The last two decades have seen the professional football landscape of England change beyond recognition.
Each season sees another traditional aspect of the beautiful game axed in the quest for higher returns. The importance of footballing results have been usurped by financial results and those loyal fans that follow their teams each and every week are now made to feel like customers.
Such seismic upheavals have affected pretty much every club in England but the winds of change have been particularly forceful in one club in particular, Chelsea.
On the final day of the 2003-2004 season, Jesper Gronkjaer scored what was at the time dubbed ‘the £20m goal’, securing a Champions League place at the very last gasp.
Fourteen years on and the goal has been re-branded to ‘the £1 billion goal’ and with good reason.
It was in securing that final Champions League berth that Roman Abramovich ultimately decided on Stamford Bridge as a home for his Rubles and so began the most successful period in Chelsea Football Club’s history.
They have won 14 major honours since Abramovich took the reigns and in bagging the Champions League along the way, has cemented Chelsea’s place at the top table of European football.
But the Stamford Bridge faithful may argue that, in addition to the untold millions extolled to bring football’s brightest stars to London, the success has also cost Chelsea a connection with their past.
The more global the club becomes, the more financially motivated its actions, the less supporters are inclined to feel that indelible connection with the club which has been a feature of Chelsea throughout its history.
The club has increasingly fewer concrete connections to its past to reflect upon as but the most significant one is unquestionable Stamford Bridge itself.
On two separate occasions, I have had the pleasure of being to Stamford Bridge – in 2003 and again just two years ago.
Some aspects are the exact same, the stands themselves, for example, have of course retained their old-school charm, the banners that adorn them remain just as familiar.
However, one doesn’t have to look too hard to see evidence of the transformation the club has undergone.
The emphasis of the stadium tour itself is unrecognisable. Where once were heartwarming tales of William ‘Fatty’ Foulke, the club’s 22-stone goalkeeper from the start of the 20th century are now glistening trophy cabinets and odes to the club’s plethora of supporters clubs dotted around the world.
One can’t help but think that as the club’s fan base has grown exponentially, the club has grown more eager to stress the club’s recent success rather than the roots from which such glory grew.
The notoriety of the club’s legends of a certain vintage has been a distinct casualty and Chelsea’s are poorer for it.
Peter Osgood remains the lone figure to have been honoured by a statue outside the ground, a fitting tribute to such a totemic figure, but there is something poignant about his being alone.
His exploits at the club are revered by those that make the trip to Stamford Bridge every other week but there is a significant amount of people that seem perplexed upon reading his name.
No Frank Lampard or Didier Drogba here, but a stately figure of the 1970s. Needless to say, such ignorance is likely less common in front of Bill Shankly’s statue at Anfield or the Best Law, Charlton tribute which adorns Old Trafford.
Statues are undoubtedly rightly acknowledged as a tremendous honour, whose currency devalues the more common they are, but to have deemed just one individual in the club’s 113-year history sufficiently deserving of such a tribute seems odd, even neglectful.
For the last number of years, the centre-piece the club’s aforementioned stadium tour has not been the looped-video tribute to Chelsea’s Champions League triumph, nor any of the trophies with the store is sprinkled with.
That honour, in fact, falls to a model of the planned redeveloped Stamford Bridge, which is hoped to be built by 2023. The brainchild of the same people to bring us the Bird’s Nest Stadium in Beijing, it is truly an assault on the senses.
Comprised of a series of huge brick columns, the stadium will increase the capacity of the London ground by nearly 20,000 and it is hoped that this will enable the club to equal the match-day revenues generated by Arsenal on London’s north-side.
The new ground will bear no resemblance whatsoever to the stadium in its current form and will necessitate the total demolition of Stamford Bridge as it stands today.
The new stadium will be impressive, awe-inspiring and many will say necessary. But it certainly won’t be traditional.
It will be a stadium for a global club intent on furthering its brand in Chile and China rather than Chiswick or Chelsea itself, with scant acknowledgement of the past.
Tuesday will see Barcelona arrive at Stamford Bridge and in doing so offers the Chelsea charges another chance to create a special night at the famous ground. The scene of their spectacular romp to a 4-2 triumph against the Catalan giants in 2005 among many others, its days are now numbered.
As the diggers and skips prepare to move in this summer to lay the groundwork for its ultimate deconstruction, the time to create more nights of such gravitas is shrinking.
In a club whose deference to its past is tenuous, recreating the magic Stamford Bridge has been graced with in the past should be to the forefront of the minds of those players that take to the pitch come Tuesday.
Barcelona are of course flying high at the top of La Liga while Chelsea’s won domestic woes have been documented ad infinitum this season but all that adds further weight to the desire for this encounter to be special, to join the many others in the collective consciousness of Chelsea FC.
Unfortunately for the Stamford Bridge faithful, as Manchester City lay waste to all in their wake this season, it is the slaying of European powers in the Champions League that offers the club their best chance of truly memorable occasions this season.
Messi and company will arrive with expectation more so than simply hope but it falls on Conte and his players to rekindle that gravitas that has made Stamford Bridge such a revered stadium in English football history.
The club has brought great joy to its fans in recent years, but it owes such an occasion to the club’s heritage rather than its global gamut of followers before the winds of change ultimately level the stadium as we know it.
Colm Egan, Pundit Arena