Tales From L4

Liverpool vs. Chelsea : 14 April 2019.

We were now in what some call the Business End of the season. The remaining games would quickly sort us out. Could we cling on to a top four position in the league? Could we reach yet another semi-final and another final? Would we, via either route, play Champions League football in 2019/2020? Or would we slump to a meek finish and “only” qualify for another Europa League campaign?

We would soon find out.

I suspect that I am not the only one who was dreading the trip to Anfield, for more than one reason. Liverpool had only lost once in the league all season and were vying for top spot with Manchester City. After the game in 2014 – how can it be almost five years ago? – they were after revenge. All week I kept saying to myself “I’d take a 0-0” draw. A goal-less draw? Too right. One more point for us, and two dropped points for them. And advantage City in the race for the title.

In the build-up to the weekend, a few things really focussed my mind on the game on Merseyside. On Thursday, I spotted that there was going to be a charity match in Dublin the following evening in order to raise funds for Sean Cox, the Liverpool supporter who was so badly injured by some Roma ultras outside Anfield last season. As I mentioned at the time, this awful incident hit home because Sean is the brother-in-law of a friend through work who I have known for sixteen years. My friend’s husband Marty was with Sean on that fateful evening in April of last season, and my friend – a client of ours –  has been giving me updates over the past twelve months of Sean’s – very slow – progress. It was a devastating incident for the whole family. But I have been pleased to hear of steady improvements in recent months. A game involving Liverpool legends and an Irish legends team at the Aviva Stadium was planned. I soon realised why my friend had an “out of office” on her email on Friday. In the evening, I sent her a little text to say that I hope that Sean enjoyed the upcoming game.

By that stage, on the Friday evening, work was behind me for the week and I was on my way to Basingstoke to see China Crisis, sons of Liverpool, once again. But football was still tugging away at my coat tails. As I stopped mid-route for a bite to eat, I checked my phone and saw that Tommy Smith, the former Liverpool captain, had passed away.

Liverpool was certainly starting to dominate the weekend.

After the China Crisis concert, I had a quick chat with Eddie Lundon, one of the band’s original two members, who I have got to know over the past few years through a mutual friend. Ed is a Liverpool season ticket holder and I wondered if he had heard about Tommy Smith. I felt awkward asking about him, in case he had not heard the news. But sad news travels fast and he had indeed heard about Tommy Smith. We chatted briefly and quickly about the Liverpool vs. Chelsea game. On the Sunday, he would be driving back from a gig on the Isle of Wight, thus missing the match. I could tell that he was displeased. He even mentioned it during the gig.

If I had more time after the concert, I would have liked to have shared a story about Tommy Smith with Ed.

A few years ago, Parky and I visited a few local pubs where Ron Harris was guest of honour, on two occasions alongside Peter Bonetti, Bobby Tambling and Charlie Cooke. They were superb evenings. A favourite yarn, told slowly and purposefully by Chopper, involved Tommy Smith. Ever since Emlyn Hughes broke Peter Osgood’s leg in 1966 in a game against Blackpool, the soon-to-be Liverpool defender was never flavour of the month at Chelsea. Apparently, Tommy Smith and Emlyn Hughes never saw eye-to-eye either, even when they were playing alongside each other in the Liverpool team of Bill Shankly in the early ‘seventies. A few years later in a game at Anfield involving Liverpool and Chelsea, Ron Harris “arrived late” as he crunched into Emlyn Hughes and wiped him out completely. While Hughes was writhing around on the floor in agony, and as his Liverpool team mates gathered around offering words of support, Tommy Smith sidled over to our Chopper and whispered these words:

“I’m beginning to like you, Mister Harris.”

He was a hard man, Tommy Smith, and this was praise indeed for our own enforcer.

RIP.

On the Saturday, I had a choice to make. My local team, Frome Town, on a run of three straight defeats, were at home to Hartley Wintney but I simply could not be arsed. I just could not stomach yet another insipid performance, yet another defeat and the inevitable relegation from the division. Even though the game was only four miles away, I stayed at home and cracked on with a few jobs. I have probably watched Frome more this season than any other year, but enough was enough.

Frome lost 1-0.

After eight successive seasons at “Level Seven” in the English football pyramid, relegation was a certainty. I was momentarily sad, but the comparison with Frome and Chelsea was brought into sharp focus. On the following day, I’d be travelling up to Liverpool, a good five-hour trip, and cheering on the boys. There was no way that I would not attend.

I had to be there.

By 9am on Sunday, the Chelsea 3 were on our way to Liverpool 4.

There was a lot of chit-chat between PD, Parky and little old me as I drove up past Bath and onto the M4 and then the M5. The potential trips to Lisbon, Frankfurt and Baku dominated everything. After a while, the jibber-jabber died down a little and I concentrated on getting us safely up to Liverpool. The weather outside was cold, the skies grey. We stopped at Strensham and also Sandbach. There were Liverpool replica kits everywhere. By about 1.30pm, I had reached a car-park right outside Goodison Park at the northern end of Stanley Park. We paid £15 and we were safe. The attendant positioned us right near the gates for a quick getaway.

“Are youse gonna be leaving right on the whistle?”

“Depends if we’re getting thumped.”

“Might be at half-time.”

Gallows humour.

It was odd being so close to Goodison Park on a non-match day. Just like Liverpool Football Club on the main approach to Anfield, up the long steady hill of Utting Avenue, Everton Football Club have decorated every available lamp post with a pennant. Without the need to rush, I had time to notice that there are Archibald Leitch motifs on the royal blue Everton ones and I approved. We had decided to drink at the Thomas Frost pub on Walton Road, a large and charmless Wetherspoons. It was a relatively safe haven, though. We quickly spotted a table of Chelsea fans – no colours, familiar faces, usual suspects – and we joined them. We were joined by a few other Chelsea supporters. Very soon the pub was packed.

90% Liverpool.

10% Chelsea.

But it was fine. There were random outbreaks of Chelsea sings, but none of the home fans were overly intimidating. They had other things on their minds. The Manchester City game was on the TV, and most of the Scousers were subdued. I bumped into Steve, who runs the Connecticut Blues in the US, and it was the first time that I have seen him for quite a few years. He had won a trip over to England – flying into Manchester, two nights in Liverpool, match tickets – along with four others. It was good to see him again.

Welsh Kev arrived on the scene, like me a dedicated driver for the day. While I was existing on “Cokes”, Kev was making use of free coffee-refills. His route up to Liverpool had mirrored ours.

“Loads of Liverpool replica shirts at the services.”

“Tell me about it” I replied.

They love a replica shirt, the Micky Mousers.

At about 3.30pm, we decided to catch a cab from outside the pub up to Anfield, thus saving valuable time. Both Everton’s and Liverpool’s two grounds are covered by the L4 postcode.

L4 Blue to L4 Red.

It sounded like a chess move. And it was all over in a few minutes. The cabbie – another “red” after the two “reds” we used on the day of the Everton match a month earlier – dropped us off on Walton Breck Road. We were now right in the very heart of all things red. I took a photograph of PD and Parky with the gleaming new main stand in the background before they shot off for one last beer in the away end. I took a walking tour around Anfield for the first time since the stadium had its mammoth new addition. I slowly walked past “The Twelfth Man” pub and then approached “The Albert“ pub right outside The Kop. My mind whirled back to last April. This was exactly the spot where Sean Cox was attacked.

I continued walking. The statue of Bill Shankly, fists clenched.

I honestly didn’t mind Liverpool in those days.

As I slowly moved from one vantage point to another, I had presumed that Manchester City had won. There was a noticeably subdued air underneath the towering stands. On some of the signage, there was the usual hyperbole associated with modern football, and with Liverpool Football Club especially. On a sign above an entrance to The Kop, the word “Songs” was crossed out. The word “Anthem” was highlighted instead. Then the words “You’ll Never Walk Alone.” Then the words “Not a song. It’s who we are.”

Then the hook line “We are Liverpool. This means more.”

Well, that just didn’t scan.

File under “trying too hard.”

The new stand goes back forever. I can only imagine the amount of corporate hospitality areas entombed within it. The days of the “half-time gate” on The Kop are consigned to history. I remembered that one of the cabbies from last month mentioned to us that his season ticket mentions the word “client number” rather than “supporter number.”

I hate modern football, part 847.

However, I like the way that, instead of acres of steel cladding, much of the façade uses standard red brick, so typical of the local area’s tight terraced streets. I didn’t get a chance to spot the re-positioned Hillsborough Memorial, but I climbed the stairs – presumably a nod towards the terraces of the old Kop – and took a few photos. I walked past the line at the away turnstiles but noted one Liverpool fan shout out –

“You fucking rent boys.”

I – pardon the pun – walked on.

I met up with Eddie’s son Daniel – and my friend Kim – outside the Kenny Dalglish Stand, formerly the Centenary Stand, formerly the Kemlyn Road Stand, God I am showing my age. There was only time for a quick “hello goodbye” before we needed to head off into our respective areas. Eddie and his son have season tickets on the half-way line – a great “speck” in the local lingo –  in the lower tier of the Dalglish Stand. The Shankly Gates – forged in my home town of Frome – have been repositioned outside this stand, having moved from their original position alongside the original Hillsborough Memorial

On the façade of this stand, there was more hyperbole.

The word “badge” was crossed out and the word “honour” was used instead.

Then “for others it’s an emblem. For us, it’s an honour.”

Righty-o.

Time was moving on. I lined up at the away turnstiles. I bumped into some familiar faces. Lads from my local area had tried, like Steve from Connecticut, to get into the usual “Arkles” but for the first time ever it was “home fans only.” I suspect that on this day of all days, on the Hillsborough weekend, the landlord had decided to play it safe. After a quick bag check, I was in. I was tempted to save the green “bag searched” tag for the few Liverpool fans that I know.

“Here’s a souvenir from Anfield, since you fuckers never go these days.”

This would be my twenty-fourth trip with Chelsea in all competitions.

Our record is not great in this cross-section of matches, but better – much better – than it used to be.

Won 5

Drew 6

Lost 12

Our last loss at Anfield was the 4-1 defeat just after the 2012 FA Cup Final win against the same team when nobody could really be bothered. We had loads of empty seats at Anfield that night, a black mark in recent years.

The team?

I almost expected a false nine. It was a show of reticence from Sarri.

Arrizabalaga

Azpilcueta – Rudiger – Luiz – Emerson

Jorginho

Kante – Loftus-Cheek

Hudson-Odoi – Hazard – Willian

A huge game for our Ruben and our Callum. But a huge game for all of us. I really do not know what Gonzalo Higuain made of Maurizio Sarri’s starting eleven. Higuain was Sarri’s boy. He worked with him at Napoli. I am not sure if the phrase “cherry-picked” is correct, but Sarri chose him above all other strikers in January. And he was on the bench.

The stadium was packed to the rafters. Just before the teams came onto the pitch, the ridiculously deep-voiced Anfield announcer – who has been going for years and years – spoke of Tommy Smith and most Chelsea supporters joined in with a minute of applause.

“You’ll Never Walk Alone” boomed and Chelsea floated the yellow “Chelsea Here. Chelsea There” away flag. Then, the stadium settled and the announcer spoke of Hillsborough.

The teams stood in the centre circle.

Mosaics filled the Dalglish Lower Tier and the entirety of The Kop.

“30 Years – 96.”

Not a word was spoken in that respectful minute by anyone.

For the youngest, Jon-Paul Gilhooley – Steven Gerard’s cousin – aged just ten, to the oldest, Gerard Baron, aged sixty-seven.

For the Hicks sisters.

For Kevin Williams, aged just fifteen, whose mother Anne was such a dominant force in the battle for justice.

For Tony Bland, the last to die, in 1993

For the 96 – RIP.

I have written about the tragedy of Hillsborough before. When I see footage of that day, there are soon tears.

Just one thing to add. Of the ninety-six deaths, only three were over fifty years of age. A staggering seventy-eight were less than thirty years old. Not only does this represent a staggering loss of humanity, of young lives not being able to blossom, but it also marks a snapshot in time, only thirty years ago, when the age of match-going supporters was noticeably younger than today. The average age of those who were killed was around twenty-five. In those days, going to football was a young man’s game. And that last comment was not meant to be sexist. Many more men went to football in those days. Of the ninety-six fatalities, eighty-nine were male.

Football has indeed changed in so many ways since April 15 1989.

The game began. If the key phrase before the match was “I’d take a 0-0 now” then another was undoubtedly “let’s not concede an early goal.”

As with every visit to Anfield, I became obsessed with the discrete clock tucked into the side of the Dalglish Stand. Like at Old Trafford, there are no large TV screens at Anfield, for which I am quite grateful. For all of the off-the-field corporate activity spinning out of control, it is reassuring to see that, at least during the game, it is all about the action on the pitch at these two great stadia in the north-west of England. There are no distractions. Our gaze is centered on the twenty-two players. I like that.

The home team dominated the early possession and a volley from Mo Salah bounced against the turf before nestling in Kepa’s arms. Dave seemed to be a little off the pace at the start but soon improved. After a while we began to build a few attacks. Eden Hazard was the busiest of our forwards, but he tended to plough a lone furrow upfront, often prone to drifting into his favoured inside left channel but with virtually no support. A lone cross from our Callum on the right did not reach anyone. A Hazard shot was easily saved by Alisson at his bear post. The heal of David Luiz thankfully deflected a Jordan Henderson effort wide. We were so close to the action. I watched the faces of the Chelsea defenders at corners. I shared their obvious anxieties.

Toni Rudiger went down and we feared the worst. He went off, then came back on immediately.

Our best chance of the first-half fell to Willian, raiding centrally. He kept moving the ball to his right, and I was begging for a drilled low shot across Alisson into the bottom left, but he kept moving the ball on. His shot spun well clear of the right-hand post. We were then exposed as a Salah sprint down our left was followed by a ball into Sadio Mane’s path, but his shot narrowly whizzed past the post.

Thirty minutes had passed and we were keeping them at bay. Pre-match, there were horrible thoughts of another Manchester City style bombardment. With five minutes of the first-half remaining, Rudi went down again. This time he didn’t move. Sadly, this time there was no miraculous recovery. He was replaced by Andreas Christensen (who some Chelsea fans still think played at Anfield in 2014. It was Tomas Kalas) and he looked a little nervy in the last five minutes of the first-half.

Over in the lower tier of the Dalglish Stand, I couldn’t help but notice something that I always pick up on during most visits to Anfield. In the area closest to the Anfield Road Stand – the one that we were sharing with some home fans – there seemed to be more red on show. My take on this is that in the more central areas of the lower tier, there are more season ticket holders. In the flanks of that stand, there are more “day trippers” (as the Liverpool hardcore calls them) and hence more people prone to visit the club shop and buy scarves, shirts, jackets and hats. I’d imagine that season ticket holders at most clubs tend not to go too overboard with club colours. Of all the stadia in England, I have always thought that this is more noticeable at Anfield than at any other ground.

I was stood with Parky, Gal and Alan. The Chelsea support had been sporadic throughout the first-half. I think we were all too nervous. The home support was certainly nervous. Fifty thousand of them honestly failed to get much of an atmosphere going at all.

There were nerves everywhere.

Right before the break, Kepa stretched late and made a super reflex save, but an offside flag had already been raised. In truth, our ‘keeper had not been as busy as I had perhaps predicted.

We had made it to half-time.

0-0.

“And breathe.”

The general consensus was that we had played reasonably well during the first period. Both Ruben and Callum had shown flashes, but were quiet. Kante and Hazard – no surprises really – had been our standout performers. Jorginho had largely been a bystander with only occasional offensive prods to team mates. The days of us Chelsea supporters singing a song in praise of him, and the manager, are long gone. At the break, I bumped into a Chelsea fan that I know through Facebook, a young lad called Bank, from Thailand, who was at his very first Chelsea away game. He had watched the Chelsea vs. West Ham United game last week and on Saturday was lucky enough to see a Mason Mount hat-trick as Derby County beat Bolton Wanderers 4-0. After the game, he waited to chat with Frank Lampard, and he had a truly wonderful time.

The second-half began. And still Anfield was quiet, so quiet.

The first five minutes passed.

“Let’s get to the hour.”

A minute later, the ball was worked inside our box to Henderson who clipped over a tantalising ball into our six-yard box. Mane rose with no Chelsea defender in sight, let alone touching distance, and his header easily found the net. If Rudiger had been on the pitch, would he have had such am unhindered leap? Perhaps not. He reeled away towards the corner, beneath that damn clock, and Anfield erupted. The noise roared around the stadium now.

One song kept going and going.

“We’ve conquered all of Europe.

We’re never gonna stop.

From Paris down to Athens.

We’ve won the fucking lot.

Bob Paisley and Bill Shankly.

The fields of Anfield Road.

We are loyal supporters.

And we come from Liverpool.

Allez, allez, allez.

Allez, allez, allez.

Allez, allez, allez.

Allez, allez, allez.”

It didn’t reach 2005 levels. But take it from me, it was loud.

It was to get worse. Liverpool hit a purple patch. A cross-field ball from Virgil Van Dijk sent over a cross-field ball to Salah, who cut in past Emerson and unleashed an impeccable laser into the top corner of Kepa’s goal. Anfield erupted again.

Bollocks.

Two goals had been conceded in the first eight minutes of the second-half. What the bloody hell does the fag muncher say to the players at half-time? I’d really like to know.

Gonzalo Higuain replaced our Callum.

Bizarrely, we then hit our best period of the entire game. A fantastic ball from Emerson was beautifully dolloped into the path of Hazard who took one touch and shaped to shoot. I’d say that every Chelsea supporter was poised to leap and scream. A goal looked the only option. Alas, the shot smacked against the base of the right hand post. We were crestfallen. Soon after, Willian clipped in an equally impressive ball into the danger area towards Hazard, but Alisson was able to save.

We then fell away again.

Ross Barkley replaced our Ruben.

Our attacking game petered out, and we rarely threatened the Liverpool goal again despite many Hazard dribbles – he takes a good photo, eh? – and the occasional shot from Higuain and Hazard.

It was not to be.

Liverpool deserved their win. They were more clinical. They were not at their best but they were, evidently, too good for us.

I have this horrible feeling that they might win it this season.

Fackinell.

On Thursday, the road to Baku continues with a home game against Slavia Prague.

I will see some of you there.

 

Tales From Via Del Governo Vecchio

Roma vs. Chelsea : 31 October 2017.

I will never forget my first visit to the Eternal City of Rome.

July 1986. My twenty-first summer. I was there for barely twenty-four hours but it left a lasting impression.

Hot on the heels of my month of Inter-Railing around Europe in 1985, I again chose to spend the summer of the following year along similar lines. Whereas my ’85 Grand Tour had concentrated on central Europe – from Marseille in the south to Stockholm in the north and with many places in between – the 1986 edition had a decidedly Mediterranean feel to it. My travels took me to France, Spain, Italy and the Greek island of Corfu. And, typically, football was never too far away. On my quick dip in to Spain for the very first time of my life, I visited Barcelona and I made a bee-line for Camp Nou. It was the undoubted highlight of my day in the city. On the same trip, I visited the San Siro in my few short hours in Milan and that stadium thrilled me too. However, as I took a train from Pisa to Rome, for once football was not wholly dominating my thoughts.

Rome. Just the thought of such an ancient and interesting city had my nerves jangling and my heart racing.

I had visited Italy in 1975, 1976, 1979, 1980 and 1981 – all family holidays – and again in 1985, but this would be my first visit to the South of Italy. I can remember standing up in one of those old-style Italian train carriages with an aisle to one side and individual compartments, watching with increasing scrutiny at every passing sight on the way in to Rome and its marbled Termini station. The one thing that certainly sticks in my mind are those gorgeous and iconic pine trees which seem to flourish in the Rome hinterlands. I always used to think that they were olive trees, but the angled trunks and branches – seemingly altered by the wind, blown out of shape – and the floating canopy of leaves above are stone pines.

I arrived in Rome on a sunny afternoon. I deposited my ruck-sac at the train station and caught the subway down to The Colosseum. I was overwhelmed. It was, I suppose, the most famous stadium of them all. I had ticked off another one. From there, I embarked on a walking tour which saw me head past the ruins of the Roman Forum, the ostentatious Vittorio Emmanuelle monument, and then deeper in to the epicentre of the city – dusty, occasionally dirty, but deeply atmospheric – and over the deep gorge of the River Tiber and on to St. Peter’s Square and The Vatican, by which time the sun was setting and my desire for new sights and experiences had been fully satiated. That night, I slept rough in one of the waiting rooms at the train station alongside many other backpackers – I was on a typical shoestring budget – and as I awoke early the next morning, after a “wake-me-up wash” with cold water, I had one Roman sight remaining. Not The Pantheon. Not the Trevi Fountain. Not the Spanish Steps. Not Piazza del Popolo.

Yes, you have guessed it.

The Olympic Stadium.

I took a metro to the Vatican again, and chose to walk the two miles or so north to the stadium, thus saving money on buses. I recollect walking through the complex of buildings which were purposely constructed for the 1960 Olympics. I don’t remember seeing the infamous Mussolini obelisk on Foro Italico, but I certainly recall the heroic statues of ancient Romans which surrounded the practice running track adjacent to the main stadium. I was lucky enough to spot a chap who was working in the grounds of the stadium, and he allowed me up into the seating area. It will surprise nobody that I took a few photographs. The whole stadium was a lot shallower than today. There was a slight roof on the main Monte Mario stand opposite, which housed proper seats. Elsewhere were bench seats; a clean and cool light cream if memory serves, with curved terracing at both ends. The sun beat down. Everything was quiet. The games came racing back. Liverpool beating Borussia Moenchengladbach in the 1977 European Cup Final. The 1980 European Championships Final; West Germany defeating Belgium. I remembered the infamous Roma vs. Liverpool European Cup Final only two years previously. I let my imagination run away with me for a few moments. Soon, the chap was shouting for me to leave, but those fleeting glimpses inside the still bowl were wonderful.

There is always something about a dormant stadium.

With my visiting complete – more cultural sights would have to wait for further visits, of which there have been plenty – I returned to Termini and caught an early afternoon train to Brindisi and on to Corfu.

My first twenty-four hours in Rome were complete.

But Rome stirred me then, and I just knew that it would stir me in 2017 too.

I only managed two hours of sleep before I was awake for the drive to Stansted Airport in the very small hours of Monday morning. I collected PD at 3am and Parky at 3.30am. There was little traffic on our trip East. Buoyed by coffees, I was loving the excitement of yet another European Away. It would be PD’s first-ever trip abroad with Chelsea; it was long overdue. The first trip should have been way back in 1995 when I booked around twelve lads on a coach trip to Bruges for our ECWC game. Then, notoriously, England rioted in Dublin and the over-reaction went in to overdrive. Fear of any sort of repeat by Chelsea resulted in a lock-down of many travel itineraries and the independent travel company that I booked with pulled out of the trip, costing us all around £100 each. Having to make a number of telephone calls to my good mates in order to pass on the bad news was undoubtedly a low-point in my life as a Chelsea fan.

I managed to catch a little sleep on the Ryanair flight to Rome’s miniscule Ciampino airport. We landed at around 12.30pm. Outside, waiting for the transfer bus to take us in to the city, the sun played hide and seek with some dark clouds for a few minutes. A local wearing a Manchester United baseball cap collected our bus tickets (…insert cliché here).

At last, we were on our way into the city.

The ride in from Ciampino in the East was not the most grandiose of journeys. Down-at-heal local shops and markets. Sketchy apartment blocks daubed with graffiti. Slow-moving traffic. But then the welcoming stone pines. I smiled. We were deposited at Termini, and we immediately caught a cab to our apartment in the heart of the city. The route took us over Via Magenta which housed the hotel where we stayed for the Roma match in 2008, and also for the Napoli game in 2012, when we split our trip between the two cities. The cab took us very close to Via Gaetta, where my good pal Steve from Philadelphia stayed whilst an overseas student at the local university in the mid- ‘nineties and where one of his roommates would become his wife. I quickly texted him, and I sensed the yearning to be with us over the thousands of miles in his reply. The hotel where we stayed in 1999 for the Lazio game was just around the corner.

As we raced down the cobbled streets, memories continued to race through my mind. Halfway down Via Nazionale, I spotted the shop that a few of us raided in 2008 for a few items of Italian menswear – a couple of CP crisp cotton shirts for me, both of which, amazingly, I can still wear without buttons flipping off – at ridiculously cheap prices. I wasn’t so sure there would be a repeat this time around. The noise of the cab bouncing over cobbled streets and the ever-present screech of wailing police sirens created a familiar aural backdrop.  PD was laughing at the driving style of the cab driver; he was living up to the stereotype for sure. Down into Piazza Venezia, I spotted the bar where a few of us drank brandies in the dead of night before the Lazio game. On that occasion, after a night of alcohol abuse, we made our way home as dawn was breaking and I remembered one moment fondly. About six of us, walking up a slight incline, were bellowing out “Carefree” and the Roman walls were echoing to our tuneful wailing. We turned a corner, only to be met with two carabinieri sitting in their car. One of them just brought his finger to his pursed lips and pleaded for quiet.

“…sssssssssshhhhhhhhhhh.”

We were silenced.

Rather than get out of his car and start whacking us, we appreciated this approach.

We passed the staggering Vittorio Emmanuelle monument once again to our left, and I spotted the infamous balcony of the building to the right – now opened-up after decades of guilty closure – where Mussolini spoke to his followers. Then the roads narrowed as we approached the area around Piazza Navona. I was buzzing. I made a call to our host and Christina met us outside the huge wooden doors to our apartment on the intimate and paved Via Del Governo Vecchio. We made our way in. A towering courtyard met us. The place was an old palazzo. We were stunned. The boys thanked me for booking such a great residence. We were all buzzing.

From Frome to Rome.

We had arrived.

After a quick freshen-up, we were soon out and about. It had just turned 3pm. Just a few doors down, we enjoyed the first of many cold beers – Peronis were only 2.5 euros each – at a small and intimate bar called “La Prosciutteria Navona” and the friendly waitress soon served us up a mixed platter to share.

We piled into a lovely selection of cold meats, cheeses, olives, aubergines, courgettes, bread, tomatoes and fruit.

“La Dolce Vita” never tasted better.

It was a lovely afternoon. Perfect weather. The excitement for what lay ahead was palpable.

Our two pals Kevin and Richard – Chelsea and Hearts fans from Edinburgh – joined us. They had arrived on the Sunday and were enjoying their first visit to Rome. This was Rich’s first Chelsea European Away too. Their apartment was a ten-minute walk away, across the nearby Piazza Navona. We sauntered past a variety of bars and cafes on Via Del Governo Vecchio and chose a bar which served San Miguel on draft at 5 euros a pop as the narrow road opened up onto Piazza di Pasquino. My good pal Foxy – last featured in Tales From China – soon joined us. He had flown in from Amsterdam. We gulped down a few beers and then had a wander, our version of the famous Italian “passaggiata.” We were for ever on the lookout for local bars – and not Irish bars, thanks very much, screw that – where we could continue drinking at low prices. It was hit and miss. One bar close to the touristy Piazza Navona had the audacity to ask for 7.5 euros for the same small bottle of Peroni that we had enjoyed at the first bar.

Swerve.

We dipped into an internet café, and cheaper beers were quaffed.

Lastly, but by no means least, at around 6.30pm, Alan and Gary joined us. Their hotel was up near Termini. Like myself, both were lacking sleep, and Gal looked knackered. After a few crisp lagers, he soon perked up.

The eight of us then returned to the first bar – our “local” – and the drinking continued. I tasted a very nice lager from Sardinia – “Ichnusa” – for the first time. I toasted Gianfranco Zola. The laughs and banter increased as the evening turned to night. Not long into proceedings, Foxy remembered the famous European Cup semi-final between his team, Dundee United, and Roma back in 1984. Following on from their sole Scottish Championship win in 1983, which included ex-Chelsea players Eamonn Bannon and Ian Britton, Dundee United went on an amazing European run the following season. In the first-leg of the semi at Tannadice, United beat Roma 2-0. Sadly, for Foxy – and for me, I have a massive soft-spot for Dundee United; I blame the girl from Lochee that I met on holiday in Italy in 1979 – the return leg in Rome was lost 3-0 under deeply suspicious circumstances.

“I hate Roma” said Foxy, not once, but twice, but many times during the night.

That 1984 European Cup Final was so nearly Dundee United vs. Liverpool. Instead, Liverpool beat Roma in their home city on penalties, and the natives violently ambushed many of the visiting scallies after the game, providing part of the back-story for Heysel the following season.

It was 9pm. We moved on and enjoyed a meal a few doors down the street. We all commented that a fantastic pub crawl could take place within the seventy yards of Via Del Governo Vecchio alone. I wolfed down a pizza with gorgonzola, mozzarella and radicchio and then we hit the Limoncello.

Or, rather, the Limoncello hit us.

There had only been a little chat about the game throughout the night. We expected a tough old game for sure. On our previous visit, Roma had handed us a deserved 3-1 thumping. This would be Chelsea’s third tie against Roma; we played them in the 1965/66 season too and the game at the Olimpico saw Chelsea players tackled crudely by the Italian players on the pitch and bombarded with coins by the Roma fans off it.

The meal finished, we headed on to two more bars, the Limoncello chasing our Peronis and almost catching them up.

What a night. What a laugh.

Alan recorded a small clip of us all singing – too slowly, out of tune – a song for Antonio, and posted it on Facebook. I suspected my number of Facebook friends to plummet overnight.

In one of the bars – Café Bianco – I got chatting to two Juventus chaps, and one of them showed me a photograph on his phone of his friend Sergio Brio, who played in the very first Juve game that I saw in 1987. It was great to be able to converse, however slightly, with the locals.

After around nine hours of revelry, it was time to call it a night. We had not seen a single Chelsea fan on our travels around our little piece of Rome. But it had been a hugely pleasurable time.

Just the eight of us. Just enough.

“Friends. Romans.”

“Countrymen.”

Carry on, Chelsea.

On the day of the game, there was a leisurely start. We had a lovely breakfast at a quiet café a few doors down and then met up with Kev and Rich. We popped into a menswear shop on the walk to Piazza Venezia – lots of lovely Paul & Shark, but no purchases this year – and we then took a cab up to Via Cavour to collect our match tickets. The driver was a Napoli fan, he hated Roma, and he looked a bit of a loon. Without much of ado, the tickets were firmly in our mitts. For a few hours we based ourselves at a nearby bar, and were able to enjoy a few lunchtime drinks as the Chelsea fans headed down the steps to collect their tickets too. I lost count of the number of people we recognised.

A special mention for my mate Charles, who had flown in that morning from Dallas for a three day visit to Rome. He soon collected his match ticket, too, and joined us for a few beers. It was a very relaxing time. Over the course of the morning, we had heard how some Chelsea, including some that we knew, had been attacked during a cowardly attack at the nearby “Shamrock” Irish bar – please refer to my last comments about Irish bars – by around forty Roma ultras. This was typical of the locals. I can just imagine a few Roma fans driving around the city on their scooters, keeping a watching eye on all of the Irish pubs where English fans traditionally congregate in most foreign cities, and then reporting back. Thankfully, no Chelsea fans were injured, save for a few bumps and bruises. Apparently, some flares were thrown inside the pub, but the locals did not enter.

It did not help that the pink sports paper “La Gazzetta” had reported the day before that “two thousand hooligans” were on their way to Rome.

Two thousand?

Ridiculous.

We made our way to another bar, then met up with Mark, Les and Andy from the local towns of Westbury, Trowbridge and Melksham. Mark was one of the “Bruges 12” from 1995. It was especially good to see him. We then posed for photographs with The Colosseum looming in the background, mirroring photographs of myself in 1986 – with map in one hand and provisions for the evening in another – and Alan and myself in 2008.

There was time for a wandering walk back to our part of town, time for a meal – gnocchi with gorgonzola for me – and for some Peroni in frosted glasses. A quick change, then out for one or two beers at “the local.” We then caught two cabs up to the Villa Borghese where, as in 2008, we were told to assemble to catch the buses up to the stadium for our own safety. The city traffic was solid. PD and myself arrived just in time to hop on the same coach as Kev, Rich and Parky. Perfect timing. This contrasted heavily with 2008 when we were kept on the buses for an hour before setting off. It was around 7pm. We were given a police escort on the twenty-minute drive to the stadium. I remembered back to 2008; on the day of the game I did not see a single person wearing Roma gear until we reached the stadium. This time, I had only seen three or four. There was loud singing all of the way to the Olimpico on our bus. I hoped that it would continue at the stadium.

Our tickets were presented to the security along with our passports, with checks on both sides of the turnstiles. A quick frisk and we were in. Thankfully, my camera was waved through.

It was soon clear that the gate would be much bigger than the 35,038 at the 2008 match. Our away following that night was a paltry five hundred. The stadium was filling up all over, not just in the Curva Sud. I was of the opinion that 55,000 to 60,000 would be present. The Chelsea fans were in a thick wedge in the 5,700 capacity north-west distinti. The numbers of our tickets sold ranged from 1,750 to 2,500. It felt like around 2,250. A fair bit of noise before the game. Quite a few flags. I left my “VPN” in the apartment; I didn’t fancy it getting pulled for being too provocative, in Lazio sky blue too.

The team had been chosen. Sadly, Kante was not even on the bench. A big game for Hazard. A big game for Fabregas too, who had not played club football in Italy, despite advances from some of their top clubs. The returning player Rudiger was chosen to play to the left of Luiz and not Cahill. Dave was chosen to play as a wing back.

Courtois.

Cahill – Luiz – Rudiger

Azpilicueta – Fabregas – Bakayoko – Alonso

Pedro – Morata – Hazard

The stadium filled. I wondered if my guess was on the low side. We were treated to two Roma anthems; odd songs which reminded me of the days of variety from the years between the wars.

The Curva Sud was full. The flags were constantly waving. The rest of the stadium was all Limoncello yellow and Roma red.

We were ready.

Our end was looking pretty healthy. In 2008, we were allotted the whole section, but only filled thirty rows of a small section. This time, we reached from row 1 to row 75 in a broad wedge.

The teams, the flag, the anthems. The PA announced the first names of the Roma team, the fans roared their surnames.

The game began. Within twenty seconds, Pedro was sent through by Bakayoko, but finished weakly. Within as many seconds later, a cross from Kolarov down below us from deep on the Roma left was aimed at the head of Edin Dzeko, but the ball spun off him, right in to the path of El Shaarawy.

I feared danger. I was right.

The ball flashed past Courtois.

Just thirty-nine seconds had passed.

As the Roma players celebrated in front of us, the PA bloke pissed us all off.

Stephen – “EL SHAARAWY.”

Stephen – “EL SHAARAWY.”

Stephen – “EL SHAARAWY.”

Stephen – “EL SHAARAWY.”

I was reminded of the “Tomas – MULLER” bollocks in Munich.

Rather than quieten, our support responded ever so well. Alvaro Morata looked up for the fight early on. Eden Hazard broke, but dallied too long, and his weak shot was easily parried by Allison in the Roma goal.

Over in the adjoining Curva Nord, the Roma fans were having a dig at us.

“Chelsea, Chelsea – vaffanculo.”

“Chelsea, Chelsea – vaffanculo.”

Eden cut in from the left again, but his fine run ended with a weak shot right at the ‘keeper. It would be a familiar story throughout the first half. Pedro fed in that man Hazard, and another shot at the ‘keeper. All around me, the singing from the away supporters was fantastic.

One was the song of the night :

“Score, score, score, when you get one you’ll get more. We’ll sing you an assembly when we get to Wembley so come on you Chelsea and SCORE, SCORE, SCORE.”

I was proud as fuck.

Despite Roma not needing to go on the attack at will, we edged possession and kept testing their back line. Some fans around me were negativity personified, but not me. I kept urging the team on. We weren’t playing badly at all. Unbelievably, Morata blasted over from eight yards out after a clearance was charged down by Pedro and the ball fell at our Spaniard’s mercy.

We kept going.

“Come on Chelsea, come on Chelsea, come on Chelsea.”

A rare attack from the home team followed. Courtois saved well from the danger man El Shaarawy after a rash challenge by Luiz set up Dzeko to play in his team mate.

Then, with our support still making tons of noise and with hopes of an equaliser, our hearts were broken. A ball pumped forward by Nainggolan was allowed to drop by Rudiger, who looked for all intense and purposes that he had got a call from Dave to leave the ball. In the confusion, El Shaarawy again pounced and clipped the ball past Courtois.

“Ah fuck it.”

Watching them celebrate in the same place was sickening. Our support immediately quietened.

A shot from Alonso was hit at Alisson. A familiar story. Copy and paste. Copy and paste. Copy and paste. Bakayoko headed over from the corner.

Doom and gloom at the break. I certainly felt that we were well in it until the second goal, but held little hope of retrieving anything from the game.

Dzeko went close in the first few minutes of the second period.

Willian replaced Cahill and Pedro went to right wing back, with Dave pushed inside. A nice little move eventually found Morata – quiet after his initial burst – but he screwed it wide.

Just past the hour, we watched in horror as Cesc Fabregas lost possession on the halfway line and Kolarov played in Perotti. Nobody took responsibility and the Roma player ran and ran. He slammed a strong shot past Thibaut.

Roma 3 Chelsea 0.

Shades of 2008. The mood darkened. The mood darkened several shades further when we watched in absolute shock and horror as all three of our central defenders raced over to close down Dzeko on a raid from deep, leaving Perotti free on the other side of the box. We heaved a massive sigh of relief when he ballooned it over. But what shocking defending. This was turning in to a night of infamy.

“Infamy. Infamy.”

“They’ve all got it in for me.”

Danny Drinkwater came on for a very poor Fabregas. Michy came on for Morata. It was a lost cause. Only two stupendous saves from Thibaut stopped the result becoming a rout, the second an astounding point-blank block from Manolas. The game drifted away.

Only the amazing news from Madrid, where Qarabag held Atletico to a memorable 1-1 draw provided any sort of comfort. Out came an abacus and we soon calculated that if we get a win in Azerbaijan, we will qualify for the next stage. For all the talk of Antonio Conte being under pressure – totally unwarranted in my humble opinion – imagine the pressure that Diego Simeone is under. His Atletico team is without a win in four games in our group.

And, if nothing else, it means our trip to Baku will mean something; it always was a bloody long way to go for a nothing game.

We were kept in for an hour after the game. It was OK. We have known worse. It was ninety minutes in 2008. Our gallows humour kept us going. There was predictable mayhem getting on the buses which took us back to Piazza della Republicca.

In a small café on Piazza Venezia, we stopped for a couple more beers and a porchetta pannini.

We briefly talked about the game.

I spoke of the difficult task once we had gone 2-0 down, away to a fine team. It would always be difficult to bounce back from that.

PD, on his away debut, had me beaten all ends up –

“They did it to us.”

I sighed.

“Yep. You’re bloody right, mate.”

I was dazed and battle-fatigued. We spoke for a few more minutes about the current malaise, but soon concluded that with Kante back, our solidity should improve. The manager? I trust him without doubt. I am behind him 100%.

The bar was looking to close.

It was 1.30am and it was time to head off to bed.

On the Wednesday, we enjoyed a city-tour on a double-decked bus. There were blue skies overhead and the weather was fantastic. The defeat of the previous night hurt, of course, but we have seen worse. We met up with three good friends by the Colosseum; they had been in the pub that was attacked on the Monday night. One was bloodied on the night by a piece of glass. Like us, they were hurting from our defeat but were still smiling.

What a carry on.

A cab, a bus and a plane took us back to England.

It had been a fine trip to Italy once more, but I realised that after six visits to my favourite European country with Chelsea, I was yet to see us win. Four losses and two draws. Maybe I shouldn’t go next time?

No, I’ll keep going.

I’ll carry on, regardless.

We landed at a cold Stansted an hour late at 7.30pm with a heavy old bump. I reached home at about 11.30pm.

On Sunday, we are back to basics and back to our bread and butter.

Chelsea host Manchester United.

See you there.

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Tales From Roman’s Legion

Chelsea vs. Roma : 18 October 2017.

It was a very mild evening in SW6. Way before the Champions League game with Roma kicked-off at 7.45pm, I had made a bee line for the ticket-office to hand in our declaration forms for the away leg in under a fortnight. There was a nice pre-match vibe already. I had spotted a few Italians around Stamford Bridge; an Italian accent here, a deep red here. The giallorossi would be out in force in SW6. Maybe not the numbers of Napoli in 2012, but a strong presence all the same. Of course, on an evening of autumnal Champions League football in one of Europe’s most famous cities, between teams from two of the continent’s major capitals, not just English and Italian accents could be heard. Walking around the West Stand forecourt, taking it all in for a few moments before meeting up with mates in a local boozer, I soon heard German accents, the Dutch language, French and Spanish, indiscernible Eastern-European accents, voices from Asia, and North America too. On European nights, the irony not lost on me, Stamford Bridge is invaded by tourists in greater numbers than normal league games. And, again, I draw the distinction between tourists – in the capital on work or pleasure, taking in a game – and overseas supporters – in London for Chelsea. But in those twenty minutes of fading light and the creeping buzz of pre-match anticipation, there was one sight which, sadly, predictably, wound me up. Out on the approaches to the stadium, the “match day scarf” sellers were doing a roaring trade. More than a couple of sellers had even managed to source flags with a completely incorrect shade of Roma red, but the punters were still lapping it all up. As I was preparing to take a photograph of Kerry Dixon on The Shed Wall, five young lads – they weren’t from England, it was easy to tell – were all wearing the risible half-and-half scarves. It made me stop and think. These people, these tourists – it almost feels like a dirty word at Chelsea among some supporters these days – flock to games, but are seemingly blissfully unaware of the rank and file’s dislike of these modern day favours. We bloody hate the damned things. And every time that I see one, it winds me up. I feel like approaching each and every one of them.

“You ever heard of the internet? It’s pretty popular these days. Ever delved into UK football culture? Do you know it exists? Ever heard of the common dislike for all seat-stadia, the gentrification of support, the alienation of the traditional working class support, the nonsense of thunder sticks, jester hats, face paint and noisemakers? Ever wonder why many match going fans avoid replica shirts like the plague? Ever thought that buying half-and-half scarves annoys local Chelsea fans to high-heaven? Ever thought how preposterous it looks to buy an item combining both bloody team’s colours and badges? Do you enjoy looking like a prick? Ever thought that a far more discreet pin badge might do just as well?”

In the boozer, there was a gathering of the clans, with familiar faces everywhere I looked. I can walk around my local town centre for half-an-hour without seeing anyone I know, yet I had already bumped into five or six people on my walk to the stadium without even trying. At the bar, nursing a pint of lager, was my friend Jim, who was in London for a rare game. I first met Jim at a Paul Canoville / Pat Nevin / Doug Rougvie event in Raynes Park in 2014 after chatting on Facebook for a while. Like me, he dotes on the 1983/84 season. I had forgotten, but his parents used to look after the members’ area in the East Lower in those days. I mentioned that my mate Jake, who had travelled up to London with PD, Parky and myself, was thrilled at the prospect of seeing a Champions League game at Chelsea for the first-time ever. To my surprise, Jim replied that this was his first CL game too. His last European night was the ECWC semi versus Vicenza in 1998. What a night that was. For a few moments, we reminisced. I remember watching with Alan, Glenn and Walnuts in The Shed Upper. The drama of going a further goal behind. Poyet’s close-range equaliser. Zola making it 2-2, but with us still needing another, the explosion of noise which greeted Mark Hughes’ winner. I was reminded that it was a strange time for me.

“It was five years to the day that my father passed away. There were tears from me in The Shed that night. Then, the very next day – with me on a high about going to the final in Stockholm – I was made redundant at work. Talk about a roller coaster of emotions.”

Jim watched the drama unfold in the “open to the elements” West Lower. We wondered why Chelsea wore the yellow and light blue away kit that night. Jim just remembers the emotion and the noise. As was so often the case in those days, he sung himself hoarse. While I was getting made redundant on the Friday, Jim recounted how he had an eventful day at work too.

“I was working for British Rail at Marylebone at the time. They were a man down. The bloke who announced the train times hadn’t showed up. I had never done it before, but they asked me to do it. I could hardly speak.”

Jim would be watching the Chelsea vs. Roma game in 2017 in the East Stand Upper, for the very first time since the annihilation of Leeds United on “promotion day” in 1984.

Yes. That season again.

I was right. There were three thousand Roma fans in the away quadrant. They were virtually all male – 99% easily – and they seemed to be of a younger demographic than that of a typical Chelsea away crowd in Europe. Plenty of banners, plenty of flags, and plenty of shiny puffer jackets. I spotted many banners using the stylised font which was prevalent in the Mussolini era of the 1930’s, which can still be seen in many locations in Rome.

Alan and myself spoke briefly about our plans for Rome on Halloween.

“Well, all I know is that we should easily out-do our away following in 2008. We only had about five hundred there that night.”

The memory of a wet night in Rome, a hopeless 3-1 defeat, and being kept in the Olympico for ninety minutes after the game haunted me. Apart from the game itself, it was a cracking trip though. Rome never disappoints. The return to the eternal city can’t come quick enough. We have 3,800 tickets. We should take a good 2,000 I reckon. I know of loads who are going.

I had not seen the team; too busy chatting, too busy enjoying a drink. PD had driven up, allowing me a couple of lagers, and a chance to relax a little.

Alvaro Morata was playing. We all hoped that he hadn’t been rushed back too soon.

The shape had shifted and Luiz was playing as a deep-lying shield in front of the defence as at Wembley against Spurs. Hazard was playing off Morata. In defence, Zappacosta replaced the hamstrung Moses. In the middle, the impressive Christensen was alongside Cahill to his left and Dave to his right.

It was odd to see a Roma team with no Francesco Totti. The Mohican of Nainggolan stood out in a team of beards.

Especially for Jake and Jim, the Champions League anthem rung out. There was hardly an empty seat in the house. Stamford Bridge was ready.

Chelsea in blue, blue, white.

Roma in white, white, burgundy. OK it’s not burgundy. Torino is burgundy, or officially pomegranate. And although the Roma club are known as the “yellow and reds”, the Roma colour is not really a simple red. It’s the hue of a chianti, a deep red, almost a claret.

It was a bright opening, and the away fans – another moan, you knew it was coming, I am nothing if not consistent – were making most of the noise. They have that song that United sing, a rather mundane one, but it went on and on.

After an early chance for Morata, Roma began to ask questions of our re-shuffled defence. Perotti ran at ease – “put a fucking tackle in!” – but shot over. With Edin Dzeko leading the line, they dominated possession and moved the ball well. However, rather against the run of play, Luiz played an unintentional “one-two” with Jesus – blimey – and he stroked the ball past the diving Roma ‘keeper Becker and into the bottom corner. It was a bloody lovely strike. We howled with joy. Over in Parkyville, Luiz ran towards the corner and dived onto the wet grass. Stamford Bridge was a happy place.

Alan : “Havtocom atus now.”

Chris : “Cumonmi lit uldi mons.”

We enjoyed a spell and Zappacosta began to put in a barnstorming performance on our right. There is a directness and an eagerness about his forward runs that I like. Hazard, running free, dragged a low shot wide. Roma struck at our goal, but all efforts were at Courtois, thankfully. A fine block from Nainggolan was the highlight. David Luiz, loose and unfettered, was like a stallion charging around the park, trying to close space and set others on their way. The desire was there, if not the finished product.

On the half hour, Morata carried the ball into the Roma half, and shot towards the Shed goal. A lucky deflection saw the ball arch up from Beard Number One and aim straight towards Hazard, who had burst forward to support the number nine. His first-time volley crashed past Becker.

Thirty-love.

GET IN YOU FUCKER.

We had ridden our luck and were 2-0 up. Blimey.

Despite the fact that we were leading – OK, luckily – only once did it really feel like the Stamford Bridge of old (Vicenza, 1998) with the stands reverberating and making me proud to be Chelsea.

With five minutes of the first-half remaining, our lead was reduced. Kolarov burst in from the left – a surging chance of pace surprising us all – and smashed a ball high into the net. It was a fine goal. Roma were back in it, and probably it was just about what was deserved.

The reaction of the Roma fans surprised me. The roar was phenomenal and they were soon jumping all over each other. It wasn’t even an equaliser. Fucking hell. Fair play to the buggers. That’s what I love to see, Tons of passion. Tons of noise.

“Bella bella.”

And then they let me down. It seems that West Ham’s shocking use of “Achy Breaking Heart” has been mirrored by the Italians. A city of history and splendor, a city of culture and style, the city of Bernini and Fellini, of “La Dolce Vita” and of an unmistakable elegance had been ignored and its travelling hordes were now impersonating a redneck nation living in trailer parks, wearing Nascar baseball caps, shagging their cousins, worshiping guns and shopping at Walmart.

“Et tu, Brute?”

At half-time, Scott Minto was on the pitch, reminiscing about his Chelsea debut; the Viktoria Zizkov game in 1994, our first European game since 1971, and also my first Chelsea European game too. It was noisy as fuck that night, despite a gate of barely 22,000.

The first-half had finished, I noted, with Chelsea possession at the 39% mark. It felt like it too.

Roma continued their domination into the second period. We were struggling all over. Fabregas was hardly involved. A rare run from Morata – not 100% fit in our book – resulted in a half-chance but his shot from wide was well-wide with the ‘keeper out of his goal.

On the hour, Pedro replaced Luiz, who had taken a knock earlier. We spotted that he had handed a piece of A4 to Cesc Fabregas, a message of instruction from Antonio.

Soon after, Beard Number Two sent over a fantastic cross towards the far post and Dzeko thrashed a stupendous volley past Thibaut. It was a stunning goal. I didn’t clap it, but I patted Bournemouth Steve on the back as if to say “fair play.”

And how the Romanisti, the CUCS, the legion of away fans, celebrated that. It was a den of noise.

“Bollocks.”

Alonso weakly shot over. Bakayoko gave away a cheap free-kick on seventy minutes and the free-kick from Kolarov was headed in, without so much as an excuse-me, by that man Dzeko. He again raced over to the away fans, and it was a tough sight to see. The away fans were a mass of limbs being flung in every direction. Bloody hell, they were loud.

A third consecutive win was on the cards. Conte was safe though, right? Who bloody knows these days. Against these Romans, perhaps Roman’s thoughts were wavering.

Thank heavens, a fine Pedro cross from the right was adeptly headed towards goal by Eden Hazard. The ball dropped into the goal. It was our turn to yell and shriek.

“YES.”

His little run down towards Cathy’s Corner was a joy to watch.

Rudiger for Zappacosta. Willian for Hazard.

I was surprised that Morata stayed on.

Still more chances for Roma. Nainggolan went wide, Dzeko made a hash of an easy header. I noted that the away support deadened after our equaliser. There was not much of a peep from them for a while. Two late headers from Rudiger, and the heavily bandaged Cahill, were off target. A winner at that stage, though, would surely have taken the piss. We knew it, we all knew it, we had been lucky to nab a point. How we miss N’Golo Kante. Despite the numbers in midfield, our pressing was not great. We look a fragile team at the moment, and at the back especially. We all knew that we would miss John Terry, right?

However, we certainly have three winnable games coming up; Watford, Everton, Bournemouth. Three wins and we will be back on track.

And as for the draw with Roma, at least it sets up the away leg in just under a fortnight.

That will be a fantastic occasion. All roads lead to Rome, and Roman’s Chelsea legionnaires will be there in our thousands.

Andiamo.

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Tales From Team Torres

Chelsea vs. Leicester City : 18 March 2012.

I awoke on Sunday, fearing the news. I was obviously concerned about the awful episode involving Fabrice Muamba at White Hart Lane but I had also heard on Saturday that one of my favourite uncles – Ken, from Vancouver – was also poorly. I gingerly flipped the computer on, waited for the gears to whirl into action and sat still. Thankfully, no news was definitely good news. However, there was a certain low-lying fog, not outside, but in my mind, as I scrambled a few things together ahead of my third trip to London in nine days. I was clearly finding it difficult to garner massive amounts of enthusiasm for this third game of the week. After the euphoria of Wednesday, I suppose that this was only natural. Just before I left for London, I quickly checked on the CIA website to see what was being said about the game with Leicester City.

Oh. There wasn’t a thread about the match.

I tut-tutted to myself and departed.

Parky could tell I was a little bit low as I collected him at just after 9am. He started cursing me, I replied similarly and, by the time we had stopped off for our usual McBreakfast in Melksham, things had been restored to their normal equilibrium.

Parky talking, Chris driving.

Despite a little delay due to a road accident near Swindon, it was a decent drive up to London. Tuna – from Atlanta – was over for the week and was soon in touch. It’s always a pleasure to see him at HQ. Tuna plays a special role in my gradually evolving relationship with the burgeoning American fan base; he was, as I remember it, the first Chelsea fan in America I remember meeting at my first ever game in Pittsburgh in 2004. On that trip, I spent the day with friends from North Carolina and didn’t really mix with any Chelsea fans at all. In fact, to be honest, there weren’t many Chelsea fans present at Heinz Field for that match against Roma. Even the main Chelsea section only housed around 150. We watched behind one of the goals, in the front row, and if only I’d known how some of those Chelsea fans along the side would become friends over the following few years.

At the end of the game, as we were walking underneath the stands, Tuna saw my Chelsea shirt and spoke to me. At the time, I wasn’t sure if he was an Englishman with an American accent, or an American putting on an English accent.

I’m still not sure.

I bumped into Tuna again in New York the following summer, but I still wasn’t familiar with too many of the fans Stateside. It was only when I joined up to CIA ahead of the Chicago trip in 2006, did I start to make major in roads into putting names to all of those faces. It has been a great ride ever since.

The coffee was going down well and the banter was flying as we headed into Berkshire. With mild weather forecasted, we were both in our summer gear.

Lacoste Watch

Parky – purple
Chris – chocolate

With the chat finally stalling, Parky put a Jam CD in the CD player and the volume was cranked up. I have mentioned it before, but no band takes me back to my youth – of Chelsea trips in particular – like the Jam, in that 1978 to 1980 period especially. Working class heroes, singing about urban angst, the Jam struck a chord like no other band and were much loved by the football fraternity in that period.

“the distant echo of faraway voices boarding faraway trains to take them home to the wives that they love and who love them forever.”

As I rose above the streets of west London on the raised section of the M4 motorway, memories of my childhood raced through my mind. My Dad used to take me up to London for matches at The Bridge from 1974 to 1980; by the time his car reached this section, my excitement reached stratospheric levels. Each few yards of tarmac throws up tons of memories…a massive traffic jam caused by Southampton fans on their way to Wembley on League Cup Final day 1979 when we got to Chelsea just in time for the kick-off, tooting the car horn after promotion in 1984, the first sighting of the Griffin Park floodlights to the right, the massive Chelsea / Adidas advertisement on a building in 2006, the Wembley arch to the left way in the distance, the famous Lucozade sign to the left, the old art deco Beechem building to the right, Canary Wharf, The Gherkin, The Shard in the distance, the grey hulk of Earls Court…Chelsea tantalisingly close now.

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This section of the M4, as it rises and turns, always gets my blood pumping. Long may it continue.

Straight into The Goose at just before midday. The place was again rather quiet. Talk amongst my mates was mainly of the Benfica away game. As always, Rob seemed to have the best prices. I think he must have easyJet’s flight schedules from Stanstead and Gatwick memorised by now. I had a nice chat with The Fishy Boy, who is around for the games against City and Spurs, too. We chatted about mutual friends, the upcoming tour, and the CPO debacle. Everything but the game. You know the score.

Jonesy and Jokka mentioned our game in New York in the summer and I am hopeful that they will be joining me. A couple of pints of Peroni and it was soon time to head off to The Bridge.

I quickly bought a copy of “CFCUK” and the match programme. I noted that “CFCUK’ had an extra “Sheditorial” as the original was written just before AVB got the “Spanish Fiddler” two week’s ago. On page 41 of the programme, there is a lovely photo of none other than Cathy, with Roberto di Matteo, on the occasion of her fiftieth birthday. There was a large article about the 1997 F.A. Cup Final (thank you Robbie), but only a fleeting mention (in Johnny Vaughan’s column) about the iconic Chelsea vs. Leicester City replay (thank you Erland) in the fifth round that season. That was some night.

I did my usual “check the East Upper for empty seats” routine when I reached the entrance to the MHU. Yep, there were hundreds empty in the corners. I had heard that tickets were still being sold to personal callers in the morning. Away to my right, the 6,000 away fans were already ensconced in The Shed.

So, a question to Mr. Buck and Mr. Gourlay.

On the back of our best performance of the season against Napoli, how come we can’t sell 35,000 tickets at only £30 a pop for the quarter finals of the F.A. Cup?

And you say we have out-grown Stamford Bridge?

Think again.

I received a text from Tuna, who was watching in the MHU too…

“What’s with all the empty seats in the East Upper?”

Just before the teams came onto the pitch, I looked on with glee as the “upper tier” flag continued on past Gate 16, then Gate 17 and into the upper tier of the East Stand. It appeared to be seeking freedom as it went on unhindered, over the heads of the spectators who are not usually troubled by it. I quickly sent out a quick text to Steve and Daz, who are usually trusted to gather up the flag in the NE corner of the upper tier.

“Where’s that fcuking flag gone?”

It finally came to rest at the southern end of the upper tier.

It reminded me of the original “Pride of London” flag which made its debut at a game before the Chelsea vs. Wolves F.A. Cup quarter final some 18 years ago. On that day, it began in The Shed and ended up travelling over the heads of us in the West Stand. At the end of that particular game, the flag ended up on the pitch, along with thousands of ecstatic Chelsea fans, enjoying the thrill of our first F.A Cup semi final in 24 years. I remember that Glenn and I ended up on the pitch on that Sunday afternoon in March 1994; it was the day that “The Blue Flag” really came into its own too.

“From Stamford Bridge To Wembley, We’ll Keep The Blue Flag Flying High.”

With F.A. Cup semi-finals coming to us in 1996, 1997, 2000, 2002, 2006, 2007, 2009 and 2010, I acknowledged the fact that a return to Wembley in April would be met with hardly a raised eyebrow, let alone mass hysteria and a pitch invasion.

This is how far we have travelled and – I’ll be honest – it saddens me to the core that I will probably never again be as excited at reaching a semi-final as I did all those years ago in 1994.

The game was over as early as the twentieth minute really. Chelsea got out of the blocks and had a couple of early chances. A Juan Mata corner dropped into the six yard box and Gary Cahill rose to head down and in for his first goal in Chelsea colours. He decided to race past the silent away supporters and head towards the family section in the East Lower. Not many goals are celebrated in that area of the stadium; I hope that the inhabitants of that section took a few rare photos.

A shot by Juan Mata was cleared off the line. Fernando Torres showed great skill and awareness by breaking down the right before looking up and playing in Salomon Kalou, who painstakingly waited for the ‘keeper to move before slotting the ball past him. We all commented how cool a finish it was from the much-maligned Kalou. Further chances came from a Daniel Sturridge shot, a Torres header at the ‘keeper and a Torres shot which was saved. After a lovely piece of play by Gary Cahill, Alan commented –

“Gary Cahill is the nearest to JT we’ve had down here since Wayne Bridge’s ex-girlfriend.”

We were well on top to be honest, despite a few Leicester attempts on our goal.

At the break, I had a few words with the chap who was sat alongside Alan. Gordon was from Yeovil, a fellow Somerset fan, and knew of a few of the local lads who I used to occasionally meet up with on the Yeovil supporters’ coach in the mid-‘eighties; all of whom still go, but I’ve not seen them for ages. The midfield dynamo of that mid-‘eighties team, Johnny B, was on the pitch with Neil Barnett, at the break. I never tire of seeing these Chelsea heroes of my youth.

Attacking the Matthew Harding stand, we were rewarded with a flurry of chances down below us. Florent Malouda had replaced Juan Mata and forced Kasper Schmeichel to save down low. Unselfish play from Torres set up Studge, but he was annoyingly dispossessed after hanging onto the ball for an eternity. Studge was having one of those games. Torres then moved the ball nicely, but his shot was blocked.

Michael Essien replaced Kalou and a goal soon followed. After a great performance against Napoli on Wednesday, Torres had been the star attraction against Leicester. Meireles cleverly set up Torres who quickly and nimbly struck a shot goalwards. At last, he endured a little good fortune; the shot was not cleanly struck but just made it over the line, just inside the post, just beyond the despairing dive of Schmeichel Junior.

At last. His latest goal drought was over. Phew.

“From Stamford Bridge To Wembley, We’ll Keep The Blue Flag Flying High.”

A firm shot from Nando flew over the bar just after.

At the other end, the visitors forced a great save from Petr Cech. Then a shot from Dann ricocheted off the base of the post and Beckford slotted the ball in. There was a little anxiety in the Chelsea ranks.

David Luiz replaced Brana.

I took a photo of Raul Meireles as he clipped in an in swinging corner towards the near post. Who should be there to meet it, but the blond head of Fernando Torres. We looked on in amazement as the ball bounced down and in. This time, the celebrations were down below me.

Click, click, click, click, click, click.

I missed the second goal from the visitors; I am reliably informed it was a scorcher.

With everyone in the stadium begging for Torres to shoot once he dribbled free, he unselfishly set up his compatriot Meireles, who slotted the ball in past the off-balance ‘keeper.

5-2.

Get in.

On the drive home, news came through of our semi-final opponents. On a normal day, the chance of us playing Tottenham at Wembley would have elicited more of an emotional response. However, with the Tottenham / Bolton tie still undecided and clouded in doubt and possible sadness, I did not dwell too long on potential match-ups and possible days in the sun.

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Tales From Italy

Roma vs. Chelsea : 4 November 2008.

Part One.

Greetings From Rome. Just time to post a few things before we soon set off by cab for the Villa Borghese – all of the official coaches are shuttling us up from this park area to Stadio Olimpico from 5pm onwards… Actually, just before I logged on, we had a ridiculously intense rain shower, with deafening thunderclaps echoing around the city streets. Let’s hope we don’t get too soaked tonight. I have my VINCI PER NOI banner with me, but doubt if I will take it to the game – too concerned that the police will steal it. It has been a nice and realaxing time. The weather yesterday was phenominal – we took a nice leisurely stroll down to The Coloseum – weather in the ’70s, blue skies…then a saunter around a few shops, then a lovely meal on Via Sestini in the evening. I am here with Alan and Gary – but Bob from California is staying in the same hotel as us…he is here with his wife…and enjoying every minute of it. The weather was worse today…grey skies, but at least not cold. We did a bus tour from 11am to 3pm – delayed by two hours as the bus driver hit not one, but two, cars within the first 30 minutes. Typical Italy. We hardly saw any Chelsea yesterday – maybe 10 the entire day…the troops are gathering though…we had a beer near the main train station at 3.30pm and we were joined by about twenty Chelsea towards the end. Chelsea – the players and management – are staying at the Waldorf, across from the Vatican, apparently. Hell – it’s raining again. Best go back upstairs, sort out my matchday clobber and arrange to meet Bob and the boys. Hopefully, a great game and a victory report to follow later…

Part Two. A great trip – apart from the football – but when has Chelsea ever only been about the football? Back at the hotel for a quiet hour before we catch the airport express from Termini. Not much to be pleased about from last night…I have just purchased the pink Gazetta sports paper and they gave the best marks to Frank and JT…both with a 6. It is so typical for the Italians to not get over-excited with their player rankings…I have been following Italian football for the best part of thirty years and you hardly ever see a 9, let alone a 10…virtually a perfect performance. Whereas, in the UK, you often find 9s and 10s all over the place. The Italians – for once – quite conservative and pragmatic. My top mark went to Frank – always involved. Thought Alex was OK. But Roma’s attacks seemed to flow a lot better. No, I’ll leave the match reports to others. Seriously – it HAS been a good trip, and one which I will hopefully type up in greater depth tomorrow, probably quite late on. We reckon only about 1,200 Chelsea came out…always lovely to see a few familiar faces though. Following Chelsea away in Europe is like going en masse with some weird family every few months…all the odd aunts and uncles, the boistourous kids, the characters…we don’t always get on, but we always look after each other. One of the first faces we saw out here, down by The Coloseum, was Lovejoy – and after a very full and comical build up to this living and breathing Chelsea legend, Bob eventually got to meet him at the game last night. We’ll let Bob comment on all that! The weather has been great again today – blue skies and sunny weather…we had a mooch about the area by the Spanish Steps and the Trevi Fountain…and I had the most luxurious chocolate ice cream ever. Dipped into a nice clothes shop on the walk back up to our hotel – and all three of us have picked up some cracking bargains, which will be worn as soon as possible at Chelsea with any luck. In closing this second section, with a nod to the events in America, let’s just say that at least one Blue Team had a successful result yesterday.

Part Three. Is anyone still reading this? So – my three days in Rome…what else to say? Firstly, some background – this was about my eighth trip to The Eternal City. First visited in 1986, Inter-Railing, slept at the train station…the things you do when you are young, eh? I travelled extensively on the European train network between 1985 and 1990 – my wanderlust years – but I can’t ever remember being so excited about visiting a new city as that first arrival in Rome on a summer evening in 1986. I can still remember standing in the train corridor, peering out of a window, the cypress trees and the tower blocks, glimpses of ruins here and there. I only stayed about twenty hours that first time…Coloseum, Vatican, Olympic Stadium…I knew my priorities alright! So fast forward twenty two years. Gary, Alan and myself caught the 7am Easyjet from LGW and were soon booking in to the hotel near the Termini station…not a very salubrious part of town in past years…the homeless and the helpless used it as a base…drug addicts, trannies, prostitutes. It seemed a bit better in 2008. Despite warnings of severe storms, the weather on Monday and also Wednesday was sublime…temperatures of around 70 degrees. On Monday lunchtime, we walked down to The Coloseum, the number one location in my book. We stopped off at a café in a piazza and had a couple of very expensive sandwiches ad beers apiece. We fell in love with virtually every woman we saw. Black still seems to be the colour in Italy. We noted black leather boots being worn by many of the signorini. Oh my goodness. The Italians dress with such style. I said to the boys – “no girls wearing tracksuits, trainers and a complete absence of the colour pink.” They can teach us all a lesson. Virtually the first person we saw from the Chelsea family – right outside The Coloseum – was Lovejoy, with his “girlfriend” ( cough, cough ) on tow. Of all the people. He recommended that we visit the restaurant I have mentioned – on Via Sestina, between Piazza Barbarini and the Spanish Steps – it was owned by a Pavarotti lookalike. Alan and Gary popped into The Coloseum – I had visited it in 1990, so just stayed outside, watching the sights wobble past. The Coloseum is right in the heart of the historic epicentre of the city, adjacent to the Forum and the Circus Maximus. I just sat and daydreamed. “Rome – it’ll be nice when it’s finished.” We returned back to the hotel, showered, met up with Bob and his wife – then caught a cab down to Barberini at 7.30pm. We immediately spotted said Luciano lookalike outside his restaurant, enticing punters in. The restaurant was cozy and crowded…we were ushered into a little room, through the kitchen, right underneath rows of wine bottles. The waiters were ebullient and charming. Luciano was wearing a Burberry hat, so I christened him “Chavarotti.” We had a lovely meal – pasta, pizza, Peroni – and Alan regaled Mr and Mrs Bob with humorous Chelsea anecdotes, most involving Lovejoy. Great times. I first met Bob in Palo Alto in 2007 – who would have thought his fifth ever Chelsea game would be in Rome? After the meal, we met up with Rob down by the Trevi Fountain, then spent a few minutes trying to locate a cheap bar. There were hardly any Chelsea around to be honest. Two other lads – Andy and Davey – joined us…as the night wore on, the Chelsea stories got funnier, then serious, past games were recounted…but the focus was on us, the fans, rather than the players. This is typical. Davey said he had been outside St. Peter’s with two friends…when, with perfect timing, a geezer in a Spurs shirt walked by…”has the pope told you to fuck off mate?” they shouted. The beer was bloody expensive, though…maybe just as well…at least we weren’t hungover the next morning. We got a cab home. Big Al had bought some grapes and was reclining on his bed eating them. He only needed a toga to resemble a modern day Caeser. “When in Rome.” Up at 9am and a breakfast in the hotel. We decided to take a double-decker bus tour for 18 euros…this was great, but we were delayed by 90 minutes when our coach hit two vehicles. Just typical. There was pure street theatre on the second one – the young driver of the BMW was full of Latin gestures and not wishing to back down because he was with his, lovely, girlfriend. It took ages to resolve. “This place wasn’t built in a day you know.” We went past all the main sights. It was a grey day, but still warm. I saw a lot of Rome I hadn’t previously seen. We had a light meal, then met up with Bob at the hotel. I posted “Part One.” The heavens had well and truly opened. Incredible sight – and sound. We got a cab to an area of parkland to the immediate north of the centre called Villa Borghese. Around 15 coaches were waiting for us. We arrived there at 6pm, but didn’t leave for the stadium until about 7.45pm. The rain was still falling – we heard rumours of a pitch inspection. A tense time. Met a few faces. Eventually, the coaches set off and, with police van sirens wailing and motorbikes zigging in and out, we set off through the wet Roman streets for the Stadio Olympico to the north of the city. We passed through two long tunnels…we were taken way north of the stadium, then into a secure area behind the Curva Nord ( the Lazio end. ) On my only other previous visit to Rome for a game, in 1999, we had played Lazio and had been allocated the other end. Still the rain fell. At last Bob was able to meet Lovejoy, who was holding court outside the entrance to the seats. I took a few nice shots of us all, with the glow of the floodlights behind and above. I was told to sit down by two chaps behind me as the game began. Ho hum. We only had about 1,200 present, but I recognised loads of faces. I began texting a few folk. Thought our support – in terms of the singing – was poor. Saw Cathy and Dog arrive. With about twenty minutes gone, around 50 of the firm arrived en masse and around five had bloodied faces, the victims of a police onslaught. The sight of these chaps, in their fifties a lot of them, bloodied and bruised, cast a dark shadow for a few moments. They weren’t paying too much attention to the game. Thought the boys had a lot of the ball in the first half – we had a few corners, eh? But there was no cutting edge. I was sat with Bob and I could feel his frustration. Unlike the Lazio game in 1999, there wasn’t much of a re-game show from the ultras in the Curva Sud. A few stray firecrackers, with billowing smoke. A cheesey club anthem on the PA. A banner which said “F*ck The Queen.” Terrible marking and Panucci, of all people, scored. We then imploded and were as poor as I can remember for quite a while. But I was disappointed with the lack of support from us in our high section on the NW curve. Our performance, like the night, was a damp squib ( whatever a squib is…) I was hoping for a pulsating game for Bob, with both sets of fans in good voice. Even after the catastrophic third goal, the Roma fans weren’t exactly bringing the house down. The JT goal, the Deco sending off – the game going away from us. We played the last ten minutes with only two at the back. My two “friends” behind hadn’t uttered a word of support the entire game, had talked about rugby, motor racing, work and cameras throughout…and left with 20 minutes to go. Why do these idiots bother? We were kept in for a full hour and forty minutes at the end of the game. Roma kindly played us the 2007-2008 season DVD while we were waiting, minus the sound. There was a fleeting, haunting image of Mourinho on the screen, high above rows and rows of royal blue seats…a surreal sight. Back to Termini on a convoy again. The 1,000 Chelsea fans fled into the night. We made a half-hearted attempt to find a bar to ease our spirits, but gave up. Bed at 1am. The last day was spent eating more glorious food – a wonderful ice cream – chilling out, wandering the busy city centre streets. We ended up in a great shop on the Via Nazionale and we all came away with bargains. I bought a couple of super-light cotton CP Company shirts for 70 euros each…just the ticket. We heard Bob had raided the very same shop earlier…he was by now en route to Barcelona, the next city on his mini tour of Europe. I posted “Part Two” in the hotel foyer and we then caught the airport train just as the sun was setting over the seven hills.

“Arrivederci Roma.”

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Tales From The Bridge

Chelsea vs. Roma : 22 October 2008.

A messy, tiring journey, but we got there in the end.

This phrase relates to my journey up the M4 to Chelsea, but could also, easily, refer to the game too.

My mate Glenn ( Parky ) was waiting for me in The Pheasant pub car park at 3.45pm. Had a few last minute things to sort out at work, but we left at 4pm. Parky goes to all the midweek games – one of the main reasons being that you get more loyalty points for these ones. A wise decision.

Unfortunately, there had been a six car smash up at Datchet on the M4 and we were snarled up in about 45 minutes of slow-moving traffic. We tried to remain calm, but we got progressively more feisty as the journey lasted.

I had arranged to meet Pete and his wife Becky from San Francisco ( who I first met in Palo Alto before the Club Mexico match in July 2007 ) in The Goose before the game. Pete left the UK in 1988, but has kept his season ticket and makes it over for a few games each season. We tried desperately to meet up in Moscow, but couldn’t quite work out the Cyrillic alphabet in time…a shame. I was also meeting my next-door neighbour Adam ( an Aussie who has been living in deepest Somerset for about five years ) in the pub. He had travelled up to London with work and was relishing his first ever Chelsea game. I had joked with his wife that she would lose him to Chelsea over the coming months and I was only semi-joking. So – text messages were relayed to say I was running late. A bit frustrating. I usually give Chelsea newcomers a good old tour of The Bridge, but Adam’s tour will have to wait for next time.

We parked up just after 6.30pm and raced ( well, Parky is on crutches, but you get my drift ) to the boozer for 6.40pm. Parky took care of the drinks as I located, Pete, Becky and Adam, plus the rest of my mates – Daryl, Ed, Rob, Big Al, Simon, Milo, Paolo ( a Lazio fan from Italy ), Walnuts and Russ. We had half-an-hour of “pre-match” – it was all a bit frantic, but it was so good to see Pete again. We jabbered away about all things Chelsea – trying our best to try to explain to Adam that the most rewarding thing about Chelsea is not the football, but all the peripheral stuff. I think Adam understood.

I mentioned that Danny Baker is now back hosting 606 on BBC Radio Five Live…it’s well worth a listen. Baker avoids the clichéd phone calls of fans talking about their team ( of interest only, really, to other fans of that team ) and instead relies on hilarious anecdotes from the world of football fandom that I find so funny. On the programme on Tuesday, he talked about football pitches on an island in the middle of The Nile, surrounded by crocodiles – “you get the ball, Ahmed” – and even a pitch on top of a block of flats in Zagreb or somewhere ( and a player fell off, apparently. )

Quality stuff.

Russ had brought along a book I had purchased – I think it was written by one of his work colleagues…”Moody Blues” by James Clarke chronicles a fan’s perspective on last season. I dipped into it a bit and it looks like standard fare…I’ll read it and report back.

I am trying to get Pete to join up to CIA. I mentioned my match reports this season and my inter-weaving of the 1983-84 season amid current match reports.

For the record, 25 years ago to the day, Chelsea drew 0-0 at Carlisle United in the Second Division in front of a paltry 6,774. I didn’t go. My second game of that season had been the week before – a home game against Cardiff City on a rainy afternoon, with me sheltering under The Shed roof. I saw Pat Nevin play for the very first time that day. We won 2-0, with Wee Pat and Colin Lee scoring ( gate 15,459 ). The team was coming together, but David Speedie had yet to start…John Neal had preferred the Dixon / Lee strike force up until that point. At the Cardiff game, I distinctly remember quite a few punts upfield for Lee to head on for Dixon…but we were able to vary it that season, with Nevin, especially, being able to run and jink his way past players, get them off balance and then play in balls to Kerry at all sorts of odd angles. We were third in the table after that Cardiff game. I was unemployed for all that 83-84 season, but retaking exams in the November. Chelsea were able to provide me with a lovely distraction from my studies on those cold autumn evenings as I daydreamed of – possible, whisper it – promotion in May.

Back to 2008.

We were running late – it’s still so difficult to pull ourselves away from the pub with chatter going on and on – and unfortunately, with the ticket-scanning system still underperforming, there was a sizeable line at the turnstiles.

We got in ten minutes late.

Another sell-out crowd…and yet more free giveaway scarves on our seats. At this rate, if we get to the semis, I’m going to end up with six bar-scarves! I soon popped in to use the loos and – I had to laugh – somebody had draped a scarf over the urinal…not quite sure why!

The Roma fans – some 3,000 strong – were making a lot of noise in the Shed…many many different banners, all with varying messages, different styles, very “Italian” ( the UK banners tend to be more standard…St. Georges flags, blue ones with white lettering, CFC crests and fans’ names ) I even spotted a Roma / Lacoste banner.

I thought back to the only ever time I had seen Roma…back in Pittsburgh in 2004, when my first US trip proved to be so enjoyable. I had travelled up with my friend Roma ( yes, really – some of you met her in NYC, Chicago and LA ) and her daughters from North Carolina. We had a blast in Pittsburgh, even meeting both squads in their respective hotels. The photos I have of all of us with JT and Roma with Francesco Totti are beautiful. Just beautiful. Only Totti, Mexes and Panucci remain as far as I could gather…I kept Roma informed of the game via texts ( she was actually at a nice sporting event of her own, meeting NASCAR’s Tony Stewart in Georgia )

What of the game? It was a messy affair, wasn’t it? Roma closed down any space going and did the stereotypical Italian away performance. I think their manager must have lambasted them after their 0-4 home loss at the weekend and they were well drilled. Our support, not exactly buoyed by the lacklustre performance, was quiet.

It was a frustrating night for sure.

At half-time, Alan handed over my Roma away ticket, which he had collected in the afternoon. I won’t bore everyone to death, but my mates have been embroiled in an email discussion about all of the security checks and scare tactics which have engulfed the return game in two weeks. Daryl isn’t going, but has bought his ticket for Bob in San Francisco…now, it appears the tickets have encoded names on them and id needs to be shown at the turnstiles. If the names don’t match, you don’t get in. We are not sure if this is just scare tactics or what. Meanwhile, Bob is trying to source his own ticket for the game in Rome.

Watch this space.

Malouda had been really ineffective in the first half and so was replaced at the break. No complaints. I have to honest – I don’t think many players shone. Maybe Carvalho. I thought Deco was poor. There were no Frank surges from midfield. Maybe Mikel did OK. I was preparing for a 0-0 to be honest. Roma didn’t really create much. Totti, though full of nice touches, didn’t get too involved.

A corner to us, right down below me and I captured Frank on film. JT headed the resultant delivery home. Yes…get in!

News came through that Liverpool had conceded a late goal in Madrid…that got a cheer.

We walked back to the car, I said “adios” to Adam and then drove back West with Parky. He had been in the very front row of the Shed Lower and reported back that the Roma fans were singing all night…they certainly didn’t let up. However – not good news – he also reported that several Roma fans had thrown bottles of ( avert your eyes and ears ) urine at the Chelsea fans. Parky wasn’t impressed. Neither was I.

Roma in two weeks’ time might be a bit naughty.

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