Chelsea vs. Liverpool : 13 August 2023
Within the final match report of last season, there were a few references to my first ever Chelsea game. Sadly, during the summer, the Chelsea family lost two players from the team that played Newcastle United on that day back in 1974. The then captain John Hollins passed away on 14 June and Chris Garland passed away on 13 July.
I often used to see John Hollins in the Millennium Hotel on match days at Chelsea as he joined up with some his former team mates before commencing their hospitality roles. He was always very pleasant, always smiling, and I easily imagined his enthusiasm in the dressing room of that fabled Chelsea team in the early ‘seventies, and then when he took over the captaincy from Ron Harris a little later. In that Chelsea team of yore, Hollins was an integral part, alongside perhaps more vaunted names such as Osgood, Hudson, Cooke and Bonetti. I remembered him as a busy midfielder who weighed in with a fair share of goals. In the second ever game that I saw, at home to Tottenham later in 1974, it was his penalty that gave us a narrow 1-0 win.
After relegation in 1975, Holly joined QPR and then Arsenal. It was a big surprise when he returned, aged thirty-seven, in 1983 to add experience to a re-vamped Chelsea team seeking improvement after a dicey flirtation with relegation in 1982/83. His professionalism and personality surely helped that team gain promotion. The 1983/84 is still my favourite ever season and it needs no further explanation nor qualification.
If you were there, like me, you’ll know.
Taking over from John Neal as manager in 1985, Hollins was in charge for the next two-and-a-half seasons, but his skills as manager, rather than as a coach to Neal, were exposed. He was unceremoniously sacked in March 1988.
His one solitary England cap seems unfair and ridiculous. He was an engine in our 1970 and 1971 cup-winning teams and he was a bloody nice man to boot. John Hollins had been in poor health for a few years but still occasionally made trips to Chelsea on match days. He is fifth on the all-time list of appearances and he will always be a legend in my eyes.
Chris Garland joined Chelsea in 1971 just after the Real Madrid cup win and he was an integral part of the first Chelsea team that I can remember watching on TV, alongside a few of the newer signings such as Steve Kember and Bill Garner. It would be easy to say that these were lesser players compared to the golden era, but that would be doing them all a disservice. Garland in particular was an honest and hard-working player, mainly deployed as a wide attacker. As a young boy falling in love with my team, they were all heroes to me. He was transferred on to Leicester City in late 1974 so his part of my Chelsea story was relatively fleeting. He would return, latterly, to Bristol City – a local team to me, my closest league team in fact – and he would go down in City folklore as one of the “Ashton Gate Eight” who tore up their contracts to save the club in 1982. He had been suffering from Parkinson’s Disease for such a long time.
Of that team from 16 March 1974, five players have now sadly passed away; John Phillips, John Hollins, Chris Garland, Peter Houseman and Ian Hutchinson.
May God bless them all.
That gap between the last game of 2022/23 against Newcastle United and the first game of 2023/24 against Liverpool was just eleven weeks. It was almost a “football-free” time for me. There was no trip abroad to watch Chelsea in the US this year. I used to enjoy those expeditions a while ago, but they’re not for me anymore. I only really saw a few bits from the first game – the ludicrous match against Wrexham – and that just about turned my stomach; everybody sat, no singing, a flat atmosphere, and what seemed to be thousands of American couples out on some sort of bizarre “date night.”
Strangely, on a birthday flit up to the North-East in early July, I had been out drinking with my Everton mate Chris – a lovely long session of us putting the footballing world to rights – when we were joined at the last minute by Skoot, the singer from Declan Swans, a Wrexham-based band who regularly appeared in the Wrexham TV Show.
The “Wrexham TV Show”? Yeah, I know. It would never have happened in 1983.
For days after I had “It’s Always Sunny In Wrexham” invading my brain.
“Less than a mile from the centre of town a famous old stadium crumbling down.”
There were two Frome Town friendlies – live football is my drug – to pass the time; a keenly-contested 1-1 draw at Dorchester Town, a narrow 0-1 loss at home to Weston-Super-Mare.
My Frome Town mate Fordy, who now works opposite me in the same transport office, reported back on an evening match involving his team Arsenal against AS Monaco at The Emirates. The whole shooting match left him bitterly disappointed and underwhelmed with the whole modern-day football experience.
As the game began, the youth next to him uttered the immortal words : “it’s just like watching FIFA, innit?”
God only knows what I would have said if I had been there.
Fordy was just repulsed by everyone slagging off the Arsenal players and offering virtually no encouragement.
“I know mate. Everyone is a fucking critic these days.”
As the opening game of the new season approached, I found it difficult to keep up with the ins and outs at our beloved club. The “Supermarket Sweep” of the winter transfer window had continued, but with the added fascination of waving goodbye to a host of players who had been – mainly – underperforming for months.
Mason Mount – off you go, you little twerp.
Kai Havertz – thanks for Porto, yeah I know you’re not a false nine, but I grew tired of your lack of effort and your bleak and unsmiling high-cheek boned expression.
N’Golo Kante – I loved you then, I loved you now, safe travels you absolute treasure.
Kalidou Koulibaly – off you go.
Christian Pulisic – Captain America, my arse.
Mateo Kovacic – I liked you until I didn’t, good luck on the City bench.
Ruben Loftus-Cheek – ah, so much potential, but it never worked out after that injury, good luck.
Edouard Mendy – you were like a curate’s egg, my friend, but thanks for Porto and Abu Dhabi. On you go.
Piere-Emerick Aubameyang – who?
Cesar Azpilicueta – Dave, we loved you, and you will always be one of us.
As for the incoming players, time will tell. I have never heard of most of them. But I’ll get to know them over time. I wish them all well.
The overhaul, in fact, reminded me so much of the summer of 1983. I am not so sure that the spending spree of 2023 will be remembered so fondly, but we live in hope.
During the last week of the close-season, my plans for the opener against Liverpool dramatically changed.
A friend from Tennessee – Garrett – was coming over for his first-ever game at HQ. He had asked me during the summer if I could get him a ticket, but – as it was going to be his first match – I didn’t want to take the risk. I would have felt awful if I couldn’t conjure up a ticket from somewhere. Unfortunately, the US supporter groups’ deadline had come and gone so Garrett was forced to go down the hospitality route.
“Oh bloody hell. Please don’t tell me how much you paid for a ticket.”
We made plans on meeting up. I have never met Garrett in person but he was a fan of the blog and was looking forward immensely to meeting up with the lads that he reads about each week.
Then, a horrible twist. Garrett was hit with a nasty medical condition and couldn’t travel. He immediately cancelled his flight and hotel, but decided to give me his ticket. I was dumbfounded. My mate Glenn – previously unable to find himself a ticket – would have mine and I would watch the game from the middle tier of the West Stand.
On the Saturday, I watched the first Frome Town league game of the season, a dour 0-0 with newly promoted side Cribbs from Bristol; it was red versus blue, the Frome Bloods versus the Bristol Cribbs, boom boom.
Later that day, Garrett was re-admitted to hospital and I wished him well.
The new season was now breathtakingly close.
On the day of the game, I picked-up Parky at PD’s house and then Glenn; all three had been to see a ska band at a local venue the night before. The last of the passengers – he played in that first-ever game in 1974 – was collected at 8am and we were on our way. During the close season, there had been an internet campaign to get a flag for Chopper in The Shed, and the game against Liverpool would mark its debut. T-shirts were produced using the same design and Glenn was sporting it.
It was a perfect trip to London.
The pre-match was typical; a few photos of a waiting Stamford Bridge, then a short hop to Putney Bridge tube and a couple of hours with the usual suspects; The Chuckle Brothers, Salisbury Steve, the Kent Lot, and a guest appearance from the Three Amigos.
All was good with the world.
“Stephen had not enjoyed most of his school year. He had struggled in the autumn and then spring term. He did not know why, but he had been the target for a few of the school bullies. His school work suffered. His parents, Dale and Jane, were so worried about him. Stephen was fourteen, and was on the often troublesome journey through the early teenage years. He was a quiet kid, well-behaved at home, but a little bit of a loner at school. Mac was his best friend, and a fellow Chelsea supporter too. They were like brothers.
At Easter, Stephen’s parents sought some independent counselling for their son, and during the summer term, everyone was elated to see Stephen’s schoolwork improve. In the exams in June, Stephen did well, better than expected.
Dale, decided to reward Stephen with something that he knew that his son would appreciate. One evening when Mac was visiting, Dale sat them both down and talked of a nice surprise. Dale knew how much the two boys loved Chelsea Football Club. By an odd twist, both of the boys’ birthdays were in the same week. Dale explained how proud he was of Stephen’s progress over the past few months, and thanked Mac for his support and friendship too. He had looked ahead to check what Chelsea game was being played around the time of the lads’ fifteenth birthdays in October. Dale was going to buy the lads a ticket apiece for the Chelsea vs. Brentford game.
It would be their first games at Stamford Bridge. Dale had quietly observed the two of them over the past few months and had been impressed with their behaviour. They seemed, to his eyes, more grown up than their peers. Living in Croydon, Dale was sure that they could make their own way in to London by train. He remembered how he used to love going in to London to see bands at around the same age in his youth.
Stephen was overjoyed and gave his father a hug. Mac was lost for words.”
Unfortunately, there will be no Chelsea game for Stephen and Mac. The club took the ludicrous decision over the summer to limit those under sixteen to only be allowed inside Stamford Bridge if they are accompanied by adults over the age of eighteen. We chatted about this in the pub. It’s a horrible, cynical decision.
“When you are in your early teens, you are so keen to dip your toe in the adult world, to test yourself, to grow as a person, be independent. Or at least we did. When I was in my early teens, it was all about football, all about trying to get to a game, either with parents or by yourself, or with mates. It’s one of our rights of passage in Britain. That visceral thrill of doing something a little outside your comfort zone. To join in with something. To be part of it all. To feel like you belong.”
Have I ever mentioned before how I hate modern football?
Glenn spoke of his first game that he saw by himself. It was early September 1981. Chelsea versus Watford. He was just fourteen. I think he travelled up by train from Frome. I remember where I was that afternoon; at an aunt’s wedding, and I remember darting out to my Dad’s car at 4.40pm to hear we had lost 1-3.
The first game I attended alone? August 1981, aged sixteen, a 2-0 win versus Bolton Wanderers.
You remember these things.
You – and Chelsea – against the world.
At 2pm, I set off from the pub and took the tube back to Fulham Broadway. By 2.30pm, I was sat at table 44 in the Hollins Suite in the West Stand at Stamford Bridge. How utterly appropriate that I should be in the Hollins Suite. It felt just right.
On the same table as me was Jeff, an Australian from Melbourne, with his two young sons, both wearing half-and-half scarves. They were all Liverpool fans. Alongside me were three quietly spoken people who were clearly of far-Eastern descent. I smiled and I tentatively leaned in.
“Hi, I’m Chris. Where are you from?”
They were Chelsea fans.
Completing the table was Dave from King’s Langley, a Watford season ticket holder, who had won the match ticket in a raffle at a London train station. I kept them entertained with a few Chelsea stories. Bizarrely, Dave mentioned that John Barnes’ full debut for Watford was at the game Glenn saw in 1981.
The food was proper poncy stuff. It tasted lovely but didn’t fill me up. I include the photos almost ironically.
There were a few nice “never-seen-before” photos of John Hollins, and a section remembering his stewardship of our 1986 Full Members’ Cup win against Manchester City.
[…new fans Googling “Full Members’ Cup…NOW]
It was, I have to admit, all very pleasant, but absolutely not worth the price.
[…everyone Googling “Chelsea Corporate Hospitality”…NOW]
I checked the programme; up from £3.50 to £4 but down from 84 pages to 52.
At least my copy was free.
At about 2.10pm, I made my way into the – padded – seats. I was at the very back row, around eight seats from the wall abutting the Matthew Harding. As the crow flies, Glenn, Clive, Alan and PD were around twenty yards away but I could not see them, nor them me.
My view was a little odd, with the overhang of the next tier cutting out the sky. I couldn’t even see the new signage atop the East Stand nor ol’ Gatling Gun himself.
But this was fine. This was a decent experience. I spotted my lunchtime companions a few rows in front. I had been sharing photos with Garrett throughout the day. I wanted to keep him involved.
I needed to focus now. The view was superb. I ran through the team that Mauricio Pochettino – I am not comfortable with “Poch” just yet, in the same way I was never happy with “Mou” – had selected for his first game :
Disasi – Silva – Colwill
James – Gallagher – Enzo – Chilwell
Sterling – Jackson
…or something like that.
I was probably the only person in the ground, or the entire fucking world, who spotted three members of the Scottish “Wembley Wizards” team who defeated England 5-1 in 1928.
Hughie Gallacher / Conor Gallagher
Alex Jackson / Nicolas Jackson
Alex James / Reece James
[…everyone Googling “Wembley Wizards”…nah, maybe not]
At the Derby game in 1983, we had four debutants; Kerry Dixon, Joe McLaughlin, Eddie Niedzwiecki, Nigel Spackman.
On opening day forty years later, we also had four; Robert Sanchez, Axel Disasi, Levi Colwill, Nicolas Jackson.
As the build-up was turned up a notch, a few bars of “A Town Called Malice” were heard. This is the pre-match song at Frome Town. I liked the synchronicity.
“…better stop dreaming of the quiet life.”
Indeed. When were things last quiet at Chelsea? Around 1992 I reckon.
The teams entered the pitch.
Flames on the pitch. OK, stop that now. It’s getting tedious.
The floodlights were on. In August. Why?
There has been a change in the positioning of the Chelsea bench since the back end of the last season, and one that I absolutely endorse.
Way back in January 2021 – the Luton Town cup tie, Frank Lampard’s last game – I posted this on Facebook :
“Often thought it odd that the away bench has the best view of the pitch at Stamford Bridge…nearer the half-way line, better sightlines. Also with the home dressing room being on the north side of the tunnel. And what with the northern end being the home end now. Makes no sense to me.”
I was pleased to hear that the new manager spotted this flaw too and switched things over. Top marks.
However, I am not quite so sure about the twenty or so ultra-expensive seats – from £480 – in the new “dugout club” that allows some fans – presumably those with more money than sense – to watch the game from just behind both dugouts. It reeks of baseball and the need for spectators in the US to boast about “great seats” ad nauseam. Twats.
I remember watching one game – only one – from behind a dugout. Back in 1994, our first European game since 1971…I left getting tickets to the last minute, I know not why. Glenn and I watched right behind the Chelsea bench…it was a shocking view. I always remember that the God-fearing Glenn Hoddle saw a Chelsea near-miss, swung around towards the bench and said “Jesus wept.”
At the centre circle, a minute of applause for John Hollins MBE.
Bless him. And bless Chris Garland too.
Game 1 – 1974.
Game 1,401 – 2023.
Let’s go to work.
Liverpool undoubtedly had the best of the opening spell, of the first twenty and then thirty minutes perhaps. Shots from Jota and Szoboszlai – who? – were pinged towards Robert Sanchez, newly obtained from Brighton, who must now be truly trained in the Chelsea negotiation process, and an effort from Salah smashed against the bar. These were worrying times and I thought Levi Colwill struggled in the first part of the match.
The atmosphere wasn’t great.
“Fields Of Anfield Road” could be heard from the away section opposite me.
The new kit looked decent. I was initially worried when I saw the release on social media; the blue looked too light, too washed out, anaemic. But this looked fine. I really wished that the white stripe under the arms was replicated on the shorts though. That would have completed the look in my mind. I don’t like the bizarre panel on the rear beneath the collar though.
One last gripe. If this shirt was meant to celebrate the silver anniversary of the ECWC triumph of 1997/98, it’s surely a season too late.
Should we not have worn this kit in 2022/23?
I think so.
On eighteen minutes, Salah pushed a ball through our back line and Luis Diaz finished from close in.
A female Liverpool in front of me shrieked and stood up. Her bloke soon told her to sit down. To be honest, I was pleasantly surprised how involved the “corporate lot” were in our section. There was plenty of clapping and cheering throughout.
Chelsea began to grow into the game. Nicolas Jackson started to get involved, often emerging with the ball from deep, and after good work by Levi Colwill, he fired a “sighter” wide.
Not sure how he wears his shorts, though; like a “Reeves & Mortimer” character maybe.
A “Carefree” sounded in our section.
Things looked over for us when Terence Trent-Alexander-Arnold-D’arby slipped a ball in to that man Salah.
Pre-match, with so many new signings, I secretly thought we might lose heavily.
I texted some mates in the US : “knew we’d get humped.”
Thankfully, VAR came to our rescue; no goal.
I still don’t cheer VAR decisions in our favour though. Why would I? I loathe it.
On thirty-two minutes, applause in memory of Josh Hillier, a very distant Chelsea acquaintance, but who was well-loved at Chelsea. He sadly lost his lengthy and hugely brave fight with leukaemia over the summer.
Raheem Sterling was – sadly – involved a lot, but usually unable to add to the game. He shot from close in but the effort was thumped away.
After a corner, the ball was eventually crossed in by Colwill and new boy Axel Disasi prodded it in past Alisson Becker.
We were level.
The West Stand celebrated wildly.
Axel – great name, great first two letters especially – ran and jumped right in front of Parky and Ludo and Steve in the Shed Lower.
A mere few seconds later, a ball was pushed through to Ben Chilwell who steered himself and the ball around the ‘keeper to score…throughout the move though, I wondered if the scorer was offside. Sadly, after the usual ridiculous wait, the goal as cancelled. A photo that I took of the premature celebrations contained the words “goal and no” – oh the irony.
In the closing minutes, shots were traded. A fine move that slid effortlessly through the red ranks ended with a shot from Nicolas Jackson that just cleared the bar.
I had enjoyed it. Back inside for the smallest meat pie ever. Jeff commented that the momentum had changed in the last part of the first period.
We were, of course, attacking our end in the second-half.
The second period surprised me. Liverpool seemed content to sit back as Chelsea grew and grew. It became a deeply pleasurable experience, watching this new team – the latest in a long line of new teams at Chelsea – push the ball around and work for each other. I was especially pleased to see Enzo Fernandez, in the totemic number eight shirt, skipping past challenges, clipping balls to runners, controlling our forward momentum.
It was a joy.
The Argentinian tandem of Pochettino and Enzo will hopefully evolve further.
Chilwell was having a super game, and the visitors were gifting him so much space down below me. A superb ball from Enzo set Chilwell up but Alisson blocked well at the near stick.
A shot from the strong and surging Jackson. Another save from Alisson.
75 minutes : Malo Gusto for James.
My mind deviated. I could not stop thinking of the Morrissey song “Maladjusted” – and as per the introduction to this blog, I can’t resist this…
“I want to start from
Before the beginning
Loot wine, “Be mine, and
Then let’s stay out for the night”
Ride via Parkside
Jeer the lights in the windows
Of all safe and stable homes
(But wondering then, well what
Could peace of mind be like?)
Anyway do you want to hear
Our story, or not?
As the Fulham Road lights
Stretch and invite into the night.”
80 minutes : Ian Maatsen for Chukwuemeka.
80 minutes : Mykhailo Mudryk for Sterling.
Mudryk wearing number ten, but a winger. Memories of Clive Walker dancing away. I liked the look of Mudryk when he came on. Personally I would play him over Sterling. Mind you, I’d play Parky over Sterling, stick and all.
89 minutes : Ugo Ugochukwu for Chilwell.
I long for the day when Carney and Ugo are on the pitch at the same time.
The Chukle Brothers?
Oh yes. I wonder if Morrissey has a song for them.
I feared the absolute worst when Darwin Nunez shot from distance and a wicked deflection saw the ball spinning towards the goal, scene of many a late winner over the years. Thankfully it dropped just wide of the far post. No Iniesta moment this time.
A chance for Mudryk but he dallied. A last chance for Maatsen but no real contact.
It ended 1-1.
I think everyone was really warmed by this rounded performance by Chelsea against a formidable opponent. This was our seventh draw in a row against Liverpool.
Before the season began, I conservatively predicted a top eight finish.
Maybe we can aim a little higher.
Next up, three away games.
Bemerton Heath Harlequins in Salisbury on Tuesday, Falmouth in the FA Cup on Saturday and West Ham on Sunday.
Oh – and Johnny Fucking Marr in Frome on Wednesday.
2023/24 – let’s have you.