Pete Sixsmith is clearly being paid too much for his magical prose on these pages. First class all the way to London and back. But then nothing, with the apparent exception of at least one deserved point from the trip to Chelsea, is too good for the working class …
A change in the old routine yesterday, as the usual double act – Durham Branch and Lees Luxury Coach – was replaced by East Coast Main Line First Class accommodation for the first trip to Chelsea since Caarsten Fredgaard made his debut for the club 12 years ago.
There were familiar faces aboard the London Flyer as we flashed through the countryside, made all the more dramatic by the heavy frost and bright sunshine. The fields around York were pure white and the steam from the numerous power stations rose vertically into the sharp air.
Copious coffee, a croissant and a chance to read Louise Taylor’s excellent Guardian piece on Martin O’Neill, accompanied by the timeless Brian Matthew on Sounds of the Sixties (DAB radios work on trains) made for the perfect trip as the train pulled into Kings Cross on time.
A quick walk round to The Guardian‘s offices in York Way to view an exhibition of Soviet Cold War cartoons and then through the University area to Russell Square, popping into the British Museum to relieve myself of some of the coffee. Bladder emptied (too much information – ed), I strolled down Drury Lane, along The Strand (definitely not “’aving a banana”) and into Trafalgar Square, which looked marvellous in the bright sun. There were several of those living sculptures, a man dressed up as a Viking (although he did have horns on his helmet – a definite no-no) and several who were doing brilliant impersonations of drunks, complete with cans of cider, raggy beards and authentic Scottish accents.
I called in to the National Gallery for another wee (Pete!!) and a sandwich lunch, before proceeding in a westerly direction through to Leicester Square, round Piccadilly Circus (an utterly depressing tourist trap, complete with earnest Korean youngsters singing songs praising Ji Dong Wan – or it may have been The Lord, my hearing is going) and then past Fortnum and Masons (no Taylor’s Pies) and the Ritz before boarding the Tube at Green Park to Parsons Green
In the White Horse, there were more people stood outside than inside taking advantage of a glorious day. Lots of pals inside and a pint of Harveys Best Bitter – relatively weak and relatively cheap – before another very pleasant walk through the streets and a park to Stamford Bridge.
Getting into the stadium was not easy. There were lines of stewards checking your ticket, frisking you, searching your bag and asking if you had ever been a member of the Communist Party. Once in you were ushered to your seat and were able to take stock of what is quite an impressive stadium.
The old Stamford Bridge was a truly horrible ground, exposed to the elements and with a dog track round it. It must be the most extensively rebuilt of all the major grounds, because it is completely unrecognisable. The visitors’ seats were well positioned looking across the corner flag, so no need to stand up.
All we needed now was a decent game and a win, although I would have settled for an absolute stinker and a win if pushed. We got the decent game but not the win. We would have won if we had taken advantage of the five very good chances we created. McClean missed one in the first five minutes after Sessegnon wriggled clear to set him up and Bendtner was inches away with a clever shot that beat Cech just before the break.
By that time we were a goal down, conceded during Chelsea’s best period of the game. A good cross from Mata fell to the unmarked Torres, who showed what a good player he once was with a scissors kick that hit the bar with Mignolet beaten.
In a perfect world, it would have dropped down in front of Bardsley, who would have hoofed it away into the wide blue yonder, but it hit the back of Frank Lampard and went in. The Chelsea crowd woke up and the appalling Frank lapped up the adulation from the locals – who all seemed to hail from Detroit, Cyprus, Lincoln, Malta and just about everywhere other than SW6.
They played well for half an hour and we were hanging on a wee bit, but we came back strongly before the break, despite losing Matt Kilgallon with what looked like a nasty injury.
The second half was a good one and the assembled hordes from Slovakia, Belgium, East Cornwall and Shildon would have been exhilarated by it. Phil Dowd turned down three penalties (2-1 to Chelsea on that one) and we dragged ourselves back into the game.
I thought that our penalty shout was a clear one as Cole pushed Bendtner in the back. Theirs were at the other end so I couldn’t see, but I do not take kindly to being lectured by Messrs Hanson and Shearer on MOTD. A combination of a former Liverpool idol and a Mag faced with Sunderland doing well brought out their true colours. Sack both and replace them with Gary Bennett and Marco!!
For much of the second half, it was Chelsea who looked to counter attack as, led by the impressive Lee Cattermole, we pushed them further and further back. Chances came but were not taken. McClean missed another two and as the clock ticked relentlessly on, Sess set up Craig Gardner for a side foot into an unguarded net – and he put it wide.
There was still time for Connor Wickham to put in Bendtner, but the angle and some good goalkeeping from Cech led him to screwed that wide too.
I thought Bendtner had a good game. Most of our chances came from him, either setting it up or just failing to finish it off. He is by no means the perfect player he thinks he is, but he is difficult to mark and has an astute footballing brain. The man behind me disagreed and thought that he was crap and lazy and that Bardsley and Richardson were useless and that O’Neill had his tactics wrong and that Margaret Thatcher was misunderstood. He didn’t say one of those things; you work out which one.
It was a performance that made you think what we could have done had we had a goalscorer on the pitch. I have rarely seen a Sunderland side take a game to illustrious opponents in this style and the Chelsea fans we talked to back in the White Horse saw it as as hard a game as they have had all season. They drank up and left for whichever part of the South East they came from.
So, Brand Chelsea 1, Gallant Northern Types With Funny Accents 0 and a slightly disappointing trip back on a dry train due to the presence of Sunderland and Leeds fans using Kings Cross. As I sipped a coffee in a shop opposite the station, a loud and drunken Leeds fan came in for some sandwiches, dragging his six-year-old son with him. The boy was demanding a McDonalds, but dad told him to shut up while they bought some beer which they would drink before they got on the train.
At his age, I was being taken to Headingley by my father and grandfather to watch Leeds RLFC, with the odd away trip to Hunslet or Featherstone Rovers thrown in. Jimmy Greaves was scoring for Chelsea and we were languishing at the foot of the First Division. Times change – and not always for the better.