Who would have thought that a thousand or so Chelsea fans armed only some big bags of cans, a few bits of cardboard and a tidal wave of righteous anger would save English football from its descent into franchise hell.
The Blues’ 0-0 Premier League draw against Brighton on Sunday evening was one of the dullest games of the season. What was happening outside the Stamford Bridge gates was anything but.
On just a few hours notice, Chelsea fans from across west London and beyond turned out in their droves to protest their club’s decision to sign up to the Super League. This followed a wave of activism from supporters across the country outraged by the plans. Among those outside Stamford Bridge was Bart Barrett, 24, a lifelong Blue who has followed Chelsea over land and sea since he was a kid.
“The whole essence of the sport is being deteriorated by this idea. Chelsea were not a powerhouse 20 years ago. We would never be where we are now without promotion/relegation or any incentive to be competitive,” he told 90min.
Also among the demonstrators was Billy Clark, 23. Billy was one of the handful of supporters who made the frankly ridiculous journey to Baku for the 2019 Europa League final, one of many European trips he has made over the years.
“I had to attend the protest as I love football and needed to make my voice heard. The protest had to happen last night, otherwise it would had been too late and football as we know it would had been lost forever.
“It did not matter who you supported. I saw plenty of clubs being represented from Chelsea to Millwall, Nottingham Forest to Leicester. Everyone made their voices heard and it was all in good faith. We managed to restore some pride back into the club.”
After convening the group of dissenters blocked the team coach from entering the ground for some time, causing kick-off to be delayed by 15 minutes.
Throughout proceedings a string of Chelsea’s favourite terrace songs were aired. However, chants of “we’re fans not customers”, “it’s not football anymore” and perhaps best of all “I’d rather play Stoke than Real Madrid” could also be heard.
Partway through the demonstration those songs turned into “we just made history” when news came through that Chelsea were drafting documentation to withdraw from the Super League. While the protest was not the sole reason for the competition’s collapse, the optics were still irresistible. Match going fans had taken on a multi-billion pound corporation and they had won.
The events of the past few days have given many supporters an appetite for their owners to face consequences for their actions. Bart is no different, calling for much-maligned Chelsea chairman Bruce Buck to resign.
“Buck has to go. For me he’s been the main proponent in a lot of the shocking decisions made by the club in recent years. I feel like him and his cronies were most likely responsible for this decision to sign up for ESL as well without consulting anyone.”
However, the protestors we spoke to stopped short of criticising Roman Abramovich – the man who helped Chelsea break up English football’s traditional cabal – too harshly. Although both agreed that greater accountability was needed with the 50+1 ownership modelled mentioned as a possible solution.
“With Roman its a difficult one, we have to be grateful for everything he’s done for the club, but he is starting to make some bad decisions as well, especially [Frank] Lampard’s sacking for me. I think his visa issues and lack of recent visibility has made him more out of touch from the fans than ever before and it is allowing him to make these bad decisions without accountability,” Bart said.
He added: “50+1 ownership, I would definitely be in favour of it. The fans need to know they have a semblance of control and ownership of the direction of their club and be consulted on key decisions like this. That would help avoid farces like we’ve seen the last few days.”
Billy agreed, saying: “I am all for 50+1, I’ve not read too much into it but so far I can only see positives. It will grow and the more clubs that sign up to it the better.”
Regardless of what happens in the future, 20 April 2021 will always be remembered as one of the most significant showcases of fan power modern English footballing history. It was exactly what we needed to remind us what football is really about after enduring over a year of supporters being barred from stadiums.