How I became a Chelsea fan Saturday

LONDON – I’ll tell my Chelsea story with a lot of pictures.

And I’ll spoil the ending:

I’m all in.

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The ride

We woke up too late. I’d planned for Teresa and Simon and me to have an early breakfast and hit Westminster Abby before heading to Fulham Broadway Station. I set the alarm, I just didn't flip it to on.


So instead, it was a quick morning of checking the weather, double-checking the tube route, stuffing a backpack and heading for the Swiss Cottage station on the Jubilee Line to the Green Park station on the Piccadilly Line to South Kensington on the District Line to Fulham Broadway.IMG 5902 1

We double checked the direction each change, until South Kensington. One side of the platform was pretty crowded, the other relatively empty. I saw a couple Chelsea jerseys. On board that stretch and an earlier one, people had offered Simon their seat. They were incredibly nice to him, as they were throughout our entire day. On that last leg, an older man, slightly hunched, asked if we were going to the match. We said we were. He proudly held up two fingers.

“I’ve missed two,” he said. “In 49 years, 50 this spring.”

The tickets

He told us how to exit the train and weave our way to the South gate area, where we needed to go to pick up our tickets, acquired through a connection for £64 each.

I’d arranged to sell one of the three I’d bought before that at a ridiculous price of $400 each for $250 to another Nashvillian. And I wrestled with a scalper, known as a tout, right out of the tube station to get £300 for the other two. I just didn’t want to spend a lot of time stressing over it.

So I lost $558 plus Stub Hub’s giant fees on the project. Stick with Tennessee Tickets any chance you can folks, no hidden fees.

The neighborhood

We didn’t have a lot of time. We didn’t stop for beers.

But the walk in felt a bit like Wrigleyville or Fenway, and the anticipation on the approach certainly felt similar. I could see a corner of the stadium, Stamford Bridge, from down the street, but the building makes an appearance when you reach the entry, a grand space opening up on your left and allowing fans to pour in toward the West gates of the angled building.

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To get in there, an attendant made a cursory check of our backpack, which would be checked again as we entered the building. No clear bag rule. No ridiculous lines at either spot. Stamford Bridge seats over 40,000 fanatics and certain has some issues which I’ll get to. Smooth entry was not one for us.

White outlines of the club’s big trophies on a blue background line a central wall, giant pictures on each side of a captain raising a cup, all behind a statue of team legend Peter Osgood in the plaza.

Getting in

The box office was around to the South, along a narrow passageway bordered by the Shed Wall. We got the tickets and worked along the Shed Wall, down to Gate 7.IMG 5968

Gate 7 got us into Block 7. From what I could tell, you get into your block and your block only. No stadium roaming allowed. I’m sure the beer rule (details in a sec) and the blocks concept were an answer to hooliganism and fighting.

Man U fans occupied a visitors section of what I was told was 3,500 seats. And it was incredibly loud at its team’s big moments considering it accounted for roughly 11 percent of the crowd. A row of police separated the red-clad Man U faithful from the home fans in blue but I didn’t see a hint of anything that I don’t see at an NFL game with visiting fans.

It’s a bit of a maze to get in, and for us in included passing through a “concourse.”IMG 5938

But a concourse is a large open area, and this was hardly large, and it was rarely open. Food and beer windows were on one side, bathrooms on the other, with not very big flat screen TVs at either end. Simon got a hot dog and a water, Teresa and I got burgers and cokes because we knew you couldn't take beers to your seats. The food was bad.

Beer drinkers in the EPL drink in the concourses and stairwells, but can’t partake as they watch the live game.

We were back at halftime, for Twix bars and Haribo Starmix, which makes gummy bears in the U.S., and sodas.

The Starmix included a fried egg, which Simon rated as gross, and rings, which were the best.

I also hit the restroom. It is what an airline would design as a bathroom if it needed to accommodate a lot of people at once. A trough, of course. And mini-mini sinks which seem mandatory in London.

The game

Chelsea entered the match with six wins and two draws, in quite good shape. Under former Chelsea coach, José Mourinho, Man U was just 4-1-3.

The Pensioners, as Chelsea are sometimes called, had the better of play early but had trouble connecting deep in the Red Devil’s end. Still, they went up 1-0 on a header off a corner kick in the 21st minute. Man U matched in the 55th minute when Chelsea simply couldn’t clear the ball out of the box for too long.

I kept telling Simon about Eden Hazard, the brilliant Belgian for Chelsea.Hazard

“He’s wearing florescent green cleats like you do. He’s one of the best players in the world.”

Simon mentioned Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, and I said, Yes, but Hazard is in the next batch. And then he didn’t play very well and on every bad touch he said something like, “Yeah, dad, he’s really great.”

Simon wasn’t loving the whole experience as he should have been and we were both telling him how very fortunate he was to have this once in a lifetime deal. I mentioned how his coach with TSC in Brentwood is a Chelsea fan. Simon was in, but he wasn’t all-in.

Man U’s Anthony Martial got a second goal in the 73 minute that set the visiting fans into a frenzy and the bloke in front of me, a traditional angry English football fan, into a good-mannered fit. He was steaming. Earlier after a bad pass by a guy in the team he bleeds for he shouted that he needed to be “taken off the pitch.”

It was bad from there. Chelsea pressed and pressed and kept turning it over. When it got in the box and Man U pushed the ball out, the second Chelsea line was too deep to recover the ball.

But there had been long delays and the ref gave 6 minutes of stoppage time.

“A lot of time,” I said. “They are going to score.”

“That’s not a lot of time,” wiseacre Simon said. “That’s 5 minutes and 1 minute.”

It was not looking very good.

Finally, after an eternity, they did recover one. They sent it to the right, crossed it back into the far side, sent a header into the right post, got a big rebound chance and headed off the keeper. And then, on the third try…

Ross Barkley, a late sub, from close range, buried the rebound in the bottom right corner.

Bedlam ensued.

We jumped and hugged and high-fived and hugged some more.

And that 9-year old between his parents sure seemed all-in then.

The angry Englishmen had walked out in disgust a few minutes earlier. Teresa wondered about him. I figured he probably thought they only managed the draw because of his departure.

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The aftermath

The megastore, of course.

We were there to be hooked, and they got us. Yeah, just a draw, but the last-second dramatics sure felt like a win.IMG 6058

And so Simon and I got matching dry-fit shirts and I got a pin for my collection from all the events I’ve been to. He got a ball and a cool winter hat with a pom-pom too. And Teresa got a windbreaker and a cap.

Simon insisted he and I get matchy-matchy in our shirts right away.

On our way to Westminster Abbey in the tube, I was near a guy in a Chelsea jersey and I asked him about the game.

“Where did that rank among their games this year?”

“Rank?” he said.

“How did that compare to the rest?” I said.

“Oh, it was their worst game of the season.”

The worst game of the season was a thrill for us. It’s got us ready to eye scores, record games, wear our new gear, tell people about our magical day at Stamford Bridge.

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The Westminster Station was all clogged up. Two of the three staircases were closed. I’d spoken to a woman with a sign on our way to the game about what she was heading to protest and she said many people were holding out hope that the final element to making Brexit official wouldn’t happen.

Of course, we then headed right into the middle of the march later in the day.

As we fought against the tide trying to get to Westminster Abbey, missing the final tour by 5 minutes because of the heavy foot traffic, a guy stopped me to ask about the game.

The matching Chelsea shirts on the Kuharsky boys tipped him off to us as the loyalists we’d become.

“How did we do?” he asked.

“Drew 2-2,” I said. “But huge finish to score right at the end of stoppage time to pull it off.”

It was fun to share the news with one of our people.



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