Club historian Rick Glanvill recalls a famous game against Southampton on this day 20 years ago…
Chelsea and Southampton have met four times on Boxing Day in the Premier League, most famously 20 years ago today at the Dell.
‘A little bit of history was made at the weekend,’ a Guardian editorial recorded for posterity, ‘when Chelsea Football Club fielded a team consisting entirely of foreign players – the first time in the life of the Premier League or its predecessors that this has happened.’
The newspaper noted that it had only been a matter of time before the west London club pinned up an all-overseas starting 11 – then managing director Colin Hutchinson famously described Chelsea as ‘a continental club playing football in England.’
‘The problem is working out what, if anything, fielding a team consisting of a Dutchman, a Spaniard, two Frenchmen, a Brazilian, a Uruguayan, a Nigerian, two Italians and a Norwegian might “mean”,’ the Guardian proposed.
Gianluca Vialli’s men answered any questions whether a polyglot team might lack cohesion with a festive victory more emphatic than the 2-1 headline suggested. Both goals were scored by the Blues’ young Scandinavian forward, Tore Andre Flo. Kevin Davies, a Yorkshireman, netted the Saints’ late response.
At this rate, it joshed, ‘Chelsea will soon be accepting euros at the club shop,’ and that skipper Dennis Wise, absent on the day, might change his name to ‘Dennis Raisonnable’. The fact the Blues played our home games at such a venerable old ancestral pile as Stamford Bridge, reinforced the ‘Chelsea-ishness of it all’ as far as the writer was concerned.
During the course of the game in Southampton, Vialli had brought on two promising young Englishmen: midfielder Jody Morris and left-back Jon Harley. The former helped mastermind a stunning win for the current Chelsea side at Tottenham last weekend, while the latter, like goalscorer Flo in our Loans department, helps nurtures the next generation of (largely English) Chelsea Academy stars.
Maybe that is what Boxing Day 1999 ‘meant’, eventually: a cosmopolitan club on the way to discovering its identity.