In a special feature to mark a decade since our first FA Youth Cup triumph in 49 years, we hear from Josh McEachran, who played that day at Stamford Bridge; Fikayo Tomori, who was 12 and watching on television; and Jim Fraser, our assistant academy manager at the time...
There were successive FA Youth Cup titles in 1960 and 1961 for the Chelsea Academy, the former featuring the late Peter Bonetti between the sticks while the latter saw Ron Harris appear in every game of the coveted competition for the young Blues, but it would be a further 49 years before Youth Cup triumph was celebrated at Chelsea again.
A 2008 final defeat was the closest we came to regaining the title but a score of 4-2 in Manchester City’s favour meant Paul Clement’s team fell just short of the silverware that year.
Luckily, the wait for another shot at success wasn’t to be too long as Dermot Drummy’s boys went all the way and lifted the trophy in front of a noisy Stamford Bridge 10 years ago today – 4 May 2010 - against Aston Villa.
A quarter-final goal away during a 4-0 win at Watford was Jeffery Bruma’s second of the competition but his most important came in the first leg of the final at Villa Park. Chelsea were awarded a 65th-minute free-kick and up stepped the central defender, who arrowed an effort into the top corner to make the score 1-1, giving his team an all-important lifeline going into the second leg at the Bridge.
The return panned out in a similar fashion to the first, Villa taking a first-half lead into the break that meant Chelsea were left chasing the game. Marko Mitrovic struck in exactly the same minute as Bruma did in the previous leg to mirror the score and Chelsea piled on the pressure in the latter stages, with Conor Clifford rifling a shot into the back of the net with just five minutes remaining.
‘It’s the best feeling in the world, it’s incredible,’ said Clifford on the Stamford Bridge pitch after his winning goal exactly a decade ago. ‘I dreamed of this, playing at Stamford Bridge in front of Chelsea fans.
‘Winning the Youth Cup was my goal at the start of the season and I’ve done it – it’s brilliant. We played well throughout the whole game but we were missing chances and luckily enough we kept the pressure on them and they folded.’
Starting as Chelsea’s number 10 at the Bridge that evening alongside goalscorer Clifford was a fresh-faced Josh McEachran, who featured from the start in every Youth Cup game during the campaign.
In that same year, McEachran won the European Under-17 Championships with England and later went on to graduate from the Academy, making a total of 22 appearances in the senior team, the vast majority under Carlo Ancelotti in 2010/11. However, looking back on the achievement now, the 27-year-old hails that Youth Cup triumph as one of the most important games of his career to date.
‘It was a massive thing for me,’ McEachran explained to the official Chelsea website. ‘I was at Chelsea from the age of eight up until 22, and I came through the system with some of the boys who played in that winning team.
‘To go through the age groups and win the Youth Cup definitely puts the achievement up there for me. I always look back and remember it as one of the best nights of my life.’
The midfielder is currently at Birmingham City after four years with Brentford following his departure from Chelsea in 2015. Thinking back to the day of the 2010 final, he recalls how play unfolded and admits that he and the team immediately recognised the significance of their achievements.
‘I was very, very nervous,’ he recalls. ‘We all had to meet up at Stamford Bridge for a pre-match meal and we were aware it had been 49 years since the last Youth Cup win so we knew what it meant, especially as a few years before the team had come so close. We were in a great position to win it so everyone was nervous and excited - we couldn’t wait to get out there.
‘I still remember it really clearly, until this day I feel it was one of the best games I’ve played in. I can remember the whole of the lower Shed End being packed, and the whole of the West Stand. For a young player, that was unbelievable.
‘We went a goal down and our heads dropped a little but we came back and one of my good pals until this day, Conor Clifford, came up with an absolute worldie in the last five minutes to clinch it.
‘We did know how big it was at the time and we were absolutely delighted with the achievement because at that age it’s the biggest cup competition you compete in. I think for the guys at the Academy like Neil Bath and Jim Fraser, it was even bigger for them because they had been working so hard every year to produce players to win competitions like the Youth Cup. It was more for them and it eventually set off an unbelievable run of Youth Cup competition wins.’
An Under-12 Academy player at the time, Fikayo Tomori wasn’t at the game himself but remembers there was great excitement throughout the Academy as soon as the team returned back to Cobham with the trophy.
‘I wasn’t at the game myself as it was a midweek one but I remember once the team had won it there was a buzz around the Academy, just because it was the Youth Cup and we hadn’t won it for a while,’ he explained. ‘The manner in which the team won it was dramatic and it was around that time when people started to take notice of youth team football.’
Tomori himself was pictured at Stamford Bridge lifting the Youth Cup just four years later, before then scoring in the final win 12 months later as the Blues recorded three successive triumphs in the competition. The 22-year old remembers his coaches in 2014 using the story of the squad four years prior to inspire wins throughout the cup run.
‘The Academy had won it the previous year and our coaches were always talking about the recent history for the club and encouraged us to continue it to become the best Academy team we could be,’ recalls Tomori.
‘When we talk about Chelsea and the Youth Cup, we always talk about that crop of players who were the first. However, at that time we knew how good we were, we knew that we had the tools to win it and were focused on delivering.
‘It’s a really important competition because when you’re a youth team player, not many of the games are shown live. The fact that the semi-final and final are broadcast is important as many more people are exposed to youth football and realise how good young players can be. At that age we are near the time when players want to go out on loan or break into the first team so it’s an opportunity to showcase yourself.
‘The class of 2010 started a winning mentality. They started a new era for the Academy and I think they rejuvenated the FA Youth Cup, not just for Chelsea but for everyone.’
Among the celebrations in 2010 was assistant head of youth development Jim Fraser, who can be seen on the pitch at full-time at the heart of the jubilant scenes. Fraser, who has been working at the Academy since 2004, provides a slightly different perspective on the Youth Cup run that year.
‘It’s really interesting when I’m asked about what I remember from that season because I’m immediately drawn to the picture of everybody with the trophy,’ recalls Fraser. ‘But when you look back at the run, we came up against some good teams and we had a number of away games. I remember it being difficult.
‘The players, coaching and support staff were doing fantastic on the pitch but you then had a bus-load of support staff going to every game, most being away, so the spirit within the whole Academy was just growing alongside the competition. I don’t think that can be underestimated. Neil Bath had created an environment where we were all in it together and everyone was doing their bit.’
There have been a combined 81 senior appearances in all competitions for this season’s Academy graduates, with Tino Anjorin, Tariq Lamptey and Armando Broja being the latest from the current Cobham crop.
Fraser ultimately recognises that winning tournaments at Academy level shaped the future and the evidence is clear to see in Frank Lampard’s squad today.
‘It’s incredible to think it was 10 years ago,’ he admitted. ‘Neil always had the awareness and vision to make sure we were developing things for the long-term. We always wanted to make sure that there was a winning mentality running through the Academy but it wasn’t just about winning tournaments; it was about developing really exciting, talented players with long-term potential.
‘However, winning is part of the development process. Winning tournaments in Europe at the younger ages, winning Premier League tournaments and events, eventually winning the Youth Cup and then the UEFA Youth League – all those little pieces of the jigsaw have really started to come to fruition.
‘We are fortunate to have a manager in Frank Lampard who has been confident to show trust in our players and the Academy process has shown to be worthwhile with the amount of minutes we are getting in the Premier League and Champions League this season alone. The work that went on to achieve success in 2010 has shaped us for the next 10 years.’
Since the 2010 triumph, our Under-18s have lifted the coveted trophy a further six times, making it a total of seven titles in the last decade, with a number of those winners going all the way and featuring for the men’s senior team. Only Manchester United have more all-time Youth Cup wins than our haul of nine.
Another coach comes to Fraser’s mind when assessing the 2009/10 campaign, the man in the dugout as we lifted the trophy for the first time in almost half a century. Dermot Drummy was a popular figure at Cobham during his seven years as an Academy coach and his death in 2017 was a sad shock to all who had come to cherish his infectious personality.
‘I have to mention Dermot,’ added Fraser. ‘We celebrated the win that night and had a fantastic time but we were back at Cobham the next day and Dermot called all the staff to have a picture together at the front of the Academy building with the trophy.
‘It summed up the culture that had been created. All the wins we’ve had since then have definitely come off the back of that Youth Cup triumph in 2010. The legacy of Dermot, who was a big part of our coaching setup, will give us the drive and passion to keep working to be the best Academy we can be.’