Leicester City vs. Chelsea : 11 March 2023.
We stepped into “The Counting House” at 11.30am. This pub, formerly part of an old cattle market, is equidistant between Leicester Tigers’ Welford Road stadium and the Leicester City Foxes’ King Power Stadium. It must do a great trade during these two sporting seasons. We only heard about this pub being the designated “away” pub before our game, just before COVID struck, in 2020. It’s a great boozer, modernised well with a long bar, and plenty of room for an overspill outside where beers are poured at a “pop-up” facility. We – the four of us, PD, Parky, Salisbury Steve and little old me – soon settled at one of the last remaining high tables. We had timed it just right.
This was another relatively long day following The Great Unpredictables.
I had set my alarm for 6.30am and I picked up PD and Steve at 8am, his Lordship just after. The drive up the Fosse Way was as picturesque and as pleasurable as ever. We breakfasted at Moreton-In-Marsh, then zipped around Coventry and headed towards Leicester. We used the last disabled parking space right outside the pub. As trips go, it had been nigh-perfect.
I have known Steve for a couple of years. He watches games near Parky in the Shed Lower and now drinks with us down “The Eight Bells”. It was good to have him on board. He added a little sanity to the day.
When we reached the pub only fifty or so other Chelsea supporters were present. I didn’t recognise any of them, not one. There is a rumour flying around at the moment that there is a way to “beat the system” of the VWR by using an app that opens up hundreds of browsers at one time. It is no wonder that many established old-school regulars at Chelsea, not au fait with such nefarious processes, never seem to get hold of away tickets these days.
The place soon filled up and at just after 12.15pm the first “Carefree” echoed around the bar. Two games were being shown on the bar’s large TV screens; Bournemouth vs. Liverpool and Bristol City vs. Blackpool. I didn’t really bother too much with either of them, though we loved to see Bournemouth take the lead against Liverpool and Mo Salah strike a penalty well-wide of the goal towards the end of the game.
How we laughed.
I wasn’t sure if I’d be laughing later. It would be “typical Chelsea” to follow up that fine win against Borussia Dortmund with a draw or, gasp, even a defeat against Leicester City. My prediction was a draw. To win three games in eight days might, I thought, be pushing it just a bit.
This would be my eighth visit to the King Power Stadium; I have missed three due to a holiday, being snowed in and “not being arsed” for a midweek League Cup game.
We walked the short distance to the ground just after 2pm.
I had swapped my ticket with PD’s so I could get a different perspective. Previous visits have always plotted me down the front; I fancied a change. I was well-rewarded with a seat right in the middle of the upper reaches of our away corner. Steve was ten yards away to my left, a row in front. PD was way down in row three alongside Al, Gal, John and Parky.
King Power Stadium slowly filled up and eventually came to life.
Fofana – Koulibaly – Cucarella
Loftus-Cheek – Enzo – Kovacic – Chilwell
Mudryk – Havertz – Felix
We have certainly raided Leicester City in recent years; Kante, Drinkwater, Chilwell, Fofana. I suppose their revenge was the 2021 FA Cup win, a fair trade-off, though I am sure they will never admit it.
The teams appeared.
The home team were dressed completely in royal blue while the away team were kitted out in garments based on foundation cream.
At the other end of the stadium, a rather pathetic “tifo” display took place involving a few white flags – presumably not of surrender – and a banner depicting the club’s trophies. The stadium is as bland as bland can be, quite different from Filbert Street with its four lop-sided stands.
Modern football, eh?
Around the ground, tucked under the roof at the rear of the home seated areas, Leicester City parade hundreds of small flags – not sure what they depict – but this looks messy, as if they have hung out all of their laundry to air.
The game kicked-off.
The badinage between both sets of supporters began early.
“Wesley Fofana. He left ‘cus your shit.”
“Potter and Boehly are fucking shit.”
“Ben Chilwell’s won the European Cup.”
A shot from James Maddison was easily saved by Kepa.
Ben Chilwell took a corner over in the far corner and as the ball dropped into the six-yard box, I experienced an immediate flashback to last season when I photographed a similar delivery onto the head of Antonio Rudiger and a goal followed. He loved playing at Leicester did Rudi. This year, Wesley Fofana headed the ball on and Kalidou Koulibaly kept the ball alive despite it ending well past the framework of the goal on our left. His cross went way deep. Chilwell, out on the right still, was the recipient and he was shaping up to make a direct hit, which I thought was being optimistic in the extreme. The angle was so tight. To my joy, he kept the ball low and it scudded into the net.
How he enjoyed that, running over to the crowd in the main stand, cupping his ears, and loving it all. My former work colleague Sally, watching with her young daughter Lily, was only a few yards away in her season ticket seat in the corner. Ouch.
Despite my pre-game reservations, we were 1-0 up.
The Chelsea crowd, buoyant before the goal, turned the volume up further.
“We’ve got Enzo in the middle. He knows exactly what we need.”
The front three were fluid, with Mykhailo Mudryk often in the middle with Kai Havetz on the right. Mudryk’s first touch was excellent in that first part of the game. I wanted him desperately to succeed. In the bar and at the game, his song was sung loudly.
“Mudryk said to me…”
Maddison zipped a free-kick over from the left but Daniel Amartey headed wide from very close in. This was developing into a fine game of football.
The songs continued.
“Oh Roman, do you know what that’s worth, Kai Havertz is the best on Earth.”
I had said to Steve in the pub that I liked this one, since it was born out of the 2021 Champions League Final in Porto, yet also mentions, and honours, Roman.
It was mid-way through the half, and the songs still rattled along nicely.
“Vialli” Vialli! Vialli! Vialli!”
“Kovacic our Croatian man…”
A fine cross from Havertz from the right found Felix who was one on one with the Leicester ‘keeper Danny Ward. He advanced and dinked the ball over him. Surely this was going in. We waited for the net to ripple. To our amazement and dismay, the ball struck the right-hand post.
“He’s gotta score those.”
On twenty-five minutes, the whole away end combined for a thunderous “Ten Men.”
Just after, Keirnan Dewsbury-Hall (not just a footballer but the site of temperance movement meetings in West Yorkshire), let fly from outside the box and his shot took a deflection off the considerable bulk of Koulibaly. To our relief, the ball crashed against the bar.
The barrage of songs continued.
“From Stamford Bridge to Wembley…”
“Hello, hello we are the Chelsea boys.”
“His hair is fucking massive.”
Marc Cucarella was, again, having a decent game. When he man-marks closely, he is decent. When he gets pulled all over the place, his sat nav throws a wobbly and he gets shown up. But on this occasion, fine.
“Oh when the blues go steaming in…”
“Oh Frankie Lampard scored two hundred…”
Another fine move followed. Mudryk cut in from the left with pace and set up an advanced Ruben Loftus-Cheek on the right, who then played a delightful low ball towards that man Felix. His tap in made us roar again, and the players raced over to Sally’s Corner.
VAR reared its ugly head.
Not long after, Felix lost possession, trying to be too fancy in our defensive third, and Leicester won the ball. It was touched on to Patson Daka, whoever he is, and his shot fizzed past Kepa at the near post. It was a decent strike to be fair.
The quiet home fans to my left were now chirpy.
“You’re not singing anymore.”
Next, two fine saves from Kepa in very quick succession from Maddison and Kelechi Iheanacho. The game kept providing thrills and spills.
Some folk around me were losing their patience with Mudryk whose ball retention was lessening with each pass.
With half-time approaching, Enzo found himself with a little space and spotted the central run from Havertz. He scooped the ball up with deft precision – Zola to Poyet in 1999, anyone? – and over the defence right into the path of Havertz who beautifully lobbed the ball over Ward. Magnificent. One of the great goals.
But nobody celebrated.
Not Havertz. My gaze centered on him. Was he sure he was offside?
Not any of the players. Were they sure too?
The stadium seemed still, frozen in time.
Leicester fans – football fans always fear the worst – were stony silent as they presumed a goal had been conceded.
We were quiet too. And mightily confused. There were, maybe, a few yelps of pleasure. But the majority of us were predominantly numbed into silence. I twice looked around to check the reaction of the bloke behind me, and neither of us knew what was going on. With the players idly walking back to our half and with the referee on the centre-circle, we all came to the slow realisation that the goal stood.
But the fear of VAR had ruined that goal celebration – once bitten twice shy – and, although we were laughing and joking at the time, we all knew that VAR had insidiously buggered-up that moment, our moment.
Incidentally, I have to mention it; this goal was eerily similar to one that I witnessed in deepest Devon in August when Owen Humphries scooped a ball over the Buckland Athletic defence for Jon Davies to score for Frome Town in an FA Cup tie. No fucking VAR at that level, though.
We were happy at half-time. I popped down to see the lads in the third row. All of them were bemused by the second goal too.
A change at the break.
Conor Gallagher for Felix.
We enjoyed a couple of early corners with Fofana forcing a fine save from Ward at his near post.
“Oooh Wesley Fofana.”
A new one this, I think.
Then Leicester enjoyed a little spell. The challenges were crashing in and Kepa went down injured after a save. This was an open game now. Leicester dominated for ten minutes or so. We held firm.
“Super, super Frank…”
“That’s why we love Salomon Kalou…”
I’d prefer songs about current players to be honest. Can we not serenade former players when we are winning 4-0 and 5-0?
On the hour, spaces opening up as we countered and there was an effort from Havertz, off balance, that flew wide. Gallagher had to awkwardly block off the line on sixty-five minutes as Leicester attacked at a corner.
“Oh Dennis Wise…”
There was a header from Havertz on the penalty spot but it was right at the ‘keeper
“We all follow the Chelsea, over land and sea…”
The boke behind me was in a quandary.
“I like Gallagher, I really do, but I struggle with what he does apart from basically run around a lot.”
I knew what he meant.
A fine move, but our man Conor shot right at the ‘keeper.
Kepa tipped a shot over. There were surely no complaints about entertainment value here. After Tuesday, here we all were enjoying another thoroughly enjoyable game of football. Throughout it, we were the team that showed a little more quality in all areas.
Up the other end, the ball came loose and Dewsbury-Hall missed a sitter. Phew.
On seventy-three minutes, Graham Potter made some substitutions.
Christian Pulisic for Chilwell.
Trevoh Chalobah for Loftus-Cheek.
With fifteen minutes to go, the ball was played to Mudryk who raced on and calmly slotted but we were all able to sadly spot the lineswoman’s flag raised for offside. His joyous slide was in vain.
A Leicester substitute became the latest victim of the away choir.
“Jamie Vardy, your wife is a grass.”
Songs still roared on in memory of Gianluca.
“Vialli! Vialli! Vialli! Vialli!”
On seventy-eight minutes, I watched the movement of Havertz just as Enzo brilliantly played a ball into space.
Havertz outpaced his marker and kept possession well. He then crossed, deeply, towards Mudryk who was back-peddling somewhat but still managed to keep the ball alive by heading it back into the six-yard box.
Enter Kovacic who blissfully volleyed home from close quarters.
We celebrated wildly now.
The scorer, surrounded by team mates, sprinted down to our corner while fists and arms pumped into the air. These were superb scenes.
I silently groaned.
FOR FUCK SAKE.
But I had seen Havertz break. He had to race past his marker. I was confident.
I turned to bloke beside me :
“Six goals in eight days!”
The away end was now the loudest it would be for the entire day.
“Kovacic our Croatian man.
He left Madrid and he left Milan.
He signed for Frank. Said fuck off Zidane.
He signed for Chelsea on a transfer ban.”
It seemed, at last, that things were looking up.
Some very late tweaks, and God knows who was playing where but I did not care one jot.
Carney Chukwuemeka for Mudryk and Benoit Badiashile for Fofana.
“You are my Chelsea, my only Chelsea…”
Empty seats appeared. I was so proud to see Sally and Lily still staying until the very end.
“Is there a fire drill?”
“You’ve had your day out…”
“We’re gonna bounce in a minute.”
“VIALLI! VIALLI! VIALLI! VIALLI!”
There were seven minutes of extra time and, in it, Wout Faes – whoever he is – got sent off for a second yellow.
I loved seeing the players – and the manager, great stuff – celebrate a fine win with smiles in front of our section at the end of the game. Let’s hope the corner has been turned.
This was a bloody excellent day of football, the away support was back to its best after the no-show at Tottenham, the colour was back in our beautifully toned cheeks, and I even got to see Kev Thomas smile.
We met up back at the car and all was good with our world. I slowly navigated myself away, the route taking my car right past the old away entrance to their old Filbert Street ground at the end of those tightly-packed houses on Burnmoor Street.
I reached home at about 9.30pm.
It had been a fine day.
Next up, Everton at home and let’s win again.
See you in the pub.