Programmes From The Past: Sunderland (24th May 2015)

Programmes. They’re a funny thing, really. A small novel published every match day, following the same style and pattern each time. They contain interviews that you could’ve seen online three days before, match reports on games that happened weeks ago and even notes from a manager which, in most cases, evidently aren’t their words.

So why do so many people, including myself, insist on buying one every single time they go to the Bridge? After all, at the price of £3.50 an issue, the cost certainly racks up by the end of the season.

As with many things in football, there is no correct answer. That’s because, for each person that chooses to embark on an endeavour to collect programmes, they have different reasons. Some do it to have a memory from each game. Others choose to do so as they feel it is a ‘proper football tradition’. Many buy it simply because they want some reading for the journey home.

But, when you dissect each of those reasons, they don’t make much sense. In the modern world, you have photos to remember games, traditions always die out and you can read whatever you want on a phone for entertainment.

Yet those reasons fail to take into account the unique, virtually unparalleled experience of having a physical, visual reminder of just how much the club means to you. Each one brings back memories of a game – whether that’s a 7-0 thriller or a drab 0-0. They all conjure up their own individual recollections.

So that’s why people collect programmes, I suppose. To be reminded. And so, rather than simply have them collect dust, why not look back through some of my most iconic programmes, and relive those very games, as well as take a look through the mini-book I purchased that match day.

In effect, we will step back in time, via the medium of print journalism. Here goes nothing.

The Front Cover

Picture the scene: it’s a sunny May afternoon, and Chelsea are set to lift the Premier League title. Now, I understand I may need to be a little more specific, given the ambiguity of my statement. After all, that scenario has happened no less than five times since the top flight’s revamp in 1992.

Thus, I point you in the direction of the front cover of the match day programme. 24th May 2015, Sunderland (H). I am of course referring to the 2014/15 season, in which Jose Mourinho returned to West London and put on a masterclass in how to win the league.

The front cover of the match day programme against Sunderland
The front cover of the match day programme against Sunderland

The Blues had won the title with three games remaining, courtesy of a 1-0 win against Crystal Palace. This game, to all intents and purposes, was merely a side-show to the celebrations post-match. Still, for a serial winner such as Mourinho, there was no such thing as a friendly game when points were up for grabs.

With Sunderland just about mathematically safe from relegation, they too could come into the game not fearing about potential ramifications from the result. Largely thanks to then-manager Dick Advocaat, who had replaced Gus Poyet midway through the campaign, the Black Cats were set to stay in the top flight another season.

Truly though, the only thing that really mattered, as evidenced by the words strewn across the front cover, was that of Chelsea’s inevitable trophy lift. First, however, let’s take a look through the programme…

The Interview

As with any good programme, there is always an interview to be found around halfway through the distinctively-plastic pages. For this game, it was the legend that is Branislav Ivanovic. The Serbian right back had already won a plethora of major honours prior to this next trophy lift.

Interviews are an integral part of matchday programmes
Interviews are an integral part of matchday programmes

As the programme dutifully points out, the then 31-year-old had collected three FA Cups, a league cup, a Community Shield, a Europa League, one Premier League and a Champions League trophy in just seven years with the club. Not a bad trophy haul whatsoever, especially when you consider that he was playing consistently throughout too.

He would go on to become the de facto captain in the following season, with John Terry’s reduced game time. And, looking through his words six years ago, it’s not hard to see why he was second-in-command.

We have to show them we are champions and we want to win this game … we will be motivated until the last second of the game.

Branislav Ivanovic, May 2015

Such a focus on a winning mentality, even on a day of mostly celebration, is not only admirable but also telling. He also references the following season before reflecting on the current one (‘the next challenge for us will be the Community Shield’). Of course, the next campaign wasn’t one to remember in the end, but his optimism regarding the future speaks volumes about the attitudes at that time.

The Throwback

One feature of looking back through old programmes is the familiar faces that you see, particularly in the youth section. In this issue, it was a certain Ruben Loftus-Cheek (albeit with a questionable hairstyle). A couple of weeks before this final game, the youngster had made his first ever Premier League start.

You see people like Steven Gerrard, Raheem Sterling and Jordan Henderson stood next to you. At that moment it feels a bit weird … but once I am out there on the pitch it’s completely different and I just want to play my own football.

Ruben Loftus-Cheek, May 2015

His awe at standing in the tunnel next to some of the biggest players in the league is palpable. Yet, imagine telling that same Loftus-Cheek that just a few years later he would not only be playing, but playing with regularly with stars arguably on an even greater level of magnitude.

A particularly impressive statistic brought up in this feature is that of his passing expertise against the aforementioned Liverpool. During the hour he was on the pitch, he didn’t misplace a single pass. For a 19-year-old making his debut in the league for the champions, that’s a pretty unbelievable record.

Loftus-Cheek's throwback interview
Loftus-Cheek’s throwback interview

It did, admittedly, take some time before Loftus-Cheek truly found his place in West London. Two loan spells elsewhere in the capital have followed with mixed success. But now, even with the wealth of world-class players at Tuchel’s disposal, he is never far off the team sheet. And if that doesn’t provide inspiration, I don’t know what will.

The Game

So, onto the game itself. The Blues came out the tunnel to the traditional guard of honour, with Roman Abramovich in attendance too. For some time, the owner may have been slightly bemused as to how his team had become champions. Steven Fletcher put the visitors 1-0 up after some poor marking at a corner, spoiling the title party somewhat.

Mourinho’s side would go on to bounce back, but not before there was an emotional send-off for Didier Drogba. Having returned to the club for one season after leaving in 2012, the striker was substituted in the 30th minute, with his teammates carrying him off the pitch.

My match ticket from the game
My match ticket from the game

Ironically enough, the man who replaced him – Diego Costa – was the man who got the equaliser via a penalty in the 37th minute. Things were relatively mundane until later in the second half, when Loic Remy of all people snatched a brace to secure the win. In a way, the 90 minutes were merely the warm-up act to the real show post-match.

That’s because, following all the formalities of medals being given out and stages being set up, the Premier League trophy was finally handed over to John Terry who, with his team mates behind him, lifted it into the air, capping off an outstanding season for the Blues.

The final thing I wish to mention in tat respect, is the other end of an era that came on that day, alongside Drogba’s departure. For many, it was a staple of Stamford Bridge culture, becoming associated with success after success. It had been 10 years since they arrived and the following decade had seen an astonishing 13 trophies.

A pull-out in honour of Samsung
A pull-out in honour of Samsung

I am of course referring to the iconic shirt sponsor that is Samsung. And, the pull-out in the centre of the programme with a collection of team photos from those 10 years merged together, is more of an apt tribute than anything I could write.

The Teams

Each time I sift through these programmes, I want to finish with perhaps the most appropriate section – the back page. That is where, as any football fan will tell you, the squads are printed on. It may seem a mundane, unimpressive and frankly trivial thing to note, but the long-forgotten names that can be spotted there are like a time capsule at times.

Thus, for these throwbacks, I’ll endeavour to point out one Blues’ player, as well as one from the opposition. For this inaugural piece, I wanted to bring attention to number 23 on the Chelsea column. That brings me onto a player who was only really at the club for just over three months.

The back cover of the programme against Sunderland
The back cover of the programme against Sunderland

Juan Cuadrado joined in early February 2015, and left on loan to Juventus that summer. Regardless, the Colombian made 13 appearances and, most significantly for this game, won the penalty which Costa converted. He might not have had much of an impact, but the forward has his place in the Stamford Bridge archives.

On the Sunderland side, there aren’t quite as many star names to choose from, but I have picked out one. His main attribute was that of his set-piece specialism. After all, only three players in Premier League history have scored more direct free kicks than him. That player is Sebastian Larsson – who scored no less than eleven goals from set pieces.

The midfielder made 176 appearances for the North East side, as well as 133 for his native Sweden. The number 7 also had a very brief stint at Arsenal earlier in his career, making just three appearances. Nevertheless, he is someone who has his own special place in Premier League history. (Even if it is being fourth on a relatively niche list).

And with that, we come to the end of the first ever programmes from the past. To be totally up front, there will be no schedule to this, nor will there be any pattern to the games chosen. Instead, it will simply be random recollections of memorable games from the past, via famous front covers, iconic interviews and thought-provoking throwbacks.

After all, isn’t that what programmes are for?

Written and Edited by Noah Robson (@noahrobson_)

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