Saturday, April 29, 2006. It is the English Premier League match at Stamford Bridge. Forty thousand screaming football fans are crammed into the stadium to see a game between the two giants of English football, Chelsea and Manchester United. The noise is unbelievable. The Chelsea fans sing “We are the Champions.” They also chant the name of the Chelsea manager enthusiastically “Jo-se Mou-rinho… Jo-se Mou-rinho” to the tune of La donna e mobile from Verdi’s Rigoletto.
I can feel my heart pumping ten to the gallon. The adrenalin is rising up through my body. In less than five minutes the stadium explodes in ecstasy. Frank Lampard kicks the ball into the middle of the penalty area and William Gallas heads it into the net. Chelsea lead 1-0. Gallas celebrates his goal by doing a somersault before diving onto the pitch – sliding his feet with arms stretched forward. The chants of “Chelsea Glory” get louder and louder.
Stamford Bridge shakes as if it’s been hit by an earthquake. The crowd jumps to its feet and everybody is chanting, screaming out loud. Most of the ground is a mass of blue, the Chelsea colour. Only small part in the visitors’ side is red, the colour of Manchester United.
I see the manager, Jose Mourinho jump from his seat. He clenches his fists and screams in victory. If the players are the performers on the pitch, Mourinho is a performer on the bench, and Stamford Bridge is a full-house theatre.
I sit in the visitors’ section because I did not get a ticket to sit among the Chelsea’s fans. It is a big match. Now, I regret not booking the ticket earlier.
The Chelsea supporters are still bouncing and singing “Blue is the colour”. They hug and laugh in joy. Mourinho shouts to the players to stay focused. He points his finger, issues commands, and sometimes shakes his head in disbelief when his side makes a mistake. He purses his lips and watches the game with intense concentration.
I feel funny to be watching the match with the enemy camp. When the Chelsea side jumps in excitement, Manchester United’s fans all around me are crying in pain. I hear swearing from behind my seat. The supporters shout “Boooo….” every time Chelsea players have the ball.
Of course, I want to shout with delight after Gallas’ goal. But I am the only Chelsea fan here, alone, sitting among United’s fans. I have to hide my big smile and my relief when the atmosphere around me is mourning the goal. Manchester United supporters begin to yell “Rooney… Rooney… Rooney” to motivate Wayne Rooney, who always creates troubles for Chelsea defenders.
But everything is going Chelsea’s way. John Terry passes the ball, Didier Drogba makes a cross, a shot from Lampard, oohhhh…. what a save from Edwin van der Saar, United’s goalkeeper. At this stage, the United’s fans begin to look nervous. Their eyes are like bowling balls, rolling and spinning, worrying and looking everywhere to see where the danger is. Concentration is at its peak.
In the second half, a second goal comes from Chelsea’s young rising star, Joe Cole. He moves passed three Manchester United defenders who can only watch the goal in horror as his vicious shot curves out of reach of the desperate keeper and into the top left-hand corner of the net. What a beautiful goal… I almost jump from my seat to join the celebration. But I realize that I cannot. I dare not imagine what will happen to me if I say something like “Go Chelsea!”
Mourinho claps his hands to congratulate the players. He had asked the players to keep attacking whenever they have the ball and to press when the opponent had it.
When the third goal comes, the noise inside a stadium full of ecstatic supporters is deafening. The Chelsea supporters sing “That’s why we’re champions, that’s why we’re champions”. Then, the whistle blows twice as the referee brings the match to an end.
Instinctively, Jose Mourinho raises his arms in a sign of victory. The fans shout “Jose Mourinho! Jose Mourinho!” to congratulate him. More and more fans are gathering near the players’ tunnel. “We made it!” is heard rising above the shouts and hugs. Mourinho greets his assistants and the players in the bench before congratulating the players on the pitch.
I am still standing among Manchester United’s fans. They are now completely silent in disbelief and misery. I want to move out to the pitch to join the party. But again, I cannot. I am just standing here – trying hard to hold back my tears of jubilation. I bite my lips. Hard. I am happy. Wish I could share hugs with all Chelsea fans and scream.
They say that in England football is not merely a game. They laugh and cry because of football. People will die for football. But I felt a little bit disappointed as I do not see any evidence of it. There is no hooliganism. Not today. I see no destruction from the United fans or fights between the two sides. They are nowhere to be seen in this carnival. Maybe they have gone straight back to Manchester. No hard feelings. It’s a fair game, though. I am still standing at the front of the entrance when two horse police pass through the crowded street. It is as if they also want to be in the party. Inside the crowd.