Tales From Typical Chelsea

Chelsea vs. Sunderland : 19 April 2014.

This was a match that I just couldn’t wait to attend. In this bewildering football season, a rather forgotten striker by the name of Connor Wickham had effectively opened the fight for the title right up. His two goals at The Etihad during the week had taken the edge away from Manchester City. Suddenly, miraculously, Chelsea were back into contention. Although the media love-fest with Liverpool had shown no sign of abating, the tantalising truth was this –

If we rolled off four league wins in a row, Chelsea Football Club would be league champions for the fifth time in our history and for the fourth time in just ten seasons.

I was up early – too early, 6.45am – and began the day with a few errands. At 11.45am I had collected Young Jake from Trowbridge, at midday Lord Parky joined us and Bournemouth Steve was picked up at Amesbury Services, close to Stonehenge, at 1pm. The sense of anticipation was palpable. Talk was now of the league, whereas en route to Swansea the Champions League had taken precedence. Of the two, I found it hard to choose. But, to be honest, why did I have to choose? Whatever will be will surely be. After a few miles, I gulped down a can of Starbucks double-espresso (my second of the trip) while Parky and Jake were on the lager.

On the way up, Young Jake asked Parky and I about our favourite Chelsea goals that I had seen live. My stock answer to this question has always been the same. Had I been present at the Chelsea vs. Norwich City cup replay in 2002, I might have chosen Gianfranco Zola’s impudent flick. My answer came from a few years earlier.

What was my favourite ever Chelsea goal? It was Gus Poyet’s scissor-kick volley from Gianfranco Zola’s sublime lob in our league opener against Sunderland on Saturday 7 August 1999. As I reminisced, I easily remembered the complete joy that I had experienced on that sunny Saturday almost fifteen years previously. Although the shot from Poyet was magnificent enough, it was the other-worldly lob from our Sicilian maestro which made it so wonderful. Zola’s vision and intelligence, plus his perfect application, still makes warms me after all these years.


I love the way that Zola controls the ball and touches it – caresses it – into the correct position in order for his audacious assist. It was pure artistic brilliance. The goal sent the Stamford Bridge stadium into a blue frenzy. Immediately after, I recollect that my friend Glenn and I clambered up to the walkway immediately behind our seats and, there and then, recreated the high-kick from Poyet. We were already calling it the goal of the season. What wonderful and happy memories.

The irony of Poyet (who has had a love-hate relationship with us Chelsea supporters since his departure in 2001) returning to Stamford Bridge with Sunderland was not lost on me.

So, Connor Wickham. I pondered what role his two goals at Manchester City might play in the final outcome of the league title. In truth, the goals may not mean much at all. The championship is decided after each participant has played thirty-eight games. The two goals at City may be a minor detail. However, with just four games to go, it meant that City’s final position was not, now, in their hands. It pushed the advantage back towards firstly Liverpool, but also us. I was bristling with excitement throughout the last few miles of the journey. It was a fine day in London. Let the fun begin.

It was a typical pre-match in The Goose. Talk was of other things – not really the Sunderland game – and a few lads were full of Madrid and, whisper it, Lisbon. As I lined up in the queue for the turnstiles underneath the blue sky above the Matthew Harding stand, it dawned on me that a win against the bottom team in the division was perceived by many to be a foregone conclusion.

Did I? Well, maybe yes. Guilty.

I checked the team.

In came Mark Schwarzer to replace Petr Cech. The back-four picked itself. Matic and Ramires holding. The attacking three were Willian, Oscar and Salah. Upfront, alone, Samuel Eto’o.

Sunderland only brought around eight hundred fans.

We were a little laboured at the start and I commented to Alan that there was a lack of a spring in our step. Was this the result of our number of games this season? Debateable.  A shot from our former striker Borini flashed wide, but soon after a Chelsea move led to a corner, from where we struck. A nicely played delivery from Willian, with just the correct amount of pace and dip, found Samuel Eto’o, with held off a half-hearted challenge to volley home from the six-yard box.

Eto’o wheeled away to celebrate in front of the Chelsea match.

Alan : “They’ll have come at us naaaa, like.”

Chris : “Come on wor little diamonds.”

Pressure off? Not a bit of it.

Sunderland worked a corner well, though our collective lapse in concentration was culpable, with the ball being played back to the unmarked Alonso. He volley flew through a pack of players and Schwarzer was unable to gather. The ball spilled away from him and Connor Wickham, yes him, neatly flicked home.


The game opened up, and Oscar had shots on goal. On thirty-five minutes, another Willian corner produced more uncertainty in the Sunderland box. On this occasion, a thundering Ivanovic header was forced up on to the underside of the bar by Manone. Matic  fancied a dig from outside the box, but Manone saved. Sala, playing well on our right, reacted well but Manone just reached the cross before Eto’o could pounce.

There was frustration at the break, despite some good work from Salah, Matic, Oscar and Willian. Eto’o had shown good control, eager to go and find the ball, but I sensed the need for an extra presence in the box. I suggested that Ramires should be replaced by Demba Ba, with us playing 4-1-3-2. Did we need two defensive midfielders at home against lowly Sunderland?

“I won’t worry. Mourinho will sort it out.”

The second-half began and we began well. Willian, from deep, ran with the ball for what seemed an eternity. With the Sunderland defenders back-peddling and seemingly over-stretched, Eto’o was played in. His deliberate shot curled tantalisingly past the post. I was already up and celebrating. I howled in agony. On the hour, Jose replaced the fitful Oscar with Demba Ba. I was very pleased to hear the home support rallying behind the team in their half-hour of need. This was good stuff. I felt encouraged and hoped that the players could feed off the positivity. Willian teed up Ba, but our striker was off balance and his shot was screwed off target.

Mourinho replaced the tiring Salah with Schurrle and I implored him to stay wide and hug the line. Some half-chances came and went. A shot from Schurrle drew a save from Manone. We were on top, but lacked a finish. The cutting edge, the cliché of our season, was nowhere to be seen.

With a quarter of an hour left, Fernando Torres replaced Eto’o. A spectacular bicycle-kick from one of many Willian corners flew over. A Torres header was saved. The clock ticked. The atmosphere grew more nervous.

With less than ten minutes remaining, the usually steady and reliable Azpilicueta slipped calamitously as he brought the ball out of defence, with Altidore lurking. I sensed danger immediately.

“Oh no.”

Altidore galloped away, but Azpilicueta lunged at him just before the American was able to pull the trigger. Dave’s challenge – to my eyes, some hundred and twenty yards away – looked like a definite penalty. Mike Dean – “the Scouser in the black” was never more apt – had already ignited a great deal of animosity within our ranks all afternoon and he added to his role as a figure of hate by pointing to the spot.

Two things hit me.

If they score this, we will probably be right out of the league title race.

If they score this, the Mourinho league run could be over.

Borini – on loan from Liverpool, ugh – calmly slotted home.

Chelsea 1 Sunderland 2.

Schurrle broke in from the left and Mannone flew himself into the air to dramatically tip over. For all of our possession – and chances – the Sunderland ‘keeper had few saves to make all game. Torres’ claim for a penalty was waved away by Dean, now the devil incarnate, and the derisory boos grew louder. Five minutes of extra time was signalled, but our attacking spirit had dwindled to a memory.

I was in agony during those final minutes. I looked away. I stared at the floor. My mind was full of defeat. It was such an alien feeling after our dominance at Stamford Bridge over the past ten years.

At the final whistle, hideous and hateful boos behind me.

Yes, it’s true. Some of our “fans” are spoiled fools.

What is the saying…”if you can’t support us when we are bad, don’t support us when we are good.”

Versus Sunderland, I don’t think we were bad. Several players did themselves proud. But our finishing was bad.

It has become the story of our 2013-2014 season.

Young Jake, Steve, Lord Parky and I met up at the Fox & Pheasant after walking past a few ridiculously upbeat Mackems. I spotted an American wearing a Philadelphia Phillies cap and I blurted out “Let’s Go Phillies” to which his friend, wearing a Chelsea tracksuit top, replied, with a pitiful smirk on his face –

“Yeah. And they suck too.”

I just glowered at him.

Back at my favourite Italian restaurant, we tried to lighten the mood a little. Pizzas hit the spot, but conversation was difficult. The rug had been pulled from underneath us and our hope of a title had been seemingly extinguished. I can cope with near misses and missing out on silverware – of course – but it was just the sudden shock of defeat, when we appeared to be hitting some form, which made this defeat seem so tough. It was, as the phrase goes, just typical Chelsea.

Beat the strong teams, lose to the weak ones. It was our way for years.

However, after Villa and Palace, it was also the third game where we had prefaced a Champions League game with a meek league defeat.

Ah, the Champions League.

I looked ahead briefly and quickly to a potentially riotous second-leg against Atletico Madrid in around ten days’ time and experienced a flutter in my heart.

Maybe. Just maybe.


Tales From Sussex By The Sea

Brighton And Hove Albion vs. Chelsea : 4 August 2012.

After my fortnight in the US, I was still suffering from jet-lag. My haphazard sleeping patterns had left me disorientated.

I was hoping that my first domestic Chelsea game of the season would help get me back in the groove.

I called for Parky at around 9.15am. Despite suffering from a frustrating period of ill health, Parky was soon bubbling with infectious enthusiasm as I hurtled south.

Yes, south.

Apart from the occasional trip to Fratton Park, the journey to Brighton was one of the few occasions in the past few years that I’ve had a change in direction. Most Chelsea trips are either to my east or north. Swansea last season was to the west.

Oh – and New York and Philadelphia.

I reviewed my US trip with Parky and we were soon chatting away in the style that we have become accustomed since I started taking him to footy three or four years ago.

Pun after pun after pun; it’s no wonder I’m going grey.

We zipped past Salisbury, Southampton and Portsmouth (town names that I had noted from my recent stay in New England), but our progress was halted by considerable traffic near Chichester. A journey which should have taken three hours actually took four.

At 1.15pm, I eventually parked up at my friend Paul’s bungalow right on the northern edge of the town. I first met Paul on The Benches in 1984. Born in London, he moved down to Brighton in his teens. Paul’s wife Sue soon dropped us off outside the new Amex Stadium. Another new ground for me.

Believe it or not, I had only ever seen Brighton play once before.

Back in 1990-1991, when I was on the dole and low on funds, I only went to ten Chelsea games that season. However, a mate of mine asked me along to see his team Scunthorpe United play at Brighton in the third round of the F.A. Cup. It represented a cheap day out and I almost enjoyed it in a bizarre way. Back in those days, Brighton played at the Goldstone Ground, an odd-shaped stadium in Hove. I remember Clive Walker and Ray Wilkins’ brother Dean playing for Brighton.

We haven’t played Brighton for years. Four games in 1983-1984 and 1988-1989 during our promotion campaigns from the second division are all that I can ever remember.

Brighton have had a chequered recent history. They lost the tenancy of the old ground and even played in Gillingham for two years, some seventy miles away, before returning to a poorly-equipped athletics stadium in the town from 1999.

The Amex Stadium on the campus of Sussex University at Falmer opened for business last season and I was pleased to be able to visit it.

We soon bumped into Gill and Graeme, and then headed upstairs to the bar in the stand. I didn’t see many that I knew. It was soon apparent that many Chelsea had been on the beer all day – and the previous night too. After a couple of lagers, we took our places in the upper tier of the west stand. The Amex is currently having an extra tier fitted onto the east stand and the south stand – usually housing the away fans – seemed to be having some work done too.

I approved of the stadium. It was a little similar to Huddersfield’s ground, with the arching roof trusses. The best feature was the views of the rolling South Downs which were clearly visible to the north. I had forgotten how hilly the area around Brighton is.

Brighton and Hove Albion’s history is littered with former Chelsea players and I seem to remember Dave Sexton living in the town when he was still manager of Chelsea. The town itself has had a mixed history; enlivened as a beach resort when the railways flooded the resort with holidaying Londoners, it is now a rather bohemian location with a green party MP and a reputation as the UK’s most “gay friendly” town.

One of my favourite films is “Brighton Rock” – a brilliant film directed by John Boulting which was based on Graham Greene’s novel about petty crime in Brighton’s murky underworld. It memorably stars Richard Attenborough as the film’s villain Pinky. There are some lovely photographs of Richard Attenborough, at the time one of England’s rising stars in the film industry, undergoing vigorous work outs at Stamford Bridge with various players such as Tommy Lawton in an attempt to lose some weight for the role.

As I sat with Parky, awaiting the entrance of the two teams, I wondered about my presence at the game. Since returning from my holiday, I had piles of things to do at home. I really, deep down, knew that I should have been getting stuck into some of those mundane tasks but here I was in Sussex, watching Chelsea yet again.

What had brought me there? The lure of a new stadium alone? No, it had to be more than that. I had already seen the boys in America so I – unlike the vast majority of the other 3,500 Chelsea fans present – was not drawn to Brighton so I could see the European Champions for the first time since Munich. What was the reason?

I guess it was the same old reason.

“It’s what we do.”

There was a time when I was not so sure.

Way back in 1996, just after England was recovering from the country’s new found infatuation with football at Euro ‘96, Chelsea played a pre-season friendly at the County Ground against Swindon Town. After the purchases of Ruud Gullit and Mark Hughes in the close-season of 1995 which brought a level of excitement to Stamford Bridge which had been missing since the early ‘seventies, the Chelsea squad was further augmented by the signings of Gianluca Vialli, Roberto di Matteo and Frank Leboeuf in the summer of 1996. With this in mind, a local game was too good to miss. An added bonus was that the game in Wiltshire marked the debuts for di Matteo and Leboeuf. My mate Glenn was seeing Anke, a German girl, at the time and it was agreed that it would be beneficial for their relationship for Anke to witness at first hand the Chelsea match day experience. I think that Anke wanted to see just what this football lark was all about. Glenn had met Anke on holiday in Italy a few years before and Anke had been living in England for a few months.

On a sunny Sunday, the three of us drove over the county line and took our seats in the main stand along with a couple of thousand other Chelsea supporters in a gate of 13,881.

Despite the bonus of seeing the two new debutants, the game lacked any real drama, excitement or sense of occasion. To be brutally honest, the game was dire, despite a Chelsea win. Glenn and I soon made a pledge not to bother with any more essentially meaningless pre-season friendlies ever again.

It was a sobering afternoon. It didn’t take much for me to put my loyalty to Chelsea to one side and to see the game through Anke’s eyes.

Anke was never a football fan.

Sometimes it is useful to get a reality check.

A second opinion.

There were hardly any positives to come from the game.

The scampering of the players down below on an energy-sapping afternoon and the grunting of the Swindon and Chelsea fans in the stands certainly made me wonder a little about my sanity, my life-long love of football and my allegiance to Chelsea in particular.

“Bloody hell, Glenn. I don’t think Anke will want to go to football again.”

She didn’t.

As kick-off at The Amex neared, more and more boisterous Chelsea supporters flooded the top tier. My goodness, some ale had been quaffed over the past few hours. From ten minutes before the kick-off to twenty minutes into the game, the noise was deafening.

“We Are The Champions, The Champions Of Europe.

We Are The Champions, The Champions Of Europe.

We Are The Champions, The Champions Of Europe.

We Are The Champions, The Champions Of Europe.

We Are The Champions, The Champions Of Europe.”

The Brighton players – plus former blue Gus Poyet – gave the Chelsea players a guard of honour and I scanned the starting eleven. It looked a mighty strong team, with the obvious asterisk next to Michael Essien’s name.

The new “black with yellow paint splashes kit” looked hideous. Never mind, there will be another one along next season.

Consume, indulge, purchase, pay, hand over your wedge, show your support and wear your colours.

Bollocks to that.

Amongst the Chelsea fans at Brighton, never have I seen so few replica shirts. I got the impression that a lot of the lads were going straight back out on the razzle after the final whistle – or even before it – and wearing Chelsea colours in the town’s pubs would be troublesome.

The game?

Oh dear. Make no mistake about it, Brighton played very well. They were incisive in their tackling, in their movement and their finishing.

We, however, were leggy and looked jaded. I wasn’t sure if it was due to the travelling to and from America, but the vibes were far from good. As the game developed, the noise from the Chelsea section grew quieter and quieter.

A nice dummy from Fernando Torres allowed Frank to pass the ball into the net towards the end of the first half. It was noticeable that I didn’t even jump to my feet when we scored. What was I saying about pre-season friendlies?

Brighton then went ahead through the impressive Vicente and Barnes to lead 2-1 at the break,

I popped down to see Alan at half-time; the first time I have seen him since Munich. Parky stayed chatting with Cath and missed the first fifteen minutes of the second period. We enjoyed lots of possession after the break, but rarely troubled the Brighton ‘keeper. Shots from Torres, Lampard and the disappointing Hazard were our only efforts of merit. With many Chelsea fans leaving early to head back into town, the game ended with a further calamity when a defensive error – or rather, not playing to the whistle – gave Crofts the chance to tuck the ball in with seven minutes left.

Oh God.

At least the return trip back west only took three hours. Parky and I agreed that we had enjoyed the day out in a general sense; the actual game had been damn tedious. The players would be tested further at Villa Park the following weekend and we hoped that they would rise to the challenge.

I eventually reached home at about 9pm, just in time to see one of the greatest nights in British sporting history at the Olympics.

If only it had extended to Sussex By The Sea.


Tales From A Wake-Up Call

Chelsea vs. Newcastle United : 2 May 2012.

As I drove from Chippenham to London with Parky, I was well aware that there was a feeling of impregnable invincibility in the air. After the flurry of our recent results, the goals and the glory, I honestly felt that we could make a good stab at winning all five of our remaining games in this roller-coaster of a football season. I was confident of winning the next four, at least. The last one, our sixty-sixth game of the season – and my fifty-eighth – might be beyond us, but I was gung-ho about the others. Yes, I know what everyone is thinking; this unfamiliar optimism was most unChelsea, but it is amazing what a run of success brings to the zeitgeist around any football club. Football is surely all about confidence.

This would be my last midweek venture up the M4 motorway this season. I commented to Parky how different the midweek games are compared to the weekend ones. I prefer the weekend games, but I must admit there is no better feeling than heading out of Chippenham on the A350 with the stresses of a working day behind me and Chelsea in my thoughts.

It is very fortuitous that I work in Chippenham. Admittedly, the daily commute is 45 minutes in length, but Chippenham is but a mere ten minutes from junction 17 of the motorway. Once on that road, I can hurtle along and be parked up on a good day in two hours. Just right for a Carling Cup game, a Champions League game or a midweek league game. If I worked 45 minutes to the south or west of my home down in Yeovil or Langport or somewhere, the midweek scramble to Stamford Bridge would be almost impossible. So – I’m a lucky chap.

And this was a good day. I collected Lard Porky at 3.45pm and we strolled into The Goose at 5.45pm. On the drive to London, we briefly chatted about plans for those remaining games of the season. It’s hard to believe that 2011-2012 is nearing completion. It seems only yesterday that we were down at Fratton Park for that celery-ridden friendly back in July.

I was surprised to see a smattering of black and white Newcastle shirts in the boozer, but I wasn’t bothered. I must admit to having a slight soft-spot for Newcastle United and I think I have alluded to this in the past. My first ever Chelsea game took place on a sunny March afternoon in 1974 against The Geordies and our paths seemed to cross all the time in my youth and on into my twenties. Our time in the second division from 1979 to 1984 provided some gorgeous memories (I saw three Chelsea vs. Newcastle games in this period) and set the trend for our magnificent home record against them which has continued on ever since. Our last home league defeat against the Tynesiders was in November 1986.

Although I remember a lot of “Chelsea stuff” without the need of memory aids, let me dip into my diary once again to pick out a few salient points from that Chelsea vs. Newcastle United game on Saturday 22nd November 1986. That particular game was my 91st Chelsea game, but already my 7th game against The Geordies. By the way, Newcastle have only been called The Toon (outside of the North-East, at any rate) since around 1990. Back in those days, they were simply Geordies. It’s funny how nicknames come and go. Insert “The Chels” reference here.

I travelled down by train from Stoke-on-Trent to London on that November morning. At Euston, I noted that a mob of Manchester City casuals jumped over the barriers at the tube station down below the mainline station en route to Highbury. Although City’s firm were called “The Guvnors” back in those days, I’m pretty sure they used to have a splinter faction called “The Maineline.” It was often the fashion for followers of teams in the north-west to travel down to London on trains with no train tickets and attempt to “blag” their way south. The bundling over the tube barriers was just a manifestation of this. Pre-match was typically spent wandering around the clothes and record shops of the West End. On this particular day, I spotted a new Cocteau Twins album and I purchased a lime green Marc O’Polo sweatshirt from their flagship store at Covent Garden. Marc O’Polo, a German company, was well-favoured by the football lads around this time. It died out at football around 1990, but I’m always tempted to get some more of their gear. Who wants to join me? Football fashion had gone from lurid sportswear in 1983-1984 to a more mature look in 1984-1985. In 1986-1987, it was all black leather jackets, Reebok trainers, Hardcore jeans (remember them?) and Armani pullovers.

Pre-match was spent in “The Crown & Sceptre” near “Harrod’s” and I then walked down the Fulham Road before a pint in the more working class “George” at Chelsea. I chatted to a few members of the Yeovil supporters’ group before meeting up with Alan. He too had seen the new Cocteau Twins’ album. It must’ve been the “Victorialand” album; a more ambient sound, subtler, gentle and soothing. Alan and I watched from The Benches, along with our friend Leggo, who sadly doesn’t go anymore, and Mark, who does (he got a mention in the Barcelona report last week.) The gate of 14,544 included around 1,000 Geordies. Gordon Durie gave us a 1-0 lead, but Newcastle came back strongly to win 3-1. The crowd were baying for the demise of manager John Hollins at the end and Alan’s opinion was that he would resign. He lasted until the Spring of 1988, in fact. Alan, Mark and I have lasted considerably longer.

Little did we know that the 3-1 defeat handed out to us by the likes of Peter Beardsley and co on that day in 1986 would be the last league defeat for years and years and years…

No wonder I like Newcastle United.

Parky and I grabbed some pints and wandered off into the beer garden in search of some mates. For the first time that I can recall, a bloke was set up to sell T-shirts and friendship scarves for the European Cup Final in Munich. Amongst the little gaggle of friends, Munich was unsurprisingly garnering all of the attention. One chap from Bristol – Clive – had already collected his ticket from the box office; he opened up his wallet to allow me a slight peek. Unlike the red of the Moscow ticket, I am heartened by the blue, white and yellow of the 2012 edition. It got me thinking about Munich. Bayern are not the only team in the city. The suburban team of Unteraching have recently played in the Bundesliga, but the “other” team in the Bavarian city is TSV1860, a famous old team, who share the Allianz Arena with Bayern, just as they used to share the Olympic Stadium previously. TSV’s colours of light blue and white match the colours of the Bavarian flag and I well remember that during our over-achieving ECWC campaign of 1994-1995, a few 1860 fans followed Chelsea to stadia in the Czech Republic, Austria, Belgium and Spain. On one of my two visits to Munich’s magnificent Oktoberfest, I remember chatting in very broken German to an old Polish guy from Munich who was an 1860 fan. Ironically, I think this alcohol-fuelled chat took place in the Lowenbrau tent and, of course, the Lowenbrau logo features the blue and white diamonds of the Bavaria crest too. Daryl has already carried out some reconnaissance work on Munich for 19 May and we spoke briefly about a beer hall which could act as our base camp for the day’s activities.

Two guests from across the pond soon arrived. Chris Cruz – aka captdf – and Ben Horner – aka NUhusky13 – spent a very enjoyable hour or so with us in the beer garden. I had met Chris in 2008-2009 and Ben in 2010-2011 and it was a pleasure to welcome them back into the bosom of Chelsea Football Club. Chris explained how his daughter Ava had enjoyed her first ever match at The Bridge – the humiliation of QPR on Sunday – and that it is a wonderful feeling to witness the attractions of a foreign city through the eyes of a child. I will no doubt feel the same with Glenn in Munich.

“Look Chris – a big glass of beer!”

“Look Chris – a hot dog!”

Ben, newly arrived from Boston mid-morning, was holding up well in spite of a little jet lag. There was the usual pre-match banter, but typically no talk whatsoever of the game.

“I respect the etiquette” said Ben, who was sporting a natty Boston Blues / CIA top.

The time flew past and it was 7pm. I had to shoot down to meet Steve outside the tube. I waited for him by the CFCUK stall and I spotted more red and blue scarves for Munich. Bizarrely, Mark had a replica of the European Cup on his stall. Steve soon arrived and we were off.

It was a pretty mild evening, but with horrible drizzle and a blustery wind. Inside The Bridge, there were 1,500 away fans and two away flags. Newcastle, despite some legendary numbers in that 1983-184 season, have not brought more than 1,500 down to a league game at Chelsea for ages. I always note away followings. I think it is a true sign of the size of a club, perhaps more so than home attendances. Who regularly fills out the maximum 3,000 at Chelsea? The usual suspects. Manchester United, Liverpool, Tottenham Hotspur, Arsenal and West Ham United. No more than these, season after season. Aston Villa? Everton? Manchester City? Leeds United? Sunderland? Forget it. They only bring 1,400 or 1,500. And yet I’d suggest that Chelsea regularly take maximum amounts to 90% of our away venues. I’d say that we are up there alongside United, Liverpool, Arsenal and Spurs as the top five supported clubs in England away from our home stadia.

And I love that. I love our away support. It helps define us as a club, more so than the thousands who turn The Bridge into a morgue at times. I remember the abuse that Evertonians and Manchester City fans gave us this season when we didn’t fully fill our 3,000 allocations. And yet, as I have pointed out, when was the last time either of those “massive” clubs ever brought the maximum down for a league game? City may win the league this year, but they only brought down 1,500 in December.

And these things count to me and people like me.

Football is all about showing up.

Another 41,500 showed up for this game and we were hopeful that di Matteo’s team changes would result in another win, a few more goals and another three points.

To be truthful, Newcastle United – still smarting from their heavy defeat at Wigan – were excellent and caught us off-guard, out of shape, lacking in desire and bereft of attacking nous. The insipid first-half was pretty dire, despite a strong start from the Boys In Blue From Division Two. A couple of half-chances for Chelsea and then a bicycle kick from Demba Ba threatened our goal. Ba impressed me for West Ham a year ago, but his season has been eclipsed by the arrival of Papiss Cisse, the Senegalese striker. The skilful Ben Arfa set up Cisse on 19 minutes and the Toon Goal Machine walloped the ball past Cech from 15 yards. It was a fine goal. He celebrated down in front of us and I was beginning to re-assess my friendliness towards Newcastle United.

Chelsea laboured against a resolute Newcastle defence and the crowd were not happy. It took until the 37th. minute for our next real chance when the always industrious Torres advance down the right and sent in a superb whipped cross towards the head of Florent Malouda, but the effort whistled past a post. From the resultant corner, Meireles lofted the ball into the six yard box but Ivanovic thundered the ball over from a position almost under the bar.

Then it was Newcastle’s turn. Ba wriggled away from his marker and struck low, but the lunging Cech managed to get a fingertip to the ball and divert it past the far post. Just before the half-time whistle, Ba hit the crossbar. This was clearly a tough Newcastle team and we were in for a massive fight to even get a draw, let alone a win. With so many team changes, our play struggled to flow. Malouda and Sturridge were especially poor.

At the half-time whistle, I listened for the boos and one fellow fan did not disappoint. The mean white haired bloke in his early ‘fifties who sits and bellows behind Gary could be heard booing as the teams traipsed off the pitch. He then mouthed an obscenity and I just looked at him with despair. I have mentioned him once before this season and I popped down to mention him to Big John and Young Dane. They both were aware of him. One of these days he’ll get a mouthful from all three of us.

He was a picture of festering displeasure and he acts as a totem for all that is wrong with our spoilt and blasé support in 2012. My late gran would comment, I am sure, that he had a face “like a hen’s ass.” He had the scowl that would curdle milk.

And one of these days, he’s going to get it.

Gus Poyet – he of two F.A. Cup semi-final goals against Newcastle in 2000 – was the guest at the break. I loved Poyet, but still haven’t fully forgiven him for moving to Tottenham, kissing their badge against us and then coaching at Tottenham.

Juan Mata came on for the woeful Sturridge at the break and we lived in hope. After a quiet opening, Malouda was replaced by Didier. Di Matteo was making all the right moves. An amazing “reverse-cross” from Torres was the first talking point of the half, but nothing came of the ball into the box. The impressive Tiote fell awkwardly from a jump alongside Mikel and there was concern when he stayed on the pitch for many minutes. It is always sad to see a stretcher appear. He was warmly applauded as he was taken off the field.

All eyes were on the scoreboard as updates from the Wigan vs. Spurs game came through, but with each goal, more moans. Fourth place was looking as likely as a Mikel goal. Another change; Frank Lampard for Raul Meireles. Meireles was undoubtedly one of the heroes in Catalonia but was now reduced to chasing shadows in SW6. The crowd were buoyed by the presence of the three big substitutions, but we still struggled. Hardly any effort of note troubled Tim Krull, who was eventually booked for continual time-wasting at goal kicks. In the 87th minute, a towering JT header from a corner was goal bound but Santon managed to head clear.

The fourth official signified a further ten minutes in light of the injury to Tiote. With Tottenham now enjoying a 4-1 win, our league season plunged into darkness when that man Cisse struck a swerving, dipping shot past the dumbfounded Petr Cech and into the Shed End goal. It was an amazing goal and I almost…almost…applauded it.

With that, thousands of Chelsea fans shamefully did a Tottenham and vacated their seats.

The Geordies were now in full voice.

“ E I E I E I O – Up the Premier League we go.”

“With an N and an E and a Wubble-You C, an A and an S and a T, L, E – U, N, I, T,E, D – Newcastle United FC.”

“Ah me lads, ye shud only seen us gannin’,
We pass’d the foaks upon the road just as they wor stannin’;
Thor wes lots o’ lads an’ lasses there, all wi’ smiling faces,
Gawn alang the Scotswood Road, to see the Blaydon Races.”

So – our first home league defeat to Newcastle since I was 21.

Only John Terry really bothered to applaud us at the end. It had been a lack-lustre performance by the boys for sure and Newcastle deserved the win. It will surely act as a reference point for our game with Liverpool on Saturday. No win is gained without due attention and effort. We must improve and surely will.

Outside, the supporters made a subdued walk past the hot dog stands and the souvenir stalls.


The mood was somber, but with no real malice. We had bigger fish to fry this season.

After a slow trudge along the North End Road, Parky was waiting for me by the car. The rain fell as I ate up the miles on my return trip to the shires of Wiltshire and Somerset. I eventually reached home at 1pm and I soon searched the internet for footage of Cisse’s second goal.

Oh my.

It was often said, in jest, with irony, with sarcasm, that whenever Chelsea were knocked out of the FA Cup each year, we could at least “concentrate on the league.”

How ironic then, that as our faltering pursuit of the cash cow that is fourth place comes to an end, we can now utter the words – and truthfully, too :

“Oh well – we can now concentrate on the cups.”

Four games left. Two Cup Finals.

Who are we? We are Chelsea. Let’s go to work.


Tales From West London

Chelsea vs. Newcastle United : 22 September 2010.

Oh boy – on Saturday, I was trying to remember the last team to score against us at Stamford Bridge.

After three weeks of no Chelsea games for me, I’m now in the middle of a “four games in ten days stretch.” Busy times. I do love football at this time of the year, especially the mid-week matches, where the fading sun provides a lovely backdrop to the evenings’ entertainment.

I was able to leave work at just after 4pm. Unfortunately, the 96 miles to HQ took over two and a half hours due to congestion around Heathrow airport. As is usually the case, Parky and myself spent the time chatting about all sorts. We talked about the current TV mini-series “This Is England ‘86” which is an exceptional follow-up to the Shane Meadows film of a few years back. Gritty working class drama with magnificent characters, plus some unforgettably dark humour too. A shame there is just one episode left.

We drove past Brentford’s Griffin Park, where Everton – The Toffees – had become unstuck the previous night.

There is an advertisement for Lucozade ( an energy drink ) which has reappeared on this stretch of the elevated section of the M4. It was originally torn down in 2004 – and I hated the fact it had disappeared, as I always used to look out for it on our pilgrimages to Chelsea as a kid. It seems that other people missed seeing it, too, as there has been a warm response to it appearing in February, albeit in a location 200 yards away from the original. It brought a “whoop” of joy from Parky, Glenn and myself when we spotted it for the first time last season. I’m sure there are ex-pats living around the world will enjoy seeing it over the years too, on their taxi cab rides from London Heathrow.

Welcome back!

Parky usually has around ten classic “Chelsea stories” which get aired every few weeks.

“Yeah, I remember you telling me” never seems to work as he launches into yet another repeat of Nottingham Forest 1985, Watford 1981 or Preston North End 1980. However, a new story – a new story, I tell you! – had me laughing as we approached Hammersmith, the clock ticking towards 7pm. He told me the story of a game over the Christmas period back when he was in his ‘twenties and a gang of Chelsea travelling up by train from Trowbridge, standing in the area by the buffet, knocking back cans of lager and getting stuck into some riotous and aggressively non-PC Chelsea songs of the time. They were making a hell of a racket. However, every time the doors swished open and a family with small children appeared, they immediately switched to singing Christmas carols. I quickly imagined the scene –

“The famous Tottenham Hotspur went to Rome to see the Pope and this is what he said – Ding Dong merrily on high, in heaven the bells are ringing.”

“Spurs are on their way to – Old King Wenceslas looked out on the feast of Stephen.”

“Chelsea here, Chelsea there, Chelsea every – away in a manger, no crib for a bed.”

We were parked up at the usual spot at around 6.45pm and we hot-footed it to the beer garden of The Goose, where we bolted down a pint apiece. To be honest – and this happens quite a lot – the game against the Geordies hadn’t occupied too much of my mind since Sunday and I was more focussed on the trip to Eastlands on Saturday. Burger would be travelling with me for that one and was on the look out for another ticket for Julie. Luckily – very luckily – Rob happened to mention that Millsy had a spare…a few texts and phone-calls later, we were sorted.

We were only in the pub for twenty minutes. The place didn’t seem as busy as it is for weekend games…Parky and myself really wondered if we’d get anywhere near a full house, despite the ?20 tickets across all areas.

I picked up a match programme and flicked through the pages on the quick approach to the Matthew Harding. My attention was drawn again to the piece by Rick Glanvill detailing a game from our history.

October 25th 1980 – Chelsea 6 Newcastle United 0

This was a game I well remember – this was my eighteenth Chelsea game and I travelled up from Frome with my father, his former boss ( a cousin of the great English comedian Kenneth Horne ) and two school friends…Pete ( Manchester United ) and Kev ( Tottenham Hotspur ). It was a magical day as Chelsea played some really excellent stuff on that autumn day some thirty years ago. Colin Lee nabbed a hat-trick and we played with two old-fashioned wingers for the first time in a while. It really was a 4-2-4 formation, with Phil Driver and Peter Rhoades-Brown providing the crosses for Lee and Clive Walker. We were rampant against a team which included Chris Waddle in one of his first games. Our legendary ‘keeper Petar Borota was playing for us and I remember a particularly acrobatic save at The Shed in the first-half when it was 0-0.

An extra bonus was the fact that the TV cameras were present. At Sunday’s game, Rob mentioned the buzz we used to get back in those times when we used to get to The Bridge and see the TV cameras in position.

“Great – we’ll be on the highlights this weekend!”

The fans of today live in a different world.

I remember quite a bit from the game. In the 1974 to 1980 period, we used to watch from the lower tier of the East and on this occasion we were behind the away bench, maybe eight rows back. The Newcastle manager at the time was Arthur Cox and my cheeky mate Pete took great pleasure in shouting “Cox out! Cox out! Cox out!” when we were scoring our last few goals. To accompany Rick’s piece in the programme, there were around four black and white photos from the game…annoyingly, in one photo, we are out of shot by a matter of yards. I remember that Gary Chivers’ goal was selected as one of the Goals Of The Season in 1980-81 by the BBC and we could be seen in the build-up. There I am in a green jacket and a blue and white bar scarf around my neck. At the time, it was the best game I had seen, despite it being a second division encounter.

I texted Pete and he replied “Great – happy days” and we then exchanged some texts as the Chelsea vs. Newcastle United and S****horpe United vs. Manchester United games were played out. Pete is a great friend – my oldest – and he actually played against me in my first-ever 11-a-side game in the autumn of 1974. Where does the time go?

Another mate called Pete – a Newcastle fan from S****horpe – was in touch during the evening, too. Everyone keeping in contact, the football uniting us all – perfect.

I was amazed that it was another full house. Well done everyone. The away fans resembled a big jar of mint humbugs in the corner opposite. I noted a TV gantry positioned on the balcony wall above the away fans in the Shed Lower – I’ve never seen one there before.

“Great, we’re on TV!”

I noticed a new banner in the MHU – “History Makers.” This must’ve been the winner in the CSG competition I believe.

No complaints with the team selection – a nice mix of youth and experience.

But what a crazy game.

We began very brightly and scored yet another early goal, from a lovely finish from Van Aanholt. However, the immense and bulky frame of Sol Campbell soon retaliated with a header which flew past Ross Turnbull’s right post.

A warning sign.

However, we were playing some nice football in the opening fifteen minutes, with Benayoun especially making some nice runs and looking as though he was energised by the night’s encounter.

Pete The Geordie texted me –

“Scunny One Up – Come On!”

This piece of good news was not mirrored at The Bridge as Newcastle got back into the game and lead 2-1 at the break. Defensive frailties resulted in an equaliser on 26 minutes. Ameobi had an incredible “air shot” soon after and then an awful defensive wall failed to stop a bullet of a free-kick from Taylor. Ameobi was clean through on 38 minutes, but Brouma did ever so well to thwart him with a great sliding tackle.

There was a full moon arcing its way through the night sky as the game progressed and I took quite a few photographs…I’m not saying the football was that bad, though!

Moans and groans from the home support at the break.

Despite his links – on two separate occasions – with Spurs, Gus Poyet was given a superb reception at half-time.

“Poyet – There’s Only One Poyet.”

Into the second-half and two substitutions – Alex for JT and Kalou for a very quiet Gael Kakuta. However, an awful blunder at the back gave Ameobi a clean run before he placed a shot past Turnbull at The Shed End. We all thought Turnbull should have done a lot better.

Yet more groans.

On 53 minutes, Salomon Kalou pulled up as he was chasing a through ball. It annoyed me that not everyone clapped him off, nor clapped on his replacement Josh McEachran.

On 62 minutes, Yossi pulled up too. Oh hell – we were down to ten men.

After 64 minutes, Alex hit the post after following a free-kick which rebounded back off the wall.

And then it happened. With the team showing signs of being roused, the home fans turned up the volume with the best show of support I have seen this season at The Bridge. I was loving it and prayed that the team would sense the desire amongst our fans. An inch-perfect ball found Van Aanholt on an overlap and his first time ball was finished with glee by Nicolas Anelka. This was a spectacular bit of football and the crowd roared our approval.

“Come on Chelsea – Come on Chelsea – Come on Chelsea – Come on Chelsea.”

A few texts flew around as the game progressed, the noise increasing with every minute. We were all very impressed with substitute McEachren, who showed great poise and skill in that central midfield birth. Ramires, however, did not impress me with his passing…and Sturridge was poor too.

There was an amazing last ten minutes. On 85, Alex ( getting forward at every opportunity ) was fouled below me and a penalty.

Another roar.

I steadied myself and held the camera in place to capture Anelka’s impudent strike. The noise continued on and it was turning into an amazing game. Paolo Ferreira hit a stonking volley which crashed against the near post.

How would it end? I was preparing for extra time and penalties…

In the last minute of normal time, that man Ameobi glanced in a header from a corner and the ball nestled in at the far post. This was hard to take. Seeing the fans in that away segment bounce around like loons reminded me of a Les Ferdinand equaliser in the 95th minute of a FA Cup game in 1996. At this point, a lot of the home support decided to leave.

Why? Why? Why?

Six minutes of extra time was announced and this stemmed the flow of fans leaving. Big John thumped the balcony wall down below me and the supporters around me recommenced the chants which had so buoyed the team in the last twenty minutes.

We hoped and prayed.

It was not to be.

I texted a “well done” to Geordie Pete.

After the game, I collected the ticket for Manchester City outside the So Bar as the Newcastle fans trooped past – it had been their first win in any competition at The Bridge since November 1986. Good luck to them…there are teams in England I dislike more.

Parky and myself decided on a curry at the Garden Tandoori on the Lillie Road before we headed back along the M4 to Wiltshire and Somerset. It had been some game. We were concerned about the injuries we had sustained but the major plus points were the form of Josh McEachren ( when Frank hangs up his boots, he could be the man ) and our support which was loud and passionate.

When I eventually got home at 1.45am, I flicked on the TV and experienced a warm glow of schadenfreude when I saw that Liverpool had lost to Northampton in front of just 22,000 at Anfield.

“Oh dear”, I thought,” our obsession with Liverpool’s demise shows no signs of abating.”

Ho ho ho.

We reconvene at Eastlands at 12.45pm on Saturday.

See you all there.