Tales From Balti Land

Aston Villa vs. Chelsea : 17 October 2009.

Well, that new away kit is turning out to be a bit of a jinx so far this season. Let’s wear the all-white one for the next colour clash. Hell – there wasn’t really a clash at Villa was there?

Like the match against Villa in February – Guus Hiddink’s first game in charge – this was a 12.45pm start and so this meant that there was no chance of a good pre-match in a local hostelry. I collected Parky at 9am and drove up to Birmingham, aware that a few mates from London were travelling up by train. Their pre-match would be in a central Brum pub – ours would be half a mile to the north of Villa Park in a down-at-heal pub called “The Crown And Cushion.” We used this pub before the 2002 F.A.Cup Semi Final and it used to be the main pub of the Villa firm in days of old.

We sank a couple of pints of Red Stripe and noted the barmaid “of a certain age” arriving for her shift. We both mentally dressed her and then set off for the stadium. I commented to Parky that, save for a very brief mention by me of Petr Cech being back in the team, there had been not one single comment about the match all day. This is often the norm.

I have been to Villa Park on umpteen occasions and it’s a rather grand place. However, all of the stands have been redeveloped apart from the North stand, which always used to house the away fans. These days, we occupy the north section ( upper and lower ) of the Doug Ellis Stand. Everywhere around Villa Park is red brick – the stonework of The Aston Hall pub on the corner, the houses nearby and the old tram sheds adjacent to the stadium. The old Trinity Road stand, so beloved by connoisseurs of stadia design was a red brick masterpiece, with steps and gables, until its sad demise in around 2000. Villa have tried to recapture its presence in the remodelled Holte End, but it just isn’t the same.

On the way in, I spotted Dave Johnstone and purchased the latest “CFCUK”” in which there were a few wonderful obituaries for dear Vic who so sadly died on the evening of the Stoke game. How ironic the last ever goal of Vic’s beautiful life would be that oh-so dramatic winner.

Gary and Alan joined me in the middle of the upper deck just before kick-off and it seemed ages since our last game.

I thought we began pretty slowly and Villa had the best of the early exchanges. It took me a while to get into the game too – maybe I need the regular fix once a week more than I thought. Didier’s goal came out of the blue and Friedel really ought to have done better. Apart from a great run-and-shot from Ash and a shot from Didier, we laboured for the rest of the half. Villa were no great shakes and we ought to have seized the opportunity to kill them off. Unfortunately, I had a great view of Frank’s unfortunate flick which set up Dunne to equalise. The home support had been truly docile all of the half and the goal woke them momentarily. Our support was buoyant in the first period. We stood the entire game.

I looked around the stadium and noted gaps in the upper corners of the Holte End and the new Trinity Road stand…the gate was 3,000 below capacity. During half-time, I had a chat with six Chelsea fans from Belgium. They had six season tickets between them…good stuff.

I spotted a flag on the Holte End balcony wall –

“Villa – Stella – Balti” and it made me chuckle. It reminded me of the infamous United banner “United – Kids – Wife – In That Order.”

I wondered what a similar three-word phrase could sum up Chelsea Football Club.

“Celery – Bouncy – Underachievement.”

As the second-half began, the sun became brighter, but the support died a bit. Gary was giving John Carew loads of abuse, likening him to Bernard Bresslaw, but nobody else cottoned on to this. Poor marking at a corner gave Villa an easy goal, but still Villa’s support seemed muted. Was it something they put in their Balti pies I wondered? We toiled in vain for the rest of the game and, despite enjoying 67% of possession, the equaliser never came. We looked tired and out-of-sorts. Very often the players seemed crowded. Drogba had no support when it mattered and our shooting was poor. However, Villa weren’t exactly on fire. It was a game we so easily could have won. Frank seemed quiet, but Malouda was non-existent. We couldn’t fathom why Joe was brought on so late. Only once or twice to Villa’s support roar.

As we exited the stairs, there was frustration amongst the away support and one fan was complaining of a lack of a desire to change things. Scolari was mentioned.

Groan.

I waited for Parky to show up and noted that the Villa fans must surely be the ugliest in the Premiership.

At least Liverpool lost.

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Tales From My Childhood And Beyond

Chelsea vs. Tottenham Hotspur : 20 September 2009.

When I was about six, I wrote all sorts of “football facts and figures” in an exercise book ( which I still have, somewhere ). I stuck a few stickers on the cover including a Chelsea rosette. There was a roughly drawn picture of Leeds’ Mick Jones on the cover too ( don’t ask – I don’t know why I chose him! ) Every week, I watched “Match Of The Day” and “The Big Match” and tried my hardest to write down all of the various team line-ups. I put a few items in it about Chelsea. Over a period of about two months, I noted the number of goals that Chelsea and Tottenham scored in their various league games…I guess that, even then, in around 1971, I recognised the “special rivalry” between the two clubs.

To be fair, we had London’s “The Big Match” on ITV every Sunday after lunch and the two teams always seemed to be on. Whisper it, but I greatly admired Spurs’ Alan Gilzean…I think it was because he had the same bald pate as my father. But nobody could compare to Peter Osgood, just in case anybody is worried.

My uncle Geoff, who we started to take to games in around 1975, was a Spurs fan…Spurs always seemed to be in my consciousness…more so than Arsenal, as an example. At school, there were Spurs fans, but not many Arsenal ones. I have said before that I class Spurs and Chelsea’s identity and support as a bit similar ( certainly in the ‘seventies ). West Ham were working class but entertaining, Arsenal middle class but ( pre-Wenger ) oh-so boring…Spurs’ and Chelsea’s support was mixed…lots of working class fans, lots of hoolies, lots of glamour and good footballing sides to boot.

However, my general ambivalence to Tottenham as a young lad changed after they virtually relegated us in 1975, romped to a hideous 3-1 win at The Bridge in 1978 ( yes – I was present…I can still feel the pain…Hoddle, Ardiles and Villa causing havoc after our man Tommy Langley scored with a bicycle kick ) and then knocked us out of the FA Cup in 1982.

Scars which go deep.

Of course, we have had the upper hand over them for two decades now. The 32 league game unbeaten run from February 1990 to November 2006 was epic and so enjoyable. The last time I was physically present at a Spurs defeat of Chelsea at the Bridge was way back in 1986!

Karen, Dave, Lord Parky, Glenn’s mate Steve and myself set off from Somerset at 10.15am. Parky was in constant chatter mode as a ska compilation CD was played on the drive up. We then had a dance compilation. I think Parky is going to do his version of Lady Ga Ga’s “Poker Face”…Lord Ga Ga’s “Parky Face.”

Straight into the pub for a nice pre-match…the service was rubbish, though. It took ages to get served. There was a proper gathering of the clans, with clusters of my mates from Nuneaton, Trowbridge and London talking in the beer garden and inside the pub too. Mo was nearby, chatting to Stan. After a while, Mike ( NY ) and Kevin ( MI ) showed-up just as the Manchester derby was got into full swing. What a game, by the way – there were massive shouts of approval each time City equalised, then a horrendous groan once we heard Owen had tipped it 4-3 in United’s favour. A draw would have been lovely. Still, City’s defeat meant we were the only unbeaten team left.

The big talking point of the day was my good friend Alan’s admission that he had starred as an extra in the new Nick Love film “The Firm.” His scene was filmed almost a year ago and he told us that he is in it for about ten seconds, if you know where to look. We were all surprised to hear this – he hadn’t said anything in case his scene never made it past the editing. I remember the original, starring Gary Oldman, which came out in 1989…I can’t wait to see this now, especially on DVD – with that pause button ready! Alan had to wear a truly chronic Gabicci pullover. All the clothes are meant to be spot on apparently. Which brings us nicely to –

Lacoste Watch

Alan – dark blue
Lord Parky – royal blue
Chris – pink
Jokka – sky blue

Onwards to the game! More trouble at the turnstiles with the scanners, but I reached my seat just as the kick-off took place…perfect timing.

It was a perfect day for football. Dry and not too hot. I noticed yet another new banner, draped to my left over the balcony. It quoted the Suggs’ song from 1997.

“The only place to be every other Saturday.”

We are to be commended for our “Chelsea Style” banners which brighten up the balconies and walls of The Bridge. I love the simple and evocative “Born Is the King.”

There was a nice piece about Vic Flaherty in the programme.

Programme Quick Quiz

1. How many goals did Spurs legend Clive Allen score in 24 appearances for Chelsea?

2. Who was Chelsea’s manager when we last lost against Spurs at home?

3. Gus Poyet made 149 appearances for us. Did he play more or less during his three years spell at Spurs?

4. Which Blues defender scored a loast-gasp winner at Spurs in 2001/2002?

We began brightly and I captured the Bosingwa shot which rocked the bar on film. However, Spurs came back into it and had a fair amount of the ball, despite only a Defoe shot really bothering us. Cech saved that one well. The noise was good at the start – all of that pre-match beer had the desired effect…but then it quietened a bit. The Spurs’ slow dirge “Oh when the spurs…blah, blah, blah” was not really met with a response from The Shed. Disappointing. Then – how soon that changed…a fantastic cross and Ashley stooped to conquer. This was the perfect response a Spurs’ song about Cole and Sol Campbell. Oh – how we laughed.

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

Buzzing at half-time…I went off for a £3 steak and ale pie. Paul Elliott was on the pitch at the break and I wondered how many Chelsea “fans” knew who he was. I was a bit late back to my seat, but Alan told me that Carlo got a great reception from the Matthew Harding at the start of the second half. This was nice to hear – I have a lot of respect for Carlo…one of the good guys. However, his Spurs kit looked baggy and didn’t fit him that well…he really should have gone to a club with more style!

I was sat next to Steve ( a neutral fan – a rare breed ) and he asked me –

“What is it about Ballack? He doesn’t seem to fit in” Indeed, he hadn’t had a great game. Alan was on his case, too. No more than a minute later, Frank set up Ballack to make it 2-0.

What do we know, eh? More celebrations and more laughter. The game now appeared safe and we were looking at six wins out of six. The day was rounded off with an exceptional goal from the rejuvenated Drogba…this was the definitive Drogba goal infact.

The anticipation, the sprint, the strength, the touch, the guile, the power.

He rounded the hapless Carlo…the anticipation reached epic proportions and he slammed the ball in.

Quite spectacular…a fantastic goal.

With the crowd rejuvenated too, the MHL serenaded Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink, who was in full view in the TV studio, overlooking the north-east corner. He was loving it.

It was good to see the Chelsea support clap off the injured Bassong…nice to see we can be well-mannered when required.

After a while, the Spurs fans decided that they would start getting behind their team and they did make a fair racket…but no more so than when we went to The Lane in March. This seems to be the norm now…often the 3,000 away fans out-sing the home fans. A Spurs fan was led out of the Upper East and – rather comically – the away fans were full of it. Never mind you are losing 3-0, never mind you haven’t beaten us at The Bridge since 1990 – one fan has been led out of the home area.

Big deal!

Outside, the crowds were slowly moving past The So Bar and I realised that the police had let out the Spurs fans at the same time as us. It got a bit tetchy – lots of gesturing, but I didn’t see anything. I am sure that Spurs made a big deal about “out-singing” the Chelsea support ( which they did for only some of the time ) but – to be honest – despite the rivalry, Chelsea Football Club has moved on and have much bigger fish to fry than Tottenham.

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