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The twelfth man and their unwarranted desires
Football fans are the heart of any club in the world. Rain or shine, the ardent supporters will turn up in any remote location to give their players the lift they may need to get over the line. In the movie “United”, David Tennant as Jimmy Murphy said a line that perfectly sums up the working class fan of a football club. “We are their pride, we set the worlds alight for them. Well at least their Sunday morning.” This inspirational film described the setting of the late 1950s and is still thought of as reality in the modern day. Even in this day of a billion dollar industry that the English game is, there are masses of common men and women who live their lives around their favourite team. This attachment obviously brings a lot of focus with it. When your team wins, the praises are endless but when the team is defeated, the interrogations go on for days, if not weeks on end. Looking at the sorry state of affairs at Arsenal and the fall from grace of the great Arsene Wenger, it got me thinking whether fans’ complaints across the world are justified?
Before all of you social media warriors get on my case, I completely understand the sense of ownership from fans about their club. You all pay your hard earned money to watch your team and when a professional doesn’t “seem” to be putting it in, you feel disappointment. Added to that, if the player in question is reportedly earning significantly into the thousands of pounds a week, it simply adds fuel to the fire. The money in the modern game is one of the pet peeves of many a purist, and many of us feel that this is correct. Doctors, police and government workers are more deserving in our eyes of the money. However, are they ever headline news? When a doctor saves a life, do they make the back page of newspapers like Harry Kane if he has scored a screamer from 30 yards? No, it is simply thought of them doing their job. That talent of saving someone from the depth of despair is never credited on a grand scale. This is no fault of the footballer, it is simply the way society is today. Just because footballers earn astronomical amounts of money, it gives no right to fans to treat them on a different scale. They are human, they make mistakes and like all of us, have days where we just don’t feel like performing at our best. The only difference is their “off days” are in front of the world, rather than just their office and family.
Added to this sense of disparity fans feel with the players due to their earnings, there is also an expectation and desire for their team to win every week. This is at least true for the so called “big teams” of this country. But again, people are missing a truth. In any match, only one team can win or they both share the spoils. For a season, there can only be one team who ends it as champions. For everyone else, the battle to be top of their respective “mini-leagues” keeps them occupied. Going back to the Arsenal situation, many fans’ complaints stem from the fact that they have not challenged for the league title in excess of a decade. While a club of their size is expected to at least have a few close tilts at the league, Arsenal and any club for that matter cannot expect to have a divine right to win and challenge. If we take a look at the example of Real Madrid, we will see that no club is exempt from this. Now, they are back to winning Champions League titles and challenging for leagues (not this season), but there was a time when they were in a rut. For seven straight years, they did not make it past the Champions League last 16 stage and won the league only twice in that period. If serial winners like them can face a period like that, why can Arsenal be exempt? Added to that, in this current climate with the riches of Manchester City and the inspirational methods of Pep Guardiola, it could be a long time till someone else will win the league. Therefore, fans need to be realistic rather than delusional, which is much easier said than done.
As said at the start, fans are the lifeblood of any club. They have every right to voice their opinion on their team and can criticise if they wish, but my only pledge would be for them to realise that these players are just like them. They are not robots to consistently perform and they deserve better than continuous carping criticism when things are not going their way.