Most of us won’t be aware of this but Glasgow Rangers and Chelsea, the ‘Blue Brothers’, have a long and storied relationship that stretches back to the very foundation of the club. A good history lesson for those who want to learn about the club as told by a user on the Chelsea forums.
Blue Brothers: The History
As far back as I can remember I was bumping into Rangers fans who were down south supporting Chelsea, definitely in the 60s, but growing in the 70s. There were even some out in Athens in 1971 at the Cup Winners Cup Final and I met up with some of them again at the Rangers game in Barcelona the next year. Some trace the association of the 2 clubs back to the origins of the club and it first manager, who, with his Rangers background, got some old Rangers shirts as the clubs first kit. Others trace it to the same colours and similar badges. Others to some of the Chelsea players who had strong Rangers connections, examples being Charlie Cooke, who was an out and out Bear and, later, Jon Spencer who would “never eat greens on a match day”! Whilst there are some pure football reasons there is no doubt that there are other background factors.
In the sixties it became fashionable at English games to chant Rangers or Celtic during the half time interval on the terraces. Sounds crass, but true! At Chelsea this was heavily steered towards Rangers even then. I think it was to do with the disproportionate amount of serving and ex servicemen (and their patriotic leanings) who frequented Chelsea. Remembering also that the old nickname was the ‘Pensioners’ referring to the proximity of the old servicemen home near the ground. They receive a number of complimentary tickets even today and can be seen in attendance, resplendent in their red regalia.
The seventies saw a dramatic shift towards the Rangers allegiance. This was definitely due to the IRA bombing campaign in London and North Surrey, from where Chelsea drew the bulk of its support. The Guildford bombing and its fatalities in particular signaled an outcry against the IRA and anything associated with it. Many of us knew of someone injured or killed that night, myself included, with a friend whose only crime was to be in the TA and having a drink with some Army mates. Celtic fans were seen as sympathetic to the republican cause and the IRA. Overnight any Celtic chants disappeared.
There is however no doubt that the Chelsea fanbase’s ‘bias’ towards anything Loyalist come ‘Unionist’ was also to do with right wing links which grew and which became more evident and visible in the later 70’s with the growth of the NF, with Chelsea being a known recruiting ground. Nothing to be proud of, but a fact and factor nonetheless.
The late 70s and 80s were described as the dark days of Chelsea FC when the hooligan element dominated the headlines. At least 2 of the Chelsea ‘firms‘ at the time had their ‘leadership‘ drawn from ex-servicemen, who had served in Ulster. This strengthened the anti-IRA, anti-Celtic feelings even further. Many of the ex-servicemen had formed personal relationships with Ulster Loyalists and also Rangers supporters serving in various parts of the world at the time. Before it became fashionable (and when it still had dangers), there were groups of Chelsea fans who visited Belfast for the 12th July march. Chubby H also arranged a protest march to Westminster (Chelsea Fans Say NO) at the time of the Northern Ireland vote. Some 300 marched including some Rangers and Linfield fans.
Meanwhile these ‘friendships’ between Chelsea and Rangers ex-servicemen developed into them (and ever expanding groups of mates) attending Chelsea and Rangers games together, sometimes for ‘positive’ reasons (have a beer, a sing song and a laugh) and sometimes, admittedly, for ‘less positive’ reasons (i.e. ‘assists’ such as a trip to visit the Aberdeen Casuals in the late 80s). Again, nothing to be proud of there, but a fact nonetheless and a factor in the ‘bonding’ that was taking place between many Chelsea fans and their Rangers counterparts at the time.
With the ban on English clubs playing in Europe in the 80’s, many more Chelsea fans started traveling with Rangers in Europe, some admittedly for the wrong reasons but the majority for the camaraderie that was now growing between the fan groups. The fanbase at the Jolly Malster pub, just off the Fulham Road would arrange trips to Europe and sometimes to Rangers’ home games. The pub became a meeting place for Chelsea and Rangers fans, and until the recent pub upgrade it still did. There were 50 or 60 Rangers fans there when Chelsea played Celtic in a pre-season “friendly” in August 2006. (That’s another story by the way!)
A number of milestones stick out in my memory. Firstly, the 2 friendlies in the early 1980s. The first at Stamford Bridge in aid of the Bradford Disaster, when it was party time on the Fulham Road before and after and when the Shed end cheered every Rangers goal and the Rangers fans every Chelsea goal! The second at Ibrox in what I think was the following year, (and the floodlights failed for a period!) and when it was almost impossible to buy a drink in the pubs due to the generosity of the Rangers fans.
There is no doubt that the Bradford Disaster game was a major stepping stone in what became known as the Blue Brothers concept and the attendance in greater numbers at each others games. Chelsea/Rangers hats and scarves became commonplace at Stamford Bridge and the Blues Brothers fanzine was born. At this time the Linfield connection joined into the Blues Brothers fraternity as reflected in the fanzine. The Rangers & Linfield connection was already there but the Chelsea Linfield one definitely grew from the Chelsea servicemen out there and the attendance at the 12th July marches. The fanzine completed the circle.
Another set of milestones in my memory were the sheer number of Rangers supporters that attended many northern based league games in the 1980s and early 1990s, before all ticket matches and lower away fan ticket allocations made it more difficult. A game at Liverpool in particular, (1985 I think, but may be wrong) when an estimated 2000 Rangers fans traveled to Anfield for a Saturday morning kick off. After the local police worked it out, we shared the visitors terracing together for a memorable morning of singing and chanting together. Having kept us all back in the ground for an hour afterwards, the roads were cleared and some of us shared a few beers together in the pubs on the route back to the Rangers buses. Another would be at Everton when large numbers of Rangers turned up. But for many years there were hundreds of Rangers at Chelsea games when the Gers were not playing themselves that day. And still are! Sunderland, Blackburn, Everton (league cup) etc etc in the past few years.
There is still a stand outside Stamford Bridge (near the Methodist Church) that sells many joint Chelsea/Rangers and Chelsea/Rangers/Linfield merchandise and a whole range of Blues Brothers metal badges are on sale in several pubs. These were seen in abundance in Barcelona a few seasons back when loads of Chelsea and Rangers fans met up in Barcelona on the day before the respective Euro matches in Spain. The massive ‘Blues Brothers’ Chelsea, Rangers and Linfield flag was hoisted in the centre of the main road in Barcelona! A great time was had by all before heading off to our respective matches (and defeats!).
The heyday of the Blues Brothers may be over and we may never see again the attendance in such large numbers at each others games, but the memories are something for many of us to treasure. It is easy to understand why younger supporters cannot understand the relationship (and why should they?) and why some – particularly younger Rangers supporters – will hold animosity towards Chelsea given their external funding and “overpaid” players.
The times are changing at the Bridge too. The new influx of prawn sandwich supporters know nothing of our fanbase history and few of the Blue Brothers connection. They are feasting purely on match results, but are poorer for it in my opinion. For those of us who lived through those great years we are richer for it and the bond is there forever.
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