Thursday, November 6, 2008
Blackburn Rovers 0 Chelsea 2
It’s been a quiet week on the football front for The Groundhopper. I’ve been on a roll of good games and had earmarked a midweek East Midlands Counties League clash between Kirby Muxloe and Gedling Town. I was driving home from work, and there was a pea souper of a fog descending on our patch. Mrs P was desperate to go to the gym, so for the first time in a while I baled out of a game.
The match finished 3-2; I missed a cracker. I elected instead to tot up some Brownie points. I plonked myself on the sofa and watched miserable Scottish cop show: Taggart, with Mrs P. I wrapped up the murder case in the first five minutes. Those bungling, drunken, Glaswegian detectives took a further 50 minutes to show any signs of progress.
I’ve been wetting myself at the prospect of going to Ewood Park on Sunday. I know it goes against the grain of my principles of watching grassroots football, but the chance to cast an eye on a side of Chelsea’s stature for £28 is too good an opportunity to miss. You’d have paid the same to watch Nottingham Forest v Birmingham last Saturday. It’s been ten years since I last saw a Premiership game.
It’s Saturday morning, twenty four hours before the game and Nottingham Forest have sent me scouting down South Notts Boys again; it’s a complete waste of time. I’m only present because D***y Schools are in town.
I watch ‘The Skipper’s team lose 2-0 in the afternoon. I’m happy with his form though; he plays with a massive heart, as does his best mate, who’s just returned to the team.
I was hoping to catch the second half of a local game, but the night is drawing in already. Mrs P and I slip away for an hour, for a teatime drink, at the newly refurbished Griffin Inn at Plumtree.
I‘ve a full day out at Blackburn tomorrow and a full evening of creeping is required. I even watch Strictly Come Dancing and X-Factor. Mariah Carey is on the latter; she might sing a pile of pooh, but she’s still pleasing on the eye.
I’ve been fretting about the weather all week and have noticed on the BBC five day forecast that Blackburn is due to take a hammering from the skies tomorrow, as well as possibly on the pitch.
We’re on the A50, it’s tipping it down. ‘The Skipper’ and Snooksy are in the back, The Nuclear Scientist is piloting the Jaguar. He’s driving more like Detective Inspector Jack Regan from The Sweeney, than Inspector Morse. For once the M6 is clear of cars, but not the driving rain that pours down from the darkened skies.
The Nuclear Scientist is winding the kids up; he’s got his Johnny Cash double CD on. He’s more morose than Morrissey. The kids are kicking up a fuss and are asking what they’ve done wrong to have this inflicted on them. I eject the CD and put on Radio 1 for them.
We hit Blackburn in less than 2 hours. The kids spot a McDonalds and plead for a Big Mac. I normally have one a year; this will be my third in a fortnight. The music’s not bad in Maccy D’s though; they’re playing The Lightning Seeds, Life of Reilly; it puts me in the mood for football.
We park up a quarter of a mile away from the ground at the back of a local college; it’s £3. We stroll down the hill; fans from both sides mingle together. The rain is incessant.
Blackburn is an old mill town in Lancashire with a population of 100,000. It was a boomtown during the Industrial Revolution.
Blackburn has the highest proportion of Muslims living in a town, in the United Kingdom, outside of London.
BAE Systems are one of the town’s largest employers. Thwaites Brewery has been making real ale in Blackburn since 1824. They often have a guest beer on at my local.
Famous people from the town include: Russell Harty, Lee Mack, Anthony Valentine, Will Greenwood, Wendi Peters (Cilla off Coro) Ian McShane and Blackburn Rovers forward Matt Derbyshire.
We’re sat in the Frazer Eagle Stand opposite the Jack Walker Stand. We’re about 15 rows back, the seats are spot on. I’ve shelled out a total of £43 for ‘The Skipper’ and I on tickets for today; it’s a bargain.
I gaze around our stand; it’s nearly five minutes before kick off. All the faces in the crowd are white. The only Asians I can see are stewards. Why don’t the Asian community come out and support their team? Is it something to do with the Sabbath? The ground is just over two thirds full.
The absent big time Charlie fans of Chelsea do little to dispel this myth. They’ll flock around Europe visiting the charming cities of Rome and Bordeaux, but they clearly don’t all fancy the 460 mile round trip up north on a dreary, bleak, wet Sunday lunchtime. They fail to sell out their end. Fair play though, to those that have travelled.
The programme is £3 and is worth every penny. Whilst flicking through it I notice the name of Thomas Hitchcock in the Blackburn Rovers Academy line-up. I used to play cricket with his father, Kevin Hitchcock. He made over 100 appearances in goal for Chelsea, and was until recently the ‘keeper coach at Ewood Park. He’s now taken up a similar role down the road at The City of Manchester Stadium.
Blackburn Rovers FC keep it real; it’s still a community club. On my charity tour of 100 grounds in five days, a few years ago, Graeme Souness very kindly donated a shirt signed by all the players. I didn’t even have the courtesy of a reply when writing to Chelsea asking for a donation.
Rovers are missing Emerton, Dunn, Santa Cruz, McCarthy and Reid. Scholari will have to tinker too, both Cole’s miss out, as well as Essien, Carvalho, Drogba and Ballack.
We have a minute’s silence to remember those who lost their lives fighting for their country. It is immacutely observed by all. My spine tingles, my body’s goose bumped and my stomach’s churning. I think of grandad.
There are visible signs of water on the pitch; it’s now turned into a torrential downpour. The elements certainly don’t concern the visitors; they begin the game at breakneck speed. Kalou and Malouda are rampant down the flanks; they’re nearly as brisk as Cammell Laird speedster Eddie Jebb.
‘The Incredible Sulk’ looks in a menacing mood. He latches onto a Keith Andrews back pass on five minutes, waltzes round Paul Robinson, only to be clipped on the ankles. He tries his upmost to stay on his feet, but loses his balance on the slippery surface. It’s a stonewall penalty. Mr Foy of Merseyside waves play on.
Chelsea fashion chance after chance. Mikel and Anelka twice, are guilty of glaring misses. Robinson reigns supreme in the Rovers’ goal.
The visitors finally take the lead. Portuguese full back Jose Bosingwa storms forward unchallenged and shoots from distance, the ball fortuitously deflects off Anelka’s thigh, wrong footing Robinson and trickles through a pool of water, barely crossing the line.
Blackburn’s best chance of the half falls to 22 year old Chilean international Carlos Villanueva, Petr Cech makes a fine save.
It’s an enthralling encounter, played in ghastly conditions. Each player leaves a trail of spray when running with the ball.
I’m getting texts off mates telling me the game is going to be abandoned. Jesus, all this way for 45 minutes. God works in mysterious ways. Almost immediately the skies begin to lighten, and the rain eases off.
The Blackburn groundstaff furiously fork the half of the pitch that they will attack in the second period. We’re treated to Blackburn TV and a montage of goals, accompanied by The Killers track, Human.
I’m mesmerised, almost gobsmacked by Frank Lampard’s performance. He bucks the trend of the long sleeved shirt and gloves worn by so many today. He is unrivalled in this company. Blackburn don’t get within five metres of him. He strikes a thunderbolt thirty yard free-kick that cannons off the top of the bar. His distribution and touch simply beggars belief.
Former Chelsea youth player Jason Roberts has been a lone ranger for Rovers. He’s easily dealt with by Terry and the towering Brazilian Alex. He slips the net on one occasion, but fails to redress the balance, foiled by the ever alert Petr Cech.
It’s a plucky and spirited second half display by Rovers. But they have chased shadows for most of the game. Their legs have gone for the final ten minutes. Pederson can barely walk.
Lampard plays a pivotal part in Chelsea’s coup de grace. He seizes upon another loose ball, his energy levels not sapping from literally being Chelsea’s water carrier. The ball finally falls to Anelka, lurking at the far post. He deftly clips the ball over an advancing Robinson.
Anelka is denied the match ball, following more good work from Robinson, who smothers his shot.
There’s time for the man that Danny Baker once called Orville (Blackburn manager Paul Ince) to come waddling on the pitch to confront referee Chris Foy at the final whistle. I have to say, it’s the perfect weather for ducks.
Man of the Match: Paul Robinson