Chelsea During Their Premiership Days

Understanding Football (Soccer) in London


Football is a Tribal Thing

Football in London is a tribal thing. I remember speaking to a local supermarket owner in Stoke Newington. He supported Trabzon Spor because he came from Trabzon; Fenerbahce, because it was a great team; and Arsenal, ‘of course’.

Now if you live in Stoke Newington, you have two local teams you can choose – Arsenal (’the gooners’) or Tottenham Hotspur (’spurs’). London is a very big place when it comes to football, with five Premiership teams and many more in other leagues, but loyalty is often very parochial.

Well, this article, being a snapshot in time from 2009, describes with plenty of nostalgia the glory days of one particular London football club, I am going to start my list with.

Photo credit Ronnie Macdonald

So, imagine you just found a time machine and teleported yourself back into 2009, right in the middle of the first part of the season of the top league of British football. Here is what you are most likely to find.

The Premiership Teams

  • Arsenal. This used to be Woolwich Arsenal, named after the dockyard, but the team moved to north London in 1913.  Managed by suave Frenchman Mr Arsene Wenger, it’s one of the top British teams and, on its day, plays probably the most beautiful football in the world. Unless you support Spurs. It plays at the Emirates Stadium. Arsenal’s home colours are red, and you can see the origins of its name in the cannon that figures on its coat of arms.
  • Spurs. The other north London team, the inveterate enemy of Arsenal. This team plays at White Hart Lane; when they play against Arsenal, it’s called ‘the North London Derby’. The home colours are white, and the crest is a cockerel standing on a football.
  • Chelsea. This team plays at Stamford Bridge. (Don’t do the same as that poor chap who put ‘Stamford Bridge’ in his satnav and ended up in Yorkshire; make sure you use the London postcode, which is SW6 1HS.) Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich has spent millions on the club, buying expensive players, hiring and firing managers (Mourinho, Scolari, and now Guus Hiddink), and turning it into the club everybody loves to hate. (Except for Chelsea supporters, of course.) Considering Manchester United had filled that spot for the last, what, thirty years, that’s quite some achievement. Home colours are royal blue, and the crest shows a lion holding a staff.
  • Fulham, playing at Craven Cottage, is Chelsea’s local rival in the ‘West London Derby’. Fulham only just survived in the Premiership last year but has managed to stay mid-table this year.  This club is owned by Harrods boss Mohammed al-Fayed. The home colours are black and white, and the shield simply shows the letters FFC for Fulham Football Club.  Official mascot Billy the Badger (picking up on the black and white colours of the club) was sent off last year during a match for breakdancing on the pitch while the game was in progress.
  • The last of the five premiership clubs is West Ham, based at Upton Park, which plays in claret and blue. Famous for its team anthem, ‘I’m forever blowing bubbles’. West Ham was at one time noted for its hooligans, the ‘Inter City Firm’, and had particular trouble with old rival Millwall FC: Milwall no longer plays in the Premier League (it’s in League One, below the Championship and so two leagues below West Ham) so there’s no occasion for trouble now.

Below these clubs, though, London has many more. In the Championship, the league below the Premiership, there are three; Charlton Athletic, Crystal Palace, and Queens Park Rangers (QPR).

The Weird One

The strangest of the ‘London’ clubs is Wimbledon. Yes, Wimbledon is in London – but the club isn’t. It moved to Milton Keynes in 2004 and is now known as the MK Dons.

You’ll find many people, even if they support one of the major clubs, have a soft spot for Leyton Orient, which plays at the Matchroom Stadium in Brisbane Road, Leyton, east London. Leyton Orient’s team are often known simply as ‘the O’s’. Famously, it was bought for five quid in 1995 – a far cry from the multi-million-pound deals being done in the Premiership!

But its great claim to fame is the Leyton Orient Supporters’ Club, which is celebrated for its commitment to real ale, and hosts regular beer festivals which, odd to relate, usually coincide with at least one football match.

I used to work with someone who told me Leyton Orient used to be a great club. (This is true.) He also told me that in the old days, when it was called Clapton Orient, it won the FA Cup. That was a fib. The furthest they ever got was the semi-final (in 1978). Probably just as well; it’s a lovely club, and too much success might have spoiled it…

Photo credit Ben Sutherland.

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