Tales From The Homecoming

Chelsea vs. Reading : 22 August 2012.

I had obviously been relishing the first home game of the current campaign. I had gone six games without a match at Stamford Bridge – Munich, New York, Philadelphia, Brighton, Villa Park and Wigan – and it certainly felt like I had been absent from my second home for too long. However, at around 3.30pm, I was sat at my desk at work and I was full of yawns. I was evidently tired and I was concerned about the next few hours. Time was of the essence and, although I honestly felt like having a twenty minute power nap, I knew I had to move. I quickly fuelled up and picked up Lord Parky from The Pheasant at 4pm. I was on my way once more. The large tin of Red Bull that I guzzled set me up for the familiar drive east and there were no more yawns during the rest of the night.

Parky has been confined to barracks over the summer; he doesn’t often get out of the house these days due to his lack of mobility and so he was supremely excited to be “up and at’em” once again.

Another Chippenham to Chelsea pilgrimage. I didn’t spare the horses and was we parked up on Chesson Road at 6.15pm.

The Goose seemed relatively quiet.

“Two pints of Peroni” please.

I had explained to Parky on the drive to Chelsealand that I had sampled – probably – around fifteen different ales and lagers on my trip to America, but the two bottles of Peroni that I quaffed on Bleecker Street in Greenwich Village in New York towards the end of my holiday were by far the best.

Out in the beer garden, the familiar faces were congregated in the far corner. Talk of Munich was surprisingly scant. My friend Russ, originally from Frome and now residing in Reading, arrived and we exchanged stories of Portsmouth, NH. Like me, Russ and his wife Bethan had enjoyed staying in that excellent town in New England. Actually, Russ had been visiting the town when we beat the English Portsmouth at Wembley in 2010. I mentioned to him that Oxford United had their pre-season training camp in the town this summer. It’s not only the big guns who appreciate the training facilities that the US has to offer these days. I wonder when Frome Town will be doing the same; a week or two in Dodge City maybe?

Rob from Melksham came over to join us. Parky has known Rob for ages. Thankfully, Rob managed to get a ticket for the Champions League Final in May, but only through sad circumstances. One of his friends, from South Wales, had to go to his mother-in-law’s funeral on the same day. There must be hundreds of similarly odd stories regarding Chelsea fans’ presence in Munich. Surely someone, somewhere is going to round them all up and publish them?

We briefly spoke about potential opponents in the Champions League group stage and Celtic was mentioned a few times.

Shudder.

I left Parky to finish off his second pint and walked down to The Bridge with Russ. I noted that a couple of pubs were temporarily closed, presumably awaiting refurbishment. The West Stand is now adorned with massive banners from our twin triumphs last May. I can only approve. The blue banners have certainly brightened up the approach to StamfordBridge. Good work, Chelsea.

There was the predictable wait to gain access at the turnstiles but, with typical great planning, I was in my seat with two minutes to spare. I don’t often arrive late. I had picked up a match programme and, typically, Fernando Torres was featured on the cover.

“No pressure, then.”

A quick look around. Three thousand Reading fans in the far corner. The “Born Is The King” banner was draped by itself at The Shed, with all other official banners at the Matthew Harding. There were a few hundred empty seats around the stadium at the kick-off, but these virtually all filled up by 8pm. Familiar faces nearby; so lovely to see Tom (c. 75) and Joe (c. 85) in good spirits.

The teams soon appeared and Alan advised me that Ramires was effectively in for Ryan Bertrand, although on the opposite wing. For the majority of the 41,000, this would be the first sighting of Eden Hazard.

The 2012-2013 home campaign began. I admitted to Russ that – apart from Pogrebynak, the lad who played for Fulham last season – I was unable to name many more Reading players. How different to days gone by, when football was my only concern. Way back in the early ‘seventies, around the 1972-1973 season, it would be my job to walk down to the village post office every Saturday to collect a loaf of bread and a few other items of groceries if required. My mother would allow me a few pence to buy bubble gum cards of the First Division footballers of the time. It would be my first activity of each weekend; down the shop, then morning TV including “The Partridge Family” and “Sesame Street”, then dinner at my grandparents and “Football Focus” with Sam Leach, then a walk up to the recreation ground to watch the village team play. They were, although I was never aware of it at the time, the most – ahem – carefree days of my life.

I often asked my father to sit down and “test me” on the names of the players in my collection of cards.

Although I probably had around 200 cards in total, I certainly remember my father being flabbergasted on a number of occasions when I was able to name the clubs of every single player in my collection.

David Wagstaffe – “Wolves.”

David Best – “Ipswich.”

Dick Krzywicki – “Huddersfield Town.”

Alan Bloor – “Stoke.”

Trevor Hockey – “Sheffield United.”

Alec Lindsay – “Liverpool.”

These days, the Reading team could play host to Gordon Ramsay, Bill Gates and Claudia Schiffer and I’d be none the wiser.

I couldn’t help but notice that although I like the new home kit, the colour seems to be a little on the dull side – a muted blue, if you will. Admittedly, it isn’t as off-colour as the hated light blue of the 1997-1999 shirt, but it certainly seems to be lighter and “greyer” than the royal blue of old. Think back to the ”bang on” colour of the 2003-2005 home shirt. It’s quite different.

I think Chelsea should keep with the same shade of blue. Identify its pantone reference and stick with it.

Well, what a crazy game. On a night when we only needed to draw 0-0 to finish the night on top of the pile, we were treated (if that is the correct word) to a feast of goals.

As often is the case, both the team and the crowds began well. In the first few minutes, Stamford Bridge was rocking with our new song of the moment.

We know who we are alright.

The volume of this song elicited a text from Jamie in NYC –

“That sounded amazing on the TV.”

A shot from new boy Hazard whizzed wide after just a few minutes. Then we were treated to a nice one-touch move which ended with Ramires taking aim and shooting from inside the box when Fernando Torres was clearly in acres of space on the penalty spot. I shared his frustration. All eyes were on Torres again when he neatly dribbled inside the box himself, beautifully nut-megged a defender, but found his shot blocked.

“Hope it won’t be one of those nights.”

On 16 minutes, the events at Wigan were repeated. Hazard cut inside, only for Gunter to chop at his legs and halt his progress.

Frank Lampard struck the penalty home and the crowd celebrated. Alan and I had a little chat about Frank’s penalties. They are usually either straight and high into the net, or low to the goal keeper’s right. We were frankly amazed that such a low percentage of his penalties are saved. Surely the opposing ‘keepers are aware of his tendency to hit in the same areas. For a right-footed player, the general view is that the best place to aim a penalty is to the keeper’s left, so that the natural arc of the in swinging ball will stay beyond the goalie’s dive.

We concluded that the power of Frank’s strikes is the reason for his high success rate.

The sky above was full of pink-tinted clouds. The stadium was a picture.

However, the post-Munich glow was soon ended when Reading scored a superb goal. A McCleary cross from the right was whipped in and a fantastic leap and glancing header from Pogrebynak gave Cech no chance. There was even a ripple of polite applause from the Chelsea supporters around me. For what is worth, I clapped once, just to show solidarity.

Oh dear.

Soon after, Reading went ahead. A low free-kick was taken by Guthrie and it simply bounced off Cech’s body into the goal. We were speechless. Of all of Petr’s mistakes, this was probably the most embarrassing.

I remarked that it was bad enough losing, but we were losing to a team that looked like Leeds United, playing in their all yellow away kit.

“Ian Harte, too” said Russ.

Oh yes; Ian Harte. The former Leeds full-back. There’s two players I recognise.

At the other end, Mata sent over a great free-kick which John Terry headed over and into the quiet Shed Upper. Soon after, a Reading free-kick evaded everyone, dropping tantalisingly into the box but thankfully past the far post. A Hazard cross was headed wide by Torres right on the stroke of half-time.

There was one solitary person booing the team off at the interval.

I hope that he or she likes hospital food.

At the break, I quickly flicked through the programme. Not many photos from the US Tour, apart from one of four of the players running up the Rocky Steps in Philadelphia. Oh, and one of the three Iowa Blues (Sam, Chris and Phil) in Chester. There was a nice feature on Paul Canoville and it was Canners himself who did the lap of honour with Neil Barnett at the break. He played for both teams, so received a lovely reception from both sets of fans.

He also said a few words about being treated very well by the US fans on the recent tour when Neil gave him the microphone.

Nice one, Canners.

In the match programme, Graeme Le Saux has taken over the “back page” slot from Johnny Vaughan – and Tim Lovejoy before him. I chatted to Rousey at the break. He, of course, was in Munich. We both agreed that had we won the Champions league in 2000 or 2004 – at our first and second attempts – the feeling would not have been the same. It was our infamous failures of previous campaigns which made Munich so brilliantly intense and wonderful. I will never tire of talking about that perfect night in Germany.

It seemed to be all Chelsea in the second-half. However, only an Ivanovic blast from an angle really threatened the visitor’s goal. We kept probing away against an organised Reading team. The support was hardly roaring, though. How I wish we could get more involved at every match, not just on high days and holidays.

Ramires was replaced by Oscar and the Bridge faithful warmly applauded his home debut.

A Mata shot was blocked. A delightful ball from Oscar was threaded to Torres, but the shot was blocked.

Another change; Sturridge for Mikel.

Attack!

Soon after, the ball broke to Gary Cahill who took his chance and thundered the ball home from almost thirty yards out. It was some strike and how we loved it.

Gary Cahill’s biggest fan in Michigan loved that I am sure.

Big John seized the moment and stood up from his seat in the front row, leaned forward and walloped the balcony in front.

BANG BANG
BANG BANG BANG
BANG BANG BANG BANG

CHELSEA!

The crowd were back in it now. A shot from Sturridge drew moans when Torres was free – he needs to win back the crowd it seems – and then two floating efforts from Mata went wide too. Thankfully the all-important goal came when Ashley Cole clipped the ball towards Torres, who slammed the ball in. I was too busy with my camera, but the consensus was that Nando was offside. He didn’t mind; his smiles said it all.

I’ve still seen all of his goals in the flesh. Long may it continue.

The craziness of the game was personified in its closing moments. Reading had a free-kick on 93 minutes, which was deflected just past Cech’s post. Their ‘keeper came up for the resulting corner, but the ball was cleared. Hazard – yes him, he was having a fine home debut – ran with the ball out of the defence, with the Reading ‘keeper scrambling back, and passed to Ivanovic to slam home.

Game over.

Phew.

On the drive home, we reviewed the game. I commented how similar Eden Hazard’s movement is to Joe Cole in his prime. We were treated to another “spin on a sixpence” during the game and I love the way that he collects the ball with the sole intention of running at players and taking people on. There were a few moans aimed at Mikel and I will admit he had a mixed game. However, this young man – still only 25 – is a victim of circumstances beyond his control. It wasn’t his fault that he was vaunted as a wunderkind at seventeen, nor took over from Claude Makelele in the holding midfielder role. I rate him. He was excellent in Munich. Let’s show our support for the boy.

With Oscar, Mata and Hazard on the pitch, we can but dream about all of the goal scoring chances that this holy trinity of talented midfielders will hopefully create for our number nine.

We were handed a nice selection of opening games for this campaign. There is a very good chance that we might well get maximum points from our first five league games, but I am not taking the next one lightly. Newcastle United were full value for the three points that they took from us last season at HQ. I do not take them lightly at all. It should be a cracking match on Saturday.

I can’t wait.

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Tales From An American Away Day

MLS All-Stars vs. Chelsea : 25 July 2012.

It was game day in Philadelphia.

The Chelsea faithful had traveled down by buses, trains and automobiles from New York and were awaiting the third game of the US 2012 Tour. After the rather average performance by the team against Paris St. Germain, we were all hoping for a better showing against the MLS team in the All-Star game in nearby Chester, a small town to the south, which plays host to the Philadelphia Union team. All of us were adamant that the patchy support at Yankee Stadium would be trumped by some loud and loyal singing from the cramped corner segment of PPL Park, too. In this scenario, less would definitely be more. There would be more passionate fans in a tighter area. It just had to be a winner. It was a theme that resounded throughout meetings with fellow fans in Philly.

However, NYC was still on my mind; my troubled mind. Personally, I was still trying to get to grips with what I had witnessed in NYC. I had seen Chelsea play in Yankee Stadium and yet I was somewhat unsure of the whole experience. To be truthful – and I always knew this – I was still missing old Yankee Stadium. Sure, the record books will show that Chelsea played at the shining new edifice in the South Bronx, but deep down I was struggling to rationalise the reasons why I felt it was so odd to be a spectator in the new place.

I guess the facts speak for themselves. Between May 1990 and June 2008, I had seen 23 Yankee games in old Yankee stadium. Those memories will never be erased. The Mattingly home run in my first-ever game, a couple of magnificent wins against Boston, the first ever Yankees vs. Mets series in 1997, a David Cone master class, a Jorge Posada grand slam…Paul O’Neil, Wade Boggs, Bernie Williams, Tino Martinez…Derek Jeter…Mariano Rivera.

I am so grateful that I chose the Yankees as my team because I truly felt at home in the tight passageways beneath the towering upper deck of that historic ballpark on River Avenue. The place will always be with me. I guess it was typical New York; grimy, claustrophic, rowdy, monumental.

The new stadium just doesn’t thrill me in the same way.

So, there was all that floating around inside my addled head. For a day or so, I was also rueing the fact that I never really had the chance to say a proper farewell to Roma, Vanessa and Shawn. The plan was for them to meet us down at Legends after the game, but they got caught behind some horrendous traffic and so decided to head up to Roma’s brother’s house in Massachusetts instead as time was moving on. There would be no hugs for them all. It left me a little sad.

However, after the adrenalin-filled action of NYC, Philadelphia was proving to be much more relaxing. The four of us were certainly enjoying our fantastic apartment right on Benjamin Franklin Parkway. From our balcony, we could see the Rocky Steps to our left and the City Hall to our right. The apartment was so big that we had to text each other to communicate. The bedroom had a different zip code to the kitchen. The rooftop pool was a fantastic extra. Philadelphia was superb.

This was my fifth visit to the City of Brotherly Love and I joked that it was “typical Chelsea” that I keep getting pulled back to the same cities in the US as the team does during European competitions; how many times have we visited Porto, Valencia, Rome and Marseille?

Although I would class NYC as my favourite US city, Philly is rapidly becoming a bit of an obsession. I mentioned to a few Chelsea fans that my great great grandparents lived in the city in the middle of the nineteenth century – after getting shipwrecked off the coast of Newfoundland – before returning back to England. My great grandmother was born in England, but at least one of her siblings was born in America. My personal knowledge of this slice of my past is rather sketchy, but my mother always wanted to visit Philadelphia on the back of this story. So, in 2010, my mother and I spent a very memorable week in the city. It is a week I will never forget. On several occasions, I trembled when I realised that Benjamin and Barbara White may have walked the same steps in the 1850’s.

In 2012, Philly was treating me well.

On the Monday, Captain Jack had taken a half-day off work to show a few of us around his adopted city; it was a marvellous walk through a few blocks of the historic centre, ending up with a cheese steak at the legendary “Jim’s” on South Street. This was followed by an equally wonderful visit to see the Phillies defeat Milwaukee 7-6. The others were feeling tired and headed home when the home team were 6-3 down, but I stayed the course and was rewarded with four runs in the bottom of the ninth. This was my fourth Philly game in the city and although the Yanks are my team, I did let my mind wander a little and wonder if I should really have chosen the red of Philly over the navy of the Bronx in lieu of my own personal history.

Nah, what am I thinking?

Everyone knows that Randolph Axon once lived in a little tenement off Grand Concourse in the Bronx in the first few years of the last century.

“I hadda come back to England see. Da police were on my tail and I hadda run.”

Good old uncle Randolph.

On the Tuesday – a really lazy day – we were lucky enough to meet some of the players as they boarded the coach for a practice session outside the Ritz-Carlton Hotel, overlooking the City Hall.

We were memorably tipped-off about the players’ hotel on the Monday when we were returning to our hotel. A cab slowed down and none other than Andy Wray shouted over to us. His first words were not about Chelsea, though. Typical Andy; he pointed to a nearby restaurant and shouted –

“That place does great food.”

Welcome to Philly!

Our good fortune in meeting the players reminded me so much of my time in Chicago in 2006. I still rate this as my favourite CFC trip to the US, despite our 1-0 defeat and despite it being the only game of the trip. It was, quite simply, a perfect few days in the Windy City. On the very first night, myself, Roma – plus her daughters Vanessa and Jenny – and my mate Chris met virtually all the Chelsea players outside the team hotel, no more than 300 yards from our hotel just off Magnificent Mile.

On this trip, however, I became more integrated with the fans from America. During my two previous trips – 2004 in Pittsburgh, in 2005 in DC and NYC – we mainly kept to ourselves.

In 2006, though, the floodgates opened and I was lucky enough to meet many US-based fans. Since then, my Chelsea life has taken a wonderful – unplanned – route all of its own.

I’m just so grateful.

After spending a few hours in “Tir Na Nog” on the Tuesday evening – nice and easy, meeting a few new Chelsea fans – we retired to the pub which was part of the same building as our apartment. We were relaxing outside on the pavement, having a bite to eat, supping some ales, when a taxi cab pulled up outside the bar. A chap exited the cab with a couple of friends and I immediately remembered him from a post-baseball game pint the previous night. I had remarked that he was a doppelganger for Carlo Ancelotti. On this occasion, we couldn’t let the moment pass.

As he approached the bar, I started chanting

“Carlo! Carlo! Carlo!”

This elicited further song from The Bobster, Lottinho, Speedy, Jeremy “Army Of One” Willard from Kansas, plus Shawn and Nick from the Boston Blues –

“Carlo, Carlo, Carlo.
King Carlo Has Won The Double.
And The 5hit From The Lane.
Have Won Fcuk All Again.
King Carlo Has Won The Double.

2, 3, 4

Carlo, Carlo, Carlo.
King Carlo Has Won The Double.
And The 5hit From The Lane.
Have Won Fcuk All Again.
King Carlo Has Won The Double.

2, 3, 4

Carlo, Carlo, Carlo.
King Carlo Has Won The Double.
And The 5hit From The Lane.
Have Won Fcuk All Again.
King Carlo Has Won The Double.”

We were roaring with laughter and “Carlo” approached us with an increasingly bemused look on his face. I explained to him about his uncanny resemblance to Carlo and guess what? He was a Scouser.

To be fair to him, he took it all in great spirits and even posed for photographs with us. He said he had been mistaken for Jay Leno the previous night.

As one, all of our left eyebrows arched in disbelief.

By the way, the look on the faces of the other customers at the tables was priceless.

I felt like saying – “yeah, we serenade random strangers all the time back in England.”

We were still laughing about this incident when we arose from our slumber on the Wednesday. We had no real plans for the day, but I soon received a text from Steve Mantle about walking over to the Rocky Steps with the four official Chelsea banners in order for photographs to be taken.

Now, that sounded like a magnificent idea.

Despite the sun bearing down on us, we assembled at Tir Na Nog and set off.

I had previously run up the steps at the Philadelphia Museum of Art in 2008 – it is surely the most important thing that anyone must do in Philadelphia – and so I knew what to expect. The steps were perfect for a photograph. I stood at the base and conducted the proceedings. We elicited the assistance of a few willing tourists and I shouted instructions from below.

With everyone in place, I snapped away like a fool, knowing full well that Chelsea would be using some of the photographs in an upcoming magazine or programme. We created a bit of a scene to be honest and I guess it is the nearest I’ll ever get to being part of a flash mob.

We engaged in conversations with a few fellow fans and met a young lad wearing a Frank Lampard shirt who would be taking part in the on-game ceremonies later that day at the game.

In truth, the twenty minutes we spent under the baking sun at the Rocky Steps were one of the highlights of the whole trip.

And, no – I didn’t run to the top of the flights of steps and yell

“Yo Adrian Mutu.”

I changed into my 1989 Chelsea shirt and met up with the Chelsea faithful in Tir Na Nog at just after 5pm. Amongst the mass of blue, I was very pleased to be able to meet Captain Jack’s family; his wife Teri and their three lovely daughters called in to say “hi” and I was able to start the slow but thorough dialogue with Teri which will eventually lead to Captain Jack being allowed across the ocean to see Chelsea play at The Bridge.

In fact, there is a humorous sub story here. Teri once lived in South Kensington for a short amount of time – way back when Chelsea were mere mortals – and has actually stepped foot inside Stamford Bridge.

Come on Teri – let Steve at least even the score.

I then did a very silly thing.

I did a “Zigger Zagger” and scared the three girls to death.

I had a very quick word with Frank Sinclair and I thanked him for his kind comments about my performance on the five-a-side pitch in New York. He seemed to be enjoying himself on the tour. I can pay him no bigger a compliment than this; when we used to call in on Ron Harris in the ‘nineties, Frank was always a player who Ron rated. Frank was maybe not the most skilful, but a player who always tried his hardest. A player of guts and determination.

Good one, Frank.

As I wandered around the pub, bumping into a few old friends – and a few new ones – I noticed some Chelsea fans not joining in with the songs. I secretly tut-tutted to myself and hoped for solidarity later on that evening. It would be no time for shyness or indifference.

At 6pm, we were told to board the fleet of four yellow school buses which had assembled in the little side street outside the pub.

Another surreal experience, another typically American moment, another memory for me to take away with me.

Yellow school buses.

How quintessentially American. How hugely untypically Chelsea.

School buses.

The sight of us piling into the yellow vehicles still brings a smile to my face.

We were allowed to drink beer on the 45 minute journey to PPL Park. As the four buses roared along I-95, and then got caught in commuter traffic, and then raced each other, with fans gesticulating wildly at each other, with the skyscrapers of downtown Philadelphia in the background, it was a wonderful moment.

Why can’t all Chelsea away games be like this, full of excited fans, smiling faces, with none of the surliness shown by sections of our usual support?

The beer was going down well and the songs were roaring. We had two Seattle Sounders fans on our bus and they led the way; others followed. Speedy was in good form and I followed with a few old favourites. There is nothing like a beer to keep your throat well-oiled. I chatted to a few new faces and thoroughly enjoyed myself.

In fact, I didn’t really want the journey to end.

We were eventually dropped off way past the stadium. Beth was far from pleased and I could understand her displeasure. Out in the bright evening sun, I soon chanced upon a few familiar faces that were having a little all-American tailgate. Beers were handed out and we even had a little kick-about. Tim from Philly, Mike from New York, Matthew from New York wearing a vintage NASL Memphis Rogues T-shirt.

At the baseball game on the Monday, I had chosen to wear a Philadelphia Fury shirt in honour of the great Peter Osgood who played for them during the summer of 1978.

The time was moving on. Away in the distance, the stadium looked a picture. Beyond, the Commodore Barry Bridge – again, so typically American – was proving to be just as magnificent.

By this time, my head was buzzing, but I knew I had to get inside the stadium in order to get a share of some the pre-match atmosphere. I was also concerned about getting a fair share of photographs.

I began the long walk to PPL Park, with the sun just starting to set to the west. By now, I had lost contact with everyone and was – ahem – walking alone. At the pub, I had met a Chelsea fan who was wearing a bona fide shirt from 1991 – Commodore – and I met another one just outside the stadium.

I had a little banter with a few Union fans; friendly, in the main.

I did wonder, though, why so many fans were wearing scarves.

In July.

It seems that the US “soccer” fan base has clearly decided that a scarf is the de facto mark of football subculture, whereas – in reality – very few regulars wear scarves at Chelsea.

Discuss.

I bumped into Kev outside. Kev sits no more than eight seats away from me at Chelsea and we have been keeping each other updated with stories and rumours of this 2012 tour for what seems like an eternity.

Now, we were both there in the flesh.

Brilliant.

I was amongst friends in the Chelsea section at PPL Park. We were positioned at the top of the terrace. A few yards to my right were Funchficker and Mrs. Funchficker, Lottinho, The Bobster, Captain Jack and Speedy. Alongside me was Rey, from Los Angeles, and I was so pleased to see him again. Behind – a real surprise – was Mike Dutter and I haven’t seen him for ages. Phil was there with the Iowa Blues. Beyond – the OC Hoolifans, Mike Price at only his second ever Chelsea game, the Boston Boys…everyone together, everyone well-oiled and up for it. In front, Mark Coden – like me, an ever present on all of these recent Chelsea tours to the US.

The game against the MLS All-Stars would be my eleventh such game.

I had taken several photographs of the bridge on my approach to the 19,000 capacity stadium but was rather annoyed that its iconic steelwork was out of sight, just beyond the stand to my left. I had admired the way that the roof of this stand seemed to extend out to the bridge.

Above, the sky was slowly turning a deep blue. The moon was strikingly clear above the stand to my right.

The Chelsea fans around me were standing.

And we were clearly in good voice.

The stage was set.

The spectators were urged to take part in a two-part “stunt” but I had neither the time nor the energy for it. I believe the words “Chelsea” were visible on cards held aloft by the fans in the stand to my right, but the moment was lost to be honest.

Secondly, the colours of the American flag were visible.

The entrance of the teams.

Fireworks.

My head was still buzzing and I still needed to concentrate on getting some photographs.

Click, click,click.

The game against the MLS All-Stars in Chester, Pennsylvania will be remembered by those Chelsea fans present not for the performance of the players, nor the result, but for the constant singing, chanting and commotion created by the 1,200 fans present.

We stood the entire game and we sung the entire game.

Steve-O set the tone early on with a trademark “Zigger Zagger” and the chanting continued throughout the match. This was just what we had hoped; that the closeness of everyone would produce a subsection of PPL Park akin to an away terrace at Blackburn, Everton, West Ham or Tottenham.

I noted one chant which was new to me –

“You Play Soccer. We Play Football.”

I liked that. A little jab at the MLS hierarchy. Keep ‘em on their toes.

All the Chelsea classics were aired; too numerous to mention. I’m sure everyone has their own particular favourites.

Over to you.

Halfway through the first-half, I absolutely loved the roll-call which was started by the usual suspects to my right.

For Mary-Anne and Paul –

“Tennessee, Tennessee, Tennessee.”

For the Funchfickers –

“Ohio, Ohio, Ohio.”

For Lottinho, Dennis and Detroit Bob –

“Michigan, Michigan, Michigan.”

And for little old me –

“Somerset, Somerset, Somerset.”

Lottinho then pointed at Dennis –

“Puerto Rico.”

Out on the pitch, I will admit to being thrilled to see David Beckham play one last time, way out on the right in a rather withdrawn position. I have a lovely shot of him joking with John Terry.

The MLS team went a goal up through a Wondolowski effort from close in, only for John Terry to rise high and head home from a corner.

At the break, I rushed down to buy a beer, a hot dog and a match programme. The beer did its job because soon into the second half, I let rip with another “Zigger Zagger.” I was elated to hear the thunderous response to each guttural yelp. However, I knew I was reaching the end of my capabilities when I reached the closing moments.

“Ziiiiiiiiiger” (Oh God – I have to do a big ending here.)

“OI.”

“Zaaaaaaaaager” (Oh God – I’m barely going to be able to make this.)

“OI”

(Here we fcuking go – in for a penny, in for a pound.”

“ZIGGER ZAGGER, ZIGGER ZAGGER” (…only just!)

“OI OI OI.”

A nice tap in from Frank Lampard gave us a 2-1 lead, but – much to our annoyance and disbelief – the MLS team not only equalised through Pontius but scored the winner in the “nth” minute of extra time with a ridiculous looped shot from Eddie Johnson which ricocheted off David Luiz’ leg and into an empty goal with Ross Turnbull beaten.

We were not deflated, though. We kept singing till the end.

It was a proud night in Pennsylvania.

If the long walk back to the bus wasn’t tiresome enough, we were then kept waiting for all buses to depart. Canners was on my bus back and I leaned towards him and said –

“Fcuking hell Paul. I saw your Stamford Bridge debut thirty years ago and now, here we are, on a school bus in Philadelphia.”

From the sublime to the ridiculous.

It was a quiet bus ride back to Philly.

Throughout the evening, Roma’s daughter Vanessa had texted me a few times to see what time we would be getting back into town. It seemed that they were halting their long drive back to North Carolina especially to call in to see me in Philadelphia. I gave them instructions of how to reach Tir Na Nog, but I wasn’t sure if they could delay their drive home for long.

I quickly darted back to the apartment to drop off a few things and made my way to the pub.

I was in mid-text to Vanessa when I looked up to see the three of them walking towards me.

Ah, that cheered me up no end.

With typical disregard for authority, Vanessa had simply parked her car right on Benjamin Franklin Parkway, right underneath a sign which plainly said “no parking.”

Now that, my friends, is Proper Chelsea.

They, of course, were horrified to hear that Chelsea had lost.

“Yep, we always lose to the MLS All-Stars. I don’t think we’d better play them again.”

We returned to Tir Na Nog and met up with the usual suspects once more. The mood among my Chelsea mates was defiant. We all agreed that the singing and the atmosphere amongst the “away” fans had been magnificent. I was certainly full of praise, if not full of voice.

I was croaking again.

The time was moving one. It was past 1am. I knew that the night wouldn’t last forever. With real sadness, I said my goodbyes to Roma, Vanessa and Shawn. This was the first time that I had met Shawn and I wanted to have a little moment with him. I crouched down and babbled out something like –

“Shawn – it has been so good to see you. It was great to see you in New York. And it has been even better to see you tonight. You’re a lucky boy. You have a great mother and a great sister. And you’ve seen Chelsea play! Now, until I see you again, I want you to know that we all love you.”

To which he smiled and said –

“I just farted.”

My words had obviously impressed him.

I waved them off as Vanessa drove away into the night.

Back in the apartment, Lottinho, Speedy and I spent a few philosophical moments as we looked out into the city from our balcony. It had been a simply superb time and we had enjoyed ourselves immensely in Philadelphia.

Until we do it again.

“Phriendship And Phootball.”

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