A proud Chelsea unsupporter till I die
Some supported vulgar, nouveau riche Chelsea in the Champions League final out of patriotism. Palace fans didn’t.
Years ago, long before Google came to the salvation of lazy football writers who couldn’t be bothered with microfiche searches, the term ‘unsupport’ was coined in the football magazine, When Saturday Comes.
It meant, as the name suggests, the exact opposite of supporting a team. You wished defeat on another team, hated that team with a passion. So, for example, in the last day of the Premiership season, many neutrals wanted Manchester City to win the title. This was not through any great love for the oil-rich upstarts in blue, but because they were unsupporting Manchester United. In the Premiership era, Manchester United are simultaneously the best supported and, at the same time, the most unsupported club in the land. Unsupporting is the football equivalent of Newton’s third law of motion: all the time United are successful, hatred of the side occurs as an equal and opposite reaction.
You can tell a lot about people by the team they hate. Take Manchester United unsupporters. They assume two forms. In the blue half of Manchester or on Merseyside, the Anyone But United (ABU) sentiment is an expression of bitter local rivalry. But throughout the rest of the country, ABU represents an increasing disenchantment with modern football. Manchester United is essentially a proxy for the gentrification and commercialisation of the game. When fans sing ‘Stand up if you hate Man U’, it’s not simply green-eyed envy of United’s success, it’s also a howl of protest against the corporate takeover of football. United embodies everything the traditionalists hate about the Premier League: the hype, the desecration of 3pm kick-offs, the relentless merchandising, the prawn-sandwich munching ‘plastic fans’, and the absentee foreign owners.
For my team, Crystal Palace, the season effectively ended weeks ago, mired as we were in mid-table mediocrity. So, as the big showpiece finals approached, the big question for me was ‘Who don’t I want to win?’. The FA Cup final posed a big dilemma. I hate Chelsea and Liverpool in equal measure. It was like asking a condemned man whether he prefers beheading or hanging. Either way he is going to hell. The ideal Cup Final result was a massive punch-up leading to every player getting sent off and the match being abandoned. Sadly, no bookie was offering odds on this outcome so, in order to maintain a modicum of interest in the match, I placed a few bets on the correct score. Suffice to say I lost those too.
My unsupport for Chelsea goes back a long way. It wasn’t a political decision. Yes, I’m aware that Chelsea fans hurled racist abuse at one of their own black players, Paul Canoville, on his debut at Selhurst Park in 1982. But my hatred for Chelsea predates that incident. What was the rationale? Well, to be honest, there wasn’t one really. That’s just the way it is with football. Who you love or hate are irrational things. For Palace fans, it’s a self-evident truth that Chelsea are despicable. It’s primordial. It doesn’t need explaining. We are the Chelsea haters.
All of which brings me to the Champions League Final. There are some people who say we should always support the English team in Europe. I’m not one of them. I’m a 90-minute Quisling. On Saturday, I was Bavarian for the evening. And I wasn’t alone. Spurs fans were backing Munich for self-interested reasons – to stop Chelsea taking the fourth Champions League place. But it wasn’t just Spurs supporters and south London parochialists like myself who were cheering for Bayern. Twitter was awash with English fans tactically backing the German side. The west London club have developed their own Anyone But Chelsea constituency. Like Manchester United, Chelsea are also something of a proxy for the ills of the game. And just as Chelsea have acquired a new generation of glory-hunting ‘plastics’, so too have they attracted opprobrium from arriviste ‘unsupporters’ who hate what they represent.
New ‘moneybags’ Chelsea have become an all-purpose punchbag for a range of agendas. They are hated by fans of the old elite clubs, like Arsenal or United, because, as the terrace chant goes, ‘Chelsea have got no history’. To English football’s old aristocrats, Chelsea are a vulgar nouveau riche club that has bought rather than earned success. Unlike United or Arsenal, who built their duopoly – until Chelsea broke it apart – on broadcasting revenues, Chelsea are resented for having taken a shortcut to glory via Abramovich’s roubles. There’s also more than a whiff of chauvinism about the objections to foreign owners, like Abramovich, buying ‘our’ football clubs.
A more recent strain of hatred for Chelsea has focused on their controversial captain John Terry following the alleged racial slur directed at QPR’s Anton Ferdinand. Never mind that Terry has yet to be convicted in a court of law or that no one appears to have heard what he actually said, plenty of Twitter crusaders have already decided that Terry is guilty, and have branded the club and its fans racist for standing by the player.
I was rooting for Bayern but, in doing so, I wasn’t making a political statement about modern football. I wasn’t registering my disapproval of foreign tycoons or expressing contempt for John Terry. I’m an old-school hater. I was simply unsupporting Chelsea as any good south Londoner ought to do. I watched the game in a pub full of Crystal Palace fans. And, of course, it didn’t end well. When Didier Drogba scored the winning penalty, the silence was deafening.
The result was disastrous. We knew what it meant. South London is crawling with Chelsea fans. We’d never hear the end of it. We knew that indoctrinating our children to follow Palace would become twice as hard now. It was a crushing blow for diehard Chelsea haters. But, we’ll get over it. It’s what fans do. We’ve learned to take the blows. It wasn’t our day on Saturday, but we live to fight – and hopefully laugh at Chelsea’s misfortune – another day.
Duleep Allirajah is spiked’s sports columnist. Follow him on Twitter @DuleepOffside.