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Monday, September 5, 2011
Saturday was my first visit to Stamford Bridge and in all honesty, had it not been for the fantastic performance from Paul Lambert’s men, it would have been an extremely frustrating day.
It started when I arrived at Fulham Broadway station at around 12.30pm. I met two friends and we went in search of a friendly away fans’ pub.
We had heard of one named the White Horse near Parsons Green, but headed to a place called the ‘Imperial Arms’ which according to a friend of a friend, was the away fans’ pub.
We couldn’t have found a more ‘home fan’ looking place.
As we stood out like sore thumbs in our Norwich shirts, a helpful pedestrian (in a thick Norfolk accent), described how he was a Norwich-based Chelsea fan and that he had just dropped off several Canaries at a pub ‘around the corner’ called O’Neill’s.
This was one of those classic moments when, to be honest, neither me nor my friends really listened to what he said. Perhaps it was our desperation to toast a sunny day in London ahead of our beloved Norwich taking on Chelsea with a frosty one, but we continued our wander.
To say people were unhelpful would be an understatement and there were several other Norwich fans in the same position as us. Stewards didn’t have a clue about an away pub and all we could get from Chelsea fans was a patronising ‘welcome back’, combined with a slightly smug smile.
It was 1.30pm by this point and to be honest, it was getting annoying. So, we traipsed around a bit longer and eventually got to . . . the White Horse, where it had been suggested we go around an hour earlier.
Even when I asked for two Budweisers (if you think I’m walking around London for an hour and then waiting in a substantial queue to simply order one, you are mistaken) I was asked ‘It’s BudWAISER is that ok?’ – At this point, it did seem as though everything was being made as difficult as possible.
Anyway, we finally had a beer in hand and stood outside the White Horse with a mixture of Norwich and Chelsea fans surrounding us. It was here that news of the teams reached us, Lambert opting for five at the back and the home side beginning with Didier Drogba and Fernando Torres.
Having made it to the ground at 2.58pm (we had to wait a long time for that pub, we were milking it) the game started in a poor fashion. Even when Chelsea knocked the ball around in the opening 30 seconds, I turned to a mate and said ‘Oh God, they’re too good already.’
Now, fans are allowed to think this, players aren’t. Norwich were too respectful early on and, despite a warning around two minutes earlier, stood off to allow Jose Bosingwa to score from 25 yards.
This was the worst moment of the match, though, or certainly the least enjoyable. From this moment, the players settled down and as a fan in the stands it was a fantastic contest.
This was why we had got promoted; we were competing with Chelsea, fighting tooth and nail, backed by a tremendous support.
The Chelsea fans, on the other hand, were useless. Fair enough, playing Norwich at home isn’t a stand-out fixture for them, but when the best you can muster is ‘Chelsea, Chelsea, Chelsea, Chelsea....(wait for it) Chelsea, Chelsea, Chelsea’ it really is pathetic.
Then came the Norwich goal. Now, I got married a year ago yesterday. However, the moment John Terry tried and failed to prevent Grant Holt’s hooked shot finding the back of the net was up there with the best of my life. Incredible scenes and well deserved, too.
We all know what happened next. John Ruddy was sent off, Chelsea scored twice and the game was lost 3-1. We deserved a point, no doubt about it. Fernando Torres should have been sent off at 1-1, too, but it wasn’t to be.
Perhaps from the moment the barman asked me if ‘BudWaiser’ was ok, I should have known it wasn’t to be our day.
We left the ground with our heads held high. There were plenty of ‘You boys played well’ comments on the way out and it was a performance we can be proud of.
Stamford Bridge wasn’t a ground I would visit again in a hurry, though. Unhelpful stewards, a lack of away fan pubs and they even ran out of change in the bar at half-time.
It was a worthwhile day out with the Yellow Army, though, as we outsung and for long periods outplayed one of the leading teams in European football.
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