Buy­ing a ticket doesn’t give fans right to go OTT

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“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

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