TO SWEDEN … AND BEYOND …
During the summer John Neal had been appointed manager, it appeared that he had the right qualities to rejuvenate our great club. First division – here we come, but first Sweden.
I had a lot of personal concern about the tour in Sweden; I had only been outside the UK once before in my life; a day-trip to France with my school in 1977. I wrote to Chelsea to ask for more information about the Swedish trip, I asked for details of the teams we would play, and requested information about hotels and train timetables but received just a simple list of the teams we would be playing, towns, dates and kick-off times. I had to do a bit of detective work to suss things out and be as prepared as possible. My quest took me from the Swedish Tourist Office in the West End through British Rail information offices and finally to the Transalpino Office near Buckingham Palace. The Swedish hotel book listed no hotels under “Vasteras” and I began to wonder just where I was heading for. By chance this book later fell open a few pages ahead of where I had looked. There I discovered a place called Västerås. Those all important blips over the “a”s actually form the 27th and 28th letters in the Swedish alphabet and Chelsea’s ignorance of this fact caused me a lot of headaches as Vä… comes after Vu…. I booked a hotel and waited and waited for Sunday the 9th of August and my departure from Harwich. I travelled the cheapest way that I deemed to be safe, by train via Holland, Germany and Denmark on a Transalpino ticket. I thought a few fans might make the trip and was happy to meet 3 more at Liverpool Street on the train to Harwich. By chance we had all been given tickets for the same compartment on the train in Holland. When we got to Copenhagen we found another guy on his way and a few hours later the five of us stood on the open deck of the boat as we neared Sweden. My now, my tomorrow, my forever, my love, my life appeared on the horizon.
Few days can have been more significant in my life than this first day in Sweden, Tuesday the 11th August 1981. The day of Chelsea’s match against IFK Västerås, within seven years I was to emigrate to Västerås. I took some photos that came out quite well at that match and on return to England I was asked for some copies. With this I developed an interest for photography which was to result in my purchasing a proper camera. I subsequently took photos at every away ground during 81-82 and sold thousands of copies to other fans. Up to this tour I had minded my own business at Chelsea, gone away on the specials and not really got to know anyone. On return to England I recognised a few people I had met in Sweden and began to socialise with them and their friends. By the end of the season thousands of Chelsea fans would know who I was.
After a 40-hour journey we arrived in the Stockholm and the other 4 went off to find breakfast, I took the train to Västerås and arrived at 10.00. My hotel was at the other end of the main street through the town so I decided to walk it. The town had been taken over, there were Chelsea fans everywhere; union jacks hung out of windows and small groups were walking round in Chelsea shirts drinking duty-frees. I struggled with my suitcase and a Swedish man with a bicycle stopped to help me; he balanced my case on the back of his bike and walked with me up to the hotel. The hotel was called the Vasa, I find irony in the fact that 16 years later I am now the race organiser of the Swedish Cycling event “The Vasa Bike ride”. Pre-destiny? Coincidence? Codswollop?
John Neal was leading a training session at the country retreat where the team was staying. As the first of a hundred Chelsea came in to sight on the crest of an overlooking hill he glanced up. He gasped in astonishment when he realised how many had turned up and that they were nearly all from London. Chelsea support really is unique.
So much happened on this tour that I could fill a book with my memories so I’ll be as brief as possible. We lost the first match 1-0 and this was the first time we saw the “le coq sportif” strip, the cockerel did not go down well with us. The following night we finally scored that goal that had eluded us at the end of the previous season when we beat Flen 2-0. A Chelsea fan had taken a Wally Whyton tape on holiday with him and played it at this match. One song in particular had us in stitches; we even made up an arm movement to it. The song was “One man went to mow” and this was the first time it was ever sung at a football match. Period. From this auspicious beginning this song was to grow into Chelsea’s anthem, spreading as it did from small group to small group on our return to England. Within 2 years tens of thousands of fans would be singing that song and doing the arm movement. One of the best displays of this was at Wolves in Jan. 83 when about 8000 of us sung this song repeatedly complete with arm movement. Since then the arm movement has all but vanished. For the record, each time we got to “and his dog” we would hesitate, stick out our right elbows at 90°deg; and shout “and Spot!” before starting the next verse.
After the match against Flen I decided to stick with a group of Chelsea back through the town. A drunken Swedish guy followed us and kept pestering a few of the Chelsea, he wanted their union jack socks. After a while he started grovelling at feet trying to remove socks from people’s feet. He was warned off and threatened but kept on coming back, I shouted at him to go away for his own good and he decided he wanted my Chelsea sweatbands that I had just bought. To this day I don’t know who hit him, there were some more friendly Swedes with us and it may have been one of them, but anyway, this drunk was walking away holding his nose the last time I saw him. Then the group of Chelsea that I was with went into a hotel bar instead of the train station. There I learned that no-one intended going back to Västerås that night. Chelsea’s program had said “4 matches in the Vasteras area”, that was a sign to me to book the hotel in Västerås which is what I had done.
To the others who were more accustomed to travelling abroad they could just go to the town where each match was, drink it and slum it. I knew there was a late train back to Västerås so I left the hotel but a group of nasty looking locals were buzzing around in cars and on motorbikes. The guy who been hit had been to get his mates. I started walking but a branch of a tree was thrown at me from a car window so I ran back to the hotel. I ordered a taxi and waited just inside the hotel lobby, when I saw the taxi I ran and jumped into it. I got back to the station and made the train, I found a few Chelsea there who were heading back for Västerås and a few Swedes that liked various English football teams. Swedes have had live English football on TV throughout the winters since the sixties and this particular group was interesting. They raised some good points and were obviously football literate, I was asked about my various exploits at Chelsea. This was not just idle chitchat to pass the time, on that train journey back to Västerås I was made to feel important, like my opinions really mattered. This was the start of something for me, these were the first friendships I formed in Sweden; 16 years on, some of those very same Swedes are my best mates.
One fact I learned here was that these Swedes had known about this Chelsea trip since mid-March, Geoff Hurst had even been over to arrange it. Sammy Chung, the ex-Wolves guru and Chris Garland the ex-Chelsea player both lived out there due to their commitments to the other team in Västerås (VSK), and because of this it had become customary for an English team to visit every year. You may remember that we were not told about it until the last match of the season, that was 2 months after Chelsea knew, again this made it difficult for some people to arrange the time needed off of work.
The day after I went to see Chelsea training and met the Swedes again. Colin Lee had been singed from Spurs in the spring; always a suspect move and it didn’t help his cause when we spotted him in Tottenham shorts at that training session!
Johnny Bumstead and Ian Briton laughed about the fight I mentioned, I heard one of them say, “there was a knuckle last night, just like ‘ome aint it”. The players rented 2-man canoes in the afternoon and paired up. I thought it looked a bit silly putting Mickey Droy and Graham Wilkins together…and sure enough within seconds of hitting the water they had capsized backwards. Teamwork !
The next day we lost 1-0 against BK Forward in Örebro. Luckily I was by now friends with these Swedes and because I was one of the few Chelsea who was staying in Västerås I was offered a lift to Örebro. I say luckily, because there was no night train back to Västerås, nice going Chelsea! Thanks for looking after us again! After the match our friends drove us back to Västerås and invited us in for tea and biscuits. These young fans had built shrines to their favourite English teams in their Swedish houses; I saw more Chelsea crests and kits than I could recall. These people were so friendly; this was like Utopia, compared to what I was used to. All those police escort marches between football stadia and train stations, all those people who spat at you, called you names, threw bricks and bottles at you, that was all so far away now. We had come here to see the football but we were seeing more with our hearts than our eyes. I was getting my first taste of Swedish hospitality.
On the Sunday I met the now famous (if you have read all of my write-up) Harri Hemmi and his girlfriend and learnt that they often came over to England to see Chelsea play. Harri and I are friends to this day; he helps run the Swedish Chelsea supporters club and usually manages two trips a season over to England. He has even been over in July to stay in Winchelsea, Surrey; you can guess why he went there.
On the Monday we lost to Hofors 2-1. These were very low standard Swedish teams, none of them, with the possible exception of IFK Västerås would have been able to hold their own in the English Division 4.
But for these players, a game against Chelsea was the highlight of a part-time footballing career. I doubt any of the players of the opposing teams have ever forgotten their game.
I stayed on one extra day to do some sightseeing in Stockholm, one of the most beautiful cities in Europe. As I left on that Tuesday night I knew I had not seen the last of Sweden, the tour had been so enjoyable, Chelsea just had to come back!
On return to England I went to the friendly at Exeter, we won 1-0, Droy. After this match we had to wait about 5 hours for the night train back to Paddington. I walked back towards the train station, and I was in a dark alley when two locals asked me the time. I did not think that Exeter would be looking to cause any trouble with Chelsea and I almost replied to this simple request. I noticed the clock tower just before I opened my mouth, if they really wanted to know the time they would have looked up at this. They just wanted to hear me speak, my accent would have given me away, so I ran for it. With the advantage of my surprise headstart on them I made it back to the train station without even stopping to check if I was being chased. There were a few Chelsea there but most had gone off in to the town to get a drink. About 1.30 there was an awful commotion. The locals in a club had decided to have a go at the Chelsea, the bouncers and the police had all had a go at our lot. Chelsea were now arriving at the train station covered in blood, teeth missing, blood pouring out of facial cuts. This had been a deliberate unprovoked attack on our supporters, one of the worst episodes of soccer violence I have ever heard about. But because it happened a) to us, b) at a friendly, and c) hours after the match: nothing was ever heard about this again. On the journey to Exeter I talked to some of the Chelsea I had met in Sweden, in particular they were interested in my photos. Several people asked me to get copies made. This was the start of something.
Produced with permission of the author of the Missing Link website. More tomorrow … My final whistle