The panto season was in full swing judging by the amount of booing that was reverberating around Old Trafford on Sunday. Whilst Manchester United were doing their usual routine of going 1-0 up and hanging on for dear life against Tottenham, their fans were getting into the Christmas spirit by exercising their vocal chords for the annual panto visit. Initially, it was Spurs’ feisty full back Danny Rose who bore the brunt of their opprobrium with a cynical tackle on United’s exciting goal scorer Henrikh Mikhitaryan 10 minutes from the end. Rose’s role as pantomime villain was understandable as his clumsy tackle looked to have seriously injured the best player on the pitch, who, worryingly, had to be carried off on a stretcher.
Less palatable was when a small minority of United fans started booing their own player, Marouane Fellaini, first as he was warming up, and later when he came on as substitute in the 97th minute. The hapless Belgian is not currently in the United fans’ good books (not that he has ever been in their good books any other time) ever since he clumsily gave away a last-minute penalty in United’s previous league match against Everton, costing them a valuable win. But booing a player simply because he’s not very good seems hardly fair. It’s not his fault if the manager keeps playing him.
Some people have attempted to defend the fans’ disparaging behaviour, arguing that since fans pay the players’ wages with their money by buying season tickets and match tickets, they are entitled to vent their ire on their players as they choose. This is an entirely fallacious argument because aside from the fact that it is the TV and commercial deals that fund the players’ inflated salaries, being paying fans does not entitle them to act like boors and bullies. They have a right to be disgruntled, but singling out one player for abuse is classless.
Turning on their own players is not only disloyal, it’s frankly stupid in being counter-productive. What exactly do the mockers think their vilification of their own player is likely to achieve? It’s hardly going to help the player’s confidence, is it? They are not going to play better if they are abused. They are more likely to make mistakes if they feel their own fans are getting on their back. How ironically futile to boo a player because he makes mistakes in the hope that he will improve!
Worse, it reinforces the endlessly regurgitated ABU myth of all United fans being classless prawn sandwich munching glory hunters. United players get enough grief from opposition club fans and the media without their own fans turning on them. Note the ceaseless disgraceful treatment of United players over the years by England fans, inflamed by a sensationalist media, from chanting ‘stand up if you hate Man U’ at Wembley, to burning effigies of David Beckham after his sending off in the 1998 World Cup, to the recent pillorying of Wayne Rooney for daring to enjoy himself at a fan’s wedding reception the night after an England game. It was interesting how the rest of the squad going into town clubbing and enjoying themselves at insalubrious lap dancing clubs didn’t get a mention in the press. They weren’t United players so clearly no one cared. United fans should be countering this constant demonising of their players by being doubly protective and supportive of them – as Fergie was in the old days and Mourinho was on Sunday by dedicating the Spurs win to Fellaini. The fans shouldn’t be doing the ABUs’ job for them. They should reserve their rancour for fan message boards, website comment pages and radio phone ins.
The United fans need to maintain a united front irrespective of their own personal feelings, particularly at a time when the club is going through a difficult period. That’s when a club needs its fans to be loyal. Not when they are winning trophy after trophy and basking in the plaudits of the footballing world, but when they are struggling to match up to former glories and everyone has gleefully consigned them to the dustbin of has-beens.
So the message from this United fan to the United boo-boys is: when in the stadium support your own and reserve your booing for cynical foulers like Danny Rose and rival players and rival teams. Only then can you claim to be a proper United fan. Not with a season ticket book in your pocket, but through absolute loyalty to the team on match day.