Chelsea: Footballing Marmite

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New boy Squiddy ponders the ins and outs of everyone’s obsession with the Premiership champions.

Love them or hate them… because there don’t seem to be any other choices available…

The one feeling few football fans don’t have about the back-to-back Premier League Champions is indifference.

It’s always nice to be loved, but when it comes to coining it in, nothing beats being the bad boy on the patch (or pitch). Frankenstein, Dracula, Freddy, Alien, Terminator, Predator, Dirty Den (eh?) – all as bad as bad can be, but they share the ability to have them drooling in the aisles and at the box-office.

News was released recently that Chelsea made it into the top 500 of the Superbrands branding index– the first time football clubs have been included. In Chelsea’s own report on this news they revealed that support of Chelsea within the UK has risen from 1m to 4m in the last three years, on the back of worldwide support that’s supposed to be well on its way to 20m.

This is backed up by the Deloitte Football Money League, whose report on the 2003/04 season showed Chelsea had already jumped from 10th to 4th in the world in terms of income before consolidating into 5th in 2004/05 – behind only Manchester United in England both times.

Say what you like about Chelsea’s spending, but the only thing that increases income is more and more kids in the playground and those turned onto football as the Premier League permeates people’s lives, buying the kit and subscribing to the magazine and doing the Tour of the ground and whatever else the Megastore has to offer. Chelsea are popular!

But at the same time, no-one needs to have it pointed out to them the bitterness, envy and outright hatred Chelsea’s largesse has generated. Bad thing? Not at all. While some misguided Chelsea supporters seem to wish that opposition fans would join in and appreciate the club now it’s finally reached the top of the pile, it’s inevitable that being on a pedestal means others want to knock them off – by fair means or foul.

Many match-going fans at all clubs have their complaints about the atmosphere and supporter involvement, but not one of them thinks that when Chelsea come to town. Everyone, without exception, wants to be the one to knock Chelsea off their perch. Every game is a cup final comparable to the fiercest local derby, with no greater basis behind it sometimes than Chelsea are top of the current tree.

For the press, nothing’s more guaranteed to fill column inches that the latest spouting from Chelsea’s Special One. First they get to report it, then they get to rip it to pieces, then they get to pointing out how he can only say whatever he’s said because the club owner has so much money, whether that’s relevant to anything or not. The press love Mourinho and when he gets fed up of them and stops talking they miss him. There’s more fuel in commenting on what he actually said than making up something that he probably hasn’t said.

And is Mourinho bovvered? The Press Association think not, saying “Mourinho has ruled out a charm offensive, instead insisting the only people he needs to impress are Blues fans.”

They quote him as saying “I want to be loved by my people. I want Chelsea supporters to love me. If I go to another English stadium and people love me there it’s because I’m a loser at Chelsea. If I go to Old Trafford and the people love me there it’s because Manchester United are winning matches and they want me at Chelsea because I’m a loser. I work for Chelsea and I work for English football. I have responsibilities to English football.”

So, is Chelsea bad for football?
Not at all. They are the latest bogeyman for so many clubs who are either trying to beat them or to position themselves as closest contender. Now, it’s no longer Arsenal and Man United fighting over the title every season of the last ten, but those clubs along with the likes of Spurs, Liverpool, Everton, West Ham, Newcastle and Man City hoping it’ll be them picking up the crumbs. There’s one less spot to grab and it’s even more urgent to be number one contender to get what’s left.

And if they fail? Well, there’s always the big bad bogeyman to blame because they finished behind 4 complete other clubs isn’t there? Well, isn’t there?

Looking at the Foreword to Deloitte’s 2006 Money League the author asks the question whether Chelsea’s “extraordinary transformation is having impact on the predictability, value and success of the Premiership”. His answer?

Although Chelsea won their second successive Premiership title in 2005/06, we would refute the suggestion that the Premiership has suffered as a result. Over the years we have seen many more sustained periods of relative domination by a single side, most recently with Manchester United in the 1990s, but previously with Liverpool in the 1970s and 1980s, and even Arsenal in the 1930s.

Chelsea has yet to approach such levels of sustained success – and even if they were to, we do not believe that it would necessarily damage the value of the competition itself. Five years ago many commentators lamented Manchester United’s and Arsenal’s dominance and looked forward to a time where more teams could realistically challenge for honours. While Chelsea retained the Premiership title in 2005/06, Manchester United’s late run, Arsenal’s European form and Liverpool’s never say die attitude mean the 2006/07 title is not a one horse race.

These are the words of a professional – not some bitter back-bedroom expert whinging about his own side’s perpetual failure and looking for the most convenient bogeyman. Think on…