It was on this day 18 years ago that Dennis Wise departed Chelsea after helping to awaken this sleeping giant of a football club. We pay tribute to an inspirational former Blues captain who remains beloved by the supporters.
Ron Harris was the first Chelsea captain to lift the FA Cup and John Terry subsequently won it more times than any other Blues skipper, but in between the reigns of those two legendary leaders was Dennis Wise, whose career was defined by his achievements in the famous cup competition.
He'd been part of Wimbledon's Crazy Gang, who lifted the trophy with a huge upset over Liverpool, a couple of years before his 1990 move to the Bridge. His first few seasons in west London were ultimately filled with frustration, though, as the Blues were firmly stuck in the middle of the pack in the English top flight and meaningful cup runs were nowhere to be seen.
Even a couple of years later, by which point Wise had been appointed club captain, our run to the final in 1994 came to an unsatisfactory conclusion as we were hammered by Manchester United at Wembley Stadium. It absolutely bucketed it down; seemingly even the weather was against Chelsea fans when it came to this competition.
The pride at leading us out in an FA Cup final was heavily outweighed by the disappointment of defeat. Two years later, a few months after losing to the same opponents in the semi-finals, Wise extended his Chelsea contract into the 21st Century.
He loved playing for, and captaining, a club he had taken to his heart over the previous six years, but there was something missing: silverware. At the time, the list of captains to lift a trophy for Chelsea made for pretty short reading, and he had only one thing on his mind.
‘I want to win something,’ he told the matchday programme. ‘I don’t want someone to say he had great times here but he never won anything. I want my photo up on the wall and punters saying, ‘Yeah, we won this with him, we won that.’ I want it to be like it is with Peter Osgood, people remembering him for what he won.’
Now, the photos of him are up on the wall around Stamford Bridge. Punters can say we won this and we won that with him. To Blues supporters, he was our representation on the pitch and the canny leader who finally brought silverware back to Stamford Bridge, starting with that magical FA Cup triumph in 1997 which just felt like destiny.
Middlesbrough were convincingly beaten at Wembley Stadium, thanks to Roberto Di Matteo's first-minute stunner and a late clincher by Eddie Newton, who like Wisey had been through the hard times earlier in the decade.
‘After losing in the final in 1994, I believed we were going to win it this time,”’said Wise in the book Blue Day. ‘We all kind of knew it, and you do know. But the relief I felt afterwards. I sat down and there was just this massive feeling of satisfaction that came over me. It's really difficult to explain.
‘It felt like such an achievement, kind of like: “Do you know what? We've done something here and it's been a long, long time and I'm so pleased we've achieved this.” And it was for everyone, really. Obviously the fans, but also for Batesy and his wife Suzannah, and for all the staff. It was a great moment for everyone.’
It ushered in a new era of success at Chelsea Football Club, which has continued to this day and reached even greater peaks. Now, Premier League title wins feel natural, but back then lifting the FA Cup, European Cup Winners' Cup and League Cup in the space of 12 months was beyond our wildest dreams.
The FA Cup was ours again in 2000, in the last final to be held at the old Wembley Stadium, with Wise putting in a Man of the Match performance to lead us there. Suddenly, we were becoming accustomed to silverware. No Chelsea supporter could have pictured that when he first rocked up to the club.
Of course, there are so many more words to write when it comes to Dennis Wise. He was once the highest scoring midfielder in Chelsea's history, a record he may still hold were it not for a certain Frank Lampard, including one particularly famous goal in the San Siro.
His relationship with the fans as our captain was beyond special, while his unique brand of leadership not only knitted together a cosmopolitan dressing room, it helped shape John Terry, his successor as our Captain, Leader, Legend.
But seeing him walk up those steps to lift the FA Cup on a Blue Day at Wembley Stadium in 1997? For the long-suffering fans who had waited so long – and who thought we'd have to wait forever – nothing will beat that image.