When football fans descend into collective foolishness

This might seem like a strange statement to begin a column on a football website, read by football fans. In fact, it might look like I’m shooting myself in the foot from the off, but it’s something that I think is very true. I am a fool. I’m a football fan and that makes me an irrational, unreasonable, blindly committed, bad-tempered fool.

Individually, we’re all reasonable people. We all wear jumpers and eat chocolate like everyone else. But put us together into a group, watching that team that we support, and it’s almost as if all the common sense and rational thought we possess evaporates and we descend into collective foolishness.

As the row about football sexism and Sky Sports has reached its head this week, the one thing that has been forgotten is that an important offside decision was awarded correctly by an official. It doesn’t matter that the official was male or female, but it does matter that the decision was correct. Of all the people in the world to know the offside rule you, you’d think the assistant referees would be up there at the top, but you’d be wrong by general consensus of the people I sit near at the football (an unscientific sample of the population, I know).

I won’t forget the number of times the flag hasn’t gone up and the folk around me have barked all sorts of abuse at the person holding it. I’ve done it myself, too: Ball played through, striker runs onto it and nearly scores, shout something at the assistant referee who kept the flag down because we nearly conceded a goal. Forget the bad defending or the fact that the striker was onside. Just blame the official. Job done.

They will, of course, get some decisions wrong. They’re only human, after all. But so are all the fans shouting what the correct decision should have been and, by definition, they will be wrong at times, also – take the recent game between my team, Manchester City, and Wolves. Kevin Doyle would take up an offside position behind the City line and Wayne Hennessey would hoof it from a goal kick.

When Doyle challenged for the ball, the offside flag should go up, as roughly 100 people in the stands pointed out. Except it didn’t, and rightly so, because there are no offsides from a goal kick, just like from throw-ins or corners. Judging by a thread that appeared after that game on a Manchester City forum to which I post, it seems a fair few blues didn’t know that rule, either.

And then there’s zonal marking. Everybody in the stands knows that City mark zones rather than players at corners, but that won’t prevent cries of “who’s picking him up?” or “why is there nobody tight with suchabody?”. The zones are marked so that when the ball comes into them, the player there can clear it. The theory is that the team won’t concede a goal when a forward gives his marker the slip.

“Why do we have to bring everybody back? Leave Tevez on the halfway line!” All eleven City players are in and around the box when defending corners in order to mark their zones. Tevez is on the edge of the box to pick up the scraps and to chase the ball out. Zonal marking is also why, when the opposition take a short corner, whoever is standing on the near post closes the ball down, along with the other nearest player.

“Look at Johnson! He’s got acres of space!” – Of course he has, the ball is on the opposite flank. The time it takes for the ball to travel the width of the pitch gives the full back on his wing more than enough time to get across and cover him. That’s the flat back four for you (and this is the one that I’m always most guilty of – it’s so easy to think it). It’s also why City’s full backs don’t stick tight to their wingers at all times.

The people that shout these comments know the answer and, without being a part of the collective football fan foolishness that exists, they would have realised the answer straight away. On our own, us football fans are sensible, right-thinking members of society.

But put us together and we’re all as daft as brushes.


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