Fans shouldn’t be told not to boo, or how to support.

26.02.09

Can you imagine going to a football match and being told to be quiet? Especially by your own club, at your home ground?

Well, at last weekends game against Wigan, this happened to Middlesbrough fans.

According to a letter sent out by the club’s safety officer, Sue Watson, a certain group of fans were just too loud.

“This constant noise is driving some fans mad,” it said, and fans in block 53A were told to save the cheering for celebrating goals.

The club has since apologised, when it realised issuing the letter was a bad move.

Middlesbrough are currently hanging around the bottom of the table, trying to avoid relegation. With goals in short supply, the club could have found themselves with no atmosphere at all.

This letter got me thinking. Do clubs have a right to tell us, as paying fans, how to behave?

The Middlesbrough example is a bit of a strange one. While it’s not abnormal for clubs to tell fans to keep the noise down, they’re usually talking about fans chanting abuse, not supporting their own team.

Just think back to October last year and the World Cup qualifiers at Wembley.

All the fuss surrounding Ashley Cole’s gaff of a pass which gifted Kazakhstan their only goal. The fans weren’t happy and so not for the first time they booed one of their own.

England managed to stick another three in the net and win 5-1 so it wasn’t the costly mistake it perhaps could have been.

And yet, everyone wanted to talk about it.

There seemed to be two sides to the argument: In the red corner, those who think booing is the fastest way to voice your opinion when things aren’t going well. This is the verbal equivalent of ticking the boxes marked “very unsatisfied” on a customer feedback form.

In the blue corner, are those who favour more support and less criticism. Rio Ferdinand said at the time the fans who booed Cole should “go home and reflect on it and feel a bit ashamed of themselves.”

I don’t mind a bit of booing. It adds to the pantomime feeling of being in a crowd. What I don’t like is the thought of being told off for doing it.

In fact, I don’t like the idea that a club, or a player, has a say in my behaviour as a fan.

I’ve never seen fans nannied as much as I did last summer at the Beijing Olympics. A strong example but one that demonstrates how the atmosphere can suffer for it.

In the build up to Beijing, Chinese fans were taught how to behave at Olympic events. The chant “Jaiyou Zhongguo” (Let’s go China) was drilled into them so much I rarely heard anything else.

Volunteers were brought in to instruct the crowd how to clap and cheer. At Capital Stadium, where I worked during the Volleyball events, there were sometimes blocks full of uniformed fans, trained to lead the applause and create an exciting atmosphere.

It didn’t work. All the spontaneity of a crowd following the drama on court was lost, killed by so much repetition.

When the Chinese fans did show their passion and enthusiasm naturally, the atmosphere was like nothing I’ve experienced before. It was fantastic.

So if clubs want an incredible atmosphere, they need the passion of their fans to do it. And telling us how to behave will only stop it showing through.

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