Listening to the excellent Chelsea Fancast with Stamford Chidge triggered thoughts of my first game at Chelsea back in 1987. Watching an attacking lineup of Dixon, Durie and Nevin felt like yesterday when it was in fact 33 years ago. At the time, those old war stories my father described of watching Osgood, Baldin, Harris and Cooke among many other Chelsea legends took place roughly 20 years before my first Chelsea match. He had a more romantic time of it and was even lucky enough to see a couple of matches where Jimmy Greaves played.
I look back at the lineup of both the home and away sides and the first thought that comes to mind is that they were very 1980s. The team in blue had the likes of Godden in goal; Dublin and Pates in defence; McLaughlin and Spackman in midfield. Meanwhile, the visitors had the big Norman Whiteside up front with two Gibsons in the side along with the excellent Strachan and Bryan Robson. It was also noticeable that the attendance was only 26,500 during a period when many decided to reduce the number of matches they attended due to hooliganism - with Chelsea one of the main culprits.
The difference in the acceleration of quality of both sides is astounding. We jump to the season of the ‘94 FA Cup Final. We lost 4-0 but that does not tell the whole story. The first half saw Gavin Peacock hit the bar and had that gone in we may well have had a shock on our hands. The much reviled David Elleray who also taught at Harrow allowed a Manchester United goal that seemed to not cross the line. It was one of those games where an unoriginal commentator would have argued that Manchester United deserved the victory - it was near impossible for Chelsea to get back into the game after that second goal. But what really catches the eye is which players shared that hallowed turf.
Chelsea began the match with Dmitri Kharine in goal (his name was never consistently spelt the same) and the solid pairing of Erland Johnson and Jakob Kjeldberg at the back. The brilliantly consistent Steve Clarke joined them in the back 4. With them was Frank Sinclair - one of those players who we loved for his pace and hard work - but who unfortunately lacked coordination at key moments. Burley, Newton, Wisey and God-botherer Peacock shared the midfield. The shortest front line in the 1990s in Johnny Spencer and Mark Stein meant that long balls were out of the questions. With Hoddle as manager, that style of football was assigned to the dustbin.
What shocked me was looking back at the team we faced at the time. Every single player in the Manchester United side was a household name: Schmeichel; Parker, Bruce, Pallister, Irwin; Giggs, Ince, Kanchelskis, Keane; Cantona and Hughes. Nearly 80,000 attended at Wembley while for the league fixtures in which we boasted double 1-0 victories our home attendance had nearly caught up to that at Old Trafford: 37k vs 44k.
Fast forward another 10 years and roles were arguably reversed. Man Utd names will still have been well known among the football fan community due to the saturation of coverage for that club in red, but the Chelsea side was simply magnificent. A year into his reign as club owner, Roman Abramovich could attend Stamford Bridge with nearly every player boasting world class status. Cech in goal; Ferreira, Gallas, Terry, Bridge; Lampard, Makelele; Gudjohnsen and Drogba among excellent names that would walk into virtually any side. The visitors on the other hand had players one could easily leave on the bench with the starting lineup including O’Shea, Silvestre, Djemba-Djemba, Fortune, Miller and Alan Smith.
The high quality of the side we had a decade ago makes the squad of the early- to mid-90s appear mediocre at best. But the difference has been in my attitude when attending games. Under Hoddle there was strong hope rather than realistic belief of winning a title. The noughties saw us catch up with the big boys. In an interesting turn the next wave of Chelsea is bringing fans closer together. Half of the side is boasting youthful players who have a chance to be great.