IN LAST week’s issue, the excellent David Preece penned a hard-hitting column that was ruffling a few feathers in North London when we put it online Monday afternoon.
His ire was directed specifically at Arsenal fans and their protests to get manager Arsene Wenger out of the club, but the Gunners were merely the current example to be held up for such actions. Football ‘fans’ – as Preecey referred to them as opposed to ‘supporters’ – are doing it all the time.
Happy to sail with the wind, but the moment they get into choppy waters they aren’t only jumping ship, but trying to pile into the nearest boat. There is a line I will not cross as a football supporter and turning against your own manager, during a game, is quite a few steps over it. It’s the same with players, although I have learned from my mistakes here.
Back in 2001, while honouring the duties of my season ticket at Middlesbrough, I developed an unhealthy obsession with our midfielder, Jonathan Greening. It was my belief that, because I had forked out the best part of £350 to watch my team play for the full term and also because, as a Boro exile living in the south with travelling costs that totalled more than my monthly rent, I had the right to vent my frustrations with an ongoing chorus of abuse that a dog wouldn’t put up with.
I thought it was nothing to the players; only noise in the background. But just as a song (in praise) is a badge of honour, booing or general vitriol is you more or less telling them they have no right representing your team on the pitch. And players are affected by it. You think they aren’t, but they are.
The penny really dropped when I was watching Aldershot Town on the day they bagged promotion from the Ryman League in 2003. They were playing at Sutton, and needed only a point with another three games to go; time to relax then and let the players soak up the atmosphere in the sun. Well, not for one fan sat directly behind me in the press area, who might as well have been sticking pins into a Nick Roddis Voodoo doll.
Roddis was a decent player for Aldershot who Terry Brown had brought in to add some muscle to his midfield. He started the season superbly, but by the time the Shots were fronting up at Gander Green Lane – their 45th, yes, 45th game of a league campaign which Roddis had been a regular in – he was on his last legs.
The abuse the fan (a grown man by the way) was dishing out – for a couple of misplaced passes initially – was beyond pathetic. Close enough to get his message across, I then watched Roddis go deeper into his shell with the fan sarcastically applauding every error.
About an hour later that same fan was no doubt applauding Roddis and the rest of the Aldershot team as they sprayed champagne with the point in the bag that guaranteed promotion.
From that day, I promised myself I would never be like that watching football. It’s a fine line; if a player is not putting the effort in, it’s difficult to turn a blind eye and nobody can defend that.
We’re not robots. We have emotions. But do you want to be that angry fan who believes your actions speak for those around you? Ask yourself what the point is of supporting your team. It isn’t for abusing your players, that’s for sure.