The Curse of London?

No London club has ever won the UEFA Champions League.

And no, I’m not just talking about the revamped tournament that began in 1992; I’m talking about its predecessor – the  European Cup – too. This of course means that, since it all began in 1955, none of the many London sides have been able to claim European glory for themselves.

In fact, throughout this 57 year span, London teams have only ever reached the final twice: Arsenal in 2006 and Chelsea in 2008. As history has it, an in-form Thierry Henry could not thwart Barcelona in ’06 and, in ’08, John Terry’s spot-kick was famously denied by the right upright.

Excluding the sham that was the UEFA Cup Winners Cup (I mean, the name itself is self-defeating), London has performed poorly in the other major European club contest as well – the UEFA Europa League (formerly known  as the UEFA Cup). Tottenham Hotspur won a rather weak inaugural contest in 1971 and won again decisively in 1984 but, ever since, there has been nothing but shortcomings. In the 2000 finale of the competition, Arsenal lost on spot-kicks to Galatasaray and Fulham’s cinderella run to the last dance in 2010 was stamped out by Diego Forlan and Athletico Madrid.

When London’s domestic success is examined, this lack of results in continental play is very surprising.

‘The Old Smoke’ has a rich history of triumph in domestic football. Since the FA Cup commenced in the 1871-72 season, London teams have been crowned champions 39 times. With regard to football league titles (including the Premier League era), London’s tally sits at 20.

London teams have been especially dominant in the Premier League era (beginning in 1992) as there has been at least one team from the city finishing in the top-three every season since 1996-97. The most notable example of London success in this period has to be Arsenal’s famous 2003-04 campaign, in which they went undefeated. Of the 20 FA Cup finals played in this era, a staggering 15 fixtures have featured London clubs (including the upcoming matchup of Chelsea-Liverpool).

This decorated record speaks for itself and the question of why teams have not been able to translate their domestic success into European fixtures remains unanswered.

However, Chelsea, fresh off a remarkable defeat of Barcelona in the semi-finals, are back in the Champions League final this year and have the opportunity to bring an end to the discussion. Roberto Di Matteo, Chelsea’s so-called ‘caretaker’ manager and a former player for the club, has helped the West London side find new legs after the firing of Andre Villas-Boas in early March.

Merely ten days into his new role, Di Matteo oversaw his side’s dramatic 4-1 (5-4 on aggregate) victory against Napoli in the return leg of Champions League Round of 16. This fierce rally has propelled the Blues onwards in the competition, as they dispatched Benfica and famously thwarted the mighty Catalan side.

Despite this momentum, Chelsea faces an uphill battle in their attempt to be London’s first Champions League holder. Their opponent in the final, Bayern Munich, have succeeded in becoming the first team since 1957 (Real Madrid) to play in a home final and will thus have significant home-field advantage. Perhaps most glaring, however, is the number of Chelsea players that will not compete in Munich. John Terry, Branislav Ivanovic, Ramires and Raul Meireles are all suspended from the fixture. Three Bayern players will also sit out (Luiz Gustavo, David Alaba and Holger Badstuber) but Chelsea’s loss is far more significant.

Also on Chelsea’s list of woes are the injuries of Gary Cahill and David Luiz. Although the club is optimistic about their recovery, both defenders are in doubt for the final. If these two can indeed get healthy and the club can prevent any further injuries, Chelsea’s title hopes will still be in reasonable shape. If not, London’s European misfortune could be set to continue.

A curse? Perhaps not. But make no mistake about it: the lack of a European title is a sizeable monkey on the backs of London teams, particularly Chelsea and Arsenal. They know that it is time to start catching up to Liverpool (5 titles) and Manchester United (3 titles).

The catch-up begins May 20th in Munich.

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