be heading off to Stamford Bridge tonight with a spring in my step. Over the past decade or so, European nights have often brought out the best in Chelsea.
We’ve taken an advantage from the first leg in Paris but nothing can be guaranteed when you’re up against such an expensively put together team, so there’s no doubt it will be a huge game.
But the occasion has been overshadowed by events in Paris off the field, or on the Paris Metro to be precise, where a bunch of Chelsea fans behaved appallingly, pushing a black man off their carriage whilst singing racist songs.
So tonight the world’s media will be observing the fans’ behaviour as much as the game on the pitch. Chelsea’s fan base still includes some of those who supported the club during an altogether different era, when racism was rampant and fans who tried to do something about it were beaten up.
I remember the volunteers who put together an independent fanzine that decried racism amongst the supporter base having their meeting brutally disrupted by racist hooligans at the Finborough Arms, a stone’s throw from the ground. Racists no longer form a significant group at Stamford Bridge, though their influence remains.
There are songs sung about Jews going to Auschwitz by some fans, despite club warnings not to do so, and other anti-semitic chants that are an embarrassment to the club and its fans.
But the prevailing sentiment at Chelsea, as at most grounds, is many light years away from the atmosphere of yesteryear. Chelsea fans have black heroes such as Didier Drogba, where once they booed a player (Paul Canoville) for being black.
After the Paris match and the accompanying furore a group of them unfurled a banner in the south stand at the game against Burnley that read: “Not black nor white. We’re all Blue.” Twenty five years ago, nobody would have dared do that for fear of the recriminations.
The club itself has reacted as well as it can to apologise for the Paris incident, to suspend the tickets of those involved and to stress its continuing work in striving to create a club where racial discrimination doesn’t exist.
We are not back to the dark days of yesteryear but I’ll be happy to see a celebration of the club’s good nature as well as its passion tonight. That feels as important as a good result.