Following Chelsea has never been for the squeamish or faint-hearted.
I remember (dimly, I wasn’t sure what was going on at the time) Tommy Docherty leaving the club.
With many talented young players appearing as if from nowhere, his team was a blend of youth and more youth (remember that) which boded well for the future.
His motivational skills were stunning and those players achieved performances that belied their age and ability.
Then, Bang! Docherty left, arguments over something or other and he was gone. To my naïve young mind there should never be arguments at a football club. You were all on the same side.
I wasn’t exactly devastated, but I know I felt let down. Somehow the club I loved had disappointed me: they were grown-ups for God’s sake, they should have been able to sort something out.
It turned out ok though. For a while. Dave Sexton returned, added a bit of tactical nous to Docherty’s Diamonds and the rest is history.
Except it wasn’t, was it? Chelsea tinkered with the self-destruct button.
The FA Cup was followed by the Cup Winners Cup. Then – a photo of Peter Osgood on the 9 o’clock news, he had been transfer listed for the then awesome amount of £400,000. Sexton, a stickler for discipline, had grown tired of Ossie’s off-field activities and had had enough.
There was a story about Sexton returning from hospital after visiting the injured Ian Hutchinson and being faced with more revelations about Osgood’s drinking – and snapping. I’m not sure if that’s true or not, but it sounded plausible to me at the time.
That started the swift demise of the great Cup-winning team: Hudson left, others followed. The self-destruct had been pressed more firmly this time.
A while later and Eddie McCreadie took control. He created a blend of youth and more youth (again) which incorporated his new captain, a young Butch Wilkins. True there were some old heads in the side, but most of the skill and almost all the energy came from the kids.
They were developing quickly, until – yes, you guessed. The self-destruct button was dusted off.
McCreadie asked for a company car. Mr Mears refused and McCreadie resigned. The team, and the club, hobbled along for a while. Well, I suppose you would hobble along if you’d just shot yourself in the foot. Again.
Save the Bridge came and went, and for years we toyed with having a decent side. Under John Neal, we began to develop something special, with the names of Dixon, Speedie, Rougvie et al creating a blend of skill and rock hard men, not one of whom would ever say die.
In between times, old Ken did his best to drag us through the mire with his outspoken views and electric fences. But we didn’t do much with the self-destruct for a while, mainly because there wasn’t an awful lot to destroy.
Then Ken did something amazing (see, even Cap’n Birdseye had his moments!). He took Hoddle as manager. Never everyone’s favourite, he at least got the team playing with a measure of sophistication and flair. And he managed to get Ruud into the club.
Welcome to the first rung of our continuing success. Ruud was outstanding as a player, not far short of that as manager. Sexy football put Chelsea on the map. The Kings Road swaggered again and there were crowds along the Fulham Road.
Yes, crowds, as in lots of people for most of the games. Chelsea were promising to deliver and deliver in style. Seriously, we were going places at long last!
Two words. Not self-destruct, this time, but netto-grosso. Same thing though, really.
In an argument over salary (was it x amount gross, or x amount after tax) Ruud left. I felt like that kid who was there when Docherty walked: Why? Surely, if you are earning or paying out millions, what’s a hundred grand either way? We are all on the same side after all, aren’t we? Self-destruct. Bang.
By this time I had realised that following Chelsea was never going to be easy. There was something special about them. When they won, they won in style. When they failed, they did that spectacularly too. And at the most unexpected time, which perhaps what made it difficult at times.
What do they say about going out with a bang, not a whimper? But the rewards….ah yes, the rewards of following Chelsea….
Gentleman Luca took the reigns and went on to win the FA Cup. A month into the following season he was sacked, reportedly because the board and many of the players were unhappy with his managerial style. Bang. Again.
I don’t want to go through recent history. We all know the amazing highs we’ve had since Roman arrived. We all know the strange, sometimes inexplicable downs we’ve had to put up with.
So that leaves us here and now. But where is here and now?
Here is coming out of our worst injury crisis for many years (in terms of the stature and the length of time of those injured), a mere two points behind United. We have everything, apart from the least important trophy of them all, left to play for.
Now is nearly half way through the season. Now we are trusting younger players. Against Zilina we almost had a team which was a blend of youth and more youth (remember them…?). Now is the time to support the club.
Now is not the time for criticism.
Following the Blues is never a bed of roses. It’s never been success like we’ve had in the last ten, fifteen years or so. It’s been ups, downs, highs and lows and all we’ve been able to do down the years is to stand up and support the team, the managers and the club.
Recent results may not be what we like, but recent performances have not been as bad as the faint hearted or squeamish would suggest. That’s football, shit happens. We should know that, all of us. Older heads will also tell you that we’ve been through all this sort of turmoil before. Many times. And worse.
So stop complaining about the Board, about Carlo and the players. They are all working for the same side. Stand up and be counted as a true Chelsea fan, each one of you.
Stand up and support the club, support them with even more fervour and more ardently than you have supported them in the past.
Support them even if you think they don’t deserve it, because even if they don’t they are still Chelsea. Support them because we love our roller-coaster club and our roller-coaster ride.
Despite the success of recent years, we are not in this for self aggrandisement or hunting trophies. We do not go around saying “We are Chelsea and we have history”. We are in it because we love the game and the ride and above all love the club that makes all this explosion of emotions possible.
So stand up, on Saturday against Everton at the Bridge. Or if you can’t get to the ground and you’re watching it in the pub, stand up. Or even if you’re out shopping because the kids have to come first in the run-up to Christmas. Stand up and be counted as a true Chelsea fan who will support their team whatever happens.
Don’t be faint-hearted. Don’t be squeamish. We are the fans who have stuck with the club through thick and thin, and will continue to do so in the future.
We are a great club, with an owner who may be unique in having the club engraved on his heart. We have a Double-winning manager. We have a superb team of immensely talented players and we are world beaters…
Let the doubters try to disprove it if they want to. We know who we are.
We are Chelsea.
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