In my current curmudgeonly mood, I find it quite difficult to like Sunderland, let alone any of our opponents. But of all the teams we play, there are two that I just can’t get away with. One of them is Crystal Palace and I will save my thoughts on The Glaziers for later. The other is Phase 1 of this week’s London Invasion, Chelsea F.C. Compared with these West London arrivistas, I positively welcome Phase 2 on Saturday night, when Tottenham come calling.
Pete Sixsmith takes a calculated gamble that he won’t be the most popular lad down Fulham Broadway once his thoughts on Chelsea have been digested. Not wanting any bother at his west London badminton club, Monsieur Salut points out that some of his best friends etc etc etc …
So, what is it about Chelsea? And is it just me? I suspect not.
They seem to be club that antagonise supporters all over the country, from Newcastle to Newport, from Carlisle to Colchester, although they have many so-called fans in these footballing outposts.
For a dyed in the wool traditionalist (or old fart) like me, a football club has to be rooted in its community and play a part in it. Most clubs do this, serving the town or city that they come from. That is relatively easy for the likes of Sunderland, Newcastle and Middlesbrough who represent strong, local communities and draw the bulk of their support from their immediate environs. Nobody from outside Middlesbrough supports them because they are fashionable.
But Chelsea are, and that is what many of us find difficult. From the 50s and 60s, when the likes of Dickie Attenborough, Raquel Welch and Lance Percival frequented the World’s End pub and the seats in that ramshackle old stand, Chelsea have been a club that “fashionable types” have latched on to.
Their proximity to Fleet Street helped (didn’t you used to teach geography, Pete? – ed) and the fact that journalists far preferred to be fed and watered in the restaurants and upmarket pubs of west London rather than the rundown areas of North London or the pie and mash shops and “let’s all play the old Joanna”, spit and sawdust pubs of the East End meant that they often wandered down to Fulham Broadway to write about a club that seemed to be an ephemeral part of the London landscape.
So, the Chelsea myth was born. They are a club with no roots in their local community, unlike West Ham, Millwall and Charlton who serve their immediate areas. Even the behemoth that is Spurs serve Tottenham and Haringey, while Chelsea seem to draw from the bits of West London that aren’t Fulham or QPR (two other clubs that I don’t care for).
Founded in 1905 because the Mears family had built a ground and had no team to play in it, they trundled along for donkey’s years without troubling the man who wrote the names on the Honours Board. They got on it in 1955 when they won the league, a title which could have well finished up at Roker if Len Shackleton and co had taken things seriously, and then, nothing until Tommy Docherty arrived to plant them firmly in the media’s attention.
Part of this ill feeling towards the Blues (imaginative nickname or what?) may well come from that fateful game in 1963 when we were about to take the First Division by storm but Docherty out-thought Alan Brown and his team beat us 1-0 with a dubious goal from Tommy Harmer. This should have warned an impressionable 12-year-old that becoming involved with Sunderland AFC was akin to Charles Saatchi marrying Nigella Lawson – it looked glamorous but would lead to a depleted wallet and lots of heartbreak before the habit was never finally kicked.
After Docherty left, they faffed around, were relegated and promoted and were bought by Ken Bates, possibly the most obnoxious football club owner of all time, although Sunderland-born George Reynolds, of Darlington notoriety, would push him close. Bates was a man who suggested that electric fences and cattle prods should be used to keep fans in line and who made a fortune out of the club when he sold it to Roman Abrahomovic 10 years ago.
So they went from an obnoxious English/resident of Monaco owner to a slightly creepy Russian/resident of Monaco owner, but the latter was prepared to pour in millions and millions of pounds to buy a team that could succeed.
Since then, Mourinho, Ancelotti, Scolari, Di Matteo and Benitez have won the trophies that Abramovic’s millions have demanded, but it has been done in a ruthless, passionless way that has left many fans cold. The sight of bullies like Terry and Lampard, good players though they may be, lording it over others and showing complete lack of grace, alienates non-Chelsea fans far more than did the antics of Ferguson and co at Old Trafford.
See the SAFC v Chelsea ‘Who are You?’, with Grant James, a South African supporter.
I had an argument with a Chelsea fan on Twitter recently that has gone to almost every game for 35 years. She wouldn’t consider my footballing opinion of one of our players purely because of my location, when even regulars at Stamford Bridge shared my sentiments. I guess it also depends on your particular club – we have probably 50 outstanding Twitter accounts, many of whom are not from the UK … I’d just say that it’s a global game, and judge fans for their passion and knowledge, not their location.
They will probably beat us tonight as they have players who, even on an off day, are far superior to ours. They will certainly finish above us in the league this season and no doubt for the next 10 or 20. They will undoubtedly win more trophies than we can ever dream of.
But what they will never do is to win the hearts of a community and have support that will stand by them through thick and thin. Their support is transient, has no loyalty to the area and is, in my view, boorish. They may finish above Newcastle, Burnley, Stoke and Sunderland but what they will never be able to do is to win over the hearts of a community. And after all, that is what football is all about.
For another look at Chelsea, including memories of that magical day SuperKev and Quinn destroyed them: http://espnfc.com/blog/_/name/sunderland/id/2487?cc=5739
My approach to Sunderland versus Chelsea is darkened by the usual mix of realism and apprehension whenever a supposedly bigger club pays a visit. I could be mischievous and point out that Sunderland have won the top-flight league title half as many times again — six to four — but it would only prompt knowledgeable Blues supporters to point out that three of those six were in the 19th century.
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