fans aloud

02.03.2009

Surely the incitement to get fans to sing at the loudest level they could at Sunday's League Cup Final at Wembley was irresponsible.  Sky and the sponsors Carling were urging supporters to blast out their voices to levels higher than those specified in the Noise At Work Regulations should be stamped down on by those Health and Safety people.

Now, the atmosphere at a football match is what makes it a spectacle.  Without the fans and the noise, it is just a bunch of blokes kicking a ball about and it could be anywhere ... Wembley or Hackney Marshes.  That is why the argument about ticket prices and TV coverage usually comes back to the one point about the fans in attendance.  And that atmosphere comes from the passion they show about the game.

And while it is the fans' game, it appears that players are trying to extend their grip on the game to extend to the control of the crowd as well as taking the money out of our pockets.

I do not condone racist chanting nor do I condone homophobic abuse, but there is one player who is making a bit of a martyr of himself over the issues.  Sol Campbell. 

When he was the subject of an objectionable song at Fratton Park, he was rightly affronted and the culprits were rightly brought to book.

The latest string of his campaign is that Sol Campbell has been saying that the football authorities should dock points for racist chanting.  Of course, in the text of the story, the incident involving Spurs fans earlier in the season was raised as a prime example.  Now, as far as I am aware, the song sung about him at the Portsmouth v Spurs match was not racist.  I have attended a number of matches he has played for Arsenal and Portsmouth since leaving Spurs and I have not heard a racist remark aimed at him.

The abuse usually involves the word "Judas" derived from his shoddy treatment of the Tottenham supporters who he lead on and then thought were not worthy of a semblance of respect by making his own bed in moving to Arsenal.  Having made such a move, he knew he would not get an easy ride.  It is not to say that fans have a right to abuse him for his race nor his sexual proclivities, but most of the vitriol thrown at him involves his deceit.

I have seen a man physically unnerved by the reaction he received every time he touched the ball and I have never known a professional footballer to be so affected by the crowd in this way.  Agreed he was struck a glancing blow by a half-filled bottle at White Hart Lane and hopefully, the person who thought it was OK to do so was identified and punished.  But it was the words from the Spurs fans who once cheered him that appeared to strike a tender spot in Campbell's psyche.

Perhaps it showed his mental fragility that later exemplified itself in the man's walking out of the Highbury stadium after having a 'mare against West Ham.

Outside of the world of football, racist or homophobic abuse is how the person affected perceives it.  Now it might not be intended that way, but if someone happens to interpret it in a way that affects them, then it becomes a more serious offence.  Would football fans be upbraided for chanting "Sit Down Pinocchio" to Phil Thompson when he was Liverpool coach ?  Probably not, but would Campbell take offence if Spurs fans sung the "We've got Ledley at the back" song ? 

I found it fascinating that the Portsmouth defender said, "You say that on the streets and you'd be arrested or put away."  Ironic for someone whose brother beat a man to a pulp for comments about Sol, as this is surely not the way that he would advocate things being settled is it ? 

Anyway, I wonder if players suffer the same fate for their actions on the pitch ?  You constantly hear ex-players and administrators say that the game can police itself.  Some of the tackles and off-the-ball incidents I have seen in my football watching days would have the Boys In Blue running to boost their statistics.  And how many footballers are the ones who fall foul of the law outside of the game, yet they are not banned from football grounds or sent down, just because of the privileged position they hold among society.

This is why many supporters are quick to jump on their backs.  The amount of money they earn does not allow fans to give them dog's abuse, but the differential in earnings means that there is now a "them and us" culture, with players being that much more responsible for conducting themselves properly.

That is why I was a little appalled by Oliver Holt's piece in the Daily Mirror defending Cristiano Ronaldo and hitting out at Ledley King saying his perception of the two players changed in that one incident.  What do fans want to see ?  Is he seeing players showing their skill against classy defenders or ones who know they will not get past them and throw themselves to the floor ?  There is no doubt that Ronaldo is immensely talented, but on the odd occasion he comes up against a player who he cannot beat, he takes his case to the referee by looking up at him doe-eyed from the floor after he has been touched and he flings himself to the turf.

The very same day in the News of the World newspaper, a story detailed that the Portuguese winger would be offered a 200,000 a week contract to keep him at Old Trafford.  In times of financial stricture and price rises having hit the supermarkets, it is time to remember that this is entertainment.

King's reaction to the referee's yellow card to Ronaldo for diving, which might have been wrong on that occasion, was an acknowledgement of the realisation that the United man had twice gone to ground with a brush of contact from a Spurs player and the longing look was not as obvious as a hand waving a card, but almost cried out for more punishment that the cheap free-kick he received.

We realise that journalists have to be careful what they say about United, otherwise Alex Ferguson will not allow them access to his words of wisdom, but the fawning over the king's new clothes of the lionising of Ronaldo's re-invention is not something everyone sees.  O'Shea's rash tackle when he was already booked lacks attention by the writer and King's criticism is all a lot of supporters expect from a press that is less than even handed in its coverage.  Ledley King is a player who has not been involved in trouble on or off the pitch, but then perhaps that does not make him newsworthy enough to be heralded as a shining light of the new Premier League, where flashy weddings in Italy or being a huge wage earner is the currency of fame in the football world these days.  Sometimes, I long for the good old days when players paid and kept their mouths shut and football writers wrote about football, not celebrity.

Why can't players get on with their job and let others worry about what goes on around the game.  There is no room in football for obscene abuse, but there is also no place in the game for those who play it who feel that they can dictate how games are refereed or how they are policed.

Sometimes they might need to be careful what they wish for.

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