Chelsea vs. Fulham : 13 January 2024
On the long drive home from Middlesbrough last Wednesday, with the Semi-Final first leg defeat still fresh in my mind, I am not sure if I was overly brutal or just pragmatic about the rest of our campaign.
“Listen, we are a tenth place team. We’ll beat Middlesbrough in the second leg and get to the final but lose to Liverpool once we get there. We’ll lose to Villa in the FA Cup. And that’s our season done.”
However, by the time I had picked up the others – PD, Glenn, Parky, Ron – on the Saturday for the drive to London for the Fulham game at Stamford Bridge, my viewpoint had noticeably softened.
“Well, I saw the highlights on “YouTube” and let’s be honest, Cole Palmer should have scored two. It could so easily have been one of those games where we didn’t play particularly well but squeaked a narrow win. New manager, new players, let’s give it some time. We have seen worse.”
Thoughts turned towards Fulham. We have a bloody marvellous record against this lot and at Stamford Bridge especially. However, although I had recently read that our last defeat at home to Fulham was forty-four years ago, there was absolutely no chance of me mentioning this to the lads in the car, bearing in mind how they had chastised me for talking about my unbeaten record against ‘Boro.
The last home defeat?
Saturday 27 October 1979, a 0-2 loss in front of a very healthy 30,567 gate in the old Second Division.
It’s a very decent record indeed. Going back further, to our first home game against Fulham in 1911, the total stats are equally impressive.
The only other home defeat?
Saturday 7 March 1964, a 1-2 defeat in front of a disappointing 26,219 in the old First Division.
With the kick-off for the 2023/24 version of the “SW6 Derby” taking place at 12.30pm, the pre-match routine took on a different guise. When I had dropped into “The Old Oak” last week, Alan had informed me that its doors would be opening at 9am for the Fulham game. This news was met with nods of approval from my fellow passengers. So, at about 9.20am I dropped Parky and PD outside the pub, which is just over the border to the north of Fulham in Hammersmith. I then drove down the North End Road and the Fulham Road to deposit Ron at the main gates bang on 9.30am. I was parked up on Normand Road a few minutes after. We bumped into Liz and Pete just as they were parking up. Glenn and I soon disappeared into a packed “Café Delight” for a quick breakfast, a first-ever visit. There were a couple of familiar faces in there. The clientele then moved south to “The Clarence” or “The Old Oak.”
PD and Parky were supping pints of lager and we joined them at about 10.15am. More familiar faces were dotted around. I soon spotted Stu, a fellow season-ticket holder, who only lives four miles away from me. He sadly lost his wife Sue not so long ago – I went to Sue’s sixtieth birthday four years ago – and so I gave him a hug and offered words of sympathy. I spoke to Jonesy and Jocka, two lovely lads from the Nuneaton area, and we spoke a little about life – and Chelsea.
Jonesy pulled up a seat.
We mentioned the photos that I shared from the 1998 League Cup Final. We spoke about how quickly the time has gone since then.
“Twenty-six years ago.”
Jonesy stated the unbelievable truth that in another twenty-six years some of us won’t be around.
“Yeah. I’ll be eighty-four.”
And yet 1998 seems fresh in my mind.
“Life is accelerating away these days, mate.”
“Don’t worry, Jonesy. The way we are playing at the moment, the next ten years will drag like fuck.”
I met Mick from Hemel Hempstead for the first time and it was a pleasure. Mick has been reading these ramblings of mine for a while. He spotted me and came over to chat with the lads. It’s always nice to get positive feedback. I chuckled when he dropped one of my catchphrases in to the conversation.
At 11.45am we set off down the North End Road. A little mob of Fulham were – in football parlance – “giving it large” on their walk past outside the West Stand.
“Stamford Bridge is falling down.”
I just chuckled.
I took my place in The Sleepy Hollow. Two of the usual four – Alan and Clive – were unable to attend. Glenn had Clive’s ticket and a young lad called Dan from way up in Carlisle had taken Alan’s ticket.
“You’ve got some big boots to fill, mate.”
But Carlisle. Phew, that’s some train ride. Respect.
There was pre-match chat with Oxford Frank and we were both hoping for another three points to maybe edge closer, or even past, Manchester United and Newcastle United.
Our team? It was the same as against ‘Boro apart from one change. Armando Broja was in to the lead the line, with Cole Palmer shifted to the wing in place of Noni Madueke.
27 – 6 – 2 – 26
8 – 25
20 – 23 – 7
In the Fulham team, one man stood out.
It was a cold winter day; a time for warm jackets, hats and caps.
Big Brother vs. Little Brother.
SW6 1HS vs. SW6 6HH.
Blues vs. Whites.
Pensioners vs. Cottagers.
Chelstam vs. Fulhamish.
There has always been a very special relationship between the two clubs. It was always said that for the local populations in and around Fulham, Hammersmith, Chelsea, Putney and Battersea, football fans would go to Stamford Bridge one week and Craven Cottage the next.
As payment for taking wedding photos at a Chelsea wedding back in 2020, I was gifted a huge case of football programmes, including some lovely Wembley Cup Finals and England internationals from the ‘fifties. They all belonged to one man, a friend of Mick, the groom. But of special note here is that among many Chelsea home programmes were hundreds of Fulham programmes, from the ‘fifties onwards, too. It illustrates how the support was shared between the two clubs.
However, they hate us these days.
On the other hand, we can’t be bothered about them.
The game began and for the first five minutes it felt like a continuation of the Middlesbrough game the previous Tuesday; tons of foreplay and no penetration.
We needed to get dirty.
The Fulham fans were bellowing about “One team in Fulham” and we responded, half-heartedly, with the usual “Come on Chelsea.”
It was all pretty timid stuff.
As the game began to get going, a shot from Enzo was blocked, and then the best move of the match resulted in a shot from Conor Gallagher rising over the bar at The Shed End.
We soon all admitted that we could see Willian – 20 for them, not 22 for us – drifting inside, down below us in familiar territory, dropping a shoulder and curling one in under the bar.
On twenty minutes, Armando Broja made a fine move towards the near post and flashed a header just wide of the goal. Until then, his lack of movement and lack of a physical threat was starting to wind me up.
Midway through the half, there were two Fulham efforts on the Chelsea goal to my left. The second came after a fine move had found Harry Wilson and it needed an excellent save from Djordje Petrovic at his near post.
Chelsea were unsurprisingly dominant, but there were only glimpses of decent play, of players combining well, of coherent patterns. Not for the first time I lamented the movement off the ball. On two occasions, if only Broja had realised it, he was in acres of space if he had feinted one way and then spun the other. A pass or two from Silva would have released him.
Willian came over to take part in a short corner. I rose to applaud him. As did many. I don’t go for singing songs about former players, but I certainly felt fine with applauding him just the once. The noise was loud. He clapped us too. I see nothing wrong with any of that. It shows us all in a good light, I think.
Two efforts from us; one from Cole Palmer, not at his best thus far, and a riser from Enzo, who was starting to show a lot more spirit to his performance.
A crunching tackle from Malo Gusto left Willian rolling in pain, but I was too far away to see the detail.
We were treated to a ridiculous turn and dummy from Moises Caicedo on Wilson. The look of pain on the Fulham player’s face was – er – a picture.
In the last moments of the first-half, Palmer advanced and was thankfully aware of Raheem Sterling screaming for the ball to be played into him. A lovely reverse ball set him up. It seems that the Football Gods have decreed that Fulham must always have a towering player called Diop in their team, and it was the 2024 version – Issa – who took an ungainly chop at Sterling just as he cut past him. From one hundred yards away it looked a penalty.
…in my mind : “either a penalty or a booking for a dive.”
The maligned Anthony Taylor pointed to the spot.
Cole Palmer took the ball. His record with penalties is perfect for us.
He slotted it home.
The goal came at a perfect time. It meant that there were no boos at half-time. In truth, although not a vintage performance, I was quietly content with some of our play. In my mind, Enzo Fernandez and Levi Colwill were enjoying their best games for a while.
Baby steps and all that malarkey.
The second half began. There was a noticeable increase in intensity from the players, and the crowd, certainly in the Matthew Harding, responded well. In the first few minutes of the second period, Broja found himself in a central area of the box, but could not get a shot away. He was ridiculously marked but took an extra touch, as is his wont.
On fifty minutes, a bender from Palmer whizzed over. Two minutes later, Sterling rose so well and headed down and against a post, but was flagged for offside.
At the other end, a deflected Fulham cross from in front of their fans, but a resulting header flew over.
A couple of pacey Chelsea attacks, the fleet-footed Gusto involved on both occasions, but blocks from the Fulham rear-guard kept us at bay. This was an excellent spell from us.
On sixty-six minutes, Noni Madueke replaced Broja.
Palmer moved centrally as a false nine. From here, there were a few tricks and spins. I like him in a central role.
Just after, Colwill curled a shot over from the edge of the box.
We longed for a second goal.
Enzo continued his little resurgence. He showed a lot more spirit, fight, intensity, and drive. We need that. We need him creating from deep. We need Palmer creating further up field. Amongst everything, Conor Gallagher was on his game, closing down space, winning fifty-fifties, setting the tempo. Thiago Silva was magnificent as the second-half developed.
Madueke was often involved. I like the way that he uses his body, how he forces himself across defenders, using his upper body to barge past.
However, a rare Fulham chance caused palpitations. Andres Pereira found space in the box and passed to Raul Jimenez. The low shot was thankfully saved by Petrovic, who dropped to his right and threw out an arm. It was a really fine save.
On seventy-seven minutes, a roar as Ben Chilwell replaced Sterling. I spent a few minutes working out if our shape had changed. Chilwell for Sterling seemed to be a straight swap.
On eighty-two minutes, a nice run from Madueke set up Gallagher, who was rather hemmed in, but beautifully curled a shot at goal with the outside of his right boot. The ball curved and smacked the left upright.
Colwill continued to impress. One ball out to the wing was immaculate, with just the right amount of fade for it to drop into the path of our player.
On eighty-four minutes, Enzo gave the ball up cheaply and it lead to a free-kick being rewarded by Taylor. It was central, right on the edge of the box. Who else but Willian took the ball. I hoped that it was too central for him to get a good angle.
I turned around to the blokes behind me.
“Here we go then. We have all been fearing this.”
He clipped the ball over the wall, but over the bar too.
I turned to them again.
“He has gone downhill, that Willian.”
Madueke forced a low save from Leno.
…inside my head : “shouldn’t we be closing this game out rather than chasing a second?”
Two late substitutions.
Nice applause for Carney Chukwuemeka, replacing Palmer.
Warm applause for Alfie Gilchrist, replacing Gusto.
It was all very fraught in the final moments of the game. A couple of Fulham free-kicks out on their right were slung into the box. The first one was sent deep, but after penalty-box pinball, the ball was hoofed clear. The second resulted in head tennis, but again our goal remained intact.
Taylor blew up.
Back in the car, we were happy. It wasn’t a bad outing and we had marked our third consecutive league win in a row. We had beaten Fulham at Stamford Bridge yet again. We had risen slightly in the table. I headed back to the West Country a contented Chelsea supporter.
I stopped at Reading Services to hear that Frome Town were drawing 0-0 at home to Paulton Rovers. As I dropped off Parky, just after 5pm, I was to learn that my home town team had edged it 1-0. Lovely stuff.
I dropped off Ron. I often say to him, as I collect him to take him up to Stamford Bridge, “have you brought your boots?”
His stock reply to this is always “they couldn’t afford my wages, Chris.”
Well, on this occasion, perhaps it was just as well that Chopper had left his boots at home. The reason? Ron was playing for us on Saturday 7 March 1964 and also on Saturday 27 October 1979.
I didn’t like to mention it.
I dropped off Glenn, I dropped off PD. I reached home at just after 6pm.
It had been a good day.
Next up, that second leg against ‘Boro. Let’s make some bloody noise. See you there.