Chelsea F.C.-Blue is the Colour
Sticking a chapter about football into a book about music seems at best daft and at worst a seemingly shameless attempt to appear 'lad-ish', but in fact, neither of these is true your honour. At times (and at the risk of sounding like Nick Hornby) football and music and football have run almost parallel lines through my life. I have a drawer where I keep all my ticket stubs and amongst the odd flyer and set list the tickets from gigs and football matches sit, I think, quite proudly together. And as I’ve told many a scorning girlfriend, football came first.
It all started at the age of five. As a ritual, (if he wasn't working) my Dad would enjoy a couple of lunch time pints as my Mum cooked Sunday dinner. These were of course in the days when pubs shut in an afternoon, and I like to think the men returning beer breathed and a little bit wobbly felt at least a little lucky to returning to the bosom of their families. On the way home, he would pop into the local petrol station; buy a box of Black Magic for Mum, A Mars bar apiece for my brother and me and a little bag of chocolate buttons for my still swaddling sister. After our dinner, once the table had been cleared, the plates washed up and Eastenders had been replaced by Match of the Day, he would dole out the confectionery, leaving me last and dangling the bar of chocolate saying "You can have this if you can name five Chelsea players". I always got my Mars bar. No mean feat considering the goalkeeper was called Eddie Niedzwiecki, a name I would struggle to pronounce now.
The story of how my Dad became a born-and-bred Shropshire man supporting Chelsea (unheard of in those days) begins in the late sixties. Dad went down to London to visit an uncle who was serving down there as a guardsman. Said uncle took the young man to see Chelsea, Chelsea won 3-0 and he decided he was a blue there and then. His timing was almost unbelievably fortunate. Within a couple of years Chelsea would be THE fashionable football team, the toast of the hip Kings Road, with everyone from Raquel Welch to Ted Rogers of 3-2-1 fame declaring themselves proud to wear the groovy blue and white.
My timing, however, was little less cool. Although recently promoted to division one (a landmark the old man celebrated by getting hammered, trying to smoke a novelty foot long cigar and vomiting for four hours), Chelsea where a team who could, on occasion mix it with the top flight teams but insisted on getting thrashed by everyone from Barnsley to (oh irony) Shrewsbury Town. We also had something of an awful and unsavoury pairing of reputation. Not only did Chelsea fans enjoy smashing up any town that the team played in, we also had at Stamford Bridge, a small breeding ground for the National Front. Being so young, the latter was lost on me of course. The former, however, was inescapable being constantly on the news.
At bedtime on the night before my first trip to Stamford Bridge (a trip in no small way being possible due to Dad being a guard on British Rail and therefore getting free train travel), I admitted to Mum that I was a bit petrified. And bless her, she explained using pound notes form a Monopoly game that the people who liked to fight stood in one bit of the ground and the ones who didn't like to fight sat in another. This did the trick, all the way to the ground. It was a night game, and I remember the hustle and bustle, the smell of onions from the burger vans mixing with the smell of shit from the police horses. The floodlights of the stadium seemed at least ten miles in the air. My memory is hazy, but I think we must have been supposed to be sitting in the posh west stand, but seeing how bloody tall it was mixed with my fear of heights gave me the collywobbles good and proper. After refusing to go through the gates which left queues of people fuming and dad regretting both having such a soft son and taking him all this way to the bloody football relented. So, I spent my first game in the Shed End, not being able to see a thing a relying on roars and boo's to work out what was going on.
Despite my softness, we started to go down to the Bridge quire regularly. I adored this time. Selfishly, I liked the fact that dad gave me his undivided attention (except during the game of course) and still hold those days as some of the best of my life. If I close my eyes I can still smell the vinegar and coffee in the little Italian café we went to pre-game. It had a big poster of the Chelsea team and as I drained my can of coke and he sipped his tea, I proudly gave my dad the name of each and every player.
By the time my passion for the Blues properly manifested itself, in the 84-85 season, Chelsea put together a pretty decent team. My idol was player called Kerry Dixon. He was Blond, good looking and one hell of a striker. When asked at school to write about what I wanted to be when I grew up, I wrote about being Kerry Dixon. Not wanting to be LIKE him you understand, but to actually be him. All I dreamed and cared about was wearing the number nine for Chelsea. A couple of operations on my legs (and absolutely no talent at playing football whatsoever) put pay to a career charging around the box in the blue of Chelsea, but my lucky number has been number nine ever since.
Like pretty much everything in my life, it's only with hindsight that I now know that I picked completely the wrong player. The one I should have been keeping an eye on was number 7, Pat Nevin (although Dad and I brushed with him on two, highly contrasting situations. One was getting a perhaps undeserved bollocked by him. When spying the nippy little winger drive through the gates at the Britannia entrance of the Bridge, Dad shouted "Oi! Pat!” Looking slightly startled, Pat stopped and was signing our match day programme when a huge line of people joined behind us, pen and programme in hand. "See what you started?" he asked my now hugely embarrassed father. The second was giving me a wave and a friendly smile whilst warming up at Wembley for the Full Members Cup final in '86. (A move that I think atones brush one). There was (and is) something unique about Wee Pat in the steak and chips world of football. Not only is he a friendly (When not being held up by people from the Shires), intellectual chap, he also has an outstanding taste in music. He has gone down in Chelsea legend for being substituted at half time so he could go see the Cocteau Twins play at the I.C.A. It’s also rumoured he has the biggest collection of Joy Division bootlegs in Europe. Whether this is true or not we will perhaps never know. But I can confirm he is a huge fan of indiepop, and a friend of Camera Obscura which is good enough for me.
The handicap of being the only Chelsea fan schools both primary and secondary (though that blue and white Le Coq Sportif replica kit was worn with pride, believe you me) and varying fortunes through the years was forgiven when we won the F.A. cup in 1997. It was the second cup final I’ve been to (the first, in 1994 we won't go into, suffice to say we got a good drubbing), and pretty much the most perfect day imaginable. The sun shone the way it does on cup final day, and everywhere we saw fans in good cheer. London took on a strange dream like quality for the day, and I almost floated op Wembley Way. I just about managed to tuck my programme under my seat and managed to sit comfortably when I looked up just as Di Matteo launched his record breaking fast goal past the despairing grasp of the 'Boro keeper. Knowing how skilled Chelsea where at breaking my heart, I couldn't relax until Eddie Newton scored the winner, where I celebrated like only the chosen few can. When Dennis Wise lifted the cup, my euphoria was at such a peak that I couldn't help but shed a little tear.
"You’re not crying are you?" asked my dad a little unnerved that I may look weak in front of the Chelsea faithful. But later on, whilst the silver wear was being paraded around that grand yet shit old stadium, the P.A. pumped out 'Blue is the Colour', the old 70's Chelsea song and I noticed him wiping away tears of his own. It was the first time I had seen my father cry. It was that sort of day.
More Chelsea based parental anxiety was to occur years later. Chelsea where to appear in the final of the European champions league final. We had been fated to play Manchester United, the source of such heartbreak in the ‘94 cup final. Knowing full well I couldn't afford a ticket to watch the actual match in Moscow and realising my nerves could not stand watching it in a Shrewsbury pub; I booked a ticket for a hotel in London, where I would stay after watching the game in a Chelsea boozer. Perfect.
Well it started perfectly. A lovely warm late-may day, a few beers and a sing song, some laughs and a feeling of pride that, after years of struggle and disappointment, we could be champions of Europe. Something that seemed beyond ridiculous only a few years previously was so close we could almost taste it, or at the very least smell the polish on the silverware. Somewhat unwisely, I began to drink in earnest at around 1p.m., and with my fellow blue Trevor, set about drowning our pre-match tension. By the 7.45 kick off, the booze had fuzzed me up to such a degree that I honestly thought we would win. The London lager doing its job of making me a believer and emptying my pocket at a rate of knots. The score was 1-1 at full time, was the same after extra time. So on to a penalty shoot out. Any Chelsea fan will happily tell you, we do not win penalty shoot outs. Like milk tasting better out of a bottle and your partner falling asleep at the bit of the film you most want her to see, it's just one of those things in life. And so it was to be in Moscow. The romance of the occasion had got the better of me and I managed to silence the part of my brain that all football fans have, the one that says "Hey, we may screw this up, better prepare yourself."
Our brave captain John Terry took a tumble on the slick surface and scuffed his penalty to the degree that it made Pat Nevin's in the 80's like half decent. We had lost. The dream was over. Heartbroken, I bid farewell to Trevor and took of to wobble to my hotel room. Only I got very lost. The hotel was on Kings Road, parallel to Fulham Road, but I was still pissed enough to lose my way. Drunk, lost and without solace, I was not in the mood for this shit. I decided to walk back to Fulham Broadway station, where I could find a starting point to follow back to the elusive hotel. What happened next is something of a blur. I remember walking through people with my headphones on full blast (what was playing I don’t recall, but I bet it was depressing), almost shoving them out of the way, such was my desire to get to a hotel bar and a nice soft pillow to weep into. What scuppered the plan somewhat was very nearly walking head first into a police shield. I took out my earphones and surveyed the scene, and the scene was what is charmingly referred to as 'kettleing'. Her majesties police had thought it prudent to form two lines and stop a few hundred drunken football fans from going home. As I've said before, Chelsea fans are no angels, but at this point there was nothing more threatening to the status quo than a few fans at the front demanding to know what was going on. Imagine if the police collected all the people coming out of the pub at closing town, squeezing them into your high street and blocking their exits, then wondering why people were less than chuffed. This was the situation we were in. Shrugging our collective shoulders, and knowing we were trapped, a few old boys started a sing song going. It's bizarre thinking back, but I promise you I was stuck between two lines of police in full riot gear and a load of hammered and heartbroken fans singing about how much they love Chelsea. Some of them even did a little dance.
Then it happened.
Losing patience somewhat with being kept away from their beds, the next pub or transport home (I'm sure there were a few in danger of missing their last train) a few fans started to try and break through the police line. Those who did, the people brave enough for trying to get through a barrier that tried to hold them for the crime of being a football fan, received a swift crack of the skull of truncheon. I was still contemplating what the hell to do, when I saw a lad in a Chelsea shirt trying to usher his girlfriend to the tube station and away from all this nastiness by guiding her with her head under his arm. A copper decided this was somehow a threat to society and gave the poor girl a swift whack over the head. That did it. Within a crack of a head, what was a mainly peaceful, if confused, crowd turned into a violent throng. The fans were furious at what they had saw, a woman being beat up on their doorstep by the people they pay to protect her, and began telling the Met. quite forcibly what they thought of them. In reply, the police would wait a minute, then charge in on mass battering whoever got in their way. Considering they had us penned in, It could have been anyone. The thing that really pissed me off was the fact they would continue to smash the living crap out of anyone unlucky to be felled by such a blow
I think everyone their sobered up pretty quick. The romance and magic of the evening being snatched away with cruelty only the slipped penalty could mirror. The only thing we could do was to try and get any poor sod that was felled by the police back on to his (or her) feet before the coppers battered them where they lay. It was that horrible.
The scene lasted maybe an hour, and by the time I got back to the hotel for a well earned pint and a good sleep, I had received five missed calls off my mum. The events of the evening had made the news, and she was understandably quite concerned that I had been caught up in the mayhem. I hate to admit it, but I lied to my own mother. Not wanting her to worry, I told her I had been in the pub and unable to hear my phone. Imagine my horror then, when reading the papers whilst nursing my hangover with a cup of tea at Euston, I flicked over to page five of The Mirror to see a picture of me in front of a police line. It was under the headline ’Chelsea fans riot’, and I stand behind two men who are snarling at the police. I look like the worst hooligan in the world. Obviously pissed with a Rupert the Bear scarf and fluffy hair. Despite this, I had been caught bang to rights lying to my mum. Pretty shameful stuff.
These days my passion hasn’t dimmed but my support has been strictly armchair. This is for two reasons. The first has been said most eloquently by an old Chelsea boy I met in a pub before the Spurs game a couple of seasons back. When someone started ribbing him about not going to the games anymore he replied, “Listen here, I’ve followed Chelsea home and away for thirty years, every shit hole imaginable, even when were playing shit. Last time I was at the Bridge, some prat in a yellow vest kept telling me to sit down as I was having a go at the ref. I mean, that’s not fucking football is it?” As I made my way to the ground through the tourists and touts I saw his point. With the game against our arch rivals poised at one all, and with two minutes to go, the atmosphere should have been bubbling. In front of me, a couple took it in turns to take each others photo. I mean, that’s not fucking football is it?
The second reason is a bit more personal. Every time I go down to Stamford Bridge something else changes just a little bit, and I get a little bit further away from being the little boy in the blue and white bobble hat holding tightly to his daddies’ hand. And that thought chills me to the bone.