50 shades of Blue

There’s more to being a stereotypical Chelsea fan than wearing the right gear, says Rory Fairfax.

(Please note: none of the Chelsea fans in the picture, famous or not, bear any resemblance to our tragic hero…)

Toby has always loved Chelsea. Not just the King’s Road, Embargo’s or Phat Phuc, that oh-so-cleverly named noodle bar. What he’s always loved, more than anything in the entire world (and he saw large swathes of it in 2012), is Chelsea Football Club.

It all began when he was six. His mother had Addison Leed him from their Parsons Green pied-à-terre to a Chelsea birthday party at the Bridge. Future Sporcle answer Tore André Flo had been wheeled out for the meet-and-greet, ruffling Toby’s mop before signing his yellow Autoglass top; Zola (who else) emblazoned in white furry cotton on the back.

It was on that day he made a choice that would impact his life ’til I die. He may have been born in Fulham, but he was made in Chelsea – a subtle distinc­tion, even more so when you consider Stamford Bridge is on the A304, commonly known as the ‘Fulham’ Road. But from that moment onwards, he’d be a Chelsea boy. Or, a Chow-see boy to his native London cabbie.

And ever since the Romans had invaded (Abramovich and Mutu), he’d had a big fat Chelsea smile on his face. Not that kind of Chelsea smile. Although there had been a period after watching Green Street where he was genuinely petrified of the concept of Millwall fans, despite obviously never encountering one. That was the pre-teen, Swiss-army-knife phase of his life.

In his adolescent years, he’d begun to semi-embrace the Green Street vibe, a sort of faux hooliganism that was never fully complete without the earring, shaved head or sense of working-class injustice (none of which were permitted by school). He’d even carry around the family American Express card to games, brandishing that as his new weapon. He’d regularly parrot the movie line: “Do you take American Express?” Ironically, the card did more damage than the pen knife ever had.

He may have been born in Fulham, but he was made in Chelsea.

One of its first purchases was a retro Eighties Sergio Tacchini top. A staple of the terrace era, it was first worn by Toby as a joke, then religiously to every game. This class appropriation was compounded when he started mysteriously dropping Ts and Hs in some words (see ’ave it or  twa’) and emphasising them in others (see Lamphard or Jay-T).

Then, as an adult with a red-brick degree and an Amex of his own, football was less important. He still loved the club somewhere in his heart, but as his Canary Wharf job tore into his weekends his life became an ever greyer shade of blue. On the odd occasion he could go to a match, he even stopped wearing the club shirt. Instead, only his boots could be considered Chelsea – and they were made in China.

Not that he could go to games any more since lockdown. But that wasn’t the point. He actually started missing not being able to go to matches, and this manifested itself with increasingly deranged behaviour. His affliction began with a comment here and there, the odd “Ohhh Chelsea, Chelsea”, or the occasional, “Suuuper, super Frank”. In bleak lockdown moments, staring out on to Daymer Bay, he’d start by humming a tune, then increasing the volume with each verse until a full-blown rendition of “10 men went to mow. WENT TO MOW A MEADOW” was bellowed out.

Then the shirt started reappearing. First as pyjamas, then casually on weekends. Some mornings he’d pick it up off the floor, thrice worn, and sling it on. Once he’d broken the Zoom call barrier with the office, all bets were off. Chelsea was his uniform and, guess what, sport was back on. Three months of quiet madness were over. Chelsea were back, live against Villa, and now he’d finally be able to exorcise his demons. Perhaps, as his girlfriend Kitty hoped, he would also stop making her wear the shirt in bed. Right? Wrong.

The cottage didn’t have Sky and the wi-fi was poor. He’d have to return to London to be able to watch the games. It was a tough decision but, after minutes of deliberation, he stood firm: he would be staying in Cornwall all summer. He checked BBC Sport. 2-1 Chelsea. A quiet fist clench, no more, no less, and off he went to play golf.

Rory Fairfax ­is rather unsurprisingly an Arsenal fan, and also the Editor of the Fitzdares Times.

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