I was there. The three greatest words in the English language.
I saw us win the European Champions League. I just didn’t see it in Munich.
For the tens of thousands of Blues fans who were inside the stadium I am truly, deeply, utterly delighted for you. What an incredible night you surely had. How many different emotions you must have experienced in just the last 10 minutes of normal time, never mind the whole game. To be present the night that Chelsea finally lifted the most prestigious, most competitive, most cherished trophy in world club football. Unreal. For many of you it was probably the best night of your life. Congratulations, and I’m delighted your loyalty and faith were justly rewarded.
I remember the despair after the 1994 FA Cup final and the hammering by Manchester United. I met some fellow fans in a pub that night who were, well, not exactly over the moon, but were looking on the bright side. “We got to Wembley and are in Europe next season,” was their line. I couldn’t see it. It didn’t bring me any comfort, I wasn’t consoled by their pragmatism, I couldn’t find any silver lining in my cloud of despondency. But despite the £325 I paid for my ticket 18 years ago, I was still glad I went. Our first proper cup final in more than two decades. The defeat didn’t mean I wished I’d stayed at home.
Of course it was all the sweeter to be back there in 1997, and then to get to Stockholm and watch us lift the Cup Winners’ Cup the following year. Wouldn’t have missed those for the world. I was there.
But I never made it to Munich. Tickets were rarer than a happy Spurs fan – the cheapest I found was 1,200 quid – and by all accounts thousands of ticket-less Chelsea fans were headed that way anyway. Then my cheap standby travel option bit the dust because the flight from Dallas to Frankfurt was overbooked. So I stayed home, and with two minutes to go in the match and us 1-0 down it gave me a crumb of comfort that I hadn’t made the journey.
So I watched it at my local pub in an area of New Orleans called Mid-City in Finn McCool’s
. But – of all the crazy things – it was a Tottenham fan who suggested to me that it was better this way. He wrote to me after the game, “I only wish you’d made the journey…still, maybe it was fitting for you to see it in your local with which you have so much history…”
And I think he could be right. Now don’t misunderstand me: I would have loved to have been there, and if I had a match ticket I would have sold my daughter into slavery and bought a trans-Atlantic plane ride. But Finn McCool’s has a special place in my heart, and it’s somewhere I’ve been going to within days of emigrating to the States.
I wrote a book – God forbid I would miss an opportunity to mention it – and the USA details are here
while in the UK it’s here
– centred around this Irish pub.
Hurricane Katrina devastated it in 2005 and flooded it with eight feet of water. All of us who had been going there to meet our friends and watch football had our lives turned upside down for months or even years. Our lives were shattered and we were scattered around the country, and when the owners rebuilt the bar and reopened after being shuttered for seven months, it was a symbol of rebirth and rejuvenation for our small football-watching community.
So I watched us become European champions alongside friends with whom I’d survived the costliest natural disaster the USA has ever experienced. And afterwards I got to celebrate with two fellow middle-aged Chelsea fans, Londoners Pat Pocock and Colin Dennis, who, just like me, remember the bad old days of the seventies and eighties. It was a good day.
So I see the greatest night in our history as the perfect end to my rocky ride aboard the Finn McCool’s emotional roller-coaster, and I feel the journey has finished, the bar has been raised (literally and metaphorically), and it’s time to grab our belongings and exit to the right. But I’m already planning to get to Japan for the World Club Championship in December – not to mention the next European Champions League final of course…
Stephen Rea is the author of the book Finn McCool’s Football Club, a tale of supporting Chelsea from the United States, the formation of a pub football team in New Orleans and the devastating effect of Hurricane Katrina on that city. Visit his site here: www.stephen-rea.com or friend him at www.facebook.com/stevorea
Please note : the views in many of our blogs are written by fans of Chelsea FC and are not necessarily the views of the club