As I got to travel to Stamford Bridge for the first time for the recent Wigan match, I thought I would write down what I experienced. Some of it might even be remotely interesting for you to read!
I was very much inspired by a FanPost written by jags 1981. If you haven't read it, you really should as it's the bees knees.
The piece might not be up to the literary standard of this site, but I hope you enjoy reading it. English is not my first language, so be gentle!
As a scene-setter, back in November of last year I was very fortunate to meet a Londoner at my job at the time. As topics gradually veered from work to football, it turned out he was not only from London, but also an ardent Chelsea fan and an ex season ticket holder. After a cursory mention that me and my wife were planning on heading over to London for the Wigan match, he said that he might be able to get us tickets at a discount and that we should meet up. It sounded great, but I did not get my hopes up too much. Getting tickets for a match was the reason I signed up (fine, I got my wife to get it for me as a present) for Chelsea membership. A few weeks later however, he emailed us and said he managed to get us hospitality tickets at a heavy discount! Needless to say, we were thrilled and eternally thankful. All was set for us to come visit.
If you are in central London, you are probably travelling by tube. It's fast, convenient and supremely easy to navigate. We did the same and left our hotel near Victoria station at about 11am to make it to the Bridge by noon and the 3pm kick-off. As the train neared Stamford Bridge, you will see more and more people wearing blue getting on at each stop as you get nearer. Needless to say, I was getting more excited by the minute. Exiting Fulham Broadway station on match day feels like entering Disneyland for Chelsea fans, I kid you not. Everywhere you look there are people wearing Chelsea kits, scarves, hats and whatever else you can fit the crest on. It's awesome. The short walk from the station to the Bridge is adorned by ad-hoc carts and caravans selling match day scarves and all and any Chelsea apparel you can imagine. Here's one example:
After a couple of minutes, we arrived at the Bridge. I have to say, the stadium doesn't look too imposing on the outside, confined to its lot by typical brick houses rising in 2-3 stories in height. I wasn't underwhelmed, but I was surprised how little it stuck out from its surroundings. The lot the stadium sits on really has very little to no space to expand to horizontally as there is only a narrow sidewalk between the edge of the lot and the stadium wall. The only way to expand would really be up, but it of course begs the question of whether the extra seats will cover the cost of the expansion.
As we had arrived a bit early, we decided to pop into the Megastore to see what's up. Yup, another Disneyland moment. I'd seen most of it online but to see it all in person was still pretty great. You could probably furnish a house and dress your family in full Chelsea gear if you wanted to. The megastore stretches through two stories with most of the clothing on the upper level. There were no great deals on for kits* so I left empty-handed, however my wife did get a scarf. Oh, and we got to take this picture only Filipinos will find funny. It's wordplay based on my supposed abundance of girth, according to my wife!
* On kits, I feel the need to elaborate. A Chelsea kit with a player's name and number printed costs £70 in the Megastore, I think they called it the Heroes series or something. All that money would of course go directly to the club. Now, I support the club as much as the next guy, but after some browsing and asking I decided I will get my next kit from Lillywhites instead. No, nothing Tottenham-related, rather the sports shop at Piccadilly Circus. A blank Chelsea kit (official, no difference to the one sold in the Megastore) there costs £38 with an additional £4 per printed number and £1 per printed letter. So my Mata shirt will cost £50, a savings of £20. Some of you might not agree, but to me the difference was substantial enough to make my mind up for me. If it had been an Azpilicueta kit I was considering, I might have leaned towards the Megastore!
As the clock turned 12:30, we could get into the stadium via the Millennium entrance and got ushered up towards the Zola suite where we would be dining. Now, I could write something artsy and pretentious about the food, but the fact of the matter was that it was good, there was a good selection for each of the 3 courses and the complimentary drinks kept flowing. As it was a mixed zone with a smart casual dress code, there were no kits to be seen, although the atmosphere was understandably very pro-Chelsea. The match programme was particularly nice with Ashley Cole's 100 England caps being honoured on the cover. The contents were pretty standard stuff. I skipped the manager's thoughts as vomiting in the Zola suite was not something I wanted to do. They also gave out pre-match betting slips for those so inclined, the line-up sheet and ran a raffle to win signed stuff with the proceeds going to the Chelsea Foundation. The Spurs game was on TV. I think I (all too loudly) cheered when Newcastle equalized, which wasn't the most tactful thing to do considering where I was, but oh well. As we know now, karma bit me in the behind anyway as Bale went on to be Bale and won the game for Spurs. At one point, our server came to our table and said Kerry Dixon and Tore Andre Flo are at the door if anyone wants pictures. My heart sank a bit and I think I managed to knock over about 14 glasses, 3 tables, stepped on my wife and spent 3 years looking for a pen, but made my way to them and got my match programme signed and a picture taken. In retrospect, would have been cool to have my Chelsea signed instead, but I wasn't really sure what the protocol on getting a player's kit signed by another would be. Anyway, here is a picture of me between them with a signed programme:
Honestly, I wish I could have been as cool as jags was around players them but I think all I managed was "Thank you Mr Flo" and "It's an honor Mr Dixon". Flo is really a giant and I felt like a pipsqueak around him. Kerry Dixon was cool as a cucumber and told me to enjoy my day (or it could have been to go and eat hay, honestly I was so flustered). The only coherent thought I had in regards to Flo and his time at Chelsea was that he was one of the few recent players Chelsea sold on at a profit, but saying that would have probably been even worse than saying nothing. Suffice to say I was as giddy as a 11-year old at a Justin Bieber concert - that's what they listen to these days, right?
After the meal and plenty of complimentary beers later, it was almost game-time so we headed up to our seats, having naturally pre-ordered our drinks for half-time. We made it to our seats at the West Stand Upper just in time to join in on The Liquidator and the line-ups. The seats were quite high and nearish to the corner but the view was spetacular as the stadium is very compact. Each player could be made out unmistakably and as the seats were on the more upscaly kind, there was even some padding on them. The was no surplus of legroom - I'm 180cm (5ft11) so not tall by any means, but my knees were scraping against the seat in front of mine when leaning forwards to see the action at certain times, so it's something to be mindful of. As our seats were near a walkway, there was quite a bit of traffic from people trying to get to their seats. The narrow gap did mean I probably got closer to some folks then I necessarily felt comfortable with, but this is the reality of a lot of stadium experiences. It wasn't frotteurism-Japan-train-disturbing, but just a minor annoyance. This was our view:
The game itself has been covered here excellently already, but just a few notes from the match itself:
- I really saw no evidence of the "toxic" atmosphere the press has been trying to perpetuate regarding Stamford Bridge. Maybe it's cause it was Wigan, maybe it's cause we won, maybe it's because of where I was sitting but the home fans were in full voice and support of the team. Even for Torres.
- One Di Matteo echoed around the ground for nearly the full 16th minute.
- Azpilicueta was good.
- I'm not trying to be sanctimonious, but if you are watching with young kids, I would strongly suggest booking the designated family area. There were a lot of kids where we were sitting and some of the language around the stand was.. strong (I'm not inculpable either). Some of it was also hilarious, but that's besides the point I'm trying to make.
- The Matthew Harding Stand and Shed End seemed to be where it's at. More vocal, more standing up, more banners etc. I guess Roy Keane had a point about the prawn sandwich brigade!
- The weather was quite nippy but they have a clever heater system that blows hot air at the stands from under the roof of the stadium (the row of heaters can be seen on the top of one of the pictures). Probably no news to most, but seemed cool to me!
- The Super Frank chant after his goal was really making the stadium rock. He was also one of the first along with Cech to acknowledge the fans straight after the final whistle when Blue is the Colour starter blaring through the PA. Legend.
After the game, it was time for more drinks (did I mention they were complimentary?) and snacks before we eventually got kicked out around 45min-1h after the game had ended.
I didn't do the stadium tour this time round, but am definitely planning on doing it next time I'm there. I've found after some intertubing that rather than pre-booking it through the official website, this would be the way to do it as you are not tied to a tour starting at a certain time. If anyone's had any experiences with them, please let me know :)