By Liam Twomey
Given it was a day almost a decade in the making, Chelsea’s maiden Champions League trophy parade was never going to be anything other than unforgettable.
Back in 2005, the Kings Road was brought to a standstill when the Blues celebrated their first league title for 50 years, and some 70,000 took to the streets after Carlo Ancelotti’s double-winning season in 2010. Two years on, the number may well have been even greater.
Among the thousands weaving their way through the streets and past the legions of opportunists selling horns, big-eared inflatable trophies and other, far tackier unofficial merchandise, the prevailing mood was one of elation but also blissful bemusement.
It seemed the realisation of the scale of Saturday’s monumental achievement in Munich could not be perceived without a single, nagging question following hot on its heels: ‘How?’
In a season which has made a mockery of conventional wisdom arguably more than any other in recent memory, Chelsea forged for themselves a destiny which long since looked to have passed them by. Watching a montage of their rollercoaster road to the final on a huge screen in Eel Brook Common, the improbability of the narrative was laid bare.
But such thoughts were abandoned with the arrival of the buses, heaving under the weight of players, staff, club officials and history in the making, and centre stage were the faces who have been ever-present in the Blues’ epic European crusade.
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John Terry, who, for all his misdemeanours, remains the heart and soul of the club, inevitably led the chants of victory. Frank Lampard, whose composure and leadership nullified the issues caused by his skipper’s absence in Munich, said his piece. Petr Cech, whose penalty heroics kept the dream alive, was celebrating his birthday. He could scarcely have hoped for a bigger party.
There was also, of course, Didier Drogba. The Ivorian has defined the journey to this point perhaps more than anyone else – from ignominy in Moscow in 2008 and rage against the machine against Barcelona in 2009 to redemption and joy in Munich – and its end may also prove to be his. But as he saluted the assembled masses of blue as “my people”, it was clear that, whatever the future holds, his legacy at Stamford Bridge is now indisputable.
When the playing staff had each enjoyed – or in some cases endured – their moment at the microphone, the focus of attention moved on to the man who made the impossible possible.
After uniting a broken dressing room, rescuing a lost season and succeeding where seven previous Blues managers had failed, preaching to his adoring followers must have seemed like child’s play for Roberto Di Matteo. Derided as a mere smokescreen for player rule on his promotion, the Italian has proved his mettle beyond all doubt.
Throughout the speeches, the sentiments of the supporters were made unequivocally clear. With thousands of voices singing ‘There’s only one Di Matteo’ and ‘Didier Drogba, we want you to stay’, Roman Abramovich can no longer convince himself he has wider support if he chooses another path.
For the Russian billionaire was on the bus, riding up front a matter of yards from the men whose fates he holds in his hands. In spite of his reclusive nature, there was hope that, on this of all days, the owner might see fit to break his oath of silence.
Yet still he did not. Perhaps he does not realise that Chelsea fans are determined to revel in present glories because they know they face an uncertain future. Amid their joy they posed many questions, but the man who knows all the answers did not want the microphone.
As unruffled and subdued as Abramovich looked at the realization of his £1 billion dream, however, his body language was emphatic in comparison to that of his most prized asset.
Fernando Torres wore the look of a man being awarded credit for a triumph not of his making, and post-match comments which surfaced in Spanish newspaper AS reinforce the view that Chelsea’s record signing does not yet feel valued by his new employers.
A summer of uncertainty awaits, yet such long-term concerns were of secondary importance for the thousands lining the parade route.
After the ‘Miracle of Munich’, they were more than willing to live for the moment.
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