Perhaps it was because of my past association and future connections with Christie’s auction house that I was invited to be one of their guests at an entertainment suite in Chelsea Football Ground.
I had not been to a match there since 1954 when painting a pair of 2’ x 4’ canvasses on board of the Shed, and of Sillet’s penalty goal (the former being sold at Christie’s in 2006 for £33,600 and the latter for £5 “wet from the easel”.
So the invitation was accepted eagerly, though poor Margreet was unable to go as she was recovering from a recent hip replacement operation.
The occasion would have been considerably more enjoyable had I not suffered from food poisoning the night before and had to retire six times during the night.
I took my proximity to the ground as an excuse to leave a reproduction of a self portrait (also 1954) at 430 Fulham Road. This had been done in my studio at the bombed-out house of that address by the football ground’s perimeter wall. I had rebuilt and restored it soon after the war. The place is now an infant school. So I thought it might be of interest to them, as in the background was a large mural of my interpretation of Rubens’s Peace and War. This might still be there behind wallpaper.
My fellow guests, all with a Christie’s connection, were young, smart, and personable.
We ate in the dining section of the suite, or rather I tried to, but did manage to enjoy a glass or two of a delightful white Burgundy.
It was an extreme coincidence that I found myself sitting in almost the exact spot from where I stood on a terrace to paint that 1954 picture of the Shed End (with the actual shed, then standing, but now long gone). And it was an even greater coincidence that on that very day, when Sillet scored the penalty goal in their Jubilee year, Chelsea were also playing Wolves.
Having only watched football on television since those early days, I was astonished to find the pitch appearing to be much smaller than expected and the players much larger.
The crowd, who bayed, chanted, encouraged and discouraged with much noise and animation, created quite a different atmosphere than “as seen on television”. But there was no commentator to give me the players’ names as they received or passed the ball, but then everyone there probably knew exactly who was who.
A young Italian lady sitting next to me became so excited by the action that she would have entered the fray at the drop of a (Chelsea) hat.
At half time we were offered coffee and cakes. And at full time (Chelsea 2, Wolves 0) there were lots of drinks available to dally over as we waited for the crowd to disperse.
By this time I was feeling particularly weak, so, thanking my host and bidding farewell to our friendly bunch, I left – to pass many policemen, at the ready for trouble, on my way to a bus stop.
The bus, chock full, made such slow progress that an elderly neighbour and I decided to walk the few miles back to Hammersmith. He knew the short cuts, being a steward for both Fulham and Chelsea football teams and often experiencing these after-the-match traffic jams. Travelling with supporters in the UK and Europe, he would seem to have been well suited for the job, being a scoutmaster (for keeping order), bowls player (for creating calm) and a model train enthusiast (for being one of the boys).
We shook hands having reached our destination (with traffic still deadlocked), and I reached home in a state of complete exhaustion.
But it had been a grand day out.