Black Chelsea fans have their say on the racist abuse Raheem Sterling was subjected to at Stamford Bridge and this notion that the Blues are a racist club
Chelsea Football Club, the team I’ve supported since the age of five, have been in the news recently for reasons that make me shudder as a black supporter. Manchester City’s Raheem Sterling, who’s been in fine form for club and country all season, was subjected to vile racist abuse at Stamford Bridge on Saturday 8 December.
The game finished 2-0 to Chelsea, ending City’s unbeaten run in the Premier League, but the result paled into insignificance after video surfaced of a Chelsea fan appearing to tell Sterling to “Fuck off, you black c*nt”. Watching the video, I couldn’t help think what was going through Sterling’s mind, who was celebrating his 24th birthday on the same day. I also tried to fathom how the black Chelsea fan felt, although it’s unclear whether or not he actually heard what was said.
Not to sound like the ultimate racist denier, who’s always ready to use the ‘I’ve got black friends’ line, but, a lot of my favourite Chelsea players, past and present, are black. Club legends like Didier Drogba and Marcel Desailly before him, to current stars like Antonio Rudiger, N’Golo Kante and Ruben Loftus-Cheek are reasons why I love and support the club. So, this notion that Chelsea are a racist club is something that has never sat well with me.
However, there’s no denying the fact the club have been caught up in several high-profile racist incidents in the recent past – the John Terry-Anton Ferdinand case in 2011, the 2015 Paris metro incident and more recently, revelations brought to light earlier this year by black, ex-Chelsea youth players of internal racism and bullying at the club during the 1990s.
As a black fan those stories were difficult to comprehend. For the record, I never looked at Terry the same after 2011. Yes, I’m a Chelsea fan, but before anything else I’m a proud black man. So when racist incidents occur and the victim happens to be black, I’m siding with the black victim, as I think all right-minded people would, regardless of ethnicity.
Like me, Prince (@AmorePrince_) is a black Chelsea fan who’s well aware of the club’s racist past. A supporter since the age of nine, he believes Chelsea aren’t the only club guilty of having racist fans. “I understand that Chelsea, mainly its fans, have a history of racism, especially during the prominence of firms,” he explains. “When incidents such as the Paris train and Sterling happen, it’s difficult to accept because it shows that some aspects of that racist past are still very much alive in parts of our fan culture and that’s sickening.
“What annoys me however, is that the classification as a ‘racist club’ only seems to be levied at Chelsea. As a black man in the UK, especially one who’s experienced being around both white working-class and middle-class groups, one thing I’m very sure of is that these behaviours are so casual and common within these groups that it would be almost ignorant to write-off the fact that it’s happening in nine out of 10 football stadiums every week.
“The reality of racism in football fan culture and in the UK as a whole is frighteningly high and that’s a discussion that needs to be had. But if we just look simply at what makes a club racist to the point that it needs highlighting, there are key flaws and it really annoys me when I get told that Chelsea stand out as a racist club.
“If we’re racist because of our firm/hooligan history, then pretty much every club is racist so we won’t even go there. If we’re racist due to the lack of inclusion, diversity or opportunity (afforded to ethnic minorities) then that’s flawed because not only is our club filled with black players, from our academies to first team squad and legends past, I can’t recall another top-flight club having a black director [former technical director Michael Emenalo, now at Monaco] in recent history.
“If we’re racist because of our recent fan behaviour, there’s room for discussion. But the behaviour of Chelsea fans being racist seems to be the only thing that makes the news. The Tottenham banana thrower [who has since been fined £500 and given a four-year football ban] received barely any coverage. Arsenal have an entire culture of antisemeticism when insulting Tottenham that completely gets ignored.
“Suarez was out doing a madness [while at Liverpool] and the club and fans were letting it run. Incidents of racism are disgusting and there’s no place for it in the game. But at least make the playing field level when reporting on it.”
An individual looking to follow in the footsteps of former black Chelsea head coach Ruud Gullit is Andre (@AndreThomas_). “‘You’re black and you support Chelsea!?’ is a statement I’ve heard plenty of times,” he says. “Many think you can’t be black and be a blue, when in fact the reason I am a blue is because of two black men.
“I became a Chelsea fan, as my dad was one. I realised at a later point – when he turned to support Fulham for Jean Tigana – that he only supported Chelsea because Ruud Gullit was the manager. However, by that time it was too late, Chelsea had my heart and I could never change teams.
“Don’t get me wrong, there have been plenty of times when some supporters have made me question why I continue to support Chelsea. But I remember my plans aren’t to be in the spectator seats forever. My plans and dreams are to be in the Chelsea dugout, just like Ruud was, inspiring another generation of fans.
“To sum it up, a few fans sometimes disgust me but never will dislodge me. I’m black and I’m blue, regardless of what they say or do. That won’t change because I know why and what I represent being black and being blue!”
Malik (@ma19k), a fan who resides in the United States, shares similar views. “Being black, a Chelsea supporter and living in America is quite the niche group,” he says. “Dealing with enough racial tension in the States, it’s very annoying to see the team I love go through some of the same tired issues I experience on a day-to-day basis.
“Football has become more diverse in the US with lots of minorities taking to the sport. It sickens me to have to come and defend a team that has a past of fans and even players being racist.
“Situations such as former captain John Terry calling Ferdinand a ‘black c*nt’, to allegations in May of historic racism towards black players in the youth system, all the way to the current situation with Raheem Sterling.
“I have nothing to say when asked how I could support such a team when these types of things occur. You’d think with their youth teams [Chelsea U19s pictured above] being made up of lots of young black players, the club would look to address the issue with the urgency it deserves and make it clear the club doesn’t stand for and will not tolerate racist behaviour. Something serious needs to change within the club or I fear many black fans, myself included, will no longer call ourselves Chelsea supporters.”
In light of the Sterling incident and the antisemitic chanting that followed in a Europa League tie a few days later, Chelsea chairman Bruce Buck published an open letter on the club’s website clarifying the club’s stance and called on supporters worldwide to help “confront this issue and remove discrimination from our game”. A welcomed gesture, its effectiveness, however, more difficult to gauge in the short-term.
One thing’s for certain though, I along with Prince, Andre and Malik and every other black Chelsea supporter out there do not share any affinity with the racists who call themselves fans of the football club we love.
Words by EugeneOEA