Sunday, September 21, 2014




This photograph, perhaps above all others involving City and Chelsea down the years, illustrates best where the two clubs have come from in a relatively short space of time. The season is 1995-96. Chelsea are emerging from a slumber which has lasted since their days of yore in 1970 and are beginnng to build up a head of steam with a side bank-rolled to the tune of £26m by supporter Mathew Harding, after a public call for investment by unpredictable chairman Ken Bates. City too have found a kind of sugar daddy in ex-player Francis Lee, but are about to descend two divisions in three years to the third level of English professional football, thanks in this case to the catastrophic management of Alan Ball. Ball it is who has brought in "future tem million pound player" Buster Phillips, a stripling of a left winger from Exeter City, who will play a grand total of 15 poorly constructed games for the Blues, Ronnie Ekelund and Gerry Creaney. Creaney, seen here closing down Dimitri Kharine in the Chelsea goal, would become an easily definable image of the decay that was setting in under Ball. Bought from Portsmouth for an incredible £750,000 plus Paul Walsh (just read that again, if you think it might have slipped your full attention), the deal was said to have valued the ex-Portsmouth and Celtic striker at £1.5 million. Overweight and way off the pace, he would last at City until 1998-9, by which time City's opponents had changed from Chelsea to Chesterfield. He was loaned out to Oldham, Ipswich, Burnley and, ironically, Chesterfield, before finally securing a move to St Mirren. His absence would not stop City supporters from having dystopian nightmares every time his name was (or indeed is) mentioned.

Two seasons before, both sides had played out a stultifying 0-0 draw before just 10,128 paying customers at Stamford Bridge. This was the beginning of the Premier League that today supplies us with vivid colour, unremitting fervour and the weekly vista of happy clappy full houses. City would finish 16th to Chelsea's 14th that season, neither club revealing the slightest signs of taking the new league structure by storm. Both clubs had spent more seasons in the 80s out of the top flight than in it and Chelsea had managed to misspend much of the 70s doing the same thing. Whilst the Londoners would gradually build towards The Days of Empire that have brought league titles and Champions League success, City still had a long and painful journey in front of them, before they too would enter into the blinding white light of top drawer domestic and continental football. .

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