It’s no secret that there has been a clear grand-canyon shaped divide between the Chelsea fanbase at numerous times throughout this current season. We were to see this yet again after the discouraging draw vs Burnley on Monday night. Chelsea fans at the game were very supportive and in good voice which was great to see, the divide between fans came again on the Twitter platform. We will get into the whole match-going vs international fans another time. For now, let’s address the reasons behind the diversified expectations amongst Chelsea fans:
Fan Age/Experience – For me, perhaps the most fundamental reason lies here.
In the past 20 years, Chelsea has painted two extremely contrasting paintings displaying the success of the club as a whole. Before the Abramovich era, whilst Chelsea were an established top-division side, they were hardly a European juggernaut, nor the bookies favorite to pull in a trophy every year. If you wish to look back even further than the late ’90s’, Chelsea was a very turbulent experience, you could even say a “yo-yo” club, with relegations/promotions, financial instability, owner-changes all apparent in the 80/90’s. If you fast-forward to the Abramovich era (2003 onwards), the experience amongst fans is certainly a different one. Chelsea have now established themselves as a European superpower, winning close to every trophy available, a consistent figure in the upper proximities of the Premier League, and a healthy bank balance all on show.
Amongst our fanbase is an extreme diversity of fan experience/expectation, for good reason. Many of our elder fans, which are prominent within our fanbase as a club with an above-average age of match-attending fans, are used to the tougher times around SW6 and are very old-school in their approach and support to the club. These fans are new to/somewhat-dissatisfied by the new era of football, the pretty tiki-taka, and over-emphasis on philosophy, one being the current “SarriBall” era that attempts to grace Stamford Bridge. Many of our fans (including myself) have grown up seeing both sides of the coin, and perhaps have a more balanced approach towards our experience as we are deemed to be more “open-minded” and understanding of both eras. Finally, you have the younger generation, of whom many have grown up with their only experience of being a Chelsea fan coming in the success bred by the Abramovich era. They have only seen success, trophy after trophy, and have grown expectant to record-signings, top-level managers, and consistent silverware, all the lucrative pieces we have seen in recent times. This is all they know, it’s easy to see why they have a distaste with the clubs recent struggles, it’s against what they are used too.
Every supporter within our fanbase has had a different experience supporting the club, which effectively feeds their own expectations. Many are differentiating, many for good reason, it all stems from what they have experienced in their time as a fan of Chelsea.
Trophies vs Philosophy/What is Success? – Openly and honestly, us Chelsea fans have been spoilt with the amount of silverware our club has won, particularly in the last fifteen years. I can imagine that a large percentage of our fanbase would have never of dreamed of the achievements the club has compelled over recent times; all the Premier League titles, the FA Cups, and of course our maiden Champions League triumph in 2012. Chelsea has now established themselves as a powerhouse in the football world, and trophies are expected to follow with this new-found badge of honor.
Nevertheless, many find beauty in the process, hence the quote: “Success is a journey, not a destination. The doing is often more important than the destination.” Copious amounts of fans within Chelsea Football Club are fans of the journey, the process, the “philosophy.” To be relevant and perhaps vague, you could say these type of fans can often be found in the “Sarri-in” camp (Clarification – I personally do not believe in the Sarri in/out campaign). Many Sarri supporters are exactly that because of their love/affinity with a philosophy and style of football. These supporters want to see a certain brand of football at Stamford Bridge and are willing to put silverware on the back-burner of their demands in order for this to effectively work.
Many modern fans are fans of certain teams/coaches due to the beauty of their philosophies – Guardiola’s Man City/Barcelona with Tiki Taka, Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool with Gegenpress, Sir Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United with pure attacking football, and many more. On the other hand, many fans are of the mind that winning is everything, win at all costs, trophies are everything. You can log in to Chelsea Twitter, and each day there would be a poll somewhere asking “Whether you’d take top four or the Europa League?, or simply “Is success merited on the trophy-cabinet” and many like this which resemble this exact argument. I am currently reading Mauricio Pochettino’s book “Brave New World” and whilst he is the coach of a rival team, he is a un-doubtedly a fantastic coach, of whom speaks at numerous times throughout this book of how much success he has had within his managerial career, despite not winning a trophy.
Neither stance is right or wrong, and every associate within the game of football has a different view on this. Nevertheless, its these contrasting views on how success is measured that create divides within the fanbase. This happens in many successful fanbases and perhaps will never disappear. We need to embrace the fact it comes from a good place, our club having success in the first place.
Don’t Fix What’s Not Broken vs The New Age – My final point culminates both the above points into one, the particular experience you have had as a fan, mixed in with how you personally measure success, into a final point of – Do you stick with what you know and has worked before, or do you head into a new direction to find success once more?
Many Chelsea supporters see no issue with the current workings of the club. Consistent or not, the club has won two trophies in the past three years, the club has continued to make record-signings, and we still hire a new coach every 2-3 years. Each of these concepts have worked wonders in recent years, why change it right? The old saying goes, “don’t fix what isn’t broken” or “never change a winning formula.” On the other hand, possibly due to the shifting of the game in recent years, and how the running of other clubs and their behaviors have changed, many Chelsea fans have grown tired of a few habits within our club, such as the “hiring/firing” process the club has adopted under Roman Abramovich, and the “defensive/counter-attacking” playing philosophy we have seemed to make our own since the Jose Mourinho days.
Often the argument you see on the battleground that is “Chelsea Twitter” is one curtailing this final point. What do YOU want as a fan? Many are happy with the current system, and are happy for managers to come and go, and for us to play a occassonally deemed “boring” style of football, as long as trophies keep rolling in. Other fans are more focused on what they are watching when they support their team, many want the “beautiful game” played infront of their eyes, and the trophies will eventually come from this with patience with the system, and the ever-popular topic of the youth eventually coming through also. I understand both sides of the coin. There is nothing like watching your team lift a trophy, this arguably represents the pinnacle of being a football supporter. Nevertheless, I am also a fan of playing the game the “right” way, perhaps being a full-time coach of the game fuels this. I thoroughly enjoy watching a possession-based style of game in full-flow, hence my undoubed respect for Pep Guardiola and his philosophy. In an ideal world, I believe many Chelsea supporters would want both, which is achievable when you look at Manchester City. However, I know many fans who wouldn’t want this, which is why we have these differentiating expectations, and the reason I wrote this article in the first place.
Chelsea fans in 1984 storming the field after a resounding win against Leeds United.
Within every fanbase, there will also be differing views and expectations. Everyone will have a different opinion, that’s what makes football the greatest sport on earth. You cannot always agree, nor should you always find the need to disagree. Nevertheless, you can always maintain respect, and understanding of others. We are not the decision makers at Chelsea Football Club, and the club will head in the direction they feel is best for them. However, we have a duty as fans to understand and support this whole-heartedly, whether we agree with it or not. The same goes for Chelsea Twitter. You may not agree, you may even not understand it, but be respectful. Up the Chels.
Written by Dan McCarthy – @maccasport.