Chelsea FC: Centenary Club from £150pp.
On a crisp, sunny Sunday morning, we can almost smell the Spring in the air as we make our way through central London to the conveniently located St. Giles Hotel, where the concierge greets us with a smile before handling out the envelope that contains our Centenary Club tickets for the Chelsea vs Everton match.
From there, coffee in hand, we take a bus all the way down to the Fulham Road and get off as close as we can to the mythical Stamford Bridge stadium, home of the Chelsea Football Club since 1905. It’s a beautiful day for a walk and the street is not crowded, so we take our time to enjoy the atmosphere and quickly pop into The Chelsea Pensioner, a traditional-looking corner pub that is almost a mandatory stop for – ticket-holding – fans on a match day such as today. Testament to this is the fact that approximately 2 hours in advance of the game the place is absolutely packed but, alas, we soon realised the crowd is almost entirely a male one. This being not only a match date, but also International Women’s Day, my female companion and I take a minute to smile at the irony and decide to continue our journey to the stadium, a mere few metres down the road.
The trip from the pub to the Centenary Club, where our three-course lunch awaits, is fast and entirely seamless except for the moment we take to appreciate the Shed Wall; the only remaining bit of the original 1905’s stadium and a popular picture-taking spot for fans and visitors from around the world. From there we walk through the entrance of the Copthorne Hotel and straight into the Centenary Club among the greetings and welcoming smiles of the staff, one of whom has been appointed to politely remind people to use the ad-hoc standing dispenser to sanitise their hands before entering the premises. The outbreak of Coronavirus is all over the news and in everybody’s minds after all, and it’s reassuring to find that the team are taking the precautions the situation calls for.
Hospitality Area and Food & Beverage
As soon as we walk into the lounge — hands clean and Chelsea Programme for the day in hand — are immediately hit by the tantalising smell of Sunday roast and, hungry as we are, quickly make our way to the closest available table to leave our coats and get ready for what promises to be a great meal. A minute later we are wondering around the several stations scattered around the place: enough of them to ensure we don’t have to queue at any point, but not that many that we become overwhelmed by the variety on display. Cold starters include a remarkable selection of cheese, nuts and fruits, as well as salads, salmon, charcuterie and even soup of the day. Everything looks amazing but we try our best to pace ourselves: on our way and on the tables we got a good glimpse at the mains – roast beef, pesto chicken and breaded fish, along a variety of roasted vegetables and sides – and we are determined not to miss out on them.
We believe such a luxurious meal calls for the company of some red wine so we make our way to the excellent staffed bar to get them, only to discover on our way an extra station that we had somehow managed to overlook. There’s a Mexican theme to it and we cannot but cave in and try some vegan tacos, guacamole and beans which, albeit hugely unnecessary at this stage, were certainly worth the effort: it is always a wonderful surprise to find so much thought and effort dedicated to vegan options in hospitality catering, and I’ll make sure I’ll share the information with my vegan friends!
Vegans were in for a treat with dessert too, with two varieties of Jude’s excellent vegan ice cream, while for the rest of us there was certainly a lot to choose from as well: brownies, meringues and cakes, all beautifully displayed along an assortment of complementary teas & coffees. As I make my way to the espresso machine I catch a member of staff explaining the different varieties of coffee pods available to a guest and decide last minute to change what was going to be a short espresso into a milder and longer choice, perfect to take along to the ground with me.
But before we make it out of the Centenary Club to our seats – conveniently located mere minutes away from the lounge – we make a quick stop at the provided betting facility: Chelsea are the favourites for the day and it doesn’t take us longer than 3 minutes to place our bet, which we pay by card after exchanging a few jokes with the helpful member of staff behind the counter.
Inside the stadium
Excited, well fed and now with some economic interest in the match we make ourselves comfortable in our East Stand seats in no time. The weather is chilly but the fact that all the stands have a roof above them helps, and so does the cup of coffee we were able to bring in with us. Our seat neighbours, clearly a more seasoned pair, have also brought in a cup filled with some of the complementary biscuits on offer by the coffee bar. We’ll surely remember this little detail next time.
The match is an exciting one; from our seats we have a great view of both Chelsea’s two first scores and the reaction of both fans and visitors to them, and thanks to the conveniently located screen we are able to see every important play in thorough detail. Spirits are high by the time the interval comes, with fans rushing to the dedicated bar to make it in time to grab a pint. As we rush for our drinks we realise we didn’t properly plan for this: Chelsea stadium allows guests to buy their drinks up to 60 hours in advance of the match, and having to dispose of about a third of our drinks quickly makes us understand the value this service provides!
By the time we make it back to our spots Chelsea has scored one more time: there’s not much hope left for the gloomy looking Everton fans, but we are surrounded by smiley faces that will soon turn into roaring laughs, as an unidentified individual manages to jump through security and make his way into the ground; presumably to celebrate the home team's remarkable performance: by the end of the game Chelsea had scored four goals, giving fans good reason to be very happy on their way back home.
The exit from the Stadium is an organised one; there’s plenty of staff around to point people in the right direction, and we’re back to where it all started in no time. Once outside though, and upon seeing the exodus of the crowd towards Fulham Road, we are happy and relieved to remember the Centenary Club is still open and catering for us: not that we needed them, but the variety of tasty sandwiches and rolls, yummy meaty and vegetarian pies and sweet treats that awaits in the lounge is very welcome indeed, and we make sure we taste an ample variety while we discuss our impressions of the game and wait for the crowd outside to disperse. We can stay here for a full hour after the match and we cherish every minute of it, from the outstanding goats cheese & roasted pumpkin pie to the moment that we walk out of the club, and into a virtually empty – and still sunny! - Fulham Road.