Yesterday evening in West London, a game of football took place that will never be forgotten. Almost every superlative has now been used to describe ‘little’ Leicester’s 5000-1 shot at the Premier League title, and last night the dream became reality for the delirious fans of the East Midlands club. With a dynamic and energised Spurs side hot on the heels of Leicester, the obstacle of a first away win at Stamford Bridge in 26 years laid in front. As a Chelsea fan, I wanted to be part of this occasion and was lucky enough to get hold of a ticket; and as the emotion of last night is still whirring around my mind I just had to share my experiences.
When Leicester failed to beat Manchester United on Sunday the stage was set for champions Chelsea to play their part in the title race. With our season being such a disaster, to ruin one of our biggest rivals’ title charges and hand our title to plucky Leicester led by a well-loved ex-manager gave Chelsea fans the opportunity to have something to very big to cheer about. All of Monday I felt this buzz in the Chelsea dominated streets of my home town of Worcester Park; a strange buzz, mind you, mainly built on a destruction of an enemy’s dream. Like as a schoolkid wanting to spoil an annoying classmate’s piece of work. We were out to kick down Spurs’ irritatingly perfect sandcastle.
The journey to the game was somewhat subdued and quiet. At the end of the day we are languishing in 9th place for a reason, and this Spurs side are incredibly well-drilled and efficient. As excited as we were about the prospect of upsetting Spurs, the realistic parts of Chelsea fan’s minds were all worried about getting humbled in our own ground. As my Dad and I neared Fulham Broadway, the carriage behind us suddenly broke into a vicious chorus, followed by some vicious tussles – Spurs fans were on our train. The skirmishes were interrupted by police on the platform but the rival fan’s arrogance left the feeling, or realisation, that we were suddenly underdogs in this fixture.
As the ground filled up to near capacity, the atmosphere was as electric as I have ever seen it at Stamford Bridge. As much as Chelsea fans dislike Tottenham, the away fans made the occasion too. The back and forth of deafening chants, thousands of arms pointing in sync, a genuine and real hatred burning up all around the stadium – this wasn’t just football, this was tribalism in its most intense and primal form.
From the first whistle the energy in the stands was being transmitted onto the players. So often the modern day game is criticised for sterile atmospheres, players not caring enough or understanding rivalries. This was different. It wasn’t just the fierce tackles and effort being displayed, it was the reactions and comradery after every coming together. Some columnists described the game as shameful, and maybe it wasn’t a great example for kids watching, but this is what disillusioned fans have been crying out for – a committed, full-blooded football match. This was a proper London derby.
The match was even for most of the first half with chances for both sides but when Harry Kane slipped through and rounded Asmir Begovic my heart sank. Watching the ball slowly cross the line, Kane and co. run off towards the bouncing Shed End, and then silence everywhere else was painful. But to then 8 minutes later see Son run through and slot home for 2-0 made me feel nauseous. Depression set in around me, especially watching the jubilant Spurs fans going absolutely potty at the other end. A flare was set off and white smoke covered the Shed End in front of the bouncing Spurs fans. It was a war scene, the enemy had invaded and were marching all over us. “You’re f****** sh*t, you’re f******* sh*t” chanted the goading Spurs fans. This was all too much to take. As we approached half-time, I felt like going home. The feeling was that this could get worse, and that would be torturous to say the least.
As the teams came out for the second half, it was quieter in the stands, with the usual one-man chant machines trying to re-engage the rest of the stand. As Chelsea began to play more brightly in the opening five minutes of the second half, the noise picked up and there was a now a new found optimism. This feeling was bolstered when Gary Cahill delightfully brought down Willian’s corner with his weaker foot and then volleyed home. The roar went up, we were back in this and more importantly, Leicester were back in this. The tide started to turn, Spurs’ notorious ‘bottlers’ tag and 26-year hoodoo at Stamford Bridge crept into people’s minds. This was the biggest test for this talented Spurs side. If they could overcome this and get the win – even the most ardent Chelsea fans would take their hats off for that.
Unfortunately for the North London side, the players started to lose their cool. This was not helped by the half-time introduction of Eden Hazard who, having seemingly returned from his 8-month hiatus, was back to remind us what he is capable of. Last year’s player of the season was a true menace and his link up with the other front men was causing all kinds of stress and problems amongst the Spurs players and fans. In the stands the goading now was coming from the Chelsea fans, trying to build momentum and launch a full-scale pressure onslaught upon Tottenham Hotspurs Football Club – we desperately did not want them to beat us, we desperately did not want them to win the league. The match threatened to boil over on the pitch. Mark Clattenburg, like a traffic warden in the middle throwing yellow cards around, trying to control things. Bear in mind, it wasn’t just Chelsea wanting the goal, the whole of Leicester, maybe the whole football world were wanting Chelsea to overcome the 2 goal deficit.
And then, that unforgettable moment. The mercurial Eden Hazard weaves and tricks his way through three Spurs players, knocks it onto Diego Costa who spins away from his marker, returns the ball to Hazard who then curls it so perfectly into the top corner. Ecstasy. Fans were falling down rows, wildly jumping in the stands, strangers hugging each other. We hadn’t even won anything, we’re 9th in the league, but we’d stopped Spurs, in the most dramatic fashion and handed the title to everyone’s 2nd favourite team.
The taunting continued after the final whistle. As did the players fighting on the pitch. We had done the job, we had well and truly kicked down Tottenham’s sandcastle, and what a beautiful kick it was. Leicester are deserved champions, what everyone wanted to happen has happened – and the current champions, Chelsea, the beleaguered champions, had played a starring role. It felt like we were the Father of the bride, the bride being the Premier League. Leicester had our blessing and the celebration at full-time, the wedding ceremony. A strange analogy maybe, but I feel there will be a special bond between us and Leicester from now on. That may be wishful thinking, but I’ll put my theory to the test when we clap out the new champions of England on the 15th May – and us Chelsea fans share a well-earned beer with the Foxes fans on the Fulham Road.