Taking stock

This weekend, I attended my 50th Chelsea Ladies match.

It was do or die in terms of the title race, and to cut the story short; we died. I watched City celebrate their first ever league title. The mood around the Chelsea supporters was disappointed, but almost defiant in equal measure. None of us have forgotten our ‘humble beginnings’ – even being part of a big club, everything the girls have has been earned, not given.

6/6/13 - the day I first saw Chelsea Ladies play. I made the short trip to my (sadly) local team Arsenal, and saw us get beat 2-1. The scoreline was flattering; we had gone two down, and Eni Aluko’s goal in the second half was nothing more than a glimmer of false hope.

This was the year, that, despite the signings of international players like Sofia Jakobsson, Olina Vidarsdottir, Edda Gardarsdottir, and Ester (remember her?!), we were still glued to the bottom end of the WSL table, only Liverpool sparing our blushes with one win to our three. It was a pretty abysmal season.

But then along came 2014 – and everything had changed. Going for proven WSL talent over untested internationals with players like Laura Bassett and Rachel Williams, Katie Chapman and Gilly Flaherty (who now happen to be our captain and vice-captain), we were a team reborn.

I still watched us lose at Arsenal (3-0 in the cup this time), but this time it was a blip, and not the norm. I watched us beat old guards Birmingham, and be just a goal away from lifting the WSL title. The players cried, I cried, but at the end of it all, we had jumped from second-last to second in just 12 months.

We were in the ascendency, and following on from the end of 2014, I began to travel home and away to watch the team. A rainy Thursday evening in Bristol or a sunny Sunday afternoon at Arsenal - neither were a bother. Although we were pushed I never felt we were really challenged, our dominance from the start shining through. We played (and won) the first cup final at Wembley, and perhaps most importantly, our players were earning a professional wage for the first time.

I travelled to Glasgow (a little anti-climactic it has to be said) and Wolfsburg to watch the team who had been trophy-less fewer than six months earlier face the best in Europe.

2016 has been a rollercoaster of emotions if ever there was one – a seven-game winning streak stopped in its tracks after a no-show performance against - you guessed it - Arsenal in our second successive cup final.

We lost to Manchester City, Arsenal (again), and the London Bees (?!), but produced some amazing football at home to Liverpool and away at Birmingham. The voices would tell us that we were underperforming, that we should be closer to the top, that we should be winning every game.

In my first 50 Chelsea games, we have gone from being a struggling, unprofessional team, to a team that secures Champions League football in three successive seasons, plays in cup finals at Wembley, and has won at Arsenal the last four games in a row.

And my 51st? I’m watching my girls play a Champions League game at Stamford Bridge, a concept which, three years ago, would literally have been met with laughs.

We aren’t even close to the team that began this journey. And if my next 50 are as good as my first, I will be a lucky girl indeed.

By Hannah Roberts from Chelsea Ladies Fans