Being a UK based fan of Chelsea doesn’t come with many perks these days. A chance to interact with the players is rare. Even if you pay the vast sums required to attend the Player of The Year dinner, you’ll end up roped off from the players in their VIP area. There is usually an open training session at Stamford Bridge pre-season, but this comes with a stentorian warning that players won’t be able to sign autographs. Even the training ground is generally a no-go for fans since the move from the wilds of Harlington.
However, the club does allow the Chelsea Supporters Group to hold a tournament at Cobham during the close season, and although this is not a public event either, TheChels.Net were lucky enough to be invited along this year to watch proceedings.
This was my first visit to Cobham, and although I don’t drive, it’s a relatively easy journey by train from Waterloo, especially on a beautiful summer’s day. The visitor guidance form said there was a footpath into the training ground directly from Cobham & Stoke D’Abernon station but in the absence of anyone around who looked as if they might be security, I decided to walk from the station to the main entrance. It’s only a 5-10 minute walk to the main entrance of Cobham, but once you get there (and get admitted through by gate security), it’s a bit of a schlep. I don’t think I realised the sheer scale of the place. In effect, there are three sections – the first team facility, that for the reserves and academy, and finally The Hub, which contains an education centre, the ladies’ team pitch, and the community pitches, where the tournament was being held. Walking along it was interesting to see the number of coaches in the car park. Hastings Blues, one of the biggest supporters’ clubs in terms of numbers, had travelled in a very smart coach, and there were plenty of minibuses.
When I finally got to The Hub, it was a hive of activity. It was 11.00am by now, but the first matches had kicked off at 10.00am and the teams were on to the second series of games. There were a number of banners out, including Trizia Fiorellino’s ‘Jose Mourinho’, one from Hastings and, very poignantly, ‘Tony & Kyle’s Road to Munich’. Many readers will be aware that Kyle Broadbent died in August last year following an accident, and Sunday was very much dedicated to his memory, with the cup for the supporters’ tournament final being re-named ‘The Kyle Broadbent Memorial Trophy’ and presented by his father, Tony.
I stopped to say hello to Trizia Fiorellino of the Chelsea Supporters Group, whose collegues, Peter Trenter and Cliff Auger, did a tremendous job of organising the tournament. It was also great to see Mark “Gate 17 Marco” Worrall, together with his beautiful little girl, and future Chelsea Ladies star, Misty Blue. The tournament was also an opportunity to support Regenerate UK, and the legendary Walter Otton was there to represent them.
The tournament was taking place on two pitches, with two groups of five teams, coming from as far afield as the Czech Republic (in fact a team of combined Czech and Slovakian supporters), playing each other once. The second placed teams in the groups would compete for the Shield, with the winners of each group playing in the final for the Memorial Trophy. With a minimum of four games to play, it promised to be a punishing schedule for the players, even with match time reduced to two 10 minute halves.
Having donned my floppy hat and left my canvas bag in the shade of the marquee, I wandered off to watch the action. The early games had seen a heavy defeat for CFCNet at the hands of Denham Blues, and as my friends Seb and Pablo (of Chelsea Fancast fame) were playing for CFCNet, and were due to kick off again shortly against Hastings, I decided to watch that game. Although as mentioned earlier, it’s not by any means a public event, but a few supporters had travelled with some of the teams, and there were also a handful of people who, like myself had been invited along, and it’s always great to see people during the close season.
CFCNet won a closely contested match with Hastings 1-0, with Seb claiming the winner (even though it was definitely off a deflection!), although Hastings were unlucky not to have had a penalty in the second half.
Two people who were busy in the heat were Chelsea legends Clive Walker and Dave Lee, who were refereeing the group games, and former captain Dennis Wise was also in attendance. In spite of the intense heat, the football was of a very high standard. However, at around 1pm, I decided to wander back towards the marquee and eat the sandwich I’d brought with me. It was lovely to get into the shade. A couple of other people including Bushers (aka Twitter’s Graylisation) had also wandered in. Marco was reading Frankie’s Magic Boots – one of the raffle prizes – to Misty Blue. Peter’s grandsons were playing games on mobile phones. Liz was selling raffle tickets. Trizia was collecting match scores. But even the marquee was hot now, probably as a result of half a dozen adults and three small children sitting there, with others wandering in and out. Clive and Rodders came in for much-needed bottles of water.
It was becoming clear that Chelski Dynamo were setting the pace in Group 1, having drawn one and won two of their first three games. However Group 2 was looking incredibly close, and only the last round of games saw Blue & White Army through to the Memorial Final.
Dave Lee and Clive Walker drew the raffle during the break in play before the finals, and after that, many of the teams, who’d been hard at it since ten, drifted off to the changing rooms and their coaches. The CFCNet team were wandering off to the pub. The spectators, however, headed down to the pitches for the climax of the day. Chelski Dynamo were as convincing in the Memorial Final as they had been in the group stages, and triumphed 2-0 over Blue & White Army, to win the tournament for the second year running. Congratulations also to West Middx Blues, who won the Shield Final 5-4 on penalties to finish second overall.
Tony Broadbent, Kyle’s father, presented the trophies and medals to the winning sides to complete a hot and happy day at Cobham.
Thanks again to the Chelsea Supporters Group for allowing me to spend a lovely summer’s day at Cobham, and a big well done to all the players, organisers, volunteers, stewards, and St John’s Ambulance staff. There are some lovely photos of the tournament on Facebook under ‘Chelsea Youth Photos’, and thanks to Daniel Davies for the use of the picture here.
Over the coming weeks on TheChels.Net we’ll be looking ahead to what the new season might bring, and also reporting in the run-up to the first AGM of the Chelsea Supporters Trust, the date of which has now been set for Saturday 17th August.
In the meantime, you can as always follow me on Twitter @BlueBaby67