CUP-WINNING KEEPERS: FRODE GRODAS
In the build up to Saturday's FA Cup Final, Chelseafc.com is celebrating the men between the posts on the days we lifted the famous trophy.
Four players have been on duty in goal for our five FA Cup wins. Recently Peter Bonetti re-lived the night at Old Trafford when the club did it for the first time and now we speak to Frode Grodas.
It was Grodas in goal when we lifted the Cup for the first time at Wembley and if the 65-year wait before Bonetti and co. triumphed had been the longest, the 26 years without any sort of major trophy prior to 1997 was long enough to generate a joyous outpouring of emotion when the day did come for a stylish side, managed by Ruud Gullit and containing the likes of Gianfranco Zola, Roberto Di Matteo and Frank Leboeuf.
'It was a fantastic day,' Grodas recalls with ease.
'I know there are so many English players playing their whole football lives just wishing to fulfil a dream like that, and I got it in my first year. It was a fantastic year and I will never forget it, never.
'On the pitch, in the dressing room after and then going back down the Fulham Road and seeing so many people there afterwards, the celebrations were brilliant.'
Middlesbrough were the opposition the day Chelsea won the Cup for the second time. Like Portsmouth in 2010, they had already been relegated and were rocked severely by Di Matteo's strike in less than a minute. Homegrown Eddie Newton sealed a 2-0 win seven minutes from time and for Grodas watching at the other end, it was a comfortable afternoon. His most significant contribution to the FA Cup win had come in the semi-final.
An-experienced Norwegian international, the then 31-year-old signed in October that season following a serious knee injury for first-choice keeper Dmitri Kharine.
Grodas himself missed a famous fourth-round win over Liverpool when Chelsea overcame a two-goal half-time deficit to win 4-2, but was back for wins over Leicester and Portsmouth which set-up a meeting at Highbury with Wimbledon, so many times a Chelsea nemesis in that era.
Grodas had at times been unconvincing under the high ball and there were pre-match concerns how he would fare against the Dons' notorious aerial blitz, but with fellow Norwegian Erland Johnsen drafted in as a more physical centre-back in front of him, the keeper frequently came and collected and performed admirably as Chelsea won 3-0.
'It was a bit up and down for me that year,' he admits. 'I am the sort of player who needed a little time to settle down and at a club like Chelsea that is not always the case, you don't get that time, but that day I think I played quite well. Wimbledon was a tough team and it was a tough game as well but we won.
'That Chelsea team was a team full of strong characters and that is the sort of personalities who now become coaches and managers,' he points out, and you only have to look at a team of 1997 containing the names Mark Hughes, Steve Clarke, Dennis Wise, Dan Petrescu, Gianluca Vialli, Newton, Di Matteo and Zola to see what he means.
The 1997 Cup Final was Grodas's last Chelsea game. In came Ed de Goey that summer so after a short, non-playing spell at Tottenham and a 1998 World Cup when he was first choice for his nation, the Norwegian spent four years in Germany before returning home.
After a spell as head coach of a top-flight Norwegian side ended in relegation on the final day of the season, he decided to concentrate on coaching goalkeepers, a job he performs for the national team and, until recently, at club side Lillestrom where Erland Johnsen also works.
Grodas visited Cobham this season to see the facilities available for coaches there and was able to make a comparison with the Chelsea training ground at Harlington he knew.
'It is different,' he smiles. 'I was very impressed and I have been around many clubs. Now at Chelsea it gives a platform to be one of the best clubs in the world. No-one can beat Chelsea on facilities now but the main thing is what you do every day in the training. It is not how nice the bench is or how warm the swimming pools are, it is the work every day on the pitch that you and the team do.
'I had two very good years at Chelsea that left a mark on me.'