You may have seen a banner hanging from the West Stand upper tier declaring ‘Slovenian Blues’ and wondered, ‘What’s that all about?’ No? Well, I have. So, on a recent trip to Slovenia to take in the ‘Eternal Derby’ – Olimpija Ljubljana v Maribor – I had a beer or three with the co-founder of the Slovenian Chelsea Supporters Club, Matjaž Homar – along with his fellow Blue, Gregor Horvatič, or ‘Boy’ as he is more affectionately known, and my fellow Chelsea mate Neal – to find out all about the Slovenian Blues, and to watch Sunderland-Chelsea.
Because it`s not a mainstream football club. It’s a special club, with a wonderful tradition and a wealth of history [hear that Scousers?]. When I was growing up everyone supported the usual suspects – Man United, Liverpool, even Arsenal – but I wanted something different, a team that wasn’t the norm. I chose Chelsea. I started supporting them in the ’90s before the good times we have been experiencing over the last decade or so. So, no one can accuse me of being a glory hunter. Plus, it doesn`t get any better than supporting a club with a woman`s name – I’m a pure romantic!
How did the supporters club come about?
We had an Internet forum at first, back in 2006. Then, after a few years, we came up with the idea to set up the first Chelsea Supporters Club in this part of Europe. We held a few meetings, which were a great success, and took the step of becoming an official supporters club in 2010.
How many members do you have?
We have about 100 members. We are one of the biggest supporter clubs of any overseas team in Slovenia. Almost all of our members are Slovenian, but we have some from other countries as well, including the UK. Chelsea are also well supported by our famous musicians, actors, TV presenters, journalists and film directors but none of them is an official member yet (I am working on this), but they certainly know about us. [Indeed, a Chelsea-supporting TV presenter, who Matjaž knows, interviewed Neal and I before the Olimpija-Maribor game. I’m sure the sight of two slightly inebriated Chelsea fans went down well on Slovenian telly.]
Your members come from all over Slovenia. How and where do you meet up?
Yes, our members are spread all over the country. We usually meet at our bar, which is dedicated to Chelsea.
[I can certainly testify to that. Flags and posters adorn the walls of the Finale Bar. And, at this moment, despite the fact there is a, albeit fifth tier, league match taking place on the pitch outside the pub, we are inside watching Chelsea on the big screen.] The bar is just outside of the capital Ljubljana in a place called Vir, my hometown, but sometimes we have meetings in the centre of Ljubljana, especially for the big games, because it is easier for everyone to get to. Otherwise, thanks to Facebook, Twitter and other social media networks, we continually keep in touch and discuss all things Chelsea, putting aside our local rivalries – well, not always!
Do you have any amusing stories from your time supporting Chelsea?
There are plenty. I should write a book one day. The best times are when one of our members comes to London for the first time. A big city, the language barrier and a new culture – some of the stories are not to be told.
Oh, go on…
OK, there is one I can tell. Several years ago a load of us were in London for a game. We are known for being very vocal and we were singing as we walked along the Fulham Road, heading to a pub. But we were so loud that the landlord wouldn’t let us in. At the stadium, we were naturally also singing very loudly, and the Chelsea TV crew came and recorded us. Other fans around us begun to sing as well. Suddenly about 100 people were singing and chanting with us. I remember some of the others started singing: “Get those Slovenian, Get those Slovenian, Get those Slovenian boys here every week! Get those Slovenian boys here every week!”
Tell us about when Chelsea played Olimpija, your local team, in a pre-season friendly in 2014. Who did you support?
This was one of the biggest games in Slovenia at that point. The stadium, which holds just under 16,000 people, was sold out for the first time ever. It’s still the record attendance for an Olimpija home game. I met up with a load of my UK mates the day before the game. We had a couple of pints, as you do. At the game I supported both teams. I couldn’t lose. But, I guess, the one-all draw was a perfect result for me. Olimpija are my youth and my beloved local club, but Chelsea are my love and my passion.
How many times do you get to see Chelsea in a season?
I usually go to two games per season. This number will increase in a few years’ time, when my two daughters have grown up. My plan is to go to as many away games as possible. Away days are something special. My last away game was at West Ham last season. The best match I have been to, though, was three years ago when we played Manchester City at the Bridge – when Torres scored that late winner. I was standing in the Shed Lower and saw his goal from just a couple of feet away. Mental support – there were limbs everywhere!
What’s the next Chelsea game you plan to go to?
I don`t know yet. But I would love to go to Stoke or Everton away.
What are you hopes for this season and what do you think of the appointment of Antonio Conte?
I think Conte has a massive task on his hands. I trust him and I think he is a proper manager. He likes order, discipline and hard work. Chelsea need this at the moment. I think we can do well under him. I just hope that the Board will support him all the way and that we`ll not be looking for a new manager this time next year. The primary goal is to secure a Champions League spot, then we`ll see. I hope for the title, of course. Some say I`m too optimistic, but nobody saw Leicester on the throne one year ago did they?
How does supporting football in Slovenia differ to England?
I like it when fans in the UK get together long before kick-off, chatting about football in pubs, bantering and discussing all kinds of things about your beloved club. We don`t have this culture in Slovenia (yet) – one-and-a-half hours before kick-off and you hardly see any fans in nearby bars. I miss that. [Yes, but you do like a party outside the ground before and after a game. Before the Olimpija-Maribor game it was crazy, believe me.] But, in general, we are all the same. Supporting your team and passion for football is a worldwide language for fans.
Anything else you would like to add?
Since I started supporting the Blues I have met a lot of Chelsea fans, and we are still in touch after all these years. We get together every time I`m in London, and some even come to Slovenia. We have really become close friends. Even though I live abroad and Chelsea are not my local club, they take me as one of their own. I have become a part of the Blue family and that is one the best things that has happened in my life. I`m also grateful that I can go to see Chelsea almost anytime I like – many overseas fans don`t have this opportunity. It`s not just supporting – it`s a lifestyle!
Written for CFCUK, the Chelsea fanzine