Tales From A Happy And Victorious Afternoon At The Vitality

Bournemouth vs. Chelsea : 6 May 2023.

Yet another crazy Chelsea season was nearing completion. There were five games left; three away, two home. The next match was Bournemouth away, the easiest of trips for me.

With PD resting at home and out of action until the new season, we called in a last minute replacement. Mark, from nearby Westbury, was able to pick up a spare ticket and would join Parky – recovering after his own hospital appointment this week – and little old me as I made my way from Somerset to Wiltshire to Dorset, via the slightest of incursions into Hampshire.

I left home just after 7.30am. I knew that a few fans had already travelled down on Friday to make a weekend of it. I collected Parky at 8am and I picked Mark up in the Market Place in Westbury at 8.25am.

This brought back memories from almost forty years ago. The first time that I ever met Mark was on a trip up to London to see Chelsea play Leeds United in April 1984 when we went up in the same car. The driver was Mark’s mate Gary, but he has not been seen for years. Also in the car was PD and Glenn who obviously still go. Thirty-nine years later, four out of five ain’t bad, is it? We beat Leeds 5-0 that day and on the way back to Frome, we stopped off at the Market Place in Westbury and enjoyed an evening pint in “The Crown”.

My route from Westbury was simple enough; down the A350 to Warminster and then down the A36 to Salisbury, then the A338 – via a brief stretch on the A331 – to Bournemouth. As the crow flies, from my house, it is an hour and a half. With my two pick-ups, it took me two hours and ten minutes.

I had not seen Mark since the away game in Milan, so we had a good old catching-up session while I ate up the miles. We agreed on lots of things.

“Why hasn’t Badiashile featured at all? He was calm and efficient in his starts. Since then, nothing.”

“Can’t understand what Frank sees in Sterling. Hope he doesn’t start today.”

“Mudryk is a raw talent and needs game time.”

“In a four, no reason why Chalobah can’t play right back.”

“I like Enzo, though.”

For some reason, I fancied us to win at Bournemouth. I told everyone that I met before the game that “we surely can’t lose all our matches this season?” Although I was never sucked into believing that we had a bona fide relegation fight on our hands, we knew that a win would make us mathematically safe.

In fact, deep down, I suspected that those in our support that were genuinely worried about relegation had not really understood the complexities involved in a relegation struggle. I also think that some of our newer fans were almost revelling in a mock concern about this alleged relegation fight to help them get some “sufferance” brownie points among their peers.

For those who have been reading about 1982/83 this season…now then…THAT was a relegation fight.

I dropped Parky and Marky off outside “The Moon In The Square” and joined them a few minutes later. We breakfasted like kings while many in the pub sat watching the royal coronation on TV.

We met up with a few friends and the time soon passed.

At 1.30pm, we drove the ten minutes out to the Vitality Stadium, spotting a few Chelsea fans along the way. I squeezed my car into the allotted “JustPark” space on Holdenhurst Road and made my way towards the away end. It was ironic that while we have enjoyed many fine days out in Bournemouth since 2016, from October to April, here we were in May and there was drizzle in the air.

I stood alongside Gal, John and Al in the fifth row.

Just before the teams appeared, the noisy and overly-enthusiastic PA announcer pleaded for each of the individual four stands in turn to make “noise for the boys” and my eyes continually rolled.

The teams stood at the centre-circle and “God Save The King” was sung with gusto by all.

As the players lined up in readiness of the kick-off – we attacked our “end” in the first-half, not usually the case here – I absolutely loved Frank’s choice of a starting line-up.

I checked position by position. It was the team that I would have picked in a 4/3/3.

Kepa

Chalobah – Silva – Badiashile – Chilwell

Kante – Enzo – Gallagher

Mudryk – Havertz – Madueke

Did Frank read the comments in my Arsenal blog?

I relaxed knowing that Raheem and Pierre-Emerick were not involved.

The drizzle had mostly petered out but the floodlights were still on. I noticed a surprising number of empty seats in the home areas. Sadly, a fair few were not filled behind me in our section. I find it inconceivable that one of the top fifteen clubs in Europe can’t fill all 1,200 tickets for an away game just one hundred miles away.

It was an open start to the game. The home team – ouch, those nasty zig-zag stripes – created a couple of tasty chances, but Kepa spread himself at his near post to save our blushes while another flashed past a post.

There were a couple of positive chants in support of Frank in those first few minutes.

“Super, Super Frank…”

“Scored two hundred…”

My man Noni Madueke had settled in well on the right flank, twisting and turning, running past defenders, a threat. On just nine minutes, from that right flank, Trevoh Chalobah touched the ball to N’Golo Kante who had time to cross. Conor Galagher moved towards its flight glanced it in at the far post past the marvellously named Neto.

GETINYOUBASTARD.

I just couldn’t bring myself to sing along to the “we are staying up” chants, nor could the young lad next to me. I get the desire for self-deprecation.

But.

Just.

Not.

Right.

Now.

Enzo set up Chalobah but Neto saved well. We looked neat on the ball, with Enzo looking to play in whoever he could whenever he could. Alas, on twenty-one minutes, Dominic Solanke and Ryan Christie set up Matias Vina who ghosted past defenders and, as he set himself up for a shot, I absolutely feared the worst. His lofted curler was perfectly placed beyond the reach of Kepa.

The game was tied 1-1.

I liked the way that Madueke feared nobody as he attacked down the right. His shots on goal showed confidence even if his shot selection and execution were awry. Down our left, seemingly within touching distance, a growing relationship between Gallagher and Mudryk was starting to flourish. The Ukrainian is certainly fast.

I glimpsed into the future at the potential of our very own “M & M” boys – “Mad/Mud” anyone? – causing havoc down the wings, the days of Arjen Robben and Damien Duff reincarnated perhaps, if not the days of Peter Rhoades-Brown and Phil Driver.

Ah, 1983.

Forty years ago, on Friday 6 May, I had an uneventful day at school but the twin nightmares of “A Levels” and a probable relegation were lying heavily on my mind. The very next day – Saturday 7 May 1983 – Chelsea were to visit Bolton Wanderers, one point and one place above Chelsea, in a pure “relegation six pointer”, and my diary noted that if we lost I felt that we would surely be relegated.

Despite seeing the game against Bournemouth being advertised by a few people, who really should have known better, as a “relegation six pointer”, this game wasn’t. It really wasn’t.

We were decent enough in that first-half and at the break I was quietly confident that my pre-game prediction of a Chelsea win would prevail. Kante was producing another 8/10 performance and while he is in the midfield, and Thiago Silva is in defence, we have a chance.

We lost our way a little at the start of the second-half, however, and while Bournemouth created a few chances, we slowed.

I turned to Gal : “Havertz always wants to take one touch too many, doesn’t he?”

This was a strange game now. There were patches of quality; we loved a magical twist out on the touchline from Madueke that made his marker look foolish. This had us all purring. But these were matched by moments of farce; an optimistic volley from Kante went high and so wide that the ball didn’t even leave the pitch.

The pro-Frank songs continued. However, on sixty-three minutes, he had us scratching our heads.

Ruben Loftus-Cheek for Kante.

He was our best player. There was no midweek game to worry about. Was he carrying a knock?

Raheem Sterling for Mudryk.

Oh bloody hell, Raheem…you again?

In the away section, things were getting a little testy. A chant for Roman Abramovich was loud, and an undoubted reaction to the substitutions that seemed to exemplify the current, failing, regime. A chant about the current owner was more forthright.

“Boehly – you’re a cunt.”

There were punches exchanged between two Chelsea fans a few seats behind me.

Christie blasted over. A superb sliding tackle on Solanke by Silva inside the penalty area went to VAR, but there was no foul. Havertz took an extra touch as he broke in on goal from an angle and the moment was lost.

The game rumbled on, with the mood seeming to change inside the away section every few minutes. Ben Chilwell pulled up on the far side and we feared the worst. Dave replaced him. At the same time, Hakim Ziyech replaced Madueke.

The appearance of Hakeem didn’t thrill me, or many, with much joy, but he hugged the near touchline and looked to cause trouble with that tip-tapping style of his.

Vina was clean in on goal to my left, but Kepa made an absolutely brilliant shot, his arm outstretched, strong wrists, magnificent. A Ziyech cross found the head of Havertz, but the effort was saved. On seventy-eight minutes, a corner was headed back across the face of the goal but Dango Ouattara headed over from virtually underneath the bar.

At this stage, it seemed we had lost the momentum and that a Bournemouth goal would be the typical, obvious, sad conclusion.

“Why did I think we’d fucking win this?”

On eighty-two minutes, Sterling and Ziyech stood over the ball at a free-kick on the right hand side of their defensive third. Ziyech floated an in swinging curler towards the penalty spot. The cross had everything. It always looked like it might trouble the defence and ‘keeper. The trajectory, pace and dip were all to perfection. A few Chelsea players rose and the leg of my boy Badiashile flicked the ball past Neto.

The net rippled beautifully.

YES!

His joyous run and slide was lovely to see, his smile wide.

We were back in front.

Phew.

Another substitution, just after, Joao Felix for Havertz.

“How long to go, Gal?”

“Six minutes.”

“Let’s hang on.”

The Chelsea crowd were rocking now.

“We’re gonna have a party, when Arsenal fuck it up.”

On ninety minutes, a beautiful run by under-fire Sterling set up Felix who calmly slotted the ball low past Neto.

I screamed my joy at this one. The game was safe.

AFCB 1 CFC 3.

What a beautiful sight.

These were good times now at The Vitality.

“…when Arsenal fuck it up.”

One win doesn’t make a season, but this bugger was a long time coming. After six consecutive losses, at last three points for Chelsea, and for Frank.

After the game, the players walked over to reciprocate our applause for them. We were happy. They were grateful.

Back in the car, we realised that we had risen to eleventh place.

I made a very quick exit out, and dropped Salisbury Steve off on the way back. I was home by 7.30pm.

Easy.

Next up, two-time European Champions Chelsea take on two-time European Champions Nottingham Forest at Stamford Bridge.

See you there.

Tales From A Rough One

Chelsea vs. Everton : 18 March 2023.

One of the markers that I use to gauge the progress of the year lies in the hedgerow opposite my house. A month or so ago, snowdrops appeared, blossomed and then slowly vanished. Recently, they shared the space with some newly-arrived daffodils which are now in full bloom. A few days ago, there were no more snowdrops left – only the stunning yellow blossoms remained – and in my eyes, winter had ended and spring was here.

Spring has been a winning season for us in fifteen of the past twenty-five years. It’s the business end of the football campaign. It’s when we, with amazing regularity, have gone to work.

But this one might be a little different. With domestic honours an impossibility in 2022/23, our only hope for silverware lies in Europe, but we were given a hideously difficult path to the final in Istanbul. First up, a tie with Real Madrid for the third season in a row. Unfortunately, I will only be able to attend the home leg as others in the office have already booked that Easter week as holiday. The same thing happened last year. It is grimly ironic that we chased a trip to the Bernabeu for years and have now drawn Real Madrid three times in a row, yet on all three occasions, I won’t be in attendance.

Bernabeu has become my new San Siro. One day I’ll get there.

Should we defeat Real Madrid, we then have to play Manchester City or Bayern Munich.

Yeah, I know.

With the kick-off for our home game with Everton at 5.30pm there was a relatively late start to the day. However, by 9.30am all of my fellow passengers had been collected and I then set off on our latest pilgrimage to London. At midday PD and Parky were settling down for an afternoon of lager and large laughs in “The Eight Bells” and I joined them at around 1.45pm. I had met up with my friend Bill from just outside Toronto at Stamford Bridge and by the time we arrived, our friends Diana and Ian, from Chicago, were already sat alongside PD, Parky and Salisbury Steve. Rene from Chicago, who I had not previously met, joined us too.

A table for eight at the Eight Bells.

We chatted about all sorts.

Bill told me that he felt that he already knew PD and Parky, through reading these rambles over the years, and was actually quite excited to be eventually meeting them for the first time. You can imagine my response.

I was amazed how easy it was for Diana – an Everton fan – to get a ticket for the away section. Her husband Ian and Bill would be sat together in the West Lower after I managed to secure tickets for them both via a reliable source.

Rene would be sat in the West Lower too.

The chat continued. I hadn’t been feeling great, though, for a few days. I had been suffering with a cold. As I chatted away to the friends from near and far I could feel my sore throat beginning again. I felt a bit groggy too. I hoped the players were in better nick than me.

I was able to personally thank Bill, at last, for helping me to obtain a ticket for the incredible Racing vs. Independiente derby that I witnessed over in Buenos Aires in February 2020. This feat of kindness came about when a friend of his, Victor – as featured a few weeks back – who he played football with in West Virginia a decade or so ago, was contacted and within an hour, I was sorted. I sent a photo of us to Victor, who lives just a few blocks from Enzo’s former home El Monumental, and eagerly await the opportunity to be able to return the flavour when Victor comes over to London in hopefully the near future.

Ironically, the bloke who I secured the two tickets from for Bill and Ian is currently in Buenos Aires himself on a football jolly.

It had been raining on the drive to London. Now, leaving the pub, the sun was out. However, walking up the steps to the platform at Putney Bridge, I suddenly felt knackered. At least the weather was mild. I was rough, but if it had been a freezing day, I would have felt even worse.

I reached my seat and still felt below par. I had a feeling that I wouldn’t be strongly participating in this one.

The team?

Kepa

Fofana – Kouilbaly – Badiashile

James – Enzo – Kovacic – Chilwell

Felix – Havertz – Pulisic

The presence of Christian Pulisic surprised me. Surely Mykhailo Mudryk needed games more.

So, the McNally Derby.

Chelsea in blue / blue / white.

Ian in the West Lower.

Everton in pink / grey / pink.

Diana in the Shed Upper.

The game began with us fizzing the ball around nicely. I must admit it did feel odd for us to be attacking the Matthew Harding in the first-half. A half volley from Enzo was blocked. Not long after, a Ben Chilwell free-kick was worked to Mateo Kovacic who unleashed a volley that everyone in our section of the stand thought was goal bound. It whizzed just past the far post.

We dominated the first ten minutes almost completely.

But the atmosphere wasn’t particularly loud, nor even above average.

There was a “if you know your history” from the Evertonians every few minutes but that was about it.

Kalidou Koulibaly over hit a diagonal out to Pulisic to such an extent that I wondered if he had put his boots on the wrong feet. At least Pulisic looked full of running. Enzo looks a proper footballer doesn’t he?

There was a swift break that flew through the Everton defence but we were unable to finish. Kai Havertz was starting to come to life. On twenty minutes, undoubtedly the best move of the match took place down below me with great passing involving Reece James, Enzo, Havertz and Joao Felix but a lunging Pulisic was just unable to toe-poke a finish past Jordan Pickford.

Within quick succession, we purred at two pieces of sublime skill from Felix. Firstly, he showed complete calm and unerring presence of mind to contort his body to keep the ball from going out for an Everton throw-in down to my right. Next, a phenomenal spin into space after a remarkable first touch that left his marker consulting a “London A to Z” for his current whereabouts.

It was Zola-esque.

Magnificent stuff.

On the half-hour, I heard The Shed for the first real time.

Next up, a nice move but a weak effort from Felix right at the ‘keeper. On forty minutes, a terrible waste of a cross from Pulisic. His star had faded already.

Things were a bit edgier now, and although Everton had hardly mustered more than a couple of attacks on our goal in the entire length of the first-half, the support around me definitely became more nervous. There was desperate defending at times – much of the defending involving Koulibaly by definition looks desperate – and we were grateful, I think, that the first-half was nearing completion. In the last few minutes of the half, the only sound to be heard in the Matthew Harding Upper was that of plastic seats being flipped back.

One last free-kick, well-worked, a dummy, something from the training ground, but the eventual shot from Enzo did not bother Pickford one iota.

At the break, I grimly predicted a 0-0 draw at full-time. It’s not that we had played badly – far from it – but our lack of firepower in and around the box was haunting us yet again. I was still feeling rough and had not really joined in too many songs and chants in support of the boys.

I sat myself down alongside PD – Alan was unable to make it, Clive had shifted over to sit with Gary – and prepared myself for another half of attrition against a bleak but regimented Sean Dyche team.

Straight away we were on the attack. A couple of crosses were zipped over from our left with Chilwell having a fine game, and Havertz should have buried the second one with a virtually free header.

Eight minutes into the second-period, Enzo floated the ball perfectly out to our left wing-back. A first-time cross from Chilwell was not cleared and the ball reached Felix slightly to the left of the penalty spot. I looked on and hoped for the best as he dug a shot out. Miraculously, the ball was struck with such accuracy that it slowly crept just inside the far post.

The Toffees were becoming unstuck, as was my recent score prediction.

Chelsea 1 Everton 0.

The players cuddled underneath the TV screen and in front of the away fans in the far corner of The Shed.

At last some noise.

“He came from Portugal.”

And then a rousing “Carefree” – seemingly – from all four stands.

I joined in, coughed and spluttered, and soon stopped.

Arguably the best move of the game soon followed when a cute back-heeled pass from Felix set up Pulisic in a nice little pocket of space. He lifted a fine shot into the goal – similar to the Havertz disallowed goal against Dortmund – but the flag was raised for an offside. Ian and Bill must have got a good view of that decision.

“We need a second, Paul.”

“Yep.”

“A goal there would have killed them off.”

The prize for this win, with Fulham playing in the FA Cup this weekend, would be a step up to ninth position.

In the pub, Bill and I had laughed about the varying expectations of us Chelsea fans over the years.

“Back in 1983, we would have craved a safe ninth spot in the top division.”

Ah 1983.

Forty years ago, my mind was full of school discos and terrible “Mock A Level” results but it was also full of Chelsea’s nosedive down the Second Division table. The next game to be featured in my look back on the dreadful 1983/83 season, which took place on Saturday 12 March 1983, paired us against Carlisle United at Stamford Bridge. In the pre-amble in the match programme the game was described as a “six pointer as we skirt with the relegation zone.” I had predicted a bare 6,000 to show up at The Bridge. Both teams were mired in the bottom nine positions of the table with Chelsea just two points above the visitors. These were grave times.

The team’s two managers were both from the North-East; John Neal from Seaham in County Durham and Bob Stokoe from Hartlepool. Their two teams were now embroiled in a fight to avoid the drop. I mention these two fine fellows because, at the time, I was only seventeen and yet Stokoe and Neal, gentleman managers in every sense of the word, seemed decidedly ancient at fifty-two and fifty years of age.

And yet here I am, pushing fifty-eight.

There is no punchline here. And if there was, it wouldn’t be very funny.

At the time, Chelsea’s home record wasn’t too bad – 7 – 5 – 2, promotion form – but it was our away record – 2 – 3 – 11, relegation form – that was the root cause of our troubles.

A notable change saw our regular ‘keeper, the eighteen-year-old Steve Francis, being replaced by Bob Iles, a signing from non-league Weymouth a few years earlier. Despite going a goal down, Chelsea lead 2-1 at the break and we went on to win 4-2 The goal scorers were Paul Canoville with two, John Bumstead and Clive Walker. The gate was 6,667.

On the same day, Everton played at Old Trafford against Manchester United in front of a huge 58,198 gate in the FA Cup quarter finals with a Frank Stapleton goal giving the home team a narrow 1-0 win.

Back to 2023, and – I could hardly believe my ears – there was a strange sound emanating from the very upper echelons of the West Stand.

“Oh when the Blues…oh when the Blues…go steaming in…go steaming in.”

Fackinell.

Just after the hour, Conor Gallagher replaced Pulisic.

There was another scooped ball from Enzo. He is quickly becoming my favourite in this new assortment of players that we now find ourselves supporting.

Everton attacked. There was a free-kick from their right that caused nervousness. Then from a corner on the far side, a ball was floated in and James Tarlowski rose above Wesley Fofana, otherwise enjoying a fine game, and headed the ball down towards Kepa. Abdoulaye Doucore nipped in to flick the ball in. Havertz hooked the ball away but it was a clear goal. The buggers were level and they celebrated wildly down below me.

We got going again. There was a clean break down our right and Fofana found James. His ball inside enabled Felix to continue the move. The ball was played back to James, entering the danger zone for Everton, and as he galloped on, he came crashing down after a coming together of bodies.

Penalty.

I felt so rough that I just sat in my seat.

PD was up celebrating and he looked down on me with a look of disbelief.

More hesitancy on the run up from Havertz.

…oh bloody hell man.

Thankfully the soft shoe shuffle sent Pickford to the left and the ball was struck high to the right.

Chelsea 2 Everton 1.

Safe?

You would hope so, eh?

There was a loud and passionate chant for Gianluca Vialli and despite my sore throat, I had to show some respect and join in.

“VIALLI! VIALLI! VIALLI! VIALLI!”

With around ten minutes to go, our manager could not resist some typical pottering.

Kovacic, forging a decent partnership with Enzo of late, was hoiked off in favour of Ruben Loftus-Cheek and I felt a little murmur of concern.

Everton came at us again. A mistake from Koulibaly thankfully went unpunished.

With five minutes to go, two more substitutions and my head struggled to fathom it all out.

Trevoh Chalobah for Forfana.

Carney Chukwuemeka for Felix.

PD, his hip hurting, and needing a long time to walk back to the car, set off.

“See you soon mate. Here are the car keys.”

The game was very almost over.

Then, an Everton break down our right and Doucoure played in Ellis Simms, who still had a lot to do. Sadly, he breezed past a sadly immobile Koulibaly and slotted home with far too much ease.

Oh Kepa.

It was a terrible sucker punch.

The buggers celebrated in our faces again.

When Havertz had scored what we thought was our deserved winner, flags of many colours were waved enthusiastically in front of the West Lower and “equality” was observed on a few of them. Maybe our players had taken the word far too literally.

Five minutes of extra time were announced.

I shouted out : “Come on Chels, keep going.”

Almost immediately after, a bloke behind me repeated the exact same words.

“Come on Chels, keep going.”

It wasn’t to be. This was an evening when we flattered to deceive yet again. We will have to make it our new slogan.

Next up, a kick-off at the same time and in the same place, but not for a while.

In a fortnight we play Aston Villa at home.

See you there.

Tales From A Grey Day

West Ham United vs. Chelsea : 11 February 2023.

You know what it’s like when the alarm sounds and there is a day of football that lies ahead, but you just don’t feel the love?

That’s what it was like on the morning of our game at West Ham United.

I had set the alarm for 5.30am and it took me a few minutes to summon the energy to get up and at’em. West Ham is probably my least favourite away venue. It’s a terrible stadium to watch football, eh? Additionally, in four previous visits for me there was still no win against my name.

But Chelsea were calling and so I picked up PD at 7am and Parky at 7.30am. As I approached PD’s house, a song by Yazoo from 1983, how appropriate, was airing, the suitably titled “Mr. Blue.”

“I’m Mr. Blue.

I’m here to stay with you.

And no matter what you do.

When you’re lonely, I’ll be lonely too.”

There was talk of Dortmund on the drive to London. The three of us leave early on Monday morning and are travelling over to the Ruhr by train.

A year ago to the day, PD and I were in Abu Dhabi, nervously awaiting our game against Palmeiras on the Saturday.

A year on, Saturday 11 February 2023 would be our last day of being rightfully termed World Champions.

It’s been the maddest of years since.

By 9.45am, we were settled into “The Half-Moon Café” on the Fulham Palace Road, enjoying a fine full English and a strong mug of tea. Before the end of our fully enjoyable breakfast, a squadron of the Met’s finest had arrived and were getting into various plates of unequally unhealthy food. We wondered if they were soon to be deployed at Craven Cottage for the visit of Forest or at Loftus Road for the visit of Millwall.

On the drive up to London, I had asked PD about the FA Cup game at Derby County that I had featured in last week’s edition.

“You were there, right?”

“I was.”

“Is that right that some seats ended up on Chelsea fans in the terrace?”

“Yeah. The ones that didn’t reach the pitch.”

Forty years ago, as fate would have it, the very next game in Chelsea’s increasingly troubled season was at home to Derby County. Going into the game on Saturday 5 February, Chelsea were in fourteenth place with a 8-7-10 record. The visitors, however, were experiencing an even more disastrous season than Chelsea and were rock bottom of the twenty-two team division with a 3-11-11 record.

Here was a tussle that we could win surely? The previous game was a surprising 6-0 win against Cambridge United. I was hopeful that we could win this one and put our season back on track. Promotion was looking out of the question but there were still points to be won, and I prayed that subsequent Mondays in the sixth form common room would not follow the recent pattern of me having to take all sorts of flak that had been flying my way.

In the programme for the game, the tone was set by the editorial which had moved on from being called “The Talk Of Stamford Bridge” to “Forward Line.”

The subject was of the hooliganism the previous week.

“Thirty seconds can be a long time in football. With the score 1-1 at Derby last Saturday, with the Osmaston Stand clock reading 4.40pm and the ball safely in the hands of our goalkeeper, we looked certain to force a replay with County. The mood was optimistic as the team had fought back from being a goal behind and the fans had behaved well, out singing the home supporters to the extent that a plea was made at half-time over the public address in an effort to coax more noise from the locals.

Then, barely a minute later, we were out of the Cup, the hooligans we despise were out of their seats and throwing them onto the pitch and onto innocent Chelsea supporters standing below. January 29th will enter the history books as a Black Day for Chelsea Football Club; we aim to make it one too for those criminals by studying all the evidence available including photographs and video tapes. We are determined to bring to justice the perpetrators of Saturday’s violence.

The thousands of regular, law-abiding Chelsea fans at the Baseball Ground last week no doubt felt disgusted and ashamed at the scenes played out before them by followers of this club as the match drew to a close. For those excellent supporters, many of whom will be present today to watch the football peacefully and enthusiastically, we shall leave the subject of last week’s vandalism and concentrate on today’s match.

Anyone guilty of being involved in the Derby violence can stop reading this page as we are now going to talk about the football.”

Four contributors to the programme continued with the same subject.

John Neal.

“Last week’s result and the events at Derby have left a cloud over the club all week that we must try and remove with a good performance this afternoon.”

Ken Bates.

“Now that the dust has settled, I think we are agreed that last weekend was a disaster, in more ways than one. To be knocked out of the Cup in the last minute, after having more scoring chances than the England cricket team, was a particularly bitter blow but certainly no justification for the behaviour that followed.

We have asked for copies of all press photographs taken last Saturday and we are also seeking to obtain a copy of the video recording of the match, and intend to compare these with our own video recordings which we now take of Stamford Bridge to try and trace the culprits. I am not too hopeful that we will be successful as I have my doubts that the hooligans that caused the trouble are true Chelsea supporters – evidence of this is that I too had obscenities, rude signs and coins directed at me when I went on the pitch to try and calm things down.”

Micky Greenaway.

“The atmosphere prior to the final goal was tremendous and I realise and understand more than most the supreme frustration felt by all when Derby’s final goal was scored, but the actions of some supporters only hurt fellow Chelsea fans and this should not happen. So shape up Blues Fans, cheer on and support forever more, but avoid unsavoury incidents like that wherever possible.”

Seb Coe.

“A friend of mine from Sheffield once wryly commented to me after watching Chelsea in his area, how great it must be to watch your team at home every week. Long may that level of support last. The only sadness is that amongst the thousands of travelling loyalists, there are still a handful of trouble makers that embarrass the club and sicken the well behaved following.”

Forty years ago, looking back with gritted teeth, the events at the Baseball Ground was a perfect storm.

A huge away following. A crushing last-minute defeat. FA Cup dreams extinguished yet again. For many within the six thousand, there was only one response. If hand-to-hand hooliganism was impossible due to the lack of home fans in close proximity, thoughts turned to vandalism.

It was all sadly predictable.

And even though many to this day take pride in our performances off the pitch in games like this, at the time I was becoming just sick of it all despite the warped kudos of supporting a team with a violent hard core that I mentioned in the last edition. I just wanted to support a team in the top flight. And for our support to be loud and boisterous.

In the end, Chelsea succumbed to a woeful 1-3 home defeat against Derby County in front of a miserly 8,661. Colin Pates scored the only goal for us, and we even had the misfortune to score two own goals for our visitors, via ‘keeper Steve Francis and midfielder John Bumstead, in addition to the one Derby goal claimed by old warhorse Archie Gemmill.

These were becoming desperate times at Chelsea.

I’m getting depressed just remembering it all.

I include a piece that was aired on the “Nationwide” programme on the following Monday as the headline story. It mentions just fifty Derby fans on the wide North terrace at the game; a pitifully low number, and no doubt the result of their poor season but also the fear of retribution. Leaving the away end at Stamford Bridge in the early ‘eighties must have been a pretty terrifying experience.

Our breakfast consumed, I zipped over to park up at Barons Court and we then embarked on an hour-long train journey east. Via a couple of train changes, we pulled into Pudding Mill Lane – how Dickensian – bang on 11.30am, bang on plan. I looked over at the steel structure of the London Stadium, under a Tupperware sky, and my heart sunk.

I was back at this grim venue once again.

Just outside the station, we spotted a police van parked nearby, with the officers that had been sat next to us in the Hammersmith café stretching their legs outside.

There were two security checks and we were in, sharing views with many that we would probably struggle on this day in a grey London.

We soon heard that Ruben Loftus-Cheek was starting alongside Enzo Fernandez and it caught us all by surprise.

I could not believe how slowly the stadium filled.

The match day announcer spoke with Bobby Moore’s daughter on the pitch before the game, and there was another presentation involving West Ham “legends” Sir Trevor Brooking and, ahem – wait for it – Carlton Cole.

Our team?

Kepa.

James – Silva – Badiashile – Cucarella

Fernandez – Felix – Loftus-Cheek

Madueke – Havertz – Mudryk

At 12.20pm, with just ten minutes to go, I estimated that just 25% of the crowd were inside. At kick-off, bar a few thousand late arrivals, the place was full.

I had heard about a new screen that had been set up to block the view – and any subsequent “pointing and shouting” – between home and away fans between the away fans in the lower reaches of the Sir Trevor Brooking Stand and the home support in the lower tier of the West Stand.

And there it was; a ridiculous addition, really.

West Ham were wearing their light blue shorts and it still didn’t look right; it was if there was an away game colour clash and they were forced to change. Their kit is a real dog’s dinner this season. We were wearing the thousand island dressing change kit.

“We’ve worn that before this season, right, John?”

“Brighton.”

“Fuck sake.”

But we began ever so brightly.

Despite the home team defending deep – please note how I try to avoid the wanky buzzwords like “low block” – we were able to find spaces with runners being hit via some cute passing from Enzo Fernandez and Joao Felix in particular.

On ten minutes, with Chelsea in the ascendency, a pass from deep from Reece James was played into space for Felix. It seemed to catch the West Ham defence off guard – to be honest there was a hint of offside – but our new loan-signing advanced and saw his shot come back off the far post but he tapped in the rebound.

A quick celebration was quelled by the linesman’s yellow flag on the far side, out near Essex.

“Fair enough. It did look offside, John.”

There was nice movement and intensity in these early stages. On seventeen minutes, the ball was well won with a tough tackle from Mykhailo Mudryk and there was a one-two- between Marc Cucarella and Enzo. I caught the Argentinian’s cross into the box and also, miraculously, the exact moment that Felix tapped the ball in.

The celebrations in front of the West Ham fans were a lot easier to capture.

Alan : “Thay’ll ‘ave ta cam at us na.”

Chris : “Cam on me li’le dimonds.”

Just after, another offside denied Kai Havertz a goal.

There was a lovely wriggle away from defenders from Noni Madueke, breaking in from the right. There were flashes of some decent football. The noise wasn’t great though. The two sections in the away end work against any united front.

It was all Chelsea in the opening twenty-five minutes.

The Chelsea choir summed it all up eloquently.

“How shit must you be? We’re winning away.”

There was a rare West Ham attack featuring the always dangerous Michail Antonio but Kepa blocked well. Sadly, poor defensive marking allowed a cross down below us from Vladimir Coufal and this was flicked on by Jarrod Bowen and we immediately sensed danger.

I whispered “here we go” under my breath.

At the far post, former Chelsea defenders Emerson, Lake & Palmieri scuffed the ball in.

Fackinell.

He did not celebrate.

We didn’t hit earlier peaks during the rest of the half, with Enzo showing less inclination to pass forward. Was he wearing Jorginho’s number five shirt a little too tightly? Was he being unnecessarily passive? We went into our shell a little.

At the other end, the under-fire Cucarella lost Bowen a few times.

However, there were chances. Fabianski saved well from Madueke. A free-kick from Enzo went close.

In the half that we were defending, seven or eight pigeons strutted around with little hindrance. As the first period came to an end, many Chelsea supporters drifted out for half-time drinks and visits to the boys’ and girls’ rooms. We – Parky, John, Gal, Al, Eck and I – were positioned in the very front row of the top section. It allowed me the chance to nod “hellos” to many friends as they walked out to the spacious concourses below. I took some photographs. It’s what I do.

It was especially pleasant to see Shari once again, over from Brisbane, and Ray, back from a year-long placement in Miami.

“Yeah, see you in Dortmund.”

I had to laugh when the highlights of the first-half were shown on the screens at the break but our goal was not shown.

“Righty-o.”

I turned to John and muttered “well, I don’t think many of us will be saying ‘we miss Mount’ will they?”

Sadly, the second-half was a very poor show and I won’t dwell too much on those second, woeful, forty-five minutes.

Twice in quick succession, we were all seething that Madueke stood next to Felix at corners, but the ball was not played to him, he just stood vacantly alongside. On both occasions, the ball was played way back by Cucarella to Kepa.

“Fuck sake. What is the bloody point of that? Get Madueke in the box, an extra body, an extra head, or get him to wait outside the box for a second ball.”

We were raging.

Nothing happened until half-way through the half when Graham Potter made three substitutions.

Ben Chilwell for Cucarella.

Hakim Ziyech for Mudryk.

Mason Mount for Madueke.

Ziyech then stood next to Felx as another corner was swung in, and we all wondered about the collective IQ of our first team squad.

Maybe that’s it. Maybe we just possess thick footballers at this moment in time. They can seem to negotiate their way into a “TikTok” video but sadly come up short on the football pitch.

Fackinell.

Conor Gallagher for Loftus-Cheek.

I thought Ruben was perhaps our only half-decent player during the game thus far, but only by the thinnest of margins.

The atmosphere was horrific. So quiet. Absolutely abysmal. It went well with the football on show.

I turned to John.

“God, we could get walloped in Dortmund on Wednesday. They’ll have the Yellow Wall. We’ll have the Wailing Wall.”

A header for Havertz, wide.

Late on, I was pondering why the top balcony on their West Stand mentions “1964 FA Cup Winners”, “1975 FA Cup Winners” and “1980 FA Cup Winners”, but just “1965 European Cup Winners Cup” and if they ran out of letters for “winners.”

“Just no demand for it down these parts these days, governor.”

With that, my eyes returned to the pitch to see a West Ham leg prod the ball in.

Another late goal at this bloody place? Oh God.

Thankfully, after a delay – as always – it went to VAR.

John : “as long as it goes on, the more likely it is to go in our favour.”

Me, willing it to take forever : “keep going, keep going, keep going.”

No goal.

The game continued half-heartedly, but a flashpoint was just around the corner.

In the last few minutes, I snapped as Gallagher hit a low drive at goal. My photo shows Tomas Soucek going to ground. I did not see the handball, for that is what it was, but the five or six Chelsea players nearest the ball certainly did and raced towards the referee.

No penalty. No VAR.

I must not let myself believe that dark forces are at hand amid the Premier League’s power brokers but at times it seems that a narrative is at work.

Was it just an appalling – APPALLING! – decision?

Maybe.

If not, football is dead.

I will see some of you in Dortmund.

Pre-Match

First-Half

Half-Time

Second-Half

1982/83

Tales From Home And Away

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.

Kepa

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.