Chelsea draw Brighton battle but furious fans win Super League war
Chelsea versus Brighton on Tuesday night was a match that didn't matter.
The meaningful action took place outside the ground as fans vented their fury at their club's decision to join a Super League.
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The most significant moves were made not on the pitch but in boardrooms and on Zoom calls, as presidents, chairmen and lawyers frantically tried to deal with the chaos caused by the attempted breakaway competition.
On Sunday, Chelsea were confirmed as one of the 12 founding members of the European Super League (ESL). In a world of financial uncertainty created by the pandemic, the game's elite felt compelled to create a tournament that offered them guarantees; the promise of economic security.
The Super League would mean they would never again have to worry about missing out on European qualification. But this wasn't just an abandonment of UEFA and its cup competitions; it was a threat to the competitiveness of the Premier League.
The backlash was brutal. Chelsea weren't being championed as a super-club; they were cast as super-villains, along with every other willing ESL participant, for undermining the traditions of European football and its 125-year history.
This momentous move was viewed as an attack on sporting merit, and an affront to the fans who invest so much time and money in their beloved clubs.
The t-shirts worn by Brighton during their warm-up summed up the feelings of the outraged majority: "Earn it; football is for the fans."
Chelsea supporters made it very clear before kick-off that they shared that sentiment. Even owner Roman Abramovich wasn't spared their vitriol. They called on him to give Chelsea back to the fans, despite 17 years of titles and trophies under the Russian.
Fittingly, the protest took place outside the Butcher's Hook pub (formerly 'The Rising Sun'), where Chelsea Football Club was established in 1905.
So large was the crowd that streets were blocked. Petr Cech had to plead with fans to allow the team bus through to enter the ground.
It was, of course, tough on the players. They didn't deserve any of this. They had no say in the Super League. It wasn't what Mason Mount dreamed of when he joined Chelsea's academy as an eight-year-old who spent hours trying to take free kicks like Cristiano Ronaldo.
After overcoming a tragedy-laden childhood, Hakim Ziyech joined Chelsea to win the Champions League. Antonio Rudiger rose out of the hardcourt football cages of Neukolln, a tough area of Berlin, because he was determined to test himself at the very pinnacle of the game.
Suddenly, these real-life heroes were caught up in a civil war. The Super League wasn't their idea but they were going to have to face the consequences of decisions made behind closed doors.
While they should have been preparing to face Brighton, many of the Chelsea players were wondering if they'd even be allowed by UEFA to represent their countries in this summer's European Championship.
Thankfully, Chelsea eventually saw sense after 48 hours of madness. Just as Cech was calling for calm, it emerged that the Blues were preparing the relevant paperwork to leave the Super League.
What followed was a mixture of relief and joy – and not just for the Chelsea supporters outside the stadium, who celebrated the news like a last-minute winner, but also every genuine football fan across the globe as the whole project crumbled.
Indeed, once Chelsea backed down, the dominoes began to fall, with Manchester City quickly confirming their intention to follow suit, Manchester United confirming the resignation of vice-chairman Ed Woodward and Barcelona's members trying to block their participation.
Chelsea fans would have no real goal to celebrate while watching the 90 minutes that followed their furious protest, but that hardly mattered. The game may have ended 0-0 but the fans continued to revel in their victory outside.
A backlash that had started the moment their club had confirmed their involvement in the Super League had belatedly paid off. Chelsea were no longer a member of the 'Dirty Dozen'. The Super League was dead in the water.
The match against Brighton may not have mattered, but the actions of the fans since Sunday certainly did.