The day Chelsea stopped off for a beer

STEPHEN PULLINGER Today it sounds like football fantasy. Chelsea's pampered Premiership players step on their coach after a game at Carrow Road and head off to a modest village pub for a slap-up meal of steak and chips washed down with beer.

STEPHEN PULLINGER

Today it sounds like football fantasy. Chelsea's pampered Premiership players step on their coach after a game at Carrow Road and head off to a modest village pub for a slap-up meal of steak and chips washed down with beer.

Mike DiMarco, 54, landlord of the Yare pub, in Brundall, might be a true blue fan but you still cannot imagine Chelsea's mega-rich chairman Roman Abramovich accepting an invitation to dinner - but that's exactly what his predecessor Ken Bates did 25 years ago this week.

As Mr DiMarco got ready yesterday to make his regular pilgrimage to Stamford Bridge to watch Chelsea take on Norwich in the FA Cup fifth round tomorrow, he recalled the night in 1982 when incredulous locals suddenly found themselves surrounded by the entire Chelsea squad, including such well-known names as Clive Walker, Colin Lee and former Ipswich star Colin Viljoen.

He said: "The glamour era of Peter Osgood and the King's Road had long gone and Chelsea were at their lowest point near the foot of the old second division.

"Ken Bates had just bought the club for £1, taking on all their debts, and that's probably why they were happy to accept my invitation to the pub after the league match against Norwich."

Most Read

Mr DiMarco, who had taken over the pub two years earlier with his business partner Paul Lancaster, still has the letter from Mr Bates, which thanked him for the invitation, but said he would not be coming personally because he was "simply too tired to attend any social function after a game".

As Norwich managed to add to Chelsea's relegation woes with a 2-1 win, it was all the more surprising for Mr DiMarco when the Blues turned up on their team coach an hour after the match, accompanied by two police outriders.

He said: "Chelsea's left-back Dennis Rofe, who had just got his HGV licence, was actually driving the coach. That was in the era when players had to prepare for another job after football. It was my off-duty barman who directed them to the pub when they got in the village."

The father-of-two, who became a Chelsea convert after his cousin took him to Stamford Bridge on Boxing Day 1969, recalled that the lounge bar was closed for refurbishment at the time so they had to sort out tables in the public bar.

Coincidentally, the firm carrying out the work, Burrell's of Unthank Road, Norwich, are back at the moment refurbishing the same bar. Mr DiMarco said: "As promised, I supplied them with a T-bone steak dinner and a copious quantity of beer - I even gave them a crate to take back with them on the coach. I think it's fair to say they were a better drinking team than a football team in those days."

That magic night, recorded on photographs surprisingly kept in his attic, was the start of a blossoming friendship with some of the players. "About five of them, including centre half Micky Droy, Colin Lee and Clive Walker, came back five weeks later to officially open the new lounge bar," he said.

Walker became a particular hero of the landlord when he saved Chelsea from the drop to the third division by scoring on the last day of the season to secure a precious draw.

Mr DiMarco said: "The contrast with the mega money in the sport today is shown by the fact I sponsored the shirt of winger Peter Rhoades-Brown the following season for the princely sum of about £20."

Although he is still just as avid a fan, he thinks it would be a "waste of a sheet of paper" to write to Abramovich and invite Chelsea to the pub again if they are held for a replay at Carrow Road.

It is, he admits, a totally different world. A month's wages for super-rich striker Andrei Shevchenko would probably be enough to buy the pub, while Abramovich's palatial yacht would certainly be unable to navigate up the Yare beyond Yarmouth.

cOMMENT - Page 30