Chelsea v Swansea
Stamford Bridge / Premier League / 13th September 2014
King Power Stadium, Turf Moor, Etihad Stadium, Emirates Stadium, Anfield, Villa Park, Stadium of Light, Britannia Stadium, White Hart Lane, Old Trafford, Loftus Road, St. Mary’s, St. James’ Park, Goodison Park, Upton Park, The Hawthorns, Selhurst Park and KC Stadium – I had been in the away end to watch Swansea in all of the above. Plus, throw in the fact that I’ve obviously been to the Liberty countless times and I could proudly say that I had visited every ground in the Premier League. Apart from one. For years, Stamford Bridge has proved elusive to me. A combination of Swansea travelling there midweek, on an awkward Sunday afternoon and then on Boxing Day last year has halted me visiting Stamford Bridge, but finally, in Swansea’s fourth year in the Premier League, I had myself a ticket for Chelsea v Swansea at the Bridge. The fixture also had the added spice of Swansea and Chelsea sharing top spot in the Premier League after both teams claimed 3 wins from their opening 3 games.
Swansea City have got into the habit recently of putting tickets on sale long in advance of the actual fixture, so I had my ticket for the game in late July and so I decided to book train tickets from Manchester to London during the summer months whilst they were cheaper. By the Thursday night before the game in September, I had forgotten what time train I had actually booked, so I was horrified to find that the Matt Harrison from July thought it’d be funny to book the cheapest and earliest train from Manchester – at 6.10am! The Matt Harrison of September, who had just endured two busy weeks back in work following his 6 week Summer holidays, cursed the Matt Harrison from July profusely for booking train tickets at such a time. Anyway, enough of moaning, I had a football match to get to.
I stood out like a sore thumb on the early train as the 6.10 train was largely frequented by Manchester City fans en route to their early kick-off at the Emirates Stadium; they all seemed to like my ‘SIGURDSSON 23’ shirt – I’m guessing as the Icelander had scored the winner for Swansea at Old Trafford just a month before. Just a guess.
Thanks to the joys of Richard Branson’s fast trains I was in London by 8.30am and soon navigating the underground from Euston to Earls Court – the area where most Swansea fans were gathering for today’s game. Still, even after hopping from one train to another on the London Underground, I was still walking out of Earls Court station at not long after 9am, meaning it was still a bit too early to hit the pubs. To kill the time, I had a bit of a wander of the area (not too much going on away from the high street) before I eventually adopted the Paddy McGuinness philosophy to life: “To Greggs!”
After topping myself up with a Greggs breakfast meal deal, bacon and sausage roll and coffee for £2, I decided that it was time to get off the caffeine and onto the beer. However, as I have learned on previous trips to London, they do not like selling alcohol in the capital until after 11am; a scheme that is not very Welshman-friendly at all. Having been turned away from two pubs who would only serve me orange juice as it was still ‘breakfast time’, I eventually found sanctuary in the Earls Court Tavern where I was greeted with the joyous sight of old men at the bar with pints of ale in their hand. I had found beer before 11am in London.
As I enjoyed my beer in the pub, I started to receive word that the rest of my Jack pals were slowly rolling into town and so on receiving a text from Huw, I headed up the high street to the Blackbird.
I found another gentleman roaming the streets of London by himself in a Swansea shirt and so, being the gregarious chap that I am, I told him to come along too. It seemed we were the first Swansea fans in the Blackbird as we were greeted by glares from the several Chelsea shirt-clad men already frequenting the pub. Fortunately, we were soon joined by the rest of the gang and so the glances of the Chelsea fans soon turned away.
By midday, the pub was filling up and I was soon joined by my uni pals ‘Toby’ (his name is actually Liam, but it’s a long story) and my former housemate Sean – Cardiff City supporting Sean; well, I should probably say ‘ currently disenchanted with Cardiff City’ Sean. Fortunately, I had warned my Swansea friends beforehand and nobody seemed to want to hit him or anything. In fact, we were all too busy talking about the premiere of Jack to a King – the film documenting Swansea’s rise from the bottom of Division Three to the Premier League, which had premiered in Leicester Square the night before. Sadly, I’m still yet to see it, but every Swans fan I have spoken to so far who has seen it seems to have loved it.
I then got the opportunity to look awesome in front of my mates, as one man tapped me on the shoulder and asked was I that guy that did that blog about the grounds. Guilty. It did make me look semi-impressive and a bit like a Z-list celebrity in front of my mates though, so cheers to the Lost Boyos fan who approached me in the pub if you are reading this.
Also joining us today were another three of my former uni mates who are now London-based: Ginger Rob, Alex and Jon – and so the afternoon was slowly transforming into one big, happy Swansea University reunion. The aforementioned trio were also joining me at the game, although Jon was the only Swans fan of the three with Rob being a Forest fan and Alex a United fan.
The pub was brimming with both Swans and Blues fans and the atmosphere in the Blackbird was a jovial one. Plus, the atmosphere gave me the perfect opportunity to record some stuff for our Swansea podcast The JackCast (the link to the audio recording of my day at Chelsea can be found at the bottom of this blog – like an ‘audio Lost Boyos’, but with more Swansea talk) .With quite a few San Miguels sunk, I rounded up Jon, Alex and Rob and decided to head onwards to the Bridge to get some prematch photos and drinks.
Beforehand, I had no idea you could even walk to the ground from Earls Court, but the lads insisted that it was a 20-25 minute walk so onwards we went through the streets of West London, until eventually we seemed to meet up with a small sea of blue shirts heading in one direction. For a ground that holds 40,000+, I was surprised that I couldn’t see the place and even when we turned the corner and were greeted with the sign “Welcome to Chelsea FC” I still struggled to make out the stadium. This was largely because the side we had approached was the side with the massive hotel, Chelsea Village, obstructing the view of the stadium proper. Eventually, I made out some sort of football stadium lurking behind Chelsea Village and soon we found the tunnel labelled “Under The Bridge” adjacent to the entrance to the away end.
In a classy touch by Chelsea FC, we were even greeted in the away end by signs with the words to our adopted club anthem Hymns and Arias. More to be my self-indulgent liking, as we strolled through the away end, a few other Jacks recognised me – with one asking am I ” that lad that does that website with all the thumbs up”, whilst another lad enquired if I was the lad that hosted the The JackCast (the answer to both is ‘yes’). Z-list Swansea fame is getting nearer and nearer for me.
Stamford Bridge sprung up in Waltham Green in 1876 and was opened year later, originally used by London Athletic Club. The ground was largely used purely as a venue for Athletics, until the Mears brothers, Gus and Joseph, bought the ground in a bid to bring professional football to the venue and to create a club to rival nearby Fulham. To help them fulfil their vision, the Mears appointed iconic football stadium architect Archibald Leitch to design a ground fit for football. Stamford Bridge was virtually rebuilt in 1905 with the new look stadium consisting of one covered stand and a vast terrace curving around the other three sides of the stadium. Stamford Bridge could then hold 100,000 spectators and was the 2nd largest in England, behind Crystal Palace’s home, at the time.
The ground remained virtually unchanged apart from some changes to the terracing in the 30s and the building of more seated areas in the 1960s. However, like many grounds up and down the country, the most significant renovations to the Bridge would come throughout the 90s and post-Taylor Report. The ground was virtually rebuilt with the running track around the pitch also finally disappearing.
The ground is actually owned by the ‘Chelsea Pitch Owners’ – a supporters group put together to buy the ground and even the name of ‘Chelsea FC’ in 1997. This ownership has actually hindered Roman Abramovich’s plans to potentially relocate Chelsea FC, as there is little space to expand the current stadium and any relocation of Chelsea FC would mean that they would no longer actually be allowed to be called ‘Chelsea FC’ – a condition stipulated in their charter. However, the CPO can agree to lend the name back to the club if the majority vote in favour of a departure from the Bridge.
After a bit of singing, dancing and drinking was finished on the concourse, I headed to my seat which I found 4 rows from the front. Despite not being a breathtaking sight, especially compared to the new build grounds in the Premier League, there was still plenty to marvel at within Stamford Bridge. As referenced earlier when I couldn’t spot the ground, for a 40,000+ seater stadium, the Bridge is definitely a compact ground. Today, us Swansea fans were placed in the upper tier and lower tier (where I was) of the Shed End behind the goal (interestingly, underneath the penalty spot on this side of the pitch are the ashes of Chelsea legend Peter Osgood). To the left of the away end is the hugely impressive three-tiered West Stand, complete with a row of executive boxes across the middle of it. In the stand directly to my right and the stand which I was practically sitting alongside was the East Stand – a large steep-looking stand – and behind the other goals stands the Matthew Harding Stand (named after the former businessman who pumped a lot of money into the club during their financial crisis in the 1990s). This stand is also draped in the famous ‘JT: CAPTAIN, LEADER, LEGEND’ banner in ode to everyone’s favourite centre back, John Terry.
As mentioned previously, Chelsea and Swansea found themselves joint top of the league as the game kicked off with Chelsea technically gracing the top spot proper thanks to their better goal difference. Looking at the Chelsea line-up, which featured names such as Diego Costa, Cesc Fabregas and a personal favourite of mine, Nemanja Matic, it was hard to see a Swans win being on the cards, yet all day there had been a strange optimism amongst the Swansea support. From the opening exchanges, it was easy to see why.
For 30 minutes, Swansea were magnificent with Ki-Sung Yeung being particularly good with his industrious nature in the heart of the midfielder helping to rule the centre of the pitch. It was to be Ki who would drive forward towards the Chelsea box and lay the ball out wide to Neil Taylor, before Taylor’s cross went along the ‘corridor of uncertainty’ between goalkeeper and defence, before then hitting John Terry’s foot and the former England captain scoring an 11th minute own goal to put Swansea ahead. The away end went ballistic and soon there were chants of “We’re going to win the league!” as Swansea stood at the summit of the table at that moment.
Amazingly, Swansea continued to tear Chelsea apart with Jose Mourinho scurrying frantically along his touchline trying to sort out his clearly startled team. As chants of “SIT DOWN MOURINHO” emanated from the away end, ‘the Special One’ gestured towards us to quieten down. However, it was hard not to enjoy ourselves. Wayne Routledge and Bafetimbi Gomis both missed good chances to double Swansea’s lead and soon there was a sense that if we didn’t add to our tally now, then Chelsea would eventually catch us.
As half-time loomed, the home team earned themselves a corner and Fabregas’ corner was met by the head of the in-form Costa, who willingly headed home to equalise. The Brazilian/adopted-Spaniard took to celebrating right in front of the away end.
Half-time: Chelsea 1 – 1 Swansea City.
The goal had knocked the stuffing out of our fans a little bit, but generally everyone was still very positive for the second half. A repeat of the performance from the first 30 minutes and we’d be fine. That performance would never come.
Chelsea were just more up for it in the second half with the home team now dominating the midfield battle. Plus, Eden Hazard was now starting to play at his dazzling best. It was to be Hazard who would set up Costa to score his and Chelsea’s second goal of the game with a tidy finish from close range, before Costa then latched on to a misfired Ramires shot to make it 3-1 and to seal his hatrick. A goalscoring masterclass from the big striker.
Most Swansea fans would have been relieved to see Costa exit the pitch and to be replaced by Loic Remy, but after a superb run from Hazard which left the Swansea defence panicked, he set up Fabregas to set up Remy to make it 4-1. A debut goal for the Frenchman.
Despite Chelsea dominating the second half, 4-1 was a little harsh on Swansea, so it was good to see the Swans pull one goal back with Wilfried Bony playing Jonjo Shelvey through on goal and for the Englishman to simply finish past Thibaut Courtois. 4-2.
Shelvey’s goal was too late and the game ebbed out until the final whistle was blown.
Full-time: Chelsea 4 -2 Swansea City. Not many teams will be beating Chelsea this season and not many defences will be able to stop Diego Costa when he is in that sort of form. A valiant effort from the Swans.
No hanging about, we were straight out of the Shed End and into the congested, blue clad streets of West London trying to find our way back to the Blackbird. By ‘we’ I mean fellow Swans fan Brendan and his mates,; Brendan deserves a shout out purely for the fact that he had flown over from Dubai for today’s game and was flying back there the next day – top effort!
On arriving back at the Blackbird, Brendan and his pals opted to go back in, whilst I decided to head back into Central London to meet back up with Sean, Toby and my pal Ed. I found the lads dining in American-style diner, Ed’s Diner, but having missed their meal-time I just enjoyed a bottle of Millers – my lager of choice in my teen years, as my local back home used to have the stuff on tap.
I insisted that while I was in this part of London that we went to the Hercules Pillars pub. Now, the Hercules Pillars has sort of become Swansea City’s unofficial London HQ for some of the Jack Army, as the night before both of our recent Wembley visits, the League Cup and the Play-off Final, many Jacks converged on the place for one big party. The pub featured heavily on this site after we drank there the night before our 2013 League Cup triumph, as I took to partying there to the extent that I ended up on a table, beer in hand, leading the Jack Army through a rousing rendition of Hymns and Arias. Fair to say, that a lot of that night is a slightly blurred memory, but it is easily one of my all time favourite nights with the Jack Army.
On this Saturday evening, the Hercules Pillar was far from busy with us being amongst only a handful of punters gracing the pub. I was happy to be back and to reminisce whilst watching the West Ham v Liverpool on the TV. It seemed others had a similar nostalgic tendencies as several of the Jacks, who we had been with in the Blackbird earlier in the day, arrived at Hercules Pillars too.
Whilst my mates were planning where to head into London later that night, I sadly had to leave to catch the 9pm train back to Manchester. For me, you cannot finish a day out in London without visiting the Doric Arch pub next to Euston station. Although I have to admit I enjoyed my visit there on this occasion less than usual, thanks to the loud-mouthed Watford fans I met who a) ripped into Garry Monk, despite clearly knowing very little about the job he has done at Swansea b) criticising Swansea quite intensely for sacking Kenny Jackett in 2007 – I’m sure things have gone pretty well since he left (not that I’m downplaying his contribution to Swansea’s rise up the leagues. In fairness, the one Hornets fan was alright, but his two mates were rather irritating to say the very least.
For the journey home, I headed into Marks and Spencers to buy their fine Belgian lager, when I spotted a famous face: Robbie Savage! I know he is not everyone’s cup of tea, but I’ve always liked Sav purely for his full-blooded performances for the Welsh team who I grew up watching in my early teens (before Sav was eventually exiled from the national team by Toshack). Robbie was clearly in a rush, so I didn’t get the chance to ask for a full-blown double thumbs up photo, but I did get a selfie with the 606 presenter as well as bumbling something about him being one of my favourite Welsh footballers in my teen years. “Not many people say that,” he replied before heading off into the crowded concourse of Euston station.
Result aside, I very much enjoyed my day out in London (even though it was a very long one as the train back to Manchester was delayed meaning I didn’t get home until just before 1am – 19 hours after I had left for London). It was great to finally be able to say I’ve been all 20 current Premier League grounds and although I wasn’t exactly blown away by Stamford Bridge, it’s a stadium I generally liked. London away days are always brilliant, so undoubtedly I’ll be back very soon.
Highlights: The Blackbird, decent stadium, decent game of football, revisiting the Hercules Pillars, meeting Robbie Savage
Low Points: early train, Diego Costa’s hatrick, abrasive Watford fans.
You can see all my photos from my day out at Stamford Bridge on Flickr here.