Des Kelly: Football fans should support with passion but ditch the bile
22:45 GMT, 17 August 2012
I was sitting in the Olympic Stadium a week ago when it suddenly occurred to me that something was missing.
For a while I couldn’t put my finger on it. I could see more people smiling than usual, which was odd. There were more flags too. But then my personal epiphany occurred. I realised not one of the 80,000 people inside the ground was hurling abuse at any of the teams.
The atmosphere was fabulous. The noise was incredible. But, for some inexplicable reason, not a single person with flecks of dried spittle in the corners of their mouth was screaming ‘You fat c***’ or ‘You useless f****** w*****’ at the people on the field.
No venom: The Olympic stadium featured friendly crowds
When a rival happened to cross the line in front of a British athlete, the fans in the first dozen rows of seats didn’t leap to their feet to snarl abuse and make wrist gestures that could never be mistaken for the recommended way to hold a relay baton. They just applauded.
If a javelin thrower let fly this was not met by a few thousand people yelling ‘You’re s***, ahh!’ in unison, as any goalkeeper might expect. And when a chap called Rooney brought his team home in fourth, it prompted a sympathetic ovation rather than insane, slavering, whoops of malicious glee.
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But this wasn’t a football ground. This wasn’t the same stage where our national game is routinely played out amid a chorus of jeers and insults.
On Saturday football shuffles back into its customary position in the limelight, squinting uncomfortably in the reflected glare of a golden summer. Of course, the compelling Premier League is rightly centre stage, with all its undeniable panache and drama. Yet, for now at least, it also seems rightly embarrassed by the associated hostility, bile and scumbag behaviour that trails along in its wake.
The astute Premier League chief executive Richard Scudamore was wise enough to admit unflattering comparisons were looming.
He said: ‘The Olympic Games were always going to be brilliant and then be contrasted with what is a 38-week-a-year, 130-year phenomenon which is English football. It’s like two completely different planets colliding but there’s no point in feeling like the comparisons are unfair.’
He’s absolutely right; it is not unfair to make parallels. The question to ask is how we allowed football to exist on a ‘completely different planet’.
We’ll get to the players because they are easy targets to be sanctimonious about. But let us look at the paying public first.
People will try to tell you it is ‘passion’ that fuels the hatred. It’s the love of a club, the desire, the emotion. These people are usually stupid. It’s nothing of the sort. It’s dumb anger. As a phenomenon it is not very different from road rage.
Instead of sitting behind a wheel and frothing at the perceived injustice that their vehicle is being prevented from making an uninterrupted journey across the surface of the earth, their pathetic fury is directed instead at anyone who might possibly foil their football team’s chances. Actually, it’s worse than that. Some cannot even accept the opinion that their club might possibly lose.
Reaction: Arsenal fans are already furious about Robin van Persie's departure
My talkSPORT colleague Stan Collymore received vile abuse on Twitter this week for doing little more than offer up his pre-season predictions. For reasons unknown, the terminally thick appear to confuse the idea that one particular side might finish above another with a personal insult.
Before a meaningful ball was even kicked, the phone-ins and social media were awash with venom and puerile protest over one footballer’s decision to switch clubs.
Robin van Persie — you may have heard of him — had expressed his desire to leave Arsenal some time ago, and when he completed a move to Manchester United it was the cue for familiar diatribes on ‘loyalty’.
I’ve been critical of how Van Persie has conducted himself with regards to Arsene Wenger, and he certainly could have handled aspects of this episode with a little more class. But it is facile to condemn any footballer for moving to a better-paid position elsewhere. It might be the club you support but it’s a job to him, people.
Twitter was still awash with bitter tears of bogus condemnation. One Eurosport commentator began re-tweeting messages that ‘Van Persie was forever dead to me’, which could make the team announcement before kick-off interesting.
‘In at No 9 Rooney… At No 10 Van Persie, deceased.’
I presume Eurosport will have him playing ‘in the hole’ from now on.
Over on CNN, another channel nobody watches unless the TV on the treadmill is broken, a presenter snivelled in public with all the self-control of Brigitte Nielsen in the park with a bottle of vodka.
Van Persie was ‘unforgiveable’… ‘a mercenary, heartless little s***’… ‘he whores when he wants’… and — best of all — he was accused of having ‘a greed-infested ego’. I hear the overwrought complainer went on to ‘scream and scream until he was sick’.
Homecoming: Jessica Ennis is greeted by thousands of happy fans in Sheffield
There was a delicious irony in hearing an Englishman who landed in America to chase a buck and notoriety take such offence over a Dutchman moving from London to Manchester for more money and recognition.
Football is chock full of self-absorbed, spoilt little children completely lacking in any wider awareness and it would be remiss of me not to acknowledge that some exist in the media.
But it would be wonderful if one of the ripple effects of this Olympic summer was that standards of behaviour inside our stadia rose above the levels of infantile abuse. It is not pious for the majority to wish football wasn’t quite so full of hatred.
Don’t tell me the jarring contrast with the Olympics is a class thing. That’s only part of the answer. As our aforementioned media folk prove, even posh boys can behave like trolls.
It’s not all down to booze either. There was alcohol for sale at the Olympic Stadium, but only one fan out of around 1.5million who trekked into the arena was hauled out for lobbing a (plastic) bottle on the track. Even better, a Dutch judo bronze medallist clumped him for his idiocy.
So why all the bile It’s because there are too many assumed ‘loyalties’ and bogus rivalries that deserve to be laughed out of existence rather than regarded as an excuse.
Some fans never truly see beyond their blinkers until the terrible happens. If a footballer suffers a cardiac arrest on the pitch, there’s talk of ‘respect’, ‘care’ and ‘the football family’. People pat themselves on the back for not behaving like degenerates while doctors are pounding a man’s chest. Moments before, he had been ‘one of their f****** c****’.
Can you imagine an Olympic Stadium echoing with chants mocking the murder of Israeli hostages at the Munich Games in 1972 It is a revolting thought.
No unedifying songs: Fans were pressing all the right buttons at the Games
Yet every week football grounds reverberate to songs celebrating air crashes, crowd deaths, accusations of paedophilia, suicide taunts, the passing of another club’s chairman or even the loss of a baby. You name it. Nothing is beyond the pale. Nothing is too sick to use as an insult at football and it’s not right.
Of course, we (the media, the public) are quick to jump on any footballers’ misdeeds and one will be accused of betraying the Olympic example this weekend by doing something daft.
I listened to ex-referee Dermot Gallagher trying to explain to Richard Keys and Andy Gray on air this week how players could be punished for foul language under ‘new’ guidance given to officials. Allow me to precis the scenario.
Is swearing at referees a red card offence ‘Yes, but it depends.’ What about players swearing at each other ‘If it’s in frustration, then no. But if it’s foul and abusive, yes.’
There are clearly going to be problems and this so-called initiative will fade away in weeks.
Football is a fabulous sport. It brings us alive. It gives us a focus every week. It lifts households and communities when it delivers its magic. It can also spoil the mood for an entire weekend or even an entire season if you live in Blackburn.
There are enough good people inside any football ground to make watching a match a more pleasurable experience. Will they be at Goodison Park on Monday Probably not if you ask Wayne Rooney.
But it is possible to love your club without hating others. It is possible to let a bit of the collective humanity we saw this summer spill into the resumption of our ‘normal’ sporting life. Try it. Start with yourself. Then the bloke next to you.
Prepared: Wayne Rooney (right) knows what's coming his way against Everton
Gold for lying
Last week I said the Government might spout propaganda about building on Olympic success but they were more likely to build on the penalty area.
It seems I was correct. Education Secretary Michael Gove approved the sale of more school playing fields than he originally disclosed. He has offloaded 30 sites since 2010 — nine more than he originally admitted.
Gove also ignored an advisory panel’s objections to push five of those sell-offs through. With Gove in charge of schools, we’ll be lucky to win gold for anything in Rio except lying and incompetence.
Manchester United to win the title. Manchester City to finish second. Arsenal third. Chelsea fourth.
Relegated: Wigan, Norwich and Swansea. Don’t take it personally now.
Winners: Des says Manchester United are his favourites for the title
New tape measure
Ipswich Town have invented their own unique system of measurements. They list forward Jay Emmanuel-Thomas on their official website as standing 5ft 12in tall. Is there a height tax in Suffolk on anyone 6ft or over Does HM Revenue and Customs need to be informed
Of course, there is an upside. With this new counting system, Ipswich can claim they finished 35th in the Premier League last season.