Let's hear it for the fans: teams couldn't do it without us
There's a new thing on Sky Digital this season that is quite interesting. Don't worry if you haven't got Sky or Digital, it's still quite interesting.
It is called FanZone. You flick the appropriate flick and, instead of hearing Martin Tyler and Andy Gray doing their smooth, professional commentary, you get two geezers, chuntering on. Each is a fan of one of the teams, and they cluck away, uninterrupted, unled, all on their own, throughout the game, making any half-witted, half-formed thoughts and observations that come into their totally biased minds. Just like the rest of us, really, as we sit and watch a game - although there must be some sort of direction, because I haven't heard many swear words yet, apart from arse.
It's rather refreshing to hear their amateur, unreconstructed, un-PC thoughts, so unlike the safe, obvious and totally uncontroversial thoughts that get trotted out by most of the so-called experts who rarely say what they really think. Their most daring, critical comment is always "He'll be disappointed by that". But the fans groan and moan, rubbishing their own side as much as the opposition. And if their lads are doing well, they get very excited, shouting and cheering.
They argue among themselves, which makes interesting listening. In the Man Utd v Newcastle game when Keane was sent off, there was a heated exchange about whether it was deserved or not, with each fan taking a different view. You can guess the Man U reaction. No one likes us . . . we do care . . . it was out of order.
Fans are also funnier and ruder than professional commentators. In that particular match, there was a sudden close-up shot of Peter Reid, the manager of Sunderland. "Is that a chimpanzee in the stand?" asked the Newcastle fan. You won't catch a pro commentator saying that sort of thing.
In the Leicester v Everton game, the Leicester fan specialised in being rude about his own team. Impey, he said, "cost £1.5m, which means he was overpriced by £1.6m". He had it in for Guppy: "He's only got one weakness - he can't tackle and he's only got one foot." He rubbished all their strikers, "who couldn't score in a knocking shop", which naturally meant that, two seconds later, they did score. I'm amazed he got away with saying that "Heskey goes down quicker than a cheap whore". Perhaps Sky hasn't got round to a digital ten-second button yet, which would enable it to cut out the more offensive pensees.
The downside to the experiment is that you can tune in and find dead silence, so you think, heh up, I've flicked the wrong flick, the sound's gone wonky, is there wax in my ear, or what? There's also a lot of chat that is little more than "Come on you Blues".
I don't intend to watch it again. Not for the offensive remarks, but because Sky insists on flashing stupid e-mail comments across the bottom of the screen. So annoying. I also happen to like Andy Gray and Martin Tyler. If they have done their homework, and are on form, what they say can be illuminating. The fans illuminate themselves, and their prejudices, which is amusing, but in small doses.
A combination of the two would be worth trying - a pro commentator and a fan working together, especially for all these European games. A fan of the foreign team would be able to explain the background to their players, their history, personalities, how they are rated, what obscenity the crowd is chanting and why. Our Brit commentators often show total ignorance of foreign teams.
The experiment is interesting because it shows how the game is developing. At long last, the views and feelings of fans are not being totally ignored. Several clubs are currently working on ways to give fans a voice on the board. Disabled fans are being better catered for. Some clubs are cutting back on season-ticket seating to give the fans who can't afford a huge annual outlay the chance to get an occasional seat.
But on the whole, fans are still treated like shite. Oh yes we are. We are fodder. Our purpose is to be fleeced. But any club chairman with some sense knows that we play a part. We can win several points a season, just by roaring our heads off, getting behind the lads - if, that is, they deserve to be roared on, if they are really trying, really determined.
We can also make life hell for a team or player, chairman or manager, even hound them out. It was the crowd at Man City that turned against the team's former captain Richard Edgill and got him on the transfer list. I suspect that the Chelsea crowd's lack of enthusiasm for Deschamps last season hastened his end. Perhaps the worst crowd victim was Perry Groves. His life at Arsenal was total misery once the fans had gone off him.
Oh yes, we can influence our club, even if we have nothing like the muscle of the merchandising and marketing people, the sponsors and TV companies, the agents and the players who are now kings. And there is a strength that we haven't tried yet. It is called direct action. If agricultural workers can man the barricades, and truckers can block the motorways, it would be very simple for a hundred fooball fans to disrupt the next live match on TV and lose the clubs concerned millions of pounds unless they give in to our demands. All we have to do is lie down in the middle of the pitch at kick-off and refuse to move. Or, even easier, block access to the car park, so that the opposition's team coach, or the home players in their Ferraris, can't get in. That would fettle them.
Oh, there is much we can do if we fans start flexing our flex. Not all of which I will reveal at this moment in time. But the clubs have been warned . . .