Tottenham Hotspur vs. Chelsea : 25 February 2023.
In 2023, there aren’t many bigger away games for us Chelsea supporters than Tottenham Hotspur. In my book, it’s a toss-up between a trip to their stadium and to Old Trafford. There’s not much in it.
In 1983, the biggest away game in our fixture list was undoubtedly Leeds United.
I continue my look at the current season of 2022/23 with a backwards look at one from forty-years ago, 1982/83, with some memories of our trip to Elland Road on Saturday 19 February 1983. The previous Chelsea four matches, detailed here recently, were horrific; four defeats.
Outside of Chelsea, I was in the process of applying for degree courses at various polytechnics, at Sheffield, at Kingston, at Middlesex and at North London. I had already attended an interview at Sheffield on a blisteringly cold day after my father took a day off work to drive me up to South Yorkshire. It was my first-ever interview for anything, anywhere, and it went reasonably well. In the week leading up to the game at Leeds United, Sheffield Poly offered me a place on their Geography course for the autumn of 1983 if I could achieve a C and a D grade in two of my three “A Levels” in June. On the day before the Leeds United game, I received a similar offer from Middlesex Poly. However, my spirits were not high and these grades were looking beyond me. Both Chelsea Football Club and little old me were experiencing a tough winter. Additionally, the “mock” A-Levels were approaching fast, another reason to become depressed about my immediate future.
Going in to the game at Elland Road, Chelsea were lodged in fifteenth position, well away from Wolves, QPR and Fulham who appeared to be romping their way to the three automatic places. Fulham, in third place were a huge twelve points ahead of the team in fourth position, Grimsby Town. Chelsea, my beloved Chelsea, however were just three points ahead of a relegation place, on thirty-one points, ahead of Cambridge United on twenty-eight.
Between me and my “A Levels” and Chelsea in the Second Division, it was a bloody toss-up to see who would fare the better.
My diary entry on the Friday mentions “hope no trouble at the Leeds v Chelsea match”. I spent the day at home in Somerset, no doubt eagerly awaiting updates from Elland Road on “Radio Two” on the BBC. My radio was always tuned to 909 kHz on the Medium Wave on Saturday afternoons.
The teams lined up as below :
- John Lukic.
- Neil Aspin.
- Eddie Gray.
- John Sheridan.
- Paul Hart.
- Martin Dickinson.
- Gwynn Thomas (Kevin Hird).
- Terry Connor.
- Aiden Butterworth.
- Frank Gray.
- Arthur Graham.
- Steve Francis.
- Colin Lee.
- Joey Jones.
- Phil Driver (Gary Chivers).
- Chris Hutchings.
- Colin Pates.
- Mike Fillery.
- Clive Walker.
- David Speedie.
- Alan Mayes.
- Peter Rhoades-Brown.
I can remember all of those Leeds United players from forty years ago with the exception of Martin Dickenson. A remnant from the 1970 FA Cup Final, Eddie Gray, was the Leeds player-manager who started down the left flank behind his younger brother Frank. I had first seen Paul Hart playing for Blackpool against us at Stamford Bridge in 1975, and I remember reaching out by the player’s tunnel before the game to obtain his autograph.
Just writing these words takes me right back to my childhood. After my first game in the West Stand benches, we always watched in the East Lower in the ensuing games from 1974 to 1980 and I specifically asked my parents to try to get match tickets as near to the tunnel as possible. I used to boil over with excitement when I called over to various Chelsea players, and a few opponents, to get them to sign my little autograph book. To be so close, touching distance, so close that I could smell their Hai Karate, was utterly amazing for me as a youngster.
Leeds had three internationals in that team – the two Grays plus Arthur Graham, all for Scotland – while our only international player was Joey Jones of Wales. With former striker Colin Lee deployed at right-back, our forward three of Walker, Speedie and Mayes is pretty diminutive, especially for the ‘eighties.
The goals rattled in at Elland Road that afternoon. It was 1-1 at half-time with us going ahead via a Mike Fillery penalty before Aiden Butterworth equalised. In the second-half, goals from Clive Walker and a Frank Gray penalty were traded before Arthur Graham gave the home team a 3-2 lead. In the closing moments, an Alan Mayes shot was deflected in by the player-manager Eddie Gray.
Leeds United 3 Chelsea 3.
My diary on the evening of the game guessed at a gate of 21,000. I wasn’t far off. In fact, the attendance was a still healthy 19,365, just narrowly behind the division’s highest gate of 20,689 that saw Newcastle United play Oldham Athletic. Despite a promotion place, our neighbours Queens Park Rangers drew just 10,271 for their home game with Barnsley that day.
There is no doubt that around 6,000 Chelsea fans made the trip to West Yorkshire, all positioned along the side of the ground in the Lowfields.
Once the third goal went in, I no doubt wished that I was among the away support. However, apart from five very local away games in Bristol – Rovers four times, City once – from 1976 to 1981, my visits to other away venues with my beloved Chelsea were still over a year away.
These days, thankfully, they are a very regular occurrence.
It was a stunning Sunday morning for my drive to London for the away game at Tottenham. There were no clouds to be seen, just a pristine blue sky. There were just three of us this week, Parky, PD and little old me. None of us were relishing the game.
“Damage limitation, innit?”
It certainly seemed like it.
On all of my three previous visits to the new spanking Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, I had witnessed three Chelsea wins with no goals conceded. This time, I surmised, might be a little different.
On the Saturday, we received some sad news. We had known that Sam George – aka “Lovejoy” – had been ill for a while, and we were to learn that he had indeed passed away the previous weekend. I first got to know Lovejoy, named after the Ian McShane TV character, back in the late 1990’s and he became a part of my extended Chelsea family for quite a few years. He was such a character, and played a large role in the first few of these match reports in the 2008/9 season. I can well remember Lovejoy sorting out a ticket alongside him in the East Lower for Farmer John from Ohio, the Stoke City game in 2009, the last-minute Lampard screamer. However, weary with red wine, Lovejoy soon managed to fall asleep, thus missing the entire game.
The perma-tan, the hair, the dazzling white teeth, the chewing gum, the leather trousers, the ladies on tow in various European cities.
What a character.
There was another beautiful breakfast at the “Half-Moon Café” in Hammersmith – more Old Bill this week, but this time they were off to the League Cup Final – before I parked up at Barons Court to catch the tube to Liverpool Street. From there, we caught the midday overland train up to White Hart Lane. We were all subdued. I was trying my best to rationalise where we were in terms of team development but it was such a difficult position in which we found ourselves. The remnants of Frank Lampard’s team had been joined by a mixture of signings by Tuchel in the summer, and were now augmented by our “Supermarket Sweep” of players from January. It almost felt that the past few weeks had been an extra “pre-season” and now the league campaign was to begin again.
During the week, I had flitted around the internet to check out a potted history of our man Graham. Was he really as big a nonentity as it seemed? I was aware of his managerial history, or lack of it, but what about before then? Well, I discovered one thing.
He was playing for Stoke City when they won 1-0 at Stamford Bridge in the League Cup in the autumn of 1995. I was there, I remember it well. A lone Paul Peschisolido goal gave the visitors the win, the goal being scored in front of their “Delilah” singing hordes in the temporary Shed end.
Due to my Stoke past – I lived there for three years – I was well aware of a Potter playing for the Potters at the time, but the penny never dropped until the past week.
Yep, Graham bloody Potter. It was him.
The train pulled into the swish new White Hart lane station and, unlike PD and Parky, I went south and not north. I had not yet walked down to the southern part of the redeveloped area so, camera in hand, I walked down the High Road to soak it all in and to take some photos. Over the course of time, I always like to walk 360 degrees around every away stadium. I stood opposite the “Corner Pin” pub. This still stands on the corner of the High Road and Park Lane, and of course the area is all-changed now. Before, at the old stadium, coins used to be thrown at us as aggressive home fans tried to get close. I don’t miss all that.
Unlike at the northern end, where there is a tightness by the away steps, they have really opened up the area outside their huge home end. This towering stand sits on the site of the old White Hart Lane pitch. I walked on, past a couple on their ‘seventies, perched on a low wall, bedecked in their navy blue and white Tottenham bar scarves, eating sandwiches.
I turned left and headed towards the away turnstiles. I noted a line of newly planted trees at the base of all of the steel and glass. There were now grey skies overhead. The wind chilled me. It was time to go in.
Again, for the third visit in four, I was down low along the side. There was a subdued atmosphere throughout the concourse and in the Chelsea section. We were a crowd full of long faces. It seemed to take forever to fill. With a quarter of an hour to go, the whole stadium wasn’t even half-full.
I miss the old days. In the ‘eighties, a London Derby would be full with half-an-hour to kick-off, with terrace chants bubbling away for ages.
James – Silva – Koulibaly – Chilwell
Loftus-Cheek – Enzo – Felix
Ziyech – Havertz – Sterling
We were subjected to flashing graphics and a booming voice blathering on about glory and history that gave the impression that the home club were the epitome of success and greatness, rather than a club that has won just one piece of silverware in twenty-four years.
I still don’t like to see us in Tottenham navy socks.
Why? Just why?
I detected the Tottenham shirts looking quite grubby, far from lilywhite, as if the colour had run in the wash.
Pre-match, I had heard not a single shout, chant or song from the home support.
The game began and we had just as much of it as they did. There were a few forays, especially down our left where Sterling seemed to be gifted extra space. There had already been a piece of sublime defending from Thiago Silva, but after a strong tackle on Harry Kane, our vaunted Brazilian went down in pain. He tried to run it off but, alas, was replaced by Wesley Fofana. Until then, we had definitely had the upper hand. There was a shot from Joao Felix. And another.
It was at around this time that Gary realised that Hakim Ziyech was on the pitch.
It was lovely to hear more “Vialli” chants. These became, as the game continued, our stock response to their tiresome “Y*d Army!” chants.
There was a lovely lofted pass out to Ben Chilwell from Enzo Fernandez and I quipped “it would appear that we have a playmaker in our midst.”
The bloke behind me was irritating me. I couldn’t criticise his support, but his voice sounded like he had been gargling with gravel. It got rather tiresome when he kept moaning about our lack of support for the boys.
“Turn it in mate” I muttered to myself.
Tottenham were nothing special, but Pierre-Emile Hojberg thumped a shot against the base of a post before being whacked away for a corner.
Before half-time, a sizzling effort from Sterling forced a low save from Fraser Forster, who used to be a goalkeeper.
In the stands, all was quiet.
In the closing moments of the first period, a VAR farce. Being so low down, I couldn’t really see what had happened but one minute Ziyech was sent off after a VAR review, but then after a second review, he was allowed to continue.
Pathetic. I hate modern football.
The mood in the away quadrant was “we haven’t been great but neither have they.”
Pre-match, I would have taken a 0-0.
“Halfway to paradise, lads.”
The second-half began preposterously. Within a few seconds of the re-start, Kepa was able to make a low save at the near post from Emerson Royal and Enzo hacked the ball out. Sadly, Skipp robbed Felix and unleashed a powerful shot on goal.
My mind was calm though.
“That’s a long way out. It is at Kepa. He should save that easily.”
How wrong I was.
The ball seemed to go through his arms as he back-peddled slightly.
The mood in the away end worsened and our support dwindled further. With their team now in front, the home support decided to sing up.
I heard four songs and four songs only, three of which were all about being Jewish.
Our game fell apart despite the promptings of Enzo, who at least tried to knit things together. But everything was so slow and predictable, and most fifty-fifty challenges didn’t go our way.
Mason Mount for Ziyech.
Denis Zakaria for Loftus-Cheek.
I was surprised how deep Kane was playing for that lot. He was their main playmaker on many occasions.
Our play didn’t improve. There was a half-chance for Kai Havertz.
Next up was the disappearance of the referee Stuart Atwell. I suspected a problem with his technical gizmos but the home end had either ideas. He came back on after a minute or so away.
This was a shocking game of football.
Sadly, poor marking at a corner gifted Kane with a tap in on eighty-two minutes.
Body after body vacated the away end, including Mister Gravel and his mate behind me.
There was no way back from this, despite Potter making two late substitutions.
Mykhailo Mudryk for Joao Felix.
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang for Sterling.
Mudryk showed a bit of endeavour at the death, but by now the home fans were heaping it on us.
“Chelsea get battered, everywhere they go…”
The only surprise was that Son didn’t score when he came on as a late substitute.
This was a truly horrible game of football, a truly horrible experience. There were no positives to come from this match. And taken as a whole, the atmosphere was decidedly muted for a London Derby.
61,000 and we still don’t sing?
So, what of the future? I don’t know. Relegation? No, surely not. But yet we are in a truly awful run of form. Two wins out of fourteen in all competitions. Our remaining away games make me shudder.
However, there really can’t be many Chelsea fans left who think that Graham Potter is the man to lead us on…
Next up, Leeds United at home, 1983 and all that.
See you there.