Adventures in Football #93: Stamford Bridge
October 1, 2023
CHELSEA W vs. TOTTENHAM W (Women’s Super League)
Normally, I’d kick this thing off with a history of the team, but everyone knows Chelsea, so let’s talk about Chelsea’s women team because that’s who I’m here to watch. It’s a stark reminder that women’s football hasn’t been around that long that one of the most successful English teams was founded in 1992. That said, Chelsea never won the WFA National League Premier Division, the original top flight of English women’s football, which ran from 1991-2011. Doncaster Belles won the first ever season, followed by dominance from Arsenal who won 12 titles. Arsenal won the first two Super Leagues as well before ceding dominance of the competition to Chelsea in 2015. Since then Arsenal have one title, Chelsea have six. They’ve also won five FA Cups, two league cups and were runners up in the Champions League in 2021. Arsenal can probably lay claim to being the most successful women’s team thanks to more titles and their UCL win of 2007.
We start out from the sunny (it’s not sunny) Midlands around 1pm on a Sunday. The kick-off is a pleasingly late 5.30pm, allowing a lie in. I’m almost called into work, which would have been a disaster and I rage shower in the morning before discovering someone else has agreed to fix the problem and I can actually have a day off. We’re on the motorway, M42, M40, a cheeky bit of M25 and then M4 into London. The journey is completely fine until a coach breaks down on the other carriageway and all the twats ahead decide to rubberneck it, causing a tailback.
We get into London a little after 3pm, park up with JustPark (I swear, I don’t get paid by them to endorse this service, but it’s been great for me in London) and stroll over the 10 minutes to the ground. Five minutes into this walk, we stop off at the Fox and Pheasant for a pint, and then move into the nearby Chelsea Gate for a pint with Al Scoops, who’ll be joining us today.
A round of pints in here costs over £20. I know it’s London but fuck me, that’s expensive. Of the two boozers, I preferred the Fox and Pheasant but it’s too small to cater to match day volumes and most people were stood outside.
The bold flag’s claim of being the “only team in London” is an interesting one. As we’re drinking, we see the Tottenham team coach drive past. Well, there’s another team in London right there! We continue towards the ground and past through a rudimentary screen of security people who ask if we have a ticket. There’s a hotel past the point where they’re standing, so technically I don’t need a ticket but hey, I just say yes, without producing it and they wave us on.
As per usual, we’ve entered the stadium area at the furthest possible point from where our entrance is. It’s getting to be a joke that we constantly have to walk around the entire stadium to get in. It seems to happen every time out.
Walking around the outside does afford us the opportunity to see the various Chelsea propaganda and memories pasted up onto the walls outside.
This includes a cracking statue of Peter Osgood. The former Chelsea striker is a club legend, having netted over a hundred league goals for his club. He died back in 2006 and his ashes were buried under the penalty spot at the Shed End.
It’s pleasing to see the women’s achievements up on the outside of the ground, alongside those of the men’s team. While not every Chelsea Women’s game takes place at Stamford Bridge, when they do play here it feels like home. I understand the logic of playing games at Kingsmeadow, which is a much smaller ground and more easily filled to capacity but filling a good chunk of Stamford Bridge feels like a bigger achievement.
Today, we’re in the Matthew Harding Stand. My wife asks the question; “who’s Matthew Harding”. For those who weren’t around football in the mid-90s, this is a fair question. Harding was part of the board at Chelsea under Ken Bates, and he invested £26M to improve the stadium, including the stand named for him. Bates, asshole that he is, banned Harding from the board room because he assumed Harding was after his spot as top dog. Harding died in a helicopter crash in October 1996.
Here is the bustling concourse under the Matthew Harding Stand. Women’s games do produce a higher percentage of women’s attendees, which causes a queue for the women’s toilet. I don’t think I’ve seen one of those before. Not at the football, anyway.
I took this picture, which is I feel is representative of Chelsea’s men team this season. I’m glad Poch won’t end up in a landfill.
This is the view that awaits from the lower Harding stand. My first thoughts are that the stadium is pretty badass. There’s a tonne of flags, banners and assorted Chelsea endorsements around the ground. The stands are pleasingly irregular, showing the way the ground has grown over the years and changed. I like a ground that feels a bit cobbled together. In rebuilding grounds completely, we lose that. The one issue from the age of the ground is the space in front of seats. I can barely get out of the way when people try and get past. The space in there is tight. If one were plus-sized, it would be difficult to move around in here.
You can see from this shot, there are plenty of people in today. The areas behind me are all full. It looks like they didn’t open the far end because the Spurs fans are on the bottom half of it. It is a meaty attendance though.
I do like this random bit of building having Chelsea stuff on it. Is this even part of the ground? Or did they buy advertising space on an adjacent building? There’s a hotel there, maybe it’s the top of that.
I am very impressed with this whopping great big stand. I spent a while examining the various banners including “Desert Texas Blues”. Maria found herself getting distracted by the sheer volume of planes flying out of Heathrow. It’s pretty staggering. There’s one every 30 seconds or so. There’s one in this picture!
The game gets underway and it’s a little edgy. Both teams try and get forward but get nervous around the penalty area and a few chances are flubbed.
Spurs could arguably have had a case for being the better team in the opening 20’. They forced some issues at the back and if it wasn’t for the towering figure of Millie Bright, they might have caused more problems and taken the lead. It was their best spell of the game. This came to an end on 28’ when newcomer Mia Fishel, a 22 year old American forward signed from Tigres UANL, scored on her debut. She had 38 goals in 48 games in Mexico last year and looked lively.
We get to half-time at 1-0 but the second half is a flood of Chelsea pressure for a second. They have the ball over the line but somehow no goal is signalled. Chelsea recycle possession, get the ball back into the box and Lauren James makes it 2-0. Effectively game over on 51’. Maria is claiming it should be 3-0 because the ball was clearly in before the goal.
Chelsea start playing with fire around 70’ and sit back on their 2-0 lead. Spurs are welcomed into the attacking third and on 76’ Chelsea keeper Musovic fails to retain a relatively simple shot and it falls to Martha Thomas. 2-1 and some real pressure on the Chelsea goal just afterwards is survived. In the latter stages Chelsea look more likely to extend their lead than throw it away and we end the game at 2-1.
And the crowd goes wild! We get the various Chelsea anthems and most of the locals hang around to see the team off the pitch. So much so that when we drop into the pub for a farewell pint to Alex, we’re the first in. We didn’t exactly rush out. By the time our beers are poured, the pub has filled up nicely. Right, back to reality then and before we go home, it’s time for some ratings for Stamford Bridge.
It was decent. I can imagine it’s a bit livelier for the men’s games but there were a couple of lads trying to get various chants going. Some of it was a bit try-hard, but the effort was there. ***
The tickets were £15, which is a bargain to get into a stadium of this quality. It’s dirt cheap. I pay more for some non-league games. ****½
The game was a bit tentative. Both teams did attack but were also conscious they didn’t want to lose the season opener. It had big ‘opening day’ vibes about it. **½
EASE OF ACCESS:
I don’t know how hard this might be for a men’s game, but it was easy to get into and easy to get out of. Chelsea fans don’t seem to drive to games, based on the traffic, and it’s easy to see why. There are very limited parking spaces around the area. We got lucky, although we overpaid for our spot. It was £30 for the duration of the game. The local public transport links look good and honestly, this might be the easiest game, in London, to get in and out of we’ve done. Including West Ham, which had more traffic than this. ****½
The way the ground looks is very easy on the eyes. It’s got an interesting lay out. I love all the Chelsea related stuff that’s littered around the outside of the ground. It’s like the polar opposite of Tottenham, where everything they have is shiny, new and soulless. ****
It’s a solid score for Chelsea. It might be the best of the ‘big grounds’ I’ve done. In terms of how easy it was to get to, it blows away Arsenal, Spurs, Everton, Man Utd etc. It was just easy. Is that because we’re getting better at travelling to games or just that it’s an easy away day? I don’t know but it’s one of my favourite grounds this season (it sits in the table between Harrogate and FC Arlon).