My old man nearly didn’t make the match yesterday. His dog, Victoria suddenly died on Saturday. She just walked into the kitchen where he was preparing dinner, gave a last whimper, keeled over and exhaled her last breath. Only an hour earlier, she had been out for a walk bouncing around with her usual enthusiasm.
It has been a sombre week as autumn takes full hold. The days becoming shorter, colder and more windy. Normally when visiting Manchester this time of year that feeling seems to exacerbate tenfold. My dad’s reminiscences of his student days spent in this city are pretty grey but at least he managed to see Chelsea play at Maine Rd. Thankfully, there was a football match to replace the general grimness that surrounded us.
There was also another reason why we nearly did not make the game. After taking the Victoria line to the khazi that is Euston station, trains were delayed and/or cancelled as some moron had thrown a filing cabinet onto the tracks around Watford. We somehow made it just in time to catch the last train that goes directly to “Manchester FC” from Manchester Piccadilly to catch kick-off.
Even having lost six stone, the seats in the away end are tighter than a Scotsman’s wallet and you are pretty much forced to stand or else your blood may stop circulating in the lower part of your body. The atmosphere from the away end was fantastic again. “We’re top of the league”, is a chant that keeps going round my head.
United is a club in decline. Quite how they can win the Premier League in one season and then not even qualify for Europe the next shows what good judgement Alex Ferguson had leaving the club when he did. It is also going to be a difficult period for the fans too – especially when you are used to your side consistently finishing in the top two in the league for so long. This dog is one that needs support. That energy we have normally been used to from the terraces and pitch has disappeared and you wonder how a few more seasons’ underperformance will affect it. Luckily, they still have a ground that sells out and as per usual the majority of fans aboard our train wore red. “We’ll race you back to London!”
The strange thing was that to some extent I empathise with their plight. The club has squandered tens of millions of pounds on average players and there is no control the fans can have such decision making. Our club lost a lot of goodwill amongst our fans with some of its decisions but was lucky to have brought Mourinho back when it did.
This season has been a revelation but going into the match you did not feel that confident of a win with Costa missing. We still love you Drogs but thankfully we have a strong midfield to compensate for his lack of sharpness despite him scoring a typical striker’s goal. And if only we could have been more cynical. Hazard when through on goal could easily have tumbled and earned a Man U player a red card. (Ivanovic could have done the same later on during the second half and have earned us a penalty). Instead, he squandered a fantastic chance to open the scoring but was lucky that Drogba bailed him out with a brilliant header from the subsequent corner. There was one run in the first half from Eden that simply left me spellbound. He left the Man U players in his wake.
You hope that as you mature you can watch football from a more sober perspective. It does not mean giving polite applause to the opposition should they score against you but at least acknowledging when your team has played brilliantly or poorly – or if the opposition has simply been better. Last season, Crystal Palace deserved to beat us at Selhurst for instance. They were excellent that day.
But sometimes, you also have a fairly even match where you need the officials to do their duty to a professional standard. Yesterday was not one of those days. Even trying to be as balanced as possible, Dowd and his team’s decision making was utterly disgraceful. From the small – throw-ins going to the wrong side – to the large – free-kicks not given and even a penalty decision missed… but for some reason I am not too bitter and have taken everything in my stride.
The confidence you have in this Chelsea side is huge. We have world class players to cover almost every position apart from up front – but then again, with a club that only likes to play with one striker it is a difficult situation to manage should you have two superb strikers and can only choose one for each game.
We beat the queues as the final whistle went and jumped on the train back to Manchester Piccadilly… even managing to have a normal conversation with some returning Man U fans who agreed that their club was struggling. Then back to South-West London and home. Journey time 3 and a half hours from leaving the ground. You need days out like this.