Home and Away: Dennis Wise
feature Sat 3 Mar 2018
With the Blues on the road again this weekend, we speak to our former captain Dennis Wise to hear some of his memories from big away games he played in during his time at the club.
Wise, who will be part of the Chelsea Legends team taking on Inter Forever at Stamford Bridge on Friday 18 May, focuses on his European experiences and looks back on matches against some of the biggest clubs in the world, as well as discussing that famous goal in the San Siro…
The 1997/98 campaign was one of Dennis Wise’s finest in a Chelsea shirt, and the midfielder ended it by holding aloft the European Cup Winners’ Cup. It was the second trophy he had lifted in the space of a couple of months and third in a year.
The good times were well and truly back at the Bridge and Wise, as skipper and the heartbeat of a talented, cosmopolitan side, was a pivotal figure.
The Cup Winners’ Cup triumph over Stuttgart was the icing on the cake and it was a superb ball from Wise, the first real moment of quality in the game, which teed up Gianfranco Zola to fire home the only goal seconds after coming on.
How fitting that two players who, at one point, looked like missing out on the Stockholm showpiece completely, had combined for the goal which secured the trophy. Wise, pictured right with the trophy, takes up the story.
‘Myself and Franco were injured around that time and we weren’t sure if we were going to get fit in time to play,’ he recalls. ‘In the end we both made it, but Luca [manager Gianluca Vialli] decided to start me and Franco was on the bench.
‘He came on and then you saw all the frustration and the adrenalin going. He was upset because he didn’t start and you could see that with the way he celebrated his goal.
‘I’d never seen him celebrate a goal like that before. The passion really came out and it was lovely to see. You could have had 10 goalkeepers in there and I don’t think they would have stopped that strike.’
It was a wonderful finish to a memorable European campaign in which we had beaten a strong Real Betis side and produced a stunning comeback to defeat Vicenza at the semi-final stage.
It was particularly sweet for Wise due to the fact he had missed both legs of our semi-final against Real Zaragoza, as well as the second leg of our quarter-final win over Brugge, when we were in the competition three years earlier.
In the second round of the 1997/98 run we were drawn to play Norwegian side Tromso with memories of the away leg, which was played in treacherous conditions, springing to mind this week given the heavy snowfall in the UK.
‘We lost 3-2, it was really horrible weather and the game should never have been played, but it was,’ says Wise, who bravely took to the field wearing short sleeves that night.
‘They were celebrating so much and I remember saying to one of their midfielders who I’d had a spat with: “We’ll see what you’re like when you come to our place, I’m looking forward to playing against you again.”
‘We wanted to make a point in the second leg and we did that, we beat them 7-1 and that was important. They got a little bit carried away. You can’t play football on snow, they were making mounds with the ball on top. We weren’t used to that and they used it to their advantage, it worked for them on the night.’
Success in the Cup Winners’ Cup that year meant an automatic place in the UEFA Super Cup, where we would play Spanish giants Real Madrid, who had beaten Juventus to win the Champions League.
It was a Real Madrid side which included players such as Raul, Clarence Seedorf and Roberto Carlos. Wise was instructed to carry out a specific role on the Brazilian left-back and the Blues, thanks to a second-half Gustavo Poyet goal, emerged victorious.
‘Luca decided to play me on the right-hand side against Roberto Carlos,’ Wise recalls. ‘He obviously felt I was the right person to be able to deal with him, Carlos was a big threat but Luca knew how fit I was, and how disciplined I would be, so that’s why he put me there.
‘I knew I was in for a hard task, but Luca knew he couldn’t play Gus on that side, or Dan Petrescu. He had to play somebody there who would do the tracking and he knew I would do that.
‘Gus got the goal for us and it was really nice to win it against Real Madrid. I think they expected to beat us and they were very disappointed in the end. It was a wonderful experience for us to win the Super Cup. It was in Monaco and to play against a team of Real Madrid’s status, and beat them, was great.’
It was another Poyet goal, this time in a 1-0 win against Leeds United, which ensured we would be playing Champions League football for the first time, and the competition began for the Blues with a 0-0 draw against AC Milan at the Bridge in 1999.
The away game against the Italian side, which followed a month later, is one that Wise will always look back on fondly. It was a night on which the midfielder scored a brilliant equaliser at one of the most iconic stadiums in world football, a goal which is still celebrated in song almost 20 years later.
‘That was an important game for us,’ says Wise. ‘We drew 1-1 and the fans still sing that song to me now. ‘To play against teams like AC Milan, Real Madrid and Barcelona was a wonderful experience because you’re going up against all the top boys.
‘To get half a yard on Paolo Maldini was very nice. I just caught him napping at the right time but it was a great ball by Robbie Di Matteo and I just needed to make sure I did everything correctly because you don’t get many chances against those sides.
‘It fell quite nicely for me, I was able to slot it in with my left foot and ever since the fans have sung that wonderful song.’
In terms of that particular Champions League campaign, the game at the San Siro followed back-to-back victories against Turkish side Galatasaray. Wise brought down a pitch-invading political protester during a 1-0 win at the Bridge and was then on target as we recorded a hugely impressive 5-0 win in an extremely hostile environment at the Turk Telekom Stadium.
‘Welcome to Hell’ banners were on show, flags were being burned and the players needed a police escort onto the pitch to shield them from the missiles being thrown from the stands by the home supporters.
‘It was electric, the whole atmosphere building up to it,’ remembers Wise. ‘We had a brick thrown through the coach window and I think the fact I tackled the fan who ran on the pitch in the home game against them didn’t help, that brought the atmosphere up even more.
‘But to go there and perform in the manner that we did, and to win 5-0, was great. Not many teams go there and get that kind of result. We shocked them and it was brilliant.’
The format of the competition back then was slightly different to the way it runs now, and after successfully coming through two separate group stages we progressed to the quarter-finals where we were drawn to play Barcelona.
The first leg, at the Bridge, was a memorable night as we raced into a 3-0 lead before the visitors scored a crucial away goal through Luis Figo.
Trailing 2-0 in the return at Camp Nou we pulled a goal back through Tore Andre Flo and were on course to go through, but a devastating sequence of events led to the Spaniards advancing at our expense.
‘Barcelona was really disappointing because we were seven minutes away from going through,’ Wise recalls. ‘I remember seeing Bernard Lambourde, who had been marking Dani when he scored their third goal, in the dressing room after the game, and he was gutted. He’d slipped, which allowed Dani to get half a yard to score. We would have gone through so the timing was harsh.
‘Then Baba [Celestine Babayaro] got sent off, they scored a penalty and the game was pretty much over then.
‘We didn’t actually play very well that night, they played a different way and we found it difficult as a team. It changed in the second half and we got ourselves back into the game but a slight lapse of concentration cost us.’
Having played a significant part in some great European nights at the Bridge, Wise is relishing being part of, and skippering, the Chelsea Legends team when we face Inter Forever at our home stadium on Friday 18 May, with all proceeds raised going to the Chelsea Foundation and Past Players' Trust.
The team of ’98, which won the League Cup, Cup Winners’ Cup and Super Cup, is one fondly remembered by all those Chelsea supporters who had the pleasure of watching them in action and Wise, who made 445 appearances for the club, wants the players to put on a good show when they reform for what promises to be a special occasion
‘We’re really looking forward to it, all of us,’ he says. ‘We have a really good rapport with each other, a real understanding, which is good. We had that when we played and I think we will slip back into it, now we just need to build up a bit of fitness.
‘We keep in touch anyway, I still speak to Franco Zola, Graeme Le Saux, Tore Andre Flo, Robbie Di Matteo, Gus Poyet. We’ve always been in touch and we go out for dinner.
‘I’m really looking forward to playing the game and it’s great for the Chelsea Foundation. To be able to play at Stamford Bridge again will be wonderful, something I never thought would happen and hopefully the fans will come along to enjoy the game and the atmosphere with us.
‘We’ve got all the players and that’s very important. Everyone was happy to get involved, everyone said yes straight away and it’s lovely for us all to be reunited.’