By Tony Attwood
One of the great problems with football is the complete and absolute disconnect between the people running the game and the people who actually pay for the game: the latter being of course the fans who buy tickets and merchandise and through their attendance make sponsors feel that their investment is worthwhile.
The worry for clubs and sponsors however is that no one can really control the fans, and if fans turn on sponsors and/or owners then the whole model collapses. So far that has not happened, but there is a feeling in some quarters that day by day we are creeping toward that moment.
What we do often hear is managers and others in senior positions complaining that they don’t understand fans – which is a pretty abysmal state of affairs considering that the top people in football organisations are surrounded by advisers, each of whom is surrounded by other advisers and researchers, each of whom is paid vast amounts of money to hand out… well, advice. And the result of their research.
Gareth Southgate for example said exactly this about the booing of Jordan Henderson in the match between Australia and England. “I don’t understand it,” he said. “How is that going to help him or the team?”
And yet he and his predecessors and advisers have had decades to try and understand this situation. Ashley Cole was booed by England fans. So elsewhere were John Terry and Frank Lampard. Rooney, also, as I recall. Crouch too. The media writers get edgy about it, sometimes ignoring the activity, sometimes decrying it, never properly seeking to explain it, never managing to understand it.
We’ve had it at Arsenal as well, most recently with Havertz, but with other players too. Ask anyone who does it and he (it is mostly he) will talk about the player being useless, although of course that will be a matter for debate.
So what causes people who are supporters of a team, and who pay to watch the team, then boo one of the players in the team?
While that question seems completely to bemuse managers, especially England managers, it is actually very easy to understand when looked at from the position of empowerment.
Football supporters give their total emotional support to a club. In return we get, well, most of the time, nothing, because only a handful of clubs win things each year or make a major improvement in their positions in one season (which is especially welcome when the all-knowing yet totally ignorant media say it wouldn’t happen (see Arsenal 2022/23 as a prime example).
So the supporters have an emotional deficit: we give our emotional support to a club, it doesn’t win things, and we feel let down, so we express our annoyance. (I say “we” although I don’t think I have booed an Arsenal player since I was about 14, and I only did it then to be part of the gang. I’m not sure I had any idea why we were doing it – but it was several centuries ago.)
But whether I booed or not, now in my post-adult years it doesn’t take me more than a few seconds to understand the concept: the fans feel powerless and undervalued. Thus we feel that Arsenal is “our club” and yet those in control aren’t giving us what we want (victories by at least five goals in every match we attend). So some express this annoyance by picking on a player and booing.
It is really a very simple issue, and the fact that the media and people like Southgate with one of the very top positions in English football do not understand this is probably the most worrying part of the issue. (I can understand journalists not understanding because they don’t think, but we really ought to have senior people in the game who can think).
It is as if they are so divorced from the reality of those they serve (the fans) that they have lost all touch with the world that we inhabit. And I guess that is so. They don’t have to queue for fifth-rate food that is at best lukewarm when it is supposed to be hot, and which costs twice the amount that it should, while breaking the licensing laws by refusing to make tap water available free of charge. (The Licensing Act 2003).
The media sit in their little enclave, are supplied free food and drink, have no need to queue, have a perfect view, and then have the absolute audacity to print gibberish spouted by out-of-touch club employees about supporters’ behaviour.
No wonder we treat them with less and less respect.
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