Foot in both camps: Scott Minto

An FA Cup-winner with Chelsea, Scott Minto also spent over four years at West Ham United. Ahead of Monday’s derby between the two teams, we caught up with our former defender who discussed winning at Wembley and big-game glory, as well as praising the performances of two of our current players…

Scott Minto’s three-year spell at Stamford Bridge coincided with a hugely exciting period for the club.

After a difficult time, Chelsea were undoubtedly on the up once again.

The left-back signed for the Blues from Charlton Athletic just a couple of weeks after we’d been beaten in the 1994 FA Cup final but despite the defeat, the fact Manchester United had won the Double ensured we automatically qualified for the European Cup Winners’ Cup.

The Blues opened our campaign with a home game against Czech side Viktoria Zizkov, our first European fixture in 23 years and a huge night for Minto to make his Chelsea debut on.

‘It was a big game,’ he recalls. ‘I started off with an Achilles problem in pre-season and I didn’t get properly fit until before that match. I just wanted to perform and that game went well, for me personally and the team. We won 4-2 and while obviously we didn’t want to concede two goals, I was happy with the way I played and the fact we won the game.

‘Even though it was 4-2 we were confident we could see the tie off over there, which we did. It was a big moment for me, a big night in Chelsea’s history and I was really pleased with how it went.

‘I had the choice between Chelsea and Arsenal, and I chose Chelsea,’ Minto adds. ‘Charlton was a wonderful club for me, but it was clear we weren’t going to reach the Premier League at that time.

‘To have Chelsea and Arsenal after me was fantastic. I met George Graham but I just felt Chelsea was the right club for me, and I certainly haven’t regretted that decision.’

Despite the fact Minto suffered bad luck with injuries during his time at Chelsea, there were many highlights, none more so than being part of the team which won our first major trophy in 26 years, the 1997 FA Cup.

The defender played the full game, what proved to be his last for the club, as we overcame Middlesbrough at Wembley to secure the trophy. It was a special day for all connected with Chelsea, and Minto explains why he always felt we would come out on top under the Twin Towers.

‘In terms of the run itself, it was amazing really,’ he says. ‘To come back from 2-0 down against Liverpool was brilliant and then we played Leicester. The replay went to extra-time and it looked as though it was going to penalties until Erland Johnsen, one of the strongest defenders in world football, went down in the box. Frank Leboeuf stepped up and held his nerve so we got through.

‘When games like that happen, I know it’s a cliché, but I really did feel as if our name was on the cup. We played Portsmouth in the quarter-finals and we were dominant in that game, and then in the semi-finals we played Wimbledon. I was really disappointed not to play in that game and it was one of the reasons why I ended up leaving the club. I felt that I wasn’t given the credit I deserved at that time.

‘However, to get into the final, and play in the final, was really special. I’m old enough to remember when the FA Cup final was everything. You’d watch it from 9am in the morning, following the fans on the buses, and to play in it was truly amazing.

‘For some reason I felt really relaxed going into it which was strange because sometimes you can feel nervous going into a normal league game, or even a pre-season match, but it all just felt right. Looking back now, I was really happy with how my first and last games went for the club.’

The 4-2 win against Liverpool in the fourth round, when we fought back from 2-0 down at half-time, is one of the all-time classic cup matches at the Bridge.

It was the introduction of Mark Hughes, scorer of our first goal, which completely changed the complexion of the tie. Minto was the player withdrawn for the Welshman at half-time, and it’s an afternoon he looks back on with mixed emotions.

‘I didn’t feel as if I should have been taken off,’ he says. ‘Steve Clarke, who was a top player, went to left-back, but I felt I should have stayed at left-back and somebody else should have been replaced.

‘There was no doubt Mark Hughes needed to come on, and he came on and made a big difference, but while it was the right person to bring on, I didn’t feel as though I was the right person to go off.

‘But, as gutted as I was, I was absolutely delighted that the team came back and stayed in the FA Cup.’

While winning the competition was the obvious stand-out moment from the 1996/97 campaign the Blues, under the guidance of Ruud Gullit, produced some brilliant football over the course of the season.

In the space of a week, at the end of October and beginning of November, we beat Tottenham at home before heading to Old Trafford and getting the better of the best team in the country.

The game against Tottenham came just four days after the passing of our vice-chairman Mattthew Harding and Minto, who scored our goal in the League Cup game at Bolton which Harding was travelling home from when his helicopter came down, admits it was an emotional day for everybody.

‘It always felt as though we were going to win,’ Minto remembers. ‘We were playing Spurs, who we had that great record against anyway, and in one sense there’s a pressure that comes with that, because you don’t want to be the first side to lose to them since 1990.

‘Everybody was devastated about what happened. Matthew, first and foremost, was a Chelsea fan and he’d also helped the club out as they tried to get to another level.

‘We had the wreaths and held hands for him before the game, and there was just a sense that we had to win. From what I can remember we were quite dominant from the start of the game, so in one sense it was quite difficult but in another the mind was completely focused.

‘Under Ruud, we just really enjoyed our football and we had a lot of fun. He used to come in every single morning and say: ‘Hello lovely boys, let’s have some fun,’ and we did. We had some great results throughout the season but we weren’t as consistent as we would have liked to have been.

'Beating Manchester United at Old Trafford was what we were capable of, it felt right. We went up there feeling confident and even though we were playing the champions we knew we could get the three points, which is what we did.’

During both of those matches, and around that time in general, Gullit set his team up playing with three central defenders and two wing-backs, Dan Petrescu on the right and Minto on the left.

‘Ruud had us in the positions where everybody was comfortable with what they were doing,’ says Minto. ‘Dan was a great right wing-back. He was better going forward than he was defensively and he had Michael Duberry to cover behind him. He was one of the best attacking full-backs in world football, not just in England, and I was on the other side.

‘I just thought to myself if he’s doing well then I needed to do well too. It was one of the best periods in my career, there’s no doubt about that. It wasn’t just all about the FA Cup final, even though that went really well, it was the season as a whole.’

The current Chelsea side, of course, has had a lot of success this season operating in a similar way, and having played as a wing-back himself, Minto explains why he has been so impressed with the performances of Victor Moses and Marcos Alonso.

‘They’re not the most high-profile players at the club but what they’ve done individually is absolutely fantastic,’ he says. ‘They’re different players, even though they’re in the same position, and I’m really pleased they’re keeping their places in the side. It’s simply been a case of they’re doing well, so they’re staying in the team.

Victor Moses has come through and at one point it looked like he wasn’t going to break into the team, but he has done, and Alonso has done exceptionally well. He’s more than held his own and he’s scoring and setting up goals. He’s one of the best left-sided players in the Premier League at the moment.’

After leaving Chelsea in the summer of 1997, Minto moved to Portugal where he spent a season at Benfica before coming back to the capital to sign for West Ham.

He reflects on his time at Upton Park, particularly the early part, with much fondness, and it was a period in which he played alongside two future Chelsea legends in Frank Lampard and Joe Cole.

‘I joined halfway through a season where they’d started well but they were dropping. The day I signed they lost to Swansea in the FA Cup, even though I didn’t play, so it was quite a difficult time to join. By the end of the season I’d established myself in the side and we ended up finishing fifth.

‘We qualified for the Intertoto Cup and we won that, so after a difficult start it went really well. I then got a knee injury which ruled me out for a year and Nigel Winterburn came in and did really well. There was a change of manager, and with that comes a change of opinion, so it was a tough way to end there, but I certainly look back at the early part of it as a great time.

‘Even before I signed, Joe was seen as this amazing kid who was destined to be a superstar and there was a lot of pressure put on him. I think he won Player of the Year in the season we went down, and it wasn’t just because of his fantastic skills, even though he had them, it was down to the fact he could put a tackle in and really got stuck in.

‘Frank needed to get away from West Ham to develop even more. When I was there I saw him as a Premier League player but not a world-class star. I saw a young player who was very driven, a great professional and in terms of mentality, he would get every ounce of potential out of himself.

‘He ended up being the best goalscoring midfielder in world football. What he achieved at Chelsea was absolutely fantastic. In their prime, both of them were world-class players.’