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.
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?”
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.
Dave – Trevoh – Kalidou
Ruben – Jorginho – Conor – Marc
Kai – Mase
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.”
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.
The ball was played out to Ruben whose shot was high and wide.
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.
“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.