In the latest instalment of a new feature focusing on the story behind a classic match relevant to our next fixture, club historian Rick Glanvill interviews Erland Johnsen about a controversial Cup penalty and more...
‘Of course it was a penalty!’ It is an answer former Chelsea defender Erland Johnsen has delivered repeatedly and in good humour for almost a quarter of a century.
He is referring to the famous incident deep into extra time of the FA Cup round five replay at home to Leicester City in February 1997 – a crucial stepping stone for the Blues on the way to glory in the competition for the first time since 1970.
‘Before I came on I was told to go forward as often as I could,’ he recalls. ‘We needed a goal. I had a clear run, played a one-two with Luca [Vialli] and got into Leicester’s penalty area. Very unknown territory for me… ’
As the rugged centre-back burst into the box he was blocked by Spencer Prior and Mike Reed whistled for the penalty. Once Frank Leboeuf had converted, 0-0 became 1-0 with two minutes to go. Martin O’Neill and his players were incandescent at the decision – but home advantage helped.
‘Back then our great fans in the Shed End made sure that the ref couldn’t hear the protests,’ the defender smiles. ‘After the game everyone was so happy to go through so it was a lot of praise.’
The Video Assistant Referee system is being used in a Premier League match at the Bridge for the first time this Sunday, and against the same opponents. So how does Erland, currently academy coach at Sarpsborg, reckon VAR would have affected his legendary contribution to Chelsea history?
‘I think that VAR is taking too much time of the game,’ he offers. ‘It puts an end to disagreements and interesting discussions among the fans as well. Honestly, I don’t know what VAR would have done with the referee’s decision in my case. But I do know that I wouldn’t have had to answer the question “Was it a penalty?” about a thousand times!’
The Norwegian will be watching with affection on Sunday. ‘I miss being the first one out on the pitch for the warm-ups before home games and paying my tribute to the best fans I’ve ever had,’ he says. ‘It’s great to have Frank Lampard back at the club. I wish the Blues and supporters all the best.’