Riding the rocket to Russia…

Come along
Come along
Come along and sing this song
We’re the boys in Blue in Division Two
And we’re going to
The European Cup final.

Suffice to say that a few decades of listening to everyone from Abba to Jay Z hasn’t had much effect on my ability to pen anything resembling a passable chorus.

While the song doesn’t scan too well, there is something rather fitting about that given the occasion. I’m sure I’m not alone in thinking that our place in tomorrow’s fixture list looks a bit, well, odd really. Rather like hearing that John Prescott is bulimic – utterly unbelievable, but apparently true.

Wednesday, May 21 2008
UEFA Champions League Final, Luzhniki Stadium, Moscow
Manchester United v. Chelsea

Chelsea? I thought there was something written in the Magna Carta about Chelsea not appearing in games of this magnitude. Nostradamus probably had a prophecy on the subject. Then again, he did talk an awful lot of old cock at times.

After FA Cup final weekend in seasons past, we’ve usually indulged ourselves in idle transfer gossip about dilettantish Moroccan strikers and how many days it is until the first pre-season game against Kingstonian / Kuala Lumpur Red Bull Vikings.

During the Abramovich years the European dream has been tantalisingly close, but as untouchable as Liz Renner’s tits. Well, she wouldn’t let me anywhere near them back in the day, but I digress.

Many times we have watched European football’s showpiece event from behind a cushion, collective ears covered as Clive Tyldesley screamed “Barcelona!” and “Istanbul!” like a man with Time Out City Guide Tourette’s until he ejaculated into David Pleat’s coffee.

Let’s be honest, we all groaned collectively at the last eight draw, didn’t we? Make the semis and meet Liverpool. Again. The pessimist in me (a fairly sizeable and persuasive individual, it has to said), had a horrible feeling something was going to go wrong. And it did.

Riise found the wrong net.

Benitez wound up the wrong man.

Lampard sent Reina the wrong way.

As the hangover died down the following day, the magnitude of it all started to sink in.

We’re going to Moscow for the biggest game that English club football has ever seen.

Moscow, we’re told, will be welcoming to our travelling fans. Provided of course that they don’t disturb Lenin. Or moon at the United fans on Red Square. Or attempt to pay tribute to Russia by re-enacting the Odessa Steps sequence from “Battleship Potemkin” with the smallest bloke they can find crammed into a shopping trolley.

No sense of fun, these former Communist types.

There will of course be much talk of United’s proud European history and other such subjective guff, with the general underlying tone that we should be eternally grateful to be sharing the stage with the mighty Ronaldo and company on such a glorious night.

But before we wilt in the presence of such glory and tradition, let’s just remember a few things about our ‘lil old football club, for a moment.

The first English team to qualify for the European Cup wasn’t Manchester United or Arsenal (I’d mention Liverpool here, but they were rattling around in the Second Division at the time). It was Chelsea.

A mixture of short-sightedness and politics on the part of the football authorities denied Roy Bentley’s 1955 title winning side the opportunity of testing themselves against the likes of Gento and Di Stefano. Another one of the many “what might have been” moments in the extraordinary life of Chelsea FC, but the class of 2008 has a fine opportunity to correct that particular injustice.

In between the days of Bentley and Ballack, we’ve suffered relegation, near bankruptcy, electric fences, the threat of property developers and Andy Myers. We’ve seen true greats like Osgood and Zola who could have easily graced European Cup finals in a Blue shirt, but never quite reached the heights we always hoped they could.

Tomorrow night, as well as those who have made the trip to Moscow, Blues across the globe from London to Sydney via the Frog and Firkin, West Broadway, Vancouver will tune in to watch the biggest game in the – well, we all know what it means to each and every one of us.

This season has been a rollercoaster ride to say the least, but thus it ever was in the life of a Chelsea fan. Even if the football has been less than inspiring at times, the subtext is certainly never dull.

Much as I’d like to write a happy ending to this particular chapter, everything is now down to the team and the footballing gods. Whilst we are confident in the abilities of the former, the latter can be either heartlessly cruel or overwhelmingly generous, as we know only too well. What happens next is still to be written, but win or lose, we’ll remember tomorrow night for the rest of our lives.

As for the story so far, Division Two strugglers to European Cup finalists in the space of twenty years isn’t a bad one to tell the grandchildren. If this football club didn’t exist, you’d have to invent it.

So it simply remains for me to say thanks for a great season Chelsea, you’ve made us proud. Now if you could just make us champions of Europe…