Chelsea vs. Manchester City : 5 January 2023.
After the miserable performance at the City Ground, we were now due to play two games in four days against the current English Champions Manchester City. This would only be my second home game against these opponents since September 2017. In 2018/19, I missed the home match with City due to illness, and in the subsequent two campaigns, COVID forced both games to be played behind closed doors. Last season, I was able to watch as we narrowly lost 0-1 to City at Stamford Bridge.
We were in London early, arriving at our usual parking space on Mulgrave Road at 4.15pm. I had lots of time to kill before the 8pm kick-off. In that long period before the game, every Chelsea supporter that I spoke to was very subdued and wary. Everyone without exception said that they would be satisfied with a draw.
I filled the time until kick-off in a number of ways.
First up, a wander down to the stadium and a coffee in the hotel bar area, with a few chats with several familiar faces. I had spotted a queue of cars to get into the car park at Fulham Broadway; a very rare sight. On a day when trains to London were hit with strikes, many more than usual would be driving in like us. I then spent a few minutes outside, clicking away with my camera to try to capture a few different match day sights at the main gates. But I needed sustenance, so meandered down the Fulham Road, stopping off for a quick chat with Steve at the programme stall. Further down, I peered into the offices of an estate agent’s as I walked on. This is where “The George” used to be; our local from around 1985 to 1987, but this sadly ceased being a pub ages ago. My mind flew back in time. It’s where Glenn and I used to meet the Somerset Supporters Club; Neil, Baz, Rob, Swan, Terry and company. It’s another pub that is now consigned to the history books. Those clean white walls of the estate agents know nothing of the laughs we had in that back bar.
There was a surprise meet up with Marco way down the Fulham Road as he made his way up to the CFCUK stall. I eventually stumbled across a previously unvisited Sicilian café where I plotted up for half-an-hour. “Simmons” is now unfancied for midweek games, so I made my way to “The Mitre” for the first time in many a year where we hoped to meet the usual suspects. I bumped into Neil Barnett as I turned a corner to walk up the North End Road and we chatted for a while about the current malaise. He too feared the worst against City. Why wouldn’t he?
In “The Mitre”, I spotted Parky, but none of the other usual lads who we used to meet in “Simmons”. We’d later learn they had been drinking in “The Cock”. Not to worry, Leigh and Darren were in “The Mitre” with some of the lads we had been drinking with in Salzburg. No positive vibes from any of them either.
I was in early, way early, at about 7.15pm. It was a surprisingly mild night. My Barbour jacket was too warm but I could hardly jettison it. PD was in early too.
With half an hour to go, Depeche Mode were on the pre-match play-list.
“Just Can’t Get Enough.”
Could I get enough of Chelsea? Probably not. I could probably get enough of City over the next few days though.
There was a quick chat with Oxford Frank behind me. More negative vibes.
Amid all of this, time for a further dose of misery; 1982/83 is calling.
On Monday 3 January 1983, a bank holiday, Chelsea travelled to Filbert Street to play Leicester City in a Second Division match. We lost 3-0, and it would have come as no surprise to me. I was undoubtedly preparing myself for a tough 1983, and this was not all Chelsea-based. I was really struggling with my “A Levels” and the exams in June loomed heavily on my mind. There were a few interviews at various polytechnics to endure as spring approached and I just thought that this would be an absolute exercise in futility. I knew damn well, even in January, that my grades would not be good enough. A helping hand from Chelsea Football Club to get me through this depressing period was needed. Alas, my beloved team were performing as well as me. Two goals from Gary Lineker and one from Alan Smith, in front of a decent-enough gate of 13,745, gave Chelsea our second away defeat in three days.
Oh the joys.
What with the train strike, I half-expected a fair few unfilled seats, especially in the away section, but this was another near capacity crowd at Chelsea.
Graham Potter chose these players against City.
Dave – Koulibaly – Silva – Cucarella
Kovacic – Zakaria
Ziyech – Sterling – Pulisic
Jorginho wasn’t playing. That would have pleased Neil Barnett. Kovacic was. That wouldn’t.
City, and it does not always happen, were wearing their sky blue home kits. It’s a decent look this year. Blue, white, blue, with that maroon trim from old. However, both the names and numbers were almost unreadable. Nathan Ake’s arse has doubled in size since the last time I saw him; it is now the size of Audenshaw and Droylesden.
We remembered Edson Arantes do Nascimento before the game.
The match began.
There were mutterings about Raheem Sterling putting one over his former team mates, but this fantastical notion was obliterated in the first five minutes when he went down after a challenge by John Stones. He was replaced by the gloved crusader Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.
We prepared to be underwhelmed.
With each passing minute, I thought three things.
- We are playing alright here.
- We haven’t conceded a goal.
- Has Erling Haaland touched the ball yet?
Indeed, we were playing alright. There were a number of decent passing moves on both flanks, but with no finishing touch. One pleasing move down our right on a quarter of an hour resulted in a decent low ball in to the danger zone from Dave but all of our attacking players had been busy in the right-hand side of the pitch setting the move up, and there was no predator waiting to finish the move off.
There was a reasonable amount of noise from the home areas but nothing to get the pulses racing nor the stands shaking. Such is life in modern football, eh?
“Has Haaland touched the ball yet, Clive?”
Halfway through the first-half, not only no goals but we were just about edging it.
However, another enforced change.
Carney Chukwuemeka for the perennially crocked Christian Pulisic.
The young substitute immediately impressed, and there was a nice edge to our midfield with Kovacic and Zakaria both influencing our play. I certainly didn’t miss the “touch, look, swivel, look, pass” from Jorginho one little bit.
“CAM ON CHOWLSEA, CAM ON CHOWLSEA, CAM ON CHOWLSEA, CAM ON CHOWLSEA.”
A shot from Carney was blocked, and a shot from Ziyech. Ederson, dressed in head to toe in tattoos and purple, tights and all, managed to get down low to save the latter.
There were times when Ziyech, an outcast on the right, was under-used and it frustrated me.
“It’s gotta go quicker, Chels.”
Haaland was quiet, and as the game reached the final ten minutes of a decent half, the surprising sight of Kalidou Koulibaly out-muscling the Norwegian when the poacher was in on goal was magnificent. The Matthew Harding cheered this and I’d hope the defender grew from the affection. His Chelsea career has been tough thus far.
Thiago Silva was putting in another fine performance.
The under-fire left back Marc Cucarella was struggling at times, though, and some of his positioning as he marked his player was truly awful. On a few occasions, he was so unbalanced that he was easily side-stepped. But generally speaking, both Phil Foden and Kevin de Bruyne were subdued.
At last, Cucarella made a fine tackle just outside our box.
“Well done, Crystal Tipps” bellowed Rousey.
The first-half finished with a flurry, despite Chelsea being a little reticent to fully commit.
“We just don’t flood the box, Al.”
An effort from Haaland flew over. Phew.
On forty-three minutes, a fine move resulted in Carney crashing a low drive against a post, with The Illustrated Man well beaten. From here, a rapid break towards us in the Matthew Harding with our combined buttocks clenching with each yard gained. Thankfully, Kepa was equal to a rasper from De Bruyne. It was the best minute of football during the entire half.
I thought our performance was measured and controlled, not leaving us exposed and open to getting ripped apart again, despite the wishes of the away end.
I was more than content at the break.
“Not roaring though is it Clive?”
The atmosphere, to be truthful, was shite.
When the second-half began it was all City in the forty-sixth minute, the forty-seventh minute, the forty-eighth minute, etcetera.
Haaland went close soon into the half. Ake crashed a header against the Shed End bar, with a team mate behind him for extra support should he miss-time his header. Then a fine save from Kepa when De Bruyne shot at goal.
After Carney did well to retrieve a loose ball from a Chelsea corner, the ball sat up nicely for Silva but his zipped shot narrowly missed the far post down below us all.
I stood up, swore, and held my head in my hands instinctively, while turning to my left and looking back at my fellow supporters in the MHU. It is something I do without thinking on many occasions. It’s my body’s way of telling the world “damn, that was so close, eh?”
It dismayed me no end to see virtually every single spectator still sat.
It’s gone. Our support has gone. Where’s the fucking emotion? Where’s the fucking involvement?
Forays by us into the City defence were rarer now though, and on the hour, a double substitution was ominous. On came Jack Grealish and Riyad Mahrez.
Within five minutes, catastrophe.
My commentary to myself, and Clive if he was listening, was this :
“he’ll move it again…I hate these balls in…there you go.”
It was easy as 1,2,3, A, B, C, do-re-mi.
Grealish, in space, a low ball, Mahrez at the back stick.
Others will have had a better view, with the portioning of blame no doubt, but it was just too far away for me to comment.
At that moment, the conceding of that one goal, I just knew we would be up against it. Even an equaliser seemed implausible.
The previously quiet City contingent roared.
“City. Tearing Cockneys apart again.”
- We ain’t Cockneys. Keep that song for when you play United, eh?
- That’s based on a United song about Ryan Giggs. You’re better than that.
Graham didn’t potter about. His reaction was swift.
Conor Gallagher for Ziyech.
Lewis Hall for Crystal Tipps.
And a Chelsea debut for Omari Hutchinson, on for the substitute Abameyang.
Omari is the latest in a line of Chelsea Hutchinsons.
I hope he is a better footballer than Colin.
The introduction of the substitutes energised the support and for one exact moment it sounded, at bloody last, like a football match.
“CAM ON CHOWLSEA, CAM ON CHOWLSEA, CAM ON CHOWLSEA, CAM ON CHOWLSEA.”
In truth, the debutant Hutchinson looked nervous and played easy ball after easy ball. Gallagher was so full of energy that he almost exploded. Hall fitted in supremely well on the left.
On seventy-two minutes, a rapid cross from De Bruyne from the right flashed across the box, missing everyone, but also the lunge from Haaland with the whole goal gaping in front of him. I had witnessed a miracle.
There was a looping header from Havertz just after, but this was easily saved by Lilac Larry in the City goal. An effort from Kovacic fizzed over. Very late on,Hall blasted over from a bursting run down in front of us.
It wasn’t to be.
It ended 0-1, as did the City games that I saw live in 2017/18 and 2021/22.
On the drive home, I saw that Peter Rhoades-Brown had been back at Chelsea for the night’s game. These days, he is heavily involved in some community and corporate work for his home town team Oxford United for whom he played after leaving us. I mention this because he played in the 1982/83 featured game at Leicester.
We were philosophical. We had played much better than most had expected. City, to be blunt, had been relatively poor, the worst I had seen from them at Chelsea for a while. We all know we are a team in transition, a club in transition too. There is no doubt that the knives are out for Graham Potter within some sections of the support. That’s not a surprise.
I eventually reached home at 1.30am.
On Sunday, the same two teams meet in deepest Manchester.
7,500 Chelsea are going.
See you there.