Chelsea fans arriving for the League Cup final at Wembley on Sunday said they were conflicted about owner Roman Abramovich’s success in turning the club into a European soccer power and the invasion of Ukraine by his native Russia.
Abramovich, one of the most successful businessmen from Russia, bought Chelsea in 2003 and the hundreds of millions of pounds he has invested since then have helped the Blues to win the Premier League title on five occasions and the European Champions League twice
They have amassed more trophies than any other English club during that time.
But the metals magnate effectively turned his back on life in London after the British government delayed renewing his visa in 2018 following the attempted assassination of a former Russian double-agent in England, which it blamed on Moscow.
Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine last week has shone an even harsher light on the highest-profile Russian businessman in Britain where there have been calls for the club to be taken away from him by the government.
On Saturday, Abramovich stepped back from running Chelsea by saying he had given stewardship of the club to the trustees of its foundation. But the statement did not mention the invasion of Ukraine, drawing widespread criticism.
“Unfortunately he didn’t distance himself from Putin,” Mike Emberley, a Chelsea supporter since the 1960s, said as he walked up Wembley Way before the Londoners’ match against Liverpool.
“He’s been marvellous for our club. I just wish he had condemned it… He’s not taken money out of the club. He’s had the club’s best interests at heart. It’s just that what’s happening in Ukraine is disgusting.”
Chelsea issued another statement on Sunday which said “the situation in Ukraine is horrific and devastating,” drawing further criticism from some fans for not explicitly referring to Russia’s invasion.
The Chelsea Supporters’ Trust, a fans’ group which works with the club on issues affecting fans, said late on Saturday that it stood with the people of Ukraine and that it was seeking “urgent clarification” over Abramovich’s role at Chelsea in future.
Fans arriving for Sunday’s match said they too did not know what was really going on with the owner and the club.
“I’m unclear about what it all means,” said Dave Phair, a 61-year-old Chelsea supporter who has followed the club since he was a boy.
But he said he remained comfortable with Abramovich’s ownership after the Russian rescued the club from deep financial problems nearly 20 years ago and he pointed to other English clubs with controversial owners.
“It’s not just Chelsea. Look at Man City and Newcastle,” he said.
Rival Premier League sides Manchester City and Newcastle are owned respectively by state investors from the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, both countries which have been criticised by human rights activists.
Chelsea and Liverpool fans took part in a minute’s applause before Sunday’s game to express support for the people of Ukraine and Liverpool fans sang their most famous song, “You’ll Never Walk Alone.”