Has it really been fourteen years since the Carling Cup defeat to Bolton that carried so much significance for Chelsea Football Club?
As dawn broke on 22nd October 1996, and as many supporters woke to read the newspaper and teletext reports of the previous nights match, far more striking headlines were being reported across the media.
News of a helicopter crash were initially thought to be of little relevance to you and I, but soon the picture became much much clearer.
Flying back from the match, Harding’s helicopter had gone off route due to adverse weather conditions, the pilot became disorientated and lost control of the aircraft and it spiralled to the ground, killing all those on board.
Matthew Harding was a kind man, full of energy, vision and passion, and who was also a lifelong supporter of Chelsea Football Club, a self made man who loved the club as much as you and I.
He responded to Chelsea Ken Bates’ call for investment in 1994 and went on to invest over £25m of his own money, securing the clubs financial commitment to redevelopment of Stamford Bridge, and also his own place on the board.
Frequent clashes with Bates over the direction to be taken by the club saw Harding banned from the Chelsea boardroom and directors box, so he took up residency in the new North Stand that his money had helped to build.
His involvement with Chelsea gave many hope in the days where there was increasing hostility to the direction Bates was taking the club, and his passing was mourned not only by Chelsea supporters, but by players, managers and supporters of all clubs.
A shrine to Matthew was quickly erected outside Stamford Bridge with flowers, messages of thanks and condolence, and flags and scarves of all clubs being hung in his honour. Football had lost one of it’s loyal subjects.
To his credit and recognising the strength of feeling people had for Matthew, Bates was quick to announce that the stand Harding had helped to build, would forever be named after him as ‘The Matthew Harding Stand’.
If you’re out and about tonight then grab yourself a Guinness, Matthew’s favourite drink, and raise a glass to to the man who helped shape Chelsea FC into the club you know and love today, and if you’re going to the match tomorrow, then as Matthew loved to say; “Enjoy the game!”
Matthew Harding 26th December 1953 – 22nd October 1996. Gone, but never forgotten.