Tales From Games 1 & 1,166

Chelsea vs. Newcastle United : 2 December 2017.

In the tight area underneath the Matthew Harding Upper I bumped into a friend, Ollie, who comes over to a few Chelsea games every season from his home in France. The last time I saw him was in “The Arkles” outside Anfield last January. We shared a few words, he took a selfie of the two of us, and I thanked him for being one of the eighty or so people from around the globe who have taken the plunge and subscribed to these match reports. I apologised for occasionally being rather self-indulgent, knowing full well that I would again be doing so for this Newcastle United one.

As I have mentioned more than once, a Chelsea vs. Newcastle United game is always very special to me. The Geordies were the opponents for my very first Chelsea game way back in March 1974. And the sight of those famous black and white stripes appearing at Stamford Bridge always stirs my emotions. The Chelsea vs. Newcastle United game on Saturday 2 December 2017 was my 1,166th Chelsea match, but I have to say that the memories of game number one over forty-three years ago are still remarkably clear.

The drive up to London with my parents. Stopping off at Gunnersbury Park off the North Circular for a packed-lunch (I have a feeling that cheese and pickle sandwiches were inevitably involved). Catching the tube from the art deco styled Park Royal station in West London. The crowds at Earl’s Court tube station. The climb up the steps to reach the top of the West Stand. The match programme. The first view of the Stamford Bridge pitch. The Shed End and the blue and white scarves twirling. The East Stand, opposite, all exposed concrete and yet to open. The three Newcastle United fans in front of us in the West Stand Benches complete with black and white scarves. The substitute being announced as Ken Swain, and my immediate embarrassment of not having heard of him. Ian Hutchinson’s leap to head us into the lead. A “Topic” at half-time. Gary Locke carrying out sliding tackle after sliding tackle in front of us in the second-half. The appearance of Ken Swain as substitute. The joy of a Chelsea win. The slow walk up to the top of the West Stand at the end of the game and a look back, hoping that I would soon return. The “Chelsea The Blues” scarf that my mother bought me from one of those souvenir huts behind the West Stand. The treat of a hamburger and chips at the long gone “Wimpy” on Fulham Broadway before catching the tube back to Park Royal.

I remember so much. But more than anything, I can remember exactly what it felt like.

Those feelings are difficult to describe, but it always amazes me that for a few brief seconds, I am often sent whirring back in time to a Saturday afternoon of my childhood – I was eight, almost nine – and the power of recollection scares me.

Chants, laughter, grizzled old Londoners, shouts of the crowd, royal blue everywhere, the surrounding buildings, the large terraces, the dog track, the sense of place and the sense of belonging.

They say you never forget your first time, eh?

Certainly not me.

Since that very first game, Newcastle United have appeared as regular as clockwork in my Chelsea story. I have been present at the previous twenty-four league visits of the Geordies to Stamford Bridge dating back to the 1986/87 season. There is just something about them; it is as if I make a special effort for them, even in the days of when I only attended ten to twenty games each season.

And – oh boy – we have certainly enjoyed some hugely enjoyable games against them over the years.

However, knowing full well that Newcastle United were relegated two seasons ago, added to the fact that I don’t tend to watch much football at all on TV these days, I knew only too well that many of the visiting players would be virtually new to me. The problem is that many of Newcastle United’s current players come from foreign lands. If they were all from the British Isles, then I sense that I would be able to tie them to former teams in England, or to geographical regions. I think this is how my mind works, and how I manage to remember various players.

There are two easy examples.

Dwight Gayle, a late-developer, ex-Palace, went to Newcastle a couple of seasons ago.

Jonjo Shelvey, a Londoner, ex-Charlton, ex-Liverpool, ex-Swansea City, signed during the January transfer window in 2016 I think.

I’ve heard of Mbemba and Mitrovic but not many others. I guess a whole season of them playing in the division below has not helped.

For comparison, I thought back to those players from March 1974.

The difference is as clear as black and white.

Off the top of my head, this is what I can remember of their players –

  1. Iam McFaul the goalkeeper, sure he was caretaker manager for Newcastle at one stage, what an odd name, I think he was called Liam too.
  2. David Craig, the right back, struggling, but I remember his name.
  3. Frank Clark, the left-back, went on to manage Nottingham Forest.
  4. Terry McDermott, the creative midfielder, went on to play for Liverpool, before returning to Newcastle with Keegan in the ‘eighties, scoring against us in the away game in 1983/84.
  5. Pat Howard, big blonde centre-back.
  6. Bob Moncur, the captain, think he played for Sunderland too.
  7. Stewart Barrowclough, winger, later played for Bristol Rovers.
  8. Jim Smith, bit of a Geordie legend, but can’t remember too much about him.
  9. Malcolm MacDonald, one of their heroes, played for England, then Arsenal, managed Fulham in their 1982/83 season.
  10. John Tudor, I can picture his face, played a few more seasons for them I believe.
  11. Terry Hibbitt, brother of Kenny, skilful player, sadly passed away years ago.

It is unlikely, I think, that I will be able to remember as much depth about the current crop in years to come.

Due to the closure of the North End Road, I was forced to drive further east and then head down past Earls Court, where we noticed a few hundred Geordies at The Courtfield pub opposite the tube station. Due to the tiresome 12.30pm kick-off, the pre-match was as brief as I can remember; a single pint of “Peroni” in “The Atlas” with PD and Parky, plus Kev, Gillian and Rich from Edinburgh.

Inside Stamford Bridge, there were – as expected – a full three thousand Geordies, though only three flags.

There were a few empty seats dotted around.

Above The Shed End, a large mural of sixty supporters’ club banners appeared against Swansea City last Wednesday, though I was only now able to take a worthwhile photograph.

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Our team? Antonio juggled things a little, deciding to start Victor Moses on the right, while the rested Eden Hazard and Cesar Azpilicueta both returned. Danny Drinkwater played instead of Tiemoue Bakayoko. No place for the captain Cahill, nor the out-of-favour David Luiz.

Courtois – Rudiger, Christensen, Azpilicueta – Moses, Fabregas, Kante, Drinkwater, Alonso – Hazard, Morata.

On the far touchline, Rafa Benitez appeared back at Stamford Bridge for the first time since the divisive 2012/13 campaign. I hoped that there would not be much volume to the inevitable, and dull, “We Don’t Care About Rafa” chants which could well develop over the next hour and a half.

There is no doubt that the away team – players and fans – began the brightest. The three-thousand were soon into it.

“We are the Geordies. The Geordie boot boys.

Oh we are mental and we are mad.

We are the loyalist football supporters.

The world has ever had.”

I commented to Alan that they always bring three-thousand down to Stamford Bridge and we always take three-thousand up to St. James’ Park.

Respect.

However, we enjoyed a few passages of play and threatened at The Shed End. A lovely chest-pass from Eden to Morata – “reunited and it feels so good” – but a blast over.

After twelve minutes, Andreas Christensen was out-muscled to a high ball. Marcos Alonso’s pass back to Thibaut was pounced upon by a Newcastle player – Murphy, who? – and although our ‘keeper did well to block, the ball ran invitingly to Dwight Gayle who slotted home. I noted that the goal scorer hardly celebrated.

How odd.

The Geordies were not so reticent.

“New-cas-uuhl, New-cas-uuhl, New-cas-uuhl.”

There was a period of nervousness as the home crowd grew agitated with some jittery back-passes and clearances. Thankfully, our play soon improved. The home fans responded too. Very often we need to go a goal behind for our support to be stirred. I was so pleased. A magnificent lofted pass from Cesc Fabregas – almost playing the vaunted quarterback role of the Beckham era – was brilliantly controlled by Hazard, but his dink was well-saved by Darlow (who?).

We were stretching the Geordie defence at will and enjoyed a flurry of corners. Christensen, with a header, went close. On twenty-one minutes, a cross from Dave was aimed at the head of Morata. A Newcastle defender cleared, but the ball fell invitingly to Hazard, thankfully following up. His shot was hit towards the goal, and it bounced up and over the orange-clad goalkeeper.

We were back in it.

Our play improved, the noise improved. This was slowly evolving into a fine game of football, with Chelsea starting to dominate. Moses was always active down the right. This was a good reaction.

On thirty-two minutes, I rose from seat 369 and shot off to turn my bike around.

On thirty-three minutes, I heard a huge roar.

I don’t miss many.

On the PA – “and the scorer for Chelsea…Alvaro Morata.”

On thirty-four minutes :

Alan : “They’ll have to come at worselves now, like.”

Chris : “Come on wor little diamonds.”

Our dominance continued. We played some lovely stuff. Eden was a complete joy to watch.

Thibaut finished another word-search.

The ball was touched out of play and Rafa Benitez, looking frustrated, took a huge swipe at the ball. He sliced it and how we laughed.

At half-time, we were warmed by the appearance of Sir Bobby Tambling.

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As he walked past the away fans, Neil made a note that the Geordies were applauding.

“Respect.”

This was met with some muted applause from the Matthew Harding.

Andreas Christensen had us all purring when he went on a long dribble, before playing a perfectly-weighted ball to Victor Moses, just beating the off-side trap, but the cross just evaded Morata. I was impressed with Moses, who was often involved on the right. Kante and Drinkwater were playing well, Fabregas too. The star, though, was Eden, who was simply mesmerizing. He continually teased the Newcastle defence. He went close a few times. Morata seemed happy to have Eden alongside him, though on more than one occasion I just wished that he had a greater desire to stay on his feet.

A rare Newcastle effort flew past the post.

On seventy-three minutes, a clinical ball from Fabregas found Moses. He pushed the ball on, but was taken out by Ritchie – who? – and the referee pointed towards the spot.

“Nailed on.”

Up-stepped Eden.

A slight wait.

A chip.

A Panenka.

Chelsea 3 Newcastle United 1.

GET IN.

By this stage, we noted that Morata seemed exhausted, hardly testing his marker, barely walking. I was amazed that he stayed on. Instead, Conte chose to rest his star player ahead of the Atletico Madrid game on Tuesday, and it was Eden who was replaced by Willian. Bakayoko then replaced Fabregas. Cahill replaced Christensen.

I had to admire the away fans. They won a late corner and celebrated like it was an equaliser.

I wondered if those three Geordies from 1974 – in their ‘seventies now, no doubt – were in among them.

This was a great Chelsea win. After the away team’s initial period of dominance, we had soon extinguished their fire. Following the triumph against Swansea City, we had won our second successive league game. I want us to go on another winning streak over Christmas. Let’s see how far we can go.

Poor old Newcastle. They rarely profit from a trip to Stamford Bridge.

Those last consecutive 25 league games at Stamford Bridge make painful reading for the boys from the Tyne.

Chelsea wins – 16

Draws – 7

Newcastle United wins – 2

Following on from Wednesday’s tiresome trip home, we were caught in another jam, along the Fulham Palace Road, caused by the closure on the North End Road. After an hour of stagnant movement, at last we cleared the congestion and shot past the floodlights of Griffin Park as Brentford played out a local derby against Fulham.

On the radio, we listened in as Spurs dropped further points at Watford, while the FA Cup also got us thinking about potential opponents in Round Three.

It would be pretty magical for both Chelsea and Frome Town to play Hereford during the same season…

Tales From Six Of The Best

Chelsea vs. Qarabag : 12 September 2017.

European football was back. Parky, PD and myself were parked up earlier than usual for a midweek game. We dipped in to “The Goose” for old times’ sake at about 5.30pm and chatted to a few old friends but it seemed pretty quiet. I had heard that the game against Qarabag from Azerbaijan had sold out, but I was genuinely worried that a sizeable number of supporters had bought tickets for loyalty points only, with the intention of moving tickets on, and there would be gaps throughout the stadium. We also popped into The Malt House for a couple more pints and, over the next hour, my spirits were raised. The pub grew busy. I hoped that there would be a near capacity crowd. When the group phase of the Champions League churns out our three opponents every autumn, I always wonder if our gates will hold up. There is usually a game against a “minnow” team, and – thankfully – our home support has responded well. Ever since the nadir in the autumn of 2007 when only 24,973 turned up for our home game with Rosenborg – Mourinho’s last game of his first spell – we have only once failed to fulfil expectations. Our 2011 group phase game with Bayer Leverkusen only drew 33,820, but all other home gates have reached the 37,000 to 41,000 mark.

On the short walk to Stamford Bridge, I spotted one Qarabag supporter, with an Azerbaijan flag draped over his shoulders. I knew that there would not be many present.

Inside, with a good quarter of an hour to go before kick-off, there were gaps everywhere. I wasn’t hopeful that we would end up with a decent gate. Thankfully, and to my surprise to be honest, the place filled-up quickly. Over in the far corner, around four hundred away fans were spotted in the lower tier of the away section. Baku is 2,500 miles away from Stamford Bridge. I guess it was a fair turnout.

Thoughts turned from our support to the team.

Not surprisingly, Antonio Conte had tinkered with the starting eleven.

Courtois

Azpilicueta – Christensen – Cahill

Zappacosta – Kante – Fabregas – Alonso

Pedro – Batshuayi -Willian

The teams took to the pitch and, after a hiatus of one season, the Champions League anthem rang out around Stamford Bridge. It was a shame, in my mind, that our first game this autumn was not against more prestigious opponents – how I remembered the sense of occasion that accompanied our first-ever game in the Champions League in 1999 against the mighty Milan – but at least a home game against Qarabag would hopefully give us a fine chance for an easy win, with plenty of goals, in a potentially tight group.

In The Malt House, we had honestly admitted that we expected an easy win – 3-0, 4-0, 5-0 – against a team that we knew nothing of.

At kick-off, I scanned the crowd and was very happy. There was hardly a spare seat in the house, save for a block of around four-hundred above the away fans in The Shed. I spotted a new banner on The Shed Balcony wall – “Cahill, He’s Won It All” – and also an outing for one for the manager – “The King Of London.”

Rain started to fall.

As the game began, Alan and myself chatted about the aftermath of the Morata chant at Leicester City. Typically, the programme featured our Spanish striker on the cover. I certainly did not expect the chant to be repeated against Qarabag. Thankfully, it didn’t.

It was a bright opening from both teams. After only five minutes, Willian passed to Pedro, and although he was on the edge of the D, with the path to goal seemingly blocked by many players, his first-time strike zipped past everybody and into the top corner. It was a magnificent strike and the crowd responded with a reassuring roar. Pedro raced towards the Chelsea bench with a joyous hop, skip and a jump. Get in you beauty.

Chelsea dominated play, with some solid performances throughout the team. All eyes were on Michy Batshuayi after his disappointing show against Burnley. We hoped that he would seize his opportunity. A shot from Michy went close. There were rare attacks from Qarabag and I was impressed with the form of Andreas Christensen.

The song for Willian boomed out, as maybe an extra dig at Tottenham, on account of the anti-Spurs chant on Saturday getting such wide condemnation. Soon after, the ever-popular “Stand Up If You Hate Tottenham” rang out too.

On the half-hour mark, Davide Zappacosta received the ball from Thibaut Courtois. As he set off on a gut-busting run up the right wing, I had a nightmare. Rather than watch the new signing rampage past various Qarabag players, my thoughts were focussed on sending a text message to a friend in Chicago, who had helped put together the new Cahill flag. I looked up just as the ball was slammed with his right foot and flew past the away ‘keeper.

Boom. Two-nil.

I jumped up, but felt embarrassed that I had basically missed most of it. However, I had already sussed out that it seemed to be a fluke, rather than a genuine shot on goal. This did not stop Zappacosta, who enthusiastically celebrated down in Parkyville.

From then on, every time the Italian full back was in possession of the ball, sections of the crowd urged him to shoot. We continued to dominate. We did not let Qarabag settle. Our control of the game was very impressive. Thibaut had only had one save to make the entire half.

At the break, I summed things up with Alan.

“2-0 now, I reckon it’ll be 5-0 at full time.”

There was a read of the match programme at the break. I was reminded of our phenomenal home record in UEFA competitions.

Played 110

Won 77

Drew 25

Lost 8

That is just stunning.

There was also a complete list of our opponents in all UEFA games and one team dominated.

Barcelona 15 games

Liverpool 10 games

PSG 8 games

Porto 8 games

Schalke 6 games

Valencia 6 games

Atletico Madrid 5 games

Milan 5 games

I have witnessed nine of those fifteen Barcelona games, and what a set of memories are evoked. Some of my very best days supporting Chelsea – and one or two of the worst – took place against FCB. The Chelsea /Barcelona timeline goes back to the ‘sixties of course, and long may the story continue. Conversely, just three games against Real Madrid seem scant reward. We await our first-ever match at the Santiago Bernabeu.

Maybe this season.

With European football so common these days, it seems crazy that I had to wait a full twenty years – 1974 to 1994 – for my first taste of European football at Chelsea. In truth, my European story began slightly earlier than 1994. My first-ever UEFA game was in Turin in 1987; Juventus vs. Panathinaikos. The memory of the thrill of a noisy and atmospheric evening in a misty Turin is strong to this day. My European debut almost took place a few months earlier. In September 1987, when I was travelling around Europe on the trains with two college mates, we found ourselves in Stuttgart. It was a Wednesday and I spotted in the weekly sports paper that Borussia Dortmund were playing Celtic. We decided, on the spur of the moment, to head up to Dortmund and watch the game. We arrived at the city’s train station with only three quarters of an hour to spare. After quickly depositing our ruc-sacs in the left luggage room, we tried our best at getting directions,  blurting out “fussball stadion” and we even mimed kicking and heading a ball to assist us as we tried to make headway with the bemused locals. At last, we hopped on to the U-bahn train. We were running so late that we didn’t spot any other fans. Outside, I approached a middle-aged woman, and asked her about the stadium.

“Wo is der stadion? Borussia.”

She then said the immortal words –

“The game was yesterday.”

Oh bollocks. What a bastard.

I had, it seems, neglected to spot that the sports paper had detailed the Wednesday fixtures thus :

Borussia Dortmund vs. Celtic (Di)

Di meaning Dienstag meaning Tuesday.

Ugh.

Oh well. In the circumstances, it seems just right that fate was to hand me a Juventus tie for my first-ever UEFA game. Let me explain. Over this summer, after re-watching “The Damned United”, it dawned on me that the very first European game that I ever saw – live – on TV was the Juventus vs. Derby County game from Stadio Communale in Turin in 1973. It was on a Wednesday afternoon, and I have a sustained memory of watching it on our black and white TV with my father after he returned from work. There are solid recollections of the names Pietro Anastasi and Franco Causio for sure. And there is a very strong chance, in fact, that I saw Juventus live on TV before I saw a live match involving Chelsea. The first live Chelsea match would have been, undoubtedly, the away game at Manchester City in 1984 some eleven years later. But, anyway, as for my interest in Juventus, this was where it all began for me.

Ten minutes into the second-half, a free-kick released Cesc Fabregas, who clipped a lovely ball into the box with the outside of his foot and the cross was adeptly headed in by Cesar Azpilicueta, whose little dart into space was timed to perfection. He ran off to the far corner and celebrated with Alvaro Morata, who was warming up in front of the East Lower. I don’t think there is a more popular player at Chelsea than Dave. His joy in scoring was matched by us.

At last, Stamford Bridge responded en masse with a stadium-wide song. It had taken almost an hour, but the place was booming.

“Carefree, wherever you may be, we are the famous CFC.”

My 5-0 was looking good.

Eden Hazard soon replaced Pedro, and then Bakayoko replaced Kante.

Hazard set up Willian and his firm shot slammed against the crossbar. At the other end, Qarabag had a couple of wild shots over the bar.

Alan and myself were scratching our heads when we were awarded a corner – we thought that a Qarabag player did not get a touch – but Hazard played a short corner, received the ball back, and then sent over a low cross into the box. Qarabag failed to clear and the ball fell nicely for Bakayoko to slam home off a defender.

His celebrations were right in front of us – and just beautiful.

Antonio Rudiger replaced Azpilicueta and we kept attacking. We did not let up. We kept going, attacking at will. Although he had endured a quiet game, Batshuayi received the ball from Bakayoko some twenty-five yards out, quickly set his sights, and struck a fine low shot deep into the corner of the Qarabag goal.

OK, there’s the 5-0. Excellent.

We still kept pressing. Fantastic work from Zappacosta on the right forced an error from the shell-shocked left-back and his low cross was bundled in by a mixture of Michy Batshuayi and Qarabag defender Maksim Medvedev.

Chelsea 6 Qarabag 0.

There was still time for a fantastic dribble down below us from Eden Hazard, and I had to chuckle at the look of annoyance on his face – masked with a smile – as an errant touch gave the ball away cheaply. Having him back in the side is such a lift.

In the closing minutes, the Stamford Bridge crowd gathered together again for one last communal chant.

“ANTONIO. ANTONIO. ANTONIO, ANTONIO, ANTONIO.”

The whistle blew and “Blue Is The Colour” rang out.

Qarabag were poor all night long. We gave them a proper caning.

In the other game in our group, Roma drew 0-0 at home to Atletico Madrid, and I was very happy with that.

After only one match in the autumn of 2017, advantage Chelsea.

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Tales From St. Mary’s

Southampton vs. Chelsea : 27 February 2016.

I should dislike Southampton Football Club a lot more than I do. When I was a mere eight-year-old boy, they stole my childhood hero Peter Osgood away from Stamford Bridge a mere couple of weeks before my very first Chelsea match.

That is reason enough to carry a lifetime of dislike for them – hatred would, of course, be far too strong – surely?

Looking back at this event some forty-two years later, although I can well remember the sense of pain that I felt at the time, my memories are rather sketchy, not surprisingly. But here are the facts :

My first ever Chelsea game was on Saturday 16 March 1974. Peter Osgood’s last ever Chelsea game was on Saturday 29 December 1973, although he appeared in a friendly at Aberdeen on Friday 16 February 1974.

He left Chelsea a couple of weeks before my first-ever game.

How cruel.

In those formative years of my fledgling support for Chelsea, Peter Osgood was my favourite player, my hero and my idol. He was our charismatic goal scorer and the focus of my adoration. I’ve told the story before of how some family friends, who worked alongside Peter Osgood’s sister Mandy at an office in Windsor, managed to obtain a signed 8” by 10” black and white photograph of Ossie in around 1971 or 1972, and that the excitement of opening up that brown buff envelope containing the photograph was one of the most wonderful moments of my childhood. I still have the autograph of course. It is a treasured memento to this day. Incidentally, I recently spotted a photograph of Ossie’s sister Mandy planting an oak tree in a park in Windsor in memory of her brother, and it brought my childhood memories racing back.

http://www.windsorexpress.co.uk/News/Areas/Windsor/Oak-tree-planted-in-memory-of-England-footballer-Peter-Osgood-08022016.htm

I once spoke to Peter Osgood about the signed photograph and he explained that Mandy was a fine footballer in her own right, and an England international to boot. He laughed when I suggested that she used to sport a fine pair of sideburns, too.

But in 1974, Southampton – and Peter Osgood – broke my heart.

I can vaguely remember the stories in the ‘papers and on the TV about the infamous fall out between our manager David Sexton, and a few of our star players – most notably Alan Hudson and Peter Osgood – and as the day of my first ever game approached, there was this horrible gnawing realisation that I would not be seeing Ossie play. Hudson’s last game for Chelsea was also against Liverpool in December 1973, and he was sold to Stoke City in the first few weeks of 1974. The 1970 and 1971 cup winning team was falling apart in front of my eyes, and – to my sadness – my hero Peter Osgood would be the next to leave. There are hints of an olive branch being pointed towards Ossie with his appearance in the Aberdeen friendly at Pittodrie and possibly a chance of reconciliation, but my idol was sold to Southampton for £275,000 in the first few days of March 1974.

I would never see Ossie play for Chelsea.

Although Chelsea’s 1973/1974 was far from impressive – we only just staved off relegation – it is with a certain amount of melancholy that I note that Ossie’s new club were duly relegated in the May. I am sure that this must have been a huge blow to Ossie, and I am sure that he wistfully looked on as Chelsea stayed up. With a cruel twist, I saw him play against us in March 1976 in a Second Division game, and can sadly remember the furore in the media about The Shed chanting an unsavoury song towards our former hero, and Ossie “flicking some Vs” back at them.

It wasn’t meant to be like this.

When Ossie returned for some games in 1979, our paths sadly never crossed, and his time as a Chelsea player ended with me never seeing him play in our club colours.

It is one of the few regrets that I have as a Chelsea supporter.

As we approached the tenth anniversary of Peter Osgood’s sad passing, how fitting that the Premier League fixture list should pair Southampton and Chelsea together.

For the first-ever time, we had decided to take the train to Southampton. The four of us – Parky, PD, Glenn and myself – met up at Westbury station and caught the 9.01am train down to Southampton Central. Other local blues Les and Graham were on the train too. Opposite us were four Bristolian Chelsea supporters. Throughout the day, we would bump in to many West Country Blues. It is one of the nicest attributes of Chelsea fans that Londoners very rarely take umbrage to Chelsea fans coming from other areas, unlike a couple of Northern teams that I could mention.

Soon into the trip, through rolling countryside, and then the spired city of Salisbury, Parky and PD opened up a couple of cans. I was just happy to share a few laughs as the day unfolded. It was time for me to relax. Leaving work on Friday, I was able to look forward to two fine away games within the space of just four days.

We rolled in to Southampton, breakfasted at a local café, and then joined up with many familiar Chelsea fans in “Yates’s” in the city centre. I am not particularly smitten with Southampton. Right outside the train station, there are a couple of brutal concrete tower blocks, more akin to those on show in the former communist cities of Eastern Europe, which hardly create a welcoming impression. The civic buildings and the Guildhall are fine, but the city centre seems jumbled.

As I worked my way through six pints of San Miguel, such matters disappeared from my mind.

I was able to relax, to chill out, to unwind.

It was important for me to just sit upstairs with Glenn, chatting and relaxing, rather than join in with others in the crowded ground floor, packed to the rafters, and scene of a Chelsea karaoke.

On the previous day, I had silently marked the first anniversary of my mother’s passing by taking some flowers to my parents’ grave, and I was in no mood for too much ribaldry before the game.

I remembered the time in 1981, when my mother and I watched a Southampton vs. Nottingham Forest game from the lower tier of the cramped bench seats in the East Stand at The Dell, lured by the chance to see another hero of my youth, Kevin Keegan, when a work colleague of my father gave us their two season tickets for the day.

Outside the weather looked cold. There seemed to be a biting wind. More than a few of the local police force were watching us. Only two of the central pubs allow away fans.

“Yates’s” was heaving. The lagers were going down well. Good times.

On the walk to St. Mary’s, I joked with Mick that it was lovely to see him holding hands with Pauline.

“It’s not romantic, Chris. I just needed to prise her out of the pub.”

We laughed.

St. Mary’s, positioned next to the River Itchen to the east, but hemmed in by industrial units to the south and two rusty gasometers to the north, is a rather bland stadium. It is no Dell.

There was not a lot of time to spare and I joined up with Alan and Gary in our seats just in time.

All of a sudden, among the beers, and the laughter and the song, it was time to pay attention to the actual match. Guus Hiddink, quietly going about his business and without the squealing histrionics of our previous manager, had chosen the same starting eleven that had defeated Manchester City the previous weekend. In the home team were former blues Ryan Bertrand and Oriel Romeu, both involved to varying degrees on a certain night in Munich in May 2012.

Southampton, winners at The Bridge earlier in the season, and finding their feet again under Ronald Koeman would be a tough proposition.

The Chelsea support, rising up from the darkened concourse in to the light of the stadium, were in fine voice from the start. However, an early injury to Pedro – improving of late – caused Hiddink to reconfigure. On came Oscar.

Chelsea seemed to control much of the possession during a rather tame first-half, yet Southampton were able to carve out the clearer goal scoring chances.

Thibaut Courtois seemed to be a little unsure of himself on a couple of occasions, and dithered once too often for my liking. Shane Long, the journeyman striker, headed over with our ‘keeper stranded. At the other end, the masked marksman Diego Costa went close. Southampton just seemed a little more dynamic in the final third. Whereas we passed the ball without a lot of purpose, the Saints seemed more clinical. Charlie Austin, the steal of the season, struck a firm shot past our post.

Sadly, on forty-two minutes, two defensive blunders resulted in us conceding. A high ball was weakly headed square by Baba Rahman, and Shane Long pounced. His rather heavy touch seemed, to my eyes, to be within reach of Courtois to race out and clear, but the tall Belgian seemed to react slowly. As he raced off his line, Long delicately clipped it in.

Our ten game unbeaten run in the league was under threat against a capable Southampton team. Our attempts on goal were minimal. It was a deserved lead for the home team at the break. At the interval, the ruthless Hiddink replaced Baba with Kenedy.

We slowly improved. Cheered on by the loyal three thousand, who have taken to singing about Frankie Lampard’s goal against West Ham in 2013 with ever-increasing zeal, we began stretching the Saints’ defence.

Mikel headed over.

Diego volleyed wide.

I said to Gary : “Although we have players in wide positions, we don’t really have wingers any more.”

A few tackles resulted in Martin Atkinson brandishing some yellows. Diego Costa looked like a man “in the mood” and some of his industry seemed to inspire others.

At the other end, a rare Southampton attack ended with a robust challenge on Austin by Cahill. From my position some one hundred yards away, it was clearly not a penalty.

Cough, cough.

Eden Hazard, finding pockets of space, played the ball out to a rampaging Diego Costa. He managed to pull the ball back to Cesc Fabregas, who advanced. He played the ball – almost lazily – in to the box, and I was right behind the course of the ball as it avoided a lunge by Hazard and a late reaction by Forster. It nestled inside the net and the Chelsea support screamed.

What a strange, odd, easy goal.

It had was a fine reward for our increasing urgency in the last portion of the game.

In the eighty-ninth minute, we won a corner and Willian – often unable to get his corners past the first man – sent over a fine ball with pace. The warhorse Ivanovic timed his jump to perfection and his thundering header crashed down past Forster.

Get in.

The Chelsea support again screamed.

Hiddink shored things up with the late addition of Nemanja Matic, and the game was safe.

On a day of late goals, we were more than grateful to hear that Leicester City had grabbed an 89 minute winner of their own.

Get in.

There were songs as we walked back towards the train station. This doesn’t happen too often. It seemed to underline the new sense of belief and happiness within our ranks at the moment.

We had time to relax before catching the train home. There was time for two more pints, and a lovely assessment of our resurgence, not only in the last quarter of the game, but over the past few months.

Back in Frome, Glenn and myself finished off the day with a few more drinks, with more reflections on our fine time among good friends, and then, finally, a late night curry.

It had been a wonderful away day.

On Tuesday evening, we reassemble at the home of Norwich City, another of Peter Osgood’s clubs, and our most famous number nine will again be in our thoughts once more.

See you there.

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Tales From The Garden Of Eden

Chelsea vs. Newcastle United : 8 February 2014.

After our monumental and, possibly, season-defining triumph at Manchester City on Monday, I was chomping at the bit to see us play Newcastle United at Stamford Bridge. However, for the first part of this particular Football Saturday, my focus was again elsewhere. I shot in to Bath in order to pay a visit to my rapidly-improving mother at the hospital.  At 11.30am, I collected His Lordship from Parky Towers. However, our short trip over to Trowbridge to collect Young Jake was beset with flood-induced traffic congestion at Bradford-on-Avon; I have never seen the river so high. We were held up for quite some time. This was not good. Eventually, Jake was collected and we were on our way. However, more slow-moving traffic in Westbury caused me to momentarily wonder if we’d be able to make the kick-off.

It was 12.20pm and I still had a hundred mile drive ahead of me.

Thankfully, once I veered around Warminster on the A36, and then shot past Stonehenge, I was eating up the miles. London was reached in good time; at 2.20pm I was parked-up and we were on our walk to The Bridge.

A Chelsea vs. Newcastle United fixture is a common one for me. Allowing for Newcastle’s one recent relegation season, I have seen every single one of their games at Stamford Bridge since they re-joined the top-flight, under Kevin Keegan, in 1993.

This game, therefore, would be the twentieth consecutive league fixture between the two teams at Stamford Bridge that I would have seen. I always enjoy the visit of the black and whites from Tyneside. It’s always a special fixture for me. I am rapidly approaching the fortieth anniversary of my very first Chelsea game. That too, was against Newcastle United.

…let’s go back.

…way back.

I became a Chelsea supporter just after the 1970 F.A. Cup Final. From that moment on, what are my memories? They are, not surprisingly, vague. I began looking out for Chelsea’s results, but my recollections are not particularly great about individual games, on TV or otherwise. I certainly can’t remember the 1971 Final in Athens for example. To be honest, my parents were not particularly big sport fans…I think that my football genes came from my maternal grandfather who had played football and cricket for the village in his youth (and incidentally, visited Stamford Bridge when he was a young man, the only ground he ever visited). Additionally, I am sure that he said on a few occasions that he favoured Newcastle and Aston Villa for some reason.

In those first few years of the ‘seventies, in my small Somerset school classroom, the alliances were starting to emerge. Leeds United led the way with three supporters in David, Tony and Wayne, while Andy was Arsenal and Paul was Liverpool. However, as far as I can recall, I alone was Chelsea, out on my own, on a limb. I wonder if there was any peer pressure to choose one of the other teams. Looking back – and I haven’t thought long and hard about this ever before – I’m rather proud of myself to pick a team which had garnered no other support at school. There was, however, a vague memory of some neighbours who lived opposite – a family, who soon disappeared to live in Gloucestershire. There was a son, also called Christopher, quite a few years older than me – maybe a teenager – who I think favoured Chelsea too. Maybe it’s in the name.

An important event happened around 1971 or 1972. A friend of ours in Windsor worked with Peter Osgood’s sister Mandy at a factory making Caterpillar vehicles and he said that he could obtain Ossie’s autograph for me. Once my father had explained what an “autograph” was, I was so excited and couldn’t wait for it to arrive. The only two names that I knew at Chelsea at the time were the two Peters, Osgood and Bonetti. I still have that signed photograph and it really cemented my affection for Peter Osgood and Chelsea Football Club.

I have no recollection of the 1972 League Cup Final loss to Stoke, but I do remember hearing “Blue Is The Colour” on the radio at around that time and that really affected me too. Just to hear the name “Chelsea” sent me dizzy. I obviously saw Chelsea on TV on Saturday evenings and Sunday afternoon highlight programmes but I only have vague recollections of the old East stand which came down in the summer of 1972. Incidentally, the first F.A. Cup Final that I can remember was the 1972 one; Leeds United beating Arsenal in the Centenary Final.

The first Chelsea game that I can honestly remember seeing on TV was the 1972 opener against mighty Leeds. Their goalie was injured and Peter Lorimer replaced him; Chelsea won 4-0. Peter Osgood, my hero, scored.

What other memories do I have in those nascent years? I remember – specifically – the build-up to the March 1973 F.A. Cup game with Arsenal. I remember Ossie’s goal in the first game and then watching the action on the 9.30pm news of the replay at Highbury. The sadness from that night still lives with me. I remember Bobby Charlton’s last ever game – at Chelsea – being shown on TV highlights in May 1973.

Anyway – you get the picture…I loved playing football at school break times, on Saturdays at the village recreation ground (“the rec”) and in the street. I was a football fan and Chelsea was my team. My first Chelsea kit was purchased – with a number nine sewn on shirt and shorts – and then football boots and a leather football. Football was taking over. Every Saturday morning, I would walk down to the village shop to collect a loaf of bread and then spend a few pennies on packets of football cards. Imagine my absolute elation when – without prompting from me – my parents announced (either on Christmas Day 1973 or soon after) that they would take me to see Chelsea play.

In London.

At Stamford Bridge.

I still get chills when I think of that feeling almost forty years later.

By a cruel twist of fate, of course, both my idol Peter Osgood and also Alan Hudson had left Chelsea in February of 1974, a month ahead of my Chelsea debut on March 16th against Newcastle United. I was upset, but the thought of seeing the team in the flesh more than made up for this. My mother wrote to the club asking for ticket and travel information and I still have the letter that the club sent back, nicely embossed with the club crest. In due course, the West Stand benches tickets arrived…priced at just 60p each.

Just to hold those little match tickets…

Looking back, I don’t think that any of my school pals could actually believe I was going to see Chelsea play. This was unheard of amongst the village kids. I was only eight remember. At last the great day arrived and it is amazing that I remember so much. My father was a local shopkeeper and so he pulled a few strings with his co-owner to get the Saturday off. Unfortunately, he wasn’t in great health at the time. He had been diagnosed with throat cancer and was due radiation treatment in the May. Thankfully, this was eventually successful, but he was feeling a bit under-the-weather throughout the journey to and from London.

One small memory; on trips to London, my father always drove north and joined the M4 at Bath. After consultation with others, it was decided that an alternative would be used on that particular day. Instead, Dad would drive east on the A4 and picked the M4 at Hungerford. There was a little part of me – the worrier – that hoped that this new itinerary wouldn’t backfire and we’d end up getting lost.

“Not on my first trip to Chelsea, surely Dad!”

Leading up to the game, there had been a pitch invasion at Newcastle United’s F.A. Cup game at home to Nottingham Forest on the previous Saturday and, during the week at school the hooliganism – or at least, over-exuberance and a little vandalism – had been the talk of the classroom.

This heightened the frisson for my first-ever Chelsea game.

We had arranged to park our car at a nursing home at Park Royal, where an uncle had recently been staying. I suppose we reached there at around 12.30pm. We then walked the short distance to Park Royal tube station and caught the train to Fulham Broadway. I visited Park Royal station recently and it did bring back some memories…I recalled walking over the footbridge over the tracks and the art deco façade of the station. In March 1974, my heart must have been beating fast as we boarded the eastbound train. I had been on a tube train before, but this felt so exciting – doing what thousands of Chelsea fans do each week…this is what stuck with me the most I think; a small boy from Somerset being a Londoner for the day.

My first game sticks with me for so many reasons. I can recall waiting in line at the bottom of the West Stand steps at the turnstiles. As the West Stand was the stand with the TV gantry, I wasn’t particularly sure what the stand looked like. I distinctly remember walking up the banked steps as if it was yesterday…I can recall the sense of anticipation, the noises of the crowd and specifically the blue paintwork at the back of the stand, the blue of the turnstiles, the blue of the souvenir huts…just writing these words I am transported back to my childhood. We bought a match programme, which I still have. I remember that the smudge from my mother’s wet leather glove is still visible…strange, though, I remember the day as being sunny.

We walked behind the West Stand, right to the end (the seats were laid on top of the terraces and the access came right at the top of the stand) and I caught a glimpse of the pitch and the inside of the stadium which had previously been obscured from view. I was mesmerized. We walked down the access steps and found our seats…six rows from the front, level with the penalty spot at the North Stand end.

We had a black and white TV set at home and of course it was breath-taking to see Stamford Bridge bathed in spring sunshine and in glorious colour. The East Stand was still mid-construction on the other side of the pitch. There was a smattering of away fans mixed in with Chelsea fans on the North terrace to my left. I remember the closeness of those fans to me.

The Chelsea team included such players as Ron Harris, John Phillips, John Hollins, Steve Kember, Dave Webb, Ian Hutchinson and Charlie Cooke. Newcastle United fielded Malcolm Macdonald, Stewart Barrowclough, Terry McDermott and Terry Hibbitt amongst others.

The gate was 24,207 on that day in March 1974.

What do I remember of the actual game? I remember the middle part of The Shed twirling their blue and white bar scarves. I remember the goal after ten minutes…a header close in from Ian Hutchinson, which bounced up off the ground before crossing the line. I remember two or three Newcastle fans, resplendent with black and white scarves, being sat right in front of me. I remember shouting out “we want two!” to which one of them replied “we want three!” I remember actually thinking “did I stand up and celebrate the goal correctly?” after the Chelsea goal. I promised myself that if there was to be further goals, I would celebrate better…I guess I wanted to fit in. Of course, a second goal came along and I stood up and shouted, but it was disallowed.

I think that the two Geordies smirked as I quickly sat down.

I remember a “Topic” chocolate bar at half-time. I remember Gary Locke doing many sliding tackles in front of us in the second half. I remember debutant Ken Swain (previously unheard of by me) as a substitute. I paid just as much attention to the songs coming out of The Shed as to the play on the pitch. Generally, I remember the overwhelming feeling of belonging…that this was right, that I should be there.

As the game ended and the crowd drifted away, I know that as I reached the very top of the steps, I looked back at the pitch and the stands with wonderment and hoped I would be back again. My mother bought me a “Chelsea The Blues” scarf at one of the souvenir huts behind the West stand as we slowly walked out. I wore that same scarf in Stockholm for the 1998 ECWC Final and then in Moscow ten years later for the CL Final.

I can remember that we enjoyed a hamburger meal at the Fulham Broadway Wimpy Bar (a big extravagance, believe me) – the site of a café to this day. We caught the tube train back to Park Royal and then home to Somerset, but that is a blur.

So, Saturday 16 March 1974…it was the day that my love affair with Chelsea Football Club jumped a thousand notches. In truth, my life would never be the same again.

Back to 2014…

Despite fine weather on the approach to London, there was a sudden shower as we started our walk towards The Bridge. Up above the Empress State Building, a striking rainbow lit up the grey sky. I wondered if a pot of goals would be at the end of it. Very often the visit of the Geordies has resulted in a heavy loss for them in SW6. Their team would be depleted. They have had a tough time of it recently. I was supremely confident that a Chelsea win would be forthcoming. We bypassed The Goose and reached the turnstiles for the MHU in good time. This was a strange pre-match for sure, though. When was the last time I had attended a home game on a Saturday and had not set foot in a pub? Maybe 1984.

The half-and-half scarves on sale next to the CFCUK stall were matched overhead by a half-and-half sky. One part was brilliant blue, one part was grey cloud. The rainbow had disappeared. I quickly bought a programme and flicked through it as I waited in line at the turnstiles. Club historian Rick Glanvill had written a piece on the Newcastle game in 1980 which I had attended with a couple of school friends and, ironically, my father and his then retired co-owner at the shop. A 6-0 win that day is fondly remembered.

Over in the corner, Newcastle had brought 2,000 away fans; the same as West Ham United. It seems there is a change in Chelsea’s policy on away tickets. It used to be solidly set at either 3,000 or 1,500. The away fans began singing about a fat cockney bastard leaving their club alone, but other, more rousing, songs were not forthcoming. Back in 1974, I thought it implausible that Newcastle fans could travel such a distance to see their team play; I remember being suitably impressed. These days, the friction of distance seems to be of little importance.

John Terry wasn’t in the line-up. Mourinho still fancied Dave ahead of Ashley, so the defence was rejigged with David Luiz alongside Gary Cahill and Branislav Ivanovic at right-back. Frank Lampard returned alongside the impressive Nemanja Matic. The midfield “attacking three” were Oscar, Willian and the new all-conquering idol Eden Hazard. Samuel Eto’o led the line. As expected, the visitors’ line-up was depleted and contained a couple of players of whom I knew nothing.

Chelsea began on the front foot and dominated the first part of the game. However, Ben Arfa found space but fired at Petr Cech to sound out a warning to a perhaps complacent home crowd. The atmosphere seemed to be one of expectation, with the home support unwilling to provide a noisy backdrop, despite our early dominance. The half-chances continued for Chelsea.

Eden Hazard advanced with the ball and played it out wide to Ivanovic. The Belgian dynamo continued his run and when Brana returned the ball, he whipped it low past Krul into the far corner. It was as simple as that.

Eden ran away to the far corner to celebrate and The Bridge rejoiced. I hoped for a little pay-back for our defeat up at St. James’ Park in November; our second-half performance that day was quite shocking in its lack of desire.

A lone Newcastle effort at the Matthew Harding was abated by Cech, but we were soon on the attack again. Eden Hazard, the crowd buzzing whenever he touched the ball, ran deep into the Geordie penalty box. He played the ball in to a heavily marked Eto’o, who charmed us with an exquisite back heel into Eden’s path. A simple stroke of the ball into the goal gave us a 2-0 lead. A slide on his knees, right in front of Parky, then another gathering of players down in the corner. We love our corners at Chelsea. Does any other team always celebrate with a run to the corners after almost every goal? I can’t think of any.

In the after-goal glow, the spectators in the Matthew Harding took a moment to honour our manager, under a little criticism before Christmas, but now lauded by the loyalists –

“Stand Up For The Special One.”

At the break, Tommy Baldwin appeared on the pitch alongside Neil Barnett. I only ever saw The Sponge play once for Chelsea; not in game number one in 1974, but against Tottenham in game two in 1974. He was the leader of the team…

While Alan and I joked about 20,000 spectators not knowing who he was, sadly it seems Chelsea Football Club didn’t either. Alongside Tommy’s career stats on the TV screen was a picture of Charlie Cooke.

Oh boy.

Soon into the second-half, the Newcastle ‘keeper rushed out to meet a Luiz high ball, slipped, but was relieved to watch the ball speed away past the post before Oscar could reach it. Then a whipped Frank Lampard free-kick from an acute angle brought a fine save from Krul. A corner was swung in by Willian and the ball was knocked away. Although I didn’t spot the offence, the wonderfully-named Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa was adjudged to have pulled down Eto’o inside the box. The much-maligned Howard Webb pointed to the spot. It didn’t even occur to me that Frank Lampard would normally take it; all thoughts were on Eden Hazard and his opportunity to score his first-ever Chelsea hat-trick. While I remonstrated with an over-zealous steward about using my camera, the penalty was easily dispatched.

Chelsea 3 Newcastle United 0.

After a relatively quiet start to this season under Mourinho, despite a steady supply of goals, Eden Hazard is now the darling of the Chelsea support. I am mesmerized every time Eden has the ball at his mercy. I get a lovely rush of adrenalin as I watch him run at defenders, scuttling back to try to annul his threat. I love his sudden acceleration. I admire his tenacity. Above all, I love his confidence with the ball at his feet. When he is at the top of his game, Eden has the ability to turn any moment into a great moment.

Let all of us stand up and enjoy it.

Back in 1980, Colin Lee had scored a hat-trick in the 6-0 rout. With almost half-an-hour remaining, I hoped for a similar score line. In reality, we eased off a little. Newcastle instead managed to carve out a couple of half-chances but their finishing was poor. Mourinho rang the changes; Ba for Eto’o, then new buy Mohamed Salah for Willian and then Andre Schurrle for the magical Hazard. Within a few minutes of his Chelsea debut, Salah had one half-chance and one fine chance in which to score, but failed to hit the target. He impressed me in the games against Basel in 2013; I’m sure he will prove to be a fine addition to our squad.

As the game wore on, all eyes and ears were focussed on score updates from Carrow Road where, amazingly, Norwich City were managing to hold Manchester City to a 0-0 score-line. Howard Webb signalled the end of our match and the crowd applauded the players off. It immediately felt like an easy win. In fact, it felt like a typical Chelsea versus Newcastle United result; a few Chelsea goals and a clean sheet. As I packed away my camera, it was announced on the PA that Manchester City had indeed dropped two points at Norwich.

It meant that Chelsea were top.

Get in.

We’ve all seen a list of our remaining league games. We will have a tough one at a resurgent Liverpool, plus a couple of home derbies against the North London teams might stretch us, but all of the others seem…whisper it…”winnable.”

Maybe, just maybe…

…with Eden Hazard in our team, we have a chance.

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Tales From Roger’s Big Night Out

Chelsea vs. Manchester United : 31 October 2012.

Chelsea vs. Manchester United.

Seconds out, round two.

The substantial debris from the game on Sunday was still falling all around us as I anticipated the Capital One game at HQ. After the ridiculously high-scoring Reading vs. Arsenal game on Tuesday plus Chelsea and United’s predilection for attacking football, I was expecting another entertaining contest. As the afternoon progressed, I spoke about the game at work and I remember mentioning to a colleague “it won’t be 0-0.”

After having driven to all but a couple of the Chelsea games over the past two seasons, salvation was at hand. My mate Roger had volunteered to collect me from work and take on the burden of rush-hour traffic and the battle against inclement weather conditions. We left Chippenham at 4pm and, unfortunately, it wasn’t too long into the drive that the rain arrived. As Roger drove east, we spent most of the trip to London reminiscing on past Chelsea memories.

I used to work with Roger at a factory in Trowbridge from 1996 to 1998, but after he moved away to Devon a few years ago, I lost contact with him. I was elated to bump into him outside The Pelican pub at Chelsea before the game with Tottenham two years ago. We couldn’t remember if we had ever travelled up to a game together. I don’t think we had. I know that Roger joined a few friends and I on a stadium tour of Stamford Bridge in the summer of 1997. We laughed at the memory of him stealing a scrubbing brush from the home changing room. He still claims to this day that it belonged to Dennis Wise. He might even have it framed.

By a strange quirk of fate, our first two Chelsea games took place within three weeks of each other in the early spring of 1974. Roger told me how he managed to cajole his school teacher, Mrs. Fry – a keen Chelsea fan – to take him and his school friend to Stamford Bridge for their first game. On February 22 1974, young Roger – aged eleven – watched from the seats in the architectural oddity that was the North Stand as Chelsea and Queens Park Rangers drew 3-3. I made my home debut against Newcastle United in mid-March. Between the dates of the two games, Peter Osgood left Chelsea for Southampton. It is a major sadness that I never saw my childhood hero play for us.

Roger mentioned a few matches from that era. One game in which our paths collided was the March 1975 game against Derby County. We lost 2-1 to the eventual League Champions on that rainy day, but the memory which stayed strong in Roger’s mind was the presence of the Marching Mizzou band of the University of Missouri who entertained the crowd before the game. I vividly remember their bright yellow uniforms. They memorably sat in the otherwise unused (and quite possibly unsafe) seats in the upper tier of the ramshackle North Stand and I can well remember them bursting into life, unannounced, on several occasions during the game. In the Sunday Express paper the next day, I recollect the Derby manager Dave Mackay moaning about the sudden eruptions of sound which emanated from the stands during the game.

I reminded him of his Chelsea lottery win during the dark days of the 1982-1983 season. He had told me about this while we were working together. He told me how Chris Hutchings presented him with his prize before one game and how the photograph of this was featured in a later home programme. I remember delving through my programme collection and bringing it in to show him. At the time, Roger used to sell around three hundred lottery tickets on Hounslow High Street during the week before every home game. On one particular day, his brother helped himself to a ticket from the large pile in Roger’s living room. Roger asked him to pay the 25p for it, but his brother declined. Roger was livid. The ticket was rubbed away to reveal the prize of another “free” ticket. Roger swore at his brother and said –

“Well, you’re not having another. I’m having it.”

With that, Roger picked the next ticket in the pile. He rubbed it to reveal, to his immense satisfaction, a prize of £1,000, which was a huge sum thirty years ago. Imagine the look on his brother’s face. He even got an extra 10% as he was the lottery seller.

“Happy days, Mush.”

The traffic slowed around Maidenhead and my hopes for a couple of pints in the boozer before the game were diminishing quickly. The rain worsened too.

“Not so happy days, Dodger.”

We spoke about a few of the characters that we used to work with in Trowbridge, but the talk soon returned to Chelsea. Roger was clearly relishing the game against United. I’ve often thought how key defeats against Manchester United have, in a way, acted as spurs for later triumphs.

Think back to 1994. A truly demoralising 4-0 loss to United in our first F.A. Cup Final in twenty-three years left us shell-shocked and tearful. Yet, just three seasons later, the memory of two Eric Cantona penalties amid the rain of Wembley were forgotten as we finally got our hands on some silverware, beating Middlesbrough 2-0 in the same competition.

Think back to 1999. We only lost three games during the 1998-1999 league campaign, yet finished in third place behind the eventual champions Manchester United. After that, I was convinced that we would never win the league in my lifetime. We had reached our level. Just three defeats, yet no title. Just three years later, in 2005, we lost just one game all season long and became league champions for the first time in fifty years.

Think back to 2008. We had to endure the misery of Moscow with an excruciatingly painful defeat by Manchester United in the Champions League Final. Our greatest ever team, perhaps just past its prime, would surely never reach the final again. We lost out on the ultimate prize in European football by the width of a post and the splash of a puddle. Four years later in Munich, our beloved club won the Champions League for the first time ever.

In each of these triumphs, the joy of victory was made substantially sweeter due to the memory of those anguished defeats by Manchester United a few years previously. Additionally, with each trophy successfully attained, the next trophy was to be more prestigious. The F.A. Cup lead to the League and then to the European Cup. It seems, now, with the perspective of time, that we were following a natural order of progression. And it certainly seems that it was ordained in the stars that we would encounter pain and defeat in our quest for glory. With hindsight, that beautiful gift, I am fine with this. Everyone knows that the best things in life are worth the wait.

West London seemed especially dark and gloomy as Roger drove around the Hammersmith roundabout before heading down the Fulham Palace Road. We parked up on Bramber Road at 6.45pm. It had been a long journey in, but it had been excellent catching up with Roger. Inside The Goose, the team news had just been announced. I was very happy to hear that Robbie had chosen a strong team. I couldn’t stomach losing twice in four days to The Pride of Asia.

We had twenty minutes to drink-up in the boozer. There was just time for one pint again. A quick chat with a few mates. Rush, rush, rush.

“Let’s make a move, Rog.”

“No worries, Mush.”

There was light drizzle outside the West Stand turnstiles. The line at the Matthew Harding turnstiles meant that I missed the kick-off for the first time this season, if only by a minute.

Chelsea vs. Manchester United.

Seconds out, round two.

Ding ding.

As always, one of my first tasks of the game was a quick scan at the size and nature of the away support. The United masses took up 6,000 seats in both tiers of The Shed, though every single one was standing. No surprises there. The entire Matthew Harding Lower were standing too. There were around fifteen flags draped over the Shed balcony. One especially caught my attention.

“Clattenburg. Referee. Leader. Legend.”

Despite my Chelsea allegiance, that brought a wry chuckle.

There was an ironic flag, in Dundee United tangerine and black, honouring a much-maligned purchase that Alex Ferguson made from that club in around 1988.

“Ralph Milne Ultras.”

For a short period of time, a group of fans hoisted this one –

“Chelsea F.C. – Making a stand against racism since Sunday.”

Ouch.

There were a smattering of flags with musical references too, including one which honoured the drug of choice of the Mancunian ravers in the days of house music in the late ‘eighties and early ‘nineties.

“MD MDA MDMA OK.”

Football and music are so often entwined. At Chelsea, we have our own “London Calling” and “One Step Beyond” flags, of course, honouring the Chelsea-supporting lead singers of The Clash and Madness.

Roger was to my left, Alan and Tom to my right. We wondered what events might unravel this time. None of us could have predicted what ensued on the night of Halloween, Wednesday 31st. October 2012. It was one for the ages. If Sunday’s game “had it all”, then this one had the same, though strangely, in the circumstances, no sendings-off.

A timeline of events tells the story.

6 – Daniel Sturridge, at last the lone striker, was played in with only Lindegaard to beat, but experienced a Torresesque slip in front of goal. It was also in front of the baying United fans, who had already mocked him with taunts of being a City reject.

The away fans began the game where they left off on Sunday; a wall of noise. The Chelsea fans rose to the challenge, though, and songs were exchanged with gusto. Not surprisingly, one issue was soon the subject –

“Where’s your racist at the back?”

“Where’s your racist referee?”

I didn’t bother joining in.

22 – I was busy checking my camera and so missed the error by Oriel Romeu, put under too much pressure by a silly Petr Cech pass, which resulted in Ryan Giggs picking up the loose ball and adroitly steering the ball into the goal. Cech seemed crestfallen and the Mancs roared.

Here we go again. If anything, it was against the run of play. Victor Moses was the star of our first-half, running the channels, strong on the ball, full of endeavour. Top marks to him.

31 – That man Moses attacked the United full-back Buttner and a foul resulted in a Chelsea penalty. David Luiz, one of the Munich Five, calmly slotted the ball low past the ‘keeper.

Game on.

43 – A typical David Luiz dribble out of defence, involving one touch too many resulted in him losing the ball. The United players pounced and eventually played in Chicarito, who again scored at the north end. No taunting celebrations this time. A pink flare was lit by the United fans. The Chelsea stewards seemed to take forever to extinguish it. The United fans were baying again. One ran onto the pitch, his arms flailing like a maniac.

There’s a five year ban straight away.

“We’re Man United. We do what we want.”

Run on the pitch you mean? Idiots.

It was a desperate way to end the half.

We had played reasonably well during the first period, but it was galling to be losing to errors of our own making. Lucas Piazon was struggling to get in the game, but elsewhere we were fine. However, Di Matteo replaced the under-scrutiny Mikel with Ramires at the break.

49 – A quick Juan Mata corner caught everyone unawares, but the unmarked Sturridge attempted an outrageous flick inside the six yard box where an old-fashioned header would have brought greater rewards. There were howls of disapproval from the Matthew Harding. Studge clearly has issues in selecting the correct option at times. He is so frustrating.

52 – A Juan Mata corner was met powerfully by the head of Gary Cahill. The ball crossed the line before a United defender had the chance to hook it away. The Bridge was roaring once more.

59 – A great United move found Nani who clipped the ball past Cech. The goal was against run of play and left us trailing 3-2 once more. Eden Hazard replaced the quiet Piazon.

65 – After a short corner, Hazard picked out Victor Moses, but he headed over.

68 – A Juan Mata cross, deep to the far post, found an unmarked and onrushing Azpilicueta, but his header infuriatingly flew over. Roger moaned “what do they teach you? Head it down!” Oscar replaced Romeu. The three maestros were back together again.

72 – Oscar played the ball to Mata and his shot struck the hand of Keane. The ball had travelled a good five yards and the defender surely could have moved his arm away. The referee waved play on. Shades of Barca in 2009? You bet. We howled with derision and I turned the air blew.

75 – Victor Moses shot straight at the United goalie. Things were getting very frustrating indeed. Our efforts could not be doubted, though.

I commented to Tom that “no matter who wins, we’ve played really well in this game.”

83 – Daniel Sturridge shot was saved. The groans continued.

85 – An Oscar shot from distance was parried, unconvincingly, by Lindegaard.

The Manchester United contingent were now sensing victory and another 3-2 triumph.

“Can we play you every week?” they taunted.

Oh, how I wanted to ram that down their throats.

87 – I turned to Alan and Tom and reluctantly admitted “we won’t win this, lads.”

Three minutes of extra time were signalled. The game played on. The minutes passed.

93 – I saw the referee twice put the whistle to his mouth. On the second occasion, Alan and Tom were leaving their seats.

“See you Saturday, pal.”

To be honest, I thought the referee had whistled.

“Oh, he’s not blown.”

The ball was worked inside the box and it found Ramires on the edge. A push in the back and the referee, bless him, pointed straight at the spot. I turned around and screamed, clenching my fists tightly. Who should be staring straight at me but 75 year old Tom, screaming away, looking me right in the eyes, with a face that Edvard Munch would have been proud to paint.

Euphoria.

The game was surely no more than five seconds away from its completion. The fans who had been leaving suddenly sat on any available seat. This time it was Eden Hazard who decided to take a shot from the penalty spot.

We waited.

YEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEES!!!

Oh my. What a game. The place was rocking. I turned to Tom and said “that was more than three minutes.”

Tom, the quiet pensioner, smiled at me and, quite out of nature, barked back –

“I don’t give a fcuk!”

I had to laugh.

The period of extra-time began.

“No early night tonight, Dodge.”

“No, Mush.”

3 – For the second time, Sturridge shot from a ridiculously acute angle. If that lad was half as good as he thought he was, we’d be in business.

7 – I was lamenting Eden Hazard’s poorly directed long ball and looked away, only for the roars of the crowd to tell me that Studge had pounced on a loose ball. We stood as one as he calmly rounded the ‘keeper in front of the away fans and slotted the ball in. The ball rolled in and Stamford Bridge exploded.

For Sturridge, the “City reject”, this must have been oh-so sweet,

10 – Luiz and Nani were booked after an ugly altercation down below me. We responded with the funniest song of the night.

“You’re just a shit Michael Jackson.”

12 – Gary Cahill headed a whisker wide of the unguarded far post. The United fans were now quiet, their banners limp.

14 – A foul on Sturridge by the last man just outside the box had us all howling again. Why not a red? From the free-kick, David Luiz rattled the bar and United’s spirits.

What a game. Breathless stuff. The three substitutes had given new life, extra spirit, to the team. Oscar was simply exceptional.

Tom said “I have to keep lookin’ up to the scoreboard to remind me of the score.” It was the same for me during that equally crazy 4-4 with Liverpool in 2009.

19 – Daniel Sturridge twice shot over from similar angles within a minute.

21 – Studge played in the continually excellent Moses, but his effort was saved when it looked easier to score.

26 – The ball broke to Eden Hazard breaking clear. We all rose as one as he advanced. I raised my camera to capture his dribble deep into the United half. He stopped and spun, then dinked the ball into the path of Ramires. He drew the ‘keeper, then waltzed past him before angling a shot low into the goal.

FIVE-THREE.

Rather belatedly, Alan grabbed me and said –

“They’ll have to come at us now.”

Laughing, I replied “COME ON MY LITTLE DIAMONDS!”

30 – At the other end, Azpilicueta pushed into a United player and Ryan Giggs, the aging talisman, stroked the ball in from the penalty.

5-4. Bloody hell.

31 – Hazard raced away and almost made it 6-3, but he shot wide. The look on Roger the Dodger’s face was a picture.

Before the match, during the long drive to London, Roger asked me to name my favourite ever game. An easy answer would be those three games from 1997, 2005 and 2012, but he really meant “the most entertaining game.” I cited the 4-2 game with Barcelona in 2005, whereas Roger went with a 4-3 win over Tottenham in 1994. As we left the stadium, I asked him if this game might even topple that one.

The two sets of supporters mixed on Fulham Road, but there was a heavy police presence. The Chelsea fans were exultant. We were buzzing. As Roger and I walked away from the ground, we could hardly contain ourselves. It had been a fantastic night of football. The last three Chelsea vs. United games at Stamford Bridge, all in 2012, had produced no fewer than twenty goals.

My mate Glenn, watching in a pub full of United diehards back home in Frome, soon texted the news of the quarter finals.

“Leeds away.”

I quickly decided that this would be one game too far for me. I just don’t have enough spare holiday left. No big deal. Elland Road on a cold winter Wednesday is not going to be one of the most welcoming places in the world.

Roger had to endure even worse weather on the drive back to Chippenham. I felt for him. Our spirits were up though. No bother. He dropped me off at work at 12.30am and I was home at 1am. He had to drive back to Paignton in Devon and it would be a further two hours before he would reach home.

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