Football / Fan's Eye View: Into the dream time: No. 11 Chelsea

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The Independent Online
JUST over 10 years ago something happened that changed the lives of Chelsea fans everywhere. It wasn't a big money deal, only a nominal fee changed hands. It wasn't a new manager, though several followed. It was the arrival at Stamford Bridge of Mr Ken Bates.

Following the construction of the new East Stand, the club's finances had gone into terminal decline, matched alarmingly by a slump in the team's fortunes. The Mears brothers who had previously owned the club decided enough was enough, a few deals were struck, and they too departed. Chelsea were on the verge of extinction. In such circumstances a silver-haired man in his fifties might not have been the obvious cavalry coming to our rescue, but his determination to wake a slumbering giant was contagious and, while, 10 years on, the club may still be considered by many to be on the fringes of the 'big five', things have certainly improved.

Ken's contrariness has meant that it has never been an easy ride, but what more could you expect from Chelsea, a club who saw nothing untoward in playing the likes of Pat Nevin and Doug Rougvie in the same team? He has shown loyalty to managers when they have not deserved it, yet in one memorable programme launched an attack on three Chelsea players including John Bumstead, a man who epitomised fidelity.

He has supported bizarre transfers, notably last season when Chelsea's manager, Ian Porterfield, sold Clive Allen - apparently because of his age - four months after having purchased him, only for his next signing to be Mick Harford, a man three years Allen's senior. He has praised the fans, called them imbecilic, and even tried to put up electrified fencing at the Shed end to prevent potential pitch invasions. When queried about the sanity of such a move, he replied to the effect that if fans didn't do anything wrong then they wouldn't fry. No namby-pamby liberal, our Ken.

It is perhaps with the media that Ken has been most scathing. Yet he has courted them unashamedly. What other chairman would hold a press conference on the Thursday before the start of the new season to announce he had a mistress, then calmly announce two days later that he was staying with his wife?

The incident had the tabloids rubbing their hands with glee, this was surely too good an opportunity to miss. In case the fans lacked inspiration, the Sun ran a three-quarter page spread on the songs which could be sung. Alas, they were disappointed, a chant of 'Kenny Bates', in support of him, followed by a quick chorus of 'Does your girlfriend know you're here?' - just to let him know we knew - were the only references made. We might be imbeciles, but we're not puppets.

What Ken Bates has done at Chelsea is perhaps best summed up by his financial workings. When he arrived at Chelsea we had the only football league team whose lottery was running at a loss. This summer, not only did we finally move closer to purchasing Stamford Bridge from Cabra Estates, but we also paid a record club transfer fee of pounds 2.1m for Robert Fleck.

I have only met the man once, we had been soundly beaten on a bleak January evening, displaying an ineptness of breathtaking quality. I was doubting my own sanity as to why I was continually subjecting myself to such torment when he appeared.

'That was crap, Ken.'

'I can only agree with you, sorry.'

'I'm never coming back.'

He fixed me with a steely glare, 'Yes you are, because you love them as much as I do.'

'Still, eight quid for that rubbish, you should give me a refund.'

He put his hand in his own pocket and took out . . . his car keys.

'Bugger off, son. See you next week.'

And with that he was gone.

Ultimately though, a man must be judged by what he achieves. Ten years on we still have a football club which we can go to on a Saturday. We may occasionally get angry at the way we as fans believe we are treated as nothing more than punters, or that some players seem desperate to keep away from a club whose chairman can either be described as larger than life, or an overbearing dictator depending on which side of the electric fence that you are standing on.

However, if back in April 1982 we had been offered what we have since received, it would have been more than most of us could have dreamt.

Contributed to the Chelsea fanzines, 'Chelsea Independent' and 'Carefree'

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