Who are you? We’re Chelsea

Ray Knight

How to forget Stoke (though we’ve plenty to say about that, too)?
Let’s try. Gloryhunting comes in many forms. Brian Kerrigan, an esteemed Canadian colleague with uncertain knowledge of English football, wrote on Facebook: “Hull City AFC. all the way baby! Go Tigers!” Ray Knight* decided as a lad that he’d support Chelsea. But that’s a bit unfair on both. Kerrigan, for all I know, is Jason De Vos’s best mate and even has a David Bowie-related excuse**; Ray may have grown up in wondering whether to support Arsenal or Spurs (though why not Barnet?) but qualifies as a real Chelsea supporter on the old-fashioned grounds that his dad was one too. In this outstanding contribution to Salut! Sunderland‘s Who Are They? series, he

* tells of a heartwarming encounter with a fan he mistook for a homicidal Mag

* blames Liverpool’s deserved win last weekend on a fluke goal and bad refereeing

* praises Keano for channelling his “psycho” aggression psositively and buying well.

When not supporting the Blues – albeit only when they play at home – Ray is a railwayman based at Kings Cross and active trade unionist. He sits in the East Stand upper tier next to David “Sid” Millward, who supplied an entertaining preview to the same game last season; Sid describes his mate as “a thoroughly good guy, Guardian-reading, cryptic crossword-doing railwayman with an encyclopaedic knowledge of late 60s rock”. Before his team faces the might of a team that nearly avoided defeat at Stoke, Ray tells his own tale …..

Shall I start
with something controversial? Well, let’s have a go – a football fan is defined as much by the teams he or she hates as well the one that is the object of his / her adoration.

I am 57 years old, and a Chelsea supporter for 45 of those years so you might think I should know better. A person of my age should be able to show a bit of maturity in these matters, and be able to discuss reasonably with one’s fellow fans the finer points of the game.

Well bollocks to that, especially when your lads have just lost a magnificent unbeaten home record to a flukey deflection. My good friend and fellow season ticket holder Sid, who like myself holds a responsible position in society, pays his taxes and always remembers to vote, tried that today, ie reasonable debate and appreciation of the opposition’s qualities. Sorry mate, I just want you to agree with me when I froth about the cruel injustices of the game, and why the referee’s parents were never legally joined in matrimony.

So there you have it – I hate Scousers (but only the red ones), I hate Mancs (but only the red ones) and I hate North London teams (but only the red ones – be fair Spurs have given us so much light relief lately, who could possibly hate them?). But teams from just the right side of Hadrian’s wall (oops, more controversy!) – well I don’t hate any of you (not even you red ones). I know you all hate one another with a passion and intensity that an outsider like me cannot even begin to understand, but I look away, not wanting to get involved in family business. I was however made brutally aware of your passions on a tube train on Nov 12 1983, an encounter that I initially thought would be my departure from this life. But I digress, you want to hear my thoughts on Sunderland.

First things first, I have to confess that I have never visited either of your grounds, because I basically only go to home matches. In the monochrome days before compulsory pre-booking, I might venture over to Highbury, White Hart Lane or Craven Cottage but that was about as far away as I went. It may have something to do with the time I did spend Good Friday 1968 at Maine Road and had the crap kicked out of me. Ok I did go to Grimsby to see us crowned 2nd division champions in 1984, and just lately I have been able to go semis and finals in occasionally exotic locations, but you will appreciate that these, like our beloved London buses, have only come recently after a hell of a long wait.

It also has to be said that since 1965, the year of my Stamford Bridge initiation, Chelsea – Sunderland matches have, as far as I can recall, been mostly run-of-the-mill league encounters of little incident, that have left little impression on my memory. The first one I can remember attending was in 1969, where, to quote the famous Norwegian commentator, “your boys took one hell of a beating”, 5-1 with four goals from Bobby Tambling and one from Alan Birchenall. But I’m buggered if I can remember any of them.

The one exception of course is the two-legged League (Milk, Rumbelows, Coca Cola, Trotters’ Independent Traders – can anybody remember?) Cup in 1985. Having to watch the away leg on my mother-in-law’s telly and my language, I distinctly recall the hapless Dale Jasper giving away, not one but two penalties. At the time it brought to mind Oscar Wilde’s epigram about losing one’s parents (one’s a tragedy, two is carelessness, if my memory serves me well). A substitute on the night for first choice central defender Joe McLaughlin, poor old Dale’s career never recovered after that. Then of course, the second leg at the Bridge.

It started promisingly – we were rampant and David Speedie (formerly of Darlington, the second best team in the North East, yes?) gave us the lead, but then it all went wrong. Into the Judas Iscariot role stepped Clive ‘Flasher’ Walker, ably assisted on the pitch by Metropolitan police personnel, both two- and four-legged and out we went. As it happened, both our seasons finished in disappointment, missing out on European qualification by a whisker, Sunderland losing the final and Chelsea losing the last league match at home. Norwich were the party poopers in both cases. Now there’s a team we can both hate! In fact, that was the year of Heysel, when apart from the tragedy of the evening, the Scousers managed to get us all banned from Europe. There’s another reason to hate them!

However, Flasher is back in the family, and yes you actually paid us money for Gareth Hall so all is now sweetness and light. But before I finish, I must return to Nov 12 1983. Just to recap, it was in 2nd Division days, we had an excellent team (Speedie, Dixon, Nevin to name but three) an excellent manager in John Neal, and we were riding high, scrapping with Sheffield Wednesday, Man Citeh and the Bar Codes for top spot and promotion. According to the press hype this was the BIG ONE – we were entertaining Newcastle with Kevin Keegan playing for them, most probably as Captain.

It would be tight, no quarter given, no prisoners taken, could Chelsea handle it? etc etc etc. No offence to my press chums, but you guys don’t half talk crap at times……..we absolutely stuffed them, 4-0, KK running around all match like a puppy chasing that elusive bog roll.

Getting on the tube after the game feeling like a dog with two thingummies, I found a quiet corner of the carriage, took out my programme and started to read.

It was then that I noticed a brick shit house sitting in the opposite corner. He noticed my reading matter and then lurched across to engage me in conversation, speaking to my horror in what I correctly took to be a North East accent, but being a poor Cockney, I was unable to pinpoint the precise origin of his vowels. He asked me the score: “four nil” I said as my mouth dried up instantly. “Who to, man?” he continued. By now, his very muscle-bound bulk seemed to block out all the lights in the carriage. “Chelsea” I croaked as I suddenly rediscovered religion. At that point, his hand came down on my shoulder, but which to my surprise was still in its socket, where it had always been. Then, and only then did I relax as I saw that this man-beast was actually laughing, no cackling, as he uttered the words I shall I remember for the rest of my days “Bloody fantastic mate….I’m a Mackem and I bloody hate those Geordie bastards!”

As I said at the beginning, it’s as much about hate as love.

So here’s some answers to your questions:

What did you think of our respective clubs’ prospects before season started?

I am, and always have been the eternal optimist, and I really do believe that we can win every competition, especially after Krusty the Clown was relieved of the manager’s job shortly after taking us to our first Champions’ League Final (how’s that for gratitude?). Even in the bad old 2nd Division days I used to believe it. Honest!
As for Sunderland, you seem to have a firmer foundation than I ever recall – a new stadium, finances seemingly OK, a chairman with passion and integrity and a manager who I remember as a psycho in his playing days, but has channeled his aggression in a positive way. You really ought to be in Europe soon. The only thing you need to fear is Alex Ferguson retiring in the near future.

Does the expectation of victory in virtually every match ever become boring?

Belief is one thing, expectation is another. That’s what marks Chelsea fans out from Tottenham fans. Now that really is sad. I think that is also the same difference between Sunderland and Newcastle fans (you hope, they expect, even though you have collected more silverware over the past 50 years).

What do you make of the signings each club has made and who would you most like to see in a Chelsea shirt?

I do believe Keane has bought brilliantly in Gordon, Chimbonda and Malbranque, though my memories of Anton Ferdinand are of an attention span slightly less than that of his big brother, marginally more than that of a kitten. In Jones, Diouf and Cisse you have three excellent forwards, especially when you consider the horrific injuries he suffered at Liverpool and Marseilles (?).
Our purchases of late have been more modest, though Ivanovic looks solid and dependable in defence. Di Santo is a teenager who has the potential to be a world class forward, while Bosingwa has added another dimension to our play. We are currently a bit short of experienced forwards, and I wouldn’t mind relieving Wigan of Zaki, the Egyptian guy they have on loan.

When did you last see a SAFC v Chelsea game home or away, and what happened?

I saw both the last two matches at Stamford Bridge, both 2-0 to Chelsea, and I have to confess to remembering absolutely nothing about them. Maybe I’m just getting too old. I do recall watching the 2005-6 match at the SOL on the telly in my local pub. I arrived a bit late, shocked to find Sunderland leading. What I remember most though was the idiot ref giving Robben a second booking, and sending off, for leaning into the crowd after scoring.

Have you been to the Stadium of Light. If so what did you make of it? Of Sunderland itself? Had you ever been to Roker Park?

Sorry, I never even been through Sunderland on a train. Maybe one day!

Have you ever regretted the moneybags, let’s-buy-success way Chelsea’s revival is often portrayed? Should it, and the Abu Dhabi takeover of Man city plus all the lesser buy-ups (like Sunderland’s) make us fear for the future of the game?

Football clubs operate under the same economic rules as any other capitalist organisation so we shouldn’t be surprised, especially given the traditional British government attitude to financial regulation (“as little as possible, can’t upset our chums in the city can we?”). The only difference is that football clubs have captive customers. We tend not to change clubs as we would change supermarkets if they stopped performing to our hopes and expectations.

Do you regard Fulham on anyone else much as we regard Newcastle, or are you more grown-up?

There is absolutely no danger of me growing up, though I do have a soft spot for Fulham, ever since Alf Garnett christened them “Johnny Haynes and his Seven Dwarves”. As for my current hatreds, see article above.

Best moment as a Chelsea fan? And worst?

My best moment has to be the day in Stockholm in 1998 for the Cup Winners’ Cup Final – the whole day was magic, the weather, the food, the drink, absolutely no agro, cavorting with the Swedish police and the Stuttgart fans, the match and the result. My father always said that when we had made our pile, we would start going abroad with Chelsea. We never made that pile, we were out of Europe for almost 30 years, and he died in 1985, 20 years after taking me to my first match. I did take out his photo which I carry in my wallet, and let him have a look at the trophy presentation.
Worst has to be May in Moscow (on telly but still gut wrenching).
The strangest memory (sorry, a new category) was one Saturday in the late 70s, when after working six long night shifts, with a seventh to look forward to, three hours sleep then practically being spoonfed my lunch by my wife, then having watched a truly abysmal 2nd division match, a 1-0 defeat against a team so bad I can’t even recall who they were, in a crumbling stadium, then queuing up for the tube afterwards, in the rain and cold, crushed up against the rear end of a copper’s horse, I asked myself a question: “Why am I doing this? I have paid good money for this, when I could have stayed at home in the warm. Nobody has forced me to come and endure the misery I have just gone through, nobody has paid me. Why?” I suppose we all have these moments, but again I ask, “Why?”

Any memories of Clive Walker, Ian Porterfield, Gareth Hall and other players linked to both clubs?

“Flasher” and “Albert” see above. As for Ian Porterfield, like John Hollins, a great player, magnificent servant of the club, a wonderful human being but a bloody awful manager. Shame really.

Club vs country. Who wins for you?

Club, no argument, though I do like major international tournament finals. When England have gone out I support the country containing the most Chelsea players. Sorry, does that sound like I’m bragging?

Who will win on Saturday? Score? And will you be there?

I’m not religious but I do have football superstitions, one of which is never to predict the result or score. All the deities that I don’t believe in willing, I will be there in the East Stand upper tier – I’ll give you a wave.

* Ray Knight on Ray Knight:

I am a 57 year old railway worker, and trade union activist (NUR/RMT) at Kings Cross, supporting Chelsea since 1965. At school I had no skill in playing football and no interest in watching football, but you had to have a team or you got beaten up – where I was in Barnet it was either Tottenham or Arsenal. Knowing nothing about football at the time I chose the Spurs as I had a vague recollection of them having won something recently (actually it was the double). It was one night in 1964, on the radio came the news that Chelsea had beaten Spurs in a FA Cup replay and my father let out a cheer. When I remonstrated with him, his reply was, roughly, to stuff Spurs into an intimate part of my body. Up to that point I had no inkling that he had any interest in the game either as could not afford to go once we moved out into the sticks. I nagged him to take me to see this Chelsea that he thought so highly of. We eventually went together to the FA Cup 3rd Round in January 1965 (4-1 against Northampton Town) and I never looked back. And I too share his opinion of Spurs. We also shared a season ticket from 1967 to 1983, decided then for financial reasons that we would be a bit more selective in our matches, though in effect we rarely missed one. In 1996, it began to get a bit difficult to get tickets, so by then earning a good bit more, I took out a season in the East Stand, which I still have.

When the opposition fans taunt us with “Where were you when you were crap?” I answer in the south east corner, between the old West Stand and the Shed.


** Brian Kerrigan (pictured looking mean) on supporting Hull:
“I didn’t even know they were doing well. I didn’t know they weren’t expected to do well. I’d never really heard of them. But when people at work told me I had to have a football team, I chose Hull because that’s where my favourite guitarist – the late Mick Ronson (pictured looking mean) from Bowie’s Spiders from Mars – came from. What’s it like there?”


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