Manchester City vs. Chelsea : 29 May 2021.
It was 9.54pm. As the referee’s whistle eventually blew after seven tortuous minutes, I snapped the view that confronted me in the north terrace of the Dragao Stadium. I wanted to capture the exact moment of us becoming European Champions, just like I had done in Munich in 2012, and also when we became English Champions at Bolton in 2005 too. An image of our fans captured for eternity. The roar that accompanied this moment was surely not as fierce as the one in the Allianz Arena just over nine years ago, but the emotions were similar.
We had done it.
The photo taken, I clambered down off the seat and started to whimper, my bottom lip succumbing to the emotion of the moment, and then I could not hold it any longer. I brought my hands to my face and wept for a few fleeting seconds. My emotions genuinely surprised me. In Munich I had slumped to the floor, absolutely overcome with daft joy and relief. There were tears for sure. Hell, even in Moscow – just before John Terry’s infamous penalty – I trembled too. In Porto, the tears were real, but I soon dried my eyes.
There was a slight thought about my own particular story since 10 October 2020.
I had recovered well from a series of mild heart-attacks. I was now witnessing the second most important moment in the history of Chelsea Football Club – Munich will never be eclipsed, surely? – and it was all too bloody crazy to rationalise.
All through this craziness, since the semi-finals, the one thought that had been spurring me on throughout the stress and worry of reaching Porto was this :
“If the fans of Arsenal, Tottenham and West Ham – the others don’t count – were pissed-off when we won the European Cup once, imagine what they’ll be like if we win it twice.”
Mister 33% was way off the mark.
In reality it was a breeze, a sweet-scented breeze of Portuguese delight softly sweeping up over the terracotta tiled houses from the Douro River.
My fellow fans were running down towards the pitch. There was a lovely melee in the area where I had been stood for three hours. I was soon joined by Luke and – such is the immediacy of the modern life – I wanted to share my moment of joy with the world. Aroha was nearby, and I asked her to take a photograph of the two of us. I think that the photo is worth a thousand words.
I posted the picture on “Facebook” at 9.59pm. The accompanying message was this :
“We’re The Only Team In London With Two European Cups”.
I then joked with Luke that we could now look Nottingham Forest in the eye. And we could at last look down on Villa.
My immediate thought, next, was of Aroha; carrying Luke’s baby. What a story, what a moment of joy for them both, knowing that their child – due in late July – was there in Porto when our club won our second European Cup.
A brief thought of the scorer.
It was all very apt. Kai Havertz, the COVID Kid, hit hard by the virus in the autumn – so much so that his first few appearances for us promised little, if anything – would be the one whose goal had been decisive, wearing number 29 on 29 May.
For ten minutes, everything was pretty much a Blue Blur. I was aware that the Chelsea players had run towards the fans in the western section of the north stand, between the goal frame and the corner flag. Fans were clambering over the seats to get to the front. I was again stood on the seat in front. I could not be any nearer the pitch. A few of us tried to free the official Champions League banner from its moorings but it was fastened solid.
I didn’t even notice the Manchester City players collecting their medals.
At 10.10pm, the victors stood in a line and slowly walked towards the waiting trophy. In Munich, the presentation was up in the main stand – I prefer that – but here the final act of the 2020/21 Champions League campaign took place on the pitch. I stood with my camera poised, making sure that I had a clean and uninterrupted view.
At 10.11pm, Cesar Azpilcueta hoisted the huge trophy into the air.
Blue and white tinsel – correction, royal blue and white tinsel – streamed everywhere. Fireworks flew into the sky. White smoke, not of surrender, but of glory drifted skywards.
A perfect scene.
The City fans had virtually all left the stadium, just as I did after the final whistle in Moscow. I did not relish their trip home to Standish, Stockport, Didsbury and Harpurhey.
It was time for some music.
“One Step Beyond” was especially poignant. We all remember how City mocked us by playing this tune after a victory against us at Eastlands in around 2010.
“We Are The Champions” of course. I am afraid to admit that this was the first single that I ever bought in early 1978. I grew to absolutely detest Queen as I became older, but this song does bring back a nice childhood memory; my blue house team won the school football tournament that year and our team sung this song after the final triumphant game against the red team.
In Porto, it had a new twist.
“We are the Champions…again.”
But oh those high notes that followed. Ouch.
“Blue Tomorrow” and a memory of our victory in the 2000 FA Cup.
For twenty minutes, we watched as the Chelsea players cavorted on the other side of the pitch. We begged them to bring the trophy over to us in our corner. We watched as the players indulgently took selfies of themselves with their wives and partners. We sang “over here, over here, over here” but it was all to no fucking avail. We were ignored.
At 10.30pm, Aroha, Doreen, Luke and myself set off for home. I took one final photograph of the scene and left the stadium.
I have always loved walking out of various football stadia with a win tucked in our back pockets. An away win on foreign soil cannot be beaten. Often the local police have closed, or blocked-off, roads so that we have a free march in the middle of deserted streets. I can especially recollect a lovely walk back to the nearest subway station on a balmy night in Lisbon in 2015.
Bouncing, bubbling, striding triumphantly, the occasional chant, the occasional song, the swagger of success, locals cowering – or so we hoped – behind windows.
In Porto, as triumphant as it all was, the walk back to the coach was tough. I had made a schoolboy error of wearing a new pair of Adidas trainers for the day and although I had worn them around the house and on a few shopping trips, I had not fully worn them in. My walk – uphill, damn it – back to our waiting coach was a nightmare. My feet were on fire. I hobbled along like Dustin Hoffman in “Rain Man.”
I took my seat in the coach, turned my phone on, and answered as many messages of congratulations as I could.
There was a sweet air of contentment, and an overwhelming feeling of befuddled bemusement.
I soon shared the astounding news that we were the first – and we will forever be the only – team to double up on wins in the European Cup (2012 and 2021), the Europa League (2013 and 2019) and the now discontinued European Cup Winners’ Cup (1971 and 1998).
I spoke to a couple of supporters about my mate Jaro’s take on the game.
In the few days before the match, he was adamant we’d win.
The first time? 19/05.
The second time? 29/05.
I guess that means that we will need to wait for the Gregorian calendar to be replaced by a new version so we can win it a third time on 39/05.
People were tired. People were weary. Eventually the coach set off for the airport. At 11.45pm, I shared my last photo of the day; the blue-lit interior of our coach on its thirty-minute drive back to the airport. There was complete silence. Not a sound.
I guess we reached the airport at just after midnight. We spotted a few disconsolate City fans milling around. Thankfully, the security checks did not take long. I loaded up on those gorgeous Portuguese custard tarts – pasteis de nata – and gobbled down some Gummi Bears for a quick sugar buzz. We waited until it was our turn to board.
I bumped into Andy and Sophie again, down by Gate 18.
Andy started talking :
“Chris, there’s a bloke, tonight – right – in Madrid…”
And I stopped him in his tracks.
I corrected him.
“Andy. There’s a bloke in a flat in Levenshulme. And he’s saying…Chelsea, they always beat us in Cup Finals.”
From the Full Members Cup at Wembley in 1986 – away you go, new fans, start Googling – to the European Cup Final at Estadio do Dragao in 2021. Artistic licence allows me to forget the League Cup in 2019. Right?
We walked out to the waiting plane and it suddenly made sense. I need not have been too bothered about TUI’s colour scheme.
TUI – two-ey…if ever there was a clue that we were going to end up with our second European Cup, there it was.
The other company that covered Chelsea’s chartered flights was Jet2.
Say no more.
It was – to coin a phrase – written in the stars.
Our flight home lifted off at 2am.
I caught a little sleep, as did many. I had not eaten much the entire day, so I soon wolfed down the roast chicken dinner. The friendly air-hostess even gave me two extra puddings and that, sadly, is not a euphemism.
As I spoke to her about the day, I realised that my voice was deep and croaky. It was clear that I had been singing my heart out that evening. A silly sign that I had been immersed in the game, but it was further proof that I was now back.
We landed at Gatwick bang on 4am.
I had spent around sixteen hours in the spectacular city of Porto. Along with Athens, Stockholm, Munich, Amsterdam, Baku – and Monaco – our list of foreign fields that will be forever Chelsea continues to grow.
And get this.
Chelsea Football Club has now won more European trophies than the rest of London combined.
I was quickly through passport control, there was no baggage carousel, I caught the bus back to the car park. I made tracks at 5am. I stopped at Cobham Services on the M25 – a mere mile or so from our training centre – and demolished an espresso. A handful of Chelsea had similar ideas.
“European Champions only please.”
It was a chilled out drive home. I enjoyed a powernap for around forty minutes as I stopped at another services on the A303 at around 7am.
Not long after, I updated my “Facebook” status once more.
“Driving home, nearing Stonehenge. Absolute Radio on. “Teardrop” by Massive Attack.
The perfect denouement to thirty hours of following Chelsea Football Club.”.
I called in to see Glenn, then Parky, then my Liverpool-supporting mate Francis. I eventually made it home at around midday.
I joked to all three of them :
“Bollocks to it, I’m only bothering with Cup Finals from now on.”
There was a brief mention of a potential Super Cup in Belfast in August. I had gambled on cheap flights from Bristol a month ago and the decision to go ahead would be with UEFA.
Season 2020/21 was the maddest ever. It was – overall – undoubtedly my least favourite season thus far. I had only seen us play twice. And yet, I had seen us in two Cup Finals. I had seen us win the biggest prize of all for the second time in our history.
But this will be the craziest part of all.
We will all assemble, God-willing, in mid-August to see our team play once again. For the vast majority of fans, people will see Thomas Tuchel in the flesh for the very first time. Normally there would be mutterings of “I hope the new coach gets off to a good start.”
And yet he has already won the bloody European Cup.
And Finally :
One from Porto in 2015 and a nod to the many fine folk who were sadly unable to travel to the game. This photo shows Gary, Alan, Kev and Parky alongside me on that fine bridge that dominates the central area and affords such a splendid view of the city. It has been my screensaver on my home laptop for many years.
One from my friend Donna. It’s probably one of the few photos that I have shared on here that I have not taken myself. It’s self-explanatory really. At last players and supporters as one.
Chelsea Football Club, Frank Lampard and Thomas Tuchel, its players and loyal supporters : I salute us all.
Very lastly, I have to mention that as I sat down in The Blue Room – where else? – on Monday evening to begin writing Part One, I grabbed a Depeche Mode CD and pressed play. It was one of three CDs in a set from 2004. I had no idea what track would be played first. You’ve guessed it. “Personal Jesus.”
Reach Out. Touch. Faith.