Sod all the negativity, it’s the start of the new season. It should be exciting, something to look forward to. We are after all the Champions, for the second time in three years.
So I wanted to reflect on how it’s changed for me over the years. Although my first couple Chelsea games were in the late 60s I only really grasped things from the 70s onwards. The start of the new season was always very exciting. Apart from World Cup and the Euro years when the season ended then, it really did. There was nothing for months!
Not that I read them back then but newspapers had little sports news in them and you had to endure months of boring copies of Shoot or Goal reflecting on what had gone past. My memory is quite hazy but there were never many transfers in the close season and maybe 1 or 2 in or out. It was not the squad game it is now. In addition clubs were full of one club players. The majority of players seemed to stay for life, almost unthinkable now.
The most exciting things way back then was the League Ladders that Shoot magazine gave away free (kids of today don’t know they are born etc) funnily enough I think they still do them.
For me here are some of my most memorable season starts.
We had won the FA Cup we were the holders. I was so excited. We never used to win anything and as a youngster for the first time going into school on Monday was OK then. Decent team , decent players all was good with the world. First game of the season was the Charity Shield and in those days it was played at one of the ground of the participating clubs. We were at home against Everton and before the game the cup was paraded. This was so good. I remember that Webby had grown a beard. Such high hopes so in true Chelsea style we lost 1-2. Ian Hutchinson scored for us. I was truly gutted but still I’d seen the cup.
The arrival of the much anticipated East Stand! Absolutely magnificent and replaced the wasteland that had been the back drop of the previous season .I remember it being a particularly sunny day. We were at home to newly promoted Carlisle, an easy victory we all thought We had signed world cup star David Hay from Celtic for a then record fee of £225,000 and we’d also bought a flying winger in John Sissons from Norwich. What could possibly go wrong. Well we lost 0-2 and I remember Carlisle went on to win their first 3 games that season but like us ultimately were relegated.
The previous season we had just staved off relegation to the old division 3. Our then owner Ken Bates took the fairly unique step of stating I’m not going to sack the manager but I’m going to change the players and so the magnificent John Neal assembled a new team. In came Dixon, Nevin, Spackman, McGlaughlin ,Niedzwiecki and the return of Hollins and Hudson amongst a few others. This was such a change from previous years where it was all doom and gloom but this was special. Our first game was against Derby at home. I was very excited by the purchase of Dixon who had scored hatfuls of goals for Reading but the thing I was looking forward to the most was seeing Alan Hudson once again play in a Chelsea shirt. Sadly for me (but ultimately luckily) he was injured and could not play. One Nigel Spackman took his place. We won 5-0 and played some of the best football seen at the Bridge for years. Spackman was brilliant and Kerry showed us what he could do. The amazing thing on reflection was that wee Pat was not even playing that day! This was one of my favourite seasons ending in a glorious promotion party at home to Leeds.
Much anticipation for the new season following a great promotion year. Back where we belonged the opening day of this season was away to Arsenal. There have been many fantastic books and articles written about this day by more esteemed writers but all I will add was this was one of the best away games I have ever been to. We as a club and fans were magnificent both on and off the pitch.
Having nearly had my head caved in by a Spanish policeman in Zaragoza my enthusiasm for football and the new season was not exactly high. I was both shaken and disgusted by what happened out there but then…………Ruud Gullit and Mark Hughes were signed by Chelsea. One of the greatest players of his generation was going to play for us. How an earth could I not get excited by that prospect. For those of a certain age the thought of someone like Gullit playing for us was pinch yourself time. He will always have his critics and nearly bankrupted the club but it is my belief that Ken Bates saw the writing on the wall and knew that Chelsea had to grow to catch the Premiership gravy train and so was instrumental in bringing the new names in to make that happen. I’ve looked up that the first game that season was at home to Everton and we drew 0-0. I can not even remember the game but in many ways the signings that pre season was the signings that changed everything.
There will never be another pre season like this one! It was like fantasy football but for real. Following Roman’s purchase of the club, players started arriving at an alarming rate. To recap, Johnson, Bridge, Duff ,Veron,Joe Cole, Mutu,Crespo, Makelele. Dreamland, this added to a pretty decent squad already in place. So where was our first game away to Liverpool . The anticipation was absolutely immense. The day is a bit of a blur to be honest . I can’t remember much of the normal abuse we got or our singing just the fact that JFH scored the winner with minutes to go. Veron looked like a Prince and of course they had to get a Kop end penalty which had to be taken twice because the first one was saved. Every football fan was jealous of us. We were on our way up and anyone who said otherwise is not telling the truth.
It is somewhat ironic that the one season I didn’t want to start was the season after we won the Champions League. Having been lucky enough to have been there that night I just wanted to bask in that glory for as long as possible. I was happy for the close season to go on forever.
I will end my journey there. My anticipation for any new season has not waned but in truth we are in a different world now. There is little close season. There is blanket coverage of football with TV, the internet , social media and frankly no break from football these days
Nothing however will ever take away the thrill of walking into Stamford Bridge at the start of a season.
@goalie59 on Twitter