22 FEBRUARY 1952, Page 10

Chelsea Vagaries


AFEW weeks ago, at Stamford Bridge, the referee said that Wolverhampton Wanderers had scored a goal. The Chelsea team said that Wolverhampton Wanderers had not scored a goal. They went on saying it so loudly that for two minutes the game could not be resumed and, while the uproar swelled, two alleged Chelsea supporters abandoned declamation for direct action. They rushed on to the field.

Maybe, as they jumped the barriers, they intended to strangle the referee with one of the goal-nets or impale him with a corner-flag. But I'll bet that before they had gone ten yards these plans had been scrapped in favour of getting back to obscurity as quickly as possible. For as those will know who may have leaped from the auditorium to a harder stage on Boat Race Night or who, for a bet, on the spur of the moment, have mounted an empty rostrum in Hyde Park on a Saturday night, there is nothing like unpremeditated, unorthodox prominence for making a man feel pretty silly. Anyway, those two " Chelsea . supporters " allowed themselves to be taken away by the first policeman they saw.

That was not, however, the end of the incident. A football club is itself responsible for the behaviour of the crowds which come to its ground. if the crowds misbehave, the club can be fined, or have its ground closed for several weeks. So, on the following Saturdays, notices were posted round Stamford Bridge, and the programme itself contained sharp, headmasterly, warnings to the effect that if any of us opened our mouths we should be kept in on the two next half-holidays or given six of the best by Sir Stanley Rous.

I thought that all this was rather hard on the Chelsea crowd. Some crowds are habitually hostile and violent in their partisan- ship. But not Chelsea. As the programme rightly said, the Chelsea crowd has a reputation for toleration. It will, in fact, tolerate anything—except the Chelsea team. Saturday after Saturday the Chelsea crowd come hoping and expecting to see Chelsea lose. The visiting team will supply whatever virtue is to emerge from the game, whereas the Chelsea players, after at first being classified Merely as incompetents who are incapable of winning, will in the end be condemned as criminals who are deliberately losing. Indeed, one of the most fascinating experiences I have had is to watch the Chelsea crowd when the Chelsea team are perverse enough to win.

This last Saturday, for example, the visitors to Stamford Bridge were Middlesbrough, probably the worst First Division team since the war, and the prospects of a Chelsea victory were so bright that only a comparatively small crowd came to watch. But at first it seemed likely that, despite all the forecasts, the crowd would get its money's worth. For in the seventh minute Chelsea were given a penalty, and when Bentley had hit the ball straight at the goalkeeper's hands, another Chelsea forward neatly hooked the rebound over the cross-bar. This was the sort of stuff the Chelsea crowd pays to see. So were the two open goals which Chelsea forwards missed in the next quarter of an hour. However, although the Chelsea forwards continued to miss open goals, they also began to score a few and even- tually trooped off the field winners by five goals to nil. I have never heard such silence at Stamford Bridge. The crowd, as always, was far too polite to grumble at the football played by Chelsea's opponents and, at any rate in the second half, there was nothing else to grumble about.

Yet this is the crowd which has got itself branded as an aggressor. There is only one possible explanation—that when the referee awarded that goal to Wolverhampton, the Stamford Bridge crowd thought he was awarding it to Chelsea. That, alone, could account for the protests.

What worries me about all this, however, is that it will cause other clubs to curb the enthusiasm of their spectators. They will say to themselves : "We know what that Stamford Bridge lot are like. They're about as partisan as a vicar judging anonymous exhibits in the local flower-show. If they're in trouble with the Football Association and the League, what's going to happen to our chaps who, when their team is losing, assume as a matter of course that the referee has been bribed and that the linesmen are wanted by the police." I forsee the day when the Hampden Roar will be replaced by some polite hand- clapping—:and that only when the other side scores. I foresee the day when the supporters of Spurs and Arsenal, wedged on White Hart Lane's terraces for London's premier Derby, will say gently in each other's ear: " Well. May the best team win." I foresee the day when the crowd at Cardiff Arms Park will sing " There'll always be an England."

Then the example set over here will be followed abroad. Already in South America it is forbidden to aim your revolver at the referee or the opposing team. The local fire brigades stand by during a match with orders to let fly with their hoses at any spectator who depresses his angle of sight below the .vertical. In no time at, all the wretched South American spectator will not be allowed to fire at all. As for Indians . . . At present every real Indian football fan goes to a match with (a) an umbrella (b) all last week's newspapers. When the opposing team look like scoring, fifty thousand umbrellas are opened and shut a dozen times in unison. The sight is diverting—especially to opponents who wish to keep their eyes on the ball. The newspapers come in when the home side scores; they are torn in little pieces and showered on the ground like confetti. This pleases everyone except the oppos- ing team and the man responsible for tidying the ground. But, with the frightful-example of Stamford Bridge in mind, this will have to stop. The Indians will be told that in future they must behave like pukka sahibs. They must in fact adopt the Oriental impassiveness of members of the M.C.C.

It is, indeed, a bleak outlook for all of us—but especially for me. I shall be prevented from mentioning either Yorkshire or Huddersfield Town, which means that I shall virtually be prevented from earning my living. But the Football Associa- tion and the Football League still have it in their power to put matters right. They can issue a statement explaining that the censure passed on spectators at Stamford Bridge was so passed, not because the spectators chased the referee, but because they failed to catch him. Then we could all breathe, write and fire freely again.