The journey to Bolton, 2005: Chelsea’s first league title for 50 years

“Chelsea have got two-on-two here, this could be the title, Frank Lampard to win it, he’s got it! No way back for Bolton, gives Chelsea the title.”

We know the amazing Chelsea TV commentary, the moment when after 50 years, Chelsea finally won the top division title again. Alongside 2012 and 2021, it was the greatest day of my life as a Chelsea fan. Maybe the greatest of all, because it was the first of the two big trophies we won in my lifetime. I was 28 years old and had never seen us win a league or Champions League. 

The build up to that moment was the story of a special season in the history of Chelsea, the season we transitioned from a club which hoped or aspired to win trophies, to one expected to

This began, of course, with arguably one of the most influential and significant managerial appointments in Chelsea history. Having just won the Champions League with Porto – a phenomenal achievement even then – Jose Mourinho arrived to build on the foundations laid by outgoing manager Claudio Ranieri

The first press conference set the tone:

“We have top players, I’m sorry I’m a bit arrogant, we have a top manager. So we want top things for us. I’m European Champion, so I’m not one of the bottle, I think I’m a special one”. 

Mourinho was the hottest property in football. Chelsea had a squad full of world class talent, most of whom were just coming into their prime, but no real superstar. Mourinho took that role, becoming one of the faces of the club, and in fact it was genius management, as it took all the pressure off a relatively young squad yet to win a trophy. Mourinho changed the DNA of Chelsea forever. He brought a big club mentality and raised expectations. Then he himself met them. 

Chelsea started slowly. After six league games Chelsea had won four, drawn two and were five points off leaders Arsenal, still on their unbeaten run, only scoring only five goals in that time – but significantly, only conceding one.

After a defeat against Manchester City in mid October, Chelsea won their next game 4-0, with Arjen Robben coming off the bench and making an immediate impact, and didn’t look back

The Portuguese manager unleashed Arjen Robben and Damien Duff as flying wingers in a 4-3-3, with Claude Makelele as a defensive midfielder sitting in front of a back four, Frank Lampard as an attacking box-to-box midfielder making those what would become famous late runs into the box, in front of a defence including John Terry and Ricardo Carvalho with big Petr Cech in goal.

Chelsea never looked back. They went unbeaten in the league for the rest of the season. In the next 21 games they won 18 and drew three, scoring four goals in a game seven times. Robben and Duff on the wings, backed up by Joe Cole, were electric with their pace and skill. Frank Lampard was banging in the goals from midfield and the defence was near impregnable, protected by Makelele, playing so well the position was named after him. Three games after this 21 game run, with four league games to play, Chelsea required one win to seal their first league title for 50 years. 

Which brings us to Bolton away.

The fact this moment game away to Bolton is more significant than you’d think. Bolton away has a history with Chelsea. In 1983, Chelsea had to win away to Bolton to secure their status in the second division (now Championship), and save them from likely extinction. In 1996, after a defeat in the league cup, the beloved Matthew Harding had died tragically travelling back from the game

Now here we were, Bolton away again, this time for the Premier League title. Bolton, managed by “Big Sam” Allardyce at the then-named Reebok stadium, to play Chelsea at another key moment in Chelsea history. 

Chelsea had injuries before the game which ruled out their key wingers Duff and Robben. Joe Cole was left on the bench as Mourinho went for a 4-4-2 diamond.

The line up: Cech, Geremi, Terry (c), Ricardo Carvalho, Gallas, Makelele, Tiago, Jarosik, Lampard, Gudjohnsen, Drogba

In the first half you could feel the nerves in the players. Chelsea were poor, with Bolton having a number of good chances to take the lead. Cech, as he had all season, keeping Chelsea’s defence intact. Even in the second half Bolton had looked marginally the better side. 

Then in the 65th minute, breakthrough. Drogba’s header on to Lampard, who cut inside and blasted it into the net. 1-0 Chelsea. The celebrations even then, were intense. Almost the whole team ran to Lampard and jumped on him. Chelsea had only conceded 13 goals over the whole season at that point (they were to concede two more), so even at 1-0, you sensed it was going to be Chelsea’s day. 

But even then, there was almost an own goal by Geremi from a corner, smartly saved by Petr Cech. Not long after that however, came the fatal blow, a brilliant ball from Makelele found Lampard onside on the counter, and he just rounded the the keeper to kill the game and win the title.

I was at a pub directly opposite Stamford Bridge, full of Chelsea fans. I’m not ashamed to say as that second goal went in, there were tears as well as ecstasy. I celebrated like I’d never celebrated before, accidentally breaking a chair in the pub in the process. 

The final whistle below and Chelsea had done it. Champions of England for the first time since 1955. The celebrations went on late into the night for fans and players. The feeling of being champions after such a long time is difficult to describe. For anyone under 50 it was the first time they’d seen Chelsea win the league. A special moment which will go down in Chelsea history, a moment those of us who remember it will never forget. 

Written by The Score (@TheScore01)

Edited by Tom Coley (@tomcoley49)

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