Chelsea legend Gianfranco Zola warns Spurs icy weather will help Tromso

Gianfranco Zola speaks to Harry Kemble about Chelsea's 3-2 loss to Tromso in the Cup Winners' Cup in Norway in 1997

Harry Kemble
By Harry Kemble

Tottenham’s Europa League campaign has gone without hiccup but on Thursday night their assortment of star players will face Tromso, a bone-chilling 210 miles inside the Arctic Circle under the Northern Lights.

The Norwegian side have not hosted English opposition in such conditions since 1997.

Back then, Ruud Gullit’s Chelsea ventured to Tromso where, for three months of the year, darkness envelops the people and the mercury plummets to well below freezing.

In the now defunct Cup Winners’ Cup competition, Chelsea lost 3-2 to Tromso on a memorable night when a blizzard exacerbated already treacherous conditions.

Uefa refused to postpone the match – the weather was only going to get worse after all.

Chelsea legend Gianfranco Zola and a starter that night, told The Sport Review: “During the game it started snowing and we couldn’t see each other or at least no more than two metres ahead.

“It looked like we were in the park because the pitch was covered in snow and we were playing with a red ball. The game should have been called off.”

Two late goals from Gianluca Vialli saved Chelsea’s blushes – they would host a return match with their Nordic opponents at Stamford Bridge two weeks later for the second leg.

Zola, in an exclusive interview from Watford’s training ground, remembers: ‘They were a decent team and played the game really well. We weren’t particularly good and the conditions didn’t help us.”

Chelsea, trying to play the ball on the floor because they were accustomed to more refined playing surfaces of home, found themselves 2-0 down at half-time – but that was a mistake.

As the players sloped off the pitch for half-time the blizzard really kicked in. During the break “the pitch became completely covered, unplayable, dangerous and atrocious,” wrote Neil Barnett, Chelsea’s pre-match announcer afterwards in his review of that season.

Incredibly, four Chelsea players chose to wear short-sleeved shirts to start the match. “I remember I was wearing a yellow shirt and one of those shirts that they use for the snow. I had gloves too – I had everything on,” Zola said.

In the second half Chelsea tempers started to fray. Straight after Vialli had pulled one back for his side, French centre-half Frank Leboeuf limped off the pitch.

With Chelsea temporarily down to ten men, Tromso took advantage of the hole at the back to score again making it 3-1. The Chelsea manager was furious.

“It was a sloppy goal and Ruud Guilt was so upset. He saw something on the floor which looked like a ball on the ground – it was round,” Zola recalls through a grin. “He went and kicked it with all his power but it wasn’t a ball – it was made of cement. He broke his foot.

“I saw him angry a few times but that was one of the few times he was really fuming.”

Thankfully for Chelsea, Leboeuf’s replacement Andy Myers, watching the match from the relative heat of the bench, knew exactly how to play the conditions. He lumped the ball forward to Mark Hughes.

The veteran Welshman, so often the go-to man late on in a game, nodded the ball to Vialli who scored.

Chelsea’s quality finally triumphed back in west London when they thumped Tromso 7-1 in the return leg. The later went on to win the competition in the slightly warmer climes of Stockholm, beating Italian side Vicenza 1-0 in the final the following April.

Spurs will play Tromso a month later than Chelsea did all those years ago.

It means there is a whole month longer for the bitter weather to set in – a month longer for the Nordic snow to fall.

Zola believes “the conditions will play a part” and despite Spurs’ dominant European form this season, Andre Villas-Boas and co must be wary of the Norwegian outfit.

“It will certainly be an advantage for Tromso,” Zola adds. “One thing is for sure those sitting on the substitutes’ bench must take blankets.”

“It will be a test because they will have to be prepared to play in the conditions as well as the opposition who are used to them.

“Sometimes it can be the pitch, sometimes the temperature. You need to handle these factors – it will be a test for them for sure.”
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And what lies in store for those hardy souls who make the trip to support Villas-Boas’ men?

“Tromso is a beautiful place,” Zola says in earnest. “When you are landing there you are right by the sea and you have the city on the right. There are all these small wooden houses of different colours. It is wonderful place to be.

“The fans will really enjoy it but they will have to drink a lot because it is cold, But he adds, with another smile: “I don’t think that will be a problem.”

Tottenham’s Europa League clash is expected to go ahead on Tromso’s artificial pitch despite snowy conditions.

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