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 –
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 Farmer John.”
Baltimore had been a blast.