A strange thing happened to Chelsea supporters like me a few years ago. Once the euphoria of the arrival of Mr Abramovich began to wear off it got replaced by this need to justify ones CFC credentials. This was brought home to me last night when watching my mighty Blues dismantle West Brom and still only manage to win 1-0 in the most frustrating fashion. Yes we had just demolished Barcelona the previous week and no Jose isn't this "enemy of football" that UEFA claim but the whole thing just got me reminiscing.
During the game, just in front of me (albeit in the now ludicrously expensive West stand - can this really be the same West stand that used to house the kids enclosure where I stood as a spotty youth back in the early seventies?) were two noisy, suited city types extolling their credentials. The first turned to the second and said "... I just cant stand these damn Johnny-Come-Lately's to Stamford Bridge". "I know" said his colleague, "we go back to Kerry Dixon."
Kerry bl**dy Dixon. Now don't get me wrong, KD is a legend. I've been fortunate to watch him bury 30+ goals in a season and have also spent some time in his company (along with a good many others) but he's hardly the yardstick for a Chelsea heritage..... and certainly doesn't represent the temporal starting point for bragging rights.
What is odd though, is our current need, and I'm just as guilty as anyone, to say "I'm a Chelsea fan AND I go back to ....." ....in my case 1967.
But it gets worse. I now find myself boring people with the fact that I was drawn to the mighty Blues when we were almost great in the late 60's and hooked by the 1970 cup campaign and epic final. I stood in the West Stand Enclosure and then the Shed when we were hugely fashionable and a joy to watch the early 70's, in free fall through to the early 80's - yes I really did go to Hull and Grimsby away when we languished in the old second division. I cowered in the shadow of the infamous money pit called the East Stand and watched Dixon, Speedie, Nevin and Spackman carry us through the "oh so nearly..." end of the 80's, only for us to be relegated yet again but bounce back with nearly 100 points.
I held my breath as we made it into the young upstart of the Premier League with Hoddle at the helm and a little and large strike force of Mark Stein and Paul Furlong (surely the oddest couple in the league) and then gasped through the 90's at the influx of talent. First Hughes, then Gullit, Vialli, Di Matteo, the one true footballing G-d Gianfranco Zola .... the list of stars just went on and on .... and oh the football we saw. First the FA cup, rightfully secured by a Chelsea true blue - Eddie Newton - after the Di Matteo wonder goal. Then the League cup and my own personal moment of synchronicity. On 13th May 1998 at about 3pm my daughter Amelia was born and at around 21.15 that night, as she lay curled up in my lap, Zola came on as sub in the European Cup Winners Cup to score the winner with his first touch.
It looked like things were just getting better and better. I was behind the goal when we dismantled the mighty Barcelona in our first proper shake at the the European cup (the cup that we weren't allowed to enter back in 1956 - what might have happened if that team had played in Europe ?) and watched Wise go uo to lift the FA cup at the last ever final at "the old" Wembely. But it didn't last and the standards started to slide - I liked Ranieri but again the play was typical Chelsea, flamboyant one minute and infuriatingly abysmal the next. How ironic that he would loose his job at the end of our most successful league campaign since 1955 but that was ultimately down to the same Mr Abramovich that I mentioned earlier.
So what has this journey taught me so far - well, I don't need to justify my Blue Credentials and I'm going to stop. I know where I've been and I've felt the highs, lows and every shade in between. If the saying goes that you can choose your friends but you cant choose your family, then in football terms you cant choose your club - it chooses you and once that choice is made there's no going back - you're there through thick and thin. So when people talk about all the money at Chelsea now I simply smile and say "well, I've already been to Hull and back - so that nice Mr A can spend as much as he likes - I've earned it"
Come on you Blues