Amidst all the excitement and discussion about the Kroenke takeover, I chanced upon an amusing news article yesterday. The headline caught my eye and I ended up laughing for a few minutes after reading it.
These were the words that had me in splits,
I told one supporter he was an idiot. He was moaning during the match when he should have been supporting the team. I told him to support instead of criticising.
While it is always comical to hear a Tiny Tott fan being called an idiot, the words coming from a Spuds player made it all the more meaningful.
More importantly though, it left me wondering whether this is how the players often think in re the supporters. It seems quite pertinent in the Arsenal context.
For instance, put yourself in Fabregas’ shoes. If one of your teammates isn’t having a good day and there are some fans in the crowd booing him, how would you feel towards the fans who are affecting the performance of the team? I’d certainly think of those fans as idiots and quite a few writers and commentators on the internet have already said so in better, more colourful words.
The Arsenal chairman, Peter Hill-Wood, recently created a PR gaffe by airing a similar opinion. It was interesting to note, and this point was missed by many, that Hill-Wood didn’t really say anything that was wrong in itself or something that others haven’t said before. I certainly don’t think the AST achieved anything constructive by releasing that statement but they definitely did cause some damage. From that point of view it was undoubtedly a stupid act.
The problem for the Chairman was his position and the implication of his words. Fans in football have a special place. They can criticize anyone for anything but they are above and beyond reproach (except amongst themselves). Players, managers, or club administrators cannot think of criticizing the fans without creating a negative story often leading to mass hysteria even if their actual point has merit. Even many journalists and bloggers like to sit on the fence because they are afraid of losing their readers.
Of late, ever since some Arsenal players have taken to twitter, I have noticed the players put in the effort to praise the fans. Every time I read a player saying thank you to all the fans or that the fans were wonderful, I wonder whether they truly mean that or is it just a PR exercise. Perhaps they are just being polite, certainly nothing wrong with that.
After games like the one against Barca at home such words seem justified, but after many matches one gets the feeling that the atmosphere at the Emirates was really flat and gloomy. On such occasions, words commending the fans seem hollow and contrived.
I don’t wish to imply that all the fans are stupid or deserve to be criticized. 60,000+ fans at the Emirates are not all idiots. Otherwise we would have an unbearable atmosphere at the stadium. It’s just a few who lose the plot but unfortunately these seem to be the most vocal ones. Similar arguments can be made for the millions who support the club from afar and on the internet.
Nonetheless, all fans seem to have a protected status by virtue of being fans, and this can be said about the supporters of all clubs. People like Corluka and Hill-Wood cannot air their views without reproach even if they honestly believe in them.
The media obviously plays a key role in this relationship and can instigate an uprising of sorts by manipulating the words out of context. As we saw in the case of the Arsenal chairman, words specifically directed towards some fans and a particular event were twisted out of context to include all fans in many reports. Even in this age, some gullible readers continue to fall for these tricks.
Arsenal had to issue a public comment to appease the fans.
Our fans are at the heart of what we are here to do and that will always be the case.
When I read such statements I feel these are words without any meaning and just said for damage control. Thankfully, some fans that are naive enough to fall for the media tricks are easily won over by empty one-liners.
That doesn’t mean it’s not true. Fans are at the heart of a football club. They are the ones who convert a seemingly pointless exercise of twenty-two men chasing a ball into a passionate, lively, and beautiful game. It is very similar to a vacant building being converted into an adorable home by a loving family. In that sense the fans are the lifeblood of the game.
I’m not saying this to win any brownie points. Those who didn’t like the idea of someone like me watching from a distance and calling the fans stupid probably stopped reading long ago. I’m trying to establish that these two conditions can co-exist i.e. fans can be the soul of football and some of us, on certain occasions, can be incredibly stupid.
At some level most of us understand this. Who hasn’t had an argument with another fan that ended in both holding a pretty derogatory opinion of the other? Many of us also understand that oftentimes stupidity is the direct result of passion as emotions ride high and rationality is misplaced. But it is hard to take such criticism from the other stakeholders in the club even if they are more involved with the game and business of the club on a day to day basis.
I doubt very much a day can ever come when players and managers will be able to air honest views about the fans, without fear of distortion and manipulation and with confidence that their opinions will be respected, even if others don’t agree with them. Still the dreamer in me hopes that one day common-sense will reign supreme. Till then we can just enjoy the sincere lapses like the ones by Corluka and PHW.