On Monday night I settled into the sofa, remote in one hand, drink in the other, ready to watch return to form after the Liverpool debacle. We were up against an in form Fulham, who haven’t hit last years Hodgson inspired heights but have become a tough opponent for any team, as Spurs will testify to.
After yet another dull first half, no better than the dire Liverpool display I thought I’d detected small flickering signs of life in the dying embers of the worst title defence seen for some years. I was rather hoping for a better second half, almost convinced a stiff half time bollocking from Carlo would liven the lads up and see us hit them for 2 or 3 goals. Well we dominated yet another second half but despite vast amounts of possession and being camped in the Fulham half for all but a few minutes, we could only muster 4 shots on target from the whole game. It was dismal and exciting in equal parts, apart from the finishing and the snail like pace of our midfield, Ramires aside. But enough has been said elsewhere about the season thus far including the Fulham game.
After the game I continued to follow and contribute to the comments on Twitter. I thought mine were perfectly sensible criticisms of our performance, the season thus far and Carlo Ancelotti. All comments which I feel entitled to say, both as a 40 year plus fan and someone who has splashed out £850 for a season ticket and more for Megastore stuff. None were personal or insulting but all were opinion based on my perception, knowledge and logic. This stirred a few people into slinging accusations at me and others involved in 140-character reasoned debate, that we couldn’t possibly be ‘real’ fans.
And this is my question. What constitutes a ‘real’ fan? This could apply to any other team but lets keep it blue. I can’t describe the average fan, because no such thing exists. I can usually spot the casual fans, the people who are there for a day out or the glory hunters who would follow any team in order to be touched by success. But I can’t spot a real fan. It seems to me there is a faction out there who define being a real fan as someone who goes to every game, home and away including Champions League, who watches CTV all the time, who goes to reserve and youth team games and who spends all their disposable income on replica shirts and other Megastore tat. You’ll be accepted if one or two of those criteria aren’t met, but you would be instantly dismissed for any other indiscretion or wayward comment.
They have a jihadist attitude to anyone who dares question any player on skill or attitude, anything the manager does or anything emanating from the club official communications. These people see anyone with the temerity to question any aspect of Chelsea as some sort of non-believer heretic, and instantly accuse the likes of me of being disloyal or closet fans of other sides. I was accused of not getting behind the team, and one even said I was one of the ‘boo boys’ you hear at games. Dear God, if you ever sat near me at Stamford Bridge, or in my living room you’d know that not to be the case. But here’s a thing….I was accused of not being a real fan once because I publicly stated I would not sing ‘Murderers’ at the Liverpool fans, ‘Rapist’ at Robin Van Persie’ or that ultimate low point song talking about where Spurs fans were when Hitler gassed the Jews (I simply have standards of decency). In many ways these self appointed real fans share similarities with any political or religious fundamentalists who go to any length in order to ignore evidence in front of them, enraged at any variance from their faith, even to the point of using violence or threatening behavior to warn others of their undying belief.
I have an open mind, maybe explaining my own atheistic views whilst accepting that people should follow their faith quietly and privately, without the need to impose their beliefs on others. I believe in healthy debate, even heated debate that doesn’t get nasty or personal, and where the standard ending is an agreement to disagree and another pint.
I have loved this club for 40 years since I was 10, flying in the face of other Hayes based mates who supported QPR, working with people who don’t get football and socializing with those who think we’re all thugs. I’ve spent thousands over the years on tickets and stuff from the shop. I watch every game that I can’t be at. I love them and hate them in equal measure, have endured more heartbreak than joy and still I’m here. Isn’t that like love? I’ve cried openly in defeat and victory. I have 2 Chelsea tattoos; my kids support them because they see their Dad’s passion. At work my passion sets me aside – I’m known as ChelseaTony by colleagues, friends and relatives. It’s part of my identity. And I say what I think when things aren’t right. I criticize players often and I criticize the coach, but equally heap praise when it’s due. Credit where its due, criticism where applicable.
And that, after my earlier question, is my answer to what a real fan is. It’s me, and people like me. Not mindless, abusive, zealot puppets blindly following the club line, the players line or the coach’s comments. Not someone who lashes out at other fans because their opinion differs from mine. Not someone who thinks winding up other fans through racist or offensive morally indefensible songs is the right way to show my support. Tribalism …yes. Extremism…no.
So, where do you stand?