James Lawton: Zombie boo-boys are curse of the modern game


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The Independent Online

Yes, we all know, don't we, of our duty to take the best of life and live philosophically with the rest? However, who is there with a reasonably balanced set of adult responses who is not sickened by the growth of tribal hatred in our football grounds?

Two cases of it in the last few days provoke the question. One concerned Tottenham's Luka Modric, the victim of relentless booing at Stoke after he won an entirely legitimate penalty.

The other involved David Silva, of Manchester City, who was denied an equally deserved award when he was brought down by the leg of Chelsea's Jose Bosingwa.

Both were taunted with cries of "cheat" each time they touched the ball. One reason this lingers in the mind so strongly is that they were entirely innocent of contravening the laws of the game.

Another is that you could scour the planet with no guarantee of finding two such small but beautifully packaged players who prove in their approach to the game, in the creative joy and the skill which they so regularly bestow like pearls before swine, they are the very opposite of fraudulent.

In football, fraud is practised in many ways and most frequently in the grappling which so often passes for defence at set-pieces and diving for penalties when no serious contact has been made.

The evidence of the naked eye said neither Modric nor Silva were guilty of diving. Television confirmed it. But then, of course, booing continued to rend the sky.

There is a deeper problem, beyond misreading a situation in a fast-moving game. It is with this zombie partisanship, which so diminishes the atmosphere at most Premier League games. How to combat it? There is probably no way because a standard has been set, irrevocably. One argument can be rebutted, however. If someone tells you it has always been like this, they are wrong and you don't have to delve into pre-Premier League days to know this.

The crowd at Portsmouth, who had from time to time been persecuted by his sublime skill, gave the departing Thierry Henry a standing ovation. Ronaldo, the Brazilian one, was clapped off at Old Trafford after helping banish United from the Champions League.

There was also a time when Liverpool's Kop was not only a place of subtle drollery but also conspicuous goodwill, which, remarkably, included apparently heartfelt applause when rivals Leeds United happened to be at Anfield when their first title was confirmed.

The Charlton brothers reflected this more eloquently when they saved up money earned from their grocery rounds and then spent it on trips to St James' Park. They had their local favourites, but it is interesting to note they often took up positions in the ground according to the special appeal of the visiting team. If a great keeper, a Bert Williams or Bert Trautmann, was on duty they would go behind the goal. If it was Stanley Matthews or Tommy Finney they would head for near a corner flag to watch up close the mesmerising wingers.

Quaint-sounding, of course, but who would willingly have swapped such values for those which now so quickly engulf places like the Britannia Stadium or Stamford Bridge. Values, did we say? No, not values but a build-up of something so hate-filled, so rancid, that it now touches football wherever it is played in this land. Yes, it has been around some time, but that doesn't make it more palatable.

One old pro, who has played for some of the great clubs home and abroad, says: "You do worry that, ultimately, the kind of hatred which is routinely expressed will sooner or later drive away people who don't want to take their kids into such an atmosphere.

"One thing at least is certain. Players like Modric and Silva, who have had the nerve and the brilliance to force defenders into serious mistakes, are not likely to lose a second's sleep over noise that comes down from the terraces."

Maybe not, but this doesn't make it any less disgusting.