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.
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!
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?
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…..