A little preamble
Football eh? Bloody hell!
Yes, the exact same quote I used for the Barcelona review still stands firm. It was said after the epic final of 1999 by Sir Alex Ferguson and has possibly become as famous as Bill Shankly’s ‘football isn’t life or death, it’s more important than that’ (it isn’t by the way). The grumpy intransigent old goat’s words seem even more apt after the truly remarkable events of Saturday night in Munich. To be honest I struggled with the idea of writing a report during yesterday. I mean how, just how can such a night be captured in words and do justice to the very emotions of the night as the drama unfurled before us? The truth is they can’t. There are no words that can really capture the heaven and hell for all Chelsea fans.
I sit here on the first day of a week off work, a broken man. In bits. Physically aching in every joint. Muscles still locked rigid through tension and the fact that I covered more ground on Saturday night than Bastian Schweinsteiger himself. I’m tired by lack of sleep. My stomach wants me to eat but I can’t. But deep inside, right in the core of my very being… my soul if you like, there is a benign… nay… smug smile that is the very epicentre of contentment and happiness.
And noting that the papers are already running the post-match discontent rumblings already I’ve decided that for this piece I am going to steer clear of chat about coaches, players’ futures, defensive tactics and who wore what on collecting the trophy as best I can.
In light of our achievement this really needs to be a…
…Prose to Joy (apologies to Friedrich Schiller and Ludwig van Beethoven).
The first surprise came with the team announcement that young Ryan Bertrand (as in BERT-RAND, not BERT-ROND – he’s English people!) was to make a start in front of Ashley Cole. A brave decision by Robbie that indicates he doesn’t seem unduly scared to take gambles and to give youth a chance. Outside of that, no real surprises with Kalou, Mata and Drogs leading the line. Mikel, Lamps, Bertrand forming the midfield and Bosingwa, Luiz, Cahill and Cole forming the defensive unit. Was it 4-3-3? 4-1-2-3? Really? Do you think I give a toss? It was simple – 11 versus 11. Us versus them. Plucky Chelsea versus the mighty Bayern, a genuine giant of European football.
Within five minutes of the game starting a familiar pattern started to form. Bayern, as expected came straight at us, and true to our best echo of Mourinho style we let them. This was going to be another display of defensive solidity against a team that for my mind were more dangerous than Barca. Why do I say that? It’s simple really, Barca have no plan B. As we’ve all noted previously, if Barca can’t play through you by relentless tiki-taka ballet dancing bollocks football then they get frustrated. Bayern on the other hand, as one might expect from a German team probably have a plan B and plan C. And as the game progressed through the first half it became an odd mixture between chess and boxing in terms of tactics. We seemed content to keep Bayern at arm’s length, the obvious plan being to hit them on the counter-attack. The one flaw in this plan was that we seemed to leave out the actual counter-attacking bit. As the first half petered out, we can describe our performance as competent. Bayern could describe theirs as ‘on-plan and on-schedule’ but the biggest fact was we had, despite a few scares, managed to survive intact.
Now the second half. My nerves were already in meltdown. The Old Speckled Hen in volume had numbed some of the neural pathways and falsely given the muscles the impression that they could take any punishment and excess I could throw at them. The second half was genuinely going to be different wasn’t it? We were going to throw off the defensive shackles and show Bayern exactly what we could do in terms of attacking. Weren’t we? Within 10 minutes we had the answer. As you were. Chance after chance came from Bayern, even if most might be best described as half chances. The man who had a nightmare versus Real Madrid in the Bernabeu, Mario Gomez, was seemingly intent on showing the world just how crucial it is to bring your shooting boots with you when on the world’s biggest club football stage. Which of course was good for us. As the half wore on, there were signs that we were getting more into the game. Bayern couldn’t keep their initial pace going, no-one could, and we hadn’t tired at all. To my increasingly socially relaxed eyes, we had found the right balance of pace to allow our players to remain physically strong, and with that the all important preservation of mental strength. Still Bayern were the ‘better’ side… for ‘better’ I mean the more attacking side, the one that seemed eager to finish the game and not go beyond the 90 and subsequently into extra time where Chelsea’s strength and remaining reserves would possibly prevail.
On 82 minutes the Chelsea world fell apart. A cross from Kroos found the head of Muller who headed down powerfully and let the bounce bamboozle Cech. I suspect most fans were like me and my brother at this point, resigned to a late goal defeat. In my own house there were two very big detractors from this line of thought. My wife, Helen and my youngest daughter refused to believe that was it. Oh how I felt sorry for their poor naïve delusional outlook. But they rallied us, they cracked the proverbial whips and told us, experienced grizzled cynical old fans, that this was not over yet. Inside I thought, ‘No, Bayern will probably get another.’ During the last 15 minutes Ryan Bertrand had given way to Malouda, ironically our replacement for Robben. Bertrand had battled manfully and a big future beckons for him with us. It’s also worth noting that any doubts about the fitness of Cahill and Crazy David had diminished with each passing minute. Each seemed to be playing through a degree of pain but each had been immaculate in their defensive duties. I have always maintained that Crazy David is the new Carvalho, but he will be better than him. After Saturday it’s hard to find anything that disproves that statement. It’s worth noting that I still have Kalou blindness and when he went off after 83 minutes and Torres came on I sighed with relief. Even on re-watch I can only say that Kalou worked hard. He had one real chance but outside of that, he lost possession in the tackle and gave the ball away sloppily. Within seconds of Torres’ entry we looked sharper and Bayern looked like they’d settled into a premature glow of narrow victory. On 87 minutes a blinding run down the wing by Torres brought about our first corner of the game. Yep, our first corner on 87 minutes. Which says quite a bit about attacking intention.
And then it all changed. Again.
Mata looped in the corner and with what can only be described as a trademark, bullet header the man for the moment, Didier Drogba, rammed home the equalizer into the top corner of the net. I was watching on Sky and if you haven’t heard Martin Tyler’s ‘Drogbaaaaaaaaaaaa!’ scream and Gary Neville’s reaction I urge you to try and seek it out because there is genuine passion in their reactions. I suspect Neville has some blue in his heart somewhere. And while I’m on this, Sky’s coverage was absolutely top notch, without any unscheduled ad breaks and no sudden Tic Tac adverts. Even Jamie Redknapp was bearable. Of course the downside of this was that one thing I had wished for was the game to be over one way or the other by 90 minutes. I had even urged in the Podding Shed that we don’t go to extra-time. And beyond that ABSOLUTELY, DEFINITELY NO PENALTIES!
So, in a real twist of Sod’s Law… what had just happened? For the remaining seven or eight minutes we looked the more dangerous side and Drogba had a chance with a last minute free kick to deliver a repeat cruel blow to Bayern of losing to an English side in the dying seconds of the game. Of course this being Drogba the kick went somewhere close to Row Z. And so, the dread of extra-time and the looming torture of the penalty shoot-out hoved into view. Of course, us being Chelsea, the drama kings of football, we had yet another few twists in the tail. And sure enough four minutes into extra-time the hero of the hour once again conspired to make himself the potential villain with what can best be described as a striker’s defensive tackle on Ribery. On the point of Ribery, has anyone perfected the French peasant look quite like Ribery? Anyway, Ribery went down under apparent sniper fire, won the penalty and the tide looked like turning back in Bayern’s favour. Up stepped Robben to surely drive a nail into our coffin. En route to taking the penalty though, a rather cheeky Mikel Obi whispered into Robben’s ear, apparently the words were ‘You’re going to miss this’. Now I am no psychologist but if this in anyway contributed to Robben’s effort being saved by Cech then Mikel Obi deserves a lifelong contract with us. Dennis Wise would be so proud. Once again the Glover household erupted and once again the hope was killing each and every one of us slowly. And still Helen and Tasha refused to believe we would lose. At this point, a small, very small part of me started to wonder if fate really was with us.
And so the game rolled on until its inevitable stalemate end. Now I haven’t watched a penalty shoot-out. Ever. Not involving England or us. Ever. And so I prepared to walk up the road, fingers in ears, singing loudly. But my path was blocked. A gang of daughters and their boyfriends, my wife, my mate the Pompey fan and my brother formed a wall we would have been proud of. The message? Man up for once. If they were living through it they said, then so was I. And so I sat down… no of course not… I stood pint in hand five feet from the TV as it all happened.
Penalty 1: Philip Lahm strolls to the spot. Strikes the ball. Cech gets a hand to it. Doubt remains for a millisecond as to whether it went in but the Bayern roar tells me all I need to know. We’re doomed. Us in a penalty shoot-out against Germans. In Germany. In their home ground. In front of their home fans. 1-0.
Penalty 2: Juan Mata. My heart sinks remembering his two misses from the spot in the FA Cup this season. It plunges through the floor landing next to Satan himself as Neuer saves. We’re not just doomed now, we’re fucked as well. Shit, still 1-0.
Penalty 3: Maro Gomez. We have a chance because he’s been shocking. But no. Just when it needed him to man up he does exactly that. 2-0 on penalties. Clouds of despair descend on the Glover household. Except for Helen and Tash, the poor deluded innocent lunatics. 2-0.
Penalty 4: David Luiz. Crazy David. Crazy Crazy David. Ball on spot. And Crazy David walks back for his run up. Michael Holding never walked this far back when bowling. But Crazy David is Brazilian and his penalty nearly bursts the net such is the ferocity of the velocity. 2-1 and false hope opens one eye and lifts an eyebrow.
Penalty 5: A delay as uncertainty breathes a waft of its foul stench over Bayern but up steps Manuel Neuer. Keeper vs keeper. Cool as you like Neuer slots it home. Bayern have won. Surely. Their fans think so. Their players think so. I think so. Helen and Tash still don’t think so. 3-1 Bayern.
Penalty 6: Frank Lampard. St Francis of Lampardshire. Super Frank. Goal! 3-2. You just knew Frank would score and he’s lashed one home like Crazy David. 3-2.
Penalty 7. Ivica Olic. The sub for Ribery. His last ever appearance for Bayern. His last ever kick. CECH SAVES! False hope has opened her other eye and has the deed poll form written in the name of Real Hope. Still 3-2.
Penalty 8: Ashely Cole. Ashley Cole? My head is in my hands. Surely the wrong choice. Bang, as cool as you like Ashley slots the ball home with accuracy and power. 3-3. The deed poll request is in the post.
Penalty 9: Bastain Schweinsteiger. Mr Bayern. Mr Germany. The man with the most German of German names. The man who took them to the final. Mr Reliable. And he HITS THE FUCKING POST! Did Cech luff it to the post with the slightest of touches? Who cares. 3-3. The Deed Poll Office have replied already and Real Hope is standing and enveloping all of us with strong arms, pulling us to her welcoming bosom.
Penalty 10: Cometh the hour. Cometh the man. Didier Drogba. Part hero, part villain. The villain in Moscow. The hero tonight and in every Wembley final. One penalty. One shot from glory. One man. One destiny. Helen and Tash are even quiet at this point. I am numb. GOAL, GOAL, GOAL! Real Hope has delivered. The fans went nuts everywhere. We shouted and screamed and drank and screamed and cried.
Chelsea. European Champions 2012. Soak it up my friends. Soak it up.
Once again, I refuse to cheapen or sully this achievement with any ratings. Every man jack played their part in this. Every player, the coaching staff, Buck, Gourlay, Roman and EVERY SINGLE FAN. The players had it easy, they just had to win it. We had to live it. Every single dramatic second. My first ever penalty shoot-out and quite possibly my last. My double-winning shirt which has seen only victories has now been retired. Every omen worked for us. There’s no science or logic to football. It’s all written in the stars (copyright Gary Neville 2012).
So mentions for the fantastic John Mikel Obi, who spent the night putting fires out. Ashley Cole for his best ever game in a Chelsea shirt. Gary Cahill, future captain and a man with a huge heart. Crazy David, the spirit of Borota reborn, the skills of Carvalho. The best haircut ever. Jose Bosingwa, surprisingly solid. Frank Lampard, holding it all together in midfield. Ryan Bertrand who tirelessly tackled and ran. Juan Mata who tried so hard but couldn’t get any real impact in until the corner. Didier Drogba, starved of much service but a man with destiny written all over him. Salomon Kalou, although I can’t think of much, he played some part in the team being a team. Fernando Torres, coming on to get the first corner. Florent Malouda for putting in a solid few minutes knowing it’s his last appearance surely. And big Pete Cech for a massive performance between the sticks just when it mattered. Robbie Di Matteo for bravery, for reassembling a broken team and delivering the biggest prize of all. To see them at yesterday’s parade, to see the joy on the players’ faces. To see a 100,000 strong crowd lining the streets yesterday and to be part of it. To drive from Pompey just to see Old Big Ears and the FA Cup being proudly displayed was a genuine honour.
And some deserving praise to Bayern Munich. Gracious in defeat and fairness in the game. I think much like Manchester United already have, we have forged some friends for life with Bayern.
And so, despite the massive event that’s happened I’ve finally penned something. The broken body will repair. The mind is recovering from the shock and emotions encountered this season. The sphygmomanometer has confirmed all systems blood pressure wise remain stable, somewhat miraculously I imagine. We have had by all accounts the best season ever. Monkeys off backs. So many boxes ticked. The first London team to win the European Cup. Beating Valencia, Napoli, Benfica, Barcelona and now Bayern. Beating a German team, in Germany on penalties. And in a lovely sweet twist consigning Spurs to ITV4 on Thursday nights in the Europa League.
Wear your starred shirts with pride my friends, each and every one of us has earned it. And now please feel free to take a few months off. Be sure to tune into the next Podding Shed as well. Just because the season’s over doesn’t mean we will be stopping our duties as Chelsea fans. After all we have several players going to the Euros!
It’s been emotional.
Keep the Blue Flag Flying High!
The press reports
The Observer, Daniel Taylor: “These are the moments Chelsea will always cherish and never forget. They gave everything and finally, when it was all done, they had the European Cup in their possession and a night that will go straight in at No1 in their list of great triumphs from the Roman Abramovich era.”
The Sunday Telegraph, Henry Winter: “One touch meant so much. One kick from Didier Drogba transformed Chelsea’s present and future. They are champions of Europe, back in the competition as holders, throwing sticks of celery at the dementors who chased them across foreign fields for so long. “I wanted to make Chelsea smile,’’ Drogba reflected. He did. He really did.”
The Independent on Sunday, Steve Tongue: “It was not exactly 1999 all over again but like Manchester United on that occasion, Chelsea were last night partying at the expense of a stunned Bayern Munich, who again felt they had one hand if not their colours on the European Cup. This time a penalty shoot-out was required and for once a German side lost one; blue was the colour after Didier Drogba, with what was almost certainly his last kick for the club, converted the winning kick to complete one of the most extraordinary of his 300-plus Chelsea games.”
The Official Chelsea FC Website: “Moscow seems a long time ago now as the ghost of 2008 was buried by a penalty shoot-out win for the Blues.”