Tales From The John Charles Stand

Leeds United vs. Chelsea : 11 May 2022.

This was it, then. The long-awaited trip to Elland Road. My last visit was towards the tail end of the 2000/1 season, although the club’s last League visit was in 2003/4. I didn’t go to the League Cup game in December 2012; it came too soon after the jaunt to Japan. Of course, last season the game was behind closed doors, a phrase that I hope that we never have to hear ever again.

Was I looking forward to it?

“By heck as like” and other Yorkshire clichés.

As soon as the weekend had finished and the collapse against Wolves was behind me, I could not wait to be pounding the tarmac once more. I had booked two half days for this one. I left work at midday and deviated south to collect Parky and then PD. We set off from Frome at just before 1pm. It was a 7.30pm kick-off in West Yorkshire. Plenty of time.

It was mainly a decent enough trip north. There were rain showers to start but these cleared soon enough. The rest of the journey was spent with me gazing at a Simpsons sky and hoping that any ominous billowing and darkening clouds on the horizon would not ruin our trip. We stopped at Strensham, just south of Worcester, on the M5 at around 2.30pm and then at Woolley Edge, just north of Barnsley, at around 5pm. We then hit a fair bit of slow-moving traffic which meant that our arrival time at “The Drysalters” pub by Elland Road took place at 6pm rather than the envisaged 5.30pm. I dropped the boys off in the pub car park and soon found a cheap place to park nearby.

As I locked my car, a Leeds fan called out.

“Here we go again.”

I replied “yeah, maybe.”

“The Drysalters” pub is well known to me. I have parked in the car park on two occasions before. We soon spotted Deano, and his son-in-law Steve – a PNE fan – and also three lads from Wiltshire. The three amigos from Northampton were drinking outside in the sun too. There were Chelsea fans everywhere. This sort of scenario would not have happened in the ‘eighties or even ‘nineties when survival was the key pre-game buzzword. Next, Josh appeared with a pint of Diet Coke for me, along with his two mates from Minnesota, Chad and Danny.

A younger set of Chelsea fans were loudly singing the praises of Thomas Tuchel, Thiago Silva, Timo Werner and Edouard Mendy.

“He comes from Senegal.”

After just one drink apiece to quench our thirsts, we walked over to Elland Road.

Previous visits came to mind.

The first one came in early May 1987. One of my mates at college, Bob, was a Leeds United supporter and had visited Stamford Bridge with me to see a couple of games in 1985/86 and 1986/87. It was time for me to repay the honour. We travelled up by train from Stoke, had a couple of pints near the central station and watched Leeds beat West Brom 3-2 in their final home game of a Second Division season. The gate of 24,688 was their highest that season. What do I remember? The day began with an excellent pint of Sam Smith’s bitter in the pub beforehand. We watched with all the Leeds loons in the infamous South Stand. I remember a pitch invasion at the end and John Sheridan being carried on fans’ shoulders. And of course I remember them singing about us.

“Shoot the Chelsea scum.”

That season would end disappointingly for Leeds. They had already lost to Coventry City in an FA Cup Semi-Final at Hillsborough and they would go on to lose in the play-offs to Charlton Athletic.

My first visit with Chelsea was in September 1988 when both clubs found themselves in the Second Division again. I was working in the cold store of a local dairy and as was the case with my other long trips north by train that season – Stoke City and Manchester City too – I was coming off a night-shift. I remember struggling to stay awake on both legs of the journey to Leeds. We were yet to win a match after five games in the league and the match at Elland Road – with me watching in the South Stand, now given to away fans much to the consternation of the locals – would be a tough test. Thankfully, an early John Bumstead goal – off his ‘arris – and one from Gordon Durie gave us a surprising but deeply enjoyable win. I don’t remember any trouble at that game despite hundreds of Leeds fans milling around as we caught buses back to the station from right outside the away end.

Next up was a game in November 1995 in which I drove up from Somerset, met up with my mate Ian – Rotherham United – at Stafford and watched from the main stand using tickets that Bob, I think, had bought for us. It was a pretty decent performance and I believe I am correct in saying that it was the first time that Glenn Hoddle had switched to us playing with wing backs – Dan Petrescu and Gareth Hall – outside a back three – Erland Johnsen, David Lee and Michael Duberry – only for us to succumb to a late sucker punch from the boot of Tony Yeboah. I can’t recollect moving a muscle when Leeds scored that goal. Having a mate from South Yorkshire next to me probably disguised my allegiances.

A year later, in December 1996, a Sunday game – live on the TV – and a meek 0-2 loss to a Leeds United team that included Ian Rush. He even scored against us. We were pushed up into the quadrant of yellow seats by the South Stand for this and I can remember our away following was awful, maybe only around 1,000. It was a long old drive home that Sunday evening with work in the morning.

My final visit took place in April 2001. I had driven up with Glenn and had collected Alan at Stafford en route to save the boy some money. I often did that in those days. Leeds United were a force to be reckoned with at that time. We were back in the South Stand, played decently enough but lost 0-2 to two very late Leeds goals from Robbie Keane and Mark Viduka, with the goals coming in the final five minutes. A tidy roast at Brighouse after the game almost made up for our defeat.

With relegation threatening Leeds, I decided to make the most of my visit to Elland Road and sped off to take some shots of the stadium. If relegation follows in a few weeks, who knows when I would return. It really was hard to believe I was last outside the South Stand over twenty-one years ago.

Many home fans were wearing the iconic bar scarf from the ‘seventies. I have to say – and my pal Gary agreed with me at the game – that it still looks class. Those tri-colour bar scarves of Leeds United – white, yellow, blue – and Manchester United – red, white, black – and even us – red, green white – were fantastic. I remember the “smiley” badge too, a real ‘seventies classic. Gary and I would mention the Admiral kits. They defined the mid-‘seventies. And the numbered tie-ups on the socks. They were unique. I remembered the “Leeds United AFC” frontage to the West Stand. Bob and I were photographed outside there in 1987, me with a jade Marc O’Polo sweatshirt, one of my favourites, and of course it brought back memories of that classic scene from “Porridge” too.

I spotted a few columns of ‘seventies concrete as the South Stand disappeared around a corner. That a few pillars of brutalist architecture should please me so much is something that I don’t really want to dwell on too much, but it is a sure sign that on these away trips to altered stadia there is no doubt that I love seeing hints of a past.

“The Old Peacock” pub – as iconic a Leeds United sight if ever there was – is now temporarily renamed “The Bielsa” and I remembered walking down the hill towards it from Beeston for the 1995 game, deposited there in a taxi with Ian after a drink in the city centre. There’s a statue of Billy Bremner on the corner, with floral tributes all around. The East Stand is huge. It was built in 1993 on the site of the Lowfields Stand. For a short time, it was the largest stand in the United Kingdom, holding some 17,000, before being overtaken by Celtic and then Manchester United. I can remember the whole of Elland Road being shunted twenty yards to the north in around 1972 with the South Stand being built.

It was time to get inside.

There was a bag check outside the away turnstiles and my SLR was waved through. The old main stand, the West Stand, is now named the John Charles after the Leeds United – and Juventus, among others – centre-forward. I made my way upstairs…the steps were carpeted, as was the away bar area.

Carpets in the away end. In Yorkshire.

Whatever next?

I had a cracking seat. Parky, Gary, Alan and I were in the very front row of the upper section. Sadly, the shunting of the pitch in the early ‘seventies meant that those to my far right – geographically, not politically – were left with a shocking view of the pitch, way past the goal line. I had a great view and even I was behind it.

I spotted many familiar faces. It was lovely to see so many mates.

The sun was still out, catching the East Stand and making it come alive. I looked around. The Kop is now the Don Revie Stand. The East Stand is now the Jack Charlton Stand. The South Stand is now the Norman Hunter Stand. They still dote on that ‘seventies era. It is as if Howard Wilkinson’s League Championship in 1992 never happened. Oh wait, the away bar at Elland Road is called “Howard’s Bar” and that seems a mite disrespectful.

I would talk to Gary about that team during the game.

“Great midfield. Gary Speed, David Batty, Gary McAllister, Gordon Strachan. Had it all.”

“Fanfare For A Common Man” was played on the PA, just like at Wolves. Then came the Leeds anthem “Marching On Together.” Despite my dislike of Leeds throughout my life, my friendship with Bob and Trev – mentioned in a Brentford game this season – means that I am afraid to admit that I knew the words to a few of the songs I would hear during the evening.

The teams entered the pitch.

Leeds in all white. Chelsea in all blue.

Stay still my beating heart.

Our team?

Mendy

Christensen – Rudiger – Chalobah

James – Jorginho – Kovacic – Alonso

Pulisic – Lukaku – Mount

Pre-match, I feared the worst. I need not have worried. We began so brightly and, with memories of Johnny B’s early goal in 1988, we were soon jumping around like fools. A fine move down our right and the ball was played in sweetly by Reece James for Mason Mount, shades of Frank Lampard at his peak, arriving at just the right time to strike the ball firmly past the Leeds ‘keeper Illan Meslier, aged twelve and three-quarters. Mase raced over to wind up the Leeds fans in the far corner.

Ha.

Alan and I resurrected our “THTCAUN / COMLD” routine.

We were playing some lovely expansive stuff and were finding lots of space out wide. We were playing one-touch football where we could, and I had to ask Alan for some smelling salts. To their credit, all of the Leeds fans in The Kop, the stand opposite and the South Stand – old habits die hard – were standing throughout, and contrasted wildly to the Everton fans in the Park End a couple of weeks ago.

“Marching On Together.”

We were purring, and Lukaku was much improved. His movement, his work rate, his involvement. It was good to see.

On around twenty-five minutes, Daniel James – a scorer in that horrible 0-4 loss at Old Trafford in 2019 – scythed down Mateo Kovacic, who up until that point was arguably our best player, and I told Gary “I reckon that’s a red.”

The referee had soon made up his mind.

Red.

Kovacic, full of running, could run no more. After trying to run off his injury, he was replaced by Ruben Loftus-Cheek.

“That might mean less movement, Gal.”

But again I need not have worried. A super run from the sub soon after looked so graceful and it certainly cheered us.

From the Chelsea choir :

“Leeds. Leeds are falling apart. Again.”

There was a glancer from Lukaku on thirty-three minutes that narrowly missed the far post. This was heart-warming stuff indeed. The cross had come from the trusted boot of Reece out on the right, who was finding even more space to exploit. The exact same could be said of Marcos Alonso on the left.

In our packed section, we were at our Dambustering best.

“We all fucking hate Leeds.”

Kalvin Phillips then hacked down Christian Pulisic. This game was living up to the hype, an old-fashioned affair with pulsing runs from deep, mis-timed tackles, battles in key areas.

I turned to Alan : “remember that game at Chelsea in 1997 when they had two sent-off?”

When the home team was rewarded with a rare corner in front of me, I was surprised that the home fans didn’t respond with their old “Leeds! Leeds! Leeds! Leeds!” with associated chest beating. That must have fallen from grace since my last visit.

They had, instead, turned into a crowd of scarf-twirlers.

The game was halted for a good few minutes when it became apparent that there had been a medical emergency in the lower section of the away support to my left. Sadly, the home fans sung throughout and even dirtied their name further with a couple of offensive comments about “soft southern bastards.”

On a day that marked the anniversary of the Bradford Fire, this sadly reminded me of a typically shocking moment involving Leeds supporters in the autumn of 1986. Sixteen months after the fire at Valley Parade in May 1985, and with Bradford City hosting Leeds at the Odsal Stadium, some Leeds fans set fire to a chip-van high on the terracing at one end of the stadium.

To this day, I am left shaking my head.

Just at the end of the half, Trevoh Chalobah sent in a scuffler that went wide of the Leeds goal.

It was a fine first-half performance, but was I the only one who was a little worried that we hadn’t created more chances?

The second-half began with Chelsea even more on top and full of running against a Leeds team that were looking like they had already given up on the game, on survival, on life itself. But the home fans were still singing. To be fair, we couldn’t hear the other stands, but from the evidence from The Kop – no gesticulating, no clapping in unison, nowt – it as just the rabble to our right that were making the noise.

“The Yorkshire Republican Army. We’re barmy. Wherever we go. We fear no foe.”

Two chances showed our intent. A header from Lukaku was high, a volley from Loftus-Cheek went wide.

Then, on fifty-five minutes, a beautiful move involving Jorginho and Mount set up Pulisic on the edge of the box. He took a touch…I said out loud “he can find the corners” and my pulse quickened…

The low shot was perfectly struck, down low, to the left, “corners.”

GET IN.

The scorer almost grabbed a second, curling one just wide and as I found myself looking up at the TV screen to my right, both he and myself were pulling the same pained expression.

Next up, Lukaku – full of spirit – took on his marker and rifled just wide too. His play was getting better and better. Yet only as recently as just before the Wolves game had kicked-off, Oxford Frank and I had binned him off.

There were wildly loud renditions of “Que Sera Sera” – the “Wembley” version by us and not the “Father’s Gun” version by them – and then “Carefree.”

Carl from Stoke, down below me, turned up towards us and yelled :

“ONE MAN WENT TO MOW”

And we all followed.

This was a noisy old game.

I turned to Al : “To be fair, the South Stand haven’t stopped singing all night.”

We continued.

“We all hate Leeds scum. We all hate Leeds scum. We all hate Leeds scum. We all hate Leeds scum.”

Though this was tame stuff compared to the “witty” interchange about one of Leeds’ sons, but that’s not for here.

On seventy-eight minutes, a double substitution from Thomas Tuchel, who was now flavour of the month again.

Hakim Ziyech for Pulisic. The American had certainly enjoyed a fine game.

Dave for Reece. Saving our star man for the next game no doubt.

On eighty-three minutes, Mount robbed the ball and passed to Ziyech. He then found Lukaku inside the box. What followed was doggedness personified. Surrounded by Leeds defenders, he turned and tried to create an opening for himself. He moved the ball, eventually, onto his left peg and smashed the ball in.

BOSH.

Talk about drama.

His euphoria after was matched by all of us in the John Charles Stand.

I took about twenty-five photos of the move, the goal, the celebrations. I was exhausted as he was by the end of it all.

Fackinell.

Leeds were still singing at the end, but so were we.

“You’re going down. You’re going down. You’re going down. You’re going down. You’re going down.”

I remember only one Leeds effort on our goal in the entirety of that one-sided second-half, a header that was rising high before it left the bloke’s head. It was a deeply satisfying performance. And yet a little voice in my head kept saying –

“It’s only Leeds, mate.”

For the first time that I can remember at a domestic game in decades, we were penned in after the match had ended. After twenty minutes we were let out onto the streets of Beeston. On the walk back to the car, there was time for a tasty cheese burger with onions. It rounded off a wonderful night out in West Yorkshire.

I said to PD : “Makes it all worthwhile, nights like this. We travel some miles, we don’t always get the results, or sometimes it’s all a bit flat. This was bloody superb. A great night out.”

It also meant that I had accomplished a full set of league aways for only the third time in my life.

2008/9 : 19/19.

2015/16 : 19/19.

2021/22 : 19/19.

I eventually reached my home a few minutes after three o’clock.

Next up, the FA Cup Final at Wembley on Saturday.

Leeds United can only dream of such things.

1988

2001

2022

Tales From A Shock To The System

Chelsea vs. Bradford City : 24 January 2015.

After the Champions League group phase is completed in December, it always feels that the months of January and February are a relatively quiet period of the season before the games ramp up again later. However, this season does not fit this model, with our club active in all four trophies. Games are coming in rapid succession. Blink and you will miss them.

Sandwiched in between two games in the League Cup against Liverpool, came an F.A. Cup game against League One side Bradford City, who were making their first appearance in SW6 since the 2000-2001 Premiership campaign. The headline-making tie with Millwall was averted thanks to the Bantams’ fine 4-0 win in West Yorkshire and I – for one – was relieved. A Chelsea vs. Millwall cup tie might enthuse and excite a sizeable section of our fan base, but I was dreading such a tie, simply because there would undoubtedly be trouble – if not at the game, then in side streets and on train platforms – and the name of Chelsea Football Club would be besmirched once again. It just wouldn’t be worth the – pardon the pun – aggro.

Football hooliganism has played an integral role in the social history of our national game for decades. Although I – like many – get drawn almost subconsciously in to certain aspects of the subculture and I have always been intrigued by it, I have always remained an outsider, an observer, rather than wanting to actively participate in it. For ages, it was part of the game. Growing up as a child and then a teenager who attended games in the ‘seventies and ‘eighties, there was no denying its brutal attraction. I can remember sitting, in the relative security of the East Lower, and watching untold scenes of violence at games against Tottenham, Cardiff City and Millwall. The noise and intensity was mesmerising. At the time, it was all part of the football scene. With hindsight, my ambivalence to it was, looking back, quite disturbing. However, after I was punched in the face at a friendly against Bristol City in 1984, I suddenly became more wary of the threat of violence. Things got real. Thankfully, despite near misses at a few games since, I have avoided further encounters with opposing fans intent on causing me physical harm.

Many romanticise the ‘eighties, me included. The noise and passion at games could be mesmerizing. I miss parts of it. However, with hooliganism, came fences to separate rival factions, which added to the brutal landscape of football and almost inspired thuggish behaviour. In addition to grief from opposing fans there was also antagonism from police forces. The match going scene in the early ‘eighties was not for the feint hearted. Part of the away game experience was avoiding getting slapped. These days, I am glad that “trouble” tends not to rear its head too often. I love the noise, passion and tribalism of football, but I’ve never felt the need to hit someone simply because our football teams are playing each other.

So, there would be no Millwall Hoolie-Porn Fest this season. We last played them in 1995. This is fine with me.

I travelled up to London with a few mates and we decided to pop in to The Rylston, rather than head straight in to The Goose. It was quiet. You would never know that there was a game on. Apart from us five, there were no other Chelsea fans present. The Goose, only a five minute walk away, was however rammed with home supporters. In a quiet corner, we chatted about all sorts of football-related topics, though the game with Bradford was hardly mentioned. There was talk of Bristol City – them again – away in the cup in 1990, the brief Chelsea career of Paul Hughes – whatever happened to him? – a few minutes talking about non-league football, fellow Chelsea mates and all sorts of stuff. I was dismayed to see a paltry crowd at Ewood for the televised Blackburn Rovers vs. Swansea City match. The attendance seemed to be around 7,000. Here was awful proof that the FA Cup, despite the hyperventilating rhetoric of every media presenter touting the competition, was dying on its feet. There would be a full house at Stamford Bridge, boosted by six thousand away fans, but elsewhere gates continue to decline. In a climate where fourth place in the league is seen as a better prize, this is no surprise.

I may not hate modern football, but I do hate the way that the FA Cup has had its allure systematically tarnished in the past twenty years.

There was a time, maybe as recently as the ‘fifties, when the winning of the FA Cup was more prestigious than winning the league.

On the walk to the stadium, with the weather milder than I had expected, I spotted several people handing out fliers asking for spare tickets for the Chelsea vs. Manchester City game, with a telephone number brazenly advertised. This was taking touting to a new level. Obviously next Saturday’s game is a massive event – it will probably be this season’s defining moment, along with Parky eventually buying a round – but I have never seen touts so desperate for tickets that they would resort to this.

I always remember, back in the brief period when our capacity in a stadium being modernised was temporarily at the 34,000 mark, in early 1998, touts asking £120 for a ticket for a standard league game with Barnsley. I was staggered. The match day price at the time was around £25. Heaven knows how much tickets for the City game will sell for.

A few Bradford fans were spotted, their accents cutting in to the cosmopolitan London air. We rarely get Yorkshiremen and women along the Fulham Road these days; long gone from the top flight are any representation from either West or South Yorkshire. Our old foes Sheffield Wednesday last appeared in 2000, the universally-disliked Leeds United in 2004 and – most recently of all – Sheffield United in 2006. It is odd that Yorkshire’s only representative of late is Hull City, who are based in a city more known for its rugby league.

Inside Stamford Bridge, my focus was immediately drawn to The Shed.

There they were, six thousand strong. No balloons, but many amber and yellow bar scarves, and several flags.

I was in my seat just before kick-off.

Jose Mourinho had certainly rung the changes.

Petr Cech.

Andreas Christensen.

Gary Cahill.

Kurt Zouma.

Cesar Azpilicueta.

Jon Obi Mikel.

Ramires.

Loic Remy.

Oscar.

Mohamed Salah.

Didier Drogba.

As soon as the match began, the Bradford City contingent copied the Watford fans in the preceding round by goading the home support :

“Mourinho’s right. Your fans are shite.”

All of these Mourinho comments about our – admittedly – lack lustre support is very odd. I wish I understood, completely, why he has chosen to do this.

The match began and the first action of any note took place down below us in the goalmouth at the Matthew Harding end. A Bradford corner was met by a fine header from Andrew Davies, but Petr Cech reacted superbly, swatting the ball away for a corner. It was a simply incredible reflex save. We stood to applaud that; magical stuff. We began to impose ourselves, and we took the lead when an Oscar corner was flicked home by Gary Cahill at the near post. I watched as Cahill raced, fist-pumping, away, obviously delighted to score. Gary has divided opinion of late; many fans want him dropped.

On the subsequent replay, both Alan and I responded with one word, spoken at exactly the same time.

“Zola-esque.”

Next, it was the turn of Didier Drogba to turn his marker and force a save from the Bradford ‘keeper. Didier’s inclusion was an odd one for me; poor Remy has hardly had a look in this season, so I would have like to see him spearhead our attack. Drogba generally laboured throughout the first-half. Elsewhere, we looked tired, with Mo Salah being singled out as the most disappointing. Here was a player who was simply trying too hard. He often chose to dribble when easier options were available. In truth, we were struggling. However, a firm Ramires tackle on the half-way line set up a fine flowing move with Salah, and our number seven scored with a shot which bounced in off the post.

We were up by two goals to nothing, but we hadn’t been convincing.

The away fans sang –

“Two nil, and you still don’t sing.”

Just before the break, a Bradford free-kick wasn’t cleared and journeyman striker Jon Stead composed himself well and fired high past the partially unsighted Cech. The away fans roared. Bradford had possibly deserved the goal. At the break, Neil Barnett walked the pitch with three heroes of yesteryear.

Ron Harris, Peter Bonetti, John Hollins.

Thankfully all of the home stands afforded fine responses as these three greats paraded past. I wondered why these fans had been so damned quiet during the actual match.

In an attempt to get a reaction for the formidable away following Neil chirped –

“The conquerors of Leeds…Chopper, Holly and The Cat.”

The Bradford fans, enjoying the moment, applauded heartily.

Growing up, these three players were the three highest-ever appearance makers at our club; only recently have John Terry (number three) and Frank Lampard (number four) breached this little group.

Soon into the second half, and after a flurry of Bradford corners, we were hanging on by the skin of our teeth. Shots and headers flashed in, but we held on. We had the occasional effort on goal, but both Alan and myself knew that Bradford were in with a chance. Our play seemed to be without flair and purpose, and there were clearly no leaders on the pitch. As the game continued, we went into our collective shell. The limited spirit withered away. Zouma was in the wars, but carried on, but Mikel was forced to be substituted after a clash of heads. In fact, Jose Mourinho made two changes with twenty minutes remaining…Willian for the poor Salah, Fabregas for the unlucky Mikel.

Our play took an immediate upturn, with a couple of chances testing Williams in the Bradford goal.

However, Bradford were still full of fight and running and vigour.

The ball was launched into our box and ex-Chelsea youth prospect Billy Knott forced a save from Cech. The rebound fell invitingly for Filipe Morais to belt home. Both players and fans celebrated wildly.

Ugh. The thought of a replay in West Yorkshire made me shudder.

“Filipe Morais…didn’t he play for us? There was a Nuno Morais, wasn’t there? Strange – no mention in the programme.”

Jose replaced Remy with Eden Hazard.

At last – AT LAST! – the home support rallied behind the team and the noise seemed to inspire our play, with Hazard full of energy.

Ridiculously, though, it was Bradford who kept attacking and kept stretching us. A well-worked move involving Stead allowed the ball to be tee’d up for Halliday to thump past Cech.

Oh shite.

The away end exploded. What a sight.

Things were now deadly serious. The mood changed and all around me, instead of passive support, the spectators were instantly nervous and vocal.

In an echo of past times of when Mourinho sent Robert Huth upfront at Anfield in 2005, Kurt Zouma was deployed alongside Drogba. Both, agonisingly, then wasted fantastic chances to spare our ignominy with an equaliser.

Sections of the home crowd were now incandescent with rage. A few songs of support urged us on.

A lifeline was handed to us when the referee signalled a massive seven minutes of extra time.

There was hope.

Yet it was Bradford who kept the pressure on us and Stead, again – the key to their attack – did well to set up Yeates to nonchalantly prod past the spread-eagled Cech.

Chelsea 2 Bradford City 4.

Hundreds left for the exits.

We were beaten.

We were well beaten.

I wondered if this FA Cup defeat was the biggest shock, at home, for decades.

I was numb.

Crystal Palace in 1976…Wigan in 1980…Oxford City in 1991…Millwall in 1995.

Ugh.

The reasons for this pitiful performance?

My own take is that Jose has been too loyal to the usual starting eleven for our league games. The fringe players simply haven’t had enough worthwhile playing time this season. Yes, we have a very busy schedule at the moment – four games in just twelve days – but I am not convinced such wholesale changes were needed for this game. The players used against Bradford were just too unfamiliar with each other’s style. With more exposure and match-day experience throughout the season, our play might have been more cohesive.

As for desire and hunger and fight, only the players can answer why these key elements were in such short supply.

As others silently left, I made sure that I clapped the players…both Chelsea and Bradford City, especially Bradford City, off the pitch. Down at The Shed, it looked like they were having the time of their lives.

As I walked back to the car, my thoughts were centered on two games within four days in January 1986, when we were turfed out of the two domestic cups, both at Stamford Bridge, by Liverpool and QPR. I traveled down from Stoke from both of them; Kerry Dixon was injured in the Sunday FA Cup game with Liverpool, and Eddie Niedzwiecki was injured in the Wednesday League Cup game with QPR. Neither player would be the same again. Those two crushing defeats still hurt to this day.

On Tuesday, I’m expecting all of us – manager, team, support – to ensure that 1986 is not repeated.

We travelled back to Wiltshire and Somerset in a state of shock. We had certainly witnessed one of the most almighty cup shocks of living memory. With a little gallows humours and a few ciders – for the others – we managed to survive.

As I dropped Parky off, I wound down the window, and paused.

“See you next Tuesday.”

The car jolted with laughter.

I watched “Match Of The Day” later…I must be a glutton for punishment…and people might find this odd, but I actually reveled in seeing the ecstatic expressions on the faces of the travelling Bradford fans as each of their goals were scored. It was just fantastic. Fans and players together, enjoying the moment, jumping up and down in joy, faces so happy, as one.

As it should be.

It reminded me of other times, when us Chelsea fans used to celebrate wildly, when success was hoped-for and not expected, when things were different.

Sigh.

Well done Bradford City.

An enemy of Leeds United is a friend of mine.

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