Tales From Vicarious Pleasures.

Chelsea vs. West Bromwich Albion : 13 January 2016.

When I first started penning – or rather typing – these Chelsea match reports, firstly on a rather ad hoc basis, in around 2006 on the “Chelsea In America” website, there was one word which tended to be mentioned with ever more increasing regularity.

“Vicarious.”

For those folks on the other side of the pond, as the old cliché goes, who had never been lucky enough to be able to attend Chelsea games in person, I received many positive comments which thanked me for allowing them to live vicariously through my personal detailing of my match day experiences. It is a word that still occasionally pops up to this day. Ahead of our midweek match with the Baggies from West Bromwich, I was well aware that for a few hours there would be a certain amount of role reversal taking place.

Charles, a Chelsea supporter from the Dallas area of Texas, would be attending his first-ever Chelsea game at Stamford Bridge, and I had planned to meet up with him before the game. I first met Charles in his home town for our friendly with Club America at the spanking new home of the Dallas Cowboys in 2009, and we have chatted on line about many aspects of football and fandom on a regular basis. In addition to being a Chelsea supporter, he is an FC Dallas season ticket holder and he attends the occasional away game too. We both work in logistics – and Charles loves foreign travel, and has written of his experiences on a personal blog too – so we have a few things to talk about outside of Chelsea. I last bumped into him in Charlotte in North Carolina over the summer. Although he has visited Europe twice before – Italy – this would be his first trip to England. He arrived on the morning of the game. I soon sent him a message.

“Welcome to Chelsealand.”

“Thanks! That line at customs ain’t no joke.”

“Need to make sure that Donald Trump doesn’t get in.”

As I muddled my way through my shift at work, I wondered what Charles would be making of the alien streets of London. The new architecture, awkward accents, different streetscapes, a brand new buzz. I was, oh most definitely, jealous of him. There is nothing like, in my mind, a first few hours in a new country, town or city.

His first few comments back to me were revealing.

“So far, London is great. So diverse.”

And indeed it is. Very diverse. And our current team mirrors it. Belgium, Spain, England, France, Brazil, Serbia, Bosnia, Italy, Ghana, Senegal, Nigeria, Burkina Faso, Colombia.

The day’s work completed, I met up with PD and Parky. PD was taking a turn to drive and I could relax. We were in the middle of three home games in seven days and an evening with The Great Unpredictables was waiting for us in London.

In The Goose, the usual suspects were assembled. We were all very happy with our F.A. Cup pairing with either the Cobblers of Northampton Town or the knobheads at Franchise FC. As we stood in our corner of the pub, it was confirmed that our game would kick-off at 4pm on the Sunday. This was met with predictable groans. It would mean that I would not get home until around 9pm that night.

Bollocks.

Charles had made his way to Fulham Broadway and then ‘phoned for directions to pub. He sounded rather tired. I suspected that the jet-lag was having an unfortunate effect. He arrived fashionably late, at just after 7pm, but it was lovely to be able to welcome him to The Goose. I had a pint of trademark “Peroni” waiting for him and then introduced him to a few mates.

“Ah, you’re Lord Parky.”

Before we knew it, it was time to head off to the game. Such a fleeting pre-match, but Charles is in town for the Everton game too, so there will be another chance to serve up some Chelsea hospitality then. I was well aware that Charles had a ticket in the corner of The Shed. His front row seat was the stuff of dreams.

“Great position for when we score and the players go down to the corner flag to celebrate.”

Outside the West Stand, we wished each other well.

“Enjoy it mate. See you Saturday.”

Inside Stamford Bridge, I was stunned by the paucity of the away support. The lower tier, maybe able to hold 500 seemed half-full but the 1,000 seats in the upper tier were hardly used. The section filled a little before the kick-off, but West Brom’s contingent was surely no more than four hundred. I moaned at Alan :

“Bloody hell, the next time we go to their gaff and they sing “WWYWYWS” to us. They’re not even here when they’re good.”

The Matthew Harding soon let them know their feelings.

“Is that all you take away?”

To be honest, the gaps in the south-east corner were matched by many empty seats in the home areas. In just the immediate area of where our season tickets are situated, I counted ten empty seats. Over in the south-west corner, I soon spotted Charles. He is well over 6 feet tall. He is easy to spot. He was standing no more than five yards from Parky. Towards the seventeen away fans in the Shed Upper, a large “Chelsea Poland” banner was spotted on the balcony wall for the first time.

Guus Hiddink had finely-tuned the team since Sunday. In came Thibaut Courtois, John Terry and Jon Obi Mikel. When we arrived in London at bang on 6pm, the weather was milder than I had expected. By the time of kick-off, there was a chill to the air. The lights dimmed again, and there was the dramatic entrance of the teams once more.

“The Liquidator” echoed around the stadium.

Here we go.

There was a bright start from both teams, but Chelsea got into their groove quicker than the red-shirted visitors. Diego Costa, blasting ridiculously high into the Shed Upper, and then Willian wasted good chances. But then the visitors went close too, with chances arguably better. Thankfully, we escaped unpunished.

On twenty minutes, we were treated to a fine move. Cesc Fabregas picked out Diego Costa who controlled the ball well and fed Willian. He passed outside to the advanced Branislav Ivanovic, whose low cross was turned in by Cesar Azpilicueta. It was a magnificent move and Stamford Bridge ignited. As I spotted Dave running across the goalmouth and towards the corner, I knew that I had to capture the moment. I snapped away as Dave leaped, rather awkwardly, before being met by his team mates. My pre-game comment to Charles was prophetic. There were the celebrations. And there was Charles, capturing the moment on his phone. A perfect moment.

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For a while, we played some lovely stuff. Maybe we were buoyed by the goal, but I noted a greater willingness to play the ball early. There was movement off the ball. There was a little more energy. I spotted Dave make some excellent blind-side runs behind the West Brom defence, but the playmakers were unable to spot him. Diego Costa was holding the ball up well. Fabregas almost played the pass of the season. Ivanovic put in a few more good crosses. We were playing as a team. This was good stuff.

And then, West Brom bounced back a little. Their new found confidence was rewarded when Pedro, the one who was yet to shine, weakly gave away the ball around the halfway line. Fletcher fed in Gardner, who was able to advance before unleashing a low drive from outside the box, which disappointingly crept in to the goal, just inside the post.

Ugh.

A couple of chances were traded before the break. Although it had been a reasonable first-half of football, the atmosphere was sadly missing. The temperature was dropping further, and although most fans in the lower tiers behind both goals were standing, the noise was poor. There were songs from The Shed on occasion and I was sure that Charles was joining in, but there was no cauldron of noise which we are occasionally treated to at Chelsea.

Pat Nevin was on the pitch at half-time, chatting away to Neil Barnett. Talking of barnets, Cathy had posted a link on Facebook during the day which detailed Pat’s recent hair transplant. This was a really strange story; of all the people who I would have suspected to eschew such cosmetic procedures – vanity, in a word – it would be Pat. The world is a mighty strange place.

Hiddink replaced the poor Pedro with Kenedy at the break. He immediately impressed, shooting on sight from way out. The kid from Fluminense has great energy. One of my current workmates is from Brazil – a Palmeiras supporter, in case anyone is wondering – and Bruno has a younger brother who is a promising footballer. He is currently staying in London and training with Chelsea, with hopes of signing a contract. He once trained with Kenedy in Brazil at a training camp hosted by a club. Who knows, if things go really well, Bruno’s eighteen year old brother could soon be playing for Vitesse Arnhem.

The referee then became the target of our ire. He had – in the eyes of some, maybe not me – blown for the end of the first-half just as we were breaking away, but then chose not to issue a second yellow card to Yacob for a trip on Diego Costa. Willian curled over from the resulting free-kick.

This was turning in to a feisty encounter. The crowd were suddenly the noisiest for the entire night.

I wondered if Charles was able to decipher the London accent.

“Yadontknowwhatcherdoin.”

The temperature dipped further, and now rain fell. I wondered if Charles was getting wet in the front row. All part of a typical London experience.

Temperatures were rising though in the home stands as West Brom seemed to be time wasting. Their goalkeeper Myhill – a fat Jack Whitehall – was booked as he waited for a team mate to put his boot back on. The referee, hardly flavour of the month, booked others. It was a niggly old game. We struggled to create too much in a poor second-half. Oscar and Fabregas seemed distant. Elsewhere others were struggling too. Zouma, so dominant in the air, found himself out of position and struggling on the ground.

Myhill was still getting it.

“You fat bastard. You fat bastard. You fat bastard. You fat bastard.”

Then, the ball was moved out to Willian, always looking to gain a yard, and he spotted the movement of Kenedy. From behind a grassy knoll, he whipped in a troublesome cross. In a flash, Kenedy lunged at the ball and it flew in to the net, squeezing past the loathed Myhill. Kenedy ran off to celebrate in the far corner, and was joined by many others. Alan suspected an own goal. I was not sure. Regardless, we were winning.

Get in.

There were just fifteen minutes remaining. Costa went close again. But then the visitors came at us again. Matic, masked like Dave, replaced the poor Fabregas. The minutes ticked by. We seemed to be at risk with every West Brom attack. The place became nervous once more. With just five minutes remaining, a loose ball fell to the equally loathed James McLean who crisply dispatched the ball past Courtois and in, again creeping in by the foot of a post.

2-2.

Bollocks.

We collectively crumpled. If anything, the visitors seemed more likely to grab a – unwarranted – winner. In the end, the final whistle was almost greeted with relief. On walking back to the car, I chatted to PD.

“Just not good enough mate. Whenever we attacked, we were up against a packed defence. When they attacked us, they always seemed to have more space in which to move the ball. Tough game coming up against Everton. Lukaku. Then Arsenal away. Dreading it.”

I am sure that Charles had enjoyed himself, though. And, again, I had enjoyed sharing his evening in deepest SW6. It had been a vicarious evening if not a victorious one. This bloody strange season continues.

Everton at home on Saturday. On we go.

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Tales From 2015/2016.

Chelsea vs. Watford : 26 December 2015.

What were my expectations for this game? It would be easy to simply say “a win.” But in this most ridiculous of football seasons, where north is south and where black is white, it seems that I am constantly having to re-calibrate my hopes on a match by match basis. Here was another game that illustrated how this campaign has been turned 180 degrees. Watford, newly arrived in the top flight after an eight year hiatus and with a new manager to boot, were enjoying a recent burst in form, taking them up to the heady heights of seventh place in the table.

Chelsea, the Champions, were languishing in fifteenth position.

Yep.

This is 2015/2016.

Up is down. Big is small. Wet is dry. Bill Gates is Apple. Coke is blue. Puma has three stripes. The Confederates are from the North. The Pope is agnostic. A bear shits in a bathroom.

It is as difficult to unravel as an Agatha Christie whodunit with half the pages missing.

I had traveled up to London on a very mild but also a very grey and nondescript Boxing Day morning with Lord Parky and P-Diddy. My Christmas Day had come and gone with little cheer. Having lost my mother in February, the first Christmas without her warm smile was always going to be a tough one. My Christmas Day was somewhat of an emotional wasteland for me. As I drove towards London, its grey shadow lingered long in my thoughts. To be honest, I was struggling to conjure up too much enthusiasm for the game at Stamford Bridge against Watford. My thoughts were more focused on Monday’s away game at Old Trafford – always one of “the” trips each season – what with the current malaise affecting that particular club too. Add all of the conjecture about Mourinho joining United in to the mix, and you have a highly intriguing scenario.

Monday will be a cracking day out.

Prior to the game with Watford, I spent a couple of hours in the company of Peter, a pal now living in the United States. I last met him on his own turf, in Washington DC, for the game with Barcelona during the summer. We were joined by two Stamford Bridge game day virgins Chris and Kate – also from the US – all giddy with excitement about seeing the boys in the flesh in SW6 for the first time. I gave them a few insights into our club as we set off to meet up with the usual suspects in The Goose.

The pub seemed quieter than usual. As soon as we had settled, there was a roar as Stoke City went a goal up against Manchester United. A second soon followed. After United’s poor run of form, a trip to the Potteries is the last place that they would have wanted to visit. The stakes for Monday were raised further.

I met up with Jeff from Texas, who had just flown in that very morning. It was lovely to see him again. This was a similar scenario to our game at St. Andrew’s on Boxing Day in 2008 when Jeff and two friends had driven straight from Heathrow to Birmingham. This time, Jeff was with his wife, another Stamford Bridge game day virgin. In order to save money for this trip, Jeff – who is a school teacher – took on a second job throughout the summer, mowing lawns, possibly with a dog called spot. I heartily approved of this. It annoys me at times how so many of our US fans moan about not being able to travel to England to see us play – hell, some even moan about Chelsea not playing in their part of the country during US pre-season tours – so “fair play” to Jeff for working a second job to see us in England. It immediately reminded me of the story that my good friend Andy told about his schooldays. Andy would often go without school meals during the week in order to save money for the train fare down to London from his Midlands home to see Chelsea play at Stamford Bridge.

Top work from Andy in 1979 and top work from Jeff in 2015.

Outside the West Stand, and underneath Peter Osgood’s boots, I met up with three or four more acquaintances from the US, those that I have befriended through Facebook or met on pre-season tours, but these were only part of a bigger “Chelsea In America” ensemble – those who have been saving their lunch money over the past few years – and I was very happy to take a group photo of them all. There were a good few Stamford Bridge virgins among this little group too, although some were on a repeat visit.

Peter, Chris, Kate, Su, Tim and Dan posed with Howard, Marion, Ralph, Richie, Arnold, Al, Fonzie, Joanie, Chachi, Potsie and Pinkie. Laverne and Shirley were still in the pub.

Happy days.

After taking the photo, I repeated something that I always say to first-time visitors –

“And if we lose today, you’re not fucking coming back.”

Some would be at Old Trafford on Monday too, the lucky bleeders.

Inside Stamford Bridge – I was in early – both sets of players were going through their re-match drills. Unsurprisingly, Watford brought their full three thousand.

Neil Barnett introduced Guus Hiddink to the Stamford Bridge crowd and he drew a fine reception. Hiddink seems a good man, a steadying influence after the storm which accompanied Mourinho’s closing months, and if memory serves he was well-liked by all of the players during his tenure in 2008/2009.

I whispered to Alan : “When we sang ‘we want you to stay’ to Guus at Wembley in 2009, who would honestly have thought that we would be welcoming him back almost seven years later. And that he would be replacing Mourinho.”

The team was virtually unchanged from the win against that very poor Sunderland team. Gary Cahill replaced Kurt Zouma.

Chelsea dominated the first quarter of an hour with the opposition, in all black, hardly crossing the halfway line. An early chance for Diego Costa from inside the six yard box was headed over. I wondered if the watching guests from the US – in the Shed Lower, Parkyville – would be rewarded with a first-half goal. We came close with a couple of efforts and the mood inside The Bridge was good, although the atmosphere was not great. Watford then seemed to awake from their slumber. They perhaps subconsciously remembered that they were, statistically, the better team. They came to life with Ighalo looking dangerous on two occasions.

Watford, famously sticking two fingers to the football world, and playing a traditional 4-4-2, had originally seemed content to hump long balls forward towards Ighalo and Deeney. It had been a nod towards their own particular footballing heritage under Graham Taylor in the ‘eighties when their rudimentary long ball game was a particular component of that footballing era. In those days, the two strikers were Ross Jenkins and Luther Blissett. Even in the more traditional ‘eighties – before we had heard of “false nines”, “double pivots”, “transition phases”, “attacking mids” and “tiki taka” – Watford’s style of play was the most basic of all. I always thought that it contrasted, ironically, so well with the more pleasing football played by their great rivals Luton Town under David Pleat. Both teams romped to promotion from the Second Division in 1981/1982, when we were still trying to harness the very unique talents of Alan Mayes in our own 4-4-2 variant.

Watford were indeed posing us problems, and our midfield – Fabregas in particular – was finding it hard to shackle their movement. However, rather against the run of play, a corner from in front of the US guests found the high leap of John Terry at the far post. The ball bounced down, not specifically goal wards, but towards where Diego Costa was lurking. A quick instinctive spin and the orange ball flew high in to the net past Gomez.

The crowd roared as Diego reeled away, accepting the acclaim from the crowd, and especially those in Parkyville. Throughout the game, there had been no significant boos for any player to be honest. Perhaps there was just the slightest murmurs of disdain for Costa when the teams were announced. But nothing on the scale of the previous game, which the media took great pleasure in highlighting. Maybe the protest at the Sunderland match was well and truly behind us now. I am pleased, if this is the case. Under Hiddink, we need to move on.

Oscar came close, but then Watford attacked us again. A free-kick was deflected over and from the resultant corner, Matic was correctly adjudged to have hand-balled inside the box. Deeney converted, low past Courtois.

“Here we go again.”

Just before the half-time whistle, a fine run by Pedro down the Chelsea left was followed by a low cross which just evaded the late run of Diego Costa.

It had been a frustrating half. Our early dominance had subsided and we were back to questioning various aspects of our play.

There was a surprising substitution at the break, with Hiddink replacing the admittedly lackluster (aka “shite”) Fabregas with none other than Jon Obi Mikel.

Soon into the second period, Watford peppered our goal with two shots in quick succession. Capoue was foiled by Courtois and then a follow-up was bravely blocked. I thought to myself “under Mourinho, one of those would have gone in.” Sadly, just after I was to rue my thoughts. The ball found Ighalo on the left, but hardly in a particularly dangerous position. To be honest, I was quite surprised that he had decided to shoot. I looked on in horror as his shot deflected off a defender and into the empty net, with Courtois off balance and falling to his left.

We were losing 2-1.

“Here we go again.”

To be fair, we upped our play and began to look livelier. A key move began in inauspicious circumstances, though. Watford played a long ball out to their left and Ivanovic had appeared to have lost his man. However, with grim determination and resilience – the Brana of old – he recovered remarkably well. A sturdy tackle halted the Watford attack. Brana played the ball simply to Oscar. Oscar passed to Willian. Our little Brazilian livewire played – probably – the pass of the season into the box, and into the path of Diego Costa, who was thankfully central. He met the ball and adeptly cut it past the despairing dive of Gomez.

2-2.

The crowd roared again. Diego Costa ran towards the sidelines. My photographs captured the joy on the faces of the fans in the East Lower, but also the look of – what? Disdain? Annoyance? Umbrage? – on Costa’s face as he turned towards the Matthew Harding and remembered the boos against Sunderland.

Regardless of the politics of booing, we were back in the game.

After capturing both of Diego’s goals on film, I clasped my camera and wondered if I might be able to photograph a possible third.

We went close on a couple of occasions, and it honestly felt as if a winner was on the cards. Watford were offering little now. It was all Chelsea. Hiddink brought on Hazard for Pedro. Thankfully there were no boos. We need to move on. Dancing and moving in that mesmeric way of his, Hazard soon got the bit between his teeth with a couple of dribbles down below me. He was clattered by Behrami, and referee Marriner quickly pointed towards the spot.

Phew.

Here would be my third Diegoal of the afternoon.

Here would be a deserved winner.

Hazard needed treatment and the penalty was delayed.

We waited.

Alas, Oscar decided to take the kick and his dramatic slip resulted in the ball being ballooned high over the Watford bar.

The Stamford Bridge crowd groaned.

Then it was Watford’s turn to go close at the other end. It was a pulsating game of football, if not the most technically brilliant. Apilicueta was maliciously scythed down but the Watford miscreant was not red carded. Then, so stupid, a wild tackle by Diego Costa – also on the half way line – resulted in a yellow. I half-expected a red. It would mean that Costa would not be joining us at Old Trafford on Monday. It undoubtedly took the shine off a much better performance from Diego Costa, who was back to – almost – his best. Mikel, by the way, was exceptional in the second-half. It was his shot, late on and from a good thirty yards out, which whizzed past Watford’s post in the last meaningful moment of the game.

I had to be honest.

As a game of football, I had enjoyed it. It was a decent game.

As a Chelsea fan, however, there are still questions to be asked of our troubled team.

Back in the car, my views were shared by my two mates.

“Not a bad game. Should have won it.”

Before I knew it, Bob Cratchit and Tiny Tim were soon fast asleep. I drove on, eating up the miles. Thankfully I made good time and I was back home by 7.30pm, with my mind now realigned towards Old Trafford.

Oh, and Southampton, where Arsenal were being dicked 4-0.

Yep.

This is 2015/2016.

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Tales From An Evening Of Bouquets And Boos.

Chelsea vs. Bournemouth : 5 December 2015.

Alan, Glenn and myself were in the stadium far earlier than normal. After the sad loss of our dear friend Tom on Friday 27 November, whose season ticket was right next to our line of three, we had planned to mark this first home game without him with a small floral tribute. Glenn and I were the last to arrive at seats 369 to 371 in row D of the upper tier of the Matthew Harding. Alan, who had arranged with a florist outside Fulham Broadway to assemble a fitting bouquet, had already secured the flowers to Tom’s seat.

It was around five o’clock and Stamford Bridge was only just starting to fill up. There were probably less than a few thousand inside and the stadium was still. In our little section of the wraparound, housing maybe five hundred seats, there were only forty or fifty inside. It seemed right that we had the time and the space to ourselves. All three of us took a photograph of the blue and white flowers, and the hand-written note from Alan. A few friends came over to pay their respects. Alan used his mobile ‘phone to send a couple of photographs of the bouquet to Tom’s daughter. Although Tom’s last appearance at Stamford Bridge was back in May when we were presented with the 2014/2015 trophy, and his seat has been unused this season, there was a huge sadness as we looked down on his seat, knowing that we would never see him at Chelsea again. Alan’s words were chosen well.

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As the stadium filled up, and as the players appeared down below us on the floodlit turf, our thoughts slowly turned towards the early evening game with newly-promoted Bournemouth. On the drive up to London, we had agreed that our form was slowly improving and we should be able to harvest nine points out of the home games in December against three of the lesser teams in the division.

“Two tough away games, but maybe a little run. There’s a little bunching ahead of us, so we could easily get up in to the top half by the New Year. And then push on.”

It definitely felt, especially after a well-fought point at Tottenham, that the worst was behind us.

Pre-match had been a little different. While Parky and PD joined up with the usual suspects in “The Goose”, Glenn and I had decided to meet up with Dave for a cheeky Peroni or two and some nosh at Salvo’s restaurant on Old Brompton Road. We met up with Dave in “The Pembroke” but all was not well. Dave reluctantly told us that Salvo’s restaurant – “Dall’Artista” – was closed. My heart sank. We had not visited it this season, but I was truly saddened that there would be no more visits, no more laughs with the owner, no more fun. We have been visiting it since around 2003. Countless Chelsea fans – and friends – have accompanied us. How many? Maybe a hundred. Many from the United States. It really was a home from home for us. Tons of memories. What a great place.

And then my thoughts wandered. I hoped and prayed that Salvo, now in his late ‘sixties for sure, was OK.

We still decided to have a bite to eat, and chose a relatively new restaurant nearby – “The Bottlery” – where, after a very tasty meal and another lager, I was relieved to hear that Salvo was fine. He had just decided to move on. He might have even headed back to his home town in Italy. We were relieved. I just didn’t want any more bad news in 2015.

Dave and Glenn joined the others in The Goose.

My pre-match was still gathering pace. I headed down to the stadium, through the eerie Gothic majesty of West Brompton Cemetery, to meet up with Beth, who heads up the Chelsea In America supporters group. As an aside, Beth had visited Salvo’s with us after a game at Arsenal in 2009 I seem to remember. One of many. Beth presented me with my honorary CIA membership card for the season and we had a little chat. Back in 2006/2007, after getting to meet many of the US-based fans at a Chelsea game in Chicago, I decided to start detailing a few Chelsea tales on the Chelsea In America bulletin board. Ad hoc postings after games – sometimes a few sentences, sometimes several paragraphs – eventually lead to a weekly match report, which people seemed to like, and the positive feedback gave me the impetus to create this current website. Beth, from Texas, and Andy, from Michigan, encouraged me in those early seasons to get my own personal blog up-and-running, and I am grateful for their support.

This is my 381st consecutive match report.

You don’t like it?

Blame Beth and Andy.

In The Goose, alongside my mates, it was clear that many a boozy session had taken place. The team news came through in a sudden rush of Facebook alerts.

“Hazard playing as a false nine again. Costa sub.” It had worked really well at Tottenham, but playing without a recogniseable striker – or at least a target man, a finisher, a “presence” – was, well, odd.

Thibaut Courtois was back between the sticks, but strangely Dave was not playing.

Glenn and I popped into “The Malt House” en route to the game for a quick livener before heading on to join up with Alan. There were positive noises being made about our recent improvements. Glenn – excited like an eight year old – was a little wobbly as we walked along the Fulham Road and it reminded me of his lurching walk towards a certain stadium in Germany in May 2012, bless him.

Outside by the West Stand entrance, stood a Christmas tree, bedecked in blue and white.

We had heard that Stoke City had defeated Manchester City 2-0.

Oh this crazy season.

Just before the 5.30pm kick-off, the Stamford Bridge floodlights were extinguished, leaving only the smaller marker lights of the balconies. The grass became strangely lusher, the stadium more dramatic. The teams entered the pitch. The three thousand away fans were already in their seats, whereas there were many late arrivals in the home areas.

After a very encouraging start, with the ball being played quickly between our attacking four – Oscar, Willian, Pedro, Hazard – we had to be grateful for two blocks from the recalled Courtois. They were easily the best two chances of the game thus far and gave us food for thought. As the half continued, Bournemouth did not threaten our goal quite as much, yet certainly made life very difficult for us with their desire to close down space.

At last, a shot on target. Eden Hazard cut in from the right and forced a fine save from Artur Boruc. Soon after, Pedro – flitting about, looking to get involved – advanced and steered a shot towards the far post. Boruc again saved well. As the game wore on, I was having to re-evaluate my hopes for the evening. This would clearly not be as easy a game as I had hoped.

The atmosphere was pretty dire. The away fans were heard. Only occasionally did the home support rouse itself.

At half-time, I had a quick word with the Chelsea Supporters Trust chairman Tim, who sits a few rows behind us, regarding the recent planning proposal for our new stadium which was submitted to the local council. On the Friday evening, I had flitted through some of the incredibly comprehensive diagrams and associated design details; I was very impressed indeed. The level of information available to access is breath-taking, but so too is the research that the architects – and the club – have obviously undertaken.

I have said it before, but the new stadium looks a winner.

I was especially pleased to note that the “corporate” middle tier, will only be so in the new East and West Stands. Behind both goals, there will be three tiers of general seating, thus hopefully enabling some noise to be generated. I also noted that the away fans will be split in to three tiers – see my comments about Manchester City away this season – but this section will move over to the west side of The Shed, where the Bovril Gate will act as a separate entrance for away fans. This seems to be a common sense approach.

In fact, the entire planning proposal is full of sense, from the Chelsea insignia detail on the brickwork, to the use of every spare inch of space, to the iconic and unique design.

I heartily recommend taking a peek.

http://public-access.lbhf.gov.uk/online-applications/applicationDetails.do?activeTab=documents&keyVal=NVL8QGBI0IE00

On the pitch, former centre-forward Steve Finnieston was walking the pitch with Neil Barnet. After Neil did the introduction, “Jock” grabbed the microphone and began an increasingly manic monologue involving name-checking many Chelsea supporters in the four stands. He didn’t want to stop. This seemed to go on for minutes on end. It was one of the great half-time shows. Who needs Janet Jackson’s nipples when we have Jock Finnieston and his ramshackle ramblings? He would probably still be talking now if it wasn’t for the second-half.

Ah, the second-half. Do I have to?

Jose decided to replace the very quiet Oscar with Diego Costa. With us attacking the Matthew Harding goal, scene of many a second-half deluge over the years, we hoped that a bona fide striker inside the box would pay off.

However, a rasping drive from Matt Richie – who? – just cleared our goal, and again I wondered if I had to rethink my hopes for the day.

Our first real chance of the second-half followed a corner from Willian. The ball flew off a near post head towards the waiting Matic, but the ball came too quick for him to react. The header flew over. A penalty appeal for handball on a sliding Simon Francis – who? – was waved away. The portents were not looking good. To be honest, we were dominating possession throughout the second-half. However, I lost count of the number of times that crosses were admirably whipped in by Ivanovic and even Baba, but with no threat inside the penalty area. Further back, Matic and Fabregas were very poor.

Only rarely did the home support rally behind the team. Despite all the possession, there was rising levels of anxiety at our lack of a killer punch. One ridiculously optimistic effort from Ivanovic almost went out for a throw-in. Our much troubled Serbian was having a pretty reasonable game in all honesty, and his constant jaunts up the right touchline resulted in many good crosses. Willian too – of course – was constant movement, and how we wished that others could replicate his touch and drive. Hazard, often marked by three players, was struggling and Pedro was tiring. Fabregas and Matic were simply not involved.

With around ten minutes to go, and after a very rare foray by Bournemouth in to our half, we conceded a corner.

Stamford Bridge tensed up.

I leant forward and whispered to the lads in front –

“Here we go. Corner. Far post.”

It seemed that the entire crowd was besieged by the same fear.

The ball was swung over. Courtois flapped and the ball dropped to a Bournemouth player, who clipped the ball back towards the other post. In a scene that seems to have become oh-so familiar over the years, a seemingly unmarked Bournemouth player – Glenn Murray, who? – headed home. I leant back and sighed.

“Knew it.”

We were losing 1-0 at home to A bloody F bloody C Bournemouth.

Jose replaced Baba with Traore, Fabregas with Remy.

It was no good.

Our play went to pieces, and our support started to go home.

At the final whistle, there were boos from some home areas, though not from Alan, nor Glenn, nor myself.

As I edged out of my seat, I reached over and touched the empty seat next to where Glenn had been sitting.

“God bless Tom.”

I spoke with a clearly miserable Long Tall Pete out on the Fulham Road, who could not fathom why Mourinho had not played with a striker in a home match.

“4-4-2, Costa and Remy.”

I had to agree.

Back in the car, after the initial flurry of moans from all four of us, I soon headed home. I am usually quite sanguine and philosophical after such defeats, but on this occasion I really was pretty low. This was a game that we should have won easily, yet our deficiencies were exposed once again. There had been little fight from any of our players – perhaps one exception, the redoubtable Willian – and it left me jaded, upset and confused. As Gaspar, Balthasar and Melchior slept for virtually the entire trip back to the West Country, I was left with my thoughts.

“Porto. Wednesday. We simply have to win that fucker.”

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Tales From High Noon.

Chelsea vs. Brentford : 17 February 2013.

After encouraging wins against Wigan Athletic and Sparta Prague, we were looking for our third consecutive victory in our F.A. cup replay against Brentford. The first game at Griffin Park took place three Sundays ago; somehow, it seemed even further in the past than that. At times, it has been difficult to keep track of what is happening in 2012-2013. This season seems to be lurching along, victories here, defeats there. The whole campaign seems to be as downright tortuous and convoluted as I can remember. Our involvement in seven individual competitions then became eight as we were eliminated from the Champions League and entered the Europa League. We took part in the World Club Championships, playing football in Asia during a regular season for the first time, but breaking up the flow of the league campaign. There have been two managers. There have been cup runs. Extra games everywhere we looked. In the Europa League, a potential seven further games wait should we get past Sparta. We have played in cities from Seattle in the west to Tokyo in the east. There was a visit to Monaco for the Super Cup. Should we reach the Europa Final in Amsterdam, we might well have to visit that stadium twice within two months.

It’s turning into a right old mess of a season

I set off for Stamford Bridge at 8am on a crisp, cold, foggy morning. This was another solo-trip east. I wasn’t worried. With coffee to hand and music on the CD player, I set off across Salisbury Plain. At times, the visibility was terrible. The fields were frosted; the fog and mist almost enveloped me as I drove through the thatched-roof villages of Chitterne and Shrewton. As I drove past Stonehenge, suddenly bathed in early morning sunshine and looking quite sublime, I received a quick phone call from The Fishy Boy himself, the Right Honourable Lord Tuna. He was over for a couple of weeks, staying in Northamptonshire, but on his way down to London with my mate Andy, one of the Nuneaton bunch.

I quickly realised that of all the Chelsea characters from the USA who I have been lucky enough to meet over the past eight years, Tuna was the very first. Way back in 2004, I attended the Chelsea vs. Roma game at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh. On that very memorable trip, I travelled up from North Carolina with some friends and, to be quite honest, we kept ourselves to ourselves. We watched the game from behind a goal, away from the main bulk of the Chelsea support, which was based along the sideline. Looking back at a photograph of the 150 – at very most – Chelsea fans in that section, it seems like a different era already. From that little group of enthusiasts, our support in the US – and elsewhere – has grown exponentially and it is difficult to put it all into some sort of perspective. Amongst that group, there were around 10-15 folk who I have got to know very well over the ensuing years. Tuna is one of them. I bumped into him on the walk out of the stadium; we only shared a few words at the time, happy with our 3-0 win. I remember thinking, confused by his mid-Atlantic accent, “is this guy an Englishman who has been living in the US for a while or is this American putting on a London accent?” I bumped into Tuna the next year outside “Nevada Smiths” in Manhattan and we have been friends ever since.

Looking back – I may have told this story before – I only really became involved with the CIA people just before the Chicago trip in 2006. Things have steamrollered since then. Friendships have been strengthened. Further trips to the US have been enjoyed. My horizons have been broadened and I’m very thankful. Amongst it all, there is a notch of friends who I know will be my friends for life.

You know who you are.

These days, writing “Tales” seems as natural to me as buying a match ticket, meeting up in The Goose, taking photographs of the match day experience or verbally abusing Lord Parky.

“It’s what I do.”

Anyway, enough of the life story bollocks, let’s talk about Chelsea.

By the time I had reached London, the fog had lifted and it was a beautiful sunny winter’s day. As I went “up and over” the antiquated Chiswick flyover I made a point of spotting the high arch of Wembley Stadium a few miles to the north. It appeared, fleetingly, just above row upon row of red chimney pots on the roofs of the terraced houses of Chiswick.

Wembley Stadium was the goal, of course.

The F.A. Cup Final will be played out beneath its crescent of white steel in May. It still remains an iconic venue, despite losing a lot of its historical mystique during its reconstruction between 2000 and 2007. However, since the eventual opening of the new Wembley, it is without a hint of exaggeration, our second home.

2007 F.A. Cup Final
2007 F.A. Community Shield
2008 League Cup Final
2009 F.A. Cup Semi-Final
2009 F.A. Cup Final
2009 F.A. Community Shield
2010 F.A. Cup Semi-Final
2010 F.A. Cup Final
2010 F.A. Community Shield
2012 F.A. Cup Semi-Final
2012 F.A. Cup Final

Of the eleven visits, only the defeat to “those whose name need not be mentioned” in 2008 brought me any real sadness. The two Community Shield defeats against United were nothing in comparison.

At 10.30am, I strode into the already busy and noisy pub. I half expected a few rogue away fans, but they were elsewhere. I soon spotted Tuna clasping a pint of Guinness at the end of the bar. I eventually talked him into attending the game at Manchester City the following Sunday; Gill had a couple of spares. Job done. Chatter amongst my friends was mainly dominated by tales of Prague. Alas, I had not ventured to the beautiful city in the heart of Bohemia on this occasion, but everyone reported back with lovely anecdotes, mainly involving the crisp and pristine beer of which the Czech nation is famous.

Sadly, I had to make do with a pint of chemically-infested “Carlsberg.”

On the TV above the bar, we learned that Demba Ba was starting. The time passed way-too quickly. At 11.30am, Tuna and I set off for The Bridge.

Of course we are all used to Sunday (and Monday, and Thursday) football these days, but I can well remember that Sunday football was a novelty way back in the ‘seventies. In fact, in the programme for my first-ever Chelsea game at Stamford Bridge in 1974, several letters from fans were aired, discussing the relative merits of Sunday football. There was quite a considerable “no” lobby, with people concerned that the religious “day of rest” was being used for un-Godly acts, that families would not benefit from games tearing the fabric of their life apart, that it would start the end of civilisation as we know it.

Joking apart, I wish that there was less Sunday football. It still – even after all these years – doesn’t feel the same as “Saturday 3pm football.”

Old habits and all that.

The six thousand Brentford fans were settled in The Shed by the time I took my seat alongside Alan, still tired from the excesses of Prague, in the MHU.

In addition to the choice of Demba Ba in attack, complete with Zorro mask, there were other changes too. John Terry returned to the heart of the defence, with Gary Cahill alongside him. Ivanovic, as so often is the case, shuffled over to the right in place of Azpilicueta. David Luiz – another central defender – was alongside Frank at the base of the midfield five. Victor Moses, fresh from the Africa Cup of Nations triumph, was deployed alongside Oscar and Mata. It was a very strong Chelsea team. With David Luiz now playing more and more in his midfield role, we now have four very able players fighting for those two defensive-midfield positions; Mikel, Luiz, Lampard and Ramires. On another day, in a parallel universe, those four would make a pretty formidable midfield four, in a 4-4-2, in their own right. Our squad is OK at the moment. Adding Ba and playing Azpilicueta has given us more options. Generally speaking – taking away the grief of Benitez and all of that negativity – there are reasons to be cheerful about this transitional season. Benitez seems reluctant to change from his trusted 4-2-3-1 during a game, and lacks creativity in his substitutions, but I have to be honest and say that the same could have been said of Di Matteo, too.

We were treated to a couple of early exchanges from both teams in the first quarter of an hour. I was very impressed with Brentford in the first game – a match, let’s be honest, that they should have won – and they twice threatened Petr Cech’s goal. As is always the case when lower league teams visit Stamford Bridge, the first few forays by Brentford into our half were enthusiastically roared on by the 6,000 away fans. It was quite endearing really. I remember the days when Chelsea – as underdogs at home against Liverpool in 1982, for example – were similarly roared on every time the ball was played into the opposition’s half. These days, we hardly even clap, unless there is a dramatic one versus one break taking place and the match is tied and going into the last minute of extra-time.

Against a lower level team, I wondered if it really was necessary to play with two defensive midfielders. However it was soon apparent that although Luiz and Lampard were based in front of the defence, both were looking to play the long ball or raid individually via penetrative runs from deep.

Headers from Ivanovic and Ba went close, but a loose shot from Luiz soared high on its way towards Battersea. A falling Oscar managed to guide his shot towards the goal, but the bouncing shot struck the outside of a post. We were treated to a huge slice of good fortune when a Luiz foul on Forshaw was called back by the referee even though the Brentford attack kept going and the ball was struck past Cech. The resulting free-kick struck the wall. Lampard uncharacteristically fumbled a shot from close in. We could hardly believe our eyes. These days, I feel cheated if Frank doesn’t score during a match that I attend. It was, in truth, a mediocre first-half. The Brentford fans, though not as loud as the northerners of Scunthorpe United or Huddersfield Town in similar cup games, out sung us throughout. Victor Moses was out of sorts and Ba hardly touched the ball. There were a few – only a few – boos at half-time.

The banana skin was still there.

Thankfully, we only had to wait eight minutes into the second-half for a breakthrough. A long punt up field from Cech was aimed at Ba. The ball broke to Juan Mata a good twenty yards out. He quickly unpacked his theodolite and rapidly surveyed the terrain, consulted his compass, took measurements of the prevailing weather conditions, did a quick geological assessment, including grass moisture content, and then cleaned his boots. As the ball bounced, he caressed the ball once and then struck it firmly, with an exact aim, right into the corner of the goal.

1-0 to the F.A. Cup holders and Juan Mata raced away to the far corner, smiling in that impish way of his.

Phew.

Our play was a little more pleasing to the eye in the second period, but the crowd still struggled to get behind the team. A great move resulted in our second goal of the game. Eden Hazard had replaced the lacklustre Moses and soon stole the ball from a Brentford midfielder who was obviously caught thinking about what he was going to have for tea later that evening. He spotted the magnificent lung-busting run from Ivanovic and the ball was played perfectly for our charging Serbian to run onto. His perfect pull back was aimed at Oscar. He executed a Zola-esque flick with his trailing foot to guide the ball towards goal. The ball crept in between the legs of a mesmerized Brentford defender, who was obviously wondering “steak and chips or a Chinese take-way” to himself.

2-0.

Phew again.

Alan emphasised what a magnificent run Ivanovic had made in order to create an option for Hazard. I had to agree. It was quite magnificent. Ivanovic is a much-loved part of our team these days. Those two errors against Swansea are long forgotten. We love him to bits.

Five minutes later, a nice move down the left resulted in Juan Mata – always involved – spotting the onrushing Frank Lampard who took great delight in smashing in goal number 199. My only dismay is that I didn’t catch the strike on film, unlike number 198 against Wigan Athletic. At least I caught his joyous celebrations on film immediately after.

3-0.

The icing on the cake – or the salt on the celery – was the fourth goal. A magnificent cross from the increasingly formidable Oscar found the head of John Terry, whose perfect leap dumbfounded both keeper and defender (as they were both going out for an Indian with their respective wives, they were just discussing whose turn it was to drive). I snapped away as John rushed over to the far corner and embarrassed himself with a cringe-worthy celebratory jig. It was, if my memory serves, not unlike the jig that he chose to celebrate his first-ever goal way back in 2000 against Gillingham (and for which he was lampooned amongst his team mates at the time.) At least the ensuing leap and punch was a bit more acceptable.

4-0.

Gary Cahill almost made it a nicely-rounded 5-0 but his shot was blocked by at least nineteen Brentford players a mere eight yards out.

As I drifted out of the stadium, the Brentford fans were applauding their players, but folding up their flags. It was not to be their day. John Terry was soaking up the adulation from the Matthew Harding. “Blue Is The Colour” was being played on the stadium PA system. The shoot-out at high noon had resulted in Chelsea advancing to the fifth round yet again.

Job done.

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Tales From The South Bronx.

Chelsea vs. Paris St. Germain : 22 July 2012.

It was all so different in 1989.

My first trip to North America, almost a year in duration, was in 1989. In some ways, it seems like a lifetime away. In other ways – because many of the memories still remain vibrant and strong – it seems like last week. In September 1989, my college mate Ian (with delicious irony, a Rotherham United fan…and yes, he went to our 6-0 defeat in 1981) and I touched down at JFK. Our flight had been delayed due to an almost calamitous malfunction just before take-off at Gatwick. A tyre had burst as the jumbo hurtled down the runway and had flew up into the engine causing severe damage to the engine and our hearts alike. Thankfully, there was enough room left on the runway for the pilot to slow down. Several passengers were visibly shaken, but Ian – on his first ever trip on a plane – remained remarkably calm. We were delayed for eight hours as an alternative plane was located and this resulted in us not getting to New York until around 10pm. Our plans to travel in to Manhattan by bus were jettisoned and our first real sighting of North America was through the dirty windows of a yellow New York cab as it took us on a rather circuitous route through Queens, with the glistening lights of the Manhattan skyscrapers beckoning us closer and closer to the heart of the city. Once over the Brooklyn Bridge, the slow ascent up one of the north-south avenues of Manhattan is a memory that remains strong to this day. The cab driver seemed to take a great deal of pleasure in telling us that a local had been killed just opposite our hostel near Times Square the night before. I can vividly remember trying to fall asleep on the upper bunk in a youth hostel dorm as police sirens wailed outside. My head was spinning. I was scared and exhilarated in equal measure.

Welcome to America.

I remained in North America until June 1990 and my travels took me to many states. We cycled down the east coast, from Virginia to Florida, and I particularly enjoyed the cities of New York, St. Augustine, New Orleans, San Diego, San Francisco, Seattle and Vancouver. I snorkelled off the Florida Keys, saw basketball in Denver, baseball in New York and Toronto, ice hockey in Vancouver. In many ways, it was the time of my life.

But throughout that entire ten month period, I only ever bumped into one other Chelsea fan. Before heading down to Florida for one final month, I stopped off in New York for my first ever New York Yankees baseball game. On the day after that momentous match in the South Bronx, I walked over the Brooklyn Bridge and chanced upon an ex-pat wearing a particularly hideous umbro Chelsea training shirt.

Ten months, many cities, many states, many people, but only one other Chelsea fan.

Twenty-two years later, things have changed a million fold.

In 1989, I arrived in America with Chelsea as second division champions.

In 2012, I arrived in America with Chelsea as European champions.

Let’s recap on 2011-2012. Of course, it began on an overcast summer day at a downbeat Fratton Park as the previously trophy-less season under Carlo Ancelotti was laid to rest. The very next day, I flew off to Kuala Lumpur for the first game of the Asia tour. Little did I know, but the season would prove to be the most unbelievable and tumultuous season of my life. Mid-way through it, at the nadir of Andre Villas-Boas’ reign, I had visions of our worst finish for twenty years. The team was in a desolate state of health. The spirit – at Goodison Park especially – was horrendous. Even I was at a low ebb. I began to wonder if my support would be tested during the last painful months of the campaign. That the season would finish with tears of happiness in Munich would have been seen as a simply ridiculous and unattainable vision, conjured by some foolish fantasist.

But the resurgence of Chelsea under Roberto di Matteo on the European trail was just one of a plethora of equally marvellous moments.

Back in October, the SayNoCPO campaign defeated the heavy handed desire by a patronising board of directors to loosen the CPO’s hold on Stamford Bridge. Never have I felt prouder to be a Chelsea fan as we exited that EGM, the club defeated, the fans high on euphoria.

We thumped our old enemies Tottenham 5-1 in the F.A. Cup semi-final and went on to defeat our new enemies Liverpool in the final. It was our fourth such triumph in just six seasons. The youngsters again won the F.A. Youth Cup. Arsenal went trophy less of course. Tottenham too. Manchester United – never my most liked of teams – lost the league title in the most ridiculous and heartbreaking of circumstances in the last few minutes of a long season to arch rivals Manchester City. A trophy for Liverpool unfortunately, but there was a certain element of glee in the way that they celebrated their Carling Cup victory against Cardiff City…on penalties…as if they had won the league. My local team Frome Town enjoyed a strong first season at the highest ever level in their history. A new stand had been built in time for the March 31st deadline and more than a few Chelsea friends in America had donated funds to help. Further afield, my favourite European club team Juventus had christened their first season in their new trim stadium with a championship involving not one single defeat.

With victories against Napoli, Benfica, Barcelona and Bayern, Chelsea had become European Champions for the very first time and – in doing so – had relegated Tottenham to a season in the shadows on Thursday nights.

Munich was the best weekend of my life, the best night of my life.

Yes – 2011/2012 was some season.

Our greatest ever season.

In some ways, there was certain reluctance on my part to even contemplate thinking about the next one. My focus, if anything, was for the World Club Championship, way ahead in December. And Munich was but a heartbeat away. This is a familiar comment from me, but I don’t think I was ready for 2012-2013 to start. Yet again, my main focus as I crossed the Atlantic once more was to meet up again with old friends. The football, most certainly, was of secondary importance.

I flew into Boston on the night of Saturday 14 July. For six days, I relaxed at my own pace, basing myself in the historic town of Portsmouth, New Hampshire. I drove up the Maine coast a few times and also inland to Vermont. I’ve had a pretty hectic period at work and I certainly enjoyed the tranquil change of pace.

I caught a train from Boston to Penn Station on Friday 20 July. After almost a week of – in the main – my own company, I was ready for the madness of New York. The tribes were gathering and, despite a torrential downpour on my arrival in Gotham, my fervour could not be dampened.

I was ready for all that New York City – after Stamford Bridge, maybe my third home – could throw at me.

Here are some highlights.

8pm, Friday 20 July – Legends, West 33rd. Street.

Down in the cellar of The Football Factory at Legends, a dark but atmospheric epi-centre of football fandom underneath the considerable shadow of the Empire State Building, the first troops were greeting each other with backslaps and handshakes. I spotted Paul Canoville, wearing a brightly coloured shirt and a trademark baseball cap, who I had met on a couple of occasions before. At the South Station in Boston earlier that day, I had bought a copy of the New York Post. An article had made me giggle and I knew that it would amuse Canners too. The former NBA player Dennis Rodman, while on a tour of The Philippines with an exhibition team, had met his father – the wonderfully named Philander Rodman – for the first time since he was a very young child. There was a photo of them greeting each other. Rodman Senior had been living in Manila for many a year, but I was staggered to read that he had fathered 26 children with 19 different women.

Here was a story to share with Canners, who himself had fathered a similarly large brood, with a variety of women. Canners smiled as I shared the story with him and he enjoyed hearing it, no doubt, but there was another tale, which I did not dare to mention, underneath this one.

Canners was separated from his father too, but memorably met up with his dad for the first time since his childhood on the night at Hillsborough in Sheffield when he tore Sheffield Wednesday to shreds in his greatest ever game for Chelsea. We were 3-0 down at half-time, came back to lead 4-3, only for an infamous Doug Rougvie foul to gift Wednesday a late penalty. I didn’t dare ask him if that emotional meeting had inspired him to greatness on that night in 1985. Some questions are best left unasked.

I had seen his first ever game at Stamford Bridge against Luton Town in May 1982. Thirty years ago. That game – our last game in a mediocre season at the second level – does seem like yesterday. Strange how some games drift off into oblivion, but the memory of Paul Canoville, the local boy from Hillingdon, coming off the bench to be met with a mixed reaction from The Shed is a strong one.

It was great to see him in America.

1pm, Saturday 21 July – Chelsea Piers.

As the fans tournament, involving four teams of Chelsea fans from throughout the US, was coming to an end, I was as nervous as I have been for years. I had been chosen to captain the Chelsea team to play in the Friendship Cup game against Paris St. Germain. When I had heard this news a few weeks back, I was very humbled, certainly very proud, but the over-riding feeling was of fear. I hadn’t played for two months and I was genuinely concerned that I may pull a muscle, or jar my once troublesome right knee, or give away a penalty, or run out of gas after five minutes or just look out of my depth. This is typical of my times in various school football teams over thirty years ago when I would tend to be shackled by fear and a lack of confidence in my ability on the pitch.

Once the game began, my fears subsided and I thoroughly enjoyed myself. We lead 3-1 at the break, but soon allowed PSG to scramble some goals. At 4-4, I managed to squeeze in a goal and my heart exploded. Could we hang on? In the end, PSG went 8-6 up and there was no Canoville-like inspired recovery at the end. Canners, plus Frank Sinclair, were the refs and what a pleasure it was to be on the same football pitch as them both.

Upstairs in the gallery, no doubt making a few humorous comments, was Ron Harris. When I saw my very first game at Chelsea in 1974, Ron was playing. Now, 38 years later, he was watching me play.

Now that, everyone, is just beautiful.

9pm, Saturday 21 July – Legends, West 33rd. Street.

As a lot of people know, Ron Harris used to live in the town of Warminster, no more than eight miles from Frome, my home on the Somerset / Wiltshire border. It was with growing pleasure – and disbelief – that a few mates and myself got to know Ron rather well. We used to call into his bar on the way home from Stamford Bridge from 1995 to 2000 and he always made us feel very welcome. To see him in New York, thousands of miles from England, was magnificent. I couldn’t help but sidle up to him and tell him that I saw him play around fourteen times for Chelsea, but I was still waiting to see him score a goal…

He, however, had seen me score for Chelsea that very day.

Don’t worry, I got away from him before he could tackle me.

1am, Sunday 22 July – Legends, West 33rd. Street.

My mate Millsy – another season ticket holder – had flown in on work (strangely involving trips to NYC, Philly and Miami – wink) and was regaling us all with some of his rough-and-tumble tales from life on the edges of the murkier aspects of supporting Chelsea. His exploits from Rome in 2008 – when I first met him and the legendary mad Scot Davie – had us rolling in the aisles. From punching a transvestite to waking up in a warehouse after a night on the ale in a Rome night club, to staying a few days in a Spanish jail…the stories came thick and fast. I briefly mentioned that I had turned down the chance to attend a “Q&A” with Ron Gourlay at the Chelsea hotel in Manhattan as I was concerned that I might say the wrong thing. Somebody asked our little group, which included Rick “Funchficker” Finch and Boston Ben, what we would say to Ron Gourlay if we had the chance.

As one, both Millsy and Funchficker said –

“Why are you a c**t?”

1pm, Sunday 22 July – Legends, West 33rd. Street.

Despite the game against PSG not starting until 7pm, I had arrived at Legends bang on midday and awaited the arrival of friends. I soon bumped into Tom, a fellow Chelsea home-and-away season ticket holder, who was revelling in his first ever visit to the US. His comment to me struck a chord.

“This is the most surreal experience I’ve had, Chris. This pub is full of Chelsea, but I don’t know anyone.”

Of course, to Tom, this was akin to supporting Chelsea in a parallel universe. I think he was amazed at the fanaticism from these people who he didn’t personally know. For Tom, it must have been unnerving. This scenario is so different to our experiences in the UK and Europe where the close-knit nature of the Chelsea travelling support has produced hundreds of friendships. In Wigan, in Wolverhampton, in Milan, in Munich, there are faces that are known. On this afternoon in the heart of Manhattan, fans kept entering the pub, with nobody leaving. I wondered if it would collapse with the volume of people in both bars. Thanks to my previous travels to the US with Chelsea, wherever I looked, I managed to spot a few familiar faces. I was sat at the bar, chatting with Scott from DC, his brother David from Athens, Phil from Iowa, Mark from England, Andy from California, Stephen from New Orleans. The blue of Chelsea was everywhere. Down below in the basement, a gaggle of around twenty-five PSG fans were singing, but their chants were being drowned by the boisterous chants of the Chelsea fans.

It dawned on me that, unlike in 1989, the Chelsea fans that I would be encountering were not just English ex-pats or not just Americans of English extraction, but Americans with ancestors from every part of the world. Just the previous week in Portsmouth NH, I had met a young lad who had seen me wearing a pair of Chelsea shorts and had declared himself a massive Chelsea fan. His birthplace? Turkey. I asked him if he was a fan of Galatasaray, of Besiktas or of Fenerbahce, but he said that Chelsea was his team. This frankly amazed me. It confirmed that Chelsea has truly gone global.

The simple truth in 2012 is that people like Tom and me, plus the loyal 5,000 who make up our core support at home and away games in the UK and Europe are in the massive minority amongst our support base. For our millions of fans worldwide, the typical scenario is just what Tom had witnessed at first hand in NYC; a pub in a foreign land, bristling with new Chelsea fans, fanatical for success.

I found that quite a sobering thought.

4.45pm, Sunday 22 July – New York Subway.

I travelled up to the game at Yankee Stadium with Scott and David, plus Josh from Minnesota and Stephen from New Orleans. The idea had been to get the subway bouncing with Chelsea songs, but there were too few of us to kick start this idea. Stephen contributes to the official Chelsea website as “A Blogger From America” and I first met him in Texas in 2009. He is full of football anecdotes and very good company. We swapped humorous tales from the world of football. He spoke of a game in Romania between club sides from Romania and Bulgaria. During the pre-match kick-in, the players heard music being played. The Romanians thought that it was the Bulgarian anthem and so stopped in their tracks and stood still. The Bulgarian players saw this and presumed that the music was of the Romanian national anthem. Both sets of players were stood perfectly still.

The music was from a Coca-Cola commercial.

I had recently seen a similar video. Two teams were lining up at the start of a game, facing one way, as a national anthem was being played. A TV cameraman was jostling for position, holding a huge camera in a hoist around his waist. He lost his footing, stumbled and fell. He lay motionless for a few seconds. As the national anthem played on, a team of medics attended him and he ended up being stretchered off, the two teams trying their hardest to stifle some laughs.

5.30pm, Sunday 22 July – Stan’s Sports Bar.

My friend Roma and her two children Vanessa and Shawn were on their way to find a parking spot near the stadium and so I had told Roma to meet me in “Stan’s”. I have known Roma since that very first trip to America in 1989 and she has been ever-present at all of the Chelsea US tours since 2004. They travelled up from North Carolina on the Saturday and had stayed overnight in New Jersey. Well, knowing Roma and her infamous logistical planning, “New Jersey” could mean anywhere on the eastern seaboard of America.

Roma had briefly called in at “Legends” at about 4pm, but had simply parked her car outside Penn Station. I had told her to rush back in case it got towed. Since she left New Jersey at around 11am, I struggled to understand where she had been for five hours. However, at least she was in New York City. It was a start.

As I waited for them to arrive, I enjoyed a few beers with Josh. “Stan’s” is my bar of choice when attending games at Yankee Stadium. I first ventured inside its cramped, yet atmospheric, interior in 1993. It was then that I became friends with Lou, the owner. I had seen him featured on a sports programme from 1991 when the Yankees were at a low ebb and a TV crew entered a deserted “Stan’s” for opinions. I had recorded the programme on tape – such was my passion for baseball in those days – and I arranged to get a copy sent over for Lou. Ever since that day, I always stopped by for a few words on each visit and I often brought him Chelsea stuff as gifts; a pennant here, a t-shirt there. I forget the number of free bottles of Rolling Rock I have had on the back of this.

Lou now lives in Santa Barbara and flies over for most home stands. I last visited “Stan’s” in 2010 when I was over in the US with my mother. On that occasion, I was so annoyed that I had just missed him. On this occasion, I was so pleased to see him behind the bar and we had a chat about Chelsea playing in Yankee Stadium.

Yes, that’s right.

Chelsea at Yankee Stadium.

When I first heard about this game, I was overcome with happiness. For my favourite team to play at the home stadium of my second favourite team is – to be honest – beyond description.

My trips to the US have been truly blessed. This one would surely top the lot.

Inside “Stan’s,” it didn’t take me long to meet up with three young girls – one dressed in the blue of Cruzeiro – who had obviously done their research and had brought their own little plastic sealed bag of celery. Now, this was a photo opportunity which was too good to miss.

My goodness, it wasn’t like this when I first set foot in New York in 1989.

Chelsea fans. Girls. Celery.

Pass me the smelling salts please, nurse.

My good friends The Bobster, Lottinho, Captain Jack and Speedy arrived and joined the merry throng inside “Stan’s.”

“Where’s Roma now, Chris?”

“Bunker Hill, maybe.”

I had almost given up hope on Roma reaching “Stan’s” in time. It had reached 6.30pm and I promised myself that I wouldn’t be late for the pre-game singing and the anthem. In Baltimore in 2009, Roma arrived fashionably late for the Milan game and I missed Drogba’s goal as I waited outside for her. I had been selected as one of Chelsea’s “fan photographers” for this trip and so I was worried that I might miss some great photo opportunities. I was literally in the process of handing over the envelope with Roma’s three tickets for Lou to take care of until she arrived when Vanessa tapped me on the shoulder.

“Oh boy. Am I glad to see you?”

Finally, I could relax. We headed off into Yankee Stadium to see the European Champions.

More smelling salts please nurse.

7pm, Sunday 22 July – Yankee Stadium.

This was a game in which I needed to be in many different places at once and to be able to do many different things at once. I wanted to be able to meet friends, take photographs, sing songs, concentrate on the game, analyse the behaviour of fellow fans, kick back and relax, compare to previous visits to see the Bronx Bombers and compare to previous Chelsea games in the US.

In the end, it was one glorious blur. It was simply too surreal for me to say too much about to be honest.

However, I see these Chelsea players every ten days back home during the regular season and so it is always my main goal on these trips to look instead at the faces in the stands, the fellow Chelsea in my midst.

What were my findings?

The hardcore of the Chelsea support – maybe 2,000 in total – were spread out along the first base side, like different battalions of confederate soldiers at Pickett’s Charge in Gettysburg, ready to storm the Yankee lines.

Down in the corner, behind home plate, were the massed ranks of Captain Mike and his neat ranks of soldiers from New York. Next in line were the battalion from Philadelphia and the small yet organised crew from Ohio. Next in line were the wild and rowdy foot soldiers of Captain Beth and the infamously named CIA company. On the far right flank stood the massed ranks of the Connecticut Blues who were mustered under the command of Captain Steve.

It was really fantastic to see our section fully adorned with the four official banners which Steve had arranged to bring over from Stamford Bridge (Peter Osgood, Matthew Harding, John Terry and Frank Lampard). They don’t go for banners in American sports in the same way do they?

Within the CIA ranks, where I watched the first-half, the stars were the songsters from Captain Andy’s OC branch, with Steve-O leading the singing with a perfectly pitched “Zigger Zagger.” Nearby, Ben, Shawn and Nick from the Boston branch were ably assisting the support of the team.

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However, as the play developed on the pitch in front of us, quite a few noticed that the singing was rather intermittent and there were pockets of Chelsea fans that were quite happy to sit and keep still and keep silent.

More than a few of us sung the sadly truthful “our support is fcuking shit” fighting song in an attempt to shame the silent ones into belated action.

On the pitch, a deflected shot gave Paris St. Germain a narrow 1-0 lead at the break.

I had told Roma to head up to my section as soon as she could, but there was no sign of her. At half-time, I wandered down to see if I could spot her. Thankfully, despite stringent ticket checks by an over-efficient Yankee steward, I managed to sneak in alongside Roma, Vanessa and Shawn who were sitting, unknowingly, very close to Ron Harris and Paul Canoville among the New York Blues. This was the first time that I had met Shawn, who has the curly locks of David Luiz and a wonderful personality. He is only five. I even caught him singing “Chelsea” a few times. That boy has a great future ahead of him.

I was now able to take photographs from a different perspective; two views for the price of one.

In truth, the game wasn’t fantastic. With our players attacking the goal in left field, underneath the 500 PSG fans, I found it even more difficult to concentrate on the game.

It was fantastic to see John Terry back on the pitch. I took several photos of him adjusting his armband after taking over from Frank. The noise which greeted him was the loudest of the night.

The stadium was nowhere near full. The new stadium holds just over 50,000 and the attendance was given as just 38,000. However, I think that this was total ticket sales. I honestly think that the actual number of attendees was only around 30,000. Compared to 71,203 in Baltimore in 2009, I’d imagine that Chelsea will be disappointed. However, the vast majority of spectators inside were favouring Chelsea. And PSG aren’t Milan.

As the second half continued, the Chelsea fans in the seats along the third-base side (the area not dedicated as being solely Chelsea), mustered a chant of their very own. It mirrored the chant – the bog standard US sports team chant – which we witnessed in Arlington in 2009.

“Let’s Go Chelsea.”

I know I grumbled about this in 2009, but I was more favourable this time around. I couldn’t fault their desire to get involved. However, I just hope that there were a few neutrals or a few new Chelsea fans who had been inspired by the singing of the massed ranks on the first base side.

Apart from the players putting on a show, it’s just as important that we, the fans, put on a show too.

To this end, mid-way through the second period, I screamed out a blood-curdling “Zigger Zagger” of my own which got everyone singing and which elicited a wide grin from Canners to my left.

A neat finish from substitute Lucas Piazon gave us a share of the spoils, for which we were so relieved.

At the end of the game, Paul Canoville kindly posed for a few photographs with Roma, Vanessa and Shawn.

It was the perfect end to an amazing few hours in the South Bronx.

Late night, Sunday 22 July – Manhattan.

Roma had to race off to collect her car and I joined up with Captain Jack, Lottinho and Speedy as we caught a slow-moving train back to Manhattan. In our carriage, we chatted to a few Chelsea fans from Toronto who were in the middle of a crazy footy and baseball road trip.

Back at Legends, I realised that my voice was fading. I devoured a few more beers as I chatted to more friends before heading off with Lottinho and Speedy for a late night snack at a classic American diner.

In the city that never sleeps, it was time to get some shut-eye.

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Tales From A Different Angle.

Chelsea vs. Wolverhampton Wanderers : 26 November 2011.

Well, I won’t lie. After all of the travelling to and from Germany, I would have preferred the League game with Wolves to have been taking place on the Sunday. Saturday was just too quick. Too soon. I think that my head was still over in Germany. You know how it is when you go away on holiday. It takes a while to adjust and get back to normal. Then there was the dark cloud hanging over everyone at Chelsea. The fact that we are going through a dip in form certainly did not help.

The alarm sounded at 6.30am and I struggled to get out of bed.

“Here we go again.”

I called for Lord Parky and we were on our way. I told him of my malaise and he knew how I felt. He was under the weather with a head cold and we both spent the first few minutes a-mumbling and a-grumbling about our recent run of poor form.

Parky has such an infectious personality though – don’t tell him I said so – and so it didn’t take us long for the melancholy to subside and for us to get back into our stride. We were soon making silly quips and puns as I drove to London. I relayed a few stories from my few days in Germany, too. The time soon passed.

Straight into the Yadana Café on Lillee Road and a Super Breakfast. Then, around the corner to The Goose. We heard on the grapevine that there were loads of spare tickets floating around for the game. The pub, actually, seemed quieter than usual.

There was quite a showing from the North American continent in The Goose. Beth, Josh and Andy were in already – plus the four Beltway Blues who had travelled to Leverkusen; Stephen, Lizabeth, Allison and Cassie. Mike and two of his members from the New York Blues suddenly appeared out of nowhere and then none other than Gumby joined the fold. I limited myself to just two pints as I was driving. The days of having five or six pints before games seem a long way away.

Oh well.

I made my way to The Bridge and walked towards the turnstiles for the Matthew Harding, with the montage of the West Stand wall to my left.

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My good mate Andy often goes to watch Rangers north of the border. The reasons for this are many and varied, but I remember his comment that the game in Scotland still exudes a working class feel, with allied atmosphere and noise levels. Andy goes up to Ibrox around five times each season and has got to know several Bears. He had contacted me about freeing up my mate Glenn’s season ticket for the Wolves game for one of his Rangers mates. Part of the deal was that I watched the match from the opposite corner of the Matthew Harding, while Andy sat with Davie alongside Alan in The Sleepy Hollow. I didn’t mind that at all.

In fact, I jumped at the chance to see the game from a different perspective.

I took my seat in Gate 15 – two rows from the back, just in front of Daryl and his mate Chris from Guernsey – just as the Chelsea flag ended its course of travelling above the heads of the spectators in the Upper Tier. I quickly zoomed in on the Upper Tier of The Shed and took a photograph of the Americans and Canadians in Gate 4, just above the goal defended by Wayne Hennessey in the Wolves goal.

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Yes, there was a substantial amount of surprise in the ranks that Drogba was again starting ahead of Torres. Lampard was on the bench too. The mood amongst the nearby supporters was of typical Chelsea cynicism at the start. I had said to a few friends that the game might turn out to be as enjoyable as a trip to the dentist’s.

We opened brightly and a spirited dribble from Ramires after just five minutes resulted in a low shot which Hennessey did well to turn around his right post. From the corner in front of the 1,500 Wolves fans in the south-east corner, John Terry rose and headed the ball down and in to the Wolves goal. I clicked away as the captain was joined by several team mates and watched through my lens as he raced towards the Chelsea bench. He stopped short of the manager, though. I noticed that Villas-Boas was almost ignoring the advancing players and was instead gesturing across to other players, concentrating on the job in hand.

Soon after, a low cross from Ivanovic was met by Juan Mata but the effervescent Spaniard blasted over. A great move down the left resulted in Mata skipping past several lunges from desperate Wolves defenders. He slotted a low ball across the six yard box for Daniel Sturridge to slam home from close range. It was a goal reminiscent of Studge’s equaliser against the Scousers – although it was not celebrated quite so wildly. Sturridge then had a drive which was palmed over.

I admired the way that Drogba controlled a high ball on the halfway line. He then advanced before pushing the ball back to Ashley Cole who swept the ball into the path of that man Mata. A crisp and instinctive finish and we were three up and coasting.

Crisis? What crisis?

To be honest, it was all Chelsea in the first-half and the visitors were unable to ask many questions of our under-fire defence. From my viewpoint high up in the corner of the MHU, I was able to see how John Terry often played the ball through to Mata and Cole. Our best moves often came down the left. In the middle, the composed Romeu looked settled and put in a fine performance. It was noticeable how often Mata left his left-wing berth and came inside in search of the ball.

I met up with San Francisco Pete at half-time and – for once – there were no moans. We both agreed that we would quite happily take the 3-0 scoreline. We both realised how important it was to keep a clean sheet.

Every great journey starts with a single step.

Despite the pleasing performance in the first-half, the atmosphere in the Matthew Harding was pretty woeful. To their credit, more noise seemed to be coming from the opposite end, and the Shed Lower appeared particularly animated. Down in that fat corner, Parky and Andy Wray were but 15 seats apart.

I was enjoying being able to watch a Chelsea game from a different part of The Bridge. I had watched a few games from that corner before. I was able to take plenty of photographs of the game, but I was also able to pick out new angles of the four stands too. I could hardly believe how many seats were not used in the expensive tier in the West Stand. I noted all of the differing supporters’ club banners in the West Stand.

Ramires tested Hennessey after 50 minutes with a looping effort from the inside-right channel. Our little Brazilian gem was having a fine game; tons of energy and enthusiasm. On 52 minutes, David Luiz seemed flat-footed and allowed Stephen Ward a shot on goal, but Cech was untroubled. Daniel Sturridge then made a super run from deep right down below me and advanced to within eight yards of the goal. His final pass across the goal was awful, though.

With Fernando Torres warming up in front of the family section, the Stamford Bridge crowd were baying for his appearance –

Torres! Torres! Torres! Torres!

Wolves had a little spell of possession and forced Cech to scramble two efforts away within five seconds. It would be there last real efforts on our goal. Villas-Boas rang the changes with Lampard coming on for Meireles and then Bosingwa and Torres replacing Ivanovic and Drogba. The Torres one we understood. The Bosingwa one not so.

Oh well. He’s the manager. It wasn’t as if the game was on the line.

Torres looked keen in the final fifteen minutes and we certainly willed him on. But he still looks leggy and low on confidence.

I hope he starts on Tuesday.

The most bizarre part of the day’s play was John Terry taking ages for a throw in over on the far side. He was unsurprisingly booked and I couldn’t believe what I had just witnessed. With hindsight, it appears that it was all very intentional.

Tut tut.

On the drive home, Parky and I both admitted that Wolves had been poor, but we were just so grateful to evade our first three-game home losing streak since 1993. We are not out of the woods yet, but let’s build on this. As I raced home, we listened to some classics from Kraftwerk, that seminal band from our youth. It was quite clear that Germany was still lingering in my thoughts.

The games are coming thick and fast with hardly a pause for breath.

Liverpool next – and there is revenge in the air.

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Tales From The Sunny Side Of The Street.

Chelsea vs. Swansea City : 24 September 2011.

This was another home win and a further step in the redevelopment of the new Chelsea. It was a lovely day out in London Town, with friends old and new. A great Chelsea Saturday, in fact.

I had a later start than usual, picking up Glenn in Frome at 9.30am and Lord Parky in Holt at 10am. Knowing that our pre-match would be squeezed, we had a McBreakfast on the hoof and I made good time as I headed east. I passed a few Swansea City cars on the way. This would be my first ever sighting of Swansea at a Chelsea game. Our two paths haven’t crossed in any competition since that memorable 1983-1984 season, that most beloved of seasons from our past.

As I have mentioned before, for some reason, season 1981-1982 has been in my thoughts recently. I always remember our opening game in that season was a 2-0 win against Bolton, but the biggest news story on that day was newly-promoted Swansea’s 5-1 annihilation of Leeds United. I can still picture the mixed emotions of the two sets of fans on that blisteringly hot day at the Vetch Field. Swansea’s big win definitely got a loud cheer in The Shed that afternoon. I became good friends with a Leeds fan at college, who had travelled down to South Wales on that day and he told me that it was one of his worst ever days as a Leeds fan. Leeds took thousands down and I can still see the silent and shocked reactions of the Yorkshire hordes every time Swansea scored. Swansea, in fact, finished in second place in the old first division in 1981-1982 – an amazing achievement – but were then relegated in 1982-1983. We met in 1983-1984, but our paths then took very different directions. I actually saw Swansea at Yeovil in 2005 – a Yeovil team which included JT’s brother Paul – and for the best part of the past thirty years, they have been mired in the bottom two divisions. Credit to them for clawing their way back to the top flight.

Glenn and Parky darted off inside The Goose, but I had other plans. I raced down the North End Road as I had friends to meet down at the hotel. The weather was surprisingly warm and I quickly peeled off my zip-up top. Underneath, I was wearing a bright “Clockwork Orange” T-shirt (picked up in Bangkok for about £5) and I soon realised that Swansea’s away colours were also orange.

Oh well. I wasn’t worried. As I wasn’t sporting a moustache, I knew I wouldn’t be mistaken as a Welshman.

Another Chelsea game, another CIA visit. This time, it was Damian (Trojan Man) and his lady Laura. I dipped into “The Butcher’s Hook” to collect them and took them over to the hotel, where I knew other friends would be waiting. We had a lovely pre-match, albeit a rather short one. I met up with Mick, who had managed to get me a few of my Asia tour programmes signed by Terry, Lampard, Drogba and Torres. The original idea was to sell these on Ebay, but I soon decided to give these away to a few close friends. Gill, Graeme and Ferdi were in the hotel bar (Gill had managed to get a photo with JT an hour earlier) and Mike from NYC was there too.

Two pints of Singha – thanks Mike, thanks Damian – and a nice time chatting about the entire gamut of Anglo-American sport culture with my two Southern Californian guests. As his CIA handle would suggest, Damian (and Laura) are fans of the USC gridiron team and we spent quite a while chatting about NCAA fandom, rivalries, ticket prices, match day routines and rituals.

Mike had brought me a recent copy of the NY Post which featured a few articles about Mariano Rivera’s historic 602 save. Damian, with a pained expression, enquired why I was a Yankee follower and I’m getting used to this now. I batted the question away with aplomb, like a cricketer driving a ball through the covers. I always used to say I wish I had £5 for every time someone asked me why I was a Chelsea fan. It’s getting that way with the Yankees now.

Mike told Damian that his wife was from New York and that they met at college. Damian enquired which college and Mike replied “UCLA.”

Damian’s face was a picture.

But Mike added – “UCLA – the university at the corner of Lexington Avenue.”

I felt Damian’s relief sweep over him.

For a Chelsea fan, it must have hurt to see us train on UCLA’s campus during the summer tours of 2006 and 2007.

That must have been awful for him.

We were stood by the window at the front of the hotel bar area on the first floor. We had a lovely view of the forecourt area, with the busy Fulham Road in the distance, the “Butcher’s Hook” pub on the corner. We spotted six Chelsea pensioners being dropped off and making their way through the match-day crowds. They are always a lovely sight. They continue to be a wonderful reminder of our history, our proud past and long may they continue to be a part of our identity as a club. Damian asked me briefly about our continued presence at Stamford Bridge and if I favoured a move away.

To be blunt, I want us to stay at Stamford Bridge forever. Just looking out at that forecourt area was enough for me. Photographs of thousands flooding that area for the Moscow Dinamo game in 1945, grainy film of the team playing five-a-side amongst the portacabins and parked cars every Friday morning in the late ‘sixties, personal memories of me looking up at the monstrous East stand for the very first time in October 1974 (this still gives me goose bumps), scary memories of Millwall in 1977, memories of West Ham in 1984, gorgeous memories of getting Pat Nevin’s autograph outside the old club shop in 1984, my mate Glenn chatting up a girl in the programme hut in 1983, memories of the ivy on the wall of the old offices, memories of getting Ray Wilkins’ autograph in 1978…memories, memories, memories.

What I fear is my club playing in a soul-less stadium five miles away in 2025…what will we have lost?

At 2.20pm, I reminded Laura and Damian that the players would soon be going through their pre-match drills and so I quickly escorted them out of the hotel and towards the entrance to the Shed Lower. To our right, we saw a cluster of fans around a bald gentleman and I soon realised that it was Ray Wilkins.

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I told the two Californians to “get in there” and I grabbed Laura’s camera. While Damian quickly spoke to him, I said “thanks Butch” and I had this horrible feeling that he might have thought that I was taking the Mick.

He replied –

“Cheers fella. Nice T-shirt.”

I said my goodbyes to the Trojanistas and made my way to the MHU turnstiles. It made a nice change to be inside early for once. I was at my seat at 2.30pm and Stamford Bridge was looking gorgeous. Pre-match chat focussed on how well we played at Old Trafford.

The 3,000 Swansea fans were in good voice and treated us to the Welsh standard “Hymns And Arias” (aka “Land Of My Fathers”).

The Swansea team featured two players born within 12 miles of my home town; Scott Sinclair from Bath and Nathan Dwyer from Trowbridge. Parky’s mate Kris used to play footy with Dyer in a Trowbridge park and, even at a young age, he was special. My home area is not known for producing professional footballers.

Whatever happened to Shagger Lambert from Farrington Gurney, Nasher Ruddock from Midsomer Norton and Crapper Lacey from Buckland Dinham?

The football world is a lesser place with their absence.

No real surprises with AVB’s team selection, with Anelka in for Daniel Sturridge. Ominously, Frank Lampard was on the bench, but this was not a surprise. He faces new challenges this season.

The game began quietly, with the highlight being a lovely dribble along the by-line by Juan Mata and a ball back for Ramires to fire goal wards, but the shot was blocked. The opening period also featured two horrendous crosses from the not-so-trusty right foot of Jose Bosingwa. Swansea had a few attacks, but were not causing us huge concerns. I was getting a little annoyed with Torres coming deep to search for the ball. I wanted him to stay on the shoulder of the last man.

On 29 minutes – just after I had said “Come on Torres, move!” – Juan Mata chipped a fantastic ball over the Swansea defence and the ball fell right at the feet of Torres, who had nimbly lost his marker. A deft touch and the ball nestled inside the far post.

“YES!”

I took some photos as the team joined Nando down in celebration corner, and I hoped that Laura had some good shots, too.

This was the quintessential New Chelsea Goal; Mata the creator, Torres the finisher. May there be many more.

Shortly after, a lovely searching ball found Ramires who advanced and despatched a low strike through the legs of the Swansea ‘keeper and it was 2-0 to Chelsea. More photographs of the team, smiling away down in the SW corner.

Coasting.

Then, a crazy calamity. We all knew that Torres’ ridiculous challenge warranted a red card. That was obvious. Slightly less obvious was why Nando needed to make that challenge. It wasn’t in a threatening position. I guess – I’m just rationalising – after Old Trafford’s highs and lows, after his goal, after his nice contribution to Ramires’ goal, his head was buzzing.

But he needs to learn from this. I’ve noticed before how he makes rash challenges.

My comment after the Manchester United game (“what next in the chequered Chelsea career of Fernando Torres?”) came into my mind as we discussed the tackle in the last few minutes before the break. The poor chap seems fated.

At the break, Neil Barnett spoke about the sad incident recently which resulted in the deaths of four Swansea miners and passed on our deepest sympathy to the Swansea fans. This was a nice touch and both sets of fans applauded. Additionally, Neil mentioned that there had been collections throughout the day and Chelsea would match the funds raised and give all the money to the families of the bereaved.

A class act.

The Swansea fans applauded this.

Good stuff.

Anelka was deployed as a sole attacker ahead of the infamous “two banks of four.” However, Swansea sensed the initiative and Dyer let rip with a shot which was deflected off the outstretched leg of Mikel and dipped wildly onto the bar. A Swansea effort was then hacked away off our line. These were tense moments.

Florent Malouda replaced the bubbly Mata on the hour. Fresh legs for the team. For the second game in four days, ten men were being asked to do the work of eleven. Anelka found himself surrounded by four defenders, but with no support to be found anywhere. In a classic piece of football, he shrugged his shoulders, went on a run and clipped a heavenly strike against the bar.

What a goal that would (could? Should?) have been.

Down below me, Ashley Cole stretched and blocked an attempted clearance by Routledge, then narrowly shot past the far post. He was roundly applauded.

On 75 minutes, I disappeared off for a toilet break and returned just in time to see a ball played into Ramires’ path, a shimmy and a cool finish.

That was really unexpected – we had been playing a containment game really, but this goal killed the game…time to celebrate? Not really. The Bridge crowd cheered the goal, but there was no continued barrage of noise.

Didier on for a great Anelka, Josh on for Meireles.

We then let in a “typical Chelsea” goal from a wide free-kick. An unmarked leap at the far post and we all knew what was coming…the ball crashed down and into the corner of Cech’s goal. We had two late chances…a Malouda shot blocked and then, with Ramires on a deserved hat-trick, he unfortunately drilled his shot wide.

At the death, a sweet turn and a deft finish from Didier.

4-1.

Easy.

I left the Barons Court area at 5.45pm and we listened to “606” on the drive home. Mark Chapman, who I neither like nor dislike, tried his damnedest to get Chelsea fans to ‘phone in and comment on the Torres sending-off (not his goal, I hasten to add), but I was very contented when nobody could be bothered to do so.

Good. Let’s concentrate on the positive (two goals in 135 minutes) and not get sucked into this Torres bashing session. As I came off the M4 at Chippenham, all three of us “whooped” at the news of good old Stoke’s draw at home to United, who – in my book- are the team to beat.

Another positive.

It had been a good day.

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