We’ve all done it. You know how it is. You’re at a football match, and an opposition player has made an accusation of receiving a racial insult from one of your players. So naturally you spend 90 minutes booing the opposition player’s every touch. At the back of your mind, a little thought flickers – is this right? But then you think, don’t be silly. After all, it’s just witty banter.
Kenny Dalglish excused the treatment of Evra as fine – after all, he was regularly booed as a player, so what’s the difference?
Really it’s about time managers stopped the siege mentality and stopped defending their club’s every action. By defending the club this usually means the players’ actions and the fans’ actions. It seems obvious they won’t criticise the owners- that wouldn’t be a good career move, as Alex Ferguson knows well enough.
When considering examples of when defending your club goes too far, Dalglish’s conduct over Suarez is an obvious choice.
Despite Liverpool’s anger over proceedings, surely everyone realised it was time to move on once Suarez returned to action. But not Dalglish, who had to mention the injustice of it all once more in a press conference. The problem with Dalglish is that he is a fan of the club he manages – it runs through his blood, and which of us is happy with criticising the actions of our club when the club is under attack? No, we adopt a siege mentality, and back our team to the hilt.
It seems clear that managers are loath to criticise fans, whatever they do. Even Steve Kean can’t bring himself to do it much. Fans could throw bags of faeces onto the pitch and the manager would probably claim it was a protest at national toilet facilities. Burn down the souvenir store? That’s a term of endearment in Dundee. Now it seems that just being related to the alleged victim of a racial insult is now a crime, and thus appropriate for a “lively” reception from opposition fans. Needless to say, Andre Villas-Boas passed off Rio Ferdinand’s treatment as normal.
Villas-Boas said: “You don’t expect opposing fans to cheer your players.” He added: “This is a normal situation in the Premier League.” To be fair to Villas-Boas though he did admit such actions were wrong, which was good to hear.
“You have to condemn it when there is discriminatory, aggressive behaviour.”
Managers are loathe to criticise their players either, not surprising considering what delicate souls they tend to be. Hence, managers will regularly critics the actions of opposition players whilst defending identical actions of their own (if they saw it), no doubt adding that the other team’s player was looking for it, and got his player sent off.
Managers rely on the support of the fans of course, so won’t be keen to get on their wrong side. But do they not realise that they may gain more respect from many of their fans of they were honest? Plenty of Chelsea fans would have been disappointed by the booing of Rio Ferdinand, in the same way that many Liverpool fans found the booing of Evra distasteful. Wouldn’t they appreciate their manager saying so?
Part of the problem is, as we saw with Suarez, is that the fans’ behaviour is often shaped by the actions of their club’s hierarchy. This may only make matters worse. And with the modern phenomena of social media, fans have a gateway to the players, to continue their odious behaviour. Thus only yesterday, Manchester City’s Micah Richards deleted his Twitter account, having finally had enough of racial abuse on the social network. This is a problem that clearly hasn’t gone away as we had hoped. Away from the experiences of Richards and back to Suarez (who it must be reiterated was never accused of being racist), I accept that Liverpool football club and their fans could not accept a ban based not on proof but merely probability, and that they feel aggrieved, and I realise they cannot predict the consequence of all of their actions, but they should realise that keeping the issue bubbling under the surface is only making matters worse, and brings the worst out in a minority of fans. Sometimes you have to accept your fate, and move on.
And as Manchester United and Liverpool go into battle once more, another problem is that of obscene chants, which also begs the question – could clubs do more? If managers spoke out about Munich, Hillsborough or various other songs, could it make a difference? I know clubs have made moves behind the scenes to try and improve matters, but could a more up-front policy bear dividends? Or would they continue nevertheless?
Of course when it comes to criticising their own, not all managers bite their lip. As the pressure tells on Arsene Wenger, he has turned recently on some of the most vociferous fans. The likes of Mick McCarthy too have criticised supporters. I’m all for it. Us fans are generally idiots, happy to dole it out before acting shocked should we get it back, be it off a player or a manager with nothing to lose. But lose the suppor tof the fans, and your days as a manager are numbered. It’s no wonder most managers keep their thoughts to themselves. They’d probably have plenty to say if they could.
As a nation, we think ourselves superior to much of the world in many respects – a progressive, multicultural, well-mannered country that shakes its head and expresses horror at the action of fans and clubs in other countries, where for example the incidents of racism are as common as a swallow dive in the penalty area. Recent events show we aren’t there yet – we still have our problems, be it racism, common abuse, or just acting with decorum and in the right way. Those that represent our clubs have got a duty to help stop those that act appallingly, and occasionally that must involve criticising your own. We’d all be better off for it.
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