More of the same, please!

‘The more things change, the more they stay the same.’

A quote from French novelist Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr which has resonated with me over the years.

Stoke at the Bet365 Stadium on Saturday was my first Chelsea away game in 14 years and it was a mixture of the old and the new, the strange and the familiar.

I initially went to the Bridge in the seventies, but now I live in the States it's rare that I see them play on this side of the pond, and it's enough of a thrilling novelty for me that I still get goosebumps at kick-off. I flew the Atlantic on Friday night, got into Heathrow and drove straight up to the Potteries. At my age that's an itinerary more challenging than dealing with a tricky Eden Hazard dribble.

Alvaro Morata celebrates one of his three strikes against Stoke...

The pre-match rituals haven't changed. The fans go to a pub, queue at the turnstiles, sing in the underbelly of the stand, congregate around the bars and food outlets. Our away supporters sing the whole 90 minutes. Everyone still goes wild when we score. What is different compared to what I am now used to watching in America (American football), is the crowd.

At Stoke, the vast majority were males around my age and I suspect most have been following the Blues for many years. It was obvious that most knew each other as they would say hello or stop for a chat as they bumped into one another in the stadium and its environs. The percentage of either females or children was very low in comparison.

In contrast, when I go to watch the New Orleans Saints in the NFL at the Superdome, the range of attendees is a lot more varied with toddlers, teenagers and tourists all in amongst the loyal season ticket holders. I realise it's not exactly comparing ‘like-for-like’ and that the away support of any team anywhere tends to differ from the home support due to all sorts of factors, but it still struck me how the matchday experience in the States is so different compared to that in the UK. Watching top-level ‘soccer’ in England compared to watching top-level American football is, well, like living in a foreign country.

The Chelsea fans in fine voice

Speaking of foreign countries, I will be in attendance at the newly opened Wanda Metropolitano in Madrid this week as our Champions League campaign continues. Whilst on my fleeting visit to the UK, I’m cramming in three games – Stoke last weekend, Atletico on Wednesday and then Manchester City at the Bridge on Saturday.

Prior to this visit, the last away game I saw we won 5-0. At the weekend it was 4-0. Like I wrote, the more things change...

Atleti's new home: Wanda Metropolitano