Tales From Twenty-Three Years

Chelsea vs. Tottenham Hotspur : 8 May 2013.

In the packed Goose beer garden before the game, Rob was able to hand over my ticket for the Europa League Final in Amsterdam. It was great to have it in my own mitts. The worse thing that we can all do is take this game for granted, especially since it follows on the coat tails of last May’s triumph in Munich. This will only amount to Chelsea Football Club’s fifth European Final in 108 years. I personally can’t wait. To be truthful, the evening game against Tottenham felt like a European match. One chap likened it to the famous Chelsea vs. Liverpool match in May 2003. I was certainly aware of what was at stake. However, it wasn’t all about Champions League football in 2013/2014. We had our unbeaten home run in the league against Tottenham to protect.

…December 1 1990…a cracking game of football involving a Spurs team which included Italia ’90 superstars Gary Lineker and Paul Gascoigne for Tottenham and Italia ’90 squad members Dave Beasant and Tony Dorigo for Chelsea. Chelsea triumphed 3-2, Lineker blasted a penalty over the bar and I watched from the old West Stand.

On the walk down to the stadium, there was a proper big game feel to the atmosphere. I was in my seat with a good ten minutes to spare. The stadium seemed to take forever to fill up. Over in the far corner were 3,000 Spurs fans. Not one single flag or banner, though.

…11 January 1992…I watched from The Shed as a poor Spurs team were easily beaten with former Tottenham striker Clive Allen and Dennis Wise giving us an easy 2-0 win.

We had heard that both John Terry and Frank Lampard were not playing. However, a quick scan of the line-up didn’t cause me too much anxiety. This was a strong starting eleven, no doubt. I would have preferred JT in the defence, but I have to say that he looked decidedly shaky against Swansea City on a few occasions. Frank had put in one of his best performances of the season at Old Trafford, but it was no surprise that he was rested. So much for his and our dreams of scoring 202 against our most hated London rivals.

…20 March 1993…with David Webb in temporary charge, Tony Cascarino gave us an equaliser in a 1-1 draw. I remember Peter Osgood being on the pitch at half-time; his first appearance at Stamford Bridge for years and years. I watched from the lower west side of The Shed.

Neil Barnett quickly introduced last year’s management team before the game and there was a mixed reaction. Some booed. Some clapped. Most stayed silent. I think I clapped three times…”that’s enough.”

…27 February 1994…I didn’t attend this one unfortunately. An incredible game, which ended up 4-3 in our favour with a last-minute Mark Stein penalty. The attendance was a shockingly bad 16,807.

Juan Mata blazed over on 6 minutes but we did not have long to wait for a more pleasing effort on goal. A Mata corner dropped into the six yard box where Gary Cahill jumped pogo-like to nod the ball on to the far post where Oscar headed easily in. I had managed to capture his header on film and caught the subsequent celebrations deep in Parkyland on film too.

Get in!

Alan and I exchanged our usual pleasantries and the world was smiling.

…11 February 1995…I watched from the new North Stand as Dennis Wise stooped low to head in an equaliser. Phew.

We enjoyed more of the ball than Tottenham with Mata again going close. The busy Holtby was brilliantly tackled by Eden Hazard just as the Spurs midfielder was about to pull the trigger. However, much against the run of play, some sloppy Chelsea defending allowed Emmanuel Adebayor too much time to painstakingly guide a shot up and over the stranded Petr Cech. To be honest, I could barely believe my eyes as the net rippled. Unfortunately, I captured this shot on film too.

…25 November 1995…This game took place in the midst of the great Ken Bates vs. Matthew Harding “stand-off.” Matthew was famously banned from the Directors’ Box and so watched from the front row of the stand which he had personally financed. This was a very poor game. I watched from the temporary green seats at The Shed End and both teams were lucky to get 0.

Adebayor was proving to be quite a handful for the defensive pairing of Cahill and Ivanovic. Holtby was a bundle of energy. He reminded me of Bjarne Goldbaek. Remember him?

…26 October 1996…One of the most emotional games ever. Matthew Harding, who died on the Wednesday, was remembered on a very sombre day at Stamford Bridge. Goals from Roberto di Matteo, Ruud Gullit and David Lee gave us a 3-1 win. We watched from the North Stand, which was soon to be re-named. The image of a pint of Guinness on the centre-spot before the game was as poignant as it ever gets.

Although Spurs were back in the game, their support rarely varied from their two choice songs; “Come On You Spurs” and “Oh When The Spurs Go Marching In.”

…11 April 1998…With Jurgen Klinsmann back with Spurs for an end-of-season loan, we watched as goals from Tore Andre Flo and Gianluca Vialli gave us an easy 2-0 win. I was now watching games from my own seat in the Matthew Harding Upper. These were great times to be a Chelsea supporter.

On 39 minutes, Fernando Torres – now playing without his Zorro mask – managed to evade the opposition in a tight area on the right wing. He showed great control to turn and then adeptly play a superb ball in to the path of Ramires. Our little Brazilian hit the ball early, catching Loris off guard. His toe-poke easily hit the target. It was time to yell once more.

“YEEEEEES!”

…19 December 1998…This was another 2-0 win with goals from Gus Poyet and Tore Andre Flo. This pre-Christmas treat was even more enjoyable because it meant that the win put us top of the league for the first time in eight years. Yes, eight years. I think this match was the game where Spurs only wanted 1,500 tickets. They refused the other 1,500.

We were back in the ascendency and Champions League football was looking good for next season. One aspect of our play in the first-half which I found pleasing was the runs from Cesar Azpilicueta. On several occasions, his run took the covering left-back Assou-Ekotto with him, enabling either Mata, Hazard, Torrres, Oscar or Ramires more space to cut inside. Well done Dave.

A Kyle Walker shot flashed wide of cech’s goal just before the break, but it had been a pleasing Chelsea performance. The summary of match stats on the TV screens at the break told the story of the half; Chelsea 12 attempts, Spurs 6 attempts.

…12 January 2000…George Weah arrived from Milan in the afternoon, came off the bench in the last twenty minutes and headed home a late winner at the Shed End. This was getting too easy.

John Dempsey – he of the wildest ever football comb-over – was on the pitch with Neil Barnett at the break. Our hero in Athens was visiting Chelsea with his granddaughter who was the Chelsea match mascot. We gave both a warm reception.

…28 October 2000…Two goals from Jimmy-Floyd Hasselbaink and one from Gianfranco Zola gave us an easy 3-0 win, but I remember nothing of this one. After all, it was only Tottenham.

With ten minutes played of the second-half, it was all Chelsea. This was evolving into quite a spectacle with, for once, both sets of supporters trading songs at full volume.

…13 March 2002…Following our 4-0 win at Three Point Lane on the Sunday, this Wednesday night match was memorable for the magnificent hat-trick from Hasselbaink. A right foot thunderstrike, a bullet header and a left-foot curler. I will never see a more astounding “perfect” hat-trick. A goal from Frank Lampard gave us the fourth goal. I watched, mesmerized, in the East Upper. One of the great Chelsea versus Tottenham games.

We came close on three occasions. Fernando Torres failed to get a good connection inside the box and the effort was blocked. Azpilicueta sent in a curling effort from out wide which narrowly sailed over the far post. Eden Hazard cut inside after a trademark dribble, but – leaning back – blazed over. We wondered if we would rue those chances.

…1 February 2003…Spurs went ahead but Gianfranco Zola scored another magnificent goal, sending his free-kick curling in at the very top right hand corner of the Spurs goal. It was as perfect a free-kick as anyone could possibly imagine. This draw broke the Spurs’ losing sequence of six consecutive losses at Chelsea.

On the hour, Ramires was played in with a ball from inside his own half. The Stamford Bridge crowd roared him on. What a feeling that must be…breaking forward, with 40,000 people cheering you on. I guess we will never know. Sadly, he slipped inside the box, much to the disappointment of us all. He seemed to hit his head as he fell. Our chances were coming…but sadly going too.

…13 September 2003…I missed this game too, but not to worry. Chelsea won 4-2 in only Roman’s third home game as the new Chelsea owner.

As John Terry warmed-up over on the other side of the pitch in front of the family section, I wondered if his main role these days was to wind-up various sets of away fans in the far corner. At least it elicited a third song from the Tottenham fans. These are tough days for JT and for us fans alike. It is tremendously sad to see such a well-loved servant of the club clearly losing an edge to his game. Does he still have a role to play for us? Oh yes.

…19 September 2004…This was Jose Mourinho’s first-ever taste of a Chelsea versus Spurs derby and it will be remembered for how he chose to describe their approach to the game. The bus was parked. It was a dire 0-0 draw. Enough said. We hate Tottenham.

The game was opening up now, with our midfielders seemingly getting more distant from their opposite numbers. There were tired legs everywhere. In the programme, it mentioned that this was the 39th consecutive week that our players had either a Chelsea or national team midweek game. The last “free” week was in August.

…11 March 2006…Peter Osgood had sadly passed away ten days earlier and the game with Tottenham was the first home game since we lost our much beloved hero. This was another emotional day at Stamford Bridge. I took my Ossie banner to show my love for my childhood hero. We scored first through Michael Essien, only for Spurs to draw level. In the very last few minutes, William Gallas latched on to a loose ball and struck a venomous bullet into the Spurs goal. Stamford Bridge exploded like never before or after. For anyone there, they will never forget it.

With the game flowing back and forth, something struck me. Although it was proving to be a thoroughly entertaining – if not exhausting – game, I commented to Alan that Jose Mourinho would not allow a team of his to be chasing more goals while already leading in such a crucial match. With thirty minutes to go, he would have realised that the win would have secured Champions League football. He would have saved more goals for the Aston Villa and Everton games. He would have, quite simply, “shut up shop.” He would have asked his players to keep possession, tire Spurs out, and maybe make some defensive adjustments. How often did we see Chelsea winning 1-0, 2-0 or 2-1 at home or away under Mourinho and the ball being played across the back four? It was a very common tactic. But no, not this time. I wondered if Benitez had told the players to keep attacking relentlessly (is attack the best form of defence?) or if the players, unfettered and free in this new attacking regime, were simply acting under their own impulses. The fans certainly wanted more goals. However, crucially, I think that once the players had started to tire, the message should have been to conserve energy. Benitez should have strengthened up the defence, too.

…7 April 2007…I remember little of this game apart from the wonder strike from Lord Percy himself, Ricardo Carvalho, which sealed a 1-0 win.

Villas-Boas made two substitutes, and Benitez eventually countered by bringing on Moses on 73 minutes. However, he looked tired after only a few minutes on the pitch. Even I was losing my patience with him.

”Go past your man!”

…12 January 2008…I don’t remember much of this game. I remember Juliano Belletti scoring a screamer. I don’t remember Shaun Wright-Phillips’ goal. Yes, that’s right; even Shaun Wright-Phillips scored. Oh boy.

On 77 minutes, I glanced at the clock on the TV screen above the Spurs fans.

”God, there’s ages to go yet.”

…31 August 2008…This was a poor game. Belletti again scored for us but Darren Bent equalised on half-time. We hate Tottenham.

On eighty minutes, a Tottenham move carved through our defence and substitute Sigurdsson slotted in at the far post. The Tottenham fans exploded to life. It was a horrible sight but I always find myself inexplicably drawn to look at away fans celebrating a key goal. Oh boy.

It was again level. Fasten your seatbelts.

…20 September 2009…With Scolari in charge, we romped to an easy 3-0 victory with goals from Didier Drogba, Michael Ballack and Ashley Cole.

On 84 minutes, Benitez brought on Yossi Benayoun. The reaction of the home support was predictable but I found it annoying. Where there should have been encouragement and support, there was derision, dissention and hatred. Benitez is off in a few games time, Benayoun too; why can’t we just support the fcuking team in these last crucial four games?

…30 April 2011…This was a lovely time to be a Chelsea fan. We had beaten West Ham one Saturday and we played Tottenham the next. In between, we had the Royal Wedding and an extra day’s holiday. Sandro scored with a long-range effort in the first 20 minutes, but Frank Lampard “just” edged the ball over the line at The Shed End in first-half stoppage time. Salomon Kalou – an unlikely hero – got the winner for us in the very last minute. Again, the old place was rocking. We hate Tottenham.

I didn’t enjoy the last ten minutes. In fact, I think I watched a large proportion of it with both my hands clasped behind the back of my head; surely my body language was showing signs of nervous frustration. I imagined a Sky TV camera picking me out and the commentator mocking me –

“The Chelsea fans look worried now.”

…24 March 2012…This was a 0-0 draw. What can I remember from it? Nothing. We hate Tottenham.

What amazing drama in the last minute. Gareth Bale was fouled some thirty yards out. The crowd took a collective breath of apprehension. What a season the Monkey Man has had; every time I checked on Spurs’ progress in games, Bale seemed to have scored a late winner. And here we were…in the last minute of the biggest game of the season so far, with the Spurs saviour setting himself up.

It was in the perfect position for him, slightly to the right. Chelsea made a wall and Petr Cech took a position to his right. From where I was sitting, hands behind my head, the goal seemed to be too easy to miss. Surely he would lift a curving ball over the wall into the goal…my right, Cech’s left. They would win 3-2 (just like the bastards did in 1982), our league campaign would be in tatters and I would have to observe 3,000 Spurs fans jumping around like fools.

Oh boy.

We held our breath.

He approached. He struck. It flew high.

Petr Cech saved.

The referee signalled the end of the game. There were mixed emotions on the way out of the stadium. I heard somebody say “it felt like a loss.” I was saddened that we hadn’t clinched our Champions League berth, but I remember saying that I would not have been too unhappy with a draw on the walk to the ground.

It was imperative that Spurs didn’t win.

They didn’t.

They never do at Chelsea.

The unbeaten run – just as important as reaching the top four this season in my mind – goes on…

Parky and I dropped in to the “Fox & Pheasant” for a second-successive post midweek game drink. One fan made a great point; with a win against Tottenham, the manager could have eased off against Aston Villa on Saturday, thus saving energies for the Final in Amsterdam on Wednesday. Now, his hands are tied. He has to play his strongest teams in, potentially, all three remaining games this season.

The old adage of “taking one game at a time” now becomes very relevant.

See you all at Villa Park.

Dedicated to the memory of Chelsea fan Blind Gerry, who was at this game but tragically passed away later that night.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lUIh-XCSu9s

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vw7PxD21ZKs

RIP.

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Tales From The Black And The Blue

Chelsea vs. Barcelona : 18 April 2012.

There is a delicious irony in Chelsea’s recent love affair with the Champions League over the past ten years. Way back in 1955, just after our first ever Football League Championship, Chelsea could have been the very first winners of the inaugural European Cup which was played during the 1955-1956 season. However, for whatever reason, the out-of-touch octogenarians in the English F.A. strongly advised the club to forego participation. Instead, Real Madrid won the first ever European Cup (and the second, the third, the fourth, the fifth) in 1956 and Chelsea had to wait until 1999-2000 to participate again. There have been few games which have produced the same “buzz” of anticipation than that first ever game against Milan in September 1999; a pulsating 0-0 draw at The Bridge was a classic.

If only we knew then what we know now; we have since taken to the competition like the proverbial duck to aqueous solution. We reached the quarter-finals in that first season before losing to (guess who?) Barcelona. Since then, we have been one of European football’s top performers in the World’s premier cup competition. Our semi-final against Barcelona this season would be our sixth since 2003-2004. These have been heady days. Spring time at Chelsea has recently involved football on multiple fronts. It’s a beautiful period in our history; breath it in, let it fill up your senses, these days will not last for ever.

…but oh, the memories.

2004 – a defeat by AS Monaco, fresh on the heels of that game at Highbury in the previous round. Claudio Ranieri at his infuriating worst, tinkering to distraction, just to prove a point to the club management who had already hinted he would be leaving the following season.

2005 – a nauseating defeat to Liverpool. The result of Mourinho not “going for it” in the home leg, the result of the Luis Garcia “ghost” goal at Anfield. We were the best team in Europe that season, having discarded FCB in the quarters.

2007 – another hateful defeat to Liverpool, this time on penalties at Anfield after Joe Cole and Daniel Agger goals gave both teams 1-0 home wins. Again, Mourinho failed to attack Liverpool sufficiently. Would we ever get to the final?

2008 – joy unbounded as we drew 1-1 at Anfield and then won 3-2 at a pulsating Stamford Bridge on one of the most emotional nights that English football has ever witnessed. Frank Lampard inspired us and we were on our way to Moscow.

2009 – a resolute performance by Chelsea at Camp Nou and a 0-0 draw. A despicable performance by a certain Norwegian referee at The Bridge. Michael Essien scored his best ever goal, but Iniesta equalised with virtually Barca’s only shot on goal. Pure, unadulterated sadness.

Our record in the Champions League semi-finals is therefore 1-4. Throw in our ridiculously close defeat in the final in 2008 and has ever a team come closer to winning the World’s greatest club competition, yet failing, than Chelsea?

During the day, I pondered our chances for 2012 against the mesmeric talisman Lionel Messi and his Barcelona team mates. Not even our stupendous win against Tottenham on Sunday could dispel many of my very real worries and concerns. My biggest fear was that of humiliation. This has been a strange old season; our team was creaking under Villas-Boas, but has been rejuvenated under Roberto di Matteo. Our form has returned, yet we are still an old team in transition. In my mind, there was a real chance that this would turn out to be one game too far for the battle-scarred veterans. After our fortuitous refereeing decisions against Wigan and Spurs, I was also aware that all of our Lady Luck Tokens had been used for this season. And yet, I can easily recall a conversation that a few friends and I had in The Goose before that 2000 game against Barcelona; we had performed miracles during that CL season and we decided that we were realistically not going to progress further. That Barcelona team, including Figo and the like, was a class act. What did we know? On that incredible night we stormed into a 3-0 lead and produced a breath-taking performance. A late Figo goal took the edge off the night, but it had taught me not to write off Chelsea Football Club.

I hoped for a similar response in 2012. However, I was still uneasy. In an email to some friends, I summed-up our chances on the night as follows –

Barcelona win 50%
Chelsea win 25%
Draw 25%

I added that I thought that we had a 20% chance to progress to the final over both legs.

These were my thoughts before the trip to London.

I pulled out of Chippenham at 4pm. Parky and I were headed east once more. It was a drizzle-filled Wiltshire evening. I wondered if the extra zip to the pitch in London would assist Barcelona’s quick passing.

As I approached Reading, my thoughts on the night’s game were waylaid; my friend Rob, who had been tasked to collect my ticket for the away game in Catalonia, called me on my phone. He was very agitated and told me that the Chelsea box office had no record of my purchase.

“What?”

Surely I applied for my ticket last week?

“Oh fcuk.”

For thirty minutes, I tried to recollect if I had bought the £73.50 ticket. It has been a busy old spell, with many match tickets needing to be purchased; maybe I had, indeed, forgotten to get one? I tried to call the box office, but they were closed. I mulled over my options. I realised that I could pop into the internet café opposite The Goose and apply there. Rob confirmed that the box office would be open for thirty minutes after the evening’s game for collections. I could relax.

Phew.

I parked up at 6.45pm. By 6.55pm, I had purchased my away ticket and Parky had bought me a pint of Peroni in The Goose. I thanked Rob for his efforts and he handed me back the form I had filled out detailing my travel details; I would need that to claim my ticket. I met up with Alex, a work colleague, who had asked me if I had the chance of getting him a ticket as soon as we had beaten Benfica. Alex works for one of the hauliers that my company uses to move our client’s products in Europe; he is from Vienna and has been working in England for a year or so. We had spoken on the ‘phone, but had never met before. He has no team in Austria; Chelsea is his team. He is typical of the new type of supporter our club has attracted of late; not from Ashford, but Austria, not from Cheam, but from California, not from Gravesend, but from Germany. He was clearly ecstatic to be able to see only his second ever Chelsea game. He was off back to Vienna in May. It was great to see him so happy.

I was in a rush to head down to The Bridge as I wanted to get some banners up in good time. I was in so much of a rush that I sped off with Parky’s match ticket still in my bag. He caught up with me, but then disappeared into The Maltsters for “just one more pint.”

Alex and I rushed down to The Bridge; the half-and-half scarves sellers had been busy. I can understand the allure of a friendship scarf for European games; in fact, Parky often gets one for Jill. The St. George flag on the FCB badge always looks great in my mind. Monday is St. George’s Day, of course, and a few Chelsea fans will be celebrating our patron saint’s day deep in the heart of Catalonia.

We reached our seats at 7.35pm just as Neil Barnett announced “the anthem”; the recording of “Blue Is The Colour” by an opera singer. I personally wish they would stick with the original 1972 recording to be honest; this new version is slightly too slow, slightly too forced. Alex and I scrambled up to the back row of the MHU and we pinned my two banners up.

“Vinci Per Noi” dates from the summer of 1996.

“Peter Osgood” dates from March 2006.

The blue and white flags had been handed out once again and were being waved furiously as the last few bars of “Blue Is The Colour” gave way to “The Liquidator.” Then, the two teams strode out onto the wet turf, past the Champions League flag, on to the west side of the pitch.

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What a rushed pre-match. However, as I took my seat next to Alan and Tom, I took off my jacket and tried to settle down just for a few moments. I worked out who was playing for Chelsea a few moments into the game. The only surprise was Meireles; this just signifies how far Michael Essien is off his game.

Chelsea were in blue, Barcelona were in black.

In the far corner, the 3,000 away fans presented a vivid and varied scene. Not only were the FCB colours of blue and claret represented, but also the Catalonia colours of red and yellow. Lots of replica shirts, lots of scarves, lots of colourful banners draped over the balcony wall.

Let battle commence. Let the nerves be tested. Let us play. Let us pray.

Despite our wishful thoughts about us “taking it” to Barcelona, it soon became apparent that the away team simply took over the game, strangling us with possession, for us to enjoy any real periods of dominance. All eyes were on Lionel Messi, the World’s greatest footballer, who was there in person, no more than twenty yards away from me at times. I was transfixed by this little man – quiet, unobtrusive, walking around the pitch, head low. How could such a benign looking figure have the potential to cause us so much heartache? It all seemed to be about him. I followed his movement in and amongst our players, his movement at times no more than a slow walk. We would have to stifle his every move. Elsewhere, there were familiar faces, all equally-placed to cause anxiety to defenders and fans alike. Xavi, Iniesta, Fabregas.

The Barcelona players pushed the ball around at will and the passes were usually inch perfect. Short passes were common, but even cross-field balls were inch perfect. In contrast, Chelsea chased and harried, closing down space, avoiding rough tackles. I got the impression that we were being slightly too reverential. I longed for a 50-50 challenge – not a dirty foul, no need to draw a booking – but a hard, strong tackle that would let Barca know we were serious. It would also help to involve the crowd. When I play five-a-side, I am not great a great tackler – I am more a nibbler, someone who can get a toe in to rob the opponent of the ball, someone who can read a pass and intercept.

However, when the need arises and I can sense a pure 50-50, there is no greater feeling that hitting the ball and player’s leading foot together with a strong tackle.

Slam.

I longed for Chelsea to do the same.

The first chance of the game fell to the men in black. Andres Iniesta picked out the on-rushing Sanchez, who nimbly beat the offside trap and delicately lobbed the ball over the ghostly figure of Petr Cech.

“Here we go” I thought.

We waited to see where the ball would end up – time stood still, that old cliché – and were mighty relieved to see the ball drop against the bar. Soon after, Messi’s first real involvement took him in to the penalty area with one of his breath-taking runs, the ball seemingly no more than six inches from his toes throughout. A Chelsea challenge could easily have sent another Barcelona player tumbling, but to his enormous credit, the little Argentinian stayed on his feet. He passed to Iniesta but his close-range shot was wonderfully parried by Cech. The rebound seemed to take Fabregas by surprise and we sighed again.

On 19 minutes, a rare Chelsea chance resulted in Juan Mata slashing over the bar.

Soon after, Barcelona were awarded a corner down below me. As Messi slowly walked towards the corner flag and stooped to collect the ball, more than a few Chelsea fans in the MHU clapped his appearance and I was suitably impressed. We don’t usually do this sort of thing in England – apart from inside cricket grounds where opposing “boundaries” are often clapped by opposing fans – and this was a sure sign that the Chelsea public recognised talent when they saw it. Messi – so young, but so great – is already knocking on the door of Pele and Maradona.

As Barcelona’s possession mounted, I really wondered if we could keep up this constant defending for ninety minutes. Barcelona’s away support was relatively quiet; the only three chants I heard were “Bartha, Bartha, Batha”, “Meeeeee-si” and the club anthem which ends “ Bartha, Bar-tha, Baaaaaaaar-tha.”

Drogba was putting in a typical performance; strong in the air and winning defensive headers one minute, rolling around like he was the victim of a sniper’s bullet the next. He was clearly disrupting Barca’s flow, though whether he had been told to do this by club management is a moot point. I suspect not; I suspect it comes natural to him. I had hoped he could channel the frustration he felt after the 2009 “it’s a fcuking disgrace” game in the right way. However, despite his physical strength, he wasn’t a threat offensively and we were getting a little annoyed with his antics during the game.

The sky filled with misty rain as Barca passed the ball at will. The otherwise dependable Mikel lost possession amidst growls of discontent and the mercurial Messi set up Fabregas. His goal bound effort flew past Cech but slowed slightly, allowing the excellent Ashley Cole to back-pedal, re-adjust at the last minute, and hack the ball to safety with his favoured left peg.

Phew.

At 8.30pm, I received this text from Del, a Liverpool fan from work –

“Be nice to see you nick one. Reckon your boys have set up pretty well, great shape and rode your luck a couple of times. Only downside is that useless prick up front – twenty two and a half minutes on the deck, the other twenty two and a half offside.”

Within twenty seconds of receiving this text, Lampard robbed Messi on the half-way line and quickly pushed the ball to the rampaging Ramires. This was our chance and we knew it. I snapped a photo as the little Brazilian switched feet to play in a ball towards the six yard box. That man Didier arrived to sweep the ball in to the net, just missing the despairing dive of Valdes and we were 1-0 up. Despite a rush of blood, I remained calm enough for five seconds to snap the ensuing huddle down near where Parky resides. After, I bellowed a euphoric “YEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEESSSS!”

And then, at 8.32pm – a text to Del.

“You were saying?”

Oh boy…one shot on goal, one goal, one delirious Stamford Bridge.

At the break, Jimmy-Floyd Hasselbaink was on the pitch, and Journey were on the PA.

“Don’t Stop Believing” is a totally incongruous song to be played at a football ground in England; it certainly says nothing at all about our life as UK Chelsea fans. But I can understand why the club chose to play it.

“Don’t Stop Believing” indeed.

The second-half performance by Chelsea will go down in the annals of our club as one of the most resolute and brave performances the spectators at Stamford Bridge has ever seen.

Barcelona began again strongly. Adriano drew a superb save from Cech. Sanchez shot inexplicably wide of Cech’s post. Alves blasted over. Block after block – Cahill, Terry, Mikel – stopped Barcelona’s goal-bound efforts. Despite his detractors, even Meireles was putting in a solid shift. The only player under-performing was Juan Mata, but he is not built for defensive duties and can hardly be blamed for the game passing him by. Barcelona enjoyed several centrally-placed free-kicks, but shots were either blocked (Messi) or ballooned over (Xavi). This was proving to be almost too difficult to watch; it was certainly too tense to enjoy. I was still in my shirt-sleeves. I avoided putting my jacket on as I superstitiously thought it would jinx things.

“We scored with my jacket off, let’s leave it off.”

When I was a kid, watching games with my parents, I had the same superstition with chewing gum. If we were winning, I’d keep the same piece of gum in my mouth. If we were losing, I’d discard it.

Old habits die hard.

The noise levels grew throughout the match as the crowd sensed that the boys needed our help. “Amazing Grace” was re-worked once again and this Proper Chelsea classic provided the backdrop to the second-half master class in defending –

“Chelsea – Chelsea – Chelsea – Chelsea.
Chelsea – Chelsea – Chelsea.
Chelsea – Chelsea – Chelsea – Chelsea.
Chelsea – Chelsea – Chelsea.
Chelsea – Chelsea – Chelsea – Chelsea.
Chelsea – Chelsea – Chelsea.
Chelsea – Chelsea – Chelsea – Chelsea.
Chelsea – Chelsea – Chelsea.”

The crowd did the boys proud. We didn’t neglect the watching Tottenham fans at home, either –

“We won 5-1,Wembley.”

“Harry For Tottenham.”

I was amazed how quickly I felt the time was going…60 minutes, 65 minutes, 70 minutes. The manager replaced Kalou for Mata – fresh legs. The Barcelona pressure continued. Our only chances in the second period involved a Frank Lampard corner, whipped in, but avoiding the trio of Chelsea players at the far post and a break involving a great pass from Drogba finding Kalou who dinked over Valdes’ bar.

Tick…tick…tick…

Another Messi free-kick with five minutes remaining. He chipped the ball in towards Puyol, who flicked the ball on with the deftest of touches. I was right in line with the flight of the ball as it bounced up towards the goal. It was surely the equaliser. Out of nowhere, Cech scrambled across to turn the ball away for a corner.

Superb. The save of the match.

Bosingwa on for the magnificent Ramires – more fresh legs.

The assistant linesman signaled just three minutes of time to be added on. I looked at my phone and it was 9.33pm.

9.36pm and we’re halfway to paradise.

Time for one last agonising moment as Messi moved the ball out to Pedro. He was well outside the box, at an angle, but his low drive avoided all players in the packed penalty area and struck Cech’s far post with a dull thud. The ball rebounded out to Busquets, who ballooned it high into the Chelsea fans in The Shed Upper.

It was 9.36pm.

The referee blew.

The Bridge roared and Alan, Alex and I smacked each other’s backs. I, for one, could not believe it. I had just witnessed a miracle. Of course, we had ridden our luck, but what a gutsy performance. I lost count of the number of blocks which our defenders used to thwart Barca. I was breathless and almost light-headed as the players clapped the crowd from the centre-circle. There was no overblown triumphalism from the team at the end. They knew we were only half-way there. But we have a foothold in this tie and we will, I am sure, go out to Barcelona with a plausible reason to be optimistic of our chances.

“One Step beyond” got us all bouncing.

I skipped past the Peter Osgood statue – I made the point of touching his leg as I passed – and quickly joined the line of around 100 fans collecting Barcelona away tickets. With great relief, I was handed my ticket. I met up with Steve from the NYBs, who was close to tears with emotion.

“That’s the best noise I’ve ever heard at Chelsea.”

The London night was now dirty and wet with rain, but inside our heads we were drugged-up with Chelsea. We met up with Parky and Jesus in The Goose to let the traffic subside. Rob and Les from nearby Melksham were enjoying “one last pint” and these two scallywags will be on the same 6.55am flight from Bristol as me on Tuesday.

What a beautiful night in Catalonia that could be.

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