Tales From Now And Then

Brentford vs. Chelsea : 19 October 2022.

I took a turn to drive for this Wednesday evening game at Brentford. I had worked another early shift – up at 4.45am, ah the joy – and met PD, Lord Parky and Sir Les in the pub car-park outside work just after 2pm.

It was a stunning afternoon. Oh that autumnal sun. I had booked a car-park space about half-a-mile from the stadium from 5pm so I needed to crack on and get up to London.

Here we all were, two-thirds of-our way through our nine game marathon in the month of October. Five down, this was number six, with three to go.

And, thus far, unbeaten too.

Stopping briefly on the A303 for a re-fuel of myself, the road was kind to me. Only in the very last segment, heading towards Kew Bridge from the south – a new way in – was there congestion. Not to worry, I was parked up a few minutes early.

Outside, a breeze.

The trip up had been a breeze too, but outside the wind was blowing and the trees were being whipped into shape. We set off, not for the stadium, but the “Bell & Crown” pub on the northern bank of the River Thames, just slightly downstream from Kew Bridge. Here, in the same pub where we had enjoyed an hour or so before Christmas in the League Cup, there was to be a gathering of the clans.

We made our way through the pub to the river terrace. Already waiting for us was a face from the past. Clive – or to give him his cherished nickname from his youth “Trotsky” – was waiting for us with his teenage son Frankie. Trotsky first came to my attention when I used to go and watch Frome Town in around 1980. He was at many games. And I knew that he was a Brentford fan. He moved away from Frome around twenty years ago and now lives in Launceston in Cornwall. I have met him at a couple of Frome Town games over the past few seasons. And, inevitably, we became friends on “Facebook” as is often the case. Trotsky and his son are Brentford season ticket holders and we arranged to meet up for a natter.

Soon into the evening, he pulled out a Frome Town scarf and the four Frome lads – himself, Frankie, PD and yours truly – posed for a photo.

I then back-tracked even further. I recently remembered that we must have first met in around 1976 on a caravan site in the shadow of The Mendips. Caravans were never the trendiest thing were they? When my father bought one in 1975, I was rather embarrassed by it all. Nevertheless, during the summer of 1976 we journeyed the short distance to Rodney Stoke and it soon became apparent that a chap that my father knew, a fellow Frome shopkeeper and probably a fellow member of the town’s Chamber of Commerce, was parked close by. Ken Secker would later become Frome mayor. He was Trotsky’s father. And I have some very feint memory of chatting to Trotsky, but it is no further than that; a vague shadow of a memory, nothing more. Even with my shyness at that age, I am sure we must have shared a few words.

Five decades on, we were chatting for sure on a fine autumn evening in West London.

Next to arrive was my pal Ben from Boston in Massachusetts, who arrived with a lad that I had not met before, Mike, who was proudly sporting a New York Yankee cap, and was originally from New York, but now lives on the outskirts of Boston. I had swapped tickets around so that I could sit next to Ben, the lucky beneficiary of a ticket that a friend could not use. Mike, sadly, was without a ticket for this game but at least he had one for the upcoming Manchester United game.

Three New York Blues visited us too, and I am not sure if they all had tickets.

Tickets for away games. It’s a shady subject isn’t it? It often grates among established – local, or at least from the UK – fans that an admittedly miniscule proportion of our away games get shared out among overseas supporters’ clubs. But that’s the way the club decides to allocate tickets, so there is little that can be done. I know there have been lengthy discussions about ticket distribution at fans’ forum meetings over the years.

Emotions often run high. Nothing is perfect. Everyone has an opinion though. How to reward loyalty? What a tough subject.

I remember, so very well, our first away game at Bournemouth in 2016. I know for a fact that not one ticket from the 1,200 that we were allotted went to any overseas club. But I do remember only too well that around ten people in the row behind me fucked off at half-time. I was seething at the sight of those empty seats.

I guess the lure of a couple of pints was too hard to resist.

Sigh.

I often try to help friends from the US obtain home tickets and it was a major struggle when the sanctions were brought in at the end of last season, but I was very happy to help. But away tickets are by definition so difficult to obtain. However, I will assist if I think it is deserved. If someone I don’t know from Badgercrack Nebraska asks me to get them an away ticket, especially if it is a first away game, or worse, a first-ever Chelsea game, I will politely decline.

Next to arrive were Nick and Kimberley from Fresno in California.

By now, Trotsky’s mind was blown.

“Wait. You have come all this way to see Brentford?”

We laughed.

It was true. Nick and Kimberley, who I first met in “The Pensioner” five seasons ago, almost to the day, were over for the football, but obviously Chelsea first and foremost. Sadly, their trip was to be curtailed as Nick’s mother had been taken ill. They would therefore, sadly, miss the United game on Saturday.

Trotsky was generally overwhelmed by our overseas support. I guess it is normal, now, in these modern times for foreign fans to latch on to Europe’s most successful teams. However, I told the story of how several of my US-based Chelsea mates helped support a lower-level team a decade or so ago. A few friends helped Frome Town raise £25,000 for a new stand to enable the club to remain in the Southern League. So, it’s not just top level teams that attract foreign fans. It’s level eight teams too.

Ben and Mike shot off early to try to rustle up a spare.

The pre-match chat continued. This was a very pleasant evening. If anything, the area south of Brentford’s new pad is even more swish than the Kings Road and parts of Chelsea.

It was time to walk the short distance to the snug stadium.

Outside, Paul from Swindon shouted over to me. He was with another long-distance acquaintance, who I quickly introduced to Kimberley and Nick.

“You two think California is a long way from London? Bank is from Bangkok.”

There was no bag search on entering the stadium. Myself and my notorious camera were in.

Last season, I watched from nearer the corner flag, along the side. This time I was further behind the goal and higher up. Excellent. It was lovely to see so many familiar faces before kick-off. We had two thousand seats for this one. Everyone would be used. Sadly, Mike was not one of those in attendance.

Graham Potter chose this side.

Kepa

Dave – Trevoh – Kalidou

Ruben – Jorginho – Conor – Marc

Kai – Mase

Armando

The lights dimmed, the stadium then pulsed with flashing strobes.

The teams entered.

“Hey Jude” was played and we soon hi-jacked it.

Brentford gave us three difficult games last season. We rode our luck in the two away games, then got mullered at Stamford Bridge. This one was a test for us no doubt.

The game began with Chelsea on top, but that soon changed.

Kepa made a fine early save down to our left from the always dangerous Ivan Toney. His central header was thankfully aimed straight at our in-form ‘keeper. The effort was tipped over.

Our chances were few and far between in that first part of the game. The home team, however, were looking to stretch us open with some incisive passing and intelligent running. On more than one occasion, it was our defensive acumen that was exposed.

Conor had begun brighter than most but he was sadly substituted by Mateo on fifteen minutes.

There was a shout from the home areas when Ruben tangled with Mbeumo. No penalty.

Not long after, Ruben got himself caught between two players as he attempted to clear the ball away up the line to safety.

“Ruben got sandwiched.”

Ben groaned.

“Corny, right?”

Not always dominant in the box, it was good to see Kepa come and punch a tantalising cross from the Brentford right. The ‘keeper, a hero in Milan and Witton, was again called into action. A long free-kick that was taken by the Brentford ‘keeper David Raya and the ball was inadvertently headed towards goal by Ruben. Frank Onyeka was lurking, but Kepa palmed his effort over. Rapturous applause again.

“He’s better than fucking Thibaut.”

But things weren’t great.

I turned to Ben.

“No threat up our right. No threat up our left. No threat in the middle.”

Kai was at his perplexing best, or worst, failing on a few occasions to be physical enough, nor as determined as he needed to be.

A shot from distance from Dave forced Raya to scramble down to his right.

I did like the look of young Armando on his first start. He kept running channels, chasing lost causes, an irritant to the defenders in the Brentford team. One determined run, with the striker out-chasing a marker and showing grim determination to push forward, ended up with a ball being flashed across the box. Kai was a yard short of reaching it.

“After Porto, I am not saying Kai had the world at his feet, but he hasn’t pushed on, has he?”

On this mild evening in West London, Mason was ridiculously quiet.

Just before the interval, a relatively quick break that was instigated by Armando’s harrying of a defender found Marc loitering on the edge of the box.

I screamed at him :

“Shoot. Shoot! SHOOT. SHOOT!”

He didn’t shoot.

Fackinell.

The ball was played out to Ruben whose shot was high and wide.

Sigh.

At the break, Brentford had enjoyed the better chances. I hoped for an improvement.

Soon into the second period, a tame header from Mbeumo – completely bloody unmarked – was gathered by Kepa.

The game stumbled along.

For some unfathomable reason, the “Dennis Wise” song was aired.

Why? Was he playing?

Seriously, let’s sing this when we are winning 6-0 but not at 0-0. Even worse was to follow. For a few minutes, the “that’s why we love Salomon Kakou” chant was sung, and it was probably the loudest chant all night.

Answers on a postcard.

On the hour, three substitutions.

Carney Chuklebrother for a poor Mason Mount.

Christian Pulisic for Marc Cucarella.

Raheem Sterling for Armando Broja.

I was amazed that Kai was still on the pitch. And a little annoyed that Armando had been replaced. He was one of our plus points.

Carney soon had a pacey run into the box down below us.

As the game continued, the three new players started to inject much-needed urgency. Space was at an absolute premium in the middle but Christian twisted and toiled with skill in search of an opening. A shot from Kai forced a point blank save from Raya.

At the other end, we warmed to intelligent play from Kepa who forced Toney wide and blocked the subsequent shot.

With ten to go, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang replaced Kai Havertz.

This game was wide open now. An optimistic shot from virtually the half-way line thankfully didn’t have the legs to beat Kepa. Brentford then hit the side netting with another shot.

Shots from Pierre-Emerick, Christian and even another blaster from Dave put the pressure on the Brentford ‘keeper. But I wasn’t convinced that we would get a winner, as blatantly undeserved as it would have been.

One last chance fell to Carney but his shot at the near post was saved well by Raya.

It ended 0-0.

Another clean sheet, if nothing else, but a far from “joined up” performance.

With this being a 7.30pm kick-off, I was away just before 10pm and I made very good time to get back to Melksham for midnight. I dropped the lads off and made my way home, getting home at 12.30am. I eventually made it to bed at 1.45am. I can never ever fall asleep as soon as I get home after these midweek flits to London.

4.45am to 1.45am.

Bloody hell.

“What?” I hear you ask, “no mention of 1982/83?”

There is no football to report from forty years ago but I was always going to mention a Stiff Little Fingers gig that I saw with a mate in Bristol on Sunday 17 October 1982, if only for the reason that I saw the same band in Frome on Monday 11 July 2022.

The show took place at the now defunct and demolished “Studio” and was the second time that I had seen the band in 1982. This latter gig was during the “Out Of Our Skulls” tour to promote their final album “Now Then.”

And I wondered how I could shoe-horn it in to this report, without it sticking out like a, er, stiff little finger. Then, after the game had ended, out in the concourse, a Chelsea supporter who I did not recognise approached me.

I looked a bit vague.

“Stiff Little Fingers.”

My mind whirled and it soon clicked. It was Richard, a friend on “Facebook” who I had not previously met. He was a big SLF fan too. And we briefly spoke about the band. It made me chuckle that so often I have bumped into someone and, seeing my look of befuddlement, they have uttered the word “Chelsea.” Yet here I was, at a Chelsea game, yet someone who I was unfamiliar with chose to say a band name rather than a football club name.

Thanks Richard. You helped create a far-more worthy final paragraph.

Well, almost a final paragraph.

Driving home, while the other three intermittently slept, I briefly thought about Stiff Little Fingers and their current line-up. Only two of the original four members remain – Jake Burns and Ali McMordie – but they are certainly still going strong. And I had a little chuckle about them being their own tribute act, maybe in the way that I see this current Chelsea team – not one of my favourites I have to be honest, not one that I feel a strong connection with – being a tribute act to the sides that I still adorn with love and admiration; the 1983/84 team, the 1996/97 team, the 2004/5 team, maybe the 2011/12 team.

Is that what I really feel?

Is this the phase that I am at?

God knows, it had been a long day.

See you against United.

Tales From A Christmas Choir

Brentford vs. Chelsea : 22 December 2021.

After the game at Molineux on Sunday in which we just couldn’t find a way to pierce the Wolves resistance, we were now set to play West London neighbours Brentford with a further-depleted starting eleven in the League Cup quarter final.

I again worked an early shift – up at 5.45am, in at 7am – in order to be able to meet up with the troops and drive them to London at 3pm. With the emergence of an extra ticket via my friend Steph, we were able to move tickets around so that the four of us – PD, Parky, Glenn and I – were all able to attend. This was a repeat of those attending the league game in October, though the pre-match was vastly different.

In October, Glenn was at the wheel, and we enjoyed a superb pre-match pub crawl along the river that took in five boozers. This time, once I had parked-up bang on schedule at 5.20pm a mile or so to the west of the Brentford Community Stadium, the pub-crawl was a lot more local to the game and a lot less extensive.   

At around 5.45pm, the four of us dipped into the dimly-lit back room of “The Steam Packet” a few yards from the river at Kew Bridge but we soon decided to head on to another. Just a two-minute walk away stood “The Bell And Crown” and we sidled in. Some friendly Brentford lads made room for us at the front of the pub. It looked a cracking boozer, full of Christmas decorations, and a few fellow match-goers. Brentford’s support might miss the old ground with the pubs on the four corners but the little knot of hostelries at Kew Bridge are a fine replacement. My diet-Coke was served in a plastic Brentford logo-d cup, the first time I had ever seen such a thing. My friend Trev and his son Luke arrived and it was great to see them. I had only mentioned Trev in this blog – for the Leeds United game – a few days back and here he was, appearing right in front of me. The last time I saw him was at a mate’s fiftieth in Bristol in 2016.

I whispered to Trev “maybe if I mention Jennifer Anniston in the blog for this game, I’ll see her in the pub before Brighton.”

Trev lives in nearby Twickenham – we probably drove within a few hundred yards of his house on the way up – and although he is a Leeds United fan, he has a membership at Brentford. This would be both his and Luke’s first game at the new stadium.

There was a nice pre-match buzz and I was enjoying the vibe in our little corner of the pub. We had heard Thomas Tuchel mention that a few youth players would be given a chance in the game. If Brentford were to field a full strength team, the match would be a real test. The memory of our slightly fortuitous win in October was fresh in all of our minds.

I needed to excuse myself and spirited myself away from the charms of the warm and welcoming boozer. I backtracked and met up with Steph outside the away end at around 7.15pm. Steph now lives in Portland, Oregon. I first met her – we worked out later – in 2007 in “The Elk Bar” at Fulham Broadway before a Champions League game with Valencia when the then leader of the New York Blues, the famous Mike Neat, pointed me in her direction. We have stayed friends ever since. I last saw Steph in New Jersey when we lost 4-2 to what was ostensibly the New York Red Bulls youth team in 2015.

We made our way into the stadium; our seats were in the slim North Stand, two rows from the rear, but not too far away from where I had watched the league game in October. After that first game, I had made the point that it felt that many old school Chelsea fans had managed to attend that game; I hope those who had missed out then were luckier a second time around.

There was a flashing light show well before the entrance of the teams with accompanying music. I wondered if I had stumbled into a Beyonce concert. It was easy to spot empty seats in the home areas despite Brentford camouflaging them in various colours. There were no such gaps in the away section.

The away support was raucous well before the game began.

It was a cold night, but not too cold.

The Chelsea team was shown on the screen above the main stand.

Arrizabalaga

Chalobah – Saar – Azpilicueta

Simons – Kovacic – Saul – Alonso

Barkley – Soonsup-Bell – Vale

So, three debuts.

Xavier Simons, starting as the right wing-back down below us.

Harvey Vale, alongside Ross Barkley and supporting the main striker, with the looks of a ‘fifties film star.

Jude Soonsup-Bell, a youngster from Chippenham – not so far from us – and asked to lead the line.

There were the requisite photos of Steph brandishing her New York Blues scarf, and we were ready to go.

Right from the off, the Chelsea choir were in fine form. In fact, as early as the first fifteen minutes, I was stunned with the number of different songs and chants being aired. I will go as far as to say that it might well have been the best ever.

Really?

Yes really.

“We love you Chelsea we do, oh Chelsea we love you.”

“Carefree wherever you may be.”

“We’re the only team in London with a European Cup.”

“We’ve got Tuchel, we love bugle, Chelsea’s won the Champions League.”

“Hello, hello we are the Chelsea Boys.”

Chelsea began bright and eager. We had all of the ball in the first few opening minutes. But Brentford threatened with the first of a few lightening breaks. After an initial ball in was blocked by Trevoh Chalobah, a deep cross was hooked up towards Wissa who was completely and damningly unmarked. His weak header was punched out by Kepa. The ‘keeper was dressed all in orange, how Spanish. The away crowd roared.

“He’s Kepa you know. He’s better than fucking Thibaut.”

Saul, thankfully, started really well, winning tackles and looking more at ease. One turn and beautiful pass out to Marcos Alonso drew warm applause. The songs and chants continued to cascade down the terracing from that higher section behind the corner flag. The next section triumphed individual players, including one that nodded towards the awful news that one of our dearest former players now has to battle cancer all over again.

“Vialli! Vialli” Vialli! Vialli!”

We wish Luca all the very best. Everyone loves him at Chelsea.

“Oh Dennis Wise, scored a fucking great goal, in the San Siro…”

“It was Wayne Bridge’s goal that sent us out of control and knocked Arsenal out the euro.”

“Oh Roman do you know what that’s worth? Kai Havertz is the best on earth.”

And it’s always nice to hear this one at Christmas.

“Osgood, Osgood, born is the king of Stamford Bridge.”

We were teasing them down the left flank with Alonso always involved. A cross to Ross Barkley but an easy save. There was a build-up of pressure but only really what could be called by the most optimistic of Chelsea supporters as half-chances. Saul was arguably our best player of the first thirty minutes.

Brentford always looked threatening on the break. Thankfully most of these petered out. But there was another save from Kepa, at stretch to keep out another header, this time from Jansson.

For the first time that I can ever remember, a certain pub song made it in to the away end.

“There’s a girl who I love best…”

The “Chelsea Ranger” continued on.

Other songs followed.

“One man went to mow, went to mow a meadow.”

“Marcos, Marcos Alonso runs down the wing for me (crashing Beamers, scoring screamers).”

“Zigger Zagger, Zigger Zagger.”

“We’ve got super Tommy Tuchel.”

The home fans, in comparison, were absolutely quiet.

This was proper “men against boys” stuff.

They must have looked on in absolute awe.

Vale flung himself at a cross from Dave, and perhaps should have done better with what was effectively a free header. A late flurry of activity at the same end resulted in more half-chances from Vale, Chalobah and Simons. Hand on heart, we didn’t look like scoring and I half-wondered if this tie would end up being decided on penalties. The half-time whistle blew. For all of our domination, Kepa had kept us in the game.

At the start of the second period, two substitutions.

Jorginho for Kovacic.

Pulisic for Soonsup-Bell.

I was pleased for Steph. It gave her the chance to see more of our time line players.

An effort from Saul almost caused an embarrassing own goal from Pinnock.

The Chelsea choir reacted.

“If Saul scores, we’re on the pitch.”

And the chants, if not the chances, continued on.

“Feed the Scousers, let them know it’s Christmas time.”

Ah, Ross Barkley. He wasn’t having the best of games but his song was still aired.

“Viva Ross Barkley.”

And there were more.

“He could’ve been a scouser but he said get fucked”

And more.

“Tsamina mina zangalewa, he comes from Senegal.”

“Fabregas is magic, he wears a magic hat.”

More substitutions.

Mount for Vale.

James for Simons.

More “A listers” for Steph.

“Reece James, he’s one of our own.”

The momentum swayed even more our way. Again, Alonso was so often used as an attacking option. He rarely gave the ball away.

A free-kick down below us and a direct effort from Reece James caused problems in the Brentford goalmouth. Barkley steered a shot just wide of the far post. The former Evertonian just wasn’t on it.

With fifteen minutes to go, he was yanked.

On came N’Golo Kante.

Steph was happy.

Our little maestro had an immediate impact, eating up space as he ran past defenders.

“He’s indestructible, always believing.”

On eighty minutes, it was Kante’s adroit control that set up Reece James on an overlap. His studied cross was fired in and the leg of Jansson deflected the cross high into the red and white chequered net.

Get in.

Time for jubilation in the tiny away segment.

“Jingle bells, jingle bells, jingle all the way. Oh what fun it is to see Chelsea win away.”

This was followed by :

“We’re gonna bounce in a minute.”

Five minutes later, Mount pushed the ball forward for Pulisic, who was clumsily upended by the ‘keeper. An easy penalty.

Jorginho. A skip. A goal.

Brentford 0 Chelsea 2.

“Jorginho, Jorginho, Jorginho.”

As the players swarmed around the scorer down below us, there was time for one more song.

“Azpilicueta, we’ll just call you Dave.”

For those counting, that’s twenty-eight songs.

Throw in “Chelsea, Chelsea” to the sound of “Amazing Grace” and the standard “Come on Chelsea” and that’s a nice round thirty.

A superb effort by everyone.

Outside in the concourse, the boys met up with Steph, and we then went our separate ways. The four of us headed west, and I reached home at about 12.45am.

Tottenham await us in the two-legged semi-final in January; shades of 2019 and not 2002 I hope.

But first, Villa away on Boxing Day.

See you there.

Tales From A West London Affair

Brentford vs. Chelsea : 16 October 2021.

I needed that recent international break. After seven Chelsea games in just twenty-one days, involving almost twenty-one thousand words here, for once I was most relieved that there would be a fallow period of a fortnight with no match.

(Things I never thought I’d write #127.)

Last weekend was still spent watching football though. I drove into Oxfordshire to see Frome Town recover from conceding an early goal to wallop Didcot Town 5-1 in the FA Trophy. This almost made up for the 5-0 defeat suffered at the hands of Bath City in the FA Cup, a game that took place at the same time that we played Southampton. By the way, an infinitesimally small amount of time was spent weighing up the chances of me attending a local derby at Bath as opposed to the Saints in a run-of-the-mill league game at Stamford Bridge. It was a no contest to be honest.

Frome Town has been good to me of late, but Chelsea is still number one in my affections.

The away league match at Brentford had been a long time coming. Seventy-four years in fact. Yes, dear reader, the last time that the two West London clubs met in a league encounter was in March 1947. Our meetings with the red and white striped Bees from along the A4 have been ridiculously rare. Aside from friendlies, the two clubs had only met on fourteen previous occasions. There was a flurry of games before the outbreak of the Second World War and in the first of these seasons – 1935/36 – Brentford ended up as the top team in London.

Since those halcyon days, Brentford have toiled away in the lower reaches of the Football League. If I am honest, apart from Ray and Graham Wilkins’ father George and our own Ron Harris, I would be hard pressed to name any of their players apart from those in the current team.

Do Bradley Walsh and Rod Stewart count?

In the grand scheme of things, our relatively recent meetings with Brentford in the FA Cup campaigns of 2012/13 and 2016/17 represent a real flurry of activity.

On the same day that we became European Champions in Porto, Brentford swept past Swansea City in the play-off final to gain promotion to the top tier, and I for one – when I heard the news in the stadium before our game – was very happy. I love the football pyramid, I love the rise of smaller teams (Wigan, Blackpool, Bournemouth in recent years) and I love visiting new stadia. Driving in to London on the elevated section of the M4 over the past five years, we have watched how the new Brentford Community Stadium has risen, not so far from Griffin Park, and the arrival of Brentford in the Premiership was just perfect.

With the game moving to a 5.30pm kick-off, we salivated at the prospect of a Hammersmith to Chiswick River Thames pub-crawl before the game. Yet for weeks and weeks, only Parky and I were guaranteed match tickets. Then, what luck, two tickets became available from a couple of friends who could not attend, thus allowing PD and Glenn to join us. Glenn quickly volunteered to drive. Plans were drawn up, pubs were checked out, a parking slot opposite the new stadium was sorted.

This was going to be a cracker.

But then (I have warned that these days there is often a “but then”) one of my mates caught COVID19 – nothing too horrible, it soon passed – but it meant that I needed to take a PCR test in Bath the day before the game. My very real fear was that I would be informed of a positive test result en route to London and would then be forced to self-isolate in Glenn’s van while the others made merry. It didn’t bear thinking about. My contingency plans for the day now included freeing up my ticket, if needed, to enable my good friend Daryl to attend in my absence should the need arise.

Heading into London at around 10.30am, up on the M3 before it drops down into Twickenham, Glenn was playing a few songs from The Jam in his van.

One song struck a chord.

“That’s Entertainment” is much loved. It charted in 1983 after the band split, and I have always loved its lyrics, an homage to melancholy days in humdrum England, a nod to working class life and culture. The mundane is celebrated, almost embraced. Paul Weller’s words drifted over the semi-detached houses of the outer reaches of south-west London.

“A police car and a screaming siren.”

The skies had darkened a little since we had left our homes and for the past twenty minutes there had been rain. We hoped the wet weather would not last.

“The screech of brakes and the lamplight blinking.”

Glenn drove on and I wondered if the day’s events would turn out to be mundane – surely not – or magnificent and memorable. Again I thought of the millions of Chelsea fans who would be wishing that they were the lucky ones with a match ticket on this day in West London.

“That’s entertainment.”

There had been no PCR test result thus far in. I pondered my day ahead. I would be controlled by outside forces.

“Lights going out and a kick in the balls.”

No, let’s be positive here. I had experienced no symptoms. No symptoms at all. My mood cheered with each of Weller’s squeezed together lines.

“Opening the windows and breathing in petrol.”

The Jam coexisted alongside Chelsea Football Club for me in those exciting and yet horrible adolescent years and here they were again.

“Football, music and clobber” was it Mr. Weller?

“That’s entertainment.”

Glenn drove on into Richmond, up to Chiswick and we were parked up, more or less on time, at around 11am.

There had been a few messages to and from Daryl. We had decided that he would be best placed to look for other entertainment; he was off to see Guernsey’s match down in South London against Chipstead, his non-league team’s first away game since January 2020.

From around 11.30am to around 4.30pm, we visited five pubs on the northern bank of the River Thames, replicating a pub-crawl that Parky and I first enjoyed before an Arsenal away game in 2015. With each pub, we bumped into more and more friends and acquaintances. At “The Blue Anchor” we were joined by the two Robs, then Luke, Aroha and Doreen – the last time that I have seen all three since Porto, smiley face – and we then sauntered next door to “The Rutland Arms”. We joined forces with Rob Three, Feisal, Brian, Pete and a few more at “The Dove”, and I chatted to Nick and James – Dublin, 2019 – out on the small terrace overlooking the river. By the time we had reached “The Old Ship”, the party was almost twenty strong. It seemed that we were not the only ones who had come up with the idea of this most wonderful of pub crawls. Around the corner at “The Black Lion” were five or six familiar faces from our local area who had honed in on this idyllic spot in West London.

That’s entertainment.

We had sat alongside a few QPR fans at the “Blue Anchor”, no doubt heading off to see their team, and eventually lose, at Craven Cottage. We all thought how odd it was for the Met Police to sanction all of West London’s four teams to play – against each other – on the same day.

On several occasions, I spoke in hushed tones about how fearful I was of the game at Brentford. It had all the hallmarks of a Chelsea banana skin. I likened it to our game in the autumn of 2011 – one week away from being ten years ago exactly – when we went to newly-promoted neighbours QPR and lost 1-0. I am sure I was not the only one in our ever-growing party, or worldwide, who had this fear of defeat. Brentford had certainly settled with ease this season. They would be no pushover. Their fans would be, er, buzzing.

The lager was hitting the spot. But time was moving on. Just as we were thinking about mustering the troops together to head west to our pre-paid parking spot on the A4, I received a text message. I nervously looked.

“Negative.”

Phew.

“You shall go to the ball.”

We said our goodbyes as others worked out their best ways to travel the two miles or so to the game. We shoehorned nine of us into Glenn’s Chuckle Bus and off we went. I wasn’t sure about getting a cab nor travelling on buses, and there were no slashed seat affairs.

This was a West London affair and we were on our way.

We were soon parked up. Luckily, the stadium was just a ten-minute walk away. I was just so relieved that we had the sense, after surely a gallon of lager, to leave the Thames side pubs in good time, and that we could now relax and enjoy our walk all of the way around the grey cladding of the stadium and reach the away turnstiles in good time. It was around 5pm.

Good job I work in logistics.

Once inside the away concourse, virtually the first person that I bumped into was Daryl.

“Wow. You got a ticket then mate!”

Fantastic.

“Yeah, it would appear that rocking horses do occasionally go to the toilet.”

We had evidently not been the only little group of Chelsea fans enticed into West London hostelries for a few bevvies. The singing in the concourse was loud, and it continued into the stadium itself.

I knew what to expect of the Brentford Community Stadium. A few years back, as a certified stadium buff, I subscribed to updates from Brentford Football Club as their new stadium took shape. This mirrored my fascination with its steady growth with each trip in to see a game at Chelsea. Imagine my shock when, presumably because of my free subscription to these stadium updates, I started to receive offers to become a Brentford season ticket holder at the new place.

Easy now.

It’s a decent stadium. Every inch of available space has been used, and the stands abut roads and railway lines. Sound familiar? The stadium holds 17,250. The main stand dominates everything, but its upper reaches are an ugly mix of dull grey roof trusses and unsightly executive areas. I like the way that the tower of the Kew Pumping Station can be glimpsed between the main stand and the western home terrace, a much slighter structure. The roof drops down drastically at two of the corners. The seats are multi-coloured – no doubt to give the impression of them being filled even when they aren’t – but as kick-off time approached it was clear that this would be another full house.

Our away take was around 1,600.

Thankfully many faces that I recognised were in. Behind me was Rob Three, who was joined at various times by H, and then Des, who seemed intent on popping up in every section in the entire away end at various intervals of the entire match. A special mention for Clinton and his son Bailey who were stood a few rows behind me. Hailing from Stirling in central Scotland, Bailey played football during the morning before they flew down to Gatwick in the afternoon and then took a cab to Brentford. There was Luke in the front row of the top section, joining in with the chanting, arms spread. I spotted Daryl in the front row behind the goal. Faces everywhere in fact.

We knew there would be changes due to injuries and as the kick-off approached, the team was flashed on the TV screen which was perched rather precariously atop the main stand roof.

Mendy

Sarr – Christensen – Chalobah

Chilwell – Kovacic – Loftus-Cheek – Kante – Azpilicueta

Werner – Lukaku

I was alongside Alan, Gal and Parky in a jam-packed quartet in row five.

“They shall not pass.”

My first thoughts as the game began were two-fold.

Firstly, after games where we had been rather reticent at the start, I was just so pleased that we were able to take the game to Brentford in the first five, ten, fifteen minutes.

Secondly, bloody hell, we were making a racket. From a good few minutes before kick-off, and into those first twenty minutes, the noise from the 1,600 Chelsea fans in the north-eastern corner was non-stop.

“That’s more like it.”

And I couldn’t believe how quiet the home fans were. It shocked me.

As the two managers, Thomas Frank and Thomas Tuchel, cajoled their troops from the side-lines, the Chelsea choir let it rip.

“Super Chelsea FC.”

“We are the Champions, the Champions of Europe.”

“Timo Werner.”

But the loudest and – ahem – proudest (?) chant was directed at the referee, Anthony Taylor.

Look away now if you are easily offended.

“You’re a James Hunt, you’re a James Blunt, and you’ll always be a Stephen Hunt, you’ll always be a Berkshire Hunt, Taylor, Taylor.”

It seemed to go on forever.

It might sound stupid, even childish, but this chant reinforced the notion that despite modern football’s desire to cleanse and sanitise the current football experience, the faces in the away section, cheering loudly and at times with profanity, have been the heartbeat of the club for decades. In short, unlike at some home games, it felt that the right fans were at this game.

The every-gamers, the loyalists, the ones with one thousand, two thousand Chelsea games to their names, the faces you know, the names you might not know, the drinkers, the thinkers, the old school, the Shed, the North Stand, Gate Thirteen, The Benches, the Matthew Harding, The Shed Lower.

Chelsea on tour.

We dominated the play and Ruben Loftus-Cheek looked like he wanted to take the game by the scruff of the neck. One strong run through the middle was enjoyed by us all. The new boy Sarr looked decent, and didn’t look out of place. The hustle and bustle of Kovacic and Kante, the Kryptonite Kids, ensured that loose balls were charged down and Brentford could not develop many passing routines.

However, after a series of Brentford corners and free-kicks, the home team obtained a foothold. A high ball in from their right was kept alive by their attackers, and the ball fell to Mbeumo whose volley ricocheted back off the near post. From here, the ball was shielded by Ruben before Kovacic took it away from the defensive third with the Brentford team having left many up field. The ball was played wide to Werner. His low cross was turned in by Lukaku, but he had strayed – diabolically – offside.

Bollocks.

We regained control and a Kovacic free-kick threatened Raya in the home goal. A shot from Timo just swept past the post. It was all Chelsea, but there was frustration in the away end as our domination often petered out. Right on the stroke of half-time, a breakthrough came. A sustained spell of pressure, pegging the home defence back, resulted in a cross from Dave. Lukaku got something on it, and the ball dropped invitingly for Ben Chilwell. His volley was well controlled – not unlike the goal against Southampton in that respect – and the ball flew into the net.

Brentford 0 Chelsea 1.

“They’ll have to come at us now.”

“Come on my little diamonds.”

Phew.

The night had fallen by the time the players returned onto the pitch for the start of the second-half. Whereas the first-half belonged to us, if only in terms of possession despite the goal, the second-half absolutely belonged to Brentford, and I wondered how or why they were allowed to dominate us for such long periods. This was the Brentford that I had been expecting to see all along, and at last the home fans were involved too.

Tuchel replaced Kovacic with Mason Mount half-way through the half. Lukaku wasted a golden opportunity after a Werner shot was blocked. Lukaku’s blast over the bar was met with groans and wails.

Brentford, by then, were warming to the task of getting back into the game. The previously quiet Toney looked lively, and Mbeumo saw his weak shot hit the left-hand post. Mendy was being called into action to safeguard our slender win, and he rose to the challenge magnificently.

Our ‘keeper was able to smother a shot as Ghoddos attacked from an angle and, oh Ghodd, we watched in pain as the ball was kept alive by a few desperate Brentford tackles. Thankfully, Chalobah was suitably switched-on to be able to hack a resultant shot off the line.

Brentford were making a racket now.

“About time.”

Next up a point blank save from Jansonn; the man Mendy was having an immense game.

Fackinell.

By now, our nerves were being strained and pulled and stretched in all different directions. Kai Havertz had replaced Lukaku and I felt that our attacking options had effectively been turned off.

Hang in there, boys.

Reece James for Dave.

At the death, an overhead kick from Norgaard drew an incredible reflex save from our goalkeeper. Mendy reacted so quickly, his fingers touching the ball over the bar.

This drew immediate and loud applause from us.

Just who is the five o’clock hero? Dunno, but Edouard Mendy was the seven o’clock one.

At last the final whistle.

This was hardly a classic, we knew that. Our play promised great things in the first quarter of the game, no doubt. But we just couldn’t switch through the gears when we needed to. Credit goes to Brentford for a great second-half performance, and – let’s be honest – they deserved a point.

I checked the scores again. A Manchester United loss at Leicester City. Liverpool had won at Watford. A Manchester City home win against Burnley.

But, it was true, we were top of the league. Gulp. At present we are surely a team whose total value is less than the sum of its constituent parts.

I posted, almost hard to believe in the circumstances, on Facebook :

“Catch Us If You Can.”

The way this season is going, it might take me until May to work out if this current Chelsea team are any good. And by then, who knows, we might even be League Champions.

See you on Wednesday.