Last season the fixtures computer gave us one of the hardest possible opening fixtures, away at Arsenal. We rose to the challenge with a 2-0 victory, so the computer decided that we could comfortably cope with a tough away game, and gave us another one this year at Chelsea. Despite their poor showing last season they should not be underestimated – the bookmakers make them third favourites to regain the title (remember they were champions the season before last) behind the two Manchester clubs.
Of course we beat them last season at Upton Park with a goal from Zarate and a superb winning header from Carroll. But perhaps the game is best remembered for Mourinho being sent off, and the pictures in the following morning papers as he cut a sad figure watching the game from the back of the directors’ box. We were also mightily unlucky in the return fixture at Stamford Bridge when we were robbed, as so frequently happened in the latter stages of the season, by the incompetence of the officials (in this case Mr. Madley). Chelsea’s two goals which earned them a draw were dubious to say the least. For the first the referee made our wall retreat twelve yards allowing Fabregas to score more easily from a free kick, and for the second he gave a penalty when Loftus-Cheek tripped himself up just outside our penalty area. Two scandalous decisions but it is all water under the Bridge now.
I can remember three occasions when we have played Chelsea in the opening league fixture. The first was in our cup winning season of 1963-64 when we drew 0-0 away. I was nine years old at the time and on holiday with my parents and sister in a caravan at the Martello Camp in Walton on the Naze. I didn’t find out the result until the next morning when my dad bought the Sunday paper.
Almost 50 years ago to the day I was at Upton Park for the first game of the 1966-67 season just three weeks after England had won the World Cup. Moore, Hurst and Peters ran on to the pitch alone before the start of the game to receive the acclaim of the West Ham crowd of over 36,000. Unfortunately, despite a goal from Budgie Byrne, we lost that opening game 2-1.
Recently I have been re-reading Robert Banks’ excellent trilogy of books, An Irrational Hatred of Luton, West Ham Till I Die, and The Legacy of Barry Green. In the third book he recounts the first fixture of the 2000-2001 season when we lost 4-2 at Stamford Bridge, with our goals coming from Di Canio and Kanoute. The part I particularly remember is him describing the hot day, a large number in the crowd removing their shirts to resemble the beach at Blackpool, but saying that the donkeys were on the pitch. I seem to recall he was quite scathing about our performance.
There may well have been other first day games against Chelsea but these are the only three that I remember. So what will happen this time? They have a new manager, one of a dozen or more top flight bosses who were not Premier League managers on the opening day of last season. A former Italian international footballer and manager, he has impeccable club footballing management credentials having led Juventus to three consecutive titles from 2011-2014.
Perhaps 2-2 to match the result at Stamford Bridge last season? That would be a good result, although I have a feeling that we might just lose to the odd goal in three. I hope that I’m wrong.
Most Premier League teams play high profile friendly matches before the start of the league season and Chelsea are no exception. In some ways the results are meaningless as players are getting match fit before the real season gets underway. Nevertheless in the last fortnight or so they have lost narrowly to Real Madrid (as we did against Juventus), but they have also recorded impressive victories over Liverpool, AC Milan, and Werder Bremen.
It is a tough opening. Who knows if it is a good or bad time to be playing such a difficult fixture? I hope for a win of course as I always do, realistically I will be pleased if we draw the game, but I won’t be too disheartened if the result does go against us if we put up a decent performance. Perhaps 2-2 to match the result at Stamford Bridge last season? That would be a good result, although I have a feeling that we might just lose to the odd goal in three. I hope that I’m wrong.
A draw would be a good result there. Remember our “19th Century Football 0-0 draw” there in 2013-4 that annoyed Mr. Mourinho so much. It gave us the impetus to go on and win the next four consecutive games. And what are the chances of us repeating the result at Stamford Bridge of just over 30 years ago in March 1986? For those of you too young to remember Tony Cottee scored twice, Frank McAvennie and Alan Devonshire scored one apiece, as we thrashed them 4-0 on our way to our highest ever (third place) finish in the top division.