There is a moment when you realise that you are a fan of something. Sometimes it’s a creeping gradualisation of feeling. Sometimes it can be triggered by a single event or personality. That match you saw on the TV when you were little. Or that player who had a profound influence on you.
I started supporting Chelsea when I was 17, and it was mainly because of Pat Nevin. I remember reading an interview with him in which he said “I’d like to take a chainsaw to racists”. This was at a time when I was becoming more politicised as a person, when players were suffering terrible racial abuse from the terrace (sadly sometimes from their own fans), and it chimed completely with what I was feeling. So I started looking out for Chelsea’s results, listening to reports on the radio and, in an age of few live games and only two or three matches shown on highlights programmes, very occasionally seeing them on TV.
As sheltered, petted only girl with no independent finances (I was doing my A-levels), from a close-knit Irish family in Birmingham, there was absolutely no question of my being allowed to go and watch Chelsea in the flesh, and subsequently, having stiffed my A-levels and given up all hope of my preferred career, I went to work as a junior typist in an insurance company.
The money was rubbish, affording me little else but a living wage, especially at a time when 10% of my income went to having to pay the infamous Poll Tax, and any holidays were invariably with my family in a caravan in Devon. I had the money for an occasional day trip to London for a theatre matinee, but, still extremely shy and unsure of myself, I never had the courage to visit Stamford Bridge.
That is, until Easter 1993. I had saved enough money for a whole weekend in London and, taking my courage in my hands, phoned the ticket office, and bought a ticket for the West Stand (too scared to go to The Shed) for Chelsea’s game against Wimbledon on Easter Monday. So on Saturday I went to the theatre – Crazy for You at the Prince Edward – on Sunday I went to Hampton Court, and on Monday I finally made the pilgrimage. And we won 4-2, with Dennis Wise amongst the scorers.
The one thing that surprised me was how sparse the crowd was (there can’t have been more than 15,000 there), albeit at a time when capacity had been restricted on safety grounds following publication of the Taylor Report, but the Shed was extremely noisy. Strangely enough my abiding memory of that day was the clatter of the wooden seats at the end of the game as fans headed for the exit. And the queue outside the tube station, passing what are now long-gone landmarks like the branch of Lloyds Bank and the kebab shop.
But that was it, I was hooked. The next season I started being more courageous and went to several games on match days by train, in an era when you could walk up and get a day return to London on a Saturday for 15 quid, although to my sadness I still didn’t go to enough games to make the cup final (nor was I able to afford the Chelsea Pitch Owners share which would have guaranteed a ticket).
After that, I decided to make a firm commitment and bought my first season ticket in the West Stand. Then I started going to away games, at first in the Midlands and then London and the North. And I started bumping into the same people frequently, meeting people on trains, fellow Chelsea fans, who became friends, who became lovers. I started going to pubs. I had a Chelsea family.
This was my life until 2007, shuttling between Birmingham and London, a slave to the fixture list and the train timetable, when suddenly a work opportunity presented itself, and, at 40, I was able to fulfil my childhood dream, going further back than supporting Chelsea, to live and work in London, with all the cultural and social opportunities it could bring me.
That is my story, and I appreciate how incredibly lucky I have been over almost 20 years to be actively supporting the club at a time of unparalleled success. And sometimes, I ask myself how long it will last. Not loving the club, but physically going to games. My first season ticket in the West Stand, which is probably still kicking around in Old Mother Baby’s house, was something like £300. My season ticket for 2012/2013 is £900. I live in one of the most expensive cities in the world. I don’t have a career, I have a job. I have other financial commitments and the cost of living continues to rise whilst wages remain stagnant.
A few years ago, a friend lost his season ticket when he couldn’t meet the repayments for the instalment scheme.
One of my closest friends, who has followed Chelsea home and away in Europe since 2003, has had to give up his season ticket this year for financial reasons. He said he realised in Munich that he “could no longer dine at the top table”, and intends to target the cheaper cup games. He says parting with his season ticket is “incredibly depressing”.
As our fan base ages, how many of them will be able to continue to afford to attend games on a pension, even through concessions? I think if I’m still alive by the time I’m 70 I’ll be too old, too tired and too poor to visit Stamford Bridge/new stadium in Surrey* for every home game. Will the fact that I’m no longer able to go matches any more due to poverty and/or infirmity make me any less of a fan?
A hot topic among our domestic fanbase is that we appear to be taken for granted. During the club’s summer tour of the United States, a frequent grumble in the Twittersphere was how come coaching sessions and photo opportunities were being made available for our American fans, when those who attend games most frequently are denied such opportunities? To be absolutely fair, the club have responded with a generous offer for season-ticket holders and members to have their photographs taken with the FA Cup and European Cup for free – a timely and much appreciated gesture.
But just what is the experience of being a Chelsea fan abroad? I asked New York based Bobby Shoddy:-
“Supporting Chelsea as an overseas fan is a mix of incredible camaraderie with other overseas supporters and annoyance that the ‘local fans’ want to be taken seriously by UK based fans. Just because they say ‘end line’ instead of goal line and the annoying PK instead of penalty, it does not mean they are not ardent and well informed fans.
“I have an East Upper Season ticket and get back around 4-5 times a season. I always hang out with the same group of friends that I would if I was living in the UK, we go to the same pub ‘Fox and Hounds’. In fact sometimes they get annoyed when I come over because it means that one of them can’t use the ticket!
“I do get a hard time from some people I run into back at Chelsea when I go back because they don’t think I am a real fan, the fact is we are lucky with living in the US as they show all the Chelsea games around 1000hrs in the morning so I watch more live TV games than most ‘real fans’.
“The routine is great as I have a 21 year old daughter and an 18 year old son who are Chelsea mad and we watch the games either at home or go to the local sports bar and meet the local supporters club guys. There is a hard core of around 15-20 regulars and they are a mix of expats and local guys. The expats are not just English but Spanish and Swedish too. Without doubt the expats have a better understanding of the game and the locals do shout some rubbish, they have really not been stepped in the professional game for long enough and they think that everyone should play like Barcelona! They are however very knowledgeable about CFC history and players etc. which is a surprise sometimes.
“The problem I have is that it just is not taken seriously enough by non football fans as American football, basketball and bloody baseball are so big, in New Jersey Lacrosse is huge too and who the bloody hell plays that internationally!!!!
“I went with a group of colleagues from work to the pre-season game against PSG at Yankee Stadium, kind of press ganged them as I am the boss. Now that stadium is fantastic and the facilities are always so much better than those in the UK it’s embarrassing. They had a great time-probably wont go again but at least they get it now!
“The overseas fan in my experience is a bit of a nerd! Sounds harsh maybe but they have to work hard to support their team and they spend a fortune at the online megastore. There are few plastic fans in my experience they give a lot of their time to follow the time and regularly put themselves out. Five of my local crew went from NJ to Seattle back to NJ onto Philly and then into Miami to watch pre-season……..they said it was kudos for away games!!!!”
Thanks to Bobby for an interesting perspective.
I know many Chelsea supporters based outside the UK, who have a geographical spread from Cancun to Japan, calling in Sweden, Spain, Israel and all other points on the way. We’ve been brought together over the years by belonging to message boards, forums, and blogs. And it’s not just in a “virtual” sense I know these people. I’ve met them in person, at games they’ve attended in the UK, and at matches I’ve been to abroad. I know what they do for a living, how many kids they have and how old they are. I’ve watched their kids grow up, in some cases. And with the advent of the internet, the Chelsea family are probably now able to keep more in touch with each other than ever before. And the hours are anti-social. Bobby Shoddy’s relatively lucky in that 3pm games are at 10am in New York. But for those on the West Coast, or in Mexico, it can be a very early start, especially if a game gets moved to 12.45pm. If you’re on the East Coast of Australia, in the middle of a British Winter, a 3pm kick off will be 2am in the morning. It takes dedication to stay up all night for a game.
Finally, I asked our very own Yugam what he felt summed up being a fan abroad. He responded:-
“I thought about it and tried to come up with a particular answer which would just be restricted to me – I couldn’t find it; then I tried to find something which would be restricted to all Chelsea fans abroad – I couldn’t find it. And so thinking about it, I understood that everyone has some point of reference to their loyalty for this beautiful club, for some it is a faith handed down over the generations, some got hooked due to their proximity to the Bridge, some had their favourite player donning the Blue colours, some witnessed a great game, while for the rest it was just a moment from whereon it all turned Blue. However, I feel these are all just memories which we have in our minds that have, with time, become incidental to our unpredictable journey following Chelsea, which isn’t just restricted to a location or region, but is transcendental across the globe.
“No matter what I say to describe myself as a Chelsea fan, the fact is it won’t be restricted to the place where I live, as the feeling could be echoed by anyone from anywhere in various shapes and forms. So wherever you are, just keep the Blue Flag Flying High, because that’s all that matters.”
A beautiful sentiment on which to end.
You can follow Yugam on Twitter @cfc12 and Bobby Shoddy’s account is @bobbyshoddy.
I’ll be here throughout the season with random thoughts and you can follow me on Twitter @BlueBaby67.
*This, of course is a joke. I hope…