Sunday, 20 May 2012

Chelsea win the European Cup

I write this the morning after our victory in Munich against Bayern from my hotel room near the city centre. Whether it is wise to do so or not remains to be seen but it feels right to put pen to paper as soon as possible after such an historic moment and while feelings are fresh.

Despite mine and many fellow Chelsea supporters' grievances about the team for the bulk of this season, the main thing that we have had in abundance during the latter stages of the footballing year has been luck. It was as if all the disappointments and rulings against us from previous seasons were negated in the space of a month.

It is hard to describe the feeling I had inside. The game followed a predictable pattern with Chelsea creating little up front until we scored. The team worked hard, rode their fortunes and Bayern must be ruing their many missed opportunities in front of goal.

The pessimist inside me was singing for the team but deep inside all I could think was, "Bayern - just put me out of my misery". Extra-time for a team that has been branded too old to play? Penalties against a German side on their home turf taken in front of their own fans? A referee who awarded Bayern a penalty when a minute earlier Chelsea missed out on one for exactly the same challenge against Torres? Flashbacks to the name 'David Elleray' crossed the mind.

But there was something that felt right last night. Di Matteo has brought feng shui to the side as well as resolve and a fighting spirit. Even when Bayern players fell as if they had been shot we kept a cool head, stayed professional and offered our hand sympathetically and apologetically with no sarcasm.

Quite why Bayern saw any upside to Robben taking their penalty against us awarded in extra time is a mystery and perhaps now nullifies our arrogant decision to play Torres against the club he had just left in his first game for us. After that penalty miss sonething changed.

I have rarely had this feeling at matches but I knew Mata would miss... And I knew Bayern would miss penalties when they did. However, I did not expect Didier to score his - instead expecting it more likely for a spacecraft to land on the goalline where he was aiming his shot and for us to go to sudden death and then inevitably lose.

When the ball went into the back of the net I cried with such joy. This win changes so much for the club and will enable us to attract the best young prospects to our club. It is well deserved for a side that has had to contend with so much. A press that salivates in anticipation of any possible failure; official decisions that have gone against the club with little luck the other way; brilliant players who were barely mentioned at awards ceremonies during our peak.

We are now among the elite and you can almost feel UEFA's disappointment that we actually won the European Cup instead of one of their favoured show ponies.

Well done to the team and in particular Roberto di Matteo who has carried out his job with such dignity and professionalism. Even now when hearing him speak about his Chelsea future the manner in which he conducts himself makes me feel that he is the right man for the job. If I can respect him despite all the cynicism I hold for football in general in these days then the players should too.

All I can think of now is planning a trip to Japan to see us try to win the Club World Cup - does that make me even more of a nerd or a real Chelsea fan? Thankyou Chelsea and my apologies for ever doubting you. From now on instead of trying to be an expert on tactics and formations I will simply try to cheer the team on whether we win or lose as this season has proved how little I really know about football despite having watched Chelsea play for 25 years!

Monday, 14 May 2012

Chelsea 2 Blackburn 1

So not long to go now until the European Cup Final. The domestic season ended on a positive note although realistically if Chelsea do not come away with the trophy this Saturday we may struggle on many fronts next season. No Champions’ League and therefore a harder time to attract players; Tottenham sullying the name of the competition; and less exotic places to travel to on away trips in the Europa League where the likelihood of being beaten up by knuckle-dragging locals increases.

It is time for change at the club – not just on the pitch but on the terraces. It was noticeable to see how many empty seats there were in the Chelsea end following two weeks of endless begging from Chelsea fans for tickets for the European Cup Final. This was the final game of our season and it seems many of us have forgotten how to support our club. There are many reasons why fans are cynical and negative these days but we really have to get behind our players even if we may not agree with many of the decisions made behind the scenes or players' behaviour off the pitch.

There were a few positives to take from the game though and the future for our youngsters looks quite bright. Winners of the FA Youth Cup again and fairly solid performances when they have been called upon (Bertrand in particular) for the first team bode well for the future. In a time of austerity and financial fair play we may have to suffer for a little while longer on the pitch to see the full results of our Academy’s success. Lukaku deserved more playing time but perhaps Di Matteo wanted to see who between Torres and Drogba looked hungrier for a place against Bayern this weekend.

Manchester City won the league – a team I have often said is similar to Chelsea in so many ways. I am glad for their fans who were there in the less successful days (who can forget them singing about Alan Ball to the tune of Wonderwall at the Bridge?) and it was noticeable that Ferguson could only retort to their league victory by noting how much injury time was played at the City of Manchester stadium (pot/kettle) and how it would take another century for them to emanate Man Ure’s history. The only shame is that the likes Balotelli and Tevez are rewarded with a medal despite being utter scumbags.

I am one of the few who did not mind QPR staying up. Frankly, I find the away trips up to the North-West a hard slog and will not miss Bolton or Blackburn despite the many good memories of our first Premier League trophy win up at the Reebok. Both stadia are not close to the train station and both clubs have fans who rarely fill out more than a fifth of their away allocation at the Bridge.

Yes, so QPR fans have brains the size of peanuts – but so do many of our jealous rivals’ supporters. The only hope is that Joey Barton (who declared himself a pacifist on his Twitter account only a few months ago) is sacked from football… what a disgrace that player is to his club and the game.

We go into the Final at Munich with a Bayern side that has many similarities to us… with some players who blow hot and cold but on their day could fit into any side. I will reserve judgment until after the game but it is just too close a call. Remembering how Liverpool fluked the trophy a few years back anything can happen… and for once this season luck seems to be marginally in our favour. Good luck Chelsea!