Following a year in the wilderness, after the so called ‘Mourinho’ season, Chelsea are back among Europe’s elite, back in the Champions League.
It was a strange feeling among Blues supporters, with nothing much to do on a Tuesday or Wednesday evening, other than watch our rivals perform so poorly against Europe’s best.
While the absence of European football helped Antonio Conte and his troops recover from the rigours of domestic matters, which in turn contributed to Chelsea storming to the title, as it did Leicester the season before, the return of Champions League and everything that it entails, is a welcome addition to the fixture list at Stamford Bridge.
Chelsea do have a lot of previous in the competition, dating back to 1955, when, after becoming champions, the club were invited to take part in the inaugural European Cup, however Chelsea were advised to withdraw – Chairman Joe Mears was keen to embrace the new competition but he was also a member of the of the Football League’s management committee and, after much discussion, bowed to the argument that the additional fixtures would be a struggle to fit in – nearly 62 years on, the FA/Premier League are still not aiding to help our sides in European competitions – maybe in the next 62 years this will not be the case!.
The 1999-2000 season saw Chelsea make their debut in the Champions League after finishing Third the previous league campaign, Chelsea progressed through the first group stage, finishing top of a group which included five time winners AC Milan, Gianluca Vialli’s men moved into the knockout stages after finishing second to Lazio in the second group stage where they would meet FC Barcelona – the first of many meetings over the coming years.
An enthralling evening at Stamford Bridge, which no one inside the famous old stadium would ever forget, as Chelsea put Barcelona to the sword with a 3-1 victory, Barcelona proved to hot to handle at the Nou Camp, however, winning the return leg 5-1 to dump the Blues out of Europe.
Chelsea returned to the Champions League in 2004, following ‘that’ last day of the season goal against Liverpool – Chelsea, under the guidance of Claudio Ranieri, managed to very nearly reach the final that season, coming up short against a very talented Monaco side in the semi final, who in course, lost to Porto, managed by a certain Special One.
More Semi Final agony ensued the following season under Jose Mourinho, just days after securing the club’s first title in 50 years, Chelsea were eliminated by the now dubbed ‘ghost goal’ in a Battle of England encounter with Liverpool at Anfield; who themselves went on to lift the trophy to compound the misery even further.
In 2007, after a disappointing group stage draw at home to Rosenborg, Roman Abramovich stunned the football world by parting company with Mourinho, interim boss Avram Grant picked up the reins to guide the club to it’s first Champions League final, an all English affair against Manchester United, in Roman’s back yard in Moscow – Chelsea much like the weather, were washed out in a penalty shoot out, after misses from John Terry and Nicolas Anelka.
The following season, and even more heartbreak, again at the hands of Barcelona, after a 0-0 draw in the Camp Nou, Michael Essien gave Chelsea the lead with a wonder strike in the first half; possibly the worst refereeing performance in the history from Tom Henning Overbo only denied Chelsea another final appearance, waving away four penalty appeals during the game, which allowed Andreas Iniesta to lash home an equaliser with Barcelona’s only shot on target.
2012 would prove to be the year, that, since taking over the club in 2003, Roman Abramovich and Chelsea would reach the pinnacle of the European game, defeating Bayern Munich, in the Allianz Arena – it wasn’t easy mind you, following nerve wracking encounters en route to the final which included the miracle of Stamford Bridge against Napoli, Benfica and revenge against Pep Guardiola and Barcelona.
It seemed like fate intervened and guided Chelsea to the promised land; Bayern controlled much of the final, enjoying home advantage – taking the lead in the 83rd minute through a Thomas Muller header, only for Didier Drogba to score yet again in a major final for the Blues, Petr Cech saved an Arjen Robben extra time penalty; a penalty shootout would decide the final, and after Juan Mata missed for Chelsea, it seemed the there was more heartache on the way, but the footballing gods and Petr Cech were on Chelsea’s side, Cech saved Olic’s weak penalty and tipped Bastian Schweinsteiger’s spot kick on to the post – up stepped Didier Drogba to score the most famous penalty in Chelsea’s history and ensure that the 19th May would be a date synonymous with every single Chelsea supporter young and old.
The promised land had been reached.
So the draw has been made, and our opponents confirmed for our Champions League return, a first ever meeting with Azerbaijani outfit Qarabag, Italians As Roma and most intriguing of all Atletico Madrid; if you having living underground all summer then you’ll know why – Hall of Fame has this week decided to again trawl through the archives to look at some of the cosmopolitan opposition to visit Stamford Bridge through the years
Chelsea 3-3 Dynamo Moscow, 13.11.1945 – Stamford Bridge, 100,000 (estimated)
Britain was, slowing returning to near normality following the end of the Second World War.
Domestic football had been suspended since 1939, so the football authorities announced that the leading side in the Soviet Union, Dynamo Moscow would tour Britain, taking in games against Chelsea, Arsenal, Cardiff and Rangers as celebration of the return of the peacetime game.
Much interest, after years without regular football and the added curiosity of Chelsea’s opponents, led to a packed crowd, officially as 74,496 at Stamford Bridge, with spectators cramming into any space they could find in the ground, including around the edges of the pitch and high onto the rooftops of the stands, the attendance was estimated anywhere between 100’000 – 120’00.
A packed crowd were treated to a thrilling contest, Dynamo controlled the early stages of the match, with their quick movement and equally quicker passing, but it was Chelsea, in action packed first half, playing in red due to a colour clash, who took a 2-0 half time, Dynamo missed a penalty and had a goal disallowed after it had been deemed to have gone off a spectator!.
The scoreline remained 2-0 until the 70th minute when Dynamo seemed to click into gear, two goals in seven minutes put the Soviet side back in it until a Tommy Lawton; Chelsea’s record signing at £11,500, seemed to have won the match for the Blues, only for Dynamo to equalise minutes later, much to the delight of the crowd.
Dynamo continued with their tour of Britain with a 10-1 victory over Cardiff, a 4-3 win over Arsenal and a 2-2 draw with Rangers.
Chelsea 13-0 Jeunesse Hautcharage, 29.09.1971 – Stamford Bridge, 27,621
The night it quite literally rained goals at Stamford Bridge.
Following a 1st leg triumph in Luxembourg, the scoreline reading an 8-0 victory to Chelsea, nobody gave the amateurs much hope of salvaging anything other than pride in the return leg at Stamford Bridge – and so it proved with Chelsea recording their biggest ever win in the club’s history – which still stands to this day, and the biggest ever aggregate score recorded in European football – which also still stands to this day, equalled by Feyenoord in the 1972/73 Uefa Cup.
The Luxembourg amateurs were, and are still the smallest ever club to appear on the European stage, it was an almighty shock, to themselves, that they lifted their domestic cup competition to earn the right to play the European Cup Winners’ Cup holders.
Their squad included a40-year-old forward, a schoolboy and remarkably a winger with only one arm.
Even with all these factors, Chelsea were in no mood to be charitable, the Blues led 6-0 at half time with goals from Ron Harris, Alan Hudson, John Hollins, David Webb and a brace from Peter Osgood.
Seven more goals were duly dispatched after the break with a second half hat tricks from Tommy Baldwin and Peter Osgood – who took his tally for the match to five, the late Peter Houseman scored his goal to bring the scoreline up to an incredible 13-0.
Osgood’s five goal haul was not enough to win another accolade, Osgood had a £5 bet pre match with goalkeeper Peter Bonetti that he would score six.
Chelsea would be shocked in the second round, being humbled by Swedish side Atvidaberg on away goals.
Chelsea 1-1 New York Cosmos, 26.09.1978 – Stamford Bridge, 39,659
During the 1970’s, Football, or soccer as it is affectionately known across the pond, saw a boom thanks to the arrival of the games leading players, including Pele, George Best, Franz Beckenbauer and Johan Cruyff.
It was the New York Cosmos, backed by the club ownership Warner Communications – now a holding company for Warner Bros and HBO, which was the most prominent side.
During the mid to late 70’s, the Cosmos signed a number of the world’s star players and bagged themselves five league titles.
When the New York Cosmos strolled into West London, Pele had since retired but they were able to field a number of their star names including Carlos Alberto, Franz Beckenbauer and Italian Giorgio Chinaglia among others, and in their side was to be a very special guest, three time European Cup winner Johan Cruyff – Cruyff only appeared in two exhibition matches for the Cosmos, he never appeared in a league match for the club.
The 39,659 crowd were treated to some exhibition football from the New York Cosmos stars, it may have come to the relief of the Stamford Bridge faithful, as Chelsea were in the midst of an awful season that would ultimately end in relegation to the Second Division.
New York Cosmos most recently purchased star Dennis Tueart, signed from Manchester City earlier in that year opened the scoring in the 38th minute and the Cosmos looked set for victory, that was until Ray Wilkins equalised in the 89th minute to restore some pride for the Blues.
Anyone who was present at Stamford Bridge would take home the memory of witnessing the late great Johan Cruyff, who despite his age was still at the peak of his powers.
New York Cosmos, due to poor management and neglect folded in 1985, a new New York Cosmos side was announced in 2010 by Pele – the clubs honorary president – the new team started in the second tier, the NASL in 2013, where they are still looking to gain promotion to the MLS.
Antonio Conte and his side will not be playing any of those sides anytime soon.
The European campaign is back up and in full swing.
Stamford Bridge has had a year without European football, while in it’s absence Chelsea became champions of England for the second time in three years, the Stamford Bridge faithful do not wish to have it taken away again.
Extra fixtures will bring less recovery time to the squad but like at every top club, this is what the pre-season is for, this is what every top club strives for, to be involved at the business end of the biggest club competitions.
Roll on September.