My girlfriend and I split up a couple of weeks ago. I have a lot of time to think and I’m doing a bit of reflecting on my life and the past. I was on vacation and while we were apart, we both did some soul searching. We talked about it when I got back and we knew it wasn’t going to work. I’m not mad at her or anything; it just wasn’t going to last. I’m alright with it and I’m moving on. It’s best for both of us. Another on the long-list of failed relationships. Some weren’t bound to last, others I didn’t want to last, and one I completely sabotaged and still regret how it ended. That’s life though. We’ve all been there… we live and learn.
But it got me thinking about my relationship with my football club. Interestingly, I got into the Premier League – and chose Chelsea – because of another girl. This girl didn’t last too long but she was a serious Arsenal fan. And I mean serious. She could recite scoring statistics from players that I still never heard of. She watched all their games more than once and listened to podcasts galore. She got into Arsenal during the invincibles season and all their games were shown on a NYC-area sports channel (I assume YES network but don’t hold me to that, I live in Philly). She was Ms. Arsenal.
I became an Premier League fan because of her. I have an easy explanation for how I became a Chelsea fan: I looked at a map and chose the team that was closest and highest on the table. Chelsea fit the bill. Done. I’m a Chelsea fan. It was, in part, to antagonize her but with good intentions. I couldn’t be a Man United fan or Arsenal fan as “everyone” loved those clubs, so it only made sense. Now who were all these guys out there playing? I didn’t know Frank Lampard from Frank Lloyd Wright; I couldn’t tell you if they played at Stamford Bridge or Stanford University, near where I grew up; I had no idea who John Terry was – that he was the captain of England – and that he’d been a career Chelsea man. This was the spring of 2007…. and my relationship was now in hyperdrive.
So, I started to read. I read everything I could find. I learned the history of the club; about Roman Abramovich and about how he made his money; about Russia and the “wild east” capitalism that reigned in the 90s and made the oligarchs rich beyond anyone’s imagination only because they understood the true value of the assets Russia was auctioning off (as a side note, Casino Moscow is an older but very good book on post-Soviet Russia, highly recommended if anyone is interested in that topic, but it’s not specifically about Abramovich). I learned about the dark side of Chelsea and the reputation they had because of the Chelsea Headhunters; and their financial troubles in the 70s and 80s. I could tell you that John Terry came through their academy; Lampard may have never made it if it wasn’t for his dad being a coach at West Ham, where he got his start; that Drogba played just one year in Marseille and grew up near Paris; and that Claude Makelele also grew up near Paris. I learned everything I possibly could.
I’ve been there since 2007. But if I had do it over again, I wouldn’t have chosen Chelsea. And I’ve already cheated a little. I’ve started following two other teams but without such intensity: Everton and Tottenham. They’re solid, well run and talented clubs with great fan bases (especially at White Hart Lane) that I’d be proud to say that I’m a supporter. I even bought a Everton jersey from Landon Donovan’s time there. I tell people that I’m a Donovan fan and not an Everton fan. That’s a lie, I feel he’s a bit overrated (but I won’t get into that here). I wouldn’t dare publicly admit that I’m an Everton or Tottenham fan. I’m in denial and denial is the first sign of a problem.
Then I remember what I’ve been through with Chelsea. I remember screaming at a gamecast I was following during the 2008 Champions League Final and checking the rampant text messages I was getting during the shootout while I was stuck at the trading desk that I call my day job; the dismay when they fired Scolari who didn’t even seem to have been given a chance; talking to my co-worker, a London native, about the John Terry affair and his attempts to quash it hitting the press. It’s the little things and that’s what makes it tough.
But I just can’t do it. I won’t do it. I still bleed Chelsea Blue. I may be critical of their transfers and the revolving door in management, but I won’t turn my back. I can’t cut the cord but I’m not entirely sure why. I’ve put so much into this relationship that it’s not worth turning my back on it. So I do the unthinkable: I cheat on Chelsea and sit in denial. I’ve become complacent. I don’t want Chelsea to win… I expect it. I get upset if they lose and if they don’t win by four goals. I get depressed when they lose to Man United or Liverpool. And I cynical when they “only” beat West Brom 3-1. I get frustrated during their mid-season slumps and embarrassed that they lost 3-0 to Sunderland at the Bridge. I’m not sure how I’ll feel if they when they’ll play in the Champions League Final again. Not when, but if.
All relationships take some amount of work. For myself to claim that I am a true fan, a knowledgeable and dedicated fan, it takes work. It’s easier when you live in a city and the local teams are in the media like with the Phillies and Eagles here in Philly. Fox Soccer and the Internet, obviously, make a relationship with Chelsea a bit easier to manage. But it takes work. I’ve put too much work into it to turn my back on them now.
And after typing all this out, I openly wonder if I put this much thought into the how and what went wrong in my last relationship… my ex-girlfriend and I might still be together.