We Were There

Hard as it might be to believe, although the internet was with us, within the last dozen years, it was still possible to spend upwards of 10 hours at Stamford Bridge, queuing for football tickets. As a phenomenon at Chelsea, this was still a rare event for many of us, with the art of standing in a queue outside a normally wet, cold and dank football ground for hours on end, a bit of a novelty. Until the team reached the FA Cup semi-final in 1994, many of us had not been able to participate in such a process for over 20 years (mind you – I have an excuse – I was only born in the late 1970s). Those of more vintage years will I’m sure, remind younger readers of the thrill of standing in a line that stretched all the way down the Fulham Road and along the North End Road (according to my dad) as they queued up for tickets to the 1970 final. Like most stories, with time this might become slightly embellished with the length of the queue finally ending somewhere near the Hammersmith flyover, the time it took to get to the front, around a week.

So, on my part, it was with a sense of genuine excitement that five of us left Kent at around six in the morning one wet spring day, to get our FA Cup semi-final tickets for the Luton match. Even now, I can still remember the fact it was drizzling and cold and half way round, two of us ended up playing pocket chess (well – it was that or discuss the defensive merits of Andy Dow at left-back – not a hard decision…). Still – we did get the tickets!

As the club started to become more successful, the phenomenon of queuing for tickets gathered pace. The 1997 FA Cup final saw tickets go on sale to members on (I think) Good Friday – I left work early to meet dad and chums to then spend upwards of nine hours outside Stamford Bridge (to be fair, just one of us could have got the tickets with the cards – it was again, the excitement of it all!). We’ll gloss over the fact that two of our number left for an hour at nine for a quick pint in what was then called The Britannia, or that by the time the ticket office hove into sight, I didn’t care about the result of the final, I wanted to go home to bed. I do remember someone’s wife actually turning up with his dinner around 10 and then singing ‘Happy Birthday’ at midnight to someone towards the back of the East Stand.

If those finals of the 1990s were introductions to this most odd of ways to show loyalty, the art form reached new heights towards the end of the decade as league games became more popular, the club reached the Champions League and tickets became harder to come by. The off season wasn’t the off season without the first batch of tickets inducing around 2,000 or so people to in many cases, sleep outside the ground to ensure they got tickets for games like Sunderland and Newcastle at home. I remember leaving a friend’s house in London, dashing back to Kent to collect membership cards and then getting a train straight back to London for a Saturday morning queue – still in my work clothes from the day before. Coming back that night it felt like I’d left the family for around six months. The odd thing was, we met people in queues who you were linked to in the most oddest of ways. I got chatting to a bloke who was a school inspector and had visited my old school on numerous occasions. I met a lad who had been friends with a kid down our road and used to chase little kids away from the front of their house (I was one of the kids being chased!). My dad met someone he’d played football with years before.

With a website that worked and a ticket office that actually knew what it was doing, we lost all that. The thing about those queues was, you might have lost hours where you could have been doing useful, constructive things for society (like not being ripped off by Ken Bates for a lukewarm bacon buttie and coffee from a trolley being pushed around the Stamford Bridge car park at two in the morning), you could’ve been in some cases, salvaging relationships or seeing loved ones, however you bonded with some bloke from Epping or Guildford over 10 plus hours. In the months and years afterwards, you might see the same bloke around the ground, your eyes might meet and while no words are said, your knowing look says it all, your shared experiences enough to say – ‘We were there….’

(Image credit: Londonist.)

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  1. Agh57

    I remember queuing up at the Bridge sometime in 1998 to get home tickets to Blackburn. Unbeknownst to me, the tickets for either the Carling Cup (or what ever it was called then) Final or the Cup Winners Cup Final also came on sale that morning. I was not aware of this until I got almost to the front of the queue. I spent several hours in a confused state trying to work out why Blackburn had become so popular all of a sudden and was anxious the home match against Blackburn would be an over-subscribed sell out!

  2. mark_25

    Thank you Liquidator for another interesting trip down memory lane.

    I don’t remember queuing too often for tickets. Is this the sign of a privileged upbringing? My dad would have taken care of the admin side of things, I just had to turn up, wave my rattle, wear the scarf knitted by my grandmother and inhale the cigar and pipe fumes wafting over the North Stand Upper.

    Maybe religiously cutting out the tokens from the programme back page entitled us to queue jump?

    I would have been one of the first to travel on the Hammersmith flyover, a marvel of engineering at its time, enhanced by episodes of Thunderbirds including it with Lady Penelope’s pink Roller making its way West.

    As flyovers go the Westway flyover had more of an impact on my journey to the Bridge which meant we could avoided the Du Cane Road, a journey that passes Wormwood Scrubs Prison to which my father often quipped that I’d end up at; a harsh reaction to achieving a Grade 9 in French o-level if I’m honest.

  3. Der_Kaiser

    Another fine blast from the past…

    Do recall arriving for the 4-5am queuing shift when tickets went on sale in batches after the club closed the little-known fax booking line which was a fabulous loophole that hardly anyone seemed to use. Always seemed to be me doing the queuing for a group of us, primarily as I lived closest to the Bridge. Batesy wandered past occasionally, no doubt happy that the tills were soon to start ringing.

    Reached the point when a season ticket seemed the most sensible option as over the course of a season it bought me at least an extra nights’ sleep.

  4. Blueboydave

    Er, meanwhile back at the original topic, I guess I must have queued for the Ken Bates invented Wembley finals in the 80s, but the 94 and 97 FA Cup games are the ones I remember too.

    My recollection is that the queue snaked around the back of the East Stand in convoluted fashion rather than out onto Fulham Road for those ones and progressed at a rate that would have made a snail blush. Even then it was always the most expensive seats that had sold out by the time you got to the front of the queue, so perhaps our fan base demographic hasn’t changed that much?

    My last memory of significant queuing was just to buy my season ticket seat for the first CL home leg v Barca. I remember having to queue straight after the end of a previous home game, presumably because of a very short deadline before my seat would have gone into the general sale.

    The ticket office was in its current location by then and that queue did go out onto the Fulham Road, if only just, when I joined it. It still took for ever to move and it rained at one point to cheer us up. I’m not usually one to recall opposition goals with any affection, but I wouldn’t have wanted to miss seeing that Ronaldinho goal in the flesh.

    Puts complaining about how tiresome the current virtual queueing system is in perspective though, dunnit?

  5. Liquidator

    I remember the fax machine system – once blocked the office fax all morning trying to get my application for a block of 6 tickets!

  6. Liquidator

    I forgot to put in the original piece – last time I queued at Stamford Bridge – Blackburn FA Cup semi-final in 07; I was living in South London at the time and for some reason I got it into my head the queue would be massive for members (tickets were on sale on a mid week I think – actually took the day off work for it). Got to Chelsea at something like 3 in the morning – no s*d there at all – ended up wondering around the ground for what seemed like weeks before the ticket office opened. And even then some kid on his way to school got served before me!

  7. mark_25

    Nice new kit Nick!

    Do you think you should alter the template according to when we’re playing at home or playing away? (I mean the team, not JT)

    • Nick

      Thanks, Mark. It’s an amalgam of the last two designs, based on a premium WordPress theme. Changing themes is just a mouse click so, you know, it’s possible. Maybe we should have different themes for different managers. Then again…

      I do have some commented-out code in the stylesheet that turns every image to grayscale/black and white, for when the mood surrounding the club is a bit negative. I probably should be using it now.

      I must admit that at the moment I’m suffering from what Hemingway called ‘The Artist’s Reward’:

      “That terrible mood of depression of whether it’s any good or not is what is known as The Artist’s Reward.”

      By tomorrow though, I’ll be happy that I changed the kit. It’s always the same.

  8. Blueboydave

    Very snazzy-looking new design, Nick.

    Shame it makes Disqus’ rubbishy comments layout look even worse than ever 😉

    • Nick

      I considered switching back to WordPress’s built-in comments, Blueboydave, but that would’ve meant everyone signing up for yet another profile and, to be honest, I think even the new version of Disqus is better. I’m hoping Disqus’ll make some improvements in the near future.

  9. Blueboydave

    Thanks Nick, let’s hope so.

    While looking around I clicked on the “community” button and notice that “cunningplan” has still posted almost twice as many comments on here as anyone else despite having disappeared since early January.

    Did he make a New Year resolution to give up defending Torres?

    Come back Clive, we miss you 🙁

  10. Cunningplan

    I’m still around lurking in the shadows guys although my visits are not as frequent as they should be, I’ll make a bit more of an effort to pop in a couple of times a week. So thanks for the concern it’s nice to feel I’m an integral part of this dysfunctional family. 😉

    I will admit to having lost a little of my mojo with regards all things Chelsea, playing twice a week since November has overdosed me slightly. The Benitez thing hasn’t helped, along with some of our drab football, and as BBD alluded to, the constant Torres bashing. It was akin to visiting the old 606 boards postings on the BBC website in days gone by, I will add that Ba appears to be just as crap, so roll on Cavani or Falcao or both arriving in the summer.

    And talking of the summer that’s when I planned to return with my batteries recharged, a second coming so to speak to coincide with the special one! we’re both working on our press conference speeches as I type. 😉

    Love the new look blog Nick, fucking hate the new disqus comment layout.

    • Nick

      Good to know you’re still around lurking in the shadows, Clive. It’s probably the best place to be at the moment.

      I continue to hold out hope that Disqus will make some improvements in the future, though I am slowly getting used to the new system.

  11. Blue_MikeL

    We look like shite right now, utter shite. Marin, Oscar, Lampard all anonymous, Torres… well nothing new here.

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