John Terry made his 100th European appearance for Chelsea on Thursday night. Every one has been as a starter, taking in campaigns in the Cup Winners’ Cup, the UEFA Cup, the Champions League and now the Europa League.
In an extensive two-part interview, he sat down with the official Chelsea website on the plane back from Moscow on Thursday night to discuss the ups and downs of his continental career.
In part one, he recalls the early days…
How much do you remember about your European debut, against Valerenga in the Cup Winners’ Cup?
We got to the hotel for the team meeting, and I think all the other players and Luca knew I would be playing, but they didn’t tell me until the last minute so I didn’t get too nervous. The game went really well. Luca was player-manager and I remember making his goal from right-back with a cross. I did okay in the game, it wasn’t much different to what I was used to, but you could feel how much it meant to the likes of Marcel and the players around.
It was only my third start I think, and the others came in the FA Cup and the League Cup, and I was out of position the whole time. I remember playing central midfield against Southampton as well, and I was never a right-back! The fans were so patient with me for those first few games and it really helped me find my feet.
The next season, 1999/2000 you missed out on Champions League football, in the club’s first outing in that competition. Was it a disappointment not to play?
No, that was no surprise at all! I was just happy to be part of the squad. Nine times out of 10 I’d do those away trips and then be back with the reserves the next day playing a game. The lads would be off but I would go in, despite people like Graham Rix and Ray Wilkins saying I should be off but it helped me keep sharp.
Being on those trips did me the world of good, it was great to travel and get a taste of what it’s like in those big games and training sessions at big stadiums. Even now I still think that it’s an honour to go to some of these places and it can be overwhelming.
Your second European game came two-and-a-half years after your first, against Levski Sofia. You must have felt ready for it…
I did feel I was ready when I started to play regularly. A lot of the time even then I would travel with the team and then sleep in my car at the training ground when we got back, leaving my heating on overnight. It cost me a fortune in petrol!
I look back on things like that that nobody really knows, getting back in the early hours and then either driving home for more than an hour to Essex or about 45 minutes to digs in Isleworth. I was often on kit duty as well, so I’d often stay there with Aaron Lincoln, the kit man, lay out the kit for the next day and then sleep in the car or dressing room. I look back now and just think how worth it it all was, even though it was a bit of a struggle at the time.
What do you remember about going to Tel Aviv in the UEFA Cup in 2001? Were you worried at all, or tempted not to travel like some of the more experienced players?
The players had a few meetings at the time, and as a young lad I sat there and didn’t say a word, I just took it all in. I came away from it not really understanding where the older players were coming from. Now I’ve got kids I see exactly where they were coming from. I would still go now, but I can understand it. Back then I was the first on the flight because I saw it as an opportunity for me, and Joel Kitamirike played alongside me.
In 2003/04 you finally played in the Champions League. Did it feel different to your UEFA Cup experience?
Definitely. I remember Marcel telling me to listen to the music in that line-up. I’ve never seen a player get pumped like he did before those big games. It meant so much to him. When he went back to Milan and Wisey scored, it was the best reception I’ve ever seen a player receive. Wow.
The way that season ended, with defeat to Monaco, must have been incredibly frustrating having just knocked out Arsenal’s ‘Invincibles’?
It still frustrates me now, that one. To go to Highbury and win at Arsenal, we were on such a high and I really fancied us to go all the way. We had a real chance, and we completely messed it up. Looking on the flip side though, had we gone on and won it, would we then have got Jose Mourinho in and done what we did after and be what we are today? Maybe not. The team we had out in Monaco, to lose how we lost, was ridiculous.
Mourinho’s first season, the 2004/05 campaign, was the season of the Terry Champions League goals…
I had a really good spell in Jose Mourinho’s first year. I think I scored three in three, and was joint top scorer with Ruud van Nistelrooy at the time. I think I still have a picture of that table somewhere! I’ve scored quite a lot of goals for a centre-back and always tried to make the most of it when I went forward.
People talk about the Barcelona goal in the first knockout round. I remember we’d been 3-0 up, and they got back into it to make it 3-2. I never went into any of those Barça games thinking we wouldn’t win though.
Jose gave us a lot of confidence and I always fancied our chances. With that goal, I signalled to Damien Duff to play it like we had worked on in training, and I remember flicking it and thinking it didn’t have enough power. It probably wouldn’t have got there had Riccy Carvalho not been there helping out on the goalkeeper! Mateja Kezman tried his best to get his toe on it as well, but nobody was taking it away from me! That was an amazing night, one of the best at the Bridge in my time.
Then came Liverpool, with disappointment in both 2005 and 2007…
We were a long way ahead of them in the league, they were nowhere near us, but they made it really difficult. In 2005 it was very tight but we fancied ourselves at Anfield, and then there was the goal that for me never was.
We had some big battles, and I felt we shouldn’t have lost either of those ties. They were hugely disappointing, which just makes me so glad that since then we’ve finally been able to go on and do it.
In part two tomorrow, Terry talks Moscow, Munich and the many memories associated with both…