Booing players – why do we bother?

One of the more bizarre elements of the Stamford bridge soap opera on Saturday was the Chelsea fan’s decision to boo Wayne Bridge.

Obviously upset over the way he allowed his ex-girlfriend to sleep with their skipper and ruin his sterling reputation, the home fans made sure Bridge knew about their disgust every time he touched the ball.

Quite what the Chelsea faithful hoped to achieve is anyone’s guess. Maybe they felt their actions would leave Bridge curled up in a fetal position on the centre circle sobbing uncontrollably.

The fact is Bridge shrugged off the boos and produced arguably his best performance since the entire episode started.

Bridge’s reaction is hardly unique, time and time again a player who receives booing from the opposition merely goes about his job as usual, sometimes even seeming more motivated.

1998 was a case in point, David Beckham, following the World Cup was the most hated man in England and was treated to some of the most fervent abuse in the history of the Premier League.  Did Beckham crumble every time he played away? Well not exactly, instead he had a superb season which culminated in winning the treble. You’d think this would make fans realise that booing is not the answer but no. Cristiano Ronaldo got the same treatment eight years later and promptly went about helping United to their first title in four seasons.

I’m not going to pretend that I haven’t booed before. I remember as a 14 year-old watching Barcelona versus Man United back in the mid 90’s. A certain Ronald Koeman was on the receiving end of a chorus of boos every time he touched the ball. His crime? He’d pulled down David Platt- while through on goal- in an England world cup qualifier and then had the cheek to not only not get sent off but to also go on and score a free-kick. The swine. As you would expect he seemed pretty indifferent to the treatment he received as United managed to salvage a draw thanks to a Lee Sharpe back heel.

Wayne Rooney recently made a plea to England fans to give Terry a break and not boo him. Quite a remarkable request when you think about it. Please England fans don’t boo your former captain. Although to be fair to Rooney he’s probably right to worry, just ask Owen Hargreaves, Ashley Cole or Frank Lampard.

Booing the opposition is arguably pointless but what’s to be gained from doing the same to our own players is beyond me.

More often than not a player who’s targeted happens to be one of the more gifted people on the pitch. Ronaldo was picked on because of his behaviour in the World Cup but the fact he was often on the score sheet only increased everyone’s ire.

Sometime’s booing seems understandable,  I don’t think even Neville Neville –that is his dad’s name and I haven’t just made it up- would be aggrieved if his Gary doesn’t get the warmest of welcome’s at Anfield. Some players actually seem to thrive off it, rent-a-panto-villain Robbie Savage was someone who generally seemed to revel in the hatred he induced in opposition fans.

Occasionally such behaviour seems ridiculous, and can often be embarrassing to the fans rather than the player. Eboue’s treatment last season, gave many people watching on television the impression that Arsenal fans were a tad fickle to say the least, yet I’m sure the vast majority at the Emirates felt it deplorable.

Attending a charity for match for kids a couple of years ago, I was pleased to see a certain Diego Armando Maradona make an appearance.  Although he was playing against the likes of Robbie Williams and Jamie Theakston and was obviously well past his best, it was still a treat to see one of the worlds greatest ever players on a football pitch. My joy was not shared by everyone however as Maradona was booed every time he touched the ball. At a charity match. For Kids. Playing against Jamie Theakston.

There’s no denying that booing will always be a part of our game, as long as there’s diving, fouls, transfers and even goals, you’re going to get players who’ll get stick for whatever reason. The point is that if we look back on many of the players who’ve been given stick over the years, it seems the vast majority treat it like water off a duck’s back, with some even seeming to gain inspiration. It may help some of us vent our anger but in terms of the effect on players it hardly seems worth the effort.

Read more of Justin Mottershead work at his blog ‘Name is on the Trophy’