Eight years ago today, Chelsea were in the German capital for what would turn out to be probably the greatest night in the club’s history.
After the misery of rain-soaked Moscow, the heartbreak of semi-final near-misses and the most incredible route to the Champions League final, many believed that the footballing gods were finally on our side. We were taking on Bayern Munich in their own city, their own stadium, but everything just seemed to be going our way.
Frank Lampard was captain on 19 May 2012 in Munich in John Terry’s absence and, as we prepare to relive that brilliant night in Bavaria with a special Watch Party tonight, our former number eight has been reminiscing about the memorable 2011/12 European adventure.
‘It was the best night of my footballing life without a doubt, just an incredible night,’ said Lampard about the final. ‘For so many years, we’d been trying to win the Champions League – we’d lost a final, lost semi-finals and it felt like the last chance for the group because we were all getting a bit older.
‘The year was tough. When you look back now, you struggle to believe the story. We didn’t do so great in the league, we had some issues. We were struggling against Napoli [in the last-16] looking like we were on the verge of going out, struggling against Barcelona on the verge of going out. There were so many sub-plots to what became the most beautiful year in Chelsea’s history.’
The perilous journey had really begun in the knockout round in February when Andre Villas-Boas made some bold selection decisions ahead of our trip to Italy to take on Napoli.
‘It was tough and actually now doing the job that I do, I understand it would have been tough for the manager as well because it was a difficult situation,’ recalls Lampard. ‘I’d been a regular for quite a long time at Chelsea but I was out of the team, Ashley Cole didn’t play on the night either and looking back I was disappointed.
‘We’d had quite a lot of consistency in terms of the core of the team and when that starts to change, it brings a little bit of a nervousness with it. Going into the game, you could see why it went the wrong way for us - it was such a tough atmosphere, we weren’t solid and that showed up in the next few weeks as well.’
The return three weeks later will go down as one of the great nights at Stamford Bridge. With Villas-Boas’s assistant Roberto Di Matteo in charge of the side on a caretaker basis at that point, we staged an unlikely comeback to seal a place in the quarter-finals, aided by what Lampard remembers was an influential home crowd.
‘Any Chelsea fan would tell you that was one of the great nights at Stamford Bridge,’ he said. ‘Robbie was great in the interim period, he spoke to all the players individually and garnered a spirit between us and a feeling that we could do it.
‘That squad over those years showed a lot of spirit at different times when it was needed and that came down to big personalities. We all stepped up that night with the help of an amazing crowd.’
After dispatching Benfica in the quarter-final with wins at home and away, then came Barcelona and a trip to the Camp Nou with a slender 1-0 lead. The momentum quickly shifted in the Catalans’ favour when Terry was sent off and they established an aggregate advantage but famous Chelsea goals from Ramires and Fernando Torres somehow saw us emerge victorious. Lampard’s memories of that night contrast from despair to delight.
‘When we went 2-0 down with 10 men, I actually thought this could be the worst night of my footballing life,’ he admitted. ‘I was thinking this could be towards double figures! When Ramires scored just before half-time, that changed our feeling. I played him in and I think it was the only time I’d got into the Barcelona half in the first half.
‘In the second half, we hardly got past our own 18-yard box. You couldn’t get up to people because when you got up to [Andres] Iniesta, he’d just go past you so we just had to hope we could get bodies in the way and keep shuffling. We had a couple of moments where we got a breather but it was a real dig-in scenario.
‘It’s easy to say now but when things seem to come together and you win a game you have no right to win, you do start to believe. Fernando Torres had some difficult times before but then gets that special moment for himself. There was a great feeling after that game - big celebrations because it’s a semi-final but at the same time we had a feeling that this could be the one.’
That proved to be the case in Munich almost a month later, though not before a Herculean effort from a Chelsea side without the suspended Terry and Branislav Ivanovic among others, with David Luiz and Gary Cahill barely half-fit. Marginal gains can often prove pivotal on the biggest of stages and a caring touch from the man in charge on the morning of the game sticks vividly in Lampard’s mind.
‘We were very aware of being big underdogs and we knew we were missing huge players, namely John as the captain but other big players too. I remember what Robbie Di Matteo did on the morning of the game and it’s been documented a little bit but we had a pre-game meeting and he actually had video of all our family members sending notes saying well done and good luck.
‘We all sat there and it was tear after tear, emotional moment after emotional moment in the room and I thought it was an amazing piece of team management.’
Lampard admits that wasn’t the main reason the team won the game but it clearly had an impact on the players. One man whose impact that day will live forever in Chelsea folklore is Didier Drogba, with his stunning header late in the day and then that iconic spot-kick paving the way for our glory. Lampard recalls the Ivorian’s absolute focus and self-confidence in the days leading up to the final.
‘As a team, we had something about us,’ he went on. ‘We kept fighting and obviously we had the king, the man who produced - Didier Drogba. He did it time and again throughout his career and he came up with a header that I don’t think another player in world football could have done, then got the winning penalty himself.
‘I remember particularly in the run-up to the final that Didier became a different person for those big games. In the warm-up, it was like he was caged and ready to go. You could see it and you knew he had the ability to do it. He was confident in that and that confidence rubbed off on people around him.’
After a gruelling 120 minutes in which the two sides could not be separated, it came down to penalties, just as it had done four years previously in Moscow. Lampard converted that night in Russia, in normal time as well as the shoot-out, and he was flawless from 12 yards again in Munich, dispatching his effort straight down the middle.
‘I was really nervous,’ he admits. ‘[Manuel] Neuer looked huge in the goal - he put his arms out and almost touched each post. I thought either side he’s probably going to get there if he chooses right so I’m going straight for his face and hope that he moves out the way.
‘I never really felt the crowd at that point personally. I just felt the pressure of the situation. It does become a little bit about you at that moment because as much as you want to win that game, you also don’t want to be the man who misses. Individually it’s a really hard one to describe. I’ve had success and failures - it’s one thing in retirement that I certainly don’t miss!’
After Drogba buried his effort into the bottom corner, Lampard remembers only one thing – chaos.
‘It was chaos because it was so many years of trying. The spirit that we had within the group and the fact we’d almost been written off, it all came together. We went down to the Chelsea fans at the other end and it was the biggest party ever. There were days of partying!’
Famously, Terry joined the on-pitch celebrations in his full kit but Lampard insists after so much effort and heartache striving for European football’s top prize over the years, the skipper had no need to justify what he was wearing.
‘If there was one man at the football club at the time who deserved that moment it was John because he was the one fighting all along the way. When we had the home leg against Barcelona, it was him sticking his body on the line and we managed to win 1-0 when we should probably have lost 3-1 or 4-1.
‘John was the one trying to do it for years and years, he came through the Academy and loved the club. It’s just the modern day of social media, people wanting to jump on anything. Here was a bloke who’s been captain trying to win that Champions League for years - he can wear what he wants!’
The memories are clearly etched in Lampard’s memory, although he claims there is just one part of those post-match celebrations that he would go back and change now if he had the chance – the trophy lift.
‘It was incredible - the walk up the stairs and then I saw the owner, the man who has changed the face of this club. It was great to see his face. I tried to lift the cup but everyone was jumping across me. If I could go back again, I would get everyone out the way and say “JT, come here, let me and you do it”.
‘The best thing was when we went into the dressing room afterwards. Everyone was in there and then you start dealing with people who have gone along the way with you like masseurs and kitmen. The owner came in, the beers were out, Didier has got the cup and doing a bit of a speech. Those are really special moments.’
The #CFCWatchParty takes place tonight right here on the official Chelsea website from 8pm UK time. The video action will begin from the 80th minute of the final, when the score was 0-0 and with all the key action about to explode onto the screen. Click here for more information