For the week or so between the desperately poor game against Red Scouse FC and the game advertised as the “Clash of the Titans” it seemed to me that the UK nation was slowly but surely favouring Manure FC and hoping they would give us a bit of a drubbing thus prolonging the inevitable back-to-back Premiership title accolade. Every paper across the land was filled with knobber hacks desperately building up the slim hopes of former ABU* (Anyone but United) and ABA* (Anyone but Arsenal) fans, now known as ABC* (Anyone but Chelsea) into believing that a victory for Sir Rednose of Salford Quays’s resurgent side might apply sufficient pressure to bring about a Devon Loch like collapse of the team that had sat proudly atop of the Premiership table for 18 months.
For that whole week I read drivel written by slimy lowlives with no concept of truth or fairness writing vile pieces about a team that frankly 5 years ago they couldn’t have given a flying piece of mouldy celery about. But more on the scumbag press of our once proud nation later. This is about my recollection of the day, with caveats aplenty for any omissions or errors caused by brain cell destruction linked to an excessive intake of Guinness following the end of the game and the season, and hence my first sojourn into the heady and occasionally murky world of season ticket ownership.
To say that I was a bit nervous is like saying that John Prescott is a bit of a fat shagger, Catherine Zeta-Jones is a bit gorgeous or that the Pope is a bit Catholic. You get my drift here, don’t you? I was chewed up rotten from Wednesday onwards as the importance of the occasion grew in my subconscious. This sense of growing tension was enhanced by the fact that a so-called colleague of mine at work had got corporate tickets for last season’s last game against Charlton and had not thought to invite me along, deeming it sufficient to send me photo’s from his mobile of the trophy celebrations post match. He may have been well intentioned, but it felt like a complete and utter smack in the face. Especially as he is a dyed in the wool Gooner. Vindictive bastard. Anyway, no matter how I tried to continue on a “business as usual” basis, it was becoming obvious that my mind was on one thing only, the game. Nothing could detract me from Thursday onwards, not even the obligatory threesome fantasy of me, Jennifer Aniston and/or any one from the aforementioned Zeta-Jones, Liz White, Billie Piper or Kate Winslet could dislodge my beloved Chelsea’s biggest game of the season from the depths of my mind. And as Saturday approached, even the pre-match Friday night drink with my mates consisted of one subject… the game and the possible team selection/formation/outcome. It was hell.
The day itself started with a hangover from Friday night’s failed attempt to drown the subconscious voices in my head that were now occupying my every living thought. My mind was running like a computer processor stuck in a program loop, running over different combinations of the same iterative equation of who would play, what would the formation be, would we play to draw, play to win, would we be glorious or would we blow it and snatch defeat from the jaws of victory and what the ramifications of such a defeat might be. Such is the mentality of a very long suffering fan whose 35 years of unswerving loyalty to Chelsea has been tainted by more pain, disappointment and humiliation than anyone should realistically have to experience. Such was the overriding feeling of PMT (pre-match tension) that despite hitting the 9th pint I still felt like drilling a hole in my head to relieve the pressure.
The gang pulled up to chauffeur me to the ground where all would be revealed. Due to the early kick off and a sizeable queue outside The American Grill we decided to plump for the traditional burger option as a pre-match meal. Then it was into the ground with a quick visit to the Megastore to spend some more money that Mrs Jack says we haven’t got. One noticeable thing was on show, both inside and outside the ground, and that was the overriding sense of tension and anticipation, a heady mixture of those fans brimming with complete self belief, and those like me who were approaching the game, not as doomsayers, but as people whose past experiences do not allow the big red button marked “Supreme Confidence” to be pushed until the Dawn French look-alike is singing like a Friday night drunk. It was a very potent mixture and fans were either bright eyed and smiling or had faces etched with lines of worry. To some this was the day fated for the Premiership to come home, for others it was the small but undeniable fear of parties being held at Ewood or St. James’ – nothing could be as good as winning on your home ground and I for one knew that if it was to be won away from home then I would be watching, like most from a remote position via the TV.
And so to my seat in the Matthew Harding Lower. A seat that cost £650 and has given me such pleasure over the year, interspersed with howls of frustration, encouragement and anger (mostly at referees). Neil Barnett announced the teams and despite the awesome array of talent on display from Manure FC, when he reads out the Chelsea team consisting of names like Drogba, Cole, Terry, Lampard, Robben, Makelele and Essien you just can’t help pinching yourself a little to make sure this isn’t some sort of coma based dream, or that someone hasn’t spiked your Stamford Bridge nuclear reactor heated coffee with a large tab of LSD. The group surrounding my locale greeted each other with firm handshakes and the usual “Alright mate”. I went to sit down, but it was obvious from the outset that sitting in the MHL was not the order of the day. From the minute the teams came out of the tunnel the sun seemed to shine on Stamford Bridge. And then it started and The Chelsea Machine immediately clicked into action, as if Patrick Head and Adrian Newey in their Ferrari heyday had tuned the machine themselves. The team battled for every ball, harassed every United player whenever they got within a sniff of the ball. We passed sublimely and every area of the field seemed to contain a hungry blue-shirted footballing aristocrat. Jonathan has already reviewed the match so I won’t witter on too much about the game… it was very much there for all to see just how big a gulf exists between these teams. Every Chelsea player deserved a 10 rating in my view, but if we set the standard rating at 8 then the following players deserved a full 10.
Drogba – magnificent and a real handful that worryingly for England seemed to disturb Ferdinand big time. Since he stopped the theatrical diving he is now showing a real class and showing why he cost so much money. Long may it continue!
Carvalho – “Percy” as he is becoming known may be off to Real, and has often been the culprit this season of silly shirt tugs and giving away free kicks in dangerous positions, but on this day he was truly supreme. Great tackling, marvellous blocking and a wonder goal to make virtually every striker in the world sit up and applaud.
Terry – need I really say anything about a true Captain Marvel
Cole – The single most influential player on the pitch who scored a wonder goal leaving 3 Manure players for dead. Whilst the Rooney situation is indeed sad for England we surely have a readymade and equally talented solution in Joey Cole?
This is not to denigrate any other player on such a glorious day, all are worthy of mentions but these 4 players were for me truly outstanding. And let’s face it, 3-0 is a real panning for Manure.
On the final whistle the tears welled up and the emotional release from me was all too obvious to those around me. The big fat foulmouth drunk behind me even gave me a kiss. And do you know what? I didn’t mind no matter how rank he smelt. I think that was the first time my arse actually touched my seat as I sank down for a few minutes as all the thoughts and worries were released. To be honest the pressure valve had loosened substantially on the second goal, and bit more on the third. But the final whistle had mimicked the sound of a proverbial kettle in my head reaching boiling point and finally releasing the steam. I stayed for an hour until the ground emptied, shaking strangers’ hands, and high fiving with people I’ve never seen before and may never see again. I saw grown men wiping their eyes (no doubt protesting that something had flown in there). I saw more shiny happy people that day than I’ve ever encountered or Michael Stipe could even imagine. Stamford Bridge was smiling and from above it must have looked like the world’s biggest collective smiley icon. Even when I left the ground clutching my bag and goodies desperately close, tripping through the hawkers selling their “back-to-back” flags and t-shirts (for a bloody tenner, the robbers), past an impromptu communal game of football echoing the advert on TV, past the singing in the SO Bar and the smiling mounted police. This was party time Chelsea style. If the King’s Road normally has a swagger then Saturday it was positively hip gyrating. We sang as we walked up the road, cars sounding their horns and non footballing people looked on in bewildered amusement. The journey home was almost serene as we sat in the car smiling like a collective of Bonnie Langfords after sampling the best skunk money can buy. It was paradise. If heaven exists then I hope it is very much like this.
Finally, some bouquets and brickbats to finish on. Brickbats first I think so that I can finish on a happy note. Brickbats to the Press who got a rousing reception when they walked onto the pitch, but not of the nice kind. Personally the afternoon could only have been capped by getting the reporters from the East Stand into the pen as well and then inviting us all onto the pitch to give them a well deserved kicking. A brickbat to the referee and his assistants, Mike Dean, our friend from the Fulham game… the one with indecisive mind who seemed determined to kill an enthralling and competitive game with a display of breathtaking pedantism and fussiness. A brickbat to the FA because of their treatment of us this year and their blatant disregard for the fans with their poxy brown-nosing to the lords of TV and stupid 17:15 kick offs miles from home. The idiots also get another one for the England manager fiasco. A brickbat to the very few fans who booed Rooney off the pitch. Some people really do not have any class. Brickbats to the fans who booed Drogba at the Man City game. No matter what I can never boo anyone wearing the Chelsea shirt. Voice your disapproval in the pub or on this blog but do you really think you’re going to help the player by vilifying him whilst he’s out there playing? Besides, a lot of us knew how good he was from the start and kept faith. We told you so! And the final brickbat goes to Red Scouse FC. When you emulate this then please come and comment here. Until then, keep remaining a “Cup” team. Enjoy the qualifying round of the Champions League.
Bouquets to the Manure fans that applauded the team at the end, some even stayed for the presentation. Some I met after the game were dignified and gracious in defeat. Bouquets to the Blues fans that applauded Rooney and chanted his name as he left the pitch, face twisted in pain and despair. Bouquets to Jose Mourinho for ensuring every person on the Manure bench got a handshake in the spirit of the game and not as the sewer rat Richard Williams implied in his poisonous Guardian article (an extra brickbat to him personally for this mean spirited and vile column tainting the souvenir pages of the Guardian report). Bouquets to the stewards who allowed the single fan to dance on the pitch and greet every one of his heroes in front of the MHL and then allowed him back in the crowd without getting all jobsworth and ejecting him or getting him arrested. A bouquet to Gary Neville who, despite getting loads of stick from us, then had the dignity to graciously hug Super Frank at the end and then seek out every Chelsea player and shake their hand. A bouquet for Wayne Rooney who despite a bad tackle on Terry was one of the few Manure players to show constant fire in their belly, and also because no player deserves to have their World Cup hopes dashed so cruelly and via such an innocuous route. A bouquet for Hernan Crespo for whom the emotion of the whole thing was screened for all to see. For someone whose heart for Chelsea has been questioned this seemed an extraordinary reaction. I’d love him to stay with us. A class player and a class person. A bouquet for the MHL who in my opinion are the best fans anywhere.
And the final bouquet to the team who have bought more joy to my life than I can remember outside of my immediate family.
You are all my heroes.
*Notice there is no ABL (Anyone but Liverpool) group there because frankly in League terms they have become so insignificant that nobody really gives them a second thought, despite the best efforts of their turd-lobbing, ambulance-toppling fans to get them noticed and to show their true depth of history and class.