Anyone who followed my link to the Chelsea FC Blog will know Blues fans were already feeling demonised enough without Pete Sixsmith seeing the need to share cruel memories of encounters with nastier fringes of football support. Meanwhile in Abu Dhabi, Salut! Sunderland perhaps allowed itself to become so confident about the game that colleagues were invited for a meal at 7.30pm, a stupid oversight since it kicks off here at 7pm and can be seen live across town
It’s not exactly the hardest subject to write about, is it? Well about as difficult as explaining as why you don’t like Jeremy Clarkson or why George Dubya isn’t quite as good a President as FDR.
So where to start……
Let’s go back to 1967. I had been to see us at Stamford Bridge on a warm April day. As usual we had lost (1-0, I think it was) and I was heading for Brentford’s Griffin Park for an evening kick off against Workington.
As Don Coupland and I descended the escalator to the Tube, we were surrounded by a group of Chelsea bovver boys who demanded our scarves.
They grabbed Don’s, but they did not get mine. I would like to say that I fought them off and gave them a good hiding. But I didn’t. Being a coward from a very early age, I beat a hasty retreat to the bottom of the stairs while Don gave his trusty scarf over to some Steve Marriott lookalike from Surbiton.
In 1979 we opened a Second Division season at the Bridge. This time, I had the misfortune to spend time on a tube from Wimbledon to Fulham Broadway with some of the most frightening individuals this side of the Urals.
The air was b/Blue and the derogatory comments about black people, Northerners and Sunderland fans made me inspect my shoes for minute traces of coal dust.
Had I been rumbled, I might well have spent the rest of the summer holidays in traction. Fortunately, my cover was not blown, even though I did ask one of them the way to the apples and pears. He grunted quizzically, and I was off as fast as me old plates of meat could carry me.
Fast forward to 1985 and Milk Cup semi-final time. I missed the game at Roker Park because I as needed to tread the boards as Alderman Fitzwarren in Dick Whittington and His Wonderful Cat (or, as my father insisted, Cat Whittington and his Wonder………well you get the picture).
I was not going to miss the second leg and took a sickie complaining of upset stomach, headaches and lumbago only to be told by the Deputy Head that I had better be in the next morning or else, and that if the TV cameras picked me up celebrating wildly then in the words of Manuel: “I know nothing.”
Four of us drove down in a hired car. It was a pleasant trip until we reached the northernmost suburbs of London and stopped at traffic lights.
Dougie Bones, who was driving, was just about to tell us to get the scarf off the back shelf when this car pulled up alongside us. I was quite impressed to see that in London they had taught recalcitrant Neanderthals to drive (in the North East we’d banished them to Middlesbrough) and smiled benevolently.
Smiled, that is, until one Neanderthal brandished a hammer and mouthed Chellllseeee at us. Doug jumped the lights and we eventually threw them off in a maze of suburban streets. The rest of the journey was very quiet.
We parked the car in a hotel car park near Stamford Bridge and walked briskly and quietly towards the ground travelling in twos (Doug had seen The Great Escape and reckoned this was the way to do it). As a result we were separated and Doug and Pete Horan ended up in The Shed as the gates to our end were closed by the time they got there.
It’s still one of the most eventful games I have ever seen, and the sight of Colin West dribbling the ball around a police horse will never leave my memory even when Mr Alzheimer has knocked on the door, been allowed in and is sitting at the fireside puffing his pipe and wearing his slippers.
The walk back to the car was as perilous as any journey that Odysseus made but when we reached our Illyria (a subterranean car park) I let out a roar of both celebration and relief. A frightening night and when we complain about all seaters and the gentrification of the game, I look back to March ’85 and shudder.
Since then they have given us a few spankings on the pitch – 1999 a case in point and they also effectively relegated us in 1985, winning at Roker in the March and showing us how hapless Len Ashurst really was.
There have been some good times – Gordon Armstrong’s wonderful header in ’92 aided by Dennis Wise’s inability to pick him up amid choruses of “Taxi for Wise” from the Clock Stand Paddock, and of course the more recent Quinn 2/Phillips 2 4-1 being real highlights.
One game I did miss was the 4-2 win at the Bridge in 2001. It was my 50th birthday weekend and I spent it not revelling in the glories of Gavin McCann & co but watching a desperate Greenock Morton scrape a draw with Raith Rovers at a decrepit Cappielow.
Morton were heading for bankruptcy, only two sides of the ground were open and the administrators would not even allow them to issue programmes. I got the final score from Chelsea on a rundown railway platform and danced a jig to the amusement of a couple on the platform opposite who presumed I was auditioning for the part of Harry Lauder in the musical Stop Your Tickling Jock. Next day (the actual half century), I saw Henrik Larson score a sublime hat trick against Kilmarnock in the CIS Final at Hampden.
So, with mixed memories and a dislike for Chelsea that has grown since Abramovich took over, we go into the second of a crucial set of three. Nothing won and nothing deserved last week; low expectations this week. Maybe a rousing performance from Carlos Edwards can wipe the ever present smirk from Tory Boy Lampard’s face at 4.45pm on Saturday. Just don’t hold your breath.