Having returned from Baku in good spirits and with tales to tell, Chelsea legend Pat Nevin looks back on a season which ended in silverware…
Finally the season has ended, the dust has settled and I think most fans realise it was a pretty good journey in comparison with how it was being viewed throughout much of the campaign. A European trophy, a cup final and third in the league with a spot in the first pot of next season’s Champions League to boot, it cannot really in all conscience be considered in the negative.For most clubs it would be thought of as an era-defining time but of course the standards at Chelsea are incredibly high during the Roman era. So it all depends on your perspective to be honest, longer-standing fans understand this is still a very special time at the club.Right now Spurs, Arsenal and Manchester United would happily swap positions, as would every club below them in England. How about abroad? Would Real Madrid or PSG be seen as more successful this season than Chelsea? The point is that the English game is in one of its real high points historically, all four European semi-finalists were from the Premier League and if you could have squeezed another team into that group it probably would have been Manchester City.
So third is pretty good in the league but the abiding memory will be the thumping of Arsenal in Baku. As it was against one of our London neighbours there was an extra piquancy to the win and the manner of it. There have been some downsides to this season of course and being Chelsea we would love to be at the very top of the league and challenging in the Champions League latter stages, but it must be considered in the light of it being another transitional season. The new manager and new system have certainly got pass marks in my book, although not every week and I certainly understand and accept this is not the viewpoint from everyone in the media or indeed within our own support all the time.That is the nature of football these days at the top end and I accept if you don’t strive for the very top there is absolutely no chance of you getting there anyway. I have no idea what next season will hold but I am certainly not fearful or not as fearful as some. The club has gone through many huge changes and still continues to win trophies. As I write there is no definitive resolution to the Eden Hazard situation, but I urge fans to remember how we felt when Frank Lampard left the club, how on earth do you replace him, his influence and his goals? Somehow you move on and if Eden does leave, painful though it may be, then we will manage not by replacing him, how could you? We didn’t replace Frank; we just did it in a different way.
Talking of enduring memories from the season, you have to consider some of the many world-class moments Eden provided yet again. Yes, our Belgian magician scored some of the greatest goals ever for Chelsea Football Club but as a player who got by on skill myself, there were countless dribbles, midfield jinks and tricks that didn’t lead to goals which pleased me as much as any of the high-profile and much repeated highlights. The hackneyed old phrase ‘his skills alone are worth the admission fee’ could not be truer in his case. Eden has been a joy to watch but I think he will have had as much joy himself with the way he was loved by the fans and the freedom he was given. With some experience I can say, even though the grass sometimes looks greener elsewhere, often it isn’t. Just a thought Eden!I am so happy Eden and everyone else had such a brilliant game in Baku. It is not often that everyone has an 8/10 or 9/10 performance in such a high-profile match, but everyone did. Of course it would have been a joy if more true Blues fans from the UK could have been there, that is a given, but the positives were there for all to see even on the TV.I was of course one of the lucky ones to have headed out to Baku for Chelsea TV in the last big hurrah for the channel in its current form, and I would like to say here that I thought they did a fantastic job throughout. Anyone watching on the channel will have seen the passion and the excitement close up. Poor Gigi wasn’t able to be there but Sam Matterface, Chelsea to the core and Jason Cundy, an uber fan above anything else, helped convey to Blues fans what it meant and what it felt like to be there. Just as importantly all those behind the scenes too numerous to mention all went above and beyond the call of duty. Thanks to them for making it a memorable experience.There was an interesting cross over-moment which I would urge any Chelsea fan to watch, except the fact that it also involves yours truly. Afterwards Jason and I stood in the mixed zone as the players came out to get some interviews and the players were brilliant, stopping for a chat and a laugh. Filmed for Chelsea TV you can see it below and it really is worth a watch as the players’ excitement, happiness and most importantly their personalities shine through.
Being on the other side of that barrier for the first time was interesting but a whole bunch of fun too, though I suspect it would not be as bright and breezy had we lost! Flying there and back on the club flight was rather fun too but like any fan travelling it was the small moments during the trip that also will stick in the memory.Meeting all the fans down by the Caspian Sea the day before, with red and blue mixing easily was a grand few hours. On this occasion it was a chance for fans from all over the planet, who would never usually get the chance to see their heroes in the flesh, see them up close and personal. I said to one Azerbaijani Chelsea Blue who knew as much about us as any fan from west London, ‘ It is great but this really is on the edge of Europe and quite difficult for many of our fans.’ He answered with a smile ‘Actually England is on the edge of Europe and apparently you want out of Europe anyway’. Touché!There was a moment going to the game when Jason Cundy and I got dumped by the taxi a long way from the ground. Something was lost in translation and we ended up being driven on an ancient police bus in the vague direction of the stadium. I don’t know who was more confused, them or us but we laughed constantly.
Everyone who travels with Chelsea comes back with their own stories, their own memories and usually at the end of most seasons with a trophy in the bag. This one was no different and hopefully there will be many more just as successful.