TYPICAL BLOODY CHELSEA

By Peter Sampson
Jan 31st, 2008

More CFCnet gold. This time a feature from Steve Symonds whom wrote to us back in 2000.

The Symmons family from Battersea have been crossing the river to get to Stamford Bridge for nearly a century now. Throughout that time, one constantly recurring thought has become something of a family mantra: “Typical bloody Chelsea.”

Chelsea Football Club has been breaking the hearts of my family for ninety-five years now. To follow the Blues is to experience a roller coaster ride of emotions, as regardless of management or players, the club retains its reputation for frustrating inconsistency. ”Typical bloody Chelsea,” my grandfather used to say, despite his negative sentiment regarding oaths: “We might be poor, but we don’t have to have mouths like sewers.” My great-great-grandfather was the Battersea village blacksmith. His smithy was next door to The Duchess of Savonna in Nine Elms Lane. Naturally, when the club was formed his offspring, who had mostly moved a little further down the road to where the Thessally Road GLC estate is now, found themselves wandering across one Chelsea Bridge to go to another Chelsea Bridge.

When I was a kid, the older members of the family would always describe Chelsea as a music hall joke. Not that they did not follow the club, but it had already established a reputation for managing to beat the best before losing to the worst. My great-grandfather was apparently renounced for returning home in a black mood on a Saturday evening before the Great War and telling all and sundry: “That’s it. I’m finished with that shower. I’m never going again.” But he would be back the following week. Typical bloody Chelsea.

Hitler flattened the part of Battersea where the family lived with the first land mine during the Blitz. All that was left of my grandfather’s house was the old upright piano and the clock that had graced the front room mantlepiece (both still work today). In those dark days the war looked like it would go on forever. My uncles used to joke that the war would end the year Chelsea won the cup, and of course it did. A composite team — bearing little resemblance to the actual club — won the wartime cup final in 1945. Typical bloody Chelsea.

Most of the immediate post-war period was spent just avoiding relegation — once by some infinitesimal percentage point goal average. Then, ten years later, it happened — we won the league. Dead in the water in October and first at the end of the season, equalling the record lowest number of points (52 from a possible 84). The following year it was business as normal (16th) and the inevitable drop came in 1962. Inevitable because Jimmy Greaves, who had single-handedly kept us in the first division, had been sold for “thirty pieces of silver”. Typical bloody Chelsea.

As we kids grew up, my cousin John decided to “make a statement” and follow Rottenham (it was the sixties, after all). He was our only defector. The family had become rather scattered after the war, but regardless of whether living in Dorset, Surrey, Somerset, Warwickshire, Kent or Battersea, there was one thread that held us together — Chelsea Football Club. My grandfather used to make a regular circuit around his children. So it happened that we were sitting next to each other when the Blues made the 1967 FA Cup final against Spurs.

He was a fairly relaxed sort of guy; this was the only time I ever saw him nervous. Cousin John’s apostasy had not lasted long and we had been at the semi-final to witness Hately out-jumping Leeds’ Gary Sprake to put us into the final. Docherty apparently decided to follow the same plan in the final and try to pump ball after ball high into the penalty area. In the end, our only goal bounced in off the back of Bobby Tambling’s head. Typical bloody Chelsea.

My grandfather died seven months later; the death certificate said Emphysema, but I knew it was a broken heart. If only he had held on for a couple more years. We were at Wembley again playing Leeds a couple of years later. The pitch had been ruined by a number of other events held there, including showjumping. Rather than a lush swathe of grass, there was more sand than at Camber. Leeds first goal resulted in the ball dropping from about three metres and dribbling under Chopper Harris’s boot.

As the game was the first-ever Wembley draw, there had been no provisions made for allocating tickets for a replay. So the club decided that anyone who had a programme from the last home match could buy two tickets. I did not have one, but John did. John took my cousin David with him to Old Trafford — it took me a long time to forgive him. Incidentally, John used to play on Clapham Common in a team with Peter Houseman.

In the end, the victory was typical bloody Chelsea — in 240 minutes of football, we were ahead for about ten. Still, they were the ten that mattered. The cream was put on the cake with the European Cup Winners’ Cup the following year.

The family is now even more scattered. My cousin David lives in New Jersey, USA. I drifted down under in the mid-1970s. Whenever we get together (which is, by definition, rather less often than in the past) the conversation quickly centres on the Blues, once the niceties have been dispensed with.

John completed his FA coaching course and did some talent scouting, firstly for Wimbledon and then for Sheffield United when Dave Bassett drifted north. He had kept this a well-guarded secret. I only found out when he took me to a midweek Blades v Blues game a couple of years ago by flashing his card while I was on a business trip to Europe. “Judas!” I exclaimed. He had no reply other than some sheepish mumble about having tried to get on the Chelsea scouting team, but the Hollins/Porterfield mafia had not been interested.

With modern communications, faxes ran hot around the world as we stumbled towards another FA Cup final. They do not come around all that often for the Blues, so you have to make the best of them when they do. I brought half-a-dozen two-litre bottles of Young’s Ram Rod back with me from The Windmill on Clapham Common the preceding September, which gave a taste, if not an air, of authenticity to my evening (in the absence of any meaningful alternatives, FA Cup final day is the national event for many ex-pat Brits — fish and chips and Pommy beer).

The match was a kind of mirror image of 24 years earlier — Chelsea playing Manchester United off the park for eighty of the ninety minutes and yet still somehow contriving to lose 4-0. I cannot remember seeing any other side looking so good while losing by four goals. My mother does not swear — “I’ll wash your mouth out with soap and water” — but she could not help herself: “Typical bloody Chelsea,” she said over the phone that night.

In 1997 the feeling had changed a bit. Somehow I knew THAT we were going to win the FA Cup from the moment we beat Liverpool (seen ‘live’ in the Melbourne pub that is the centre for Chelsea fans here). In fact, it was a bit of an anti-climax when we did. Like some battered wife after spending the first night at a women’s refuge, I felt strange, almost guilty, to have won. A true Chelsea fan becomes emotionally conditioned to staunchly deriving happiness from gallant defeat. As Gullit said, the club simply had not been used to winning, from top to bottom.

Since then we have almost got used to winning stuff. Maybe only rubbish cups, but made from precious metals all the same. It took our bad run at the start of this season to remind me of the real Chelsea. My son is a fifth-generation Blues follower. My six-year-old granddaughter makes it six — she already knows the start of ‘Carefree’, but we stop at “CFC”, of course. My son has also inherited many family quirks and foibles. “Typical bloody Chelsea,” he has become accustomed to saying over breakfast.

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