Letter from America: Chelsea’s star in the ascendant

I’m a regular reader of the Chelsea Blog – I wait patiently after every game to get the blog team’s views. I live in Portland, Oregon, and though a long time fan, sadly confess to having seen the Blues in the flesh only once since 1975 or thereabouts (in Seattle when they played Celtic a few years ago). Luckily, since moving to the US from France (now there is a footballing desert) about 10 years ago, I have found that there is a whole cable channel devoted to soccer as they call it here, and indeed I now get to see many Chelsea games, often live though it sometimes means getting up at the crack of dawn.

The reason I’m writing is that the other day I was watching some random cable channel (A&E or USA perhaps) and up popped the adverts (every few minutes is the norm here), and I switched off mentally as usual. Imagine my shock therefore when I suddenly caught a glimpse of a familiar blue and an image or two of some dynamic footballers terminated by a figure with the name “Terry” emblazoned on his back. In a flash it was gone to be replaced by something insipid and a few seconds later, the name of Comcast came up (“It’s Comcastic” is the slogan). To say I was stunned is no small exaggeration.

Now there are two things which I find remarkable here. Firstly, that Comcast, the biggest US cable operator by far, should believe that showing some soccer images promotes their service, and secondly it should be Chelsea FC that they choose for the images. The first is perhaps not so surprising given that Comcast was no doubt trying to promote its Digital Cable service among which offerings can be found the holy Fox Soccer Channel, and so FSC would sooner or later figure in some advertising. It also is interesting that Comcast should believe that the few seconds devoted to these images should be recognisable for what it is. I doubt that lacrosse or rugby would get the same recognition. Soccer has come far in the last few years over here, in large part owing to the participation of nearly every young girl in America, so that even if the bigger boys remain impervious to the charm of soccer, moms are increasingly former players, and the daughters increasingly want to see their soccer heroes on TV – though why anyone would willingly watch David Beckham is beyond me.

The second shows that Chelsea’s efforts to become a world-wide “name” is perhaps paying off. A few years ago if asked to name an English football team, most people here would probably shrug, and if they responded at all, it would be Man U (actually, I’m guessing that most people would respond Brazil, but that is a different issue). For the last two years, the dominant English team has been Chelsea and it is EPL teams that figure most heavily on FSC, so those new to the sport would now name Chelsea and not Arsenal or Liverpool or Man U. Chelsea’s recent fortnight in Los Angeles was also widely reported here (even on one of our local TV stations), so that in the US at least, Chelsea’s star is very much in the ascendant.

There is also the interesting case of John who I met this summer in Boise, Idaho. He was in his late teens and worked a coffee shop in downtown Boise. I and my wife went in for some breakfast (a muffin and coffee, typically). Given my English accent, John asked me if I was English and did I like soccer. I answered affirmatively to both, and then he asked what was my team, and I of course was proud to name Chelsea. He grabbed my hand, pumping it with some enthusiasm, and said it was a real pleasure to meet a fellow Chelsea supporter. Now I don’t like to cast aspersions on any parts of this enormous country, but Boise is not New York or San Francisco, and though a charming place, it is is about as typical a small city as one can find here. That I should meet anyone professing a liking for soccer in such a place where football (College or NFL) rules is amazing, but that this one person was a Chelsea fan shows how far support for Chelsea has spread.

From my standpoint as a Chelsea supporter for well over thirty years, I really appreciate reading the views of the hard-core supporters that you and the other bloggers represent since it makes me feel part of the family of those who watch Chelsea week in and week out, a family to which I would no doubt belong if still living in or near west London, but it is equally pleasing to know that there are possibly millions of fans like myself around the world, many of whom have never seen or touched anyone remotely connected to the club, and for whom being a Blue is an important part of their lives.