Chelsea vs. Brentford : 26 April 2023.
Towards the end of my match report for the recent home game with Real Madrid, I mentioned a comment that Alan had made.
“Fans these days wouldn’t have coped losing 3-0 at Burnley in 1983.”
Let’s hop back forty years, eh?
The immediate aftermath of our 0-2 loss at home to Newcastle United was that a sit-in on the Stamford Bridge pitch involving three-hundred supporters had taken place. I only found out about this once I had returned home. With Charlton Athletic beating Oldham Athletic on the following day, Chelsea were plunged even deeper into the mire. We were fifth from bottom of the Second Division, but with just five points separating the bottom eleven teams, not including Burnley who were adrift right at the very bottom.
There were just five league games left.
Our next game? Burnley away. My thoughts before the game were surely along the lines of “if we can’t get at least a point there, we are in a mess.”
During the week, at a mate’s eighteenth birthday party, I missed an “open goal” chance to get back into Rachel’s affections, and on the Saturday I needed Chelsea to cheer me up. On St. George’s Day 1983, my spirits took a further hit.
We shipped three goals in front of 7,393 at Turf Moor, and we slipped unceremoniously into the relegation zone. Northern Ireland’s hero from the 1982 World Cup Billy Hamilton scored two and Terry Donovan nabbed the other.
My diary was all doom and gloom.
“The problem is that we have been playing so badly recently that I can’t see us beating anyone.”
To round off this look at events from forty years ago, Brentford spent 1982/83 in the Third Division, and on the same day that we lost at Burnley, the Bees won 7-1 at Exeter City in front of 2,759. During that season, three former Chelsea players made appearances for them; Graham Wilkins with twenty-eight games, Ron Harris with fourteen games and Peter Borota with three pre-season games. They finished that season in ninth place with an average gate of 6,184.
Ron Harris played all of his 871 games for just Chelsea and Brentford.
2023 is calling…
With no Chelsea match at the weekend, I took advantage of the gap in our schedule and drove down to Tavistock in deepest Devon for Frome Town’s last league game of the season. Despite an under-par season, a recent run of very fine performances had put the team with an outside chance of sneaking into the last remaining play-off spot. In an entertaining game, Frome lost 4-3 and thus our hopes of the play-offs were extinguished. So, my local team’s season is over. It was my busiest ever; eleven home games, nine away. I can’t say the football has been too enjoyable, but I absolutely adore the connection with my home town. Here’s to 2023/24.
It was another early shift for me on Wednesday 26 April before our local derby with Brentford. I was up at 4.45am, and I headed to London at 2.15pm. None of us in the car were optimistic for a Chelsea win. Remembering the 1-4 loss at home to Brentford just over a year previously, we all knew that this would be a tough fixture.
Irrespective of the short term and long term future of our club, I just wanted us to win for Frank. I remember the joy on his face when he took charge a few weeks ago, and just wanted us to get a win to take some of the heat off him.
I also wanted a win for my own sanity.
But as the kick-off time approached, I was not hopeful at all.
I was parked up at 4.30pm. PD, Parky and I popped into the Italian eatery next to The Goose again, then decamped into the pub to meet up with a few friends from afar. Pals from Jacksonville were in town – the returning Cindy, Jennifer and Brian plus the Chelsea virgin Mckenzie – and Johnny Twelve Teams was with a few mates from Los Angeles.
Pride of place, though, went to our friend John from Ohio – with his wife Nichole on a delayed honeymoon – who was visiting England for the first time since 2009. While John studied at Reading University for a few months, we took him under our wing. His first ever game at Stamford Bridge was sitting next to Lovejoy in the East Lower as Frank Lampard scored a last minute winner against Stoke City. Memorably, the recently departed Lovejoy slept through virtually the entire game, his predilection for red wine having a devastating effect.
We tried to work out how many games John attended back in 2009. Apart from Stoke, there were home games with Middlesbrough and Juventus plus an away game at Anfield. I last saw John in Ann Arbor for the Real Madrid friendly in 2016. It was a joy to see him again. I managed to get tickets for Nichole and John in the West Lower, the same ones used by two sets of Stateside friends already this season. I met a couple from Raleigh – Shel and Tiffany – for the first time and despite them sharing my loathing of the upcoming game against Wrexham in their home state, I completely forgave them for attending the game at Chapel Hill as the stadium is just fifteen minutes from their house. Fair play.
Clive was unable to attend this one, and I eventually managed to sell his season ticket to a friend of a friend of a friend of a friend.
Tomasz was originally from Lodz in Poland and now lives in West London, not far from Brentford in fact. In his home city, he supported Widzew Lodz but is known as “Chelsea” and I liked that. I quickly contacted my mate Jaro in Virginia, originally from near Warsaw. It quickly transpired that they shared a mutual friend.
Small world this football lark.
I knew that there would be gaps-a-plenty on this evening of mid-table football. I was inside at about 7.30pm and the Bridge was indeed taking a while to fill up. The team didn’t raise much of a smile.
Fofana – Silva – Chalobah
Azplicueta – Enzo – Kovacic – Chilwell
Kante – Gallagher
Or something like that.
If I was an expert on tactics and formations I would be able to rip this starting eleven to shreds, but I am a mere supporter so I won’t.
In the MHU, I was part of a flat four.
Chris – Tomasz – Alan – PD
The game began with tons of visible blue seats dotted around the stadium.
Brentford, in a rather fetching simple kit – unchanged from last season, top marks – began the brighter and made a few early forays into our defensive ranks. It took a long wait until the thirteenth minute for our first real attack of note. We broke well, and Ben Chilwell found himself in a high position on our left, and I had spotted Raheem Sterling intelligently peeling away from his marker into space at the far post. Alas, the cross to him was poor and a defender cleared.
On nineteen minutes, with N’Golo Kante playing in a very forward position, he lost his man with a beautiful feint. It was almost Hazard-esque, a beautiful dip and shimmy. Soon after a shot from the same man was deflected over. His play would be the highlight of a pretty dire first-half.
A Thiago Silva header was easily saved by David Raya.
Midway through that pedestrian first period, Chilwell took two similar corners down in Parkyville. They both failed to clear the first man. With each one, the groans of disbelief were fully audible.
“Our corners have no zip, no curve, no dip, no pace.”
They just flop into the six-yard box.
I spoke to Budgie in the row in front :
“I am no golfer but they remind me of when a ball ends up in the rough and a golfer just chips it out safely back onto the fairway.”
On the half-hour mark, a good move involving a burst from Kante found Enzo in an advanced position but his curler was saved by Raya and it went over for a corner. There were ironic cheers when Chilwell, on more corner duties, managed to get the ball into the six-yard box.
A Sterling curler went high and wide. Soon after the same player just couldn’t reach an early free-kick zipped in by Enzo.
I spotted that Frank was sitting on the bench, instead of cajoling his troops from a standing position. This saddened me. This wasn’t going the way that many of us had hoped. At the time of Frank’s rehiring, there was a split among our support about the decision; from memory there were more for than against.
On thirty-six minutes, a rare Brentford attack resulted in a corner down below me. Sadly, my camera caught the moment that the ball was lofted in, with a melee of players jumping. This seemed to be in slow motion. The ball hit Dave’s thigh and flew past Kepa.
Chelsea 0 Brentford 1.
Our confidence was hit. The otherwise impressive Kante, the one positive, wildly over hit a cross from the right and the crowd experienced an “et tu Brute?”
The Brentford fans had changed their previous anthem about Fulham to a new one…
“Chelsea get battered everywhere they go.”
Next, a cross from Dave was over hit.
There were a few unappetising and lazy shots from us from distance.
Then a first. With half-time approaching, Albert, sitting in the row in front, pointed out to me that the bloke next to him was watching the Manchester City vs. Arsenal game on his mobile ‘phone.
There were boos at the half-time whistle.
Ugh…that’s not for me.
There was a quick chat with JD at the break :
“Pochettino? We will be lucky to entice anyone to this shit show right now.”
There were changes at the start of the second-half.
Off : Conor and Dave.
On : Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Mykhailo Mudryk.
It eventually dawned on me that we had shape-shifted to a 4/3/3.
Aubameyang has been a bust at Chelsea, for whatever reason, but for those first opening moments of the new half, it felt good to have a presence, a target, loitering around up front. The crowd reacted nicely to an upturn in our performance. Even Sterling seemed to be more energised, more active, though an upgrade on his first-half showing would not have been difficult to achieve.
A Chalobah cross eventually found Kante, but his shot was another wasteful one, zipping well wide of the far post.
Eight minutes into the second-half, a neat Aubameyang twist and turn but a shot straight at the Brentford ‘keeper. Just after, a fine pass from Thiago Silva found Sterling at the far post. His header found the leap of Aubameyang but his header from close in, under pressure from Raya, was always ending up above the bar.
“Carefree” boomed resiliently out from the Matthew Harding. I was grateful for this as I always am. Too many times we sit in silence. The bloke in front had put his mobile ‘phone away too.
On fifty-eight minutes, a free-kick from Mudryk was glanced wide by Silva. The Ukrainian was showing signs of promise and positive intent even though it appeared that his shoe-laces were tied together; very often his first-touch was wayward and he needed to work hard to keep possession. That fine debut at Anfield seems distant, eh?
A decent pass through the middle found Aubameyang but his shot was ridiculously weak. At that exact moment in time he looked the player that our managers had witnessed, presumably, at Cobham for so long this season.
On seventy-one minutes, a break down Brentford’s left was thwarted by a sliding tackle from Sterling who had tracked back – hold the back page – and he was roundly applauded for it.
The game continued but time was running out. Kante had tired from his fine show in the first-half. Enzo was having a quiet one; one of his worst in Chelsea blue.
Alas, on seventy-seven minutes, camera ready, I photographed the substitute Bryan Mbeumo and Mads Roerslev running unhindered down our left-flank. I had spotted two Brentford players free at the back post, but Mbeumo had no intention to pass. He cut inside – “butter, meet hot knife” – and slammed the ball high past Kepa. I saw it clearly. It was a hot knife to my heart. It was, unbelievably, the visitors’ only shot on goal during the entire game.
More spectators left.
Noni Madueke for Sterling.
Joao Felix for Enzo.
A wild errant pass from Kovacic caused the mass tipping of seats and an even greater exodus.
Brentford : “Frankie Lampard we want you to stay.”
Chelsea : “Frankie Lampard, he’s won more than you.”
The game drifted away, as did more and more of the support.
In a tale of two Franks, the Brentford manager had prevailed. This was a game that we clearly should have won. Yet again, we lack someone to finish. It hurts writing this every bloody week.
Stoney-faced, I sloped out and met up with a few of the overseas visitors at the Peter Osgood statue. I apologised to Nichole and John for such a rotten performance. The days of Frank Lampard as a player – so memorable for John – seem so distant. John was pragmatic though.
“Nah, it was all about seeing you and Parky.”
I met up with the Jacksonville group and the couple from North Carolina. We didn’t know quite what to say about the performance.
But plenty did.
There was much wailing.
It dawned on me that a sizeable amount of our core support seems to have seamlessly morphed from level-headed types who acknowledged our rather underwhelming trophy haul in our first one hundred years and revelled in the joy of each new trophy into consistently annoyed individuals who demand continuous improvement.
That’s quite an achievement.
I was one of the thousands that has experienced a less successful time in our history, personified by this season long look at 1982/83, and I am eternally grateful for the perspective that this have given me in these relatively troubled times. However, many other teams – too many to mention, in fact most other teams – have experienced much less than us since 1983, certainly since 1997. That’s not to say all of these defeats don’t hurt.
And they hurt in 1983 too.
There will be lean spells. It’s only natural. This season is the worst since many a year. Alas there is no quick fix here. We need to get to the end of this season – unbelievably there is still another month of it left – and then the owners need to act. Or maybe before. There are rumours that Mauricio Pochettino is on the cusp of signing.
Our next game is at Arsenal and it is sadly likely that I will be writing a similar rallying-cry at the end of that match report too.
See you there.
2009 & 2023