Football: Friendlies keep pre-season blues at bay: Warm-up matches satisfy supporters suffering withdrawal symptoms before the start of the new season

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The Independent Online
SUMMERTIME, and the living isn't easy. Pictures of Pasadena have followed last season's most vivid moments into the memory bank while the calendar must be flicked through 19 more days before a new term can be celebrated. After the glorious distractions provided by Romario and Maldini, football's field lies fallow again.

But some sustenance is available to those footballing aficionados who view the closed season as a time for weddings and hernia operations. Pre-season friendlies, as accurate a guide to competitive form as the studying of tea-leaves on Derby Day, blossom in late July, bringing relieved supporters back into contact with the subject of their devotion.

The strength of the association between club and fan can never be overestimated. No other sport harbours followers who linger outside their grounds on Saturdays during the off-season. Such loyalty was indicated by the high turn-outs for Saturday's first proper series of warm-up matches, from Bashley to Burnley, Welling to Wigan.

Of the 27 fixtures, one of the most popular was staged at Kingsmeadow, a functional but friendly Diadora League ground hidden in south-west London suburbia. Not counting the handful who climbed on to neighbouring roofs, an official crowd of 3,280 - an attendance which many county cricket secretaries would swap their sponsored cars for - witnessed Chelsea's 10-0 subjugation of their Kingstonian hosts in the day's most eye-catching scoreline.

The K's were nothing special but for Chelsea the afternoon progressed without fault. Paul Furlong contributed a hat-trick, Mark Stein went one better but both strikers were upstaged by the club chairman, Ken Bates, who, by the final whistle, had moved into double figures of babies kissed.

A fete-like occasion, warmed by weather more akin to Kingston, Jamaica than Kingston, Surrey, began with that footballing rarity: a pitch invasion before the match. Chelsea's kick-in resembled an

album-signing session by Take That, as children swarmed across the turf thrusting pens and scraps of paper at anyone with boots on. One father, too embarrassed to give his name, admitted to sending his son off with a shopping list of autographs to collect. 'They are my heroes, you see.'

They certainly played like them. John Spencer's canniness when confronting the goalkeeper brought him two goals before Furlong, the Scot's probable replacement as Mark Stein's attacking accomplice, took over with a well- rounded hat-trick comprising shot, header and chip.

The pace, height and awareness of the Blues' record signing makes sense of the sizeable fee Chelsea paid Watford.

'A lot of people were after him,' Bates explained. 'I'd rather pay pounds 2.3m for him than all the money ( pounds 5m) Blackburn paid for (Chris) Sutton. He's not just a goalscorer, he helps other players.'

At last, Stamford Bridge can boast a genuine successor to Kerry Dixon. And Tony Dorigo. Scott Minto, Chelsea's other new boy, looked admirably assured at left- back.

With such promising additions to a squad who reached Wembley last May, those who keep the blue flag flying high had many reasons to depart smiling, their addiction sated for another week.

Summertime may not be such a wasteland after all.

Goals: Spencer (28) 0-1; Spencer (29) 0-2; Furlong (32) 0-3; Furlong (44) 0-4; Stein (60) 0-5; Barnard (65) 0-6; Furlong (70) 0-7; Stein (74) 0- 8; Stein (85) 0-9; Stein (86) 0-10.

Kingstonian (4-4-2): Root; O'Neill, Eriemo, Golley, Lockett; Daly, Harlow, Sugrue, Underdown; Wingfield, Ndah. Substitutes used (after half-time): Kempton, Russell, Barton, Brown, Munoz, Anderson, Patchin (gk).

Chelsea (4-1-2-1-2): Colgan; Clarke, Skiverton, Kjeldbjerg, Minto; Spackman; Hopkin, Wise; Peacock; Spencer, Furlong. Substitutes used (after half-time): Sinclair, Burley, Stein, Newton, Barnard, Hoddle.

Referee: R Lewis (Great Bookham).