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Stamford Bridge
Chelsea v
Bolton Wanderers
Sunday, May 11th 2008, 3pm
Premier League
By Martin Hart
(Neutral fan)

2007/2008 has been an incredible season for me as a football fan. I have travelled the length and breadth of not only Scotland, but also the UK - clocking up an amazing number of new grounds in the process, I have witnessed a record number of goals (so many that I have lost count) - including 11 in one game (Portsmouth v Reading), become a part of Premiership history and missed half of a game for the first time in my life (if anyone wants a full explanation send me a PM and I'll happily share the story). Following a trip to Wembley the day before, my 10-month journey had one final stop, Stamford Bridge for the visit of Bolton to take on the millionaires of Chelsea.

This was an interesting trip for me, because although I'm a Sunderland fan at heart, I have a few Manchester. United fans in my family and have always had a soft spot for The Reds myself - so, as you can imagine, the constant winding them up about (1) Me buying a Chelsea top and (2) Being at Stamford Bridge to see Chelsea lift the Premiership trophy didn't go down too well in the days before the game. Only one of the above two things actually happened of course, and I don't think I need to tell you which one it was!!

I was looking forward to going to a game at Stamford Bridge because, having always made a point of going there for a few photos on my previous trips to London, it was always a stadium which struck me as impressive from the outside, so I was excited at the prospect of actually getting to see a match at 'The Bridge' - I was, of course, in with the Bolton fans as it was the only way I could get my hands on a ticket.

The journey to the ground was easy, because I had done it on the Underground countless times in the past, and out of all the Premiership grounds in the capital, Stamford Bridge is by far the easiest to get to - although West Ham and Spurs are not far behind. For anyone unsure of how to get to the ground, take a Wimbledon-bound District line train to Fulham Broadway station then come out the station, turn left and follow the crowds 100 yards down the road to the ground. Be aware though that the trains do get very busy on matchdays with fans heading to the ground and that the shopping centre exit may not be open on match days (it was closed for this match) - in this situation there are signs from the platform directing fans towards the car park exit and subsequently onto the stadium.

Before the game (after leaving my suitcase in the left luggage at Euston mainline station), I decided to head down to The Oval cricket ground for a few photos - but there was a game about to start when I was down there, so I didn't get many photos. I then headed up to the ground and arrived at Stamford Bridge around 12:45pm. I grabbed a cheeseburger and Pepsi from one of the many burger vans outside the ground (which for 5.10 at Stamford Bridge was quite decent I thought!) then bought the obligatory match programme and just mingled with the Chelsea fans for around about an hour. I also took a number of photos outside the ground then had a walk around the Chelsea Megastore at the ground, so that I could get an idea of what shirt to buy after the game.

Eventually, it came time to head in the ground. I was extremely lucky, because my ticket was for the Upper Tier of The Shed End - if you do go to Stamford Bridge as a visiting fan, try to get a ticket for the upper tier because you get a cracking view. Thankfully, at this point, I still had my match ticket - because when I got inside the ground I somehow managed to lose it on the concourse. I climbed the few flights of stairs that there are up to the top tier and my first impressions on seeing the ground were, "I've seen better, but it's still very impressive."

I never went to the old Stamford Bridge, but the current ground is a million miles away from the look of the old one - the three-tier stand opposite the away end is particularly striking. I took a few photos inside the ground before the game then headed back down to the concourse for a beer. The only thing I have to criticise Chelsea's alcohol for is lack of selection - the only beer on tap they had was Heineken, but at 3.30 a pint it was a lot cheaper than I was expecting - certainly compared to the prices I seen at Wembley the day before. The pint was of good quality as well - it actually tasted like a decent pint, because there have been plenty grounds I have been to on my travels where the alcohol on sale tastes like it was taken from the cubicles in the bogs!!

To the game itself then. It wasn't a classic to say the least - and I have to be honest, seeing Chelsea play in person, I was actually quite disappointed - because whenever I watch them on TV they just seem to play such an arrogant style of football, against Bolton they played very lethargically - and the game really had that 'end of the season' feel about it. I did though enjoy the game in the respect that Chelsea's failure to win sent the league trophy to Old Trafford (again!!) and the sight of 37,000 Chelsea fans with sour faces at the end of the game was priceless. Bolton, backed by a 3,000 strong sell-out travelling support  (many of whom were in fancy dress) did what few teams do when they play away against the 'big four' - they went and gave it a go. Fair enough, they still only played one upfront for most of the game, but it frustrated Chelsea for an hour until they took the lead.

When Andrei Shevchenko came on at half-time for Chelsea I said to myself, "I just know he's gonna score" - and 16 minutes into the second half that's exactly what he did. A ball skidded across the box was missed by everyone, with the exception of Shevchenko - who nipped in at the back post to put Chelsea in front - the goal counted for nothing though, as news had already came through that Man U were also beating Wigan 1-0.

Despite going a goal down, Bolton still didn't give up, and their performance was rewarded in stoppage time at the end of the game when Kevin Davies took advantage of poor Chelsea defending to send the ball under Petr Cech and into the net. At that point, the Bolton fans went nuts - despite the fact that it still meant the title was heading to Manchester. When news reached Stamford Bridge that Man. U had won 2-0 at Wigan, the atmosphere from the home support went totally flat - not that it was much else other than that for most of the game anyway.

A further point to add about the away end is that a large number of travelling fans at Chelsea can make a great noise. Bolton fans really got behind their team, and for almost the whole afternoon, outsang the 37,000 Chelsea fans.

Food-wise, I didn't sample any of the culinary delights at 'The Bridge', but I did have a quick glance at the kiosk - which was doing a good trade in hot dogs, pies and hot drinks - all at fairly reasonable prices.

I also have to say that the policing at Stamford Bridge was a lot more relaxed than I was expecting. I think that the Met. Police get an unfair reputation for being a bit heavy-handed, because I have to commend them for being so friendly and helpful. As it happened, my ticket was up in the corner right next to the divide between police and Chelsea fans, and the guys were really helpful sorting out the situation when I lost my ticket and I also shared a laugh and a joke with them about the scores from the other games that day. I should point out though that the Police are quite strict about persistent standing in the away end - they are lenient to a point, but don't be surprised if you get a bobbie asking you to sit down, the toilets in the away end are about average for the majority of top-flight grounds also.

Getting away from the ground after the game was fine. I spent a little bit of time in the Chelsea Megastore after the game and bought an adult XL third (the white one) kit - which, when I went in to work on the Tuesday after the game didn't go down too well with my boss and half the guys in my team... all of them Manchester United fans of course!! Having bought the shirt, I headed into Sainsbury's at the Fulham Broadway shopping centre for a juice, allowing time for the majority of the crowds to disperse - but even then, it was still quite busy on the tube heading back to central London.

Once I was back in Central London, I seen out the last hour of my epic weekend at Euston station - before boarding the 8pm Sleeper service for the journey back up north. I left London with a massive smile on my face having had a memorable weekend, but I felt I went home at the right time because I couldn't have stayed in London any longer this time round.

My overall thoughts of the day were that I really enjoyed it, but I think it's important to bear in mind that Chelsea fans are extremely passionate about their team - and have a well-documented history of 'hardcore' fans, so it's worth keeping colours covered if you're going with a 'big team'. Before and after the game was ok with a team like Bolton, but I could imagine the situation when Arsenal, Man. U, Liverpool, Spurs or West Ham are visitors to Chelsea. It's also advisable to be on your best behaviour in the ground as well, because Chelsea fans aren't scared to open their mouths when prompted to by an over-zealous visiting supporter.

I won't go on about Chelsea fans for too long, because I disliked them before the game anyway. If they weren't such arrogant 'you know whats' then I might like them, but seeing them for myself made it ten times worse - their heads are so far up their own backsides.

Before anyone asks, 'well, why did you buy a Chelsea top if you don't like them then?' My answer is because I like their shirts, it's like someone who buys a Barcelona shirt in Glasgow - you don't buy the shirt because you support the team, you buy the shirt because it looks good and the team are a marketable brand. Which was why I parted with 35 (which again I thought was decent considering it's Chelsea) of my hard-earned wages to buy the top.

Stamford Bridge is one of those grounds which, as a visiting fan, you make what you make of it - either it's a good day or it's not. I had a great day out at Chelsea because I went for the experience more than anything else. It is perhaps surprising then that, given the opportunity again, I wouldn't go back to Chelsea. It is one of those grounds which, when you've been, you walk away saying 'once is enough for me' - or that's just the way I felt anyway, but all in all, I had a better day out at Chelsea than I was expecting - and it was also a nice way to end an unbelievable season for me as a football fan.


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