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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
On the way back west, we heard that we drew Manchester United at home in the next round.
Next up, Brighton on Saturday.
See you in “The Eight Bells.”