Have Football’s Boo Boys Gone Too Far?

Posted by on Aug 19, 2013 in Uncategorized | 10 Comments
Have Football’s Boo Boys Gone Too Far?

It may have taken half an hour of the hors d’oeuvre clash between Porto and Napoli, but the largely partisan home crowd at Arsenal’s showpiece season opening ‘Emirates Cup’ have finally found a reason to become animated. Often noted for their quiet approach to both triumph and despair, the patrons of Ashburton Grove have laid to one side their sang froid and sputtered into a chorus of boos.

The object of their derision, as is often the case, was so recently the object of their affection – Gonzalo Higuain, the striker spirited from Madrid to Southern Italy from under the noses of the London side’s over-anxious negotiating team. For his part, Higuain takes the abuse with good grace, stopping to smile and offer a thumbs up to the Clock End. It seems that only the interlopers amongst us realise the almost jaw-dropping irony of the act – the Arsenal faithful aren’t booing Higuain himself, but the fact that he plays for a club other than their own; an outcome entirely within the gift of club executives who chose instead to pursue actual villain Luis Suárez.

It’s widely held that the fan paying through the turnstiles is well within their right to praise, abuse or exhort whoever he or she wishes, and in the case of Arsenal and Higuain, I’m glad that they did. But booing as a culture seems to have become rife in the modern game and one begins to wonder where it might stop, and how healthy it actually is for those subjected to it.

Who can fail to recall, for instance, the retina shredding images of the Geordie faithful airing their discontent toward manager Sam Allardyce a mere handful of games into his tenure? That act led to his swift dismissal and the eventual flat spin of Newcastle United in an era broaching the return of not one, but two, messiahs and a brief interlude of mid 70s tragi-comic light entertainment in the press room. The Tyneside spiral prompted by that malodorous chorus was only halted by the steadying hands of Chris Hughton and Kevin Nolan, by which point Newcastle were in the Championship.

Recent seasons have seen a couple of worrying trends in the booing field. Before we draw up to last year’s nadir it seems apt to touch on the pattern for booing the inflictors of injury. This has been happening prevalently for a number of seasons now, but seemed to reach a watershed moment through the proximity of the dual injuries to Arsenal’s Eduardo da Silva and Aaron Ramsey at the hands of Birmingham’s Martin Taylor and Stoke’s Ryan Shawcross respectively.

The injury to Eduardo famously derailed Arsenal’s season and, it could be argued, flicked the switch of intolerance in the North London faithful. It may be the tenderness of those wounds that leads them to hound Shawcross so vociferously – for what was he doing when tackling Ramsay but playing football? Admittedly, he was playing it poorly, and questionably outside the spirit of the game, but he was punished and contrite. That he is still booed at the Emirates pushes the bounds of common sense at the very least; there is no question that he set out to deliberately injure the Arsenal player, so why treat him as pariah all these seasons later?

Of course, this seems small beer in comparison to Chelsea fans’ treatment of both Anton and Rio Ferdinand last season. For those of you who spent it in a hermitage, a brief summary of the scenario – QPR defender Anton was the subject of alleged racist abuse from Chelsea captain John Terry; allegations seemingly supported (at least in part) by video evidence. Both he and his high profile brother were publicly outspoken about the incident; attempting to use it as a means to advance the question of racism in football.

For their trouble they were greeted with derision at the hands of the Terry worshipping Chelsea faithful. There isn’t a single point in this sorry farrago where any actor behaves with panache but the partisan, depth plumbing antics of the sheep-like West London fans towards not only the victim of racist abuse, but also to his brother, marked a stark departure from the quasi-pantomime act of jeering an opposition superstar or mocking one of the game’s self-styled supervillains.

Which prompts the question, when is it okay to boo? The answer to that is subjective, of course. Even the embattled Chelsea fans may have been able to justify their actions towards Ferdinand in some roundabout fashion. But looking at it objectively, perhaps most fans would agree that it might just be ‘okay’ to boo a returning player who has agitated away from the club, especially where, as in the example of TTU favourite Paul Ince, they deliberately enflamed the conflict – in Ince’s instance by wearing a Man United shirt ahead of his transfer from West Ham.

Even here the point is debatable – Ince still suffers indignation through every visit to the Boleyn Ground, and there’s a worrying trend to booing any and every returning player, regardless of circumstance. You were released to cut wages? Booooooo! You left several years ago for a large fee, your career’s stagnated and you’ve fallen down the leagues? Boooooooooooo!

One wishes that fans would occasionally apply a self-filter before entering into this chorus of dismay.

Similarly, it’s beginning to seem churlish for fans to boo opponents’ on-field antics. It’d be all very well were they taking issue with the outright villainy of, say, a Ron Harris or Norman Hunter or even the showpiece camp of a Vinnie Jones or Marco Materazzi. Instead, every enthusiastic fall or claimed throw-in is met with that same refrain. In a way it almost devalues proper reactions to actual cheating.

At Carlisle, for instance, Millwall’s Nicky Bailey will be forever held in contempt for actions whilst playing at Southend in 2007-8. Facing up to promotion to the Championship the Cumbrians had begun to falter. However, a home victory against the Shrimpers would likely have seen them home. Enter Bailey and a dramatic performance to make Olivier blush – in full view of the home Paddock he fell to ground under pressure from David Raven, clutched his face and gestured with an elbow. The totally innocent Raven departed, Bailey was resurrected, aimed a chuckle to the home fans and the Cumbrians duly folded. Play-off defeat to Leeds was the kicker to the story; and Bailey is still blamed in some parts as the root cause of the collapse.

His continued cat calling, through subsequent spells at Charlton and Middlesbrough, highlights a deepness of wound that potentially warrants censure. But even then, such a legitimate gripe seems cheapened by its fastening to the same clarion call as that meted out for accidental hand ball, over-earnest challenges and slicing the ball out for a throw.

Which point brings us neatly to the most common cause for terrace disdain – purely and simply being dreadful. It’s in this area that the capitalist rhetoric of ‘paying to boo’ most comes into its own, as the terrace boor justifies their right to admonish all and sundry as a paying customer, without sparing a thought for the impact on his neighbours, or even the players subject to his volley of invective.

Beyond the previously mentioned example of Sam Allardyce, can anyone really point to significant example of fan behaviour having a significant direct, and positive, impact on either managerial positions or onfield? True, many fans will kid themselves that a toppling manager keeled under pressure of their collective wit, but this is usually a mere environmental factor amongst a spiral of poor form and failing ideas – booing as by product, not as trigger point.

In many cases it’s arguable that booing, however well minded the intentions, will only serve to worsen performance. In an interview I conducted with the former Stoke City and Portsmouth striker Vincent Péricard a little over a year ago he spoke of his treatment at the hands of Swindon Town fans leading to sleepless nights, depressive episodes and, ultimately, his decision to begin work in the field of player welfare.

Whilst his is an isolated example, and his own personality seemingly conducive to criticism, it surely indicates an endemic issue. Footballers are a thin-skinned species – one full back of great renown, a man with almost 100 international caps to his name, refused to speak to a friend of mine for over a year after being awarded a paltry 5/10 (average, remember) in a local paper after a tawdry display – and we may do well to remember that next time we reach for our inner vuvuzela.

So, when is it okay to boo? Surely not because of your club’s own fumblings, not for accidents of circumstance, for personal choices, not because ‘it’s him’, nor in the interests of one’s own club.

Whilst the mock outraged spew and haw about rebranding, prices and treatment, all the while hypocritically standing in line to file in for more punishment, perhaps they should turn and look at themselves. Football’s a game. For entertainment not enmity, for obsession not opprobrium. It seems such a shame we’ve forgotten that amidst our bitter dash to the bottom.

John McGee
thinks about Carlisle United all the time. His stock in trade is viewing the world of football in embittered fashion with a Cumbrian bias. Seldom does he fail to invalidate an opinion by slipping into lamp-jawed gobshitery. Like any sane man, he prefers his defensive midfielders to read the play and only ever pass sideways.

10 Comments

  1. Rockyrocastle
    August 19, 2013

    How about the Stoke fans that outrageously boo Ramsey? Is it because he had the audacity to get his leg smashed by a sub-standard centre back?

    Reply
  2. Brendan
    August 19, 2013

    Great article. Booing is clearly affecting the way the Gunners are playing at the moment, the board won’t change their minds in regards to Wenger because of it. Support the players and things may improve.

    I would also like to say I don’t agree with what we have this summer but I still only cheer and I will never jeer, even if we drop down to the lowest levels of league football.

    Reply
  3. MikeSA
    August 19, 2013

    You lost me when you tried to excuse shawcross, a player who is exceptionally lucky that the only thing Arsenal fans do to him is boo.
    He is EXACTLY that kind of player – Jeffers, Adebeyor, while on loan in France, and of course, Ramsey. Plenty of previous. Contrite? My @&$3!

    Reply
    • John Mc
      August 19, 2013

      MikeSA – congratulations for being the first to give the reaction I fully expected. How trite of you to give such a typically one-eyed and partisan point of view. What part of playing football with the bravado and effort one expects from your own makes anyone ‘THAT’ sort of player (a phrase you’ll note I avoided as it’s cliched and toted by the lazy)? He has made a number of very poor challenges. So did Paul Scholes, Roy Keane, Patrick Vieira, but no crowd booed them with the pathetic veracity which Arsenal share for Shawcross – that is my point, not ‘you shouldn’t boo in any circumstance’ but ‘yeah, this is now beyond the pale, maybe now you should stop’.

      RockyRocastle – that I didn’t know. Unquestionably more pathetic than your own booing Shawcross.

      Reply
      • MikeSA
        August 19, 2013

        Gee John Mc, you fully expected that reaction because GUESS what genius, it’s justified. Even though I actually don’t boo people personally, I fully understand why Arsenal fans give him stick, it’s to remind him to keep his hacking under control to avoid another effort from him (unless you missed it, that’s 3 Arsenal (or former) players he’s maliciously hacked and seriously injured), so why wouldn’t the fans remind him to mind his p’s and q’s?

        Don’t try and dribble out this pathetic sniveling gumph, the guy was way over the top, and the consequences for him have been so feeble it beggars belief.

        Keane did not play for a club I support, nor did he pull a particularly bad hatchet job on any of our players, so why do you expect me to ,comment on it? Neither did Scholes, and I certainly don’t recall Vieira breaking two legs and putting two other players out of action for several months with Achilles injuries.

        I’m not a fan of booing, but I think your article is poor and misplaced.

        Reply
        • John Mc
          August 19, 2013

          Ah – so therein lies the point. You can justify your booing because it happened to your players. It’s okay for Keane to end Alfie Haaland’s career because he didn’t play for Arsenal. It’s okay for Vieira to go round hacking because he (fortunately) didn’t break anyone’s leg. Yet Shawcross has injured people so he ‘malicious’ (an abverb which implies intent I’m merely suggesting was absent. Do you not see the unsubtle irony in that?

          Seriously, I have no truck with Arsenal, I live less than a mile from Ashburton Grove and I actually like the club and a lot of their fans. Sadly a minority – at matches and on the internet – seem to be the most one-eyed bunch there is going. My article is dismissed as out of hand ‘poor’ because I suggested Ryan Shawcross isn’t a cheat? Seriously, have a fucking word with yourself.

          Reply
          • MikeSA
            August 19, 2013

            Have a word with myself? why?
            At what stage did you fondly imagine I should have something to say about Keane and Haageland? Are you on dope?
            And yes, shawcross has history, so either he doesn’t learn from his mistakes, or he thinks it’s a great idea to go in like a bulldozer.
            Vieira might have been a hard bastard, but he never came close to breaking any legs in that manner, while shawcross did 2 breaks and 2 archilles that I’m aware of. On what planet are you? Fucking bizarre!

            Reply
  4. Ed
    August 22, 2013

    Good article, thought provoking.

    This may not be a very substantial comment, but given the wrath above it should be noted other people liked the piece.

    Reply
  5. Yossarian Lives (Scunny fan)
    August 24, 2013

    When a former player is booed I often feel like abuse has the opposite effect on the player now with another team. When Paul Hayes left Scunthorpe to sign for Barnsley in 2005 he was met with a torrent of abuse at the Barnsley-Scunny game in November ’05, including boos and several chants insinuating that he’s lazy; what followed was a sublime performance from Hayes, one of the best I’ve seen in his career, in which he scored a hat-trick, and Barnsley won 5-2. The irony, of course, was that Paul Hayes returned to play for the Iron in 2007 and became a hero to the same people that abused him a few years beforehand. In fact, in the 09/10 season Hayes won several player of the season awards, including one voted for by the fans! How fickle!

    Similarly Jim Goodwin, now a crowd favourite in Paisley, left Scunny for Huddersfield in 2008, his performances against us were very good too, as he aided Huddersfield to a double over us in 08/09. When we lost 2-0 at the Galpharm in December ’08 the focus of some Iron fans wasn’t on our below par performance that day, but on Goodwin’s badge kissing antics in front of the Iron crowd.

    Reply
    • Yossarian Lives (Scunny fan)
      August 24, 2013

      On a side note, I can’t help but notice that the author of this piece is a Carlisle fan. I, and several other Iron fans, have a soft spot for your club after many Carlisle supporters stayed behind to clap our League One winning team on the final game of the season in May 2007, as they were doing a lap of honour.. Such positive acts are an antithesis to the boo boys.

      Reply

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