Tales From Lambeth And Leicester

Leicester City vs. Chelsea : 14 December 2015.

In all of my Chelsea days past, present and future, this one would surely stand alone. It would be a day of mixed emotions in two cities, remembering the past, appreciating the present and contemplating the future. At lunchtime, there was the sadness of dear Tom’s funeral in South London, with three of my closest friends. Then, a drive north for an evening match in the East Midlands. In between, and after, all points of the compass; heading east, heading north, heading south, and heading west. A circle of life in sixteen hours.

Sadness, joy, hope, fear.

And Chelsea.

Here are my recollections of the day that we said goodbye to Tom.

I collected Glenn from his house in nearby Frome just after 9am. Of course, despite the sadness of losing Tom, who sat alongside us at Stamford Bridge in the North West corner for almost eighteen years, there was a very tangible element of relief that the Footballing Gods had aligned Tom’s funeral on the very same day as a Chelsea game. Glenn and I were thankfully able to take a day’s holiday to combine the two. Alan, the fellow South Londoner who regarded Tom as his “football Dad” was able to do the same. The moons had aligned and we were so thankful. Alan had commented that Tom would have been livid if the three of us would miss a Chelsea game because of his funeral. To that end, there was a deep contentment that we were all able to attend both. Parky, not quite as familiar with Tom as the rest of us, was collected at 9.45am and we made our way east into London.

We all knew that this would be a testing day.

From my perspective, it was all about Tom.

With the M4 devoid of rush hour traffic, we made good time. We stopped at Heston just as the news of the Champions League draw came through at about 11.15am. Fate had drawn the cities of London and Paris together once again, for the third year in a row. In 2014, great memories of a trip to Paris and a fine Chelsea victory at Stamford Bridge. This year, darker memories with both of the games coming either side of my own mother’s passing. I had already decided that I would not be bothering with an away game at Parc des Princes in 2016 should we draw PSG again. I was nervous enough about Tel Aviv. Paris for a game of football? Thanks, but no thanks.

I pressed on, down the Fulham Palace Road and past Craven Cottage. Over the River Thames at Putney Bridge and further south, I was in relatively unfamiliar territory, but ironically in Chelsea heartland. Outside Lambeth Crematorium, stood Alan, awaiting our arrival. I wound down the window and shook his hand. I gripped it strongly. I was glad to see a sizeable crowd had gathered in the car park.

Also representing Chelsea Football Club were Steve and Frank, faces from our section of the Stamford Bridge stadium, who originally sat with Tom in the old West Stand in the ‘seventies. A hug for Tom’s daughter Debbie, who is now living only half an hour or so from Glenn and myself in Somerset, alongside her daughter Anna, and other family members. We watched as the hearse slowly drove towards the chapel. Heads were bowed.

As we took our seats in the small chapel, “That’s Life” by Frank Sinatra was played.

“That’s life (that’s life) that’s what all people say.
You’re riding high in April.
Shot down in May.
But I know I’m gonna change their tune
When I’m back on top, back on top in June.

I said that’s life (that’s life) and as funny as it may seem.
Some people get their kicks
Steppin’ on a dream.
But I just can’t let it, let it get me down,
‘Cause this fine old world, it keeps spinnin’ around.

I’ve been a puppet, a pauper, a pirate,
A poet, a pawn and a king.
I’ve been up and down and over and out
And I know one thing.
Each time I find myself flat on my face,
I pick myself up and get back in the race.”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KIiUqfxFttM

A Chelsea flag was pinned on the platform where Tom’s coffin rested. It was a lovely memorial service. Tom’s story was told. Born in Battersea in 1936, his national service was in Kenya. Tom worked many years for Watney’s, the brewers, in Whitechapel, before moving on to work for Hammersmith and Fulham Council. He lived in Sutton, further south, and was truly a proper South London Chelsea man and boy. The word “Chelsea” in fact dominated the eulogy. His love for the club shone through. It seemed that his TV was perpetually tuned to Chelsea TV.

Of course, no surprises, “Blue Is The Colour” was played in the middle of the ceremony.

My eyes were moist. I am sure I was not alone.

At the end, “We Are The Champions” by Queen – probably not Tom’s favourite, but chosen by Debbie because, well, just because – was played and the curtains in front of the coffin were closed.

We all said a little silent prayer for Tom.

“God bless you mate.”

Outside, there were a few bouquets, but three blue and white floral tributes stood out.

“DAD.”

“TOMMY.”

“CFC.”

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Alan, bless him, had planned and purchased the last one, and the words are shared here.

“To a loyal and true blue and friend to many. You are very much missed by all of us who had the pleasure of knowing you. Keep the blue flag flying high in heaven. From your friends Alan, Chris, Glenn, Frank, Joe, Gary, Alan and Steve. Rest in peace Tom.”

After, there was an hour or so spent reminiscing about our own particular memories of Tom at the Leather Bottle pub, a lovely old Victorian boozer, smelling of mulled wine ahead of Christmas. I spoke to his daughter –

“Looking back, I’ve only ever seen Tom in two places. Stamford Bridge and Wembley. That says a lot about our football club the past few years.”

“What I remember about Tom, more than one particular thing, is his childlike and giddy enthusiasm for Chelsea.”

And how true this was. I can picture him now, rosy cheeked and bubbling over with joy as he retold a particular goal, or a described a favourite player. Alan joked that he had a particular dislike for West Ham, maybe born out of the years working at Whitechapel, and how Tom would have got a chuckle out of the West Ham fans in the chapel having to sit through “Blue Is The Colour.”

We were some of the very last ones to leave. At around 2.30pm, I rustled up the troops and looked back at Debbie and Anna as I said “come on, let’s go and win this for Tom.”

I wended my way back through Lambeth, Wimbledon and Wandsworth and over the Thames once more. Out through Hammersmith and past Griffin Park, out towards Heathrow, then a quick stop at Heston to change from suits and black ties to jeans and trainers. North on to the M25, then north again on to the M1. The four of us were on the road once more, following the love of our lives.

Parky, who had opened up his first cider of the day not long after a McBreakfast in Chippenham at 10am, passed a can to Alan who was alongside me in the front. This was a rare treat indeed for Alan, usually cocooned without alcohol, and with little leg room, in a Chelsea coach on away days such as this.

I was now heading north – the second leg of a triangle – on the M1, which was quite an unfamiliar road for me, at least this far south. The rain began to fall, but our spirits were raised with some music from Parky’s Magical Memory Stick. There was talk of the evening game against high-flying Leicester City.

“If someone had asked a thousand football fans before the season began which team out of Leicester City and Chelsea would be on one defeat and which would be on eight in the second week of December, not one would have guessed correctly.”

In fact, the sample size could be increased to 10,000 and a winner would not be found.

I eventually pulled in to the anointed parking place about a mile to the south of the King Power Stadium at around 6pm, just as “Up The Junction” by Squeeze sparked up on the Memory Stick. A little bit of South London in deepest Leicestershire. Without missing a word, Al and and I sang along to every single verse. I turned the engine off. We had arrived.

The rain had eased, and we had a good period of time to relax before we needed to turn our attentions truly to the game at 8pm. There were immediate memories of returning to the car, triumphant, after our 3-1 win at Leicester last May when a rather subdued first-half performance was followed by a fantastic second-half, with goals from Didier, JT and Rami. Fabregas’ hat was never lauded so loudly. It was one of the games of the season. As we marched towards the stadium, all four of us were wise enough to know that a repeat would be a very tall order. Leicester City were ahead of us in the league with good reason; from my viewpoint they seemed to boast all of the very qualities that we had so far lacked in this most disheartening of seasons.

Vim, vigour, pace, confidence, togetherness, fight.

If only Chelsea Football Club had shown even half of these attributes thus far in to 2015/2016.

On the flipside, the team had showed signs of the Chelsea spirit of old in the reassuring 2-0 win over Porto the previous Wednesday. All four of us hoped that Fabregas would again not be selected to start. How that hat has lost its magic since May. We plotted up at The Local Hero, a busy bar, looking out on a car park. The view wasn’t great, but the beers were going down well. My two bottles of Peroni were the first of the day and gave me the chance to properly toast Tom.

We gathered together and Alan took a photograph of the four plastic glasses touching.

“Team Tom.”

With the rain falling again, we quickly moved on.

The stadium was only a ten minute walk and we were soon outside the away end. Leicester City’s stadium is one of those much-maligned identikit stadia which have been built over the past fifteen years or so. Outside, it is nothing special. Inside, although it is neat and tidy, there is not one single design feature which lets you know that you are at the home of Leicester City. How different it is from the lop-sided and intriguing Filbert Street, which once stood not more than a few hundred yards away. Filbert Street’s large main stand and double-decker behind one goal contrasted wildly with the ridiculously petit stands on the other two sides. Ironically, the one feature that sets the King Power Stadium apart from all others is seen only by spectators within the concourses. Oddly, the steps leading up from the ground level to the upper level, double back on themselves to provide a viewing platform of the lower concourse, and from where I got sprayed with beer when over-excited members of The Youth went a bit doolally before the game.

There were familiar faces in the away corner, which seemed to be deeper than that of most of the new stadia. We quickly learned that – yes! – the team was unchanged from Porto. At last Mourinho and the fans were on the same page, even if it did have several names scratched out and then written over again. Alan was especially confident that we would win. I was not so sure. Anything but another defeat for me please.

Kick-off approached and I sensed a palpable air of expectation from the home ranks. The touchlines were lined with youngsters waving flags. The unique sound of the “Post Horn Gallop” was piped through the PA. As the teams entered, the corner section away to my left – I noted they were the noisiest of all back in May – held up shiny blue and white mosaics. I also noted – sigh – that the home fans had been given thousands of those damned noise-makers again.

So much expectation and so much build up, but what a shocking first-half. It left us at half-time fully depressed and lamenting, again, our demise into woeful mediocrity.

As the game began, the home fans were constantly pounding out noise to support their team. We were in good voice too though, quickly singing across to our beleaguered manager.

“Jose Mourinho, Jose Mourinho.”

Across the technical area stood our former manager Claudio Ranieri, unbelievably back in England with his quaint version of the English language, but also even more unbelievably looking to take his team back to the top of the table.

The lively Mahrez quickly forced a fine save from Thibaut Courtois and I worried every time that Leicester City broke in to our half. There were echoes of last May as Leicester quickly lost a player, Danny Drinkwater (who?), replaced by Andy King (who?) but they never looked perturbed.

We struggled to find any rhythm as the first-half progressed. Our main attacking threat seemed to be – not finding Diego Costa early, nor playing in Eden Hazard – pushing the ball eventually out to Branislav Ivanovic, who tended to take a touch before hitting the back of a defender’s head. As every sideways pass was played, the sense of frustration increased in the away corner.

“Fackincomeonchels.”

Hazard was fouled and received treatment. It is such a rare event to see our Belgian disappear from the pitch, except for a late substitution, that we looked on with horror as he appeared to be too injured to continue. He then seemed to step back on the pitch. But then walked away. There was confusion among the Chelsea fans. I think – I hope – some were jumping to the wrong conclusions.

“Hazard didn’t want to know.”

Regardless, Pedro replaced him.

Then, calamity. A rapid Leicester break out to their right and Mahrez was able to whip in a waist-high cross towards the penalty spot. Jamie Vardy, who else, appeared from nowhere – or rather with John Terry and Kurt Zouma nowhere near him – to majestically volley past Courtois.

“Bollocks.”

That feeling is all too prominent this season. Leicester had harried and chased us all evening but had not created a great deal. One gilt-edged chance and a goal conceded. Here we go again. All eyes were on John Terry really. A player of his distinction should have got closer to Vardy. The away end muttered three thousand swear words.

I turned to a couple behind with a pained expression.

“Confidence is draining out of us at every turn.”

At the other end, miracles of miracles, Matic rose to meet a header, but the ball flicked away off the bar. We were not fooled though. In a first-half of dwindling penetration, our play was tepid. Matic looked slower than usual, and the attacking players around him only rarely provided any moments of intelligent passing.

You know the score, we’re losing.

I’ve not seen so many long faces at the break in a long time. Although it is always lovely to bump in to many good friends at half-time, it seemed that all of us were going through some sort of post-Armageddon zombie-like state, trying to work out how we had reached this stage in our Chelsea life. Some were hiding the feeling through beer, but the sense of befuddlement was still there. Some didn’t even come back for the second-half, preferring to drink and chat down in the concourse with a few others. Grasping at straws, Alan and myself reminded each other that we were 1-0 down at half-time in May.

Soon in to the second-half, Ramires lost possession with a weak header and Leicester moved the ball from wide left to wide right. The mercurial Mahrez twisted in front of Azpilicueta and dispatched a firm shot which elegantly curled past Courtois.

We were losing 2-0.

For fuck sake, Chelsea.

Leicester’s support had mocked us throughout with cries of “going down with the Villa” and taunts of “worst champions we’ve ever seen.” However, much to my chagrin, sections of our away support began singing “we’re fucking shit” which annoyed me. That sort of talk is best left outside the stadium. There was also the self-mocking “you’re nothing special, we lose every week” which would have been funnier if it had been original rather than stolen from other teams’ fans.

All in all, not two of our greatest moments.

But not all was negative. There were no boos for Mourinho. At times our support tried to get behind the team.

Jose made a bold substitution, taking off John Terry and replacing him with Cesc Fabregas. We went with three at the back. The manager sometimes does this, but not usually so far out. Remy then replaced the woeful Oscar. To be fair, we enjoyed a lot more of the ball, but with the home team 2-0 up, they did not need to attack at will. A few crosses caused Schmeichel some moments of worry, but often our crosses were easily dealt with by the massive Germanic forehead of Robert Huth.

There was no doubt that lour play was improving and, with it, the away support rallied too. Now I was truly proud of the away support. The noise roared around the stadium. We went close again and again.

“Get a goal now and we are right back in this.”

The goal came. A delightful cross from an improving Pedro picked out the leap of Loic Remy who headed firmly in past the despairing block of Schmeichel.

2-1.

And the Chelsea crowd roared.

“Come on Chelsea, come on Chelsea, come on Chelsea, come on Chelsea.”

The mood was of sudden optimism and of that four letter word “hope.”

“Let’s have a repeat of Geordies away. Two late goals.”

If anything, our goal strengthened Leicester City’s resolve to keep things tight and our players were simply unable to offer further threat. A few late chances were exchanged and despite a further five minutes of extra-time, we slumped to our ninth league defeat of the league campaign.

“See you Saturday, boys.”

As I exited the seats, I looked down to see just Branislav Ivanovic, Cesar Azpilicueta and Thibaut Courtois walk over to thank the loyal three thousand for our efforts on a wet night in Leicester. A lot of us had taken half days and whole days off from work, a lot of us would be back in at work after minimal sleep. Some players would be wrapped up in their warm beds as I would be dropping Parky and then Glenn off in the small hours.

As a quick glimpse at the ailments within Chelsea Football Club at this exact moment in time, the fact that just three could be bothered to walk thirty yards to say “hey, we know we lost again but bloody hell, thanks” speaks volumes.

Maybe we just don’t have that sense of collectiveness anymore. We might be a team, but maybe we are not a family. Maybe the players – despite the quotes of togetherness and spirit – just don’t get on. Maybe there are cliques. Something has to be wrong. Maybe that spirit of 2004 to 2012 is gone and lost forever. And that is so sad.

I soon met up with Glenn and Parky outside and we sloped off back to the car. I was soon spinning around the city by-pass before heading west, then south – the last leg of the triangle – on the M69, the M42, the M5, the M4.

As the night rolled on, I grew tired. I battled the roads.

Our mood was not great. I am sure every Chelsea supporter was equally confused and disappointed with our latest poor performance. Glenn wanted to talk football, but I was simply too tired for that. On a day when we said a final farewell – physically, never emotionally – to dear Tom, it would be easy for me to brush aside Chelsea’s latest capitulation and talk about putting things into some sort of “football, life, death” perspective. However, I am sure that dear Tom, watching from above, would have hated to have seen yet another defeat and I trust he won’t object at all if I say that the loss hit us all hard.

Glenn played me a “You Tube” segment from a post-game interview with Jose speaking about betrayal and my mood slid further.

There is the gnawing realisation that this season will not only be trophy less, but will probably result in our first campaign without European football since 1996/1997. I do not sense that relegation will worry us, but who knows where this season will end?

On Saturday, it’s back to Stamford Bridge and a game with Sunderland.

See you there.

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Tales From The Edge Of The World

Chelsea vs. Corinthians : 16 December 2012.

The manic city of Tokyo was my home for five days and nights. To be honest, despite Chelsea Football Club providing me with the reason for travelling across such a large segment of the Earth’s surface, the trip wasn’t about Chelsea. It was about Tokyo. As always, I’m never happier when I am exploring fresh cities and foreign fields. Tokyo certainly didn’t disappoint.

The excesses of Thursday night and Friday morning, inspired by our safe passage into the final of the World Club Championships, had left me with a large hangover when I awoke at around midday on Friday. The jet-lag had kicked in too. Regretfully, I had to sleep on for a few hours, thus missing out on a trip with Mike, Frank and Foxy to the Tokyo Sky Tree tower in the north-west of the city. I eventually arose from my slumber on Friday afternoon and headed down to Shinjuku on the Fukotoshin line. I knew that I would certainly get my share of sensory overkill in Shinjuku.

Shinjuku train station is allegedly the busiest train station in the world. Down below street level, there was a rabbit warren of tunnels, elevators, lifts, stairwells, walkways to allow for transfers between stations, bustling passengers and a plethora of signs. Luckily, I had my “Pasmo” travel card to hand and found travelling the Tokyo tube relatively easy. Shinjuku station was also a shopping centre in its own right. It was a hive of activity. I made my way up to street level –oxygen! – and was bedazzled by the line of skyscrapers which greeted me. Tokyo even has its own version of The Gherkin, but it cowered in the shadow of loftier buildings. I soon bumped into another gaggle of Corinthians; they were easy to spot amongst the natives. Most were wearing Corinthians scarves, jackets or shirts. I again asked them how many Corinthians were over from Brazil. They commented that 20,000 had flown over, but their ranks were boosted by some of the 350,000 natives of Brazil who now live in South-East Asia. The numbers amazed me.

I walked down a few blocks, my eyes blinded by the neon, my face chilled by the wintry breeze, my ears listening attentively to the different cadences of a strange language which fascinated me. While I waited to cross a busy road, several trains passed over head on an elongated bridge. Tokyo’s transport existed on several levels; underground trains, street level cars and cabs, elevated trains floating over busy streets, rising and falling expressways with cars. There appeared to be apparent craziness, yet everything came together in perfect order. It was a beguiling sight. And everything was clean, so immaculately clean. Apart from the methane. Don’t talk about the methane.

I found myself underneath yet more neon at Yasakuni Dori. This seemed like the very epicentre of Tokyo. An Alicia Keys song was being played on massive video screens and her voice easily drowned out the noise of the traffic down below.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iDvceBND8Ws

I disappeared into the hub of Shinjuku, my senses working hard to rationalise all of it. Shops selling electrical goods, fast food eateries, girly bars, music shops. All of human life was there. I spent two hours or so walking at leisure in and around the crowded narrow streets. I dipped into a ridiculously cramped “Scottish bar” and sat alongside two whisky-sozzled natives. Before I could order, I was presented with a hot towel to refresh myself. I flicked through the food menu, which included a haggis pizza, but just decided on a drink. I ordered a pint of Strongbow cider, which was on special offer for the night, for 1,000 yen. That equated to £8; oh boy. However, the other regular beers (imports from the UK) were £12 a pint.

I wandered around some more, now needing sustenance. To be truthful, I again felt like a complete outsider. I peered at many restaurants, yet couldn’t decipher much of what was on offer. I entered two nice restaurants, but was told “reservation only.” Damn.

In the end, I chanced my arm on a more down-at-heel restaurant with no frills. Again, I was presented with a hot towel before I had a chance to order. I decided on a set meal which included a small bowl of soup, fried pork and king prawn, a small salad and a bowl of boiled rice. With a beer, this still came to around £23. The weirdest thing about the meal, though, was that the restaurant played a loop of Christmas songs from the ‘seventies and ‘eighties while I was eating.

“Walking In A Winter Wonderland. “

“Simply Having A Wonderful Christmas Time.”

“They Said There’d Be Snow At Christmas.”

“Well, I Wish it Could Be Christmas Every Day.”

On my walk back to Shinjuku, I discovered an amazing place. Tucked right against the train lines, was a ridiculously narrow passageway. It immediately reminded me of the madness that I experienced in the Chinatown area of Bangkok last summer. Here, within a space of around thirty yards were around fifty ridiculously small street cafes, seating no more than ten customers at a time, all at the counter, with food being fried in front of them. The smoke was billowing out from inside the kitchen areas and the air was heavy with an array of herbs and spices.

It was simply wonderful.

In that portion of Friday night, I think I managed to take away with me a few sacred memories of Tokyo. I sometimes feel it’s best to explore a foreign city by myself, away from distractions, letting everything slot in to place. I thought about Japan’s physical location on the Earth’s surface; in normal maps, out on a limb and away to the east, almost abutting the International Date Line. And then I thought about what I had so far witnessed. Tokyo was clearly different. So different in fact that I soon came across a phrase which I thought encapsulated my feelings for it.

To me, being in Tokyo seemed like existing on the edge of the world.

Tokyo was a city which was living by different rules, a city inhabited by 18 million polite and orderly natives, a city existing at a different pace and a city which miraculously worked. It was the biggest conundrum ever; it was a maelstrom of order. Tokyo shouldn’t work, but it clearly does. Millions existing together in a sparkling neon fantasy world. This was a space age city of tomorrow which was already here today. And it thrilled me like no other.

I was up early on the Saturday (3am early – my body clock was now officially frazzled) in order to meet the others at their hotel at Ikebukuro at 7am; this was the day of the long-awaited trip to Mount Fuji, the snow-capped mountain which overlooks the city from around 100 miles to the west. Opposite my hotel was a small (everything is small in Tokyo) McDonalds which was conveniently open for 24 hours. With thoughts of many McBreakfasts on trips to Chelsea games with Lord Parky, I ordered two McMuffins and a coffee. It bemused me that the seating area upstairs was populated with customers who were sleeping.

Live and let live.

At 7.30am, we clambered on a coach which took us down to the city’s bus depot. I spoke to Frank about seeing my second famous volcano of the year, after Naples’ magnificent Mount Vesuvius in February. This would be Foxy’s second volcano of the year too; he hails from Dundee, where the city’s less-famous volcano is the now extinct Dundee Law, which overlooks that city on the banks of the silvery River Tay. On the twenty minute coach ride, I saw another sight which made me gasp. Adjacent to the Tokyo Dome – a baseball stadium in the style of the Minneapolis Metrodome which is right slap-dash in Tokyo’s city centre – I spotted a tall roller coaster with associated loop-the-loop shapes that was right alongside it. I was gobsmacked. Imagine a three-hundred foot roller-coaster alongside Madsison Square Garden in New York.

No, neither can I.

Only in Tokyo.

We changed buses and, as Frank and Foxy had a cheeky smoke, they were lucky enough to witness a geisha wedding. Typically, there were a few Corinthians fans on our trip to Mount Fuji.

Ah, Mount Fuji; you mischievous temptress. Although I had already seen the crisp and iconic lines of this fantastic mountain from Mike’s hotel room on the Thursday, on Saturday she was shrouded in mist. We spent from 7.30am to around 6pm on a coach, a cable-car, a boat and a bullet train, but we still didn’t officially see Mount Fuji. It was a major disappointment. The clouds strangled Mount Fuji in a vice-like grip all day. However, at least we got to experience a little of Japan’s scenery outside of Tokyo’s 24 hour neon. The Japan that we saw from the coach was green and mountainous. We stopped half-way for an authentic Japanese meal which I wasn’t particularly enamoured with. There were just too many odd textures and tastes. Never mind, we washed it down with a beer. At every juncture in the day long excursion, we visited shops. This at least gave us plenty of time to witness Fun Time Frankie as he amassed the biggest variety of tat to the east of Coney Island. What he’ll do with a Little Kitty fridge magnet I will never know.

Later that evening, we had a drink in the bar at the Metropolitan Hotel, and then bought some tins of beer in a store opposite Mike’s hotel. We sat in Mike’s hotel room, listened to some music, chatted about football, music, Tokyo and the craziness of our simple presence in the city and watched the self-same city prepare for another night of fun, with lights sparkling down below. We were then out in the winter air, zipping through Ikebukuro train station, with the Christmas music still playing on internal speakers…

“Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle All The Way…”

(“Oh What Fun It Is To See Chelsea Win Away…”)

In the distance, I also heard a few bars of the de-facto Japanese song of this year and all others; the one I featured in Tokyo Part One –

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LGs_vGt0MY8

So delicate, so atmospheric, so serene…so Japanese.

It will forever take me back to December 2012 in Tokyo.

We hopped onto a train – dab hands at this now – and revisited the 1863 Bar from two nights previous. A few other Chelsea fans called by too; first a couple of Aussies, then Darren Mantle, who had been to see a Tokyo derby match that afternoon with a few other Chelsea fans. He reported that there had been flags, loudspeaker-toting capos, scarves, rhythmic chanting, but no animosity to the other team.

That simply won’t do.

Despite the lure of an assortment of local nibbles that “Andy” the barman put on the bar for us to tuck into, we were all very tired. With a big match ahead on the Sunday, we called it an early night and I was back at my hotel at about 1am.

Sunday was the big finale.

Typically, Sunday was crystal clear. The skies were magnificent and devoid of cloud cover. I shook a fist at Mount Fuji but was soon thinking of other things. I was on a solo mission to make up for lost ground and I travelled across Tokyo on my Pasmo travel card in order to visit Tokyo Sky Tree. En route, I helped myself to a hot coffee in a tin from one of the thousands of vending machines which seem to be everywhere in Tokyo. That hit the spot; perfect.

I ascended from several layers of elevators at Oschiage tube station and the Sky Tree took my breath away. I was hopeful that I would soon be in the two viewing galleries, with all of Tokyo spread out before me. There was only one problem; the 3,000 yen admission fee. However, this was the least of my worries. The place was ridiculously busy and I was given a ticket (which was not an admission ticket, but simply acted as a ticket to allow me to buy a ticket at a later time that day) which implied that I would not be able to ascend the tower until 5pm, some five hours away.

Oh bugger it.

However, unlike several football managers that I dare not even mention, I had a Plan B.

I back-tracked and headed down to trusty Shinjuku yet again. I had read that the Tokyo Metropolitan Office building allowed visitors to visit the viewing gallery on the 22nd floor – for free, nonetheless. I had also remembered that Mike had said that the bar used the hotel in “Lost In Translation” afforded magnificent views of central Tokyo, too.

As it happened, I stumbled across the hotel – The Park Hyatt – and quickly tried to blend in with the diners at the restaurants on the 44th floor (great views) and the 52nd floor (sublime views) while I took advantage of the clear glass windows. My camera went into overdrive. I spent a good 45 minutes looking out at all points of the compass from the two levels. The views were magnificent. The hotel is right in the very centre of Tokyo, so I was right amongst it. In fact, if “Tokyo” is entered on Google Earth, the “red dot” (how appropriate) is a hundred yards from the hotel.

I was smiling from ear-to-ear as I hopped around the hotel, taking it all in. Tokyo is just simply massive. At last, I was able to photograph it and do it justice. To be honest, I was quite light-headed as I descended the floors and got back to street level. Fantastic stuff. I soon bumped into yet more Corinthians fans. I had heard rumours that Corinthians (or – as they pronounced it…Coreeeeenchia’) fans had sold cars, left jobs and even sold houses to travel to Tokyo. I wanted to know if this was true.

“Sure, it’s true. This cup is massive. We love this team.”

I had a little moment to try and equate what I had just heard with my feelings for the trophy which would soon be “up for grabs” some twenty miles away in Yokohama. There is no doubt that England, if not the whole of Europe, regards the Champions League as the biggest and most prestigious trophy on offer in World football. And – to be honest – I think that this is quite correct. It was the reason why some 40,000 Chelsea foot soldiers invested time and money to travel to Munich in May, yet only 17,500 of those were able to see the game. That only 600-800 had travelled out from the UK to see the two games in Japan did make me feel a little uneasy about how we as a club regarded the World Club Championships. Especially compared to the 30,000 Corinthians who were in every bar, every restaurant and on every street in Tokyo. This, however, was South America’s big moment to shine against Europe. It was their one chance to put one over on the moneyed ranks of UEFA. It was akin, in my mind, to the invasion of 80,000 Scotland fans back in the ‘seventies every two years for the England vs. Scotland game. Scotland owned Wembley in those days. It was their one chance to get one over the auld enemy. Well, in 2012, Tokyo was owned by the black and white Corinthian hordes from Sao Paolo.

To be honest, it reminded me of us being outnumbered in Munich.

With that, I stumbled across a “Soccer Shop” on the main walk back into Shinjuku. The place was festooned with shirts from clubs in Europe – you can guess which ones – and there were many items representing the World Club Championships, especially its two finalists. Interestingly enough, throughout my stay in Japan, I had not clocked eyes on a Japanese person wearing a single item of merchandise from any European club. Not one. The only such item I saw on the entire trip was a Liverpool scarf being worn by a boy on the London to Beijing stage. Despite better judgement, I stumped up 3,700 yen (or about £30) for a Corinthians T-shirt. I sometimes get souvenirs from my various football trips around Europe (a St. Pauli scarf here, a Juventus pennant there…) so a Corinthians shirt was no big deal. I balanced this by buying a Chelsea / World Club Championship key fob for 1,000 yen.

I zipped back to my hotel, decided on my match-day attire (maybe it was because I was now a Tokyo native, but this now took mere minutes as opposed to a longer period of time on a normal match day) and set off for the game. I again changed at Shibuya, then caught the JR Express to Kikuna and then on to Shin-Yokohama. It only took me around 45 minutes. I strolled over to the Chelsea pub just as Foxy, Matt, Mike and Fun Time were mid song. Anna and Kev were there too. A few other familiar faces from home; the three guys I had met in Kuala Lumpur were sat at a table inside. Outside, of course, the streets were awash with “Coreeeenchia”. Some were sat inside a street side bar with guitars and hand-held drums, blasting out a song for the passers-by. I disappeared off to purchase some tinnies from a store, then re-joined the boisterous crowd. Two locals drove past in a blue convertible which was festooned with Chelsea-flags, but which also had “Blue Is The Colour” booming out of its stereo-system. The car stopped in front of the pub – holding up the traffic – but enabled the Chelsea fans to join in.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pea04tAMGNw

Frank was all over it.

A local – wearing Chelsea scarf and (worryingly) reindeer horns – suddenly appeared in front of me, smiling and acting as if we had arranged to meet up. I guess he was just happy to meet an “authentic” Chelsea supporter. He was carrying his two-year old son, fully attired in Chelsea kit, and as he turned around we saw that the boy had his name – “Sora” – printed on the back above the number “25.”

Maybe this was a Japanese pun. Maybe the father had named his son after Zola and Sora was the Japanese pronunciation of it. Either way, we quickly serenaded him.

“Sora! Sora! Sora! Sora! Sora! Sora! Sora! Sora! Sora!”

The little lad started laughing and smiling, then clapped his hands excitedly. It was a brilliant moment.

The beer was going down well. The others wanted to head off to the stadium, but Matt and I were more than happy to stay outside the bar, drinking in the atmosphere, lapping it all up. We talked very briefly about our experience in Japan. I said that I found the Japanese to be very reserved, but once a link of communication existed, they suddenly became very friendly, almost to the point of giddiness. As a contrast, I found the Thai people to be more open and friendly from the start. Matt, who has visited around 40 countries and is clearly an experienced traveller, commented that there is an over-riding fear of shame which permeates all of Japanese life; that it is best to stay silent, to be reserved, to keep your cards close to your chest, rather than be socially embarrassed by doing or saying the wrong thing. I found this fascinating.

Although, the third/fourth place game was taking place in the stadium, I had no time for it. With around 45 minutes to go to the kick-off, we eventually made a move. Once inside the entrance plaza, we bolted down some Japanese style fish and chips. We showed our tickets and we were in. The Corinthians fans were still in the ascendency and were full of song. As a solid mark of defiance, I slowly and deliberately bellowed out “Champions of Europe – We Know What We Are” repeatedly for thirty seconds.

Once inside the stadium, the difference between the game on Thursday was very marked.

The place was packed. Not only that, Corinthians banners and flags were simply everywhere.

At the other end, a single banner “Gavioes Da Fiel” took up eighty yards of balcony. This was their biggest fan group and their biggest banner. But elsewhere, there were other banners; too many to name. There were Corinthians behind us in our section, there were banners above us; we were well-and-truly outnumbered in Yokohama.

Your city? Your stadium? Your cup?

Before we had time to think about too much, the pre-game pageantry had begun. News filtered through that Frank Lampard was starting as captain. I hoped that sentimentality hadn’t clouded Benitez’ decision to start him. It was, after all, Frank’s first start for ages. After Luiz’ ground-breaking start in a defensive-midfield position on Thursday, Benitez chose to play Frank alongside Ramires, so Luiz reverted to his central-defensive position alongside Gary Cahill. A surprising start went to Victor Moses, ahead of Oscar.

The teams entered the pitch. The Corinthians at the other end unveiled a large white banner which floated over the heads of the occupants of the lower tier. There were balloons. There were flags. There was a black, grey and white version of the Union Jack. Was this an ominous sign for us boys from Blighty? In response, we managed to squeeze a few blue flags of defiance onto the balcony above us.

It was certainly magnificent to see Frank lining up with the officials and the Corinthians’ captain. The teams then lined up on the centre-circle and the FIFA “Moment Of Hope” took place. I am sure that this was always planned to take place, but I personally thought that it had deeper poignancy after the shocking, yet oh-so predictable, events in Connecticut which so shocked the global community.

The Chelsea support seemed to be more boisterous, yet significantly more nervous too, compared to the game against Monterrey. The terraces were packed. Foxy got the beers in; good lad. I had to juggle beer with cameras, with songs, with support. I was aware that I was remarkably tense and I had to have a quiet word with Frank who seemed to be enjoying himself far too much for a Chelsea game.

Orlin’s wife Katerina told me to relax after a Corinthians effort flew wide.

Relax? I’d like to be able to…

I thought that we looked pretty comfortable in the first-half. Of course, the big moment was the effort from Gary Cahill which the Corinthians’ keeper Cassio somehow managed to block on the line. Our biggest scare was when Cahill seemed to send the lively Guerrero to the floor. Thankfully, the referee waved away the penalty claim. Guerrero was also involved when a move ended with Emerson shooting against the outside of the post. The best move of our first forty-five minutes ended with Victor Moses curling a lovely shot at goal, but Cassio again managed to save, clawing it around the far post.

I thought we were the better team at the break to be honest, although there was little between the two sides. I just hope that our class told. After a noisy start, we had even managed to silence the 30,000 Brazilians in the stadium.

Chances were at a premium in the second-half and I sensed a lack of conviction and enterprise in our play. I certainly sensed a dropping off of our tempo compared to the first forty-five minutes. A few half-chances were traded. Then on 69 minutes, a quick break into the heart of our defence caused me to experience a fear of impending doom. After so many games, I must have some sort of sixth sense. Lo and behold, although an initial shot was blocked by Cahill, the ball spun up and into the path of the waiting Guerrero. Cech seemed to be caught between a rock and a hard place. The ball was headed home with Cech stranded. The two defenders on the line could do nothing.

The Brazilians roared. Flares soon followed. I was crushed.

Benitez rang the changes with Oscar and Azpilicueta replacing Moses and Ivanovic. Our best chance of the entire game then arrived when the ball was sent pin-balling around inside the Corinthians penalty area. Typically, it fell at the feet of Fernando Torres. This was his moment. He only had the falling ‘keeper to beat. He had no time to weigh up the options. His instinctive prod was the wrong response and the ‘keeper blocked.

Oh boy.

Behind us, the Corinthians were making their presence felt. Earlier in the game they had bellowed disdain at David Luiz, the former Corinthians supporter. Now, one of their number waltzed down into our section and waved a large Corinthians flag. There was some shouting and posturing. After a small scramble, the flag’s metal pole was broken in two.

There was little penetration for the rest of the game and our cause was not helped when Gary Cahill lashed out; he was shown a red card. Then, a moment of hope. Oscar broke and sent over a fantastic cross towards the six-yard box. Torres rose and headed home. The ball smashed into the goal, right at me.

Get in!

I turned to my right, briefly saw Orlin going do-lally, but then heard the horrible words “he’s given offside.” Emotions turned 180 degrees. Pandemonium to agony in a spilt second. Mata even had one last chance to equalise, but his shot from an acute angle hit the outside of Cassio’s post.

The whistle blew and I just wanted to leave the stadium. I wasn’t really surprised how much this hurt. This was probably our only chance to ever be crowned World Champions. The only modicum of solace was for the thousands upon thousands of Corinthians who would now go home with a smile on their faces; I had no reason to dislike them.

I walked briskly back to Shin-Yokohama.

I was by myself now.

Walking through the train station at Shibuya, I was still feeling a little sorry for myself. I then realised where I was.

I was in Tokyo.

And I smiled the biggest smile of the five days away from home.

What a trip.

Although the city looked as beguiling as ever, I returned to my hotel at midnight, via one last lingering look at the neon up at street level.

I had to be up at 4am. I was so worried about the alarm not working on my phone that, once I awoke at 2am, I daren’t not go back to sleep again. I carefully packed my bags, tucked away all of my memories and headed down to the hotel lobby. A few Corinthians were coming in from a night of revelry.

It was their time and not ours.

I walked the mile or so south, past bars which were still open, to catch the bus to Haneda from good old Shinjuku station at 4.45am.

On the short thirty minute ride to the airport, I chatted to two Corinthians fans. We were all animated in our love of football and I thoroughly enjoyed the engaging conversation that we shared. One of them favoured Chelsea as his “European” team. I sensed that the other guy favoured Arsenal. They wanted to know about the size of our support and where our support came from. Had we been successful prior to Abramovich? Who were our main rivals? I was able to pass on tons of information for them to take home with them. Corinthians’ main rivals are Palmeiras and Sao Paolo. We had many things in common. For example, all three of us loved our club in a far greater way than our national teams. I was able to review our remarkable march to the Munich final in May and they were aware of every game, every twist and turn. Corinthians had won the Copa Libertadores with a win against Boca Juniors. Corinthians had only 1,500 tickets for the game in La Bombonera; perhaps this half-explained the 30,000 in Tokyo. At least they were assured of tickets in Japan, as bizarre as that seems.

There was a lot of sarcasm aimed at Corinthians in Brazil since they had only won the Copa Libertadores on one occasion. Like us, their biggest ever trophy triumph took place in 2012 and 2012 alone. Additionally in 2000, Corinthians were invited to take part in the inaugural World Club Championships as the reigning Brazilian league champions when Brazil was the host country. The fact that they won that 2000 Final is viewed as being a hollow trophy, by Corinthians and their rivals alike, since they had not won the Libertadores first.

The smiles of the two Corinthians sitting opposite proved to me that they had now won it fair and square.

Fair play to them.

Despite Chelsea’s loss, this football-powered chat high above the streets of an awakening Tokyo on the narrow expressway on the way to the airport was a brilliant end to my stay in the craziest city of them all.

Ah, the bittersweet ache of leaving a city as wonderful as Tokyo.

Over to Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansen.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fBwrx0YHo34

IMG_1835 IMG_2064 IMG_2210

Tales From Munich : Part Three – Beyond Words

Bayern Munich vs. Chelsea : 19 May 2012.

At 11.30pm in the north of Munich, Chelsea had miraculously become European Champions. In the final analysis, the season’s competition was decided by four penalty kicks, taken within four minutes of each other. Two Bayern misses and two Chelsea hits. In 2008, we missed the ultimate prize by a couple of inches. How fitting that our triumph four years later should be via penalties.

In truth, these facts were condensed into a nano second of thought as I stumbled to my feet. It is impossible for me to retell my innermost feelings during this most emotional and bewildering of moments.

All around me, fellow fans – followers of the royal blue – were screaming our delight.

BOOM.

The Nord Kurv was a cacophonous cauldron of noise.

BOOM.

Moscow was remembered briefly and then forgotten forever.

BOOM.

Chelsea, as overwhelming underdog in a foreign city, had triumphed.

BOOM.

Another miracle.

BOOM.

Destiny.

BOOM.

My beloved Chelsea had won the European Cup.

There were hugs for Ed, for Neil, and also for Glenn’s tormentor to my right. I shuffled to my left and hugged, Daryl, Gal, Glenn and Alan.

“We fcuking did it boys – we fcuking did it.”

I looked to my right and saw Simon and Milo scurrying down the terraces to be with us.

Everyone together.

I was aware that the players were rampaging towards us down below and so I started to take some photographs of the scene of carnage on the pitch and in the stands. The Chelsea faithful then bellowed a song of adulation and honour – one which was sung for each of our three domestic titles – but which now felt properly at home in this foreign field.

“Campiones, campiones – ole, ole , ole.”

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5c1AT…hannel&list=UL

The scene was of wild delirium. Glenn wiping tears from his eyes, Simon and Milo bouncing and hugging each other, Alan with the widest ever grin on his face. I clambered up on to the seat and just tried to take it all in.

I looked at my phone and saw that there were some texts awaiting my attention. I didn’t want to read them just yet; it was all about the moment. I needed to concentrate on what was happening all around me. These precious minutes after the final penalty were my lifeblood.

I was aware that the Bayern fans were slowly leaving the arena. There would be no fifth title for them.

It was all about us.

The PA soon helped us celebrate further.

“Blue Is the Colour, Football Is the Game…”

How I love this song from my childhood. Memories of listening to Ed “Stewpot” Stewart’s “Junior Choice” programme on Radio One on Saturday mornings. This song was in the charts over forty years ago – to commemorate our 1972 Wembley appearance – and it still affects me every time. As a listening seven year old, it was just enough for me to hear the name “Chelsea” on the radio to send me wild with a paroxysm of delight. That Chelsea should have a pop record was just too much. Football and music is often intertwined, but for me it all began in the Spring of 1972. Chelsea in the charts? It amazed me back then. It was ridiculously perfect.

And I stood on my seat, singing along to every word, knowing full well that if I let the moment get to me, I would be wailing again.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0ZlYa…&feature=g-upl

“Cus Chelsea…Chelsea Is Our Name.”

I then looked through my incoming texts.

There were messages of congratulations from fans of Liverpool, from fans of Juventus, from fans of Manchester United, from fans of Newcastle United and, of course, from fans of Chelsea.

There was even a little message – a smile, a kiss – from my former girlfriend Judy.

Fantastic.

Down below, the players were cavorting like school kids, but the moment soon came for them to assemble on the pitch, in front of the stairs which led to the balcony where the glittering prize was waiting. How I wished I had my telephoto lens with me. The heavy-legged Bayern players summoned enough strength to ascend the flight of steps. Like the new Wembley, the players momentarily disappeared from view, and then became visible to all.

I had a bemused smirk to myself. What now for the Chelsea fans who had been so convinced that UEFA would never allow us to win football’s biggest prize? What now for those conspiracy theorists? What now for the paranoid ones in our midst? I for one never bought this theory. I never bought the theory that UEFA instructed Tom Henning Ovrebo to gift Barcelona that match in 2009. Ovrebo made four supremely horrendous decisions in that game; that is beyond question. But if he had been so besotted in making life as easy as possible for Barcelona, why did he send Abidal off with ages to go in the game and Chelsea 1-0 up? If UEFA had cooked the books – and if one single person had let the cat out of the onion bag – UEFA’s credibility would be zero and, more importantly, its commercial partners would have dropped the Champions League in an instant.

Never worth the risk.

And here’s the proof – Chelsea were European Champions.

The players – forming a beautiful line of blue against the dark suited inhabitants of the corporate lower tier – made their way to the balcony. My mind was racing now…I wanted this moment to last forever but I so wanted to see that mammoth trophy hoisted by the Chelsea team. All around me, there seemed to be a quietening of song and a concentration of thought.

I had my camera poised for the moment.

Somewhere in the midst was Michel Platini. Somewhere in the midst was Frank Lampard, the captain on the night. Somewhere in the midst was John Terry, captain fantastic.

A delay…then a sudden thrust skywards of the magnificent trophy.

Click, click, click.

A tumultuous roar.

Wembley 1997 was magnificent. Bolton 2005 was historic.

Munich 2012 was the best ever.

It was the greatest night of my life on the greatest weekend of my life.

We were happy and glorious.

From Drogba’s final kick of destiny, we stayed in the stadium for about an hour. It was a gorgeous hour full of tears and laughter, merriment and pride.

Just to see my heroes holding that huge silver cup. Oh my. What an image.

Chelsea songs were played on the PA…”Liquidator”, “Blue Day”, “One Step Beyond”, “London Calling” – and then, strangely “Mr. Blue Sky” by ELO.

The players still cavorted on the pitch…a momentary period of calm when the official team photo took place, but then madness. It really was, one step beyond –

Fernando Torres with the Spanish flag, Petr Cech being hoisted high on team mates’ shoulders and the cup way in the air, Drogba running towards the Chelsea in the lower tier of the east stand…players as kids, fans as proud parents.

Magical times.

In truth, I probably stayed relatively quiet. Sometimes, the moment just takes hold. A full hour after victory, I sent out my first text to a few friends –

“Beyond Words.”

We were, typically, some of the last to leave, but the players were still enjoying themselves in the north goalmouth when the nine of us reluctantly left the arena. We were all gasping for a drink and, as there is no alcohol served at UEFA games, the nine of us had our own little celebration party on the concourse outside gate 341. We dutifully lined up and bought ice cold Sprites.

I swear that the first mouthful was the finest tasting drink of all time.

We stood in a little circle. We sipped Sprite, but tasted champagne. We were pumped with adrenalin, euphoric with pleasure – befuddled, bewildered, besides ourselves.

It is a moment I will always remember.

“What was the first thing you did after you won the European Cup, Chris?”

“I drank some Sprite, mate.”

“Ah, of course, of course.”

A few faces drifted past – I shook hands with Callum. He was right after all. It was never in any doubt.

Unfortunately, amongst the crazy drift of Chelsea fans heading south to the tube stop, Glenn and I lost contact with Alan and the boys. All of a sudden, the Chelsea lexicon of songs had been augmented by a few new editions.

“We won in Munich, Munich. We won in Munich, Munich.”

“We’ll be running ‘round Tottenham with a European Cup.
We’ll be running ‘round Tottenham with a European Cup.
We’ll be running ‘round Tottenham, running ‘round Tottenham.
Running ‘round Tottenham with a European Cup.
Singing I’ve got a trophy haven’t you?
Singing I’ve got a trophy haven’t you?
Singing I’ve got a trophy, I’ve got a trophy, I’ve got a trophy haven’t you?”

And then, a song which doesn’t get aired too often. A song which I always attribute to Leeds United (remember them?) after they lost to Bayern Munich(ditto) in the European Cup Final of 1975. Although, Leeds lost, they lost under suspicious circumstances – a good Peter Lorimer goal was cancelled out due to a dubious offside call – and so the Leeds fans sang this for years after, in defiance of the actual result –

“We Are The Champions – The Champions Of Europe.”
“We Are The Champions – The Champions Of Europe.”
“We Are The Champions – The Champions Of Europe.”
“We Are The Champions – The Champions Of Europe.”

It was my song of the night, despite Kraftwerk still echoing in my mind.

“I’d like to take her home, that’s understood.”

There was an air of elation, but of sustained bewilderment too, as we walked around the stadium. Glenn was wearing his “lucky” lime green Napapijri polo shirt and I was wearing a royal blue Lacoste; the colours, in fact, used as the colour scheme of the final. The tickets were printed in these colours. The stadium, now shining bright at 12.30am, was also lit in these twin hues. The stadium looked perfectly photogenic and I took many snaps of it as we slowly walked south.

I contacted Andy Wray – whose hotel room Glenn and I were crashing in – to see where he was headed.

“The Shakespeare, near the train station.”

It was 12.45am. I was hoping to bump into Alan and the boys, but our paths never crossed again. At just after 1am, we hopped into one of the very last trains to leave the stadium. It was another nightmare journey, taking around an hour. Several Chelsea were so hot and tired, they got off to get a taxi…Glenn and I decided to stay on board. We chatted to two Chelsea ex-pats from Holland.

At 1.45am, the train pulled in to Marienplatz, the most central of central locations in the city of Munich. At street level, we crunched the glass of hundreds of beer bottles. In truth, we never really experienced what the pre-game atmosphere was like in the centre. Now, the Bayern fans quiet with sadness, still dominated, but pockets of Chelsea provided huge contrasts in mood.

“Campiones, campiones…”

Thankfully, despite vast quantities of alcohol being consumed all day, we did not see a hint of trouble. It was one of my fears, that should we have lost, the old Chelsea stereotype may have reared its unwanted head.

“…we’re a right bunch of bastards when we lose.”

Glenn and I collected our bags from the train station, stepping over hundreds of snoozing Bayern fans, in town for the night with no hope of being able to return to Nurnburg, Hamburg, Dusseldorf or Frankfurt until the morning. The hauptbanhof was as I remembered it from my last visit for the Oktoberfest of 1990, when I – like hundreds of others – slept like babies on the station forecourt.

We tried to track down The Shakespeare. Just as I thought about giving up, we bumped into Cathy and Barbara who were able to point us in the right direction. Finally, at 2.30am, we turned a corner to find what seemed like the only boozer open in the entire city.

“The Shakespeare – there it is Glenn!”

Inside, I spotted three familiar faces…first Andy Wray, then Steve Mantle, then his twin brother Daz.

Hugs and clenched fists, smiles and back slaps.

After that Sprite, came the real deal.

Beer has never tasted better.

“Champion.”

“The Shakespeare” was a tiny pub, with its clientele spilling out onto the road. While I was supping at the bottle of beer, who should walk right by but Mike Neat – the leader of the NYBs – and three of his troops; Alex, Napoli Frank and Matt. What a small world. We hugged – and Mike gave me a ridiculously long kiss on my neck. I looked up – and there was Susan Harvey, who I first met in Chicago in 2006, then Palo Alto in 2007.

“Great to see you!”

Cathy then turned up a few minutes later.

Icky – The General – was also in attendance. He had flown over from The Phillipines, but had been unable to get a ticket. I asked him where he had seen the game and he replied that he had watched it in an open air park somewhere. He joked with Cathy that he has never seen us win in Europe; our success that night was all down to him. I wasn’t going to argue.

So there we all were – drinking in Munich in the small hours, our smiles making our cheeks ache, our rapid fire comments and laughter never ending. There was an overwhelming sense of pride and joy. It is very likely that the phrases uttered by us in Munich were uttered, in various guises, by thousands upon thousands of Chelsea fans all over the globe.

Mike – “We did it. I don’t know how. We played shit, but we did it.”

Chris – “The ultimate away game mate.”

Frank – “Incredible, Chris. Just incredible.”

Chris – “The first London team to win it!”

Andy – “Drogba!”

Susan –“Oh…what about Tottenham!”

Chris – “Ha! What about Tottenham? Could it possibly get any better?”

Mike – “We were beaten. Two minutes to go. Incredible.”

Andy – “1905…19/05.”

Chris – “And what about Cech saving Robben’s penalty!”

Susan – “Written in the Gods.”

Chris – “And of all the people to miss a penalty, that fcuker Schweinsteiger.”

Mike – “We never win on penalties.”

Chris – “We did tonight, son!”

By now, Glenn was sleeping on the pavement, his head propped against his Quiksilver back-pack. He was OK. Just tired. I had a couple more beers. Photos with the last ones standing. It seemed like our little group, right there and then, was the epicentre of Chelsea Football Club.

I stamped my foot right down in the middle of our little group.

“The very hub of this club. Right here.”

Mike smiled.

I said to him – “and my next Chelsea game? At Yankee Stadium!”

We laughed.

“Life is good mate.”

I remember writing a three part piece about my experience in Moscow after the game in 2008. I remember that my whole day in Moscow was blighted by the fact that I knew that, should Chelsea win, my match going experience as a Chelsea fan would have reached its zenith. Anything which followed, by nature, would be of lesser value. It would always pale in comparison.

In Munich 2012, I simply didn’t care.

We were European Champions.

At 4am, I scooped Glenn up from the kerb and we said our goodbyes. We wearily tried to locate a cab to take us back to Andy’s hotel two miles to the east.

At 5am, Glenn was asleep but I was listening to the dawn chorus. My mind was still racing. It had been the most perfect of days, the most perfect of nights. Andy eventually rolled in at 7am and the three of us amalgamated to win the Chelsea Fans In Germany Synchronised Snoring Competition.

On the Sunday, I was up at 10.30am. Glenn soon followed. We said our goodbyes to Andy. He was to stay on for one more day. In the hotel’s reception, we spoke with a Chelsea fan from Brisbane, Australia who had travelled without a ticket just to be in the city. The saddest story I had heard involved my good mate Pete from San Francisco. His ticket was stuck in customs in New York and he had no way of expediting them before he was due to depart. He also travelled to Munich without a ticket – and didn’t get in. At the game, a few fans in the row behind us had stormed the gates after the game had begun. With strength in numbers, this was always an option for some.

Outside, the weather was blisteringly hot. On the U-bahn to the main station, a pragmatic Bayern fan told us ruefully –

“English teams know how to take corners.”

We smiled.

We travelled back to Prague, blissfully happy. The amazing thing was that I was 100% devoid of a hangover.

Oh Munich – I love you and I love your beer.

Twenty minutes into the trip north, just before we got stuck in some horrendous traffic near the airport, we drove past the Allianz Arena once more. In the bright afternoon sun, it looked divine.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zg3NraIDPa4

“There she goes. We are the Champions. The Champions of Europe.”

At Prague airport, we bumped into Young Dave, who looked as happy as me, but five times as tired. His mate Pav, bless him, had an amazing story to tell. Without a match ticket, he resorted to desperate measures. He arrived at the stadium, dressed in smart clothes, with a Ford lanyard and a handmade Champions League pass around his neck. The Ford lanyard was handed out at a Champions League corporate event at Stamford Bridge a few years back. He pieced together some printed matter from a Chelsea magazine to give the impression that he was one of the corporate guests of Ford. Believe it or not, it worked. He chose his moment and got past the first ticket check. Once inside, he blagged his way in to the seating bowl. He was close to welling up when he told us this story.

“I had my Mum with me. I knew I’d get in.”

He showed me the card that he had used and I unfolded it. Part of the text – hidden from view – mentioned this –

“Win one of 14 VIP tickets for the CL Final.”

Indeed. Simple as that.

We howled with laughter.

“That’s not what it meant, Pav!”

We had one last dark Czech beer at Prague airport. We were still smiling on the return flight home as we reviewed the previous 48 hours of history-making. For me, it was the last flight of a long season. From Kuala Lumpur to Bangkok to Leverkusen to Naples to Barcelona to Munich, glorious Munich. Dave and Pav were sitting opposite. Talk was of Monaco and Tokyo. The banter was still flying around. Glenn always has an eye for the ladies and I caught him eyeing up the bespectacled air hostess. I knew what was coming.

Glenn : “I would.”

Chris: “I know you would.”

Glenn : “Would you?”

Chris : “It would go to penalties, but – yeah – I would too.”

We landed back at Bristol and by midnight, I was home.

It had been, without exception, the most perfect of weekends. Simply everything had gone our way; from the timings to the travel, from flight prices to hotels, from the weather to the food and drink…the stadium, the football, the friendships…the goals, the penalties, the drama.

The European Cup.

Bloody hell.

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Tales From Underneath The Arch

Chelsea vs. Liverpool : 5 May 2012.

During the preceding week, I was trying my best to nurture positive thoughts and the appropriate amount of anticipation ahead of the F.A. Cup Final. I will admit that I was genuinely struggling. For starters, there is no doubt whatsoever that the role of the F.A. Cup Final in the football calendar is at an all-time low. I have commented about the reasons for this on many occasions. Suffice to say, the accelerating importance of both the League and the Champions League, the huge amount of football games on TV these days, the playing of semi-finals at Wembley, the abolition of second replays, the playing of the Final itself before the league season itself has finished and the general mismanagement of The Cup by the Football Association over the years are the main reasons why we are in this current situation.

This current state of affairs leaves fans of a certain age, like me, in a bit of a predicament.

I yearn for the Cup Final Days of my youth when the world – or at least my world – would virtually stop on the second Saturday in May. Those days were wonderful. The first F.A. Cup final I remember was the centenary game of 1972 when a diving Alan Clarke header gave Leeds a 1-0 win over perennial finalists Arsenal. And the memories from the next ten years are still rich to this day. In those days, we only had three TV channels, yet BBC1 and ITV both showed the Cup Final, with saturated coverage starting from around 11.30am through to 5.30pm. It was the only club game shown “live” on TV. It was a football enthusiast’s heaven. I always favoured the BBC’s coverage, but would often channel hop to make sure I wasn’t missing anything. The heady years of Cup Finals in my mind were from 1972 through to 1983 – from the ages of 7 to 18 – and of course, Chelsea were in involved in none of them. The nearest we got to the Twin Towers in that period were the quarters in 1973 (Arsenal) and 1982 (Spurs.)

Those defeats still hurt to this day.

So – anyway – you get the picture. Despite the elation of reaching another Wembley final, part of my psyche was labouring under the burden of the fact that things would never be the same as they were in those heady days of my youth. It was tough going, but I was trying my best to get my head around it all. To be honest, the fear of losing to Liverpool was helping to concentrate my addled mind. I was getting there. I could almost see the crescent of the Wembley Arch.

And then Chelsea Football Club fcuked it up. They completely disrupted my thoughts on the Friday with the news that they (and I use the term “they” wisely) had officially bid for the site of the Battersea Power Station. Now then, I am yet to be totally persuaded that my club needs to vacate our home of 107 years, but that is not the point. The point is that the club announced this massive piece of news on the eve of The Cup Final. My Friday afternoon at work in Chippenham was spent thinking about the pros and cons of Hammersmith & Fulham over Wandsworth, Stamford Bridge over The Samsung Arena, North versus South, District Line over Northern Line, old versus new, home versus new home.

To be honest, I was livid.

But yet – how typical of Chelsea F.C. to misjudge the mood of the moment. The club, the fans and the team needed to be together ahead of the Cup Final with Liverpool, yet here they were – obviously still smarting from the CPO defeat in November – quite relishing the chance to bully a point across. Rather than focussing my mind on the game at Wembley, my mind was poisoned by the thought of myself attending the last ever game at Stamford Bridge in maybe six or seven years.

Oh boy.

Thankfully, when I awoke at around 6.30am on Cup Final Saturday, my mind was clearer and focussed on the day ahead. This was good news indeed. I took a while to decide what to wear; this is always a tough part of each match day for me…all those shirts, all those options…but even more so on Cup Final Day. I opted for the lime green of a Lacoste long-sleeved polo and the muted grey of a CP top. I knew that Parky would be similarly attired. The last time I wore a Chelsea shirt to a Cup Final was in 1994 when I wore – hoping for a repeat – a 1970 replica shirt. But more of 1994 later.

I pulled out of my drive at around 8.45am and a Depeche Mode CD was playing. The closing notes of one song ended…a pause…then –

“When I’m with you baby, I go outta my head – and I just can’t get enough, and I just can’t get enough.”

And then my brain started whirring.

“Just can’t get enough” – yep, that’s about right. I certainly can’t get enough of Chelsea. And then I remembered that Liverpool are one of the several teams who have purloined this song from under our noses and I wondered if I would rue my day beginning in this way. I remember the Scousers singing this at The Bridge in the autumn and I shuddered. A repeat at Wembley? No thanks.

Parky – yellow Lacoste polo and grey Henri Lloyd top – was collected at just after 9am and we were on our way. I had pinned two Chelsea chequered flags to my car and I was keen to see if any other Chelsea cars were similarly attired as we drove up the M4. Surprisingly, on the drive east, we only saw two other Chelsea cars – and a Liverpool mini-bus. A car glided past and I spotted a bloke with an Arsenal replica shirt at the wheel. I smirked and he tried to ignore me. By the way, can anyone explain to me why that Arsenal vs. Norwich game could not have been played on the Sunday, along with all of the League fixtures? We were sharing the billing on just another football Saturday and it wasn’t right, damn it.

We reached Chelsea at 11am and – for some reason – I wanted to drive past Stamford Bridge before parking up. In truth, the place was pretty quiet, save for Bob The T-Shirt’s stall already at work. I imagined the area being full of non-attendees come 5pm.

We began with a quiet pint at “The Prince Of Wales” at West Brompton. There was drizzle outside as we caught the tube to Edgware Road. Nearing Notting Hill, however, Andy Wray sent me a text and advised that he was at “The Victoria” at Paddington. That was perfect timing and we quickly changed our plans. Several pubs in the Paddington area seemed to be overflowing with Liverpool fans. At just after 1pm, we met up with Andy, Ben, Dave Chidgey and a couple more Chelsea fans in the cosy confines of “The Victoria.” I spoke briefly to a Chelsea fan from Vancouver. Poor Ben was suffering with a hangover. I hoped he could recover quickly. Talk was of the new Battersea Stadium and of Munich. We then caught a cab to “The Duke Of York” where the lads were already enjoying a pre-match. The pub seemed quieter than for the semi-final and previous Cup Final visits. Ben commented that the main talk inside the boozer was still of Munich. Notable absentees were Simon, Milo and Daryl – all Munich-bound, and working on Brownie Points for the day. I chatted with Ben and Andy outside. The weather was mixed. I was glad I had my jacket with me. Talk was varied. Ben spoke about the Boston Blues and Andy spoke of The Olde Shippe. It was difficult to track my mood; to be truthful, I just wanted to get up to Wembley ahead of schedule and enjoy the moment.

Andy went off with Alan and Gary at about 3.45pm. Ben came along with Neil, Ed, Parky and little old me just after. We caught the 4.15pm from Marylebone and the packed train was full of Chelsea, united in song. The carriage was rocking. Ben had recovered from his previous night’s carousing with Cathy and Kerry Dixon and was joining in like a veteran. It was great to see him leading a few choice chants. I began one song –

“If you’re standing on the corner…”

We soon pulled into Wembley Stadium and met up with a drunken band of Chelsea fans from Trowbridge, singing songs about slums and dead cats. The rain was holding off. It was a grey and decidedly dull day, though. Unfortunately, there was a horrendous delay at turnstile L at the western side of the stadium. I’m afraid to say that this caused me to miss – again! – the traditional Cup Final hymn “Abide With Me.” Our seats were in block 538, row 24. Up and up we went.

Row 24 was the very back row. Seat 363 was just to the south side of the goal. In truth, we were only around 15 yards from our dead-central position at the 2010 Cup Final.

OK, here we go. A quick scan. The Liverpool balcony was bedecked with red banners and easily out-did our end. Had somebody forgot to bring the eight to ten permanent banners at Stamford Bridge? There were small blue flags by each seat, but not many waved these. I had my cameras at the ready. I was annoyed with myself for missing the build-up, but at least I was in for the entrance of the teams.

With the two teams lined up, the Liverpool fans were still bellowing out “You’ll Never Walk Alone.” I was worried that the old habits of the ‘seventies, when Cup Final teams often sung over the national anthem, might be resurrected. Oh dear, how correct I was.

As “God Save The Queen” began, all that could be heard were the boos from the Liverpool end. However, the Chelsea fans soon out-sung the boos and the stadium was roaring by the time the last few words were being sung –

“Send Her Victorious, Happy And Glorious, Long To Reign Over Us – God Save The Queen.”

Were the boos by the Liverpool fans some sort of retaliation for the “Murderers” chants by some foolish Chelsea fans at the Spurs semi-final? Yes, for sure – but that only tells part of the story. Both Liverpool the city and Liverpool the football club see themselves as some sort of a free-spirited and anti-establishment utopia, railing against the perceived prejudices of the rest of England. They are pro-Liverpool, but anti-everything else. They are no big fans of the London government – especially a Conservative government which they still abhor for the Hillsborough aftermath, the London media, the FA. They evidently see the Royal Family as part of this picture. I have read that the Scousers were not happy that the Royal Family were not more supportive in 1989. And so it goes on. The over-whelming sense of ills being acted out against them.

There was a banner which was held aloft for a few seconds before the game began, which referenced Hillsborough once more –

“Expose The Lies Before Thatcher Dies.”

Into this mix comes Chelsea Football Club. The blue versus the red. The southern club with money but no history. The club with a history of right-wing support . The devil incarnate. Blue rag to a bull.

This Cup Final was always going to be a tinderbox in the stands.

Speaking personally, I did my best to ignore the “Murderers” chants by those around me and decided to support the team in as positive way as I could. This was my eighth cup final and it seems strange, knowing how dominant Liverpool were in my youth, that this was our first one against them. I had a further scan before kick-off and I was dismayed to see a few pockets of unused seats in our end. We had been given 25,000 seats for this game. I briefly thought back to that 1994 Cup Final when we lost 4-0 to Manchester United. We only received 17,000 for that game and yet I can well remember that we didn’t even have 17,000 members in those days. My dear friend Glenn wasn’t a member that season, but had applied for his 1994-1995 membership early. As a result, his name was put into a raffle for the last few Chelsea tickets and was overjoyed when Chelsea called him on the ‘phone to say he had been successful.

It made me realise how far we have come in eighteen years.

Less than 17,000 members in 1994.

More than 25,000 season ticket holders in 2012.

What will we be in 2030? Or – more pertinently – where will we be?

Maybe there is some sanity in Chelsea’s desire to move out of Stamford Bridge.

I put these worrying thoughts to one side as I turned my complete attention to the 2012 F.A. Cup Final. There were no surprises in the Chelsea line-up; Didier was leading the line, ready to add to his phenomenal haul of goals under the arch. I was surprised to see Craig Bellamy in the Liverpool team ahead of Andy Carroll.

Chelsea dominated possession in the first part of the game. This did not surprise me. If we were underdogs for Munich, surely we were the slight favourites for this one? We were the team in form, whereas Liverpool were floundering several places below us in the league table.

We did not have to wait long for a goal. Juan Mata was allowed time and space in the centre of the pitch and played a magnificent ball into the path of the advancing Ramires. It was eerily similar to Camp Nou. This time, there was no chip, but a low drive at Reina’s goal. Before we knew it, we were 1-0 up and the Chelsea end erupted. I was shouting like a loon, but steadied myself to capture a few of the celebrations away down below.

Wow.

Soon after, Ivanovic did well to block a Bellamy effort which was certainly goal bound. This was a cagey game, though, with few chances. A fine dribble by Salomon Kalou deep in to enemy territory petered out. Long shots from Frank Lampard, Didier Drogba and Kalou did not worry Reina. We rarely looked in danger, though, and I was very content to see that Luiz Suarez was having a quiet game. Downing and Bellamy were buzzing around, but our defence was in control. In the middle, our trio of Mikel, Lamps and Ramires were covering space and not allowing Gerrard much time to impose himself on the game.

The atmosphere was hardly noisy. It all seemed a little too easy. The Liverpool fans were not singing too loudly either. There was a strange feeling to the evening.

At half-time, our intelligence was insulted with a feeble attempt at entertainment and I won’t even bother explaining it.

As the teams re-entered the pitch, the Liverpool fans held their scarves aloft and sang “You’ll Never Walk Alone” but even that felt half-hearted. Parky had disappeared for a beer at the break, but hadn’t made it back. The second-half began with a couple of chances for both teams. Kalou set up Ashley Cole but his shot was blocked. There was ludicrous penalty appeal by Gerrard. However, right after, a fantastic move had us all buzzing. Jon Obi Mikel played in Frank Lampard and he, in turn, slotted in a slide-rule pass into Drogba. He found himself in roughly the same area as against Arsenal in the semi of 2009 and Spurs in the semi in April. A touch, a shot, a goal. The ball was slotted in with fantastic precision at the hapless Reina’s far post and we erupted once more.

Didier has done it again.

He raced over to the far corner and I again steadied myself for snaps. His little victory jig was magnificent. Oh, how he loves playing at Wembley. Four goals in four Cup Finals. Phenominal.

Parky finally re-appeared, having been drinking a beer with Whitey when Didier’s goal had given us a hopefully unassailable lead. He didn’t look sheepish, he didn’t care. Good old Parky.

“And It’s Super Chelsea.
Super Chelsea F.C.
We’re By Far The Greatest Team the World Has Ever Seen.”

Another strong dribble from Kalou, but he shot over. A Lampard free-kick. This was all Chelsea and I was silently dreaming of more goals. Juan Mata set up Didier but he only hit the side-netting. The Chelsea choir was now in full voice. How it must have hurt the Liverpool legions to hear songs of European Cup Finals.

“Che Sera Sera.
Whatever Will Be Will Be.
We’re Going To Germany.
Che Sera Sera.”

It was the loudest Chelsea chant I have heard at new Wembley.

And then the game changed. Bosingwa lost the ball and Downing fed the ball in to Andy Carroll, the Liverpool substitute. Carroll twisted John Terry one way and then the other before rifling the ball high past Petr Cech.

The red East end roared.

Game on.

The last thirty minutes seemed to be all Liverpool. Steven Gerrard, previously marginal, was seeing much more of the ball and Carroll looked a threat. Petr Cech did ever so well to get down low to turn a Suarez shot past the post. Raul Meireles took the place of the tiring Ramires. Then Dirk Kuyt replaced Bellamy. The last throws of the dice. The final fifteen minutes.

Our celebrations were proving to be overly optimistic and premature. This was now an intensely nervous affair. Liverpool moved the ball around and we were shuffling around to repel their advances. In a way, it was Camp Nou all over again, with di Matteo’s Italian heritage putting us in good stead to quash any attacks.

On 81 minutes, Liverpool had a spare man out on the right and a great cross found the head of Carroll. I expected the equaliser. In a sudden blur of activity, we saw the header parried by a falling Cech, but we heard a roar and the subsequent run of Carroll away from the goal, celebrating again. The linesman was running away from the goal-line, his flag low. I was confused; was it a goal? Was it blocked? If it wasn’t a goal, how did it happen?

It wasn’t a goal. It was a miracle. Another Chelsea miracle.

How we love that East goal at Wembley. After the Juan Mata goal versus Tottenham, the Cech save against the Scousers. Football is indeed a matter of inches.

Just amazing.

In the final moments, Liverpool shots were either off target or bravely blocked by Chelsea defenders. It was indeed Camp Nou Mark Two. I couldn’t enjoy this though. Just like in 1973, when I sat on my grandfather’s lap watching Leeds United attack Sunderland’s goal again and again, I was clock-watching like never before. We got to 89 minutes…just like Liverpool to score then, Hillsborough and all.

Five minutes of extra time.

Still we chased and defended bravely.

At last – I watched as Phil Dowd held his whistle to his lips and blew.

Chelsea F.C. – 2012 F.A. Cup Winners.

The Liverpool players looked on as Chelsea gathered together in their half and performed a “Ring Of Roses” dance. Around me, there were smiles. Parky was in tears. The Chelsea players slowly came towards us. Didier, shirtless, led the slow advance but was soon joined by his cavorting team mates. I was relieved and happy. This was Chelsea’s seventh F.A. Cup success. The first one, in 1970, was probably the reason why I became a Chelsea fan, though the real reasons are lost in time. I have been present at all six other wins. We love Wembley and we love this cup.

Magnificent.

The Liverpool players climbed the stairs, but most of their fans had left.

How proud I was to see that line of players in royal blue slowly ascend the steps, then disappear from view…tantalisingly…then arrive on the balcony.

The cup was lifted and we roared again.

Very soon, “Blue Is The Colour” boomed around the echoing Wembley arena.

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In the last closing bars of the song, I looked up at the scoreboard at the opposite end of the stadium. Just as Ossie, Chopper and co were singing “Cus Chelsea, Chelsea Is Our Name”, the cameraman picked out a young Chelsea fan. He reminded me of me, circa 1972.

Now it was my turn to wipe away the tears.

Down below me, we were in party mode. It was gorgeous.

The champagne, the dancing, the smiles, the joy…the small details.

David Luiz hogging the cup as if it was his own.

Juan Mata grabbing Fernando Torres’ arm and hoisting it up, Torres looking bashful and embarrassed.

John Terry beating his chest.

Frank looking delirious.

The cup looking larger than usual and glinting like never before.

The songs –

“Blue Day.”

“One Step Beyond.”

“The Liquidator.”

“Blue Tomorrow.”

Parky and I were one of the very last to leave the stadium. I was tired and emotionally drained. I had been stood outside the pub, on the train, at the game, my feet were on fire. We met up with Cathy and showed each other a few photos from the day. She had been right down the front, I had been right down the back. In between the two of us, thousands of Chelsea fans, thousands of memories. I spotted Andy and Ben. What stories they would have to tell their friends back home. I commented that we would be running the gauntlet at Anfield on Tuesday night.

We caught the last train out of Wembley Park at 8.30pm with the arch behind us now, lit from below and looking magnificent.

At last I could sit. I was so tired, so drained, but so happy. A Liverpool fan from work sent me a text containing a few words of congratulations, saying that the best team had won, but debated that the Cech save was really a goal. My reply to him?

“Luis Garcia.”

We made our way through central London and alighted at Earls Court. A few minutes later, we were welcomed at “Salvo’s” and were soon toasting Chelsea Football Club on another miraculous victory in this ridiculous season. Salvo mentioned that Roberto di Matteo, visiting with his blind sister back in 1996, once enjoyed a meal at his little restaurant. I reckon that Salvo should erect a plaque – a nice bug blue one – above the entrance to “Dall’Artista”to signify this.

It was now 10.30pm and we needed to return home. As we slowly walked back to the car, a Chelsea post-Cup Final karaoke was taking place in The Tournament. We peered in to see a huddle of fans standing on tables, bellowing out an Elvis Presley classic –

“I’ll guess I’ll never know the reason why
You love me like you do.
That’s the wonder.
The wonder of you.”

A few minutes later on the elevated section of the M4, I couldn’t resist a glance to the north. And there it was – the Wembley arch, illuminated still, signalling the location of our most recent triumph.

Didier’s second home.

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