In the latest instalment of our series where we take a Chelsea-related book and review some of the more interesting extracts, we revisit Dennis Wise’s autobiography on the 20th anniversary of the day he lifted the FA Cup for the Blues at Wembley.
The book was in fact published before our date with Aston Villa exactly two decades ago, which was the last final to be held at the national stadium before it was rebuilt and saw Roberto Di Matteo’s goal settle a fairly cagey and unremarkable contest.
That was the third FA Cup triumph of Wise’s career, his second at Stamford Bridge following the glory of 1997, and came 10 years after his arrival in SW6. Read more on the story of our 1999/2000 FA Cup triumph here.
Prior to the glory, there was plenty of heartache as Wise recalls joining a club still struggling to establish itself among the newly-formed Premier League’s elite, which is where we pick up our former number 11’s story.
Changing the Chelsea image
When he moved across London in the summer of 1990 from Wimbledon, Wise was certainly taking a forward step in his career but he wasn’t exactly joining the Chelsea that people know today. Signed by Bobby Campbell, he joined a club who had just completed their first season back in the top flight but who hadn’t won a trophy since 1970.
‘For a start the stadium needed a complete revamp,’ writes Wise. ‘Before, it was like one of those huge concrete bowls of a stadium that you still see in Eastern Europe, not at all intimidating, not to the smaller clubs anyway. For the glamour teams there wasn’t too much of a problem either.
‘Chelsea have always had the image and reputation of a big club. At one time they were known as the glamour club of London. But since the early Seventies they had the problem of being the perennial under-achievers of London football.
‘They never won anything; it was as simple as that. I hoped to play my part in changing that.’
After a few years of indifferent performance on the field, the arrival of Glenn Hoddle as player-manager heralded a new dawn. Hoddle made Wise his captain, though the two never developed a strong relationship.
‘I never got to know Hoddle as a person, even when I was his captain and saw him almost every day of my life,’ Wise admitted. ‘He was a strange guy, more than a bit distant and you couldn’t get to the bottom of him, find out what made him tick.’
However, at the end of Hoddle’s first season in charge, the Blues were heading to Wembley for the 1994 FA Cup final…
A Cup final bet with Cantona
It was our first appearance in the showpiece occasion for almost a quarter of a century but nothing went our way on the day. As Wise puts it: ‘We were thumped 4-0, slaughtered on a miserable afternoon on which the rain never stopped.’
Gavin Peacock smacked the crossbar but that was the closest we came to scoring on a chastening day at Wembley. Not only did Wise end suffer the ignominy of captaining Chelsea to our heaviest-ever Cup final defeat, he also lost £100 in a bet with Eric Cantona.
‘I had used the tactic before when Tony Cottee was about to take a penalty for Everton,’ explains Wise. ‘As he stood waiting to take it I said, “I bet you a fiver you miss.” He just said, “Leave me alone.” Whether it affected him or not I don’t know, but I do know that he missed.
‘Having succeeded once, I thought I would try it again with Cantona. “Come on,” I said, “let’s have a bet. I bet you miss.” I was a bit taken aback when he said, “Okay, £100.” I was thinking more in terms of another fiver but I still agreed. He scored.
‘Later in the game United got another penalty. This time he came up to me and said, “Hey, double or quits on the £100?” “No chance,” I said. And, of course, he put that one away too.’
‘After all those years, Chelsea were winners again!'
It was three years before we played another final but this time we were odds-on favourites up against a side who had just been relegated from the Premier League. Middlesbrough were the opponents for Ruud Gullit’s men and it was a game that the Blues immediately took charge of.
‘On the day of the final I had this wonderful feeling that we were going to win, that a trophy was coming to Chelsea for the first time in a quarter of a century,’ writes Wise.
‘It took just 43 seconds for us to know it was our cup. The early goal from Roberto Di Matteo just about killed Middlesbrough off. With four minutes to go Eddie Newton got the second and that was it.’
Another three years later at Wembley, Wise would take his own son up to lift the FA Cup but in 1997 he plucked a boy in blue out of the stands and treated him to the full post-match celebratory experience.
‘At the final whistle it was pure elation,’ he continued. ‘Everything flashed through my mind – the noise, the crowd, the colour. As I was going round with the cup, I went into the crowd and pulled out a kid of about 10.
‘His dad couldn’t believe it but the kid had his full Chelsea kit on and I wanted him to know what the pitch was like, what it is like to be among winners in the team he supported.
‘Not only had we won the FA Cup, we sensed there were better things ahead. After all those years of frustration, Chelsea were winners again and I knew, deep down, that this was just the start of something, not the end. Better things were coming. I just knew it.’
Written in 1999, that is certainly a prophetic line from our former skipper. The 1997 FA Cup win was our first major honour for 27 years; in the 23 years since then, Chelsea have claimed 20 domestic and European trophies!
Dennis Wise: The Autobiography was originally published by Boxtree in 1999.