One upon a time, a torrent of boos cascading down from stands was reserved only for the most catastrophic of defeats or for a manager who was, very clearly, at the end of his reign. It was the potent, visceral sound of the boo boys that could make boards of directors at EPL clubs flinch and immediately hurry off into emergency meetings.
By Dave Bowler
Nowadays, booing is the ubiquitous response to virtually anything where things don’t go just exactly the way that we supporters want them to. As such, for those in positions of power, they have become utterly irrelevant and are greeted with a shrug and a ‘meh’. How could it be any other way when supporters seem so intent on crying wolf all the time?
Crystal Palace, in their first game back at Selhurst Park since being a handful of minutes away from winning the FA Cup for the first time. As they trooped off after losing a tight game, 1-0 to West Bromwich Albion, Alan Pardew was subject to a hail of boos and some pretty nasty abuse as he headed for the dressing room. A week later, Albion got a taste of it after losing 2-1 at home to Everton, that’s an Everton team able to bring £75million of talent off the bench during a game in which Albion had three teenagers with all but no top flight experience between then on the bench.
David Moyes, 45 minutes into his home career at Sunderland, saw his team booed off at the stadium of Light. No, they weren’t playing well, yes, being second best to Middlesbrough is grim, but when you look at the last three or four years up on Wearside, what magic was Moyes supposed to have weaved inside six weeks or so in the job?
Sunderland have been dreadful for years, have escaped the drop at the death time and again, are desperate for some continuity. The fact that the fans have stuck with them through thin and thinner these last few years is impressive, but turning on then so swiftly under yet another new regime is unlikely to bring the best out of their players, hardly like to create an environment in which they feel able to perform.
West Ham, European qualifiers, heading off into their new stadium on the back of an excellent season masterminded by Slaven Bilic. They have the temerity to lose to Romanian side Astra Giurgiu at home to miss out on the group stage of the Europa League – which everybody seems to hate anyway – and they get booed off too. And let’s not get started on the way Arsene Wenger is being hounded by a section of what we used to call the faithful at Arsenal.
None of which is to suggest that managers, players, boards, clubs should be above criticism because clearly such an attitude is nonsense. But if that’s the case, neither should supporters, the one group of people who, it seems, can never have a bad word said about them.
There is a sea change going on in supporting in the Premier League. Once upon a time, you’d have your moans and groans during the game, but by and large supporters were there to be, well, supportive. The idea was that your home crowd would be with you through out the game, intimidating the opposition, being the ‘twelfth man’ of legend that helped see you over the line – creating a genuine home advantage.
Nowadays, visiting clubs see it as their job to keep things quiet for their first 20 minutes knowing full well that as often as not, the home crowd will turn on their own team if it’s still 0-0 or, God forbid, they’ve fallen behind, intimidating their own players rather than the opposition. Playing at home is far less of an advantage these days than it was in the past.
As to why? Many reasons probably combine. Younger fans tend to be less willing to suffer in silence than more stoical previous generations did. They want success and they want it now. That in itself presents a problem given that, the once in a generation miracle of last season’s Leicester apart, the likelihood is that you’re not going to get it unless you support one of the mega-clubs and, even then, only one wins the league.
The gentrification of the game has perhaps altered the make-up of support too, rising prices bringing in an ‘audience’ as much as a ‘crowd’, people who are as used to going to the theatre or concerts and, by and large, getting exactly what they want from those experiences. Football doesn’t work that way, it doesn’t guarantee you value for your ticket money, so if you think it’s going t be the same as going to the West End to see a show, you’re going to be sorely disappointed.
The Premier League hype machine is doing nobody any good either. Everything is whipped into such a frenzy that it’s no wonder everybody expects the greatest show on earth every time a game is played. Nothing can handle that level of anticipation.
And then you have the wonders of antisocial media where the anonymous engage in a determined and escalating war of abuse at initially a club, manager, player and then, inevitably, one another. None of it creates an atmosphere that’s likely to be in any way positive within grounds, not least because so many people spend so much of the game tweeting rather than watching.
In the end, it’s all a reflection of changing times inside and outside the football ground, times where everyone is quicker to complain, not a bad thing in itself, yet where standards never seem to improve in spite of it. Maybe that’s because if every setback, however small, is met by a hail of boos, the clubs never really know when the wolf is actually there?