Oddly, videos of this goal are rather hard to find. Some time ago I stumbled upon a fanmade one on Vimeo; I've had it saved to my favorites ever since. At times I re-watch it, for it is one my fondest and most vivid Chelsea memories. (There's also one on Myspace. Seriously, Myspace.)
It was the year 2004, a year of great personal change. I got a college degree. I spent the summer backpacking around Europe. I tried to have a serious relationship. I got a real job. I moved to California. I bought a car. I went to work. I had responsibilities.
Chelsea were changing, too. The summer before, mysterious Roman Abramovich swooped in and made sure we never had to worry about money ever again. A few months after this goal, Jose Mourinho would arrive as well to make Chelsea one of the best teams in the world.
Bridge's goal is from a more innocent time. A time still untainted by constant massive expectations. That's not to say that Chelsea were bad, far from it. We knew we had the potential and Abramovich's billions obviously meant business, but it was all still very new and very fresh. Arsenal going undefeated in the league that season helped our adjustment period as well.
Wayne Bridge sent "invincible" Arsenal out of the Champions League on April 6, 2004. A lot has changed in the decade since.
Back then, Premier League coverage in the United States was still in the dark ages. NBC, long before needing to gamble desperately on the sport of the future, were the kings of network TV. Meanwhile, FOX Sports World lived in some obscure and incredibly overpriced top tier cable TV package; they showed one, maybe two matches all weekend. Our best option was ESPN who had started showing Champions League matches after the USA '94 World Cup.
The second leg of the Arsenal vs. Chelsea quarterfinal was the first Chelsea match I can recall ESPN broadcasting. It may not have been, but it was the first I got to watch on the one and only TV set we had at the house I shared with seven other university friends, for most of whom the first word to be associated with soccer was "sucks." It was a widescreen TV, the old, heavy tube kind, not a flatscreen. My best friend bought it on store credit from Sears. His parents were not pleased.
We loved that TV to death. Set up in a room the size of a child's bedroom, it tanned our faces and seared our eyes as we huddled around it for movies, Seinfeld reruns, American sports, and video games. The Arsenal vs. Chelsea match was the first time soccer was allowed to play on it; I don't remember what I bargained away for this privilege anymore, but I assume repayment involved purchasing of many beers in some fashion.
It was just the two of us watching as the match kicked off, the teams tied on aggregate 1-1 from the first leg. Eye rolls met my attempts at explaining the away goals rule. Only stupid sports allow for tie games. José Antonio Reyes scored right at the end of the first half. My devastation brought more people in the room. My video game rage was the stuff of local legend and this was a step above that.
Our numbers kept increasing as the second half started. They had come for the fireworks in front of the screen, but it was the entertainment behind it that kept them there. Chelsea had nothing to lose and they poured forward. Jens Lehmann spilled a shot and Frank Lampard blasted the rebound home to make it 1-1 early in the second half. From then on, it was edge-of-the-seat stuff, even if the football wasn't exactly highest quality. At some point, Eidur Gudjohnsen missed a sitter: Ashley Cole cleared off the Arsenal goal line. The more things change...
The match looked to be heading into extra time but by now no one was complaining about tie games. Most were rooting along with me for Chelsea, a few picked the other side just to be contrarian. Football fans are made this way, though no fresh converts were born just then. A few years later, I would be regularly discussing title chances between Manchester United and Chelsea with one of them.
The clock ticked towards 90 and
Scott Parker Jesper Grønkjær had the ball. He passed to his left, finding Wayne Bridge in space. He's going to drive down the line and cross it in, again, surely? But Bridgey had a thought and drove straight at the Arsenal backline. They must've been taken aback by this sudden change of the prevailing (and unsuccesful) gameplan as they stood transfixed. There was arguably more movement in the room than from the Arsenal defenders.
And so Bridge galloped forward. He played a ball into Gudjohnsen's feet, his one-two finding the left back now inside the penalty area. Don't blink! A smash of the left boot and suddenly pandemonium in one corner of Highbury and in one small room not far from The Crossroads of America. Chelsea have done it! Just another epic European night, but one that lives on rather vividly in my memories.
Wayne Bridge, 33, retired yesterday due to chronic knee problems. After reviving his career last season under Gus Poyet at Brighton (on loan from Manchester City), he had transferred to Reading where he started well but then played just twice since undergoing an operation in November. His five and a half years at Chelsea will mostly be remembered for this goal, for his goal against Portsmouth, and, unfortunately, for all the media and England national team sideshow later with John Terry. His first season at the club - after leaving the Southampton talent incubator - would be his best ever, before losing his place next season in favor of Asier Del Horno and later Ashley Cole.
Whatever Bridgey's legacy may be, this goal makes him a hero forever to me. Thanks for the memory!