In wake of recent reports that West Ham are considering not extending Sam Allardyce’s contract beyond the summer, I began to think about the fickle nature of the football fan. Fans of football teams generally have high expectations for their clubs, but it is becoming apparent that some have extreme delusions of grandeur. I am using West Ham as an example for now as it contextually relevant, but it is clear they are not the only culprits. So I bought it upon myself to ask, where is this coming from? Is it healthy for these clubs? Is it healthy for football in general?
I wrote an article at the end of October, praising the position West Ham had themselves in. They were one of the most entertaining teams in the league, had beaten the current League champions and seemed destined for big things this season. Admittedly, their season has tailed off a bit from the heights it appeared they could push for. They’ve dropped out of the European spots and were dumped out of the FA cup emphatically by a resurgent West Brom. West Ham fans have tried to stick with their party line throughout Allardyce’s tenure as West Ham coach, “Big Sam Out”, “We Don’t Want Him”, “We Deserve Better Football” etc. During the fallout of the cup exit there was a video that went viral of West Ham fans complaining to co-owner David Sullivan about how they’ve ‘had enough of him’ ‘it’s time for a change’ with the expected expletives scattered through their rants. My reaction to that is they have a cheek to feel such a reaction is justified.
This is by no means an attack on West Ham fans; they are just relevant at the moment on this subject. The naysayers were silent at Upton Park until the cup exit. It’s almost as if they were bitter about the fact they were/are doing so well in the league because it means they didn’t have valid reason to boo their manager, which is such a backward and childish way of thinking. Newcastle fans were the same. The”sackpardew.com” signs were caked across St James Park when the Geordies couldn’t by a win. Next thing, Pardew leads the club on 5 game winning streak including a victory over league leaders Chelsea. Even then the “sackpardew.com” signs weren’t gone from the stadium, there was that select few stubborn fans who stood their ground and refused to accept him as manager because he wasn’t the man they wanted.
Where did this mentality in fans come from that they always deserve better? West Ham fans reject Allardyce because he doesn’t play the attacking football successful football that West Ham fans deserve. West Ham United are a team, that in my 22 years on this earth have yo-yoed between the top two divisions of English football, with 1 cup final to their name. How many of their current fans can were really ever around when they were a team that challenged for cups and league titles? How many of their fans were around when Bobby Moore was gracing the Boleyn Ground, those fans have grounds for comparison meaning they have more right to be upset with the current product. But, why do they think they deserve better than sitting 8th after 25 games in the Premier League. What’s even worse is, up until the return of Andy Carroll they were playing some brilliant football but form isn’t constant there is always going to be up and downs. The fact West Ham fans are unable to accept that is saddening for the state of the game.
The argument then will be, we are the supporters, we put our money into the club, we pay good money to be entertained by this team and this isn’t entertaining. But, there must come a point where people need to accept their status. Not every team can play the best football, not every team can win the league. Would these West Ham fans be happier with a manager trying to play attractive attacking football (keeping in mind that Big Sam did have them playing attractive football), unsuccessfully and them getting relegated again? As a Celtic fan I’ve seen the same thing with Celtic and Rangers fans. There’s this supposed idea of the way the teams should play, apparently dating all the way back to their establishment. That’s just unrealistic, things change, players change etc. I am a Celtic fan, but I don’t expect Celtic to be challenging for Champions League every year because the Lisbon lions won it back in 1967. No on forces football supporters to support their team, it’s their local side and there is that emotional attachment. Fair enough so they do have a right to criticize and give their opinions, that’s healthy for motivation of coaches, players and owners to show what they should be heading for. But, there has to be a degree of realism to any expectation. Then when that unreal expectation isn’t met it is taken out on the manager, players, club whoever. If you go to a restaurant and you don’t like the food, you don’t go back to that restaurant. You don’t campaign against the owner of the restaurant to sack the chef to change the menu to suit you better, and if you do you’ve got issues. There isn’t a protest outside after you and a few other disheartened patrons decide it isn’t good enough and you deserve better. No, you complain about it and if you really disliked it that much you don’t go back and find a restaurant better suited to your taste buds.
Football’s evolution has been incredible. As such fans expectations have become incredible. Look at the transfer market, the money that gets paid for players now is obscene, and then the wages they are collecting after are even more so. This only helps to heighten this delusional belief of the quality a fans team should display. “He cost 15 million he should be our best player” this will be a player that only 10 years ago would have probably cost less than 5 million. The market has been saturated with excessive transfer fees because a lot of teams are that wealthy now they don’t have to sell for cheap and they know that teams have the capability to pay over the odds for average players. This is context that doesn’t seem to be considered, just because he cost 20 million now doesn’t mean he will be as good as a player who 10 year ago you paid 8 million for. The Andy Carroll to Liverpool transfer nearly ruined him, he was never going to be able to live up the expectation of costing 35 million he isn’t the best British footballer ever produced but he has the stigma of being the most expensive (at the time). He didn’t ask to be sold for that much but Liverpool paid it, no matter how good his performances were for that club he was never going to justify that price tag.
With the new Premier League television deal just bringing even more money into the league, more and more players are going to fall victim to this. Wages will continue to increase and transfer fees will continue to rise. What needs to happens is that fans need to keep expectations relative. More money in the league means more money for everyone, doesn’t mean your team automatically needs to start winning all the time because we signed a striker for 25 million and our captain is earning 100,000 grand a week. These misconceptions of grandeur amongst certain groups of fans are just unrealistic. Fair enough, aim for the best there’s nothing wrong with expecting the best your team can provide, but again that has to be objective. The best they can provide don’t think you can extend that beyond their capabilities and then get upset because they aren’t meeting your bizarrely over top expectations. Football fans are fickle, there can be no pleasing them at times and perhaps that’s just the way it is and always will be. We can only pray for those bold enough to put themselves into the pressure cooker that is management and wish them the best of luck in pleasing the expecting masses.