Tales From Hammersmith Bridge To Stamford Bridge

Chelsea vs. Arsenal : 18 August 2018.

Even though I had set my Saturday morning “first home game of the season” alarm as early as 6.30am, and even though I caught the first of two trains to take us up to Paddington from Frome station at 8.07am and although I left the last of four pubs that we chose to visit at just before 5pm, I still managed to miss the bloody kick-off.

That takes some doing, eh?

It would, if I was pressed, be something that I might term “Proper Chelsea.”

I remember that even on our greatest night in our history, I still only arrived at my seat in the Nord Kurv of Munich’s Allianz Stadium with barely more than five minutes to go until kick-off.

I usually manage to time it just right, often slipping into my seat a few minutes before the teams enter the pitch. Not on this occasion. There had been another fantastic pre-match pub crawl, but then a little delay at Earl’s Court, and then again as we climbed the steps at Fulham Broadway, when tempers ran a little high between both sets of fans. At just before 5.30pm, I grabbed a programme, shook Kerry Dixon’s hand outside the West Stand – he appeared to be in just as much a rush as I was – and made my way up to the Matthew Harding Wraparound.

Just after kick-off, I was in.

I had missed the pre-game show. Alan showed me the banner that had surfed over the supporters in The Shed Upper, a celebration of Roman’s fifteen years in charge and of the fifteen major trophies within that time span.

Other teams – no names, no pack drill – could only dream of such success.

I was back at Stamford Bridge for my forty-fifth season of match-going Chelsea support.

And it felt great.

As always, there was a quick scan of the Chelsea team – “same as at Huddersfield” – and a scan of the away support – “same as always Arsenal, more than the usual amount of replica shirts in their three thousand compared to, say, Spurs or West Ham.”

The ridiculous “Thrilling Since 1905” had thankfully disappeared from the signage at Stamford Bridge.

We were left with “The Pride Of London” and I can’t find fault with that.

I had mentioned to Glenn on the train journey to London that I fancied a Chelsea win. There was no real scientific theory behind this – the season is far too early for any real prognosis of our overall chances just yet – but I just had this feeling that we would be sending Arsenal away with their second successive league defeat of the season. The morning train ride into London had been a real pleasure. There were thoughts of the game, but also – of course – thoughts of meeting up with some good Chelsea people along the way too.

After a breakfast on Praed Street, we caught a train down to Hammersmith. Not for the first time, we had planned a pub crawl by the side of the River Thames. At just after midday, we met up with Kim and Dan, then settled in at The Old City Arms, right on Hammersmith Bridge, its green wrought iron just outside the pub windows. Andy and Phil joined us, and then Dave. The counties of Somerset, Wiltshire, Kent and Northampton shire were represented.

And we were then joined by the state of Michigan.

Erica and Victor – on a whirlwind European tour including a wedding (not theirs I hasten to add) in Frankfurt, and quick visits to Valencia and Paris – were in town for Chelsea and Chelsea only. I had met them both in Ann Arbor for the Chelsea vs. Real Madrid game in 2016 and we had stayed in touch ever since, and especially since they told me of their imminent visit to these shores. It was a pleasure to welcome them to our little tour party. In a week when La Liga announced its intention to play regular season games in the United States in the near future, it was fitting that Erica and Victor, bless ‘em, had travelled over land and sea to London to watch us. Another friend, Russ – who I had met for the first time in Perth in the summer – was also in town especially for Chelsea from his home in Melbourne.

And this is the way it should be.

For those of you who have been reading these match reports the past ten years, my views on all of this are well known. Like many Chelsea supporters in the UK – and I am basing this on those who I know, who are mainly match-goers, I don’t know many Chelsea who do not go to football – the idea of Chelsea playing a league game outside of our national, and natural, borders both saddens and repulses me.

My message is crisp and clear.

“You want to want to watch English football?”

“That’s great. Come to England.”

Of course, Richard Scudamore and his money-chasers at the Football Association originally proposed the “39th Game” in 2008, and – thankfully – the idea was shot down in flames by supporter groups the length and breadth of the country. This cheered me no end. I felt that the football community had said “no” in a forceful and coherent way. Of course, since then, all manner of US regular league games have been played out in the UK – er London, does any other English city exist in the minds of the average American? – and with each passing NBA and NFL game which takes place in our capital city, my spirits weaken. I have no doubt that the FA look on and rub their hands with glee. It will surprise nobody, I hope, to know that I am already boycotting the New York Yankees vs. Boston Red Sox baseball series at The Oval next June.

It would not feel right for me to attend. That’s just my personal choice. I’ve seen the Yankees play thirty times in The Bronx and nine times on the road. But the thought of seeing the Yankees playing in some sort of ersatz environment (I dread to think, I dread to think…) does nothing for me, and it would be supremely hypocritical.

Major League Baseball got the ball rolling with this concept – “sporting colonialism” – around twenty years ago with regular season games in Japan and then Mexico. It has been the American way. I made the point to Erica and Victor that US teams seem to hop around from one city to another at the drop of a hat (or at the hint of a new stadium), and so there seems to be an immediate disconnect between teams and supporters. There is an ambivalence to the fans. I do not seem to see too many NFL season ticket holders, for example, in the US campaigning against the loss of home games to London.

In England and in the UK, supporters are a lot more tribal, more political, more strident, and I bloody hope it continues.

My secret wish is that a couple of our football clubs – let’s name names, Liverpool and Manchester United – who have very politicised support bases and pressure groups (“The Spirit Of Shankly” and the “Manchester United Supporters Trust” to name two) will lead the way in fighting against any new proposals for “overseas games.”

I have always said that if the FA, and if Chelsea are implicit in their plans, decide to play a regular season game outside of England and Wales, then that will be the last straw for me.

An idle threat?

I am not sure. It would be a heart-breaking decision for me to turn my back on the love of my life, but nobody enjoys getting the piss taken out of them.

We will wait and see.

Down on the River Thames, we hopped from The Old City Arms to The Blue Anchor and then to The Rutland.

The pints were, of course, going down rather well. The time raced past.

Erica and Victor were staying near Earl’s Court, and they had tried to pop into a local pub during the morning. From their story, I believe that the pub was “The Courtfield”, which stands right opposite the tube station, and is one of the main “away” pubs at Chelsea. Victor was wearing a 2010/2011 home shirt, and he was advised by a policeman to avoid going in to the boozer as it was full of Arsenal. This totally shocked Erica and Victor. In the US, home and away fans in team colours mix easily and freely outside stadia and in nearby pubs. The cultural differences between sport in the UK and the US were spoken about once more. Victor, forced into a corner somewhat and maybe fearing all sorts of mayhem at Stamford Bridge, chose to wear a grey pullover over the Chelsea shirt instead.

There then ensued a little chat with Erica and Victor about “the cult with no name” and our ongoing predilection for designer clobber at football. As we stood overlooking the River Thames, watching rowers and paddle boarders, I gave the two visitors a crash course in the casual movement from 1977 to date. I looked over at the lads in our tour party and, quite fittingly, everyone was wearing football schmutter. In fact, we could not have been more colour-coordinated. But not a single Chelsea shirt, scarf or favour, save from a couple of very small pin badges.

“Less is more.”

But I then commented to Erica that if any other football fan – “in the know” as we say – were to walk past, they would immediately know that we were all going to football.

More beers, more stories, more Tales From The Riverside.

The idea was to head up to “The Dove” – the best pub of the lot – but time was against us. We caught the tube to West Kensington, and dived into “The Famous Three Kings” which was awash with Juventus Club Londra fans watching their game against Chievo.

I could not resist.

“Forza Juve, Vinci Per Noi.”

So, that was the pre-match. The big thrill for me was to see Erica and Victor enjoying themselves so much, and sharing jokes and laughter with my mates. In the four hours that they were with us, they sampled a great range of alcohol too; cider, bitter, lager, “Guinness”, and even a “Pimms”.

I hope they remembered the match.

In the opening salvos of the game, honours were pretty even. A couple of chances for us, and a couple for them. David Luiz, wearing plain black boots – weirdo – tried to lob Cech, but was unsuccessful. Thankfully, we did not have too long to wait. A beautifully weighted through ball from Jorginho picked out the run of Marcos Alonso down our left. He soon spotted the figure of Pedro to his right, in oodles of space, and his pass was perfection itself. Right in front of the Arsenal support, Pedro slipped a low ball past Petr Cech, the man in black.

One-nil to The Chelsea.

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

Chris : “Come on my little diamonds.”

I admired the touch and movement of Ross Barkley in the first moments of the game. He seems to have grown in stature over the summer; in self-confidence, in presence. He may yet be a fantastic buy. I always liked him in his first few seasons at Everton.

Aubameyang forced a save from Kepa Arrizabalaga.

I’ll just call him “Save.”

Then, a ridiculously easy chance for Aubameyang again, but he ballooned the ball over from a very central position. Our defence, it seemed, had not been introduced to each other before the game. Then, another rapid break into the Arsenal half. A long ball from Dave was played beyond the Arsenal line and Alvaro Morata was able to race away, twist past his marker and wrong foot Peter Cech. His finish looked easier than it was. He raced away to Parkyville and wildly celebrated.

Chelsea 2 Arsenal 0.

I must admit that I found it odd to see N’Golo Kante in a more forward position; it is a role that we are not used to see. How often have we seen him over the past two seasons patrolling that central section of the park, and causing a massive hindrance to opposing players? It is his role, his position.

On his day, he gets as close to his opponent as a wet shower curtain.

And now, within the manager’s new plan, he is asked to change his game, and I am not sure if we will see the best of him. In our old system of 3/4/3, I would imagine that a midfield “two” of Jorginho and Kante would have been ideal. But what do I know?

Next, another gilt-edged chance for Arsenal but another line fluffed. Mkhitarian repeated Aubameyang and the ball flew high over our bar.


This was open a game as I had seen for a while.

Maurizio Sarri, bedecked in head to toe royal blue, was not as animated as the previous manager, but he studiously watched from the technical area and the bench. If you squint, and think “sepia”, he looks a little like Billy Birrell, our spectacled manager from both sides of the Second World War.

Morata forced a save from Cech.

While my concentration was devoted to demolishing a chicken katsu pie, its contents as hot as molten lava, I looked on as Mkhitarian popped a low shot past Arrizabalaga from outside the box after we gave up possession rather too easily. Then, horror upon horrors, a ball was whipped in from our left and Iwobi struck from close-in. Our defenders were not even close. It reminded me of the low crosses from which Manchester United often used to punish us twenty years or so ago.

So, all even at the break and many a scratched head in the Matthew Harding.

I popped down for a very brief chat with Big John in the front row.

“So, if we play a league game in the US, is that it for you, John?”

“I think so, yes.”

“Yeah. Me too.”

“It’s a pact then.”

We laughed.

The second-half began. With us attacking the Matthew Harding, the play stagnated a little. Ross Barkley broke through but Cech saved well. We needed an extra push. On the hour, Sarri decided to shake things up.

Mateo Kovacic for Ross Barkley (a shame, I though Barkley had been fine) and Eden Hazard for Willian.

We were treated, almost immediately, to some pure sparkle from Eden Hazard. He immediately looked the part. Mateo Kovacic instantly impressed too. In fact, I can rarely remember a more impressive home debut as a second-half substitute, Joe Allon excepted (you had to be there.)

He was all energy, full of movement, skillful in tight areas, and a lovely awareness of others.

OK, I was joking about Joe Allon.

Marcos Alonso and Eden Hazard lined up alongside David Luiz as a free-kick was awarded, but the Brazilian’s effort was saved by Cech.

On seventy-five minutes, Olivier Giroud replaced Alvaro Morata.

We seemed to tighten our grip on the game.

A chance for N’Golo. Over.

Throughout the game, Alan – bless him – had been tough on the defensive frailties of Marcos Alonso, who had often been caught out of position or ball-watching. With ten minutes remaining, an exquisite burst from Eden Hazard enabled him to drift easily past his marker and drill a low cross right into the box. Who else but Alonso arrived just at the right time to flick the ball through Peter Cech’s legs.


The Stamford Bridge crowd erupted as one. I jumped up and punched the air, then quickly looked back at Alan and we found ourselves smiling and pointing at one another.

The joy of the moment.

A late winner.

Against Arsenal.

Marcos Alonso.


We were, believe it or not, top of the league.

We exchanged a few last chances but Arsenal disappeared off into the West London evening with no points in their first two games under their new manager. Yes, we had ridden our luck in the first-half, but thank heavens for Eden Hazard. Arsenal do not have anyone like him, and nor do many others. Let’s keep him for life.

We began the day with a breakfast at Praed Street and we finished it with an Indian on Praed Street.

We caught the 9.30pm train home, and the beers had taken their toll over the day, and a couple of us, ahem, rested our eyes.

We finally reached Frome at midnight.

It had been a top day.

See you at Newcastle next Sunday.

Tales From A Day Of Chelsea Smiles

Chelsea vs. Arsenal : 22 March 2014.

In many ways this Chelsea Saturday was similar to so many other Chelsea Saturdays that I have been detailing over the past five or six seasons in this series of match reports. As the words tumble out of my head and onto my laptop and then eventually onto the internet, it is quite likely that veteran readers will spot familiar themes and possibly even repeated sentences that I have aired before. This, I suppose, is the result of my Saturday routine being relatively constant; it is also the result, thankfully, of supporting a hugely successful football club.

I was up early. The crisp morning air was so refreshing and it stirred me. After waking at the ridiculous time of 6am and having walked out to my car to deposit my match day essentials – coat, camera, coffee cup – within it, there was a noticeable spring in my step.

I felt like “Spring-heeled Jim” – or something similar.

It was a gorgeous sunny morning, we were playing Arsenal and London was calling to the faraway towns. This was going to be a good one.

Lord Parky was collected bang on 7.30am and even this simple act brought me a ripple of pleasure. It was lovely to see his smiling face; he too, was excited about the day ahead. The usual routine was followed; a breakfast en route, strong coffees, the M4 east, the Wiltshire countryside racing by, New Order’s “Technique” album on the CD player, Parky’s voice booming, talk of Palace next Saturday, then Paris soon after.

A Chelsea Saturday.

Mile, mile, mile, smile, smile, smile, zoom, zoom, zoom.

After only two hours since I collected His Lordship, we were parked up. There was a cold wind blowing down the North End Road, but the brilliant blue sky suggested warm weather as the day unravelled. Not for the first time I had made arrangements to meet up with a first-time visitor from the US for this game.

While I waited for Natalie and her mother Sandy to arrive outside the megastore, Parky chatted to a steward that he knows from The Shed. She mentioned that Chelsea received a pat on the back from UEFA because no pyrotechnics were spotted within the ranks of the Galatasaray fans at last Tuesday’s game.  I presumed that some Turkish fans had tried to smuggle some flares in to the game, but had lost this battle with the stewards during the usual search of coats, pockets and bags. Ironically, I had my own personal battle with a steward in the MHU last Tuesday. As most people are surely aware, I take many photographs on a typical match day. Officially, cameras are not allowed in football stadia because they breach copyright laws; officially, that is. As everyone knows, thousands of photographs are taken at every game by fans these days, using a variety of cameras and phones. A blind eye is usually turned. However, one of my lenses literally “sticks out a mile” and so – despite using it at games for the past few years – a steward has recently spotted me and a battle of wits has ensued. On Tuesday came another warning.

What disappointed me most on Tuesday was the way that the steward spoke to me. I am a season ticket holder of some seventeen years, yet was rudely warned of a letter from the club and even the confiscation of my season ticket. It left me annoyed and dismayed to be honest. Only at football are customers treated so poorly. However, I am no fool; for the next few games I am going to lie low and only use my normal wide-angle during games. It is a small price to pay.

Outside the busy megastore, I looked up and spotted a familiar face from far away. I first met Jon, an ex-pat who now lives in Boca Raton in Florida, out in Chicago in 2006 and again in New York in 2012. He was here with his wife and two boys and his father. This was a nice surprise for both of us; it was the first time we had bumped into each other at Stamford Bridge. This was a big day for him; his youngest son Kyle was one of the two mascots. I always remember first meeting Jon outside the Chelsea hotel in Chicago. I had been tipped-off by a friend that Chelsea were staying close to where I was lodging, just off the Magnificent Mile. Jon, who is a travel agent, had a more unique way of working it out. He picked out the three most expensive hotels in downtown Chicago and decided to call each in turn. He phoned the first one – I think it was the Grand Hyatt – and gambled. He asked to speak to Mr. Frank Lampard. To his pleasure, he was put straight through.

Frank : “Hello?”


Ten minutes later, Jon was outside on the pavement, chatting to me.

Good times. Of all my visits to the US following the club, Chicago was one of the best.

Natalie and her mother Sandy soon arrived and we quickly departed up into the hotel bar. Unfortunately we had just missed meeting a couple of former players, but we still enjoyed the pre-game routine. There was the usual toast –

“Friendship And Football.”

Natalie had already seen three Chelsea games – New York 2012, St. Louis 2013 and Miami 2013 – but this would be her Stamford Bridge debut. Natalie used to play football – a striker – but suffered the same injuries as our own Fernando Torres. She said that she felt a bond with him; he is her favourite player. I was keen to find out what Natalie had made of her first week in London; it was all positive. There was talk of the game ahead, mutual friends, rivalries, the NFL in London, the dreaded 39th game, London itself, friendship scarves, hooliganism, past players, college basketball; no stone was left unturned.  While I escorted Natalie out as kick-off time approached, Parky guided Sandy out into “Frankie’s” where she would watch the ensuing game; I had, unfortunately, been unlucky in my search for a second ticket. There was a longer-than-usual wait at the turnstiles of the Matthew Harding and I felt annoyed with myself. Not only would Natalie miss a little of the immediate pre-match routine, but I would miss out on getting some photos of Kyle for Jon. However, I joked that this indeed was turning out to be a normal Chelsea match day; it is typical Chelsea to stay in the pub for “one last pint” and only reach our seats with seconds to spare.

“Proper Chelsea.”

I wished the troublesome steward a courteous “good afternoon” and we took our seats alongside Alan.

We were in.

I quickly scanned the team and saw that David Luiz was partnering Nemanja Matic at the base of the midfield, with Andre Schurrle alongside Oscar and Eden Hazard. Sadly for Natalie, Mourinho went with Samuel Eto’o and not Fernando Torres. I cared not who was playing for Arsenal. Natalie was impressed with the view; she had been on the stadium tour during the week, but this was the real thing.

A packed house, sunny blue skies, a London derby.

Let’s go.

Arsenal – ironically in the circumstances – created the game’s first chance when Giroud broke into the box and shot low to Petr Cech’s left. Thankfully, our tall goalkeeper was able to drop quickly and touch it away; it was a fine save.

Our response was immediate and dramatic. We broke at speed with Schurrle playing in Samuel Eto’o on the right. Just like against Galatasaray on Tuesday, Eto’o advanced into the inside-right channel and aimed. On this occasion he chose his left foot rather than his right. He curled a delightful shot past Scizieszcznnsy into the far portion of the Arsenal goal. I was right behind the path of the ball and was yelling my approval as it hit the back of the net.


I turned to Natalie; joy unbounded.

I turned to Alan.

In an unemotional, impassive voice –

“They’ll have to come at us now.”

In a dull voice, Arsenalesque –

“Come on my little diamonds.”

What a start. Just like Tuesday, an early opener from our number twenty-nine. Noticeably, I celebrated this one ten times as much as the one in the Champions League. The Matthew Harding roared –

“Samuel Eto’o – Samuel Eto’o – Hello’o – Hello’o.”

More followed, immediately. Matic won a ball and played in the raiding Schurrle. He quickly dispatched the ball into the same far corner. Only six minutes were on the clock. I lost my footing and fell into the row in front. Half of me wanted to scream in pain – ow, my bloody shin – and half of me wanted to scream in pleasure.

Natalie was in blue heaven.

The stadium erupted in mocking song –

“Are You Tottenham In Disguise?”

Sadly, Samuel Eto’o was substituted after a knock, but Natalie was more than excited to see her man Nando replace him.

Another goal was soon on its way…

A move down our left found Torres, who neatly tee’d up Eden Hazard to shoot. To our eyes in the Matthew Harding, the ball fizzed past the far post and I exclaimed in pain. However – and this came as a complete surprise to me – the referee not only gave a penalty to us, but brandished a red card to an Arsenal player. The reasons were unclear to all of us. Gibbs was creating merry hell, but took my advice – “get off, you prick.”

Eden Hazard steadied himself and slotted the ball in.

After just sixteen minutes : Chelsea 3 Arsenal 0.

I had to run through my memory bank of previous Chelsea-Arsenal games. Have I ever enjoyed such a score line at Stamford Bridge?

The Chelsea crowd were now in party mode.

“Arsene Wenger – We Want You To Stay.”

“Specialists In Failure – You Know What You Are.”

“Arsene Wenger – A Thousand More Games.”

Just grand.

Then, miracle of miracles, the often derided Arsenal support – search for “Arsenal Away Boyz” on “You Tube “if anyone doubts me – engaged in a little bit of humorous banter.

Chelsea : “Robin van Persie – he left ‘cus you’re shit.”

Arsenal : “Michael Duberry – he left ‘cus you’re shit.”

We enjoyed more possession and Arsenal were nowhere. Just before the break, Fernando Torres advanced into the box and picked out Oscar, who prodded the low ball in at close range.

Chelsea 4 Arsenal 0.

Ho ho ho ho.

There was an air of joyous disbelief at the break. Natalie, quietly taking it all in, was lost for words. Elsewhere, others were more effusive. This was just lovely stuff from us and the second-half lay ahead…just lovely.

At the break, former defender – and one time goalkeeper – and manager David Webb, wearing a garish raincoat, walked with Neil Barnett around the Bridge. He was warmly applauded. We don’t see much of him at Chelsea, which is a shame. You get the feeling he is a “one-off”, a unique character, his own man, a maverick. You rarely see him at Chelsea functions. For me, seeing him was bittersweet; it reminded me of the dark days of 1993, when Webby took charge of the club for a couple of months, steering us clear of relegation, but it was a time when I lost my father too.

In the programme, there was an article by Rick Glanville about the “82,905” game, with previously unseen photographs. Splendid stuff.

So, the second-half. While every single one of us wanted more goals, I think most knew that it is very rare for a team to keep scoring at such a rate over the complete ninety minutes. I kept looking over towards the away support to see if many had decided to leave

To be fair, only a few had left at half-time.

The game, typically, died a little after the break. There were moments of inactivity. We prayed for at least one more goal. Torres set up Oscar whose rasping shot was tipped over. Just after the hour, out of nothing really, the ball was played to Oscar on the edge of the box. With that lovely movement of his – neat, minimal effort, so natural, so efficient – he moved the ball onto his right foot and shot at Szcizciesncny. The effort was hardly powerful, so imagine my surprise when the ball kicked up and flew past his pathetic dive.

Chelsea 5 Arsenal 0.

Ho ho ho ho ho.

Mohamed Salah – the forgotten man of late – then replaced Oscar. After only a few minutes, the strong and determined Matic  guided a great ball through the haphazard Arsenal defence and Salah was through on goal. He steadied himself. We waited.

“Go on my son.”

Chelsea 6 Arsenal 0.

Ho ho ho ho ho ho.

Now it was time for the Arsenal supporters to head home. The replica-shirted Goons soon left. They came to Stamford Bridge to celebrate Arsene Wenger’s 1,000th game in charge of their team, but endured Arsenal’s worst ever defeat at the hands of Chelsea in 107 years.

Natalie – you certainly picked a good one for your Stamford Bridge debut.

Arsenal are a bloody strange club. Let’s be honest; they are run on sound financial lines, but the club seems to be headed to eternal mediocrity due to their reluctance to gamble and to invest in the right areas. Occasionally it pays to dream. Wenger seems incapable of changing though. In many ways, the Arsenal club is still in love with him because of his ground-breaking training methods and his style of football which once charmed North London – so used to pragmatic and boring football over the years – in 1998, but now seems to be too rigid, too easy to counter, too predictable.

As if I care.

After the game, I was able – at last – to get a photograph of Natalie and Sandy with Mr. Chelsea himself, Ron Harris, back in the crowded hotel. Then, we slowly walked past a few Chelsea pubs to the familiar area outside The Lillee Langtry, where we met up with a few of the usual suspects. Natalie had loved her Chelsea day. It had been perfect. There was already talk of her next visit.

On a day of goals, the only negative – apart from the shower of hail stones which accompanied our walk back to the car – were the big wins for both Manchester City and Liverpool. They aren’t going away are they?

Crystal Palace – my first visit to Selhurst Park in almost eleven years – next.

See you there.


Tales From The Sloaney Pony

Chelsea vs. Manchester United : 28 October 2012.

Chelsea vs. Manchester United.

Four words to get the pulses racing.

After our two marvellous wins at Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur, I was relishing this one – of course – and was fearless, despite our poor performance in Donetsk on Tuesday.

Sunday couldn’t come quick enough. Saturday was a blur.

Overnight, winter had arrived. The clocks went back an hour and the temperature had dropped. Despite the potential luxury of an extra hour in bed, I was up and at’em on Sunday morning.

There is always something special about going to football in October, with the trees changing colours and the first breath of winter giving the air a chill. In fact, it caught me unawares. Like a rabbit caught in the headlights, I stood in my bedroom for a good ten minutes, befuddled and confused, trying to work out the best combination of shirt/pullover/top/jacket to wear for the first cold trip of the season. I eventually chose a white polo shirt. I then pinned my Remembrance Day poppy on a navy blue pullover and I was away.

I collected Young Jake in Trowbridge, Wiltshire’s county town, at 11am and we headed north to the M4 and then east to Chelsea Town.

This would be Jake’s first sighting of Manchester United and he was clearly “buzzing.” Due to Chelsea’s liking of Second Division football in the days of my childhood and youth, my first sighting of the famous red shirts took place as late as December 1984, when I was halfway through my nineteenth year. In fact, from the day of my first ever Chelsea game in 1974, the two teams’ paths only crossed on two occasions in the league at Stamford Bridge until that fateful day ten years later. In the first of these ten seasons, 1974-1975, Manchester United found themselves in Division Two while we were toiling in the top flight. In the next two seasons, it was our turn to play in the second tier. In 1977-1978 and 1978-1979, our paths crossed momentarily. Then from 1979 to 1984, Chelsea were back amongst the dead men of the Second Division.

In December 1984, I joined a season-high attendance of 42,000 who assembled on a cold post-Christmas afternoon and watched aghast as United romped to a 3-1 win. This was standard for many years; for ages, Chelsea did well at Old Trafford and United won the spoils at Stamford Bridge. From around 1967 to 1987, we were undefeated at Old Trafford. United’s ascendency over us at HQ only really lilted in 2002, after years of domination. I can still taste the bitterness of those 3-2, 4-1 and 3-0 defeats in 1994, 1995 and 2002, to say nothing of the 5-3 F.A. Cup defeat in 1998 and the Champions League loss in 2011.

However, over the past ten seasons, we have been undefeated against United at Stamford Bridge in the league. I chatted about some of these games with Jake as the rain started to increase. There have been some crackers; the undoubted highlight being the 3-0 championship decider in 2006. Thank you William Gallas, thank you Ricardo Carvalho and thank you Joe Cole. You wait fifty years for a league championship and then two come together. Superb stuff.

Of course, the best ever memory was from that incredible day in the autumn of 1999 when a rampant Chelsea defeated the treble winners 5-0. What a magnificent performance under the tutelage of Gianluca Vialli. There have been few more pleasurable afternoons in deepest SW6. Bloody hell, even Chris Sutton scored that day. Remember him?

No, I thought not.

At Reading Services, I spotted a chap wearing a New England Patriots shirt and my hackles rose. He was off to Wembley for the annual NFL game. I only heard about this match on the Saturday; the media has been strangely muted about this year’s encounter. I noted that the London Saracens rugby union team played a regular league game in Brussels last weekend. Where will it all end?

I know where it will end.

Chelsea playing a regular season game against Norwich City in Shanghai.

By which time, this particular Chelsea fan will have taken a damn good look at the way football has gone and may well have decided to hang up his boots. I’m fine with watching friendlies in the US and Asia, I’m fine with World Club Championships in Japan, but the regular season is sacrosanct.

Mess with that, dear Football Association, and you might well have lost me, and millions like me.

We rolled into London, the rain thankfully halted, at 1.30pm. Jake sought refuge in The Goose, but I headed down the North End Road and the Fulham Road to Parson’s Green, where I had arranged to meet up with Mike from the NYBs. On my way, I dipped into a betting shop and put a tenner on us to win 5-0.

It has happened before, it could happen again.

I dreamt of a £1,500 treasure chest.

I walked past the site of the former George pub and was dismayed to see that it now houses an estate agent. The George used to house the CFC Yeovil branch on match days back in the mid-’eighties and a few of us from Frome used to spend many an hour with them. Good people. I hardly see any of them these days. I only commented recently that the total of seven regular Chelsea attendees from Frome, all season ticket holders, has withered to just myself.

I walked past Fulham police station just as “Goggles” – one of the local policemen who are always present at Chelsea games, from London to Birmingham to Turin to Donetsk – left the building with four others. The wind was chilling the air, but my warm jacket was doing its job.

The White Horse pub, right on the northern edge of Parson’s Green, is a famous old Chelsea watering hole. I haven’t frequented it for years and years – 1995 to be exact – but it’s a lovely pub. As it is just off the King’s Road, it has always attracted a certain type of clientele. Back in the early ‘eighties, social commentator Peter York dubbed the pretty young things who live in Kensington & Chelsea “Sloane Rangers.” In Chelsea football circles, the White Horse was always called “The Sloaney Pony.” I spent a nice time there, supping my usual one pint of lager; this time it was a crisp Budvar. Mike was giddy with enthusiasm at the thought of seeing the team play once more. His last game was in Miami. I met up with a couple of his UK-based mates and we had a good laugh. Mutual friends were referenced and humorous stories were told. Yet again, the up-coming game was ignored. We spoke, instead, about trips to Munich and Barcelona, the summer tour and Japan.

Stamford Bridge is only a ten minute walk away, past Eelbrook Common and the Pelican pub. I was soon on Fulham Road, outside the West Stand, where a Chelsea brass band was playing “Land Of Hope And Glory”, “Amarillo” and “Blue Is The Colour.” I lost count of the number of tourists I saw with Chelsea / United scarves.

I was in the stadium early. It was too early, in fact. It was 3.30pm. I didn’t know what to do.

The stadium, as always, took a while to reach capacity and I suddenly realised that there were no pre-match songs emanating from stands like in days of old. This is another match day tradition which has slowly died out since the end of the terracing. I remember the days when…oh never mind.

The Chelsea team was unsurprisingly unaltered from the fine win at White Hart Lane. United’s defence interested me; surely we could attack them in the middle, to exploit the pairing of Ferdinand and Evans. Further upfront, Rooney and Van Persie worried me. But this was a game that we could win and win well.

5-0 will be fine, please.

After Neil Barnett had announced the teams, in that rather loud and irritating way of his, he called for silence. Both sets of fans were asked to acknowledge the life of former Manchester United and England winger John Connelly, who had recently passed away.

A short but steady period of applause resounded around the stadium.

United had their usual three thousand and the lower tier, at least, stood the entire game. The home areas eventually were filled to capacity. I tried to spot any empty seats and it was difficult. We were treated to a bona fide full house at last. Maybe we’re getting too used to sight of United and too used to the big games, but the pre-match buzz was sadly lacking inside the stadium. I felt it outside, in the pubs and in the streets, but inside, there was a strange quietness.

The teams entered the pitch. The United contingent had begun singing with a few minutes to go, but we drowned them out. The place was suddenly rocking.

“We know what we are.
Champions of Europe.
We know what we are.”

There were the expected venomous catcalls from the home stands aimed at Rio Ferdinand as the match began, though thankfully none of a racist nature. I’m personally getting bored with it all and it’s time to move on.

Well, what a game. After last season’s rollercoaster 3-3 draw, who could have thought that we could be in for another tumultuous ninety minutes of drama and intrigue, goals and calamity, ecstasy and misery?

After just three minutes, United had struck down our left flank, with Ashley Cole horribly out of position. The arch predator Van Persie struck a shot against Petr Cech’s near post and the ball cannoned in off a hapless David Luiz. And my £1,500 bounty had been blown to smithereens. I gazed skywards, sighed and then muttered something to myself which probably mirrored 95% of what the Chelsea crowd had been singing at Rio Ferdinand.

Soon after, Ferdinand walked over towards us in the north-west corner to receive a ball from David De Gea. The boos cascaded down on him. However, nobody closed him down and he had time to initiate a move down the United left which again caught Cole woefully out of position. The ball cut through our defence like a hot knife through butter. A low cross, a Van Persie shot.

2-0 to United and the game had hardly started.

I looked on as I saw Ferdinand punch the air.

A horrible feeling.

Midway through the first-half, with Chelsea seemingly chasing shadows, Alan leaned over and summed it up.

“They’re better than us. No point disguising the fact. We’re not in it.”

I had to agree.

Every time United broke, we were sent into a tense period of panic. Although Andrei Kanchelskis, Lee Sharpe and Ryan Giggs were not playing, this was so reminiscent of the rapid thrusts of the United team from the mid-‘nineties. Alan then made another telling point.

“Our wide men in midfield aren’t providing extra cover on the flanks.”

I had visions of more United goals. It was so imperative that we nabbed a goal before the break, or else I could see United running away with the game in the second-half.

The away fans were bellowing – that bloody awful Cantona song always annoys me – as United punched deep into our defence and we were reeling on the ropes. And then, miraculously, we found our feet and retaliated. I had commented to Alan that “we haven’t even had a corner.”

With that, the rest of the first-half was Chelsea corner after Chelsea corner.

They must have heard me.

De Gea was tested with a dipping and swerving Luiz free-kick, which the ‘keeper chose to save with his feet as he scrambled across his goal. This then set the tone for the rest of the half. De Gea’s goal lived a charmed life as headers from Cahill and then Torres were saved. We kept pushing and the crowd responded. This was more like it.

Just before the break, we were awarded a free-kick. Every outfield United player crowded into the penalty area, forming a formidable barrier to Juan Mata. I clicked my camera just as the little Spaniard clipped the ball past the tight huddle of intertwined red and blue shirts and into the goal.

It was an inch-perfect strike and the ball caressed the side netting as it entered the waiting goalmouth.

Stamford Bridge shook as the 38,000 home supporters roared.

Phew. We had scored that all important goal before the break.

Game most definitely on.

At the break, Neil Barnett appeared by the tunnel with a little girl and he announced that she was watching her first-ever Chelsea game. Her face appeared on the large TV screen above the United fans just as Neil told the story of her father scoring at Old Trafford in 1996. I quickly computed that little Amelia’s father was none other than Gianluca Vialli. As Luca was seen nut-megging the United ‘keeper, the memories flooded back. I am sure this was Luca’s first official return to the Chelsea fold since he was unceremoniously sacked in September 2000, though he is a season ticket-holder to this day.

He remains one of my very favourite Chelsea heroes.

The Juventus background, the cheeky smile, the cashmere cardigans, the self-effacing humour, the hilarious use of cockney phraseology, the goals and the glory.

A proper gentleman, a lovely man, a funny guy, a true Chelsea legend.

Ah, we loved Vialli.

One memory always brings a smile to my face to this day. After a game at Nottingham Forest in 1999, my then girlfriend Judy – who had a massive crush on Luca – and I waited for the players to board the team coach in the Forest car park. I took a few photos of the players as they were being mobbed by the crowd, but I then realised that Judy was missing. After a few moments, I looked up to see her standing right next to Luca by the door to the coach. She had simply sidled up alongside him and had held his left hand for a few seconds as he signed autographs with his right hand. He then realised what was going on and gave Judy a smile, and then signed her hand.

Judy bounced over to show me, her face beaming.

She didn’t wash her hand for a week.

The United players were first to appear back on the pitch after the break. I wondered what extra words of encouragement Di Matteo was imparting to the team. Di Matteo is from the same stock as Luca; calm, modest and a gentleman. I struggle to think he gets overly irate about anything. This was a big test for him, though. We waited for the Chelsea eleven to reappear.

The second-half was a travesty.

We began with gusto, as we attempted to prise gaps in the United defence. After some sustained Chelsea pressure, the impressive Oscar clipped the ball in to the six yard box where a seemingly unmarked Ramires was able to head the ball home.

He doesn’t score many, but when he does…

Now the stadium almost went into orbit.

The United fans fell silent as the Chelsea legions bellowed –

“You are my Chelsea.
My only Chelsea.
You make me happy when skies are grey.
You’ll never notice how much I love you.
Until you’ve taken my Chelsea away.
Until you’ve taken my Chelsea away.”

Stamford Bridge was the loudest it had been since that date with Barcelona last spring.

But then, just as we were in the ascendency, smelling blood, our game plan was forced to change. A quick United break, Ashley Young through on goal, with Ivanovic giving chase. Within a blink of an eye, a tangle of legs and Young was sent sprawling.

It was a clear red, even allowing for David Luiz in the vicinity. It was unlikely that Luiz would have covered.

Damn it.

Chicarito, who scored against us at home last season, came on for United. Di Matteo brought on Azpilicueta.

It got worse.

Fernando Torres, who was tending to hold the ball a little too long for my liking, set off on a run deep at the heart of the floundering United defence. I didn’t think that he would be able to get past the defenders, so it was with relief when Evans hacked him down. I then wondered if Evans had been booked (he hadn’t) and if the referee would send him off for the second offence.

Imagine our horror when Clattenburg decided that it had been a dive from Torres. This was a second yellow and so, Torres was given his marching orders. Torres looked heartbroken. I was speechless. The United fans gleefully waved him off the pitch. After last season’s miss at Old Trafford, I really felt for him. He acts as a totem of all that is wrong about Chelsea in the eyes of many opposing fans.

We were down to nine men with twenty minutes to play.

With the crowd galvanised against Clattenburg and the opposition alike, the noise levels stayed high and the atmosphere was certainly intense. However, United soon seized their chance to strike. Van Persie wiggled one way and then the other before striking low at Cech’s goal. The ball squirmed away from his grasp and spun slowly towards a post. No United players were on hand to poke it home but the ball was knocked back into the crowded box by Raphael. Chicarito – it had to be him – prodded the ball in after coming back from behind the goal line. Incoming texts suggested that he had been offside when he delivered the final coup de grace. However, the area was so crowded and the ball in was so quick, that it was not readily apparent in my eyes at the time.

With the odds heavily stacked against us, an equaliser seemed impossible. We never gave up the fight, though. Our nine men gamely searched for that illusive goal. A fine example of this was a scintillating run by the impressive Eden Hazard deep into the United box.

The game continued on with five minutes of extra time, but it wasn’t our day.

All around me, Chelsea fans were moaning about Clattenburg, but I really wanted to get home and watch the match highlights on TV before I made up my own mind.

By 10.45pm, I was moaning too.

There were defensive lapses during the game for sure. David Luiz can be world class and class clown in the same passage of play. Our defence misses John Terry. Against United, frailties will always be exposed. But we showed a lot of fight and courage in that middle third of the game. I saw promising signs. Against Arsenal, Tottenham and United we have gathered six points. Both United and us will be in the mix at the top end of the table come May.

And on Wednesday, we meet again.


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 The European Trail

Chelsea vs. Atletico Madrid : 21 October 2009.

I generally think that my work / play balance is in pretty good shape. I enjoy my job and thankfully I have been able to attend lots and lots ( too many! ) of Chelsea games since I began working in Chippenham in March 2003. I’m lucky in that the town is only ten minutes from the M4 and my Chelsea parking spot is “only” 97 miles away. I’ve been able to go on a ridiculous run of home games going back to January 2004. The last one I missed was an F.A.Cup replay against Watford ( I was in America, ironically ) and I remember flying back into England on the morning of a Sunday game against Birmingham City. Since then, I have stacked up a run of 162 games (mmm – a baseball season! ), but I have been very busy this week and I did wonder if I would be able to get out early for the Atletico game. I usually drive up with Parky but warned him of my predicament. As a precaution, he decided to play safe and go up by train.

On Monday, I finished work at 7pm, on Tuesday at 5.15pm ( getting better! ) and I thankfully got my last bit of work completed at 4.30pm…this is realistically the time I had set myself. As I pulled onto the M4, I heaved a sigh of relief.

I slapped on a Buzzcocks CD, sipped at a coffee and tried to relax. Thankfully, there were no work phone-calls ( my official finish time is 5.30pm ) and as the sun set behind me, it felt good to be free from the worries of work. I reached Reading in double-quick time, then sped past Windsor. Things were looking good. However, from 6pm to 7.15pm, I travelled just nine miles and I did wonder if I would make the kick-off. The lads were in The Goose, but I had no chance of reaching them. As I tried to find a parking space in Chesson Road at 7.15pm, I was listening to the United vs. CSKA game on the radio ( Pat Nevin was over in Russia – he has a good life, eh? ) and as I parked up, United scored.

Oh great.

I sped past The Goose and headed down the North End Road. I was well aware that there would be the usual queues at the turnstiles. I peered into a few fast food restaurants and simply could not believe the amount of fans chomping away oblivious to the fact that they would be late for the kick-off.

I purchased a programme and cut through the crowds like Wee Pat on a mazy run – “get out of my way!” – and joined the line for the MHU. Two things stuck out. One guy next to me was wearing his work shirt, but had put a Chelsea replica shirt over it.

Ouch. Very stylish, mate!

Then, one fan placed his ticket into the scanner and was met with a red light…he was in the wrong queue ( he needed the MHL ), but began blaming the stewards. Unbelievable.

Thankfully, I reached my seat with two minutes to spare. You beauty! However, I hate this kind of rush, but it is more and more common with every mid-week game these days. Why do I put myself through it? There’s a question. I guess the unbeaten home run has a lot to answer for. Nobody would think anything less of me if I missed the odd game – I have nothing to prove – but I just need to be there. Watching at home on the TV would feel so very strange. The last home game I watched live on TV must be ages and ages ago.

Alan handed me my Madrid away ticket – we chatted excitedly about our plans for the return leg in two weeks. Six of us are going…can’t wait.

As the game began, I received a text from Danny ( Blue Celery ) in LA…

“Kalou for a hat-trick.”

Yeah, right mate – no chance of that.

Let’s not kid ourselves, we began slowly and Atletico had the better of the early exchanges, forcing saves out of Petr Cech in our goal. Diego Forlan, a bit of a flop at United, was lively and involved in most of their forward thrusts. They were making good patterns, moving the ball well. We, by comparison, seemed laboured and slow. The midfield did not seem to be working. We were giving Atletico too much space and, in possession, were unable to create. I noted to Alan that Anelka, when he receives the ball, often takes a touch and slows to a standstill, ensuring that the move loses its impetus. If I am honest, I do the same when I play five-a-side. We then had a goal from that long-distance free-kick ( not sure why ) and Ballack set up Kalou who shot wide.

Danny – are you watching?

Just before the break, we took the lead after great work down the left from Ashley who is in a great run of form at the moment. His cross found Salomon and he couldn’t miss. Alan and myself hugged and I thought of Danny’s pre-match prediction.

The half-time stats told the story of the half…we had more possession, but Madrid had eight shots compared to our five. It was great to see Tom at the game again after his recent sad loss and he seemed chirpy enough. Zac is off to the NFL game at Wembley on Sunday and we discussed this. He is a Miami fan ( he was wearing a Dolphins sweatshirt ) but is not really in favour of regular season NFL games being played outside the US. I made the point that, with only eight ( ? ) home games each season, as a fan of either New England or Tampa Bay, I would be gutted at missing out on a game. I am sure that the FA look at NFL’s colonialism as a shining example of new ways to grow sporting brands. Much more of this from American sport and they will look again at the “39th Game” which so infuriated me a year ago. Danny Granville ( remember him? Stockholm 1998! ) was presented to us at the break. In the programme, Mark Stein was featured in a piece about the Bruges ECWC game in 1995. That was a night when the full house of 28,000 absolutely rocked Stamford Bridge to its foundations. That was a great night and only our third European game since 1971. Since then, European nights have become part of the modern Chelsea story and I do wonder if the group phase games have helped soften the excitement of European games for some. Those early knock-out games against Zizkov, Austria Memphis and Bruges were phenomenal.

We played a lot better in the second period and the Spanish support soon fell quiet. I snapped Frank taking the corner which lead to our second goal. After the first goal, I had texted Danny to say that if Kalou got two more, I would be buying him beer all day when he comes over for the Wolves game.

I texted him again – “Now I’m worried.”

We began playing the ball around better and Madrid tired. After a move down in front of me, the ball zipped across the box and Kalou couldn’t quite reach it. Oh Danny – so near and yet so far. He was surprisingly subbed soon after and got a good reception. Two late goals rather flattered us I thought. The most noise from us was when Joe began warming up on the touchline, but he didn’t enter the fray. In the last quarter of the game, The Bridge fell eerily silent at times.

Oh well.

So, another home game came to an end…number 163 on the trot for me. It wasn’t that great. I have seen us play more expansive and pleasing football, but a 4-0 win mustn’t be sniffed at. I slowly left the seats and left the stadium. Outside, I noted quite a few Spanish fans exiting the pricier parts of the West Stand. It surprised me for some reason. I stopped for a pizza at an Italian near The Goose and drove home through the West London streets and then the Wessex countryside.

The loneliness of a long-distance football follower.

I reached home at 12.45am with thoughts of Blackburn Rovers, game 164, and beyond.