A 25 year photographic record of Chelsea and their fans as they regain their place at the pinnacle of English and European football.
Fan and photojournalist John Ingledew has followed every kick along the way. From just off Chelsea’s fashionable King’s Road to kings of Europe, John’s pictures tell the story.
For 25 years and beyond John Ingledew has focussed on the fans as the club’s roller coaster existence saw them plummet out of the top tier of the English game, down into mid table obscurity in the division below, then all the way back up again.
That led to the publication of his book, And Now Are You Going To Believe Us, a photographic record of the fans who witnessed the club’s transformation into champions of Europe.
Chelsea were packed with flair when John first started taking his camera to matches in the 1970s. Alan Hudson was John’s favourite, and he and his teammates had Stamford Bridge buzzing.
“I’d always been a Chelsea fan,” he says, “and living in Battersea you could hear the crowd when a goal went in.”
Everything clicked into place when his photography tutors at college encouraged him to take pictures of whatever was on his doorstep. Those Chelsea fans fitted the bill, and what’s more, John was one of them.
Stewards often quizzed him about his camera, but although once confiscating his Doc Martens boot laces, they let him go about his business. “I understood what it was like to be a fan and I was photographing as a participant rather than an outsider”.
Any good photographer is always at the ready for the unexpected and one such moment gave John a prized picture. Back in 1991 stewards would open a gate 20-30 minutes before the end to allow the first few early departures, giving chancers the opportunity of sneaking in for free for the closing stages. John intended to photograph them, but instead was transfixed by a line of fans glued to the action and framed by the tunnel and the floodlights.
No women, no kids, no replica kits, no seats. “Just men standing in the elements,” said John.
“It made for a strong, brutal composition”.
John’s photographic instinct preserved that sliver of time, when it could easily have been one of those moments missed.
“Sometimes you look at a possible photo and think I won’t bother taking that, it doesn’t seem important. That was almost one of those”.
What began as a “personal project” took on a whole new meaning once Gazza’s tears and England’s World Cup Italia 1990 exploits completely transformed the game, raising its profile from the unfashionable 70s and 80s.
Chelsea dropped down a division, then hauled themselves back.
Then in came Jose Mourinho and with the backing of Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich Chelsea had lift off, their resurgence culminating in winning the Premier League in 2005 and 2006.
John Ingledew, the football fan, relished the access his passion for photography gained him, once sitting behind Mourinho among the substitutes, alongside Didier Drogba, happily snapping away as Chelsea piled on still more points in their quest to rule England, and then Europe.
He lit up a celebratory cigar in the bar at Bolton when Chelsea clinched their first title in 50 years.
They had finally succeeded, and so has John Ingledew. His book, And Now Are You Going To Believe Us, has the pictures to prove it.
A selection of John’s photographs are available as high quality prints through Lower Block.