There is always talk about the atmosphere at Stamford Bridge: safe-standing debates; the placement of the away fans; the silence of the East Stand; overbearing stewards; the overall lack of noise at home games; limited knowledge among supporters of the classic chants, and inability to create original ones. Due to recent comments made by our manager that are now more than familiar to all of us, the discussion has been propelled to the forefront once again.
When my family and I attend Stamford Bridge, we always make sure to sit in the Matthew Harding stand or the Shed End. Why? The best, and sometimes only, noise happens there, and what’s the point of attending a match if you’re not going to sing?
There was only one time we failed to do so. We were looking for seats together, and by the time we bought our tickets, the only section left with that option was the East Upper. In addition to the outrageous prices we had no choice but to pay, we were literally the only ones singing, and worse, we were given dirty looks for doing so, told to be quiet. After that experience, we vowed never to sit there again, and have even sat (alone) on opposite sides of the ground to avoid it at all costs.
Unfortunately, we have experienced silence elsewhere in the ground as well, and suffice it to say that the atmosphere at the majority of our games is nowhere near what it reaches at the so-called big matches or away fixtures, much less the sort of atmosphere that was palpable at the Bridge in times that predate me.
Having not recounted anything groundbreaking here, allow me to shed some light on this from the perspective of an overseas supporter.
At sports games in America, fans will shout at players, clap, occasionally chant, but no one stands for the length of the game singing their lungs out, and games largely tend to be more silent affairs. There is excitement, a buzz, around the stadium, but the model of support, which includes the chants themselves, differs drastically.
Therefore, the fans’ role that is inherent in England is somewhat foreign to American supporters, who need to learn not only the songs, but the kind of songs, when to sing them, the history and tradition behind them, how to think quickly enough on their feet to come up with new ones.
At the local pub (Legends) that hosts our official Chelsea supporters club (the New York Blues), the majority of those coming to watch games have gained this requisite knowledge over time. There are always ‘plastics,’ and, particularly because of the timing of the matches here, the pub doesn’t always fill up, so there isn’t always singing, which is an unfortunate reality. Sometimes the songs are sung at the inappropriate time, or a bit off-key, or the words are not quite right; or someone starts an American chant, and it all gets a bit cringey. But when the pub fills up to capacity with genuine Chelsea supporters on a Saturday or Sunday morning, the noise is unparalleled, and it is a magnificent scene to behold.
Many conversations regarding the atmosphere at the Bridge often turn to the incursion of tourists at the games and attribute the muted support to various sources related to their presence. It is thus important to make a distinction between the types of tourists you might find at the Bridge.
Everyone starts supporting the club at some point, everyone has a “first game,” and there is something about meeting Chelsea supporters from all over the world that connects you to the unique subculture to which we all belong. The tourists we have become aggravated with are not the ones who save for months, or even years, to attend games, who have been following the club for a decade or more yet realistically cannot get to the Bridge regularly; who belong to official supporters clubs wherever they live and are members at Chelsea as well; who are happy to watch us play any team, at any point in the season, and try to learn as much about the club and its culture.
No. We are referring to those who have stumbled upon (or ‘transferred’ to) the club more recently, jumping on the bandwagon to take part in our latest successes, are corporate acquaintances of somebody important or are just looking for something to do in the afternoon on a weekend or on holiday. They somehow manage to score tickets, through hospitality or touts or who knows what. They are the ones who often turn up with iPads and the newest horror that is the ‘selfie stick,’ who don’t know the songs, don’t care to, and won’t try to learn them. They take up seats-and not just in the East Stand- and sit silently, at best applauding politely at a display of skill or snapping photos at every set piece, at worst trying to revamp their surroundings to fit their style and ‘reform’ their fellow supporters into more progressive, enlightened attendees of this particular entertainment spectacle.
But what these new faces don’t appreciate is that when we fork over inordinate amounts of money on season tickets, memberships, flights, etc it is because we recognise that we bring something that money can’t buy: passion. It’s been said that there is only one thing more important than football, and that is the people who watch it: we are the lifeblood of the club, that which allows the game to be what it is. Hopefully the club will realise this, and work to accommodate the proper Chelsea supporters- wherever they are from- to be able to attend matches and get behind the team.
Follow Nikki on Twitter @NikkiDcfc