Arriving in the big time

We look back at a 5-0 win over Wolverhampton Wanderers in 2003 which served notice of the Blues arriving as a genuine force at the start of the Roman Abramovich era at Stamford Bridge.

Almost 16 years have passed since the face of Chelsea Football Club changed forever, with a summer of spending that was previously unprecedented in English football as we took a squad which had finished fourth the previous season and turned it into genuine contenders both at home and on the continent.

The likes of Damien Duff, Joe Cole, Juan Sebastian Veron, Claude Makelele, Adrian Mutu and Hernan Crespo all joined Claudio Ranieri’s ranks during one of the most eventful transfer windows Blues fans have ever experienced.

To provide a bit of added context, the summer before had seen the arrival of just one player, and a relatively unknown one at that, as Spanish midfielder Quique De Lucas joined on loan. If we were playing Fantasy Premier League, imagine not being able to make any transfers and then all of a sudden being granted a wildcard and a huge budget to go along with it. As supporters, it was beyond our wildest dreams.

A year earlier, Duff had starred for Ireland at the World Cup in Japan and South Korea, announcing himself on the world stage. Veron and Crespo may have crashed out of that tournament in the group stage, in part due to a David Beckham-inspired England, but the midfielder was established as a world star and the latter had just a few years earlier briefly held the record as the most expensive footballer in the history of the game. Makelele was the glue which held Real Madrid's Galacticos together. Now they were together in Blue.

With so many big players arriving to huge fanfare, expectations in west London went through the roof – and though the start made by Ranieri’s men in the early weeks of the season was impressive, it wasn’t until our trip to the West Midlands at the end of September that things truly clicked.

Wolves were in the Premier League for the first time ever, having negotiated their way through the play-offs to end a near two decade absence from the English top flight, but they still had some experienced heads in their side. The likes of Denis Irwin, Paul Ince, Jody Craddock and Steffen Iversen certainly knew their way around the Premier League.

They simply had no answer to Chelsea’s first five-star performance of the Abramovich era, though, as we dismantled them in front of their own fans. On the flipside, it proved to be a worthwhile trip for the more than 3,000 Blues who supporters turned up to see our first competitive game at Molineux in over two decades.

The writing was on the wall for Dave Jones's side from the moment Frank Lampard hammered an unstoppable shot home from Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink's lay-off after just 17 minutes, with our Dutch striker enjoying himself after being reunited with his partner in crime, Eidur Gudjohnsen.

Jimmy went from provider to scorer for our second, slotting home Damien Duff's wonderful pass, and there was yet another role reversal at the start of the second half, as a wonderful passing move resulted in Duff being teed up for a simple finish to open his account for the Blues.

With Chelsea cruising to victory, Crespo was introduced to the action, and he showed his credentials with two predatory finishes. His maiden Blues goal came with virtually his first touch of the ball, while the second was a sumptuous curler that left the fans purring.

‘I remember these goals very well,’ Crespo told the official Chelsea magazine last year, having been reminded about the strikes which opened his goalscoring account for the club. ‘It was a great start for me to come on as a substitute and score twice, it was not bad! They were two nice goals and we won the game by a big score, we all felt really good after the game.’

So too did the supporters. Chelsea had gone top of the Premier League after the game, albeit for only a few hours, and it felt like we belonged there. It's safe to say we have rarely looked back since.

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