Chelsea’s disaffected fanbase unite in pursuit of a common goal: Beating Tottenham


“I just can’t believe it.”

Peter is experiencing an array of emotions — shock, bewilderment, jubilation.

The Australian is sitting among friends and family in The Rose pub, a short walk from Stamford Bridge, celebrating Chelsea’s 2-0 win over Tottenham. The Australian, who comes from Adelaide, had arrived on a flight from New York in the afternoon and headed straight to the ground.

“This is the first time I have got to see Chelsea,” he said with a big smile on his face. Peter can barely be heard at times because, every few minutes, the rest of the patrons packed inside start another rendition of “Tottenham get battered everywhere they go”.

It has obviously been a very long day, but well worth it. He proudly shows off photos taken on his phone from where he sat in the Shed End.

Unsurprisingly, all the Chelsea fans in the throng are in a good mood. Joy has been all too rare of late around these parts. Discontent over the owners, head coach Mauricio Pochettino and many of the players have been the norm.

But this is a night to forget all that and revel in coming out on top against a team Chelsea love to hate.

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Chelsea fans watch their team take on Tottenham (Charlotte Wilson/Offside/Offside via Getty Images)

The timing felt right to watch a senior men’s game from among the supporters again.

It is 12 months since The Athletic sat in the Chelsea away end at Bournemouth’s Vitality Stadium to glean what supporters were saying and feeling, but that was a pretty minor fixture in the grand scheme of things. Tottenham at home is the game Chelsea fans arguably target most of all. This is the match they want to win no matter how good or bad the team is performing.

The pre-match scene at The Cock Tavern, close to Fulham Broadway underground station, is an early gauge of what could lie ahead. “It doesn’t matter what he does — it’s over for him at Chelsea,” one attendee is telling his mates passionately when the subject of Pochettino is discussed.

“He should be given another year,” another member of the group counters. “There have been too many changes at the club already.”

Inside the ground, it is impossible to escape the impact of the team’s inconsistency this term. The game is about to kick off and someone behind me asks their neighbour what they reckon will happen over the 90 minutes. “I don’t know, it could be anything,” is the non-committal reply.

It does not take long for everyone to be out of their seats with Nicolas Jackson through on goal. The striker’s shot is half-saved by Guglielmo Vicario, Micky van de Ven clears the ball straight to Cole Palmer, who deflects it over the bar from close range. “How did he miss that?” someone shouts in anguish.

“What would the reaction be if that had been (Raheem) Sterling?” another responds. Palmer, as Chelsea’s top scorer and leading performer, is instantly forgiven.

Chelsea are on top. There are roars of approval as Moises Caicedo wins possession once again. Noni Madueke and Mykhailo Mudryk, so often a target for moans and groans, are prompting cheers, although one bystander makes it clear he is far from impressed by the minute ponytail the latter has bouncing away at the back of his head.

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Mudryk’s performance provoked admiration from the home support (Sebastian Frej/MB Media/Getty Images)

Suddenly everyone is giving each other high fives and hugs because Trevoh Chalobah has headed Conor Gallagher’s free kick into the net. But wait… it has gone to VAR. “Oh f*** off!” goes up the chorus in unison. There are boos while the officials check for offside. The howls of derision are even louder as that becomes scrutiny of a possible Marc Cucurella foul. No one knows what is going on. Three agonising minutes go by before the goal is finally given.

The initial wave of thrilled excitement is replaced by relief.

A Palmer flick restores everyone’s spirits. “That was outrageous,” a fan remarks. But some sloppy play gives Tottenham a chance to pose a threat at last. Cristian Romero heads a free kick wide when it looked easier to score.

“Switch on Chelsea,” a man near me pleads. “Don’t go back to what you were like at Arsenal.” Memories of that 5-0 humiliation will take a while to fade.

Unlike in other matches, there is no attempt to express any discontent towards the hierarchy by whipping up a chant for former owner Roman Abramovich. Everyone is too focused on their desire to defeat Ange Postecoglou’s side.

The second half begins like too many have for Chelsea under Pochettino — slowly. Spurs are applying pressure. It leads to more pessimism. One fan says, “Oh no, this is the story of the season. Miss loads of chances and let them back into it.”

Another adds: “This is what happens when you take your foot off the gas.”

A cross from Brennan Johnson flashes across goal as Spurs players slide in vain seeking to turn it home. All those around me betray their angst with various expletives. A chant of “Come on Chelsea” follows, always an indicator of mounting anxiety. The person next to me describes it as “Chelsea’s anthem for the tense”.

Nearby, another member of the crowd keeps filming parts of the game. Palmer has a free kick 25 yards out and his phone is at the ready. The 21-year-old hits a beauty that strikes the underside of the bar, but Nicolas Jackson heads in the rebound. After securing the footage, the supporter puts his device down and gives a thumbs-up. It is hard to gauge what he is happiest about — Chelsea going 2-0 up or that he captured the moment on camera.

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Stamford Bridge erupts as Jackson scores Chelsea’s second (Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)

Now it is party time. “It’s happened again,” taunt the home fans at their counterparts, many of whom are already heading to the exits. Mudryk has to walk the long way round the side of the pitch after being substituted and is shaking hands with a number of fans as he goes.

A sense of nervousness returns briefly as the fourth official signals there will be six minutes of added time, but the visitors’ attempts to stage a dramatic late rally come to nothing.

The final whistle goes and fans start dancing to the celebratory music. Pochettino comes onto the pitch to congratulate his players but does not engage with those in the stands. It feels like a missed opportunity. Like during the 90 minutes, no one is singing his name.

But on the whole, this was a rare experience where negativity was at a minimum.

Everyone inside the ground of a Chelsea persuasion were united by one goal: beating Spurs.

go-deeper

GO DEEPER

Pochettino has challenged Chelsea’s owners to back him. Are they listening?

(Top photo: Darren Walsh/Chelsea FC via Getty Images)





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