Give the fairweather fan a break
11:30, 15 Mar 2012
Is it fair to judge a fan who has no tenable links to his team for giving up on a Premier League side if they drop out of the division?
Oh I gave that up a long time ago. Better things to be doing - probably the average answer from a lapsed fan of a football club.
For those of us who have twice kicked the habit, you get the feeling that there’ll be a third time back on the carousel. Probably a fourth too. Then again, that’s what happens when you pick the wrong bandwagon at an early age - it’s not fair on a child to have to make that choice so early. It’s the CAO form at 17 years of age all over again.
Though worse when picking a team at a pre-pubescent stage. You just don’t have all of the facts in front of you - the history, the club’s potential, infrastructural advantages such as the size of the stadium or that the team is based in a stylish city such as London - all key to attracting players and investment.
No, a couple of cracking goals by Alan Shearer on his debut at Crystal Palace back in 1993 and you swoon over Blackburn Rovers. The good times are gonna keep comin’. Not on the Rovers bandwagon, they won’t.
Criticise, if you want, the lapsed fan. But there’s only so much mediocrity and downright inferiority one can take before jumping ship on something you have no tenable links with. If you got on the right bandwagon - the Manchester United, Arsenal, Chelsea, or Liverpool types - you don’t have to deal with relegation. So you don’t understand the idea of lapsing your support. You don’t understand the frustration of a 0-0 draw at home to Man United and Ashley Ward missing a chance that could have kept you alive for at least another week.
But it happens and it’s not simply coincidence that you rarely if ever see Leeds United and Blackburn jerseys these days. The hardcores will never let go; the rest of us push them off into icy waters like a less attractive Jack Dawson. Juventus fans will pooh-pooh the very thought, but they were always going to recover post-Calciopoli.
Fool me once, shame on you, fool me again… well, if you are a fan of football/soccer, it’s nice to have a team to support. So when Blackburn came back to the Premier League and Mark Hughes took over from Graeme Souness and tried to play a little football, almost reaching an FA Cup final and getting into Europe, you can get pulled back in. Actually competing against the better teams while playing some decent football will do that. Even if it’s not quite how Hughes regularly saw it: “I think we bossed the game, controlled it from start to finish.” No no, Sparky, that’s not quite how it happened.
Post-Sparky, it’s been hard to take. Paul Ince - well any man who spends the guts of £4m on Vince Grella (who? Exactly) and starts a post-goals Robbie Fowler is going to deter you. Plenty of poor football and six successive defeats coming up towards Christmas later, Ince is thankfully given his P45.
Consolidation under Sam Allardyce - you’ll take that, for now. But in truth, the fan prone to fairweather lapses is standing on a burning platform. Chelsea fans may have seen Robert Huth at one time thrown up as centre-forward and while plenty of clubs had to suffer Chris Sutton and Dion Dublin at the back, watching Big Sam continually play Chris Samba up front was another heavy straw.
It’s the classic debate that plenty of Ireland fans have about Giovanni Trapattoni: is Euro 2012 qualification worth the cost? If a team is going to bore you to death, never beat a decent rival, and ostracise talented players, is the juice worth the squeeze?
That’s where the die-hards and lapsed fans are separated. Steve Kean has actually been a breath of fresh air by comparison with Big Sam. Though perhaps he has benefitted from Allardyce relieving us fairweather followers - as I’m sure we’d be called - of an emotional involvement. A recent 7-1 defeat - and don’t forget Sam had a couple of those too despite his stodgy playing style - was not taken to heart.
It’s easier to walk away than be sore if your emotional investment has been compromised before. This is where the relationship with Ireland differs - this column follows Ireland despite Trap, and will continue to. It’s an argument League of Ireland fans most likely see plenty in.
But with the English clubs, best now to just keep an eye on Rovers and drive the boot in on a Big Four fan - even though that term is now redundant - should there be a shock result for the Ewood Park club. Kean’s 3-2 win at Old Trafford on New Year’s Eve being a particular triumph; celebrated more for the home side dropping points than the away team gaining them. It was as much fun as telling a United fan that Roy Keane’s goal at Juventus in 1999 - a painful year, remember - was mirrored closely by John Terry’s at home to Napoli this Wednesday.
What resonated from Blackburn’s 2-0 win at Wolves over the weekend was a battle of two former assistants. Kean came out from under the nose of Allardyce perhaps a year and some before Terry Connor did from Mick McCarthy at Molineux. Both current bosses possibly seen as traitors, but who are we to judge? The men they replaced have and will prop up elsewhere - they’ll move on, so it’s not unusual that supporters can too.
For those who don’t move on and those who have picked a bandwagon that still has four wheels, we can only curiously look on at the tribalism. Backing everything about “their club” to the hilt; for the rest of us, the hilt is only as far as the knife goes.
Well, until Rovers improve anyway. If you feel you have a tenable link to a club, best of luck with that. Come back to me when you’ve been relegated and suffered from Big Sam-itis.
Chat to Shane Stapleton on Twitter @shanesaint
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