A lot has been said in the media recently about fan behaviour. Idiotic fans physically attacking players and the racist taunting certain English players were subjected to in Montenegro on Tuesday night have certainly shone a sharper spotlight on this concept. Of course the above is abhorrent and disgusting in any area of society, but when it comes to shouts from the stands, where exactly should the line be drawn?
We had Bobby Barr on our podcast recently, where he talked openly about the heckles he has received from the lower league terraces and still does on a fairly consistent basis. He admitted these shouts, which range from funny to downright abusive, have often came within earshot of his wife and young son. It left a somewhat poor taste in my mouth.
A fan will pay his money and shouts what he wants at who he wants, the usual ‘you’re shite, you’re this and you’re that’. Perhaps a strange thing to hear in most places of work but professional sport is considered different. I sometimes have nightmares of being called into the staff room at work, where the head teacher berates me in front of my colleagues,
“Denholm you’re a pish teacher, the kids and parents hate you and you’ve got a receding hairline”.
Although there may well be an element of truth in all three of the above, this just wouldn’t and probably shouldn’t happen in a primary school.
You often hear the old cliché, “you wouldn’t shout it at someone stacking shelves, at someone working in an office or at someone walking down the street; so why should you be able to say it at a football match”.
That being said, my feelings are a bit different when it comes to the sledging from the Terraces. I believe shouts from fans are part of the entertainment factor, the heckling contributes to the atmosphere and I personally enjoy it – within reason. I’ve heard creative shouts about my playing style, my appearance and my personality. Due to the attendances in the lower leagues, I can almost hear every shout, and whilst there are some boring predictable shouts there are also those heckles that have me pissing myself at the same time as I am attempting to control a ball.
3.00 into video for excellent fan reaction
There have been many occasions where I have had to hide my giggle in an attempt at professionalism and I must admit I have never been personally hurt by anything specifically directed at me. Only once have I felt that a supporter has really gotten under my skin, the man in question bellowed,
“You’re shite and so are your blogs and podcasts!”
Now that got to me.
I feel the shouts we receive in Scotland are often unique to our land, replicating our dour sense of humour. Most players embrace the fun and some even give a bit back to the fans. I still remember playing with the brilliant Chris “Sanny” Templeman at Forfar who was receiving a lot of vitriol from the Dunfermline fans at East End Park, mostly about his day job as a Janitor. Using this as motivation, he went on to round the goalkeeper, tap the ball into an empty net and enthusiastically celebrate right in front of the Pars fans by sweeping the floor with his imaginary brush.
Aside from constant heckles from my gaffer, there is one thing that does affect me on the pitch – the groans from your own fans. When I try to take a player on and I am tackled, the grumbling is amplified. The disappointment from my own fans racks me with self doubt and I am likely to take the safe option for the next 20-30 minutes of that game. I think this is true of most players whether they admit it or not and there is certainly a degree of mental toughness required to overcome these groans
Players will often say “I don’t care what they think”, and to me it just sounds like a coping strategy to deal with some of the negative shouts they are hearing. Almost every single player I’ve played with has cared what their own fans think. However I have seen this perceived careless attitude lead to an inharmonious relationship between fan and player. It is a 2 way street, but often both the fan and the player are too stubborn and dig their heels firmly in the sand. Nobody winning apart from the opposition is the likely outcome to this.
Sitting on the bench last week, I could hear some of the shouts from one idiot in particular. He was constantly having a go at a player in his own team that he quite clearly doesn’t rate. Whenever he did anything, good or bad, he was on his case with negative shouts which clearly dent a players confidence. How is that going to help your team? Have you not heard of the carrot and the stick approach – a wee bit of the carrot in the form of some positive uttering from time to time wouldn’t go a miss. Direct your negativity towards the opposition!
Knowing where the line is certainly does continue to be a problem for a small minority. I’ve heard heckles way to close to the bone. I’ve heard abhorrent things shouted at players openly battling mental health problems, I’ve heard casual racism and I’ve witnessed fans physically attacking a player. Despite happening very rarely, incidents like this appear to be amplified in the British media. These incidents are disgusting and are rightly chastised by all, I just don’t want to see it impact on all shouts from the terraces. I believe the majority of shouts add to the atmosphere and are one of many reasons why our lower league game is so wonderfully different. Let’s not let a few idiots ruin it for everybody.
I started a twitter thread about some of the best shouts people have heard from fans and it kept my widely entertained. Here is some that caught my eye
Ex Forfar right back Mark Baxter whilst playing with green boots at Ibrox, “Those boots match yer teeth” @baxtermark30
Greig Spence on his first game back in 6 weeks after recovering from an injury, “Spence you’ve been shite for weeks” @GreigSpence
@Andymunro19 “You’re worse than your podcast”
@Lewisfarquhar1 Cowdenbeath fan to Craig Johnston “Ye can ran but so can a horse”
@spoc1996 A fan to Gary Harkins, “You’ve had too much to eat over Christmas” Harkins replied “I have too much to eat every week”
@Jamie11bain as the Airdrie keeper was struggling to reach the halfway line with a goal kick “Ref is that a medicine ball he’s kicking”
@colinmccredie Celtic fan to Enrico Anoni, “Aw naw, no Anonni oan an aw noo!”
@Keirw97 to the keeper scuffing one too many a goal kick along the ground, “Are you playing snooker”
@Kevmack79 To Jamie Smith “Jamie, Jamie, Jamie… Jamie” he finally turns round “Yer maw still posing for playboy wee man?”
@Liamflynn1875 To a player who missed a headed sitter from 5 yards “You’ve got a heed like a sheriffs badge”
@Robbieholden1 fan to a player with a gap in his teeth, “Shut up Rino Gaptootho”