I don’t go to many partisan games any more. There are a number of reasons for this, including time, money and effort. But one of the often unspoken reasons is the sheer mind-numbing awfulness of the fans.
On Saturday, I was watching the top of the table clash between Notts County and Tranmere Rovers. Yes, I am jumping on the bandwagon. A bandwagon which is turning in to an express train with every passing game it seems. And I sat amid an away following of near enough 1000 Tranmere fans. Not since the heady days of Aldo’s cup runs and John King’s promotion pushes have the Super White Army been so galvanised. And they made a pretty good racket. As you might expect from a team topping the table, playing good football, and beating the team who were, at kick off, their nearest rivals.
Alas, that wasn’t enough for some.
The name “Lee Hughes” is one which football commentators and bloggers have rumminated more than is truly necessary. He did a bad thing, a very bad thing. Due process was observed, and the law of the land said he was free to go about his chosen career once more. Notts County saw fit to make use of his services, as they are free to do. Football is a dog eat dog world after all, and there simply aren’t enough blemish-free strikers to go around. For which Marlon King must be truly thankful.
My quandry is this, dear reader. From the moment Hughes came on as a half time substitute, until the ref blew for the last time, barely a minute went past without some section of the away fans taking time out of their busy day to abuse Hughes. I’m sure this isn’t the first time he has heard such things, and I doubt it will be the last. My issue is whether he should have to.
I am no apologist for Hughes, don’t get me wrong. Were he, or any of the other transgressors out there, to sign for Tranmere, I would have severe misgivings. I certainly don’t want to follow him on Twitter, or share a pint with him. But I don’t want to rake over the past either.
So often we are told that football is unlike any other sport in the world, and that terrace wit is some of the greatest you will find, anywhere. Really? I’m not so sure aficionados of netball would want any of their fans to spend an entire half abusing a rival player. And I don’t recall any massed guffaws at any time during Saturday’s match.
For much of the second half, Hughes was down the far end of the pitch, trying to to get his team back in to the match. That he failed to do so was testament to work and organisation of Tranmere’s defence. But the SWA chose to ignore that. Rather than back their own team, encourage and dare I say it “support”, they wasted their energies on barracking an opposing player. A player of proven ability, who would well used to the tirade of hatred directed towards him. And one for whom the sweetest revenge would be silencing those who chose to abuse him.
I simply could not, and cannot, fathom the logic behind singling out one opposing player. As a fan, I am there for my team. It matters not who the opposition are. Yes, there are players I dislike, and Lee Hughes is one of them. But to taunt them, at the expense of giving my vocal backing to the players representing my team, seems to me nonsensical.
In post-game interviews, and across Twitter, Tranmere players and staff alike have been wholehearted the praise they have given to the travelling fans. And rightly so, the noise generated was, for Tranmere at least, very good. But I just wish those who made the most noise were doing so in support of the team. Is that just naive?