FANS, STOP KILLING OUR GAME!

By John Cartwright

Many readers of this ‘blog’ are not going to like what I’ve got to say one little bit.  Are you part of the mindless, noisy number who profess a love of the game but show a total lack of understanding of it?  If so, i would like to tell you that you are forcing our game into nothing more than a boring, ‘fightball’ version of the real game.

Nobody either inside or outside of the game seems prepared to stand up and speak about the ‘yobbish’ behaviour of so-called fans who demand force not fantasy from our game. Everyone is quick to mention the money that fans pay to watch the game and how reliant the game is on the income they generate. However, unless fans start to realize that their involvement with the game goes far deeper than just monetary issues – it is the playing fabric of our game that they are distorting and influencing in an unacceptable way.

I am prepared to stand up and ‘take the flack’ from those disagreeing ‘game enthusiasts’ who hurl abuse and show their ignorance of the game and its qualities. Those who want to teach, play and watch the game to the highest standards need defending.  At all levels of the game, a large proportion of parents and fans have over-emphasized the need for force not fantasy and in so doing they have increased the competitive structure of the game beyond satisfactory limits. Yes, we all want to see competitive games, but we should also see much more of the artistry, creativity and individualism that represents the true core of the game of Association Football. This balance between force and fantasy has been severely disrupted in favour of the former and has led to aggression on the field that is often generated by the banal demands of the watching public. A bad development structure over the last 60 years has created poor watchers of the game as well as poor players of it at the same time.

The desire to just win, often by the use of ‘ugly football’,  must be recognized for what it is – a blight on the game; it’s winning regularly and with style that should be the objective and the method! Our fans blind acceptance, tolerance and demand for mediocrity in performance is rapidly steering the game in this country towards football’s abyss. Fans, through their lack of football understanding are projecting fear into our game and its consequence is leading coaches and players to perform below their actual limits – creativity and style are replaced with effort, passion and conformity to lessen mistakes and pacify the public; simplicity is described as genius when in fact it is merely an option within the game.

We have reached the stage where lies, -‘hype’ is used to elevate ordinary performance to the level of greatness. These unjustified and camouflaged standards are accepted and applauded by the limited playing knowledge of fans’ and this has infected the true quality of the game here. It seems to me that the football public abroad are just as passionate about the game but they show a much better understanding of it than our own fans. The game of football is viewed in a much more sophisticated manner overseas.  Individual cleverness is more apparent and team play is generally better organized. Players are expected to display their skills and teams’ keep the ball far more adeptly than those here.

What a mess we’re in; fans fear failure and demand simplicity; coaches live in fear and teach simplistic football; players play with fear and under-perform; we have no playing ‘target’ and therefore no reliable teaching structure to relate to.  It leaves us in the position of not knowing how we should teach, coach and watch the game.

The ‘get it forward’ brigade present at so many games here must recognize that their ‘bleatings’ are causing great damage to our game. Ball possession must improve at all levels of our game and unnecessary impatience from ignorant onlookers demanding that players ‘hit’ the ball long too often will not help this country to establish itself in the upper echelons of world football.

Fans must realize that all success is fleeting and the real challenge is to keep improving in order to achieve it – playing with fear will not produce greatness in our game.  Real quality performance from individual players and teams’ must be recognized as fundamental for our game – and allowed to happen! Our fans must demand quality performance, not a ‘fear-wracked’ version of it if we are to progress. True football fans must begin to look at the game in different ways and detach themselves from demanding the boring regularity of simplistic and uninspiring football that has been their diet for far too long.

Why can’t we develop a game-style that reflects the better aspects of our national culture: We are a passionate and competitive breed yet we also show compassion and fairness; we accept structured organization, but admire individualism and artistry.  Why are we unable to combine the ‘tough with the smooth’ more subtly and produce a playing style for our game that represents all of our national characteristics? At present aggression rules the roost in our game and not until we show more determination to re-balance the ingredients necessary  for quality performance will we be able to compete successfully on the world football stage.

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17 thoughts on “FANS, STOP KILLING OUR GAME!

  1. Interesting article John. I recently had a discussion on a similar issue and found a quote from Guillem Balague (Sky Spanish Football Reporter) which sums up quite well the mentality of fans to English League football as follows:

    “What I would say is that there’s no way I can convince people in England that La Liga is stronger because you are brought up in a different way of playing football. It’s a different culture and even though teams like Chelsea, Arsenal and even Swansea are trying to change that by playing a different brand of football with more possession, I think fans remain very impatient when the football is not direct. In Spain, we find it annoying when a player cannot pass the ball or if they are not accurate with their first touch and in the same way, English fans find slow build-up play frustrating.”

    I have been to many games where a player at the back, or in midfield receives the ball to play forward and is immediately confronted with a roar of anticipation from the crowd which, for me, is the expectation that the ball should be ‘launched forward’. If that player chooses to go sideways, or god forbid, backwards to retain possession you can hear the groans and moans from the fans.

    As the quote states above, there simply is no patience or appreciation for quality ball retention with the aim of finding the right time and most effective way of moving the ball forward with purpose.

    The counter argument I have heard is that English football is more ‘exciting’ and Spanish football, for example, is too slow in tempo and ‘boring’. Now I might be naive and somewhat of an idealist but I know which one I would prefer to see at the moment.

    Your point regarding using the best aspects of our culture to develop a game-style is spot on. If we combine the patience/ball retention aspects of Spanish football with the passion and competitive aspects of our culture then there is no reason that the English game could be exciting, fast paced but with quality, purposeful and effective ball retention so we do combine the ‘tough with the smooth’.

    • Some good points here Mike especially re the game play references re the Spanish technique of playing footy….but although I live in NZ I do think comparing to the English fan’s mentality to that of the Spanish is a little foolish as Spain’s fans do have one of the worst reputations for racism in Europe…..if your black in England you stand more chance of playing professional football or even playing for England than if your white…(see the FA/England website) and still the majority of watchers at all British football league games as John calls them are predominantly white…..

  2. Bravo ! And the fear spreads to the grassroots – parents who demand young players to ‘get rid’ or ‘kick it out’ rather than to find intelligent ways to retain the ball and play out are just as influential on our young players development and mind set as is the coach.
    If the coach says, keep it, retain it, screen it, use skill and/or combine to play out but the parents say ‘boot it’ at the game and all the way home in the car, who do you think will carry the greatest sway?

    Desperate to win and be successful but too scared to lose !

  3. The great fallacy is that the game is first and last about winning. It’s nothing of the kind.

    The game is about glory. It is about doing things in style, with a flourish, about going out to beat the other lot, not waiting for them to die of boredom.” – Danny Blanchflower

  4. A well written piece John but I totally disagree with the philosophy or rather the point of the article…I think your argument is a little fragmented…..I reckon you have to look at the culture of the football watching public separatly to that of the players, Im sure one can affect the other and there have been times not too long ago that the watchers aggression and frustration have created very violent situations…
    The watchers passion can be misconstrued as aggression and the demand for victory isnt always anything to do with football, having said that havent you been there when your teams 1-0 down with five minutes to go and a 30,000 strong crowd that suddenly stands up and roars their team on….I have seen my team visibly raise their game in this situation and go on to win,what an amazing feeling……isnt that what football is about?…isnt that what we want?

    Let’s not fall into the trap of when some dude/person/dad/mom…whoever… shouts “get it up” or “long ball” think players dont want to play attractive football…..I believe kids can be influenced more than adults in this situation but sometimes a long ball is the right thing to do….and Im sure those very same parents/guardians would love to see the beautiful game taught correctly to facilitate their kids to play attractive football.

    I really think insulting the football watching public (mindless?,yobbish?,demands for mediocrity?) is problematic because they are the reason football is succesfull in many many inner cities in the UK and around the World…..sure there are mindless yobs but not in numbers and they certainly dont influence people/players enough that are’nt already ready to react unfavorably anyway…..if your refering to the general tone of a crowd then the culture of the people watching needs to be examined and as things change socially often this is refected on the terraces….eg football violence-racism.

    Defending the people who train/coach players is right on the money people who go out of their way professional or not to put their time into developing players correctly and appropiatly need our support and have to put up with being berated by others.
    I also agree the desire to win often overshadows the desire to play attractive football……but there are contradictive aspects to that if your in the FA cup final and havent got a side to match Man Utd’s quality and youve got a 7 foot tall striker how are you gonna play it…….it’s a tactic and in this situation trying to play attractive football would be like swimming with sharks with uncooked steak stuffed down your trunks?

    Finally and Im sorry to have droned on but you want conformity???…. ok all the Maradona’s,George Best’s,Christophe Dugarry’s,Greavsie’s,Roy Keane’s etc etc etc and any other genius’s in the room sit down please….

  5. Ironic is not,,,that given the Guillem Balague quote that the parents of our young players are probably correct, because paying fans at a game when you turn pro are going to expect you to do that. They dont want you to turn and take a couple of players on in your defensive third. A chicken and egg situation, should the grassroots coaches in our country change the way we play or should the pro clubs change the way they play to influence grassroots strategy.

    In my opinion, like most things in my beloved country, we will continue to do what we always have done – blaming both but making little effort change.

    As a coach I, when reflecting on my sessions and my objectives, find myself having drifted between coaching for development and coaching for results. I know which I would prefer to be and which one I and the players have the most fun with.

  6. I thought i would get an immediate deluge of protests from irate fans but it seems there is either complete agreement or total disinterest in fans’ disruption of our game. Unsatisfactory contact with the game during school years and beyond has meant that many who have become ‘watchers’ of the game have taken the limited knowledge they acquired into professional stadiums where they expect and demand poor levels of performance.
    Poor coaching methods are responsible for so much of the downward path our game has taken both on and off the field over the past half century; from over-emphasis on aggression on the field, to crowd troubles needing Police and Security Guards inside and outside stadiums. Playing this game in the manner it should be played — competitively not aggressively– with skill not simplistic conformity — effectively not standardized and attractively not ‘uglified’ should be our aim.
    It’s about time Mr. Brooking started uttering some commands instead of the regularly timed facile comments he provides, perhaps then he might ‘kick-start’ his department into action that would bear ‘better fruit’ than the failing ‘crops’ that have been produced so consistantly, both on and off the field,for our game in the past.

  7. Liverpool in the 70s and 80s,as i have mentioned before, had two game styles – one which they used in domestic competitions and one which they used in European club competitions. In domestic league and cup matches they played a largely physical,fast and hard-running game which their fans enjoyed and could identify with as typically English – lots of crosses and goal mouth action. But in Europe their game style changed completely and they then played a possession-based game,very patient,much shorter passes with a considerably decreased tempo.Bill Shankley realised after receiving severe hammerings in away European ties in the late 60s against Ajax and Inter Milan that those matches required a totally different approach than weekly confrontations against English clubs. The Liverpool fans accepted this different game style in Europe BECAUSE IT BROUGHT SUCCESS. But when Tottenham or Chelsea came to Anfield at 3p.m. on a Saturday they expected their diet of ‘blood and thunder’ English football and Shankly was shrewd enough to give it them because he knew that they could play that style of football well enough to win the English League Championship regularly.
    To be fair, over the years Liverpool developed to such an extent that they gradually introduced their ‘European Game’ more and more into their ‘English Game’ and subsequent managers, Bob Paisley and Kenny Dalglish (in his first spell), continued this process.
    If you want to see a great example of 2 different game styles try and see videos of their FA Cup Final in 1977 against Man Utd and then look at the recording of the European Cup Final played a few days later against Borussia Moenchengladbach.Against the Germans it was as if Liverpool were playing a different game than the way they had played against Man Utd .Which they were doing, in fact, and i remember people making comments at the time such as “that’s how we expected Gladbach to play”, such was the quality of liverpool’s possession play based around short passing and they played the Germans off the park with the type of football we had expected to see from them.
    I can see parallels in the English top division at the moment. The other week Man Utd played Chelsea in a televised match which Utd won 3 – 1 but it could have been 5 – 5 or 6 -6. The fans loved it as did the millions sat in front of their TV sets. A few days later Utd played a champions League tie against Benfica and it was 1 -1.a totally different game,much slower pace, the ball not flying from penalty area to penalty area as if on a pin ball machine. But this was their ‘other’ game, their other game style reserved for Europe. Their fans will accept that in Europe as long as they are successful but don’t let then try that against Chelsea in the Premier League.
    Another example was Stoke City, of all teams. Nobody needs any introduction to their game style they have employed in the last few seasons but they recently played away to Dynamo Kiev in the Europa League. Instead of the long balls from back to front they played a much shorter,possession-based game to protect a one goal lead which eventually finished 1 – 1, a world away from the high speed,long ball game regularly seen in their Premier League matches.
    So i believe our players could play a game more closely allied to our continental cousins but it would require the assistance of their customers, both those paying through the turnstiles or else through their TV subscriptions.

  8. Hi Simon. I enjoyed reading your reply, i realize the impact that crowds have on games’ at certain times to generate more effort from their players. This is understandable, but this passionate response from fans too often becomes impatience during attacking preparation when controled ball possession is vital. Not receiving satisfactory football deucation during their playing years, the ‘watchers’ are too often unable to distinguish when the game needs to be slowed to create space through which quicker penetration to occur. —see Barcelona!!
    I think you have mis-read my point on conformity. I have always been passionate about producing individualism for our game. I have criticised the need for conformity for decades. The influence of poor develpoment methods over many decades in this country has reduced playing and watching standards to such an extent that we now call mediocrity — great and foster conformity to ‘camouflage’ the lack of real talent. Sadly, conformity, rules our game when it should be CREATIVITY!!!
    Remember, POOR TEACHING produces POOR PLAYERS and POOR WATCHERS. Simplicity has become essential in the way we play and watch the game. Difficult situations are ‘erased’ through the fear of failure from low-calibre players performing in front of impatient, ill-informed fans.

  9. I’m totally with you on this one John. Playing a five a side last night with guys all over 40 yet they still charge forward at every opportunity ( then too knackered to get back when they lose the ball) always passing the buck ( it’s never MY fault that the play broke down) and looking at me aghast. “Why do you pass the ball BACK so much”.
    These are the same guys who , in the pub watching Barcelona, will drool over the quality of the football and ask “why can’t we do that”. Reason? a stubourn refusal to admit the problem. We do not DEVELOP the play. Try playing anywhere on a sat afternoon up and down the country. Put 10 men behind the ball and see what will happen. The centre back will pass to the full back; he might pass it back and then……LAUNCH. Ball given away…OR lucky bounce and a forward runs onto the lose ball. Then they congratulate themselves ????And these guys then go and watch their teams and take their kids with them. The World Cup or Champions League final comes around and there they are …drooling into their beers and bemoaning Englands lack of craft……but they are the very people who perpetuate it.
    Now I just happen to be an Arsenal fan but I can say in all honesty that if Tottenham or Chelsea played the sort of football we played in the last five years I would rah rah for them as much as I have done so for Wenger. In my opinion Wenger has changed something in England and shown another way. Yet listen to the idiot Arsenal fans who phone into talksport et all demanding his sacking!!! I am not saying Arsenal have everything right but they have a vision which does not involve the Chelsea/ Man City model of short termism. Chelsea and City are just “Football Manager” for the super wealthy. Arsenal have done what they’ve done on a fraction of the Chelsea budget. Imagine if we took that on board nationally???Arsenal fans make me sick. Like spoilt, ungrateful children totally unaware of the poverty just down the street.

  10. John I think this is one of your best posts; albeit maybe the most important one because you pull no punches in terms of the public’s influence on the way football is played. You quite correctly point out that the English fan is happy with the mediocrity so often present in the game. And by definition lack game understanding of REAL FOOTBALL.

    The Spanish fan – representative of the foreigners – does view the game differently – so passion has nothing to do with it. We can all be passionate; but why should passion be devoid of intelligence – as is the case with the British fan (in the main). Terry Venables spoke of the Barcelona players being sceptical of his approach when he first arrived at that great Catalan club. I believe, Schuster thought Venables would just bring the English long ball mentality to the club and the players collectively were surprised this was not the case. In Spain – like in Italy – derision will break out if their teams play anything resembling the ‘modern’ English game. And these are passionate fans. I say modern because my understanding is that many, many years ago English football was played on the ground – harking back to Matthews et al; however, subsequent generations of fans groomed on FIGHT BALL – probably because that is how the majority play it themselves – in pub football – relate to it.

    I visited Buenos Aires a couple of years back and was lucky to witness THE SUPERCLASSICO played at the home of Boca J. My feeling is this, in that the Argentine fan relishes, not long ball football as relished by the Brit or any English speaking offshoot, but the technicality and brilliance of individuality, which is expressed more regularly in passing football, because at any moment an individual is able to get hold of the ball and manipulate it. One of the major problems of the long ball game is that to a degree it negates the 1 v 1 duels and combined play – which can render the other team helpless! Furthermore, the English fan’s fan’s demand for mediocrity creates a NO MAN’S LAND in the middle of the pitch, whereby the ball never goes with any regularity.

    Take a look at Rugby Union, which for many years was played by the All Blacks in terms of position – by kicking the ball forward, BUT they soon realised that POSSESSION was in fact KEY; moreover, having good front foot possession, and then the ball could be moved beautifully through quick passing movements complimented by superb individualism. THEY CHANGED after the Carwyn James Lions of 1971. It took some time, but the transition of game style has been completed, while cementing a winning record that has no match in professional sport!

    I am a football fanatic, but ADMIRE BEAUTY IN ANY SPORT. As far as it goes, the English fan has helped reduce the game in that country to a level across the board of mediocrity and the worst aspect is that English speaking countries follow – through ignorance. John was perhaps being too kind! I would say that the average English fan – ditto NZ – is THICK.

    I will leave others to comment, but this an important enough post to come back to.

  11. In English football there has been the emergence of tribalism.Everyone must have ‘their’ team and often this bears no relation to the town or city in which they live or were brought up. In days gone by you supported your local team because it was an important part of the community. Your interest in football developed and maybe you became more interested in other team(s) away from your own locality because their style/way of playing was more interesting and more attractive.
    These days we have wall-to-wall football,both live and recorded,on numerous TV channels,both terrestial and satellite. The great teams and great players are all there in front of us and we can view them from our arm chair at the touch of a button. But this seems to make many of the football-watching public less appreciative of the really skillful players because when they go to the stadium and Ronaldo or Messi is in the visitors’ line-up then this seems to be the signal for a substantial number in the stands to jeer and shout obscenities rather than appreciate the sublime skills that such individuals and teams can offer.
    This was not always the case.45 years ago England won the World Cup and nobody in this country needs reminding about that.But of those old enough to have been members of the football-watching public at that time I would be interested to know what was their most vivid memory of that competition. Of those living in that great football connurbation of Merseyside at that time I would strongly suspect that for many of them their great memory would not have been England ‘s Wembley triumph but a rain-swept,soaking night at Goodison Park when Hungary beat Brazil 3-1 in a great match,when Florian Albert,Ferenc Bene and Janos Farkas took the Brazilian defence apart and Farkas scored one of the all-time great goals for Hungary’s second. When the final whistle went the packed crowd on the terraces were soaked to the skin but the roar of applause and appreciation for the Hungarians was deafening. Englands’ ultimate victory was practically insignificant for the 60,000 inside Goodison compared to what they had seen from Hungary.
    We seem to have lost this appreciation of the game’s great players and teams and it has been replaced by cynicsm and tribalism. John Cartwright is right to draw attention to this along the same lines as all the other declining standards which are prevalent in our national game, alongside the way it is played and the way it is coached. The problems are all related and although football’s ills mirror those of society in this country as a whole, they must all be tackled to improve the all-round health of the game.

  12. Danny Blanchflower, a former Spurs ‘true Great’ said “football’s like life”. How correct he was! The football played an watched here is totally representative of life in this country; money dominated, disrespectful, thuggish, poorly educated, deprived of skills, dependent on immigrant workers and mis-informed by leaders – conned might be a better word.
    The crimes on our streets and the behaviour of our football fans stem from the same sources – family breakdown and a lack of parental control and an eduction system that lacks both visionary direction and pupil discipline.When discipline is restored to both the family home and the classroom we might see a restoration of the better aspects of social and sporting life here.
    Our football fans have progressed through a football learning period that has contained all the points above. What happens in and outside our grounds is the result of poor football education that has funnelled players into a playing system that places more emphasis on mindless physicality and not on the skilful and tactical subtlties of the game.
    Our game, like our society, is in dire need of an urgent re-think. Danny, was quite right to collate life-style and sport; each reflects the other and the sooner we recognize that drastic changes need to be made the sooner we will emerge from the squalid life and sports’ mess we now find ourselves in.

  13. Last Saturday produced an example of the negative influence of the crowd having a serious impact on the team which they are meant to be supporting.
    In the Wolves – Swansea match the home team dropped off into their own half,allowing the back players of Swansea to bring the ball forward. The instructions must have been given to the players before the match, in certain situations, to let the Swansea players bring the ball forward from their own half and for the Wolves players to drop off to the half way line, holding their positions and keeping compact. As I have stated before, this patient approach does not go down well with English crowds who want a fast tempo,hard running, all-action game style. Since Wolves were already a goal behind and on a losing run, the crowd were not in the best of moods and as a Swansea player came forward a chorus of boos and loud complaints poured down from the stands. I can only conclude that it was this influence that caused Wolves midfield player Karl Henry to break from the compact shape which they had developed and he came out to challenge the advancing player inside the Swansea half. Swansea are good at playing out from the back and with Henry committing himself they easily played round him, and having discovered that chink in the Wolves armoury they went through and scored a second goal.
    Clearly, Henry should have displayed more character in ignoring the barrage of boos from the crowd and should have followed to the letter the instructions which manager Mick McCarthy had given him before the game. However, it was an example of the negative effect which a crowd’s ignorance can have on the proceedings out on the field.
    But if a crowd’s ignorance can cost points in the match, (one point for Wolves in a 2-2 draw instead of three for what could otherwise have been a win), then could not the club themselves take some responsibility for educating their supporters for the benefit of both crowd and club? Is it not time that the after-match interview on TV with the manager contained something a little more substantial than superficial comments,news on players’ injuries and complaints about officials? There seems to be a marked reluctance in England for managers to discuss the tactics which they adopted in a match and a refusal to answer any questions which are put to them on this subject. If Mick McCarthy had explained after the match why he wanted his team to drop off to the half way line instead of pressing high up the pitch because of Swansea’s strengths and how Henry’s actions had had serious repercussions, then the more thoughtful Wolves supporters would have had an insight into his thinking and when they next go to the stadium they would hopefully think a little more carefully before venting their anger.
    I recall reading an interview some years ago with the late Bobby Robson after he had been coaching in Holland for a little while. He remarked that the Dutch journalists were like “little coaches” because they always asked questions about his tactics and questioned his approach to matches and reasons for substitutions and why he played a certain formation etc. In Holland,Robson said, you had to take these questions seriously and give detailed answers. It is not the case here because these questions are avoided and so we get a situation arising as we had last Saturday at Molineux.

  14. Hi Steve. Once again you are spot on with your comments. Your reply says it all about the limited understanding of the game there is in this country. This ignorance starts at junior levels and permeates through all playing and watching levels.
    To ‘exorcise’ the demon of impatience in our game is something that is bordering on the impossible.

  15. As a bit of an afterthought – the watching and appreciation of the game also applies to the TV companies and their directors.
    Watch a La Liga game and the camera angle is much wider where you can see more of the pitch and therefore more of ‘the game’ – movement, angles etc.

    In England, we see a much more restricted and closer view because “we” (I’m not!) are obsessed with the ‘celebrity’ of the player and also to be close to the ‘action’.

    The TV companies (or is it the watching public?) do not seem to understand that the action goes on away from the ball as well as on and around it.

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