The name of Maurizio Sarri loomed over the Chelsea Supporters Trust Annual Survey for 2019. Released to members of the non-profit organisation on Friday afternoon, as well as a shortened statement on the trust’s website outlined the key findings of the survey.
Sarri’s tumultuous tenure despite seeming a long way from the optimistic mood concerning Frank Lampard’s appointment did play a key role in results considering supporters were asked before the conclusion of the 2018/19 season, when both Champions League qualification and a Europa League triumph were still uncertain.
The survey – open to members and non-members alike – received two thousand responses on a wide array of issues concerning on and off-field matters.
On the pitch, the trust summarised that fans prioritised both “On Pitch Success” and “Development of Young Players” which is unsurprising considering the outcry for both Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Callum Hudson-Odoi to be given more minutes at the tail end of 18/19 and the feel-good factor from introduction of Tammy Abraham, Mason Mount, Fikayo Tomori and Recce James – plus others in 19/20.
Despite Chelsea – by most supporters pre-season expectations – having a successful campaign in reclaiming Champions League status and triumphing over Arsenal to claim more European silverware, the survey revealed the rating for “Management of Footballing Issues” was one of the worst in the annual survey’s history.
Highlighting the key fan divide over the head coach that had grown ever more bitter as the season wore on. More worrying stats show that only 8% of participants believe the club has a “Long Term Vision” and only 14% believe that the club is “In Touch with Fans”.
It will be telling how results shift come the conclusion of the 2020 survey with Frank Lampard’s tenure taken into account whether either of those figures look more appealing. However, given Chelsea’s frantic nature fans will inevitably remain cautious.
With a number of supporters feeling disillusioned with the style of play under Sarri lead the trust to conclude the Italian might not have been the right fit for the club.
It is curious to ponder with the trend at the top of the English game swaying towards a more possession based style whether this will be an issue that runs further and conflicts with fans tastes in the coming years – especially if another coach trying to implement possession at the core does not have the good will and legendary status of Lampard.
Moving away from on-pitch matters, it is little surprise that pricing of Premier League tickets go to the top of the list. The lack of options for young supporters to purchase discounted tickets at Stamford Bridge was also noted as another source of contention.
Chelsea’s “Virtual waiting room” has become a bugbear of fans attempting to buy tickets for key games home and away. The system has caused many supporters to miss out on away fixtures as a mad scramble at 7am on the day of ticket releases seems to include an element of luck, no matter your standing.
There is strong support for Chelsea’s continued initiative to subsidise travel for all away games outside of London, but games moved for TV coverage remains a headache for supporters hoping to be reimbursed due to increased ticket costs. This connects naturally with the survey’s report in kick-off times and more notice given regarding fixtures being moved for TV. 20% of responders favouring a fixed-full schedule being released before a ball is kicked. Although this concept seems unlikely given the power and wealth of the big broadcasters, it would ease the stress and uncertainty provoked by the constant shifting of games.
The Trust state the upcoming mid-winter break in early February – in which fans wouldn’t be aware which weekend their team would be playing in till mid-December – to be unacceptable. Chelsea will be playing on the second of the two allotted weeks, where they will host Manchester United on a Monday night at 8pm.
Chelsea fans irritation on the rejigging and shifting of fixtures to suit broadcasters feels ever more relevant in recent days when it was confirmed Chelsea’s fourth round FA Cup trip to Hull City had been moved to a 5.30pm kick-off on Saturday 25th January for coverage on BT Sport. Fans noted soon after this news broke that there would be no available trains back from East Yorkshire.
The Trust released a statement regarding this fixture change which stated that “The CST is frustrated by the continued disregard towards match-going supporters. Over two back-to-back Saturdays, CFC KO in the North-East at 17:30 (18th vs. Newcastle United & 25th vs. Hull City). The CST would like to place on record with how disappointed it is. A 17:30 KO for games over 250 miles away from London continues to be widely opposed by supporters.
“The Chelsea Supporters Trust would urge the FA to select more appropriate ties to be shown on television in future. Managers have been widely criticised for “not taking the FA Cup seriously.” The board believe that if unnecessarily difficult KO times are being chosen, supporters may follow in the same manner.
“The CST would also like to thank Chelsea Football Club for its continued subsidised coach travel. For many supporters, it continues to be the only realistic option to attend away matches. The CST hopes that this will continue in its current format.”
The survey also revealed supporters strong support for the club being a Living Wage Employer and a continued stance against discriminatory language. A day following the survey’s release, Chelsea would reveal a 12-metre mural paying tribute to three footballers who were sent to Nazi concentration camps in World War Two commissioned by Roman Abramovich for the club’s continued Say No to Anti-Semitism campaign.
The Trust met with the club this week to discuss the findings of the survey and raise any concerns from it.
For more information on the Chelsea Supporters Trust and how you can become a member, visit their official website here: https://chelseasupporterstrust.com/
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