Tony Glover, host of the Podding Shed and regular guest on the Chelsea FanCast sets out what’s right and wrong with the Chelsea world…
Three years ago we were as a bunch of collective fans, wallowing in what looked to be another procession to another title under the leadership of a Prodigal Son in the form of Jose Mourinho. The garden looked rosy and many of us believed a wrong had been righted and that our Jose was back for the long term to build that much sought after dynasty, and a lasting legacy of success to place us amongst the games giants from Spain, Italy, Germany and of course England. Like it or not Manchester United, Liverpool and Arsenal will always be viewed as English giants irrespective of recent fortunes.
Then came that awkward third season where we languished close to the bottom of the table approaching Christmas and things looked grim. Jose was becoming increasingly morose and distant from the club, the fans and no doubt the players…..palpable discord anyone? The players were whining off to social media and leaking to the traditional written and broadcast media with patronizing soundbites about how all was well in the camp and it was down to them to turn things around. As I said, patronizing. They really do think fans are utter idiots willing to believe any party line bullshit the club decides to allow into the public domain by whatever route.
We all know what happened next. When Antonio (I much prefer to all him Tony…but then I would, wouldn’t I) arrived it was to the blanket approval of the vast majority of fans. After the dullness of Uncle Guus coming in and hoisting us to tenth we needed and wanted someone with fire in his belly. Well in his first season we got it. A team that looked rejuvenated with some seemingly questionable acquisitions and recalled loans (Moses, Luiz and Alonso) the team near strolled to its second premiership in 3 years and any fan who expected that is basically deluded or lives their life depending on nothing but blind faith. On the touchline, we had a man who kicked and headed every ball, felt every tackle and connected to the fans immediately. Even the vultures of Fleet Street loved him.
What could possibly go wrong? Quite simply it comes down to “Us and Them. And after all we’re only ordinary men* Me and you. God only knows, it’s not what we would choose to do”.
*And women of course….but that’s the lyric.
From the ‘Us’ perspective, we are the ‘ordinary men*’ in that lyric. We have, as a collective fan group, become overly expectant of success. Most of us aren’t football managers which means we didn’t choose to try our hand in such a tight competitive field. For those my age who remember the lean and dark days of the 60s, 70s and 80s, we’re quite content with periodic Premiership, FA Cup, League Cup and Champions League glory. Put simply, us oldies don’t expect to win everything, every year and every game 5-0. Then we have a younger generation who joined Chelsea fandom just before, at or after the arrival of Roman and have known little else but success and chaos theory when it comes to managers. Understandably they have a sense of expectation and privilege of winning trophies but it is a skewed vision. It’s easy to see that this is building a divide between young and old, or new and heritage fans. A bit like the divides in society in general then. As it probably ever was.
What this has usually ended up with is some balanced older heads calming the younger ones down and as they grow older they themselves become more circumspect over time. But now social media means the fan base has more ways to communicate its dissatisfaction. Any keyboard warrior wrapped in their half and half traitor scarf who hasn’t been within 5 miles of Stamford Bridge can latch onto our great club and broadcast their views and fake news, and if they’re vociferous, controversial or stupid enough they can reach many others. Fake news has always existed in football especially in transfer windows, but now it has more ways of getting its message out there. With the right wind, it can become viral and can end up in truly vile and unwarranted anti-player/coach/board/fan sentiment that in itself can be latched onto by the vultures of the Fourth Estate.
And that’s when it becomes ‘Them’. When the press and broadcast media get hold of this it’s running free and any anti manager/player/board sentiment becomes even more public. Add into the mix, the club leaks, witting and unwitting and the issue of disinformation being used to undermine individuals and you end up with a toxic situation. What then happens is akin to an avalanche of complete and utter bollocks. A pyroclastic torrent of hysteria and bullshit lies. The result is that lies become truth, truth and fact become lies and even when the truth outs, the keyboard warrior has moved on, ignoring their prior ignorance and inaccuracy, with no remorse, no accountability and no recourse for anyone else. They really need to learn the lesson that to appreciate good, you must know how the bad feels. The print and broadcast media (a definition itself becoming blurred) will then hold up the defence that all they do is broadcast the message, as if they’re akin to carrier pigeons. And of course, we all know at heart what pigeons deposit.
Is there a fix? In my view, the only fix is time itself. This by-product of social media is still at the fledgling stage and like any new form of communication it will self-regulate under the pressure of common sense and maybe even its eventual replacements making it less relevant or open to trolling. In my experience fans have always been divided on opinion but held together by a common cause, namely Chelsea. At any game, there are dissenters who might boo, jeer and coat certain players. That I maintain is their right as paying punters, even though I think it’s counter-productive and shows a certain degree of ‘spoilt brat’ persona about the fan. I may have been one of them myself before grizzled old maturity and world-weary experience smoothed the rough edges and taught me what in life is really important. But at games and in pubs, or on trains, or in cars it’s a debate with people there. Both sides have their say and the debate ends in agreement or agreement to disagree. On social media debate gets closed down by blocking or muting. Nothing gets decided unless the debaters pay adults and are happy to do this in public and accept final positions. Maybe as social media matures, so will its users, or maybe as is often the case todays trolls become tomorrow’s voice of reason. In the meantime us oldies will just have to suck it up and continue to be the voices of near-reason…….after all we’re also fickle fans at heart!
Where does that leave the club? As I write this we are 4th in the Premier League where a cigarette paper divides 2nd to 4th , still in the FA Cup, in the semi-finals of the League Cup (whatever it’s called these days) and facing a last 16 game against old rivals Barcelona. Yes, we’ve just had 3 rather tedious 0-0 draws, but with just one defeat in 18 games , a defence that looks as solid as we’ve had for several years and a coach who seems to care about everything the fans care about, how bad is life in truth? I agree the potency up front is blunted right now, but the acquisition of Ross Barkley for a bargain bucket £15m and that fact that there is still half the window to go means we could see some further strengthening taking place. I doubt it will be Andy Carroll, but will be intrigued to see if we do decide to bring another striker in. For me, I would chuck £30m at Leicester for Vardy rather than whatever Sanchez wants. Vardy is in my mind a new Defoe, fast, greedy and a deadly eye for goal. I have a feeling that in our side he’d be as prolific as Harry Kane, but with less spitting. I’d also look at maybe promoting from within, or buying in wing backs to compete with Alonso and Moses. Don’t get me wrong, I think Alonso has been a superb buy, but do we have a replacement in the squad now? Do we have someone as good at free kicks as him. Who else has the necessary bouffant? But for me Moses has perhaps had his moment in the sun. Against Leicester he was slow and ponderous and carrying too much muscle in my view, but also looking unable to skin even the most pedestrian of defenders. I know our record with him in the team is phenomenal, but I’d like to see us have a Plan B for Moses…..is there anybody out there? That’s my wish list for this window sorted. Wing-back deputies and a striker. What more can a Chelsea fan really want…or expect. Just remember that above all else……WOLUTB…UTC!!!!!
Follow Tony on twitter @GrocerJackUK and listen to the excellent Podding Shed which Tony hosts (sporadically!) in addition to his regular appearances on the Chelsea FanCast