While a Saloman Kalou strike broke a 460 minute Premier League scoring drought for Chelsea — 1-0 winners at Bolton earlier today — the Guardian’s David Smith remains fixated on Roman Abramovich’s visit to the Shed last Sunday, as well as the zillionaire’s much-publicized encounter with the shirtless gent above.
Craig McAllister, a 29-year-old Ulsterman, relived the moment of his overnight fame and told how, with his own promising football career cut short by injury, he has turned his near 19 stone body into a Chelsea shrine. ‘Roman has his thumbs up in the picture I took,’ said Craig from his east Belfast home. ‘I’ve now got it as my mobile phone screen saver. I look at it every hour. I can’t believe I got so close to him.’
Abramovich, usually untouchable behind his phalanx of bodyguards in a private box, triggered audible mutters of curiosity and disbelief in the crowd last weekend after the first half of Chelsea’s game against Fulham when he moved to the Shed, the stand favoured by some of Chelsea’s noisiest loyalists. He had a mixed reception, with some fans roaring approval and taking snaps on their phones, while others hurled abuse and chanted the name of the recently departed manager, Jose Mourinho.
Craig, who attends about 10 games a season, is a popular local celebrity in the Shed, instantly recognisable for his tattooed back, side and arms and stomach bearing the word ‘Chelsea’ in a crest, all on permanent display even in winter. When word reached him at half-time that Abramovich was 75 yards away, he moved in faster than any other fan.
‘Everybody was singing, then everybody was singing Roman’s name,’ he said. ‘I decided to march over and see him. I worked my way across and the fans were cheering me. In the picture, you see one of his minders grabbing my arm in case I’m going to harm him, but it was easy to speak to him. I asked if I could take a photo and he said, “No problem”. He put his thumbs up and I took it.
‘I said to him, “I hope you get the team sorted out as soon as possible and we get back to winning ways.” He just laughed. We shook hands and I turned round and showed him my back. When he saw the first tattoo he couldn’t stop laughing: it’s a big one of Mourinho. I got it as soon as we won the Premiership, which was the first time in 50 years, so I could show it to my kids and grandkids.’
He praised the Russian tycoon, one of the world’s richest men, for coming to sit among the fans. ‘It was a nice gesture from Roman – it shows he’s not stuck up. He had four security guards around him. He wanted to see how we reacted to what the players are doing on the pitch. I didn’t hear any abusive language or anyone giving him a hard time. People were surprised to see him there and a lot were taking pictures.’
The following morning, at his hotel in London, Craig discovered he was suddenly famous. ‘I was in bed and my mate woke me. He was watching the news and the guy on TV was going through the papers and showing my picture. I went out and bought the Sunday papers. Loads of people have seen it and I’ve been getting a bit of stick. It’s just one of those things. I’m just excited that I got seen with Roman.’