Booing No, not the sound Zebedee makes in the ‘Magic Roundabout’, that has an extra letter ‘i’ in it! No, this is the magical debate about whether it’s right or not to boo your team, and – if so – when it’s right.
Personally I’ve never booed my team, though I must confess to having had to resist the urge when ‘mass hysteria’ or some such ‘psychological power’ made it almost impossible to resist, when we lost 7-0 at home to Liverpool, in the FA Cup five years ago. (Is it really that long, since, now?)
Earlier this April, Michael Owen faced Newcastle United – his former team – when he came on as an 81st minute substitute for Manchester United. His reaction on ‘Twitter’ – “Got a poor reception off the home fans which was disappointing. Was desperate to score!…Knew I would get booed as that’s what a lot of fans do but if they knew the facts then they may have a different opinion.”
I think this puts the booing ‘debate’ into perspective. It seems as though it’s something players expect, and something that can inspire them, so it’s case closed, isn’t it? Not quite. You see, this was the home fans at St James’s Park! They were booing their opponent. Sure, history had a part to play in it, but SURELY their intention was to have a NEGATIVE IMPACT on the player.
Michael Owen suggested that it had the OPPOSITE effect on him, making him feel more desperate to score against them, and so – in effect – shut them up.
Now, you could try to reverse the argument, and suggest that booing YOUR OWN players would also make the player ‘desperate to shut you up’. Simply boo Cameron Jerome, and he’ll score? I can’t agree with that. How many times are we told our cheering makes a difference? Makes us the ’12th man’? Wembley immediately comes to mind. Not much booing when Van Persie scored, was there? Should we have been? Would we have won 3-1 then? Seemingly, it was the constant cheering that boosted our team, and inspired us to our win. If you reverse the ’12th man’ argument, our boos would almost effectively reduce us to 10 men. Our boos can be the equivalent of a red card.
Let’s leave the argument for and against aside for now, and – assuming it’s ok – discuss WHEN it’s ok.
There have been times when Blues have been booed off at half time, and come back to improve. But – equally – there have been times we’ve booed our players off at half time, and it’s made no difference at all! Perhaps even made our players’ heads go down, and ‘inspire a worse performance’!
We’ve booed substitutions, booed the whole team at the end of a match, and it’s not just Blues, England fans booed the team off at the end of a 0-0 draw with Algeria in the World Cup.
Steven Gerrard: “We have to take that on the chin, they’re entitled to their opinion”
Jermaine Defoe: “Obviously you can understand fans’ frustration, they travel miles and miles… but it’s important for fans to stick by us… keep supporting us and we’ll try and put things right”.
Both seemingly accept the ‘right’ of a fan to boo, but Defoe’s in particular suggests it’s the opposite of supporting, by saying ‘but’. That ‘but’ is arguing that booing is not supporting your team.
Those that boo, often suggest it’s because they’re the paying customer.
They’ve paid money, travelled, stood outside in the rain, etc, etc. If you buy a product in a supermarket, having travelled, queued, paid, etc, and it’s not good enough quality, you have every right to complain, but do you broadcast your dissatisfaction over the supermarket tannoy? Potentially demoralising everyone associated with bringing you that product? Sure, they may ignore you, or find you irritating, but isn’t that counter-productive to the job you’re trying to do?
If you boo when a player is substituted, do both players understand why? Or is it possible the player going off thinks he’s being booed for a poor performance, and the sub thinks he’s being booed as a ‘poor replacement’?
If you boo the team off at half time, is it possible the players will think ‘the fans aren’t behind us, so what’s the point?’. A lot is up to the manager and the captain, in the dressing room, but if they feel the booing is unjustified, how can they use the fans’ boos to their advantage? “Look guys, the fans have been booing us so you need to try harder” only works if the squad aren’t already thinking “We’ve tried our bloody hardest already!”. Booing a team lineup (due to a 4-5-1) for example doesn’t seem to make McLeish revert to a 4-4-2 forever does it?
Newcastle and West Ham have both been booed off at half time this season, and fans have walked out at half time, too. I would think this is the most counterproductive thing to do, and – if you analyse other teams – it seems harder to agree with. For years I’ve been in agreement with fellow Bluenoses that (some) Villa fans are fickle. Now it appears our fanbase is growing more fickle, too. As are Newcastle and West Ham fans. Seemingly the economic environment has something to do with it, but surely expectation is the largest part. When we were ‘languishing’ in the lower leagues, we were lucky to win a point at home against Grimsby at times, but I don’t recall a single boo. Support is support, rain or shine, my companions on the Kop would state, whilst ‘Keep Right On’ boomed out.
Nowadays, the singing is a bit more subdued, the away fans get away with singing ‘your support is f-in-sh**’. Fans even argue amongst each other about who is to blame for each move on the pitch. Jerome is awful, no he isn’t, he works hard. Fahey doesn’t deserve to wear the shirt, you don’t remember his Wembley performance, then? Etc, etc.
I remember a Spurs game against Sunderland where the fans booed at full time, and the press were talking to Spurs players about it, and the players had a mixed bag of responses, from it’s their right to boo, to, they should show more respect to Sunderland, they’re a good team. In fact, according to the majority of fans there, they were booing Howard Webb, the referee!
This highlights my point, perfectly. Boos from 20,000+ fans can’t be pinpointed. The human ear can’t filter noise destined for other recipients, unless names are utilised. Unless boo-boys want to name their target in advance, it’s not going to help motivate, it will only serve to make opposition fans feel like they’ve achieved more. I’ve definitely been to matches where Blues have won, and the away fans have booed, and I’ve felt buoyed even more by that reaction. Away matches are all the sweeter, as there are more home fans to do it. If the home fans are booing their team off, you feel like your own team have played all the better. Why give the opposition team – let alone their fans – that kind of boost?
I’m not stupid, I’m sure there may have been occasions when the odd boo may have served to boost a player’s performance. Robbie Savage seems to epitomise the type of player who can thrive on antagonism. Damien Johnson put his hands to his ears in a memorable local derby after scoring a goal, but did we really want that response from him, goal aside? Could you say the same about some of our ‘confidence’ players like Cameron Jerome? His lack of goals aren’t going to dissolve by booing him, else you’d have seen McLeish booing him for the last 20 weeks, hoping to find his scoring boots. There have – as I have suggested earlier – been times where Blues have been booed off at half time, to emerge all the better in the second half, but there have been times we’ve improved without the boos, and similarly times when we’ve not improved even with the boos. So it seems booing is futile. Ask any player would they welcome being booed and I can guarantee they’ll either say it would make no difference at all, or actually make things worse. West Ham’s fans’ booing hasn’t helped them out of the relegation zone yet has it?
Would Arsenal have won the Carling Cup, ‘if only their fans had booed more’?
Would Ben Foster have prevented the first Liverpool goal last week, if he had been booed when he entered the field of play?
Would our beloved club be riding high on top of the table, if only we’d booed better?
To me, these are rhetorical questions. Booing isn’t the way to get us out of trouble. Cheering our players on, come what may, is the answer. Making our players feel like we’re actually behind them, is the answer. Supporting them. I am in no position to suggest fans should not be ‘allowed’ to boo, but surely booing would have no place in the dictionary definition for ‘supporting’. In fact, as I’ve mentioned previously, it’s the sort of thing you do to the opponents of the team you are supporting, so in a sense, booing is the antonym of supporting. The enemy of support, so boos to the boos. And cheers to the Blues.
Birmingham City will take to the field of play on Sunday, against Wolverhampton Wanderers, at our beloved Saint Andrews. Should we erupt in rousing cheers, or boo the team as they leave the tunnel? I’d like to think the answer is obvious! If we’re 1-0 down at half time, should we make the players think we’re fickle, and boo them? Give Seb Larsson an excuse on a plate for his seemingly imminent departure? Make Barry Ferguson think he can do better in Qatar? Or bring tears to our team’s eyes, with our unfailing support? Cheer in the face of adversity, out-sing our opponents, even while they’re sneering?
Win, lose or draw, this season won’t be mathematically over on Sunday, but I know Saint Andrews is a happier place when the cheers ring out, whatever the result, and our cheers can inspire the players for the final match against Fulham. What player will look forward to more boos against Fulham? Having the 12th man should be a given in our home matches. We – together – are that 12th man. Let’s rue the boos, and cheer the Blues. Sing our hearts out, and let our team prove they deserve them, rather than try to prove they DON’T deserve the boos. We may not agree with every substitution, we may not think every player is a 10/10 performer every week, but we’re all Birmingham City supporters. Surely we should do just that, and not provide courage to the opposition? If you don’t like Tesco’s service, you can go to Sainsbury’s, but if you don’t like Birmingham’s performance you wouldn’t dream of heading to Molineaux instead, would you?
Keep Right On to the End of the Road (don’t boo half way along!)