Chelsea vs. Manchester City : 12 November 2023
After the euphoria and shock of our 4-1 victory at Tottenham Hotspur on Monday, we were now presented with another equally tough opponent. The league fixture list had provided us with a home game against the current English and European Champions Manchester City. During the first few miles of our drive up to London, PD set the scene.
“I think Man City today will be more of a test to see where we are.”
But I replied.
“Well, to be fair, we said that about Tottenham.”
However, Manchester City are the current benchmark for English football and they have been for a few years now. We held that mantle, relatively briefly in retrospect, in 2004/5 and 2005/6 and now find ourselves at a position in the pecking order not too dissimilar to around 2001/2 and 2002/3. We are seemingly adrift of the main bunch of contenders, chipping away at whoever we come up against, and so be it.
The day before the City game at Stamford Bridge, I attended my sixteenth Frome Town game of the season, an easy 3-0 home win against the current league leaders Willand Rovers in front of a slightly disappointing crowd of 436. It pushed my home town team into second place in the table. On the Sunday came my fifteenth Chelsea game of the season.
It rained all of the way up to London, but thankfully by the time I had parked up on Bramber Road and walked down the North End Road to pop into “Café Ole” for a bite to eat, the rain had completely abated. We had set off early on this Remembrance Sunday. Parky had wanted to attend the service, or at least the two-minute silence, at All Saints in Fulham, a stone’s throw from “The Eight Bells” and where we attended the hundredth anniversary of the cessation of World War One before the Everton game on 11 November 2018.
As I ploughed into a full English, instrumental versions of songs by James Blunt and Glenn Medeiros provided a backdrop that I didn’t really appreciate; I wanted something a little more “football” and something to stir me a little, something with a bit more bite. As the anaemic muzak continued. I flicked through bits and bobs on my ‘phone and soon realised that the day marked the fortieth anniversary of one my favourite-ever Chelsea games.
All those years ago – Saturday 12 November 1983 – Chelsea played host to Newcastle United in the Second Division. I reviewed season 1983/84 in my match reports of season 2008/9, but this game is so important to me – and to others – that I think it is worth sharing again.
“I was unemployed throughout the season…but had been to the home games against Derby in August and Cardiff in October. The biggest game of the season was to be against Arthur Cox’s Newcastle United. They were the favourites for promotion and boasted Keegan, Beardsley, McDermott and Waddle; a good team. I had travelled up alone for the first two games, but had arranged to travel up by train with Glenn, from Frome, for the first time for the Geordies’ game. We would have reached Chelsea at about 10.30am and I distinctly remember having a cuppa in the old “Stamford Bridge Restaurant” with him. Two Geordies were sitting with us.
“Keegan will score a hat-trick today, like.”
I remember we got inside the ground when the gates opened at 1.30pm. Even to this day, I can remember peering out on a misty Stamford Bridge, Eurythmics playing on the pre-match show, in amazement how many people were “in early.”
By 2pm, The Shed was getting very full. Back in those days, we were used to average gates of around 12,000 in the Second Division. In April 1982, we infamously only drew 6,009 for a league game. In the First Division, in 1983-84, even champions-to-be Liverpool only drew 32,000. Football was at a bit of a low ebb. The recession was biting. After narrowly avoiding relegation to Division Three in May, however, Chelsea were rejuvenated in the first few months of 1983-84 and the Chelsea support was rallying around the team. We drew 30,628 for the Newcastle game in November 1983…a monster gate, when the average Division Two gate was around 11,000. We watched from The Whitewall.
Chelsea slaughtered Newcastle 4-0 and I fondly look back on that game as one of my favourite games ever. We absolutely dominated. Mention this game to anyone who was there, though, and they will say two words.
Just before half-time, with us leading 1-0, Pat Nevin won a loose ball from a Newcastle attack in the Shed penalty box on the West Stand side. I would later read a report from “When Saturday Comes” founder Mike Titcher that Pat had nut-megged Keegan ( but I can’t confirm this ) and then set off on a mesmerizing dance down the entire length of the pitch, around five yards inside the West Stand touchline. This wasn’t a full-on sprint. Pat wasn’t that fast. At five foot six inches he was the same height as me. Pat’s skill was a feint here, a feint there, a dribble, a turn, a swivel, beating defender after defender through a body-swerve, a turn…it was pure art, a man at his peak…he must’ve left five or six defenders in his wake and I guess the whole run lasted around twenty seconds, maybe more…he may well have beaten the same man twice…each time he waltzed past a defender, the noise increased, we were bewitched, totally at his mercy…amazingly he reached the far goal-line…a dribble of around 100 yards. He beat one last man, looked up and lofted the ball goal ward. Pat’s crosses always seemed to have a lot of air on them, he hardly ever whipped balls in…his artistry was in the pinpoint cross rather a thunderbolt…a rapier, not a machine gun. The ball was arched into the path of an in-rushing Kerry Dixon. We gasped…we waited…my memory is that it just eluded Kerry’s head and drifted off for a goal-kick, but some tell that Kerry headed it over.
Whatever – it didn’t matter. On that misty afternoon in West London, we had witnessed pure genius. I loved Pat Nevin with all my heart – still my favourite player of all time – and most Chelsea fans of my generation felt the same.”
Despite our successes over the past twenty-five years, 1983/4 will never be surpassed as my favourite ever season.
I had a little wander up to Fulham Broadway. There were chats with Chidge and Marco, while DJ shoved a copy of “CFCUK” in my hand. Marco and I reminisced about that game forty years ago and I retold the story of the Geordies in the café; we were stood in 2023 right opposite to where that self-same café stood in 1983.
I took a few “scene-setter” photos then caught the tube down to Putney Bridge.
I stepped foot inside “The Eight Bells” at 12.30pm. PD had been there since 11am. Not bad for a 4.30pm kick-off. The pub was full of like-minded souls; virtually all chaps in our forties, fifties and sixties, but with a few young’uns too, and I noted some gents with ties, jackets and medals – including Parky – who had called in after the church service. The music here was far better than in the café. Soon into my three hours in the pub, we were treated to “Alternative Ulster” by Stiff little Fingers and tons more tracks from my – and our – youth followed. I flicked through “CFCUK” and enjoyed reading articles by Marco, Chidge and Tim Rolls. I loved Tim’s phrase “amortisation groupies” in a piece about the club’s financial outlay finding approval from the kind of people that seem to suddenly know everything. It’s always a good read.
The rain held off on the way to the stadium, the air still misty and so similar to the pre-match feel of the game forty years previous.
We were inside early, at about 4pm I suppose. I have recently bought a new ‘phone and I had to re-enter details to enable me to gain access to the stadium’s free Wi-Fi. It disturbed me a little to see that in the drop-down menu of reasons for my visit, which I had to tick, “football” was not listed. After huffing and puffing for a few seconds, I reluctantly selected “entertainment and events.”
As I looked around, a chap wearing a River Plate jersey and a Chelsea scarf caught my eye. I went up to have a word with him. Martin was from Buenos Aires, a River season ticket holder, and on his honeymoon; his wife had a ticket in The Shed, they were unable to get two together. We traded barbs and laughs about Boca and River. I showed him photos of my trip to his home city in 2020. He was here, plainly, to see Enzo Fernandez. Where I favour the blue of Boca, he tends to favour teams in red – “Arsenal” – but here he was wearing a blue Chelsea scarf and that was good enough for me. This was his first-ever game in England. The players were warming up down below me and he shouted out “Enzo!” a few times, but the music was blasting and there was no chance that he could be heard.
The rain had held off, and we prepared ourselves for the unique way that our club is able to call on the services of the Chelsea Pensioners as we remembered the fallen. I surely can’t remember two minutes of silence at games in November forty years ago; this seems a relatively new development.
The “Last Post” followed a seemingly brief moment of silence. As at the Frome Town game the day before, the bugler played every note to perfection.
After, a roar.
“Come on Chelsea.”
James – Disasi – Silva – Cucarella
Caicedo – Enzo – Gallagher
Palmer – Jackson – Sterling
This was almost the same team that won at Tottenham, albeit with a little tinkering at the back. Manchester City eschewed the chance to wear one of their dayglow kit alternatives and went with their sky blue home kit.
The game began.
It was a very decent start indeed with Chelsea aggressively involved all over the pitch. There was a shot from Reece James within the very first minute. Nicolas Jackson, derided in some quarters of late, was sniffing at every opportunity to gain a yard, to edge ahead of his man, to create a chance. It was noisy, reassuringly so.
“These late kick-offs are great. Gives everyone the chance to have a few more scoops in the pub.”
There was, however, an odd chant from the three thousand City fans in The Shed.
“Champions of Europe. You’ll never sing that.”
It immediately confused the rest of the 40,000 crowd since not only have we won it, we have won it twice, the last time against City – as if anyone needs reminding.
Were City “in” on a private joke? Surely this was the explanation. I wondered if it was akin to Manchester United fans singing “Who the fuck are Man United?” and left it at that.
Chelsea, the Matthew Harding, responded with –
“We saw you crying in Porto.”
We had the upper hand in the first quarter, moving the ball quickly, looking sharp, playing as a unit. Cole Palmer and then Conor Gallagher had attempts at Ederson’s goal. Whisper it quietly; we were on top.
Then, on twenty-five minutes – the pace relentless – there was a clash of heads between James and Disasi down below me and I was focussed on the injury prone James. Almost as an afterthought, I looked over to see a cross just miss the far post and Thiago Silva clear, while more bodies fell to the floor in the immediate area. I re-focussed on the two defenders on the ground. After a few moments, the rumour went around that the referee had signalled a penalty.
Who? What? Where? When? How?
As always, the punters within the stadium were the last to know what was going on. After a wait, Erling Haaland – maybe two touches until now – swept the ball in. Nobody expected him to miss. Despite our fine play, we were losing.
Chelsea 0 Manchester City 1.
Soon after, a free-kick, and James curled one goal wards but Ederson flicked it over.
I said to Clive “Zola would have scored.”
From the corner that followed, Gallagher sent in a delivery with pace. Thiago Silva was unmarked as he edged forward to meet it and supply the deftest of touches, his glancing header nestling in the bottom far corner. We erupted and I was boiling over as I photoghraphed his slide past Parky and the resulting celebrations in the corner. We love our corner celebrations at Chelsea, eh?
Royal Blue 1 Sky Blue 1.
No more than five minutes later, Enzo – who was getting stuck in defensively – won the ball and pushed the ball to Palmer who then found the advancing James. His low cross was bundled in from close range by Sterling. The place erupted again. We were ahead.
Munich & Porto 2 Istanbul 1.
Chelsea shots peppered the City goal, but that man Haaland had the goal at his mercy, only to draw a quite magnificent save from Robert Sanchez down low. We all expected him to score. Phil Foden then curled one past a post. This was a super game.
Alas, we fell asleep at a corner, taken just below me. The ball was played back to an un-marked Bernardo Silva, their main play-maker thus far, and his first-time cross was headed home via the leap of Manuel Akanji. It seemed all Chelsea defenders were too busy marking other City players.
Thiago 2 Bernardo 2.
It had been a relentless first-half.
At the break, the inhabitants of The Sleepy Hollow were upbeat and positive. This had been a fine game of football thus far. I did however say to a few friends :
“If somebody had said we would see four goals in this half, I would have been supremely worried.”
The second-half began and just after I took a wide-angle photo of a free-kick from out on our left, the ball was lost and City broke at pace, with Foden slipping in that man Haarland to convert from close range. He celebrated with the away fans. I felt sick.
Celery 2 Bananas 3.
City now dominated and I feared another goal. However, we clawed our way back into things and were absolutely buoyed on the hour by a scintillating shimmy into the box from Palmer, slaloming past close defenders, but with a shot that was stopped by Ederson, the Illustrated Man.
The applause rang out. It was, maybe, a condensed version of the run from Pat Nevin forty years ago.
Mauricio Pochettino made two changes.
Malo Gusto for James.
Mykhailo Mudryk for Enzo.
After a tentative performance at Tottenham on Monday, Reece was more gung-ho in this game, defending more rigorously and using his speed and strength to challenge his foes. Enzo had started well, but seemed to be tiring. The injection of the Ukrainian was just what we needed. Not long after, a shimmy from Mudryk and the ball was played into Moises Caicedo. He found Gallagher with a square pass, who let fly from outside the box. Ederson spilled the ball and two Chelsea players pounced. It was Jackson who stabbed the ball in.
The place erupted once again.
More photos, interspersed with me screeching and yelling. After his slide, I turned and punched the air. Fans all around me were losing it.
Sean Lock 3 Eddie Large 3.
The rain fell now, but the atmosphere inside Stamford Bridge was electric.
“And it’s super Chelsea. Super Chelsea FC. We’re by far the greatest team the World has ever seen.”
“Flying high up in the sky, we’ll keep the blue flag flying high.”
I looked around to see Martin, the Argentinian, singing songs of praise to our beloved Brazilian.
“Ooh, Thiago Silva.”
His smile was wide; a great sight.
…inside my head : “Fuck Arsenal.”
There was a massive shout for handball – Kyle Walker, inside the box? – on seventy minutes but maybe that was an optical illusion visible only to a thousand or two in the Matthew Harding. To say I was bemused would be an understatement.
Jack Grealish had replaced Doku for City on the hour mark and now Mateo Kovacic replaced Julian Alvarez. I was amazed that there were a few boos, but these were rapidly outnumbered by a large burst of clapping and applause. He was well liked, most of the time, at Chelsea was our Croatian Man.
The game moved into its final minutes.
Malo Gusto, tearing in, slammed a curler high and wide of Ederson’s goal.
On eighty-six minutes, the ball came loose just outside our penalty box, Rodri slammed it towards goal and it took a huge deflection off Thiago Silva and left Sanchez stranded. My heart sank.
“Oh God. Not even a point.”
What a bitter pill.
Blue Flag 3 Blue Moon 4.
Armando Broja replaced Caicedo.
Palmer dropped back into midfield, but Pochettino was certainly going for it. This was such an enthralling game. Very few left early. A lengthy eight minutes of injury time was signalled.
“Come on Chels.”
We urged the players on. The noise was relentless. This was incredible stuff. Broja had looked a handful and with time running out, Sterling – a magnificent performance throughout – clipped the ball in to him. Ruben Dias made a rough challenge and it looked a penalty from the off. The maligned Anthony Taylor pointed to the spot.
There was, then, an unseemly kerfuffle as both teams crowded the referee and a player from each side was booked in the melee. The always confident Palmer took the ball. By now, I was feeling the pressure. But I am glad that my heart was showing no signs of palpitations nor was there tightness in my chest. I looked around. There was tension on the faces of many.
“Come on Cole. Come on my son.”
He advanced. I clicked. He scored. I yelled. I clicked some more.
What a fucking game of football.
Palmer & Sterling 4 Ake & Kovacic 4.
Not so long after, and with Les replacing Nicolas, the hated Taylor blew up. The game was over. I was exhausted, again. I was exhausted after Tottenham, I was exhausted after this to. Surprisingly, “Blue Is The Colour” was not played at the end. Instead, “Park Life” accompanied our joyful exit from the stands.
The memory of this game would surely live with us for a long time.
I stopped by the Peter Osgood statue to sort out tickets for upcoming games, and shook hands with a few mates who were just as exhausted as myself. Thankfully, the rain soon abated and I walked back to the car in the dry.
There have been a few 4-4 draws of late, eh?
2007/8 : Chelsea 4 Aston Villa 4
2007/8 : Tottenham 4 Chelsea 4
2008/9 : Chelsea 4 Liverpool 4
2019/20 : Chelsea 4 Ajax 4
And now the best of the lot on Remembrance Sunday 2023.
At last – at bloody last – it looks like our arid period of poor football has ended, though of course this is only two games in a week after months upon months of stultifying fare. But there were so many positives to take from this game.
Palmer – fantastic, the future.
Cucarella – another blinder.
Sterling – sensational, please keep it up.
Gallagher – tireless, relentless, a leader.
James – strong, resolute, back to his best.
A mention for the manager too. I like him. I hope he likes us. It’s a romance just waiting to blossom.
On the way back in the car, we were purring at our performance and we looked forward to a full fortnight of relaxation before the daddy of all away trips, Newcastle United.
“It’s good they will come at us because we struggle against teams who sit back.”
See you there.