Buying a ticket doesn’t give fans right to go OTT
“Incidents like Thursday [in Molde] show why there will always be a distance between participants and non-participants
FANS are the customers of the sporting world. But that doesn’t mean that they are always right. For me, Leigh Griffiths had it spot on the other day when he said that the 20 or so of his club’s supporters who gathered menacingly between the Aker Stadium and the team bus after the 3-1 defeat to Molde to castigate manager Ronny Deila, his assistants John Collins and John Kennedy were “a bit out of order”.
Having paid all that money, supporters are indeed entitled to express their displeasure, but you don’t have to be a players’ union shop steward or an expert in the treaty of Rome to know that there is in fact no in-built EU entitlement to shout and bawl in people’s faces or physically intimidate people as they go about their line of work. You might be openly critical of the prices and standard of service at your local supermarket but that doesn’t mean that you also wait around in the car park afterwards to call staff out about it.
Supporting a football team, of course, isn’t anything like going shopping. You don’t signpost your allegiances to Tesco’s by wearing the latest staff costume, and you can’t just jump ship the way you might to Asda or Aldi when you are dissatisfied about the value for money. But ultimately money talks – which is why, with Celtic and other Scottish clubs reliant on gate receipts to offset a paltry TV deal, they must always take care of their paying customer.
Anyway, the incident got me thinking about this uneasy interface between player and fan, the limits of supporter power and what would be written there if anyone ever got round to drafting a fans’ code of conduct. This, of course, would take an almighty effort; standardising the various grades of supporter-hood, and unpicking our varying tolerance levels. Especially when it comes to large supporter bases like Celtic and Rangers, there is a huge danger in conflating this Molde mob mentality with the thoughts of the silent majority which chooses not to take such knee-jerk action.
Don’t get me wrong, I am not expecting fans to stand around like impartial, objective observers, nor do I expect half-and-half scarves to become mandatory any time soon. But the beginning and end for this beginners’ guide to fandom is simply to do everything in your power to help your team win the match. Stay until the final whistle, in order to avoid any unlikely late glory, then give the players whatever response you feel is most applicable.
If you think it helps to boo your own players for failing to live up to their (and your) standards, knock yourself out – but it usually doesn’t. By all means create as hostile an environment as possible for your opponents, attempt to influence the referee, boo and jeer your opponents, or sing anything you want about a particular player as long as it doesn’t breach any rules about offensive behaviour. By this reckoning, those Scotland rugby fans who booed Bernard Foley’s late penalty for Australia in the World Cup quarter final at Twickenham are fine by me.
Indeed, by extension, perhaps it could even be argued that the Molde malcontents also fell into this category – by their reckoning, this small group of Parkhead fans were merely reminding their players of standards. Perhaps they were inspiring them? Perhaps they should be commended for it, unlike the Tartan Army, who are much maligned for having a whale of time regardless of the results on the pitch. Context is everything: while Rangers players said earlier in the season that they were surprised by how understanding their fans had been in the wake of their League Cup exit to St Johnstone, there wasn’t so much tenderness around last season.
In truth, as much as supporters love to be centre of attention, incidents like Thursday show why there will always be a distance between participants and non-participants. Fans can help players win matches and bumper contracts, or in the lower leagues, contribute thousands to testimonial funds to players who didn’t earn much out of the game. But it is their lot in life to be stuck on the sidelines. Sport ultimately is always a matter of talent, preparation and execution.
Individual sports perhaps show it even more clearly, where uber fans sometimes seem like borderline stalkers and Andy Murray – a man who has dished out millions of autographs to his followers – is wrestling with the competing demands of two sets of fans. Should he care more about those homebased supporters who have already bought tickets to see him at the ATP Tour finals at the O2 in London or those who are willing him to lead Britain to its first Davis Cup title since 1936? At match point in the doubles rubber of the Davis Cup semi-final against Australia, while Jamie Murray whipped the Glasgow crowd to a crescendo, Andy was telling everyone to be quiet to help him time his return. Talent, preparation and execution. That aside, it was all down to the fans.
TOMORROW Stuart Bathgate
TAKEN ABACK: Leigh Griffiths felt Celtic fans went ‘over the top’ with their abuse of the players in Molde