We all follow the Chelsea … begins a popular Chelsea chant, but more and more these days I’m beginning to wonder if this assumptive terrace anthem is in fact correct.
The football media circus may have re-pitched its tent 200 miles north of Stamford Bridge focussing its frenzied attentions on the engaging dramas unfolding at Manchester City, but that doesn’t mean to say that one or two clowns cant be found sniffing around SW6 for a story.
Those nice chaps from Match of the Day 2 were in town when Stoke City visited the Bridge recently. In speaking to myself, cfcuk editor David Johnstone and the elegantly coiffured (if somewhat portly these days) sage from the south coast Graham Fendle, they probably chose the wrong people to ask if we thought there was a crisis at Chelsea Football Club. Having supported the Chelsea long enough to remember the dark days of the mid 70s and early 80s when the very existence of the club we love was regularly under threat from creditors and developers alike, we were hardly likely to be fazed by the patchy form being displayed by the current team.
‘There’s no crisis here,’ I’d volunteered politely. What ended up on the cutting room floor was my suggestion to interviewer Kevin Day that the last time there was a crisis at Stamford Bridge a man with a big white bushy beard, who looked uncannily like Uncle Albert of Only Fools and Horses fame, had erected a huge metal fence around the pitch intending to run an electric current through it in order to prevent violent footballers such as Doug Rougvie invading the terraces and running amok amongst our peace loving supporters.
Anyone who saw the programme will know that our score predictions were slightly out, nevertheless an afternoon of dyed-in-the-Blue-wool, old school glorious unpredictability later there was no sign of the egg that Crystal Palace fan Mr Day was hoping would be smeared all over our faces.
Crisis is perhaps too emotive a word to describe the ups and downs at a football club, but if the truth be told the display of unity shown by Chelsea’s players before, during, and after the game with Stoke City failed to mask what was another slipshod performance against an unimaginative team whose lack of technique and overtly physical approach to the game reminded me of the Wimbledon side of the early 90s.
The debate about whether or not Big Phil truly understands the machinations of the way football is played in England remains as lively as it is ongoing and it is not my intention to further develop it here. One thing I will say in his defence is that he has had the courage of his convictions to drop Didier Drogba. Am I the only Blues fan tired of reading his dull and unimaginative diatribes in the press? One minute he wants to play for Chelsea, the next minute he wants to play for Marseille … or anyone who will have him. The only problem is no-one appears too interested in securing his services. Why?
During the Mourinho years, Didier Drogba was peerless. A fantastic striker with a passion for the game who endeared himself to Blues fans with gutsy performances, never-say-die work ethic and wonderful goals. When the Special One departed under a cloud the Drog became disaffected. Hampered by injury and disconsolate at the loss of his mentor, his form dipped and his temperament wavered. Moscow was the nadir in Drogba’s Chelsea career and many Blues fans who’d forked out a king’s ransom to be present in the Luzhniki Stadium for the Champions League Final fell out of love with him when his petulance got the better of him and he was red-carded for slapping United defender Nemanja Vidic.
In his recently published autobiography Drogba wrote: “I have seen the match on video and I believe I should not have been sent off with three minutes to go. If I had punched him, I would have understood. Now I wish I had.” The fact is Drogba was sent off. We will never know what the outcome of that final might have been had he remained in full possession of his faculties and on the field of play, though the widely held belief is that Chelsea would have prevailed.
Drogba has had ample opportunity to redeem himself both by word and deed (witness the rehabilitation of Nicolas Anelka) and yet he continues to disappoint match going Blues fans to the point where he has now become a divisive figure.
Didier Drogba tra la la la la was a strirring chant that unified supporters in the stadium during the Ivorian’s Stamford Bridge hey day. Now it’s fragmented. ‘You haven’t been to many games recently have you,’ voiced one disenchanted fan to another who’d started singing the Drogba chant when he came on as a substitute in Saturday’s FA Cup victory over Ipswich Town. ‘First time this season. Why what’s your problem mate?’ came the aggressively toned reply. What followed was a reprehensible three-minute-round of purple-faced finger pointing and an exchange of expletive riddled threats which was fortunately quelled by several stewards before matters got seriously out of hand.
Watching Chelsea in the 21st century is an altogether proposition to what it used to be. The redevelopment of the stadium coupled with the fact that at any given game their could be upwards of 10,000 supporters attending matches who do so on an infrequent basis can be a recipe for trouble when things aren’t going the way of the team. Everyone who pays good money to attend a football match is entitled to an opinion, and some are more vocal about their opinions than others.
Whilst the modern Stamford Bridge is blessed with fantastic facilities, unfortunately there is very little you can do if you happen to find yourself sat in the vicinity of an over-opinionated blue-veined dickhead, the probability of which increases markedly when Chelsea play cup games at home and many season ticket holders choose not to purchase their regular seats. Back in the day, if you didn’t like the company at close quarters on the terraces you simply moved away. Back in the day, I don’t recall the divisiveness amongst Chelsea supporters that we witness all too frequently today.
Chelsea’s average home league attendance has increased by 20,000 in the past 25 years and the clubs global support has grown at an exponential rate … a beautiful thing in one respect but a double-edged sword in another. On Match of the Day 2, David Johnstone recalled the time that Chelsea almost got relegated to the old Third Division. Specifically, in May 1983 a transcendent Clive Walker volley saw off a plucky Bolton Wanderers side at Burnden Park spared the Blues blushes and saved the club from the drop. The outcome was pivotal in the fortunes of Chelsea in what was a genuine period of crisis for the club. DJ alluded to the fact that some people have short memories. The trouble is some peoples memories don’t stretch back that far, of course in many cases it’s not biologically possible, but that doesn’t condone fractious behaviour.
In my years of following Chelsea I have found her both a wonderful giving lover and a cruel fickle mistress. But unlike the women in my life who have come and gone she has never deserted me. Never has and never will do, and for that reason my love for Chelsea is unrequited. I know there are many like me, but then there are also many who just don’t get it. You know the old mantra, Win Or Lose … Up The Blues!
There are plenty of books which chart the progress of Chelsea Football Club down the years and maybe those who don’t have the longevity of support to understand that several home defeats is not a) constituting a crisis b) a cue to join in ‘you’re getting sacked in the morning’ chants and c) a reason to leave the ground early because the team are playing poorly.
The dire economic circumstances that many people find themselves in today means that many long standing genuine Chelsea supporters have been priced out of attending matches, their places filled in the main by ‘fans’ for whom the baited L*verpool chant about having no history may indeed have some creedence.
One such fan currently priced out of the Bridge is a former Chelsea player who grew up watching the Blues from the Shed and went on to play for the team he idolised as a kid (a peerless achievement which is unheard of these days). Several weeks ago, Kelvin ‘celery’ Barker and myself had the pleasure to meet up with and interview former Blue Dale Jasper for a new book project we are working on.
Sadly, many fans old enough to remember Jasper still shiver at the memory of that dreadful night at Roker Park back in the bleak midwinter of 1985 when Dale, still just a few games into what should have been a very promising Chelsea career, had the calamitous misfortune to concede two penalties to Sunderland in the First Leg of a League Cup semifinal. Chelsea lost 2-0 and never recovered the initiative. In true Chelsea fashion it was Clive Walker, the Blues saviour from a couple of seasons previously, who delivered the mortal blow in the Second Leg at Stamford Bridge. Young Dale was traumatised by what had happened, and with his first team opportunities becoming more limited he ended up leaving the club and concluding his career in the lower leagues but one thing has remained constant throughout his life … his love of Chelsea Football Club. Dale is enduring a tough time at the moment, being involved in the building industry at the moment hasn’t helped, and his financial agenda cannot cater for visits to Stamford Bridge. All he can do is listen with a frown on his face as he hears the tales of civil unrest from those who attend matches.
Players like Didier Drogba, fortunate enough to ply their trade in an era when astronomical sums of money are lavished on them, should have the humility to recognise that they are blessed with good fortune to be able to do what they do in this day and age. It meant something to Dale Jasper to pull on the Blue shirt of Chelsea, from where I sit week in week out it means nothing anymore to Mr Drogba.
If there is one benefit from the fact that many ‘regular’ fans are having to give up their Chelsea fix, it is that hard-core Blues from over land and sea are now able to indulge their passion more frequently. These aren’t the so-called ‘tourists’ that are often chided, these are real supporters. I’ve lost track already this season of the number of times this season I’ve met up with members of the Swedish and New York Blues. You won’t catch them leaving early when Chelsea are 1-0 down with five minutes to go. They often ask me with puzzled frowns, ‘what is happening to our support, why are there so many arguments?’ I shrug my shoulders and suggest to them that the only way to really savour the True Blue Chelsea experience is to follow the team away from home.
This coming Sunday, Chelsea visit Anfield in the latest ‘must win’ fixture. Fortunately for the players, they will be cheered on for 90 minutes (plus any stoppage time) by 2000 or so fans who have genuine belief in the club they support.
Yeah! We all follow the Chelsea allright… and I for one can’t wait.
See you at the game!
Mark Worrall is the author of cult terrace classics ‘Over Land and Sea’ and ‘Blue Murder … Chelsea till I die’, his new book ‘One Man Went to Mow’ is out now. Copies are available to buy with a discount of up to 30% and free postage within the UK at www.overlandandsea.net