One of the Most Significant Chelsea Matches of the Last 20 Years

Question: what’s one of the most significant Chelsea matches of the last 20 years? Beating Bayern Munich last May? Winning the FA Cup in 1997 to end the trophy draught? Securing Champions League football in 2003 on the final day of the season before a certain Russian billionaire stepped in to take over the club? Yes – sort of. Why? Let me expand. By those of us who have followed Chelsea there have been more highs than lows in the last 20 years than we could’ve imagined but one of the most significant matches we’ve played in that time is against Sheffield Wednesday, on 9 February 1994, in an FA Cup fourth round replay at Hillsborough.

Chelsea were ‘enjoying’ Glenn Hoddle’s first season – with the arrival of a manager known to want to play attractive, creative football, there was a sense around Stamford Bridge that with his high profile, the club would start to move forward following the largely disappointing time under Ian Porterfield. At first there had been encouraging wins against Manchester United and Liverpool with some of the football played not seen since the 70s heyday. Yet as ever with Chelsea, the team started to lose its way with a group of technically limited players being asked to do too much by Hoddle. A disastrous run of defeats just before Christmas 1993 saw the team second from bottom of the league, without a win in ages, barely scoring and hardly able to keep them out. Despite halting the decline against Newcastle and Swindon over Christmas, a 0-0 draw against bottom of the football league Barnet in the Cup (in theory at Barnet but played at Chelsea because Underhill was deemed too small – the replay being won 4-0) hardly set the pulse racing. Even more so as in the fourth round, Chelsea only drew 1-1 at home against Sheffield Wednesday, a team who at the time proved something of a bogey side for Chelsea teams in the early 90s.

Hillborough on a dark February night was hardly the place this Chelsea side was going to fashion a result, especially as they’d won once away from home all season in the league. Yet Chelsea went 1-0 up early on courtesy of John Spencer and by and large, seemed in control. Wednesday equalised, taking the match to extra time. Chelsea went 2-1 up with Craig Burley scoring in front of the Chelsea fans, before Gavin Peacock secured the game towards the end, making it 3-1. A difficult tie, safely (and truth be told unexpectedly) negotiated.

So why is this one of Chelsea’s most significant results of the last 20 years? OK – it didn’t immediately secure the future of the club or the team, it didn’t lead to any silverware and it didn’t do anything to secure Chelsea’s position in only the second season of the Premier League (Chelsea lost the Saturday before the replay to Everton and then lost the following Saturday at Boundary Park against Oldham). But – it did finally show that they could, when it was needed, sometimes, pull a result out of the bag. The win gave them the impetus in the FA Cup that took them to their first final for 24 years, beating Oxford and Wolves next, before the semi-final where Luton (with Kerry Dixon) lost to two Gavin Peacock goals. The final against double chasing Manchester United was oddly incidental (OK – it didn’t feel like that at the time – it felt like the worst feeling ever – but you get the point). For an entire generation of fans brought up on stories of Osgood and Cooke, actually reaching a final after near misses in the League Cup, with only the odd half decent FA Cup run every 10 or so years, felt like an achievement. With United winning the Premier League title, it brought European football to Chelsea for the first time in over 20 years – making their way to the semi-finals of the European Cup Winners’ Cup. It wasn’t the most gifted Chelsea side, it certainly wasn’t the most successful by any stretch; under Hoddle they never finished higher than 11th and the team remained inconsistent and defensively suspect on occasion, lacking real quality in key areas of the pitch. Yet the Sheffield Wednesday win, unexpected as it was, showed they did have something about them and they could bring home a result when really needed (this was witnessed the following year in Vienna and at home to Bruges in the Cup Winners’ Cup).

I’m not saying that one dark and cold night in South Yorkshire changed everything about the club that we see today but had they lost that night, they wouldn’t have secured European football, Hoddle’s job might have been on the line (there were moments especially on the back of losing six games in a row in the league where it was touch and go), they wouldn’t have raised their profile via playing in the Cup Winners’ Cup and I doubt Rudd Gullit would’ve been that keen to sign for them without Hoddle as coach – and we all know how that ended up!

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  1. limetreebower

    Thanks for prompting the memories, Liquidator. Though for some reason I have no memory of this game at all — but the rest of that Cup run is very clear in the recollection. We were probably lucky not to be drawn against anyone significantly good until we showed up to Wembley to play the Mancs (was that the year they only squeezed through against Oldham via a very late goal from Sparky in a replay?). And even though we were spanked in the Final on a memorably miserable rainy day it somehow didn’t feel like a 4-0. In fact I remember Sparky being interviewed after the game and saying something about how we hadn’t deserved that scoreline. Ah, the days when being patronised by ManU players felt almost like a compliment.

    I was a new-minted Chelsea fan back then. After an agostic west London youth

  2. sir billy

    0-0 barnett was my first ever Chelsea match, and I decided I didn’t want to be a supporter despite my Dad. I wanted to be a Man U fan like all my school friends.

    Somehow I was curbed though, and what a wild ride it’s been since…

  3. Der_Kaiser

    Good article. Difficult to comprehend we’re talking about the same club in some ways, but some aspects quite recognisable.

    Wasn’t there some talk of us being in for Gascoigne if we hadn’t signed Ruud? That could have all turned out very differently indeed…

  4. Blueboydave

    Nicely argued case.

    I’m worse than LTB as I can’t remember off the top of my head the details of any of the games in that cup run, apart from that game being the only one that was played outside the south of England.

    I recall with bitterness to this day the injustice of the score in the final, plus seeing Kerry Dixon on my way into the stadium. I also remember stats freaks all saying it was the first time it had rained on FA Cup final day since records began or something and Brian McClair smirking his way through his post-match interview.

    Even when Gullit and Hughes arrived the following season they were surrounded by a lot of average players who struggled to get on the same wavelength as them.

    • limetreebower

      “Even when Gullit and Hughes arrived the following season they were
      surrounded by a lot of average players who struggled to get on the same
      wavelength as them.”

      — one of my clearest memories is a moment during some game or other when Ruud had got himself in acres of unmarked space on the sideline and was waiting for someone to pass to him. First he raised an arm, in the conventional manner. Then he stopped running and waved both arms. Then he started doing a little waving dance, waggling his arms in the air and bouncing his dreads. 40000 people could he see was open with no one anywhere near him and no one between him and the oppo goalie. 21 people couldn’t.

    • PeteW

      I remember Ellery insisting after the game that he’d made the correct decision regarding the second penalty – actually a dive that took place outside the area.

      I think he only admitted a few years ago that he had been lying and had actually realised straight away that he’d cocked up.

      I also remember our support in that final being phenomenal, and when United went up to lift the trophy all you could hear was our lot belting out Blue Flag. We made an amazing noise back then, loudest in the country I reckon.

  5. Stewart Taylor

    Cracking call Liquidator!!
    I went up after the 1-1 in the first game with little or bugger all hope. Sunderland 2 years previous had crushed the life out of me (that still hurts thinking about it now. the likes of Cundy, Elliott and Vinny would all have been desrving Chelsea medallists..); recalling the semi final second leg 3 years before, and realising that Wednesday were a top 5 side at the time also meant that we were a long shot of some proportions. and yet we still filled that top tier with over 4,500 for that replay. it was also one of the first times I’d had reason to be really aware of our massive nationwide fan base from the 70’s. At some point in extra time with the game on a knife edge Carlton Palmer clattered Peacock and I screamed something along the lines of ‘you dirty northern c***’ as our Gavin rolled around on the floor. at this point roughly 3 rows of 30+ year old Chelsea fans all turned around, the one directly in front replying in a thick Yorkshire accent ‘it’s ee right lad, we’re not all bad ye know…’
    Anyway, Craig Burley did the one thing I actually liked him for (ok the goal in the next round at Oxford was good..), until he put Beckham through and became a bitter, anti Chelsea bastard, and we went TOTALLY MENTAL. then it also transpired that Arsenal had lost at home to Bolton, Leeds to Oxford, and suddenly the way was clear. The Blue Flag made it’s debut against Wolves and banished all the panic there was at the equivalent stage v’s the Mackems; and though we lost to United and I cried like a baby back in the Cock on the North End Road (I think someone put ‘Everbody Hurts’ by REM on and half the pub broke down…), the day itself and the atmosphere was monumental.
    And, on the back of Manure winning the Double, we sneaked into the Cup Winners Cup, and went on to create a ton more memories, and also inspired Hughsie and Ruud to join.
    Then everything changed…

  6. Natasha Quick

    That was the only game of the cup run I didn’t go to. Still remember my knees going weak when I finally got my hands on my cup final ticket after being for hours!

  7. Austin Solari

    According to my long departed Mum, the first words I ever read from a newspaper were ‘Chelsea for the Cup’ (must have been late fifties, early sixties). I followed the team by newspaper avidly after being told this. I can distinctly remember standing in the newsagents on a Saturday evening about 545pm waiting for the ‘final results’ Evening News (long since departed) to come in to see how we had done.
    Then the year of ’67. Most of the guys that worked with Dad were CFC fans including a family of brothers called Woods. I was big pals with the youngest Micky but my all time hero is one of the older ones called Bobby who worked with Dad. The night before Leeds vs Chelsea @ Villa Park ie the semi final, he asked Dad if I was interested in a spare ticket they had and the rest is history. We travelled up to our hoodoo ground in a little Morris 1100 decorated with ribbons and a tinfoil Cup on the roof lol .To a kid of 11, the journey was never ending but the excitement of being there right behind the goal was fantastic. Yep, the goal in which Leeds ‘scored’ THAT equaliser. I can still see that free kick thundering past The Cat and agreed with the ref, obviously.
    I can remember a school trip to the Tower of London and myself and schoolmates spent the entire afternoon asking the Guards who they wanted to win the Cup and jeering if they said Spurs.
    So started an association that has had so so many lows but the highs have been fantastic. CFC have always been like the ‘naughty schoolboy’ to me. When we’re good, we’re very very good but we’re bad, we’re bloody awful’.
    Thankfully, the highs have been many in the last 10 years but nothing can beat that first title under TSO in my opinion, not last May, nothing.
    I have travelled the country supporting my heroes but nothing will ever beat the delirium of Bolton (who else but CFC fanscould get excited about Bolton in April) and being behind the goal in the last game when 42,000 fans called for Claude to take that last minute penalty and score his one and only CFC goal ………… and then nearly muck it up.
    Oh, happy days

  8. Austin Solari

    Is there a limit on the numbers of words?? Half my sodding post has disappeared!! Bollox, I am not writing it all out again.

  9. bluebayou

    Very good read Liquidator, thanks for that. Certainly brings back a lot of memories, though like others I wasn’t up there for that game, but went to plenty during that season. Looking back it seems like everything was a natural progression from that time to this. But as you quite rightly demonstrate, it didn’t feel that way at the time.

    I have two significant memories of Sheffield Wednesday both of which are oddly food related.

    One dates form the home game in ’95, which was a 1-1 draw. They scored in the very last minute. I was so distraught I jumped up from my seat and hurried from the stadium. My girlfriend of the time (to whom I am now married) was caught out by the lightening exit and struggled to hurry after me. My bag containing several sandwiches and other vittles purchased at some cost from a food emporium, lacking either legs or wheels remained under my seat.

    A few years later I was working up in Leeds and so went with a fellow Chelsea fan over to Hillsborough for the Cup game in Feb ’99 where Robbie scored the winner. We both bought a pie on the way in. I tried eating it but it was too hot and though it is probably my mind playing tricks, I swear it was still too hot to eat coming up to half time. To this day I believe that irrespective of the meat content there were the required constituents for ongoing nuclear fission in there as well.

      • bluebayou

        No, those are the only two. (Memories related to football and food, I mean. As opposed to just memories or memories of food generally, of which I have eleven…..I think)

  10. PeteW

    Really interesting piece.

    Funnily enough, for almost exactly the same reasons, I’ve always felt the most important game was the 1-0 win over Wolves in the quarters, as that was exactly the sort of hurdle we usually tripped over. Lower league opposition at home, decent shot at reaching our first semi in decades… We were bound to lose.

    Then as soon as that blue flag unexpectedly appeared for the first time on the west side of the Shed, it felt like it was going to be all right.

    I can’t remember anything about the game, or even who scored (I assume it was Stein, as he scored all our goals that year), but I knew with that win we were on our way somewhere, especially after the utter misery of Sunderland two years before,

    Another key game happened 18 years ago today – the 2-0 over Bruges in the ECWC. What an atmosphere that was.

    • Blueboydave

      My trusty Ron Hockings’ book reminds me it was Gavin Peacock who scored in the Wolves game. In fact it was 1 of 6 goals he got in that cup run, scoring in almost every round apart from the final. He had already used up his ration of goals against Man U in doing the double against them in the League, thanks to the width of the crossbar in the final.

      I remember the Bruges game because it was one of the few home games I missed that season because I had to rush back to Scotland at the last minute to visit a sick relative.

      I was able to see it thanks to the then novelty of a Chelsea European game being shown on national TV, even in the frozen North.

  11. limetreebower

    All right everyone: just how funny is it that Nando gets a nosebleed after scoring?

    I vote Almost Unbelievably Funny.

  12. mark_25

    A fun and exciting albeit bizarre evening. I only recognised one other face by me and the West Lower was at least 50% Romanian! Apparently they’d all been buying memberships yesterday so although there were only 28,000 the revenue for the game was effectively 41,000.

    It was also bizarre because Torres was brought back to life for 5 minutes. To be honest I thought the new Pope had more pressing priorities but if he wants to arrange miracles of resurrections I’m all for it.

    It was a fun night, spirited performance and Hazard was fantastic.

    If you’re going to exit the Champions League you might as well leave in the group stage. I mean what was the point of Arsenal being in it for another three months?

    Fixture pile up might be our undoing but I’d rather we fail trying on all fronts than just surrendering.

    • limetreebower

      Same in the East Upper — at least half of the regulars had been replaced with Romanians. They were good fun too, though (sadly) they got threatened with violence by the annoyingly persistent minority of swivel-eyed maniacs for having the gall to stand up and cheer when Steaua scored.

      I thought the first half was pretty dismal, with the exception of Mata and (especially) Hazard who were both full of wonderful touches, but the second half was excellent. Steaua tired badly but were good to watch; still, once we got going we were on an entirely different level.

      JT worryingly ineffectual (apart from his goal of course).

      I’m with Mark: though the head says we’d be better off exiting this competition, the heart says it’ll be fun if we can make a run through it. It’s like a proper old-fashioned European cup. Steaua Bucharest! Benfica! Even (God help us) the Spuds! It’s low-stress and enjoyable. Apart from Basel you can imagine any of the remaining eight teams winning the thing.

  13. limetreebower

    Well, it still looks and feels like winter, but there are signs that we’re emerging from our annual hibernation. A very good team performance today (apart from the usual comedy misses from Dembnando TorreBa).

    I know we’re supposed to hate the Spuds more than anyone else but there aren’t many things that give me a warmer glow than shutting up the Hammaz and their hilariously conflicted fans. (“Where’s yer racist centre-‘arf?” they sign, mintes after serenading … acknowledged Ultra and Mussolini-lover Paolo Di Canio. Still, fascists aren’t usually noted for their brainpower.)

    The so-called “Academy of Football” certainly got a lesson in how to play the game from Mata and Hazard today, or would have if they aimed their sights away from Andy Carroll’s head long enough to notice what was happening.

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