Chelsea fans groups warned yesterday of a "toxic" atmosphere at Stamford Bridge following Wednesday's 2-0 Capital One Cup semi-final first leg defeat to Swansea City during which their were recriminations between fellow supporters over the booing of Fernando Torres.
In one of the most extraordinary scenes of mass hostility from a home crowd towards their club and manager, the evening started with boos for chairman Bruce Buck when he was introduced on the pitch to make a pre-match presentation to injured goalkeeper Petr Cech.
Following that, there was the usual hostility directed at Rafael Benitez, above, which reached a new intensity towards the end of the game but there was also the first signs of mass discontentment with £50m striker Torres which was given voice when he was substituted in the 81st minute for Demba Ba, whose introduction to the game the home support had chanted for during much of the second half.
Also contributing to the fraught atmosphere was the discontent over the club's refusal to offer Frank Lampard a new contract when his current deal expires at the end of the season.
The jeering for Torres was by no means from all the supporters but it was clearly a significant number. Trizia Fiorellino, the chair of the Chelsea supporters group, said that there was a "toxic" atmosphere in the stands and "scuffles" between fans who disagreed with Torres' treatment and those who booed him.
"What split the fans was Torres, and the moment when he came off," Fiorellino said. "I'm torn, I could never boo a player in a blue shirt but I can understand those who booed him.
"A lot of fans think Benitez's appointment was to get the best out of him and if anything he's become more immobile, it's like he has given up. There are a lot who feel like me [and couldn't boo] but half the ground was booing. It did cause arguments and scuffles. There was a bit of pushing and some people moved to avoid scuffles. It was a sad state of affairs."
The nature of the club's ownership structure means that there are few opportunities for fans to voice their opinions – as Arsenal supporters do at their annual general meeting – although the Chelsea Pitch Owners scheme does allow for some contact with the club's hierarchy. The next CPO AGM is on 30 January at Stamford Bridge, although matters there relate specifically to the ownership of the freehold of the stadium in which shareholders have a stake. Neither Buck, nor chief executive Ron Gourlay are on the CPO board and are obliged to attend.
Tim Rolls, a writer for the Chelsea fanzine CFCUK, who opposed the club's attempt to buy back the CPO freehold of Stamford Bridge in 2011, added: "The best [Benitez] can hope for is that he is just ignored. I don't think he will ever be welcomed."
I could never boo someone in a blue shirt but I can understand those who booed Torres
The question of why Rafa Benitez took so long to introduce new £7.5m striker Demba Ba during Wednesday's 2-0 defeat to Swansea City can be answered: the forward was not yet match-fit.