Chelsea vs. Crystal Palace : 27 December 2023
The drive up to London had been horrible. Due to traffic congestion throughout the journey, and not helped by persistent rain, it took four hours rather than the usual three. I had set off from my house at 10.30am, then collected the three others, but wasn’t parked up on Mulgrave Road until 2.30pm.
We were in town for the delayed Chelsea vs. Crystal Palace game, pushed forward a further day from Boxing Day. As I battled the rain and spray I was able to tell the chaps all about the game that I had seen on Boxing Day, the local derby between Frome Town and Melksham Town. It was a mad but deeply enjoyable encounter that resulted in two players from each side being sent off, plus the visiting Melksham manager too, and a 2-2 draw in front an attendance of 696, the highest home league gate of the[i] season. It had it all. I was breathless at the end of it. Proper football.
I made my way down the North End Road, the rain almost stopped, and decided to call in for an all-day breakfast at “Café Olé” for the second time this season. As I sat at the table, I tuned in to the café’s wi-fi to put out a post on “Facebook.” I wanted to detail what was happening exactly forty years ago to the day.
On 27 December 1983, we played a game against Portsmouth at Stamford Bridge. I uploaded a couple of photos with a little narrative. I then realised that it was in this same café back in November before the Manchester City game, in the exact same café, the exact same table even, that I had detailed a similar “forty years ago” moment on “Facebook.”
For my generation it’s everybody’s favourite season, and I will be dipping in to its reach seam of memories occasionally during this campaign. I originally wrote about that season in greater depth during my 2008/9 match reports on its silver anniversary. There will be a few more “memory dips” this season. Let’s go back in time…
I travelled up with my parents…they had seats in the East Lower, but I had decided to get in amongst the boisterous and noisy supporters in The Benches, for the first time in fact since my first ever game in 1974. Up until that point, all of my games that season had been in The Shed, but both Glenn ( who was staying in London with his grandparents ) and myself fancied a change. Portsmouth, newly-promoted and with Mark Hateley and Alan Biley upfront, would bring a good following to The Bridge and we were both looking forward to some banter with the away fans on that huge slug of terrace to our left.
And – it would give us a chance to get in amongst the trendies.
Yep – December 1983 against Pompey was when I was brought fully up to speed with the football fashions of the time. Both Glenn and myself had entered the season completely oblivious to the movement which had been developing, unbeknown to us, in the main football cities since 1977.
Since then, many books have been written and many magazine articles devoted to this vibrant sub-culture; ”the thing with no name” one Manc has called it…but I can only describe it from my perspective.
Most youth trends are music based. God knows, Britain in 1983 had many; there had been the Mod revival of 1979, skinheads, suedeheads and two-tone / ska boys and girls were in abundance, the punks were still around from 1977, there were those into heavy metal with their long hair and denim, the Goths were around, there was rockabilly, psychobilly, soul boys ( definitely a London phenomenon )…then we had the lighter end of it all – the new romantics, with girls – and boys – who dressed like make-up was going out of fashion…hip hop was making inroads from across the Atlantic too.
But – as Glenn and myself were to find out over the remaining months of that most seminal of footy seasons, here was a movement which was solely based around what young people wore to football. It was a tantalisingly “underground” movement – that’s what made it so amazing to us. None of my friends back in Frome would be clued up about it for years and years.
The season was fermenting most beautifully; not only were Chelsea playing some great football, I was also going to more games – and now this.
“What – a totally new way of dressing up, based on football? Yes, please. Where do I sign up?”
There’s no point trying to reinvent history – up until December 1983, I really had no clue, though Glenn had met some casuals on an away day to Carlisle I believe. However – looking back – I guess by some kind of fashion fluke, I could have been mistaken for a football trendy. I have a photo of myself, taken on holiday in the summer of 1981 in Italy with my two Italian pals Tullio and Mario with me wearing a polo shirt, cords and a pair of Dunlop Green Flash. If I squint and avoid the glaring mistakes, I guess I could be mistaken for a football trendy. But I’d really have to squint hard. The horrible bog standard English schoolboy haircut gave it away. If I had been in the know, I would have realised that The Wedge was the way forward. There are people in their forties who coolly claim that the whole movement, the whole football thing, began with The Wedge in Liverpool in 1977. Who am I to argue? However, during the summer of 1983, I had helped myself to a great new haircut…before it the standard fringe and hair over the ears…we all had this haircut. Horrible it was. But, I decided to change all that…get a side-parting and sort myself out. Without really knowing it, my transformation from clueless fan to wedged-up trendy was beginning.
So – The Benches 1983 – a crisp sunny winter morning, my first Chelsea Xmas game and Glenn and myself clocking all of the hitherto unnoticed fashions of the time.
Why were those lads only wearing light blue jeans, many with side splits over their trainers? Look at all those pastel-coloured jumpers. They’re either “Pringle” ( small lion rampant, how Chelsea ) or “Lyle & Scott” ( yellow eagle ). I had only ever heard of “Slazenger. Why are all the trainers either “Nike” or “Puma” or “Adidas”? Wait, what are they? “Diadora”? Never seen them before.
Then the hairstyles…those side-partings, those huge flopping fringes, the famous flick… lads with hands in pockets, posing, walking up and down the Benches like a catwalk…what is that badge…a crocodile? And another! What is that?
John McEnroe’s “Sergio Tacchini” and Bjorn Borg’s “Fila”. Desert boots. Scarfs. Ski-jackets. Bright colours. Swagger.
Glenn and myself were hooked. Funny – at the time, it really was the cult with no name. Glenn called them “trendies”, quite correctly as it happens…but the cult was never really sure of itself…I would learn later – after much research – that “the football trendies” were known as “casuals”, “scallies”, “perries”, “dressers” and “trendies” depending where you were in the UK.
And here’s the thing – it was all about football; the terraces, the away games, the specials, the buzz, the noise, the colour, the lifestyle.
Chelsea versus Pompey at Xmas 1983 opened my eyes. The game ended 2-2 and has almost gone down in casual folklore. Pompey always seemed to have a photographer in their 6.57 firm and there are a few from the north terrace that day in circulation. Kerry Dixon infamously missed two penalties during the match but the one abiding memory is of a lone Pompey fan sauntering in, high on the terrace, hanging on to a fence, gesturing to us down below and wearing a pink pullover.
My diary from that day records our words to him as ”who’s the poser in the pink?” but this has since changed in popular culture to “the wanker in the pink”, as featured in a line within John King’s “The Football Factory.”
Several years ago, I chanced finding a photo from the game – both teams were wearing exquisite Le Coq Sportif kits – showing Kerry going up for a header with the West Stand in the background. I wondered if I might be spotted in the crowd. I zoomed in and found myself, way right, almost out of shot. I loved seeing myself from all those years ago, complete with floppy wedge. I include it here. I don’t like including photos on this site that aren’t mine but I make exception on this occasion. I include a few photos from Fulham Broadway of the Pompey mob, the North Stand – which, alas, I never stepped foot on – and the game.
Ah the memories.
Back to 2023.
I soon found myself catching a train from that same southbound platform at Fulham Broadway to join up with the lads at “The Eight Bells.” There was just time to take a couple of photos of the old station exits, including the ancillary one that was only used on match days. It bypassed the booking hall and went straight from platform to street level in a steep ascent. I had taken an outside shot too, to complete the picture. It’s an almost forgotten and un-noticed feature of the old station that I am sure 90% of current match-goers simply do not notice. That and the old Shed wall; that’s all that’s left from my first visit to Chelsea in 1974.
I reached the pub at about 3.45pm. Glenn, my mate from beside me on The Benches in 1983, was with Parky, PD and Salisbury Steve in “The Eight Bells” with some German lads who have featured in these tales before. Ben used to work for a company on the Swiss border that I used to contact for onward shipping of our furniture. He has visited Chelsea a number of times; the last time in 2019. He was with Jens and Walt, who we had met before, plus another chap called Michael. Everyone was getting on famously, despite the barmaid mischievously putting a couple of “WW2” films on the pub TV for their viewing pleasure. They were howling with laughter. Kyden originally from Kent, but now living in Florida called by for a drink and a chat. The pub wasn’t too busy. We rarely, if ever, visit this pub for an evening game. Top marks to Salisbury Steve who was first in at 11.30am. That’s pretty keen for a 7.30pm kick-off, eh?
I was shocked, and saddened, to see a huge poster advertising a PSG club shop in London on the northbound platform as I alighted at Fulham Broadway. There are no words.
I was inside Stamford Bridge very early at about 6.30pm. I waited for the troops to arrive. For a team that has seemed to have had our number on occasion recently, I was staggered to read that we had won our last dozen games against the Stripey Nigels in all competitions; I hoped it would be unlucky thirteen for them.
Nobody, though, seemed confident.
Our team was announced, and there was a full first team debut for Christopher Nkunku.
Gusto – Disasi – Badiashile – Colwill
Caicedo – Gallagher
Maatsen – Nkunku – Mudryk
…”or something like that.”
Ben, Jens and Michael were around fifteen yards away to my right but Walt was down in The Shed. There was the usual “lightshow and flames bollocks” before the teams entered the pitch.
At 7.30pm, the game started and Crystal Palace began brightly attacking the Matthew Harding. They enjoyed a couple of efforts on our goal.
“Colwill is too tall for a full-back.”
On eight minutes, we were treated to a magnificent turn of pace from Mykhailo Mudryk who slotted a perfect pass through for Ian Maatsen. It ran away from him a little but he poked a toe at it as the Palace ‘keeper Dean Henderson raced out. Sadly, a Palace defender recovered to clear from just a few yards out.
On thirteen minutes, a very fine move carved Palace open. A majestic turn / drag-back from Malo Gusto had the crowd purring and the right-back then set off up field. A little fortune saw the ball continue to Nkunku, who had two stabs at getting the ball between two defenders into Gusto, who had ridiculously continued his run from the inside-right channel to the inside-left channel. His perfect low cross was pushed home by Mudryk.
We roared but he seemed subdued. There was no trademark Chelsea run to the corners. The central celebration seemed odd.
Not long after, a terrible pass from Nicolas Jackson – intended for Nkunku I think, but it hit a Palace player – did his cause no good whatsoever, but thankfully the move that followed fizzled out.
On twenty-one minutes, Mudryk was in on goal after good passing from Caicedo and Jackson but Henderson saved well. There was a roller from Jackson across the goal but wide of the far post. Next, at last some consierable styrength and doggedness from the currently maligned Jackson who battled off the challenges of two Palace defenders and set up Nkunku, who was not able to get a shot away.
This was decent stuff from Chelsea.
Pass the smelling salts, nurse.
And it was reassuring to hear genuinely positive reactions from the crowd. Stamford Bridge was clearly not a riot of noise, but there was warm applause from our surprisingly intricate and pleasing passing movements.
A pass from Gusto to Maatsen, but wide.
In the last ten minutes of the half, the game died a little. The frustrations from the crowd returned. Nkunku seemed peripheral now. Maatsen looked out of place out wide, often afraid to take his man on, too often happy to play the ball back. I spotted how slow Moises Caicedo is with the ball.
“Seen treacle move quicker.”
For all of Conor Gallagher’s energy, we missed a playmaker.
“Oh please exploit the spaces out wide.”
What I’d give for someone to loft a ball into those wide open spaces for a willing wide man to attack.
A sturdy tackle on Maatsen by Chris Richards released the ball for Palace. A deep cross towards the far post from Jordan Ayew always looked like causing us grief. Michael Olise, lively in the half-thus far, was scandalously unmarked and he had time to chest the ball down and smack past Djordje Petrovic at the near post. Caicedo had lost his concentration. Terrible defending.
It was 1-1 at the break.
So, moans at half-time. The relative positivity from the first half-hour had evaporated. It seemed to be the same old Chelsea of 2023/24.
One step forward, several steps back – and sideways.
In the first minute of the second period, I spotted how easy it was for the Palace attackers to roll off our defenders.
After a few more minutes of toil, I said to PD “there is nothing unexpected about our play.” All of it was without invention, without a spark, all of it in front of the defensive lines.
On fifty-three minutes, a Palace free-kick went just wide.
“We could lose this, boys.”
I looked over at the Germans; at least they were still awake.
Benoit Badiashile – he had impressed me at the end of last season, but has played poorly of late – allowed Jean-Philippe Mateta to roll off him and break. Badiashile and also Disasi raced after him but could not stop a shot on goal. Petrovic saved well at the near post.
A debut for Romeo Lavia on the hour, replacing the really poor Maatsen. Thiago Silva replaced Colwill at the same time.
Gallagher pushed up, Lavia sat alongside Caicedo and immediately looked more mobile and interested than his new midfield partner.
On sixty-six minutes, Gusto was so tenacious to stop a rapid break. Whisper it, but a few of us would not be unhappy if Gusto replaced Reece James in the long-term. We love Reece but his play has stalled for a while. He is so injury-prone and is too quiet for a captain. Gusto was enjoying a really excellent game.
More substitutions with twenty to go.
Noni Madueke for Nkunku.
Armando Broja for Mydryk.
More than a few supporters : “how is Jackson still on the pitch?”
Jackson then missed a one-on-one. Gallagher prodded the ball centrally – a great ball actually, one we had been missing – but the young striker fluffed his lines and his shot faded wide. Jackson fell into the netting and probably wished that the goal would swallow him up. Shortly after, we thought there was redemption.
A cross from Silva was deflected but Jackson pounced at the far post.
We celebrated wildly.
He celebrated wildly down below.
He crossed himself.
He closed his eyes.
He pointed to the sky.
He was mobbed by team mates.
I took some half-decent photos.
Then, after about a minute or so, to my disbelieving eyes : VAR.
Silence in my brain, sadness in my heart.
I was still stood, but slumped back against my seat.
Oh do fuck off.
A save from Olise by Petrovic after an error by Silva.
Broja rippled the side-netting.
Late on, Madueke – who had looked lively – fell just inside the box after a corner. There had been a challenge, but I did not really see it. I could not judge its severity. With Madueke down, Palace broke with four against one. The referee played on. I screamed expletives. I’m good at that. That chance thankfully passed, but then VAR was signalled. I am tired of VAR now. I didn’t applaud nor cheer.
Eventually, a penalty was given.
Again, no cheer from me.
Jackson took the ball. Gallagher took the ball. Then Madueke, the fouled, took the ball. He looked confident. A staggered run-up. I clicked.
I cheered now alright.
GET IN YOU BASTARD.
Eighty-nine minutes had passed.
Eight minutes of injury time were signalled.
One last substitution.
Alfie Gilchrist for Badiashile.
The young lad certainly made a strong impression in his first fleeting minutes as a first-team player. There was the “gee-ing up” of team mates, at least one crunching tackle, and much running around like a man possessed.
Alfie. Alf. Welcome to the show, son.
There was just time for one last save from Petrovic, again down low at the near post, again from Olise.
It finished 2-1, a well-won victory if not an easy one.
We rose to tenth place. It is, I think, where we will be come May.
Next up, an away game at Luton Town and a visit to the Oak Road End once again. I will see some of the lucky ones there.