home, Austria Vienna away and the Bruges match at home.
The late David Rocastle scored a magnificent chip against Zizkov at home and Dennis Wise
smashed a superb left foot shot to gun the opposition down 4-2. The press afterwards cheekily
asked Wisey if he had meant to do it - he was irate and I remember him asking the press if
they would question whether he meant to score if he were a Manchester United player!
Being too young to travel to Europe on my own, and with my school studies taking precedence
over any Chelsea game, I had to resort to listening to the Austria Vienna match on Capital
Gold. In my eyes Jonathan Pearce was a legendary commentator who despite having roots in
Bristol always backed London teams. John Spencer ran the length of the pitch to score. I
screamed and jumped around on my own in my room as Pearce went mental. My mum thought
I had hurt myself and had never seen me celebrate a Chelsea goal like this before. We
secured a 1-1 draw and the vital away goal to send us through to the next round.
We lost in the next round to Bruges away. The home match was something special. Looking
back at that team I have no idea how we managed to get even this far into the tournament.
The key was that Hoddle had instilled a great team spirit in the side. Furlong and Stein were
upfront and both scored. Paul Furlong scored one of the best goals I have ever seen when he
charged down the keeper and scored a goal off his arse. I had never seen Chelsea fans
scream that long and that vociferously for a long time. Stamford Bridge was rocking.
We were knocked out by a superior Real Zaragoza side in the next round, losing 4-3 on
aggregate. We lost 3-0 away won 3-1 at home. Had we won, we would have met Arsenal in the
final. But typical Chelsea - always falling short at the final hurdle.
Sandwiched in between was a nice trip to Millwall in the New Den in the FA Cup. I had never
seen so many rucks at a match, and it was even worse back at Stamford Bridge after they beat
us on penalties. It was my first experience of seeing us play against them, and let's just say I
would prefer not to draw them in the cup again!
Our league form was average over this season with us finishing in mid table position. We were
playing good, passing football but with little to show for it. The team had no world class players
and we needed to build. And how we built!
The Summer of 1995 was one of the most exciting times as a Chelsea fan. Whereas before we
could only get excited with signings of the like of Furlong and Minto, this season was
unbelievable. I will never forget reading the news on teletext one morning, seeing we had
signed Mark Hughes from Manchester United. Even better, he was a Chelsea fan as a boy!
Then, and even more unbelievably, we had secured the signing of Ruud Gullit! What a culture
shock it must have been to turn up at the terrible Harlington training ground to see what
facilities they were faced with compared to what they were used to!
Gullit was magnificent. Just as Hoddle before him, he always seemed to have time on the ball.
Either players were in awe of his stature and felt embarrassed to try and tackle him, or he was
simply world class at using space on the pitch. Hughes was a grafter. Good at holding the ball
up, and dishing it out in case any meathead defenders decided to give it the bigun.
We began the season indifferently. We managed a 3-1 win at Upton Park, despite Julian Dicks
receiving a red card for stamping on John Spencer's head (voted 49th in West Ham's 100
greatest moments!) It was a pleasure to watch the link up play between Gullit, Peacock et al.
We were now becoming a more consistent side in the cup, but lost in the FA Cup semis to
Manchester United where Craig Burley made that infamous backpass which some Chelsea
fans unfairly seem to resent him for still.
That year we thumped Boro 5-0 at home, but were too inconsistent and yet again ended up a
mid table side. At the end of the season Hoddle left to become England manager. Cue chants
from Chelsea fans at the end of season match against Blackburn "You can shove George
Graham up your arse!" followed by chants for Gullit. Fan power had decided for once and
Gullit was the new manager for the next season.
If the Summer of 1995 had been an exciting time for transfers, that of 1996 surpassed it. We
bought a clutch of world class players including Vialli, Di Matteo and Lebeouf. The new stadium
was taking shape. We started the season solidly, and in his first game Vialli hit the post at
Southampton away with a bicycle kick. In the very next game Di Matteo scored the only goal of
the game to defeat a good Boro side. The celebrations are now famous, with Di Matteo lying
sideways on the floor with his finger in the air and having his fellow players join him by his side.
Then we beat Coventry and Vialli scored his first goal. The celebrations that ensued were
phenomenal. To have such a legend score his first goal was priceless. We also drew 1-1
against Forest at home where the much ridiculed Jason "Pineapple Head" Lee scored a
magnificent/fluky last minute goal to equalise. This after David Baddiel, a Chelsea fan, had
been one of the main protagonists of that pineapple chant on Fantasy Football League. Lee
had got his own back!
One of the best games I have seen and look back on with affection was the Arsenal away
game that season. Chelsea were 2-1 up at half time. Then Arsenal fought back to take the
lead 3-2. Cue the usual condescending banter from the cocky Arsenal fans that sit in the Clock
End. Just as it seemed that our unbeaten run was coming to an end, up popped Wisey to
score and send the Chelsea fans loopy. It was great to shut those Arsenal fans up who are
always so arrogant when they are winning successful but quiet when things don't go their way!
We were brought back down to earth at Liverpool. It was an annihilation. 5-1 and Andy Myers
scored an own goal. That was a long journey back down to London and was the last time I
went to see a game up there until 2005.
Soon came one of the saddest moments in Chelsea's history. I was in the Midlands for a week
as part of a gap year job and despite having a ticket for the Bolton game in the league cup at
Burnden Park, could not make the game. After the game, which we lost 2-1, Matthew Harding
was killed in a helicopter crash. He was a genuine Chelsea fan and I feel embarrassed at some
of the negative comments Ken Bates made about him after his death. He put a lot of his money
into Chelsea and Chelsea shares, the latter of which his wife sold off. It was difficult not to hold
tears back at the Chelsea Spurs match where a wreath was laid in his honour near the North
Stand where he sat so many times. That area of the ground has now been named after him,
and aptly those sitting in the Matthew Harding Lower stand are among our most vociferous and
loyal fans. We won the game 3-1 and David Lee scored a penalty. He also had his leg broken
and never fully recovered. Another Chelsea player who fans lovingly remember as our very
own Rodders, and comparable to Robert Huth nowadays in his style of play.
I went to virtually every game that season. I had finished my A Levels and had taken a gap
year to earn money so that I would not be stuck for cash at University.
Then came perhaps the pivotal moment in Chelsea's history. Gullit had somehow managed to
secure the signing of a little known player called Gianfranco Zola. His first game in Chelsea
colours was against Blackburn at home. I had never seen a player with so much skill on the
ball. It was obvious he was a class above the rest. An absolute gent and respected by all
football fans as being a true sportsman. He scored a brace at Villa Park. The away end
seemed so far away from our fans that it took us several seconds to know whether he had
really scored or not!
Then came arguably the greatest ever Chelsea game. It reflected the grit, determination and
quality of the side. Chelsea were playing Liverpool in the third round of the FA Cup. The
attendance was limited to just 28,000 as The Shed end had a wooden hoarding up where
seats were going to be erected over the coming years. 2-0 down at half-time, and it should
have been 4-0.
During the break a Chelsea old boy was paraded around the pitch. Cue chants of "Bring him
on!" in jest. Chelsea fans could always find a sense of humour even when we were losing! At
half time Hughes was brought on for Minto. Within five minutes of the break Hughes scored a
magnificent goal to make it 2-1. Chelsea were
attacking with prowess and had transformed completely from the team that
had capitulated in the first half. Within 10 minutes we had equalised. I had
taped the match on the BBC and Capital Gold on the spur of the moment.
Listening to Jonathan Pearce's commentary still brings a tear to my eye.
"Zola. ZOLA. ZOLAAAAA!!! Liverpool have been bowled over!!!". Cue
mayhem in the stands. Even in the East Upper where I had a season ticket
that year. Then the most unbelievable surprise in the world. Chelsea went
3-2 up with a goal from Vialli. Joyous celebrations from the fans. The old
man behind me's false teeth flew out and landed in front of me. I lost my
watch. Chelsea scored a fourth and the Liverpool fans cried. Even when
we were 4-2 up I felt that we could have scored more. It was a good omen
and set us in good stead for the rest of the season.
There were many magnificent games that season. Paul Hughes scored on his debut against
Derby at home. I went to the Baseball ground the last season it existed when we lost 3-2. We
annihilated Sunderland 6-2 as well. This was tempered by an awful game at Coventry City
away. Chelsea had decided to play in their home kit at Highfield Road. However, as the colours
clashed we were forced to play in Coventry's away kit at the time! We went 1-0 with a bizarre
Paul Hughes goal. Few Chelsea fans celebrated as we didn't even realise it had gone in!
Coventry scored three in the second half and we lost 3-1. Perhaps one of the more strange
matches I have been to. In November we made another crucial signing. Dan Petrescu joined
from Sheffield Wednesday. A superb right back who linked up well with our attack. At the time
of writing, he has become manager of Wisla Krakow in Poland. And yes, he did look like Fox
It was our cup run that year that really got the pulses racing. On the way to the final we played
Leicester away. Having been 2-0 to the good we managed to let it slip and City fought back to
make it 2-2. I remember the City fans to our left, who mostly looked 14 years of age, throwing
everything from burgers to coins at us during the game. These missiles would simply hit the
net in between the fans and bounce back onto them! At the replay at Stamford Bridge we won
with a dubious penalty. I felt no sympathy for the opposition whatsoever. We reached the
semis and beat a Wimbledon side in decline 3-0. It was a travesty that more fans could not
watch this game. The Dons only filled half of their sector at Highbury. I had my car stolen the
night before but this more than made up for it. We were in the final against an already
relegated Boro side. I went with my Dad and had barely sat down when Di Matteo scored the
fastest ever goal in a cup final. Cue absolute lunacy in the Chelsea end. When I had calmed
down having flattened several fans around me, I realise I had managed to jump 2 rows away
from my seat. Some metal badges I had fastened to my Chelsea shirt had fallen off. Newton
added a second and we were rarely troubled. When the final whistle went Chelsea fans stayed
in the stadium for a good forty five minutes afterwards. We knew what it meant to us, and the
players did too. The three year itch was over. Just as in 1970, when Chelsea won the Cup
Final having lost in 1967, so we had won three years after that painful game against
Manchester United. And we were in the Cup Winners Cup again. I had never been so drunk in
my life after the game, and proudly wore my Chelsea top as I went out to celebrate with friends
after the game.
Over the Summer we signed Tore Andre Flo for a bargain £300,000. He became another
Chelsea legend and scored many crucial, memorable goals for us.
Typical Chelsea though. When the next season began we lost to Coventry City away on the
opening day. It was the first time I really heard opposition fans start to give Chelsea a bit of
stick because of the lack of English talent we had. Coventry fans sang "England" to us.
Chelsea fans replied with "You're the pride of Pakistan!" in retaliation. I went up to Barnsley to
see us annihilate them 6-0 with Vialli scoring four. Some Barnsley fans decided to give my car
a kicking as I drove out of the vicinity of the ground. Thank God it was a crappy Citroen and
not anything more plush!
In the league we were improving but still were naive in defence. The Cup Winners Cup seemed
to have taken a lot out of our players. Among the highlights in the league was a sublime
hat-trick by Zola at home to Derby. Even better was the 6-1 raping of Spurs at White Hart Lane
with Flo scoring a hat trick. With this being my first year at university my away trips were
limited, and this was one I had missed out on.
One of the more amusing games that season was the two legged affair with Tromso. We lost
3-2 away on a snowed under pitch. I watched the home return leg in my student halls of
residence. I offered to drink a large vodka for every goal we scored. Unfortunately for me, we
won 7-1 and I had to consume half a bottle of the clear stuff. Needless to say, i could not
remember a single thing about the game as I woke up on the floor of my room the next morning.
One of the harder games to watch was the home game in the FA Cup against Manchester
United. They were 5-0 up with 25 minutes to play and Chelsea had been given a great lesson
against a truly classy team. Chelsea clawed it back to 3-5, and nearly scored a fourth with a Di
Matteo shot just shaving the post. What a come back that would have been!
We had to now place all our efforts into the Cup Winners Cup and the League Cup.
Then came another important moment in the history of Chelsea. Gullit procrastinated over his
contract negotiations. Ken Bates, not wanting the season to end managerless as occurred with
Hoddle, decided to replace him in the middle of the season with Vialli. There were some
rumours of dressing room unrest at Gullit's style of management. It seemed he wanted to
spend as little time at the training ground as he possibly could. And what a superb decision
that was! Chelsea had just played Arsenal at Highbury and had lost 2-1 when a fairer scoreline
would have been 5-1 to the Gunners. Vialli's first game in charge was the return leg at
Stamford Bridge. Luca shared a bottle of champagne with the players before the game, and
they came out to produce one of their best performances to date. A 3-1 win and another Cup
Final. Against Boro again! Another game at he dilapidated Wembley and it was only in extra
time that Chelsea won. Our second trophy in two seasons!
The season ended on another high. We beat Vicenza at home mainly due to a world class
performance and goal from Sparky, meaning we had got through to the Cup Winners' Cup
final. Being a student, there was no way I could have afforded to go to Stuttgart. Instead I
watched it in the halls at university again and saw Zola score the all important goal against
VFB Stuttgart having just come on half a minute earlier. We had won our first European Cup
for 27 years, and what a deserving person to score the vital goal! How I wish I had been there.
One of two finals I had missed in my lifetime due to my studies.
Chelsea had now hit the big time and had become a well known force in world football not only
for the trophies we had won, but also because of our attacking style of play.