Offside, 27 October
Can we please hate Chelsea for all the right - and irrational - reasons?
Now let’s get just one thing straight: I hate Chelsea. Why? Probably because all the irritating wannabe bovver boys at my south London school supported Chelsea. Admittedly it’s not a particularly rational explanation but then football allegiances are never very rational. ‘I support Chelsea because of their excellent business plan.’ It doesn’t really work like that, does it?
But while I dislike Chelsea for largely parochial reasons, I am also growing rather sick of the increasingly vocal breed of nouveau Chelsea-haters. A cursory scan of football websites and message boards will reveal countless anti-Chelsea screeds. ‘Chelsea are the equivalent of a man who has never given his wife a bunch or flowers, and who goes down the pub with his mates on Valentine’s Day. Chelsea are the death of footballing romance’, writes Paul Tomkins on the Football365 website. If Chelsea are not being accused of buying success, then it’s tapping up other clubs’ players, or playing unattractive football, or making the Premiership predictable and dull.
But it isn’t just embittered rival fans who resent Chelsea’s newly acquired riches. FIFA president Sepp Blatter recently complained about ‘individuals with little or no history of interest in the game, who have happened upon football as a means of serving some hidden agenda…and proceed to throw pornographic amounts of money at it’. Blatter warned that this ‘new money could suffocate a sport that has 1.3billion active followers around the world’. He didn’t name any names but you don’t need to be Sherlock Holmes to work out which particular oligarch he was referring to.
It was inevitable that Chelsea’s wealth would breed resentment. The only surprise is that it’s taken so long to develop. When Roman Abramovich first bought the club, the predominant complaint was that he was a foreign tycoon, probably with dodgy Russian mafia connections, who would treat Chelsea as a plaything which would eventually be discarded. Chelsea were initially shielded from the full force of rival fans’ rouble-envy mainly because they were not Manchester United. In fact, Chelsea’s ascendance last season was positively welcomed because they were undermining the hegemony of Manchester United who, for the last decade, had been universally loathed for their wealth and success.
Sections of the press did start to turn against Chelsea last year after a series of tapping allegations involving Peter Kenyon, but it took longer for ordinary fans to turn Chelsea-phobic. When they secured the title in April, journalist David Hills complained that the antipathy towards Chelsea that existed among the Guardian’s football writers was still not shared by its readership. ‘In February we ran a poll to see whether we were right to feel this way, asking Football Unlimited readers if Chelsea were now more hated than Man United’, wrote Hills. ‘It was close for a while, but 13,245 votes later, the split was 15 per cent Chelsea, 52 per cent United.’ (2)
However, now that it is clear that United are a declining power, the green-eyed ‘Anyone But United’ sentiment does appear to be transferring to Chelsea. But, whereas United were seen as the embodiment of the corporate takeover of football – the giant supermarket that was squeezing the life out of the little high-street greengrocer – the hatred of Chelsea is slightly different. Sepp Blatter’s reference to ‘new money’ is particularly telling. It chimes with the sentiments of rival fans who chant ‘Chelsea have got no history’. United were hated for their relentless success, their arrogance and their glory-hunting fans who, heaven forbid, ‘weren’t local’, but nobody questioned their status as ‘a big club’. United, like Liverpool before them, were seen as part of English football’s aristocracy.
Chelsea, however, are seen as vulgar nouveau-riche upstarts. It is bad enough that Chelsea have come into new money but what is worse is their loadsamoney ‘look at my wad’ attitude and utter lack of respect for football’s time-honoured conventions. Whether it is Jose Mourinho publicly criticising referee Anders Frisk (and driving the bronzed prima donna into retirement) or Peter Kenyon tapping up Ashley Cole so indiscreetly, Chelsea are seen to be thumbing their noses at the football establishment.
I’m not suggesting that we should all worship at the feet of Jose Mourinho or wax our pecs in tribute to his smooth-chested players – just that we should detest Chelsea for the right reasons. Deep-seated hatred of their west London postcode; irrational prejudice against any team that plays in royal blue; allergic reaction to hearing their irritating anthem ‘Blue is the colour’; or simple honest loathing of a club whose celebrity fans include those public school mockneys Johnny Vaughan and David Baddiel – these are all perfectly honourable reasons for despising Chelsea.
However, the charge that Chelsea have no ‘history’ – ie, they are not part of football’s old boys’ network – is a pathetic reason. So what if there are fewer ancestral portraits hanging in their boardroom or that their trophy cabinet is relatively bare? What has history got to do with anything? Having an illustrious history does not mean your club has a God-given right to sit at the top table – ask Sheffield Wednesday. Hatred of Chelsea is not intrinsically objectionable but there’s no excuse for old-fashioned snobbery.
(1) Chelsea – Killing Football For Us All, Football365.com 22 September 2005
(2) Chelsea congratulations, no reallyGuardian Unlimited, 30 April 2005
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