Chelsea vs. Nottingham Forest : 13 May 2023.
…this one is going to resemble a mazy Pat Nevin dribble, drifting from place to place, hopefully entertaining, and with a few dummies thrown in for good measure.
In the build up to our home game with Nottingham Forest, I had read that there would be a couple of banners appearing before kick-off in The Shed and the Matthew Harding to celebrate the impact that Thiago Silva has had during his relatively short period of time at Stamford Bridge. And quite right too.
Everybody loves Thiago Silva.
The man is a defensive colossus. He is calmness personified. He oozes class. In a season that has stumbled along with many a setback along the way he has stood out like a beacon of professionalism. How I wish that all of our players showed the same skill set and the same work ethic as Thiago Silva. Ah, I had best add N’Golo Kante here.
We need a banner for him too.
On the evening before the game, by chance, I caught a comment by an acquaintance on Facebook that Thiago Silva was looking to return to Brazil, to his childhood team Fluminense – for whom he played seventy-odd games – after he eventually leaves Chelsea. I loved this idea, of legends returning home, and of course I immediately thought of Gianfranco Zola returning to Cagliari for a couple of seasons after leaving us. I just hoped that we could tease another season or two out of our veteran Brazilian.
I then checked on Thiago Silva’s playing career and I was reminded that he had played for Milan, after his spell with Fluminense, from 2009 to 2012. And that made me think. I was lucky enough to see Chelsea play Milan in Baltimore in the summer of 2009, just ahead of our wonderful double-winning campaign under Carlo Ancelotti. I did a little research and soon realised that Thiago Silva had indeed played in that game. My heart skipped a little. I then checked a few photographs, as is my wont, and I spotted an image that made me smile. In the first-half of the game, which Chelsea would win 2-1, I had taken a photo, focussed on Frank Lampard, that also featured a veritable “Who’s Who” of top-ranking footballers from that era.
Ronaldinho, Didier Drogba, Alessandro Nesta, Jon Obi Mikel, our man Frank, Andrea Pirlo and – there he was – Thiago Silva.
So, here indeed was proof that this was the very first time that I had seen Thiago Silva play. It’s very likely that this was the first time that Frank had seen Thiago Silva play too, though his view was certainly different than mine.
Almost fourteen years later, the two of them are at the same club, although of course it was Frank who signed the cherished Brazilian during our interim manager’s first spell at the helm at the start of the COVID-ravaged season of 2020/21.
I then decided to flick through a few photos from that very enjoyable stay in Baltimore. I took plenty of the game of course – probably the highest quality match of the seventeen that I have seen us play in the US – but just as many of our fellow supporters too. One photo again made me smile. It featured my good friend Burger on the right of a group of random, blue-jerseyed, American fans who must have been drinking with us, or near to us, at the time. But I immediately spotted two other people that I recognised; Kristin and Andrew from Columbus in Ohio. I had not noticed their faces in this particular photo before. As luck would have it, those very same two people – friends of mine for a few years now – were going to meet us in the pub on the Saturday morning before the game with Forest.
As I continually say, Chelsea World is a very small world indeed.
We were all up in London at the usual time. I was parked up at around 10am. With PD still convalescing at home, his seat in my car and his seat in the stadium was taken by Glenn, my match-going friend from Frome since as long ago as 1983.
1983. You know where this is going, right?
The next match to feature in my look back at the 1982/83 season is the iconic and famous encounter against fellow strugglers Bolton Wanderers at their Burnden Park ground on Saturday 7 May 1983. In the years that have passed since this game was played, many of our supporters have bestowed upon it the title of “the most important match in Chelsea’s history” and it is easy to see why. Going in to the game we were fourth from bottom, one point below our opponents. Chelsea had been financially at risk for many a season, and the thought of dropping into the Third Division was not only depressing enough from a supporters’ perspective – the pain, the ridicule, the struggle to recover – it would also cause an extreme strain on the immediate future of the club with reduced revenues hitting hard, despite the tightening of strings inaugurated by Ken Bates over the previous twelve months.
Although my mind was full of worry about my upcoming “A Levels” in Geography, Mathematics and Technical Drawing, this was nothing compared to my concern for my beloved Chelsea Football Club.
My diary on the day tells that when I heard on the radio of Clive Walker’s low drive in the second-half giving us a 1-0 lead, I was not too elated because all of the other protagonists at the basement were also winning. However, after all the results came through, I was overjoyed. We had risen unbelievably, to fourteenth place.
I called it “quite a wonderful day.”
With emphasis on “won” no doubt.
How many Chelsea went to the game? The gate at Bolton was 8,687. The general consensus was that we took thousands. In the following week’s home programme, Ken Bates praised the “almost three-thousand” who were there. I have to say that a photograph of the away section of the ground on that rainy day in Bolton, with Chelsea playing in the all lemon kit despite no obvious colour clash, suggests that only around 1,500 were standing in a small section of terrace. However, at the time it was always a predilection for London clubs, especially, to invade the home seats at away games, so I am in no position to suggest that we did indeed not have around 3,000 up there. I know that some Chelsea were in the seats at the other end of the ground. There is another photo of the scenes at the final whistle and a good number of Chelsea fans are seen celebrating in the upper tier above a deserted home terrace along the side of the ground. The number in this section does in fact look like 1,500. So, around 1,500 on the terrace and around 1,500 in the seats. Let’s go with 3,000.
I always remember that on my first ever trip to Bolton’s new Reebok Stadium in 2004, I picked my long-time Chelsea mate Alan up en route and he told me a few stories about the game at Burnden Park in 1983. He, it goes without saying, was one of the three-thousand. I always remember how he told the story of how Breda Lee, loved by so many, was bedecked with good luck charms as she made her way up to Bolton on the Chelsea Special. Breda had lost her son Gary after a horrific incident at Preston in 1981, and would always travel on the Chelsea Special with John Bumstead’s mother Mary, and was seen by many Chelsea fans as their “Chelsea Mother.” On this day, Alan said that she was wearing a lucky four-leafed clover trinket, a lucky horseshoe, a sprig of lucky heather and was clutching a rabbit’s foot too.
It all worked.
The victorious Chelsea team that day was as follows –
- Steve Francis.
- Joey Jones.
- Chris Hutchings.
- Gary Chivers.
- Micky Droy.
- Colin Pates.
- Mike Fillery.
- John Bumstead.
- Colin Lee.
- Paul Canoville.
- Clive Walker.
The non-playing substitute – hard to believe in this day and age – was Peter Rhoades-Brown. I love it that four players from this line-up (Chivers, Pates, Bumstead, Canoville) still take part in the match-day experience at Stamford Bridge forty years later as corporate hospitality hosts.
I salute them all. And I salute the 3,000 too.
Forty years on, the day was starting to take shape. I dropped Glenn and Parky off outside “The Eight Bells” and then met up with Ollie at Stamford Bridge once more, this time with his cousin Julien, both from Normandy. I often write about the gathering of the clans on match days and this was no exception. By the time I reached the pub at 11.30am, a gaggle of friends – old and new – were well into a session. Sitting alongside Glenn, Parky, Ollie and Julien were Kristin and Andrew, fresh from a few days in Edinburgh, and with some fellow Ohio Blues, Steve and Jake who I met on their visit in 2019, plus Jeromy and Neil, who were attending their first game at Stamford Bridge. We all got along famously. It was also superb to meet up again with Jesus, from California, who we last saw at Watford last season, and who was another chap that Parky took under our wing while he was living in London many years ago. Completing the scene was Russ, originally from Frome, who now lives in Reading and was attending his first home game for quite a while.
Everyone together, everyone happy.
Up on the platform at Putney Bridge tube, a few Forest fans were engaging in some light-hearted chat. The well-rounded vowels of their East Midlands accents made a change on match day in SW6.
“Bit of a free hit for us, this game, not expecting much but you never know.”
To be honest, we hadn’t thought too much about the actual match – probably with good reason – and Glenn admitted that he wasn’t expecting much from the game either. In our current predicament, the day was all about seeing friends and enjoying each other’s company.
Elsewhere in London, over twenty thousand Notts County fans were in town for the National League Play-Off Final against Chesterfield. One of them, Craig, a friend from college in Stoke, sent me a message to say he hoped that we were victorious against Forest. He hates Forest, does Craig.
I said to the Forest supporter “the only person worried the outcome of this game is a Notts County fan.”
This of course wasn’t strictly true, but it raised a laugh at least.
The front cover of the programme marked the exact twenty-fifth anniversary of our European Cup Winners’ Cup triumph in Stockholm against VfB Stuttgart.
A few personal memories…
A group of us went with the club to Stockholm, flying out from Gatwick on the day before the game, and flying back right after. It seems really expensive now, and it was then; £450 not including a match ticket. With inflation, that equates to just over £1,000 in today’s money. I drove up from Frome with Glenn and met up with Daryl, Andy, Mick, The Youth, Neil and Tony, three of whom still go to all the home games and many away games to this day. I always remember that on the coach in to the city from the airport, it became apparent that Chelsea had managed to split the hotels of a father and his teenage son. Tremendous. Thankfully, that faux pas was soon resolved.
We all stayed in a hotel a mile or so to the north of the city centre and that first night was as pleasurable as it gets. We went off for an Italian meal in a restaurant called “Pele” which was named after the Brazilian star’s 1958 World Cup debut in the city. We drank Spendrups lager and ate Italian as couples danced to the tango. It was a very surreal visit. Later, we found ourselves in a bar owned by the former Arsenal and Everton players Anders Limpar – the bar had the worst name ever, “The Limp Bar” – and he was serving that night. I remember a “sing-off” between Chelsea fans and an all-girl German choir. Another surreal moment.
On the day of the game, we bought some cans and soaked up the sun in a central park – I remember seeing Ruth Harding nearby – and then made our way to a crowded bar where Johnny Vaughan was spotted.
Then, back to the hotel and a nervous wait for the coach to the game. Once aboard, The Youth lead the community singing. Outside the Rasunda Stadium in Solna there were Chelsea everywhere. The gate for this game was 30,216 and we greatly outnumbered the Stuttgart fans. We must have had 25,000 there and I think everyone who travelled to Sweden got in. With road travel from the UK being highly expensive and time consuming, virtually everyone went by plane. At the time, it was the biggest single airlift out of the UK since World War Two.
Growing up as a Chelsea supporter, the twin cup triumphs of 1970 and 1971 were etched on our soul and in our psyche. For a while, the two stars on our chests celebrated those two wins. And here we were, twenty-six years on from Athens, with a chance to equal that celebrated feat.
This was a magnificent time to be a Chelsea supporter; some might argue the best of all. Glenn Hoddle had raised the profile of the club by reaching Europe in 1994, and then the signings came…Ruud Gullit, Mark Hughes, Gianluca Vialli, Gianfranco Zola. We were truly blessed. The 1997 FA Cup win under Gullit was followed by the League Cup under Vialli in 1998.
We all travelled to Sweden in May 1998 with a sense of being very capable of repeating that win in Athens.
Stuttgart were managed by Joachim Low and their star man was the striker Freddie Bobic. Their ‘keeper was Franz Wohlfahrt who had been on the receiving end of Spenny’s run in Vienna in 1994. The former German international Thomas Berthold played for them too.
Clarke – Leboeuf – Duberry – Granville
Petrescu – Poyet – Wise – Di Matteo
Flo – Vialli
Shades of Ryan Bertrand in Munich; Danny Granville at left-back. Vialli played Mark Hughes in the League Cup Final but he wasn’t missing out on this one.
At the game, I wore a Chelsea 1970 replica shirt and the scarf that my mother bought me after my first game in 1974.
In truth, the game wasn’t a classic, but the Chelsea fans were at our best that night in Sweden. The game hinged on a substitution. On seventy-one minutes, Gianfranco Zola replaced Tore Andre Flo. Within twenty-five seconds, Dennis Wise floated a ball through and the ball held up. Zola caught it sweetly on the half-volley and it rose all the way into the goal at our end. I was almost behind the flight of the ball.
Absolute fucking delirium.
I caught Glenn and Andy right after our goal.
In the last five minutes, Dan Petrescu was sent off but we were in control, the Germans were a spent force.
“Dambusters” rang out in Solna.
What a night. What a team. What a club.
Athens 1971. Stockholm 1998.
We had done it.
The euphoria was real. I have rarely been as happy at a Chelsea game. And yet most who were in Stockholm probably thought that it would not get any better than this. We were a cup team, no more, and the equalling of the 1970 and 1971 wins were seen as our “glass ceiling”. We knew we would never win the league…
We walked out into the Solna streets so happy. Famously, a local girl flashed her assets from a balcony as thousands of Chelsea fans walked past. We eventually found our coach.
Back at the airport, it was mayhem. There was coach after coach after coach in a massive line. In the terminal, we saw Ron Harris and Peter Osgood. Johnny Vaughan commented “it’s like the last chopper out of Saigon.”
The call went out that anyone on a Monarch flight should make their way to the departure gate. We sprinted. It was a matter of getting bodies on flights. We were lucky; we left at around 3am, on the same flight as actor Clive Mantle who I had photographed earlier outside the stadium.
Stockholm 1998 was one of the very best nights.
I’d rank the European wins that I have seen like this :
Incidentally, the club’s photographs from that night were taken by Mark Sandom, who sits a few rows in front of me, and I sent away for a set when I returned home. I still need to frame one or two enlargements from that game and find space for one of them in my Blue Room.
…Solna 1998 gave way to Fulham 2023.
Unfortunately, Alan was unable to make it to this game, so I sat with Clive and Glenn in The Sleepy Hollow. There were more than a few mutterings of discontent at Frank Lampard’s starting eleven, but there was pleasure in seeing Lewis Hall at left back. In came Edouard Mendy between the sticks while Mateo Kovacic, Raheem Sterling and Joao Felix started too.
Chalobah – Silva – Badiashile – Hall
Gallagher – Enzo – Kovacic
Madueke – Felix – Sterling
The two Thiago Silva flags appeared at both ends of the stadium just before the teams entered the pitch. The one in The Shed was particularly striking. I loved it. I also loved the words of the match day announcer as he ran through the team.
“Number six, your captain, Thiago Silva.”
Despite our struggles this season, there appeared to be a near full-house at Stamford Bridge. The three-thousand Forest fans were already singing about “mist rolling in from the Trent” and their players looked smart in their plain red / white / red, a combination – the simplest of all kits – that rarely gets seen at Stamford Bridge these days.
While we huffed and puffed in the opening section of the game, The Sleepy Hollow claimed a victim, with Glenn quietly nodding off after some alcoholic fumes rolled in from the Thames. After an unlucky thirteen minutes had passed, a Forest cross from their left from Renan Lodi was bravely met by the leap of Taiwo Awoniyi, impressive in the away game on New Year’s Day, and the combined forces of Mendy, Badiashile and Silva were found lacking. The away team, in their first real attack, had struck.
The Forest fans erupted, the scorer did his best “Christ The Redeemer” and Forest players swarmed around him down below me.
I sent a photo of a dormant Glenn to Alan with the caption “one down.”
Our reaction was hardly immediate, and our attacks lacked precision and incision. Noni Madueke, looking so good at Bournemouth, tended to frustrate both himself and us. On one occasion, his turn was sweet but he then fell over himself. It summed up his luck. There was a shot on seventeen minutes, our first, saved, from Sterling and an effort from Hall was then blocked. Our best effort took a whole thirty minutes to arrive; a Hall cross, a Felix header, but too close to Keylor Navas in the Forest goal.
This was a really poor first-half.
Clive helped to alleviate the pain by buying us a hot chocolate apiece.
Just before the whistle, Mateo Kovacic – who has dipped in form quite shockingly of late – was replaced by Ruben Loftus-Cheek, the perennial squad player.
I was surprised that there were so few boos at the break.
Soon into the second-half, Glenn resurfaced and Russ came over to sit by us for the duration of the game. The Sleepy Hollow had undergone a significant reshuffle. We were now back to a four. Clive, who had been near suicidal during the first-half needed cheering up.
“We’ll win this 2-1 mate.”
He smiled. Or was it a grimace?
Forest, though, began the brighter and almost doubled their lead through Moussa Niakhate but his volley was blasted wide.
On fifty-one minutes, there was a nice interchange between Madueke and Trevoh Chalobah down our right and the ball was pulled back from the goal-line by Chalobah into the feet of Sterling, whose goal bound effort took a deflection before hitting the net.
The crowd roared as Sterling briefly celebrated.
Immediately after, Forest retaliated with a tantalisingly deep cross that just evaded the nod of a red-shirted attacker.
The crowd rallied.
“CAM ON CHOWLSEA. CAM ON CHOWLSEA. CAM ON CHOWLSEA. CAM ON CHOWLSEA.”
We were playing much better now. A few half-chances, and then on fifty-eight minutes, a strong run from Loftus-Cheek in the centre was followed by a prod of the ball to Sterling, who cut inside and left his marker Joe Worrall on his arse before perfectly curling an effort into the top far corner of the goal.
GET IN YOU BASTARD.
His celebration, this time, was far more euphoric, and so was ours.
Clive was full of praise : “you called it.”
But this was Chelsea 2023, not Chelsea 2009 – that photo from Baltimore succinctly illustrates the cyclical nature of our sport’s teams – and just four minutes later, a ball was pushed into the six-yard box by Orel Mangala and I immediately feared danger. The ball was headed home by that man Awoniyi, with another unmarked team mate alongside him to give him moral support and guidance, with Mendy was beaten all ends up. A VAR review couldn’t save us.
Double European Champions Chelsea 2 Double European Champions Forest 2.
On seventy-three minutes, Kai Havertz replaced Felix and Hakim Ziyech replaced Madueke.
Clive threatened to leave.
I tried to give him hope.
“Sterling hat-trick mate.”
He definitely grimaced this time. But so did I.
Every time that Ziyech got the ball, either in the middle of a wriggling, shuffling dribble, or at a free-kick, I genuinely expected him to provide some magic. To be fair, his brief outing was not without merit but we could not, quite, claim the winner.
It ended 2-2.
The away fans celebrated loudly inside Stamford Bridge and out on the Fulham Road. This was a big point for them in their dogged fight to avoid an immediate relegation back to the Second Division, er The Championship.
The day seemed to be all about Nottingham. On the drive home, we were to learn that Craig’s Notts County dramatically edged out Chesterfield at Wembley, so well done to them. Forty years ago, Notts finished in a respectable fifteenth place in the First Division.
Talk about cycles.
Next up is the toughest away game of them all. I am fearing our trip to Manchester City next Sunday.
Anyone dare to join me?