Five stages of supporting a big club in decline

This piece was first posted on BFTGT just over a week ago.

Supporting a big, successful club is a pretty damn easy way to enjoy football. Seeing your team trounce all on-comers week after week, watching the best players in world football play for and against your team, being able to brag that your side is the best at X, or holds the record for Y; it could be worse. That’s why so many people elect to support successful sides at a young age, rather than, or at least alongside, their local team.

However, being overindulged with such glory does have its drawbacks. After spending so long watching your side fly so high, it’s understandable that some fans find it hard to cope with the altitude drop.

For example, certain characters from the Arsenal and Liverpool Twitterati, two sides who have seen their teams decline in recent seasons, are some of the most deplorable individual supporters on any social media format (there’s no need to name names here, really).  Some of these people are just awful, regardless of their sporting affinities; however, in some of the more football-obsessive cases their behaviour may be a result of a personal struggle to cope with their side’s underachievement. After all, they probably spent most of their lives watching their side enjoy success, so now they’re screaming like a teething toddler.

It’s a painful process, and, with David Moyes now in control at Old Trafford, one that Manchester United fans may have to experience this season. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross didn’t factor in the pain of a football fan when hypothesising her five stages of grief, but maybe she should have (she shouldn’t have):

1. Anger“WE’VE LOST AGAIN! Whose fault is it? Who can we blame? The referee? The FA? Our American owners? The Weatherman? Dave Kitson?”

After a pre-season of confidence and/or promise, your side slips to their third defeat in four games. After losing a couple of tricky away games against powerful opposition, your side hits the nadir of their season by losing an ostensibly straightforward home game. Naturally, and understandably, you are overcome by rage. This shouldn’t be happening to your club. This is something Newcastle fans go through, not you.

Don’t fret, help is at hand. Suppressing this anger does no one any good. Let it out. Take to Twitter and vent. Vent your heart out.

Another method of release would be to call a football phone-in: BBC’s 606 and TalkSport are both more than happy to offer you a way to release your fury in a safer, more constructive environment, with either Adrian Durham or Ian Wright as your counsellor and confidant.

You may find the prospect of phoning one of these programmes embarrassing, but don’t worry. Football phone-ins are like dating websites – the only way someone you know can expose you is by incriminating themselves. Dial that premium-rate number and rage away.

2. Denial“He needs time, let’s be patient. It took Sir Alex Ferguson 40 years before winning a trophy with Manchester United, and this is actually the best start any new United manager has made since the Premier League began”

After throwing your lot in with this new patriarch, you find it hard to believe that he is anything else but The Chosen One. He’ll come good, won’t he? It’s a long-term project. Anakin Skywalker was “The Chosen One” too, and look how long it took him to kill off the Sith and bring balance to the force.

The concept of not challenging for the title may, at first, seem confusing to you. Having a controversial opinion has been in vogue for a number of years now, and pundits have declared your squad unfit for silverware-challenging in the past.  After years of proving doubters wrong, and screaming “eff tha h8rz” at the end of every season, the prospect of actual failure seems, at best, rather far-fetched.

Coming to terms with these changes can be difficult. Even if you yourself question an action by the manager, you may well take the “He works in mysterious ways” route, disregarding your inferior opinion in comparison to his footballing omniscience. (For further reading on this subject, please refer to Liverpool fans’ staunch faith in Kenny Dalglish during the 2011/12 season.)

3. Bargaining“Maybe we could put him on gardening leave and bring Sir Alex back until the end of the season, just to steady the ship. Or maybe we could get Bayern Munich to swap Pep Guardiola for him. They would be okay with that, right?”

Whilst coming to the realisation there is indeed a problem, you may find yourself trying to concoct a cunning plan for your side to help them escape their downward spiral. You might even convince yourself that there is something you can do.

The negotiation is usually with a higher power – so, in the case of Manchester United, the Glazer family. This summer’s campaign to “Bring Ronaldo Home” was a strong example of this, with certain fans seemingly of the belief that buying replica shirts with Ronaldo’s name on the back would ensure his return to the club.

Of course, bargaining is futile. As you can see from the BringRonaldoHome campaign video, the narrator clearly believes it is within his power to make a change, despite conclusive evidence suggesting otherwise. Indeed, if you now check the domain www.bringronaldohome.org, the page is now blank. As the transfer window slammed shut, fans finally understood that the direction of the club was completely out of their control. In dire scenarios, this often leads to…

4. Depression“We’re rubbish; we won’t win anything ever again. We won’t make the Champions League places, our best players will leave, and the club will fade into obscurity.  What’s the point of even watching anymore? I hate football.”

This stage is where you understand the certainty of you club’s decline. Winning major European and league titles feels little more than a distant memory, while the future seems far, far bleaker in comparison. You may find yourself trying to ignore football altogether, focussing on other parts of your life which are, of course, equally miserable. You may even choose not to watch your side play – hey, you could do with the extra money, so working on Saturdays might be best.

5. Acceptance “The league might be beyond us, but let’s get behind the team, and hopefully we can push for a top 4 place.”

After a 2-0 home win against Hull, thanks to a couple of questionable penalty decisions, your side’s season isn’t looking quite as gloomy. Chelsea are too far in front for you to consider yourselves contenders, but you certainly won’t get relegated. Hoping for a Champions League spot is a tad optimistic, but certainly not a pipe-dream. Maybe at the end of the season your side can bring in some new players, and/or a new manager, and you’ll be back on track. This season won’t be easy, but it isn’t unrealistic to think that your team could again be quite good.

Sitting on the Fence

This piece is a guest post by Scroobius Mac,  so, obviously, I can take no credit for it (even though I’d like to, it’s a great article).

Kings of Leon and Wayne Rooney. Once they were lauded by fans and press alike. Their vaguely animalistic interpretation offered a wake up call to their respective entertainment genres. They were hailed as the next big thing. They scored that glorious rage-filled volley against Newcastle or made the country-grunge of Four Kicks.

They took their chance and launched themselves upon the largest audiences available. They sold millions of pounds in merchandise. They converted millions of fans to their cause. You couldn’t go to the pub without seeing a bloke ordering Carling in his Rooney shirt, and you couldn’t go to a club without hearing Sex On Fire.

They became slightly lackadaisical but new records still followed. They eclipsed George Best. They continued to make multi-platinum albums. The numbers were great, even the achievements that went with them were great. But something was lacking. There was a certain clumsiness in places, and a lack of effort in others. They were a paint-by-numbers effort of the former glory.

Those who had enjoyed that sumptuous chip over David James or danced like maniacs to The Bucket changed their tune. Rooney and the Followill clan had sold their souls and betrayed their legacy. In the eyes of these former fans, they were now worse than average. They were seen to be placed alongside the mediocre drivel that inhabits our airways and sport channels; to be ranked alongside the likes of The Vaccines and Bobby Zamora.

However, as with most reactions, it is overstated. Wayne Rooney remains a fine footballer and Kings of Leon’s last two records had some decent tracks.

It happens time and again in both genres. NME are champions of the ‘hype you until you make it, slate you once you do’ journalism, and football fans, particularly those who discuss football on twitter, are guilty of this too. Some have become so obsessed with being right about an opinion that they will take a point and hammer it home to extremes without considering both sides of the coin.

Another example of polarisation is Steven Gerrard. His ‘Stevie Hollywood’ reputation was developed as a counter to those who hailed him as the world’s greatest midfielder. Now his critics complain at every failed long pass or his choice to shoot when a pass was available. However, they fail to recognise his continued ability to drive his team forward, that his self-belief to take on those shots results in important goals and that his sometimes overly adventurous passing is one of the most effective routes to creating chances when it comes off.

This process works both ways; those players who are held by some to be excellent but receive undue criticism are subsequently overly-lauded when they do things well. Laurent Koscielny provides one example of this attitude. Arsenal fans often feel that he is criticised unduly and take every sublime moment (see his acrobatic interception against Wigan last season) as an opportunity to hail him as the second-coming of Franz Beckenbauer, yet they go quiet when he makes an error which costs him a red card, and/or Arsenal a goal.

Dogmatic beliefs become particularly entrenched when discussing players who play for your own club. With more football fans finding ways to watch every 90 minutes of their own club play regardless (whether it is televised or not) each minute detail is analysed. To give an example from my own club, Spurs, Mousa Dembele is often seen as divisive. He does some things really well; his strength on the ball is magnificent which, when combined with his sometimes-astonishing dribbling ability, is a sight to behold. On the other side for this ability it often amounts to little, as he’s not much of a visionary when it comes to passing and his goal threat is, quite frankly, pathetic. Yet he’s rarely evaluated in this way – he’s seen as either the heartbeat of the team or as a waste of space.

Dembele is, to return to the Kings of Leon analogy, Because Of The Times. He has moments where he appears to be one of the finest exponents in his field but there are other occasions where he lacks depth and purpose to be truly great. The increased accessibility to view every minute of action leads to dissection of players to the most meticulous details of their game. This seems to serve to amplify opinions about players’ greatness or weaknesses, rather than be used to better augment a debate about the pros and cons of a players’ ability.

Wayne Rooney, Steven Gerrard, Laurent Koscielny, Mousa Dembele, Arjen Robben, Theo Walcott, David Luiz, Kyle Walker, Leighton Baines, and Frank Lampard are, to name but a few, players who polarise opinion. They are all footballers who belong in top sides, but have limitations alongside their good attributes. Whilst you may not feel that some of these players deserve the hype they receive, it is probably worth appreciating the reasons they are being praised so highly and weighting the argument rather than painting it black and white. Likewise, when your club’s underrated hero is next getting slated by Hansen and Shearer try to take a step back, and consider whether they do have faults which could be addressed.

Come join me on the fence, it’s more comfortable sitting here than you might think.