Chelsea vs. Real Madrid : 18 April 2023.
In order to get everybody up to Chelsea in good time, I needed to work another early shift. The alarm was set for 4.30am. This would be another long day following The Great Unpredictables
It’s odd the things that go through people’s minds first thing in the morning, eh? I had barely been fully awake a minute or two, but as I started to clean my teeth, my mind was already focussed on the game with Real Madrid. And, for the first time ever – probably – I pondered the “Real” part of their name. Well, it means “royal” right? I quickly came up with a buzz-phrase for the evening’s entertainment.
The Royal Blue of London versus the White of Royal Madrid.
And I was on my way. Off to work, an eight-hour shift, then a meet up with PD, Parky and Ron at just after 2pm, with thoughts of the game haunting our immediate future.
I just hoped that we wouldn’t get royally fucked.
I dropped Ron off at the bottom end of the North End Road so he could join Gary Chivers, Johnny Bumstead, Colin Pates, Kerry Dixon, Paul Canoville and David Lee in their corporate pre-match entertaining. The remaining three of us parked up and made a bee-line for “Norbros Pizzeria” – shite name, great food – which I use occasionally before mid-week games. I had booked a table for five o’clock but we were there early.
We hadn’t talked much about the imminent game. Why would we? Did anyone think we could turn it around? Not me. Not PD. Not Parky. In fact, to be brutally frank, I have rarely looked forward to a second leg at Stamford Bridge less. With our rapidly diminishing chances of partaking in UEFA competition – of any nature, even the rightly ridiculed Europa Conference – in 2023/24, this night of exotic European football seemed like it would be the last for some time.
With this in mind, I quickly termed our meal in deepest Fulham as “the last supper.”
The food was fine though; bruschetta and prawns, rice balls, chicken and mushrooms, spaghetti Bolognese and a pizza. They all managed to hit the spot, several in fact.
We popped into “The Goose” and bumped into a few faces from near and far. We then skipped down to “Simmons” to see others. The mood in both pubs was pretty sombre.
Inside the stadium, flags had been left by each seat and I knew that not many would be taking up the chance to “flag-wave” in our section. It seemed old hat in 2007, let alone now. Let the tourists in the Shed Lower and the West Lower do all that.
I briefly spoke to Oxford Frank.
“We will know we are in a bad way if Eden Hazard comes on to play during the second-half…”
The team that Frank chose didn’t seem to inspire many and I found it odd that Conor was our man supporting Kai. The midfield was certainly packed though. We had quality in some areas, not others.
If a curate’s egg was a football team…
Chalobah – Silva – Fofana
James – Kante – Enzo – Kovavic – Cucarella
Gallagher – Havertz
An unpalatable part of the pre-game smorgasbord of images and sounds that UEFA foist upon us these days is a short segment of “You’ll Never Walk Alone.”
This felt like a Champions League evening but only just. There was not the sense of occasion that was present in the air last season. And this is what the morons who were looking to foist a “closed shop” / US style Super League on us in 2021 always fail to recognise; that familiarity can breed boredom, even at the top table. For starters, there were clearly less Madridistas in The Shed than last season, down to 1,500 from 2,000 from memory. I guess Chelsea had been “ticked off” last season and the thrill of a “new ground” was not so big. However, I am sure that there were many Spaniards – and other nationalities too, my immediate boss is a Real Madrid fan from Latvia – dotted around the home areas. PD had arrived in the seats earlier than me and he commented that when the Madrid team took to the pitch for pre-match drills, a noticeable buzz came out of the Matthew Harding.
Sod that too.
We attacked the Matthew Harding in the first-half, never my preferred option. As the game got underway, it was a joy to be part of a noisier than usual crowd inside the stadium.
It was a lively start from both teams, but there was an early concern when Vinicius Junior showed Reece James the ball, then easily side-stepped him in a move of blinding speed and execution. Thankfully the cross did not hurt us. He looked a major threat in Madrid so we prayed that Reece could stay closer to him throughout this game.
Soon – almost too soon, “give the bloke a break” I chuckled to myself – the MHL were on to the visiting goalkeeper. However, Thibaut didn’t seem too bothered by the name calling.
On ten minutes, Alan opened up his packet of “lucky Maynard’s” and we chewed away. I felt like saying we might need several packets.
Soon after, a cross from James was half-cleared and the ball fell invitingly to N’Golo Kante, who rather stabbed at it and the ball bounced down and wide of Thibaut Courtois’ post. We groaned. But Stamford Bridge remained noisy. Despite a persistent cough and a thick head, I was bellowing away with the best of them.
“I’ll regret this in the morning…”
Our corners were mainly shite, though eh? One down below us from James got us all howling.
The noise kept up.
“Super Super Frank, Super Frankie Lampard.”
On twenty minutes, we gave them too much space, allowing Dani Carvajal to pass to Rodrygo who slammed a fierce shot against a post.
“Oh Tiago Silva.”
We continued to create half chances, and I was pleased with our application and drive. However, a terrible Enzo free-kick had us all wailing again. Thiago Silva then prodded a lob almost apologetically at Courtois.
We were half-way through the first-half.
“And its super Chelsea, super Chelsea FC…”
There was a worrying burst from Vinicius but his shot was saved. Kepa then thwarted a shot from Luca Modric at his near post. I was relatively happy with our general play and the way that the noise kept up. Even Marc Cucarella was half-decent. I whispered to Clive :
“We are playing OK but this is our limit.”
With the end of the first-half approaching, Conor Gallagher made a fine run between two defenders but Enzo – new hair colour, new pink boots – over hit the ball.
On forty-two minutes, a lightning break caught us out but Karim Benzema, rather quiet thus far, overstretched and missed.
Right on half-time, a James cross found Cucarella at the far post. He took a touch, allowing Courtois to readjust. His powerful shot was miraculously saved by our former player. I turned away from the action in disgust.
At the start of the game, we needed to score two goals – the bare minimum – in ninety minutes. We now needed to score two in forty-five minutes. I wasn’t hopeful. Was anyone?
There was applause for Antonio Rudiger, replacing David Alaba, at the start of the second-half. The game began again and it was a lively few minutes. I was frustrated to see Kai Havertz often appearing on the right when he was needed further inside. However, six minutes into the re-start, his fine cross caused panic in the Madrid box. It was headed out and Gallagher headed it back, but Kante’s shot was blocked by Eder Militao.
Another terrible free-kick from Reece got us all venting.
A roller from Enzo went wide.
We had a good little spell.
“Come on Chelsea. Come on Chelsea. Come on Chelsea. Come on Chelsea.”
A low shot from Havertz was easily saved. Oh for a cutting edge.
Then, on fifty-eight minutes, a lightning break and a failed Trevoh Chalobah slide to rob the breaking Rodrygo. He advanced and reached the goal-line before playing the ball in. Benzema fell over himself, but Vinicius was able to play the ball back to Rodrygo who had continued his run. He slotted it in easily.
We were down 0-3.
Bollocks. This was particularly annoying as we had seemed invigorated.
The half-chances continued.
A grass cutter from Gallagher at Courtois. A shot from Enzo at him again.
OH FOR A FUCKING CUTTING EDGE.
On sixty-five minutes, Real waltzed into our box but a weak shot from Benzema was easily saved. Their striker was having a quiet game.
Soon after, a plethora of substitutions.
Raheem Sterling for Enzo.
Joao Felix for Gallagher.
Mykhailo Mudryk for Cucarella.
I tried to work out who was playing where. It was a mite confused. A shot from James was blocked and we then admired a nice shimmy from Mudryk, but he skied it.
The Madrid fans were not the noisiest that have ever appeared at Stamford Bridge. Using my telephoto lens to zoom in on them all, they hardly looked the most intimidating bunch of individuals.
Despite being 0-3 down on aggregate, I loved it that virtually nobody in the home sections had left.
Mason Mount for Havertz.
Right after, a way-too-easy advance from Vinicius down below me resulted in a pull back towards that man Rodrygo who pushed the ball home easily.
We were down 0-4.
Now people left.
Alan mentioned how spoilt we have become and dropped in a reference from forty-years ago into the mix.
“Fans these days wouldn’t have coped losing 3-0 at Burnley in 1983.”
More of that later.
Our task was always going to be a supremely tough one. We had not been humiliated. To be truthful, it certainly appeared that Real had not moved out of second gear over the two legs. He is a wily old fox, that Carlo Ancelotti.
On ninety minutes, the home support still sang.
“We love you Chelsea we do. We love you Chelsea we do. We love you Chelsea we do. Oh Chelsea we love you.”
I took a photo of virtually the last kick of the game and shared it on Facebook.
“Over and out.”
On Saturday 16 April 1983, I travelled up by National Express bus from Bath to Victoria Bus Station for the home game against Newcastle United. This would be my fourth and final game of this particular season. Amid the worry of the upcoming “A Level” exams, the day ought to have been a relaxing side-show…
Going in to the game, Chelsea were in fifteenth place, six places behind the visitors. With Kevin Keegan revitalising Newcastle, their league campaign had not lived up to the pre-season expectation. At the top of the table, QPR, Wolves and Fulham were in the three automatic places. I had hoped for a gate of 15,000 but fully expected one of around 12,000 to assemble at Stamford Bridge.
My diary tells me that – presumably to save money – I walked to and from Stamford Bridge, along the Kings Road, full of shoppers and punks. It was a lovely sunny day.
The team lined up as below –
Jones – Droy – Pates – Hutchings
Rhoades-Brown – Bumstead – Fillery – Canoville
Speedie – Lee
The visitors included some decent players; alongside Keegan were Imre Varadi, Terry McDermott, David McCreery and Chris Waddle. During the game, Keith Jones – yes, him – replaced Paul Canoville.
I remember that I wore the 1981 to 1983 replica shirt to the match.
“We started OK but when Keegan scored a penalty, it knocked the stuffing out of us. Mike Fillery was unrecognisable. Colin Lee played quite well. Keegan was the best player on the pitch; he was a bundle of energy. Newcastle played the more controlled football but we had more possession.”
After Keegan scored a first-half penalty at The Shed, Varadi made it two-nil to the visitors in the second-half. By then, the mood had deteriorated, with calls for John Neal’s resignation being heard in The Shed. One chap in front of me kept singing :
“Eddie McCreadie’s Blue & White Army.”
I also heard “One Man Went To Mow” at a game for the very first time.
At the game, I kept with my guess of 12,000. There were quite a few visitors – two pens from memory – and the East Lower was quite full, but The Shed not particularly. The actual gate was 13,466.
In the programme there was a letter from one of our greatest-ever supporters Ron Hockings, whose attendance at the Fulham away game had marked his 1,400th Chelsea game. He had seen 877 at home and 523 away. I can only imagine the awe that I must have had for such numbers as a seventeen-year-old Chelsea fan in Somerset.
Back at Victoria, the place was swarming with Brighton fans after their 2-1 win against Sheffield Wednesday at Highbury in their FA Cup semi-final. In the other semi, Manchester United had defeated Arsenal by the same score at Villa Park. Chelsea seemed well and truly down the pecking order. We could only dream of FA Cup semi-finals; our next one would still be eleven years away. On the coach trip home, I was of course pretty depressed about the state of our club. The Third Division was definitely beckoning. I was at a low ebb.
Next up – in 1983, that game at Burnley, in 2023 a home game against Brentford.
See you there.
1982/83 & 2022/23