Never have I felt so honoured to be affiliated to Chelsea Football Club. You could roll Rorke's Drift and the Spartans at Thermopylae into one and still the ten heroes clad in white would merit comparison. Perhaps that is over-doing it a bit and maybe if I read that last statement back to myself when the dust settles on this season I will be a touch embarrassed to compare a football pitch to the battlefield. But right now that is exactly how it feels.
In a match overflowing with so much incident it is impossible to know where to start. Take Gary Cahill's injury and the introduction of the hitherto unreliable Jose Bosingwa; take Busquets' smart opener; take John Terry's moment of utter madness; take the swift incision of Andres Iniesta's goal; take Ramires' exquisite chip following Lampard's perfectly weighted through ball; take the penalty miss by the world's best player; take Lionel Messi then hitting the post; take Fernando Torres casting his demons aside in injury time. The match had turning point after turning point. The peaks and troughs of hope and despair were unlike anything I have witnessed in 30 years of watching football.
But if I thought I had experienced the full spectrum of emotions, spare a thought for those who will miss the final in Munich. Geoff Shreeves' merciless bursting of Branislav Ivanovic's happy bubble by informing him that his booking at Camp Nou triggered a suspension was horribly misjudged. The question might have been valid but perhaps better placed at the end of the interview rather than as the very first question. Watching Ivanovic's heart break live on television was one of the most gut-wrenching post-match interviews I have ever seen.
The loss of Ramires from the final is possibly even more distressing such was the Brazilian's impact on both legs of the semi-final. His tireless energy was exemplary as was his quite magnificent finish on the stroke of half time and, together with Drogba and the indefatigable Ashley Cole – has anyone ever seen two better performances from a left back than he has provided in the last seven days? – he encapsulated the desire and spirit of this reborn Chelsea team. Ramires will be sorely missed so Michael Essien will need to accelerate his return to form if he is to ably fill his shoes.
A special mention must also go to Raul Meireles, a player for whom I have previously found trouble hiding my disdain. However, I stand corrected. He has improved markedly since Roberto Di Matteo's installation in the managerial hotseat and his second half display yesterday was his best 45 minutes in a blue shirt. Patrolling just in front of the penalty area in tandem with Lampard, the pair hunted down Barcelona's advancing midfield and blunted the European champions' main area of attack. John Obi Mikel is another to flourish under the new regime and has transformed perceptions in a matter of weeks. Previously deemed to be one of those destined for the exit door this summer he now, aged just 25, looks to be an integral part of the club's future. He will have to maintain this level of performance of course but maybe, just maybe, he is about to fulfil his potential.
One player that has not attracted any plaudits is Terry. Only he will know what went through his head when he decided to send a message to Alexis Sanchez via a raised knee. Our captain trotted out the familiar refrain of those who have grossly overstepped the mark when he insisted that he was “not that type of player”. But in his case, he is correct which makes his actions all the more mystifying. His attempts to excuse himself were almost laughable but he has since apologised and I, for one, am prepared to forgive him. No player has given more to the Chelsea cause – perhaps in the entire history of the club – than John Terry. Remember he has been playing with broken ribs for the past few weeks and anyone who has suffered that injury will tell you quite how painful and hindering that can be. His punishment – which is fully deserved – is that he will watch events in Bavaria from the sidelines and that is punishment enough.
Among the plethora of outstanding displays, there was one that was not so obvious. One that has merited some attention but maybe not as much as it should. That of referee Cuneyt Cakir. There was understandable concern prior to kick off that such a huge match riven with history and sub-plot was handed to someone without previous experience of the Champions League knockout stages. Yet he controlled proceedings with the air of a veteran. He correctly called all the major decisions with the possible exception of the penalty but I confess that at the time it looked like a clear spot-kick to me. He had no choice but to send Terry from the field and he was wise both to Drogba's attempts at time-wasting and the futile attempts from Barcelona players to win cheap free-kicks.
Apart from all the things that ultimately matter such as goals, red cards and penalty misses, there were also less obvious memories that gave the body a fuzzy glow. Tell me who amongst you didn't smile at Lampard showing Cesc Fabregas who was boss by following up an earlier tussle with a scything challenge to halt a Catalan counter-attack? The pair have previous and Frank was never going to back down against his former Arsenal adversary. Less bone-crunching and more heart-warming were the celebrations at the final whistle. Images of Cole on his knees while smiling to the heavens and Bosingwa's expression of delight mixed with disbelief will never fade but seared into the back of the mind is the footage of Drogba charging exultant from the bench to embrace Torres in the wake of the Spaniard's tie-sealing strike.
After 90 minutes of nerves being shredded, you could not have hoped for a more perfect ending but for all the ecstasy enjoyed by Chelsea it was hard not to be impressed by those clad in Barcelona colours, whether on the pitch or in the stands. After the match was put beyond doubt by Torres, the Camp Nou erupted in applause. How much of it was aimed at Chelsea's performance is unclear but it was an impressive display of loyalty to a Barca team that has given them so much pleasure over the last few years. The vanquished players were dignified in defeat, waiting to shake hands with the victors, and in the ensuing morass of interviews Pep Guardiola and his charges – with the notable exception of a certain former Gunner – were all magnanimous in their praise of Chelsea despite the crushing weight of disappointment on their shoulders.
But top level sport is ultimately about the winners and last night was a night not just to remember but to relive again and again. Whatever happens in Munich, 24th April 2012 will have a permanent place in the pantheon of great Chelsea moments and has a valid claim to be the greatest of them all.
You can read more of Phil's opinions at ShoutyAndSpitty.com or on Twitter @PhilLythell