It’s a topic that is reverberating around the English football sphere: the capitulation of Chelsea Football Club. The media right now is awry with the so-called crisis of CFC (Chelsea FC) and Jose Mourinho’s ‘Third Season Curse’.
But really, the crisis at CFC is a lot deeper and potentially more damaging than I think many give it credit for.
That’s not to say Chelsea won’t find their way out of this slump of form – I think anyone with a footballing brain will tell you that with a squad of the talent that Chelsea possess, it’s near impossible for them not to – but the real crisis is the long-term affects this season has already had on Chelsea’s image. And image, in today’s footballing world, is worth its weight in gold.
Chelsea have been disliked on ‘wide’ scale for sometime now, before but really since the takeover of Abramovich. Simply put, because many football fans hate wealthy clubs (and more so when it’s ‘foreign money’).
They widely despair at the outrageous sums being spent on players these days and that it could be possible for a team to effectively ‘buy’ a trophy. These are accusations levelled at many clubs in recent memory, namely Chelsea, Real Madrid, and Manchester City.
I see a trend, however, that most football fans will tolerate this phenomenon if said teams play attractive football. On an aesthetic level, however much you may hate Man City, for example, it’s also hard not to appreciate when Sergio Aguero and Kevin De Bruyne decide to put the sword to a Newcastle defence (sorry Magpies fans).
These high calibre players increase the reputation and standards of the league.
This has been the case with Chelsea since Abramovich’s takeover. Whilst people have disliked the sums of money CFC have spent on the likes of Torres and the manner in which they buy up young talent only to loan them off to Vitesse, it’s also hard not to think it’s money well spent when the likes of Hazard and Oscar are running rampant across the Premier League.
The thing is, now they’re not, and attention is being diverted off-the-pitch by the failing hand of Mourinho. Which really, for CFC, is not a closet you want to open. Their long line of off-the-pitch offences are incredibly hard to ignore – a club captain accused of xenophobia and adultery; a manager sacking beloved backroom staff and verbally abusing referees; fans charged with disgusting displays racism – creating a much more sinister crisis then a simple bad run of form.
Owing to the fact that they could still claim to be one the best teams in Europe, many of Chelsea’s off-the-pitch offences were (much to my bemusement) overlooked independently, but link them together and add an atrocious run of form and suddenly as a club you reach the dangerous territory of mass unpopularity. All of this is further hindered by a manager who simply wants to blame everyone and everything apart from himself.
However, being hated is part-and-parcel for many football clubs and this isn’t actually the real problem for CFC. The crux of the image crisis lays right here: CFC are beginning to alienate their own fans. And I’m speaking from experience as a life-long fan.
Since I was a boy I’ve been a CFC supporter: my first football game was Chelsea vs. Ipswich, 2001 (2-1, I remember going with my Uncle and having to sit in the Ipswich end as it was cheaper). As the Abramovich reign progressed, however, my attendance has incrementally decreased.
Yet the reasons for this aren’t simply price. One reason, admittedly, was discovering lower-league football and my local club AFC Wimbledon at the age of 12. I became entirely infatuated by them and the purity of the lower-leagues, to the point where I now call myself a Wimbledon fan first and foremost.
But primarily my separation from CFC has been ever growing for another reason. It has nothing to do with form on the pitch – if I cared about the quality of the football I wouldn’t go to watch AFCW. It also has nothing to do with being able to afford CFC games – I spent many happy years supporting them without being able to frequent Stamford Bridge.
My alienation from CFC comes down to embarrassment. Embarrassment over the actions of our manager; embarrassment over our section of racist fans and captain (and the undying support for the latter); embarrassment over the entire conglomeration of CFC superseding CFC the community.
This is not a football club I can feel proud of, or even safe attending as a person of colour. No, that’s not what I need from my football club. Loyalties can only go so far. You wouldn’t tolerate such behaviour from a friend, so why from your football team?
I’ll never be able to entirely separate from CFC. I will always care about the results and her well-being, but it’s time for Chelsea fans to stand in the face of their club and demand more, demand better: and I’m not talking about performances on the pitch. For me, the ‘Chelsea crisis’ has been bubbling under the surface for a while now.
It’s not about form, it’s about the death of Chelsea as a community and club for actual football fans.