Chelsea PR offensive ends in jeers

Young fans angry as players refuse to sign autographs at club's 'open' training session
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The Independent Football

Chelsea players were jeered yesterday after fans who had turned up to watch an open training session were denied the chance to get autographs from them. Over 8,000 Chelsea supporters were at Stamford Bridge to see Joe Cole complete his first training session on his return from injury but the party atmosphere went sour when the crowd was told players would not be signing autographs due to "security concerns".

After a 90-minute practice session the Chelsea players gave a half-hearted lap of honour during which they were roundly applauded. But those cheers quickly turned to boos as the announcer informed those in the stands that players would not be putting pen to paper for the thousands of schoolchildren in attendance.

A pep talk from the Chelsea captain John Terry urging supporters to turn up in force on Saturday for the Premier League match against Burnley was not enough to reverse the damage.

Things went badly from the very start of the event. A Chelsea employee had tried to get the fans going by leading the singing of a song – to no avail. Fans did eventually burst into life but only after the Tannoy system had given them a helping hand.

Terry and Frank Lampard then led their team-mates out of the tunnel to be greeted by high-pitched cheers: the pair responded with a wave. Cole, who has not played competitively since rupturing cruciate ligaments in an FA Cup tie at Southend in January and whose comeback has been delayed, was cheered, but the new £18m signing Yuri Zhirkov has clearly not yet made an impression and was not welcomed with the same level of adulation by the supporters.

The same was true of Andrei Shevchenko. Back from Milan, the Ukraine international is hoping for a new lease of life under manager Carlo Ancelotti, who he knows well from his time in Italy.

Next, the players were put through their paces by coach Ray Wilkins, who was handed the reigns by Ancelotti. It was not the most fascinating of training sessions. Fans were treated to the sight of Lampard and co jogging around, kicking a few balls and doing a few stretches.

Terry's appeal to supporters to attend the Burnley match was made in the knowledge that Owen Coyle's side have already beaten Manchester United and Everton this season. The Clarets have previous at Stamford Bridge, too. They knocked Chelsea out of the Carling Cup last season after a penalty shoot-out.

Judging by his frantic sprinting during training, Cole is in contention for a place in Ancelotti's squad for Saturday. The 27-year-old is desperate to prove his fitness and win a new contract at the club. His current deal expires in 12 months' time and although there will be no shortage of admirers, with Tottenham linked to the England international, he is eager to follow Lampard and Terry by pledging his long-term future to the club.

Likewise Zhirkov could make his first start of the season following his transfer from CSKA Moscow. The Russian international has been plagued by a knee problem since his move. His arrival will add some healthy competition for Ashley Cole or he could be used as a left-sided midfielder. Ancelotti's only doubt for Saturday is central defender Alex, who missed the training session owing to a groin problem, and Nicolas Anelka, whose minor toe injury will need to be assessed before the weekend.