Recent events in the Premier League have called into question the degree to which supporters should follow their club without regard for circumstances and understanding of a situation. Whilst listening to ex-cricketer Geoffrey Boycott discuss his love of Manchester United on radio 5Live I was struck that he took umbrage with being called a fan, preferring to be referred to as a supporter. He noted that a supporter, by nature, simply supports whereas a fan is, by nature, a fanatic. While some may disregard the subtle difference between the two terms, it is an important one. A supporter is simply someone who supports, but a fanatic is defined by ‘excessive enthusiasm and often intense uncritical devotion’.
The personal abuse Steve Kean has been subjected to by Blackburn Rovers ‘supporters’ this season has little to do with his team’s performances on the pitch. All supporters have a right to voice their opinion on their team’s performance, its management and how the club is run. Some people seem to confuse this with an excuse to shout obscenities and personal abuse though, these are not the actions of a supporter.
Patrice Evra returned to Anfield recently for the first time since the incident which led to Liverpool striker Luis Suarez receiving an eight game ban. The booing he received from all corners of Anfield could be expected from a passionate Liverpool crowd and accepted against their fiercest rivals were it not for the fact that Evra was singled out. None of the other Manchester United players were subjected to the booing received by their captain, suggesting that Liverpool fans were condemning him for having been a victim of racist abuse which led to their striker being punished. This booing was again, not an act of support but of uncritical devotion that portrayed the Liverpool crowd to be condoning the racist actions of their player.
Chelsea followers’ recent treatment of the Ferdinand brothers has also crossed the line beyond support. The sending of a bullet in the post to younger brother Anton, and subsequent booing of elder brother Rio in Sunday’s encounter at Stamford Bridge displayed a lack of critical thought towards their club that epitomises the actions of a fanatic. Chelsea defender John Terry is charged with racially abusing Anton Ferdinand following a complaint to the police by a member of the public, not Ferdinand himself. The criminal prosecution service clearly saw enough in the evidence to charge Terry, so why should the Ferdinand brothers be subjected to abuse when they have done nothing wrong?
Following a football team elicits emotions from sublime joy to gut-wrenching disappointment, supporters embrace this and support their team through thick and thin. However, people shouldn’t be so myopic and unwavering in support of their club that they lack the ability to criticise the actions of their club or player if they are in the wrong.
So shout, cheer, jeer and applaud as much as you want, but never cross the line from supporter to fanatic.