There will be plenty of Chelsea interest when Aston Villa and Derby County meet in this season’s Championship play-off final tomorrow, but that has become the norm in recent years.
When those two sides meet at Wembley with a place in the Premier League on offer for the winners, two Blues legends will be in opposing dugouts, with John Terry now working as Villa’s assistant manager and Frank Lampard in charge at Derby.
There is also likely to be three Chelsea youngsters on the pitch at the national stadium in the form of the Birmingham side’s top scorer Tammy Abraham, plus Mason Mount and Fikayo Tomori on loan with the Rams, the latter having already received their Player of the Year award.
That means this will be the third successive play-off final with Blues loanees taking part. Last season, Tomas Kalas and Lucas Piazon were both in the Fulham side managed by former Chelsea midfielder Slavisa Jokanovic, which beat a Villa side captained by Terry in his last match as a player.
The previous year, Huddersfield Town beat Reading on penalties to earn promotion, and they too had a pair of Chelsea loanees in their squad. Izzy Brown started the final before being replaced by fellow Blues youngster Kasey Palmer in extra-time. Their former Academy colleague, John Swift, was on the losing side that year, as was another graduate of our youth system, Sam Hutchinson, with Sheffield Wednesday in 2016.
The 2011 play-off final had a distinctly blue tint, when a Swansea City side managed by our former youth team boss Brendan Rodgers defeated Reading 4-2. What is more, the Swans’ potent front three included on-loan Fabio Borini, who scored six goals in nine leage games during his spell in Wales, and former Chelsea youngster Scott Sinclair, who bagged a hat-trick against the Royals. Swansea also had ex-Blues back-up goalkeeper Yves Ma-Kalambay on the bench.
The following year another keeper with Chelsea links played a much more meaningful role. Rob Green was between the posts for West Ham United when former Blues striker Carlton Cole opened the scoring for their 2-1 win over Blackpool to return to the Premier League.
That is one of three appearances in the play-off final for Green. He was named Man of the Match after keeping a clean sheet in Queens Park Rangers’ 1-0 victory over Derby in 2014, but ended up on losing side of a penalty shoot-out with Norwich City against Birmingham City in 2002.
That leaves him tied with Neil Shipperley of all former Blues for both the most appearances and the most victories in the play-off final during the Premier League era. The most memorable of the striker’s appearances was in 2004, when captaining a Crystal Palace side which also included fellow former Blue Danny Granville.
It was Shipperley who emerged as the hero, bundling the ball into the net during a scramble to give Palace a 1-0 win over West Ham. That was his second promotion via the play-offs with Palace, having also beaten a Sheffield United side featuring his former Chelsea team-mate Nigel Spackman 1-0 in 1997, but was on the losing side with Barnsley between those two victories in 2000.
The first two play-off finals with a place in the Premier League on offer also had signifcant Chelsea links. Former Blues striker David Speedie helped Blackburn Rovers secure a spot in the inaugural Premier League season by beating Leicester City 1-0 in 1992, and the following year the final was dominated by Glenn Hoddle.
Then player-manager of Swindon Town, it was one of football’s worst kept secrets that Hoddle would be taking charge at Stamford Bridge that summer, but he made his final appearance for the Robins a memorable one as he guided them to an unlikely promotion to the top flight.
Not only was Hoddle manager for that victory, but the 36-year-old also scored the opening goal of a 4-3 victory for Swindon which is still remembered as one of the best play-off finals ever, as Hoddle’s team surrendered a three-goal lead before an 84th-minute penalty gave them a 4-3 win, and left Leicester on the losing side for the second year in a row.