Adrian Chiles: The things fans say at matches: are we witty, or half-witted?

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The Independent Football

Between 1981 and 1987 Steve Mackenzie started 179 League and cup games for West Bromwich Albion. I assume half of them were at home so that means it was on no fewer than 90 occasions that the bloke who sat directly behind me and my Granddad stood up about five minutes into the match and screamed, almost in falsetto, "Mackenzie - your (he never used the apostrophe) a ****."

He did it every single game. I was only about 14 and I was never sure what I found more astonishing - the repeated singling out of the same player, or the use of the very rudest word.

The man was as moronic as his abuse was offensive but, if you've got a season ticket and you're in a seat - as we all have to be now - even the most anodyne things your neighbours say can drive you mad, eventually.

Three of my closest friends sit either side of and behind me at The Hawthorns. I love them very much but they all say things that, over many years, I must confess, have come to get on my wick. The one behind me bellows "c'mon Al-bee-yun" over and over again. The stress is always on the last syllable, which he stresses louder and longer the more stressed he gets. And the more stressed he gets the more stressed I get.

The one to my left I've been sitting with for about 20 years. I know what he's going to say before he says it. For example, whenever we buy a new player who's played at a higher level, upon that player having his first decent touch my friend always, but always, nudges me, taps his temple and says knowingly: "He's got a football brain, you see". Within a month it's all forgotten and he's laying into him for all he's worth.

And the one to my right can't say "well done, Earnshaw" or "well played, Koumas", it has to be "well done, Robert Earnshaw" or "well played, Jason Koumas". Nothing wrong with it but I'm not the only one who, unaccountably, has come to find it irritating. Sandy, a Newcastle fan, told me "I too had a 'full name' guy behind me until last season, and he really did use the full name - 'Well done, Robert Lee. Great pass, Nolberto Solano'. But he only did so for compliments - otherwise it was 'that was shite, Bellamy.'"

Sadly, Kanu rarely seems to play for West Brom now, which is a shame because I would dearly love to hear my friend attempting a "well played, Nwankwo Kanu". Or he could really do the job properly and go for middle names too: "Well done, Geoffrey Malcolm (yes, really) Horsfield."

Aware that familiarity breeds contempt and that a change is as good as a rest I occasionally sit next to another friend on the other side of the ground. Behind him squats a large chap who says not a word in the first half but after the interval, possibly enlivened by drink, finds his tongue. He repeatedly bellows the following two instructions: if we've lost the ball he screams, "Close them down!" If we are in possession he screams, "Wing it!"

There endeth his repertoire.

As Mark, a West Ham fan, points out, offering tactical instruction is essentially ludicrous: "I just love the idea that one day, say, Carl Fletcher, will look up, puzzled as to what to do next, see all the fingers pointing at Chris Powell and, with a little nod of thanks to the occupants of Row J, East Stand Upper, play the perfect pass." Mark also says a whole season at Upton Park was ruined for him by a bloke whose answer for everything was "back door!" And, oddly, I've had a similar complaint from Haydn, a Gillingham fan, whose companion "shouts 'Back door!! Back door!!' all the time to our midfielders, reminding them, as if they don't know, that's there is a defensive colleague a further 20 yards back down the field free and unmarked - if, as usual, our static front two are heavily marked/uninterested/prone on the ground."

Other common irritants are repeated demands for anyone and everyone to go "in the 'ole"; to "talk to each other" or, simply, to "play football". And I've heard tell of a West Brom fan whose advice to the team is always to "go half 'n' half". If anyone's seen this tactic in a coaching manual, please let me know.

Paul, a Wrexham-supporting barrister, is baffled by a bloke who always shouts, "Use the park!" Applying his legal brain to this order, Paul says: "I wonder what the alternative is."

The trouble is that what they're saying is so harmless next to many of the obscenities being bandied all around that it seems wrong to complain.

Only this week, though, Michael, a Man Utd fan, finally cracked: "There is a guy who sits directly behind me who continually says, 'Tidy ... very tidy' after a decent move, good defending or a goal. Innocent enough, but after a few years it gets at you. The other night, at the Milan game, I asked him if he owned a cleaning company."

Many fans complain of somewhat repetitious observations about the man in the middle. For years Ged, a Newcastle fan, would put his hood up when there was a bad decision to protect himself from the saliva of the toothless bloke behind him who'd howl: "Reperee!" Also at Newcastle, Alistair says a large group of Indian men sit behind him and, throughout the game, conduct a very animated conversation in Hindi punctuated only by cries of "bloody referee!"

Another Alistair, a Huddersfield fan, tells of an "elderly gentleman who sits in the Kilner Bank. Week in, week out, every time a poor decision is made in the away team's favour he shouts, 'You've no right, ref!'" The righteous indignation is, of course, absurd, but we've all felt it.

A couple of favourites: Martin, a Reading fan, has someone behind him who "always joins in the super Reading FC song but his version replaces the bit about being 'by far the greatest team the world has ever seen' with 'by far the greatest team that Berkshire has ever seen'. This is factually correct but does show a lack of ambition."

And, finally, back with Mark at West Ham, where someone nearby always laments passages of poor play with "Academy, my arse is the academy that is". Muddled, nonsensical but, if James Joyce had written it, we'd say it was heavy with meaning.

adrian.chiles@btopenworld.com

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