by Tony Attwood
It’s been an Arsenal thing for almost a century: pick one of your own players and get at him. Herbert Chapman railed against the “boo-boys” in the late 1920s and early 1930s, we had it again in the 1970s, it happened with players under George Graham (I remember Martin Hayes getting booed even in the season when he was our top scorer). And there was Eboue,
This week it is Elneny, recently it has been Xhaka, it has gone on against Ozil, Ramsey, Ospina, Cech, Mertesacker, Giroud, Iwobi, Alexis… We have also had it with the manager as well over a very long period of time.
And I wonder what the point is.
Does it influence the manager and make him more likely to kick out the player who is nominated as not worthy of the shirt? I suspect not, because many of those players are all still at the club although it is true some left because they couldn’t take it any more.
Does it make the player improve? Hard to imagine why it should. Most people when getting blunt and/or abusive criticism respond by denying there is a problem or by criticising the person who is offering the criticism or by moving away from it.
So if it doesn’t get the player out, and doesn’t help the player improve his performance what does it do?
Well, the only three things left are the fact that it might have no effect or it might make the player perform worse than he was before, or it is done because supporters hear commentators on the media criticise, and they want to be like them. Certainly for most players the natural instinct goes and he starts trying too hard or shying away from taking any risks for fear of more barracking.
I have seen some say that they criticised certain players and as a result these players did leave and that was good for the club. But it is a bit of a tough one to prove since in the end everyone leaves the club.
But what one can say for sure is that criticising a player of the team you support most of the time doesn’t actually help the player or the team. So again the question is, why do people who call themselves supporters do it?
It can be argued that most supporters who do this actually realise that it neither helps the player nor (most of the time) does it get the player removed. But what it does do is make the supporter feel empowered and important, often when that supporter has nothing else in his life to make him feel empowered or important.
So how come some people in the ground give abuse when it rarely has much effect, while many don’t? Here are some reasons
1: Certainly for people whose early history consisted of receiving abuse themselves and/or seeing others abused can make abuse seem to be the normal condition of life for these people. They understand the terror of being the victim and so use that power now they have it.
2: Abusive behaviour can result from mental health issues or disorders. For example, someone with anger management issues, or a drinking or drug problem may easily get out of control.
3: Others find it impossible to have empathy with those they see. Indeed given the riches footballers earn increasing numbers of people find it hard to empathise with those who earn more in three hours than they do all year.
4: Because those around them do it. The herd and tribe instinct can be strong and if the group sees abuse as a sign of manliness others will join in.
5: Some people like to be in charge. In an effort to gain or remain in control of others, they utilize inefficient means of dominance such as bullying or intimidation.
6: They believe that there are no boundaries in football, and everything is acceptable and somehow it is manly to hand out abuse.
7: Some people are afraid of their own powerlessness and their own inability to influence the world. Hence they use abuse as it is all they have left.
8: They hear the criticism on the radio, read it in the papers, see it on social media hear it on TV, so it becomes ok for them to do.
So there are many reasons, but none of them help the club or the players. Indeed there appears to be two different types of Arsenal fans now. Those who give lifelong support to the club and its players no matter what, and those who feel they have a right to support a successful team, and if the club is not successful (however they define success) they feel no obligation to support the team.
Certainly, from all the psychological studies of what happens to people who receive abuse, we can say that if there was no abuse in the ground the players would play better. Thus abusers are part of the failure of Arsenal to win more trophies. They just won’t admit it.
Thus to answer the question, “what the point of abusing a member of the team one supports…” it is to make the abuser feel better just for a moment. Trouble is, like alcohol, any boost you get quickly drains away and abusers seem to need more each time to get that same feeling of relief from their powerlessness.
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