'Toxic' Chelsea mood grows as Torres boos spark fan scuffles
Chelsea fans groups have warned of a "toxic" atmosphere at Stamford Bridge following Wednesday's 2-0 Capital One Cup semi-final first leg defeat to Swansea City during which their were recriminations between fellow supporters over the booing of Fernando Torres.
In one of the most extraordinary scenes of mass hostility from a home crowd towards their club and manager, the evening started with boos for chairman Bruce Buck when he was introduced on the pitch to make a pre-match presentation to injured goalkeeper Petr Cech.
Following that, there was the usual hostility directed at Rafa Benitez which reached a new intensity towards the end of the game but there was also the first signs of mass discontentment with £50m striker Torres which was given voice when he was substituted in the 81st minute for Demba Ba, whose introduction to the game the home support had chanted for during much of the second half.
Also contributing to the fraught atmosphere was the discontent over the club's refusal to offer Frank Lampard a new contract when his current deal expires at the end of the season. His impending departure, as well as that of Ashley Cole, has become another issue around which disaffected sectors of the support have rallied around.
The jeering for Torres was by no means from all the supporters but it was clearly a significant number. Trizia Fiorellino, the chair of the Chelsea supporters group, said that there was a "toxic" atmosphere in the stands and "scuffles" between fans who disagreed with Torres' treatment and those who booed him.
"What split the fans was Torres, and the moment when he came off," Fiorellino said. "I'm torn, I could never boo a player in a blue shirt but I can understand those who booed him. We have backed him unequivocally for two years and made every excuse under the sun for him, perhaps he was not match fit.
"A lot of fans think Benitez's appointment was to get the best out of him and if anything he's become more immobile, it's like he has given up. There are a lot who feel like me [and couldn't boo] but half the ground was booing. It did cause arguments and scuffles. There was a bit of pushing and some people moved to avoid scuffles. It was a sad state of affairs."
The nature of the club's ownership structure means that there are few opportunities for fans to voice their opinions – as Arsenal supporters do at their annual general meeting – although the Chelsea Pitch Owners scheme does allow for some contact with the club's hierarchy. The next CPO AGM is on 30 January at Stamford Bridge, although matters there relate specifically to the ownership of the freehold of the stadium in which shareholders have a stake. Neither Buck, nor chief executive Ron Gourlay are on the CPO board and are obliged to attend.
Tim Rolls, a writer for the Chelsea fanzine CFCUK, who opposed the club's attempt to buy back the CPO freehold of Stamford Bridge in 2011, said that there were few opportunities for peaceful dissent among supporters, which culminated in the atmosphere during the Swansea game. The traditional singing for sacked manager Roberto Di Matteo in the 16th minute was, he said, another rallying point that was picked up by the media.
"At Southampton [in the FA Cup third round on Saturday] it was clear there were regular away travellers who don't agree with Benitez's appointment, regardless of result," Rolls said. "The best he can hope for is that he is just ignored. I don't think he will ever be welcomed."
John Terry, who has played three games for the club since the start of October was due to play for the Chelsea Under-21s side against their Fulham counterparts in a behind-closed-doors game at the Cobham training ground last night. The club have also been linked with a move for Everton midfielder Marouane Fellaini although there is understood to be no prospect of that taking place in this transfer window.
New boy Ba still not match-fit
The question of why Rafa Benitez took so long to introduce new £7.5m striker Demba Ba during Wednesday's 2-0 defeat to Swansea City can be answered: the forward was not yet match-fit.
There were chants around the ground from home fans urging Benitez to bring him on, but the club were privately concerned that any more than the nine minutes plus injury time Ba played could have set him back and meant he was unable to play against Stoke City tomorrow. Ba is expected to make his league debut in that match in place of Fernando Torres, who has started all 20 of Chelsea's Premier League games so far.