Foot In Both Camps: Mark Stein

‘When I was at Chelsea the club was building gradually and then all of a sudden it became rapid, it was break-neck pace, but the fact Chelsea is now one of the biggest clubs in Europe, I am pleased I was part of the journey. The fact I am part of that history fills me with joy.’

Those are the words of our former striker Mark Stein, speaking to the official Chelsea website this week in the build-up to a meeting tomorrow between two of his former clubs. Two decades have passed since he was a player at Stamford Bridge and as he points out, much has changed here since, and while the Glenn Hoddle era of the mid-1990s is widely considered to be when the club began an upward path it has been on ever since, the arrival of Stein can be considered one of the reasons it started to go right for Hoddle as Blues boss.  

The former England midfielder had taken over as player/manager at Chelsea in the summer of 1993 but inherited a squad with problems in attack. He bought goalscoring midfielder Gavin Peacock but the two experienced strikers already here, Roberto Fleck and Tony Cascarino, were struggling and Neil Shipperley was purely teenage potential. The lively John Spencer was four years older but had nagging injury troubles so shortly into the season, Hoddle wanted a new marksman. He turned to Stoke from the division below.

Stein had emerged at Luton where older brother Brian was a legend, and he also played for QPR and Oxford but it was in the Potteries where his reputation grew and the goals flew in, not least two past team-of-the-moment Manchester United in the League Cup.

‘I had a fantastic time at Stoke but everyone wants to play in the Premier League and I had the chance to do that,’ Stein recalls.

‘Coming to Chelsea was phenomenal. You didn’t realise until you got here the magnitude of the support and the club in general. I was fortunate Glenn Hoddle had the confidence in me to come and get me.

‘Liverpool, Tottenham and Man City showed an interest in me, Chelsea came in at the last minute but the fact that Glenn Hoddle was the manager, I had grown up with him being a fantastic footballer, made a big difference.

‘Chelsea were not doing very well but having been to a few games when I was younger and seeing what the support was like, it had a bearing on my decision. Glenn was a major part of that and the fact he was still playing as an added bonus.’   

The move was completed in late October. Hoddle had begun revolutionising Chelsea’s previously direct play but the results were not forthcoming and we were 15th in the table. Stein’s impact was not instant. There were no goals from him in his first seven outings.

‘In training and games I was still doing the right things. The most important is to keep trying to get on the end of things but at the start we did not really create that many chances, and when we did the keeper blocked it, and that is the life of a striker, you go through streaks.

‘Glenn was superb through all that because when you come to a big London club the pressure is on. The Premier League is the best in the world and it is all about delivering the goods. He gave me the confidence to keep going, saying your luck will change. Fortunately it did.

‘In a Boxing Day game at Southampton, Dave Beasant made two great saves from me and I thought it is not going to be my day again, but then I ended up lobbing him and watching the ball and it was the slowest, it was like the world had come to a standstill. Fortunately, it went in off the post.

 Picture courtesy of Mark Sandom

‘We still got beaten 3-1 but we played well. When things are not going for you, results don’t tell the full story. We were now second from bottom but we had a chance to rectify it the very next day. Glenn kept his nerve in keeping with the style he wanted to play which is great credit to him, he never wavered from his belief in getting the ball down and passing. Eventually it turned around for us.’

The next day at home to Newcastle, Stein scored the only goal of the game and followed it up with one in our first away win for over a year at Swindon. He found the net in seven straight Premier League games (nine goals in that run), a record until it was beaten by Ruud van Nistelrooy, who has subsequently lost it to Jamie Vardy.

Chelsea climbed the table and another key game at that time was an FA Cup replay at Sheffield Wednesday when Hoddle decided to pair his two best footballing strikers – Stein and Spencer – despite both being only 5ft 6in tall.

‘It is a difficult place to go but we out-played them,’ recalls Stein. ‘It was unfortunate I had a goal disallowed but we won 3-1 and it showed that the tide was turning. Craig Burley was a really good young midfielder who had come into the side too.

‘We were getting to know each other, how Glenn really wanted us to play. We did a lot of training on passing forward, he did not want us to just whack it. He said we have two small players up front so we need to pass and credit to him, because he could have taken an easier option. That was a game when you took a look at it and thought we are decent.’

When Spurs came visiting, Stein took one of the best, nerveless penalties Stamford Bridge has ever seen, smashing the ball high into the top corner in the last minute for a 4-3 win. Another of his goals earlier in the game and his Boxing Day lob at Southampton can be watched in the video below.

‘Dennis Wise wanted to take it but I felt confident. As a striker, whether you are playing well or not it is about putting your neck on the line. I remember Wisey saying to me ‘Well don’t miss then’, and I thought ‘Cheers, thanks for that!’

‘It hit the stanchion at the back of the net and came out. I knew it was in but Mal Donaghy thought it hit the bar and on the video you can see he is scrambling to get it. What a game! Two attacking teams going for it and us coming back from 2-0 down.’

The next match at the start of March 1994, Stein played the ball on at Old Trafford for Peacock to inflict the eventual champions only home defeat but in that game he also landed awkwardly and damaged an ankle. Stein was in a race to be fit before the season’s end that he would have abandoned but for our progress to the FA Cup final where we faced Man United again.

‘I came back for the last home game and scored two goals but to be honest I knew I was not 100 per cent. Glenn had the great confidence in me to put me in the team for the final but I was not quite right and had to come off. It was a big disappointing for me and it was never a 4-0 game.’

He subsequently needed surgery and missed half of 1994/95 but returned to volley a memorable winner at West Ham with an equally memorable ‘Chris Eubank’ celebration (‘I do not know what came over me, it was just a bit of fun!), and in time for a big European Cup Winners’ Cup night against Bruges

‘That night was the best I can remember under the lights at Stamford Bridge. The atmosphere was phenomenal.

‘They were winning 1-0 from the first leg but I scored from a set-piece and then I won the ball down the wing and Furs [Paul Furlong] had run about 80 yards from a corner and I crossed for him to score.

‘That is one of my best memories, the crowd were on fire and there was not going to be any other result with the crowd and the way the lads played. You live for those nights.’

Chelsea’s evolution meant that a club-record purchase of Furlong was later followed in sequence by the arrivals of Mark Hughes, Gianluca Vialli and Gianfranco Zola.

‘If you are out for seven or eight months, clubs are always looking for players to bring in,’ Stein reflects on his big injury. ‘That is the biggest disappointment. I think I could have gone on to even better things at Chelsea as when the injury happened I was at the peak of my powers, feeling confident and like I was going to score every week.

‘Chelsea went on to another level bringing in the star names, you could see the club was changing in a big way and you do want to see progression.

‘As a footballer, you want to be playing and my old manager at Stoke, Lou Macari, gave me the chance to get some more games there and that was ideal. Football is a short career and you want to make the most of it.’

Stein closed his career at several further clubs and later retrained and worked in football as a physio. He now has a new career in a mainstream school in Maida Vale, not a million miles from Stamford Bridge. 

‘I am working in the special educational needs department, working with kids with difficult conditions and the fact I am giving something back into the community is really enjoyable. We are trying to get them more confident in little things that they do. Their health and well-being is the utmost concern and if I can help even one of the kids take the advice and have a bit more confidence in decision making then it makes it all worthwhile.

‘They talk about the football all the time and they try to nutmeg me when I play football with them, but no-one has yet. I am too long in the tooth for that one! But the kids are great fun.’

Stein was at the Bridge for our win over Stoke on New Year’s Eve, appearing on the pitch at half-time with his Chelsea-supporting son, and he will be at the re-match up there on Saturday afternoon.

‘You look at the way the Chelsea team is functioning, the manager has to take unbelievable credit for it,’ he assesses. 

‘The work-rate of the players is phenomenal and that combined with the quality they have, it is no coincidence they are 10 points clear at the top.

‘Stoke are good at home, it is always a tough place to go to and last year they beat Chelsea there, so Chelsea will have their work cut out, but if they have the right attitude then it will be difficult for Stoke. If they drop their standards then it is anybody’s game but with Conte in charge I am sure they will be up for it. I am looking forward to what I think will be a good game.’