Exclusive: Joey Jones discusses his Chelsea past and why the fans deserve respect

The intense rivalry in the Premier League extends beyond postcode nowadays, with fans of the North-West elite holding just as much distaste for the heavyweights in London.

Over the years, the competitiveness between Liverpool and Chelsea has deepened, while Manchester United and Arsenal have experienced many a fierce duel.

It is not unusual for footballers to move from one rival to another, but what is rare is for both sets of fans to adore them in the same vein.

Joey Jones was lucky enough to have a special relationship with the Liverpool following and Chelsea supporters during his spells at the clubs, both of which lasted three years.

The hard-tackling full-back grew up supporting the red half of Merseyside and his dream came true when he signed for the club in 1975.

After winning five trophies, including two European Cups, Jones returned to Wrexham – a club that holds a special place in his heart – before making the move to Chelsea in 1982, and in an exclusive interview with FootballFanCast.com, the 63-year-old revealed that the transfer was not smooth sailing.

“I signed for them because Wrexham needed the money – it was only about £35,000,” said Jones. “The manager was John Neal, who I signed for at Wrexham when I was a youngster at 16 years of age. I turned them down the first time. I went to see them and they were going to pay £75,000 but I said, ‘Oh, I’m not coming down here!’ because it was London and I would have had the hassle of trying to sell my house. 

“About a month later, Wrexham got into financial difficulties and three of us had to go; it was myself, Dixie McNeil and Steve Fox. Chelsea came back in and they came in at a reduced price. Wrexham needed the money, so I went.”

Chelsea fans celebrate against Southampton

While speaking to the former footballer, the stark contrast between the modern age of Premier League football and Jones’s era of the 1970s and 1980s became evident.

Nowadays, when a player signs for a top-flight outfit, the red carpet is rolled out, and more often than not, they provide helping hands to find a home for their new signing.

When Jones signed on the dotted line at Chelsea, he had the dilemma that all of us ‘normal’ folk have to deal with when it comes to relocation. However, in the former left-back’s case, he decided not to move at all.

“When I signed I realised, ‘I’m not going to be able to move down here’ so I just travelled. I used to travel every day from here, I never moved to London. I used to leave at 5am every morning every day. I had no choice, I couldn’t sell my house. 

“For 18 months I did it on my own and then when my best mate Micky Thomas signed, we shared the driving. He used to leave at 4am to get to my house at 5am. The only night we stayed over was a Friday night for a home game on Saturday. I couldn’t see many Premier League players doing that now!”

Chelsea have transformed themselves into regular title challengers and trophy winners, but it was a completely different story when Jones arrived at the West London outfit in 1982 as they were battling to avoid relegation to the then-Third Division.

Jones had possibly the worst individual debut as he was hit with a red card during a game against Carlisle United, but it did not take long for the passionate player to get the supporters onside, and he even scooped Player of the Year in his first season with the Blues.

“On my debut for Chelsea I got sent off,” recalled Jones. “They were going through a difficult period and at the time [the fans] didn’t want me there, but I won them over in the end and I ended up Player of the Year the first season I was there. From then on they were great, they used to chant my name.

“The fans could see we were there to be a success for that club. We used to be enthusiastic. I got a lot of friends from down there that I still speak to and a lot of them ask ‘Why don’t you come down?’ but I’ve never been back since.”

Unlike many retired footballers, the Bangor-born sportsman keeps himself away from the limelight – he does not partake in TV punditry nor does he join the conversation on Twitter.

Despite his somewhat reclusiveness to the media side of the sport, what is clear while speaking to him is that he understands football fans because he regards himself as one of them who was just “lucky” enough to play the game.

Modern Chelsea supporters, in particular, have garnered a reputation for being ‘plastic’; they are the fans deemed to have gone along for the big-money ride following Roman Abramovich’s takeover in 2003, and it is fair to say that Manchester City supporters are beginning to be regarded in the same light due to billionaire Sheikh Mansour’s vast investment.

Chelsea players celebrate winning the Premier League title

To generalise a fanbase is wrong, and from Jones’s point of view, all he has is respect for the Chelsea following, particularly the ones who stuck by the club through a difficult period in their history.

“I’ve got a lot of respect for Chelsea and the fans, especially those from that area,” said the retired left-back. “I think they could see that I was more of a fan that was lucky to be on the pitch playing. I respected all those Chelsea fans.

“At the time we weren’t very good. We had to win the last game against Bolton Wanderers to stay up otherwise we would have been relegated to the Third Division. There were thousands of Chelsea fans there. 

“We won the game and the following season we went up as champions. I’ve got a lot of respect for the fans because they stayed with the club when they could have easily left [during the hard times].

“It’s difficult [to comment on modern supporters] because I can only speak for the time I was there. A lot of the Chelsea fans that I speak to now – I know this sounds a bit stupid – but a lot of them preferred it back in the 80s than they do now. The fans that followed us in that era enjoyed it more than they they do now because they were closer to the players.”

The Blues have certainly risen through the ranks since Jones’s day, but there have been plenty of obstacles along the way; not to mention issues with managers.

During Jose Mourinho’s ill-fated final campaign in 2015, there were rumours that Chelsea’s star players had given up on the Portuguese coach, and that was reflected in their efforts on the pitch.

Murmurs emerged of similar behaviour earlier in the season under current boss Antonio Conte, but the team have had an upturn in form having won their last four games in all competitions.

Antonio Conte on the touchline against Southampton

Jones’s position is clear; much like his no-nonsense approach on the pitch, the ex-Chelsea man has no time for slackers.

“It’s hard to say from the outside, but if that was the case I think it’s an absolute disgrace,” said Jones. “Professional means that any game – good, bad or indifferent – you give your lot. Those fans have paid to go and watch you. They’ve been working hard all week, so the players can’t go out and give a half-hearted performance.

“Everybody will accept that players cannot perform to their highest standard every week because of perhaps something that’s happened in their lives, or if they’re injured. If I was playing and somebody accused me of that… Well, it’s the worst thing you can label somebody.”