The Chelsea FanCast looks back, season by season, to 50 Years of Chelsea history from 1970 to the present day.
Part One of our look back at the 1996-97 season, one of the most memorable and emotional seasons in Chelsea’s history, starts with the incredible signings of Italian stars Gianluca Vialli and Roberto di Matteo and future French World Cup winner, Frank LeBoeuf.
Ruud Gullit began to assemble a Chelsea side with a distinctly continental flair and the Chelsea supporters loved it. But while the trio all settled in quickly, Chelsea’s start to the season was steady rather than spectacular.
All this was overshadowed by the tragic death of Matthew Harding, in a helicopter crash on the way back from the Coca Cola League Cup defeat away to Bolton in October. Harding, a real man of the people, who would drink a few pints of Guinness in the Imperial Pub with the supporters, had bankrolled the signing of players such as di Matteo and LeBoeuf as well as the new North Stand and the new Shed End which was being built at the time.
The grieving for Matthew Harding was lifted a little in November with the signing of Gianfranco Zola, a genuine world star from Italy. Zola made an immediate impact scoring superb goals and striking up a telepathic partnership with Mark Hughes. But how would this impact Vialli, already a favourite with the Stamford Bridge faithful?
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