Late Saturday night our Dear Leader, Nick emailed me to kindly ask if I fancied doing a match report for the City game. Just a year ago I would have willingly accepted such a chance to exercise the literary grey cells for such a prestigious game.
But after a few minutes thought I sadly had to answer no. One very good reason was my prearranged golf game which I needed to win in order to avoid a match series defeat. The other key reason was my own current level of apathy and disinterest in everything Chelsea.
I played a very competitive game but in the end was overcome by a man on top of his game who ruthlessly exploited my every error. A shame but I lose this series with head held high, and now go 3-2 down in the series of series. I competed. I fought. I never gave in.
I only ever ask the same of Chelsea, but this fight has all but disappeared from the team. So instead of a match report I will discuss the current malaise surrounding the club, from the owner to the fans and areas in between.
If you want a match report, you’ll find very good ones at the BBC website and many others. If you want to read the thoughts of a man venting his spleen… then read on.
Here Goes the Spleen…
Where to start? This feels like I’m a forensic scientist picking over the corpse after its unexpected and sudden death. But the patient isn’t dead yet, so perhaps I’m more the palliative care nurse, watching helplessly but compassionately as the patient rallies and fades as the inevitable demise looms.
Chelsea Football Club is ill. Very ill. But although the diagnosis is serious it isn’t necessarily terminal. There is still hope for the club to remain a decent competitor, to cross swords with others in search of great prizes. But it needs treatment and radical treatment in my view.
The rot is set through the upper echelons of the club, extending its shadow of bleakness across the playing staff and through to the fans, every day spreading its insidious toxic fog a little deeper into the performances of the players and into the spirit, trust and faith of the supporters. Of course I still use that quaint old term ‘supporter’ because I believe any successful club needs the level of blind unfettered devotion they supply in order to survive and hopefully prosper. These are the people who buy the tickets, spend the money in the ground, and buy the programmes and the merchandise. They spread the word, they evangelise, they agonise, they adore, and they love the club. But we’re no longer supporters in the eyes of Chelsea Football Club.
No, you see in the eyes of Fat Ron and the board, including the demon Abramovich we’re not supporters. They don’t want supporters.
They want customers.
They want customers to spend money. They want to build the ‘brand’ like typical vile money men and marketeers. The brand brings the loyalty, not the team. Not the football. Not the passion. Results will help of course, but the new world of the casual supporter, resplendent in their fancy dress, adorned with the loathsome friendship scarves means there is far more passing casual football tourism going on. Come and experience the atmosphere of a real English football match is the brand mantra. Except that the ‘supporters’ that stubbornly remain are an ageing band of ne’er do-wells, male-oriented and increasingly confused by the changing world around them. The supporters have finite matchday resources as they attend regularly, so invariably spend less each game. The football tourist customer may go to handfuls of games a season, maybe even just the one. They may take their family which is admirable. That may initiate the youngsters into the excitement of football. But only if the excitement exists and at Chelsea the excitement factor barely has a pulse. The atmosphere is not toxic as some describe. It is non-existent. Games are almost observed in dinner party style near silence, the murmur of the watchers occasionally rising to nearly audible levels. Shut your eyes and you could be in a busy Harvester. A toxic atmosphere means something interesting is occurring, a good atmosphere means the crowd is happy, but the dull levels we currently experience indicate that the supporters have been ground down into an apathetic mental mincemeat. The customers on the other hand watch their football, see some famous players, take some photos and then disappear after the game. Some may even know the result.
It’s all about passing trade and maximising the matchday revenue opportunities.
Since we sold our collective souls to the Devil that is Roman Abramovich, we’ve seen the good times. Riches and trophies only ever dreamt of have arrived with regularity. Until now we’ve accepted the managerial merry-go-round as a sign of Abramovich trusting in some sort of chaos theory to deliver results. And results have been delivered. It started with l’enfant terrible of football, Jose Mourinho. He came in, he saw, he changed everything, he conquered. The press loved him then hated him. Other coaches either loved him or hated him. He was Marmite. You couldn’t feel apathetic towards him. The press smears soon took hold and everything about him was box office. A criticism of medical facilities at Reading, criticism of referees, criticism of the press. It all added up and eventually Abramovich decided Mourinho was too big a liability and sacked him. It wasn’t the liability issue in truth, but more likely the fact that Mourinho was box office stuff. And he was the bigger name. The fact that Mourinho attained this as part of his fortress mentality was irrelevant. He was upstaging Abramovich and the club in general. Abramovich had already undermined him by appointing an utter conman as Director of Football (Avram Grant). Then he humiliated him a bit more with Hollywood signings Ballack and Shevchencko. One worked and worked very well. The other was already in the knacker’s yard. Mourinho recognised this but persevered, to no avail. Even he couldn’t work the miracle of resurrection with Sheva’s career.
Since then we’ve veered between coaches with dizzying speed. Grant was appointed and everyone knew this was a huge fraudulent act on Grant’s behalf. Everyone except the dictator at the helm of the club. Scolari followed, Hiddink fought the fires left by Scolari but knew he wasn’t a long-term option. Abramovich then captured his coveted target, the much-loved Carlo Ancelotti who delivered a thrilling double in his first year, only to be ejected the following year having failed to win a trophy with an underpowered squad. In fairness Ancelotti didn’t cover himself in glory by remaining largely silent over the sacking of Wilkins but that aside, he had been hung out to dry by the club. Andre Villas-Boas followed, then Roberto Di Matteo, one sacked for sticking to his coaching guns, the other because he shouldn’t have been given the job anyway despite winning the FA Cup and the coveted Champions League.
And now we have the coach the supporters didn’t want. Now I’ll be honest and say I didn’t despise Benitez. I couldn’t care less about the alleged (and bollocks) previous slurs he was said to have made on Chelsea. But time had dimmed my memory of just how mediocre he really was at Liverpool. The point is, the club, the hierarchy of power, in reality Abramovich alone, knew how the bulk of the fans felt about RDM and Benitez. And yet, with utter contempt for the supporters (not the customers) they sacked a loved one and appointed the hated one. I say ‘they’ but mean ‘he’. The collective ‘they’ is a fictional construct reflecting the board. The board are a collective of frauds, charlatans and yes-men, lining their pockets with money from the fans whilst not giving a shit about them. Fuck ‘em, they’re just customers. Customers are the king. Unless of course you are selling to them in which case you make them think that whilst you smile and rob them blind.
Now we have seen how Benitez has ‘improved’ us. We’re out of the Champions League (yes, RDM’s issue in reality), but failed to get the League Cup final after two of the most dismal semi-final ties we’ve ever seen. We lost the World Club Cup final to a team who would barely beat QPR on a normal day. Of course, we need to bear in mind we failed to beat QPR this season as well. One of the select few that failed in fact. Aren’t we lucky? When we sacked RDM we were four points off the top. We’re now 19 points behind United. That alone is disgraceful. The press to my knowledge have yet to ask the fat fraud Ron Gourlay how this is better than before. How has this made our objectives for the season more achievable?
RDM: 12 games/24 points.
FSW: 16 games/25 points.
Even the Ministry of Truth would have trouble spinning that as better. But of course the Ministry of Truth has already done some work. For those who don’t know they’ve already replaced the team photo outside Stamford Bridge of the Champions League winners with a new one where Robbie Di Matteo has been airbrushed out. If that doesn’t smack of a despotic paranoia and rewriting of history then what does? Did I think RDM was the man for the future? I was undecided, but I do know he deserved better treatment, the chance to rectify a blip, and he damn well deserves to be enshrined in Chelsea history for ever. That one act of picture removal is shameful, despicable, underhanded and utterly cowardly. I’m ashamed of the club and everything it portrays at the moment.
Since Rafael Benitez took the helm, Aston Villa aside, we have delivered a sterile brand of tippy-tappy, slow, ineffective, dull football. It’s as if Benitez is having the longest piss over the Chelsea fireworks ever. Of course for Benitez it’s a great move as I’ve alluded to before. He’s in the limelight doing what he (and others) would describe as an impossible job. He can fail and blame the culture of the club and claim he did a decent job. This may not be far from the truth. Let’s face it better than him have come and gone after working for this utter lunatic asylum of a club.
I think he’ll go post-season, and before the season ticket renewals are due. But the damage is done for many ‘supporters’. My own @GrocerJackUK Twitter timeline is full of people saying they’ll not renew. In honesty, I’m in the same place. £1000 on a season ticket could be well spent on so many other things. That makes me sad. Supporters are being marginalised and frozen out as the club attracts new customers. Who knows, we may be pioneers of a new relationship between clubs and fans. I won’t be part of it though.
You might not like these, but for me they are now necessary if we are to gain any respect and dignity associated with the name of Chelsea Football Club. Yes, the community schemes are nice and worthy and good, but in truth nobody knows about them. Or probably cares. Good news doesn’t sell. We are a laughing stock of a club, currently making notable basket case clubs like Newcastle, Blackburn, West Ham and Liverpool look like paradigms of serenity and calm.
The first thing is to sack Benitez and sack him now. Yes it makes us look mad, but only in the sense that it’s just another mad irrational act from an off the scale lunatic anyway. Forgotten in a few days, they could go back to Hiddink for another temporary hand on the tiller until the season’s end and the precious mammon of fourth place is achieved.
Then replace Emenalo with Hiddink.
Then in the summer recruit Mourinho to come back and rebuild the fortress and restore our former formidable reputation.
Then sack Gourlay and employ a proper CEO who knows the football business. As in knows football. And also knows business. That Peter Kenyon chap seemed to know a bit about both.
Then Roman, walk away. Sell the club. Move away from everything Chelsea. I trust you to sell to the right people but your time is done. You’ve used us to gain the respectability you crave. It’s time to move on and let new money, new ideas and new visions to set the club’s strategy. Yes, Roman, strategy. All top ‘businesses’ have it. Lots of top clubs have it. Even Arsenal have it. You don’t though, and whilst you don’t then neither does the club outside of building the brand and attracting revenue.
Those actions won’t fix it immediately, but would send us on the way to where we should be and should have been since that fateful day in 2007 when you sacked the best manager we ever had.
I’m a ‘supporter’. This club has been in my blood for 42 years. I’ve cried for it. I’ve cried with despair and joy for it. I want to die one day doing the same. What I don’t want is to shuffle off this mortal coil in hopefully 30 odd years with a dim and distant memory of something I used to care about which ultimately in one mad 12 month period discarded me and everything I stood for.
Keep the Blue Flag Flying High.
The Guardian, Jamie Jackson: “As United coast past their latest obstacle – as they did in the 2-0 win at QPR – City continue to scramble results and appear nothing like the threshing machine of last season. They had to survive a rare Frank Lampard miss from the penalty spot – courtesy of Joe Hart’s save – before Yaya Touré and Carlos Tevez confirmed a deserved win against a Chelsea side that lacked fluency.”
The Daily Telegraph, Chris Bascombe: “Lampard, normally so reliable from the spot, saw his well struck kick pushed away. City then piled on the pressure and deservedly took the lead thanks to a brilliant individual goal by Toure as he danced his way through a packed Chelsea defence and side-footed past Cech on 63 minutes. A superb second from Tevez late on completed an accomplished second half performance.”
The Independent, Ian Herbert: “Eden Hazard and Frank Lampard didn’t afford the manager so much as a cursory glance when, justifiably on the basis of their contributions, he substituted them. None of his players, in fact, displayed stomach for a fixture bereft of the edge it has carried in recent seasons, when the nation’s two most moneyed clubs have collided with impact.”
The Official Chelsea FC Website: “In a game that sprung to life after a first half of limited opportunities, Chelsea were left to rue a saved Frank Lampard penalty when Yaya Toure gave the home side the lead soon after. Substitute Carlos Tevez sealed the result with a late strike.”