This article was first sent to us in 2007 and in light of the current transfer in-activity I thought it may fill a few minutes of your time whilst we while away the boredom of Wimbledon.
Football clubs are like people, they have unique personalities and play parts like actors, in their own private dramas. Many clubs live a routine 9-5 existence, they’re happy with their position in life, but are soon forgotten. Success is a consequence for an elite few, players, sponsors and media clamour for their attention, others live a wild adventure. They’re unpredictable, like a flawed genius, things normally end badly. Chelsea played the part of a tragic black comedy, we loved them because of this, nobody took us seriously. This script was ripped to shreds with the arrival of Roman Abramovich in 2003. Chelsea 2007 is a worldwide brand, universally recognised as a leading light in world football, a phenomenal success story. It’s been a tough transition for the media, ‘The Bridge of Sighs’ no longer exists.
It’s interesting to examine how Chelsea is perceived by fans of other clubs and the media in general. More than twenty years ago Liverpool dominated English football, they were praised for doing just enough to win games, without ever playing to their true potential. Arsenal were renowned for their defence and the 1-0 win, this was how to win Championships! During the 90’s Manchester United dominated playing attractive attacking football, the media loved them. After one hundred years Chelsea’s purple patch finally arrived, we can hold onto a one nil lead, dig deeply when required and play great attacking football when appropriate. This begs a certain question; Why is Chelsea condemned for learning how to win, there’s no simple answer.
In order to know who you are, you need to know your history. My generation of Chelsea fans was brought up on a diet of violence, massive disappointments interspersed with the odd moment of brilliance. This produced an addictive cocktail of extreme emotions, we identified with a big club going nowhere, it didn’t matter. Chelsea’s relationship with the press was never good, we were always big news, lurching from one crisis to another, on and off the pitch. Nobody attracted more media attention than the Chelsea fans, even though hooliganism was rife around the country. Financial crisis, terrible inconsistency, the epic battle to save the Bridge from developers, this is who we were for more than two decades!
Some of footballs most fanatical supporters passionately follow clubs with little success, this certainly applied to Chelsea. Few people doubted Chelsea’s potential, something about us was different, we knew ‘we had it,’ this added to the frustration. One of the things that attracted me to the club was the support, especially away from home, fanatical and loyal. Certain games stick in the mind, such as a 6-0 defeat away to mighty Rotherham in Division 2. Our fans made up nearly half the ground, the travelling support roared their team on from start to finish, it made me proud to be Chelsea.
In 1985-86 we were in with a serious chance of winning the Leauge, with just a few games to go, this dream imploded dramatically. Easter saw Chelsea lose 4-0 at home to West Ham, followed by a desperate 6-0 thrashing at QPR two days later. David Speedie was sent off, Chelsea fans got louder and louder, things went from bad to catastrophic. This is what we’re really about, thousands of true blues united behind one cause. Chelsea always had a great hardcore support, we still do, but winning hasn’t come without a price. Chelsea FC was a complete no-go zone for glory hunters, things have changed. Imagine these fans away at Rotherham and QPR, many of them would be on their way home before half time, looking for the next fad to follow. An uneasy truce exists between Chelsea’s hardcore support and some newcomers, this is why!
Many Stamford Bridge fans have been surprised at the venom aimed at us by the media. Conspiracy theorists might question why one rule seems to exist for certain clubs and another for us? Chelsea was a big club going nowhere, we always blew it on the big day, this made us an easy target for the media. When Hoddle arrived we became the new pretenders, without ever threatening the big boys. Chelsea finished third in 1998-99, it was a magnificent campaign, everyone hoped we’d finish first, I knew we wouldn’t. Years of bitter disappointment conditioned fans to expect the worst, it also conditioned the media, controversy always lurked ominously on the horizon.
In 2002, reports of huge debts circulated in the press, Chelsea were going to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, again. Arsenal lurked like starving piranhas in the murky shadows, waiting to pounce on Terry and Gallas. Media vultures circled menacingly above Stamford Bridge. Liverpool came to Stamford Bridge in a do or die premiership game, to decide the final Champions League place. Chelsea won, the vultures watched on ambivalently, it was still only a matter of time. Suddenly Abramovich appeared on the scene, he was going to make Chelsea into winners, this wasn’t part of the script.
Ranieri did a great job for Chelsea, he laid the seeds for today’s success and was hugely popular amongst the Stamford Bridge faithful. Collectively the Chelsea crowd aren’t winners, we loved a likable chap, Real Madrid fans would have demanded his dismissal. Roman Abramovich refused to be swayed, for the first time in our history we brought in a successful manager. Attacks from the press and opposing fans became increasingly desperate. Bobby Robson warned his prodigy that the Premiership wouldn’t be easy, you can’t buy success screamed an increasingly frustrated press. Chelsea casually strolled the league, obliterating numerous records on the way. Huge spending sprees at Man City, Leeds, Newcastle and Liverpool were conveniently forgotten, Fergusson and Venger aged visibly, no mean feat in itself!
Chelsea’s transition into winners was a surprisingly tough evolution for many of its traditional fans. Consistent success is a new experience, years of bitter disappointment taught us to be cautious. Imagine our bitter rivals and the media, we were always easy prey, our script was re-written. Chelsea can be compared with a drunken, unruly student, that later went onto become a multi-millionaire. People can’t believe it, they don’t know how to react, some are pleased, most offer congratulations through tightly clenched teeth. We’re here to stay, English football has been re-written, the media will have to get used to it!