Chelsea vs. Tottenham Hotspur : 14 August 2022.
Without any delay, let’s get something out of the way early on. Everyone would have taken a draw from our home match with Tottenham before the game started, right?
I must have spoken to fifty or more fellow Chelsea fans before the match and all bar two – Mike from New York and King Kenny from West London – agreed with my thoughts.
“I’ll take a draw now.”
Mike, to be fair, didn’t exactly say we’d win but merely answered my statement with a “why not a win?” but Kenny said he fancied us for three points.
We may be Chelsea fans – supporters – but we are also realists. Our play against Everton the previous weekend was off-kilter, a struggle. Tottenham had started the season with a flying win.
“As long as we don’t lose” I kept saying.
I also kept mentioning that our only league defeat at home to Tottenham since early in 1990 took place in the Spring of 2018 – April Fool’s Day, I kid you not – with Antonio Conte in charge of us.
For it to happen again with the same man involved would be horrific.
This was a typical pre-match and one that I won’t hinder you with for long.
There was an early morning start at 6.45am even though the kick-off was at 4.30pm. There then followed a heady spell twixt car and bar with friends from near – PD, four miles – and far – Pete, almost five thousand miles – before I settled into my seat in the Matthew Harding Upper.
My God the heat was ridiculous. On my walk to Stamford Bridge at around 10am, I made sure that I crossed over from the sunny side of the North End Road to avoid the sweltering heat. England’s green and pleasant land had recently been scorched and the temperatures being predicted in London bordered on the scary.
Even more scary was the sight of me in some linen shorts. Thankfully no photographic evidence exists; you are spared.
I loved the “Chelsea Football Club” lettering on the East Stand, mirroring that of the old Leitch stand’s lettering from all those years ago. There is a similar copy on the wall between The Shed and West Lower.
In the pub – “The Eight Bells”, we are creatures of habit – there was a gathering of the clans and some typically boisterous chit chat. Talk veered from memories of last season to thoughts of our chances in 2022/23. I aired a few opinions.
“I reckon we’ll finish between third and fifth.”
“Will be bloody good to see the stadium at full capacity again.”
“Not sure if Tuchel really likes aggressive box to box players like Gallagher.”
“He loves his legion of scurrying and slight attackers. Not so sure he wants a more robust spearhead like Broja.”
The pub became packed and there was a hefty overspill outside. Thankfully, a large fan circulated cold air above our heads. I overdosed on Diet Coke.
The game against Tottenham would mark our first appearance this season in the latest Nike kit. Again, from a long way off, it looks reasonable, though the collar is nasty. I don’t mind the light blue band halfway up the socks, but it would have been ideal to have a similarly thick white stripe down the shorts. None of us tend to buy replica shirts of course.
“Kids and tourists.”
But PD took a fancy to the alleged third kit that has been doing the rounds.
“What colour is it?” asked Kim.
“Muted beige” I replied.
“Muted beige” repeated Parky “I like that.”
“Like our play at Goodison last Saturday” I muttered.
At around 2pm, we were visited by three or four of London’s constabulary. The OB stay out of our way all season down in deepest Fulham but usually appear for a few minutes against Tottenham and West Ham to check on things. Make of that what you will. One policeman in full regalia was holding court on the next table and I heard him proudly state “now your oligarch has gone, your boys are going to struggle this season.”
He was roundly booed.
“Go on, hop it mate. You’ve outstayed your welcome” I said as he sidled past us.
He was Arsenal apparently. He smiled and exited stage left.
We left for the game at 3.30pm.
PD, Parky, Andy, Sophie and little old me made our way to Putney Bridge tube station and all was well with the world. The bright sunlight and strong shadows of the earlier part of the day had subsided. But everything was still sultry and humid.
This was another two game weekend for me. On Saturday afternoon, a few friends and I assembled to see Frome Town play Evesham United in a first league game of the season. A ninetieth minute winner had given the home town Robins a well-deserved 1-0 win in front of a slightly disappointing crowd of 359.
The weather in Somerset had been red hot. The temperature in London didn’t feel quite so intimidating.
There was a boisterous atmosphere on the Fulham Road. Just past the “CFCUK” stall, I spotted a Tottenham fan wearing a pair of Lonsdale slip-ons.
My pre-match was complete.
I skipped past the bag-check, and thankfully all turnstiles were fully functioning for game one of the home campaign, a rare event these days.
I was inside at around 4pm.
Stamford Bridge looked a picture. No parched earth here. The green sward looked pristine. The kick-off soon approached. I spotted some new graphics on the hotel and apartment walls above The Shed. The players were down on the pitch in our corner going through some pre-match routines and wearing – not training gear – but the new “pre-match gear” which has obviously caused a typical reaction from me.
I am sure a Proper Chels fan in Badgercrack Nebraska will purchase one, to augment his 571 other Chelsea shirts, and then wonder why a trip to SW6 is financially beyond them.
By the way, I could go on, but so many football shirts just don’t look like football shirts these days do they?
Minutes to go before the game was set to begin, we were then treated to flames in front of the East Stand. With that, the supporters in The Shed got going with a Madness-inspired display. I am sure the lads and lasses in The Shed offered us a “House Of Fun” graphic a few years back – I remember drolly commenting that it should be “House Of Pain” for away fans – and here we are again. The Chelsea love affair with the mod revival and Two-Tone era of 1979 to 1982 shows no signs of abating.
A huge banner depicting the “One Step Beyond” line-up – updated to include players and Todd Boehly – surfed over the Upper Tier while “House Of Fun” was hung over the balcony.
After the mention of a China Crisis album from 1982 to accompany my match report from last weekend’s match in Liverpool, here was a single from that very same year featuring in our first game in London a week later.
Music and football. Music and football. Music and football. Music and football.
Suggs will be hosting an evening of personal recollections in Frome in October and I am sure this will become the seventh musical event for me this year that has an echo of 1982. Throughout the coming season if you eat your vegetables and tidy your bedrooms I will be treating you all to a smattering of Chelsea-coloured memories from 1982/83.
A Fortieth Anniversary Special of our Worst Ever Season?
In the MHL, there was a Star-Spangled flag with an image of Todd Boehly.
Ain’t this going over the top a little?
I wondered if Marc Cucarella might play inside and mark Son Heing-min, hopefully out of the game.
“I’m sorry, Son…”
But instead Reece James was in the back three.
Reece James – Thiago Silva – Kalidou Koulibaly
Ruben Loftus-Cheek – N’Golo Kante – Jorginho – Marc Cucarella
Mason Mount – Kai Havertz – Raheem Sterling
The first interchange between the two tribes did not take long.
Tottenham : “Antonio – Antonio – Antonio, Antonio, Antonio.”
Chelsea : “You’ve won fuck all.”
One-nil to us.
There was a slight flutter of apprehension when Jorginho lost possession on the half-way line but the resulting Tottenham counter-attack withered in the summer heat.
On eight minutes, a fine move from us and a lovely cross from King Kante that hit the danger area of the six-yard box, but floated past everyone.
I smiled at Al : “Lukaku would have headed that in.”
Many a true word is said in jest and all that bollocks.
The away fans bellowed “Y Army” and I tutted.
Kante, like at Everton, was the early star. He and Loftus-Cheek found lots of space – sorry “pockets of space”, I must remember to use as many shitty buzzwords as possible this season…”pockets of space”, “between the lines”, “transition”, “the press”, “high press”, “trouser press”, “Caxton press”, “recycling”, “game management”, it goes on and on – and balls were whipped into the feet of Sterling and Havertz.
Compared to Everton, here was a much more cohesive way of playing. Tottenham appeared on the back foot after a few early jaunts up field.
Koulibaly shot wide from distance.
“A sighter” I said to Al.
After a quarter of an hour played, I was relieved and happy. This was a fine start.
Havertz tested Hugo Lloris who saved well. From the corner that was taken in front of the rather quiet Tottenham fans, Cucarella sent over a great ball into the middle of the box. Miraculously, it avoided all apart from Koulibaly.
I snapped just as he was adjusting his limbs to volley home. His shot was perfection. My shot wasn’t. The net bulged…we watched aghast, amazed at its execution.
He spun away towards a certain corner flag in front of a certain three thousand and the deja vu was astounding, what with the number 26 on his back.
I remembered a JT scissor kick at the same end and – surely? – a slide on his knees, although not in the same game, right in front of some away fans.
It was some goal, some celebration and some noise.
Alan : “THTCAUN.”
Chris : “COMLD.”
This felt good. It felt so good to be 1-0 up against the old enemy. But chances were exchanged. Ryan Sessegnon forced a save from our man Mendy. Koulibaly had his third shot in ten minutes but only troubled those in The Shed Upper.
There was a water break hallway through the first-half. At Frome the previous day, there were two breaks in the second-half.
Tottenham’s fans were dead quiet.
I loved the energy seeping through the team. It really was top stuff. We broke in waves. A shot from the neat swivel-hipped Sterling from the inside-left channel was blocked. Tottenham rarely threatened.
“Al, were we as negative as this under Conte?”
A couple more chances came our way. A riser from Mount. A long cross from Jorginho just evaded the leap from the impressive Loftus-Cheek.
At the break, all was rosy.
My good friend Pete – now Seattle, formerly South London – appeared with his son Calvin, witnessing his first-ever Chelsea game. Both had spent time with a few former Chelsea players before the match and I’d imagine these memories will stay with Calvin forever. They’ll certainly stay with Pete forever.
It was Chelsea Smiles in The Sleepy Hollow at the break.
The second-half began with us attacking the Matthew Harding.
Ten minutes in, I noted that there was a lot more of a physical presence from Havertz in this game. After the 2021 Champions League Final in Porto, he didn’t really push on last season. I am unsure of his best position, as I suspect are many.
Shame I don’t play FIFA; then I’d know.
Sadly, Tottenham’s performance looked a little more co-ordinated. There was a fine stop, down low, from Son that Mendy executed perfectly. A Mount effort narrowly missed the goal, dropping just over the crossbar.
Richarlison appeared for Tottenham. I had forgotten that they had bought him.
The ball was worked to Sterling but his studied approach and footwork didn’t result in an equally fine finish; his shot was blasted high and wide.
On a break, Harry Kane was one-on-one but his shot was tamely scuffed wide.
How we laughed.
Halfway through the second-half – much more evenly contested now – we broke with Havertz rushing past the half-way line. He appeared to be chopped down but the play was waved on. With boos cascading down from the home areas at the loathed Anthony Taylor, Tottenham moved the ball forward. Jorginho made a hash of clearing and the ball fell invitingly to Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg whose low shot evaded a dive from Mendy and crept into the goal’s far corner.
In front of the benches, all hell broke loose.
(God, that could be a sentence from 1985…)
A substitution : Cesar Azpilicueta for Jorginho, with Dave going into the middle three to allow James to push on as a wing back.
Not long after the switch, we caught Tottenham on the hop and a central Sterling played an absolutely perfectly-weighted ball to James who was steam-rollering in to view to his right. I clicked just as Reece let fly but again my shot didn’t match the player’s. The ball crashed past Lloris.
Pandemonium in South West Six.
Screams of joy from me, just as there was when Frome got the winner on the Saturday but louder and more intense, to a factor of one billion zillion.
GET IN YOU FUCKER.
But then my veins turned to ice to capture the mad celebrations in the opposite corner.
We were back on top, 2-1 up and I thought of King Kenny, watching on in the front row of The Shed.
The noise had been decent all afternoon and now Stamford Bridge was on fire.
Some more substitutions followed.
Conor Gallagher for Kante.
Christian Pulisic for Sterling.
Armando Broja for Havertz.
Gallagher looked all action as soon as he entered the field of play. One run to stifle a Tottenham break was textbook. He then set up Mount who fired weakly wide and then shot himself but saw his effort blocked.
Into time added on for stoppages and it all got messy.
There was a delay after a Tottenham effort was deflected high for a corner. The scoreboard flashed “VAR REVIEW POSSIBLE RED CARD VIOLENT PLAY” and all of the 40,000 in Stamford Bridge were none the wiser.
Was it against one of our players? Was it against a Tottenham player? We had no clue. The watching millions at home knew. It’s them that matter, eh?
Anyway, the review was over and play continued. I had a brief worry about us losing our concentration.
On ninety-six minutes, a corner was swung in.
My eyes were steely focussed.
I saw a leap of some players at the near post.
The ball fell away, it fell down, it fell forward, it fell into the goal, my heart sank.