I never realised quite how much I wanted Chelsea to win the Champions League until the moment we did.
Over the years we’d contrived to find so many different, painful, ways of not winning it: penalty shoot-out defeats to English rivals in a final and a semi-final, a bizarre formation helping us throw away a winnable semi, a goal that looked like it didn’t cross the line, four clear penalties turned down in one agonising leg of a semi-final that also included a decisive 90th-minute goal.
I, and many other Chelsea fans, assumed we would never win it. It just felt like our fate.
So when Bayern Munich took a late lead in this year’s final, this supposedly neutral-venue match that couldn’t have felt more like an away game.
I wasn’t angry or distraught. I just found myself thinking “Oh well, we pushed it close and did well to even get this far…”
But then Didier Drogba equalised.
And then, when the final went to penalties, we missed our opener and the Germans kept scoring, I found myself thinking “Losing on penalties means you’ve drawn. It’s not like losing really…”
But then Petr Cech made a save, we kept scoring, Bastian Schweinsteiger hit the post and Drogba, so often the man for the big occasion, stroked home the winner.
We had won. And almost immediately I realised quite how important this was, how much it meant to the players, the club and thousands of my fellow fans. And to me.
I’ve been fortunate enough to be at many cup finals Chelsea have won but I’ve never seen celebrations like that. The players looked so, so happy. And so they might.
A couple of them have been there for all the disappointments mentioned above, several have been around for most of them, so to finally win it must have felt like the happy end of a long, arduous and painful journey.
And I’ve never seen a trophy that shines quite so brightly. Maybe it’s because it’s so big, maybe it was because it was under the glare of flooodlights whereas the FA Cup, for example, tends to be waved around in daylight, I don’t know. But it seemed to glint in a way I’d never seen from any other piece of silverware.
It was like the most important trophy felt it needed to be the shiniest too.
And the feeling I had made me realise that winning on penalties IS winning. There can be no denying that.
There can be winners and losers in a match that finishes all-square. And if that means I have a
new-found respect for the Man United team that beat us in 2008, then so be it. I can live with that.
Because I was in Munich on the night my football team won the European Cup. And it was fantastic.
James Clarke is the author of Moody Blues: Following the second-best team in Europe
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