I don't do these personal posts often. I don't like them, usually, and why should my personal experiences or interests matter to anyone else? However, I think that you won't find this boring, distant, or unrelatable. That is my hope. The pictures are all my own, and I've left most of them large because camera phones often leave something to be desired in the zoom department.
A brief introduction:
I've been a Chelsea fan since the last time Jose was here, but as a poor 24 year-old American student, I've never been fortunate enough to have the time, money, or means of travel to attend a Chelsea match live. Last summer saw my first pilgrimage to Stamford Bridge. I love the team with a passion. I've got a Chelsea for a girlfriend, and anytime I can rub two pennies together, I wind up spending them on a new kit or a ball or a flag or a picture frame or some other thing. Blue is the colour, my color, and it runs freely in my veins. That is why, when finally I had the means and the opportunity, I leapt at the chance to drive three and a half hours out to Indianapolis to see the Blues play.
Drive, Walk, Eat, Drink, Walk, Drink and Walk some more
Of course, the most disappointing news came before my departure. Frank Lampard, the reason I chose to follow Chelsea in the first place, would still not be featuring. It may have been 3.5 hours to Indy from Chicago, but the drive seems a blip in my day as I look back. We arrived into the city, found cheap parking and began strolling around. I was pleased to see that several hours before the match, the city was already swarming with Chelsea fans. Blue was all around us. Brand new kits, and jerseys from seasons past, all the way back to 2004. We found something with a sign that said merely "The Pub." It sounded good enough to us, so we went in. The food was crap and there were far more fans on the streets than there had been in that godforsaken hell hole. We paid our bill and got out of there as soon as we could. We were more prudent with our next selection. We walked into a beer garden,* and were hailed immediately by a Lukaku-looking fellow named Lorenzo, who was apparently older than his Belgian counterpart, because he brought us beer and engorged himself with the amber nectar as well.
*Yes, apparently that's a real thing.
Eventually, the time came to bid farewell to our newfound imitation Romelu, and shout our greetings to the real thing. The excitement had been eating at me for hours. Beer rode over my tongue without notice, mozzarella sticks sunk into my stomach with the rest of my body oblivious to their entry. The televisions in the various bars had shown golf and news for college football. I had an appetite only for Chelsea FC.
An Appetite Sated
When we walked up to the gate, we found agents of the good had already their emptied their reserves; there were no flags left for us to procure. That was fine enough, I knew that the crowd would be well-equipped, and that I had more than enough CFC gear of my own on my person and in my home. We found our seats and settled in for the pre-match pomp and circumstance.
Unfortunately, the Lucas Oil Stadium was equipped for American football rather than the regular kind, so the sides were forced to make a long, awkward, diagonal walk across the pitch. I was beside myself at this point. I looked at the players marching, constructing possible lineups. The back four were easy enough to figure. Lukaku would be starting again! Moses and Hazard would take the flanks, most probably. That left Oscar, Van Hchinkel, and Ramires. An ambitious 4-3-3? A 4-2-3-1 with a bizarre dual box-to-box pivot? Unfortunately, it was to be the latter- despite the presence of Mikel and Essien on the bench.
Before I had too much time to be troubled by that... KICK-OFF.
The Chelsea that is my girlfriend can vouch for me that the picture doesn't do the view justice. We felt like we were right there, closer to the players than ought to be legal. I had goosebumps. Men that I'd been veritably stalking for years from thousands of miles away were right there, just out of reach. I had seen videos, I watched matches, I gleaned every interview, and I'd talked the character traits and footballing capabilities of these individuals to death. None of that compared to being there.
But enough of that mushy-gushy stuff. I have some thoughts about the way the game went, and the reaction of the American fans to this particular match.
Other than myself and this kid in the bottom right of the picture, there seemed to be few diehard fans in the stadium. Most of them were located in the goal line section pictured above. The section filled in a bit more as the game went on, but unfortunately it was 60% capacity at most throughout the match. Here was the Shed End, I'd thought as we took our seats, but my visions of undulating waves of implacable blue were far from the reality. This section led the cheers, and when I say cheers, I mean cheer. They knew one chant, which was simple, dull, and annoying by the 15' mark. A heard a short chorus of "Celery" at some point, but it was half-hearted and clearly foreign to most. I was a bit embarrassed by the showing from this section, but pleased to see that they didn't match the dickishness of some of the supporters near me. The most disruptive was an Inter fan, who seemed to be acting for his friends as much as supporting his team. Another frightful example was a teenaged American who upon being asked politely to tone his behavior down responded "No! I'm sorry. I don't mean to be a dick, but I've been waiting to see this team for ten years." As if he were the only one there with that story. Word to the wise: if you find yourself saying "I don't mean to be a dick", it's usually too late for that.
Still, the majority of the supporters were clearly there for CFC, and they had some knowledge of the team. As the lineups were announced, Terry, Cech, and Hazard received loud cheers. However, the loudest shouts were for Turdnando Four-eyes, who had enough name recognition to make him annoying, especially when he proceeded to offer nothing for the fans to enjoy. By the time tens minutes had gone by in the second half, a popular wave had started making the rounds of the stadium. Mou's image on the big screen had roused a response, but otherwise, the Americans were largely indifferent to the performance before them. In all fairness, the intensity had gone out of the game by the 50th minute, though I still found my heart beating quickly with every pass.
I don't know who the ref was, but he gave an odd performance. Perhaps he was shaking off his preseason rust as well, but that penalty call really ought to have been sorted out. The red card seemed bizarre at the time, but later replays (found upon returning home) showed the justice in it. Penalties and red cards make for good drama, but often bad football. The game was dead by the second half.
Despite the Man of the Match award going to Victor Moses, I thought the most exciting player on the pitch was often the big Belgian center-forward, who looked an imminent threat whenever involved in play. If he can learn to read the movements of Hazard and co. better, he'll be one of the most dangerous strikers in the league. Mou should push him to be more aggressive in taking up the leading point of every attack, so that he's always prepared to receive the killer pass.
Moses and Hazard did well, though the latter seemed more often a handful for the defense, even if he looked to take on defenders alone a little too frequently. Oscar had great control, and was a good central cog, as always. He's certainly no Mata, but he still has magic in him and a bright future ahead. And that goal!
Ashley Cole is still Ashley Cole, and Ryan Bertrand is still not. Branislav Ivanovic read the game like a true master, cutting out several passes on his wing. The Terry-Cahill partnership was fairly strong, and although JT looked slow, he seemed to have some of his old fire back. His 90 minutes were very heartening. Cech is better than Schwarzer (as if we didn't already know that). Ramires was reckless in tackles and lackluster in passing yet again. Someone needs to figure what happened to him and fix it, or it'll be a long season. MVG and Hazard put in a defensive shift to be admired, though the young Dutchmen is clearly the more practised of the two in that regard. Mata may need some more rest. Ba was a hard worker, but too blunt an instrument to be leading the line regularly (in my humble opinion).
My girlfriend, wearing her awesome "I scored with Osgood" shirt, remarked that David Luiz was exciting to watch, but then demonstrated that it was often for all the wrong reasons. "He's so risky," and "You never know what he's going to do" are not the words you want to hear about your center backs, generally.
KDB's free kick prowess was missed, and I must admit a bead of sweat formed as Hazard stepped up to the spot. Lamps will be missed whenever he's not present, if for that reason only. All in all, however, the game was not only a great thrill for a fan's first match, but quite encouraging as well. With a hoarse throat and a hungover head, I sit here pleased as punch and anxious as ever for the new season to get underway.