Nowadays I feel like I have to wear my battle scars of being a Chelsea from the 80s on my arm to qualify being a ‘True Blue’. I suppose that’s what comes from success, and we’ve had plenty of that over the last 16 years!
I was there in Division 2 as a young kid sitting on the Shed steps after sneaking under or over the turnstile. However the most I remember about going to watch Chelsea as a kid was running up the steep West Stand steps with Dad and finding our rickety old wooden seats (or a cold concrete one if we were on the benches) as the game kicked off.
I remember watching the transformation of the North, South and finally West stands into the magnificent modern buildings they are today, now my favourite place for games being in the Matthew Harding Lower.
Chelsea have been my passion throughout my lifetime and as others do, remember other areas of my life in relation to what Chelsea were doing at the time, who were our players and memorable games.
Even today when I walk towards the ground I get butterflies, and when we played Man United in the 2013 FA Cup quarter final replay, and I’m walking down Fulham Road with my twin daughters and step daughter in tow for their first ever game, the butterflies were as big as they were in the 80s when I was their age.
However, on top of having the feeling you need to say you’re pre-Roman fan, there’s another downside to our amazing success (which may I point out, still doesn’t outweigh the benefits of winning trophies, my next words are simply an irritation of mine that has grown over recent seasons, but I still wouldn’t swap our success for anything).
The bigger we get, the better our off field services become. Our Shed Bar is now Frankies (unfortunately not named after Super Frank) and has Michelin starred chefs (not checked if they are, but if not they should be- try the steak!). Our hotel also aims to have the best staff fit for a world class hotel in the best city in the world.
But this particular set don’t seem to care they’re attached to a football club. The last time I tried to stay the night I was called a liar after saying I was coming here when the West stand was a pile of mud and wooden seats. I was then chucked out and called an undesirable customer. I was also wearing an 1982 home shirt, as we’d just been to the Southampton 2.2 draw. I don’t always wear the kit to games, but that was a new present so it was having its first outing.
My attire that evening
Let me start this night from the beginning.
It was a Wednesday night game and I managed to get a spare ticket for the MHL for £20. Then my girlfriend, who has come to games with me since we got together 3 years ago, wanted to come & managed to get Captains Bar tickets for cheap, so for the first time I was going to be in the East Middle. Other than Romans tier in the West, this was the last place at the Bridge I hadn’t sat, including every single stand/tier we’ve ever had in my lifetime (yes, this includes getting soaked in the Shed temporary seating). Good views and we got to go for a wonder the length of the stand peeking inside all the boxes.
We however, had a little room at the south end with a bar and free hotdog with the deal Katie found. As we all know the result was crap as we let slip a 2 goal lead. Right direction with Rafa indeed. Although I managed to get a ‘tourist picture’ with the Chelsea Pensioners before the game, the reason I won’t be returning to the East middle is due to getting more stares than ever for singing throughout the game. From our own fans. It got so uncomfortable I honestly thought I was going to be asked to leave! Obviously this just spurred me on.
After the game we stayed in the Captains bar for one for the road and had a laugh with the bar staff. We were lucky to have won a competition to attend some games in the West Middle in November, so we’ve experienced the poshest part with crap waiters that didn’t seem to know Chelsea were a football club. This Captains bar however had some great staff, they are honestly the best I’ve seen at the bridge since the ‘club shop’ guys in the old portacabin.
When it was time to leave we walked past Frankies and couldn’t resist the temptation of their pre mentioned steak. So in we go to unfortunately find that the kitchens closed, but it would’ve been rude not to have a quick pint now we’re there.
As we ordered I realised Eva was in there with a couple of other back room staff I recognised but didn’t know the name of, so I left them to it and was going to wait for an opportunity to grab a picture, but without interrupting too much. This is when a gobby drunk saints fan started taking her picture from the bar and saying she’s ugly anyway when she politely objected. We distanced ourselves from him as she left, so I didn’t get my picture, never mind.
This was about the time we realised we’d missed our last train out of Waterloo to get home, so the easy solution was to check availability at the Chelsea hotel. We hadn’t stayed there before so worth a treat. A quick look on the iPad (I’d come straight from work so had it with me, it DEFINITELY didn’t come out of the bag during the game and doesn’t come to games other than midweek games after work!!) showed that there were a few double rooms left at reasonable prices. We finished our drink and made our way upstairs. The timid receptionist informed us that there wasn’t ANY rooms left, let alone any double rooms that we’d not 2 minutes before seen available online. So we questioned this, showed them the online details and they quickly got the manager out to deal with us. At this point we were still in good spirits, sober, and just a little baffled why we couldn’t book a room. Yes I was wearing a football top, but surely that wouldn’t be a problem AT a football club?
The manager came out and was the rudest manager ever met from the start. Without saying anything he said ‘we’re full’. I informed him that online it states otherwise, and asked him to explain. Again, in a very rude manner, he said ‘I don’t know,we’re full, please leave’. Unfortunately I’m paraphrasing as I can’t remember his exact words, but trust me, this isn’t an exaggeration.
I asked why we needed to leave and why he’s being aggressive, which he didn’t answer. For some reason I tried to explain to him that I’d been coming to this ground for 25 years, when the West stand was just a pile of mud, concrete and wooden seats. He called me a liar!! That I’m not that old and it wasn’t like that.
Proof that it was actually like that…
I was shocked to say the least. I really couldn’t believe the club I love could employ people this arrogant, ill informed and with absolutely no customer service skills whatsoever.
I was starting to get more than a little annoyed. It doesn’t take a genius to work out that the online system must just be behind or faulty, and it takes even less of a genius to realise, as a manager of a top London hotel, you just need to calmly explain this. He didn’t see it like this. Instead, he cut us off by slamming his hand on the desk and taking his voice ‘WE’RE FULL’ whenever we tried to explain what it says online. At this I’d had enough and started taking his picture to include in a formal complaint to the club. Knowing the world we live in today means you probably can’t just take people’s pictures, I told him what I’m doing so he knew.
This is when HE SNATCHED my iPad out of my hands from over the desk. I was appalled, shocked and increasing angry. As it wasn’t that long after the game I knew they’d be some police still around, so I called 999 when he repeatedly refused to give it back. I had already immediately agreed he could delete his picture if he gave it back. Once on the phone to the police, I explained that unfortunately it’s not an emergency but that I did need police assistance (although I don’t think writing the scenario down can possibly portray the situation we were in, you’ll have to trust me that it wasn’t an over reaction, I never call the police but this was necessary). I explained the situation and the manger handed Katie the iPad when he realised I wasn’t bluffing about calling the police. I mentioned on the phone that he’s now handed it back.
By now security had turned up and asked us very nicely if we’re going to leave the building, as aggressively told to by the manager, for absolutely no reason what so ever. Katie said no, but I persuaded her it was the right thing to do.
Chatting to the security guy, who had laughed when Katie said we weren’t leaving, in a way that suggested he was OK with us staying, he made it clear that the manager isn’t well liked by the staff, and this wasn’t his first altercation with fans. We quietly left the building and made our way to the other hotel closer to Stamford Gate. The guy on reception was BRILLIANT! He’d already had a call from the manager to let him know that we weren’t allowed a room, but he knew his manager was an idiot and allowed us to use his phone to try other hotels. He even called one himself and got us a room at a discounted rate. He let us charge our phone up whist calling places and chatted to us like human beings.
View from the 2nd floor of the hotel, which I took months after the Southampton game. The Manager wasn’t working that day!
I then needed to answer a call of nature, so walked back to the main hotel, up the escalators and used the toilets up there, not speaking to anyone, then walking straight back out afterwards. As I came out a squad car pulled up. Katie & I apologised for the situation, explained ourselves and the guy copper said that’s fine, he knows the manager has a reputation and we’ve done the right thing. The female copper however acted as if we’d jumped in front of he car and mooned her. She must be mates with the manager, it amazes me how people with no inter personal skills get jobs dealing with the public!!
So, thanks to the receptionist in the second hotel we made our way to La Reserve on the Fulham Road and got our heads down, much calmer now a having a laugh with the 2nd receptionist. As saw Barbarella’s I told Katie, for the umpteenth time, how my Dad got engaged in there, then Dennis Wise, sat on the next table, bought him a bottle of champagne.
So, that’s my issue with football in the new millennium, staff and clubs that don’t appreciate loyalty. Im not saying ‘I’m a better Fan because i got to go in the 80s and 90s’, or that I’m a better or more of a fan than those that couldn’t. This is about the staff at often the bigger successful clubs (but not limited to, when I worked at QPR in about 1998 they were worse!) that seem to forget the football and the fans is why they’ve got a job.
I’m not against everything about the modern game, but I am against the modern approach to fans, aka customers, and against the modern fans that have caused these things to happen. The iPad brigade that don’t get involved, watch the ‘event’ through the screen of their smart device and call them selves die hards. Another reason why clubs have gone this way is the knock on effect of worldwide TV audiences, who buy the shirts, the club then advertise to them and forget the family down the road that have actually attended games for generations, and are the ones that’ll still be digging deep into their pockets when it all goes tits up.
They need to welcome and embrace the worldwide audiences and new types of fans, just don’t forgot those of us that were there when we were shit.