A Culture of Abuse: Booing Your Own Team

By on Nov 24, 2010 in Latest, Opinion | 20 comments

In the latest of our series on abuse within football, Gavin Saxton is tremendously puzzled by the curious phenomenon of fans turning on their own players.

I couldn’t swear that there aren’t any others, but offhand I can think of just two occasions when I’ve booed anyone at a football match. On both occasions it was because there were people on the pitch who shouldn’t have been there, and I don’t mean in the sense that Shaun Wright-Phillips shouldn’t be on the pitch at an England international, I mean in a stricter sense of really having no business being there at all. One of them was when there was a bit of a pitch invasion, with the game still going on. The other was at the Premier League’s first ever Monday night match, when a troupe of dancing girls calling themselves the Sky Strikers trotted out onto the hallowed Maine Road turf before the match. Perhaps I’m a bit less proud of that last one, in retrospect, it wasn’t their fault as individuals of course. But it does demonstrate that when something happens during a football match which we don’t like, we have few means – and only blunt ones – for making our feelings known. And it’s probably for that reason that the culture of booing is all too prevalent.

Booing the opposition, I suppose I can understand, though I don’t for a moment like it. Sometimes it’s a sort-of good-natured pantomime booing, though you should be wary of assuming that it’s going to be taken in the spirit in which it’s intended. Booing match officials is much much worse. Rob has covered the Scottish refereeing strike elsewhere and I don’t mean to go through it again, but anyone who read my earlier articles on the subject will be unsurprised to know that they have my full backing. That’s not to say I don’t understand the frustration with them at times, of course. In our match last week there was a cock-up which allowed our opponents to bring two substitutes onto the pitch while taking only one off, thus defending our subsequent corner with an extra man. It would be fair to say that I was amongst those who were, rather vocally, endeavouring to bring this situation to the referee’s attention. That can of course be done without resorting to abuse.

But the thing I really don’t get is booing your own team. Really, what is it ever meant to achieve? If players aren’t playing very well, do we think they don’t know that? If they aren’t trying hard enough – which perhaps does occasionally happen although football fans are generally awful at judging it – is it going to help? If you don’t like a decision a manager makes, is it going to make him change it? If it’s just to let off steam and make us feel better, can we really not find a less destructive way of doing so?

How would it work in our own jobs? I’ve certainly had bad days in my working life, when I made bad decisions or messed something up. I might even concede that I’ve had days when, if push really came to shove, I could probably have worked a bit harder and put some more effort in. This I’m sure applies to all of us. Is there anyone who thinks that they’d be more likely to perform better, or put more effort in, or feel better about the job and more inclined to do so if they had people booing them and castigating them every time things didn’t go as they hoped? I know of some fans who draw a distinction here and are careful to support their team during the match and will only boo at the end of it. It’s not quite as bad, maybe, but the distinction still escapes me for the most part: so maybe you don’t have someone in the office booing you all day, maybe you just get booed and called a wanker for a few minutes every day when you’re on your way home at five o’ clock. Does that make a difference? Is that going to motivate you? If anyone thinks yes then I’m genuinely interested to hear it. But I don’t think it’s unreasonable to say that in most circumstances, most of the time, it’s going to be counterproductive. Including in football.

And my subjective impression is that, at least in some aspects, it’s got worse in recent years.

Now, I appreciate of course that it’s always gone on. I’m not under any illusions that football fans in the past were better-behaved or less hostile than they are now (though the forms of it may vary). And of course I know that for as long as we’ve had football, indeed for as long as we’ve had organised societies, we’ve had commentators complaining that “things” were worse than they used to be and I’m usually wary about trying to identify any long-term trends. But it’s equally lazy to assume no such trends exist – the nature of football support has changed in recent years (quite obviously so, in some respects, and sometimes for the better) and we can look at what effects that has had.

I do think crowds are increasingly impatient. Why this should be, I don’t know. Is it a reflection of trends in broader society? Is it because football crowds have become more middle class and come to the game with higher expectations? Does the internet, by providing a more immediate focus for discontent, bring it to a head more quickly? Who knows. It’s certainly manifested itself in the increasingly short lifespan of managers, that’s a trend on which you can analyse the stats, and I think it’s happening within individual matches too.

And it’s not just the impatience – it’s the search for someone to blame. This time I am going to submit that it’s part of a wider trend of ‘blame culture’ beyond football. If things aren’t going right, it must be somebody’s fault. And we’re very quick to latch on to somebody to ascribe to it. Allied to this, there’s an increasing tendency for people to be more conscious of their rights than of their responsibilities. Which ties in without about the only justification I’ve ever heard anyone offer for booing their own team – “I’ve paid my money and I’ve got every right to ….”.

Again, I’ve just never understood the logic here. Yes you do have the right. Fill your boots, if you really must. But as an argument for actually doing something, the simple fact of having the right to do so leaves much to be desired. We live in a passably free country and I have the right to do all kinds of weird and wonderful things that would mark me out as a rank idiot, but why would I want to? So normalised is the behaviour that you hear players and managers sometimes defending the supporters who have just booed / hurled abuse at them for the previous ninety minutes, on precisely the same grounds – they’ve paid their money and they’ve got every right … . Clubs need their supporters, of course, and it’s understandable that they might not want to risk picking fights or taking them to task, or at least that they should be a bit tactful in how they do so if they feel their behaviour during a match is unhelpful.

Still, at least there’s one manager we can rely on never to make the mistake of being tactful. Step forward Roy Keane, who was characteristically blunt last week (actually he was quite restrained, as Roy Keanes go) in criticising Ipswich supporters for being too negative in general and for booing a substitution in particular. Apparently they were booing the decision to take one player off, but that’s not obvious to the seventeen year-old lad who’s just coming on in his place. (And were they really cheering the opposition’s passes? In what kind of alternate reality is that meant to help a young side having any chance of getting back into the game?)

Again, as with referees I can of course understand the frustration sometimes. We do spend a lot of money, as well as investing a lot of emotional energy, in following our teams, and we’ve all seen them turn in some pretty spineless or insipid performances from time to time. Sometimes it appears that players really do need a foot up the backside, and as fans we have few other means – at least during the course of the ninety minutes – of getting our feelings across. I can, maybe, conceive of circumstances in which I might boo my team, but those circumstances would be very rare – and more to the point we’re not very often in a position, then and there, to be able to judge them. I’ve seen players who I knew to be half-fit playing through it to help the manager out in an injury crisis, only to be booed for apparently not putting enough effort in when they failed to chase down lost causes.

Perhaps I’m being a bit unfair. Maybe there are times when you can justify it more than others. But it’s my general experience that those fans most likely to boo their team, the ones quickest to look for someone to blame for things going wrong, are those least able to exercise considered judgement as to when there might actually be any cause to do so. For that alone I’d much prefer it to be taken as a general rule by any and every fan that you just don’t do it.

Unfortunately it seems to be considered an accepted and largely acceptable part of football fans behaviour. It is indeed a culture of abuse, and it’s one we indulge and tolerate far too readily.

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    20 Comments

  1. Surely no fully-grown adult would partake in booing. It’s just the young kids, teenagers etc. Sadly, booing is now part of youth culture. Don’t you watched Big Brother and X-Factor?

    malchick

    November 25, 2010

  2. I hold my hands up and admit after the odd shocker/lack of effort from my team I have booed at the end of a game. It happens when a shocker is matched with what “seems” like a lack of effort and comes after a handful of games where the performances have also been woeful. I don’t care if we get beat 7-0 as long as we tried. It’s the strolling around and not trying that I hate. I’m not proud of my booing though.

    What I have noticed is the increase in the number of fans who boo after just one dodgy performance, and this only seems to happen to spoilt Premier League fans.

    Note Chelsea, they could be top, 5 wins on the spin, half of them 6-0′s and then one poor performance and the boos come out. WTF????? I hear this now at Man City, Liverpool, in fact most half decent sides in the PL. Christ knows what they would be like if they got relegated and then got beat at home to Scunthorpe (apologies Iron fans)!?

    Does it make my booing any better? No.
    Does it make my players play any better? No.

    Will I do it again when we struggle to beat Forest Green Rovers next year at home? Probably…..

    Jertzee

    November 25, 2010

  3. The match officials being booed off at half time seems almost routine nowadays. Twenty years ago if it happened it would be recorded in the match report in the local paper. Nowadays it happens at almost every game I go to.

    Booing a player because they are deemed to be incompetent is beyond the pale in my opinion, and certainly won’t make them play any better. If on the other hand I have travelled half way across the country to watch a player stroll round the pitch while giving the impression he is not bothered it seems reasonable to have some outlet for my dissatisfaction.

    Richard

    November 25, 2010

  4. I think you’ve missed one of the major factors in why fans are increasingly impatient these days: the amount players are paid.

    No I don’t get booed by 20,000 people when I have a bad day at work, but unlike footballers, I’m not earning a 6-figure salary for doing a job that most fans would be willing to do for nothing.

    When you are so vastly overpaid there is no tolerance of failure. It creates a level of expectation that is impossible to live up to.

    Personally, I don’t boo my own team, and very rarely boo the opposition, but I can understand the frustration of those who do.

    James

    November 25, 2010

  5. I’ve booed my own team at a large proportion of the games I’ve seen them play. Why? Because that’s part of one’s range of expression. We see good, we cheer, we see bad, we boo. A critic in any other field would do something similar. There’s nothing odd, exceptional or difficult-to-understand about it.

    It’s not necessary, but then again, it’s not necessary to be at the match either. It’s got nothing to do with having the right to do it, nor with having paid money to attend. It’s simply part of the range of within-reason things that people do when they react to things about which they care and in which they are interested. To praise without ever criticising renders that praise meaningless: to cheer without ever booing, likewise.

    If I thought this was a good piece, I’d say so: but in fact, I think this is a lousy piece, so I’ll say that instead. That way, when you next write a good one, and I say so, you’ll know I mean it.

    ejh

    November 25, 2010

  6. I don’t watch reality TV shows, no. I’ve seen the odd clip which seems, watch ed in isolation, to be abhorrent, and I’m not sure why we tolerate that either.

    James – at the level of football I watch, the amount the players are paid is far from excessive. Fair point though, that may make a difference at the top end which may thus filter down to levels even where it doesn’t apply.

    ejh – Your constructive criticism is appreciated. (Which is just one of the obvious difference between the two scenarios.) There’s a very loose general point there of course, that you can’t truly know happiness unless you’ve experienced its converse etc. But players do respond to their fans getting behind them, but if you’re suggesting that they wouldn’t do so or it wouldn’t mean anything to them if we don’t also take the opportunity to hurl a bit of abuse at them from time to time, however ill-judged, then that’s a lot of crap (with the best will in the world).

    Gavin

    November 25, 2010

  7. The point is not whether the players would respond, but whether the attitude expressed would have any meaning.

    We’re supporters, but we’re not cheerleaders. We’re not just there to get behind the team. And who are these people, anyway, who think they’re there to tell me to get behind the team? I can do that of my own accord, when the moment is appropriate. And when the moment is appropriate to do other, other is what I shall do.

    We’re not just supporters: we’re people, involved. This means we have responses, and it renders football renders football richer to express those responses. To not say what you are thinking might have a purpose of some kind in some situations, but to adopt that as your policy – where is the honesty in that? Where the reality? These are qualities I value in football, as I value passion, and to imagine that you can half-express that passion, to imagine that you can express only the happy-smiley-supportive side, is to lack both passion and imagination.

    No: football merits a full range of responses. It merits them, and needs them, and if it did not have them, it wouldn’t be worth our watching, nor your writing about. To care is to say so. In the words that say so and in the mood that fits.

    ejh

    November 25, 2010

  8. ejh

    That’s rubbish. Supporting your team may not involve singing and chanting for the whole match but if your team isn’t playing well, at least have the decency to be quiet rather than hurl abuse.

    Booing your own team might make you feel better but if it makes your team play worse or feel less committed then you’re not only cutting off your own nose to spite your face but the noses of everyone around you.

    ian

    November 26, 2010

  9. Booing is hardly new as some are seeming to suggest. Dylan was booed by his own fans when he went electric back in the sixties. Not that I can understand people paying good money to see a match and then turn on your team at the first oportunity, very perverse.

    Two Left Feet

    November 26, 2010

  10. but if your team isn’t playing well, at least have the decency to be quiet rather than hurl abuse.

    Why should I behave as you consider appropriate rather than as I consider appropriate?

    You’re not only cutting off your own nose to spite your face but the noses of everyone around you.

    “Everyone around you” – cobblers. You imagine that when I’m booing, I’m always the only person booing?

    ejh

    November 26, 2010

  11. ejh – does your sense of honesty compel you to tell everyone what you’re thinking about everything, all of the time? Or are there never occasions when the repercussions of doing so come into your consideration of whether or not that would actually be helpful? Or is part of the attraction of football precisely that people can let loose and don’t need to be bound be any of the sense of tact which might constrict them in their personal or professional lives, and that’s a more important thing to them then any worries about whether or not it actually helps the team? (And that the “everyone around you” might also be complicit in their own nose-cutting doesn’t make it any less true, btw.)

    I don’t know, I’m mostly having to guess here because I’ve never felt any need nor desire to boo or shout abuse at football, I’m not supressing the desire (at least, as far as I’m aware).

    Based on your first post, I thought your rationale for it was something a bit different to the “I’ve paid my money, I’ve got every right …” line, but I’m now thinking it just reduces to the same thing.

    Gavin

    November 26, 2010

  12. does your sense of honesty compel you to tell everyone what you’re thinking about everything, all of the time?

    Obviously not: but then again I have not claimed so, have I?

    but I’m now thinking it just reduces to the same thing.

    Although it obviously isn’t.

    Gavin, you can make up an argument for me if you wish, but it’s a mediocre sort of approach and I wonder if it would be better to try and engage with what’s actually been said rather than invent an argument for me.

    I don’t know, I’m mostly having to guess here

    Well, since Dylan was invoked earlier, he might suggest that you don’t criticise what you don’t understand. I wouldn’t go so far: what I might say, though, is that there may be other approaches to being a football supporter than your own, that other people may not interpret their role as you interpret yours and that – since they have not told you that you should boo, but you have taken it upon yourself to tell them to behave, you might try walking some of the distance towards their position to see why they don’t agree with you.

    And it’s not so hard: I gacve it to you above. We’re supporters, not cheerleaders. It’s not just our role to “get behind the team”. It’s not just our role to do what you may consider helpful. You do that, if you want. Sometimes, I don’t feel like it: sometimes, I don’t think the team merits it. And maybe, sometimes, I don’t think it would be helpful. That’s a bit more multidimensional than your position, I think, as well as a bit more reflective of the reality of how people relate to the football clubs which they have found themselves following.

    All cheer and no boo makes Jack a dull boy, I reckon. But I won’t take you to task if that’s what you choose to be. I have got a question, though: do you think that telling other people what sort of supporters they ought to be, and telling them that they should not speak their minds when they choose, might be construed as being just a tad impertinent?

    ejh

    November 26, 2010

  13. ejh

    If you knew that a substantial proportion of your fellow supporters felt that their matchday experience was diminished by you and others booing their own team, would you stop?

    ian

    November 26, 2010

  14. That’s a rhetorical querstion, so I’ll answer it with another one: if you knew that a substantial proportion of your fellow supporters felt that their “matchday experience” was enhanced by their ability to express their criticisms, would you stop telling them not to?

    It’s goose and gander, people.

    (As an aside, though a relevant one – I have, for years, felt and expressed the view that the football crowd is superior to the pop music crowd in a number of respects, and that one of these is its willingness to be critical.)

    ejh

    November 26, 2010

  15. Whilst I agree with you’re overall point that booing is both childish and self-defeating I think anyone who has supported a lower division side and is over 40 will be more then used to this phenomenon.

    As a Fulham supporter of over 30 years I’m accustomed to being along side fellow “fans” who seem to view the football as an opportunity to unleash all their angst in one go.

    The 90′s were not a great decade for the club and the players would be regularly abused, booed and generally ridiculed. I think this is the default stance for all football supporters. You’ve paid your money your entitled to moan. Complaining that the team play like a bunch of schoolkids, that you’re granny could score more goals than you’re number 9, or that if you turned up early enough and had your own boots you’d be in the starting eleven are familiar topics.

    I don’t think it’s anything new and to some extent I don’t think it’s that dreadful. I choose not to boo because I think I understand why things have gone wrong or why players cannot play at the top of their form every week but I still think the fans are entitled to make their feelings known if a performance isn’t up to scratch.

    Chopper

    November 26, 2010

  16. I’ve only once told someone to stop being negative which was when a group of fans were singing a song praising the substitute goalkeeper while the first choice keeper, clearly low on confidence, was having a shocker of a game.

    But no, I don’t think I’d object any less. Just like I’d object to heckling at comedy gigs or someone shouting obscenities at the top of their voice in a cinema. If someone behaves in a way I object to, it is my right to ask them to stop.

    ian

    November 26, 2010

  17. So it is. Has to be. But it doesn’t mean it’s reasonable to expect them to comply. Because something annoys other people doesn’t make it, in itself, wrong or unreasonable. You need to give your reasons for asking somebody else to desist, and really, I don’t think “I think you should be getting behind the team” is sufficient, is it?

    Personally it annoys the fuck out of me when people applaud when we land at an airport, but I don’t think I can do anything about it, and I don’t think I’d have any business trying.

    ejh

    November 26, 2010

  18. Certainly no deliberate failure to engage here, ejh (and certainly nothing personal meant, in case it appeared otherwise). I still can’t see what you think the actual reason is, beyond “I can so I will”, but you’re right, the lack of understanding is mine and that does make me curious. And I admit all the more so for someone like yourself who is capable of being so articulate in other contexts.

    And I don’t think I’m trying to tell anyone what they can and can’t do – although that’s a subjective issue anyway. There certainly are some modes of behaviour I absolutely would tell people not to do in football stadia (and I think and hope you would to), so the question is what comes under the banner of acceptability and what doesn’t rather than a black and white principle of not telling people how to behave. And what’s acceptable can and does vary according to different cultural norms.

    Booing is within acceptable conduct, I don’t for a minute want people to be actually prevented from doing it. I just don’t understand it and would rather they didn’t, given I believe it usually has a negative impact (as well as just not being a very nice thing to do). And I’d also argue it too often crosses into and is closely allied to a culture of personal invective which goes beyond the line of what I think should be tolerated – though of course I accept that even of those who do the booing thing it’s only a minority of people who cross that line.

    Gavin

    November 26, 2010

  19. Is silence better? One argument would be that at least emotions are being shown (the ejh route).

    I was at a game this season where Celtic massively underperformed – it was Braga at home I think, we needed a clean sheet and a couple f goals to take the tie into extra time, but they scored, iced the game and were comfortable to the end – Sammi was awarded Man of the match, I thought he had a shocker. I didn’t boo (you might get the occasional FFS, but not a boo), but I did LOL when a bunch of others did. They weren’t booing the team they were booing that weird MotM decision.

    There seems to be only one effective noise of disapproval from football fans – I’m not sure 700 or 800 people tutting would get picked up on ther mikes…

    jocky bhoy

    December 14, 2010

  20. And I agree with ejh on the flying thing. Those passengers set the bar pretty low – survival = applause. It’s kind of an inverse thing – if the plane did crash i’m sure the survivors would be kissing the pilot!

    jocky bhoy

    December 14, 2010

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