Chelsea win at Bolton, scene of their greatest loss

Last updated : 03 May 2005 By Aidan O'Byrne
I've seen this victory described elsewhere as the death of football, which is perhaps overdone, but while you won't be surprised to hear that I disapprove of the way the new Chelsea are intending to reshape the game off the pitch, with endless amounts of dirty money enabling Peter Kenyon to live down to and even below everyone's expectations of him, I am at least pleased in one sense that it happened this weekend.

For the Abramovic era at Chelsea has just delivered its first significant trophy (with due apologies to those who still hold the League Cup in high esteem) while there are still more people around to applaud the way that the title's been won on the pitch than there are to look with distaste at the way the club comports itself off it.

I welcome this because it is, I reckon, the first and sadly also the last chance for the Chelsea fans I remember growing up with to savour a title success without noticing behind it a bitter aftertaste, and accordingly it seems fitting to use it, and the fact that the title-winning points were gained at Bolton, to draw to a close the previous chapter in the club's history, the pre-Chelski phase if you like.

Way back in October 1996, long before anyone had heard of the billionaire Abramovic, since in fact he had yet to “acquire” those billions, Chelsea lost a League Cup tie up at Bolton's old ground, Burnden Park, and the same evening tragically lost their vice-chairman Matthew Harding to a freakish helicopter crash on the way back from the game. Subsequently, without Harding around to keep Ken Bates in check, and without Harding's fortune to subsidise Bates's obsession with expensive real estate infrastructure, the club came to the brink of oblivion and insolvency, only to trade its soul to the mephistopholean Russian for sheer survival.

In a sense, therefore, Bolton is tied up with the beginning and the end of Chelsea's true glamour club phase, during which Vialli, Gullit, Ranieri and even, ahem, Hoddle had the knack of getting neutrals to support them in big games, and where despite a lack of league success, there was a fair return in terms of honestly and attractively won silverware. With Mourinho, Kenyon and co installed, Chelsea are no longer likely to be the neutral's automatic choice in any game, let alone big ones, and a fair few Chelsea fans of long vintage – or longer vintage than those I've suddenly seen sporting replica shirts this Bank Holiday weekend, at any rate – have said to me that they're glad to have got the title while they can still remember the way the club used to be (and by which I'm presuming they mean from the early 1990s onwards rather than the less attractive phase before then!).

But perhaps I'm just bitter in saying all this – I've not after all had to examine my conscience to see how my sense of morality would have coped with the Russian franchise installing itself at Highbury instead, or indeed at White Hart Lane as was almost the bitter case – and I guess we'll have to wait for a couple of decades to pass to provide the true, appropriate perspective on what this weekend's press has described as Chelsea's “historic achievement”.

In the week ahead, then, we've got two further titanic battles between red and blue for the nation to follow, as Tuesday's massive Champions League semi-final second leg between Liverpool and Chelsea looks set to completely overshadow the somewhat smaller matter of a general election on Thursday, albeit that both contests will have in common a dignified yet ineffective and heavily outnumbered party in orange in the middle, trying to steer a course between the two main protagonists, while being booed by both sets of supporters. Whether or not you find it heavily ironic to witness the blue candidates in both contests having both their financial track record and future spending plans analysed as lacking any foundation in economic reality, while at the same time being chilled at the prospect of Michael Howard wearing a red rosette in public, you've at least got to give the guy credit for being consistent in disliking economic migrants like Roman, I suppose. For one night only, I guess, and only for so long as they're not Tory party donors.

As there is probably going to be a fair bit of media coverage elsewhere, I won't spend too long commenting on the footballing clash, other than to say I reckon Liverpool are now due a win against Mourinho, and that it's unlikely to be relevant that Chelsea have just managed to improve their relative standing in English club honours to sixteen fewer league titles than their hosts rather than seventeen. “One man went to mow” is probably not going to be heard over the Kop, methinks. And I definitely won't stray far enough off-message to comment on the election, which is of course far less important anyhow.