The ever-popular Annual Lunch event returned on Friday, with current Blues players Conor Gallagher and Armando Broja joining club legends and supporters from across the years gathered at Stamford Bridge to celebrate all things Chelsea.
The Annual Lunch has always been an opportunity for the club to celebrate our history and bring together players and supporters from different generations for an afternoon of entertainment and reminiscing.
The 2023 edition was no exception, with representatives from across more than 50 years of Chelsea, on and off the pitch, in attendance at the event hosted by Chris Hollins, son of our legendary FA Cup and Cup Winners’ Cup-winning midfielder John Hollins, who sadly passed away this year.
The current club was represented by Chairman Todd Boehly, CEO Chris Jurasek and co-sporting directors Laurence Stewart and Paul Winstanley, all getting their first taste of this event, as part of the nearly 500 people present in the audience.
In his welcome message to supporters, Chairman Todd Boehly said: ‘This is an event that I have heard so much about, when current and former Chelsea players are joined by hundreds of supporters to celebrate everything that is good about this wonderful football club. I am excited and honoured to be able to experience it for the first time.
‘The theme this year is Through the Ages, looking back at the club’s illustrious history since its foundation in 1905 and, as you can see from the trophies around the room here today, and the past and present players taking to the stage, there is a lot to celebrate.
‘We want to continue building on the success that the club has enjoyed over the years, and our mantra has not changed from the day that we became custodians of Chelsea Football Club. We want to win, together, and make you proud.’
First up on stage were former men's midfielder Gustavo Poyet and women's goalkeeper Carly Telford, before today’s team was represented by Academy graduates Armando Broja and Conor Gallagher.
They took part in a question and answer session on stage alongside two of their predecessors at Chelsea, Jody Morris and Michael Essien (the latter joining via video link), explaining why the club means so much to them.
‘It’s so special,’ said Gallagher. ‘Having grown up as a local lad, just 10 minutes down the road, being able to play for Chelsea is amazing. It really is an honour.’
His team-mate Broja acknowledged how he takes inspiration from the players who pulled on the Blues shirt before him, including some who were in the room for the Annual Lunch.
‘It’s always special to play for the club you supported as a kid,’ added the striker. ‘Going to the Bridge and seeing all the legends who were playing before you gives you that sense of continuity. I always wanted to play alongside them, train alongside them or be like them. So you feel that history as soon as you walk through the doors at the Bridge and it’s a special feeling.’
Also on stage were two of the greatest players in our history, sitting side by side to discuss their undying love for the club, as Gianfranco Zola and Frank Lampard shared their memories with the audience.
Asked about the people at Chelsea who helped shape him, Lampard said: ‘At the start it was Claudio Ranieri and Ken Bates. Ken because he was in charge of the club and really looked after me in the first years here. I always remember that and appreciate it. Jose Mourinho as well, because when he came to the club he brought with him the winning mentality and personality that affected everybody around the place.
‘I could go on and I feel like I could probably say all my managers, but those were the ones in the early part of my Chelsea career who had a really big influence on me. And then my team-mates, of course, because you can be nothing without the team-mates that you play with.’
Lampard also explained how the club’s history, good and bad, helps to bring the generations together at Chelsea.
‘I felt a connection to the history of the club by being closer to the old players and hearing their memories of the good days in the Seventies, as well as the tough times, which also shaped the club. Anyone who is close to Chelsea understands that and events like the Annual Lunch are a great connection between fans, players and ex-players.'
There was further entertainment from the Chelsea Pensioner Singers, formed of Pensioners from the nearby Royal Hospital Chelsea, while life-long supporter and opera singer Stuart Pendred performed before we remembered those we lost over the last year, including legends like Hollins, Gianluca Vialli and Terry Venables.
The day also supported two important causes, with the funds raised going towards the Chelsea Players’ Trust and the award-winning community work done by the Chelsea Foundation. That sum was added to by a raffle and silent auction, with prizes including signed shirts from the current men’s and women’s squads, match tickets and the chance to attend a training session at Cobham.