Monday, 26 November 2012

"Where's Your Famous (Manufactured) Atmosphere?"

During the mid-2000s, when internet football forums were at the absolute height of their popularity, a campaign began on the reputable LFC website RAWK for song-sheets to be handed out at matches, to preserve some of the old favourites that were being gradually phased out by the Soccer Am-inspired atmosphere of modern football grounds.

The vast majority of fans in English stadiums are reading off the same script. After kick-off, the first mistake by a player has to be greeted with a "wheeeeeyyy, who are ya, who are ya?" Once the crowd has got bored after the initial footballing exchanges have died down, usually around 90 seconds in, that old classic "your support is fucking shit" will get a loud airing, and if we're really lucky, a bit of "sign on, sign on." And of course, if a goal is scored, so long as its not one of those grounds that chooses to play Groove Armada at every opportunity, you'll even get clap-accompanied chants of "easeh, easeh." All for just £50.

Although the song-sheet idea shows a few people on the internet have their heart in the right place, the suggested solution and its breeding ground are themselves part of the problem. The only thing worse than no atmosphere at the match, is a fake atmosphere at the match, perfectly encapsulated at Stamford Bridge yesterday as Chelsea fans finally cracked the code to one of life's most evasive philosophical posers, answering the question that the travelling Shed End has asked itself many times; "where's your famous atmosphere?"

Painfully, match-goers were converted from supporters to customers a long time ago, and there are very few opportunities for fans to reclaim their patch and pride. Sloppy, often hypocritical social network grumbles are plentiful - many of us baulk at ticket prices while Premier League stadiums continue to fill every week -  but chances for fans to make their presence and views seen and heard, in order to have an impact on the running of their club, come very rarely.

Chelsea fans are understandably angry and embarrassed at recent events. Roberto Di Matteo, a crowd favourite as a player in the 90s, was sacked within six months of achieving legend status after overseeing the greatest night in the club's history and the ultimate objective of his chairman's reign. This is when football supporters, as the largest and most diverse collectives that regularly come together for a common cause, can come into their own. However, within 48 hours, it became apparent that we were about to witness the defining moment in this era of the manufactured football atmosphere.

Sunday was the opportunity for Chelsea fans to show that no matter what happened over 90 minutes against Manchester City, whether a title is won this season or not, they will not stand for one of their 107-year-old club's heroes being disposed of so disdainfully by a fleeting wealthy tourist, whether that man's questionably-sourced funds have bankrolled a few trophies or not. We often remind Chelsea fans about 'history,' and they hate it, yet they witnessed their own in Munich and they should be fighting like bloody hell to protect it. But rather than make a real point to Abramovich, they elected for the internet-warrior-generated 'protest' which turned out every bit as plastic as those infamous flags

They decided to vent all their displeasure at Benitez on the basis the Spaniard was manager of Liverpool during a period when the two clubs were frequently drawn against each other in domestic and international cup competitions. That, and the fact he and Mourinho wound each other up a few times in the build-up to high-stakes intense semi-final clashes. Nothing more. Its not quite El Clasico, the origins of which can be traced back to the execution of former FC Barcelona President Josep Sunyol at the hands of General Franco's troops, sowing the seeds of discontent between the Catalans and Real Madrid. Chelsea v Liverpool became a 'rivalry' in the short-term, tabloid sense, swept along by Sky Sports' montages, but there is no historical basis for it, which should trump the mere emotions stirred by a series of coincidental cup draws.

As a result, thousands of Chelsea fans were doing such innovative and penetrative things as booing, singing offensive songs about a fat waiter, and even the odd witless banner was hoisted in another hurried attempt to mimic our own formerly famous atmosphere. 'Rafa Out Fact' doesn't quite have the same ring to it as our 'Joey ate the frogs legs...' effort of 1977.

The dull and predictable, droning sounds of baseless boos sandwiched a minute's applause for Dave Sexton, the former Chelsea manager who sadly passed away last week. Unfortunately, too many were more interested in their faux anti-Benitez campaign and as such, the Stamford Bridge announcer had to beg for quiet and respect so that the club's tribute, which descended into a farcical inconvenience, could be breezed through.

To top it off, the barracking of Benitez means that the 16th minute tribute to Di Matteo (who wore 16 in his playing days) sadly went unnoticed by those not at the match, and will barely be remembered, even by many attending Chelsea fans, in the way that such a fine gesture should be. The memories won't be about Di Matteo, or Abramovich - it will be 'the match where we booed are own manager. Fact.'

It was one of those to slot into the 'when football dies' category. Naturally, we have to feel sorry for many of those Chelsea fans, particularly those who pre-date the Abramovich era, who are constantly conflicted as the man who is largely responsible for them fulfilling their dreams is the same that represents a lot of what is wrong with the game. Unfortunately for them, they are increasingly becoming the minority, and they weren't given their rightful platform for public voice on Sunday, while the majority read from their 'scouse bastard' script.

When Chelsea visit Anfield later in the season, and their own manager is given a standing ovation by the Kop, it'll be interesting to see if the travelling support will leave their song-sheet outside.

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