Guest Post by Neil “Spy” Barnett
Welcome to the new era! This season will be the first without European football for 20 years.
Since Roman bought the club in 2003 we have had Champions League football every year. Until now!
It shouldn’t be the major catastrophe it would have been in 2012 when the finances were so geared to European earnings. If we hadn’t have won the Champions League that season, when we finished sixth in the EPL, there could have been horrible cut backs.
An even bigger scare though was in 2003. We had grown with good player investments in the 1990s from being an average EPL club to a respected European one. We’d won the old European Cup Winners Cup in 1998 and qualified for the Champions League for the first time in 1999. But after that there were only poor runs in the Uefa Cup.
By 2002 the finances were seriously bad. No-one was bought that summer. The final League game of 2002/03 was at home to Liverpool. Chelsea were fourth, Liverpool fifth. It was, in effect, a play-off for the Champions League.
Chief executive Trevor Birch told the players in a speech in the team bus two hours before kick-off that if they didn’t win the point needed for Champions League qualification, there would be transfers, redundancies and massive cut backs. We won 2-1. Long live Marcel Desailly! A few weeks later Roman bought the club and the world changed.
Long-term supporters had seen this all before. In 1974, after the glory days of the late 1960s and early ‘70s, the building of a new East Stand, which is the oldest stand remaining today, all but bankrupted the club. Purchases stopped, the best players were sold, and the club existed on its youth policy.
In 1975 we were relegated. In 1977 a hugely popular team of almost all homegrown players won promotion back to the top flight and stayed there two years, but Stamford Bridge was falling into disrepair and, as the years dragged on and the football deteriorated, the ground deteriorated more. There was superb away support from the hardcore following. But these were hard times.
In 1982 Ken Bates bought the club for £1 plus the debts. He didn’t buy the ground which had been separated from the club’s ownership. Buying it back in the 1990s, to a large proportion, led to the debts of 2002 and 2003.
In 1982/83 we suffered the club’s worst season with relegation to the third tier of English football being avoided only in the penultimate game, a 1-0 win at Bolton. Long live Clive Walker!
That summer five players were bought, the old Second Division was won, Chelsea returned to the top flight and became a flourishing club again. But from 1971 to 1994 there was no European football.
In those hard times the hardcore support (and hardcore means passion, resilience, huge reserves of humour, NOT ignorance and violence) become all that’s left. The rest drift away. This season, with Antonio Conte arriving, promises not to be stripped to that. But it will be different from recent years.
Our old boys on this tour are from the ‘Hardcore Years’. They came through the youth team, they lived the dream, they were thrown in young, they fought against the odds, they earned next to nothing, but they were icons of their day. And like us, they still support the club.
Garry Stanley was in that wonderful 1977 promotion team. He started life as a centre-forward, but was on the right of midfield that season. He was a strong runner, had a ferocious shot, liked tight shorts and sported a thick head of hair. Fans called him ‘Starsky’ after the dark haired one in Starsky & Hutch. He played 120 games in all, scoring 15 goals. Later he played for Everton and Swansea. In 1979 he spent the summer with Fort Lauderdale Strikers.
Gary Chivers was in that history changing game at Bolton in 1983. He was a centre-back or right-back, but was used in midfield that day. He was a good technician with good pace, liked shorts which gave him a bit of room and couldn’t do anything with his hair. He played 148 games and scored four goals. Later he played for Brighton and Queens Park Rangers. Nowadays he is one of the old boys providing ‘legends’ hospitality at home games. Hopefully you will meet him there as well as here.
They know what it’s like when the going is tough. They swear by the values of team spirit. They like a drink and a good night out. They have a wealth of Chelsea stories in victory and defeat, in everyday Chelsea life.
This tour will be a wake for last year and a rebirth for this one. Garry Stanley and Gary Chivers know all about wakes and rebirths.
Matchday on-pitch host
The Football Show, SiriusXM