Tales From The Pack

Chelsea vs. Southampton : 16 December 2017.

The four of us were hurtling towards London in The Chuckle Bus, and we were chatting about the current state of affairs at the top of the table. We spoke about our recent performances, and those of our immediate rivals. Manchester City, who were due to play Tottenham later in the day at tea-time, appear to walking away with the title this season. Of course all we can aim to do is keep winning as many games as possible, and to finish as high as we can. If, as is likely – though not certain – City go on to win the title, then so be it. There are many other, darker, alternatives.

I thought about things and did my best to sum it all up.

I slowed myself down, and spoke gently and firmly, and my tone reminded me of Tommy Shelby.

“If we finish above Arsenal. If we finish Manchester United. If we finish above Liverpool. If we finish above Tottenham. That will bloody well do for me.”

“Too bloody right.”

“By order of the Chuckle fucking Brothers.”

I was unable to attend the away game at Huddersfield Town during the week due to work commitments. I listened with interest as Parky and P Diddy spoke of their time in The Crown public house and the John Smiths Stadium. Of all the teams likely to be embroiled in the relegation battle this season, Huddersfield are the team that I would like to scramble clear; I had never visited Leeds Road, I have never visited their new place. It is on my footballing bucket list.

Our pre-match was spent under the large TV screen in “The Famous Three Kings” at West Kensington, which was showing the Leicester City vs. Crystal Palace match. We touched on those teams battling at the bottom. Over half of the teams in the top flight, I would suggest, will be mentioned in dispatches about those likely to be relegated.

It’s turning into a strange season.

Manchester City striding alone at the very top. A chasing pack of six or seven, battling each other for Champions League spots. And then, the rest who are scrapping under a threat of relegation, while swapping and trading managers in some sort of bizarre ritual along the way.

Our visitors Southampton suffered a setback during the week after losing to Leicester City, who themselves were getting slammed by Crystal Palace on the TV. In a season where teams appear to be taking points of each other, three points are king. I was not overly-worried by Southampton, but hoped that the players would be totally focused.

Outside, there were grey skies, and occasional rain. The pub was pretty quiet.

We spoke about our chances of silver wear this season.

I was brutally frank.

“To be quite honest, we might not win anything this season.”

It doesn’t matter. We’ll still show up week in, week out. We have nights away already planned for Norwich, the Nou Camp, and Newcastle.

Whatever will be will be.

We chatted about the various shapes that Conte can chose from. We all admitted that it is a benefit to have options at our disposal. The 3-4-3 of last season with wider support players for Morata. The 3-5-2 of this season with Eden tucked in. The “false nine” – or not, please don’t email me – of the three chosen for Huddersfield, with Eden, Pedro and Willian flitting around with menace.

Among all this was the enigma of Batshuayi.

Some strikers have always struggled at Chelsea.

Even in the all-conquering 2004/2005 season we had Mateja Kezman, another player who left us for Atletico Madrid, but with his reputation sullied.

Do not be surprised if Michy is moved on in the summer.

We caught the tube down to Fulham Broadway. We spotted that the little gaggle of lads who had been drinking in the pub looked a little lost at Earl’s Court, and mistook P Diddy’s West Country burr to be that of a Southampton supporter. They were obviously away fans. On the slow walk out of Fulham Broadway, a few of the lads growled a chant.

“Red Army.”

It was soon met with a robust “Carefree.”

There was no trouble though, why would there be?

I was in early at 2.45pm. I soon spotted that Southampton would be backed by a full three thousand. They don’t always turn up at Stamford Bridge, even though their city is but seventy-five miles away.

Over in the lower tiers of the East Lower, I spotted specks of white. Santa Hats had been draped over the seats as a gift from the club, and a few hundred were already wearing them.

I then realised that not only children were wearing them.

I suspect that the adults wearing them were the same type of person who revels in wearing Christmas jumpers.

And comedy ties.

And comedy socks.

They should get out more.

Or stay in.

Preferably the latter.

We reviewed the team that Antonio Conte had chosen. Again no Michy. See above.


Azpilicueta – Christensen – Cahill

Moses – Bakayoko – Kante – Alonso

Willian – Hazard – Pedro

I was surprised that neither Austin, Tadic and Van Dijk were not starting for the visitors.

The flags drifted over the heads of those in the Matthew Harding and The Shed. Southampton have gone retro this season, wearing a reasonable replica of their Patrick kit from the early ‘eighties, which was worn by Kevin Keegan in his two seasons at The Dell.

The game began.

After an even start, Southampton edged the first quarter of an hour. A rare mistake by N’Golo Kante resulted in Southampton picking up his loose pass and Nathan Redmond crossed into the box, and Gary Cahill nervously cleared, but not before stumbling in that way of his.

Chelsea started to create some chances of our own. A busy Willian carved out a fine chance down the left but his shot was just wide. An Alonso volley. Tiemoue Bakayko struck from distance but a defender was able to block. A Cahill shot from outside the box was saved by Fraser Forster. A rising shot from Kante was hit with power but Forster moved well to save.

Santa hats or not, the atmosphere was dire.

At the half-hour, there had not been a single stadium-wide song or chant, not even the standard “go to” one in praise of the manager.

A nightingale sang in Berkeley Square.

I know.

I bloody heard it.

A quick break involving all three of our strikers and a shot from Willian was blocked. At times we were a little self-indulgent, but we were well in control. An Alonso turn and shot was saved by the Saints ‘keeper, who was by far the busier of the two.

There was a muted “come on Chelsea”, barely audible, from the Matthew Harding Lower.

Ryan Bertrand was often involved in the rare forays that Southampton enjoyed throughout the first-half. As he chased an over hit ball down by in front of the corner flag, he ended up next to some Chelsea fans; one fan must have said something amusing because Ryan beamed a lovely smile. It was a super moment.

I wondered what the fan had said. It was, no doubt, Munich-related.

With half-time approaching, Pedro danced into the box with a typical shimmying run, but saw his shot bounce off the post.

Then, just as half-time was surely only a few seconds away, we were awarded a free-kick around twenty-five yards out. It was to the left of the “D.”

Chris : “Willian territory.”

Glenn : “Come on Marcos.”

Chris : “Nah. Wrong side, Willian will have this.”

With that, Marcos Alonso took me – and Forster – by surprise, and curled a free-kick over the leaping wall, which crept in just inside the post.


Much laughter from myself, from Alan, from Glenn, plus Albert in front, who was thinking the same thing as me.


It was, of course, the perfect time to score, bang on the half-time whistle.

Willian began the second-half in the same way that he had begun the first period, speeding into space despite being heavily marked but blasted over.

A shot from Dave was high and wide. Damn.

With ten minutes of the second-half on the clock, at last a song rang out around Stamford Bridge, to the tune of “Amazing Grace.”

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

Southampton brought on Charlie Austin and the striker caught us a little flat-footed at the back, causing a Thibaut to save well.

Antonio Conte replaced Pedro with Cesc Fabregas.

Down below us, Eden Hazard smashed home after being teed up by Fabregas, but it was obvious that Cesc had drifted into an offside position.

There was a little more noise, but not much more.

Willian drilled a chest-high pass towards Alonso, who did well to control before volleying towards goal. No surprises, Foster – rather dramatically – saved.

Another change; Alvaro Morata replaced Eden Hazard.

The substitute soon forced another save from Forster.

Down at the Shed End, the lively Austin forced another save from Courtois, on his haunches, and the chance went begging.

A quickly-played free-kick down below us resulted in Fabregas gliding into the box, drawing the goalkeeper out, then subtly pushing the ball past him. Time slowed to a standstill as the ball rolled along the line, but without the necessary spin to carry the ball over.


Oh for a second goal.

The rain fell.

Davide Zappacosta replaced Moses.

With a slender 1-0 lead, things became predictably nervous. Southampton had certainly improved after the addition of Austin. Nathan Redmond had developed into a threat as the game progressed.

That man Austin went close at the near post after a low cross.

In the last remaining minutes, we thankfully dominated. A Bakayoko header was followed by efforts from Alonso, Morata, Fabregas and Azpilicueta. But Forster, the man of the moment, was not to be beaten a second time.

So there we have it. A game that will not live too long in the memory.

There was no standout player.

There were steady 7/10 performances throughout.

But sometimes it is just fine to have a team full of Daves.

On the drive home, with thankfully no traffic nightmares this time, we listened half-halfheartedly as Manchester City demolished Tottenham 4-1. There was pleasure at Spurs’ defeat more than displeasure at City’s win.

On the M4, the Chuckle Bus overtook the Southampton team coach just before it turned south on to the M25.

Chelsea’s pursuit of Manchester City will not be so straightforward.

If this is to be some sort of bizarre chase to second place this season, then so be it.

See you on Wednesday.


Tales From The Warm Afterglow

Chelsea vs. Southampton : 25 April 2017.

It was a surprisingly cold evening in SW6. There had been plenty of time for a couple of lagers in “The Goose” with the usual suspects, and the talk was all about our win over Tottenham in the semi-final on Saturday and the remaining games left for us this season. The huge 4-2 win had certainly warmed us all, and had given us renewed hope for the remaining games. In the beer garden, there was a glow from Saturday insulating us from the biting cold. We had six league games remaining. If we could eke out five wins, our sixth championship would be assured. It’s all about numbers at this time of the season.

Inside the stadium, Southampton had only brought 1,500, which I thought was pretty poor, considering that their tickets were pegged at £30. Just before the teams entered the pitch, the banners were out in The Shed again, with the words “Keep The Blue Flag Flying High” draped vertically down from the upper deck.

Our team was a strong one, with Gary Cahill returning and Cesc Fabregas starting.


Azpilicueta, Luiz, Cahill.

Moses, Matic, Kante, Alonso.

Fabregas, Costa, Hazard.

Featured in the visiting line-up were two former Chelsea players, both of whom were in our numbers in Munich – Ryan Bertrand and Oriel Romeu.

Just before the game began, my pal Rob – who sits a few rows behind me in The Sleepy Hollow – told me that he had organised tickets for a neighbour and his son, who was attending his first-ever Chelsea game, to sit alongside him. Rob asked me to take a few candid photographs of the young lad during the game as a little memento of the evening. It was a pleasure to be able to do so. I explained to Bournemouth Steve, who was sitting alongside me, what Rob had asked me to do and he in turn suggested that I should shout up to him to get the lad to smile. However, not only would that spoil the shot that I was looking for, but I also added “nobody ever smiles at football, mate.” And it’s certainly at least half-true. At Chelsea games, we tend to look on with our faces being pictures of studied seriousness, often beset with worries, only smiling or laughing at irregular intervals.

“Sombre business this football.”

Not long in to the game, the shots of a suitably pensive Harrison were in the can. I hoped that he’d appreciate the photographs in his later years. It took me back, momentarily, to my first game in 1974. As I have mentioned before, despite my parents having taken many photographs of myself during my childhood, it is a little gripe of mine that there is no photographic record of my first-ever game at Chelsea. In fact, until I took my camera to games in 1983/1984, only one photograph from my first ten years of Chelsea games exists, and it came from a game against Southampton in 1976. It marked the return of The King, Peter Osgood.

Sadly, I don’t remember too much about this game. I recollect that we had to collect our tickets from the box office and I remember that former Arsenal goalkeeper Bob Wilson, who was by then working for BBC TV, was in front of us in the queue. I guess he was waiting for his press pass. Strangely, the Chelsea fans ignored him. My first-ever Chelsea photograph depicts the young Chelsea captain Ray Wilkins leaning forward in the centre-circle to shake hands with the referee at the start of proceedings.


I have, sadly, no real memory of Peter Osgood’s play on that day over thirty-nine years ago, but I believe that I am correct in saying that there was a little bit of animosity towards him from The Shed during the game and he responded by flicking a V sign at them. My vague memory of the day is being churned-up seeing him playing against us. The game ended 1-1. Chelsea’s new number nine Jock Finnieston was our scorer.


Back to our game with Southampton in 2017 and, thankfully, we did not have too long to wait for a goal. After just five minutes, a lovely long ball from Cesc found Diego Costa, who ploughed a lone furrow forward. I will be honest, I thought that Diego was undecided with what he would do. He held on to the ball – “too long, too long”  I moaned – but was then able to look up and perfectly cut a ball back towards Eden Hazard. His low shot screamed towards the far post, and in it went.


I was the target of some good-natured ribbing from the lads sitting nearby – “too long, ha” – and then Alan and myself enacted our usual opening goal routine.

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

Chris : “Come on my little diamonds.”

I had naively hoped that the opening period of the game would be marked by a relentless barrage of noise, effectively thanking the team for their hugely important win at Wembley, but even with a goal to cheer, the noise levels were not that special. To be honest, the spirited Southampton team caused us a few moments of concern as they fought hard for possession. They worked the ball well. But Chelsea were zipping the ball around too. It was an open game. There were groans after Eden Hazard blazed over after another delightful set-up from Diego from a pass from Fabregas.

On twenty-four minutes, a Southampton corner down below me was whipped in and it found Manolo Gabbiadini at the far post. His shot was thumped right at Courtois, but it was deflected by David Luiz in to the path of Romeu, who easily slotted home from very close range.

I rolled my eyes and envisioned an awakening from their post-Wembley slumber by Tottenham fans.

Bollocks. This was not part of the plan. I just hoped that the equaliser might generate a little more noise of support from the home areas. It did for a while.

A truly mesmeric run from the loved N’Golo Kante – at first winning the ball on the right wing and then pushing on past opponent after opponent – stirred us all. His penetrating run deep inside the box, which ended with a blocked cross from the goal-line, was just sublime.

Nemanja Matic – urged to “shoot!” by thousands – fired an effort at the Southampton goal but Fraser Forster was not worried.

Southampton continued to press, with the former players Romeu and Bertrand as good as any, and were especially dangerous at set pieces. The crowd grew nervous. There were a few dissenting voices aimed at Diego Costa as the first-half continued, which I thought was a little unfair. The frustration in the crowd grew.

One minute of injury-time was signalled. We forced a corner. It was played across the box and was cleared, but only as far as Kante. He floated a ball towards the far post and Marcos Alonso did well to head the ball back across the box. We watched as Gary Cahill flung himself at the ball and it bounced down and past Forster into the Shed End goal.


The Bridge responded with a boom of relief. He fell to his knees and then collapsed by the corner flag. I knew how he felt.

The first song from the PA at half-time was “That’s Entertainment” by The Jam.

“Something like that” I thought to myself, wondering if Messrs. Weller, Foxton and Buckler ever released a song called “Fuck entertainment, just give us a win.”

After only eight minutes into the second-half, Cesc Fabregas – playing very well – picked up a pass from Eden and floated a ball towards Diego Costa in a packed penalty box. Diego’s neat header seemed too easy. It dropped in to the goal. The crowd roared again.

We were winning 3-1. Get in.

After the applause had calmed down, I stood pointing towards one of the lads that had been giving Diego such a hard time. I stayed pointing – like Usain Bolt – until he eventually caught my eye. There were smiles from both of us. It was a lovely moment. I hoped that the third goal would calm our nerves. And I also hoped that Diego’s goal would galvanise his doubters over the final push of the campaign. We dominated now, but without causing too many problems for Forster in the Southampton goal. Kante, bearing down on Forster from an angle, forced a fine reflex save from the Saints’ keeper. Alonso’s long shot came to nothing. In the closing moments, there were further shots from substitute Pedro, on for Fabregas, and from Matic. Throughout the match, I thought that Fabregas, Kante and Luiz had been our finest players.

With five minutes’ remaining, the Stamford Bridge crowd rose as one to welcome John Terry on to the pitch as he replaced Victor Moses. His first touch, a side-footed clearance out of defence, was met with one of the loudest cheers of the night.

In the last minute of normal time, a sublime move down below us involving a tricky run from Diego, playing one-twos with first Pedro and then Eden Hazard, ended with Diego planting the ball in to the Southampton goal. It was just a beautiful moment. Diego raced away, cupping his ears, as if to say “where are the boos, now?” I followed suit, cupping my ears towards my mate in the row behind. More smiles, more laughter. The serious faces were no more.

Bizarrely, almost as an after-thought, Ryan Bertrand rose and guided a looping header past Thibaut into our goal and we ended up with a second 4-2 win in four days.

There was predictable joy as the game ended. “Blue Is The Colour” boomed around the stadium as Antonio Conte came on to the pitch to hug his players.

Five games left. See you at Goodison on Sunday.


Tales From The New Blueprint

Southampton vs. Chelsea : 30 October 2016.

In the pub before the game, we felt sure that Antonio Conte would revert to the same team that had mullered Manchester United a week previously. I suppose that the only question mark was over Pedro; would Willian get the nod?

“Nah, keep Pedro in. He has deserved it.”

And there, in an instant, was a good example of how far we had travelled in such a short period of time. It really wasn’t so long ago that respected friends of mine were questioning what Pedro gave to the team. Think back on those games against Liverpool and then Arsenal when we looked like a pale shadow of ourselves. Think about the under-fire Pedro. And think about Gary Cahill, too. Think back to only a few games ago when poor Gary was being blamed for virtually every goal that we had conceded, the breakdown of the defence, the falling value of the pound, the Syrian refugee crisis and more. And think how pilloried Nemanja Matic has been over the recent and the not so recent past; stretching back to the dark days of autumn 2015, he has often been the “boo boy” among the chattering, twittering and twattering classes of “social media.” Thibout Courtois is another one; lambasted by some for his reluctance to come for crosses and to dominate his box. For a while back there, certainly at half-time at Arsenal, the immediate future looked as bleak as the horrid tower block that greeted us outside Southampton Central train station, where I had parked up as early as 10.30am.

At Arsenal, I worried deeply about the task ahead of new manager Conte. Since then, we have enjoyed a dramatic improvement.

With three straight wins in the league campaign, against Hull City, Leicester City and Manchester United, and with no goals conceded, but with our goals steadily increasing (“2,3,4” – it sounded like the introduction to a punk song), we swept into Southampton’s St. Mary’s Stadium intent to stay among the tight group at the top of the table.

One of these days, I’ll truly get to explore Southampton. After leaving PD and LP to the noise of “Yates”, Glenn and myself had headed off to check out the marina, a twenty-minute walk to the south, but we soon heard that Alan, Gary and Daryl were settled in the “Bier Garten” bar. We soon joined them. There were Bavarian blue and white diamonds everywhere; we re-created our own little Mini-Munich and enjoyed a few beers and some good laughs, the highlight being Alan reciting, word for word, “Rappers’ Delight” by The Sugarhill Gang.

“You see, I’m six foot one, and I’m tons of fun
When I dress to a T.”

What a giggle.

The team was announced as we had predicted; the same as against United.

We made our way to the stadium; only a twenty-minute walk. We were soon inside. The away end was packed; no more the nonsense of Swansea, when so many decided not to travel. We have gone for seats at the front of the away end this season; Parky soon joined Alan, Gary and myself in row E. PD and Glenn were within distance, in row B.

With hardly a cloud in the sky, the stadium looked a picture. The teams entered the pitch and there was a minute of silence for the fallen. It would be the Southampton’s last home game before Remembrance Sunday.

Ryan Bertrand and Oriel Romeu – in the team and on the bench on that night in Munich – were in the opposing team, who had enjoyed a fine run of form of late. They would certainly be no pushovers.

Glenn had confided “I’ll be happy with a draw” and I almost agreed.

“A win would be fantastic.”

It was a very lively start with both teams attacking down the flanks and asking questions of each other’s defensive qualities. Dusan Tadic looked a skilful bugger out on Southampton’s right and for a while it looked like Marcos Alonso would be in for a torrid afternoon. Romeu lobbed a shot at Thibaut Courtois but he was not troubled.

We were already spreading passes around with ease, and a move built steadily. Eden Hazard pushed the ball out to Victor Moses out on the right. Hazard moved in to the box to receive the ball back. From our angle, down low and far away, it looked ridiculously tight. Hazard stopped, cut back on himself and tucked the ball in.

A mixture of wild celebration and “howthefuckdidhedothat?”

It was a joy to see Thibaut leap and punch the air as the goal was scored. I almost expected him to do a hand-stand and a back-flip.

It wasn’t a “thirty seconds Pedro” but it was good enough.

Saints 0 Sinners 1.

We continued to the play the ball with confidence, looking to play in Eden as often as we could, and often attempting the long cross-field ball to an unmarked Moses.

The Chelsea support had again enjoyed a hearty pre-match in Southampton; the support was strong and belligerent. The songs were varied.

I still think that mocking of medium-sized clubs with “Champions of Europe – You’ll never win that” a little of-the-mark, though. Having a dig at Tottenham, Arsenal and West Ham is fair game. Southampton and Hull City, not so.

Southampton, by contrast, were ridiculously quiet. I was disappointed that they didn’t air their “Johnstone Paint Trophy” chant.

After a while, Southampton managed to get a foothold. For a while, they enjoyed some possession. Courtois saved from the impressive Tadic. We countered with efforts from the two wide men, Hazard and Moses. A lovely ball from deep from Luiz had found Eden; he can certainly pick a lovely pass. Just before the break, Forster blocked an effort from Costa.

It had been a good half of football. Matic had been especially impressive, looking a lot more mobile and willing to venture forward than in a more recent, conservative, past. Alonso had settled, linking well with others. Luiz had hardly put a foot wrong

We started strong in the second period. Neat passing was the key, but with good movement off the ball. Southampton were getting swamped in midfield. The momentum was certainly with us. Alonso flashed wide, and then came a moment of magnificence.

Diego Costa gathered the ball from Eden Hazard about twenty-yards out. Southampton had given him two much space. He looked up, realised that he was in range and struck a sweet and sensual shot – right towards me – which curled in and beyond the late dive of Forster. It was as if the shot was especially for my eyes only; I was able to follow the curve and the trajectory. It left me breathless.

What a strike.

The away end roared.

Inside I exploded, but as Diego yelled and ran towards us, I knew I had to act fast.

Click, click, click.

The Chelsea players – a blur of blue – celebrated wildly in front of us. Moses jumped on top of Diego, the others screamed their pleasure.

At the other end, Courtois jumped up on to the crossbar and performed a gymnastics display.


A few weeks back, a two-nil lead against Manchester United didn’t seem enough. On this occasion, two goals to the good, it seemed that the game was as good as over.

Ten minutes of the second-half had gone, and we were in control.

At times we purred in the second-half. The interplay between Diego and Eden – possibly the very fulcrum of potential success for us this season – was a joy to watch. Victor Moses, so full of running and energy, took aim and hit a low drive towards goal. Forster, usually such a dependable ‘keeper, could only scramble a block. The ball fell to Eden, who touched it to Diego, who set up Pedro, but he just couldn’t find his footing to knock it goal wards.

Southampton to their credit kept plugging away and a fine move resulted in a Bertrand cross, which Charlie Austin headed over.

Chelsea countered with a lung-bursting run from Pedro, who then played in Eden. How often have we seen him cut in from the left and strike home? Sadly on this occasion, he low shot was too near Forster. At the other end, a looping header from Steve Davis, dropped on top of the bar.

At last some noise from Southampton – some banter from them about West Ham. We responded with “Play Up Pompey.”

They didn’t care : “We’re all going on a European Tour.”

Victor Moses blasted a pile-driver right at Forster.

There were a few late changes from the manager.

Willian for the tireless Pedro; warm applause for Pedro, a song for Willian.

The bearded Brana for Moses; a loud and resonant cheer for Victor.

Michy for Diego; songs of love and devotion for our main striker. He was back to his best.

It finished 2-0, and this was a mighty fine performance. Southampton were not without merit, but they could not cope with our organisation, our spirit, and some top class performances from all of our main men.

Of course it helps to have superb players, but Conte has got them playing for each other.

“Another clean sheet, chaps.”

Fantastic stuff. We all played well. Kante was a little quiet, but only by the slightest of margins. It was a hugely enjoyable game.

And a hugely important win.

The top five teams are now tightly-packed.

  1. Manchester City – 23.
  2. Arsenal – 23.
  3. Liverpool – 23.
  4. Chelsea – 22.
  5. Tottenham – 20.

It’s always a long slog back to the train station at Southampton, but the Chelsea fans were buoyant as we slowly marched back to the waiting car. On the first day of winter, the future is far from bleak. There was a new song about Azpilicueta but it was too difficult to latch on to. Back in the car, I spoke about the upcoming week.

“It’s fantastic that Conte can now focus on Everton on the back of four superb wins. There will be no soul-searching about deficiencies. No worry about having to find a way to change the system. Just the desire to keep it positive. Keep playing this new way. Just keep the confidence levels high. Have Monday off. Come back on Tuesday and keep the unit together. Keep them smiling. Keep us smiling.”

Four wins. Four clean sheets.

It all started at Arsenal, when the manager replaced Cesc Fabregas and replaced him with Marcos Alonso, and went to a three. It was met with much-head scratching at the time, but at that low point, Conte – with hindsight – may well have instantly changed our whole season. With hindsight, it was inspired.

“3-0 down, I need something new, why not change it now.”

It was a brave thing to do, eh? Since then, he has been totally vindicated.

Since then, it has been remarkable, hasn’t it?

Antonio Conte’s new blueprint for our future looks damn good to me.

We move on. There is a lovely mood in the club and on the pitch and on the terraces right now. Kudos to the manager for changing the system so seamlessly, and just as much love and respect goes to all of the players too. They have responded so well.

This is going to be a great season.


Tales From St. Mary’s

Southampton vs. Chelsea : 27 February 2016.

I should dislike Southampton Football Club a lot more than I do. When I was a mere eight-year-old boy, they stole my childhood hero Peter Osgood away from Stamford Bridge a mere couple of weeks before my very first Chelsea match.

That is reason enough to carry a lifetime of dislike for them – hatred would, of course, be far too strong – surely?

Looking back at this event some forty-two years later, although I can well remember the sense of pain that I felt at the time, my memories are rather sketchy, not surprisingly. But here are the facts :

My first ever Chelsea game was on Saturday 16 March 1974. Peter Osgood’s last ever Chelsea game was on Saturday 29 December 1973, although he appeared in a friendly at Aberdeen on Friday 16 February 1974.

He left Chelsea a couple of weeks before my first-ever game.

How cruel.

In those formative years of my fledgling support for Chelsea, Peter Osgood was my favourite player, my hero and my idol. He was our charismatic goal scorer and the focus of my adoration. I’ve told the story before of how some family friends, who worked alongside Peter Osgood’s sister Mandy at an office in Windsor, managed to obtain a signed 8” by 10” black and white photograph of Ossie in around 1971 or 1972, and that the excitement of opening up that brown buff envelope containing the photograph was one of the most wonderful moments of my childhood. I still have the autograph of course. It is a treasured memento to this day. Incidentally, I recently spotted a photograph of Ossie’s sister Mandy planting an oak tree in a park in Windsor in memory of her brother, and it brought my childhood memories racing back.


I once spoke to Peter Osgood about the signed photograph and he explained that Mandy was a fine footballer in her own right, and an England international to boot. He laughed when I suggested that she used to sport a fine pair of sideburns, too.

But in 1974, Southampton – and Peter Osgood – broke my heart.

I can vaguely remember the stories in the ‘papers and on the TV about the infamous fall out between our manager David Sexton, and a few of our star players – most notably Alan Hudson and Peter Osgood – and as the day of my first ever game approached, there was this horrible gnawing realisation that I would not be seeing Ossie play. Hudson’s last game for Chelsea was also against Liverpool in December 1973, and he was sold to Stoke City in the first few weeks of 1974. The 1970 and 1971 cup winning team was falling apart in front of my eyes, and – to my sadness – my hero Peter Osgood would be the next to leave. There are hints of an olive branch being pointed towards Ossie with his appearance in the Aberdeen friendly at Pittodrie and possibly a chance of reconciliation, but my idol was sold to Southampton for £275,000 in the first few days of March 1974.

I would never see Ossie play for Chelsea.

Although Chelsea’s 1973/1974 was far from impressive – we only just staved off relegation – it is with a certain amount of melancholy that I note that Ossie’s new club were duly relegated in the May. I am sure that this must have been a huge blow to Ossie, and I am sure that he wistfully looked on as Chelsea stayed up. With a cruel twist, I saw him play against us in March 1976 in a Second Division game, and can sadly remember the furore in the media about The Shed chanting an unsavoury song towards our former hero, and Ossie “flicking some Vs” back at them.

It wasn’t meant to be like this.

When Ossie returned for some games in 1979, our paths sadly never crossed, and his time as a Chelsea player ended with me never seeing him play in our club colours.

It is one of the few regrets that I have as a Chelsea supporter.

As we approached the tenth anniversary of Peter Osgood’s sad passing, how fitting that the Premier League fixture list should pair Southampton and Chelsea together.

For the first-ever time, we had decided to take the train to Southampton. The four of us – Parky, PD, Glenn and myself – met up at Westbury station and caught the 9.01am train down to Southampton Central. Other local blues Les and Graham were on the train too. Opposite us were four Bristolian Chelsea supporters. Throughout the day, we would bump in to many West Country Blues. It is one of the nicest attributes of Chelsea fans that Londoners very rarely take umbrage to Chelsea fans coming from other areas, unlike a couple of Northern teams that I could mention.

Soon into the trip, through rolling countryside, and then the spired city of Salisbury, Parky and PD opened up a couple of cans. I was just happy to share a few laughs as the day unfolded. It was time for me to relax. Leaving work on Friday, I was able to look forward to two fine away games within the space of just four days.

We rolled in to Southampton, breakfasted at a local café, and then joined up with many familiar Chelsea fans in “Yates’s” in the city centre. I am not particularly smitten with Southampton. Right outside the train station, there are a couple of brutal concrete tower blocks, more akin to those on show in the former communist cities of Eastern Europe, which hardly create a welcoming impression. The civic buildings and the Guildhall are fine, but the city centre seems jumbled.

As I worked my way through six pints of San Miguel, such matters disappeared from my mind.

I was able to relax, to chill out, to unwind.

It was important for me to just sit upstairs with Glenn, chatting and relaxing, rather than join in with others in the crowded ground floor, packed to the rafters, and scene of a Chelsea karaoke.

On the previous day, I had silently marked the first anniversary of my mother’s passing by taking some flowers to my parents’ grave, and I was in no mood for too much ribaldry before the game.

I remembered the time in 1981, when my mother and I watched a Southampton vs. Nottingham Forest game from the lower tier of the cramped bench seats in the East Stand at The Dell, lured by the chance to see another hero of my youth, Kevin Keegan, when a work colleague of my father gave us their two season tickets for the day.

Outside the weather looked cold. There seemed to be a biting wind. More than a few of the local police force were watching us. Only two of the central pubs allow away fans.

“Yates’s” was heaving. The lagers were going down well. Good times.

On the walk to St. Mary’s, I joked with Mick that it was lovely to see him holding hands with Pauline.

“It’s not romantic, Chris. I just needed to prise her out of the pub.”

We laughed.

St. Mary’s, positioned next to the River Itchen to the east, but hemmed in by industrial units to the south and two rusty gasometers to the north, is a rather bland stadium. It is no Dell.

There was not a lot of time to spare and I joined up with Alan and Gary in our seats just in time.

All of a sudden, among the beers, and the laughter and the song, it was time to pay attention to the actual match. Guus Hiddink, quietly going about his business and without the squealing histrionics of our previous manager, had chosen the same starting eleven that had defeated Manchester City the previous weekend. In the home team were former blues Ryan Bertrand and Oriel Romeu, both involved to varying degrees on a certain night in Munich in May 2012.

Southampton, winners at The Bridge earlier in the season, and finding their feet again under Ronald Koeman would be a tough proposition.

The Chelsea support, rising up from the darkened concourse in to the light of the stadium, were in fine voice from the start. However, an early injury to Pedro – improving of late – caused Hiddink to reconfigure. On came Oscar.

Chelsea seemed to control much of the possession during a rather tame first-half, yet Southampton were able to carve out the clearer goal scoring chances.

Thibaut Courtois seemed to be a little unsure of himself on a couple of occasions, and dithered once too often for my liking. Shane Long, the journeyman striker, headed over with our ‘keeper stranded. At the other end, the masked marksman Diego Costa went close. Southampton just seemed a little more dynamic in the final third. Whereas we passed the ball without a lot of purpose, the Saints seemed more clinical. Charlie Austin, the steal of the season, struck a firm shot past our post.

Sadly, on forty-two minutes, two defensive blunders resulted in us conceding. A high ball was weakly headed square by Baba Rahman, and Shane Long pounced. His rather heavy touch seemed, to my eyes, to be within reach of Courtois to race out and clear, but the tall Belgian seemed to react slowly. As he raced off his line, Long delicately clipped it in.

Our ten game unbeaten run in the league was under threat against a capable Southampton team. Our attempts on goal were minimal. It was a deserved lead for the home team at the break. At the interval, the ruthless Hiddink replaced Baba with Kenedy.

We slowly improved. Cheered on by the loyal three thousand, who have taken to singing about Frankie Lampard’s goal against West Ham in 2013 with ever-increasing zeal, we began stretching the Saints’ defence.

Mikel headed over.

Diego volleyed wide.

I said to Gary : “Although we have players in wide positions, we don’t really have wingers any more.”

A few tackles resulted in Martin Atkinson brandishing some yellows. Diego Costa looked like a man “in the mood” and some of his industry seemed to inspire others.

At the other end, a rare Southampton attack ended with a robust challenge on Austin by Cahill. From my position some one hundred yards away, it was clearly not a penalty.

Cough, cough.

Eden Hazard, finding pockets of space, played the ball out to a rampaging Diego Costa. He managed to pull the ball back to Cesc Fabregas, who advanced. He played the ball – almost lazily – in to the box, and I was right behind the course of the ball as it avoided a lunge by Hazard and a late reaction by Forster. It nestled inside the net and the Chelsea support screamed.

What a strange, odd, easy goal.

It had was a fine reward for our increasing urgency in the last portion of the game.

In the eighty-ninth minute, we won a corner and Willian – often unable to get his corners past the first man – sent over a fine ball with pace. The warhorse Ivanovic timed his jump to perfection and his thundering header crashed down past Forster.

Get in.

The Chelsea support again screamed.

Hiddink shored things up with the late addition of Nemanja Matic, and the game was safe.

On a day of late goals, we were more than grateful to hear that Leicester City had grabbed an 89 minute winner of their own.

Get in.

There were songs as we walked back towards the train station. This doesn’t happen too often. It seemed to underline the new sense of belief and happiness within our ranks at the moment.

We had time to relax before catching the train home. There was time for two more pints, and a lovely assessment of our resurgence, not only in the last quarter of the game, but over the past few months.

Back in Frome, Glenn and myself finished off the day with a few more drinks, with more reflections on our fine time among good friends, and then, finally, a late night curry.

It had been a wonderful away day.

On Tuesday evening, we reassemble at the home of Norwich City, another of Peter Osgood’s clubs, and our most famous number nine will again be in our thoughts once more.

See you there.


Tales From Benny’s First Game

Chelsea vs. Southampton : 3 October 2015.

This was our homecoming after three games on the road at Walsall, Newcastle and Porto. It would also be our last game for a fortnight, with another international break looming. After the disappointment of our game in Portugal – the stinging defeat on the pitch allied with the spate of robberies off it – I was hopeful that the game against Southampton would put us back on track.

No, let’s be honest and exact here, this was a game we had to win. I knew that the Saints, continuing their fine play from last season under Ronald Koeman would be no pushover, but I was adamant that we could – and should – prevail.

However, my main focus as I drove up to London with Parky and Bournemouth Steve was centred upon seeing my close friend Ian and his young son Ben, who would be watching from the East Lower. It would be Benny’s first ever Chelsea game; a present for his eighth birthday during the late summer.

Ian and I go back to 1984, when we found ourselves on the same human geography course at North Staffs Poly in Stoke. Our friendship slowly grew over the three years, aided by our love of football and music, and was solidified on a trip around Europe on a three week Inter Rail holiday in the September of 1987. Ian was with me, memorably, on my first ever European football match, an Internazionale vs. Empoli game in the San Siro. During that trip we also visited the Bernabeu, Camp Nou and Munich’s Olympic Stadium. Our first afternoon in London after that Inter Rail trip was spent at Stamford Bridge – a good 2-2 draw with Newcastle United, Paul Gascoigne and all – and this was Ian’s first game at Chelsea.



Ian has watched a few more games with me at The Bridge since. In our thirty plus years of friendship, football has never been too far away.

Ian is from South Yorkshire and a lifelong Rotherham United fan. Ian was at one of the most infamous games in Chelsea’s history; our 6-0 loss at Millmoor in the autumn of 1981. A few of my close Chelsea mates were there too, though I wasn’t. I can remember playing a school football match on that particular day, strangely on a Saturday afternoon, and coming in at half-time in our match to find the boys three-nil down at Rotherham. I can distinctly remember – always an optimist – thinking to myself that we would come back to win 4-3 with Alan Mayes scoring the winner. Sadly it was not to be. For those newish Chelsea fans who think that our current run of poor form entitles them to proudly boast that they can claim that they were there when we are “shit”, watch this and think again.


In 2015, we are League Champions, League Cup Winners, in the Champions League and one of the top twenty clubs on the planet.

In 1981, we were a struggling Second Division team, with no trophy of any description for ten years.

Later in the season, the same Rotherham United beat us 4-1 at Stamford Bridge.

Compared to 1981, 2015 doesn’t even come close.

Since leaving college, Ian and I met up again in 1989 for our never-to-be-forgotten adventure in North America; cycling down the East coast, visiting city after city, living some sort of American dream. We drove down through France for a Juventus vs. Sampdoria game in 1992. Ian now lives in Fareham, close to Portsmouth, with his wife Maria – I was the best man at his wedding in 2006 – and their two boys Tom and Benny. Both boys have teams; Tom is Arsenal, Ben is Chelsea. Once I managed to secure match tickets for the Saints match, I am sure that Ben has been so excited. But so was I. I couldn’t wait to meet up with him for the game.

We had arranged to meet up at the Peter Osgood statue at 1.30pm. It was magical to see them both, smiling and full of anticipation of the day ahead. Benny was wearing a blue and white bar scarf, and it made my day. During all of our years of friendship, who on earth would have predicted that Ian’s son would be a Chelsea fan.


We spent an hour in the hotel foyer. I am not honestly sure if Ben will remember too much of his first ever Chelsea game, nor the people that he met, but I made sure that I took enough photographs to help. Although it seemed that a camera was always on hand to take key photographs of my formative years, it is one of my big regrets that neither of my parents took any photographs of my first Chelsea game in 1974.

We chatted with Bobby Tambling, as always a lovely man, and it was good to look back on the summer tour in the US. I explained to Ben that Bobby scored 202 goals for Chelsea and Ben’s face was a picture. Coming from Hayling Island, Bob explained how everyone naturally presumed that he would play for Portsmouth after his impressive English schoolboy career. Instead, they made no offer, and despite an approach from Wolves, Bobby ended up at Stamford Bridge.

There were photographs with John Hollins, and Ben predicted a 10-0 win for Chelsea, and our former captain and manager loved the optimism.

There was a prolonged chat with former captain Colin Pates concerning his current job at the Whitgift School in Croydon, where he spotted the potential in a young Victor Moses, and also a few words from Colin which answered Ian’s enquiry about how difficult it was to make the transition from player to another trade.

“Put it like this. It’s like being at the best party you have ever been to. Then someone comes along and says it’s over.”

Ian and I knew exactly what he meant.

I commented back, looking at Ian –

“Colin found it so difficult, that he ended up playing for Arsenal.”

Colin and Ian laughed.

However, I chose not to talk to Colin about the Rotherham game in 1981, since he had played in that game. Neil Barnet called by and reminded us that it was Petar Borota’s last ever game for the club. What a wayward player he was, but loved by all. Bless him.

Paul Canoville joined us and I explained that this was Ben’s first-ever game. Paul spent a good few minutes with the three of us, welcoming Ben to the Chelsea family, and entertaining Ian with anecdotes from his various travels over the past summer.

I really appreciated the time that these three former players took in spending time with young Ben. And I am sure that Ian got a kick out of it too. Outside the main reception, there was time for a team photo with Ron Harris.

IMG_3505 (2)

Back in The Goose, it was lovely to see Alan and Gary again after their tribulations in Porto. I also bumped into a cheery Stan, too, and he seemed unperturbed, and showing no signs of distress after temporarily losing his passport. It was a sublimely beautiful Saturday evening and it was hard to believe that it was October now. The team news came through via various ‘phone updates.

John Terry was back.

Parky bought a round of amaretto shots and we then set off for the Bridge.

Southampton opted for the smaller away allocation for this fixture; around 1,500.

After the initial sparring, we were awarded a free-kick to the left of the Southampton goal. Willian swung in a looping free-kick which bamboozled Stekelenburg in the Saints goal. The ball struck the far post and rippled the net. For what seemed the umpteenth time already this season, we had scored with a free-kick from the left, and this was yet another one from Willian. He ran off to the East Stand and I can only imagine how excited young Ben must have been. Ian Hutchinson scored after ten minutes in my first game in 1974 and Willian did exactly the same for Ben in 2015.

Alan and myself attempted the Hampshire burr of cricket commentator John Arlott as we went through our “come on my little diamonds / they’ll have to come at us now” routine.

Chances were rare. Oscar and Eden Hazard struggled to find the target. Southampton burst through our ranks on several occasions. Sadio Mane was booked for diving. On more than one occasion, the alert Asmir Begovic saved our blushes.

However, a certain amount of sleepiness in our defence allowed Pelle to chest down for Davis to strike a low drive past Begovic.

At the break, Nemanja Matic replaced Ramires.

Southampton bossed the early moments of the second period. They are a fine team these days and they continually exposed the increasing self-doubt within our team. Then came a major talking point. Fabregas played in Falcao, who stretched to go past the Southampton ‘keeper, but fell. A penalty was not given, but the referee added insult to injury and booked Falcao for simulation. Our Colombian beat the Stamford Bridge turf in frustration.

The visitors were on the front foot now and several periods of Keystone Cops defending from our back line began to turn an already edgy Stamford Bridge crowd over the edge. With too much ease, Mane broke through after we lost possession, twisting past the recalled Terry to score.

Pedro replaced Willian.

There were boos.

Hazard, so obviously lacking any sort of confidence, gave the ball away and Southampton broke with pace. There was a feeling that this break would result in another goal. The ball was played outside to Pelle, who struck a low shot past Begovic from an angle. It was no more than Southampton deserved.



To my dismay, many spectators decided to leave.

Fuck them.

The substitute Matic was replaced by Loic Remy.

More boos.

I was just surprised that consistently underperforming Fabregas managed to avoid the manager’s axe yet again. Of all the disappointments this season, Cesc must rank as one of the biggest. Despite us losing 3-1, and despite hundreds of Chelsea supporters having vacated their seats, I was really pleased with the way that most Chelsea fans responded.

First of all, though, I noted a few hundred Chelsea fans in the Matthew Harding Lower singing – to my annoyance – “we’re fucking shit” and I really am lost for words to explain that.  However, a far greater number throughout both levels of the MH really got behind the team with rousing renditions of several Chelsea favourites. The noise boomed around Stamford Bridge and I so hoped that the watching millions around the globe could hear us.

Although we came at Southampton towards the end, a goal never really looked like coming.

So, no surprises, at the final whistle, there were loud boos.

We’re in a bad moment, no doubt.

We’re in a bad moment together and we’ll hopefully get out of it together too.

If we lose a few of our number along the way, so be it.

I have no logical reasons for our current malaise and I am not sure that many fellow Chelsea fans do either. We are a team so obviously low on confidence, and without that elusive “spark.” However, as I said to one or two others on the walk back to the car, it doesn’t really matter.

“I’ll be here next game, and the one after.”

However, it saddened me to receive a text from Ian later in the evening to say that Ben cried his eyes out at the end of the game.

At the age of eight, my first game, I would have done the same.


Tales From Mothering Sunday

Chelsea vs. Southampton : 15 March 2015.

On the eve of Chelsea’s clash with Southampton, I visited the local music venue in my home town. Big Country – or at least the latest incarnation, with Bruce Watson and Mark Brezezicki as the two original members being augmented by three others – played a tight and evocative set at Frome’s “Cheese & Grain” and I thoroughly enjoyed it. The swirling guitars brought back memories of a time in the mid-‘eighties when they were one of my favourite bands. There was one very specific memory. It is football-related. Does that surprise anyone?

On St. Valentine’s Day in 1986, Chelsea played a Friday night friendly against Rangers at Ibrox Stadium. I was at college in Stoke-on-Trent and with time on my hands. I only found out about the game late on but I quickly managed to get a message to a mate who was studying at Strathclyde University. I asked him if I could crash at his flat and I bought a train ticket. I was on my way to Glasgow to follow Chelsea and it would be the most exotic trip of my Chelsea story at that time. Excited? You bet. The one thing that sticks in my mind features the train trip through the Southern Uplands, north of Gretna, south of Carstairs, when a fellow passenger had an old-school stereo system and played the Big Country’s debut album “The Crossing.” It seemed a bit of a cliché at the time, but it was the perfect addition to our trip north through snow-dusted hills. Magical memories.

“I’m not expecting to grow flowers in the desert, but I can live and breathe and see the sun in wintertime.”

The night also brought a few bittersweet memories too. The guitars, often sounding at times like bagpipes, and the lyrics, paying homage to Scotland’s dramatic countryside and gritty urban landscape, brought back vivid memories of my trips to Scotland with my mother over the past twenty years. How Mum enjoyed those trips north. Our list of towns visited list like a Proclaimers song; Edinburgh, Glasgow, Perth, Stirling, Brechin, Inverness, The Kyle Of Localsh, Portree, Inverness, Arbroath, Dundee. At times my eyes were moist.

After my mother’s passing, it has been a difficult time, but I have slowly improved. With the weekend – including Mother’s Day – following hard on the heels of the funeral on the Thursday, I felt that an important staging post would soon be reached. As far as the grieving process was concerned, I likened it to a Winston Churcill quote. The weekend would not mark the end, nor even the beginning of the end, but it would mark the end of the beginning. Since many close friends read these match reports, and since I feel it appropriate to do so, I include herein the eulogy that I wrote for my dear mother and which the vicar shared with those attending the service on Thursday 12 March.

IMG_1136 My dear mother Esmé lived a most wonderful life.

Mum was born on the third of January 1930 in one of the small cottages opposite The Talbot Inn, not more than one hundred yards from this beautiful church and lived virtually her entire life in her beloved Mells. Mum was an only child, born to two devoted parents; Ted Draper, a gardener, and his wife Blanche, a cook and housewife. Mum attended the local village school and there is no doubt that she had an idyllic childhood in this rural haven, making friends and enjoying the comforts of her family. The church was never far away, physically and spiritually. Life was simple, but rich with love. Her father would sometimes have the use of the parish vicar’s motor car and there were trips to visit local family but also occasional trips to the seaside. What a treat for young Esmé.

After excelling in the “eleven plus” at Mells School, my mother attended Frome Grammar School, cycling in from her village for the first few years. Although her studies were under the dark cloud of war, my mother had a carefree time. Mum studied hard and again excelled in all subjects. Rather reluctantly, I feel, Mum played as a goalkeeper in the girl’s school hockey team alongside her three great friends Barbara, Mary and Marda. During the war, there were occasional dances at the village hall. Mum passed all of her exams and began a teacher training course at a college in Bath. However, Mum soon decided that this was not for her and so began working as a dispensing chemist at a shop in Frome’s Cheap Street.

Just after the war, Mum travelled to Hanover in Germany with several other teenagers; it was one of the first ever exchanges after the hostilities. My mother had a wonderful time in Germany, making great friends with Liesel, the young German girl whose house Mum stayed in. While working at Roberts Chemists, my mother’s wavy hair and sparkling blue eyes attracted the attention of Reg Axon, a shy shopkeeper working a few doors away at John Dance. My father summoned some courage to ask my mother out and the rest, as they say, is history.

My parents married on April 25th 1957 in this very building. They honeymooned in London and set up home in New Street. They were, I am sure, blissfully happy. My parents were incredibly well suited. Both were kind and gentle, both loved home life. My mother moved on to work in a women’s clothes shop, again in Cheap Street. Of course, my parents longed for children. After eight years of waiting, I was born on 6th July 1965. However, my birth was tinged with sadness since my twin brother was stillborn. It is something which weighed heavily on my mother’s mind for many years. Both my mother and I contracted salmonella – I was born prematurely – and it was a miracle that I lived. For the first few weeks, Mum stayed in a nursing home, while I remained in an incubator at hospital; the distance between us must have been unbearable for dear Mum.

I know it sounds like a cliché, but my parents really were the best parents in the world.

They were always so industrious and busy. Both enjoyed gardening, but my mother’s great talent was as a home-maker and especially as a cook. Visiting friends and relatives often gasped at the enormity of the “spread” which Mum conjured up, with the dining room table creaking under the weight of sandwiches, sausage rolls, cakes, trifles and desserts. I always remember a Canadian relative talking in awe of the “suppers” which Mum provided. Nobody ever went hungry in the Axon household.

As I followed Mum’s path, with attendance at schools in Mells and then Frome, my mother continued to work tirelessly, maintaining her parents’ house in addition to her own. Mum was also a great servant to the village too, assisting in church affairs, village fetes and various committees. My mother also kept a close eye on those in the village who required an extra little care and attention. This was probably Mum’s greatest attribute; the selfless willingness to put others first.

Sadly, my mother often suffered with asthma and was admitted to hospital on several occasions.

In 1974, my parents announced that they were to take me to Stamford Bridge to see Chelsea for the very first time. For that simple act, I owe them so much. Our summer holidays were great highlights; there were five trips to Italy and Austria. Diano Marina in Italy was our favourite destination and in 1975 I ended-up playing football on the beach with a young Italian boy called Mario. Thanks to my mother, who swapped addresses with Mario’s mother, we became pen friends. We are still friends to this day.

My school days were not always happy and at times of upset and distress, my mother was always there to comfort me and to take away my pain. Through my teenage years, Mum suffered a little with depression and if I am truthful, our relationship became a little fraught. When I left Mells to go to college in Stoke-on-Trent in 1984, I am sure my mother missed me tremendously. Mum’s frequent letters to me throughout my three years in Staffordshire were testament to this. My parents continued to enjoy their holidays; there was a grand tour of Italy, and also a skiing trip to Austria. Yes, my mother has skied. How wonderful is that?

However, at the end of the ‘eighties, my mother lost both parents within ten months. Mum had cared for her parents, virtually until the end. The losses of her mother in April 1988 and her father in February 1989 were huge. Depression returned once again and my mother was in a fragile state of mind. I toured North America for ten months at around this time; looking back, I am sure Mum missed me enormously. On my return in 1990, things gradually improved and in 1991 my parents departed on a three month “round the world” trip, taking in Hong Kong, Singapore, Brisbane, Fiji, Hawaii, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, San Francisco and Vancouver. Sadly, my mother contracted shingles just before the start and the trip was cut short. The planned visits to Toronto, New York and Philadelphia never materialised. But more of that later.

In April 1993, my dear father passed away at the age of sixty-nine. The sense of loss was huge, but I was immediately impressed with my mother’s strength and resilience. We became significantly closer. For the next few years, Mum’s depression came and went at regular intervals. We visited Scotland every autumn for six years and how Mum enjoyed these trips. When depression lifted, Mum would resume her high levels of industry in the home and village, enjoyed coach trips with other villagers and continued to attend the church. After a while, shopping trips to Frome faded, and despite occasional car trips with me, Mum rarely ventured from Mells. Our cat Gemma was a lovely companion. Mum especially enjoyed watching Formula One on TV. I even caught her watching some Italian football occasionally.

There were trips to Calais, Cornwall and North Wales. In truth, my mother first started to suffer with dementia in around 2005. Its advance was slow, but steady. Throughout it all, my mother remained happy and contented. As I moved between jobs, my mother was keen to hear of my progress and Mum took great delight in hearing of my travels. Her cheerfulness was an inspiration. There were visits to local pubs for Sunday lunch and one or two trips to Chelsea. Friends and relatives called in to see Mum. Life had changed, but things were still fine.

In around 2009, Mum began visiting a local dementia centre and then carers called in to keep an eye on her while I was at work. Mum visited both Critchill Court and Emma Shepherd Day Care Centre over the past few years; as recently as fourteen months ago, Mum was heading in to Frome on four days each week.

In September 2010, I took my dear mother to the United States for an unforgettable week. We were based in Philadelphia – where our relatives resided in the nineteenth century for a few years – but we also visited New York. Mum was a real trooper, up every morning by eight o’clock, and we had a fantastic and joyous time. One moment will live with me forever. We had visited Yankee Stadium in The Bronx one Tuesday evening and I was driving back to Philly. I was high over the Hudson River, on the George Washington Bridge, with my mother in the back seat, quietly taking it all in. I glanced over to my left and I saw the bright lights of Manhattan. My heart leaped. I felt like the luckiest man on the face of the earth.

Only eighteen months ago, we drove to Scotland, staying in Dundee. After attending around thirty Chelsea games, my mother’s last football match was in Brechin. From The Bronx to Brechin, Mum was a lovely companion.

Sadly, Mum was hospitalised with arthritis just over a year ago. My mother would never walk again. For the past year, Mum’s life has consisted of being cared for at home, watching TV, singing along to some CDs – Mum had a lovely voice – and sharing some smiles and laughs with me. Mum never complained.

The carers loved visiting Mum. Mum was always so appreciative. Everyone loved her.

Last summer, I was able to take my mother out in her wheelchair around Mells and to sit out on the lawn to sip a cup of tea in the fresh air. I so wanted to do the same this summer. Last month, Mum was again hospitalised with pneumonia. As you all know, I was full of hope that Mum would make a full recovery on her return home. It was not to be.

My dear mother passed away at home on February 26th with me by her side. Mum was a sweet, gentle and kind woman, a devoted daughter to her beloved parents and a loving wife to her husband Reg and a compassionate and respected presence in her home village. Mum was the owner of the most amazing smile; wide and welcoming one moment, mischievous and cheeky the next.

She really was the best mother that I could have ever asked for.

Mum was an angel. It was an honour to be her son.

IMG_7606 I left my home village on Mothering Sunday 2015 just before 8am and soon collected PD and LP. The pre-match was rather rushed, but hugely enjoyable. I met Roma and Shawn outside the West Stand, opposite the Peter Osgood statue, and it was obvious that a visit to the megastore had taken place; Shawn was wearing a fantastic Chelsea tracksuit. There was a Delta Airlines football competition underneath the old Shed wall; Shawn had participated here, too. Roma had certainly made the most of her Chelsea match day. The two of them had been at Stamford Bridge since 9am.

We then headed off to see Mark at the stall and I bought his latest book for Roma, highlighting the little section on Frank Lampard which I had penned. Roma adores Frank and is as confused as any of us after his move to City.

We then headed off to The Goose and enjoyed a chat with a few mates. I had fortuitously bumped into a mate, Brian – from Belfast, now Los Angeles – and it was great to see him again. In the beer garden, it was cold and crisp. Familiar faces everywhere. I then arranged to meet Tom, the Vodfather, down at Fulham Broadway to collect two tickets for Shawn and Roma. At just before 1pm, all was sorted.

We headed inside the turnstiles to the MHU and I shared a story with Roma as we ascended the flight of stairs to the upper tier. Back in 2005, my mother and my good friend Glenn’s gran, attended the Chelsea vs. Birmingham City game; it was one of the great Chelsea memories. We met Peter Osgood in the megastore and then had lunch in the Butcher’s Hook. On reaching the top of the stairs in the MHU, the two ladies – my mother 75 and Rose 79 – disappeared off in to the ladies. A split second later, Glenn and I heard both of them let out a massive laugh.

“Oh blimey, what have they said…or done?”

It transpired that on entering, they thought they had seen a man in the ladies. They had looked at each other and couldn’t resist a spontaneous giggle. Every time I walk past this spot in the MHU concourse, I think back to Mum’s laughter.


I took a few photos of an excited Roma and Shawn before they took their places high up behind the goal. They were fantastic seats. Alan arrived with Tom, who has been very poorly of late. He is in his ‘seventies now. It was great to see him again. The match programme, marking our 110th anniversary, was in the style of the original “Chelsea Chronicle” and it looked fantastic. The flags were passed overhead. The teams appeared. One change from Wednesday’s anti-climax; Willian in for Ramires. There was a return for Ryan Bertrand, a hero from that night in Bavaria.

We began well. After only ten minutes, Eden Hazard worked the ball to Branislav Ivanovic out on the right. Very often this season our right-back is often the outlet for our attacking plans, yet often his final ball is disappointing. On this occasion, he lofted an inch perfect ball in, which picked out the lone leap of Diego Costa who easily scored past Forster. It was a fine goal.

Southampton, a fine team under Koeman who gave us a tough game on the south coast earlier in the season, did not let our goal stop them from moving the ball well. The impressive Sadio Mane tested Courtois, and then soon after a joint lunge on Mane by Matic and Ivanovic resulted in referee Mike Dean awarded a penalty. The consensus in our little group was that it was indeed a penalty. Tadic despatched it and although Courtois got a touch, the ball still hit the back of the net. 1-1.

For the rest of the first-half, with the atmosphere at times being ridiculously quiet, Southampton moved the ball around with aplomb, and were the more incisive. We, by contrast, looked tired and lacking in confidence. Our right flank was constantly exploited; the Willian and Ivanovic partnership looked disinterested. Oscar and Fabregas made little impact. It was as poor as I have seen for a while.

The away fans, again, aired the rather amusing and self-deprecating – “The Johnstone Paint Trophy, You’ll Never Win That.”

Sadly, around five thousand Chelsea fans didn’t get the joke and responded – “Champions Of Europe, You’ll Never Win That.”

Oh boy.

An overly theatrical response by Ivanovic to a tap tackle did not result in a penalty. It was the only Chelsea “moment” worth commentating on. At the other end, Courtois pulled off a few more saves. Southampton deserved to be 3-1 up at the break. Oh dear.

Yet again, we needed an inspiring team talk from the tongue of our manager at the break. Right from the first few seconds of the second-half, it was wonderful to hear the home support rising to the occasion with thunderous noise. It was a magnificent reaction. Well done everyone. However, a rasping free-kick from Alderweireld forced a full-stretch save from that man Courtois. First class.

Mourinho made a change; Ramires for Matic.

It felt like a goal must come. A Willian effort was deflected on to the post by Diego Costa. A shot from Oscar was blocked, and then a header from Oscar was parried by Forster. Surely, our goal would come.

Big John was up to his balcony-bashing best. “THUMP THUMP – THUMP THUMP THUMP – THUMP THUMP THUMP THUMP – CHELSEA.”

Another Oscar effort was saved. Remy for Oscar, Cuadrado for Willian.

Cuadrado failed to impress and dragged a shot wide. Then Azpilicueta went close. In the last minute, we could hardly believe what we witnessed; the Southampton goal was under attack and how. Remy had a shot blocked off the line, and the rebound was sent goal wards by JT but his effort was blocked, but the ball rebounded out to our captain who then stabbed the ball over. As the ball flew past the goal frame, the groan could be heard for miles and miles.

The much-hoped for eight point gap was now “only” six. I felt sure that many new Chelsea fans were about to pepper the internet with a plethora of negativity.

Another sigh.

After the game, at the Copthorne Hotel, Roma and Shawn met some Chelsea royalty; Ron Harris, Paul Canoville, Bobby Tambling and Roy Bentley. There were photographs of course, but also a couple of lovely conversations. Roma especially enjoyed hearing about Bobby Tambling’s close relationship with Frank Lampard, her personal favourite, which developed as Frank drew nearer and nearer to 202 Chelsea goals.

Roma’s smile was wide.

It was a beautiful end to Mother’s Day.


Tales From A Halfway Point

Southampton vs. Chelsea : 28 December 2014.

It was almost a complete year since our last visit to Southampton. On New Year’s Day 2014, I travelled the relatively short journey to the city on the South coast with Glenn and Parky. It was a day of torrential rain, but of also a fine 3-0 win.

There was no Boxing Day game for me this Christmas – other priorities took precedence – but our play looked sumptuous at times against a surprisingly lack-lustre…or “crap” to be more succinct…West Ham United team.

There was a different type of inclement weather this year; bitter cold. Parky met me at my house for a change and we were soon on the way in to Frome to collect PD. Both were unfortunately suffering with severe head colds. By the end of the day, I wondered if I would be too. Southampton is only ninety minutes away and I was parked-up, on target, bang on 11.30am outside the city’s featureless train station. This was the same scenario as last season; in fact, as I type these words, I am aware that my footsteps in Southampton in December almost exactly mirrored those of January. This is a shame really – it is always nicer to experience new sights on these away days. I’m not particularly taken with Southampton though; it must have some, as yet hidden, charms.

As with 362 days previously, we based ourselves in the heaving “Yates” pub in the centre of the city. Unfortunately, the service was dreadful, but we were eventually served. In a little corner, again eerily similar to last season, there was a small conclave of Chelsea supporters from the Somerset / Wiltshire border.

The dirty dozen.

Mike, from further afield – Brooklyn, New York – arrived via a tortuous train journey from Kent and it was great to see him once again. Not only were we drinking in the same locale as in January, but the same music was playing too. At around 1.15pm, we needed to set off for the ground. Parky and PD were without tickets at this point, and I needed to collect them, on their behalf, at the stadium. Via a brisk walk, we soon reached St. Mary’s.

While I waited for the tickets, I had time to spot a huge sign on the stand wall which typifies how clubs try to engage supporters these days using words to stir the emotions and help create a bond between team, club and supporters.

“We are the Saints. It’s not just a name. It’s who we are. We will be in that number. We march on.”

I spotted something similar at Everton in August.

Signs, posters, hoardings, pennants.

There is none of this hyperbole on show at Stamford Bridge, although there was a short-lived ‘’We Are Chelsea’’ tag line a few seasons ago. Maybe we don’t have to try too hard to engender a sense of belonging – but at least it adds colour to an otherwise dull stadium façade. In the modern era – or post-modern, I’ve lost count – I find it increasingly popular for clubs to use their stadia as a canvas, sometimes on a huge scale, for such shows of belonging. We had the pre-game light show versus Tottenham a while back. It was pretty impressive; although I am not sure it needs to be repeated too often. I have a feeling that it could easily grow tedious. Maybe save it for the big games.

The most ingenious use of stadia that I have seen recently was from the pre-game show at a Montreal Canadiens ice-hockey match, when video images of team players were superimposed on the ice itself. Maybe Chelsea can superimpose iconic images on the hotel wall before night games; Graham Wilkins scoring an own goal, Chris Sutton slicing over from five yards or Darren Wood getting stranded in midfield. Maybe with the God-awful “Proper Chels” tagline.

After a slight delay at the turnstiles, we were in. The concourse under the stands at Southampton always seems to be particularly dark and gloomy. The difference between the inside and outside could not have been more spectacular. As I steadily climbed the small array of steps into the seating area, the brilliant blue sky – no clouds at all – and the low sun meant that the light was searing in its intensity. Even with sunglasses on, the light was blinding.

I soon located Alan and Gary. The game began with me still trying to work out who was playing and where. There were several changes since Boxing Day.

So –

Thibaut – Brana, JT, Gary, Filipe – Mikel and Matic – Cesc, Eden, Schurrle – Diego Costa.

The Chelsea choir were in good voice from the start. The pubs and bars in the city had obviously made a killing from hundreds of away fans. But that damned sun. Myself, and hundreds of others, ended up shielding our eyes from the sun with our hands. I mused that not so many years ago, away terraces at Chelsea games often used to house hundreds of fans raising their right arms, but with far more nefarious a reason.

It was odd for Chelsea to be attacking us in the first-half, but I am sure that the sun was a major factor. JT obviously thought that it was more advantageous for Frazer Forster to be facing it than our Thibaut. We began lively enough, but Southampton more than matched us. They threatened our goal but shots were saved and blocked.

The sun made viewing – and concentration – difficult. I didn’t enjoy it at all. I even missed the Southampton goal on seventeen minutes. I was too busy looking at the two managers, Mourinho and Koeman, observing the play like spectators at a tennis match, their heads moving as if synchronised; left, right, left, right. I looked up just as Mane slipped past JT to plant the ball past Courtois.

This was not expected; despite the home team’s fine form thus far this campaign. The home fans momentarily roared but then returned to a rather docile state. I looked over at a section of home fans adjacent to our segment; they looked neither happy nor even contented. I felt a tinge of pain – for want of a better word. It felt like they were making light of who we were.

“You bastards should be rocking the place. You’re beating the flippin’ league leaders here. We’re bloody Chelsea, not QPR. Make some noise you buggers.”

Their indifference annoyed me.

There was the occasional “Oh When The Saints”, but St. Mary’s was mainly quiet. Over on the far side, there was a “We March On” hoarding at the back of the stand, but St. Mary’s is quite a bland stadium, especially compared to the cramped yet wonderful and idiosyncratic Dell.

I will be honest. I thought we were pretty poor in the first-half. Yes, Southampton pressed us, but our verve and drive was sorely missing. With the sun still annoying the crap out of me, this was a game that I was simply not enjoying. The minutes passed. I was ready for a spirited Jose team talk at the break to inspire us in the second period.

Then, a miracle. A magnificent ball from Fabregas found Hazard. He soon brought the ball under control and quickly advanced. With amazing speed, he ran at two Southampton defenders, glided past both and shot – snap! – into the goal.


Phew. Wild euphoria in the away section.

The whistle for half-time quickly blew.

The general agreement was that we had not deserved the equaliser. Saints had been the more impressive team.

Gary commented :

“Just like his goal at Hull last season.”

Down in the toilets at half-time, some Chelsea supporters celebrated Eden’s sublime goal by sparking up. To say that the air was thick with cigarette smoke would be an understatement. One bare-chested supporter began singing –

“Is there a barbecue?”

I think can still taste the bitterness of the smoke now.

As the teams assembled for the second-half, it surprised nobody that Andre Schurrle was the sacrificial lamb to allow Willian to join the action. Schurrle had not impressed in the first period and was the target of a little frustration from the fans around me. I spoke to Alan :

“Always difficult to come in to a starting eleven when you haven’t been playing regularly…”

Willian soon impressed with his – here I go again, I wish I could illustrate his play with words other than these – urgency and energy. Two shots were blocked. Then a Chelsea player fell in the box, but no penalty was given by the referee. Although the sun had now dropped below the level of the stand roof to my right and I could now watch in comfort, the challenge was simply too far away for me to judge. Fabregas – it was him – was booked for diving.

Chelsea had begun the second forty-five with much more aggression and intent. The away fans kept up a constant barrage of noise and we hoped for a goal to raise our spirits further. The home fans relied on an odd, new, chant of –

“Red and white” – clap, clap, “red and white” – clap, clap, “red and white” – clap, clap.

We now dominated the game and the Southampton defence needed to continually readjust as we came at them time after time. Hazard went close, then Diego Costa. At times our ball retention was a joy to watch, but it also became a little frustrating. We were overplaying at times. There was an annoying reluctance to shoot. We lost count of the number of times that intricate passes on the left ended up with a long ball out to Ivanovic on the right.

“Shoot for fuck sake.”

Extra artillery came in the form of Didier Drogba, who replaced Mikel, who had enjoyed a fine game. Our fabled striker soon linked up well with Diego Costa. Chances were rare, though. Neither ‘keeper were too busy. Courtois was more involved at Stoke.

Schneiderlin was booked – his second of the game – for a crude challenge on Hazard, and received his marching orders but there were only a few minutes left. Loic Remy replaced Diego Costa. A few late Chelsea chances peppered the home goal, but I was never convinced that a goal was forthcoming. This was a well-marshalled Southampton team and they had denied us our usual high number of efforts on goal. At the final whistle, it felt like a loss. There were groans on the way out from the assembled Chelsea masses – Manchester City were already two up at home to Burnley – and the game at Tottenham suddenly became even more important than before.

However, it had been a fair result. We had been poor in the first-half and despite our lengthy spells of possession, never looked like winning it.

The three of us met up outside and began the long slog back to the car. The temperature had dropped further and it was a tough walk back. I was in two minds whether or not to turn “Five Live” on, but I am a creature of habit. There was a tirade from Jose about a vendetta against Chelsea and our manager seemed supremely annoyed. Manchester City, possibly our only real threat for the title – though United are getting worryingly close – then imploded. And how.

Two Burnley goals in Manchester caused the three of us to bellow as my car headed towards the waiting M27.


Football, eh?

On a day which marked the halfway stage in the campaign, it was left for our opponents in our very first game to take two massive points away from Manchester City. What an amazing and unexpected end to the first-half of the season.

We are 14-4-1 and on Thursday we go again.