Sunday, 19 February 2012
Made in Chelsea
We drove through the early morning mist at cold dawn towards the train station surrounded by trees. Today, Solihull an empty desert of fog and affluent houses, the infinite driveways stretching onto the abandoned roads. Too early for the commuters, even too early for the birds. Silence echoed through the byways save for our car radio muttering out 'Fisherman's Blues' on TalkSport.
We entered into the vicinity of the station surrounded by the trees and pulled up alongside the entrance. I bid the driver farewell and wandered out of the car wearing my coat [laden with the day's essentials plus two unwanted jammy wagon-wheels, vile inventions, but forced upon me by an over-bearer].
As I left the car I immediately noticed before me, swamping the entrance, a motley crew. I knew they were the football hooligans from matches in the past.
They stood in immeasurable sub-groups of threes and fours stinking of beer and spirits. They filled the air with smoke, cackling and swaying back and forth. Huge Afro-Caribbean men intersecting Caucasian types, the latter with whiskey-wrinkled browned leather faces, some tattooed but most well worn to the world. They would break into song now and then about their lovers and the sins from the good book. They were the pirates of the 21st century. All eyed me with suspicion but soon deduced I was no threat and went back to their drinking and such like. I met my entourage and we progressed towards the platform.
More pirate hooligans up here so we scuffled down to the lower end hoping our efforts would secure us a seat on the train to that London where the Queen lives.
Alas, not to be. For our carriage was not full of football fans, there were some ok, but most in our compartment were middle class families. Bespectacled women in lime coloured jumpers analysing the Daily Mail as their plump,red-cheeked children played gameboys in obedient silence. We'd have to stand, and we did, by the doors.
At the next station a posh frog-man hopped onto the train ushering his family on board. They had to stand too. The frog man slowly turned to us, stared, then edged forward with his half-closed eyes and his droopy lips.
'For the rugby are we?'
'Naah. Goin' to watch Chelsea v Blues, erm...' we replied.
'And what's that in aid of?' enquired the frog-man.
'The FA cup. That's why the train is so rammed for the most part.'
'And the time you're likely to catch the train back? So I know to avoid it?' blankly requested the frog-man.
The train powered through the early morning fog all the way to that London. The entourage and I chatted about all the things a group of lads in their 20s might chat about, and the frog-man watched on with interest, occasionally interjecting with a conversational cul-de-sac, but his input was always accommodated.
We screeched into that London and the doors opened. The frog-man and his family hopped out, he said no words more to us. I suppose we were fixings of the journey to the frog-man, nothing more than traffic cones or cats eyes, an unavoidable part of travel but with grating accents.
We strayed out from Marylebone station like bewildered cavemen, knowing that we had to go somewhere but with 3 hours before we were due in Stamford Bridge, where?
In front of us were the never-ending labyrinthine roads of the London maze. Left, then right, saw a cafe. Wandered in. A young French woman behind the counter smiled at us with her greasy face, I don't say that as a racial slur against continentals I stress, she just had a few spots and her face shined quite a bit.
She offered to cook us scrambled eggs on toast, we agreed to her machinations. We duly put away the eggs, toast and tea and paid grease-face and once again wandered out into the maze.
At Edgeware road we descended into the cavern-like tube station and made our way for Fulham Broadway, it took 15 mins before we emerged to the surface once more.
It's a strange place is that London, I'd been there before and been hit with the same emotions. The cumulative effect of millions of busy streets, limited bits of grass, the sun blocked out by the innumerable buildings competing for space, the need to go underground into the darkness to get from place to place creates a sort of 'trapped' and 'enclosed' emotion in the outsider. A bit like when you're in a lift. I'm not sure why because the place is massive, but it does feel like everything's on top of you.
At Fulham Broadway we emerged amidst swarms of Cockneys. Cockneys to the left, Cockneys to the right. Chimney sweeps waving match day fanzines around, 'aaaanly a paaand' they shouted.
The Chelsea fans were weird. A strange mix. All around gangs of Russians cockily strutted up and down the streets chattering away in an incomprehensible language. You had the expected lashings of Japanese/American/Irish tourists, but the Cockneys themselves were divided. Half were as West Ham fans, orcish, ugly, proper chavy and probably racist. The other half looked very posh. Young lads and girls with the glowing gold middle class skin, the tans they get from skiing, rolling fags as they glide past you in their trench coats and bed hair. Suave shites.
We tried to enter a few local pubs but were stopped by plump Chelsea door guards in blue bobble hats asking to see our 'fakin season tickets'. They were home fans only bars. With 45 mins till kick off we opted for drinking in the ground.
Another weird thing about Chelsea apart from the people was the vibe to the place. It didn't feel like a football ground, it felt like a purpose made, slightly tacky, slightly plastic, entertainment complex - like a Star City but with less knife crime. There were some American diner called 'Frankies', a Marco Pierre White restaurant built into the side of the ground and a hotel. We were told we could drink in the hotel bar.
Wags, journalists, Chelsea fans surrounded us at the bar. Pints of Singh for a fiver. What the hell's Singh? We took our drinks and stood to one side. Two Blues fans wobbled into the bar, a couple in their 60s, both obese, both in replica shirts. They looked like the bozos the Sky cameras seem to pick out when filming the crowd and you think 'oh god, that's dropped our street cred'. Then a posh man in a suit, with an ear-piece, came over and gave us the official team sheets for the game. He looked like Jason Cundy's less successful brother. Which is a terrible slur to throw at even the worst of your enemies.
We got to our seats in the ground with 10 mins to spare. I danced with child-like glee to the Liquidator. Fifteen years ago I'd gone to my first away game with my dad and his cousin at the Hawthorns to see us beat West Brom 3-0 and the Liquidator provided the soundtrack to that day too. Fuck off West Brom, you're shit! do do do do do do do do do do. Fuck off West Brom, you're shit!
Blues kicked off. I'd predicted 4-0 to Chelsea before the game. 5 mins passed it was still 0-0, 10 mins passed still a stalemate, 15 still good, 20....we scored. What the hell? That wasn't supposed to happen. Not only were we Championship and they top 4, but this patched up Blues side was half reserve.
We all erupted in delight and danced and fell over each other. The chanting, though it was non-stop anyway, took on extra vigour. All the usual pro-Blues, pro-Hughton love songs, how shit must you be we're winning away, sacked in the morning, jose mourinho, 1-0 to the Championship, couple of anti-McLeish chants as maybe he watched on through his tv.
They sent out Drogba to warm up. 'Zambia! Zambia!' chanted the Blues fans pointing at Drogba not 6 foot away. The sadness of Ivory Coast's defeat to Zambia still in the man's mind. Then they sent super Fwank out to warm up in front of the Birmingham fans... 'Adrian Chiles shagged your bird!' Fwank in his defence laughed it off, and thrusted his midriff to and fro in a sexual manner to play with the abuse. Given that man's mooted weight, he probably resembled a lava lamp to the closer eye.
Blues as Yellows on the pitch were a class act. The defence were giants. Doyle saved a penalty. The midfield kept the ball, Mutch and Fahey every bit Iniesta and Xavi. Rooney worked upfront, but was pretty anonymous. I'm not the man's biggest fan.
The 2nd half started after a half-time break where Bryan Adams' 'Summer of 69' had been caught on loop driving all to insanity, like if hell was Reflex. And Chelsea intensified their pressure on us. But we stood strong for the most part. One momentary lapse in concentration from Ibanez allowed Sturridge in to score against his own city, traitor, and Chelsea were back on level terms.
Ultimately though, that was Chelsea's last meaningful attack, and Blues brought some reinforcements on and went for the winner. Mutch danced through the Chelsea defence and was scythed down, going close with the resulting freekick before Jake Jervis played Redmond in for a one-on-one of sorts in the last minute which he fluffed into Cech's hands.
The game ended, a replay awaits.
Left the ground and got caught up in the river of people cascading down towards the tube station. Forget that. We opted to go upstream and find a bar to wait it out. The King's Arms on the Fulham road provided a refuge, though nobody opted to buy the £1.25 Quavers.
A few more bars, some fun and extra drinks later we ended up in Piccadilly Circus where I saw a homeless man forlorn, strewn on the side of the way. The Cockneys shuffled past. I had no money to give him, but I did have those vile jammy wagon-wheels. I placed them in his hands, He thanked me and nodded.
To Marylebone station and we ran for the last train to Solihull, to God's promise land. Shattered and beleaguered, we zombies lay on the journey back. A scouser at a table nearby occasionally struck up football conversation. As a concept I dislike the scousers, but every time I've met one in real life we've got on famously. This guy was friendly enough. He was a chef apparently and had come down to London on a birthday treat to a famous Italian restaurant with his Arabic, Manc, girlfriend.
I got back to the station surrounded by the trees and bid the entourage farewell then walked home. The sky was full of stars, i picked out a few constellations thanks to Brian Cox's influence on me of late. I got home and went to bed. It had been a great day in that London, and it had triggered something within me.
When's the West Ham game?