Blues legends past and present recall Champions League triumphs at Annual Lunch

Thomas Tuchel, Cesar Azpilicueta, Petr Cech and Paulo Ferreira were among the special guests at this year’s Annual Lunch to share their memories of our two Champions League victories.

The regular event at Stamford Bridge returned in 2021 after being absent during the Covid-19 lockdown, with supporters and former players coming together to celebrate all things Chelsea.

‘It’s always nice to be back here at Chelsea when the club invite you to something like this,’ said 2000 FA Cup winner Gus Poyet. ‘It’s fantastic to be able to share a little bit of our stories with the fans and give something back to them.

‘It was great to see some of the other players too. I was sat on the same table as Scott Minto and I caught up with Michael Duberry who I played with for a few years and Eddie Niedzwiecki who I knew as a coach here. It’s always nice to see the ex-players, because you become friends but then you lose a little bit of contact, so this is a bit like a reunion.’

This year there was a German theme to the proceedings, including dancers welcoming the guests in traditional Bavarian dress, German food served throughout and even ‘Decemberfest’ decorations on the individual tables.

That was in honour of our head coach Tuchel and the role he played in bringing the Champions League trophy back to SW6, and the Munich venue for the first occasion we lifted that famous piece of silverware. Taking place 10 seasons since that first victory, both triumphs were being celebrated at the Annual Lunch, with the two trophies on prominent display at the front of the stage.

Azpilicueta, who had the honour of lifting the trophy in Porto as Chelsea captain, joined Tuchel on stage to relive his memories of the day in May we became two-time winners of Europe’s top club competition, particularly the moments just before and after the final whistle blew on our 1-0 win over Manchester City.

‘It was the longest six minutes of added time that I have had in my life, because you don’t know how long is left and they have obviously long balls,’ said Azpilicueta. ‘The last chance, that Mahrez took just off the bar, I remember I went to the floor and my heart stopped for a few seconds.

‘I think after that when Edou caught the ball and the referee blew the whistle, there were a lot of emotions going on. I can’t describe it but it was a very special feeling.

‘I don’t think anybody expected us to win it, but we believed, we fought really hard, we worked hard, and of course that night will be forever in my mind. Every time I see videos, photos, I still have this feeling, but you cannot live in the past. That is something that is done and of course we will fight to get the third one.’

Tuchel, who started by apologising for being underdressed in his club tracksuit and not being able to stay to join the fans for the rest of the party due to tomorrow’s match, had plenty of kind words to say about his skipper, saying he knew things would go well at Chelsea as soon as he met the Spaniard.

‘I had in January the talks with Marina, with Petr, which was nice. People picked me up from the airport, everything was organised, from end to end a nice club,’ he explained. ‘When I sat down in my new office, one of the first people to come in was Azpi.

‘He knocked at the door with a big smile and was a very open and humble character. Then you get a very warm feeling as a coach, that everything will be absolutely okay if this guy is the captain.’

Tuchel also revealed the fate of his lucky shoe, which he had been unable to wear when competing in the previous year’s Champions League final with Paris Saint-Germain as his leg was in a cast, but finally proved its value in Porto and was seen throughout the post-match celebrations.

‘I wanted to leave it in Porto actually, but two players took it out of the bin in the locker room and said I have to wear it again when we reach another Champions League final. I said I would think about it, so now it is in my garage.’

Our previous Champions League victory in 2012 was also remembered, as long-serving members of staff from behind the scenes explained what that triumph meant to the whole club via recorded video messages, before Cech and Ferreira took to the stage.

‘It’s a wonderful trophy,’ said Ferreira. ‘It’s a dream for every single player to win this trophy and it was fantastic coming to Chelsea and then winning it for these wonderful supporters.’

Cech also felt that the heartbreak we had suffered while trying to win the trophy for so long made the victory even sweeter: ‘I think we had suffered quite a lot in the previous years because we were always doing well in the league and then somehow we always had bad luck in the important moments of the Champions League.

‘We had lost the final in and I can tell you that is the worst feeling ever, especially the way we lost I in Moscow. But that season, in 2012, everything reversed and I’d even said to my wife in January that it was going to be our year in the Champions League.’

As ever, the Annual Lunch was about much more than what was taking place on the stage and those two victories, as shown when the event began by highlighting the great work done by the Chelsea Foundation, especially during the Covid-19 pandemic.

There was also a raffle and a silent auction to win some special Blues-themed prizes, with all the proceeds going to support the Chelsea Foundation and the Past Players’ Trust.

The day ended with a period of reflection, as former Chelsea winger Pat Nevin took to the stage to lead the tributes to the members of the Blues family we have lost since the last Annual Lunch, including club legends Peter Bonetti, Jimmy Greaves, John Sillett and Tommy Docherty, whose families were in attendance at Stamford Bridge.

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