dug out on the right wing, stretching to reach it, in football training for my village team on a dusky summer evening in 1979 for Nige Ashman to head home. This was probably my favourite ever cross from my playing days and undoubtedly the best remembered. The comments of appreciation from the senior players in the team really meant a lot. I was never a confident player, especially for my school, and I remember thinking “bollocks, if only Mr. Freeman had seen that.”
Tammy’s downward header seemed to surprise Pope, who seemed flat-footed, and it fell into the goal.
How often have we seen headers fly off the top of our players’ heads in recent weeks?
“Head like a fifty pence piece.”
This one was right on the money.
We were treated to a rasper from Reece James, after twisting and turning nicely in the area – almost shades of Gianfranco Zola and Juian Dicks on the same piece of terra firma in 1996 – but Pope was no dope and saved it.
We were 2-0 up at the break and all was well with the world.
The second-half began and we were soon rewarded with some fine attacking play.
Down below us, Mason Mount was strong and held off some challenges and fed the ball to Dave. His cross was aimed towards a rising Tammy, who appeared to get a glance. The ball fell at the feet of Tammy who slip it home.
I did not celebrate. And this was not solely because of VAR. Let us not forget that there were times in the pre-VAR world when goals would be scored and I would choose not to celebrate too much because, well, the goal either looked like being offside or for some other reason, a nudge or a foul maybe. Alan wasn’t celebrating either. Everyone else was. I captured Tammy’s slide for his first league goal. And then came VAR. And the predictable wait. I wondered if the photographs for the goal celebrations would need to be deleted.
Tick, tick, tick, tick, tick.
More old-fashioned looks twixt Al and me.
“How was that not offside?”
(On “MOTD” later, I would learn that Tammy did not get a touch.)
Three-up, great stuff.
The cosy corner in the boozer had now been transplanted to a corner of the Matthew Harding Upper. All certainly was cosy in our little world. It was a sudden joy to be able to relax a bit and enjoy an easy win.
The rest of the second-half really should have resulted in more goals. We were utterly dominant. I loved the way that Callum – Our Callum – grew in confidence after his goal, and some of our touch play, movement, and spirit – for the want of a better word – was excellent.
Bloody hell, there was even some audible chanting.
Steady on, everyone.
Pope saved from Tammy and then Tammy was frustrated as he saw a relatively easy header drop wide. Shots rained in from Willian, from Mount. Barkley continued his confident play. But I was so impressed with Reece James, supplying quality cross after quality cross to order. Let’s see how he develops over the next twelve months. He looks mustard.
Once all fit, our young Lions could form a new group to lead us forward.
Reece, Callum, Mason, Tammy maybe, Ruben maybe.
A wild shot from Mason drew some sarcasm from the MHL.
“What the fackinell was that?”
Knowing that we let a 4-0 lead slip at Turf Moor in late October, I joked “it’ll soon be 3-2.”
But we held on. Wink.
A fine game. I enjoyed it.
Waiting at the base of the Peter Osgood statue, I waited for Kim. I picked up two other Newcastle tickets for the Edinburgh connection from another mate and I observed that two other sets of Newcastle United away tickets found new homes as strangers met to pass on to fellow fans. After a short wait, Kim was sorted too.
Right. Newcastle away it is, then. We are flying up on Friday evening from Bristol. A quayside pub crawl is planned.
Bring your wallets. See you there.