FROM STAMFORD BRIDGE TO CARDIFF VIA VILLA PARK
Another topical FA Cup contribution to CFCnet. This one recalls Chelsea’s first Cup Final in Cardiff.
After getting stuck in the traffic chaos returning from the FA Cup semi-final at Villa Park, Peter Sampson was not going to take any chances on the notoriously congested motorway to Cardiff for the cup final.
For me, the trip to Cardiff for the all-London cup final began at 4:30 on the Saturday morning. After a couple of stops, we were soon in the Valleys. We managed to bypass the main bulk of the M4 by travelling via the A14, M6, M42, M5, M50 and A40 — an uncomplicated detour. The M4 was a little busy when we turned on to it just before the tunnelled section at around 9:30, but not as busy as rush hour. The motorway was clearly sign-posted so that cars and coaches representing both teams knew exactly where to exit.
We got off at Junction 28 and followed the signs with a blue football on them. These were a little confusing, as there seemed to be more than one route to the same park-and-ride or there was more than one park-and-ride. For a brief moment I thought that the ‘Soul Crew’ had been up to a little skullduggery. Quite how we ended up at the right park-and-ride was a minor miracle.
Finally, we ended up at Cardiff docks, with the stadium in sight. As we were parking the car, a supervisor shouted to a companion that he should close the cars up tighter as this was the last Chelsea car park that was not full. I was not surprised by this because a cup final organiser had said on the radio that 400 coaches had attended the last cup final, but this year there were only 140 booked. Consequently, many more supporters were due to arrive in cars or on the trains. Nonetheless, we were in Cardiff city centre and looking forward to the match within ten minutes of parking.
The first cup final that I attended was in 1994 against Man Utd. As a Wembley appearance was a rare as a do-do, I decided that I would enjoy the occasion, so much so that I spent most of the second half trying to retain consciousness. The final whistle and the queuing in the rain for an hour sobered me up and I do not think that it really sank in that we had been beat by four goals until I watched the all too painful re-run on Match of the Day. The only Chelsea incidents that I can remember are the tackle by Erland on Giggs in the first few minutes, Giggs getting showered by celery when taking a corner and Gavin Peacock hitting the bar from a mile out.
Anyway, Cardiff was to be different. For one thing, I had to drive 260 miles home and cup finals are getting to be a regular occurrence nowadays. It did not really seem like a cup final today, it seemed like an occasion. Walking around Bridge Street and onto St Mary Street, it reminded me a little of an away leg in Zaragoza a few years earlier — the sun, the tomfoolery and the drinking in the street.
Our first stop was a visit to the Old Monk pub on St Mary Street. We had listened to TalkSport’s live broadcast on the way and knew that there would be a few fans in there. The highlight of this visit was the Gooner who had donned a Mick Jagger head and leapt in between Mike Parry and Alan Brazil while they were on air. Brazil did his best not to laugh. Luckily for the broadcasters, an advert break gave them time to compose themselves. One thing that did strike me was Mike Parry, an ex-hack with plenty to say. He looks perfect for radio and seems to make up for his height with his opinions. I never did like him and now that I have seen him I have not changed my view.
Next up we ended up outside another bar. I cannot remember the name of it, but I think it was called Sam’s. Celery was in full flight here due to a couple of open upstairs windows. There were a couple of lads who were fair game and were conducting the singing from the window and were throwing most of the celery back. One even bared his bum in an attempt to get it tickled. The biggest barrage happened when a young lady rode by on a trailer that transported a large plaster cast leg. It looked like the idea was to get it signed by people. She was showered with celery and had the celery song sung at her with great amusement from the travelling Blues.
Later, we decided to see how those from north London celebrated getting to the cup final. We managed to find a bit of a noise, but most of them were just lazing about on the grass surrounding the castle. They did not seem to be as rowdy as the Blues, maybe because they had been in Cardiff the year before. I must admit that I have never seen so many red stripes in people’s hair. While walking around, I bumped into Shovel from M People. He even found the time to say hello, something that most of the Arsenal players failed to do even though some of their fans had waited for quite a while. There were many complaints that the bus even had blacked out windows. I can imagine that some of the younger fans that look up to these guys were fairly disappointed.
Back towards the Blue half and the streets were packed. The road to gates 6 and 7 were awash with people, flags and celery. Some of the fans were kicking a ball against a building trying to get it though a window. Something that amused about twenty of us in Stockholm the day after the Cup Winners Cup final, as we tried for hours to get the ball into a hotel bedroom window. A more amusing event that day was when six Swedish skinheads approached a bar that we were in and proclaimed that they loved Chelsea fans as we were Nazis too. One of the Chelsea fans stuck his arm out Nazi-fashion and proclaimed that the salute was just a load of bollocks and that these particular Chelsea thought that Nazi’s beliefs and mannerisms were a load of bollocks too. For some reason, the Swedes thought that this was some sort of terminology used by Nazis in England. As they walked down the street stopping every few yards, turning to shoppers, raising their arms and shouting: “Bollocks, bollocks,” I could not stop laughing!
Back in Cardiff, the streets were getting busier while the crowd was growing louder. The police were very low key, but they were visible. The only incident I saw involved a 15-year-old with a Welsh accent. I made my way to the ground at around 2pm. The atmosphere was electric as we got closer. I was unable to get a ticket direct from Chelsea so I knew that I would not be among the official contingent, but I did not expect to be in among as many Arsenal fans as I was. My ticket had ‘Chelsea section’ written on it. As I made my way though gate 7 I was feeling quite excited, as there was plenty of blue shirts around. As I made my way to U32 I noticed more and more red ones. Surely I would be among friends?
When and if the new Wembley is built, they should have a good look at the Millennium Stadium as they seem to have got things right there. Admission was swift and the staff were friendly. The owners do not seem to employ students on the cheap, but people who have a little enthusiasm. They even had escalators! There were wide areas with large, clear windows overlooking the river Taff. The food outlets had railings that were horizontal to the service area. This allowed people to queue in single file and not to block off others who want to walk past to take up their seats.
I could not resist walking up the steps to get a view of the stadium’s pitch and other areas. ‘Spectacular’ was the first word that sprung to mind. I could not wait to see the place packed. We found our entrance and made our way 26 rows up. What a view! A little high to be perfect, but the legroom and steep incline made up for that. I had a look around as we were close to the Gooners as we could be. The section started to fill up with more and more red shirts. Damn, here I was among the Arse. There was a splattering of blue, but it seemed as though the ones that I had seen on my way in were further to my right, towards the south stand.
The noise started to build just before kick off and the razzmatazz started. Call me old-fashioned, but I hate the loud music, fireworks and the shaking of the teams’ flags before and after matches. Why cannot we just have the fans singing and the teams read out before games? At Villa Park the music was turned up as the Chelsea fans became more vocal with a ‘Carefree’. Drowning us out with ‘Hi Ho Silver Lining’ was hardly appropriate. The teams appeared and Chelsea were led out by Roberto Di Matteo. I am not sure what I would think if I were him. It must have been be an emotional moment to be handed that role, but I am sure that I would be gutted coming out and hearing the noise, knowing that I could not play.
As the game progressed, I have to say that my awareness of the Arsenal shirts around me decreased rapidly. It was not long before a few of us jumped up for a ‘Carefree’. When Parlour scored the whole Arsenal end and all around exploded. A couple of them turned to face us and shouted: “Yes!” I looked down to see a couple of other Chelsea shouting back: “Sit down!” We could see the Chelsea end all standing in defiance with their arms aloft, but I could not hear what was being sung.
We sat in silence when the second goal went in. It is horrible sitting near opposing fans. I looked at the scoreboard and saw that 85 had passed. I do not know whether I could have handled the last five minutes, so I left. I was not going to sit there and be the butt of amusement — it is fight or flee. I am not the most aggressive person in the world, so I chose the later. “Bye-bye Chelsea,” chanted a few of the Gooners. I just turned and smiled, not giving them the satisfaction of seeing my pain.
Just to make thing worse, we got the wrong escalator down to ground level and had to endure walking around the north stand where all the noise came from. We caught up with a few hundred Chelsea meandering towards our pickup point. There was a silence, — no one was moaning about the referee’s bad decisions, Ranieri’s inept substitutions or the performance. For twenty minutes of the second half, Chelsea gave it their best shot. The silence reflected my thoughts that on the day, the Arse were just too good.