Tales From One Billy Gilmour And One Decent Scouser

Chelsea vs. Liverpool : 3 March 2020.

In the pubs beforehand, there was not one Chelsea fan that I spoke to who thought that we would be victorious in the game with Liverpool.

“They’re so far ahead in the league that they can afford to play their first team, rather than rest players.”

“They’re light years ahead of us.”

“We’ll be lucky to get naught.”

“Expectation level is nine below zero.”

“Could be another Bayern.”

But complete and total negativity was not the order of the evening.

There were a couple of pluses.

In “The Goose”, Parky, PD and I chatted to some of the lads from our home area. Does anyone recollect the story of Sir Les, and a few others, getting stuck in a lift before a home game before Christmas? They were stuck in there for virtually the entire first-half. Well, I am pleased to report that Chelsea rewarded these fans with a corporate style package for the Everton home game which is coming up in Sunday.

Well done Chelsea Football Club.

There was also some good work from the club regarding the pricing of this FA Cup fifth round tie with Liverpool. Initially, as with previous seasons, it was announced that all FA Cup ties would be priced at £30. When Liverpool came out of the hat, the club decided to up the tickets to £40. There was an immediate uproar and the Chelsea Supporters Trust, alongside the original Supporters Club I believe, soon petitioned the club to re-think. Within twenty-four hours, there was a statement to the effect of the club getting it wrong and the price returning to the £30 level.

Well done again Chelsea Football Club.

We made our way down to Simmons to chat with the others. It wasn’t as busy as I had expected. As I waited for friends to arrive, I spotted that the 1970 replay – often a favourite at “Simmons” – was being replayed on the TV screens. It is still the fifth most viewed TV programme in the UK, ever.

That’s right. Ever.

During the few days leading up to the evening’s game, it dawned on me that the last time we played Liverpool at home in the cup was the famous 1997 game. Many of my generation mention the 1978 third round win – 4-2 – when an average Chelsea side surprisingly defeated the then European Champions. I was not at that game, but can remember the joy of hearing about our win as the news came through on the TV. Next up, in the story of games in the cup at Stamford Bridge between the two teams, was the equally memorable 2-0 win in 1982. Chelsea were a Second Division team that season, and Liverpool were again European Champions. I was at that one. And I have detailed that game on here before. It was seismic. What an afternoon.

Next up was a fourth round tie in 1985/86 that we lost 2-1 which is probably best remembered for Kerry Dixon injuring himself and, probably, not quite being the same player ever again.

It’s worth noting that we haven’t played at Anfield in the FA Cup for decades.

The last time was in 1966.

Then came the fourth round tie on Sunday 26 January 1997.

It is a game that evokes wonderful memories among most Chelsea supporters; it was a real “coming of age” moment for club, team and fans alike. Chelsea, under new manager Ruud Gullit, were still finding our collective feet under the talisman and Dutch legend. During the league in 1996/97, we had lost 5-1 at Anfield in the autumn but a Roberto di Matteo strike gave us a deserved 1-0 on New Year’s Day. In October we had suffered the sadness of the loss of Matthew Harding. We were winning more than we were losing, but by no great margin. Liverpool were a better team than us in 1996/97. They would go on to finish fourth, we were to finish sixth. We had easily defeated First Division West Brom at home in the third round.

We – Glenn, my mate Russ and little old me – watched the Liverpool game unfold from the last few rows of the Matthew Harding Lower. It was a terrible view to be honest, the overhang meant that we watched the game through a letterbox.

Chelsea started with Gianfranco Zola and Gianluca Vialli up front. We played with Scott Minto and Dan Petrescu as wing backs. Liverpool fielded players such as David James, Jamie Redknapp, John Barnes, Steve McManaman, Robbie Fowler and Stan Collymore. They were a tough team. But, with us having the home advantage, it was evenly matched. Or so we thought. With Liverpool attacking the temporary seats in The Shed in the first-half they soon galloped to a 2-0 lead after just twenty-one minutes. I think it was McManaman who missed an easy chance to make it 3-0. Chelsea were out of it, and the atmosphere in Stamford Bridge had quietened severely after the early promise.

It was as flat as I had ever experienced.

At half-time, Gullit replaced Scott Minto with Mark Hughes, went to a 4/3/3 formation, and Sparky proved to be the catalyst that sparked a revolution. He turned and smashed a long range effort in on fifty-minutes.

“Game on.”

Then Gianfranco Zola slammed in an equaliser eight minutes later.

The atmosphere was red hot by then.

Despite the gate being just 27,950, the place was booming.

Gianluca Vialli scored on sixty-three and seventy-six minutes – euphoria – and we ended up as 4-2 winners. Liverpool, their fans all along the East Lower in those days, did not know what had hit them.

I would later watch that second-half on grainy VHS again and again and again.

Up until that point, my two favourite Chelsea games – out of the then total of two hundred and sixty-five – were the FA Cup games in 1982 and 1997.

Lovely memories.

That win over Liverpool in 1997 gave us confidence and with further games against Leicester City at home (I went), Pompey away (I couldn’t get tickets) and Wimbledon in the semi-final at Highbury (I was there) we marched triumphantly towards Wembley for the 1997 FA Cup Final with Middlesbrough. And through it all, Matthew Harding’s presence was with us all.

Heady and emotional moments?

You bet.

My friend John, a lecturer at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, arrived at about 6.30pm. I last saw him at Ann Arbor for the Real Madrid game in 2016. He was visiting London, Liverpool and Manchester for a few days with some students who were on a “Soccer: Media, Art & Society” course that would go towards their various degrees.

“Soccer: Media, Art & Society.”

Yeah, I know. What a course. Where can I sign up? It sure beat the “Cultural Geography” and “Transport Geography” sub-courses I took at North Staffs Poly from 1984 to 1987.

John was keen for me to talk to his six students – three lads, three lasses – for a few minutes about football, its heady sub-culture, its fads and fancies. I enjoyed it, though I can’t see myself as a lecturer in the near future, not without a bit more practice anyway, and not without a script.

I briefly mentioned the story of my grandfather attending a match at Stamford Bridge, and how I genuinely think it could well have been the 1920 FA Cup Final, one hundred years ago this year.

I hoped that the atmosphere would be good for them on this night in SW6. I always remember a League Cup semi-final in 2015 between the two teams and the noise was sensational all night. I hoped for a repeat. Apart from John, who comes over every season, this was the students’ first ever game at The Bridge.

At about 7.15pm, I downed the last of my two small bottles of “Staropramen” and headed off to Stamford Bridge.

There were six thousand Scousers in the area, though I was yet to see one of them. I guess they were doing their drinking in the West End and Earl’s Court.

Alan and I soon realised that the place was taking an age to fill up. There were yawning gaps everywhere. Even with ten minutes to go, we wondered if the paranoia over the Corona Virus had deterred many from travelling into The Smoke.

“Chelsea will be the death of me.”

The team news came through.

Arrizabalaga

Azpilicueta – Rudiger – Zouma – Alonso

Gilmour – Kovacic – Barkley

Willian – Giroud – Pedro

So, Kepa back in, an enforced change in personnel, a rather aged front three, and a start for young Billy Gilmour.

Like the 1997 game, this was live on BBC1.

I spoke to a few friends close by in that period before the pre-match rituals kick in and, again, nobody was hopeful.

Nobody.

Within the last few minutes, the place suddenly filled to capacity.

There was more 2020-style pre-match nonsense. The lights dimmed, almost darkness, fireworks, the teams appeared.

Blues vs. Reds.

South vs. North.

Chelsea vs. Liverpool.

(In the slightly off-kilter parlance of the modern day: “Chels vs. Red Scouse.”)

As the floodlights returned to full strength, I spotted white socks. As the tracksuit tops were taken off, I spotted the dogs’ dinner of the normal 2019/20 kit. Where was the promised 1970 kit, the beautifully understated blue with yellow trim?

Where the fuck was it?

My heart sank.

It seems that Chelsea Football Club – two steps forward, one step back – had been less than truthful about our 1970 kit.

Who thought that we would be wearing it throughout this season’s FA Cup campaign?

Everyone?

Yeah, thought so.

What a fucking disgrace.

So, this season – three kits, and one kit to be worn just once.

I only bought the shorts, and I am yet to wear them, but I felt for those significant others who bought the range. They shot off the shelves, didn’t they?

And, the sad thing is, I was really looking forward to seeing us in that kit once again.

I vented on “Facebook.”

And here are a few responses :

Michelle : So wrong I’m sure it was marketed as an FA Cup kit ! The club have taken the fans for mugs yet again,

Lottinho : Absolute joke. Pathetic on the club. Strictly for £££.

Karn : It’s bollocks. Still, glad I bought it though – lovely shirt.

Alex : As predictable as it is disappointing

Kelvin : So cynical how Chelsea avoided making that clear when they were marketing it.

Jake :  All about the money, mate. That was a class kit

Lee : Utter bastards

The game began.

Liverpool were an instant reminder of another team in all red from last Tuesday. I silently shuddered. The away team, with a heady handful of familiar players but also a couple of unfamiliar ones, began the livelier and moved the ball in and around our defence. There was an early, relatively easy, save from Kepa following a strike from Sadio Mane. But at the other end, The Shed, Willian drove at the defence and forced a good save from Adrian in front of the Liverpool hordes.

They had their usual assortment of flags, including one of Bill Shankly who – I cannot lie – I used to love to hear talk about football was I was a mere sprog.

The game heated up.

A Willian corner from our left was glanced on my Dave, and the ball spun wide. Only on the TV replay were we able to see how close both Olivier Giroud and Antonio Rudiger got to adding a decisive touch.

Liverpool, despite their large numbers, were relatively quiet and it surprised me.

We enjoyed a great little spell. Ross Barkley thumped centrally at goal, but Adrian saved.

A lovely flowing move, instigated by the poise of young Billy Gilmour, cruising through a pack of red shirts before coolly releasing Pedro, resulted in a fierce shot from Willian, but Adrian was again able to save well.

“Gilmour. Excellent there, Al.”

This was turning, early, into some game. It had all of our full and undivided attention. I wondered what John was making of it in the West Upper.

After twelve minutes, I leaned over towards PD.

“Open game, innit?”

There was a reassuring nod of agreement from him and also Alan alongside me.

Barely after me commenting, the game stepped up a gear. Attempting to play the ball out of defence, we put pressure on the wall of red. Barkley forced a slip and the ball fell to Willian. His optimistic shot flew at Adrian, but whereas just thirty seconds before he had saved well, this time the ball bounced off him, and flew into the goal.

GET IN.

Willian danced away and in front of the livid Liverpudlians.

Livid Liverpudlians. Is there any other type?

Stamford Bridge was bouncing. What joy.

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

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

Could we make it three out of three in the FA Cup against reigning European Champions?

1978, 1982 and 2020?

We were going to give it our best shot by the looks of it.

The game continued to thrill, and we could – ever so slightly – begin to enjoy it all with that slender lead.

Gilmour, getting into it, tackling hard, kept the ball alive and helped win a free-kick after a foul on Ross Barkley. A fine effort from Marcos Alonso sailed narrowly wide.

On around twenty minutes, pure pinball in the Chelsea box as shot after shot tested Kepa. A double save, a save, another save. All within a few seconds. It was dramatic and glorious stuff, though in the light of day two of the shots were hit straight at him.

What a game.

Mane, the biggest Liverpool threat by some margin, wriggled through our defence like a little eel and forced another excellent save from Kepa who was, dramatically, the centre of attention. Williams made a poor effort to connect with the rebounded shot. We had survived another scare.

A lot of the standard Chelsea and Liverpool songs were getting aired towards the end of the first-period and it absolutely added to the occasion.

“Fuck off Chelsea FC, you ain’t got no history.”

“Steve Gerrard Gerrard, he slipped on his fucking arse.”

There was gutsy defending from our players, and this was turning into a rather old-fashioned game of football with a lovely balance of cut and thrust, raw energy and honest attacks. Pedro was as involved as anyone, and after a few early miss-fires, was causing all sorts of problems. Giroud was a one man battling-ram. But the undoubted star of the first-half was young Billy Gilmour. Billy the kid was everywhere. An absolutely stunning performance.

Mateo Kovacic was injured, to be replaced on forty-two minutes by the fresh legs of Mason Mount.

Liverpool, after a string start, were visibly starting to become less of a threat.

As the first-half came to a close, I had a question for Alan.

“Wasn’t Lalana in the Teletubbies”?

At the break, all was well with the world. Previously worried faces had changed. There was a lovely buzz in the air.

On Saturday 24 April 1920, on this very same site, if not this very same stadium – but certainly one which was in situ for the 1982 game, those lovely packed terraces – my grandfather stood on the great slug of the West terrace with his old school friend Ted Knapton alongside him. It was half-time, and the score between the two teams – Aston Villa, who he favoured, and Huddersfield Town – was 0-0. It had been an exhilarating game of football for my grandfather, though the spectacle of seeing fifty-thousand spectators in one sports ground had proved to be the one abiding memory that he would take away with him.

Fifty thousand people.

And virtually all were men, and so many had fought in the Great War.

My grandfather was twenty-five years old. He silently gazed out at the main stand on the far side, the open terraces behind each goal, and looked behind him at row after row of fellows in caps and hats, some with the colourful favours of the two competing teams. A claret and blue rosette here. A light blue hat there.

Fifty-thousand men.

It struck home.

My grandfather had just that week spotted a local girl, a few years younger than him, who was beginning work in the manor house of his home village. She was a young cook, with a lovely smile, and had caught his eye.

My grandfather was a rather quiet man. He looked out at all those faces. He did not speak to his friend Ted, but he – at Stamford Bridge on Cup Final day 1920 – had decided that the stadium, indeed the whole of England was full of men, and the thought of one of them asking the young cook out before he had a chance to utter a shy “hello” ate away at him.

He had survived the Great War. He lived in a great village and now this great spectacle had stirred him in a way that he had not expected.

“You had better get your act together, Ted Draper. On Monday at lunch time, I think I will ask Blanche if she would like to accompany her to next weekend’s village dance. I can’t be second in that race.”

Almost one hundred years later, the players of Chelsea and Liverpool reappeared on the pitch. Could our lively form continue into the second-half? We bloody hoped so, but there was another enforced change early on. Willian, injured – oh our bloody injury list – was replaced by Jorginho, and there was a shift of Mason Mount out wide.

The game continued with the same noisy support cascading down from the stands. The Matthew Harding seemed particularly up for it, no doubt aided by some interlopers from The Shed who had been displaced by the northern hordes. The game had lost little of its attraction in the first half. On the hour, a fine cross field ball from Dave opened up the Liverpool defence but Mount was scythed down. I honestly thought that the position of the resulting free-kick would be too central, too flat. But to my surprise, Mason dug one out. Sadly, the fine effort bounced on top of Adrian’s bar.

So close.

On the hour, too, a loud and beautiful chant was aired for the very first time.

“One Billy Gilmour. There’s only one Billy Gilmour.”

Just three minutes later, with Chelsea defending, Pedro – bless him – nipped in to win the ball and Giroud jumped so well to move it on. The ball fell at the feet of Ross Barkley, still in his own half. I reached for my camera.

“Here we go.”

I sensed a huge chance.

Barkley ran on, and on, and with Pedro in acres to his right, I half-expected a slide rule pass. But he kept running, despite being chased by two defenders, and with one recovering defender goal side. He kept going. A shimmy, a shot – CLICK.

Adrian was beaten.

A goal.

Oh get in you bastard.

I was full of smiles, but clicked away. I had only recently mentioned to Alan that “I bet Barkley would love to score tonight.”

His slide was euphoric.

Up the fucking Toffees, up the fucking Chelsea.

Chelsea 2 Liverpool 0.

Just beautiful. The goal had come at just the right time. Liverpool had been clawing their way back into it a little.

Another lovely chant was bellowed from the lungs of the Matthew Harding Lower.

“One decent Scouser. There’s only one decent Scouser. One decent Scouser.”

Bliss.

Incredibly, from a Liverpool corner, Rudiger headed strongly out and Pedro – bless him – picked up the pieces, and his little legs went into overdrive. I reached for my camera once more.

“Here we go.”

His legs pumped away, but as he ate up the ground I sensed he was tiring. His shot, after a long run, lacked placement and Adrian easily saved.

In the last segment of the match, with Liverpool fading, Giroud capped a very fine performance indeed by forcing himself to reach a lovely pass from Dave, strongly fighting off challenges, but Adrian was able to touch the effort onto the bar and down.

Liverpool were chasing a lost cause now. Late substitutions Firmino and Salah added nothing.

It was Chelsea who finished the stronger, with shots from Mount and Giroud continuing to test Adrian. Gilmour had a quieter second-half, but one dribble late on made us all so happy.

“One Billy Gilmour.”

Indeed.

Reece James replaced the fantastic Giroud in the final few minutes.

The final whistle signalled the end.

“One Step Beyond.”

It had been a game for the ages.

As we bundled down the steps, and onto the Fulham Road, everything was fine in our world.

Into the last eight we went.

Yet another FA Cup appearance? It’s a possibility.

In 1920, the FA Cup Final stayed at 0-0, and Aston Villa – much to my grandfather’s approval – won 1-0 in extra-time with a goal from Billy Kirton.

However, as my dear grandfather Ted Draper travelled back by train with his pal that evening, back to beautiful and bucolic Somerset, he had another match on his mind.

On the Monday, he met with his new love, and nervously chatted.

He would later marry Blanche in the summer of 1925. My mother Esme would arrive in 1930, and the rest, as they say in Liverpool, is history.

Tales From Miseryside

Liverpool vs. Chelsea : 7 November 2010.

My sporting weekend began on Friday evening when San Francisco Bob, Lord Parky and I visited a local pub to see Ron Harris and Charlie Cooke, who were in the middle of a spate of appearances all over the United Kingdom. We had a great time. I have heard most of Ron’s stories from his playing days before, but it was refreshing to listen to Charlie’s tales from Scotland, England and America. I especially enjoyed Charlie’s reminiscences of playing amongst Docherty’s Diamonds. Tommy Doc was quite a character and I think there was a certain kinship between player and manager since they both came from hard-nosed working class areas in Scotland; Cooke, a Protestant, from Greenock on the banks of the Clyde and Docherty, a Catholic, from the bleakest of inner city areas of all, The Gorbals. We were whooping with laughter at the stories about Peter Osgood, Tommy Smith, Peter Bonetti and Bobby Charlton.

On the Saturday, Bob and I watched local Zamaretto League team Frome Town play Clevedon Town. My two friends from school days Steve and Francis were at the game too and it made a nice change. Steve was a big Bristol City fan as a youth and it is ironic that his eldest son Harry is now banging in the goals for one of Bristol Rovers’ academy teams. Frome came from 0-1 down to nab an unlikely 2-1 win with a goal in the very last minute. However, my elation was short-lived when Bob told me that Manchester United had also scored a last minute winner. Bloody Hell.

On the Sunday, it was Chelsea’s turn to play.

I collected Bob from his hotel in Frome Market Place and drove over to Westbury. From there, my friend Mark – with his daughter Kerry – took over the reins. By 10.30am, Lord Parky was aboard and we were on our way to Merseyside. I was feeling slightly jaded from a whirlwind pub crawl of my local town with Bob on the Saturday evening. Parky was his usual ebullient self, though, and we hadn’t reached Bath before he asked –

“Are we there yet, Mark?”

So, at last, a game in the North West without me at the wheel. I sat back and relaxed as Mark made good time. I first met Mark on that fateful day in April 1984 when we beat Dirty Leeds 5-0 and won promotion to the top flight. We reminisced about that day plus a few others from around that time. Parky and Mark’s mate Les phoned and asked about tickets for the Birmingham away game. This elicited a funny story from Lord Parky. Many years ago, Les used to work as a butcher in the Trowbridge firm of “Bowyers.” On one Saturday morning, Les did a morning shift and didn’t have time to get changed from his white butcher’s overalls. He drove Parky and a few other Trowbridge ruffians up to Chelsea in his car and parked up close to the ground. As a master butcher, he always kept his set of expensive knives in the car boot. As he hurriedly parked his car, his all-white tunic attracted the attention of a passing policeman, who was further taken aback when he glimpsed Les’ set of sparkling knives in the car boot.

“What’s going on here? What are you doing?” the copper asked of Les as the butcher’s robes were being discarded.

“Sorry, what do you mean? I’m getting out of my work clothes” replied Les, sensing the chance of some laughter.

“Why, what do you do?” the policeman asked.

Les looked him in the eyes and replied “I kill pigs.”

We drove past Tewkesbury and the Malvern Hills were shrouded in low-lying clouds to the west. Parky opened up a can of “Fosters” and almost covered himself in beer spray. After a couple of corrective gulps, he wiped his mouth with his hand and enquired –

“Are we there yet, Mark?”

I posed my favourite question about which football stadia can be seen within five minutes of each other in the Birmingham area and Kerry answered correctly. Incidentally, guess who Kerry is named after? Too easy, eh? Alan and Gary were on their way north on the Chelsea train and Burger and Julie were Liverpool-bound too. We shot past my former stomping ground of Stoke-On-Trent and Parky opened another lager.

“Are we there yet, Mark?”

Bob was taking it all in, with his excitement rising as each exit on the M6 was passed. This was to be Bob and Kerry’s first visit to the fields of Anfield Road, while Mark’s last visit was in 2002. I think Parky’s last visit was back in the ‘eighties. We flew over the Thirlwall Viaduct and then off at exit 23. Mark now had Liverpool in his sights and the chat got quicker and more intense.

We parked about a mile from Anfield and the weather was sunny, yet with quite a cold wind. As we crossed the road, a gaggle of Scousers were eyeing us up and asked the fabled question –

“Watch your car mate?”

To be truthful, Mark didn’t have a clue what they had said since it sounded more like “Washyercamate?”, that nasal Scouse accent to the fore. We ignored them and walked on by.

We walked through the Stanley Park cemetery, then out onto Utting Avenue. A chap dressed in an army uniform was playing “The Fields Of Athenry” on the bagpipes as we headed up the hill and another soldier had a bucket collecting for Remembrance Day. Our jackets were protecting us from the cold. We skipped past The Arkles as it looked too busy. Instead, we made our way to The Flat Iron. Pints were purchased and we made our way into the lounge bar just as “Going Underground” by The Jam started on the pub juke-box. How appropriate I thought. Going underground, going behind enemy lines, going undercover. We stayed there for about an hour, a little gaggle of Chelsea in one corner, surrounded by Scousers all around us. A lad called Andy joined us and it turned out that Andy has the fortune of sitting next to Parky in the Shed Lower. Small world, eh? We were then joined by Julie and Burger, then Cathy and Dog. I was still struggling with the remnants of my hangover, so regrettably didn’t join in further rounds. My mate Francis, a Liverpool fan, texted me to say that Essien wasn’t playing.

Oh dear.

Kelly was on way up from the city centre, along with his sister and wife. I met Kelly in Texas last summer and this was his first Chelsea game on English soil, albeit in that very strange part of England called Merseyside. Maybe there needs to be an asterisk there somewhere. At about 3.15pm, we decided to head off to circumnavigate the ground and take in the sights

As we headed towards the back of The Kop on Walton Breck Road, we passed five or six Scousers sitting on a low red brick wall. They were sporting tight dark jeans with old school Puma and Adidas trainers, like throwbacks to that golden era of Scallydom in the late ‘seventies. We soon found ourselves right underneath the red brick and grey roof supports of The Kop. Touts were looking for business, street traders were grafting away and there was the usual mix of sounds and smells of matchdays…those impenetrable thick Scouse accents, the shouts of fans, the smell of chips, the noise, the tribal routines and the anticipation.

The Bill Shankly statue was centre-stage. As Burger and Bob took a few photographs, I was reminded of a story which I heard Peter Osgood tell many years ago. He himself heard this story from the Liverpool hard man Tommy Smith and it centres on Bill Shankly, that tough and wily manager who first put Liverpool on the map. On a visit to Anfield in the mid-sixties, an un-named away team went 1-0 down in the first-half and endured a horrendous day, having to resort to desperate measures to keep Liverpool from scoring again and again. Wave after wave of Liverpool attacks were repelled, the woodwork was hit countless times and Liverpool should have been 5-0 up. Then, in virtually the last kick of the game, the away team miraculously broke up field and a ball was played into the waiting centre-forward. Liverpool had a ‘keeper called Tommy Lawrence at the time – he was bizarrely nicknamed The Flying Pig – and as the striker shot, the ball flew right through Lawrence’s legs and into the goal. The ref soon blew up and Lawrence was mortified. He was the last off the pitch, not wanting to face his team mates, nor – worse – the acid tongued Shankly. The changing room was silent and Lawrence took his seat. Not a word was said. Eventually, Shankly appeared and stood in the middle. No player dare look up. They should have killed the visitors off. After what seemed like ages, Lawrence looked up and spoke –

“Look boss, it’s my fault. I should have saved that shot. I should have kept my legs together.”

Without a moment’s hesitation, Shankly barked in that tough Glasgow burr “No son…it was your mother who should have kept her legs together.”

Some character, Shanks.

We then edged around towards the away stand and walked through the Shankly Gates, erected soon after the passing of Bill Shankly in 1981. The gates were forged in my home town of Frome, strangely enough. We momentarily stood by the Hillsborough Memorial and I noted quite a few Scousers touching the black granite with 96 names etched in gold. I bought a copy of “CFCUK” and there was an obituary by Beth for her beloved friend Simon Turner. We heard another rumour that Drogba was on the bench.

Oh dear.

A few “hello mates” to the usual suspects as I made my way to my seat, right behind the Annie Road goal. Such a familiar view these days – this would be my seventeenth visit to Anfield, probably more than a lot of Liverpool fans. Bob and Kelly were sat just five rows behind us. Unfortunately, the pre-match rumours were true. Not only no Frank Lampard, but no Michael Essien and no Didier Drogba. The midfield three looked particularly second rate. A big game for Nico upfront. In the match programme, I loved seeing five or six black and white photographs from a Chelsea vs. Liverpool game from March 1978. I saw the game with my parents in the East Lower and we beat the reigning European champions 3-1 after going a goal down. Fantastic memories. Our goals were scored by the stalwarts from the America Tour of 2009, those likely lads Steve Finnieston and Tommy Langley. Tommy rates his first goal from that game as his best ever Chelsea strike.

Gerry and The Pacemakers did their usual turn and thousands of red and white scarves were held aloft. It seems hard to believe these days, but back in the ‘seventies and early ‘eighties, “YNWA” was not restricted to the terraces of Anfield. Back in those days, a lot of clubs used to mimic The Koppites. The Shed often used to sing “YNWA” and blue and white scarves were held overhead. Strange, but true.

We kicked-off and kept possession for 63 seconds. I think this was our best spell of that first-half. Joking aside, we were bloody awful. Liverpool chased us down at every opportunity and we had no time on the ball. Of course, Torres pounced on about ten minutes to outwit a tangled John Terry and neatly finish with a clipped flick to the far post. Seeing the net bulge made me feel ill. The home support roared and Torres reeled away. A sickening feeling. I just stared at the celebrating home fans and it hurt. Soon after, an Ashley Cole cross found Salomon Kalou who forced a great save from Pepe Reina. However, apart from a couple of long shots, I can’t remember any other Chelsea chances in that arid first period. I thought Mikel was solid, but Zhirkov and Ramires were sadly deficient. They were neither defending well, nor breaking forward in support of the stranded Anelka. I hadn’t seen a more insipid Chelsea midfield for quite a while. The one high spot of the half was watching Alex go up a gear to effortlessly beat Torres in a beautiful sprint for a loose ball. He was like a middle-distance runner turning it on during the last 100 metres of a race. Then of course, a slip by Ashley and the ball was splayed wide to Torres. I immediately sensed danger. Ivanovic should have forced him outside, but gave him too much room. Torres advanced, dropped a shoulder and craftily curled the ball past a stranded Cech and into the goal. The net bulged again and the Scousers roared even loader. Oh God. It pains me to say that the two Torres goals were of exceptional quality.

Long faces at half time. I said to Gary “I can’t see us getting back into this, mate. In fact, I can see us conceding more.” I wanted a big team talk from Carlo at half-time. He’d have to change things. Bringing on Drogba was a no-brainer.

The second-half was, of course, much better. However, could we really have played any worse? We enjoyed a lot more of the ball. On 59 minutes, Ramires rose and headed over from a Cole cross and this stirred the away support. We had been standing all game and we never stopped cheering the lads on. As we got more and more into the game, the Scousers quietened down. This was a lot better and we urged the team forward. I was thoroughly enthralled in the game – though it never felt like we would get the goals back. However, I was kicking every ball, heading every cross, sliding in with every tackle.

The Scousers sang of “No History” and “Rent Boys.”

“At least it’s a job!” retorted Alan.

One thing annoyed me. Drogba was tackled but was not given a free-kick. With rising anger, I watched him slowly get up – with a Chelsea attack developing around him – and slowly walk twenty yards towards the penalty area, oblivious to the play to his left. At one stage, the ball was played to him and he was facing the wrong way. Groin strain or no groin strain, this sort of behaviour is not wanted at Chelsea Football Club. However, I suddenly realised that Liverpool had hardly touched the ball during the previous fifteen minutes.

“Come On Chelsea.”

A great show of strength from Drogba – at last! – and a ball was slammed into Malouda, but his shot was saved at point blank range by Reina. We groaned like never before. Despite good wing play from substitute Bosingwa and the lively Ashley Cole, we didn’t carve out many real chances. John Terry often raced forward to support the attack, but Liverpool defended resolutely. Carlo made some changes and Sturridge had a couple of half chances. I couldn’t believe that Ramires wasn’t substituted, though. The game passed him by completely. I was really pleased that hardly anybody amongst the 3,000 Chelsea loyalists left before the end of the game. We stayed with it. We all knew how important this game was. Anelka hit the bar from close in with five minutes to go and the ball spun back into the lucky Reina’s arms. We just knew it wasn’t to be our day.

Where was The Flying Pig when we needed him?

We marched back to the car and we were soon headed south. Within a few minutes of getting onto the M6, Parky inevitably asked –

“Are we there yet, Mark?”

We had the predictable post-mortem…why didn’t Didier start, why were Yuri and Ramires so poor, how did we give Liverpool so much space? I felt tired and, for once, I was able to get some sleep…a rare luxury for me on Chelsea match day journeys. By the time we had stopped at Stafford for some refreshments, the mood had lightened a little. I commented to Mark that we ought to put this into perspective. We were depressed after an awful first-half, but there are thousands of football fans who travel the congested roads of England and Wales in support of their teams and, for many, there is no end to the agony, no end to the run of defeats, no cash, no future, no light at the end of the tunnel. Only the friendships of fellow fans to get them through the murky gloom.

Back in the car, Parky opened up another can.

“Are we there yet, Mark?”

Mark made good time and Parky kept us all in good spirits with joke after joke. It was great to be laughing again. I’m not saying that the Liverpool debacle was swept under the carpet, but I was pleased that we were reacting to defeat with typical gallows humour. Proper Chelsea. We chatted non-stop for a while about all sorts…Tiswas, Sally James, The Liver Birds, favourite sandwiches, Lily the Pink, beans on toast, Donald McGill seaside postcards and yet more Parky jokes. Some good, some bad. After one particularly poor example, nobody laughed and there was a pregnant pause…

“Are we there yet, Mark?” I asked.

Parky was shoved out of the car at 10pm…”see you on Wednesday, mate.” Goodbyes to Mark and Kerry at Westbury and a goodbye to The Bobster in Frome. It had been a bad day at the office, but we have two winnable home games coming up.

Let’s regroup and go again.

TEW06632685_00164