One of the last great taboos in football seems to be that one should not criticise the fans. The supporters who pay (lots of) money to watch their teams must be praised and nothing else. They are loyal, they will be there longer than the players and the manager, so their position must not be questioned.
In the past week, two men have broken this omerta, this final code that all in football must adhere to. Firstly, Andre Villas-Boas declared himself displeased with how the Tottenham fans expressed their opinions during their Premier League win over Hull.
“We didn't have the support that we should have had in a game that we needed a win," Villas-Boas told the BBC.
"There was much anxiety present in the fans which transmitted to the players, so this victory is down to the players. We did it with no help today.”
“The atmosphere was weird. It felt like the crowd was at the theatre…good seats, expensive tickets and they wanted to see a show, not to support the team.
“It was like there was no advantage in playing at home. Many of the players…the leaders that were left from the club’s time at Highbury…often complained that the atmosphere in the stands was so bad.”
Of course, Villas-Boas' words carry a little more weight for obvious reasons, but just because Arshavin is no longer at the club he was criticising and thus doesn't have to 'face the music' in the same way, it doesn't make his point any less valid.
Arshavin himself suffered from assorted forms of abuse while at Arsenal, notably being booed onto the pitch on a couple of occasions, seemingly for the heinous crime of not being quite as good as Arsenal fans expected him to be.
It would obviously be foolish to suggest that fans don't voice their displeasure at games when it is warranted, but it is equally foolish for there to be outrage when a manager or player dares to talk back.
Those on the pitch and the sidelines are supposed to meekly take whatever is thrown at them, lest they undermine or have perceived contempt for their team. Why is this? Are fans so delicate that they can't take a little back? Are they so hypocritical that they will happily scream vile things from the stands but baulk when told by the subjects of their abuse they should behave differently?
There have been countless examples over the years. There was spluttering when David Beckham was pictured giving the finger to England fans at Euro 2000, but when it turned out he was responding to some in the crowd wishing his family dead, it suddenly seemed like quite a mild riposte. Wayne Rooney was roundly pilloried for objecting to boos following England's dire draw with Algeria in the 2010 World Cup. We could go on.
All of these examples are a little different to a mere lack of support, or booing at half-time when the score is level, or simply being quiet, but the principle is the same. A fan is seemingly allowed to say (within reason) anything, but when the tables are turned the old 'paying customer' line is wheeled out. Note this piece that appeared in The Daily Mail after Villas-Boas' comments for a sample of the outrage.
The problem for fans is that the relationship between them and the players, on a vocal level anyway, is usually quite one-sided. They can say anything (or not, in the case of Spurs fans) and in most scenarios the players won't reply, so there is very little recourse. They have little idea about what consequences their actions might have, so when the loud-hailer is turned towards them, perhaps it isn't a massive surprise that they react badly.
Whether it's abuse, booing or downright apathy, fans must be able to accept some criticism from players and managers. They may very well pay handsomely, but they must stop being quite so precious when those who are paid handsomely talk back.
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