Chelsea vs. Wolverhampton Wanderers : 8 October 2022.
This was undoubtedly a very fine day out in London. I enjoyed every bit of it. This is how it played out.
I had finished work at 5pm on Friday with the realisation that I had a busy few days ahead. I still had to finish the Milan blog. I then needed to drive the usual suspects to London on a day when the roads were likely to be much busier than usual due to the nationwide train strike. There would be the game itself. Then the return trip home. Then a write-up of the day’s blog after selecting and editing some photographs. A night’s sleep. And then some packing ahead of a trip to Gatwick on Sunday morning and then up, up and away to Italy.
It’s a great life as long as I don’t weaken.
By 7.20am I had collected PD, RH and LP. I didn’t stop en route to London. I wanted to crack on and arrive. The morning traffic was much thicker than the norm during the last fifteen miles. However, I was parked up at 10am. So far so good.
It was already a beautiful morning in London. There were cloudless skies overhead. Outside the stadium, I stopped underneath the old retaining wall of The Shed. On a weekend when our own “Italian Job” was dominating all of our thoughts, I stopped under the image of Gianluca Vialli, one of our most loved Italian players, and had a moment of appreciation. On the walk to Stamford Bridge, there had already been a fair few “hello mate” nods and handshakes to friends and acquaintances. There was the marvellous anticipation of a trip to Italy, not to mention the day’s game which was to involve the return of Diego Costa. That pre-match buzz was hitting me hard. And I was absolutely loving it.
I walked down to Putney Bridge in order to blow some cobwebs out of my system. It only took me twenty-five minutes. Saturday morning people, with a Fulham twist, were out-and-about, and I didn’t spot too many football-goers among the pedestrians, shoppers, cyclists and those enjoying the fine autumnal weather.
In “The River Café”, I enjoyed a fine fry-up, and then noticed a faded Juventus team photo from 1985/86 high on a wall. On exiting, I thanked the staff in Italian – a practice for Turin and Milan – and asked the young chap who was behind the counter if he was Juve.
He pulled a face.
“OK. Tomorrow, I go to Turin.”
“Milan versus Chelsea.”
“But why are you going to Turin?”
“Oh, I have friends there.”
“I go on Monday to Milan.”
“For the game?”
I didn’t fucking mean it of course.
I stayed in “The Eight Bells” with PD and LP for two hours. It was superb to see “Munich Mark” – with his son Luca, you can guess why he is called that – who we had not seen since Christmas 2019 on a pub crawl around Fulham. I memorably first met Mark and his mate Paul, who were living in The Netherlands, on the very last U-Bahn away from the stadium in Munich on that famous day in 2012. He now lives in Spain. We had a riot of laughs. It was great fun.
We caught a 414 bus just after two o’clock to Fulham Broadway and were soon inside the stadium.
At first, there were many empty seats dotted around but they were eventually filled despite some very late arrivals. We were to hear of friends experiencing drives that had taken two-and-a-half hours that would normally take forty-five minutes. My heart sank. Just how long would my return trip west take? I needed to be home as early as possible.
The team that Graham Potter had chosen was clearly one that was formed with the game in Milan in mind. Not exactly a “B Team” but…
Dave – Kouilbaly – Chalobah – Cucarella
Loftus-Cheek – Jorginho – Gallagher
Mount – Havertz – Pulisic
…or something like that.
At ten minutes to three, the usual musical countdown.
As the teams arrived on the pitch, a sizeable segment of the home crowd serenaded the returning hero.
“Diego, Diego, Diego, Diego.”
The sun was beating down and the Wolves old gold shirts seemed to augment the ambiance. It was a gorgeous afternoon. I did wonder why on Earth the floodlights were on though. Answers on a postcard?
We attacked the Matthew Harding in the first-half. It still feels odd after all these years. Soon into the game, Conor Gallagher received the ball and my brain had not slipped into gear and I was surprised when the player turned towards us instead of moving towards the Shed End.
After just two minutes, a gentle prod by Gallagher slipped just wide of the far post. It was a bright start from us, especially with the floodlights on, but Wolves had a half-chance with a Daniel Podence header but this thankfully did not worry Kepa. We carved out a steady supply of chances for Kai Havertz, Jorginho and Christian Pulisic without causing their ‘keeper Jose Sa any undue concern down below us.
I, however, was concerned about his lavender uniform with orange boots.
A brisk break from Wolves was halted with a well-timed tackle by Dave on the edge, but outside, of our penalty area. The resulting free-kick was well-saved at full stretch by Kepa.
I was happy with what I was seeing here. We seemed to be playing with a much greater freedom than during the closing period of Tuchel’s regime and Gallagher’s running and spirit epitomised this new looseness. There was some nice passing between players who seemed to be able to link up in a more colourful way. The interplay at times was excellent.
Down on the Chelsea left, Adama Traore splatted Pulisic to the floor in the absolute definition of a shoulder charge.
“And Traore has got a lot of shoulder to charge with” I said to Alan.
The attempts continued to roll in, or rather wide or over. Efforts from Mount and Loftus-Cheek were off target and I began to wonder if we would ever score. The atmosphere was pretty weak again, despite a nice barrage of noise at the start.
Diego Costa created a little space for himself on the right but nobody in the Wolves team had gambled to reach his cross.
There was ironic cheering from Wolves when the Matthew Harding got it together with a chant for the first time in a while. It wasn’t exactly loud; I am surprised that the away fans heard it at all.
A fine arching effort from Pulisic was adeptly tipped around the far post by Sa.
On forty minutes, a strong cross from Traore was headed over from just under the bar by Matheus Nunes. It was the best chance of the match thus far. Bloody hell.
The half-time break was approaching but Mount was able to send over a deep cross from our right towards the thin frame of Havertz who was positioning himself at the far post. He lept well to meet the ball and dolly-dropped it into a yawning net after Sa had been caught flat-footed.
It was a fine goal.
On Wednesday, this part of SW6 had witnessed an Aubameyang somersault. It now witnessed a Havertz slide.
One-nil at the break but Gary was still moaning.
“I think we are playing well, Gal.”
And so did several around me. I thought it was a refreshing performance with plenty of positives; good movement, clinical passing, a nice fluidity, with some strong defending when needed.
At the start of the second period, Wolves enjoyed much of the possession. But we then gained control again. Gallagher thumped in a hard and deep cross from the right but Havertz’ header looped over.
On fifty-three minutes, a delicious move ripped Wolves apart. Mount passed to Pulisic who then advanced steadily and returned the ball to Mount. With Pulisic continuing his run, Mount adeptly picked out his movement with a delightful slide-rule pass. Pulisic gathered the ball with the finest of touches and despite being forced wide, gently lifted the ball over the ‘keeper into the goal.
What a beauty.
Safe now, surely?
Not long after, with play down below us, the ball went out and Wolves decided to replace Diego Costa. The substitution could not have been better stage-managed. Our former, feared, striker shook Jorginho’s hand and then slowly walked around the touchline, clapping supporters on several occasions, as the Matthew Harding and then the entire stadium sang his name.
“Diego! Diego! Diego! Diego! Diego! Diego! Diego!”
Three seasons. Two league championships. Brilliant.
He was a bastard, but he was our bastard. How we have missed his nigglesome pilfering of defenders’ pockets these past five years. It was a treat to see him in SW6 once again, but I am not sure his stay at Wolverhampton will be for too long. It was just right that we were able to give a decent goodbye to him on this occasion, especially since we were unable to do so in 2017.
A few chances were exchanged as the teams continued a fine battle.
There was a raft of changes in the final twenty-five minutes.
Matteo Kovacic for Loftus-Cheek.
Armando Broja for Mount.
Reece James for Pulisic.
Hakim Ziyech for Havertz.
Carney Chukwuemeka for Gallagher.
The last substitute was making his debut and he immediately impressed with a pacey run from deep along the left flank in front of the sun-drenched East Stand.
I had earlier found myself staring at the East Stand, and I was momentarily lost in thought. Should Todd Boehly’s plan to redevelop the stadium gather strength, I am not convinced that it would pay to tear down this huge structure. Indeed, I am not sure how many more seats could be added to a new stand that by law cannot go any higher and whose footprint is limited by the railway line behind it and, thus, the already steep rake cannot change. Maybe I am just being selfish. The stand – that steel, those rivets, that concrete – was there for my very first game in 1974 and, apart from that Shed wall, it is the only thing left from those days. I stared again.
That roof, those balconies, those side screens…I looked all this during my first game…it is a link with that moment…I want it to remain until my last visit whenever that will be.
Sentimental twat aren’t I?
When Broja appeared, I mentioned “he needs a goal.”
In the ninetieth minute, a fine Kovacic pass found the young striker who jinked towards the penalty box.
“Hit it Broja.”
A lovely drilled shot flew into the goal just inside the far post. The Albanian international ran into Parkyville and the crowd roared again.
Chelsea 3 Wolves 0.
Ah, this was just lovely.
A great performance, some great goals, a nice boost for Tuesday’s game in Milan.
Outside, under the Peter Osgood statue, I met up with Andy from Michigan – formerly south-west London – who, way back in around 2010, started to to sew some seeds in my mind about starting my own self-contained blog about my football adventures and anecdotes rather than upload them to a bulletin board.
He is the one to blame for all this shite.
Good to see you, Andy.
In closing, I continue my look back at our worst-ever season forty years on.
My diary entry for Wednesday 6 October mentions a sixth-form football game away at Cannington near Bridgewater in the afternoon. We lost 5-2 and I apparently squandered three good scoring chances. I was “very disappointed.” I have absolutely no recollection whatsoever of travelling, nor playing, in this match. My memory is usually pretty decent. Maybe for Chelsea games only, eh? Later on in the day, I was pleased that Chelsea beat Tranmere Rovers in the League Cup 3-1 at Stamford Bridge. I was particularly enthusiastic about “Speedie Gonzalez” – well, that never caught on, did it? – nabbing two more goals. It was six in four games for him. Mike Fillery scored the other goal in front of just 7,982. I was hopeful that this win would bolster the gate for the visit of Leeds United on the following Saturday…”to around 20,000.”
In 1982, I was looking forward to a game involving 20,000.
In 2022, I am looking forward to a game involving 70,000.
I will see some of you in Italy.