The sacking of Chelsea legend Roberto Di Matteo and the subsequent appointment of former Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez as his interim replacement has not gone down well with the majority of Chelsea fans. The situation at Stamford Bridge has been ridiculed across the press, with the fans taking a large part of the media flack.
There have been banners plastered across the stadium calling for Benitez to be sacked, and songs sung which make it very clear he is not welcomed by the supporters. In the 16th minute of every game, home and away, the fans have applauded and sung Di Matteo’s name in honour of the shirt number he wore whilst playing for Chelsea.
When Benitez was linked with the vacant manager's position following the sacking of Carlo Ancelotti at the end of the 2010/11 season, the fans made sure that their dislike of the former Liverpool manager was heard.
Many commentators have made the point that it was not Benitez who sacked Di Matteo. The fans understand this, but that does not mean that they will welcome someone who has insulted the club in the past and refused to apologise, despite being given ample opportunity to do so.
His recent open letter to the fans, printed in The Daily Mail, may go some way to his finding forgiveness amongst the faithful. However, the best that he can hope for right now is indifference.
Any manager brought in to replace the man who led the club to their first European Cup would have had a hard time. The appointment of someone who had been roundly rejected when his link with the club was a mere tenuous rumour, is a slap in the face to the thousands of supporters who have followed the Blues over land and sea since before the “Roman Empire” began.
These fans remember a time when mid-table was the best that Chelsea could hope for, when Champions League qualification came not with the hope of winning the trophy, but the joy that the TV money would bring.
They remember when Stamford Bridge was under threat from property developers, and that the Chelsea Pitch Owners was founded in 1993 to protect the stadium. They remember the threats of an electric fence between them and the pitch, the development of the team into trophy contenders, and the FA Cup in 1997 which Roberto Di Matteo helped the club to win.
They have spent hours of their lives crying, laughing and singing their hearts out over one thing: Chelsea FC. The emotional investment in supporting a club is huge, as is the financial outlay for those supporters who turn up week in, week out to see their Blues play.
The cheapest adult season ticket at Stamford Bridge for the 2012/13 season is £750. That gets you access to 19 home Premier League games, and allows you to purchase your seat for cup games at £5 less than the general sale price. Attending all three home group matches of the Champions League adds £105 plus £4.50 in admin fees to your season-ticket price.
When you factor in the two domestic cup competitions, away games and European travel, even those with the cheapest tickets spend around £2000 a season supporting their club.
If you’re Roman Abramovich, that amount of money is nothing. He probably spends that on dinner every night.
But to the majority of Chelsea fans, being at every game to support the club they love so dearly takes a significant chunk out of their wages. It would be nice to feel that this support was appreciated, but when the owner ignores the wishes of the fans to the extent that Abramovich has ignored the Chelsea faithful, they have a right to voice their dissatisfaction.
There is no doubt that Abramovich has invested a lot of money into Chelsea FC, and the fans appreciate this. Some say it gives him the right to do as he pleases with the club, and if you look at it in black-and-white terms, it does.
But football is not black and white, it is a whole spectrum of colours and emotions, and the pain that some Chelsea fans are feeling at the way their club is being run is very real.
You can divorce your spouse, you can have your children adopted, but you can’t change your football club. When that club becomes the mere plaything of a very, very rich man, despite everything you have invested in it over the years, it hurts. It's like getting all of the Christmas presents you ever wanted, and then watching your dog die.
The fans will eventually put this behind them and move on. For now, leave the banners and let them sing. They have given their time, their money and their hearts to the club, they have every right to make themselves heard.
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