Mixed emotions of a Chelsea football fan

View from Chelsea away end at Man City Etihad stadium

A recent trip to see my beloved Chelsea play Manchester City in the FA Cup 5th round had me questioning whether I would ever wish to take an away trip again.

Not because we lost 2-0.  We just didn’t play well enough, no shots on target, we didn’t deserve it.  A bad day at the office, it happens, we move on.  I can live with that.

I don’t go to many away games, time and money usually dictates.  I decided to go to this one because the tickets were reasonably priced, reduced from the usual Premier League prices, I’d never been to the Etihad stadium before, and Chelsea laid on subsidised club travel, coaches and a train, I opted for the latter, my total cost coming to £35.  The train itself was fabulous, a Virgin train with plug sockets and wifi – perfect!

Before we boarded the train we were bag and body searched, not having been on a away day train before, I took this as being normal.  The journey was comfortable and uneventful, the fans pretty upbeat and I enjoyed listening to some young lads and their dads recalling their previous away trips, over land and sea!

We arrived in good time at Manchester Piccadilly station, time enough for a a drink and a bite to eat, but as I was on my own and still pretty full from my double English breakfast earlier in the day, I decided instead to take a slow walk to the stadium, following the suggested walking route.  An interesting landscape, and surprisingly devoid of people.

Walking route through Manchester to the Etihad stadium

Walking to the Etihad, in the distance

I arrived, and there were plenty of people milling around the perimeter of the ground, I received a text from a friend to say her club coach had just arrived, which were all parked up just opposite the away fans entrance to the ground.  Once inside we shared a drink and enjoyed a great atmosphere of singing as only away trips can, although it does sadden me to hear the anti-everybody songs still persist, and the very reason why my Irish husband prefers not to go to away games with me.  That, and being an AFC Wimbledon fan first and foremost!

Approaching the Etihad stadium Manchester

Etihad ahead

 

 

But before any of us were allowed into the ground, we were bag and body searched again.  This time more thoroughly.  I’m questioning whether this is normal practice?  And yet we submit to this willingly!

Time to take our places for the game, my seat in the lower stand.  But as with most travelling fans, very little sitting going on, you get used to that.  The first thing to note was a rather large net stretching across the width of the penalty box behind the goal.  I first thought this might have been put up for pre-match shooting practice, to be taken down just before the kick off, I have seen this before.  But it wasn’t.  It stayed there the whole game and, frankly, spoiled my view.  Is this what I should expect if I pay a reduced ticket price?

View from Chelsea away end at Man City Etihad stadium

Over land and sea, Chelsea away end

But what followed soon after is what turned out to be the most contentious part of the day.  The minutes silence for Preston and England player Tom Finney, who had sadly passed away days earlier aged 91.

From where I was in the middle of the lower stand it was very noisy, non stop chanting.  I didn’t hear an announcement about a minute’s silence taking place, and I certainly didn’t hear a whistle as it started, which is customary with these things.  I looked up and saw the players around the centre circle and only then did I realise that a minutes silence had started.  I had no prior knowledge that one would take place. If that was my experience then it’s quite plausible to have been the experience of others around me, but I can only speak for myself.  All I heard during the silence were fans around me telling others to shut up.  A very confused moment, which did eventually fall silent and end with a fitting round of applause.  I don ‘t believe that any chanting heard at the Man City game was a deliberate attempt to disrespect this footballing legend.

The problem is that our reputation precedes us, when at the FA Cup semi final in 2012 a minority of Chelsea fans chanted during the minute’s silence on the 23rd anniversary of the Hillsborough disaster.  I was standing quite close to them at the time and I heard it, and I was frankly ashamed and appalled.

Towards the end of the game and after the final whistle there seemed to be altercations below me, probably the usual name calling across the divide, all pretty juvenile stuff, I couldn’t tell and I wasn’t in the least bit interested. Why do so many supporters direct their disappoint in their team’s performance to opposing fans?  I see so many paying more attention to them rather than the game itself.  I was lucky enough to see the Milan derby at the San Siro many years ago, and there was no hint of opposing fan trouble there, but they had plenty to say to their players! (Inter lost 3-1!)

Outside the ground there was a lot of niggling, a lot of name calling, fans being indiscriminately pushed around by police horses.  Nothing major, just minimal crowd control.  Grown men who can’t be gracious in defeat and humble in victory.  Name calling and abuse, nothing more than that, it happens when people are fuelled by alcohol and in the apparent safety of their numbers.

There were even rumours on Twitter of brick throwing and a home fan stabbed, but I never saw or heard of this, and there was no commotion, police activity or sirens to suggest anything that serious had occurred.  I suspect it was deliberate misinformation designed to stir things up.

Now the day after, and my tiredness has largely disappeared, I am left wondering about the day’s events, feeling a bit sad about it all, although by and large I enjoyed my day out.  As a (trying to deny it) middle aged and (hopefully) respectable woman, whether this is the sort of activity I should be engaging in.

I have supported Chelsea since I was around 7 years old when my dad first took me to a game, sitting on one of the benches in the old West Stand.  I first went to see them on my own at Stamford Bridge when I was 13, and was a member for many years before becoming a season ticket holder in the West Lower a few years ago.

I would like to support my team as much as I can, I can’t (and don’t want to) change the team I follow, real football fans will know you don’t do that, but do I have to accept being treated like cattle when I go to an away game?  Am I having to suffer the indignity because of a minority of idiots who may or may not be out to cause trouble?  Why can’t I go to a game, enjoy a decent view from the comfort of my seat, I pay my money as much as the next person?  Was this game different because of the large allocation of 6,000 plus?  I’ve been to a handful of other away games this season, including Arsenal in the Capital One cup, and none of those had the bad atmosphere of this one.  Unlike the others though, is it purely because we lost this one, we’re not used to it and some can’t handle it?

Maybe away games are just not for me anymore, but for the time being I’ve already bought my ticket for the next one at Fulham! There’s no hope…..

#ktbffh

 

Non League Day

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Welcome to Raynes Park Vale

Non League Day As the football season for the Premier League comes to a halt while World Cup qualification games are played, 7 September 2013 has been declared Non League Day, in support of grass roots football.  So, a good opportunity to take a peek at my very local football club, Raynes Park Vale, which is located just 2 minutes walk across the road from where I live.  With my husband and myself regular visitors to Stamford Bridge to watch Chelsea and my husband taking my son to see AFC Wimbledon for most home games, I thought it would make a refreshing change to see what it’s like to support a team at one of the lower levels.

Raynes Park Vale play in the Combined Counties League Premier Division, and on Non League Day were playing Holmesdale FC in the first qualifying round of the FA Vase, a competition for teams below Step 4 of the English Football League system.  The league is based on a pyramid system, with Raynes Park Vale at level 9 (Step 5).

Rather than just turn up I thought I would check out their web site first, find out a few things about the club, about the team, how well they are playing in their league, how much it costs to watch them play, etc.  But, alas, they have no official web site, despite the link on their twitter account, the only information I could find was on a Pitchero site, but information there was clearly aimed at players and the club, rather than supporters.

Undeterred, I decided to tweet them asking for more information, there was still a short while to go until kick off at 3pm.  At just before half time I received a reply, and after an exchange of messages was advised that I could watch the second half for free, the £6 charge only applicable up until half time.  So that’s what I did.

Obvious to say, but the Premier League this isn’t!  As I approached the ground a ball came hurtling over the fence in front of me, which I duly collected and threw back to the opposition team practicing at half time.  I took my place in a ramshackle old ‘grandstand’ full of dried leaves from the nearby trees, thankfully it was a dry and sunny day because I’m not sure the roof was watertight.

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Mind that roof!

 

At the start of the second half Raynes Park Vale were already 1-0 down, and after a while conceded a second.  It was no less than they deserved, they were pretty poor, struggling to string a few passes together, crosses going nowhere, and lack of fight for the ball.  Only one team was going to win this game, and so it ended 2-0 to Holmesdale.  We (being a Raynes Park resident I feel I can take some kind of ownership!) did have a few promising chances towards the end of the game but it was a case of too little too late.

Apart from the quality of play, the main difference I found was the how much you can hear the players, dugout and referee shouting like mad during the game.  Clearly, being closer to the pitch and no large crowd singing and cheering, the shouting of the players to each other and the referee, the dugouts shouting to the referee how to do his job, and the referee having to stop and reprimand players, could be heard by all.  The language was typically fruity.

But actually, I enjoyed it!  I’m not sure I would pay £6 to watch them play, especially if that is their usual standard, but I might just turn up for another free second half.  Is that mean of me?  Could I be accused of denying grass roots football the funds they so desperately need?  Or perhaps it should be viewed as a case of try before you buy, or pay what you think the game is worth?

The experience got me thinking though.  Here on Non League Day, a campaign designed to promote football at the lower levels, grass roots levels, and yet I couldn’t find the information I wanted to get involved.  To be fair, the game was pinned to a map on the Non League Day site (and a really useful site it is too), but beyond that very little.  When smaller clubs can barely survive, and operate in grounds with less than ideal facilities, no wonder promotion of the club to potential fans takes a back seat.  As someone who can see the worth of event promotion, including the effective use of social media, I think the club has missed a trick.

I don’t blame them at all.  I blame a system that denies proper funding to clubs at this level, and that includes youth football as well, which would not survive were it not for volunteers.  My husband has been involved with Little League, managing and coaching teams and occasional refereeing.  Both my younger kids have played, my 12 year old son still playing for Wallington Wanderers U13s.  But the whole system would fall apart were it not for those people who give up their time week in, week out, often at their own expense, sometimes taking a lot of abuse, running teams for the love of the beautiful game.

But whose fault it it?  To be honest, I don’t know, but everyone involved has to take some responsibility for our national game.  I remember back in the 70s (yes I really do!) when professional football was a mess.  Horrible grounds, hooliganism rife, but that all changed when the Premier League was formed over 20 years ago and when Sky Sports started pumping money into broadcasting live games, prior to which the only football on TV was Match of the Day and The Big Match, both recorded highlights.  Those were the days, she said with misplaced nostalgia!

But with the current level of obscene spending at the top of the game, we shouldn’t forget where the new English talent comes from.  The new FA Chairman, Greg Dyke, had a lot to say about this in his recent speech, where he expressed great concern about where our future national stars will come from with the influx of out-of-the-box international players demanding massive fees and wages.  The imbalance clearly needs addressing, and I wish him good luck, not so much finding out the problems, we all know what they are, but in enforcing an effective solution.

Now I feel bad about not paying my £6 to watch my local team!

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