Tales From Difficult Shapes And Passive Rhythms

Everton vs. Chelsea : 6 August 2022.

My summer had been quiet. I never fancied another CFC tour to the US during the close-season, and there was no holiday abroad to excite me. It was simply a case of staying at home, saving pennies and attempting to relax from the burden of work which was as busy as ever. The highlight of my summer season was a little burst of gigs involving some music from my youth; Tom Robinson, Tears For Fears, Stiff Little Fingers and China Crisis. Waiting in the wings in September are Altered Images and Toyah. It will be 1982 all over again and that is never a bad thing.

The summer was also short. The gap between the last game of 2021/22 to the opening match of the new season was a brief ten weeks. As time passed, I became increasingly bored with the constant tittle-tattle of rumour and counter rumour regarding our transfer targets. I realised how much I disliked the mere mention of the name Fabrizio Romano; nobody likes a smart arse. I again squirmed every time fan after fan, supporter after supporter, FIFA nerd after FIFA nerd used the phrase “done deal” without transfers being completed. Once players sign, then we can talk.

Maybe it’s an age thing but sometimes I feel that I am from another footballing planet compared to a lot of our support.

Our season would open up in a grand fashion. To start, my favourite away stadium with a trip to Everton’s Goodison Park and then what I would class as our biggest home game with the visit of Tottenham. Two absolute belters. Early on in the campaign there would also be visits to Leeds United, Southampton and Fulham. These are three cracking away trips too. But the downside of this opening burst of away games is that we only just visited Everton, Leeds and Southampton very recently. Could the league computer not have spaced the buggers out a bit?

As the new season approached, I was inevitably concerned that my enthusiasm levels weren’t at especially high levels, but this is so often the case. I often find that I need the season to begin for me to get fully back into the swing of things. But my indifference to the new campaign actually shocked me this summer.

I was faced with the age-old question: was my love of the game waning? It’s a strange one. Many aspects of the modern game leave me cold. So cold. Yet I lap up the chance to attend live matches. There is the old cliché about football – Chelsea – being my drug and I can’t dispute this. Perhaps I should add that my summer season included four Frome Town friendlies, my most ever.

Football, eh?

I hate you but I love you too.

The alarm was set for the new season at 5.30am. By 7.30am I had collected the Fun Boy Three – PD, GG and LP – and we were on our way once again.

I made good progress. After picking up PD at 7am, I had deposited the three of them outside “The Thomas Frost” boozer on Walton Road just south of Goodison only four hours later. It was surely my quickest-ever journey up to Merseyside.

While my fellow travelling companions settled down for five or more hours of supping, I began a little tour around the city, one that I had been promising myself for ages. It was also time for a little more introspection.

This would be my fiftieth consecutive season of attending Chelsea games – 1973/74 to 2022/23, count’em up – even though my fiftieth anniversary will not be until March 2024. Additionally, this would be the fifteenth season that I been writing these blogs. Long gone are the viewing figures of when these were featured on the Chelsea In America bulletin board, but these are such a part of my match-going routine now and I can’t give them up. However, over the summer one of my close friends, Francis, suggested that I should take a year out of match photography and blogging. Just to give myself a rest. An average blog takes four hours of my time. But the look that I gave him probably shocked him to the core.

“Nah. It’s what I do mate.”

I will be honest, I did go over the options in my mind though.

But here I am. Writing away. Taking photos.

I hope that I still maintain the will to keep doing this for a while yet. With the rumours of us partaking in a partial rebuild of Stamford Bridge under the new Todd Boehly regime, I have to continue on until that is finished surely? The success of the Roman Abramovich era might never be matched but there is always something to write about at Chelsea.

On we go.

On my own now, I edged my car south and west towards the River Mersey. Within five minutes, I was parked up a few hundred yards away from the construction site of the new Everton Stadium at Bramley Moore Dock. Camera in hand, I set off to record the progress being made.

I hopped up onto a small wall to gain a good vantage point of the overall scene. This would be photo number one of the season.

Snap.

On leaping down from the wall, my legs crumpled and I fell.

Splat.

The camera and spare lens went flying. My knees – my fucking knees! – were smarting. I was sure I had torn my jeans. There was blood on my right hand. What a start to the season’s photographs. I dusted myself down, then let out a huge laugh.

The first fackinell of the season? Oh yes.

One photo taken and carnage.

Ha.

I limped further along Boundary Street and spent a good twenty minutes or so taking it all in. I found it rather funny that a bold sign warned against site photography and sharing images on social media. During my spell there, around fifteen other lads – not being sexist, they were all lads – called by to take some photos too. I am not ashamed to say that I have recently subscribed to two YouTube channels that provide drone updates of the construction sites at Bramley Moore and also Anfield.

I love a stadium, me.

So, the scene that I was witnessing was indeed pretty familiar. The skeletal shell of the new stadium is rising with the two end stands – the south and north – being the first to pierce the sky alongside the murky grey of the famous river. There are seven cranes covering the site. Maybe those lads were just crane spotters.

I must admit it looks a glorious setting for a new stadium. Evertonians – like me, no doubt – will hate the upheaval of moving out of good old Goodison in a couple of years, but the move represents the chance to level up the playing field with their more moneyed neighbours at the top of the hill up on Stanley Park. I had a fear that last season’s visit to Goodison would be my last. I believe that the new stadium is slated to open up during the 2024/25 campaign.

There was a chance – with Everton likely to flirt with relegation again perhaps – that this day would mark my last ever visit to Goodison.

I hoped not.

I have a personal history with this stadium that I have often mentioned.

I marched back to the car and then drove south towards the city centre. I immediately passed a huge derelict warehouse – a tobacco warehouse I believe – and I had visions of the red brick structure being upgraded to a hotel to take care of the new match day traffic that the new stadium would attract.

But I then heard a voice inside my head, of my mate Chris, a staunch Evertonian.

“Chris lad, all our support comes from Merseyside, The Wirral, the new towns, out to the North Wales coast, we don’t have any day trippers, la.”

I continued on. I have driven around the city centre – or at least the area by the Albert Dock – on many occasions but the scale of the Liver Building knocked me for six. What a building. It’s magnificent. But I drove past it – I spotted a massive bar called “Jurgen’s” – and headed up the hill inland. For many years, ten or more, I have wanted to visit the two cathedrals in the city. This was as perfect a day as any to get this accomplished.

I parked outside the massive Anglican Cathedral on St. James Mount. The sandstone used immediately reminded me of the stone used on the tunnels approaching Lime Street – and the “Cockneys Die” graffiti – and of Edge Hill Station on that first-ever visit to the city for football in May 1985. The building is huge. It is the longest cathedral in the world. I popped inside as a service was taking place. The visitors – there were many – walked around in hushed tones. A few photographs were inevitably taken.

I then headed north and then west and aimed for the second of the city’s great cathedrals, or the fourth if the cathedrals at either end of Stanley Park are included, the Metropolitan Cathedral. This Roman Catholic cathedral – made of concrete in the ‘sixties – sits at Mount Pleasant.

Hope Street links the two religious buildings. It looked a very lively place with theatres and eateries. I dived into the granddaddy of all Liverpool’s pubs, The Philharmonic, famous the world over for the elaborate porcelain fittings in the gents. More photographs followed both inside and out of the funkier of the two cathedrals – nicknamed “The Mersey Funnel” and “Paddy’s Wigwam” – and I was lost in my own world for a few moments.

The art deco Philharmonic Hall looked a magnificent site. The TV tower in the city centre was spotted between a canopy of green leaves. There were blue skies overhead. The Liver Birds could be seen peaking over some terraced rooftops. A few hen parties were making Hope Street their own. Maybe on another visit to the city, I will investigate further.

But it was time to move on. I dabbed a CD on as I pulled out of the car park – China Crisis’ Gary Daly’s solo album “Luna Landings”- a 2020 issue of some synth tracks recorded in the ‘eighties – and it was just perfect.

My route took me past some old, and grand, Georgian houses no doubt once owned by the cream of Liverpool’s entrepreneurs, businessmen and traders when a full forty percent of global trade came through the port of Liverpool. But it then took me past Edge Hill, and onto Tue Brook – past the drinking dens of “The Flat Iron” and “The Cabbage Hall” of match days at Anfield in previous years – and everything was a lot more down-at-heal, the Liverpool of hackneyed legend.

At around 3pm I was parked up in Stanley Park. Up to my left, the extension of the Annie Road Stand at Anfield was in full flow. It will bring the capacity up to 61,000. The new Everton one will be just under 53,000.

Ouch, la.

I popped into “The Thomas Frost” – my least favourite football pub – and located the lads, who had been joined by Deano and Dave, plus a cast of what appeared to be thousands. A friend, Kim, had not been able to attend due to COVID so her ticket was passed on to another pal, Sophie. The chaps had witnessed the Fulham and Liverpool 2-2 draw, and PD was shocked at the hatred that the watching Evertonians showed their local rivals.

Heysel robbed Evertonians of a tilt at European glory and it is not forgotten by many.

A song for Marc Cucarella was aired by the younger element. It would become the song of the day.

I excused myself and squeezed out of the boozer.

This particular corner of Liverpool, along the Walton Road, is a classic pre-match location for Everton home games. “The Thomas Frost”, “The Clock”, “The Party Pad” and “St. Hilda’s” are close, and drinkers from both clubs were inside and outside all of them. At just gone 4pm, my friends – and brothers – Tommie (Chelsea) and Chris (Everton) approached “St. Hilda’s” and it was glorious to see them again.

Here was the reason why we go to football.

Lads enjoying a laugh, a catch-up, a bevvy.

I was welcomed by the Evertonians that I met outside the pub. I loved it.

This is football.

Chris was in the middle of a punk festival – “Rebellion” – up the road in Blackpool and so was now mixing up his twin passions. The brothers are off to watch Stiff Little Fingers together in Dublin over the next few weeks. That 1982 vibe again. Both of the brothers helped me plan my Buenos Aires adventure a few years back and we all love our travel / football addiction.

We briefly mentioned previous encounters. This was the first time that we had begun a league season at Everton in my living memory, though there had been opening games at Stamford Bridge in 1995 – Ruud Gullit’s league debut, a 0-0 draw – and also way back in 1978. The earlier game – a 0-1 home loss – was memorable for two of my pre-match friends in 2022. It was Glenn’s first ever Chelsea game and he still rues a miss by Ray Wilkins. It was also Chris’ first visit to Stamford Bridge with Everton. I spoke about it with him. It has gone down in Chelsea folklore as being the “High Street Kensington” game, when Chelsea ambushed Everton’s mob at that particular tube station. This inspired the infamous “Ordinary To Chelsea” graffiti outside Lime Street, aimed at uniting both sets of fans to travel together to Stamford Bridge for the Liverpool league fixture later in the season. The graffiti is so iconic that sweatshirts are being produced featuring the image almost fifty years later.

Time was again moving on.

Chris and I sauntered off to opposite ends of the Bullens Road.

I left him with a parting shot.

“Up The Fucking Toffees.”

He smiled.

“Up The Fucking Toffees.”

The kick-off was at 5.30pm and I was inside at around 4.45pm or so.

At last, I had a seat that wasn’t tucked way past the goal-line. In fact, it was right on the goal-line. Compared to previous visits my seat 38 felt as if I was watching from the royal box.  John from Paddington now sits with Alan, Gary, Parky and little old me at away games now; the Fantastic Five. I looked over at the Park End; Everton had handed out tons of royal blue flags for their fans to wave. I heard Chris’ voice once again.

“Typical Kopite behaviour.”

I hoped that the ground would be full of shiny unhappy people by the end of the game.

John asked me for my prediction.

I thought for a few seconds and went safe : “0-0.”

It was time to reacquaint myself with more than a few friends as the kick-off time approached. I had recently seen Julie and Tim at the SLF gig in Frome. And I had shared a fine evening with Kev in Aberdare at the recent China Crisis gig.

“From Abu Dhabi to Aberdare” anyone?

Kev, in fact, was wearing a China Crisis T-shirt. I had joked on the night that I would wear my exact same copy to the game too, but I had forgotten all about that. Probably just as well, eh Kev?

We could work out the starting line-up from the drills taking place in front of us. The confirmation came on the twin TV screens at opposite ends of the ground.

Mendy

Dave – Silva – Koulibaly

James – Jorginho – Kante – Chilwell

Mount – Havertz – Sterling

In light of our former chairman’s departure, I am surprised that nobody else but me did the “$ out, £ in” joke over the summer.

The PA ramped up the volume with a few Everton favourites, and then the stirring “Z Cars” rung out around Goodison.

It was unchanged as it has been from around 1994.

The rather mundane and bland single-tier of the Park Lane to my left. The still huge main stand, double-decked, sloping away in the top left corner. St’ Luke’s Church peeping over the TV screen in the opposite corner and then the continuous structure of the Gwladys Street bleeding into the Bullens Road, the Leitch cross-struts on show for decades but not for much longer.

A couple of large banners were paraded in the Gwladys Street.

To the left, an image of The Beatles with an Everton scarf wrapped around them all. Were they really all Evertonians? Well, they weren’t day trippers, that’s for sure.

I hoped that their team would be The Beaten.

To the right, there was an image of our Frank on a banner. Gulp.

The teams lined-up.

A shrill noise.

Football was back.

Alas we were back in the odd away kit. From a long way away, it looks reasonable, but up close I can’t say I am too fond of the stencilled lion nonsense on the light blue / turquoise hoops. This overly fussy design, which is mirrored in the collar of the home kit, resembles a great aunt’s frock design from 1971 far too much for my liking.

Me, bored rigid on a family outing, stifling yawns :“Yes, I’d love another piece of fruit cake please auntie”…but thinking “your dress looks ridiculous.”

To be honest, in the pre-release glimpses, the colour looked more jade green than blue. Eck from Glasgow, sat to my left, must have been having kittens.

Both teams were wearing white shorts. I think that ruling has changed only recently.

The game began. I was immediately warned by a sweaty steward to not use my camera. In the ensuing moments, Eck leant forward and shielded my illicit pursuits. It worked a treat.

As the game started to develop, the away crowd got behind the team, but with the lower tier of the Bullens outdoing the top tier. I must admit I didn’t sing too much during the whole game; I am getting old, eh? Soon into the game, I experienced chant envy as I couldn’t make out the Koulibaly song being sung with gusto in the lower deck.

Goodison has been an awful venue for us of late. Our record was of four consecutive losses.

But we began as we often began with the majority of possession.

The first real incident involved Kai Havertz who picked up a wayward clearance from Jordan Pickford after a poor back pass from Ben Godfrey. Rather than pass inside, he lashed the ball against the side netting. Attempting to tackle, Godfrey injured himself and there was a delay of many minutes before he was stretchered off.

There was a swipe from Mason Mount that Jordan Pickford managed to claw away. At the other end, a deep cross from Vitaly Mykolenko was headed goal wards by James Tarkowski but Edouard Mendy did ever so well to tip it over.

Everton occasionally threatened, but our defence – the veteran Dave especially – were able to quell their advances. N’Golo Kante, right after a Chelsea attack, was able to block an Everton shot back in his own penalty area. He had no right to be there. The man was starting the season as our strongest player.

Next up, Thiago Silva – the calm and cool maestro – cut out an Everton break down our right, and this drew rapturous applause.

A shot from Kante was fumbled by Pickford but although Raheem Sterling pounced to score – a dream start? – he was ruled offside. It looked offside to me, way down on the other goal line. Who needs cameras?

To be truthful, despite corner after corner (or rather shite corner after shite corner) that resulted in a few wayward headers, it wasn’t much of a half. The home fans were quiet, and the away section in the upper tier were getting quitter with each passing minute.

But corner after corner were smacked into the Everton box.

“More corners than a Muller warehouse.”

I noticed that the movement off the ball was so poor.

I chatted to Eck : “Without a target man, our forwards need to be constantly moving, swapping over, pulling defenders away, allowing balls into space.”

There was sadly none of it. I couldn’t remember two white-shirted players crossing over the entire half.

I had visions of a repeat of the dull 0-0 at Stoke City that began the 2011/12 campaign.

In injury time, Abdoulaye Doucoure manhandled Ben Chilwell on a foray into the box. It looked a clear penalty to me.

Jorginho.

1-0

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

Chris : “Come on my little diamonds, like.”

It was the last kick of the half. Phew.

As the second-half began, the sun was still beating down on us in the upper tier. I was getting my longest exposure to the sun of the entire summer. But the game didn’t really step up. The noise continued to fall away. If anything, Everton threatened much more than us in the second-half.

A shot from Demarai Gray – after a mess up between Silva and Mendy – was thankfully blocked by our man from Senegal.

Celery was tossed around in the away section and some local stewards looked bemused.

Some substitutions.

Christian Pulisic for a very quiet Mount.

Ruben Loftus-Cheek for Chilwell.

Reece swapped wings and Ruben played wide right.

It was pretty grim and pretty tepid stuff this. A tough watch.The practised attacking patterns needed more work. It just wasn’t gelling at all. And during that second-half we allowed Everton a little too much space in key areas. It is early days though. But I have to say it as I saw it.

I could lose myself in this honesty.

More substitutions from Thomas Tuchel.

Armando Broja for a weak Havertz.

Marc Cucarella for Koulibaly.

I wasn’t too happy about us singing Frank’s name during the game.

It took bloody ages for us to get an effort, any effort, on goal. It came on eighty-one minutes, a James free-kick, tipped over. Then, just after a pass from Cucarella to Sterling and a shot deflected for a corner.

To be fair, Pulisic looked keen when he came on and added a new dimension to our play. Cucarella looked mustard too. He looked neat, and picked out a few lovely passes, zipped with pace.

“He’s from Marbella, he eats Bonjela” wasn’t it?

And it was a joy to see Broja on the pitch, charging into space, taking defenders with him, a focal point. I hope he is given a full crack of the whip this season.

In the eighth minute of extra time, Conor Gallagher made his debut and I caught his first touch, at a free-kick, on camera. I see great things for him.

It ended 1-0.

Outside, I bumped into Sophie, with Andy her father, and remembered that she was soon off to Milan, with a side-visit to Como after talking to me in the pub at the end of last season.

“Did you know Dennis Wise is the CEO at Como?”

It made Sophie’s day. Dennis is her favourite ever Chelsea player.

We walked back to the waiting car and shared a few thoughts about the game. It was no classic, but we were all relieved with the win. Tottenham, our next opponents, won 4-1 at home to Southampton and I admitted to PD :

“I’m dreading it.”

“I am too.”

Out

In

I made good time on the way south, only for us to become entrenched in a lively conversation about all of the players’ performances just as I should have veered off the M6 and onto the M5.

“Isn’t that the Alexander Stadium? Bollocks, I have missed the turning.”

A diversion through the second city was a pain, but I was eventually back on track. As the three passengers fell asleep, I returned to the ‘eighties and Gary Daly.

And I wondered what I should call this latest blog.

Some people think it’s fun to entertain.

Tales From The Ticket Man

Chelsea vs. West Ham United : 24 April 2022.

After our third consecutive home loss against Arsenal on the Wednesday, the phrase “our worst-ever home run” was heard a few times. With eleven goals conceded in just those three games, it certainly felt like it. Alas, there was no confirmation from anywhere if this was true, but I thought I’d take a look at the games that I, at least, had seen in the flesh. I brought up my “games attended spreadsheet” and ran a couple of filters.

Yes, there it was in all its damning glory.

I found it hard to believe, but I it became apparent that I had never before witnessed three consecutive home defeats at Stamford Bridge. And to be doubly clear, on this occasion the three losses against Brentford, Real Madrid and Arsenal were not only the sole three consecutive losses I had ever seen, but the only three consecutive losses that I had ever seen regardless of if the actual games were consecutive in “real time” too, not just games I had seen. A double whammy, if you will.

Bloody hell. It amazed me that I had never seen three in a row before. That I had been so lucky.

I didn’t attend many games in the truly abysmal seasons of 1978/79 and 1982/83 – two and four respectfully – but it truly shocked me that I had never personally witnessed three home defeats on the spin.

A grand total of eight-hundred and fourteen games at Stamford Bridge and only one run of three consecutive home losses.

Altogether now :

“Fackinell.”

Next up was another home game, this time against another London rival; West Ham United. This would be no easy fixture, nor any semblance of one. A defeat at the hands of David Moyes’ Irons in the autumn still smarts.

But before all that on the Sunday, I had a bonus game on the Saturday. Frome Town’s regular league season was to end with an away game at Lymington Town. I drove down to Hampshire and the last segment took me through the ethereal beauty of the New Forest – it’s unique scenery of yellow gorse, mossy shrub land and gnarled and ancient trees, and of course the wandering and unattended sheep and ponies – and then enjoyed a very entertaining 5-0 win for the visiting team. It was a glorious day out.

Early on the Sunday, I set off for London and the District Line Derby.

Very soon into the trip, with Mr. Daniels and Mr. Harris already on board, non-league football entered my head again. Our route took us past the current home of Trowbridge Town Football Club, now toiling in the Wiltshire League, a few levels below Frome Town who are at level eight in the football pyramid. Yet in 1981, Trowbridge Town played at level five – in the old conference – and were light years ahead of Frome who were entrenched in the Western League. In those days, Trowbridge were managed by former Chelsea player Alan Birchenall – “good lad, Birch, quite a character” chirped Mr. Harris – but since then the fortunes of the two teams have taken different trajectories. Such is life in our amazing football pyramid.

The football pyramid had recently witnessed a shocking fall from grace. Oldham Athletic – Chelsea’s first opponents in the newly-carved Premier League in August 1992, they did the double over us in 1993/94 – had just been relegated from the Football League.  The Latics had thus fallen from level one to level five in just under thirty years. There have been quicker descents – Bristol City in four years from one to four, Northampton Town rising those levels in five seasons and then falling those levels in five seasons too – but this one seemed particularly grotesque.

But we must cherish the fluidity of the pyramid. It is what makes English football.

With Mr. Parkins joining us soon after a drive through the town of Trowbridge, we were on our way.

The weather looked half-decent and the day lay stretched out in front of us.

The back-story to this game concerns a quest to get hold of five match tickets. I found out a while back that some good friends from Jacksonville in Florida were on their way over for the West Ham game. However, as their trip drew closer, things took a nosedive. Even though they had paid the club for tickets, the club were not releasing them.

No, I don’t understand it either.

So, from about two weeks out, I began searching some channels. Luckily, just in time, I was able to get hold of all five. Thanks to Gary, Ian, Calvin and Dan, the job was done.

For our personal merriment, Jennifer, Cindy, Brian, Anel and Eugene would be called The Axon Five for the duration of this trip.

In truth, it was as frantic a pre-match as I have had for a while. The plan was to meet up at Stamford Bridge at ten o’clock. Jennifer and Brian were able to meet a few of the players who take care of the corporate work at Chelsea on a match day. We met up just as Sir Bobby Tambling arrived. This was a lovely moment for the two visitors since they had first met Bobby in Charlotte for our friendly with PSG in 2015 and had subsequently bumped into him on a previous visit to SW6 too. In North Carolina, Bobby was persuaded to partake in what the Americans call “jello shots”, much to the amusement of the two Floridians.

With a Chelsea tour to the US – sanctions permitting – being spoken about, it was a good time for me to host a few Chelsea fans from across the pond. Of course, Jennifer and Brian will be attending the friendly against Arsenal in Orlando, but I am not tempted. The other two rumoured cities are Las Vegas and Charlotte, again, ironically. As it stands, I shan’t be bothering to travel over for this tour. After experiencing Buenos Aires in 2020, my sights are focussed on slightly more exotic climes.

Well, South America and where ever Frome Town are playing to be precise.

While Jennifer and Brian set off to meet up with PD and Parky in “The Eight Bells”, I set off for “The Blackbird” at Earl’s Court to collect a ticket. I walked past “The Courtfield” – the one away pub at Chelsea these days, a good mile away from the ground, how we like it – but there didn’t seem to be too many West Ham inside. It was around 11.15am. As luck would have it, I bumped into another little knot of Chelsea supporters from the US; this time, the left coast, California. I had met Tom and Brad a few times before. This time they were with their wives and two friends too. It seemed that another couple of mates – Steve and Ian – were hosting some Chelsea tourists too. It was great to catch up with them once again.

I then set off for the bottom end of Fulham. At around 12.15pm, I eventually made it to “The Eight Bells” where another ticket was collected. Things were dropping into place nicely.

Yet Cindy, Anel and Eugene were yet to appear.

Tick tock.

We stayed about an hour or so. At last all of the five Floridians were together and we could relax. Brian spoke about how their local Chelsea pub on Jacksonville Beach – I must have cycled past it on my Virginia to Florida cycle trip in 1989 – was at last bursting to the seams for our Champions League Final in Porto. Such is life, eh? Everyone shows up for the big ones. We sat outside “Eight Bells” as it was heaving inside. I think the girls got a kick out of the “Home Fans Only” signs in the boozer’s windows.

After lots of laughs, we – reluctantly? – set off for the game. Outside the Peter Osgood statue, at about 1.40pm, the last ticket was gathered.

Cindy – her first Chelsea game – and Jennifer joined me in the MHU while the three lads took position in the MHL.

Phew.

The kick-off at 2pm soon arrived.

I had hardly had time to think about the game itself.

We heard that Andreas Christensen was injured pre-match and so Dave took a new position, in the left of a back three. Trevoh Chalobah returned.

Mendy

Chalobah – Silva – Azpilicueta

Loftus-Cheek – Kante – Jorginho – Alonso

Mount

Werner – Havertz

There were, of course, the same spaces as for the Arsenal game and this elicited the same song from the away fans.

“Just like the old days, there’s nobody here.”

At least Chelsea conjured up a quick response this time.

“Just like the old days, you’re still fucking shit.”

That made me chuckle.

Three FA Cups and one European trophy.

Is that it West Ham?

There was a Ukranian flag on The Shed balcony wall; maybe a nod to their player Andriy Yarmolenko.

“Glory To Ukraine.”

Let’s hope so.

Further along, a much more light-hearted flag.

“East End Girls. Forever Blowing Bubbles.”

Ooh, matron.

The game began and I wish it hadn’t. What a shocking first-half, eh? It had to be one of the worst forty-five minutes I have endured for a while.

Alan nailed it.

“They have a big game Thursday. They don’t want to risk anything.”

Indeed. Declan Rice, Michael Antonio and Jarrod Bowen were all rested ahead of their Europa League semi-final against Eintracht Frankfurt, shades of us in 2019.

The visitors in claret and light blue sat behind the ball, closed space, and rarely threatened our goal. We looked half-paced and still tired from Wednesday. Our play was turgid, lethargic and without flair and imagination. We looked unable to think outside the box, nor to play inside the penalty box.

It was all so fucking dull.

And it was as if Wednesday hadn’t happened. There seemed no desire to win back our approval after the shocking defending against Arsenal.

Chalobah made an error in our half, allowing a rare West Ham attack, but soon recovered and enjoyed a good first period. Kante was full of running, but there was nobody moving to create anything. I lost count of the number of times we were in good positions to shoot but didn’t. The frustration in the stands was overpowering.

The game was so dull that I resorted to wondering why the floodlights were turned on during an early afternoon game in April.

The first forty-five minutes ended with neither side having a single shot on target. Surprisingly, knowing our support these days, there were no boos at all at half-time. Does that mean that season ticket holders tend not to boo?

Answers on a postcard.

I wondered what Cindy was making of it all, just a few yards away in row two of the MHU alongside Jennifer.

The pour souls.

Sigh.

The second-half got going and there seemed to be an immediate improvement. At long last, there were shots on goal. One from Timo Werner, a volley, was blocked but the actual sight of a player willing to take a chance – “buy a raffle ticket” – was ridiculously applauded. A blooter from Kante was similarly blocked. This was better, much better. The crowd responded. I looked over to see the two girls joining in with a very loud “Carefree.”

A fine strike from Chalobah – such great body shape – caused Lukasz Fabianski to make a fine save to his left.

The game had definitely improved. On seventy minutes, Ruben Loftus-Cheek set up Mason Mount but Fabianski was saved by another defensive block.

With fifteen minutes to go, wholesale changes from Thomas Tuchel.

Romelu Lukaku for a quiet Havertz.

Christian Pulisic for the energetic Werner.

Hakim Ziyech for the steady Loftus-Cheek.

We looked livelier. Lukaku looked eager to impress, but – for fuck’s sake – his sprints – sprints I tell ya! – into space were not spotted by those with the ball. That was about to change, thankfully. With about five minutes to go, a move found that man Lukaku breaking into the box. An arm from a West Ham defender seemed to pull him back. The referee Michael Oliver quickly pointed to the spot.

Then…blah blah blah…VAR…blah blah blah…a delay…the referee went to the TV screen…the yellow card became red.

There seemed to be a long delay.

Jorginho.

Alan : “skip?”

Chris : “yes, skip.”

He skipped.

The shot was tamely hit too close to Fabianski.

Groans, groans, groans.

I can’t really explain it, but I still had a strong notion – a sixth sense – that we would still grab a late winner.

Ziyech let fly from his usual inside-left position but the shot flew over.

“COME ON CHELSEA.”

On eighty-nine minutes, the ball was played beautifully out to Marcos Alonso on the left. He played the ball perfectly in to the box, right towards Pulisic and the substitute sweep it in to a corner.

GETINYOUBASTARD.

Absolute pandemonium in the North-West corner.

I looked over to Cindy and Jennifer.

The American had scored in front of the Americans.

Superb. Magic. Fantastic. Magnificent. Stupendous.

Alan : “They’ll have ta cam at us nah.”

Chris : “Cam on moi li’ul doimuns.”

The final whistle blew.

A huge roar, smiles all around, absolutely bloody lovely. That was a hugely enjoyable end to a mainly mediocre game of football.

Altogether now : “phew.”

And the song remained the same :

“Just like the old days, you’re still fucking shit.”

Outside, I was the ticket man again, sorting tickets for Manchester United away, gathering tickets for Everton away…

It had been a good day.

…see you at Old Trafford.

Pre-Game Blue

A Late Late Show

From Jacksonville To Axonville

Tales From The Eight Bells, Seven Goals And One Matthew Harding.

Chelsea vs. Norwich City : 23 October 2021

This was pretty much a perfect day of football.

Where to start?

How about 5.30am? Early enough?

My alarm sounded and I was soon up. This was another early kick-off at Chelsea. Our second of five matches in fifteen days matched us against Norwich City, a team who – along with Watford, West Brom and Fulham – seemed destined to spend their eternity bouncing between the top two divisions.

This trip to London was going to be slightly different. A little explanation is needed.

Back in the days when I was working in a factory’s Quality Assurance department in the nearby town of Westbury, I started to hear stories of Chelsea legend Ron Harris running a small holiday complex centered around a fishing lake in the nearby town of Warminster. On the eve of our 1994 FA Cup Final with Manchester United, I visited “The Hunter’s Moon” with my copy of the 1970 Cup Final programme, intent on meeting Ron – who I had never ever met before – and getting him to sign it. I remember walking in, and my first view of Chopper was of him clearing some plates away from the small dining room next to the bar area. He duly signed the programme and I can easily remember his words.

“You’re a Chelsea fan, then?”

“Yes.”

“Bad luck.”

I spent a fair bit of time talking to his wife Lee, who I remembered from a couple of player profiles in match programmes from the ‘seventies. I was, of course, hoping that the meeting of our 1970 captain would bring us luck; so much for that plan as we were walloped 4-0 in the Wembley rain. Over the next few seasons, we began calling in at “The Hunter’s Moon” en route back from Chelsea. On one memorable occasion, Ron cajoled us into continuing our drinking and volunteered to drive us back to Frome later that night. We would return to collect Glenn’s car the following morning.

Glenn’s voice of disbelief as we reached his front room lives with me to this day.

“Ron Harris drove us home!””

I remember Ron invited Glenn up to the club’s ninetieth anniversary celebrations with him in 1995, and there were chats with both Peter Osgood and Tommy Langley at Ron’s over the years. He drove Glenn and I up to a game at Chelsea in around 1999.

I didn’t see Ron too much for a while after he moved out of “The Hunter’s Moon” – there was one memorable night with Ron, Ossie and Kerry in 2005 – but I then began seeing him again on the odd occasion at Chelsea. In February 2009, he was due to do a gig before our game at Anfield and asked me if I fancied a lift up to Liverpool. I, of course, jumped at the chance. Although I reported on that match in a blog at the time, I didn’t fancy coming over as a Billy Big Bollocks, so referred to Ron as “Buller” – the nickname bestowed upon him by the players, which was used rather than “Chopper” – and nobody guessed who was driving me to Merseyside. We lost 0-2 that day, those two bloody Torres goals right in front of us.

Meeting up with Ron in Manhattan in 2012 before a Chelsea game at Yankee Stadium was – looking back – a rather special moment. Ron played in the first game that I ever saw in 1974. He played in each one of my first seven games from 1974 to 1976. In fact, of the seventeen games that I saw Chelsea play during his time at the club, he started thirteen, came on as a sub in one, was a non-playing sub in one and missed only two.

Mr. Chelsea ain’t half of it.

There was a Chelsea vs. PSG supporter’s five-a-side game at Chelsea Piers during those few days in New York. I was lucky enough to play for the Chelsea team and after the game I couldn’t help a cheeky dig at Ron.

“I saw you play thirteen games for Chelsea Ron. Didn’t see you score a single goal. You’ve seen me score today. Just one game.”

We both laughed.

After moving south to the coast at Mudeford, Ron returned to Somerset at Shepton Mallet a few years back and now lives just nine miles away from me in Wiltshire, between Westbury and Trowbridge. A few weeks back, his daughter Claire contacted me and asked if I fancied sharing the driving on match days. We agreed midweek games would be difficult due to my work times and Ron’s need to be at Chelsea a few hours before kick-off. We agreed that I could take him to as many weekend games as possible.

Chelsea versus Norwich would be the first one, a tester for timings if nothing else.

So, when I set off at 6.30am, my first port of call would be for Paul at 6.40am, my second would be for Ron at 6.55am and the third one would be for Parky at 7.15am.

All aboard the Chopper Bus.

We usually stop for a bite to eat on the A303 on the way to London, but after hearing that Ron needed to be at Chelsea for his corporate activities at 9.30am, we made haste and made a beeline for Stamford Bridge. I have known for years that Ron is a stickler for being on time – “I’m only ever late for my tackles” – so this didn’t faze me.

There was quality chat in the Buller Bus all the way to London. I kept looking in my rear view mirror as I sped past Stonehenge and all of the familiar sights and saw Ron sat alongside Parky.

Yeah, it was surreal.

Ron ran through some stories and talked of a few managers. He was no fan of Danny Blanchflower – new fans, Google away now – nor Geoff Hurst. As we rose up onto the M3 at just about the same location I heard “That’s Entertainment” last Saturday I remembered one particularly awful season.

“Yeah, in 1978/79 we were shit weren’t we?”

After a few seconds, I realised what I had said. Ron had played virtually every game that season, often as a defensive midfielder.

“Fucking hell Ron, just realised you were playing that season.”

Ron’s smile in the rear view mirror was wide.

As we passed Twickenham, Ron told the story of how manager Dave Sexton took the players one afternoon to the home of rugby to see the Varsity game between Oxford and Cambridge universities. He wanted to show the players how the rugby backs used the overlap as a potent form of attack. For those not into rugby, like me, it is so odd that the attacking players play at the back.

Stupid bloody sport.

Ron was full of praise of Sexton, by far his most admired manager in his nineteen years in the first team at Chelsea. He was certainly one of England’s first tactical gurus, who would win two cups while at Chelsea with Ron his captain.

At 9.20am, I dropped the three passengers off opposite the CFCUK stall at Fulham Broadway.

Perfect.

I went off to park up on Normand Road and then caught the tube down to Putney Bridge. I had booked a table for 10am. I arrived at 9.50am to see around twenty regulars waiting for the boozer to open.

Again, perfect.

Did I say that I work in logistics?

For just a tad under two hours, we relaxed and enjoyed the pre-match. I could chill out now. I won’t deny that there was a little extra pressure on my driving on this particular day. The three of us ordered breakfasts. I will be honest; it was my first full-blown breakfast since my heart attack just over a year ago. The food was bloody lovely. As is so often the case, we were joined by a few mates from near and far.

Shawn – who I met for the first time at that New York weekend in 2012 – and his brother Dan are from Boston and lucked-out on utilising some cheap flights and then coming up trumps on the ticket exchange. They sat alongside us and tucked into a full English too. We were joined by Rich from Edinburgh and Ed from Essex. We had a whale of a time.

The dedicated driver, I was on coffees and Cokes. The time whizzed past. Up onto the platform just as a train pulled in. We were soon at Fulham Broadway, we were soon inside.

Perfect.

At around 12.15pm, I was relieved to hear the PA announce that there would be a minute of applause in the memory of Matthew Harding before the game.

The crowd sang.

“One Matthew Harding. There’s Only One Matthew Harding.”

Our much-loved vice-chairman was killed twenty-five years ago. Where does the time go? It remains one of the most horrible times of my life. Only the deaths of my parents, my gran, and maybe of Peter Osgood, have left me more desolate. There was a montage of images of Matthew and a few reflective voice-overs. I am not sure if anyone remembers, but on the Saturday before the helicopter crash on the Tuesday, we lost 2-4 at home to Wimbledon. Before that game, there was a minute’s silence in memory of a stadium disaster in Guatemala during the previous few days. I often thought it poignant that Matthew Harding would have stood silent that day.

I have written about Matthew Harding before here; about how I met him once, how his wife Ruth replied to my mother’s sorrowful letter after his death, of what he meant to us all at Chelsea.

On the Saturday after the crash, I placed a bouquet amongst many others in the East Stand Forecourt.

“Matthew.

With Love And Appreciation.

We Will Never Forget You.”

Before the game with Tottenham, emotions were high. We decamped to Matthew’s favourite pub, The Imperial on the King’s Road, and I raised a pint of Guinness to his memory. This would soon become my drink of choice at Chelsea for many years (I think, as my own special mark of respect) and the minute’s silence before the game – the second in eight days – was pure emotion.

High up in the stand bearing his name, twenty-five years on I had a little moment to myself.

Rest In Peace, Matthew Harding.

With fifteen minutes to go, “London Calling” and then “Parklife” changed the mood a little.

The team news came through.

Mendy

Rudiger – Silva – Chalobah

James – Kovacic – Jorginho – Chilwell

Mount – Hudson-Odoi

Havertz

With five minutes to kick-off, the Matthew Harding banner surfed the lower tier while the balcony confirmed “One Of Our Own.”

The players stood in the centre circle. The crowd applauded.

It took me back to those years of Hoddle, Harding, Hughes, Gullit and – for Glenn and little old me – Harris. To complete the reworking of the “Harris, Hollins, Hudson, Houseman, Hutchinson and Hinton” years, we drank in The Harwood in those days too.

These were great – it has to be stated – “pre-success” times at Chelsea. I loved the team in that era. It was the saddest thing that Matthew died just six months before our first success in twenty-six years.

How he would have enjoyed Wembley 1997, Stockholm 1998, Bolton 2005, the double in 2010, Munich in 2012, Amsterdam in 2013, Baku in 2019 Porto in 2021.

The song again.

“One Matthew Harding. There’s Only One Matthew Harding.”

Sigh.

The game began.

Norwich City only had around 1,500 I think. I bet they soon wished that they hadn’t bloody bothered. Malmo on Wednesday were poor, but I think Norwich were even worse.

We began brightly.

The visitors didn’t look interested from the off. Their players looked off the pace. They lolloped around like zombies in a film, unwilling to walk faster than they need to, almost in a trance-like state. Their fight was absolutely missing. How Billy Gilmour has only played four games for them this season is a travesty. Of their players, I only recognised Krul and Pukki, a sure sign of my fading knowledge of football outside of SW6 these days. It’s an age thing.

We were jabbing away nicely at the flabby gut of the Norwich defence from the off, and our play brought applause on a mild autumnal day. Callum Hudson-Odoi was involved early on and we began trying to puncture the back-line. On just nine minutes, crafty approach play from Callum ended up with a cross into the box. Mateo Kovacic won a second ball and played it to Mason Mount on the edge of the box. His well struck swipe flew low into the goal, and I was in right in line with its path.

Get in.

Alan : “They’ll have to come at us now.”

Chris : “Come on my little diamonds.”

Norwich’s response was lukewarm. We had virtually all of the ball and were finding spaces to exploit. There were a few poor choices of final balls, but we were purring when Kovacic released a superb pass from deep into the path of an on-rushing Hudson-Odoi. He relaxed, looked at the goal, and adeptly threaded the ball past Krul and into the waiting net.

“Brilliant.”

Two-nil and coasting.

More please.

Callum found Mount, but Krul saved.

A first shot from Norwich via Ozan Kabak on thirty-six minutes troubled those in the Harding Upper more than Edouard Mendy.

The noise in the stadium had quietened. These early starts often follow this pattern.

We then witnessed one of Dave Sexton’s overlaps. This one involved Mason Mount playing the ball to Reece James and this allowed the rampaging wing-back to advance and deftly chip the ball over Krul. It was a fine goal, but one I almost missed as I was mid-conversation with Clive.

But 3-0 it was.

And three academy players too, though it wouldn’t dawn on me until later. It’s an age thing.

There had been goals, but Alan and I had spoken about how often we seemed to be wanting to wait and play a perfect ball, rather than shooting on sight. How we missed a Frank Lampard. We were happy with three, of course, but we could have scored more for sure.

At the break, in the Matthew Harding Upper :

Me to Tim : “after Wednesday, when we should have scored six, we simply have to score six today.”

At the break, in the away dressing room :

“Farke knows how we’ll win this.”

The second-half began and we certainly improved, though soon into the game the noise at Stamford Bridge had reduced almost completely.

Fackinell.

We peppered the Norwich goal with a few teasers, but had to thank that man Mendy once again as a Ben Chilwell played in Rashica who ran onto the ball and it appeared that he just needed to round Mendy to score. However, our magnificent man intercepted with an outstretched limb. The crowd roared and so did our ‘keeper.

Just before the hour, Norwich afforded us way too much room and a move involving James and Kovacic played in Chilwell down below me. No volley this time, but a drilled carpet-burner flew into the net.

Four.

Keep’m coming Chels.

Our Callum was finding oodles of space on the left and, five minutes after our last goal, he broke inside the box once again. A low cross was deflected in off the luckless defender Aarons. The ball was just out or reach of the equally luckless Krul and the ball spun into the net.

Five.

Callum looked embarrassed.

Next up in this action-packed demolition job, Norwich were down to ten men after a rugged tackle on James by Gibson saw the referee Madly reaching for a red card.

The crowd were involved now alright. The atmosphere was bubbling away nicely.

On the hour, the loudest chant of the day thus far.

“Champions Of Europe, We Know What We Are.”

A minute later, louder still.

“Carefree.”

The game safe, on came three substitutes.

Ruben Loftis-Cheek, Ross Barkley and Hakim Ziyech replaced Jorginho, Havertz and Hudson-Odoi.

There was a lovely sing-off in The Shed.

“We’re the middle. We’re the middle. We’re the middle of The Shed.

“We’re the West side. We’re the West side. We’re the west side of The Shed.”

“We’re the middle. We’re the middle. We’re the middle of The Shed.

“We’re the West side. We’re the West side. We’re the west side of The Shed.”

“We’re the middle. We’re the middle. We’re the middle of The Shed.

“We’re the West side. We’re the West side. We’re the west side of The Shed.”

“We’re the middle. We’re the middle. We’re the middle of The Shed.

“We’re the West side. We’re the West side. We’re the west side of The Shed.”

“We’re the middle. We’re the middle. We’re the middle of The Shed.

“We’re the West side. We’re the West side. We’re the west side of The Shed.”

“We’re the middle. We’re the middle. We’re the middle of The Shed.

“We’re the West side. We’re the West side. We’re the west side of The Shed.”

I was just waiting for the Whitewall…

On the pitch, our team was suddenly full of Frank Lampards. Shots from new boys Barkely and Ziyech – with three whipped-in efforts – caused Krul to leap every which way possible to stop further embarrassment.

But there was time for yet more drama.

A neat one-two played in Rudiger and his shot seemed to be blocked by a defender’s arm. We waited for the VAR decision.

Penalty.

Mason Mount waited, and shot strongly but Krul saved well.

After a few seconds, we realise that the referee was told that the ‘keeper had stepped off his line. Therefore, a re-take, and this time Mount bashed it home.

Six.

During these routs, there is often an injury-time goal and this was one of those occasions. A sweet move involving Ziyech, who looked inspired in his twenty-minutes on the pitch, set up Loftus-Cheek, who advanced, drew the ‘keeper before selflessly squaring for Mason to prod home for his hat-trick.

Seven.

Another VAR wait; a suspicion of offside. No. Seven it was.

Bloody hell.

On reflection, even though the last two games had yielded eleven goals, the tally ought to have been so much more. On Wednesday, we could have scored seven. Against Norwich, we could have scored ten. I can’t remember two more one-sided, consecutive, home games. Norwich City, it pains me to say, were the worst league team that I may well have ever seen us meet at Stamford Bridge.

They were lucky to get naught.

I met up with Mister 795 outside the hotel and we slowly made our way back to the car on Normand Road. Ron was equally scornful of the opposition.

“The club should dip their hands in their pockets and pay for those tickets.”

There was a message from Steve in Philly.

“Chris, if you could travel back in time and tell your teenage self that one day you would be taking Ron Harris to and from Chelsea matches, what would teenage Chris have to say”

The answer was easy.

“Fackinell.”

I battled the traffic to get out past the M25, but made great time on the return journey. There was a lovely mixture of chit-chat and laughs all the way home. Ron Harris will do well in our Chuckle Bus.

I dropped Parky off at 6.10pm, Ron at 6.30pm, PD at 6.45pm, and I was home at 7pm.

The perfect day continued as I found out that Frome Town, who were 0-2 at half-time at Cinderford Town came back to win 3-2 with a Kane Simpson hat-trick. And I was also able to sort out a couple of tickets for mates for the United game next month. It really was a nigh-on perfect day.

Next up Southampton at home on Tuesday and then the long-awaited expedition to Tyneside on Saturday.

Good times, everyone, good times.

Oh by the way, Lukak-who?

Tales From The Driving Seat.

Chelsea vs. Queens Park Rangers : 1 November 2014.

With two consecutive away games at Manchester United and Shrewsbury Town behind us, the home match with Queens Park Rangers represented a fine chance for Chelsea to maintain a healthy gap at the top of the pile. Having driven over seven hundred miles to Old Trafford and New Meadow, I was back in the driving seat once again for yet another trip to Stamford Bridge. After collecting PD and Glenn, Lord Parky joined us. It didn’t take too long for me to share my growing frustrations with work with my fellow match-goers. For the past few weeks, my life has existed against a dull rhythm of “work/sleep/work/sleep/work/sleep/work/sleep” albeit with the occasional “football” excursion thrown in, perhaps like a lifebelt, to allow me to survive under increasing work-related stress.

I hoped that a trip to HQ would help to reduce the pain.

Within a few miles of leaving Parky’s home village, my car was rocking with laughter as we headed east and the problems of work soon started to subside. As we neared Reading, our sides were hurting so much from all of the giggles which were erupting in The Chuckle Bus that I had to put on some music – “Dexy’s Midnight Runners”, thank you Parky – in an attempt to settle us all down.

However, after the tedious traffic jams of Sunday and Tuesday, we were hit with yet more delays, this time on the M4. I was immediately reminded of a horrible trip that my parents and I took to Stamford Bridge in March 1979 when horrendous traffic on the M4 resulted in the three of us arriving very late for a Chelsea vs. QPR game. In 1978-1979, Chelsea were quite awful. Relegation was inevitable from before Christmas. I have to be honest and admit that the season was a tough one for me. I didn’t enjoy much of it. It seemed quite apt, then, that the QPR game, which I had been anticipating for weeks before, should be such a negative experience. I only used to go to two games per season in those days. The whole day was crap. We took our seats a few minutes before kick-off, which meant that the whole pre-match was spent nervously checking my watch to see if we’d be late, rather than relaxing and taking it all in. Chelsea lost 3-1, some mouthy QPR fans were sat in front of us in the East Lower, and we were dismal. I think that day ranks as one of the least enjoyable in all of my visits to Chelsea in over forty years. And it wasn’t that QPR were half-decent either; at the end of the season, they too were relegated. Yep, 1978-1979 was a tough one.

In 1979-1980, although we were in the Second Division, I regained my passion for Chelsea Football Club.

A very enjoyable pre-match (the antithesis of the March 1979 game) took place within the beer garden of The Goose. Yet more laughter, yet more banter, yet more silliness. Again, my general mood lightened considerably. The weather was bright and cheerful. This was going to be a fine day.

News broke through that Diego Costa was starting; excellent. There was also a Newcastle United goal against Liverpool to bring added cheer.

Although we all left the pub in good time, there were long queues at the turnstiles and so my first regret of the day was that I missed the minute of silence in memory of the fallen. I hated myself because of that. At least I will have the chance to pay my respects properly at Anfield next Sunday.

During the past few days, there were internet rumours flying around that QPR had not sold all of their tickets – something I found surprising – but their section of 3,000 was full.

Blue skies overhead. An eager crowd. Chelsea in royal blue, QPR in Tottenham white.

Let’s keep winning, boys.

We began with a flurry of corners, but the first real chance fell to Oscar after a nice flick from Diego Costa. His shot was scuffed and QPR escaped. Soon after, an incisive move down our right resulted in Branislav Ivanovic hitting the side-netting from close in. These were positive signs.

Only a Charlie Austin looping header threatened Thibaus Courtois’ goal.

On 32 minutes, Cesc Fabregas – quiet at Old Trafford on Sunday – drove forward and spotted Oscar to his right. With an impudent flick with the outside of his right foot, he bent the ball out and then in to the goal.

We screamed. We shouted.

Get in.

Alan and I – in the guise of two famous inhabitants of Oil Drum Lane – reverted to our tried and tested routine.

Albert : “They’ll have to come at us now.”

Harold : “Come on my little diamonds.”

There was every reason to think that more goals were on the agenda. We had enjoyed the majority of the ball, as is so often the case, and the visitors had shown little attacking aptitude. Just before the break, a sublime twist by Eden Hazard, down in the far corner in front of the travelling fans, made me gulp in astonishment. It was a stunning piece of skill, but I was amazed that his 180 degree turn, leaving his marker stranded, did not warrant any applause or cheer. Were we too stunned to clap or were we too spoiled to appreciate it? I had the feeling that if it had happened in the dark days of 1978-1979, maybe by Duncan McKenzie or Clive Walker, it would have gone down in Chelsea legend.

At the break, my second regret of the day; I missed my childhood hero Ian Britton on the pitch with Neil Barnett.

A lightening break down our right by Willian ended up with a teasing cross in to the box, but Eden Hazard was just unable to reach it. A second goal then would have opened the floodgates, surely.

Then, calamity struck. On one of a very rare number of Rangers excursions into our box, Vargas forced Courtois to make a stunning block. However, the rebound was smashed goal wards by Fer and was diverted past Courtois with a deft flick of Austin’s boot. We groaned. The Rangers fans celebrated wildly, but I was pleased to hear the strong reply from the home support, which immediately rallied to the cause.

To be honest, it hadn’t been a particularly noisy match, certainly not for a London derby. One peculiarity that I had noted throughout the game was that it often took a song or chant from the travelling support to rouse the home sections.

A “Hey Jude” of “la, la, la, laaa – Rangers” soon morphed into a “Hey Jude” of “la, la,la , laaa – Chelsea.”

A “Sit Down Mourinho” soon morphed into a “Jose Mourinho.”

A song ridiculing John Terry from QPR elicited “The Double” song from Chelsea.

I wondered if we were now relying on away supporters to be our cheerleaders.

Sure, there were songs and chants from the Matthew Harding, though I hardly heard The Shed. There certainly wasn’t one moment when I could honestly say that the whole stadium was united in song.

On the pitch, Mourinho went for the jugular and replaced Willian with Didier Drogba. He immediately stood close to Diego Costa. I was warmed at the thought of two strikers playing up front together for the first time in a while.

Didier and Diego.

Phew.

Chances came and went for both sides, although the quality of play never lived up to the highs of previous weeks. Oscar lifted a free-kick over the Rangers wall, but Green saved. With a quarter of an hour remaining, Eden Hazard accelerated into the box, and Vargas clumsily checked him. Hazard went tumbling and the referee immediately pointed towards the spot.

Phew.

Eden Hazard nonchalantly stroked the ball home, but there was not a wild outpouring of emotion from any of our players. Although, the Chelsea fans all around me were overjoyed, I sensed that the players on the pitch were just relieved.

Andre Schurrle then replaced Diego Costa, who had started to tire. The substitute came close. A trademark near post header from John Terry then drew another save from Green.

We held on.

It hadn’t been pretty.

But three points are three points.

We were back in the driving seat.

We listened to Radio Five Live just as I was caught up in the usual slow procession out of the area near Queens Club, my car edging slowly away, alongside other match-goers. We caught a few of Jose Mourinho’s irritable words concerning the team’s performance. It was obvious that his had been a frustrating afternoon. Perhaps his meticulous game plan had not been followed. There was tiredness to his tone. He seemed extra-ordinarily grumpy.

He then turned his attention to the home spectators. On a day when he had praised the away support at Manchester and Shrewsbury during the previous week in the match programme, Mourinho made a sarcastic remark about the quietness of the Stamford Bridge support; it was only when we scored did he realise that the stadium wasn’t empty.

I have written thousands of words in these match reports bemoaning the declining atmosphere at home games, and it is no secret that many Chelsea supporters feel the same way. It is also evident that this has not happened at Stamford Bridge alone. At virtually all stadia in England, fans complain about the dwindling atmosphere in home areas. There are a few exceptions to this rule; step forward Stoke City and Portsmouth in recent years, both solidly working class clubs with no pretensions of global branding and suchlike. But these are rare exceptions. And yet, away support thrives. It is seen as the last bastion of the good old days. I’m just desperately sad that I have noticed the buzz at home games deteriorate over the past ten years; it sadly shows no signs of abating. The usual reasons for this are instantly recalled; high ticket prices forcing the young and working classes away from the game, a gentrification of support, an aging of support, larger proportions of corporate tickets, over-zealous stewards, fans being displaced so that “singers” are never in the same stand together, an increasing number – at Chelsea especially – of visitors from abroad who decide to take in a Chelsea game while in London, the onset of “day trippers” and the over-riding feeling that the club has a real desire to attract a different class of fan. There is, at Chelsea, the added problem of expectation. Long gone are the days when a simple win was met with unbridled joy. With our continued success, there is an expectation to always win. We, as a club, have become bloated and spoiled. All the reasons are well known. Why did Jose decide to utter publicly what many think privately? I am not sure. Surely it wasn’t an attempt to mask a poor team performance? I’d hate to think that. Maybe Mourinho had thought this for a while and had just decided to “get things off his chest”? He certainly seemed in a foul and irritable mood.

To be honest I think I found his tone a little distasteful; rather than talk openly about the atmosphere being a little quiet and a few words of encouragement, his comments were riddled with sarcasm

He has, however, certainly got us all talking.

Maybe the singing will come later.

IMG_9824

Tales From The Second-Half Specialists

Chelsea vs. Tottenham Hotspur : 8 March 2014.

I drove through the quiet streets of my home town just before midday. There he was; standing on the crossroads by Victoria Park, the agreed meeting-place. It was a classic sight and I have to say that it made me chuckle; black Crombie, Chelsea shirt, jeans and brown Doctor Martens with yellow laces and short-cropped hair.

Classic PD.

A few moments later, I collected LP – a Lyle & Scott pullover, jeans, jacket and Adidas trainers if anyone is wondering – outside The Cornerhouse pub.

We were on our way.

I was buzzing about this game with Tottenham. The weather was bloody marvellous and we had the entire day ahead of us. Very soon into the drive east, my two passengers were working their way into several cans of “Strongbow dark fruits cider” and the laughter was booming. I think it caused my car to shake on a few occasions.

I ate up the miles, they drank up the cider.

“The Goose” was predictably packed. We gathered together in our usual corner. Outside, the beer garden was rammed; it felt like the first day of spring. The usual suspects were gathered together. Everyone was pleased to see PD once more. News came through of around fifteen mouthy Tottenham fans alighting at West Brompton, several Chelsea pubs emptying and the away fans getting run from arsehole to breakfast time within a few fleeting moments. I’ve never been an advocate of beating seven bells out of someone simply because they happen to follow a different football club than me, but such brazen behaviour by away fans within Chelsea territory was always going to end in tears. Occasionally, away fans drink in “The Goose” and there is usually no trouble, but I can never remember any London teams’ supporters doing so. It’s simply not the “done thing.” For fans of other clubs, it is a safe haven in the main. I can only think of a few instances over the past fifteen years when away fans have tried to make a name for themselves and “storm the gates.” In such circumstances – QPR and Leicester spring to mind – they have been easily repelled.

With the game kicking-off at 5.30pm, it was obvious that many had made a day of it. We only arrived on the scene at 2.30pm; others had been “at it” for hours. The beers were going down well, though I limited myself to only a couple. There is always a lovely buzz about Chelsea Tottenham. It doesn’t require any explaining really.

Simon arrived and was soon to utter the words “I’m worried about today.”

I told him to “hush.” This, although not a bad team, was far from one of the strongest Tottenham teams to come to Chelsea over the years. Everyone knows that we have enjoyed a magnificent home run of games against the once glamorous North Londoners since our last defeat in the league against them in early 1990.

The record has gone on and on and on.

A win later in the evening would stretch the run to twenty-four beautiful games; I’ve been lucky – I have seen all but two of the previous twenty-three. To tell the whole story, of the thirty Chelsea vs. Tottenham games that I have witnessed at Stamford Bridge, I have only seen two Spurs victories. A meek 0-2 loss during our awful start to the 1986-1987 season was the last time. That was bad – the gate was only 21,576, the atmosphere awful and our First Division future seemed uncertain.

However, the only other Tottenham victory in all of my visits was worse. Much worse.

In 1978-1979, Chelsea were atrocious. Although we had drawn 2-2 at White Hart Lane in the August sun, our autumn was poor and the winter looked bleak. Tottenham, newly-promoted after a solitary season in the Second Division, had shook the football world with the double signing of Argentinians Osvaldo Ardiles and Ricardo Villa in the summer. On Saturday 18 November 1978, I travelled up to Stamford Bridge with my parents. There was a huge buzz about the game. It was the usual routine; Dad would park the car at Ealing Common, which was followed by the ride in by tube, a few souvenirs and a programme, the wait outside the club offices to try to get player autographs and then in to our East Lower seats by just before 2pm, my excitement rising with every minute. On this particular day, there was a running battle between the two sets of fans on the large sweeping terraces before the game. I can specifically remember a scene opposite where the West Stand met the North terrace. Thousands of fans were separated by the royal blue fence which formed a natural barrier between the two stands. I can vividly remember the a long section of the fence – maybe about a forty foot stretch – being pushed and pulled as fans battled to get at each other. There had been similar crowd disturbances at several games that I had witnessed in my first few games as a youngster at Stamford Bridge (Tottenham 1974, Cardiff 1976, Millwall 1977 – I could certainly pick’em) but this memory is my most vivid memory of all of these occasions. Our team wasn’t bad on paper, but it never gelled for us all season. In front of the ‘keeper John Phillips were two poor full-backs Graham Wilkins and David Stride with Ron Harris and Steve Wicks in the middle. Our midfield consisted of Garry Stanley, Duncan Mackenzie and Ray Wilkins with Tommy Langley, Ken Swain and Clive Walker in attack.  Our manager was Ken Shellito, a loyal Chelsea servant who took over from Eddie McCreadie the previous year. A stunning Tommy Langley bicycle-kick gave us a 1-0 lead, but Spurs broke my heart and came back to win 3-1. There were simply thousands of away supporters in the North Stand that day and I remember being crestfallen that there were so many Spurs fans to my right. The gate was 41,594. There must have been 10,000 Spurs fans there. I can still hear their “We Are Tottenham, Super Tottenham, We Are Tottenham, From The Lane” to this day. It was a horrible day.

Bloody Tottenham.

However, despite this dark memory, we have dished untold misery on Tottenham since 1978.

They must bloody despise us.

Good.

That’s just the way it should be.

It was smashing to see Neil, visiting from Guernsey, for the first time for a while. He had watched the Three Bridges vs. Guernsey Isthmian League game at lunchtime. One day, I’m hoping for my own personal double-header with a Frome Town lunchtime game in the London area and then a Chelsea game at The Bridge. It was clear that Parky, especially, was enjoying the drinking session. I wondered what state he might be in at the end of the game.

On the walk down to Stamford Bridge, all was well in the world. It was a stunningly gorgeous London afternoon and Chelsea were playing Tottenham.

Bliss.

Inside the stadium, just before kick-off, I noted the reappearance of a relatively new flag being draped from the opposite end of the MHU; hanging from the balcony, it was being held by fans in the MHL, stretching it, to accentuate its simple message.

No words, no text, just a huge royal blue flag with the white outline of the European Cup in the middle.

The greatest memory of them all and one which causes even more pain for Tottenham supporters everywhere. Job done.

Tottenham had brought the maximum 3,000 away fans; a little different to 1978, but such are the rules these days. Hardly any flags though; certainly none with the European Cup on them. I was unaware that Fernando Torres had been injured in the pre-match. Our team still looked pretty strong. Frank Lampard was recalled in midfield. Tottenham’s team has changed a little over the past couple of seasons; the names Naughton and Bentaleb meant little to me. The presence of the invigorated Adebayor worried me, though.

The game began and the away fans, maybe not surprisingly, were making the greater din. It’s the same when we go to N17. It’s the same everywhere. Within the first five minutes, with the two teams trading a few jabs, Chelsea broke at speed down the right with Eto’o feeding Eden Hazard who rounded Lloris. A certain goal looked like the only outcome, but Hazard seemed to touch the ball a little too far just as he was taking aim and the ball spun just wide of the unguarded Tottenham goal. I jumped and screamed in pain.

“Aaaarrrrgggghhhh.”

Tottenham then seemed to enjoy plenty of possession and we struggled to get a foothold. Bentaleb’s shot went wide after we were caught out. Then Sandro forced a superb save from Petr Cech. There were few real shots on goal in the first-half. Samuel Eto’o evened-up the chances but didn’t threaten Lloris’ goal with a shot which again went wide.

The Chelsea crowd seemed a little subdued, but there was still time to remind the away fans that we’re the only team in London, only team in London, only team in London with a European Cup.

At half-time, there was frustration in the home ranks. It hadn’t been too impressive at all. The sunny weather gently eased and the early-evening light (almost a little misty) created a strange atmosphere. It had the feel of a famous Stamford Bridge late-season European game. We hoped for better things in the second period. Mourinho replaced Lampard with Oscar. No problems with that.

What a second-half.

Of all the various ways in which we have beaten Tottenham at home since 1990 – my favourite, by the way being George Weah’s “off the plane from Milan, off the bench” winner in 2000 – none could have prepared us for what occurred during the second-half on Saturday 8th March 2014.

Calamity One – 55 minutes.

Vertongen, under pressure, slipped and unwisely chose to pass the ball back to Lloris. His back-pass was wayward and ended up at the feet of a raiding Eto’o, who advanced and slammed the ball through the legs of the Spurs ‘keeper. I was already up and jumping when the ball hit the back of the net.

Alan, who had been in the middle of a Nelson Riddle when Eto’o had scored, quickly re-joined PD and me, full of smiles.

Alan : “They’ll have to come at us now.”

Chris : “Come on my little diamonds.”

Calamity Two – 59 minutes.

Samuel Eto’o burst through into the Spurs penalty box and slumped to the floor after a challenge from Kaboul. I wasn’t convinced that it was a penalty, but the referee Michael Oliver quickly pointed at the spot. The hapless Kaboul was soon given his marching orders. Oh boy. The game was dramatically lurching our way. Eden Hazard calmly stroked the ball past Lloris. The home support roared.

Calamity Three – 88 minutes.

With Chelsea in the ascendency and Tottenham second-best, an attempted defensive clearance from Sandro just diverted the ball into the path of substitute Demba Ba, who smacked the ball past Lloris from close range. This was met with joy and mirth in equal measure. There was more to come.

Calamity Four – 89 minutes.

Kyle Walker attempted to head the ball back to Lloris, but Ba was able to intercept it, hold off a rugged challenge from Lloris and stab the ball into the waiting net. By now, there was laughter mixed with pleasure, rather than wanton euphoria. Bloody hell. What a laugh. By this stage, the away end was virtually three-quarters empty. I couldn’t blame them.

I leaned over to Alan –

“Four? Skinned’em.”

As the players hugged at the final whistle, there was more unbridled joy at our humiliation of our arch rivals. It’s getting to the point now – and I say this with my tongue well and truly in my cheek – that I am starting to feel sorry for them.

After a repeat of our second-half turnaround against Fulham the previous week, Chelsea now sit seven points clear of the chasing pack. Jose Mourinho might still think that Manchester City are still ahead – nine points back, three games in hand – but I would rather have points in the bag. What’s that you say? Jose talks highly of Manchester City to put the pressure on them?

Ah, yes, of course.

This is a ridiculous season. Our record is now a highly impressive 20-6-3. We have endured just three losses in twenty-nine games. It is, unquestionably, championship form. However, who can argue that there have only been a handful of games this season where we have shown true championship form and quality? What an irony it would be that during the ultimate re-building, re-treading season of transition we actually go on to win the bloody thing.

Nine games to go.

Seat belts on.

It’s going to be a great ride.

Image

Tales From A State Of Confusion

Chelsea vs. Queens Park Rangers : 2 January 2013.

The old unbeaten home run was in jeopardy for the game with Queens Park Rangers. I woke up to discover that I had heating problems at home and needed to wait around for an engineer to call by. I took an emergency day’s holiday from work and waited. To be quite honest, I was fully expecting the boiler to be fixed late in the afternoon, making a quick sprint up the M4 to be pointless. If I left home at 5.30pm, I wouldn’t get in until half-time. Oh, well – the run will end eventually. I was quite philosophical about it. 236 games isn’t a bad figure. Thankfully, the bloke showed up just after lunch and I was able to keep the run going. On the drive over to Chippenham, the bleak winter scenery reached new depths, with only muted greens and browns mixed in with a thousand shades of grey.

If everything was sombre outside the car, things would soon change inside it. Lord Parkins was back for this game and it was great to see the old fool once more. His last game was the Liverpool game on Remembrance Sunday. A lot has happened since then. Oh boy. The old team were back together again and, after the usual volley of verbal insults between us, the journey to London flew past.

I am sure I wasn’t the only Chelsea supporter who was hoping for a bagful of goals against Queens Park Rangers. We beat them 6-1 last April. Our last home game saw us score 8 against Aston Villa. I wouldn’t go so far as to say I was expecting an easy win, but I knew that if we scored an early goal, the omens were good. Let’s get into them. Let’s show them who is boss.

One of my least favourite games from my first ten years of attending Chelsea games was against QPR. In March 1979, I travelled up to London with my parents and an uncle for the game against our west London neighbours and the game was on the same day as the Forest vs. Southampton League Cup Final. I always remember being stuck in about an hour-long traffic jam on the M4; maybe the influx of traffic from Southampton was to blame. It was an altogether depressing scenario. I had visions of arriving very late and missing a chunk of the game. 1978-1979 was a horrible season. We were mired in a relegation place all of the way through the entire campaign. It was the one season when my support of the team waned a little. I was getting into music at the time and I think my love for Chelsea suffered a bit. I had seen us lose 3-1 at home to newly-promoted Spurs in the November. As it transpired, we reached our seats in the East Lower just in time for the kick-off, but I hadn’t been able to enjoy my usual pre-match of autograph hunting, souvenir shopping and programme collecting. It had been rushed and I hated it. The Chelsea team included a few new signings – Jim Docherty and Eamonn Bannon – but the manager Danny Blanchflower didn’t have a clue. Our team was woeful. Players such as David Stride and John Sitton are not often mentioned in a list of our greatest ever defenders. We lost 3-1 on that miserable day some 34 years ago. A couple of QPR fans were sitting in front of us in the East Stand that day. I loathed them with every ounce of my being. In May, we were relegated and we stayed in the old second division for five long years. Funnily enough, my support for the team and club soon reached its usual stratospheric level again within the first few games of 1979-1980. But that’s another story.

But 1978-1979; oh boy. What a season.

I made an apology to Parky for continuing to play the Japan CD on the drive east. Tokyo certainly made an impact on me and the music has haunted me since my return. We talked about lots on the drive in. Suffice to say, the old bugger has missed some of the most tumultuous weeks of Chelsea’s history since his last game. I could tell that Parky was chomping at the bit to get in amongst it in the pub. We sauntered in at 6.45pm and pints of Peroni were quaffed.

Out in the beer garden of The Goose, none other than Wrayman was chatting to Steve M. He had been over in Paris for a few days with his wife, but had timed his European vacation with a last-minute trip to England for the QPR game. He, unsurprisingly, was feeling the cold, although the weather in England has been milder than at Christmas. Rob came over to say a few words – they had bumped into each other on the Thursday before the CL Final in Munich. I always get a little tingle when Chelsea friends from different parts of the globe meet up. Seeing a photo of Rob and Andy – who didn’t previously know each other – in Munich on Facebook on the Friday had made me smile.

My solitary pint was consumed and The Bridge was calling me. I met up with my mate Steve from Bournemouth outside the tube and we made our way to the stadium. The QPR section took a while to fill up, but they soon had 3,000 noisy followers in the south-east corner. Not one single flag or banner, though. Poor. Chelsea fans only have to cross the road and we’re hoisting flags from every vantage point.

In place of the Peter Osgood banner in The Shed, the “Super Frankie Lampard” banner was proudly hanging instead. Clearly a signal to the board to get him signed-up. The Ossie one was over towards the west side, just above Parkyville and Wrayland.

The news in the pub had been that Juan Mata had been dropped. He has certainly been our talisman this season. Elsewhere, there were other changes with Turnbull in for the injured Cech, Bertrand and Marin in for Cole and Mata. Lamps remained partnered with Luiz. Moses preferred to Hazard.

“Come on boys.”

Before the game was able to get going, I thought that Marko Marin was very lucky to stay on the pitch after a terrible challenge on Unknown Rangers Player Number One. He received a yellow. Lucky boy.

The first-half wasn’t great. Off the pitch, the two sets of fans traded insults.

“Champions of Europe, We Know What We Are.”

“Champions of Europe, You’re Already Out.”

“Queens Park Rangers, You’re Already Down.”

“Fcuk Off Chelsea – West London is Ours.”

“We Don’t Hate You ‘Cus You’re Shit.”

A David Luiz bouncer on thirteen minutes was the first real effort on goal. It was a disjointed affair, and that early goal that I so craved didn’t transpire. The away team had been told to defend and to defend deep, with the enigmatic Taarabt playing the most advanced role. Shades of Eden Hazard in Turin. Our efforts on goal were sporadic. An Oscar effort from way out hardly troubled Julio Cesar, all dressed in black like an extreme Lev Yashin, tights and all.

Shaun Wright-Phillips (yes, him), who replaced the injured Unknown Rangers Player Number Two, shot wide, but Turnbull was largely untroubled.

As our attacks took forever to gain momentum and as shots were ballooned high, wide and ugly, I mentioned to Alan that we were “flattering to deceive.”

“Flattering to deceive” is one of those phrases which you only ever hear being mentioned in football reports, along with “away to my left”, “pitched battles”, “early doors” and “at the end of the day.”

Well, after misses by Ivanovic, Oscar and Moses, we were certainly flattering to deceive.

“There will be boos at the break, Al” I suggested.

There were. We had been poor, of course, but I was hopeful that things would improve in the second-half. Torres hadn’t been given much service and our midfielders were passing to oblivion.

At the break, Neil Barnett always likes to give us a few clues as to who will be on the pitch at half-time. He began by saying “this player played 350 games for us in the ‘sixties and ‘seventies and won medals in three cups.” I guessed at Marvin Hinton. Looking back, it could have been John Dempsey, but I think he joined after the 1965 League Cup win.

“We used to call him Suave Marve.”

Yep, Marvin Hinton. Although, he played for us until 1976, I was sure I never saw him play for us. He is now 72, looks pretty healthy, and enjoyed a walk around the pitch. The QPR fans aimed a rude song at him –

“Who The Fcuking Hell Are You?”

This, for a 72 year old. Classy.

Barnett retaliated by digging at them –

“And Marvin Hinton has more medals than your entire club.”

Soon into the second-half, a fine twisting run by Marin below me in the north-west corner was followed up by a low cross towards the near post. Victor Moses, who had been quiet in the first period, lunged at the ball but just evaded his toe.

The crowd groaned.

However, rather than spur the home spectators, the Chelsea fans largely remained quiet and subdued. It was the away contingent who could be heard. Our play improved in the second-half and I was utterly convinced that we would edge it 1-0. Efforts from Lampard and Cahill – who headed against the bar – suggested that I was right. Then, the best chance of the night; the ball fell to Torres, who instinctively lashed at goal, but Cesar (or Billy Joel, as Al called him) pulled off a superb save.

Ross Turnbull was largely a spectator and we sighed with relief when he easily saved from Unknown Rangers Player Number Three. Further QPR raids were repelled. Billy Joel was time wasting at every opportunity. He clearly wasn’t an innocent man, but Lee Mason didn’t find him guilty. Still the home support didn’t react. In truth, our support stunk like a dustbin lorry on a hot summer day.

Halfway through the half, following a corner, Lampard volleyed in and the place erupted.

“He’s done it again. Get in!”

The linesman, though, had flagged for offside.

Benitez rang the changes, replacing Marin (who had done OK) with Mata…we hoped things would improve further. Sadly, we were wrong. QPR won a corner and I muttered “fear of impending doom” to Steve.

Me and my sixth sense.

The ball dropped to Taraabt who played in Wright-Phillips. With a fine strike, he guided the ball low into Ross Turnbull’s goal, right in line with me, right inside the post. It was a goal all the way. The only consolation was that Shaun turned in on himself and chose not to celebrate.

Respect to him for that.

In the final fifteen minutes, we tried our best to carve open the QPR defence, but it was not to be. A Luiz free-kick hit the wall. An Ivanovic header boomed over. Did anyone notice the ridiculous, crazy challenge by Luiz on Unknown Rangers Player Number Four? He just threw himself at the player after the ball was well gone. Alan and I just sighed.

The crowd were leaving before the end.

Not good.

The whistle went and I was left alone with my thoughts.

2012 – I’m missing you already.

In truth, despite the number of team-changes that Benitez made, QPR were there for the taking. We should have won this 3-0. We had enough efforts on goal, but how many saves did the ‘keeper make? The whole team underperformed really. I hate to single out players, but there were several who didn’t do well. I thought that the marking of Taarabt, their one major threat, was farcical at times. We gave him far too much room. Throughout the team, there was a lack of ideas, a paucity of movement, negligible desire. Or – at least – compared to recent games. But…I say again, we should have beaten them 3-0 on the night. We certainly did not deserve to lose.

On the long drive home, Parky and I mulled over the state of affairs at our club.

We are clearly a confused and divided club at the moment. Where there was unity and cohesion – I’m talking generally here – in the summer, now there is infighting, rumour, rancour and unrest. I made the point that it is quite likely that there are Chelsea fans who want us to lose games so that Rafa Benitez gets the push. I also made the point that there must be fans of opposing clubs who want us to win so that they can see us squirm as we try to get to grips with Rafa.

That can’t be right, can it?

I’m still confused about the whole Di Matteo / Benitez scenario. It will probably take me many more games to come up with a succinct appraisal of what is happening. I just want success for the club. That’s obvious. However, I’m certainly no apologist for Benitez. In truth, I feel like retching every time I see him wearing Chelsea gear. It is clear that most Chelsea fans won’t give him an inch. In fact, no Chelsea manager will ever experience the derision and scorn that Benitez will get with every loss, every dropped point, and every tactical malfunction. Our recent little resurgence will soon be forgotten with each game that passes. Is that right? Probably not, but who am I to say? My head tells me I should move on and give him the benefit of the doubt, but my heart is struggling to come to terms with that notion. It’s a right mucking fuddle. To be honest, I’m trying to ignore the bloke – a la Ranieri in 2000 and Grant in 2007 – but as he is the image of the club at the moment, it is rather difficult.

Oh well, at least Danny Blanchflower isn’t in charge.

IMG_7576