Why Chelsea will never be loveable
The Make Chelsea Loveable campaign underestimates the power - and joy - of football’s politics of hatred.
Who will win the Premiership title? Frankly, I don’t give a damn. The Premier League title has become such a closed shop in recent years that I’m past caring. I’m only concerned about who doesn’t win. And this season I’d dearly love to see Chelsea not win. In fact I’d love to see them implode completely. I want to see John Terry cry the way he cried like a baby in Moscow.
Why do I, a Crystal Palace fan, dislike Chelsea so? Well, it’s difficult to explain. Like all football animosities it’s irrational. It’s one of those traditions, like half-time Bovril, that you just take for granted. ‘We hate Chelsea and we hate Chelsea; We are the Chelsea haters’, we used to sing. There was no: ‘We hate Chelsea because…’ No rationale was needed. It was self-evident. It’s probably a south London thing, I guess. You follow the Palace ergo you hate Chelsea. We don’t detest Chelsea in the same way we detest Brighton. But it’s good honest parochial hatred nonetheless.
And, as you can imagine, I’ve been delighted by Chelsea’s recent troubles. Whether it’s a temporary blip or a sign of a more serious decline, we’ll have to wait and see. But it’s certainly fun while it lasts. It’s especially amusing to watch the failure of the Make Chelsea Loveable Campaign. It’s hard to believe that only a couple of months ago some journalists were fawning all over the new loveable Chelsea. Gone, we were told, was Mourinho’s pragmatism. Big Phil’s brief was to win hearts and minds through stylish football. ‘I want to make Chelsea loved around the world, like Barcelona and Manchester United’, said Scolari. ‘It’s a surprise when people say Chelsea are unpopular because, when we went to China, they cried for Chelsea. They loved Chelsea. It’s a big surprise people don’t like us in England.’
At first everything seemed to be going to plan. Scolari charmed the media and his team were scoring goals. ‘The togetherness, the spirit, the way we’re knocking the ball around – it’s the football I’ve always wanted to play’, declared Frank Lampard. He continued: ‘It’s certainly football every fan would enjoy watching.’ Ahead of Chelsea’s Champions League game against Roma, the Mirror’s Martin Lipton was positively gushing about Chelsea’s transformation. ‘While Jose Mourinho’s side inspired fear and respect in equal measure, the Special One’s win-at-any-costs mentality turned the moneybags Blues into the team that everybody loved to hate’, wrote Lipton. ‘But Scolari’s attacking instincts, which have brought unbeaten Chelsea 27 goals in 11 matches, and his refusal to moan about referees or injuries, have begun changing the attitude of fans throughout the country.’ (1)
But then things started to go awry. The goals dried up. The defence started to spring leaks. Points were dropped at Stamford Bridge. Chelsea were dumped out of the Carling Cup by Burnley. Rumours of dressing room unrest surfaced. And, after one win in six games culminating in Sunday’s abject 3-0 capitulation at Old Trafford, Scolari’s own position has been called into question. Some newspapers have claimed that the Brazilian coach has only a few weeks to save his job. Scolari himself has accused the players of underperforming, saying that some are only playing at ‘35 to 40 per cent’. He didn’t name names, but it’s not hard to work out who the culprits are.
So, where did it all go wrong? I think part of the problem lies with the Make Chelsea Loveable Campaign. One of the privileges, or so I’ve always thought, of being filthy rich is that you no longer need care what other people think about you. Roman Abramovich should have been content with the silverware that Mourinho was amassing. But foolishly he wanted Chelsea to be loved. And he thought Mourinho’s ‘winning ugly’ approach was an obstacle to global adoration.
Firstly, this seriously underestimated just how difficult it is to forge a winning team. As the Real Madrid example illustrates, assembling a squad of expensive galacticos is the easy part, but it does not guarantee success. Secondly, while it might shift a few more replica shirts in Bangkok or Bahrain, it was naive to believe that stylish football would make Chelsea more loved in England. In fact, it betrays a fundamental misunderstanding of the politics of hatred in English football. Look at Manchester United during the 1990s. This was a team that played with considerable panache. Yet, despite their attacking flair, United were universally loathed. ‘Stand Up if you hate Man U’ was the green-eyed Anyone But United (ABU) anthem sung by rival fans throughout the land. United were hated for their wealth, their success, and their arrogance. The club was seen as a symbol of rapacious corporate greed.
When Abramovich arrived on the scene, and the balance of power in English football tilted in Chelsea’s favour, so the ABU sentiment gave way to a new hatred of Chelsea. As with the ABU phenomenon, Chelsea were hated for their wealth and power. Their success wasn’t earned; it was bought. And, as I’ve pointed out on spiked before, there’s an added dimension to anti-Chelsea sentiment (2). They are seen as vulgar nouveau riche upstarts who don’t have the correct breeding or class to lord it over English football. ‘Chelsea have got no history’, sing rival fans – the subtext being that no matter how much money they have, Chelsea are still not a ‘big club’.
Whether you hate Chelsea because you think that they’re jumped-up lottery winners or whether, like me, you hate them because that’s the way it’s always been, you’re not going to change your mind just because they start playing beautiful football. The style of football makes not a jot of difference. Rich or poor, pretty or ugly, there will always be Chelsea haters.
What is the world coming to when football fans can’t call a player a ‘Judas cunt with HIV’ without fear of being hauled before the beak? This week eleven Spurs supporters were charged with alleged ‘indecent’ chanting towards Portsmouth defender Sol Campbell. Police and stewards with headcams will be scrutinising the crowd at this weekend’s home fixture against Pompey at White Hart Lane to ensure that there is no repeat of the abusive chanting. As I’ve argued on spiked before, criminalising the Judas chant represents another blow for the creeping sanitisation of football (3). It’s time for Spurs fans to take a stand. I favour the ‘I am Spartacus’ approach. If every Spurs fan at the Lane was to join in the Judas chant then the authorities would struggle to victimise individual fans. So, come on the Yid Army; don’t let the bastards grind you down!
Duleep Allirajah is spiked‘s sports columnist.
(1) Luiz Felipe Scolari admits he’s loving his time at Chelsea, Mirror, 22 October 2008
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