Brighton And Hove Albion vs. Chelsea : 29 October 2022.
So this was it then. The ninth and final game of the month; a trip down to Sussex-by-the-Sea and a match against Graham Potter’s previous team Brighton & Hove Albion. Of the nine fixtures, six would be away from Stamford Bridge but despite this, as far as gathering results, this had been a fine month with six wins and two draws thus far.
Brighton is a fair old stretch from Somerset.
Or rather, Lewes and Falmer. We wouldn’t be touching the actual city of Brighton.
I set off from my house at 7.45am, and I predicted that I’d be pulling into the car park at Lewes train station at around 11.30am. With me were P-Diddy, Lord Parky and Sir Les. Between the four of us, we have well over two hundred years of Chelsea support.
The weather forecast was decent. I packed a jacket but wasn’t sure that I’d honestly need it. Last season’s trip to the Amex was not a good memory for me. We drew 1-1, no problems with that, but as the game progressed I felt worse and worse. I just wanted to leave. It would transpire that I had caught a stomach bug and would be off work for a week. Grim memories.
1982/83 produced some grim memories too. My fortieth anniversary wallow in our worst ever season continues with a couple of games from that season.
On Saturday 23 October 1982, Chelsea played Charlton Athletic at Stamford Bridge in a Division Two fixture. All the talk leading up to this game focussed on the visitors’ imminent signing of the former European footballer of the year Allan Simonsen. The Danish international was out of favour at Barcelona after the signing of Diego Maradona from Boca Juniors. Spanish clubs at the time were only allowed to field two foreigners and he found himself down the pecking order behind Maradona and the German Bernd Schuster. In a move that I still find bizarre forty years later, he was due to sign for Charlton but the registration was delayed and his debut came a short while after. Looking back, it is hard to believe that the English Second Division in 1982/83 played host to two former European footballers of the year; Allan Simonsen from 1977, Kevin Keegan from 1978 and 1979. Before a crowd of 14,492, Chelsea won 3-1 with goals from John Bumstead, Pop Robson and a screamer from Colin Pates. That evening in Frome, my former love interest Julie made an appearance at a school disco on a brief return to the town and I probably uttered and stuttered less than ten words to her all night. That particular romance was over and I am still hurting now.
During the following midweek, Chelsea won 2-1 at Tranmere Rovers in the League Cup in front of 4,579 with a brace from the veteran Robson giving the club an easy aggregate win and a place in the next round.
Les had been over in Salzburg too, and as I ate up the miles we shared a few tales from Austria. My route took me up the M3, around the M25 and then south on the M23. One sight thrilled me; the road undulating over a series of hills as the South Downs lay ahead. It was just one of those moments that fill me with a sudden and odd burst of pleasure.
Football, travel, the combination of the two and the realisation that this lark is still a joy.
Parky shared a couple of songs from The Jam on his ‘phone as I drove into Lewes from the A27.
“News Of The World.”
As I promised myself, I reached Lewes train station car park bang on 11.30am. Just after, the four of us were drinking in “The Lansdown” pub which had just that minute opened. There were a few Chelsea already there. The first song on the pub’s juke box?
Talk about continuity.
There was a little chat with Cath, Dog and Mark, then another Mark, then Walt. Walt spoke how he wasn’t exactly overcome with enthusiasm for this game and I knew what he meant. Sometimes, you just don’t feel it. Since going away to Austria, I had been getting by on less than sleep than normal. When my alarm sounded at 6.30am – an hour earlier than on workdays, damn it – I just felt tired, so tired. The thought of driving seven hours to-and-from Brighton didn’t exactly have me brimming with excitement.
“But then you see the lads, share some laughs, take the piss out of each other, touch on the game, make plans for the day, reminisce, you’re soon back at it again…”
While the other three stayed inside, I was on my travels. It was glorious outside. From our fleeting glimpses of Lewes on the last few visits, it looked a lovely and historic town. I made my way over the river to a pub called “The John Harvey” where I was meeting up with my Brighton mate Mac and a few of his pals. A chap from Houston in Texas, Alex – a “Facebook” acquaintance – was on his way too, although he was clearly suffering from the same logistical trauma that we experienced between Munich and Nuremburg because he was originally waiting for me in the Lewes Road Inn in Brighton rather than Lewes, the town.
At around 1pm we all met up and we stood outside in the warm sunshine exchanging stories and laughs.
Alex is from Moscow but has worked in other countries for many years. He told a nice story of when he was working in Ireland in around 1992 and a moment that sparked an interest in Chelsea. He was in a bar, Chelsea were on TV, a live game I think, and he recognised someone he knew. It was Dmitri Kharin, our Russian goalkeeper, who he played football with as a teenager. He still had his ‘phone number and they spoke but I don’t think that the two of them ever met, certainly not at a Chelsea game.
We spoke about our first experiences of live football.
My mother and I with a bag of cherries at my first ever match, a Frome Town game in 1970.
Mac with his father at the old Goldstone Ground in 1966 when he was just five, and him being in awe of the whole event. But also a few years later in 1973, when he happened to be at the Brighton ground when newly arrived manager Brian Clough gathered together around thirty young boys outside the entrance and gave them a talk about how he wanted the team to play and, basically, his vision for the future.
Those memories, those feelings for football, these shared stories. Those emotions that get stirred. The friendships. Being among fellow supporters of the game, those that travel to support their team whenever they can. That shared bond.
Ah, football, you beautiful thing.
You beautiful game.
There was a brief mention of the local stadium, the home of Lewes Football Club, which was recently voted the greatest football ground in Britain. Its name is The Dripping Pan, which warrants a medal by itself. Maybe Frome Town will play there in an FA Trophy game one of these days. It looks a cracking venue.
Rush, rush, rush, I know needed to get my arse down to the Amex where I was meeting up with my mates Paul – Benches 1984 – and Andy – Black Bull 1989 – and Andy’s son before the game to sort out tickets. The weather was still warm, so I was able to drop a pullover and a light jacket in my car. A simple T-shirt would suffice.
Alex and I caught the 2.22pm train to Falmer and were soon waking up to the Amex.
I met up with my pals and there was just enough time for a quick photo outside. I had no time to go through the nonsense of yet another tiresome bag search, so I blindsided my way in past two stewards whose gaze was elsewhere.
It was the textbook move of a devious and cunning “false nine.”
Anyway, I was in.
I soon made my way to my seat, tucked to the right-hand side of the goal this year. I half-expected the surroundings of the Amex to rekindle those sickly feelings of last winter, but I was just glad to be healthy, and rejuvenated after a few “diet Cokes” in the two pubs.
Mac – soon spotted by me in the lower tier of the surprisingly large three-tiered stand to my left – had hoped that there would be no booing of Potter by sections of the home fans. As far as I could tell, there wasn’t. In fact, it’s pretty hard to imagine the Brighton fans booing anyone, Crystal Palace apart. They are a gentle bunch.
The team line-ups were shown on the TV screens at either end of the stadium.
Chalobah – Silva – Cucarella
Pulisic – Kovacic – Loftus- Cheek – Sterling
Mount – Gallagher
Or something like that.
An Italian flag floated over the heads of those in the home end opposite, marking the arrival of their new manager Roberto de Zerbi.
“Sussex By The Sea” on the PA. Some rainbow-coloured flags were waved on another “Rainbow Laces” day.
“Hey Jude” was aired and we hijacked it once again.
We were dressed in the “muted beige” third kit for the first time and you have to wonder why. Brighton were wearing a jersey with very broad stripes, and it just didn’t look right, with an odd yellow trim. Last year they played in blue shorts. This year they were in white shorts. That lack of an adherence to an established kit would annoy me.
The game began.
Brighton were breezy. They came at us as if their lives depended on it, and perhaps they did. Thiago Silva miraculously headed away two goal-bound efforts from Leandro Trossard and then the wonderfully named Pervis Estupinan right underneath the cross-bar just a few yards away from us.
A couple of minutes later, they came at us again with Silva being pick-pocketed by Trossard. A neat pass inside by Kaoru Mitoma set up Trossard to round Kepa with some footwork that Fred Astaire would have been pleased with and slot the ball home. This was a real hammer blow. The home fans bellowed as I saw the scorer gurn undeniable pleasure.
It was all Brighton in that torrid first third of the first-half, and they enjoyed a fair few corners to augment their dominance. From one that was whipped in towards the near post, a Brighton player flicked it the ball on. Ruben Loftus-Cheek’s unfortunate knee-jerk reaction meant that the ball flew past a stranded Kepa.
The home stands were roaring again.
“You’re getting sacked in the morning.”
We had nowhere to hide.
I said to Gary “this could be a rout, this.”
At last, we enjoyed a spell of steadying the ship, with a little more possession. One fine move developed through the middle with Raheem Sterling setting up Conor Gallagher who shot directly at Robert Sanchez. His reaction save allowed the ball to fall for Christian Pulisic. However, he was unable to adjust and his volleyed effort flew past the near post.
The Chelsea support got it together in an effort to rally behind the team.
“Chelsea, Chelsea, Chelsea, Chelsea, Chelsea, Chelsea, Chelsea.”
But all was not well on the pitch. Marc Cucarella was having a torrid time, and the raids down the Brighton right were leaving him exposed time and time again. I wondered if he was the modern equivalent of Robert Fleck, playing well against us but not so great for us. But where was the cover? He was continually caught ought, but so too was Trevoh Chalobah by Estupinan down the Brighton left. I hadn’t seen our defence run ragged like this for ages.
But the shape seemed to be shapeless. From my far-from-ideal position in row two, it looked like the two appointed wing backs Sterling and Pulisic were never part of our defensive plan. Where were they?
They were so far forward in that opening spell that they might well have been promenading up and down on the Brighton seafront, and just about to dip into the Royal Pavilion. Or maybe having a flutter at the Brighton racecourse. Or re-enacting a few scenes from “Brighton Rock” or “Quadrophenia.” I can just see Pulisic as a bell-boy.
Had they been told to play so forward or were they too lazy to track back? It was a mystery. Answers on the back of a Donald McGill postcard.
Gallagher then glanced a header goal wards but Sanchez saved Brighton again. Then a Kai Havertz effort was tipped around the post.
Brighton hit a post.
Our play wasn’t worthy of the name at times.
“Is Mount playing” I asked Gary.
Just before half-time, we groaned as we witnessed a trademark break down our right with tons of space for Brighton to exploit. I leant forward to get a better view but wished I hadn’t. A low cross from Estupinan was drilled into the box where Chalobah slide to block but could only divert the ball past the hapless Kepa.
Absolute gloom at the break.
Gary : “I’ll take 3-0 now.”
Indeed, the real worry was of more goals to follow, a cricket-score. Back in the West Country, Frome Town were losing too, 1-3 down at half-time in a derby at Paulton Rovers.
I had spotted that when Kepa sprinted out for a long ball in the first period, he appeared to pull up as if he had sprained something. He did not appear for the second-half, with Edouard Mendy appearing between the sticks at the other end. We moved to a back four with Loftus-Cheek slotting in at right-back. I was reminded of a line from Eric Morecambe.
“We’ve got all the right players. But not necessarily in the right positions.”
Skippy from Brisbane – last seen on these shores at Middlesbrough, but recently in Salzburg – suddenly appeared behind me and I shook his hand.
Not long after I whispered to Gary “get a goal now and we’re back in this”, Gallagher – possibly the best of a poor lot in the first-half – sent over a teasing cross for Havertz to head home powerfully at the far post.
I turned to Skippy : “You’re not going anywhere. You’re a good luck charm.”
Our form definitely improved, with Mount a lot more involved, pushing the team one. A half-chance for Havertz.
Just after the hour, two changes.
Ben Chilwell for Cucarella.
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang for the utterly woeful Sterling.
The newly-introduced striker ran at the Brighton defence and shot low from the outside of the box but the ‘keeper was equal to it. Shots from Chilwell and Mount were easily dealt with. We kept pushing forward, but I was never convinced of any “Cardiff 1984” style comeback. Brighton were happy to defend and catch us on the break.
A Havertz shot was skied in front of us.
In the last ten minutes, two more changes.
Armando Broja for Pulisic.
Hakim Ziyech for Gallagher.
I looked over to my left and spotted my old pal Chopper from Greenwich Village in New York, veteran of many a trip to these shores to see us play. I hadn’t seen him for years.
The minutes clicked past and by now our away end resembled the arse-end of a wedding reception, with seats left empty and guests already on their way home, the best man speech long-forgotten, debris everywhere, people shuffling away with blank stares on their faces.
Up the other end, Mendy made a fine save to thwart Julio Encisco but Pascal Gross was on hand to tuck in the rebound.
Brighton 4 Chelsea 1.
Our ninth game in October had resulted in our first loss, and our first loss under Potter.
One over the eight had been too much for us; one game too many, too many beers at that wedding reception.
We slumped off home.
To complete a miserable afternoon of football, I checked my phone.
Paulton Rovers 3 Frome Town 2.
It was a long old trip home, but a short stop outside Shoreham for some food – “saveloy, chips and curry sauce please” – helped alleviate some of the doom and gloom.
I reached home at about 9.30pm.
Next up, a dead rubber game in the Champions league against Dinamo Zagreb, our position at the top of our group table already determined.
Into November we go.