Tales From Another Draw With Liverpool

Chelsea vs. Liverpool : 4 April 2023.

While I was finishing off the closing sentences of my match report for the Aston Villa game on Sunday evening, PD sent me a brief message :

“Potter sacked.”

I suspect that I experienced the same initial thoughts as many Chelsea supporters.

“Blimey, they did it then? So much for a long-term project.”

“Didn’t even wait until Monday.”

“I never really warmed to the bloke at all.”

“What next, then, Chelsea?”

While we all pondered the next long-term – ha – appointment at Stamford Bridge, there was the matter of a home game with Liverpool seeking immediate attention for those within the club. However, to be blunt, I was hardly thrilled at the prospect of this one. In fact, as the three of us drove towards London – alas no Parky on this occasion – I remember thinking that I had never been less excited about a Chelsea versus Liverpool game at Stamford Bridge.

We were still seeking cohesiveness, and a goal, any goal. Liverpool, recently walloped at Manchester City after giving a bigger walloping to Manchester United a few weeks back, were as hot and cold as it is possible to be. Secretly, I feared the worst.

I was parked up at around 4.45pm. PD and I began the evening with an al fresco Italian meal outside a fully booked restaurant next to The Goose on the North End Road. The linguini and the gnocchi went down well and set us both up for the evening ahead. Towards the end of our meal, a chap plotted up at an adjacent table and immediately began telling us his bloody life story. Yes, one of those annoying buggers. Soon into his rabbit, he told us he was a Fulham supporter. My reaction was immediate :

“Poor bugger.”

It seemed that our decades of dominance over Fulham in this localalised battle had enforced an opinion in my consciousness of superiority over our less successful neighbours. I was going to call them “little neighbours” but even I am not that condescending. And yet, as we were to hit the last ten games of the league season, we are below Fulham, and have only taken one miserly point from the two games against them. I have said it for weeks that we are easily the third best team in West London at the moment. The league table does not lie and other clichés.

Forty years ago, we were embroiled in a couple of games that took place in West London. Let’s go back to 1983 again.

On Saturday 2 April, we played a Second Division game at Fulham’s Craven Cottage. Fulham, for once, were enjoying a far better season than us and were bona fide promotion contenders under manager Malcolm Macdonald, who was born in Fulham, and who was forging a fine team involving Ray Houghton, Gordon Davies and Dean Coney along with ex-Chelsea midfielder Ray Lewington. We drew 1-1 with both goals coming in the first-half. Paul Canoville scored for us in front of the Chelsea supporters in the Putney End with a fine volley at the far post from a corner. Kevin Lock, the ex-West Ham defender, sadly equalised.

It was the day of the Oxford vs. Cambridge Boat Race and I watched it on BBC1, as I usually did – I was always Oxford – and it started just after our game at Craven Cottage had finished. Seeing the many football supporters who had stayed on to watch filled me with a dull ache. I so wanted to be part of the Chelsea match-day experience, but here I was, stranded in Somerset with only enough money to attend a handful of games each year. Even though we were having a nightmare of a season, I still wanted to be part of it. That feeling has never left me. For the record, I was hoping for a better crowd than the 15,249 who showed up.

The game was shown on “Match of the Day” on Easter Sunday and I commented in my diary that Canoville and Mike Fillery seemed our best players. The commentator John Motson, who has sadly recently passed away, was seemingly enthusiastic about our performance. Perhaps there was life in the old dog, yet?

Two days later, on Easter Monday, Chelsea played our other near neighbours Queens Park Rangers at Stamford Bridge. While I was assisting in a couple of events at our local village fair, Chelsea conceded a goal in each half as we lost 0-2 to a QPR team that was flying at the top of the division. One of Saturday’s heroes, Fillery, was sent-off with two minutes to go. I had expected a crowd of 17,000 so was pretty happy with 20,821. I miss the chance to play “guess the gate” with sell-out attendances the norm at modern top flight matches these days. It seems crazy now, but any crowd over 20,000 in those days was seen as decent, especially for the second tier. Many teams in the top flight would average less than 20,000 in 1982/83.

So 4 April 1983 to 4 April 2023…let’s continue.

On the short walk of four hundred yards from the North End Road to West Brompton tube, I ridiculously bumped into four lots of mates – Andy and Kim, Charlie, Dave, Mick – while I spotted Raymondo too. I have said before that I really feel at home at Chelsea. I could walk around Frome town centre for half-an-hour and not see anyone I knew. I guess I am part of the Chelsea match day scene these days. My 1983 wish has come to fruition.

I had a busy pre-match. The tube whisked me to Earl’s Court – “The Blackbird” – for a quick chat with Stan about Abu Dhabi while I waited for Ian, fresh back from his South America odyssey, to hand back two season tickets. Then another tube to take me over to South Kensington – “The Zetland Arms” – to pass on a spare ticket to Cal. We had the briefest of chats. We were both hoping for a positive atmosphere against Liverpool.

“After all, who can we rail against?”

With Potter now gone – his sacking didn’t really affect me too much, I have never been so ambivalent to such major news ever before – I was fully hoping that all supporters would be roused to fully get behind the team.

The tube trains were packed. I was regretting wearing my heavy Barbour. By the time I joined up with the usual suspects in “Simmons” at 7pm, I was gagging for a cold drink. My “Diet Coke” barely touched the sides.

I made my way inside for 7.30pm or so.

The skies were clear. Dead centre was an – almost – full moon. I knew I would be watching its gentle arc towards the West Stand throughout the game; I only hoped it would not be my major focus as the match developed.

Francis, a Liverpool mate, texted me from a Frome Town game to tell me that his team looked weak. I eventually found out our starting eleven, chosen by Bruno Salter, a man who might well only ever get one mention on this website.

OK, this was it.


Fofana – Koulibaly – Cucarella

James – Enzo – Kovacic – Chilwell


Felix – Havertz

Or at least, that is how it panned out during the evening. At the start of the game, trying to guess where N’Golo Kante would be playing would be like a blindfolded kid pinning the tail on a donkey at a birthday party. I think I got it right.

There were flashing lights and fireworks before the teams entered, then – I am reliably informed – a Foo Fighters dirge just before kick-off.


What’s “Chelsea” about that?

I never ever saw US stuff fitting the vibe of a UK match day to be honest. The thumbs-down from me.

We began attacking The Shed, housing the usual three-thousand away fans.

Our fine start surprised me but also, of course, pleased me. After just three minutes, Joao Felix was one-on-one, and he carried out a great shimmy but dithered a little too much with the goal gaping and allowed a block tackle from Joel Matip. Kai Havertz was loitering but unable to connect from the deflection.

Just after, a lightning break, and everyone on the edge of their seat, with Havertz setting up the bursting Mateo Kovacic. He rounded the ‘keeper Alisson, but his goal-bound effort was cleared off the line by Ibrahima Konate, whoever he is.

There were predictable groans from us all.

But this was a cracking start. And there was some fine noise emanating from the Stamford Bridge stands at last. The crowd were in this. The positivity warmed my soul.

Ben Chilwell played in Havertz, but Alisson blocked from close-in.

In the first fifteen minutes, we were easily on top and the obvious star was the returning Kante, who was playing like a man possessed. Forget the Kante twins; this was more like the Kante quadruplets. There was one moment when he had, mysteriously, lost possession on the halfway line but as Liverpool’s rare break moved forward, it was Kante back in our penalty area to intercept perfectly. It dawned on me; have we been this shite all season simply because N’Golo has not been available for virtually all of it?

On eighteen minutes, another Liverpool break, but Kepa was on hand to hack the ball away.

Oh that lovely ability for Kante to play the ball with the correct strength. He absolutely assesses the pace of a break and rarely lets that pace drop. It staggers me that his role as essentially cover in front of the defence has now evolved into an attacking threat. Everybody loves him. Fackinell.

We all had that weirdest of sensations mid-way through the first-half. A Chilwell corner was met by Felix at the near post but was scrambled clear. The ball broke to Reece James who banged a shot towards goal with great precision. Good God, I watched with disbelief as the ball flew into the net.

A Chelsea goal.


Alan and my “THTCAUN / COMLD” routine was rendered redundant when Enzo’s toenail was offside in the melee that had ensued from the corner.

However, this galvanised the crowd further and a loud “Carefree” sounded out. This was ten times better than the non-atmospheres against Everton and Villa.

There was then an exchange from supporters.



Just before the half-hour mark, that man Kante advanced perfectly and set up Havertz but he scuffed an effort meekly wide. After this fast and furious start to the game, the first-third, the game died a little and, with it, the atmosphere quietened too.

At the end of the half, Liverpool enjoyed a few chances but Kepa saved well from Joe Gomez and Marc Cucarella hacked away with a shot likely. An effort rattled wide from a corner. It had been the visitors’ most dominant part of the game thus far.

At the break, I mouthed to a few folk nearby : “better”.

And it had been.

The cynics among us would probably counter with “it couldn’t be any worse” but I, at least, was enjoying it more than I had predicted. And the atmos was much better too, eh?

There were no changes at the break.

We attacked the Matthew Harding in the second-half.

Soon into it, we were again rueing our astonishing (dis)ability in front of goal. The offender was again Kovacic, set up by a fine run from fleet-footed Felix and aided by Kante, but he leaned back and sent a shot way over.

We uttered a thousand curses. There was more than one wagging tongue.

Fackinell Kovacic.

I watched as he turned away in absolute disgust, his hands coming up to his face, maybe contemplating hiding himself from the thousands of searing eyes.

Just a few minutes later, Havertz broke through but his shot – big surprise – was blocked by Alisson, a vision of sorts in lavender, including tights, but the ball luckily rebounded and hit the German. The ball returned towards goal.


I photographed the joy of the players but VAR intervened before Al and I could dust off our routine again.

Handball apparently. There is no TV-screen replay for us in the stadium of course. Viewers in Detroit, Doncaster, Dubai and Dunedin probably saw it though. Mad, eh?

Kepa saved well from a Fofana back header at the Shed End.

On fifty-seven minutes, there was a foul by a Liverpool player but the ball broke in our favour, if out wide. Rather than let the move develop, the hated Anthony Taylor called the play back. It was a close call this. Should he have let play continue? In reality, Felix was still chasing to control the ball before it would go off for a goal-kick. I think Taylor called it right. Regardless, James struck the resultant free-kick over.

A shot from Felix, rolled just wide.

Then a lovely slalom from the same player into the box but it came to nothing.

Mo Salah came on with twenty minutes of the second-half gone, but thankfully didn’t seem to integrate at all with his team mates.

On sixty-nine minutes, no surprises, Kante was substituted.

Anyone else turn their nose up at the new phrase “subbed-off” these days? Just me?

He was replaced by an eager Conor Gallagher.

Another exchange between the two sets of fans.

“Allez allez” versus “Chowlsea Chowlsea Chowlsea Chowlsea.”

As a sign of his laziness, Havertz had sleep-walked into an off-side position. Alan was fuming alongside me.

“Fackinell Havertz!”

He’s an enigma, is Kai.

The game continued to drift.

Felix was set up by Chilwell but, off balance, his shot was never going to trouble Lavender Lad. The effort flew wildly over.

Mykhailo Mudryk replaced Chilwell.

There was a great cross into the six-yard box from Kovacic down below us but nobody had gambled to sneak into the danger area. Nobody was poaching.

“Couldn’t poach an egg.”

Maybe they were waiting for an official invitation.

Raheem Sterling, the forgotten man, replaced Felix.

A last high effort from Enzo.

So, another draw, another goal-less draw, against Liverpool. It is becoming a habit. Our last six games against them reveal a dull regularity.

28 August 2021 : Liverpool 1 Chelsea 1.

2 January 2022 : Chelsea 2 Liverpool 2.

27 February 2022 : Chelsea 0 Liverpool 0 – lost on penalties.

14 May 2022 : Chelsea 0 Liverpool 0 – lost on penalties.

21 January 2023 : Liverpool 0 Chelsea 0.

4 April 2023 : Chelsea 0 Liverpool 0.

Back in Somerset, even Frome Town drew 0-0 in their home game against Bideford.

It had been a better performance, the first-half especially, but against a very disappointing Liverpool team. Our lack of confidence in front of the goal is reaching maddening levels. We remain in eleventh place with a negative goal difference. Below us, a crazily tight battle to avoid relegation. Above us, an equally tight race for a European position next season. If I was a betting man, with our tough run-in, I would put money on us to just make the top half of the table.

In closing, I had to chuckle when I checked out the official match report of this game on the official club website and our formation is given as “3-4-1-1”.

It would seem that particular writer’s donkey tail has missed the target completely.

Next up, an away match in Wolverhampton.

See you at Molineux.

Tales From The Driving Seat.

Chelsea vs. Queens Park Rangers : 1 November 2014.

With two consecutive away games at Manchester United and Shrewsbury Town behind us, the home match with Queens Park Rangers represented a fine chance for Chelsea to maintain a healthy gap at the top of the pile. Having driven over seven hundred miles to Old Trafford and New Meadow, I was back in the driving seat once again for yet another trip to Stamford Bridge. After collecting PD and Glenn, Lord Parky joined us. It didn’t take too long for me to share my growing frustrations with work with my fellow match-goers. For the past few weeks, my life has existed against a dull rhythm of “work/sleep/work/sleep/work/sleep/work/sleep” albeit with the occasional “football” excursion thrown in, perhaps like a lifebelt, to allow me to survive under increasing work-related stress.

I hoped that a trip to HQ would help to reduce the pain.

Within a few miles of leaving Parky’s home village, my car was rocking with laughter as we headed east and the problems of work soon started to subside. As we neared Reading, our sides were hurting so much from all of the giggles which were erupting in The Chuckle Bus that I had to put on some music – “Dexy’s Midnight Runners”, thank you Parky – in an attempt to settle us all down.

However, after the tedious traffic jams of Sunday and Tuesday, we were hit with yet more delays, this time on the M4. I was immediately reminded of a horrible trip that my parents and I took to Stamford Bridge in March 1979 when horrendous traffic on the M4 resulted in the three of us arriving very late for a Chelsea vs. QPR game. In 1978-1979, Chelsea were quite awful. Relegation was inevitable from before Christmas. I have to be honest and admit that the season was a tough one for me. I didn’t enjoy much of it. It seemed quite apt, then, that the QPR game, which I had been anticipating for weeks before, should be such a negative experience. I only used to go to two games per season in those days. The whole day was crap. We took our seats a few minutes before kick-off, which meant that the whole pre-match was spent nervously checking my watch to see if we’d be late, rather than relaxing and taking it all in. Chelsea lost 3-1, some mouthy QPR fans were sat in front of us in the East Lower, and we were dismal. I think that day ranks as one of the least enjoyable in all of my visits to Chelsea in over forty years. And it wasn’t that QPR were half-decent either; at the end of the season, they too were relegated. Yep, 1978-1979 was a tough one.

In 1979-1980, although we were in the Second Division, I regained my passion for Chelsea Football Club.

A very enjoyable pre-match (the antithesis of the March 1979 game) took place within the beer garden of The Goose. Yet more laughter, yet more banter, yet more silliness. Again, my general mood lightened considerably. The weather was bright and cheerful. This was going to be a fine day.

News broke through that Diego Costa was starting; excellent. There was also a Newcastle United goal against Liverpool to bring added cheer.

Although we all left the pub in good time, there were long queues at the turnstiles and so my first regret of the day was that I missed the minute of silence in memory of the fallen. I hated myself because of that. At least I will have the chance to pay my respects properly at Anfield next Sunday.

During the past few days, there were internet rumours flying around that QPR had not sold all of their tickets – something I found surprising – but their section of 3,000 was full.

Blue skies overhead. An eager crowd. Chelsea in royal blue, QPR in Tottenham white.

Let’s keep winning, boys.

We began with a flurry of corners, but the first real chance fell to Oscar after a nice flick from Diego Costa. His shot was scuffed and QPR escaped. Soon after, an incisive move down our right resulted in Branislav Ivanovic hitting the side-netting from close in. These were positive signs.

Only a Charlie Austin looping header threatened Thibaus Courtois’ goal.

On 32 minutes, Cesc Fabregas – quiet at Old Trafford on Sunday – drove forward and spotted Oscar to his right. With an impudent flick with the outside of his right foot, he bent the ball out and then in to the goal.

We screamed. We shouted.

Get in.

Alan and I – in the guise of two famous inhabitants of Oil Drum Lane – reverted to our tried and tested routine.

Albert : “They’ll have to come at us now.”

Harold : “Come on my little diamonds.”

There was every reason to think that more goals were on the agenda. We had enjoyed the majority of the ball, as is so often the case, and the visitors had shown little attacking aptitude. Just before the break, a sublime twist by Eden Hazard, down in the far corner in front of the travelling fans, made me gulp in astonishment. It was a stunning piece of skill, but I was amazed that his 180 degree turn, leaving his marker stranded, did not warrant any applause or cheer. Were we too stunned to clap or were we too spoiled to appreciate it? I had the feeling that if it had happened in the dark days of 1978-1979, maybe by Duncan McKenzie or Clive Walker, it would have gone down in Chelsea legend.

At the break, my second regret of the day; I missed my childhood hero Ian Britton on the pitch with Neil Barnett.

A lightening break down our right by Willian ended up with a teasing cross in to the box, but Eden Hazard was just unable to reach it. A second goal then would have opened the floodgates, surely.

Then, calamity struck. On one of a very rare number of Rangers excursions into our box, Vargas forced Courtois to make a stunning block. However, the rebound was smashed goal wards by Fer and was diverted past Courtois with a deft flick of Austin’s boot. We groaned. The Rangers fans celebrated wildly, but I was pleased to hear the strong reply from the home support, which immediately rallied to the cause.

To be honest, it hadn’t been a particularly noisy match, certainly not for a London derby. One peculiarity that I had noted throughout the game was that it often took a song or chant from the travelling support to rouse the home sections.

A “Hey Jude” of “la, la, la, laaa – Rangers” soon morphed into a “Hey Jude” of “la, la,la , laaa – Chelsea.”

A “Sit Down Mourinho” soon morphed into a “Jose Mourinho.”

A song ridiculing John Terry from QPR elicited “The Double” song from Chelsea.

I wondered if we were now relying on away supporters to be our cheerleaders.

Sure, there were songs and chants from the Matthew Harding, though I hardly heard The Shed. There certainly wasn’t one moment when I could honestly say that the whole stadium was united in song.

On the pitch, Mourinho went for the jugular and replaced Willian with Didier Drogba. He immediately stood close to Diego Costa. I was warmed at the thought of two strikers playing up front together for the first time in a while.

Didier and Diego.


Chances came and went for both sides, although the quality of play never lived up to the highs of previous weeks. Oscar lifted a free-kick over the Rangers wall, but Green saved. With a quarter of an hour remaining, Eden Hazard accelerated into the box, and Vargas clumsily checked him. Hazard went tumbling and the referee immediately pointed towards the spot.


Eden Hazard nonchalantly stroked the ball home, but there was not a wild outpouring of emotion from any of our players. Although, the Chelsea fans all around me were overjoyed, I sensed that the players on the pitch were just relieved.

Andre Schurrle then replaced Diego Costa, who had started to tire. The substitute came close. A trademark near post header from John Terry then drew another save from Green.

We held on.

It hadn’t been pretty.

But three points are three points.

We were back in the driving seat.

We listened to Radio Five Live just as I was caught up in the usual slow procession out of the area near Queens Club, my car edging slowly away, alongside other match-goers. We caught a few of Jose Mourinho’s irritable words concerning the team’s performance. It was obvious that his had been a frustrating afternoon. Perhaps his meticulous game plan had not been followed. There was tiredness to his tone. He seemed extra-ordinarily grumpy.

He then turned his attention to the home spectators. On a day when he had praised the away support at Manchester and Shrewsbury during the previous week in the match programme, Mourinho made a sarcastic remark about the quietness of the Stamford Bridge support; it was only when we scored did he realise that the stadium wasn’t empty.

I have written thousands of words in these match reports bemoaning the declining atmosphere at home games, and it is no secret that many Chelsea supporters feel the same way. It is also evident that this has not happened at Stamford Bridge alone. At virtually all stadia in England, fans complain about the dwindling atmosphere in home areas. There are a few exceptions to this rule; step forward Stoke City and Portsmouth in recent years, both solidly working class clubs with no pretensions of global branding and suchlike. But these are rare exceptions. And yet, away support thrives. It is seen as the last bastion of the good old days. I’m just desperately sad that I have noticed the buzz at home games deteriorate over the past ten years; it sadly shows no signs of abating. The usual reasons for this are instantly recalled; high ticket prices forcing the young and working classes away from the game, a gentrification of support, an aging of support, larger proportions of corporate tickets, over-zealous stewards, fans being displaced so that “singers” are never in the same stand together, an increasing number – at Chelsea especially – of visitors from abroad who decide to take in a Chelsea game while in London, the onset of “day trippers” and the over-riding feeling that the club has a real desire to attract a different class of fan. There is, at Chelsea, the added problem of expectation. Long gone are the days when a simple win was met with unbridled joy. With our continued success, there is an expectation to always win. We, as a club, have become bloated and spoiled. All the reasons are well known. Why did Jose decide to utter publicly what many think privately? I am not sure. Surely it wasn’t an attempt to mask a poor team performance? I’d hate to think that. Maybe Mourinho had thought this for a while and had just decided to “get things off his chest”? He certainly seemed in a foul and irritable mood.

To be honest I think I found his tone a little distasteful; rather than talk openly about the atmosphere being a little quiet and a few words of encouragement, his comments were riddled with sarcasm

He has, however, certainly got us all talking.

Maybe the singing will come later.


Tales From A State Of Confusion

Chelsea vs. Queens Park Rangers : 2 January 2013.

The old unbeaten home run was in jeopardy for the game with Queens Park Rangers. I woke up to discover that I had heating problems at home and needed to wait around for an engineer to call by. I took an emergency day’s holiday from work and waited. To be quite honest, I was fully expecting the boiler to be fixed late in the afternoon, making a quick sprint up the M4 to be pointless. If I left home at 5.30pm, I wouldn’t get in until half-time. Oh, well – the run will end eventually. I was quite philosophical about it. 236 games isn’t a bad figure. Thankfully, the bloke showed up just after lunch and I was able to keep the run going. On the drive over to Chippenham, the bleak winter scenery reached new depths, with only muted greens and browns mixed in with a thousand shades of grey.

If everything was sombre outside the car, things would soon change inside it. Lord Parkins was back for this game and it was great to see the old fool once more. His last game was the Liverpool game on Remembrance Sunday. A lot has happened since then. Oh boy. The old team were back together again and, after the usual volley of verbal insults between us, the journey to London flew past.

I am sure I wasn’t the only Chelsea supporter who was hoping for a bagful of goals against Queens Park Rangers. We beat them 6-1 last April. Our last home game saw us score 8 against Aston Villa. I wouldn’t go so far as to say I was expecting an easy win, but I knew that if we scored an early goal, the omens were good. Let’s get into them. Let’s show them who is boss.

One of my least favourite games from my first ten years of attending Chelsea games was against QPR. In March 1979, I travelled up to London with my parents and an uncle for the game against our west London neighbours and the game was on the same day as the Forest vs. Southampton League Cup Final. I always remember being stuck in about an hour-long traffic jam on the M4; maybe the influx of traffic from Southampton was to blame. It was an altogether depressing scenario. I had visions of arriving very late and missing a chunk of the game. 1978-1979 was a horrible season. We were mired in a relegation place all of the way through the entire campaign. It was the one season when my support of the team waned a little. I was getting into music at the time and I think my love for Chelsea suffered a bit. I had seen us lose 3-1 at home to newly-promoted Spurs in the November. As it transpired, we reached our seats in the East Lower just in time for the kick-off, but I hadn’t been able to enjoy my usual pre-match of autograph hunting, souvenir shopping and programme collecting. It had been rushed and I hated it. The Chelsea team included a few new signings – Jim Docherty and Eamonn Bannon – but the manager Danny Blanchflower didn’t have a clue. Our team was woeful. Players such as David Stride and John Sitton are not often mentioned in a list of our greatest ever defenders. We lost 3-1 on that miserable day some 34 years ago. A couple of QPR fans were sitting in front of us in the East Stand that day. I loathed them with every ounce of my being. In May, we were relegated and we stayed in the old second division for five long years. Funnily enough, my support for the team and club soon reached its usual stratospheric level again within the first few games of 1979-1980. But that’s another story.

But 1978-1979; oh boy. What a season.

I made an apology to Parky for continuing to play the Japan CD on the drive east. Tokyo certainly made an impact on me and the music has haunted me since my return. We talked about lots on the drive in. Suffice to say, the old bugger has missed some of the most tumultuous weeks of Chelsea’s history since his last game. I could tell that Parky was chomping at the bit to get in amongst it in the pub. We sauntered in at 6.45pm and pints of Peroni were quaffed.

Out in the beer garden of The Goose, none other than Wrayman was chatting to Steve M. He had been over in Paris for a few days with his wife, but had timed his European vacation with a last-minute trip to England for the QPR game. He, unsurprisingly, was feeling the cold, although the weather in England has been milder than at Christmas. Rob came over to say a few words – they had bumped into each other on the Thursday before the CL Final in Munich. I always get a little tingle when Chelsea friends from different parts of the globe meet up. Seeing a photo of Rob and Andy – who didn’t previously know each other – in Munich on Facebook on the Friday had made me smile.

My solitary pint was consumed and The Bridge was calling me. I met up with my mate Steve from Bournemouth outside the tube and we made our way to the stadium. The QPR section took a while to fill up, but they soon had 3,000 noisy followers in the south-east corner. Not one single flag or banner, though. Poor. Chelsea fans only have to cross the road and we’re hoisting flags from every vantage point.

In place of the Peter Osgood banner in The Shed, the “Super Frankie Lampard” banner was proudly hanging instead. Clearly a signal to the board to get him signed-up. The Ossie one was over towards the west side, just above Parkyville and Wrayland.

The news in the pub had been that Juan Mata had been dropped. He has certainly been our talisman this season. Elsewhere, there were other changes with Turnbull in for the injured Cech, Bertrand and Marin in for Cole and Mata. Lamps remained partnered with Luiz. Moses preferred to Hazard.

“Come on boys.”

Before the game was able to get going, I thought that Marko Marin was very lucky to stay on the pitch after a terrible challenge on Unknown Rangers Player Number One. He received a yellow. Lucky boy.

The first-half wasn’t great. Off the pitch, the two sets of fans traded insults.

“Champions of Europe, We Know What We Are.”

“Champions of Europe, You’re Already Out.”

“Queens Park Rangers, You’re Already Down.”

“Fcuk Off Chelsea – West London is Ours.”

“We Don’t Hate You ‘Cus You’re Shit.”

A David Luiz bouncer on thirteen minutes was the first real effort on goal. It was a disjointed affair, and that early goal that I so craved didn’t transpire. The away team had been told to defend and to defend deep, with the enigmatic Taarabt playing the most advanced role. Shades of Eden Hazard in Turin. Our efforts on goal were sporadic. An Oscar effort from way out hardly troubled Julio Cesar, all dressed in black like an extreme Lev Yashin, tights and all.

Shaun Wright-Phillips (yes, him), who replaced the injured Unknown Rangers Player Number Two, shot wide, but Turnbull was largely untroubled.

As our attacks took forever to gain momentum and as shots were ballooned high, wide and ugly, I mentioned to Alan that we were “flattering to deceive.”

“Flattering to deceive” is one of those phrases which you only ever hear being mentioned in football reports, along with “away to my left”, “pitched battles”, “early doors” and “at the end of the day.”

Well, after misses by Ivanovic, Oscar and Moses, we were certainly flattering to deceive.

“There will be boos at the break, Al” I suggested.

There were. We had been poor, of course, but I was hopeful that things would improve in the second-half. Torres hadn’t been given much service and our midfielders were passing to oblivion.

At the break, Neil Barnett always likes to give us a few clues as to who will be on the pitch at half-time. He began by saying “this player played 350 games for us in the ‘sixties and ‘seventies and won medals in three cups.” I guessed at Marvin Hinton. Looking back, it could have been John Dempsey, but I think he joined after the 1965 League Cup win.

“We used to call him Suave Marve.”

Yep, Marvin Hinton. Although, he played for us until 1976, I was sure I never saw him play for us. He is now 72, looks pretty healthy, and enjoyed a walk around the pitch. The QPR fans aimed a rude song at him –

“Who The Fcuking Hell Are You?”

This, for a 72 year old. Classy.

Barnett retaliated by digging at them –

“And Marvin Hinton has more medals than your entire club.”

Soon into the second-half, a fine twisting run by Marin below me in the north-west corner was followed up by a low cross towards the near post. Victor Moses, who had been quiet in the first period, lunged at the ball but just evaded his toe.

The crowd groaned.

However, rather than spur the home spectators, the Chelsea fans largely remained quiet and subdued. It was the away contingent who could be heard. Our play improved in the second-half and I was utterly convinced that we would edge it 1-0. Efforts from Lampard and Cahill – who headed against the bar – suggested that I was right. Then, the best chance of the night; the ball fell to Torres, who instinctively lashed at goal, but Cesar (or Billy Joel, as Al called him) pulled off a superb save.

Ross Turnbull was largely a spectator and we sighed with relief when he easily saved from Unknown Rangers Player Number Three. Further QPR raids were repelled. Billy Joel was time wasting at every opportunity. He clearly wasn’t an innocent man, but Lee Mason didn’t find him guilty. Still the home support didn’t react. In truth, our support stunk like a dustbin lorry on a hot summer day.

Halfway through the half, following a corner, Lampard volleyed in and the place erupted.

“He’s done it again. Get in!”

The linesman, though, had flagged for offside.

Benitez rang the changes, replacing Marin (who had done OK) with Mata…we hoped things would improve further. Sadly, we were wrong. QPR won a corner and I muttered “fear of impending doom” to Steve.

Me and my sixth sense.

The ball dropped to Taraabt who played in Wright-Phillips. With a fine strike, he guided the ball low into Ross Turnbull’s goal, right in line with me, right inside the post. It was a goal all the way. The only consolation was that Shaun turned in on himself and chose not to celebrate.

Respect to him for that.

In the final fifteen minutes, we tried our best to carve open the QPR defence, but it was not to be. A Luiz free-kick hit the wall. An Ivanovic header boomed over. Did anyone notice the ridiculous, crazy challenge by Luiz on Unknown Rangers Player Number Four? He just threw himself at the player after the ball was well gone. Alan and I just sighed.

The crowd were leaving before the end.

Not good.

The whistle went and I was left alone with my thoughts.

2012 – I’m missing you already.

In truth, despite the number of team-changes that Benitez made, QPR were there for the taking. We should have won this 3-0. We had enough efforts on goal, but how many saves did the ‘keeper make? The whole team underperformed really. I hate to single out players, but there were several who didn’t do well. I thought that the marking of Taarabt, their one major threat, was farcical at times. We gave him far too much room. Throughout the team, there was a lack of ideas, a paucity of movement, negligible desire. Or – at least – compared to recent games. But…I say again, we should have beaten them 3-0 on the night. We certainly did not deserve to lose.

On the long drive home, Parky and I mulled over the state of affairs at our club.

We are clearly a confused and divided club at the moment. Where there was unity and cohesion – I’m talking generally here – in the summer, now there is infighting, rumour, rancour and unrest. I made the point that it is quite likely that there are Chelsea fans who want us to lose games so that Rafa Benitez gets the push. I also made the point that there must be fans of opposing clubs who want us to win so that they can see us squirm as we try to get to grips with Rafa.

That can’t be right, can it?

I’m still confused about the whole Di Matteo / Benitez scenario. It will probably take me many more games to come up with a succinct appraisal of what is happening. I just want success for the club. That’s obvious. However, I’m certainly no apologist for Benitez. In truth, I feel like retching every time I see him wearing Chelsea gear. It is clear that most Chelsea fans won’t give him an inch. In fact, no Chelsea manager will ever experience the derision and scorn that Benitez will get with every loss, every dropped point, and every tactical malfunction. Our recent little resurgence will soon be forgotten with each game that passes. Is that right? Probably not, but who am I to say? My head tells me I should move on and give him the benefit of the doubt, but my heart is struggling to come to terms with that notion. It’s a right mucking fuddle. To be honest, I’m trying to ignore the bloke – a la Ranieri in 2000 and Grant in 2007 – but as he is the image of the club at the moment, it is rather difficult.

Oh well, at least Danny Blanchflower isn’t in charge.


Tales From A Sobering Week

Queens Park Rangers vs. Chelsea : 15 September 2012.

At last. At long last another Chelsea game. A whole three weeks had passed since I attended our fine win over Newcastle United. Thankfully, I didn’t venture to the south of France for the Super Cup game. Yes, three whole weeks. Twenty-one days. It felt like an extra close-season. And I hated every minute of it.

It was a sunny morning in deepest Somerset as I slotted my coffee mug into the drink holder alongside my car seat. I flicked the ignition on; I was back on the treadmill. Japan’s “Quiet Life” reverberated through the speakers and I was on my way.

I texted the briefest of messages to Alan in London.

“Jack Qprouac.”

I was on the road once more.

With no detour north to collect Lord Porkinson on this occasion, I was soon driving through Frome, past Warminster and then up and over Salisbury Plain. It was soon clear that it was going to be a cracking day. The sun was up, the sky was blue, it’s beautiful and so are you. On the long straight before I dipped into the miniscule village of Chitterne, the view ahead made me smile. Hay bales were stacked in the fields to my left and right. It was a perfect scene of rural England. It was a perfect day for football.

And then it came back into my mind once again.


I’m sure that there were many fans that set off for Sheffield on that sunny day in 1989 that had a similar outlook; a sunny day and a perfect day for football.

My mind had been full of thoughts about Hillsborough since the news of the enquiry into the disaster came through on Wednesday. Without much prompting, my original thoughts on those events came rocketing back. And I recoiled at the memories.

The recollections from that day in April 1989 are still surprisingly clear. On the previous Saturday, I had travelled by train to see our enjoyable 3-2 win at West Brom. As I was saving hard for my first-ever trip to North America throughout the 1988-1989 season, I had decided to save some money and not travel to Filbert Street for our game with Leicester City. I remember that it was the day that we could have been promoted and many Chelsea travelled to the game.

Instead, I was at home. I remember I was sat at the table, pen in hand, attempting to put further meat on the bones of my skeletal planning of my US trip. I had a few brochures strewn over the table and the radio was on. The commentary game on BBC Radio Two was from Hillsborough and there had already been mention of a little crowd disturbance. This surprised me; there was no “previous” between the two teams as far as I was aware. If anything, there was a general easing off from the, dare I say it, hooligan hay days of the early ‘eighties. We had the second summer of love in the UK in 1988 and there was a tendency for hooligans to start a slow drift away from decaying football terraces and into nightclubs, warehouses and fields as a drug called ecstasy took hold.

After just six minutes, the game was stopped and I was bemused.


I couldn’t work out why there was any trouble in Sheffield.

As news of the events unravelled, I soon realised that the BBC would have TV cameras at the game. I turned the radio off. I turned the TV on. Within a few moments of watching the scenes of confusion at the Leppings Lane end of the stadium, the news came through that several Liverpool supporters had died.

I was in shock. I can solemnly say that the news chilled me to the core.

The travel brochures were brushed aside as I watched with a mixture of sadness, horror and disbelief as the afternoon turned into a scene of devastation.

The rest of the day is a blur. Chelsea lost 2-0 at Leicester and it didn’t matter. Pat Nevin scored for Everton in the other semi-final and it didn’t matter.

To be honest, not much mattered that evening.

Football wore a black armband the following few weeks; the events cast a deep shadow over us all.

Our next game was on the following Saturday and the fates contrived for a massive game at Stamford Bridge; Chelsea vs. Leeds United. Not only a game against our old rivals from West Yorkshire, but the game which could see us promoted. I met up with three college mates – Ian, Bob and Trev. Ian was a Rotherham fan, but Bob and Ian were Leeds. We had a few pre-match pints in The Black Bull alongside my Chelsea mates Alan and Paul. We spoke in earnest about Hillsborough. By then, the death toll was a massive ninety-five (*it became 96 in 1993 when Tony Bland’s life support machine was turned off. Bland was the only victim with whom I had a link. He worked for the same company that I did between 1991 and 1998 ). The over-riding feeling throughout the talk was that “it could have been us.” I had watched Chelsea from the Leppings Lane enclosure in 1985. We had all experienced moments on terraces where the crush had been slightly scary. From what I remember, there was a muted atmosphere in and around the stadium. The attendance was only 30,000; under normal circumstances, I would have expected more. There was a well observed minute’s silence before the game. A John Bumstead goal gave us a 1-0 win, but it was a weird day. There wasn’t the euphoria of the 5-0 win over Leeds which got us promoted in 1984. This was a far different feeling.

After the game, Bob, Trev, Ian and I had a few pints at Earls Court and then in central London. We ended up in one of my favourite boozers – “The Round Table” near Covent Garden. Talk was still dominated by Hillsborough. I remember I said to Bob “in a way, we’re all responsible” and he wanted me to explain myself.

Every violent song, every violent gesture helped stir the atmosphere at games and the language of hate was never far away in those days. And although I had never been in involved in football violence, I – like many – enjoyed the banter and badinage that went with football hooliganism in that era. It was part of the scene, part of the culture, part of football.

There had even been moments when I had shouted “go on Chelsea” as it kicked off at a game. We had all been ambivalent to it. But Hillsborough was an eye-opener for me and a few of us. It made me question myself and the part I had played, however miniscule, in the erecting of those fences at Hillsborough which had, ultimately, caused the death of ninety-six football fans.

And it really could have been me. If Hillsborough hadn’t happened in 1989, it may have happened at Highbury in 1990, Old Trafford in 1991 or Stamford Bridge in 1992. I can well remember a game at Chelsea in 1988. We played Charlton Athletic in a real relegation dogfight. My parents arrived late and, intending to get seat tickets, were forced to sit on a part of the crumbling Shed terrace which had been sectioned off as unsafe under the Safety of Sports Grounds Act. Thankfully, only around three hundred were sat on this terrace, but the point is that Chelsea Football Club broke all the rules about crowd safety that day. They were lucky nobody was hurt. They were also lucky that nobody was hurt when the same thing happened against Middlesbrough a few weeks later. My photos from that day show the central part of The Shed heavily over-populated to the point of danger.

Ring any bells?

Big John, who sits near me at HQ, posted on Facebook on Thursday about Hillsborough. He mentioned that in that game against Leeds United in 1989, the spectators raised £15,000 for the Hillsborough disaster fund. In today’s climate, today’s money, today’s 41,000 full house, that equates to around £75,000.

I think this evidence illustrates that most football fans’ view back in 1989 was of sadness and solidarity with the Liverpool fans.

Even Chelsea.

Since then, there is no doubt that perceptions have changed, presumably triggered by our on-going unhealthy spat with Liverpool Football Club. Blame Luis Garcia, blame “that” song about history. However, my own view – though not widely expressed – has always been that the emergency services were to blame for the deaths of the ninety six in 1989. I certainly never believed those scurrilous lies which were peddled by The Sun newspaper, but which became “fact” as the years passed, about fans stealing from the dead and urinating on the police.

And I abhorred my fellow fans’ chant about “killing your own fans.”

I never joined in. It always felt so wrong.

For the reasons mentioned, I’m not a fan of the “Chelsea – hooligans” chant either.

There is, however, one black mark against Liverpool Football Club. It was always seen as the “done thing” amongst their support (and more so than any other team’s fan base) to try to “jib in” – or find a way to get in without paying, sometimes by the most ingenious ways – and this is one part of the Hillsborough tragedy that they have been shamefully quiet about.

Not even I could have expected such an exoneration of the Liverpool fans, not even I could have expected the scale of the cover-up by the emergency services and the government alike. I found it quite incomprehensible that Hillsborough, seen at the time to be one of the best stadia in the country, did not have a valid safety certificate at the time of the game on 15 April 1989. For this, the Football Association and Sheffield Wednesday should be held accountable.

I learned this week that each of the pens at the Leppings Lane end was fitted with small gates at the front, which were locked. When the crush started to occur, a simple unlocking of those gates would have eased the pressure on those fans at the front and the disaster could have been averted. I’d suggest that the keys to those gates were not within easy reach of anyone at Hillsborough. I’d even suggest that nobody even knew where those keys were kept.

One final image.

While the Liverpool supporters ferried the injured and the dead away from the pitch, using advertising hoardings as impromptu stretchers, a line of policemen – with Alsatian dogs – stood across the entire width of the pitch. They were there to stop the Liverpool and Forest fans – in their eyes – from fighting each other.

It all beggars belief.

The past week has been a sobering time.

It has provided me with a very sombre reminder of how we, as football fans, were regarded back in the late ‘eighties.

And it was too important topic for me not to mention.

It was the old familiar route in to London. I rarely travel in via the “southern route” these days; straight in on the M3 which then took me hurtling past Twickenham’s towering stands and all of the way through to Chiswick, then Hammersmith, then Fulham. I turned the radio on at midday in order to catch a sniff of the football chatter on “Five Live.” It was all about “the handshake.”

I quickly uttered a “FFS” to myself and turned it off. After the events of Hillsborough this past week, it seemed ludicrous that a handshake was getting so much attention.

Although we were playing at Loftus Road, I first had an appointment at Stamford Bridge. I quickly trotted down to the little shop outside the main forecourt and collected a couple of photographs of myself – smiling like a fool – with the twin trophies from last May. I aim to frame one of them along with a couple of photographs from Munich and the ten match tickets that are evidence of my attendance throughout last season’s maniacal assault on the Champions League trophy. I also purchased the double-disc DVD of the same Champions League campaign. As I stepped out into the surprisingly warm September sun, the players’ coach slowly drive past. I tried to peer in, but the windows were tinted. I just stood there, smiling, again like a fool.

When it comes to Chelsea, there will always be part of me that is an awestruck eight year old at my first ever game.

I returned to my car and it only took me fifteen minutes to reach my familiar parking spot off Askew Road. It even surprised me how quick I was able to traverse the borough; from Stamford Bridge to Loftus Road in a heartbeat. If there had been no traffic, I expect I could have driven it in around eight minutes flat.

I spotted a few QPR fans in their hooped shirts, but there was no over-riding feeling that there was a “big match” in the vicinity. Loftus Road now barely holds 18,000. Our biggest ever game at this compact stadium took place during the march to the 1970 F.A. Cup Final when around 30,000 attended. No doubt the streets would have been swarming with fans on that particular day.

In 2012, there was a hush around the immediate environs. We had read on the internet that the Rangers fans were aiming to recreate “hell” for our visit.

“Mmm – let’s see how that pans out.”

I dipped into a cosy café for a bite to eat. There were a few home supporters there too. I didn’t let on I was Chelsea; why would I? There were no negative comments about us, nor no reason to believe that they regarded us as the beasts with horns that sections of their support would have us believe. Talk was of QPR players, past and present, their recent form and general football chat.

I was soon outside the entrance to the away end. I spotted the habitually morose Zac (“I’m still worried about the manager, Chris”) and then the cheerier Long Tall Pete and Liz. I didn’t fancy bringing my “proper” camera to this game; with the heightened frisson between our clubs, I didn’t want an overly keen steward to stop me entering the ground with my long lens. Instead, I opted for my small “pub camera.” I took a few shots of the cramped approach into the stands, all corrugated iron and narrow passageways, and then had a quick chat with the contingent from Bristol who I often speak about.

We all agreed that the gap between games was unwanted. It felt – it really did – like the first game of the season again.

The School End at Loftus Road – or Rangers Stadium as they like to call it – houses the away support in two tiers. The upper tier is only thirteen rows deep. The lower tier possibly smaller. The seats are cramped. The Loft at the other end is larger, but only slightly. It took a while for the place to fill up. To my left, there were a few empty seats in both tiers of the main stand. I spotted the idiot with the sombrero; we all remembered him from last season. To my right, the dark shadows of the single tier stand, home to some of the QPR’s more boisterous support.

Above, signage stated “QPR, Loftus Road, 1882.”

This is a clear lie.

Sure, Rangers were formed as long ago as 1882. They have played at a large variety of locations in west London, but only at Loftus Road since 1917. The deep corrugated fascia on the stand roofs appeared to have been given a lick of paint over the summer; a darker blue, a royal blue.


To be fair, Loftus is a neat stadium, but oh-so small.

Alan and Gary arrived with five minutes to spare. We stood the entire game. I only slouched into my seat at half-time when I gave my feet a rest.

The teams were announced and then we awaited the arrival of the teams on the pitch. With a blink of an eye, the teams had lined up and the pre-game ceremonies took place. I squinted to see what Anton Ferdinand decided to do, but – to be truthful – nobody could tell. The Chelsea players were warmly applauded by the loyal 2,500 in the School End. Three songs dominated the day.

“We are the champions – the champions of Europe.”

“John Terry – Ashley Cole – John Terry – Ashley Cole.”

“We don’t hate – ‘cus you’re shit.”

After the coin toss, the teams changed ends and so we were treated to Anton Ferdinand sprinting deep into his half, all by himself, to within a few yards of the Chelsea fans in the corner. He turned to acknowledge the home fans but – of course – his intentions were clear; to wind up the away fans, to maybe illicit some abusive reactions, to maybe get a Chelsea fan arrested. According to Alan, he did exactly the same in the home game last season.

A lad next to me had to be reassured that, yes, the QPR goalkeeper was indeed Julio Cesar, the same Julio Cesar who had stood between the posts for Internazionale of Milan. There are strange things happening on Planet Football these days and no transfer is weirder than that. From 80,000 screaming Milanese to 18,000 dreaming West Londoners. It mirrors the absurd move, some thirty years ago, of Allan Simonsen from Barcelona of the Primera Liga to Charlton Athletic of the second division.

In truth, it was a poor game.

I thought that Fernando Torres began brightly and seemed to be full of confidence. Little things; the confident touch as the ball was played to him, the step-over, the impudent flick, the consummate ease with which he spun a ball out to the wing with the outside of his foot. This was promising stuff.

An early passage of play found Eden Hazard bearing down on the goal down below me. The shot was at the ‘keeper and the save drew groans from us. Then, Torres did well to turn inside the box under pressure, but his shot was weak.

And then the referee played his part. I thought that a high foot on Ashley Cole, inside the box, warranted a penalty, but the play wasn’t even halted. Andre Marriner then annoyed us all when he called a foul back when we were breaking through with the ball. Then a free-kick and John Terry ended up on the floor. Then a delicate run by Eden Hazard deep into the box and a tangle with Shaun Wright-Phillips. I didn’t get a clear view, but the appeal by my fellow School Enders was loud and sincere.

The sun was casting clear shadows on the green rectangle below. Above the tall spindles of the floodlight pylons at the Loft End, jet flumes were creating patterns in the sky. Down below, the huff and puff of a typical London derby was producing few clear chances, few passages of entertaining play.

At the break, I said that the game “had 0-0 written all over it.”

Long Tall Pete, a few rows in front, agreed.

After the initial flurry of songs in support of both teams, the atmosphere was pretty lame. An illustration of how low Chelsea really regards QPR is that no mention was made of our 6-1 win against them last Spring.

As the second-half progressed, we seemed to go into our shell. For the first twenty-five minutes, it was the home team who were edging it. They had a few half-chances. At last, the home fans were in the game: they urged on their beloved hoops with the slightly pornographic “Come on you Rs.”

It was all frustrating stuff from us. Fernando Torres, all alone at the pinnacle of our 2-3-1, was hardly given any service. When he did have the ball at his feet, his tendency was to dribble through the defence single-handedly. He was clearly getting frustrated. On more than one occasion, Marriner did not see fit to give a free-kick in his favour. Elsewhere, our method of play was oh-so familiar…pass, pass, pass.

I am one of Mikel’s supporters, but his tendency for a back-pass was winding me up. His most annoying trait is not looking up to see his options available before receiving the ball. His mind is often made up. And it’s usually to pass back to JT or Luiz. I’m sure that if Mikel is ever asked to take part in a penalty shoot-out, he will pass the ball back.

QPR carved a few chances. Jose Bosingwa – given only the briefest round of applause by the away fans at the start – was testing our defence, but the other Chelsea old-boy SWP was not so great. After a couple of shots missed the target, we duly serenaded him –

“Shaun Wright-Phillips – we’ve seen that before.”

However, our own players were hardly shining. JT – typically – was solid, but most other players were struggling. Frank looked tired. Ramires was drawing a few negative comments too. For most of the second period, things were dire.

Two late chances gave us ample opportunity to scramble a win, but wayward shots from Hazard and then Lampard blazed over the bar.

It was one of those days. It was clearly one of those games. There was palpable dismay as we sloped out of the ground. The home fans were chirpy, the Chelsea fans were less so. I suppose that the pragmatic view is that we didn’t lose, we didn’t concede, we are still top of the table. Obviously, Juventus on Wednesday will be far more of a test.

I’m sure I speak for many when I say that I can’t wait to hear that Champions League anthem once again.


Tales From Cloud Six

Chelsea vs. Queens Park Rangers : 29 April 2012.

I had been floating on clouds – or possibly way above the clouds – since Barcelona on Tuesday. It was now time to reconvene back at The Headquarters for the more prosaic game against our local neighbours and irritants Queens Park Rangers. I will waste no time in trying to excuse my lack of relative enthusiasm for this match; no amount of self-imposed hype would manage to lift this game up in my estimations. After Tottenham at Wembley and then a double dose of Barca Fever, this was decidedly hum drum.

For the second time this season, in fact, an encounter with QPR was making me feel a little anxious. I wasn’t concerned about our performance on the pitch. I was more concerned about the actions of a small but noisy fragment of our support who might – I did not doubt – spoil the day with some chants (well, one in particular) aimed at Anton Ferdinand.

You know which one.

I was hoping that our supporters would replicate the fine show of wholesome support for the team which we witnessed in the FA Cup game at Loftus Road. No silliness. No ammunition for the massed ranks of the Chelsea haters in the media to have a pop at us. I was hopeful. Or at least until I remembered the nasty shouts made by some of our supporters at Wembley during the Hillsborough silence.

I just hoped for our fans to show true support not only for the club but for John Terry, too. But without any bile or unpleasantness.

Throughout this season – and if I am truthful, before it began – I have sensed that this might be a season in which I might develop a different relationship with my club. I’m not sure why. Maybe the new manager. Maybe a season of treading water. Maybe a season in which my support might be tested. Maybe even a year in which I lose that desire. As much as these match reports have been a record of Chelsea’s successes and failures on the pitch this season, they have also possibly tried to demonstrate how sometimes my strength of support and feeling for the club has sometimes varied. I’ve also tried to think more objectively about what I get out of the match day experience. I’ve tried to push my boundaries. I’ve constantly asked questions of myself.

“Why do I want to drive to Norwich on a bleak winter day?”
“Why do some sections of our support rile me?”
“What is my relationship with the club?”
“Do I often get more fun out of the social side of football than the actual football?”
“What would I do if I lost that desire to go to games?”

I’ve stuck with it this season. It hasn’t always been easy. I’ve made mistakes along the way; maybe I came down on the wrong side of the AVB debate. Maybe I should have trusted the club more. Maybe I should have trusted the club less.

Questions. Questions.

Throughout it all, I’ve almost been expecting a cataclysmic event which might prompt me to take a step back and take a long look at it all; the obsession, the craziness, the support, the whole nine yards. Well, I needn’t have worried. The early season promise under AVB gave me hope. The CPO share offer galvanised our support and made me so proud to be a Chelsea supporter. I stuck with AVB and tried my very best to support him. I even tried to understand the forces at work within the camp which lead to a players’ revolt. It has been a crazy season but I’ve stuck with it.

And here we all are everyone. We are gasping from an incredible two week period, the like of which our football club has rarely seen before. Not only is this changing Chelsea team heading to Wembley for our fourth FA Cup Final in six seasons, but we are also heading to Munich for our second Champions League Final in five years.

It really is incredible.

Glenn collected me at 8.45am and was full of stories about local roads being flooded after the high rainfall and high winds which have battered this land of ours of late. Glenn collected Parky at 9.15am and we were London-bound. For the second successive Chelsea game, I was able to relax and have a few drinks before the game. Talk was of the two cup finals, but mainly of Munich. I get a deep warm glow just thinking about it. The traffic was atrocious nearing Hammersmith and Glenn wasn’t parked up until 11.45am. There was a sizeable line outside The Goose, awaiting the doors to open at midday. On the walk to the pub, a passing car had soaked us with water from a deep puddle in the road. I have no doubt the driver was a bitter Fulham fan. It was typical that my designated drinking day had coincided with only an hour’s worth of supping time. Oh well. After Tuesday, maybe it was just as well. Two lads from Bristol soon commented –

“You were pi55ed in Barcelona, weren’t ya?”


The whirlwind hour involved three pints of Peroni and a typically frantic period spent chatting to various mates. I chatted to Mike and Frank – my partners on that merry pre-match on Tuesday in Barcelona – and also several other NYBs. Some old friends, some new friends. Things were so rushed. It wasn’t as enjoyable as I had hoped due to the time constraints. I chatted briefly to my mates in The Bing and Munich was the centre of attention. Tell me if I am boring you. A few mates wryly commented that “we’re playing in the Cup Final in six days and yet everyone is talking about Munich.” In our parlance, there is still only one cup final that can rightly be called “the” Cup Final.

Alas, one friend was notable by his absence. On Saturday, Jesus had travelled back to his home on the Mexico / US border and he will be missed. He has enjoyed the time of his young life these past three months and I only wish he could have found a way to stay – and get tickets – for the two finals. I spoke to him on Friday and we planned to meet up at some juncture on the impending US Tour.

I left Parky at the bar to order “one last pint” and departed for The Bridge. The drizzle had continued but my main concern was getting in on time. At the bottom of the steps for the Matthew Harding Stand, the supporters were faced with a wait. Drat.


My watch was ticking. We had heard the last strains of “The Liquidator” and we then fell silent in the knowledge that we had missed the kick-off. It doesn’t happen very often.

Then, a roar out of nowhere and it was obvious that a goal had been scored. The noise, though, seemed relatively subdued and we all wondered if – horror! – the away fans were the ones celebrating. By the time I had reached my seat, I had heard the name “Sturridge” mentioned a few times and so I could relax. Phew.

Glenn was sat next to Alan and me again for the first time in ages and it felt right. I was keen to ask Alan if there had been any nonsense from Chelsea fans in the pre-game routines involving Anton Ferdinand. Thankfully, apart from a few schoolboy jeers, there was no racist stuff – implied or otherwise. Alan did say, though, that dear Anton made a point of jogging down to our corner and gesturing to the crowd. I guessed this was done to get a reaction, but nothing untoward apparently happened.

Top marks, Chelsea.

What then happened in that first half just typified our incredible self-confidence and joie de vivre at the present time. There had been talk in the pub of the derby with QPR being a massive let-down; the phrase “after the Lord Mayor’s Show” was used more than once. We couldn’t have been more wrong. What a goal fest in the rain. Fernando Torres loves the rain in April doesn’t he? He loves getting his socks grey with mud, he loves the puddles and he loves plundering goals against soon-to-be-relegated London rivals.

But first, a John Terry header, close in from a corner. John doesn’t miss from there. As he celebrated, running calmly towards us in the corner, he patted his chest and gestured to the adoring fans. I first took this to mean “calm down, don’t let the Anton Ferdinand stuff take over here” but it could just as easily have meant “so sorry for Barcelona – I can’t smile when I know I have let you down.” Maybe it was a mixture of the two.

And then, the Fernando Torres Show.

I was chatting to Alan about Munich (…sorry) during the sweet build up to our third goal. A sublime pass from Sturridge found an on-rushing Nando who adeptly rounded Paddy Kenny and slid the ball home. It was a super move and the crowd were in heaven. Soon after, an almighty faux-pas from Kenny presented Torres with a guilt-edged chance to score again. With a natural extension of his right leg, he whipped the ball into the net and we screamed once more. This time, The Kid celebrated down below…snap, snap, snap.

Chelsea 4 QPR 0 and only 25 minutes had been played.

The drizzle gave way to periods of sun…this was proving to be a lovely, lovely day.

At half-time, Neil Barnett paraded ex-Chelsea and Aston Villa player Kenny Swain to the four stands. Swain and I share something very special. On Saturday 16 march 1974, Ken Swain made his Chelsea debut as a substitute in the Newcastle United game. On that spring day over 38 years ago, I made my debut too. Swain was a good player for us, often playing upfront alongside Steve Finnieston in the 1976-1977 promotion campaign. He was latterly used at right back by Aston Villa, where he won back-to-back League Championship and European Cup medals. By the West Stand, Neil asked for all spectators to sit down and I wondered “where’s he going with this…” He announced that a Chelsea fan called Daniella from Ireland was on her hen party, dressed in a bridal gown, and asked her to stand up to receive some applause. She not only received some applause, but some choruses of “Celery” too.

As Neil led Ken Swain past the QPR fans, they typically shouted “Who are ya? Who are ya? Who are ya?” and Neil, for once, was on the money –

“He’s won the European Cup – and you don’t know who he is? I don’t know…”

In the second-half, it was just a party. A further Torres goal was the icing on Daniella’s Wedding Cake. A fantastic ball from Mata was played into space and Torres nimbly timed his run to beat the offside trap. His slow and studied finish was a classic Torres goal and reminded me so much of his many strikes in Liverpool red. His celebrations took him on a run down past the inhabitants of Parky Land in the south-west corner.

Alan pointed towards Torres and said :

“See that monkey running down the tunnel? He’s just hopped off of Torres’ back.”

“That same monkey could have got a place in Geoff Hurst’s team, Al.”

“Blimey. Don’t mention Danny Blanchflower. He would have been captain.”

I howled with laughter.

By now, some of the Rangers fans had gone back to each others’ sisters houses in Ealing and Greenford. It was time for the songs to be sung –

“Anton – what’s the score?”

“We’re going to Germany – you’re going to Barnsley.”

“Fcuk off – to the Championship.”

“He’s got bird 5hit – on his head.”

“One di Matteo.”

Frank came in for a little stick as he took a succession of second-half corners, but he just seemed to be laughing. QPR tried to annoy him by suggesting that Christine Bleakley exhibited equine characteristics.

What a load of pony.

This was a great Chelsea performance on an energy-sapping pitch. Full marks to Michael Essien, who put in his best performance for ages. Credit too, for Jose Bosingwa who has found a new lease of life at centre-back. Alan couldn’t resist a laugh though –

“It looks like he’s marking the centre-forward, but his positional sense is so bad, he’s actually marking the left winger.”

The appearance as substitute of Sam Hutchinson provided another good news story on an enjoyable day in the Chelsea story of this season.

The last Chelsea goal was pummelled home by Florent Malouda.

Cisse – he of the ridiculous hair cut – nabbed a consolation goal and we even sarcastically applauded it.

Another Chelsea win, another three goals for Fernando Torres, another Blue Day.

Next Up : Newcastle on Wednesday, Liverpool on Saturday, Liverpool on Wednesday, Blackburn on Saturday, Bayern on Saturday…five games to go. The end is in sight, but let’s relish these moments. I know I said all of these things two years ago, but these really are the times of our life.

Let’s enjoy every minute of them.


Tales From The School End

Queens Park Rangers vs. Chelsea : 23 October 2011.

After a rather nondescript and unexciting season in 2010-2011, it certainly seems that the current campaign is trying desperately hard to make up for it. With less than ten games in, the season seems to have had more exciting games, sub-plots and talking points than last year already. This was another crazy day of football. It left us breathless. It also left us pointless, but not without a fight.

It is one of the strange anomalies of my Chelsea supporting life that I had only ever visited Loftus Road on one other previous occasion. Admittedly, we hadn’t played them in the league since the 1995-1996 season, but even so. However I then thought back about my priorities in the days when my income was at a lesser level than of late. Back in the ‘eighties and ‘nineties, I only used to go to between four and five away games each season. In those days, the temptation of an away day to Old Trafford, Anfield, Highbury or White Hart Lane was always more alluring than a trip up to the pokey confines of Loftus Road. Looking back, away games at QPR always seemed to be on Boxing Day, Easter Monday or midweek days too; more reasons which made travel from Somerset more difficult.

Yep, my only other visit to Loftus Road was on a Wednesday in the spring of 1995. I remember travelling up to London on a half-day holiday to collect away tickets for the Real Zaragoza game, but I then drove up to Shephard’s Bush for our game against QPR in the evening. As was the way in those days, Daryl and I were one of the hundreds of Chelsea fans who had tickets in the home stands. We had great seats, right in the middle of the single tiered Ellerslie Road stand, but the game was poor. We played in the atrocious – and infamous – tangerine and graphite away kit and a lone Kevin Gallen goal gave the home team a deserved win.

Sixteen years later, I was long overdue a second visit.

On a bright autumnal Sunday morning, I collected His Lordship at just before 11am. This was a pretty late start, really, but we were in no rush. We had another lovely drive up to London, stopping for yet another Costa Coffee at Reading. The high spot of the morning’s drive involved us chatting about us in thirty years time, still going to Chelsea, Parky 85 years old and myself ten years younger.

We had a few moments visualising the scene of myself, arriving at his care home, smoking a pipe – Popeye style – and shouting out at him –

“Come on you old fool, get a move on.”

And then Parky propelling himself out in a wheelchair. Both of us wearing slippers. Both of us in cardigans. Both of us as deaf as a post.

“Who are we playing?”

“Arsenal today…Spurs on Thursday.”

“Thirsty, you say? So am I. Let’s stop off for a pint.”

Getting to The Goose, Lorraine the landlady in a blue rinse, Reg the landlord still waiting for Liverpool to win the league after 50 years.

“A pint of Carling? Seventy-five quid please.”

I was crying with laughter and did well to keep the car steady.

Well, let’s hope we are all able to go to Chelsea in 2041, wherever we may be.

Yes, wherever we may be. With our game against Queens Park Rangers taking place a few miles north of The Bridge, it gave me yet more time to ponder on the CPO shenanigans of late and the likelihood of us playing at Stamford Bridge, or elsewhere in the next few decades. As I have mentioned before, this is the first time that the borough of Hammersmith & Fulham had its three teams in the top flight of English football; quite an achievement. I pondered on the landscape of football in the capital and, more pertinently, the landscape of football in West London. Although Chelsea has traditionally drawn its support from large swathes of South London and parts of West London, we are, of course, located just north of the River Thames. We are a London club, for sure, but also a club of the Home Counties, those counties which nudge against the city of London itself. But, with football, location and identity are intrinsically linked. Territory is important. Location is important. Of the options being mentioned in the infamous Chelsea / CPO proposal, the sites at Earls Court and Imperial Wharf are close to home and within walking distance of The Bridge. Battersea is obviously south of the river, but just across from the borough of Kensington & Chelsea – at a push, this would get my approval if we had to move. But, throughout these recent discussions, the Wicked Witch in all this was the site at Old Oak Common, just over three miles to the north of Stamford Bridge. And, very importantly, even further north than QPR’s stadium at Loftus Road.

Not only that, the immediate location seems to be surrounded by rail yards, dead-end streets and industrial estates. A veritable Millwall North. For Chelsea to end up playing in this awful location, miles from our traditional home, fills me with absolute dread.

And yet, for overseas fans, this must seem strange.

What’s three miles? It’s only a sport stadium. It’s still in London. What’s the big deal?

Well – it’s everything. It’s absolutely everything.

With the reappearance of Wimbledon playing in Kingston-On-Thames this season, there are fully twelve league clubs in London and our proximity to each other is so important. If you think about just the five teams in the South and West – Chelsea, Fulham, QPR, Brentford and Wimbledon – these clubs are all clustered within a radius of three or four miles. For us to be shunted north a few miles would undoubtedly alter the dynamic of our club.

With all of this heavy in my mind, I drove into the heart of Rangers territory. Up the North Circular, past Gunnersbury Park, just like my dear father used to do from 1974 to 1983. Dad hated driving in London and he always used to park at Ealing Common, away from the heavy traffic, and we would then get the tube in. I passed through Acton and we noted quite a few Kiwis with All Blacks shirts, fresh from celebrating their triumph against the French. I eventually parked up barely half a mile from Rangers Stadium.

It was a warm Sunday lunchtime and Parky and I soon found us ensconced in an old-fashioned boozer called The Orchard Tavern, just off the Uxbridge Road. Despite there being signs on the door which said “Home Supporters Only” we encountered no problems. We settled down to watch the Mancunian derby, amongst a gaggle of United fans, a few wearing replica kits. There were a few Rangers lads at the bar, and save a few hard stares from a lad with an Aquascutum scarf, there were no problems. After tons of possession in the first quarter, United imploded and the score was 3-1 when we left at about 3pm.

Fifteen minutes later, we had walked up Bloomfontein Avenue and were chatting to Alan and Bristol Tim. Tim had been drinking in one of their main pubs. There had been no trouble. We heard crazy talk that United had won 6-1, but quickly dismissed this as a silly rumour.

Then, Alan took a call from Gary and began smiling…6-1 it was.

Oh boy.

I spotted Cathy and Dog a few yards away and so I went down for a quick chat. They were amazed to hear that City had trounced United and we had a little conversation about City. To be honest, I know they are now major rivals with us, but I’ve always had a major soft spot for them. Their support has always held firm. If any team deserves a little success, under the shadows of United for so long, it’s them.

Who should be with them but Tuna – and also Joe and Michelle from Chicago, last seen in Turin. Two Americans, wearing the colours of the Chicago Bears, were also there. After a little explanation, it all clicked – they were over for the NFL game at Wembley, but sadly had to leave Loftus Road before half-time to get up to Wembley for the game.

Well – I know what I’d do. See all of the Chelsea game, then get up for the last two hours of the NFL game. Easy.

Maybe it has been a different story up in London, but there hasn’t been too much hoo-ha about the Bears vs. Bucanneers game this past week. I have no problem with America’s sports teams playing friendlies in the UK, but I loathe the idea of regular season games taking place here. You can be damned sure that the fools at the FA look at this and will revisit the odious idea of the 39th Game again in the next few years.

For the first time ever, I approached the away end at Loftus Road – the School End – and its tiny structure looked ridiculous. The whole ground, although neat and compact, seems to resemble a Subutteo stadium. Once inside, there is no room to breath. Gary, Alan and I were in the upper tier – £55, the most I have ever paid for a normal league game – while Parky was down below.

Loftus Road only holds 18,500 and it only ever used to hold around 23,000 back in the ‘eighties. Back in those days, Chelsea would swamp the home areas and virtually take over the entire stadium.

That man from 1995, Kevin Gallen, was down below, reminiscing with the very excitable public-address announcer about previous games with us. I’m surprised that the infamous 6-0 shellacking from 1986 wasn’t mentioned to be honest. For the immediate period before the entrance of the teams, the PA was pumping very loud music at us and I longed for the days when fans made their own entertainment before games began, the atrmosphere bubbling, the noise rising each minute. These days, the noise is enforced upon us from above.

“London Calling” (our song, damn it – Joe Strummer was a Chelsea fan) gave way to “Pigbag” and the teams eventually entered the pitch.

But I couldn’t help but notice lots of empty seats in the main stand to my left. This was their biggest game for 15 years and they couldn’t even sell 16,000 seats.


Oh boy, I was concerned that Mr. PA Guy was going to explode, such was his excitement of his beloved Rs playing Chelsea. He could hardly contain himself.

“Come on you SUPER-HOOPS.”


Above us, the sky was pristine blue and the patch of sun on the pitch contrasted strongly to the areas of shadow to my right. The two spindly floodlight pylons at the other end – The Loft – gave the stadium even more of an appearance of a model kit. It took a while for the home fans to get behind their team and I thought our support, split over two tiers, sometimes struggled too.

My mate Alan commented –

“It seems like a game from the second division. From the ‘eighties.”

I’m not going to dwell too much on the game. I thought that, apart from Sturridge and Mata, we got out of the blocks slowly and Rangers’ midfielders seemed to be first to all of the loose balls.

I have to be honest, I thought that David Luiz’ challenge which lead to the early penalty was a stupid piece of football. It was rash and clumsy. You have to give the referee no excuse to award a foul once you get your body inside the penalty area.

And again, I’ll be honest; I did see the Bosingwa tug which lead to his sending off, though I wasn’t convinced that John Terry could not have covered.

And Drogba’s sending off was just an awful tackle.

By this stage, the Rangers support was in ecstasy and I suspected that PA Man had simultaneously combusted somewhere.

We were down to nine men and we were struggling to maintain any foothold in the game.

Oh hell.

But – what a second-half performance.

It was with growing pride that I looked on from row F of the upper tier as the Chelsea players down below me rose to the challenge of being not one, but two players down. Villas-Boas made the changes and the final nine did themselves proud. I was convinced that we would get a goal.

A Lampard header.

An Anelka header.

Anelka played through but he decided not to shoot, the ball instead coming out for Luiz to attempt an overhead kick which Lamps touched over.

A John Terry shot over.

And then the awful refereeing decisions – the grab on Luiz, not helped by his accentuated fall, and the fouls on lamps and JT.

A few breaks at the other end and Petr Cech kept us in it.

Tons of Chelsea possession – they did us proud.

Five minutes of extra time…COME ON!

But no – QPR held on, the irritating gits.

At the final whistle, the Chelsea fans roared our thanks for the team’s proud performance and John Terry, Ashley Cole, Frank Lampard and David Luiz walked down to the away end to thank the travelling two thousand for our support. I watched John Terry point at all of us, pat his chest (his trademark) and then dismiss the muppets in the other three stands with a derisory flick of his palms. The Chelsea fans roared. Us and them together.


Outside, there were around five police vans parked alongside South Africa Road as we descended the steps, still disbelieving that we hadn’t scored. I met up with Tuna, Joe and Michelle and I wished them well on their travels back to the US. The police moved us along and I then walked around to meet up with Parky. The home fans were buzzing, but we had seen it all before. It had seemed like a day from another era all of the way through and here we all were once again, the victims of those jumped-up Herberts from Shephards Bush once more.

The more things change, the more they stay the same, eh?

Still, as always, Parky and I had enjoyed being part of it. Even in defeat, we’d rather be part of the rich Chelsea matchday experience than being sat at home on our sofas.

Or being a United fan – that definitely helped us cope on the drive home.

What a crazy game.

What a crazy day.