Chelsea had done well in cup competitions but were now in danger of only becoming known for
their cup exploits.
Now the squad was more settled, our best chance to win the league to date occurred in the
1998-1999 season.

Yet again out first game of the season was away to Coventry City. Yet again, we lost. They
were our bogey side away from home and every time I went, we lost! Shortly after we bounced
back with a 1-0 defeat of Real Madrid in the Super Cup Final in Monaco.

We played Blackburn away in what was another memorable game. Sky, in their infinite wisdom,
decided to put this game on a Monday evening. For Sky, the fans come last. Apart from the
excellent Soccer AM, I generally despise them for making many away trips so difficult for the
fans to get to when they reschedule games. My Dad had dropped myself and a friend off in the
town centre at 2pm and we proceeded to get a lash on. We spent most of the time in a pub run
by a guy who spoke and looked like "Cockney Wanker" out of Viz. As we walked around the
city we felt like the city boys in the film Deliverance. If I had a banjo with me it would have been
quite apt. A very friendly part of the world all things said.

Needless to say by the time we had got to Ewood Park we were plastered. I was interviewed on
Sky. It was also the first time I heard Chelsea fans becoming suspicious of each other, hearing
one guy murmur, "it's probably his first Chelsea game" as he walked past. I didn't care. Zola
scored from a magnificent free kick. Sutton equalised. We took the lead again from Lebeouf.
Rovers fought back to eventually take the lead 3-2. With eight minutes to go Flo equalised.
Then unbelievably he scored again with less than five minutes to go! I am sure it was the
booze, but I cried when that goal flew in. We won 4-3, and it was arguably one of the best
Chelsea games I had ever seen. My Dad had to have the windows of the car rolled down for
most of the journey back to London, as the car smelt like a brewery!

Later we annihilated Arsenal 5-0 in the League Cup. Arsenal had their B Team out but it was
still a memorable victory. Even more amusingly, their B team had cost more than our first team
side that day! Perhaps Arsenal fans can see the hypocrisy in saying we have bought trophies
nowadays, when they were big spenders in the mid to late 90s? Probably not!

Wisey was an extremely naughty boy at times. No doubting that he was one of the greatest
Chelsea players ever, and a superb driver of the team, he nevertheless lost his rag in the
home league cup game against Aston Villa. Chelsea were already 4-1 up when Wisey was sent
off for a terrible tackle in the last minute! If it was not for occasions like this, or having
altercations with taxi cabs, he would have certainly won more England caps. We love you
Wisey!

There were many great games that season. Chelsea were more consistent and looked less
vulnerable at the back. I went up to
Oldham in the FA Cup where Chelsea won 2-0 on a cold
and bitter day. An Oldham fan had thrown a burger at the referee when the man in black
decided to allow a dubious Chelsea goal. He reversed his decision several seconds later. The
Oldham fan was found but no further action was taken. The supporter claimed he had thrown
his burger away out of disgust as he had ordered a vegetarian one and received a meat one
instead! One of the worst excuses in the world.

I drove up to Old Trafford from my University in Exeter for the FA Cup 6th round. A massive
500 mile round trip which I shall never do again by car. We took at least 10,000 fans up there
that day and drew 0-0. Schmeichel applauded the away support. At home we were outclassed
2-0 and yet again we were knocked out of the FA Cup by Manchester United.

Our European campaign was picking up steam, but we were knocked out in the semis by a
surprisingly good Mallorca side.
We were left fighting for the league and were in an excellent position when we played Leicester
at home. 2-0 up, Frank Sinclair scored in his own net when it was easier to clear and City
fought back to exact revenge with a draw. This seriously scuppered our title challenge. We
drew away to Spurs with Goldbaek scoring a magnificent 35 yard strike. Unbelievably, we had
finished four points off top spot. Had we won these two games and beaten Wednesday we
would have been champions. That was the best team Chelsea had for a long time. We only
lost three league games that season, but ended up with no silverware.
It did, however, mean that we had qualified for the Champions League for the first time!

The first game of the 1999-2000 season began promisingly. We had signed Chris Sutton from
Blackburn and he missed two sitters in the 4-0 annihilation of Sunderland at Stamford Bridge.
His confidence never recovered. Poyet scored a magnificent goal off the volley from a Zola
flick. Cue chants of "Welcome, to the Premier League" to the poor Sunderland fans. They
exacted revenge with a 4-1 defeat at the Stadium of Light. Chelsea and the North East don't
seem to go together well.

Our League form that season suffered in marked contrast to a brilliant Champions League
campaign. The 5-0 stuffing of Manchester United aside, the Arsenal home defeat was one of
the hardest to take. It made me numb. 2-0 up and then Kanu scored a hat trick. Would we ever
manage to beat Arsenal in an important game?

Living in France that year meant I had to give up my season ticket. On the plus side, it was
easy for me to get to some of the European aways. I missed virtually every Champions League
home game that season.
Marseille away will stick in my mind for many reasons, mainly the
wrong ones. English fans were not welcome there having tried to smash up the town during
France 98. Whereas I could usually strike up some banter with away fans, in this instance
there was no chance despite my fluency in the language. Marseille is a dark, grey city with high
unemployment and many
Maghrebains immigrants. The Stade Velodrome resembles a large
barge that has run aground in the middle of nowhere. I stayed in a hotel with a friend who, like
me, was at her first away European match. I doubt it's one she will forget. Chelsea fans were
locked in a hanger outside the stadium before the game, and batons rained down on any
Chelsea fan who cared to complain. During the match, the Marseille fans threw whatever they
could lay their hands on into the Chelsea crowd and the police did nothing. When some
Chelsea nutters decided enough was enough and it was time to take things into their own
hands, tear gas was fired into the crowd. Even worse, Pires won the game 1-0 with a fantastic
goal. After the game, all bars and eateries were shut so we were left with returning to the hotel
and munching on some stale bread.

The Feyenoord away game was in marked contrast to the Marseille trip. Although the Chelsea
fans were being herded around as the police practiced manoeuvres ahead of Euro 2000,
there didn't seem to be many problems. I went on my own. Without booking a hotel, I walked
from street to street looking for vacancies. I accidently stepped into the hotel where the
Chelsea players were staying, and remember seeing Tore Andre Flo calmly eating a banana in
reception. Eventually I found a hotel run by some friendly Turks who were all Galatasaray fans!
As I walked around the city centre I witnessed Feyenoord fans trying to destroy parts of their
own city. Whether they were trying to prove something to Chelsea fans I do not know, but it
was a bizarre scene seeing windows getting smashed in by home town fans on their own patch.
We sang our hearts out in that game and the atmosphere was amazing. Before the match I
looked outside the stadium to see a mob of 100 Chelsea fans or so who were ticketless. They
were let in for nothing and stood in the lower tier as the police felt it safer to keep them there
than have them roaming the streets!
After the match we were kept in the stadium as per usual. Then came a pleasant surprise. The
Chelsea players came out for a warm down. Wisey came up to the fans and put his fingers to
his lips. The whole away end fell silent. Then the Chelsea captain blared out, "CAREFREE,
WHEREVER YOU MAY BE" and the rest of the Chelsea fans joined in. It's times like these that
you appreciate going to watch Chelsea play. It was a moment I shall never forget!

There were several games where we scored a lot of goals that season. Apart from the
Manchester United 5-0, we also beat Galatasaray 5-0 at their "Welcome to Hell" ground. Their
fans actually applauded Zola when he came off. Even our "new Ryan Giggs" (?), Ambrosetti
scored. In the FA Cup we beat Gillingham 5-0 and Hull City 6-1.

In the Champions League we had managed to reach the quarter final stage and met
Barcelona. A home game I will always regret missing due to the cost of travel from France, we
went 3-0 up before Figo pulled one back. In the away leg we managed to survive until extra
time where we capitulated after Baba was sent off and conceded a penalty. Nevertheless, for
our first season in this great competition we had done extremely well.

The league season ended in disappointment. The Champions League run had affected our
performances in the League and we finished outside the top three and thus only qualified for
the UEFA Cup.
We beat Aston Villa in the FA Cup final. It was a tedious game, and another one I missed. Di
Matteo scored for the third domestic final running and Chelsea were the last team to win at the
old Wembley.
So, in the space of just over two seasons Chelsea had won four cups with Vialli. The FA Cup,
the League Cup, the Cup Winners' Cup and the Super Cup. We had been four points away
from winning the league in 1999.

The 2000 season had started promisingly, with a convincing 2-0
Charity Shield win against
Manchester United.
In the first game of the season, a new signing called Mario Stanic scored a superb goal from
30 yards out to defeat West Ham 4-2. He also suffered a terrible injury and was never the
same player again.

I tried to make as many Chelsea games as I could outside of term time. To commute from
Exeter to London took to much time and cost, although I did go back for the occasional match.
I travelled up to
Bradford City. Chelsea lost 2-0 in a disgraceful effort. To be fair, Bradford
played exceptionally well but it was the first time I felt so angry at a match that I berated the
players when they came off at the end. I felt the commitment was missing.

Including that game, we went on a six game winless streak. During this time, Vialli was sacked
with rumours that he had lost the confidence of the dressing room. Even though Chelsea had
been playing poorly, it was still a shock, especially considering what he had done for us. In his
place came the likeable Claudio Ranieri.

Claudio's first league game in charge was against Manchester United at Old Trafford. What a
baptism of fire! In a tremendous game Chelsea drew 3-3 in a thriller with Hasselbaink scoring
one of his trademark screamers. We had been knocked out of the UEFA Cup embarrassingly
by St Gallen. The legend Di Matteo's career ended in a freak injury. In the following game we
beat Liverpool 3-0. Among notable victories was a 6-1 drubbing of Coventry. Nevertheless, the
new manager could not get the team to be consistent. We lost to Sunderland away as usual,
and beat Spurs, as usual. Chelsea could not hold onto a lead despite playing nice football.
Away to Ipswich we were 2-0 up with Gudjohnsen scoring both, but Ipswich fought back to claim
a draw in a match where a large right wing element of Chelsea had turned up, shamefully
singing songs such as, "Who let the wogs out?"

The problem with Chelsea under Ranieri was that we were too nice a team. The manager was
a very popular and modest man, but did not seem to have the drive to get Chelsea to that next
level. In the cup, we were well beaten by Arsenal. The gunners and Manchester United were
still a class above us. We even lost to Sunderland at home!

At the Charlton home game I won a competition to win a car. I had to take penalties against
Kevin Hitchcock at half time. The five pints before the game didn't help, nor did the fans in the
Matthew Harding chanting "You fat bastard!" in my direction. Cheers for that! I scored the first,
had the second saved, and ballooned the first into the back of the lower tier. Luckily, I won a
Vauxhall t-shirt as a runner-up prize. The winner drove away a brand new Astra. To make
matters worse, we lost 1-0 to the Addicks. We ended the season 19 points off top spot, and
qualified for the UEFA Cup again.

With my studies over, I could start going to more games again. During the Summer of 2002
came two of many good Ranieri signings: Frank Lampard and William Gallas. Lampard started
slowly, and many Chelsea fans were unconvinced as to whether he was worth his £11 mio
price tag at the time. West Ham players were always viewed with suspicion since we had
signed Alan Dickens! That season we were knocked out of the UEFA Cup again quite
embarrassingly by Hapoel Tel Aviv. At least we had managed to get to the next round this time!
We beat Liverpool 4-0, Bolton 5-1, and beat Spurs 4-0 at home and away in the league and
FA Cup. Gordon Strachan's Southampton side deserved to beat us 4-2 at the Bridge. We
could have no complaints. In the League Cup we beat Spurs 2-1 in the first leg at Stamford
Bridge, and had two very good penalty appeals turned away. In the return leg the Chelsea
players were not fired up and embarrassingly we lost 5-1. It made no difference really, as
Spurs lost in the Final. This was the only time Spurs had beaten us for many years and they
still could not capitalise on the victory with some silverware! We had a magnificent run in the
FA Cup. We played Fulham in the semis to a less than packed Villa Park crowd. Then we went
to the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff for the final and yet again lost to Arsenal. And the worst
thing was, they deserved it!

The 2002-3 season seemed to have mirrored the previous two. We were knocked out by
Viking Stavanger (who?) in the UEFA Cup, lost to Manchester United in the League Cup, and
as usual lost to Arsenal in the FA Cup.

Our league form was beginning to improve, and we qualified for the Champions League. We
beat Liverpool in an epic encounter at Stamford Bridge to guarantee our place in the
Champions League qualifiers. The inconsistent Jesper Gronkjaer scored a magnificent left
footed curling goal. It must have been a half decent season as we even managed to beat
Sunderland in the League at the Stadium of Light! I recall losing to West Ham at the end of the
season with a Di Canio goal, but generally we seemed to keep having our hearts broken in the
competitions that mattered.

There was promise though. Lampard became more consistent and John Terry was shaping up
to be a world class defender.
1998-2003