Chelsea have never taken care of their supporters. Oh sure all the rich people who could put money into the club or hire a box were well received, but where were they on the pre-season tours. What about us, we went every week, spent more money than we could afford and got very little appreciation from Chelsea for our efforts.
I’m talking about us that went to everything, friendly games, reserve games, pre-season tours etc. etc. etc. How did Chelsea respond, in typical Chelsea fashion the club turned their back on us, the team loved us, but the club; Pooh! In the pre-season build-up of summer 82 Chelsea played Aberystwyth away in a friendly. We knew about the game, (we had our ways), the club denied a game was due to take place. A Chelsea fan that had travelled to Wales phoned the bridge and enquired again about the game. They denied it again. He promptly told them he was now standing outside the Aberystwyth ground with a program in his hand looking at the match posters that said – “Chelsea – tonight.” The club official put the phone down on him. With that back up from the club it is even more amazing that we continued to support them so enthusiastically.
I had put my job on the line several times to maintain my record of not missing a match. Chelsea did not want us there at all the matches. What was it all about? What was the point of going when I wasn’t welcome? It really felt like Chelsea did everything they could to make it difficult for us most loyal supporters. They did not take us seriously.
Chelsea offered us no help when a friend and I tried to follow them to the Sudan in 1982. They had kept quiet about the 2 games, we only found out two days before they were supposed to fly out.
During the course of making our own enquiries we nearly got shot at the Sudanese Embassy when they found out we were football fans. Security guys in full Arab traditional wardress surrounded us and “escorted” us off of the premises waving AK4’s n our faces. We decided to fly out anyway and had enquired about the camel train between the two desert cities where Chelsea were scheduled play. Suddenly civil war broke out, the airport was wiped off the map in minutes and all flights (including Chelsea’s and ours were cancelled). If we had been scheduled to fly out 12 hours earlier we would have been touching down about the time the first bombs hit. We would probably still be there now as the war is still going on. You tell me, why didn’t the club help us organise the trip, I don’t have an answer.
I had a huge problem with ex-Chelsea players. I was supposed to hate them and shout “Chelsea reject” at them, it was my duty as a Chelsea fan. I could never bring myself to do this, if I had liked a person I couldn’t start to hate him because he was sold.
During 1983 the whole team were put up for sale, Ken Bates didn’t think they were good enough. This was not very easy for me to digest; I had worshipped those very same players for many years, now HE was telling me how bad they were. If they were so bad why had Chelsea sold tickets and encouraged us to go to the games (most games anyway). I only saw the goodness in every player; I had got to know some of them quite well. A new look Chelsea with unheard-ofs like Pat Nevin (WHO ?) and Kerry Dixon (Double WHO?) did not interest me. Players who went because they wanted to go was one thing, but so many in bulk was another.
I hope you are beginning to understand my anguish at the time.
Here is a footballing dilemma. It’s Saturday and Chelsea play Tottenham, all the Chelsea fans cheer Chelsea to win. During the week a rich man comes in and takes over Chelsea. He sells the entire squad to Tottenham, all of the players, lock, stock and goalkeeper. In return he buys the entire Tottenham squad. Say you have just spent 7 years trying to convince everyone that those now sold Chelsea players are the best in the universe and the ones who play for Tottenham are the scum of the earth. Who do you support now ? The players or the team. On a smaller scale this is what I felt was happening during the 1983 close season.
After the end of the 1982-83 season I wrote to Ken Bates, telling him my thoughts and hopes about the club. I made a few points, raised a few questions. It was a very long letter, 8 pages that I took a lot of effort, a pen and ink letter that I had painstakingly put together. All my Chelsea thoughts; past and present asking about the future. For the first time I was now unsure to what degree Chelsea would be involved in my future. I explained that I was considering withdrawing my support for Chelsea. I asked if someone like me, despite all my dedication and devotion was having such doubts then how many more were have similar doubts. I explained that it was time that us elite fans received a better service from Chelsea. If you have read my write up instead of clicking here directly you will know why I regarded myself as amongst the clubs elite supporters, I’d safely put myself inside the top 10 at the time. I told him how angry we were that HE had changed the Chelsea crest, we wanted the old one back. He was taking away my Chelsea. I wanted Chelsea to be big again sure, but not at all costs. I felt my support demanded better attention. If they could not guarantee this I told him that they could bring the blue curtain down on my Chelsea life.
I’d finished the season 82-83 looking forward to the third consecutive pre-season tour of Sweden. Ken Bates cancelled it.
With my mind a quandary of thoughts I went off to Sweden by myself to visit some of the Swedish Chelsea fans I’d had contact with since the pre-season tour of 1981. .My dilemma spun in my head on that holiday, I loved Chelsea, but did they love me…? I came home having vowed to give Chelsea one last chance.
But I came home to the final straw on my doormat. Ken Bates had replied. Alas, it was a standard photocopied reply that had gone out to the thousand or so Chelsea fans that had written to him that summer. It was badly copied, the words on the left of the pages Chelsea sent were smudged, and some letters were missing. There was nothing new in this letter, the same old gumph that Ken had been splurting out in the home programs for a year.
THAT WAS IT
…enough is enough. I knew that Chelsea may well rise again one day, but at the same time I now knew that it would not be a Chelsea I wanted to be so closely attached to. Team performance (or lack of it) is only one reason to support (or to stop supporting) and my decision had nothing to do with the fact that Chelsea had just recorded their worst ever 3 final league positions. My values told me the time and effort I had put in to the club deserved a better feedback. I don’t mean that Ken should have replied personally to every letter. But how many more people who wrote to him had gone to see Sunderland v. West Ham in 1980, just to see if Chelsea would be promoted. I know for a fact that there were only 5 of us who saw all the pre season tours of 1980, 1981 and 1982.
The night before the 1983-84 season started I worked a full 12 hour nightshift. At this moment I had not missed a match since Jan 79. The start of my run coincided with the week I had left school and started earning. I had never missed a game that I had a possibility of going to, never “opted” out of attending a game, not once in my entire life. After the nightshift I did half a dayshift and went home in the afternoon. I got in the bath; from where I listened to the radio as the New-Look Chelsea banged 5 past Derby. The rest is history, Chelsea went up as champions, I stayed away. To this day I know that I took the only option that Ken Bates gave me. He took away my Chelsea; he can have it now. He can have all the credit for making Chelsea rise again. I wanted it on my terms, he on his. He was in a position to win; HE won.
Thank you Ken!
Produced with permission of the author of the Missing Link website. More tomorrow … Consequence of change