Are you part of the dying breed of football fan that can scratch beneath the surface, see further than the back page of the Daily Star and think independently with pragmatic perception about the many puzzling detours our game takes each and every week? I have tried not to come across as a liberal killjoy taking the fun out of the game, I am an old-school football fan, I remember being dismissed as a social outcast in the 1980’s. Additionally, ‘intelligence’ is not the issue here, it is the basic understanding and appreciation of this great game. So, wherever you enjoy your football, if you can answer ‘yes’ to these questions, consider yourself in a minority.
The transfer rumour mill doesn’t fool you?
I would love to educate the people who are gullible enough to believe what they read in the plethora of column inches that make up today’s national football press, doubtless not realising they are maintaining a state of perpetuity for the lazy peddling of evidence-shy blather. The rational football fan can spot a story without a quote and glean that it is unlikely to be true, we can see that papers have to invent things in order to sell copies to exploitable clots who can’t read between the lines. So why do people come up to me and say “I can’t believe you're after him?” or “He’s coming to us you know?” when all transfer history, contractual situations and footballing logic suggests otherwise. One day I will keep a tally of every transfer rumour that appears in the papers for a week and confront these people two months later to discuss the 99.5% that never materialised. Or maybe I won’t.
Can you see a decision for what it is?
Can you accept that sometimes your team is offside? Sometimes the ball has crossed the line for a throw in or a goal kick. Sometimes your player did foul his oponent, or the deflection did go off your player. There are two sides playing and it is not inconceivable that the odd decision will legitimately go against your team. It happens, it’s the rules, it’s football. So why throw your hands in the air with mock outrage and launch a childish tantrum because an official has the audacity to give a blatant decision against you?
It’s sometimes hard to believe, but every player we watch has talent
Can you appreciate that football is actually a difficult game to play?
To become a professional footballer takes years of dedication, practice and self-discipline and that’s before considering that you actually need a hefty, god-given slice of footballing talent. It’s sometimes hard to believe, but every player we watch has talent, many people far better qualified than we are have made a series of judgments at different stages to allow them a professional career. So give them some credit, and appreciate the level of the game they are playing at, even if sometimes that may be one or two levels above their true standard. However much you cry “shoot!” when he is trying to chest control a clearance forty yards from goal with a barbarian centre half gunning him down, he isn’t going to score from there is he? Is he? So don’t recoil in anguish and despair when he retains possession by passing it to a teammate instead, don’t expect the impossible. This is not comic strip fairytale, or even Messi at the Nou Camp, this is real life. Very few footballers have the ability to do wondrous things at the drop of a hat, and if they can, very few of us are lucky enough to have them playing for us, so be realistic with your expectations.
Are you prepared to leave tactics to the Manager?
There is nothing wrong with a healthy discourse on formations and the best use of certain players, but we have to accept that a manager works with his players every day, he knows them inside out, he talks to them, he manages them. He has undergone UEFA licensed coaching courses which qualify him to make these judgements, he has probably played the game to a professional level, he has in some cases won trophies. He is there for a reason and you are in the stand for a reason. We may be baffled on occasions, and he may get it wrong, but do not think you know better than he does, because you don’t.
You see less from your armchair, right?
We all regularly meet football fans who base their definitive judgements on a 30-second snippet on the Football League show, which they watched at 1.00 am after a skinful whilst burying their head in a large Doner. Countless players’ entire careers have been unilaterally dismissed based on this critical evidence. Never mind that there are 89 and a half minutes of the game you haven’t seen, never mind that a players game is as much about what they do off the ball, how they track back, how they read the game, how they organise, all the unglamorous things that BBC producers don’t expect will appeal to the Saturday night inebriate. Forget that, if someone misses a golden chance or makes a mistake that leads to a goal, their career is taking the Michael Ricketts route to near-oblivion as far as you’re concerned.
Things change very quickly in football, so pick your moment to gloat very carefully
You appreciate that insulting players doesn’t work?
Only a few weeks ago I spent an afternoon observing a fellow fan nearby berating the opposing goalkeeper David James with frequent taunts of “James…..your hair’s s***!” Now, whilst in any other walk of life, a cinema, the theatre, a restaurant, this kind of insult would be unacceptable, I understand that fans like to vent their frustrations and they like a target, and I accept that. But David James was 50 yards away, and this was a lone voice in a 22,000 crowd. David James is famous for hairstyles of a more eclectic nature, and has endured repeated abuse for more than 20 years, so your lamentable heckle is unlikely to have an effect of any sort, even if it was vaguely funny or he could even hear it. Moreover, accept the fact that professional footballers, by their very definition, are a breed of steely individuals, living in bubbles and largely immune from any form of abuse.
You have never sung ‘You’re not singing anymore’?
A song that pre-empts an equaliser like no other, a rendition of “You’re not singing anymore” to opposing fans is the equivalent of strapping yourself to the train tracks to await the Flying Scotsman. Truly a head-in-hands moment as you can bet your arse it will be echoing back to you with added glee ten minutes later. What goes around comes around. Things change very quickly in football, so pick your moment to gloat very carefully, because in five minutes, or tomorrow, or next Monday it will be your turn to get it. Triumph is short-lived, you’ve noticed that surely?
Can you appreciate that luck plays a part?
Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink once replied to a standard request to summarise a game with the retort “…well, the ball is round and it does many strange things…”. On the face of it this is no Wildean reposte, but it has deep meaning that concisely encapsulates the hazardous and unpredictable nature of football. However well you play, it only takes something you can’t control to undo it all. You can plan everything meticulously and it can be expertly executed but “…the ball is round…”. So the final result does not tell the whole story. Can you accept that on the balance of play the manager did not get it completely wrong? Maybe he should not be sacked purely based on that? Is there hope? Or conversely, maybe we were lucky to win that game? Is our position false or unjustified? I firmly believe managers get too much credit when things are going right, and are blamed far too much when things are going wrong. There are certain things over which a manager or even players have absolutely no influence, “…the ball is round, and it does many strange things.” Jimmy, that is the definition of rational.
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