CHELSEA fan groups warned yesterday of a "toxic" atmosphere at Stamford Bridge following Wednesday's 2-0 League Cup semi-final first leg defeat to Swansea, during which there were recriminations between supporters over the booing of Fernando Torres.
In one of the most extraordinary scenes of hostility from a home crowd towards their club and manager, the evening started with boos for chairman Bruce Buck when he was introduced to make a pre-match presentation to injured goalkeeper Petr Cech.
Following that, there was the usual hostility directed at Rafa Benitez which reached a new intensity towards the end of the game.
But there was also the first sign of mass discontentment towards £50million striker Torres, which was given voice when he was substituted in the 81st minute for Demba Ba, whose introduction to the game the home support had chanted for during much of the second half.
Also contributing to the fraught atmosphere was the discontent over the club's refusal to offer Frank Lampard a new contract when his current deal expires at the end of the season. His impending departure, as well as that of Ashley Cole, has become another issue around which disaffected sectors of the support have rallied.
Trizia Fiorellino, chairman of the Chelsea supporters group, said that there was a "toxic" atmosphere in the stands and "scuffles" between fans who disagreed with Torres' treatment from those who booed him.
"What split the fans was Torres, and the moment when he came off," Fiorellino said. "I'm torn, I could never boo a player in a blue shirt but we have backed him unequivocally for two years and made every excuse under the sun for him, perhaps he was not match fit.
"A lot of fans think Benitez's appointment was to get the best out of him and if anything he's become more immobile. Half the ground was booing. It did cause arguments and scuffles.
"There was a bit of pushing and some people moved to avoid scuffles. It was a sad state of affairs."