There are a lot of genuine, die hard Chelsea supporters out there who can’t get to many games, but whose emotions are just as strong as the real supporters attending every match. There are also a lot of hangers on, plastic fans and armchair people, who will claim to be supporters but who are simply glory hunters. I suppose now we’ve won the cup with the big ears, we’ll have even more glory hunters, but for now I am not concerned with them. I am speaking to those of you who, for whatever reason, were unable to be in Munich for the final. Maybe you didn’t have enough points, or maybe if UEFA reserved more tickets for fans and fewer for corporates, you might have been eligible. Maybe you live and work too far away. Maybe your health isn’t great, or maybe you have got financial and/or family constraints. So, this is for all of you – read and enjoy.
Because I am dyspraxic and get lost easily, and because I am not rich and hadn’t even budgeted for Munich, the best option for me was the very long coach journey with Thomas Cook who deposit you at the stadium and pick you up straight afterwards. I would be travelling on my own, and Mr Non Footy would worry less about me this way! I didn’t know anyone else personally on my coach but that didn’t matter. We were all feeling the same way, dreaming the same dreams, singing from the same song sheet. Banter began quickly, and as one of the drivers turned out to be a gooner, it came thick and fast, just as thick as the dust in their trophy cabinet. I imagine that if they tried to open the door, the hinges would probably need oiling first! As dusk fell and we pottered across the French countryside towards the German border, someone swore they saw a lion on the road. This was hotly disputed and others suggested it was a cow. But how much does a lion resemble a cow? A lion, I thought. Was this a sign?
We arrived at the stadium ahead of schedule at 10.30 and I had to make my way to the main station to meet my son. He hadn’t got a ticket, but as it was his birthday that day, wanted to be there. He’s been Chelsea from birth but is a student and can’t get to many games currently, hence no ticket. When I got to the station the Bayern fans were already in very loud voice. I was worried that they might be a bit intimidating. If they were like this at 10.30 am, what would they be like by kick off? No, my son Chris reassured me, they were great. He’d been there all the previous day and had been drinking with them, bantering with them and having photos taken with them. We spent a lovely day, in the basking sun, outside a bar with a few friends, including quite a number who sit around me at home games. The Matthew Harding corner flag crew! This was interspersed with Chris hijacking even more Bayern fans, with much hand shaking and back slapping taking place. I’m only sorry I didn’t have time to buy my Mr Non Footy a pair of those lederhosen that some of their fans sported. I’m sure he would look good in them – or maybe not!
I left for the ground at around 6.30 pm, and Chris for the English Gardens with the big screen, having watched West Ham on TV getting promoted back to the Premiership. Oh great, no weekend to Blackpool then, and last time it took me about two hours to get out of the Eastenders film set, and I thought I would be eating jellied eels for supper. At that point, I hoped we would be able to upstage the Hammer’s little party in London the next day with a much bigger one of our own.
The Germans are renowned for efficiency. Well not on the train to the stadium. Chaos ensued, as more and more people tried to cram their way into the carriages. No train guards to stop them, and I was lifted off my feet into the train and started to feel a bit scared. Seriously, a horrible accident could have happened. I was mighty glad to be out of there and so by the time I got to the ground I was a bit of a wreck. (Nothing to do with the alcohol you understand!) All sorts of stuff was going through my mind walking towards the ground. Was I seriously going in to see a Champion’s League final? Could I ever have imagined that happening three months ago when I felt so down about the season? I think we all know the answer to that one!
When the familiar music started, I felt shivery and excited and nervous all at once. I thought of all the people who would dearly love to be there, whose hearts were there, and I thought of all the people we’ve loved and lost. Proper Chelsea who had never experienced this occasion. My friend Mandy, who died in May last year. Kevan whom we lost two years ago at Xmas. Well, you will all have someone of your own who isn’t with you any more, so you know what I mean. And all the stars we’ve worshipped, Ossie, Hutch, Houseman, taken too soon, how they would have loved it. And of course, dear Matthew, without whom this new era wouldn’t have happened.
Strangely this match, for me at least, seemed to go very fast for a final. Then came the horrid moment when Bayern scored. Everyone around was still noisy, still loud and proud, but we all feared that Robbie had left it too late to bring Torres on to boost us up front. Would this be a big regret and would we be left wondering what might have been? Drogs had other ideas though didn’t he. And that was the very point I started to think maybe our name really was on that cup. For us to get there the way we did and to lose it now would be awful. Even when the Bayern-awarded penalty in extra time came, there was a little voice saying to me that Cech would save it. I often get a ‘feeling’ for penalties, and the cheer that went up for the save was as loud as the one for Drogba’s equaliser. Bayern were, I think, a bit rattled. They’d had so many chances, so many corners. Maybe their belief began to diminish just a little when Chelsea’s didn’t.
However, after the whistle had blown my heart began to sink again. Penalties, again. This time against a German team. Please, not heartache, again. And I knew that Bayern would win the toss. I just knew. How hard was this going to be taking spot kicks in front of the home fans? Most people around me had their hands clasped tightly, or in front of their mouths, all thinking the same thing but hardly daring to speak of it. For reasons best known to myself, I put my parka on at that point. I’d been wearing it every day for the last few weeks, initially for practical reasons such as the fact it had rained every day, but when I wore it to the FA Cup semi final against Spurs and we won, I secretly vowed to wear it every day until the end of the season. Mr Non Footy had been puzzled and probably a little exasperated (I didn’t tell him about the football related reason) as even when the weather temporarily warmed up, I was still in what he calls my Eskimo coat. Oh the illogical mind of a superstitious football supporter!
I didn’t know whether to watch the penalties or not. In the end I did, sort of. When we were at the point of being 3-1 behind, I was preparing myself for heartache. But still that little voice was saying ‘Often, the team who are winning the shoot out at first are not the team to win it overall.’ I’m no Statto but the thought wouldn’t go away. When it came to Drog’s turn, that was when I had to look elsewhere, to the sky, to my feet, to anywhere. All you could hear in the stadium was what you would have heard on the TV. Just the Bayern fans whistling. At our end, it was as if the world had stood still when he walked up to the spot. We were collectively holding our breath. I still can’t quite describe it adequately. And then came the biggest roar I have ever been part of in a stadium. I know it would have been equally so at Barca away but I wasn’t at that game. People were crying, with relief, with joy, with sheer exhaustion. Me with blue mascara running down my cheeks. I honestly think, despite the fact that this was Bayern’s home ground, we were Chelsea’s twelfth man that night. Or maybe it was Ossie, or Matthew, or all the fans no longer with us, willing our players on. Whatever it was, this was our time. The way we got to this final and the effort of the last three months under Robbie hinted that this was meant to be. There is a poem, author unknown, which goes ‘Football battles can sometimes go to the stronger and faster man. But sooner or later, the man who wins is the man who thinks he can.’ How true. Belief as much as skill carried our team through these frantic few weeks. Or was it my coat, or the ‘lion’ on the road? 🙂
So I know how lucky, nay, privileged I am, to have been inside that stadium to witness the biggest game of our history so far. I understand that all the other games and the other eras have mattered too. For instance, I know that when Clive Walker scored to stop us sliding into the old third division, it was crucial. I would never dismiss moments like that, because they are all part of what happened in Munich, in a way. All part of the journey that real supporters have been on, and this is why all of you whom I have written this for are the ones who have the right to be proud and happy, because you’ve seen the bad times and deserve the good. When my son was born, I told him that he would be a proper Chelsea lad for life. I told him that at times it would be hard, but that if we kept believing, one day we might win some big trophies. Well, we’ve won a few since then haven’t we! But when I held my little baby boy in my arms, I don’t think I could have ever imagined that 27 years on to the day of his birth, we’d be watching our team lift the European Cup. Good old Chelsea, unpredictable as ever!
© Carol Ann Wood
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