My Football Nightmare: John Terry's "Look At Me" Penalty Slip

All he had to do was score, but our captain couldn't do that. I'll never forget that Champions League final back in 2008, but for all the wrong reasons...
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All he had to do was score, but our captain couldn't do that. I'll never forget that Champions League final back in 2008, but for all the wrong reasons...

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The 2007-2008 season was by far my most painful as a Chelsea fan. It wasn’t simply that we ended the season trophyless that made it such a tormented year – I have supported my club since 1996, back in the days of Gianfranco Zola and co, and although I picked a good time to support Chelsea in that after I started, three years out of the following four, we won a Cup of some kind, back in those days, cup wins were still a rarity that were cherished rather than expected.

After Roman Abramovich came along with all his roubles, Jose Mourinho turned Chelsea into a ruthless winning machine, and while each Cup or League win was still the source of my weekend happiness (and conversely, a loss the cause of endless days of sulking and kicking things about like the tetchy teenager I then was), there was an element of expectation that went with each big-eared cup we lifted.

Under Mourinho, Chelsea fans had been treated. We indulged his scheming, his rambling post-match conferences and his cocky arrogance. In the latter case, we positively egged him on. And in return, he paid us richly, in the form of efficient, if not completely beautiful wins, unwavering loyalty to all of the Chelsea squad, bar, perhaps, a rather hapless Ukrainian that was very much an Abramovich buy and not a Mourinho one, and trophies upon trophies.

When Mourinho parted company with Chelsea on a dismal September evening, it felt like a divorce. I really, utterly, adored that man, every Machiavellian inch of him. Roman Abramovich had done, and continues to do a lot for Chelsea by paying our players’ inflated wages, no question, but Mourinho’s wily mind was what really won us the games.

The 2007-2008 season was by far my most painful as a Chelsea fan

To add insult to injury, the man instated to replace Mourinho, Avram Grant, was as dour, dull, and frog-like as they came. We didn’t like the way he had gone behind The Special One’s back to usurp him, we didn’t like his crappy tactics, and we certainly didn’t like him.

Yet such was the mental fortitude of the Chelsea squad that season that the players somehow managed to keep things running themselves. Were it not for a Wayne Bridge giving away a penalty, Chelsea would have claimed yet another trophy in 2008. But, the hapless one-time England left-back, under pressure, handled the ball, Tottenham Hotspur came back from 1-0 down to win 2-1 in the Carling Cup final and that was that.

It hurt, not least as we had taken the lead and had lost a final to our loathed London rivals, but it wasn’t the end of the world. With a somewhat patronising sneer, us Chelsea fans decided to let Spurs have their moment and cherish the countless DVDs they were to make commemorating this. We had bigger fish to fry.

The premier league race went down to the final day, which yet again was a testament to the Chelsea players being able to sort themselves out, as Grant certainly didn’t seem to have much idea what he was doing. Manchester United were always the frontrunners, but going into the final day, we were level on points with them. No mean feat at all considering all the shake-up Chelsea had suffered mid-season.

Avram Grant, was as dour, dull, and frog-like as they came

The Manchester giants won their last game at Wigan Athletic, whereas we could only draw at home with Bolton so I couldn’t complain too much, even if United’s first of two, scored by greasy Cristiano Ronaldo, was a dubious penalty decision. But such is life, and as a staunch football fan from the age of six, by the time I was 18, I’d certainly learnt there are some things you can’t change. Manchester United getting jammy refereeing calls was definitely one of them.

It wouldn’t matter, though, if we won in Moscow. The trophy that we hadn’t won before, the one we really, really wanted. Chelsea were on the backfoot in the first half and went behind to a Ronaldo goal (him again), but Frank Lampard found the perfect moment to equalise, seconds before half-time. After the interval, Chelsea were much better but simply couldn’t score. Even in extra time, we were creating opportunities and I would have fancied us for penalties, were Didier Drogba not to have gotten himself sent off for a silly slap on Nemanja Vidic.

The first couple of penalties in the shoot-out, what I could see of them with my face behind my hands, that is, were pretty much faultless. Carlos Tevez and Michael Carrick were on target for United, and Michael Ballack and Juliano Belletti doing the job for Chelsea. Ronaldo tried to feint Petr Cech, but failed miserably as our valiant goalkeeper managed to catch it, meaning that when Lampard scored, it was 3-2 in favour of Chelsea. Owen Hargeaves scored for United, Cole made it 4-3 to Chelsea and then Nani brought it to 4-4 with the ball in Chelsea’s court.

Chelsea were one kick away from winning the Champions League.

John Terry stepped up, puffed his chest out. He took a run-up and then… slipped.

But such is life, and as a staunch football fan from the age of six, by the time I was 18, I’d certainly learnt there are some things you can’t change

It is possibly the most gifed, mocked and YouTubed moment in footballing history, to see such a prolific figure of hatred slip on a metaphorical banana skin in the mother of all hubris’. The rest of the world must have been laughing their arses off. But inside, I was weeping.

It was actually Nicolas Anelka’s miss in sudden death that handed the Champions League to United, but the recriminations have to lie with captain Terry. He had terrible technique in taking the penalty, and to this day, I have no forgiven him for being such a damn glory hound in stepping up to take the fifth penalty when he certainly wasn’t the best man for it, as shown in how Saloman Kalou slotted in his perfectly in sudden death – the best penalty of the bunch.

The Ivorian, in his tenure at Chelsea, never missed a penalty.

Had Terry stepped aside for the good of the team and let Kalou have that moment, he would not to this day still be the laughing stock of Salford. Had he let the Ivory Coast international take the penalty he wouldn’t have needed to cry himself to sleep for weeks on end (many Chelsea fans feel that his tears are apt atonement for his fall, but nah, I’d rather have the trophy thanks). Had he let Kalou take the penalty, Chelsea would have two Champions League trophies, not one.

The rest of the world must have been laughing their arses off. But inside, I was weeping

Terry doesn’t get a shred of sympathy from me.

Although, in a perverse way, I should be thanking John Terry. May 19th 2012 was, bar none, the happiest day of my life. When, or should that be if, I get married, the birth of my children, any academic or professional achievements will never even come close to the immeasurable sense of elation I felt when Drogba scored the winning penalty for us. And much of that euphoria did come from past gut-wrenching failures – Terry’s Luzhniki nightmare and Tom Henning Ovrebo refusing to reward four clear-cut penalties for us against Barcelona being the two biggest heartaches that still resonate, that still make me gnash my teeth with ire.

After all, to quote a great Aerosmith song, “you’ve got to lose to know how to win.” May 19th 2012 was redemption of the highest, most fulfilling order. And whenever I think about John Terry’s nightmare in Moscow 2008, I tell myself that without it, the dream of Munich 2012 wouldn’t have felt anywhere near as sweet.

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