Congy Red is a consistently fascinating contributor to this blog, and his post earlier this evening about the bubble match and appropriate behaviour by supporters of a Trust-owned club inspired me to ponder the matter too.
He’s right to demand high standards of behaviour from Wrexham fans, and he clearly knows they won’t disappoint him either. Once those behind the concept of the bubble understand what he does, they’ll see how self-defeating it is.
Last Saturday gave us an opportunity to see how real fans behave – how the vast majority of fans everywhere behave. The minute’s applause for four stalwart Stockport fans who had passed away over the Christmas period was respectful, sustained and particularly moving to me. That’s because I was fortunate enough to experience the emotional power of this phenomenon at first hand before it crossed the channel.
In 2012 I was in The Netherlands and popped over to The Hague to watch ADO Den Haag play Groningen. It transpired that the home club’s fans had developed an affection for a seriously ill young girl who was an ADO supporter. They dubbed her Princess Gillian and their acts of kindness to her were touching. Sadly she died shortly after her eighth birthday and it was decided to turn the Groningen match into a memorial.
It was a moving occasion. The fans did her memory proud. I’d never experienced the minute’s applause before, and one particular thing struck me. It exists as a thing apart from the trivialities of the game. The ADO fans realised, as all decent human beings would, that the life of a child cannot be compared to a game of sport. So, when their team went close to scoring, nobody cared. The fans kept on clapping, because that act was more important than being distracted by a decent cross.
From my position across the pitch it looked like Wrexham’s fans did the same as a dangerous corner bobbled around in the goalmouth and Andy Bishop nearly forced it in. Good for them. After the rather feisty atmosphere of our last two trips to Edgeley Park the people behind the idea of a bubble match, who assume we are all animals, would no doubt have expected the applause to be disrupted, disrespected or at least ignored. But football fans are decent human beings. We’re not like that.
You’ll have noticed I repeated a phrase which I want to return to, because it’s important. Decent human beings. There seems to be an assumption in the instigation of bubble matches that football fans are not decent human beings. We are threats to society who cannot be trusted to behave in a reasonable or law-abiding manner. I accept that there are elements of our support, of Chester’s support, of every football club’s support who fit firmly into that category. Their behaviour disgusts me. When I see any Wrexham supporter instigate any form of unacceptable behaviour, frankly I despise them. Sorry if that sounds strong, but my feelings are strong. As Congy Red suggests, honesty is not something to shy away from: it’s what will resolve the issue.
Fortunately I don’t feel that way very often, because football fans are almost without exception good people. Fans merely reflect society: there’s a small minority of idiots everywhere. But those who decide how control a football match confuse me. Haven’t they stood ina crowd and looked around them? If they had, wouldn’t they have noticed what we all have: that we’re surrounded by decent human beings?
I resent the attitude which assumes that football fans are animals. When teenage fans are herded into a pub at Stoke and told by the police that they must board a bus to get to the game and they must pay adult fares because that’s just the way it is, their rights are infringed. And to what end? Treat them like inferior members of society, like an inconvenience which should be ashamed to show their faces in normal society, and you’re hardly going to encourage them to respect authority, are you?
Respect is like a chemical equation: it’s perfectly balanced. The amount of respect you give is matched by what you earn. If the authorities treat fans with disrespect they encourage a rejection of their authority and the cycle goes on.
So disrespectful treatment of football fans damages the safe policing of matches. But it doesn’t cause unacceptable behaviour directly, and it certainly can’t eradicate it. Accepting that respecting the fans might be an idea though. If we could show that, as owners of our club, we don’t tolerate unacceptable behaviour, perhaps the authorities might try to radical tactic of not treating us like criminals.
We can send a clear message here. We are a fan-owned club. People with the mentality of hooligans are not welcome here. We must make that plain. It’s hard to take direct action in the face of anti-social behaviour, and the notion of fans policing the terraces is a naive one. But as Congy Red says, that doesn’t prevent us from sending a message. We can send it with our behaviour. We can show that we deserve to be trusted, as any decent human being deserves to be trusted. And what decent human being could ignore such powerful evidence?