When most people ask me what football team I support, invariably these days my response prompts accusations of glory hunting and Johnny come lately. When I tell them I have been a season ticket holder since 1991, this tends to put noses out of joint and is followed up with, “Why do you support Chelsea, then?”
My answer at this point is one of two, depending on how long I’ve got and how much I care to humour the individual. The short answer goes something like this, “my dad supports Chelsea”
The longer version involves my father’s father, who after being injured in the battle of the Somme was sent back to London for further treatment. The day he was discharged, he decided to go and watch a game of football. By chance, the nearest game being played that afternoon was at Stamford Bridge. From that day forward he became a Chelsea fan and then when my father was born in 1932, he naturally followed suit. One of Dad’s earliest Chelsea memories was watching us play Dynamo Moscow in 1945 in front of an estimate 100k people.
When I then got into football as a youngster Dad informed me I could support who I liked but if I supported Chelsea, he would take me to matches. True to his word, I had my first season ticket at Chelsea for the start of the 1991/92 season and little did I know at the time but I was about to embark on a journey of joy, misery, ecstasy and despair. With this weekend’s FA Cup final fast approaching, it brings back memories of my first FA Cup final in May 1994 and, the harsh realities of following a football team that were about to be thrust upon me in cruel, cruel fashion.
I will never forget when we left to get the train up to London, Dad turned to me and said that he couldn’t see us winning the game, having beaten them twice in the league already much against the odds, with United having being crowned champions not long before. Only years later I could see why he said it; he was trying to protect me from he thought was about to happen. He wasn’t wrong but in my naivety, I obviously thought we were going to win!
I’m sure a lot of you lifelong Blues can empathise, that following Chelsea for so many years has been far from the relative breeze it has been since the Roman Revolution in 2003 and consequently Dad had this in built pessimistic streak whenever it came to all things Blue.
Years later on the way to the 2007 final, Dad was again convinced that we were heading for failure. When Didier Drogba scored the winning goal at Wembley versus Manchester United in 2007, it was one of the happiest and emotional moments of my, at the time, 26 year old life. Not only for the fact we had we taken such a giant stride towards winning the cup with so little time left but for the look on my father’s face, which was an unbelievable combination of joy and disbelief.
Now, as I look on towards Saturday’s FA Cup final with Liverpool, there will be one very noticeable absentee in the crowd. Chelsea’s appearance at Wembley will be the first in their history that my father has not attended. Sadly, he passed away just minutes after the club’s victory in Benfica on March 27th and I wonder if his record of perfect attendance at Wembley went with him?
As you can gather from the article, I have spent many happy hours going to football with Dad and Saturday will prove to be an emotional day for me, my brother and my nephew, all of whom shall be at Wembley, hoping for the right result. In 2009 and 2010, the three generations of family all attended the finals together, and now his legacy will live on through us. The day after he passed, a good friend of mine sent me a text saying, “let’s hope he watches us win the Champions League from the widescreen in the sky”. Let’s hope indeed. I shall be there in Munich for what promises to be the most emotional of games.