Fulham vs. Chelsea : 12 January 2023.
When I was driving home from Manchester City on Sunday evening, mid-way through the packet of Fruit Pastilles maybe, I realised that I had acquired a sore throat. In these days of COVID and an apparently vigorous new ‘flu strain, I was obviously fearing the worst. As I drove on, I thankfully didn’t experience any other ‘flu or COVID symptoms, and in fact the sore throat thankfully lessened as time passed. It soon dawned on me that it was all due to the singing that I had done during the game at the Etihad Stadium. In a way, it made me happy, it comforted me. It confirmed that my appearance at the game had not been merely passive. It meant that I had been actively involved in cheering the boys on.
It often used to be like this.
Sore throats after football.
Often at work after games the previous day, I would be ridiculed for my first few utterances. But it was part of football back then.
Turn up. Have a beer. Pay your money at the turnstiles. Cheer the team on. And on. And on. And on.
I suspected that many Chelsea supporters were experiencing sore throats after Manchester. What a show of force and resilience that indeed was.
Top fucking marks.
Next up was a game at Craven Cottage, down in deepest SW6, against our nearest rivals Fulham. This was a game from September that was postponed due to the death of Queen Elizabeth II, and would now take place on a Thursday evening in January.
My alarm woke me at 4.45am. I was to work a “flexi” shift from 6am to 2pm, then drive up to London with Paul and Glenn, PD and Parky, P Diddy and Lord Parky, my match day companions for much of the last five years and beyond.
During my shift at work I told a few football fans (sic) that I feared the result and that we’d lose. I may have said that I fancied Willian to score, just to rub it in. Fulham were faring well this season. This would not be an easy game. The previous evening, I had delved into the record books as I prepared some thoughts about what I should include in this edition of the blog. I knew that our recent record against Fulham – London’s oldest club – was excellent in recent times, but our dominance over them stretched back decades.
Since a 0-2 loss at Stamford Bridge in October 1979, we had played Fulham forty times across all competitions and lost just once. We had won our last seven games against Fulham. I saw all this domination and it made me gulp. Not only did I feel that a Fulham win was long-overdue I had a sixth sense of it happening later in the day. I explained these figures to a couple in the office and said “and I reckon tonight they will beat us for the second time” but their expressions suggested that I was being overly-dramatic.
I thought to myself…”mmm, they don’t know Chelsea like I do.”
I had pre-booked a JustSpace spot outside a flat in Putney, just south of the bridge. I made good time, the roads were relatively clear. I dropped PD and Parky outside “The Eight Bells” at around 4.45pm. My parking spot was from 5pm. I reached it at 5.05pm. I work in logistics.
Normally at Fulham – from memory, every time except once since 2004 – we drink at “The Duke’s Head” in Putney, but we would return to our local “The Eight Bells” on this occasion because it was just easy to meet others there to hand over tickets. We are pretty familiar with this particular spot now, the area both sides of the river, and as I donned my baseball cap – New York Yankees – and zipped up my rain jacket – Victorinox – it felt nice and secure as I walked north towards Fulham.
St. Mary’s Church was floodlit as I passed. The apartments at Putney Wharf were illuminated blue – pretty sure David Luiz used to reside here – and Putney Bridge itself was floodlit too. Craven Cottage was hiding behind a slight bend in the river.
I would soon be in the warmth of “The Eight Bells”, our home away from home at Chelsea, er Fulham – the borough, not the football club, confusing isn’t it? – the past four years. I always presumed that the pubs in this neck of the woods were Fulham pubs on their match days, but the landlady recently confirmed that the three nearest boozers nearest Putney Bridge – the tube station, not the bridge, confusing isn’t it? – were designated as “away” pubs. Thus, “The Eight Bells”, “The Temperance” and “The King’s Arms” were all Chelsea pubs on this night.
I reached the pub just at 5.20pm. It seemed odd, I must admit, to see an “Only Away Fans” sign on a window. It was crowded, lots of the younger element, virtually no colours, all Chelsea. PD and Parky were sat close to our usual table with a few other friends. As I squeezed out at 6.30pm to hand over tickets, a young chap entered and exclaimed “small, innit?” and I replied “and getting smaller.” There was no space anywhere.
The mood in the pub was mainly boisterous with a few songs being aired. For once, I wanted to reach Craven Cottage in plenty of time. It is usually a struggle to reach kick-off time due to the comforts of “The Duke’s Head” and a slightly optimistic guess of how long it takes to walk through Bishop’s Park. On this particular evening, it was just a few hundred yards less than a mile. As we walked through the park, the bright floodlights came into view to the north and I could not resist stopping to take a few atmospheric photographs of the gnarled silhouetted trees and the gnarled masses walking purposefully to the match.
The area outside the away turnstiles is by far the best part of Craven Cottage and, along with the narrow street adjacent to the main stand at Goodison, is my favourite away day location for photographs and ambiance. The red brick, the signage, the historic cottage itself, the hawkers, the Haynes statue, the floodlights. It’s magical but, I guess, in only a way that a football fancier would really appreciate.
This spot is the definition of the phrase “Fulhamish.”
I was in at around 7.20pm. I spoke with a few friends and some – the fools – thought that we would win. My mouth went dry and I found it hard to answer their obvious optimism.
This was my first visit since March 2019, a 2-1 win. Since then, Fulham have been relegated, promoted to a COVID-hit season, relegated and promoted again. They are the ultimate “yo yo” team, or if their much-derided middle class support might say, a “yah yah” team (Peter York, 1981, thanks for that.)
At last the new Riverside Stand is functional for match days, if not fully. I have been keeping tabs on its slow progress for years. On this night, the lower section and the outer flanks of the upper tier were able to be used.
My mate Nick, born in Battersea, called over to say that he saw his first-ever game here, back in the ‘fifties, when many Chelsea supporters used to pop over to Craven Cottage when we were away. Joe Cole and Gary Cahill, with huge BT Sport mics, walked past and were serenaded.
It was announced that our new loan signing Joao Felix was starting.
Chalobah – Silva – Koulibaly
Dave – Kovacic – Zakaria – Hall
Mount – Havertz – Felix
Chelsea in those crappy Tottenham navy socks. Why?
Willian was starting for the home team.
PD and Parky made it in just before the game began, PD having trouble getting in on a ticket that initially appeared to be null and void. There were six of us squeezed into five spaces; PD, Parky, John, Gal and Al, with me somewhere in the middle. It was our version of a high press.
Fair play to Fulham. As with Manchester City, they honoured the memory of Gianluca Vialli before the game – there was a minute of applause – and I thank them for that. Previously dry, the evening’s only rain thankfully came and went very soon into the game.
It felt odd to be attacking the Putney End in the first period.
We started so well, with Joao Felix involved in most of our attacking thoughts. He had started the game so positively and his touch and urgency shone like a beacon in those first moments of the game. I counted three efforts on goal in the opening fifteen minutes alone. He also drew fouls from two separate Fulham players who were both booked. This was some debut. Shots from him, and others, flew at the Fulham goal.
Halfway through the first-half, this was an open game, and the Chelsea crowd were buoyant.
As with Cucarella at Goodison Park, though, I was a little picky with a song for the Portuguese signing being aired so soon in his Chelsea career. Others wait years.
“He came from Portugal. He hates the Arsenal.”
This was a remake of the Tiago chant from 2004; I suppose it is better than nothing. There is no doubt that Felix was the spark in our team and it was so good to see a player with a constant willingness to go forward. It was a jolt to our system. Other players – I am talking about you Mount, Ziyech, Havertz, Pulisic – must have looked on and thought “oh yeah I remember now.”
We had enjoyed most of the attacks on goal. Fulham had been neat but mainly on the defensive, with only an occasional attack worthy of the name.
Out of nowhere, a shot from Bobby Decordova-Reid smashed against our bar. Soon after, on twenty-four minutes, Willian wriggled inside the box and I spoke to John next to me.
“You know he’s going to bend one in, there you go.”
Sadly, I had a premonition about a Willian goal before the match but found myself calling the goal in real time too. It is a habit that I need to get out of. Maybe I should stay stony silent all game.
Willian wheeled away but did not celebrate. Top man.
Soon after, my phone lit up with images of myself being featured on BT’s coverage of the game.
I looked depressed, eh?
We kept attacking with shots from Felix, again, and Hall causing concern for Bernd Leno in the Fulham goal.
There was a piece of sublime skill from Thiago Silva towards the end of the first-half, a cushioned caress of the ball and a prod to safety, that only I seemed to spot. In the ‘eighties, it would have drawn applause, I am sure, from everyone in our end.
Late on in the half, a shot from Dave was deflected over after good combination play involving the new man Felix and a seemingly revitalised Havertz, and then Havertz set up Felix – yet again – but his shot was blocked from my view by a bloke in front of me. I had not got a clue how it avoided the goal.
So, the first-half, Chelsea with decent attacking, five efforts or so from Felix, but we looked naïve at the back. Grumbles at the break? Oh yes.
In that chat about Chelsea’s fortunes at work during the day, a work colleague had mentioned that someone on “Talk Sport” had mentioned that Chelsea were third out of three in the “West London League” and I mentioned that we were bottom of the same league in 1982/83 too.
Right, 1982/83, let’s go.
On Wednesday 12 January – forty years ago exactly – Chelsea played Huddersfield Town in an FA Cup third round replay at Stamford Bridge, just a mile and a half away from the current location of Chelsea Football Club’s first team. We won 2-0 with two late goals from John Bumstead, who didn’t get many, and Mike Fillery, who got more, in a match watched by a decent enough gate of 14.417. My diary that evening was surprisingly gung-ho, predicting that we would go to Derby County in the next round and win. I must have been light-headed and delirious.
Two minutes into the second-half at Craven Cottage in 2023, I captured the lone figure of Mason Mount taking aim with a free-kick against the backdrop of the inhabitants of the Hammersmith End. I watched the ball sweep goal wards. There was a mighty kerfuffle in the six-yard box as there appeared to be a save, a shot, a save, but then a goal given. I had no idea if the ball had crossed the line directly from Mount or via another player.
We were level.
I looked over to spot Alan’s face, a picture of determination and involvement. Loved that.
The Chelsea choir were suddenly in a playful mood.
“We are staying up. Say we are staying up.”
Sadly, Denis Zakaria fell to the floor in front of the dugouts and looked in considerable pain. He would play no more and was replaced by the less-than-appetising sight of Jorge Luiz Frello Filho, who currently has more names than fans at Chelsea right now. Zakaria – yet another injury, we must be experiencing our worst-ever run – looked utterly dejected as he limped around the pitch.
Worse was to come. Barely a minute or so after, Kalidou Koulibaly struck a firm ball at Felix’ upper body – “fuck was that?” – and the Portuguese player lost control. In attempting to rob Kenny Tete, he scythed him down, and a red looked likely.
Yes, a straight red.
A debut to remember for Joao Felix.
Collective brains whirled back forty years.
Chris : “Al, didn’t Joey Jones get sent off in his first game in 1982?”
Al : “Yes mate, Carlisle away.”
A little later.
Rob : “I bet Joey Jones didn’t have six shots on goal before he got sent off at Carlisle.”
Now we were up against it alright. A man down, I really wondered where our attacks would originate. But we kept going. There was a chance for Havertz breaking on the left but his shot was somehow blocked by Leno.
On seventy-three minutes, the former Manchester United winger Anders Pereira sent over a teasing cross that had Kepa beaten all ends up.
More commentary from me : “Kepa’s nowhere.”
Our ‘keeper came but misjudged the flight of the ball completely, leaving Carlos Vinicius to head into an empty net.
The vitriol aimed at Kepa was intense.
Immediately after, the away end sent out the equivalent of a “thumbs down” to the current ownership.
A Roman thumb, if you will.
“Roman Abramovich. Roman Abramovich.”
At the break, I had moaned to a friend who was standing behind me that I honestly wondered if the new owners have a clue about football. There are certain aspects about this new lot that shouts desperation. And maybe naivety too. Hopefully the season will improve and I will be completely wrong.
Then, a chant that has been heard sporadically over the years.
“We want our Chelsea back.”
I wondered which Chelsea this was.
The 1905 to 1954 Chelsea that won fuck all?
The 1971 to 1996 Chelsea that won fuck all?
Or maybe just the last twenty years of Chelsea that have won rather a lot?
Regardless, the mood in the Putney End was a feral one now, with shouts and chants raining down from behind. But amidst all of this, “Three Little Birds” made a very surprising appearance.
“Don’t worry about a thing ‘cus every little thing is gonna be alright.”
On seventy-nine minutes, Graham Potter changed things.
Carney Chukwuemeka for Chalobah.
Conor Gallagher for Kovacic.
Marc Cucarella for Hall.
Then, just after.
Hakim Ziyech for Mount.
We conjured up a couple of late chances for Havertz, but I think it is safe to say it was no surprise that we could not find the net.
For Fulham, our former player Nathaniel Chalobah came on in the last few seconds, thus missing his brother by around twenty minutes.
The final whistle blew.
Fulham 2 Chelsea 1.
I had sadly been right all along.
There were boos at the end, not from many, but from enough to make themselves heard.
“You’re not fit to wear the shirt.”
I was inwardly grimacing.
I’m still not a fan of booing after all these years.
At the end, I was keen to race back to my car. Both PD and Parky had struggled with walking the mile to the game and I did not want them to have to walk a mile and a half back to the car. I tried to leave quickly. I wasn’t able to pay too much attention to the interaction between players and our supporters. I was aware that a stern faced Mason Mount had the balls to come over to face the ire of some of our support. I believe, from comments that I would later hear, only Silva and Dave joined him. Many of my fellow supporters were yelling abuse, indiscriminately, though just as may were clapping the players off.
To boo or not to boo?
To clap or not to clap?
Answers on a postcard.
I raced back to Putney, walking close to the icy chill coming off the river. Walking over Putney Bridge, I overheard a middle-aged chap say to his friend :
“I guess I have seen some players down here over the years, but I think Willian is the best I have seen.”
I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.
I thought back to Fulham’s last win against us, in March 2006, and walking over the exact same bridge, surrounded by jubilant Fulham fans – more so than in 2023 – and the memories were strong. Jose Mourinho oddly took off both Shawn Wright-Phillips and Joe Cole on just twenty-six minutes. Luis Boa Morte – who I had spotted on the touchline during the evening’s game, now a coach at Fulham – gave the home team their first win against us in twenty-seven years. Thankfully, the loss didn’t stop us winning the league in 2005/6.
Our eventual fate in 2022/23 is not certain.
My parking slot was to end at 10.30pm. I reached my car at 10.25pm. I work in logistics.
My car was pointed north once more, and I headed over Putney Bridge for the second time of the day. What a strange old evening it had been. An evening at home, but away, in this little part of SW6. Within ten minutes, I was able to park up on Finlay Road as it cut across Fulham Palace Road. PD and Parky soon found me. I edged up towards the A4 and we were away.
It had been an eventful evening for sure. What with the sending-off for Felix, the injury to Zakaria, the Kepa miss-hap, and the ultimate defeat, contrasting chants in the away end, it had been a typically chaotic Chelsea night of pain. There were half-serious concerns about relegation – “no, we have too much quality” – and I openly question those who yearn for a year in the second tier (mainly to flush out certain demographics in our support it seems) because as many clubs have seen over the years, promotion is never guaranteed.
Well, promotion is never guaranteed unless your name is Fulham – but not necessarily for all clubs that play in Fulham, confusing isn’t it? – of course. Those buggers seem to get promoted at every opportunity.
I eventually reached home at 1.30am, but I am never the best for dropping off to sleep straight away. It was while I was at home in the small hours that I learned that our scorer was given as Kalidou Koulibaly. I would eventually drop off to sleep at 3am.
4.45am to 3am.
It had been a fucking long day.
On Sunday, we head back to SW6 for a home game with Crystal Palace with the “Eight Bells” as a home pub once again.
See you there.