Tales From My Chelsea Family Tree.

Chelsea vs. Crystal Palace : 14 December 2013.

As strange as it seems for me to write these words, this was only my sixth sighting of Crystal Palace as a Chelsea supporter. During my teens and ‘twenties when my ability to attend matches was hampered by lack of money, there were some teams that I wittingly or unwittingly avoided. Admittedly our paths didn’t cross every season, but given the choice of travelling up from Somerset to see the boys play Tottenham or Palace, there would have been only one winner. My first-ever game was an away encounter at Selhurst Park in the autumn of 1991; a dull 0-0. There has only ever been one other visit to Selhurst Park for me to see us play Palace; a pre-season friendly in 2003 when the Arthur Waite Stand was overrun with a huge Chelsea army excited at seeing one of the first games of the Roman Abramovich reign. In fact, another odd statistic; I’ve visited Selhurst Park on five occasions, but only two games have involved Palace. The other three games were against their tenants Charlton Athletic (1989) and then Wimbledon (1996 and 1999).

So, this would only be my fourth Chelsea vs. Crystal Palace game at Stamford Bridge. I can remember the game in November 1992 when I watched on the Shed, uncovered, in spitting rain, with my mate Daryl. Our respective paths had crossed a year or so earlier as fans of baseball – the Yankees in particular, Daryl produced a Yankee fanzine and I contributed on occasion – but it only became apparent a year or so into our limited communication that we were both Chelsea fanatics. We arranged to meet up for a pint in The Black Bull before that game over twenty-one years ago and we have become the very best of friends since. I met Daryl’s brother Neil a month or so later for another game. It’s fascinating to me how these Chelsea friendships are forged. Daryl, Neil and I hope to celebrate our fiftieth birthdays watching baseball in New York in 2015. Meeting new fellow fans in that era was rare; at the time I usually travelled up from Frome by myself, meeting only Alan on occasion, and most commonly in the Black Bull. In those days, Gary used to call by occasionally. There were other acquaintances, but many have fallen by the wayside.

I remember introducing Daryl to Glenn at the Makita at White Hart Lane in 1993, then Alan a year or so later. For the 1994 F.A. Cup Final, Daryl and I watched the game together. The following season, we travelled to Prague and Zaragoza together. In Prague, we bumped into long-time Chelsea stalwart Andy from Nuneaton and friendships blossomed.

With each passing game, my number of match-going Chelsea mates grew one by one. One day I might sit down and type out a chronological chart of when friendships began.

A Chelsea Family Tree, if you will.

Glenn 1983.

Alan, Walnuts, Leggo, Mark and Simon 1984.

Gary 1988.

Daryl and Neil 1992

Andy and Neil 1994.

Jonesy and The Youth 1995.

Ironically, Daryl and Neil would not be in attendance for this one; instead, they were back in Guernsey to celebrate their father’s 70th. birthday.

I collected Glenn (from 1983, though we first met in 1977) at 8.45am and soon picked-up Parky (2000) too. Glenn always berates me for not wanting to talk too much about the football on the drive to Chelsea, but on this occasion there was lots to talk about. Players were discussed, performances analysed, games examined. There was hope that we could despatch Crystal Palace and stack up three points ahead of the pre-Christmas showdown with Arsenal.

Before the usual pre-match in The Goose (a friend since 1999), all three of us made a quick pilgrimage to the “CFCUK” stall to purchase Mark Worrall’s new Chelsea book. Detailing the first ten years of “The Roman Years”, it contains many anecdotes from Chelsea regulars, a selection of photographs and a forward by Sir Frank Lampard. My small contribution details the day of Frank’s 202nd and 203rd goals at Villa Park.

“Only £16.99, HURRY UP.”

It was a lovely pre-match in The Goose. The Manchester City vs. Arsenal game was garnering a fair bit of attention and yelps of approval greeted the City goals. Some may say that a draw would be the best result, but I just wanted a heavy Arsenal defeat so that their season could start its inevitable implosion in December 2013 rather than March 2014. I personally think that the league is City’s to lose. Being brutally honest, if we are not to win it – a tough ask, let’s admit it now – I would rather the title ended up at City rather than Arsenal.

There was chat with Rob (2005), Sophie (2000), Barbara (2011) and Eva (2012). Tim (2009) and the Bristol Boys were nearby.

As the goals rattled in at Eastlands, the laughter increased. A great time.

Rob warned that although the Crystal Palace “ultras” come in for a lot of stick, they would make a lot of noise.

And fair play to them. This would be their first visit since they were gubbed 4-1 in the 2004-2005 Championship season – WHEN EVEN MATEJA KEZMAN SCORED TWICE – and I was sure they would enjoy their visit regardless of the result. I’ve lost count of the number of games I have seen this season when Selhurst Park appears to be rocking, yet the only fans seemingly involved are the little knot of 200 “ultras” in the bottom corner of the Holmesdale Road End. They appear to be “miked” too.

I mentioned this to Alan.

“Of course” he replied. “The TV love that, miking the fans that make a racket, making out the atmosphere is loud throughout the stadium.”

On ascending the steps to the upper tier, confirmation that two very late goals had been exchanged in Manchester.

City 6 Arsenal 3.

Let the implosion commence.

As we entered the seats, I was given a Christmas card from Joe (1997) who sits nearby with his son Gary. Joe is now eighty-five. We love him to bits.

There have been few Chelsea versus Crystal Palace “classics” but the one game that always seems to grab the attention of my generation came in 1976 during our F.A. Cup campaign. As a struggling Second Division team, we were drawn at home with Malcolm Allison’s Third Division Crystal Palace in the fifth round of the cup. This fixture really captured the imagination of the London public and, with Stamford Bridge’s vast terraces able to withstand the demand, over 54,000 attended. Sadly, we lost 3-2 but it is an afternoon that I can easily recount some 37 years later.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7M6pRs5PHF4

Just after the first two Palace goals, thousands of Chelsea teenagers can be heard singing “Chelsea aggro, Chelsea aggro, ‘ello, ‘ello.”

With Chelsea chasing the game, the atmosphere is clearly electric. The old Stamford Bridge, full to bursting, was a grand old stadium in its time. The sight of The Shed holding almost twenty thousand spectators is just gorgeous.

Peter Taylor went on to play for Tottenham. I never liked him.

I had a quick run through the team and two players stood out; Michael Essien, despite having a nightmare two weeks ago, was back alongside Ramires and David Luiz was partnering John Terry. Further forward, Juan Mata, Willian and Eden Hazard were asked to provide ammunition for the recalled Fernando Torres.

Very soon into the game, the three thousand Palace fans were working their way through their own very distinctive repertoire of songs. They were bellowing them out. It was pretty impressive stuff. Maybe I was wrong; maybe Selhurst is rocked by more than those two hundred self-styled “ultras” in that bottom left corner of their home end.

They taunted us : “Is this a library?” and then “Here for the Palace, you’re only here for the Palace.”

We replied : “Here for the season, you’re only here for the season.”

The away team were fighting for every ball under new boss Tony Pulis. However, after only a quarter of an hour, Willian sensed an opportunity to run at goal. His positive dribble took him close and he sent a low shot towards Speroni. The Palace ‘keeper’s dive turned the ball onto the post only for Fernando Torres to pounce on the rebound.

1-0 Chelsea

Alan and I did our usual routine.

You know the score.

Immediately after, the Palace fans ignored the deficit and rallied behind their team. Well done them. It reminded of us when we were…er…shit.

We then hit a little purple patch with some lovely play from a strong Torres run and then a Mata touch enabling Ivanovic to strike at goal. His shot scraped the far post. This was good stuff. Maybe more goals would follow. Even the home crowd were getting involved.

A London derby with noise. Just like 1976. Luvverly jubberly.

Until then, Palace had only enjoyed rare opportunities to attack. Sadly, just before the half-hour mark, a Palace move down our right resulted in a ball being whipped in for an unmarked Chamakh to volley home.

We fell silent and the Palace fans bounced in unison. It was a celebration typical of fans from Istanbul, not Croydon.

I turned to Alan : “I don’t care what anyone says. That’s impressive.”

Thankfully, we regained the lead soon after.

Eden Hazard, relatively subdued until then, glided past his marker and passed to an unmarked Ramires. Our little midfield dynamo looked up, aimed and fired a curler into Speroni’s goal.

2-1 Chelsea. Phew.

At the break, Danny Granville – Stockholm 1998 and all that – was on the pitch with Neil Barnett. Thousands upon thousands of new Chelsea fans in the West Upper scratched their heads.

In the second-half, Crystal Palace were clearly more aggressive than in the opening forty-five minutes. Our midfield were left chasing shadows and the frustration among the home support grew with each passing minute. Palace raided our goal, but thankfully neither Nicky Chatterton nor Peter Bloody Taylor was on hand to score. Petr Cech was able to smother and repel all of the efforts on his goal. Still the Palace fans sang.

Essien, though clearly not at his best, stayed on as Juan Mata was replaced by Oscar. Our chances had dried up and we were hanging on. Palace were surprising us all. There was a ridiculous scramble at The Shed End on seventy-five minutes, but continued shots at goal were thwarted by desperate defending by the Chelsea rear-guard. A header then flashed past the post. Cech’s goal was leading a charmed life.

And all around me, instead of generous support for Chelsea in our twenty minutes of need, there was little singing and little encouragement.

At one point, after a welcome period of positive Chelsea play, out of over one hundred spectators in our little section, Alan noted only Big John, Alan and myself clapped.

Welcome to Stamford Bridge 2013.

In the last ten minutes, Andre Schurrle replaced Willian and then Demba Ba replaced Torres. This really surprised me. Although there was little defensive options on the bench available to him, Mourinho chose to make offensive rather than defensive changes. Rather than bring on Lamps as extra cover, Jose chose other options. I quickly remembered an infamous game from only last season.

At Reading with us winning 2-1, Rafa Benitez replaced Torres with Ba rather than shore up the defence. We let in an equaliser.

At home to Palace in 2014, with us winning 2-1, Jose Mourinho replaced Torres with Ba rather than shore up the defence. I hoped there would be no equaliser.

Our nerves were jangling. We were still hanging on. There was still no noticeable show of support for the boys.

There were two late Chelsea chances at the Matthew Harding. The ball was played through towards Ramires but, with only Speroni to beat, the little Brazilian fluffed his kick. Whereas I sighed in silent frustration, I looked quickly to my left where there were howls of indignation and anger being aimed at Ramires by many in the MH Upper.

These fuckers had hardly sung a note of support for the team all afternoon, yet their faces were contorted with rage at Ramires’ miss and were heaping abuse towards our own players on the pitch below.

Soon after, another Chelsea chance came and went. There was an almighty scramble after substitute Schurrle played a lovely wall pass with Ba, but shot right at the Palace custodian. The rebound came to Ba, but Speroni again saved. A further rebound was sliced wide by the suddenly hapless Rami.

I grimaced as fellow supporters in the MHU spewed vitriol once more.

With four minutes of extra time signalled, I commented to Alan that we were still looking to attack. This was a very different approach to the Mourinho team of ten seasons ago when a tight, nervy game would be notable for ball retention among the back four rather than forward passes.

Despite one more Palace chance, we survived.

However, such was the dreadful atmosphere during the last ten minutes, it honestly felt like we had lost.

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Tales From Twenty-Three Years.

Chelsea vs. Tottenham Hotspur : 8 May 2013.

In the packed Goose beer garden before the game, Rob was able to hand over my ticket for the Europa League Final in Amsterdam. It was great to have it in my own mitts. The worse thing that we can all do is take this game for granted, especially since it follows on the coat tails of last May’s triumph in Munich. This will only amount to Chelsea Football Club’s fifth European Final in 108 years. I personally can’t wait. To be truthful, the evening game against Tottenham felt like a European match. One chap likened it to the famous Chelsea vs. Liverpool match in May 2003. I was certainly aware of what was at stake. However, it wasn’t all about Champions League football in 2013/2014. We had our unbeaten home run in the league against Tottenham to protect.

…December 1 1990…a cracking game of football involving a Spurs team which included Italia ’90 superstars Gary Lineker and Paul Gascoigne for Tottenham and Italia ’90 squad members Dave Beasant and Tony Dorigo for Chelsea. Chelsea triumphed 3-2, Lineker blasted a penalty over the bar and I watched from the old West Stand.

On the walk down to the stadium, there was a proper big game feel to the atmosphere. I was in my seat with a good ten minutes to spare. The stadium seemed to take forever to fill up. Over in the far corner were 3,000 Spurs fans. Not one single flag or banner, though.

…11 January 1992…I watched from The Shed as a poor Spurs team were easily beaten with former Tottenham striker Clive Allen and Dennis Wise giving us an easy 2-0 win.

We had heard that both John Terry and Frank Lampard were not playing. However, a quick scan of the line-up didn’t cause me too much anxiety. This was a strong starting eleven, no doubt. I would have preferred JT in the defence, but I have to say that he looked decidedly shaky against Swansea City on a few occasions. Frank had put in one of his best performances of the season at Old Trafford, but it was no surprise that he was rested. So much for his and our dreams of scoring 202 against our most hated London rivals.

…20 March 1993…with David Webb in temporary charge, Tony Cascarino gave us an equaliser in a 1-1 draw. I remember Peter Osgood being on the pitch at half-time; his first appearance at Stamford Bridge for years and years. I watched from the lower west side of The Shed.

Neil Barnett quickly introduced last year’s management team before the game and there was a mixed reaction. Some booed. Some clapped. Most stayed silent. I think I clapped three times…”that’s enough.”

…27 February 1994…I didn’t attend this one unfortunately. An incredible game, which ended up 4-3 in our favour with a last-minute Mark Stein penalty. The attendance was a shockingly bad 16,807.

Juan Mata blazed over on 6 minutes but we did not have long to wait for a more pleasing effort on goal. A Mata corner dropped into the six yard box where Gary Cahill jumped pogo-like to nod the ball on to the far post where Oscar headed easily in. I had managed to capture his header on film and caught the subsequent celebrations deep in Parkyland on film too.

Get in!

Alan and I exchanged our usual pleasantries and the world was smiling.

…11 February 1995…I watched from the new North Stand as Dennis Wise stooped low to head in an equaliser. Phew.

We enjoyed more of the ball than Tottenham with Mata again going close. The busy Holtby was brilliantly tackled by Eden Hazard just as the Spurs midfielder was about to pull the trigger. However, much against the run of play, some sloppy Chelsea defending allowed Emmanuel Adebayor too much time to painstakingly guide a shot up and over the stranded Petr Cech. To be honest, I could barely believe my eyes as the net rippled. Unfortunately, I captured this shot on film too.

…25 November 1995…This game took place in the midst of the great Ken Bates vs. Matthew Harding “stand-off.” Matthew was famously banned from the Directors’ Box and so watched from the front row of the stand which he had personally financed. This was a very poor game. I watched from the temporary green seats at The Shed End and both teams were lucky to get 0.

Adebayor was proving to be quite a handful for the defensive pairing of Cahill and Ivanovic. Holtby was a bundle of energy. He reminded me of Bjarne Goldbaek. Remember him?

…26 October 1996…One of the most emotional games ever. Matthew Harding, who died on the Wednesday, was remembered on a very sombre day at Stamford Bridge. Goals from Roberto di Matteo, Ruud Gullit and David Lee gave us a 3-1 win. We watched from the North Stand, which was soon to be re-named. The image of a pint of Guinness on the centre-spot before the game was as poignant as it ever gets.

Although Spurs were back in the game, their support rarely varied from their two choice songs; “Come On You Spurs” and “Oh When The Spurs Go Marching In.”

…11 April 1998…With Jurgen Klinsmann back with Spurs for an end-of-season loan, we watched as goals from Tore Andre Flo and Gianluca Vialli gave us an easy 2-0 win. I was now watching games from my own seat in the Matthew Harding Upper. These were great times to be a Chelsea supporter.

On 39 minutes, Fernando Torres – now playing without his Zorro mask – managed to evade the opposition in a tight area on the right wing. He showed great control to turn and then adeptly play a superb ball in to the path of Ramires. Our little Brazilian hit the ball early, catching Loris off guard. His toe-poke easily hit the target. It was time to yell once more.

“YEEEEEES!”

…19 December 1998…This was another 2-0 win with goals from Gus Poyet and Tore Andre Flo. This pre-Christmas treat was even more enjoyable because it meant that the win put us top of the league for the first time in eight years. Yes, eight years. I think this match was the game where Spurs only wanted 1,500 tickets. They refused the other 1,500.

We were back in the ascendency and Champions League football was looking good for next season. One aspect of our play in the first-half which I found pleasing was the runs from Cesar Azpilicueta. On several occasions, his run took the covering left-back Assou-Ekotto with him, enabling either Mata, Hazard, Torrres, Oscar or Ramires more space to cut inside. Well done Dave.

A Kyle Walker shot flashed wide of cech’s goal just before the break, but it had been a pleasing Chelsea performance. The summary of match stats on the TV screens at the break told the story of the half; Chelsea 12 attempts, Spurs 6 attempts.

…12 January 2000…George Weah arrived from Milan in the afternoon, came off the bench in the last twenty minutes and headed home a late winner at the Shed End. This was getting too easy.

John Dempsey – he of the wildest ever football comb-over – was on the pitch with Neil Barnett at the break. Our hero in Athens was visiting Chelsea with his granddaughter who was the Chelsea match mascot. We gave both a warm reception.

…28 October 2000…Two goals from Jimmy-Floyd Hasselbaink and one from Gianfranco Zola gave us an easy 3-0 win, but I remember nothing of this one. After all, it was only Tottenham.

With ten minutes played of the second-half, it was all Chelsea. This was evolving into quite a spectacle with, for once, both sets of supporters trading songs at full volume.

…13 March 2002…Following our 4-0 win at Three Point Lane on the Sunday, this Wednesday night match was memorable for the magnificent hat-trick from Hasselbaink. A right foot thunderstrike, a bullet header and a left-foot curler. I will never see a more astounding “perfect” hat-trick. A goal from Frank Lampard gave us the fourth goal. I watched, mesmerized, in the East Upper. One of the great Chelsea versus Tottenham games.

We came close on three occasions. Fernando Torres failed to get a good connection inside the box and the effort was blocked. Azpilicueta sent in a curling effort from out wide which narrowly sailed over the far post. Eden Hazard cut inside after a trademark dribble, but – leaning back – blazed over. We wondered if we would rue those chances.

…1 February 2003…Spurs went ahead but Gianfranco Zola scored another magnificent goal, sending his free-kick curling in at the very top right hand corner of the Spurs goal. It was as perfect a free-kick as anyone could possibly imagine. This draw broke the Spurs’ losing sequence of six consecutive losses at Chelsea.

On the hour, Ramires was played in with a ball from inside his own half. The Stamford Bridge crowd roared him on. What a feeling that must be…breaking forward, with 40,000 people cheering you on. I guess we will never know. Sadly, he slipped inside the box, much to the disappointment of us all. He seemed to hit his head as he fell. Our chances were coming…but sadly going too.

…13 September 2003…I missed this game too, but not to worry. Chelsea won 4-2 in only Roman’s third home game as the new Chelsea owner.

As John Terry warmed-up over on the other side of the pitch in front of the family section, I wondered if his main role these days was to wind-up various sets of away fans in the far corner. At least it elicited a third song from the Tottenham fans. These are tough days for JT and for us fans alike. It is tremendously sad to see such a well-loved servant of the club clearly losing an edge to his game. Does he still have a role to play for us? Oh yes.

…19 September 2004…This was Jose Mourinho’s first-ever taste of a Chelsea versus Spurs derby and it will be remembered for how he chose to describe their approach to the game. The bus was parked. It was a dire 0-0 draw. Enough said. We hate Tottenham.

The game was opening up now, with our midfielders seemingly getting more distant from their opposite numbers. There were tired legs everywhere. In the programme, it mentioned that this was the 39th consecutive week that our players had either a Chelsea or national team midweek game. The last “free” week was in August.

…11 March 2006…Peter Osgood had sadly passed away ten days earlier and the game with Tottenham was the first home game since we lost our much beloved hero. This was another emotional day at Stamford Bridge. I took my Ossie banner to show my love for my childhood hero. We scored first through Michael Essien, only for Spurs to draw level. In the very last few minutes, William Gallas latched on to a loose ball and struck a venomous bullet into the Spurs goal. Stamford Bridge exploded like never before or after. For anyone there, they will never forget it.

With the game flowing back and forth, something struck me. Although it was proving to be a thoroughly entertaining – if not exhausting – game, I commented to Alan that Jose Mourinho would not allow a team of his to be chasing more goals while already leading in such a crucial match. With thirty minutes to go, he would have realised that the win would have secured Champions League football. He would have saved more goals for the Aston Villa and Everton games. He would have, quite simply, “shut up shop.” He would have asked his players to keep possession, tire Spurs out, and maybe make some defensive adjustments. How often did we see Chelsea winning 1-0, 2-0 or 2-1 at home or away under Mourinho and the ball being played across the back four? It was a very common tactic. But no, not this time. I wondered if Benitez had told the players to keep attacking relentlessly (is attack the best form of defence?) or if the players, unfettered and free in this new attacking regime, were simply acting under their own impulses. The fans certainly wanted more goals. However, crucially, I think that once the players had started to tire, the message should have been to conserve energy. Benitez should have strengthened up the defence, too.

…7 April 2007…I remember little of this game apart from the wonder strike from Lord Percy himself, Ricardo Carvalho, which sealed a 1-0 win.

Villas-Boas made two substitutes, and Benitez eventually countered by bringing on Moses on 73 minutes. However, he looked tired after only a few minutes on the pitch. Even I was losing my patience with him.

”Go past your man!”

…12 January 2008…I don’t remember much of this game. I remember Juliano Belletti scoring a screamer. I don’t remember Shaun Wright-Phillips’ goal. Yes, that’s right; even Shaun Wright-Phillips scored. Oh boy.

On 77 minutes, I glanced at the clock on the TV screen above the Spurs fans.

”God, there’s ages to go yet.”

…31 August 2008…This was a poor game. Belletti again scored for us but Darren Bent equalised on half-time. We hate Tottenham.

On eighty minutes, a Tottenham move carved through our defence and substitute Sigurdsson slotted in at the far post. The Tottenham fans exploded to life. It was a horrible sight but I always find myself inexplicably drawn to look at away fans celebrating a key goal. Oh boy.

It was again level. Fasten your seatbelts.

…20 September 2009…With Scolari in charge, we romped to an easy 3-0 victory with goals from Didier Drogba, Michael Ballack and Ashley Cole.

On 84 minutes, Benitez brought on Yossi Benayoun. The reaction of the home support was predictable but I found it annoying. Where there should have been encouragement and support, there was derision, dissention and hatred. Benitez is off in a few games time, Benayoun too; why can’t we just support the fcuking team in these last crucial four games?

…30 April 2011…This was a lovely time to be a Chelsea fan. We had beaten West Ham one Saturday and we played Tottenham the next. In between, we had the Royal Wedding and an extra day’s holiday. Sandro scored with a long-range effort in the first 20 minutes, but Frank Lampard “just” edged the ball over the line at The Shed End in first-half stoppage time. Salomon Kalou – an unlikely hero – got the winner for us in the very last minute. Again, the old place was rocking. We hate Tottenham.

I didn’t enjoy the last ten minutes. In fact, I think I watched a large proportion of it with both my hands clasped behind the back of my head; surely my body language was showing signs of nervous frustration. I imagined a Sky TV camera picking me out and the commentator mocking me –

“The Chelsea fans look worried now.”

…24 March 2012…This was a 0-0 draw. What can I remember from it? Nothing. We hate Tottenham.

What amazing drama in the last minute. Gareth Bale was fouled some thirty yards out. The crowd took a collective breath of apprehension. What a season the Monkey Man has had; every time I checked on Spurs’ progress in games, Bale seemed to have scored a late winner. And here we were…in the last minute of the biggest game of the season so far, with the Spurs saviour setting himself up.

It was in the perfect position for him, slightly to the right. Chelsea made a wall and Petr Cech took a position to his right. From where I was sitting, hands behind my head, the goal seemed to be too easy to miss. Surely he would lift a curving ball over the wall into the goal…my right, Cech’s left. They would win 3-2 (just like the bastards did in 1982), our league campaign would be in tatters and I would have to observe 3,000 Spurs fans jumping around like fools.

Oh boy.

We held our breath.

He approached. He struck. It flew high.

Petr Cech saved.

The referee signalled the end of the game. There were mixed emotions on the way out of the stadium. I heard somebody say “it felt like a loss.” I was saddened that we hadn’t clinched our Champions League berth, but I remember saying that I would not have been too unhappy with a draw on the walk to the ground.

It was imperative that Spurs didn’t win.

They didn’t.

They never do at Chelsea.

The unbeaten run – just as important as reaching the top four this season in my mind – goes on…

Parky and I dropped in to the “Fox & Pheasant” for a second-successive post midweek game drink. One fan made a great point; with a win against Tottenham, the manager could have eased off against Aston Villa on Saturday, thus saving energies for the Final in Amsterdam on Wednesday. Now, his hands are tied. He has to play his strongest teams in, potentially, all three remaining games this season.

The old adage of “taking one game at a time” now becomes very relevant.

See you all at Villa Park.

Dedicated to the memory of Chelsea fan Blind Gerry, who was at this game but tragically passed away later that night.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lUIh-XCSu9s

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vw7PxD21ZKs

RIP.

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Tales From The Match.

Manchester United vs. Chelsea : 10 March 2013.

There was every reason to suggest that the trip to Old Trafford for our F.A.Cup quarter final with Manchester United would be a tough one. Our season seems to have taken a downward trajectory in recent weeks, culminating in that dire ninety minutes in Bucharest, one of the worst Chelsea performances in living memory. One phrase kept resonating in my mind on Sunday morning.

I was travelling in blind faith.

I’d try to make the most of the day – of course I would – and I already had a visit to the Lowry Art Gallery planned to take place before the match, but there were negative vibes running through to my core. I chose a black Henri Lloyd polo to wear to the game and I did wonder if it might be an ominous sign for the day ahead.

The man in black.

Gulp.

This would be my seventeenth visit to Old Trafford to watch the boys play Manchester United. I have only visited Anfield – eighteen – on more occasions. Of course, there have been good and bad memories. There were two previous F.A. Cup games that I had attended; in 1988 and in 1999. In truth, we have only been totally outclassed on a few of those seventeen occasions. Who remembers the surreal atmosphere and the false dawn last season under Andre Villas-Boas? We lost 3-1 but left the stadium singing “we’re gonna win the league” – and meaning it. Of course, there was a Torres goal, but also the career-defining Torres miss, too, both in front of the Stretford End. Somehow the Rooney penalty fluff seems to have been forgotten. Such is life.

I left home in Somerset at 9.45am. This was yet another solo away trip, this one. Not to worry. Music was soon blaring – Robin Guthrie, then Depeche Mode – as I drove north and onto the motorway network. It was mightily cold outside, but at least the grey skies were not issuing forth some of Manchester’s finest rain. No doubt that would come later.

I texted Alan – due to set off from Chelsea on one of the club coaches – to tell him that I was now “on the road.”

“Spring-Heeled Jack Kerouac.”

He soon replied “Ian Dury.”

As I headed north, I tried not to ruminate too much about the game. However, one topic kept dominating my thoughts. Ron Gourlay had recently reconfirmed the club’s priorities for the rest of the season; that of securing a Champions League place rather than silverware. Now, I’m no fool, and I understand the pure economic reasons behind that thought process. His view has probably placated some of our fans. But what a sad indictment on the modern game that my beloved Chelsea Football Club would put finishing fourth higher than winning the F.A. Cup.

“If that is the case, Ron…why the hell am I bothering with this eight hour return trip to Manchester?”

At just after 10.30am, I received a text from Californian Andy Wray, evidently over for the game.

“Kerouac.”

I had seen on “Facebook” that he was meeting up with Cathy and was travelling up by train. It would be his first-ever match at Old Trafford.

Then, an hour later, I received the exact same text. This time it was from Burger, the transplanted Canadian, and now living in Stafford.

“Kerouac.”

At 11.45am, I spotted the first United coach – from Devon, I believe – as I drove past West Bromwich.

Just after, I again texted Alan to let him know my progress.

“Five Goal Gordon.”

On the CD, Depeche Mode sang about a “Black Day.” In my mind, things were starting to take shape. A theme was definitely starting to evolve here. Would the day be black or would it be white? To be truthful, I expected a black thumping. The chances of the opposite seemed desperately remote. When snow started to fall, fleetingly, at around Stoke, the white flakes brought a smile to my face.

I changed the music and chose The Stranglers.

The men in black.

This was a proper black and white day. At that exact moment, I glanced to my right and spotted a herd of black and white Friesian cattle. Around thirty minutes earlier, I had spotted a large flock of both black and white birds suddenly take off from a field adjacent to the M6. This seemed an odd occurrence to me.

Yep – black and white…the theme for the day.

As I headed north through Staffordshire, there were the first few spots of rain. And then I saw some snow on the highest parts of the Peak District to my east. However, I was making good time and – I’ll be honest – I was in my element.

“What else ya gonna do on a Sunday?”

I’m rather familiar with the sights of Manchester now. It was, after all, only two weeks since that dire trip to Eastlands. Away in the distance, in the city centre, I spotted the tall hotel where Real Madrid had recently stayed. Further beyond, the desolate moors. More snow.

At 1.15am, I had parked-up, just three-and-a-half hours after leaving home. This was probably a personal best for Old Trafford. But my goodness, the wind was bitterly cold. I briskly walked through Gorse Park, with the European-style floodlight pylons of the Lancashire cricket ground to my right and the local council office block where Morrissey worked in his first ever job to my left.

Welcome to Manchest’oh. The home of Unih’ed.

Outside the stadium, the “half-and-half scarves” sellers were busy, as were the lads selling the two main United fanzines (“United We Stand” and “Red Issue”). Not many Chelsea were on the forecourt. I had a look around. The Munich memorial always looks classy. Without further ado, I headed north and soon found myself at the Salford Quays. Originally, this busy inland dock area allowed the products of the world’s first industrialised city to be transported west on the Manchester Ship Canal and out into the Irish Sea and beyond. The deep-seated rivalry between the cities of Liverpool and Manchester was, if not initiated, deepened by the building of this canal by Manchester’s entrepreneurs, who were unwilling to pay the expensive dock fees at Liverpool. The area has been revitalised in recent years, with the BBC having moved many of their staff north from the TV centre in London to the Media City complex at Salford Quays. In addition to waterside apartments, there is the Imperial War Museum North and the Lowry Art Gallery on either side of one of the widest channels.

I visited the Lowry once before, on the day that Avram Grant made his bow as Chelsea boss, and I could hardly believe that it was over five years ago. As I walked over the gently swaying footbridge, the wind was bitter as it came off the choppy waters of the former docks. Away to my right, the hulking structure of Old Trafford dominated the view.

I spent a very enjoyable hour and a quarter inside The Lowry. I made a confession to the rosy-faced chap on the information desk.

“I’m a Chelsea fan and I’m here just to take my mind off the game.”

He smiled and replied “oh, I’ll be a fan for you today.”

“Are you City? Ah,good man.”

What is it that they say about your enemy’s enemy being your friend?

L.S. Lowry was one of England’s most revered painters of the twentieth century, with his heavily stylised images of urban life in the industrialised centres of northern England. A short twenty minute film, including black and white film of him at work, was utterly fascinating. It was wonderful to hear his voice, too, matter-of-factly explaining how he went about his daily painting routine. He seemed a very complex character. A loner. Possibly autistic. In love with his work.

I then spent a while viewing a selection of his work in four or five rooms. His home in Pendlebury – in Salford, no more than a couple of miles to the north – afforded him easy access to the streets and mills, the bustling city-scapes, the desolation of urban blight, which became the focus of his work.

His trademark was of simplistic pencil-thin figures made famous in a 1978 song which I found myself constantly singing to myself –

“He painted Salford ‘s smokey tops.
On cardboard boxes from the shops.
And parts of Ancoats where I used to play.
I’m sure he once walked down our street.
Cause he painted kids who had nowt on their feet.
The clothes we wore had all seen better days.”

His famous painting “Going to the match” – based not on Old Trafford or Maine Road, but Bolton Wanderers’ Burnden Park – drew this comment from Jack Charlton, the brother of Bobby –

“This is just like it was when I was young; wooden open stands, cinders underfoot, terrible conditions in the toilets…it’s fabulous.”

Some script alongside the photo told its own story –

“Lowry’s interest in football was partly in the crowd itself and how a match brought them together. It is this, rather than the match itself, that he depicts.”

As I left, I looked over to Old Trafford and took a few photographs of the 21st Century equivalents of his Bolton spectators heading over the bridge, the skies now clear and blue, their eyes set on the stadium.

Adjacent to the art gallery, there is a large shopping outlet – surprisingly, I did not venture in. There were a couple of restaurants nearby and these were full of singing United fans. However, as I myself headed back over the bridge, I heard a defiant “Oh Dennis Wise” and then “Carefree.”

Accents from all parts of England were being spoken by the United fans going to the match. There was even a voice from Yorkshire. Now, even to my ears, that didn’t sound right. Yorkshire and Lancashire have animosities far out-reaching those of Manchester and Liverpool. For a Yorkshire native to support Manchester United was surely the oddest marriage. I immediately thought of my college mate Bob, a Leeds fan from Bramley in West Yorkshire, a few miles from Elland Road. He memorably once announced to me that “I’ve hated Manchester United longer than I’ve liked Leeds.”

I thought back to the cup game in 1988. On that day, Bob attended the game alongside me and some eight thousand rabid Chelsea fans. Of course, that 1987-1988 season eventually resulted in relegation via the dreaded play-offs (we are the only team to finish fourth from bottom and still get relegated – imagine how I felt that summer. Black ain’t half of it.)

However, in January 1988, we had not yet reached the relegation places, though manager John Hollins was under considerable pressure. I had just eleven days previously seen us lose 4-0 to Swindon Town in the Full Members Cup. Things were getting grim. Yet on that day some 25 years ago – and despite gates averaging only around 20,000 – we were roared on by almost half of our home crowd…the equivalent today of 16,000 away followers.

My diary from the day tells the story…

”pink Lacoste, Marc O’Polo sweatshirt, Aquascutum scarf, leather jacket, Reeboks…caught the train from Frome…there were ten familiar faces – all MUFC – who were on the train too, but they got off at Bath (probably to catch the supporters’ bus to Old Trafford)…sat with a young Chelsea lad from Bath…chatted to two girls from Cardiff who were Spurs fans on the way to Port Vale…missed our connection at Birmingham, so had to go via Stafford…a can of Grolsch…Chelsea lads joined at Crewe…got to Piccadilly at 2pm, a raucous bus to Old Trafford…pleased to see Bob already present…we had all of K Stand…we played poorly…Freestone saved a 7 minute McClair penalty…but Whiteside (42) and McClair (71) sealed our doom…no confidence in our team…we hardly had any attacks at all…brightened up when Nevin and Hazard came on…alas no fat copper to take the piss out of this time…a bloody long wait in the mud to catch the train back to Piccadilly…a row at the station, but not severe…eventually back to Bristol at 10.40pm…Dad picked me up…Spurs lost too…so much for Wembley.”

I was soon outside the away entrance. Unlike 1988, our “allowance” was 6,000 but I had heard that we had only sold 4,500 or so. I hoped that there would be no gaping holes in our section. The last thing I wanted was to hear the “WWYWYWS” nonsense being sung at us by 70,000 United fans.

In the bar areas, Chelsea were in good voice. I noticed the DJ Trevor Nelson, quietly stood to one side, and caught his eye. He nodded back. I suspect that his work for the BBC brings him up to Salford quite often. I bumped into Alan and Gary, then the Bristol lads – fresh from Bucharest – and then Burger and Julie. It would be Julie’s first ever game at Old Trafford. I said to one of my Chelsea acquaintances “well, we need to keep them out for the first twenty minutes…hell, no…the first five.”

I got to my seat…row 12 of the large upper deck, right in line with the penalty spot…the roof overhead afforded little light and there was a dark and gloomy atmosphere inside Old Trafford. For the first time ever at Old Trafford, I was able to see the outside world; a thin sliver of land above the lower main stand roof and the high roof overhead. Old Trafford is huge. The three-tiered North Stand was immense…the upper tier wasn’t even in view.

I took a look at all of the United flags and banners which decorate the balconies. They add so much character to the stadium in the same way that those at The Bridge add to our match experience.

The surprising news was that Van Persie was on the bench for United. As for Chelsea, there were masses of team changes since Bucharest.

The main one; Axon in.

As the two teams entered the pitch, the Stretford End unfurled a large banner featuring a photograph of the Busby Babes…black and white…but with bright scarlet shirts…from the fateful game in Belgrade, prior to the crash.

A Ba effort went wide and I commented to the bloke to my right “well, that’s one more shot than I thought we’d get.” I wasn’t smiling for long, though.

Before we had time to settle, Carrick pumped a great ball through to Chicarito. There was indecision from Cech and Cahill was lost at sea. A softly cushioned header from the little Mexican sent the ball looping up and over the stranded Cech and into the United goal. The stadium erupted. I looked at the clock to my left.

We hadn’t even lasted five minutes.

For Fcuk’s Sake.

Within five more minutes, a Wayne Rooney free-kick was played towards the far post and – how often do we see this in modern football? – the ball evaded everyone’s lunge and bounced past Cech into the goal.

Ten minutes gone.

2-0 down.

This could be a long day. With thoughts of a score resembling that of a rugby match, I sighed a million sighs. The Chelsea crowd, originally quite buoyant, were now resorting to the chants which have trademarked this season.

“We don’t care about Rafa…”

“When Rafa leaves Chelsea…”

“Roman Abramovich – is this what you want?”

“We want our Chelsea back…”

United were singing their songs too, needling the benched John Terry.

“Viva John Terry…”

“Where’s your racist centre-half?”

To be honest, I wanted to hide. We seemed to be on the end of a leathering both on and off the pitch. We had a few half-chances, but shots from Moses and Lampard were wasted. Cech made a sublime double-save, first from Rooney and then from the rebound which Luiz inexpicably headed back towards him. He rose, like Gordon Banks in Guadalajara in 1970, to tip it over. It was a sublime save.

We did manage to create a few more attempts on goal. I began talking to the two chaps to my left. Face Familiar Name Unknown #1, Face Familiar Name Unknown #2 and I agreed that although United had been on top, the first half had not been without chances. But then we agreed; United didn’t really have to attack. The mood was mixed…there was derision from some quarters, but I was ever hopeful. It was gratifying to note a few seeds of optimism amongst my two neighbours. To be honest, amongst the wailing and gnashing of teeth in the away section, it was lovely to chat with two lads who were forever cheering the team on – like me – and who were intelligent in their comments. There had already been an altercation further along the row which almost ended up in a fight. It was another example of near Civil War in the Chelsea ranks this season.

I chatted with Tim at half-time and we mulled over the game…”they don’t have to attack…they can just wait for us to attack and exploit our gaps…”

We expected more goals.

Soon into the second-half, I almost wanted the referee to blow up such was my fear for conceding more goals.

In the end it was the clichéd game of two halves.

One black, one white.

Soon into the second period, the manager made two key substitutions. Firstly, Mikel for Lampard. To be truthful, Frank had not enjoyed a great game and I thought that he gave Rooney far too much space. Secondly, Hazard – not the 1988 version – for Moses. Again no complaints.

In the upper tier of the East Stand our support increased.

Out of nowhere, a goal. Hazard picked the ball up on the edge of the box and, with hardly a moment’s thought, curled an exquisite shot past De Gea into the United goal. It was the same corner that United’s two goals had ended up.

Oh boy. The Chelsea support went crazy, jumping up and punching the air. I felt the sharp plastic of the seat in front cutting into my shin as I jumped and cavorted like a drunken fool.

Game on.

From then on, we dominated the game in a way that I have rarely seen. It was certainly our best 45 minutes this season and our best ever 45 minutes that I had ever seen at the home of United. With every passing minute, United’s support diminished.

Van Persie replaced Hernandez.

Worried? Of course.

“She said no, Robin, she said no…”

As I remember it, the increasingly confident Luiz won possession deep in our box and the worked the ball through. It found Oscar and he played in Ramires. Our little Brazilian dynamo wriggled inside Evans and found himself inside the box. With the entire Chelsea support roaring him on – “go on Rami!” – he coolly slotted the ball past the goalkeeper.

We went berserk.

Pandemonium.

Complete madness.

Arms up, bodies bouncing, screams of ecstasy, bodies falling, noise.

It was a Munich Moment all over again.

Ouch, my bloody shins.

The game now opened up further with Van Persie wasting several chances. However, United’s midfield gave us so much space that we were able to run at them each time we were in possession. Oscar and Mata twisted and turned, rarely losing the ball and Hazard provided much-needed thrust. A special word, though, for Mikel who continually broke up play in that indomitable way of his and provided the de facto defensive shield for Luiz and Cahill. Cahill, who had suffered badly in the first-half, grew with each minute. Luiz was very good.

With United fans starting to stream out, we chided them –

“Race you back to London – we’re gonna race you back to London…”

We roared the team on.

Torres replaced Mata. After last season’s game, could he be the saviour?

With the time running out, one amazing chance. Mata, stretching to take control of Luiz’ pass, and miraculously holding on to the ball despite appearing to run out of pitch in which to play, stayed on his feet, then twisted inside before prodding the ball towards goal. I immediately thought of Gianfranco Zola against United in 1997. I’m sure I saw the bloody net bulge.We jumped up as one, but turned aghast as the ball flew off of De Gea’s boot for a corner.

Phew.

The referee blew soon after and the Chelsea crowd roared their approval.

The United support was full of moans as I hot-footed back across Gorse Park. I was back at my car at 6.45pm…warmth! The incoming texts had provided me with a few moments of satisfaction on that walk back to the car.

From United fan Mike –

“Well done mate. Can’t see how you didn’t win that though. We were awful second half, mediocre in the first.”

From United fan Pete –

“Unlucky mate. The best team drew. Great pressing and control from your lot. Never seen us give the ball away so badly, so often.”

From me to them –

“Proud as fcuk.”

From United fan Pete –

“Rightly so.”

From United fan Mike –

“You should be mate. Showed great team spirit and were the better team over ninety minutes.”

I got back to the M6 in super-quick time. However, detours through Stoke and then the Black Country meant that I didn’t get home until 11.20pm. I was still buzzing when I got home…still buzzing as I trawled the internet at 1am.

Still buzzing at 1.30am…

Buzzing now…

IMG_8514

Tales From Underneath The Arch.

Chelsea vs. Liverpool : 5 May 2012.

During the preceding week, I was trying my best to nurture positive thoughts and the appropriate amount of anticipation ahead of the F.A. Cup Final. I will admit that I was genuinely struggling. For starters, there is no doubt whatsoever that the role of the F.A. Cup Final in the football calendar is at an all-time low. I have commented about the reasons for this on many occasions. Suffice to say, the accelerating importance of both the League and the Champions League, the huge amount of football games on TV these days, the playing of semi-finals at Wembley, the abolition of second replays, the playing of the Final itself before the league season itself has finished and the general mismanagement of The Cup by the Football Association over the years are the main reasons why we are in this current situation.

This current state of affairs leaves fans of a certain age, like me, in a bit of a predicament.

I yearn for the Cup Final Days of my youth when the world – or at least my world – would virtually stop on the second Saturday in May. Those days were wonderful. The first F.A. Cup final I remember was the centenary game of 1972 when a diving Alan Clarke header gave Leeds a 1-0 win over perennial finalists Arsenal. And the memories from the next ten years are still rich to this day. In those days, we only had three TV channels, yet BBC1 and ITV both showed the Cup Final, with saturated coverage starting from around 11.30am through to 5.30pm. It was the only club game shown “live” on TV. It was a football enthusiast’s heaven. I always favoured the BBC’s coverage, but would often channel hop to make sure I wasn’t missing anything. The heady years of Cup Finals in my mind were from 1972 through to 1983 – from the ages of 7 to 18 – and of course, Chelsea were in involved in none of them. The nearest we got to the Twin Towers in that period were the quarters in 1973 (Arsenal) and 1982 (Spurs.)

Those defeats still hurt to this day.

So – anyway – you get the picture. Despite the elation of reaching another Wembley final, part of my psyche was labouring under the burden of the fact that things would never be the same as they were in those heady days of my youth. It was tough going, but I was trying my best to get my head around it all. To be honest, the fear of losing to Liverpool was helping to concentrate my addled mind. I was getting there. I could almost see the crescent of the Wembley Arch.

And then Chelsea Football Club fcuked it up. They completely disrupted my thoughts on the Friday with the news that they (and I use the term “they” wisely) had officially bid for the site of the Battersea Power Station. Now then, I am yet to be totally persuaded that my club needs to vacate our home of 107 years, but that is not the point. The point is that the club announced this massive piece of news on the eve of The Cup Final. My Friday afternoon at work in Chippenham was spent thinking about the pros and cons of Hammersmith & Fulham over Wandsworth, Stamford Bridge over The Samsung Arena, North versus South, District Line over Northern Line, old versus new, home versus new home.

To be honest, I was livid.

But yet – how typical of Chelsea F.C. to misjudge the mood of the moment. The club, the fans and the team needed to be together ahead of the Cup Final with Liverpool, yet here they were – obviously still smarting from the CPO defeat in November – quite relishing the chance to bully a point across. Rather than focussing my mind on the game at Wembley, my mind was poisoned by the thought of myself attending the last ever game at Stamford Bridge in maybe six or seven years.

Oh boy.

Thankfully, when I awoke at around 6.30am on Cup Final Saturday, my mind was clearer and focussed on the day ahead. This was good news indeed. I took a while to decide what to wear; this is always a tough part of each match day for me…all those shirts, all those options…but even more so on Cup Final Day. I opted for the lime green of a Lacoste long-sleeved polo and the muted grey of a CP top. I knew that Parky would be similarly attired. The last time I wore a Chelsea shirt to a Cup Final was in 1994 when I wore – hoping for a repeat – a 1970 replica shirt. But more of 1994 later.

I pulled out of my drive at around 8.45am and a Depeche Mode CD was playing. The closing notes of one song ended…a pause…then –

“When I’m with you baby, I go outta my head – and I just can’t get enough, and I just can’t get enough.”

And then my brain started whirring.

“Just can’t get enough” – yep, that’s about right. I certainly can’t get enough of Chelsea. And then I remembered that Liverpool are one of the several teams who have purloined this song from under our noses and I wondered if I would rue my day beginning in this way. I remember the Scousers singing this at The Bridge in the autumn and I shuddered. A repeat at Wembley? No thanks.

Parky – yellow Lacoste polo and grey Henri Lloyd top – was collected at just after 9am and we were on our way. I had pinned two Chelsea chequered flags to my car and I was keen to see if any other Chelsea cars were similarly attired as we drove up the M4. Surprisingly, on the drive east, we only saw two other Chelsea cars – and a Liverpool mini-bus. A car glided past and I spotted a bloke with an Arsenal replica shirt at the wheel. I smirked and he tried to ignore me. By the way, can anyone explain to me why that Arsenal vs. Norwich game could not have been played on the Sunday, along with all of the League fixtures? We were sharing the billing on just another football Saturday and it wasn’t right, damn it.

We reached Chelsea at 11am and – for some reason – I wanted to drive past Stamford Bridge before parking up. In truth, the place was pretty quiet, save for Bob The T-Shirt’s stall already at work. I imagined the area being full of non-attendees come 5pm.

We began with a quiet pint at “The Prince Of Wales” at West Brompton. There was drizzle outside as we caught the tube to Edgware Road. Nearing Notting Hill, however, Andy Wray sent me a text and advised that he was at “The Victoria” at Paddington. That was perfect timing and we quickly changed our plans. Several pubs in the Paddington area seemed to be overflowing with Liverpool fans. At just after 1pm, we met up with Andy, Ben, Dave Chidgey and a couple more Chelsea fans in the cosy confines of “The Victoria.” I spoke briefly to a Chelsea fan from Vancouver. Poor Ben was suffering with a hangover. I hoped he could recover quickly. Talk was of the new Battersea Stadium and of Munich. We then caught a cab to “The Duke Of York” where the lads were already enjoying a pre-match. The pub seemed quieter than for the semi-final and previous Cup Final visits. Ben commented that the main talk inside the boozer was still of Munich. Notable absentees were Simon, Milo and Daryl – all Munich-bound, and working on Brownie Points for the day. I chatted with Ben and Andy outside. The weather was mixed. I was glad I had my jacket with me. Talk was varied. Ben spoke about the Boston Blues and Andy spoke of The Olde Shippe. It was difficult to track my mood; to be truthful, I just wanted to get up to Wembley ahead of schedule and enjoy the moment.

Andy went off with Alan and Gary at about 3.45pm. Ben came along with Neil, Ed, Parky and little old me just after. We caught the 4.15pm from Marylebone and the packed train was full of Chelsea, united in song. The carriage was rocking. Ben had recovered from his previous night’s carousing with Cathy and Kerry Dixon and was joining in like a veteran. It was great to see him leading a few choice chants. I began one song –

“If you’re standing on the corner…”

We soon pulled into Wembley Stadium and met up with a drunken band of Chelsea fans from Trowbridge, singing songs about slums and dead cats. The rain was holding off. It was a grey and decidedly dull day, though. Unfortunately, there was a horrendous delay at turnstile L at the western side of the stadium. I’m afraid to say that this caused me to miss – again! – the traditional Cup Final hymn “Abide With Me.” Our seats were in block 538, row 24. Up and up we went.

Row 24 was the very back row. Seat 363 was just to the south side of the goal. In truth, we were only around 15 yards from our dead-central position at the 2010 Cup Final.

OK, here we go. A quick scan. The Liverpool balcony was bedecked with red banners and easily out-did our end. Had somebody forgot to bring the eight to ten permanent banners at Stamford Bridge? There were small blue flags by each seat, but not many waved these. I had my cameras at the ready. I was annoyed with myself for missing the build-up, but at least I was in for the entrance of the teams.

With the two teams lined up, the Liverpool fans were still bellowing out “You’ll Never Walk Alone.” I was worried that the old habits of the ‘seventies, when Cup Final teams often sung over the national anthem, might be resurrected. Oh dear, how correct I was.

As “God Save The Queen” began, all that could be heard were the boos from the Liverpool end. However, the Chelsea fans soon out-sung the boos and the stadium was roaring by the time the last few words were being sung –

“Send Her Victorious, Happy And Glorious, Long To Reign Over Us – God Save The Queen.”

Were the boos by the Liverpool fans some sort of retaliation for the “Murderers” chants by some foolish Chelsea fans at the Spurs semi-final? Yes, for sure – but that only tells part of the story. Both Liverpool the city and Liverpool the football club see themselves as some sort of a free-spirited and anti-establishment utopia, railing against the perceived prejudices of the rest of England. They are pro-Liverpool, but anti-everything else. They are no big fans of the London government – especially a Conservative government which they still abhor for the Hillsborough aftermath, the London media, the FA. They evidently see the Royal Family as part of this picture. I have read that the Scousers were not happy that the Royal Family were not more supportive in 1989. And so it goes on. The over-whelming sense of ills being acted out against them.

There was a banner which was held aloft for a few seconds before the game began, which referenced Hillsborough once more –

“Expose The Lies Before Thatcher Dies.”

Into this mix comes Chelsea Football Club. The blue versus the red. The southern club with money but no history. The club with a history of right-wing support . The devil incarnate. Blue rag to a bull.

This Cup Final was always going to be a tinderbox in the stands.

Speaking personally, I did my best to ignore the “Murderers” chants by those around me and decided to support the team in as positive way as I could. This was my eighth cup final and it seems strange, knowing how dominant Liverpool were in my youth, that this was our first one against them. I had a further scan before kick-off and I was dismayed to see a few pockets of unused seats in our end. We had been given 25,000 seats for this game. I briefly thought back to that 1994 Cup Final when we lost 4-0 to Manchester United. We only received 17,000 for that game and yet I can well remember that we didn’t even have 17,000 members in those days. My dear friend Glenn wasn’t a member that season, but had applied for his 1994-1995 membership early. As a result, his name was put into a raffle for the last few Chelsea tickets and was overjoyed when Chelsea called him on the ‘phone to say he had been successful.

It made me realise how far we have come in eighteen years.

Less than 17,000 members in 1994.

More than 25,000 season ticket holders in 2012.

What will we be in 2030? Or – more pertinently – where will we be?

Maybe there is some sanity in Chelsea’s desire to move out of Stamford Bridge.

I put these worrying thoughts to one side as I turned my complete attention to the 2012 F.A. Cup Final. There were no surprises in the Chelsea line-up; Didier was leading the line, ready to add to his phenomenal haul of goals under the arch. I was surprised to see Craig Bellamy in the Liverpool team ahead of Andy Carroll.

Chelsea dominated possession in the first part of the game. This did not surprise me. If we were underdogs for Munich, surely we were the slight favourites for this one? We were the team in form, whereas Liverpool were floundering several places below us in the league table.

We did not have to wait long for a goal. Juan Mata was allowed time and space in the centre of the pitch and played a magnificent ball into the path of the advancing Ramires. It was eerily similar to Camp Nou. This time, there was no chip, but a low drive at Reina’s goal. Before we knew it, we were 1-0 up and the Chelsea end erupted. I was shouting like a loon, but steadied myself to capture a few of the celebrations away down below.

Wow.

Soon after, Ivanovic did well to block a Bellamy effort which was certainly goal bound. This was a cagey game, though, with few chances. A fine dribble by Salomon Kalou deep in to enemy territory petered out. Long shots from Frank Lampard, Didier Drogba and Kalou did not worry Reina. We rarely looked in danger, though, and I was very content to see that Luiz Suarez was having a quiet game. Downing and Bellamy were buzzing around, but our defence was in control. In the middle, our trio of Mikel, Lamps and Ramires were covering space and not allowing Gerrard much time to impose himself on the game.

The atmosphere was hardly noisy. It all seemed a little too easy. The Liverpool fans were not singing too loudly either. There was a strange feeling to the evening.

At half-time, our intelligence was insulted with a feeble attempt at entertainment and I won’t even bother explaining it.

As the teams re-entered the pitch, the Liverpool fans held their scarves aloft and sang “You’ll Never Walk Alone” but even that felt half-hearted. Parky had disappeared for a beer at the break, but hadn’t made it back. The second-half began with a couple of chances for both teams. Kalou set up Ashley Cole but his shot was blocked. There was ludicrous penalty appeal by Gerrard. However, right after, a fantastic move had us all buzzing. Jon Obi Mikel played in Frank Lampard and he, in turn, slotted in a slide-rule pass into Drogba. He found himself in roughly the same area as against Arsenal in the semi of 2009 and Spurs in the semi in April. A touch, a shot, a goal. The ball was slotted in with fantastic precision at the hapless Reina’s far post and we erupted once more.

Didier has done it again.

He raced over to the far corner and I again steadied myself for snaps. His little victory jig was magnificent. Oh, how he loves playing at Wembley. Four goals in four Cup Finals. Phenominal.

Parky finally re-appeared, having been drinking a beer with Whitey when Didier’s goal had given us a hopefully unassailable lead. He didn’t look sheepish, he didn’t care. Good old Parky.

“And It’s Super Chelsea.
Super Chelsea F.C.
We’re By Far The Greatest Team the World Has Ever Seen.”

Another strong dribble from Kalou, but he shot over. A Lampard free-kick. This was all Chelsea and I was silently dreaming of more goals. Juan Mata set up Didier but he only hit the side-netting. The Chelsea choir was now in full voice. How it must have hurt the Liverpool legions to hear songs of European Cup Finals.

“Che Sera Sera.
Whatever Will Be Will Be.
We’re Going To Germany.
Che Sera Sera.”

It was the loudest Chelsea chant I have heard at new Wembley.

And then the game changed. Bosingwa lost the ball and Downing fed the ball in to Andy Carroll, the Liverpool substitute. Carroll twisted John Terry one way and then the other before rifling the ball high past Petr Cech.

The red East end roared.

Game on.

The last thirty minutes seemed to be all Liverpool. Steven Gerrard, previously marginal, was seeing much more of the ball and Carroll looked a threat. Petr Cech did ever so well to get down low to turn a Suarez shot past the post. Raul Meireles took the place of the tiring Ramires. Then Dirk Kuyt replaced Bellamy. The last throws of the dice. The final fifteen minutes.

Our celebrations were proving to be overly optimistic and premature. This was now an intensely nervous affair. Liverpool moved the ball around and we were shuffling around to repel their advances. In a way, it was Camp Nou all over again, with di Matteo’s Italian heritage putting us in good stead to quash any attacks.

On 81 minutes, Liverpool had a spare man out on the right and a great cross found the head of Carroll. I expected the equaliser. In a sudden blur of activity, we saw the header parried by a falling Cech, but we heard a roar and the subsequent run of Carroll away from the goal, celebrating again. The linesman was running away from the goal-line, his flag low. I was confused; was it a goal? Was it blocked? If it wasn’t a goal, how did it happen?

It wasn’t a goal. It was a miracle. Another Chelsea miracle.

How we love that East goal at Wembley. After the Juan Mata goal versus Tottenham, the Cech save against the Scousers. Football is indeed a matter of inches.

Just amazing.

In the final moments, Liverpool shots were either off target or bravely blocked by Chelsea defenders. It was indeed Camp Nou Mark Two. I couldn’t enjoy this though. Just like in 1973, when I sat on my grandfather’s lap watching Leeds United attack Sunderland’s goal again and again, I was clock-watching like never before. We got to 89 minutes…just like Liverpool to score then, Hillsborough and all.

Five minutes of extra time.

Still we chased and defended bravely.

At last – I watched as Phil Dowd held his whistle to his lips and blew.

Chelsea F.C. – 2012 F.A. Cup Winners.

The Liverpool players looked on as Chelsea gathered together in their half and performed a “Ring Of Roses” dance. Around me, there were smiles. Parky was in tears. The Chelsea players slowly came towards us. Didier, shirtless, led the slow advance but was soon joined by his cavorting team mates. I was relieved and happy. This was Chelsea’s seventh F.A. Cup success. The first one, in 1970, was probably the reason why I became a Chelsea fan, though the real reasons are lost in time. I have been present at all six other wins. We love Wembley and we love this cup.

Magnificent.

The Liverpool players climbed the stairs, but most of their fans had left.

How proud I was to see that line of players in royal blue slowly ascend the steps, then disappear from view…tantalisingly…then arrive on the balcony.

The cup was lifted and we roared again.

Very soon, “Blue Is The Colour” boomed around the echoing Wembley arena.

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In the last closing bars of the song, I looked up at the scoreboard at the opposite end of the stadium. Just as Ossie, Chopper and co were singing “Cus Chelsea, Chelsea Is Our Name”, the cameraman picked out a young Chelsea fan. He reminded me of me, circa 1972.

Now it was my turn to wipe away the tears.

Down below me, we were in party mode. It was gorgeous.

The champagne, the dancing, the smiles, the joy…the small details.

David Luiz hogging the cup as if it was his own.

Juan Mata grabbing Fernando Torres’ arm and hoisting it up, Torres looking bashful and embarrassed.

John Terry beating his chest.

Frank looking delirious.

The cup looking larger than usual and glinting like never before.

The songs –

“Blue Day.”

“One Step Beyond.”

“The Liquidator.”

“Blue Tomorrow.”

Parky and I were one of the very last to leave the stadium. I was tired and emotionally drained. I had been stood outside the pub, on the train, at the game, my feet were on fire. We met up with Cathy and showed each other a few photos from the day. She had been right down the front, I had been right down the back. In between the two of us, thousands of Chelsea fans, thousands of memories. I spotted Andy and Ben. What stories they would have to tell their friends back home. I commented that we would be running the gauntlet at Anfield on Tuesday night.

We caught the last train out of Wembley Park at 8.30pm with the arch behind us now, lit from below and looking magnificent.

At last I could sit. I was so tired, so drained, but so happy. A Liverpool fan from work sent me a text containing a few words of congratulations, saying that the best team had won, but debated that the Cech save was really a goal. My reply to him?

“Luis Garcia.”

We made our way through central London and alighted at Earls Court. A few minutes later, we were welcomed at “Salvo’s” and were soon toasting Chelsea Football Club on another miraculous victory in this ridiculous season. Salvo mentioned that Roberto di Matteo, visiting with his blind sister back in 1996, once enjoyed a meal at his little restaurant. I reckon that Salvo should erect a plaque – a nice bug blue one – above the entrance to “Dall’Artista”to signify this.

It was now 10.30pm and we needed to return home. As we slowly walked back to the car, a Chelsea post-Cup Final karaoke was taking place in The Tournament. We peered in to see a huddle of fans standing on tables, bellowing out an Elvis Presley classic –

“I’ll guess I’ll never know the reason why
You love me like you do.
That’s the wonder.
The wonder of you.”

A few minutes later on the elevated section of the M4, I couldn’t resist a glance to the north. And there it was – the Wembley arch, illuminated still, signalling the location of our most recent triumph.

Didier’s second home.

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Tales From The Miracle Men.

Barcelona vs. Chelsea : 24 April 2012.

Ahead of our game in Barcelona, despite our memorable first-leg win at Stamford Bridge, I was still not too confident of us progressing to the final. After weighing up all of the likely outcomes, I conservatively calculated that our chances of a game in Munich at no more than 25%. We had all seen the miracle at Stamford Bridge. A miracle at Camp Nou, too? I tried to be positive, but was fearful of retribuition on a seismic scale. Of course, Barca were wounded by their arch-rivals Real Madrid at the weekend. This made things worse – much worse – in my mind. Our boys, creaking two months ago, were in for a mammoth fight. I awoke at 3.30 am on Tuesday and tried not to think too much about the game later that day.

My flight was set to leave Bristol Airport at 6.55am and, although I left in good time, I think I broke the World land speed record on my drive up and over The Mendips. At Maesbury, a peacefully still white owl sat in the middle of the road and the sight was unnerving. I drove past, missing it by mere feet. It barely blinked as I passed. It’s face was peacefulness personified. In a shuddering moment, my imagination ran riot and I envisaged the owl thinking to itself –

“Turn back, fool. There is nothing for you in Barcelona.”

I had previously travelled to Italy for the Napoli game from Bristol, my most local airport. On that day in February, despite a later flight, the airport was deathly quiet. Only two other Chelsea supporters – Emma from Bridgewater and Tony from Westbury – were on that flight to Italy. Well, what a difference. The airport was teeming with travellers. I bumped into several Chelsea fans that I knew. However, the vast majority of Chelsea fans were unfamiliar. I heard Welsh voices and accents from the Home Counties.The signs were good; it seemed that we were travelling in formidable numbers. While I enjoyed a “Starbucks” coffee, I noted a famous face nearby; Andy Robinson, the former Bath and England rugby player, now the coach of Scotland. Unlike my chance encounter with Seb Coe on Saturday, a conversation with Robinson was never likely to happen. We had nothing in common, save for being at Bristol airport at the same time. If anything, this reinforced my thoughts about how easy it had been to strike up a Chelsea conversation with Coe three days earlier.

At the departure gate, a semi-familiar face told me that we had sold our full allocation of 4,500 tickets. We guessed that a thousand or two had been inspired by the first-leg win and had decided to travel en masse to Catalonia.

The flight left a little late at around 7.30am and I tried desperately to grab some sleep.

Past trips to Barcelona passed through my mind as we flew over France. I had previously visited Camp Nou on four other occasions.

July 1986 – I called in on Barcelona on one of my train-travelling extravaganzas during my college days. Paris to Biarritz to Barcelona and then on to Rome and Corfu. I spent a day in Barcelona and made a bee-line from the Sants station to the huge edifice of Camp Nou where I paid a few pesetas for a tour. It was all quite magnificent in my eyes. The steep stands were huge and Barca’s home was quite easily the most luxurious stadium in Europe. I was equally impressed with the huge trophy cabinet and the mini-stadium alongside.

September 1987 – Another year, another trip around Camp Nou, this time with two friends on another European adventure. Paris to Biarritz to Madrid (and the crumbling Bernabeu – nowhere near as impressive as it is now) to Barcelona and then on to Rome, Venice, Milan and Munich. Unknowingly, our visit coincided with the day that FCB chose to dispense with the services of manager Terry Venables.

April 2000 – Only 1,500 Chelsea fans were allowed to witness our CL Quarter-Final and I was one of them. I travelled out with Paul and Jonesy and we had a lovely time. Up in the very top of the Camp Nou that night – we were in the very back row – I watched the sun set against the backdrop of those hills to the west of the city. At the time, it was my most memorable Chelsea experience. We almost made it through when Tore Andre Flo made it 2-1 on the night (and 4-3 on aggregate) but a late FCB goal took us into extra-time before two other goals gave Barca a flattering 5-1 triumph. Roberto di Matteo was in our midfield on that night. When we silently descended from the dizzy heights of the stadium, I wondered if I would ever return with Chelsea. What a horrible defeat, but what an amazing experience.

February 2005 – Unlike in 2000, over 6,000 Chelsea fans were allowed access to our game against Barcelona in the oddly-named “round of 16.” We went in a large group; Daryl, Neil, Frankie Two-Times, Alan, Gary, Glenn and myself. We had a fantastic time. Glenn and I had bought tickets via a ticket agency when we expected only 1,500 tickets were going to be available. We watched from the middle tier, alongside Barca fans, behind the goal where Maxi Lopez and Samuel Eto’o gave the home side a narrow 2-1 win after none other than Juliano Beletti had gifted us an own goal. Glenn and I always remember that an elderly FCB fan reached over and prodded Glenn with his walking stick when their second goal was scored. He had a look of pure disdain for us two interlopers.

Since then, even more Barcelona vs. Chelsea games have taken place – the group phase game in 2006-2007 and the knock-out games in 2005-2006 and 2008-2009 – but I had not been tempted back. This time was different. I simply had to go.

I peered out of the window just as we were flying over the snow-capped Pyrenees. I had been warned that the weather on the Monday was cold and wet. Thankfully, I saw only blue skies. We landed in Girona at 9.45am and were soon heading towards the sprawling Catalan city of Barcelona on a transfer bus. I spoke excitedly with two friends from Bristol about plans for Munich.

Maybe. Just maybe.

The route in to the city took us past the F1 grand prix circuit and then the FC Espanyol training centre. We arrived at the Barcelona Nord bus station at 11.15am. I had spotted the surreal towers of Antonio Gaudi’s La Sagrada Familia a mile or so to the north and so I headed straight towards it. I texted a former work colleague Oscar, who I was meeting for lunch, and he texted back to say “take your time and see you at 12.30pm.”

I spent a blissful hour outside the magnificent cathedral and went predictably mad with my camera. Every footstep, a different viewpoint. The sun was warming the air and I was regretting the warm jacket I was wearing. I didn’t spot a single Chelsea supporter, but is this any real surprise? Along with The Ramblas, the harbour and Parc Guell, the cathedral is one of the main city sightseeing hotspots. Most Chelsea fans would have already visited it in 2000 or 2005 or 2006 or 2009.

Oscar arrived at 12.30pm and we drove into the heart of the city. We both used to work for the same company but had never met; we stayed in contact over the years through our shared love of football and the almost fateful way in that UEFA continuously threw our clubs together. I was able to witness the fluid form of two more Gaudi buildings before Oscar treated me to a fantastic meal at Citrus, a modern restaurant on one of the main thouroughfares. Seafood ravioli and then veal escalopes, washed down with the first two beers of the day. Superb. We spoke about various subjects, but football dominated. I spoke of Villas-Boas, of Abramovich, of di Matteo, of the CPO. Oscar explained how he thinks that Pep Guardiola’s days as manager of FCB are coming to an end. Guardiola is not obsessed about football in the same way that Mourinho is. He is a cultured political man, with many varied interests outside of Barcelona football. But Oscar hinted that he is seeking a fresh challenge; away from the FCB goldfish bowl. A new challenge, eh? It got me thinking. I suggested to Oscar that he would be crazy to leave Barcelona, but who knows? Oscar tellingly said that the president of Barcelona’s grandchild goes to the same school as Guardiola’s child and that the talk amongst (in Oscar’s words) “the mamas and the papas” at the school is that Pep will leave Camp Nou at the end of the season.

I had easily dismissed the chance of the sophisticated Guardiola taking over the reigns at Stamford Bridge. After my meal with Oscar in the heart of Barcelona, I am not so sure.

Oscar dropped me off at my hotel near the Sants train station. Before we said our goodbyes, he told me that “if you win tonight, you must promise me to beat Madrid in Munich.”

I soon met up with two good friends, Mike and Frank – from NYC – who were also staying in the Expo Hotel. We spent a few moments on the hotel roof terrace where the city sprawled all the way around us. To the north-east, the new Torre Agbar, a skyscraper which is very similar to London’s Gherkin. To the south-east, the hill of Montjuic, where the Olympic Stadium from 1992 stands behind the palace. FC Espanyol, the second team in Barcelona, no longer play at the stadium and now reside to the south. It’s all about Madrid in Barcelona; FC Espanyol are a hindrance to Barca, not a rival. Did somebody mention Fulham and Chelsea? To the west, the top of the Camp Nou east stand was just visible, though not as dominant as might be expected. Like many stadia, the pitch is below street level and although cavernous inside, the stadium is quite unobtrusive from the exterior. To the west and north, the hills which circle the city.

We caught a cab down to the area at the base of the famous Ramblas, which is overlooked by the statue of Christopher Columbus pointing to the sea.

From 4.30pm to 7.30pm, we had the time of our lives. We bought cans of Estrella from harbourside kiosks and wandered past the marina, chatting away about the great Chelsea obsession. Fellow fans were occasionally spotted. The skies were clear, there was an onshore breeze and the early-evening ambience was superb; in truth,we all wanted time to stand still.

Walking with good friends in a foreign city, drinking and laughing, why do we have to ruin it by going to a game? Let’s suspend time. No need to play the game. We’ll always be in the semi-finals. No need to worry. Forever in Europe, forever on tour.

It was a quite brilliant hour or so.

We briefly joined up with a few friends who had gathered with around five hundred Chelsea fans in a small square outside “Flaherty’s” bar. Chelsea flags were pinned to walls, shirts were worn around waists, songs were sung. There was no feeling of malice, just a good buzz. I had no doubt that all of the 4,500 tickets on offer had been picked up by Chelsea loyalists from all stations east, west, north and south. Although Frank, Mike and I had not spoken about the match at all, deep down my feeings of doubt about our progress to the final were being eroded by the site of all the blue-clad hordes. However, the lines for beer inside the bar were ridiculous, so we made the quick decision to vacate the area and find somewhere with more character, a little more sedate and with a little less people. We soon found a superb little bar on Las Ramblas and dived in. Several pints of San Miguel and a few shots for good measure, too. To my amazement, it was only 6pm. Plenty of time. More beers, please.

A group of old school Chelsea faces joined us and the merriment continued, with obscure songs being sung and jokes exchanged. Frank had met some of the chaps at the tapas bar on the Kings Road a year or so ago. Frank, who has an infectious character, seemed bewildered that he should know somebody in a foreign city. I assured him that this was quite normal when supporting Chelsea. Frank was full of praise of the New York chapter and even uttered the immortal words –

“This club has changed my life.”

The beers were going down well and I was enjoying being able to relax without the worry of having to drive home. I was unleashed and on the lash.

Still no talk of the game though.

“The first rule of fight club is that no one talks about fight club.”

I sent a text out –

“A toast to absent friends.”

It was time to move. We hopped into a cab and were on our way to Camp Nou. Despite an attendance of almost 100,000 assembling, we found it easy to enter. I lost contact with Frank and Mike but bumped into a few familiar faces. Looking out on the streets below, an old friend Mark commented –

“Fucking hell – I’ve been here more times than Reading.”

I made my way inside the very top tier, way up in the heavens. To be honest, Camp Nou is beyond words. It is quite phenomenal. I took my place alongside thousands of others and tried my best to concentrate. I have rarely had more than three pints at games this season but I had certainly made up for it in Catalonia. The mixture of alcohol and the incredible sense of occasion was making me light-headed. The view below me – way below me – was breathtaking.

The sun began to set to the west. The lights of the city were flickering. I was part of the stadium, but part of the city at the same time. We were on the very rim of the massive bowl, able to peer in, able to peer out.

It reminded me of my feelings in 2000.

“There ain’t no better place to watch a game anywhere, Chris.”

During the period leading up to the entrance of the teams, I tried to juggle my two cameras and my mobile phone, throwing out texts to friends near and far, taking video-film of the crowd, taking photos of the sun disappearing from view, taking photos of the multi-tiered Barca fans. That beer was taking hold and I was finding it hard to concentrate.

“You give me beer, you give me ten flights of stairs to walk up, you put me on the edge of a precipice, you put me among four thousand noisy fans, you make the pitch so small, you make the players so small and you want me to concentrate?”

It seemed an impossible task.

And yet, the photos were taken. The shots of the Catalan flags being waved frantically by the thousands upon thousands of Barca fans. The video film of the Barca club anthem.

“Blaugrana al vent.
Un crit valent.
Tenim un nom, el sap tothom.
Barça!, Barça!, Barça!”

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The team line-ups. The mountains. The inside. The out. The up. The down.

Oh boy.

There were no surprises in the manager’s choice of players for this game. It was the team that had performed so resolutely at The Bridge less than a week previously.

The first part of the match involved me taking yet more photos, sending and receiving yet more texts and trying my utmost to try to stay with the game. We were so ridiculously high up that I had might as well have been watching from the moon. By the time I had managed to focus on the game down below me, we had lost Gary Cahill. This was not a good start. The Barcelona players swarmed around the Chelsea penalty area and the white defenders scrambled to keep close to the raiding attackers. Messi, who had already slashed a shot against the side netting, was again the centre of our attentions.

Fabregas set up Messi with a delightful back-heal, but the little man’s shot was blocked by Petr Cech’s outstretched leg.

But, way up in the lofty heights, I was struggling. The alcohol was now taking grip and I soon realised that – as I tried to stay with the movement of the players – I was seeing double. I squinted to focus on the Chelsea players, but as soon as I relaxed, we suddenly had 22 players on the pitch.

No wonder Barcelona were unable to break us down.

A couple of Drogba half chances gave us hope. However, a typical Barca move with the ball being zipped around the box, ended in Busquets giving the ball a gentle prod from close in. The Barca fans, who had been pretty quiet, awoke with rapturous acclaim.

Then, madness. Did we see John Terry’s foul? No, of course not. I was even struggling to see anything. Our captain was dismissed and a series of texts from England and America were full of disdain. My friend Glenn, watching at home in Frome, explained that he had knee’d Alexis Sanchez in the back of the leg. The away section was stunned. We were punished almost immediately as Messi played in Iniesta, the demon from 2009, to calmly slot home from an angle.

Things were desperate.

That 25% chance of reaching Munich was appearing to be blindingly astute.

We were at a low ebb, but were soon to be cheered. Frank Lampard played a perfectly-weighted ball through for the rampaging Ramires. It seemed impossible that we would be rewarded with a goal-scoring chance so soon after conceding again. The whole Chelsea section strained to watch as Ramires pushed the ball once and then lobbed Valdes with a breathtaking chip. I was right behind the flight of the ball and I gasped as I saw the ball drop into the waiting net.

We were soon jumping around like fools. The terraces were steep with individual barriers and it was a good job. Oh, how we celebrated. The buzz at half-time was superb.

We were losing 2-1 in Barcelona but, with a precious away goal, we were ahead overall.

I met up with Jonesy – the same Jonesy who had been with me at the 5-1 defeat some twelve years previously – and his mate Neil, both from Nuneaton. Their smiles lit up the dark Catalonia sky.

The match re-started and there was more drama. I must admit to not witnessing the foul by Didier which lead to the penalty decision. I was probably texting somebody or taking yet another photo of the packed terraces below me. I did, however, gather my senses in order to take a photo of Lionel Messi’s penalty attempt.

Snap.

I saw the ball fly high and up onto the bar and away. The Chelsea crowd uttered a guttural roar once again.

Maybe the footballing Gods were on our side after all.

Our support grew louder with each minute. The texts from home continued to fly in to my phone. There was a growing sense of belief among us all. The remainder of the game was a further blur. Chelsea defended deep and with a passion which was quite amazing to witness at first hand. Our belligerent players must have frustrated every Barca attacker. They came at us in waves, but our players matched them. It seemed that every shot was blocked.

A rare Lampard corner, around three miles below me, was directed towards the strong leap of Ivanovic and our great Serbian should have scored with his header. It was to be a very rare threat on Valdes’ goal.

Fernando came on for Didier.

Late on, Barcelona managed to get the ball in our goal. To my great pleasure, the majority of the 95,000 crowd had failed to see the bright yellow of the linesman’s flag signalling “offside.” Luckily for me – and my heart – I had spotted it early. A Messi shot scraped the near post. The home fans only had one song – the club anthem – and we all sensed they were not helping to support their team. The spectators grew edgier, the Barca players grew frustrated and it was a beautiful feeling.

We were almost there.

The clock kept ticking.

“Come on boys, hold on.”

Then, a Barca attack broke and the ball was cleared upfield. Miraculously – and it was a miracle – Fernando Torres had decided to drift upfield when he perhaps ought to have held further back. He controlled the ball as it fell at his feet and the Chelsea fans were all eyes.

The lone figure of Torres, with nobody in pursuit, set off.

We inhaled.

Our eyes bulged.

We watched.

Torres took a touch past Valdes and slotted the ball home.

Pandemonium in Catalonia.

I do not know if the tears were immediate or if they came when the final whistle was blown.

Again – a blur. A big blue beautiful blur.

Way atop the Camp Nou, over four thousand Chelsea fans were roaring and singing like never ever before. Down below, the minuscule heroes in white came towards us. I soon met up with Jokka, Jonesy and Neil, Neil’s brother Nigel. We hugged and we laughed.

“How did we do that?”

“Best away game ever, Jonesy – best away game EVER.”

The texts came in. Not just from fellow blues, but from Liverpool fans, Manchester United fans, Cardiff City fans, Frome Town fans, Juventus fans, Sheffield United fans, Barcelona fans…

It was too much. I probably made a fool of myself for a few seconds, but I was wailing with joy. I didn’t care. I wasn’t the only one. How long were we kept inside the stadium? I have no idea. The songs were never-ending, but one was sung continually –

“Che sera sera.
Whatever will be will be.
We’re going to Germany.
Che sera sera.”

The Chelsea songbook got a great airing.

“He scores when he wants, he scores when he wants. Fernando Torres – he scores when he wants.”

“We’re not going home, we’re not going home, we’re not going, we’re not going, we’re not going home.”

We then sang the “One Step Beyond / Nutty Boys In Barcelona Mix.”

As we descended the many concrete steps down to street level, I bumped into complete strangers,old friends, good mates and many many more. It did not matter. We were all together. That walk out of Camp Nou – blissful, euphoric but still full of wide-eyed wonder and disbelief – will live with me forever. I dropped into a bar and then caught a cab back to the hotel, where I was soon joined by a clearly euphoric Frank and Mike. I am sure we could have stayed there all night, but – unlike the current Chelsea team – I knew my limits.

After the briefest of sleeps, the alarm sounded at 6.30am and I was soon up and away, on the bus to Girona and on the plane home. Thoughts were scrambling around in my poor head in an attempt to rationalise what I had witnessed in Catalonia. And then there were thoughts of how best to tackle the problem of getting to Munich for the final on May 19th.

Nobody need worry. After a frantic hour or so, I booked flights for myself and my oldest Chelsea mate Glenn – who I first started going to Chelsea with in the autumn of 1983 – to take us from Bristol to Prague in the Czech Republic on the Friday. We will then take a train to Munich on the day of the game. The last game of the season, the last kick of the ball…

“…we’re going to Germany..che sera sera.”

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Tales From A Work In Progress.

Wolverhampton Wanderers vs. Chelsea : 2 January 2012.

As our manager said after the painful Aston Villa defeat, it was fortuitous that we only had to wait 48 hours for our next game; with any luck we could put New Year Eve’s defeat behind us with a win – any win – and move into the New Year with a little more confidence.

Yep, 2012 was to begin for Chelsea Football Club with a visit to Wolverhampton, with everyone hoping for three points.

The changing weather within the first hour of travel was ridiculous. For twenty minutes, the sun shone on a perfect winter morning with the blue sky looking perfect overhead. As I headed towards Bradford-on-Avon, I was amazed at the sudden mass of grey cloud ahead; there was even a double rainbow. As I collected His lordship at around 10.15am, the heavens had opened. However, after heading past Stroud on the M5, the skies were clear and a brilliant blue once again.

Parky and I had a rattling good conversation about all sorts of various topics and the time flew by. Despite our recent run of dodgy form, I commented that there is nothing like an away game on a bright winter day to get the pulses racing. Even at Wolverhampton. Even when we are seemingly in the middle of a depressing run of form. Even when we are at sixes-and-sevens. Even when we are the butt of many a joke amongst the football cognoscenti.

We encountered some travelling Swansea fans at Strensham services for the second time this season; we bumped into them as they visited Anfield and they were now heading off to Villa Park. We decided to stop off at a pub near Stourbridge for a pint and a bite to eat at around 12.30pm. The pub was busy with families enjoying their lunches but Parky noted that a couple of locals had overheard our accents and had mentioned us being “glory boys” on the way to Wolves.

Big deal.

Parky – first game 1961.
Myself – first game 1974.

Show me the glory from 1974 to 1997. I don’t remember much.

We manoeuvred our way through the red brick houses, the industrial units, the steel clad warehouses and the tattered shops of Dudley and were soon parked-up in the middle of Wolverhampton. My goodness, the temperature had dropped and their was a shrill wind whistling around our ears as we got out of the car, stretched our legs, donned jackets and sought liquid refreshment. We headed for the Walkabout pub – last visited in 2009-2010 – and we soon realised that this had turned into the dedicated “away fans pub”, being relatively close to both bus and train stations. We had to show our match tickets to the two bouncers. Inside, I soon spotted San Francisco Pete and two of his mates from Kent. As I queued at the bar, I also clocked Alan and Gary a few feet away. Alan told me of the Chelsea team and I tried to work out how the attacking six would line up. I doubted if it would be 4-2-3-1, but I wondered if Ramires would really be playing wide in a 4-3-3. Next to me was Terry from Radstock, a town no more than five miles away from my home, and I hadn’t seen him for three years or more.

Chelsea World is a small world indeed.

We were in the boozer for around 40 minutes. The place was a big cave of a pub – and full of Chelsea fans. Quite a few familiar faces of course. Generally speaking, hardly any colours. The drinkers were exhibiting the usual dress code of a Chelsea away game; quilted jackets, baseball caps, winter coats, thick pullovers, polo shirts, jeans, trainers and boots. The occasional sighting of a Chelsea replica shirt or a scarf only accentuated the fact that such items were relatively few in number. Towards the end of our spell in the Walkabout, a lone “Zigger Zagger” roared around the pub. It signalled the moment for us to brace ourselves and head out into the bitter winter weather and walk down to Molyneux, barely ten minutes away. We strolled past quite a few pubs on street corners, with locals with gold and black favours, and headed on. I loved the fact that two former Wolves players were mentioned amongst the commercial properties in that town centre; the Ron Flowers sport shop and The Billy Wright public house.

I spotted the roof of the new stand above the buildings to our left. Molyneux is nicely situated, just half a mile away from the town centre. It has changed beyond compare since my youth in the ‘seventies. It once hosted one of the deepest Kops in the UK, but went into disrepair in the ‘eighties. The ground was completely transformed in the early ‘nineties and became a trim stadium, with the use of the old gold club colours making it an aesthetically-pleasing mid-sized ground. I was surprised to hear that the club had to enlarge further to be honest; surely a capacity of around 28,000 would suffice? The North stand had been demolished during the summer to be replaced by a new two-tier structure. Work was obviously progressing well and the extra tier would bring the capacity up to around 31,000. For a stadium buff like me, I was keen to check on its progress over the past few months. I luckily stumbled across a fantastic site on the internet which details all of the new stadia developments around the world –

www.skyscrapercity.com

This excellent website contains photos, discussion points, diagrams; it’s superb. Further development at Molyneux is planned as and when finances permit…if and when Chelsea Football Club decides to launch their Battersea battle-plan, I expect to see a thread emerge on this website too.

Inside Molyneux, I was centrally located – row G – on the halfway line. Alan and Big John were reminiscing about their visit to the same ground in April 1977 when our fans were officially banned, but around 4,000 fans still attended. A Tommy Langley goal gave us shares in a 1-1 draw and secured our promotion. Those were heady days. That was a cracking season. I only saw three games in our promotion push, but the memories of those games against Cardiff City (won), Bristol Rovers (lost) and Millwall (drew) are strong. On the day of the Wolves match, I can vividly remember running up the slope outside my grandparents’ house once I had heard that we had secured promotion and jumping in the air. But then the realisation that, as the lone Chelsea fan in my village, I had nobody to share my enthusiasm with.

Just before the teams entered the pitch, the Wolves PA played “Fanfare For a Common Man” and the Chelsea fans began roaring, in an attempt to stir the team, but also to keep warm no doubt.

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So, it was true – Ramires was playing wide right in a 4-3-3.

Within one minute, our pre-match concerns about defensive frailties were realised when right-back Jose Bosingwa cheaply gave the ball away to my left, but Wolves did not capitalise. I was reminded of last year’s abysmal game at Wolves – the nadir of Ancelotti’s reign – and Bosingwa’s starring role in that 1-0 defeat. After that initial scare we dominated the first quarter, and Fernando Torres set up both Juan Mata and Frank Lampard within a few minutes, but both shots were parried. Ramires was getting a lot of the ball out wide – making space well, but his final ball was often poor. The midfield three were rather slow in finding the front three. Where have we heard that before?

Frank Lampard was obviously very fortunate to stay on the pitch with a “studs up” challenge on a Wolves player. Alan and I looked at each other and each pulled a face to say “lucky, lucky, lucky.” I am sure that it was due to his previous record as being a relatively “clean” player that kept him on the pitch.

After thirty minutes of Chelsea dominance, but with few clear cut chances, Wolves came into the game. At the same time, fouls increased and yellow cards were brandished by Peter Walton. The Wolves fans in the south stand began baying – for five minutes or more, they were booing everything and even came out with a ridiculous chant –

“The Premier League Is Full Of 5hit.”

They’re obviously playing the underdog card a lot these days in the Black Country.

Two headed chances – close in – from Johnson and Ward flew past our post. The Chelsea support was groaning as the first-half came to an end. The gallows humour of those around me was reassuring, but the game seemed to be headed for a 0-0 draw. Two contrasting texts from home at the break; my mate Steve reported that Frome were 1-0 up at Chippenham in the derby, but Glenn said that, according to Sky Sports News, Drogba and Kalou were off.

The game grew more interesting with each minute of the second period. I was impressed with Torres’ ability to wriggle away from his marker and his luxurious dribble set up a corner. Juan Mata swept it in, JT rose and managed to glance the ball on. The ball ended up at Ramires’ feet and the diminutive Brazilian spun and thumped the ball into the top corner of the net.

Yes!

The Chelsea support roared and soon serenaded the team with a boisterous “Hey Jude.”

At last, Lampard was breaking forward and Mata was twisting and turning. Meireles was quiet however. Chelsea chances came and went; a shot from Torres flew over, a bursting run from Ramires ended up with a shot straight at the goalkeeper, an effort from Mata went wide…and every Chelsea fan was rueing these misses. Wolves then got back in the game and a header was parried by Cech. The Chelsea support grew increasingly restless. Lo and behold, in the last ten minutes, a deep cross was swept back into the box and the ball was smashed in from close range. Chelsea’s defence had been punished for a second’s hesitation and the Molyneux crowd erupted. I turned around to see the line of Wolves fans in front row of the upper tier behind me; they were going berserk. One fan was “flicking Vs” at us all. I just groaned.

Oh God – yet another 1-1 draw.

But no…with the Chelsea crowd, stretched out along the length of the pitch, yelling for continued pressure, one final twist. The ball fell to Torres outside the box. He delicately played in Ashley Cole with an exquisite ball between two defenders. Our left back whipped the ball in at waist-height and we all anticipated a Chelsea strike. The pace of the ball surprised me, but there was Frank Lampard to stab the ball home.

Delirium.

After an initial roar, Alan and I turned to each other – our faces twisted with joy – and for some inexplicable reason, we began punching each other. I guess we needed to release some pent-up frustrations.

Superb.

I jumped up on to my seat took a few photographs of Frank gesturing towards the 3,000 Chelsea supporters. It was a wonderful moment. After almost 38 years of seeing Chelsea live, I will never tire of such wanton joy.

Then, wickedly, more bloody drama. In the last minute, a Wolves throw in was flicked on and a point-blank header was pushed over his bar by Petr Cech. Immediately after, the referee blew his whistle and we roared again.

Phew.

We rushed back to the waiting car, while Alan and Gary had to hang around until 6.40pm for a train back to The Smoke. They were headed for a few pints in a warm pub and I envied them. We made good time on the return trip south. I happened to tune in to an interview with Frank Lampard on the radio. Typically, the BBC were keen to focus on his wild foul rather than his goal. Frank was then asked about his allegedly strained relationship with Andre Villas-Boas and Frank replied that our manager “has his own style.” The reporter then made a meal out of this, implying that there was still distance between our manager and our number eight. How typical.

Not to worry, we had eked out a great win. Ramires, Torres and Romeu were excellent. Meireles, Bosingwa were not so. But these three points at a cold and blustery Molyneux afternoon certainly warmed the spirits of Parky and I, not to mention the other travelling fans.

It’s only one win, but let us hope that it signals the start of a more tranquil – and successful – period in our transition from the Chelsea of 2011 to the Chelsea of 2012.

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Tales From Our Attempt To Win A Hat Trick Of F.A. Cups.

Chelsea vs. Ipswich Town : 9 January 2011.

What a beautiful sunny Sunday morning. As I left the house, the sky was completely devoid of clouds and there was a lovely bite to the winter air. However, on the 30 minute drive to collect His Lordship from Parky Towers, my car was sliding on black ice. It was the worst I had ever known to be honest.I soon heard on the radio that there had been many accidents overnight and in the first few hours of Sunday morning. My other route up to The Smoke, the A303, was closed in Hampshire due to a smash. Not to worry, once I got onto the A350 and the M4, the dodgy road conditions were behind me.

On the Saturday evening, we had both attended a 50th birthday party for Andy, a Chelsea fan from Trowbridge, who I first met in 1984. He is mentioned, in fact, in my little segment in Mark Worrall’s “Chelsea Here Chelsea There” book. It was a great night and a few Chelsea fans “of a certain age” were in attendance from the surrounding towns…I was flying the flag for Frome, Mark from Westbury was there, plus Les from Melksham, to say nothing of Steve, Ashley, Mick, Shep, Parky, Andy and Ally from Trowbridge. It made me think about my youth as a Chelsea fan in the Somerset and Wiltshire area. Certainly in Frome, there weren’t so many Chelsea fans around. The chosen few certainly stuck together…and once our travels to games broadened our experiences, the other local lads soon became friends. I think this is different to the fans – say, in Frome – of the big two teams of Liverpool and Manchester United. Of a school year of 200 boys, there were probably 20 United fans and I am guessing that, because United fans were so widespread, I bet there was no special bond. Why would there be? Chelsea fans however – rare in Frome, for example – clung together desperately. It was a case of strength in numbers. For example, at Frome College in 1981, there were no Chelsea fans in the sixth form, I was the only Chelsea fan in my year and there were four Chelsea fans in the two years below me. So, only five Chelsea fans in a school of 1,300 kids (there were no Chelsea female fans of course, which goes without saying…it was the ‘eighties.) And we knew who we were alright…Chris, Dale, Richie, Troy and Glenn. The Famous Five.

I saw Troy at our game at Ashton Gate in 1976, I saw Dale at games in the ‘eighties, I sit next to Glenn at games to this day but I think Richie didn’t use to go to Chelsea. But we knew of each other alright. I think fans of “lesser” teams always have that bond. With our appeal so much bigger today, I really wonder if that relationship is there for the youngsters in the Frome area. I personally doubt it. However, for us lot – plus PD, Dave and a few more – we’ll always stick together. I think that barren spell in the ‘eighties helped to forge this special friendship and long may it continue.

For the entire length of the journey to London, the sky remained clear and cloudless. I had a quick breakfast and then joined the boys in The Goose at 12.45pm. There was a good turnout for this F.A. Cup game with Ipswich Town. A few of the lads had their children in tow, lured by the cheap ticket prices. It was £25 for an adult for starters. Surprisingly, my home area was only represented by Parky and myself, but the Midlands was represented by Burger, Andy (plus 2 children), Jokka, Neil, Chopper (plus wife and 2 kids), the Home Counties by Daryl, Simon (plus 1 child), Rob, Russ and Gary and finally The Channel Islands by Chris ( plus 1 child). Towards the end, I met up with four from the North – Phil (plus 1 child) and Malcolm (plus 1 child), lads I see rarely these days, but acquaintances from a while back.

So – 24 all told.

A good show.

Guernsey Chris informed me that his son’s first game was against Ipswich in 2001 and he is yet to see us lose. That just goes to show how successful we have been in that period, eh? The United versus Liverpool game was on TV, but not many were paying too much attention – why would we? I mentioned to Gary that I would be soon approaching my seventh anniversary of consecutive Chelsea home games – the first game in this run was on January 18th. 2004 – but Gary puts me to shame. He has missed just one Chelsea first team home game since 1975. To be honest, there should be an asterisk on my run because I missed the first team friendly against Celtic in August 2006, but I’m not counting that (though, if I am honest, I ought to…) Now I have put all of my Chelsea games on a massive spread sheet, expect more and more of these little statistical nuggets over the season. You have been warned.

I’ve mentioned before that the F.A. Cup does not seem to have the allure of times past; despite which ever TV channel has coverage of the games informing us otherwise. Thirty years ago, F.A. Cup games would warrant an extra 25% on the gate, but these days, it seems that the Cup attracts 33% less. Except at Chelsea, where we play to sell out gates at virtually all games, much to my pleasure. However, this is no doubt due to the cheaper tickets at domestic cup matches…one of the best innovations of recent seasons at Chelsea.

With perfect timing, I reached my seat just as “The Liquidator” was rousing the support – after each musical break, “CHELSEA” was lustily bellowed by all and sundry. This was a good sign. I had hoped that our fans would rally behind the team, putting recent past performances to one side.

The team was a pleasing mixture of old and new. Cech in goal, Boso at right back, JT and Brana in the middle and the promising Van Aanholt on the left, a midfield of Frank, the improving Ramires and young Josh, with Kalo, Anelka and Sturridge in attack. No complaints there. Ipswich had 3,000 away fans but no flags.

The game began and we peppered the Ipswich Town goal in the first fifteen minutes, but Daniel Sturridge in particular was guilty of carelessness in front of goal. We were playing some nice stuff, with a couple of flowing moves and there was a good vibe inside The Bridge. However, Ipswich threatened us on 16 minutes with a quick break down our right. The resultant shot was blocked, but Petr Cech appeared to wind himself in the process. He lay prone for a while, but then rose to a loud roar. On 22 minutes, a lovely move found Studge but he decided to leave it for Anelka who took one more touch than was necessary and his low shot was cleared off the line. I held my head in my hands. Soon after, we got behind them and pulled the ball back for Frank in a Prime Time Position.

Frank slammed the ball over. Oh hell – don’t say it’s going to be one of those games!

More efforts went the same way – shots from McEachren and then Anelka flew over the Ipswich goal. Then, at last, a shot from Anelka and a scramble inside the six-yard box and Kalou prodded the ball over – he doesn’t miss from there!

Immediately after, a lovely early ball – fast and low, just like the doctor ordered – into the six yard box from Jose Bosingwa was adroitly flicked in by Sturridge. Get in you beauty. That goal had the entire crowd on its feet. More was to follow – on 38 minutes, a bad tackle on JT and from the Lampard free-kick, the ball was flicked by an Ipswich Town defender into his goal and we were 3-0 to the good.

Phew – things were going well. The only downer was the relatively tough away draw in Round Four – yet another cup tie against Everton. Why does Chelsea always seem to draw the same teams in all cup competitions? How many more bloody times do we have to play Everton, Liverpool, Ipswich, Watford, Barcelona, Valencia and Porto? I was longing for an away game at Torquay, Orient, Burton Albion, Brighton…or Leeds United.

The bloke next to Alan looked a source of much amusement. As is the way with a lot of our supporters these days, he was silent for all of the first-half…throughout the game, he was listening to a radio via a set of little earphones and of course Alan and I suggested a comic reason for this. You know how we operate by now, eh? I suggested that rather than listen to the roar of the crowd and be involved, he was listening intently to the shipping forecast (probably the most boring piece of radio, ever). That then gave Alan and me the chance to air some truly horrendous puns about the various shipping areas, and out of respect to you all, I won’t repeat any of them.

Ex-Chelsea and Ipswich Town striker Kevin Wilson (Willo) was on the pitch with Neil Barnett at the break.

Rather than sit on our laurels, we kept going after the break and we were soon rewarded with a magnificent goal from Nicolas Anelka. After a quick interchange, he struck a lovely low shot from an angle which entered the goal just inside the far post. A superb goal. Three minutes later, the rarest of things – not only a Daniel Sturridge shot with his right foot, but a Daniel Sturridge goal with his right foot. From a Lampard pass, a delightful curler flew into the goal and the crowd erupted again.

At 5-0, the Matthew Harding serenaded our manager –

“Carlo – give us a wave, Carlo, Carlo – give us a wave.”

Despite no Ray Wilkins being alongside to translate, Carlo sheepishly acknowledged the fans.

“CARLO! CARLO! CARLO!”

Then, a period of lovely confident football…McEachren caressing the ball and prompting others, Lampard strong in the tackle and intelligent with his passing, Anelka devilish – the Anelka of old – and Ramires continuing to impress. Over the past five games, I would suggest that John Terry and Ramires have been our most consistent performers.

After the close bunching of our goals, two more ensued within a minute…two Frank Lampard strikes (the first from the edge of the box, the second from two yards out) and the place was bouncing. Frank – admittedly against a lower class of opposition – appeared to be approaching his old form and looked a lot more at ease than at Wolves on Wednesday. This is marvellous news. To be quite honest, we could have scored a few more, make no mistakes. I remember Gael Kakuta blazing over towards the end. Shipping Forecast Man decided to leave, not surprisingly I suppose, with five minutes of the game left. I guess he had endured far too much excitement for one day.

So – seven nil.

The seventh time we have scored six goals or more in a game in the last twelve months. It was just good to be back on track, despite the poor quality of the opposition. A win is a win is a win.

I met up with Parky on the Fulham Road and he was rather bemused. Why? He had slapped £3 on us to win 6-0! He had missed out on £100.

A typical drive home – Fruit Pastilles, a Krispy Kreme doughnut and a Red Bull at Heston Services to give me enough sugar and caffeine to get home safe, then some anthems from my youth – Scritti Politti, Japan, China Crisis, Talking Heads, Kraftwork and Ultravox…and Parky asleep – no doubt trying his very best to erase the memory of Frank’s last goal.

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