As 2012 comes to a close and a new year brings new light, let’s take a look at what we, as supporters, went through as this Earthquake of a year unfolded with some of the highest highs and lowest of lows. Emotions, these last 12 months, have taken every possible form on the spectrum from euphoria to outrage. we have seen 3 managers, 2 trophies, 1 U.S. summer tour and a champions league victory. We have seen the average age of our squad fall almost 5 years and in some ways redefine what is possible on the European stage.
I believe probably the only way to truly explain this year would be to start at the beginning: Coming off of an absolutely dismal Festive period where we dropped all but 3 points, January continued the trend, seeing us start the year in 6th place and falling fast under the leadership of Andre Villas-Boas with Chelsea supporters of all stripes putting in their two cents and calling for a change of some kind and quickly. All of us were feeling as though our team was not living up to its potential. Then in February, with the FA cup competition, the League top 4 looking further and further away, and the Champions League group stage approaching ever so quickly, heads were hung low and, increasingly, people were at a loss for words.
As February reached full steam, we were greeted by what we saw as a tough but very win-able draw and, probably if we were honest, the hoped for draw in the Champions League 16 with Napoli. That is, until we got into the first leg. From a first leg drumming that left us 3-1 down on aggregate, to a Napoli side that looked much our superior, and a loss to West Brom in early March becoming the catalyst to change, AVB was unceremoniously shown the door and a club legend given the task of righting the ship. Robbie, with the composure of the Bulldog himself, Winston Churchill in war-time, took the responsibility of cementing the dressing room as a solitary unit. Playing for the shirt and not for the name on the back, having a single focus, he restored Chelsea FC as the Pride of London.
What happened from that point onward can only be described in storybooks and fairy tales; really it is the know of things that legends are made out of… and in fact created. What we saw from that point on was a completely different team – a team with fire and passion; a team that started winning and climbing the PL table slowly and gaining confidence; a team that did the unthinkable and overturned a 3-1 aggregate by a superhuman display that most of us can never forget as we huddle in pubs, taverns, car radios, or home televisions, all willing our Blues to push on and go for the win. We were not disappointed. Very early in the match, Dider Drogba became superman with a header that seemed to come from nowhere, and then later we saw goals fall for both teams and a heart-stopping extra time, second half goal by Ivanovic being smashed into the top of the net! With that goal every Chelsea fan exploded and said “We’re still in this one, there is something different about this story now.”
CL through Benfinca http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MsOPOrQAw7I Froze17
Little did we know how right we actually were, with wins coming under Di Matteo: the FA cup and Champions league over Leicester and Benfica (ending with the image of Raul Meireles at Benfica taunting the traveling fans with a “take that” gesture) putting us through to the Semi-Finals in each competition. First we were drawn Tottenham in The FA Cup Semi at Wembly and then all of our hearts sank as we drew Barcelona in the Semi-Final of the Champions League. Every pundit under the sun made us favorites to get to the FA Cup final, but automatically began saying “anything can happen in a one-off, but Chelsea will be no match for Barcelona over two legs. Especially since the Second leg is in Barcelona.”We were told that we did not have the quality, the pace, and that even our 4-4-1-1 style would not be enough to keep the free flowing side managed by Pep Guardiola out of our goal.
The good news is they were right about beating Spurs as we beat them 5-1 (which quickly prompted the song 1, 2…1,2,3,4 5-1 and later in the year attributed to our route at Leeds (for you Beth)) and onto the Final where we were to meet Liverpool.
What the Pundits did not get correct however, was what followed over two legs between Barcelona and Chelsea. The first leg was at Stamford Bridge and was held 0-0 throughout the entire first half until the world exploded into cheers around us as Super Frank again came up big in stealing the ball off Messi, making an incredible pass to Ramirez who centered for the bib man up front, Drogba, who made no mistakes and slotted it home to go 1-0 up into the half. Chelsea spent the rest of the day holding onto that lead and ending the day 1-0 up on aggregate heading to Barcelona. Every Chelsea faithful I talked to, over the next several days, began to truly believe that this could be our year. With emotions peaking, we headed into the second leg having a very fast turn around in Barcelona, knowing anything could happen, and Anything did. With an early injury to Gary Cahill and our Captain Leader and Legend of Stamford Bridge being sent off, followed by 2 quick strike goals, things looked bleak. I cannot even tell you accurately what it felt like to be listening to and watching this match as it went forward. There was a goal by Ramirez, which was an amazing chip over the head of the keeper, putting us ahead on aggregate heading into half time, then, chance after chance, missing the mark by Barcelona (capped off first by Messi hitting the Crossbar on a Penalty kick, and then Gary Neville’s reaction as Fernando Torres went around the keeper to seal the win and cement our place in the European Cup Final).
The rest of the month we flew high as supporters, beating Liverpool in the FA Cup Final at Wembly, taking the victory and loving every second of it but always having one eye on the Champions league final in Munich against Bayern Munich.
The Champions League Final was a sublime day in made avid fans out of plastic supporters and tested and hardened the resolve of the fan that has been with the team that fateful day in 1970 when Osgood announced himself to the world and everything in between. it was a day of anticipation, of a tension that you could cut with a knife. Everything was stacked against us. The Final was on Their home turf, in front of their fans, in their city. With everything looking that way and knowing that Ramirez, Brana and John Terry were out of the side and Ryan Bertrand making his UCL debut we didn’t know what was going to happen. We just knew that we were in the midst of something special and that we hoped it would continue at least for the next 90 minutes. Little did we know the game would wait until the 84th minute to make it feel as the world was crashing down around us with my only thought being “no, not again, we are so close, not again” on a Muller Header. what followed was the introduction of Fernando Torres who 7 minutes later earned us a corner that Mata placed on a Dime the found the head of “DROGBAAAAAAAAA” who put the ball in the top right corner of goal past the keeper sending us into extra time. knowing there was 30 more minutes of tension was agonizing but hope was turning. even when Drogba clipped Ribery in the box and Robben stepped up to take his Penalty we knew Cech had a shot to save it, and he did. with both teams remaining scoreless through Extra-time. Chelsea were then thrust into Penalties where mata stepped up to take the first for Chelsea and Missed while both of their first 3 lahm, nauer, and Gomez beating Cech. things looked bleak until ASH and Frank stepped up and the veterans showed why they were the best. we felt the tide turn with Bayern’s first miss with Olic left Schweistager to put the pressure on our last taker… but Cech showed his skill again and got just enough on it to force the kick onto the post and miss. This only left a date with destiny in the hands of Dider Drogba who with one kick could clear away any ghosts and become an Icon of a generation of players. while every person found their place, held their breadth for what seemed like and eternity as he placed the ball on the spot took a few short steps back (which most asked questions about or expressed and exasperated why to) held his footing and slotted home his kick into the bottom left corner.
Winning in munich http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eIHgbDTV6MQ Thanks Feroze17
What followed that moment can only be described as a 4 month celebration, as the players cried, and cheered and hugged and celebrated. The release of emotions was defining and silencing. Nobody cared about what the team would look like 6 months from that day, that day was one to be enjoyed and that day was one that will live forever in this generation. It was followed with the players on parade, then headed for their national teams to play in the Euroes where Juan Mata and Fernando Torres again added silverware to their cabinet and celebrated again. All the while, everyone wanted to know what was going to happen to Roberto Di Matteo, the interim manager who ‘brought European glory to Stamford Bridge.’ Then, in late June, it was announced that he would become the man to institute change. He was tasked with changing the way Chelsea played and lowering the age of the team.
This is exactly what he did. He began working immediately,and then, a month later, headed off to America where they met the Sounders in Seattle, PSG in New York, the MLS All-Stars in Philadelphia and AC MILAN in Miami. For us as supporters here in America this is where we took over in what can only be described as a party on the move. Day one in Seattle (Danny) to the last Day of Miami, Chelsea supporters came in droves wanting to be with their European Champions, enjoying the revelry and knowing that every time we wrote down our names we also added Champions of Europe right underneath. New friendships were formed, new supporters were gained, and a new respect among outside supporters was granted. We knew who we were and we were willing to let everyone know it (ehem, *cough* New York).
Once the Team left and headed back to England, and the season got underway, the changes were evident. All the way through September and most of October there was no let up. We had free-flowing attacking, goal scoring, pretty football that everyone was amazed at, including ourselves as supporters. We continued to ride that wave of excitement, raising our expectations of the season even higher… and then, The Dreaded NOVEMBER.
In November we saw our team, our boys, our club drop 17-21 points and crash out of the Champions League. To add fuel to the Fire, our club’s board fired our beloved #OneDiMatteo and brought in what many would consider the insult of all insults: Rafa Benitez. A feeling of anger and frustration followed into what felt like a deeper and deeper despair.
We had gone from that fateful day in May, to in almost 6 months, staring at the unthinkable in rage, confusion, anger, frustration and abject disillusionment with certain parts of the decision makers at our club (not that it has changed much). We didn’t know what was happening or what was next, and the supporters took all of the emotions out on Benitez. Whether fair or unfair, he became the symbol of our displeasure and became the target of every bit of displeasure we as supporters felt.
Over the last month or so Benitez has been able to turn the heart of a few and others have come to expect that he is our coach and have loosened the noose a bit as results for our club have gotten better. If current results continue for the rest of this season, it could be a very good year with the Europa league, the Capital One Cup, the FA Cup and a top 3 premiere league finish possible on the horizon. If so, that tide of excitement of firsts and tradition will continue.
No matter what happens this year, we know that as supporters we love this team. I heard it put that “football is the most important of the lesser important things in life.” -(credit to I don’t know, but is not mine) and to the supporters of Chelsea FC we know that that does not just apply to football but directly to Chelsea FC. We will again choose to be there through each and every up and down of 2013, 14,15, 16… whatever it happens to be because we know that no matter what happens they are our team and the people we choose to support with are family no matter in what part of the world we find ourselves. The love of Chelsea is a common language.
Thank you all for this year, thank you to our all of our associates, to our charter Chapters, our anchor Chapters, and our newest Chapters. Thank you for being family, thank for being there in the good and the bad(for making it all the way through this blog, lol) and for Keeping the Blue Flag Flying High! Up the Chels!!