Is there such a thing as a ‘friendly’ when the Blues take on our London rivals Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur? The upcoming Mind Series will put that to the test, but before then, here’s a reminder of some of our previous meetings with the north London duo when there was supposedly nothing at stake.
As any football supporter will know all too well, local bragging rights are a hugely important part of being a fan. For better and for worse…
Here at Chelsea, we’ve been able to enjoy that more often than not in our recent history – after all, we’ve finished as the highest-placed London side in 14 of the past 17 Premier League seasons. Then there’s the small matter of being the only side from the English capital to lift the Champions League trophy. Twice.
But does that sense of local pride go out the window when we meet any of our local rivals in a non-competitive fixture?
In the Premier League era, which is approaching 30 years, there haven’t actually been too many occasions when we’ve met Arsenal and Tottenham in friendly matches.
We can point to two games against the Gunners in that time, both of which took place within the last four years and away from London, with one of those matches even further from the capital than our Europa League final win in Baku in 2019.
That fixture took place in Beijing, in the summer of 2017, as the recently crowned Premier League champions put on a fantastic display to hammer Arsenal 3-0 at a packed Bird's Nest Stadium – attended by more than 55,000 supporters – thanks to Willian's opener and a Michy Batshuayi brace, the second of which was a wonderful strike from outside the penalty area.
A year later we met the Gunners a little closer to home, this time in Dublin’s Aviva Stadium, as part of the International Champions Cup. On that occasion, however, the two sides played out a 1-1 draw, as a last-gasp Alexandre Lacazette goal cancelled out Toni Rudiger’s early opener, before we were beaten on penalties. Petr Cech was the Arsenal hero in the penalty shoot-out – just as he had been six years earlier in Munich, as a Chelsea player, when the stakes were a little higher.
Prior to that, you have to go back to the Seventies and Eighties for our other post-war friendly matches against the Gunners, two of which were testimonial games for Chelsea stalwarts, as John Hollins and Micky Droy’s careers were celebrated.
That moves us on nicely to our most recent friendly against Tottenham, which took place 26 years ago and was a benefit match for our legendary striker Kerry Dixon, who had famously been let go by Spurs at the start of his career after coming through their youth team.
This game took place not in the summer, but in late March, during an international break, which wasn’t uncommon at the time due to the relatively small number of overseas internationals playing in the Premier League at that time.
The Chelsea starting XI, aside from the man of the hour, was almost exclusively made up of current first-team players in Glenn Hoddle’s squad, but at half-time they made way for a number of Chelsea legends, including Eddie Niedzwiecki, John Bumstead, Pat Nevin and Paul Canoville.
Fittingly, Dixon got on the scoresheet, but the game will be remembered by most who attended it for the sight of goalkeeper Dave Beasant, on as an outfield substitute for the last 10 minutes, scoring in a 5-1 victory!
‘Whenever there were charity games or testimonials I was always playing out on pitch and, funnily enough, one of the only times I did it at the Bridge was in Kerry's testimonial,’ he recalled in an interview for Chelsea magazine. ‘I smashed one in with my left foot, it was a cracking goal! I celebrated down at the Matthew Harding end.
‘I actually played out on pitch in my youth career, up until the age of 16, centre-forward – all goalkeepers want to be centre-forwards!’
Two years before that, there was a rather more traditional hero when we faced Spurs in the final of the pre-season Makita International Trophy, which was an annual summer tournament held in England each year between 1988 and 1994.
We’d beaten Ajax and Spurs saw off Lazio to earn our place in the decider in 1993, which took place at White Hart Lane. There was also the added spice of Tottenham legend Glenn Hoddle having recently taken the job as our new player-manager.
What followed was a complete dismantling of the home side in front of their own supporters, as we hammered them 4-0. New signing Gavin Peacock scored a wonderful diving header, but the star of the show was undoubtedly Tony Cascarino, who scored a hat-trick on what proved to be his finest day in blue.
‘The highlight of my time at Chelsea was the fans singing my name at White Hart Lane after that game,’ he told the Chelsea matchday programme. ‘I’d gone through a sticky patch and I worked really hard in the summer when Glenn first joined. I got myself the fittest I could and there was a lot of feeling that I might not make it as a Chelsea striker at that time, but I started the season really well.’
The only other friendly against Spurs to have taken place within the last 50 years was another testimonial game, this time for centre-back Colin Pates, who after skippering the Blues went on to play for Arsenal.
That game finished 0-0 – and it’s safe to say we’ll all be hoping for a bit more drama when the top three London clubs get together over the next week or so…