The other week at the National Opera, during the opening of the latest production of Rossini’s Guillaume Tell, the crowd became restless at what they deemed to be an unsatisfactory and offensive performance. And perhaps understandably so, given that this particular interpretation apparently featured plenty of violence, including a protracted rape scene.
Some of those present made their feelings known by booing, a not uncommon occurrence at the opera, seemingly, with those who don their Sunday best and pay to see some highbrow entertainment demanding to be satisfied in an appropriate manner. You could call it whining entitlement and the sort of tantrum you might expect from a five-year-old denied another biscuit, or you could call it an attempt to safeguard the standards of the art form, but there’s one thing that seems relatively certain. And that is booing at the opera is an inherently absurd thing. Even more absurd, perhaps, than at a football match.
Booing is a strange concept. For a grown adult to form their mouth into that shape and emit such a noise to express their displeasure is, at best, weird. Admittedly, in many cases it’s the only thing available to some people at a football match, where the lone voice screaming something intelligible or otherwise gets lost in the thousands of others doing broadly the same thing. Thus, for a crowd to be as one, it might sometimes be necessary to resort to the pantomime call in order to make clear the impassioned feeling of the collective.
That all said, it’s still stupid and preposterous and you should all stop it.
There was plenty of this business on Monday night at the Hawthorns, when West Brom collapsed like a poorly-made pavlova as Manchester City made merry among the detritus. Some of the booing was directed towards the referee (but then again it would be difficult to attend a football game in the last 20 years or so without that happening), some of it was aimed at Raheem Sterling and some was designed for James McClean.
The Sterling stuff was a little difficult to work out. Did the home crowd disapprove of the manner in which this young man, shall we say, ‘loosened the jar’ of his move from Liverpool to City? Did the good folk of the West Midlands suddenly collectively decide that enough was enough and something had to be done about the way modern footballers behave, adorably ignoring the possibility that any player the Baggies have bought might have also kicked up a fuss in order to join their club? Was there some sort of clause in the Rickie Lambert deal; we’ll knock £500,000 of the fee if your fans give naughty Raheem what-for when he plays at your place? Or were they just trying the age-old tactic of trying to unsettle the opposition’s most high-profile player? It could be any, all or a combination of these things.
A little more clear-cut was the opprobrium for McClean. As you’ll presumably know, the Derry-born McClean has attracted some criticism for his refusal to wear a poppy on his shirt every November, and indeed more recently for his protest against the British national anthem and flag during a pre-season friendly. Anyone with even the loosest grasp on modern, and indeed not-so-modern history will surely at least grasp why someone from McClean’s background has a problem with the British army, and any personal protest that he might undertake that has at best a minimal impact on anyone else is understandable, even if you don’t agree with it.
In addition to the booing, only commentator Alan Parry will know if he knew exactly what he was doing when he referred to McClean as “the Northern Irishman from Londonderry” (disclaimer: I wasn’t watching on TV so didn’t hear that myself, but enough other people mentioned it to suggest it wasn’t a powerful group hallucination), but if he did then anyone who wishes to tar and feather him will get no complaints here.
Since Football365 is nothing if not fair and straight down the middle, for more discussion of the rights and wrongs of McClean’s stance here are two articles from each side of the argument. This, from erstwhile F365 writer Alexander Netherton, and this from the Daily Telegraph’s Luke Edwards. You can make your own mind up with which piece this writer agrees.
And, of course, you can decide for yourself which side of the argument you fall on, but there’s something more at stake when it comes to the barracking – from both the stands and the newspapers – specifically that being so thoroughly and literally shouted down for expressing an opinion may discourage footballers from doing so again in the future. One suspects this booing of McClean might well become a theme throughout the season, particularly since while it appeared that the majority of the cartoon honking was coming from the City fans on Monday, many people suggested there was plenty from the West Brom fans, too.
The old line that politics and the issues of wider society have nothing to do with football and indeed sport in general is of course a nonsense, if only because football is so much a part of wider society now. Society’s problems are football’s problems and vice versa, and it’s pointless trying to separate the two. Therefore, to so roundly barrack someone for their understandable, reasonable and sincerely-held beliefs is just encouraging footballers to be even more anodyne than they already are. Pipe down sport man, get on with kicking that ball around and don’t do anything else. Don’t have a brain, and for heck’s sake don’t do anything with it.
Of course, there is more than an element of ‘I don’t agree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it’ about all this, which is also partly the justification for tolerance of racism, sexism, misogyny and so forth. Perhaps this piece wouldn’t have been written if McClean had celebrated a goal with a Nazi salute or similar, but that’s personal ethics for you.
But the point stands. Don’t hound a man for voicing his perfectly logical beliefs, if only because booing is, was, and always will be, completely stupid.