A Little Preamble
Around this time last year I started my Champions League final report with this well known phrase from Sir Alex Ferguson.
Football eh? Bloody hell!
So now I will paraphrase this to give it even more meaning to the majority who may see fit to read this.
Chelsea eh? Bloody hell!
Into the night I wander like a nicotine-stained, alcohol-tainted pissed old hack baffled by new technology, trying to put together a piece of prose about yet another glorious European night in Chelsea’s rather eccentric history. I’m out with work colleagues tomorrow night where I will celebrate large and long properly, but this will be a late night stopped over keyboard, lit by a solitary bulb. All for you ungrateful, unfeeling bastards.
It’s a nice thought that after the comparative barren years of the Bates reign, we suddenly find ourselves having to tag more Post-it notes together in order to add new glittering football bling to the growing list of club honours. 11 trophies, 10 years, nine managers.
And very kindly, Nick, the blog’s Dear Leader asked me to sum up the night’s events as its European correspondent. I do sometimes wonder if in many centuries’ time, the interweb pages with my cumbersome prose will still exist, whether my scruffily scrawled match notes on Bamboo Paper for iPad will be discovered by future eight-foot tall evolved humans with brains the size of medicine balls, where even the fattest can run 100m in five seconds, and will they gaze longingly at them like one might view the lyric scribblings of Lennon or Waters (Roger not Muddy). Will they see the raw emotion, the occasional potty-mouthed outburst, the irrationality, the fickleness and the pain and ecstasy as some timeless record of a previous but quaint time when people actually cared for something other than the greater good of human kind?
Nah, they’ll be laughing like dope smoking Cadbury’s Smash robots.
So, how do I feel pre-match? The first final I’ve not watched with my brother since 1997 and we’ve won every one of them we’ve watched together. We didn’t watch the Arsenal final together, nor the Moscow debacle, nor the final against the loathsome Spuds that must never be mentioned. Tonight due to differing work patterns we were separated again.
Was this an omen? Bollocks was it… not even I have that much of a God complex. I was nervous, but in comparison to the 19th of May last year and Munich this was small potatoes nervousness. To be honest I am recovering from a nasty bug caused by a second-hand leftover Chinese meal I ate on Sunday. Greed is never good… but the Chinese meal just smelt so good!
When the team news came it was much as predicted, maybe the omission of Moses being a surprise. I never got it right on the Podding Shed and maybe that’s good because Rafa can surprise me from time to time.
Anyway the team was Cech, Dave, Ash, Cahill, Ivan, Crazy David, Ramires, Sir Frank Lampard (captain), Mata, Oscar and Torres. Subs were Turnbull, Paolo, Mikel, Benayoun, Ake, Marin and Moses. I hoped we wouldn’t miss Hazard, but suspected we would. He will become our Messi in my view. JT we’ve done without for fairly large parts of the season so we’re used to him not being around and seem to have adapted well. Anyway, that was probably the strongest team Rafa could put out, so few complaints from me or the Twitterverse.
Well, the first half is easy to cover. We were utterly shocking. Pub teams were laughing and trying to book us for pre-season results fodder. Couldn’t pass, couldn’t hold the ball. Couldn’t keep the ball. Couldn’t win the ball. Couldn’t shoot, bar one decent effort from Frank. At 10 minutes I was alone with Didier and Frankie (new family kittens… what about those names huh?) shouting ‘WAKE UP!’ at the TV screen. This was much the pattern of behavior I adopted for the rest of the half. I did make one observation though and that was the stunning point that the tennis player Vitas Gerulaitis has been resurrected and reanimated and now calls himself Jorge Jesus and is manager of Benfica. Seriously check out the photos… it’s Vitas I tell you. Like Elvis he faked his death but rather than copy Elvis and run a chip shop in Scunthorpe (I have it on good authority) he’s decided to move back into the public eye. Yes folks, we were so poor I was hunting for a lookalike to tweet about. My notes go something like this…
20 minutes – All over the shop.
25 – Same shop, same trolley, different aisle.
28 – First shot on goal from Oscar.
30 – Rafa re-trying his patented Istanbul 2005 stratagem.
35 – Can we try Lidl.
37 – Decent effort from Frank… who else. After the Villa game I find myself mentioning Frank’s name in much the same reverend way Basil Fawlty addressed the fake Lord Melbury.
40 – Cardozo, we can’t handle him.
43 – Aah now I see we’ve moved to Aldi.
45 – 0-0 but how the hell we’ve seen that out I have no idea.
SHOCKING stuff from Chelsea across the pitch. But Benfica had seemingly decided to wear ballet shoes instead of boots which answers why they couldn’t shoot properly, nor stay on their feet. UEFA and referee conspiracy theories briefly flashed through my mind but logic won in the end. Even UEFA aren’t that stupid to publicly demonstrate their hatred of us. Although the sight of renowned Chelsea haters Platini and Cruyff sat side by side seemed a dark portent of possibility.
So like the eternal optimist, or the drug-crazed lunatic after a fresh fix I play with Didier and Frankie for 15 minutes and then think to myself, we’re a bad half/good half team so we have the good half coming up. It can’t be worse… surely?
Here’s the the second half notes. Note the subtle chord change from Gilmour-like melancholy doom to Jimmy Page Whole Lotta Love solo.
47 minutes – Aah I see they’ve opened Costcutters, shall we try that shop then?
48 – Benfica diving? (Shurely shome mishtake?)
49 – I say young shop worker, can you tell us where the ball is?
50 – Arse, Benfica goal… oh hang on… offside? Yeah I thought it might be…
50 – Will that close shave wake us up?
55 – Zzz… yawn… FFS WAKE UP CHELSEA!
59 – GOAL! GOLA! GOALLISSIMO! GOAL MACHINE! Torres scores on break, great vision, control and finish from him. He’s not quite done then! 1-0 Chelsea, never in any doubt…
60 – International feed missed it with slow mo replay of Vitas or fans yawning or something, well they caught the last seconds but even I can’t point the blame at ITV. But I do anyway.
60 – No doubt we have 30 minutes plus of grim hanging on then…
65 – Just keep the fuckers at bay Chelsea.
67 – Ref hears Ray Winstone in his earpiece shout ‘BET IN PLAY… NOW!’
68 – PENALTY. And for the first time in this competition we concede a proper penalty that even we can’t complain about from a rather silly Azpilicueta handball.
69 – Goal. Cardozo smashes ball past Cech. 1-1.
69 – Bollocks.
71 – Hold on we’re actually still in this. We’re threatening them. We’re alive!
73 – Fitness factor will surely tell.
74 – Torres tugged to floor, looks a penalty. Ref hears ‘BET IN PLAY… NOW!’ and refuses to give it.
80 – Ramires offside for the 37th time – he ain’t no winger…
88 – Blimey, a good open game now – Frank shoots… GOOAAA… oh it hits the bar. Wow, that would have been the way to win. Shit… didn’t he hit the bar in Moscow?
89 – Temerity to suggest on Twitter that maybe Ramires should come off for Moses – three minutes indicated of added time…
91 – Ramires cleverly picks up ball deep on right wing and plays it against defender for a corner. Last chance surely…
92 – GOAL! GOLA! GOALISSIMO! GOAL, BABY! BACK OF THE NET! Ivanovic in fairy tale last minute goal wins it for Chelsea surely.
And even then we needed a bit of wonder defending from Gary Cahill, no doubt questioning why he left Bolton for all this glory, in order to ensure we didn’t chuck it away with seconds to go. How must Wenger feel to have let Cahill skip by?
And that my friends, my colleagues, my brethren is how we won the game according to my electronic scribbles on the modern day version of the spiral-bound notepad and fountain pen.
Rubbish, still rubbish, getting better, improving, persevering, refusing to lie down, eyes on the prize, winning mentality. Spirit. That’s Chelsea Football Club for you.
As I did last year post-Munich I refuse to cheapen or sully this achievement with any ratings. Every man jack played their part in this.
The unity in this side is amazing sometimes to the point that we lose as a team, we win as a team, we play rubbish together as a team and we play good as a team. It’s a kind of football communism in a sense.
So, with no ratings let’s cover some honourable mentions, first half excluded where everyone was communally rubbish.
- Ramires, as Peter Watts described him to me… our Duracell Bunny. Runs and runs endlessly. I bet he runs in his sleep. Not a great night on the ball but he contributes and he tries and that’s more than good enough for me.
- David Luiz – calm and cool, an undercurrent of fury from time to time. Did more than you might think and in that sense was yes… Ballack-esque at times with his breaking up of play.
- Torres – cruelly nicknamed El Cobarde (The Coward) by me this season but effective in the second half tonight and a very cool finish. Life in this dog yet maybe…
- Cahill – future England captain. Never ever gives in.
- Ivanovic – a few odd mistakes, but the goal was a beauty and a fairy tale finish for a man who missed last year’s Champions League final.
- Cole – tireless, just tireless.
- Lord Francis of Lampardshire – there will be articles to follow on the great man and his contribution I suspect from all of the Podding Shed crew, but tonight he worked as he does best. When we needed a wake up call his shots reminded the others of what we were there to do. And for him to be captain again on a European winning night means he has won every major club honour there is. And it looks good for a contract extension as well. ROMAN, SIGN HIM UP!
Finally a special mention here for a much derided and divisive man. And this is because deep down, hate him, loathe him, or even like him, we Chelsea fans are decent, civil people who know what history means, and what class and dignity is.
Rafael Benitez. Asked to do a job, he gets us Champions League football. He gets us a European trophy to become one of four teams to win all major European honours, along with Ajax, Bayern Munich and Juventus and the ONLY English team to do so. Read and weep fans of other English clubs, read and weep. So he came in hated by many but still worked hard for the club. Despite the abuse he always smiled (well nearly always) and always faced the press and fans with good humour and a much needed ability to cop a deaf ‘un at Stamford Bridge and everywhere else. Mr Benitez, I thank you and wish you well as long as it’s elsewhere.
I could write so much more, but it’s 00:45 now. I’m tired and emotional, but not alcohol-induced tired and emotional. My Chelsea, Chelsea Football Club, the most bipolar and stark raving batshit insane club in the world, a club who I’ve berated, screamed at, sworn at, blushed at, cried at, laughed at and with, I bloody love you.
Truly, madly, deeply.
As ever it’s been emotional.
Keep the Blue Flag Flying High!
The Guardian, Daniel Taylor: “The clocks at either end of the stadium had just ticked past 92 minutes when Branislav Ivanovic made the run that will immortalise him in Chelsea’s history. The header was weighted with perfection, angled across goal and looping into the net, and it was then that Chelsea knew they had another European trophy to take back to Stamford Bridge and Rafael Benítez’s brief and turbulent period in charge was guaranteed its happy ending.”
The Daily Telegraph, Henry Winter: “Chelsea just love Europe. Whatever form it comes in, Champions League or Europa League, probably Eurovision too, they just relish its glittering company. Their salaries should be paid in Euros. They just never give up. Just as extra-time loomed, Branislav Ivanovic launched himself at a Juan Mata corner with such conviction, reviving memories of Didier Drogba at his unstoppable best, and Chelsea suddenly, gloriously, capped a crazy, complicated season with silverware. This was Chelsea’s 68th game, eighth competition and 12th country of the season.”
The Independent, Sam Wallace: “How Rafa Benitez’s team came to be the holders of the Europa League, as well as the European Cup, which is still theirs until 25 May, is one hell of story. It ended in the 93rd minute of the game when Branislav Ivanovic, hanging in the cool Amsterdam evening air that little bit longer than any of the Benfica defence, headed in a remarkable winner.”
The Official Chelsea FC Website: “A third European final in a row for Chelsea looked to be heading for extra-time after a Benfica penalty had levelled up Fernando Torres’s second-half goal, but with stoppage time underway, Branislav Ivanovic’s superb header won the Europa League.”