… and its atmosphere, that is.
I’m lucky enough to have been born at a time that has meant the majority of my Chelsea fandom has been spent basking in league and cup success. But there’s one thing, above all else, that really irritates me when it comes to supporting my club: the dwindling noise level at home games.
Don’t get me wrong, I realise this is a problem most successful teams face. It’s a by-product that comes from the influx of new fans that are yet to pick up the songs or ‘fair-weather fans’ who simply can’t be bothered to learn them. The things is, like most football fans (or Chelsea supporters, at least), I don’t care about other teams.
Image by Crystian Cruz
Back in the days (we’re talking the late-1990s) I recall heading down to Stamford Bridge with my dad, and savouring the atmosphere that seemed to fill the air around Fulham. Perhaps it’s because I was so young that I look back on those days with such nostalgia. But, thinking back, I can’t remember spending more than five minutes during any given game sat down – and that’s an important point.
Today, even if you’re in with the ‘hard-core’ of the Matthew Harding, you can consider yourself pretty fortunate to enjoy the same experience. Despite the upset against Bradford City in the FA Cup, Chelsea could still win three trophies this season. Whatever happened to the days when we weren’t even certain of victory going into a single match?
That’s why I tend to head to away games now. I’m guaranteed a decent – if not great – atmosphere because those fans that are making the trip care about the club, they’re making a sacrifice and, I’d like to think, they too don’t want to see Chelsea fall into the (in my opinion) unwanted bracket of ‘family club’. That’s the true death nail in any club’s claim to a vehement support.
Jose Mourinho narks a few opposition fans off, I know, but when it comes to the Chelsea support there’s no one who has his finger on the pulse quite as firmly as the Portuguese. I was right behind him when he came out to publicly berate the support following our 2-1 win over QPR at the Bridge last November. But, as Mourinho pointed out in an earlier interview, it’s that new ‘profile’ of support I mentioned earlier that needs to be addressed if the match-day intensity is going to be improved.
Some of the best days in my life have come from following Chelsea on the road – the pinnacle of which being that night in Munich and winning the Champions League. I didn’t have a ticket for the game and just about managed to afford a flight out there. I’m under no illusion that Munich was special, but I think it’s telling that the people who made it such an incredible experience were those I spent celebrating the victory with. They are the same sort of supporter who wanted to get behind the team and travelled in the knowledge that their chances of landing a ticket were extremely limited. They’re also the same people who simply can’t afford to make it down to Chelsea every other weekend, which has led to the shrinkage of our core fan base.
The trophy hauls we’ve experienced over the past few years have been great to witness and, although I genuinely would swap them all (bar the Champions League) for a return to the days I remember with such fondness, I’m happy to read that the Chelsea Supporters Trust are leading the way in an attempt to bring safe standing to the ground. In Germany, where runaway league leaders Bayern Munich are an incredible 1/2000 to be champions in the Bundesliga betting, safe-standing areas are common in many grounds. Indeed, the Bundesliga is an example of how it can be achieved safely and successfully while also adding to the entertainment. A similar mix at Stamford Bridge as in Germany could work wonders with the atmosphere.
Clearly, as anyone who’s been to Stamford Bridge recently will know, there’s still a long way to go in order to bring the spark back to home games but at least the safe-standing campaign gives us a chance of getting the ball rolling.
If you’re reading this as a fan of another side, perhaps one that hasn’t been bought out by a Russian billionaire or enjoyed European adventures on a yearly basis, you probably think I’m being ungrateful. Believe me, I’m not. I appreciate everything Roman Abramovich has done for my club and realise just how lucky we are. But being a football fan has always been made worthwhile by the entire match day experience and camaraderie of other supporters, rather than success alone. Maybe I am greedy, but I consider myself a greedy purist if that’s the case.