Football: Bizarre rituals in the stand

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The Independent Online
THE CUP-WINNERS' CUP has become a pre-season competition for Valerenga and their supporters came to London in their thousands to enjoy it. Starved of live football since the domestic campaign ended in October, some of them even travelled to their club's training camp in South Africa and warm-up tournament in Spain last week, where they presumably worked on their fitness for the new season by gargling with the local brew and rehearsed the songs that shook Stamford Bridge's lower tier.

Unlike their fellow Scandinavians from Helsingborg and FC Copenhagen, who had visited the Bridge in previous rounds, they eschewed English lyrics, though the tunes were familiar and Graeme Le Saux was a target of the sort of abuse he normally expects only from British supporters and Liverpool players.

The most appropriate chant would have been: "Stand up if you hate..." For stand up they did, forcing the first row of the press box and Talk Radio's commentators, Alan Parry and Alan Mullery, to do the same whenever the white shirts moved towards Ed de Goey's goal. That was more often than the other Scandinavian teams, who had kept even more men behind the ball and looked for a goal on rare breaks - in the case of Copenhagen's Bjarne Goldbaek, successfully enough to earn him a transfer to Chelsea.

The Met's finest failed to persuade the visitors to take their seats but the heavy brigade of security men eventually had more success, without quelling their enthusiasm. "They're singing that Valerenga is the greatest team in the world," one camp follower translated. This hypothesis looked even more dubious as Celestine Babayaro began to spoil the evening with his 10th-minute goal. Joachim Walltin's goal-line clearance won grateful cheers, but by the time that Gianfranco Zola popped in the second, the party mood was evaporating a little.

It was presumably the same story upstairs, where another fanatical visiting supporter was seated in the directors' box almost at the right hand of Ken Bates. Anders Krystal followed Chelsea while in London as a teenager and was not averse to a spot of Seventies aggro until he was set upon one day at Arsenal with painful results. Returning to his homeland, he took up with Valerenga, becoming president of the supporters' club, then managing director of the football club itself. Shaven-headed and with matching ear-rings, he cuts an unlikely figure, but would have been able to demonstrate his old loyalties if challenged last night by unveiling his two Chelsea tattoos - not a fashion accessory sported by many club executives in English football.

His fellow fans in the cheap seats - although these things are relative at Chelsea - maintained a commendable level of encouragement through the second half, including a bizarre ritual that involved waving key rings above their head. Then they took themselves off into the night for liquid consolation. Being used to Oslo prices, they should at least have found West London's less frightening than most visitors do.