Graham Potter isn’t actually so different to many of the other managers. Not really. Softer around the edges, perhaps. A little slower to the triggers of rage, maybe. That isn’t to say he is a better man for it, just as it isn’t necessarily to the detriment of Chelsea, if we are to swerve the more peculiar stands of recent debates. But he is a guy with the sort of humility that is more common in those who took harder paths to their destination.
I remember asking him about that strange road a few years back during an interview in Swansea. ‘I was totally average,’ he said when going over his abilities as a player. ‘OK at a few things, but not great at anything, really, if I’m honest.’ He sat there gently mocking himself for a short while and then checked if I wanted another cup of tea, before shifting to his surreal journey through management.
Those are stories that are well known by now, but even in these dire days for Potter, his remains a charming tale. It also remains the only time I’ve had cause to learn that footballs freeze at 18 degrees below zero and at Ostersunds it would get to minus 20.
‘Like heading a cannon ball,’ he said, and from there the anecdotes of coaching hungover students in Leeds, of Swan Lake in Sweden, of taking a tiny arctic community on a joyride through divisions, were unlike any other from a man who has since found himself straddling a giant.
It was truly a remarkable adventure that brought Potter to the Premier League. And it is truly a symptom of the intensifying sicknesses around football and society that such success has eventually led him to the emails he detailed this week. Emails that wished him dead. Emails that wished his children dead, too. So that’s where we’re at, is it? Football in 2023, congratulations all.
Graham Potter has revealed he and his family received death threats from Chelsea ‘supporters’
Potter has the humility of a manager that has taken a similarly difficult path through management
Without being facetious, it makes you wonder about the thresholds within such warped minds, how-ever few were involved: miss out on Europe and we want you out; lose to Southampton and we’ll bring your family into this. Good grief. That those who know him well speak almost unanimously of Potter as a thoroughly decent man makes it all the more depressing.
This time at Chelsea has hurt him, of course. Already had, prior to any inbox intrusions. He spoke about the mental health side openly this week, about how this unending slide of results has stabbed at him in private moments, and it is getting to Rachel and their three boys, too. ‘It hasn’t been pleasant at all’ for any of them in that house, and it is largely a first for him.
Even for the unique challenges of his rise in management, they just about always occurred on an upward curve. That goes for Swansea, where anything not nailed down was sold from under him. That goes for Brighton, where they booed one day in 2021 after a draw with Leeds.
At Chelsea he is dropping like a stone and being punched on his way down, by email, by media and from the stands. Strangely, the emails might be the easiest to withstand.
You suspect if the wishes of death were considered a serious threat they wouldn’t be publicly discussed, and Potter was evidently in a mood for gallows humour on the subject, saying on Friday: ‘You know there’s a problem when the email that has been sent is from Potterbfirstname.lastname@example.org.’
That’s pretty funny for a toxic situation. And it’s about in keeping with his taste for self-deprecation — by the sounds of it, he walked into that press gathering by announcing he had been attending ‘crisis meetings’, a little nod to the parlance we use around managers when they are knee deep in brown stuff. But the ever-louder anxieties of fans at Stamford Bridge will be harder to brush off.
They groan because the football stinks and the results are worse. Potter knows it, so the truth tends to hurt more than the emails of a crank. By extension, today’s game with Tottenham feels awfully big. The Champions League second leg with Dortmund on Tuesday week feels bigger. Possibly even decisive.
Living on a volcano, Michael Calvin called it in his book on managers. Sadly, Potter’s hill has long had a feeling of Pompeii, circa 79AD.
Potter is under increasing pressure following another damaging result last weekend
Potter has spoken of the difficulty of the past week amid growing pressure and speculation surrounding his job
Potter, more than most, is the sort of manager where you would advocate for time. A man of complex systems and a proven record for delivering them; Chelsea are a club of constant flux so juggling in that kind of tempest cannot be easy. It might be that Chelsea were indeed too big and too complicated for him at this moment, as Manchester United were for David Moyes. I tend to hope not.
In any case, it was interesting to hear Potter and Moyes have been speaking lately. It was Moyes who made me think with a few comments he made after the game between West Ham and Everton that had been labelled ‘El Sackico’.
Moyes’s side won and Frank Lampard was soon gone, like it said on the tin. It would be disingenuous to say now that it didn’t feel like a semi-amusing tag, but it shrank when Moyes explained what should have been obvious, which is that at some stage along the way we stopped seeing managers as human beings.
He was nudging at how we, as media, fans, and indeed the wider circus, occasionally respond in those end-days scenarios. How we lose sight of the people in the dramas we are exploring. People like Potter, who manages a big club but is also a father, a husband and a son who lost both parents in the space of six months a couple of years ago.
it was interesting to hear Potter and West Ham boss David Moyes have been speaking lately
I can understand Moyes’s sentiment without fully agreeing with it — media and fans are part of the weather in the managerial ecosystem, but it is the clubs and owners who control that aspect of the climate. And yet there is a valid question of empathy, and perhaps one reason why Moyes’s words struck a chord is because they came a week after something quite uncommon.
It was the sharing of a video clip on social media by Mark Hudson’s wife, whereby one half showed him hugging his young son after getting the job at Cardiff City, and took in his kid’s giddy reaction. In the second clip, filmed four months later, Hudson was cuddling the same lad after being sacked. ‘We’ll all go out for dinner and then we’ll all pack up tomorrow,’ Hudson told him.
Brilliant game, football, but brutal too. And occasionally, when Potterb**tard logs in, it is just outright filthy.
An email dropped from UK Anti-Doping on Thursday afternoon. Coming a day after the World Boxing Council, Conor Benn and a resourceful lawyer opened our eyes to what might be possible if you eat a lot of eggs, the announcement wasn’t what a few of us may have expected.
It was about a rugby player, Junior Laloifi. He plays for Zebre Parma at the bottom of the United Rugby Championship, and they found cocaine in a sample he gave after a game in Swansea in March 2022. He got three months and the world kept turning.
Conor Benn and a resourceful lawyer opened our eyes to what might be possible if you eat a lot of eggs
A few days earlier there had been a similar email. Callum Marriott, rugby league player. He was with Rochdale Hornets in the second tier when he was popped for a couple of banned substances a year ago. It made 15 paragraphs for Rochdale Online.
There are patterns here and you’ll see them more clearly if you go to the UKAD website and check their sanctioning list — 38 athletes are currently serving one of their bans and you won’t find a particularly recognisable name anywhere.
There has long been a question of whether our national anti-doping agency is fit for purpose. It probes at whether they have the power, resources or appetite to go after the bigger fish. In the saga of Conor Benn and his eggs, there is more than just one reputation on the line.
Newcastle will play the Carabao Cup final on Sunday in their traditional kit rather than their Saudi imitation. Thank heavens for small mercies.