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I scream, therefore I am… the mentality of a football supporter

Woking defender Adam Doyle starts a new Total Football column today. Starting with a look at the mentality of football supporters...

"Paul Terry, you’re a f****** murderer" came the battle cry from the stands upon seeing John’s just-as-infamous brother aim a shot wildly over the crossbar. This was the non-league football game in all its glory. Not so much the wayward shot (although substandard skill can certainly be an important aspect of the non-league arena), more the vicious and unfounded abuse regularly dished out across football grounds, professional or otherwise, throughout the country.

For those not aware, it was alleged in 2010 that Paul Terry (pictured) had an affair with the fiancée of his then team mate Dale Roberts. Later that year, Dale Roberts committed suicide. In this particular non-league game, this was considered enough evidence to look upon Terry as a convicted murderer. Indeed, throughout the entire 90 minutes, some opposing fans spent more time spitting out nonsensical, drunken and violent abuse at Terry and his team mates than they did cheering on their own team.

Unfortunately, this is not an isolated incident; instead it is one that is played out on an all too regular basis. Every Saturday players and officials are subjected to threatening behaviour from fans whose motto is ‘I’ve paid my money so I can do what I like’. It is this deluded opinion that gives credence to the unruly behaviour of the mob. Payment to watch football is now seen as a licence to throw away inhibitions and regress along the evolutionary scale. Otherwise functioning citizens, male and female, young and old, revert back to the pre-evolutionary stereotype of brutish thug at the merest hint of 22 players and three officials. Undoubtedly the modern football fan has a genuine grievance at the cost of the modern game, a cost that is not helped by the very top of the game charging fans extortionate rates, not least the ridiculous prices set for England International games. However, as scandalous as the price may be, this does not give anyone the right to abuse anyone else.

One of the attractions of the non-league game is the access the fans have to the players. Apart from perhaps the top level of non-league, the players and fans can and often do come into contact on regular occasions. Most players unfortunately shy away from the close proximity to their paymasters. Personally I’ve never had a problem with mingling with the fans over a beer or two, but having grown up in the lower echelons of non-league I’ve always looked upon the social side as part and parcel of things. However, it is not particularly surprising that most players wish to distance themselves from fans that just half an hour earlier were foaming at the mouth. Fans, who shun top level football in search of traditional football values in non-league, are seemingly unaware that the behaviour of the angry mob is a catalyst for semi-professional football to become a detached recluse much like its professional brother.

The behaviour of these football supporters is a problem at all levels of the game from the very top to the very bottom. No club is exempt from its harmful grasp, and so every club has a duty and responsibility to stamp it out. Just as they have a responsibility to stamp out similar behaviour from the club’s playing and management staff. At the risk of tarring every fan with the same brush, fans and the clubs they follow should act collectively to eradicate the unruly elements that bring the rest down. Undoubtedly the vast majority of football fans are decent, honourable people who pay their money to be entertained without too much fuss. Yes they might grumble a bit and pray for better players and results, but they respect the players and officials who are there to entertain. However, these true football supporters must stand up and be counted. Passivity is not an option.

Seemingly it is only in the theatre of sports that violent and sustained personal abuse is so readily dished out and accepted, and, indeed, is payment exchanged for the privilege. Clubs, supporters, and players must work in unison to rid the game of the thuggish nature that so pervades it. On the current path we’re treading, an iron curtain is cloaking the heart and soul of non-league football, suffocating the community spirit and player-fan interaction treasured by many. The sooner we attempt to tear it down, the better.

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