“Everyone knows how much I feel connected to this club and the fans, but at this moment it’s difficult for us to play at home because playing here is like playing in an empty stadium.”
That was renegade Chelsea manager José Mourinho going in on Chelsea fans last week after the club’s difficult 2-1 win over Queens Park Rangers. As you might expect, those words didn’t go over well with the Stamford Bridge faithful.
David Johnstone, spokesman for the fanzine cfcuk, echoed that sentiment, saying, “Jose shouldn’t have done that; he is out of order.
“I love him to bits but he has made us look like mugs. We’ve already met twice with the club to talk about finding ways to improve the atmosphere.”
Among Chelsea fans, Johnstone’s opinion wasn’t an anomaly. Fans generally don’t appreciate being criticized for how they choose to voice (or in this case, not voice) their support for the team, even when they’ve acknowledged a need to improve the atmosphere.
There’s often a prevailing “we bought the overpriced tickets, stop telling us what to do” sentiment that’s shared among fans. And that’s not something restricted to Chelsea fans who have to deliver several gold bars and a kidney for a chance to watch 90 minutes of action. But that sentiment does raise an interesting dichotomy: Apparently a manager is the people’s champ if criticism is directed toward lethargic, underperforming players. But challenge those in the crowd to do better, to raise their levels, and it seems that a house meeting is required, for serious lines have been crossed.
But it isn’t just managers who face the wrath of the mob after criticizing fans. Players also need to be careful about sharing their honest opinions, because fans really don’t want to hear anything about how players perceive them, unless the report card is at least all As and B’.
Over the weekend, Tottenham’s Emmanuel Adebayor criticized Spurs fans for not getting behind the team.
“It’s kind of hard when you know the first bad ball you make the fans are going to boo you. When you are playing in front of your own crowd you want them to support you. But now it is like going through a sad moment and your family not welcoming you home. That’s the worst thing ever because you have nowhere to go. At the moment I don’t know whether we should play at home or whether we should play away.”
That led to responses like this:
Apparently, players and managers being honest and forthcoming when it comes to their feelings about fans is astonishing or out of order, even if their assessments are far from crazy. Apparently, players and managers must keep their feelings about fans close to the chest while self-entitled fans hurl vitriol in the opposite direction, often oblivious to the psychological state of players who we expect to function like video game characters.
Being receptive to reasonable criticism can’t be a one-way street. A manager expressing that fans can do better and help the team achieve more is a reasonable critique, and one often expressed by fans. A player expressing how it feels to be on the receiving end of booing also seems more than reasonable.
What seems unreasonable is the attempt to silence voices that are critical of fans. Fans are not infallible. In fact, often, fans are pretty terrible and thoughtless. To expect the people who are the recipients of the most extreme critiques from largely anonymous fan voices to have no honest voice in return isn’t reasonable. It’s entitled and borderline sociopathic; ironically, the exact same criticisms fans so frequently launch at players.