Tales From Manchestoh : Ci’eh

Manchester City vs. Chelsea : 21 May 2023.

There was an old-fashioned 1982/83 feel to Saturday afternoon, the day before our game at the Etihad against Manchester City. I sat on my sofa in the living room and listened to Radio Five Live for the football commentary and was more than happy to hear that a lone Taiwo Awoniyi goal – the thorn in our side last Saturday – would condemn Arsenal to a 0-1 defeat at the City Ground, and thus hand the Premier League title to Manchester City.

City were champions and Arsenal weren’t. Perfect.

It of course meant that City were not looking to get over the line against us on the Sunday, a scenario that would have struck fear into myself and countless other Chelsea supporters. With them chomping at the bit, I dreaded it. There were thoughts of a cricket score. In the new circumstances, I hoped that Pep Guardiola would take the foot off the accelerator and also play some fringe players with two cup finals still to fight for this season.

That said, I am struggling to remember a game where I was so convinced that we would lose. As I set off to collect Lord Parky and Sir Les at around 9.30am, I was of the opinion that I would be happy losing 0-3. Even in the darkest of days of yore, I don’t think I was ever as downbeat – “pragmatic” – as that.

We were on our way from Melksham at 10.15am and the drive up to Manchester – Manchestoh to the locals – went well. The skies were brilliantly blue and sadly brilliantly sky blue too. We stopped for a very filling pub lunch at the Tabley Interchange on the M6 – the landlady recognised us from the FA Cup game in January – and I then drove on to our usual parking spot off the Ashton New Road. It felt odd to be playing City – Citeh, or Ci’eh with the full-on glottal stop of the locals – in an away game this late in the season. The last time I had seen us at City in May was in 2001. There was a lone game behind closed doors in May 2021 but that doesn’t count in my book.

With us playing at them so late in the season, and the weather being so nice, the locals had dispensed with the usual coats and jackets of a Manchester autumn, winter and spring. Many were wearing replica shirts – not just the current edition – to an extent that I don’t usually see at City.

I sorted out tickets for both Manchester games – we return on Thursday against the other lot – with Deano and headed in. I was perched in the first few rows of the upper tier at 3.30pm.

The Chelsea team was announced on the TV screens.

Kepa

Fofana – Silva – Chalobah

Azpilicueta – Fernandez – Loftus-Cheek – Hall

Sterling – Havertz – Gallagher

The City team was announced too and it immediately pleased me. There were fringe players throughout their line-up. There was a hope that City would not function to their full capability.

For some in the Chelsea support, this would be a third visit to this stadium during the current campaign. I looked around and I was pretty impressed with our turnout, which was surely over the 90% level; not bad for an end-of-season game in the circumstances.

Just before the teams entered the pitch, there was a medley of songs as flags were twirled down below us behind an Italian-style banner that proved difficult to read from behind.

The Dave Clark Five : “Glad All Over.”

Queen : “We Are The Champions.”

The Beatles : “Hey Jude.”

The teams appeared and flames flew into the air along the touchline directly in front of me. I missed the guard of honour amid my photographic manoeuvres.

Then, the old standard.

“Blue Moon.”

Officially we were in the fourth row but as the front two were covered in nets, we only had one row of spectators in front. To be honest, it was a splendid view. There was barely a seat not being used in the home areas, and the vast bowl was bathed in sky blue. It is an impressive stadium. With City looking to expand to around 63,000 with the addition of a third tier at the northern end, I wonder if they will do a Barcelona and dig down to increase capacity further; there is certainly tons of space. That would get it up to around 68,000 I suspect.

Pre-match chat with a few friends uncovered the fact that I was not the only Chelsea fan who would be happy with a 0-3 defeat.

Sigh.

The match began. The fans immediately behind us were sat and so, for the first time for ages and ages, I sat at an away game.

There was a bright start from City but we had a couple of promising forays into their half too. I soon spotted a new City song.

Snap : “Rhythm Is A Dancer.”

I couldn’t quite work out the words though.

Must be that Manc accent.

Ten minutes had passed. I turned to Gary :

“Well, we’ve made it to ten.”

Two minutes later, an attempted pass out of defence from Wesley Fofana ended up at the feet of a City player and the ball was soon zipped by Cole Palmer to the advancing Julian Alvarez and the Argentinian, surely at home in sky blue, purposefully steered the ball low past Kepa.

Sigh.

“Here we bloody go.”

Our confidence then disintegrated so easily and the home team dominated for most of the first-half.

“City. Tearing Cockneys apart. Again.”

This was a hard watch. I remained sat. There wasn’t a barrage of support from our three tiers at this away game. We were all there in body, but the spirit was yet to emerge. Not many Chelsea chants pierced the warm Manchester air.

Another new song from City. Status Quo? Give me strength.

“City’s won three in a row.”

There was a flurry of City attempts on goal. A lob from Phil Foden just cleared the framework. Palmer looked lively and his shot was booted off the line by Trevoh Chalobah.

With the home crowd buoyant with their team’s domination, several sections of the ground “did the Poznan” but Chelsea responded with a doggedly defiant “Carefree.”

Dave was getting roasted by the kid Palmer down below me. A trusted “7/10 every game” player, Dave shoudn’t really be anywhere near the first team these days. I chatted to Gary about him.

“Maybe Frank just needs players who he thinks he can trust. I dunno. It’s a mystery.”

I guessed that Benoit Badiashile was injured. I would rather have him in the three and move Chalobah over to right wing-back.

“Why isn’t Mudryk playing? City are bound to come at us. All that space he could exploit.”

Gary sighed.

The noise levels lessened. At times it was quiet. A few inflatable bananas were tossed around. This had the definite feel of a dead rubber game.

I was sorely wondering if we might go the whole game without an effort on goal. On half-an-hour, Raheem Sterling broke but his weak effort rolled away for a goal-kick. He was then played in by Kai Havertz but his shot was ably saved by Stefan Ortega.

To be fair, our play improved in the closing moments of the first-half.

A deep cross from the left by Lewis Hall found the completely unmarked Conor Gallagher who stooped to head at goal. The ball hit the near post and appeared to be pushed out by the ‘keeper.

Our support improved.

“Chelsea. Chelsea. Chelsea. Chelsea – Chelsea. Chelsea. Chelsea.”

At half-time, one of Manchester’s favourite sons was remembered.

Andy Rourke, who played bass guitar for The Smiths, passed away in New York on the Friday. He had been suffering with pancreatic cancer for quite a while. As a member of one of my very favourite bands, I was obviously upset to hear of his death. He was only fifty-nine. It is a deep regret that I never saw The Smiths live, but they provided the soundtrack, along with the Cocteau Twins, to my youth. I am seeing Johnny Marr in Frome in August. Iremember that on a visit to Manchester in late 2006, I visited Salford Lads Club prior to a game at Old Trafford and the caretaker had mentioned that Andy Rourke had visited the previous day, using its recording studio. This is the nearest I got.

“Barbarism Begins At Home” was played at the very start of the break, with Rourke’s funky intro making me unsurprisingly emotional. I glanced up at a banner away on the upper balcony of the main stand.

“There Is A Light That Never Goes Out.”

RIP.

There were no substitutions from either manager at half-time.

The game continued along strange lines. City seemed happy to play within themselves while we tended to have more of the ball in attacking areas than the first-half, and our support rallied a little. But the match was played out in an odd atmosphere.

Kalvin Phillips, starting his very first league for City, hit the same part of the goal frame as Gallagher as the second half began.

John Stones appeared for City. We feared that more would come on. We definitely played better in the second-half. A few runs, Ruben looking half-decent, and a couple of shots from Hall peppered their goal. There was a strong run from Sterling but another weak effort.

On sixty-eight minutes, Mudryk replaced Gallagher and Madueke replaced Sterling.

The City support applauded Raheem off; a nice touch in the circumstances. I am not so sure many Chelsea would have applauded him on.

Mudryk blasted high when clean through.

City made three substitutes; on came Haaland, Rodri and De Bruyne.

Their fans were full of it.

“Erling Haaland. He’s scored more than you.”

Gary chirped : “Fuck me. John Stones has scored more than us.”

At some moment in the second-half, Hall slipped as Alvarez advanced and slotted home, but VAR easily spotted the arm that controlled the bouncing ball. A few Chelsea left when this soon-to-be-disallowed goal went in but I was really happy with how many of us stayed right to the end.

We then made a flurry of substitutions.

On came Koulibaly, Chukwuemeka and Pulisic.

Pulisic sent over a fine ball but a diving prod from Dave, of all people, was blocked on the line by Foden.

Thinking to myself : “bloody hell, we could have got a point here.”

At the final whistle, thousands of City fans invaded the pitch despite being warned continually about it.

We walked slowly back to the car.

One young City fan walked along in the middle of the road, arms aloft.

“Ederson and Ake. Walker and Akanje. Ruben Dias, Johnny Stones. Best defence in Europe. We’re Manchester City. We’re on our way to Istanbul.”

…remember Porto, lad, remember Porto?

Sadly, my car was hemmed in back at the car park and so we had to wait for all of the post-match celebrations to end. We stepped inside a rancid pub – “The Grove Inn” – which was full of extras from “Shameless” and reeked of bleach. As we stood silently at the bar, City lifted the trophy on the TV screen to our right. Oh boy.

We had a little banter with the locals; to be fair they were OK. Eventually, bodies appeared outside and we finished our drinks.

“Take care. Hope you pump United in the Cup Final.”

I didn’t pass on my wishes for the Champions League Final though.

I suppose we set off at around 7.15pm. I drove west and then made my way south. There had been a lot of talk between the three of us about football – Chelsea – in the ‘eighties on the drive up to Manchester and there were a few mentions on the return trip home.

Concluding my retrospective about one particular season from that decade – 1982/83 – is the final match of the campaign, the home game with Middlesbrough on Saturday 14 May 1983. Going in to the game we knew that a draw would see us safe. The visitors were one point ahead of us, one place ahead of us, but needed a draw to be safe too.

In the match programme, there was much praise for the fans that had travelled up to Bolton the previous week. The three thousand-strong support represented a full quarter of our average home gate that season and would be the equivalent in today’s money of us taking 10,000 to an away game. The programme honoured those loyal fans who had travelled on the “special” that year by listing the ninety-seven supporters who had gone to at least fourteen of the twenty-one away games with the club. Despite the five London teams in the Second Division that season – Charlton, Crystal Palace, Fulham, QPR and us – there was a definite northern feel to the division that year. Utilising the club special would have been an easy way to save money. I know four of the ninety-seven; Paul Holder, Russell Holbrook, Patrick Gordon-Brown and Kev O’Donohoe, and I am also aware that although my match-day neighbour Alan Davidson qualified for the roll-call, for some reason he was inexplicably excluded, a fact that gnaws away to this day. Kev won a raffle from this list of heroes and the prize was a season ticket to The Shed for 1983/84. He has recently told me that he traded up – paying the difference – for a much more agreeable and fashionable Gate 13 season ticket.

Only three of the ninety-seven are female and I have never seen so many Steves and Daves in one list.

On another page in the Middlesbrough programme, there is a brief mention of my friend Neil Jones, who is wished a happy birthday by his parents. Jonesy recently told me that his actual birthday was spent in the seats at Bolton the week before. That must have a fine birthday present.

In the centre pages, there is a photo of Seb Coe presenting the “Player Of The Year” award to Joey Jones. From an ignominious start and a sending-off at Carlisle United in late October, Joey certainly worked his way into our collective hearts in the remaining seven months of the season. Just below is a picture of Breda Lee and Mary Bumstead.

I would listen to Radio Two, as it was in those days, during the afternoon for score updates. Going into the game, I had hoped for a 10,000 crowd.

The match ended 0-0, thus securing the safety of both teams, and I remember being really pleased that 19,340 attended the game.

Thus, our top four home gates in 1982/83 really were decent.

Fulham – 29,797

Leeds United – 25,358

Queens Park Rangers – 20,821

Middlesbrough – 19,340

However, the dismal run of attendances in the winter had a terrible effect. Our home average levelled out at 12,672. This was narrowly lower than the 13,132 of 1981/82 and the 13,370 of our very first season of 1905/06. Apart from the COVID-ravaged season of 2020/2021 – two league games with an average of 6,000 – these have been the low points in our 118-year history.

We ended the season in eighteenth place, easily our worst-ever placing in our history. We were just two points clear of safety. That Clive Walker goal really did make all of the difference. The three teams relegated to the Third Division were Rotherham United, Bolton Wanderers and Burnley. At the top of the table, Queens Park Rangers were promoted as champions, with Wolverhampton Wanderers and Leicester City filling the other two automatic places. Our neighbours Fulham narrowly missed out by one point in controversial circumstances. Losing 0-1 at Derby County, the home fans invaded the pitch with a minute of the game remaining and the referee signalled the end of the game. At one stage, Fulham were looking a safe bet for promotion.

Elsewhere, Liverpool won the League Championship despite a recent trailing-off of form, finishing eleven points clear of Watford and then Manchester United. Their 2-1 loss at Watford was their fifth loss in seven games.

As for Manchester City, they lost 0-1 at home to Luton Town at Maine Road in front of a massive 42,843, and were relegated to the Second Division.

In some parts of Manchester, the image of David Pleat, dressed completely in beige, still brings convulsions of terror to this day.

OK, Yahni’ed – you’re next.

Tales From Baltimore, Bolton, London And Stockholm

Chelsea vs. Nottingham Forest : 13 May 2023.

…this one is going to resemble a mazy Pat Nevin dribble, drifting from place to place, hopefully entertaining, and with a few dummies thrown in for good measure.

In the build up to our home game with Nottingham Forest, I had read that there would be a couple of banners appearing before kick-off in The Shed and the Matthew Harding to celebrate the impact that Thiago Silva has had during his relatively short period of time at Stamford Bridge. And quite right too.

Everybody loves Thiago Silva.

The man is a defensive colossus. He is calmness personified. He oozes class. In a season that has stumbled along with many a setback along the way he has stood out like a beacon of professionalism. How I wish that all of our players showed the same skill set and the same work ethic as Thiago Silva. Ah, I had best add N’Golo Kante here.

We need a banner for him too.

On the evening before the game, by chance, I caught a comment by an acquaintance on Facebook that Thiago Silva was looking to return to Brazil, to his childhood team Fluminense – for whom he played seventy-odd games – after he eventually leaves Chelsea. I loved this idea, of legends returning home, and of course I immediately thought of Gianfranco Zola returning to Cagliari for a couple of seasons after leaving us. I just hoped that we could tease another season or two out of our veteran Brazilian.

I then checked on Thiago Silva’s playing career and I was reminded that he had played for Milan, after his spell with Fluminense, from 2009 to 2012. And that made me think. I was lucky enough to see Chelsea play Milan in Baltimore in the summer of 2009, just ahead of our wonderful double-winning campaign under Carlo Ancelotti. I did a little research and soon realised that Thiago Silva had indeed played in that game. My heart skipped a little. I then checked a few photographs, as is my wont, and I spotted an image that made me smile. In the first-half of the game, which Chelsea would win 2-1, I had taken a photo, focussed on Frank Lampard, that also featured a veritable “Who’s Who” of top-ranking footballers from that era.

Ronaldinho, Didier Drogba, Alessandro Nesta, Jon Obi Mikel, our man Frank, Andrea Pirlo and – there he was – Thiago Silva.

So, here indeed was proof that this was the very first time that I had seen Thiago Silva play. It’s very likely that this was the first time that Frank had seen Thiago Silva play too, though his view was certainly different than mine.

Almost fourteen years later, the two of them are at the same club, although of course it was Frank who signed the cherished Brazilian during our interim manager’s first spell at the helm at the start of the COVID-ravaged season of 2020/21.

I then decided to flick through a few photos from that very enjoyable stay in Baltimore. I took plenty of the game of course – probably the highest quality match of the seventeen that I have seen us play in the US – but just as many of our fellow supporters too. One photo again made me smile. It featured my good friend Burger on the right of a group of random, blue-jerseyed, American fans who must have been drinking with us, or near to us, at the time. But I immediately spotted two other people that I recognised; Kristin and Andrew from Columbus in Ohio. I had not noticed their faces in this particular photo before. As luck would have it, those very same two people – friends of mine for a few years now – were going to meet us in the pub on the Saturday morning before the game with Forest.

As I continually say, Chelsea World is a very small world indeed.

We were all up in London at the usual time. I was parked up at around 10am. With PD still convalescing at home, his seat in my car and his seat in the stadium was taken by Glenn, my match-going friend from Frome since as long ago as 1983.

1983. You know where this is going, right?

The next match to feature in my look back at the 1982/83 season is the iconic and famous encounter against fellow strugglers Bolton Wanderers at their Burnden Park ground on Saturday 7 May 1983. In the years that have passed since this game was played, many of our supporters have bestowed upon it the title of “the most important match in Chelsea’s history” and it is easy to see why. Going in to the game we were fourth from bottom, one point below our opponents. Chelsea had been financially at risk for many a season, and the thought of dropping into the Third Division was not only depressing enough from a supporters’ perspective – the pain, the ridicule, the struggle to recover – it would also cause an extreme strain on the immediate future of the club with reduced revenues hitting hard, despite the tightening of strings inaugurated by Ken Bates over the previous twelve months.

Although my mind was full of worry about my upcoming “A Levels” in Geography, Mathematics and Technical Drawing, this was nothing compared to my concern for my beloved Chelsea Football Club.

My diary on the day tells that when I heard on the radio of Clive Walker’s low drive in the second-half giving us a 1-0 lead, I was not too elated because all of the other protagonists at the basement were also winning. However, after all the results came through, I was overjoyed. We had risen unbelievably, to fourteenth place.

I called it “quite a wonderful day.”

With emphasis on “won” no doubt.

How many Chelsea went to the game? The gate at Bolton was 8,687. The general consensus was that we took thousands. In the following week’s home programme, Ken Bates praised the “almost three-thousand” who were there. I have to say that a photograph of the away section of the ground on that rainy day in Bolton, with Chelsea playing in the all lemon kit despite no obvious colour clash, suggests that only around 1,500 were standing in a small section of terrace. However, at the time it was always a predilection for London clubs, especially, to invade the home seats at away games, so I am in no position to suggest that we did indeed not have around 3,000 up there. I know that some Chelsea were in the seats at the other end of the ground. There is another photo of the scenes at the final whistle and a good number of Chelsea fans are seen celebrating in the upper tier above a deserted home terrace along the side of the ground. The number in this section does in fact look like 1,500. So, around 1,500 on the terrace and around 1,500 in the seats. Let’s go with 3,000.

I always remember that on my first ever trip to Bolton’s new Reebok Stadium in 2004, I picked my long-time Chelsea mate Alan up en route and he told me a few stories about the game at Burnden Park in 1983. He, it goes without saying, was one of the three-thousand. I always remember how he told the story of how Breda Lee, loved by so many, was bedecked with good luck charms as she made her way up to Bolton on the Chelsea Special. Breda had lost her son Gary after a horrific incident at Preston in 1981, and would always travel on the Chelsea Special with John Bumstead’s mother Mary, and was seen by many Chelsea fans as their “Chelsea Mother.” On this day, Alan said that she was wearing a lucky four-leafed clover trinket, a lucky horseshoe, a sprig of lucky heather and was clutching a rabbit’s foot too.

It all worked.

The victorious Chelsea team that day was as follows –

  1. Steve Francis.
  2. Joey Jones.
  3. Chris Hutchings.
  4. Gary Chivers.
  5. Micky Droy.
  6. Colin Pates.
  7. Mike Fillery.
  8. John Bumstead.
  9. Colin Lee.
  10. Paul Canoville.
  11. Clive Walker.

The non-playing substitute – hard to believe in this day and age – was Peter Rhoades-Brown. I love it that four players from this line-up (Chivers, Pates, Bumstead, Canoville) still take part in the match-day experience at Stamford Bridge forty years later as corporate hospitality hosts.

I salute them all. And I salute the 3,000 too.

Forty years on, the day was starting to take shape. I dropped Glenn and Parky off outside “The Eight Bells” and then met up with Ollie at Stamford Bridge once more, this time with his cousin Julien, both from Normandy. I often write about the gathering of the clans on match days and this was no exception. By the time I reached the pub at 11.30am, a gaggle of friends – old and new – were well into a session. Sitting alongside Glenn, Parky, Ollie and Julien were Kristin and Andrew, fresh from a few days in Edinburgh, and with some fellow Ohio Blues, Steve and Jake who I met on their visit in 2019, plus Jeromy and Neil, who were attending their first game at Stamford Bridge. We all got along famously. It was also superb to meet up again with Jesus, from California, who we last saw at Watford last season, and who was another chap that Parky took under our wing while he was living in London many years ago. Completing the scene was Russ, originally from Frome, who now lives in Reading and was attending his first home game for quite a while.

Everyone together, everyone happy.

Up on the platform at Putney Bridge tube, a few Forest fans were engaging in some light-hearted chat. The well-rounded vowels of their East Midlands accents made a change on match day in SW6.

“Bit of a free hit for us, this game, not expecting much but you never know.”

To be honest, we hadn’t thought too much about the actual match – probably with good reason – and Glenn admitted that he wasn’t expecting much from the game either. In our current predicament, the day was all about seeing friends and enjoying each other’s company.

Elsewhere in London, over twenty thousand Notts County fans were in town for the National League Play-Off Final against Chesterfield. One of them, Craig, a friend from college in Stoke, sent me a message to say he hoped that we were victorious against Forest. He hates Forest, does Craig.

I said to the Forest supporter “the only person worried the outcome of this game is a Notts County fan.”

This of course wasn’t strictly true, but it raised a laugh at least.

The front cover of the programme marked the exact twenty-fifth anniversary of our European Cup Winners’ Cup triumph in Stockholm against VfB Stuttgart.

A few personal memories…

A group of us went with the club to Stockholm, flying out from Gatwick on the day before the game, and flying back right after. It seems really expensive now, and it was then; £450 not including a match ticket. With inflation, that equates to just over £1,000 in today’s money. I drove up from Frome with Glenn and met up with Daryl, Andy, Mick, The Youth, Neil and Tony, three of whom still go to all the home games and many away games to this day. I always remember that on the coach in to the city from the airport, it became apparent that Chelsea had managed to split the hotels of a father and his teenage son. Tremendous. Thankfully, that faux pas was soon resolved.

We all stayed in a hotel a mile or so to the north of the city centre and that first night was as pleasurable as it gets. We went off for an Italian meal in a restaurant called “Pele” which was named after the Brazilian star’s 1958 World Cup debut in the city. We drank Spendrups lager and ate Italian as couples danced to the tango. It was a very surreal visit. Later, we found ourselves in a bar owned by the former Arsenal and Everton players Anders Limpar – the bar had the worst name ever, “The Limp Bar” – and he was serving that night. I remember a “sing-off” between Chelsea fans and an all-girl German choir. Another surreal moment.

On the day of the game, we bought some cans and soaked up the sun in a central park – I remember seeing Ruth Harding nearby – and then made our way to a crowded bar where Johnny Vaughan was spotted.

Then, back to the hotel and a nervous wait for the coach to the game. Once aboard, The Youth lead the community singing. Outside the Rasunda Stadium in Solna there were Chelsea everywhere. The gate for this game was 30,216 and we greatly outnumbered the Stuttgart fans. We must have had 25,000 there and I think everyone who travelled to Sweden got in. With road travel from the UK being highly expensive and time consuming, virtually everyone went by plane. At the time, it was the biggest single airlift out of the UK since World War Two.

Growing up as a Chelsea supporter, the twin cup triumphs of 1970 and 1971 were etched on our soul and in our psyche. For a while, the two stars on our chests celebrated those two wins. And here we were, twenty-six years on from Athens, with a chance to equal that celebrated feat.

This was a magnificent time to be a Chelsea supporter; some might argue the best of all. Glenn Hoddle had raised the profile of the club by reaching Europe in 1994, and then the signings came…Ruud Gullit, Mark Hughes, Gianluca Vialli, Gianfranco Zola. We were truly blessed. The 1997 FA Cup win under Gullit was followed by the League Cup under Vialli in 1998.

We all travelled to Sweden in May 1998 with a sense of being very capable of repeating that win in Athens.

Stuttgart were managed by Joachim Low and their star man was the striker Freddie Bobic. Their ‘keeper was Franz Wohlfahrt who had been on the receiving end of Spenny’s run in Vienna in 1994. The former German international Thomas Berthold played for them too.

Our team?

De Goey

Clarke – Leboeuf – Duberry – Granville

Petrescu – Poyet – Wise – Di Matteo

Flo – Vialli

Shades of Ryan Bertrand in Munich; Danny Granville at left-back. Vialli played Mark Hughes in the League Cup Final but he wasn’t missing out on this one.

At the game, I wore a Chelsea 1970 replica shirt and the scarf that my mother bought me after my first game in 1974.

In truth, the game wasn’t a classic, but the Chelsea fans were at our best that night in Sweden. The game hinged on a substitution. On seventy-one minutes, Gianfranco Zola replaced Tore Andre Flo. Within twenty-five seconds, Dennis Wise floated a ball through and the ball held up. Zola caught it sweetly on the half-volley and it rose all the way into the goal at our end. I was almost behind the flight of the ball.

Absolute fucking delirium.

I caught Glenn and Andy right after our goal.

In the last five minutes, Dan Petrescu was sent off but we were in control, the Germans were a spent force.

“Dambusters” rang out in Solna.

What a night. What a team. What a club.

Athens 1971. Stockholm 1998.

We had done it.

The euphoria was real. I have rarely been as happy at a Chelsea game. And yet most who were in Stockholm probably thought that it would not get any better than this. We were a cup team, no more, and the equalling of the 1970 and 1971 wins were seen as our “glass ceiling”. We knew we would never win the league…

We walked out into the Solna streets so happy. Famously, a local girl flashed her assets from a balcony as thousands of Chelsea fans walked past. We eventually found our coach.

Back at the airport, it was mayhem. There was coach after coach after coach in a massive line. In the terminal, we saw Ron Harris and Peter Osgood. Johnny Vaughan commented “it’s like the last chopper out of Saigon.”

The call went out that anyone on a Monarch flight should make their way to the departure gate. We sprinted. It was a matter of getting bodies on flights. We were lucky; we left at around 3am, on the same flight as actor Clive Mantle who I had photographed earlier outside the stadium.

Stockholm 1998 was one of the very best nights.

I’d rank the European wins that I have seen like this :

  1. Munich.
  2. Stockholm.
  3. Porto.
  4. Baku.
  5. Amsterdam.

Incidentally, the club’s photographs from that night were taken by Mark Sandom, who sits a few rows in front of me, and I sent away for a set when I returned home. I still need to frame one or two enlargements from that game and find space for one of them in my Blue Room.

…Solna 1998 gave way to Fulham 2023.

Unfortunately, Alan was unable to make it to this game, so I sat with Clive and Glenn in The Sleepy Hollow. There were more than a few mutterings of discontent at Frank Lampard’s starting eleven, but there was pleasure in seeing Lewis Hall at left back. In came Edouard Mendy between the sticks while Mateo Kovacic, Raheem Sterling and Joao Felix started too.

Mendy

Chalobah – Silva – Badiashile – Hall

Gallagher – Enzo – Kovacic

Madueke – Felix – Sterling

The two Thiago Silva flags appeared at both ends of the stadium just before the teams entered the pitch. The one in The Shed was particularly striking. I loved it. I also loved the words of the match day announcer as he ran through the team.

“Number six, your captain, Thiago Silva.”

Despite our struggles this season, there appeared to be a near full-house at Stamford Bridge. The three-thousand Forest fans were already singing about “mist rolling in from the Trent” and their players looked smart in their plain red / white / red, a combination – the simplest of all kits – that rarely gets seen at Stamford Bridge these days.

While we huffed and puffed in the opening section of the game, The Sleepy Hollow claimed a victim, with Glenn quietly nodding off after some alcoholic fumes rolled in from the Thames. After an unlucky thirteen minutes had passed, a Forest cross from their left from Renan Lodi was bravely met by the leap of Taiwo Awoniyi, impressive in the away game on New Year’s Day, and the combined forces of Mendy, Badiashile and Silva were found lacking. The away team, in their first real attack, had struck.

The Forest fans erupted, the scorer did his best “Christ The Redeemer” and Forest players swarmed around him down below me.

Fackinell Forest.

I sent a photo of a dormant Glenn to Alan with the caption “one down.”

Our reaction was hardly immediate, and our attacks lacked precision and incision. Noni Madueke, looking so good at Bournemouth, tended to frustrate both himself and us. On one occasion, his turn was sweet but he then fell over himself. It summed up his luck. There was a shot on seventeen minutes, our first, saved, from Sterling and an effort from Hall was then blocked. Our best effort took a whole thirty minutes to arrive; a Hall cross, a Felix header, but too close to Keylor Navas in the Forest goal.

This was a really poor first-half.

Clive helped to alleviate the pain by buying us a hot chocolate apiece.

Just before the whistle, Mateo Kovacic – who has dipped in form quite shockingly of late – was replaced by Ruben Loftus-Cheek, the perennial squad player.

I was surprised that there were so few boos at the break.

Soon into the second-half, Glenn resurfaced and Russ came over to sit by us for the duration of the game. The Sleepy Hollow had undergone a significant reshuffle. We were now back to a four. Clive, who had been near suicidal during the first-half needed cheering up.

“We’ll win this 2-1 mate.”

He smiled. Or was it a grimace?

Forest, though, began the brighter and almost doubled their lead through Moussa Niakhate but his volley was blasted wide.

On fifty-one minutes, there was a nice interchange between Madueke and Trevoh Chalobah down our right and the ball was pulled back from the goal-line by Chalobah into the feet of Sterling, whose goal bound effort took a deflection before hitting the net.

Yes.

The crowd roared as Sterling briefly celebrated.

“C’MON CHELS.”

Immediately after, Forest retaliated with a tantalisingly deep cross that just evaded the nod of a red-shirted attacker.

The crowd rallied.

“CAM ON CHOWLSEA. CAM ON CHOWLSEA. CAM ON CHOWLSEA. CAM ON CHOWLSEA.”

We were playing much better now. A few half-chances, and then on fifty-eight minutes, a strong run from Loftus-Cheek in the centre was followed by a prod of the ball to Sterling, who cut inside and left his marker Joe Worrall on his arse before perfectly curling an effort into the top far corner of the goal.

Bliss.

GET IN YOU BASTARD.

His celebration, this time, was far more euphoric, and so was ours.

Clive was full of praise : “you called it.”

But this was Chelsea 2023, not Chelsea 2009 – that photo from Baltimore succinctly illustrates the cyclical nature of our sport’s teams – and just four minutes later, a ball was pushed into the six-yard box by Orel Mangala and I immediately feared danger. The ball was headed home by that man Awoniyi, with another unmarked team mate alongside him to give him moral support and guidance, with Mendy was beaten all ends up. A VAR review couldn’t save us.

Double European Champions Chelsea 2 Double European Champions Forest 2.

On seventy-three minutes, Kai Havertz replaced Felix and Hakim Ziyech replaced Madueke.

Clive threatened to leave.

I tried to give him hope.

“Sterling hat-trick mate.”

He definitely grimaced this time. But so did I.

Every time that Ziyech got the ball, either in the middle of a wriggling, shuffling dribble, or at a free-kick, I genuinely expected him to provide some magic. To be fair, his brief outing was not without merit but we could not, quite, claim the winner.

It ended 2-2.

The away fans celebrated loudly inside Stamford Bridge and out on the Fulham Road. This was a big point for them in their dogged fight to avoid an immediate relegation back to the Second Division, er The Championship.

The day seemed to be all about Nottingham. On the drive home, we were to learn that Craig’s Notts County dramatically edged out Chesterfield at Wembley, so well done to them. Forty years ago, Notts finished in a respectable fifteenth place in the First Division.

Talk about cycles.

Next up is the toughest away game of them all. I am fearing our trip to Manchester City next Sunday.

Anyone dare to join me?

Baltimore.

London.

Stockholm.

Tales From A Happy And Victorious Afternoon At The Vitality

Bournemouth vs. Chelsea : 6 May 2023.

Yet another crazy Chelsea season was nearing completion. There were five games left; three away, two home. The next match was Bournemouth away, the easiest of trips for me.

With PD resting at home and out of action until the new season, we called in a last minute replacement. Mark, from nearby Westbury, was able to pick up a spare ticket and would join Parky – recovering after his own hospital appointment this week – and little old me as I made my way from Somerset to Wiltshire to Dorset, via the slightest of incursions into Hampshire.

I left home just after 7.30am. I knew that a few fans had already travelled down on Friday to make a weekend of it. I collected Parky at 8am and I picked Mark up in the Market Place in Westbury at 8.25am.

This brought back memories from almost forty years ago. The first time that I ever met Mark was on a trip up to London to see Chelsea play Leeds United in April 1984 when we went up in the same car. The driver was Mark’s mate Gary, but he has not been seen for years. Also in the car was PD and Glenn who obviously still go. Thirty-nine years later, four out of five ain’t bad, is it? We beat Leeds 5-0 that day and on the way back to Frome, we stopped off at the Market Place in Westbury and enjoyed an evening pint in “The Crown”.

My route from Westbury was simple enough; down the A350 to Warminster and then down the A36 to Salisbury, then the A338 – via a brief stretch on the A331 – to Bournemouth. As the crow flies, from my house, it is an hour and a half. With my two pick-ups, it took me two hours and ten minutes.

I had not seen Mark since the away game in Milan, so we had a good old catching-up session while I ate up the miles. We agreed on lots of things.

“Why hasn’t Badiashile featured at all? He was calm and efficient in his starts. Since then, nothing.”

“Can’t understand what Frank sees in Sterling. Hope he doesn’t start today.”

“Mudryk is a raw talent and needs game time.”

“In a four, no reason why Chalobah can’t play right back.”

“I like Enzo, though.”

For some reason, I fancied us to win at Bournemouth. I told everyone that I met before the game that “we surely can’t lose all our matches this season?” Although I was never sucked into believing that we had a bona fide relegation fight on our hands, we knew that a win would make us mathematically safe.

In fact, deep down, I suspected that those in our support that were genuinely worried about relegation had not really understood the complexities involved in a relegation struggle. I also think that some of our newer fans were almost revelling in a mock concern about this alleged relegation fight to help them get some “sufferance” brownie points among their peers.

For those who have been reading about 1982/83 this season…now then…THAT was a relegation fight.

I dropped Parky and Marky off outside “The Moon In The Square” and joined them a few minutes later. We breakfasted like kings while many in the pub sat watching the royal coronation on TV.

We met up with a few friends and the time soon passed.

At 1.30pm, we drove the ten minutes out to the Vitality Stadium, spotting a few Chelsea fans along the way. I squeezed my car into the allotted “JustPark” space on Holdenhurst Road and made my way towards the away end. It was ironic that while we have enjoyed many fine days out in Bournemouth since 2016, from October to April, here we were in May and there was drizzle in the air.

I stood alongside Gal, John and Al in the fifth row.

Just before the teams appeared, the noisy and overly-enthusiastic PA announcer pleaded for each of the individual four stands in turn to make “noise for the boys” and my eyes continually rolled.

The teams stood at the centre-circle and “God Save The King” was sung with gusto by all.

As the players lined up in readiness of the kick-off – we attacked our “end” in the first-half, not usually the case here – I absolutely loved Frank’s choice of a starting line-up.

I checked position by position. It was the team that I would have picked in a 4/3/3.

Kepa

Chalobah – Silva – Badiashile – Chilwell

Kante – Enzo – Gallagher

Mudryk – Havertz – Madueke

Did Frank read the comments in my Arsenal blog?

I relaxed knowing that Raheem and Pierre-Emerick were not involved.

The drizzle had mostly petered out but the floodlights were still on. I noticed a surprising number of empty seats in the home areas. Sadly, a fair few were not filled behind me in our section. I find it inconceivable that one of the top fifteen clubs in Europe can’t fill all 1,200 tickets for an away game just one hundred miles away.

It was an open start to the game. The home team – ouch, those nasty zig-zag stripes – created a couple of tasty chances, but Kepa spread himself at his near post to save our blushes while another flashed past a post.

There were a couple of positive chants in support of Frank in those first few minutes.

“Super, Super Frank…”

“Scored two hundred…”

My man Noni Madueke had settled in well on the right flank, twisting and turning, running past defenders, a threat. On just nine minutes, from that right flank, Trevoh Chalobah touched the ball to N’Golo Kante who had time to cross. Conor Galagher moved towards its flight glanced it in at the far post past the marvellously named Neto.

GETINYOUBASTARD.

I just couldn’t bring myself to sing along to the “we are staying up” chants, nor could the young lad next to me. I get the desire for self-deprecation.

But.

Just.

Not.

Right.

Now.

Enzo set up Chalobah but Neto saved well. We looked neat on the ball, with Enzo looking to play in whoever he could whenever he could. Alas, on twenty-one minutes, Dominic Solanke and Ryan Christie set up Matias Vina who ghosted past defenders and, as he set himself up for a shot, I absolutely feared the worst. His lofted curler was perfectly placed beyond the reach of Kepa.

The game was tied 1-1.

I liked the way that Madueke feared nobody as he attacked down the right. His shots on goal showed confidence even if his shot selection and execution were awry. Down our left, seemingly within touching distance, a growing relationship between Gallagher and Mudryk was starting to flourish. The Ukrainian is certainly fast.

I glimpsed into the future at the potential of our very own “M & M” boys – “Mad/Mud” anyone? – causing havoc down the wings, the days of Arjen Robben and Damien Duff reincarnated perhaps, if not the days of Peter Rhoades-Brown and Phil Driver.

Ah, 1983.

Forty years ago, on Friday 6 May, I had an uneventful day at school but the twin nightmares of “A Levels” and a probable relegation were lying heavily on my mind. The very next day – Saturday 7 May 1983 – Chelsea were to visit Bolton Wanderers, one point and one place above Chelsea, in a pure “relegation six pointer”, and my diary noted that if we lost I felt that we would surely be relegated.

Despite seeing the game against Bournemouth being advertised by a few people, who really should have known better, as a “relegation six pointer”, this game wasn’t. It really wasn’t.

We were decent enough in that first-half and at the break I was quietly confident that my pre-game prediction of a Chelsea win would prevail. Kante was producing another 8/10 performance and while he is in the midfield, and Thiago Silva is in defence, we have a chance.

We lost our way a little at the start of the second-half, however, and while Bournemouth created a few chances, we slowed.

I turned to Gal : “Havertz always wants to take one touch too many, doesn’t he?”

This was a strange game now. There were patches of quality; we loved a magical twist out on the touchline from Madueke that made his marker look foolish. This had us all purring. But these were matched by moments of farce; an optimistic volley from Kante went high and so wide that the ball didn’t even leave the pitch.

The pro-Frank songs continued. However, on sixty-three minutes, he had us scratching our heads.

Ruben Loftus-Cheek for Kante.

He was our best player. There was no midweek game to worry about. Was he carrying a knock?

Raheem Sterling for Mudryk.

Oh bloody hell, Raheem…you again?

In the away section, things were getting a little testy. A chant for Roman Abramovich was loud, and an undoubted reaction to the substitutions that seemed to exemplify the current, failing, regime. A chant about the current owner was more forthright.

“Boehly – you’re a cunt.”

There were punches exchanged between two Chelsea fans a few seats behind me.

Christie blasted over. A superb sliding tackle on Solanke by Silva inside the penalty area went to VAR, but there was no foul. Havertz took an extra touch as he broke in on goal from an angle and the moment was lost.

The game rumbled on, with the mood seeming to change inside the away section every few minutes. Ben Chilwell pulled up on the far side and we feared the worst. Dave replaced him. At the same time, Hakim Ziyech replaced Madueke.

The appearance of Hakeem didn’t thrill me, or many, with much joy, but he hugged the near touchline and looked to cause trouble with that tip-tapping style of his.

Vina was clean in on goal to my left, but Kepa made an absolutely brilliant shot, his arm outstretched, strong wrists, magnificent. A Ziyech cross found the head of Havertz, but the effort was saved. On seventy-eight minutes, a corner was headed back across the face of the goal but Dango Ouattara headed over from virtually underneath the bar.

At this stage, it seemed we had lost the momentum and that a Bournemouth goal would be the typical, obvious, sad conclusion.

“Why did I think we’d fucking win this?”

On eighty-two minutes, Sterling and Ziyech stood over the ball at a free-kick on the right hand side of their defensive third. Ziyech floated an in swinging curler towards the penalty spot. The cross had everything. It always looked like it might trouble the defence and ‘keeper. The trajectory, pace and dip were all to perfection. A few Chelsea players rose and the leg of my boy Badiashile flicked the ball past Neto.

The net rippled beautifully.

YES!

His joyous run and slide was lovely to see, his smile wide.

We were back in front.

Phew.

Another substitution, just after, Joao Felix for Havertz.

“How long to go, Gal?”

“Six minutes.”

“Let’s hang on.”

The Chelsea crowd were rocking now.

“We’re gonna have a party, when Arsenal fuck it up.”

On ninety minutes, a beautiful run by under-fire Sterling set up Felix who calmly slotted the ball low past Neto.

I screamed my joy at this one. The game was safe.

AFCB 1 CFC 3.

What a beautiful sight.

These were good times now at The Vitality.

“…when Arsenal fuck it up.”

One win doesn’t make a season, but this bugger was a long time coming. After six consecutive losses, at last three points for Chelsea, and for Frank.

After the game, the players walked over to reciprocate our applause for them. We were happy. They were grateful.

Back in the car, we realised that we had risen to eleventh place.

I made a very quick exit out, and dropped Salisbury Steve off on the way back. I was home by 7.30pm.

Easy.

Next up, two-time European Champions Chelsea take on two-time European Champions Nottingham Forest at Stamford Bridge.

See you there.

Tales From A Masterpiece

Chelsea vs. Borussia Dortmund : 7 March 2023.

On a night of high drama at a wonderfully noisy Stamford Bridge, as Chelsea undoubtedly produced the finest performance of a deeply frustrating season, we defeated Borussia Dortmund 2-0 with goals in each half from the boots of Raheem Sterling and Kai Havertz, this from a twice-taken penalty, to secure our passage into the Champions League quarter finals once again.

It was always going to be a long day for me, this one. I had set the alarm for 4.30am so I could do an irregular 6am to 2pm shift. Thankfully, traffic was light on the way into London and at 4.30pm, I was parked up at Bramber Road between the North End Road and Queens Club. Heaven knows what time I’d be reaching my Somerset village after the game.

Throughout the day I had been quietly confident of us progressing against Dortmund. I felt sure that their 1-0 lead from the first leg could be overturned. I just felt it in my water. I had to smile when my fellow Frome Town supporter Steve, who would be watching the home game against Bashley – another team that plays in yellow shirts and black shorts – commented that he hoped both Yellow Walls would come tumbling down. Quite.

Pre-match was spent flitting between Stamford Bridge to chat to a couple of friends, a chip shop on Fulham Broadway for sustenance and “Simmons” to meet up with the usual suspects.

Just outside the Shed End, I chatted briefly to Mark M.

“I think we’ll do it. I think those buggers will raise their game and we’ll go through.”

And this was one of the main reasons why I was predicting a win and a safe passage into the next round. Myself and many others could not help but think that the Chelsea players, with just this one remaining trophy left to win in this dullest of seasons, were very likely indeed to go all out for a win against Dortmund. And yes, that would raise questions about desire and commitment to the cause in more mundane fixtures, but Mark smiled when he replied.

“Rather have us go through with that the case, rather than the alternative though.”

On the approach to the West Stand, supporters were being confronted by our very own yellow wall of hi-vis wearing stewards, a long line of them, who were asking for punters to show match tickets. It was calling out for a photograph and I duly snapped away. I was more than optimistic that the night would be supremely photogenic.

As I began to wolf down a saveloy and chips inside the busy chippy, I made room alongside me for a Dortmund fan. I had walked past “McGettigans” just as he had been in a discussion with a bouncer about being admitted into the pub. It didn’t surprise me that he had been turned away. We began chatting and I explained that I had attended the first leg. I also bravely retold the story of my “phantom trip” to see Borussia in 1987, hoping that he – Klaus, with his daughter alongside him – would understand my English. He was originally from Dortmund but now lives in Bonn. It was his first ever visit to London for a Champions League game. I again remained confident about a passage into the quarters and I told them so. As I sidled past them on leaving, I shook Klaus’ hand and said “when we beat you later tonight, you’ll remember this conversation.”

I then bumped into Mark W.

“Just walked up from Putney. There’s loads of them down there. In loads of pubs.”

It was no surprise that the Germans had travelled over in numbers. We had heard ridiculous stories of how many Eintracht Frankfurt supporters had descended on the capital in previous years and it was now the turn of the yellow and black hordes from Westphalia.

In the bar, my confidence was still surprisingly high. Jason and Gina from Dallas, remaining in London from the Leeds game, met up for a quick chat before disappearing off for a pre-match meal in one of the banqueting suites. I could sense that the mood in the small bar was buoyant. You could taste it in the air.

“Just need to avoid conceding an early goal.”

I walked up the Fulham Road with Parky. I was aware that the younger element in our support had planned a Liverpool-style welcome for the Dortmund coach outside the main gates between 5.30pm and 6pm – flares, noise – but I had not heard how well that had gone.

I was soon inside.

The three-thousand away fans were already occupying their allotted zone, though the section was configured slightly differently than the away area for a domestic league game; more in the lower, less in the upper, I know not why.

At 7.30pm, news filtered through that the kick-off had been delayed until 8.10pm. I wondered if the fans’ “welcome” had caused this.

We heard the team, a trusted 3-4-3.

Kepa

Koulibaly – Fofana – Cucarella

James – Enzo – Kovacic – Chilwell

Sterling – Havertz – Felix

For some reason, Chelsea had decided to position two blowers at either end of the West Stand, pitch-side, and for a few minutes before the pre-game ceremony really got going, these blew dry-ice into the air. I must admit that it added to the atmosphere and the sense of drama despite me preferring fan-led initiatives.

Clive : “Gary Numan is on the pitch next.”

Indeed, how very 1980.

Next up, a laser light show. Again dramatic, but it was as if we were being spoon-fed our atmosphere rather than being able to create our own.

Then the entrance of the teams. I’ll say it once again; I much preferred the dramatic walk across the pitch and the line-ups in front of the West Stand.

The game was almost upon us.

Tick tock.

Tick tock.

Tick tock.

But first, it was time for the away fans, seemingly all bedecked in yellow and black scarves, to give us all a show. It was, I have to say, stunning. Just as the teams stood for the anthem, scarves were held aloft. Then, a first for me, the Borussia players sprinted over to the away corner to show their appreciation. By now, the mosaic depicting many of our players was draped over both tiers of The Shed.

And then.

And then the yellow flares took over the away section, then the whole Shed End, then that part of the pitch. Alan likened it to a scene from the trenches of Picardy when mustard gas floated terrifyingly across battle lines. The scene reminded me of a Turner painting of the River Thames that I had recently seen at the art gallery in Liverpool; a yellow wash with broad brush strokes.

I wondered what masterpiece was going to unfold on the canvas before me.

This was it then. A massive game. Up until now, our season had been decidedly patchy, like one of those hideous denim jackets – “Kutte” – that many German football fans love to wear to games, but here was one easy path to redemption. Win this one boys and most – not all – will be forgotten.

Into them Chelsea.

We began so well, with some deep penetration – especially down the Chilwell and Felix flank – bringing us immediate joy, despite us watching the action through a cadmium yellow haze.

I was so pleased to see Julian Brandt, one of their best players in Germany three weeks ago, being substituted after just five minutes. The man mountain of Niklas Sule still stood in our way, though.

Our fine start – a header from Kalidou Koulibaly, a shot from Kai Havertz – helped to stir up a noisy reaction from us.

But the sight of all that yellow smoke drifting into the cold evening air, plus those sulphurous notes hitting our senses too, had set the tone. We were up for the vocal battle.

The atmosphere was bloody fantastic.

Even though I had seen many obvious tourist-types during my wanderings pre-match, wearing far too many friendship scarves for my liking, the old-school support had reacted so well in those early minutes. Again there had been a collective decision to ignore doubts about Graham Potter and to simply support.

And how.

The noise boomed around Stamford Bridge.

After having the best of the first fifteen minutes, the away team then had a little spell. Fearing danger, Alan had begun to share his packet of “Maynard Wine Gums”, our European good-luck charm for many a season – I have a ‘photo of Alan with a packet before the Vicenza game twenty-five years ago – and we managed to ride the storm.

There was, however, one moment of high drama. There was a foul in “Ward-Prowse” territory and Marco Reus – who did not play in the first-game – struck a fine free kick towards goal. Kepa flung himself across the goal to save well.

Phew.

A goal then would have been catastrophic.

Despite our keen start, the away team were now bossing the possession but we looked confident when we broke. As the minutes passed, it became an even game. At times we struggled a little to win the ball.

But the noise still gratifyingly rose out of the stands.

On twenty-seven minutes, a wicked cross from Reece James was whipped into the six-yard box but without anyone arriving to meet it. The ball rebounded out to Havertz who unleashed a thunderous strike goal wards goal. The effort slammed against one post and then seemed to spin slowly across the face of the goal, again with nobody close, and off it went for a goal kick.

Fackinell.

Next up, more drama. Chelsea on top again. The noise booming. A Raheem Sterling shot – after a run from deep – was saved but the ball reached Havertz. Cool as you like, the German curled an exquisite effort up and into the far top corner. I celebrated wildly but soon saw an off-side flag.

“Yeah, to be fair, Sterling did look offside.”

This was good stuff.

“Bellingham is quiet, in’ee?”

The whole stadium was now one huge unit.

“CAM ON CHOWLSEA. CAM ON CHOWLSEA. CAM ON CHOWLSEA. CAM ON CHOWLSEA.”

Next, a chance for Koulibaly was fluffed but the ball ran on to Felix but his shot was straight at Alexander Meyer in the Borussia goal. Then a shot from Chilwell, attacking space so well, but his effort went wide.

“Be brilliant to get a goal just before the break.”

Throughout the first-half, it was reassuring to see Marc Cucarella playing so well. His game was full of incisive tackles and intelligent passing. A huge plus.

With forty-three minutes on the clock, a move developed on our strong left flank. Often in this half Havertz was to be found in a slightly deeper role with Sterling in the middle up top. On this occasion, the ball was moved out of defence by Cucarella. The ball found Havertz who wriggled away down the left – liquid gold – and he then back-heeled to Mateo Kovacic who kept the ball moving. A cross from Chilwell was zipped in to the waiting Sterling. He stabbed at the ball but completely missed it. He did well to get to the ball again, take a touch and blast the ball goal wards. In the blink of an eye, the ball rose to hit the net high.

The Bridge shook.

GET IN YOU BASTARD.

Euphoria? You bet. Perfect timing. Perfect.

The players celebrated in front of the away fans. Snigger. Snigger.

At half-time, everything was good in my world, your world, our world.

In 1983, things were…different.

After the win at home to Blackburn Rovers, Chelsea travelled over to The Valley to play Charlton Athletic. The date was Saturday 5 March 1983. The result was horrific. We were 2-0 down at half-time and we went on to lose 5-2. Our scorers were Colin Lee and Pop Robson. The attendance was 11,211. I remember seeing highlights from this game on YouTube a couple of years ago. I saw half-baked football with the stadium at quarter capacity. I would advise against anyone doing the same. The former European footballer of the year in 1977 Allan Simonsen scored one of the five Charlton goals. Things were at a low ebb again.

Never mind, help was on hand. My diary noted that Bob Latchford, then at Swansea City, was going to join us on Saturday.

He didn’t.

Let’s get back to 2023 sharpish.

The second-half began and we were attacking the Matthew Harding as is our wont. We began the half in the same way that we had finished the first.

Again, this was good stuff.

After five minutes, there was an attack, developed well from right to left, that ended up with a cross from Chilwell that eventually resulted in a shot, saved, from Kovacic. But there had been a shout for handball, strangely not by myself, as the cross was whipped in.

Some of the crowd shouted “VAR”.

Fuck that.

We went to VAR.

The usual delay.

Then the referee was asked to check the TV monitor.

I chatted to Alan : “The longer these take, the better likelihood of a penalty. If they look at the TV, even more so.”

Penalty.

I didn’t cheer, I just can’t.

Havertz had the ball, carrying it, waiting for the protestations to pass.

A slow run up, a halt, a wait, a strike.

It hit the post.

The ball was cleared.

Fackinell Chels.

But, salvation.

Unbeknown to me, there had been encroachment.

The TV screen told the story.

“Straftsossausfuhrung Unerfrufung” gave way to “Betreten Des Strafraums. Wiederholung Des Strafstosses.”

Anyway, the whatever, the kick was to be retaken.

“Havertz again. Not convinced. Think he’ll miss again.”

A few fellow sufferers in the Sleepy Hollow were looking away. They could not dare to see it. I watched.

The same, lame, run up. The same side. In.

YES!

Pandemonium in the Sleepy Hollow, pandemonium at Stamford Bridge, pandemonium everywhere.

On aggregate, Chelsea 2 Borussia Dortmund 1.

Deep breaths, deep breaths.

On the hour, Stamford Bridge was again as one.

“We all follow the Chelsea.”

There was a clear chance for Jude Bellingham, but remarkably he volleyed wide.

Conor Gallagher replaced Joao Felix. The substitute provided fresh legs and kept our momentum going. But as the night grew older, and as the remaining wine gums were eked out between Alan, Clive and little old me, the nerves began to be tested.

A save by Kepa from Marius Wolf as the ball flew in.

On seventy-five minutes, Sterling raced through but I thought he was offside. He advanced, passed to Gallagher, goal. The flag was raised for the initial offside.

Tick tock.

Tick tock.

Tick tock.

On eighty-three minutes, Potter changed personnel.

Christian Pulisic – who? – for Sterling.

Ruben Loftus-Cheek for Kovacic.

On eight-seven minutes, one final change.

Denis Zakaria for Enzo.

An extra six minutes of extra-time were signalled so Alan turned his stopwatch on.

I lived every tackle, every pass. The stopwatch passed six minutes, it entered the seventh. I watched the moment that the referee blew up.

Phew.

We were there.

Superb.

“One Step Beyond” boomed and I hurriedly put away my camera before turning to leave. All around me were smiling faces.

“See you at Leicester, Al.”

I needed to put something up on “Facebook” and it soon came to me.

“We Are Chelsea. We Do Europe.”

This has clearly been a difficult season and the football has, by our high standards, been very poor for more than this current campaign. But this game was so gorgeous to be part of. It was a complete joy to, at last, witness a proper game of football – “just like we used to” – with the added bonus of an active and energised crowd adding support and noise.

A masterpiece? It felt like it. Absolutely. It was one of those great Chelsea nights.

Walking along the Fulham Road, everyone seemed to be smiling. There were chants and songs. Along the North End Road, a car played “Blue Is The Colour” while one of the song’s original singers walked alongside me. It was a lovely moment.

“Cus Chelsea, Chelsea is our name.”

The car continued on, now “toot-tooting” its horn as it disappeared into the night.

Everyone was super-happy on the drive home.

I eventually reached my house at 1.30am, just as snow started to fall, but I knew that I would not be able to crash straight away. My mind was still flying around – “Benfica next round please” – and I was able to upload a photo or two onto the internet. At just after 2.30am, I must have fallen asleep.

4.30am to 2.30am, mission accomplished.

See you at Leicester.

Tales From The Bridgford Stand

Nottingham Forest vs. Chelsea : 1 January 2023.

I have detailed our season from forty years ago during the current campaign’s match reports and although many performances in 1982/83 were poor, very poor, I am sure that I would have concluded each of the four games that I physically attended in that season from long ago with a spirited round of clapping to show my support of the team, my team.

After the final whistle blew at Nottingham Forest’s City Ground on the first day of 2023, I gathered my belongings – camera, baseball cap – and began shuffling out along the row to the aisle, not wanting to lose any time before exiting the stadium and beginning the long drive home. I just didn’t feel that I could justify even the most basic show of support for the team. I couldn’t even be bothered to see how many players, if any, had walked over to our allotted corner of the Bridgford Stand to thank the fans.

And it brings me no joy to report this either. No joy at all. But it’s a sure sign that I don’t have much of a bond with this current set of players, unlike in days gone by.

My mantra has always been “players play, managers manage and supporters support” and although I still stand by these basic principles, there are occasions in my Chelsea-supporting life when the last part of this “Holy Trinity” of Chelsea fundamentalism becomes oh-so difficult.

Sigh.

Let’s not kid ourselves. That second-half performance at relegation-haunted Forest was dire.

So let’s leave 2023 for the moment and go back in time.

I have a few stories to tell.

The next match from forty years ago to re-tell is the West London derby at Stamford Bridge against Fulham that took place on 28 December 1982. Going in to the game, Chelsea were two thirds of the way down the Second Division in fourteenth place, with a chance of promotion looking very unlikely. Our local neighbours, however, were riding high. They had been promoted from the Third Division in 1981/82 and were a surprise package the following season, and were currently in third place behind QPR and Wolves.

In the mini “West London League” of the 1982/83 Division Two season, dear reader, Chelsea were third of three.

But that didn’t stop the huge sense of anticipation that I felt as I set off with my parents as we made our way up to London for this game. I can remember we stopped off at Hungerford on the A4 for me to buy a newspaper and I was elated with the size of the gates that had attended games the previous day. Now it was Chelsea’s turn.

Back in October, there had been a fine crowd for the visit of Leeds United, but I knew only too well that a sizeable proportion of that crowd had been lured to Stamford Bridge for the thrill and buzz of a potential set-to with the Yorkshire club’s support. For the Fulham game, the allure would be of a purely footballing nature, and I wasn’t sure if that would increase numbers or reduce them.

To be truthful, I can’t remember a great deal about the game. I was in The Shed, my preferred position towards the tea bar but just under the roof, just above the walkway. My parents watched the game from virtually the back row of the towering East Stand having bought tickets on the day. Fulham were in all red, and were backed by a pretty decent following on the large north terrace.

The Chelsea team?

Steve Francis, Joey Jones, Chris Hutchings, Gary Chivers, Micky Droy, Colin Pates, Clive Walker, John Bumstead, David Speedie, Alan Mayes (Mike Fillery), Peter Rhoades-Brown.

My diary notes that it was all one-way traffic in the second-half and we really should have sewn it up. Just like the Leeds game in October, it ended 0-0. But the real star of the show was the attendance figure of 29,797, and this bowled me over.

I have a distinct memory of waiting outside between The Shed and the East Stand for my parents to appear and being mesmerised by the thousands upon thousands of people streaming out of the ground. I waited for ages for my Mum and Dad to finally show up.

29,797.

I can hardly believe it forty years later.

1982 was an odd year for Stamford Bridge attendances. Despite us averaging just 13,133 in 1981/82 and 12,728 in 1982/83 during the Second Division league campaigns, the old ground served up a volley of super gates during that year.

In early 1982, we drew 41,412 for the game against Liverpool in the fifth round of the FA Cup, quickly followed by 42,557 for Tottenham’s visit in the Quarter Finals. Then, in the latter part of the year, Stamford Bridge witnessed 25,358 for the visit of Leeds United in October to be trumped by the huge gate of 29,797 against Fulham.

Many Chelsea supporters of my generation often quote the huge gate at Christmas in 1976 for the home game with Fulham as a quick and easy response to the “WWYWYWS?” barbs of opposing fans. With Chelsea riding high in the Second Division, and with George Best and Bobby Moore playing for Fulham, a massive crowd of 55,003 flocked to Stamford Bridge on 27 December 1976.

It’s some figure, eh?

Yet I think the 29,797 figure in 1982/83 is even more remarkable.

In 1976/77, our average home attendance in the league was a healthy 30,552.

55,003 equated to 1.8 times the average.

Yet in 1982/83, we floundered all season long and our average gate was a lowly 12,728.

Here, the 29,797 gate equated to 2.3 times the average.

Put it this way, if the Fulham gate of 1976 had matched the 1982 coefficient, it would have been a ridiculous 71,524.

Regardless, these were huge numbers, in both years, for Second Division football.

On New Year’s Day 1983, Chelsea travelled to Gay Meadow, the quaint home of Shrewsbury Town and lost 2-0 in front of 7,545.

Oh my bloody God.

1983 was going to be a tough year.

But I still look back upon those times with a lot of fondness. I suspect that the Chelsea players were on four of five times my father’s weekly wage as a shopkeeper, and I certainly felt – undoubtedly – that they were my team. A few of the players were only a few years older than me. There was a bond, no doubt. And I love it that three of the players who lined up against Fulham forty years ago – Pates, Bumstead and Chivers – are still part of the match day scene at Stamford Bridge as hosts for the corporate hospitality crowd.

In forty years’ time I can’t imagine the same being said of any of the current squad, some of whom earn in a week what I earn in several years.

It’s a different ball game, eh?

Fast forward forty years and we find ourselves on New Year’s Day 2023.

My car was full as I made my way north; alongside me in the front was Paul, while in the back seat were Donna, her son Colby and Parky. I had set off from my Somerset village at 9.30am. By 2pm, I found myself edging towards the Trent Bridge county cricket ground, with the floodlights of the City Ground beyond. As I turned right along Radcliffe Road, I spotted the large “Trent Bridge Inn” and my mind raced back to 1987.

On my first-ever visit to Nottingham Forest, in late February, I had travelled by train from Stoke with my football-mad mate Bob, a Leeds United supporter from Bramley in West Yorkshire. And, quite unlike me, I had totally forgotten that we had dived into this pub before the game.

My diary tells of the day.

We had caught the 11.07am from Stoke to Nottingham, changing at Derby, and the fare was only £2.30. Celery was all the rage at Chelsea in those days, and Bob took a photo of myself brandishing a clump of the afore-mentioned “apium graveolens” on Trent Bridge with the City Ground in the background.

We bought £5.50 tickets in the away section of the main Executive Stand and then sunk a few pints in the pub. After a pie at a local chippy, we got in at 2.45pm. I can well remember large piles of celery outside the turnstiles after some supporters were searched and the offending vegetable taken off them. The local police were quite bemused that so many of our away support were bringing the stuff to the game. I must have hidden my stash in my voluminous jacket because I remember throwing the stuff around at key moments once inside. We had around 1,500 in the seats and maybe the same number on the open terrace to my left. I wasn’t impressed with their rather poxy home end, the simple Trent End terrace with its basic roof. My good mate Alan was a few seats in front of me.

It wasn’t a great game, but I made a note that Micky Hazard played well in midfield. A goal from Pat Nevin on sixty-five minutes gave us the points but we had to rely on a fine penalty save from Tony Godden, late on, from Gary Birtles to secure the win. The gate was 18,317.

I caught up with Al on the walk back to the station, but we had to wait a while for the 6pm train to Derby. At Derby, I devoured another pie – and chips – and then Bob and I stopped for a few more pints outside the station before catching the 8.09pm home. On returning to Stoke, we narrowly missed a ruck at our students’ union involving some Blackpool fans, whose team had played at nearby Port Vale that afternoon. Such was life in ‘eighties Britain.

Pies, pints, cheap rail travel, pay-on-the-day football, celery and ad hoc violence lurking like a dark shadow.

Oh the glamour of it all. But I would not have missed it for the world.

I was parked up at my JustPark space on Radcliffe Road at 2.15pm. We walked towards the “Larwood & Voce” pub but this was home fans only. Next up was the “Trent Bridge Inn” but this was home fans only too unlike in 1987. Eventually, we headed over the bridge towards Notts County’s Meadow Lane stadium where their bar was open for away fans. But I didn’t fancy the queues so excused myself and set off on a little mooch around the City Ground. Both of the football stadia and the cricket ground are all with easy reach of each other. It’s a real sporting sub-section of the city.

This would be my first visit to the City Ground since February 1999 and only my third visit ever. I must admit that it felt so odd to be walking around the same area almost twenty-four years after the last time. On that day, with Chelsea very much in the hunt for the league title, I had travelled up to the game with my then girlfriend Judy. On that occasion, we had managed to get served in the “Larwood & Voce” and I remember it being full of Chelsea.

Forest were fighting a losing battle against relegation and Chelsea easily won 3-1 with two goals from Bjarne Goldbaek and one from Mikael Forssell. Pierre van Hooijdonk scored for them. We had seats in the lower tier of the Bridgford End towards the small stand along the side, close to the corner flag. The gate was 26,351.

What I remember most from this game took place in the busy car park after the match had long finished. I had decided to wait for the Chelsea players to board their coach back to London to hopefully take a few photos, and I have to say there were fans everywhere. It wasn’t exactly “Beatlemania” but not far off.

Now then, I have to say that Judy absolutely adored our manager Gianluca Vialli and she was keen to meet him. I snapped away in the melee and took photos of a few players including Marcel Desailly, Frank Leboeuf and Vialli. All of a sudden, I had lost Judy. I then spotted her, next to Vialli, looking all doe-eyed. After a few moments, she walked towards me with a huge grin on her face.

Luca had autographed the back of her hand. She was ecstatic, bless her.

So, as I walked down a little road towards the slight main stand, the colour red everywhere, and across that same car park, my mid cartwheeled back to early 1999, another time but the same place.

There are plans afoot to replace the stand on this side with an impressive new structure. Once built, the stadium will hold 35,000. I could not help but notice Forest’s two stars everywhere. They won the European Cup in 1979 and 1980 in a period when English teams completely dominated football’s main prize.

1977 : Liverpool.

1978 : Liverpool.

1979 : Nottingham Forest.

1980 : Nottingham Forest.

1981 : Liverpool.

1982 : Aston Villa.

With both Chelsea and Forest able to sport two stars apiece, was I hopeful for a high octane four-star game of football?

No, sadly not.

I wolfed down a hot dog with onions, then a quick spin around to the away turnstiles. This time, Chelsea were allocated the side towards the Executive Stand which is now named the Brian Clough Stand. I was standing around twenty-five yards away from where I watched in 1987. I chatted to Jonesy, who did not miss a single match in 1982/83, and still has the mental scars to this day.

I sidled up alongside Gal and John – Al was unable to make it this time – and Parky soon joined us too.

My third ever game at Nottingham Forest and the first game of 2023 was moments away.

Our team was announced.

Kepa

Dave – Silva – Koulibaly – Cucarella

Zakaria – Jorginho – Mount

Pulisic – Havertz – Sterling

Faithless’ “Insomnia” was played before the game began. Additionally, there was a minute of applause for Pele, the World’s greatest ever player.

Rest In Peace.

I was soon distracted by a rather wordy banner on the balcony at the two-tiered Trent End.

“The Garibaldi that we wear with pride was made in 1865.”

I had to enquire to what that referred but I presumed it was the type of shirt. In fact, it was the colour of the shirt. What was it with the people of Nottingham and Italy? Forest choosing the colour of an Italian general and County giving Juventus their black and white stripes.

Chelsea attacked our end in the first-half. That’s not usually the case at away games. It felt odd. We began with much of the ball, with the home team hardly having a sniff. In the first part of the game, many of our moves inevitably involved moving the ball to the two central defenders, Silva and Koulibaly, who dropped aerial bombs into the Forest box.

Silva, I can understand. Koulibaly, not so.

Regardless, there were a couple of half-chances, nothing more.

The home fans were soon singing a dirge that I remembered from 1999 if not 1987.

“City Ground.

Oh mist rolling in from the Trent.

My desire is always to be here.

Oh City Ground.”

This song was from 1977/78 when Forest won the league under Cloughie. The badge from that era still features on their shirt to this day. I am not going to describe it as a design classic, but it’s not far off. It always seemed to be ahead of its time when it debuted as long ago as 1973. It still looks decent to this day, though I still squirm at the lower case “e” being used. It is almost perfection.

On then minutes, right against the run of play, Morgan Gibbs-White sent a ball through for Brennan Johnson but Kepa was able to save his low effort and the follow-up too.

It was a warning against complacency.

A couple more half-chances for us, but nothing concrete.

On sixteen minutes, Mason Mount pushed the ball to Christian Pulisic who chose his moment to pick Kai Havertz at the near post. The ball looped off the shin of a defender up onto the bar but Raheem Sterling was on hand to wallop the ball in from close range.

Get in.

Sulphurous blue smoke rolled in from the Bridgford End.

The rest of the first-half did not produce a great deal of note. Silva, as ever, exuded class throughout and was on hand on a few occasions to snub attacks with consummate ease. Forest defended deep and tried to raid on the occasional counter attack. There were rare shots at goal from Dave and Pulisic.

Our support was only roused occasionally.

It was hardly a classic.

The second-half began and how.

Forest were on the front foot right from the off and Kepa made two decent saves in the first two minutes, the first from Taiwo Awonyi, and again from Johnson, who really should have passed to the free man inside.

On ten minutes, Gibbs-White – a footballer, but also a brand of ‘seventies toothpaste – crashed a shot against Kepa’s bar, with the ball bouncing back up off the line. No goal.

To our dismay, we were letting them run at us at will.

The first substitution and Mateo Kovacic for Zakaria.

Just after, on sixty-three minutes, a corner from down by us, and a scramble at the near post. A header, the ball bounced in the air again, but the Chelsea defenders miss-timed their leaps. The ball was prodded home by Serge Aurier.

Fackinell.

The place erupted.

“Come On You Reds” has never sounded louder.

The Forest fans around us, excitable at the best of times, were now besides themselves.

The substitutions continued with three at once.

Hakim Ziyech for Sterling.

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang for Mount.

Conor Gallagher for Jorginho, who was apparently still on the pitch in the seventy-third minute. Who knew?

But this was dire stuff, both on the pitch and off it, with our support reduced to a murmur amidst moans of discontent.

Carney Chukwuemaka for Pulisic.

There was one, remarkably late, half-chance, a deep cross from Ziyech – who was criminally under-used during his brief cameo – just evading a Chelsea touch, any Chelsea touch, at the far post.

At the final whistle, groans. But I am sure I detected a few boos too. This was such a dire second-half performance and it almost defies description. Thankfully, our exit out of Nottingham was painless, and I reached home bang on midnight.

We now play the high-flying Manchester City twice in four days.

Oh, and in the West London League of 2022/23, echoes of forty years ago, Chelsea lie third behind Fulham and Brentford. On we go.

1987 : “Pies, pints, cheap rail travel, pay-on-the-day football, celery and ad hoc violence lurking like a dark shadow.”

Tales From Dynamo In 1945 And Dinamo In 2022

Chelsea vs. Dinamo Zagreb : 2 November 2022.

We were in November now. And after the glorious sun, if not the glorious result, at Brighton, it now felt like the winter had hit with a vengeance. The temperature had dropped and heavy coats and rain jackets were the order of the day. My new Barbour jacket was getting an airing for the first time. I hoped that it would pass the test.

It was about 4.40pm and I was walking along the Fulham Road with one of my fellow passengers. Just a few steps ahead, I am sure I saw Scott Minto edge onto the pavement. I walked ahead, got up alongside and – yes – it was him.

“Scott?”

“Hi mate.”

“Walking just behind us is another chap who played left-back for this club.”

Scott looked back and hands were shaken between the two former Chelsea defenders. As we continued towards the West Stand entrance, I thanked him for the 1997 FA Cup Final.

“That was one of the best days of my life,” I said, “and great celebrations too.”

Scott replied “you have to say we were the first team to rip the arse out of Cup Final celebrations, eh?”

I agreed. No doubt.

Scott continued.

“And the club’s first trophy since Ron’s time.”

“Absolutely.”

I liked Scotty when he played for us and it was quite a surprise when he left for Benfica in the summer after us winning our first trophy in twenty-six years. He was replaced by the returning Graeme Le Saux.

Meeting me outside “Frankie’s” were two friends from the US, a familiar theme in these reports, eh? Alex, from Houston as featured in the last report, was first in my view, but just behind him was David from Nashville. I was reminded that I last bumped into David at the PSG friendly in Charlotte in 2015. I introduced both of them to each other, and also to Chopper. We disappeared upstairs to the Millennium Hotel bar where further photo opportunities took place. New to the match day team is David Lee and I had a quick chat as a current workmate is a mutual friend. Our former defender – “Rodders” – is from Bristol and lives, now, between Bristol and Bath. I think we were all surprised to see Bobby Tambling there again. He spent an engaging five minutes talking to me with great enthusiasm and humour about a recent charity match in Cork, his adopted home city, to raise funds and awareness for those suffering from dementia. Bless him. It was a joy to see him so well.

PD and Parky, the others in the car from Wiltshire to London, were in “The Goose” but Alex and I decamped to “Simmons” after a quick chat with DJ at the “CFCUK” stall. The bar was ridiculously quiet on our arrival. A pint of “Estrella” apiece, we sat at one of the high tables and waited for further friends to join us.

Alex, as I mentioned previously, is originally from Moscow. Don’t worry, he is no fan of Putin, I have checked. He told me that his childhood team in his home city was Dynamo, and this suited me well. I told the story of when I went to the 2008 Champions League Final in Moscow I purposefully bought myself a Dynamo Moscow scarf – beautiful blue and white – in honour of the 1945 game at Stamford Bridge. Alex was working in Moscow at the time of the game at the Luzhniki Stadium, and although he had purchased a normal ticket, he bumped into an old friend who invited him into his private suite. After huge amounts of vodka, Alex remembers little of the game. It is probably for the best.

Ah 1945, I have mentioned it before. Of all of our previous matches, it is the one that I wish I had attended, the 1970 and 1971 finals excepted. I flashed up some images of the game on my ‘phone to show Alex; specifically, the team line-ups with Chelsea, in red, clutching the bouquets given to them by the touring Russians. Alas, celery was not a Chelsea “thing” in 1945. I also showed him the photos of spectators perched on the old East Stand roof and surrounding the pitch.

Over 100,000 were at Chelsea that day.

“Small club with money” they say.

Righty-o.

Johnny Twelve and his son John – his first visit to England – settled alongside us. Our friend Rob, who sits a few rows behind me, called in. Next to arrive was Chopper from New York, who I have known since around 2006. We had a lovely little mix at our table.

Greenwich Village, Long Beach, Hersham, Houston and Frome.

The bar was still quiet. I joked with the others when I saw a gaggle of around eight girls – teenagers, I reckon – come in and sit opposite under a sign that said “GIRLS GIRLS.”

“Shouldn’t there be a neon sign behind us that says ‘OLD CNUTS’ lads?”

We weren’t exactly sure how Graham Potter would play this game. He had to play those in the named CL squad. The manager couldn’t flood the team with an influx of young’uns. After the Brighton debacle, I half-expected a decent team to salvage some pride. We, after all, would only have four games left until the dreaded break for the competition that deserves no further comment.

Luckily, the predicted rain held off on the short walk to Stamford Bridge. We were in early, and one section was already fully occupied. I always knew that the Dinamo Zagreb fans would have travelled well. And there they all were, just a few shy of three thousand of them in the two tiers opposite us in The Sleepy Hollow. And virtually all dressed in black.

“Probably just come from Selhurst Park” quipped Alan.

The team was announced.

With Kepa still injured, Mendy came in. We kept a back-four after changing things around at Brighton. Graham Potter handed Juventus loanee Denis Zakaria a Chelsea debut. Upfront, it was all pretty fluid stuff with Pierre-Emerick Aubamayang tending to drift left.

Mendy

Azpilicueta – Chalobah – Koulibaly – Chilwell

Zakaria – Jorginho – Mount

Sterling – Havertz – Aubameyang

I always like it when away teams come to Stamford Bridge and play in a mirror image of our kit. Dinamo were nicely decked out in white / white / blue but I didn’t approve of the “reverse bird shit” effect all over the shirts.

The away fans were making an almighty din, no surprises there, and an early chant sounded awfully like “All Leeds Aren’t We?” Their first chance got them all singing louder and louder still. A cross from the attackers’ right hung in the air and Cesar Azpilicueta’s header did not go where it was intended. The ball came back across the six-yard box for Petkovic to easily head home past Edouard Mendy.

The away fans erupted. Flares were let off in the away end and white smoke drifted around like old-style London fog. Soon after, a fair few showed Leeds-like tendencies by taking off their predominantly black tops.

We reacted well in the Matthew Harding with a loud riposte.

“Carefree” soon boomed around Stamford Bridge.

On seventeen minutes, a fine slide-rule pass from Jorginho hit the forward run from Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, and the striker was just able to back-heal the ball towards Raheem Sterling after a defender initially cut the ball out. He then adjusted himself, took a touch, then another, and calmly slotted the ball low past the Dinamo ‘keeper. We were level.

Shortly after we made a patient advance down the right and Kai Havertz slipped a fine ball in towards Sterling but his first-time effort was high and wasteful.

By now, Alan and I were fully involved in a chat about the upcoming away game on Tyneside; our arrival times, our accommodation, our loose plans, talk of The Toon, everything. The game continued down below us almost as an afterthought.

On the half hour mark, a move developed down the right again, this time Mason Mount racing through to pick out a striker, Havertz. A defender reached the ball before the German, but the ball was played towards the waiting Denis Zakaria in a central position. He looked a little hesitant but he slotted it home, the ball just making it over the line before Dinamo players could intervene.

We were 2-1 up.

But still the Dinamo supporters sung and sung and sung.

It was time for another quip from Alan.

Livakovic, Peric, Misic, Ljubicic, Ivanusec and Petkovic were on the pitch.

“That’s a lot of itches out there. They should be able to get cream for that though.”

We reached half-time. It hadn’t been a festival of football, but it was pretty decent stuff.

In the match day programme, there was an interesting article by club historian Rick Glanvill concerning a friendly that we played against Dinamo in Zagreb on 27 May 1937, although the club was called Gradjanski at that time. Chelsea enjoyed a 1-0 win.

Continuing a look at our history, a quick mention of the latest Chelsea game from forty years ago. On Saturday 30 October 1982, Chelsea travelled way north to Carlisle United for a league game. We lost 2-1 in front of 7,171, with Colin Lee our scorer. We had just signed the former Liverpool full-back Joey Jones from Wrexham for £34,000 and I, for one, was not too impressed. Although he was only twenty-seven at the time, I felt that he was well past his sell-by date. Joey had played under our manager John Neal in his first of his two – eventually to be three – spells at Wrexham. I was certainly not impressed when our new signing was sent off on his debut. It summed up, in my mind, the worrying state of the club at that time.

At the start of the second-half, the Dinamo fans were still singing. They didn’t let up. It was magnificent to behold.

Our chances continued to pile up. Aubameyang cut in from the inside-left position and his whipped shot skimmed the top of the bar. We were treated to some tricky interplay between Aubameyang and Ben Chiwell down below us but a cross was blocked.

Dinamo were not particularly gifted but they did try their best to attack when they could. It was difficult to think that they had inflicted an opening-game defeat in Croatia at the start of this particular Champions League crusade. However, even a point against us in this game would almost certainly not be enough to prolong their campaign in the Europa League.

Or the “George Roper” as Alan called it.

In the away end, more smoke, and many a fire-cracker. The noise did not abate all night long. They were, probably, the loudest and most impressive away fans that we had seen at Chelsea. Ever? For their number, yes.

Our efforts continued from Havertz, Chilwell and Mount.

Potter made some substitutions.

Conor Gallagher for Havertz.

Armando Broja for Aubameyang.

Thiago Silva for Koulibaly.

The debutant Zakaria impressed as the game continued. He looked strong and neat, leggy, with a decent pass distribution.

He was then replaced by Ruben Loftus-Cheek.

The rain came on stronger now, but it seemed to invigorate us, with Broja looking like he was enjoying the battle with his marker as he twisted and turned out wide and in the channels.

The crowd loudly serenaded Thiago Silva and he is surely our most loved player at the moment. The Chelsea chances continued and in another game it could easily have been 4-1 or 5-1.

In the last of five substitutions, Christian Pulisic replaced Sterling.

Sadly, in virtually the last few seconds of the game, Chilwell pulled up on the touch-line, and it looked like a pulled hamstring. The prognosis looked worrying.

On the walk back to the car, we all got drenched by the incessant rain.

Fackinell.

I caught some much-needed sleep in the back of PD’s car as he battled the wind and the rain.

Next up would be a London derby against Arsenal, the first of three difficult matches, and our last home game until after Christmas.

Tales From The Changing Of The Guard

Chelsea vs. FC Red Bull Salzburg : 14 September 2022.

We were in a period of change.

Not only in the little – or not so little – world of Chelsea Football Club, but in the wider world too.

The last game that I witnessed was the home win over West Ham United on Saturday 3 September. We then witnessed an historic week. On the Tuesday, I reached home with seconds to spare to watch our Champions League game at Dinamo Zagreb on my laptop. We began well, pretty positive thoughts, but then conceded via the home team’s first attempt on goal. We simply did not react. What followed for the rest of the match was pretty turgid stuff. We laboured without inspiration and fight. It was horrible to watch. I felt for the loyalists – a fair few who I knew – who had followed the team to Croatia. We allegedly sold just six-hundred or so tickets; it looked far fewer on TV. It was as poor a performance as I had seen for a while; in particular the second-half horror show from substitute Hakim Ziyech must rank as one of the worst personal performances for a few years.

Oh Chelsea, what a mess.

As the following day began, there were a couple of messages waiting for me in a WhatsApp group. Both were asking for the club not to react by giving Tuchel the boot. To this observer, while acknowledging that our form has been patchy for ages, our troubled manager was presumably involved in gathering the new purchases over the summer and therefore should be allowed to sort out his team over the next few months. Not for the first time, I was advocating long term-ism over “slash and burn” at Stamford Bridge.

Less than three hours later, while I was sitting in a planning meeting at work, my manager Matt passed on the news “Tuchel sacked” and I barely reacted. Deep down it was no real surprise. I quickly focused on office furniture deliveries to Munich, Cork and other cities throughout Europe rather than thinking about Chelsea winning in cities throughout Europe.

It’s not that I hadn’t seen this before.

The only shock was that the new regime had seamlessly continued the firing policy that had been so ingrained under Roman Abramovich since 2003.

At least Roman gave Ranieri a whole season to prove himself.

Hot shot Boehly, faster on the trigger, had given Tuchel just seven games into the new season.

I love the phrase that someone conjured up recently to describe Chelsea Football Club of late; “Chaos & Cups” – and am annoyed I never thought of it – as it perfectly sums up modern Chelsea.

Before we had time to dwell too much on who our next manager might be, the following day provided another shock.

During Thursday 8 September, there were reports that HRH Queen Elizabeth II was in grave health. Only on the Tuesday, the new prime minister Liz Truss had met with the Queen at Balmoral. Yet, as I watched on the evening news, with the BBC broadcaster Huw Edwards already wearing a black tie, the nation and the Commonwealth prepared for some sad news. I was watching as Edwards calmly announced that the monarch had passed.

I am no huge royalist – or at least not of the flag waving type – but I am no republican either. However, my real sadness as I watched the TV for the next hour or so genuinely surprised me. This was something that I could not easily brush off nor let pass without gentle reflection. I had my own thoughts, my own period of remembrance.

I was numb for a while, but then life slowly creaked on.

It was soon announced that the football would be off at the weekend, though. No trip to Fulham beside the Thames, nor no second prize of a Frome Town game either. So be it.

In my life I saw the Queen twice. The first time, way back, was at Windsor Great Park, when I watched from afar with my parents and an aunt and an uncle; there was some sort of parade, I was only around three, it is all very blurred. My father took some equally blurry film of the occasion. But I can remember being absolutely thrilled that a queen, The Queen, was in the same field as me.

In 1977, I went with my mother to see Her Majesty on a walkabout in Bath during the Silver Jubilee celebrations. I was only a few yards from her as she walked past, and if I remember correctly, my red, white and blue hooped shirt was spotted on the local BBC news that evening. A couple of again blurry photos remain from that day.

I was undoubtedly a royalist in 1977, and then in 1981 for the Royal Wedding. Since then, my feelings have changed. But now is not the time to bore everyone.

I know this; the Queen was well loved, well respected, and I absolutely admired her.

Meanwhile, on the Friday, back on Planet Football, Chelsea appointed the Brighton manager Graham Potter as the new man at Stamford Bridge.

Everything was changing.

Wags were commenting “two prime ministers, two monarchs and two Chelsea managers within three days.”

Quite.

Change in Downing Street, change at Buckingham Palace, change at Stamford Bridge.

I honestly haven’t bothered to read too much about the reasons behind the Tuchel sacking. In some ways, it doesn’t matter. It’s in the past.

An unwillingness to join in fully in the recruitment of new players? A worsening relationship with the existing players? Personal problems? The break-up of his marriage? A reluctance to play young players? Who knows?

I will say this. It took me a really long time to warm to the bloke; too long probably. Despite the win in Porto, I didn’t really have a bond with him, unlike with Lampard and Conte to name but two. But the way he kept the club going during that crazy period of sanctions last season was undeniably magnificent. While nobody else at the club was willing to utter a single word – the board were as weak as I had suspected all along – Tuchel bonded us all together and it was truly the stuff of legend.

Please allow me a moment of hyperbole; it was almost Churchillian.

I loved his comment about him driving a seven-seater to Europe if needed.

Thanks for your efforts Thomas Tuchel. I felt I never really got to know you. But thank you for the Champions League in Porto, the Super Cup in Belfast and the World Club Cup in Abu Dhabi.

The ironic thing is that even if we had won both domestic cups last season, and the FA Cup in 2021, he would still be gone.

Chelsea. Fackinell.

It was announced that our up-coming game against Red Bull Salzburg would be taking place, as planned, at 8pm on Wednesday 14 September. Time to re-focus, maybe, and start thinking about the future.

Graham Potter, eh?

Will he turn out to be the English version of Andre Vilas-Boas, himself a rated young manager, touted for great things, yet to fail? Or will he oversee a bright spell in the fortunes of our beloved club? Only time will tell, eh?

However, by the morning of the trip up to The Smoke for the Salzburg game, I was already pissed-off with the amount of Harry Potter references.

Do fuck off.

I worked a very early shift to get away at two o’clock for this one. Alongside PD in the front, Simon joined us, a colleague from work, and heavily involved in those deliveries in Cork and Munich. I think this was his first game with us since that away game at Brighton last season. I was wedged into the back seat, a defensive three, with Chopper and Parky to my flanks.

Despite some misty rain when I woke at 4.45am, the weather now was bloody superb. We chatted about upcoming games. October will be so, so busy. Chelsea are due to play nine games and PD, Parky and I hope to be at all nine. We are now booked-up for the away games in Milan and Salzburg. Following hot on October’s tail, we are flying up to Newcastle for the last match before the break. That game has been confirmed for 5.30pm; just perfect.

Chris : “We’ll just stay down by the quayside for that one. Big old sesh ahead.”

PD : “And get a cab up to the hill to the ground.”

Parky : “Cab? Ambulance!”

We all howled.

Simon and I chatted a little about work, but that soon slowed.

Two nights earlier, Parky and I had popped into Bristol to see yet another band that were around forty years ago. Altered Images were excellent. Parky and I are not alone among my Chelsea mates to have seen them this year. Ah, 1982.

Continuing my reflections on our 1982/83 season, our next two games in that historic season were both away from home.

On the evening of Wednesday 8 September 1982, we played at the Baseball Ground against Derby County. The game was lost 0-1. The gate was just 8,075, a very poor attendance to be honest. Only seven years earlier, Derby County had been English champions and had beaten Real Madrid 4-1 in the then European Cup the following autumn. They had fallen just like Chelsea.

On Saturday 11 September, there followed another away game against a big club now languishing in the second tier. We played at St. James’ Park against Newcastle United, boosted by the signing of former European footballer of the year Kevin Keegan. His transfer from First Division Southampton to Newcastle really was the talk of the summer. It was huge news. As a result, a massive gate of 29,084 gathered to see a 1-1 draw with Colin Lee grabbing our goal but they then equalised. The Newcastle team included Mike Channon, Imre Varadi and Chris Waddle too. My diary notes that “The Big Match” – now on Saturday nights – surprisingly showed the goals what with the game being in the Second Division. Seeing Chelsea on the TV in that era was such a rare event

The traffic was light and PD was parked up at our usual spot at 4.30pm.

We had three-and-a-half hours to enjoy before kick-off.

PD and Parky popped into “The Goose” while the others popped down to Stamford Bridge. Atop the West Stand, the Union flag was at half-mast. There were a couple of images of the Queen on LED displays.

I took a photograph or two.

With Peter Osgood in the background, I wondered if I could get away with commenting “The King and The Queen” without offending anyone. Simon and I spent a very pleasant time in the Copthorne Hotel with a few friends. Outside, the sun beat down. It was a ridiculously lovely early-evening in London.

Simon and I retraced our steps and joined up with Alan and Daryl in “Simmons” which was surprisingly quiet. We were joined by Andy, Simon, Chris, Nick, Deano, Gal, then PD and Parky. I allowed myself two pints of “Estrella”, my first alcohol in over two months.

Talk touched on the Tuchel sacking rather than the appointment of Potter.

“Apart from the four or five Tottenham games and all the Liverpool games” – oh, and the semi in Madrid – “our play over the past twelve months has been poor.”

Chat about football and all the more important things in our individual lives continued. Laughter, as always, wasn’t far away.

At work in the morning, a work colleague had asked me if was looking forward to the evening’s game.

I was brutally honest.

“Not really.”

It was going to be a long, long day and it was unlikely that I would get any sleep in the back seat of PD’s car, but now I had absolutely warmed to it all. Being among friends had cheered me. The football would take care of itself, eh? Outside, we bumped into Ludo, for the first time since attending his wedding reception three weeks earlier.

“Parky had said you weren’t coming tonight, now you are married.”

Ludo smiled. We gave him a hug and we departed for the ground.

The place soon filled up. I was expecting more away fans; there were no more than five-hundred. Apparently they had walked in silence from Earls Court as a mark of remembrance for The Queen. That was lovely. Well done them.

I wasn’t really sure what form the pre-match would take.

But as kick-off approached, there were no songs, no “Parklife”, no “Liquidator.” Just silence. The players went through their paces down below us. Over on The Shed balcony, a parade of Union Jack flags flanked a banner simply stating “RIP YOUR MAJESTY.”

Just before the teams appeared, two Chelsea pensioners laid wreaths on the pitch in readiness for the minute of silence.

The Austrian flags held up a large black banner in the Shed Lower : “ IN MEMORY OF QUEEN ELIZABETH II.”

As the teams lined-up, out from nowhere, the crowd sang “God Save The King” and I joined in.

Very soon, the teams gathered on the centre-circle; Kepa, in the team, had to race from his goalmouth to join in.

A peep from the referee’s whistle.

Everyone stood in silence for one minute.

Unlike at Anfield the previous night when the referee could only allow just over twenty seconds of Liverpool Football Club’s self-proclaimed “period of remembrance”, this was pristine.

At the end of it, I wanted to catch Alan’s eye and tell him “that’s what you call an impeccable silence” but as he turned towards me, he said :

“That’s what you call an impeccable silence.”

We smiled.

Our team?

I had seen the names on the screen but as the players lined-up I was a mite confused.

Anyway, Kepa again between the sticks.

What looked like a back four of Cucarella, Silva, Dave, Reece.

Then further forward we had Jorginho and Kovacic in the middle.

Mount too.

Upfront were Sterling, Havertz with Aubameyang in the middle, at last a focal point.

But soon into the game, I was further confused. At times it looked like a three at the back with Sterling as the pushed-on left wing-back. At least I was toying with the right number of players on the pitch. I hope that there is no truth in those pernicious rumours about Todd Boehly wanting to try a 4/4/3 formation.

If so, God help us.

The new manager Graham Potter was introduced to the crowd. The applause was hardly deafening.

The game began with Chelsea attacking The Shed.

The Salzburg grey reminded me of the Barcelona colours from that classic in 2005.

It was a full house. It seemed we are still managing to get the pricing right. It was £35 for us in The Sleepy Hollow, though the £70 tickets were snapped up in West View. It staggers me that people will pay such sums. Oh boy.

Football, the working man’s ballet?

Not anymore.

We penned Salzburg into their own half for every minute of the first twenty minutes. Unlike in Zagreb, Aubameyang – with Zorro mask – was in on goal early on and elected to shoot. It flew over. There were a few half chances as we began well, showing more willingness to pass early and pass forward. On twenty-one minutes, the crowd applauded Thomas Tuchel on account of the win in Porto in 2021.

It had been all us, but their ‘keeper Philipp Kohn had not made a single save. Just after the minute’s applause, though, the first effort on goal but this was an easy catch for him.

There was a block on a shot from Aubameyang.

Reece James beat his man and drilled a low cross the penalty area but sadly no Chelsea player had gambled.

On twenty-six minutes, the away team enjoyed their very first attack but it amounted to nothing.

The atmosphere was unsurprisingly muted.

There were a couple of Chelsea half-chances, but nothing of note. A shot from Sterling was blocked, an effort from Mount was blazed over.

On forty minutes, another rare Salzburg attack when a curler from Benjamin Sesko forced Kepa into a fine save down low.

At The Shed, an odd deflection from an Aubameyang cross and a Kovacic header. The chance passed.

It had been a pretty forgettable first forty-five minutes.

In fact, the absolute high spot was, on reflection, the timing of my visit to the little boys’ room during that odd intermission when the officials sorted out their FIFA Playstation headsets.

The half-time stats stated 72% possession and eleven efforts. I remembered less.

Soon into the second-half, a fine rapid move down our right involving a burst from James and a ball to a raiding Mount caught the Austrian defence on the back foot. A low cross from Mount wasn’t cleared. In fact, a defender deflected the ball on, just passing the waiting Aubameyang. It whipped past another defender and ended at the feet of Sterling. He controlled the ball, rolled his studs on it, then curled it powerfully home.

GET IN.

Did we power on? No, not really.

On the hour, the loudest chant of the night : “Carefree” rolled around the four stands.

A fine lofted pass from Jorginho set up Havertz but he fluffed his lines.

On sixty-seconds, Potter made some changes.

Armano Broja for Aubameyang.

Ruben Loftus-Cheek for a very quiet Havertz.

Soon after coming on, Broja was released and broke in from a wide position but I that felt a challenge put him off. He shot wide.

With fifteen minutes remaining, Salzburg broke down their right. We appeared stretched. At first I thought that Emperor Silva’s slide was timed to perfection, but alas not. Junior Adama rode the challenge, collected the ball and advanced. His slide rule cross was easily turned in past Kepa by Noah Okafor.

Bollocks.

Cucarella set up James from a free-kick but he walloped it high and wide.

By now, I was literally sitting forward, not exactly on the edge of my seat because space would not allow it, but alert and involved, I could not help but think that if I had been watching at home, I would probably have been stretched out on the sofa, my attention possibly elsewhere. I am simply not a TV fan these days. Football has to be live for me now.

There was a flurry of late substitutions.

Conor Gallagher for Kovacic.

Hakim Ziyech for Dave.

Sterling played in Ziyech who crossed for Broja to bite at the near post but Kohn blocked well.

Lastly, Christian Pulisic for Sterling.

By now, I had completely lost track of the shape and who was playing where. God only knows what Boehly made of it.

Then, with time running out, a deep cross from Ziyech found Broja who headed the ball back across the box. The ball was kept alive only for our Albanian international to smash a loose ball over.

Finally, a hopelessly weak header from that man Ziyech close in had us all grumbling.

Fackinell.

In a period of change, both our lack of potency in front of goal and our charitable tendencies in defence seem difficult to budge.

On the walk out, I was annoyed with two smiling and laughing young female supporters, bedecked in Chelsea scarves, presumably not caring one iota that we were now bottom of our group with just one point from two games. I then glowered at a lad in his early ‘twenties who – laughing with a mate – proclaimed “Tottenham are better” and he soon got the message.

All three were visitors to these Isles. There are always many overseas visitors to HQ for these European games, more so than standard league matches. I welcome them. But maybe some should be asked to complete a due diligence test on arrival at the turnstiles.

I am only half-joking.

We met up back at the car and PD set off for home. I managed to drop off to sleep, no doubt dreaming of those last minute misses. I eventually got home at just after 1am. It had, indeed, been a long day.

In the match programme, there was a nice piece by Rick Glanvill concerning the Queen, the royal family and its links with Chelsea Football Club.  It was rumoured that the Queen’s grandfather, George V and her father, King George VI, were both Chelsea followers. The nearest football club to Buckingham palace is, after all, Chelsea. The first football match that the Queen watched was Chelsea’s war time Cup final with Millwall in 1945.

I have a spare programme. Who wants one?

A Chelsea player met the Queen at the British Embassy in Rome, but was really taken aback when the Queen commented : “Ah the famous Italian international footballer.”

Who was he?

Answers to : c.axon@talk21.com.

Let’s hope this garners more entrants to my last competition when just one person bothered to respond. I am going to limit it to overseas followers please. Chelsea programmes are a bit easier to get hold of in the UK. No due diligence test required. Good luck.

Tales From A Muggy Night

Southampton vs. Chelsea : 30 August 2022.

An away trip to Southampton early this season meant that we were repeating three of the last four away games of the last campaign in the first three matches of the current one.

Last season we lost to Everton 1-0; this season we beat them 1-0.

Last season we beat Leeds United 3-0; this season they beat us 3-0.

Last season we beat Southampton 6-0; surely not?

The Famous Five left Melksham at around 3.15pm. I was driving again, and my fellow passengers were PD, Parky, Sir Les and Glenn the birthday boy, celebrating his fifty-fifth birthday a day before he was to begin a new job.

Southampton away is a breeze. At around 5pm, I was parked up in the small car park outside the city’s Central train station.

The evening heat surprised me.

“It’s nice out” I said.

“It is yes, but put it away, someone will see it” replied Parky.

The others dashed off to “Yates” for a pre-match tipple while I decided to grab a bite to eat in a nearby Italian restaurant. There were a couple of familiar Chelsea faces in there – “alright, boys?” – and I soon sat down for a pizza. This is standard for me. I reckon we could play in Kazakhstan, Bolivia or Zimbabwe and I’d still order a pre-match pizza.

I joined up with the lads in the pub, but none of us were keen to stay for any longer. There was a quick “hello goodbye” to a few troops before we set off to walk the twenty minutes or so to the stadium. The three Norwegians – four actually, I neglected to mention Jon in the Leicester City report – had been spotted in the pub. A couple of local lads were there too.

“Good trip down, Chris?”

“Oh yeah, easy.”

“Did Les come with you?”

“Yeah mate. But with PD in the passenger seat and Les sat behind him, the car kept veering to the left. It took me three attempts to get out of Melksham.”

We were down at the stadium as early as 6.15pm. It felt odd being there so early. I had to sort out a ticket for Young Jake, who none of us had seen for ages. We thought that his last game with us was the Norwich City FA Cup game at Carrow Road in 2018. There was time to chill out a little and relax. I shot off to take a few shots of the stadium.

“It’s no San Siro but surely there’s the chance to take a few decent photographs?” I thought to myself.

There wasn’t.

St. Mary’s is as bland as bland can be.

Talking of the San Siro, we – PD, Parky and I – are booked to head over in October, but we will be staying in Turin for three nights and will be joined by Dave who now lives near Nice and was last seen before the Tottenham away game late in 2018. I will be driving in to Milan on the day of the game. A version of “The Italian Job” perhaps? In a Fiat Chucklecento maybe? No, too much of a tight fit for four of us. Why Turin? When I returned home from Chelsea on Saturday night, it seemed that all the cheap flights to Milan had gone. The accommodation looked expensive too. I have no qualms about returning to Turin once again; it’s my favourite Italian city and far more interesting that Milan. As for the other Champions League aways, we are not going to Zagreb but I suspect that a trip to Salzburg is likely.

This was my second game in two days. On the Bank Holiday Monday, I drove to Bath to see Frome Town wallop local neighbours Larkhall Athletic 4-0. With the upcoming game against West Ham now taking place on Saturday, I am forced to miss Frome’s home FA Cup tie against Tiverton Town.

Now is a good time to slip into the conversation my second memory of the 1982/83 season. On Saturday 28 August, Chelsea opened up our fourth consecutive season in the old Second Division with an away game at Cambridge United’s Abbey Stadium. Did I go? No. I was still at school and would only go to four games that season, the same as in the previous campaign. On that particular afternoon, Frome Town got my attention as I watched a 0-0 home draw with Wellington in the old Western League – “a terrible game” says my diary – but I would have been no doubt elated with a 1-0 win.

Chelsea finished mid-table in 1981/82 and only the most optimistic of Chelsea fans would have hoped that we would make a sustained promotion push in 1982/83. Our only real outlay throughout the summer had been the almost laughable acquisition of much-travelled Bryan “Pop” Robson, who was thirty-six when we bought him. I for one, was not impressed.

The team that day?

Steve Francis in goal. Gary Locke and Chris Hutchings the full backs. Micky Nutton and Micky Droy as centre-backs. Colin Pates, John Bumstead and Mike Fillery in midfield. Colin Lee, Clive Walker and Pop Robson upfront, with Paul Canoville as a substitute.

Interestingly, Pates, Chivers, Bumstead and Canoville are currently employed by Chelsea to this day as match-day hosts in the corporate areas.

Even more interestingly, my friend Daryl spotted Pop Robson near Red Square before the Champions League Final in 2008, presumably on some junket with a UEFA sponsor.

Our match winner forty years ago?

Bryan “Pop” Robson.

I was to eat my words, for one game at least.

The gate was 8,124, and I am sure that around half would have been Chelsea.

Back to 2022.

Jake soon arrived and there was the chance to chat to a few friends from near and far. The “Ticket Man” arrived on schedule at 7pm and we were in the stadium just after. Down in the darkened but spacious concourse, more chit-chat with some and a few “nods” to others. With plenty of time to kick-off, I swapped tickets with PD and sat next to Glenn towards the back of the away section, right behind the goal. I usually watch from down low so this made a nice change.

Glenn is often with us at Southampton. There were a few games at The Dell and he was also with us in August 2001 when we opened up the new stadium with a 1-0 win. I have seen all of our fourteen games against the Saints at St. Mary’s – minus the COVID ones – and I kept saying to the lads “we’ve only lost once down here, the Benitez spell in 2013.”

As we waited for the game to start, there were a few half-hearted flames in front of the stand to our left. A brass band appeared, walking towards us, left to right, and they played “Oh When The Saints” as a large banner surfed along from right to left.

I turned to Glenn and said “I always remember a game here in 1994 when you were excited about starting a chant in the away end.”

We were in the seats along the side and Glenn began bellowing “Dennis plays for England” which the rest of the Chelsea support joined in with. Glenn’s recollection was that Wisey scored a late winner. Looking back, it was actually Paul Furlong on eighty-nine minutes. Perhaps Glenn had mentally confused the two moments.

To my surprise, Billy Gilmour and Ethan Ampadu were among the named substitutes.

The team drew a few shocked reactions.

Mendy

Dave – Silva – Koulibaly – Cucarella

Loftus-Cheek – Jorginho – Mount

Ziyech – Sterling – Havertz

No Reece James, no Trevoh Chalibah, we presumed injured.

The teams entered. As at Leeds United, we played in dark blue socks and I wondered why. Surely we have some royal blue socks knocking about somewhere. The home team’s kit was a shocker. Hummel brought out some absolute killers back in the ‘eighties and Saints even had their copy of the half-and-half Denmark kit. This current shirt – predominantly white – misses by a mile. The shirt of the Keegan era would surely have looked better; predominantly red with a broad white central stripe rather than the current version. I wasn’t even sure I liked the white socks either. Very odd.

The home areas took ages to fill up and there were quite a few empty seats dotted around. I saw no unused seats in our allocation of around three thousand. We took a while to get going but the songs soon boomed around the away end.

It was a muggy night in the Northam Stand.

As is so often the case with away matches in Southampton, the home team enjoyed the best of the early exchanges. We then began to get a foothold on the game. The pitch, usually excellent, was worn in many places, as if it was a mid-season game.

Our chances, or half-chances, started to stack up. Raheem Sterling scuffed a shot right at the Saints ‘keeper Gavin Bazunu. A chance for Hakim Ziyech came and went. Sterling looked as lively as any player on the pitch and on twenty-three minutes, a lovely move down our left involving first Kai Havertz and then Mason Mount set up the central striker. Sterling appeared to lose control of the ball on the six-yard box but was the first to react as it spun loose. He stabbed the ball in and wheeled away in delight.

Phew.

I suspect that this is just the sort of goal that is practised ad infinitum on the practice pitches at Cobham; all movement, all together.

The away crowd soon responded.

“We’ve got super Tommy Tuchel.”

Not long after, Ziyech played in Havertz in the inside-left position. He got his shot in from an angle but the shot was hit right at the Saints keeper.

From that moment, our play drifted.

Just five minutes after we had scored, Dave decided to whack the ball out for a corner rather than play it back to Edouard Mendy to deal with. At the time, I understood that call.

What were we always told at school?

“Safety first.”

Sadly, the resulting corner fell to an unmarked Southampton player – Romeo Lavia – who was loitering with intent outside the box. He took one touch and lashed it home. Glenn was raging. Only a few minutes earlier he had spotted two Saints players unmarked at the back stick at a previous corner.

Of course the home fans roared.

Our play deteriorated as the home team became stronger. I lost count of the number of passes that Ruben Loftus-Cheek misdirected. One run out of defence by him seemed to be in slow motion.

“Ross Barkley is a big unit but even he had a burst of pace” I moaned to Glenn. “Ruben makes Micky Fillery look quick.”

Our midfield in general – without a midfield general – looked so poor. Dave was caught out of position on a couple of occasions. We had no bite. The only plus point was watching Thiago Silva scoop a few balls up and over the heads of the advancing opposition out to the right wing. I could watch that man play football for hours.

Glenn was getting frustrated further : “no tackles!”

There was an awful moment when I thought that I had been transported back to the early nineties under Ian Porterfield when there seemed to be a never-ending sequence of head tennis on the halfway line. This was rotten football.

With the home support energised, it turned into a temporary Pompey Hate Fest. Mason Mount was deemed public enemy number one.

With the half-time whistle approaching – “blow up ref, let’s regroup at the break” – a laughably poor attempt at a tackle by Jorginho failed dismally and Southampton advanced with speed and purpose. As the move progressed I repeatedly shouted two words :

“Too easy! Too easy! Too easy!”

The ball was smashed home after a fine move by Adam Armstrong.

Too easy.

Two-one to Southampton.

“Oh When The Saints” boomed around the home areas.

Fackinell.

The referee blew for half-time almost immediately.

I turned to Glenn at the break : “this has been a timid performance.”

We both wanted Tuchel to bring on Armando Broja for the miss-firing Havertz. Towards the end of the half-time break, with the grass getting an extra dose of water from the sprinklers, we spotted Tuchel chatting with Mateo Kovacic on the pitch. The manager then sat alone on the bench for a number of minutes.

I just found all of this a bit odd.

One presumes that he had said enough to the players in five minutes and didn’t need ten. Personally, I would have taken fifteen.

“Oh, before you go back out on that pitch, just be aware that there are supporters out there who have travelled down from the north of England, from the Midlands, from East Anglia for tonight’s game and they won’t get home until about 2am in the morning but will need to be up again for work within a few hours, knackered, and they will do it all again and again and again…”

I saw him studying some sheets in a folder.

It almost raised a wry smile.

“Never mind the first-half stats, pal, just fire some fucks into them.”

No real surprises, Tuchel replaced Loftus-Cheek with Kovacic.

“Kovacic, Our Croatian Man…”

Soon into the second-half, Southampton broke down our right and a shot from close in was blocked on the line by Cucarella. Mendy made a fine reaction save to tip over the follow-up effort.

The home fans really turned up the heat on Mason.

“You skate bastard. You skate bastard.”

“Mason Mount, we fucking hate you.”

We struggled to get things moving. Oh for a playmaker, oh for a Cesc Fabregas.

On the hour, there was a loud, proud and defiant “Carefree” from us followed by derisory applause from the home fans.

Sadly, our play stagnated further. I saw little movement off the ball and the mood in the away end was falling fast.

With twenty minutes or so left it was all change, three substitutions :

Ben Chilwell for Jorginho.

Armando Broja for Dave.

Christian Pulisic for Havertz.

I expected a ripple of applause for Broja from the home fans; there was nothing, the ungrateful sods.

We all revelled in the great rush into space from Broja and his strength in twisting and turning past two players. He left them for dead before sending in a cross. This augured well for the rest of the game or so we hoped. In reality, despite his more aggressive movement and enthusiasm, his only other noticeable action involved a header near a post that never looked like troubling the ‘keeper. Kovacic added a little burst of energy too, but this soon petered out as moves slowed down and died. Pulisic looked remote and uninterested wide on the right. My recollection is of him hardly bothering to go past players, but my photographs would prove otherwise. How Ziyech stayed on all game is a mystery.

The minutes ticked by.

From a corner, Silva was in the right place at the right time. The ball hit him on the line.

I fully expected us to lose another goal.

3-1 would not have flattered them.

In a scene that was reminiscent of the Leicester game, Mendy appeared in the opposing box for a late corner or two.

When the ball was hoofed up field, one of my photographs completely captured our night, with Cucarella nervously falling to head the ball away, being pressured by a Saints attacker, the goal open and vulnerable.

I spent some of the last minutes of the game watching that fucking dachshund on the “Vitality” advertising boards trot around the stadium at roughly the same pace that our team had been doing all match.

The final whistle blew.

Southampton 2 Chelsea 1.

We got what we deserved, no doubt.

A posse of young Southampton fans to our right spent many a minute goading us as we waited to drift away into the night. I was pragmatic about it.

“Bollocks. Let them enjoy themselves, the little twerps.”

Some other Chelsea supporters were a little more hostile.

It was all a pantomime show to me.

In days gone by, there is no doubt that Chelsea would not have taken such a defeat well. Recriminations would have been enacted outside the stadium as fans would have sought revenge.

“We’re a right bunch of bastards when we lose.”

We all met up outside and slowly trudged back to the car. That walk always seems twice as long when we lose.

There was a small scale altercation.

A mouthy young Southampton fan wearing the hugely odd combination of a bar scarf and a Stone Island sweatshirt was heard to shout “Chelsea Rent Boys.” This was like a red rag to a bull to one or two in our support. The youngster escaped into the night with a warning.

All five of us were at a low ebb. There really were no positives from the night. Only two or three players had average performances.

On a muggy night in Southampton, we were the mugs.

We stopped off at the always-busy “McDonalds” at the bottom end of the A36 at about 10.30pm. A couple of lads enjoyed a burger. I downed the inevitable coffee. Outside, the air still warm, I got a little philosophical.

“We are so unused to defeats. Over the last twenty years, we have had a magnificent ride. It’s all been massively good fun. But remember that ninety per cent of people who go to football in this country have no hope of seeing their team win anything. That’s quite something really. That so many go just for the love of their team. Quite admirable really. Not saying we should not get concerned about defeats, but maybe we just need to re-focus our targets.”

That reset button might have to be adjusted again over the next few weeks.

The immediate reaction out there in Chelsea Land was split. Some want Tuchel gone. Some want to persevere.

Me?

I’m fucking looking forward to the San Siro in October I know that.

See you against West Ham.

Tales From A Typical Day At The Office

Chelsea vs. Leicester City : 27 August 2022.

There is one positive that came out of last Sunday’s humiliating defeat at Elland Road. As I stood in the upper section of our away area until the referee blew his whistle, I was at a low ebb, deflated. But it struck me that at least the fortunes of this great club still mattered to me. I was still emotionally attached to Chelsea. In an era when I am still occasionally doubting my devotion to the cause – have I ever said I hate modern football? – the defeat against Leeds certainly made me smart. I hated conceding three goals. It felt like a triple kick in the bollocks. I also hated us being the target of the large-scale piss-taking from those lads in the South Stand.

I also found it harrowing that many fellow fans had left the away enclosure way before the final whistle. I reacted that this was a further slight on my team, my club. However, as we sloped back to the car last Sunday, I realised that my season, only three games in for me, had been reset.

I was emotionally locked-in again. I cared.

Our next game would be at home to Brendan Rodgers’ Leicester City, a bête-noire for us in recent years. On the face of it, this was a rather mundane match, but one that was engendering a new level of importance for me.

As an aside, my local team Frome Town were playing pre-season promotion favourites AFC Totton at home at the same time. I have commented before that there might well become a time when I have to choose between an important Frome Town game and a run-of-the-mill Chelsea game. This wasn’t going to be that occasion.

Chelsea needed me and I needed Chelsea.

Chelsea vs. Leicester City it was.

As an hors-oeuvre to the game, the Champions League draw had taken place on Thursday evening. We had briefly discussed options outside “The Drysalters” in Leeds on the Sunday.

“Bloody hell. Imagine Celtic. It would be like a military operation. We’d have to collect our match tickets in Motherwell and be flown in by police helicopter.”

On Thursday morning, I sent a message to a few friends.

“Milan and Glasgow please.”

With the San Siro due to be replaced by a new state-of-the-art stadium in its current car park, a visit to Milan was undoubtedly priority “numero uno” for me. With Milan and Inter in the draw, we had a chance. Even though I watched Internazionale play against Empoli in 1987 and Bologna in 1990, I unfortunately missed the Chelsea Champions League games in 1999 and 2011 due to work commitments. There was an earlier friendly in 1995 against Milan too, but that was never on my radar.

Parky and I were at a Chelsea wedding reception – congratulations Gemma and Ludo – on Thursday evening and as we stopped at a pub close to the venue in Maidenhead, I finally checked my ‘phone and was so pleased that we had drawn Milan.

Bloody magnificent.

We just had to wait for the dates to be finalised. My only doubt involved Matchday 2; there was already someone away on holiday from our small office that week. Surely work wouldn’t bugger things up for me yet again?

Saturday arrived. Alan would be unable to attend the Leicester game – work buggering things up for him on this occasion – and so Glenn was able to take his ticket.

In the low countryside around Frome, everything was shrouded in mist. Tree tops pierced the white blanket. It was a stunning scene. Away in the distance, the hills past Trudoxhill and Chapmanslade stood like islands above a white foaming sea.

At road level, thankfully visibility was fine. As I drove east, my car was fully loaded.

The two Glenns and Ron at the back, Paul and me up front.

“Some five-a-side team, this.”

The weather was decent, the chit-chat provided a lovely back-drop to my driving. All was good in the world. Glenn – he has a ticket for Southampton away, on his birthday, on Tuesday – will be starting a new job next week and he is happy about that.

“You played at the San Siro in the ‘sixties, right, Ron?”

“Yeah, we got through on the toss of a coin.”

It sent a shiver down my spine when I realised that one of my passengers had played against Milan legend, their golden boy, Gianni Rivera.

The pattern for pre-match at Stamford Bridge is well set these days.

I drop the boys off on the Fulham side of Putney Bridge. I park up on Bramber Road and walk down to Fulham Broadway with Ron, who dives off to wait at the hotel bar until his corporate gig starts. I have a chat with a few early risers and then catch the two-minute train down to Putney Bridge before joining up with the lads in “The Eight Bells.”

At Steve Smyth’s stall, I picked up a copy of “Soccer The Hard Way” by Ron Harris. It’s pretty rare so I didn’t mind paying a fair bit for it. I’m friends with Steve, so he kindly gave me a decent reduction. In an ironic twist, Ron’s petrol money helped to pay for it.

In case any Americans are getting excited about the use of the word “soccer” in the title of the book, I need to comment that for a decade or so, from the mid-‘sixties to the mid-‘seventies, the word “soccer” often appeared in the UK media; on TV programmes, in books, in magazines. I have no explanation for this. In the school playground and in the workplace, pub and stadium, it was always football.

There was a nice chat with Marco and DJ outside the “CFCUK Stall“ and I then made my way south.

There was a breakfast in the café opposite the tube station at 11am. There’s just something about a fry-up (I don’t have many for those concerned) in a London caff on match days. It’s timeless. I checked my phone to see that the Footballing Gods had smiled on me. Everything was clear for Milan in early October. Zagreb was just too early for me to get my head around it and work is busy at the moment. Salzburg is a likely trip too.

We’re lucky people.

I decided that I would check Milan flights and suchlike when I returned home later that evening but knew that all of the cheap deals would have been snapped up quickly.

I thought back to the first-ever time that I saw Leicester City play us. It was early on in the 1982/83 season. I will detail that game later this season, but as a lead-in to my memories of that season, our worst-ever, I am heading back to Sunday 22 August 1982.

I was mid-way through the Sixth Form at Frome College and hardly relishing the final year. I would take “A Levels” the following June. Emotionally, I was rather low. I was lamenting the departure of my first-ever girlfriend Julie who had moved away to the Reading area not long after we first started going out. For those wondering, these two facts were not linked. Smiley face.

Her father had been working in Bath for the Ministry of Defence but had taken up a new position in Berkshire. I needed some cheering up and I had talked my parents into taking me up to Stamford Bridge for a family day a week before the season began. I remember that I had asked Julie if she fancied coming along for the day, my Dad picking her up en route, but her letter that declined the offer resembled a bullet to my heart. The end was nigh. Her family were more into rugby anyway. It would never had lasted. Another bloody smiley face.

I have a feeling that my parents went shopping while I spent a few hours at Stamford Bridge. My memories aren’t particularly strong. I certainly remember getting quite a few autographs; assistant manager Ian McNeil and players Gary Locke, new signing Bryan “Pop” Robson, Mike Fillery, Alan Mayes, Bob Iles, Colin Pates, Gary Chivers, and Peter Rhoades-Brown. I remember I ascended the upper tier of the East Stand for the first time and thought that the old stadium looked an absolute picture.

There were funfairs and sideshows dotted around the stadium and the highlight was a practice match at three o’clock.

As a pre-curser to that, and I have no recollection of this, I was probably chasing players for autographs :

“Sherriff Danny Arnold Wild West Demonstration.”

No smiley face.

Tickets for the upcoming home game with Wolves started at £3.50 and the most expensive were £7.

I bought a photo of the squad. I loved that Chelsea shirt. I still have it,

The one thing I do recollect is a small chat with Colin Pates, amazed by the turn out.

“God, if it’s like this now, what will it be like if we actually win anything?”

Two years later Colin found out.

I strolled into the pub at about 11.30am. The boys had been in there since opening time at 10am.

We were soon joined by Even, Ray and Hans from Oslo who have been relatively recent additions to my Facebook friends list, lured in by this very blogorama.

Thanks boys.

It was a pleasure to spend some time with them. They are over for a week or so and will be at Southampton on Tuesday and at the West Ham game next weekend. They have all been Chelsea since the early-‘seventies. Ray and Hans are season-ticket holders in the MHL, and from what I could work out sit relatively close to the Kent Boys – Kim, Andy, Dan, Graham and more – who were nestled around another table in the boozer.

“I’ll try to keep a look out for you.”

Ray and Hans come over for fifteen to twenty games every season.

Top class.

We were joined by Sophie – fresh from her enjoyable trip to Milan of all places – and Andy and then we all left for the game at two o’clock.

Parky made his way to join his pals in The Shed. PD, Glenn and I continued on to the familiar stairs of the Matthew Harding. Inside, we were joined by Gary – who sits a few yards away from me in the MHU but is within earshot of those sitting in The Shed Upper – and Clive.

So, alongside me was Glenn, then Clive, then PD.

The Famous Four.

A Saturday league game at three o’clock. Weekends were made for this.

A typical day at the office.

Let’s go to work.

On the pitch, the team lined up with Edouard in goal, what seemed like a back four of Reece, Thiago Silva, Trevoh and Marc, a midfield of Ruben, Jorginho, Conor and Mase, with Havertz and Raheem up top. But it wasn’t always easy to see exactly who occupied what part of the pitch. Where’s my heat map when I need it? The Famous Four’s heat map was mainly four dots the entire first-half with one solitary excursion to the gents for Clive. Thomas Tuchel’s heat map must have been a single dot too, banished to the stands after the altercation with Antonio Conte after the last home game.

We attacked the Matthew Harding in the first-half. It always seems odd.

Early on, Raheem advanced centrally and rolled an absolutely perfectly-weighted ball into the path of Ruben – I expected a goal, I was up on my feet – but Leicester ‘keeper Danny Ward was able to recover and block well at his near post.

On twelve moments, we were awarded a penalty after a clumsy challenge on Ruben by Youri Tielemans – our 2021 FA Cup Final nemesis – and I was up on my feet again. For some reason, I immediately glanced around me and was shocked (shocked, I tell ya) to see that 90% of my close neighbours in the MHU were fully seated.

What? We have just been awarded a penalty! Good God. Has our support become that dull and unresponsive?

Ah, but maybe they knew something. After a few seconds, VAR was called into action. We waited with that dull ache of inevitably.

In the build-up, Kai had been spotted in an off-side position.

Those watching on TV at home – the important ones – probably had a much better view, and explanation, than us in the stadium.

We had definitely begun the better team, with Raheem buzzing about nicely, but then our play drifted and we lost a lot of intensity and Leicester came into the game.

I think I heard a “Dennis Wise is a wanker” chant from the Foxes. Answers on a postcard. I guess he wasn’t particularly liked when he played for them after leaving us.

On the half-an-hour, Marc wasted a corner on the far side and the ball was punted away. Conor then made a terrible lunge on Harvey Barnes in his own half. The youngster – again seemingly eager to impress –  had begun the game with a lovely crunching tackle, but I apparently missed a yellow that he had received earlier. This absolutely silly tackle was rewarded with a second yellow. While Clive fucked off to the little boys’ room, Conor fucked off to the dressing room.

Silly boy.

I lamented the fact that we were down to ten men for the second successive game and had mustered just one shot on goal in just over thirty minutes.

Next, Edouard jumped at a ball from corner and the appeared to fluff his lines completely. The ball was turned in but thankfully a foul on Mendy had been spotted.

On forty-two minutes, a ball dropped nicely for Reece but his powerful strike hit the angle of near post and cross-bar.

Two shots. Oh boy.

Next, a pass from Tielemans sliced through our last line and the advancing Jamie Vardy – his wife is a grass – scuffed his shot wide and this reminded me so much of the Kane miss a fortnight earlier.

This was a pretty poor performance from us. It was a pretty poor game. The atmosphere was not worthy of the name. Sigh.

I turned to Clive : “our link up play just doesn’t hurt anyone.”

Just before the half-time whistle, Dennis Praet was in on goal and there was a fear of impending gloom. Thankfully Edouard raced from his line and made a very fine save indeed.

At the break, the doom mongers were out, including me.

“0-0 – can’t see us scoring…”

One of the bright spots in the first forty-five minutes had been Trevoh’s solid showing. I said to Gal  “is Fofana really £70M better than Chalobah?”

As the second-half begun, I saw Dave in his number twenty-eight shirt, on the pitch. I missed the fine detail of the substitution. I soon worked out that Mason had been replaced and I realised that he had hardly played any part in the first-half. Weird times.

Dave played in a three with Reece and Marc moving to wing-backs.

After just two minutes of the second-half, the game changed. A very fine ball from Marc found Raheem in the inside left channel. A little shimmy, some space gained, and then a shot that was subtly deflected up and over the despairing leap of Ward in the Leicester City goal.

The crowd roared.

One-nil to Chelsea.

At last Stamford Bridge boomed.

“Sing when we’re winning? Yes.”

Soon after, another lucky deflection – this time on another Marc to Raheem pass – set things up nicely but his shot cannoned back off the far post with Ward well beaten.

I loved how Trevoh twisted in mid-air to stretch and head a dangerous cross out for a corner, his braids flying every which way.

A break from Ruben with Marc in acres of space outside him but he chose to continue on and attempt to beat a man, one of his “things” that annoys me. The ball was lost.

Half-way through the second period, we witnessed a fine move. Jorginho guided a ball out wide. Havertz, almost walking, played a ball forward into space down in Parkyville for Reece. His smart cross was zipped across the goal and Raheem was beautifully positioned to tap in.

Chelsea two-up.

Wow.

With no James Maddison, it was Harvey Barnes who was causing us a few problems. Not long after our second goal, he played a neat one-two with Vardy and smashed the ball past Edouard at his near post.

That wasn’t on the script. Fackinell.

This, then, set up a very nervy final quarter of the game.

There were worried looks in the Matthew Harding as the away team attacked our end. But it was a major plus that we possessed the calming influence of Thiago Emiliano da Silva in our defence. He was putting on another sublime performance. A sliding tackle on seventy-seven minutes was worth the admission money on its own. The applause boomed around the stadium.

I loved the way the home crowd got behind the team in those last nervy minutes.

“CAM ON CHOWLSEA. CAM ON CHOWLSEA. CAM ON CHOWLSEA. CAM ON CHOWLSEA. CAM ON CHOWLSEA. CAM ON CHOWLSEA.”

There was a fine Mendy save from Barnes, down low.

Two substitutions :

Mateo for Jorginho.

Christian for Raheem.

These freshened things up nicely.

Late on, I spotted Ray and Hans in the MHL.

The most worrying moment occurred on eighty-two minutes when that man Vardy raced away and clear of Trevoh. Our last defender made a valiant effort to stop him, chopping high, but the ball ran on. He rounded Mendy but with a heavy touch. His slashed shot thankfully only hit the side netting.

Ben for Marc.

With continental-style whistling and the constant “CAM ON CHOWLSEA” combining for a deafening finish, Leicester broke through one last time. Ayoze Perez ran through and slammed a fierce shot goal wards. But Mendy had stayed tall, narrowing angles, closing free space, and the ball thundered against the underside of the bar.

Phew.

Four league games. Two wins. A draw. A loss. A solid start, nothing more.

I will see some of you at Southampton on Tuesday evening.

Gallery

Chelsea Norway

1982/1983

Tales From Difficult Shapes And Passive Rhythms

Everton vs. Chelsea : 6 August 2022.

My summer had been quiet. I never fancied another CFC tour to the US during the close-season, and there was no holiday abroad to excite me. It was simply a case of staying at home, saving pennies and attempting to relax from the burden of work which was as busy as ever. The highlight of my summer season was a little burst of gigs involving some music from my youth; Tom Robinson, Tears For Fears, Stiff Little Fingers and China Crisis. Waiting in the wings in September are Altered Images and Toyah. It will be 1982 all over again and that is never a bad thing.

The summer was also short. The gap between the last game of 2021/22 to the opening match of the new season was a brief ten weeks. As time passed, I became increasingly bored with the constant tittle-tattle of rumour and counter rumour regarding our transfer targets. I realised how much I disliked the mere mention of the name Fabrizio Romano; nobody likes a smart arse. I again squirmed every time fan after fan, supporter after supporter, FIFA nerd after FIFA nerd used the phrase “done deal” without transfers being completed. Once players sign, then we can talk.

Maybe it’s an age thing but sometimes I feel that I am from another footballing planet compared to a lot of our support.

Our season would open up in a grand fashion. To start, my favourite away stadium with a trip to Everton’s Goodison Park and then what I would class as our biggest home game with the visit of Tottenham. Two absolute belters. Early on in the campaign there would also be visits to Leeds United, Southampton and Fulham. These are three cracking away trips too. But the downside of this opening burst of away games is that we only just visited Everton, Leeds and Southampton very recently. Could the league computer not have spaced the buggers out a bit?

As the new season approached, I was inevitably concerned that my enthusiasm levels weren’t at especially high levels, but this is so often the case. I often find that I need the season to begin for me to get fully back into the swing of things. But my indifference to the new campaign actually shocked me this summer.

I was faced with the age-old question: was my love of the game waning? It’s a strange one. Many aspects of the modern game leave me cold. So cold. Yet I lap up the chance to attend live matches. There is the old cliché about football – Chelsea – being my drug and I can’t dispute this. Perhaps I should add that my summer season included four Frome Town friendlies, my most ever.

Football, eh?

I hate you but I love you too.

The alarm was set for the new season at 5.30am. By 7.30am I had collected the Fun Boy Three – PD, GG and LP – and we were on our way once again.

I made good progress. After picking up PD at 7am, I had deposited the three of them outside “The Thomas Frost” boozer on Walton Road just south of Goodison only four hours later. It was surely my quickest-ever journey up to Merseyside.

While my fellow travelling companions settled down for five or more hours of supping, I began a little tour around the city, one that I had been promising myself for ages. It was also time for a little more introspection.

This would be my fiftieth consecutive season of attending Chelsea games – 1973/74 to 2022/23, count’em up – even though my fiftieth anniversary will not be until March 2024. Additionally, this would be the fifteenth season that I been writing these blogs. Long gone are the viewing figures of when these were featured on the Chelsea In America bulletin board, but these are such a part of my match-going routine now and I can’t give them up. However, over the summer one of my close friends, Francis, suggested that I should take a year out of match photography and blogging. Just to give myself a rest. An average blog takes four hours of my time. But the look that I gave him probably shocked him to the core.

“Nah. It’s what I do mate.”

I will be honest, I did go over the options in my mind though.

But here I am. Writing away. Taking photos.

I hope that I still maintain the will to keep doing this for a while yet. With the rumours of us partaking in a partial rebuild of Stamford Bridge under the new Todd Boehly regime, I have to continue on until that is finished surely? The success of the Roman Abramovich era might never be matched but there is always something to write about at Chelsea.

On we go.

On my own now, I edged my car south and west towards the River Mersey. Within five minutes, I was parked up a few hundred yards away from the construction site of the new Everton Stadium at Bramley Moore Dock. Camera in hand, I set off to record the progress being made.

I hopped up onto a small wall to gain a good vantage point of the overall scene. This would be photo number one of the season.

Snap.

On leaping down from the wall, my legs crumpled and I fell.

Splat.

The camera and spare lens went flying. My knees – my fucking knees! – were smarting. I was sure I had torn my jeans. There was blood on my right hand. What a start to the season’s photographs. I dusted myself down, then let out a huge laugh.

The first fackinell of the season? Oh yes.

One photo taken and carnage.

Ha.

I limped further along Boundary Street and spent a good twenty minutes or so taking it all in. I found it rather funny that a bold sign warned against site photography and sharing images on social media. During my spell there, around fifteen other lads – not being sexist, they were all lads – called by to take some photos too. I am not ashamed to say that I have recently subscribed to two YouTube channels that provide drone updates of the construction sites at Bramley Moore and also Anfield.

I love a stadium, me.

So, the scene that I was witnessing was indeed pretty familiar. The skeletal shell of the new stadium is rising with the two end stands – the south and north – being the first to pierce the sky alongside the murky grey of the famous river. There are seven cranes covering the site. Maybe those lads were just crane spotters.

I must admit it looks a glorious setting for a new stadium. Evertonians – like me, no doubt – will hate the upheaval of moving out of good old Goodison in a couple of years, but the move represents the chance to level up the playing field with their more moneyed neighbours at the top of the hill up on Stanley Park. I had a fear that last season’s visit to Goodison would be my last. I believe that the new stadium is slated to open up during the 2024/25 campaign.

There was a chance – with Everton likely to flirt with relegation again perhaps – that this day would mark my last ever visit to Goodison.

I hoped not.

I have a personal history with this stadium that I have often mentioned.

I marched back to the car and then drove south towards the city centre. I immediately passed a huge derelict warehouse – a tobacco warehouse I believe – and I had visions of the red brick structure being upgraded to a hotel to take care of the new match day traffic that the new stadium would attract.

But I then heard a voice inside my head, of my mate Chris, a staunch Evertonian.

“Chris lad, all our support comes from Merseyside, The Wirral, the new towns, out to the North Wales coast, we don’t have any day trippers, la.”

I continued on. I have driven around the city centre – or at least the area by the Albert Dock – on many occasions but the scale of the Liver Building knocked me for six. What a building. It’s magnificent. But I drove past it – I spotted a massive bar called “Jurgen’s” – and headed up the hill inland. For many years, ten or more, I have wanted to visit the two cathedrals in the city. This was as perfect a day as any to get this accomplished.

I parked outside the massive Anglican Cathedral on St. James Mount. The sandstone used immediately reminded me of the stone used on the tunnels approaching Lime Street – and the “Cockneys Die” graffiti – and of Edge Hill Station on that first-ever visit to the city for football in May 1985. The building is huge. It is the longest cathedral in the world. I popped inside as a service was taking place. The visitors – there were many – walked around in hushed tones. A few photographs were inevitably taken.

I then headed north and then west and aimed for the second of the city’s great cathedrals, or the fourth if the cathedrals at either end of Stanley Park are included, the Metropolitan Cathedral. This Roman Catholic cathedral – made of concrete in the ‘sixties – sits at Mount Pleasant.

Hope Street links the two religious buildings. It looked a very lively place with theatres and eateries. I dived into the granddaddy of all Liverpool’s pubs, The Philharmonic, famous the world over for the elaborate porcelain fittings in the gents. More photographs followed both inside and out of the funkier of the two cathedrals – nicknamed “The Mersey Funnel” and “Paddy’s Wigwam” – and I was lost in my own world for a few moments.

The art deco Philharmonic Hall looked a magnificent site. The TV tower in the city centre was spotted between a canopy of green leaves. There were blue skies overhead. The Liver Birds could be seen peaking over some terraced rooftops. A few hen parties were making Hope Street their own. Maybe on another visit to the city, I will investigate further.

But it was time to move on. I dabbed a CD on as I pulled out of the car park – China Crisis’ Gary Daly’s solo album “Luna Landings”- a 2020 issue of some synth tracks recorded in the ‘eighties – and it was just perfect.

My route took me past some old, and grand, Georgian houses no doubt once owned by the cream of Liverpool’s entrepreneurs, businessmen and traders when a full forty percent of global trade came through the port of Liverpool. But it then took me past Edge Hill, and onto Tue Brook – past the drinking dens of “The Flat Iron” and “The Cabbage Hall” of match days at Anfield in previous years – and everything was a lot more down-at-heal, the Liverpool of hackneyed legend.

At around 3pm I was parked up in Stanley Park. Up to my left, the extension of the Annie Road Stand at Anfield was in full flow. It will bring the capacity up to 61,000. The new Everton one will be just under 53,000.

Ouch, la.

I popped into “The Thomas Frost” – my least favourite football pub – and located the lads, who had been joined by Deano and Dave, plus a cast of what appeared to be thousands. A friend, Kim, had not been able to attend due to COVID so her ticket was passed on to another pal, Sophie. The chaps had witnessed the Fulham and Liverpool 2-2 draw, and PD was shocked at the hatred that the watching Evertonians showed their local rivals.

Heysel robbed Evertonians of a tilt at European glory and it is not forgotten by many.

A song for Marc Cucarella was aired by the younger element. It would become the song of the day.

I excused myself and squeezed out of the boozer.

This particular corner of Liverpool, along the Walton Road, is a classic pre-match location for Everton home games. “The Thomas Frost”, “The Clock”, “The Party Pad” and “St. Hilda’s” are close, and drinkers from both clubs were inside and outside all of them. At just gone 4pm, my friends – and brothers – Tommie (Chelsea) and Chris (Everton) approached “St. Hilda’s” and it was glorious to see them again.

Here was the reason why we go to football.

Lads enjoying a laugh, a catch-up, a bevvy.

I was welcomed by the Evertonians that I met outside the pub. I loved it.

This is football.

Chris was in the middle of a punk festival – “Rebellion” – up the road in Blackpool and so was now mixing up his twin passions. The brothers are off to watch Stiff Little Fingers together in Dublin over the next few weeks. That 1982 vibe again. Both of the brothers helped me plan my Buenos Aires adventure a few years back and we all love our travel / football addiction.

We briefly mentioned previous encounters. This was the first time that we had begun a league season at Everton in my living memory, though there had been opening games at Stamford Bridge in 1995 – Ruud Gullit’s league debut, a 0-0 draw – and also way back in 1978. The earlier game – a 0-1 home loss – was memorable for two of my pre-match friends in 2022. It was Glenn’s first ever Chelsea game and he still rues a miss by Ray Wilkins. It was also Chris’ first visit to Stamford Bridge with Everton. I spoke about it with him. It has gone down in Chelsea folklore as being the “High Street Kensington” game, when Chelsea ambushed Everton’s mob at that particular tube station. This inspired the infamous “Ordinary To Chelsea” graffiti outside Lime Street, aimed at uniting both sets of fans to travel together to Stamford Bridge for the Liverpool league fixture later in the season. The graffiti is so iconic that sweatshirts are being produced featuring the image almost fifty years later.

Time was again moving on.

Chris and I sauntered off to opposite ends of the Bullens Road.

I left him with a parting shot.

“Up The Fucking Toffees.”

He smiled.

“Up The Fucking Toffees.”

The kick-off was at 5.30pm and I was inside at around 4.45pm or so.

At last, I had a seat that wasn’t tucked way past the goal-line. In fact, it was right on the goal-line. Compared to previous visits my seat 38 felt as if I was watching from the royal box.  John from Paddington now sits with Alan, Gary, Parky and little old me at away games now; the Fantastic Five. I looked over at the Park End; Everton had handed out tons of royal blue flags for their fans to wave. I heard Chris’ voice once again.

“Typical Kopite behaviour.”

I hoped that the ground would be full of shiny unhappy people by the end of the game.

John asked me for my prediction.

I thought for a few seconds and went safe : “0-0.”

It was time to reacquaint myself with more than a few friends as the kick-off time approached. I had recently seen Julie and Tim at the SLF gig in Frome. And I had shared a fine evening with Kev in Aberdare at the recent China Crisis gig.

“From Abu Dhabi to Aberdare” anyone?

Kev, in fact, was wearing a China Crisis T-shirt. I had joked on the night that I would wear my exact same copy to the game too, but I had forgotten all about that. Probably just as well, eh Kev?

We could work out the starting line-up from the drills taking place in front of us. The confirmation came on the twin TV screens at opposite ends of the ground.

Mendy

Dave – Silva – Koulibaly

James – Jorginho – Kante – Chilwell

Mount – Havertz – Sterling

In light of our former chairman’s departure, I am surprised that nobody else but me did the “$ out, £ in” joke over the summer.

The PA ramped up the volume with a few Everton favourites, and then the stirring “Z Cars” rung out around Goodison.

It was unchanged as it has been from around 1994.

The rather mundane and bland single-tier of the Park Lane to my left. The still huge main stand, double-decked, sloping away in the top left corner. St’ Luke’s Church peeping over the TV screen in the opposite corner and then the continuous structure of the Gwladys Street bleeding into the Bullens Road, the Leitch cross-struts on show for decades but not for much longer.

A couple of large banners were paraded in the Gwladys Street.

To the left, an image of The Beatles with an Everton scarf wrapped around them all. Were they really all Evertonians? Well, they weren’t day trippers, that’s for sure.

I hoped that their team would be The Beaten.

To the right, there was an image of our Frank on a banner. Gulp.

The teams lined-up.

A shrill noise.

Football was back.

Alas we were back in the odd away kit. From a long way away, it looks reasonable, but up close I can’t say I am too fond of the stencilled lion nonsense on the light blue / turquoise hoops. This overly fussy design, which is mirrored in the collar of the home kit, resembles a great aunt’s frock design from 1971 far too much for my liking.

Me, bored rigid on a family outing, stifling yawns :“Yes, I’d love another piece of fruit cake please auntie”…but thinking “your dress looks ridiculous.”

To be honest, in the pre-release glimpses, the colour looked more jade green than blue. Eck from Glasgow, sat to my left, must have been having kittens.

Both teams were wearing white shorts. I think that ruling has changed only recently.

The game began. I was immediately warned by a sweaty steward to not use my camera. In the ensuing moments, Eck leant forward and shielded my illicit pursuits. It worked a treat.

As the game started to develop, the away crowd got behind the team, but with the lower tier of the Bullens outdoing the top tier. I must admit I didn’t sing too much during the whole game; I am getting old, eh? Soon into the game, I experienced chant envy as I couldn’t make out the Koulibaly song being sung with gusto in the lower deck.

Goodison has been an awful venue for us of late. Our record was of four consecutive losses.

But we began as we often began with the majority of possession.

The first real incident involved Kai Havertz who picked up a wayward clearance from Jordan Pickford after a poor back pass from Ben Godfrey. Rather than pass inside, he lashed the ball against the side netting. Attempting to tackle, Godfrey injured himself and there was a delay of many minutes before he was stretchered off.

There was a swipe from Mason Mount that Jordan Pickford managed to claw away. At the other end, a deep cross from Vitaly Mykolenko was headed goal wards by James Tarkowski but Edouard Mendy did ever so well to tip it over.

Everton occasionally threatened, but our defence – the veteran Dave especially – were able to quell their advances. N’Golo Kante, right after a Chelsea attack, was able to block an Everton shot back in his own penalty area. He had no right to be there. The man was starting the season as our strongest player.

Next up, Thiago Silva – the calm and cool maestro – cut out an Everton break down our right, and this drew rapturous applause.

A shot from Kante was fumbled by Pickford but although Raheem Sterling pounced to score – a dream start? – he was ruled offside. It looked offside to me, way down on the other goal line. Who needs cameras?

To be truthful, despite corner after corner (or rather shite corner after shite corner) that resulted in a few wayward headers, it wasn’t much of a half. The home fans were quiet, and the away section in the upper tier were getting quieter with each passing minute.

But corner after corner were smacked into the Everton box.

“More corners than a Muller warehouse.”

I noticed that the movement off the ball was so poor.

I chatted to Eck : “Without a target man, our forwards need to be constantly moving, swapping over, pulling defenders away, allowing balls into space.”

There was sadly none of it. I couldn’t remember two white-shirted players crossing over the entire half.

I had visions of a repeat of the dull 0-0 at Stoke City that began the 2011/12 campaign.

In injury time, Abdoulaye Doucoure manhandled Ben Chilwell on a foray into the box. It looked a clear penalty to me.

Jorginho.

1-0

Alan : “They’ll have to come at us now, like.”

Chris : “Come on my little diamonds, like.”

It was the last kick of the half. Phew.

As the second-half began, the sun was still beating down on us in the upper tier. I was getting my longest exposure to the sun of the entire summer. But the game didn’t really step up. The noise continued to fall away. If anything, Everton threatened much more than us in the second-half.

A shot from Demarai Gray – after a mess up between Silva and Mendy – was thankfully blocked by our man from Senegal.

Celery was tossed around in the away section and some local stewards looked bemused.

Some substitutions.

Christian Pulisic for a very quiet Mount.

Ruben Loftus-Cheek for Chilwell.

Reece swapped wings and Ruben played wide right.

It was pretty grim and pretty tepid stuff this. A tough watch.The practised attacking patterns needed more work. It just wasn’t gelling at all. And during that second-half we allowed Everton a little too much space in key areas. It is early days though. But I have to say it as I saw it.

I could lose myself in this honesty.

More substitutions from Thomas Tuchel.

Armando Broja for a weak Havertz.

Marc Cucarella for Koulibaly.

I wasn’t too happy about us singing Frank’s name during the game.

It took bloody ages for us to get an effort, any effort, on goal. It came on eighty-one minutes, a James free-kick, tipped over. Then, just after a pass from Cucarella to Sterling and a shot deflected for a corner.

To be fair, Pulisic looked keen when he came on and added a new dimension to our play. Cucarella looked mustard too. He looked neat, and picked out a few lovely passes, zipped with pace.

“He’s from Marbella, he eats Bonjela” wasn’t it?

And it was a joy to see Broja on the pitch, charging into space, taking defenders with him, a focal point. I hope he is given a full crack of the whip this season.

In the eighth minute of extra time, Conor Gallagher made his debut and I caught his first touch, at a free-kick, on camera. I see great things for him.

It ended 1-0.

Outside, I bumped into Sophie, with Andy her father, and remembered that she was soon off to Milan, with a side-visit to Como after talking to me in the pub at the end of last season.

“Did you know Dennis Wise is the CEO at Como?”

It made Sophie’s day. Dennis is her favourite ever Chelsea player.

We walked back to the waiting car and shared a few thoughts about the game. It was no classic, but we were all relieved with the win. Tottenham, our next opponents, won 4-1 at home to Southampton and I admitted to PD :

“I’m dreading it.”

“I am too.”

Out