To Boo or Taboo?

On Sunday Spurs lost 1-2 at home to Stoke. Spurs have had a disappointing start to their season, and the fans were not happy with their team’s performance in what turned out to be their fourth home defeat of the season and booed the team to the point where fans have accused the club of cranking up the volume of the PA system in order to drown those boos out at the final whistle.

This prompted Spurs striker Emmanuel Adebayor to make comments, which he is now trying to backpedal from, about how the Spurs fans’ booing is making it harder for the team to perform and he went as far to suggest that the booing has had such an effect on players’ confidence that some of the Spurs team are shying away from the ball for fear of making a mistake and that they might be better off playing away from home.

Adebayor said:

“It’s kind of hard when you know the first bad ball you make the fans are going to boo you. When you are playing in front of your own crowd you want them to support you. But now it is like going through a sad moment and your family not welcoming you home. That’s the worst thing ever because you have nowhere to go. At the moment I don’t know whether we should play at home or whether we should play away”

Traditionally, the idea of booing your own team has been a big no-no amongst football fans in England.

A lot of people will argue that supporting a team means just that. Supporting them no matter what happens on the pitch. Sharing in the success when things go well and helping the team and your fellow fans get through the bad results.

There are plenty of very valid arguments against booing your own team. Chief amongst them is that you could easily destroy the confidence of your own team’s players, which is something Adebayor alluded to. Football is a game in which confidence and self-belief can play a large part and damaging that confidence can cause a player to either shy away from the ball, or become more conservative when they are in possession, both of which can have a detrimental effect on the team.    

Increasingly, fans are targeting individual players, which on a human level isn’t a nice thing to do.  You wouldn’t like it if you’re having a bad day at work and you start getting barracked by your colleagues or clients, so why do it to someone else?

No matter how much money they earn, any player can be affected by criticism, especially as that criticism is emotional rather than constructive. Plus, that criticism is not restricted to the fans in the stadium and no longer ends when the final whistle goes, as it used to. Social networking means that fans can voice their displeasure at a player any time they like, so players are open for criticism at all times. No matter how much money you earn, you’d have to have a very thick skin for that not to get at you.

The sentiment behind ‘supporting your team no matter what’ comes from the idea that fans are a part of their football club and feel some kind of ownership towards what is happening on the pitch. Football in England used to draw the majority of its paying fans from working-class people, and most of the players on the pitch were from similar backgrounds to those fans watching them. That meant that the player on the pitch and the fan in the stand could relate to one another easily.

However, the truth is that in most cases in the UK, the relationship between club and fan has completely and probably irrevocably changed from what it was several years ago. As a result, I think fans are absolutely entitled to boo their own team, and should exercise that right when they feel it’s necessary.

As football in England became more popular and fashionable, people from more affluent backgrounds started to attend matches, and it didn’t take long for clubs to realise that they could charge more for tickets than ever before, with the ticket prices at some Premier League clubs being over 1100% more expensive than they were before the Premier League was formed . In the last few years, the state of the British economy has meant that wages haven’t increased for most people. This hasn’t stopped the price of football tickets rising at several times the level of inflation.

Most Premier League clubs don’t even pretend that their fans are an integral part of the club anymore. Instead, they only care about fans to the extent of how much money can be extracted from them. A few years ago, the Chairman of the FA called fans ‘consumers’, which sums up the attitude the football authorities in England have towards fans.

So, if fans are now openly being treated as consumers by their club, and by the league in which that club plays, then why shouldn’t they then behave like any other consumer would? If you bought any other product that turned out to be completely unsatisfactory, you’d complain.

So, seeing as though Premier League fans pay a lot of money to attend matches, what’s wrong with them complaining if they are then presented with a sub-standard product, such as a bad performance from their team or a perception that players aren’t putting in enough effort?

One of the consequences of clubs attracting more affluent fans is that a lot of clubs have lost their traditional fanbase. So, a lot those fans who are of the school of thought that you support your team no matter what, have now been driven away from the stadiums and have been replaced by fans who expect to be entertained and are less tolerant of bad performances.    

Most clubs quite openly don’t care about individual fans. If one fan stops coming, another will take their place. Most clubs also operate with a veil of secrecy which means fans don’t get any say in they way a club is run, even on things that affect them. In the absence of open dialogue between a club and their fans, the only way those fans can express their displeasure is to boo.

On top of that, players’ wages have vastly increased at the top end of the game. The average wage of a Premier League player is £31,000 per week (about $49,000) and some players can make ten times that. This means that the average Premier League footballer makes far more per week than most fans do in a year.

What this means is that whereas years ago fans and players could easily relate to one another, as they made similar amounts of money and lived in the same areas as fans; but that is no longer the case. Players have trouble relating to fans and vice-versa.

So, whereas at one time fans might’ve held back from booing their own players because they saw those players as being similar to themselves, they now see players as being so different from themselves, they have no problem booing them.

Once upon a time, booing your team was unthinkable. It was almost a symbiotic relationship between club and fan. The club depended on their fans and the fans reciprocated.

Now, supporters are increasingly being excluded from the clubs in which they support. As clubs chase the multi-million sponsorship deals on offer, the concerns of fans are low on their list of priorities. Clubs now generate hundreds of millions of pounds in revenues and pay their players exorbitant wages.  

What clubs forget is that ultimately, those high wages are paid for by fans. It’s the fans that buy tickets and merchandise. It’s the fans that subscribe to channels which allow the Premier League to sell their TV rights for billions of pounds. It’s the fans that buy products which allow companies to pay millions to have their product associated with a particular club.

So as the relationship between a club and their fans has become more one of supplier and customer, can those fans then be blamed if they don’t like the product they have paid for?