Tales From A Second-Half Renaissance

Chelsea vs. Brighton And Hove Albion : 26 December 2017.

We bloody loved the trip up to Everton at the weekend. It had been a text-book away day, apart from that elusive win. And here we all were again, heading up to Chelsea once more for the Boxing Day encounter with newly-promoted Brighton and Hove Albion.

The four Chuckle Brothers were joined by PD’s eldest Scott, who is an occasional visitor to Chelsea with us. Within minutes, Glenn was confusing his name with PD’s other son. This seemingly embarrassing faux pas is not unusual. Very often, PD himself confuses the two. I blame it on the cider. Within minutes, a new song was soon invented :

“Scotty Daniels, we’ll just call you Grant.”

The chuckling had begun.

I had left Frome at 8am and, at 11am, I was parked-up on Bramber Road, amid acres of empty parking spaces. The idea was for a quick couple of pints in “The Rylston” for a change, but they were not open. We de-camped to the familiar confines of The Goose, and took residence in a pokey corner.

“Peroni please, mate. Cheers.”

Brighton. It had dawned on me the previous evening that, barring a pre-season friendly against them in 2012, I had never seen them play Chelsea. I knew that we played them in two Second Division seasons in the ‘eighties, but I attended none of those four games. Was that it? Just four games? I had to investigate further. Indeed, those four games in 1983/1984 and 1988/1989 were our only games against them in the league. It seemed slightly implausible, to be honest. But it was true. The team from Sussex by the Sea spent most of their history in the lower levels of the Football League, and gained promotion to the First Division in 1978/1979 for the very first time – along with their rivals Crystal Palace, an enmity born through necessity I suspect, every team needs a rival – just as we were relegated from the top tier. By the time we were to meet for the first time in the league, just after Christmas in 1983, Brighton had been relegated, but not before an FA Cup Final against Manchester United. Another meeting in 1988/1989 was then followed by a huge fall from grace for Brighton, who were forced out of their idiosyncratic Goldstone Ground – which I once visited with Scunthorpe United, please don’t ask – and a ground share at Gillingham, some seventy miles away in Kent. There then followed a spell at the unloved Withdean Athletics Stadium in Brighton; but at least they were home. In 2011, they moved into the Amex Stadium at Falmer. Their story, like that of Charlton Athletic and AFC Wimbledon, is a heart-warming tale of how a football club can re-establish itself after years in the wilderness. Their promotion in May must have brought many a tear to some of their older fans.

Fair play.

My mate Walnuts lives in Brighton, and through him, I got to know several Brighton-based Chelsea supporters a while back. On this day, though, I was looking forward to meeting up with a Brighton season-ticket holder in The Goose prior to the game. I bumped into Mac in a lovely bar in New York prior to our game against Manchester City in May 2013, and through our shared love of football, we got on like a house on fire. We kept in touch via the occasional football-related text, and then reconnected via Facebook after my old phone died. With no trains from Brighton to London on Boxing Day, Mac had managed to bribe one of his friends, Nick, to drive up. They were soon parked up on Bramber Road and it was a pleasure to see Mac once again.

I spent a lovely time chatting to Mac, Nick, Mac’s wife Alice, and another friend Bruce in our corner of the pub. It has certainly been an enjoyable time for them this season, though I could tell that the memory of a woeful Albion performance at Huddersfield recently was still raw. We shared a few stories and a few chuckles. It was lovely.

I was reminded of a story that Mac shared with me in New York of that pre-season game at the Amex in August 2012, which Parky and myself attended. It took place on a Saturday afternoon. Nothing too surprising or unremarkable about that, eh? Apart from the fact that it was the day of Mac’s brother’s wedding. Mac was itching to leave the ceremony as soon as he could, though nobody really expected him to carry it off. Midway through the reception, Mac sidled off and – without letting his brother know – zipped over to the game to watch as Albion beat us 3-1. I had to admire his nerve. To make it better, when Mac arrived back at the reception, he brazenly asked his brother “where have you been hiding?” and his poor brother had to apologise for “avoiding” him for three hours.

Classic.

At 2.30pm, we all left the pub and headed off to Stamford Bridge.

A match programme was purchased.

On the front cover was a cheesy photograph of Davide Zappacosta and Alvaro Morata in Chelsea Christmas jumpers.

Kill me now.

No surprises, Brighton had brought a full three-thousand, but – strangely – not one single flag.

We had briefly chatted about the likelihood of Antonio Conte choosing 3-5-2 over a 3-4-3.

It looked like a 3-5-2.

Courtois

Azpilicueta – Cahill – Rudiger

Moses – Kante – Fabregas – Bakayoko – Alonso

Hazard – Morata

There are always a few empty seats at Boxing Day games, but there were not many around us. This was a good show by the inhabitants of The Sleepy Hollow. Children are rarely seen in this part of the season for regular league games, but a couple were spotted. Christmas treats, no doubts.

This was our fifth consecutive home game on Boxing Day, and our eleventh of the past thirteen Boxing Day games. It means that these games are relatively easy for us to attend, ironically easier than many who live in London, who have to rely on multiple buses and restricted train services. It has, however, taken away a little festive buzz from this most traditional of football fixtures. Oh how I would enjoy a Boxing Day game at another venue for a change.

As the game began, I had visions of thousands of folk across the US wishing co-workers a “happy Boxing Day”, expecting a stony-silence, awaiting the chance to enlighten them on this most English of traditions, but being met by the same response.

Brandy : “You’re an English soccer fan, right?”

Candy : “Ugh…yeah.”

Brandy : “AWESOME.”

Candy : [exit, stage left, crestfallen]

In my thoughts about this game, I was fully expecting Brighton to line-up in their yellow and “colour of indiscernible hue, maybe green, maybe brown, maybe grey” – a Nike disaster – but instead they opted for a more conservative all black.

I had already spoken to Glenn about the Brighton players; “Apart from the boy wonder Dunk – what a name – and his own-goal exploits of magnificence, I am going to find it difficult to name any Brighton player.”

I had to laugh at the Brighton player Propper.

“Bloody good job they have no player called Chels.”

In the pub, a few of us had spoken about how much we loathe the phrase “Proper Chels.”

[gasps from the gallery]

For that matter, the word “Chels” annoys me to death if it is used outside of the ninety minutes of a match. You will never catch any of us saying “going to London to watch Chels”, “I thought Chels played well last night”, “Hazard is a great Chels player”, “I’m a big Chels fan.”

I can feel my teeth grating as I write this. Anyway, those of you who have been reading these match reports over the past ten seasons, will certainly be smiling at all this. My views don’t change much with age.

We began the stronger and Alvaro Morata and Eden Hazard had a shot apiece in the opening ten minutes. Over in the far corner, unsurprisingly the away fans were leading the way in the community singing department. There was a reprise for the song which was sung by our visitors from Bournemouth a few weeks back.

“Just like The Emirates.”

It must be a south coast thing. On a quarter of an hour, the visitors enjoyed a little possession, but this soon petered out against the formidable defensive block of Toni Rudiger, Gary Cahill and Cesar Azpilicueta.

There was more Billy Ray Cyrus from the away section.

Fuck off.

Stamford Bridge was like a bloody morgue once again, though, and I struggled to find much enjoyment from the match being played out in front of me because of it.

“If I am a Chelsea fan, and you all are too, then why on bloody Earth are so many of you so determined to utter not a word of encouragement nor a song of praise? How can I possibly enjoy spending this most sacred of times with so many of you who do not share my passion. What has happened? Why is everything so different now? I hate it and I hate it as much as I love Chelsea.”

A snap shot from Tiemoue Bakayoko following a Rudiger header at the back post after a Cesc Fabregas cross went wide. We were in control, but with little end product. A beautiful, lofted pass into space from Fabregas allowed Victor Moses to advance, but his shot was smothered at the near post. Rudiger picked out Fabregas with another well-placed lob – a feature of his play, I think – but the ball ran on too quickly.

Chances were as rare as a wise man on Talk Sport and a virgin in Romford.

There was a rare shout of support from the home fans.

“ANTONIO, ANTONIO, ANTONIO.”

The Brighton fans replied :

“We forgot that you were here.”

So had I. Our play was middling at best, not awful, but just average. But it was the woeful atmosphere that had discombobulated me so much.

Was I here?

I wasn’t sure.

It worried me that Brighton’s Ezequiel Schelotto appeared to resemble a character in “Gladiators”, a show that I have never watched…

I was clearly slipping away into some outlandish world of make-believe…

Needing to jolt out of this, I let out a few desperate yelps of encouragement.

“COME ON CHELSEA.”

“COME ON CHELS.”

I am sure Mac heard me in the Shed Lower.

Fabregas planted a low drive straight at the Brighton ‘keeper Ryan. It was our first shot for a while. I had just commented to Glenn that Morata had not yet been involved. To prove me wrong, just before the end of the half, Dave curved a high ball towards Morata. Unfortunately, the Spanish striker headed well wide.

And that was that. One of the dullest forty-five minutes of the season. Thibaut had finished two word search compendiums. I reiterate, the players had not played poorly en masse. Brighton had defended deep. We just lacked a cutting edge.

But the supporters had certainly had a ‘mare.

The one bright spot concerned the news from Old Trafford, where Burnley were winning 2-0 against Manchester United. In our quest for second-place, this was a piece of very good news.

The second-half began and it began with an almighty crash of theatre and noise. From a slightly wider position than his cross in the first-half, Dave thumped one into the Albion box. It is a scene which is particularly familiar this season, but we will never tire of it.

A cross from Dave. A leap from Alvaro.

A downward header, a slam past Dunk, and a beautiful goal.

“GET IN YOU BASTARD.”

At last there was noise.

There are miracles at Christmas in 2017 after all.

With the goal, came a noted upsurge in confidence from the players and a lot more involvement from the home supporters. But I still found it ironic when the Matthew Harding Lower rounded on the away fans :

“You’re not singing anymore.”

Oh boy.

There was a fine layup by Bakayoko – better than in a few of his recent performances – to Hazard, but the shot went wide. We were awarded a free-kick, and both Alonso and Fabregas lined up to take it. Glenn thought it was too far out for Alonso. I wasn’t so sure. Our Spanish left-back swiped and the ball flew over the Albion wall, only for Ryan to provide the save of the match thus far. From the resulting corner, that man Alonso saw his header saved by the ‘keeper. It was all Chelsea now and corner followed corner.

On the hour, Cesc zipped a low corner into the six-yard box, and Alonso did well to reach the ball first. His glancing header forced the ball into the waiting net.

Oh you beauty.

The game was surely safe now.

Just after, we broke with lightning speed, first through the little legs of N’Golo Kante and then via Eden Hazard. Of all people, Dunk recovered to clear off the line. Own goal number four of the season would have to wait. Just after, Hazard was forced wide inside the box, with Bakayoko only able to steer his pass wide of the post.

The Albion fans were still digging us out.

“Two nil and you still don’t sing.”

Willian replaced Hazard. Along with the zest of Moses and Alonso, he had been the star of our second-half renaissance. Elsewhere, Kante was as solid as ever. I liked Rudiger; his stock grows with each game.

Brighton enjoyed a few late efforts on our goal with the game virtually over – “typical” I can hear Mac saying – but our goal never looked like being breeched. Antonio brought on Michy Batshuayi for Morata. There was a shot from distance from N’Golo Kante just before Conte replaced him with Danny Drinkwater. Shots from Willian and Dave did not bother Ryan in the goal down below us.

“Blue Is The Colour” rang out as we exited Stamford Bridge. It had been – cliché warning – a game of two halves, but one which we surely deserved to win. As we walked down the steps, the news drifted through that United had battled back to draw 2-2.

“Bollocks.”

Not to worry, we were now only one point adrift of the fuckers. The season is only just over the halfway mark. I am very confident that we will pip them, and all the rest, for second place.

Stoke City visit HQ on Saturday. I will see some of you there. Please make sure that you bring your songbook.

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Tales From The Top Of The Pyramid

Chelsea vs. Bournemouth : 26 December 2016.

There was a time when Boxing Day crowds were the largest of them all. It was a general rule of thumb that the much-loved FA Cup tended to produce gates which were bigger than domestic League games, and that the crowds which poured through the turnstiles on December 26th each season tended to produce the highest attendance figures each year.

Of course, these days in the user-friendly, high-octane, internationally-branded, ultra-commercialised and well-loved world of English football – or at least the Premiership, the pinnacle at the top of the league pyramid – gates are usually sell-outs, with near-capacity crowds commonplace. These days, Boxing Day games are – sadly – just another game. Sure, there is the tingle of football the day after Christmas Day, but that extra-special buzz of the game being one of the biggest days of the season has largely gone.

The FA computer has tended to give us home games on recent Boxing Days. Our 2016/2017 appointment with Eddie Howe’s Bournemouth would be our tenth home game on Boxing Day in thirteen seasons (in 2010/2011, there was no game on Boxing Day.) This suits me. I’d rather travel to SW6 on the day after Christmas than have to drive to other points of the compass. On Boxing Day 2012, the computer paired us with Norwich City and I just could not be arsed. But I haven’t missed too many over the past twenty seasons. In 2014, I stayed at home and missed a home game with West Ham United, in order to spend a last Boxing Day with my dear mother.

Boxing Day 2016 gave us the chance to win a club-record twelfth consecutive league game.

Would we do it?

The mood in the Chuckle Bus was positive.

A few games back, I talked about the chance to win our five games against West Bromwich Albion, Sunderland, Crystal Palace, Bournemouth and Stoke City, but never really expected it to happen. But here we were on the cusp of twelve, maybe thirteen.

With Costa and Kante out, it seemed obvious to us who Conte would bring in.

“Batshuayi and Fabregas – easy.”

It seemed odd that we were playing at 3pm on a Boxing Day. Often our games are early kick-offs. In the pubs beforehand, it took a while for things to get busy. Ironically, we live three hours away, but have easier journeys in than Londoners on Boxing Day, with public transport so severely hit.

We popped into “The Goose”, “The Pensioner” and “The Fox & Pheasant.” There were drinks with friends from near and far.

Rob was celebrating the fortieth anniversary of his first-ever Chelsea match, give or take the odd day. Like me, Rob was eight when he saw us play for the very first time. His match was the iconic home game against local rivals Fulham in a Second Division fixture. The attendance that day has become more famous with every passing season. Although we won 2-0, the gate of 55,003 won all of the awards. As an eleven-year-old schoolboy, it amazed and thrilled me that my club could draw such numbers for a game in the second tier of English football. Ironically, it was our last-ever home gate of over 50,000. But it is typical of the size of crowd that was enticed to football stadia over the Christmas period.

Another example of this is a game that I attended, and again against Fulham, and which took place in December 1982. We were dire at the time, sinking fast towards the relegation zone, and previous home gates numbered 6,903, 8,184 and 8,690. The game against Fulham, who were enjoying a fantastic season, drew a gate of 29,797. I was ecstatic that we could pull such numbers. I can remember that I watched from The Shed – it was a 0-0 draw – and I can still remember standing out in the forecourt at the end of the game waiting for my parents to appear from their seats in the East Upper. Thousands of fellow fans streamed past before I spotted my parents. I was numbed – and again thrilled – that so many people could be lured from their warm and cosy homes to watch us in the second tier.

Moments like that evidently stick with me.

We were able to talk to a few friends from the US – John from Los Angeles, Nick from Fresno and Austin from Houston – and it’s always a joy to see their obvious enthusiasm. It would be Nick’s first-ever game at Stamford Bridge.

Chris 1974, Rob 1976, Nick 2016. It goes on.

The team news broke through and we were pretty shocked.

No Batshuayi.

Glenn summed things up : “That will do nothing for the young lad’s confidence. He obviously doesn’t rate him.”

I told Austin of my feelings : “I’ve only just got my head around 3-4-3, I can’t get my head around this false nine stuff.”

It has never convinced me.

I wondered if it would be like ninety minutes of foreplay.

And if so, would we keep a clean sheet?

We walked along Fulham Road – from the East, it doesn’t happen too often – and it was magnificent to be out and about on such a crisp, bright and expectant Boxing Day.

Here was the buzz that I was hoping for. Fantastic.

As the day would progress, I would be keeping an eye on my local team Frome Town’s progress at home to Basingstoke Town in the seventh tier of our national game. It would be a good day for gates in that league too. Frome are currently in sixth place – a highest-ever league position in 112 years.

Bournemouth had brought a full three-thousand. There was a full house, or as near as could be expected. A few no-shows. The Peter Osgood banner in The Shed always seems more relevant over Christmas.

“BORN IS THE KING.”

Eddie Howe’s team are known for their football being played “the right way” but for the first fifteen minutes his players pushed, hacked, tripped and clipped anyone in royal blue. The ire of the home fans rose with each bad challenge. At last, Jack Wilshere was booked for an assault on Eden Hazard.

The atmosphere inside Stamford Bridge was typical of a Boxing day of late; morgue-like. A loud and proud chant of “Red Army” was repeated rhythmically from the far corner and the home support momentarily responded with song.

It was all Chelsea for the majority of the first quarter of the game, with Moses and Pedro creating chances, but with no real threat on goal. Bournemouth were unsurprisingly packing their defence, but on twenty-four minutes, we were treated to a little Christmas magic. Cesc Fabregas touched the ball to Pedro, who was hemmed in, with red and black shirts ahead of him. He twisted, created a little space and chipped the ball, with pace, up and over Artur Boruc. I watched open-mouthed as the ball hit the net.

GET IN YOU BEAUTY.

Just after, the loathed Wilshere broke into a little space inside our box and forced a fine save from Thibaut Courtois. For all of our attacking prowess over the past few months, Thibaut has been as good as any. In the match programme, there was a sublime photograph, taken at pitch level behind the goal, of his finger-tipped save at Sunderland.

Hazard broke from deep, twisting and turning like a snake, and was creating merry hell for Howe’s players. Just as impressive was Pedro, a picture of relentless motion, never still, always moving. We gasped as a loose ball on the edge of the box was met by a rabona from Hazard. The shot was aiming for the top corner but Boruc was able to claw it away. Wilshere then followed up from a blocked Bournemouth free-kick but thankfully his low shot was cleared. This was turning into a fine game of football. Matic was impressing me with his tackling and tracking. Willian was full of energy. There were, however, a number of times that a ball fizzed across the box yelling out for a Diego Costa touch.

Rob, the birthday boy, sits just a few rows behind me in the MHU, ironically on roughly the same piece of terra firma that he watched forty years ago, and he wanted me to take a candid photo of him on his anniversary.

“I want it you to take it without me knowing, au naturel.”

“Well, I’m not taking my clothes off for you or anyone, Rob.”

Shortly after, I snapped away.

A Fabregas free-kick just cleared the bar.

Just before half-time, the referee Mike Jones allowed Bournemouth to play the advantage after a foul, but after a shot was hit high and wide, he annoyed us all by giving them a free-kick too. Howls of derision were still ringing around the stadium as the resulting shot hit the wall.

At half-time, Frome were 0-1 down.

There were still crisp blue skies overhead as the second-half began. A typical run from Eden Hazard deep in to the Bournemouth penalty area caused Simon Francis to make a clumsy challenge. Eden calmly slotted the penalty home, low to Boruc’ left.

We were 2-0 up and coasting now. The atmosphere had not exactly been tense, but at last we could relax a little. The twelfth win in a row was on the cards. Our play remained high quality. Shots from Hazard, Moses and Willian came close. We hounded Bournemouth when they had possession, and broke with menace when we were able to steal the loose ball.

Although Hazard was showing – dare I say it – world class form, Pedro really caught the eye with his energetic display. Willian, though not able to create a great deal, was able to support his team mates well. Fabregas was a calming presence throughout. On more than one occasion I was mesmerized by our one-touch football. At the back, David Luiz was again exceptional.

The Shed, especially, had a great second-half, with a constant array of songs. On one or two occasions, their noise threatened to envelope the entire stadium. The Matthew Harding showed willing, but the spectators in the East and West Stand were still waiting for formal introductions to take place before joining in.

I’m certainly not a fan of the dirge-like “Chelsea Till I Die” song though; myself and a few mates always said that it used to be sung by middling teams from lower divisions. It’s hardly sung by any of the bigger teams. Let Birmingham City, Derby County and Ipswich Town have it. It’s not a Chelsea song. It was, if I am honest, the very first time that I can ever remember it being sung loudly enough at Stamford Bridge for me to hear it. Which is why I mention it now.

There was one lovely moment towards the end of the game. Fabregas had been fouled and fell right in the path of Eden. Rather than stop and await the referee’s whistle, Eden just flicked the ball over Cesc’s body. What a giggle.

In a rare attack from Bournemouth, substitute Afobe’s low shot was superbly blocked by Courtois. Every one of our damn players are playing at such a high level.

Time was moving on, and it looked like our domination was only being rewarded with two goals.

Glenn wanted another one, to aid our goal difference.

I turned to him and said “I am bloody convinced that we will score a late third.”

Lo and behold, a run from Pedro, the ball seemingly attached to his boots, ended up with a twist and a shot. The ball struck a defender and Boruc was stranded. The ball crept over the line, but there was that third goal.

Perfect.

Chelsea and Kensington 3 Bournemouth and Boscombe 0.

Chalobah had replaced Willian on 83 minutes, Aina had replaced Moses on 89 minutes, but Batshuayi only saw around five seconds of action after replacing Pedro on 94 minutes. It seemed almost cruel. But who are we to grumble? Our fears of the false nine were unfounded, and Antonio Conte continues to enchant us all with his team selections.

I can’t really believe that I am saying this, but let’s go for win number thirteen. Stoke City will present a different test, but with N’Golo and Diego back, I am confident.

Down in Somerset, Frome had managed to nab a 1-1 draw against Basingstoke. The gate was a fine 366, compared to a season average of 225. Elsewhere in that Southern League, on a day of mainly local derbies, a huge 2,033 saw Dorchester Town play Weymouth, and there were also similarly large gates at Leamington (805), Merthyr (784), Kettering Town (656). In fact, all games drew larger-than-normal crowds. Our national game is healthy, and no team is healthier right now than ours.

Let’s enjoy it.

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Tales From Boxing Day

Chelsea vs. Swansea City : 26 December 2013.

Boxing Day 2013.

A chance to gain three more points against a Swansea City team which has struggled to hit the heights of the previous two seasons. A chance to follow up a credible and determined performance at Arsenal with a confidence-boosting win. And a chance to sustain our position among the front-runners for the league title.

After my horrendous trip home in the very small hours of Tuesday morning fresh in my mind, I set off from my dormant village at around 8.30am, determined to avoid large puddles. Joking aside, I was just grateful to be able to attend the game. However, soon into my short journey to collect Parky from this village, I received a text from His Lordship pleading for me to travel up to London alone, since his village was virtually surrounded by flood waters.

Lord Parky was stranded, alone in his own personal Land of the Lakes.

With a heavy heart, I knew he was right. I could get myself into all sorts of a pickle attempting to find a navigable lane into his village. It just wasn’t worth the risk. I pointed my car south rather than north.

By the time I spoke to him I had passed Stonehenge, blindingly magnificent in the clear winter sun, and was high on the A303, with a gorgeous vista to my right, with low-lying mist shrouding trees in a frosty cloak.

“Bloody hell, Parky, you should see the view; it’s bloody incredible.”

With that, I wished him well and vowed to meet up on Sunday for the game with the Scousers. Parky probably put the ‘phone down and took a sip from a bottle of Jack Daniels.

The road to London was a familiar one. There was a tiring thirty minutes of fog before things improved. I’d seen worse. I was just happy to be on the road. I stopped at McFleet for a McBreakfast but was soon heading into London, my head clear of wintry weather conundrums. I had made good time. At 11.15am, I drove through the familiar streets around Normand Park, very close to Queens Club and Lillee Road. The streets, usually full of parked cars, were remarkably empty. It seemed as if I was the first Chelsea fan to arrive. Of course, the truth was that many of the locals were away for the Christmas period, visiting relatives and friends in The Shires, and maybe further afield.

Laura and Leo were with the Templeton-Askews in Great Piddlington, Gloucestershire.

Gemma and Edward were with mater and pater in Snot Bottom, Dorset.

Jilly and Billy were with the Fitzsimmons in Lower Minge, Suffolk.

The Polovskis were with Uncle Jarek in Krakow.

Oleg and Dmitry were with Sergei and Alexander in Brooklyn.

Unlike most Boxing Day games at Chelsea, which usually kick-off at lunchtime, this one was a normal 3pm match. After another McCoffee on the McNorth End Road to warm me up, I slowly walked down to the hotel. Things were pretty quiet. It was only 11.45pm. In the hotel bar, I had a quick word with Peter Bonetti but I had evidently just missed Ron Harris.

This was another busy-pre game for me; people to meet, hands to shake, photos to take. I love it. I get just as much pleasure from meeting old friends as from the games themselves. This is the way it should be.

First up, Jens and his wife Suzie from Austin, deep in the heart of Texas, who were visiting for a few days. Jens runs the Austin Blues, the second biggest supporters group in the US after Mike’s New York Blues. They were with a couple of their members. It was great to hear how well their club is doing. As I have said many times, all a supporters club needs is a pub to act as a regular base and a few passionate souls at the top to lead. Jens is always fighting a regular battle to tease people away from their HD TVs at home and join in the match-day fun, though.

“It’s a social club, right?” beamed Jens.

“Yep, with a little football thrown in along the way” I replied.

I ran into Gill and Graeme, from nearer home, Kent to be precise. They had been without power in their home for the past few days.

“Only one way to get around that Gill. Go to Chelsea for the day.”

Back at The Goose, I soon ran into Mitch and Kelly, from California. I first met Mitch over in LA during the summer tour of 2007, and then met him again in Baltimore and Dallas in 2009. This was Mitch’s first-ever trip to London, though Kelly had visited for a few days a couple of years ago. They were staying at a friend’s flat on the King’s Road. Lucky people. They both told me the lovely story of how they met; Baltimore, 2009.

Kelly, from New York, and Mitch, from California, following Chelsea, then meeting, keeping in contact, travelling across the US every month, then marrying.

Proper Chelsea.

Mitch often uses this story to entice potential Chelsea fans to become proper paid-up members of the Chelsea Family.

“So, what’s in it for me?” they would ask.

“Oh, you get to join a thriving local supporters club here in LA, you get the chance to get tickets for games at Stamford Bridge, you get to meet great people from all over the globe, you get to meet local Chelsea fans in London. If you’re lucky, you might even get to meet your future wife.”

Kelly smiled.

I mentioned another couple that I know, Robin and Del, who are now wife and husband through meeting up during a Chelsea summer tour to the US; 2007, on that occasion.

Next to arrive was Evo, with his father and brother. Evo is a friend of my good mate Orlin and I had managed to get hold of three Shed End tickets for him. His father and brother were over from Bulgaria. It was their first game at Stamford Bridge. There was a horrible period of doubt in my mind, during the waking hours of Christmas Eve, with my car still awaiting recovery, that I would not be able to attend the Swansea game; with it, the horrible thought that Evo and his family would not be able to attend, either.

Thankfully, everything worked itself out.

The pub wasn’t too busy. There was talk of several spare tickets floating around and about. Boxing Day games are often problematic for fans and the added problem of the recent storms increased the difficulty in attending.

Kelly, Mitch and me set off in good time for the game. There were the usual “Axon guided tour” highlights on the fifteen minute walk to The Bridge.

“The North End Road street market, The Football Factory pub – The Harwood Arms – just out of sight, the Malt House, my first ever pre-game pint in The Cock pub in 1984, the Slug & Lettuce, the old tube station, the 1970 and 1971 cup parades, the café where I had a burger after my first game in 1974, the CFCUK stall…”

For a change, I had swapped with Andy and took my seat alongside Daryl and Ed in the back row of Gate 15 in the MHU. The seats took forever to fill. Swansea’s away support was really poor; maybe only 300. All around the stadium – I didn’t have to look too hard – there were empty seats. Despite a 3pm kick-off, and a few hours of pre-match drinking, there was a subdued air under the clear blue winter skies at Stamford Bridge.

It felt odd to be watching the game from a different viewpoint. I’m so used to my seat in the north-west corner, with the backdrop of the 1974 East Stand, that a change always catches me unawares. The same game, but a different view. The same game, but different opinions from my fellow fans. The same game, but a different experience. I suppose that, if I could travel through time, to around 1970, I would be watching from the strange old North Stand, which was sighted where I sat in 2013. In 1970, there would be a view of the old Shed, with the houses behind, maybe the Lots Road pumping station, the gasometer, and the flats on the Fulham Road. In 2013, there was just the concrete of the rear of the hotel and the steel of the modern stands.

The teams?

I knew that Swansea were without Michu, Dyer and Vorm.

What of us?

Petr.

Ashley Cole was recalled, with David Luiz partnering JT, and Ivanovic.

Ramires and Mikel as the deep-lying duo.

Hazard, Oscar, Mata – the three midfield maestros, perhaps.

Samuel Eto’o.

Let’s go to work.

We began relatively well. There were chances for Oscar, Hazard and Ivanovic before a bouncing effort from JT which Tremmel tipped over.  There was a period of sustained pressure which resulted in a flurry of corners, which sadly yielded nothing.

Swansea hardly threatened.

With the crowd urging him on, Eden Hazard received a fine clearance from Ashley Cole on the left and decided to take heed of the Chelsea fans’ advice to go at the defender. He glided past his marker Amat – effortlessly – and ripped a low shot towards goal. Truthfully, a Swansea defender moved in front of Tremmel, thus hampering his assessment of the ball’s path. The ball slid beneath his grasp.

1-0 Chelsea.

Soon after, Eto’o was up to his old tricks of ghosting in and around as opposing keepers attempt to clear and caused the ‘keeper to misjudge a pass, but Oscar could not pounce.

A lone chance for Swansea just after the half-hour, but Vazquez’ attempt was finger-tipped over by Petr Cech.

As the game progressed, we enjoyed tons of possession, but too much of it in areas where the opposition were not threatened. The Swansea players simply shuffled back into position when the ball was worked from right to left and then back again. The noise which had greeted the goal was soon replaced by periods of quiet, if not complete silence.

A nightingale sang in Berkeley Square.

I know. I heard it.

With the first period about to end, Samuel Eto’o should have done better when in on goal after a luxurious ball from Mata with just Tremmel to beat. His weak shot was easily parried.

Within only fifteen seconds of the second-half, we were all rueing another Eto’o miss. David Luiz played a gorgeous ball into the path of Juan Mata – if I am honest, pretty quiet in the first-half – and the little Spaniard sent over a perfect cross for Eto’o. He drifted away from his marker perfectly, but his snap effort was very well saved by the swans’ custodian.

There was disbelief amongst the patrons of the Matthew Harding. In that instant, I knew full well what the course of the second-half would be:

Increasing tension and worry as we would slowly but surely let the visitors get a foothold in the game.

Oh boy. Here we go.

Another Eto’o chance went wide.

Swansea began to enjoy snippets of possession. With no threat up front, they look hampered though. However, that didn’t stop the nervousness and tension in the stands increasing with each minute.

Jose chose to replace Oscar – who had enjoyed a solid game, both defensively and offensively – with Frank Lampard. We yearned for a little stability. Frank flashed wide. We begged and begged for a second goal.

That’s all we want for Christmas.

With the clock showing twenty minutes to play, I certainly expected Swansea to equalise at some stage. I turned to Daryl;

“Well, if they are to equalise, rather now than with two minutes to go.”

I was serious. I knew where this one was going.

Andre Schurrle then replaced Mata.

The edginess in the stands reached the players. What I’d give for a home crowd to “bring the team home” with a raucous show of noise from the stands.

Nah.

As chances dried up, I wondered how long our lack of a killer-punch in front of goal would continue to haunt us. It may well define our season. The more we talk about it, the more Mourinho mentions it, the more the media becomes obsessed by it, the more the mental problem becomes for us all, not least our three strikers. The negativity will snowball and it might eventually consume us. Jose Mourinho needs to work his magic.

That second goal was never looking like arriving.

There was more frustration from the home sections of Stamford Bridge as we failed to capitalise on a few late chances.

The clock ticked down…80…85…87…89…

A chap next to me wondered if we might hear the old Chelsea chant of “blow the fucking whistle.”

Our defence were pinned back with late Swansea pressure. With everyone on tenterhooks, we thankfully resisted a late flurry of threats.

The whistle blew.

Phew.

We had won.

Another miracle at Christmas.

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Tales From The 41,548*

Chelsea vs. Fulham : 26 December 2011.

For the first time this season, I was having a day off. That is to say, the driving duties were not mine. At last I could relax and let somebody else worry about the traffic and the timings. Glenn called for me at 8am and we were soon on our way. Parky was collected at 8.30am, resplendent in a new Duck & Cover top, thankfully now recovering from his recent ailments.

The three amigos on the way to football once more.

Another season, another Boxing Day game, another game at The Bridge. Admittedly, we don’t have a game every December 26th (our last Boxing Day game was in 2009 at Birmingham City), but Chelsea invariably get home fixtures on this date.

As I live over 100 miles from SW6, it took until 1992 for me to see Chelsea in a Boxing day game; until then the friction of distance, plus lack of finances, prevailed against me. On that particular day, I drove up to Chelsea for the very first time and parked near the Lots Road gasometers and watched Chelsea scramble a 1-1 draw against Southampton. I remember I took an old-school camcorder up with me for that game and – quite illegally – recorded around ten minutes of match action from the East Upper. I also took a few shots of the old tube station, the souvenir shops on the Fulham Road, the forecourt, The Shed. I’m glad I did; within a few years, the old Stamford Bridge would be no more. That 15 minute film from Stamford Bridge – shrouded in midwinter mist, atmospheric, bleak – is a cherished part of my Chelsea archives. I remember how every time Chelsea (Dennis Wise, Eddie Newton, Frank Sinclair et al) managed to cross the halfway line, there were encouraging cheers and claps from the Chelsea support in the East Stand. I watched this video film a few years ago and it was quite endearing to be honest; refreshing to see – and hear – Chelsea fans supporting the team’s pursuit of goals and glory. These days, the notion of Chelsea fans cheering each time we get past the centre-circle seems absurd.

1992 was my first ever CFC Boxing Day game, but my first ever trip to Stamford Bridge during the festive season was ten years earlier, during that bleakest of seasons, the 1982-1983 campaign. During that winter, Chelsea were stumbling along in the old second division and gates were hitting new lows. Despite drawing 25,000 for the visit of Leeds United in October, gates had dropped to as low as 7,000 in late 1982. Our neighbours Fulham, paradoxically, were flying high under the management of former player Malcolm MacDonald and with players such as Ray Houghton, Sean O’Driscoll, Gordon Davies and Dean Coney. I travelled up with my parents for the Chelsea vs. Fulham derby on December 28th 1982 and wondered how big the gate would be. If memory serves, the cancellation of a set of fixtures the previous week had resulted in massive crowds on the Boxing Day that year; everyone wanted their fix of football. Well, the Chelsea crowd did not disappoint on that afternoon in December 1982. I watched from The Shed and my parents watched from way up high in the East. The game was a scoreless draw, but the abiding memory is of the huge 29,000 attendance. Our average during that 1982-1983 season was just 12,672 (our lowest ever, from 1905 onwards), so getting a gate of 29,000 reconfirmed what I knew; we were a sleeping giant, we did have the fan base…with a little success, the crowds would return. I remember little of the day, apart from waiting at the bottom of The Shed after the game had ended. Thousands upon thousands of fans strode past as I waited for my parents to join me. I was overawed by the numbers and the wait seemed to take forever. I can see my father now, in his hat and overcoat, trying to keep warm in the cold December air. My mother alongside, with her face cheered for seeing me.

Lovely memories.

So much for Chelsea versus Fulham in 1982. What about Chelsea versus Fulham in 2011?

McBreakfasts were purchased at Melksham and were consumed “on the hoof.” Glenn made great time and we were rolling along nicely. We bumped into a few Cardiff City fans at Reading Services, en route to Watford, and then continued on our pilgrimage east. With the tube strike undoubtedly causing more fans to travel in by car, plus the closure of the A4 at Hammersmith, we had planned a different route in. We drove north on the M25, then came in to London on the A40, past the iconic Hoover Building near Hanger Lane. I quickly spotted Park Royal tube station and it brought back warm memories of my first ever trip to Chelsea in 1974; we had parked nearby, and then caught the tube in from that very station. My father was always fearful of the traffic in central London, bless him.

Past the floodlights of Loftus Road, then the new and architecturally brutal Westfield Mall – right in the heart of QPR land – and then past more familiar sights; Earls Court, Salvo’s restaurant, West Brompton Cemetry…Chelsealand.

We were parked-up at 10.40am and it had been a breeze. The weather was surprisingly mild.

A knot of customers were already waiting for The Goose to open up. As more punters joined the throng, I walked over to meet Nathan (a CIAer from the Bay Area of California) and his parents. He had previously visited HQ for the 3-0 thrashing of Birmingham City in the Double season, but his parents – Laurie and Paul – were first-time Bridge visitors. They had just raided the megastore. There is a sale on at present and I have my sights set on a couple of books which I’ll probably purchase before the Villa game.

Into The Goose and I could enjoy a few beers. I took my jacket off and got the beers in. A few pints of Peroni – currently my favourite by far – went down well. Paul, Laurie and Nathan settled down for a lovely pre-match and we covered tons of sport-related topics in the 90 minutes which was afforded us. Parky and Paul exchanged awful jokes, Laurie proclaimed her hatred of the Yankees and I gave her a hug. Paul and I chatted about the Brooklyn Dodgers while Nathan and I spoke about the upcoming Chelsea tour to the US in the summer. It was a fine time.

The Goose was terribly quiet, though. There was probably only 50% of the usual numbers present. I wondered if The Bridge would be well short of capacity on this particular Boxing Day.

Our American guests, fortified by the beer and the laughter of a Chelsea pre-match, set off for The Bridge. I had thoroughly enjoyed their company – sports mad, the lot of them – and I had said “we’ve only touched the tip of the iceberg.” Parky and I soon followed. I couldn’t help but notice how quiet the streets approaching the stadium were. It felt very odd.

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There wasn’t even much of a line at the turnstiles.

I reached my seat, buzzing from the alcohol intake, as the flags were ending their travels along the two tiers of the Matthew Harding Stand. In front of me were two empty seats. The Bridge appeared full, but after a glance around all four stands, it was clear that hundreds – no thousands – of seats were unoccupied. It wasn’t clear in my mind how Arsenal could call off their game on this day of tube-strike induced chaos, while Chelsea did not. Of course, it all became clear. Chelsea had sold all of the 41,500 tickets; why should they care if thousands couldn’t travel in and attend the actual game.

1-0 to Arsenal.

For the first time since September, Glenn, Alan and I were at The Bridge together.

It felt right.

I won’t dwell too much on the game. I thought that we had enough chances to win, but that much cherished commodity luck was not with us on this particular occasion. That is, of course, not hiding the fact that we did not play well. The first-half was particularly poor, with hardly any urgency in our attacking play.

The first real chance of the day fell to Clint Dempsey and his Barnes Wallace of a shot caused Cech to scramble to his right and turn past the post. Fulham had three thousand fans, but one flag; a Japanese flag. They don’t do flags, Fulham, do they? It goes without saying, the away fans made more noise consistently throughout the game than the Chelsea fans.

Mata played in Fernando Torres and the maligned Spaniard did well to bounce the ball off his chest to enable a swivel of the hips and a shot on target. Unfortunately, as is the way with Nando, the ball was struck straight at Stockdale in the Shed goal. Our approach play was laboured and The Bridge fell silent.Two wayward efforts from Torres left Tom with his head in his hands. A cross from wide rattled straight across Petr Cech’s area and we were lucky Fulham were only playing with one up.

A corner on 38 minutes typified our poor play; Mata sent in a corner towards the penalty spot, but it was headed clear by one of three defenders, with not a Chelsea player within five yards of the ball. I had signalled to San Francisco Pete, way up at the back of the MHU, to join me for a pint at the break. While lining up in line, we watched as Studge laced a shot wide.

It was good to see Pete again and we had the usual moan, huddled under the upper tier in the area by the refreshment stand. Chelsea has chosen to decorate this area with a set of large photographs of past Chelsea players and I approve of this. It adds character to an otherwise functional part of the stadium. While we supped away at our pints of Singha, photographs of Dickie Spence, Dennis Wise, Peter Bonetti, Ruud Gullit and others looked on. It is just the sort of detail which is so sadly lacking at the bland Wembley Stadium, which depresses me more each time I visit.

Unfortunately, Pete and I missed two important things due to our half-time chat. We missed the appearance of former striker Jimmy Greaves, who was on the pitch at the break. I wonder if he is aware that, rather ironically, there is a bar in the Matthew Harding called “Jimmy’s”, named after him. As a sad victim of alcoholism and now a teetotaller, I’m sure he would find the funny side of that.

We also missed the goal. We were chatting about some nonsense, just finishing our pints, when we heard a roar.

“Oh well.”

We smiled and toasted Chelsea.

I soon had an incoming call from Alan in the stadium, but twenty yards from me.

“Yeah, yeah, yeah.”

I don’t miss many goals at Chelsea matches – I’ve probably only missed five or six Chelsea goals in over 800 games.

I re-joined the boys at my seat in the MH wraparound and hoped for further goals. It was pretty lacklustre stuff to be honest. We seemed to have all of the possession. And then a defensive blunder and Dempsey struck from close in. It was a weak goal to let in and we all groaned.

AVB replaced the insignificant Frank Lampard with Florent Malouda and our form improved slightly. Fulham were happy to defend and we regained the upper hand. Alan came out with a Christmas cracker of his own –

“Come on Chelsea. This is as one-sided as Heather Mills.”

As the time passed, our chances piled up. The best move thus far involving Malouda and Terry found Sturridge who forced a fingertip save from Stockwell. From the corner, our bad luck continued as an opportunist back heel from Malouda, two yards out, was blocked.

Didier was given a chance to play, replacing Sturridge with twenty minutes to go. Torres was shunted wide and became marginalised. Alan and I had said that we wanted to see Torres on the shoulder of the last man while he was in Chelsea Blue, centrally, ready to pounce. We didn’t care to see him chasing back and turning up in all sorts of deep lying positions. We wanted to see him played to his strength. I’d like to know if AVB tells him to chase balls back in his own half. I’m not a great tactician, but I’d prefer to see Nando as goal poacher and goal poacher only during his time in SW6.

The two highlights for me were two majestically crafted lobs from David Luiz, both with just the correct amount of fade and spin to allow the ball to die as it hit the turf, allowing team mates to gather with the minimum of effort.

Truly great passes. Almost scooped up with Luiz’ right foot. Perfect.

A Drogba shot from the second one of these was hit straight at Stockwell. A curling effort from Meireles agonisingly missed the far post. Malouda set up Meireles with a header which flew over. The last chance, a Drogba effort from a free-kick, did not bother the Fulham ‘keeper.

It was one of those days.

There was a short bout of booing at the final whistle. On exiting the stadium, the Chelsea supporters around me were full of complaints about Andre Villas-Boas, Frank Lampard, Didier Drogba, Fernando Torres, Winston Bogarde, Slavisa Jokanovic, Keith Dublin, Graham Wilkins, Peter Houseman, Keith Weller and Fatty Foulke. I found it a shame that these same fans couldn’t find time to cheer the boys on during the game.

There you go – the usual moan from me about the lack of noise from our home support.

Merry Christmas.

We returned back to Glenn’s van and were soon on our way. There was the briefest of post-mortems as Glenn wended his way back through the streets of West London, out past Ealing and Acton, past the urban sprawl of the inter-war years, out of London and back towards home.

My mate Steve texted me with updates from the Frome Town vs. Weymouth game as the afternoon became evening. Two missed Weymouth penalties, a Frome sending off, no goals, but a disappointing crowd of 533 in arguably Frome’s biggest ever home league game. Maybe there had been an unexpected tube strike on the Buckland Dinham and Trudoxhill underground lines.

From the Chelsea FC website –

Best Moment of the Match.

“The announcement that 41,548 resourceful fans had managed to fill Stamford Bridge despite travel problems on the tubes, trains and west London roads.”

The five thousand empty seats tell a different story.

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Tales From Halfway To Paradise

Birmingham City vs. Chelsea : 26 December 2009.

I collected Parky at just after 9am and began the drive up to Birmingham. Thankfully, the weather had improved over the past few days and so the roads were clear of ice. As I made my way from Parky’s village of Holt and headed towards Bradford-On-Avon, we both spotted a kestrel on a nearby hedge. Quite a sight. We are lucky to live in the countryside, but we are never too far from Chelsea.

As we headed up to the M4 at Tormarten, the visibility was incredible…we saw as far as the Welsh Brecon Beacons. Then as we flew past Cheltenham, the Malvern Hills seemed to be almost within touching distance. The skies were crystal clear, the sun was shining and we were both relishing the game against in-form Birmingham City. I was well aware that three lone Texans ( Wes, Jeff and Jed ) were just arrived in England and were attempting to break the world land speed record as they drove up the M40 to England’s second city.

My approach into the city took me through a varity of middle-class suburbs, past classic mock-tudor beamed houses, then the usual array of superstores and shops…the HQ of Cadbury’s at Bourneville to my right, then Warwickshire’s cricket ground Edgebaston, then the University buildings to my left. The roads were clear and I made good time. The city centre loomed in the distance as I sidetracked around the southern edge of the city…St. Andrew’s was spotted at the top of the hill and I knew I would soon be parked-up. Base camp was the Ibis Hotel on Bordesley Circus and as I found a place to park, we spotted Kev ( “Gromit” ) who had just arrived before us. We reached the Ibis bar at 11.45am and gulped down a couple of pints of lager. We just had time to relax and chatted for a bit…it was noted that Kev was wearing the unlucky hooped away shirt and there were a few growls from Parky and myself. Pete and Becky from San Francisco arrived to say “hi” just before it was time to leave for the game…we arranged to meet up after. We heard, via texts, that Drogba would be partnered by Sturridge.

The stadium is only a five minute walk up a gentle hill from the hotel and I was soon inside the away end. I arrived at my seat just before kick-off. The Three Amigos had made phenomenal time ( having fought off the combined police forces of the Met, the Thames Valley, Oxfordshire and the West Midlands ) and were parked-up and on their way in…I had been able to speak to Wes and advise him of the best way into the city. Bizarrely, I felt like a sheep farmer, whistling away to his loyal band of dogs, ensuring that every stray sheep was accounted for.

All the visitors from the US were in. Shut the pen!

At last I could relax.

Some football clubs are full of history and some clubs pass me by, hardly making a ripple on my general consciousness. In the West Midlands, Villa are dominant in terms of history and support, Wolves are a proud club with a great sense of identity, but Birmingham City have never been high up on my list of clubs I respect from afar. In fact, to be blunt, I’ve never liked them…I’ve never like Birmingham as a city, never liked them as a club…and I’m not a fan of St. Andrews either. I always thought that West Brom were bigger, borne out from the miserable gates that The Blues seemed to attract to their stadium in the ‘eighties. Some clubs exude class even in times of trouble…Birmingham City are just naff. Even their club song is a never-ending dirge – “Keep right on to the end of the road.”

Yeah, right.

At Birmingham, like at Stoke, the teams enter the pitch from the corner, and the first thing I noted was the white-black-white away colours. At the kick-off, the sun was shining almost too brightly…even with my sun-glasses on, I found it hard to pick the players out. The Chelsea away support, some 3,000, strong stood the entire game. I was with Alan and Gary mid-way back, the Texans were towards the rear, Parky was right down the front.

Alan said that he had spotted Peter Bonetti outside ( he lives in the Midlands ) but hardly anybody noticed him.

I couldn’t really complain with our first-half showing. Despite an early chance from the lively Cameron Jerome, we got into our stride and carved out several good chances. Daniel Sturridge was thwarted by a superb save by Joe Hart, down low, which made us gasp. Soon after, Frank was foiled too. Of course, they had a goal dubiously disallowed for off-side, but we kept up the pressure. I photographed Alex’ thunderous effort on the City goal which rocked the goal frame to its foundations and as the whistle blew for the break, I was sure a goal would come in time.

In the interval, I hunted for the Texans, only finding Kev. His view was different to mine – he was pretty non-plussed by our performance. I always find it funny how different various people’s opinions of the same game can be.

However, as the game drew on, Birmingham City grew stronger, with those two niggly battlers Bowyer and Ferguson getting more and more involved. Cech did well to save from a tasty free-kick, but we were all very concerned when he appeared to be knocked out…not again!

The Chelsea support bayed for Joe Cole to join the fray, but Kalou came on for Sturridge…oh great. Just after, that man Hart denied Kalou. And so it continued, with our midfield toiling to create anything…Frank was again quiet at the tip of the diamond. Our defence was fine, it was just the rest of the team.

The substitutions didn’t work in our favour, the crowd became restless and then frustrated.

Joe Cole for Frank Lampard. Work that one out.

A second silly challenge saw Malouda ( who did well not to be subbed ) get sent-off and, despite six minutes of added time, the final whistle.

The home crowd – amazingly quiet all game – erupted with noise and we turned and began to exit. We clapped the players off, but the mood was not good.

Down at Bordesley Circus, in the hotel bar, we had a quick post mortem. If only the team had showed the same level commitment as Wes, Jed and Jeff. I don’t like berating the manager, who is still learning the ropes in England, but I am not so sure if everyone else will be quite so lenient if our form does not improve over the next few games. I said my goodbyes to Wes, Jed, Jeff, Becky, Pete, Kev, Cathy and Dog – “see you on Monday” – and drove back home, the winter sky now dark and foreboding.

At the halfway stage of the league campaign, the question has to be –

Is the glass half-empty or is the glass half full?

In any other season, a 13-3-3 record would suggest the form of champions. This year, I’m not so sure.

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