Tales From The Road To Nowhere

Manchester City vs. Chelsea : 24 February 2012.

There is little virtue to be gained in wrapping this up in fanciful words; this was not enjoyable.

From the moment that I stepped out of my house on a cold Sunday morning at 8am until I returned twelve hours later, there is little that I will remember with much satisfaction or pleasure from this excursion to Manchester. Let’s be honest, though; did we really expect anything different? Even though Manchester City had been playing at a standard well below their Championship form of the previous season, they still represented one of our toughest assignments of the campaign. Additionally, our recent run hadn’t inspired me. Allied to the fact that our three most recent trips to City’s home stadium had resulted in three losses, this was always going to be a tough match.

The English Champions vs. the European Champions.

On another day, in another year, maybe we would have all been a bit more excited. In truth, with Manchester United walking away with the title this year, I suspected that the City fans – with their team out of the Champions League too – were as under the weather as us.

Outside, there was greyness. The sky was overcast. The temperatures were cold.

Manchester – here I come.

I texted Alan, on his way north in one of the official Chelsea coaches, to tell him that I was on the road.

8.05am – “Jack Duckworth.”

He replied that he was having the first of the “pit stops” of the day.

8.09am – “Murray Walker.”

The music on my solo trip north consisted of Cocteau Twins, Stiff Little Fingers and Elvis Costello. I usually tend to enjoy my own company on these long trips north – with my mind wandering about upcoming games and plans for the future – but on this occasion the grim aura surrounding Chelsea Football Club made this a fitful trip up the M5 and M6. A McBreakfast at Strensham was a nice distraction, but the road was relentless. I notified Alan of my progress with a couple of ‘seventies references –

10.19am – “Len Cantello.”

10.47am – “Mike Pejic.”

And then a message from Alan which stumped me.

“Talking Heads.”

Maybe he was referencing “Road to nowhere” but, although this might well sum up our league campaign, I wasn’t sure that Manchester was exactly “nowhere.” Surely it was “somewhere.” I mulled over what he could have meant.

Eventually, I had a more lucid response.

11.12am – “And Pace.”

On the M56, I spotted the sign for Hale. I was 17 minutes behind him. I repeated his message back to him.

11.29am – “And Pace.”

I wound my way anti-clockwise around the Manchester orbital and underneath the massive red-brick arches of the railway bridge at Stockport, the town where Chelsea played its first ever league game in 1905. Then, I edged along the slow approach to the City stadium along Droylesden Road which then became Ashton New Road. I passed through Clayton, which was once home to Manchester United from 1893 to 1910 after they vacated their first home in Newton Heath, a mile or so to the north. City’s first stadium in Ardwick was located a mile to the south of their current home. A football version of musical chairs happened in Manchester in the formative years of both clubs, with both United and City heading west from their original stadia. Until 2002, Old Trafford and Maine Road were only three miles apart. Old Trafford and the Etihad Stadium, at either side of the busy Manchester city centre, are five miles apart. On the pitch, they are as close as they have been since 1978-1979.

There had been a change to the immediate surroundings of City’s new pad since my last visit. Trams were now installed and running into the City stadium along Ashton New Road. There were echoes of a distant era. With red brick houses lining the streets, I almost expected the stick-like figures of a Lowry painting to make an appearance. I parked up and braced myself as the cold wind attacked from all four directions.

Just like only a mother being able to love her errant child, only a native Mancunian could muster any love for the city on a day such as this.

On the short walk to the stadium, with my hands stuffed into my coat pockets, I saw evidence of City’s new-found ambition. The new Manchester City academy is being constructed a few hundred yards away from the Etihad. Once completed, I think that their current training facility at Carrington – only half a mile from United’s – will return home to Eastlands. Sheik Mansoor is clearly investing for the future. City will be a main player for the considerable future. The shambling joke of the Manchester City of the Peter Swales and Taksin Shinawatra eras are now quite distant memories.

I bumped into a few mates outside the stadium. The mood was typically glum. Everyone that I spoke to was of the same opinion.

“I’ll take a draw now.”

Rather than head inside, I took a walk around the stadium for the first-ever time. There are six San Siro style spiral staircases which allow supporters to reach the upper tiers and the sweeping roof is supported by towering pylons. It’s a relatively stylish stadium from the outside. As is the case these days, every square inch of its façade is now adorned with pictures of previous players and games. There are two “timelines.” One starts from the north stand and tells the story in pictures of the 2012 League Championship from the “Why Always Me?” game at Old Trafford in October to the Sergio Aguerro moment at the Etihad in May. The other starts at the south end and tells the story of the club through pictures and historic facts. However, there are club slogans on the spirals too. The overall effect, in my mind, is of a stadium decorated like a Christmas tree, with simply “too much” going on.

I walked past some food stalls and souvenir stands until I came across the “fan zone.” A couple of supporters were being grilled on a few City questions in order to win prizes.

“What does the motto ‘Superbia in Proelio’ mean?”

I suggested “pie and chips” as I walked past.

On the way in to the stadium, I had a quick word with the young turnstile assistant as I scanned my ticket.

“Congratulations on the championship last season.”

The young lad looked a bit sheepish and pulled a face.

“I’m United, mate.”

I smiled.

“Oh, what can I say mate? Happy days.”

While I slowly slurped at a pint of Heineken, Frank Sinclair brushed past. New York and Philadelphia seemed a long time ago. He recently took control of Conference North side Colwyn Bay. It was good to see him among the three thousand away fans. I chatted to a few friends, almost dreading the moment when it was time to go inside the seating bowl. I spoke to a new acquaintance Tim (literally a friend of a friend of a friend) about the Europa League and how our minds’ are attempting to cope with it all. We have, as I have said so often before, become a rather spoilt set of supporters over these past few years. Way back in 1992, we would have sold our first born in order to see the team in Europe. These days, I get the impression that anything other than the Champions League leaves us confused and underwhelmed. Just before kick-off, it was time to go inside. Again, the away season ticket holders were in the upper tier. There were, however, a few empty seats away to my left. The view from the seats is excellent at Manchester City. The upper deck floats high above the lower deck, where Tuna from Atlanta was watching from the very front row.

Above, the low clouds meant that the winter sun hardly broke through. Everyone was wrapped up in warm jackets and coats. Woollen hats were everywhere. It was bitter.

The performance by the Chelsea team hardly warmed us up.

It was clear from the earliest exchanges that this was going to be a tough game. However, during that barren first-half our luck held. Despite Manchester City’s better movement and a variety of chances, our defence managed to repel their shots on goal. Frankly, I was amazed at how quiet the home crowd were. The City support, like us, was clearly under the weather and feeling the pain of, once again, being second-class citizens in the city of Manchester. The atmosphere was ridiculously flat. There were hardly any positives to come from our play in the first forty-five minutes. That said, despite City’s ascendency, this wasn’t a classic display by the champions.

Gary commented “it’s a sad thing if these are the second and third best teams this season.” And I had to agree with that. It hasn’t been a classic campaign and both City and ourselves have underperformed. Although Eden Hazard showed the desire amount of application and skill, elsewhere our football simply did not flow. Ramires, out wide, wasn’t enjoying his best game and David Luiz, back in the centre of the defence, was drawing groans and moans from the away support as he lost possession and gave the City attack too much space. Gary Cahill was playing well, making timely challenges and blocks, but the truth was that the majority of City’s shots were either off target or aimed directly at Petr Cech. At the break, we could easily have been 2-0 down. Demba Ba, recalled for the woeful Torres, was hardly involved in the first-half. He looked a forlorn and solitary figure as he toiled away upfront.

I had visions of him pleading to his team mates, in a personal homage to The Smiths –

“Find me. Find me and nothing more.”

We enjoyed our best period of the entire game during the first five minutes of the second period. A pass from deep from Ivanovic, who had been given a torrid time by City’s movement in the first half, found Demba Ba in a central position. He touched the ball past Joe Hart – a virtual spectator thus far – and the England ‘keeper clattered into him. With no hesitation, the referee pointed to the penalty spot. I raced down to the balcony overlooking the lower tier and settled myself in order to photograph Frank Lampard’s 200th. Chelsea goal.

Frank struck the ball. I snapped. Hart quickly moved to his right and palmed the ball away. The Chelsea section groaned as Juan Mata was unable to follow up.

With increasing frustration from the Chelsea fans – in terms of positive support for the team, the quietest for ages – City took a stranglehold on the game. Yaya Toure, he with the arse the size of Botswana, neatly forced his way past Mikel and curled a perfect shot past Cech. Mikel had been one of our better players, but had sold himself too easily. At last, the City fans made some noise.

Our one chance of note involved Ivanovic playing in Ramires, one on one with Hart, but he decided against striking early and the three chasing City defenders were able to cover. Benitez, to everyone’s annoyance replaced Hazard, when our vote would have been Ramires. Lampard, not enjoying his best games, was also substituted. Victor Moses and Oscar looked out of their depth when they entered the game. Torres replaced Mikel – another of our better players – and we momentarily played with two upfront. Benitez, already receiving the ire of Chelsea supporters everywhere by leaving John Terry on the bench, caused yet more consternation. I would like to class myself as one of Chelsea’s more level-headed supporters and even I can’t stand Benitez. I feel sick just looking at him on the touchline.

Our day was ruined when City scored a second with Carlos Tevez drilling the ball past Cech after a good pull back. I was right behind the shot and said “goal” as soon as it left his boot. How I never left the stadium then, I will never know. I waited for five more minutes. As the PA announcer told us of “four minutes of extra time”, I was off.

The four hour drive home was hard work. As I approached Keele Services, I was suddenly overcome with crazy tiredness. My eyes were heavy and I called in for some refreshments. On the radio, I heard that Swansea City had demolished Bradford City in the League Cup Final. Listening to the erudite and courteous Laudrup speak about the game, my mind flickered into life with thoughts of him being our next manager.

And then I thought; “no, why would he bother with all of this nonsense?”

On the CD, the Buzzcocks were singing.

“Everybody’s Happy Nowadays.”

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oNCTD185opo

I wouldn’t be so sure about that.

IMG_8339

Tales From An American Away Day

MLS All-Stars vs. Chelsea : 25 July 2012.

It was game day in Philadelphia.

The Chelsea faithful had traveled down by buses, trains and automobiles from New York and were awaiting the third game of the US 2012 Tour. After the rather average performance by the team against Paris St. Germain, we were all hoping for a better showing against the MLS team in the All-Star game in nearby Chester, a small town to the south, which plays host to the Philadelphia Union team. All of us were adamant that the patchy support at Yankee Stadium would be trumped by some loud and loyal singing from the cramped corner segment of PPL Park, too. In this scenario, less would definitely be more. There would be more passionate fans in a tighter area. It just had to be a winner. It was a theme that resounded throughout meetings with fellow fans in Philly.

However, NYC was still on my mind; my troubled mind. Personally, I was still trying to get to grips with what I had witnessed in NYC. I had seen Chelsea play in Yankee Stadium and yet I was somewhat unsure of the whole experience. To be truthful – and I always knew this – I was still missing old Yankee Stadium. Sure, the record books will show that Chelsea played at the shining new edifice in the South Bronx, but deep down I was struggling to rationalise the reasons why I felt it was so odd to be a spectator in the new place.

I guess the facts speak for themselves. Between May 1990 and June 2008, I had seen 23 Yankee games in old Yankee stadium. Those memories will never be erased. The Mattingly home run in my first-ever game, a couple of magnificent wins against Boston, the first ever Yankees vs. Mets series in 1997, a David Cone master class, a Jorge Posada grand slam…Paul O’Neil, Wade Boggs, Bernie Williams, Tino Martinez…Derek Jeter…Mariano Rivera.

I am so grateful that I chose the Yankees as my team because I truly felt at home in the tight passageways beneath the towering upper deck of that historic ballpark on River Avenue. The place will always be with me. I guess it was typical New York; grimy, claustrophic, rowdy, monumental.

The new stadium just doesn’t thrill me in the same way.

So, there was all that floating around inside my addled head. For a day or so, I was also rueing the fact that I never really had the chance to say a proper farewell to Roma, Vanessa and Shawn. The plan was for them to meet us down at Legends after the game, but they got caught behind some horrendous traffic and so decided to head up to Roma’s brother’s house in Massachusetts instead as time was moving on. There would be no hugs for them all. It left me a little sad.

However, after the adrenalin-filled action of NYC, Philadelphia was proving to be much more relaxing. The four of us were certainly enjoying our fantastic apartment right on Benjamin Franklin Parkway. From our balcony, we could see the Rocky Steps to our left and the City Hall to our right. The apartment was so big that we had to text each other to communicate. The bedroom had a different zip code to the kitchen. The rooftop pool was a fantastic extra. Philadelphia was superb.

This was my fifth visit to the City of Brotherly Love and I joked that it was “typical Chelsea” that I keep getting pulled back to the same cities in the US as the team does during European competitions; how many times have we visited Porto, Valencia, Rome and Marseille?

Although I would class NYC as my favourite US city, Philly is rapidly becoming a bit of an obsession. I mentioned to a few Chelsea fans that my great great grandparents lived in the city in the middle of the nineteenth century – after getting shipwrecked off the coast of Newfoundland – before returning back to England. My great grandmother was born in England, but at least one of her siblings was born in America. My personal knowledge of this slice of my past is rather sketchy, but my mother always wanted to visit Philadelphia on the back of this story. So, in 2010, my mother and I spent a very memorable week in the city. It is a week I will never forget. On several occasions, I trembled when I realised that Benjamin and Barbara White may have walked the same steps in the 1850’s.

In 2012, Philly was treating me well.

On the Monday, Captain Jack had taken a half-day off work to show a few of us around his adopted city; it was a marvellous walk through a few blocks of the historic centre, ending up with a cheese steak at the legendary “Jim’s” on South Street. This was followed by an equally wonderful visit to see the Phillies defeat Milwaukee 7-6. The others were feeling tired and headed home when the home team were 6-3 down, but I stayed the course and was rewarded with four runs in the bottom of the ninth. This was my fourth Philly game in the city and although the Yanks are my team, I did let my mind wander a little and wonder if I should really have chosen the red of Philly over the navy of the Bronx in lieu of my own personal history.

Nah, what am I thinking?

Everyone knows that Randolph Axon once lived in a little tenement off Grand Concourse in the Bronx in the first few years of the last century.

“I hadda come back to England see. Da police were on my tail and I hadda run.”

Good old uncle Randolph.

On the Tuesday – a really lazy day – we were lucky enough to meet some of the players as they boarded the coach for a practice session outside the Ritz-Carlton Hotel, overlooking the City Hall.

We were memorably tipped-off about the players’ hotel on the Monday when we were returning to our hotel. A cab slowed down and none other than Andy Wray shouted over to us. His first words were not about Chelsea, though. Typical Andy; he pointed to a nearby restaurant and shouted –

“That place does great food.”

Welcome to Philly!

Our good fortune in meeting the players reminded me so much of my time in Chicago in 2006. I still rate this as my favourite CFC trip to the US, despite our 1-0 defeat and despite it being the only game of the trip. It was, quite simply, a perfect few days in the Windy City. On the very first night, myself, Roma – plus her daughters Vanessa and Jenny – and my mate Chris met virtually all the Chelsea players outside the team hotel, no more than 300 yards from our hotel just off Magnificent Mile.

On this trip, however, I became more integrated with the fans from America. During my two previous trips – 2004 in Pittsburgh, in 2005 in DC and NYC – we mainly kept to ourselves.

In 2006, though, the floodgates opened and I was lucky enough to meet many US-based fans. Since then, my Chelsea life has taken a wonderful – unplanned – route all of its own.

I’m just so grateful.

After spending a few hours in “Tir Na Nog” on the Tuesday evening – nice and easy, meeting a few new Chelsea fans – we retired to the pub which was part of the same building as our apartment. We were relaxing outside on the pavement, having a bite to eat, supping some ales, when a taxi cab pulled up outside the bar. A chap exited the cab with a couple of friends and I immediately remembered him from a post-baseball game pint the previous night. I had remarked that he was a doppelganger for Carlo Ancelotti. On this occasion, we couldn’t let the moment pass.

As he approached the bar, I started chanting

“Carlo! Carlo! Carlo!”

This elicited further song from The Bobster, Lottinho, Speedy, Jeremy “Army Of One” Willard from Kansas, plus Shawn and Nick from the Boston Blues –

“Carlo, Carlo, Carlo.
King Carlo Has Won The Double.
And The 5hit From The Lane.
Have Won Fcuk All Again.
King Carlo Has Won The Double.

2, 3, 4

Carlo, Carlo, Carlo.
King Carlo Has Won The Double.
And The 5hit From The Lane.
Have Won Fcuk All Again.
King Carlo Has Won The Double.

2, 3, 4

Carlo, Carlo, Carlo.
King Carlo Has Won The Double.
And The 5hit From The Lane.
Have Won Fcuk All Again.
King Carlo Has Won The Double.”

We were roaring with laughter and “Carlo” approached us with an increasingly bemused look on his face. I explained to him about his uncanny resemblance to Carlo and guess what? He was a Scouser.

To be fair to him, he took it all in great spirits and even posed for photographs with us. He said he had been mistaken for Jay Leno the previous night.

As one, all of our left eyebrows arched in disbelief.

By the way, the look on the faces of the other customers at the tables was priceless.

I felt like saying – “yeah, we serenade random strangers all the time back in England.”

We were still laughing about this incident when we arose from our slumber on the Wednesday. We had no real plans for the day, but I soon received a text from Steve Mantle about walking over to the Rocky Steps with the four official Chelsea banners in order for photographs to be taken.

Now, that sounded like a magnificent idea.

Despite the sun bearing down on us, we assembled at Tir Na Nog and set off.

I had previously run up the steps at the Philadelphia Museum of Art in 2008 – it is surely the most important thing that anyone must do in Philadelphia – and so I knew what to expect. The steps were perfect for a photograph. I stood at the base and conducted the proceedings. We elicited the assistance of a few willing tourists and I shouted instructions from below.

With everyone in place, I snapped away like a fool, knowing full well that Chelsea would be using some of the photographs in an upcoming magazine or programme. We created a bit of a scene to be honest and I guess it is the nearest I’ll ever get to being part of a flash mob.

We engaged in conversations with a few fellow fans and met a young lad wearing a Frank Lampard shirt who would be taking part in the on-game ceremonies later that day at the game.

In truth, the twenty minutes we spent under the baking sun at the Rocky Steps were one of the highlights of the whole trip.

And, no – I didn’t run to the top of the flights of steps and yell

“Yo Adrian Mutu.”

I changed into my 1989 Chelsea shirt and met up with the Chelsea faithful in Tir Na Nog at just after 5pm. Amongst the mass of blue, I was very pleased to be able to meet Captain Jack’s family; his wife Teri and their three lovely daughters called in to say “hi” and I was able to start the slow but thorough dialogue with Teri which will eventually lead to Captain Jack being allowed across the ocean to see Chelsea play at The Bridge.

In fact, there is a humorous sub story here. Teri once lived in South Kensington for a short amount of time – way back when Chelsea were mere mortals – and has actually stepped foot inside Stamford Bridge.

Come on Teri – let Steve at least even the score.

I then did a very silly thing.

I did a “Zigger Zagger” and scared the three girls to death.

I had a very quick word with Frank Sinclair and I thanked him for his kind comments about my performance on the five-a-side pitch in New York. He seemed to be enjoying himself on the tour. I can pay him no bigger a compliment than this; when we used to call in on Ron Harris in the ‘nineties, Frank was always a player who Ron rated. Frank was maybe not the most skilful, but a player who always tried his hardest. A player of guts and determination.

Good one, Frank.

As I wandered around the pub, bumping into a few old friends – and a few new ones – I noticed some Chelsea fans not joining in with the songs. I secretly tut-tutted to myself and hoped for solidarity later on that evening. It would be no time for shyness or indifference.

At 6pm, we were told to board the fleet of four yellow school buses which had assembled in the little side street outside the pub.

Another surreal experience, another typically American moment, another memory for me to take away with me.

Yellow school buses.

How quintessentially American. How hugely untypically Chelsea.

School buses.

The sight of us piling into the yellow vehicles still brings a smile to my face.

We were allowed to drink beer on the 45 minute journey to PPL Park. As the four buses roared along I-95, and then got caught in commuter traffic, and then raced each other, with fans gesticulating wildly at each other, with the skyscrapers of downtown Philadelphia in the background, it was a wonderful moment.

Why can’t all Chelsea away games be like this, full of excited fans, smiling faces, with none of the surliness shown by sections of our usual support?

The beer was going down well and the songs were roaring. We had two Seattle Sounders fans on our bus and they led the way; others followed. Speedy was in good form and I followed with a few old favourites. There is nothing like a beer to keep your throat well-oiled. I chatted to a few new faces and thoroughly enjoyed myself.

In fact, I didn’t really want the journey to end.

We were eventually dropped off way past the stadium. Beth was far from pleased and I could understand her displeasure. Out in the bright evening sun, I soon chanced upon a few familiar faces that were having a little all-American tailgate. Beers were handed out and we even had a little kick-about. Tim from Philly, Mike from New York, Matthew from New York wearing a vintage NASL Memphis Rogues T-shirt.

At the baseball game on the Monday, I had chosen to wear a Philadelphia Fury shirt in honour of the great Peter Osgood who played for them during the summer of 1978.

The time was moving on. Away in the distance, the stadium looked a picture. Beyond, the Commodore Barry Bridge – again, so typically American – was proving to be just as magnificent.

By this time, my head was buzzing, but I knew I had to get inside the stadium in order to get a share of some the pre-match atmosphere. I was also concerned about getting a fair share of photographs.

I began the long walk to PPL Park, with the sun just starting to set to the west. By now, I had lost contact with everyone and was – ahem – walking alone. At the pub, I had met a Chelsea fan who was wearing a bona fide shirt from 1991 – Commodore – and I met another one just outside the stadium.

I had a little banter with a few Union fans; friendly, in the main.

I did wonder, though, why so many fans were wearing scarves.

In July.

It seems that the US “soccer” fan base has clearly decided that a scarf is the de facto mark of football subculture, whereas – in reality – very few regulars wear scarves at Chelsea.

Discuss.

I bumped into Kev outside. Kev sits no more than eight seats away from me at Chelsea and we have been keeping each other updated with stories and rumours of this 2012 tour for what seems like an eternity.

Now, we were both there in the flesh.

Brilliant.

I was amongst friends in the Chelsea section at PPL Park. We were positioned at the top of the terrace. A few yards to my right were Funchficker and Mrs. Funchficker, Lottinho, The Bobster, Captain Jack and Speedy. Alongside me was Rey, from Los Angeles, and I was so pleased to see him again. Behind – a real surprise – was Mike Dutter and I haven’t seen him for ages. Phil was there with the Iowa Blues. Beyond – the OC Hoolifans, Mike Price at only his second ever Chelsea game, the Boston Boys…everyone together, everyone well-oiled and up for it. In front, Mark Coden – like me, an ever present on all of these recent Chelsea tours to the US.

The game against the MLS All-Stars would be my eleventh such game.

I had taken several photographs of the bridge on my approach to the 19,000 capacity stadium but was rather annoyed that its iconic steelwork was out of sight, just beyond the stand to my left. I had admired the way that the roof of this stand seemed to extend out to the bridge.

Above, the sky was slowly turning a deep blue. The moon was strikingly clear above the stand to my right.

The Chelsea fans around me were standing.

And we were clearly in good voice.

The stage was set.

The spectators were urged to take part in a two-part “stunt” but I had neither the time nor the energy for it. I believe the words “Chelsea” were visible on cards held aloft by the fans in the stand to my right, but the moment was lost to be honest.

Secondly, the colours of the American flag were visible.

The entrance of the teams.

Fireworks.

My head was still buzzing and I still needed to concentrate on getting some photographs.

Click, click,click.

The game against the MLS All-Stars in Chester, Pennsylvania will be remembered by those Chelsea fans present not for the performance of the players, nor the result, but for the constant singing, chanting and commotion created by the 1,200 fans present.

We stood the entire game and we sung the entire game.

Steve-O set the tone early on with a trademark “Zigger Zagger” and the chanting continued throughout the match. This was just what we had hoped; that the closeness of everyone would produce a subsection of PPL Park akin to an away terrace at Blackburn, Everton, West Ham or Tottenham.

I noted one chant which was new to me –

“You Play Soccer. We Play Football.”

I liked that. A little jab at the MLS hierarchy. Keep ‘em on their toes.

All the Chelsea classics were aired; too numerous to mention. I’m sure everyone has their own particular favourites.

Over to you.

Halfway through the first-half, I absolutely loved the roll-call which was started by the usual suspects to my right.

For Mary-Anne and Paul –

“Tennessee, Tennessee, Tennessee.”

For the Funchfickers –

“Ohio, Ohio, Ohio.”

For Lottinho, Dennis and Detroit Bob –

“Michigan, Michigan, Michigan.”

And for little old me –

“Somerset, Somerset, Somerset.”

Lottinho then pointed at Dennis –

“Puerto Rico.”

Out on the pitch, I will admit to being thrilled to see David Beckham play one last time, way out on the right in a rather withdrawn position. I have a lovely shot of him joking with John Terry.

The MLS team went a goal up through a Wondolowski effort from close in, only for John Terry to rise high and head home from a corner.

At the break, I rushed down to buy a beer, a hot dog and a match programme. The beer did its job because soon into the second half, I let rip with another “Zigger Zagger.” I was elated to hear the thunderous response to each guttural yelp. However, I knew I was reaching the end of my capabilities when I reached the closing moments.

“Ziiiiiiiiiger” (Oh God – I have to do a big ending here.)

“OI.”

“Zaaaaaaaaager” (Oh God – I’m barely going to be able to make this.)

“OI”

(Here we fcuking go – in for a penny, in for a pound.”

“ZIGGER ZAGGER, ZIGGER ZAGGER” (…only just!)

“OI OI OI.”

A nice tap in from Frank Lampard gave us a 2-1 lead, but – much to our annoyance and disbelief – the MLS team not only equalised through Pontius but scored the winner in the “nth” minute of extra time with a ridiculous looped shot from Eddie Johnson which ricocheted off David Luiz’ leg and into an empty goal with Ross Turnbull beaten.

We were not deflated, though. We kept singing till the end.

It was a proud night in Pennsylvania.

If the long walk back to the bus wasn’t tiresome enough, we were then kept waiting for all buses to depart. Canners was on my bus back and I leaned towards him and said –

“Fcuking hell Paul. I saw your Stamford Bridge debut thirty years ago and now, here we are, on a school bus in Philadelphia.”

From the sublime to the ridiculous.

It was a quiet bus ride back to Philly.

Throughout the evening, Roma’s daughter Vanessa had texted me a few times to see what time we would be getting back into town. It seemed that they were halting their long drive back to North Carolina especially to call in to see me in Philadelphia. I gave them instructions of how to reach Tir Na Nog, but I wasn’t sure if they could delay their drive home for long.

I quickly darted back to the apartment to drop off a few things and made my way to the pub.

I was in mid-text to Vanessa when I looked up to see the three of them walking towards me.

Ah, that cheered me up no end.

With typical disregard for authority, Vanessa had simply parked her car right on Benjamin Franklin Parkway, right underneath a sign which plainly said “no parking.”

Now that, my friends, is Proper Chelsea.

They, of course, were horrified to hear that Chelsea had lost.

“Yep, we always lose to the MLS All-Stars. I don’t think we’d better play them again.”

We returned to Tir Na Nog and met up with the usual suspects once more. The mood among my Chelsea mates was defiant. We all agreed that the singing and the atmosphere amongst the “away” fans had been magnificent. I was certainly full of praise, if not full of voice.

I was croaking again.

The time was moving one. It was past 1am. I knew that the night wouldn’t last forever. With real sadness, I said my goodbyes to Roma, Vanessa and Shawn. This was the first time that I had met Shawn and I wanted to have a little moment with him. I crouched down and babbled out something like –

“Shawn – it has been so good to see you. It was great to see you in New York. And it has been even better to see you tonight. You’re a lucky boy. You have a great mother and a great sister. And you’ve seen Chelsea play! Now, until I see you again, I want you to know that we all love you.”

To which he smiled and said –

“I just farted.”

My words had obviously impressed him.

I waved them off as Vanessa drove away into the night.

Back in the apartment, Lottinho, Speedy and I spent a few philosophical moments as we looked out into the city from our balcony. It had been a simply superb time and we had enjoyed ourselves immensely in Philadelphia.

Until we do it again.

“Phriendship And Phootball.”

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Tales From The South Bronx

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

It was all so different in 1989.

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

Welcome to America.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yes – 2011/2012 was some season.

Our greatest ever season.

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

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

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

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

Here are some highlights.

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

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

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

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

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

It was great to see him in America.

1pm, Saturday 21 July – Chelsea Piers.

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

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

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

Now that, everyone, is just beautiful.

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

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

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

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

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

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

As one, both Millsy and Funchficker said –

“Why are you a c**t?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

I found that quite a sobering thought.

4.45pm, Sunday 22 July – New York Subway.

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

The music was from a Coca-Cola commercial.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yes, that’s right.

Chelsea at Yankee Stadium.

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

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

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

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

Chelsea fans. Girls. Celery.

Pass me the smelling salts please, nurse.

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

“Where’s Roma now, Chris?”

“Bunker Hill, maybe.”

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

“Oh boy. Am I glad to see you?”

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

More smelling salts please nurse.

7pm, Sunday 22 July – Yankee Stadium.

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

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

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

What were my findings?

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

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

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

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

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9j_6q…&feature=g-upl

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Let’s Go Chelsea.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

Late night, Sunday 22 July – Manhattan.

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

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

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

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