London (AFP) – With Chelsea plunged into turmoil after the sanctions on their Russian owner Roman Abramovich, the sombre mood of fans ahead of Sunday’s game against Newcastle reflected the mounting crisis at Stamford Bridge.
Chelsea’s first home game since Abramovich was sanctioned by the UK government served as a reminder of a golden era that may soon be a distant memory for Blues supporters.
Bankrolled by Abramovich’s billions, the Premier League club have won 19 major trophies since the Russian took over in 2003.
A banner often hung from the Matthew Harding Stand at one end of Stamford Bridge hails the ‘Roman Empire’.
But Chelsea’s reign as reigning European and Club World champions could be crumbling due to the fall-out from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
The government have stopped Abramovich profiting from Chelsea and in the process banned the club from signing players and renewing contracts, while severely limiting their revenue streams.
Chelsea’s shirt sponsor Three suspended their £40 million deal on Thursday and Hyundai became the second sponsor to pause their relationship on Saturday.
Abramovich was disqualified as a club director by the Premier League this weekend as the mayhem engulfing the club showed no signs of abating.
Haemorrhaging money with a monthly wage bill estimated at £28 million, there are fears over Chelsea’s ability to survive the potential financial meltdown if a new buyer is not found soon.
Inevitably, emotions are running high among Chelsea fans who have poured so much of their time and money into the club.
Those feelings were made clear by a graffiti message reading “Leave our club alone” in red paint on a gate outside the Bridge.
Signs of Chelsea’s predicament were easy to spot.
The club’s megastore was closed with a message apologising for the “inconvenience” taped to a window, while match programmes were not for sale.
With Chelsea barred from selling match tickets since the sanctions, a board by the main entrance announced “no tickets available” for the team’s next home match against Brentford.
Fans were still able to buy unofficial merchandise from stalls in the streets around Fulham Broadway, but the slate grey skies and persistent drizzle served as a fitting backdrop to the funereal mood among the Chelsea faithful.
– ‘It’s not fair’ –
In the week the club were due to celebrate the 117th anniversary of their formation in The Rising Sun pub, Chelsea supporters were instead using the local bars to drown their sorrows.
Martin Gould, a season-ticket holder since the 1980s, said: “I understand why the government sanctioned Roman but the way they have gone about it is wrong.
“It’s not fair to the fans, it’s not fair to the club. This is taking it out on the wrong people.”
Chelsea Supporters’ Trust board member Dan Silver added: “The most important thing we are focused on at the minute is making sure we have a Chelsea football team moving forward.
“There’s generation of supporters, it’s a mini-community. We are going to be very vocal.”
Ken Bates, the former Chelsea owner who sold the club to Abramovich, slammed the government’s decision to hinder the team’s day to day operations.
“As usual it is the ordinary people who are suffering. You’ve probably got people working at Chelsea saying do they have a job? And fans at Chelsea. What have they got to do with Putin bombing maternity hospitals in Ukraine,” Bates told the Daily Mail.
Salvation could come from British property developer Nick Candy, who is reportedly a leading contender to buy the club.
Candy, 49, was expected to be in the stands to watch his boyhood team just hours after offering to provide short-term funding if Chelsea face financial problems.
“Mr Candy cares hugely about the future of the club and believes that the fans and the community are central to its continued success,” a spokesperson for Candy said.
“Should his bid be successful, Mr Candy would advocate for a fan representative to join the Board so supporters become part of the decision-making process.”
If that is hope of a brighter future at Chelsea, for now the focus is simply on keeping the club off life support.
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