Tales From The Chelsea And Juventus Fans In Leverkusen

Bayer Leverkusen vs. Chelsea : 23 November 2011.

This trip to the heart of Germany could not come quick enough. This would be my first trip to Europe for a Chelsea away game in around two years; the enjoyable jaunt to Atletico Madrid was the last one. A mixture of work commitments and lack of finances have contrived against recent trips. Additionally, there are other destinations which, if I am blunt, have not tempted me.

Others fancied a return trip to Valencia or an excursion to Genk in this autumn’s mix of games, but for me there was only one choice – Bayer Leverkusen. I booked my flight way back in August and gleefully counted down the weeks and days before I would be away.

There was an extra special dimension to this trip. My old friend – in fact, my oldest friend – Mario is now living in nearby Bergisch Gladbach and we had often spoken about meeting up should Chelsea play any of the nearby Bundesliga teams to his home city in the Champions League. I have spoken about Mario previously, ahead of my momentous trip to Turin with Chelsea in 2009.

“In June 1975, I stayed in the Ligurian resort of Diano Marina on my first ever family holiday abroad. At that time, I had seen Chelsea play three times at The Bridge and I was hooked. Relegation in May of 1975 hit me hard, possibly even more than the loss of my idol Peter Osgood to Southampton a month before my first ever game the year before. At the age of nine, my Chelsea life had already taken a battering. We had a great time in the Italian sun. My parents had visited the town back in the ‘fifties and had regaled me with stories of its charm. All well and good, I thought, but I needed a diet of football, even on holiday. I was aware of a few of the Italian clubs – I had recollections of a Juventus vs. Derby game being shown on TV ( 1973 – the Juve forward Pietro Anastasi stood out ) and I had bought a Juventus magazine on a day trip to Genova.

During the last few days of the holiday, we became friendly with the guy on the beach who hired out deck-chairs and pedalos. His name was Franco and his German wife Hildegard was often on the beach with their two children Mario and Sandra. I could not speak Italian and Mario could not speak English. But Mario owned a yellow and black plastic football and, for what seemed like hours on end, we played football at the water’s edge, the warm ocean lapping at our feet. I remember Dad even took a few magical seconds of us on cine film. I wasn’t a bad footballer, but little Mario, only six, was sensational.

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And so our friendship began. 

Our two mothers had swapped addresses and I was told to write to Mario soon after our return home. I still have the little postcard and a letter which Mario wrote back to me. I must have mentioned that I was a fan of Chelsea – of course! – but also a fan of Juventus and my favourite player was Franco Causio, the moustachioed winger. Mario replied that he too was a Juventus fan, but liked Roberto Bettega, the young striker.

I guess we had been so devoid of communication skills that this was not already established out in Italy.

So – Mario was a Juventus fan. Perfect. Over the next four years, our letters zipped across Europe as regular as clockwork. He sent me letters that were 100% full of Juventus results and news, often with Panini stickers illustrating his words. I did wonder what he ever thought of Chelsea, mired in the Second Division at the start of all this. I remember Causio and Bettega combining to defeat England in Rome in 1976. That match had extra resonance due to my friendship with Mario. How proud I was when Ray Wilkins became a regular in the national side. This was proof for Mario that my team wasn’t completely rubbish! Butch became a beacon of hope!

Throughout this period, Juventus were dominating Italian football, with players such as Zoff, Scirea, Gentile, Causio, Bettega – how those names trip off the tongue – Cuccureddu, Boninsegna, Benetti and the youngsters Tardelli and Cabrini. Juve were in their pomp. Chelsea, by the time I visited Diano Marina again, in 1979, were back in the Second Division and Wilkins was soon to be sold to the hated Manchester United. On that visit, Mario’s family presented me with a black and white striped cotton shirt, and I was proud to wear it. I have no doubt I took him some Chelsea things.

We visited Italy in 1980 and 1981 too, each time going back to the same town, but his father had since moved on to work at an expensive hotel, the Gabriella. During the 1981 holiday, we heard that none other than Roberto Bettega was to stay at the hotel…a few weeks later, a signed Bettega photograph arrived on my doorstep. Whenever we met up, Mario and myself played football and talked football. I bet it amused our parents. In 1981, I met Mario’s friend Tullio, a boy from Juventus’ city of Torino – and yes, you’ve guessed it, he was a Juventus fan too. I have a photo of the three of us, posing on the beach beneath a Union Jack. Sadly, on the 1981 trip, we were also to learn of the cancer that would cause much worry for Mario’s mother. In July 1982, with an Italian team containing six or seven Juve players, the team won the World Cup in Spain – and I was happy for my Italian friends.

The letters between Mario and me reduced over the next three years…but every now and then, Mario would send me a letter detailing his hopes for Juve’s new players. The 1983 European Cup Final loss to Hamburg hurt us both. Then, towards the end of my first year at college, I sat down to watch the 1985 European Cup Final between my Juventus and Liverpool. What unfolded over the next three hours would haunt me to this day. However, the sense of disgust and sadness could easily have been so much greater. Unbeknown to me, Mario had a ticket for the ill-fated neutral section ZZ adjacent to the Liverpool fans. Thank God, Mario had a lot of schoolwork that week – he was sixteen – and so mercifully did not travel to Brussels. Around fifteen members of his local Juventus Club all returned safely. 

That summer, I travelled around Europe on an Inter-Rail pass and spent ten wonderful days in Diano Marina. Tullio was there too – the days were spent sunbathing, playing football and I was invited back to Mario’s house for lunch and an evening meal each day. Hildegard, his dear mother, was still undergoing treatment for cancer and I will never forget her hospitality. Her smiling face will live with me forever, as will her willingness to make me feel at home.

Sadly, Hildegard lost her brave battle with cancer a few weeks before I visited Mario, Franco and Sandra in 1986. I felt the loss – their house missed her busy nature and her “good eats” translation of the Italian “buon apetito” before each meal. My friendship with Mario and Tullio went up a few notches over the next few years. I had a real wanderlust period after leaving college and was forever travelling around Europe on the trains.”

I last saw Mario, in his home town, in 1988. Well, as luck would have it, Mario now lives around 20 miles from Bayer Leverkusen’s stadium. After the draw was made, we soon spoke on Facebook about the game and I was so pleased when he offered me the chance to stay with him and his family for the three days.

Fantastic!

As the days crept past, Mario and I spoke more and more on Facebook and my excitement rose.

The Liverpool game on Sunday came and passed, work on Monday was endured and lingering last minute arrangements were made. Due to the very real threat of fog, I gave myself an extra hour to drive up to Stansted airport. I only had three hours sleep on Monday night.

Tuesday 22nd. November.

At around 1.45am in the very small hours of Tuesday morning, I was off.

Germany – here I come.

My trip to the airport went well. I was buoyed by a couple of cups of coffee and my mind was soon wandering, looking back on all of the other Chelsea European trips, looking ahead to the imminent new one. I painstakingly counted the number of previous games…Moscow 16, Rome 17, Madrid 18…Leverkusen would be number 19.

And this would be my fourth Chelsea game in Germany, after previous appointments in Stuttgart, Bremen and Schalke. I personally love Germany; a frequent visitor in the wanderlust years of my youth, I have visited it on many occasions. Great beer, tasty food, decent people. Superb.

As I drove around the M25, I remember thinking to myself –

“There’s not a bit of this I don’t like.”

The planning of the flights, the talk amongst friends of the accommodation options, the anticipation, the final sense of excitement, the car trip to the airport, meeting friends, the thrill of a new city, the beer, the laughs, the camaraderie.

Chelsea in Europe Rule One; it is often the case that the actual football often gets in the way of a perfect trip.

By 5.30am, I was sat in the airport reading the current edition of “CFCUK” when I heard my mate Daryl’s voice.

“Morning mate.”

Daryl and his brother Neil, plus a few other Chelsea friends, were on the same flight as myself.

Thankfully, the threat of delays due to fog did not materialise and we were soon in the air. Daryl, Neil and myself had been together on our first ever Chelsea away game in Europe way back in 1994 on that memorable venture to Jablonec to see the Viktoria Zizkov game. That was from Stansted, too. Remember, that was Chelsea’s first European away game since 1971. Rarely have I ever been more excited about a Chelsea game. Superb. We spoke of our vivid memories from that crazy two day trip. It is hard to believe that Chelsea is the same club now, with our support spoilt by constant exposure to Champions League footy year after year.

The flight only lasted an hour. I was sat next to Tim from Bristol and attempted to have a power nap.

We touched down at Koln-Bonn airport at 10.30am.

We strolled through the arrival gates and there was Mario, with his arm outstretched, greeting me after a gap of 23 years. Daryl and Neil were off to meet up with Alan, Gary and Rob in Dusseldorf.

Oh boy, it was superb to see Mario once again. He was wearing the Chelsea / Juve scarf I had sent him two years ago.

Mario’s lovely wife Gabi was waiting in the car outside the airport and it was constant chatter from all three of us on the twenty minute drive back to their house. Mario updated with news of their three boys – Reuben 10, Nelson 5 and Valentin 15 months – and it was just lovely to be chatting away after all so many years.

Back at Mario’s house, Gabi went out to collect Valentin from the kindergarten while Mario and I sat at the table, drinking cappuccinos and reminiscing about our childhood and the routes that our lives have taken since our last meeting twenty-three years ago. On that occasion, in March 1988, I had called in to see Mario, Franco and Sandra during one of my crazy months on the trains. I slept in the lounge of their house, on the sofa I think, and I can remember Franco fussing around me, making me a cappuccino and preparing some sandwiches for my onward train trip. Meanwhile I had a morning shower in a bathroom that stunningly looked out onto the Mediterranean Sea. It was a cold but supremely sunny Italian morning, with deep blue skies over the Med. It was a moment that I will never forget.

Mario spoke about his footballing career as a player with the local Dianese and Imperia teams, but also of a very promising career as a referee. Mario was always a better player than me and it came as no surprise for me to learn that he had enjoyed some degree of success in his youth. After he moved to Germany in 1997, Mario continued to play football in the regional leagues, but also continued his career as a referee. He told me that he was the linesman at a game which featured Rot Weiss Essen, a team that used to play in the Bundesliga, against the reserve team of Borussia Moenchengladbach. The attendance was over 8,000 and he told me the story of how his first decision of the match – an offside decision against the home team – was met with a massive roar of disapproval from a few thousand rabid fans behind him.

We laughed as he told me how noisy the crowd was.

The stories of football continued all morning and I realised that this was just so typical of what had happened on every occasion that we had met, from the ‘seventies through to the ‘eighties – two young lads consumed by football, by players, by personalities.

Mario also updated me with news of his father Franco – a Genoa fan – and his sister Sandra. Franco had been with Mario for the recent Leverkusen versus Valencia game.

Gabi returned with Reuben and Nelson, the elder boys, and we ate hot dogs for lunch.

In the afternoon, I walked down to the little village of Moitzfeld in order to take a few photographs of the local area and to have a few moments by myself. I was feeling weary as I walked back to his house.

Chelsea in Europe Rule Two; power naps are good. Very good.

We had a lovely meal in the evening and we then continued our conversations about our lives, our families, or friends and our jobs.

Mario opened up a few bottles of kolsch – the local beer of the Cologne area – and the talk returned to football. To finish the night off perfectly, we stayed up to watch the Serie A highlights on German TV.

Football. Always football.

Wednesday 23rd. November.

I was up at 8.45am and Mario was soon making me a morning cappuccino. He kindly volunteered to drive me into Koln. The weather was overcast, with murky low-lying clouds enveloping the trees which lined the autobahn into Germany’s fourth largest city. The blue road signs overhead reminded me of where I was; in the dreamy world of a Chelsea match day, it is easy to forget the location. The hard consonants of the local place names soon reminded me of my locale.

Bruck.

Kalk.

Buckheim.

Bickendorf.

On the twenty minute drive, Mario enjoyed telling me about his love of Depeche Mode and we exchanged a few stories of the band. I’ve seen them three times. He has seen them five times. At the first concert, way back in the small Ligurian coastal resort of Pietra Ligure, the lead singer Dave Gahan dried himself down with a towel and threw it straight at Mario, standing but three yards away. Although around twenty fellow fans lunged at Mario and tore it into twenty pieces, Mario still owns a strip from that concert a quarter of a century ago.

He has also seen them in Milan, Koln and Dusseldorf. The three concerts in Germany all took place during the pregnancies of his three boys and Mario clearly puts a lot of importance into this. They are easily his favourite band. All of the way through his dialogue, I was itching to tell him that Dave Gahan and Andy Fletcher are big Chelsea fans.

I looked over to see his reaction.

“Really? Chelsea fans. Oh. Great.”

Mario smiled.

“What about Martin Gore?”

“No – I don’t think he likes football”

It was my turn to smile.

We approached Koln and away in the distance were the twin towers of the massive Gothic cathedral, dominating the misty city skyline. As we crossed the massive Rhine, for some reason I was reminded of Philadelphia, crossing the Delaware River on the Benjamin Franklin Bridge.

By 10.30am, I had said my goodbyes to Mario and was walking through the pedestrianized streets of the busy city centre.

This was my time. A few hours of solitary confinement. Echoes of days when I travelled around Europe on the trains and found myself in a new city. I aimed for the magnificence of the Dom and took a few photographs. We stayed two nights in Koln for the Schalke game in Gelsenkirchen in 2007, so it was a familiar sight. Nothing but impressive, though.

I spent an hour or so walking around the Christmas market and the shopping streets to the south of the cathedral. I couldn’t resist some German food; a tasty wurst with very peppery sauerkraut was just fantastic. I followed this up with a frothy cappuccino. I stood at a table, nursing the coffee, watching the passers-by, looking out for fellow Chelsea fans. They were starting to gather together in small groups. I had the first couple of glasses of kolsch in the Europa am Dom Hotel while I waited to meet up with San Francisco Pete and his mate Mike. A Depeche Mode song was playing and I thought of Mario.

I picked up the local paper and reviewed the previous night’s games. I looked up just in time to catch a sighting of an infamous Chelsea fan from the good old bad old days. He was grinning at the size of some steins in a nearby shop; his hair cut in the same style as in years gone by and was wearing a green bomber jacket and jeans. He was with a little band of mates. Hicky was in town.

Pete and Mike soon arrived and joined me for a beer. They had driven over by car. The next few hours were spent flitting in and out of various bars with a few mates. I met up with the newly-arrived Alan, Gary, Daryl and Neil – and then the Nuneaton trio of Neil, Jokka and Jonesy – but then sped off with Pete and Mike down to The Corkonian in the Altstadt to pick up Mario’s ticket from Cathy.

Chelsea in Europe Rule Three; the sighting of several police vans means that an Irish bar and some Chelsea hoodlums are not far away.

Plenty of faces there. In a quiet corner, I spotted that green bomber jacket. I bumped into Andy and Josh, the Californians, who had been in town since Monday. Michelle and Joe from Chicago were also in the bar. The Beltway Blues were basing themselves in Leverkusen itself, but most of the Chelsea were using Koln as HQ. I then back-tracked to the other bar on Am Hof for a beer with the boys. I was beginning to wish I could be cut into several pieces, like the Sorcerer’s Apprentice, so I could simultaneously spend time with different groups of friends. Back amongst my mates, there was talk of the CPO, the shame of the 39th. Game, the way our club is going…the same old gripes and the same old moans.

We decamped into another bar for a few more beers and the chat continued apace. Good times with great mates. Jonesy spoke about the recently-departed Jim Lewis who played a part in our championship season of 1954-1955. Because of his amateur status, Lewis never received a penny in his Chelsea career, nor even got a suit, along with the professionals in the squad, to mark the championship win. Alan suggested that Villas-Boas should explain about Jim Lewis, playing in a championship-winning team without payment, to the team before the game. One suspects that several players would simply not believe it.

In search of food, we sped down to the Christmas market in the Altstadt – sausages on sticks for me! – and I then went back into The Corkonian to catch up with Andy, Josh, Joe and Michelle. Time was moving on and I had arranged to meet Mario outside the stadium at 7.30pm. After another tasty beer in Heumarkt, we quickly decided to take two cabs to the stadium. The price was 30 euros – no worries.

We bundled in the cab and we were on our way…Josh in the front, Andy and I in the back with another Chelsea fan whose name escapes me. Too many beers. Too many beers for Andy too, who had to take extraordinary measures while the cab was momentarily stopped on the autobahn.

We got to the Bayerena at around 7.45pm and Mario was waiting for me outside the away section. I thankfully had no problems getting my camera inside. Mario and I positioned ourselves centrally in the lower tier. Flags were draped over the top balcony. Josh had a great seat in the front row of the upper tier. Beth was a few rows behind us.

So, after 36 years of friendship, Mario and I were able to watch our first ever Chelsea game together. Bloody superb.

The Bayerena has been recently redeveloped. The team played in Dusseldorf while a new tier and a new roof were added. It’s a reasonable stadium, if a little anaemic. I found it odd that the hard core home support were located directly opposite us in a corner, rather than directly behind the north goal.

The Champions League flag was waved as the teams stood and the Champions League anthem was played.

Let’s go to work.

I was surprised that Fernando Torres was not in the starting line-up. After only a few minutes against Liverpool and with an away game with presumably space to exploit behind defenders, I was amazed that he did not start. Michael Ballack was wearing a facemask and I couldn’t help take plenty of photographs of him. Clearly Leverkusen is not one of Germany’s iconic sides, so I give Ballack credit in returning to one of his previous German clubs. Shades of Gianfranco Zola’s famous return to Cagliari. The first section of the game was a turgid affair. After about twenty minutes, with hardly a chance created, Mario exclaimed –

“Why don’t they want to play!?!”

On 38 minutes, Drogba burst clear down the right and slammed the ball over the bar, with other options available.

Mario’s reaction was classic –

“Mamma Mia!”

After a heavy intake of beer, it took me twenty-five minutes to realise that Jose Bosingwa was over on the far side in the left-back berth. I remember he played there against Lionel Messi in “that” game in 2009, but my addled mind could not work out why Ashley Cole was not playing. A shot from Mata for Chelsea and a header from Michael Ballack which rocked the crossbar for Leverkusen were the only real chances in the rest of the first-half. The game was warming up, but only slowly.

Soon into the first half, a cross from Daniel Sturridge was played in towards Didier Drogba. To his credit, he spun and just managed to evade the attentions of two Leverkusen defenders. Although he lost balance, he was still able to turn the ball in at the far post.

Get in!

From a few rows in front came a text message from Alan –

“THTCAUN.”

And I replied –

“COMLD.”

The Chelsea choir sang his praises and we began making a little more noise.

“Jingle bells, jingle bells, jingle all the way.
Oh what fun it is to see Chelsea win away.”

A Daniel Sturridge shot was our only goal-bound effort though and the home team had more of the ball. On 57 minutes, Herr Ballack did well to twist his body to attempt an overhead kick from twenty yards out which Cech did well to save. Soon after, another shot from Ballack was blocked by Cech. I thought back to the chance that Cech saved from Ballack in the first leg at The Bridge and it was quickly turning into a battle of the masked men.
On 65 minutes, a strong run and shot from Studge but the ‘keeper saved his effort.

The Chelsea choir was mid-way through a proud and defiant rendition of “You are my Chelsea, my only Chelsea” when Sam, out on the left, clipped a ball over for the substitute Derdiyok to head in, with the Chelsea defenders racing back to no avail. The goal was a blur, but our defence seemed to be completely stretched and out of position.

The mood now grew tense within the 1,500 away fans. A cross from substitute Malouda on the left found Drogba unmarked, but his weak volley did not trouble Leno in the home goal. In the closing moments, we watched aghast as a chipped corner found the head of Friedrich who somehow was able to rise unhindered amongst a cluster of blue shirts. The ball tantalisingly arched past the despairing dive of Cech and into the net.

The home fans roared and we were shocked into a stony silence.

There was no time to retaliate and we were defeated. After all of the losses I have endured as a Chelsea fan throughout the years, I should not have been too fed-up, but there was genuine disappointment that this latest game had ended in (self-inflicted?) defeat. Our defending for the goals was poor and we didn’t seem to have the determination and fight of previous campaigns.

To add insult to injury, only six players could be bothered to trudge over to us in the south-west corner of the Bayerana to thank us for the thousands of pounds we had spent in support of our team.

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Mario and I shrugged and slowly began our walk back to where Mario had parked his car. Unlike on his previous visits to watch Leverkusen, there seemed to be more traffic than usual on this particular night. A few sympathetic texts came in and Mario and I spoke of a few more childhood memories to keep the spirits up. We returned to the ‘seventies and ‘eighties, speaking of obscure Juventus players such as Domenico Marocchino, Guiseppe Galderisi and Pietro Paolo Virdis and more famous ones such as Liam Brady and Paolo di Canio. Talk of our childhood love of football proved cathartic and the time soon passed. I also did my best to explain to Mario about the SayNoCPO campaign of the past month or so.

On our return home to Mario’s house, we watched the Champions League highlights and we shared a few more bottles of clean and crisp Gilden kolsch.

Thursday 24th. November.

The last day of Chelsea trips are strange affairs. Trips usually take the form of –

Day One – manic beer guzzling, boisterous behaviour and bar-hopping, late into the night.
Day Two – sightseeing, nursing of hangovers, the match, more refined drinking.
Day Three – OK, let’s get home.

However, on this most atypical of Chelsea trips, I was quite content to make the most of my last day with Gabi and Mario. I awoke at 9am and Gabi soon made me bacon and eggs for breakfast. A lovely visit with Valentin to Gabi’s parents then followed, before we had pizza for lunch with all the boys. In the afternoon, Mario dropped me off at the nearby town of Bensberg while he returned to do some work from home.

I spent around two hours in Bensberg and enjoyed walking around the town’s shops, buying a Leverkusen scarf for myself (I always try to pick up a souvenir of our opponents on foreign trips), plus chocolates and cakes for my mother and Judy. At the top of the town is the castle – or schloss – which is now, typically, a top-end hotel. At the bottom of Schloss Strasse, I spent a while inside the local church, a lovely structure with superb stained-glass windows. It was with regret that I could not attend the wedding of Gabi and Mario in June 1999, due to lack of finances, so it felt right and proper that I was able – at last – to visit the church where they were married in 2011.

At 5pm, Mario took me to Koln-Bonn airport and we bade each other a fond farewell. Gabi was otherwise engaged with Reuben and Valentin, but young Nelson accompanied us on our twenty minute car ride. I can see the twinkle in the eyes of Mario’s dear mother Hildegard in the face and eyes of Nelson.

Mario dropped me off at Terminal B and I shook hands with little Nelson and gave Mario a big hug.

“Ciao ciao.”

It had been a fantastic time in Germany and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

Our flight was unfortunately delayed, so I did some more shopping; pumpernickel, cheese, the usual suspects. Beth and Dave from Toronto were on the same flight home. We touched down at about 8.45pm and I was able to drop Beth off at the Prince of Wales pub at West Brompton just in time for last orders at 11pm. Ironic that for a few minutes, my journey home had taken me to within a mile of The Bridge.

I returned home, eventually, at 1.30am; three whole days of friendship and football.

Superb.

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Tales From The Banks Of The Chao Phraya River

Thai Premier League All Stars vs. Chelsea : 24 July 2011.

Day One : The Madness.

From Kuala Lumpur to Bangkok …my flight landed at around 1.15pm on Friday 22nd. July. No time to dwell too much on the muted team performance the previous night in the cauldron of the Bukit Jalil stadium. Another city to explore and, on Sunday, another Chelsea match. But first, some fun.

I quickly made my way through customs at Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi airport – sleek, slick and functional – and I soon met up with my mate Adie, who had just arrived on a domestic flight from his home city of Chiang Mai. Adie was in the same year as me at Frome College from 1978 to 1983 and was one of the stars of the school team. Adie played with distinction as a covering centre-back in a back four and had lovely positional awareness, close control and tackling ability. I played on the right wing in the 1978-1979 season, but soon fell out of the first team the following year. Adie went on to play many games for the school first eleven, but my football career fell away as my support for Chelsea grew and grew. Adie went out to Thailand in 1996 as a VSO worker, met his wife Waraya (who was his Thai language teacher) in Bangkok and moved north to Chiang Mai a few years ago. Adie visited Frome last year just as our championship season was concluding and attempted to sway me into visiting his new home in the near future. Well, as we all know, our tour of Asia was announced a while back and so I quickly decided to go ahead and book flights to encompass football and friends. Rather than follow the team on to Hong Kong, I wanted to visit Adie and Waraya in Chiang Mai instead.

There was slight drizzle outside as we quickly hopped into a – wow – pink taxi cab. In the 45 minute drive to our hotel in downtown Bangkok, we soon updated each other with news from both our lives. Over to our right, I spotted the curves of the Rajamangala Stadium where the game against the Thai League All-Stars would be played on Sunday. I quickly realised that Bangkok was on a different scale to that of Kuala Lumpur. KL had its share of skyscrapers, for sure, but they were in that condensed area of the Golden Triangle. Bangkok’s skyscrapers were all around. Adie pointed out the tallest one as we sped west. We curled round, off the elevated freeway, then down into the craziness of the city itself.

Our hotel – the Ibis Riverside – was nestled in a curve of the Chao Phraya River as it flowed south through the western part of central Bangkok. We checked in and I pulled the curtains in our room back.

“Oh wow.”

The view that greeted me allowed me another one of those “moments.”

Below me was the fast-flowing river, visible over tropical tree tops, and there were several small boats navigating their courses. On the eastern bank, there were several high-rises to complete the scene. It was a real jaw-dropper. It was another sight which will be saved forever in my memory bank of images. I could have stayed there, nose pressed against the window, for hours, or at least until Nando scored again. Adie was the person to thank – or rather his wife Waraya, who had booked the room on the back of her previous stay at the hotel as a VSO employee.

At 4pm, we headed out, the whole night in Bangkok ahead of us.

Here we go.

We managed to locate a small ferry boat to take us across the river. While we were lining up at the ferry pier – which was typically surrounded by a fast food and drink stall – Adie pointed down to the ground, just to my right.

It was a pig, sleeping in the afternoon sun.

“Bloody hell, mate. A pig!”

We made our way across the river on a little flat boat and the fare was just 7 baht, or just 15p. I snapped away like a fool, capturing every riverboat we passed. I didn’t want to miss anything. We had heard that Chelsea were to stay at the Shangri La Hotel – just across the river from us – and so our first port of call was in this hotel. Two beers, some nuts, plus more chat about our personal lives. Adie had visited Frome back in April, but there is always gossip to share. No sightings of any CFC personnel, so we decided to move on. We were headed into town on the monorail. However, just as we were queuing up for our tickets at the Saphan Taksin stop, Adie quickly advised me to stop talking and to stand still. The Thai national anthem is played over tannoys at every public space at 8am and 6pm and so we stood still for thirty seconds, along with everyone else on that platform.

Another “moment” for sure.

Three stops away, we alighted at Sala Daeng and I was ready to breath in whatever Bangkok had to throw at me. For thirty minutes or so, we wandered the close streets of Patpong 1, 2 and 3, right in the epicentre of the fabled Bangkok show bar area. Street stalls, open air cafes, fake DVDs, fake designer gear, locals eating noodles and rice, fake football shirts, noise, colour and a little sleaze, with a few chaps hustling us to enter the various show bars which opened up onto the streets. I peered inside and wondered “shall I, shan’t I?” I bought a “Clockwork Orange” T-shirt for just 200 baht from a busy stall under the monorail. I spoke to Adie about one of Juve’s firms being called “Arancia Meccanica” and the real world, the football world and my world overlapped once again.
And still the street hustlers wanted us to pay a visit to the local delights…

“One Night In Bangkok” indeed.

Adie fancied some food and so from about 7pm to 9pm, we sheltered in the relative calm of an Irish pub – “O’Reilly’s” – and had three pints of Singha…they are Chelsea’s beer sponsors after all. We ordered some food – chicken in satay sauce and some spring rolls – and had a great time. We spoke about our school days and our time in the same school and cricket teams. A few other topics were aired, but we kept coming back to football, the game that ties so many of my mates together. We spoke about Asia’s particular love of English footy, way ahead of any other league, way ahead of Serie A, La Liga and the Bundesliga. Adie kept asking me why English football was so loved and I did my best to respond. I guess I used the words “history, passion, humour, noise and tribalism.” Dotted around the bar were several western male tourists “of a certain age” sitting with local Thai boys. The pub was busy and I half-expected a familiar Chelsea face to appear…maybe Saturday night. Sitting in a bar in a foreign land, I was reminded of one of my favourite jokes, which I shared with Ade : –

“An Englishman, an Irishman and a Scotsman were shipwrecked and found themselves on a deserted island. Within a few weeks, the Irishman had found a way to ferment the local fruit to make alcohol and had opened a pub. The Scotsman had got into a fight with the Irishman and had been banned from the pub. And the Englishman was waiting to be introduced.”

Next up was the appearance of The Better Band, a local Beatles tribute band, and they played many Beatles’ songs. In their wigs and suits circa 1964, they did a good job to be fair. Paul McCartney even sang with a slight Scouse accent, which I guess is no mean feat. I spoke to Ade about the reports that I have been writing for CIA and we tossed a few ideas about what the Bangkok edition should be called. Adie suggested “Tales From The Big Mango” in lieu of the city’s modern nickname. It would certainly be better than “Tales From The City Of Angels, The Great City, The Residence Of The Emerald Buddha, The Impregnable City (Of Ayutthaya) Of God Indra, The Grand Capital Of The World Endowed With Nine Precious Gems, The Happy City, Abounding In An Enormous Royal Palace That Resembles The Heavenly Abode Where Reigns The Reincarnated God, A City Given By Indra And Built By Vishnukarn”. Bangkok has the longest place name in the world, allegedly. Feeling on top form, we then continued our walkabout and we ended up outside, and then inside, “The Finlandia” show bar. Twenty minutes later – and after just one beer, costing a couple of quid – we were back in the crowded streets and our lives were richer with another Bangkok moment.

For the record – ‘cus I know you all want to know – there were no table tennis balls but just 30 pretty bored Thai girls a-dancing on stage.

It had to be done, though. Tick that box, so to speak.

Next up, some more food and Adie sat us down at a cheap and cheerful café, with me just kicking back, enjoying some banter and aiming plenty of puns at poor Adie. We had a few local delicacies, including a crab which had been fragranced with a selection of Thai spices. I haven’t eaten too many crabs in my life and I was getting more and more frustrated as I toiled away, attempting to get as much flesh out of the little sucker as possible. At least the Singha beer was going down well. As I finished the meal, I spotted a local Thai gentleman in a Liverpool shirt and so I quickly showed him video film on my phone from the 3-1 game at Anfield in 2008. He growled and so I blew him a kiss and his little group of friends roared with laughter.

We crossed the roared and flagged down a tuk tuk, that funky three-wheeled vehicle which is such an iconic part of Asian life, and gave the driver instructions on how to reach our next attraction. I had pinpointed the open air bar on the 63rd. floor of the State Tower as a “must-see” attraction on this first night. Well, the tuk tuk drive was magnificent, a real adrenalin rush, with the exhaust roaring behind us and the traffic whizzing past. Waves to fellow tuk-tukkers, smiles to cab drivers.

“One Night In Bangkok.”

As we stepped out onto the roof terrace, my mind went ga-ga. What a sight – a clear dark night, starlit, with the illuminations of a million city lights stretched out to the horizon. Car lights, street lights, hotel rooms, reds, yellows, whites. We stepped into the crowded circular Sky Bar, itself illuminated, and tentatively ordered a couple of expensive beers. The barman was an Italian and so I decided to introduce myself –

“Sono tifo di Chelsea.”

He then told me that Didier Drogba and a few other Chelsea players had been up at the bar two hours earlier. If anything, that validated us being there, two mere mortals from Frome. We took it all in. Deep breathes. Photos of the vibrant Bangkok night down below. We sipped at the beers, wanting them to last forever. It really was a magnificent end to my first night in the Thai Capital. Pigs, river boats, Thai Beatles, Pat Pong’s vices, beer and Thai food, the city below from the Sky Bar above.

Chelsea in town.

There was still time for one more surprise.

“Chris Axon – what the fcuk are you doing here?”

I quickly turned around and a work colleague bounded across the bar to greet me with an outstretched hand.

“Batty – what the fcuk!”

Batty has worked with me at Herman Miller for eight years and, unbeknown to me, had just arrived in town the night before with his girlfriend Jo. He had spent a few minutes on the other side of the circular bar working out “is that Chris Axon???” The penny suddenly dropped…”must be him – Chelsea are in town.” Well, what a small world…what a cliché, but how true. We spent the next thirty minutes rubbing our eyes, sharing a few stories and wallowing in the absurdities of this crazy world. He had just visited Hong Kong and was only in Bangkok for three days. That our paths should cross in a bar 63 stories up in the Bangkok sky is surely a magnificent impossibility.

But, no – nothing is impossible in Chelsea World.

We called another tuk tuk – though it’s all a little blurred – and we raced back to the Ibis, our backsides only a foot or so from the ground, across the bridge over the Chao Phraya River and we collapsed into our beds at about 2am.

Day Two : The Tourist.

Adie was clearly not used to such an alcohol intake and was rather delicate first thing. I felt fine and, after a lovely buffet breakfast, we were out and about at just after 10am. The day was spent fizzing up and down the Chao Phraya River, visiting a few of Bangkok’s must-see sights. Of course, it had to happen; we bumped into Batty, not once, but twice on the Saturday…once on the ferry boat as we headed up to the Grand Palace and once inside the temple which housed the famous Emerald Budha.

“See you in about two hours, then.”

The Grand Palace was magnificent. It was another jaw-dropper. I was surrounded by gold-leaved temples and chedis, or pagodas, and while I snapped away, Adie secretly took a few photos of me. Adie loves his photography, like me, and taught me a few tricks about the art while I was with him. Being surrounded by all of that gold, especially on such a hot day, was almost hypnotic. For a few moments, I experienced what it must be like to be Roman Abramovic. We had to take off our shoes and caps to enter the revered temple of the Jade Buddha and for a few reflective moments, I sat in silence.

We then aimed for the temple which housed the Reclining Buddha or Wat Pho. This was another mesmeric sight. This Buddha is around 50m in length and is again gilded in gold. The toes are festooned in mother or pearl. It’s quite magnificent. With all of this gold around, I dubbed my visit to Bangkok a “gilt trip” and Adie groaned once more.

Death by a thousand puns.

Outside, more street markets; DVDs, Budha mementoes, second-hand toys, second-hand books, sex aids, plastic flowers, fresh fruit, pineapples and bananas, wooden phalluses, dried fish, coconuts, fake T-shirts, fake handbags, tat of every description, West Ham season tickets.

We caught the ferry boat back to the pier by the Shangri La Hotel and I decided to see if any players were hanging around. I waited in the reception area for a good hour or so. I spoke with an ex-pat, who had travelled down to Bangkok from Northern Thailand. He told me that he had paid the equivalent of £35 to attend the so called “High Tea With Chelsea FC” at the hotel on the Friday. He was far from impressed as he was one of around 250 fans and only the manager and four players attended, away on the top table. It was a bit of a farce, according to him. Bruce Buck and his wife arrived and I slowly walked over and greeted him with a memory from last season –

“The last time I saw you was at Frankley Services on the M5 after Stoke away.”

He looked a bit guarded and his response surprised me –

“Did you abuse me?”

I laughed it off and said “no, not at all.” We chatted a little and I asked his wife to take a photo…I had my trusty Yankees cap pinned to my belt and he noted it and patted his chest, saying “ah, close to my heart.”

Soon after, a minibus dropped Josh, Alex and Graeme Le Saux off and I had the smallest of chats with Berge as he raced through the foyer. I knew that the Chelsea squad were off to the stadium at around 5pm for some public training. I spotted Cathy and a few others arrive, back from a hot day visiting the sights. They had plans to visit the training session, but I was giving it a swerve. I lounged around and spotted a few CFC personnel – names unknown – and wondered what their roles were in the grand scheme of things. What were their names? What were their roles? Their motivations? Their qualifications? Their impressions of Andre Villas-Boas? Were they enjoying the trip? Were they missing their loved ones? It made me think. I asked one of them about the team’s departure time for the training session and the fact that he was an American surprised me. Not sure why, though.

I got the nod that the team would be boarding the coach from a tucked-away service bay to the side. For about 45 minutes, with rain clouds threatening, I hung around in the hope of getting some good photographs of the players as they boarded the coach. In the end, the photos were disappointing and I questioned my sanity on more than one occasion. I felt, ridiculously, like a school kid at a pop concert and was tempted to head back to the Ibis. I stuck it out though – and was rewarded when I spun around to get a good shot of JT giving me the thumbs up from his seat. I also made him chuckle when I said “Beth from America says hi!”

On the ferry back across the Chao Phraya, the rain cascaded down and I hoped that Cathy et al had decided to forego the training session.

Saturday night was quieter than Friday – I swam in the hotel pool, while the rain came down and there was occasional sheet lightning which lit up the sky. The boats on the river were still floating past and it was another lovely moment. The rain lashing down on my skin, the swimming pool warm, the smile on my face constant. The rain increased in intensity and it was gorgeous.

“I’m going to swim underwater, Adie – I’m getting wet here.”

Day Three – The Game.

Of all my time supporting Chelsea Football Club, attending games and watching my heroes, the pre-match of Sunday 24th. July 2011 was unlike no other. We were up nice and early and began the morning with a pre-breakfast swim at around 7am. After a hearty breakfast – nice to know that pork sausages, fried eggs, fried potatoes and baked beans have found their way to Thailand – we set off for a walk around the Chinatown area of downtown BK. Across the river once more, then up a few miles on the ferry boat. From about 10.30pm to around 2pm, we slowly walked through street after street, bazaar after bazaar, delicately avoiding oncoming traffic and pedestrians alike.

I knew that I was in for a treat when Adie lead me down a slight passageway which got narrower and narrower until we turned a corner and ended up almost entering somebody’s house. There was a blurring of space – “Adie, is this a shop, a private kitchen, or a shared area between several families?” – and it felt like I had entered another world.

In fact, of course, this is just what I had done.

Every spare inch of alleyway was devoted to commercial pursuits. Here comes another list of products, but this could go on forever; food of every description, including raw and cooked fish, exotic fruits of every shape, colour and size, textiles, mobile phones, walking sticks, electric drills, fishing rods, bags, fake DVDs, radios, car engine parts, batteries, toys, shoes, fake designer gear, nuts, vegetables, magazines, old toy cars, bags of fried fish stomachs, hats, caps, jewelry, furniture, mirrors, incense sticks, electronic goods, dried flowers, football shirts, car stickers, anything, everything.

And every few yards, locals were sat on the floor, crouching over little stoves cooking their meals. Bowls and bowls of rice, meat, noodles, fish, vegetables, fruit and a thousand variations. There was a blurring again of what I saw before me; is this a stall selling food, or just simply a worker cooking up their own food?

Adie had taught me a new way to photograph, slowing to a standstill, spotting a subject and shooting from the hip. I took several photos like this and the results were OK. I remember the intense look of concentration of one very small Chinese gentleman who was delicately folding pieces of gold to make intricate origami displays. The look of a bored young girl texting a friend while sat behind textiles and ribbons. A woman devouring some food. A chap sat at a café, smiling with a passer-by.

With every step, a hundred different sights. With every breath, a different aroma.

I said to Adie – “and in four hours time, we’ll watch some millionaires play football.”

We stopped off at a couple of street-side cafes and guzzled some drinks in the heat of the day; an iced cappuccino, a lime cordial, a lychee yogurt smoothie.

And the streets got narrower and narrower. At times it was impossible to move as the people slowed to gaze at the goods on sale. I don’t suffer from claustrophobia, but at times I just wanted to break free and find some clear space.

Eventually we broke free of Chinatown and headed north, over a canal and towards the Golden Mountain, which was another golden temple on the highest piece of land in central Bangkok. We quickly ascended the steps, took a few photographs and spotted a few skyscraper landmarks. Time was moving on and we needed to head over to the game. We caught a cab – thank heavens for air-conditioning – and soon witnessed another taxi ploughing into a poor woman and her cart of fresh fruit, sending them sprawling onto the road.

On the thirty minute cab ride out west, we sped past a massive advertisement for Singha beer, which used the tagline “Spirit Of Champions” with four Chelsea players’ faces and the CFC badge. It was a remarkable sight, thousands of miles from West London. As we approached the stadium, the traffic slowed, Chelsea shirts were beginning to be spotted and the expectation levels began to rise with each minute.

We were dropped off outside the main – and as far as we could ascertain, the only – entrance to the stadium. The heat was now getting more intense, but my Yankee cap was doing a fine job. After a little confusion about choosing the correct line at the busy ticket booth, I quickly picked up our three tickets. I spotted Aggie from the Cyprus Blues and had a little chat. Thankfully, Cathy, Jim and Jayne soon arrived and I could relax. We decided to head inside and get out of the sun. Cathy and I posed with my “Vinci Per Noi” flag once again. The atmosphere outside was of excitement, but it was quieter than Kuala Lumpur. There were a few tents nearby containing various products, including a Chelsea FC stall, a Coke stall and a local radio tent, with a loud DJ creating a din. The game was dubbed the Coke Super Cup and there was a twenty foot tall Coke “running man” statue outside the stadium. Quite a few locals appeared to be selling tickets and I wondered if the gate might fall way short of a full house. Adie had seen Leeds, Arsenal, Manchester United, Barca, Real and Brazil over the years at the stadium…I hoped and prayed that we would fill it.

Thankfully, we had great seats under the cover of the sweeping roof of the west stand. Middle tier, right on the halfway line. These tickets were 2,000 baht or around #45. There was a cooling breeze and we were fine. Opposite, on the east terrace, thousands of Chelsea fans were sweltering in the late afternoon sun and I noted hundreds of multi-coloured umbrellas sheltering the poor souls. It was time to play spot the Chelsea flag. The lads from Weymouth were sat a few rows in front of us and I am sure their flag was close by. Opposite, we spotted the two Bletchley Blues flags, a Walton On Thames flag, a Pattaya Blues flag, an Indonesia Blues flag, a Singapore Blues flag, a Melbourne flag and a Rising Sun flag. It was a good show. VPN was missing – I couldn’t be bothered with the hassle.

The Chelsea players came onto the pitch and went through their choreographed pre-match routines.

The Snappy Dresser –

Chris – pink.

Again, thousands of CFC flags had been draped over some seats and these were waved with gusto. The stadium took a while to fill up. Still the sun beat down.

There were fireworks during the pre-game show and then a Thai couple appeared high above the north terrace on a platform. They were suspended from two cables and slowly made their way to the running track, as if floating on air. Let’s see something similar at Chelsea next season, with maybe Cathy and Dog floating down from the West Stand roof with five minutes to go before kick-off.

The teams appeared down below us and the crowd roared. Difficult to gauge the attendance, but – like KL – the crowd kept arriving deep into the game.

Great to see Petr back between the sticks for the first time this season.

The game began but it was a poor opening thirty minutes or so, with the Thai team showing more spirit and know-how than the Malaysian team a few days earlier. Soon into the game, all was quiet in our section and I shouted out –

“Come On Chelsea!”

…and, much to my amusement, this was met with a few “oohs” and “aahs” and even a few claps from the locals around me. Cathy and I spoke about doing some ZZs later.

Cech did well to get down and block a Thai shot on 31 minutes. That man Torres, still looking leggy and distant, skewed wide on 37 minutes and we all groaned. At times, the atmosphere was very quiet. Then, the ball broke to Frank Lampard and he adroitly despatched the ball low into the goal from over 25 yards out. It was a typical Fat Frank Goal and the crowd roared their approval.

Cathy disappeared at half-time and didn’t re-appear until later in the second-half. I suspect that she was off on the hunt for some Strongbow. Adie asked me how I thought the top six would finish up in 2011-2012 and he was quite shocked when I predicted that the title would go to Manchester United. My top six were: Manchester United, then Chelsea, Manchester City, Liverpool, Arsenal and Tottenham.

I caught both of the next two goals on film. Jose Bosingwa’s cross-cum-shot evaded the despairing, and comical, efforts of the Thai ‘keeper and bounced in off the far post. Soon after, a burst through the middle of the park by Ivanovic and a lovely ball through by Young Josh. He kept his cool and dispatched the ball with aplomb and the entire World and his Dog made cynical comments along the lines of “good job it wasn’t Torres.”

One of the highlights of the game for me was a crunching tackle by John Terry on a Thai player and I suspect that the said player is still having recurring nightmares about it. Josh looked busy and impressed. The star of the show was Hilario, on for Petr at the break, who made a succession of fine saves around the hour mark. Top marks. Ivanovic charged around all over the place and didn’t seem to be affected by the heat, though I am sure it was very humid and draining. Rather them than me.

The place was still quiet, though.

My “Come On Chelsea, Come On Chelsea, Come On Chelsea” chant didn’t stir the locals and so I left it at that. A couple in front of Adie and I were annoying the hell out of me. They virtually ignored the game and instead kept taking photographs – and sickly ones at that – of each other. It was just as well that Cathy wasn’t around to witness such a pathetic sight. Just after Cathy returned to her seat, Florent Malouda lashed high into the net and it was 4-0 to Chelsea.

Job done.

JT looked rather embarrassed to collect another cup, but all thoughts were quickly forgotten as a glittering array of fireworks lit up the Bangkok night. It was a spectacular end to the night’s entertainment and provided a fitting end to my two Chelsea games in Asia. This was a much better performance than the game in KL and the team looked more at ease. I hoped that the man with the clipboard was starting to make an impact.

Adie and I let the crowds subside and were some of the last to leave the stadium.

I collected twenty plastic cups from the terraces which were all logo’d up with “Coca Cola Super Cup Thailand 2011” and had the images of Didier, Frank, JT and Nando on them. They will go to a few close friends.

Outside, the crowds were still to disperse. There was a noisy atmosphere out in the streets, with buses and cabs racing past us as we walked a few miles west to get away from the congested area. Adie also pointed out motorbike taxis, but that would have to be a Bangkok experience for next time. Lots of smiles with fellow Chelsea fans as Adie and I marched on, walking at pace away from the stadium. It felt, actually, just like a walk away from a game in Europe. Maybe Rome or Barcelona. Lots of shouts, lots of noise, lots of colour. I had to keep reminding myself that – no – this was Bangkok.

I said to Adie “at least there’s no chance of getting whacked out here.”

I also commented that although Bangkok was a wilder city than Kuala Lumpur, the atmosphere was not half as good.

At around 9am, sirens wailed behind us and the Chelsea team coach – also logo’d up in the colours of Coca Cola – raced by. I punched the air as the coach drive by and realised what a lucky soul I had been. The next time I would see the boys play would be in Stoke, but that seemed a lifetime away.

We dipped into a 7-Eleven for a bottle of ice-cold green tea and then luckily nabbed a cab back to our hotel. Time was running out for a Thai buffet, so instead, I devoured a burger and fries, along with two bottles of Singha. Not until now do I realise that these were the only beers that I had to drink the entire day. And what a day. That wonderful day in Chinatown and Chelseatown.

That wonderful day in Bangkok.

Postscript :-

After Bangkok, I had a relaxing time in Chiang Mai and one moment brought a smile to my face. On the last day, I was busy visiting a last few sights and was just about to leave a temple when a local lady in her ‘sixties approached me. I think she was aiming to get me sign up for a local tour. She asked me where I was from and as soon as I said “England” she was keen to ask me another question.

“Ah – which football team do you support?”

It made me laugh…one world, one game, one team anyone?

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Tales From The Game Of My Life

Juventus vs. Chelsea : 10 March 2009.

“Tales From The Game Of My Life” – what else could I call this?

This was just a brilliant trip to the Piedmont city of Turin. As I sit here with enough memories to last a lifetime, my only concern is getting this report finished before I have to leave to go to the next game.

Let’s get started.

On Sunday afternoon, I re-watched “The Italian Job” ( set in Torino, 1969 ) to get my juices flowing. It was the perfect appetiser.

I left home at 1.30am on Monday morning and made great time heading up to Stansted airport to the north of London. I had only flown from this airport once before – my first ever Chelsea euro away to Viktoria Zizkov in September 1994. On that trip I bumped into Andy and Neil – two Chelsea lads from Nuneaton. I actually began chatting to them on Wenceslas Square in Prague. As fate had it, I had learned that Andy and Neil, plus Jonesy and Jocka, were to be on this flight too. We bumped into each other at the departure gate. Handshakes all round.

Our Ryanair flight to Torino left at 7am. I had already been awake since 12.45am, so tried to nab a little sleep on the plane. As luck would have it, Torino was featured in the in-flight magazine and it highlighted a couple of places I would later visit. Ex-Tottenham manager David Pleat was sat a couple of rows behind. I wondered if he would be visiting Torino’s pavement society. Maybe that would be shrouded in mystery.

Due to high winds, we circled over the hills to the east of the city for about thirty minutes before the pilot getting the nod to land. We caught a few glimpses of the city on a pristine clear morning. We descended and flew over the city from the south and I was able to point out the Lingotto factory featured in “The Italian Job.” We landed at 9.15am and caught a slow moving bus into the city centre. I spotted the roof supports of the Delle Alpi to the west, nestling beneath the stunning snow-capped mountains. To my east, the Superga basilica, high atop a hill, welcomed me to the city once again, like a beacon.

The bus stopped outside the Porta Nuova train station, where I had arrived in Torino for the very first time in 1987. We stayed about 90 minutes in a tiny, cramped bar, drinking a variety of beers, the owner feeding us nuts and crisps. My – it was great to be back. I texted my friend Tullio to say I had arrived. I had collected two tickets at HQ on behalf of Joe from Chicago and he arrived at about 1.30pm so I could hand over the tickets. He looked very happy. Andy and his mates were staying several miles south, but we had time for one more beer in a quiet bar, before we went our separate ways. In those two bars, we spoke about the team, our football this season, our players, our hopes, our concerns…there wasn’t a stone left unturned…a real, intense session, which is quite unlike us really. Towards the end, we chatted about various bands – of our youth – and as I left them at about 3pm on Via Sacchi, Andy bellowed out a Slade song at me.

I walked east over the Po river and located the youth hostel where I was staying for the first two nights. I had stayed there in 1989 for the Juve vs. Fiorentina game, plus one night in 1990 too. I booked in and decided to sleep for an hour. All my mates are experienced euro travellers and we often cat-nap for an hour before hitting the town. I awoke and showered, quite refreshed. I got changed and re-traced my steps into the city. Unfortunately, Andy’s lot had overslept and then took a tram to the wrong station.

Porco Dio.”

While I waited for them to arrive, I scouted out a good pizzeria and decided to head into the foyer of Hotel Roma on Piazza Carlo Felice. Who should be in there but Dutch Mick plus Paul and Trizia. I had a beer and then my mates arrived. We made a beeline for the restaurant on Via Lagrange. I ordered a pizza with gorgonzola and onions, plus beers and more talk about Chelsea and music. Towards the end of the meal, we noticed a gaggle of Italian men get up from their table, quite agitated ( one looked like Bruce Buck )…we realised that they had spotted Momo Sissoko, sitting quietly with his wife and little daughter. This wasn’t a posh place – my pizza was eight euros – so we were gobsmacked. He had hurt his leg in the Toro vs. Juve game ( il derby delle Mole ) on Sunday, so wouldn’t be playing. Jonesy took a photo of him with me. I said to him “sono tifo de Chelsea.” He smiled and was pleasant and affable. We were drinking some Birra Moretti – who knows the significance of this in the story of Chelsea and Juventus?

At about 11pm, we slowly walked up to the cobble-stoned Piazza San Carlo, Turin’s “Drawing Room, and this is the epicentre of the city…a few neon adverts in one corner, a massive screen in another. The boys weren’t taking much interest in my tour guide comments and wanted some beer. We headed into a very nice pub called “Jumping Jesters” – thankfully devoid of Chelsea. Nice to just be with some locals. The beers were on offer for two for five euros. Bargain. Neil and Jocka were drinking Guinness but didn’t fancy using the “whole in the ground” toilets. It was like a game of human kerplunk! They lasted, despite several pints of the heavy brew, until they got back to their hotel. I texted Cathy, who I knew was arriving late. After a few texts, Cathy and Dog arrived and joined us for a few late night beers. Cathy was full of gorgeous tales from the past, too many to mention.

It felt great – top level Chelsea chat in a foreign city with some Chelsea legends.

We were kicked out at 3am. I dropped into a bar called the “Texas Ranger” on a slow walk back to the hostel. One for the road. Lo and behold, who should be in there but two blokes who were sat in front of me at Coventry, one of whom – Digger – was at Beth’s 50th birthday bash. They were bollocksed. I soon departed. As I crossed over the Po, I phoned Beth and had a boozy chat!

I retired to bed at 4am. I hope I didn’t wake anyone up.

Set the alarm for 9.45am. Game Day! A shower. Thankfully no hangover. Bonus!

I dropped into a café, a familiar haunt from past trips. “Un cappocino, per favore.” How perfect these little cafes are – lots of polished wood, frothing cappocino machines, baskets of Panini and brioche. I was falling in love with the city once again. Alan, Gary, Walnuts and Whitey were coming in from Milano – where they had enjoyed a San Siro tour – and were due in at 11am. I had arranged to meet up with them in their hotel and so hobbled along Corso Vittorio Emanuelle but took a cab from Porta Nuova.

My mate Rob was staying at their hotel too and by 11.30am we had all met up. Handshakes and hugs all round – a special welcome to my mate Walnuts who, like me, has been a Juve fan for many years. The weather was phenomenal – clear skies, the Alps never looking clearer. Rob lead us from the hotel near Porta Sousa through the middle of Torino. We reached Piazza San Carlo, bumped into Chicago Joe and Michelle, saw a few Chelsea dotted about.

Our one aim for the day was to visit the Superga basilica and we caught a tram from Piazza Vittorio Veneto ( the largest square in Europe with no statue, it was hosting the annual Chocolate Festival – the aroma was amazing! ). We reached Sassi, but the funicular railway was shut on Tuesdays. While we waited to catch a bus to the top of the hill, I chatted to a Stone Island wearing Chelsea fan from Halle in the former Eastern Germany. He goes to about 25 games a year – respect!

We spent around 90 minutes high atop the Superga hill. Everyone seemed to appreciate the views, if not the long time it took to reach the summit. We were soon at the site of the Superga air crash which wiped out the 1949 Torino team. The understated memorial, with the script written in Torino burgundy ( or granata / pomegranate to be more precise ), was laden with Torino scarves and wreaths lead close by. I wished I had brought a CFC scarf to lie alongside the other tributes. The air was solemn with respect.

From there, we spent a few minutes taking in the magnificent panorama of Torino below us. The Alps appeared to float above the city. It was a truly wonderful moment. Torino’s grid streets were visible as were a few landmarks including Il Mole Antoniella ( once the tallest building in the world, for which the the Juve vs. Toro derby is named ), Stadio Delle Alpi to the north, Stadio Communale to the south.

My love for Italy is a real story running through my life and it was a joy to be back at Superga. I last visited it in May 1992 and I vividly remember not wanting to leave the summit, a long drive home through France ahead of me. I have that trip on film and there is a real look of sadness on my face as I look out at the city. Seventeen years on, I still didn’t want to leave.

One song was rattling around my head throughout this trip, one by Everything But The Girl, which came out in April 1988, just after I had returned from a month in Italy and it summed up my dilemma at the time. After I had left college, on three occasions I sold football badges outside stadia in Italy. For a while, I contemplated another life, based in Torino, selling badges for a living, but England – or Chelsea – was in my head.

“So here we are in Italy
With a sun hat and a dictionary.
The air is warm, the sky is bright
Your arms are brown, you’re sleeping well at night.
But England calls.”

And so it continues – in moments of quiet contemplation, I often wonder what would have happened if I had decided to live in Italy. Well, I wouldn’t be up to 700 Chelsea games, that’s a fact.

I returned back to the hostel, showered, changed into my game wear, recharged my camera batteries, picked up my ticket and headed out into the clear evening air.

This is it Chris.

As I crossed the Po once again – let’s freeze that moment in time – I realised what a lucky man I was.

“The meet” was going to be at “The Huntsman” near the station, but I heard singing from outside “Café Lumiere.” All of the World and her Dog was there…Rob, Alan, Walnuts, Gary and Whitey had just arrived. I popped in to get a 5 euro beer and noted loads of Chelsea faces, all old school, battle-worn veterans, the old school on tour…I had to laugh when I saw Rosey Cheeks chatting to an ex-Headhunter as if they were the best of friends. Dutch Mick was there. Up Norf Malcolm. Rousey. Stan and Mo. Cathy was throwing crostini at me. The bar had laid on free nibbles. The bouncy was going on in the bar.

By some strange coincidence, the date of the game was the twenty-fifth anniversary of a pivotal game in Chelsea’s 1983-84 promotion campaign, but also a pivotal moment in my life. My good friend Glenn and myself travelled up on the Chelsea special for the away game against Newcastle United on March 10th. 1984. Despite a few away games in Bristol, this was my first “proper” Chelsea away game. My parents drove us up to London – they disappeared off to the Ideal Home Exhibition for the day – and we caught the train from Kings Cross at 9am. This was to be a phenomenal away game – Glenn and myself had been looking forward to it for ages. I always remember walking through the centre of Newcastle en masse, feeling part of something, part of something bigger than I had ever witnessed. Police cars were jammed up against pubs to stop locals getting at us. What a feeling.

Memories of the game? We went ahead through David Speedie and the 5,000 Chelsea went berserk. I was quite near the front and climbed the fence, gesturing my elation towards the home fans, but was pulled down by a fat Geordie copper who pushed me against the fence. I was a bit shaken, but OK. Newcastle equalised through McDermott and the Geordie fans erupted. Never have 36,000 fans made more noise. Another clear memory was of about 100 Chelsea casuals perched on top of that fence, a row of beige Pringle pullovers, yellow, blue and white Tacchini tracksuit tops and many Nike Wimbledon trainers. Wedge haircuts. Attitude. Just brilliant.

The train was bricked on the way out of Newcastle and it broke down at York. However, on the journey south, a very important event took place. I was dozing and Glenn went off to the buffet. He came back, bouncing, and said he had met some Chelsea fans from Brighton.

Fast forward – the next home game against Fulham and these lads were sat in front of us on the benches. Their names? Alan and Paul ( aka Walnuts ). We have been friends ever since. I told this story to Alan and Walnuts and they remembered meeting Glenn and couldn’t believe it was twenty-five years ago.

Just like in 1984, March 10th 2009 threw up another Black And White away game.

I was buzzing. Tullio was on his way and I was so excited.

As he approached, I shook his hand and then we embraced. I turned, opened my arms towards the scene behind me, and said “Welcome To My World.” Tullio was able to meet – and personally thank – Cathy for getting him his ticket. It was in the expensive seats and he was overjoyed. He met Alan and the boys, but it was soon time to make our way to the stadium. We all made our separate ways. Tullio and myself avoided the “Chelsea Coaches” and caught a bus and a tram to the stadium. As luck would have it, Tullio bumped into his Juve mate Mimo, who had been at the game at The Bridge. That was Mimo’s first euro away game since the sadness of Heysel in 1985. Mimo was a typical Juve fan – he came from the South and it was a pleasure to meet him.

At 8pm, we arrived at the ground and we took some team photos. “Ciao” to Tullio and Mimo. I didn’t go straight in, but wanted to savour every last minute of all of this. I headed for the road adjacent to the home end – the old Curva Filadelfia – where I had first sold badges at the Juve vs. Panathinaikos game in November 1987. I bought a scarf. I could hear the Juve tifosi singing inside the ground and I fought away some tears of happiness. Get a grip, man.

A little mob of Drughi were still outside…I edged past them. I noted what appeared to be a pool of blood on the road – there had been a couple of ambulances leaving the scene as I arrived. We later learned two Chelsea had been stabbed. I was blending in though, no colours.

“Axon!”

I turned around and Jocka, Andy, Neil and Jonesy were behind me. They had seen the blood too. Time to get in. No body searches at the gate – I was in at 8.30pm.

The scene which greeted me was spectacular. I filmed my entrance to the Chelsea section on my phone and soon decided to position myself atop some steps at the front of the middle tier. After a few moments, I realised Les from Melksham was near and he came down to stand next to me all of the game. Right down below me, Chicago Joe and Michelle. Cathy and Dog came in and watched right from the front. Chelsea fans brought in a Lazio and a Toro flag to wind up the locals. The fans in the Curva Nord to my right had been issued with Italian flags. At the other end, I noticed two massive sections of green and red shiny mosaics. As the CL anthem played, the tifosi in the home end, got to work, unfurling three massive banners which said “YES WE CAN.” However, much to my amusement, the last flag got caught up and so was never fully exposed. Felt like singing “No You Can’t.” As it turned out, this failed unfurling proved to be a metaphor for the night.

At 8.45pm, The Game Of My Life began – Juventus vs. Chelsea. Just seeing those two words together makes me go all goose-pimply. After a few minutes, Andy and Smithy arrived behind me…bizarrely, Smithy got in without having to show a ticket. This was great as I saw him in Rome but he had been delayed and so missed the game. Poetic justice! To be honest, I thought we were pretty poor in the first period. That opening goal from Iaquinta was on the cards and our World crumpled. Don’t do this to me! My worst fears were starting to come to life. Juve moved the ball around well but we defended OK. We just couldn’t seem to create anything, though. I remember one wild shot from Ballack, who was particularly poor.

The first-half ended in a blur of confusion and then elation. Please excuse my memory, but I may have got these moments all a bit messed-up. With the seconds ticking away, that Drogba free-kick ( ? ) looked to be saved by Buffon, but then a roar, a Chelsea player near the goal with arms raised and we went wild. Much celebration, but then – wait – we saw that the game was continuing. What happened? Dunno. What seemed like a minute after, a scramble in the Juve goal – did it come back off the bar? – and Essien poked it home, but I wasn’t sure it was in.

It was. GET IN. From my viewpoint at the front of the middle tier, I watched as the Chelsea fans in the lower deck ( the more “wild” of the 1,700 ) go amok, running towards the Juve fans to my right…or rather the plexiglass screen. Much singing, shouting, arms pointing. The Juve fans responded with a bizarre mixture of arm signals.

Juve now had to score three to go through. My evening was now looking good, very good in fact. We played better in the second-half, with Frank very busy. Chiellini was sent off half-way into the second period but then Juve seemed to dominate. We were all impressed with the substitute Giovinco. A Belletti handball presented Del Piero with a penalty which he coolly slotted away.

It was now “Game On.” The Juventus fans to my right were at it again. One fan in particular – a man in his late fifties, very much like Claudio Ranieri – was very graphic. In one memorable moment he seemed to suggest that, with a tremendous show of agility with his tongue, that we were all fans of oral sex.

Mate – who isn’t?

The game continued on a knife edge. However, throughout the game, I did find it hard to concentrate on the action. On many occasions, I found myself drifting back to my four previous visits to the stadium between 1987 and 1989. The stadium was 80% all standing in those days and even lie unused from 1990 to 2006. I continually read all of the black and white Juve banners which adorned every inch of balcony space. I found it hard. It was too incredible for words.

Late on, a fine move down in front of me and Juliano found Drogba with an inch perfect pass. Seeing the net bulge was a pure moment of joy. I was filled up, but remained calm enough to take about ten shots of the resultant celebration. The scream, the leap, the players joining in…the Chelsea fans down below me going crazy, climbing the fence, so reminiscent of that game in 1984.

We were in full voice.

“We Are Chelsea In Turin.”

“We Hate Tottenham In Turin.”

“We Are Bouncy In Turin.”

I’m afraid one moment was not met with my approval. A 50 year old old-school Chelsea “face” mimicked the fans getting crushed at Heysel to the viewing Juve fans. To all those that glory in our shared hooligan history, a wake up call. This was not clever.

At the final whistle – relief and euphoria. We were now in great voice. The players came over and we serenaded them. Joe was loving it down below me. We gave Tiago a brilliant reception and he looked visibly moved. He was the last off the pitch. I met up with Alan, Walnuts, Rob, Gary and Whitey just as Dave Johnstone was getting some stick as he tried to sell his fanzine.

“It’s A Euro In Turin.”

“Hurry Up In Turin.”

So – into the last eight and out into the Turin night. We caught buses back to the city centre. Skinhead John was on our bus and was wearing a Torino shirt. He demanded that I help tie up a Toro flag to taunt the Juve fans. He’s quite a formidable character – I wasn’t going to argue. Thankfully the police got it taken down. I was right next to the flag – didn’t fancy getting stoned on the way back to the centre.

A few groups of Toro fans applauded us as we flew through the streets, police car lights flashing.

We regrouped at the same restaurant – a Sicilia pizza with anchovies this time – and were joined by Fiona and Ronnie ( Scooby Doo at the Coventry game ). No Sissoko, but the same gaggle of Italians ( including Bruce Buck! ) were there. We shook their hands as they left. Nice times. We again stayed at the “Jumping Jesters” until 3am…nice and easy, though, nothing mad.

Back to the hostel at 4am again. Phew.

The last day was another perfect one. I breakfasted at my little café on Corso Fiume again, this time with a copy of the pink “La Gazzetta Dello Sport” and tried my best to evaluate the Italian synopsis of the game. I walked over to Piazza Vetorio Veneto and waited for the boys to arrive. I had a gorgeous piece of chocolate cake from one of the stalls of the Chocolate Festival. The boys arrived at about 11.30am and a coffee. Gary, Walnuts, Alan and Whitey soon left for Milano, but I stayed with Rob for the rest of the day.

More blue skies. We sat at the café for three hours, more coffee, a coke, some gnocchi. It was heaven. Ronnie and Fiona joined us, but Rob and myself had one last bit of sightseeing to do.

We visited Il Mole Antoniella and this was a great way to view the city. A lift rushed us up within the shell of the building and we were soon overlooking the red roofs and grid-like streets of the city. Just spectacular.

We then walked – or rather hobbled in my case, my football injury was getting worse – back to the hotel. I stopped off to get some stuff from the Juve shop on Via Garibaldi. Rob was taking a late flight that night, so I wished him well.

“See you Sunday.”

There was one more treat in store for me. Tullio picked me up from the hotel at 6pm and I was soon in his new apartment, to the south near Moncalieri. I met his wife Emanuela again, but also his daughters Sophia and Lucrezia for the first time. Sophia presented me with a Juve scarf. We had a few appetisers as the sun set behind the Alps. Magnificent.

We dropped in to see Tullio’s parents for a few moments – I was just so very pleased to be able to see them again and we spoke of the old times in Diano Marina. More appetisers. Tullio spoke of his grandfather’s love for Juve. He apparently saw Juve’s first ever game at Campo d’Armi, a stadium just to the north of Stadio Olimpico.

Tullio and myself then searched for a place to park before going into a lovely Piedmontese restaurant for a great meal. Talk about work, our families, our plans to meet again. The meal was rounded off with a perfect chocolate pudding.

When in Torino.

Tullio remembers me saying to him in around 1988 that it would be my dream to one day see Chelsea play Juventus. Deep down I knew this was never going to happen. What did I know, eh?

We bade our farewells to each other back at the hotel. We hugged. My last words to Tullio were –

“I’ve seen your team play many times before, for you to eventually see my team play means the World to me.”

“CIAO CIAO.”

After a peaceful night’s sleep at a hotel near Porta Sousa, I awoke early and was soon knocking back some coffee at around 6.45am in the hotel breakfast bar. The hotel radio jumped to life with a song which was coming to its end and it just made me smile. It was Louis Armstrong and “What A Wonderful World.”

Perfetto.

As I walked out to catch the airport bus at about 7am, I just wanted to put my arms around the city one last time. The Alps still looked stunning to the west and there was Superga, to the east, ready to welcome me back next time.

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Tales From The Last Sixteen

Chelsea vs. Juventus : 25 February 2009.

A lovely evening at HQ, but there is still a nagging doubt that our 1-0 lead may not be enough over the two legs.

I had booked a half day holiday. I had a dental appointment first thing and then worked 9.45am to 2.15pm. Well, I say “worked” but it was very quiet indeed. I had been “working” on my account of my personal journey into Italian football for Dave Johnstone’s “CFCUK” and I fine-tuned it in the morning before submitting it. This is my first article for this fanzine and I just knew I had to do it. Just had to share it with the Chelsea Nation. Glad I completed it just in time for the game. “The Game Of My Life” just about sums it up. I submitted this on CIA, too, so that I can refer back to it once I get to write up my recollections of Torino in March.

Parky was collected from the pub opposite and we set off for Chelsea. There was the usual banter flying around on the drive east, but he was quiet for the longest ever time in living memory as he read through my recollections of Italy. We both agreed that the internet is a wonderful medium to share such things with people around the World. I am sure Parky could tell a few tales, so to speak. Best not encourage him though.

Before we knew it, we were parked-up just off Lillie Road at about 4.15pm. This was always going to be a extra special game for me, but I had planned an extra level of enjoyment by arranging for Ohio Silver Lining / Farmer John / mgoblue and a mate, Bob / unagi1 and two stalwarts from across the pond ( Chopper and Hoss ) to meet me for a meal at “Dall Artista” at 5pm. Bob was already settled with a pint in the Lillie Langtry as Parky and myself strolled in. Bob had visited Barcelona since Villa on Saturday. Then two phone calls in quick succession. John was on his way and needed directions. Then my friend Tullio in Torino called, but he was off work with a high temperature. I wished him well and said I would see him in a fortnight.

I met John’s college mate Greg, a guy from Salonika in Greece and a Juve admirer. We sunk the first beer of the evening and I was buzzing. Chopper was on his way too. We walked past Brompton Cemetery which sits behind the East stand and arrived at the restaurant bang on 5pm. A big hug from my good friend Salvo – who has met Teri and Starla – and also a hug from Hoss, who was already there. I first met Hoss in Chicago in 2006 and he now lives in Missouri…he’s over for two games. He told us of a great deal he managed to strike up at the Chelsea Hotel, paying about £48 a night! Introductions were made and the air was full of chat and laughter with everyone chipping in with comments about Chelsea and life…there, that’s profound, eh?

I made the point that if my life could be distilled, with all the nonsense and irrelevancies turned to ether, this is what it would be…sat around a table with close friends, jabbering away like fools about all sorts of Chelsea chat.

“And then, in about two hours’ time, we are going to watch our eleven heroes play for us.”

We raised a toast.

We asked for the menus just as Chopper, his daughter Kelly and her Chelsea-debutant boyfriend Shaun arrived. Happy days. More beers please Salvo. Parky was in good form and we were having a good laugh. Because of the differences in the sense of humour between us Brits and North Americans, I often feel we need to put on a bit of a show for our guests and Parky is my ideal partner for this, full of wisecracks, plays on words and sideway glances to camera! I last saw Chopper in NYC in June and it’s always good to see him. I phoned Beth and was pleased she was able to join in our little party.

I had brought up a few photographs from the ‘eighties of myself with my friend Mario, his parents and some shots of his home town. It is Salvo’s home too and I suppose – in the light of things – it came as no surprise that he recognised Mario’s father Franco. It turned out that Salvo played for the same town football team – Dianese – in the ‘sixties as Mario did in the ‘eighties. We ordered our pizzas – an Americana, how appropriate, with anchovies – and more beer, Salvo! I had to put the brakes on though…four small bottles would be my limit. In a quiet moment, I asked Salvo if he was excited and he said he hadn’t been able to eat all day! Bless him.

Henry, who I met in NYC in June, but was now back home in Blighty, popped in and this was a surprise for us all. Fantastic.

It was 6.40pm and we really needed to move on. We marched down to The Goose and joined the milling throng. Unfortunately, we lost Chopper’s lot but Salvo, Parky, John, Greg, Bob and myself were soon chatting with Alan, Gary, Walnuts, Russ, Daryl, Ed, Simon, Milo, Rob, Andy and Lovejoy.

Bada bing!

At 7.15pm we set off for The Bridge and I called Mario. After meeting on that beach in 1975, here we were talking thirty minutes before the first ever Chelsea vs. Juventus game. We wished each other well. It was lovely to hear his voice.

Then a text from Tullio…”tick tock tick tock.” The game was approaching. We were walking along on a tide of adrenalin as the lights of the stadium appeared. I bought Chelsea / Juventus scarves for Tullio and Mario, plus four programmes. Managed to lose Bob and Parky, but Salvo was close by as we entered the stadium.

“Welcome to my home” I said to Salvo, who smiled. Just as we entered the arena, a red Juventus flag was being carried around the pitch and met us in our corner. Salvo beamed. Into our seats in good time and the Champions League build-up began. John was down below me in the corner. The disappointing thing for me was that La Vecchio Signora were not playing in the famous black and white.

On many occasions throughout the game my gaze was centered on the 3,000 Juventus fans in The Shed. I noted the banners and tried to pick out any slogans. Juventus, like all of the Italian teams, have an array of various supporter groups, which tend to constantly evolve through time. The fan leader Beppe Rossi seems to be the Juve leader of note and I have a book at home called “Il Gruppo” which is a photographic record of the various factions since the first fan group in around 1973. Not all groups are hooligans, but it is safe to say that they are all “ultras”, that Italian definition of rabid support. I have lost count of the many Juve groups, but names include “Vikings”, “Indians”, “Black And White Supporters”, “Fighters” ( I have a scarf ) and the infamous “Drughi” and “Arancia Meccanica” ( literally Clockwork Orange ) inspired by Kubrik’s iconic film. There is an amazing photograph from around 1984 of around 500 Juve ultras at an away game in Milano wearing black bowler hats, in homage to Kubrik’s “horrorshow.” That must have been a spine-chilling sight for opposing fans. Juve, Inter, Verona, Atalanta and – most famously of all – Lazio align themselves to the political right, whereas Milan, Roma and Livorno are to the left…historically at least, maybe not quite so much these days.

The Juve fans made a fair bit of noise. I noted several held-aloft signs showing four silhouetted figures with the word Drughi below. One guy in white was the cheerleader, sitting on the balcony wall, looking back towards the fans and instigating the rhythmic singing. Italians often do this. You see it all over. Fans as an organic body, singing their allegiance. For many fans the world over, this is the real battle.

Never mind the game, just show up, sing and win the battle of noise on the terraces.

The game was a bit of a blur. My mind was racing, trying to capture some nice photographs, making sure Salvo was enjoying himself, trying to get some singing going, trying to make out how the game was going, texting a few friends. After some early pressure, I had my telephoto lens centered on the Shed goal. On twelve minutes, Drogba shot and so did I. I depressed the button and loved it as I saw his strike head towards goal… but was gutted when I realised the camera switch was off. I saw Drogba’s goal through my inactive camera! Not really mixed emotions – I was ecstatic we had scored so soon.

Get in!

I prayed we would be treated to more early goals, thus killing the tie off even before the away leg. I couldn’t be more wrong. Juve tended to increase their possession throughout the game. It turned out to be a fractious, nervy game and I was surprised how quiet the Chelsea support was in the main. I tried my best, but not even I was getting stuck into the singing. Thought Frank was lively and honest, moving the ball around well. Ballack? Another missing-in-action performance. We were solidly sticking to the 4-3-3, but I thought Anelka did OK, rarely losing the ball. It was a pleasure to see players like Nedved ( whose hair appears to live a life of its own ) and Del Piero ( or Bruce Springsteen, as Al called him…I can see the resemblance…he was born to run, too ). Not really sure why Malouda came on and not Stoch. Generally speaking, though, despite the win, I am rather worried for our future in the competition.

Not so much has the Fat Lady sung, but has the Old Lady sung yet?

Gutted to hear Liverpool won away in Europe again. You know the rest!

After the game, I received a congratulatory text from Tullio and we then moved onto “Barbarella’s” where I had arranged to meet my mate Buller. This is the little bar and Italian restaurant where a lot of the ‘seventies players hung out. As luck would have it, Ron Harris was in there…small world…and so I introduced him to Salvo, who appreciated meeting a Chelsea legend.

As we came out onto the Fulham Road, a little mob of around forty Juve ultras were being ushered along by the police. Not sure if we had missed some action or not.

Loads of traffic meant that I didn’t get home until 2am. Parky the Nodding Dog was away in some dream world for most of the journey, no doubt dreaming of more Peronis.

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