Tales From The King Power Stadium.

Leicester City vs. Chelsea : 14 January 2017.

The Chuckle Bus was on the road again. There had been a breakfast at a canal-side café in Bradford-on-Avon in Wiltshire, a lunchtime drink at a pub with a roaring fire in Moreton-in-Marsh in Gloucestershire while watching a few moments of the televised Tottenham vs. West Brom game, and a further pub stop in the Warwickshire village of Wolvey. We were taking our time. The kick-off in Leicester was not until 5.30pm. There was no rush. In all honesty, the mood in the car was a little pessimistic. I think it shocked us.

The reason for our noticeable solemnity was due to the rumours flying around the internet, the radio and the TV about Diego Costa. There was no absolute ratification from Chelsea regarding the reasons for Costa not travelling to Leicester. But the rumours were rife. Was he genuinely injured? Was he seeking a change in China? Was he the centre of a media-led campaign to unsettle us? We didn’t know. We tried not to get sucked in to a maelstrom of negativity, but it was difficult.

In a nutshell, Diego Costa is currently at the peak of his game. If he was genuinely injured, no problems. If there were darker Machiavellian reasons for his absence, what a mess.

Either way, it darkened the mood considerably. After a loss at Tottenham ten days previously, we briefly considered a team affected by the loss of Diego, a subsequent second successive loss in the league in 2017 and storm clouds gathering ahead of tough games against Liverpool and Arsenal. Well, Liverpool anyway. I simply do not fear playing Arsenal at Stamford Bridge. The match at a hostile Anfield will be a different kettle of fish, or dustbin of cats.

But by the same token, we trusted Antonio Conte to enliven his troops against a Leicester City team which would be missing a few key players. Against the immobile rugby-players Huth and Morgan, I fully expected the three-pronged attack of Hazard, Pedro and Willian to turn them inside and out.

We were parked up in good time. Although I had dressed for the Baltic – quilted jacket, and warm pullover, Timbers – the walk to the stadium was not as cold as I had expected.

The three sporting stadia in Leicester are clustered together to the south of the city centre; cricket’s Grace Road, rugby’s Welford Road and football’s King Power Stadium. They are all within a twenty-five-minute walk of each other. The latter, replacing Filbert Street, is a typical new build. A single-tiered identikit stadium. Replace the blue seats with red, and it could be Southampton’s St. Mary’s. It perfectly suits Leicester City, but it’s hardly an interesting site, or sight.

Our own beloved Stamford Bridge had been at the forefront of my mind since the last game. On Wednesday evening the local Hammersmith & Fulham Council met to vote on the planning application for our spectacular re-build.

At around 10pm it was announced that they had said “yes.”

What wonderful news.

I remembered the black days of autumn 2011 and the invigorating “Say No CPO” campaign, which defeated the club in their attempt to buy our shares, but which then forced the club to do a complete 180 degrees on a re-build at Stamford Bridge.

Just magnificent.

Thank you so much for listening Roman. And thank you so much for taking every care in choosing a team of architects that has produced such a breath taking and iconic design. I think the design, bearing in mind the considerable constraints forced upon it, is wonderful. It will break the mould of football stadia in this country. No copycat stadium for this club. Not everyone is a fan, but I feel that the detractors are focussing on the aerial view. But that misses the point. From street level, I believe that the structure – London brick, rising high, strong, iconic, unique – will be mesmirising. At night time, for an evening game, with the roof under lit, the stadium will be spectacular.

Of course the negative in all of this will be a hiatus at Wembley, in all probability, but compared to the dark days of the “Save The Bridge” campaign in 1986 – buckets outside The Shed End – and the attempted land grab in 2011, we should not be too disheartened. It is up to the club to be creative in its match day pricing during our seasons among the red seats at Wembley in order for us to maintain our level of support.  My real fear is of a mediocre team with sub 30,000 gates for lesser opponents.

No pressure, Antonio.

I rewarded myself for getting the lads to yet another game with a pint of lager. In the bar area below the steps to the stadium, there were the usual faces, and the Chelsea fans were in good voice. Yet more Aquascutum scarves.

A text came through on my phone : Frome Town were beating Redditch United 6-1. It soon became 8-1. My hometown team are currently enjoying their best ever season, a nine-game unbeaten run, and now their biggest win at that level. Good times indeed.

Back in the rarefied atmosphere of the Premier League, the main two results went against us; there were easy wins for Tottenham and then Arsenal.

The team was announced. Conte had opted for solidity with Nemanja Matic alongside N’Golo Kante.

We had seats down low by the corner flag. Just before kick-off – out of nowhere – my mate Tuna from Atlanta suddenly appeared, bouncing down the steps. What a small world.

This would be my first sighting of Leicester City this season; I had missed the 4-2 League Cup win and the 3-0 home victory in the league. On a dark evening, Gary and myself wondered why we were wearing black and not white. Thank goodness the home fans had not been issued with those damned noise-makers.

Not long in to the game, the away fans roared our support of a missing player.

“Diego, Diego, Diego, Diego, Diego,”

I approved.

The home team started on the front foot and Thibaut Courtois was called on to thwart an early attempt on our goal. We reacted superbly well to this early threat. After just six minutes, a cross from Cesar Azpilicueta reached Pedro. He was falling, under pressure, inside the box, but was able to touch the ball to Eden Hazard. The away section held our breath. A goal was on the cards. Eden played it out to Marcos Alonso, who smashed the ball past low Kasper Schmeichel.

Get in.

Wild celebrations, get off Tuna.

Leicester City responded well to be honest. Although Chelsea maintained high levels of possession, pushing the ball around well, the home team caused us a few problems. A ball from out wide often caused us concerns, but on every occasion, the defensive three plus the reliable Courtois were able to clear.

On ten minutes, the stadium lit up with mobile phone spotlights as a nod of support to former player – and now match day host – Alan Birchenall, who suffered a heart-attack on the previous Thursday. Birchenall once played for Chelsea, and one of his ports of call after leaving Leicester City was to manage Trowbridge Town from my neck of the woods back in their hay days, when they battled away in the Conference for a few heady seasons. The ups and downs of non-league football; Trowbridge Town are now many levels below Frome Town.

Mark Albrighton, Danny Drinkwater and that man Jamie Vardy looked dangerous at times. I was able to focus on Vardy’s battle with Gary Cahill; a good old-fashioned drama.

Over on the far side were two loved Italians; Claudio Ranieri and Antonio Conte.

The home fans to our left were engaged in a bit of banter with us. They were clearly enjoying their post-championship European campaign.

“Are you going to Seville?”

While we patiently played through our midfield, with Alonso overlapping well and enjoying a fine game, Leicester played the role of counter-attacker. Vardy caused more anxiety for Courtois. There were few chances for either side, though. A free-kick from Pedro failed to test Schmeichel just before the break.

Six minutes into the second-half, we struck again. A Willian corner from down below us was only partially-cleared and the ball fell invitingly to none other than Marcos Alonso. He swiped at the ball – using his left foot this time – and he kept the ball down well. A slight deflection steered it away from Schmeichel.

Bloody hell, Alonso again, get in.

I caught his joyous run down to our section on film.

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It was all Chelsea now, with everyone playing to their maximum. Kante seemed to win every 50/50. He was inspired. Matic was solid. Alonso and Moses were full of graft and running. Every time that Alonso received the ball, he was urged to “shoot” by the away faithful. What fun.

Gary Cahill had an outrageous overhead kick which surprised us all, and then Alonso had a big moment. The ball ballooned up in the air. At that moment in time, Alonso had two options.

“Do I hit it on the volley? Do I score my first-ever hat-trick since I was in Senorita Ramirez’ class in secondary school, that sunny day in Madrid, I can still see it now, Juan Martinez you did not stand a chance, you horrible little twat, the Chelsea fans will love me, it will make up for Tottenham, not my best game, yes I’ll plant this into the goal and the match ball will be mine. Or do I trap it and lay it off? Am I confident? Too bloody right I am. I’ll hit the fucker. Here I go.”

It whistled narrowly wide.

We were purring. I lost count of the one-touch angled passes played into space by Hazard, Pedro and Willian. It was spectacular stuff.

With twenty minutes to go, we scored a lovely third goal. More dogged perseverance from Moses, a clean and crisp ball from Kante, an impudent back-heel from Pedro. Willian reached the ball just before Schmeichel, and his lofted chip was headed home by Pedro.

3-0, get off Tuna.

More lovely celebrations in front of us.

Pedro had enjoyed another fantastic game for us. One moment sticks in my mind. After the third goal, he flung himself in front of a Leicester defender as he attempted to clear from just a few yards outside their penalty area. It summed up the spirit coursing through the veins of our whole team this season. Top marks.

Conte made some late change; Cesc Fabregas for Eden Hazard, Michy Batshuayi for Willian, Ruben Loftus-Cheek for Pedro.

It stayed at 3-0.

At the end of the game, the entire team walked over to us. The away support were bouncing in praise of the manager and his troops.

The memories of our match at the same stadium last season – that bleak night, Mourinho speaking of “betrayal” and his last-ever game as our manager – seemed from another age, another era.

In 2016/2017, there is a new leader of our team.

“Antonio, Antonio – Antonio, Antonio, Antonio.”

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Tales From On And Off The Pitch.

Chelsea vs. Manchester City : 31 January 2015.

I was in my own little spell of Chelsea Mania. The trip to SW6 for the long-awaited appearance of Manchester City would be my fourth visit to Stamford Bridge within just eight days. In addition to the three Chelsea home games, encompassing FA Cup, League Cup and League, there was also the Chelsea Pitch Owners AGM on the Friday.

I don’t always attend these meetings; in fact, the sad truth is that, until the tumultuous events of autumn 2011, I had not bothered too much with the CPO. However, following the club’s toxic handling of the attempted buy-out, I have eagerly awaited any news emanating from the CPO. Other shareholders, I am sure, have felt the same. It certainly galvanised the shareholders and caused all of us to re-focus our thoughts on Stamford Bridge. I attended the EGM in 2011 and also the AGM in 2012, when feelings were still feverish, but did not attend any others. Why did I bother this year? I was keen to hear if there had been any substantial updates on the rumoured expansion plans of the stadium and also to see how the CPO was faring in general terms.

Around one hundred and twenty shareholders, to my reckoning, attended the meeting in the plush surroundings of the Hollins Suite on the third floor of the West Stand. The meeting lasted just over an hour-and-a-half. To be honest, it was all relatively quiet and calm, with few moments of heated discussion. Dan Levine – journalist, Chelsea supporter and CPO shareholder – had requested to be allowed to post immediate updates from the meeting via Twitter and this was put to the vote. It was carried.

It was announced that one of the company’s biggest objectives was to nullify the impact of the over-selling of approximately 1,500 new shares in the period leading up to the football club’s attempted buyout in 2011; that figure will be reached within the next two months.

Questions were asked from the floor regarding the plans to increase the capacity of Stamford Bridge. The CPO board confirmed that there had been no communication whatsoever between the football club and the CPO regarding this. So, no news on that score, unfortunately. I think that many in the room were hoping for progress on this, but alas not.

However, there had been consultation between the local council and 120 interested parties – stakeholders – including the CPO, regarding plans to upgrade the immediate area around the Stamford Bridge site. I, for one, was intrigued by this, since it shows a level of intent by the Hammersmith & Fulham council to develop the relationship between themselves and the football club. It hasn’t always been so. Any positive communication, of which this is a clear example, is to be lauded. It shows a desire by the council to work with Chelsea Football Club. Questions were asked about the size and scope of this possible improvement in the “streetscape” around Stamford Bridge, but very little detail was given. A brief mention of the planting of trees, benches and possible pedestrianized areas whetted my appetite (maybe it evoked memories of an urban geography course I took at college) but elsewhere such talking points were dismissed as being rather boring and not worthy of further elaboration. It was mentioned that Rick Glanvill – club historian and CPO shareholder – was counselled on a possible colour scheme for the area, and I had visions of Rick flicking through a book of pantone references, but there was little other detail. I was keen to ask about the geographical limits of this potential upgrade to the Stamford Bridge streetscape (I presumed it would stretch from the area outside the tube station along the Fulham Road to the railway bridge), but the moment soon passed and the discussion moved on.

There were questions about the selling of new shares, which carries on at a reasonable pace. The board reminded us that they took the decision to set up a “pay as you go” payment plan for those unable to lay out £100 in one hit. This was news to me, and a few others to be honest, but which was well received within the meeting. I raised the issue of overseas supporters and wondered if there had been a change in the geographical profile of new shareholders, since a desire to grow the share base around the world was mentioned at the 2012 AGM. I was pleased to hear that there had been an increase in supporters outside the UK buying new shares and I was keen to point out that, due to the vast size of our global support, this should be encouraged.

It was a good meeting and it was lovely to see a few familiar faces present. It still gives me great comfort to know that I am one of the 19,000 or so landlords of Stamford Bridge.

Chairman Steve Frankham’s statement can be found here :

http://www.chelseafc.com/fans/chelsea-pitch-owners/cpo-news/chairman_s-agm-statement.html

Details on how to buy shares are found here :

http://www.chelseafc.com/fans/chelsea-pitch-owners/buy-cpo-shares.html

It is worth noting that as I left Stamford Bridge after the meeting, I was approached by a tout who was asking after spare tickets for Saturday’s game.

Yep. This was going to be a big one alright.

It was my turn, once again, to drive to London. I travelled with Glenn and Parky. At Membury Services, just to the east of Swindon, we stopped at a Starbucks and Glenn spotted an old school mate – a Sheffield Wednesday fan – who was headed to their game at Reading with his wife. I remembered him from way back too, though I haven’t seen him around town for years. There was a time when Sheffield Wednesday was, briefly, one of our biggest rivals. The 1983-1984 Football League Division Two season has been detailed here before, but another mention will do no harm. In that wonderful campaign, six of English football’s big hitters found themselves in the second tier; Chelsea, Newcastle United, Manchester City, Leeds United, Derby County and Sheffield Wednesday. Although Leeds United’s promotion challenge, along with pre-season favourites Derby County, soon withered away, the other four battled for the top three places throughout the season. In the end, it was Manchester City who just missed out.

I wonder whatever happened to them.

During the next campaign, in addition to two feisty league games with Sheffield Wednesday, there were the classic three game set in the League Cup too. What a host of fantastic memories from thirty years ago. A trip to Hillsborough is long overdue.

Before hitting The Goose, we paid a quick visit to another Chelsea pub, a hundred yards further along the North End Road, The Old Oak. The place was rammed with Chelsea “of a certain generation” and we spotted a few mates. One day I’ll make sure I visit every single one of the many pubs which surround Stamford Bridge, although not in one day, unless Parky is buying.

We reached The Goose at around 3.30pm. A few of the lads had been “on it” since midday. The place was heaving. There were a few City fans dotted around. I was told that a few of them even had a little sing-song at the front of the pub. This is a very rare occurrence in The Goose. There was no trouble, though. In fact, their presence was probably the reason for a little spell of singing, which again is a rare event in The Goose.

There was no talk of Frank Lampard during the time I spent – ninety minutes – in the pub.

I reached the seats just as the teams entered the pitch. Again, the club had chosen to dim the lights in the same style as against Liverpool the previous Tuesday. Additionally, the four huge flags denoting out four European trophies hung proudly from the balcony of the MHU.

It was a lovely sight.

Forced to make changes, with no Fabregas and no Diego Costa, Mourinho chose Zouma ahead of Cahill and Remy ahead of Drogba.

Courtois – Ivanovic, Terry, Zouma, Azpilicueta – Matic, Ramires – Hazard, Oscar, Willian – Remy.

There were four young’uns on the bench; Christensen, Loftus-Cheek, Ake, Brown.

The home crowd continued on in the same fashion from Tuesday against Liverpool, with greater noise levels than usual. Soon into the game, the MHL produced an x-rated ditty aimed at a Sky pundit who may not be allowed back to these parts ever again –

“Frankie Lampard – Your Cousin’s  A C**t.”

Although City brought a full three thousand, they were pretty quiet. I only remember one song of note –

“Champions of England, we know what we are.”

We countered with –

“Champions of Europe, you’ll never sing that.”

This was entry-level banter and it never really got any better.

It was a rather tight first-half with chances at a premium. City probably had the best chances. Fernandinho shot wide, then Courtois was called in to action to save from Sergio Aguero. A John Terry error allowed Aguero a strike on goal, but the dangerous striker – always a threat in these games –  screwed wide. Elsewhere, there was passing and possession from both sides, but little penetration. A sublime tackle by Zouma on Aguero was given God-like status.

This boy looks good and – boy – we’ll let him know it.

With five minutes of the first-half to go, a fine deep cross from right to left by Ivanovic found Eden Hazard, who had stealth fully crept behind his marker. His first time cross was met by the unmarked Remy who slotted in from inside the six yard box.

Chelsea 1 Manchester City 0

Alan tee’d me up.

“Come On My Little Diamonds.”

There was an immediate thought of an eight point gap.

Ridiculously, we allowed City right back in to the game just before the break. City were allowed too much space down our right and Courtois, usually so trustworthy in the air, jumped but failed to stop a cross. The ball fell to Aguero who slammed the ball in and Silva dabbed past the stranded Courtois and the two Chelsea defenders standing on the posts.

Ugh.

If City had edged the first-half, they completely dominated the first part of the second period. City dominated possession and we constantly reshaped to soak up their probing. I was impressed with Ramires, ably closing down space and nibbling away at City attackers. Matic, too, was impressive. In contrast, this wasn’t one of John Terry’s best games. Alongside him, Zouma continued to shine.

With Chelsea starting to enjoy a little more possession, I spotted a familiar figure on the far touchline. Frank Lampard, track suit off, in City sky blue, stood next to his new manager Pellegrini.

Ugh.

Here we go, then.

He replaced Fernando.

Initially, I detected boos but these were soon drowned out by warm applause. No name calling – no “Super Frank” – like we experienced at City in the autumn, but just a growing number of Chelsea fans showing their pleasure in seeing an old friend by simply clapping. That this clapping soon morphed into a “Chelsea” chant was perfect. I was proud of my fellow fans. Well done.

I’ll be honest; I spent an inordinate proportion of my time during the remainder of the game keeping an eye on Frank.

My worry was obvious.

“Just put someone on Lampard” I whispered to Alan.

“Two if necessary.”

This was genuine concern amidst our nervous humour.

Please Frank – don’t score.

Mourinho rang the changes and on came Drogba, Cahill and Loftus-Cheek.

We kept them at bay. On at least one occasion, Frank gave the ball away.

“Good boy.”

With five minutes still to play, a few fans left. I was speechless. Not only were they missing the most crucial part of the game, they were also missing out on the chance to say thank you and farewell to one of our finest ever players.

“…mmm…maybe you were the ones booing. Best you leave, then.”

One last period of City pressure was repelled and the final whistle was met with relief all around me.

Phew.

Our first dropped points at home this season and a pretty dour performance. We shouldn’t complain, though. Robbed of two of his key players, this was typical Mourinho.

I watched as the players shook each other’s hands and there were embraces between others. All eyes were on Frank Lampard. He walked alone from The Shed towards us in the Matthew Harding. He clapped us and we reciprocated. No boos, no silliness.

I don’t know the intricacies of Frank’s departure from Chelsea, or the exact detail of his employment at New York City or his temporary deployment at Manchester City.

All I know is that at the away game in September and at the home game in February, on his long walk to say goodbye, there were no smiles from Frank.

He was sombre. He was alone with his thoughts.

He simply looked gutted – on both occasions – that it had to be like this.

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Tales From The Butcher’s Hook.

Chelsea vs. Arsenal : 5 October 2014.

After an enjoyable European Away, there often seems to be a sense of anti-climax leading up to the next game. In London parlance this is often termed “after the Lord Mayor’s Show.” Not so on this occasion. A home derby against our oldest London rivals Arsenal, with memories still fresh in our minds of the 6-0 drubbing we gave them last spring, was enough to get the pulses racing.

I travelled up to West London with Lord Parky and Bournemouth Steve. Before the match, I needed to do some scurrying around to meet up with a few transatlantic supporters in a couple of pubs. For once, I would not make it to my usual base camp, The Goose. Parky joined me for a quick pint with some good friends from Southern California – some of the infamous OC Hooligans – at the Prince of Wales at West Brompton. John, Tom, Matt and Phil are “hooligans” in name only; they are some of the nicest bunch of supporters that the US has to offer. It’s always a pleasure to meet up with them. I collected a spare ticket and bade them a fond farewell. I then needed to head off down to the stadium, and my route took me past three pubs which we have frequented in the past; “The Atlas”, “The Harwood” and “The Lazy Fox” aka “The Fulham Dray.” I made a bee-line for “The Butcher’s Hook” and pushed through the crowded front bar.

Towards the rear of the pub, I met up with Leigh-Anne from Toronto, her boyfriend John and his brother Kevin. I had briefly met Leigh-Anne and John in NYC in 2012. I was able to assist in getting tickets for two of the three, while another of their acquaintances procured the third. They were suitably buzzing. Leigh-Anne and John had been in Barcelona during the week, and Kevin had been visiting a mate from Croatia in Milan. We live in a golden age of travel for sure. We’re lucky buggers.

It was lovely to be back in “The Butcher’s Hook” before a game. In addition to being the very location where our club was formed in 1905 – in the room above – it also brought back a lovely memory from 2004-2005. For our game against Birmingham City, my friend Glenn and I attended the match with two very special people; his grandmother and my mother. Before the match, we had enjoyed a lovely pre-match meal in “The Butcher’s Hook” and I was reminded of that very special day. It was wonderful that my mother, aged 75, was able to see Chelsea play in person during our first championship campaign in fifty years. We had all met Peter Osgood in the megastore too. It was a cracking day out.

I guzzled down another pint amidst rapid-fire conversation with the three Canadians about all things Chelsea. Before we knew it, kick-off was approaching fast. I warned Leigh-Anne, John and Kevin to finish off their drinks. It would be a shame to miss the start. Outside the weather was splendid; the gentle autumn sun meant that most were in shirt-sleeves.

At the turnstiles for the MHU, there was a large queue to enter. While we were in line, the stadium PA announced that due to “an incident” the game would be delayed for fifteen minutes. What luck for the three Canadians. I sent them a text; there was no need to rush.

“Start delayed 15 minutes due to an incident. Parky bought a round.”

There were a few rumours about flares being let off outside, but nobody was sure. So, possibly our first and only 2.20pm kick-off.

Stamford Bridge looked a picture. For some reason, I was reminded of the famous oil painting by Charles Cundall of the stadium for the Chelsea vs. Arsenal Division One match in 1935, a game which happened to host our largest ever “official” attendance of 82,905. The club constructed a special platform for the artist above the vast terracing above the north-west corner flag and the panorama depicted – or at least the view and the angle of the pitch – was quite similar to my particular view in 2014.

I have waxed lyrical about the charms of the old ellipsoid Stamford Bridge in the past. For all of its idiosyncratic awkwardness, with odd stands and crazy angles, I still miss it badly. The current Stamford Bridge, housing almost exactly half of the 82,905 of 1935, is obviously a fine stadium. There is something quite Chelseaesque about its four misaligned stands.  Chelsea has never been about conformance. There had always been an edgy dimension to us, even our stadium.

Ah, our stadium.

It has warmed me immensely to hear that the board of Chelsea Football Club, in addition to testing the waters of the local populace, businesses and council of Hammersmith & Fulham with regard to possible expansion of Stamford Bridge, have allegedly contacted the RFU with a tentative request to use Twickenham while The Bridge undergoes possible improvement.

This is very pleasing to hear. Stamford Bridge is our spiritual home; it makes us who we are in my honest opinion. It defines us. I am heartened that the board has acknowledged this. I wish them every success in redeveloping Stamford Bridge. Let the unpleasantness of the “CPO Autumn” of 2011 be a distant memory.

Who knows, maybe those plans for a 60,000 Stamford Bridge, first mooted by a smiling Brian Mears in 1972, might eventually come to fruition. And, intriguingly, maybe that 82,905 attendance record might just be eclipsed at the home of rugby union. Twickenham currently holds 82,000. Interesting times ahead, let’s hope.

At last the teams appeared. The nine “league ever-presents” were supplemented by Schurrle and Oscar. Arsenal, wearing a very light red, chose to attack the Matthew Harding and for a few seconds, my mind played tricks on me. It seemed like it was the second-half already. Arsenal were supported by three thousand away fans and, although I am unsure, I thought I heard chants from them suggesting that Cesc Fabregas should go away and fornicate.

Classy stuff.

No doubt about it, Arsenal dominated the first quarter of the game. They looked steady and composed in possession, while we struggled to put more than three passes together. We looked edgy and nervous. After a quarter of an hour, however, there were no shots on goal from either side. The memory of last season’s rout was suddenly fading. Arsenal looked a lot more at ease. The first real chance fell to Alexis Sanchez, but a brave Courtois block quelled any danger. Arsenal maintained the advantage. Then, slightly delayed, Courtois fell and sought medical attention. The Chelsea medical team attended our young keeper, while Chelsea fans in Nerdistan fell in love with Eva Carneiro all over again. After a few minutes of concern, Courtois was replaced by Petr Cech.

He received a magnificent reception.

I took a “comfort break” just as the heated exchange between the two managers took place on the touchline. I’m sure everyone enjoyed that, though.

…er, the pitchside scuffle, rather than the thought of me turning my bike ‘round.

On twenty six minutes, Eden Hazard set off on a mazy run which Alberto Tomba would have been proud. He slalomed his way into the box and a wild stab by Laurent Koscielny sent him tumbling. It was an obvious penalty.

Eden Hazard took his time and stroked the ball past Wojzciecjzh Szczszcesesncy.

1-0, get in.

I’ll be honest, the goal was slightly against the run of play, but we cared not. The Bridge roared with approval. Jack Wilshere tested Petr Cech with a run on goal but lost control just as our ‘keeper raced out to smother the ball.

There had been few clear chances in the first forty-five minutes. We were obviously content with a lead, but hoped for more Chelsea chances after the break.

In the interval, Bobby Tambling received his usual magnificent reception from one and all, apart from the 3,000 Arsenal fans, who serenaded him with “you were here when you were shit.”

Classy stuff.

Just after the break, Cazorla drilled a low shot just past Cech’s left post. I momentarily held me head in my hands.

Phew.

Chances were still at a premium. On the hour, Eden Hazard advanced and sent a low cross towards goal, only for Flamini to stab at it and deflect it on to the near post. Chelsea continued to close down space, pester the Arsenal player on the ball, and stifle their passing game. There was special praise for Oscar, not always the flavour of the month, who put in a tireless display. His relentless running, tackling – “nibbling” – and blocking set the tone for the rest of the team.

As the last quarter approached, the manager replaced Schurrle – again, off the pace – with the steadying influence of Jon Obi Mikel. Next, Diego Costa set off on an invigorating run which resulted in a crisp pass to Hazard, who had supported the marauding centre-forward, but whose shot flew over the bar. For all of Arsenal’s possession, they very rarely tested Cech.

The atmosphere was not brilliant, though there were times when the home faithful did their job. The “ole, ole, ole, ole” and the “Jose Mourinho” chants seemed to galvanise the support. With just over ten minutes remaining, Fabregas took control in the middle of the pitch and lofted a high ball over the sleeping Arsenal backline. Who else but Diego Costa darted free and just…just!…reached the ball before the Arsenal ‘keeper could clear. He chested it down and in one movement delicately lofted it over the beaten Szsczszceseszsncy.

Stamford Bridge went into orbit.

GET IN, 2-0.

I snapped away as he jumped and screamed in pleasure down in Parkyville. I hope that the North Americans were able to snap a few too.

Superb.

It was Diego’s ninth goal in seven league games.

And it was game over.

Ah, the absolute joy of being able to sing “One Team In London” without fear of being incorrect.

There was even disbelief and then sudden merriment as Diego da Silva Costa blazed over from six yards after a fine move down the right; the linesman thankfully, in the circumstances, ruled him offside.

At the end of the game, I met outside the Peter Osgood statue in order to sort out yet more tickets for other friends. By doing so, I had unwittingly missed a few scuffles down at Fulham Broadway which had resulted in a few punches being thrown between a few Arsenal and Chelsea followers.

So, let’s re-cap.

Seven games played.

Five points clear.

And…the international break.

Damn you.

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Tales From The High Road.

Tottenham Hotspur vs. Chelsea : 28 September 2013.

I was cutting this one a bit fine. Despite leaving home in good time, I only reached Seven Sisters tube station at midday. The Tottenham vs. Chelsea game was due to start in just forty-five minutes. I ascended the elevators and steps and soon found myself on the Tottenham High Road. The warm September weather surprised me; I threw my rain jacket behind my shoulder and began walking north. This was a well-travelled path for me. And for thousands of Chelsea fans like me.

One of my favourite passages of Chelsea prose over the years came from the pen of the venerable Chelsea scribe Scott Cheshire. After another F.A. Cup Semi-Final replay defeat against Arsenal in 1952, closely following on from the same scenario in 1950, I remember his words as he described the long and painful walk south from White Hart Lane, a Wembley Cup Final appearance having just evaporated in the spring air once more. In 1952 remember, Chelsea had not one item of silverware to our name while Arsenal were the great London rivals with trophies aplenty. Scott Cheshire spoke of the depressing familiarity of Chelsea failure as he trudged through puddles alongside hundreds of other typically disheartened Chelsea fans. The sense of longing and the yearning for a trophy struck a chord as I read his evocative words in the mid-‘nineties. It seems that every time I repeat my walk to White Hart Lane, past the Turkish cafes, the colourful Asian clothes shops, the hardware stores, the supermarkets, the pubs and the eastern European convenience stores, I am walking with Scott Cheshire and all of those hopeful Chelsea fans from a greyer time over sixty years ago.

The day had begun with a cursory flick through a few Facebook updates. The match in London N17 was clearly the main event. There were a few references to the publicity in the media about the continued presence of the “Y” word at Tottenham games. A couple of classic lines from a Nick Love film were popular too. I wonder why.

“Up and at em! Early start for Y word away!”

“Time to rise and shine. Spurts away beckons, see some of you at that wonderful part of London!”

“What else are ya gonna do on a Saturday. Tottenham away. Love it!!”

“Off to cheer on the only London club to win the European cup.”

“Off out to catch a rattler to meet up with some of the chaps for a couple before going on to cheer on London’s first and finest against the Ys.”

“What else ya gonna do on a Saturday? I know what I’d rather do! Tottenham away… luv it!!”

“En route to Three Point Lane.”

“Very soon I’ll be off to our biggest away of the season. Tottenham away.”

“Tottenham oy vey. Love it.”

I entered the fray –

“The Biggest Away Game Of The Season. Why? Tottenham. That’s Why.”

After the faux rivalry of Fulham the previous Saturday, this was the real deal, the main event. I have detailed our ridiculous dominance over our bitterest rivals since 1990 many times before; to go over old ground seems pointless.

Just like Tottenham.

As I headed north – “head down, avoid eye-contact, be wary” – police sirens wailed and a phalanx of police vans raced past. I wondered what was going on a mile or so to the north. A Tottenham versus Chelsea encounter, even after all these years, still has an edge. Old habits die hard. There may not be the widespread violence of the ‘eighties, but the intense dislike – yes, hate, even – is still there. It is now standard form for the main body of Chelsea to meet at The Railway and The Hamilton Hall down at Liverpool Street and then travel up to Northumberland Avenue. For me, travelling up from Somerset, the early kick-off made this a non-starter. I wasn’t worried. On the drive to London, my head was full of thoughts of Swindon last Tuesday, the War Zone at Tottenham and Steaua Bucharest away on the following Tuesday, to say nothing of the game in deepest Norfolk the following weekend.

Four consecutive away games; tick, tick, tick, tick.

I reached the corner of the High Road and Park Lane at 12.25pm. There were a few familiar faces in and amongst the Spurs fans, but I had no time to dwell. I skirted past a couple of police vans and soon joined the short line outside the entrance to the away section of White Hart Lane; prison blocks have been more architecturally appealing. Tottenham, of course, have been given the green light to build a new stadium just a hundred yards or so to the north of their current stadium. My conscience was pricked slightly; that’ll be three London team with new stadia, while Chelsea will be limited to 41,500. Will we be left behind, struggling to compete against the larger, potential, attendances at Arsenal, Spurs and West Ham? In October 2011, should I, and the other CPO shareholders, have meekly surrendered our certificates to the club so that they could earnestly begin a search for a new home? The answer is still no. I hear rumours, just whispered at the moment, of the Hammersmith & Fulham council desperately trying to entice the club into redeveloping the Stamford Bridge site and the club, again, whispered rumours, being slightly more willing to listen than in the past. I have a feeling that this one will run and run, like a Jesper Gronkjaer dribble. My stance on this has not wavered.

I, like many more Chelsea fans – as per the recent Chelsea Supporters Trust survey – believe that tradition and history, and that difficult to describe notion of “community and brotherhood” are just as important as an overpowering lust for silverware. Staying at Stamford Bridge is wrapped up in all of this.

I soon met up with Alan and Gary and we took our seats. There was little time for chat. The players soon appeared on the pitch. Chelsea, for the first time in a while, were back to wearing white socks at White Hart Lane. Spurs have changed their kit yet again. Last year’s all white kit has now given way to white / navy / navy. As a kid, it was always white / navy / white. Every two or three years, it seems that Spurs try a different combination. It would drive me crazy. What was I saying about tradition?

We reviewed the team. Would Ramires be playing wide right with both Lamps and Mikel starting? The three thousand Chelsea fans were in good voice as the match began. I always remember White Hart Lane, back when they longed to beat us, as having a very hostile atmosphere. In truth, the Spurs support before the whistle seemed subdued. I commented to a fellow fan that it is ironic that Fernando Torres is now many Chelsea supporters’ favoured striker.

“It’s a case of addition by subtraction.”

With Lukaku out of the picture, Torres’ stock has now risen.

The match began.

Down on the touchline, in the technical area, Jose stood, hands in pockets. He ignored the home fans’ shouts of “sit down Mourinho.” Villas-Boas, so often the fidgeting, crouching figure while at Chelsea, was nowhere to be seen. At times, it is hard to believe what has happened to Villas-Boas since the summer of 2011. He was lauded at the start. He looked the business. We were behind him. His demise was catastrophic. I still think he’ll be a good manager; hopefully not at Tottenham. Going in to the game, I was concerned. Spurs have been performing well – one of the form sides. We, however, had undoubtedly struggled. In reality, I would have been content with a point; Alan and Gal agreed.

We played well in the first quarter of an hour. What this really means is that we had more of the ball than I had expected. We weren’t subjected to raid after raid of home pressure. The home crowd were quiet. The away fans not so.

“We won 5-1, Wembley.”

“We won 6-1, at The Lane.”

“You got battered, in Seville.”

The Willian song, repeated again and again.

It was seemingly going well.

Then, a quickfire break by Tottenham down their left. A pass from Eriksen to Soldado, who played in Sigursson. He took a touch and I willed John Terry, slightly out of position, to get a block as he lunged forward. The Spurs player rode the tackle and delicately flicked the ball past Cech.

Groan. Here we go again. We always seem to concede first at Tottenham. The home crowd came to life. All four parts of the ground soon joined in with a rendition of “Oh When The Spurs.”

It was loud. Very loud.

An Ivanovic block from Paulinho saved us further blushes just after.

Spurs dominated the rest of the half. We just didn’t gel. Oscar was particularly poor, with awful first touches and wayward passes. But the whole team seemed to be off the pace. The one highlight of the first-half was an exquisite chipped pass, with perfect fade, from David Luiz into the path of a raiding Ramires down the right flank. A Hazard shot – I was right behind it – was goal bound, but a home defender blocked. Tackles were starting to test the referee and Townsend was booked for diving. It was turning into a predictably tetchy affair. Spurs again cut through our defence like a hot knife through butter but Paulinho – I last saw him in Tokyo, the bugger – scraped the near post from inside the box. At the break, time for quiet contemplation.

I wished that we had played the ball earlier to Torres. I explained to Gary –

“Not hitting it at his chest, Gal, but just hit it into the space behind the central defenders. We haven’t done that once yet.”

Over to you Jose. Work your magic in the away dressing room.

Either Hazard or Oscar, in my opinion, could easily have made way for Juan Mata. Instead, Mikel was substituted, with Ramires dropping in alongside Frank.

Soon after the restart, Fernando Torres did ever so well to turn and beat a couple of Spurs defenders down the right flank – running towards us in the Park Lane – before sliding in a low pass, which unfortunately Oscar just failed to reach. The Spaniard soon became embroiled in a personal duel with Vertongen. He was soon booked for a foul, though I presumed that the referee Mike Dean had shown him the yellow card for placing his hands on Vertongen’s face.

Torres was now on fire and a gorgeous jink and strong run past Dawson meant that he only had Lloris to beat; his shot was blocked. Soon after, a long ball from Luiz was expertly chested down by Torres into the path of Mata who shot home, but the goal was disallowed for offside. A daisy-cutter from Frank soon followed. We were playing well, with intelligent passing making life difficult for a faltering Spurs team. Mata was heavily involved.

A horrible tackle by Vertongen on Ramires brought us all to our feet. He was easily becoming the villain of the piece. From the resulting Mata free-kick, played with perfect strength and position, the Spurs back line seemed to freeze, allowing John Terry to launch himself and guide the ball in past Lloris at the near post.

Pandemonium in the Chelsea section.

I pumped my left arm continually, then glanced down to see the Chelsea players following JT into the near corner.

My camera was ready; click, click, click, click, click, click. A lovely mess of fans’ fists and ecstatic Chelsea players’ faces.

Mourinho brought on Schurrle for a quiet Hazard. Torres again did ever so well to shimmy away from markers and lay the ball into the path of the German substitute, but Lloris again thwarted a near certain Chelsea goal. This was evolving into a cracking game of football.

With around ten minutes remaining, with Chelsea well on top, the on-going feud between Vertongen and Torres came to a head. A ball was pumped towards Torres and the two protagonists leaped for the ball. From my viewpoint, there seemed to be little contact, save for the flailing of arms, which is to be expected in any airborne challenge. If anything, Vertongen’s right arm seemed to catch Torres in the face. Both players went down, but the Spurs defender stayed down. Both sets of fans were baying. We knew that both players were on a yellow. When Alan suggested that Torres was in greater danger, I could hardly believe my ears.

What had he done? I had witnessed nothing untoward.

Mike Dean brandished a yellow towards the crowd of players. Some of the away fans presumed that it was for Vertongen. Fearing the worst, I knew that it was aimed at Torres. It soon became a red. We howled our displeasure. Fernando could not believe it. He took ages to slowly walk off the pitch. There was a genuine level of support for our number nine from the three thousand away fans. I think that this was his best game – OK, his best 36 minutes – in a Chelsea shirt by far.

However, it still irked that our hopes were dashed so cruelly.

“Well, we won’t score now Gal.”

Thankfully, two long range efforts from Sigurdsson and substitute Defoe blazed wide and over Petr Cech’s goal. A loss would have been unbearable. A draw was, in the circumstances, well deserved.

Walking south along the High Road once more, there was an overwhelming feeling of pride in that second-half performance. Our team is still evolving, but here was a great standard for us to aim for in all subsequent games. I was soon heading home, listening to the demise of both Manchester teams on the radio, and I was quick to reflect that an away point at the league leaders (yeah, I know) was becoming greater and greater by the minute.

It had been a good day.

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Tales From Within.

Chelsea vs. Manchester City : 25 November 2012.

I travelled up to London fearing the worst. This was surely going to be one of the darkest Chelsea days. In light of Roberto Di Matteo’s sacking after the Juventus game, I was overcome with dread and I could hardly raise much enthusiasm for the day ahead at all. Thankfully the awful weather had subsided – the drive up to London with my friend Steve was thankfully clear of teeming rain – but I was expecting a nasty mood inside Stamford Bridge. Tensions were certainly running high among the Chelsea support. I predicted the most volatile atmosphere that I would have ever experienced in almost thirty-seven years of visits to Stamford Bridge.

Robbie was out, Rafa was in and the Chelsea board were in for a rough old time.

At this point, my story takes an abrupt and startling deviation.

As I write these words, I am not sure if it is common knowledge that Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich met a small group of supporters at Stamford Bridge before the game in order to judge the mood of the club’s support since the sacking of Robbie in the small hours of Wednesday morning.

I was one of that group.

I’ll not spend time detailing how I ended up in Roman’s office at 2.30pm on Sunday 25 November 2012, but I will certainly write a few words which I hope will help to explain why that day was like no other in all of my forty-seven years.

Six other Chelsea fans and I sat around a large table with owner Roman Abramovich and his right-hand man, Chelsea director Eugene Tenenbaum.

The little group of us had no game-plan. And I certainly didn’t want to go into the meeting with a set list of questions. To be honest, I wasn’t sure if we would be limited to just talking about the sacking of Robbie or if we were going to be allowed carte blanche. To be truthful, neither Roman nor Eugene mentioned any protocol. We were simply allowed to speak our minds. I was going to see where the meeting went and shoot from the hip. As I think back, my inputs into the meeting were statements rather than questions, but I wanted to see how Roman and Eugene reacted to them. After the introductions were done, the meeting began and I surprised myself by launching the meeting with a warning for Roman.

“I just want to say how much we appreciate all that you have done for this football club. That is beyond question. But you have to realise that there a lot of upset supporters here today because of what has happened this week. When I awoke in my hotel room in Turin on Wednesday morning and heard the news, I could hardly believe it. Because of this, you may see and hear some things in the stadium today that might shock you. The atmosphere will be pretty tough.”

Roman listened intently to all of our opinions and questions. I am sure that he understood the gist of what we were all saying. However, he responded 99% of the time in Russian and Eugene listened and translated for us. After a while, my next comment regarded how the outside world sees us.

“Some fans say they don’t care about what others think, but I have to say that it matters immensely to me how Chelsea Football Club is perceived. This club means the world to me. And I hate to see it perceived in a negative way. There are some people who think that this football club is run in a” – I paused and chose my words carefully – “foolish way.”

The dialogue was incredibly candid. I have promised myself that I will not share Roman’s responses and I hope fellow fans can understand this stance. As the meeting turned to a lengthy and incredibly insightful discussion about managers, I had to comment about something which has often troubled me. It was too good an opportunity to waste.

“There is a school of thought which says that you need to change the manager every two years to keep things fresh. And that’s OK. But every time Chelsea appoints a big name manager…Scolari, Ancelotti, Villas-Boas, the club says…’this is the manager for the next three or four years’ and yet he lasts just six months. I’m not sure if Roman understands this phrase, but the club seems to have a ‘slash and burn’ policy when it comes to appointing managers.”

The meeting was incredibly informal. I found it fascinating to witness Roman’s body language. My last major statement concerned the stadium. There had been talk about the thorny issue of moving away from our ancestral home and I knew that I had to put my views across the table. I caught Eugene’s eye and looked at him as I solemnly spoke.

“I hope that you realise you completely misjudged the mood of the supporters last autumn and you got the CPO bid completely wrong.”

Outside, I knew there were protests and placards, chants and anger. It felt totally surreal to be deep in the inner sanctum of Chelsea Football Club.

I’m still coming to terms with it twenty-four hours later.

Looking back, with hindsight, I certainly wish that I had asked two questions –

“Who are your football advisors?”

“Why did you invite us here?”

The meeting lasted around an hour. We had all found it very worthwhile – of course! – and as we descended the lift and departed to join the other supporters congregating outside the West Stand, I had to pinch myself.

“Did that really just happen?”

The rest of the day is a blur. The caustic atmosphere that I had expected didn’t really amount to much. Sure, there was booing as the teams came onto the pitch, and it was certainly loud, but there were the usual lulls when the crowd resorted to its usual levels of docility. I had not heard that Dave Sexton, our much-loved manager, had passed away and so I was certainly shocked and saddened to hear of his passing. There was a sustained period of applause in his memory. Sexton was the manager who took charge of the team for my very first Chelsea game way back in 1974.

Rest in Peace.

As the game was played out before me, I kept thinking back to the meeting. To be honest, I did feel compromised. Going into the meeting, I could not understand the reasons why the club had dispensed with Roberto Di Matteo’s services and I was angry with our ludicrous policy of hiring and firing managers to the point of absurdity. After hearing the explanation for the brutal sacking – which again, I apologise for not being able to share publicly – my views of Roman and the board had softened.

And I felt very uncomfortable.

Had I fallen for the earnest and reasoned justification put forth by our owner and his, at times, quiet and shy demeanour? I wasn’t sure. I know that I didn’t feel right. I was surrounded by forty thousand disgruntled Chelsea supporters and yet my once strident set of opinions had been compromised by what I had heard in the meeting. I had to balance the two contrasting views. I’d like to think I am a fairly balanced person. I’d need time to fathom it all out.

Watch this space.

Chelsea fans heartily sang out our former manager’s name during the sixteen minutes and I joined in, clapping the entire time. I wanted to show solidarity with my fellow fans. Rafael Benitez, away on the far touch line – dressed in a dull blue suit – stood in the technical area and it just didn’t seem right.

But I couldn’t boo him. That would be, in my mind, one step too far.

It wasn’t much of a game was it? Thankfully, Manchester City seemed to be a pale shadow of the team which ripped us apart during the first twenty-five minutes of the corresponding fixture last season. That was a game in which we registered the eventual champions’ first league defeat of the season. For once, our troubled defence seemed to play a far more controlled game. This was most welcome. It was a start; from little acorns and all that. If anything, it was the players ahead of them who under-performed. Fernando Torres, typically, skied our best chance of the game, blasting high from fifteen yards in the second-half. In truth, Joe Hart was hardly troubled all game. City’s chances were a little more forthcoming, but the game ended 0-0.

I was happy with that. A defeat would have been too hard to bear.

And on this most tumultuous and yet fragile of days, this is where I will finish.

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Tales From The League Leaders.

Chelsea vs. Stoke City : 22 September 2012.

After a period of inactivity with no Chelsea game for me personally for three whole weeks, we were now well and truly in the thick of it, with two games per week for a while. And yet, I was in a downbeat and melancholy mood on Saturday morning. It was brewing up to be a lovely autumnal day and, if I am truthful, I was almost wondering if I could have put my twelve hours to better use. Frome Town were playing at home against Weston-super-Mare in the F.A. Cup for starters, plus I had some jobs to complete around the house and I kept thinking “that lawn won’t cut itself you know.” The prospect of yet another 220 mile round-trip hardly filled me with joy. In a nutshell, the lure of a home game was not as appealing as it should have been. I drove over to collect Young Jake at Trowbridge using my auto-pilot facility, hoping that my drowsy state would disappear once I became focussed on the day ahead.

Lord Parkins was taking a break for this game; it was just Young Jake and I representing the two towns of Frome and Trowbridge for the visit of Stoke City.

A little banter kept us occupied on the drive up and – yes – my enthusiasm soon returned. Jake is 24 and has seen Chelsea on around 25 occasions. He is still to see a Chelsea away game, but we hope to break that duck this autumn…maybe Swansea, maybe West Brom. I was lucky in that two of my first seven Chelsea games were away games, in Bristol, and I have very strong memories of both those matches from season 1975-1976. Away games are quite different to home games and I can sense that Jake was desperate to experience them. I can’t understand Chelsea fans who attend games at Stamford Bridge only; they do exist, I have met a few of them. They don’t know what they are missing.

It did feel odd to be driving up to The Smoke later in the day than usual. There was a reason for this; I had plans to attend the “start-up” meeting of the Chelsea Supporters Trust later in the evening. More of that later.

I slid into Archel Road at just before 1.30pm and it was a glorious day in London Town. I spent just an hour in the pub – or, rather, the beer garden – and it was the usual hubbub of noise.

On the twenty minute walk to Stamford Bridge, I noted the same old faces trying their best to punt tickets. These touts – or scalpers – are present at every game and, for the life of me, I never understand why Chelsea can’t work in unison with the OB to flush these away from Stamford Bridge.

I bought a programme and noted that Jon Obi Mikel was featured on the front cover. Was this a tacit endorsement of our midfielder by the club, so soon after the brouhaha following his errant pass against Juventus? I hope so. I hope that it wasn’t just a strange coincidence.

I soon noticed a large swathe of empty seats towards the back of The Shed upper. Maybe the touts hadn’t been so successful on this particular day. However, these empty seats eventually filled up over the first twenty minutes of the game.

Over on the western side of The Shed, a new banner caught my attention.

“Welcome to Chelsea FC. The first London team to win the Champions League.”

Nice sentiments, but way too “wordy.”

If I had my way, it would just say –

“Arsenal didn’t. Tottenham didn’t. We did.” (with a small gold star as decoration.)

Frank Lampard and John Terry were sidelined. This meant that Gary Cahill started alongside the erratic David Luiz.

I won’t dwell too much on the game itself on this particular occasion. However, what a contrast in styles; not only between Chelsea and Stoke City, but between Chelsea 2011-2012 and Chelsea 2012-2013. Our little triumvirate of “number tens” were the focus of our attacking play. This, of course, was the first time that Mata, Hazard and Oscar had started together. If we were playing in Italy, I have a feeling that these three players would have already been given a little moniker all of their own. For some reason, Napoli came to mind. Not only the three tenors of Cavani, Lavezzi and Hamsik of last season, but the “Ma-Gi-Ca” trio from the late ‘eighties…Diego Maradona, Bruno Giordano and Careca.

Mata. Hazard. Oscar.

Ma-Ha-Os.

Ma-Os-Ha.

Ha-Os-Ma.

Os-Ha-Ma.

I’ll work on that.

Despite or domination of the game, we hardly troubled Begovic in the Stoke goal. If anything, the visitors had the best two chances of the first-half. At the break, Gary was fuming, but I tried to make the point that this was only the fifth game of the news season and that the team was noticeably different to the team of previous years, with a new way of playing, a new style, new tactics.

Mike Fillery was on the pitch at the break. For four seasons, from 1979 to 1983, he was the kingpin of our midfield. He was a skilful touch-player with a great range of passing, who chipped in with a fair share of goals, too. His team mates included Clive Walker, Tommy Langley, Colin Pates, Ian Britton and Colin Lee. His style was often called languid but the inhabitants of the whitewall, the tea-bar and the benches often called him “lazy.” Both Alan and Gary commented that, despite him now having a limp, he moved around the pitch quicker than when he was playing for us. He left us in the summer of 1983 for the promise of First Division football at QPR. Ah, QPR – where Chelsea players go to retire. In some ways, he left us at just the wrong time. It would have been interesting to see how he would have fitted in as a midfielder in the all-action team of Dixon / Nevin / Speedie (or “Di-Ne-Sp” as we didn’t call them at the time). On the day we beat Derby County 5-0 on the opening day of 1983-1984, Fillery made his QPR debut at Old Trafford and I remember seeing him on “Match of the Day” that night. I’ll be honest, he had been one of my heroes and it just didn’t seem right. Anyway, twenty-nine years later, it was good to see him back at Chelsea.

The second-half continued in a similar vein. The Holy Trinity dominated the play and there were more flicks and back-heels seen at Chelsea for many a year.

There were more flicks on show than at a wedge haircut convention.

Mikel was having a solid game and Ramires was a looking lot more at ease alongside him. I’d suggest that Ramires stays in this position all season long.

As the half progressed, at last the crowd started to make some noise. Victor Moses made his home debut as a substitute and added some instant energy. Fernando Torres was full of honest endeavour, but it just wasn’t working for him. Some of his passing was excellent, though. I made a comment that if only Torres could be on the end of his own through-balls. During the last quarter, Stoke began a few raids on our goal. When substitute Michael Owen appeared – and also Kenwyne Jones – I feared the worst. I made the point – only half in jest – that with Jones, Owen, Crouch and Walters, Stoke probably had a better four attackers in their squad than us.

With five minutes to go, substitute Frank Lampard helped to work the ball out wide. The ball was played in towards Juan Mata who stepped over the ball to allow it to reach the waiting Ashley Cole. With a deft flick, the ball spun up and over the ‘keeper’s despairing block. The ball nestled inside the netting, the crowd burst into life and Ash raced over towards the north-east corner. It was a well worked goal.

Phew.

John Terry came on to protect the lead, replacing Juan Mata in one of the oddest substitutions seen at Chelsea for a while, and we played with five at the back.

We held on.

After the game, I did my annual raid on the club shop and bought a few items. After a quick bite to eat at the “Pizza Express” at Fulham Broadway, I made my way up to the Barrow Boy pub on the North End Road (formerly The Hobgoblin, formerly The Victualler).

Upstairs on the roof terrace, around seventy Chelsea fans assembled for a “Supporters Trust” start-up / feasibility meeting which was hosted by Tim Rolls, Neil Beard, Dave Johnstone and Cliff Auger. The scene was rather plush with the terrace’s perimeter bedecked in canvas; it had the ambience of a Bedouin tent. All very decadent, all very Chelsea. The meeting lasted around ninety minutes.

A representative of Supporters Direct was present to talk through the concept of football trusts, of which there are around 150 in the UK. The meeting, at times, was predictably heated, but I found it very worthwhile. Tellingly, the SD guy stated that virtually all football trusts are formed at times of crisis.

“Crisis? What crisis?” I hear people cry…”we’re Champions of Europe!”

The raison d’etre for this meeting at Chelsea was no doubt instigated by the ramifications of the CPO affair last autumn, but was also linked to the general feeling amongst fan groups that Chelsea Football Club are continually out of touch with its match-going support. Another reason for a supporters trust, I think, is to try to unite the many various Chelsea fan groups which currently exist; in many cases, a trust acts as an umbrella for various factions.

Examples were given to explain how trusts work. Some are very active, some are virtually dormant. It depends on the individual circumstances of each club. On one hand, the Manchester United trust has over 100,000 members but is not acknowledged by the United board. At the other extreme, the trust at Swansea virtually runs the club. In between, there are many different shades. Arsenal only has 1,000 members in its trust, but is seen as a media savvy, political pressure group with a surprising amount of power. Newcastle United, like Chelsea, has many different supporters groups, but they came together to form a 35,000 strong trust. Mike Ashby ignores them, but the NUFC trust has strong links with the local media and council. Clearly, a trust is seen as a more bona fide and credible entity than a normal fans’ group.

It is inevitable that football trusts have more clout at smaller clubs where revenue is more dependent upon match-going fans. At Exeter City, where gates average 3,000, the football club is obviously going to listen to a 1,000 strong football trust since it is in its best interests to have an appreciation of what fans require out of their club. At financially opulent clubs, trusts have a bigger battle.

It was stated that trusts tend to have short term, medium term and long term goals. At many clubs, the long term goal of getting a trust member onto the football board has been accomplished.

Mighty oaks from little acorns grow.

Despite a couple of unsure voices, it was decided to go ahead with the general notion of the Chelsea supporters trust. A follow-up meeting will take place in October or November.

Three points were made which are worthy of further comment.

The Supporters Direct representative emphasised that the Chelsea Pitch Owners are incredibly important to the future of the club. He stated that Chelsea is the only club in Europe whose ground is owned by its fans. Virtually every other club would love to have what we have. It is, as one fan said, the jewel in our crown.

One of the long term goals for a Chelsea trust, rather than aim for the board (unlikely…let’s be honest), might be to get a normal fan to take the internally-appointed Graham Smith’s role as the club’s Supporter Liaison Officer.

A short term goal will be to get many overseas supporters groups to buy in to the idea of a supporters trust. At the meeting, Chelsea in America was mentioned on a few occasions. This is a win-win. The club is desperate to grow its overseas fan base and by getting various foreign groups on board, the club would have to take the trust seriously.

As I left the meeting, I was invigorated by the passion and the common sense of brotherhood engendered amongst my fellow fans. It was a great meeting. It was a great day. I momentarily wandered back to my thoughts in the morning.

How silly of me to think it might have been anything else.

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Tales From One Of The Few.

Liverpool vs. Chelsea : 8 May 2012.

So, the last domestic away trip of this roller-coaster of a season. I had booked two half-day holidays to cover my trip up to Anfield, from 1pm on Tuesday to 1pm on Wednesday. There is nothing worse than getting home from a long drive “up North” and having to get in to work after only four or five hours sleep. Unfortunately, my partner in crime Lord Parky informed me that his knee was causing him major pain and discomfort and he would not be able to accompany me on my long trip to Anfield. Suffice to say, I was sad to hear this news. He had been alongside me for all but two other domestic games this season – the aways at Wigan and Spurs – so he would be missed.

My working day was busy and I left a little late at 1.15pm. I quickly dived into the local “Tesco Express” to buy some provisions – I hate to use the term “junk food” – to keep me going. I chose to drive up on The Fosseway once again, before cutting down on to the M5 motorway at Birdlip. It was a magnificent spring afternoon to be honest. Just before I passed by “The Air Balloon” pub, I had a quick look west and the view was a beauty. The Vale of Severn was down below me, with undulating hills in the foreground and brooding Welsh Mountains away in the distance. The fields were enlivened with the bright yellow of oil seed rape. The sky was dotted with small fluffy clouds. Never has that vista seemed more breath-taking. I wish I could have stopped to take a photograph to share with everyone.

My musical accompaniment for the trip to Liverpool was the new album by Vince Clarke and Martin Gore – following on from the Depeche Mode theme of Wembley – which Parky had gifted me recently. It’s their first collaboration in thirty years and the techno-beats provided me with a perfect musical backdrop as I ate up the miles on the M5 and then the M6. With no Parky in the passenger seat, I was able to let my mind wander through memories of this season and dreams of the future. For once, I was not thinking too much about beer halls and bratwursts in Munich but of the possible joys waiting in store for the summer. Chelsea had – finally – confirmed the full US tour details and I was just finishing off my planning before booking flights. My plan is to arrive in Boston on Saturday 14 July, hire a car and tour New England (which is currently one of the parts of USA that I am relatively unfamiliar), before joining in with the madness of Chelsea in New York and then Philadelphia. I am avoiding Seattle due to financial reasons. I am avoiding Miami due to the need to be back at work on the following Monday. But two out of four ain’t bad. It mirrors my participation in the 2009 tour. It means I that I can also see Mets vs. Dodgers and Yankees vs. Red Sox baseball games, too. Throw in four days of “R & R” in New England and it’s pretty much a dream holiday for me. Oh – and the small matter of meeting up again with some good friends from various parts of the US.

My journey took me past the towns of West Bromwich, Wolverhampton and Stoke-on-Trent. Memories of those three away games this year; a hopeful draw, a hard-fought win and a woeful defeat in AVB’s last game. The landscape of England is littered with similar football memories, eh? I was aware that Ben from Boston was making his way up to Liverpool for his first-ever away game and I told him to check out the supremely clear view of Manchester from the towering Thelwall Viaduct, rising high over the River Mersey and the Manchester Ship Canal. I was making great time and I have to say, even though I was going slightly crazy without Parky’s voice alongside me, I was loving every minute. I know some folks hate driving, but I love it. I love every part of it, from the scenery, to the geography of England, from the road-side sights, to the stops at service stations and the minutiae of a long distance football follower.

It’s what I do.

Working in transport, I have inherited a feverish tendency to check out the names of the articulated trucks which shudder past. I’ve used many of the companies in my job, of course, and I suppose it is only natural for me to relate to these monsters of the road as I travel the length of England.

Gerry Jones Transport – ah, yes, I remember that troublesome tail-lift delivery down in area 38 in France.
P&O Ferrymasters – wonder if he’s heading up to Liverpool on the night crossing to Dublin.
DHL – the rivals, the hated rivals.
Ntex – ah Tony, the operations manager, the Arsenal fan, not so chatty now are you?

Oh dear. The madness was setting in.

As I edged towards the city of Liverpool, thoughts suddenly turned towards the football. There is, of course, a very strong chance that had Chelsea lost the Cup Final on Saturday, this trip to the delights of Merseyside may well have been a trip too far for me. If I had known that Parky was not going to be able to make it, maybe the probabilities would have been further stacked against this trip. Who knows? We’ll never know. All I know is that I reached Queens Drive at around 4.45pm and I was relishing the game; game number 56 in this bizarre season. This represented a record for me in fact. It meant that my previous “bests” of 2007-2008 and 2008-2009 had been bettered by one game. Blackburn will be 57, Munich will be 58. It had taken me until the Queens Drive to witness my first Liverpool shirt of the day. Most strange.

As I approached Anfield, I was in a dilemma, though. After the festering animosity between the two clubs being heightened by the Wembley Cup Final, I was a little more wary for my safety. Stories of lone Southerners getting picked off by gangs of scallies are, of course, the stuff of legend, especially during the dark days of the late ‘seventies and early ‘eighties. There was a reason why hardly any clubs brought much away support to Liverpool in the ‘seventies. It was a tough old city and outsiders sporting different colours were given a notoriously rough ride. The Scousers love of a Stanley knife is well known.

“Have you met Stanley?”

I’ve had a couple of near escapes at Liverpool. I was chased at Lime Street after an Everton game in 1986, for example. I was lucky to get away unharmed on that occasion. Of course, things have generally calmed down now, but I was still wary. I was faced with a choice of chancing free roadside parking around 20 minutes from Anfield or secure £10 parking closer in. It was still only 5pm, so I drove around the block for a few moments trying to decide. My little journey took me past the Anfield Road stand and down the hill towards Goodison Park. For the first time, I noticed the grey murky waters of the Mersey to my west. I eventually decided to go for the safe option; I duly paid £10 and then headed up the hill towards Anfield. Outside “The Arkles” I spotted a police van. I killed a little time outside the stadium, but things were desperately quiet. Ben was now in the city centre, so I decided to head back to “The Arkles” to await his arrival. There was some sort of sure inevitability about me entering this famous old pub on the corner of Arkles Lane and Anfield Road.

“…just like a moth to a flame.”

It has historically been “the” away pub for trips to both Liverpool and Everton, though I am sure it has seen a share of the action in days gone by. Images of scallies running invading Mancunians and Cockneys around the red-bricked terraced streets before during and after games at Anfield in the late’seventies bring a chill to the bone. In those days, The Kop was the home to the fan, the “Annie Road” was the home to the scally and the hooligan element, resplendent in wedge haircut, drainpipe jeans, Adidas Trimm Tabs and Peter Storm rain jackets.

Not to worry, I peered inside the pub and spotted a couple of familiar faces. Dessie was leading the singing, Tom was quietly drinking a lager. Chelsea had taken over the side room and there seemed to be no bother. Outside, I had noticed that the boozer was now guarded by three police vans. Alan and Gary soon arrived, carrying two pints apiece. Ben arrived at about 6pm. Tom and I had spoken a little about the on-going CPO debate; like me, he was present at the two most recent meetings. We both believe that Fulham Council desperately want Chelsea to remain in their borough. The most recent statement by them surely proves that.

The Chelsea songs were continuing and despite a few songs which tested our welcome, Team Dessie thankfully decided not to air the infamous “Murderers” chant. I heaved a sigh of relief. Not to worry, though – the lager was only being served in plastic glasses.

At 7pm, Ben and I decided to leave and I took Ben (rather reluctantly, I felt…) on a circumnavigation of Anfield. I pointed out the spot where I once shook hands with Fabio Capello before the CL semi-final of 2007. Oh, those CL games – how amazing they were. They are, most probably, the main reason why we have developed as massive rivals over the past seven years. To be honest, it felt strange for me to be at Anfield on a May evening and only a mundane league game to anticipate. I lead Ben down towards the chippies on Walton Breck Road, then past the old ship’s mast from the SS Great Eastern which acts as a flag post next to The Kop. Past the impressive Bill Shankley statue, then onto the wasteland where I took an atmospheric shot of a haunted-looking Ben, against a back drop of urban blight and dereliction.

“Welcome to Liverpool, soft lad.”

I did my best to give Ben a guided tour – “there used to be a half-time gate here, the Shankly Gates were forged in my home town” – but I sensed that Ben was uneasy about being surrounded by so many red shirts. As a Yankee fan in Boston, he should be immune to it all by now. We waited outside the away turnstiles for a little. I noted many foreign fans – easily distinguished by the ubiquitous friendship scarves and an overabundance of Liverpool paraphernalia. They love their scarves, the Scousers. It’s not really a Chelsea thing. It’s more of an Arsenal thing in London, to be honest. I suppose that the Scousers feel forced to adorn scarves so that they can take part in the ritual singing of “You’ll Never Walk Alone” before each game. It wasn’t always like this. In the days of my youth, when I used to listen to Bryon Butler and Peter Jones (do any of the expats remember them?) on Radio Two’s coverage of those Liverpool nights in Europe, “YNWA” would spontaneously erupt during the games on many occasions. For a young kid, listening on a small radio under the bedclothes, it was hauntingly beautiful. These days, “YNWA” seems to be part of the choreographed Anfield package; played at the start of the game on the PA, then sung at the very end of the game by The Kop. Wave that scarf high, be part of the Anfield Experience. I preferred the spontaneity of yester year.

Inside the away end, the signs were not good. I realised that hundreds of seats were going to be unused; a complete section of maybe 1,000 in the corner untouched. Elsewhere, I could sense that the mood amongst the home fans was pretty sombre. There was no pre-match buzz, no sense of occasion. In truth, this has been a disappointing season for them and the F.A. Cup Final defeat made their failings all the more apparent. I took plenty of photographs of the Chelsea players in their pre-match routines. Anfield is cavernous; the dark reaches of The Kop go back way in the distance. It held 30,000 when it was in its prime (with no gangways or walkways – when you were in, you were in) but it now holds around 12,000. It’s still pretty impressive. I once stood on The Kop – the old Kop – in 1992 and it was an amazing old stand. It was the day we won at Anfield in the league for the first time since around 1937. What a day – what a game. When I have enough time, I’ll tell you all about it one day.

The entrance of the teams. A last chance for me to look around. Our away following was poor; maybe around 1,200. However, I did note empty seats in the home areas; not many, for sure, but around 2,000 dotted around in several main sections. It was a night when I would be part of Chelsea lowest league away support for years and years. Had we lost the Cup Final, I dread to think how few would have attended.

Our team was a mix of the young and the willing, the old and the tested. Whatever will be will be.

As the teams lined up and then broke, Gerry Marsden did his bit.

https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?v…type=2&theater

What a disappointing game to mark the last away game of the league season.

Despite his poor showing at Wembley on Saturday, Luis Suarez (he of the Depeche Mode song in his honour) was soon buzzing around and causing our entire defence a whole host of problems. After just 7 minutes, he spun clear but shot narrowly wide. A back heel from Suarez but Andy Carroll shot wide. However, the noise levels were pretty low. The away fans taunted the natives with –

“Where’s your famous atmosphere?”

I feared for Torres, marked by Jamie Carragher, in front of 12,000 baying Scousers in The Kop. Sturridge had a run and his shot was deflected wide. From the following corner, Ivanovic almost repeated his goal from 2009, but his header struck the right post.

Then Suarez struck. A run deep in to our box and the ball was played back into the hapless Essien, who could not avoid scoring an own goal. He slid into the goal and held his head in his hands. One of the images of the season. Soon after, another JT slip let in Jordan Henderson who adroitly side-footed past Ross Turnbull. Now the natives were roaring. Thankfully, we didn’t revert to the “Murderers” chant and, instead, sang a new one –

“It’s never your fault, it’s never your fault. Always the victim, it’s never your fault.”

In the circumstances, pretty restrained stuff, Chelsea. Good to hear.

Soon after, Ross Turnbull did well to tip a Suarez chip over, but Liverpool scored a demoralising third when Agger headed in from close range.

“Fcuk off Chelsea FC – you ain’t got no history.”

This was hurting now. Andy Carroll forced a superb save from Turnbull. All around, our players were misfiring. Essien was toiling and it hurt to see him play. Romeu, so impressive when we were playing well, was off the pace in this poor performance. However, a quick break at the other end and Fernando Torres struck the bar from a ridiculously tight angle. If that had gone in, how pleased we would have been.

How pleased he would have been.

A chance for Liverpool now – a lob by that man Carroll, rejuvenated after Wembley – hit the bar. Then, calamity…from our viewpoint, Ivanovic just stood his ground with Carroll breathing down his neck, but the referee Kevin Friend decided that it was a penalty. Terrible decision. JT argued with the referee, while Torres looked ruefully on. Thankfully, Downing’s daisy-cutter slapped against the post.

Half-time. Oh boy. What a shocker.

“I’d take 3-0 now, Gal.”

In truth, it could have been 6-2 at half-time. In this season of high-scoring results between the top teams, I feared the worst.

Surprisingly, we grabbed a goal back on 50 minutes when an in swinging Florent Malouda free-kick was touched home by Ramires. Thoughts of a surprise come-back flickered through our minds, but we showed the same level of ineptitude as in the first half. On the hour, the game was over when a poor clearance by Ross Turnbull ended up at the feet of Shelvey. He took a touch, then drove it straight into the empty goal. It was another goal that I was right behind the flight of this season.

Liverpool 4 Chelsea 1.

If it stayed like this, we would have experienced our heaviest league defeat in 16 years. The previously biggest defeat was a 5-1 reverse at the same ground during the nascent growing pains of Ruud Gullit’s stewardship in the autumn of 1996.

Wait a second. Let’s think about that. Our heaviest league defeat in 16 years. That just goes to show how Chelsea have played since 1996. What an amazing period for us. In recent memory this season, United have lost 6-1, Arsenal have lost 8-2…yet our biggest defeat in 16 years was 4-1? Pretty damn amazing.

In truth, the rest of the game was memorable only for a few bursting runs from substitute Romelu Lukaku and the resilience of Ryan Bertrand at left-back. Elsewhere, we were shoddy and shocking. Lukaku headed straight at Reyna from inside the box. At 4-2, it would have matched our 4-2 defeat against City in 2010. Two more chances came and went for Andy Carroll. A header from Agger flew past the far post. At times our defending was comical, like something that the Keystone Cops would have been embarrassed to be linked with. However, despite the baying thousands in The Kop and the Main Stand, let’s reflect on this game and the previous one; an F.A. Cup win over a meaningless 4-1 defeat every time please.

I wasted no time in hurrying out at the end. There was only a short wait at the car park and I was soon on my way home. For once, I had beaten the traffic – a lot of the home fans had waited behind to see the Liverpool players perform a lap of honour.

Out on the M6, the music was on and by the time I had stopped to refuel with a pasty, a sandwich, some crisps and some “Cokes”, I can honestly say the game was drifting out of my consciousness. I was in cruise control mode now, enjoying the night driving, enjoying the music, enjoying my own company. I drove past the Chelsea supporters coach; Alan and I exchanged texts. The journey south is a familiar route. I must know every bump in the road. I eventually reached home at a fraction before 2am. The rain was now falling and I just wanted to get inside to bed.

It was a bad day at the office. Let’s hope that games 57 and 58 are not similarly bleak.

Bryon Butler : The Voice Of My Childhood.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WEPbRoA5Usw

“Maradona, turns like a little eel, he comes away from trouble, little squat man… comes inside Butcher and leaves him for dead, outside Fenwick and leaves him for dead, and puts the ball away… and that is why Maradona is the greatest player in the world.”

From the days when commentators were wordsmiths.

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