In an extract from the very first issue of our magazine, Mr Fendle’s father makes a Spiritual Return to Stamford Bridge.
In my deep and considerably murky past there is a memory, one of the few yet to be erased by gallons of draught cider and (probably) millions of hand-rolled cigarettes. In this somewhat cloudy memory, I am being lifted bodily above rows of men shouting at a football pitch with the occasional “go on son, get down the front there”. This was indeed me, as a child, having been taken to my first football match at Stamford Bridge by my father. It would have been something like thirty-five years ago now, maybe more, and I’m known for not having the best of memories so there’ll be no waxing lyrical about the score or, indeed, the players of the day. But I do remember a couple of things about that day: how green the pitch was, and how much I wanted to go back there as soon as possible. It wasn’t even the football; I can’t remember a single thing about the football I watched as a child of eight or nine, I just wanted to be there – to hear that noise and feel the emotions of what was, back in those days, probably a crowd of something considerably more than the thirtyodd thousand that we get now.
I really miss that sort of atmosphere at football. Anyone who went to matches way back then will tell you it’s not the same these days, simply because it can’t be. Gone are the terrifying but ultimately exhilarating moments when we score and you are swept forward down the terrace, and gone is the sheer number of people who used to attend matches back then, all in the name of safety.
I’m pleased to say that some things don’t change: the camaraderie is still there, like the nods and smiles on the tube and the playful banter with folks who’d rather be going to the match but end up going shopping with their families. And then there are the odd looks from the few who still associate football fans with mindless thuggery. All of this goes to make up the experience of going to a football match on a Saturday afternoon.
Thus it was this weekend, when I took my father back to Stamford Bridge for the first time in more years then he can remember. It is him I have to thank for my love of all things Chelsea Football Club, he who is to blame for what occasionally borders on obsession (according to family and friends). And I do thank him, because there is something special about Chelsea fans. We’ve lived through the worst times in support of our club: through debt, despair, despondency and relegation we’ve stuck by the club, and although my old man, in his dotage, is not an avid supporter of the club as I am, he follows Chelsea when he can and loves to chat about them. So I asked him a few months ago if he fancied going back. He chose to watch us play Newcastle, and I honestly don’t think he could have picked a better game. By modern day standards, the atmosphere was awesome: the ground was filled more than at any other time this season, and we stuffed the Geordies in a display of football excellence both on the pitch and from the touchline. We had beer, we had dodgy burgers and we had the crack. And here’s the lyrical part: there was a young lad sat in front of my father. He noticed my dad was on sticks, but every time we got close to goal and the rest of us were jumping up and down, this lad moved to one side so my dad could see what was going on. My father never missed a single goal from his sitting position. So, tell me, does it get any better than that? Maybe it does.
There has been a sea change of late at Chelsea Football Club. Whatever people may say about how much money we’ve spent to buy the title – the very title we haven’t won yet, but the same title the red tops are confidently predicting we must win – there is not enough money in the world to buy what I saw on Saturday. I saw a Chelsea team with more team spirit than I can remember, I saw a team with considerably more patience and determination than I can remember, and after many, many years I have a feeling of confidence that we will win something, and damn soon too. It’s been two seasons since I went to Stamford Bridge and watched us lose, and such is the level of my confidence at the moment, I feel if they continue in the same vein it could be a while before I see it happen again. But the best part of Saturday for me was to be once again touched by the camaraderie and atmosphere that got me hooked in the first place.
I don’t actually even remember if that game in my distant memory was the first match my father took me to, but it doesn’t matter. The affair started then and continues now, long after many women and several billion brain cells have since passed. I would dearly love to pass on my love of Chelsea Football Club to my son, but sadly I must have gone wrong somewhere, as he supports Arsenal. I don’t hold it against him, though: I intend, with some help from my brother-in-law, to employ some Rob Hobson style tactics and use the two-pronged responsible parenting approach of ritual humiliation and taunting. Come the summer, however, I have a feeling that there may be three generations of the Fendle dynasty at Stamford Bridge one day, watching Chelsea, drinking beer, eating revolting burgers and having the crack. I do hope so. Wish me luck. Better still, take someone you care about to a match, and do it soon. It makes the whole experience all the more worthwhile. Carefree!