John Dolan, Enfield and Lea Valley Socialist Party and Chelsea supporter
Chelsea FC was founded in 1905, but according to some rival football fans we didn’t exist before Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich bought ownership from Ken Bates in 2003 – despite winning the FA Cup (twice), League Cup and European Cup Winners Cup in the six years prior to the purchase.
As an indication of our support base, we had a Second Division match (the equivalent of the Championship now) in 1976 with 55,000 present. We were the first English team eligible for the European Cup (now the Champions League), we were Kings of the King’s Road in the late 1960s and early 1970s, and we had ‘sexy football’ under the management of Ruud Gullit in the 1990s.
While not liking the way Abramovich made his fortune, off the back off publicly owned Russian national assets, no socialist should support any rich benefactor owning any football club. Chelsea had a rich fan in the 1990s, Matthew Harding, who got a place on the board – but his wealth was the only thing that got him there! I know Chelsea fans who would (for example) travel to Hong Kong to watch Chelsea in a pre-season friendly. As passionate fans such as these aren’t multi-millionaires, they have no real say in the running of the club that they love.
Financial Fair Play (FFP) was brought into football because of Abramovich’s mega-wealth – but why can’t capitalism provide FFP in the whole of society itself!?
Chelsea has faced financial collapse before, in the 1980s. Chelsea fans discussed then what would happen if our beloved Chelsea was no more – support QPR, Fulham or someone else? No. Chelsea is in our hearts, and no other football team could replace them.
Some protections, albeit limited, were won by fans then, in relation to the ownership of the Chelsea name and stadium, to attempt to combat any future leech-like owners attempting to strip the club’s name, assets and facilities from fans and the community.
I’ve seen Chelsea relegated to the old Second Division three times while I’ve been going to games and supporting them. We also only narrowly avoided relegation to the old Third Division (now League One) at the end of the 1982-83 season. I, like many Chelsea fans, have supported our team through decades of winning no silverware and, if necessary, we’ll do it again. Maybe the price of a match day ticket will come down from £55-plus, though? We’ll carry on following Chelsea, over land and sea.
Chelsea should be handed over to fans
The spotlight that been cast on Abramovich is nothing but a small glimpse into the dirty, sinister and murderous ownership that dominates professional football.
Football clubs are increasingly owned by venture capitalists or dodgy dictatorial regimes with no loyalty to the club, the fans, or the league they play in.
Newcastle’s and Man City’s ruthless murderous owners, the Saudi and UAE states respectively, plough dirty money into their clubs. While the likes of the Glazers who own Man United, FSG, which owns Liverpool, and Stan Kroenke, who owns Arsenal, all own franchises of other sports in the USA.
They all see their football clubs as nothing more than part of their portfolio. All the owners have faced a huge backlash from fans of their clubs, complaining of increasing debt and lack of support for the team, as they skim off profit for themselves.
The government has, in effect, seized Chelsea and frozen its assets. Rather than hand it over to another dodgy billionaire, the club, its stadium, and all facilities should be handed over to the fans, local community and players, to own and democratically run for the benefit of all fans and the local community, as well as the first teams.
Such a step should also pave the way for every club to be forced to open their books to see where the money has come from, and where it’s going. Clubs should then be placed under democratic fan, player and community ownership and democratic control.
A socialist society could see a complete change in how football and wider sport is organised and run. All sports and facilities could be opened up, and hugely expanded, for enjoyment by everyone. This could be run democratically by fans, athletes, coaches and the local community.
This would allow everyone to play and take part to whichever standard they wish – just for fun, to keep fit or to become a professional athlete.