Merseyside, the North East, The Midlands, even the rest of London seem to love them. So why can't Chelsea fans get excited about a derby with Fulham?
Whether you are at the top end of the Premier League, stuck in mid-table indifference or fighting a relegation battle, your local derby should be a highlight of the football calendar. The adrenaline rush of playing your closest rivals is a guarantee in a season whether you are competing for anything or not. However, as a Chelsea fan this is a buzz that is distinctly lacking in my annual football viewing.
If you support Chelsea there are several big games to look forward to in the football season. Since our success under Abramovich, any meet with Manchester United has been a must-watch. Also as Chelsea fans we are keen to try to get one over on either of the other two ‘big’ London clubs, Arsenal and Spurs. These three fixtures are the ones that most blues supporters will be eager to win in a season, but what we really lack is a proper needle-match local derby.
Chelsea will face Fulham in the Carling Cup on 21st September and to be honest - I’m not that bothered. I know it’s the Carling Cup and not many Premier League clubs take it completely seriously - but if the third round draw had thrown up a Manchester or North London derby, there would be a lot more interest around the low priority competition. There is something about the intense rivalry in those derbies that makes for reliably exhilarating viewing no matter what circumstances the teams are meeting under. The hype and anticipation of these fixtures are enough to turn a true-blue Chelsea fan green with envy.
Chelsea will face Fulham in the Carling Cup on 21st September and to be honest - I’m not that bothered
If I spoke to mates of mine who are Arsenal or Spurs fans they would be relishing the opportunity to get an extra game against the enemy in a season. Watching many north London derbies with both sets of fans, I have realised that there is a dependable amount of adrenaline in the room whenever the two teams meet, in whatever competition. Not just because they want to advance to the next round or gain those valuable three points you understand, but simply because there is that level of yearning to beat their main adversary.
Even as a biased Chelsea fan I have to concede that watching any other local derby in the Premier League is far more exciting than that of my club. From Merseyside to Tyneside, the passion that comes with the one-upmanship of playing your local rivals always overshadows what we have in west London.
Take last season’s games against Fulham alone, a tame 1 – 0 victory at the Bridge and a frustrating 0 – 0 draw in our away fixture. The only excitement was summoned when Cech saved a late Clint Dempsey penalty to salvage that point at Craven Cottage. Tension was high in that game but not because of any personal want of beating Fulham but purely to stay in the running to win the Premier League.
Looking back to north London last season, the derbies threw up more drama than we have had in the west for years. Spurs clawing back from 2 – 0 down to beat the Gunners 3 – 2 at the Emirates, with Younès Kaboul of all people popping up to give Tottenham their first away victory in the derby for 17 years. Likewise the same fixture at White Hart Lane offered a nail-biting 3 – 3 thriller later in the season. These meetings are real football history, just like City’s win over United in the FA Cup semi-final. Needless to say, I won’t be looking back at Michael Essien’s solitary goal across two fixtures against Fulham with quite the same significance.
Local derby passion seems to exist all over the country, with the exception of my club. Going to university on the south coast I met a lot of Southampton fans. The excitement of two guaranteed fixtures against Portsmouth almost outweighed the joy of promotion to the Championship for them in the conclusion of last season. The rivalry is what many supporters live for. It becomes as important if not more important than the success of trophies, survival or promotion. It’s an urge for winning in a way that isn’t as obvious or tangible as three points or advancing to the next round.
I genuinely feel jealous of other supporters. Chelsea fans try to latch onto derby-like rivalry with Arsenal and Tottenham but I admit it’s just not the same. As much as we can try to build up those games, we are left with a lowly anticipated nothing fixture to look forward to as our local derby.
So when we do take on Fulham later this month I won’t be feeling the tension for days in the build up or holding my breath for goals extraordinaire - the west London derby is probably one of the dullest in the football league. Although at least if we lose this one, it is only the Carling Cup, so I can use the standard ‘Mickey Mouse trophy’ excuse.
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