Manchester City vs. Chelsea : 21 May 2023.
There was an old-fashioned 1982/83 feel to Saturday afternoon, the day before our game at the Etihad against Manchester City. I sat on my sofa in the living room and listened to Radio Five Live for the football commentary and was more than happy to hear that a lone Taiwo Awoniyi goal – the thorn in our side last Saturday – would condemn Arsenal to a 0-1 defeat at the City Ground, and thus hand the Premier League title to Manchester City.
City were champions and Arsenal weren’t. Perfect.
It of course meant that City were not looking to get over the line against us on the Sunday, a scenario that would have struck fear into myself and countless other Chelsea supporters. With them chomping at the bit, I dreaded it. There were thoughts of a cricket score. In the new circumstances, I hoped that Pep Guardiola would take the foot off the accelerator and also play some fringe players with two cup finals still to fight for this season.
That said, I am struggling to remember a game where I was so convinced that we would lose. As I set off to collect Lord Parky and Sir Les at around 9.30am, I was of the opinion that I would be happy losing 0-3. Even in the darkest of days of yore, I don’t think I was ever as downbeat – “pragmatic” – as that.
We were on our way from Melksham at 10.15am and the drive up to Manchester – Manchestoh to the locals – went well. The skies were brilliantly blue and sadly brilliantly sky blue too. We stopped for a very filling pub lunch at the Tabley Interchange on the M6 – the landlady recognised us from the FA Cup game in January – and I then drove on to our usual parking spot off the Ashton New Road. It felt odd to be playing City – Citeh, or Ci’eh with the full-on glottal stop of the locals – in an away game this late in the season. The last time I had seen us at City in May was in 2001. There was a lone game behind closed doors in May 2021 but that doesn’t count in my book.
With us playing at them so late in the season, and the weather being so nice, the locals had dispensed with the usual coats and jackets of a Manchester autumn, winter and spring. Many were wearing replica shirts – not just the current edition – to an extent that I don’t usually see at City.
I sorted out tickets for both Manchester games – we return on Thursday against the other lot – with Deano and headed in. I was perched in the first few rows of the upper tier at 3.30pm.
The Chelsea team was announced on the TV screens.
Fofana – Silva – Chalobah
Azpilicueta – Fernandez – Loftus-Cheek – Hall
Sterling – Havertz – Gallagher
The City team was announced too and it immediately pleased me. There were fringe players throughout their line-up. There was a hope that City would not function to their full capability.
For some in the Chelsea support, this would be a third visit to this stadium during the current campaign. I looked around and I was pretty impressed with our turnout, which was surely over the 90% level; not bad for an end-of-season game in the circumstances.
Just before the teams entered the pitch, there was a medley of songs as flags were twirled down below us behind an Italian-style banner that proved difficult to read from behind.
The Dave Clark Five : “Glad All Over.”
Queen : “We Are The Champions.”
The Beatles : “Hey Jude.”
The teams appeared and flames flew into the air along the touchline directly in front of me. I missed the guard of honour amid my photographic manoeuvres.
Then, the old standard.
Officially we were in the fourth row but as the front two were covered in nets, we only had one row of spectators in front. To be honest, it was a splendid view. There was barely a seat not being used in the home areas, and the vast bowl was bathed in sky blue. It is an impressive stadium. With City looking to expand to around 63,000 with the addition of a third tier at the northern end, I wonder if they will do a Barcelona and dig down to increase capacity further; there is certainly tons of space. That would get it up to around 68,000 I suspect.
Pre-match chat with a few friends uncovered the fact that I was not the only Chelsea fan who would be happy with a 0-3 defeat.
The match began. The fans immediately behind us were sat and so, for the first time for ages and ages, I sat at an away game.
There was a bright start from City but we had a couple of promising forays into their half too. I soon spotted a new City song.
Snap : “Rhythm Is A Dancer.”
I couldn’t quite work out the words though.
Must be that Manc accent.
Ten minutes had passed. I turned to Gary :
“Well, we’ve made it to ten.”
Two minutes later, an attempted pass out of defence from Wesley Fofana ended up at the feet of a City player and the ball was soon zipped by Cole Palmer to the advancing Julian Alvarez and the Argentinian, surely at home in sky blue, purposefully steered the ball low past Kepa.
“Here we bloody go.”
Our confidence then disintegrated so easily and the home team dominated for most of the first-half.
“City. Tearing Cockneys apart. Again.”
This was a hard watch. I remained sat. There wasn’t a barrage of support from our three tiers at this away game. We were all there in body, but the spirit was yet to emerge. Not many Chelsea chants pierced the warm Manchester air.
Another new song from City. Status Quo? Give me strength.
“City’s won three in a row.”
There was a flurry of City attempts on goal. A lob from Phil Foden just cleared the framework. Palmer looked lively and his shot was booted off the line by Trevoh Chalobah.
With the home crowd buoyant with their team’s domination, several sections of the ground “did the Poznan” but Chelsea responded with a doggedly defiant “Carefree.”
Dave was getting roasted by the kid Palmer down below me. A trusted “7/10 every game” player, Dave shoudn’t really be anywhere near the first team these days. I chatted to Gary about him.
“Maybe Frank just needs players who he thinks he can trust. I dunno. It’s a mystery.”
I guessed that Benoit Badiashile was injured. I would rather have him in the three and move Chalobah over to right wing-back.
“Why isn’t Mudryk playing? City are bound to come at us. All that space he could exploit.”
The noise levels lessened. At times it was quiet. A few inflatable bananas were tossed around. This had the definite feel of a dead rubber game.
I was sorely wondering if we might go the whole game without an effort on goal. On half-an-hour, Raheem Sterling broke but his weak effort rolled away for a goal-kick. He was then played in by Kai Havertz but his shot was ably saved by Stefan Ortega.
To be fair, our play improved in the closing moments of the first-half.
A deep cross from the left by Lewis Hall found the completely unmarked Conor Gallagher who stooped to head at goal. The ball hit the near post and appeared to be pushed out by the ‘keeper.
Our support improved.
“Chelsea. Chelsea. Chelsea. Chelsea – Chelsea. Chelsea. Chelsea.”
At half-time, one of Manchester’s favourite sons was remembered.
Andy Rourke, who played bass guitar for The Smiths, passed away in New York on the Friday. He had been suffering with pancreatic cancer for quite a while. As a member of one of my very favourite bands, I was obviously upset to hear of his death. He was only fifty-nine. It is a deep regret that I never saw The Smiths live, but they provided the soundtrack, along with the Cocteau Twins, to my youth. I am seeing Johnny Marr in Frome in August. Iremember that on a visit to Manchester in late 2006, I visited Salford Lads Club prior to a game at Old Trafford and the caretaker had mentioned that Andy Rourke had visited the previous day, using its recording studio. This is the nearest I got.
“Barbarism Begins At Home” was played at the very start of the break, with Rourke’s funky intro making me unsurprisingly emotional. I glanced up at a banner away on the upper balcony of the main stand.
“There Is A Light That Never Goes Out.”
There were no substitutions from either manager at half-time.
The game continued along strange lines. City seemed happy to play within themselves while we tended to have more of the ball in attacking areas than the first-half, and our support rallied a little. But the match was played out in an odd atmosphere.
Kalvin Phillips, starting his very first league for City, hit the same part of the goal frame as Gallagher as the second half began.
John Stones appeared for City. We feared that more would come on. We definitely played better in the second-half. A few runs, Ruben looking half-decent, and a couple of shots from Hall peppered their goal. There was a strong run from Sterling but another weak effort.
On sixty-eight minutes, Mudryk replaced Gallagher and Madueke replaced Sterling.
The City support applauded Raheem off; a nice touch in the circumstances. I am not so sure many Chelsea would have applauded him on.
Mudryk blasted high when clean through.
City made three substitutes; on came Haaland, Rodri and De Bruyne.
Their fans were full of it.
“Erling Haaland. He’s scored more than you.”
Gary chirped : “Fuck me. John Stones has scored more than us.”
At some moment in the second-half, Hall slipped as Alvarez advanced and slotted home, but VAR easily spotted the arm that controlled the bouncing ball. A few Chelsea left when this soon-to-be-disallowed goal went in but I was really happy with how many of us stayed right to the end.
We then made a flurry of substitutions.
On came Koulibaly, Chukwuemeka and Pulisic.
Pulisic sent over a fine ball but a diving prod from Dave, of all people, was blocked on the line by Foden.
Thinking to myself : “bloody hell, we could have got a point here.”
At the final whistle, thousands of City fans invaded the pitch despite being warned continually about it.
We walked slowly back to the car.
One young City fan walked along in the middle of the road, arms aloft.
“Ederson and Ake. Walker and Akanje. Ruben Dias, Johnny Stones. Best defence in Europe. We’re Manchester City. We’re on our way to Istanbul.”
…remember Porto, lad, remember Porto?
Sadly, my car was hemmed in back at the car park and so we had to wait for all of the post-match celebrations to end. We stepped inside a rancid pub – “The Grove Inn” – which was full of extras from “Shameless” and reeked of bleach. As we stood silently at the bar, City lifted the trophy on the TV screen to our right. Oh boy.
We had a little banter with the locals; to be fair they were OK. Eventually, bodies appeared outside and we finished our drinks.
“Take care. Hope you pump United in the Cup Final.”
I didn’t pass on my wishes for the Champions League Final though.
I suppose we set off at around 7.15pm. I drove west and then made my way south. There had been a lot of talk between the three of us about football – Chelsea – in the ‘eighties on the drive up to Manchester and there were a few mentions on the return trip home.
Concluding my retrospective about one particular season from that decade – 1982/83 – is the final match of the campaign, the home game with Middlesbrough on Saturday 14 May 1983. Going in to the game we knew that a draw would see us safe. The visitors were one point ahead of us, one place ahead of us, but needed a draw to be safe too.
In the match programme, there was much praise for the fans that had travelled up to Bolton the previous week. The three thousand-strong support represented a full quarter of our average home gate that season and would be the equivalent in today’s money of us taking 10,000 to an away game. The programme honoured those loyal fans who had travelled on the “special” that year by listing the ninety-seven supporters who had gone to at least fourteen of the twenty-one away games with the club. Despite the five London teams in the Second Division that season – Charlton, Crystal Palace, Fulham, QPR and us – there was a definite northern feel to the division that year. Utilising the club special would have been an easy way to save money. I know four of the ninety-seven; Paul Holder, Russell Holbrook, Patrick Gordon-Brown and Kev O’Donohoe, and I am also aware that although my match-day neighbour Alan Davidson qualified for the roll-call, for some reason he was inexplicably excluded, a fact that gnaws away to this day. Kev won a raffle from this list of heroes and the prize was a season ticket to The Shed for 1983/84. He has recently told me that he traded up – paying the difference – for a much more agreeable and fashionable Gate 13 season ticket.
Only three of the ninety-seven are female and I have never seen so many Steves and Daves in one list.
On another page in the Middlesbrough programme, there is a brief mention of my friend Neil Jones, who is wished a happy birthday by his parents. Jonesy recently told me that his actual birthday was spent in the seats at Bolton the week before. That must have a fine birthday present.
In the centre pages, there is a photo of Seb Coe presenting the “Player Of The Year” award to Joey Jones. From an ignominious start and a sending-off at Carlisle United in late October, Joey certainly worked his way into our collective hearts in the remaining seven months of the season. Just below is a picture of Breda Lee and Mary Bumstead.
I would listen to Radio Two, as it was in those days, during the afternoon for score updates. Going into the game, I had hoped for a 10,000 crowd.
The match ended 0-0, thus securing the safety of both teams, and I remember being really pleased that 19,340 attended the game.
Thus, our top four home gates in 1982/83 really were decent.
Fulham – 29,797
Leeds United – 25,358
Queens Park Rangers – 20,821
Middlesbrough – 19,340
However, the dismal run of attendances in the winter had a terrible effect. Our home average levelled out at 12,672. This was narrowly lower than the 13,132 of 1981/82 and the 13,370 of our very first season of 1905/06. Apart from the COVID-ravaged season of 2020/2021 – two league games with an average of 6,000 – these have been the low points in our 118-year history.
We ended the season in eighteenth place, easily our worst-ever placing in our history. We were just two points clear of safety. That Clive Walker goal really did make all of the difference. The three teams relegated to the Third Division were Rotherham United, Bolton Wanderers and Burnley. At the top of the table, Queens Park Rangers were promoted as champions, with Wolverhampton Wanderers and Leicester City filling the other two automatic places. Our neighbours Fulham narrowly missed out by one point in controversial circumstances. Losing 0-1 at Derby County, the home fans invaded the pitch with a minute of the game remaining and the referee signalled the end of the game. At one stage, Fulham were looking a safe bet for promotion.
Elsewhere, Liverpool won the League Championship despite a recent trailing-off of form, finishing eleven points clear of Watford and then Manchester United. Their 2-1 loss at Watford was their fifth loss in seven games.
As for Manchester City, they lost 0-1 at home to Luton Town at Maine Road in front of a massive 42,843, and were relegated to the Second Division.
In some parts of Manchester, the image of David Pleat, dressed completely in beige, still brings convulsions of terror to this day.
OK, Yahni’ed – you’re next.