Tales From The Last Chelsea Weekend Of Season 2009-2010

Chelsea vs. Portsmouth : 15 May 2010.

When I was growing up back in the ‘seventies, the only three teams to win The Double were Preston North End, Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal. I always used to think that the chances of any team replicating these feats were pretty remote. Back in those days, the FA Cup was won by a wider selection of teams than the current era of The Big Four. It was with some amazement when I looked on as Liverpool won the double in 1986 ( and winning the league at The Bridge in the last game of the season to boot. )

Since then, it’s all got a bit crazy.

Manchester United won their first double in 1994 ( and beat us in the FA Cup Final ). Arsenal again won it in 1998 and United won their momentous treble in 1999. Arsenal then repeated winning both League and Cup in 2002 ( and guess who they beat in the Final? ). With all of the power in English football now being narrowed to three or four financially potent clubs year on year, I can only see Doubles becoming more commonplace.

Time, then, for Chelsea Football Club to make our mark.

Throughout the week – what a week, one of the best ever – with my mind full of the thought of being Champions once more, I was buzzing with excitement not only for the FA Cup, but for thoughts of The Double.

The Double.

Just the sound of it makes me go all light-headed.

We had the day planned perfectly – the tickets, the pubs, the logistics, the accommodation, the timings – and when I left work on Friday, the whole weekend lay ahead…a tantalising thought.

FA Cup Final Day 2010 began for me with my ‘phone alarm sounding at 6am. After a few minutes of deliberation, I decided to keep the lucky Henri Lloyd polo theme going – navy blue, this weekend. I left at bang on 7am and I soon received a text from His Lordship.

“Buzzin mate. Are we there yet?”

The last five seconds of a Depeche Mode song came to an end on the CD player and then the familiar synthesised opening sequence of their version of “Route 66” started. The route from my home to Wembley Stadium is becoming my own version of The Mother Road these days. The UK version though – west to east – not the US one, headed west from Chicago to LA, more than three thousand miles all the way.

In three years, this would be Chelsea’s eighth visit to the sparkling and shiny new Wembley.

We live in interesting times, alright.

The weather wasn’t sure. It couldn’t make up its mind. I collected Parky from his house – three Chelsea flags on posts on the front lawn – and flew a similar flag from my rear window.

We were on our way.

The weather brightened but then soon clouded over. Parky opened up a can of Fosters at 8.30am and he toasted our club as we headed past the Madejski at Reading. The mood in the car was super-confident and we were both buzzing. Just a wonderful feeling of anticipation pervaded our conversation. We were parked-up at Chesson Road, just of the North End Road, at 9.30am and soon met up with two visitors from six thousand miles away. Bob Clark and Andy Wray were in town, visitors from The Golden State, and we met up at Bob’s hotel. We then caught a red London bus up to Marble Arch – a lovely route past Harrods and Hyde Park Corner – and we reached The Tyburn at about 10.30am. The sun was out and the vibes were perfect.

Several members of The Bing – Daryl, Ed, Rob, Neil and Alan – had just arrived and we greeted each other and ordered breakfasts and pints. There were a couple of Pompey fans in the pub and I wished them the best of luck.

“I think we’ll need it” said one.

We then sauntered up to The Duke Of York and stayed there from 11.30am to 1pm. The place was busier than previous years and again we spotted a few Pompey fans. Two ladies of a certain age were ridiculously attired in bizarre headwear ( one had an Appache head dress on ) and they both had the Full Monty of Pompey shirts and scarves. It’s all well and good supporting your team in the club colours, but there’s no need to look like Christmas trees. We looked on aghast. A few more troops arrived – Mike and Steve, then Alex, from the New York Chapter.

Lacoste Watch

Parky – lemon
Bob – navy blue
Millsy – white
Daryl – royal blue

Deano was inside the boozer and he had a spare. I made a few phone calls but couldn’t shift it. I’m not sure if it was used or not. I was going easy on the beer intake and didn’t fancy missing the pre-match this year. Andy left us and made his way to The Green Man at Wembley. At about 1pm, we agreed to make a move and we walked the half-mile to Baker Street tube.

We passed quite a few pubs and each one had an assortment of Chelsea fans spilling out onto the pavements. And there, opposite the tube at Baker Street, was the daddy of them all… The Globe. There were about 300 Chelsea out on the pavement, ringed by police, celery flying. We spent our pre-match in 1997 at The Globe, but it gets too manic for our liking. The tourists on the double-decker busses were looking on and I wondered what was going through their minds.

We caught the tube up to Wembley Park, the tube station which sits at the northern end of “Wembley Way” ( or rather Olympic Way to give it the correct title. ) I thought back to my first ever visit. I am not sure of the exact timings, but I am pretty confident that in around 1972 or 1973 ( before my first game at The Bridge in fact ), I managed to talk my father into visiting Wembley Stadium after we had paid a visit to an uncle in Southall. In those days, Olympic Way wasn’t pedestrianised and so my father, in his Vauxhall Viva, parked up outside one of the many warehouses and exhibition halls and we walked up to the grand old stadium, site of so many incredible football games from its debut in 1923. I remember scampering around, walking up to the base of the Twin Towers, like it was yesterday. The abiding memory is of the dirty cream colour of the towers and the battle-ship grey of the stadium walls. It was certainly in need of a lick of paint, but it looked wonderful. It had presence, even to a seven year old.

We – SF Bob, NY Mike, NY Steve, NY Alex and myself – slowly walked towards the stadium, the arch dominating the skyline. The arch is obviously much higher, but nothing can beat the Wembley towers for visual impact in my mind. All that history, all those memories from 1923, 1953, 1970, 1997 and more. The White Horse Final, Sir Stanley Matthews, Ian Porterfield, Bobby Stokes, Alan Sunderland, Ricky Villa, the Scousers scaling the walls in 1986, Robbie Di Matteo…

Outside the imposing Bobby Moore statue, which overlooks the whole area, I briefly met my Pompey mate Rick and his excited eight year old son Matthew. From the darkness of our sixth form days when our teams were in Divisions Two and Three to an FA Cup Final together. What a wonderful moment as we smiled and shook each others hands.

Then, inside the stadium and the walk up to the top level…I was saddened to see that none of the escalators were working. I was wondering if the Tory governmental cuts were already having an effect. We had seats right behind the west scoreboard, as central as it is possible to get. I was inside at just after 2pm. I scrambled down to the front of the upper tier and painstakingly tied “VINCI PER NOI” to the balcony. I didn’t think either team had many flags and banners and I wondered why none of the large Chelsea banners which are ever-present at The Bridge had made it to North London. Looking back, my banner may well have been the longest Chelsea banner present. It was it’s first appearance at Wembley, actually. I hoped Carlo might spot it. At the other end, more Pompry fans were inside early and I noted a couple of their flags –

“Against All Odds.”

“You Can’t Break Our Spirit”

“PFC 6.57”

The sun was shining now, but the place was quite subdued. There was none of the manic noise of 1997. I looked around and thought about how football has changed in my lifetime. When I was growing up, it was all about the atmosphere and the songs, the sense of belonging, the sense of making our own noise. In 2010, each fan was given a flag to wave, but the atmosphere seemed contrived. My mate Alan said as much to me as we chatted, waiting for our other mates to arrive. It’s a familiar irritant – the football may be better, but not the singing. Maybe we’re getting complacent. I don’t think the vastness of the new stadium at Wembley helps.

Unlike last year against Everton, when we arrived late and missed all of the pre-match – I swore never to be so disrespectful to the FA Cup Final ever again – I was able to sit back and take it all in. My match day companions Alan and Tom were in too. At about 2.45pm, the marching band appeared and a young female singer beautifully sang the Cup Final hymn.

“Abide with me, fast falls the eventide.
The darkness deepens, Lord with me abide.
When other helpers fail and comforts flee.
Help of the helpless, O abide with me.

Hold now your cross before my closing eyes.
Shine through the gloom and point me to the skies.
Heaven’s morning breaks and Earth’s vain shadows flee.
In Life. In death. Oh Lord – abide with me.”

I love this hymn and my bottom lip is usually quivering during the singing of this. However, in 2010, it seemed nobody else shared my sense of occasion and hardly anyone was joining in. This is again different to Cup Finals past. I remember bellowing it out in Cardiff in 2002. Oh well. Thankfully, once the teams entered the field and were presented to Prince William, lots joined in with “God Save the Queen.”

The Chelsea team provided no surprises for us. The new kit looked fine, at least from a hundred yards away. The pitch looked awful. All of my mates were alongside me now. We hoped for no repeat of Louis Saha. At kick-off, I noted many empty seats and some remained unused all game. The attendance was around 1,000 below capacity.

What a crazy first-half.

Chelsea enjoyed so much of the ball and constantly tried to move the ball into the danger areas. Our attacks were frequent and our chances came regularly. The Chelsea fans were in reasonably good voice but were not able to sing together as one unit. Portsmouth were not as loud as I had expected, despite their more rigorous flag-waving. Shots reigned in on the Portsmouth goal – and I almost lost count. A Frank shot flashed wide, then he saw a shot graze the angle of bar and post and Didier Drogba had two attempts blocked by James. On a rare break up field, a Portsmouth shot was diverted and Petr Cexch pulled off one of the saves of the season. Stupendous stuff from Big Pete.

Our support was heavily reliant on the “Campeones” chat and at times we were in good voice.

Ashley Cole had a great run deep into the Pompey box and he set up Salamon Kalou who was waiting in the area, just outside the six yard box and the whole goal at his mercy. We got ready to celebrate. He shot, but it hit the bar and the groan was heard all over the South-East. Soon after, JT hit the bar with a brilliant header. On 38 minutes, Didier hit a swerving shot which David James clawed the ball onto the bar, but the ball bounced tantalisingly close to the goal line. I envisaged the TV crews going into meltdown to see if the ball crossed the line. Texts were adamant that it was a goal, though later in the day, texts had the opposite view. Soon after, Didier hit the post again. This was just ridiculous.

Chelsea 5 Portsmouth 0 – if only!

It seemed that lots of spectators were late in getting back to their seats for the start of the second half, the corporate areas especially.

The first period of the second-half was rather worrying. Our domination had subsided and Pompey were enjoying a marked improvement in fortunes. Our end was quiet.

Michael Ballack was injured and was replaced by Juliano Belletti. It seemed that he had only been on the pitch for a few seconds when he had lost his man. My mate Alan sensed the danger and shouted –

“Don’t dive in! Don’t dive in!”

Belletti made an awful challenge and referee Chris Foy had no choice but to point towards the spot.

I decided not to take a photo of the penalty which followed – some kind of superstition I think. Thank heavens Peter Cech kicked the ball away with his trailing leg as he dived to he left. Seeing the ball bounce away is an image that will live long in my memory. That got us bouncing and the Chelsea end began roaring the team on.

“And it’s super Chelsea – Super Chelsea FC.”

Soon after Cech’s fantastic save, a free-kick was awarded and we waited for Drogba.

How he loves Wembley.

I steadied my aim and held the camera, zoom lens to the max.

As he shot, I snapped. We all saw the ball drift in to the goal off the far post and we erupted in a wild roar. Alan and myself grabbed each other and bounced.

“They’ll have to come at us now – Come on my little diamonds.”

For a moment, I felt dizzy, with blood rushing through my body – what a buzz.

Our end was did a bouncy and reminded everyone who was champions.

Soon after, Kalou shot wide and it hadn’t been his best of days. He was substituted by Joe Cole. Didier was put through, one on one, but James made another great save. The ball rebounded back to Joe Cole but his shot was subsequently blocked. We peppered the Pompey goal, but we had a scare of our own when a rare Portsmouth attack ended up with the ball being struck low across the six yard box. Thankfully no attackers were near.

A new Chelsea song –

“We’re Making History.”

Late on, we moved forward again and Joe Cole took the left back wide with a great run off the ball. Frank Lampard was able to exploit the space left and he drove into the box. Frank was fouled and we held our breath again. This time I was a little more willing to capture everything on film.

I snapped just before Frank scuffed the penalty wide. It was typical of Frank’s game as he had not enjoyed the best of performances really.

I thought Alex had been magnificent, covering space so well. Big Pete with two fantastic saves. John Terry solid at the back. The inevitable Drogba Wembley goal.

Towards the end, a few hundred fans in the top tier began clapping and urged everyone not to worry.

At the final whistle, I was quite dazed.

We then stood back and tried to take it all in. It was the same feeling as 2009. Just lovely to see everyone so happy.

The Portsmouth fans – and Uncle Avram – were warmly applauded. They received their medals.

We then waited for our heroes in blue. John Terry seemed to want to share centre-stage with the rest of the team and there was quite a wait until everyone was in position. For the sixth time in our ever-growing history, the Football Association Challenge Cup was tied with blue and white ribbons and for the sixth time, a Chelsea captain raised it high.

Snap. Snap. Snap.

The air was filled with silver and blue streamers and – almost immediately, perfectly – “Blue Is The Colour” filled the North London air. This lovely song immediately transports me back to my youth – maybe to around 1972, when houghts of The Double would have been just silly. We all joined in, singing every word, loving the shared experience.

“Cus Chelsea – Chelsea Is Our Name.”

Then, the Black Eyed Peas –

“I’ve Got A Feeling – Tonight’s Gonna Be A Good Night.”

You bet.

Next up – “One Step Beyond” and the stands were vibrating as 25,000 Chelsea fans bounced.

We made our way back to the Duke Of York and had a lovely relaxing time, drinking, chatting. I had a few more beers and Parky bought me a gin and tonic.

A double – of course.

We caught a cab back to Earl’s Court and ended-up at Salvo’s. After a little deliberation, we decided not to head back to The Bridge, but instead stay for a few hours at this homely Italian restaurant, much beloved by us all. Bob, Parky, Steve and Mike were then joined by Rob, Andy, Sophie and Woody – then Danny. We drank some Peronis and watched the Cup Final replayed on about three different channels – in English, in Italian, in Spanish. We chatted about the season, but also about the future and we raised our glasses to our great club.

We each had some food and it was a lovely, relaxed time. I had visions during the week of throwing beer down my neck in celebration of our historic win, but it in all honesty it was all rather sedate and civilised.

As we said our goodbyes at about midnight, Salvo appeared with a bottle of champagne and sprayed us all with it. It was a crazy gesture – I was stunned – but we were all cowering as the champagne ended up all over our designer clothes. It was a funny and spontaneous end to quite an amazing season.

In a scene reminiscent of Baltimore in the summer, Bob, Parky, Rob and myself settled down to a night in a crowded hotel room. We slept fitfully through the night and by 8am, we were all awake.

On the Sunday, I was still in a Blue Daze.

We had breakfast – The Breakfast Of Champions – and made our way to The Bridge. Inevitably, we found ourselves with the New York Blues, then Pete from San Francisco – and then even more inevitably we ended up in The Imperial – Matthew Harding’s preferred pub – on the Kings Road. We had some more drinks and watched the Chelsea coaches leave the West Stand entrance. At about 1.20pm, we popped outside and waited on the pavement for our heroes to appear.

The first bus appeared over the bridge and I began snapping.

There it was, emblazoned on the bus.

“The Double 09-10.”

At last, it had all sunk in.

Oh boy.

The busses slowly approached us and my camera clicked away. Rob was upstairs getting great video film of the players’ wild celebrations. JT and Frank were at the front and it was magical to see the looks of excitement and joy on their faces.

The front of the bus passed me and I just looked up at the rest of the players, Chelsea scarves knotted around their necks.

“Come On My Boys – Come On My Boys – Come On My Boys.”

Back in the pub, there was Cathy and Mo, who were there right from the very start.

What a blast.

What a weekend. What a week. What a month. What a season.

The best pre-match ever in Baltimore, the last minute winners at Stoke and Burnley, the trip to Madrid, men against boys at The Emirates, the Watford game on my Mum’s birthday, the disappointment of Inter, the car drive home from Ewood Park, the Wednesday night in Portsmouth, the phenomenal trips to Old Trafford and Anfield, the 8-0 against Wigan, the Cup Final, the goals, the goals, the goals.

Our most successful season ever.

Chelsea Football Club – I salute you.


Tales From Our Second Home

Chelsea vs. Aston Villa : 10 April 2010.

At work on Friday, I received a few emails and texts from a few mates, everyone anticipating the build-up and the game at Wembley. If had been a tough old week at work and nobody was looking forward to the day more than myself. With a full day of beer ahead, Parky and myself booked ourselves onto a train so that I didn’t have to worry about the drink / driving problem. I was relishing it all – I was buzzing on Saturday morning.

Clear blue skies, lovely weather – even at 8am.

We caught the 8.29am train from Bradford-On-Avon to Bath, then the 9.13am from Bath to Paddington. I very rarely catch the train these days, but it brought back some memories of those 1981-1984 games when I would catch trains from Frome and Westbury up to London. To be fair, it’s a lovely journey, passing through some nice countryside along the way. We expected the train to be full of Chelsea, but we were the only ones. We spotted two Villa in the next carriage. At Chippenham, we noted about ten young lads get on the train – all clobbered up, wearing football gear – but we couldn’t work out who they were supporting. We hadn’t seen them at Chelsea. We wondered if they were Swindon lads. It brought back memories of train trips down to London Euston from my college town of Stoke, when there were clearly football fans on the train, but nobody gave anything away…save for the odd half-inch pin badge, much beloved by all at the time.

Heading in to Reading, we passed along the side of the River Thames and it was a lovely scene, full of rowers, barges and riverboats. We spotted a football ground, enclosed and well appointed…it was the ground of Reading Town, a team I had never heard of. At the train’s busy station, more Chelsea joined us. Reading has always been a Chelsea stronghold.

Heading into Paddington, the spindly floodlights of QPR were spotted. I was remembering all of the sights from those trips on this line from my youth. I had a word with those ten casuals and it turned out that they were off with Swindon Town to Colchester United. They were good lads and were keen to hear of our views on the atmosphere at The Bridge these days, plus our general take on a few topics. They all came from Calne, a few miles from where I work, and clearly loved their footy – and their labels. Parky and myself saw a bit of ourselves in them.We wished them well.

Steve Azar, met us at Paddington and we were soon tucking in to a large breakfast at The Tyburn pub on Marble Arch. A few of the boys – the lads I often write about, the members of The Bing – were already there…we could feel the buzz of anticipation in the air already. Rob was already passing around the amaretto.

Wes soon joined us and we then headed off to the Duke Of York, ten minutes away, the classic London boozer on a street corner. It was a predictably enjoyable pre-match…we love this pub. It never gets too busy and the landlord always looks after us. More and more troops arrived. Chelsea historian Rick Glanvill was present and I had a quick word. I spent a large proportion of my time chatting with Steve and Wes about my particular take on what being a Chelsea supporter should be about. I think it’s my favourite subject. The previous weekend’s game at Old Trafford acted as a good reference point and a catalyst for some good blue-blooded discusion. Looking at the assembled masses flooding the pavement outside the pub, of around thirty people, only one replica shirt ( worn by a young boy ) was on show and Wes asked for Steve and my opinions on this. Clearly, the sub-culture of football in the UK is well-developed , getting fine-tuned and altering with each passing season. I joked with Steve that the first thing a new Chelsea fan wants to do is buy a replica shirt these days. I’d prefer new fans to buy books, buy DVDs, talk to fellow fans…find out what it really means to be Chelsea. I retold the story of a friend of a friend who met us at a pub in Frome to watch the Liverpool vs. Chelsea 0-0 game in 2005. He hadn’t been into football much as far as I could tell and clearly wanted to impress the three of us…he showed up wearing a Chelsea shirt. The look I gave my mate Glenn said it all. Suffice to say, this chap hasn’t shown any interest in going with us to games since, save for one solitary trip to Cardiff for a Community Shield game.

Beers were being ordered, conversations buzzing away, more friends were joining us. It was a lovely time.

Lacoste Watch

Milo – royal blue.
Andy – dark blue.
Simon – white.
Steve – white.
Daryl – orange.
Lord Parky – lemon.
Chris – buttermilk.

Wes darted off to meet Mo to collect his match ticket. We were then joined by Ashley – from San Jose – and her friend James – currently studying in Dirty Leeds – and I could relax. Everyone was accounted for. I dished out the remaining match tickets. James was 7-0 watching Chelsea…great stuff. We then made our way to Marylebone, a ten minute walk away. I raced ahead and took an “Abbey Road” photo of everyone crossing the road…or was it more like “Resevoir Dogs.” I said to Steve that we hadn’t spoken about the game once.

We caught the train from Marylebone to Wembley Stadium and this only takes ten minutes. I was nicely buzzing. We heard a few new Chelsea songs – pretty original actually – from a group of lads. On that slow walk up to the turnstile entrances, I found myself walking alone amidst some Villa, with some Chelsea lads to my right. All of a sudden, a shouting match started, then some pointing and gesturing, then a lone Villa fan waded into a group of Chelsea. The police – on horseback and on foot – arrived too late and I think the Villa fan came off the worse for wear. This sort of incident – spur of the moment, unplanned – is pretty rare these days. I went over to talk to one of the Chelsea involved –

“Come on mate, you’re too old for all this nonsense.”

I met Jonesy outside Entrance A and handed over the very last of my match tickets. We ascended the many flights of stairs and I then had to walk up to row 42 to reach my seat. We were four rows from the very top, along the side, opposite the royal box. My goodness, we were high up.

I was sat alongside Walnuts, Parky, Alan and Gary, friends from 1984 and onwards.

That first-half was tedious. As dire as it gets. I remember two Joe Cole efforts, lots of passing, no pace. Lots of players were slipping on the greasy surface.

The Villa fans were outsinging us. Lots more pointing and gesturing.

“Have you won a European Cup?”

“Where were you at Stamford Bridge?”

Lots and lots of empty seats…great clumps of empty seats in both Villa and Chelsea sections. The corporate areas were only 75% occupied. The FA should be proud of themselves.

At half-time, we heard rumours of the grass being kept long in order for a Saracens rugby union game next weekend. This was met with howls of complaint…Wembley is a football stadium…why can’t club rugby be played at Twickenham? The grass was kept long but then watered in order to allow the ball to be zipped, despite the long grass, but the result was a slow game with players slipping. All for rugby game in a week’s time. Pathetic.

I noted that it wasn’t until the 51st minute that the whole Chelsea support rallied as one –

“We All Follow The Chelsea – Over Land And Sea – And Leicester
“We All Follow The Chelsea – Onto Victory.”

To be fair, I got the impression our section was trying to get the singing going, but Villa were definitely the noisiest. Memories of that hideous 2008 Carling Cup Final.

Gary was berating a few players, frustration was creeping in…he mentioned the quoted Ancelotti game plan of waiting until Villa tire on about the 70th minute.

Well – game plan or not – it worked.

Goals from Didier Drogba ( how he loves Wembley ), Florent Malouda ( his second Wembley goal ) and Frank Lampard ( how he loves Wembley – his third Wembley goal ) gave us a 3-0 win in those last tewnty minutes. The first was a poke in from close range after a corner, the second was from the best move of the game and a sublime Ballack cross, the last one a classic Frank finish, cooly finding time for an extra touch before blasting home. The Villa support was silent after Didier’s goal and swathes of their support departed after Malouda’s. However, a few thousand Chelsea decided to leave at 2-0 too.

You can imagine my views on this. The five stalwarts in Row 42 glowered at those who “excuse me’d” past us.

It was a poor game, but we deserved to win it. The realisation of us getting to another FA Cup Final hit home and I was loving it. A few team photos, everyone happy. Parky and myself slowly walked down to the front rows of the upper tier and took a few cheesey photos of each other, bathing in the early London evening sun. We were some of the very last to leave.

We bumped into Steve, Ashley and James ( 8-0! ) outside and the usual hugs and kisses.

The line for the train was long, but the time soon passed. By 8.15pm, we were back in The Duke Of York, where the post party was in full flow. I was gasping for a drink and chose a couple of double G and Ts for a change.

How refined!

Rob was tucking into some nachos, Parky was hopping about, guzzling some Staropramen, plans were being made for The Final. The texts had been arriving too…”see you for the final,” “can you get me a ticket?”, “where are we sitting?” We spoke of The Double.

The Double!

Good times, everyone, good times.

We got back in plenty of time to catch the 9.30pm from Paddington. A couple of Villa fans were singing…I said to one –

“You outsung us, but we outplayed you.”

“Fair comment mate.”

Parky still had time to have an altercation with a trappy Millwall fan on the platform. Oh well. The mood was of quiet euphoria on the return back to Wiltshire…one more G and T, a chat with two Newcastle United fans who had been to Toon Town…Chelsea and Villa mingling in the buffet.

It had been a long day, but start making plans for Saturday 15th. May.