What a night that was!
feature Mon 16 Apr 2018
It was 20 years ago today that Stamford Bridge enjoyed the biggest night on the way to lifting the 1998 UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup.
The competition had reached the semi-final stage, and Chelsea were trailing 1-0 to Vicenza after the first leg in Italy. But this Blues side had already proved themselves capable of second-leg comebacks having done just that in the semi-final of the League Cup against Arsenal, thanks to another memorable evening at the Bridge.
We had gone on to win that trophy by the time we played Vicenza, and we had won the FA Cup the previous year to qualify for Europe. This was a Chelsea squad of winners, ones whose success two decades ago will be celebrated at the Chelsea Legends game versus Inter Forever next month.
To recall the events of the Cup Winners’ Cup second leg against a Serie A side back in 1998, the official Chelsea website spoke to Jody Morris (pictured top left). It was a massive occasion too for our current Under-18s manager. He was just 19 years old and the home game against Vicenza was his first start in European competition. Dan Petrescu had been ruled out in the build-up due to illness.
‘Being so young and with it being such a big game, I was proud to be selected and was looking forward it. I remember playing a little bit to the right. Obviously I was not a wide player but there were a few times in my career I played to the side of a four and a bit tucked in.
‘Although it was a tough game, I felt that I was doing alright. I enjoyed the occasion and I enjoyed the atmosphere, the fans were fantastic that night. You could feel it, you could feel the emotion behind the game.’
Although the experienced Petrescu was unavailable, manager Gianluca Vialli was able to field Gustavo Poyet, whose flying start to his Chelsea career had been cruelly halted by a cruciate injury. The prolific midfielder had just one sub appearance to his name since his surgery.
‘It was a boost because Gus was an amazing player for Chelsea when you talk about goalscoring midfielders,’ says Morris. ‘We all know our greatest was Frank [Lampard] but for the period he was at the club and when he was fit, Gus Poyet was a goal machine from midfield.
‘When you get someone like that who was in such great form before, it is good to have them back, and he was a player for the big occasion as well. He had physical presence and a coolness to his play. The side was always better when Gus was in it, I felt.’
The Uruguayan’s return proved vital. Vicenza doubled their lead, grabbing an away goal 32 minutes into the second leg. We needed a rapid response to have any chance and got one three minutes later when a Gianfranco Zola shot was saved but Poyet athletically converted the rebound.
‘That was typical Gus,’ notes Morris. ‘He had a knack for popping up and getting important goals and it gave us belief. For our second goal [scored early in the second half], I remember the cross from Luca for Franco’s header. No one really mentioned it that much because the winning goal got a lot of the plaudits, but if it was someone like David Beckham who had made that cross, it would have been replayed over and over again. And Luca was only out there because he had been arguing with the linesman.
‘I wasn’t surprised Franco could reach it at the far post. Whenever we did our pre-season jump tests and power tests, Franco was the one who had the biggest vertical leap, so we always knew he had amazing power, although it did not help that he was smaller than me!’
Chelsea still needed a goal to turn the night from one of exit to one of triumph. Morris was part of a double substitution with 20 minutes left to play, with one of the players brought on Mark Hughes.
‘I was a little gutted to be subbed, because when you think you are doing alright in a game, you never want to be subbed but when a substitute does what Sparky did to take us through, you go “Yeah, fair play!” and I remember the celebrations at the end of the game. As soon as the final whistle went I sprinted onto the pitch and I went straight for Sparky. So a great night at the Bridge and one of those when you really remember the crowd.’
Hughes used all of his famed strength and volleying ability to create and finish the deciding goal, a famous winner with quarter-of-an-hour to play, although it still needed a superb late save from Ed de Goey to prevent the result being reversed again.
Vialli’s side went on to win the Cup Winners’ Cup by beating Stuttgart in Stockholm, one of three pieces of silverware collected in 1998.
For the chance to see many of those players in action again when Chelsea Legends play Inter Forever at Stamford Bridge on Friday 18 May, click here to buy Legends Game tickets.