Chelsea fans enjoyed a fleeting moment of joy and exhilaration sparked by the genius of Kai Havertz after 88 minutes of frustration on Sunday. That sublime goal was a welcome distraction to many after a turbulent week, but the cold reality bites today amid the uncertain future of the club. A peculiar atmosphere greeted those in attendance for the match against Newcastle following the financial restrictions imposed on Roman Abramovich. It was a grim outlook for the Premier League as the two clubs that best represent the height of sportswashing fought it out for three points.
The uncomfortable background, from the government sanctions on the Blues to the execution of 81 people on Saturday in Saudi Arabia, was only intensified by the visiting supporters. The Toon Army revelled in their own newfound wealth from their Saudi benefactors, while lauding the miserable outlook of their opponents with Saudi flags seen fluttering in the Shed End throughout.
It is important to state that there is a sizeable contingent of the Chelsea’s fanbase who hold resentment towards the government, failing to observe the bigger picture with their selfish reactions. One fan held up a sign outside Stamford Bridge with the message: “Don’t use Chelsea for your bull**** politics”.
But there is also genuine sympathy from the majority towards those impacted by the war in Ukraine, with Abramovich’s name almost exclusively heard just from Newcastle fans in their attempts to antagonise their counterparts.
“It is bad to have people who come in and wipe their international slate clean by buying big clubs,” said Luke, a Chelsea supporter, realising the gravity of the situation. “It’s complicated though, but there needs to be clear rules, it’s top-down, I don’t think it’s anything to do with the fans, we’re just fans, we love our club and just want to come and have fun, support the boys. But these issues need to be regulated.”
After some respite on Sunday, while parking this morale quandary, Chelsea fans’ attention turns to the bidding process to sell the club, while many more monitor the situation which could represent a beacon of light in relation to football ownership.
Petr Cech’s pre-match interview offered little optimism, though the Chelsea advisor is stuck in the present, insisting the club were operating “day by day” and “it’s not in our hands”.
Nick Candy, a property developer and leader of a bidding consortium, continued to push fan involvement as his priority: “I love Chelsea, I don’t mind where it ends up, even if it’s not with me, as long as it’s in safe hands.”
While Tim Rolls, a board member of the Chelsea Supporters Trust, perhaps illustrated one of the consequences of the Abramovich era, admitting to a lack of trust moving forward between supporters and prospective owners.
“We don’t want a war of attrition, like Manchester United and the Glazers, we want somebody everybody can get behind, be proud to be a Chelsea fan,” Mr Rolls said, while championing the inclusion of a ‘golden share’. “I would have concerns over whoever comes in, if they have that constraint [of a ‘golden share’] and have to have supporter dialogue, you’re in a stronger position than trusting people we know nothing about.”
Eddie Howe chose to shun questions on Saudi Arabia and the Public Investment Fund, maintaining he would “stick to football” due to his “bitter disappointment” after defeat, so it was left to Thomas Tuchel to provide some nuance.
“There are people I see every day who have worked for Chelsea for decades and they are worried,” said the German, who has been elevated in status in the eyes of most Chelsea supporters since the government’s sanctions due to his demeanour and dignified response to the situation.
“We have a responsibility to these people, even if it’s just 90 minutes… to feel joy, excitement, maybe anger, it’s entertainment. We need to trust the process of the Premier League, who controls who owns a club. We are famous employees, as we speak to a camera, but in general we are just employees, so you have to trust the process.
“If you work for a company that doesn’t do things morally or ethically right, we trust the process and maybe it will never end. But it reminds us to be aware and conscious and not look away.”
Now attention turns to the process, with communication struck up between the Chelsea Supporters Trust and MP Tracey Crouch this week. A promise to initiate further dialogue was sent on Wednesday, but to the dismay of the Trust, nothing has developed since. The organisation’s chairman Cliff Auger is now urging the government to seize this “massive opportunity”.
“Every Chelsea fan’s head has been spinning over the last week,” Mr Auger said. “We don’t know what’s going on from one day to the next. Why are Chelsea fans being punished over this? We want more supporter representation in any club, that is one of our main aims, for the fans to have a say. There are recommendations from the Crouch report, the ‘golden share’, to be able to veto any move away from Stamford Bridge, a change of colours, a change in competition.
“It is disappointing [to not hear more from Tracey Crouch], this is the first big test that her report could relate to. We hoped she would be all guns blazing, supporting us and her report.
“It could be a waste, the government has not responded to it. We hope it is passed into law or there are regulations to implement that report. It is a huge opportunity. Chelsea, the European and world club champions, it doesn’t get much bigger than this.”
So after 88 dreary minutes in which Howe’s men largely nullified the Blues, a piece of exquisite skill arrived, providing a reminder of why so many return through the gates and tune in each week. Ultimately these moments enable this product to thrive, enticing so many billionaire vultures.
In an otherwise ordinary match, the move and goal encapsulated how the sport can thrill, with Jorginho’s vision and delightful pass, to Havertz’s delicate touch and finish.
Tuchel’s response was to turn, roaring towards the fans in an outpouring of relief. A few hundred Chelsea fans remained 10 minutes after the final whistle to deliver a round of applause as their manager emerged from the tunnel to complete his media duties.
Those same fans are now braced for what promises to be a pivotal week in the club’s history. After this sombre episode, a new era at the club awaits, perhaps this time English football will welcome a new model.