Tales From The Second-Half Specialists

Chelsea vs. Tottenham Hotspur : 8 March 2014.

I drove through the quiet streets of my home town just before midday. There he was; standing on the crossroads by Victoria Park, the agreed meeting-place. It was a classic sight and I have to say that it made me chuckle; black Crombie, Chelsea shirt, jeans and brown Doctor Martens with yellow laces and short-cropped hair.

Classic PD.

A few moments later, I collected LP – a Lyle & Scott pullover, jeans, jacket and Adidas trainers if anyone is wondering – outside The Cornerhouse pub.

We were on our way.

I was buzzing about this game with Tottenham. The weather was bloody marvellous and we had the entire day ahead of us. Very soon into the drive east, my two passengers were working their way into several cans of “Strongbow dark fruits cider” and the laughter was booming. I think it caused my car to shake on a few occasions.

I ate up the miles, they drank up the cider.

“The Goose” was predictably packed. We gathered together in our usual corner. Outside, the beer garden was rammed; it felt like the first day of spring. The usual suspects were gathered together. Everyone was pleased to see PD once more. News came through of around fifteen mouthy Tottenham fans alighting at West Brompton, several Chelsea pubs emptying and the away fans getting run from arsehole to breakfast time within a few fleeting moments. I’ve never been an advocate of beating seven bells out of someone simply because they happen to follow a different football club than me, but such brazen behaviour by away fans within Chelsea territory was always going to end in tears. Occasionally, away fans drink in “The Goose” and there is usually no trouble, but I can never remember any London teams’ supporters doing so. It’s simply not the “done thing.” For fans of other clubs, it is a safe haven in the main. I can only think of a few instances over the past fifteen years when away fans have tried to make a name for themselves and “storm the gates.” In such circumstances – QPR and Leicester spring to mind – they have been easily repelled.

With the game kicking-off at 5.30pm, it was obvious that many had made a day of it. We only arrived on the scene at 2.30pm; others had been “at it” for hours. The beers were going down well, though I limited myself to only a couple. There is always a lovely buzz about Chelsea Tottenham. It doesn’t require any explaining really.

Simon arrived and was soon to utter the words “I’m worried about today.”

I told him to “hush.” This, although not a bad team, was far from one of the strongest Tottenham teams to come to Chelsea over the years. Everyone knows that we have enjoyed a magnificent home run of games against the once glamorous North Londoners since our last defeat in the league against them in early 1990.

The record has gone on and on and on.

A win later in the evening would stretch the run to twenty-four beautiful games; I’ve been lucky – I have seen all but two of the previous twenty-three. To tell the whole story, of the thirty Chelsea vs. Tottenham games that I have witnessed at Stamford Bridge, I have only seen two Spurs victories. A meek 0-2 loss during our awful start to the 1986-1987 season was the last time. That was bad – the gate was only 21,576, the atmosphere awful and our First Division future seemed uncertain.

However, the only other Tottenham victory in all of my visits was worse. Much worse.

In 1978-1979, Chelsea were atrocious. Although we had drawn 2-2 at White Hart Lane in the August sun, our autumn was poor and the winter looked bleak. Tottenham, newly-promoted after a solitary season in the Second Division, had shook the football world with the double signing of Argentinians Osvaldo Ardiles and Ricardo Villa in the summer. On Saturday 18 November 1978, I travelled up to Stamford Bridge with my parents. There was a huge buzz about the game. It was the usual routine; Dad would park the car at Ealing Common, which was followed by the ride in by tube, a few souvenirs and a programme, the wait outside the club offices to try to get player autographs and then in to our East Lower seats by just before 2pm, my excitement rising with every minute. On this particular day, there was a running battle between the two sets of fans on the large sweeping terraces before the game. I can specifically remember a scene opposite where the West Stand met the North terrace. Thousands of fans were separated by the royal blue fence which formed a natural barrier between the two stands. I can vividly remember the a long section of the fence – maybe about a forty foot stretch – being pushed and pulled as fans battled to get at each other. There had been similar crowd disturbances at several games that I had witnessed in my first few games as a youngster at Stamford Bridge (Tottenham 1974, Cardiff 1976, Millwall 1977 – I could certainly pick’em) but this memory is my most vivid memory of all of these occasions. Our team wasn’t bad on paper, but it never gelled for us all season. In front of the ‘keeper John Phillips were two poor full-backs Graham Wilkins and David Stride with Ron Harris and Steve Wicks in the middle. Our midfield consisted of Garry Stanley, Duncan Mackenzie and Ray Wilkins with Tommy Langley, Ken Swain and Clive Walker in attack.  Our manager was Ken Shellito, a loyal Chelsea servant who took over from Eddie McCreadie the previous year. A stunning Tommy Langley bicycle-kick gave us a 1-0 lead, but Spurs broke my heart and came back to win 3-1. There were simply thousands of away supporters in the North Stand that day and I remember being crestfallen that there were so many Spurs fans to my right. The gate was 41,594. There must have been 10,000 Spurs fans there. I can still hear their “We Are Tottenham, Super Tottenham, We Are Tottenham, From The Lane” to this day. It was a horrible day.

Bloody Tottenham.

However, despite this dark memory, we have dished untold misery on Tottenham since 1978.

They must bloody despise us.

Good.

That’s just the way it should be.

It was smashing to see Neil, visiting from Guernsey, for the first time for a while. He had watched the Three Bridges vs. Guernsey Isthmian League game at lunchtime. One day, I’m hoping for my own personal double-header with a Frome Town lunchtime game in the London area and then a Chelsea game at The Bridge. It was clear that Parky, especially, was enjoying the drinking session. I wondered what state he might be in at the end of the game.

On the walk down to Stamford Bridge, all was well in the world. It was a stunningly gorgeous London afternoon and Chelsea were playing Tottenham.

Bliss.

Inside the stadium, just before kick-off, I noted the reappearance of a relatively new flag being draped from the opposite end of the MHU; hanging from the balcony, it was being held by fans in the MHL, stretching it, to accentuate its simple message.

No words, no text, just a huge royal blue flag with the white outline of the European Cup in the middle.

The greatest memory of them all and one which causes even more pain for Tottenham supporters everywhere. Job done.

Tottenham had brought the maximum 3,000 away fans; a little different to 1978, but such are the rules these days. Hardly any flags though; certainly none with the European Cup on them. I was unaware that Fernando Torres had been injured in the pre-match. Our team still looked pretty strong. Frank Lampard was recalled in midfield. Tottenham’s team has changed a little over the past couple of seasons; the names Naughton and Bentaleb meant little to me. The presence of the invigorated Adebayor worried me, though.

The game began and the away fans, maybe not surprisingly, were making the greater din. It’s the same when we go to N17. It’s the same everywhere. Within the first five minutes, with the two teams trading a few jabs, Chelsea broke at speed down the right with Eto’o feeding Eden Hazard who rounded Lloris. A certain goal looked like the only outcome, but Hazard seemed to touch the ball a little too far just as he was taking aim and the ball spun just wide of the unguarded Tottenham goal. I jumped and screamed in pain.

“Aaaarrrrgggghhhh.”

Tottenham then seemed to enjoy plenty of possession and we struggled to get a foothold. Bentaleb’s shot went wide after we were caught out. Then Sandro forced a superb save from Petr Cech. There were few real shots on goal in the first-half. Samuel Eto’o evened-up the chances but didn’t threaten Lloris’ goal with a shot which again went wide.

The Chelsea crowd seemed a little subdued, but there was still time to remind the away fans that we’re the only team in London, only team in London, only team in London with a European Cup.

At half-time, there was frustration in the home ranks. It hadn’t been too impressive at all. The sunny weather gently eased and the early-evening light (almost a little misty) created a strange atmosphere. It had the feel of a famous Stamford Bridge late-season European game. We hoped for better things in the second period. Mourinho replaced Lampard with Oscar. No problems with that.

What a second-half.

Of all the various ways in which we have beaten Tottenham at home since 1990 – my favourite, by the way being George Weah’s “off the plane from Milan, off the bench” winner in 2000 – none could have prepared us for what occurred during the second-half on Saturday 8th March 2014.

Calamity One – 55 minutes.

Vertongen, under pressure, slipped and unwisely chose to pass the ball back to Lloris. His back-pass was wayward and ended up at the feet of a raiding Eto’o, who advanced and slammed the ball through the legs of the Spurs ‘keeper. I was already up and jumping when the ball hit the back of the net.

Alan, who had been in the middle of a Nelson Riddle when Eto’o had scored, quickly re-joined PD and me, full of smiles.

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

Chris : “Come on my little diamonds.”

Calamity Two – 59 minutes.

Samuel Eto’o burst through into the Spurs penalty box and slumped to the floor after a challenge from Kaboul. I wasn’t convinced that it was a penalty, but the referee Michael Oliver quickly pointed at the spot. The hapless Kaboul was soon given his marching orders. Oh boy. The game was dramatically lurching our way. Eden Hazard calmly stroked the ball past Lloris. The home support roared.

Calamity Three – 88 minutes.

With Chelsea in the ascendency and Tottenham second-best, an attempted defensive clearance from Sandro just diverted the ball into the path of substitute Demba Ba, who smacked the ball past Lloris from close range. This was met with joy and mirth in equal measure. There was more to come.

Calamity Four – 89 minutes.

Kyle Walker attempted to head the ball back to Lloris, but Ba was able to intercept it, hold off a rugged challenge from Lloris and stab the ball into the waiting net. By now, there was laughter mixed with pleasure, rather than wanton euphoria. Bloody hell. What a laugh. By this stage, the away end was virtually three-quarters empty. I couldn’t blame them.

I leaned over to Alan –

“Four? Skinned’em.”

As the players hugged at the final whistle, there was more unbridled joy at our humiliation of our arch rivals. It’s getting to the point now – and I say this with my tongue well and truly in my cheek – that I am starting to feel sorry for them.

After a repeat of our second-half turnaround against Fulham the previous week, Chelsea now sit seven points clear of the chasing pack. Jose Mourinho might still think that Manchester City are still ahead – nine points back, three games in hand – but I would rather have points in the bag. What’s that you say? Jose talks highly of Manchester City to put the pressure on them?

Ah, yes, of course.

This is a ridiculous season. Our record is now a highly impressive 20-6-3. We have endured just three losses in twenty-nine games. It is, unquestionably, championship form. However, who can argue that there have only been a handful of games this season where we have shown true championship form and quality? What an irony it would be that during the ultimate re-building, re-treading season of transition we actually go on to win the bloody thing.

Nine games to go.

Seat belts on.

It’s going to be a great ride.

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Tales From The Big Easy

Chelsea vs. Blackpool : 19 September 2010.

With the Stoke City game a distant memory, the Blackpool match couldn’t come quick enough for me. Three weeks with no Chelsea game for me represented a real mid-season drought and the longest time I had “gone without” since late summer in 2003, when my mother’s ill health resulted in me missing four home games. I can remember my huge pleasure at getting back into the swing of things with a game at Wolves and I realised then how much attending Chelsea games meant to me. Back in 2003, I had missed the first three weeks of the Abramovich era – who were all these new players? That Wolves game was a landmark game in my Chelsea life…I can’t put into words the joy I felt at seeing the team play again.

Back to 2010 and an extra bonus – my mate Glenn volunteered to drive up, so I was able to kick back and relax. He called for me at 10am, dressed like a spokesman for Quicksilver ( his VW van even had a Quicksilver logo ) and Lord Parky was collected by 10.30am.

We were on the road.

The first portion of the drive up to London was spent discussing some sad news that has befallen one of our fellow Chelsea mates. PD had been working for one of the many tarmac gangs of Frome ( due to the many limestone quarries in our home area, Frome seems to be the centre of the road-gang industry in southern England ), when a piece of heavy machinery crashed into his lower leg. Details are still a bit sketchy, but PD is in a Bristol hospital and has already had three operations in an attempt to save his ankle and foot. We haven’t seen much of PD at Chelsea games recently, but he is a well-liked member of our little crew and the news came as a massive shock.

Our thoughts and prayers are with him.

The usual drive up the M4…a bit of chat about the team’s form of late, some musings on the Hate Derby taking place at Old Trafford at lunchtime, we even – briefly – spoke about the Somerset county cricket team…surely a first. Somerset are the “nearly men” yet again this season…the team lost two one-day finals this year, but also missed out on a first county championship in 135 years ( you think the Cubs have it bad! ) to Nottinghamshire. Both teams finished level on 214 points, but Notts won one more game during the season. I can’t say I’m a cricket fan, but I was gutted that my county lost out yet again. I played cricket for my school during the summer of 1980 and I was constantly reminded of the adage that the sport is “9 parts complete boredom and 1 part complete terror.” My maternal grandfather was the cricketer in my family and he was quite the sportsman, playing for my village cricket and football teams.

I had only ever seen Blackpool play once before – a game way back in the autumn of 1975. It was my fourth Chelsea game and the first one in the old second division. My parents were with me and we also invited my Uncle Geoff – a Spurs fan – from the nearest village to attend too. I remember little of the game, except the distinctive tangerine of the away team, plus players Bob Hatton and Mickey Walsh. We won 2-0…the most memorable part of the day was when Tommy Langley came off the bench to score the second goal. He ran straight back towards the bench from the North Stand end and, as our seats were right behind the Chelsea bench, it appeared that Tommy was running straight towards us. His face was a picture, his arms were outstretched and, for a moment, I thought he was running straight towards me to give me a hug. Mum took a shine to young Tommy from this moment and he was her favourite Chelsea player for many a year. I reminded Tommy of my Mum’s infatuation with him when I first met him a few years back. Lovely memories, eh?

12.30pm Glenn had parked his van on Bramber Road.

The usual start to the day in Chelsealand…breakfast, then into the boozer. Reg the landlord must have found his feminine side as the pub was festooned with colourful hanging baskets.

With the United vs. Liverpool game on Sky, the pub was rammed and the twelve or so of my mates were huddled together in a corner. There were five or six Blackpool fans on the next table and there was no trouble. I nipped out to get a “Get Well Soon” card for PD which we all duly signed. I showed a few of the lads some of my photos from my recent trip to Philadelphia and spoke with Daryl about my visit to Yankee Stadium, then our proposed “50th Birthday Bash” to NYC in 2015…we hope to see the Mets vs. Yankees series that summer as it coincides with our fiftieth birthdays, plus Daryl’s brother Neil too. That promises to be a memorable holiday, no doubts.

The United goals were met with stony silence, but the pub erupted when Gerrard’s too goals were scored. Then silence again on 84 minutes.

Pah.

Alan spoke of the enjoyable trip to Slovakia during the week. He said that they spent a few moments in the bar at the Holiday Inn, where the team were staying. Dutch Mick had walked over to Patrick Van Aanholt and spoke to him in Dutch. Florent Malouda appreciated this show of fraternity and apparently bought Dutch Mick ( who is originally from London ) a bottle of wine as a “thank you.” It is not known how many times Dutch Mick mentioned the phrase “for sure” in his dialogue with Patrick.

Mike from the New York Chapter – in his trademark shirt from last season – showed at about 2.30pm and I showed him the US photos too…it didn’t seem real that we had met up in a bar in Greenwich Village only ten days earlier. Then Burger and Julie called in, full of pleasing stories of how they are acclimatising to life in Staffordshire, duck.

On the walk to The Bridge, I read with interest in the programme about a 21 year old “avid” Chelsea fan from Lancashire, who was attending her first ever game.

Avid, eh?

I had to wonder why she never saw us play at Manchester United in 1995, Bolton in 1997, Blackburn in 2003, Wigan in 2005 or Burnley this year?

Just before the teams entered the pitch, there was a moment’s applause in honour of the late Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur forward Bobby Smith, who played for us in the ‘fifties. The away corner in The Shed housed the eager Blackpool support and they resembled the orange-clad hordes of Nicosia from last season. Just two flags, though.

What a first-half.

We only had to wait two minutes for the opener. We played the ball around with ease and I think Blackpool’s only touch was the hoof out for the resultant corner. Drogba whipped the ball into the six yard box and Kalou smashed it in.

Here we go again.

On eleven minutes, a strong run and endearingly unselfish play from Drogba set up Malouda with a sweeping ball into the goal area which was inch perfect in its execution. Malouda couldn’t miss – and didn’t.

I unfortunately was in the middle of a comfort break when our third goal was scored, a Drogba deflected goal after nice work by The World’s Best Left Back.

Oh boy – coasting.

As Drogba came deep to help defend, Glenn piped up –

“Drogba…what are you doing back there?”

With that, he won the ball easily, advanced and spun a delightful ball into the path of Kalou with the outside of his foot. Kalou sent in a ball to Malouda and we were four goals to the good. Alan and myself had great pleasure asking Glenn –

“You were saying, mate?”

Every attack was a joy to behold. Each time we broke, I sat back and wondered “how will we create a goal scoring chance this time?” What a goal scoring run we are on at the moment and long may it continue. Amazing times in our history…and all this without Messrs. Anelka, Lampard and Terry.

At half-time, I heard a PA announcement and I recognised a mate’s name. Steve works for a former supplier of our company and his name was announced as part of a treat his wife had arranged for him – he was watching in one of the executive areas of the West Stand. It reminded me of when I was a child and my parents would often write in to Chelsea DJ Pete Owen and I would often get my name read out on the “Pre-Match Spin” show. The first time this happened – it may well have been the Blackpool game in 1975 actually – I remember being very embarrassed, with me thinking that everyone in the stadium was aware it was me.

Dennis Wise was on the pitch at the break.

I’ll be honest, the second-half was a let down, but we are – of course – so splendidly spoilt these days. To be fair, Blackpool – spurred on by the deep Bristolian twang of Ian Holloway – put on a good show and tested Petr Cech on a few occasions. They did well and played it on the floor, probing away. We are so lucky these days – even the less successful teams play it on the grass, unlike the “route one” football employed by many teams back in the grim ‘eighties. In those days, teams like Sheffield Wednesday and Wimbledon would start every attack with a hoof up the field from a ‘keeper, there would be a midfield scramble, the ball would break to a full back who would then chip it up into “the channels.” A further heading duel would ensue, then possession would be lost.

Back in those days, the atmosphere at games was better, but the football could be bloody awful.

The away fans mainly stuck to their “This Is The Best Trip I’ve Ever Been On” chant throughout the game and it certainly seems to sum up their Premiership experience perfectly. They’ll probably get relegated, but I’m sure they will have fun along the way. There will be as many ups and downs for them this season as a rollercoaster on their famous Pleasure Beach.

We took our foot off of the pedal in the second-half and, looking back, it seemed inconceivable that we didn’t score any more. We had a typical Kalou one-on-one fluff on 63 minutes, a Malouda volley was palmed over on 64 minutes and Ashley Cole annoyingly decided to take an extra touch with his favoured left peg on 75 minutes when he really should have slammed it in with his right.

The World’s Best Left Back Who Can’t Kick With His Right Foot.

On 86 minutes, Drogba blazed over.

The finishing was so woeful that I am convinced I saw Alan Mayes miss an open goal on 73 minutes, Teddy Maybank head the cross-bar rather than the free ball on 85 minutes and Dave Mitchell fall over his feet in the last minute when clean through with only the ‘keeper to beat. Blackpool then scored a consolation goal via a Graham Wilkins own goal at the death. What a strike. He doesn’t miss from there.

Our support had become pretty docile as the game progressed. We had only been momentarily roused on a few occasions. I think we need a stern test to re-focus ourselves…we have had it too easy. Manchester City next Saturday will be just about perfect.

As I joined the buoyant crowd on the Fulham Road – even the Seasiders looked happy – I enjoyed a bit of banter with a colleague by phone who is an “avid” Manchester United fan. He commented that we had enjoyed the easiest start to a new season he had ever seen.

I replied –

“True. We haven’t played Everton or Fulham yet.”

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Tales From Pole Position

Chelsea vs. Birmingham City : 27 January 2010.

I was able to get away from work at 4.15pm.The first part of the journey, maybe until Swindon, was spent running through the up-coming games with Parky…who is doing what, travel plans for Arsenal and Cardiff, tickets for Wolves, tickets for various friends for the games against Cardiff City, Arsenal, West Ham and Inter…I think my brain was frying at the thought of it all. I think I need to set up a spreadsheet ( with monies in and out ) to keep on top of it all. I’ll have a word with my personal IT department!

The traffic was reasonable and with Parky yakking constantly, the time flew. We reached a packed Goose at 6.45pm and Wes was at the bar to meet us. Monies changed hands, beers were bought. We trotted down to join the rest of the boys. I spent a few minutes chatting with my mate Russ – originally from Frome, now in London – who we took to his first ever game at The Bridge back in 1994. He is off to Toronto, Boston and NYC with his wife in April and I lent him a few guide books. We spoke of America – he has tickets for Fenway – but also of the game against Birmingham. As we walked down the North End Road, we both commented that this could be a pivotal game on our season…a great chance to make a statement and reclaim our position at the top.

Wes sat with me in Glenn’s seat – his first game from the Matthew Harding Upper. We unfortunately missed the first couple of minutes.

I noted that our visitors had gone Dutch on us and were sporting an Ajax kit.

I looked around and took it all in. I always try and take in the whole picture. Birmingham only had around 700 fans. There were gaps again in the central ( comps? ) Shed Upper. There was a large “German Blues” flag draped over The Shed balcony. I quickly spotted that all of the supporters clubs banners were missing from the East Stand…they had been moved to the higher of the two balconies in the West. I wondered why. I think I sussed it. I spotted the seven Chelsea Pensioners sitting in their usual seats in the East Middle…above them was the plain white banner from Remembrance Day and I presumed that this would now be permanently placed above the Pensioners, with no other banners on show in the East, to highlight it. If so, I approve – a correct decision.

After five minutes, Joe Cole courageously advanced down the right, fighting off challengers, before chipping a fantastic ball into the six yard box. It had tons of back spin and “sat up” beautifully for Malouda to head home. Get in you beauty. Hugs with Alan and Wes.

We passed the ball around nicely, with Joe Cole very involved. Deco was playing in the holding role and, to be fair, did pretty well. He even made a few timely tackles and Alan dubbed him “Decolele.” I like it…Claude Decolele.

The City fans sang about themselves “supporting their local team.” Another silly song in my opinion. What does it matter where people live in relation to their chosen team? As long as they “go”, as long as they get involved and support.

Then a shock down at the Matthew Harding end, with a deflected shot spinning past our goal. It was the only real chance our visitors had on our goal in the first period. Riccy hit the base of the post with a header. Then a move found Lampard about twenty-five yards out. He looked up and quickly struck a laser into the Birmingham goal. I was right behind its trajectory and tracked it all of the way. What a lovely goal. More hugs and “high fives.” We had played well in the first-period. Frank seemed to be playing quite deep, but he chased everything.

I couldn’t help but note that the crowed was desperately quiet. Wes, Alan and myself did our best, but it seems that the legendary Chelsea support is dieing on its feet.

At half-time, I shot Tommy Langley. With my camera – he was on the pitch with Neil Barnett. His first goal for us came against Birmingham some 35 years ago.

In the second half, more of the same. I noted how much ground Ashley Cole covers in a game. Watch him – he is constant motion, up and down that flank. Anelka was in good form, roving like a lone gunslinger, rarely losing the ball. The movement was good. Joe Cole, despite a promising start, was a bit disappointing really. He seemed to lose control too often and some of his final balls were Gronkjaeresque.

JT attempted an outrageous over-head kick from a corner. I can still hear the dead thump as it hit his shin-guard. I think the ball is still up in the air.

There were groans when we heard United had eased ahead of City in the League Cup. But – better news! – Arsenal were drawing at Villa and so we were top on points. It was a great feeling, sadly not shared by many in the 41,000 crowd, who were still deadly silent. I commented to Wes that the West Stand had not uttered a single song the entire game.

A chance close in from Malouda was blocked by Hart, so impressive at St. Andrews. The visitors quickly broke, but McFadden screwed the ball wide. Our play was getting a little more ragged and JT gave the ball away cheaply, but Cech saved superbly. I do not remember any other attempts on our goal. However, at 2-0, I still feared us letting in a goal. I guess that’s the Chelsea fan in me. I think Wes wasn’t so worried, the fool!

Just after another Malouda shot was flashed wide, we scored again. Thankfully, I snapped just as Frank swept the ball in with his left foot. Again, I like the look of Zhirkov. I’d give the Man Of The Match award to Anelka, though. He was always involved.

With the game coming to an end, with five minutes to go, I was dismayed to see thousands of empty blue seats throughout the stadium. Oh dear. We had gone top and yet it seemed that 20% of the fans did not want to celebrate with the team at the game’s conclusion. I always stay to the end. Leaving early is a sign of weakness. We should be there till the referee blows. If nothing else, it gives other clubs fans an easy excuse to wheel out the old clichés about our support being aloof and fickle. A football club is not just the players on the pitch. It includes the supporters too. I can’t stress that enough. Hate using the word, but we need to be united.

We heard that the Goons had only drawn up in Birmingham. Excellent. Wes and myself made our way out onto the Fulham Road. The So Bar was full of song and we met up with Parky. Wes is yet to witness a Chelsea loss on his year long sabbatical in the UK and let’s hope for this to continue. We peered into The Goose to see that United had won 3-1. Poor old City.

Parky and myself popped into The Lily Tandoori for an hour and celebrated Chelsea’s win with a curry. It was a lovely end to the evening. A family in the adjacent booth were United fans from Chelsea and we exchanged friendly barbs. Chelsea fans from Somerset and Wiltshire, Manchester United fans from Chelsea. What does it all mean?

My opening gesture, which the father appreciated, was the re-working of a modern day fact about the UK…

“You’re a United fan? Well, you know what they say…in the UK, you’re never farther than eight feet from a rat.”

I drove back west, eventually reaching my village at 1.45am.

Top of the league. Lovely.

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Tales From The Blip

Chelsea vs. Everton : 12 December 2009.

Just the three of us from the East Somerset / West Wiltshire Chapter travelled up for the Everton game. I left home at 8.30am and the weather was cold and grey. I drove up on the A4 for half the way and then hopped on the M4 at Hungerford. This mirrored the route taken by my father in my youth and works a treat. My father was a shop-keeper in Frome and found it difficult to take too many Saturdays off. However, from 1974 to 1980, Dad would religiously take me to two Chelsea home games each season – once in October / November and once in February / March. Back in those days, driving on the motorways was quite rare and I was reminded of the exhilaration I felt as a young Chelsea fan on match days as we entered the M4 at junction 14. My Dad was never a fast driver, but it meant that London and Chelsea would be but two hours away.

Looking back, I lived for those Chelsea trips as a kid. “Priceless” is a word I would to describe them. I remember I had to dip out of a school football game in the 1977-78 season as I was Chelsea-bound and my games master was far from pleased ( “Bloody hell” he said…and this really tickled my parents when I told them this ) but I knew that even at that age, given the choice, Chelsea would always come first.

Big Dave, Parky and me sat ourselves down for a mega fry-up at 11am and Daryl soon joined us. By then, the skies were blue and the winter sun was a fine sight. Daryl was resplendent in a circa 1973 away scarf, the classic Hungarian red, white and green, much beloved by the Shed End at the time.

We spent from 11.45am to 2.15pm in the boozer. “Pops” from NYC showed up at around 1.45pm and joined us for a chat. We spoke about a few battle-royales against Tottenham in the late-seventies and I remember thinking “Danny would be enjoying this.” Daryl mentioned that the last three Chelsea vs. Everton games have been draws…

We got into the ground nice and early for a change, “Pops” sitting alongside me at The Bridge for the first time ever. I pointed out the gaggle of Supporters Clubs banners in the East Stand and he told me that there would soon be a New York Blues one there too.

In the programme, for the second successive match, there was a lovely article by Ric Glanville about old Stamford Bridge. This time, it detailed the use of Stamford Bridge for the three cup finals in 1920, 1921 and 1922, the ones immediately before Wembley was used. How I love reading about our history and I especially enjoy any shots of the crowd back in the past. It is such a shame that the individual stories of all of these fans are lost in the mists of time. My grandfather once travelled up to The Bridge as a young man and it is unfortunate that he was never able to remember which game exactly. As he favoured Villa and Newcastle, I always like to think he was at the 1920 FA Cup Final when his Villa played Huddersfield. There was a photo from that game in the match programme and Ric Glanville made the point that the 50,000 crowd was a huge disappointment as the stadium held over 75,000 at the time. He guessed that the expensive ticket prices ( three times that of normal Chelsea games ) was the reason. There was also an article detailing Tommy Langley’s first ever game for the first team, some 35 years ago. He is still the third youngest-ever Chelsea player. I remember him coming into the team. Hell – that means I must be getting old.

As kick-off approached, I contacted my mate Chris who was joining up with a few other Chelsea at the meet in Alexandria, Virginia.

Everton brought 1,500 fans and they didn’t make much noise.

I unfortunately captured the JT slight touch which lead to the Cech OG on film. This was the first league goal we had conceded at home since the Hull game on the opening day. If only we knew what was to happen over the next hour or so. To be fair, we got back at Everton straight away. A lovely interception by Riccy, followed by a bustling run at the heart of the Everton defence found Frank. He set up Drogba who stroked the ball goalwards. It was a lovely strike and I was able to perfectly follow its curving trajectory into the net. Soon after, more Chelsea pressure and the ball was played out to Anelka – snap! – and I caught that goal on film too. At this stage, all was well with the world. However, the ground was eerily silent. I had to remind myself that we were top of the league.

Poor defending – JT the main culprit in my mind – gifted Everton with an equaliser just before half-time. That was a crushing blow and was met with grumbles all around us. I looked up at the East Middle and commented to “Pops” that a huge number of the corporate seats were empty – they had obviously decided to get in early for the half-time nibbles. Hey ho. I was far from impressed with a few boos emanating from the home seats as the teams trudged off at the break.

Chris sent me a great photo from the VA meet-up. There was Beth right in the middle! She’s here, she’s there – she’s…you know the rest.

The rest of the game was a bit of a blur. We struggled to put any sustained pressure on the Everton goal, but a lovely Ivanovic cross found Drogba who coolly slotted home. He came over to our corner to celebrate but I noted that he, and Frank, was very subdued. It was if they knew we weren’t playing well. Again the midfield were poor in my mind.

Then, an Everton free-kick thirty yards out and I said this to “Pops.”

“They’ll loft it into the box, what for us to F up and then score.”

Imagine the groan when this is what happened. But – what bad luck for Drogba, usually so strong on defensive headers. The indecision in our defence needs to be sorted out.

The last final chance, after a pinball session in the Everton box, fell to Ballack who strode purposefully at the ball. I held my breath – “your big chance for redemption, mate” – but was stunned when he drilled it wide.

So – two points dropped and much frustration. Alan restated how unlucky we were with two of the goals, but we knew we hadn’t played well. At the final whistle, despite us being top of The Premiership, boos rang down from the MHU. “Pops” was dismayed –

“Booing Chelsea?”

My views on this are well known and I’m so bored with talking about this.

On the slow drive home, we heard that Villa had gone 1-0 up at Old Trafford. We didn’t celebrate as we knew that United were bound to at least equalise. As the miles past and as the minutes ticked by, we listened with growing tension…Villa had not won at in the league since 1983…the signs were not good.

At 7.25pm, the three of us yelped with pleasure at the final whistle.

What a weird day.

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Tales From Deep In The Heart Of Texas

Chelsea vs. Club America : 26 July 2009.

On Saturday morning, I needed to catch an American Airlines flight to Dallas / Fort Worth. I set the alarm for 7.30am but was awake at 6am and couldn’t get back to sleep. So – just two hours’ sleep. Ho hum. I vaguely remember saying “see you in Dallas” to Julie, but Burgs and Farmer John were still in slumberland. I was able to get a lift with Roma down to the Baltimore airport – although this was beset with difficulties when Roma misplaced her car from the previous night in the multi-story car park…eventually we found it amidst much laughter.

Arriving late for the game, misplacing the car – just classic Roma! Love her to bits.

It had been wonderful to see her again – albeit for just twelve hours. When I first met her in Florida in 1989, I gave her my little Chelsea pin badge as a memento. Who would have thought that almost twenty years later we would be watching Chelsea in Baltimore?

Crazy. I’m sure she mulls over this constantly.

Lo and behold, as soon as I said my goodbyes to Roma, I soon realised that I would not be alone on the flight. Detroit Bob, Detroit Mary, Andy Wray, Tim from Philly and Layla from NYC were also on the three hour flight to Texas. Thankfully, I was able to get a little sleep on the plane and we touched down at the massive DFW airport at around 1pm. While we waited for our lift – Beth’s friend Nanette – Andy and me chatted to a guy from London’s “Evening Standard” and a chap from “Sky Sports”, both over in the US to cover our four games.

Nanette soon arrived and I braced myself for the intense Texas heat. Thank heavens for air-conditioned cars. Before we knew it, we were at the Storm Cellar in Euless and I soon pinned VPN up on the wall. I met a few old friends – Andy B., Kevin, Phil and Ira from Iowa and Kyle – and sunk a couple of beers. Andy didn’t waste any time in searching me out for yet another discussion about video-technology! Kyle presented me with two New York Yankee rookie cards – my all time favourite Don Mattingly and also Bernie Williams – and I was dead chuffed. At around 4pm, a gang of us drove about five miles so we could experience a Texas BBQ. It was one of the highlights of the trip and something that I am not used to. As soon as Andy Wray opened up the door, the aroma of the wood smoke hit me between the eyes, ears and nostrils and I filled my boots with a plateful of Texan hospitality. A “Lone Star” beer hit the spot, too.

Back to the Storm Cellar and a few others had arrived – the main stays from Baltimore…you know who you are.

Lacoste Watch

Tommy Langley – salmon pink

I had a quick chat with Kevin and Ian, fellow UK based fans. Next on the agenda was a trip to the new Cowboys’ stadium for the practice and Beth had arranged me to get a lift with her friend John, an ex-pat who has been living in Texas for twenty years or so. The stadium looked massive from a mile or so out and dominated the skyline. From the classical new Yankee Stadium to the retro-look of Camden Yards to the gargantuan shell at Dallas, my hunger for new stadiums was being satiated. I had already visited the Cowboys’ website a few times, so I knew what to expect. As we marched across the car park, the late afternoon sun glinted against the armadillo-like stadium and I was very impressed.

I was a bit annoyed that I was unable to take my telephoto lens into the stadium.

“But it’s not even a game” I moaned.

I made plans with Andy for him to smuggle it in on the Sunday. We would not be defeated.

To be quite honest, I think I hit “the wall” at the practice. My throat was very sore from all of the singing in Baltimore and so I was very grateful for Danny’s lozenges…ah yes, I had met Danny ( Blue Celery ) at the pub and it was great to meet a new Chelsea face. I was pretty tired, too. However, the two hours or so we spent at the new Cowboys’ stadium was notable for a few things.

Firstly, of course, the stadium…it’s just huge and almost over-whelming. The tiers – we counted ten – go on and on, upwards and beyond, almost to the heavens. I was particularly taken with the two end sections, plate glass, but a couple of tiers of seats too, as if floating in mid air.

And then the high-definition screen, high above the pitch. The one in centre field at new Yankee Stadium was impressive, but the Dallas was even more so…words don’t do it justice. And yet, there is a part of me that thinks that it is almost obscene – that such vast amounts of money should be spent on it.

Not to worry, as soon as Frank and JT came onto the pitch – the first two Chelsea players to appear – they both took pot shots at the scoreboard and we screamed with laughter. JT hit the lower reaches on two occasions and we cheered him. This was followed by an announcement on the PA to stop! Hilarious.

I went up to sit with the Naughty Boys in the second tier, just in time for Cathy to do a hearty rendition of the “Zigger Zagger.” A few Mexicans invaded our patch and this gave Mark ( I think ) the inspiration to utter the infamous and instant classic –

“You started swine flu, you started swine flu.”

To be fair, the Club America fans were in good spirits and were full of smiles. I had a beer, but still felt tired. I hardly watched the lads go through their paces as I was busy keeping an eye on the Chelsea fans…they were clearly pleased to be seeing the boys in the flesh. However, I did note that JT and Billy McCulloch were laughing and jostling with each other and I remember thinking –

“That doesn’t look like the behaviour of a player who is leaving for Manchester City next week.”

I guess the practice finished at about 8.30pm or so and we returned to the Storm Cellar.

Tel went through his quiz, but I had decided not to enter – I dropped a few hints for a few teams…the picture round especially.

I had a few more drinks during the evening ( and managed to avoid Gumby – wink…where were you all day, mate? ) but the highlight for me was being able to go upstairs to the mezzanine area and sit down with Wobley, his son Nathan, and Danny for a good old discussion about Chelsea ; fandom, club policy, Chelsea In America, rivalries, new fans, songs…the whole shooting match. I wish more people could have joined us really. I mentioned to the lads of my fears of what football has become, how it has changed – not always for the better – and how I see it all going. We spoke at length and with great passion and I found it to be a very interesting end to the evening.

Maybe on the next tour, for us serious folk who like to chat forever about Chelsea, we could arrange some real life chat rooms. Wink.

I really enjoyed Danny’s insights into baseball too.

At around 1am or so, Andy was kind enough to drive us back to Monique’s house to the north of Fort Worth. With the music blaring, the iconic green road signs flying past and the road-side restaurant signs clamouring for attention, I was lost in America once again and it was heady stuff. There is something about the American road which never fails to leave me transfixed and begging for more.

At last, I was able to get a serious night’s sleep on the Saturday night. After feeling tired during Saturday afternoon, I felt refreshed and ready for the match. My phone buzzed at around 9am on the Sunday morning with the wonderful news that JT had issued a statement to say he was staying. I checked with Andy and he was twittering on about the same thing.

The highlight of the trip.

“JT – CAPTAIN, LEADER, LEGEND.”

Via a quick call at Beth’s ( I must admit that it felt odd seeing a friend’s house on DVD before I saw it in the flesh…), we made our way to the Storm Cellar. At around lunchtime, we approached just as New Order’s “True Faith” came on the radio. A memory of home. From the M6 and an away game up North to a Chelsea away game in the heart of Texas.

“I feel so extraordinary.
Something’s got a hold on me.
I get this feeling I’m in motion.
A sudden sense of liberty.”

Once inside, I noted that a lot more fans were in attendance. I met Seb Blau for the first time and renewed friendships with a few others. I briefly spoke to JR. The free beer flowed, I got stuck into the Mexican food and even had time to play football on the indoor court for twenty minutes or so. Charles ( Cicero ) kept lining up some crosses for Andy and me to gallantly miss.

Great stuff.

I listened to Neil, Tommy and Jock talking about various things and one thing which Neil said really hit home.

“Following Chelsea is great – and, you know, more than anything – it keeps you young.”

I smiled in agreement at this very true statement. I looked around and there we all were – all of us in our ‘forties, all behaving like teenagers. It had been the same in Baltimore too. And it’ll be the same at Wembley against United, at home to Hull City and beyond.

At around 4.30pm, we all clambered onto the waiting buses and I was lucky to choose The Naughty Boys’ coach, sitting opposite Tommy and Jock.

Someone smuggled some beers onboard and the laughter continued. Simon came out with a classic, aimed at Cliff ( aka Alf Garnett. )

“He’s old, he’s broke, he’s gonna have a stroke, Alf Garnett, Alf Garnett.”

We drove past the Texas Rangers stadium and were soon circling the Cowboys’ Stadium. Time for a few songs aimed at the Club America fans. I snapped away at the gleaming stadium and probably overdid it. We were off the coach at about 5pm and I soon arranged for a photo to be taken of VINCI PER NOI with the stadium behind.

On the walk down to our section, I noted many Club America fans, some with musical instruments, some dancing…tantalising stuff.

We don’t get that at Wigan on a Wednesday night.

I slowed down to take a few more snaps and lost contact with the other Chelsea. I attempted to enter the stadium, but two stewards stopped me from taking my wide-angle lens in. This really aggravated me and I was rude to them both. I was beginning to develop a dislike for Dallas Bloody Cowboys. I was further aggrieved when I saw a Liverpool fan approach. We exchanged pleasantries.

As I approached the wide open entrance plaza behind the eastern goal, I stuffed the camera down inside my shorts ( insert punchline here…) and the wide angle lens in my pocket. I showed my ticket and ambled in, just as Kyle ( breadnbutters ) showed up. I was walking rather awkwardly and a steward asked to see what I had in my shorts ( insert punchline here…) and so I came clean and explained the whole sorry tale. Thankfully, the guy let me enter the stadium. By this stage, Kyle was wetting himself.

Oh boy.

Of all things to welcome me in, I spotted a fresh fruit stall, being manned by the squeaky voiced adolescent from “Krusty Burger.”

“Got any celery mate?”

“Celery? No.”

Missed an opportunity there, mate, I thought.

I soon found myself in the bosom of The Chelsea Family and what a fun time we had. I was a bit dismayed to find some Club America fans in front of me ( although I wasn’t as upset as Cliff…that geezer needs to chill. Sigh. )

The US anthem was sung. Garth Brooks was in attendance. Or was it Garth Crooks?

Of course, we stood the entire game and did our best to get behind the team. Due to the amount of beer consumed over the four days since we arrived in Baltimore, I think the game was a bit of a blur.

Did we play in blue?

No – to be honest, this wasn’t as good a game as the Milan match, but I didn’t really care. I was in Texas watching Chelsea play and it was a dream. It was good to see some of the youngsters play, but I wonder when we will see the likes of Scott Sinclair ( from Bath, my place of birth ), Sam Hutchinson and Michael Mancienne play again. It was great to see Riccy alongside Alex – and I had a good look at Sturridge for the first time, too. There was that mad scramble on the goal-line in the first half and it was quite a scrappy game.

What about the fan’s support? It was generally good, I thought. The NYBs were behind the goal in a standing section and then we were down by the corner flag. However, we have to do something about the God-awful “Let’s Go Chelsea” chant which a lot of the locals were singing. I hope a lot of them join up to CIA and learn the proper way to support us. I think our section must have been the noisiest of the entire stadium as it kept getting shown on the massive screen. I have a few lovely shots of us on the screen – the look on Beth’s nephew’s face is a picture. We did “The Bouncy” and I noted lots of fans videoing us on their phones. Apart from the tedious “Aguilas” chant, didn’t think the CA fans made much noise. I was already aware of the wrestling face-masks which are favoured by Mexican fans, but it still came as a shock to see so many…even a couple of CFC fans with them. Can’t see it catching on down the North End Road next season. Mind you, we have had ski hats in 1985 and inflatables in 1988…anything is possible in Football World.

At half-time, I went off to get a beer and was dismayed by the lines for the toilets…even in a $Billion stadium, still lines at half-time. Some things will never change.

With a 0-0 result looking very likely, it was time for action. Cathy did a lengthy, rasping “Zigger Zagger” in the row behind me and, just after, Franco Di Santo scored his first ever goal for us…I turned around and applauded Cathy. Apparently, this was the third time in which a Chelsea goal followed a “Cathy ZZ” on the tour. Top notch. We were in full voice now and the team pressed on. A fine finish from Florent Malouda ( which I captured on film ) gave us a 2-0 win and my abiding memory of the last few minutes is of our support. The wedge of support between the CIA and the NYBs joined in – albeit with the most basic “Chelsea, Clap, Clap, Clap” – and for a few fleeting moments, if I didn’t look too hard, it felt like an away game in the Premiership.

It had been a lovely occasion – not the best of games – but so enjoyable. JT received the trophy from Jerry Jones and we sang “Champions.” I have to say, it had been a perfect trip…for me, two Yankee wins and two Chelsea wins…for Chelsea, four wins out of four.

It simply does not get any better.

As we slowly made our way out of the stadium, we found ourselves walking through the Cowboy’s club shop and I couldn’t resist a loud shout of

“Chelsea Here, Chelsea There, Chelsea Every YOU KNOW Where.”

Outside, we saw evidence of the horrific rain shower which had taken place at half-time. Back on the coaches to the Storm Cellar and a few quiet beers before calling it a day.

Before leaving Texas on the Monday evening, a few of us visited the historic Fort Worth Stockyards. It was a little drizzly, but we had an enjoyable time…starting with my first ever Mexican breakfast with Beth, Andy, Wobley, Nathan, Jeremy and Danny. I bought a few gifts for some friends back home. The end of the tour was approaching.

Just time for one last thing – Nathan wanted to try some Sarsaparilla and we eventually found some. In a shop selling cowboy boots, cowboy hats, Western wear and Texas nick-nacks, there was a little bar tucked away in a corner, like something from a Western. We sat down and chatted. Soon after, Beth showed up with Neil, Jock and Tommy. Then Detroit Mary and Bob. Virtually the last scene of the 2009 Tour was being enacted before my eyes.

It was surreal. We stood around drinking Sarsaparilla and cracking jokes. Tommy sat on a shoe-shine seat. Neil, Jock and Tommy had some beer.

In a hat shop.

A local guy spotted our Chelsea gear and approached us with a smile on his face. He shouted out “Manchester United” and we booed him.

Much laughter.

If only he knew who we were.

We had a meal at “Cattlemens Steak House” and said our sad goodbyes…

“Love ya.”

Andy kindly drove Tommy, Jock and myself to the airport. I was on the same flight back to Blighty as them – these legends from the 1976-77 promotion campaign…childhood heroes of mine – and this was another surreal moment.

America 2009 had been superb.

Let’s do it again.

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Tales From Babe Ruth’s House And Babe Ruth’s Home

Chelsea vs. Milan : 24 July 2009.

So, here we go…let’s get my 2009-2010 season started. Like all my reports, this one is a very personalised account and I hope that any newcomers to the site understand my emphasis on “the background” stuff which goes on in my Chelsea life.

It clearly ain’t just about the football.

However, before my trip report – here are some numbers.

This would be my fourteenth trip to North America – on almost the twentieth anniversary of my first one in September 1989. It would be my fifth trip to the US to see Chelsea play – the games against Milan and Club America would be games eight and nine in The States. My other sport is baseball and so I decided to avoid the West Coast games in order to squeeze in two New York Yankees games. It would be my ninth trip in which I would be seeing the Yankees play. It would be the third visit in which I would be seeing Chelsea AND the Yanks play on the same trip ( how lucky I have been…) and it would encompass my eighth trip to New York. I would be seeing the Yankees for the 24th and 25th time in New York. It would be my fourth visit to Baltimore, but my first ever visit to Dallas / Fort Worth.

I clearly have a long history of travelling to America. I guess it is why I enjoy posting on here so much.

My trip began with me leaving my home in Somerset at 4.30am on Tuesday 21 July. As I set off in my car, I texted a few people with the immortal line –

“Jack Kerouac.”

Soon after, as I headed east towards Salisbury Plain, I heard back from Beth and Teri, who were with The Legends out in Pasadena. A simple text message brought us all together.

I texted my friend Roma in NC that I was on my way and I was stunned to hear back from her.

“I hope to be able to be with you in Baltimore.”

This was a big surprise. I have known Roma for twenty years – we met in Florida in 1989 – but she hadn’t hinted that she would be able to join me. As I headed towards London, I tried not to get too excited as Roma does tend to leave things to the last moment and I did wonder if she would make it.

My mate Russ – Chelsea – dropped me off at Heathrow and I was on my way through passport control at 7am. Right in front of me was a young boy in full Chelsea kit. That had to be a good sign. I caught three hours’ kip on the BA flight…I was day-dreaming of how the trip would pan out…hoping we could build on our good start in Seattle. Before I knew it, I was on the subway from JFK to Times Square – what a buzz to be back in Gotham once again – and I was booked in at my hotel by 2pm. Ironically, it was opposite the hotel I had stayed at in June 2008 when I came over to pay a last, tearful visit to old Yankee Stadium.

The rest of my first day in America was spent travelling up by subway to 161st Street / River Avenue in The Bronx and watching The Yankees. I chatted to a Bronx native on the train and he wished me a happy spell in America. I then spent time in “Stan’s Sports Bar” for a while, nestled under the noisy elevated rails of the 4 line and across from the bleachers of the old stadium, the original House That Ruth Built. I know the owner, but I had just missed him. I had a chat with a couple of the bartenders, though. I drank two Rolling Rocks. Then into the revamped “Billy’s Sports Bar” for a burger and fries, washed down with a couple of Sam Adams…eight bucks each, though. Ouch. I texted a few friends. I felt I had to share my great sense of happiness at being back in one of my favourite locations. Chelsea will always be my life, and I am rather a lapsed baseball fan, compared to the heady years of 1993-2001, but I still love the beauty and tradition of the game. It acts as a great counter to my fanaticism of football.

It’s a different ball game.

I crossed the road and entered the new stadium. I immediately felt like a customer rather than a fan. The old place was cramped but atmospheric and the ghosts of previous players and fans haunted every nook and cranny. The new stadium is grand no doubts – its walkways are wide and open – but my immediate reaction was that it was like a shopping mall. There was a rain delay for thirty minutes – only my second ever in over 40 baseball games – and so I walked around, buying a box of Crackerjacks, taking it all in.

The game began at 7.30pm and my seat was high up on the first base side, thankfully under the cover of the minimal roof. As Sergio Mitre hurled an opening pitch at the Baltimore Orioles, the drizzle was still falling. That first pitch was hit for a double and the Orioles scored one run in the top of the first. However, the Yanks came from 0-1 and 1-2 down to win 6-4.

Although I am 44, I was carded when I bought some beer…I had to laugh. I soon stopped laughing when I heard the price…ten bucks…or £7.50 in real money. I gulped down a hot dog too. I texted a few folk from my seat high up in the stadium – a few were gathering together in Pasadena for the Chelsea vs. Inter game…I was juggling two teams that night. It felt wonderful.

It was a solid Yankee performance…it always takes me a while to get “into” watching live baseball…on any trip, I usually enjoy a few beers during game one, then hone my watching skills as the trip progresses…I only had one more game on this trip, so my attention had to be sharp. I know a lot of people despise the Yanks, but they are my team and I still get a buzz whenever Robinson Cano makes a great defensive play at second or when Mark Texeira reacts quickly to catch a ball at first.

At baseball, I find myself uttering the American “woo” at a great play rather than the English “yes!” when a Chelsea goal is scored. Why is that?

As the game progressed, I took over a hundred photos, from the first pitch to the last out ( a catch by Derek Jeter in shallow centre ). I thought about my life as an English Yankee fan writing about Chelsea for Americans. I pondered the two sports, the two kinds of support, the tribes, the differing senses of belonging. I have long since come to the conclusion that my trips to baseball cathedrals are purely personal…for a few hours, I get lost in pure Americana, I note the ways of the locals and maybe I try to blend in. It is a weird thing that not once have I ever desired to join a UK-based Yankee fan group, nor watch games with a bunch of UK fans. Not my thing. It’s purely personal for me. I note how this differs from most of the CIA fans I have got to meet since 2004. I wondered why that was. I think that football is the ultimate tribal sport. Baseball is just different. It’s more game-focussed…it’s about the players, not the fans. Fans go to baseball in small groups of three and four. I go to Chelsea with ten and fifteen.

The game ended at around 10.20pm – Frank Sinatra sang “New York New York” – and I had to rush to get down to “Nevada Smiths”, the famous watering hole on 3rd and 14th to see the Chelsea game live on TV. I was straight onto the subway. The crowd had started leaving in the eighth – I could never do that…I think it’s the football fan in me. The express train rattled through Manhattan and I stepped into “Nevada Smiths” bang on 11pm.

At the bar were Burger and Julie. Hugs and kisses. Out by the TV screen were Gill and Graeme. More hugs and kisses. I first met Gill – from Kent – in Nevada’s during the Q&A with Kerry in 2005. The story comes full circle. Also in the bar were NY Blues Carrie, Simon and Henry. It was pretty quiet though – I expected more people.

I supped some pints of Paulaner and watched as Drogs and then Frank scored to give us a 2-0 win. At the first goal, I texted Bob in San Francisco

“THTCAUN.”

He replied

“COMLD.”

For newbies to my reports, I apologise!

We watched the second half with diminishing interest. Burger, Julie and myself were now talking about the anticipation of meeting all of our friends again in Baltimore. We sang songs, Burger did a “Zigger Zagger “ ( you need to work on the tempo, mate! ) and we got more merry…OK, we got drunk. A text came through from Mad Mark in Pasadena saying he had JT’s shirt.

Git.

It was a great win. It looked like a massive crowd. Loads of Chelsea blue in The Rose Bowl.

We said our goodbyes. Burger, Julie and myself took a cab to Times Square. It was around 1.30am…apart from three hours’ kip on the plane, I had been awake for 26 hours.

I awoke at 8am with a headache, so – no pressure, I’m on holiday! – I slept on. By the time I showered and crossed the road for a breakfast at 10.15am, I was fine. I bought a copy of the New York Post…to my great pleasure, the picture chosen to illustrate the Yankee win was the last out…the close up of Jeter grasping the ball. It was an exact copy of my shot of the very same play, albeit in extreme close-up.

Unbeknown to me the previous night, my viewing of the Yankee game had seen us go top of the AL East.

Happy days.

A Yankee win, a Chelsea win. Very happy days.

On the Wednesday, I returned to the stadium.

Two funny things happened on the subway. On the first train I took, I noticed that the woman who was sitting next to me was reading a book.

“On The Road” by Jack Kerouac.

In the next train, opposite me, was a young lad wearing a Chelsea shirt. I showed him my Chelsea ring and we smiled.

Serendipity.

I met the former Yankee Mickey Rivers outside and he signed a photo for me. A lovely souvenir to add to my existing collection of Yankee signed photos.

Inside the stadium and – sunny weather now – I happily watched the Yanks again defeat the lacklustre Birds. New York raced into a 4-0 lead in the first and won again with a 6-4 score, behind the pitching of AJ Burnett. In this second game, I was closer to the action, sitting in the $125 seats in the second tier, level with the pitcher. I really enjoyed the view of this. Burnett pitched well, but the play of the game was a catch by Nick Swisher out in right field. My only purchase, apart from Yankee souvenirs, was a glass of fresh-squeezed lemonade.

Very un-Chelsea like.

Burger texted me to say that he was watching the game in a bar near Canal Street.

I again took many photos. Baseball is such a photogenic sport. The wind up and release by the pitcher. The crouch of the short-stop. The “gloves-up” stance of the first-baseman holding a runner. The clean lines of the diamond. The grass. It was fantastic.

I really didn’t want to leave the stadium, but I knew I had to move on. After a 15-8 record at the old place, I was 2-0 at the new home…and long may it continue.

The rest of Wednesday was just wonderful. I walked amidst tourists and shoppers along Fifth Avenue before returning to my hotel for a change of clothes. Then down to Greenwich Village for a lovely meal in a restaurant called “Rare” – and three more Sam Adams. I phoned Roma and – YES! – she was still keen to attend the game in Baltimore. I needed a spare ticket for her and so I contacted Mike ( who had just landed at JFK from the Inter game ). After an hour of texts and phone-calls, we were sorted and I was so pleased.

I then took a cab up to a lovely, local bar to meet Burger and Julie. It was now 9pm and, to my amusement, they hadn’t moved since the texts I had received at 4pm.

Proper Chelsea.

Proper Burger.

I joined them for a pint of “Blue Moon” and we then got another cab up to our respective hotels.

It had been a perfect day in New York.

I was up bright and breezy on the Thursday. I left my hotel room, had a McBreakfast and met Julie and Burgs at Times Square. My good mate Bob ( unagi1 ) from Fremont in CA had flown over on a red-eye and we met him at Penn Station.

The tribes were gathering.

We headed down to Ground Zero as neither Burger, Julie nor Bob had seen this eerie, silent place. We also raided the adjacent “Century 21” discount department store in a memorable hour. I only bought one item – in fact we all bought one item each – but it was a “must buy.” A brown CP Company jacket reduced from $759 to $279. It would have been rude not to. It will be worn at various away games next season, you can be sure of that.

Via an aborted trip to go on the Staten Island Ferry, we enjoyed a couple of beers in a restaurant near the financial district. We had a great discussion about all sorts. We then caught a cab up to Penn Station – it had to be the most tense cab ride ever, as we left it worryingly late.

Our train to Baltimore left at 2.05pm. We arrived at Penn Station at 1.58pm. Phew. I had joked that I wanted top quality chat on the train because we all knew that as soon as we hit Baltimore, the madness would start.

Three more beers, loads of laughs – great times.

We arrived 45 minutes late in Baltimore but soon got a cab to The Sheraton. We dumped our bags and headed for the Ale House, just a few blocks away. We had heard that the practice session was cancelled, but we hoped this was not the case. We bumped into Beth outside and she was engaged on the phone, no doubt trying to solve yet another logistical problem on this trip. Bless her. As we entered the bar, we were met by many familiar faces…too many to mention. But it was certainly great to see John ( mgoblue06 ) once again – we had enjoyed some fun times back at HQ in the spring. It was great to meet Tommy Langley and Steve Finnieston too – heroes of mine from 1974 to 1980. I had last met them at the CPO last November. Handshakes with many, hugs with Wobley, Mad Mark, Tuna and Simon.

This was it. This is what we had waited two years for.

Chelsea on tour in America – Mow That Meadow!

I downed a beer and set off with a few friends for the practice at the Ravens Stadium. However, there were massive lines. After treating the locals to ten minutes of Chelsea songs, we decided to head back to the pub. We heard later that it was a bit of an anti-climax…no practice, just some autograph signings. And Milan didn’t even show up. I had my photo taken by the Johnny Unitas statue and headed back to the boozer.

Let the fun begin.

From about 7pm to 3am, we drank and sang, then sang and drank, meeting many many people who I have got to know over the years. We disappeared upstairs and I pinned VINCI PER NOI up on the wall. The Q and A began, but I was too busy drinking and chatting. I think Jock was getting some stick for his views on JT. I left them to it and headed downstairs, where the hardcore were based. For the rest of the evening, I hung out with John ( who disappeared off to bed way too early! ), San Francisco Bob, Detroit Bob, Cathy, Mo, Mad Mark, Simon, Tuna, Cliff, Burger, Julie, Spy, Tommy and Jock…plus a few more at various stages. My good mate Chris ( who I had first met at the DC game in 2005 ) showed up, but we sadly shared only a few minutes. I hope he realised it was manic – I had warned him.

After a while, we trooped over to Pickles, just as the rain started. The fun continued as we took over the bar. The beers continued and someone bought us some shots. I got chatting to Neil Barnett for a while and I haven’t a clue what I said to him. I think that it may have been about Chelsea ( pause for effect…)

There were a bevy of local girls nearby and they seemed to be attracted to our English accents and bizarre selection of Chelsea songs. I was chatting to one girl, who reached up and dabbed her finger below my eye, picking up a loose eyelash.

“Make a wish” she said, looking me in the eyes.

Well, dear reader, I can assure you it wasn’t a wish for Sheva to score twenty goals next season.

Before we knew it, the time had raced by and we had to leave. Julie and Burger had gone back to the hotel a bit before and so the last few standing ( Cathy – always Cathy – the two Bobs and myself ) made our way back to The Sheraton. I got inside the room, noted John spread over the entire bed and so grabbed my CP coat and fell asleep on the floor. ( Apparently Julie had woken up a few times and looked over to see John but not me…she was wondering where I was, wondering perhaps if my wish had come true! )

It had been a superb night. I just wish I could remember more of it. Can anyone fill in the gaps?

I woke at about 8am and soon grabbed an hour more sleep in the bed. The other three went down for breakfast and I showered and changed into my match day gear. As you all know, I usually forego Chelsea gear for a multitude of reasons, but I had been on a diet in order to squeeze into my original 1983 Le Coq Sportif shirt – an homage to that 83-84 season which I have been detailing the past year. I think it looked great as it happens.

I walked over to join Eddie’s tour of Camden Yards, the pristine baseball stadium of the Orioles. A statue of George Herman Ruth greated me. The Babe was a Baltimore native and was born a few blocks away. His father owned a saloon bar whose location was actually situated within the current outfield. That’s just beautiful. Ruth’s first pro team was the original Orioles – who moved and became the New York Highlanders, who became the Yankees. That I had just been in NYC watching the Yankees and the current manifestation of the Orioles seemed to be just perfect.

I enjoyed the tour and I was amazed to see Cathy and Mo in the group. I had seen a Orioles vs. New York game in 1993, the highlight being a Don Mattingly homer into right. We had a lovely group photo in the home dugout. That finished around 12.45pm. Back to P Street and I was suffering with a slight hangover. I had a plate of bangers and mash ( so-so ) but began the day with three cokes. The beers could wait. A few NYBs showed up – lovely to see yet more faces.

I phoned Roma who was driving up from near Asheville in NC. She was still 200 miles away. I went back to the hotel to charge up my camera batteries, then headed over to Pickles once again. I guess this was at about 4pm.

Bob and John, with Andy Wray, were already at the bar and I joined them for a few $2 Bud Lites.

Here the fun began again. Over the next three hours, we had so many laughs. I took my photo album from last season around to show to a load of people. Of course, this was our pub, but there were a few Milan fans too. It was so friendly. Chopper, Mike, Lawson, Elliot, Curtis, Karen, Dave, Layla, Keith, Steve, Carrie, Alan, Napoli Frank and the New York Blues were in fine form.

Of course, we took a few photos of the three “Scores” girls, with celery down their cleavage.

Oh boy – too much!

The beers flowed. I met Brian ( carolinablue ) from NC for the first time – we have been emailing each other since 2006. I explained “celery” to some confused locals. I asked Toxic Tel to do me a countdown for a “Zigger Zagger” and it was hillarious – it went something like this…

” 10 – 9 – 8 – 7 – 6 – 7 – 6 – 5 – 4 – 3 – 2 – 1 ”

Amidst laughter from all, I did a hearty “Zigger Zagger” and turned purple. I bumped into the two girls from the previous night again and wished I was twenty years younger. The barbecue smoke outside the pub was strong, the music was loud, but the Chelsea songs came thick and fast.

I phoned Roma and she was stuck in traffic…oh dear. Soon the time came around for us to march to the stadium. Off we went, handing out CIA cards to the blue-clad locals. I met up – all too briefly – with my mate Glenn’s uncle Bob from NJ…he is a Southend United fan and I last met him at HQ for the FA Cup game in January.

By the stadium, I handed over some Chelsea flags to a gaggle of American kids in a hospitality tent. I felt, momentarily, like a true ambassador for my club. A lovely feeling.

Massive lines to get in at 7.30pm. Meanwhile, no Roma.

Aaaaarrrrggghhh.

The traffic on I-95 was truly horrendous and I began to wonder if I would get in for the kick-off.

The answer was “no” – I waited and waited, pacing like an expectant father. I noted many people looking for tickets, plus a few scalpers doing business. At 8.07pm, I heard a massive roar and presumed Milan had scored. Eventually, Roma parked up and we met by the Unitas statue at 8.15pm.

A massive sigh of relief. I gave her a big hug.

I last saw her inside the Home Depot Centre after the Galaxy vs. Chelsea game in 2007. And here we were outside the Chelsea vs. Milan game in 2009.

Two years had passed – it seemed like two minutes.

Amidst loads of giggles, we walked around to our seats in the Chelsea section, right in with the NYBs, five rows behind the CIA lot. We got in at 8.20pm – happy with that. And we were 1-0 up. Drogba with a screamer! Almost immediately, I signalled my entrance with another “Zigger Zagger”, then regretted it. I made up for lost time and clicked many photos. I noted the two Chelsea banners on the side balconies – they usually reside at opposite ends of The Bridge on match days. I wonder who brought them over…I presumed they belonged to the CSG. Seedorf equalised, but I missed this one too, my gaze momentarily distracted by some errant celery.

Roma bought me a beer a half-time. I looked around and saw lots of faces, so full of smiles. It was a great feeling to be so far from home, yet so at home.

I really enjoyed this match. Both teams “went for it” and Milan were a tad unlucky really. They hit the bar twice and forced a great reflex save from Petr. My preparations for this trip have been all about the fans, the songs, the friendships. I had overlooked the fact that none other than Ronaldinho, our former nemesis, would be playing for Milan. His shimmy in the second half was stupendous. I was impressed with Zhirkov and it was his calm strike which gave us a 2-1 win. I have to be honest, I found it hard to concentrate on the football. I was forever looking around at the reactions of the locals to our songs and chants.

I see Chelsea every 5 days back home – or at least I did last season – and so my focus in America has always been on the fans, not the team.

I think Roma fell in love with Sheva’s blonde locks. It couldn’t have been his football.

Overall, I think Milan had more fans – maybe more plastics – but we were far more organised. It had been a result on and off the pitch. But still a few niggles remain…

To be blunt, he Chelsea singing was a bit disjointed I felt…yet again, too many fans not singing, clueless…how anyone can go to a footy game and not even join in leaves me befuddled. Three girls took ages to decipher the simple “Super Frank” chant. Is the English accent that strong? I also noted “Carefree” being sung WAY too slow. Still – that apart, it was a hell of an experience and I hope our antics enticed a few more in to The Chelsea Family.

The game ended and I took a deep breath.

In 2004, around 20,000 had seen us play Roma in Pittsburgh. Five years on, a sell out 71,000 had witnessed my team in Baltimore. I could hardly comprehend it. My personal view is that getting to Moscow really took our “brand awareness” up a few notches in America. I also think we are the first club for any sports fans in America who favour “blue” teams ( Chicago Cubs, Michigan, LA Dodgers, NY Giants, etc) and I think this might be a valid reason for our growth in popularity.

We marched slowly back to the centre of town with Burger, Julie and Mark. Unlike the Thursday, this was to be a far more mellow evening. Pickles seemed to be devoid of any “faces” and so we returned to the Ale House amidst a further rain storm.

We sat outside and got stuck into a few more beers. With Roma alongside me, I mused on a few personal things. It had been surreal to see her again ( we were a long-distance “item” from 2001 to 2006 ) and here we were in Baltimore.

What does it all mean?

“Better not contemplate it too much mate, have another beer.”

The residual hard-core ( no Cathy on this occasion ) on that Friday night in Crab Town was San Francisco Bob, Farmer John, Burger, Julie, Detroit Bob, Simon, Cliff, Tuna, myself – and Roma.

The five inhabitants of room 413 – Burger, Julie, John, Roma and myself – slowly meandered back to The Sheraton amidst much merriment. A bearded fellow – “Santa” – walked past and he was serenaded by us all and I thought Julie would pass out with laughter.

Too much fun.

The time reached 3am and Cary invited us up to his room, but the hotel wasn’t prepared for Chelsea On Tour. One guy complained and so we had the quietest ever “Zigger Zagger” which was whispered by Cliff ( aka Alfie Garnett ) and the room was filled with muffled laughter.

After more complaints about “noise”, we eventually called it a day. The sleeping arrangements were sorted out and Farmer John took a spell on the floor.

3.45am – Room 43, The Sheraton, Walton’s Mountain –

“Goodnight Burger.”

“Goodnight Chris.”

“Goodnight Roma.”

“Goodnight Chris.”

“Goodnight Julie.”

“Goodnight Chris.”

“Goodnight Farmer John.”

“Goodnight Chris.”

“MOOOOOOOOOOOOO!”

Baltimore had been a blast.

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