As we reach the final days of the end to another campaign, it becomes appropriate to begin to look back and evaluate the previous nine months as a whole, rather than in isolation.
Regarding the club’s potential involvement in a Europa League final on the 29th May might delay that conclusion for a few weeks, even with the wrapping up of our Premier League campaign on the 12th away to Leicester.
It is fair to establish reader before we get into the bulk of this article that the inception for the idea surrounding it was born not long after this website’s creation. My second article for the Echo pertained to how, as a whole, football debate had gotten worse in the calendar year of 2018. This discussion was wider, less focused, bouncing from Twitter, to YouTube to TV punditry.
However, with this being a Chelsea-centric site and the growth of it over the last four months, its important to revisit this issue, but focus specifically on the club we all love dearly, and how out of the many takeaways we have from the 2018/19 season, one of them must be the steep deterioration and divisive nature of fan communication online.
Now it is worthy to note that if you read this, and are not involved in the online sphere of fan discussion, you may find the issue I’m referring to as an obsolete, petulant and unworthy topic of discussion. However, the reason I’m able to write the words you are now reading is down to the positive connections I have been able to make over the past five years, and I’d bet many of you have discovered this article through a link on a social media site.
And for those who partake, share, input and in some cases, even make a living from talking about football, it is an important topic that needs addressing. Negative influences will always be present on the internet regarding anything, though it is the responsibility of the more rational and reasoned heads to create spaces that allow for better discussion and don’t turn people off all online content regarding their club just because of a few bad apples.
To call this season turbulent would be an understatement. Maurzio Sarri’s first campaign in charge of the Blues has created a hostility and public dislike for a Chelsea manager unlike any other. Even rivalling the interim tenure of Rafael Benitez, who had barely any friends when arriving at Stamford Bridge.
A series of high-profile and humiliating defeats post-Christmas quickly turned the tide against the Italian, who had made such a promising start to the season.
The intricacies of the Sarri in/out (rolls eyes) debate have been widely discussed in detail by myself in previous articles and many of the other esteemed writers on this site who all vary and cover a wide spectrum of views towards our current manager. This really isn’t about those debates, but more how they are had, and the way they play out.
Football is a reactionary sport, and Twitter is the greatest reactionary website ever created, so the two blend perfectly together.
The divide between the fanbase, which speaking in generalities can be attributed to match-going Vs. Non-match-going fans, with one supporting the manager, whilst the other loathing him. This is a very simplistic take on what’s going on, and I’m living proof that this clear split isn’t that well crafted, when I’m a season ticket holder, but don’t think the manager should lose his job.
Sadly, this divide has taken prominence by certain well-known and prevalent voices who have gone out of their way to antagonise, demonise and disregard a section of the fanbase who disagrees with their own subjective viewpoint. The Echo doesn’t need to give bad commentators more publicity than they already have, and already crave, so for those who are well-versed within the Chelsea online space, will be able to come to their own conclusions as to who “negative influences” are.
This very public dismissal of fans who can’t for whatever reason make it to the games as not “real” Chelsea fans and views are not worth listening to, simply is a small-minded and toxic idea that must be rejected. Now, as a fan to whom Chelsea is my local club and have travelled up and down the country to support, I think international supporters can concede the gigantic sacrifices and financial commitment that is put in by the loyal travelling support who treat Chelsea like a religion, which it is too many.
The outcry against the denigration of those who are unable to attend games has lead to opposing, as hyperbolic accounts aiming to “expose” match-going fans as a clueless, in some cases bigoted group who don’t understand the game. Even if those creating these accounts may line up with my view on the manager, they must also be condemned for their slurs against their own fans, most of whom are well-meaning, well-versed and loving of the club they support.
How much of an online influence did the chants of “F**k Sarriball” have when eventually sung within the Matthew Harding and away sections vocally, we can never be certain, but its undeniable to assume discourse between the fans is anything other than disjointed and uneasy at the current moment.
The fanbase’s current mood and division is a clear signifier of a larger problem that rises above twitter, and that’s the broken feel of the way Chelsea are currently setup. There is a lot of uncertainty surrounding the West London club as we speak. The stadium’s redevelopment put on hold, the looming transfer ban, potential big player departures and an owner whose rumoured to not be as invested in the club he fell in love with back in 2003.
Chelsea all over feels like a fragmented, disjointed unit that is nowhere near united on all fronts, which is represented and communicated within the fan’s response to a club they feel disconnected to. To pin this explosion of toxicity online all down to Sarri, is patently false, as this has been a problem that has grown as online debate has grown in prominence.
Under Antonio Conte last season. The extremely reactionary responses to results, the player abuse on their online profiles, forcing a few of them to disable comments in some cases (that still remains now). Chelsea’s pretty miserable campaign last year caused a lot of the similar problems online to arise, however Sarri appears to have been the one to blow it out of proportion.
Even Chelsea’ kit launch, one of the least important days within a season have now become a point for contention for people to hurl abuse at each other, over a bloody Nike kit! One of the most corporate, PR heavy, sanitised bits of the football calendar is now just another way for people to show their support or hatred for Sarri – its ludicrous.
The only way for this situation to improve is if Chelsea start performing on the pitch and results pick up. Though its important to acknowledge some of the most tribal voices regarding the current state of the club have already publicly bragged, even if Chelsea were to win every game and lift the Europa League, they would still want the manager gone, even if it would dismantle an argument of his inability to attain silverware.
The enthusiasm and motivational side of me wants to believe social media can improve regarding Chelsea fans, however a betting man would sway more to the less optimistic future which sees it getting more toxic, divided and less enjoyable.
However for those who do want a sign of light in this dark tunnel, its all about your individual responsibility to ignore, block and reject giving those who infuriate and don’t represent you, or the fanbase properly the attention, positive or negative they desire.
The way to not throw your phone out the window constantly is to instead use your emotion and passion for the club in a positive manner online. Support those that DO represent the fanbase responsibly, not even because they agree with all of your opinions, but because they do it in a way that feels respectful, insightful and comes from a place of knowledge, rather than a place of ignorance.
Hell, did what I did and contribute. Make a blog, setup a YouTube channel, a podcast and start creating the content you wish to see if you truly believe no one is creating what you crave. Luckily despite the drawbacks, the Chelsea community has continued to grow and the opportunities to collaborate and interact with fans across the world has never been easier.
If we want this space to be a positive one, we have to make proactive changes to create that possibility.