Chelsea vs. Tottenham Hotspur : 22 February 2020.
This had every chance to be a perfect day. After the gloom and the negativity and the cloud of depression after the Manchester United home game the previous Monday, here was Tottenham at home, the old enemy, a chance to get back into the saddle – players and supporters alike – and to cement our position in the all-important top four, or top five, if the City “thing” takes its proper course.
Yes, Tottenham is high risk, but revenge certainly was in the air. The whole club felt aggrieved after the VAR-inspired debacle against United, and – I was feeling quite gung-ho – here was a fantastic chance to get some sort of revenge against, well, everything.
Yes, it was Tottenham. Year on year our biggest home game in my book. But they were depleted. Kane was out, Son was out, Eriksen was no more, I was not unduly worried. I was worried, for sure, about Bayern Munich on the following Tuesday (the third of three blockbuster home games in just nine days) but that would take care of itself.
That Tottenham were now managed by Jose Mourinho seemed to be a lot less important than it should have been. A couple of days before the game, a fleeting vision of our former manager came into my head and then quickly left with little fuss, no concern. We are all over him now. He is an afterthought.
The week came and went. The days after Manchester United took its toll. I was not in a great place, football-wise. Eventually, I wrote the Manchester United blog on the Thursday night after putting it off for at least one evening. It became a cathartic experience. I shared my thoughts as honestly as I could. It must have struck a chord because it became one of my highest-viewed blogs.
I was up early. I was travelling alone to London. The other three Chuckle Brothers were driving up in a separate car. My good friend Jaro from Washington DC, mentioned in the Newcastle United and Aston Villa home games this season, had adeptly coerced his employer to let him work in London for a couple of days to enable him to take in both the Tottenham and Bayern Munich games. I had sorted his Bayern ticket, the Tottenham one needed a little work, but was quickly sorted too. While I was getting ridiculously excited about Buenos Aires the past month, Jaro was imitating me, but he was obsessing about London. I wanted to extend the time I was to spend with Jaro on his trip and we highlighted the Chelsea Supporters’ Trust meeting after the game as a good way of adding to his SW6 adventure. I then decided on the Wednesday to book a hotel so I really could spend some quality time with him, and relax and have a few beers throughout the day. There was a room available in Jaro’s hotel. The perfect day was coming together.
Hence the two Chuckle Busses.
I left my home village at 7am. PD left Frome at 7pm too, and we would all meet up four hours later. It did feel odd driving to London for football alone. But it made for a pleasant change. I sped over Salisbury Plain, some music adding to the sense of freedom. Not all of my musical choices are appreciated by the other Chuckle Brothers, cough cough. I was parked up at Barons Court bang on time at 9.20am. Within twenty minutes I walked into the hotel just off Earl’s Court Road, no more than two minutes from the tube station.
At just after 10am, we walked into “The Eight Bells” at Putney Bridge. My good pal Dave – “Benches 1984” – was already there and supping a pint. It was his first visit to this homely little boozer and he immediately fell in love with it. I did the introductions between Jaro and Dave – Warsaw, now DC, and St. Albans, now Northampton – and we shared some laughs.
Three or four Old Bill walked in – there had been a similar presence before the West Ham game back in November – and twenty minutes later some of our faces walked in too. Drinks were ordered, and they stood outside, mobile phones at the ready.
Tottenham, it seemed, were in town.
At about 11.15am, we caught the District Line train up to Fulham Broadway and the three of us dipped into “Simmons” to tie up with The Chuckle Brothers and a few more familiar faces. Jaro recognised a few from his last trip in December.
I spoke to Rob, the pal who walked out on Monday night with fifteen minutes to go. We just hoped that there would not be – please God, no – a repeat against Tottenham.
Beers were quickly quaffed. It was time to head up to the game. It was mild outside. Walking past Fulham Broadway, we heard the clop of police horses heading up towards the North End Road where we heard on the grapevine there had been a stand-off involving a little mob of Tottenham outside “The Goose.”
Outside the West Stand, I took a photo of a smiling Jaro. The holocaust memorial was hanging to the right of the main entrance; quite striking.
Jaro peeled off to go into The Shed Upper.
I was inside the Matthew Harding with a nice fifteen minutes or so to go.
Frank had decided to repeat the formation that worked so well at Tottenham in December. In came, especially, Marcos Alonso.
Azpilicueta – Chistensen – Rudiger
James – Kovacic – Jorginho – Alonso
Barkley – Mount
Tottenham’s team included several players who meant absolutely nothing to me.
The teams emerged. Both teams were wearing blue tracksuits, but these were peeled off to reveal Chelsea royal blue shirts and Tottenham lily-livered white shirts.
The “six trophies” flag was passed over the heads of those in The Shed Upper, close to where Jaro would be watching.
The game kicked-off.
A little cat-and-mouse, a low shot from an angle by Lucas Moura – “I recognise him” – was easily saved by Big Willy. Chelsea began to grow. A shot from Mount was saved by Hugo Lloris. Ross Barkley had impressed in the first few forays and a strong shot from him was met with a lovely and warm round of applause.
“Come on Chelsea.”
After fifteen minutes, with Chelsea definitely the stronger, Jorginho worked the ball beautifully to Olivier Giroud. His shot, inside the box, drew a low save from Lloris with his feet. The ball rebounded to Ross Barkley. His shot dambustered against the post, and – we were all on edge now – the ball rebounded out once more. Again, it fell at a Chelsea player’s feet. Olivier Giroud touched it once to control it and then smashed it heavenly home.
Shot, save, shot, post, shot, goal.
Noise, and then some.
In 1974, my second-ever Chelsea game and my first ever Chelsea vs. Tottenham game, we went 1-0 up early on via a John Hollins penalty. Jaro’s first-ever Chelsea vs. Tottenham game had started similarly.
Alan : “THTCAUN.”
Chris : “COMLD.”
We quipped about VAR…”shall we wait?”
It had the feel of Kerry at Highbury in 1984 about it. Everyone up, then up, then up again.
For once, the scorer forgot about the protocol of running to the corners – definitely a Chelsea thing – and Giroud fell on the floor as he headed towards the Chelsea bench. He was swamped by his team mates. Click, click, click.
Such joy, such noise.
I needed to be with Rob, who was sitting five yards away. I raced up the steps…gave him a hug and said.
“That goal was kosher, mate.”
At that exact moment, the stadium groaned and we saw…dumbstruck…that the goal was being reviewed for a possible offside.
We were both silenced. No words.
I leaned on the crush barrier at the base of the steps, my head bowed, Rob alongside me, almost a mirror image. Oh my bloody God.
After a few seconds…agonising seconds…THIS IS NOT FOOTBALL…the goal stood.
I hate…well, you know the rest.
A magnificent shot from Marcos Alonso almost made it two-nil. We were running at Tottenham with one Willy in and one Willy out. We were creating danger and finding gaps. Mason Mount was the catalyst, a great show of aggressiveness and determination. I liked Barkley and Kovacic too. Giroud was leading the line well. At times, I felt Reece James was not used enough. He often had tons of space.
The noise was alright. Not 2000 levels, nor 2010, but not bad.
“Quietest I have known Tottenham, Al.”
Tottenham had one or two chances, and from a quick corner, Davidson Sanchez’ back-header looped up and Caballero did ever so well to back pedal and tip over the bar. There was a last chance for the away team as Caballero got his angles wrong but the ball just bounced past the far post.
But we were well on top at the break.
The second-half began. And how. It was a dream re-start.
Giroud headed on to a raiding Mason Mount. My camera was in my hand. I captured his jinking run, and his lay-off to Ross Barkley. I oddly captured the ball, all by itself, on its way to the trusted left boot of none other than Marcos Alonso.
The lovely jump – “I thank you” – by Alonso was followed by him getting mobbed by all.
It felt that Marcos Alonso should never leave us, even if he only plays two games a season until he is fifty years old. Where can I sign that petition?
Just after the goal, Ross Barkley turned on a sixpence down below us and walloped a great effort towards the goal that Lloris did well to block high under the bar.
We were purring.
But modern football is modern football and VAR will not go away.
Well, dear reader, I have a semi-apology. Just in the same way that I never clearly saw the Harry Maguire incident on Monday – ironically in the same part of the pitch – I did not really see the horrific challenge by Giovani Lo Celso on Dave. I saw the tackle, but not the fine detail. Others – ha – had a much clearer view.
VAR was signalled, no red card, I didn’t know how to react. The game continued.
This was a lovely game, and a nice atmosphere, everyone happy with our general play and with Mason Mount really doing well. Despite the face mask hinting at a need to be a little cautious, I thought Andreas Christensen had a very fine game indeed. Top marks.
A couple of friends were to text me later – during the course of the game – that the VAR team at Stockley Park admitted to getting the red card call wrong which I would find laughable if it wasn’t so sad.
Stop the world I want to get off.
Tammy Abraham replaced the excellent Olivier Giroud on seventy-one minutes. Soon after, Willian replaced Barkley. Both received fine applause as they left the pitch.
Mason looked exhausted, and we thought he might be replaced. With that, he had a lovely burst of energy and laid a pass on a plate for Tammy, only six yards out, but his touch was not robust enough. Lloris easily saved. He later went close himself, but just ran out of steam.
Next, a trademark swipe of a free-kick from Marcos Alonso, now revelling in this game. His beautiful effort smacked the crossbar. The whole goal frame shook.
Tottenham did have a fair run of the ball in the last twenty minutes, but never looked like being able to do anything with it. Their late consolation – a poor excuse of a goal, a Lamela shot that limply hit Antonio Rudiger’s leg to trickle past Caballero – gave the game a little edge, but we held on.
So, this season –
Tottenham Hotspur 0 Chelsea 2
Chelsea 2 Tottenham Hotspur 1
Walking out, I posted on “Facebook” with a nod to Tottenham’s “Audere est Facere” motto.
“To do is to beat Tottenham.”
Bollocks to daring, we just do it.
Year after fucking year.
At the Peter Osgood statue, I met up with Jaro, who had clearly enjoyed the most perfect of experiences.
“Enjoy this mate. Soak it all up. These moments don’t come by too often. Let’s go get a beer.”
We retired to “The Atlas” and attended the CST meeting. Sadly, the representatives from the Metropolitan Police – who had been pencilled in for a Q&A session regarding the policing of Stamford Bridge – were ironically “otherwise engaged”.
Well it was Chelsea Tottenham, after all.
What a to do.
We stayed for a while, we chatted to a few good folk, then headed into town for some more “Peroni.”
It had, indeed, been a perfect day.