The men who stare at goats


When you watch Andy Bishop, do you see a league quality player, with a wholehearted approach, deft touch and the ability to finish? When Johnny Hunt played did you see an energetic, consistent footballer with great positional sense? When Brett Ormerod graced the Racecourse, did you sense a clever mind, utterly dedicated to the team ethic, playing for the love of the game? Or were your thoughts less positive on these players?

I’m interested how players are selected for scapegoating by fans. If you’ve read Mark Griffiths’ excellent recent article on Andy Bishop, you will see the stats don’t match a commonly held negative view of him. Some players are bad, and get hammered by sections of the support for it. Some players get vilified when a forensic analysis shows they are doing their job. It’s a puzzle why undue criticism gets doled out.

We all like having our opinions reinforced. I can’t stand Nigel Farage, so when he makes a tit of himself I say “there you go, I was right, my analysis was perfect” I don’t like it when he says something that has a grain of my own beliefs in it, actually I’m incapable of acknowledging that fact. When Johnny Hunt fails to drift elegantly past a bamboozled defender you could say “there you go, utter rubbish, no talent, as I had previously elucidated.”

Keeping on the grazing animal theme, there is certainly a herd instinct in how football fans behave. Fans reinforce each others views for mutual satisfaction. The positive aspect is seen with a crowd in full voice, when the demand for a goal becomes irresistible, and that demand is gloriously satisfied. The negative side is often heard in fan discussions:

Fan 1 – “Player X is shocking”

Fan C- “You’re so right, a talentless buffoon, I couldn’t agree more”

Fan 7 – “Yes I’m total in agreement on that. Why is it only us, my wise friends, that are able to be so insightful? Our manager is a chimp!”

The sentiment expressed may be nominally founded in half- reality and we get a nice warm glow when our peers agree. Its how extremists convince themselves that an atrocity is justified, and how the Daily Mail convinces their readership that they’re hemmed in by scroungers.


A less contentious explanation for scapegoating is in differences in the appreciation of football. Its common ground that Lionel Messi is a good footballer, he has dazzling skills and scores goals. David Beckham was a more interesting talking point; handsome yes, unusually accurate crosser yes, hardworking yes, universally appreciated? I’m not so sure. There is a limit to my adulation of accurate crosses. I appreciated Blaine Hudson’s terrific improvement before his injury, I appreciate Rob Evans youthful exuberance, and I appreciate Bishop’s control at the sharp end of our moves. I marvel that Bish is capable of producing superbly weighted and timed passes when surrounded by hulking brutes with evil intent. I used to play football and had an insurmountable fear of heading the ball. Anyone who heads the ball with the precision that Bish does has my total admiration.

My all-time favourite scapegoat was Dave Brammer. The bloke couldn’t shoot, and passed like a crab (sideways). I once shouted at him at an away game at Wigan, he gesticulated back! Dario Gradi, and John Rudge both disagreed with me, and he had a very useful career. Don’t theses idiots realise the significance of my opinions! When I stare at a goat, perhaps I should squint, and see a unicorn.

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