And now it gets personal…

Giles Smith’s mid-week article on the official site makes a pertinent point about John Barnes’ claim, in a newspaper, that we charge children £50 on matchdays. Barnes is an idiot who never bothered to check his facts, but his original article passed editorial control because it confirmed the general media demonisation of Chelsea. It’s a type of lazy opinionising we expect from tabloid pundits, but when we see a kind of collective cultural consensus is being engineered by supposedly intelligent and serious writers against us, we need to respond. Though we should not get over-sensitive. Success automatically brings envy, which begets hatred. And there is a certain satisfaction to be enjoyed in watching our opponents’ apoplectic blatherings, a sure sign of their impotence in the face of our virility. Hatred breeds irrational behaviour, and the sheer hypocritical madness of much that is said and written against the club is actually quite funny.

I became acutely aware of this recently when browsing the influential Normblog, the opinion site of Norman Geras, who is the Professor Emeritus at Manchester University and a Manchester United season ticket holder. As a fellow supporter of broadly liberal values, I have over the years come to rely on his and other like-minded blogs to find an enlightened take on many contemporary political issues. Imagine my surprise then, when I saw a link on his site to an article in the Daily Telegraph he was favourably promoting. The article, by Michael Henderson, signifies something a little more sinister than the usual tabloid stirring.

Here’s a sample: “Chelsea are loathed with greater intensity, by more people, than any club in the history of English football”. Really? I seem to remember going to games in the mid-90s when both sets of fans would join in anti-Manchester United songs as a boringly regular ritual. I don’t think that happens with us does it? Here’s another: “Chelsea are loathed because they have spent half-a-billion pounds to keep internationals in gravy”. Is that why we’re hated? Because we pay big salaries? Or this: “If referees or opponents get in their way, their fans can always fire off death threats”. Yes, some maniacs can, just like the maniacs at every other club. But these are not fans in any accepted sense of that word. And we have never actually been implicated in any actual deaths, unlike so-called fans of other clubs. But look at this: “Proper football clubs want to be successful but they feel a responsibility to the game at large … Chelsea are not interested in anything so opaque”. Well, I think you’ll find Manchester United, Liverpool and Arsenal did a lot more to engineer the modern era than us, with its obsession with money and accumulation of power. It was, after all, Manchester United who became the only club in history to consider themselves bigger than the FA Cup and the age-old football traditions it represents.

But here’s the clue to the real problem: “their supporters … present such a disagreeable spectacle”. Now it gets personal. We are a “disagreeable spectacle”. That’s me and my mates who have supported our team through 40 years of often crappy football. Ordinary working guys, all of us. That’s all those local families with their kids who colour the stands every home game. That’s all those welcome new fans we have who identify by nationality with players like Michael Essien and Didier Drogba. The workers of the world. How revealing of this journalist’s true instincts, and of his supporters in academia. Doesn’t it say so much more about them than the object of their hate? Should there be any doubt that the irrational has surfaced to an alarming degree in supposedly cultivated men, look at how the article describes Chelsea supporters: “an odd compound of ample-buttocked ‘A3 Men’ and ‘Showbiz Charlies’, many of whom couldn’t tell a goal-post from the groundsman’s cat”. He’s describing the kind of fake fan that Roy Keane targeted at Manchester United as the “prawn sandwich” brigade. Could we have a clearer picture of the self-loathing at the heart of such bile?