With Tottenham versus West Ham only a few hours away I’m filled with sense of trepidation. Not for the game itself but the fall out that might hit the media should Spurs lose. I must state in advance I don’t think Spurs will get beaten and before a ball is kicked I think it’s unlikely that they will deserve to. But the pack mentality these days displayed by fans online, perhaps fanned by the popular press has created a culture whereby contempt and rage seems increasingly to be only a game away.
*The popular press has become an oxymoron. The red tops sales are collapsing and increasingly we find football journalists turning up on television, radio and online. This week came the news that The Sun once the newspaper read extensively by the masses has been overtaken by Tesco’s magazine as the UK’s most read print publication.
So what makes fans so quick to scream for their manager’s head? In the instance of Mark Hughes it’s a simple enough conundrum to solve. Hughes bought players with a seeming indiscrimination yet appeared unable to buy a win. Tony Fernandez backed him tirelessly. In fact, right up until he realised that the light at the end of the tunnel was the front of an oncoming train.
In the case of Roberto Di Matteo we have the story of a man who could never be good enough in the eyes of his master for little other reason than he had the wrong name. Despite his tangible successes, Di Matteo was never going to be the coveted Pep Guardiola.
Villas-Boas inherited a depleted squad and a vocal group of fans that felt Harry Redknapp was treated very poorly by the Tottenham board. It is of interest that this faction of supporters seem willing to overlook both the new man’s lack of resources and the extraordinary manner in which Redknapp casually frittered away a 13 point Premier League advantage.
One would presume the motivation to decry your own team’s manger would have to be substantial. But the climate has become uncomfortably aggressive and even a short rum of poor results these days can trigger not just questioning of a manager’s competence but demands for him to be instantly removed.
The pressure on supporters has arguably never been greater. In an age of austerity the players earn in a week what the average Joe takes home annually. While supermarkets trim a penny off the price of baked beans to encourage loyalty, the satellite and cable companies raise their prices continuously, the cost of a match day ticket rises at a rate that feels as if it’s happening daily. Taking a train to travel to a game can be dearer than travelling by plane to many European destinations.
The atmosphere at White Hart Lane certainly has form shall we say for not always being an unconditionally loving one. But this season it appears to have reached a nadir where the home crowd have gone from being supporters all geed up to roar on their team to an audience waiting for the players to entertain and earn applause, waiting for the players to earn a song to be sung to them.
Infighting is never comfortable viewing. Those pleading for a more reasoned approach are branded apologists. Those calling for a sacking seen as a rent-a-mob. But the question has to be; what is the answer? Common sense dictates that all managers need time and resources. Bizarrely, despite QPR having shopped so exhaustively – within hours of Harry Redknapp’s appointment – newspapers were constructing wish-lists of the fresh meat he would need to draft in, in order to work his magic.
Spurs are seemingly suffering from every quarter. A new coach wanting to implement new systems. Key players absent through injury, key players sold and not replaced. Villas-Boas needs support and encouragement because these frustrations are not of his making. It is far easier to distance oneself from someone or some thing that’s going though a tough patch than it is to pitch in and help.
It’s important to remember that nobody forces you to follow a team. Most love affairs with football outlast marriages and this doesn’t happen by chance. I wouldn’t seek to tell any fan what to do, but perhaps it is time to ponder the line, ‘in sickness and in health’ next time we read a headline suggesting doom, gloom and disaster or the next time we feel deflated after a game.