Tales From The London Lions

Chelsea vs. Dynamo Kiev : 7 March 2019.

I wasn’t quite sure what to make of Dynamo Kiev, nor even how to spell their name. Was it Dynamo or Dinamo? And should I go all native and plump with Kyiv, or stick with the anglicised version? I knew that they had only just recommenced their league season after a lengthy winter break of over two months. I knew that they were a famous name from the days of the old Soviet League, when their team included the powerful and iconic striker Oleg Blokhin. When the Ukrainian League itself began after the splintering away from the old regime, there was the nimbler Andrei Shevchenko. I wondered whatever happened to him? I recollected, of course, that we had played them in the group stages of the 2015/2016 Champions League. I vaguely remembered a home win in that competition. But I knew next to nothing of their current team or form.

On the drive up to London – PD was doing the honours once again for this midweek fixture – all the talk was of the upcoming trip to the Ukrainian capital. I had booked the three of us onto flights within forty-five minutes of finding out that we would be playing the famous team from the Ukraine (or just Ukraine, as it now calls itself) and over the past few weeks it has been a hectic time. For one thing, there was the slight worry of a new passport but that was returned to me in double-quick time. An apartment on the main square was booked for a very competitive price even though it was worryingly close to where some innocent Chelsea fans were attacked the night before the game in 2015. Everything else fell into position too. Match tickets were purchased at the princely sum of £1.50 apiece. I booked some parking at Heathrow. Everything was good. When we realised that we had Everton away on the Sunday, arrangements were made for that too. We would not be getting home until around 10pm on the Saturday and would be leaving for Liverpool at 8am the next day. So, we decided to stay Sunday night in Liverpool. Six days of football. Or rather six days of Chelsea. Heaven on Earth.

And a two-centre holiday, of sorts, in Kiev and Liverpool.

Insert punchline here.

It was the usual midweek routine.

“The Goose” to meet one set of friends, and “Simmons” to meet some others.

Some of the US supporters from Fulham on Sunday had surprised me though; a healthy group of around eight from Ohio were drinking at a table in “The Goose” when we arrived at about 5.45pm. I flitted between this group – which included a couple of Facebook friends, Billy and Kristen, that I was meeting for the very first time – and the more local friends that reside in that pub. From Brian, Kev and Pete – the Bristol Posse – there was the surprising news that, allegedly, just one hundred Chelsea supporters from the UK had bought tickets for Kiev. I expected many more.

“I expect I know half of them.”

In truth, I expect I will know three-quarters of them at least.

Alan, Gal, Pete, Nick, JD, Welsh Kev, Cathy and Dog – his first euro away since 2011/2012, fantastic – Luke and Aroha, Dave, Brian, Kev, Pete, Julie and Tim, Rich, Pauline, Nick and Ali, Closey, Neil, Cal, Parky, PD and little old me. There are twenty-five or so certs for starters.

Next Thursday, they will be announcing the supporters’ line-up to the team.

Down at “Simmons” the place was filling nicely. As on Sunday in “The Duke’s Head” in Putney, Jim from Oxfordshire had joined the usual suspects. But Jim had a special guest with him, our former midfield dynamo – or dinamo – John Boyle who played for us with distinction from 1964 to 1973. It was a real pleasure to meet John for the very first time. John is a friend of mine on Facebook and it is a wonderful to see him interacting with so many on social media – he is quite prolific – and also with some good friends in the bar. Two other Facebook friends who I had not yet met – Robert from Helsinki and Jean from Houston – arrived too. It was quite an evening for meeting new friends.

There was a lovely comment from John.

“In my mind, there are more legends supporting this club than players playing for it.”

Bless him.

He also reminded me of this fact.

“Callum Hudson-Odoi is the second youngest Chelsea player to play in the Football League Cup Final. Do know the youngest?”

I looked at John and said “I think it was Susan Boyle’s brother” and he smiled and laughed.

Great times.

I soon introduced the fans from Ohio to John Boyle and he was soon regaling them with tales of his time in the old NASL with the Tampa Bay Rowdies in their championship season of 1975, a team that our own Joe Cole played for between 2016 and 2018. They got a buzz to be chatting with John, who became our first-ever substitute when they were allowed – but for only replacing injured players, not for tactical reasons – in 1965.

The team was announced and Daryl was incandescent with rage that our Callum was not featured.

Arrizabalaga

Zappacosta – Christensen – Luiz – Alonso

Jorginho

Barkley – Kovacic

Pedro – Giroud – Willian

It was an odd mish-mash of a team. A mix of bona fide A team starters, but then squad players.

In Sarri we trust? Not so sure.

The two pubs had been full. On the walk to the ground, there were the usual crowds. In 2012/2013, our Europa League gates had ranged from 28,817 to 39,403. I hoped for a figure nearer the second of those two numbers. Once inside, I looked over to check how many away fans were present. It was around one-and-a-half thousand and I suspected that many were UK-based. We soon saw that Arsenal were losing 1-3 in Rennes.

“Good old Arsenal.”

I spoke to JD, who was relishing a return trip to Kiev.

“It’s great. What looks good is a trip to Chernobyl.”

I wasn’t convinced.

“It’s like Middlesbrough” chirped John.

The opposition were sporting colours of white / white / blue that were the direct opposite to ours. Their New Balance kit had a broad stripe down the sleeves which reminded me of the Puma kits of the mid-to-late ‘seventies. The iconic diamond badge featured a “D” which was exactly the same to that of Moscow Dynamo, but they don’t like to talk about Russia in Ukraine. Let’s move on.

There were noticeable gaps in the corporate middle tier of the East Stand, but everywhere else was well occupied. I soon spotted the Ohio contingent in the Shed Lower, no more than twenty seats along from Parky. The away fans, like the team, were very quiet. It was as if both team and fans really were coming out of hibernation. I guess I don’t know how cold it can get in a Ukrainian winter.

In the first fleeting moments of the match, Pedro was as lively as anyone. I usually have my camera to hand at key moments, but I sadly missed the opening goal. I was not in my seat. Without putting too fine a point on it, when Pedro slotted in from a sublime Giroud pass at The Shed End, I wasn’t holding my camera.

Again, let’s move on.

Quickly.

In what would become a familiar story during a dominant first-half, Pedro wasted a great chance soon after with a shot straight at the Kiev ‘keeper Boyko. We were purring against a very reserved Kiev team, who hardly threatened at all, and were honestly not too bothered about putting us under too much pressure. Please note that I am trying my damnedest not to over-use the verb “to press” in these match reports. It is the most-quoted word in football these days. Pedro and Giroud combined again, but the Spaniard could not get his shot in.

It took just under half-an-hour for me to hear a chant from the Ukrainians, and it was overly simple.

“Dee-nah-mo. Dee-nah-mo. Dee-nah-mo. Dee-nah-mo.”

A defence-splitting ball from David Luiz, captain on this night, set up Pedro with another chance, but this again went begging. I can’t honestly remember a half in which we had been so dominant. They had not tested Kepa, who was half-way through a Thibaut Courtois word search puzzle book left over from last season. One dominant run from deep by an anonymous Kiev midfielder was their only moment that stood out in the first-half. Long bombs from Luiz and scooped chips from Jorginho were the special moves from us. Surely more goals would follow.

There was a half-hearted “bouncy” from the away fans towards the end of the first period. In general, things were quiet. Our lot were hardly creating a din. I was surprised that Willian was not booed, remembering his time with their arch rivals Shakhtar Donetsk.

There was still time for another Pedro effort, his fifth of the game thus far.

At the break, I hoped for more goals. Or at least one that I would actually see.

But it was a time for quiet reflection.

The match programme sadly contained an obituary for Janet Rainbow-King. On this evening of meeting Facebook friends in person for the first time, this was an awful reminder of the fragility of life. Janet, who worked tirelessly for the club a few decades ago, became a Facebook friend a few years back. I only ever met Janet once when she sat with her husband Colin a few rows behind me for the famous Arsenal 6-0 thrashing in 2014. I thanked her for having to deal with the rascal Ken Bates and Janet got a kick out of that.

Janet, who lived – and died – in Malta certainly loved Chelsea. I was so sad to hear of her passing last week. When I received my Chelsea Pitch Owner certificate in 1993, it was counter-signed by Janet. I will regard that as a fine memorial to a wonderful Chelsea servant. Janet was only sixty. Our club is a poorer place without her.

RIP.

The game restarted.

Guess what? Another Pedro effort. This was getting quite ridiculous now. Kiev were there for the taking. We found it difficult to break them down though. On the hour, there were changes.

N’Golo Kante and Ruben Loftus-Cheek replaced Jorginho and Ross Barkley – I was surprised that he had started two consecutive games to be honest – with Kovacic moving in to the Jorginho role.

“Yeah, I know.”

Ruben was soon fouled outside the box.

We waited an eternity, but Willian took the ball, stepped back, sized up the options, looked again, then despatched a majestic curler over the wall and into the goal. This time, I captured it all.

GET IN.

Chelsea 2 Dynamo Kiev 0.

Phew.

Click, click, click, click, click, click, click, click, click, click, click, click, click.

We had been here before.

From my 2015 match report, that time a late winner.

“The ball was placed behind a semi-circular flash of shaving foam.

The referee spent a while pacing out ten yards.

Another flash of foam.

The wall retreated.

We waited.

Willian waited.

I had my camera poised. I kept focusing and re-focusing.

“Concentrate you bastard, concentrate.”

I clicked as Willian struck. I looked up to follow the beautiful flight of the ball as it was whipped up and over the redundant wall and watched – these wonderful moments – as it flew into the waiting goal.

“YEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEES.”

The Bridge burst.

The noise was immense.”

We were 2-0 up in 2019. But would it be enough? I wasn’t sure and neither was Alan. Oddly, this second Chelsea goal awoke Dynamo from their slumbers and a speculative effort from the boot of Sydorchuk rose and rose before hitting someone in the rear rows of The Shed Upper.

Sarri then replaced Willian with our Callum, whose name had been sung loudly for quite some time.

Kiev threatened a little more in the closing fifteen minutes and things became a more nervous than it really should be. We knew a rogue Kiev goal would change the complexion of the tie completely. Then came a lovely move – the Chelsea of old, memories of Frank Lampard on the counter – which resulted in Ruben and Callum linking with Pedro who fired over. Pedro had also had a goal disallowed for offside in the second period.

At the other end, a header underneath The Shed did not hit the target.

“COME ON CHELSEA.”

Nerves were tightening for sure now. In these closing periods of European games, I always think of Iniesta in 2009.

Thankfully, right on ninety minutes, another fine move resulted in our Ruben setting up our Callum to strike from inside the box.

GET IN YOU BASTARD.

It was a good reflection of a match in which our foreign opponents were oh so reticent.

London Lions 3 Kiev Chickens 0.

Game over, and the tie – surely – too.

Next up, the old gold of Wolverhampton Wanderers visit Stamford Bridge on Sunday.

See you there.

 

Tales From Three Types Of Magic

Chelsea vs. Aston Villa : 27 September 2014.

I didn’t go to the Capital One Cup tie with Bolton Wanderers on Wednesday. This was only the fourth time in almost ten years that I had not been present for a Chelsea home game. However, this one was a little different; for the other three, there were extenuating circumstances (Celtic friendly in 2006 – I was on holiday in the US, Arsenal league in 2013 – snowbound, Hull City league in 2013 – my mother was in ill) but this was the first time since a League Cup game against West Ham United in the autumn of 2004, that I had chosen not to attend a first team game at Stamford Bridge.

Instead, I watched on my laptop at home and the experience was, not surprisingly, odd. I felt quite distanced from the proceedings to be honest. When I attend in person, I get totally wrapped up in the game. On Wednesday, save for a little exultation and a small fist pump when Oscar carefully placed the winner inside the Bolton goal, I watched in bored silence. Bolton hardly attacked us and the shots rained in on their goal. It didn’t seem like a proper game of football. With my good friend Alan also absent – he was in Albufeira with his good lady – Stamford Bridge was without the two of us for the first time in years and years.

Don’t worry, this won’t too often – I hope – in either the near or distant future. I am, however, not attending the Maribor game either. Why? The main reason is a change in working hours which means I need to be awake at 5.45am each day. On these midweek games, I rarely get to sleep before 2am. Do the maths.

On Friday, I left work with a smile on my face. After an arduous few weeks, I was off for six whole days, with the highlights undoubtedly being Chelsea games in London and Lisbon. Although I knew that there would be a lot of painful “catching up” to attend to on my return to work, all I could think of was my six days’ away from the daily grind.

I then realised that four of these would be spent in the company of Lord Parky.

Insert punchline here.

Bless him, I can’t be too harsh. This will be His Lordship’s first “European Away” since Stockholm in 1998, and the old fool has been buzzing the past few days. At last there will be new stories from Europe for him to regale us with for the next few – er – decades.

We were in the beer garden of The Goose for 12.15pm and the weather was warm and humid. There was a little talk of Lisbon as we waited for a few friends to arrive. Alan was still in Portugal with Sue. He, in fact, returns back home on Sunday, before turning tail and heading back out to Lisbon on Monday with Gary. This surely has to be the long-distance traveller version of “making sure your girlfriend gets home OK.”

We’ll all be staying in the same hotel in Lisbon.

To see Lord Parky at the bar, downing some Super Bock, will surely be a highlight of this season.

Some faces rolled up – Dave, then Rob, then Woody and Seb, then Andy, then Chris and Nick. The Peroni was hitting several spots. At around 2.15pm, Cons arrived, a little the worse for wear after a night out on Friday, but happy to be attending another Chelsea home game. I first met Cons in the spring of last year when she was in London to attend interviews at various colleges. Originally from the Detroit area, she had since enjoyed a year at college in The Smoke and had just attained her Master’s Degree on Friday; hence the hangover. What better way to celebrate than with a Chelsea game. Her last match was the friendly with Inter in Indianapolis last summer. It was good to see her. Meanwhile, PD was turning purple and almost exploding after several minutes of gut-busting laughter with Lord Parky and Dave the Hat.

On the way up in the car, PD and I had spoken briefly about the upcoming game at Shrewsbury in the Capital One Cup. We touched on the days when our club used to play the likes Shrewsbury in the old second division and it triggered some memories of attending football back in our youth; the raw pleasure of independence, not long out of school, meeting up with mates, dressing in the correct manner, making sure your trainers were clean and your polo shirt ironed, the pre-batch revelry, the uncertainty of not knowing the result, the added uncertainty of not knowing if you might encounter some rough-and-tumble during the day, the sense of camaraderie, the thrill of a day on the edge.

In an instant I was transported back to a different age.

Coming in by train, stepping out on to a platform in a foreign town, and joining in the rush to get to the ground unharmed, along with hundreds of similar followers of fashion and football – a mix of surly youths intent on trouble, but also a heavy presence of normal lads overdosing on Pringle pullovers, wedge haircuts, Diadora Elite trainers, Sergio Tacchini tracksuit tops and Lois jumbo cords – and a rush of adrenalin and a sense of danger. Following the team.

Following your team.

The warm feeling that you got when you followed a club in the second division with a massive away following through thick and thin, while your school mates who followed the more popular teams hardly ever went to see their lot play. We were like some unknown army, existing below the radar, carving out reputations.

They were magical times for me.

With the time quickly passing, there was a massive roar inside The Goose when Everton bagged a late equaliser against Liverpool.

On the walk down to Stamford Bridge, it was still humid and muggy. At the Matthew Harding, one of the five turnstiles was not working and so PD, Cons and I were delayed getting to our seat. We missed the first five minutes.

I quickly settled and glanced at the eleven players down on the pitch; again, the nine ever-presents, this time supplemented by Willian and Oscar.

Lo and behold, our first attack yielded dividends. Branislav Ivanovic played a fantastic ball through to Willian, whose shot rebounded back to him. He had the presence of mind to lay the ball back to Oscar who swept the ball in, low, past Guzan. Cons and I turned to each other and yelped.

How nice of the team to wait until we were inside the stadium before they opened the scoring.

I had been reliably informed by a Villa-supporting work colleague that they had only enjoyed around 32% possession in their games so far this season. The play for the rest of the half backed-up this fact. We had tons and tons of possession as we moved the ball across all areas of the pitch and tried to expose gaps in the Villa defence. Over in the far corner, the Villa support were berating us.

“Your support is fcuking shit.”

How boring.

“Dear Aston Villa Football Club,

It has come to my attention that your supporters believe that the backing given to Chelsea by its supporters is rather lack-lustre. May I remind you that away teams are entitled to three-thousand tickets at Stamford Bridge. Until your supporters bring that full amount to Chelsea Football Club may I suggest that they wind their collective necks in.

Thank you.”

With Cesc Fabregas instrumental in our attacking endeavours – one slide rule pass to Brana had us all purring – we continually moved the ball well. Our chances started to stack up with only rare attacks from the away team. It seemed that every Chelsea shot ended up in the Shed Upper. As the first-half came to a close, the Stamford Bridge crowd became quieter and quieter. We were desperate for a second goal to kill the game off, calm our nerves and also re-energise the support.

At half-time, Neil began to introduce the half-time guest player with a few clues about his time at Stamford Bridge. I had an idea straight away, but the big clue was that he played right-back in Athens in 1971.

Yes, it was Johnny Boyle, our under-appreciated Jack-of-all-trades from our early ‘seventies pomp. As he walked around the pitch with Neil, I realised that he is sadly overlooked when supporters look back on that lovely period in our history. He often used to play in times of injury to others and he was often named as substitute. I never saw him play. Whereas others in that vaunted team were household names, Johnny Boyle would forever be the Private Sponge of the early ‘seventies Chelsea team – just outside the main troupe, with few speaking parts – leaving others to take on the roles of Captain Mainwaring, Sergeant Wilson, Corporal Jones, Godfrey, Pike, Walker and Frazer.

I spoke to Tom, alongside me, now 78 years old and we shared a few words about Josh McEachran. He also chatted to Cons about his first game in 1947. In those days, he attended a school over the water in Wandsworth and he explained that midweek games would kick-off at 2pm. Absenteeism was therefore rife on certain Wednesdays, with a good portion of the boys sidling off to cheer on the blues. At assemblies the next morning, the headmaster would often say –

“So, I see Chelsea were at home yesterday.”

For Tom, magical times.

A few chances were exchanged in the second half and Diego Costa came close. Eden Hazard, possibly showing off – not sure if Mourihno approved at just 1-0, but I’ll forgive him – attempted a lovely rabona. Soon after, a delightful passage of play involving several players set up a pinpoint cross from Dave which Diego Costa headed powerfully past – or rather through – Guzan.

“Fantastic goal.”

That was the second goal that we so needed. It was time to relax a little. Oscar almost nabbed a second, while yet more sublime trickery from Hazard resulted in a whipped cross which narrowly avoided Deigo Costa’s stoop. With an eye on Lisbon, Mourinho soon took off Hazard. I was hoping for Drogba to replace Diego Costa, just so that he could shadow Senderos for twenty minutes and try to turn him into a quivering wreck.

“Remember me?”

To be honest, I was surprised that Jose left Diego Costa on until late.

On eighty minutes, however, a strong run by our new golden scorer, involving a sublime dummy, resulted in a shot being blasted at the Villa ‘keeper. The rebound fell nicely for Willian who bundled the ball in from very close range. It capped a great all round performance by Diego Costa, who now has eight goals in six games.

So, 3-0 and an easy win.

Magical times for Cons.

At the final whistle, many of the Villa fans had begun their journey home.

I was obviously pleased with this result, ahead of a potentially awkward game on Tuesday. There were no injuries and our team continues to gel. A clean sheet was an added bonus and I hoped that the quite ridiculous noise among certain sections of our support doubting Courtois’ capabilities would quieten. A defence lets in goals, not just a goalkeeper.

Sixteen points out of eighteen – and a full nine points ahead of Liverpool, for example – and an excursion to Portugal on Monday ahead of our game against Sporting Lisbon on Tuesday.

I suppose that these are the most magical times of all.

IMG_9922