Chelsea legend Dennis Wise once scored a rather impressive effort at one of Italy’s most iconic stadiums late on to seal a victory, according to a famous terrace chant that can still sometimes be heard echoing around Stamford Bridge.
Although Wise has now long since retired, another club legend has taken up the mantle at Stamford Bridge: Frank Lampard.
As part of their new sponsorship of Chelsea FC and ahead of the FA Cup Semi-Final last weekend, Three UK teamed up with the club to run a very special online question-and-answer session with the tenacious midfielder, chaired by Sky Sports presenter Faye Carruthers, discussing everything from Lampard’s first choice midfield if he had a fully fit squad, and settling an old score about John Terry’s decision to buy a new car after Champions League qualification…
Faye: So Dennis, firstly, thoughts on Chelsea’s season so far?
Dennis: I think it’s gone okay. I think there are some telling games coming which could sway it either way. I think Frank will be pleased with certain things that have worked for him this season and there will be other things that he will be disappointed with. The conceding of so many goals, he’s talked about that, but it’s an exciting day today, there are exciting games ahead and it’s going to be a tough game [against Manchester United].
Faye: You’ve obviously won this competition [The FA Cup] yourself, what are your best memories of it?
Dennis: Obviously, winning it in 1997 which was fantastic. I remember the game also in 94 when we got beat – I haven’t watched that! – but 97 and 2000 were two wonderful years for us and basically, the 2000 more so, being able to bring my little youngster up picking the Cup up, that was great, lovely day for the family and obviously celebrating as well.
Faye: Today’s match is going to be under slightly different circumstances. Football is all about the fans, but behind closed doors is a strange experience. How will that impact players?
Dennis: I think it’s weird, a weird scenario that’s happened in the football industry, going out and playing not in front of anyone. I think they’ve got used to it now, they’ll know what is coming. They’ve adapted to it and they’ve adapted well.
Sometimes it can make an impact in the game when you’ve got fans there, it’s always nice to have the fans and they give you motivation at times, so that is something really strange, but they’ll be looking forward to it.
Adam Robinson: How did it feel to pick up the FA Cup in 1997. For us as fans, it was a long wait to win a major trophy. How did it feel for the players?
Dennis: We know how important it was. We had 94 which was so disappointing and I walked into the dressing room in 97 and looked at the players around me and thought ‘We have a real good chance of winning this’ with the quality we have in there. Unfortunately, in 94 I looked around and thought ‘Wow this is going to be a difficult game today’, especially when you look at the Manchester United team of that time: Schmeichel, Cantona, Giggs, Hughes – and you realise Ince and Keane in the middle of the park, realising in 94 that was going to be extremely difficult.
In 97, it was a relief. Robbie’s goal was so early and it makes you calm. We were very comfortable, always felt we were going to win the trophy and felt very confident on that day.
Faye: What’s it like walking up the Wembley Stairs?
Dennis: It’s a long way but when the adrenalin is going, you can’t wait to get up the stairs and pick up the trophy. It was a long wait for the club to win some silverware, it was such a lovely atmosphere, lovely group of players, it was wonderful for the fans. They deserved it, they’d waited a long long time.
Tom Sheen, Journalist: John Terry revealed you made him sell his car. What happened?
Dennis: I worked really hard to get a bonus for the lads when we got to a Champions League qualifier!
John and Jody and John Harley worked really hard, they deserved to get a nice bonus so I made sure they did – and then he walks in with a flash car! I wasn’t too happy and I told him in certain ways it wasn’t about that, you need to be sensible with the money you have.
He chose to make the right decision! I was only trying to help the young boys out, but Terry took it well and did the correct thing.
Chris Wright: The Forth Round comeback against Liverpool in 97 – what do you remember of that, and did you think that was when we started to believe we could win it?
Dennis: The telling point was the substitution was made, the formation was changed. It had to be, it was a nightmare of a half. 2-0 down, they should have had a third and been over, Steve McMannaman went through and it should have been over. It wasn’t and they allowed us to get back into it.
We gambled and had a go. It worked out in our favour, sometimes you have to go through those spells to get yourself to the next stages and realise ‘This is going to be our year.’ It was always going to be a difficult game against Liverpool, they were a very good team. It went our way on the day – some things do and some things don’t – and that did.
The change in formation and the way we played the second half. We weren’t at it in the first half, but definitely at it in the second half.
Charlie Skillen, Journalist: In just 3 short years, Chelsea was unrecognisable by the time you reached the year 2000. What was it like being the constants when the club transformed?
Dennis: There are levels and some could stay at the level, and some weren’t. They filtered away. Quite a few ended up filtering away, we needed to go to another level.
Ken Bates bringing in Glenn Hoddle was great, it allowed us to bring in Ruud Gullit and Hughes, and then they kept flowing. You look at the experience, you look at the quality, gradually coming in every year and you think ‘now we can compete’ and I think that is what it is about.
It was up to us as players to adapt to that and bring ourselves to the level of the players coming in. A lot did disappear, the difference between 94 – Peacock, Spence, Burley, Scott Minto – and it all started to change because of the quality, so those players disappeared. Why? They weren’t at the level of players coming in at the time, so it was a transitional period. It was great for us and it was great I was able to play with so many wonderful, talented players.
Mark Worrall: When Glenn Hoddle was appointed manager, did you have an inkling that you were going to be part of something extraordinary?
Dennis: I think when Ruud and Mark Hughes came in, it was the telling part. When they came in, we started to get serious in the personnel who we were signing. I thought to myself ‘wow, we might have an opportunity here’. We always seemed to be a team fighting to stay in the league, all of a sudden we knew we were going to be able to compete in certain elements – the cups- and then we started to build even bigger and start to compete up the top.
That’s something that takes time. Bringing the likes of Glenn and Rudd, Vialli, Zola, Hughes changed so much – Di Matteo – it was great to have these quality players in. I did know things were going to change just by the personnel that started to come in. You get a feeling ‘wow, things are about to happen here.’
Ben Pringle, Journalist: Chelsea have a wealth of talent in central midfield. What’s the best combination of those players currently, and going forward?
Dennis Wise: I would say the main person is Kante, for sure. I think you can have a mixture of Kovacic, Barkley, Mount. Out of them four, it would be three to sit in there.
Mason Mount has done extremely well, Barkley has gone through a spell of doing really well – it’s difficult to give a three. The one for sure is Kante, he’s so important to the team to sit in there. If I had to pick out of them – I know you have Loftus-Cheek, Gilmour – quality players. Loftus-Cheek has been out for a while, so it’d be unfair to put him in that category. Gilmour is developing so you have to give him time.
So definitely Kante, and then two out of three of Kovacic, Barkley and Mount.
Joe Krishnan: What do you think about Chelsea’s emerging crop? Are they good enough to keep out the top stars?
Dennis: I think they’ve shown in spells and patches that they are good enough. You want more consistency off of them to make a bigger impact. I think they are going to have some fighting on their hands, but this is what it is about – competition and fighting for their place.
I think they’ve shown that they are quality within this season. Reece James has done exceptionally well, I wouldn’t be surprised if he gets called up for England. Mason Mount, Tammy has shown he can score goals but needs to be more consistent. Being more consistent as youngsters is key because they have top players coming into Chelsea so they’ll have to step it up.
I think they’ve coped extremely well.
Ovie: How does it feel captaining a big club like Chelsea for so long?
Dennis: It’s a wonderful feeling, I really enjoyed it. I had some wonderful moments, it was passed onto another person that I knew from a young, young boy and it couldn’t have been a better match for him to take it onto the next levels.
It’s a great experience, a wonderful feeling, I really enjoyed it.
We would like to place on record our thanks to ThreeUK for granting us permission to use this interview, and to Dennis Wise for giving up his time to conduct this interview.