Chelsea vs. Bayern Munich : 25 February 2020.
I have mentioned before that I would be quite happy, quite contended, not concerned, if I never went to Munich ever again. The Bavarian city is a gem, make no mistake, but I have visited it often and, after my last visit – perfection – there was a large part of me that would have wanted that last memory of Munich, especially the walk from the stadium to the nearby U-bahn station, to be my last. As days and nights go, Saturday 19 May 2012 will never be beaten. Any subsequent visit would pale by comparison, and might even take a little of the shine off that most beautiful of occasions.
It’s the geographical equivalent of Didier Drogba returning to Chelsea for one last, odd, season two years after scoring that goal and that penalty.
Some things are best left in the past.
But, as is so often the case, UEFA drew Chelsea with a familiar foe in the final sixteen, so Bayern it was. And, despite my above concerns, there was no way that I was not going to the away game in the middle of March. In 2012, it was from Bristol to Prague to Munich with Glenn. In 2020, it will be from Bristol to Prague to Munich with PD.
Frome will be represented again in the Nord Kurv of the Allianz Arena.
To be frank, there is a common view that our European adventures, which might even have passed many supporters’ expectations already, will come to an abrupt end in Munich.
So, one last European trip in 2019/20? It seemed like it from the off.
And I am sure that we will have a blast.
We are spending St. Patrick’s Day in Prague. I have briefly visited the Czech capital twice before but have not enjoyed a lengthy night out in its bars and restaurants. I am looking forward to that. I even want to squeeze in a visit to Viktoria Zizkov’s home stadium – our first European opposition in 1994 after twenty-three barren years – as their stadium is only a twenty-minute walk from our hotel. In 1994, our game was a Bohemian rhapsody in the small city of Jablonec due to fears of crowd violence. The only violence I heard about on that particular day was sadly between Chelsea supporters.
And I am spending another day in Munich. I have visited it in 1985, 1987 – twice – 1988 and 1990, in addition to 2012 – and I am relishing my first pint of Paulaner or Spaten or Lowenbrau in a city-centre bar.
But more of that in March.
On the drive to London with PD and LP, I again took advantage of the situation and drifted off to sleep for an hour. As I awoke, passing through Twickenham and touching Richmond, I looked out of the window of the car and was in awe of the evening sky, which was a deep purple, an angry colour, and I wondered if the thunderous hue of the sky was a foretaste of the evening ahead. But the sun was still shining, low down, in the west – behind us – and it highlighted the yellow bricks of the low-lying street-side houses and buildings in a scintillating fashion. It was, dear reader, a vivid and vibrant welcome to London. It was deserving of a Turner oil painting.
Colourful, atmospheric, emotional.
Maybe the upcoming game would be similarly described?
PD was parked at around 5.45pm. In “The Goose” we met some of the troops, including my mate Ben from Boston who last made the trip over to England in 2012. It was a pleasure to see him again. I think I saw him last in New York in 2015. We then trotted down to “Simmons” and met up with a different set of pals, but with some more mates from the US; Andy from Orange County, his mate Antony – we last saw those two together in Budapest – and also Jaro, from DC, who was running a little late.
By 7pm we were all together, a little “Chelsea In America” reunion. It was lovely. I first started posting these match day reports on the old CIA bulletin board in around 2006, and regularly so in 2008/9. In those days, these reports would open up conversations on the bulletin board and would often draw over one thousand views. These days, I am lucky to get two hundred.
The CIA Bulletin Board is really missed; I think in the same way that the old Chelsea Chat on the official website is missed too. It allowed me to make loads of new friends, and the conversations were well thought out and rewarding unlike some of the bitter interactions now prevalent on social media. This should, perhaps, be called unsocial media.
Sadly, CIA was hacked by ISIS – true story – in around 2013 and never really recovered.
It was time to head to the game. Jaro had spotted a few Bayern Munich supporters at Earl’s Court but I had seen none on the North End Road and the Fulham Road.
I was in with time to spare, and we had been promised fireworks – if not on the pitch – from the top of both the East and West Stands.
Season 1994/95 came into my head once again. For the Bruges home game in March 1995, the Chelsea Independent Supporters Association, who ran the Chelsea Independent fanzine – some of whose members were attacked in Jablonec by some supporters of Chelsea who held differing political views – had planned to set off some fireworks from the still-in-situ Shed (closed the previous May) but the local authorities were not able to offer the appropriate backing. A real shame. In the end we did not the extra push of fireworks; we won 2-0, Paul Furlong’s finest hour and the noisiest Chelsea home game that I can ever remember, attendance only 28,000.
In the pub, we had heard that Frank Lampard had selected the exact same starting-eleven as against Tottenham on Saturday. I was surprised that the European veteran Willian was not starting. But what do I know?
As promised, fireworks fizzed overhead for ten seconds or so, and I think the crowd were underwhelmed.
It’s just not an English thing, is it?
As the teams massed in the tunnel, the second of the evening’s “special events” took place. To my left in the main bulk of the Matthew Harding, blue and white mosaics were held overhead. Two banners – “OUR CITY – OUR STADIUM” – were held over the balcony and a large banner of the European Cup was unfurled centrally.
But then, typically, we got it wrong. Morons in the MHU decided to “crowd surf” the “OUR CITY” banner and it all went to pot.
10/10 for ingenuity, 3/10 for execution.
This was obviously a visual pun on the Bayern banner in 2012, but it filled me with gloom that we couldn’t get it right.
I sensed all of Europe thinking “Leave the displays to the Europeans. Never mind Brexit, you can’t even hold a banner up correctly.”
As ominous signs go, this was very fucking ominous, and this one was twenty yards in length and heading diagonally up the top tier.
Jaro was sat next to me in the heart of The Sleepy Hollow. This had been a whirlwind trip for him, and after the game against Tottenham, we had a right old natter about football, and how – for many kids of our generation – the attending of games acted as a “rights of passage” that is just not the same anymore.
There is a book there, I feel.
In those days, pocket money was saved, concerned and cautious parents were told “not to worry”, it was pay-on-the-day in terraces without cover, there was a threat of trouble, the thrill of it all, the passage from boy to man.
These days, youngsters are priced out, attending a match – with stifling parents – takes on the planning of a military manoeuvre, and the thrill is surely not the same.
Jaro had spoken of his first-ever European game, back in his native Poland, in 1986. He had to get to the stadium for the Legia Warsaw game with Internazionale a good three hours before the kick-off to be sure of a good bench seat. My first-ever European match was a year later in Turin, Juventus vs. Panathinaikos, when I had to get to the stadium three hours before the start to be sure of a standing ticket in the less-popular Curva Maratona.
These days, everyone shows up with fifteen minutes to go.
Different eras, different times, different vibes, different thrills and different spills.
…”to be continued.”
I am not too wary of Bayern’s current team nor form, but three players remained from 2012.
Azpilicueta – Chistensen – Rudiger
James – Kovacic – Jorginho – Alonso
Barkley – Mount
Bayern were supported by around 1,800. Not too impressed with that. They came armed with banners – RED FANATICS, REBELS – and many many scarves.
The game began.
Very quickly, a low shot and Willy Caballero dropped to save easily from that man Muller.
Off the pitch, in the stands, there were songs which reminded everyone of “that day in May.”
“One nil and you fucked it up.”
“Didier Drogba, tra la la la la.”
“One Di Matteo.”
“Champions of Europe – in your own back yard.”
Good noise. Good stuff. Heartening.
In the first ten minutes, we dominated possession and I was comforted. But there were two rapier breaks into our defence which certainly sobered everyone. The early shot from Muller was followed by a shot from Kingsley Coman that hit the side-netting. However, we had our moments. There were chances from Mason Mount in this opening spell and the mood was fine. And then, typically, Bayern upped their involvement. Caballero did ever so well to react and smother a break from Robert Lewandowski, right in the middle of the box. A fine save.
An effort from Olivier Giroud from a Reece James corner gave us hope.
Then Muller looked up, shaped, and curled a fine effort just past the far post.
Things were hotting up.
On the half-hour mark, with Bayern now in absolute ascendancy, the noise quietened.
Then, a cross from Mount just evaded Giroud. Not for the first time during the game would I lament the lack of bodies in the box. Call me old fashioned, but oh for playing with two bona fide strikers.
As on Saturday, Mount and Barkley were playing behind Giroud but were often in different postal districts. They are no second-strikers and lack the ingenuity and guile to be so. Upfront for Bayern, Lewandowski was ably supported by Muller, and others.
Muller contorted himself beneath the crossbar at the Matthew Harding and back-headed against the bar with Big Willy floundering. I slumped in horror at the memory of his header in Munich, and my body language changed instantly from terror to relief as the chance went begging.
This was turning into an engrossing game. We were second best now, but we were hanging on. The thought of taking a 0-0 to Bavaria was a dream, but we just might be able to do it.
Very often, I found myself bellowing –
“Reece. Just get past your man.”
Nearing the end of the half, Mateo Kovacic – our best player – pushed forward and played in Marcos Alonso with a lovely pass into space. Our left wing-back changed his body shape, his boots, his oil, his hairstyle, his religion and his underpants in order to address the ball with his favoured left foot as he broke inside the box. In the end, a weak shot was played too close to Neuer and our best chance of the half was spurned.
At the break, we agreed that we had rode our luck somewhat -” they could be three-up” – but we had enjoyed it. These European nights are on a different scale. There were nerves, but everyone was involved, everyone was agitated. It felt like a real game of football. And that, sadly, is not always the case these days. I wondered if Willian would appear as a second-half saviour, maybe even a second-half match winner.
“Forty-five minutes to go, boys. Come on.”
No changes at the break.
Very early in the second-half, Mount raced onto an early ball and found himself free. He struggled to get the ball completely under control and a combination of defender and goalkeeper snuffed out the chance. The ball rebounded to Barkley but he misfired at Neuer. It would prove to be, sadly, our last real chance of the match.
The game soon changed, and so quickly.
On fifty-one minutes, Bayern proved too strong and too physical in the midfield and, as Azpilicueta slipped, the ball was played through our ranks. The ball was pushed wide for Lewandowski to cross low for Serge Gnabry to slot home.
Three minutes later, a move developed on our right once more.
A header from Levandowski and a pass from Gnabry. A ball back to Levandowski – “oh fuck” – and a subtle touch back to Gnabry – “oh fuck” – and (real fear now) a shot from the raiding Gnabry – “oh fuck.”
A goal of “three fucks” and we were down by two goals to nil.
This was mature, incisive stuff from Bayern and our team seemed smaller, without much direction, totally second-best.
The away fans unveiled banners in the Shed Lower.
“STOP CLUB’S PRICING INSANITY. TWENTY IS PLENTY.”
Gnabry blasted over and we were well and truly on the ropes.
Jorginho – poor, really – was booked.
Some substitutions on the hour :
Tammy Abraham for Olivier Giroud.
Willian for Ross Barkley.
A rogue chance for Mason, but he looked tired as he snatched at it and the ball ended up where the “OUR CITY” banner ended up before the game.
The crowd was quiet now.
Ever the optimist, I kept whispering to Jaro that “a goal to us now changes this tie” but this was through blind hope than any rational thought.
This was – cliché warning – men versus boys. We were – ditto – chasing shadows. Bayern were a well-oiled machine and we slipped away. But then, a feint and a twist from Willian out on the right, and a heavenly bolt into the box, but Tammy just missed it. What was I saying earlier about bodies in the box?
Pedro replaced Dave. We changed to a four at the back.
On seventy-six minutes, the wonderfully-named Alfonso Davies broke at pace down his left and was able to square to Lewandowski.
3-0, game over, tie-over, see you in Prague.
Two final moments.
On eighty minutes, much hesitation from Tammy on a slow dribble in a central position. He redefined the verb “to dither.”
“Just hit it.”
An easy tackle robbed him of even a shot.
On eighty-three minutes, I saw Lewandowski go sprawling dramatically after a challenge from Alonso. The initial yellow was changed to a red. No complaints there, no complaints on the night.
We were second best.
All night long.
Sadly, this was our heaviest-ever home defeat at Stamford Bridge in European football.
Next up, on the face of it, a calmer match and a more peaceful trip to Bournemouth. It should be a much easier game, but we lost 0-4 there just over a year ago.
Hard hats on. Let’s go.
See you there.