In this series, I review my in-ground experience throughout the campaign, this time for Crystal Palace at Wembley Stadium. It’s split into two columns, one for home games and the other for away days. I run through various topics from atmosphere to a game review and give some unique observations directly from stadiums up and down the country.
Journey to the Game: Crystal Palace at Wembley Stadium
You can always count on Chelsea to give you a rollercoaster of a week. Last Saturday I was revelling in the St Mary’s sunshine on the South Coast, watching the Blues cruise to a 6-0 win over Southampton. Then, just a few days later, there was the heartbreak in Madrid as we crashed out of the Champions League 5-4 on aggregate.
And now, with fans and players alike still picking themselves up after Tuesday night, there’s the small matter of an FA Cup semi final. Three different competitions across three different venues – but who can complain about another trip to Wembley? Well, after our recent escapades over the past few seasons, potentially a lot of people.
Nevertheless, I was excited to be going back to the home of English football, although as I mentioned a little earlier in the season it is somewhat of a pain to get to. That said, in comparison to the journeys of Manchester City and Liverpool fans the day before who had to get coaches down to London, a 40 minute tube journey doesn’t seem quite as bad.
Despite my numerous visits, I am still impressed every time I walk up Wembley Way towards the huge arena that is Wembley Stadium. It dwarfs the size of most other grounds in the country, and indeed the world, with its huge overbearing arch sweeping over the top and catching your attention as you head closer and closer.
My only gripe is that, over the past couple of years, there has been a significant change to the entrance coming from Wembley Park tube station. Previously, two long ramps led up to the stadium, separating home and away fans nicely. Now, thanks to someone’s bright idea, there are stairs. I mean, won’t somebody think of the drunk football fans?
Nevertheless, after making my way all around the stadium, I finally made it to Gate A. And so begins my mini rant about ticketing, Chelsea and Wembley Stadium. For those who are unaware, buying tickets for games at Wembley is convoluted to say the least. Rather than buying a section, you buy a ‘category’ which ranges hugely in the actual potential seat position.
For this game, I opted for Category 2. That was, essentially, either in the lower tier behind the goal, or, if you were unlucky, one of the front few rows of the upper tier. You can imagine my surprise then, when I eagerly opened my tickets as they came through the post to find I was in the 28th row of a possible 41 in the upper tier of the stadium.
Add to that the fact the Chelsea end took well over a week to sell out, meaning there were likely plenty of better seats available even after I had received my tickets and, well, you can probably see why I was more than a little frustrated with where my seat was. Still, in the end I was in the stadium which was what counted. Ok, ticketing rant over now.
Chelsea 2-0 Crystal Palace: Game Review
With balloons flying everywhere from the Crystal Palace end (I’m still not sure what that was all about), kick-off was a little delayed at Wembley. It did eventually get underway, although for 45 minutes it didn’t really seem like the players had got the message.
There were a couple of half chances for the Blues, with speculative long shots and half-connected with headers, but nothing of particular note. Mendy was forced into a good save with Palace’s best chance of the half a little over 30 minutes in too, though it was one you’d expect him to make.
A brief moment of optimism seemed to come when Kai Havertz was almost played through on on goal and appeared to be taken down in the box. Upon closer inspection though, the German had dived shamelessly and so the players went in 0-0 at half time.
The second 45 minutes began just as slowly as most of the first had gone, though the Blues were showing more control over the ball in the early stages. Still, the play was slow and lethargic, and no particularly big opportunities presented themselves.
That was until around halfway through the second half when Chelsea went forwards with a little bit of pace for the first time in the game. After a deflected cutback, the ball fell to Ruben Loftus-Cheek who rifled home past Palace goalkeeper Jack Butland for 1-0.
With that goal the game finally opened up a little bit, and the second goal came pretty soon after, with a neat passing move ending with Mason Mount slotting into the bottom corner. After 15 more minutes of action, the referee blew for full time and Chelsea were in the FA Cup Final, again.
Things you don’t see and hear on TV
I mentioned a little earlier on that the Chelsea end of the stadium took some time to sell out. That was pretty evident for much of the match, with the atmosphere from our side being, to be totally honest, pretty awful. Many had clearly chosen to give this one a miss, it being a lesser opponent (as well as it being Easter Sunday).
However, huge credit must go to the opposition supporters who were very much up for this game, even if the result didn’t pan out quite as they had hoped. Right from the off they were loud, and while I have bemoaned their ‘ultras’ section in the past, it did a good job throughout the game of keeping the noise going, so that must be pointed out.
Another aspect of the sanctions placed on the club (many of which appear to have no relation to their intended consequence whatsoever) was the fact Chelsea fans were left flagless. Ordinarily, each set of supporters is given a flag each, but clearly the club weren’t able to pay for this, rendering the East side of Wembley rather sparse of any banners.
On another note, Anthony Taylor received his usual love from the Chelsea fans right throughout the game, which was expected right from when it was announced he’d be refereeing this match. And really, with his history in this competition in our games, it’s not too much of a surprise either.
Finally, in something of an act of defiance at the events of Tuesday night, when the atmosphere did get going in our end there was different take on the chant which has often been the soundtrack for Blues supporters this season. ‘Champions of Europe, we’ll sing it till May.’ And so we will.
I come back to how I began this particular post in this series. It’s been a pretty tumultuous week for Chelsea Football Club, with a 6-0 win followed by a dramatic European tie and an FA Cup semi final. All that too against the ongoing backdrop of the club being under sanctions and progressing through the stages of a sale.
Still, at the end of this ridiculous seven days, I find myself in much the same position as I, and many others, have always been in when supporting this club. We’re nearing the end of the season, heading towards May and in a few weeks time we get to watch our team play in yet another FA Cup Final.
Let’s just hope we bloody win it this time.
Written and Edited by Noah Robson (@noahrobson_)
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