A point that has been mentioned many times this season by our Manager Jose Mourinho is the lasck of atmosphere at home games and the fact we do not act as a twelfth man as they do at Anfield for example. As well as my own opinion I’ve decided to speak to some fellow supporters to see if we can find the reasoning behind this, what difference it makes and how it used to be.
Firs off I spoke to Robin Coles (you can get him on Twitter @robinacoles), a Chelsea supporter of almost 50 years and has been going to matches since 1971. He is a current West Stand season ticket holder.
Robin “I arrived in England in 1966 (he grew up in Thailand due to his Father working for the UN), knowing nothing of football. I soon discovered that my two cousins were Chelsea supports, went to the matches, and brought me home programmes and other items. So from around 1967 I was hooked on Chelsea, the ‘Royal Blue’ kit and Peter Osgood in particular”.
“I have been to over 60 grounds to watch Chelsea play, our dodgy periods in the 80s meant that we played many lower league teams, and when aligned with our current European experiences and Premier league status means that it has been possible to see Chelsea play in very diverse places”.
“Some of my highlights include the 4-4 League cup draw draw at Sheffield Wednesday in the 84/85 season, we were 3-0 down at half time!”
“Paul Cannovile’s debut away to Palace in the early 80s, where a section of fans behind us booed when he came on, yet five minutes later when he beat two players on a run, were out of their seats cheering him.
The 3-0 win against Wimbledon in the FA Cup semi final of 1997, where I spent the entire second half looking at the clock, not accepting that we could win, until we went 3-0 up in injury time”.
On the atmosphere and the affect it has on the players.
“In the 80s and 90s Chelsea were starved of success, had a core following of British males with similar demographics and expectations were low. There was always the possibility that this would finally be our year, but never seemed quite to be. We nursed the hurt that our great football team did not have the position that it deserved, but somehow that the volume of our support could change that, despite the fact that the team rarely had the quality to actually do that”.
And touching on how it is today and some reasoning why it maybe different.
“Today, we have had success, we have been to finals, we have won leagues and we were European Champions. Our crowd is more diverse particularly at cup matches, its a day out for people, tourists can go and tell their families about it all and the hunger to be heard isn’t as strong as it was. Whilst we are passionate, we have seen it before and we are pretty sure we will see it again. So the atmosphere for regular games is reduced. Its not as intense, not as desperate, we get up for big games, particularly at night where there is a single point of focus and its often a match against a top European team. Our rivals have changed, they used to include West Ham and Spurs, they are now focussed n Liverpool, Man Utd, Man City, Arsenal and the big European teams”.
On what we can do to get the atmosphere back at The Bridge.
“A normal cycle of support starts with young fans experiencing things for the first time, becoming committed, asserting themselves and therefore creating atmosphere. Older fans have seen things before and therefore have less need to feed of this. Its all part of the ageing process. So one key thing would be to get a younger element coming to the ground, those that are starting their journey, as we did years ago.
In addition, whilst there is no reason that seats mean that the occupant won’t support their team, what they do is to promote formality. As the main parts of the ground are season ticket holders, having seats means that you are obliged to sit in the same place match after match, so there is no formation of groups who congregate together, and create their own atmosphere. Its all too formal and too rigid for these things to happen.
Regrettably, the only way to address this would be to introduce safe and unreserved standing, something that would be far too difficult to administer, so the solution is not simple. probably what is required is an area behind the goal that is not season tickets, but where one can purchase tickets that are standing, and unreserved, meaning that the dynamics of becoming part of a group happen more dynamically”.
On Mourinho’s comments regarding the Stamford bridge atmosphere.
Mourinho’s comments always require further thought, he knows what he wants the end result to be, so he plans his comments to achieve that end result. In all probability he wanted to ensure that we were up for the 2nd leg of the League Cup Final, which would help the team. If so, this was certainly achieved, as despite paying for my normal seat in the MHL, I only used it at half time.
However, that aside, Liverpool are now where we were in the early 90s, their fans remember the great triumphs, but they are now rare, they have the need to see their team back where they think they belong. They thirst for success, but its not coming. They are a well supported club and this period is bound to be one where their atmosphere is enhanced, they can feel it, but they cant touch the success just yet. So, from our perspective I think its almost bound to be the case the Anfield atmosphere is enhanced compared to ours.
Also, there is the London factor. Supporting a team in Liverpool is about identifying with your city, either Blue or Red. In London its not like that, the population is more diverse, there are many teams and supporters coming from all areas and you don’t identify with London”.
I also spoke to Jonathan Davies (get him on Twitter @jonathanCDavies) who also writes Chelsea blogs and is fully opinionated on the Blues. He’s been supporting Chelsea for almost 20 years and goes to many home games.
Jonathan met Gianluca Vialli when he was 5! “Before a match, my brother and I had a photo with Gianluca Vialli. He ducked his head under the stairs outside the East Stand to put an arm around us. After a huge thank you from my excited five-year old self, Luca pulled away and thumped the back of his head on the stairs!”.
On today’s atmosphere at The Bridge.
“The atmosphere at Stamford Bridge can be incredible. But it can be equally terrible. It depends entirely on the opposition and the importance of the fixture. The last game I went to was the Capital One Cup semi-final second-leg against Liverpool. It was easily the best atmosphere I’ve witnessed in a few years, baring in mind I haven’t been able to go as often over the last two years or so. The best atmosphere in recent memory have been Champions League knockout games or cup semi-finals.
We love singing at games. I couldn’t imagine going and not intending to sing. But I think there’s an air of expectation nowadays. The fans turn up to Stamford Bridge on a normal Saturday to face mid-table opposition expecting a win – and feel like they only need to get vocal if and when things don’t go according to plan”.
On what is was like 10-15 years ago.
“It was completely different. I started my Chelsea journey in an era where 5th or 6th place was a good season, and getting to the Champions League in 1999/00 was a huge deal. There wasn’t an expectation to win in those days. So there was a real atmosphere throughout the game. Each goal was celebrated with a geniune explosion of passion, rather than a sort of ‘Wahey, finally!’ we get now”.
On what we can do to get a better atmosphere.
“Safe standing. It has to be introduced. Regardless of the rules, the games I’ve been stood up for its entirety have always had the best atmospheres. I can’t ever recall going home and saying ‘the atmosphere was great – we sat down most of the game’.
Ticket prices are another major factor. Every now and again I look through my things and see old tickets that cost a couple of pound. I know Chelsea and the Premier League in general is a vastly different kettle of fish now, but younger people are being priced out of football. I have two nephews, aged 8 and 6. If we’re not able to get tickets in the family section, we have to pay £50+ each for them. That means we can’t take them as often as we’d like – so they don’t grow up going as much as my brother and I were able to. They don’t build the passion for the club that we did, because they’re not there to experience it.
Chelsea introduced a singing section in the Shed Upper some years ago, perhaps around 2006-2008 (I seem to remember it being around the first Adidas kits). It was called the Shed 100 I believe – tickets sold to 100 people in one section who wanted to sing all game. From what I can rememebr, it seemed to work quiet well – the noise of the 100 encouraged those around them and it built a really great atmosphere. Why not re-introduce the singing sections? One in the Shed, one in the Matthew Harding?
I love the lights going out when the players enter the pitch. At the Liverpool semi-final, moments before the lights went out I asked my brother and father why we don’t do it more often. We go to Wales rugby matches quite often – the entrance for the Wales team builds so much tension and atmosphere, even against smaller opposition in an unimportant fixture. I’m not calling for flamethrowers and for Chelsea to come onto the pitch on their own, but putting the lights down and playing some tense music creates a much better atmosphere than the usual cheery applause (obviously putting the lights out would be a bit redundant on a sunny afternoon in summer!).
Finally, on Mourinho’s comments.
“Anfield? Are you crazy? Anfield is always a cauldron of noise. Or so Sky Sports would have you believe! I completely agree with Jose on the lack of atmosphere. I’ve been to games where trying to start a song is greeted with silence and a sea of judging eyes”.
Some hugely valid and interesting points raised there and I think they echo what many supporters feel. The times have simply changed and the successful team we are now, has reduced our atmosphere, as touched upon supporters expect to win now so we’ve lost that passionate desperation.
As well as that, it’s the number of ‘day out supporters’ just to say they’ve been and they’ve witnessed a celebrity as such, unfortunately that is modern society.
The comments about getting more younger people to grounds is very true, this is how the love affair will start but as Jonathan touched upon, ticket prices are far too expensive for families to take their kids and that’s the sad truth.
Safe standing I think we all agree needs to come back, that will help immensely. Although none of us would change our success in recent years, to go back to the days when we lost at home to Coventry and were STILL singing, would be amazing albeit for just one day.