Writer: Tim Stillman
Date:Monday January 14 2013
Where next? Chelsea`s Stamford Bridge.
Where are we seated? Arsenal have been given an allocation of 3,000 seats in the Shed End, behind the goal. Allocation is split between upper and lower tiers. Tickets are £59.
What`s it like? Stamford Bridge, piece by piece, has undergone quite a transformation in the last twenty years. It`s unrecognisable from the ground that used to house a car park behind one of the goals, or even the roofless West Stand of yore, which is now a three tiered structure. Stamford Bridge was always an elliptical ground and during tis redevelopment, that shape has been used to full effect to fill the corners of the ground in.
The away support gets a better deal than it used to as well. Fifteen or so years ago you were at the mercy of the elements in the West Stand. Then until 2005, the away support was somewhat crammed in along the Lower East Stand, with the dugout a persistent obstruction to your view if you were near the front, or with the roof of the middle tier obscuring sightlines if you were near the back.
Jose Mourinho asked that away fans be moved away from the dugout areas and ever since, away fans have been seated behind the goal. Sight lines in the Upper Tier especially are much, much better here and it`s much easier to generate an atmosphere with the away fans not so spread out. That said, you don`t half pay for it at Chelsea- like most London grounds. But the surrounding area, with its vast choice of eateries and pubs, is one of the more pleasant and affluent in the league.
What are the facilities like? Again, moving to the Shed End has seen a significant improvement in this respect for away supporters. The lower East Stand contained a couple of tiny, serve one kiosks in a very narrow corridor. In the Shed End, the concourses are much wider and the facilities are much easier to get at. In the upper tier, you also get an untroubled view of the big screen in the corner of the Matthew Harding Upper tier at the other end of the ground. The Shed End has always been Chelsea`s landmark stand and, as such, it has been built with the comforts of home supporters firmly in mind.
You can get a Heineken or a Guinness at about £3.50 a pint. Though it`s questionable whether they`ll serve beer inside the ground for this fixture. I`ve always eaten outside the stadium at Stamford Bridge, so I couldn`t tell you whether the food is good value. The only real grumble is that, on your way into the ground, there`s little segregation until you reach the lip of the Shed End entrance. When you do arrive lines between the upper and lower tier entrances are barricaded and it`s not immediately clear which one you need to join. Maybe it`s because Arsenal are considered a derby of sorts, but expect a very thorough search on your way into the ground. You`ll get the sort of "once over" that some men pay big money for in Soho back alleys!
What are the home fans like? Despite Chelsea`s success diluting the atmosphere of ferocity that used to exist at Stamford Bridge, there`s still plenty of "Stone Island and Hackett" sorts. This is a game where it`s not particularly sensible to wear colours as an Arsenal fan. I`ve seen many a flashpoint over the years. (Including seeing a Chelsea fan in his 50s call a polite Canadian woman "a Yank c**t" because she asked him what the final score had been. She wasn`t being facetious because Arsenal had just won, she was genuinely curious. Far from an isolated incident in my experience).
When you exit the stadium, you`ll come shoulder to shoulder with the Chelsea fans as you leave the ground too. A lot of, ahem, "banter" is usually exchanged between both sets of fans, but there`s a heavy enough police presence to prevent flashpoints. But again, it`s definitely not advisable to wear colours. It isn`t worth the risk. There`s plenty of bad feeling between these teams and it translates in the atmosphere. Once you`re on the Fulham Road, you`re much more vulnerable in that respect.
How to get there? Fulham Broadway is the nearest tube station, which usually necessitates changing at Earl`s Court and waiting an age for the right train. Usually it`s just as easy to walk from Earl`s Court. It only takes about ten minutes and it`s a pleasant enough area to walk around in.
Any historical landmarks? Everybody knows Chelsea have no history……
Where to drink? To my knowledge, there isn`t an away pub as such. Most of the ones close to the ground are home fans only. If not enforced by a sign on the door, the clientele may indirectly enforce that feeling! The Courtfield Tavern opposite Earl`s Court is a popular destination, but many Gooners prefer to drink away from the ground at Victoria Station Wetherspoons.
This being a London derby a lot of the away support will have affiliates in the home end and drink with them. This is certainly the case for me. But I`m not giving away where I drink because it`s relatively hidden and quiet and I`d like it to stay that way!
Date:Monday January 14 2013
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