Ah, so this is where they are!
I have never seen so many men in my life. They are everywhere, swarming like large black ants, the dark mass moving up Fulham Broadway relieved only by the odd flash of white striped with royal blue. I wish I hadn't worn my pink coat - not quite football appropriate garb, I realise as I stand at the mouth of the tube station and let the other Chelsea supporters flow past me. I can't see Lukewarm anywhere and I suddenly panic when I realise that I can't actually remember what he looks like.I phone him and he tells me to wait outside the stadium and I scan the crowd in vain looking for a familiar face until his head appears a few yards away, distinguished from the stern-faced, bulldog masses by a wide, delighted smile. Thank god, he's not dressed in head to toe Chelsea, and isn't wearing a strip shirt over his jumper, I think moments before he bends to kiss me and I simultaneously turn my cheek.
It has been years since I've been to a football match. The last time I came to Chelsea I was accessorised by two small boys, both with Zola emblazoned on their shirts, which - for those of you who know how long it has been since he's played - will give you an idea of the timeframe. In those days I was instructed not to sing, not to comment, not to shriek, and not to cheer. In short I was to be invisible and refrain from embarrassing them but they were quite within their rights to insist on this as I did, and still do not, have any grasp of the rules of football. I had a tendency to do heinous things like: buy tickets in the QPR stands when they were playing Chelsea - unwittingly join in with the other teams chants - boo for the wrong team, criticise the ref when he hasn't done anything wrong and get cross with the players on our side when they foul, even though I don't really know what a foul is.
Today, therefore, it seems safe to assume that those same guidelines still hold true. I am going to be on my best behaviour. Absolutely no singing. No opening of mouth at all, in fact. Unlike the last time I attended when I reviewed Fishnets, the restaurant -in - cringingly appropriate hosiery - I have not worn a skirt. I am in sensible flat shoes. I have layered up against the cold and even brought a hat and gloves.
Shame about the pink jacket, though - that was a grave error of fashion judgement - especially as it's oh-so-nearly not pink but red. I can probably be seen from space.
Can't miss you in that pink jacket - you'll probably show up on the television, says Lukewarm, nervously, taking my hand and then dropping it. I'll look for you during the highlights replay.
As I say, I can probably be seen from space.
After we've gone through the 'lucky' turnstile, in which -thank you god- I did not get stuck, we sit in the lower stands, seven rows from the pitch. It's absolutely freezing and my two pairs of tights, two pairs of socks and three shirts are not doing much to beat the cold except making it very hard for me to bend any of my limbs. I am slightly perturbed by the man next to me who is getting incredibly fed up with Joe Cole who keeps on messing up his passes and starts swearing at him in a tannoy voice of the sort used to evacuate public places in event of a terrorist attack: You're p***ing me off you f***ing w***er b***ard. He shouts, right in my ear, complete with saliva - though without the asterisks. It's fair to say there are absolutely no asterisks in a football stadium. His wife, a demure pensioner with frosted permed hair and a neat little frilled choirboy collar on her white blouse, meanwhile, is calmly taking video shots of the match on her camera. A lone woman in a page boy and puffa jacket sits in front, shivering, as she sings along with the Chelsea anthem, complete with actions. I watch Lukewarm anxiously out of the corner of my watering-from-the-cold eyes. Please don't sing, please, please, no arm movements, I pray, silently, and see him watching me, the same thoughts passing all too visibly across his face. I sit on my hands to reassure him, and to keep them warm.
There's a goal which momentarily silences the rival Cardiff fans who are banging out a tattoo on the metal frame of the stand and singing 'John Terry is sh***ing all your wives'. John Terry isn't playing - he's gone abroad to patch things up with his wife, Lukewarm tells me. Yeah, good luck with that, darling... The Chelsea fans sing back: 'He's sh***ing all your sheep' which hardly casts John Terry in a better light. In the third row there's a posh looking man in one of those quilted jackets that boys wear to prep school, with an expensive blow-dried wife who has one of those haughty, I've-really-got-much-better-things-to-do-than-be-here slumming-it expressions, and a straw-headed child sandwiched between them. He cheers loudly then turns to the Cardiff crowd and opens his arms wide in a taunting gesture and gives them an open handed, two fingered salute while very RP expletives roll from his mouth.
Reader, I feel like Alice in Wonderland. It really has been a long, long time since I have been to a football match.
We win 4-1. Note the we. In the course of 90 minutes I've become a member of the tribe.
Lukewarm and I walk to the pub. I've relieved we won. Otherwise I would have been tainted henceforth by the defeat and the lucky turnstile would be no more. So, did I behave myself well enough? I ask, tentatively, because though I feel I have cheered in the requisite places and kept my commentary to a minimum, one can never be sure.
You were lovely. He says. You didn't sing and you didn't chant and you didn't taunt the crowds. You can come again. Just maybe not wear the pink jacket.