Joe Cole turns 37 today and you can hear from the man himself about some of his boyhood heroes and the highlights of his time as a Chelsea player.
Few Blues can claim to have been loved quite like Cole was during his six years at Stamford Bridge, a ground he frequented as a young lad.
It seems like only yesterday that he was coming through as one of English football’s most prodigious talents; now he is entering his late thirties, in the final throws of a playing career which peaked, undoubtedly, here in west London.
Back in his formative years, however, Joe had taken a shine to a pair of players from another part of London, as he told Paul Merson – another Blues fan – in a show about his career on Sky Sports.
‘I used to love watching Gazza and Chris Waddle,’ he told Merse. ‘The fact it's two Tottenham players is quite bad for me, but I remember the 1990 World Cup. My mum and dad aren't football people, they don't like it, so I was always pushing for football and even the World Cup wasn't nailed on to be on.
‘I remember watching Gazza in the semi-final and thinking, 'I've got to play for England.' And I followed Chelsea, so Dennis Wise was a big hero of mine.’
Despite his West Ham connection, having played for the Hammers as a kid and graduated to become captain at the age of 21, his heart was always blue.
Wisey was his idol and he recalls having the opportunity to attend the 1994 FA Cup final at the behest of Sir Alex Ferguson, who was trying to convince him to sign for Manchester United.
Since he planned to decline the move, Cole’s father insisted he also turn down the trip to Wembley. A wise move; Chelsea were beaten 4-0 on a sodden day at the home of English football.
Nine years later, following West Ham’s relegation from the Premier League, the Red Devils were once again an option for a raw talent who was being likened to his hero, Gazza, in terms of talent. However, there was never a decision to be made once he learned of one club’s interest...
‘When Chelsea came in, with the connection as a kid, that was where I wanted to go,’ he said. ‘When you're a London lad, you know about the rivalries, and I knew it wouldn't go down well, but at the time it was the best option.
‘Roman [Abramovich] had just come in, staying in London was a big thing for me, and the fans took to me straight away. Claudio Ranieri’s a lovely guy, too. I remember when I signed, I bowled in there thinking, “Forget Veron, Mutu, Geremi, Gronkjaer – I'm going to play.” But they're probably thinking, “He's 21, give him a few years...”
‘First thing I asked Claudio was where I would be playing and he said, “You're my key.” Yeah, but where am I playing? “You're my key.” Fair enough – I'll sign. First game, in Europe, and I'm on the bench. Right, so this is where a key sits! I came on, made the goal, and afterwards he tapped me on the shoulder and said, “I told you – you're my key.” Lovely.’
As much as playing for his boyhood team was a big factor in his decision to join the Blues, ambition was also to play a big part.
‘In my head, I didn't want to leave football without winning anything or having any big moments,’ he said. ‘Until then, I played good football but I hadn't won anything.
‘Football was never about money for me, it wasn't important. Someone said to me once, “If you become a good player, you'll earn money.” The real top players want to do it because they want to win things.
‘I think the 2005/06 season was the best I played, although 2004/05 was pretty good as well. But in 2006 it culminated with me scoring the goal which won the title for the club I supported as a boy. That day was probably the highlight of my career. I had all my family with me, it was a really special goal, and there was a big party. It was a cracking night!’
Cole won every domestic honour going during his time at Chelsea, but European glory eluded him. In the season when he won our Player of the Year award, in 2007/08, we reached the Champions League final against Manchester United.
‘The FA Cup final was the big game when I was a kid, it was only when I was about 14 or 15 that Europe got big.
‘Winning the FA Cup was massive for me, but the Champions League final, because it was against United, was a weird day. You're playing against your mates, so you don't want to lose. It wasn't a classic final by any stretch of the imagination, no flowing football, and credit to that United side, it's probably the best Man United team I've seen.
‘We were beaten by a very good team, but over the 120 minutes I felt we were the better side. I came off at the end because Anelka was a penalty taker. I've never seen JT miss a penalty, technically he's very good. The Gods weren't with us that night.
‘It's staggering that we didn't win the Champions League with that team. We should have won it twice: the first Mourinho year, when we were beaten by the Garcia goal, which I still don't know if it was a goal, but probably not. I remember scoring against Liverpool two years after that in the first leg of the semi-final, a 1-0 win at home in Europe against a team we knew wasn't as good as us. Played them at Anfield and they were just unbelievable and beat us on penalties. We should have won it once or twice, but it just wasn't meant to be.’
Two years later – and a couple of years before we finally won the Champions League – Cole departed his boyhood club to join Liverpool. If you didn’t already love him, then this final snippet will certainly seal his place in the heart of every Blues fan.
‘I had the chance to go to Tottenham with Harry Redknapp, but I couldn't do it to the Chelsea or West Ham fans. I've got a good relationship with both sets of supporters. Liverpool was the right club at the wrong time and it just didn't work for me.’