Chelsea vs. Brighton And Hove Albion : 28 September 2023
After defeating AFC Wimbledon in the Second Round of the League Cup, we could have been drawn away to Salford City, Exeter City, Ipswich Town, Mansfield Town, Peterborough United, Bradford City, Port Vale, Sutton United or Lincoln City in the next round. I have not seen Chelsea play at any of these clubs’ stadia. However, the draw for the Third Round gave us a home tie with Brighton & Hove Albion. This was met with the usual grumbling from me. I don’t have a feverish desire to tick off all ninety-two grounds before I exit stage left, but a new ground is always a pleasant experience.
As I typed out the teams in that list above, I felt a little sadness that I have not seen us play at either Valley Parade nor Portman Road. These two stadia belong to two teams that we have played a fair few times over the years. However, the twin perils of geography and economics have not always been aligned for me to travel as much as I do now. I guess that I should mention that I have seen a game at Port Vale, lured in by a chance to see Micky Droy play for Brentford at Vale Park only for him to be injured, when I was at college in The Potteries. Quite a few fellow Chelsea supporters that I know have reached “92” on many occasions and are constantly topping up their totals as new teams arrive in the fourth tier.
Me? I am up to fifty-eight of the current ninety-two English and Welsh stadia, plus a few “doubles” too. Other than that, there are around forty clubs in the non-league arena that I have visited. So, a total of around one hundred clubs in the UK visited for actual games. I’ll make an exhaustive list one day. It’s a pretty low figure compared to many. I know of one Chelsea fanatic who is up to six-hundred individual stadia worldwide, and another who has seen games at over two and a half thousand stadia worldwide. Across the globe, I think that I might be up to around one hundred and seventy-five individual stadia.
Stadium number one in that list was Frome Town in 1970 and I returned there on Tuesday, the night before the Brighton game. The home team won 3-2 against Evesham United with goals from Warren Maidment, Reece Rusher and James Ollis. This was Frome’s first league game in four weeks.
On the Wednesday, I set off for London with the usual three other passengers at around 2.15pm. I dropped Parky and Paul near “The Rylston” pub on Lillee Road at 4.30pm. I was able to drive down a relatively deserted North End Road, then up the Fulham Road, to drop Ron off at the main gates. It felt a little odd to be able to do this. I haven’t often driven up to the actual gates at Stamford Bridge, though I did park in the underground carpark on one or two occasions almost thirty years ago. After getting fined for arriving at a car parking space before the Luton Town game, I was wary not to park up too soon. I killed time by driving around a few blocks and hit my spot bang on 5pm just as a traffic warden had glided past.
I had driven past a father and daughter that I often see in “Norbros Pizzeria” on the North End Road. The father reminds me of Perry Benson who was in “This Is England.”
I joined the chaps in “The Rylston” for a drink. It sits at the northern edge of the Clem Atlee, and is a very decent boozer, though now attracting a very different clientele than the decades since its inception. I bet nobody from the Clem Atlee drinks there now. As such, it’s a perfect metaphor for that part of Fulham, that part of London.
I shot off to gobble down a diavolo pizza on the North End Road – Perry Benson and his daughter were in there, of course – and I then dipped into “Simmons” where I had a nice chat with Salisbury Steve. Neither of us were particularly relishing the game. Why would we be?
Brighton had over four thousand supporters in The Shed and so Parky was shunted into the MHU. I swapped with him so he could sit next to PD, while I took his seat in the more central Block 11. It suited us both. Before the game, I was able to spot three friends who normally sit in The Shed – Long Tall Pete, John and Dave – and I also spotted Terry Wine Gums too. Lo and behold, just before the kick-off, Perry Benson and his daughter took their seats right behind me and I spoke to them for the first time.
“Good food in there, innit?”
I enjoyed being able to watch the game from a different angle. It mirrors the “new ground” feeling. I would be pointing my camera at the usual objects but there would be different outcomes.
Cucarella – Disasi – Colwill – Chilwell
Ugochukwu – Caicedo
Maatesen – Palmer – Mudryk
Or something like that. Palmer, his first start, was definitely ahead of Uguchukwu and Caicedo.
I nestled myself in. I seemed to have a lot less room than in my usual seat. The pre-match music began in earnest and I thought that the House Of Pain, from thirty years ago, was an apt choice of band to start off the proceedings. Would we be jumping around later? I wasn’t sure.
There was the flash, then darkness and the pulsing beat of the pre-match light-show, and I worried for the future of mankind. On the pitch, men with forks were tapping the pitch with complete disinterest. As a spectacle, it needed a little more work, a little more choreography.
I looked around. It was almost a full house. The bubble isn’t for bursting just yet. The tickets for the previous round were £26. These were £32. I hope the price rise stops there. It was a mild night in SW6. Secretly, I was sweating like bastard. That extra Hugo Boss hoodie was not a wise move.
The game kicked-off.
Brighton were in a very vivid red. Tariq Lamptey, one substitute appearance for us in 2019, was starting while Billy Gilmour was a substitute.
We began nicely, with some positive play going forward. Mudryk cut in but shot straight at the Brighton ’keeper.
It was a bit of a head-scratcher to see the maligned Marc Cucarella starting at right back, and the effervescent Brighton winger Kaoru Mitoma gave him a merry dance as a he advanced. Thankfully, a cross was smothered away for a goal-kick.
After a Chelsea attack, the ball was played back.
“Cucarella as the last man. That’s not a scary thought is it?”
Robert Sanchez had already fluffed a few lines; kicking for touch like a rugby player and failing to clear with ease. He had already passed the ball to one Brighton player in error. Then, his biggest error yet. With all of our hearts in our mouths, we watched as he kicked the ball straight to Joao Pedro. Mercifully, his lob evaded the goal and the ball nestled on top of the net.
A run from Nicolas Jackson, but he crumpled too easily inside the box.
“Needs to be stronger.”
Palmer advanced but his shot was weak.
In front of us, another horrific piece of football from Sanchez, with him passing the ball to Caicedo with an attacker right behind him. The ball was lost and Ansu Fati, on loan from Barcelona, shot at goal. Thankfully Sanchez redeemed himself with a fine save.
Some nice interplay between Mudryk and Jackson set up the Ukrainian, whose advance was halted by two sliding tackles.
After a free-kick was cleared, the ball fell to Lesley Ugochukwu but his lofted chip sailed over via a deflection off a defender.
A long ball into space from Chilwell, captain on the night, found Mudryk in acres of space. His cross was flicked past the near post by Palmer.
It had been a first-half of few real chances with the abysmal performance of the ‘keeper Sanchez the main talking point in MHU Block 11. Only Palmer, Mudryk and Jackson stood out really.
The Brighton fans had been quiet. We had been quiet too. It was one of those nights.
Soon into the second-half, on fifty minutes, a slick move involving Caicedo, Ian Maatsen and Palmer – with exquisite footwork – set up Jackson who cleanly swept the ball in.
The crowd roared. What a relief. We had joked for a while about wondering where our next goal would come yet here it was.
I tried to capture the slide but there were too many arms being thrust into the air.
Mudryk set up Jackson but he dawdled a little too long and the angles worked against him; his shot was blocked by the outstretched leg of Verbruggen.
A fine ball from Cucarella into Caicedo set up Palmer. His slight touch was enough to see the ball reach Jackson, who tucked home. Sadly, I immediately saw the chequered flag for offside. It must have been close. It stayed as a 1-0 game.
Billy Gilmour came on as a Brighton substitute and a fair few clapped him on. I stood up and did so. He was part of our squad in Porto, that will do for me.
Raheem Sterling replaced Mudryk.
Then two more changes.
Conor Gallagher for Maatsen.
Enzo for Palmer.
Both had played well on the night; positive signs.
A quick break down the Brighton left set up Solly March but his header was right at Sanchez. Estupinan then drilled a cross right through the danger zone and it eventually went off for a Chelsea throw in. Brighton had been poor. This surprised me.
Armando Broja replaced Jackson.
Another promising show from him.
Alas, while chasing a long ball, Chilwell fell and it was clear that he was hurt. He was escorted off.
A volley from Joao Pedro was blasted over.
The minutes ticked by and we hoped that there would be no last minute twist, no last minute drama.
There was relief, much relief, at the final whistle.
The quality wasn’t brilliant, but a win is a win is a win. The big surprise on the night was Cucarella, who really grew into the game and impressed many with his tough tackling, decent distribution and high energy levels. Well done to him. We assembled back at the car and I made very good time on the drive home. I was back home at around 12.45am, definitely an early finish.
But so much for a new ground.
We were paired with Blackburn Rovers at home.
Next up, a trip for me to Kent on Saturday in the FA Cup before we assemble again on Monday night at Craven Cottage.
See you in The Eight Bells.