Sunday, 29 April 2012

A day trip to Mordor

I've been keeping a low profile of late in terms of the footy, largely because the entire universe pivots on my every move and I don't want to put the mockers on our tortoise-like crawl to the safety of a third place finish. The ability of Newcastle, Spurs and Chelsea to intermittently blow up, or at least run out of puff, should see us safe, but it's been a season of turns and twists so keeping schtum on playing matters is probably wise for now.

I think it safe to comment on events off the pitch though, and yesterday's vist to the Britannia Stadium, to battle Sauron and his Orcs, did produce what Gary Lineker would term a "talking point". This was not the apeing of Arsene Wenger's rightly famous arms in the air gesture (more Basil Fawlty than Monsieur Hulot). Manager-baiting is perfectly legitimate when it focuses on the individual's foibles and record, though the well-known paedo-abuse that Wenger has received in the past, notably at Old Trafford and WHL, is well over the line. However, Arsenal fans are hardly saints in this regard and many would consider the mass outbreak of twitching that occurs in the seats behind the dugout when Harry Redknapp visits to be pushing it.

But those examples aside, the point is that managers are generally fair game and most are thick-skinned enough to cope. In the case of Sam Allardyce, you suspect that all he is is thick skin, like a real leather rhino suit. Not being understood, and not being liked (often by your own fans), goes with the job. As Pep Guardiola has found out, even near-universal adulation is no defence against the occasional abusive idiot, or Jose Mourinho as he is known.

There are a plenty of reasons for jeering or booing an opposition player, from his being an ex after the love died (Pennant), a thug who crippled one of our players (Shawcross), a figure of fun across the land (Crouch), a former Spurs player (Crouch and Etherington), or just plain annoying (Delap). But it's hard to see any justification for Stoke's fans booing Aaron Ramsey.

Some of them have claimed it's a reaction to Ramsey's refusal to accept Shawcross's apology after the career-threatening tackle in 2010, but their malevolence hardly supports a "more in sorrow than in anger" response. Apparently, echoing the Arsenal fans' regular chant of "Robin van Persie, he scores when he wants", which was varied on the day to "Ryan Shawcross, you know what you are", the Stoke fans took to singing "Ryan Shawcross, he'll break what he wants". Classy.

Even the normally confrontational Tony Pulis ducked the issue, claiming "I was more concerned about the Arsenal supporters booing Shawcross so I didn't hear the ones on Ramsey". I'm not sure what he was "concerned" about. Perhaps Shawcross is so mentally fragile the merest hint of displeasure is enough to tip him into profound depression. Probably not. This continued suggestion that Shawcross is as much a victim as Ramsey sticks in the craw, which is probably why the needle between the two clubs has continued to such a degree.

The Stoke fans attitude strikes me more as an example of how, in the safety of a crowd (or online), some people revel in the freedom to be gratuitously offensive, like the Chelsea knuckleheads who marred the period of silence in memory of Hillsborough at the recent semi-final with Spurs. What is perhaps more concerning is that neither Pulis nor his club were prepared to formally condemn it. To cap matters, while MOTD included a terse admonition by messrs Lineker and Hansen, this was clearly intended to provide sufficient balance to justify extensive footage of the crowd mimicking Wenger, something that Lineker himself went on to do.

It is this petty bullying, and the mealy-mouthed justification of it, that ultimately creates a climate in which serious violence on the pitch can be excused as "robustness" or just "unintentional".

Update (Sunday): The BBC's craven attitude on Saturday is now explained by the appearance of Tony Pulis as a guest pundit on MOTD2. The Wenger wave got another airing (or three) and Pulis was allowed to extol the spirit of the club and fans, not to mention the love of the underdog "in this country" (Pulis being an expert on abroad). Nobody suggested he might like to take the oportunity to distance himself from the booing of Ramsey, which was not mentioned at all.

Meanwhile, the campaign to have Crouch given the goal of the season award (which is not the ironic joke you think it is) continues apace. Suarez's distance lob this weekend is considered "not technically as difficult". RvP's volley against Everton has been airbrushed from history.

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