It seems poetic that two of Chelsea’s most monumental goals were similar in execution. A lone soul running through on goal, taking the ball round the keeper and sliding it into an empty net to spark scenes of wild celebration.
It was just under a week ago Chelsea fans were reminiscing on Fernando Torres’s long run at the Nou Camp to take the Blues to their eventual European triumph in the Spring of 2012.
This week – we recall another which was key in sparking a litany of success.
15 years ago today, Chelsea travelled up North in the aim of sealing their first topflight title in half a century. In 1955, the last time Chelsea had been in this position under the management of Ted Drake, with a hard-working team made up of mostly lower division players – Roy Bentley the star of that season with 21 goals to his name. A 3-0 win over Sheffield Wednesday secured the club’s first title with a game to spare.
50 years later, the situation was drastically different, but the goal the same. A single win would capture a piece of silverware many supporters had assumed was out of reach only a couple of years before.
Jose Mourinho’s arrival matched with Roman Abramovich’s investment had helped to turn Chelsea into one of the fiercest teams in topflight history. The Blues had swept aside all opponents, smashed the status quo of Arsenal and Manchester United and broken new records to place themselves as one of the most feared outfits in World Football.
The challenge standing in the Champions-elect way were a team creating their own history in the same season. Sam Allardyce’s now infamous Bolton Wanderers had been the unorthodox disrupters of the league, putting themselves on course for a place in Europe for the following season. The characters of Jay-Jay Okocha, the late Gary Speed and Stelios Giannakopoulos were in the starting eleven on the Saturday afternoon.
Bolton had already upset some of the league’s biggest foes, defeating Liverpool, drawing with Manchester United and being a constant thorn in Arsene Wenger’s side. A journey up to The Reebok to face Allardyce’s direct style of play was an intimidating test, Bolton had even taken a rare point away from Stamford Bridge earlier in the season after coming back from 2-0 down.
There would not be many at The Reebok that day with a more unique experience than West Stand Lower season ticket holder and Chelsea Pitch Owners Shareholder Matthew Duchezeau, who recalls sitting in the home end for one of the club’s biggest ever days.
“We were members back then and only went to a few games a season so there was no chance of a ticket in the Chelsea end. Fortunately, a number of my Mum’s family were/are Bolton season ticket holders and they sourced Dad and I a ticket. So, we made the journey north meeting them locally before travelling on a Bolton fan bus to the out of town Reebok Stadium and finding our seats in their end, in the gods up by Alan Green and the BBC 5 Live radio team.
“Being so close, we could hear them commentate which put us on edge during the tight first half. The commentary sounded electric and I was nervous.”
Fellow Pitch Owner, Supporters Trust member, Season Ticket Holder and CFCUK Fanzine writer Kraig Dixon (@BecauseWeMust05) was also making his way up the game with a group of friends. “A few of us got a minibus up to Bolton. Must have left very early as I think we got up there about 9am and ran into Allardyce when parking.”
The visitors starting eleven was without Damien Duff and Arjen Robben through injury. Joe Cole would be left out as both Eidur Gudjohnson and Didier Drogba would be fielded in a 4-4-2 formation. Geremi was at right back, whilst January signing Jiri Jarosik would make a rare start in midfield.
For a side looking to claim their first title in 50 years, Chelsea did not do a lot of attacking in the first half. The expected test of Bolton’s physicality was forcing Chelsea back and if it wasn’t for the heroics of Petr Cech, the Blues would have trailed. Firstly Giannakopoulos, then Speed forced the Czech shot-stopper into action. Kevin Davies somehow missed from a free header six yards out, tamely placing his effort into Cech’s grateful arms.
Though even through the wave of Bolton attacks, Chelsea’s unmatched defence stood firm. The league leaders had conceded only 13 goals going into the game and would only concede two more in the remaining weeks to attain a record that has been unbeaten in the 15 years since.
For those who had made the haul up to Greater Manchester, this was far from the dreamy procession they would have hoped for. Instead it was a pure slog, giving Chelsea one of their toughest battles on the final step to history.
Though exactly on the hour was when the first magical moment arose.
The hosts were furious with official Steven Dunn after allowing a challenge from Jarosik on Fernando Hierro to go unpunished. Chelsea broke and soon the ball would find its way to their best player. Frank Lampard’s influence had been nullified up to this point, so the midfielder took it upon himself to go for glory. Lampard would latch onto a headed knockdown from Drogba, and muscle right-back Vincent Candela to the floor.
From there Lampard would quickly jink inside to craft space, before firing a shot with his right beyond the palms of Jussi Jaaskelainen. It was the moment all in blue had dreamed of and it felt so right it was Lampard, who had been the star of so many important goals during the campaign.
Once again though, as key as Lampard’s influence was in front of goal, Cech’s was as important defending it. A Rory Delap style long throw from Speed was launched into a crowded area as the hosts looked for a quick response. Though calamity would almost strike as Geremi – in an attempt to clear the ball to safety – diverted it towards goal. Somehow Cech managed to react immediately and prevent a leveller, another big sigh of relief and an outstanding stop.
As the game entered the final 15 minutes, another goal would kill it as a once congested field became stretched. Allardyce’s men were in search of a big goal in their quest for European qualification.
Another Bolton corner cleared, and Claude Makelele would find his midfield peer Lampard running into open space. The pass was perfect, slicing Bolton apart and giving the No.8 the chance to run towards goal unchallenged. Lampard would show no signs of nerves as he coolly took the ball past an onrushing Jaaskelainen and place into the net. Cueing a mass celebration that can only be rivalled by those in the Allianz Arena seven years later.
BBC’s Commentator Steve Wilson would utter the once unthinkable sentence “Lampard for the title, its 2-0, its Chelsea’s Championship and fifty years of waiting has come to an end”!
Duchezeau: “When the first went in (Lampard evading Vincent Candela and smashing it in), I gave a little punch but tried to keep it in. However, with the second on the break, all hell broke loose. We were up on our seats (as it seemed was half the stand) but no one seemed to care. I’m certain I must have been up there from the moment the second went in until full time. People came up to shake our hands and say well done before the final whistle. Even Alan Green was magnanimous on air. It couldn’t have been more different from West Brom (also in the home end!) when Bats ran the wrong way.”
Lampard ran around the goal to reach the large corner washed in Royal Blue of Chelsea supporters as limbs were flailing. The goal scorer wouldn’t be on his feet for long as all his teammates would join, bundling him to the turf. All of the substitutes bench and staff too erupting from the dugout, including Mourinho who would make one of many long runs across the touchline in ecstasy.
The game was done, and the title was Chelsea’s.
Dixon: “Fond memories of the players celebrating with a blow-up trophy in front of our end and then Joe Cole up on top of the players bus outside afterwards. We had to stop at Hammersmith Hospital on the way back as one of the lads is diabetic and had one too many cans. Then the rest of us carried on drinking, back to the hotel for a couple then stayed up all night drinking and dancing in one of the other lads’ flats in Parson’s Green. Didn’t get back home until the Sunday night, then started looking forward to Liverpool CL semi away in the midweek.”
Bolton had been conquered and the long-overdue celebrations would begin as players, staff all converged once more onto their corner of support.
Jose Mourinho: “For them, for the players, fantastic. From the heart, I told them at half-time next time we are together we must be Champions, we must win this game.”
Eidur Gudjohnsen: “I think you have to start somewhere. People always said to me, you know Arsenal, Man United – they know what it takes this time of the season, but I’m sure they had to start somewhere with winning their first trophy. We as a group, as a collective, a lot of the players we’ve grown up together, me, John Terry, Frank Lampard.“
Joe Cole: “The last few weeks we didn’t let it get to us; we weren’t nervous. We always felt it was coming to Stamford Bridge and said we’ve got the best fans in the country; they’ve waited fifty years and now they’ve got it”.
Frank Lampard: “The fans have waited a long time for this, the players have waited a long time, I don’t think one of us has won the Premier League and you see that in the celebrations. A lot of people talk about the money we’ve spent but I think you’ve got a give a lot of credit to the whole squad and that means the management staff, from the first minute they came in at the start of the season they’ve worked hard on spirit, worked hard on making us work hard as a squad, no one’s left out. And we know we’ve got a lot of quality, but you see in the celebrations, every member of the squad was there and that’s been our main strength I think.”
The club had already produced special t-shirts for all the players with “2004/05 Premier League Champions” emblazoned on the front. Even Roman Abramovich made his way to join the players on the pitch to join the celebrations, standing with Frank Lampard and John Terry who joyously sung his name with the buoyant away support.
It was also equally special as the triumph would come in the club’s Centenary year to add to the historical significance of the day.
Duchezeau: “It was the same in the pub following the match. Locals said congratulations and it felt like they meant it. Maybe it was because it meant Manchester United not winning it, but I think it showed the level of respect shown for an awesome side.”
Well-known and respected Chelsea supporter and CFCUK Fanzine Editor David Johnstone who doesn’t miss a competitive game reflects on that special day: “Back in the day and after the 1994 FA Cup Final defeat, I thought that watching Chelsea there was as good as would ever get. Then, the two FA Cup, League Cup and Cup Winners Cup wins I thought Chelsea had – got the club at least, hit the ‘big time’. However, that day at the then Reebok Stadium was absolutely fantastic with the Chelsea supporters able to cut the tension with a knife until Frank Lampard scored the first. Even then though, I don’t think people were really sure that Chelsea would win the game but when the second went in and Lampard ran towards the supporters, I knew the title would be ours. Like many Chelsea supporters of my generation and indeed, those older than me who hadn’t been around in 1955, watching Chelsea become champions of England was something I thought I’d never live to see. It was a truly great day indeed.”
The celebrations were as rampant back in West London as at The Reebok as fans gathered in local pubs to watch the game, to then spill out onto the streets of the Fulham and Kings Road to chant into the night.
The crowning moment would arrive seven days later at home to Charlton in a 1-0 win, where Claude Makelele scored the rebound after a missed penalty to cause another explosion of jubilation, and an even grander spectacle as Captain Terry lifted the trophy followed by tons of confetti filling the air.
The 15 years that have followed has been extraordinary as the silverware has not let up for the London club.
The wait for the next Premier League trophy would only be 12 months as Chelsea would successfully defend their title, this time dismantling closest challengers Manchester United 3-0 in front of their own fans. The other winning games since have been a stunning 8-0 victory over Wigan Athletic on the final day of the 2009/10 season capped off a record-breaking year for goals scored under Carlo Ancelotti. Jose Mourinho’s third league crown with the club was captured in a tight 1-0 win over Crystal Palace, and the same score line would see Antonio Conte leaping with joy on the touchline of The Hawthorns as Michy Batshuayi netted the winner.
Although all of the following moments brought with it more special memories and personal accolades to those involved, the stature of Bolton will always come top of the list for many supporters for the fact it broke a 50-year wait, and helped to propel the club into an era of success.
Duchezeau: “It felt particularly nice and poetic that it was Bolton where we did it; my Dad was at the midweek cup game when Matthew Harding unfortunately lost his life and he still talks about the shock of hearing it on the radio on the way home. He helped to put us back on the map and that was for him.”