“No one shushes them. No one calls them politically incorrect. No one shakes their head. No one fines them. No one takes their ticket. No one rolls their eyes. No one tells them what to do. They just shout that a man who might be faking an injury should die and the game continues.”
It has forever been accepted that almost anything goes in a football ground – at least, if you’re one of the thousands in the stands, rather than one of the participants on the pitch and in the dug-outs. Football grounds are safe spaces for angry white men to cast off the rules of everyday life; two hours once or twice a week where responsibilities and common decency go out the window. For hundreds of thousands of people, this is their therapy, their release valve for all the bitterness and resentment that has built up at work and at home over the week, all let loose in tandem with a stadium full of people there to do just the same.
The pop psychology is that this is an act of mass catharsis, that those who stand and scream the loudest will be most able to return to their families on Saturday evening, and then to work on Monday morning, with their anger excised, their souls wiped clean of that simmering rage just in time for another week’s grind and tedium that will gradually build until they are able to take to their seats once more and start the cycle anew.
Ask those who launch volley after volley of abuse from the stands if they would behave that way in their everyday life, and you might as well ask if they’d like to be lowered gently into an active volcano. Of course not; but football is different. The stadium has special rules that don’t apply in real life, and without that, we would be starving the game of the passion and energy that makes going to a game so special. Take it away, and you drain the colour out of the whole experience.
We have become so embedded in this way of thinking that we are no longer able to see that it is possible to passionately enjoy yourself without behaving like an absolute arse. There was a tweet doing the rounds recently from a Liverpool fan who had been ejected from the ground after self-admittedly calling Harry Kane a “cheating horrible c*nt” for committing the terrible crime of doing his job and scoring a goal against Liverpool. His message ends: ‘This is a warning to every other Passionate Liverpool fan, bite your tongue, don’t let your emotion get the better of you because they will punish you for it.’ The replies were mostly of the predictably incredulous ‘this is a disgrace, the game’s gone, it’s been sanitised beyond belief’ variety.
It would be puritanical to suggest that football fans should behave like saints (except Southampton supporters, who absolutely should), but at the same time, there needs to be a larger degree of personal responsibility taken for one’s actions. The incredible double standard is that should a player or pundit react to being openly goaded by rival fans, they should be suspended and fined; but if a fan reacts to the perfectly normal events of a football match in a similar way, then they can’t possibly be held responsible. It’s simply indicative of their passion.
The truth of the matter is that the supposedly cathartic effects of venting anger are a complete myth. Taking out your rage by acting aggressively doesn’t work it out of your system; it simply trains you into believing that aggression is an appropriate response. The idea that fan ire is a necessary and important part of the game is simply wrong.
We really should know this already. Anyone who has ever been out in a city centre after a game, or has stood on the touchline at a kids’ football game, will already know that the anger of the terraces all too easily bleeds onto the streets and parks. By accepting it in our stadiums, we are giving tacit encouragement for people to behave that way in other walks of life. It allows people to justify to themselves that vicious abuse, sectarian chanting, coin throwing and worse are all just part of the experience, and that footballers should accept it as part of their job and shut up. Have we really forgotten so completely that football is supposed to be fun?
We often – misguidedly – talk about footballers failing the youth by being bad role models, but the sheer number of fathers, mothers, aunts and uncles who will happily stand and scream blue murder at the pitch, at rival fans, and at officials, without ever being called out and held accountable for their own behaviour, is surely much more deleterious. “But the football man provoked me with his silly celebration!” is the flimsiest of excuses for a such a total abjuration of personal responsibility.
As someone who been a burden to others with my own anger problems in the past, I have learned – with the appropriate help – that more often than not, allowing provocation to turn into anger is a choice. The idea that anything should go in a football ground, and that ‘showing passion’ (as the euphemism has it) is a desirable, necessary and healthy thing is just plain wrong, and its continued acceptance demeans us all.
Steven Chicken – follow him on Twitter