Sunday, 14 December 2014

Chelsea 2 Hull City 0

So what constitutes a dive? Officially, it is "an attempt by a player to gain an unfair advantage by diving to the ground and possibly feigning an injury, to appear as if a foul has been committed. Dives are often used to exaggerate the amount of contact present in a challenge." There were three incidents yesterday where the referee gave free-kicks to Hull against Chelsea when our players were accused of diving. Two resulted in bookings.

Two of the incidents, however were fouls. As laughable as Willian's fall was, by the letter of the law it should have lead to a free-kick for our side. There was also contact when Cahill fell in the visitor's penalty area. Costa fell anticipating a challenge from the Hull defender despite not being touched - he did get back to his feet straight away but was booked.

What do we need these days to win a free-kick? Do we need someone like Hazard to have his leg broken first before the referee reacts? We have an amazingly skilful set of players and the amount of times we see someone fouled with no action taken despite a nudge here or tackle there that puts a player off his stride or denies us an attacking opportunity is exceptionally frustrating. This is not a team that writhes around on the ground like the Ronaldos of this world when tackled before magically recovering. Referees need to adapt to a different type of football that we watch these days. This is not 4-4-2 with a big striker up front to nod it on any more (at Stamford Bridge at least - at Upton Park it is the 1980s all over again).

Luckily for our side, this issue that the media will concentrate on for the next few days (while probably ignoring more heinous crimes that will be committed by teams in red) means that there will be less focus on what was arguably our worst performance in a major competition this season. We dominated the opening stages of the game but when we scored it seemed that the team had thought the match was over and sat back. It was ironic too that the team's concentration seemed to fall just as the atmosphere was buzzing and our voices were building to a crescendo. We counted five times in a row where we lost the ball in key areas and against a better side would have paid the price for losing possession. We are giving the team support, Jose so I hope you fired a rocket up their posteriors at half-time because this was simply not good enough.

We began the match with a very odd formation - but one that I liked. It was fairly lop-sided with Ivanovic playing more right midfield than defence. 3-3-3-1? Luis attacked up the left. We played Cahill and Terry at centre-back with Matic and Mikel providing cover. It was also a strange match and on our return home we had look at replay after replay to really know what had happened. Cahill's challenge was clumsy and deserved no more tha a yellow card - Huddlestone was an idiot for carrying out a foul in no man's land. Mikel was back to his usual, inconsistent self and boy, did we miss Fabregas.

The goals were brilliant. We chuckled when we realised Hazard had actually scored with his head. There was some scintillating play in the lead up to Costa's goal. Even though the ball seemed to trickle into the back of the net it should bolster the confidence that he has lacked since returning from injury. This is the kind of game that teams in red would have been praised for in the past - not playing well but gaining three points. Perhaps this makes up for some of the bad luck that we suffered against Newcastle.

MotD concentrated on the dives. But no comment on the deliberate handball by the Hull City player during the first half for which he did not even receive a booking? What about the Hull player who chose to writhe around on the floor when tackled by Mikel during the build-up to our first goal but then was suddenly back up on his feet and seemingly fit enough to argue with the referee in time for the restart? Selective editing? Am I biased? Never...

Onto the Champions' League draw and the possible aways we might get. Juventus - done. Basil - done. PSG - done. Bayer Leverkusen - never done - yes please. Shakhtar Donetsk - never done - YES PLEASE.

Thursday, 11 December 2014

Chelsea 3 Sporting Lisbon 1

On the way to the match yesterday a lady asked me to unscrew the cap of a bottle that she couldn’t open while on the tube. It was one of the strangest requests I have had considering she was middle-aged. The first thing that came into my mind was that this must be a Russian spy who was sent over to track me and somehow poison my body with some chemical hidden on the outside packaging due to my critical approach towards our side. Luckily, I am alive and well today.

Chelsea is my love. The articles that I write are exactly how I feel. Any negativity should not be interpreted as only wanting our team to be the best. In the old days, our team was so average that the opposite was true. You tried to focus on the odd player who really stood out amongst the mediocrity on show.

Yesterday there were tremendous positives. We brushed aside a team that had only lost once in its own league this season. We gave chances to some of our fringe players to shine and they pleased. Even Salah had a solid game. You can forgive his lack of confidence as some players need a run of matches to lend them positivity. The only player that worried was Costa. He is lacking match sharpness and one assumes that he played to help him get back to the form and fitness levels he had when he first started for us.

The game was a dead rubber for us but considering Sporting needed a point to qualify they seriously lacked attacking quality. Once we scored the second goal – well done Schurrle for a brilliant strike – the entertainment turned to the away fans. And you ask yourself – how is it that I sit in the West Upper and have the bottle top to my water confiscated in case I manage to lob it onto the pitch (which would require the strength of a javelin thrower) and yet no action is taken when visitors bring flares into our stadium? At Newcastle, despite being in the Upper Tier, I was not allowed to even hang my Chelsea Polska flag up as it would have covered some Sports Direct advertising hoardings that surrounded the ground!

I should have kept the Russian secret agent’s bottle top hidden in my pocket. Well done Chelsea. Well done Mikel. He scores when he wants!

Tuesday, 9 December 2014

Newcastle 2 Chelsea 1

Cesc Fabregas is the player the media and fans seem to have singled out as the most important midfield addition to our squad. They are wrong. Nemanja Matic is. Mikel is a decent squad player and a competent understudy to our lanky Serbian but is nowhere near in the same league.

The differences between the two players are simple. Matic is more attack-minded, more positive and a danger to the opposition when he roams outside their penalty area. His passes are clean, crisp, speedy and immaculate. The Nigerian’s are laboured and tired in comparison. If we wish to have “total football” then there is only one player you could pick between the two to start in your side. MotD pointed out Mikel’s weaknesses and his lack of positional awareness… but for us standing in the away end at Newcastle and without the benefit of television replays there were two occasions which summarised him best.

The first was during the second half where he ran up the right wing. With plenty of space ahead of him, he preferred to wait and pass the ball sideways rather than risk going forward – we have ample cover to help should the home side have countered. The second was the free header in front of goal that he missed.

If we really wish to be considered as the best side in Europe then we need to be far more ruthless. We dominated possession and had the bulk of the chances. We were extremely unlucky not to take the lead in teh first half. Newcastle had three one-on-one chances to score and took two of them. Manchester United had two shots on goal against Southampton yesterday and scored twice. This is what makes a team champions – winning the games you should win and fluking those where you have had an off day. We may well regret sitting back against Manchester United and Manchester City when we visited their grounds. And I will not celebrate the fact that Aguero is injured as I want our side to beat the best sides in our division.

We also need to calm down on the pitch. Some of the reactions of Ivanovic and Costa to refereeing decisions or opposition tactics to wind them up are beginning to get tiresome. If some bell-end is up to dirty tricks on the pitch then transfer your aggression to winning that next ball – hopefully by taking out whoever it is with a strong shoulder barge that the referee will not notice. We do not need silly suspensions at this stage of the season.

The game was a fantastic spectacle. When down to 10-men, the passion from the Chelsea fans to get behind the Blues was tremendous. The home fans were completely dead up until the second goal went in. Even then you felt they did not believe in their side. Every fan dreams of matches where you are 2-0 down with 10 minutes to go and then winning 3-2. If we had even equalised then the away end would gone ballistic. What a goal by Drogba and if only their ‘keeper had been looking the other way when Costa’s shot was brilliantly saved.

You have to be philosophical and Jose’s opinion is right. Each game must be taken as it comes and this was a match where the better side lost. It happens. We have seen Chelsea have a home match where we have had 10 chances to score throughout the whole game and scored 8. And our ball boys would have done exactly the same if we had been 2-0 up and were down to 10-men with only a few minutes of the match left!

Newcastle is one of the nicer aways. Three hours from London. A historic town which also has 23 pubs between the train station and the ground. We mingled with some Chelsea fans on the train back and reminisced about the old days. My granddad’s deli on the North End Road. Osgood. Harris. Greaves. We wondered why some of our best songs for individual players seemed to also be for the most mediocre individuals – from Kalou to Fleck. We sang the Brendan Rogers song that I now cannot get out of my head for love nor money. The icing on the cake for a great day out was to be able to give a quick V-sign to the Emirates as we arrived back to King’s Cross. This is what makes away trips special.

Sunday, 23 November 2014

Chelsea 2 West Brom 0

This match was a dead rubber with two-thirds of the game left. It was a world record for how early, 'Olé' chanting had begun - and this was even before the visitors were down to ten men. West Brom were defecating in their pants from the offset, once preferring to kick the ball out for a corner when not under particular pressure rather than take a risk and kick it back to us in open possession. We are on fire in the matches that matter and destroying teams that need to be destroyed.

The difference between this season and last (apart from more "entertainment" value sought by neutrals) is Diego Costa. Can you imagine Fernando Torres finishing with such aplomb as he did on Saturday? To have someone of his calibre up front adds so much confidence to the side - a player who takes his chances; who fights for every ball; who has a deathstare that could freeze hell over. It was also an outstanding team performance and the chances we created were not the odd shot from outside the box, but clear one-on-ones and if it had not been for Ben Foster then this would have turned into a full-scale rout.

Jose's wind-up towards our home fans worked. The atmosphere was much better than against QPR even without any historic rivalry towards the Baggies who barely took up half of their away allocation and decided to come to life only when they saw Ramires warming up near their end. The shame of that draw last year was that it eventually lead to the end of Steve Clarke's managerial career without having done anything particularly wrong. The Baggies lack quality and need that kind of Scottish grimness to lead the charge instead of their current characterless coach. This could provoke players to work hard simply to be able to evoke a smile from his face.

It was damage limitation from the visitors almost from kick-off which exacerbated the deadness of the rubber in the second half while we were saving ourselves for another busy travelling schedule - Schalke and Sunderland in the space of four days (oh, and thanks tv channels for putting the game against The Black Cats at too late an hour to be able to get back to London by train that day). One of their free-kicks taken from the half way line went straight out for a goal kick without touching the ground... memorable for being one of the worst I have ever seen (and having followed Chelsea from the 1980s, their have been a lot from the boys in blue up there during our bad days!) This cued me preparing to leave and go to watch England play Samoa at Twickenham - two birds with one stone.

Congratulations to the lads. Hazard, Oscar, Fabregas, Matic, Costa, Cahill, Azpilicueta, Terry, Ivanovic and Courtois. If there was a gripe it was the attacking play from Willian which again disappointed. At my signal, unleash hell!

Saturday, 15 November 2014

Maribor 1 Chelsea 1

So, the atmosphere at Stamford Bridge is not good enough is it Jose? Well that went down well... especially among those of us who follow the club home and away and probably attend at least 75% of the matches plus the odd junior or women's game. So what if once in a while the atmosphere is not some cauldron of noise that intimidates the opposition? What is wrong if the crowd comes to a match expecting you to thrash a team that will not be in this division next season?

Some Chelsea fans say that ticket prices are driving away those who cannot afford them. Life is expensive, but those who moan seem to have no issues spending £4 on a pint of lager when you can buy a crate of tinnies for £10 from your local supermarket. Life for luxury goods is by no means cheap. I was lucky that my Dad financed my season ticket up until I finished school. And boy was I livid when he told me that we would not be renewing because I would be going to university. Ideal seats in the East Stand Upper Tier were given up. Seating with noone obstructing your view and the only downside being the bloke next to us who smoked two packets' of fags per match and left a pyramid of stubs at his feet.

It was because of this that I strived to make sure that in the future I could afford to have a season ticket. That any spare cash I had after all the usual bills could be used to supplement my main hobby - which was following Chelsea Football Club. That was what helped me to be able to afford to go abroad to Maribor. A place which has no direct flights to the UK at any point. A place that has a beautiful, small aiport decorated in the same colours as its football club. And yet only normally has five international flights departing or arriving from its runway each week. In fact, our Sport Options flight and the official Chelsea plane were the only ones using its facilities that day.

The dig at the fans from our manager hurt for those of us who have followed the club since its dark days. Trust me, being at a goalless draw during the winter where you could have read a book from cover to cover and not missed a thing also did not lead to a fantastic atmosphere. But there was that self-deprecating banter that we had about ourselves that I loved. So far this season (especially at the aways) I thought the atmosphere was pretty good. And better than the non-stop monotonous drummer-inspired tosh you hear on the continent.

When travelling abroad it is usually the game itself that is the letdown. Maribor is a beautiful town that has a large population of students in the vicinity of the ground. Like many clubs in Europe it is has a generic sporting club there - there were even a couple of old men playing petanque round the back of the ground (sorry if I put them off their throw when snapping a photo) and I spoke to an ex-Judo champion of Slovenia who trains youngsters at the Club. It was when we got to the away end that the real shock set in. If I had had to sit in my seat for the duration of the match then I would have only been able to have seen about three-quarters of the pitch (like at Burnden Park). I could not actually see one of the goalmouths so had to keep moving around during the game to get a decent view.

It was fantastic to meet the youth team and some of my old heroes outside the ground before the match. Andy Myers was there and it is good to see an old boy getting involved in team affairs. It brought back memories of players that seemed to have so much promise and yet never quite made it at the highest levels. The likes of Damian Matthew, Jody Morris, Michael Duberry, Jason Cundy and David Lee just to name a few. Those names stick out as you are always on the lookout for a youngster who could make it for the national side as well as your Chelsea side (something Leeds United seemed to try to achieve under the tenure of Peter Ridsdale).

The match was a dire affair with Chelsea well below par. Schurrle annoyed in the first half with hugely inept shooting and we were lucky not to be two-down in the second before rescuing a point. Stats seemed to show that we dominated the match, but the performances from some of our fringe players who must moan at not starting more regularly showed why Jose knows what his best team is. Onwards and upwards... at least we beat Liverpool.

Oh and Jose... we arrived back in Gatwick about an hour before your flight did (I thought about sticking around and giving him a piece of my mind but it being 2am thought better of it) and here was the view from my allocated seat... This is what it is like to be a real Chelsea fan.

Monday, 27 October 2014

Man Utd 1 Chelsea 1

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.

Sunday, 19 October 2014

Crystal Palace 1 Chelsea 2

The loud and proud use of the word "ultras" by any team's fans usually makes me think of two things.

Firstly, that the term is being used because their side must play such tedious football that they need continuous, nonstop nudging and reminding of their home support to sing in case they nod off. The reason for this is a flashback to Italian football during its heyday. After a club that starts with the letter, "L" caused English clubs to be banned from Europe because of the behaviour of their fans (it wasn't their fault, of course) other leagues thrived. The standard of skill and talent on display in Italy meant that we regularly watched Football Italia on Channel 4 in the 1990s. The word chalk and cheese when comparing leagues could not have been more aptly used. However, most derbies were like watching a game of chess and therefore fans needed to be proactive. Then one move would ignite your whole mind. A goal would be scored from the halfway line creating pandemonium on the terraces: flares would ignite; flags be waved; fans would try to climb over fencing to batter the opposition supporters whether they were winning or losing. But during that game you could have done your homework. Or gardening. Or washing up. And more often than not the goal would have been scored when you went to the bathroom having tried in vain to keep bladder discipline.

The second thing that springs to mind is a small club mentality. Why use a term that derives from the continent? You are a club in South-East London so at least form your own identity. In Europe you see fans who like to boast on banners displayed on their terraces how they are "ultra supporters" of their own side. Oh, really? Then why do you write how much you love your club in English if you are based in Germany? Haven't you got your own language?

There are several things for sure. One is that the best way to ignite the away end at a football ground is to have home fans hold up banners pre-match (with stewards turning a blind eye) having a go at our owner's "dirty money" and declaring yourself "against modern football". Oh, really? So no issues with having betting businesses as partners of your club? And have such left-leaning support lovingly decorate local parking signs with their ultras stickers? In any case, well done... because if there is a way of ending up with egg on your face is then seeing your side concede a goal barely after kick-off.

Neil Warnock is a man who for a while (believe it or not) I did not mind. I like a guy who says what he really feels and wears his heart on his sleeve. The only problem for me is when you do not practice what you preach or are ludicrously hypocritical to shift the focus away from your side's deserved loss. Because for Dave's deserved red card there were more than four Palace players surrounding the referee than there were Chelsea players after Delaney's second yellow (which really should have been his third). Before that incident occurred the home side were lucky to have escaped with only one booking with the cynical tackles that we have had to almost get used to. Most opposition sides find little other way to stop our swift midfield. That is on top of a couple of utterly woeful decisions where the referee could not tell the difference between a goal kick and a corner. No wonder Ivanovic was so incensed when a throw-in went against him which was clearly Chelsea's.

But hey-ho... MotD has not got a set of balls to go through the minutiae of the match as a barrister would do in court to prove the stupidity of Warnock's comments. And how to add more egg on your face - Campbell givin' it large to Fabregas when the red card was produced only for later to witness Cesc score one of the best goals of the season. Hey Neil - at least there is one parallel with the Serie A matches we used to watch - the amount of rolls the home player made after John Terry's tackle in the first half in an attempt to have him booked. Unlucky.

Almost every week we are now seeing this magnificent Chelsea side score what would have won goal of month for a whole season with barely a quarter of the campaign passed. Man U next week and if our fans can be as vociferous as we were yesterday then we can really count as being the twelfth man - with no drum needed. This Sunday could prove to be our biggest test this season.

Saturday, 11 October 2014

Lisbon (a) Part 2

Now to start the left wing of the 'butterfly formation' plan to visit league stadia in Lisbon. It was the day after the victory against Sporting Club de Portugal where we should have won by a canter and it was time to properly show my colours. Chelsea logo'd t-shirt, blue shorts and even blue socks. Yes, I looked like a complete bender but also it was important to look as much of a tourist as possible when visiting my remaining four stadia. No Stone-Island jackets, Burberry scarves or Polo baseball caps worn here.
The first stop was Atlético Clube de Portugal which as with many football clubs in the country is part of a larger sporting franchise. Based at the Estádio da Tapadinha, it also boasts a basketball and gymnastics team (among others) under its Atlético Clube de Portugal name.
It plays in the Portuguese Liga de Honra (Liga Orangina) which is the equivalent of our Championship. A stadium in the middle of nowhere but with beautiful views of the Ponte 25 de Abril which resembles a mini Golden Gate Bridge with a huge statue of Jesus in the distance like the Christ The Redeemer Art Deco colossus in Rio.
All the club's staff were in and accompanied by their pet dogs who seemed to stare at me in bafflement. I walked around the stadium having asked the groundsman's permission - no issues whatsoever. Again, it was the West Stand benches all round. The directors' area was probably not up to Roman's standard only boasting a few chairs, a power socket and a dustbin inside.
One seemed to take the description quite literally and was just an empty box with a view onto the pitch.
As I sat in one of the seats and peered out I noticed a young gent below me texting on his 'phone. Then more and more athletic looking chaps started to appear. It was then that I hoped that perhaps there would be a chance of me of catching a training session.
Nope, in fact there was a match taking place a few hours later. I spoke to the club's doctor - a very lovely lady called Rita who was cognesccent of the fact we at Chelsea also have Eva as a female member of staff. She explained that the reason the players had appeared was not for training - but because there was an actual match taking place that afternoon. At 4pm. "Why at that time?" I asked. "Because we have no floodlights", was her seemingly embarrassed reply. A good answer... and this is a club that plays one division off the top flight!
She kindly offered me a free ticket which I declined. For one thing, they only cost 4 Euros in any case and secondly with a flight at 8pm it would leave things tight for reaching the airport in time. A shame... but my visit to the stadium did not bring them any luck with the side losing 2-1 later that day to Oliveirense.
It was a great experience to visit a friendly club that really felt part of the community with such fantastic views from its terraces that normally average 4,000 fans.

The second ground to visit that day was one that plays in the top flight - C.F. Os Belenenses. It plays at the Estádio do Restelo which is not that far away from Atlético.
This was where I had to be a bit sneaky as the ground was closed to visitors and its museum shut for lunch (as you do on the continent). It again boasts many other sporting activities including handball and rugby under the one club's name. It is a strange ground as three-quarters of it is new but one-quarter has been left bare.
It appears to have been done so in order to leave a view of the Rio Tejo river for spectators should a match become tedious.
Despite the newness of some of the stadium, it was lovely to see that it had still kept some of its old, quaint ticket booths.
It was hard work to try to find the official entrance to the ground and while doing so I read through some of the history of the club. The most interesting is seeing which famous names have played for it and amongst the biggest shocks was to find out that our very own Messiah, Jose Mourinho was a player there for one season (coincidentally, while his father was manager too!)

A huge memorial to a former player, José Manuel Soares lies next to the club's administrative offices. He died in 1931 at the age of 23 from food poisoning. It is a tradition that whenever FC Porto visits CF Belenenses for a match, the team always leaves a wreath in front of the statue before the game begins as his final ninety minutes on a football field took place for the national side in Porto.
I sat at the ground's bistro/restaurant to have a lovely lunch and contemplate matters when yet again a dog that was part of the stadium workers' team came up and sniffed my leg. "That dogs bark at me as I halt by them".

Sunday, 5 October 2014

Chelsea 2 Arsenal 0

My blood has been boiling for much of the week. Aggressiveness has been at the forefront of my mind and the general tetchy mood began after the Sporting Lisbon game. It was hard to figure out why. Maybe us blokes also get some form of pmt? Maybe it was because of the change in the weather - one of those theories that one's grandma comes up with? Or perhaps it was something to do with work?

No - the answer was simple. Somehow, subconsciously it appeared that this feeling was down to one thing - knowing that this fixture was coming up. The mind picks various moments in one's life to remember - I can vividly recall Dennis Wise hushing our away end that had been kept in after the game in Feyenoord all those years ago and starting a chorus of "Carefree". But for some reason the same cannot be said for performances of Salomon Kalou.

Similarly, certain matches against today's opposition can be remembered and for more negative than positive reasons. The berating of the fans in red towards us for "only winning sh*t cups" in the late nineties. The home crowd cheering the fact that we would not win the league several seasons ago at the Emirates while forgetting the fact that their side could not win any trophies either. The general smugness of that football club is like that of a footballer's wife - one that thinks it is "TFTF" - Too Fit To F*ck while not ever being able to acknowledge its own faults. Such as jeering any club that has a smaller attendance than its own while at the same time forgetting that its own new stadium has the atmosphere of an abandoned warehouse. Even today, one Arsenal fan had the cheek to shout, "south London is sh*t" outside Fulham Broadway while forgetting that its own club's origins lie south of the river.

Let's put all the hatred aside and concentrate on the game. Unlike their football club and their fans we at least can acknowledge good play. In the first half there was no doubt that they posed a huge threat up front. The speed and skill of their attackers made for uncomfortable viewing and had it not been for the experience and positional play of our defence we could have been in serious trouble on several occasions. But they did not take advantage of opportunities they had once in our third of the field. If Schurrle had not made wrong decisions with virtually every key pass he attempted then we, too could have been in a more promising position at the end of the first half.

The simmering in my blood since the visiting fans caused the game's kick-off to be delayed by letting off flares outside the ground (which worked in my favour as I barely made it to the ground on time) was increased to boiling point when Wenger ran towards Mourinho following an admittedly late challenge on Sanchez by Cahill. It is not often that one shouts thing in ire from the West Upper or even stands up unless Chelsea have scored - but in this case I had absolutely no shame in calling for our manager to nut his opponent. It then dawned on me how much this fixture meant to me. And when we won a penalty which Hazard took so coolly in his best game for a long time an element of calm descended on my psyche.

We never felt safe being only up by a single goal but the second half was different. Chelsea tightened up their midfield and once twenty minutes was left on the clock Mourinho changed tactics so that we played in a more counter-attacking manner. And then came the piece de resistance. Having gone through a period following a poor corner taken in front of berating Arsenal fans, Fabregas showed his true quality and placed a through-ball for Costa to score my favourite kind of striker's goal. A run through the middle of the defence beating the offside trap and then an exquisite lob over the oncoming 'keeper to seal the victory. There were light tears in my eyes as yet again Diego cemented my view that he is the missing piece in the Chelsea jigsaw that has not fulfilled its potential over the last few seasons despite still winning so much.

Complete football it was not as this was an Arsenal side that was up for this match and certainly in the first half performed like title rivals. And yet we still won 2-0 by taking the chances that were presented to us. That is the difference against the better opposition this season. And to have Cech as a sub for Courtois! What a game and what a fantastic feeling to beat that team in red. Come on Chelsea!

Saturday, 4 October 2014

Lisbon (a) Part 1

Lisbon is a familiar place for me but unlike the last time it was a sober visit. The previous occasion was for an international game where Poland somehow held Portugal to a 2-2 draw at the Estadio da Luz. It was a hazy evening at best that time so this was going to be one which involved more culture and how best to carry this out than in the usual manner - by trying to visit as many local stadia in one city as possible during the space of my 30-hour stay. The plan was set up virtually to the minute... The excellent Wikipedia gave me a list of teams in the top several divisions and then using googlemaps the distances from my hotel in the middle of the city centre to each club's stadium was calculated. This was eventually whittled down to picking those within a five-mile radius and then in which order they should be visited in. The route created a beautiful "butterfly" effect with the right-wing to be visited on Tuesday - eventually ending at Sporting Club de Portugal's stadium - and the left-wing to be followed on the Wednesday.
The day of the match started in a disappointing manner with a large cardboard cutout of the Manchester United team greeting me at Heathrow. The whole of my tour was to be carried out using public transport and the bus from the airport to the hotel also passed a strange shop - one that only sold Porto merchandise... in Lisbon!
Googemaps had provided me with the exact directions from hotel to stadia by train, metro, bus or tram and the first visit was to Clube Oriental de Lisboa based in the South-Eastern part of Lisbon. It was not an easy place to find - hidden amongst some apartment blocks and on top of one of the numerous steep hills found in the country's capital. At first there was disappointment as it appeared there was no way of accessing the Campo Engenheiro Carlos Salema despite doing a full stroll around its circumference.
Then came the brainwave - simply ask locals how to get in. Easy, the said - ring the doorbell. And sure enough, there actually was a doorbell to where the groundstaff's entrance was and despite the loud barking of a dog
I was given a very friendly welcome. Having been allowed to take photographs of the ground there came the added bonus that sometimes you are given without asking - a full tour of the changing rooms, weights room and an extra special gift - an original pair of player's shorts.
There were some fantastic little bits and pieces. An axe lying on the physio's treatment table which apparently is used as a symbol to remind people when wages need to be paid.
The doctor's room that looked like it had appeared from an hastily made scene from Dr Kildare.
A stadium that like many lower league clubs in Portugal resembles the old West Stand benches all the way round. A sweet team bus adorned in the club's crest and colours.
The whole feel around the area is one of community. A school is a stone's throw away as is a hospital for the seriously disadvantaged. As with Porto, you do not get the impression that people live a life of luxury in Portugal but by the same token you do not seem to see much unhappiness either. Graffiti is communist rather than right-wing of nature. Locals are kind to help with one even escorting me to the local train station onto my next stop as I sweated through the beautifully warm weather.

So onto Clube Desportivo Olivais e Moscavide. This is a club that has been down in the doldrums and although the stadium appears to still exist it has fallen into serious disrepair.
The pitch is more unkempt than Brian Blessed's beard with a man asleep at the table of the bar/restaurant outside the stadium and men resembling drug dealers loitering in the vicinity. A guy on top of one of the floodlights kept shouting at me but when approached seemed to quieten down. Supporter's banners ("Mosca Knights") hung behind the back of the club's offices and it was a sad state of affairs to witness.
The scoreboard was attached to a barn made of corrigated iron behind which a workman's garage was hidden away from view.
I made a quick exit to the metro and onto my third and final destination of the day. Sporting Clube de Portugal based at the Estadio Jose Alvalade.
It was a match which Chelsea needed to win in order to relax for the remaining stages of the group following the disappointing home draw against Schalke. And what a performance to witness. Some breathtaking football and as against Bolton the worry was not about not playing attacking football - it was missing so many chances to absolutely annihilate the home team. Four, clear one-on-ones and again Schurrle spurning an easy tap-in. Nevertheless, three points in the bag with the only blights being an annoying, green laser being shone in the eyes of our players - let's hope this is cracked down upon as soon as possible. Smoking was allowed which annoyed too.

The stadium itself is well-designed and -situated but one of those where seats are multi-coloured in order to disguise emptiness when the ground is not full. It was easy to get to although it did make me chuckle to hear some home support sing, "Super Frankie Lampard" to us in the Metro after the match as if to wind us up - as if! It would be like us singing Ronaldo's name back to them... very odd indeed. Our support sang throughout and although there is no doubt that half were the worse for wear it adding to a cracking atmosphere.

Monday, 22 September 2014

Man City 1 Chelsea 1

The well–known satellite operator that showed our match on Sunday also began broadcasting the premiere of a film that has been strangely eulogised by many. American Hustle contains an amazingly strong list of actors portraying how a group of con-artists were caught out and forced to work for the authorities in exchange for more lenient sentences. But in the end, they turned the tables on their pursuers and ended up getting away with it. The match was like the film in that one could easily have left to go to the bathroom and come back without missing anything special. It was certainly not a game for the neutral observer to watch and enjoy.

There was little surprise that Chelsea plaed with a defensive style. Manchester City have fantastic individual players with a strong spine. Who would not like to have Hart, Kompany, Toure and Aguero or Dzeko in their side? We absorbed pressure well from the home side and the tactic was a counter-attacking one. Having been to the Etihad stadium in the past it is easy to quieten the home fans should they not score in the opening twenty minutes. Although the game was not a particularly dirty one, it seemed ironic that City’s manager Pellegrini had issues with the our game plan when all his players wanted to do was foul us when we tried to break on the counter – and his players deservedly received yellow cards when doing so.

There were a few worries in the first half. We looked vulnerable on the left and Hazard was slow to track back to cover. Chelsea should have been awarded a penalty when Toure handled a ball that appeared to be going through on goal. City should have scored but for the excellent intervention of Courtois. In the second half, Ivanovic was lucky to get away with a clumsy challenge that also should have led to a penalty. It was only when the hosts were down to 10 men (a harsh second yellow) that we threatened. Schurrle and Hazard combined fantastically for our goal. Costa had his one clear chance to score during the game but unluckily hit the post.

Then came the many moments of ire. Yet again, Schurrle failed to carry out his duties and mark Milner (who was somehow awarded man of the match despite struggling to keep the ball in play during the first half). He passed to Lampard who scored a typical Lamps goal. There was a strange feeling inside too – although angry that we allowed City to score, once I saw it was Frank my anger was somewhat tempered. That natural but somewhat perverse reaction showed how much that player means to me. Truly a legend and a professional. You felt the goal was coming as we continued to play so uber-defensively after taking the lead. At least keep one man up front and hoof it Wimbledon style when you need to!

We did not seek to win the game which frustrated considering we had the one-man advantage. The fact we were just passing the ball from side to side during injury time seemed to reflect the instructions our players had been given. No complaints about the scoreline – it was a fair result – but seeing 5-0-0 as leaders of the league table would have been more beautiful. It appears our tactics for the season will be to take larger risks against the weaker sides and play it safe against the more dangerous opponents. Although after some of the results this weekend and last it is hard to see who outside Chelsea and Manchester City can claim to be real title challengers.

Monday, 15 September 2014

Chelsea 4 Swansea 2

The kamikaze way we began on Saturday was worrying. There was no reason why Swansea - who were excellent for the first half of the first half of the match - could not have scored three goals against us during that period. Ivanovic was nowhere to be seen when it came to defensive duties, instead playing on the right wing and at various stages seeming to be part of the strike force. The visitors had plenty of opportunities to exploit space at the back and had they finished better in promising situations we could have suffered a far rougher ride.

Schurrle had one of those games that he suffers from time to time where every pass seemed to go astray and his substitution at half-time was justified. Oscar again resembled a skilful but lightweight 12-year old schoolboy bullied easily aside whenever he had the ball. Then the tempo changed midway through the first half. This coincided with Hazard (who had been pretty anonymous up until that point) getting into the game and frightening the opposition. From that moment on it was one-way traffic. It seemed that the side required a decent amount of time to click and psychologically understand this new formation we were playing. We even equalised from a corner!

The second half was far more balanced and we changed from a 4-1-4-1 to a 4-2-3-1. Personally, I prefer the excellent Matic to be partnered with someone who can hold the ball and is not a huge risk taker. Ramires fits this role well and reminds me of Eddie Newton in many ways – finding space in key areas and threading important balls through.

Rarely have I seen a player slot into a difficult position better than Fabregas. The immature side of me finds it hard to accept any former Arsenal player (it took me quite a few months to embrace Ashley Cole as a blue) because of the repugnance I have towards that holier-than-thou team in red that secretly wishes it was a rugby football club. But he has so subtly integrated into the side that there is simply nothing negative to say about him. Do you see a silly pass go astray? Do you moan about him not working hard? Does he lack pace? The answer is, “no”. More importantly, he lays scoring opportunities on a plate to our strikers which is what we have been missing.

Now la piece de resistance. Diego Costa. Every club needs to have their striker. Before we had Drogba… then Vialli… and before that was my hero, Kerry Dixon. And before that the late Peter Osgood. This guy could be what this club has been missing for many a season. That talismanic symbol who scores at will, with ease and seems to always be in the right place at the right time. Someone who has aggression, passion and is an instant hit with the fans. Resembling a Mexican outlaw he shows so much fight and desire that not only would I cheer him on were he to give Rio Ferdinand a boot up the proverbial… but I would also run onto the pitch to join in and gladly accept my ensuing criminal record. He could be what completes this club. When he scored his hat-trick, tears built in my eyes. He even subconsciously already knew that Ramires cannot shoot and anticipated the ball not even reaching the goalmouth to remain onside and poach his third goal. This is a start written in footballing fairy tales. Well done Diego… you have even made me ponder buying an official, nylon replica shirt with a player’s name and number on the back for the first time in my life FROM THE OFFICIAL CLUB SHOP. And that is saying something.

This is going to be a season where opposition fans might enjoy coming to the Bridge. In the past, they would be lucky to get away with “0” as their contribution to the game. Now they will have a chance to cheer as Chelsea plays a more attacking, open game. This is where the crowd will finally get to play its part, encouraging the side should it go behind in the knowledge that we possess such quality in attack. 3-1, 2-0, 6-3 and 4-2 the scores in our opening four league games. We may have to endure conceding, but boy are we going to enjoy seeing the amount of goals we will score. Bring on Man City. Hey, “neutrals” – is this the Chelsea you have been looking for? Watch out…

Monday, 12 May 2014

Cardiff City 1 Chelsea 2

It was time to be rebellious. Yes, mid-life crisis properly took hold and for the first time since my teens I got on a train that was slightly earlier than the one a ticket had been bought for. And I was prepared for the consequences. But even then there was a stroke of luck. The later train that I was to initially have taken was cancelled anyway so my ticket was actually valid! Due to engineering works, there were no direct trains from London to Cardiff. This resulted in a journey that was split into four parts: bus to Richmond, train to Reading, train to Newport and finally a bus to Cardiff.
There were several reasons for wanting to visit Cardiff. It was a stadium to cross off the list (91 to date where I have seen a live game) and there was still an outside chance we could finish in second place. On the way I visited the stadium where Newport County plays its games at the wonderfully named, “Rodney Parade” stadium. Two rugby clubs also share the same turf and the terraces were littered with empty plastic beer cups.
You wonder how many people base their first impressions of a place on what surrounds their city centre and train station. In Newport there were so many pubs closed. The River Usk was surrounded by muddy embankments with the odd shopping trolley thrown in for fun. The small, scenic, ruined Newport castle was picturesque but off limits to visitors. Wind and rain cut my visit short so off to Cardiff. The bus driver of the train replacement service took a less than scenic route via the city’s rubbish works before dumping us by the capital’s train station.
Time to do the anoraky thing and see if anything has been left of Ninian Park. It was a shame that there is a housing estate where the old ground was. Fears of a less than pleasant welcome were unfounded with locals friendly and in philosophical mood. The weather was still woeful with strong wind and rain being felt through four layers of clothing.
The game itself pretty much summarised our season. With no exaggeration, Chelsea had four or five clear-cut chances in the first half to score. Not random shots from 35 yards out but chances well inside the area. It was depressing to see the unpleasant Craig Bellamy score against us albeit with a large deflection. Early on Torres beat the ‘keeper with the goal at his mercy but could still not bury the ball in the back of the net – although the twenty blue balloons that surrounded him probably did not help. Yet again, our number nine left me scratching my head. “One-nil to the Championship,” sang the home fans into half-time while our lot sang songs taking the mick out of the home side’s relegation. That was not the only immature singing we had – perhaps many felt safe to be cocky knowing that a large minority of fans were getting a coach escort back to the Bridge after the game.
The second half was much the same as the first with Chelsea dominating. Schurrle finally came on – a player who is more than solid and for me a stronger choice on the field while Salah is developing. We finally equalised, and then came the winner from Torres. That is when my mood has never turned from happy to angry more fast. And not just because some Scot sitting next to me kept hugging me while getting the words wrong to every Chelsea song sung (“Have you ever seen Gerrard win the European Cup?” is not how it goes you moron). No, the most ire was the fact that Torres could not at least have run up and acknowledged supporters after scoring. Supporters who have given him more than the benefit of the doubt despite his woeful attitude that accompanies such undeniably brilliant skill. Instead, he bowed his head to face the ground and then his teammates to play the "too cool for school" game as he did when scoring against Atletico Madrid. There have been many players who have given far more on the field of play and received far less support.
It was a beautiful, sunny journey home and one reflects on what could have been this season for our club. What if the referee at Aston Villa had not sent off Willian? What if we had beaten West Ham at home? What if we had been better at taking our chances in front of goal? But then there are other questions… would we have beaten Liverpool if we had not lost to Sunderland?
Again, if we had been told of a top three finish in the league and a semi-final place in the European Cup at the beginning of the season we would have taken it. We are well positioned for next season with a solid defence and exciting midfield. Now to train, train and train more on converting the ample chances created during each game. And the good news is that some of our more promising players such as Willian and Matic will be available for European competition.

Monday, 5 May 2014

Chelsea 0 Norwich 0

The first song in a rarely attended local church service on Sunday was, "Lord of the Dance". Surely some kind of lucky omen into the Norwich home game taking place the same day? Perhaps me singing the Chelsea version in my head jinxed us. Ah yes, jinxes and superstitions. As football fans we are a superstitious bunch and it is often that I feel if my beloved side fails to win a match then it is down to me. Was there a game I did not attend and we failed to win? Well - that's my fault. My castrato voice could have been the one that aided Chelsea to obtain those three points. And yesterday us earning a draw instead of a win was down to me.

I was lucky enough on Wednesday night to have met Nemanja Matic. Well, when I say met... having dinner in Chelsea Harbour he happened to walk by. Well, when I say walk by... he actually was strolling 20 feet below the balcony where we were having our prawn sandwiches. Like a pubescent teenager I rushed to the edge of the balcony waving frantically, "Nemanja! Nemanja!". That is when it stopped and I was lost for words. The next sentence would be crucial for both mine and his sake. "You have had a fantastic first touch this season!" He smiled and carried on walking. I sat back down ashamed that I could not have come up with something more inspirational. Since he was ineligible to play against Atletico his next game back was the Norwich home match... and what a woeful game he had. For a man who had been so reliable this season, his touch and loss of possession was worse than a schoolboy's. And it was not his fault... it was mine.

The lack of obtaining three points yesterday was not down to one man though. We hit the post and bar and dominated the bulk of the game. But Norwich played fantastically well and I must admit that I sat in my seat wondering how they did not earn a penalty in the first half. Granted, we seemed to deserve one in the second. But the visitor's performance reminded me that of Crystal Palace earlier on in the season. They played solidly in defence and were unlucky not to make more of their handful of counterattacks. In fact, they nearly beat us at our own game against the more attacking sides. We were probably surprised that they took few risks considering they probably needed a win to stay up.

Not for the first time, Ba caused some seething when yet again a couple of his passes were completely wayward causing me to shout out, "AND YOU WONDER WHY YOU DON'T GET PICKED FIRST CHOICE YOU DONKEY!" It was probably down to crowd contagion from my negativity towards this one player that there were some boos at halftime and fulltime. These fans should simply be ejected.

Although it was a bank holiday weekend it was sad to see how few fans stayed behind to applaud the team off for the final home match of the season. We have not won a trophy but had a good year in the grand scheme of things. It has been one where we really have needed the fans support and without again sounding like a spoilt schoolboy - we have really not had the rub of the green no matter what the media argues. Decisions that have gone against us have cost us 3 points. Pointing to one penalty incident against WBA which ultimately only earned us a point is not balanced.

Our final game of the season is at Cardiff and it is a visit I am making to simply cross another stadium off the list. The atmosphere will be a strange one with the home side relegated and us most probably out of the running by then. Overall it is right to be positive for next season. We have real exciting attacking talent in our midfield with a solid defence. Just for a young Didier Drogba back in the attack!

Thursday, 1 May 2014

Chelsea 1 Atletico Madrid 3

There was a telling moment in the first half that summed up last night’s match. Ivanovic was on the right flank. The Atletico Madrid defence was in parallel unison with its midfield. Chelsea, with six defenders on the field was in their half. Our player looked up and saw there were no options. He passed back. Within a few seconds we lost the ball as we were closed down. For all of Chelsea’s effort there was simply no clear way through despite having Hazard and Willian in the side.

Walking to the ground before the game there was that buzz you feel when playing in European competition. Seeing opposition fans in their full colours, singing in the streets and even sunshine. We headed into the ground early having been lucky enough to meet and speak to some of the Chelsea players before the game.

This should have been one of those magical European nights but when the starting line-up was shown on the TV screens around the ground it simply did not make sense. It seemed to permeate onto the stands where the atmosphere was simply woeful. Cole, Terry, Cahill, Azpilicueta, Luiz AND Ivanovic? Who was going to play where? The conclusion was that the lack of depth in our squad and the suspensions/injuries/cup tied players meant that we had few other options - which is disgraceful for a club of our stature.

Enough about tactics – Jose knows best. But there was something missing on the pitch as well as on the terraces. Chelsea players could not even complete simple passes to each other. It was almost as if our recent performance against Liverpool had taken too much out of our side. Is the reality that we need to properly have had some negative history against our opposition to rile our side into truly being able to focus?

I have to hold my hands up and say that I underestimated Atletico. Last night they were simply the better side. Yes, if Terry had scored to make it 2-1 then we probably would have gone on to win the game. But their equaliser came from utterly disgraceful defending – ironic considering over half our side were defenders - and also a minute before half time. Their goalkeeper was excellent – maybe we should sign him? In the game of Kabaddi that both sides played there was one that could hold their breath for a lot longer than the other. The visitors were well drilled and I wish them luck in the final.

The European journey has come to an end and it has been an eventful one. For me, four new stadia visited on the continent and the opportunity to witness us playing a couple of very good sides in PSG and Atletico. There is still the outside chance of a cup but it feels like we have used all our jokers this season. The positives are the amount of skill we have in our squad and perhaps it will only be next season that we flourish. We need a new striker and one who celebrates his goals instead of feeling some sort of allegiance to a former club having had so much support from his current employers.

Onto Norwich and Cardiff – let’s hope we remain positive despite last night’s disappointment. Let us focus on the fact that we would have been more than pleased if someone had told us we would reach the semis of the European Cup and finished in the top three of our league with the possibility of winning it too. We still believe in you Jose and Chelsea.

Sunday, 27 April 2014

Liverpool 0 Chelsea 2

Life changes for a football fan who has regularly attended his beloved team's matches throughout his existence when he has children. At one stage it meant giving up my season ticket for two years assuming that fewer matches would be attended - when in reality even as a member I attended the bulk of games home and away. Today was one of those days where having spent three days in Madrid, a day spent at home was required. And it was a day that I wanted to spend with my closest family - wife and two kids.

It was spent at Chessington Zoo.

I have always tried to be holier-than-thou as a fan... I won't do this or that... if I break this rule then it means I can no longer count myself as a genuine fan etc... but finally reality is dawning that not being able to attend every match in person is not the end of the world. And more importantly, I felt the same passion, stress and desire for Chelsea to win today as I would have done being in person at Anfield.

But in typical bloke fashion I had forgotten to record the game. My daughter asked me why I was punching the seat when I realised this in the restaurant at lunch today where there was surprisingly as much salad as pizza. I finally figured out how to remotely record the game and looked forward to watching it later upon my return home. No checking for results and time to ignore telephone calls and texts. This is something I had not done for a very long time.

There was some poetry on the way back from Chessington. We decided to drive down some country lanes on the way home and accidentally passed through Cobham. Police had blocked off a lane we wished to peruse and this being after the match had ended I wondered if there had not been some kind of altercation in a pub between rival football watchers.

Back home and having unpacked the bags a man passing my car was speaking to his son about football. I closed my ears but too late - only I still heard him mutter something about some team that had scored one goal - did this mean that Liverpool had scored? What was the second part of the score? 1-0? 1-1? 1-2? I had started humming to myself just in time not to hear the full result of whichever match they were discussing.

The anxiety was killing me. My face felt red with pulsation as I sat down to watch the game that I had recorded. Part of the redness to the cheeks was down to me being a typical city dweller not used to the gentle country breezes encountered today. Sky as per usual tried to Hollywoodise the home support but ironically cut off for adverts just as their home anthem was reaching the crescendo that it does pre-kickoff.

The Chelsea line-up still looked solid despite one newcomer to the side. Chelsea held their own and crosses were well intercepted. It was interesting to see Liverpool miss a couple of easy chances. The Ba goal had me jumping to my feet in my living room with my two daughters staring at me in bewilderment before breaking into smiles. The bigger shock was seeing Willian score in injury time which was too good to be true.

A simply tremendous performance and our manager is correct - if it were not for key refereeing decisions this season we would have had the title more or less wrapped up by now. However, it was also interesting to see that Liverpool were not at their best and did not give their full concentration at key moments. We not only have a master tactician for key games but also one with a truly remarkable understanderding of psychology.

There is little else to write about and no point dwelling on minor issues such as Liverpool not throwing the ball back to us when we kicked it off having an injured player. Nor is it even worth mentioning how our club is described as one with no class and yet opposition fans of a club with so much "history" concentrate the bulk of their chanting against the team they are playing! Let's see how the "neutral" media's ever-changing formulas for what makes a great team do this week. Oh, and I noted some sarcasm from the match official towards Chelsea players at several stages during the match - is this not the lowest form of wit? Rant over.

We might not win the league and yet be the best club in the country. Go figure that one out. Good luck against Atletico you Blues and may league results go our way!

Friday, 25 April 2014

Madrid (a) Part 2

Four stadia down and four to go. Having been kept in our end for what seemed like an eternity I slept well happy to be cosy in my warm hotel bed that had a beautiful view of the Royal Palace. The walk back following the Atletico match felt safe and following the course of the river northwards seemed quite poetic.
So where was the first destination for Wednesday? AD Alcorcon. A club that plays in the Spanish second division occupying mid-table in their Santo Domingo Stadium. Again, it was a place where one was made welcome and of all the grounds visited my favourite. The pitch was in pristine condition although the groundsman did have to do a double take as I fell to my knees to sample the beautiful smell of the freshly cut turf while he was mowing it. The stadium is cute and it was a delight to see that it was part of a whole sporting village. I watched the players train and had some stares in my direction as I wore my macho blue and yellow jacket with "CHELSEA FC" emblazoned in large letters on the rear. It struck me how much hard effort they needed put in and how this must compare with Chelsea players who we only ever really see inside Stamford Bridge. We moan at them being overpaid so-and-so's but it is by no means an easy job - and one that requires a hell of a lot of discipline if you wish for your career to last. Oh, and not that I condone graffiti but nice to see we are slowly taking over the world having seen this little tag on a park bench near the stadium...
Back onto the metro and a rather circular route to take. Off at Julian Besteiro station and time to find Estadio Municipal de Butarque - home of Club CD Leganes. Of the clubs visited this was one which unknowingly had the most relevance to me as a Chelsea fan. Flicking through the clubs history on the Wikipedia page I had printed out while back in Blighty, I only noted while at their ground that of their notable former players a certain one called Samuel Eto'o had been on their books. Apparently this was the club where he had started his professional career on loan from Real. A lady showed me to the club shop to prove the pictures that showed him playing. The friendly staff member there also showed me in their current squad photograph a player who we have out on loan there - Jhon Pírez. Later, the club added me to their Twitter feed too. Not something that I regularly use to be frank (as you can tell by my posting two replies with two different usernames)! Even more embarrassing when studying the squad photo was to later realise that the lady who had showed me around but had now disappeared was also the club's President!
Two clubs left to visit and both from La Liga... so four clubs from Spain's capital play in their highest division compared to our six in London. First stop was Getafe who play at the Alfonso Perez Stadium. No joy getting entry with not a single soul on duty in or around the ground. Even a walk around the circumference yielded nothing more than some frightened rabbits next to a motorway and personal genuine fear that I may be attacked by some homeless tramp. Woeful photographs of the stands were made through tiny, vertical gaps between concrete blocks. It was siesta time, but surely a club playing in their highest division would at least have a shop open for the odd (and I admit that I am odd) tourist?
The same said of Rayo Vallecano's Campo de Futbol de Vallecas. A club known for its left-leaning supporters and beautifully placed right next to the Portazgo underground station. You literally walk up the steps to exit the tube and you can touch the stadium with your hand. This was an intriguing place as the ground floor of the stadium was used for restaurants, a gym and even a car repair garage. The sign outside the club shop helpfully informed me that it would be reopening at 5.30pm... er... siestas are something one is not quite used to in the UK! And yes, this is pretty much the best photo I could take of any stands - although I trust you will admire my artistic skills to capture the working man's life contrasted with the nature of community provided by such a stadium. Hmmm....moving on...
So back to the hotel for a quick snooze. Despite being in my mid-30s these powernaps are much needed after a hard day's stadium hunting. Another quick tramp's wash and following a Spanish meal that contained half a bulls arse with some rice it was off to try and blag a seat for the Real Madrid vs Bayern match. Leaving things to the last minute worked. Should I take the ticket from a tout that was 260 Euros face but offered to me for 120 Euros? Or should I take the single ticket from an old grandad for 80 Euros that was 70 Euros face? I chose the latter as the former seemed to good to be true. I have set myself a rule to try to not watch any club matches unless they involved Chelsea but this one was too much of an opportunity to miss. Having seen Chelsea win the Champions' League in person I secretly wanted us to draw Real in the semis as I had not ever been to see a live game at the Bernabeu. Before the match the streets were full of drunk Spaniards and Germans all wearing their colours. No problems that I saw and an excellent view form the cheapseats - even being up in the Gods. "Puta mierda" was the new phrase I learnt every time Di Maria miskicked the ball. No health and safety stewards either with fans smoking weed and sitting in the aisles.
The atmosphere was fantastic although the Real Madrid fan behind me honestly noted it was only like this for the big games and fans were quick to get on the back of the players - sound familiar? It was only a few days earlier that a half-empty Camp Nou saw white hankies being waved as soon as Barca fell a goal behind. This is the danger we face as a football club going forward - instant gratification and perfection required at every step.
The whole stay in Madrid awoke something in me... how important it is to remember that ultimately you are part of a club. We forget this sometimes with the current footballing largesse and we could end up ultimate victims of our own success and drive to be a brand - rather than a football team with us as the twelfth man. It was something I explained to the club shop worker at CD Leganes when he mentioned that Chelsea did not seem popular with neutrals in the UK - if his club was to suddenly become successful and win La Liga several times it would not be long before the media would be pining for traditionally strong clubs to return to the fore. After all, a Champions League semi-final containing Real Madrid, Barcelona, Bayern Munich and Inter Milan would seem far more of a television draw than one containing Everton, Borussia Dortmund, PSG and Roma to "neutrals" (and more likely, sponsors).

Mourinho still has the reputation of "parking the bus" but few seem to remember that his Real Madrid side scored the most goals and earned the most points when he won La Liga with them. This among his many other successes.

The stay was simply fantastic - a city which was good value for money. Excellent transportation. One where you felt safe with friendly locals. It will be one that I shall be returning to as soon as I can. Many thanks to all those who made me feel welcome at their football clubs and may the best team win next Wednesday. And CD Leganes - I shall be looking out for your results in the future!