Time for Trizia’s travels again. This time relive the Champion’s League match with the Gooners and find out just how good it was to be there. Be prepared for some juicy language as they don’t take to kindly to losing in their own back yard.
When the draw was made for the quarter finals of the Champions League, the disappointment was not just because I feared our record against Arsenal, but I also felt cheated out of a European tour. That was until Middleton suggested that we make it into a European tour. A bit of sightseeing, different drinking establishments, sampling the local traditional food etc. We just stopped short of booking a hotel – we thought that was taking things a bit far. We decided to meet at Tower Hill early to have a good mooch around the Tower of London, London Dungeons and Tower Bridge etc – that done, we adjourn to St Katharine’s Dock, to the Darwin Inn for the drinking to begin in earnest. It’s 11.30am and my first Bacardi tastes lovely. Fivers can’t take the day off work so is not joining us until much later, Maggie also is joining us later; Pete is going to join us at lunchtime, but may have to go back to work. Simon and Mike will meet us at Covent Garden later in the day. So the hardcore crew that are out for the duration are myself, Gatey, Trigger, Tom and Middleton.
Being early has its advantages as we grab a seat with a great view, over the dock. The water is peaceful and the boats bob up and down – the water is surrounded by multi-million pound flats, which one can only ever dream of owning. It’s hard to imagine that through the alley and up the stairs you are in a busy tourist trap. It’s quiet and peaceful here – easy to get to the bar, within easy reach of a number of restaurants and just a can ride from Covent Garden where we’ll be meeting the others later. The drinks are going down very well and we are covering all manner of topics of conversation which accompany a drinking session – including who sang “Please Don’t Go”, loud French children, to go or not to go on the pitch if we win, Dave Allan, and how many millions you’d have to win on the lottery to never have to work again.
There are three ducks in the water who seem involved in a “situation” – both the male ducks seem to want to shag the female duck – one is one the job but the other wants it to stop and keeps attacking the copulating couple. The “lucky” duck, in defending himself keeps ducking the female ducks head under the water – so in the end she’s has enough and is trying to get away, but her paramour hasn’t finished yet. You’d have thought this was a live real sex show, as the boys seem absolutely fascinated. This leads to the phrase of the day – “F**k a duck”.
True to his word, Pete makes a guest appearance at lunchtime – he stays well beyond the hour lunch break and looks in no fit state to return to be honest – but he has to show willing. There is food available in the pub, but we are on a European tour and so we need English food and the pub is offering pizzas. Although we are sorely tempted by “the Beast” pizza – which is £33, just for curiosities sake more than anything else.
Gatey’s has suggested lunch at the Chop House at Butler’s Wharf. Very civilised. Once here we order as traditional as we can – four of us go for the fish and chips and Middleton goes for the roast beef – marvellous. We wash this down with a variety of drinks – but unto himself, Middleton, once again asks for the wine list. He orders a very nice bottle of Champagne; he says that we are doing a Vialli; he reminds us of Vialli’s first game in charge – the Coca Cola Cup game, against Arsenal, where Vialli produced Champagne for all the players before they went out for the match. It worked then, it could work again. It’s lashing it down outside, but London is one of those cities that looks beautiful no matter what the weather – and it gives us all a reminder of how lucky we are to live where we do. It prompts Trig to say “I think this is going to be the best European trip yet”
As the waiter pours our golden fizz, I say “you know if we beat Arsenal now, we’ll have to have Champagne every time?” At hearing this our waiter pulls a face – we all shout out “GOONER!” and he is! He is giving us stick, and we are giving it back – he is saying that there is no way we will beat Arsenal and we are all talking about how confident we are. We tell him that we will be back if we win and he says that in that case we’ll never see each other again.
We are so full we can hardly walk – the champagne has kicked in on top of the Bacardi and I am feeling positively woozy. We decide to walk over Tower Bridge one more time and we are rewarded with the raising of the Bridge – accompanied by oohs and ahhhs of all the tourists.
Once over the Bridge we expertly hail a cab and all pile in with instructions to take us to Covent Garden. The mind is more focussed on the game now. The nerves are beginning to kick in but I am still inexplicably totally confident – not screaming confidence, but quiet, assured confidence. The others are feeling the same but feel its almost tempting fate by saying it out loud.
Maggie and Fivers are already at the White Lion when we get there, and so are a load of other Chelsea fans. The other fans are so drunk that they are discussing how likely it is that they will be let into the ground. This does not deter them from ordering another round of Stella as they ponder the situation. One has gone out and bought a tube of super glue and proceeds to glue a one pound coin to the ground outside in the street – that provides infinite entertainment for them as they watch office workers and tourists try and pick up their find. Cheering uproariously and banging on the windows, every time another is duped.
There is a group of some quieter supporters sat at the next table who ask to have a look at the paper – the back page informs us that Ranieri hasn’t been offered an additional year on his contract as had been the rumour the previous day. “It’s disgusting the way the club have treated him” says one of that lads “everyone wants him to stay”. I nod and try not to let the waves of anger wash over me as I think of the pressure Ranieri must be under and the sh*t he’s had to put up with in the press.
Fivers “Mr Methane” crown seems to have been usurped by Middleton – he lets out an odour so noxious that even Trigger (who usually sees these things as qualities to be proud of) runs for cover. Mike arrives and he gives me a look that also says that he is confident – slow grins spread over our faces. Simon arrives too – he’s had a long “business lunch” so he’s nearly had as many as us.
Les stumbles into the pub and his first words are “I’ve just vomited over my own arm”. Nice. Following this announcement he stumbles back out of the pub – he doesn’t even stay for a drink!
The alcohol has now well and truly taken hold of us all – Middleton’s head keeps nodding, Trig has gone into manic mode, aided no doubt by switching to vodka red-bulls, Tom has a glazed expression on his face, Gatey can’t physically drink any more beer and has moved onto shorts; as for me, my brief feeling very drunk stage has passed and I now feel as if I have drunk myself sober, going over all the various permutations of what lies ahead. There is a knot in my stomach and I actually think at one point that I am going to be sick. Middleton has let one go again, clearing the immediate vicinity and causing me to spray Jean Paul Gautier everywhere to try and disguise the smell – it has little effect. It’s six o’clock and everyone’s phones are going – “where are you?”, “what time you getting to Highbury?”, “what time did you start?”. There is a real buzz in the air now – my skin tingles with excitement, but I am also so sick with nerves that I just want the match to be over.
It’s twenty five past six and I think it’s time that we got going. The lads take it turns to go for a slash. Finally we are all ready and troupe out the pub – Middleton kindly leaves something to ensure that the rest of the Chelsea fans clear the pub and make the game on time too. A tube arrives almost immediately and we all pile on – I make my way to the opposite end of the carriage to Middleton – nothing personal but I am trying to be “out of range”. It seems quite ironic that many people are reading papers, which warn of a “dirty bomb campaign on the tube”. There are quite a few Gooners on the train – they don’t look as smug and confident as they usually do. The loss of their treble has caused the doubts to creep in, and they know full well that we have been written off, we are under-dogs, and the pressure is all on them. Despite being at the other end of the carriage, we are unfortunately still in range – what the feck could he have eaten to produce this revolting effect?
We arrive and we all pile out; unbelievably Middleton lets another one drop, leaving its mark in his wake. We hurry through the steep exit and out into the fresh air – there are hundreds of people about, but it is surprisingly calm and relatively quiet. We all walk to the Clock End – buying a program on the way. I take a deep breath and walk through.
Through the turnstile – I’m breathing really hard now – the nerves seem to have prevented air getting to my lungs. As I come down the stairs I see Rob – we chat, but I am so distracted that I can’t really focus on what he is saying. Familiar face after familiar face comes by with greetings and that “we can do it” look. Everyone seems to believe – I don’t think there has ever been this collective confidence when playing Arsenal before.
There is a cheer as half a dozen pirates come down the stairs – instantly recognisable as “John Terry’s Barmy Army”. Suddenly there is a chant of “Vialli, Vialli, VIALLI” which seems a bit of an odd thing to chant at this point – and then I see why! Vialli comes through the Chelsea supporters. He is dressed immaculately as always, his so familiar face split into an enormous smile. Everyone is slapping him on the back, or shakes his hand or something. Davie grasps him in a big bear hug, while Gatey shakes his hand – I tell him (in Italian) that I love him and he grins at me and says “thank you very much”. Seeing Vialli is the final omen I need to absolutely convince me that tonight is our night.
I can’t hang about outside anymore – I need to go to my seat and try and compose myself. I am in row 6, right near the front – near the corner flag. It’s a sh*t seat, but I can’t really complain too much as I know that I am lucky to be here – there are people that would hang from the rafters just to be here if they could. We are on an aisle and tantalisingly close to a break in the pitch barrier – easy access – only two stewards to negotiate, if the need should arise.
The boys are warming up in front of us – they look determined. It’s the same team as for the Tottenham game – I can’t see Ranieri, why isn’t he here for the warm up?
I look around the ground – I’ve been coming to Arsenal for so many years now that it’s become so familiar. It’s different tonight of course, because it is bedecked in the Champions League livery. The banner bearers are on, the Champions League music is playing in the background as the announcer reads out the teams over the PA. The tension is building and I try and imagine all those people who didn’t get a ticket, sat in front of their TV’s and for a moment I’m not sure if I’d rather be at home, so that if the unthinkable happens and we lose, I won’t have to listen to the crowing scum gooners. I reject this thought very quickly as we aren’t going to lose.
The Champions League music gets louder and louder and finally the teams run out to a crescendo of noise. I can’t cheer, or chant – my lips move but nothing comes out. Everyone is standing – they are screaming, fists punching the air, faces contorted in concentration. I feel so sick now that I feel the bile rising in my throat. I’m barely watching the game, I can’t bare to. I gage how we are doing by the reaction of those around me and the noise (if any) from the Arsenal supporters. I sneak a peak every now and again, but immediately look away when Arsenal attack, thinking I may be bringing bad luck. I stare mostly at the clock, which counts down from 45 – I will it to go faster, but the half seems to be lasting an age. Luckily, the rest of the Chelsea crowd have not been turned mute by the occasion and are singing their hearts out. I feel like a fraud – I am not watching, nor singing – I once again think of all those people who would have done anything for a ticket – and here am I, in here and not doing my duty. I look at the clock again, 59 seconds to go. I watch the clock count down to my left… nearly there….20, 19, 18, 17….yes, we are nearly there… 4, 3, 2, 1… there, done it. The clock turns to “AFC” and I look at my shoes waiting for the half time whistle… then it happens… they score… I can’t say anymore than that, because I didn’t see the goal, I just hear the groans around me and the Arsenal fans cheering and jeering at us. What I do see however, is the Arsenal team celebrating. As usual, they come right over to the opposition support and look us right in the eye, and aim their celebrations right at us – some fans don’t take too kindly to this and there is a scuffle – the police and stewards go running over. Some fans around me are rowing with the stewards – they’re furious.
It’s the same argument as always breaks out here – why are the Arsenal players permitted to goad the opposition supporters and get away with it, but if the supporters react, then they could be arrested. There is no point having this “discussion” with stewards, firstly, they don’t give a sh*t what we think, and secondly, what is some dead-eyed steward going to do and thirdly, most of them are Arsenal supporters so they probably think it’s fecking hilarious.
Some of the Chelsea fans have worked this out and by pass the monkeys and call over the organ grinder (police) – they don’t look that interested either. Seconds after Reyes scoring, the halftime whistle goes.
I know I should feel disappointed that we are a goal down, but I don’t. I actually feel calmer, like the goal was inevitable and now it is out the way, I can relax and get into the game and the players now know exactly what is expected of them. The fact that it’s usually us that score first then go on to lose, gives extra significance to the goal… as if this time it will be different – I know it will be different. In front of me the arguments with the stewards are still going on – the police are frog marching a Chelsea supporter out of the ground and they are replaying Reyes goal on the big screen – only now do Arsenal sing. The corporate w*nkers are all leaning out of their boxes – using sign language to tell us that the score is one nil – we use sign language to tell them that they are w*nkers. Half time flies by and the teams are running out for the second half. My nerves have gone now, I am supremely confident. Arms held aloft we all chant “CHELSEA CHELSEA CHELSEA”.
A few people around me are whinging because Parker, who had a good first half, has been replaced with Gronkjaer – although I agree that Parker had a good game, I am pleased to see Jesper on – I think we need the speed and the width. I hop from foot to foot because I am so nervous – the Chelsea boys have come out like tigers and are attacking in waves. We’ve not been playing long when Claude Makalele unleashes a vicious long range shot; Lehmann can’t keep hold of it……everything goes into s-l-o-w m-o-t-i-o-n…. Lampard… coming in……yes… yes… YES… OH F**KING HELL YEEEEEEEEEEEESSSSSSSSSSSSSSSS… it’s in the back of the net… the place goes f**king mental… I’m screaming and screaming… and rushing forward… and being shoved sideways… I am in the middle of Gatey, Middleton and Fivers and god knows who else… we half fall down… crashing into the seat in front… but it doesn’t matter… familiar faces swirl in front of me…grabbing me and kissing me… slapping me on the back… it’s mad… it feels like the longest goal celebration ever, but I don’t want to stop… eventually some semblance of normality returns. There is a copper standing in front of us, fist clenched, mouthing “yes, yes, yes” – Chelsea copper – quality!
The aftermath of the celebrations are now evident – there is one guy on the floor, unable to get up, guy next to Middleton has lost his glasses, we find them three rows down, I can feel the beginning of a massive bruise on my upper thigh and I have somehow been clouted at the temple. But it doesn’t matter we are now on level terms but as the last to score, we are in the ascendancy. Ranieri’s quote of them having to kill us comes to mind and it seems that that is in the head of all the players too. Arsenal are beginning to flag and their supporters know it. We are growing in confidence – we are passing the ball better, putting in tackles, getting the ball forward. We have a couple if chances, but so do they – Marco makes a couple of good saves. What he has done is beyond praise – to come from 4th in the pecking order and almost obscurity to playing in one of the most important games in Chelsea’s history and doing well, is just awesome and you’ve got to hand it to the guy.
I am watching the game but I am also keeping an eye on the clock. This half is flying by, but I know this game will not go into extra time and penalties; don’t ask me how I know, I just do. It’s just a matter of time until we score – it’s coming, I can feel it. I can’t stand still; I clench and unclench my fists, step from side to side and sing my heart out.
There are ten minutes left on the clock, but still I know we are going to win this in normal time. There is a flurry of substitutions, Duff for Cole, Hasselbaink for Crespo and Henry for Bergkamp. With five minutes to go Gudjohnson looks like he’s scored, only to see Ashley Cole put in a last ditch foot to clear. I tear my hair not believing we didn’t score. I hope that wasn’t our chance – I look at the clock – three minutes….come on Chelsea, come on Chelsea, COME ON CHELSEA.
Then just as I was beginning to doubt myself, Bridge picks up a return ball for Gudjohnson and shoots………..it hits the back of the net. PANDAMONIUM!!!
There is a roar so loud…so loud… it’s the outpouring of years of disappointment. Everyone surges forward, shouting, screaming, crying, laughing, fists clenched, I can’t see a thing as I am surrounded by a mass of bodies. Two goals – they need two fecking goals to win it! There is a surge to get on the pitch, but there are loads of stewards there now and police. I’m hugging anyone and everyone, the screaming and shouting does not subside it just goes on and on. Even the Chelsea copper is cheering….the roar becomes a chant…where’s your treble gone, WHERE’S YOUR TREBLE GONE, WHERE’S YOUR TREBLE GONE…..WE’LL TAKE THE LEAGUE AS WELL, WE’LL TAKE THE LEAGUE AS WELL….RANIERI’S BLUE AND WHITE ARMY, RANIERI’S BLUE AND WHITE ARMY….I disentangle myself from the mass of arms and legs and face the corporate boxes which look from my vantage point virtually empty now, save the odd one solitary Chelsea fan here and there “WHERE ARE YOU NOW YOU SMUG W*NKERS?”
The noise from the Chelsea end does not stop, chant after chant after chant – WE SHALL NOT, WE SHALL NOT BE MOVED… ONE TEAM IN EUROPE, THERE’S ONLY ONE TEAM IN EUROPE….WIN WHEN IT MATTERS, WE ONLY WIN WHEN IT MATTERS……WHO THE F**KING HELL ARE YOU…CHEERIO…CHEERIO….CHEERIO
It’s filtered through that Monaco have had an outstanding result themselves and overturned Madrid’s first leg advantage and have gone on to win so it’s a trip to the South of France.
The Arsenal fans are deserting the sinking ship that is Highbury – as they file out pockets of Chelsea fans are being revealed all around the ground – CHELSEA HERE, CHELSEA THERE, CHELSEA EVERY F**KING WHERE LA LA LA LA LA…..
Finally the whistle goes, the team charge towards us and we too try to get to them – everyone is hugging and kissing everyone. People who you have known by sight, but have never spoken to are hugging you like a long lost son or daughter. We salute the boys and they get as close as the police and stewards allow. We celebrate for ages, not wanting to leave the scene of our great triumph. In all their years of Champions League football, Arsenal have never been further in the competition that we are now. I am crying like a baby, and I am not ashamed. My mobile goes, it’s my sister saying that we are on TV – text message after text message from people who were not able to get tickets and supporters of other teams sending their congratulations.
Finally we begin to make our way out of the ground, held up again and again as we see people we know. There are people literally dancing in the streets, TV camera crews jostle to interview jubilant fans. The John Terry barmy army pirates are careering madly about – the Chelsea flag seller is doing great business as people run up and down the Arsenal streets waving their giant banners. Rob shoves me in front of a BBC camera crew and I give an emotional interview, one that I know I will regret later. We all start making our way towards the Lord Nelson – our usual after match boozer when we come here. There are only Chelsea supporters on the streets – all laughing, singing, drinking, dancing.
There are lots of Arsenal fans stuck in the traffic in their cars, I do not even look at them – I know they are smug bast*rds and would rub our noses in it, but I can’t bring myself to do that – we’re better than that. We finally get to the pub and all pile in. It’s full of people nearly all Chelsea and everyone is singing and talking at once; some people are on the phones getting friends and families to book them flights to Nice. I finally sit down, I am emotionally drained – I sit there shaking my head, not believing what has happened. Mark and Cas who are friends of Gatey’s walk in, stating that they thought he might be here. Mark is a half hearted gooner, doesn’t go to many of their games, but they’re his team. The DJ is playing Rick Astley and we’re sitting in a pub down the Holloway Rd, drinking pints of Baileys, having just beaten Arsenal to go into the semi-final of the Champions League – it’s so surreal.
Round follows round follows round until most of us are talking absolute b*llocks. A few of our lot leave at some point in the evening, until it’s myself, Gatey, Fivers, Simon, and Rob. It’s well gone 11pm and there are only a few other people in the pub – there’s no more than 15 people in there. For some reason my eye gets drawn to something outside. There is a considerable mob of blokes outside – about 35 – the pub is on a corner – the guys spread out and surround the place – they look as though they are just about to put the windows in when a police van screeches to a halt outside. The guys re-group and rather than walking away come in to the pub. The atmosphere in the pub shifts immediately. Three police come in with them, and effectively stand between us and the Arsenal firm. One has gone up to Tax, he’s holding an empty bottle – he leans across and says something to Mark, who tells the guy that he is a gooner. This seems to throw the guy who rejoins the rest of the mob at the bar. Another goon points to Rob, who is wearing colours, and tells him that he is first. This seems to throw the guy who rejoins the rest of the mob at the bar. One of the police officers comes over and asks who I am with – I explain. He tells me that it might be an idea to gather everyone together and leave now. I begin to do this. Gatey is speaking to one of the other coppers who says to him that they will stay as long as we do – which is fair play to them. However we are heavily outnumbered, we’re on their manor, we’re gonna have to leave at some point, it might as well be now. We gather our things and make for the door – 35 pairs of malevolent eyes following our every move.
There are more police outside, one of them tells Rob to do up his jacket – Rob starts arguing – there is no point – Gatey reiterates the coppers advice and Rob does it, under protest. He’s fuming – one win in god knows how long and they can’t take it – he storms. As we walk down the road we look back to see the rest of the Chelsea fans leaving the pub too. Fivers and Rob decide to call it a night and make their way towards the tube. Gatey, Simon and myself hail a cab and make our way West to join some friends who are in an all night Spanish bar. We re-count our close shave and one of the lads quite rightly says, that if the tables had been turned, important game at Stamford Bridge and they had won and taken over one of our pubs, taking the p*ss singing and dancing, I imagine some of our boys would have put the windows through. Football may have changed, but some things won’t.
The Spanish bar is one of those that you wouldn’t find by accident – it’s just an anonymous door in a back street – but the vibe is good and the Northern Soul music being played just compliments the great mood we are all in. It’s 2am now and we are all a bit peckish, so we go further up the road to another Spanish place – where we order tapas and more drink. We lose track of time and we just go round and round everything again and again, as drunken people are prone to do. Finally we cannot eat or drink and more and decide its time to hail a cab.
It’s just before 4am when we finally turn the key in the lock, the buzz of the win still evident. It’s been an emotional day, and I am tired, but I still stick on Sky Sports News on to see if we’re on it.
We’ve beaten Arsenal – we’ve beaten them in a game they were desperate to win. Anything is possible now… their treble and now their double has gone… I am grinning like a lunatic… I lie in bed reliving the celebrations after the goals… I make a mental note to get up and buy all the newspapers in the morning… I close my eyes and await the jubilant dreams… thank you Claudio… thank you my lovely blue boys…