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Will The Real Chelsea Supporter Please Stand Up?

I was following a row on TheChelseaBlog facebook the other day between two Chelsea fans about whether or not each one was a ‘true fan’. I mean, it went way beyond the original topic once the handbags were in full swing if I’m honest but I think that was the gist of it to start with.

There’s always so much debate – and that’s a polite word for it – across the country, be it in the pub, on blogs, forums, facebook, wherever, about what constitutes a ‘proper supporter’ – as if there’s some finite criteria we have to fulfill as ‘the genuine article’. But that’s not how being a supporter works is it?

Of course, we’re all very different irrespective of the club we choose (or don’t choose as the case is for some of us), there’s what’s seen as the ‘hardcore’ supporter – the season ticket holder who never misses a game, the armchair supporter – who supports from the comfort of his front room, the ‘glory hunters’ – who weren’t interested before Roman’s arrival and yet profess to know the club inside and out and then there’s the internationals, who couldn’t get to Stamford Bridge even if they wanted to.

So, which of those gets the title of ‘proper supporter’? Does the armchair supporter miss out because he can’t get to every game or possibly even chooses not to? Well, that armchair supporter might have many reasons for not attending the games but could well have followed Chelsea for 30 or 40 years, living and breathing the club, so surely he can be classed as genuine?

And what about the internationals? Do they not get any credit simply because they don’t have the luxury of living in the same country as some supporters? Is it because they haven’t seen the inside of Stamford Bridge that they’re discounted or because they couldn’t possibly feel the same sort of passion if they’re not English?

Of course the ‘glory hunters’ will always be frowned upon in this debate and I guess even I find the concept of ‘picking’ a club difficult to understand, never mind doing it maybe at an age where your club should already be a way of life. But even then, who is to say they are any less passionate once the decision is made? As long as they stick by it obviously – because whilst their initial reason for choosing the club may not have been ‘pure’ as long as they stick it out through thick and thin after that point, surely that’s what matters?

Naturally, you’d assume the ‘hardcores’ automatically qualify, I mean, these are the supporters who spend their hard-earned going to every game, so it stands to reason they’re the ‘real’ supporters doesn’t it? Or does it? Do these supporters necessarily stand by the club and its players no matter what? Do they care more about the club than any glory that might come with it? Does the fact they have a season ticket now mean they didn’t have one for Arsenal as a kid?

I guess the point is, there is no perfect supporter and we all support our club in our own way for a variety of reasons. My eldest son for example, like me had Chelsea drummed into him before he could even talk. Unlike me though, he didn’t have the benefit of being born or brought up in London, so whilst I may well have taught him to chant ‘Vialli’ before I even cared whether he was going to say ‘mum’ or ‘dad’, it didn’t mean he’d be sat in Stamford Bridge every home game from the minute he took his first step. Of course I’ve taken him to games as a kid (although family days out at the Bridge are a luxury most people haven’t been able to afford for years) but now he’s older and finances dictate, Chelsea games aren’t an option for him. Does that mean he supports them any less? Well he shed as many tears as I did that horrible night in Moscow and kicked as many doors as me lately, so I’d say not.

So maybe it’s less about the way in which we demonstrate our support that matters, maybe it’s more about the reasons behind it and what it means. For me and a lot of others no doubt, I didn’t actually choose Chelsea, as I’ve said before I inherited them through the family. So, for me, supporting Chelsea has always been a way of life and it comes as naturally as eating, sleeping, breathing and anything else I do automatically.

As a kid, the impact of supporting Chelsea on my life seemed to be mainly around becoming accustomed to disappointment on Saturdays and the odd quizzical look at school because I didn’t just support Liverpool or United like everyone else. I guess it wasn’t the done thing to support a club in the second division but at least I didn’t have to worry about comparing results and whether or not we’d be winning trophies.

As an adult, supporting Chelsea hasn’t been quite as low-key. In fact, the older I’ve got, the harder it’s got – mainly as a result of our success strangely enough. That’s the thing about success eh? You can drift along quite happily without it but once you’ve had a taste of it, you can’t help wanting more. Whereas once upon a time you were happy to get a result against anyone, suddenly you want a result against everyone. And when you don’t, it’s a lot harder to take.

I suppose I was accustomed to shrugging off rubbish results safe in the knowledge that at least every win felt like a cup final, so when results started to become an expectation and that expectation wasn’t achieved, it wasn’t just harder to take on a Saturday but it was harder to take all week. And these days, whilst publicly I can shrug it off with the odd cynical remark here and the odd one-liner there, the pain of defeat is a lot more acute than any of the knocks our players can spend weeks recovering from.

And what about what all that means? Well, for me it means that none of it is within my control because even if I tried to change it, I couldn’t. Would I choose a bigger club? A more successful club? A club with a better stadium maybe? Well football isn’t about choice is it? And what happens to your club isn’t about choice either is it?

I’m one of these supporters with sentimental attachments, so whilst others might welcome the idea of a bigger, swankier stadium, firstly that would mean a move away from Stamford Bridge. And whilst I appreciate it would bring in more revenue, maybe even allow us to achieve that ‘self sufficiency’ we’ve talked about for years, for me, Stamford Bridge is Chelsea’s home. Secondly, maybe the newer generation, and even some of the older supporters aspire for us to be bigger and better and therefore see the value in a move but I dare say even they would have something to say about the ‘tourists’ or ‘daytrippers’ that would attract.

But then again, we’re all supporters aren’t we?

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