Kai Havertz’s late moment of legerdepied in Chelsea’s 1-0 victory over Newcastle United was entertaining enough, but it was the nothing before and after it that made the day worthwhile.
In other words, there were no audible chants of Roman Abramovich’s name from disaffected Blues fans who wanted to ignore the soon-to-be-ex-club owner’s links to Vladimir Putin in the midst of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, as there were the other night against Norwich. Abramovich has fueled the once-meh London club’s rise to international prominence, but his connections to Putin and his place amid the Russian oligarchical structure has prompted the U.K. government to expel him from control of the club and seize his assets, including the team itself.
At this point, Premier League teams function mostly as a magnet for big wallets with an urge to feel important in that bored-billionaires-with-money-to-burn kind of way, and it’s clear that Chelsea will continue to exist in the hands of some other rich owner who will buy them sooner or later. But the idea that some of the club’s fans would openly choose evil to keep the finances rolling (right now, the team can barely scrape up enough for bus money or prawn sandwiches under a redrawn license fee issued by the government) put a particularly ugly face on an illegal invasion and a potential global tipping point. And to their credit, the Chelsea fans who thought Abramovich was the victim here shut their pieholes for the duration of this Sunday’s match.
Indeed, the mood oozing out of your television speakers (you didn’t get to go to Stamford Bridge, we’re sure of it) was mostly somber and uncertain, as the play did not provide nearly enough joy to hide the dark background curtain. It was almost as if the fans were waiting to hear a song they didn’t write and didn’t want anyone else to sing on their behalf. They even managed not to overreact when Newcastle fans, who are owned by the appallingly retrograde Saudi government, flew Saudi flags and sang taunts about Abramovich.
Then Havertz neatly redirected a pass from Jorginho in the 89th minute to gain a victory that actually seems like one, and the fans found their throat with a “We Know Who We Are” chant that included the “Champions of Europe” title. By all accounts, they did not turn a desultory win against a team that is just now emerging from the relegation wars into a statement supporting Russia’s monstering of a neighboring country. In other words, they did not shame the club by honoring the man who has thrown it into both financial and political disrepute.
But if you think fans are getting soft in Europe, take an ear to the reactions PSG fans gave Lionel Messi and Neymar in their match against Bordeaux. Still holding a grudge after the lads, who are fueled by the dodgy Qatari government (hey, everyone’s in the shallow end of decency now), were preposterously ejected from the Champions League by Real Madrid, they earholed their highest paid players while they were beating the Ligue 1 stragglers because, well, fans are simply better when they boo their own than when they chant the name of a man allegedly supporting an international criminal. And in these crap times, you take your victories in small doses when the doses become available.