Football is a world which is seldom awash with any kind of moral substance, writes Calum Crowe. Where fans are rarely viewed as paragons of virtue, and where conventional rules of right and wrong need not apply.
Like it or lump it, it is now commonplace for fans to sing the praises of players and managers after going just two or three games without being thumped and, similarly, to call for heads to roll after just as many disappointing results. The paradoxical irony of this catcall-come-cheer culture is, unquestionably, fickle stuff of the highest order.
But before a time when satellite television dictated all else in the football landscape, a time when one game a month on council telly was as good as it got, and a time when atmosphere actually existed inside Scottish football stadia, the boo-boy culture was a treatment reserved largely for the opposition’s star player. It would occasionally extend to players who were acrimoniously returning to former clubs. In short, it was set aside primarily for the pantomime villain, the bete noir of the terracing. It would have been utterly treasonous to dish out that kind of treatment to your own players and manager.
But football is changing. You don’t need to be particularly well-travelled to have witnessed a manager or group of players being on the sharp end of that kind of verbal bollocking from their own fans. In the modern game, they now earn more than they ever have done, with wages reaching eye-watering heights year after year. Even the bank balance of distinctly average players can now make Duncan Bannatyne look like he’s on income support.
And who makes it possible for them to be so handsomely paid for playing the sport they love? Aye, that’s right, the common fan – be it through money paid to the club in season books or by subscription to satellite television. It is only fair, then, that accompanying these bloated pay-packets will be similarly bloated expectations from fans who, by their very nature, will inevitably house a section of the perpetually disgruntled boo-merchants.
Footballers are a highly privileged bunch. They enjoy lofty status on the pedestal upon which we place them, they are there to be scrutinised. Admittedly, there is no place in the game – nor indeed in society as a whole – for the knuckle-dragging neanderthals who subject players and managers to the kind of vitriolic personal abuse that would even fail to make the edit in a particularly colourful episode of Gordon Ramsay’s Hell’s Kitchen. But what there is certainly room for, however, is for fans to at least make their opinions known, to boo and jeer if they so please.
In its simplest terms, booing is nothing more than an expression of opinion, an expression that the performance of their team has been far from acceptable. Yet, after last weekend’s 1-0 home loss to St Johnstone, and after serving up the kind of spectacle that would have made a festering wound seem positively appetising, the operator of the tannoy system at Rugby Park decided to crank the volume up full whack immediately after the referee’s final whistle to drown out Kilmarnock’s own boo-boys.
That’s not right. Sorry, but it just isn’t. These are the same fans who have bothered to come along and pay the grossly inflated admission fee on a bitingly cold and wet December afternoon and you’re going to tell them they can’t criticise what was, at times, an abject parody of a top-flight display from their team?
Attendances across the country are already paltry enough as it is: Saturday’s gate of 3,220 at Rugby Park was, embarrassingly, the second-highest of the day, only behind a larger-than-normal 11,196 at Tannadice to see Dundee United take on Aberdeen. All of which says plenty about the current treatment of Scottish football fans.
No, you can’t buy a drink inside the stadium. No, you can’t be trusted to stand up and sing a song to create some atmosphere. And no, you certainly can’t be trusted to behave in any way like a civilised human being who is intent on enjoying the afternoon’s football. Rather, you will be treated like a degenerate waster who is intent on immediately setting fire to the stadium.
Scottish football can no longer afford for such po-faced conventions to dominate our game. The game is changing and we must embrace and keep pace with that change to have any hope in hell of improving the fan experience at Scottish football stadia. Fans across the country are treated with nothing but disdain from clubs and authorities, fleeced for every penny they are daft enough to cough up. It is the bampottery of the prawn sandwich brigade that now seeks to further discourage fans from attending games by appointing a gormless halfwit in a high-viz jacket to essentially dictate what opinions can and cannot be vented.
It is difficult to think of any other walk of life where you would be asked to pay drastically over the odds for a product and then be made to approve of it whether you actually liked it or not. Similarly, where the total incompetence of an employee would go unpunished or unnoted, as let’s not forget, footballers are, first and foremost, employees of the club.
Sure, the actual credibility and deservedness of the booing itself can be widely disputed. That is what football is all about: it is a playground where passions run high and opinion can often be confused with reality. It is for the eternal health of our game that fans quite often disagree with each other.
But, by that very same token, what cannot be disputed is that fans should always retain the right to express their disapproval of their team, be it through boos, jeers or otherwise.