We stepped into “The Counting House” at 11.30am. This pub, formerly part of an old cattle market, is equidistant between Leicester Tigers’ Welford Road stadium and the Leicester City Foxes’ King Power Stadium. It must do a great trade during these two sporting seasons. We only heard about this pub being the designated “away” pub before our game, just before COVID struck, in 2020. It’s a great boozer, modernised well with a long bar, and plenty of room for an overspill outside where beers are poured at a “pop-up” facility. We – the four of us, PD, Parky, Salisbury Steve and little old me – soon settled at one of the last remaining high tables. We had timed it just right.
This was another relatively long day following The Great Unpredictables.
I had set my alarm for 6.30am and I picked up PD and Steve at 8am, his Lordship just after. The drive up the Fosse Way was as picturesque and as pleasurable as ever. We breakfasted at Moreton-In-Marsh, then zipped around Coventry and headed towards Leicester. We used the last disabled parking space right outside the pub. As trips go, it had been nigh-perfect.
I have known Steve for a couple of years. He watches games near Parky in the Shed Lower and now drinks with us down “The Eight Bells”. It was good to have him on board. He added a little sanity to the day.
When we reached the pub only fifty or so other Chelsea supporters were present. I didn’t recognise any of them, not one. There is a rumour flying around at the moment that there is a way to “beat the system” of the VWR by using an app that opens up hundreds of browsers at one time. It is no wonder that many established old-school regulars at Chelsea, not au fait with such nefarious processes, never seem to get hold of away tickets these days.
The place soon filled up and at just after 12.15pm the first “Carefree” echoed around the bar. Two games were being shown on the bar’s large TV screens; Bournemouth vs. Liverpool and Bristol City vs. Blackpool. I didn’t really bother too much with either of them, though we loved to see Bournemouth take the lead against Liverpool and Mo Salah strike a penalty well-wide of the goal towards the end of the game.
How we laughed.
I wasn’t sure if I’d be laughing later. It would be “typical Chelsea” to follow up that fine win against Borussia Dortmund with a draw or, gasp, even a defeat against Leicester City. My prediction was a draw. To win three games in eight days might, I thought, be pushing it just a bit.
This would be my eighth visit to the King Power Stadium; I have missed three due to a holiday, being snowed in and “not being arsed” for a midweek League Cup game.
We walked the short distance to the ground just after 2pm.
I had swapped my ticket with PD’s so I could get a different perspective. Previous visits have always plotted me down the front; I fancied a change. I was well-rewarded with a seat right in the middle of the upper reaches of our away corner. Steve was ten yards away to my left, a row in front. PD was way down in row three alongside Al, Gal, John and Parky.
King Power Stadium slowly filled up and eventually came to life.
Fofana – Koulibaly – Cucarella
Loftus-Cheek – Enzo – Kovacic – Chilwell
Mudryk – Havertz – Felix
We have certainly raided Leicester City in recent years; Kante, Drinkwater, Chilwell, Fofana. I suppose their revenge was the 2021 FA Cup win, a fair trade-off, though I am sure they will never admit it.
The teams appeared.
The home team were dressed completely in royal blue while the away team were kitted out in garments based on foundation cream.
At the other end of the stadium, a rather pathetic “tifo” display took place involving a few white flags – presumably not of surrender – and a banner depicting the club’s trophies. The stadium is as bland as bland can be, quite different from Filbert Street with its four lop-sided stands.
Modern football, eh?
Around the ground, tucked under the roof at the rear of the home seated areas, Leicester City parade hundreds of small flags – not sure what they depict – but this looks messy, as if they have hung out all of their laundry to air.
The game kicked-off.
The badinage between both sets of supporters began early.
“Wesley Fofana. He left ‘cus your shit.”
“Potter and Boehly are fucking shit.”
“Ben Chilwell’s won the European Cup.”
A shot from James Maddison was easily saved by Kepa.
Ben Chilwell took a corner over in the far corner and as the ball dropped into the six-yard box, I experienced an immediate flashback to last season when I photographed a similar delivery onto the head of Antonio Rudiger and a goal followed. He loved playing at Leicester did Rudi. This year, Wesley Fofana headed the ball on and Kalidou Koulibaly kept the ball alive despite it ending well past the framework of the goal on our left. His cross went way deep. Chilwell, out on the right still, was the recipient and he was shaping up to make a direct hit, which I thought was being optimistic in the extreme. The angle was so tight. To my joy, he kept the ball low and it scudded into the net.
How he enjoyed that, running over to the crowd in the main stand, cupping his ears, and loving it all. My former work colleague Sally, watching with her young daughter Lily, was only a few yards away in her season ticket seat in the corner. Ouch.
Despite my pre-game reservations, we were 1-0 up.
The Chelsea crowd, buoyant before the goal, turned the volume up further.
“We’ve got Enzo in the middle. He knows exactly what we need.”
The front three were fluid, with Mykhailo Mudryk often in the middle with Kai Havetz on the right. Mudryk’s first touch was excellent in that first part of the game. I wanted him desperately to succeed. In the bar and at the game, his song was sung loudly.
“Mudryk said to me…”
Maddison zipped a free-kick over from the left but Daniel Amartey headed wide from very close in. This was developing into a fine game of football.
The songs continued.
“Oh Roman, do you know what that’s worth, Kai Havertz is the best on Earth.”
I had said to Steve in the pub that I liked this one, since it was born out of the 2021 Champions League Final in Porto, yet also mentions, and honours, Roman.
It was mid-way through the half, and the songs still rattled along nicely.
“Vialli” Vialli! Vialli! Vialli!”
“Kovacic our Croatian man…”
A fine cross from Havertz from the right found Felix who was one on one with the Leicester ‘keeper Danny Ward. He advanced and dinked the ball over him. Surely this was going in. We waited for the net to ripple. To our amazement and dismay, the ball struck the right-hand post.
“He’s gotta score those.”
On twenty-five minutes, the whole away end combined for a thunderous “Ten Men.”
Just after, Keirnan Dewsbury-Hall (not just a footballer but the site of temperance movement meetings in West Yorkshire), let fly from outside the box and his shot took a deflection off the considerable bulk of Koulibaly. To our relief, the ball crashed against the bar.
The barrage of songs continued.
“From Stamford Bridge to Wembley…”
“Hello, hello we are the Chelsea boys.”
“His hair is fucking massive.”
Marc Cucarella was, again, having a decent game. When he man-marks closely, he is decent. When he gets pulled all over the place, his sat nav throws a wobbly and he gets shown up. But on this occasion, fine.
“Oh when the blues go steaming in…”
“Oh Frankie Lampard scored two hundred…”
Another fine move followed. Mudryk cut in from the left with pace and set up an advanced Ruben Loftus-Cheek on the right, who then played a delightful low ball towards that man Felix. His tap in made us roar again, and the players raced over to Sally’s Corner.
VAR reared its ugly head.
Not long after, Felix lost possession, trying to be too fancy in our defensive third, and Leicester won the ball. It was touched on to Patson Daka, whoever he is, and his shot fizzed past Kepa at the near post. It was a decent strike to be fair.
The quiet home fans to my left were now chirpy.
“You’re not singing anymore.”
Next, two fine saves from Kepa in very quick succession from Maddison and Kelechi Iheanacho. The game kept providing thrills and spills.
Some folk around me were losing their patience with Mudryk whose ball retention was lessening with each pass.
With half-time approaching, Enzo found himself with a little space and spotted the central run from Havertz. He scooped the ball up with deft precision – Zola to Poyet in 1999, anyone? – and over the defence right into the path of Havertz who beautifully lobbed the ball over Ward. Magnificent. One of the great goals.
But nobody celebrated.
Not Havertz. My gaze centered on him. Was he sure he was offside?
Not any of the players. Were they sure too?
The stadium seemed still, frozen in time.
Leicester fans – football fans always fear the worst – were stony silent as they presumed a goal had been conceded.
We were quiet too. And mightily confused. There were, maybe, a few yelps of pleasure. But the majority of us were predominantly numbed into silence. I twice looked around to check the reaction of the bloke behind me, and neither of us knew what was going on. With the players idly walking back to our half and with the referee on the centre-circle, we all came to the slow realisation that the goal stood.
But the fear of VAR had ruined that goal celebration – once bitten twice shy – and, although we were laughing and joking at the time, we all knew that VAR had insidiously buggered-up that moment, our moment.
Incidentally, I have to mention it; this goal was eerily similar to one that I witnessed in deepest Devon in August when Owen Humphries scooped a ball over the Buckland Athletic defence for Jon Davies to score for Frome Town in an FA Cup tie. No fucking VAR at that level, though.
We were happy at half-time. I popped down to see the lads in the third row. All of them were bemused by the second goal too.
A change at the break.
Conor Gallagher for Felix.
We enjoyed a couple of early corners with Fofana forcing a fine save from Ward at his near post.
“Oooh Wesley Fofana.”
A new one this, I think.
Then Leicester enjoyed a little spell. The challenges were crashing in and Kepa went down injured after a save. This was an open game now. Leicester dominated for ten minutes or so. We held firm.
“Super, super Frank…”
“That’s why we love Salomon Kalou…”
I’d prefer songs about current players to be honest. Can we not serenade former players when we are winning 4-0 and 5-0?
On the hour, spaces opening up as we countered and there was an effort from Havertz, off balance, that flew wide. Gallagher had to awkwardly block off the line on sixty-five minutes as Leicester attacked at a corner.
“Oh Dennis Wise…”
There was a header from Havertz on the penalty spot but it was right at the ‘keeper
“We all follow the Chelsea, over land and sea…”
The boke behind me was in a quandary.
“I like Gallagher, I really do, but I struggle with what he does apart from basically run around a lot.”
I knew what he meant.
A fine move, but our man Conor shot right at the ‘keeper.
Kepa tipped a shot over. There were surely no complaints about entertainment value here. After Tuesday, here we all were enjoying another thoroughly enjoyable game of football. Throughout it, we were the team that showed a little more quality in all areas.
Up the other end, the ball came loose and Dewsbury-Hall missed a sitter. Phew.
On seventy-three minutes, Graham Potter made some substitutions.
Christian Pulisic for Chilwell.
Trevoh Chalobah for Loftus-Cheek.
With fifteen minutes to go, the ball was played to Mudryk who raced on and calmly slotted but we were all able to sadly spot the lineswoman’s flag raised for offside. His joyous slide was in vain.
A Leicester substitute became the latest victim of the away choir.
“Jamie Vardy, your wife is a grass.”
Songs still roared on in memory of Gianluca.
“Vialli! Vialli! Vialli! Vialli!”
On seventy-eight minutes, I watched the movement of Havertz just as Enzo brilliantly played a ball into space.
Havertz outpaced his marker and kept possession well. He then crossed, deeply, towards Mudryk who was back-peddling somewhat but still managed to keep the ball alive by heading it back into the six-yard box.
Enter Kovacic who blissfully volleyed home from close quarters.
We celebrated wildly now.
The scorer, surrounded by team mates, sprinted down to our corner while fists and arms pumped into the air. These were superb scenes.
I silently groaned.
FOR FUCK SAKE.
But I had seen Havertz break. He had to race past his marker. I was confident.
I turned to bloke beside me :
“Six goals in eight days!”
The away end was now the loudest it would be for the entire day.
“Kovacic our Croatian man.
He left Madrid and he left Milan.
He signed for Frank. Said fuck off Zidane.
He signed for Chelsea on a transfer ban.”
It seemed, at last, that things were looking up.
Some very late tweaks, and God knows who was playing where but I did not care one jot.
Carney Chukwuemeka for Mudryk and Benoit Badiashile for Fofana.
“You are my Chelsea, my only Chelsea…”
Empty seats appeared. I was so proud to see Sally and Lily still staying until the very end.
“Is there a fire drill?”
“You’ve had your day out…”
“We’re gonna bounce in a minute.”
“VIALLI! VIALLI! VIALLI! VIALLI!”
There were seven minutes of extra time and, in it, Wout Faes – whoever he is – got sent off for a second yellow.
I loved seeing the players – and the manager, great stuff – celebrate a fine win with smiles in front of our section at the end of the game. Let’s hope the corner has been turned.
This was a bloody excellent day of football, the away support was back to its best after the no-show at Tottenham, the colour was back in our beautifully toned cheeks, and I even got to see Kev Thomas smile.
We met up back at the car and all was good with our world. I slowly navigated myself away, the route taking my car right past the old away entrance to their old Filbert Street ground at the end of those tightly-packed houses on Burnmoor Street.
On a night of high drama at a wonderfully noisy Stamford Bridge, as Chelsea undoubtedly produced the finest performance of a deeply frustrating season, we defeated Borussia Dortmund 2-0 with goals in each half from the boots of Raheem Sterling and Kai Havertz, this from a twice-taken penalty, to secure our passage into the Champions League quarter finals once again.
It was always going to be a long day for me, this one. I had set the alarm for 4.30am so I could do an irregular 6am to 2pm shift. Thankfully, traffic was light on the way into London and at 4.30pm, I was parked up at Bramber Road between the North End Road and Queens Club. Heaven knows what time I’d be reaching my Somerset village after the game.
Throughout the day I had been quietly confident of us progressing against Dortmund. I felt sure that their 1-0 lead from the first leg could be overturned. I just felt it in my water. I had to smile when my fellow Frome Town supporter Steve, who would be watching the home game against Bashley – another team that plays in yellow shirts and black shorts – commented that he hoped both Yellow Walls would come tumbling down. Quite.
Pre-match was spent flitting between Stamford Bridge to chat to a couple of friends, a chip shop on Fulham Broadway for sustenance and “Simmons” to meet up with the usual suspects.
Just outside the Shed End, I chatted briefly to Mark M.
“I think we’ll do it. I think those buggers will raise their game and we’ll go through.”
And this was one of the main reasons why I was predicting a win and a safe passage into the next round. Myself and many others could not help but think that the Chelsea players, with just this one remaining trophy left to win in this dullest of seasons, were very likely indeed to go all out for a win against Dortmund. And yes, that would raise questions about desire and commitment to the cause in more mundane fixtures, but Mark smiled when he replied.
“Rather have us go through with that the case, rather than the alternative though.”
On the approach to the West Stand, supporters were being confronted by our very own yellow wall of hi-vis wearing stewards, a long line of them, who were asking for punters to show match tickets. It was calling out for a photograph and I duly snapped away. I was more than optimistic that the night would be supremely photogenic.
As I began to wolf down a saveloy and chips inside the busy chippy, I made room alongside me for a Dortmund fan. I had walked past “McGettigans” just as he had been in a discussion with a bouncer about being admitted into the pub. It didn’t surprise me that he had been turned away. We began chatting and I explained that I had attended the first leg. I also bravely retold the story of my “phantom trip” to see Borussia in 1987, hoping that he – Klaus, with his daughter alongside him – would understand my English. He was originally from Dortmund but now lives in Bonn. It was his first ever visit to London for a Champions League game. I again remained confident about a passage into the quarters and I told them so. As I sidled past them on leaving, I shook Klaus’ hand and said “when we beat you later tonight, you’ll remember this conversation.”
I then bumped into Mark W.
“Just walked up from Putney. There’s loads of them down there. In loads of pubs.”
It was no surprise that the Germans had travelled over in numbers. We had heard ridiculous stories of how many Eintracht Frankfurt supporters had descended on the capital in previous years and it was now the turn of the yellow and black hordes from Westphalia.
In the bar, my confidence was still surprisingly high. Jason and Gina from Dallas, remaining in London from the Leeds game, met up for a quick chat before disappearing off for a pre-match meal in one of the banqueting suites. I could sense that the mood in the small bar was buoyant. You could taste it in the air.
“Just need to avoid conceding an early goal.”
I walked up the Fulham Road with Parky. I was aware that the younger element in our support had planned a Liverpool-style welcome for the Dortmund coach outside the main gates between 5.30pm and 6pm – flares, noise – but I had not heard how well that had gone.
I was soon inside.
The three-thousand away fans were already occupying their allotted zone, though the section was configured slightly differently than the away area for a domestic league game; more in the lower, less in the upper, I know not why.
At 7.30pm, news filtered through that the kick-off had been delayed until 8.10pm. I wondered if the fans’ “welcome” had caused this.
We heard the team, a trusted 3-4-3.
Koulibaly – Fofana – Cucarella
James – Enzo – Kovacic – Chilwell
Sterling – Havertz – Felix
For some reason, Chelsea had decided to position two blowers at either end of the West Stand, pitch-side, and for a few minutes before the pre-game ceremony really got going, these blew dry-ice into the air. I must admit that it added to the atmosphere and the sense of drama despite me preferring fan-led initiatives.
Clive : “Gary Numan is on the pitch next.”
Indeed, how very 1980.
Next up, a laser light show. Again dramatic, but it was as if we were being spoon-fed our atmosphere rather than being able to create our own.
Then the entrance of the teams. I’ll say it once again; I much preferred the dramatic walk across the pitch and the line-ups in front of the West Stand.
The game was almost upon us.
But first, it was time for the away fans, seemingly all bedecked in yellow and black scarves, to give us all a show. It was, I have to say, stunning. Just as the teams stood for the anthem, scarves were held aloft. Then, a first for me, the Borussia players sprinted over to the away corner to show their appreciation. By now, the mosaic depicting many of our players was draped over both tiers of The Shed.
And then the yellow flares took over the away section, then the whole Shed End, then that part of the pitch. Alan likened it to a scene from the trenches of Picardy when mustard gas floated terrifyingly across battle lines. The scene reminded me of a Turner painting of the River Thames that I had recently seen at the art gallery in Liverpool; a yellow wash with broad brush strokes.
I wondered what masterpiece was going to unfold on the canvas before me.
This was it then. A massive game. Up until now, our season had been decidedly patchy, like one of those hideous denim jackets – “Kutte” – that many German football fans love to wear to games, but here was one easy path to redemption. Win this one boys and most – not all – will be forgotten.
Into them Chelsea.
We began so well, with some deep penetration – especially down the Chilwell and Felix flank – bringing us immediate joy, despite us watching the action through a cadmium yellow haze.
I was so pleased to see Julian Brandt, one of their best players in Germany three weeks ago, being substituted after just five minutes. The man mountain of Niklas Sule still stood in our way, though.
Our fine start – a header from Kalidou Koulibaly, a shot from Kai Havertz – helped to stir up a noisy reaction from us.
But the sight of all that yellow smoke drifting into the cold evening air, plus those sulphurous notes hitting our senses too, had set the tone. We were up for the vocal battle.
The atmosphere was bloody fantastic.
Even though I had seen many obvious tourist-types during my wanderings pre-match, wearing far too many friendship scarves for my liking, the old-school support had reacted so well in those early minutes. Again there had been a collective decision to ignore doubts about Graham Potter and to simply support.
The noise boomed around Stamford Bridge.
After having the best of the first fifteen minutes, the away team then had a little spell. Fearing danger, Alan had begun to share his packet of “Maynard Wine Gums”, our European good-luck charm for many a season – I have a ‘photo of Alan with a packet before the Vicenza game twenty-five years ago – and we managed to ride the storm.
There was, however, one moment of high drama. There was a foul in “Ward-Prowse” territory and Marco Reus – who did not play in the first-game – struck a fine free kick towards goal. Kepa flung himself across the goal to save well.
A goal then would have been catastrophic.
Despite our keen start, the away team were now bossing the possession but we looked confident when we broke. As the minutes passed, it became an even game. At times we struggled a little to win the ball.
But the noise still gratifyingly rose out of the stands.
On twenty-seven minutes, a wicked cross from Reece James was whipped into the six-yard box but without anyone arriving to meet it. The ball rebounded out to Havertz who unleashed a thunderous strike goal wards goal. The effort slammed against one post and then seemed to spin slowly across the face of the goal, again with nobody close, and off it went for a goal kick.
Next up, more drama. Chelsea on top again. The noise booming. A Raheem Sterling shot – after a run from deep – was saved but the ball reached Havertz. Cool as you like, the German curled an exquisite effort up and into the far top corner. I celebrated wildly but soon saw an off-side flag.
“Yeah, to be fair, Sterling did look offside.”
This was good stuff.
“Bellingham is quiet, in’ee?”
The whole stadium was now one huge unit.
“CAM ON CHOWLSEA. CAM ON CHOWLSEA. CAM ON CHOWLSEA. CAM ON CHOWLSEA.”
Next, a chance for Koulibaly was fluffed but the ball ran on to Felix but his shot was straight at Alexander Meyer in the Borussia goal. Then a shot from Chilwell, attacking space so well, but his effort went wide.
“Be brilliant to get a goal just before the break.”
Throughout the first-half, it was reassuring to see Marc Cucarella playing so well. His game was full of incisive tackles and intelligent passing. A huge plus.
With forty-three minutes on the clock, a move developed on our strong left flank. Often in this half Havertz was to be found in a slightly deeper role with Sterling in the middle up top. On this occasion, the ball was moved out of defence by Cucarella. The ball found Havertz who wriggled away down the left – liquid gold – and he then back-heeled to Mateo Kovacic who kept the ball moving. A cross from Chilwell was zipped in to the waiting Sterling. He stabbed at the ball but completely missed it. He did well to get to the ball again, take a touch and blast the ball goal wards. In the blink of an eye, the ball rose to hit the net high.
The Bridge shook.
GET IN YOU BASTARD.
Euphoria? You bet. Perfect timing. Perfect.
The players celebrated in front of the away fans. Snigger. Snigger.
At half-time, everything was good in my world, your world, our world.
In 1983, things were…different.
After the win at home to Blackburn Rovers, Chelsea travelled over to The Valley to play Charlton Athletic. The date was Saturday 5 March 1983. The result was horrific. We were 2-0 down at half-time and we went on to lose 5-2. Our scorers were Colin Lee and Pop Robson. The attendance was 11,211. I remember seeing highlights from this game on YouTube a couple of years ago. I saw half-baked football with the stadium at quarter capacity. I would advise against anyone doing the same. The former European footballer of the year in 1977 Allan Simonsen scored one of the five Charlton goals. Things were at a low ebb again.
Never mind, help was on hand. My diary noted that Bob Latchford, then at Swansea City, was going to join us on Saturday.
Let’s get back to 2023 sharpish.
The second-half began and we were attacking the Matthew Harding as is our wont. We began the half in the same way that we had finished the first.
Again, this was good stuff.
After five minutes, there was an attack, developed well from right to left, that ended up with a cross from Chilwell that eventually resulted in a shot, saved, from Kovacic. But there had been a shout for handball, strangely not by myself, as the cross was whipped in.
Some of the crowd shouted “VAR”.
We went to VAR.
The usual delay.
Then the referee was asked to check the TV monitor.
I chatted to Alan : “The longer these take, the better likelihood of a penalty. If they look at the TV, even more so.”
I didn’t cheer, I just can’t.
Havertz had the ball, carrying it, waiting for the protestations to pass.
A slow run up, a halt, a wait, a strike.
It hit the post.
The ball was cleared.
Unbeknown to me, there had been encroachment.
The TV screen told the story.
“Straftsossausfuhrung Unerfrufung” gave way to “Betreten Des Strafraums. Wiederholung Des Strafstosses.”
Anyway, the whatever, the kick was to be retaken.
“Havertz again. Not convinced. Think he’ll miss again.”
A few fellow sufferers in the Sleepy Hollow were looking away. They could not dare to see it. I watched.
The same, lame, run up. The same side. In.
Pandemonium in the Sleepy Hollow, pandemonium at Stamford Bridge, pandemonium everywhere.
On aggregate, Chelsea 2 Borussia Dortmund 1.
Deep breaths, deep breaths.
On the hour, Stamford Bridge was again as one.
“We all follow the Chelsea.”
There was a clear chance for Jude Bellingham, but remarkably he volleyed wide.
Conor Gallagher replaced Joao Felix. The substitute provided fresh legs and kept our momentum going. But as the night grew older, and as the remaining wine gums were eked out between Alan, Clive and little old me, the nerves began to be tested.
A save by Kepa from Marius Wolf as the ball flew in.
On seventy-five minutes, Sterling raced through but I thought he was offside. He advanced, passed to Gallagher, goal. The flag was raised for the initial offside.
On eighty-three minutes, Potter changed personnel.
Christian Pulisic – who? – for Sterling.
Ruben Loftus-Cheek for Kovacic.
On eight-seven minutes, one final change.
Denis Zakaria for Enzo.
An extra six minutes of extra-time were signalled so Alan turned his stopwatch on.
I lived every tackle, every pass. The stopwatch passed six minutes, it entered the seventh. I watched the moment that the referee blew up.
We were there.
“One Step Beyond” boomed and I hurriedly put away my camera before turning to leave. All around me were smiling faces.
“See you at Leicester, Al.”
I needed to put something up on “Facebook” and it soon came to me.
“We Are Chelsea. We Do Europe.”
This has clearly been a difficult season and the football has, by our high standards, been very poor for more than this current campaign. But this game was so gorgeous to be part of. It was a complete joy to, at last, witness a proper game of football – “just like we used to” – with the added bonus of an active and energised crowd adding support and noise.
A masterpiece? It felt like it. Absolutely. It was one of those great Chelsea nights.
Walking along the Fulham Road, everyone seemed to be smiling. There were chants and songs. Along the North End Road, a car played “Blue Is The Colour” while one of the song’s original singers walked alongside me. It was a lovely moment.
“Cus Chelsea, Chelsea is our name.”
The car continued on, now “toot-tooting” its horn as it disappeared into the night.
Everyone was super-happy on the drive home.
I eventually reached my house at 1.30am, just as snow started to fall, but I knew that I would not be able to crash straight away. My mind was still flying around – “Benfica next round please” – and I was able to upload a photo or two onto the internet. At just after 2.30am, I must have fallen asleep.
In 2023, there aren’t many bigger away games for us Chelsea supporters than Tottenham Hotspur. In my book, it’s a toss-up between a trip to their stadium and to Old Trafford. There’s not much in it.
In 1983, the biggest away game in our fixture list was undoubtedly Leeds United.
I continue my look at the current season of 2022/23 with a backwards look at one from forty-years ago, 1982/83, with some memories of our trip to Elland Road on Saturday 19 February 1983. The previous Chelsea four matches, detailed here recently, were horrific; four defeats.
Outside of Chelsea, I was in the process of applying for degree courses at various polytechnics, at Sheffield, at Kingston, at Middlesex and at North London. I had already attended an interview at Sheffield on a blisteringly cold day after my father took a day off work to drive me up to South Yorkshire. It was my first-ever interview for anything, anywhere, and it went reasonably well. In the week leading up to the game at Leeds United, Sheffield Poly offered me a place on their Geography course for the autumn of 1983 if I could achieve a C and a D grade in two of my three “A Levels” in June. On the day before the Leeds United game, I received a similar offer from Middlesex Poly. However, my spirits were not high and these grades were looking beyond me. Both Chelsea Football Club and little old me were experiencing a tough winter. Additionally, the “mock” A-Levels were approaching fast, another reason to become depressed about my immediate future.
Going in to the game at Elland Road, Chelsea were lodged in fifteenth position, well away from Wolves, QPR and Fulham who appeared to be romping their way to the three automatic places. Fulham, in third place were a huge twelve points ahead of the team in fourth position, Grimsby Town. Chelsea, my beloved Chelsea, however were just three points ahead of a relegation place, on thirty-one points, ahead of Cambridge United on twenty-eight.
Between me and my “A Levels” and Chelsea in the Second Division, it was a bloody toss-up to see who would fare the better.
My diary entry on the Friday mentions “hope no trouble at the Leeds v Chelsea match”. I spent the day at home in Somerset, no doubt eagerly awaiting updates from Elland Road on “Radio Two” on the BBC. My radio was always tuned to 909 kHz on the Medium Wave on Saturday afternoons.
The teams lined up as below :
Gwynn Thomas (Kevin Hird).
Phil Driver (Gary Chivers).
I can remember all of those Leeds United players from forty years ago with the exception of Martin Dickenson. A remnant from the 1970 FA Cup Final, Eddie Gray, was the Leeds player-manager who started down the left flank behind his younger brother Frank. I had first seen Paul Hart playing for Blackpool against us at Stamford Bridge in 1975, and I remember reaching out by the player’s tunnel before the game to obtain his autograph.
Just writing these words takes me right back to my childhood. After my first game in the West Stand benches, we always watched in the East Lower in the ensuing games from 1974 to 1980 and I specifically asked my parents to try to get match tickets as near to the tunnel as possible. I used to boil over with excitement when I called over to various Chelsea players, and a few opponents, to get them to sign my little autograph book. To be so close, touching distance, so close that I could smell their Hai Karate, was utterly amazing for me as a youngster.
Leeds had three internationals in that team – the two Grays plus Arthur Graham, all for Scotland – while our only international player was Joey Jones of Wales. With former striker Colin Lee deployed at right-back, our forward three of Walker, Speedie and Mayes is pretty diminutive, especially for the ‘eighties.
The goals rattled in at Elland Road that afternoon. It was 1-1 at half-time with us going ahead via a Mike Fillery penalty before Aiden Butterworth equalised. In the second-half, goals from Clive Walker and a Frank Gray penalty were traded before Arthur Graham gave the home team a 3-2 lead. In the closing moments, an Alan Mayes shot was deflected in by the player-manager Eddie Gray.
Leeds United 3 Chelsea 3.
My diary on the evening of the game guessed at a gate of 21,000. I wasn’t far off. In fact, the attendance was a still healthy 19,365, just narrowly behind the division’s highest gate of 20,689 that saw Newcastle United play Oldham Athletic. Despite a promotion place, our neighbours Queens Park Rangers drew just 10,271 for their home game with Barnsley that day.
There is no doubt that around 6,000 Chelsea fans made the trip to West Yorkshire, all positioned along the side of the ground in the Lowfields.
Once the third goal went in, I no doubt wished that I was among the away support. However, apart from five very local away games in Bristol – Rovers four times, City once – from 1976 to 1981, my visits to other away venues with my beloved Chelsea were still over a year away.
These days, thankfully, they are a very regular occurrence.
It was a stunning Sunday morning for my drive to London for the away game at Tottenham. There were no clouds to be seen, just a pristine blue sky. There were just three of us this week, Parky, PD and little old me. None of us were relishing the game.
“Damage limitation, innit?”
It certainly seemed like it.
On all of my three previous visits to the new spanking Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, I had witnessed three Chelsea wins with no goals conceded. This time, I surmised, might be a little different.
On the Saturday, we received some sad news. We had known that Sam George – aka “Lovejoy” – had been ill for a while, and we were to learn that he had indeed passed away the previous weekend. I first got to know Lovejoy, named after the Ian McShane TV character, back in the late 1990’s and he became a part of my extended Chelsea family for quite a few years. He was such a character, and played a large role in the first few of these match reports in the 2008/9 season. I can well remember Lovejoy sorting out a ticket alongside him in the East Lower for Farmer John from Ohio, the Stoke City game in 2009, the last-minute Lampard screamer. However, weary with red wine, Lovejoy soon managed to fall asleep, thus missing the entire game.
The perma-tan, the hair, the dazzling white teeth, the chewing gum, the leather trousers, the ladies on tow in various European cities.
What a character.
There was another beautiful breakfast at the “Half-Moon Café” in Hammersmith – more Old Bill this week, but this time they were off to the League Cup Final – before I parked up at Barons Court to catch the tube to Liverpool Street. From there, we caught the midday overland train up to White Hart Lane. We were all subdued. I was trying my best to rationalise where we were in terms of team development but it was such a difficult position in which we found ourselves. The remnants of Frank Lampard’s team had been joined by a mixture of signings by Tuchel in the summer, and were now augmented by our “Supermarket Sweep” of players from January. It almost felt that the past few weeks had been an extra “pre-season” and now the league campaign was to begin again.
During the week, I had flitted around the internet to check out a potted history of our man Graham. Was he really as big a nonentity as it seemed? I was aware of his managerial history, or lack of it, but what about before then? Well, I discovered one thing.
He was playing for Stoke City when they won 1-0 at Stamford Bridge in the League Cup in the autumn of 1995. I was there, I remember it well. A lone Paul Peschisolido goal gave the visitors the win, the goal being scored in front of their “Delilah” singing hordes in the temporary Shed end.
Due to my Stoke past – I lived there for three years – I was well aware of a Potter playing for the Potters at the time, but the penny never dropped until the past week.
Yep, Graham bloody Potter. It was him.
The train pulled into the swish new White Hart lane station and, unlike PD and Parky, I went south and not north. I had not yet walked down to the southern part of the redeveloped area so, camera in hand, I walked down the High Road to soak it all in and to take some photos. Over the course of time, I always like to walk 360 degrees around every away stadium. I stood opposite the “Corner Pin” pub. This still stands on the corner of the High Road and Park Lane, and of course the area is all-changed now. Before, at the old stadium, coins used to be thrown at us as aggressive home fans tried to get close. I don’t miss all that.
Unlike at the northern end, where there is a tightness by the away steps, they have really opened up the area outside their huge home end. This towering stand sits on the site of the old White Hart Lane pitch. I walked on, past a couple on their ‘seventies, perched on a low wall, bedecked in their navy blue and white Tottenham bar scarves, eating sandwiches.
I turned left and headed towards the away turnstiles. I noted a line of newly planted trees at the base of all of the steel and glass. There were now grey skies overhead. The wind chilled me. It was time to go in.
Again, for the third visit in four, I was down low along the side. There was a subdued atmosphere throughout the concourse and in the Chelsea section. We were a crowd full of long faces. It seemed to take forever to fill. With a quarter of an hour to go, the whole stadium wasn’t even half-full.
I miss the old days. In the ‘eighties, a London Derby would be full with half-an-hour to kick-off, with terrace chants bubbling away for ages.
James – Silva – Koulibaly – Chilwell
Loftus-Cheek – Enzo – Felix
Ziyech – Havertz – Sterling
We were subjected to flashing graphics and a booming voice blathering on about glory and history that gave the impression that the home club were the epitome of success and greatness, rather than a club that has won just one piece of silverware in twenty-four years.
I still don’t like to see us in Tottenham navy socks.
Why? Just why?
I detected the Tottenham shirts looking quite grubby, far from lilywhite, as if the colour had run in the wash.
Pre-match, I had heard not a single shout, chant or song from the home support.
The game began and we had just as much of it as they did. There were a few forays, especially down our left where Sterling seemed to be gifted extra space. There had already been a piece of sublime defending from Thiago Silva, but after a strong tackle on Harry Kane, our vaunted Brazilian went down in pain. He tried to run it off but, alas, was replaced by Wesley Fofana. Until then, we had definitely had the upper hand. There was a shot from Joao Felix. And another.
It was at around this time that Gary realised that Hakim Ziyech was on the pitch.
It was lovely to hear more “Vialli” chants. These became, as the game continued, our stock response to their tiresome “Y*d Army!” chants.
There was a lovely lofted pass out to Ben Chilwell from Enzo Fernandez and I quipped “it would appear that we have a playmaker in our midst.”
The bloke behind me was irritating me. I couldn’t criticise his support, but his voice sounded like he had been gargling with gravel. It got rather tiresome when he kept moaning about our lack of support for the boys.
“Turn it in mate” I muttered to myself.
Tottenham were nothing special, but Pierre-Emile Hojberg thumped a shot against the base of a post before being whacked away for a corner.
Before half-time, a sizzling effort from Sterling forced a low save from Fraser Forster, who used to be a goalkeeper.
In the stands, all was quiet.
In the closing moments of the first period, a VAR farce. Being so low down, I couldn’t really see what had happened but one minute Ziyech was sent off after a VAR review, but then after a second review, he was allowed to continue.
Pathetic. I hate modern football.
The mood in the away quadrant was “we haven’t been great but neither have they.”
Pre-match, I would have taken a 0-0.
“Halfway to paradise, lads.”
The second-half began preposterously. Within a few seconds of the re-start, Kepa was able to make a low save at the near post from Emerson Royal and Enzo hacked the ball out. Sadly, Skipp robbed Felix and unleashed a powerful shot on goal.
My mind was calm though.
“That’s a long way out. It is at Kepa. He should save that easily.”
How wrong I was.
The ball seemed to go through his arms as he back-peddled slightly.
The mood in the away end worsened and our support dwindled further. With their team now in front, the home support decided to sing up.
I heard four songs and four songs only, three of which were all about being Jewish.
Our game fell apart despite the promptings of Enzo, who at least tried to knit things together. But everything was so slow and predictable, and most fifty-fifty challenges didn’t go our way.
Mason Mount for Ziyech.
Denis Zakaria for Loftus-Cheek.
I was surprised how deep Kane was playing for that lot. He was their main playmaker on many occasions.
Our play didn’t improve. There was a half-chance for Kai Havertz.
Next up was the disappearance of the referee Stuart Atwell. I suspected a problem with his technical gizmos but the home end had either ideas. He came back on after a minute or so away.
This was a shocking game of football.
Sadly, poor marking at a corner gifted Kane with a tap in on eighty-two minutes.
Body after body vacated the away end, including Mister Gravel and his mate behind me.
There was no way back from this, despite Potter making two late substitutions.
Mykhailo Mudryk for Joao Felix.
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang for Sterling.
Mudryk showed a bit of endeavour at the death, but by now the home fans were heaping it on us.
“Chelsea get battered, everywhere they go…”
The only surprise was that Son didn’t score when he came on as a late substitute.
This was a truly horrible game of football, a truly horrible experience. There were no positives to come from this match. And taken as a whole, the atmosphere was decidedly muted for a London Derby.
61,000 and we still don’t sing?
So, what of the future? I don’t know. Relegation? No, surely not. But yet we are in a truly awful run of form. Two wins out of fourteen in all competitions. Our remaining away games make me shudder.
However, there really can’t be many Chelsea fans left who think that Graham Potter is the man to lead us on…
Due to the timings of games and thus match reports this season, my personal recollection of 1982/83 in this edition encompasses two consecutive home games at Stamford Bridge.
On the evening of Tuesday 31 August 1982, Chelsea played Wolverhampton Wanderers at Stamford Bridge. After winning the Football League Cup in 1980 against the then European Champions Nottingham Forest, Wolves suffered relegation just two years later. They dropped down into the Second Division alongside Leeds United and Middlesbrough. I suppose that they must have been one of the favourites for promotion that season. Our team was the same one that had played at Cambridge United on the Saturday. The game finished 0-0. The gate of 14,192 was a pretty decent one considering our predicament at the time. In the previous season we had averaged 13,133.
Next up was a match with Leicester City on Saturday 4 September. I was seventeen and just back at school. I was now in the Upper Sixth, with a worrying year ahead with A Levels in Geography, Mathematics and Technical Drawing on some hideous distant horizon. It was a horrible time. At Frome College, everywhere I looked I saw Julie’s face but she was now living in a little village to the east of Reading. At the time, Reading seemed like being a thousand miles away. A few years ago, I had a little sigh to myself when I heard that a mate’s schoolgirl daughter was seeing a boy in Reading. Distances seem to be squashed these days. It didn’t really help matters that the Westbury to London Paddington line took me to within half a mile of Julie’s house on that trip up to see Chelsea play Leicester. As the train whizzed past Charvil, I peered out of the window with a lump in my throat and a pain in my heart.
In those days, my school mates rarely went to football, proper football. My pal Steve often used to go to see his Bristol City play on their nosedive through the divisions. He also watched many Frome Town games. Steve would have been with me at the Wellington game the previous Saturday, just as he is alongside me at Frome games forty years later. He is currently the club’s official historian. Another mate, Francis, saw his Liverpool team at Ashton Gate in 1980. Another mate, Kev, went to see his Tottenham team around 1980 too, but that was it. I was one of a very few who used to go to league football. The Leicester City game would be my twenty-fourth Chelsea match. I didn’t have a part-time job in those distant days. I just saved my pennies to watch my team. Chelsea was my life.
Living over a hundred miles away, I could only afford a few games each season. From 1981/82, I started going up alone by train. The independence that I gained on those trips to London put me in good stead for further travelling adventures in the future. But in 1981/82 and 1982/83, I became closer to the club by subscribing to the club programme. I loved the small programmes of that era, nicely designed, they had a stylish look about them I thought. I used to love the arrival of the postman in those days. I have no idea why I stopped in 1983/84 when the programme became larger but lost a little of its style in my opinion.
My father would have dropped me at Westbury train station to catch an 8am train to The Smoke. It would arrive in Paddington at about 9.45am from memory. In those days, with no spare money and plenty of time to kill I usually walked over to Hyde Park and sat beside The Serpentine on a park bench – it became a superstition in 1981/82 – and I probably did the same on this occasion. Then a walk to Lancaster Gate tube and the journey down to Stamford Bridge. In those days, I knew nobody at Stamford Bridge, not a soul. Before the game, I bought the newly published “The Chelsea Story” by John Moynihan with money that my mother had given me. The book cost £5.95, a costly sum in those days. I watched the game in The Shed, my usual place towards the tea bar, but under the roof.
I am not honestly sure if I bought a programme on the day of the game. It cost 50p. I have a feeling I would have waited until I received one through the post.
Times were hard.
On viewing that same programme forty years later, I am reminded of the perilous financial predicament that we were in. Although Ken Bates had bought the club for “only a pound” in the Spring of 1982, we were still struggling to balance the books. On the rear cover of the programme, in a space reserved for sponsors, there is a stark message against a black, and blank, page :
“We’re known by the company we keep, we’d welcome your company on this full colour back page. For full details please contact the Club’s Marketing Department.”
It’s hard to believe I support the same club in 2022 where every square inch of the club’s body and soul is sold for profit.
The team was almost unchanged again, but with debutante Tony McAndrew replacing Clive Walker, although not by position. The game ended 1-1 with Micky Droy scoring for us in the fiftieth minute and then Gary Lineker equalising in the last five minutes. The gate was another respectable one of 14,127.
The old joke about the crowd changes being announced to the players at Stamford Bridge did appear in this case to be spot on.
I have one distinct memory from the game. I looked over to the Whitewall and the Middle and thought this :
“We may be in the Second Division with a slim chance of getting promotion, and this ground might look a third full but still around 15,000 supporters have gone out of their way to come and support the team today. There is something rather noble about that. It feels right that I am there.”
On the way back, I devoured the new book. I loved the introduction by athlete Seb Coe.
“Following the club could be as frustrating as chasing spilt mercury across a laboratory table.”
I was a quiet and world-shy teenager, but I remember a smile from within and me nodding in agreement, as if I was a footballing sage.
My diary for the day reports “probably one of the most boring games I have seen – a shame really after spending all that money.” There was talk of a party when I returned to Somerset although I am not sure where this was. My diary continues “enjoyed it, only slightly drunk, but soon sobered up.” It is probable that my father would have picked me up at the end of the night.
So there we have it. My twenty-fourth Chelsea game. My twenty-fourth Chelsea day. My Dad at the start of it. My Dad at the end of it. How I miss those times.
Forty Years Later.
The build-up to this game was way different. There was a drive to London with friends, a quick visit to Stamford Bridge to take some early scene-setting photographs, a spot of breakfast in the café and then my usual seat in the pub.
Outside Fulham Broadway, DJ had thrust a copy of “CFCUK” into my hands and I read a little of it in the café. While I waited for my food, I couldn’t help but notice the characters already sitting at tables. There was one loud voice, an American with the voice of a woman, sharing his thoughts a few tables away. Two English chaps close to me were deep in conversation and one appeared to be re-writing a script or manuscript of some description in between bites of a bacon sandwich. A group of younger folk were behind me, gregarious and chatty. The café owner, foreign by birth, my guess was Italian, bellowed orders and chivied his staff as if he was the conductor in an orchestra.
I devoured a piece in “CFCUK” by Walter Otton who wrote about his experiences of the Tottenham game which he watched in a pub after a tortuous day spent walking for miles and miles in the hinterlands of suburbia with friends. He detailed the people he observed while waiting for a train at Worcester Park, a station that I know well after parking at a mate’s near there for football between 1991 and 1993. I loved these words :
“To my right, I study a haunted young man with high cheekbones as he stares directly at his feet. He’s got the regretful face of man who last night had a vacancy sign up, but then he went and let the wrong person in.”
I messaged Walts to say how much I loved this. I had seen him briefly after the debacle at St. Mary’s on Tuesday.
I spent two-and-a-half hours in the cosy “Eight Bells” and I was surprised how quiet it all was at 11.30am. It took an hour to fully reach respectable figures. The Norwegians called in again, this time with an extra fan from Bergen, the wonderfully nicknamed Einstein. The Kent lads were close by, as were three young lads from Ilminster in Somerset who we had not seen before, but were dead chatty about the current malaise in the team. Steve from Salisbury appeared alongside Simon from Andover, another new face.
Andy and Sophie arrived and I spent some quality time at their table.
Andy and I raised a glass to “Ginger Terry.”
With a great deal of sadness, I learned on Thursday that Terry O’Callaghan had passed away that day. He was a lovely man, softly spoken, a true gent and was well-loved by those at Chelsea who knew him. I would bump into him at all sorts of odd, and far-flung, locations. He always stopped to say hello. Ironically, I first met Terry on a coach from Gothenberg in Sweden to Oslo in Norway alongside Andy for our match against Valerenga in 1999.
During the summer, I was shocked to hear of the passing of another of life’s good guys. I first met Henry Hughes Davies out in New York on a trip to see the New York Mets play a baseball game alongside around ten other Chelsea supporters. Unfortunately the game was rained-off but I remember how pleasant he was on that occasion and during the two or three other times I met him in “The Goose” with other US-based Chelsea fans. From London, Henry was killed in a road accident out in South-East Asia and it hit me hard.
I also, sadly, need to mention the passing of Depeche Mode member and life-long Chelsea supporter Andy Fletcher. During the summer, I attended a lecture by Chelsea Communications Director Steve Atkins at his former school in Warminster – he came across well – but the night was soured when, immediately after, I heard that “Fletch” had suffered a heart-attack and had passed away at the age of just sixty.
The music of Depeche Mode first thrilled me in 1982 – that year again – and has been a constant companion to me over the years. I have seen the band in 1993, 2001, 2006 and 2017.
Andy, Sophie and I had a very enlightening “state of the nation” chat about Chelsea Football Club and other clubs.
How sometimes it can be a bit hard to get “up” for some games for example.
“I woke with the alarm at 5.45am this morning. I know exactly what you mean.”
How we have 22 million followers on Twitter yet we were outnumbered by Arsenal in Baku in 2019.
“They, Arsenal, are still the biggest club in London.”
How we only sold six-hundred for Dinamo Zagreb.
“Too early for me, for sure.”
How we might struggle to pack in 60,000 at a refurbished Stamford Bridge in light of Tottenham playing to capacity crowds at their new stadium.
“Saw some Tottenham at Fleet Services and also some at Putney Bridge tube, no doubt on their way to the Fulham game. Admittedly, there is the “wow” factor of a superb new stadium but their crowds have been constantly full-houses. They have a huge support in the home counties.”
How the pricing structure at West Ham is paying dividends.
“After a dodgy first season, they seem to have got it right. Full houses now, eh?”
How some Chelsea fans want Thomas Tuchel gone.
“But come on. We have only played five bloody games.”
How Sophie was looking for a spare for Crystal Palace in a few weeks.
“Might have one. Will let you know.”
We marched off to the tube station together and I spotted ex-England cricketer Alex Stewart chatting at Fulham Broadway.
I was inside with around fifteen minutes to go.
It was time to focus on the team.
Alas, a fleeting look at Billy Gilmour pre-match at Southampton on Tuesday would be the last that I would see of him in Chelsea colours. His permanent move to Brighton disappointed me. But at least this sad news was tempered by the fact that Armando Broja had signed a new multi-year deal. But, to our annoyance, Thomas Tuchel still went with the “after you Claude” false nine with Broja on the bench. A debut for Wesley Fofana in defence. We had all tried to remember if he had played against us in the 2021 FA Cup Final. I hoped for a more successful career for Wesley Fofana than Tony McAndrew. Mason Mount and Kai Havertz were both dropped and I was OK with that. It was generally accepted that in Southampton they were sinners, no saints.
No Jorginho, either.
A brave Tuchel?
Here we were :
Fofana – Silva – Koulibaly
James – Loftus-Cheek – Kovacic – Gallagher – Cucarella
Sterling – Pulisic
I had to laugh when Clive appeared in a claret-colured Stone Roses T-Shirt. Both PD and I were wearing light blue T-Shirts; Paul, Lambretta, me, Paul & Shark.
“Bloody West Ham.”
I thought back to a photo that I had taken in the hotel bar looking out onto the forecourt earlier in the day. The plastic flowers on show there were shades of purple in light blue vases.
Good job, I’m not superstitious, cough, cough.
West Ham kicked off and a high ball was pumped forward. After four seconds, the new boy Fofana had his first touch as a Chelsea player, a strong header putting the ball back whence it came.
Alan : “I hope Fofana is more Kante than Drinkwater.”
Clive : “Drinkwater had one good season for Leicester.”
Chris : “I had one good season. Summer 1982.”
It wasn’t much of a first-half. And the atmosphere was very poor for a London derby.
How about the lowlight first?
Marc Cucarella failed to beat the first man on two early corners down in Parkyville.
“Bloody shite, should be fined for that. No excuses.”
Despite our almost total domination of possession – it was absolutely all us in the first fifteen minutes – West Ham packed their defence solid and we soon seemed to look flat.
There was a shimmying run from Raheem Sterling into the box but the resulting corner was a Cucarella special.
Reece James out on the right fizzed a low ball into the danger area, pinball ensued, but Christian Pulisic’ effort was blocked for another corner.
Finally, we were treated to a flowing move with passes hitting runners into space.
Then, a low shot from Mateo Kovacic but he drove the ball just wide.
It wasn’t as bad as Southampton, but it was all pretty dire stuff.
I suspect that the first-half against Leicester City in 1982 was no better.
At the half-time break, the three of us posed in our claret and blue shirts, the shame.
For the record, during the first-half Kurt Zouma was neither clapped nor booed. It was if he had never played for us.
The second-half begun with a still woeful atmosphere in the stadium. I was surprised how quiet the three thousand West Ham fans were. I wasn’t surprised how quiet we were.
There was a clash between James and Michail Antonio; both booked. This stirred some emotions within the stadium.
At last, the atmosphere improved and it felt like a proper game of football rather than some computer-generated monstrosity.
There was a very loud and piercing “Amazing Grace” :
“Chelsea – Chelsea – Chelsea – Chelsea – Chelsea, Chelsea – Chelsea.”
Exactly on the hour, Tuchel changed it around.
Armando Broja for Gallagher.
Mason Mount for Pulisic.
At the Shed End, a corner to West Ham.
Chris : “You know what’s coming.”
It was hoofed away by Reece James.
A second corner was fisted high and away by Mendy. The ball was then volleyed back at goal by Jarrod Bowen. This effort from distance was nervously palmed away by Mendy again. This was the first real scare for us, but also the only meaningful shot on target for either side. However, from the corner that followed, there was an almighty scramble with Mendy not exactly covering himself in glory. His jump and save from under the bar only kept the ball alive. The ball landed at the feet of a West Ham player who prodded the ball back into the six-yard box. That man Antonio slammed it in from close range.
Thomas Tuchel’s doubters were sharpening their pencils.
The new man Broja was soon sniffing inside the box, and I was purring with his intent. We now had a natural striker up front, a physical presence, a predator. Whereas Sterling was like an eel, slithering into space, Broja was shark-like, ready to snap at anything.
On seventy-two minutes, another double-switch.
Kai Havertz for Kovacic.
Chilwell for Cucarella.
The noise levels were ever-increasing now. We prayed for an equaliser.
“CAM ON CHOWLSEA. CAM ON CHOWLSEA. CAM ON CHOWLSEA. CAM ON CHOWLSEA.”
Havertz almost had an immediate impact, trying to reach a through-ball but Lucasz Fabianski foiled him with a brave challenge on the edge of the six-yard box.
Just after, a lofted chip from the cultured boot of Thiago Silva from deep found the on-rushing Chilwell down below us in The Sleepy Hollow. His head beat the rather stunted leap of two defenders and the ball dropped nicely for him to run onto. In the blink of an eye, he had touched the ball through the legs of a star-jumping Fabianski and I could hardly believe my eyes as the ball continued over the line.
GET IN YOU BASTARD.
Chilwell’s leap was perfect for me.
Snap, snap, snap.
He celebrated with Broja but I was impressed that nobody else joined in. There was business to be done. Top marks.
This was a real game now and the Chelsea hordes had now found their voices.
With four minutes to go, a huge scare and a massive “get out of jail card.”
Alan and I were actually mired in the middle of a pun fest.
Alan : “Surprised Cornet ain’t wearing number 99.”
Chris : “That’s a flaky comment.”
Alan : “Saucy.”
Chris : “You got hundreds and thousands of these, mate?”
With that, a cross from the West Ham left found the leap of that man Cornet but his free header hit the post.
The game continued.
Broja was up against Vladimir Coufal down below us. He teased and cajoled the West Ham defender before finding some space with some fine control. His pass to Chilwell on the overlap was perfect. The ball was drilled into a packed box. Havertz was waiting to pounce.
Chelsea 2 West Ham 1.
I caught the celebrations on film too. Havertz brought his finger up to his mouth, no doubt a reaction to some doubters among the Chelsea support. I found it a little odd, a little disrespectful.
Was he right to do so?
Answers on a postcard.
But, directly after, West Ham broke and I watched aghast. This all happened so quickly. Mendy rushed out, went down, the ball ran to Cornet. He lashed it home.
West Ham screamed :
“You’re not singing anymore.”
Back to 2-2, bloody hell.
But then, a delay, and it slowly became apparent that VAR was being summonsed. Yet again, the spectators in the stadium – no commentary for us of course, as if it needs to be stated – seemed to be the last to know what on Earth was happening.
The referee Andrew Madley eventually walked over to the pitch-side monitor. I didn’t like the way that he was being hounded by players of both teams.
After an age – but with each passing second, I felt more positive – he signalled “no goal.”
I was relieved but honestly did not feel like celebrating.
Bollocks to VAR.
Elsewhere, the Chelsea support was howling :
“YOU’RE NOT SINGING ANYMORE.”
We hung on.
This wasn’t a great game of football, but we kept going which is all you can ask for. The stupor of the first-half gave way to a far more entertaining spectacle in the second-half as we loosened the shackles and played, what I am going to term, a more emotional type of football.
There were relieved smiles at the end, but only at the end.
I am not going to Zagreb, but Alan is going. He is one of the six-hundred. As he wriggled past me, I said.
“Have a great time in Croatia. You’d best split.”
Immediately after the game, we received texts from others…
Our passage into the final assured, it would be natural to think that there would be a reasonable amount of contentment in the air on the Thursday. Well, yes and no. Everyone had agreed that our performance against Al Hilal was middling at best. The way our form nosedived in that terrible second-half was concerning. We also factored in the huge amount of Palmeiras supporters who were now amassed in Abu Dhabi; not on the same scale as their Sao Paolo rivals Corinthians in 2012, but still so impressive, especially since we were in the middle of a global pandemic. We presumed that a total of around 1,500 Chelsea supporters would be over from the UK for the final. In comparison, we estimated an easy 10,000 from Brazil, most of whom had endured a seventeen-hour flight. We feared that the game at the same stadium would be akin to a home game for them. We sensed that they really would be the oft-cited “twelfth man.”
Lingering in my mind too, was the last PCR test, slated to take place at a nearby walk-in clinic on the Friday.
Inside my head : “chill mate, let Friday and Saturday take care of themselves. This is a holiday.”
There was another relaxing morning by the pool on the Thursday, but there was a special treat planned for the afternoon. JD had booked seven of us on a desert safari and so PD and I took a cab over to his hotel early on Thursday afternoon.
JD met us in reception and we relaxed for a while by the pool with Andy and Kev, and were then joined by Liz and Mark. We piled into a 4 x 4, then set off for the desert. We had a whale of a time. The drive inland to the sandy interior took about an hour. The driver parked up, deflated the tyres to gain more traction, and then gave us a twenty-minute adventure through some sand dunes. I have not laughed so much in ages.
At a stopping-off point, a few Palmeiras fans posed for a photograph with us and their flag was held up between us. We were then driven to an encampment where we had a beer or two, took a ride on some camels, were joined by around fifty other tour groups – a good three-quarters of which were Palmeiras – and were served a lovely al fresco meal before night fell and a belly dancer performed for us. Alas, a Brazilian had given her a flag too. As the end of the evening approached, the host suggested that we just did a little stargazing, but our little group bellowed out “Blue Is The Colour” to disturb the serenity. However, the two or three hundred Palmeiras fans then completely drowned us out.
I had to admire their passion. Having seen some Argentinian games two years ago – almost exactly – I knew only too well what football means to South America. Think the UK is a football hotbed? It is, but South America is on a different scale.
We had loved every minute of the desert adventure. And I think it tired us all out. The drive back to the city was mainly in silence, save for a few worried conversations about the final.
Friday arrived and it was another cracking day. PD and I soon sorted out a PCR test – only £12 – and we then arranged to meet up with Julie, Tim, Pete, Brian and Kev at their hotel in the afternoon. The Radisson Blu was where I had originally booked PD and myself, only for Etihad to bump our homeward flight from the Sunday to the Monday. We relaxed by the pool area which abutted the inlet of the Persian Gulf. By mid-afternoon, our Alhosn App was updated with the negative test result from the morning.
Big grins all round. We were now clear for the final on Saturday and the flight home on the Monday.
That evening we spent drinking in the hotel bar with “the Bristol lot” but also Paul and Spencer from Swindon. We had a riot.
Saturday arrived. Game day. The day of the final.
This followed a similar pattern to Friday. We cabbed it over to the Radisson Blu, where our pal Foxy was staying too. There was another lazy afternoon by the pool, where we were serenaded rather loudly by some Palmeiras fans, and we then trotted back to Foxy’s room where we showered and changed into our clothes for the final. We met up with the Bristol lot – OK, South Gloucestershire, right Tim? – and enjoyed a few quiet pints during the bar’s Happy Hour. Della and Mick were nearby, both worried stiff that their Alhosin App was malfunctioning. It seemed that many people were experiencing problems with it, not least myself; somehow I was registered as Christopher David Cox.
Foxy, PD and I caught a cab to the game, though the cabbie took us initially to the city’s other football stadium where the third and fourth place play-off was due to start. Luckily, the correct stadium was only five minutes away. The crowds were far greater than on Wednesday. The three of us were allocated tickets in the lower tier of the western end of the stadium, the section used by the Al Hilal support previously. There was quite a wait to reach the security checks. Palmeiras fans again dominated; the green and white was everywhere. I noted how many of the Brazilians had adopted the local Arabic headgear, again in green and white.
“Can’t see that catching on among our lot to be honest.”
My Alhosn App had gone grey where it ought to have been green, but I was waved through.
Then, a personal hell. A “jobsworth” told me that I had to hand in my small camera. His supervisor said the same. I kicked up a bit of a fuss and they went off to see another supervisor. Thankfully, another chap allowed me to take it in.
“Thank you my friend.”
In an exact copy of Wednesday, we were in with an hour to go.
I took my position. Seat 8. Another red seat. Oh well, it worked on Wednesday.
Inside, my first thoughts were dominated by the realisation that there was no worthwhile segregation present in the entire stadium. How easy would it have been for FIFA to have given us one stand? It annoyed me because not only were around 10,000 Palmeiras fans crammed in at the other end (although, mysteriously, with a little section of around three hundred Chelsea fans in one corner), our area was adjacent to a section with around 5,000 Palmeiras fans. I wasn’t worried about it kicking off at all – far from it – but I just wanted a solid block of Chelsea so that we could noisily get behind the team.
I spotted many people that I recognised in our section. As kick-off time approached, the ground swelled. The lower tier of the western end really was full to bursting, the central section especially. It looked like this was the home of their ultras, “La Manche Verde” – the green spot – and many seemed to be wearing special edition white shirts.
The minutes ticked by.
Throughout, the Brazilians were in fine voice. Many songs were aired.
One chant dominated :
“Pal – meeeeeeeiiiiiiiiiiiir – as.”
With the middle syllable stretched out forever.
At the back of our terrace, a large banner proclaimed “Palmeiras Dublin.”
We were pretty quiet at this stage; outnumbered and out sung.
I looked around.
Foxy was a few rows in front. Mike and Frank were down the front. Close by were the South Gloucestershire contingent, the couples Liz and Mark, Karen and Feisal. My good mate Andy from Nuneaton was there too. Welsh Kev called over for a photo. Over in the corner I spotted Big Rich who had suffered for a day or two after being given a positive test result on arrival. Thankfully he tested negative soon after and was able to attend both games. He was with a few people I recognised; Darren, Ryan, Denise, Andy, Rob. King Kenny and Rob were there. Then in the front row of the side stand, the north stand, I spotted Della and Mick, Clinton who had flown in for the final – along with Tombsie who I saw outside – and Darren and Leigh.
There were a hundred or so Chelsea fans, dressed all in blue – how quaint – from the local Dubai supporters’ group. JD had mentioned a large contingent from Kerala in India at the Al Hilal match; they were here too surely.
There was more “Chelsea – are you ready?” hoopla (no, let’s just call it “bollocks”) but at least it managed to quieten down the Brazilians.
With kick-off approaching, the stadium lights were dimmed and some fearsome fireworks exploded into the sky.
Then, the teams.
Chelsea in blue / blue / white.
Palmeiras in white / white / green.
A few years back, I worked with Bruno – from Fortaleza in the sweltering north of Brazil – who was getting some local work experience while taking a Masters’ Degree at the University of Bath. He is a Palmeiras supporter. On his last weekend in the UK, I took him to Arsenal vs. Chelsea – 2016, a Diegoal gave us the points – and leading up to this game we had been in contact again. We had wished each other well.
But now it was time for friendships to be put on hold.
This was serious stuff.
Thomas Tuchel, himself only just returned to the fold after a bout of COVID, chose these players to bring home the…er, bacon in the Abu Dhabi night.
Christensen – Silva – Rudiger
Azpilicueta – Kovacic – Kante – Hudson-Odoi
Mount – Havertz
“Big night for Callum.”
How many Chelsea fans were in the stadium? It was so difficult to hazard a guess. Maybe four thousand all told, including those from the UK and elsewhere. This compared to around slightly more than fifteen thousand Palmeiras. That leaves around twelve thousand neutrals, mainly locals. I spotted shirts of the other competing teams.
The game began.
From the off, it was obvious that Palmeiras were more than happy to let us have the ball. And we had it in spades. I was amazed how far Thiago Silva was allowed to carry the ball; over the half-way line and beyond. In modern parlance, this was a very low block.
Off the pitch, the Brazilian fans were on fire. Their noise dominated. Curls of white paper cascaded down from the Palmeiras fans above me in the upper tier. It felt like we were in a hornets’ nest.
Palmeiras enjoyed a couple of half-chances but Edouard Mendy was not bothered. On ten minutes, Kai Havertz to Callum Hudson-Odoi but his shot was blocked. On twenty-two minutes, Mount misjudged the pace of the ball as it dropped into the six-yard box and he let it run on. Soon after, two shots from Havertz were screwed wide.
Out of nowhere, a lightning break from Palmeiras but the aptly named Dudu slapped his shot well wide. It was, however, the half’s biggest chance. Sadly, on the thirty-minute mark, Mount was injured and was replaced by Christian Pulisic. I was honestly surprised that Ziyech was not given the nod. Every time that Silva advanced, I just wanted him to go another five or ten yards, drop his shoulder and rattle in a shot on goal. At last, a few moments before half-time, he did just that. The beautifully named Weverton leapt to force it around the post for a corner.
Half-time came with the game scoreless.
Although we were finding it hard to break down this Palmeiras side, I was relieved. I was relieved that they were clearly not as able as I had presumed them to be.
At half-time, more “bollocks” as the lights were dimmed and spectators were asked to shine their mobile torches. It brought me immense pleasure to see one corner of the stadium not joining in.
It was akin to the blackout during the Second World War, for those who enjoy such hyperbole.
The second-half began and maybe noticing that the Palmeiras fans were in a moment of quiet and rest, the Chelsea corner were roused and our loudest chant of the night cheered me.
“Chelsea – Chelsea – Chelsea – Chelsea – Chelsea – Chelsea – Chelsea.”
Good ol’ “Amazing Grace.”
Other teams mock us when we sing that, but it’s ours and ours alone.
A Rudiger rocket was blasted at goal. We continued to dominate. The ball was played out to Hudson-Odoi on our left. He had not enjoyed a great game thus far to be honest. I bellowed at him :
“Come on Callum, dig it out.”
Well, dig it out he certainly did.
His cross was well hit, on the money, and a bullet header from Lukaku at the near post sent us all delirious.
Two games in Abu Dhabi. Two goals for Lukaku. A part of me wanted it to end there. He is not enjoying a great spell right now. I wondered if Lukaku getting both our goals might just set him off on a run of form.
Just after, a shot from Pulisic was drilled just wide.
A very rare attack on our goal followed within ten minutes of our goal. The ball was lofted into the box from a throw-in and a shot was smothered by Mendy with ease. The moment passed. But then some commotion and some noise. There was a VAR review.
The penalty was given and I had no complaints after seeing the replay; Thiago Silva’s arm was up at an angle, a definite penalty.
Raphael Veiga converted.
We drifted a little now, our impetus broken a little. But we still carved out chances with Havertz and Pulisic going close.
Timo Werner replaced Lukaku and Saul replaced Hudson-Odoi on seventy-six minutes. To be fair, their fresh legs helped us. We turned up the heat but Palmeiras defended well.
With five minutes to go, fresh green and white vertical streamers were held aloft over the lower tier of the end opposite. I guess this was to spur their team on in the last portion of the game. I always remember that we used to sing “Chelsea” to “Amazing Grace” during most second-halves back in the ‘eighties. It was “our thing.”
The last kick of normal time saw Mateo Kovacic blast high over the bar.
We settled our nerves for an extra thirty minutes and – gasp – possible penalties. Foxy came and stood with PD and little old me.
“Hope you’re our good luck charm, mate.”
Into extra-time we went.
Malang Sarr for Christensen.
Hakim Ziyech for Kovacic.
I had been standing for hours. My “lucky” yellow Adidas trainers – Porto – were starting to pinch. I was tired and weary.
“Come on Chels.”
More Chelsea domination, more Palmeiras resistance. A rare Palmeiras break, but Rudiger held firm with a sensational shoulder charge. He had been exceptional all game. I spotted rows of Palmeiras fans in the opposite end gently swaying from side to side. Another sight that you don’t see back home.
Into the second period of extra time we went. The night was drawing on. And to think that one of my initial travel options had been to catch a 2.55am flight home on Sunday morning.
We found new life again. Werner wriggled and went close. The game became tense. I willed us on.
“Come on you blue boys.”
With only four minutes remaining, a Ziyech corner was swung into the box. It was knocked down and Dave swung at it. There was a block from a defender and the three or four nearest Chelsea defenders instantly appealed for a handball. Play continued but when the ball went out of play, the referee signalled for another VAR review. PD and Foxy was adamant that we’d get the decision. The Australian referee again trotted off to look at the pitch side screen.
I loathe VAR but I could not resist a yelp of joy.
Then ensued pure drama. Dave, the one who had won the penalty, the captain, claimed the ball. My immediate thoughts?
“Dave? Shades of JT in Moscow. Oh bloody hell. Brave man.”
The Palmeiras players were in Dave’s face for ages. Or what seemed like it. Then, a dialogue with Timo. Give it to him? Not my choice. Then, the last twist; Dave calmly handed the ball to Kai Havertz, the hero in Porto.
A moment of stillness.
A moment of drama.
I held my camera ready.
The run up.
He sent the ‘keeper the wrong way, shades of Didier in Munich, the ball flew in.
I yelled with joy and looked to the sky. But I then became light-headed. By the time I had steadied myself, Havertz had run to the Chelsea corner and was being mobbed by everyone.
Click, click, click.
The Palmeiras fans were quiet now. The Chelsea section was buzzing.
One last twist; the Palmeiras player Luan, after another delay, was sent off for wiping out Havertz the scorer. Just after the resulting free-kick was taken, the referee blew.
At around 11pm on a balmy night in Abu Dhabi, Chelsea Football Club became World Champions.
It had just turned three o’clock in the afternoon and I pulled up in my car alongside PD’s motor in the pub car park opposite where I work. I clambered out.
“I’ve got to work on lads. You’ll have to drive up and I’ll go solo. Can you give me my ticket?”
Work had been going swimmingly well, but I had just been hit with two problems – in The Netherlands and Ireland – that needed my immediate attention. I sped back to the office and tried to get my head around what needed to be done. Of course, typical, a few other problems arose too. But, thankfully, at around 3.45pm I was able to eventually head off to London.
The race had begun.
I had been awake since 5.45am and, ironically, at around 2pm, when I started to feel a little tired I thought to myself :
“Not to worry, I’ll get a little shut-eye on the drive to London in PD’s car.”
So much for that, eh?
I sped off east towards Salisbury Plain but soon stopped for refreshments and an all-important coffee at a petrol station in Tilshead. A woman at the till who was buying lottery tickets – slowly – wound me up – quickly.
Thinking to myself, again :
“Come on, this is Tottenham away.”
Luckily, the traffic was light, the weather was fine, the roads were dry. I made good time but there was always that risk of getting caught in a London rush-hour in reverse. It’s always a lottery. I reached the M3 at about 5pm and was able to speed on. Thankfully the tiredness that I had feared never enveloped me. I tried to compute my projected arrival time in London and my chances of reaching the all-important main line station at Liverpool Street.
It seemed like ages since I had driven alone to London for a game.
As I passed Twickenham, PD called me and asked for advice on how to get to Liverpool Street. The two Chuckle Brothers were on the loose in London and it brought a wry smile to my face.
“Change at Holborn I think.”
At exactly 6pm, I was parked outside Barons Court tube station, a few car lengths down from PD’s car. There was a slick change of trains at Holborn and I was soon on the short journey to Liverpool Street. I arrived there at 6.35pm.
“Hour and ten minutes to go. Should be OK, but it all depends on the frequency of trains to White Hart Lane.”
As I came out of the underground tunnels and walkways and was almost up at ground level, there was a sound that brought another smile to my now masked face.
“We love Tuchel, we love bugle, Chelsea’s won the Champions league.”
This meant that Chelsea were in the vicinity and – presumably – there was a train to take me to the game in good time.
I quickly glanced at the train timetable.
“Platform 1 : Cheshunt – 1845, stopping at White Hart Lane.”
I had exited the underground station right next to platform one.
I walked all of the way to the front of the train since the rear carriages were full, but also full of Chelsea too. This was going well. The train stopped at around ten stations and the time flew. At Seven Sisters, there was an extended stop of five minutes or more. There was an announcement.
“For those going to the football, please get off here. People on the platform need to get on to use the service.”
I didn’t see one single person alight.
Eventually, at just gone 7.15pm, we reached White Hart Lane station and everyone shuffled along the platform like penguins. Downstairs, the two sets of fans were forced left and right unlike at any of the previous two games that I had attended at Tottenham’s spanking new stadium.
“Chelsea left please, Chelsea left.”
Once split, the singing began. But beers were thrown at us by the Tottenham fans descending some stairs. The police waded in on a few Chelsea fans who retaliated. I walked on. Outside the station, much-modernised these days, was a row of potted plants, with up lighting, all very modern. Around fifteen Chelsea fans in a strict line, their bladders unable to cope, were watering the plants as if it was part of a military operation.
In the London night there was noise, anticipation, a palpable sense of danger.
Opposite there was a shop that caught my eye.
“Tottenham Hot Spuds.”
That made me chuckle.
“Hate to think what is on sale at Arsenal.”
Down on the High Road, there was more noise, but with scurrying crowds, a few engaged in fisticuffs, a swarm of police and I saw that the road was blocked off. The police had no desire for the two tribes to mix. Things were definitely feisty. As I took a few photos with my camera phone, a police horse reared up close to me and I had to adjust my footing to avoid getting struck.
I raced on towards the away turnstiles, the clock ticking. Outside were more police, and more noise. The bright illuminated cladding of the stadium contrasted with the shadows of the Chelsea supporters clambering to get in to the game in time for the start.
Up the steps, a COVID check, a check of my ticket and then a bag check.
“Need to check.”
He called over his supervisor. I was one step ahead. I lifted up the camera with the small wide-angle lens attached. I didn’t open up the bag to show the larger zoom lens.
“Nah, that’s alright. In you go.”
Time for a last minute visit to the gents. “Hellos” to a few mates. I bumped into the bloke who I was stood next to at the Chesterfield game. It was his first visit to the new stadium.
I eventually located block 113, then row 10, then Parky.
It was 7.42pm.
Just in time.
Have I mentioned that I work in logistics?
We were right behind the goal and only a few yards from the Tottenham fans.
Unfortunately, a few stewards were close by too. I knew it would be a case of cat and mouse with my camera all night long.
The stadium took my breath away again. On the previous two visits I was tucked away in the corner. This time, the view was even more spectacular. Way above the metallic cockerel at the top of the huge South Stand, way up in the clear night sky was the crescent of the moon, as clear as you like. It was certainly a dramatic setting.
The game kicked off and it took me a while to put players to positions. Back to a 4-4-2?
Azpilicueta – Rudiger – Christensen – Sarr
Mount – Kovacic – Jorginho – Hudson-Odoi
Werner – Lukaku
Things were pretty even at the start. I tried my best to take it all in. I tried to catch up with Parky. They had arrived at Barons Court at 5.15pm. PD had taken two and a quarter hours just like me. All was good. I was just so relieved to have made it. Another fifteen minutes of work would have killed my timings and connections. I spotted tons of familiar faces dotted around.
As the game developed, we looked at ease and confident. But the home team were not without threat. A shot from Kane at a free-kick was blocked. A forest of “wanking hands” greeted his miss-fire. There was an effort from Moura that went well-wide.
I sang a song from the ‘eighties to myself :
“How wide do you want the goals?”
Timo Werner was full of running in the first part of the game and his lob over the Tottenham ‘keeper from the angle of the penalty box dropped just over the bar. Next up, his striking partner Romelu Lukaku was released with an early ball and he did well to fight off a challenge, bring the ball down and shoot. Sadly, the ‘keeper was able to save. It was a bright start, this.
On eighteen minutes, we won a corner. I hadn’t used my camera too much thus far. But on this occasion, I asked Parky to lean forward to block the view of the nearest steward. Mount swung the ball in. A leap from Rudiger. I snapped. The ball – in slow-motion – dropped into the goal.
Get in you beauty.
There were the wildest of celebrations in the away segment which encompassed two tiers for this match. We had around 5,500 fans and every single one was going doo-lally.
“There’s that third goal.”
The one we couldn’t quite score last week.
“Safe now surely.”
A few minutes later, a steward spotted my camera and I was asked to pack it up. I wasn’t too worried. I knew I’d be able to use it again if I chose the right moment. At least I had nabbed the goal.
The home team threatened with a flurry of misdirected efforts and shots that were blocked. I never really felt that we were in danger.
Of course, the away choir was on fire.
“Tottenham get battered everywhere they go.”
“Champions of Europe. You’ll never sing that.”
“We’ve got super Tommy Tuchel.”
I watched as a fine sliding tackle by Antonio Rudiger robbed Hojbjerg outside the box. The Tottenham player then seemed to dive once the ball had gone, but this dive was inside the box. I had a great view. I was adamant that everything was fine. To my horror, the referee pointed at the spot. Well, that seemed ridiculous. Somebody in the crowd reckoned that VAR wasn’t being used for this game. I wasn’t sure.
After a while, it flashed up on the TV screen that VAR was being used.
We waited. And waited. And waited.
As the Chelsea players lined-up in a wall for the resulting free-kick, we spotted Dave squatting behind the wall and peeking through his team mates’ legs. At the last minute he fell to the floor. It was such a bizarre thing to see and I wished that my camera had been able to capture it.
I turned to the couple behind me.
“Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dave.”
Anyway, the free-kick was headed over by a covering defender. The Chelsea support roared. We had quelled a little bubble of resurgence.
Apart from some noise at the very start when, naturally, the home support might have thought that a comeback was possible, the noise from the home stands was pretty minimal. Only on the half-hour did the place shake when a loud “Come on you Spurs” rattled around.
It dawned on me recently that only Tottenham fans call their team Spurs. Chelsea fans tend to say Tottenham.
Interesting fact #547.
The first-half ended. Time for a chat with a few folks. I spoke with the Bristol lot. Since the last game I have taken the plunge and booked up Abu Dhabi. I am going with PD. I am sure there will be a plethora of WCC worries along the way but I had to gamble and go. Let’s hope that the COVID thing doesn’t ruin all that. I chatted to Tim, Kev and Bryan briefly about it the trip. By pure luck, we are all in the same hotel.
At the break, I remembered the comments from a visibly crestfallen Antonio Conte after his new team lost 0-2 at Chelsea last week. He spoke solemnly of how far Tottenham are from Chelsea right now. I still like the bloke, even with his miss-guided decision to join forces with the numpties from N17. I would imagine that his straight-talking must have irritated the Tottenham support, but – lusciously – must have struck a chord too.
They have slid since a few years back. They were a decent team under Pochettino.
I loved the way that we dominated possession in the opening moments of the second-half, killing the game further. We never ever looked in trouble.
A Lukaku header from a corner flew just over.
Just before the hour mark, the away fans were at it.
“Tottenham Hotspur. It’s happened again.”
Now, my immediate reaction was this :
“I know we are 3-0 up on aggregate, but that is a bit premature.”
A ball was immediately pumped forward and Kepa appeared to time his run to perfection to rob Moura with a sliding tackle. To our sadness, the referee pointed at the spot once more. It was as if the footballing Gods had unanimously agreed with me about singing that song. The Tottenham fans roared again. However, much to our joy, VAR was called into play.
The same decision. No penalty.
Now it was time for that chant.
“Tottenham Hotspur. It’s happened again.”
Oh my aching sides.
On the hour, a magnificent save from Kepa from the head of Emerson Royal kept us ahead on the night. The ‘keeper was enjoying a very fine game. It was the save of the night thus far.
But the home team had built a little momentum and we needed to be at our best.
Kepa appeared to go walkabouts as a ball was played into Kane well inside the box. With only a covering Rudiger to beat, he blasted the ball low into the far corner.
The home fans properly roared this time.
It was a horrible feeling, despite our 3-1 lead.
Oh my God.
And again it went our way.
Chelsea smiles in North London.
I posted on Facebook :
“This is just three easy.”
I always thought that the funniest Chelsea win over Tottenham happened in 2000 when George Weah hopped off a plane at Heathrow and came on as a substitute to score the winning goal in a slender 1-0 win.
But this just might edge it.
Three disallowed goals.
Tuchel strengthened things with a flurry of substitutions.
Thiago Silva for Christensen.
Marcos Alonso for Werner.
Hakim Ziyech for Mount.
And then N’Golo Kante for Kovacic.
Tottenham fans, all forty-thousand of them :
“Of for fuck sake, Kante. I’m going home.”
And then Ruben Loftus-Cheek for Jorginho.
The shape had changed to three at the back. Thiago Silva was warmly applauded and his song was sung with gusto. Likewise, N’Golo Kante.
“He’s indestructible. Always believing.”
These were great moments as the home support dwindled away. Everyone was so happy. Smiles everywhere. There were gaps appearing all over the stadium too.
“You’ve had your day out, now fuck off home.”
I love that we seem to be the only club to sing that. Is that correct?
I was able to take a few photographs as the game wore on. The stewards, like Tottenham, had given up by now. The fresh legs had re-energised us. We seemed to have more of the ball once again. We finished the game strongly and never ever looked in danger.
Towards the end of the game, a recognisable chant from a few years back quickly spread in the away end. It pleased me.
“Antonio. Antonio. Antonio, Antonio, Antonio.”
I loved that we were at last able to honour Antonio Conte. I loved him to bits. One supposes that if, miracle of miracles, Tottenham had turned it around on the night – no 2002 here – we would obviously have resisted. But there it was. A nod to our former manager who won the league in 2017 and the cup in 2018. It’s just a shame that he now manages that lot.
And I suspect that he thinks exactly the same.
The game over, we waited for crowds to move on. The plan had been to escort all 5,500 Chelsea to Tottenham Hale, a good half-an-hour walk. We were having none of it. We met up with PD and waited. In the shadows, we edged past police near the away end and slowly walked back to an almost deserted White Hart Lane station. It absolutely worked in our favour that so many home fans had left early.
As we reached the platform, a train arrived. We were on our way home.
By 11.30pm, we were in our separate cars, at Barons Court.
At Chiswick roundabout, I turned left towards the M3 and PD drove straight on towards the M4.
On Saturday, it’s back to one car for Man City away.
It had not been a great five days. A 0-1 home defeat against Manchester City on the Saturday was followed by a 0-1 away loss at Juventus on the Wednesday. There was much introspection and self-assessment. The second-half at Tottenham suddenly felt a long time ago. Were we not as good as we had thought after we bounced along the High Road? We weren’t wholly sure. And although the two defeats were not thumpings – far from it – they were worrying enough. We suddenly looked an average team – “bang average” as the football chatters would have it – and we needed some sort of salvation against the Saints of Southampton.
There was one phrase that was surely being used throughout the various Chelsea nations.
Chris, England : “This is a must-win game.”
Boomer, Scotland : “Fucking must-win, game, no?”
Kev, Wales : “Must-win game, this.”
Russ, Australia : “Must-win game. Fackinell, mate.”
John, USA : “This is a freaking must-win game.”
Leigh-Anne, Canada : “Must-win, game, eh?”
I had returned from a sensational four days in Turin at around 9pm on the Friday night. At 5.30am, I was up and ready for the next chapter of the season. I called for PD at 7am and Parky at just before 7.30am. It felt odd to be driving east on the A303 and then the M3 just twelve hours after I had been heading in the opposite direction. To be honest, my head was full of Turin, and this just seemed like “The Italian Job, Part Two.” With no fuel drama on this occasion, I was parked up at around 10am. While my co-supporters made a bee-line for “The Eight Bells” I spent a little time at Stamford Bridge, chatting to a few acquaintances and sorting out something at the box office.
At around midday, I met up with PD and Parky in the tiny interior of the best pub in Fulham. We had a typical pre-match. We were joined by friends from near – Ray, Watford – and far – Courtney, Chicago. I first bumped into Ray, who was meeting a former work colleague, at the Rapid friendly in Vienna in 2016. I had never met Courtney before, but he had been reading this blog, the fool, for a while and fancied meeting up for a chin-wag. It was good to see them both.
Courtney was “fresh meat” for PD and Parky who were full of tales of Chelsea’s far-from pristine past, and there was even a tale of a more modern, ahem, bout of boisterousness at Arsenal from a few years ago. There was a bit of rough and tumble at Arsenal before our 1-0 win there in early 2016 and Parky was nowhere to be seen throughout the first-half. During the half-time break, he showed up in the away seats, alongside Al, Gal and myself, but with an ear heavily bandaged.
“Fackinell. He looked Vincent Van Gogh.”
“Anyway, do you fancy a beer, Parky.”
“No. I’ve got one ‘ere.”
We were inside Stamford Bridge in good time once again. The three thousand away fans were already settled into the away section, and this already had the feel of a good old-fashioned football Saturday. The pleasant weather of late was now replaced with grey clouds and rain. It had the air of a traditional autumnal football game. Some would say “run of the mill” but I was pleasantly excited as the minutes clicked towards the old-fashioned kick-off time of three o’clock.
Blur’s “Park Life” got the juices flowing further as it was aired with ten minutes to go.
“All the people. So many people.”
It just seemed to add to the air of anticipation.
The teams entered. There was a minute of applause in memory of one of England’s 1966 winners, the recently deceased Roger Hunt.
The rain was falling as I checked the Chelsea team.
Chalobah – Silva – Rudiger
Azpilicueta – Loftus-Cheek – Kovacic – Chilwell
Werner – Lukaku – Hudson-Odoi
In Thursday’s “La Gazzetta”, Mateo Kovacic was judged to have been our best player on the night against Juventus, scoring a 6.5 mark out of 10. Federico Chiesa was quite rightly judged to be Juve’s star performer with a justifiably fine 8.5. Most of Chelsea’s troops scored 5 and 5.5. It was a fair summary to be honest. Against Southampton, we needed a few players to score 7 and 8 or more. But our opposition would be no mugs. They still boasted the Munich man Oriol Romeu but also the new acquisition Tino Livramento.
Martin Atkinson blew his whistle and the game began.
The malaise in our midst seemed to have been exorcised after only a few minutes of play. We started very well, brightly probing away in all areas of the pitch.
After just nine minutes, a corner from deep in Parkyville – near where Courtney was watching – was taken by Ben Chilwell. It swing in and reached the leap of Ruben Loftus-Cheek at the edge of the six-yard box. His flick on bounced down and Trevoh Chalobah stooped at the far post to head it home. There was a roar from the Chelsea faithful – “back on track” – as the scorer ran over to the other corner flag, sliding on his knees, triumphant.
“Nice one, Clever Trevoh” and I suddenly realised that Clive, sitting alongside me, deserved an assist for this goal. He had just been mentioning a concert coming up involving Ian Dury’s son Baxter.
“Knock me down with a feather.
One-nil to Chelsea and everything was alright in the world again.
We attacked with pace, and found space, but it certainly helped that the away team were happy to attack us when they could. This opened up the game and we fully exploited the spaces to be found in their defensive third. It was already proving to be an entertaining game. In their most fruitful attack, the trusted boot of James Ward-Prowse sent a shot narrowly wide.
A peach of a volley from our Ruben went narrowly wide too.
Next up, Ben Chilwell advanced but a shot was blocked.
“Alonso would’ve volleyed that.”
But Saints were not playing dead, and Theo Walcott should have finished with a goal but his header was wide. The away fans were not particularly loud but their “Oh When The Saints” was a constant backdrop in the first half of the first half.
Antonio Rudiger embarked on a typically spirited dribble up through the inside left channel, and players backed off. He shaped to shoot, but instead played in Lukaku with a deft pass. The striker turned it in. I celebrated for a nano-second but soon saw the raised yellow flag in front of the West Lower.
I loved the way that Ruben was playing. Strong, determined and running in straight lines, how old-fashioned. Long may he flourish.
With four minutes of the first-half remaining, the ball was switched from one side of the box to the other. Near the goal-line, Callum Hudson-Odoi took his time to review his options. A fine scooped cross easily found the leap of the often lambasted Timo Werner. His leap was clean, as was his header from close-in.
At last a goal for the under-fire German. How he celebrated. How we celebrated. Two-up, happy days. But…there is often a but these days. There seemed to be a delay. To our obvious dismay the TV screen signalled “VAR Review : Possible Foul Play.”
Who? What? Where? When? Why?
Not only was there no recollection of a foul in the build-up to the goal, the decision took a while to come through.
Boos. Lots of them. An incandescent Tuchel was booked.
It transpired that Dave had committed a foul on a boy wearing an Athletic Bilbao striped shirt when he was a mere twelve years old, thus rendering Timo’s goal illegal.
This last action spoiled the first-half, but there was much to admire. Chalobah looked in fine form, strong in possession, and positive when under pressure. Loftus-Cheek was a lovely revelation. We hoped for further dominance in the second period.
We began well enough with the honest endeavour of Timo the highlight. But then we seemed to fall apart a little. I found myself thinking “this isn’t joined up” just as Clive spoke about things being “disjointed.”
On the hour, a terrible lunge by Chilwell on Livramento inside the box gave Atkinson the easiest of decisions.
“Nailed on penalty. What was he thinking?”
Ward-Prowse tucked the ball in.
Tuchel exchanged Mason Mount for the disappointing Hudson-Odoi. There was a slight improvement, but only just. We stumbled along and Southampton looked a little stronger.
“We could lose this.”
Another half-chance for Werner.
Jorginho for Kovacic.
With the substitute trying to scoop the ball out to Rudiger after a Mendy faux-pas, he was brought to the ground by the scorer Ward-Prowse. The Italian seemed to make the most of it to my eye. Atkinson waved a yellow at the Southampton midfielder, but then VAR wriggled its way into the game again. Another delay. A few people chanted “VAR.”
“I ain’t cheering if this is a red. Looked like Jorginho went down too easily to me. Bloody VAR.”
We waited and waited.
I didn’t cheer.
The rain was falling heavily. The stadium had a typical autumnal vibe.
“Don’t fancy the walk back to the car, PD.”
Chelsea, maybe seizing the advantage now, suddenly looked stronger.
Barkley for Loftus-Cheek, who had tired in the second-half.
Chelsea dominated again now, and a sublime lofted pass that split the defence from the last substitute Barkley out to the raiding Azpilicueta was simply sublime. A first time cross from Dave picked out the run from Werner, who guided the ball past McCarthy in the Saints goal.
The Bridge erupted. A slide from Timo this time. He was then mobbed justifiably, by his team mates.
There was time for a crazy denouement. Sustained Chelsea pressure in the Southampton box resulted in the goal frame being clipped not once but twice in quick succession, by Lukaku and Azpilicueta, and the crowd were quickly into convulsed with frustration. The loose ball broke to Chilwell, the left-back. He swiped at the ball as it sat up nicely for him. The goal bound shot looked perfect. McCarthy clawed at it, but from my viewpoint, it looked like it had crossed the line.
Goal Line Technology spoke : goal.
To Clive : “Alonso would’ve volleyed that.”
The players celebrated wildly down below us.
Chelsea 3 Southampton 1.
The Saints had been beaten in the October rain.
This indeed was a lovely, action-packed game of football. VAR had been involved, never a good thing in my mind, and had annoyed most of the fans present. But we came away with three points, and three points that put us top of the pile once more. However, our joy was about to be clipped.
Downstairs, my good friend Rob approached me. I had seen him ever so briefly before the game. But he spoke to me in greater depth now.
His face was red.
“Just to let you know. My Mum passed away today. I saw her this morning in the home. The last words I said to her were “I am off to see Chelsea now” but I took a ‘phone call from the home on the way here.”
I gave Rob a big hug. What words are of use at a time like this? It was a terrible end to an otherwise fine day.
“It’s weird because my first ever game at Chelsea was a 3-1 win over Southampton.”
I wished Rob well and I sent him a little text message later in the evening.
We got drenched on the walk back to the waiting car – soaked, absolutely soaked – but that seemed irrelevant.
My match report for the home game against Everton in March of last year – a really fine 4-0 win – ended with a typical few words.
“Right. Aston Villa away on Saturday. See you there.”
Then, as we all know too dearly, life – and football – changed. The corona virus that had first been spoken about just after Christmas in 2019, almost in a semi-humorous way at the start, took hold and started claiming victims at an alarming rate. A global pandemic was on our hands. Very soon the United Kingdom was placed in lockdown, a situation that none of us could have ever envisioned witnessing in person during our lives.
Suddenly and without too much thought, football seemed of little real relevance to me.
The trials and tribulations of Chelsea Football Club in particular seemed small compared to the news appearing on my TV screen, on my phone and laptop. As friends found their own way of coping with the surreal nature of lock down, and then being furloughed from work, I quickly realised that football, Chelsea in particular, was way down my list of priorities.
I simply had other, more serious, issues to deal with. And this is how my thought process, my coping mechanism, remained for weeks and weeks. While others pushed for football to return I simply asked myself :
It was irrelevant, for me, to concern myself with millionaires playing football.
Eventually after a prolonged break, when the football season began again in the middle of June, I had become emotionally distanced from the sport and from Chelsea too. I had simply turned inwards, as did many; working from home, travelling as little as I could manage and trying not to impact – socially – on the outside world. I joked that I had been practising for this moment my entire life. Earlier in my life, I was the ultimate shy boy.
But the noisemakers in the game and the media were adamant that it would be a major moral boost for the nation to see football return.
It just didn’t sit well with me, this notion of football to be seen as the great saviour. Other priorities seemed to overshadow it. I just could not correlate what I was hearing in the media about football and what I was feeling inside.
I will not lie, I absolutely hated watching the games on TV, with no fans, in silence, and I became more and more distanced from the sport that I had loved with each passing game. I watched almost with a sense of duty, nothing more. What had been my lifeblood – to an almost ridiculous level some might say, and with some justification – just seemed sterile and distant. I have very few memories of those games in the summer.
The FA Cup Final seemed particularly difficult to watch. On a hot day in August, I mowed the lawn, and even did some work in my home office for an hour or two, and then sat alone to see us score an early Christian Pulisic goal but then be over-run by a revitalised Arsenal team. That result hurt of course, and I was annoyed how some decisions went against us. The sad injury to Pedro – a fine player for us over five years – in the last kick of the game seemed to sum up our horrible misfortune that day. However, and I know this sounds funny and odd, but I was pleased that I was hurting. That I still cared.
But by the evening, the loss was glossed over.
Football still didn’t seem too important to me.
The one positive for me, and one which combines my own particular brand of OCD – Obsessive Chelsea Disorder – married with a possible smidgeon of shallowness, was the fact that I didn’t have to delete the games I had witnessed in 2019/20 from both my games spreadsheet and – gulp – this blog site.
A small victory for me, and I needed it.
Off the field, work was becoming particularly stressful for me. In August I came oh-so close to handing in my notice. The workload was piling up, I was battling away, and I was getting some worrying chest pains again.
In mid-September, the new season began and I openly hoped for a new approach from me. There was nothing up in the air here; we knew games would be played behind closed doors, we knew the score from the start. I renewed my NOWTV package to allow me to see most of our games. We began the league campaign at Brighton. For some reason, I didn’t see the game, I can’t remember why not. The first match I witnessed on TV was the home defeat to Liverpool.
It was no good. I could not deny it. I was as distanced as ever. The hold that Chelsea Football Club had on me for decades was under threat.
Conversely – at last some fucking positivity – as soon as my local team Frome Town started playing friendlies and then league games, I was in football heaven. I especially remember a fantastic pre-season friendly against Yeovil Town two days before Chelsea’s game at Brighton. A warm Thursday evening and a capacity 400 attendance, a fine game with friends, just magnificent. In September and October, I attended many a Frome Town game including aways at Mangotsfield United in Bristol – it felt so good to be back home in my living room uploading photos just an hour after the game had finished, a real positive – and on a wet night in Bideford in North Devon. Home gates were significantly higher than the previous season. There was a magnificent sense of community at the club. There had even been a tremendous crowd-funder to raise £25,000 in April to keep the club going. We even had a little FA Trophy run – before being expelled for refusing to play an away tie in an area with a high infection rate. Soon after, the club’s records for a second successive season were expunged and that early season flourish was put on hold until 2021/22.
But for a month, I was felling inexorably closer to Frome Town than to Chelsea. It seemed that my entire world was turning in on myself.
Was the world changing?
On Saturday 10 October it certainly did. For the second time in a few days I experienced chest pains. There had been a similar attack in my bed and breakfast in Bideford on Thursday morning. That drive home was horrible. I wanted to be brave enough to phone for a doctor. On the Saturday, I knew I had to act. I phoned the emergency services and – to cut a very long story to a quick few lines – I was whisked into a local hospital in Bath. On the Sunday, I was told that I had suffered a mild heart attack, and on Monday I underwent an operation to have two stents fitted into my heart. My Tuesday afternoon, I was home again.
I remained off work for five weeks, and slowly returned in stages. A half-day here, a half-day there. I remained calm throughout these weeks. I knew, deep down, that something had been wrong but being a typical bloke, decided to let things slide and hope for the best. Since then, I have improved my lifestyle; decaffeinated coffee – boo! – and healthier food, more exercise and all of the associated improvements that go with it.
With all this going on, Chelsea seemed even more remote. I was momentarily cheered when fans were allowed back inside Stamford Bridge, and that for a few hours we were top of the table after Leeds United were despatched. For a fleeting moment, it seemed that Frank Lampard, who had teased a very creditable fourth place finish in July out of his youngsters, was now able to similarly nurture his new signings too. But there had been failings in 2020/21 too. Our defence was at times calamitous. But I was solidly behind Frank all of the way. I really felt for him. Back in March, with Billy Gilmour the new star, we had enjoyed quite wonderful wins over Liverpool and Everton. There was positivity, hope and the future looked utterly pleasing.
Then the pandemic struck. Damn you COVID19.
In December and early January our form dipped alarmingly. I watched Frank’s interviews through my fingers. It was not pleasant viewing. It saddened me that so many rank and file Chelsea supporters, across all demographics – from old school fans in England to younger ones abroad – had seen fit to kindly forget the “I don’t care if we finish mid-table for a couple of seasons, let’s build a future with our youngsters” mantra in August 2019.
It got to the stage where I didn’t want Chelsea to simply win games but to simply win games for Frank.
I had returned full-time to work in mid-January. To their credit my employer has been first rate throughout my ordeal. While I was in the office on a day in late January, it was sadly announced that Frank Lampard had been sacked. I was numbed yet not at all surprised. I firstly hated the decision for reasons that are probably not difficult to guess. So much for long termism, eh Chelsea?
My interest in the exploits of Chelsea Football Club probably reached an all-term low. Or at least since the relegation season of 1978/79 when we were shocking throughout and I was being pulled away from football with a new interest in music and other teenage distractions.
A nerdy-looking chap, skeleton thin, probably a diamond with Powerpoint and with a marginally worse hairstyle than me? I wished him well but football again seemed distant.
Our form improved but the football itself seemed sterile. I was still struggling.
On a Saturday in March, I debated whether or not I had time to go off on a ten mile walk to a local village and get back in time to watch play at Elland Road. I considered binning the football in favour of my new found enjoyment of walks in the surrounding winter Somerset countryside. In the end I compromised; I went for a walk on the Sunday.
I know what I found most enjoyable.
Of late, our form has really improved. Again, I haven’t seen every game. But we look a little more coherent, defensively especially. Apart from an odd blip, to be honest, the results since the new manager took over have been sensational even if many of the ways of getting those results have lacked a certain “I know not what.”
I’m being mean. The bloke has done well. I like his self-effacing humour, his humble approach. He has started to grow in me (Parky : “like a fungus”).
Of late, our progress in the latter stages of the Champions League has been the most impressive part of our recent resurgence. And yet this competition has been haunting me all season long. In a nutshell, the thought of us reaching our third European Cup Final and – being selfish here, I know it – me not being able to attend is a nightmare.
(OK, not a nightmare. I know. I know 127,000 people have lost their lives due to COVID19. That is the real nightmare. I realise that. This is just football. Just football.)
I shrugged off last August’s FA Cup Final. I coped remarkably well with that. I soon decided that I could even stomach missing a second-successive one this year. But the thought of us lifting the big one for a second time and me – and others – not being there is bloody purgatory.
So, it was with a heady mix of genuine pride and impending sadness that accompanied the glorious sight of us beating a hideously poor Real Madrid side over two-legs to reach the final.
But that spectacle, or debacle, needs another chapter devoted to it. And it doesn’t seem right to talk too much about that at this time. In fact, going into the weekend I assured myself that I would not dwell too much about the 2021 European Cup Final. Let’s be honest here; the twin crushing of the hated European Super League and the farcical and immoral desire of UEFA to send 8,000 UK citizens to Portugal in the midst of a global pandemic warrants a book, a Netflix series even, all by themselves.
Let’s talk about the FA Cup.
For those readers of this blogorama who have been paying attention, I have been featuring the visit of my grandfather Ted Draper to Stamford Bridge for the 1920 FA Cup Final between Aston Villa, his team, and Huddersfield Town. This is a work of fiction since I only know that my grandfather once visited Stamford Bridge, but was never able to remember the game. Suffice to say, in the report of the home game against Liverpool last March, I continued the story.
After a break of fourteen months, a re-cap.
On Saturday 24 April 1920, on this very same site, if not this very same stadium – but certainly one which was in situ for the 1982 game, those lovely packed terraces – my grandfather stood on the great slug of the West terrace with his old school friend Ted Knapton alongside him. It was half-time, and the score between the two teams – Aston Villa, who he favoured, and Huddersfield Town – was 0-0. It had been an exhilarating game of football for my grandfather, though the spectacle of seeing fifty-thousand spectators in one sports ground had proved to be the one abiding memory that he would take away with him.
Fifty thousand people.
And virtually all were men, and so many had fought in the Great War.
My grandfather was twenty-five years old. He silently gazed out at the main stand on the far side, the open terraces behind each goal, and looked behind him at row after row of fellows in caps and hats, some with the colourful favours of the two competing teams. A claret and blue rosette here. A light blue hat there.
It struck home.
My grandfather had just that week spotted a local girl, a few years younger than him, who was beginning work in the manor house of his home village. She was a young cook, with a lovely smile, and had caught his eye.
My grandfather was a rather quiet man. He looked out at all those faces. He did not speak to his friend Ted, but he – at Stamford Bridge on Cup Final day 1920 – had decided that the stadium, indeed the whole of England was full of men, and the thought of one of them asking the young cook out before he had a chance to utter a shy “hello” ate away at him.
He had survived the Great War. He lived in a great village and now this great spectacle had stirred him in a way that he had not expected.
“You had better get your act together, Ted Draper. On Monday at lunch time, I think I will ask Blanche if she would like to accompany me to next weekend’s village dance. I can’t be second in that race.”
I was so annoyed that I could not continue this story last season. The team did their part, defeating Manchester United in a semi-final, but of course there was no Cup Final Tale in which I could tie up rather conveniently tie up the end of my 1920 story on the centenary.
Thankfully, good old Chelsea, the team defeated Manchester City in this season’s semis to enable me to continue and to honour my grandfather again.
The quality of the play down below on the surprisingly muddy Stamford Bridge pitch deteriorated throughout the second-half. But Ted Draper, along with his friend Ted Knapton, were still enthralled by the cut and thrust of the two teams. The players, wearing heavy cotton shirts, went into each tackle with thunderous tenacity. And the skill of the nimble wide players caught both of their eye.
“Ted, I wonder what the crowd figure is here today. There are a few spaces on the terracing. I suspect it would have been at full capacity if Chelsea had won their semi-final against the Villa.”
“I think you are right. What’s the capacity here? I have heard it said it can hold 100,000.”
“Trust Chelsea to mess it up.”
“Yes. Good old Chelsea.”
The crowd impressed them. But they were not too impressed with the swearing nor the quite shocking habit of some spectators to openly urinate on the cinder terraces.
“To be honest Ted, I haven’t seen any lavatories here have you?”
“I’m just glad I went in that pub before we arrived.”
The play continued on, and the crowd grew restless with the lack of goals. The programme was often studied to match the names of the players with their positions on the pitch. With no goals after ninety-minutes, there was a short break before extra-time, and more liquid cascaded down the terraces.
“Like a bloody river, Ted.”
After ten minutes of the first period of extra-time, Aston Villa broke away on a fast break and the brown leather ball held up just in time for the inside-right Billy Kirton to tuck the ball past Sandy Mutch in the Huddersfield goal. There was a mighty roar, and Ted Draper joined in.
The Aston Villa supporters standing nearby flung their hats into the crowd and many of the bonnets and caps landed on the sodden floor of the terracing.
“Buggered if I’d put those things back on my head, Ted.”
There then followed a period of back-slapping among the Villa die-hards, and Ted Draper was very pleased that his team had taken the lead. The game stayed at 1-0, with both teams tiring in the last part of the match. The crowd stayed until the end, transfixed. There was just time to see the Aston Villa captain Andy Ducat lift the silver trophy on the far side. The teams soon disappeared into the stand.
With a blink of an eye, the game was done, the day was over, and Somerset was calling.
As the two friends slowly made their way out of the Stamford Bridge stadium, Ted Knapton – who favoured no team, but had picked the Huddersfield men for this game – spoke to my grandfather.
“That goal, Ted.”
“What of it?”
“It looked offside to me.”
“Not a chance, not a chance Ted. The inside-right was a good half-inch onside.”
“Ah, you’re a bugger Ted Draper, you’re a bugger.”
On Cup Final Day 2021, I was up early, a good ninety minutes ahead of the intended 8am alarm clock. One of my first tasks was to swab my mouth and nose. Now there’s a phrase that I never ever thought that I would utter on a Cup Final morn. Part of the protocol for this game, the biggest planned event to take part in the UK since lockdown in March 2020, was that all attendees should take a lateral flow test at an official centre from 2.15pm on Thursday 13 May. I was lucky, I was able to work a late shift on the Friday and I travelled to Street for my test. The negative result soon came through by email. We also were advised, though not compulsory, to take a test at home on the morning of the game and five days after the event in order for data to be gathered. A small price to pay.
This felt odd. To be going to a game after so long. I took some stick from a few people that saw me comment that my love of football was being rekindled.
“Chelsea get to two cup finals and all of a sudden Chris Axon loves football again.”
I laughed with them.
The joy of football had been rekindled because I was now able to see a live game. There are many ways for people to get their kick out of football. By playing, by writing, by watching on TV, by refereeing, by betting, by coaching, by fantasy leagues. By I get my kick through live football.
It has been my life.
I posted the carton with the vial containing my swab at Mells Post Office just after I left home at 10.30am. I was genuinely excited for the day’s events to unfold. Outside the same post office a few days earlier, I had announced to two elderly widows of the village – Janet and Ann – that I was off to the FA Cup Final a few days earlier.
“I have missed it badly.”
They both smiled.
And I realised that this final tie of the Football Association Challenge Cup represented a final tie to my childhood – I am known around the village as a Chelsea supporter – and it also represented a nod to the tie that Chelsea Football Club has on me.
But did it really represent one last chance to bring me back in from the cold?
I know that I needed something to help me regain my love of the game before my dislike of VAR, obscenely-overpaid players, ever-changing kick-off times, blood-sucking agents, the continuing indifference to game-going fans despite the limp platitudes that might suggest otherwise, the threat of the thirty-ninth game, knobhead fans, the disgraceful behaviour of UEFA and FIFA in so many aspects of their stance on so many things (I have already decided I am not watching a single second of the Qatar World Cup) all combine in one horrible mixture to turn me away even more.
I have aired all this before. As well you know.
No pressure, Chelsea.
On my way to collect Lord Parky, my sole companion on this foray back to normality, I passed near the village of Westwood. Until recently, I was unaware – as were many – that this is the final resting place of our former ‘keeper Vic Woodley. There is a group on Facebook that actively try to locate the graves of former players and on occasion headstones are purchased if there are unmarked graves. It is an admirable cause. Two Saturdays ago, I placed some blue and white flowers on the grave. Although it is open to debate, I would suggest that until 1955, Vic Woodley was our most successful player at Chelsea.
Hughie Gallacher was probably our most famous player, George Smith had played more games and George Mills had been our record goal scorer.
But Woodley had played 252 games for Chelsea and 19 for England. He was in our team for the Moscow Dynamo game in 1945 too.
I vote for Vic Woodley.
I soon passed The Barge pub, on the outskirts of Bradford on Avon where he was a landlord in later years.
We must pay a visit when normality returns.
Parky soon reminded me that he had heard of his Uncle Gerald, a Derby County fan, talk about Vic Woodley – who played thirty times for Derby before moving to Bath City – living locally when Parky was younger. Parky also recounted meeting a chap in nearby Melksham who had been at that Moscow Dynamo game just after the Second World War.
1994 And 2021.
I had collected Parky at 11am. His first task had been to replicate a photo of me setting off outside Glenn’s house in Frome before the drive to the 1994 FA Cup Final. I wanted a little comparison. Me at 28 and me at 55.
This would be my eleventh FA Cup Final that I will have attended. The twenty-eight year old me what have laughed at such a notion.
We had a lovely natter on the way up. We hardy stopped chatting. Sadly, neither Glenn nor PD could make it up but we promised to keep them in our thoughts. Our route took us towards High Wycombe before we doubled back on the M40. This was quite appropriate since a very well-known and popular supporter at Chelsea, Wycombe Stan, had recently passed away. He was well-loved by all and will be sadly missed at Chelsea. Stan has featured in these reports a few times. A smashing bloke.
RIP Wycombe Stan.
I had purchased a pre-paid parking slot for £20 only a ten-minute walk from the stadium. Traffic delays going in meant that we didn’t arrive much before 3pm, but it felt good, for once, to not have to race like fools to get in to a Cup Final. Those “last pints” on Cup Final day are legend.
The environs around modern Wembley Stadium are much different than as recently as 2007, the first final at the new place. Flats and hotels abound. It is very much a retail village first, a sporting venue second. We bumped into two Chelsea fans on the walk to the stadium. Gill B. said that the place was full of Leicester, that there were hardly any Chelsea present yet. I knew of two Leicester City season ticket holders who were attending the final and one had said that most of their fans were arriving on an armada of coaches. Gill R. wasn’t planning on meeting up with anyone, but as we turned a quiet corner, she shouted out : ”Chris!”
It was so lovely to see her. We chatted for quite a while, talking about the surreal nature of the past year, the sad departure of Frank, the whole nine yards. We both admitted we had not missed football as much as we had expected. Strange times.
At the southern end of what is now normally called “Wembley Way” – but was really called “Olympic Way” – the rather unsightly access slope has been replaced by steps, which I must admit remind me of an old style football terrace. But it is rather odd to see steps there. One supposes that crowd control has improved since the Ibrox disaster of 1971, but the straight rails, with no cross rails to stop surges, did bring a tremor to my memory banks. At least the steps do not immediately start near the stadium.
At the base of the steps, we scanned our match ticket and showed our test result email to Security Bod Number One.
We neared the turnstiles at the eastern end – not our usual one – at around 3.30pm. Hardly anyone was around. We went straight in.
Thankfully, Security Bod Number Two didn’t react negatively to the sight of my camera and lenses.
For an hour and a half – the equivalent of a match – and by far the most enjoyable ninety minutes of the day, we chatted to many friends who we had not seen for fourteen months. I was driving, of course, so was not drinking. In fact, as I never drink at home, my last alcoholic intake was way back in September. But Parky, himself almost teetotal since June, was off the leash and “enjoying” the £6 pints. I updated many friends with the latest news regarding my health. I summed it up like this :
“I’ve had a good six months.”
There had been rumours of the whole game being played under constant rain. We were low down, row three and right behind the goal. If anyone was going to get wet, we were.
It was soon 5pm. A quick dash to the loo, things have improved since 1920. Within seconds I was spotting more familiar faces and I added to the gallery.
A Chelsea Gallery.
The Cup Final hymn – Abide With Me – was sung and I sang along too. It is always so moving.
A quick look around. Most people in the lower tier. Team banners all over the south side of the top tier. A few people dotted around the middle tier and the north side of the top tier. Altogether surreal. Altogether strange. We had been gifted a Chelsea flag and a small blue bag was placed beneath the seat too. I didn’t bother to look in for a while. Time was moving on. I was starting to gear up for my first Chelsea game of the season and, possibly – only possibly – my last. Some fireworks, some announcements, the entrance of the teams. I spotted Prince William, a good man, and snapped away as he was introduced to the two teams.
“Oh bollocks. The teams. Who’s playing?”
I had been so busy chatting in the concourse that my mind had not given it a moment’s thought.
James in the middle three, Kepa in goal, Ziyech? Oh dear. I was amazed that Havertz was not playing. I was reminded last week that the young German’s first ever appearance at Wembley was in late 2016 against Tottenham. He came on as an eighty-sixth minute substitute for Bayer Leverkusen as they won 1-0. It was memorable for me too; I was there, tucked away among the Leverkusen hordes with my childhood friend Mario.
So, yes, the team.
James. Silva. Rudiger.
Dave. Kante. Jorginho. Alonso.
Mount. Werner. Ziyech.
I always say that I need a few games at the start of each season to get used to watching football again. To learn the habits, strengths and weaknesses of new players. To pace myself. To try to take it all in. Sadly, such a staggeringly low viewing position was of no use whatsoever. Everything was difficult. There was no depth. I really struggled.
And I really struggled with the latest dog’s dinner kit that the wonder kids at Nike have foisted upon us.
Does anybody like it?
To be honest, with players in motion the bizarre chequered pattern is not too discernible. It is only when players are still that the mess is fully visible. That the nasty pattern is continued onto the shorts without the merest hint of an apology makes it twice as bad. After getting it so right – sadly for one game – in 2020, the Nike folk thought that the yellow trim was obviously worth repeating.
Right. Enough of that. I’m getting depressed.
With only 12,500 fans of the competing clubs in the vastness of Wembley, it was so difficult to get an atmosphere going. For the first time in fourteen months, my vocal skills were tested. I joined in when I could. But it was all rather half-hearted.
The game began and we edged the opening spell quite easily with Mason Mount busy and involved. A couple of very early attacks down the right amounted to nothing. The rain was just about staying off.
Our loudest chant in the game thus far had been the statistically inaccurate “We’ve won it all”, a comment that Corinthians of San Paolo will note with a chuckle, as will the Saints of Southampton.
After a full quarter of an hour, an optimistic effort from Toni Rudiger flew tamely wide of the Leicester goal. A rare foray into our half saw a cross from Timothy Castagne for Jamie Vardy but Reece James blocked well. Chances were rare though. Mount advanced well but shot wide. An effort from Timo Werner replicated the curve of the arch overhead as his shot plopped into the area housing the Leicester fans.
We were clearly dominating possession but after a reasonable start we became bogged down with keeping the ball and trying to force our way in to Leicester’s well-drilled defence. I could almost hear the commentators describing the play. And it’s maybe a subtle new type of play too, possibly a side-effect of having no fans at games for over a year.
Watching on TV, and I admit I get so frustrated, I get bored to death of teams sitting back and letting teams pass in and around them. I watched some old footage from the ‘eighties recently, highlights of the 1982 and 1988 Scottish Cup Finals, and from the kick-off the teams were at each other. It was like watching a different sport. It was breathless, maybe not tactically pleasing, but it had me on edge and dreaming of another era.
Today there is just so much I can take of commentators talking about “the press, a low press, a high press, a high block, a low block, between the lines, transition, the counter, little pockets, passing channels.”
It seems that football is – even more – a sport watched by experts and critics rather than supporters. Yes, everyone seems more educated in tactics these days, but the repetition of some key phrases surely grates on me.
For the high priests of the high press, I sometimes wonder if they are even aware of how often they use this phrase during a normal match.
Players have always closed space and targeted weak spots, just as teams have in the past been happy to soak up pressure when needed. It just seems that teams do it all the time now. In every bloody game. And with no supporters in the stadium to inject some passion and intensity, I get drained watching training game after training game on TV.
A few long crosses and corners from the right did not trouble Schmeichel in the Leicester goal. His father was in the Manchester United goal in 1994. It infamously rained that day and just around the half-way mark of the first-half, the heavens opened. The omens were against us. My camera bag got drenched, my jacket was getting drenched. The blue cardboard bag from Chelsea was getting drenched.
Someone asked: “what’s in the goody bag?”
I replied “a return air ticket to Istanbul.”
Tuchel hurried back to the bench to get a blue baseball cap from his goody bag. Not sure if he had a metal badge too, though.
For twenty minutes, my photos stopped. I couldn’t risk my camera getting waterlogged. Leicester had a few rare forays towards us at the eastern end. I liked the look of Thiago Silva. Bizarrely, of course, these were my first sightings of Werner, Ziyech and Silva in a Chelsea shirt.
The rain slowed and I breathed a sigh of relief. I was in no mood for a “Burnley 2017.” Around me, the rain had dampened the fervour of our support. Leicester were beginning to be heard.
“Vichai had a dream. He bought a football team.
He came from Thailand and now he’s one of our own.
We play from the back.
And counter attack.
Champions of England. You made us sing that.”
Thankfully no mention of a high press.
The last real chance of the half, a poor-half really, fell to Caglar Soyuncu but his effort dropped wide of the far post.
At half-time, there were mutterings of disapproval in a Chelsea support that had quietened down considerably. Throughout that first-half, neither team had managed a shot on goal. But I tried to remain positive. I was buoyed by the pleasing sight of blue skies in the huge rectangular window above us…I hoped the clouds would not return.
No changes at the start of the second-half. I prayed for a winner at our end, just yards away from me.
The first effort of the second-half came from the head of Marcos Alonso, a surprising starter for many, who rose to meet a cross from N’Golo Kante but headed too close to Schmeichel. Leicester showed a bit of life, some spirit, but it was dour football.
Sadly, this was to change. Just after the hour, the ball was pushed square to Youri Tielemens who advanced – unchallenged, damn it – until he was around twenty-five yards out. As soon as the ball left his boot, from my vantage point, I knew it was in. Not even Peter fucking Crouch could have reached it. The Leicester end erupted.
Five minutes later, Christian Pulisic for Hakim Ziyech and Ben Chilwell – loud boos – for Marcos Alonso. Pulisic immediately added a little spice and spirit. He seemed positive. Two more substitutions, Callum Hudson-Odoi for Azpilicueta and Kai Havertz, the slayer of Tottenham, for Jorginho. Our attack had stumbled all game but with fresh legs we immediately looked more interested.
The Leicester fans were in their element, raucous and buoyant. We tried to get behind the team.
“COME ON CHELSEA, COME ON CHELSEA, COME ON CHELSEA, COME ON CHELSEA.”
It didn’t exactly engulf the Chelsea end in a baying mass of noise.
Kante was strangely finding himself engaged as a supplier of crosses and one such ball was met by Chilwell but his strong downward header, coming straight towards me, was palmed on to his post by a diving Schemichel.
I was right in this game now; it had taken so long for us to get any momentum, but with time running out my eyes were on stalks, watching the ball and the players running – or not – into space.
“COME ON YOU BLUE BOYS.”
With eight minutes’ left, The Charge of the Light Brigade as Olivier Giroud raced on to replace a very disappointing Werner. It was the fastest any Chelsea player had run all game.
The Chelsea pressure increased. I didn’t even think about the stresses that might be induced should we score a late equaliser. But that’s good. I felt fine. No problems.
A delicate cross from James was knocked back to our Mase. He steadied himself momentarily and then let fly with his left foot. I was about to leap in joy. But Schmeichel flung himself to his left and clawed it out.
I called him a very rude name. Twice. Just to make sure he heard me.
In the closing minutes, a lofted ball – into space, what joy – found a rampaging Ben Chilwell. He met it first time, pushing it into the six-yard box. In the excitement of the moment, I only saw a convergence of bodies and then…GETINYOUFUCKER…the net bulge. I tried my damnedest to capture him running away in joy, but I needed to celebrate. I brushed past Parky and found myself in the stairwell. King Kenny virtually slammed me into the fence at the front – ha – but I kept my composure and snapped away. The results are, mainly blurred. A second or two later, I looked back and Kenny was screaming, his face a picture of joy, and the scene that I saw me was a virtual copy, with less people, of the aftermath of Marcos Alonso’s winner in 2017, a mere thirty yards further south.
I heard a voice inside my head.
“Fucking hell, Chris, we’ve done it.”
And then. Someone mentioned VAR. At first, I thought someone was being a smart-arse. Didn’t seem offside to me. Nah. And then I realised as I looked up at the large scoreboard above the Leicester City fans that the awful truth was for all to see.
A red rectangle…
VAR : CHECKING GOAL – POSSIBLE OFFSIDE.
My heart slumped. How often do these end up with the advantage being given to the attacking side?
Ironically, on the car drive in to London, both Parky and I quoted a recent game when Harry Kane’s toe was deemed to be offside and we both admitted that we felt for the bloke. When Chelsea fans are upset with a VAR decision is given against Tottenham, something is definitely up.
A roar from the other end, no goal.
King Kenny wailed : “what has football become?”
I had no answer.
There is a chance that this might be my last report this season. It depends on how Chelsea Football Club looks after its own supporters’ hopes of reaching the Portuguese city of Porto in a fortnight.
There had been a break of sixteen long days between our last league fixture away to Leicester City and our home game with Manchester United. It was such a long break that it enabled me to travel to South America and back, but more of that later. And we were now faced with three top notch home games within the space of just ten days.
Chelsea vs. Manchester United.
Chelsea vs. Tottenham Hotspur.
Chelsea vs. Bayern Munich.
It felt like the start of the second-half of the season.
These were three huge matches.
Welcome back everyone.
I worked from 7am to 3pm, and then joined PD – the driver – Lord Parky and Sir Les for the drive to London.
“Bloody hell, lads, how long ago was the last home game? Arsenal, wasn’t it? A month ago? Feels like it, too.”
There were a few questions from the lads concerning my trip to Buenos Aires, but the conversation soon dried up and I took the chance to catch up on some sleep on the familiar drive to London. These Monday evening flits to London are typically tiresome, an imperfect start to the week, a tough ask. I enjoyed an hour’s shut-eye. PD made very good time and we were parked-up at the usual place by 5.30pm.
In “The Goose” – it was so good to briefly see Wycombe Stan who is not in the best of health – and in “Simmons” a few people enquired of my trip to Argentina. I could only utter positives about the whole experience. In fact, as I had initially feared when my trip came to fruition, the only negative about my week in Buenos Aires could well be that the modern day English football experience – watered down, moneyed, sedentary, muted, played-out – would pale, completely and utterly, by comparison.
Little did I know that on this night, against Manchester United, my first game back, there was to be such a brutal and harrowing comparison between the Primera Division in Argentina and the Premier League in England.
Argentina 2020 had slowly evolved over the past few years. Ever since I read the Simon Inglis book “Sightlines” in 2000, Buenos Aires was on my radar. As I explained in a recent tale, this wonderful book – concerning various sporting stadia throughout the world – was underpinned with regular chapters in which the author attempted to visit as many of Buenos Aires’ twenty-five plus professional football stadia in a crazy few days in 1999.
The four chapters were referred to as “Ciudad de los Estadios”.
I took “Sightlines” with me on my trip.
A few passages made me smile, a few passages made me think, a few passages made me question my own sanity, my own credibility.
“Maybe I am a train spotter at heart, ticking off the stadiums for no other reason than to say that I’ve seen them. The words of the American novelist Sinclair Lewis came to mind : ‘He who has seen one cathedral fifty times, knows something. He who has seen fifty cathedrals once knows nothing.’ “
“There are more football grounds in Buenos Aires than in any other city in the world. Not just dozens of ordinary grounds, however, but a whole string of major stadiums, each holding thirty, forty, fifty thousand or more spectators, all within a few square miles of each other. A comment in a Buenos Aires newspaper seemed to confirm as much. It read “we have more stadiums than public libraries. Never has so much knowledge of football been possessed by so illiterate a people.”
“Before I left for the airport, my wife kissed my furrowed brow. ‘Just go with the flow,’ she counselled. ‘It doesn’t matter if you don’t get to them all.’ What did she mean, not get to them all?”
“In 1869, Buenos Aires had 187,000 inhabitants. By 1914, there were over 1.5 million, a figure which would double over the next fifteen years. Most of the immigrants were European, so forming a neighbourhood football club was as natural as unpacking grandma’s pots and pans.”
“There is nothing less empty than an empty stadium. I wish I had written that line. But the Uruguayan novelist Eduardo Galeano got there first.”
“If there is one thing I love more than a good map it is a great stadium at the end of a long bout of map reading.”
With the kick-off at 8pm, there was more than ample time for a few drinks in both pubs, and some chat with some pals. I’d suggest that the inaugural winter break was originally met with the derision when it was announced for this season – “we need our football!” – but a lovely by-product of it was the chance for me to head off to exotic climes (my jaunt to Argentina was my first-ever holiday in search of winter sun in my entire life) and a few pals took the chance to explore other exotic locations. My break, I know, did me the world of good.
However, I did find it typically English that the subsequent FA Cup fifth round games then had to be squeezed into a midweek slot. Less games here, more games here. What a Jackie Brambles
The team news came through.
Still no Kepa.
Michy up front.
With no other options, Pedro and Willian – the old couple – were the wingers.
James – Rudiger – Christensen – Azpilicueta
Kovacic – Kante
Willian – Batshuayi – Pedro
We made our way to Stamford Bridge on a cold night. I bumped into Rick Glanvill, the club historian, outside the West Stand. We briefly mused about Buenos Aires. Quick as a flash, Rick mentioned Chelsea’s South American tour in 1929 when we played eight games in the Argentinian capital.
I was in with around ten minutes to spare. There was the usual dimming of the lights, some electronic wizardry and flames, followed by the derisory chant from the away section of “what the fookin’ hell was that”?
It was almost a year to the day since United beat us 2-0 in last season’s FA Cup. Since then, we drew at Old Trafford in the league last season, lost to them on the opening day of the season at Old Trafford this season and lost to them in the League Cup in October at Stamford Bridge. And they are a poor team. It felt right that we should get some sort of revenge on them. The last time we beat United was at the 2018 FA Cup Final.
Ciudad de los Estadios : Argentinos Juniors vs. Lanus, Friday 7 February 2020
I took the subway and then a cab to my first game on South American soil. On exiting, the cab driver looked me solidly in the eye and solemnly told me to watch my back. This was a Buenos Aires derby. No away fans. But with me in alien territory. This was it, Chris, this was it.
Under the main stand, a row of armed police. With no away fans at most games in Argentina now, I wondered why there was such a heavy presence. I tiptoed around the streets in search of a kiosk to get a ticket.