Chelsea's football millionaires on collision course in village haven

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Peter Wells, verger of Cobham's parish church, looks out of his window over Chelsea's new training ground. He is nonplussed.

"They don't seem to do much work," he says. "I sit in my office upstairs and watch them bounce around in rather a camp way for 40 minutes and then bugger off. Maybe it's all highly complicated but I can't help feeling bitter that they earn about £60,000 a week."

The Roman Abramovich revolution that transformed English football has reached this "leafy village haven" in Surrey, long popular with stockbrokers and senior executives. Chelsea moved into the training ground a year ago and some locals are unhappy.

Nine players have moved into Cobham and the surrounding area, among them John Terry, Damien Duff (Abramovich's favourite player, apparently), Joe Cole, Michael Essien, Arjen Robben and Wayne Bridge. Chelsea's players have become symbolic hate figures for local complaints about over-development and the influx of new money into what was once a sleepy village with traditional shops.

Boutiques, pricey restaurants, tanning salons and upmarket estate agents have colonised the high street, catering for that most desirable customer, the footballer's wife.

Mr Wells' main complaints are that the players "drive like dickheads" and attract large crowds of fans to his doorstep. "The only sound they make is the roar of their Bentleys and four-wheel-drives as they speed up the road," he said, as Arjen Robben squealed past the door in a black BMW, on cue. "I don't like the people they attract - the autograph hunters who stand at the gate every lunchtime - who clutter up my car park and path and leave rubbish."

Fan Mick Robinson, 40, pointed to a Chelsea shirt signed by the players as they left training, and said: "I've got Terry, Lampard, Gudjohnsen, Cole, Gallas, Cech. Most of them are good lads, especially Terry. But Robben and Duff are a bit funny and Drogba can't be bothered to stop. The cars they're driving past us in are paid for by our money."

The feeling in the town centre is mixed. "Bunch of tossers," said a plumber, who did not want to be named because he hoped to cash in on call-outs from the new arrivals. "These guys are overrated, overpaid and over here, driving fast around town, spending thousands of pounds in the bookies that they could be giving to kids in need. They ought to do more for the community."

Chelsea Football Club say that is unfair. It has an expanding football in the community programme, lets community teams use its pitches and works with charities. "We don't do it for publicity but because it is the right thing to do," said a spokesman.

Some locals agree the club is becoming increasingly involved in community life. "It is a common view among residents that some of the facets that make Cobham such a super place to live are being wrecked by over-development," said Gerry Acher, chairman of Cobham Conservation and Heritage Trust. "We have to be careful not to kill the goose that lays the golden egg. But Chelsea are not the problem. The players just want to live near where they work and the club helps schools and teams. They are welcome."

Paul Simey, assistant manager of Match Point sports shop, said that the players were "down to earth, jokey and sign autographs for customers", adding: "Some people around here are snobs who think footballers are a bit common."

Mr Wells had the last word. "These players are deities. Football is religion and we are dealing with religious fervour in Cobham. As soon as people become religious, all common sense goes out of the door."