There’s a blue fog hanging over football in the 21st Century. A cloud of negativity that seems to inform the way football fans feel about anything and everything. Put simply: the fun has gone from football.
It’s evident in the small things, like the fact that a protest seems to be occurring at a different club around the country virtually every week. You can see it when footballers have to apologise for the silliest of things.
Let’s look at Toni Duggan, for example. Duggan, if you don’t know, is a winger/forward who plays for Manchester City and England’s woman’s team. On the 12th of April Manchester City’s men’s team played Manchester United at Old Trafford and got beaten by 4 goals to 2. Later that night Duggan, whilst out for a meal, saw the Manchester United manager Louis Van Gaal and had her photo taken with him. She then posted this photo on the social network site Instagram.
The post of the City player with the United manager caused outrage amongst Manchester City’s support base, with hundreds of people demanding that Duggan be dropped from the team and some wanting her sacked. For having her photo taken. Think about that for a second. She has a photo taken with someone involved in the same sport as her, and some people want her to lose her job.
Duggan, in response to all of this outrage, came out and apologised for her behaviour. She declared that she “appreciate[d] the significance of her action” and that she made “an error of judgement”. Dear oh dear. How ludicrous that she was driven to that by a baying mob.
Manchester, like Liverpool, is a footballing city. It’s not just your neighbour that may support a different team from you but your brother or sister, your mum and dad. What if it was a supporter who had had their photo taken with their Manchester United supporting sibling? Would he have to issue an apology? Would there be calls for them to lose their supporter’s club membership?
The week before Duggan was causing all sorts of problems simply by posting a photo, Newcastle United’s goalkeeper Tim Krul was making his fans absolutely furious. You see Newcastle had just lost to their local rivals Sunderland when the Black Cats won the game 1-0 thanks to a stunning 20-yard strike by Jermain Defoe.
Newcastle fans were furious, though, when pictures emerged that seemed to show Krul congratulating Defoe for his outrageous effort. The Sky Sports camera showed Krul waiting in the tunnel at half-time, smiling and patting Defoe on the back. The Geordies took to social media to declare that this was a clear sign that the player didn’t care about the club, completely lacked passion and had “sold out”.
Krul was forced to come out after match and declare that he didn’t congratulate Defoe, that he thought he was lucky and that he was, in fact, a passionate Newcastle player who had been at the club for a decade and who felt the pain of defeat as heavily as any fan.
Both of these incidents pale in comparison to the action of Mario Balotelli in 2014, however. The Italian forward was heading down the tunnel at half-time in Liverpool’s game against Real Madrid with the Reds trailing by three goals to nil. As he did so he was accosted by the Madrid player Pepe who asked him to swap shirts. Balotelli duly obliged and handed his shirt over to the immense consternation of Liverpool fans. So outrageous was the action deemed to be that Liverpool’s manager, Brendan Rodgers, had to explain to the press that the matter would be dealt with internally. “It’s something that doesn’t happen here and shouldn’t happen here”, said the Ulsterman.
It used to be the case that players from rival teams would despise each other for the 90 minutes of the match, but that when the final whistle went they would shake hands and go to the pub for a drink. Now it seems that if players don’t hate each other at all times then they are a disgrace to the shirt. Fans don’t seem to want to enjoy football anymore. If they don’t like the manager in charge of their club, for example, some fans seem to be happier if their team loses than wins because it means their dislike of the manager is more valid.
Plenty of Liverpool fans have been split on Brendan Rodgers as their manager since his arrival, despite him having a win ratio up there with Bill Shankly and Kenny Dalglish. When Aston Villa knocked Liverpool out of the FA Cup in April a group of fans took to Twitter to ask for donations towards the cost of hiring a plane to fly over Anfield with a banner saying “Rodgers Out”.
Perhaps it’s something to do with Aston Villa, as the previous year their game at Old Trafford hit the headlines when a Manchester United supporter’s group paid for a plane to fly over the ground with a banner reading “Wrong One – Moyes Out”.
In both of these incidents the fans involved seem keener to get their manager sacked – as Moyes eventually was – than offer their undying support to the player, team and manager of their club.
There are many legitimate problems in the football world. The price of attending the game has hit a ridiculous height in recent years, with many supporters simply unable to afford the cost of going to see their local team play. There is also an outrageous tiered pricing system that sees supporters of some teams pay significantly more than others.
Looking once again at Liverpool, for example, tickets for their game against Hull at the KC Stadium are priced at £50. LFC will contribute £2 towards that under the Premier League’s away fans initiative making tickets £48. The previous season the ticket cost was £35. When Hull played Stoke at the KC in August the away fans paid £16. That means Liverpool fans have to pay 200% more to sit in the same seats as Stoke fans had.
These are the sorts of things people should be annoyed about. Young people being priced out of the game they love is a serious issue. The likes of Mike Ashley ripping the heart and soul out of a club like Newcastle United in order to further his own business is a serious issue. Swapping shirts, congratulating other players and having photos taken with members of a rival club are not serious issues.
It used to be the case that supporters would attend the ground and get behind their team no matter what. The word “supporter” wasn’t just a description it was a way of life. The fans inside the stadium would actively support the players on the pitch and either drive them to victory or console them in defeat.
Now it is not uncommon to hear of fans screaming abuse at the players that represent them on the pitch. Hatred and bile seems to pour out of the stands around the county far more often than love and support.
There’s a fog of negativity hanging over football at the moment, and something needs to be done. Perhaps reducing ticket prices will allow fans to feel like they are wanted there for their support, rather than just their wallets. But whatever it is it needs to be stopped. We need to get the fun back in football or we could lose it forever. And that would be a crying shame.