close
close

Soccer pilgrim finds heaven at Stamford Bridge, home of famed Chelsea

Chelsea fans cheer on their team against Leicester City in the FA Cup quarterfinal at Stamford Bridge in London, England, on March 17, 2024.

Chelsea fans cheer on their team against Leicester City in the FA Cup quarterfinal at Stamford Bridge in London, England, on March 17, 2024. (Matthew M. Burke/Stars and Stripes)

Raheem Sterling, a winger for the British soccer team Chelsea, was booed off the pitch March 17 by his own fans. I, on the other hand, had a much better day taking in the action from the stands.

Being a huge soccer fan and Leicester City supporter, I traveled from Germany to Stamford Bridge as Chelsea took on the fearless Foxes in the FA Cup quarterfinal. It was my first ever European soccer match after 12 years in Japan.

I geeked out over Chelsea’s stadium tour and museum, getting to walk along the pitch and sit in the dressing room, surrounded by silverware, memorabilia and history.

The match day experience was world-class, as one would expect from a top-monied outfit. Leicester fell just short, 4-2, but the lads put on a rousing performance that brought the fans to their feet.

If you’re a Chelsea supporter, or just a soccer fan living pretty much anywhere in Europe, Stamford Bridge has to be on your short list of places to visit. It’s located in west London, which is about a two-hour drive for U.S. service members based at RAF Mildenhall or the other nearby bases.

Chelsea, as their fans love to remind you, is one of the most successful clubs of the century, with 21 major English and international trophies. They won the Champions League, or champions of Europe, in 2012 and 2021.

Chelsea fans celebrate as their team takes on Leicester City in the FA Cup quarterfinal at Stamford Bridge in London on Sunday, March 17, 2024.

Chelsea fans celebrate as their team takes on Leicester City in the FA Cup quarterfinal at Stamford Bridge in London on Sunday, March 17, 2024. (Matthew M. Burke/Stars and Stripes)

An employee of Chelsea Football Club entertains and pokes fun at local rival Tottenham Hotspur during a tour of Stamford Bridge, London, on March 16, 2024.

An employee of Chelsea Football Club entertains and pokes fun at local rival Tottenham Hotspur during a tour of Stamford Bridge, London, on March 16, 2024. (Matthew M. Burke/Stars and Stripes)

The beef and onion pie and a pint of cider were the perfect pre-match fuel at Stamford Bridge, London, on March 17, 2024.

The beef and onion pie and a pint of cider were the perfect pre-match fuel at Stamford Bridge, London, on March 17, 2024. (Matthew M. Burke/Stars and Stripes)

Soccer fans on the stadium tour of Stamford Bridge in London are treated to a glimpse of Chelsea Football Club's locker room on March 16, 2024.

Soccer fans on the stadium tour of Stamford Bridge in London are treated to a glimpse of Chelsea Football Club’s locker room on March 16, 2024. (Matthew M. Burke/Stars and Stripes)

Stamford Bridge in London was buzzing with activity on March 16, 2024, one day before Chelsea Football Club were to take on Leicester City in the FA Cup quarterfinal.

Stamford Bridge in London was buzzing with activity on March 16, 2024, one day before Chelsea Football Club were to take on Leicester City in the FA Cup quarterfinal. (Matthew M. Burke/Stars and Stripes)

Soccer fans on the stadium tour of Stamford Bridge in London view the dais where countless managers have delivered postgame remarks on March 16, 2024.

Soccer fans on the stadium tour of Stamford Bridge in London view the dais where countless managers have delivered postgame remarks on March 16, 2024. (Matthew M. Burke/Stars and Stripes)

Fans of Chelsea Football Club welcome Leicester City to Stamford Bridge in London with a giant banner prior to the FA Cup quarterfinal on March 17, 2024.

Fans of Chelsea Football Club welcome Leicester City to Stamford Bridge in London with a giant banner prior to the FA Cup quarterfinal on March 17, 2024. (Matthew M. Burke/Stars and Stripes)

The day before the match, the Bridge was buzzing, with concessionaires and media moving equipment and tourists posing for selfies. I was apprehensive about dropping the roughly $38 for the stadium tour.

But I soon changed my mind; in fact, I would have paid twice as much.

We entered the stadium, being entertained by a cheeky English bloke making wisecracks about the misfortunes of Tottenham and Arsenal, which I think any self-respecting soccer fan can appreciate.

We walked around the stands and lined up in the tunnel, our group broadcast over the stadium’s enormous display; we sat in the press and players’ seats and entered both dressing rooms.

Not only would I see where my Foxes would receive their halftime pep talk from head coach Enzo Maresca the following day, but I got to sit in front of Didier Drogba’s old locker. The Premier League Hall of Famer netted more than 160 goals in nine years at the club.

I even got to sit at the desk where coaches from Carlo Ancelotti to Zinedine Zidane gave post-game press conferences. Drogba, one of my all-time favorite players, signed for the club at the pearly white table, located in the media room.

I was able to take my time meandering through the cavernous halls, photographing everything.

After the tour, I visited the team museum and beheld an eye-popping array of memorabilia, from game-worn shirts to signed cleats and a dazzling display of trophies and interactive displays.

All the heroes of Chelsea’s storied past were there, from Peter Osgood to Frank Lampard, John Terry and Eden Hazard. I was even able to touch the very Champions League trophy won by Drogba.

Chelsea Football Club battles Leicester City during the FA Cup quarterfinal at Stamford Bridge, London, on March 17, 2024.

Chelsea Football Club battles Leicester City during the FA Cup quarterfinal at Stamford Bridge, London, on March 17, 2024. (Matthew M. Burke/Stars and Stripes)

Chelsea Football Club's numerous trophies are on display in their museum, part of the Stamford Bridge stadium tour, in London on March 16, 2024.

Chelsea Football Club’s numerous trophies are on display in their museum, part of the Stamford Bridge stadium tour, in London on March 16, 2024. (Matthew M. Burke/Stars and Stripes)

A signed, game-worn jersey of Chelsea great Didier Drogba from the club’s Champions League-winning 2011-12 season is just one of the pieces of memorabilia on display in the Chelsea Football Club museum at Stamford Bridge, London, on March 16, 2024.

A signed, game-worn jersey of Chelsea great Didier Drogba from the club’s Champions League-winning 2011-12 season is just one of the pieces of memorabilia on display in the Chelsea Football Club museum at Stamford Bridge, London, on March 16, 2024. (Matthew M. Burke/Stars and Stripes)

Stars and Stripes reporter Matthew Burke, wearing Leicester blue, appears on the big screen across Stamford Bridge on March 16, 2024, while lining up in the tunnel as the players do on match day.

Stars and Stripes reporter Matthew Burke, wearing Leicester blue, appears on the big screen across Stamford Bridge on March 16, 2024, while lining up in the tunnel as the players do on match day. (Matthew M. Burke/Stars and Stripes)

Supporters of Chelsea Football Club take in the action as the hometown team battles Leicester City in the FA Cup quarterfinal at Stamford Bridge, London, on March 17, 2024.

Supporters of Chelsea Football Club take in the action as the hometown team battles Leicester City in the FA Cup quarterfinal at Stamford Bridge, London, on March 17, 2024. (Matthew M. Burke/Stars and Stripes)

Supporters of Chelsea Football Club take in the action as the hometown team battles Leicester City in the FA Cup quarterfinal at Stamford Bridge, London, on March 17, 2024.

Supporters of Chelsea Football Club take in the action as the hometown team battles Leicester City in the FA Cup quarterfinal at Stamford Bridge, London, on March 17, 2024. (Matthew M. Burke/Stars and Stripes)

The following day, I walked back for the match. I kicked it off with a personal-sized beef and onion pie for just under $8 and a pint of cider for the equivalent of $8.61. The pie was perfect pre-match fuel, with a crisp outer crust and a moist and hearty filling.

The Blues rolled out all the pomp you would expect: fire cannons, huge flags, chants and the colorful language heard in the land of our British cousins.

Chelsea was aided by the referee, who awarded a red card for a phantom foul on Nicolas Jackson, but the Foxes gave them a real scare, battling even until extra time.

Being able to see the brilliance of Kiernan Dewsbury-Hall and Stephy Mavididi for Leicester and Cole Palmer and Noni Madueke for Chelsea will forever remain a cherished memory, though I was disappointed that club legend Jamie Vardy did not feature.

The only downside to crossing the Pond to see a Premier League club is the cost. Hotels and airfare can set you back $500 before you even look for tickets on one of the price-gouging resale platforms.

I’ll surely be paying off this trip for the next year. However, I regret nothing, because for me, soccer is everything.

On the QT

Location: Fulham Road, London

Hours: The stadium tour is 60 minutes and departs every 20 minutes between 9:40 a.m. and 4 p.m.

Cost: 30 pounds, or about $38

Information: www.chelseafc.com/en

Source link

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *