Football: No 205 Chelsea

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The Independent Online
Immediately after the remarkable fourth round FA Cup tie between Chelsea and Liverpool, the London side were installed as 4-1 favourites to win their first trophy in 26 years.

The price may have lengthened since but this was bad news for all Chelsea fans especially the more superstitious ones like myself. (Blues followers are notorious for trying anything they can to ensure success. During our Cup run in 1994, I insisted on shouting "Come On You Blues'' three times every time I drove over Hammersmith Bridge on the way into work). Let's face it, it would not be wholly unexpected if Leicester were to shatter our illusions tomorrow at Filbert Street.

Such confidence, or lack of it, in your side comes from years of Cup disappointments and disasters. Chelsea followers, more than most, will understand exactly how those distraught Liverpool fans felt once the realisation of defeat crept up on them. Chelsea, though, are the undisputed experts. Barnsley, Bolton, Cardiff, Oxford, Scarborough and Scunthorpe are just a few of the European "giants'' that have cut us down to size in recent seasons.

Chelsea will visit Leicester fully expecting to reach the last eight. However, the fans are taking nothing for granted. I hesitate to say this, but the signs are hopeful. Ruud Gullit does not share our bad memories though he does admit to prefer playing the big boys from the Premiership as opposed to the so-called minnows from the lower divisions. Maybe he knows more than he lets on.

Without wanting to tempt fate, Chelsea are playing their most attractive football for many years. The influx of foreign players has inspired everybody at the club. A colleague tells me that the Stamford Bridge press box has also become a melting pot for overseas journalists, waiting to watch the delightful skills of Zola, Di Matteo, Vialli, Leboeuf and Petrescu. The club is revitalised and the changes to the stadium reflect this. As well as the recent flotation, the club are soon to launch their own radio station (backed by Bob Geldof's Plant 24) and already have their own in-house TV channel, imaginatively called "Channel Chelsea''. Indeed Chelsea are making giant strides though soon there is likely to be the same pressure to win some silverware as Newcastle.

Realistically the BBC can hardly expect a repeat of the Chelsea v Liverpool epic this Sunday. Some matches will live very long in the memory and this was one of them. A 4-4 draw for the Blues (having been 3-0 down at half- time) 12 years ago at Sheffield Wednesday was a personal favourite. Who else can forget Arsenal's last-minute championship clincher at Anfield in 1989? In the 90s alone, three other matches deserve a special mention. Firstly that dramatic FA Cup semi-final at Villa Park in 1990 which saw Crystal Palace beat Liverpool 4-3. Secondly, the 4-4 extravaganza at Goodison Park between the two Merseyside sides in 1991 and just in case Liverpool fans thought I was trying to rub salt in their wounds, last season's 4-3 victory against Newcastle which put an end to the Toon Army's title aspirations. (I daren't mention the latter's last-gasp 4-3 win last week just in case their opponents do the same thing to us tomorrow).

I only hope Leicester do the honourable thing and let Chelsea progress. They are welcome to the Coca-Cola Cup. As for me, Hammersmith Bridge is now closed for a year so I am seeking an urgent alternative to air my superstitions.

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