WORDS WITH: SUGGS
Lifelong Chelsea fan and singer with London's finest, Madness, paid the training ground a recent visit. He also spoke to the official Chelsea website…
There have certainly been worse times to be a Chelsea fan living in north London than the past decade or so.
Even this season when Tottenham and Arsenal are grouped in close contest with us in the league positions below the Manchester clubs, we have beaten the Gunners home and away and added a good victory at White Hart Lane to last season's thumping of Spurs in the FA Cup semi-final.
One of Chelsea's most devoted celebrity fans is also the front man for one of north London's most celebrated bands. Suggs, the singer and TV presenter who has helped supply the Stamford Bridge soundtrack during a life of support, knows full well what it has been like following west London's finest from the north side of the capital city, and he shared the experience with the official Chelsea website during a recent visit to our Cobham training ground.
Suggs became lead singer of Madness back in the late 1970s and enjoyed huge chart success with the band rooted in Camden Town, but he was a Chelsea fan years before, and lived through a long period of mixed fortunes on the pitch to say the least.
'I lived in Fulham for three years between 1967 and 1970 and went to school right round the corner from Stamford Bridge, and of course it was a great time to be a Chelsea fan with that marvellous team,' he recalls as he sets the scene.
'Then we moved north and it coincided with the decline of the club and it was 26 years of abject misery. We nearly went to the third division and it was just ritual humiliation pretty much every day of my life at that time.
'Tottenham were good in the early Seventies and Arsenal were just getting better and better and all through the George Graham years it was so depressing, but we got our revenge eventually and I remember the exact moment,' he says with a smile as he relives the game in question.
It was the first Chelsea win at Highbury for five and half years and one that unexpectedly knocked Arsene Wenger's team out of the Champions League quarter-finals, thanks to Wayne Bridge's late goal.
'That Arsenal side was supposedly the world's best side at the time and I kind of thought they were,' admits Suggs.
'I remember it very clearly because they played Man United in the cup at the weekend and they didn't play [Thierry] Henry because they were saving him to play against us. They lost to Man U, it was practically the first game they lost all season and then they lost against us. Of course we went on to mess it up completely in the semi-final but that for me was the turning point.
'Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink was the first one of our players I saw put any fear up Arsenal, and chinks in their armour started to appear and the tide turned.
'And against Tottenham there was Three Point Lane and all that, that amazing long unbeaten run, and that is the terrific thing about being a fan for a long time, all those ups and downs and what goes around comes around. I make the mistake lots of times of texting fans of other teams at half-time and you learn that lesson of rubbing it in, because it all comes back round, but it is also the joy of the banter.'
Football banter within Madness is relatively mild. Drummer Woody (pictured below right) and their soundman for 30 years are also die-hard Chelsea fans. Mark Bedford, the base player, is an Arsenal season ticket holder and there is other vague Arsenal support in the band but there is more for Chelsea than anyone else, despite the Camden connection.
Around home Suggs has made a speciality of working out which north London pubs are not too Tottenham and not too Arsenal for watching any away games he can't attend in person.
'I even tried when we first moved to north London to support Arsenal but I just couldn't say the word.
'Because I have lived around Camden and Highbury it was much more Arsenal than Spurs but there are pockets of Chelsea fans in north London - in King's Cross and the Regent's Park Estate. A lot of those kids used to go to my school in Finchley Road and a lot more were Chelsea there because it was on the borders of Kilburn and places like that.'
One badge of honour in his life of supporting Chelsea is that Suggs was sacked from Madness in their early days for attending matches rather than rehearsals when sessions were added on Saturday afternoons.
On his way back from one of our frequent defeats at the time he cheered himself up by buying a music paper, only to discover he'd been fired from Madness when he saw an advert from a north London band requiring a professionally-minded singer, and recognised the phone number.
'I rang up and in a posh voice asked, just out of interest, what has happened to the old singer and he said we had to let him go, he wasn't taking it seriously.'
Suggs's response is unprintable but after a while and with the rest of the band desperately needing to fulfil some bookings with a singer who knew the words, they let him return.
Many years and many hits down the line it was Suggs the soloist who sang Chelsea's official 1997 FA Cup Final song Blue Day. It has its place in a cherished and long-awaited triumph and unlike so many such songs it has lived on.
It is a Madness song however that has become the mass celebration tune at Stamford Bridge immediately after many a significant victory - One Step Beyond.
'The first time it happened I was there, the beating of Barcelona, and what an amazing night that was anyway,' Suggs says.
'It was amazement upon amazement and that spontaneous reaction to the song in the crowd, it was extraordinary and it has been since. Cheeky Man City put it on when they beat us.
'I have been away this year but I heard they put it on after the Prague game. It is not quite Barcelona but it is great when you have something that grows up spontaneously.'
Happily for us all, especially given the club's success in recent times, Suggs heeded a 'Don't watch that! Watch this!' instruction when he moved as a schoolboy from west up to north London all those years ago.
- Read Thursday's Matchday Programme for the game versus Steaua Bucharest for more on Suggs's recent visit to Cobham.