Fans and Their Demands

Memba Ben By Memba Ben, 24th Jul 2018 | Follow this author | RSS Feed
Posted in Wikinut>Writing>Columns & Opinions

A look at fan abuse, its the effects on a team and how people targeted by fan abuse can move past it.

A fans opinion on fan abuse.

The relationship between fan and player is an interesting yet sophisticated conundrum because just as fans are able to immediately accept, welcome and support new players into a team; they are just as willing to abuse and mock them.

Football fans are notoriously fickle. A team could be on a winning streak and its fans would go on about how they are the greatest team to have ever played the game up until a loss occurs to which fans will do a turnabout, moaning about how the team couldn’t beat a Sunday league side.

Because trophies are the result of a clubs progress and wins or losses indicate if the club is indeed advancing , fans will naturally look at the personnel responsible for the clubs progression and depending on how it is going, it would result in one of two things:
• If the team is on an upward trend, the fans will be optimistic about the clubs general future.
• If the team is seemingly regressing, the fans will be pessimistic about the clubs future.

If we lived in a perfect world, clubs who are in the process of regression would allow fans an official platform for engagement where the fans could voice their concerns and offer constructive criticism on how the club can stop the rot but the reality is that clubs are increasingly insulated to such a large degree that they leave fans feeling marginalized with regards to their importance and as a result, will look for alternative ways to let themselves be heard (more often than not, targeting players on social media or forums and message boards).

On one hand, one can understand why clubs don’t do this as fans are either short sighted, have skewered perspectives or are incredibly uninformed. Not every club can be Wimbledon A.F.C.

But at the same time, their failure to properly and meaningfully engage with supporters is a good example as to why failing to address a problem leads to an even bigger one; in this case being fan abuse.

I can’t speak for other fans but I believe in the opinion that fans have every right to voice their discontent so as long as it is constructively done. After all, you can support the team while being critical of their performance. That being said, I don’t think many of us realize just how large the scale of scrutiny clubs (specifically footballers and managers) face. The margin for error is very small and at any moment, someone can be brought in to take your position, essentially making you deadwood. The expectations fans have of the players are incredibly high (more often than not too high) and as a result, all that insecurity and pressure, coupled with the problems of being a celebrity must make their lives very difficult.

And all this is without even considering the effect fan abuse can have on them.

Former England international and Liverpool goalkeeper David James wrote a guest column in the Guardian detailing his experiences with fan abuse.

In it, he described that “It could be just one or two voices close enough to the action to make themselves heard but they would be there every week, shouting abuse. Most of the time you can block it out but it only takes a bad night’s sleep, a poor run of form or a bit of an injury niggle and suddenly you feel vulnerable”.

Most fans just want to see the team perform well and for many, they understand that despite the team’s best efforts, it is inevitable that players will make mistakes or a team will have a poor run of form from time to time. However, there are other fans that seemingly can’t accept that and expect the very best from the players/coach. If the players/coach are unable to meet their expectations, the fans won’t hesitate to abuse them but what they don’t seem to realize is that continuously running a team down can kill its confidence, making the emotional stress worse.

It’s not just players who go through this, managers arguably have it worse.

In his autobiography “In Black and White: The Jake White Story”, former World Cup winning Springbok coach Jake White spoke at length about how he had to deal with the politics at SARU along with dealing with the media and their ever – changing narratives all while motivating and coaching the Springboks to perform well. In 2006, the Boks were well into their worst year of his four year tenure (the low point being the 48-0 loss to Australia at the Suncorp Stadium) and to paraphrase what he said, Jake White felt that as the year went on, people started doubting him, the press intensified their “Jake White Out” agenda and SARU essentially hung him out to dry.

Because of the year’s terrible results and so many people gunning for him; in his words, Jake White began “coaching for survival” which resulted in the mood of the camp changing. As Jake White grew increasingly desperate for a positive result, the players in turn grew more doubtful about if being a Springbok was worth it. This was evident from the fact that their play style became more cautious with a results first approach as opposed to the fearless rugby they played a year earlier and while it might not be as hot a seat as managing an international side, the pressure that comes with managing a professional club must be immense.

As Kevin Sullivan, a communications strategist working with the Golden State Warriors said:

“Everything is scrutinized like never before, and they have so many more opportunities for missteps. These guys really have to focus on how to manage it the right way because it can hurt their personal brand and the team”.

Aside from David James, countless other players have spoken about the effects of fan abuse with the intention that the fans can get an idea of what they go through but in my opinion, I don't think it has helped much simply because (as controversial this may sound) some people just aren't going to empathize with a multimillionaire. To some people, whenever they hear millionaires vent out their frustrations, their opinion is not taken seriously and they take it as a matter of "oh no, this poor multimillionaire who never has to worry about anything again is complaining about how hard his life is".

Whether the fans are right or wrong is another matter entirely but what is clear is that players need to fully understand the world they are getting themselves into so that they can be well prepared for fan reactions.

Part of what makes a professional athlete to be considered one of the best is their mental fortitude. From Liverpool's legendary Istanbul comeback to Cristiano Ronaldo scoring what was voted the 2017/2018 UEFA Champions League Goal of the Tournament a few minutes after being booed relentlessly by Juventus fans, that drive to persevere in the face of tribulation is what separates the great players from the rest of the lot.

In trying times like facing relentless fan abuse, players might buckle under the pressure or be tempted to respond to their detractors (such as Gonzalo Higuain did after Juventus' UEFA Champions League tie against Tottenham) but that might be one of the worst things a player can do as every response/reaction will serve as confirmation to their critics that the player can be easily riled up.

As the saying goes, you can't be everybody's cup of tea. Regardless of how well a player performs, that will always be someone waiting on them to fail just so that they can start criticizing them.

I guess that the one good thing about criticism in football is that as soon as the critics have their desired result, the abuse ends so if anything, the most important thing is to remember that the criticism will end once the player/coach proves he is good enough to stay at the level he's at.

In closing, the only thing that players/coaches can do in such situations is to just keep their head down, work on improving their craft and if need be, see a sports psychologist to assist in any way possible as there is no shame in getting help.

Clubs could manage the situation better by engaging and involving fans but ultimately, its all up to the person facing the heat to prove his detractors wrong.


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author avatar Memba Ben
A fan's view on the business of football.

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