Tales From Boys Against Men

Chelsea vs. Grimsby Town : 25 September 2019.

Our League Cup game at home to Grimsby Town would be our second home game in a run of three within seven days. I completed an early-shift at work at 3pm ahead of yet another midweek flit to the capital. PD drove up, and Sir Les came with us too.

I was brutally frank as I settled alongside PD in the passenger seat.

“Chelsea vs. Grimsby Town. What the fuck am I doing?”

It wasn’t so much that I was totally underwhelmed by the prospect of the game, more the knowledge that I would be cream-crackered at work the next day.

PD responded early.

“It’s what we do, innit?”

Indeed it is.

Talk in the car and in the pubs before the game centered on which youngsters might play, what the attendance might be, and if Grimsby Town, as rumoured, had brought a full six thousand down. If the latter was to be true, we were all happy to lavish praise on the away support.  Admittedly, the ticket prices had been slashed to just a tenner, but – even so – this level of away support was to be commended. Many of the away fans would not be home until 3am.

In “The Goose” and in “Simmons” we met with the usual suspects, plus a few new additions.

I met up with Alex – originally from Dallas –  again, who I vaguely remembered from a game in 2013 when I met up with some fellow Texans down at “The Rose” off the King’s Road. He now lives in Kingston-on-Thames and was looking forward to a rare chance to see us play.

Gary also popped in. He is originally from Swindon but moved out to Perth in Australia in 1987 and was at our friendly against Perth Glory in 2018 and in Baku in May for the Arsenal game. I don’t remember meeting him at either game, even though he spent a lot of the time in the Chelsea pub in Baku. We must’ve just missed each other, despite having mutual friends.

Gary was at the most famous Grimsby game of all – as was PD and Les – in May 1984 when around 10,000 Chelsea invaded Blundell Park to see a Kerry Dixon goal win us the Second Division Championship. I didn’t go to that game, but I have heard so much about it from others that it almost feels as if I was there.

Another lad – Rob – who is a friend of a friend, an old college mate, also popped in to say “hi.” All three have made positive noises about this blog and I thank them for their patronage.

The team news came through on ‘phones. I ran through the team and realised that I would be seeing a couple of new faces. This gave me a nice little buzz ahead of the kick-off.

This would only be the second sighting of Grimsby Town for me. I never saw us play against them in the old Second Division. We last played against each other in an FA Cup replay in February 1996 – we won 4-1 – and my memories of that game are scant. We had a pre-match drink in “The Beer Engine” on the King’s Road, it was a wet old night, we won easily. A quick glance at a YouTube clip of the match reveals an away following of around 1,000 in a gate of 28,000, a near full house in those days. Kenny Swain – I saw his Chelsea debut during my first game in 1974 – was the Grimsby Town assistant manager, a fact that I had long since forgotten. Commentator John Motson could hardly contain himself at times.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rHckXyxZesk

I remember my parents taking me up to Grimsby – Cleethorpes to be precise, where Grimsby Town play, a bit like Chelsea playing in Fulham – in the autumn of 1973 to visit friends. As was the way in that era, it was fashionable to festoon parkas or school bags with sew-on badges of towns and cities visited. To my annoyance, our hosts made the grave mistake of getting me a Grimsby Town Football Club badge rather than a city badge. I never forgave them, the fools.

We made our way inside Stamford Bridge. I had predicted that not all those that had purchased tickets would be in attendance and I had expected a “real” gate of around 32,000. At about 7.30pm, there were a lot of empty seats.

I soon spotted that Grimsby did indeed take up the entire Shed. It was a far better showing than in 1996. Around twenty or thirty of them, in their distinctive black and white stripes, had been drinking in “The Goose.” By kick-off, the crowd has swelled. In our little section virtually every seat was being used. It was by far a greater attendance than I had expected, probably topping out at around 36,000 despite a “sell-out” no doubt being declared.

So, our team.

Caballero

James – Zouma – Guehi – Alonso

Pedro – Gilmour – Barkley

Hudson-Odoi – Batshuayi – Pulisic

This would be my first sightings of Reece James and Mark Guehi.

It almost seemed that we had too many attacking players, not that this is a crime. I like the idea of playing with three wingers. Why not play with four? Let’s re-write the rule books. The line-up seemed to be fluid during the evening. The wide men sometimes swapped positions.

Before I had time to settle, we were 2-0 up. On just four minutes, Ross Barkley received the ball some twenty-five yards out, began a solo run and powered through the penalty box before smashing a strong and low strike in at the near post.

1-0.

It was too quick for my camera. I was still fannying around in an attempt to upload a photo for “Facebook” on my ‘phone.

Three minutes later, a run from Reece James was followed by a cross to the feet of Michy Batshuayi, who swiveled and struck.

2-0.

Coasting.

Neither of the game’s two goals on film though.

I was clearly slacking.

There was a trademark Marcos Alonso effort from a free-kick but the ball soared over. Then, a rare attack saw Grimsby Town attack their fans in The Shed. A long ball took us all by surprise. It dropped into space and Matt Green – more a paint colour than a footballer – smashed the ball home off the underside of the crossbar.

2-1.

The six thousand Mariners went doolally.

PD chirped : “Told we won’t keep a clean sheet this season.”

It was virtually the away team’s only shot on goal. While their main tactic seemed to be for ‘keeper McKeown to continually time waste, our tactic was to try to split defenders with crisp passing and good movement off the ball. There was a Batshuayi header, and a couple of crosses into danger areas from Pulisic.

I had spoken to Alan how it is almost taken as a given that diminutive Scottish players will hug touchlines and go on mazy dribbles. But Billy Gilmour was playing centrally, and at times quite deep, and was at the epicentre of many of our best moves. One pass inside a floundering full-back, perfectly timed for Callum Hudson-Odoi, was so sweet.

“What a pass, Al.”

We continued to attack. Just before the break, and as a corner was played in, I caught Kurt Zouma being held back, but yards away from the flight of the ball. It was a cheap penalty.

Pedro, the captain, grabbed the ball. There was none of the nonsense of last week.

He rolled it home with ease. And I photographed it with ease too.

3-1.

It hadn’t been a particularly noisy first-half. The main songs were in support of Frank Lampard. But it was lovely to see and hear a few kids, dotted around, joining in with a few chants. The appearance of a few youngsters in the MHU brought the average age of our section down to fifty-nine years and eleven months.

On fifty-six minutes, a free-kick was played out to Reece James. He clipped a cross in using the outside of his right foot, the ball spinning into the space in front of the ‘keeper, and the long legs of Kurt Zouma poked the ball in. I managed to get the touch on film. I was improving fast.

4-1.

We kept attacking. Grimsby hardly breached the half-way line. On the one occasion that they did, the six thousand away fans screamed as if they were at a Beatles concert in 1964.

Bless’em.

On sixty-six minutes, two more debutants.

Ian Maatsen for Marcos Alonso, Faustino Anjorin for Pedro.

On eighty-two minutes, the ball was knocked out of a packed penalty box to the feet of Reece James. He wasted no time in deciding to shoot. His effort was perfectly placed. Into the net it flew, nestling in at the base of the far post.

5-1.

What a debut.

The Matthew Harding turned their attention from Frank to his assistant.

“One Jody Morris.”

It was all us. We totally dominated.

The Grimsby ‘keeper, in the second-half especially, became their one star, blocking many Chelsea efforts on goal. However, on eighty-two minutes, we worked the ball well inside the box, and Batshuayi slotted the ball past the advancing ‘keeper from a position where Pulisic had been less successful on a couple of occasions. I caught that on film too.

6-1.

In the last minute of normal time, a ball found Hudson-Odoi in the inside-left position. He advanced, shimmied and put his marker off balance, before rifling home at the near post.

7-1.

It had become a slightly frustrating evening for Our Callum so his leap of joy was certainly understood. I caught that one on film too.

I was 5/7 for the night after a miserable start.

I turned to Alan.

“Must be depressing for Grimsby, a team full of seasoned professionals, of men, being turned over by a team of kids.”

This had turned out to be a lovely game of football. The spectre of being sleep-deficient at work the next day diminished with each goal. It was a fine time. I loved seeing Billy Gilmour. He was constantly involved. His future – possibly, it is ridiculously early to be sure – looks bright. Maybe because of his size, he reminded me of a young Jody Morris, a deep-lying schemer, a “prodder” of balls into the feet of others.

I like him most, though, because we are the same height.

The mood was certainly buoyant as we marched down the Fulham Road. There was even time for the first “cheeseburger with onions please love” at “Chubby’s Grill.

Perfect.

On the way back west, we heard that we drew Manchester United at home in the next round.

Tasty.

Next up, Brighton on Saturday.

See you in “The Eight Bells.”

 

Tales From Cloud Six

Chelsea vs. Queens Park Rangers : 29 April 2012.

I had been floating on clouds – or possibly way above the clouds – since Barcelona on Tuesday. It was now time to reconvene back at The Headquarters for the more prosaic game against our local neighbours and irritants Queens Park Rangers. I will waste no time in trying to excuse my lack of relative enthusiasm for this match; no amount of self-imposed hype would manage to lift this game up in my estimations. After Tottenham at Wembley and then a double dose of Barca Fever, this was decidedly hum drum.

For the second time this season, in fact, an encounter with QPR was making me feel a little anxious. I wasn’t concerned about our performance on the pitch. I was more concerned about the actions of a small but noisy fragment of our support who might – I did not doubt – spoil the day with some chants (well, one in particular) aimed at Anton Ferdinand.

You know which one.

I was hoping that our supporters would replicate the fine show of wholesome support for the team which we witnessed in the FA Cup game at Loftus Road. No silliness. No ammunition for the massed ranks of the Chelsea haters in the media to have a pop at us. I was hopeful. Or at least until I remembered the nasty shouts made by some of our supporters at Wembley during the Hillsborough silence.

I just hoped for our fans to show true support not only for the club but for John Terry, too. But without any bile or unpleasantness.

Throughout this season – and if I am truthful, before it began – I have sensed that this might be a season in which I might develop a different relationship with my club. I’m not sure why. Maybe the new manager. Maybe a season of treading water. Maybe a season in which my support might be tested. Maybe even a year in which I lose that desire. As much as these match reports have been a record of Chelsea’s successes and failures on the pitch this season, they have also possibly tried to demonstrate how sometimes my strength of support and feeling for the club has sometimes varied. I’ve also tried to think more objectively about what I get out of the match day experience. I’ve tried to push my boundaries. I’ve constantly asked questions of myself.

“Why do I want to drive to Norwich on a bleak winter day?”
“Why do some sections of our support rile me?”
“What is my relationship with the club?”
“Do I often get more fun out of the social side of football than the actual football?”
“What would I do if I lost that desire to go to games?”

I’ve stuck with it this season. It hasn’t always been easy. I’ve made mistakes along the way; maybe I came down on the wrong side of the AVB debate. Maybe I should have trusted the club more. Maybe I should have trusted the club less.

Questions. Questions.

Throughout it all, I’ve almost been expecting a cataclysmic event which might prompt me to take a step back and take a long look at it all; the obsession, the craziness, the support, the whole nine yards. Well, I needn’t have worried. The early season promise under AVB gave me hope. The CPO share offer galvanised our support and made me so proud to be a Chelsea supporter. I stuck with AVB and tried my very best to support him. I even tried to understand the forces at work within the camp which lead to a players’ revolt. It has been a crazy season but I’ve stuck with it.

And here we all are everyone. We are gasping from an incredible two week period, the like of which our football club has rarely seen before. Not only is this changing Chelsea team heading to Wembley for our fourth FA Cup Final in six seasons, but we are also heading to Munich for our second Champions League Final in five years.

It really is incredible.

Glenn collected me at 8.45am and was full of stories about local roads being flooded after the high rainfall and high winds which have battered this land of ours of late. Glenn collected Parky at 9.15am and we were London-bound. For the second successive Chelsea game, I was able to relax and have a few drinks before the game. Talk was of the two cup finals, but mainly of Munich. I get a deep warm glow just thinking about it. The traffic was atrocious nearing Hammersmith and Glenn wasn’t parked up until 11.45am. There was a sizeable line outside The Goose, awaiting the doors to open at midday. On the walk to the pub, a passing car had soaked us with water from a deep puddle in the road. I have no doubt the driver was a bitter Fulham fan. It was typical that my designated drinking day had coincided with only an hour’s worth of supping time. Oh well. After Tuesday, maybe it was just as well. Two lads from Bristol soon commented –

“You were pi55ed in Barcelona, weren’t ya?”

Guilty.

The whirlwind hour involved three pints of Peroni and a typically frantic period spent chatting to various mates. I chatted to Mike and Frank – my partners on that merry pre-match on Tuesday in Barcelona – and also several other NYBs. Some old friends, some new friends. Things were so rushed. It wasn’t as enjoyable as I had hoped due to the time constraints. I chatted briefly to my mates in The Bing and Munich was the centre of attention. Tell me if I am boring you. A few mates wryly commented that “we’re playing in the Cup Final in six days and yet everyone is talking about Munich.” In our parlance, there is still only one cup final that can rightly be called “the” Cup Final.

Alas, one friend was notable by his absence. On Saturday, Jesus had travelled back to his home on the Mexico / US border and he will be missed. He has enjoyed the time of his young life these past three months and I only wish he could have found a way to stay – and get tickets – for the two finals. I spoke to him on Friday and we planned to meet up at some juncture on the impending US Tour.

I left Parky at the bar to order “one last pint” and departed for The Bridge. The drizzle had continued but my main concern was getting in on time. At the bottom of the steps for the Matthew Harding Stand, the supporters were faced with a wait. Drat.

https://www.facebook.com/video/video…50846964697658

My watch was ticking. We had heard the last strains of “The Liquidator” and we then fell silent in the knowledge that we had missed the kick-off. It doesn’t happen very often.

Then, a roar out of nowhere and it was obvious that a goal had been scored. The noise, though, seemed relatively subdued and we all wondered if – horror! – the away fans were the ones celebrating. By the time I had reached my seat, I had heard the name “Sturridge” mentioned a few times and so I could relax. Phew.

Glenn was sat next to Alan and me again for the first time in ages and it felt right. I was keen to ask Alan if there had been any nonsense from Chelsea fans in the pre-game routines involving Anton Ferdinand. Thankfully, apart from a few schoolboy jeers, there was no racist stuff – implied or otherwise. Alan did say, though, that dear Anton made a point of jogging down to our corner and gesturing to the crowd. I guessed this was done to get a reaction, but nothing untoward apparently happened.

Top marks, Chelsea.

What then happened in that first half just typified our incredible self-confidence and joie de vivre at the present time. There had been talk in the pub of the derby with QPR being a massive let-down; the phrase “after the Lord Mayor’s Show” was used more than once. We couldn’t have been more wrong. What a goal fest in the rain. Fernando Torres loves the rain in April doesn’t he? He loves getting his socks grey with mud, he loves the puddles and he loves plundering goals against soon-to-be-relegated London rivals.

But first, a John Terry header, close in from a corner. John doesn’t miss from there. As he celebrated, running calmly towards us in the corner, he patted his chest and gestured to the adoring fans. I first took this to mean “calm down, don’t let the Anton Ferdinand stuff take over here” but it could just as easily have meant “so sorry for Barcelona – I can’t smile when I know I have let you down.” Maybe it was a mixture of the two.

And then, the Fernando Torres Show.

I was chatting to Alan about Munich (…sorry) during the sweet build up to our third goal. A sublime pass from Sturridge found an on-rushing Nando who adeptly rounded Paddy Kenny and slid the ball home. It was a super move and the crowd were in heaven. Soon after, an almighty faux-pas from Kenny presented Torres with a guilt-edged chance to score again. With a natural extension of his right leg, he whipped the ball into the net and we screamed once more. This time, The Kid celebrated down below…snap, snap, snap.

Chelsea 4 QPR 0 and only 25 minutes had been played.

The drizzle gave way to periods of sun…this was proving to be a lovely, lovely day.

At half-time, Neil Barnett paraded ex-Chelsea and Aston Villa player Kenny Swain to the four stands. Swain and I share something very special. On Saturday 16 march 1974, Ken Swain made his Chelsea debut as a substitute in the Newcastle United game. On that spring day over 38 years ago, I made my debut too. Swain was a good player for us, often playing upfront alongside Steve Finnieston in the 1976-1977 promotion campaign. He was latterly used at right back by Aston Villa, where he won back-to-back League Championship and European Cup medals. By the West Stand, Neil asked for all spectators to sit down and I wondered “where’s he going with this…” He announced that a Chelsea fan called Daniella from Ireland was on her hen party, dressed in a bridal gown, and asked her to stand up to receive some applause. She not only received some applause, but some choruses of “Celery” too.

As Neil led Ken Swain past the QPR fans, they typically shouted “Who are ya? Who are ya? Who are ya?” and Neil, for once, was on the money –

“He’s won the European Cup – and you don’t know who he is? I don’t know…”

In the second-half, it was just a party. A further Torres goal was the icing on Daniella’s Wedding Cake. A fantastic ball from Mata was played into space and Torres nimbly timed his run to beat the offside trap. His slow and studied finish was a classic Torres goal and reminded me so much of his many strikes in Liverpool red. His celebrations took him on a run down past the inhabitants of Parky Land in the south-west corner.

Alan pointed towards Torres and said :

“See that monkey running down the tunnel? He’s just hopped off of Torres’ back.”

“That same monkey could have got a place in Geoff Hurst’s team, Al.”

“Blimey. Don’t mention Danny Blanchflower. He would have been captain.”

I howled with laughter.

By now, some of the Rangers fans had gone back to each others’ sisters houses in Ealing and Greenford. It was time for the songs to be sung –

“Anton – what’s the score?”

“We’re going to Germany – you’re going to Barnsley.”

“Fcuk off – to the Championship.”

“He’s got bird 5hit – on his head.”

“One di Matteo.”

Frank came in for a little stick as he took a succession of second-half corners, but he just seemed to be laughing. QPR tried to annoy him by suggesting that Christine Bleakley exhibited equine characteristics.

What a load of pony.

This was a great Chelsea performance on an energy-sapping pitch. Full marks to Michael Essien, who put in his best performance for ages. Credit too, for Jose Bosingwa who has found a new lease of life at centre-back. Alan couldn’t resist a laugh though –

“It looks like he’s marking the centre-forward, but his positional sense is so bad, he’s actually marking the left winger.”

The appearance as substitute of Sam Hutchinson provided another good news story on an enjoyable day in the Chelsea story of this season.

The last Chelsea goal was pummelled home by Florent Malouda.

Cisse – he of the ridiculous hair cut – nabbed a consolation goal and we even sarcastically applauded it.

Another Chelsea win, another three goals for Fernando Torres, another Blue Day.

Next Up : Newcastle on Wednesday, Liverpool on Saturday, Liverpool on Wednesday, Blackburn on Saturday, Bayern on Saturday…five games to go. The end is in sight, but let’s relish these moments. I know I said all of these things two years ago, but these really are the times of our life.

Let’s enjoy every minute of them.

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