To boo or not to boo?
Should England fans jeer the England team? Well, what else should they do when they've paid good money to watch Premier League prima donnas play like a bunch of girls?
The overhead projector flashed a message on to the big screen in the bar where I was watching England’s Euro 2008 qualifier against Andorra. ‘The lamp has reached the end of its usable life’, it said. ‘Please replace the lamp.’ Very spooky. Not only had football fans turned against ‘Fat Frank’ Lampard, now even inanimate objects were joining in the calls for him to be axed.
Some of the scenes we witnessed in the Andorra game were shocking. For starters, what on earth was Steven Gerrard doing celebrating his opening goal as though he’d just won the World Cup? It was embarrassing. This was Andorra not Argentina, for Christ’s sake. They are a glorified pub team ranked 162nd in the world who’ve never won a single point in European championship qualifiers and have a goal difference in all tournaments of minus 121. Andorra isn’t even a proper nation; it’s just a ski resort with a flag on it. A sheepish wave to the fans and a few handshakes would have sufficed.
Personally, I’d have booed the England team for the over-the-top goal celebration alone. As it was, the abuse hurled at Steve McClaren and his players has become the week’s major debating point. The fans started booing after just 15 minutes (though some might argue that they showed admirable restraint to wait that long). Chants of ‘What a load of rubbish’, ‘You’re not fit to wear the shirt’ and ‘Are you Scotland in disguise?’ rang around Barcelona’s Olympic Stadium. Ironically, the only England player to emerge from this whole sorry saga with his reputation enhanced wasn’t even in the squad – David Beckham, whose name was chanted by the England fans.
To boo or not to boo? That is the question. So vitriolic was the abuse, we are told, that England’s non-playing substitutes retreated from their seats to the safety of the dressing room before half-time. The England captain John Terry has appealed to the fans to stop the barracking. ‘Fans are entitled to their opinions, but for England and the players’ sake it would be better if they waited until after the game’, he said. ‘The booing or the McClaren chants aren’t helping.’ Steven Gerrard admitted that ‘the first half was as difficult a 45 minutes as I have ever played in an England shirt. We could hear what was going on and it was really difficult.’ McClaren himself has come out fighting. ‘I won’t let some hateful mob drive me out of this job’, he insisted.
There are two schools of thought on the booing question. There are those who insist that fans have paid their money and are therefore entitled to express their opinions. But there are others who argue that booing your own players, especially when they are low on confidence, is stupid and counter-productive. Times columnist Simon Barnes takes the anti-booing stance to its logical but extreme conclusion. So appalled was Barnes by the behaviour of the ‘hate mob’ that he decided his enemy’s enemy must be his friend. ‘I have felt that McClaren was a man out of his depth from the moment of his appointment. But he can now count me as his most loyal supporter. Where the mob leads, I tend to steer away from at an angle of 180 degrees. So does every sane person.’ (1)
I have mixed feelings about booing. Fans have every right to express their discontent but I personally don’t boo my own team, Crystal Palace, during a match. If things aren’t going right on the pitch it’s very frustrating for the fans, but I can’t see how heckling your team can help. But my attitude to jeering England players is different. I support England but they’re not really ‘my team’. For me, it’s always club before country. Consequently, I tend to regard England players as fair game for booing (though I would never boo Andy Johnson because he’s ex-Palace). If you’ve paid good money to watch a bunch of Premier League prima donnas play like a bunch of girls, what else are you supposed to do? Shout ‘play up England!’ and start a Mexican wave? I reckon the England players were fortunate that they were only subjected to verbal abuse. In Italy, disgruntled fans have been known to vandalise players’ cars and, in extreme cases, physically attack the players themselves.
Sir Alex Ferguson thinks that reality TV shows like The X Factor and Pop Idol are to blame for creating a ‘mocking culture’. ‘We have a mocking situation in this country now’, said Fergie. ‘You see it on all these TV shows where the panellists criticise the contestants.’ But booing is hardly new to popular entertainment. Dissatisfied audiences in Victorian theatres and music halls would regularly boo and throw rotten fruit and eggs at the performers. Likewise, having the crowd ‘on your back’ has always been an occupational hazard for professional footballers. As Roland White put it in The Sunday Times, ‘It might not be nice, but booing at football games is what is known in other industries as customer satisfaction feedback.’ (2)
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