Thursday, October 8, 2015

Southampton 3 at Chelsea 1 - October 3, 2015

After watching Crystal Palace knock off West Brom, I headed back to the Putney area to freshen up at my hotel. From there, I took the #14 bus to Stamford Bridge, home of defending champion Chelsea. The front seats in the upper deck were open, allowing Gary and me to get a panoramic view of the area streets during the short ride.

I had visited Stamford Bridge for the stadium tour back in 2010, which is the only way you can see the entire facility as you are limited to your stand when there is a game played.

Chelsea does sell tickets to the general public, but only after making them available to members, who usually buy them all anyway. Thus we were again in need of tickets, but unlike Crystal Palace, Chelsea has a large international following and fakes are everywhere, so you have to be careful. Gary found a season ticket holder whose daughter couldn't make it, so he went in with him, leaving me alone to find someone with an extra. As game time approached I began to worry that I would be shut out, but as I asked at the box office, a gentleman came up behind me and offered an extra for a reasonable price, so I was saved.

The ticket was the southernmost seat in row 8 of the West Stand, quite close to the pitch, looking directly at the goal line. The view from the seat is below. It was not an aisle seat as I was next to a barrier beside a walkway, so I didn't have to worry about getting up to let fans by.

I had no time to tour the concourse or grab any food, racing to my seat and arriving just as the players were taking their team pictures. Chelsea were off to a poor start, lying 14th in the table with only 2 wins and 2 draws from 7 matches, while Southampton were tenth with 2 wins and 3 draws.

The Blues, now sponsored by Yokohama Tyres, got off to a dream start when Willian (above) scored on a brilliant free kick in the tenth minute. From where I sat, the ball appeared over the outstretched hand of  Maarten Stecklenburg (who was the Dutch keeper in the 2010 World Cup, below) and bounced in off the post, a moment that took my breath away. The highlight is definitely worth checking out, you can see where I am sitting (just below the green feather of the peacock). It is probably the best I have seen live. Seriously, check out the replay.

Chelsea looked like they would take the lead into the half, but Southampton scored just two minutes shy of the break when Graziano Pellè chested a long pass from midfield into the path of Steven Davis, who volleyed the ball past Bosnian national keeper Asmir Begović to knot the game. In the second half, Chelsea struggled to get anything going, and Southampton capitalized on the hour when Sadio Mané (#10 below) took a pass from Pellè that had eluded John Terry, broke in alone, and slotted home for the surprise lead.

Just over ten minutes later, another sloppy Chelsea play turned the ball over at midfield. Mané raced down the field with Pellè to his right. At the top of the box, Mané flicked over to Pellè who hit a near perfect shot off the post to make it 3-1 Saints and send the visiting fans into a delirious celebration. Meanwhile, those Chelsea supporters around me were frustrated and angry, and many started leaving early as their club's struggles continued. Yes, fans around the world suffer from the "What have you done for me lately?" syndrome. You are the defending champions, why get so angry after only 8 games? Bask in the glory for a while!

Given that English soccer is so uncompetitive, with the same four clubs challenging for the title every year, it was nice to see a bit of an upset. Too many fans are front runners, but if you are getting into the English game, choose a lesser light to support such as Crystal Palace, Southampton, or West Ham. When they beat these richer clubs, it is an extremely satisfying feeling as a supporter.



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