Chelsea vs. Dinamo Zagreb : 2 November 2022.
We were in November now. And after the glorious sun, if not the glorious result, at Brighton, it now felt like the winter had hit with a vengeance. The temperature had dropped and heavy coats and rain jackets were the order of the day. My new Barbour jacket was getting an airing for the first time. I hoped that it would pass the test.
It was about 4.40pm and I was walking along the Fulham Road with one of my fellow passengers. Just a few steps ahead, I am sure I saw Scott Minto edge onto the pavement. I walked ahead, got up alongside and – yes – it was him.
“Walking just behind us is another chap who played left-back for this club.”
Scott looked back and hands were shaken between the two former Chelsea defenders. As we continued towards the West Stand entrance, I thanked him for the 1997 FA Cup Final.
“That was one of the best days of my life,” I said, “and great celebrations too.”
Scott replied “you have to say we were the first team to rip the arse out of Cup Final celebrations, eh?”
I agreed. No doubt.
“And the club’s first trophy since Ron’s time.”
I liked Scotty when he played for us and it was quite a surprise when he left for Benfica in the summer after us winning our first trophy in twenty-six years. He was replaced by the returning Graeme Le Saux.
Meeting me outside “Frankie’s” were two friends from the US, a familiar theme in these reports, eh? Alex, from Houston as featured in the last report, was first in my view, but just behind him was David from Nashville. I was reminded that I last bumped into David at the PSG friendly in Charlotte in 2015. I introduced both of them to each other, and also to Chopper. We disappeared upstairs to the Millennium Hotel bar where further photo opportunities took place. New to the match day team is David Lee and I had a quick chat as a current workmate is a mutual friend. Our former defender – “Rodders” – is from Bristol and lives, now, between Bristol and Bath. I think we were all surprised to see Bobby Tambling there again. He spent an engaging five minutes talking to me with great enthusiasm and humour about a recent charity match in Cork, his adopted home city, to raise funds and awareness for those suffering from dementia. Bless him. It was a joy to see him so well.
PD and Parky, the others in the car from Wiltshire to London, were in “The Goose” but Alex and I decamped to “Simmons” after a quick chat with DJ at the “CFCUK” stall. The bar was ridiculously quiet on our arrival. A pint of “Estrella” apiece, we sat at one of the high tables and waited for further friends to join us.
Alex, as I mentioned previously, is originally from Moscow. Don’t worry, he is no fan of Putin, I have checked. He told me that his childhood team in his home city was Dynamo, and this suited me well. I told the story of when I went to the 2008 Champions League Final in Moscow I purposefully bought myself a Dynamo Moscow scarf – beautiful blue and white – in honour of the 1945 game at Stamford Bridge. Alex was working in Moscow at the time of the game at the Luzhniki Stadium, and although he had purchased a normal ticket, he bumped into an old friend who invited him into his private suite. After huge amounts of vodka, Alex remembers little of the game. It is probably for the best.
Ah 1945, I have mentioned it before. Of all of our previous matches, it is the one that I wish I had attended, the 1970 and 1971 finals excepted. I flashed up some images of the game on my ‘phone to show Alex; specifically, the team line-ups with Chelsea, in red, clutching the bouquets given to them by the touring Russians. Alas, celery was not a Chelsea “thing” in 1945. I also showed him the photos of spectators perched on the old East Stand roof and surrounding the pitch.
Over 100,000 were at Chelsea that day.
“Small club with money” they say.
Johnny Twelve and his son John – his first visit to England – settled alongside us. Our friend Rob, who sits a few rows behind me, called in. Next to arrive was Chopper from New York, who I have known since around 2006. We had a lovely little mix at our table.
Greenwich Village, Long Beach, Hersham, Houston and Frome.
The bar was still quiet. I joked with the others when I saw a gaggle of around eight girls – teenagers, I reckon – come in and sit opposite under a sign that said “GIRLS GIRLS.”
“Shouldn’t there be a neon sign behind us that says ‘OLD CNUTS’ lads?”
We weren’t exactly sure how Graham Potter would play this game. He had to play those in the named CL squad. The manager couldn’t flood the team with an influx of young’uns. After the Brighton debacle, I half-expected a decent team to salvage some pride. We, after all, would only have four games left until the dreaded break for the competition that deserves no further comment.
Luckily, the predicted rain held off on the short walk to Stamford Bridge. We were in early, and one section was already fully occupied. I always knew that the Dinamo Zagreb fans would have travelled well. And there they all were, just a few shy of three thousand of them in the two tiers opposite us in The Sleepy Hollow. And virtually all dressed in black.
“Probably just come from Selhurst Park” quipped Alan.
The team was announced.
With Kepa still injured, Mendy came in. We kept a back-four after changing things around at Brighton. Graham Potter handed Juventus loanee Denis Zakaria a Chelsea debut. Upfront, it was all pretty fluid stuff with Pierre-Emerick Aubamayang tending to drift left.
Azpilicueta – Chalobah – Koulibaly – Chilwell
Zakaria – Jorginho – Mount
Sterling – Havertz – Aubameyang
I always like it when away teams come to Stamford Bridge and play in a mirror image of our kit. Dinamo were nicely decked out in white / white / blue but I didn’t approve of the “reverse bird shit” effect all over the shirts.
The away fans were making an almighty din, no surprises there, and an early chant sounded awfully like “All Leeds Aren’t We?” Their first chance got them all singing louder and louder still. A cross from the attackers’ right hung in the air and Cesar Azpilicueta’s header did not go where it was intended. The ball came back across the six-yard box for Petkovic to easily head home past Edouard Mendy.
The away fans erupted. Flares were let off in the away end and white smoke drifted around like old-style London fog. Soon after, a fair few showed Leeds-like tendencies by taking off their predominantly black tops.
We reacted well in the Matthew Harding with a loud riposte.
“Carefree” soon boomed around Stamford Bridge.
On seventeen minutes, a fine slide-rule pass from Jorginho hit the forward run from Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, and the striker was just able to back-heal the ball towards Raheem Sterling after a defender initially cut the ball out. He then adjusted himself, took a touch, then another, and calmly slotted the ball low past the Dinamo ‘keeper. We were level.
Shortly after we made a patient advance down the right and Kai Havertz slipped a fine ball in towards Sterling but his first-time effort was high and wasteful.
By now, Alan and I were fully involved in a chat about the upcoming away game on Tyneside; our arrival times, our accommodation, our loose plans, talk of The Toon, everything. The game continued down below us almost as an afterthought.
On the half hour mark, a move developed down the right again, this time Mason Mount racing through to pick out a striker, Havertz. A defender reached the ball before the German, but the ball was played towards the waiting Denis Zakaria in a central position. He looked a little hesitant but he slotted it home, the ball just making it over the line before Dinamo players could intervene.
We were 2-1 up.
But still the Dinamo supporters sung and sung and sung.
It was time for another quip from Alan.
Livakovic, Peric, Misic, Ljubicic, Ivanusec and Petkovic were on the pitch.
“That’s a lot of itches out there. They should be able to get cream for that though.”
We reached half-time. It hadn’t been a festival of football, but it was pretty decent stuff.
In the match day programme, there was an interesting article by club historian Rick Glanvill concerning a friendly that we played against Dinamo in Zagreb on 27 May 1937, although the club was called Gradjanski at that time. Chelsea enjoyed a 1-0 win.
Continuing a look at our history, a quick mention of the latest Chelsea game from forty years ago. On Saturday 30 October 1982, Chelsea travelled way north to Carlisle United for a league game. We lost 2-1 in front of 7,171, with Colin Lee our scorer. We had just signed the former Liverpool full-back Joey Jones from Wrexham for £34,000 and I, for one, was not too impressed. Although he was only twenty-seven at the time, I felt that he was well past his sell-by date. Joey had played under our manager John Neal in his first of his two – eventually to be three – spells at Wrexham. I was certainly not impressed when our new signing was sent off on his debut. It summed up, in my mind, the worrying state of the club at that time.
At the start of the second-half, the Dinamo fans were still singing. They didn’t let up. It was magnificent to behold.
Our chances continued to pile up. Aubameyang cut in from the inside-left position and his whipped shot skimmed the top of the bar. We were treated to some tricky interplay between Aubameyang and Ben Chiwell down below us but a cross was blocked.
Dinamo were not particularly gifted but they did try their best to attack when they could. It was difficult to think that they had inflicted an opening-game defeat in Croatia at the start of this particular Champions League crusade. However, even a point against us in this game would almost certainly not be enough to prolong their campaign in the Europa League.
Or the “George Roper” as Alan called it.
In the away end, more smoke, and many a fire-cracker. The noise did not abate all night long. They were, probably, the loudest and most impressive away fans that we had seen at Chelsea. Ever? For their number, yes.
Our efforts continued from Havertz, Chilwell and Mount.
Potter made some substitutions.
Conor Gallagher for Havertz.
Armando Broja for Aubameyang.
Thiago Silva for Koulibaly.
The debutant Zakaria impressed as the game continued. He looked strong and neat, leggy, with a decent pass distribution.
He was then replaced by Ruben Loftus-Cheek.
The rain came on stronger now, but it seemed to invigorate us, with Broja looking like he was enjoying the battle with his marker as he twisted and turned out wide and in the channels.
The crowd loudly serenaded Thiago Silva and he is surely our most loved player at the moment. The Chelsea chances continued and in another game it could easily have been 4-1 or 5-1.
In the last of five substitutions, Christian Pulisic replaced Sterling.
Sadly, in virtually the last few seconds of the game, Chilwell pulled up on the touch-line, and it looked like a pulled hamstring. The prognosis looked worrying.
On the walk back to the car, we all got drenched by the incessant rain.
I caught some much-needed sleep in the back of PD’s car as he battled the wind and the rain.
Next up would be a London derby against Arsenal, the first of three difficult matches, and our last home game until after Christmas.