Sunday 11th May:
It may not have the glitz and glamour as some of the most historical dates in the history of planet Earth, it does hold some of the most historical and tragic significant events that mankind has witnessed in a relatively short space of time.
On this day in 1812, Prime Minister Spencer Perceval was assassinated in the lobby of the House Of Commons. In 1867, Luxembourg gained its independence. In 1944, the Allies began a major offensive against the axis of power on the Gustav Line. And as recently as 1985, one of the most tragic and horrific football stadium disasters occurred, as Fifty-six spectators went to a football match at Bradford City’s Valley Parade and never returned home.
For Chelsea supporters, this date will remain etched and enshrined in the club’s history, as the day that Chelsea Football Club changed forever.
Nobody could have envisaged that just under two months later, Chelsea would be purchased for what now seems a bargain at £140million, to become the biggest takeover in the history of English football at that time. At the time in 2003, there was much scepticism surrounding the Russian tycoons’ purchase of Chelsea Football Club. But if the cynics could have had a glimpse into the beyond, they might not have been quite the cynic. For this isn’t a look into the history of Chelsea, and the club’s fortunes since the Abramovich takeover, far from it. It should be looked upon as a glance back to a match that may not have the historical importance of say, a European Cup Final, the 15 minutes of the Brazilian collapse at the World Cup in 2014, the 1966 World Cup Final or the 1999 Champions League Final, but does carry the weight of being possibly one of the most important matches in Premier League history in terms of how the future shifted in English Football.
Sunday 11th May 2003:
League Cup winners Liverpool went into this must-win fixture on the back of some rather indifferent form. Having started April with a 4-0 defeat at Old Trafford, Houllier’s men picked up four successive wins, including a Merseyside derby victory at Goodison Park over Everton, an away day reverse at Manchester City, when leading until a 75th minute Nicolas Anelka penalty and a last minute winner, again from Anelka, gave City the spoils and left Liverpool needing a last day victory over Champions League-chasing rivals Chelsea at Stamford Bridge, a ground in which they had tasted victory only once since the then player-manager Kenny Dalglish scored the only goal to hand Liverpool yet another title in 1986.
Chelsea, much like Liverpool, went into the game on the back of a defeat to a much renewed spirited West Ham side, who under Trevor Brooking, were looking to pull off the most sensational of sensational relegation escapes.
However, the game seemed to carry much more of an importance to Ken Bates and Chelsea Football Club. Chelsea were looking at financial ruin straight between the eyes, and reportedly, chief executive Trevor Birch had addressed the team before kick-off to warn them of what defeat and no Champions League football looked like. The club was facing a future of reduced player salaries and a dramatic cost-cutting exercise, a fact which was not lost on the winning goal scorer Jesper Gronkjaer:
‘It was a massive game for Chelsea. We all knew what we were playing for. I remember the stories about the club’s financial situation’.
If Birch’s words were said in hope rather than realism, then the words must have resonated most in the opposition dressing room, as it was Liverpool who drew first blood in what was billed as the ‘ten million pound fixture’. After a rather flat and subdued first ten minutes, Liverpool took the lead through a Sami Hyypia header following a nicely worked Danny Murphy set piece, to send Chelsea faithful and Chelsea accountants into a state of sheer panic. They needn’t have been worried, as Liverpool’s lead lasted barely two minutes.
Jesper Gronkjaer collected the ball on the right-hand side and fired in a tantalising cross for Marcel Desailly to head in the equaliser – the must-win match had suddenly kicked into life.
The game ebbed and flowed. But Liverpool, a side needing victory, their attacks into Chelsea territory lacked any real conviction, and the striking partnership of Michael Owen and Milan Baros, just couldn’t live with the sheer physicality of Marcel Desailly and William Gallas.
Liverpool’s task became an uphill struggle on 26 minutes when Jesper Gronkjaer again collected the ball on the right-hand side. But instead of finding a cross, the Dane cut inside, evading John Arne Riise’s rather weak challenge before sending a sumptuous curling shot past the despairing Jerzy Dudek.
Liverpool tried in vain in search of a goal that could spark a dramatic finale and Chelsea held on for, what at the time seemed an important victory, what no one could see, was just important the victory would prove to be in terms of the history of Chelsea Football Club.
In the July of 2003, Roman Abramovich, after witnessing the Champions League Quarter Final between Manchester United and Real Madrid, decided to purchase a football club. And as legend has it while flying his helicopter over London, first looked upon Tottenham Hotspur, and after concluding that Chelsea had qualified for Europe’s elite competition rather than Tottenham, decided to purchase Chelsea. At his unveiling as the new Chelsea Owner Roman Abramovich claimed:
‘We are delighted to agree this to acquire what is already one of the top clubs in Europe. We have the resources and ambition to achieve more given the huge potential of this great club’
And how true the Russian was to his word.
While Liverpool succumbed to the UEFA Cup following defeat, the result effectively spawned a new modern day footballing rivalry between North and South. It was supposed historical royalty against new money. Down-to-earth Northern grit versus flash cockney raw nerve.
Chelsea and Liverpool would go on to meet a staggering 49 times in all competitions between 2003 and the present day. Just think of some of the drama that this fixture has produced – the dramatic ‘ghost’ goal Champions League semi-final of 2005, Liverpool ending Chelsea’s 86 game unbeaten home record in 2006, the 2007 Champions League semi-final penalty shootout, Chelsea prevailing in another two consecutive Champions League quarter-finals in 2008 and again in 2009, the 2012 FA Cup Final and the now infamous Steven Gerrard slip in 2015. Quite the roll call, wouldn’t you say?
So what will Saturday bring us? No doubt more of the same, and now that the Chelsea/Liverpool batons have been passed along to Messers Klopp and Sarri to reignite the Chelsea/Liverpool rivalry once more. For, while this fixture may not have the deep intense tactical battles and war of words that shaped the Mourinho/Benitez clashes, the way that Klopp and Sarri set out their sides to play, it does promise to be one hell of a rollercoaster clash.
This match may not have the deep historical significance of previous Chelsea – Liverpool fixtures in years gone by. However, this fixture could have a huge bearing on quite where both sides are heading this season.
A Chelsea victory would see the Sarri ball revolution take arguably its biggest scalp to date and send expectations that little higher. A Liverpool victory would see their 100% start continue and title talk become a title shout. And if a Liverpool title barren run is ended in May, then three points at Stamford Bridge would be looked upon with all the historical importance as Chelsea have placed on that 2003 clash.