Home and Away: Jakob Kjeldbjerg
feature Sat 19 Aug 2017
In a new feature for the 2017/18 season, the official Chelsea website speaks to some of our former players to get their thoughts on what it was like playing for the club at home and away during their respective eras.
The subject of our second interview is Jakob Kjeldbjerg, a mainstay of the Chelsea defence for a couple of seasons early in the nineties. He vividly recalls what it was like turning out for the Blues at Wembley, and also at White Hart Lane during what was a very happy time for the club in that part of north London…
‘There are lots of words I can use to describe Wembley, but for me it’s like magic.’
There’s a hushed excitement in Jakob Kjeldbjerg’s voice, and a twinkle in his eye. His three appearances at Wembley might have come in the space of a few months in 1994, but it’s as though he’s talking about something that happened yesterday, so bright does his memory burn.
‘I might be exaggerating a little bit but I’m not far off remembering every single second of it, from the moment I stepped into that beautiful ground until I left. It was by the far the biggest impression I had from any stadium I played at.
‘It was the atmosphere at Wembley, and the way it made you feel so much like the centre of attention. That’s why I use the word magic. It’s not like any other stadium I have been at.
‘You hear about the Wembley cramp,’ Kjeldbjerg adds. ‘I never had that but I can 100 per cent appreciate people getting that. It’s almost draining.
‘From my own point of view I played there three times. I would say I played two decent games, for Chelsea against Luton when we won, and obviously that horrible defeat against Manchester United. But I played for Denmark against England at Wembley and had a very bad performance. I have got a lot of excuses of course!
‘But not being 100 per cent fit and 100 per cent filled up with self-confidence was a complete and utter nightmare for me. That was because of the magic of Wembley. Any kind of weakness or fragility will really get you when you play there.’
He remembers carnival atmospheres in the stands before the FA Cup semi-final and final, with Chelsea supporters savouring our first major games at the national stadium in over two decades. The first, against lower-league Luton Town, particularly stands out.
‘It almost felt a bit weird because Chelsea fans wanted us to win, but still they applauded Kerry Dixon. He got a fantastic reception from the Chelsea fans, regardless of the fact it had been so long since we had been there.
‘That took a bit of getting used to for me walking on to the pitch and starting the game. Glenn Hoddle had prepared us for it and it was wonderful. We had a good game, I had a good game, and it was one of the best experiences I had as a footballer, definitely.’
As well as having the chance to represent the Blues in the single biggest domestic fixture, Kjeldbjerg was also a part of our famous unbeaten run at White Hart Lane. From 1987, we went 19 years without a league defeat in that corner of north-west London.
‘It was amazing the psychological game that went on around our matches there,’ laughs Kjeldbjerg.
‘When I played there in 1993 and 1994 we had already played quite a few undefeated matches against Tottenham. Walking out at White Hart Lane, it almost felt like we were at home. “We’ve been here, we’ve done it and we’ll do it again.” It’s almost as if you could sense it in their eyes. It was really amazing.
‘That atmosphere was fantastic because I do remember, after all these years, the Chelsea crowd did not doubt we would get a result. It’s amazing how that 12th player can contribute to that. It was one of the interesting pieces of psychology I have experienced as a footballer.’
Kjeldbjerg had moved from his native Denmark to Stamford Bridge during a significant period for the English game. Stadiums were gradually becoming all-seater venues and the birth of the Premier League meant attendances were increasing. So what was it like being a member of the away team around the country?
‘I found it intimidating because of the home crowds who obviously didn’t like me that much because I was playing for Chelsea, but having the support from those wonderful Chelsea supporters made a difference.
‘I remember when there was a break in the match I always tried to get some kind of connection or contact with our end of supporters. You can really as a footballer – well I certainly could – make use of that when you felt a little bit on your own away from Stamford Bridge.
‘There was one match, my last one at the highest level, at Millwall (where Kjeldbjerg suffered a serious injury) where I sensed a hostile atmosphere. That was the exception. Other than that I had good experiences with great crowds and a wonderful atmosphere, and people hating Chelsea for obvious reasons!
‘It couldn’t have been any more different from Denmark,’ Kjeldbjerg concludes of his experiences representing the Blues away from home.
‘I arrived from Silkeborg, which with all due respect you would almost call a farmer’s club, a provincial club. When we had FC Copenhagen visiting us that was like Chelsea going to Ipswich or Coventry or wherever we went. I jumped camp if you like - I went on to the other side!
‘We hadn’t had any great results for a long time but it was still Chelsea turning up, the big club from west London.’