A slight drizzle met us at the door of the HI Express this morning. We delayed our departure so as to walk to Stamford Bridge to take a stadium tour and wander Chelsea FC’s museum. We walked south along North End Road past the countless green grocers and Halal Butchers until which time a left turn took us onto Fulham Broadway and towards the stadium proper.
Now this was going to be something akin to a couple of hours in purgatory for me. Being a Newcastle Utd fan since conception a visit to Stamford Bridge was unwarranted and similar to a masterclass in self harming. But just as much as it hurt me, there was a certain 13 year son on my heels who thought he had arrived at The Pearly Gates.
Photos o’plenty and in the doors marked stadium tours. We used our London Pass to gain access to the the museum and wandered around it stopping to pay special attention to all of the trophies (bastards). 20 minutes later we began our tour with Chelsea faithful Terry as our guide. Tel as we were instructed to call him led us from the waiting area straight into the stands where we took a seat while he shot out a brief club history and current state of the union. It’s easy to gloat when it looks like you are on track to win another Premiership title, so I sat & listened politely.
Further stops in the press suite, home and away locker rooms and then back pitch side to sit in the players bench seats for a summation of our travels. The best part of this tour for me was to sit in the managers Recaro seat on the bench. Perhaps a little flatulence may remain as we got up to move to the exits.
Tel told many gripping yarns about Chelsea. But the one that stuck with me was how it got its name. Chelsea FC is not in Chelsea. Chelsea FC is in the London Borough of Kensington and Fulham one borough to the West. Fulham FC didn’t take kindly to this move and quite right. So over a hundred years ago when the now stadium was converted to a football ground from the city’s only track and field venue , the upstart club owners needed to give its self a name, and an identity.
The chairman of the day took a few of the board members across the street to the then Rising Sun pub. After a brainstorm it came down to the toss of a coin. Heads, Kensington Football Club. Tails Chelsea. Tel kept us in suspense for what seemed like an eternity and then described the chairman’s hand slowly moving away from his wrist to reveal tails. A thunderous pip pip hooray filled the pub like the cheers of thousands because even a hundred years ago no one wanted to be associated to anyone or any place named KFC.
We moved on with a quick busman’s holiday stop at the Metropolitan Police Heritage centre where interactive items such as swords (blunt), hand crank sirens used during the blitz, and a myriad of truncheons, whistles, helmets and stories were on display. Allistair was thoroughly entertained by the dry wit of the arsenal fan / retired policeman who tormented him relentlessly for the Chelsea shirt and lanyard he was wearing. Not too many 13 year olds get to handle real swords. I think it went over well.
We jumped on the District Line Tube at West Brompton and eastbound we went for Westminster. We arrived more relaxed and rested than the day before. We took a tour of Westminster Cathedral where we were entertained by the audio guide. The history in this beautiful cathedral is clearly overwhelming. The baptisms, the marriages, the coronations, the funerals and the dead long buried make for an awe inspiring time while immersed by the voice of Jeremy Irons narrating every step you take.
Here’s a quick tip. In most of not all major churches and cathedrals in England there is without fail a place to rest with a cuppa and slice of Victoria sponge. Westminster is no exception. The caveat here is that this is the worst. You would think that as you are greeted by a swarthy Italian man upon arrival that this place would run with all the precision of an Italian restaurant in Napoli or Roma. Not so. Tragic comes to mind. Service was abysmal, desert was dry and half the order never arrived. The one saving grace was the freshly steeped pot of elderflower and lemon tea. As Tel would have said, “Give it a miss love”.
We then gathered our selves and walked to the guards museum and toy soldier shop on Birdcage Walk. Once again the gates were closed. The proprietor of the shop exited and came to the fence for a quick chin wag. In what I would describe as the closest voice to that of Patrick Stewart in a Shakespearean role (not that Star Trek BS) our new friend regaled us with the state of his country and his distain for politicians. I swear his moustache and mischievous appearance took me back to every painting of Guy Fawkes I had ever seen. Today was budget day in the UK. This was a bad thing no matter. Nevertheless who you are but for the self employed (Patrick) yet another kick up the nightdress. Patrick (I don’t know his name) described in detail what manner of medieval torture he has selected for each of his most disliked MP’s. It took us an hour to get through the list. I left him with thanks for the account of the state of things as we waved goodbye. As we made our way Allistair asked if all English people were funny. I replied yes son, all except your father.
Back through St. James Park to the rear of Whitehall and into Churchill’s War Rooms underground. One word, exceptional. Exceptional tour and exceptional man. Go there, do this when in town. If only I didn’t have the devil’s spawn carry on bag I would have filled a shopping bag with souvenirs from that gift shop!
Next stop the Buckingham Arms for two plates of bangers and mash and two pints. Once again the reason I come here every time I am in London. Great food, great beer, and great service all the while surrounded by pictures of the Royal Family behind the bar pulling their own pints.
We read our London evening Standard newspapers while soaking up the atmosphere and the onion gravy. People started pouring in at 5:30 so we bid the barmaid farewell and headed for St. James Station and tubed back to West Brompton. Great day! Sore feet!