To Boo Or Not to Boo, That Is The Question

Do you boo players from your own club? If you do, how can you sleep at night?

To boo a player playing for your club is seen as the ultimate act of betrayal by some and a birthright by others. If you have paid your hard-earned cash to watch a well-paid player flop around the pitch like he’s still wearing half a ton of bling then the boo-er will feel no remorse in letting out a lungful of boo at the offending ‘star’. The non-boo fan will be horrified. They will be incensed that anyone could put down a player sporting the sacred colours.

The booer will see their target as fair game for a boo. Like the old villain-of-the-piece at the theatre, the boo-target is part of the show. Arms folded and shaking their head the non-boo fan will curse modern society, even if it was invented by the ancient Greeks, and then tell everyone in the pub that they are ashamed to be called a fan of their club.

Booing someone else’s player is an easy boo. It’s the acceptable face of booing. Most non-boo fans will join in just as heartily as the boo-fan. The opposition are soft targets, easy pickings free from the burden of guilt. Some judicious booing can really wreck a players day, but most of them expect it. Paul Ince springs to mind as a player who has suffered his fair share of booing. He knew he would get an earful, but did Alan Smith when Newcastle played Valencia last weekend?

Smith suffered a tough time last season. He managed about three shots on target and received enough yellow and red cards that if you laid them out in a line they would stretch all the way around the equator. It was a depressing sight for Newcastle fans watching him lumber from game to game with no purpose other than to ‘get stuck in’. When he played, Newcastle didn’t. With no pace or skill to trouble the opposition, their game became predictable and stale. Only when he was unavailable did some sort of successful pattern emerge.

In short, Smith was holding the team back. Unlike a cheap signing from Macedonia or a called-up reserve player, who you can dump if they are useless, Smith was a big money signing. The man who paid the cheque wore his name on the back of his replica shirt. There was expectation. There was investment. There was little room for failure.

What Smith had going for him was ‘honesty’. All fans like an honest player, one who doesn’t hide or sulk when things don’t go his way. Smith reflects the man in the stand and was tee-total with it. His signing seemed like a perfect marriage, but like most marriages, divorce was always on the cards.

Very few observers of the Newcastle scene could see how Smith would fit in with Keegan’s football blueprint of attack. Keegan likes players to take shots, to pepper the opposition goal. Smith takes so few shots that Smith and Wesson are thinking of dropping the ‘Smith’. When the news trickled through that Everton were prepared to pay real money to buy him, very few fans thought that they would be giving the relationship another chance.

And then he came on as a sub against Valencia. And then he was booed. Not because he was photographed holding an Everton shirt, but because he wasn’t. Frustration had boiled over. The uneasy sight of fans booing one of their own players reared its ugly head again. Keegan wasn’t amused and there was an uneasy split between the boo and non-boo fan.

In these days of instant quantitative research and global digital customer marketing where whole corporate groups know more about your likes and dislikes than you do, there was a sliver of something comforting in the boos. Yes they were ugly, sad and directed at one of the sport’s more believable characters wearing their own colours, but the ancient art of booing is still the only true way for football’s ‘clients’ to let their wishes be known. How else can they really be understood? By writing a strongly worded letter to the Chairman? By joining a FaceBook group? By filling in an online survey?

Yeah right!

But what of the effect of the boos?

Alan Smith was probably wondering what he had done wrong. He will have felt confused and hurt, but sometimes even decent-bloke footballers need to hear some home truths. He needed to know what the people were feeling because obviously no one was telling him that his mere presence on the pitch on matchdays was driving fans away. He should have no complaints if he is honest with himself. Just being a rugged competitor is not enough, not even half enough. It’s a myth that fans only want to see players ‘giving their all’. They want to see skill, magic and wonder much more. Even the odd shot on target would be a start. Tickets cost a lot of money; if you are spending the holiday budget watching someone ‘battle’ like a pillaging Viking, you may just as well save the cash and hang around a pub at closing time.

Maybe Smith should talk with Nicky Butt (if he hasn’t already). Butt went through the exact same experience. He arrived with high expectations from Man Utd and failed to live up to them. The result? Booing. Butt is a solid character and rather than give up he chose to analyse why he was getting the treatment he was and put it right. The result? He made himself a first team regular and earned the respect of the terraces.

Smith is also a solid character. Can he learn from Butt and adapt his game? If he does he may well have vindicated the booing. It’s an uncomfortable experience for the players, the manager and the club, but maybe there is a case for booing. How else are they going to get the message over that they don’t want what they are seeing? After all, if fans don’t get the opportunity to show how they feel, how will they sleep at night?

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  1. Roger the Lodger 12 August, 2008
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