I played soccer growing up, but the teams I followed wore the red, white, and blue; first it was the U.S. Men’s National Team and later, the New England Revolution. The latter had a more personal connection. A family friend was a developmental player for the Revs and actually got into a couple matches with the full squad.
I had always been a huge Red Sox and Patriots fan, growing up just outside of Boston. But I think I was looking for a change, an alternative I guess you could say, once the Red Sox reversed the curse and won their first World Series in 86 years and the Patriots won three Super Bowls in four years.
But why Chelsea? Why not Manchester United? Everyone loves United. Sure, Sir Alex Ferguson is a tremendous coach, Wayne Rooney is one of the best England-born players I’ve ever seen, and at the time, they had Cristiano Ronaldo. But none of that mattered. Chelsea had Jose Mourinho, easily one of the top 10, maybe even top five managers of all time. But they key word was “had.” He left before at the start of the season, leaving my first real impression of a Cheslea boss as Avram Grant. But the on-the-field product was more attractive. Chelsea had dynamic players like Frank Lampard, Didier Drogba, Petr Cech, John Terry, Joe Cole, Shevchenko, Ballack.
The first time I saw Chelsea play, I think it was a match against Portsmouth at Stamford Bridge (on TV of course. Still planning my first trip to the Bridge). Chelsea won easily, but I was most impressed with how fluid the play was with Chelsea. The atmosphere in the stands was electric, and there I was sitting in my living room, across the Atlantic Ocean, so far removed from West London, yet I could still feel the energy.
I’ve seen more manager changes in the past five years unlike any other sport I’ve followed. My personal favorite after Jose (up until DiMatteo) was actually an assistant, Ray Wilkins. Butch, a former Chelsea player and a terrific assistant, was highly regarded by players and fans alike. When Roman Abramovich randomly sacked Wilkins one day before training, I wasn’t the only one scratching my head. The players were just as baffled.
But there have been very few major disappointments supporting Chelsea. In fact, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed watching them win FA Cups and last year winning the Champions League. I’ll never forget the day Chelsea advanced to the CL final vs. Bayern Munich. A few of us skipped out of work, had an “extended lunch” and went to a colleague’s house to watch Chelsea take on Barcelona. Sitting in a room with a diehard Barca supporter, and a United supporter from England, who really had no vested interest in the game, it was a moment of glory I’ll never forget. Much respect to my friend, Mark, the Barca supporter. It wasn’t easy for him to watch Chelsea beat his team. But, it was one hell of a moment for me as a Chelsea fan. Then, the final against Bayern Munich. What a game. Sure, my cousins in Munich may never talk to me again, but it may be the last time I see Chelsea win the European Championship, even if it was at the expense of my extended family.
Even though I’ve never seen Chelsea in person, I have seen a couple of their players, albeit one of them was one of the biggest flops in Chelsea history. I saw Fernando Torres and Spain take on the U.S. at Foxboro a couple years ago. Yeah, it was kinda cool seeing a Chelsea player on the field, right in front of me, but it will never compare to seeing Chelsea in person. I saw Joe Cole last summer when Liverpool came to play AS Roma at Fenway Park. I’ll be straight up with you. I don’t like Liverpool at all, not one bit. Never have, never will. But I have much respect for Cole. He was one of my favorites the first couple years I followed Chelsea.
So, five years after I first started following Chelsea, here I sit in my living room watching a replay of a recent Europa League match. The young kids are quite good. Eden Hazard, Juan Mata, Oscar. Some of the best on the planet. And witnessing history with Lamps. It’s been great. Part of me hopes he comes stateside to play for the Galaxy so I can see him play. But I’d much rather shell out thousands to travel to London to see him in Chelsea blue. One day. I’ll be at the Bridge one day. As long as Dave saves me a seat.