The next instalment in our series of interviews with some of Chelsea’s most noteworthy goalkeepers over the past few decades is Frode Grodas, who was our keeper when we won the FA Cup on this day in 1997.
The former Norway international appeared in only 27 matches during his brief time as a Blue, but his place in the club’s history books was assured when he kept a clean sheet in the FA Cup final as we defeated Middlesbrough to lift the trophy for only the second time.
Grodas was coming up to the age of 32 when he joined us from Lillestrom in the autumn of 1996, as Ruud Gullit looked to strengthen his goalkeeping ranks. That season, however, the Dutchman used five different keepers, which is a club record, before finally settling on Grodas for the big one.
It proved to be the final game he would play for the club, as he lost his place to new arrival Ed de Goey before moving across London to join Tottenham Hotspur midway through the 1997/98 campaign.
Here are some of the best bits from an interview the team at Chelsea magazine conducted with Grodas back in 2014.
What sticks out in your mind about the 1997 FA Cup final against Middlesbrough?
That I thought I wasn’t going to play in it! We took on Everton in the last game before the final and I got a red card. My first thought was that, because of how the disciplinary procedures worked in Norway, I was going to miss the cup final. I was completely broken; I was crying when I went into the dressing room.
Luckily for me, things worked a little bit differently in England at that time and the suspension didn’t come in straight away. I only found out in the evening when we were coming back to London on the bus. The players saw I was a little bit down, we talked about it – and then I just shouted out because I was so, so happy.
In the build-up to the game, you are in the hotel and that keeps you away from the pressure of it. But when you arrive at the stadium and you see blue everywhere you look, it hits you. And it’s at that point, when I was in the tunnel, that I had a thought: “Don’t mess it up today! If I do that, I’ll have to move back to Norway, into the fjords, and find a cabin to stay in for the rest of my life.” That was the last thought I had before going onto the pitch; luckily I didn’t mess it up!
It was a dream start with Robbie [Di Matteo] scoring in the first minute…
I knew we were the better team and I just had a feeling in the dressing room that it was going to be our day – I think it was when I looked over at Sparky Mark Hughes and he was eating some stones and ripping parts of the wall out [laughs]… I just knew we had a great team and I had a feeling it was going to be a blue day. That early goal just backed that up.
The celebrations after the game went on almost as long as the final itself, didn’t they?
Yeah, and I remember wearing the Viking helmet all that time. I gave Ruud Gullit a hug – I never did it before or after that day! All of the joy, the screaming – you just don’t know what to do with yourself. There are so many feelings throughout the day. It’s something to remember for the rest of your life, you have to store a picture of it all in your memory.
I have the game on DVD and I’ve seen it a couple of times. My son has also watched it with me, but he gets furious when I remind him that he had the chance to go to the final. Instead, he chose to stay home! He regrets that. I think he was only six years old and he was playing football in the garden with his mate Jack. That was his FA Cup final and Wembley Stadium…
Check out the 1997 retro range
Then you went off to Mayfair to celebrate – is it true Pele was at the same hotel?
Yeah, he was there. I spoke to him because his son was also a goalkeeper, so I gave him some good training exercises!
Were you prepared for what the streets of Fulham would be like during the open-top bus parade?
That was something I didn’t know about. We had a couple of beers to celebrate, maybe a couple of beers too much because I had a bit of a headache, and I couldn’t understand why we had to go on this bus. And there was no people there – it was completely dead. Then you turn the corner to get onto the Fulham Road and there is just an ocean of people. I soon realised why we were on this bus. That’s how big this cup is!
Had you grown up supporting Chelsea yourself?
I wasn’t a Chelsea fan, no. I didn’t support any team – I was a Peter Shilton fan. I got his shirt in 1972 and I just followed him. He moved around to many clubs so I didn’t have a favourite. Just him!
I got the chance to meet him on a TV programme in Norway when he was having a bit of fun about God’s hand with Diego Maradona. He played this scene out in Lillestrom and I had a chance to talk to him. I have only ever taken two autographs in my time – from him and from Maradona! I forgot to get one from Pele. I blame that on the English beer!
You’ve become a goalkeeper coach in your post-playing career. Was Eddie Niedzwiecki the first one you had ever worked under when you came here, or had there been others in Norway?
I’d had goalkeeper coaches, yes, but not like Eddie. At that time he was the first I’d worked with who really structured the goalkeeper work and had a clear direction with what he was doing. In the second year, when I didn’t play and the World Cup in France was on the horizon, he was very important for me. I really appreciated him. He was a great guy and I’d love to see him again.
Eddie was a great goalkeeper here. He won the Player of the Year award in the same season he suffered his career-ending injury.
Yeah, that’s right. Oh yeah, he told us once or twice [laughs]…
Your Premier League debut for the Blues came in a game against Blackburn Rovers which also saw another player make his bow for the Blues – a certain Gianfranco Zola, wearing a shirt three sizes too big for him! Did you have any idea how great he was going to be?No, I didn’t. One of my friends had played with Zola and was telling me what a great player he was and I had been impressed by a few small Italian players so I thought he might be an okay player. But I quickly had to change that opinion – he was incredible. And he was a great personality and a good friend to me. I’ve probably never seen a player as professional as him. The way he worked; he was focused, concentrated. He developed all the time. Just a fantastic player.
He was also teetotal. But at his first Christmas party, I heard he was chased by you and Erland Johnsen, armed with a bottle of vodka…No, it was not vodka. It was cognac! But he didn’t drink it. We really tried because we thought it would be good for his muscles – it would help him grow. He didn’t agree! It’s a funny story, though. I didn’t even know he didn’t drink. It took him a while to trust me after that!
Speaking of Erland, what’s your take on the penalty he won against Leicester City in that FA Cup run in 1997? Foxes boss Martin O’Neill wasn’t too impressed with the big man.I think he lost his balance [laughs] – he’s a big guy so it’s quite easy for that to happen. At that time, Stamford Bridge’s pitch wasn’t as flat as it is now so it could happen to anyone…
Leicester at that time was a great team, very physical. I remember having a crash with [Ian] Marshall, a real crash! It was a tough game. So when you struggle and you manage to get through that with a goal in the last minutes, it’s fantastic.
I remember Steve Clarke, in the shower, telling us, “We’re going to win the FA Cup this year.” He really believed it and it gave us all so much confidence. He was so convincing. He said a lot of things you wouldn’t always listen to, but at that minute it was something which burned into us. And he was right.
This was the sixth part of our Hands On series. The first explored the modern history of Chelsea goalkeeping and the mentality needed to make it as the last line of defence, which was followed by interviews with Kevin Hitchcock, Eddie Niedzwiecki, Ed de Goey and Tony Godden. We’ll be back soon with the thoughts of another former Blues goalkeeper.