The Calvin Report: 'Interim One' can give two fingers to hate mob
The charade of theatrical anger achieved nothing and benefited no one
The Blue Peter Massive were unhappy with Rafa Benitez, and wanted the world to know it. At last all those hours in GCSE arts and craft classes, all that money spent dry cleaning trousers smeared with paper glue had a purpose.
They brought home-made banners excoriating Benitez to Stamford Bridge, added their excruciating puns about not being in-ter-im (geddit?), and played to the TV gallery. "Not Wanted. Never Wanted" read a missive from the Shed. "You're Not Welcome Here," sang the Matthew Harding Stand.
"Stand up if you hate Rafa," parroted the mundane majority during a convenient lull in a strange, staccato game. "Stop the Nonsense," whispered the voice of reason. Roman Abramovich, wise man, was nowhere to be seen.
It was business as usual, an afternoon of petty point-scoring and sustained puerility. Steve Clarke, the visiting manager, received a standing ovation. The name of Jose Mourinho echoed around the ground and the usual 16th-minute homage to the memory of Roberto Di Matteo was enthusiastically observed.
Where once Liverpool fans carried gold-framed portraits of a well-upholstered Benitez pouting proudly in the style of a Soviet dictator, Chelsea fans concocted a blown-up, black and white photograph of him, pasted it to a cardboard base and added "The Interim One" as if it was remotely clever and new.
Perhaps the saddest sight was a girl of no more than 12 who held up a fluorescent "Rafa Out" banner strung between two poles. "You're getting sacked in the morning," observed the WBA fans, who have presumably been living in a cave on a remote island in the South Pacific for the duration of Chelsea's 100-day war.
The man himself, hands thrust deep into trouser pockets as he shuffled on the artificial surface of his technical area, remained impassive. He maintained the pretence of positivity afterwards, and evaded enquiries about the wisdom of his midweek observations. "The question is where we are now," he said. "We'd like to enjoy this."
Clarke insisted the subplot was "not my concern". He refused invitations to express sympathy for his opposite number and suggested: "I don't think it is right for me to comment on other clubs."
Perhaps, but the prevailing petulance demeaned everyone involved and highlighted the consequences of tolerating toxicity. It was juvenile, a charade of theatrical anger which achieved nothing and benefited no one.
Benitez would have been justified in treating his assailants with the contempt they deserved; instead of wearing his dark grey club suit and thin black tie, he should have walked out in a full waiter's tuxedo and served isotonic drinks from a silver salver. The pantomime really was that pathetic.
Fans have a right to express their views. The average supporter has an elephantine memory and harbours a grudge with the relish of a Mob boss. No one wishes to diminish their financial and emotional commitment, but when that passion is applied incontinently and unpleasantly, they belittle the conventions of loyalty.
Organised opposition by supporters tends to generate more heat than light. Great causes, such as the sustained fight of Portsmouth fans for the right to shape their club's destiny in defiance of sustained neglect by a series of opportunists, are few and far between.
Conscripts to Newcastle's new-model army couldn't wait to scribble their names on the armistice when the so-called Cockney Mafia dazzled them with the glint of gold and the occasional imported hero.
The anti-Glazer movement at Manchester United has quickly dwindled to a rump of refuseniks. A few still wear the trademark green-and-gold scarves, but more as a source of warmth during this endless winter than as a symbol of rebellion.
Arsenal's conscientious objectors will doubtlessly be bought off, if the strategically timed promises of extravagant spending in the summer are realised. Liverpool's Sons of Shankly have been anaesthetised by regime-change and a PR campaign of such blissed-out relentlessness it could have been conducted by the Moonies.
That is the way of things. For all the shrillness of football's supposed democracy, and the half-truths and misconceptions which mutate on phone-ins and in chat rooms, all fans are ultimately interested in is the release of victory.
Chelsea's problems are, of course, deep seated. Even if Mourinho arrives at the gates of Stamford Bridge in a golden carriage pulled by unicorns, he will be denied clarity and consistency. He will wonder in whom he can trust, despite his first-hand knowledge of the mediocrities and malcontents who wield influence, real or imagined.
Chelsea have a conspiracy theory when they should be following a strategic plan. There is a self-defeating culture of leaking and an obsession with internecine strife. The sight of Benitez yesterday carried its own health warning. He is as disposable as a crisp packet. There is a sense of futility to his ordeal, no matter how well rehearsed he is. "I am a professional. I have a passion for football," he said, wistfully. They shoot horses, don't they?
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