“CHELSEA. Are a bunch of wankers.”
My oldest best mate, from my days growing up in London, Giulio, always used to be very clear about this.
“We’ve got Chelsea. Ah, yeah. Chelsea. Bunch o’ wankers.” I’d nod approvingly. Silently. No words. “Wankers.”
Giulio and I both ended up living in Liverpool, to be closer to our beloved Reds.
We’ve each clocked up about 30 years apiece as neo-Scousers. We’ve had season tickets next to each other for 30 years, too. I think we both saw our first Liverpool game, in the flesh, at Stamford Bridge in 1978. The days of Kenny and Kennedy, of Wilkins and Bonetti.
The Chelsea of today are a very different animal from the Chelsea “wankers” of yesteryear.
A generation of Liverpool fans have grown up disliking Chelsea with the same disdain we older lads did, but for entirely different reasons.
The modern Chelsea — from the detractor’s perspective — are all that’s wrong with the world. Nothing that they stand for, or are, sits right. As movie baddies, in a film about good and evil in football, they couldn’t be better cast.
Roman Abramovich and Jose Mourinho. Like Prince John and the Sheriff of Nottingham. John Terry. Like a nasty henchman to Bob Hoskins in The Long Good Friday. The buying of success. The classless hounding of Rafa Benitez. The contrivance of a fan culture. Diego Costa. Taking prizes that were never earned. Living dreams that were never theirs.
The only redemption for them is that Manchester City have come along, and have maybe been even worse.
Just when it seemed impossible to be more gauche, to dope the competition even further, City rocked up.
What the kids of today won’t really be able to imagine is just how ugly Chelsea have always seemed. There’s something quite appalling in the DNA of that club. Well, that’s how it seems from the outside looking in.
OK, I’m sorry nice Chelsea people, that may sound very harsh, but still, maybe some of you don’t know or have forgotten your own history. Come with me.
When I first became aware of them, in the late 1970s, Chelsea were proper no-marks. The biggest thing about them was they had a John Terry-like figure of his day called Ron ‘Chopper’ Harris. Only he wasn’t very good. And that was it.
No cups, no crowd, no stars, just Chopper. He’d “chop ya legs off”, see. That was it. A hooligan on the pitch. A lad who could hurt other players. Legend.
In the stands, to be fair to them, they were quite a vocal crowd away from home. I despised and grudgingly admired their schtick in near equal measure. Their songs were masterpieces of irrelevance.
They would sing “one man went to mow” for an entire half. Then sing their “celery” song. There was a sense of humour there undoubtedly — albeit a very Cockney, “no-one likes us and we don’t give a fuck” sense of humour.
If you ever felt in danger of warming to them, they could always be relied upon to jolt you back to reality with their overarching appallingness. “We’ve got loadsamoney!” they’d snarl at us, waving fake wads of cash, in a crass — not getting it — tribute to Harry Enfield’s 1980s comic creation.
Let’s put this into perspective. It was a period of chronic economic decline in the UK, and the hardships and unemployment levels felt were most acute in the broken Northern post-industrial cities. Ordinary people in places like Liverpool, in particular, were genuinely suffering. We talk of inequality, increasing child poverty and the lack of sufficient living wages today in the UK, but this was different gravy. Liverpool had unemployment levels at around the 20-25 per cent mark, and in places like Liverpool 8 — Toxteth and surrounding areas — you were talking numbers north of 70 per cent.
You would see kids in Liverpool on wastelands making fires. It was post-apocalyptic stuff. Smack heads were on so many street corners, drug addiction was in the air, in the lexicon, in the culture. Don’t get me wrong, it was also a very exciting, vibrant and defiant time in the city, but things were very tough — the last thing anyone deserved was for the piss to be taken.
That was Chelsea, though. “In your Liverpool slums.” “Sign on.” “We’ve got loadsamoney.” That’s not tribal teasing, and God knows our lot were no saints, but it seemed to me, then as now, that resorting to those kind of insults just says everything about those provocateurs.
Then there was the racism. Ask Paul Canoville about that. Paul was a young black kid who came through the Chelsea youth system to the fringe of their first team in the 1980s.
One day he gets his chance. He’s told to start warming up by his manager at his home ground, Stamford Bridge. In front of his own fans. The men and women he dreamed of scoring goals for. They booed him. Berated their own manager for even daring to put a black man on their pitch in their colours. An extremely low point in the history of the football club.
Was it just a despicable minority? Not really. It was lots and lots of people. It took lots of other people to remain silent for it to happen.
Then there was their hooligan problem. Of course there were few total innocents in the British football-following fraternity back then, and I’ll try not to fall foul of blinkered hypocrisy here.
However, the worst men in football in the 1980s were those consistently making following their teams about seeking to inflict physical harm on other supporters. Those weird sociopaths, for whom the scrap became bigger than the game.
Chelsea, Millwall, West Ham. These teams had the nastiest hooligan attachments. We later came to learn that their ‘firms’ were populated by dickheads from all walks of life. Their violence wasn’t a cry for help, an escape from the economic ravages of blighted Britain. Many of these men had good jobs, good cars, nice homes, families. They just needed to hurt some people. For the buzz.
I hated them because they were spoiling something truly brilliant. Football. They were making it look like something that it wasn’t. Above all else, if I’m honest, I simply didn’t like the fact that they weren’t like me. That they weren’t really into the game, into their team. I wondered if they could even name every player in their side. They appeared to not care one iota if their team won or lost on the pitch, other than the context it might provide for the battles with opposing fans.
Once, me and my mate Giulio were out having a pint in a London pub. We must have been about 18. It was a Saturday night and the boozer was full of Chelsea fellas laughing too loudly. Giulio muttered to himself, “Chelsea are a bunch of wankers.” Unfortunately, one of the Chelsea lot hears this. Giulio had a pint in his system and was more audible than he had realised. The Chelsea man enquired: “Did you just call Chelsea a bunch of wankers?” And then time stood still. A lifelong second.
In those tenths of that second, Giulio was preparing a solid defence, of what on the surface might have seemed an unreasonable generalisation.
He wanted to say: “Ah, you see my good fellow, you need not take my quip personally. It was directed at a collective malaise I associate with your football club, but assuredly not with you as an individual. You have agency. You have choice. I respect you. I would not presume that you would taunt Liverpudlians about unemployment, nor berate a young man simply for the colour of his skin, nor be more likely to engage in meaningless violence than the next man, but…”
My mate Giulio never got to make his case. Unfortunately, his inquisitor was all that he might have given him the benefit of the doubt for not being. He was, in fact, exactly the sort of individual to mock the disadvantaged; to judge another man not by the content of his character, and to resort to the physical over the cerebral.
This Chelsea wanker nutted my mate Giulio. Brought his Chelsea wanker forehead sharply and decisively down on Giulio’s head. Giulio fell to the ground. Time was still standing still.
From nowhere the entire pub exploded into an orgy of violence that felt so intuitively choreographed that it was almost funny. The scene, was like when the Gauls and the Romans used to have those wild scraps in Asterix comic books. They were drawn as giant meatball-shaped clouds of dust with limbs and faces protruding from the mire — no-one really sure who was lamping who.
Then, all within these tenths of seconds, me and our mate John, see Giulio crawling out from beneath a mass of humanity. These stupid Chelsea wankers were all just fighting with each other. For no reason I could discern. It was like some pent-up sexual frustration. They just had to have that physical contact. To hit something. To roll around on the floor with anything.
John and I scooped Giulio up and whisked him out of the pub’s side door and out into the London night. We jumped on buses, off for a kebab and into the safety of the city.
Giulio was dazed, confused, pissed but largely unhurt. John and I looked at each other. “I was about to wade in there,” John says. “Yeah, mate,” I say. “Me too.”
Giulio scratched his head and mumbled: “Chelsea ARE a bunch of wankers.” Turns out in that instance he had been right all along…
He was vindicated, and so too will the Reds be this Friday night. I can’t tell you what will transpire, but I do sense that our boys will be bright and bold, as we were last time out at Stamford Bridge. I can tell you that we will brim with confidence and that we will make chances. Let’s make them, let’s take them, let’s keep onwards and upwards. Never, ever, let the wankers win.
The Reds 11 to take down those Chelsea wankers: Karius; Clyne, Lovren, Matip, Milner; Henderson, Wijnaldum, Lallana; Coutinho, Mane, Firmino.
ODDS: Chelsea 13-10, Draw 13-5, Liverpool 23-10.
LAST MEETING: Liverpool 1 Chelsea 1, May 11, 2o16.
MATCH DETAILS: Kick-off Friday, September 16, 8pm. Live on Sky Sports 1.
For podcasts on every Liverpool game home and away, exclusive interviews, past seasons reviewed and more, subscribe to TAW Player for just £5 per month. Minimum sign-up is just one month. If it’s not for you, all you’ve shelled out is a fiver! More information here.
OUR SUBSCRIBER WEEKEND PREVIEW SHOW IS *FREE* THIS WEEK, GIVE IT A TRY: