Fulham vs. Chelsea : 2 October 2023
After our pleasing, but narrow, win at home to Brighton & Hove Albion in the League Cup, one game dominated my thoughts.
But it wasn’t our next game, the SW6 Derby at Craven Cottage.
It was Frome Town’s FA Cup tie at Ramsgate in Kent.
I had mentioned to a few work mates and close friends during the build up to this match in the competition’s Third Qualifying Round that I was more excited about it than any other game during the season thus far; more so than the previous eleven Frome games and – gulp – more so than the previous eight Chelsea ones.
It had dominated my thoughts so much that I had subtitled my Facebook post from the MHU before the Brighton game with the words “The UK’s biggest Wetherspoons is in Ramsgate.”
My reasons were clear and obvious. For starters, it would be my longest ever trip to see Frome Town play. The distance from my village in the east of Somerset to the tip of Kent would be 186 miles. It could be a classic FA Cup tie, an away game in a far flung ground, a new ground at that, with all of the associated dreams of advancing further. There would be the chance to meet up with a band of loyal supporters. There would be the hopes of an entertaining game. There were hopes of drama. If we sneaked a win, or even a draw, we would be in the hat for the Fourth Qualifying Round draw on the Monday. There was the anticipation, however misguided, of getting past these two rounds to qualify for the First Round Proper and to meet a Football League team for the first time since 1954.
On 24 November, Frome Town played host to Leyton Orient in the FA Cup in front of a mighty 8,000, losing 0-3.
We all hoped for some sort of repeat.
On the night before the game, the directors, players, management team and a handful of supporters travelled to Ramsgate by coach. My friends Louise and Steve, the club’s historian and my friend for over forty years, travelled up too. On the Saturday morning, one mini bus and three further cars set off from Frome; my car was one of them. I picked up Simon and his son Charlie, plus his mate Ethan, just after 8am. Also setting off was Trotsky and Terry from Launceston in Cornwall; their trip was a mighty 289 miles.
One coach, one mini-bus, four cars.
We would have around forty fans there.
Pre-match was spent in the massive pub that looks out onto the beach and the English Channel. It was a gorgeous day and every one of us mentioned how impressed we were with the town, nestled around a decent marina, close to a small harbour, a vibrant sea-front with bars and cafes.
Southwood Stadium was a treat, with uneven terraces at both ends, a raised bar area overlooking the 3G pitch in one corner, and a concrete-roofed main stand that oozed charm and was surprising sleek and chic.
Frome started the better team and dominated the early exchanges. The home team really ought to have taken the lead just before the break but a chance was spurned. Alas, Ramsgate improved after half-time and went 2-0 up. A late Warren Maidment goal made it 2-1, a score that flattered us slightly. The gate was a healthy 720.
The dream was over.
But it had been a lovely adventure in the World’s oldest football competition and one that everyone had thoroughly enjoyed. Even a long delay in Kent on the drive home didn’t dampen our spirits too much. I returned home at around 10pm, my FA Cup journey on pause now until January. I had seen three of Frome’s away games – at Falmouth, Plymouth and Ramsgate, 932 miles in total – plus the home replay against Plymouth. I had missed the home tie against Clevedon due to Chelsea duties.
It had been a blast.
However, I was somewhat pleased that there was no Chelsea game on the Sunday. On the Monday, the alarm sounded at 4.30am and I worked a 6am to 2pm shift. I had promised PD and Parky that I would drop them off outside “The Eight Bells” at 4.30pm.
I did so at 4.29pm.
I hoped that it was a good omen.
I went off to park up on Whittingstall Road close to Parsons Green tube station. I had booked a “JustPark” spot from 4.30pm to 10.30pm.
On my walk down to the pub, I spotted the old pottery kiln that stands just off the New King’s Road. I was reminded of a recent snippet of family history. A couple of weeks ago, I took a day off work to travel down to Parkstone in Poole with my Canadian cousin Kathy and her husband Joe, who were visiting England for a month. My grandmother Gladys and Kathy’s grandfather Bill were siblings. Their surname was Lovelace, a beautiful name. However, after being widowed our great grandmother could not cope with the onerous task of looking after five children and so Bill was sent to Ontario in Canada to begin a new life at the age of just ten. I once met Bill, a very quiet man, at Heathrow in 1978 when he was passing through to visit another grandchild who was working in Kenya.
We visited the house where our grandparents were born. This terraced house was quite close to the site of Poole Pottery and the dwelling was probably built by the owners to house the workers. In her research, Kathy had uncovered the news that their father had been a “moulder” at the pottery, and we were lost in thought for a moment as we envisaged him walking off to the pottery each day for a hard day’s graft. We were pleased that he wasn’t a general labourer; that he had a trade.
“That’s weird, you know…him being a potter. The other two areas of England known for pottery are Chelsea, the home of my football club, and Stoke-on-Trent, where I went to college.”
Funny game, pottery.
…Graham Potter to complete the circle? Nah. How about Percy Axon, the former chairman of Stoke City in the ‘seventies instead? Yes, that’s a much better fit.
We even visited the interior of the local church where Gladys Lovelace and Thomas Axon were married in 1921.
Let’s get back to Fulham.
I joined PD and Parky at our usual table at 5pm and the place soon filled up. Salisbury Steve soon joined us. I was sat next to five visitors from the US, and I presumed that they had gone to the NFL game at Tottenham at the weekend; instead they were calling in to London, a first visit, after a few days at Munich’s Oktoberfest. They all had tickets to the game so I gave them a little background.
“Oh, they hate us, Fulham. And we don’t mind them, which winds them up even more.”
They were from Indianapolis and Joe, who got the brunt of my spiel, was a QPR fan.
Yeah, I know.
DJ had handed me a copy of “CFCUK” and so I had passed it over to them.
Anyway, they promised me they would take a look at the blog so this is for them.
“Hope you enjoyed the game.”
Courtney from Chicago and Kevin from Toronto were in our little group of Chelsea loyalists and it was good to see them. Paul, who I last saw in Baku, was back for a couple of games from his home in Brisbane. When he lived in London, he used to run the Eight Bells’ Sunday league team.
That Chelsea world keeps getting smaller.
We set off for the ground at 7pm. Throughout the drive to London, there had been sporadic outbursts of rain. Thankfully, I remained dry on my walk from the car to the pub and thankfully the walk to Craven Cottage was dry too. We were joined by friends Rob and Martin, both who sit behind me at Chelsea.
I bumped into Big John as I approached the ground.
“Not really too excited about this one. Why am I here? A sense of duty? Habit? Routine? I really don’t know.”
Despite a chap with a loudhailer imploring fans to have bags checked in a specific turnstile, I ignored him and shot through a normal one. I was in like Flynn. Job done.
It didn’t seem five minutes since the last game at Craven Cottage; that odd, feisty encounter in January when we played well and then didn’t. As with that occasion, I would be watching way down the front of the Putney End. Alas the rake is so shallow down there that it makes spectating – and photography – very difficult.
I reached my seats just as Alan arrived. Gal was already there. Parky arrived a little later, John later still.
A special mention for Charlotte and Paul from Somerset.
“So good to see you both.”
The rain was holding off. Fingers crossed.
Amazingly, the main stand – now with a dinky logo all of its own – was still not completed, with nobody sitting in the central area of the upper deck. There was the darkening of the lights, and a few Fulhamistas went all Barry Manilow on us and held their ‘phone torches up.
Just before the teams strode across the pitch from the Cottage, electronic dance music pumped out and it all felt ridiculously incongruous. At least there were no fireworks; Chelsea take note.
Cucarella – Silva – Disasi – Colwill
Gallagher – Caicedo – Enzo
Palmer – Broja – Mudryk
I remember that Willian played a blinder for Fulham in January. He started again for them.
Chelsea wore the new sponsor’s name for the first time.
Bring back “Bai Lin Tea”, say I.
We attacked the Hammersmith End, but as I predicted, my view was annoyingly poor. I didn’t expect great things from my SLR all night.
I liked our energy, pace and movement from the start and we totally dominated. An early effort from Armando Broja flew over and there were a few groans. He was offside anyway.
“A sighter” I thought to myself.
The midfield three fought for every ball, and the wide players showed a willingness to come close to receive balls to their feet or to stay wide and stretch out their markers. Early on it seemed like it would be a half-decent performance. I was soon warming to the game, to the evening, to the whole experience. Despite my flirtation with my local side, Chelsea is my team, these are my players, despite me not feeling too connected to many of them. I soon joined in with the singing.
“One team in Fulham. There’s only one team in Fulham.”
We needed to remind them who was who and what was what; this was, after all, the SW6 Derby. The blurb on the electronic signs on the Riverside Stand might well say “London’s Original Football Club” but they are still shite. One hundred and forty-four years and not one single major trophy.
The irony is, had they beaten Atletico Madrid in Hamburg in 2010, I would have been genuinely pleased for them. And that sums up the Fulham / Chelsea rivalry perfectly.
We continued to purr and Mudryk enjoyed a few advances down the left, inside and out. His turn of pace is so electric. We just need to plug it in and use it.
Fulham had an occasional attack, an occasional corner. Our defenders stood firm.
On eighteen minutes, a clipped cross from Levi Colwill found an unmarked Mudryk. He leaped to chest the ball down, to cushion it, then swept the ball home.
Bloody hell, it was in.
I screamed like a fool.
The away end, already bubbling along nicely, exploded with arms flailing everywhere. After the dust settled, I looked over to Alan.
The quickest “THTCAUN / COMLD” soon followed.
Less than ninety seconds later, Cole Palmer’s played a ball through to Broja. The Fulham defender Tim Ream tried to clear but made a hash of it. The ball struck Broja. The net rippled gloriously.
I completely lost it this time, arms outstretched, and even louder screams.
“Bloody hell Chris, this reaction is heart-warming.”
Chelsea were back and so was I.
We played some nice stuff for the remainder of the half. I immediately had thoughts of a cricket score but knew that this might well turn out to be a close game should the home team grab a goal.
I kept looking over to the spectators in the lower tier of the new stand to my left. A couple of blokes resembled Prince William and Prince Albert of Monaco; surely not. Next to him was a family from the US, the father wearing an Arizona Cardinals jersey, the mother smiling as she recorded the antics of the Chelsea support.
“Bouncy, bouncy, bouncy, bouncy.”
Then a bearded fellow nearby who showed us his Chelsea logo on his ‘phone, then joined in with a few of our songs.
…mmm, our songs.
It was one of those evenings, like at Brentford a year ago, when we really plundered the Chelsea songbook.
But songs in praise of Frank Lampard, Timo Werner, Dennis Wise, Salomon Kalou, Cesc Fabregas?
Even Willian, bloody Willian?
It is also infuriating that so many Chelsea supporters think it’s “Solomon” Kalou.
I joined in with the “Vialli” chants out of respect for our late player and manager but that is a little different.
Rant over, for now.
A shot from Enzo, bang on form again, rose too highly and sailed over.
We continued to dominate and I can’t really remember Robert Sanchez being tested at all. This was a fine showing and things were beginning to tick. Conor Gallagher was full of his usual running but he had added some fine passes to his armoury on this damp night in SW6; yes, the rain had started again.
We were up 2-0 at the break and all was well with the world.
There were plenty of old school heads in the Hammersmith End and it was good to see. I wondered what the visitors from Indianapolis were making of it all.
Ian Maatsen replaced Mudryk; we presumed that he had suffered a knock. I had spotted Mauricio Pochettino with his arm around the player’s shoulder as they walked off the pitch at the break. I thought nothing of it, but…
In the away end, the singing continued.
“Todd Boehly went to France…”
“Conor Gallagher, da da da – da da da da…”
“Oh Thiago Silva…”
“His hair’s fucking massive…”
“Mudryk said to me…”
At least these five were playing.
But then a very loud song about flutes, religion and terrorism.
Do we sing about low emission zones, “Tesco” meal deals, global warming, puddles, the price of breakfast cereals or the pedestrianisation of Norwich city centre?
No, because these are not relevant at football.
Oh well, another rant over.
The home team managed to see a lot of the ball in the second half but thankfully didn’t manage to do a great deal with it. Was this whole half of football a nod to Mourinho-style game management – “no need to score any more, this game is won” – or was it a result of tiredness and a slackening of intent by Pochettino and his players?
But we were off the pace compared to the first forty-five minutes.
Raheem Sterling replaced the tiring Broja.
Maatsen struck a shot that hit the framework of the goal at the Putney End, but there were so many people in the way that I could not see if it was the post or bar. Corners from in front of the Cottage were also a mystery for me. I pointed my camera at the pitch whenever my view was not obstructed.
Willian danced in from the Fulham left a few times. On one occasion, the ball was fed into Sasa Lukic but Sanchez’ outstretched left leg hacked the ball away. A goal then would have turned us into jabbering wrecks.
The Chelsea fan in the lower tier to my left had been supporting the team a little too openly for his own good and was lead out by four security guards.
The side was refreshed with some late substitutions.
Lesley Ugochukwu for Palmer.
Noni Madueke for Caicedo.
Alex Matos for Palmer, a debut.
The game deteriorated further.
Thankfully, no further worries or scares.
Fulham 0 Chelsea 2.
At the end, I messaged a few friends “Thank God it’s over.”
I hurried back to Whittingstall Road and then collected the chaps from outside the stadium. I was famished so stopped at Reading Services for a top up of junk food. The A350 was closed at Chippenham so I was forced onto the A4. All of this meant that I eventually reached home at 1.35am.
I can’t ever go straight to sleep, so after reviewing my photos and chatting to a few mates in the US, I eventually called it a day at 2.30am.
It had turned out to be a twenty-two hour day.