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2020 Vision – looking back at unusual Chelsea year

We run through the past 12 months’ achievements, campaigns and initiatives at the club that took place despite circumstances well beyond our control…

For once, even the most ardent Chelsea fan is unlikely to claim football dominated in 2020, as in common with the rest of the planet, the pandemic had a massive impact on the club’s year.

Matches ceased, then after a long break resumed but without supporters in the stadiums. Then, very briefly, fans were back in limited numbers before, to everyone’s disappointment, we were quickly back to how the game has become this year but how it should not be.

Despite the major disruption in 2020, there were still successes and even when no football was played, Chelsea Football Club was active, especially in projects to help communities and the COVID response.

Here, as we look forward to a hopefully better 2021 for us all, we recall a selection of Chelsea achievements and activities over the past calendar year as we bid it goodbye.  

When Olivier Giroud put the finishing touch to a 4-0 win over Everton back in early March, it would prove to be the last goal scored by a Chelsea player for over 100 days. London went under lockdown.

The players maintained their fitness by working individually at home, with no timeframe available for any return to normal training or playing, and away from the pitch other energy and resources were put towards the wider effort.

To help with the medical response to coronavirus, the National Health Service (NHS) accepted the club’s offer to make hotels at Stamford Bridge available for NHS staff who were working long shifts and had difficult commutes. The initiative came from club owner Roman Abramovich.

This was augmented by the provision of over 100,000 free meals to the NHS and charities that support elderly and vulnerable groups.

Players made their own contributions to the pandemic response, some in their homelands away from the UK, and another major focus of the club’s effort was joining forces with UK charity Refuge. The aim was to raise awareness and valuable funds to support women and children experiencing domestic abuse during the pandemic. At the end of the year Refuge thanked the club and our supporters (many of whom had donated season ticket refunds) for over £500,000 raised.

The club also supported an emergency appeal from our global charity partner Plan International to help protect the world's most vulnerable children from the virus.

Chelsea players and Frank Lampard were involved in video calls reaching out to key workers and isolated people and the Chelsea Foundation was very active online, supporting many of its usual projects including with online learning workbooks and virtual soccer school videos.

Last season - the first stage

On the pitch, shortly before the lockdown, highlights had been a home win over Tottenham (which completed our first league double over them since 2005/06) with Giroud and Marcos Alonso on the scoresheet, and the knocking out of eventual league champions Liverpool from the FA Cup, with Willian and a Ross Barkley belter on target in that one.

Happily, there was just time before the season ground to a halt for Chelsea Women to lay hands on silverware. In their last game before the pause, two Bethany England goals, the second deep into stoppage time, secured victory over Arsenal and for the first time for Emma Hayes’ side, the Conti Cup. Before they kicked a ball again, they were also declared Women’s Super League champions – the season terminated in June and decided on a points-per-game basis. The £100,000 prize money was donated to Refuge.

England was duly voted the WSL’s Player of the Year and Hayes the Manager of the Year.

The Cobham pitches lay empty for most of March and all of April, with training eventually resuming there for the men’s team on 19 May. Before one of the training sessions at the start of June, the players took a knee and formed the letter H for Humans in reaction to the shocking death of George Floyd in the United States. Captain Cesar Azpilicueta stated: ‘Racism has to be eradicated from society and we have to play our part’. It would become a regular show of support when games resumed.

Chelsea’s Say No to Antisemitism campaign continued to play a major part in promoting equality. Among the activities, a commemorative mural of Jewish football players and British POWs was painted on the West Stand by street artist Solomon Souza. The players were all sent to Nazi camps during World War Two and the mural unveiling in January marked the 75th anniversary of the Liberation of Auschwitz.

There was a partnership with the RAF Museum to raise awareness about Jewish personnel in the RAF during the Second World War and the vital role they played, and another exhibition was launched about Jewish athletes who were victims of the Holocaust.

Chelsea FC went on to achieve the Premier League’s Equality Advanced Standard. We were given the highest level a club can receive by an independent panel which considered equality and diversity across all areas of our business, including the work of the Chelsea Foundation.

There was still a season to complete but with Chelsea back in the transfer market, moves were already being made for the campaign to follow and having already secured a deal to sign Hakim Ziyech back in February, another was now agreed in June to bring in Timo Werner.


Project Restart

At the height of midsummer, the Premier League season resumed, surely in itself an achievement, especially as it was then completed on time according to the new schedule.

The top of the table was already out of reach for Frank Lampard’s young squad so the priority now was making sure the club qualified for next season’s Champions League, and there were a few strong rivals for the top-four places still up for grabs.

There was a good start for Chelsea with victory at Villa and then at home to Man City, a Chelsea match that not for the first time decided the outcome of the title. We remained strong at home and despite some hiccups away along the path, duly secured fourth place by beating Wolves at Stamford Bridge in the last league game of 2019/20. Giroud, who had been in sharp goalscoring form after the restart, and Mason Mount with a lovely free-kick, scored.

The stretched-out season had also allowed Willian to claim the unexpected record of being the first player to score a Premier League goal in every calendar month.

The Blues beat Man United well at Wembley to reach our 14th FA Cup final but although another player on the top of his game in that period, Christian Pulisic, put the Blues ahead against Arsenal, injuries and decisions were against us and we lost 2-1.

By that stage, Chelsea were already playing regularly in the home kit we wear in 20/21. At the start of July, a new partnership with mobile network Three as our principal shirt sponsor began so a fresh era of Chelsea kits began then.

Also in July, there was innovation with the launch of Blue Fuel, a professional-grade sports nutrition service by Chelsea Digital Ventures (CDV), a digital-first business spun out of Chelsea FC. This was soon followed by Perfect Play, an app housing the world’s most sophisticated football training methods.


Awards and milestones

For the Chelsea Academy’s development squad, the league season ended in similar style to the Women, with the incomplete campaign settled on points-per-game and Chelsea, managed by Andy Myers, declared champions.

Long-term achievement for our Academy, which was particularly in focus with the impact it was having on the men’s first team squad, was recognised by the honouring by the Premier League of our head of youth development, Neil Bath. He was given the Eamonn Dolan Award as a recognition of his exceptional work with young players at the club.

In March, Armando Broja became 2020’s addition to the long list of Academy graduates who made first team debuts.

During the year there was competition success in the Academy from Under-9s upwards, with Premier League national and international tournaments won at ages those are played. For the Under-18s, having missed out on making the FA Youth Cup final for the first time in eight years in 2018/19, they were back in 2020’s delayed decider at St George’s Park but lost out to a late Man City goal.

Away from the pitch, the Academy’s full-time school for standard education sits in the top 10 per cent of target grades attained nationally. That’s above the Premier League average and the average for boys across the country.

The full-stop was added to the 2019/20 season with the announcement of the Chelsea award winners. Mateo Kovacic was voted our men’s Player of the Year, Fikayo Tomori won Goal of the Season for his strike at Wolves (scored in 2019), Beth England won the Women’s player award and Billy Gilmour was the Academy Player of the Year.

For Lampard’s squad, there was a mere 37 days between the final game of last season and the first of this one. The recruitment for 20/21 continued with the signings of Thiago Silva, fresh from the Champions League final, Ben Chilwell, Kai Havertz and Edouard Mendy.

There was a headline-making one among the signings for the Women’s squad with Pernille Harder, the UEFA Player of the Year, moving to London. At the end of this year, the Dane was in the final three nominations for FIFA’s Best Women’s Player award and Hayes was in the final three for Best Women’s Coach. Sophie Ingle was one of the nominations for the Puskas Award for best goal.

Hayes’s team picked up their third trophy of 2020 when the new season began, beating Man City in the Community Shield, and in the league they broke the club record for number of games undefeated.

On the international stage in autumn, Reece James became the latest Chelsea player to appear for England and in contrast, Giroud won his 100th cap for France and became Les Bleus’ second-highest scorer.

As an epoch-making 2020 drew to a close, the centre-forward also became the first Chelsea player to score four goals in a game since Frank Lampard. Giroud’s came away in Seville as the team cruised into the Champions League knockout stages.

Among other landmarks in 2020, the now departed Pedro reached 200 appearances while Drew Spence reached 200 for the Women and Emma Hayes managed in her 200th game in January. Eleven months later Fran Kirby became Chelsea Women’s all-time leading goalscorer, surpassing Eni Aluko’s 68 goals.

Those game totals were dwarfed a month ago however when Chelsea played our 1000th men’s competitive fixture under the ownership of Roman Abramovich.

It had taken a few months longer than anticipated a year ago to reach that landmark, but reach that landmark we did!

 

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