Hello Stamford Chidge & JK,
I wanted to get your opinion on something I have written about my experiences following Chelsea away. I would welcome your candid view – is it self indulgent nonsense or something that might interest other Chelsea fans? I guess my goal would be to have it published in cfcuk or similar…Or could you use some excerpts during the emails section of the Chelsea Fancast?
By way of background, my love affair with Chelsea stated in 1970 when I was 8 years old. I was born in London, Kingsbury to be precise. My dad is Spanish and a Real Madrid fan but his second team was always Chelsea. We were living in NW2 – in the shadow of Wembley Stadium – when we played ‘Dirty Leeds’ in 1970. I can’t say I remember too much about the game, but we would have watched it on TV. However, some years later year I did buy the box set on VHS!
We moved to Stansted, Essex shortly afterwards, and I always think my parents could have saved me a whole lot of money and time over the last 50 years if they had stayed put in Wembley!
My first ever Chelsea game was Saturday 23 February 1974, at home to Queen’s Park Rangers. When I was looking through my programmes I noticed it was unusually a 2:30pm kick-off (I really must find out why).
I think you always remember your first football match – that Nick Hornby moment if you like! Of course, an end to end, 3-3 draw, standing in The Shed always helps sharpen the memory. As an impressionable 12 year old I was completely hooked, but my dad less so. He only ever took me to one more game – a 2-0 loss, to ‘Dirty Leeds’ on the 18 January 1975. There was a fair bit of crowd trouble, mainly at Fulham Broadway tube station, which clearly troubled him, and he didn’t take me ever again.
Given we were living in Essex by now, my parents weren’t all that keen for me to head up to London for the games. It wasn’t until my final couple of years at secondary school that I found a couple of like-minded Chelsea fans. I went to a pretty tough comprehensive school in Harlow where Chelsea fans were as rare as rocking horse shit! You were either S**** or Arsenal…and there weren’t even that many Arse fans! Thank god for my dad’s allegiances, and the 1970 FA Cup Final, otherwise my life would have been one of never-ending misery and ridicule!
The end of the 1976/77 season was really the start for me. I went with a couple of school mates to the Sheffield United game on 30 April 1977 – a comfortable 4-0 win. Two weeks later, on my 15thbirthday (May 14 1977), I was there for that momentous final home game against Hull City, another 4-0 win! JK – Please forgive me, I was one of the thousands that celebrated every single goal on that wonderful Stamford Bridge pitch!
The memory of that final pitch invasion at the end of the game will always be with me. As an aside, I had a minor celebrity, although I didn’t know it at the time, on my shoulders at the end as we massed in front of the East Stand. He was a school mate by the name of Nick Kamen – look him up if you like (a famous launderette ad).
One regret I still have is not going to the Wolves game the week before, the promotion decider. To have been part of the 8,000 visiting fans (who weren’t really there!) would have been something else. I have heard stories since from those who were, and I just wish I had been there to experience it. It would have been a fitting debut to my away-days following Chelsea.
My Chelsea story post 1992 has continued to be an emotional roller coaster. I followed Chelsea home and away, and I had a season ticket for most of the 90s, up to and including 2004, when we moved to the US for my job. I still managed to get to some big games, including the 2007 FA Cup Final against Manchester United, so I had the distinction of being at the last FA Cup final at old Wembley against Villa and the first at new Wembley. I have to say, did it really take them seven years to build that pile of crap? The FA must have designed it deliberately to kill off any atmosphere as it is one of the most soulless stadiums I have ever been to.
I have racked up 137 grounds so far, not all Chelsea games I will admit, so football stadiums are close to my heart and old Wembley was so much better. Let’s pray we don’t end up there for three or four seasons – it would kill our support – although one of my more recent enjoyable visits was August 2017, when we beat Spurs with that very late Alonso goal!
If there is one game I regret missing during my time away, it would be Bolton away in 2005 – after all the years of hurt in the league it would have been a very special moment to have been there. Alas I was in Nevada Smiths, Chelsea central in New York back then, celebrating with the New York Blues. It is never the same on TV -with or without fans – don’t get me started on that one! When we returned to the UK in 2008 it was straight back into the match day routine, but course I now regret giving up my season tickets.
In the last couple of years I have had to make a choice between going to home or away games – I can’t afford both – another illustration of how the Premier League has priced out the ordinary fan. Thankfully, the £30 away game price cap, agreed by the clubs has stuck for now (no thanks to that creep Daniel Levy), and it’s been a godsend.
Which brings me back to why I felt compelled to write this article – if that’s the right terminology:
I’m reading The Mixer, which is the tactical story of the Premier League, not something that would normally appeal to me, but it’s a very good read (plenty of Chelsea) and brilliantly written by Michael Cox. However, what I can’t agree with is his view on football before 1992. So that got me thinking I had to put the record straight, at least in my own mind. I would never swap my pre-1992 Chelsea experiences for the now sanitised stadiums, odious, money-grabbing players and agents, and assorted hangers on, in the self-serving game that football is today, where fans have been completely sold out.
Ironically, it was Alex Ferguson who in 1992 described the Premier League as a “piece of nonsense” that would “sell supporters down the river”. How right he was. If this makes me an old git then so be it!
Without wishing to blow smoke up your…The other catalyst for putting pen to paper is your brilliant series 50 years of Chelsea – I have loved every minute of it and can relate to so many of the stories behind the games. I have old football programmes all over the house right now as I piece together my top 10 away games, and I can’t help but wallow in the nostalgia of it all. I have long since stopped buying football programmes as the prices, like everything related to football, went through the roof.
The premise of my top 10 away games is largely based on my experience of the day, not just the 90 minutes of football, which is largely forgotten by now anyway.
In most cases for me it is the first visit to a particular ground that is the most memorable…It was a bit like being asked to choose your favourite child!
A couple of honourable mentions to away games that just missed my top 10: that very famous Arsenal game in 1984, (so good that they wrote a book about it – I couldn’t possibly compete with Marco and the gang), and the 4-4 Sheffield Wednesday Milk Cup Replay in 1985 – what an amazing game that was! The list is endless, but in the end I decided to pick these 10.
I hope you enjoy the trip down memory lane and I look forward to hearing from you…