Chelsea vs. Newcastle United : 19 October 2019.
The international break was over. Thank the Lord. I had found it a particularly tough fortnight; I had missed Chelsea much more than usual. Thankfully there is always “Chelsea stuff” to keep me as buoyant as possible. I have realised for a while that my brain must crave “Chelsea activity” of one sort or another to keep me as upbeat as possible, whether it is the planning of upcoming trips, away trips especially, or the sometimes difficult process of trying to procure match tickets, or even thoughts about where I can take the next match few reports. If I am feeling a little low – work, life’s problems or other serious stuff – I can often rely on Chelsea to lift my spirits.
As the preparations and plans for the home game with Newcastle United became overlaid with the dramas of getting Ajax away tickets, clarifying the final travel plans for Amsterdam, booking up – ironically – a weekend away on Tyneside in mid-January, and sorting out a few other Chelsea plans, it became a busy few days.
I had been working lates for the first time in almost two years, as holiday cover, and at 10pm on Friday, I was able to leave for home with thoughts of a fine week ahead; games in London, in Amsterdam, in Burnley.
But I’d need to be up at 6.30am on the day of the Newcastle United game; a long and busy day lay ahead, with plans to meet two sets of friends from the US, two sets of friends from Canada and one set of friends from Australia before the match.
I woke, typically – was it excitement? – early at 6am.
The day was beginning.
The most important news was that Parky was back among us for the first time since the cracking away trip to Norwich in late August, a gap of eight whole weeks. He had been missed by all of us. His hip-operation had resulted in a long, slow rehabilitation period. Parky will, unfortunately, be unable to join us in Amsterdam.
I collected PD and his son Scott at eight o’clock and Parky soon after.
It was a cracking autumnal morning.
I live for mornings like these.
Because PD and Parky are unable to walk long distances, and because the District Line was closed, I drove right to the bottom end of the North End Road to drop them off. Their pre-match would be spent close to the ground at “The Oyster Rooms” at Fulham Broadway. I then drove back to park up at my usual spot off Lillee Road and then hot-footed back to reach Stamford Bridge at 11.30am.
I walked past The Shed Wall, topped with autumnal leaves, past the photographs and tributes of all our former legends. It is quite a sight.
I was really looking forward to meeting, for the first time at Chelsea, my mate Jaro from Washington DC, who was to see a Chelsea game at Stamford Bridge for the very first time. I got to know Jaro when we contributed to the much loved, and much-missed, bulletin board on the old Chelsea In America website, and where these match reports started to appear, on an ad hoc basis at first, in around 2006/7, and then regularly from 2008/9.
Jaro is originally from Poland – Legia Warsaw his team – but has been living in the US for over twenty years. I have bumped into him on a few tour stops in the US over the past few seasons – New York, Philadelphia, DC – and he has always been accompanied by his football-daft son Alex, who is well known by a few of the old-school US fans (in relative terms, I refer to those of c. 2006 vintage).
We met on the forecourt and I soon whisked them up to the foyer of the Copthorne Hotel, where they both met Ron Harris, although – sadly – most of the other ex-players had just left. But we sat in a quiet corner and chewed the fat, reminiscing on our respective childhoods in England and Poland, and how the working class sport of football was seamlessly woven into our respective cultures, along with the other staples of our youth, music and clothes.
It may have started on the Scotland Road in Liverpool in 1977, but by the mid-‘eighties, it was to be found in little pockets all over Europe.
Jaro confirmed this.
“In Poland, it was Lacoste. Lacoste everywhere.”
There was little surprise that we were both wearing the little green crocodile on this sunny day in SW6. Alex was wearing a DSquared2 top. A relatively new addition. Something for the youth. But Jaro also spoke of how fashionable it was in the more austere and isolationist era of those times for foreign football shirts and scarves to be worn at Legia games. He mentioned one fellow fan, who gained a few fashion points and added credibility, by wearing a jacquard Chelsea scarf at matches. I mentioned some Verona fans who I saw at a UEFA game in 1988 wearing a “You can’t ban a Chelsea fan” T-shirt. And I mentioned that I occasionally, maybe no more than once or twice, wore a Juventus shirt at Chelsea in the ‘eighties.
It was part of the scene in those days.
Rare clothes. Rare labels.
We then, probably to Alex’ disgust, had a “Moaners Five Minutes” as we vented about the ailments of modern football, VAR, the 39th Game and all that bollocks.
Jaro and Alex had, unknown to me, called in to Stamford Bridge – a squeezed visit on a brief layover from Poland back to the US – in the summer. They had managed to do an official tour of the stadium. It was hearing the two tunes – the pre-cursors to the match itself these days – “Park Life” and “Liquidator” being streamed through his headset that really hit a chord with Jaro.
“We had to come back. To experience the atmosphere. The steepness of the stands. We had to.”
They had arrived Friday morning and would be leaving Sunday morning. Let’s not all tar “foreign fans” with the same brush please. Some of the most devoted and inspirational Chelsea supporters that I have had the pleasure to meet do not live in SW6, London, the Home Counties, nor the UK.
We trotted over to “The Butcher’s Hook.” Sadly, the disruption of the tube during the day meant that the other friends from various places were severely delayed. Not to worry, they will all be back at some stage. The day was really all about Jaro and Alex.
Of course, there is a nice little bit of serendipity here. My first game at Stamford Bridge was against Newcastle United too.
I took Jaro and Alex down to meet Mark and Dave at “the stall” and the intention was then to have a drink with Parky, PD and Scott – you had forgotten about them, right? – but there was a strict “no kids” policy being enforced. Damn.
Jaro and Alex wanted to get inside to sample every last second out of their first game at HQ. We hugged and said our goodbyes.
“Hope to see you again soon.”
I meandered around the two forecourts, chatted to a few match day friends, and then took my seat inside The Bridge at a very early time, maybe about 2.15pm. It’s amazing how empty the place is until around 2.45pm these days. In the ‘eighties – “here he fucking goes again” – the terraces often used to be jammed for big matches by 2.30pm. This added to the atmosphere, the sense of anticipation, the sense of occasion.
These days, there is nothing warming about getting into a stadium full of empty seats at 2.30pm.
The stadium eventually filled.
My “missing friends” eventually made it in; Neil and Sammy from Adelaide down below me in the MHL, probably quite near Leigh-Anne and John from Toronto. Al and his son from Toronto were in the West Lower, the poor bastards, and Kim from Florida was, I think, in The Shed.
It would take me a while, but Jaro and Alex were spotted in the East Lower. It would be a section of SB where I watched all games from 1974 to 1980 with my parents.
The team news came through.
It was almost unchanged from the last match against Southampton, but with Ross Barkley in for N’Golo Kante.
Overhead, a changing mix of clear skies, clouds, dark clouds, intermittent rain, bright sun.
A typical London autumn afternoon.
Newcastle United, with the two Longstaff brothers the talk of the toon since their lovely defeat of Manchester United, were wearing broad stripes this time, as opposed to thin stripes the previous year. Both look wrong to me. The away team didn’t create a great deal in the first part of the game, but neither did we. They caught us on the break a few times, but never really threatened. There were a couple of shots from the twin strikers Allan Saint-Maximin (not really a footballer, more a type of thermometer) and Joelinton, but Kepa was not troubled. He would be able to complete a few more pages from Thibaut Courtois’ Word Search book from 2016/17 as the game progressed.
The first real chance was created by some trickery from Callum Hudson-Odoi in front of the black and white hordes, but a weak Willian header was well wide.
It took until a few minutes after this chance for me to notice the first real, loud, chant of the game from the home supporters.
“CAN ON CHOWLSEA. CAM ON CHOWLSEA.”
We noted that Marcos Alonso was getting dog’s abuse every time he ventured into the final third, right in front of the away fans.
Quick feet from Callum set up Mason Mount, but his quick turn was followed by a shot which was straight at Martin Dubravka.
As Newcastle attacked, Gary shouted abuse at Saint-Maximin.
“It’s Davey Crockett.”
The play deteriorated a little. Joelinton headed, stretching, wide.
The atmosphere was pretty dire. I felt for Jaro and Alex. I so wanted it to be a cracking atmosphere for them. The Geordies, unable to completely fill their allocation for the first time in ages, with a section of around two hundred in the Shed Upper unsold, were making all the noise. Willian cut in from the right but his shot missed the near post.
It was far from encouraging stuff.
It seemed to me that players and fans alike needed to be roused from the lethargy of the international break. There was a spell of stern challenges, free-kicks and the game did not flow. Tammy seemed to go too easily for our liking, but it is a part of his game he will hopefully improve upon. A free-kick from Willian failed to clear the wall. A few groans.
Just before the break, an injured Ross Barkley was replaced by Mateo Kovacic.
It had hardly been a scintillating forty-five minutes.
I turned to PD.
“Well, that was shite.”
At half-time, I looked over to the front row of the East Upper, just above where a “Philly Blues” banner has been positioned for a while.
One seat was empty, and there looked to be a floral display – a wreath – instead. This was to mark the memory of Trizia Fiorellino, who so sadly passed away recently. Trizia worked steadfastly with the club on a matter of issues as chair of the Chelsea Supporters Group, and as a member of the often-derided Fans Forum, and often wrote Chelsea reviews in “The Observer.” Trizia always smiled and said hello when our paths crossed so many times in recent years. I always remember sitting next to her on the coach which took us to the San Paolo Stadium in Naples in 2012 and we excitedly swapped stories about football and specifically Italy. Trizia was a discerning and perceptive supporter of Chelsea Football Club. There was a lovely full page obituary, penned by Bruce Buck, on page nine of the match day programme.
She will be sorely missed by all those who knew her.
At the half-time break, Ron Harris – playing in my first match in 1974 and at Jaro and Alex’ first match in 2019 – came down to the pitch and said a few words about how the team is playing at half-time.
Thankfully, the lethargy and lack of invention seemed to subside as the second-half began. Kovacic, the substitute, seemed to be one of the catalysts, driving on and playing in others. A lovely jinking run from Callum down below me created space but his shot was blocked. This stirred those around me and the noise started to, thankfully, increase. A weak Zouma header from a corner was soon followed by a thundering header from Tammy which crashed against the bar.
“Oh God, please not a 0-0 for Jaro and Alex.”
But we continued our improvement. There were a few lovely through-balls from Jorginho and our runners were being hit. Our pressure mounted.
Christian Pulisic replaced Mason.
More jinking runs from Callum. A free header from Tammy sailed over. He knew that he should have done much better. A deflected shot ended up at the feet of Pulisic, right in front of goal, but the young starlet appeared stage struck. His effort was swatted away by Dubravka, a fine save. A Willian shot saved at the near post.
Andy Carroll – “he always scores against us” – emerged from the bench.
Time was racing past.
Come on Chelsea.
With a quarter of an hour to play, Callum touched a ball out towards Marcos Alonso. A low angled drive followed. His shot was to perfection. My shot was blurred. But I caught his exultant run down towards us on film.
After the hysteria had died down.
Alan : “They’ll have to come at us now, but.”
Chris : “Come on wor little diamonds.”
1974 all over again? Just maybe.
Kovacic set up Pulisic but as we were all expecting a shot on goal, the American right winger snowflaked it and instead played the ball to Tammy instead. His fumbled effort flew over.
Virtually Newcastle’s first effort on goal in the second-half resulted in a shot from Willems ending up in The Shed Upper. A weak Geordie header soon flowed but floated over.
Reece James replaced Callum late on and we held on.
This was a much improved second-half and our win was deserved. I liked Kurt Zouma, who I thought played a little better than Tomori, who has been a little error-ridden of late. Callum was fantastic at times. Kepa was hardly tested at all. We solidified our place in the top four. There were Chelsea smiles all round at the end, and these will be remembered rather than the looks of concern at the break.
Jaro and I swapped messages at the end. They had loved it.
It had been 1-0 for me in 1974 and it had been 1-0 for them in 2019, too.
That just seemed right.
So. Thoughts turn to Wednesday.
The Champions league.
Makes everything tingle doesn’t it?
See you there.