Young midfielder Billy Gilmour, who today penned a new long-term Blues contract, became our first Scottish debutant for 14 years. Can you remember the other players from north of the border who made their maiden Chelsea appearance since 1990?
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For much of our history, Scotland has provided Chelsea with some wonderful players. Charlie Cooke and Pat Nevin are among an elite group of multiple Player of the Year award winners at the Bridge, and the prize has also been won by David Speedie – born in England but a Scotland international – and Steve Clarke.
There are plenty of others, such as John Tait Robertson, who was the first Blues boss in a role he combined with playing; Hughie Gallacher and his fellow Wembley Wizards, Tommy Law and Alex Jackson; Chic Thomson, who played much of our first title-winning season between the sticks; legendary full-back, and later inspirational manager, Eddie McCreadie. We could keep on going…
In recent times, however, the number of Scots to break into the first-team set-up at Stamford Bridge have been thin on the ground. In fact, Gilmour became the first to make his debut for the club since 2005, when Steven Watt started our 3-1 victory over Scunthorpe United in the FA Cup third round.
The centre-half had come up through the youth ranks at Chelsea and showed the requisite rugged qualities considered to be essential for a Premier League defender in that era. Alas, he made just a further appearance, as a 90th minute sub, before moving on and dropping down the leagues. He counts Grimsby, our next Carabao Cup opponents, among his former clubs and is now manager of non-league Hythe Town in Kent.
Prior to Watt, you have to go back another eight years to find another Scottish debutant: Steven Hampshire. Just like his namesake, his chance came in a cup competition – this time the League Cup – as he came on as a substitute for Mark Hughes in a penalty shoot-out win over Blackburn Rovers.
We went on to lift the trophy later that season under Gianluca Vialli, but that was good as it got for Hampshire at the Bridge, as he returned north of the border, enjoying the best spell of his career with Brechin City of the second tier.
Four years earlier we had two Scottish debutants, one of which was Andy Dow, who had the honour of being one of the first signings of the Glenn Hoddle era that helped awaken a club which was long considered a sleeping giant of English football.
The full-back was a Scotland Under-21 international and he made 18 appearances in all for the Blues, including a pair of 1-0 home wins over Manchester United and Liverpool. However, while the club went from strength to strength, Dow found himself out of favour. He later finished on the losing side in both the Scottish League Cup and Scottish Cup finals in 2000 with Aberdeen, while Chelsea lifted the FA Cup that year.
David Hopkin was our other Scottish debutant in 1993 and he went on to make 46 appearances for the Blues over the next two years, although almost half of them were from the subs bench. With the likes of Dennis Wise, Gavin Peacock and Eddie Newton ahead of him in the pecking order, it was little surprise he struggled to make an impression.
However, unlike those Scots who debuted after him, Hopkin established himself as a Premier League player with Crystal Palace – for whom he netted a memorable, last-gasp play-off final winner – Leeds United and Bradford City. He now manages hometown team Greenock Morton.
Prior to that, in 1992, we signed a pair of Scottish players ahead of the maiden Premier League season. Robert Fleck came in for a club-record fee for Norwich City, having once earned a standing ovation from the Shed End for scoring a wonder goal against us; John Spencer, meanwhile, was a promising youngster signed from Rangers as one from the future.
While Fleck failed to live up to his billing, scoring just four times in 48 appearances for the club, Spenny became a huge fans’ favourite, forming one half of what was at the time – with English football still very much enamoured by the trappings of long-ball football – a rather unconventional ‘little and little’ strike pairing with Mark Stein.
He played a crucial role in our run to the 1994 FA Cup final and the following season scored one of our all-time great European goals with a lung-busting effort against Austria Memphis in the Cup Winners’ Cup which saw him run the length of the pitch before finishing smartly. Many of his 43 goals, which came from 137 appearances, were high-quality efforts too, and he later became a big star in MLS with Colorado Rapids. He also enjoyed coaching success Stateside.
Fleck, meanwhile, never recaptured his best form, but he spoke fondly of his relationship with Blues supporters in an interview which appeared in the Chelsea programme a few years back. At the time he was working as a teaching assistant at a school for children with complex needs.
Our final two Scottish debutants both made their bow for the Blues in 1991 and later went on to play a part in the Tartan Army’s last appearance at a major international tournament at the World Cup in 1998.
Tom Boyd was a full-back who some of you may remember for scoring an own goal in the opening match of that competition in Scotland’s narrow defeat against Brazil. He appeared just 32 times from full-back for the Blues, but enjoyed far more success during his time with Celtic, where he captained them to several major honours.
Craig Burley also had a moment to forget at France ’98 after being sent-off in Scotland’s must-win final group game defeat to Morocco, although that had come after he scored the equaliser in the previous match against Norway.
He enjoyed plenty of bright moments during his 137 appearances for Chelsea, including playing in an FA Cup semi-final win over Wimbledon – which came a year after his errant back pass had cost us in the last four of the competition against Manchester United. However, he left the club after missing out on the squad for our triumph over Middlesbrough at Wembley and was named Scottish Football Writers’ Association Player of the Year at the end of his first season at Celtic. He’s now a pundit for ESPN in the States.