Football fans often get a bad press. It seemingly comes with the territory of following what was once the working man’s game, but, being one myself, I am always keen to defend them, especially from criticism coming from people who have no understanding of the game beyond looking to demonise it at every opportunity.
But sometimes, supporters really don’t help themselves. Let’s cut to the chase: what the Chelsea fans subjected Rafael Benitez to at Stamford Bridge on Sunday was absolutely disgraceful and a shocking indictment of the very worst of the modern-day football fan.
I understand that Roberto Di Matteo is a Chelsea legend, both as a player and for what he did at the end of last season in winning the Champions League (and the FA Cup).
I also understand that Blues fans don’t particularly like Benitez because of his Liverpool connections and a few of the things he said about the club in the midst of those titanic tussles with Jose Mourinho’s side over the years.
But on what planet was that vitriol acceptable? The hostility towards Benitez has shocked everyone in football and it has shown the Chelsea fans who dished it out (with an approving nod to those who didn’t) to be utterly classless, unintelligible morons.
I realise they are paying their hard-earned money, but that doesn’t mean you can just behave however you want.
What sort of grown man makes a pathetic sign on an A4 piece of paper to hold up to the TV cameras? What sort of grown man would boo and abuse another man on his first day at work? What sort of grown man would act in a way so detrimental to the team he supposedly supports?
But perhaps we should not have been surprised.
Perhaps we should have known what to expect from fans who abuse Anton Ferdinand for the crime of being racially abused by their captain. Or who abuse Rio Ferdinand for the crime of being the brother of a man who was racially abused by their captain.
It is telling, too, that all of the ire was reserved for Benitez, a man who did nothing more than accept a job that was vacant, and not the man who sacked Di Matteo and brought the Spaniard in.
Ah, that’s right, Chelsea fans dare not openly criticise Roman Abramovich in case he takes his ill-gotten roubles elsewhere, leaving the club exactly where they were before he rocked up and bought them an era of success they’ve never previously enjoyed and certainly won’t be enjoying once he’s gone: scratching around the Europa League places having to make do with modern-day equivalents of Jesper Gronkjaer and Jody Morris as the club’s finances perilously nosedive.
From a footballing point of view, Benitez is a good fit for Chelsea, especially in the short term, but he has got no chance of doing anything if he is going to be remorsefully abused every time he takes to the touchline.
Whatever you think of his managerial abilities (which certainly divide opinion), the ex-Valencia boss is a good man and he doesn’t deserve that level of vitriol for a few comments he made when in charge of a rival team.
I initially thought his appointment was a sound one, but Sunday has got me wondering if we are heading to Brian Clough at Leeds United territory. If Benitez is to avoid that, he needs to pick up wins and his first one needs to come quickly.
His next opportunity comes on Wednesday when Fulham visit Stamford Bridge. Chelsea are 11/25 to give Rafa a first win, with the draw at 333/100 and the Cottagers at 6/1.
It could be that come 10pm on Wednesday that 6/1 on Fulham looks huge – if the poisonous atmosphere continues, it will be to the detriment of the team. And it’s not as if Fulham aren’t capable, because Martin Jol is doing a fine job and another comfortable upper mid-table finish is on the cards.
But I think that Benitez will be able to nick a win here and the 8/5 that he does so alongside a clean sheet is my play, with winnings of £52 on offer for new bwin customers who successfully back Chelsea to win to nil with their free £20 bet.
Not much has changed in the way Benitez sets up a team from the evidence of Sunday’s 0-0 draw against Manchester City and a first domestic clean sheet since September 22nd was just what was needed.
Unlikely to fully go for the jugular – he can’t afford to lose to anyone, let alone to local rivals – I expect another tight encounter where the reins aren’t quite taken off the side, but I think Chelsea can nick a goal and the points.
Fulham haven’t kept a clean sheet away from home all season and have only managed one in their last ten trips, so Chelsea should score and with the emphasis on making sure they don’t lose, that should be enough.
Whether it is enough for the Chelsea fans looks doubtful.