Supporting Chelsea… A Tale of Happiness and Despair…

A few years ago I was introduced to Twitter by a group of friends and I found a community of Chelsea supporters that I enjoyed being a part of. I spent many an hour talking and developing friendships with these people. One in particular I could never have dreamed would become such a good friend.

I loved talking about football with this guy, he taught me a lot and one day I wanted to watch a game with him so I could experience his passion for the game first hand. Listening to him talk about football reignited my love for the game and challenged the way I saw it by teaching me a different point of view.

Our shared love for Chelsea was something I had never experienced before and in talking it turned out we had been at so many of the same matches. We’d sat metres away from each other without ever realising.

There’s something special about connecting with someone on that level and sharing memories of something you experienced at the same time but not together. To have that shared interest develop into a good friendship made me very lucky indeed.

I was 10 years old the first time my Grandad took me to Stamford Bridge to stand in the old Shed End Terrace. I can close my eyes now and see the stadium appearing in front of me as I climbed the stairs and by the time I reached the top I knew I’d found my home.

Walking into the stadium has always been a special thing for me. I was asked to write about it once for a writing exercise and I was so worried that I wouldn’t do the experience justice. There is something magical about getting out of the train station at Earls Court and turning left towards the ground, past Joan Simms house, down to the cemetery then deciding where to go from there.

Right and up to the North End Road for food before the game? Left to walk down Ifield Road and pick out the house I want to live in one day? Or brave it through the cemetery and look at all the old cracked gravestones and catacombs and wonder where they all escape to at night?

Walking to the ground is part of the match for me. It’s where you see people wearing the same shirt as you and know with a nod that they get you. That’s all you need a nod and a smile and you know they are part of your group. Even though you’ll probably never speak to any of them for 90 minutes you’ll all be joined in a common aim.

Walking into the ground by the first exit you come to, stopping by the gate to get a programme, taking out your phone and grabbing a couple of photos before fighting your way to the turnstile queue. Once your through the turnstile the real fun begins, you walk to your gate and climb the stairs to see the beautiful big green pitch appear before your eyes and that’s when I get the chill down my spine.

It’s that delicious sense of excitement, nerves and happiness to be in the stadium, ready to watch your team win. At a game earlier this year I was caught on the big screen before the game watching the warm ups and trying to film Falcao scoring to share with my friend. I didn’t see it but my brother nudged me and said look up just as the shot changed. Then my phone bleeped and I got a message from my friend to say he’d seen me on the big screen. I felt like a movie star for all of 10 seconds before my thoughts turned to ‘oh god what did I look like?’ I never did see the screen shots!

As it nears kick off the atmosphere builds, the songs start and the nerves settle. Then you hear The Liqiduator or Kalinka start playing, maybe the Champions League theme tune and the teams are out of the tunnel. More singing, clapping, shouting, cheering, photos and then it’s kick off. I think it’s aways good to shout a big “Come on Chels” just as they start the match.

I don’t sing as much as I used to. When I went in my teens I sung every word, except for ‘Celery’ which is a bit awkward for a girl to sing! Now I sing bits and pieces but clap along. Some of the songs I don’t know the words too and some of them seem to have gotten very rude, but that’s football! I’ve always loved the song element. Maybe part of the lack of atmosphere in the games is that not enough people know the words.

It’s always been special for me to go to matches with my Grandad. He brought me my first Chelsea shirt, scarf, rosette, took me to my first game at Wembley, my first cup final and always made sure that the day was as fun as possible.

He’d wait with me after the Saturday games so I could see Di Matteo before going home and get my programme signed by the players and never complained about waiting in the rain. He would even finish work early to go and get us match tickets when I was at school, I think my Nan went too to get our FA Cup Final tickets.

I was so nervous on cup final day 1997 that we would miss it he came to pick me up at 11.00 for a 40 minute max train ride to Wembley and I got mad he wanted to have a coffee before we left. I was convinced all the trains would stop running and we’d have to walk to the ground. I’d even planned a route just incase. I blame the lack of sleep and excitement. When we actually got to Wembley about 1.00 he laughed and said ‘Are you ok now?’

That day was just perfect. I saw Di Matteo’s family going into the ground, got my programme signed by loads of players and celebrities, spoke to Michael Duberry who was out for the game but sitting in the same stand as us and we lifted the FA Cup.

Getting on for 20 years later I remember it like it was yesterday. Right down to the platform boots, jeans, Chelsea shirt, raincoat tied round my waist, scarf tied round my wrist and union jack flag with CHELSEA painted down the middle in blue car chip paint that I wore like a cape round my neck. Sadly I don’t think there is any photographic evidence of my awful choice of outfit but at the time it all made sense! Oh and I wanted to dye my hair blue but was talked out of it by my parents. One day I’ll do it!

We went to the parade the next day and overheard Chelsea were going straight to Heathrow to fly off somewhere for a game. We jumped on the nearest train and headed to Heathrow. My sister had homework to do and we had sort of negotiated for her to come for the parade and go straight home. In the end she got picked up from Heathrow and taken home while I stayed and saw the players. I had a small union jack with me and was wearing my Di Matteo polo shirt which he signed across the shoulder. I still have my signed flag now and every time I get it out to put it up I remember waiting in the terminal and talking to the Cup Winners!

That Di Matteo polo shirt remains the only player shirt I ever had. I remember him asking me once how much he had to pay me to wear it. I was at the training ground and blushed bright red and stumbled over myself not knowing how to respond, he just flashed me a big smile and got in his car. I had some good times at the training ground when I was bunking off college!

When I first went to Stamford Bridge in 1990- 1991 season Chelsea were a mid table side, we finished 11th that season 3 points ahead of QPR. Our first chance of winning the FA cup since 1970 came in 1994 when we got to play Manchester United at Wembley. Our FA Cup song that year was ‘No one can stop us now’ and we lost 4 – 0.

I have to say I have a soft spot for this song, it’s awful but I still love it. I remember going to the record store to get it on tape, which I still have somewhere.

I was screaming I was going to throw the TV out the window when they scored the fourth. I was stopped from throwing the TV so I locked myself in the bathroom and cried for hours at the stupidity of a back pass gifted goal that broke my heart.

I went to the semi final and absolutely loved my first trip to Wembley. I wanted to go to the Final but my Dad said no. He knew we would lose and he said it would upset me so I didn’t get to go. I guess he was right! Funny how something that seems so insignificant as loosing a football match could cause an impressionable 13/14-year-old to be so upset, but there it is. Only a football supporter would understand.

Football has brought me so many happy memories and tears of joy. But as with all love affairs that joy and happiness comes with the pain of loss and sadness.

England getting knocked out of Euro 96, losing the 1994 FA Cup, losing the 2008 Champions League Final in Moscow to Manchester United (again) and now going from Champions of England to 3 points off the relegation zone all rank highly on the chart of pain.

It was only a few months ago I stood in the street to welcome the Champions home. The next night was the Chelsea Players Dinner and we got to celebrate the end of a great season. We hadn’t always played to our best but we had ground out results, the mark of true Champions.

I need to confess something here, I’ve never been a Jose Mourinho fan. I love my friends take on him and to a degree I agree with him. Mourinho is a necessary evil. He’s an arrogant man who is full of his own self-importance and he uses that to deflect attention from the players. But like all arrogant men he is blind to his own failings and I think that is part of the cause of our current predicament.

This season started off wrong. Instead of resting our players they flew around the world playing in one publicity tournament after another. I understand the need to build fan bases around the world to bring more money into the game via sponsorship but not at the expense of resting players. We started pre-season after everyone else and lost our edge.

The thing is, Mourinho from what I can see is a one trick pony. He built the team and style of play and he won’t deviate from that no matter how bad it gets. We brought a few players in but haven’t really used them. To me it seems as though our reliable players, who helped win us the league have all hit the brakes at the same time. No team can shine with so many players being burnt out and lacking confidence at the same time.

Hazard is widely being touted as the fall guy. There were rumours about him allegedly having an affair with Eva Carniero. I also heard rumours about her and Ivanovic. Neither of which I know to be true. But it could explain some of the animosity between the team and the manager.

I believe that the club and Mourinho needed to do better over the whole ugly situation which surrounded the eventual departure of our club doctor. She deserved the support of the club backing her for doing her job and she didn’t get it. Mourinho is not a doctor and had Hazard been injured and Carniero not attended to him she would have been in trouble. She did the job she was paid to do, she saw a player down and attended to the situation.

What she got in return was a lot of abuse from an angry manager who believed that one action cost his side a win. Not the 90 minutes of football where they failed to out score the opposition and secure the win but that one moment when a doctor did their job. Perhaps it was naive of her to run on the pitch to help the player in that moment, but that can only be said with the benefit of hindsight and knowing the player wasn’t injured. In that moment she did her job.

Mourinho never apologised and she was demoted from her match day position along with the Head Physio John Fearn. As someone who had work taken away from them due to someone’s ego and not my ability to perform the task I can understand why she would take legal action. But as she is a woman in a male dominated environment her sex became more of a talking point than the matter in hand.

Would Mourinho have acted in the way he did had Chelsea used a male doctor that day? Was Eva not just the scapegoat of the day?

I was always proud of Chelsea having a woman in such a high-profile role in a male dominated sport. I’ve heard and seen the abuse first hand she gets from the ‘fans’ and childish men in the ground and on the internet. It’s all in the name of ‘banter’ and ‘good fun’ but really we should have evolved past all that by now.

I have always believed jobs should be given to the right person regardless of their sex, race and age. You should be paid a fair wage for the job you do and this should assimilate across all job roles, equal tasks being rewarded with equal pay regardless of your sex.

My brother’s argument is that women should work in women’s football because that is what it is there for. But the last time I watched a women’s match the bench was full of male support staff.

The officials come under a lot of pressure in our matches. My dad was a referee for 30 years and I understand the mentality of officials. Chelsea have a history of attacking officials over poor decisions that have gone against us and instead of them ever answering for the bad calls we are always punished for them. Not only during the game but also in the result and the bans and fines that follow.

Human nature dictates that the officials will make mistakes, they misread a situation and in the blink of an eye make the wrong call. There are occasions, and normally when Diego Costa is involved where this works in our favour. That man could start a fight in an empty room!

But we have genuinely had some terrible decisions made against us and at times I think it is due to histrionics. Referees know that Mourinho will attack them after the game and he will be fined and punished for it so maybe we lose a bit of the ‘benefit of the doubt’. Some decisions are 50/50 but others are more clear-cut than that and still they go against us.

I’m not saying that all referees deliberately give calls against us. They are meant to be impartial but they are human. They have teams they support like everyone else. I’ve heard referees say why they gave decisions that were wrong. If it happens in lower league football whose to say it doesn’t happen in the top flight too?!

Perhaps if some more of those decisions had gone our way this season some of the bad air around the team would have dissolved by now. A pressured team always cracks eventually. A pressured manager normally gets the sack and I have to say I believe Mourinho’s days in charge are numbered. But I believe that is because of his own arrogance.

Mourinho brought success to Chelsea but he never won us the Champions League. We did that with my hero Roberto Di Matteo in charge. He pulled the team together at a time when they needed it and found a belief that they were missing and it all came together at the last-minute.

The team that won us the Champions League were:

Petr Cech, Jose Bosingwa, David Luiz, Gary Cahill, Ashley Cole, John Obi Mikel, Frank Lampard, Solomon Kalou, Juan Mata, Ryan Bertrand, Didier Drogba with subs Florent Malouda and Fernando Torres. Unused subs that day Ross Turnbull, Paulo Ferreria, Michael Essien, Oriol Romeu, Daniel Sturridge

That was 2012, 3 years ago and all that remains from that side? Gary Cahill and John Obi Mikel. Mourinho chose to sell off most of those players and yet they won the club their first ever Champions League. Maybe it was an attempt to break up the cliques which had supposedly contributed to his earlier sacking.

Roberto Di Matteo was sacked in November, as the results were dropping. I still have the last Match of the Day he appeared on saved on my TV box, for some reason I can’t delete it!

The truth is Di Matteo was never supposed to win anything, he was brought in to keep the crowd happy. No one thought he would be a success… until he was.

This video sums him up really. The bit around 1.45 brings a tear to my eye, watching the pride from him and Eddie Newton.

Watching that now still makes me cry. All the emotion from that final comes rushing back every time I see it. Talking to my friend and being able to share our clubs biggest success with him. Being there with my family all crowded round the TV watching it together. My Nan walking up to the TV to say to Drogba as he waited to take his penalty “Come on boy, score a goal.” Even though she had no idea what she was talking about and had been doing a puzzle and moaning all through the game at the noise we were making.

The moment Di Matteo goes up to Roman Abramovich and shouts in his face “I won it” I was shouting “You tell him” at the TV through my tears.

In that moment we were unbeatable, we were lions, we roared and the whole world heard us. It makes me want to grab my DVD of the match and watch it.

My Nan has a photo on her wall of me and my brother at the parade the day after that, both of us decked out in Chelsea with big smiles on our faces. She also has a picture of me, my Grandad and brother with the CL trophy on the wall. Not even in Grandad’s Chelsea room, in the front room! We were supposed to have the Europa League Trophy in the picture too but it came back late from its tour. But there we have it I was photographed with the CL Trophy!

I was there in 1997 when Di Matteo and Eddie Newton won us the FA Cup at Wembley. I shouted shoot right at the moment Di Matteo went behind a post from my view and scored his goal. I remember screaming in my Grandad’s face ‘he had a shot, he had a shot’! Eddie Newton scoring the winner was so unlikely and against the run of play in the game. The local boy, a fellow Hammersmith baby, scoring the winner off a back heel from the legend that is Gianfranco Zola.

I didn’t think being a supporter would get better than that moment. I never would have dreamed 15 years later those two would help win us the Champions League.

I never dreamed Chelsea would ever reach that high but I’ve been lucky enough to be there for it all. I can say I supported us before we were successful. I can say I know what it’s like to win one week and lose the next. We would beat the teams we were supposed to lose to and lose to the ones we were supposed to beat. That was part of why I loved them, you never knew which side were going to turn up.

Supporting Chelsea was mostly pain mixed with the promise of pleasure but when it came it was so sweet you couldn’t help but get addicted to it! So that’s why it breaks my heart to see how we are now. What should be a season filled with pleasure and lording our Champions status is filled with frustration and pain.

I don’t talk to that guy any more, I miss sharing our passion for Chelsea. I used to love teasing him about his uncanny knack of predicting the team sheet before it was announced. I used to say he had the manager on speed dial.  He’d explain to me where it all went wrong and who we’re going to buy in January to fix it. He’d tell me not to lose hope and that everything would be ok and he’d make me fall in love with Chelsea again.

I’m not convinced that Mourinho can resolve the issues that are clearly evident in the team. I wonder if he’s lost his ability to motivate the team. I don’t like the way he leaves the pitch early, I think it’s disrespectful and maybe the players feel the same. He’s obviously not willing to change the way we play which has so clearly been found out and is in desperate need of change. But he also seems more interested in creating drama; racking up the fines this season when it would be better for him to dial it down a notch and focus on the job in hand.

I heard talk he was looking to be sacked with the prospect of a dream job in the offing for him. I hope that isn’t the case. The supporters have been loyal to him for a long time and he pledged his heart to Chelsea. The club and supporters deserve better than that in return.

Looking at the table now Chelsea are 16th with 11 points, just 3 points from the relegation zone. The bottom half of the table is a dangerous place to be and one we haven’t found ourselves in for probably 20 years. We are the current Champions. I don’t remember a Champions side choking so badly. Although I can’t see that relegation will be a likely option.

It wouldn’t surprise me after the antics of the last few months if a few transfer requests happen in January. Hazard, Oscar and Mikel would be my guess. Maybe Falcao will be let out of his loan deal. But realistically we will probably still be bottom half of the table come January and more importantly that will make big name signings harder to come by.

We are almost certainly going to fail in the Chmpions League. I think we’ll get out of the group stages but I don’t know how much further we can go.

In all honesty I would rather we secured our future in the league at the cost of cup runs this year. As much as I would love to win everything we compete in, the reality of more games, that come with the potential of loss will not help build the confidence lacking in our side.

It looks as though we will be out of the Europa and Champions League places for next year, bar winning a trophy this year, but we have some important issues that need addressing and that might be a sacrifice we have to wear.

With the prospect of being near the relegation zone in the league, no Champions League football or even the lesser Europa League next year there aren’t many top name players who would want to take the risk on us.

The other side is, will the players have the guts to fight their way clear of the relegation zone and finish in the top half of the table? Can you rely on team mates to fight with you when one is alleged to have said he would rather lose than win for Mourinho?

A short-sighted comment surely with a transfer window coming up. They must be able to see that playing badly devalues them and comments against managers are unlikely to make you a popular signing.

Are the players trying to force a Mourinho sacking? I truly hope not.

Maybe it is a case of the players, being as tired as the rest of us over Mourinho’s antics. Maybe there was more to the story of the doctor’s departure. Maybe there have been a few arguments in the dressing room between players that has caused bad blood between them. Mourinho was keen to break up the cliques when he joined, maybe now there isn’t enough bonding between the team mates.

At the end of the day 11 men take to the field to win a match, not the manager. If they don’t like the way he plays they could take control. They should want to win for their own pride and the fans.

There have been moments where we have played well and decisions have gone against us but we can’t keep blaming it on everyone else. Our luck has run out and to get new luck we need to make painful changes. To do that we need to have the right attitude and the right people for the job and I’m not convinced we have those.

We need 11 John Terry’s to take to the field every week, ready to fight until their legs drop off.

I don’t hold sway with the idea that sacking managers is the only answer. Sometimes you need time to turn things around, change doesn’t happen over night. But the problem for me is when the manager keeps doing the same things and expecting a different result. You need to try different options and be bold with it.

You need to be brave enough to drop a tired player and bring in a kid every now and again and trust them to do a good job. Maybe play two up front and use the wingers to cross the ball from the byline. Stop making everyone play backwards and give them the freedom to attack.

We played best when our attacking players were given free rein to attack. It almost feels like they have been told not to shoot at times. They pass the ball so much that they always end up running out of passes and losing the ball. They are too slow in the build up allowing the other team to get into position. Our magic men have run out of magic.

Football luck is very fickle. Yokohama Tyres took over from Samsung at the start of the season. My brothers lucky shirt lost all its luck so we tried washing it with no success. Even my lucky football pants stopped working. I don’t talk to that guy any more. Maybe we all changed our lucky rituals at the same time!

I do know that supporting Chelsea is a rollercoaster, one that has as many highs nowadays as lows. I know we’ll find our feet again but I don’t know when. Maybe Mourinho will make a real go of it this time and start a programme at Chelsea that will see us build a strong and stable future at the expense of some rocky seasons making it right but who knows. Once the press pile the pressure on the manager a sacking is normally the end result.

Maybe Mourinho knows that Guardiola was the first choice this time around and he was second best. Maybe the club have an eye on his current situation as Bayern Munich. Maybe it is all going to fall into place and we’ll be bringing sexy football back for the first time since the late 90’s.

Personally I like watching attacking football, with players like Hazard terrifying defenders with their pace running at goal and the little tricks he used to play with Mata. I loved the audacity of Luiz’s screamers. I loved the strength of Alex’s free kicks. I loved Drogba’s headers and Torres’s out of character jaunt around the Nou Camp. I love John Terry’s determination and leadership, even though his pace is going. I loved Frank Lampard becoming our top scorer.

Maybe that is what we are lacking. Taking Drogba and Lampard from the team is like losing part of its heart. With John Terry getting older and losing pace his years marshalling the back are numbered. Without that heart and spine the team is lost.

We need to be building a heart and spine of players who are going to fight and stick around to build our Chelsea 2.0 ready for a new level of success. Maybe this is out late 90’s all over again. Where we need to be building a future and not just playing a season at a time.

But who will take the helm? Can Mourinho change and leave behind the drama to build the club in his image? He has the ego for the job. I’m sure he’d love to emulate Ferguson’s reign at United at Chelsea but in order to do that he needs to be the manager first and give up playing games off the pitch. Or maybe Guardiola is ready to consider the offer to build Barcelona 2.0 in sunny West London and fill the amazing new stadium we’re going to build with the success of the future.

Incidentally I’ve toured the Nou Camp and I hope that the New Stamford Bridge has a trophy room the size of the one we went through. I think we need a space that big. We’ve won a few things up to now, and can maybe fill half of it but our new stadium deserves to be crowned with a successful side ready to fill the other half up. I seem to remember theirs spilling out onto the stair case too so let’s make sure we have lots of stairs!

I’ll be at the Sunderland game so our luck might change. I can’t remember the last Chelsea game I went to with a 3pm Saturday kick off, it’s so unheard of! I’ve rarely seen Chelsea lose when I’ve been in the ground and luckily been there for some amazing wins!

Finally, Come on Chels, you can turn this around! #KTBFFH

 

 

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