ANDY RAMALANGADINGDONG bends the elbow with Roberto

Some people put the unexpected success of Chelsea manager Roberto Di Matteo down to his unassuming nature, international experience and winning trophies on the pitch. However, I can exclusively reveal that firstly the FA Cup win and then the Champions League triumph was down to him taking in the Charlton v Pools game.

I wasn’t planning on going to Charlton, but Coops, the Poolie In Nottingham talked me in to it. Originally it was going to be the train down to the big smoke, then the National Express coach, then I finally decided to drive it.

"We hadn’t mentioned anything about the fancy dress thing to Roberto, and he thought he was hallucinating when he saw over a hundred of Hartlepool’s finest dressed in identical Smurf outfits."
I can’t remember ever needing to wear a coat to the last game of the season, and it was pretty cold as I left my home in Derby to pick Coops up. As everyone knows, driving in London is a pig, but Coops had done his homework, and we parked up near Colindale tube station at the bottom of the M1.

We had decided not to go in fancy dress – it’s one thing travelling on a train from Hartlepool with dozens of others, but just two blokes on the Northern line in Smurf outfits is something else.

We got off in Leicester Square, and headed straight for the Wetherspoons, cos we’re pure class us Poolies. Coops even had a voucher entitling him to 50p off a pint, so it was a cheap round old round. Positioning ourselves in the window, we watched all the tourists walking past and tried to guess what nationality they were.

After Coops had necked his pint we moved on to another pub across the square, a posh place where it was getting on for 4 quid a pint! Being chauffeur, I was on soft drinks, but I could have bought two gallons of coke for the amount I was charged for a pissy little glass full.

Surveying the people in the pub, it was mostly a mix of well-heeled theatre-goers, but we noticed a shaven-headed man in a black coat floating about near the bar, and he looked a bit familiar. The American couple on the table next to us got up and left. The man drifted over to the empty table and sat down. He looked worried, as he sipped on his coke, quietly mumbling ‘Mamma Mia’ to himself.

At first I thought he was worried about missing the stage show about Abba which was on at one of the venues round the corner, then the penny dropped and I realised who it was – Chelsea manager Roberto Di Matteo!
I asked him what he was doing in the pub, when Chelsea were due to play in the FA Cup Final in just a few hours time. He confided in us that he was having a bit of a crisis, and didn’t know how to motivate the players enough in order to win the game against Liverpool. Me and Coops tried to bring him round, pointing to how he got the tactics spot on against Barcelona in the Champions League semi-final.

Roberto sipped on his coke and sat silent for a bit, before explaining that he didn’t feel as if it was much to do with him, more that Messi and co just had two very bad games in front of goal. “They couldn’t hit Pavarotti’s arse with a banjo” he said. Coops decided that Roberto was too uptight and needed to relax a bit, heading to the bar and coming back with a pint for Roberto.

I don’t know what it was, but it certainly did the trick – after the first mouthful he seems to breathe easier, and before long we were all laughing and joking, doing impressions of Frank Spencer, who it turns out was Roberto’s favourite comedian whilst growing up as a boy in Italy.

I lost count of how many drinks we had, but I was high as a kite with all the sugar from the cokes, and Coops and Roberto were starting to openly ogle any passing ladies. As we got to the bottom of yet another round, Roberto insisted we go for a walk round to stretch our legs and get some fresh air. We soon realised what he had in mind. A couple of streets away from Leicester Square, Roberto led us to the dingy streets of Soho, tongue hanging out as he eagerly surveyed all the fleshpots.

He obviously had seen what he wanted, and dived into a doorway, telling us he would only be a couple of minutes. Sure enough, he soon reappeared, looking very red-faced as he marched onward towards another pub.

As the time ticked on, me and Coops told Roberto that we would need to get the train over to Charlton soon, but he asked if he was welcome. We were more than happy for him to come along, he really was a good laugh, especially when doing impressions. As well as Frank Spencer, he did a mean Fabio Capello, and the bloke off the Go Compare adverts. He had even made up his own version of that ultra-annoying song, which involved Alex Ferguson doing something really rude with Jo Brand, but I can’t remember any of it unfortunately.

Once on the train, I think the drink caught up with him a bit. He bounced about on the seats, trying his best to keep his balance. Thankfully it wasn’t too long a journey, and we soon arrived in Charlton. We hadn’t mentioned anything about the fancy dress thing to Roberto, and he thought he was hallucinating when he saw over a hundred of Hartlepool’s finest dressed in identical Smurf outfits. It’s only when one of them gave him a big drunken hug that he realised it was all just a bit of fun.

Once we got inside the ground the atmosphere was electric. Charlton fans were in jubilant mood after a very successful season, and the Poolies were all mostly bladdered and having a great time.
“That’s it boys!” Roberto exclaimed, “I just need to make the team relax, have fun, enjoy themselves! I do a Suarez impression for them just before kick-off and we win the FA Cup!”

Me and Coops thought it was worth a shot, and encouraged him to get another round in before the match started. Pools were well up for it, and to our delight they took the lead through Peter Hartley. Despite Charlton looking quite sharp, Pools defended the lead well, and kept their lead until the break.

It was a different story in the second half though, and Charlton showed their class, scoring 3 quick goals. Roberto said he felt a bit deflated after the promise shown in the first half, but a late consolation from Gary Liddle seemed to make his mood a bit more buoyant.

After the game we headed back to Charlton station and boarded the train back to central London. It was at this point we started feeling bad for leading Roberto astray, He slumped on his seat, before lying down across it and spewing up all over the floor, just before the London Bridge stop. Me and Coops jumped off here to get the tube back to Colindale, leaving Roberto to it.

I’ve got no idea how he managed to get to Wembley in time for the cup final kick-off, and when we got in the car I nervously put 5 Live on, expecting to hear the worst. As it happened, Chelsea dominated the game, giving Roberto his first ever trophy as manager.

When the fixture list for this season came out, I was very excited to see that the last game is away at Crawley, presenting another excuse for a London day out. Hopefully we might bump into Roberto again, but even if we don’t I’m pretty sure another great fancy dress turn out will make it one more day to remember.