50 Years of Chelsea: 1997-98 Pt.2
The Chelsea FanCast looks back, season by season, to 50 Years of Chelsea history from 1970 to the present day.
Stamford Chidge is joined by Jonathan Kydd, Mark Meehan and Dayne Whittle to look back at the 1997-98 season.
The 1997-98 season was described by Chelsea Historian Rick Glanvill as “turbulently successful” and it is hard to disagree and in Part Two we review from January to the end of the season.
In January 1998, Chelsea were 3rd in the league having at one stage reached 2nd and still in the Coca-Cola Cup and European Cup Winners’ Cup with everything very much still to play for in the second half of the season.
Tradition dictates that the first match in the New Year was the FA Cup 3rd round and Chelsea, the FA Cup holders were pitted against Manchester United, our recent Cup nemesis. None of us, however, could have predicted the insanity that ensued that day. 0:3 down at half time; 0:5 on 74 minutes and then a Graeme Le Saux worldy and two goals by Vialli made it 3:5 with only a few minutes to go and gave us hope. Well actually they didn’t really!
In the next match Chelsea made amends by knocking out Ipswich in the Coca-Cola cup, again after extra time and penalties, resulting in a semi-final tie against Arsenal. Due to the peculiarity of the fixture list this meant Chelsea would play Arsenal at Highbury in the Coca-Cola Cup, followed by another visit to Highbury in the league and then the return Coca-Cola Cup at the Bridge.
Chelsea’s record against Arsenal at the time was very poor, so many supporters were hoping for the best but expecting the worst. A 2-1 defeat in the 1st leg thanks to a Mark Hughes goal kept us in the tie. But no one expected what would happen after the 2:0 league defeat. Ruud Gullit was sacked after failing to agree a new contract and Gianluca Vialli was announced as his replacement; his first match in charge being the Coca-Cola Cup semi-final at home to Arsenal.
Having toasted his appointment with his teammates with a glass of champagne before kick-off, Chelsea put in a superb performance beating Arsenal 3-1 to reach another final at Wembley. They duly dispatched Middlesbrough in the final, again after extra time, to lift their second trophy in two seasons.
Before the Coca-Cola Cup final, Chelsea had seen off Real Betis in the European Cup Winners’ Cup final, thanks to Flo’s two goals in the away leg. All eyes were now focussed on European glory and as a result the league form suffered.
Against Vicenza in the first leg Chelsea lost 1:0, not a bad away result in Europe, so hopes were high for the second leg back at the Bridge. Hope made way to despair when Vicenza went 2:0 up on aggregate, but Chelsea stormed back, cheered on by one of the noisiest crowds ever experienced at the Bridge. Poyet and Zola put us on level terms with Vicenza and Mark Hughes sealed it with a stunning header to pass to himself to score on the volley.
The season would now end with the chance to win the European Cup Winners’ Cup for the second time in the club’s history. Stockholm would be the venue, Stuttgart the opponents and with Chelsea supporters in all four sides of the tiny stadium, Gianfranco Zola came on with 19 minutes to go and scored a sublime goal with his second touch to win Chelsea the trophy.
1997-98 was a remarkable season with great players like Vialli, Hughes and Zola scoring some wonderful goals; two trophies in one season for the first time ever and the shock sacking of Ruud Gullit. No wonder it is one of the most memorable Chelsea seasons of all time.
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