Chelsea vs. Brighton And Hove Albion : 15 April 2023.
Just as I was driving away from my usual parking space at Chelsea after the game with Brighton, I summed things up to PD in the seat alongside me :
“Out-played, out-shot, out-fought, out-thought.”
In a season of sub-par performances, this perhaps had been the worst of the lot. No positives at all? It certainly bloody felt like it. I will come back to the game later but as there is a lot to get through in this ramble I had best begin.
Shall we do things chronologically again?
The next game to feature in my retrospective look at our worst-ever season, 1982/83, is our away match at Boundary Park, the home of perennial Second Division battlers Oldham Athletic. This encounter was played on Saturday 9 April 1983 and came on the back of a four-game winless streak for John Neal’s troops. My diary noted that the game kicked-off at 2pm. Perhaps this was a result of that afternoon’s televised Grand National which, from memory, used to start around 4pm. Clubs were so desperate for spectators in those days that I suspect that this was the reason. Regardless, the match was really poorly attended; just 4,923 showed up. I often hear talk of us taking thousands to away games in those days. I suspect that it wasn’t the case on this occasion.
At the time, Oldham Athletic were stacked full of former Manchester City players and were managed by the former City striker Joe Royle. Playing for the Latics on this occasion were Kenny Clements, Tony Henry and Roger Palmer. Not involved on this day were Paul Futcher and Ged Keegan. All of these players had previously turned out for Manchester City.
At half-time, the score was 1-1, at full-time it ended up 2-2. Mercurial midfielder Mike Fillery scored both, with one from the penalty spot. The Chelsea team included debutant Paul Williams, a young central defender, who only ever played this one game in our colours. After the match, we dropped two places to fifteenth in the twenty-two team division. We had six games left to play with four being at home, yet were just two points off a relegation place.
I, and many thousands of others, were worried. We were barely limping along as the end of the season approached.
My diary the day after the Oldham game mentions my thoughts :
“All of a sudden, things are looking really desperate. Only now does relegation seem a possibility. I hadn’t really considered it to any depth until today.”
Despite all of this, I was definitely excited to be attending our next fixture, a home match with Newcastle United, only my fourth “live” game of the season. I was still at school and I had only worked a couple of Saturdays in my father’s shop that season so every spare bit of pocket money, Christmas money and ad hoc gifts from relatives were saved up with such frugality that I rarely spent any extra money on anything else. An occasional illegal beer on a night out, quaffed slowly, was really my only other expenditure. These were definitely simpler times but Chelsea was everything to me. The game against the Geordies, on Saturday 16 April, could not come quick enough.
As a quick aside, on the preceding Thursday I had met up with a couple of Canadian relatives who were touring England at the time. My father’s cousin Mary was chaperoning her daughter Marina on a school band trip. I met Marina for the first time one evening in nearby Bath. I, sadly, already knew that Marina was a Manchester United supporter. She kindly presented me with a Chelsea scarf, but also a few of Vancouver Whitecap items. Marina and both her parents were Whitecaps season ticket holders. No doubt I tut-tutted when I saw Marina wearing an actual United shirt. Anyway, for reasons beast known to Marina, she had been wearing the Chelsea scarf on her travels around England but the coach driver had warned her to take it off as she would get beaten up. This, I thought, was a bit excessive, but no doubt fed into the narrative of Chelsea Football Club being famous, only, for hooliganism in 1983.
Fast-forwarding to 2023, I have three games to mention.
On Bank holiday Monday, I watched Frome Town defeat local rivals Melksham Town 2-1, winning the game with a last-minute goal from Jon Davies in front of 491.
On the Wednesday, I watched at home on my computer as Chelsea lost 0-2 against Real Madrid at the Bernabeu. Such is my level of expectancy at the moment that I was relatively happy that we didn’t get beaten more heavily.
Then, on Thursday evening I returned to see Frome Town defeat strugglers Cinderford Town 5-1. This game attracted 425, a gate helped by a fine sponsorship deal involving local businesses allowing fans to enter for free. The football against Melksham and Cinderford was the best all season and, as daft as it now seemed, Frome now have an outside chance of sneaking into the last two play-off positions, currently held by Wimborne Town and Tavistock.
On the morning of the Brighton game at Stamford Bridge, a sizeable part of me wished that I was staying in Somerset to see a third Frome game in six days, another derby against Paulton Rovers.
But Chelsea was calling.
As often is the case, the pre-match was far more enjoyable than the main event. I met up with Ollie from Normandy once again and also my Brighton mate Mac and two of his friends Barry and Guy. We enjoyed a fine time in “The Eight Bells.” I arrived at about midday. PD and Parky were already there. Salisbury Steve would join us too. We just about fitted around a table.
Ollie told me that he much prefers the older stadia in England as opposed to the new ones. He is yet to visit The Emirates and has no desire to do so. He much prefers the likes of Goodison Park, Fratton Park and Selhurst Park. We promised each other to meet up at Turf Moor next season.
Mac and I are soon celebrating ten years of friendship; we started chatting about football in a Manhattan bar in late May 2013 and have kept in touch ever since. Our two teams play, ironically, in the US in July. I, for one, won’t be there. Barry asked me for advice about travelling to Wembley as they are playing Manchester United in an FA Cup semi-final next weekend. This ties in nicely with my 1982/83 retrospective as in that season’s FA Cup Final, Brighton took eventual winners Manchester United to a replay.
It honestly didn’t seem six months ago that we were all drinking in Lewes before that shocking 1-4 defeat at the Amex. And who would have thought that both of our teams would now be hosting Argentinian World Cup winners?
Alexis Mac Allister – no relation – I would realise, was playing for Boca Juniors at the time that I saw them play Atletico Tucamen in January 2020, although he did not take part in that particular game. On the previous night, however, I did see his brother Francis play for Argentinos Juniors against Lanus.
Like me, Mac gets no thrills from watching England play these days. And also like me, he hardly watches football on TV if it doesn’t involve his team. His wife can’t understand it.
“But you are a football fan. Why don’t you watch?”
“I’m a Brighton fan.”
I had a knowing chuckle.
And I summed up my reluctance to get emotionally involved with England these days.
“Why bother watching millionaires who play for teams I hate?”
My bluntness shocked me, God knows what the others thought.
We made our way to Putney Bridge tube, Ollie’s Army, an updated version of Oliver’s Army.
“The boys from Somerset, Wiltshire, Sussex and Normandy…”
The rain had held off; the sun was out. I was in at around 2.30pm, perfect.
Frank’s starting eleven?
Chalobah – Fofana – Badiashile – Chilwell
Enzo – Zakaria – Gallagher
Pulisic – Sterling – Mudryk
A few question marks there. The forward line certainly didn’t thrill me. And a return to a flat-back four? Righty-oh.
The new pre-match of Blur, Harry J. All-Stars and – er – the Foo Fighters.
A sign was unfurled in The Shed.
“WELCOME HOME SUPER FRANK.”
But this was as low key as it gets.
Not many people that I spoke to expected a win. I have been saying all season long that our position does not lie and that Brentford, Fulham and Brighton are better than us. I still could not see where a goal was coming from. It was four games in a row now. I mentioned our horrific end to 1980/81 to a few souls; “nine games with not one single goal.”
There was no emotional backdrop of noise welcoming Frank Lampard back at Stamford Bridge. I’ll admit that it seemed odd, super-odd, to be seeing him in navy blue in front of the East Stand once more, our first sighting since the Everton game slightly more than three years ago. What a crazy time it has been since.
COVID, football behind closed doors, Lampard sacked, Tuchel in, European Cup glory, a war in Ukraine, sanctions, Roman Abramovich ousted, reduced-capacities, Lampard to Everton, Clearlake in, Billy Gimour to Brighton, Levi Colwell to Brighton, Marc Cucarella to Chelsea, Tuchel sacked, Potter to Chelsea, De Zerbi to Brighton, Chelsea walloped at Brighton 4-1, Lampard sacked at Everton, Potter sacked at Chelsea, Lampard returning to Chelsea, Tottenham still shite.
Football, eh? Fackinell.
The game began with Brighton looking the most-threatening in the opening spell. After just two minutes, I thought they had scored via Kaoru Mitoma but cross was touched wide at the near post by Mac Allister.
In a very open start to the game, a Mykhailo Mudryk run from deep promised much before he was felled unceremoniously by Joel Veltman. There then followed a cross from Mudryk that was deflected away for a corner by Lewis Dunk. The Ukranian then followed this up with a shot from thirty yards that went wide.
Next, breathless stuff this, a chance for Brighton with the goal gaping but wide. They then hit the bar a minute later, Evan Ferguson digging one out from outside the box. Trevoh Chalobah and Benoit Badiashile were looking nervous in their first starts for a while.
On ten minutes, the first “Super Frank” chant but it was hardly deafening.
On fourteen minutes, probably against the run of play, Mudryk broke in from the left, advanced, and played the ball back to Conor Gallagher. His strike was on target but hit Lewis Dunk – the own goal king a few years ago – and spun high and over Robert Sanchez in the Brighton goal.
Bloody hell, a goal, I hardly knew how to react.
We had spoken about getting a little luck to break our recent drought and this was just right. Conor reeled away, a former Palace player, and celebrated in front of the Albion fans.
Sadly, we didn’t push on and Kepa soon had to be called into action to thwart the away team’s advances. Twice in a minute he saved us. First, he claimed a high ball into the six-yard box and then ran out to block.
On twenty-five minutes, the elusive Mitoma slalomed into the box but Kepa did ever so well to save low.
The atmosphere was quiet. I was yet to join in with anything.
On the half-hour, three more Brighton chances. A really fine break at pace carved through our lines but the end result flew wide. Another shot was blocked. Then Kepa saved well from point blank range, a Ferguson header palmed over.
This was turning into a very ropey Chelsea performance indeed. On thirty-seven minutes, a rare attack saw Wesley Fofana cross from the right, but it was slightly too high for Raheem Sterling to either head goal wards or properly steer the ball back to Mudryk.
Just before the break, Brighton moved the ball well and a hanging cross came in from the right. I was hoping that Chalobah would be able to head away, but the ball fell between him and Fofana, and new substitute Danny Welbeck pounced.
My sadness temporarily evaporated when a friend messaged me to say that Frome had gone 2-0 up against Paulton. As I shouted over to PD with this information, no doubt with a smile, I was filled with absolute guilt.
The away support boomed loudly.
Just before the whistle, a fine move from us but a save from Sanchez at the near stick.
At least there were no boos at half-time.
At the break, Gary Cahill, Jimmy-Floyd Hasselbaink and Eidur Gudjohnsen appeared on the pitch, promoting the good work carried out by the Samaritans.
The irony wasn’t lost on me.
Eidur and Jimmy were a fine partnership up front for us. My God, how I wished one of them, or even both, could lose twenty years and parachute into the current squad.
I took a photo as they exited the pitch down below me.
The second-half began. There were no substitutions.
Early on, Kepa needed to be called into action again, saving well on two occasions. There was a fine diagonal out to Ben Chilwell down below us but although he advanced well, his shot was weak.
Chalobah raked the shin of a Brighton player and was booked. This elicited the humorous response from Brighton : “You dirty northern bastards.”
Our play just wasn’t joined up.
On fifty-seven minutes, a quadruple change.
Reece James for Fofana.
Hakim Ziyech for Pulisic.
Mateo Kovacic for Enzo.
Joao Felix for Sterling.
I was only disappointed with the Enzo substitution, but I suspected that the Argentinian was being saved for Tuesday against Real Madrid. Still four at the back.
This new injection of players seemed to wake the crowd up from our collective slumber.
“CAM ON CHOWLSEA. CAM ON CHOWLSEA. CAM ON CHOWLSEA. CAM ON CHOWLSEA.”
At last I joined in.
My poor performance had mirrored that of virtually all of the players.
Just after, there was a mix-up between James and Chalobah on our right and we were pickpocketed. Julio Enciso’s shot slammed against a post but Welbeck could not touch home the rebound.
It was all Brighton. All the tackles. All the movement. All the passing. We were being given a horrible lesson in team work.
PD chirped : “I’ve got Samaritans on speed dial.”
With sixty-five minutes gone, at last we perked up a little. A shot from Kovacic was blocked by that man Dunk. At long last, the noise boomed around a sunny Stamford Bridge and it was a joy to hear.
However, all this was to be deadened. On sixty-nine minutes, a wonder strike from Enciso gave the visitors an absolutely deserved lead. We had given the ball away cheaply and the resultant rising shot was magnificent.
Brighton had never won at Stamford Bridge before. The scorer celebrated in front of their supporters. I strongly suspected that this would be their first victory.
A few minutes later, Mason Mount replaced Zakaria.
I turned to Clive : “you wouldn’t even know he was playing would you?”
On seventy-eight minutes, an enlivened Mudryk broke away and reached the bye-line but appeared to play the ball too far behind our attackers. The low ball found Mount but he leaned back and the ball flew high over the bar.
Neat interplay allowed Gallagher – out best outfield player – to wriggle in to the box but he couldn’t get his shot away.
Reece drilled in a beautiful cross into the six-yard box but sadly Jimmy-Floyd Hasselbaink was nowhere to be seen.
In the last minute, Mudryk cut in and sent a riser just over. To be fair, he had shown very occasional glimpses throughout the game. I haven’t given up on him just yet.
The away fans were the only ones singing now.
“We are Brighton, super Brighton. We are Brighton from the south.”
At the final whistle, boos.
This was yet another tough watch and it seemed that virtually all of our games this season – Tuchel, Potter, Lampard – have been a tough watch.
I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry about the club’s choice to play “Three Little Birds” as we trudged out. Better than the fucking Foo Fighters, I suppose.
So, were there any pluses from the day? Kepa had played well, saving us on many occasions. But this was a rare positive. If he was a 7, maybe Gallagher was a 6, maybe Mudryk a 5, with everyone else 4 or less. It was grim. And by the time I had reached home – early, at 8.30pm – the internet was full of supporters getting off on ripping into Lampard – some were actually enjoying it as far as I could see – while some were talking about boycotting the remaining games. I honestly didn’t know what to make of it.
In the midst of this gloom, I saw that Tottenham lost at home to Bournemouth, so that raised a smile..
Frome won 2-0 in front of another gate of 491. It had meant that the club had enticed 1,407 into three home games over just six days; a fine achievement. While Chelsea play Real Madrid on Tuesday, Frome will visit already promoted Totton.
Don’t worry, I will be at Stamford Bridge.
Bring a hard hat. See you there.
1982/83 & 2022/23