For our second Who are You? interview ahead of SAFC v Chelsea, we extend a friendly hand to Denise Hone*, a Chelsea fan who has graced these pages in the past. Her site is Chelsea Den and you can see her tweets at https://twitter.com/thechelseablog
Salut! Sunderland: Welcome back, Denise. I think it’s been five years since you sat in the “Who are You?” hot seat and you’ve had a lot better than the present season. It cannot all be Mourinho’s fault. Explain
Denise: Plenty would like to blame our car crash of a season on Mourinho, I can only imagine they have short memories. To blame it on him would suggest the same Jose Mourinho who won three titles with us became a bad manager overnight. In reality, we weren’t great last season and in fact, have needed a proper makeover for longer. Mourinho managed to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear, albeit in a poor Premier League season, but it papered over cracks and the club were complacent as a result. The need to freshen up wasn’t recognised and we’ve looked stale all season.
Who knows what happened pre-season but the whole Swansea thing snowballed. Don’t get me wrong, Jose could have handled the situation better but I could see why he’d be furious. Hazard wasn’t injured, what he was, was apathetic. That attitude is something he’s been berated for the entire season, yet Mourinho reacting to it – or rather, reacting to a medic pandering to it – was considered less acceptable. All the denials in the world about player power won’t wash for me though. We still haven’t set the world alight without Mourinho but given the way Guus has managed us, that’s not surprising. Yet the same players who were sliding a bit too close to relegation for comfort, have managed to avoid it.
I recall you were always aloof of that attitude that expects victory in every game, but it must have been a culture shock for Chelsea fans who’ve known only great success
There’s been plenty of toys thrown out of prams, including mine. I’m still clear we’re not entitled to win games, results have to be worked for but expectations have been higher for the last ten years or so and the real shock has been the lack of effort.
How has Guus Hiddink done in sorting out the mess he inherited and what do you feel should be the logical succession?
I think most would say he steadied the ship, I’d say whether that was down to him or the players themselves is debatable. Hiddink hasn’t exerted himself this time and anything he’s perceived to have done is irrelevant the minute Conte walks through the door anyway.
Do you resent players who allegedly stopped trying for Mourinho?
Yes of course, I’d resent any player not giving it their all, irrespective of who the manager happens to be though. We had a similar situation with Villas Boas and I felt just as strongly then.
Lots of neutrals admire Chelsea’s achievements but cannot warm to the club. Can you put your finger on why, and is there any sign that this season’s uncertainty has made your club more likeable in football generally?
Money, plain and simple. We’re perceived as having ‘bought’ our success, as if we’d won nothing before Abramovich. Yes, he was the difference in the end when it came to the last push between challenging for titles and having the right resources to actually win them but if you look at City, how are they different? As for us being more likeable this season? No, I don’t think that’s the case, we’ve just been irrelevant.
Even to reach the comfort of top half is worthy of mention after the state you were in early in the season. Who has done most to aid the improvement and where have you proved weak?
I’m not sure 9th feels worth a mention, although it’s preferable to relegation obviously. Did we really improve though? I don’t think we did particularly, we strung a load of draws together with the occasional win. As for weaknesses, our biggest weakness has been mentality. More or less the same players who won the league couldn’t win an argument this season, that’s not down to skill, or lack of it, that’s effort.
Is Gianfranco Zola still the player who has given you most pleasure in a Chelsea shirt?
Absolutely. Gianfranco Zola epitomised the word ‘professional’ on and off the pitch. He gave his all, every game and it was a privilege to watch him play in the shirt.
Who else sticks out from the present, recent past or Chelsea’s rich history?
Last season, I’d have said Eden Hazard. We were spoilt with some of his football but that looks like a flash in the pan. No-one comes close to Zola but just in terms of players I’ve enjoyed watching, or being part of the club during our more successful years, Lampard, Ballack, JFH, Vialli, Gudjohnsen Essien, Drogba and JT naturally, have all delivered some very special moments.
And who do you wish had never set foot inside Stamford Bridge?
Your own greatest moments, and low points, as a supporter?
Chelsea have brought me to tears on a few occasions. Drogba’s penalty in the Champions League final is a no-brainer but that campaign had so many great moments getting to the final. Mourinho’s first title with us after such a long wait, that whole season was pretty ‘special’. To be honest, we’ve been spoilt with bucket loads of great moments? I’m always telling my sons they’ve been spoilt with the Chelsea I’ve brought them up to support. As for low points, pick any relegation you like, I enjoyed none of them although was probably much more accustomed to that feeling than the gut-wrenching, heartbreak of Moscow – that was a killer.
Bring us up to date on the stadium and future plans/hopes. Size matters in this case of course but it always seems surreal that we get more fans watching an annual relegations scrap than you do for CL football
The plans are probably a long way off being agreed and any work is further away than we might have believed according to the latest reports. I’m ambivalent about it all really. Whilst the plans look pretty spectacular and showpiece grounds are always nice, aesthetics are no substitute for atmosphere. These things have to be paid for and enough supporters are priced out of attendance as it is.
Still only bitterly cold memories of being in Sunderland or have you been back since you said that and experienced a Wearside heatwave?
I haven’t been back actually. I’ve turned into a bit of an armchair supporter in recent years for a combination of reasons – most of them personal. That’s not a forever status though, so I shall look forward to this summer in Wearside you speak of.
Your thoughts on the club, the fans, Big Sam?
Sunderland have only fared slightly worse than us this season really. Both swapping managers, yet neither making the sort of difference we’d want. Only difference is, we avoided a relegation battle. Big Sam’s ok, bit of a grumpy bugger but straight talking. What Pardew refers to as prehistoric, I’d call old school and there’s nothing wrong with that. Obviously, I’ll say the supporters are top drawer.
Top four and bottom three in order?
Leicester, Spurs, Arsenal, City
Newcastle, Norwich, Villa
You agreed with me on the evil of diving. Is it now a lost cause, with so many at it (as well as all the feigning of injury, imaginary card-waving and penalty area wrestling)?
I think the real lost cause is the officiating of it. If the treatment of all the pantomime nonsense had any consistency about it, players might be less inclined to demonstrate their acting ability.
Best ref, worst ref?
That’s a question and half. The standard is so poor now, it’s not easy to narrow it down. Atkinson has some shockers consistently but then Clattenburg loves to take centre stage for the wrong reasons. Best ref? Honestly couldn’t name one but then we notice what they do wrong rather than what they do right.
Looking forward to the Euros or just longing for a new Premier League season?
The Premier League bubble seems to have burst a bit, I think the past two seasons have been pretty lacklustre and not a great advert for the beautiful game. The Euros will be a welcome relief, particularly after the season we’ve had.
Will you be at our game and what will be the score?
It’ll be one of the rare games I probably wont get to see at all due to a badly timed family commitment. I never predict scores but I’d say you’ll get at least a point from it.
* Denise Hone on herself: : I’m ChelseaD from The Chelsea Blog, otherwise known as Denise. Chelsea is what I was brought up on, I’ve often said that growing up in my house you either supported Chelsea or were put up for adoption, as simple as that really. Fortunately I was happy enough with that arrangement. I’m probably one of our most cynical supporters and make no apologies for it, I blame the darker days (thanks Dad) and pray they don’t return!
Interview: Colin Randall