GILES SMITH'S THURSDAY THOUGHTS

Posted on: Thu 17 Oct 2013

Giles Smith, while searching for his scarf and hat, becomes nostalgic in this week's column…


We've got a home game this weekend. Remember those?

They were extremely popular, back in the day. Why, when the fashion for home games was truly raging, it was not unknown for in excess of 41,000 people to show up at Stamford Bridge and cheer on Chelsea.

There would be noise and songs, a riot of colour and a festival of footballing action. And then, by and large, everyone would go home happy, because home games almost invariably ended in a victory.

But, of course, you don't see home games much these days. Indeed, to come across the last one, you've got to dig way, way back into the annals of the club, all the way to September 21st 2013.

That was the day our neighbours, Fulham, came to the Bridge and were duly humbled, 2-0, before an excited crowd, many of whom - if memory serves - wore caps and twirled wooden rattles, while smiling local bobbies looked on benignly, entirely unconcerned that they were appearing in black and white because colour hadn't yet been invented.

Golden times, those, when you could go to a game with five shillings in your pocket, get a ticket, a programme and a mug of Bovril, and still have enough left over to buy a Morris Minor on the way home.

Since then we've travelled to Swindon, Tottenham, Bucharest and Norwich - to almost everywhere, really, except south-west London - before enjoying an enforced holiday, courtesy of yet another international week.

And what it all means is that we've gone through an entire calendar month without playing at home - the kind of deprivation one normally only has to put up with in the summer, or in the event of the outbreak of a world war. And yet it's October, and the world is largely at peace.

These are crazy times.

You've got to wonder, in the circumstances, what condition the ground is in. It's been so long since anyone was there that, at the very least, it's going to be in need of a good dusting. At the worst, we could be about to witness a variation on that old winter story, in which a crowd of dedicated, local fans gets together on the morning of the match and ensures the game can go ahead by clearing away the cobwebs.

And is the grass all right? Has anyone been cutting it all this time? Or does it now stand as high as the roof of the dugout, with various weeds and brambles now sprouting between the seats in the Family Section? Again, I'm sure there are loads of us who will be happy to help out on the day, if necessary. Anything to get football started on the Fulham Road again.

Either way, all the indications are that Saturday's game will kick off at 3.00pm and will be against Cardiff City. Yes, Cardiff. Apparently they've made it into the Premier League. Who knew? You'll be telling me they've started playing in red next.

See you at the Bridge, then, if you're coming. And in case anyone's forgotten how to get there, there are some very handy directions and a guide to the best modes of public transport on this very website.

And don't worry if you think you've forgotten anything else - where you get a programme, the nearest tea bar, where your seat is, that kind of thing: I'm sure it will all come back to us as soon as we get into the ground and get going again.

Here, by way of a public service, is a brief recap - a refresher course, if you like - of where we were before this latest international break so rudely interrupted us.

Where we were was this: Willian had just scored the goal of the season against Norwich in a 3-1 victory which left us in third place in the league, on 14 points, just two points off the top with seven games played.

Norwich v Chelsea

As usual at this early stage in the season, the top end of the table was showing some very surprising names - Southampton, Arsenal and Liverpool - but there was the usual general expectation that everything would shake down eventually and normal order would soon be restored.

Meanwhile, Tottenham's league campaign seemed to have exploded, perhaps terminally, with a 3-0 defeat at home to West Ham and Gus Poyet, once of this parish, was about to take over at bottom-of-the-table Sunderland, a move which many felt was akin to picking up a hand grenade with the pin out, although Poyet seemed confident enough that he could emerge in one piece and largely unscorched. Good luck with that, Gus.

In other competitions, we had increased our chances of qualifying for the knock-out stages of the Champions League by destroying Steaua Bucharest 4-0 away from home and had advanced to the fourth round of the Capital One Cup, where we had been drawn to play Arsenal Reserves at the Emirates. So, the prospects on all fronts were looking fairly rosy.

All in all, with momentum gathering so encouragingly, the last thing we needed was an international break. But then, when was an international break the first thing we needed - or the first thing anyone needed? It's football's equivalent of engineering works on the line requiring the use of a replacement bus service between Peterborough and Stevenage, meaning the train that should have arrived at King's Cross at 18.40 gets in after midnight. Ridiculous - and an entirely avoidable inconvenience, with better planning.

Ah, well. We're home now, and it's over. Onwards and upwards.