Chelsea 2 – 0 Real Sociedad, Stamford Bridge, 12th August 2014
“Who do you support?”
“Haha, gloryhunter, Chelski, etc etc.”
“Actually, I supported them for years prior to them getting rich off Russian oil money.”
“Well, there are pictures of me aged 6 or 7 in my Chelsea kit.”
“And how many times have you been to Stamford Bridge?”
I have lost track of how many times I have had this conversation in the past. A combination of a crowdphobic father, lack of funds, and the proximity/cost efficiency of my other team – the slightly less successful/well-funded heroes of Tonbridge Angels – had thus scuppered my 19 year long dream of going to The Bridge.
No matter how legitimate your attachment to the club or experiences of supporting them, it’s hard to defend yourself as a proper fan when you’ve never seen the team play live. So what if I loved Claudio Ranieri so much that I held a grudge against Mourinho for replacing him, until I read in the paper that his family were being threatened by angry fans and I felt sorry for him? So what if the late 90s dream team of Zola, Wise, Poyet et al bring back a potent nostalgia, and Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink’s awesome scoring record in the early 00s makes him second only to Drogba in my footballing hero worship stakes?
My Stamford Bridge-going buddy Ross pulling a sexy face on the way from the Fulham Broadway tube station to the stadium.
So when Ross, long-time friend and fellow Chelsea supporter/Stamford Bridge virgin, texted me to say did I want a ticket to see the Blues’ friendly against Real Sociedad on August 12th, I jumped at the offer. Although slightly irritated upon finding out that my annoying younger brother had got VIP tickets through some jammy git friend of his, all irritation was forgotten by the time Ross and I were on the District line to Fulham Broadway in our well-worn Chelsea shirts, stuffing Burger King meals down our throats in full view of the rest of the carriage. #classy
One of the greats on the walls outside Stamford Bridge, before the bastard went to Man City and started scoring for them 😦
We met Ross’s former housemate Sophia by one of the main gates, and wove through the gates, past pictures of greats past and present; to my interminable disappointment, there wasn’t one of Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink. We passed the official merchandise shop without stopping to go in. I have since been in there and can confirm its wares include cardboard John Terry face masks, mugs adorned with my personal pin-up Thibaut Courtois, and a lifesized cardboard cut-out of Jose Mourinho. The store looks like this:
Running out of time before the match began, we made it in in time for a quick chorus of ‘Blue Is The Colour’. Walking out and hearing this song proudly chanted around the stadium, seeing something I’d seen frequently on TV for years but never in real life, gave me a massive lump in my throat. The thing is, when your team gets taken over by a Russian oligarch and you become very successful hereafter, the majority of football fans tend to hate your team with a blinding, caustic passion that makes you uncomfortable to mention you support them (primarily because it leads to exchanges such as those shared at the beginning of this post). So being surrounded by thousands of Chelsea fans roaring their support for the first time was pretty emotional.
This support extended to cheering every player, which felt a bit weird when racist, adulterer and all-round Mr Nice Guy John Terry received rousing applause. It’s nice that his service as a leader and player is appreciated, and that there’s a pocket of people in the world that doesn’t hate his guts, but I find a lot of Chelsea fans (my family included) overly defensive of him. You can appreciate the skills and leadership in his professional life and still think he’s an absolute cock of the first order.
The Chelsea women’s team doing a lap before kick-off.
It had rained the whole time we’d been on the train up to London. It had stopped on the short walk from Charing Cross to Embankment. It had rained the whole time we’d been on the Tube. It had stopped on the walk from Fulham Broadway to the stadium. And as soon as we were in the stadium, it absolutely began to hammer it down. But that didn’t stop Diego Costa from giving us the lead in the 57th second of the game, his first goal at Stamford Bridge as a Chelsea player, and doubling our lead in the 6th minute. I’d found him chronically overrated from his performances against us in the Champions League last season, and dismissed him as a flop in waiting when we’d signed him, but within the first 5 minutes of the game it was apparent that he was the perfect striker for Chelsea, his strength and skill making him a natural successor to Drogba.
With the game already won, it descended into an idle kick-around where neither team was too fussed about trying to score, and I could swoon over Courtois, whom we were relatively near, and judge whether Fabregas would fit into the team (I decided he would), in between the nuclear family behind us dropping things under my seat or talking too loudly. And when it stopped raining, we were treated to a gorgeous double rainbow. Pretty!
Half-time came and went, which we filled with group or doubles photos of us in the stadium. As the second half started, however, the children of the family behind became inescapable. The son in particular began screeching “CHELSEA” in the most horribly shrill manner known to man, very loudly, very frequently, and very horribly. Astonishingly, it took about 10 minutes for either parent to tell him off for it, and when they did, it was partly because of my concentrated death looks.
Having been encouraged to stop wrecking the eardrums of all around him, the heinous child began instead to wave his flag precariously close to Sophia’s head, eventually just bashing her with it. Yet again, his attempts to skewer her went unnoticed for far too long. Despairing of this tiny savage, I think I speak for all three of us when I say I’ve never felt more relief than when the family left 10 minutes before the end, and we could instead return to focusing on Felipe Luis’s painfully garish pink boots as we ran down the clock with no real effort to score another.
The 2-0 sealed, we made our way back to the station amid the crowds and waved goodbye to Sophia. Unfortunately, given that thousands of people had the same idea as us, there was a police crowd control thing going on whereby we had to squish together behind a police line and wait to be let through to the station. Fulham Broadway is neither the biggest nor the best served tube station, so this is probably a good thing, and it was definitely better than listening to a child screaming in a pitch previously unknown to humans. But in any case, a less than glamorous end to a dream come true.