In the eighties, it wasn’t fashionable to mention that you were a football fan. I’m very serious. It was the social equivalent of loudly announcing at a Surrey dinner party that you liked cock fighting and had an eye for underage teenagers. To say you then supported Chelsea was even worse. At the time, Chelsea fans were renowned, however fairly or unfairly, as violent and racist scum. It wasn’t just that we were being called that, we were being called that by the police, British Rail, all the national newspapers, other Clubs and even by Chelsea itself.
Ken Bates joined in the contempt by announcing that to improve the Shed, he’d install an electric fence to keep us in. A sort of eighties version of the Taser gun. The GLC, headed by Ken Livingstone, objected to the power being turned on which avoided some nasty shocks and led to Bates calling the GLC ‘cretins’.
After Italia ’90, football became fashionable again. The only fists being raised on the terraces were more for the ‘let’s all do the disco’ conga rather than global supremacy. Everyone wanted a part of it and after the advent of the Premiership in 1992 and also, don’t forget, the Euro 96 hysteria, football re-entered the mainstream as a ‘cool’ pastime.
I got involved with the Chelsea Independent fanzine at a time of great transition in football, when money started pouring into the game as a result of Sky TV and with Chelsea hiking ticket prices by up to 25 per cent per year. As our fanbase changed and evolved (with many more families and women attending), it was also the start of the Chelsea revolution with Hoddle reinventing our style of play with a fluid pass-and-move game. Whiilst we’d still lose 13 or 14 games a season, we played with a panache that brought back some semblance of self esteem to a support that had been seriously battered for its allegiance to the Blues over the previous twenty years.
It was 1993. Ross Fraser, a former Guyana gold prospector, was the then Editor of the Chelsea Independent. Smart, funny and simply a great guy, Ross managed a hostel for 25 ‘care in the community’ adults in Maida Vale whilst editing the Indie fanzine at the same time. I don’t know what was more chaotic, Ross’ house or the Indie, but he still managed to pull out a cracking edition of the fanzine each month.
A long time reader of the Indie from almost its first issue in ’87, I responded to an ad placed by the Indie staff for more writers (just like CFCnet is doing today). I then found out that Ross Fraser lived down the road and hence began my association with the Chelsea Independent fanzine and CISA. There were some real die-hard Blues involved – Mark Meehan, Paul Roberts, Neil Brown, Mark Pulver, Andrew Wrench, Nicola Roberts, Neal, Tom Bowtell etc – too many to mention. Many a day I’d help Ross type in some more hand-written copy provided to us by regular contributors.
At the same time, Bates, as ever, was busy castigating anyone who remotely got in his way. As he was often quoted, he liked to work in a committee of two with one member absent. Whilst he had an ever-increasing dislike of the Chelsea Independent, we weren’t the only ones to be on the receiving end of his barbed tongue. Here are just a few of Bates’ quotes at the time:
The FA – “an inept administration”
Matthew Harding – “an evil man. He left a legacy of bitterness”
Ruud Gullit – “a part-time, playboy manager”
Glenn Hoddle – “besotted by Harding’s bullshit”
Ham’smith & Fulham Council – “bloody loony-left council without a pot to piss in”
Footnote: thanks to Nick Brow, Mark Wyeth and Dave Faulkner for additional information.