I was born a Chelsea fan. Chelsea is so much a part of my father’s life I think it was passed on to me in the womb just like how I have his eyes, teeth and sarcastic streak. Dad kept programs and memorabilia in his bottom drawer. It’s one of my most treasured memories about growing up, sitting in my parent’s bedroom with a late ’70s green and yellow away scarf around my neck reading through match day programs dating back to the ’60s and possibly one or two from the ’50s.
To this day I have never seen footage of Mickey Droy, but because of the stories my dad told me, he will forever be the first Chelsea hero of mine. I’m sure there is footage online, but the photos of him are locked in my mind and I think I like it that way.
The shirts in the drawer were great, too. Blues with white pinstripes, yellow shirts with huge green collars, and a blue home version, complete with gargantuan white collar. It’s enough to make me want another retro shirt or three. By 1983 I was desperate to go. I was 6 when the season started. We were in Division 2 and John Neal was building a team the likes of which we hadn’t seen since before I was born. Pat Nevin, Nigel Spackman, Colin Pates, Eddie Niedzwiecki, David Speedie, Paul Canoville, Micky Droy, Joe McLaughin, Colin Lee, Clive Walker, Joey Jones, Keith Dublin, Keith Jones, John Bumstead and my next hero, perhaps the one person I have aspired to emulate the most: Kerry Dixon. I could write volumes about Kerry Dixon, and no doubt one day in the not too terribly distant future I will.
Kerry was the kind of striker who would make it in today’s game. Great positional play, could use both feet and his head, strong as an ox and typically selfish in front of goal at all ranges. That man scored the kind of goals that we can only dream of scoring and I swear that were it not for Peter Beardsley (not Gary Lineker) he would would have been England’s number 9 for years.
For my birthday that October I sent then-club secretary Sheila Marson (Yes, my Chelsea memory is that good!) a request for the team’s autographs and blessed Sheila delivered with a xeroxed photocopy of the 1st XI’s scribbles. It is without shame that I say only three presents as a kid made my day more, one of which was a Star Wars Snowspeeder. The other two came next year.
So we got promoted, I was seven, going on eight and Canon-sponsored League Division One beckoned! I know I bugged my dad about going to the game and on the 29th of September dad took me and little brother to the Bridge to see my magical Blues for the first time. We drove to
Leigh-on-Sea Benfleet* ralilway station and took the train to London, on to the underground to the District Line to Fulham Broadway.
I was so excited I can’t even describe it. The Broadway was bustling and we hit the light of the afternoon and got the surprise of my life. Dad took us into a shop, small, packed and with no room to move, and bought us full Chelsea home kits and the following t-shirts. Eight years old, not even in the ground and I knew there and then that no other team in the world that could ever habour as much love in my heart.
We then went and got some chips, moved off to a quieter area, had a snack and pulled on our new t-shirts. I wasn’t disheartened to hear that I had to wait to put my new home kit on. I was at the Bridge, about to go in the Shed and see Kerry Dixon and my other heroes play. Ok, mostly Kerry Dixon.
I’ll be completely honest, the game is a bit of a blur, aside from the goals. But walking up those concrete steps of the Shed, the pitch came into view as the fans were singing “One Man Went to Mow.” It’s something I hope I never forget. I simply can’t describe it adequately, but I think that your favourite Christmas multiplied by a billion would be a few rungs below this on the ladder of awesomeness. Here again we’ll be honest. At the time Stamford Bridge was not a stadium to behold. I’m sure that every other Chelsea fan to have gone to the Bridge back then would agree. But even though it looked rundown, barren in places, and the pitch was guarded by a fence that Ken Bates wanted to electrify, it was my Bridge. You can keep Anfield and Wembley, Old Trafford and St. James’ Park. There has only ever been one place for me and that’s 1980s Stamford Bridge. Even the new Bridge, as much as I adore it, doesn’t hold the same place in my heart.
Anyways… where were we? Oh yes! Leicester. Some geezer called Gary Lineker is starting up front against us. You know, 1990 World Cup Golden Boot winning Gary Lineker. No trouble. He barely had a sniff all day and we were 3-0 up within an hour thanks to Pat Nevin and a brace from my idol, Kerry Dixon. That game could not have gone better. Well, Kerry could have gotten a perfect hat trick, but who’s complaining?
I don’t remember much about the trip home aside from a huge crowd in the underground, but I cherish the memory of putting my kit on for the first time. It was getting dark but Dad still took a photo:
I knew it was my birthday present, a month early, and I loved it. It’s the one thing I wish I still had, but it fell apart when I was in my twenties. My youngest sister, Lauren, wore it until she was eight years old or so and I don’t regret that one bit.
But, among other presents I received on my birthday a month later, I was gifted an A-Team stationery set. I only ever wrote two letters on it: one wishing the Queen a merry Christmas (I received a reply from one of her ladies in waiting) and the other was sent to my favourite secretary in the world, Sheila, asking for the real autographs this time. So, Canners, mate if you remember wondering why the hell you were signing A-Team stationery you now know why!
I am fairly sure my dad still has both sets of autographs in his bottom drawer, right where they belong.
*Memory adjusted by my father!