A Man United fan's trek into enemy territory
[stamford bridge & me]
I flew from Paris to London on April 14. My plane left around 7am — something I'll never forget because I was so paranoid about missing my flight that I left for the airport at 4:45am. I got to Charles de Gaulle barely 30 minutes later. Better safe than sorry... I guess.
As I sat at a Brioche Doreé near my gate sipping on an espresso and munching on a pain au chocolate (what was my life????) my phone buzzed. It was an Instagram message from my friend Meblin. Kendrick's new album just dropped. I checked the time. It was 6am on the dot; midnight in the States, which meant the album should have been on Spotify. I opened the app and lo-and-behold, there DAMN. was, all set to become the soundtrack to my trip.
The flight to London was supposed to be an hour but it wound up only being 40 minutes. I flew into Gatwick, not Heathrow, and as soon as I entered into the terminal I felt like I was blasted into the 90s. I only say that now with hindsight. Let me explain: After stepping off the plane I really had to go to the bathroom and the first one I came across looked like something you'd see at the neighborhood park you played soccer at when you were in kindergarten. And I was in kindergarten in the 90s, so...yeah. I digress.
I was blasted back to the future..er...present when I hit customs. Franchement (that's French for frankly for all my non-francophones), it wasn't too much of a pain; and after having a semi-friendly exchange with the checkpoint lad, I began searching for the Gatwick Express — the train that would take me into London proper.
Spurred on by the sound of YAH. in my ear I waited on the platform for the monorail that would take me to the terminal where my train was waiting. By the time I hopped on the Gatwick Express I still hadn't figured out exactly what I was going to do when I reached London. The main reason I was visiting was to meet three of my friends who were traveling to Europe from the States; but they weren't going to arrive until the next day.
Too distracted by the views from outside my window, I spent the train ride staring at the passing landscape with Kendrick [still] serenading me rather than planning what the hell I was going to do when it was time to get off the train. That time eventually arrived and when I took my first full of breath of London air my first thought was that I needed to zip up my jacket. It was freezing.
Okay, so there I was; no idea of my exact location, just that I was somewhere in London (obviously). It was still only around 9am, and since I couldn't check into my hostel until later that afternoon, I took a few random turns and started doing what I do best: aimlessly walking. There's actually a word for that in French: Flaner.
I eventually hit the River Thames and then I remembered I was London. Not just London, London, but the London that has more soccer teams than I have years. So I pulled the data-less and wifi-less phone out of my pocket and opened the maps.me app — luckily I had downloaded an offline map of the city the night before — and started searching for the nearest stadium. It turned out to be Stamford Bridge, so I decided to make a trek to the home of Chelsea Football Club.
[a few shots from my walk to Stamford Bridge]
Outside the entrance of the stadium there were two security guards who had to check vistor's bags before they entered. I was traveling with just a single backpack, which was filled to the brim with clothes and toiletries, and as one of the guards shuffled through my things she asked, "Did you come directly from the airport?" I smiled and said yes. She held back a laugh within a toothless smile and expressed surprise that this was my first stop. I just smiled and said, "I love football."
[scenery from outside the stadium]
The stadium tour cost about 16 pounds and directly after you purchase your ticket, you're whisked away to a queue of people waiting to pose with replicas of the Champions League and Europa League trophies. Being a Man United fan, the last thing I wanted to do was take a picture at Stamford Bridge in front of Chelsea memorabilia — especially since all the photos are kept on file in case customers want to purchase them after the tour. But there was no way to skip the photo op, so I quickly posed and hoped the evidence would eventually be deleted.
My tour group consisted of about twenty people and before we officially started, the guide asked for the Chelsea fans to raise their hands. Only half of the group obliged. The guide then asked all of the non-Chelsea fans to admit their respective allegiances. There were a couple of Lazio fans, a Madridista, a few Bayern Munich supporters, one guy who was crazy about a small club from Chile and just one other person who supported a Premier League team; a Liverpool fan. Then there was me, the lone lover of Man United. Expectantly, the guide reacted to my revelation with a sarcastic smile and a snarky comment about the upcoming United-Chelsea match.
When we entered the stadium and saw the pitch a weird sense of familiarity came over me. I had watched so many Chelsea games on TV, seen so many fan pictures on social media and played so many Fifa matches at Stamford Bridge that I didn't experience any shock or awe. Everything seemed...as it should be.
But then I started thinking of all the matches that took place at The Bridge. I instantly thought of the 2009 Champions League semi-final where Andres Iniesta broke the heart of every single person sitting int the very same seats I was daydreaming from; I thought of the goal Wayne Rooney scored in the 2011 Champions League quarter-finals after a Hollywood pass from Michael Carrick and a Broadway first touch + cross from Ryan Giggs; I thought of the Mourinho years of total domination; I thought of the Premier League trophies that had been lifted at center pitch...
I was sitting smack dab in the middle of soccer history. It was such a cool feeling.
[views from inside]
Like most stadium tours we saw the press room, the home and visitor dressing rooms and the dugouts on the touchline. I did my best to take in the scenery amidst the swell of my selfie-crazed fellow tourists. Other than trying to bully my way to the center of the technical area for an Instagram-worthy selfie, what I remember most is sitting in the visitor's locker room and looking at all of the replica jerseys hanging up. They displayed the names of the legendary names who have played at Stamford Bridge.
And guess which team had the most representatives? You guessed it: Man United.
[mufc @ the bridge]
My visit to The Bridge wound up being a morning very well spent. And I look back on it with even more fondness because two days after my visit, United beat Chelsea 2-1 at Old Trafford.