I appreciate the fickle South African football fan now that I’ve been to Stamford Bridge. This whole business of holding a team so dear to your heart can be emotionally draining, especially if they are having an awful season, à la Kaizer Chiefs and Orlando Pirates.
On Monday I experienced all kinds of emotions as I sat on the upper West Stand to watch Chelsea, a team I love, followed and admired since my teens, host Watford in their first home game as Premier League champions.
What a feeling.
And to see a seven-goal thriller, the Blues edging it 4-3 in their chase for the most wins in a season, was absolutely electrifying. During that 90 minutes, I was elated, sad and angry at different stages as Watford made a game of it to try and spoil the party. It was like I’d been at the Chelsea home games all my life, chanting with the regulars like we’ve all known each other for several years now. We were in sync.
It’s insane trying to put this into words.
I also got to make my way “Under the Bridge”, which is a bar that’s “under” the stadium and the property of Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich, before and after the match. The beer had a special buzz following the first victory I’d witnessed with my own two eyes at the stadium.
Then I had a flashback of driving home one night in South Africa after covering a Chiefs fixture in which they lost a league match at Soccer City this season. At least two Amakhosi fans were walking to their humble abode an hour before midnight. Must have been a long walk.
And over the course of the 2016/17 campaign, there have been many nights like that.
I’d never condone unruly behaviour at the match venue or anywhere else for that matter. I do, however, understand it when football fans call for the sacking of a coach. When you’ve spent a bit of money and sacrificed time with your family to go and watch your team play, you don’t want that as the end result. Never.
Football has a way of stirring all kinds of emotions. I have also often wondered why, at times, fickle fans brave the cold to watch a struggling team. Chelsea fans were miserable last season, their team finishing 10th a year after winning the league under José Mourinho. It was a tad nauseating to turn on my TV and witness yet another shoddy performance, but I still caught as many of those awful games as I possibly could.
Having now been to Stamford Bridge - I can confirm I would most probably break the bank to become a season ticket holder. Even with the unpleasant London weather, going to every single home game would be a no-brainer. My wife would have to deal with it, I guess. Even though there is a second TV set at our house in the study, when Chelsea play I politely ask for the lounge area to be the venue. This was an amazing experience, and I’m a changed man.
* Molefe is in London as a guest of Unilever SA