When the statisticians at UEFA finally declared that Chelsea had amassed sufficient ‘coefficient points’ to merit a place among the Champions League’s top eight seeds I’d rubbed my hands together in glee … for less than obvious reasons.
The fact that the Blues performances in Europe over the past five years, coupled with the FA’s own ranking, means they will go into the draw for the group stage of this seasons competition later this week not having to worry about encountering the likes of Barcelona (yet again), Real Madrid and both the Milan clubs, at least until the knockout phase, may have satiated Jose Mourinho and the more status conscious amongst the club’s burgeoning support but not me.
Despite being elevated into the top group of seeds, the bottom line is that if Chelsea are to triumph in the final, scheduled to be played at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow next May, they are going to have to prevail, one way or another, over all their opponents, whoever they maybe and whatever their credentials.
The Blues may well be drawn from ‘Pot One’ which also includes Liverpool, ‘the’ Arsenal and Manchester United, but there is a ring of familiarity about the possible group stage scenarios. A cursory glance at the teams currently slotted into ‘Pots Two, Three and Four’, notwithstanding the fact that some of these may be subject to change dependent on the outcome of the Third Qualifying Round Second-Leg ties, highlights this. How about FC Porto and Werder Bremen again? Or Seville? Okay different team but same city, and Anderlecht?
Variety is the spice of life … just ask any Middlesboro fans who followed their team’s run to the UEFA cup final the season before last. Xanthi, Zurich, Alkmaar, Stuttgart, Rome, Basel and Bucharest were destinations along the route to Eindhoven where they witnessed current England manager, Steve McClaren’s then charges receive a vicious 4-0 paneling at the hands of Seville who were sufficiently motivated by the experience to embark on a crusade which saw them retain the trophy 12 months later.
Those of you who watch Chelsea’s away Champions League ties from the comfort of your armchairs have just the cost of your Sky Subscription and TV License fee to worry about. This in itself isn’t cheap. Ask any one of the hardcore 1500 odd fans addicted to following the Blues over land and sea however, and they will tell you that supporting Chelsea in Europe is a heinously costly business. I’ll swear the airlines have members of staff monitoring the UEFA website, ready to ratchet up the cost of flights within minutes of the various draws being made. Ticket prices are punitive, and you still have to factor accommodation and spending money into the equation.
Traveling on an official Chelsea excursion is a valid alternative. Personally though, after the shambolic experience I endured at the hands of Captain Birdseye Bates’, Chelsea Worldwide Travel, or whatever hellish incarnation at the time of the Blues 1997 Cup Winners Cup Final triumph it masqueraded as was called, I prefer to make my own arrangements. I’m not alone here. The entire Gate 17 posse, to name but ten, would rather run naked through the streets of Tottenham singing ‘we won 6-1 at the Lane’ than risk being treated as a herd of foot-and-mouth-disease infected cattle on their way to the slaughterhouse.
Terrace legend, Long Way Round Pete is a true visionary, a man ahead of his time. Why fly direct to Porto or Barcelona, when you can go via Madrid? Inevitable trips to bollock-freezing Germany are made all that more memorable by a mind-altering sojourn in Amsterdam. Nothing however beats a trip behind the old Iron Curtain. Last seasons sortie to Sofia was a Godsend. £3.50 for my match-ticket, 50p for a beer … and all manner of assorted ancillary devilries available at a fraction of the usual cost.
Chelsea in Europe … yeah love it. You only live once, make the most of it. That’s why I was bouncing joyfully around my padded cell with a plastic spoon in my mouth dribbling at the news that the Blues would now be drawn from ‘Pot One’. I viewed it as a catalyst for change. The draw may still pitch us against familiar protagonists … but then again, it may not.
A group pitting the Special One and our boys in blue against Ajax Amsterdam, Steaua Bucharest and Dynamo Kiev or maybe Shakhtar Donetsk is one outcome which has this dedicated thrill-seeker salivating with anticipation. I’m sure no doubt that later on in the competition the Blues will find themselves in more familiar surroundings … the Camp Nou … Anfield. We’ll take that as it comes … especially now Super Frank has rediscovered how to take a penalty at ‘the Road End’. Welcome back to Liverpool … still a trophy free zone.
Up the Chels!
Mark Worrall is the author of cult terrace classic Over Land and Sea. His new book, Blue Murder, Chelsea till I die, is out now. Signed copies of both books are available to buy with free postage within the UK at www.overlandandsea.net