So the new season is underway, clubs in sparkling new strips, fans getting excited at seeing new signings and hoping that this year might just be the one. Already there’s been sparkling team performances, nightmare displays, debuts that have had the press raving, and first appearances that have been totally forgettable. Football is back, and with us pretty much every week (and nearly every day too) until May. Wonderful stuff.
Myself, I’ve managed to take in the first three Watford games of the season, a tedious League cup win over near neighbours Wycombe Wanderers, a dramatic victory at Selhurst Park, and a late goal defeat at home to Ipswich (hmm, maybe I should look at those predictions for the Championship again). As a team in development and with new owners and management, it’s a reasonable start and it won’t be until October at least before we have an idea of how the team will progress this season. But nevertheless, it has been interesting to observe. So things change at Watford and in football in general, however some things never seem to disappear, and these have been apparent in the games I’ve been to so far.
As some background, I travelled to Selhurst Park with a mate, and met up with a Palace fan who I used to coach. We met in a working mens club near the ground, so obviously full of Palace fans. I don’t wear colours to away games generally, I think it just adds to the potential for problems, but the group I spoke to were friendly enough, we shared our pre-game expectations, had a few drinks and departed to the game, agreeing to meet for a drink afterwards. Of course, the joy of football is the potential for things to happen until the final seconds, as was the case in this game with Watford scoring the winner in the final minute of added time. Both managers, and the majority of supporters would agree that a draw would have been a fair result. Watford were probably the better side in possession, but seldom looked like creating many chances, and defensively were suspect allowing Palace in for their two goals. This viewpoint was generally shared in the group when we met afterwards, however one member of the group took Palace’s defeat with rather less grace. Whether it was the effect of a few drinks, or the apparent difficult week up to the game he’d had personally, it was unnecessary to insult me simply for the team I supported. Had I been born in a different part of the UK, I could have supported another team, but the fact was, the reason I was there was that our two teams were playing each other, game was over, Watford got a bit lucky and sneaked a win, but had the game finished some six minutes earlier, it would have been three points for Palace. And I certainly wasn’t going to stand there and rub it in – gracious in defeat and in victory…it’s just sad that certain football fans in particular see it as a declaration of war.
But we know football fans are a fickle bunch, and not just to the opposition. And the Palace game brought a stark reminder of this. It’s fair to say that two of Watford’s midfield, Mark Yeates and Sean Murray had mixed afternoons. Yeates, a signing at the beginning of last season was Watford’s top assist provider last season, but his inconsistency led to him losing his place in the side and the patience of some of the crowd. Murray, a youth team product, broke into the team last season and showed class beyond his years, scoring a number of vital goals in the run in. So a pass by Yeates that is intercepted is greeted with derision from the crowd, calls for him to be replaced, and signs from his own supporters similar to the universal “instant coffee bean shake”. Murray does the same thing, and despite a couple of groans, he gets a clap and a rousing chorus of the chant singing his name.
Which brings us nicely on to Tuesday night, where Watford got a taste of their own medicine with Michael Chopra’s last minute goal taking all three points (and deservedly so) for Ipswich Town. But the sideshow here was the quick return to Vicarage Road for goalkeeper Scott Loach, sold for just £200,000 in the summer some two seasons after Watford had resisted Spurs’ £2 million pound advance for his services. In the two years, Loach had fallen from England possible to losing his place last year, firstly to reserve Rene Gilmartin, and then to loanee Tomasz Kuszczak as his form and confidence suffered. Quite normal for a player who despite playing more than 150 games for Watford, is still only 24 years old. However, for some Watford fans, his loss of form was enough to take to criticism on websites, and all out abuse to his Twitter feed. This led to him changing his Twitter profile and making it private, and of course, did nothing to improve his confidence, and he admitted the move to the club he supported as a boy was probably the best for all concerned.
Football fans quite often see it as their right to dish out stick to players who don’t perform, stating that it is them who pay the wages the player earns. This is all very well, and Loach himself admitted that he didn’t have a problem with that. But some of the abuse got very personal. Does a so called supporter have the right to suggest to the player, via Twitter, that he should “f*ck off out of my club”, or worse, “f*ck off and die”. That takes an enormous amount of anger. It has been suggested that Loach’s use of Twitter did little to help himself, and that comments after errors were made in a game gave the impression he didn’t care. As a follower of his (before his feed went private), I can only say that on one occasion, he tried to make a light hearted remark after a costly error against Bristol City, but that certainly did nothing to suggest he wasn’t focused…indeed it was followed up with comments to say how determined he was to move on and work harder than ever. For some fans, this isn’t enough, and he should be sitting in the naughty corner, and not to come out until he’d had a good think about everything he’d done wrong. In addition, Loach never moaned about losing his place in the side or anything else that happened to him during his time at Watford, even praising the time he spent with Kuszczak as beneficial for his learning. He came across as a good hard working professional going through a dip in form at a young age.
So fast forward to Tuesday night, and the interest surrounding his return to Hertfordshire. By the teams switching ends prior to kick off, Loach returned to the Rookery End where the more vocal Watford supporters are situated. Generally the reception was good, plenty of applause, however there were some who sadly decided to boo. An early cross was not dealt with particularly well by the Ipswich ‘keeper, so there was a chorus of “dodgy keeper!” and a smile from him…all good natured it seemed. Of course, by the end of the game, Ipswich scored a late winner and Loach celebrated with the away fans he was now in front of. At full time, he spent time shaking hands with his former team mates and approached the tunnel while facing the home end. Which came first I’m not sure, but I was aware of some anger directed at him by some of the Watford faithful, a sarcastic wave from Loach, followed by a kissing of the Ipswich badge on his shirt. Fans took to Twitter to express their anger at what he’d done…how dare he…etc…. Not really sure why. He’s an Ipswich fan, a section of the Watford support had been moronically abusing him throughout his final couple of years at the club, and hadn’t been very welcoming on his return. It never ceases to amaze me the way some fans feel that they can dish out as much abuse as possible to players and expecting players not to react. Ipswich thoroughly deserved the win and Loach did little wrong in the game, earning his clean sheet bonus of which a portion is being donated to charity this season – good luck to him, and I hope most decent Watford fans feel the same.
Football is a wonderful game and is such followed by many people around the globe, and has become more than a sport, more a passion to many. Maybe I’m just not passionate enough in that I can’t see the need to abuse a player who has made an error in the game. Maybe I’m wrong in my thinking that such treatment will only further dent the confidence of a player and make the problem worse. Maybe I don’t have enough anger in me to stand up for the club against an abusive fan, or to dish out personal abuse on Twitter to a player. Or it could be that I’m right and those described here are morons. What do you think?