Being back at Stamford Bridge was an absolute joy. For the first time in a year and a half, I went to see my team play live last Tuesday. Football has been a large part of my life since I went to my first game in January 2003. Chelsea have always been my club. So not being able to go and see them play was not great. Of course, all football fans were starved of being able to go and watch their team over the last year and a bit. No fans were allowed in until the very end of last season, and at much reduced capacity. Now, stadiums are back to being full again, more people can get back to following their team in person. For me, there was also the fact that I had moved to a completely different part of the country that would make travelling for home games at least rather more complex than it had been before. But we were determined to get to at least one home game this season.
I’d been to a couple of games since spectators were allowed back in with my brother-in-law at his team and I had really enjoyed it. It was great to be back watching live football, rather than watching on a tv or a laptop. But I was itching to get to a Chelsea game, home or away. A European night against one of the most famous and illustrious names in the European game was certainly a game to try and get to. And after more than a year away, all the excitement came rushing back as we got closer and closer to the ground. All the build-up of nerves and everything else was there as we walked down the Fulham Road. It was really once we passed the point where the police had shut the road that it all really started to come back to me. I get excited about going to see Chelsea play, no matter who the opposition is. I get excited going to watch them play Grimsby Town in the League Cup, never mind playing Juventus in the Champions League. That feeling of walking up the steps into the stand itself towards our seats reminded me of how I had felt when I went to that first game all those years ago. Stamford Bridge had seemed like the biggest place in the world when I walked up the steps of the West Stand on that day in January 2003. Now, it was the one place I wanted to be for the next two hours.
And the songs were there straight away; the chants, the taunting of the opposition players. Being a fan at a game is something that comes naturally. Even our seats were right for us returning to the ground after so long away. Right at the back of the tier we were in, with a slightly restricted view of the game, for the first half at least. But it was perfect. And boy did the team make it even more special. They destroyed Juventus and have put themselves in a brilliant position to finish top of their group, having secured qualification to the first knockout round. It was wonderful to see so many academy graduates stamping their authority in the team as well; three of Chelsea’s four goal scorers were English products of Cobham. Ruben Loftus-Cheek also continued to rehabilitate his Chelsea career with a great performance in midfield after N’Golo Kante was forced off in the first half. This was the first game I’d seen under Thomas Tuchel’s management and the impact the man has had is almost unbelievable. The defensive issues that plagued Frank Lampard’s time in charge were totally absent on Tuesday. Apart from a superb goal-line clearance from Thiago Silva, they were totally untroubled. That solidity is the platform that Chelsea can then use to attack from, in a formation that means they can get the very best out of players Reece James and Ben Chilwell, at both ends of the pitch. And with Romelu Lukaku returning to full fitness soon, Chelsea will have a world-class striker that can easily score 25 or more league goals and really sustain the Blues excellent start to the season.
It’s been brilliant watching Chelsea on the tv pretty much ever since Thomas Tuchel took over, but nothing beats watching your team play that well, when you’re in the ground and sharing that joy with your fellow supporters.