Today on Twitter there was a rumour going around (isn’t there always?) linking Marlon King with Leeds United. Although, I couldn’t seem to find a source for the rumour I tweeted that he is one of a few players that would stop me from going to Elland Road should he sign. This prompted someone to tweet back telling me to “get a grip” as they proclaimed their amazement that I would stop going to matches for one player.
This isn’t meant as a retaliation to that person – he’s entitled to his views and people can support their team in whatever manner they wish – but as an extension to something I’ve been thinking about for a while. How I support my team.
I should make it clear that the last Leeds game I went to was at home to West Ham in March. I don’t plan to go again until Ken Bates leaves. Also for the sake of full disclosure I should say I never wanted to see Simon Grayson leave and I’ve never much liked Neil Warnock but for now he has my support, although not my complete faith.
Now I’m obviously not alone in voting with my feet, attendances at Elland Road have decreased dramatically over the last season. This is largely due to Bates’ running of the club and the bad feeling it has caused. (There’s plenty to read out there on the subject so I’ll leave it at that.) For me it got to the point where I felt if I really wanted to support my club the best thing I could do would be to stay away. Partly for the bad attitude I was going into games with but mostly as a way of doing my bit to try and force Bates to change his ways (yeah right!) or, more likely, sell up.
I would argue that in Britain the culture of supporting a football club is one of blind faith, the “get behind the lads no matter what” mentality. You don’t need to look far for examples (Chelsea fans booing Anton Ferdinand is just one). I would further my argument to say that this culture is often counter-productive. There is definitely a large section of Leeds fans which will turn up every week and support the team, which is great, but many of these will also shout down the dissenting voices. An hour on Twitter following the #lufc hashtag will show you what I mean. These are the people who will lay the blame with Robert Snodgrass when he inevitably leaves, not, as they should, with Ken Bates. Yes, I agree no player is bigger than the club but when said player has been vocal in his desire to stay and the club refuses to match his ambition then only the club can be blamed.
I would stop short of telling anybody how to support their football team, as we get into the much more complicated territory of what football means to different people – is it purely entertainment? is it a a chance to blow off steam after a week of work? or is it something deeper and more meaningful? – but I would ask people just to stop and think about how they support their team. It’s not hard to make comparisons between football and religion, and, for the most part, I don’t think this is a good thing. While I am an atheist, I believe there are many positives we can take from religion. Blind faith is not one of them. That is what some football supports exhibit and it is what many Leeds supporters have been exhibiting more obviously in recent times.
Maybe my fascination with German and Italian football and hardcore ultra supporters groups has changed the way I think but I would posit that there is something to be said for the idea of fans being the guardians or stewards of a club, the only permanent fixture, tasked with defending the club’s identity and ideals. Obviously, that makes it sound a lot grander than it is and there’s the risk of it becoming even more religious, however, I think there is something in it, in that core belief of standing up for the club’s identity – albeit with slightly smaller doses of crazy than some Italian and German ultras. Yet I must concede the football cultures are so different it would not translate. (I imagine flares and coreografie would be laughed off in England just like goal music is.)
Returning to my original point. I would not want to pay Marlon King’s wages, it’s as simple as that. The man is a sex offender and a woman-beater. I do not want him at my club. I don’t think that view is too hard to understand and in the same vein I can grasp why some people don’t care who wears the shirt as long as they get to see eleven men try their best for the team. For me, there are some things that matter more. Those who condemn dissenting voices are, like all fundamentalists, supporting not a set of ideals but the colours tied to their mast, the name of their specific god.
Sometimes, not supporting your team is the best thing you can do to support your team.