Chelsea are a club swarmed with proud history and honour. As many of you are aware and would have witnessed, we didn’t always enjoy and successful trophy winning Chelsea side. In fact, it was quite the opposite during the 90s. We had a team that would be full of heart, passion and would battle until they end but we were also a team full of inconsistency and ups and downs.
One man who remembers those days more than most is former towering central defender David Lee, who devoted ten years of his playing career to the club between 1988-1998, and was there for the exciting transition of the Glenn Hoddle take over where he played for many years as part of an interestingly solid back three with Ruud Gullit and Frank Sinclair. Lee turned out 203 appearances for Chelsea, scoring 13 goals in the process.
Many would describe Lee as a solid old-fashioned English centre half but not only was he a great defender, he also had a great eye for a pass, particularly a cross field long switch pass that could turn defence in to attack which I remember him producing on a number of occasions.
I always saw Lee as a little under rated perhaps with his tendencies to over commit in a challenge at times, reminds me of a certain David Luiz in todays squad. But Lee was a naturally talented player who had a good penalty in him and gave his all for the cause despite suffering with numerous injuries, most notably the match against Tottenham where he broke his leg in a challenge by Sol Campbell.
More recently since retiring from the game in 2004 Lee has been earning his trade doing various Coaching and Scouting roles with Swindon Town, where he also managed the youth and reserved sides, then moving on to Bristol City as a Development Coach and then a Chief scout, which was a role he tells me he very much enjoyed. Currently Lee is doing private Coaching but is seeking a role back within the professional game.
CFCnet – Hi David, it’s an honour to interview you. Can you tell me how you first got in to football, your route to a professional contract and how it felt to make it as a pro?
David – I played junior football from 7-16 in Bristol, at the age of 13 I went for trials at lots of clubs in England but chose Chelsea over all the rest. At 14 I signed schoolboy forms at Chelsea, went up in the school holidays and in my last year of school played for the youth team. I got offered an apprenticeship at the age of 16, then did a 2-year apprenticeship and got offered a professional contract at the end of that. I was delighted to be offered a pro contract as all my hard work had paid off and it was all I ever dreamed of doing.
CFCnet – Can you describe your feelings on making your debut with a goal against Leicester I believe?
David – Making my debut was every schoolboys dream, I worked so hard and sacrificed so much to make it and to play in the first team and score was just the best feeling ever, one that can’t really be put in words.
CFCnet – Your Chelsea career perhaps ended a little pre-maturely in an emotional game against Tottenham. It was already a sad day after the death of Matthew Harding, but you also broke your leg in this match in a challenge involving Sol Campbell. Can you describe the emotional roller-coaster you felt through this game, the pain involved in breaking your leg and your road to recovery?
David – Yes it was very emotional losing a damn fine man who gave everything for Chelsea and a lot of emotions in the build up to the game. The game was good and bad for me, I had just converted a penalty to put us 2-1 up I think, then I had my leg broke by sol Campbell , which at first I didn’t think it was broke , but was confirmed shortly after and it was a long road to recovery involving lots of gym work, swimming, running etc . It was very tough time for me mentally and physically.
CFCnet – What was the funniest thing you can remember from the changing rooms and who did it involve?
David – we were playing away at Man City in the league cup and lost 1-0. Glenn Hoddle was talking to us during the post-match briefing. Then I saw Tony Cascarino just get up and start rummaging in the bin as he had left his false teeth in a cup by his shoes, but the man city apprentices cleared them all away so he had to fish them out of the bin! I was biting on a towel trying not to laugh! This was classic Cass he was such a funny guy!!!
CFCnet – Can you tell me the differences between footballer’s today and when you played? i.e training, diets, socialising, manager relationships etc?
David – Our training was different warm ups, 5a sides etc and our pre seasons were long and boring. Socialising was part of the culture back then, we had a lot of home grown boys so we bonded more but we only went out at the right time. The manager was also the highest paid back in my day but not so now.
CFCnet – Who was the best Chelsea player you ever played alongside and why?
David – Easily Glenn hoddle, he was my hero and just a brilliant player.
CFCnet – How do you feel about today’s squad, the current manager, and the way things are being run by the board?
David – Today’s squad is decent but maybe needs another centre forward. Rafa Benitez is only interim so he will probably be gone at end of season I think so not a lot of time to judge him really. I’m not really aware of how the board runs the club but I disagree with them not offering Frank Lampard a new deal.
CFCnet – Do you still go regularly to Stamford Bridge to watch the games and if so, what stand do you prefer to sit in?
David – I don’t go regularly but as often as I can and I sit in a box in the West Stand.
CFCnet – Can you describe to me the difference in the atmosphere at home games when you played to what it is there now? Why do you think it differs?
David – The atmosphere was different yes, in my day you had the real hard core of fans , whereas now a lot of people only go because they can afford it. Away games have the real Chelsea fans.
CFCnet – I have to agree there, our away support often sounds like a home game. We have had 9 managers in 10 years at Chelsea, what is your opinion on this?
David – Longevity is needed by any club to be really successful in my opinion , it’s not good to keep changing managers.
CFCnet – I Completely agree, as do most supporters now. Who has been your top performing player from this season and why?
David – Juan Mata for me has been the best for his goals, assists and all round play.
CFCnet – Who is the best manager you have played under and why?
David – Glenn Hoddle, he played attractive football, is a good coach and tactician.
CFCnet – I always rated Hoddle as a player and a manager, I believe he started the transition to the glory days. What are your feelings on Roman Abramovich’s era at the club and the injection of his billions?
David – Romans money has really helped us and in today’s climate you need a wealthy backer to attract the tops players and managers.
CFCnet – Have any of the current players disappointed you this season and if so, why?
David – Fernando Torres hasn’t really fired and the jury is still out on Marko Marin in my opinion.
CFCnet – From your playing career, who was the toughest striker to mark and why?
David – Mark Hughes was a great player, he was strong, aggressive but a wonderfully talented player and a scorer of many great goals. He is also a real gentleman too.
CFCnet – Absolutely, Hughesy was a class striker, offered so many attributes. Where were you when we won the Champions League last season and what did you do to celebrate?
David – I watched it at home and had a few beers to celebrate.
CFCnet – In one sentence, describe what Chelsea FC means to you?
David – Chelsea FC mean everything to me, they gave me my debut in football and the best days of my life and no one can ever take away my memories.
CFCnet – Thanks for your time David and for your honest answers, finally, what are your future plans in life/football?
David – My future plans in life are to be healthy for as long as possible and get back in the professional game in some capacity.
On a side note, David also represented England at Under-21 level making ten appearances for the National side. He told me that it was a very proud moment for him and his family playing for his country.
Please use the comment box below to share your own personal memories of David and discuss the good times of the 90s.
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Interview By Simon Phillips – CFCnet News Editor