Tales From The Land Of Fire

June 7, 2019

 

We've followed Chris Axon, long time Chelsea supporter in the UK and long time Chelsea in America honorary member, around the world this year.  From our friendly in Australia in July through Baku for the Europa League Final.   Aside from a small snippet of his trip and match story here, give his full account a read here.   A first hand account of Europa League glory in a place almost as hard to get as the top of Everest.

 

Thanks to Chris for allowing us to share this season.

 

Here's a brief snip of his full story:

 

 

  

Wednesday 29 May : 11pm – Section 114, Row 20, Seat 29, Olympic Stadium, Baku.

 

I had reached my seat with about fifteen minutes to go. On the pitch, the last few moments of a quite inappropriate musical sequence were taking place. It was all very “Superbowl” and all very tedious. Where is my “go to” comment about modern football? Ah, there it is.

 

I hate modern football.

 

The booming noise emanating from the speakers meant that there was simply no point in us even attempting any Chelsea songs and chants. It seemed that the event was bigger than us, far bigger. It felt like we were just pawns rather than kings. I looked around the stadium. There were empty seats everywhere. I glanced over at the Arsenal section. The thin sliver was pretty packed apart from a half-full upper deck, not too far from where we had watched the Qarabag game – getting increasingly colder – not so long ago. There was a mixture of fans in jeans and shorts. It was a warm night and very pleasant, despite the late kick-off slot. I spotted a few familiar faces. Kev from Port Talbot – one of those on the two Thomas Cook flights from Luton – was down below me. Kisses and handshakes for the “Bristol lot” as they walked past me. I had chosen the most expensive seat available – as had many people I know by the look of it – and I was rewarded with a seat in line with the goal line. It would prove to be a treasure, a gift from the footballing Gods.

 

Fireworks on the pitch and from atop the stand.

 

The pre-match paraphernalia was cleared away.

 

Through the smoke of the fireworks, I was just able to take a photograph of the teams on the far side.

 

Phew. Here it is then.

 

My game number fifty-six, from Australia to Azerbaijan.

 

The team was not a surprise, but we were of course greatly relieved to see N’Golo Kante starting. Emerson and not Alonso, a big game for the lad. Giroud upfront, good. Pedro instead of Willian.

Arrizabalaga

Azpilicueta – Christensen – Luiz – Emerson

Jorginho

Kante – Kovacic

Pedro – Giroud – Hazard

 

For Arsenal, I was only interested to see if Petr Cech was playing.

 

He was.

 

Before the match, before the trip, I had been quite sincere with a prediction of a “0-0 then penalties”.

 

The game began and I had to make my first decision. Although the section to my left – behind the goal – was standing, most in my section were sat. I saw that Kev and Gary were stood a few rows in front, but it looked like I would be forced to sit. I felt terrible about sitting. It felt like I had lost the battle. I didn’t sit in Stockholm, nor Moscow, nor Munich, nor Amsterdam. I glanced across at the Arsenal section. They all seemed to be standing.

 

Bollocks.

 

Not long into the game, I saw a chap wearing a black Manchester United jersey file past me and I could not resist a few words of abuse. In front of me was a bloke in a Galatasaray shirt. To my right, no more than ten seats away, was a bloke in an Arsenal shirt.

 

Fucking hell.

 

What has this become?

 

And how on Earth had these fools managed to get tickets in the 6,000 Chelsea section? I would really love to know that.

 

A large stadium that was barely two-thirds full. Other team supporters sitting in our section. Chelsea supporters from the UK split up over three tiers.

 

Chelsea fans sitting. Hardly any noise, nor songs, nor chants, nor laughter, nor atmosphere. Because of the factors mentioned, it was a truly agonising first-half. It was horrible. It was one of the worst halves of my footballing life. It was a totally shameful atmosphere. It honestly felt like a summer tour game in the US or Thailand or Australia. I will be honest, the pre-season game against Arsenal in Beijing in 2017 was way louder.

 

The word “surreal” does not do it justice.

 

Many times during the first forty-five minutes, I felt that this was the end of the road for me. It was that upsetting.

 

 

 

On the pitch, it was a very quiet start, with lots of shadow boxing. Arsenal had more possession, though, and Aubameyang’s shot flashed wide of Kepa’s post after ten minutes. There were general mutterings of unrest in the seats around me as Arsenal continued to dominate. However, a penalty appeal involving Lacazette as he lept over Kepa never looked like resulting in a penalty, despite the audible howls from the Arsenal section. In that first-half, I could discern a few chants from that end. Our end seemed to be ball watching, not involved, distant. Slowly, Chelsea woke up and began to get involved. Kante, who had worried me in the first quarter of the game with a few odd errors, broke down the right and his cross towards the near post towards Giroud had us on our feet. sadly, the Frenchmen’s feet got tangled and the chance was lost. Pedro had been free just behind him.

 

Xhaka struck a very fine effort towards goal, and the rising drive clipped the top of our bar.

 

At last the game was evolving, slowly, into a final worthy of the name.

 

But still there was hardly any noise anywhere.

 

Emerson and Hazard were linking up well on the far side. Occasionally, Eden would wander over to the other flank. A turn, a spin and a twist would result in Arsenal defenders reaching for their sat nav. Emerson forced a block from Cech. With five minutes to go before half-time, a fine move involving Jorginho and Hazard ended with the ball at Giroud’s feet. He pushed the ball into space and shot low with his left foot – not a clean strike – but Cech was able to drop to his left and push the ball around the post.

 

I met up with Kev and Gary at half-time and we formed “The Baku Half-Time Moaners Club.”

 

You can imagine our chat. Back at my seat, I wondered if we were in for another second-half implosion, our motif of the whole season.

 

Wednesday 29 May : Midnight – Section 114, Row 20, Seat 29, Olympic Stadium, Baku.

 

The second-half began with Kovacic and Giroud in the centre-circle. A push of the ball backwards and we were away again. Eden was immediately a live-wire and he seemed to suddenly have more space than before. After just five minutes, the ball was played to Emerson, not so far away from me, about ten yards in from the touchline. I snapped my camera as he struck a cross towards the waiting Giroud. The ball was waist high and our striker fell to his knees to meet it, some fifteen yards out, reaching the flight of the ball just before Koscielny could react. His header was perfection. I watched as it flew low into the corner of the net past Cech’s hopeless dive.

 

Chelsea 1 Arsenal 0.

 

GET IN YOU BEAUTY.

 

Read the full account of Baku here.

 

 

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