Petr Cech column: The best atmospheres I played in

In the week that a major legislative change was made enabling supporters to stand safely at football matches in England, Petr Cech reflects on the impact the crowd had during his playing days and recalls some of the most memorable atmospheres he was a part of…

It’s good news Chelsea will be one of the first clubs to adopt licensed safe standing in England next year. It has come from the fans, it’s what they have asked for because they feel it’s better as they are standing anyway. It makes the fan experience better for them and gives them more choice.

Learning to cope on the biggest stage

Historically people have sat down to the side of the pitch and stood up behind the goal, so I was used to having fans stood up behind me. I could hear the atmosphere behind me and around me. When you go to pick the ball up for the goal-kick when the ball goes out, you notice the people standing in your face. Of course, you have the famous chant when a goalkeeper takes a goal-kick! That’s something that is part of football.

But my focus was on the pitch. I always found it quite easy to shut out the fans and concentrate on what was happening on the pitch. Since I was 14, I found my way to lock in on the pitch and get on with things that are in the boundary of the pitch.

Of course, you hear the atmosphere and whether the fans are loud or not, and you hear the individual shouts that stand out during a quiet moment, but it’s mainly the overall atmosphere you feel when you are on the pitch.

After a while you get to know the specific atmosphere of individual stadiums. I always loved to play at Portsmouth. Although it was one of the ‘worst’ stadiums in the league with the worst pitch - there was a huge bump in the goalmouth, like a hill you had to run up when a cross came from one side to the other - the atmosphere was always great. There was the drum, the fans never stopped supporting their team. It had a particular charm.

'It was like standing next to a plane!'

photo of Petr Cech Petr Cech

Then you have bigger stadiums with 80 or 90 thousand people. Wembley was unreal. For occasions like the FA Cup final, the atmosphere was electric. These are the games you always enjoy.

Overall, since I came to England, I have to say I have enjoyed every ground. People here are passionate about football, and they love coming and supporting their team.

European nights under the lights

When it comes to the best atmospheres I remember at Stamford Bridge, I always loved the Champions League when you reached the knockout stages. The atmosphere also rose. Everybody knew it was about one tie, whereas in the league you had another 37 games. This creates a certain anxiety and tension in the air.

On those Champions League nights, you could feel it. I remember the games at home to Barcelona and Bayern Munich in 2005, my first knockout home games at Chelsea. It was only the third season in the club’s history we had reached the knockout stage. Big teams coming to play big games – it was so exciting and made the occasion even more special.

When you play a very early game, at midday say, some people might still be sleeping from the night out! You could sometimes feel people hadn’t really woken up, but at big games it does not matter what time you play. You always have that same feeling.

Shutting out the whistles

The noise from the crowd often affected me communicating with my defence. Sometimes at a quiet moment in a game when things are not bringing the crowd in, you might be able to speak to the people who are 40 yards away, but when it comes to the crunch time and the atmosphere is electric and you have 50,000 people at the stadium, people can’t hear you when you are 15 yards away. That makes it a bit more complicated.

There was a game we played at Galatasaray in the last 16 in 2014 when Didier was there. They had this habit of whistling when the opposition team had the ball. Literally 55,000 people whistling at the same time. You can imagine how loud the whistles resonated around the stadium. It was like standing next to a plane. You know people 15 yards away have no clue what you’re saying, so you have to adjust to that. Communication had to be very wise. There was no point screaming!

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