Tuesday, 29 April 2008

Why I'm supporting Chelski

Something very odd happened to me on Saturday. I found myself almost supporting Chelski.

I know why it happened. First, I can’t stand the herd mentality that has seen most of the press and a large chunk of Chelski’s own fans writing off their current manager, Avram Grant, as a pale shadow of the ‘Special One’, Jose Mourinho, whose ego was too big for Stamford Bridge and quit as soon as the going got a little tough.

And second, they were playing Man Utd.

It’s not just that I’m a paid up supporter of the ‘Anyone But Man U’ fan club; I’m also a card-carrying member of the ABC club too. In any case, along with (cough, choke, splutter, god how it hurts to say these things) Arsenal and Man Utd have been playing the most consistently entertaining football in the Premiership for many a year now, while Chelski have been somewhere on a par with Stoke (can we please not mention it, it’s been hard enough being a Port Vale supporter this season as it is) as the team you’d least like to be watching week in, week out.

No, the main reason for that otherwise unfathomable soft spot for Abramovich’s Harlots is that Sir Alex Ferguson (working-class lad, erstwhile Anti-Nazi League supporter and gum-chewing socialist that he is) has become such a bloody bad loser. His team gets one penalty awarded against them, the first of this Premiership season and a stonewall certain penalty at that, and they’re off kicking walls, stewards and whatever else gets in their way, with Sir Alex leading the charge.

There are people I play football with, grown men though they may be, who take their lead from this sort of thing – and I’ve got the bruises to prove it. And the folk who use my local all-weather pitches are currently calling for regular police patrols when the junior and amateur league games are on because there have been so many punch ups and pitched battles of late. How the next generation will get anyone to referee their games is a challenge to match the electoral one facing the Labour Party on Thursday.

I don’t blame Sir Alex and his crew for all this, but they certainly don’t help.

As for Chelski, well you’ve got to feel a little sorry for owner Roman Abramovich. Forbes magazine revealed earlier this month that he’s no longer Russia’s richest man. His decision in 2005 to sell his oil company Sibneft to Gazprom, Russia’s massive state-owned energy business, has meant he's missed out on the profits and share price bonanza of the past few years. Now he must be content with third place on the Forbes ‘golden hundred’ list of Russia’s richest men with a mere $24.3 billion to his name.

The list is headed by Oleg Deripaska, boss of the Basic Element holding company, whose fortune is estimated at $28.6 billion – up by $11.8 billion in a year. In second place is steel tycoon Alexei Mordashov, whose $24.5 billion more than doubled in 2007.

There are now so many dollar billionaires in the birthplace of Bolshevism that every hamlet could buy themselves a Chelski if the money was spread around. So many, indeed – 110 in all, including 74 in Moscow, now the billionaire capital of the world – that ten of them don’t even make Forbes’ golden hundred.

Russia's top one hundred are worth a staggering $522 billion between them, having accumulated an extra $100 billion in the past 12 months. Oh Vladimir Ilyich, where are you when your country needs you?

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