Chelsea’s ten years under Roman rule

Ten years ago this week, with Chelsea near-bankrupt and on the brink of collapse, an unlikely hero came to the rescue.

Chelsea’s ten years under Roman rule

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July 4th, 2013

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Roman Abramovich – unexpected, unheard-of – ensured Chelsea took the back pages with a brash run of shock and awe that has barely let up since. Proper Chels. And in rolled the silverware: three Premier League titles; four FA Cups; two League Cups; two Community Shields; one Europa League and, of course, one European Cup.

The charge by others back then, that Chelsea had sold-out to a foreign money man, was unique at the time, and difficult to deny. But one by one, other clubs have taken exactly the same route. Now we have a Premier League owned by Americans (Arsenal, Aston Villa, Liverpool, Manchester United, Sunderland), Egyptians (Fulham – ahead of Chelsea in this respect, Hull), an Emirati (Manchester City), a Malaysian (Cardiff City), and most intriguingly a dead Swiss (Southampton).

Even those still British-owned have major overseas influence, such as: Tottenham (whose British owner is Bahamas-based); Swansea (a 20% shareholding belonging to a South African); and West Ham (10% Icelandic).

Who knows where the tax affairs of many Premier League club-owners are based: not with Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs mostly, that’s for sure. The changes in our football club ownership largely reflect those in the British economy in general.

In football terms, Abramovich was a pioneer. But he was also very different. While there have been complaints foreign owners have diluted or amended the history and culture of some clubs (Liverpool and Manchester United principal among these), the Russian influence at Chelsea has generally left these untouched – and in some ways strengthened them.

I’ve forgotten how many ex-players to whom I’ve spoken, legends among them, have been readmitted to the Stamford Bridge fold following time in a metaphorical Ken Bates-decreed Siberian-exile.

A new museum, for the first time in print a club ‘biography’, a greater acceptance in club media that yesterday is today is tomorrow. The club’s history has been strengthened rather than anything else.

In personality and following, Chelsea largely feels like the same Chelsea: socially diverse fan-base; cynically biting humour; respect for those there when, as the barb goes, ‘we were sh*te’. Yes there have been moments to question: too many sackings; players ostracised; questionable appointments; and ill-judged land-grabs.

But on balance…

Flicking back through ten years of cuttings, I came across an open letter I penned to the new Russian in our lives – published in a local paper on 7th July 2003.

The takeover came, you will recall, just as Gianfranco Zola left the club – and it is clear this was a central thought.

“Franco, in his departure, has proved he is a man of honour,” I wrote. “And if you can exhibit anywhere near the level of loyalty and commitment that he has, you will have nothing but support from the fans.”


Ten years on, and they still sing the name of Roman Abramovich.

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