Fever pitch! So, who are the best and worst fans to play for
Believe it or not, there was a time when Robbie Savage was more noted for his midfield dynamism than the quality of his quick step.
In an interview recently, he named Birmingham City supporters as the least demanding he had played for – on the basis that they were happy as long as the club defeated Aston Villa. He named Derby County”s as the most difficult to please because he felt they thought they should be playing in the Premier League.
Neil Moxley, Colin Young and Alex Kay tracked down some other well-travelled players and asked who were the most – and least – demanding set of supporters in the country.
Blue for you: Kevin Phillips celebrates infront of the Birmingham fans
I was lucky to play for some down-to-earth clubs with working-class fans who valued the fact that, wherever I went, I gave what I could.
On that basis, it”s difficult to separate teams I played for at my “peak”. I”m talking about the likes of Birmingham and Leicester, both of whom treated me well. I won at Wembley with both of them, too, which helped!
But when I started out, Cambridge United”s supporters were brilliant – mainly, I think, because the team at that time exceeded all of their expectations.
We reached the FA Cup quarter-finals twice and were promoted twice. They couldn”t believe their luck, they were so grateful to us. We could do no wrong.
But I have to say Portsmouth are the best – not because they are my team but because they did show outstanding loyalty when the club needed it most – towards the end of the 1998-99 season when we played Stockport at Fratton Park.
We were struggling to stay in the Championship. There were 11,000 people inside the ground and they kept up a chant of “Alan Ball”s Blue and White Army” for 90 minutes. When one side of the ground would get tired, another one would take it up. I recall it vividly because it was a seminal moment in the club”s recent history.
The most difficult – although it often happens that they would be among my best as well – were Millwall. You need character to play for that club, and I didn”t think I did too badly, either.
I scored 19 goals in 37 games on loan. But at least they chanted my name in a positive way at times, which I”m told is quite a compliment!
* Claridge played for Bournemouth Aldershot, Cambridge, Luton, Birmingham, Leicester, Wolves, Portsmouth, Millwall, Brighton, Brentford, Wycombe, Gillingham, Bradford and Walsall in a career spanning 22 years.
Pressure point: Iain Dowie suffered at West Ham
In my early days, the Luton lot were a good bunch. Kenilworth Road is tight and even with 8-10,000 in, they made a lot of noise. We fed off each other.
But I would have to say West Ham”s fans were about the best I played for. I think it helped that I knew what they were about.
When I was playing for them, we won a promotion tussle 2-1 against Swindon and I scored. They were flying that day – as we were as a team. It remains one of my fondest memories there.
As a coach, I”ve been on the sidelines and a couple of groups of supporters have really impressed me. I think what they say about Newcastle fans is true. It”s a goldfish bowl where everyone has an opinion.
When they are behind you, it can be awesome. I remember standing alongside Alan Shearer during a relegation battle against Middlesbrough and the roof nearly came off St James”s Park when Newcastle scored.
West Ham were probably about the worst, too, as well as the best. I went something like nine games without a goal and, blimey, did they let me know it They knew the statistic better than I did.
I had a similar experience with Southampton. It didn”t help that, when I arrived, the manager, Ian Branfoot, was under pressure and strikers are expected to help ease the pressure on their managers.
Sadly, I didn”t find the net for a good few games, so I got a bit of stick for that but I”ve never held it against them. That”s what happens if a forward doesn”t score.
* Dowie played for Luton, Fulham, West Ham, Southampton, Crystal Palace and QPR in a career spanning 15 years.
Stuck on you! Kilbane (second left) enjoyed the atmosphere at Goodison Park
It was not until I got to Sunderland that I felt I was at a big club. I was only a kid at Preston and West Bromwich and it took me a year to settle.When I arrived on Wearside we were in the top three of the Premier League. We were playing Southampton and Peter Reid was getting terrible stick from one fan and I was thinking, “What more can he do” It”s still like that there.
How do you know a club is “big” I understood what it meant when I went for a drink or to the supermarket. People would follow me round. I was only 20 and I probably wasn”t prepared for it.
So, when we all got stick on a pre-season tour and I stuck two fingers up at the Sunderland fans, it was not the greatest moment of my career. I can laugh about it now but I am not proud of it, it was just an honest reaction.
The funny thing is I had my best season for Sunderland after that. I admit I didn”t play well every week, but it was an unforgiving place. I would say Sunderland fans are the most demanding I”ve come across.
I felt Everton fans connected with the team and always got right behind them. Opposition players mention it at Goodison. They”ll say it”s a horrible place to go because the fans are united with the players and manager.
They can still get on your back, but give them everything and they will support you. It was at Everton that the Zinedine Kilbane T-shirts and nickname came out, and I don”t know if it was Everton fans or Irish fans who made it up. I was never sure whether it was mickey-taking, or a form of endearment.
But so many people still come up to me and call me it with a smile, so hopefully it”s not all in jest.
* Kilbane played for Preston, West Bromwich, Sunderland, Everton, Wigan, Hull, Huddersfield and Derby over 17 years.
All or nothing: Townsend knew he had to deliver
Chelsea fans were fantastic to me and I loved playing at Stamford Bridge. I played there during some fallow years so if we gave them anything to shout about they were happy.
I used to love the London games because we”d take so many fans away with us. But you have to remember that in those days Stamford Bridge was often half-empty so, if things were not going well, you could hear the abuse.
I remember them turning on Dave Beasant during a game against Norwich – it was pretty nasty. Villa fans were similar. They would back you but they would let you know if they felt you weren”t giving 100 per cent. Though they were generally pretty good because we were winning things and in Europe most seasons.
At Norwich, we were pressure-free because we were punching above our weight and Dave Stringer had the full backing of the fans – the polar opposite of what is going on at Blackburn.
Equally, at Middlesbrough, the fans were so happy because we won promotion and had a good couple of years in the Premier League. It saddens me to see the ground not full now.
* Townsend played for Norwich, Southampton, Chelsea, Aston Villa, Middlesbrough and West Bromwich in a career spanning 15 years.
Too close for comfort: Keeper Poole often copped an earful
After being an apprentice at Aston Villa, it was great to get a chance to play for the club but it wasn”t until I moved to Middlesbrough that I understood the difference supporters could make.
As a goalkeeper you hear more than the odd comment. The Holgate End at Ayresome Park was full of characters who”d let you know if you”d made a mistake or done something right. To a young (-ish) keeper, though, they were pretty supportive.
The terracing wasn”t always full, so that only magnified what they said. Believe it or not, it wasn”t always criticism, the odd thing would make you smile, too.
I wouldn”t say I had a strained relationship with any fans. They all want what”s best for their club.
But, if you are talking about places to go where you would get stick, I”d single out Newcastle. Whether it was because I played for Middlesbrough or not, I always copped an earful there.
* Poole played for Aston Villa, Northampton Middlesbrough, Hartlepool, Leicester, Birmingham, Bolton, Derby, Burton Albion in a career spanning 30 years.
What a feeling: Kevin Phillips celebrates scoring in front of Sunderland fans
I don”t think my answer will surprise many – Sunderland were the best just for the passion and love of football. There wasn”t much like it, playing in front of 40,000 Mackems with them willing you to score.
It remains one of the proudest milestones when I broke Brian Clough”s goalscoring record.
However, there is something different about that part of the world when it comes to support. The Newcastle fans had their moments, too. The derbies are full-on affairs.
I played in a Wear-Tyne dust-up 10 years ago. Newcastle went two-up and we pulled one back before half-time. There was pretty much relentless Sunderland pressure after that.
I managed to score five minutes from the end. I”ve never heard anything like it. I suppose I”ve been lucky. Goalscorers are held in high regard at most clubs and I”ve managed to find the net at all of mine.
I would say Villa didn”t see the best of me and that might have been my most difficult time – but only because I had a lengthy spell out with injury.
But I think I”m right in saying I scored the winner in a derby against Birmingham for them. So I”m hoping that makes up for it – although now I”ve gone and upset Blues” fans by mentioning it!
* Phillips played for Watford, Sunderland, Southampton, Aston Villa, West Bromwich, Birmingham and Blackpool over 17 years.