Football: The cannibalistic side of modern supporters

Football has often been about bragging rights and for those who support sides that don’t generally tend to win things, the best we could hope for is to knock a rival off their perch.

Undertaking the role of potential spoilers was a joyous occasion in amongst a season of nothing ever happening.

It presented you with the chance to mock friends or family as you crushed their hopes and dreams. 

Growing up as a lone Tottenham fan in the north of England I was surrounded by Manchester United and Liverpool supporters at every turn. The Liverpool fans were generally second generation ones as the 80s were dominated by Liverpool so their parents supported them. The United supporters were ‘brand new’ because by the time we started watching football, and by we I mean my generation, they were the new powerhouse in English football. For me, I had little to cheer about following Spurs in the 90s but we did occasionally rain on others’ parades. Ah, the glory years.

But in the 90s everyone more or less knew where they stood in the pecking order. Plenty of sides threatened to break the mould yet failed, while Blackburn Rovers managed it once before disappearing into the wilderness. There was no real ambition, which was sad, but Spurs did always have the occasional cup run to briefly lift our spirits and distract us from making up the numbers in the league.

Modern football is all about the here and now, not once was or what could be, but what’s available in front of us. It’s more fun to see things this way as you’re no longer pigeonholed into a certain role or place in the table as a good or poor start can drastically alter expectations and demands. A run of victories can see sides dream of making the European places and a bunch of losses can make even the biggest sides look over their shoulder or worry about relegation.

There is, however, a downside to this way of thinking. It blurs the lines between reality and expectation. Leicester City were expected to fight against relegation last term but as the season wore on, it wasn’t until near the end that people began to genuinely consider them as potential champions. Expectations changed and with ten or so games left, anything but lifting the title would have been considered a failure.

Some saw this an the ushering in of a new era but this season has seen them revert to type, to perhaps where they should be, and questions are being asked of Claudio Ranieri. Had he not won the Premier League last season their form and struggles would come as no surprise. Expectations have risen and the reality of the situation ignored.

The same can be said of teams in Spain too. Valencia were awful last year but still, ahead of the new campaign, most felt they could be challenging for the European spots. Why though? Because they’re a big name in Spanish football? The instability at Valencia coupled with the poor transfer business meant this was an unrealistic aim. Be angry at the owner, chairwoman and those in the boardroom but the misplaced expectations don’t help matters either.

Perhaps one of the most damning elements to this modern football era are the fans reactions to certain events. Not only are the top sides expected to win every game but so are those on the verge of challenging the elite. We’ve created an environment where everyone is an expert after things go wrong, analysing every error in minute detail or how the lineup didn’t make sense despite so many being happy with it when it was originally announced.

You see analysis akin to that of Andy Gray in the original days of Sky Sports. “If he goes to the near post that cross doesn’t reach the striker in the middle.” Well, yeah, no s**t. If everyone could rewind the game and move people into a different position then no one would score. “If the goalkeeper didn’t take a step to the right, he’d save that.” Again, outstanding work. It’s easy to be an expert after something has already happened, that’s why so many stick to the studio as opposed to the dugout.

Nowadays Fan TV is available at most English clubs. I’m not against it by any means as I think the raw emotions of fans after a result, positive or negative, are some of the most honest things we can see in a sport where so much is faked or reeks of corporate sponsorship. We aren’t always rational and make heat of the moment statements which, maybe in an hour or two, a day or two, we reflect upon and realise were wrong or too extreme. My issue is having the same fans on every week who know how to get views, who play to the camera and act like minor celebrities.

Some of them jump out at you as if they’re cartoon characters. The reactions are no longer real or raw but designed to capitalise on their reputation amongst the internet community. Most fans don’t want to be the figurehead of their club on a social media platform, be it because they’re too shy or simply worried about the backlash online. It’s hard to draw them in to something which has such a huge, judgemental audience.

At the same time those who travel up and down the country shouldn’t necessarily have their opinions dismissed out of hand. While established characters, in every sense of the word, deep down there’s a sense of honesty about feelings. When you scrape away the screaming, shouting, threats and ‘bluds’ there’s a genuine message there, be it positive or negative, and they have as much right as anyone to express that.

Rival supporters may look forward to watching Arsenal Fan TV following a loss but the reality is much worse can be – and is – seen online by practically every group of supporters.

YouTube is a wonderful platform but I’m not sure whether modern fans who have created this over-the-top, sometimes pantomime like post-match reactions and it’s found a place on social media or whether the shows have created fans who aim to emulate current popular members of said programmes.

We’re reaching a point where we no longer need rivals to tear apart the club we love as we do a better job ourselves. You only have to look at your own fanbase following a loss and the tidal wave of anger, frustration and the call for immediate changes. It’s as if, one or two hours after a match, the Men in Black swoop in and erase everyone’s memories. We resort back to our default settings but the emotional tab is elevated a little bit higher.

There’s so much pressure on teams and players it borders on being unhealthy. You can win ten matches in a row but drop points in the eleventh and you’re thrown under a bus, labelled as bottlers, certain members of the squad should be sold, the coach isn’t improving the team and the chairman should’ve spent more in the summer and/or January. We ignore the good but focus on the bad. Negativity is a drug.

I’ve noticed that some people are relatively quiet during a good run of form. Of course they post the odd message to say this might be the year something special happens but when there’s a loss? Now that’s when the posts come thick and fast. Lamenting the same mistakes, ignoring obvious positives and encouraging general pandemonium. It’s like going on holiday to Spain for two weeks but complaining about the 20 minutes it rained on your third day there. The bigger picture doesn’t exist anymore, patience doesn’t exist anymore.

Our constant urge to leap from greatness to failure in the blink of an eye might make for good ‘content’ but you’re also in danger of being a bit like the boy cried wolf. Genuine concerns can get lost in the bickering as fans seem irrational and demanding to members of the club who monitor social media trends – and all clubs do it.

So the next time your club wins or loses try to consider whether it’s the end of the world or not. The unpredictability of football is a wonderful thing but it’s important those who go to the game, who watch it at home or who speak up on social media, don’t become predictable either. As maybe, when you’ve got a point, everyone will have already stopped listening to you.

Football isn’t all or nothing but it can feel like that. We’ve all screamed in a high-pitched way at a last minute goal or sunk into our chair unable to comprehend what’s just happened, not wanting to speak to another person ever again. We’ve all gone into work with a big smile on our faces trying to find that guy who’s been giving it the big one all last week.  We’ve all contemplated ringing in sick to avoid the ribbing should our side lose. The lows make us appreciate the highs.

Try and find the joy in the sport you love, otherwise what’s the point?