Big moral questions are never far away when you live with young boys who support Chelsea

So does a team have to be noble in order to gain accolades?

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The Independent Online

I expect that he still has a loyal fanbase among us middle-aged women who continue to swoon over the salt and pepper hair, the piercing eyes, the manner of furiously striding around the technical area, a man whom a tabloid newspaper once described as “a naked sexual challenge on the touchline”.

But as far as the rest of the nation is concerned, it’s clear the Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho is having something of a grim patch.

The same goes for his team. After the team’s Champions League ambitions were squashed this week by the French side PSG, which doggedly triumphed with only 10 men for most of the night, the Special One and his squad are not being regarded as, well, very special any more. Everyone, it seems, hates Chelsea.

This is not going down too well chez Millard, since for historical reasons and thanks to the influence of a lovely godfather, my two sons are ardent Chelsea fans. Early cheers while watching the PSG game on television soon turned to stony silence. After the whistle blew, they just went sadly to bed. They didn’t bother with post-match analysis. Amazingly, because it is his daily regime, the 10-year-old didn’t even want to read the match reports the next day in the papers. They are still wearing their shirts emblazoned with the names of their heroes (Fabregas, Courtois), and are still chipper about their team’s chances in the Premiership (“because that’s the only thing that really counts, Mummy”), but it’s clear that a spring has gone out of their step. And not because Chelsea lost fair and square, but because it is clear they lost while playing a game which was very low in terms of sportsmanship.

 

What is it about Chelsea that makes them such a hard team to love? In the mind of a small boy, tackling with the vexed character that is the undeniably talented defender – and team captain – John Terry is not easy. Far better to focus your adoration on the few players who can measure up in terms of decency, terms defined in recent football history by the likes of Beckham, Bale or Lineker, a striker who famously never received a red card in his career.

So, in terms of Chelsea, I think it is fair to suggest that the goalkeepers Courtois and Cech and midfielders Fabregas and Hazard still continue to stand for Proper Players. Those are the names that my sons, and I suspect this is true for boys across the country, admire. Let’s just overlook the rest of the morally suspect crew that revel in winding up the opposition, and a manager who cries “foul play” every time the referee’s decision goes against him.

Then there are the adult fans. Why is it no surprise that Jeremy Clarkson is one? We all know about the hideous behaviour on the Paris Metro, but I might as well remind readers that the grim tail of violence and prejudice in the Chelsea fanbase is a long one. Indeed, many years ago, my family briefly had to pack up our home and move into a safe house thanks to my husband’s work with the investigative journalist Donal MacIntyre on the so-called Chelsea Headhunters, two of whom were sent for a lengthy time in prison after a MacIntyre BBC undercover sting.

So is following Chelsea doomed to become a sort of negative joke, a bit like supporting Millwall, owners of the “No one likes us, we don’t care” chant? Not really, because Chelsea cannot be dismissed in that way. Lording it over the rest of the Premiership, the team has a swaggering grandeur and a glamour Millwall can only dream of. The millionaire players and their mercurial manager, who is satisfied only with winning at any cost, are uncompromising and unrepentant. Even to the extent, say their critics, of being unsporting.

Equally, as the comments about hating Chelsea swirl around Facebook (“Seven Reasons to Hate Chelsea”) or Twitter (Mahatma Gandhi: “I hate Arsenal because I am a Tottenham fan. I hate Chelsea because I am a human being”) show, does a team which seems to have no problem filling its stadium need to be loved by anyone? Arguably with Abramovich’s millions and Mourinho’s almost pathological desire to win, Chelsea can carry on picking up titles. Does a team have to be noble to gain accolades? One thinks it should, but perhaps that attitude is outdated and irrelevant.

But if you are a parent who, like me, kisses your children good night underneath Chelsea flags pinned to their bedroom wall, you find yourself hoping that a) the team modify its brand image a little and b) your offspring won’t pick up any tactics from the Blues during a match for their school side.

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