Should Spurs home fans have given more support? Image: Getty
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Is it a football fan's rights to boo the players?

We know booing will do no good - but we still do it.

My friend Sue, with whom I often go to Spurs matches, got up one minute before the end and started to leave. Which was not like her. She always stays to the final whistle, whatever the result, waiting till every Spurs player has left – and claps each of them off the pitch.

Me, I’m a disgrace, really. For about 40 years, at either Spurs or Arsenal, I have stood up the minute the extra-time board flashes – yes, don’t point it out, I know, those boards didn’t exist 40 years ago – then made my way to the exit. I go slowly, so I can stop and look back at the pitch if something exciting happens, then I pause in the corridors to look at the TV screen. Out in the street, I listen for any enormous roars, working out what they might mean.

All I am doing is trying to get ahead of the crowds – as I do have a dodgy knee – and into my car before the appalling jams. Sue considers staying to the very end a mark of respect. She wants to applaud the players for doing their best, even when they haven’t.

This time, however, she was leaving a minute early – because she sensed the crowd was going to boo and she did not want to witness it.

This came to pass – and it was after this game, against Hull, that André Villas-Boas criticised the Spurs home fans for their lack of support. I thought at the time he was ill-advised, as blaming the crowd is always a mistake. We know, we fans, that when we boo it will do no good – probably make things worse – but we still do it.

Likewise, managers should realise it will do no good to turn against the fans but they can’t help themselves.

Why do we do it ? It’s our right, innit? We have paid our money, we can do what we like. We want them to do good things, then we’ll cheer. We love the club dearly, always hoping for better things, so feel personally let down when they play rubbish. At Spurs, you hear moans of “Here we go again”, as we all think back to the times when things did look good, then collapsed.

They are all millionaires and we have personally paid small fortunes. So when things go wrong, it’s two sorts of greedy bastards to blame: the players and the club.

It’s hard to think of another entertainment where you pay a year ahead to be let down. At the theatre, cinema, restaurants, you pay per visit and if the experience is shite, you might not go again. Today, unlike in the past, at all Prem games almost every fan has paid ahead for the whole season. You can’t get your money back. You have to suffer for the season.

Another result of all seated, season-ticketed crowds is that the average age last season at Prem matches was 41. Young people can’t afford it. Young fans tend to be dewy-eyed romantics, blithely loyal to their chosen team, and will hear nothing against them.

When my son first discovered I also went to Arsenal, when Spurs was supposed to be my team – our team – he was furious, called me a traitor. I tried to explain that I like football first. Secondly, I like Spurs and Carlisle United, the two I most want to win, but really I can enjoy all football.

Middle-aged and older fans have seen too much – the messianic new manager, the boy wonder, a run of two games without being stuffed, promises of Europe next season – and we just sigh, wearily. At all the big grounds today, from Old Trafford to the Emirates, you do get long periods when it’s like a library. One thing about the young hooligans in the Seventies – at least they screamed all the time.

Another factor today might be the pornography of Match of the Day, and all the brilliance of Sky’s technology. You get used to seeing stimulating moves, intimate close-ups, sudden climaxes – and can download them again and again. In the flesh on a grey rainy day against the ugly lumps from Hull, it’s hard to work up much excitement. And that’s just the Spurs team.

But I was wrong. Villas-Boas and Sue were right. In the next home game, the crowd did respond. If you respect them, they do play better.

Hunter Davies is a journalist, broadcaster and profilic author perhaps best known for writing about the Beatles. He is an ardent Tottenham fan and writes a regular column on football for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 06 November 2013 issue of the New Statesman, Are cities getting too big?

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Rarely has it mattered so little if Manchester United won; rarely has it been so special they did

Team's Europa League victory offers chance for sorely needed celebration of a city's spirit.

Carlo Ancelotti, the Bayern Munich manager, memorably once said that football is “the most important of the least important things”, but he was only partly right. While it is absolutely the case that a bunch of people chasing around a field is insignificant, a bunch of people chasing around a field is not really what football is about.

At a football match can you set aside the strictures that govern real life and freely scream, shout and cuddle strangers. Football tracks life with such unfailing omnipresence, garnishing the mundane with regular doses of drama and suspense; football is amazing, and even when it isn’t there’s always the possibility that it’s about to be.

Football bestows primal paroxysms of intense, transcendent ecstasy, shared both with people who mean everything and people who mean nothing. Football carves out time for people it's important to see and delivers people it becomes important to see. Football is a structure with folklore, mythology, language and symbols; being part of football is being part of something big, special, and eternal. Football is the best thing in the world when things go well, and still the best thing in the world when they don’t. There is nothing remotely like it. Nothing.

Football is about community and identity, friends and family; football is about expression and abandon, laughter and song; football is about love and pride. Football is about all the beauty in the world.

And the world is a beautiful place, even though it doesn’t always seem that way – now especially. But in the horror of terror we’ve seen amazing kindness, uplifting unity and awesome dignity which is the absolute point of everything.

In Stockholm last night, 50,000 or so people gathered for a football match, trying to find a way of celebrating all of these things. Around town before the game the atmosphere was not as boisterous as usual, but in the ground the old conviction gradually returned. The PA played Bob Marley’s Three Little Birds, an Ajax staple with lyrics not entirely appropriate: there is plenty about which to worry, and for some every little thing is never going to be alright.

But somehow the sentiment felt right and the Mancunian contingent joined in with gusto, following it up with “We’ll never die,” – a song of defiance born from the ashes of the Munich air disaster and generally aired at the end of games, often when defeat is imminent. Last night it was needed from the outset, though this time its final line – “we’ll keep the red flag flying high, coz Man United will never die" – was not about a football team but a city, a spirit, and a way of life. 

Over the course of the night, every burst of song and even the minute's silence chorused with that theme: “Manchester, Manchester, Manchester”; “Manchester la la la”; “Oh Manchester is wonderful”. Sparse and simple words, layered and complex meanings.

The match itself was a curious affair. Rarely has it mattered so little whether or not United won; rarely has it been so special that they did. Manchester United do not represent or appeal to everyone in Manchester but they epitomise a similar brilliance to Manchester, brilliance which they take to the world. Brilliance like youthfulness, toughness, swagger and zest; brilliance which has been to the fore these last three days, despite it all.

Last night they drew upon their most prosaic aspects, outfighting and outrunning a willing but callow opponent to win the only trophy to have eluded them. They did not make things better, but they did bring happiness and positivity at a time when happiness and positivity needed to be brought; football is not “the most important of the least important things,” it is the least important of the most important things.

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