James Lawton: Chelsea's soul rebels will endure a long wait for a bus called happiness to arrive
In those days of Ted Drake and Tommy Lawton when Chelsea had more soul than a James Brown concert
Can you imagine the consternation which overcame Roman Abramovich on the terrace of his Caribbean hideaway this week when he encountered the dire warning of Trizia Fiorellino, leader of the Chelsea Supporters Group? No, nor can I, but it is still true that amid all the gloomy reports from his embattled minions at Stamford Bridge, Ms Fiorellino's contribution gave even the bleakest of conjecture a new and rather startling dimension.
It came with her fear that, along with a possible boycott of the Rafa Benitez regime, Chelsea might be at risk of something more profound than the loss of a few angrily disaffected supporters.
"We are in turmoil and there is a danger we will lose the soul of the club," she declared.
That such a thing might still exist probably came as a huge surprise to the oligarch, as it possibly did to those who reported that their overwhelming urge after experiencing the stomach-churning reaction to defeat by Swansea City last Wednesday night was to spend quite a long time under a cold shower.
Of course, along with the spirit-searching, there was the ritual thanks to Abramovich for all that he had done for the club, which was of course quite unimaginable in those days of Ted Drake and Tommy Lawton when Chelsea had more soul than a James Brown concert.
The big issue, of course, goes a lot wider than the current agonies of Chelsea and the appalling situation of Benitez, who, whatever you think of his operating style, is probably now out on his own as a victim of football mob emotion. It is wrapped around a question that comes into the sharpest focus when you consider the two big matches, and the latest Benitez ordeal at Stoke today, of a weekend which might well have a huge effect on the Premier League title race.
What, we have to ask more pressingly than ever, is a football club for? Is it for the uncomplicated passion and devotion which used to be handed down from generation to generation like a christening gown? Or is it for the casual recreational pleasure and gratification of an Abramovich, something to pick up and put down according to whim or season. Is it for the aggrandisement of Middle Eastern oil families, entrepreneurs following a strict business formula for the health of their shares, or the cash-flow convenience of the American owners of Manchester United, among whose collateral has been the bricks and mortar and legends of Old Trafford?
Liverpool followers, who will stream to the old place tomorrow in the belief they might just be on the cusp of a new epoch, have their own bitter arguments about the effects of American colonisation, but the truth is that if the followers of the great clubs of England have any sense of fraternity it is only in their shared belief that their game and their clubs have been annexed by an entirely different set of priorities.
Some Manchester City fans have already rebelled against the asking price at the Emirates for a game in which their club and Arsenal are obliged to produce performances which might rescue seasons already blighted by severe disappointments. But at a time of unprecedented wealth for the English game, a growing number of supporters believe that the bite on them has gone on too long and too deep.
In fact, and ironically enough, arguably the most contented of fans in the land will be encountered by the troubled souls of Chelsea at the Britannia Stadium this afternoon. We may not warm to the methodology of Tony Pulis's team, we may not anticipate a surge of the blood when we watch them play, but who can say that they have not embraced most of the yearnings of their supporters? They live and work within their means and have created a fierce unity on the field and the terraces.
They are, certainly, a million miles away from the discord and protests which in recent years have regularly occurred at Anfield, the Emirates and Old Trafford – where they would have been so much more severe if Sir Alex Ferguson hadn't maintained winning momentum despite a dwindling budget. Nor have they had to come to terms, as the fans of City, with the perturbing dichotomy between the unprofessional conduct of Mario Balotelli and their absent landlord's declaration that he will do much for the club's world brand.
World brand? What does that mean to the supporter who wants to believe not only in the talent of his team but its competitive character and professional underpinning?
Meanwhile, searching for the soul of the Bridge, Ms Fiorellino offers a critique that she might just hope will disturb that Caribbean idyll so far from the ravening anger spreading into every corner of what she likes to think of as her football club. "The booing of [chairman] Bruce Buck was universal and vitriolic," she reports. "It was a serious miscalculation by someone at the club to let him on the pitch.
"We are fully appreciative of everything Roman Abramovich has done for the club but Benitez is not the right fit for Chelsea. He was brought in to bring the best out of Fernando Torres but, if anything, the body language has become even worse. There is a lot of disharmony and it is tearing the club apart."
It is maybe what happens when you take the best, the wealth and the glory and the inevitable trophies, and resolve to live with the rest, the cynicism, the brutal sense that the club you follow has never been further from the pretty idea that it is there for you, your dreams and your sense of what is right and wrong.
Fearing for the soul of Chelsea, let's be honest, is a bit like waiting for a bus that has come and gone.
Daley needs to get real or risk splash and burn
Tom Daley's diversion into the ever-encroaching world of reality television is now enjoying a groundswell of support beyond the passionate public advocacy of his mother, Debbie. Lord Coe joined swimming medallist Rebecca Adlington and the iconic American diver Greg Louganis and, though the Olympic supremo, and legendary middle-distance runner, was a little more measured he still produced an endorsement that spectacularly missed the point.
"We do have to capture moments where it might not be pure sport but if Tom Daley is teaching people of all shapes and sizes to be athletes that is probably quite a good thing."
It is the considered view of a most experienced performance director that Daley, at 18 and with one bronze Olympic medal – splendidly achieved though it was last summer at a point of career crisis – has to purge himself of media and showbiz commitments if he is ever to fulfil his true potential to compete with the rest of the world. The rest, Lord Coe should know better than anyone, is so much celebrity hogwash.
When the worst brought out the best in George
In the wake of broadcaster Jon Champion's swift chastisement by his ESPN bosses for daring to call the Luis Suarez handball incident as he saw it, we can only fear still more sanitisation of the broadcasting booths. We must certainly hope that a memorable declaration of George Graham, when manager of Leeds United, is not sealed utterly in the past.
He was asked to point out the more intriguing elements of a match in which his team had fought out a grinding draw. "I can't," he said. "There weren't any. It was possibly the worst game I have ever seen."
That wasn't a million years ago. It just seems that way.
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