Tales From Another Unbeaten Run

Chelsea vs. Everton : 22 February 2014.

I picked two good games to miss. Due to other much more important matters, I chose to not to attend the disappointing back-to-back away games at The Hawthorns and The Etihad. What a couple of stinkers they were too. We were on top, although not on song, during the first period against West Brom, yet bizarrely took our foot off the pedal after the interval and conceded an equaliser that was on the cards for quite some time. Immediately after this capitulation, Jose Mourinho’s comment about “winning 1-0 at football is easy” seemed rather ridiculous. Then, at Manchester City, we never ever got going at all. It was as one-sided a match as I can remember; we were lucky to get naught. The difference twixt League and Cup performances against City was huge.

Leading up to the game with Everton, there was a feeling that the manager and team “owed us one.” For the six thousand loyal fans that travelled in the wind and the rain last Saturday, that feeling must have been immense.

Thankfully, the weather was devoid of the typhoon conditions that have paralysed parts of England for the past two months; as I drove to London with PD and LP, it was a clear and sunny Saturday morning and the car was soon rocking to the sound of PD’s infectious laughter and to the music of The Specials.

We reached The Goose in good time; we were inside at around 11.15am. Despite a rather truncated pre-match session, we enjoyed tons of laughs and banter.

…mmm…I’d like a £10 for every time I have written words to this effect in these Tales over the years.

Amidst the general merriment, I was glad to hear disapproval from two good friends of the manager’s latest sound bites, which this time involved a distasteful personal dig at Arsene Wenger. I know that the Arsenal manager is a cantankerous old duffer, but to hear Jose Mourinho label him a “specialist in failure” seemed rather classless and – yes, I’ll say it – embarrassing. A couple of us agreed that we enjoyed the earlier part of the season when the Chelsea manager (perhaps reacting from a gentle tap on the shoulder from those above) chose to play the silent game and let our results, as the old cliché goes, speak for themselves. Mourinho’s virtues are many; he is a master of men, he empowers his charges with supreme confidence, he is meticulous in his planning, he is a charismatic leader. When he is on form, his comments to the media can be fascinating, humorous and wise. I do not understand why he needs to belittle others – his rivals – at times.

Our view was that if Chelsea were ten points clear of the chasing pack, in the month of April, then the bombastic Jose of old might have been easier to stomach. With everything so tight at the top, at present, there was a feeling that Mourinho’s comments were not needed and might well result in eggs on our collective faces come May.

And maybe not Waitrose ones, either.

There was a quick rush down to Stamford Bridge, past Paul Canoville who was at the CFCUK stall, in order to get to the turnstiles in time. Thankfully the weather was still holding up; it was, in fact, a gorgeous winter day. I think a few of us were regretting the choice of a warm jacket or pullover.

Inside, there was a quick glimpse over to the away segment to see a full allocation of three thousand Evertonians, but only one Everton flag, the size of a tea cloth.

Our team seemed strong. Over on The Shed balcony, the orange “Drogba Legend” banner loomed large. I wondered if our collective minds might be on Wednesday’s encounter with Didier’s Galatasaray.

No. I hoped not. This was a massive game (aren’t they all these days?) and I trusted that manager, players and supporters alike would be fully-focussed.

This game felt like a game we simply had to win.

The portents were undoubtedly good.

I have been lucky enough to see every one of our league games with Everton since the 1994-1995 season; a span of almost twenty years. Ironically, we lost that game in November 1994, but have remained unbeaten ever since.

Won 9

Drew 9

Lost 0

I can easily remember the sense of disappointment after a single Paul Rideout goal gave the visitors a slender 1-0 win on that day over nineteen years ago. Why should I remember that particular game after all these years? Well, it was a big day in the history of Chelsea Football Club. It marked the opening of the new North Stand.

The last game of the sweeping North terrace took place a year earlier. The last time I saw it in person was during a horrible Ian Wright-inspired loss to Arsenal in November 1993. Its last game was a little later against Manchester City. I never watched a game from this terrace; I wish I had. For many years, I chose to stand in The Shed, before gravitating to The Benches. For the big games, the North Stand became a battle ground for the more – ahem – maladjusted elements of our support; despite segregation, a wild time was often had on that open expanse of old time terracing.

The new North Stand gradually rose over the next twelve months. At the time of the 1994-1995 opener against Norwich City, The Shed had disappeared too. In its place was a temporary stand housing around three thousand. At the other end, the North Stand appeared to be a fine looking structure, albeit slightly smaller than I had hoped. Over the first few months of the season, more and more seats were added until it was ready; the stand’s first game, with a slightly reduced capacity, would be for the visit of Everton on 26 November 1994.

Russ, Glenn, Alan and I had tickers behind the goal in the upper tier for this game; we just had to be there. For a stadium enthusiast like myself, I couldn’t miss being there for its first game. It was Stamford Bridge’s first new structure in over twenty years.

I can remember us being in the old Black Rose, which was to latterly become The So Bar, opposite the old West Stand entrance. There was a real buzz about the place. I can remember that the BBC1 lunchtime programme “Football Focus” was live at Stamford Bridge; this felt like a big honour, that the occasion was being suitably marked.

Once inside the new stand, it felt fantastic to be so high above the Stamford Bridge pitch and – of course – so near to the action. Away in the distance we could see the flats above the Fulham Road and the towers of the Lots Road Power station. Our little part of London suddenly came alive. It was, of course – as the saying so often goes – “typical Chelsea” for us to lose to Everton on this auspicious day.

It still rankles, even now.

However, since that day…Chelsea have played nineteen league games against The Toffees at HQ and have enjoyed another unbeaten run. That Everton were playing in an away kit which greatly resembled Tottenham’s home kit of last season felt like an added good luck omen. We haven’t lost at home to Spurs since…well, you know…since when Adam was a boy.

Before the game, the teams stood together in the centre of the pitch and Sir Tom Finney was fondly remembered. There are those who say Sir Tom was even better than Sir Stan, that his game was more rounded, more complete. He will be missed by the proud folk of Preston and elsewhere.

The bright sunlight above SW6 cast strong shadows on the green sward down below. It felt like the game was perhaps taking place in May; ah, memories of that sweet Fernando Torres strike last May which completed that rather tumultuous league campaign.

Samuel Eto’o was again chosen to lead the line and was assisted by a midfield of Oscar, Willian and Hazard ahead of Matic and Lampard. At the back, JT was paired alongside GC. The full-backs picked themselves. Where this leaves Ashley Cole is anyone’s guess. As always we began with bucket loads of possession. However, our players sadly seemed reticent to get Tim Howard involved in the game. There was the usual over-elaboration and a shyness to shoot. I made the point to Alan that it often seems that away teams visit Stamford Bridge with our reputation, heightened since Mourinho’s return, ahead of us. Very often there is nothing more than a “weathering of the storm” from most visitors in the first quarter of the game. I feel we need to exploit this lack of enterprise from the away team from the first whistle. We need to give them ten shades of hell in the opening attacks. If not, teams get a foothold – mental as well as physical – and often build in confidence.

Lo and behold, Everton soon grew in confidence and, with their usual attributes of hard-working midfielders, managed to stand firm against us. Before we knew it, Everton were giving us a real battle. The highlight of the early exchanges was a fine finger-tipped save from Petr Cech which denied a rasping shot from Leon Osman. Chelsea tried to break and to find space, but our play floundered in the final third. There was little movement off the ball. Things were getting to be a little frustrating.

Our best chance of the half involved several players down our right, with the ball eventually reaching Eto’o. He showed fine footwork to move the ball in to space but his low shot was saved well by Howard. There had been little else to cheer. Few Chelsea players had shone. Oscar and Hazard hadn’t caught the eye. Willian’s enthusiasm to cover every blade of grass was the one positive. However, our defence rarely looked in danger.

At the break, Alexey Smertin walked the pitch with Neil Barnet. In the programme, with the lovely review of the iconic 1983-1984 season continuing, there was a great piece on the 3-3 draw at Cardiff City. With PD alongside me, this was just right; I first met him on the train home after that match almost thirty years ago.

Mourinho chose to replace the quiet Oscar with Ramires at the break; I hoped for more urgency. We had no more than a succession of half chances, but just before the hour, Petr Cech reacted supremely well to a deflected shot from Osman, palming it away at his near post.

Soon after, Tim Howard was to foil Chelsea twice within a few seconds, first parrying a low shot from Hazard and then miraculously blocking a thunderous volley from Ivanovic.

The atmosphere inside Stamford Bridge was tense. There were pockets of support roaring the team on, but few times when the entire stadium was one.

Jose rang the changes, replacing Willian with Fernando Torres. To my consternation, rather than play Torres and Eto’o upfront together – a new problem for the Everton defenders – Eto’o moved out to the right and the two never linked up. Then, another change.

Eto’o off and Andre Schurrle on.

A bit more pace maybe?

Although Torres never really received many quality passes, at least his energy seemed to energise the crowd. Nemanja Matic and Ramires began causing Everton problems with a couple of runs. A sublime cross from Ivanovic found Schurrle but his volley was rushed; Howard was untroubled.

I felt that a momentum – at last – was coming but, alas, the clock was ticking…

However, with only five minutes to go, some of the home supporters had decided that “enough was enough” and began their way home. I’ll never understand the rationale of that.

Tick, tick, tick.

With the full ninety minutes almost on the clock, Ramires advanced and set himself up for a shot. Earlier, an effort from way out was ridiculed.

“Why shoot from there? You never score from there, Rami.”

This effort, a low rasper, whizzed past Howard’s right post. It was wide by the narrowest of margins. The assistant referee signalled a full five minutes of additional time and I still had faith.

Another Ramires run, bursting away from markers in the inside-right channel, was halted by a clumsy challenge from the otherwise impressive Jagielka.

We waited for Frank to settle, for the wall to retreat. The position of the free-kick was just right for Frank, who had not enjoyed the best of games, to send an in swinger into the six yard box. Here was a chance for the ball to possibly tempt Howard to come and claim, but how often do we see ‘keepers caught in no man’s land and end up being beaten by the slightest of flicks?

We waited.

I looked down at Big John in the front row and silently urged him to do what he does best.

I knew he would.




The MH responded –


I snapped a photograph as Frank clipped the ball in.

A flurry of activity – confusion – and a roar from the Stamford Bridge crowd as the ball ended-up crossing Howard’s goal line.


One half of me continued to yell, the other half took some photographs of John Terry (oh my goodness, it was JT who scored!) running away, hotly pursued by others.

I turned to the supporters in the row behind me – strangers – and we just yelled at each other.

Magical, magical times.

My heart was pounding, my head had gone.

The picture I took of Alan, yelling, is a classic.

An Everton attack came to nothing. There was no response. The referee blew for full time.

Get in!

As I made my way out, I felt exhausted…I’m sure I wasn’t alone.


The unbeaten home run against Everton now advanced to 10-9-0 and we were, if only for a few hours, a lovely four points clear at the top of the table. I made my way back to The Goose after collecting a couple of extra tickets for Fulham next Saturday and met up with a few of the chaps. On my way, a white mini-bus, crammed full of Evertonians, slowly edged past me and one Scouser looked at me and mouthed an obscenity.

I ignored him.

The poor buggers; beaten in the last minute after a dogged display and now a hot and cramped trip back to Merseyside in a mini-bus.

Rather them than me.

There was a lovely little post-game laughter session involving Lord Parky, PD and Dave The Hat in our corner of The Goose. We all agreed that it had been a tough game, but one that we were so happy to win. I was pleased to hear Dave say that the atmosphere from where he watched the game (down below me in the MHL north-west corner) was the best he had experienced for a while.

Good stuff.

Next stop – Istanbul.

I will see some of you out there.


Tales From The Team At The Top

Chelsea vs. Norwich City : 6 October 2012.

Who would have possibly thought that our league season would have started so well? The rather lacklustre pre-season seems distant. Not even the most optimistic Chelsea supporter could have envisaged such a fine opening six league matches. We went onto our home game with Norwich City at the top of the table. Throughout the few days leading up to the match at Stamford Bridge, one thought kept entering my head.

“Let’s just keep grinding out some wins.”

There is a strong likelihood that our league campaign will throw some stern tests our way. There will be pitfalls ahead. There will be challenges. There will be blips. However, let’s keep winning the home games, let’s keep going. Let’s keep amassing the points, in the same way that squirrels plunder nuts, before the treacherous winter hits us.

For a change, Gunner Parkins was able to meet me in Frome. At 9.15pm, I collected him from outside The Cornerhouse pub and we were on our way. Parky enjoyed the different approach into London; like Arsenal last week, I was able to drive in via Salisbury Plain, the A303 and the M3. It was another picture perfect autumnal morning.

Once in London, I quickly walked down to Stamford Bridge. I met up with Gill and Graeme for a few moments in the hotel foyer. I wondered how many of the Chelsea fans were oblivious to the two gentlemen quietly sitting in their usual alcove. Ron Harris and Peter Bonetti, the two heroes from our ‘seventies team, are often untroubled by the hotel guests.

Outside, I took a few photographs of the old Shed wall. There are now photographs from Munich interspersed with images of past players.

Ashley Cole, Dennis Wise, Didier Drogba, Peter Bonetti, Frank Lampard, Gianluca Vialli, Fernando Torres, Ron Harris.

Back in The Goose, I spent my time talking to Steve, a friend from Kent, whose company I used for Italian haulage at work a while ago. While others were talking about all things football, Steve and I chatted about European road haulage. I kept to my habit of supping slowly at just one pint. My friend Simon, who I have known for the best part of twenty years, has some exciting times ahead. He is involved in the making of a film and the shooting starts in November. I’m not sure he’ll be attending many Chelsea games during the shooting; the agenda will involve twelve hour days and working for six days a week. There a few well-known actors taking part in the film, including John Hurt of “The Elephant Man” fame, but Simon has already confirmed that he is going to find a little walk-on part for his son Milo somewhere in the filming. In another life, Simon used to produce the occasional pop video, and has worked with Paul Weller amongst others. His most well known, and successful video, was for the sublime “Brimful of Asha” by Cornershop in 1997.


Steve and I made sure there was no last minute scramble and reached our seats a good twenty minutes before kick-off. I was able to take a few photographs of the team going through their pre-match routines; I very rarely see this. I’m usually in my seat with seconds to spare.

Chelsea and Norwich City. Our paths haven’t crossed too often over the recent years. Everyone remembers the Gianfranco Zola back-heel during the run to the 2002 F.A. Cup Final, but I was sadly not present at that game. I forget the reasons why; I guess I was caught on the wrong shift, in the days when Parky and I used to work in the same Trowbridge warehouse.

I always remember our game against Norwich City on opening day in August 1994. We had lost the F.A. Cup Final in the May, but the vibes were good going into the 1994-1995 season. Not only were Chelsea taking part in European competition for the first time since 1971, but Stamford Bridge was being reconstructed. The sweeping north terrace – sadly I never stood there – last saw active service in 1993 and was demolished through the closing months of that season. In its place, the new North Stand rose beyond some high advertising hoardings. It was the first new stand at Chelsea since the East Stand was constructed between 1972 and 1974. The Shed terrace’s last game was against Sheffield United in May 1994. For some reason, we decided to watch that game high up in the East Stand and that was a decision I often regretted. In its place, Chelsea decided to go with a temporary stand until planning permission came through for the new Shed and hotel. Around 3,000 seats were bolted together, on a criss-cross of scaffolds, and the temporary stand lasted two seasons.

For the game with Norwich City in August 1994, Glenn and I travelled up from Frome with Russell. At the time, he was a 15 year old schoolboy and the game would be his first ever game at Stamford Bridge. He had attended an infamous F.A. Cup game at Ashton Gate in 1990, but the less said about that the better. I remember his mother waving us off from his house. This would be the first time that Glenn and I had been entrusted with the welfare of a “youngster.”

The baton was being passed on.

I remember that we visited a long forgotten pub on the Fulham Road called “The Stargazy” ( I think it became a restaurant around ten years ago) for pre-match drinks. My mate Daryl used to work with a QPR fan, who grew up with the then Chelsea youth team player Craig Norman. On this particular day, Craig met up with us for a while. This was quite a thrill for young Russell. Craig Norman never made the grade at Chelsea and drifted off to play for Wycombe Wanderers and ended up as captain of Kettering Town. Russell and I always joked that the main reason why he never made it at Chelsea was because, as the story goes, he once told the then youth team coach Eddie Niedzwiecki to “fcuk off, you Welsh tw&t.”

The over-riding memory from that game in the August sun from over eighteen years ago was of the new temporary stand. For the first time in almost ninety years, a section of the crowd was now mere yards from the goal-line. It was quite a sensation. We were sitting towards the West Stand side and it felt so exciting to be – at last – part of the action. The Benches, to our left, seemed within touching distance. It fired up my imagination to let my mind wander and visualise what it would be like once all four stands were tight against the pitch.

Good times were ahead.

With no spectators in the north stand, capacity was cut to around 23,000. However, with the denizens of The Shed now shunted forward twenty yards, Stamford Bridge was a riot of noise on that inaugural day of the new temporary stand.

On the pitch, we easily beat the Canaries 2-0.

Under Glenn Hoddle, we finished mid-table in that season, but the campaign will be fondly remembered for our unexpected onslaught on the ECWC, when we reached the semi-finals. In the November, the North Stand opened with the visit of Everton. Times were changing and it was a thrill to attend games in that 1994 to 1997 era, not only for the football, but for the constantly evolving stadium which confronted us every two weeks. In that 1994-1995 season, I really ramped up my support of the team. My previous “bests” had been during my college years – around 20 games a year – but I went to 29 in 1994-1995, including forays to the Czech Republic, Austria and Spain.

Along with 1983-1984, it was my “breakout” season.

Russell, now 33, still comes along to a few Chelsea games these days. We obviously didn’t put him of.

In 1994, I remember the away fans were given 1,500 seats in the lower tier of the East stand. In 2012, the Norwich fans – some 3,000 strong – were in the Shed. They boasted just one flag; a green and yellow “Union Jack.”

Far from grinding out a narrow win, thankfully the goals flowed as we put together a very confident and entertaining performance.

Despite gifting Fernando Torres the chance to open the scoring in three minutes, the chance was spurned. I’m not exactly sure why he didn’t shoot with his favoured right peg. Why would he come back onto his let foot?

Norwich took the lead against the run of play when the troublesome Grant Holt fired home a loose ball from inside the penalty area.

Thankfully, this just inspired us.

A delightful sweeping move found Juan Mata who back-heeled into the path of Branoslav Ivanovic. The ball was clipped in to the box and Torres rose to steer the ball past Ruddy into the goal.

Eighteen goals now for Chelsea and, yep, I’ve seen ‘em all.

Frank Lampard crashed the ball in from the edge of the box. He just has the knack of being in those places, picking up the pieces. It was a typical Frankgoal.

Then, the pass of the season so far. Juan Mata dribbled forward, with the defence back-peddling and threaded the ball inside the Norwich defenders and into the path of the advancing Eden Hazard. The ball was passed into the net. Marvellous stuff.

At half-time, Neil Barnett advised us that Frank had now tied Bobby Tambling’s record of 129 goals in the top flight of English football. I wonder if Frank will reach Bobby’s overall total. It will be a close run thing. In light of Great Britain’s excellent performance at the Olympics and Paralympics, we were treated to a fantastic parade at the interval. Around twelve of Team GB’s medal winners walked onto the pitch, with a large Union Jack flying proudly. All medal winners were Chelsea season ticket holders.


With three goals to the good, it was the time for gluttony in the second half. Let’s score some more goals. Let’s boost our goal total. Let’s make our upcoming opponents even more fearful of our prowess.

If the truth be known, despite the lovely approach play from the attacking players, the second-half was a little disappointing. Even at 3-1, Alan and myself were sure that Norwich would score a second and make the rest of the game a nervous affair. I guess almost forty years of watching Chelsea play has made us who we are; we’re never safe until the referee blows for time. Fernando Torres spoiled another gift-wrapped chance after a gorgeous defence-splitting ball. On another day, Nando could have scored three. However, our number nine has now scored four goals in seven league games this season. Bobby Tambling is way off, but it’s a lot more encouraging, isn’t it?

And some of the interplay was wonderful. Although Mata was the star, I was again very impressed with Oscar, who rarely loses possession. We’re in for some thrills at the old stadium this season for sure.

Ivanovic volleyed home like a master predator to seal a 4-1 win.

Lovely stuff.

The only negative involved the support. Apart from a few roars of “Champions of Europe – We know what we are” and “Super Chelsea” there were many moments when I heard several pins being dropped in Knightsbridge, Battersea and Pimlico.

We now break for two weeks. Even if we allowed everyone else in the division a free game, they still wouldn’t be able to get past us at the top.

Good times.

See you all at Tottenham.


Tales From Munich : Part One – Petals From Heaven

Bayern Munich vs. Chelsea : 19 May 2012.

So, where does this remarkable story start? The story surely begins before the two magnificent games against Barcelona, but it obviously encompasses them. It begins before the Benfica games, too. Does it start with the come-from-behind game against Napoli at Stamford Bridge? Quite possibly. But, maybe the story begins with the exemplary Drogba-inspired victory over Valencia in the last group phase game of the autumn? This was a game that we had to win to progress; nothing like leaving it late, eh Chelsea?

Or does the story begin years earlier? The gut-wrenching defeat against Barca in 2009? The crippling loss on penalties to Manchester United in the rain of an unwelcoming Moscow night in 2008? How about the twin losses to Liverpool on two evenings at an obnoxious Anfield? Does the story start there? The ghost goal of Luis Garcia in 2005 and the penalties of 2007? Pain, pain, pain.

How about the semi-final defeat – almost forgotten these days – at the hands of Monaco in 2004? Or another loss to Barcelona at the quarter final stage in 2000 which was at the end of our first ever assault on the biggest prize in European club football?

In my mind, the story didn’t exist in 1998. In that year, Chelsea had defeated Stuttgart in the Cup Winners’ Cup Final in Stockholm. We had replicated the achievement of the fabled 1970 and 1971 teams by following up a domestic Cup with a European one. I can remember thinking that this would be as good as it would ever get as a Chelsea fan. Chelsea, my team of perennial underachievers, had no hope of the league title; we had reached our glass ceiling in Stockholm. League titles and Champions League triumphs were the stuff for ridiculous fantasists.

The story starts in 1955.

In that year, of course, Chelsea Football Club won our first ever League Championship in our golden jubilee season. In the following 1955-1956 campaign, the good fellows at UEFA organised the first ever “Cup of Champions” for the league winners in all member countries. The story could have only lasted nine months. However, the English Football Association – never the first to support innovation – strongly advised Chelsea to resist European glory and step aside from participation. We timidly obeyed the octogenarians of Lancaster Gate and did not take part.

So, in 1956, Real Madrid were crowned the inaugural European club champions and Chelsea looked on from a distance. In reality, our league season was a pale shadow of the preceding one and our participation might have been rather brief. However, even in those days, we always were a cup side…

So, the story is one which has lasted for 57 years. It disappeared without trace from 1955, but it re-emerged in 1999 and Chelsea has been besotted with the story ever since.

The Champions League.

The European Cup.

The Holy Grail of European Football.

Enough of the history lesson; this is my story of Munich 2012.

I was finishing off my packing – marking off items on the check sheet – when Glenn arrived ahead of schedule on Friday afternoon. His excitement was all too apparent. In fact, he was bursting. Glenn is my oldest Chelsea mate. I first met him at school in Frome in 1977. We were the only lads at Frome College in 1981-1982 who owned Chelsea shirts. I bumped into him in The Shed in August 1983 and our first game together was two months later, the seminal 4-0 thrashing of Newcastle United. We’ve been constant companions, from Sunderland to Seville, from Bristol City to Barcelona, ever since. For Glenn to be accompanying me to the Champions League Final in Munich just seemed right. And yet, we have another dear friend to thank. Parky was unable to travel to Germany and so gifted his match ticket to Glenn, for which he was eternally thankful.

We left my sunny Somerset village at 3.45pm and were soon at Bristol airport for the 6.20pm flight to Prague. We had a couple of pints apiece and bumped into Dave, from Bath, and three of his mates. Dave – or “Young Dave” as he is known in Mark Worrall’s excellent tales of Chelsea obsession – owns a restaurant in the city of my birth. To be truthful, I hadn’t seen him for about four years. One of his mates, Pav, was wearing a large home-made badge showing a photo of his late mother; she had sadly passed away six months ago. Although Pav did not yet have a match ticket, he was honouring his mother – a massive Chelsea fan – by travelling to Munich. He was confident he would find a ticket from somewhere. He was confident he would get in. I wished him well, but I knew deep down it would be a difficult task.

The flight to Prague typically contained a couple of stag parties. When a further hen party boarded, Glenn was all eyes and did his best meerkat impression. The flight was only ninety minutes in length and we landed in Prague at 9pm, a good thirty minutes ahead of schedule. I had arranged, via a work contact in the Czech Republic, for a taxi to meet us at the airport. By 9.30pm, Michael was driving us into the Czech capital and regaling us with current updates on the various football teams which hail from that gorgeous city on the banks of the Vltava.

Prague really is a hotbed of football; Sparta, Slavia, Bohemians, Dukla and Viktoria Zizkov all battle for domination. Michael said he was a Sparta fan, but then admitted that Viktoria was his first love. I couldn’t really work this out; how can you support two teams from the same city? Michael rattled through many stories about famous Czech players who have played in England and I was suitably impressed. He said that a lot of fellow Czech citizens favour Chelsea because of Petr Cech. There was a lovely aspect to our one night stay in Prague. Way back in 1994, Daryl, Neil and I travelled to Prague for Chelsea’s first ever European away game since Atvidaberg in 1971. Twenty-three years of hurt indeed. We played the city’s poor relations, Viktoria, in the return leg of the tie having won 4-2 at a rainy Stamford Bridge. Never had 22,000 made more noise at The Bridge. Due to concerns about possible crowd trouble, however, the second leg was played up in the hills of Bohemia in the small town of Jablonec. Dmitri Kharine saved a penalty and we drew 0-0. Our Euro adventure was on its way…and we all said we would love to one day return to Prague.

Eighteen years later, I was back. We zipped past Sparta’s Letna Stadium and Michael deposited us at Hotel Belvedere bang on 10pm. He had also arranged for his brother-in-law to collect us in the morning. We stumbled across a gorgeous local restaurant. For an hour, we sunk a couple of dark Czech beers, chatted about Chelsea and devoured some fantastic local fare. Pickled sausages, cheese sticks and then goulash with herby potato cakes. It was heavenly. Glenn had visited Prague way back in 1996 with his then German girlfriend Anke. He too was so pleased to be back. I remember he had brought me back a Sparta T-shirt from that trip.

Alongside, four young locals were feverishly debating amongst themselves in the particular way that you sense only eastern Europeans can do. I imagined feverish words being uttered about political unrest in Poland, or maybe the agony inherent in a local artist’s sculptures or the latest sounds from the new ground-breaking underground band in Ostrava.

I looked at the girl as she vented her fury; she slammed the wooden table with her palm when making a point. And my mind wandered…

“No – you fool. Play Kalou on the right. Sturridge is a mere shadow of his former self. You are all idiots.”

We dived into a smoky bar, full of more students, more local beer, more animated chat. Glenn and I observed from afar. What a wondrous feeling to be so far from our home comforts, to be able to witness the lives of others. But to also be on the edge of our own particular date with destiny. After one last beer in the hotel bar, we retired to bed, with nothing but positive thoughts about Munich, about the game, about victory. It had been a perfect night in Prague but the fun was only just beginning.

I awoke at 5.45am and a quick shower sorted me out. Outside, we waited in the cool morning air for our cab to take us into town. The yellow Skoda soon arrived and the tall cabbie spoke;

“Chris Chelsea?”

We were on our way to the train station where we were to catch the coach to Munich. The city looked breath-taking. We shot over the river with the Charles Bridge and the castle on the hill in the distance. We soon reached our destination. The train station is grand, but antiquated and in needing of restoration. We caught the coach outside its flaking exterior at 7.15am.

The coach trip lasted five hours, but the time flew past. We chatted more intensely about the football than the previous night. The Czech countryside was a picture; not dissimilar to the rolling countryside of Pennsylvania or Georgia, with none of the hedgerows of England which make our patchwork of a fields so unique. We noted fields of solar panels; they put us to shame in the quest for new energy sources. The sun was shining brightly. The sky was cloudless. It was magnificent.

We called in at Munich airport en route to the city. Another little bit of my personal history to tell; way back in 1977, my first ever trip by plane was to Munich on a family trip to Seefeld in the Tyrolean Alps. 35 years on, I was travelling on the same road. We soon drove past the white supernatural shell of the Allianz Arena. I was all eyes. It looked superb. I was reminded how far out of the city it is, though; it follows the old American model of being located right on the outskirts of the city. After only five more minutes, we came out of a tunnel on the inner city ring road and the iconic roof of the 1972 Olympic Stadium was in view. Way back in 1977, the only thing I remember of that coach trip was the sighting, late at night, of those flowing lines of the roof which connects the sports hall, the swimming pool and the main stadium. I had watched the 1972 Olympics of Mark Spitz and Mary Peters, the 1974 World Cup of Gerd Muller and Paul Breitner; the sight of the stadium made me gulp in 1977. It made me gulp in 2012, too. I love this stadium, although it is now considered out-dated, with its canopy roof, based on Bedouin tents. Of course, a few hundred yards north, several Israeli athletes had been killed during the siege in that Olympics.

My first real visit to Munich took place in the summer of 1985 during my first traipse around Europe as a backpacking student. The most vivid memory from that stay was my visit to the nearby Dachau concentration camp; the three hours I spent there were both surreal and shocking, the scale of the camp was awful and the photographs will be etched on my mind forever. The four or five Chelsea fans I saw in Barcelona singing about Spurs and Auschwitz and grunting “seig heils” should be forced to visit Dachau and to feel the pain that I felt on that blisteringly hot August day 27 years ago. On that visit to Munich, I also visited the Olympic Park in the northern suburbs; it was wonderful to see up close those wonderful iconic roofs and the towering pylons. It remains one of the most amazing and aesthetically pleasing stadiums I have ever visited. I would soon be returning in 1987 on two separate adventures.

The first time was with two mates for Oktoberfest in late September; what a crazy night that turned out to be. Suffice to say, two friends and I caught a late night (very late night) train to Hamburg to get some “free sleep” only to wake up at around 8am with the train still in Munich. I still haven’t worked out the reasons for that, but I suspect the ever hospitable Germans had simply laid on that train as additional sleeping quarters for the hundreds of backpackers sleeping in the train station that night.

Later that autumn, I returned. After I left college, I part-paid for several trips around Europe by train by selling British football badges at stadia in Italy. I also sold around 60 at this very same Olympic stadium in Munich on a frosty day in November of that year. However, I did not have the required “reisegewerbekarte” (street traders’ license) and so was arrested by the local police. I was taken down into a police cell deep in the bowels of the main stand, sharing it with a neo-Nazi Bayern fan. I had made around £80 that afternoon and the police fined me £75. However, I think one of the police took pity on me (it was a classic case of “good cop, bad cop”) and he let me in to see the game for free. The game was Bayern Munich vs. Bayer Uerdingen and it happened to be Mark Hughes’ first ever game during his loan spell from Barcelona. I left the stadium £5 up on the day, my tail between my legs but with my third ever European game under my belt.

It was clear that the weather in Munich was going to be sensational. Outside, we spotted the occasional Chelsea fan, but the ratio was 50-1 in favour of Bayern. We alighted at the central train station – the Hauptbanhof – and soon deposited our bags in the left-luggage lockers; hotels could wait. I was last in the train station in 1990 after a great night at the Oktoberfest.

Glenn and I caught a cab to the Paulaner beer hall a mile or two to the south where several friends had just arrived. Our plan was to avoid the madding crowds of the central area – long lines at the bar, possible aggro – and stay under the shade of some trees in the beer garden of this old-fashioned drinking establishment. Daryl had even reserved us a table on the Thursday. We stayed here from 12.45pm to 7pm. It was simply magical.

Glenn and I joined the others; Alan, Gary, Neil, Daryl, Simon, Ed and Milo.

Blossom from the surrounding trees was falling on our little party and ended up in our glasses of honey-coloured beer, like petals from heaven. We chatted, joked and laughed for over six hours; it was, of course, the best pre-match ever. Moscow in 2008 was grim and inhospitable, the locals unwelcoming, the weather too. Munich, in contrast, was the complete opposite. The sun was warm, the sky blue. The beer was sensational. The city was the ultimate party town, the ideal venue for a Champions League Final. The smooth beer, 3.60 euros a go, was not too expensive either. At around 2.30pm we all had some food; for me, it was pork knuckle, potato dumplings and cold cabbage salad. It was so gorgeous that Glenn helped himself to it too, the git.

The chat was varied; internal politics at Chelsea and the scrum for tickets, the potential new stadium at Battersea, the antics of Gary, the increasingly inebriated Glenn. We toasted Parky – the absent friend – and he sent through a few texts as the afternoon progressed. It was the European away debuts for Ed and Milo – the Under Fives – and what a day for them.

But Alan was the star of the show, as so often is the case. He treated us to his usual arrangement of comic impersonations. Firstly, Richie Benaud, Michael Holding, David Lloyd – the cricket commentators – describing the antics of Gary the previous night. Then, Didier Deschamps as Rain Man –

“Oh yeah…I play Wednesdays…I play Wednesdays…Champions League is Wednesdays…oh yeah. No – not Thursdays…Spurs play Thursdays…they play Thursdays. Oh no – Malouda – OH NO OH NO!”

And then – his finest hour.

Alan as Frank Sinclair’s mother, talking about the time her son scored at Coventry City and promptly pulled his shorts down in celebration, spoken in Jamaican patois.

“My boy Franklin. He call me on the phone and tell me to watch the TV. He score a goal and he walk around bearing his backside. Oh my. I tell him I will lick his backside, for sure, bringing disgrace on the family like dat.”

By this time we were all roaring. We’ve heard this routine twenty times but every time it gets better and every time the tears start rolling.

On the coach, Glenn and I had been talking about Kraftwerk and their songs “Autobahn” and “The Model.” He played “The Model” on his iPhone and we imparted a little musical knowledge to the youngsters. Ironic really, since Depeche Mode often accompany me on my travels around England following Chelsea. In the heart of Bavaria, we loved hearing the electro beats from 1982 which no doubt inspired The Boys From Basildon.

“She’s a model and she’s looking good.”

Alan immediately provided the Munich 2012 version –

“Gal’s a model and he’s looking good. He loves his main course and he loves his pud.”

Ah – pudding. Four of us had a dessert of apple strudel. Bloody gorgeous.

The time was moving on. Talk of the football game was minimal though. I briefly mentioned that I wanted Torres to start but Daryl had heard whispers that Ryan Bertrand would be playing wide left. This surprised me I must say. That came out of left field. At around 5pm, I had a special visitor. My former workmate Michaela, and her partner Paul, had cycled the 20 miles from their home just to the north of the Allianz Arena to spend some time with us. Michaela worked with me in Chippenham from 2003 to 2007, but had been back home in Bavaria since then. It was lovely to see her again. There had been a call for the natives to dress in red and white on this most special day. Although they weren’t Bayern fans, they were suitably attired; Michaela in red, Paul in white. I spoiled things, of course; I was in blue.

A few of us – I forget who – ended the session with a solitary vodka schnapps.

It was time to move.

It was about 7pm and we walked north to the Goethe Platz U-bahn station. It was at this stage that I noticed Glenn was wobbling all over the gaff. He was impersonating a baby deer. The beer had clearly got to him. I passed over his match ticket and begged him to keep it safe. The streets were eerily quiet actually. Maybe the entire population of Munich were now ensconced in the central bars and the viewing parties around the city. Our subway train arrived and we piled on. With each passing stop, more and more fans squeezed on. We had been told that the journey was only around 20 minutes in length, but it actually took about an hour. We were pressed up against each other and it was pretty uncomfortable. At Marienplatz, the platform was awash with blue and red shirts. Inside our carriage, Chelsea outnumbered Bayern and we began singing a few Chelsea classics, just to let them know who we were.

At a few more stops, fans got more and more agitated as the space inside the carriage lessened. One parent cried out for space as a child appeared to be getting crushed. It was not pleasant. We had avoided the central area, so we had no idea how many Chelsea were in town. I sent out a few texts to a few friends, but our paths did not cross. The train moved slowly north, agonisingly stopping for minutes on end at more than one stop. The heat was sapping my energy. What I’d do for one last beer.

Eventually, we reached the final stop at Frottmaning. We assembled the troops together and ascended the steps. It seemed Chelsea fans were in the ascendancy. We were making all of the noise, singing all the songs. Some of the Bayern fans were ludicrously attired in lederhosen and denim waistcoats (very Stretford End 1977 as any Scouser will tell you) and I vented some scorn on them.

Ahead, the brilliant white shell of the Allianz Arena was way in the distance.

It was time for the long walk to immortality.




Tales From The Rock-Steady Beat Of Madness

Chelsea vs. Manchester City : 12 December 2011.

From a long way out, the Monday evening game with unbeaten Manchester City always felt like a big game on a big night. Our uplifting victories over Newcastle United and Valencia, plus the absence of a game for six days, only heightened my sense of anticipation. Two formerly under-achieving clubs, now enjoying a much more prosperous time. Two moneyed clubs heading for a showdown. It felt good.

With Manchester City going on such a tear this season, I could not help thinking back to our championship in 2004-2005. There are certain similarities, of that nobody can deny. And I wondered if we could inflict on City the same sort of wound on them that City inflicted on us. Think back to October 2004 and a single Nicolas Anelka goal gave City a 1-0 win at Eastlands. It was to be our only defeat throughout that entire league campaign.

During the day, I was upbeat about the match and told a few people that I felt that we would win. I could feel it in my heart. I could feel it in my bones. I could even visualise it in my head.

Parky and I had a new travelling companion for this game. Simon works in Bath for my company’s client Herman Miller. He drove over to the Chippenham warehouse and offices in the afternoon in order to enable us to get away dead on 4pm. We made better time than usual on the drive east. The weather was OK, the roads relatively free of heavy traffic. I cut the recent three hour trip by 30 minutes and we were inside The Goose just after 6.30pm. We joined up with the usual assortment of mates at the end of the bar. Andy was there with his father; a nice treat for them both. A few handshakes with the boys and I then looked down at the table. And there he was –

It was a quarter to seven and Rob was tucking in to a fry-up. It was his match-day breakfast.

Old habits die hard, eh?

With the game kicking off at 8pm, the three of us from the shires of Somerset and Wiltshire had a full 45 minutes of pre-match reverie. The Goose was packed with loads of familiar faces. Two pints of lager for me. They left me rather light-headed and I knew that I had to stop there. The vibes were good, the pub was boisterous. But then I saw City’s team flashed up on the nearby TV screen and their forward line made me stop in my tracks.

Silva, Aguero, Balotelli.


We were in for a tough one.

However, I was certainly happy with our team and, for once, AVB chose exactly the same team that I would have. Significantly, Romeu was in and Lampard was on the bench. The times they are-a-changing.

Just as I put my jacket back on, Alan asked me –

“Did you realise you are wearing a sky blue cap?”

To be honest, I hadn’t realised the significance of my light blue Hackett cap, adorned with the badge of the Chelsea Supporters Group. It is my favourite cap at the moment – it fits well – and the fact that I was wearing the colours of our opponents had completely slipped my mind.

Simon and I headed off down the North End Road, leaving His Lordship to finish swilling the last of his lager. As we walked past the tube, past the CFCUK stall, the wind whistled around our ears, fallen leaves swirling around in circling patterns. Spectators were in a hurry, bustling along to get inside, jackets tight, scarves and caps to the fore. The familiar match day aroma of burgers and onions. The lights of the stadium beckoned us in.

Inside with a good ten minutes to spare, we could relax. Simon sat next to Alan and I. Tom, our spritely 75 year old companion, was wearing a hoody to keep himself warm and I couldn’t resist a photo. 85 year old Joe handed over a Christmas card to me; he has done so every year for the past seven years. I well remember the little message he wrote in the first of these in December 2004 –

“Chelsea will win the league this season.”

The pre-match rituals; The Liquidator, the flags, the entrance of the teams. The rain was lashing down, but we didn’t care. With everybody in place, I realised that Manchester City had only brought half of their potential allocation on this big night in SW6. This really surprised me. I could imagine the United fans, ironically watching from their Old Trafford season ticket seat on their sofa, laughing at this. United always bring three thousand, City hardly ever. Only three City flags. Poor showing, the team of Manchester.

I’m not sure why, but as this Monday night game kicked-off, I was reminded of a previous match, as I so often am. Way back in 1994, our second home game of the season was a Wednesday night game against City. I’m pretty sure they wore their famous red and black stripes in that game, too. Maybe that is why I was sent swirling back through the years. We won 3-0 that night, but what I remember most is the attendance. We were on the up, having qualified for our first European campaign in 23 years and had begun the season under Hoddle in good form. With The Bridge undergoing its long awaited rebuilding programme, the capacity was cut to around 23,000. A full house on the opening day against Norwich was followed eleven days later with a game against City. We are used to full houses these days with every game over 40,000. Gone are the days when “Guess the Gate” was such an integral part of the Chelsea match day experience. Back in the old days, we all got rather good at this.

“Poor last week, not many away fans, midweek game – I reckon 15,000.”

“Two games in a week, bit better last time – how about 17,000?”

In those days, the number of spectators present was an easy indicator of how big Chelsea was, as opposed to how big it thought it was. Back in August 1994, I was hoping that we would get over 20,000 for the City game, but was certainly preparing for a “typical Chelsea” midweek gate of 15,000. Well, I remember being immensely happy with the gate of 21,740 for that midweek game all those years ago. It was a sign that, perhaps, the momentum at our club was changing for the better.

Small details from all those years ago – it seems a different age, a different game, in some respects. Crazy, really. How both of the two clubs have enjoyed varying fortunes since 1994.

Chelsea – always improving, year on year, but with a few minor setbacks.

City – down to the old third division but now back with a vengeance.

Well, City were in sublime form during the first twenty-five minutes of the game. I wasn’t paying particularly strong attention on just two minutes – taking a photo, no doubt – when our high line was breached and Balotelli broke and rounded Cech to almost embarrassingly pass the ball into the net. This was only after two minutes and The Bridge fell silent. Out of sight, the Citizens were celebrating, but my eyes were fixed on the nonchalant shrug of Balotelli. A plastic bottle from the MHL flew past him.

City purred in the opening exchanges, finding spaces in all parts of our final third. There was a supreme fluidity to their play, with Silva at the heart. Passes were exchanged at will and Chelsea’s best was clearly not good enough. We all feared for the worst. Simon, who runs a local Saturday team, was passing comments about our defensive failings and we were lamenting our play. A Gareth Barry shot whizzed past. A Silva penalty claim was thankfully waved away.

Texts from Glenn in Frome and Steve in Philadelphia came through within ten seconds of each other saying that we had been lucky; it was a penalty and only Silva’s theatrics saved us.

Slowly, but surely – I can’t say how – we enjoyed more of the ball, more of the territory, more of the game. I guess we stood up as men and Chelsea players. Somehow, we got closer to City, we became less scared.

A delightful dribble and shimmy from the lively Daniel Sturridge, way down in front of Parky in the Shed Lower, and a dagger into the heart of the City defence.

Meireles arriving, a stab at goal, the ball crashing against the net.

What a strike – a truly dramatic moment.

We were level and the crowd, already stirring before the goal, were roaring.

A text from Michigan –

“Get the fcuk in there Meireles.”

We were getting back into the game, for sure, and the rest of the first-half was played out with growing confidence as the players fed off the support roaring from the four stands, cascading down on the team. Heartening for the Chelsea players, but disquieting for the visitors. Just before the break, the crowd were bellowing scorn on City’s Champions League exit –

“Thursday Night – Channel Five, Thursday Night – Channel Five.”

Not even the United fans at home could join in with that one.

At the break, a star from that 1994 game was on the pitch with Neil Barnett; our Russian goalkeeper Dmitri Kharine .

As Joe Hart approached the Matthew Harding, he was clapped by a few hundred fans and I realised how this old-fashioned tradition has almost died in modern day football. As Hart is an England international, I guess he is one of the few visiting goalkeepers who will warrant such a response from the Chelsea faithful.

If the first-half was eventually shared, the second period belonged to us. A Mata free kick was belted over by Sturridge from an angle, but we were enjoying much more of the ball. Romeu was closing space and tackling hard, his passing clean and intelligent. Mata was the magician, twisting like Gianfranco in his prime. One sublime piece of skill below me drew a foul from Kompany, but the free-kick was wasted.

Soon after, a run by Ramires – another player growing as the game progressed- and he drew a foul from Clichy. It was his second yellow and he was off.

The home crowd roared. Things were getting better by the minute.

It struck me that there were growing similarities to the home game with Manchester United back in March; a goal down, outclassed, an equaliser through dogged perseverance, a sending-off. I mentioned this to both Simon and Alan.

The game was brewing nicely. I kept looking at the clock and wanted the game to stir us further in the remaining 25, 20, 15 minutes.

On 72 minutes, Frank Lampard replaced the excellent Ramires and I thought back to that night in March when Frank struck a late penalty past Van de Sar. City had already taken off Aguero and Silva; they were settling for a point. This pleased me further. Their attacks were infrequent now and Chelsea were fighting for possession, though efforts on Hart’s goal were rare commodities.

Then, in a moment of play which was a blur, the fresh Lampard found Studge, whose shot struck the raised arm of Lescott. The crowd stopped to a man and all eyes centred on the referee Mark Clattenburg.

He pointed to the spot and the Stamford Bridge crowd exploded.

More thoughts of that game against United.

Frank placed the ball on the spot, retreated and the crowd waited. I held my camera steady and clicked just as Frank struck.


Straight down Broadway, straight down Regent Street.

The ball thundered past Hart and the net flew back as the white ball crashed into it.

We exploded again and I watched as Frank dived into the first few rows of the MHL. He was soon joined by his team mates down below me and I clicked away, then celebrated wildly with Alan and Simon, who I inadvertently thumped in the stomach.

Wild scenes on a wild night.

I was right about comparisons with that United game.

Again the home fans were united in voice, as that lovely old standard echoed sublimely around all four stands –

“And it’s super Chelsea. Super Chelsea FC. We’re by far the greatest team, the world has ever seen.”

I looked around in awe – it really did seem that every one of the 40,000 Chelsea fans were joining in.

What a moment. The best noise at Chelsea for years.

The rest of the game really was a blur.

The final whistle blew and we all hugged and clapped. It had been a truly thrilling game and it was oh-so enjoyable. Before I could stop and think further, the PA was ignited and these words blasted out into the dark, wet, London night –

“Hey you, don’t watch that –
Watch this!
This is the heavy heavy monster sound.
The nuttiest sound around.
So if you’ve come in off the street.
And you’re beginning to feel the heat.
Well listen buster
You better start to move your feet.
To the rockinest, rock-steady beat
Of Madness.
One Step Beyond!”


…and the Stamford Bridge stands bounced as thousands of Chelsea fans turned nutty.

What a night. We got absolutely drenched on the trudge back to the car, and the long drive home was horrible; full of rain, spray, gusts of wind, surface water.

But I didn’t care. This had been a superb night, long to be remembered in the history of our beloved club. We had stood up to the challenge and had overcome an excellent Manchester City team. More importantly, perhaps, the crowd had supported the team in a way that I thought had almost disappeared. It had been a lovely night.

Well done Chelsea.


Tales From The School End

Queens Park Rangers vs. Chelsea : 23 October 2011.

After a rather nondescript and unexciting season in 2010-2011, it certainly seems that the current campaign is trying desperately hard to make up for it. With less than ten games in, the season seems to have had more exciting games, sub-plots and talking points than last year already. This was another crazy day of football. It left us breathless. It also left us pointless, but not without a fight.

It is one of the strange anomalies of my Chelsea supporting life that I had only ever visited Loftus Road on one other previous occasion. Admittedly, we hadn’t played them in the league since the 1995-1996 season, but even so. However I then thought back about my priorities in the days when my income was at a lesser level than of late. Back in the ‘eighties and ‘nineties, I only used to go to between four and five away games each season. In those days, the temptation of an away day to Old Trafford, Anfield, Highbury or White Hart Lane was always more alluring than a trip up to the pokey confines of Loftus Road. Looking back, away games at QPR always seemed to be on Boxing Day, Easter Monday or midweek days too; more reasons which made travel from Somerset more difficult.

Yep, my only other visit to Loftus Road was on a Wednesday in the spring of 1995. I remember travelling up to London on a half-day holiday to collect away tickets for the Real Zaragoza game, but I then drove up to Shephard’s Bush for our game against QPR in the evening. As was the way in those days, Daryl and I were one of the hundreds of Chelsea fans who had tickets in the home stands. We had great seats, right in the middle of the single tiered Ellerslie Road stand, but the game was poor. We played in the atrocious – and infamous – tangerine and graphite away kit and a lone Kevin Gallen goal gave the home team a deserved win.

Sixteen years later, I was long overdue a second visit.

On a bright autumnal Sunday morning, I collected His Lordship at just before 11am. This was a pretty late start, really, but we were in no rush. We had another lovely drive up to London, stopping for yet another Costa Coffee at Reading. The high spot of the morning’s drive involved us chatting about us in thirty years time, still going to Chelsea, Parky 85 years old and myself ten years younger.

We had a few moments visualising the scene of myself, arriving at his care home, smoking a pipe – Popeye style – and shouting out at him –

“Come on you old fool, get a move on.”

And then Parky propelling himself out in a wheelchair. Both of us wearing slippers. Both of us in cardigans. Both of us as deaf as a post.

“Who are we playing?”

“Arsenal today…Spurs on Thursday.”

“Thirsty, you say? So am I. Let’s stop off for a pint.”

Getting to The Goose, Lorraine the landlady in a blue rinse, Reg the landlord still waiting for Liverpool to win the league after 50 years.

“A pint of Carling? Seventy-five quid please.”

I was crying with laughter and did well to keep the car steady.

Well, let’s hope we are all able to go to Chelsea in 2041, wherever we may be.

Yes, wherever we may be. With our game against Queens Park Rangers taking place a few miles north of The Bridge, it gave me yet more time to ponder on the CPO shenanigans of late and the likelihood of us playing at Stamford Bridge, or elsewhere in the next few decades. As I have mentioned before, this is the first time that the borough of Hammersmith & Fulham had its three teams in the top flight of English football; quite an achievement. I pondered on the landscape of football in the capital and, more pertinently, the landscape of football in West London. Although Chelsea has traditionally drawn its support from large swathes of South London and parts of West London, we are, of course, located just north of the River Thames. We are a London club, for sure, but also a club of the Home Counties, those counties which nudge against the city of London itself. But, with football, location and identity are intrinsically linked. Territory is important. Location is important. Of the options being mentioned in the infamous Chelsea / CPO proposal, the sites at Earls Court and Imperial Wharf are close to home and within walking distance of The Bridge. Battersea is obviously south of the river, but just across from the borough of Kensington & Chelsea – at a push, this would get my approval if we had to move. But, throughout these recent discussions, the Wicked Witch in all this was the site at Old Oak Common, just over three miles to the north of Stamford Bridge. And, very importantly, even further north than QPR’s stadium at Loftus Road.

Not only that, the immediate location seems to be surrounded by rail yards, dead-end streets and industrial estates. A veritable Millwall North. For Chelsea to end up playing in this awful location, miles from our traditional home, fills me with absolute dread.

And yet, for overseas fans, this must seem strange.

What’s three miles? It’s only a sport stadium. It’s still in London. What’s the big deal?

Well – it’s everything. It’s absolutely everything.

With the reappearance of Wimbledon playing in Kingston-On-Thames this season, there are fully twelve league clubs in London and our proximity to each other is so important. If you think about just the five teams in the South and West – Chelsea, Fulham, QPR, Brentford and Wimbledon – these clubs are all clustered within a radius of three or four miles. For us to be shunted north a few miles would undoubtedly alter the dynamic of our club.

With all of this heavy in my mind, I drove into the heart of Rangers territory. Up the North Circular, past Gunnersbury Park, just like my dear father used to do from 1974 to 1983. Dad hated driving in London and he always used to park at Ealing Common, away from the heavy traffic, and we would then get the tube in. I passed through Acton and we noted quite a few Kiwis with All Blacks shirts, fresh from celebrating their triumph against the French. I eventually parked up barely half a mile from Rangers Stadium.

It was a warm Sunday lunchtime and Parky and I soon found us ensconced in an old-fashioned boozer called The Orchard Tavern, just off the Uxbridge Road. Despite there being signs on the door which said “Home Supporters Only” we encountered no problems. We settled down to watch the Mancunian derby, amongst a gaggle of United fans, a few wearing replica kits. There were a few Rangers lads at the bar, and save a few hard stares from a lad with an Aquascutum scarf, there were no problems. After tons of possession in the first quarter, United imploded and the score was 3-1 when we left at about 3pm.

Fifteen minutes later, we had walked up Bloomfontein Avenue and were chatting to Alan and Bristol Tim. Tim had been drinking in one of their main pubs. There had been no trouble. We heard crazy talk that United had won 6-1, but quickly dismissed this as a silly rumour.

Then, Alan took a call from Gary and began smiling…6-1 it was.

Oh boy.

I spotted Cathy and Dog a few yards away and so I went down for a quick chat. They were amazed to hear that City had trounced United and we had a little conversation about City. To be honest, I know they are now major rivals with us, but I’ve always had a major soft spot for them. Their support has always held firm. If any team deserves a little success, under the shadows of United for so long, it’s them.

Who should be with them but Tuna – and also Joe and Michelle from Chicago, last seen in Turin. Two Americans, wearing the colours of the Chicago Bears, were also there. After a little explanation, it all clicked – they were over for the NFL game at Wembley, but sadly had to leave Loftus Road before half-time to get up to Wembley for the game.

Well – I know what I’d do. See all of the Chelsea game, then get up for the last two hours of the NFL game. Easy.

Maybe it has been a different story up in London, but there hasn’t been too much hoo-ha about the Bears vs. Bucanneers game this past week. I have no problem with America’s sports teams playing friendlies in the UK, but I loathe the idea of regular season games taking place here. You can be damned sure that the fools at the FA look at this and will revisit the odious idea of the 39th Game again in the next few years.

For the first time ever, I approached the away end at Loftus Road – the School End – and its tiny structure looked ridiculous. The whole ground, although neat and compact, seems to resemble a Subutteo stadium. Once inside, there is no room to breath. Gary, Alan and I were in the upper tier – £55, the most I have ever paid for a normal league game – while Parky was down below.

Loftus Road only holds 18,500 and it only ever used to hold around 23,000 back in the ‘eighties. Back in those days, Chelsea would swamp the home areas and virtually take over the entire stadium.

That man from 1995, Kevin Gallen, was down below, reminiscing with the very excitable public-address announcer about previous games with us. I’m surprised that the infamous 6-0 shellacking from 1986 wasn’t mentioned to be honest. For the immediate period before the entrance of the teams, the PA was pumping very loud music at us and I longed for the days when fans made their own entertainment before games began, the atrmosphere bubbling, the noise rising each minute. These days, the noise is enforced upon us from above.

“London Calling” (our song, damn it – Joe Strummer was a Chelsea fan) gave way to “Pigbag” and the teams eventually entered the pitch.

But I couldn’t help but notice lots of empty seats in the main stand to my left. This was their biggest game for 15 years and they couldn’t even sell 16,000 seats.


Oh boy, I was concerned that Mr. PA Guy was going to explode, such was his excitement of his beloved Rs playing Chelsea. He could hardly contain himself.

“Come on you SUPER-HOOPS.”


Above us, the sky was pristine blue and the patch of sun on the pitch contrasted strongly to the areas of shadow to my right. The two spindly floodlight pylons at the other end – The Loft – gave the stadium even more of an appearance of a model kit. It took a while for the home fans to get behind their team and I thought our support, split over two tiers, sometimes struggled too.

My mate Alan commented –

“It seems like a game from the second division. From the ‘eighties.”

I’m not going to dwell too much on the game. I thought that, apart from Sturridge and Mata, we got out of the blocks slowly and Rangers’ midfielders seemed to be first to all of the loose balls.

I have to be honest, I thought that David Luiz’ challenge which lead to the early penalty was a stupid piece of football. It was rash and clumsy. You have to give the referee no excuse to award a foul once you get your body inside the penalty area.

And again, I’ll be honest; I did see the Bosingwa tug which lead to his sending off, though I wasn’t convinced that John Terry could not have covered.

And Drogba’s sending off was just an awful tackle.

By this stage, the Rangers support was in ecstasy and I suspected that PA Man had simultaneously combusted somewhere.

We were down to nine men and we were struggling to maintain any foothold in the game.

Oh hell.

But – what a second-half performance.

It was with growing pride that I looked on from row F of the upper tier as the Chelsea players down below me rose to the challenge of being not one, but two players down. Villas-Boas made the changes and the final nine did themselves proud. I was convinced that we would get a goal.

A Lampard header.

An Anelka header.

Anelka played through but he decided not to shoot, the ball instead coming out for Luiz to attempt an overhead kick which Lamps touched over.

A John Terry shot over.

And then the awful refereeing decisions – the grab on Luiz, not helped by his accentuated fall, and the fouls on lamps and JT.

A few breaks at the other end and Petr Cech kept us in it.

Tons of Chelsea possession – they did us proud.

Five minutes of extra time…COME ON!

But no – QPR held on, the irritating gits.

At the final whistle, the Chelsea fans roared our thanks for the team’s proud performance and John Terry, Ashley Cole, Frank Lampard and David Luiz walked down to the away end to thank the travelling two thousand for our support. I watched John Terry point at all of us, pat his chest (his trademark) and then dismiss the muppets in the other three stands with a derisory flick of his palms. The Chelsea fans roared. Us and them together.


Outside, there were around five police vans parked alongside South Africa Road as we descended the steps, still disbelieving that we hadn’t scored. I met up with Tuna, Joe and Michelle and I wished them well on their travels back to the US. The police moved us along and I then walked around to meet up with Parky. The home fans were buzzing, but we had seen it all before. It had seemed like a day from another era all of the way through and here we all were once again, the victims of those jumped-up Herberts from Shephards Bush once more.

The more things change, the more they stay the same, eh?

Still, as always, Parky and I had enjoyed being part of it. Even in defeat, we’d rather be part of the rich Chelsea matchday experience than being sat at home on our sofas.

Or being a United fan – that definitely helped us cope on the drive home.

What a crazy game.

What a crazy day.


Tales From Juan Mata’s Debut

Chelsea vs. Norwich City : 27 August 2011.

As I left work on Friday, I heaved a deep sigh of relief. Another week over, but with a three day Bank Holiday Weekend coming up.

The patterns of work and play are so entrenched aren’t they? We toil for five days and then the weekends are “our time.” Back when I was growing up, though, there was always a big difference between Saturdays and Sundays. Saturdays were always pleasurable. Throughout my childhood, Saturdays were days of sheer joy and were always based around football. Watching the football previews on “Grandstand” and “World of Sport” on Saturday lunchtimes, playing football in the local recreation ground, watching the village team, playing for my school, then nervously awaiting for the football results to come through on the “vidiprinter” on “Grandstand” at my grandparents’ cottage at 4.40pm. My Dad would come home from work at 5.30pm and his first words to me were always based on the Chelsea result.

He used to work in a menswear shop in Frome and, although he was never a massive football fan, he would always listen to the second half commentary on Radio Two. These were the days of those wonderful commentators Peter Jones and Bryon Butler. Dad would burst through the front door and say –

“I see Chelsea did well then.”

“Left it late, didn’t they?”

“Lucky today, weren’t they?”

There would then be a long wait throughout Saturday evening – through editions of “Doctor Who”, “It’s A Knockout”, “Kojak” – until the tedious “Nine O’Clock News” gave way to the undoubted highlight of any weekend “Match of the Day.” In the ‘seventies, we only had extended highlights of two league games each Saturday night. Chelsea would be featured around 6 or 7 times each season, or only a 3 or 4 when we played in the second tier. Of course, this is radically different to these days.

Saturdays tended to more enjoyable than Sundays. Sundays were always more staid. Church in the morning, a family meal at lunchtime, tedious visits to relatives in the afternoon, another church service in the evening, then the ultra-boring Sunday evening with Dad listening to classical music on the radio, with the fear of school on the Monday. The only respite was the London-based “Big Match” programme, with Brian Moore, at 2pm and Chelsea were always featured more often on this show.

I can still hear Brian Moore’s voice as he began the programme with the welcome smile of a trusted and amiable schoolteacher. Whenever Chelsea were involved, there always seemed to be an extra twinkle in his eye.

After my lukewarm feelings to the home opener last week against West Brom, I was back to my normal levels of enthusiasm for the game with Norwich City. I drove over to collect Parky and we wasted no time getting ourselves up to London. Maybe the years of listening to Dad’s classical music has eventually rubbed off as we listened to a Proms CD which contained a few classical standards, including Elgar’s “Pomp & Circumstance” and Blake’s “Jerusalem.”

As I drove between Swindon and Reading we belted out a few lyrics –

“And did those feet in ancient time
Walk upon England’s mountains green?
And was the holy Lamb of God
On England’s pleasant pastures seen?

And did the countenance divine
Shine forth upon our clouded hills?
And was Jerusalem builded here
Among these dark satanic mills?

Bring me my bow of burning gold.
Bring me my arrows of desire.
Bring me my spear : Oh clouds unfold.
Bring me my chariot of fire.

I will not cease from mental fight,
Nor shall my sword sleep in my hand.
Till we have built Jerusalem,
In England’s green & pleasant Land.”

We were parked up on Chesson Road just after 11am and it was a warm and sunny morning in Chelsealand. We made our way to the café and I had my first Full English brekkie of the season. The owners are from Myanmar, adjacent to Thailand, and I had a little chat about my trip in the summer. San Francisco Bob was over for the game and he joined us for a coffee before we decamped to the familiar confines of The Goose.

Thankfully Reg and Lorraine were back this week and helped restore some calm to the manic activity behind the bar.

Lagers were guzzled as more and more mates arrived. The main topic of conversation was the Champions League group phase fixtures which had been announced on Thursday. My plans were cemented on Friday afternoon when I booked a flight to Cologne. This will enable me to watch our game against Bayer Leverkusen on Wednesday 23rd. November. An extra bonus is that I am staying with my Italian friend Mario, who I first met on an Italian beach in the summer of 1975. He now lives in Bergisch Gladbach, just 10 miles away from Leverkusen. After meeting up with my other Italian mate Tullio for the Juve game in Turin in 2009, this gives me a chance to complete another on my lifetime wish list, to watch a Chelsea game with Mario.

A few other mates – the usual suspects, Rob, Alan, Gary, Daryl and Neil – are also going to Leverkusen. I do like travelling to Germany for football, having previously seen us in Stuttgart, Bremen and Gelsenkirchen.

The First Transatlantic Lacoste Watch Of The Season.

Bob – bon bon.
JR – pink.

I was in a light pink Henri Lloyd, so pink was definitely the order of the day. Additionally, San Francisco Bob had brought over a strawberry Lacoste for Rob from an outlet in Gilroy, California. I can’t remember the exact cost-saving, but it was pretty formidable. Lacoste polos can cost up to £75 a pop in the UK. We were joined again by Texas Wes, who was able to pick up Glenn’s seat ticket next to myself in The Sleepy Hollow. He was wearing a black polo, in case anyone is wondering. We learned that we were paired with Fulham in the League Cup and everyone was totally unenthused. There are dull cup draws and there are dull cup draws. This one redefines the term. Yawn.

Despite my best plans to get to my seat in time for the kick-off, I was beset with delays when one of the five turnstiles into the Matthew Harding Upper Tier decided not to work. I eventually reached my seat at about 3.03pm.

The news was that AVB had decided to go with Malouda, Drogba and Torres upfront.

Although we had another sudden rain shower while we were in the pub, the sun was shining as the game went through its first opening minutes. Norwich City had brought down a healthy 3,000 and they were soon getting behind their team. I’ve been aware of a new song this season and after a little research, it seems that Celtic –amongst others – have introduced Depeche Mode’s “Just Can’t Get Enough” into the terrace lexicon. And Norwich were singing this too.

I think we, as Chelsea fans, have missed a trick here. DM’s Dave Gahan and Andy Fletcher are big Chelsea fans and this should be our song.

Still, we won’t nick it. Or at least, I hope we won’t.

When the ball was played square to Jose Bosingwa after just five minutes, more than a few fellow fans around me yelled “shoooot!” Jose teed the ball up and then let fire with his right foot. From my seated position in the MHU, I was right behind the trajectory of Bosingwa’s exocet strike. I almost expected the ball to veer off at the last minute, but the ball remained true and it didn’t drift or curve at all. It was a pure strike. What a goal.

It was noticeable that during the first-half virtually all of the away fans were stood, while I noted that the Shed Lower were standing up too. I easily spotted Bob in the second row of that section, his bright shirt easily visible amongst a sea of blue.

After a nice start, Norwich got back into the game and often threatened Hilario’s goal, but our Portuguese ‘keeper was solid and fended off any attacks. At the other end, our chances were rare and the Drogba / Torres partnership wasn’t firing on all cylinders. The noise levels in the home sections were predictably low and the Norwich fans were making all the noise. Yellow shirts were out in force in the SE corner of The Bridge, but I noted one central block which housed hardly any yellow-clad fans. I presumed that this was the Norwich City executive / complimentary tickets section. It stuck out like a thumb.

Of course, we have rarely met Norwich over the years and, with the August sun shining, I soon remembered a previous visit some 17 summers ago. On the opening game of the 1994-1995 season, we met Norwich City and easily dispatched them 2-0. This game was notable more for the changes to the stadium which had taken throughout that summer. The Shed had been razed to the ground and a temporary stand had taken its place. A few of us had bought tickets in that temporary stand and it was quite amazing to be – at last! – so close to the action at a Chelsea home game. It was a wonderful feeling. It gave us all a little glimpse of how magnificent the new stadium’s acoustics would be if it was ever to be completed. At the other end, the North Stand was slowly rising and all of us daydreamed of how noisy a tight and compact new Stamford Bridge would be. That temporary South Stand was a riot of noise and venom on that day in 1994 and it saddens me to report how those ideals of Chelsea fervent fanaticism have simply faded away over the subsequent 17 years. On that day, around 1,500 Norwich City fans were in the East Lower. And I suspect we hardly heard them the entire day.


John Terry came close with a header from a corner which was cleared off the line right on the half-time whistle. But chances were rare. One Drogba free-kick hit a seat in the Shed Upper which was around thirty yards from the goal.

Quite an achievement.

Things were far from convincing. Although Hilario didn’t appear too troubled, Norwich City hadn’t arrived simply to defend. The mood was of uncertainty at the break. At least Alan was entertaining Wes with a variety of his tried and tested accents, from good ole Southern homeboy to Sarf London wide boy.

Out on the pitch, our reserves did a lap of honour with their 2010-2011 championship trophy.


Into the second half and a chance from John Terry – another header which was blocked. With my camera centered on the entertaining antics of our new manager – crouching one minute, standing and gesticulating the next – I missed the deep cross and the subsequent balls-up between Hilario and Ivanovic. I looked as Holt – always a handful – hooked the ball back towards the Shed End goal. Our captain’s despairing lunge was too late. They had equalised and the away end bubbled away like a boiling saucepan of custard.

There – that’s the Deliah Smith reference accounted for.

On 63 minutes, a delightful cross from the quiet Torres was played into Didier Drogba, who headed the ball over just before he was clattered by the Norwich ‘keeper. We screamed for a penalty, but then grew more and more concerned as our number eleven lay completely still. After ages, he was stretchered off, to be replaced by Anelka and we wondered how severe his injuries would be. At the same time, new boy Juan Mata replaced Florent Malouda. He buzzed around and looked as keen as mustard (oh dear, another Norwich reference, sorry.)

However, Norwich still caused a threat and only a last-ditch tackle from a magnificent John Terry robbed them of a great goal-scoring chance. Norwich always looked a threat, but JT was heavily involved in thwarting their attacks. Mata had a lovely little feint and jink to go past his marker before sending over an inch-perfect cross right onto Torres’ forehead. However, more frustration for the boy from Fuenlabrada and his effort did not trouble Ruddy. Soon after, we had a lovely break from deep. Juan Mata flicked the ball to Nicolas Anelka and he played in a surging Ramires. The whole of the stadium held their breath as our little Brazilian sprinted towards the box. A poke past Ruddy, but down he went.


Well, we couldn’t believe how long the referee waited before he pointed to the spot. Deep yelps of joy from us all.

Phew. Ruddy was then sent-off and we waited and waited for Frank to eventually place the ball on the spot as the replacement custodian took his place in goal.

Thwack. Straight down Broadway.

2-1 to Chelsea and Frank points to the heavens.

Immediately after the goal, we warmed to the appearance of Romelu Lukaku who replaced El Nino. He looked impressive during the rest of the game. It is too much of a cliché to compare the lad to Didier Drogba, but he certainly looks strong and mobile. If the manager keeps everyone (he only has a few days to change things), what an array of attacking talent we have, eh? His first chance was a header – always stretching – which went wide. He also had a bustling run and a shot which was partially saved, but the ball bobbled too far for Lampard to strike. After the Didier injury, we were awarded a massive 11 minutes extra time. Then an incredible miss from Branislav Ivanovic. How his towering leap and downward header never even hit the target was a mystery for all of us.

In the last moment of a strange game, Chelsea pressure in the far corner resulted in a poor pass which was ably intercepted by new boy Mata. He quickly controlled the ball, took a touch, and dispatched it under the diving body of the hapless ‘keeper.

Oh yes. He enjoyed that. We all enjoyed that. I caught his joyous leap on film and, as he was swamped by his delirious team mates, a fan in the East Lower unfurled the red and yellow of a Spanish flag. It was a perfect moment in fact. As we made our way out, we all agreed it had been a far from perfect performance from us and Frank was again very quiet. We could hardly believe it when somebody confirmed that we were now top. What a joke! Top of the league? Surely somebody somewhere is having a laugh.

Bob, Parky and me met at the Ossie statue and then made our way to The Finborough for drinks and on to Salvo’s for pizza. On the walk past the Fox & Pheasant, I bought a new Chelsea T-shirt (“Keep Calm & Support Chelsea”) and then Dave Johnstone thrust three copies of “CFCUK” into our hands.

The pizza at Salvo’s again went down well and it was a lovely end to a typical Chelsea Saturday. While Parky and I headed back towards Wiltshire and Somerset, Bob retraced his steps and joined in the post-game fun with a few friends on the Kings Road and then with a couple of terrace legends in The Elm, that hard-nosed boozer opposite his hotel on the North End Road. Song of the night on the drive home was “Up The Junction” by Squeeze and we sang along to that one, too. I got home at 10.15pm and there it was, waiting for me like an old friend…

“Match of the Day.”

We were the first game featured – a sure sign that the game was entertaining – but I soon lost interest after our match.

Apparently some other team leap-frogged us at the top of the table.



Tales From Planet Chelsea

Chelsea vs. Newcastle United : 15 May 2011.

On the Saturday evening, I met up with two of my oldest friends for a few pints and a curry in Frome. I’ve known Pete since our paths crossed in my first ever “proper” football game in autumn 1974 and I’ve known Adie since 1978, when we both played for the school team. Talk was of various memories from schooldays, current news and updates, but football undoubtedly dominated our conversation. Pete supports United, Adie supports Leeds. They love their football, but they don’t touch my levels of devotion. That’s not me being boastful – that’s just the way it is. Neither Pete nor Adie have been to Old Trafford or Elland Road; they still admire the game, but – I guess – don’t buy into the tribal nature of the game. This is the aspect that I find most appealing of all. Take away that and football becomes just a sport.

I think they regard me as some kind of Chelsea obsessive and I guess they are right. Amongst my Chelsea mates – Daryl, Gary, Alan, Andy, Neil, Glenn, Simon – I’m just normal, though. Just one of the lads. One of the team.

Pete and I always have a laugh when we are together, but our friendship was tested in 2005 when the phrase “you bought the title” was used by Pete. I got a bit defensive and we batted many emails back and forth over that summer. We’re the very best of mates though – football won’t get in the way of that. At the Indian restaurant, we raised our pints of Kingfisher lager and I congratulated him on Manchester United’s title.

Adie is more laid back in his support of Leeds. He exudes calmer character traits and I am sure he would be amazed at how wound up and passionate I get at Chelsea games. He’ll see it in the flesh over the summer, though, as he will be with me in Bangkok for our game on July 28th. Adie has been living in Thailand since 1996 and – at last – I am going to be able to take him up on his offer to visit him. We had briefly run through my itinerary at the bar before Pete arrived and I promised to call in on him with guide books and maps for a fuller discussion of my holiday over the forthcoming week or so. He was heading back to Chiang Mai, his current home in northern Thailand, at the end of May.

At 11pm, I left them drinking in the ultra-posh “Archangel” pub in Frome’s historic town centre and I headed home; I had a drive to London on Sunday and needed some sleep.

Chelsea vs. Newcastle United – always an evocative game for me. My first ever Chelsea game was against The Geordies way back in 1974. 836 games later, we were to meet again. This would be my 29th Chelsea vs. Newcastle United game (and we’ve lost just three times), a fixture second only to the visit of Liverpool (34 games). Despite our loss to them in the League Cup last autumn, we have a phenomenal record against them. You have to go way back to 1986 for the last time that Chelsea lost to the Geordies in the league at home. Since then, the goals have rattled in. Oh boy. There have been some lovely highlights over the years, in fact.

October 1980.

I travelled up with my father, his former boss, and my two school friends Pete (yes, him again) and Kev (a Spurs fan.) We were mired in the old second division, but were beginning to find some form. On a memorable afternoon, Chelsea walloped the previously fancied Geordies 6-0, with Colin Lee nabbing three. My two mates, only seeing their second or third football games, were suitably impressed with the whole day; the East stand seats, close to the action, the noise of The Shed, the size of the old stadium and the attacking verve of that Chelsea team, which included the two flying wingers Peter Rhoades-Brown and Phil Driver. I remember that I had written in to the Chelsea match day DJ Pete Owen for a record request as a mark of thanks for my father who had been so kind to drive me up for my allotted “two games per season” since 1974. My mate Pete was suitably impressed when Pete Owen prefaced my request with the words “and now a request from one of our regulars, Chris Axon.” My mother would usually write in to Pete Owen’s “Pre-Match Spin” on our visits and it was a common occurrence for me to hear my name being read out at Chelsea. For a kid of ten or eleven, imagine the thrill of that. It brings back goose bumps now, to be honest. Lovely memories.

On the Saturday night, at the curry house, Pete had spoken about an instance from that game in fact. We had seats in the East lower, right behind the Newcastle bench. Towards the end of the game, with us scoring at will, the Chelsea crowd were giving the Newcastle manager, Arthur Cox, some stick. Amongst the hoopla, Pete began shouting –

“Cox out! Cox out!

After a micro-second, he realised what he was saying and glanced across to see if my father had heard. I suspect he had, but I suspect he had a little chuckle to himself and let it pass. I always remember thinking that Pete had enjoyed himself so much that he might have turned his affections towards us. I remember him saying, rather sheepishly –

“Nah, United are my team, but I’ll have a soft spot for Chelsea, with them playing in the second division…they’ll be my second team.”

I should have asked Pete if he still feels that same way.

April 1995.

Before our game with Newcastle United, my friend Glenn was presented with his CPO certificate by none other than Dennis Wise. I was allowed into the tunnel area to watch and it was fantastic to be down in that most sacred of areas. I remember Dennis was either suspended or injured at the time, so he wasn’t kitted out. We had to assemble down by the tunnel at about 2.30pm and, while we were waiting, we found ourselves right next to the Newcastle manager Kevin Keegan. Even though it was close to kick-off, he was more than happy to pose for a quick photograph with me and it was a brilliant moment. Growing up in the ‘seventies, Keegan was a big hero of mine. Then, Dennis Wise appeared and chatted to Glenn for a few moments before Neil Barnett called us forward and Glenn strode out onto the pitch. Another lad from Frome being announced on the PA. Another brilliant memory. After that, the day was a bit of a blur. We quickly dashed around to join up with some mates in the North stand and saw the two teams eke out a dull 1-1 draw. But some nice memories of the pre-match for sure.

November 1995.

Newcastle were unbeaten and flying high, playing some scintillating football with players such as Les Ferdinand, David Ginola and Peter Beardsley in the team. They were at the top of the table and firing on all cylinders. We were just changing to a wing-back system with new signings Terry Phelan and Dan Petrescu filling the wide positions. This was a brilliant game of football and new signing Dan Petrescu gave us a deserved win with a bullet at the North stand end. We were watching in the temporary seats at the South end and the place was rocking. It was a fantastic Chelsea performance, but the best was to come after the game had ended. In 1994, a book called “Blue Is The Colour” was written by Khadija Buckland, a native of West London, now living in Chippenham. Glenn and myself got to know her via her friendship with Ron Harris (in those days, we always used to call in on Ron at his pub in Warminster after games at Chelsea) and, after a while, we arranged to take Khadija up to Chelsea so she could sell her book in the executive areas of the East stand. Anyway, to cut to the chase, as a reward for taking her up, she had arranged for Glenn, my Geordie mate Pete and me to gain entrance to the players’ bar after the game with Newcastle. We shuffled around by the entrance to the tunnel and waited by a door. I remember that pop star Robbie Williams quickly left the bar and we were then escorted in by Khadija.

Wow. Talk about the inner sanctum.

In a small room behind the old changing rooms (which I am sure no longer exists, what with the enlarging of the home dressing room area), we stood at the cosy bar, while Dennis Wise, his girlfriend and mother were chatting in a small group. A few players flitted in and out. I always remember Mark Hughes; arriving quietly, standing at the bar alone, silently sipping a lager. I went over to ask him to sign the programme and I was genuinely awestruck.

Some very special memories.

May 2011.

After swerving to avoid a pheasant and then a deer as I sped out of my sleepy Somerset village, I collected Glenn and Parky and we were on our way. There was sadness in the air due to this being our last pilgrimage to SW6 of the season, but also a shared joy of being able to travel up together, have a laugh, have a chat, have a giggle. Glenn and I had recently been out for a few beers around Frome too and one of the bars which we frequented – “The Old Bath Arms” – had a very special guest a few days ago. Johnny Depp has bought a house in the town – OK, just outside – and he had called in for a quiet pint. Apparently, a local ended up explaining the “leg before wicket” rule in cricket and I would have like to have witnessed that.

“Sorry, man, say that slower.”

By 11.30am, we had joined up with Cathy, Dog, Rob, Daryl, Neil and Alan in the beer garden of The Goose. Cokes for me, lager for the boys. Photos of the lads – one last glorious photocall for the season. A classic array of Fred Perry, Fila, Lacoste, Hackett, Napapijri and Ben Sherman. In the background, a few supporters were sporting the new Chelsea shirt and we didn’t have many positives to say about it. Too much white, too busy, why bother?

I had a chat with Cathy about our plans for Thailand and Malaysia. Only two months to go now; can’t wait.

The Snappy Dressers.

Neil – royal blue.
Lord Parky – purple.
Chris – mint green.

It was a usual pre-match and for those of you who have witnessed The Goose, you’ll know that it was laden with jokes and laughter.

With the news that Rangers were three up at Killie after just five minutes of play, we clinked a few glasses. Though I am way less enthusiastic than in the past, Rangers always get my approval in Scotland. Rangers were “my Scottish team” as a child, though if I am honest, Dundee United certainly came into my affections in the early ‘eighties due to the fact that several ex-Chelsea players went on to play for them (Peter Bonetti, Jim Docherty, Eamonn Bannon, Ian Britton) and the fact that I had a crush on a girl from Dundee while on holiday in Italy in 1979.

Carla B. – where are you now?

We made our way to Stamford Bridge for the last time this season. All the usual sights we know so well. To be honest, there weren’t too many fans wearing the new shirts. I still can’t believe that the club has the audacity to change the kit every bloody season.

The big news was that young Josh was starting his very first league game. I noted plenty of empty seats in The Shed Upper, even though the game was a “sell-out.” The 1,500 Newcastle fans were in good voice, but that’s no surprise. They are a good set of lads. I well remember during that 1995-1996 season, they were everybody’s favourite second team and it actually hurt when they imploded and handed the title to the hated Manchester United. Since then, I’ve grown less fond of them, due to their rather lofty opinions of themselves, but – generally speaking – as a few friends have said, I’d rather spend a few hours with a Geordie, rather than a cocky Mancunian or a sneaky Scouser. They don’t take themselves too seriously and I quite like that.

I won’t dwell too much on the game as we all know that it was sub-standard fare. Frank’s corner, for once whipped in with just the right amount of venom, was ably glanced on by the forehead of Torres and Brana nimbly volleyed in past Krul.

I knew what was coming –

“They’ll have to come at wu’now.”

“Come on wor little diamonds, like.”

Josh – playing quite deep – played some lovely balls in behind the Newcastle full back for Ashley Cole to run onto. This is clearly going to be his trademark ball. I look forward to seeing it more and more next season. Just after I made the comment to Alan that “I can’t really see them causing us many problems”, JT foolishly fouled an attacker and a free-kick was awarded. The shot deflected off Gutierrez and they were level.

Lee Mason, the referee, seemed to have it in for us. I rarely berate or bemoan the officials, but even I was joining in with the loud booing he was receiving. It honestly felt like we were playing against twelve Geordies.

At half-time, Neil Barnett introduced our most loved former player and he came onto the pitch for a few minutes, waving his stick, loving the attention.

“Roy Bentley – 87 on Tuesday.”

The second half came and went. Tons of possession but very few threats on goal. Carlo made a triple substitution on 64 minutes, with Didier Drogba, Michael Essien and Florent Malouda coming on. It was a poor game and we all knew it. The Bridge was quiet, roused only to boo the referee. On 74 minutes, Drogba set up Ashley Cole with a very delicate flick but – for some unfathomable reason known only to him – Cole played it back towards Didi when he really ought to have laced it with his left foot. The look on Drogba’s face was priceless –

“Why you do that?????”

On 83 minutes, a free-kick from the right and I had my camera poised at the melee in the box. I snapped as the ball evaded Krul and Alex nodded home.

Relief. Phew.

Then, a last minute corner to them and the saddest sight; a poorly defended cross and Steven Taylor completely unmarked to head home. The Newcastle directors were up and celebrating in the West middle – Ashley was grinning, the horrible git – and the Newcastle players ran over to celebrate with the Toon Army.

The whistle went soon after…and a few souls booed.

It was with great sadness that I watched, open-mouthed, as 90% of the supporters drifted out of Stamford Bridge before the Chelsea players went on a slow lap of appreciation. After quite a wait, the players followed John Terry, with his twins, out onto the pitch. Carlo got a good – if not great – reception and I noted Drogba waving back at the MHL as he walked past our corner. A wave of goodbye? Who knows? Torres, holding two very small children, was very quiet. He’s quite a shy lad, isn’t he?

The star – by far – was the blonde haired son of Branislav Ivanovic. He was constantly dribbling the ball…first up towards the Shed, then back towards us. By this stage, both of the nets had been taken down by the groundstaff. However, they hastily erected the nets at the Matthew Harding end and – cheered on by around 1,500 souls in the Lower tier – the lad dribbled and poked the ball into the goal.

A massive roar. He pumped the air with his fist and then ran back and jumped into his father’s arms. It was a lovely moment and Branislav was clearly overjoyed. It was wonderful to witness this delightful moment between father and son. We all agreed there and then, that this was the best moment of the entire day. He then did it twice more.

The roars and cheers echoed around the stadium for the last time this season.

It was time to go home.