“Supporter” – someone who is actively interested in and wants a particular team to win and might show it by going to watch the team play.
“Fan” – A person who has a strong interest in or admiration for a particular person or thing.
Increasingly Social Media seems to be the hotbed of chatter about all things Chelsea, in what must be an anathema to those of you sensible enough to give it a swerve. In the ‘good old days’ of course, discussions of Chelsea would be restricted to having a chat with your mates in the pub before and after the matches. But, all things change and in a sense social media exemplifies the growth of the Premier League and Chelsea as a global marketable commodity – for good or ill.
One topic caught my eye recently – whether it was down to the all too frequent coating off of a player or a difference in opinion on the level of Chelsea’s performance I cannot recall, but it hinged around what makes you a Chelsea supporter, or more to the point, what makes you a better supporter than someone else.
It was characterised by a quite astonishing tweet which stated something along the lines that most comments on the game, on twitter, from match-goers and ‘old chaps’ should be ignored out of hand. As both a match-goer and an ‘old chap’ I felt somewhat indignant. After all, it tends to the match-goers and the ‘old chaps’ who support the players and the team through thick and thin (albeit through gritted teeth on occasion) and don’t throw their toys out of the pram at a player’s mistake or defeat, shrieking for said player to be replaced with the highest ranking player on FIFA 17 or for the manager to be sacked.
Furthermore, I cannot see how being at a match gives you less of an impression of what is actually happening, as you see the whole of the pitch and the build-up and the movement of the players rather than the narrow ball following view dictated by the broadcaster’s match director. And don’t get me started on the apparent downside of people who have been watching football for 30, 40, 50 years or more – surely that experience counts for something?
Which on reflection sounds a bit pompous and I am minded of a wonderful quote from George Orwell which could serve as something of a cautionary tale for this article:
“Every generation imagines itself to be more intelligent than the one that went before it, and wiser than the one that comes after it.”
― George Orwell
That said it did get me thinking as to whether or not there is a pecking order; a hierarchy of Chelsea supporter if you will and does it matter when you started supporting Chelsea or where you come from or support them from?
I suppose if you were to come up with some criteria that define support they would break down as follows.
If you were born in to a Chelsea family – your Dad took you to your first game when you were five as his Dad did before him, and his father had done before that and so on. You are born and bred Chelsea and you carry that forward to your own kids. In most people’s book that would make you one hell of a Chelsea supporter, especially if you were born and bred in the manor, and continue to live 5 minutes away from the ground which means you actually do support your local team.
If you have been following Chelsea for years – from the age of 5 to 55 the average age of our Season Ticket holders – not only will you have followed the club for half a century you would have endured the ups and downs; the 27 years without any proper success; the inhumane conditions we had to watch football in; the threat of violence where you probably shed some blood for the cause and basically “were there when we were (occasionally) excrement!”. That makes you a great Chelsea supporter in my book; loyal to boot and certainly no glory hunter!
Even if you have done all that there is a chance that you might be outranked by people who have attended every match, home and away, in the UK and abroad, competitive or overseas tour, unbroken for years. Fair play – that undoubtedly makes you a great Chelsea supporter from where I’m sitting (if perhaps a little obsessive!).
If you are currently a home and away season ticket holder my hat is well and truly doffed to you. The impact this has on your time, work, family life and bank balance is quite simply frightening. You are a great Chelsea supporter, although quite possibly a wealthy one too.
By all these benchmarks, you are a far, far better Chelsea supporter than me. I am quite comfortable admitting that. I didn’t have a Dad who supported Chelsea and I didn’t grow up in a family that went to football every week. I’m also a bit lazy, so once I’d found Chelsea somewhat by accident, I supported them from afar via TV, as it didn’t occur to me to get a season ticket until I was a lot older (when I could afford it) and living back in London; my infrequent forays to the Bridge when I lived a short walk from the ground in the 80s being rekindled by my Chelsea supporting brother-in-law (Dr. Mart!) in the 90s.
The bottom line is that I am comfortable with the fact that there are masses of Chelsea supporters, many of whom are great friends, who fu
lfil the criteria outlined above. But I’m not in the slightest bit jealous of them (I’ll admit to being somewhat envious!). I do however, respect them massively. And for me, that is the crucial point.
If I am very comfortable with saying that I sit fairly low in the hierarchy of Chelsea supporters why do many others feel so threatened by this, belittling the views of match-goers or those who have been to more matches, seen more Chelsea sides and experienced it all first hand?
It could well be jealousy, or even a massive projection of the fear of their perceived inferiority. But it shouldn’t have to be like that and the respect perhaps should go both ways.
Many overseas and indeed UK supporters will tell you they’d cut their right arm off to go to every match, every week if they could. They are denied by time, distance and/or lack of money. And there are the thousands of disenfranchised local and working class supporters who have been systematically priced out of modern football. They would be there if they could and are no lesser Chelsea supporters for all that.
I have met overseas supporters who will get up at stupid o’clock to watch Chelsea in all corners of the world or travel miles to find a pub showing the game without like-minded Chelsea supporters to enjoy it with and I know several who had to suffer supporting Chelsea when there was no media at all to tell them what was going on – even in the newspapers.
Everybody had to start supporting the Club some when and somehow – we can’t all have been born 50-60 years ago although the average season ticket demographic would say different! And if, like me, you weren’t born into it or schooled the right way it’s hardly your fault, but by God you owe it to yourself and others to grasp and imbue yourself with the culture of the game, the club and the support.
At the end of the day, it’s not an appendage measuring contest and surely it is the duty of the older generations to pass down the culture of supporting Chelsea and our history without being patronising and for those who are new to it, to embrace and respect them without being chippy and discounting their obvious loyalty and tremendous lifelong support. Furthermore, the new fans should also be accorded some respect for the hardships they face in carrying out a long distance love affair under trying circumstances matched by the genuine possibility that they might never ever actually be able to watch a game at Stamford Bridge, like me and so many others are privileged to do.
Given the ever increasing age of our hard-core traditional support and the ever increasing number of our disenfranchised younger UK support coupled with the growth in our global support, surely it’s important that relationships are less frosty and carried out with respect. I fear for the future of o
ur support if we have no respect for each other
Of course, there are plenty of match-goers who spout utter nonsense and appear to have no idea about the game. There are many who seem to be there only to be entertained rather than be actively engaged in supporting the team. Equally there are plenty of supporters young and old, in the UK or overseas who 100% understand the game and the culture of supporting the club even though they never go.
Ultimately good or bad, right or wrong is merely semantics. What matters to me is whether you support the team, know the game, understand the culture of that support and have some respect. You are either a Chelsea supporter or you’re not. Everyone else is just a fan at best or worse a consumer with everything that entails.
I’d like to think we are all in it together and want the best for the club and for the wonderful culture of our support for the club to carry on and of course to get behind the team. But whatever the situation is, I have no doubt that there are some of us who have earned the right, as Chelsea supporters, to be ‘first among equals’.
First published in cfcuk fanzine – ‘urry up its only a pound!’