Tales From Benny’s First Game

Chelsea vs. Southampton : 3 October 2015.

This was our homecoming after three games on the road at Walsall, Newcastle and Porto. It would also be our last game for a fortnight, with another international break looming. After the disappointment of our game in Portugal – the stinging defeat on the pitch allied with the spate of robberies off it – I was hopeful that the game against Southampton would put us back on track.

No, let’s be honest and exact here, this was a game we had to win. I knew that the Saints, continuing their fine play from last season under Ronald Koeman would be no pushover, but I was adamant that we could – and should – prevail.

However, my main focus as I drove up to London with Parky and Bournemouth Steve was centred upon seeing my close friend Ian and his young son Ben, who would be watching from the East Lower. It would be Benny’s first ever Chelsea game; a present for his eighth birthday during the late summer.

Ian and I go back to 1984, when we found ourselves on the same human geography course at North Staffs Poly in Stoke. Our friendship slowly grew over the three years, aided by our love of football and music, and was solidified on a trip around Europe on a three week Inter Rail holiday in the September of 1987. Ian was with me, memorably, on my first ever European football match, an Internazionale vs. Empoli game in the San Siro. During that trip we also visited the Bernabeu, Camp Nou and Munich’s Olympic Stadium. Our first afternoon in London after that Inter Rail trip was spent at Stamford Bridge – a good 2-2 draw with Newcastle United, Paul Gascoigne and all – and this was Ian’s first game at Chelsea.



Ian has watched a few more games with me at The Bridge since. In our thirty plus years of friendship, football has never been too far away.

Ian is from South Yorkshire and a lifelong Rotherham United fan. Ian was at one of the most infamous games in Chelsea’s history; our 6-0 loss at Millmoor in the autumn of 1981. A few of my close Chelsea mates were there too, though I wasn’t. I can remember playing a school football match on that particular day, strangely on a Saturday afternoon, and coming in at half-time in our match to find the boys three-nil down at Rotherham. I can distinctly remember – always an optimist – thinking to myself that we would come back to win 4-3 with Alan Mayes scoring the winner. Sadly it was not to be. For those newish Chelsea fans who think that our current run of poor form entitles them to proudly boast that they can claim that they were there when we are “shit”, watch this and think again.


In 2015, we are League Champions, League Cup Winners, in the Champions League and one of the top twenty clubs on the planet.

In 1981, we were a struggling Second Division team, with no trophy of any description for ten years.

Later in the season, the same Rotherham United beat us 4-1 at Stamford Bridge.

Compared to 1981, 2015 doesn’t even come close.

Since leaving college, Ian and I met up again in 1989 for our never-to-be-forgotten adventure in North America; cycling down the East coast, visiting city after city, living some sort of American dream. We drove down through France for a Juventus vs. Sampdoria game in 1992. Ian now lives in Fareham, close to Portsmouth, with his wife Maria – I was the best man at his wedding in 2006 – and their two boys Tom and Benny. Both boys have teams; Tom is Arsenal, Ben is Chelsea. Once I managed to secure match tickets for the Saints match, I am sure that Ben has been so excited. But so was I. I couldn’t wait to meet up with him for the game.

We had arranged to meet up at the Peter Osgood statue at 1.30pm. It was magical to see them both, smiling and full of anticipation of the day ahead. Benny was wearing a blue and white bar scarf, and it made my day. During all of our years of friendship, who on earth would have predicted that Ian’s son would be a Chelsea fan.


We spent an hour in the hotel foyer. I am not honestly sure if Ben will remember too much of his first ever Chelsea game, nor the people that he met, but I made sure that I took enough photographs to help. Although it seemed that a camera was always on hand to take key photographs of my formative years, it is one of my big regrets that neither of my parents took any photographs of my first Chelsea game in 1974.

We chatted with Bobby Tambling, as always a lovely man, and it was good to look back on the summer tour in the US. I explained to Ben that Bobby scored 202 goals for Chelsea and Ben’s face was a picture. Coming from Hayling Island, Bob explained how everyone naturally presumed that he would play for Portsmouth after his impressive English schoolboy career. Instead, they made no offer, and despite an approach from Wolves, Bobby ended up at Stamford Bridge.

There were photographs with John Hollins, and Ben predicted a 10-0 win for Chelsea, and our former captain and manager loved the optimism.

There was a prolonged chat with former captain Colin Pates concerning his current job at the Whitgift School in Croydon, where he spotted the potential in a young Victor Moses, and also a few words from Colin which answered Ian’s enquiry about how difficult it was to make the transition from player to another trade.

“Put it like this. It’s like being at the best party you have ever been to. Then someone comes along and says it’s over.”

Ian and I knew exactly what he meant.

I commented back, looking at Ian –

“Colin found it so difficult, that he ended up playing for Arsenal.”

Colin and Ian laughed.

However, I chose not to talk to Colin about the Rotherham game in 1981, since he had played in that game. Neil Barnet called by and reminded us that it was Petar Borota’s last ever game for the club. What a wayward player he was, but loved by all. Bless him.

Paul Canoville joined us and I explained that this was Ben’s first-ever game. Paul spent a good few minutes with the three of us, welcoming Ben to the Chelsea family, and entertaining Ian with anecdotes from his various travels over the past summer.

I really appreciated the time that these three former players took in spending time with young Ben. And I am sure that Ian got a kick out of it too. Outside the main reception, there was time for a team photo with Ron Harris.

IMG_3505 (2)

Back in The Goose, it was lovely to see Alan and Gary again after their tribulations in Porto. I also bumped into a cheery Stan, too, and he seemed unperturbed, and showing no signs of distress after temporarily losing his passport. It was a sublimely beautiful Saturday evening and it was hard to believe that it was October now. The team news came through via various ‘phone updates.

John Terry was back.

Parky bought a round of amaretto shots and we then set off for the Bridge.

Southampton opted for the smaller away allocation for this fixture; around 1,500.

After the initial sparring, we were awarded a free-kick to the left of the Southampton goal. Willian swung in a looping free-kick which bamboozled Stekelenburg in the Saints goal. The ball struck the far post and rippled the net. For what seemed the umpteenth time already this season, we had scored with a free-kick from the left, and this was yet another one from Willian. He ran off to the East Stand and I can only imagine how excited young Ben must have been. Ian Hutchinson scored after ten minutes in my first game in 1974 and Willian did exactly the same for Ben in 2015.

Alan and myself attempted the Hampshire burr of cricket commentator John Arlott as we went through our “come on my little diamonds / they’ll have to come at us now” routine.

Chances were rare. Oscar and Eden Hazard struggled to find the target. Southampton burst through our ranks on several occasions. Sadio Mane was booked for diving. On more than one occasion, the alert Asmir Begovic saved our blushes.

However, a certain amount of sleepiness in our defence allowed Pelle to chest down for Davis to strike a low drive past Begovic.

At the break, Nemanja Matic replaced Ramires.

Southampton bossed the early moments of the second period. They are a fine team these days and they continually exposed the increasing self-doubt within our team. Then came a major talking point. Fabregas played in Falcao, who stretched to go past the Southampton ‘keeper, but fell. A penalty was not given, but the referee added insult to injury and booked Falcao for simulation. Our Colombian beat the Stamford Bridge turf in frustration.

The visitors were on the front foot now and several periods of Keystone Cops defending from our back line began to turn an already edgy Stamford Bridge crowd over the edge. With too much ease, Mane broke through after we lost possession, twisting past the recalled Terry to score.

Pedro replaced Willian.

There were boos.

Hazard, so obviously lacking any sort of confidence, gave the ball away and Southampton broke with pace. There was a feeling that this break would result in another goal. The ball was played outside to Pelle, who struck a low shot past Begovic from an angle. It was no more than Southampton deserved.



To my dismay, many spectators decided to leave.

Fuck them.

The substitute Matic was replaced by Loic Remy.

More boos.

I was just surprised that consistently underperforming Fabregas managed to avoid the manager’s axe yet again. Of all the disappointments this season, Cesc must rank as one of the biggest. Despite us losing 3-1, and despite hundreds of Chelsea supporters having vacated their seats, I was really pleased with the way that most Chelsea fans responded.

First of all, though, I noted a few hundred Chelsea fans in the Matthew Harding Lower singing – to my annoyance – “we’re fucking shit” and I really am lost for words to explain that.  However, a far greater number throughout both levels of the MH really got behind the team with rousing renditions of several Chelsea favourites. The noise boomed around Stamford Bridge and I so hoped that the watching millions around the globe could hear us.

Although we came at Southampton towards the end, a goal never really looked like coming.

So, no surprises, at the final whistle, there were loud boos.

We’re in a bad moment, no doubt.

We’re in a bad moment together and we’ll hopefully get out of it together too.

If we lose a few of our number along the way, so be it.

I have no logical reasons for our current malaise and I am not sure that many fellow Chelsea fans do either. We are a team so obviously low on confidence, and without that elusive “spark.” However, as I said to one or two others on the walk back to the car, it doesn’t really matter.

“I’ll be here next game, and the one after.”

However, it saddened me to receive a text from Ian later in the evening to say that Ben cried his eyes out at the end of the game.

At the age of eight, my first game, I would have done the same.


Tales From February 13th. 1982 And February 13th. 2010

Chelsea vs. Cardiff City : 13 February 2010.

An early kick-off at HQ meant that I collected the two Glenns by 8.30am and, by the time we hit the M4, the banter was flying. We passed quite a few coaches from South Wales en route. We spoke of the FA Cup…May 2009 was fresh in our minds, but I was more interested in remembering a game from my youth.

Leading up to our encounter with Cardiff City, I was well aware that there was a favourite Chelsea game from the past which also took place on February 13th. At the time, it was the best game I had ever witnessed in the flesh. Throughout this week, my mind was full of memories of our game with Liverpool on FA Cup Round Five day in 1982. On the Friday, in order to get the juices flowing, I emailed a few CFC mates and we bantered back and forth with memories of that day…we mentioned the players, the atmosphere, the thrill of that great game. I’m lucky – so lucky – to have so many Chelsea mates who “know their stuff” and can help rebuild memories of games in the distant past.

In 1981-82, Chelsea were floundering in the old Second Division, but had hit a bit of form over the Christmas and New Year period. This was our third season in the second tier. Our swish Le Coq Sportif kit was worn by such stalwarts as Clive Walker, Mike Fillery and Colin Pates. Personally, I was floundering in the Sixth Form – I had soon realised I had picked the wrong subjects – but was living for football. Playing for my school team kept me sane, but following Chelsea was my passion. For the first time, I was travelling up to games at Chelsea by myself. I was sixteen and the train fare was only £6. I had seen us play against Bolton and Wrexham and had watched these two games in The Shed for the first ever time. For the Wrexham game, a red-head from Texas was watching her first ever Chelsea game and we must’ve been no more than twenty yards away from each other. We had struggled to get past Hull and Wrexham, after replays, to meet Liverpool in Round Five. Liverpool, meanwhile, were in their absolute pomp…European Champions and on their way to three consecutive titles. It was a huge miss-match. In the Daily Mail, Ian Wooldridge had written that “the only hope I can give Chelsea is that they have no hope at all.” I think I knew what he meant. To add to our plight, I’m pretty sure that Liverpool had lost to Ipswich in a League Cup semi-final first-leg on the Wednesday and were looking for revenge. We looked easy targets. Things were mighty ominous.

I remember so many things from that day. Let me share more of them. My parents and myself caught the 8am train from Westbury and there were a gaggle of Doctor Marten-wearing Chelsea fans on the platform…no doubts, I would get to know some of these lads over the next few years. At Paddington, Mum and Dad went off to do some sightseeing, while I headed down to The Bridge to savour the pre-match atmosphere. I arrived at Fulham Broadway at around 11am and the place was already buzzing. No doubt I walked up to the East Stand, but I remember staying down by the entrance to the old West Stand for ages. I had never been to the Bridge so early and I was amazed how many fans were milling around the area by The Brittania pub ( now The So Bar. ) There seemed to be many more street vendors than usual. I specifically remember an old chap in his seventies selling old black and white photos of players from the ‘forties and ‘fifties. For some unfathomable reason, I bought one of United’s Duncan Edwards. Like all of this chap’s photos, he was pictured as he ran out onto the pitch, on those wooden running boards which used to go over the dog track.

We had West Stand seats and I remember being thankful. I am pretty sure that the game wasn’t all ticket, hence the massive crowds outside. For the 24,000 fans who would be using the terraces, it would be a case of “first come, first served.” I remember looking at the ever-growing line of Liverpool fans lining up outside the buildings of the Oswald Stoll Foundation. I looked on in awe. These lucky so-and-sos had enjoyed successes since the early ‘seventies that I could only dream of. I can’t, unfortunately, remember if the legions of scallies were wearing Adidas Stan Smiths or Slazenger and Lacoste pullovers.

The gates opened at 1pm and, for the first time since my debut in 1974, I ascended those lovely steps on that huge embankment of the West Stand. Our seats were right by The Shed – seats 1, 2 and 3, row 2 or 3. Magical stuff. My parents arrived at about 2.15pm. By then, The Shed was heaving. I believe the gates closed at 2pm. For an hour, I watched on as 14,000 Chelsea fans in The Shed sang and swayed, anticipating the game ahead. A few hundred fans were watching from atop a block of flats across the Fulham Road. I watched aghast as the shared North terrace bore witness to several charges by the Chelsea boys at their Liverpool counterparts. Two pens were Chelsea, two pens Liverpool, with a line of police somewhere in the middle. I remember seeing some Chelsea scamper through the Brompton Cemetery behind the East Stand, rush over the train lines and attack the Scousers from behind. I had never seen the like of it. To be truthful, I was sick of it. Our big day, the whole of Britain watching and these loons were dragging our name through the dirt. I was yet to learn the nuances of hooliganism. I was only 16 remember.

I remember, right down below me, about twenty Chelsea kids in their late teens, jumping over The Shed fence into The Benches in order to run up to the North Stand to join in the fray. To my huge displeasure, my mother was shouting at them to get back! I grimaced, as you can imagine.

The game kicked-off at 3pm with 41,412 jammed inside the grand old stadium. I can distinctly remember looking across at the towering East Stand, so out of place with the rest of the stadium, and noting that every single seat – row upon row – was occupied. I saw 10,000 heads, with not one single gap. Surely that doesn’t happen often. This reassured me of our massive potential. We were a middling second-tier team, but could draw in 41,000. As a comparison, our highest league gate in 1981-82 was barely 20,000.

The game was a classic. Liverpool boasted such legends as Rush, Dalglish, Souness, McDermott, Hansen and Lawrensen. After just eight minutes, we won the ball in midfield and Peter Rhoades-Brown broke away in the inside left channel. He shot early and I had an unimpeded view as the ball crept into the goal by the far post, just evading Grobbelaar’s dive.

The Bridge erupted and so did I.

For the rest of the game, Liverpool probed away without creating too many chances. Colin Pates and Kevin Hales were an odd choice in midfield, but they nullified Liverpool’s midfield maestros. At half-time, we heaved a sigh of relief. We wondered about the task ahead. Could we do it?

All I remember of the second period is the action down in front of me at The Shed End goal on about 84 minutes. We had held on – teeth grinding tension throughout – and after a goalmouth melee, the ball broke kindly to Colin Lee, who stabbed the ball in from close-range.

In that split second – I can still see the net bulge – I knew we were safe at 2-0 and I celebrated again. A different kind of celebration…the fear had gone. We were going to beat Liverpool! The thrill was almost too much. I had seen us beat Liverpool 3-1 in 1978 and we had done it again. Unbelievable.

Back to 2010. It took a while for us to find a parking space, but I eventually found one near The Elm pub. Who should be outside, pints in hand, but Cathy and Dog. There were police outside. We were on the look out for Cardiff, but hadn’t spied any apart from on the M4. We were expecting a big show from them. This was the first time I had seen Cardiff at Chelsea since 1983. I remember they sang the Welsh national anthem throughout the minute’s silence for a Chelsea fan killed at Huddersfield. We responded with boos and a chant about Aberfan, the site of a landslide which wiped out a primary school in the Welsh valleys in the ‘sixties. A different era.

Parky dipped into The Elm – he later reported that the pub was full of some Chelsea faces from the past – while Glenn and myself sat down for a fry-up at the refurbished Yadana cafe. I met a mate from work. Tickets were exchanged. The Goose was shut – not opening until 12.30pm – and I can understand why. The threat of violence pervaded most of our conversations throughout the morning.

On the walk down the North End Road, the bitter chill still in evidence, we saw no Cardiff, except in The Kings Head, which was guarded by twenty policemen and around five on horseback. For a change, we had a pint in “Jimmy’s” inside the Matthew Harding.

Unbeknown to me, Petar Borota had passed away on the Friday. How ironic that this player from 1981-82 ( he didn’t play in the Liverpool game, his place was taken by the young Steve Francis ) which a few of us had mentioned in our emails on Friday should be taken from us that very same day. He was as mad as a bucket of frogs, but was well loved at Chelsea. We applauded him for a minute before kick-off.

RIP Petar.

I spotted two inflatable sheep being passed around the MHL. There is now a “Malta” flag in the West Stand. About time more American flags showed up, I reckon. I almost missed our opener. I was looking down at the MHL singing “Ingerland” at the Welsh hordes when I looked up to see Didier clean through on goal. An easy finish and 1-0 to us after a couple of minutes. Good stuff. The rest of the first period was a bit messy. A few long-range efforts…a lob from Drogba from just inside the Cardiff half, a thunderous strike from Sturridge, a tame Lampard effort. At the other end, Bothroyd and Chopra were being given too much space and Cardiff were getting into the game. Their support was roaring. We accused them of doing “unmentionables” to sheep. Virtually all of the Cardiff fans were standing, but I did see gaps. Maybe they hadn’t made it past The Elm! A cross from Burke and Chopra headed in, totally unchallenged. Not a set piece this time, but as good as. Like Dracula, we hate crosses. With The Bluebirds flying high, I became mesmerized by three pigeons flying around the stadium. Suffice to say, it wasn’t a great game! Joe Cole was poor…he’s trying too hard. A sublime ball from Ballack, into space, was the highlight.

Mumbles and grumbles at half-time. Daryl’s son Ed came down to bemoan our woefully quiet support. Charlie Cooke was paraded at the break by Neil Barnett. I spotted Michael Essien watching from the same seat in the West Middle as Jose Mourinho versus Fulham. How we miss Essien.

We played better – much better – in the second period. Kalou came on for Joe Cole and he did well. Drogba was akin to a one man wrecking crew, full of strength and running. His ball to Ballack carved open the entire Cardiff defence and was just gorgeous. Ballack finished with aplomb. Phew. Cardiff’s support soon quietened down – and their team tired.

I had said to Alan at Preston that Daniel Sturridge would go on to emulate Peter Osgood in 1970 by scoring in all of the rounds – a pretty rash statement, I’ll admit. He wasn’t playing particularly well, but the ball broke to him down below me. The trouble was that it was on his right side…”and he hasn’t got a right foot” I said to Alan. With that, the ball broke kindly and he slotted it in wuith his left. How we laughed. Up and down we bounced. Three-one and coasting. Salomon capped a fine performance with a lovely header from a stunning Ferreira cross. Roman’s smiling face was shown on The Shed screen and we serenaded him…he responded with a wave. About time we gave him some love – his reign has not been without flaws, but he’s no Glazer, no Hicks, no Gillette.

On the walk back to the car, police sirens were wailing and we heard rumours of post-game naughtiness. We were soon on the road West. It felt strange heading along the M4 at 2.45pm…so odd to be heading back so early on a Saturday. I spotted the Wembley Arch in the distance, as we listened to some Depeche Mode. They were in the charts with “See You” in February 1982 and, like us, are still going strong. We drove past The Madejski, where Reading and West Brom were eking out an FA Cup draw…and we then overtook an armada of Cardiff City coaches. We pondered options for the Quarters. With us due to play Pompey in the league on March 6th., we wondered if we just might get them on that same date in the cup instead.