Chelsea vs. Brentford : 28 October 2023
It seemed that everyone had been talking about our run of league fixtures that were looming on the horizon, stretching into December, and how difficult they would be. I had to agree. If I was pressed, I would have said that it was only our home game with Brentford, the first of these, that I thought we would win. The away games at Tottenham, Newcastle United, Manchester United and Everton would be tough. Our recent records at St. James’ Park, Old Trafford and Goodison are horrific. The home games against Manchester City and Brighton would be difficult too. We were undoubtedly in for a testing time.
My weekend began on Friday evening with a game at Frome Town’s Badgers’ Hill against Cribbs, from Bristol, in the First Round of the FA Trophy. Despite a rainy night in Somerset, another decent crowd of 408 saw the home team squeeze it 1-0, thanks to an own goal, and the away team missing a penalty. It was a game that wasn’t great on quality but which had me enthralled throughout.
I was up early the next morning for the 12.30pm kick-off against Brentford. I realised that by the time 3pm on Saturday would come around – the usual start time for the vast majority of games throughout the pyramid in England – I would already have seen two games.
For a change, I walked to West Brompton tube in order to get myself down to “The Eight Bells” at Putney Bridge, the first time that I had walked that way in ages. From the North End Road to West Brompton, I usually bump in to one person that I know and I wondered who it might be on this occasion. Lo and behold, it was Stuart, who only lives three-and-a-half miles from my house in a neighbouring Somerset village.
“Hello mate, how are you?”
Next up were lads from Gloucester, Stoke-on-Trent and Crewe.
West Brompton serves a certain type of clientele at Stamford Bridge on match days. You don’t get many tourists alighting at West Brompton on their way to the game. The pubs on the nearby North End Road, and just off it, contain mostly old-school fans. It’s like they arrive at Chelsea via the back door. I like that.
I spotted a new building on the site of Olympia – “BBC Earth Experience” – as I approached the tube station. With rumours involving the development of Stamford Bridge in whatever guise starting to generate again, it was a timely reminder that eventually all available land at Earl’s Court will eventually be eaten up. I have a feeling that Stamford Bridge’s eventual redevelopment will be a huge test for many of us, especially if we have to decamp to Wembley or – worse – the London Stadium if a total rebuild is chosen. The alternative of building “one stand at a time” would mean that the current pitch footprint would not change, thus meaning that there would be a huge constraint in expansive increases in stand sizes.
I am not thrilled that the Clearlake mob will be in charge of this process. In fact, it fills me with absolute dread. Fackinell.
The pre-match in the pub was squeezed into just one hour for me, but the boozer was as packed as ever, and the boisterous mood of the clientele did not match our current league position. On the next table were a group of six or seven Brentford fans. You wouldn’t know it from their appearance nor behaviour, but I overheard a couple of them chatting about Players X, Y and Z while I got a round in. I didn’t recognise the names, but they weren’t Chukwuemeka, Nkunku nor Ugochukwu.
On the front page of the programme – back to its normal design this week after its odd revamp last week – there was yet another version of Mykhailo Mudryk’s “Christ The Redeemer” pose after his goal against the Goons last Saturday.
I was inside the stadium – a sunny day thus far despite rumours of rain – at just after midday. There was a chat with a few of the lads – Daryl now a grandfather, Ed now a father – as we waited for the game to begin.
Last week might have seen our two-hundred and eighth game against Arsenal, but this was only our twentieth game against Brentford. For me personally, it was my ninth such game.
However, the first time that I ever saw Brentford play was not against Chelsea at all. Back in 1987, on 24 January, I was lured up to Burslem to watch Port Vale play the Bees in a Third Division game. Living in Stoke – and the town of Stoke, not just the city of Stoke-on-Trent, it does get confusing, the five towns and all that – I always tended to watch Stoke City if the mood took me. After all, for two seasons – er, years – I lived right opposite the away end at the Victoria Ground. In my third year of study at North Staffs Poly, I had yet to visit Vale Park, and I knew that I would have to get at least one visit in during my stay in the area. Why did I chose Brentford? I was lured in because Micky Droy, the ex-Chelsea defender, was playing for Brentford in 1986/87.
I took the bus up to Burslem – grey buildings, grey skies – and paid £2.50 to get in. After all that, Droy wasn’t playing. He was injured. Bollocks. I heard a voice inside my head say “why in God’s name are you here?”
I watched from the Bykers Road end, a very ram-shackle terrace, as the home team won 4-1 in front of just 3,012. The star of that Vale team that season was their young striker Andy Jones who later signed for Charlton Athletic, though Robbie Earle, now a TV pundit, was playing for Vale too, himself a local from Newcastle-under-Lyme. I counted sixty-five away fans at the other end of the ground.
I wondered how many of the buggers would be at Stamford Bridge almost thirty-seven years later.
Kick-off approached and we were treated to the usual three songs before the teams appeared.
In the lower tier of the Matthew Harding, a large flag surfed over peoples’ heads. It commemorated the passing of our former director twenty-seven years ago.
Then, an image of Sir Bobby Charlton appeared in black and white on the TV screens and the players stood, as we all did, to applaud his memory. There can’t be too many players who are remembered on two consecutive games. The day’s programme featured photos and a piece about the great player’s last-ever appearance for United that I briefly mentioned last week.
RIP Sir Bobby.
We had heard that both Enzo and Mudryk were out, so Mauricio Pochettino shuffled his ever-decreasing pack once more.
Disasi – Silva – Colwill – Cucarella
Caicedo – Gallagher
Madueke – Palmer – Sterling
“…or something like that.”
Those of us of a certain vintage keep talking about the football bubble bursting, but here was another “near as damn it” full house at Stamford Bridge, albeit with the crowd in a very quiet mood as the game started.
Chelsea were attacking the Matthew Harding in this first-half, a situation that I am always uneasy with.
We began brightly enough, with Noni Madueke soon involved, breaking in from underneath the East Stand, unsettling his marker, creating a little space and lifting a shot high towards the goal. We sighed as the effort smacked against the crossbar. Next up, Conor Gallagher advanced and put his laces through the ball, forcing the Bees ‘keeper Mark Flekken to fling himself down to the right and push the effort wide.
The play was half-decent, but the atmosphere was dreadful. It took eighteen minutes for the Matthew Harding to generate a chant or song of note. Brentford were just as quiet.
Lack of beer before a game has this effect.
Can all games begin at chucking out time at 11pm? Oh fuck, no, best not mention that idea, someone from Sky, Amazon or TNT might be reading this.
Cole Palmer, playing deeper this week, was involved in most moves, and his quick mind spotted the burst from Marc Cucarella. His chipped pass into the six-yard box was perfection, but the improving defender’s delicate touch was right at the ‘keeper. There were a few more half-chances, but despite our dominant possession, we lacked that killer instinct. Sterling was a little hit-and-miss. Nicholas Jackson often chose the wrong option, and became a peripheral figure as the half continued.
Around the pitch perimeter there were occasional displays depicting the most recent retro-kit launch. The 1974 white kit with green and red panels – actually only worn a bare handful of times – has been well-received, though am I the only one who finds it just a little odd that Chelsea are, in fact, highlighting and honouring a relegation season?
It’s nice to see 1974 mentioned though; the year of my first-ever game. I bought a red / green / white scarf a few years back and I love it.
A couple of chances from Madueke and Palmer did not threaten.
At half-time, nobody in The Sleepy Hollow was too excited. I turned to Oxford Frank and admitted “I can’t see either side scoring.”
Did Brentford have any worthwhile attacks on our goal? I honestly could not remember any.
The second-half was awful and I really don’t want to dwell too much on it. I can barely remember such a tepid and frustrating performance.
The warning signs were there. From a cross from the right, Vitaly Janelt crashed a shot at goal, but the arm of Robert Sanchez saved us.
The pace of the game slowed right down.
Then, just before the hour, another neat move down their right resulted in a high ball towards the back post and we all watched as Ethan Pinnock leapt like a lord – he had so much space that it looked like he had sent a letter to the local council for them to clear any obstacles in his way – and headed the ball in emphatically.
There were fresh memories of Brentford’s previous two visits in the league, both away wins.
Surely not a third in a row?
“This was the game I thought we could win for fuck sake.”
We had been getting slightly more joy down the left flank than the right, so the manager replaced Axel Disasi with Reece James and Noni Madueke with Ian Maatsen. On the left, Cucarella was one of the brighter elements in our team. I grimaced every time Reece went for the ball.
Unsurprisingly, Brentford defended deep and with conviction now that they had got their noses in front. Their supporters provided some verbal encouragement. It was their voices that were heard.
“Chelsea get battered…”
In the home areas, the noise was not forthcoming.
I had become the sort of fan that I once derided. I sang in support of my team only occasionally and I hated myself for it.
Frustration on the pitch, frustration off it.
Two more substitutions.
Lesley Ugochukwu for Moises Caceido, the first time that I have mentioned his name.
Debutant Deivid Washington for Marc Cucarella.
This lad has played just nine times for Santos, and now he is playing for Chelsea.
A shot from Reece James was slashed high. There had been few other attempts on goal in this half. Then, a mad few seconds in the Brentford box with a cross from the right and two stabs at goal but both were miscued. I had got frustrated with Jackson’s lack of movement as the game dwindled by. He looked interested at the start of the season. Is the Chelsea malaise that deep rooted into our psyche right now?
“I have to say Al, I was more involved emotionally with the Frome game last night. This is just dreadful.”
On a break, we were outnumbered, but a fantastic stop from Sanchez thwarted Yehor Yarmolyuk. Bryan Mbeumo then went close. By now, many Chelsea supporters were heading for the exits.
PD joked with Al that he would wait until the equaliser before he would leave but, with walking painful for him now, he left just after an extra six minutes were signalled. Alan began to move towards the exits too.
“See you Wednesday mate.”
Late on, we were awarded a corner and Sanchez trotted up for it.
The ball was cleared and Neil Maupay, a substitute, was in on goal. Sanchez did well to catch up with him and he made an attempt to foul / tackle the Brentford attacker but Maupay passed square to Mbeumo, who slotted the ball in to the empty net.
Oh bloody hell.
Not even VAR – a slight hint of offside, not in my photo – could save us.
There were stern faces on the walk back to the car.
We were caught in a traffic jam as we attempted to squeeze ourselves out on to the A4. A journey that usually takes twenty minutes took an hour. I was then hit with awful driving conditions as I drove back down the M4, with torrential rain and then surface water getting worse and worse as the evening progressed. There was even a nervous navigation of a surprisingly deep and lengthy puddle due to a blocked drain, in my home village, just thirty seconds from my house.
Treacherous waters ahead…