I’m a Chelsea fan. Just thought that I would open with that so the following does not appear to simply be a completely biased piece against the club but I guess in some respects it is.
It seems that there aren’t many of us lucky – sic – enough to have supported the Blues prior to the Abramovich take-over of 2003, or at least that’s what many fans would have you believe.
Those times were filled with excitement be it in the form of signing former World player of the year George Weah for half a season or somehow finding ourselves beating Real Madrid in a European Cup final and then drawing against Southampton the following week.
Those days were great, when Ruud Gullit took the helm at Stamford Bridge it was the beginning of something special. The likes of Gianfranco Zola, Gianluca Vialli, Roberto Di Matteo and, just to throw in a non-Italian, Dan Petrescue were non too far behind him.
It was however the start of something else, an era which at the time non of us could have foreseen. The Blues were successful during this period, winning the FA Cup twice, the League Cup, UEFA Cup Winners Cup and Super Cup and not to forget the Charity Shield during this time. We may have had our financial problems to the tune of Ã‚Â£80 million but at least supporting Chelsea was never dull, you could never predict whether we would win at Derby or Man Utd back then, today though although granted Derby are pants, all you really need to decide is whether to bet on the Blues or United to win the league this season.
Then the final game of the 2002-03 season came upon us. The South West Londoners had not spent a penny the Summer before and were now on the brink of Champions League qualification, all they needed was a draw at home against Liverpool and they were there.
After going behind to an early Sami Hyypia goal, Chelsea responded with a Marcel Desailly strike before Jesper Gronkjaer slipped as he shot from the edge of the box but was soon up reeling away in celebration as the hosts took the lead. That win gave the Blues their second ever spot against the European elite and paved the way for one of football’s biggest ever stories.
Just a month later Chelsea’s greatest ever player in Zola was leaving the club and with it the number 25 jersey, never to be worn again at the club but as the Italian boarded a plane for his homeland, Ken Bates was signing the club over to Roman Abramovich and the Russian even attempted to buy Cagliari – Zola’s destined club – in order to bring the legend back to The Bridge.
At this time everything looked rosy for the Blues, over Ã‚Â£100 million was spent on players and I doubt any fan was against the takeover and I would bet that the obscene fees back then would have concerned a single Blue but then one year down the line after failing to win the title purely due to an unbeaten season from Arsenal the first signs of unrest began to show as Claudio Ranieri was sacked cruelly – in my view – by Abramovich and the board.
In came Jose Mourinho and with it the most successful spell this club has ever enjoyed, for me however it was not a period which I thoroughly enjoyed.
This may just be nostalgia kicking in but as a boy I remember feeling as though Chelsea’s atmosphere was amongst the best in the Country and I traveled not only to home games but also those at the likes of Filbert Street and Pride Park too and the feeling that every fellow Chelsea fan I met was part of some kind of larger family was one which filled me with pride. Today this is not the case, there are times where the Matthew Harding faithful lift the roof off The Bridge, notably last season against Leicester City in the Carling Cup but these experiences are few and far between. I do not think that it is something simply resigned to Chelsea but a problem which can be applied to much of the top flight in English football.
I dealt with this as I’m sure many other Chelsea fans did, after all we were winning trophies, to suggest that I was unhappy was met with all round calls for my reasons to why I was upset, as if the enjoyment of football rest firmly on the shoulders of success.
The real turning point for me however came this season, first of all the banning of Celery – this vegetable deserves capping up – at games, an unusual tradition dating back to the 1970’s simply dismissed because of ignorance and then the sacking not only of Mourinho but also Avram Grant.
Mourinho was God at Chelsea, his brash arrogance in the press and on match-day was something all Chelsea fans could be proud of and gave us confidence that the brat-like Chelsea of old had not totally faded away but then over behind the scenes squabbles came his departure. They will say that it was a mutual termination but anyone with half a ruble will know different. Another ironed-fisted ruling dealt from a man who for all his money is too cowardly to explain his actions to those who keep his business afloat.
Grant came in and I will admit I was none too pleased with his appointment but over time his way of doing business began to appease me and although many will say he did not possess one, the man’s personality rubbed off.
He guided us to within touching distance of the Premiership and to our first ever Champions League final, a place where way back in 2003 when Jesper dispatched that goal against Liverpool not many of us could possibly have dreamed of being. Then like that, he was gone. Roman wanted silverware, Avram could not deliver. Although just one slip from John Terry made such a difference to simply disregard the work put in before is shameful.
And now this is where we are, it’s funny how one slip from Gronkjaer took us to the holy grail of the Champions League yet another from Terry so cruelly took it away.
I can honestly say that all I wanted was the Champions League, after that nothing would have mattered – in football terms at least – but now after all of Roman’s ruthlessness I doubt the club will ever be in such a position to make it to the final again, not under this regime.
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