Are Football Fans Always Wrong?

Posted: September 25, 2012 in Football
Tags: , , , , , ,

Right all Along?

They say you need a thick skin to be a football manager but it seems that sometimes you require an even thicker one to be a fan. Whilst there may be an abundance of platforms from which the modern fan can voice their discontent – from phone-ins to terrace chants, from banners to websites – the perception that the fan-manager criticism dynamic is one-sided is far from the truth.

In fact, it’s difficult to think of any other set of stakeholders whose input is so arrogantly dismissed as that of the football fan. The last 12 months alone has seen fans of Spurs, Blackburn, Villa, West Ham and Man Utd, among others, described as everything from ‘delusional’ to ‘idiotic’ by their clubs’ manager (the fact that the delusional jibe came from Sam Allardyce, a man who once claimed his unfashionable name was the only barrier preventing him from managing the Real Madrids of this world is currently being investigated by the irony police.)

In March, Harry Redknapp described Spurs fans as idiots for having the temerity to criticise a particularly limp 1-0 defeat to Man City. Alex McLeish and Steve Kean spent the entire 2011/12 season dismissing crowd discontent as ‘insignificant minorities’ (quick maths lesson, Steve; 20,000+ fans at Ewood Park will never be a minority.)

And it’s not confined to club football. At this summer’s Euros, Giovanni Trappatoni was overheard telling Italian journalists that Irish fans “don’t understand (the game)” after ignoring their pleas for the inclusion of a creative player in midfield. Clearly Trappatoni was sticking to the manager’s mantra: ‘The manager knows all; the fans know fuck all!’ The Italian stood firm and Ireland were trounced in all three of their games, leaving one wondering how much worse they would have done had they been managed by even their drunkest fan.

Not that the criticism needs to be confined to purely footballing matters. Alex Ferguson continues to dismiss the anti-Glazer element among United fans (ie, all of them) as ‘not real fans’. ‘Real fans’ it seems are the ones who are enthused at the sight of nine figure sums being siphoned away from their club every year.

So why are managers so quick to dismiss and criticize their fans and are they always justified? Within the football fraternity managers and ex-pros working in the media stick together like Big Sam and shit football, never daring to deviate from the default role of cheerleader-in-chief for the under pressure manager du jour. “He just needs more time”/“He’s been let down by the players”/“The dog ate his homework”- the list of excuses fellow managers proffer to save the bacon of one of their own is endless. Never will you hear a fellow manager or pundit say “the fans are right; they play terrible football and they’ve lost ten on the bounce so he deserves to go.”

One would assume (and hope!) the average football manager knows more than the average fan. But no matter who the manager is, they sometimes make mistakes, be it with signings, tactics, substitutions or whatever. Yet with the routine dismissal of any fan criticism we could be forgiven for thinking football managers enjoy some sort of Gaffer Infallibility clause, such is the shock and outrage they convey when one of their judgments is questioned. When fans dare to point out that Alex McLeish’s brand of football is less than exhilarating, that Paul Konchesky isn’t very good or that their team needs to cross the halfway line to have any chance of scoring goals, they are dismissed as ‘cranks’, ‘trolls’ or, as Ferguson once branded a United fan who dared to question one of his decisions, a ‘fuckin’ idiot.’

It’s difficult to see where this arrogance comes from considering football is an industry where performance is more easily gauged than most others, viz-a-viz results and league position. If a manager loses five on the trot it’s probably safe to say he has scope for improvement. But not as far as the manager is concerned, from whom any criticism is batted away with twice the force with which it’s received.

The most common retort from managers to fan criticism is to highlight that the vast majority of fans have never played the game at a professional level and cannot therefore offer a valid opinion or be considered experts. This theory is clearly bunkum and about as valid as saying the public have never been in Government so therefore it’s wrong to point out that the economy is going down the shitter. If we were to take the idea that you need to have played the game at the highest level to fully understand it, then logically the greatest players, or players with most top level appearances, would make the greatest experts, right? ‘Your honour, I give you exhibit A: Pele!’

So hilariously off-target have the legendary Brazilian’s predictions been (Nicky Butt never did quite live up to that Greatest Player in the World tag, did he?), Pele is the exception to the old adage of even a stopped clock telling the right time twice a day. The best that can be said of Pele’s knowledge of the game was that it was good enough to get him a job as a viagra salesman.

On the flipside of that coin you have managers who never played at a decent level but seem to have somehow grasped the finer points of the game. The likes of Arsene Wenger, Jose Mourinho, Rafa Benitez and Arrigo Sacchi seem to have done ok for themselves, despite their combined playing careers having been less illustrious than Ade Akinbiyi’s. Despite the modest start to his Anfield career, I’m sure Liverpool fans were happier to see Brendan Rodgers appointed as their new manager than, say, Gazza, despite one having never played the game professionally and the other often been described as the most gifted player of his generation. The never-played-the-game argument is clearly a canard, a comfort blanket for under-fire managers desperately trying to convince themselves as much as us that they have that extra bit of expertise that will see them through the terrible run they’re on.

Whilst all managers need to have a dictatorial streak, they should, however, be less precious when fans point out valid flaws. Nobody’s suggesting managing a football club should be a democratic process – just look at the shambles of Ebbsfleet Town, the Animal Farm of football – but it would, however, be nice for the fans opinions to be treated with even the pretense of respect as opposed to the snide venomous replies the likes of Allardyce, Ferguson, Redknapp et al usually reserve for their paymasters.

Article first published in Late Tackle magazine, June, 2012

@Pauliec77

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