Celtic fans were in the ‘dock’ recently over their reaction to Brendan Rodgers’ decision to leave them for Leicester City. The dock it should be said is a moving horizon as well these days. Just exactly where the centre of moderate and sensible considered opinion continues to flit around. It could be said as well that for absolute balance and thought, one needs to have a final verdict within the football world and another one beyond it. Or is that necessary? Are they so removed from each other that it’s easy to forget that football is just another element of society? Or possibly more disturbingly, society shows its more genuine self in the shall we say, socially unfettered regions of football.
It may be Celtic fans this week but it could be Rangers fans next week. As we know it could be any club really. There will always be an element of fans who take this sort of thing badly. It usually is a player but in this case, it is a manager. It would be simplistic to just say that this is the more excitable and emotional section of the fans and you would expect that in any similar situation. That these are the types who suffer from such low self-esteem that they take it personally if they are not let out of a junction in traffic, or the wife changes the channel on the TV. It might probably be fair to say they are also outraged before they even log into the white noise that is social media. But this is really not the issue here.
What has ‘overtly’ set Celtic fans off in this case are a couple of things. Brendan Rodgers’ claim to be living the dream in the perfect job is immediately thrown back in his face. His claim to have been and always will be a Celtic fan is completely rejected. The fact that the team were set up for the ‘treble treble’ and he has walked away from that really puts the cream bun on it and ultimately dulls the glow from his shiny white teeth. Even famed Celtic fan and crooner Sir Rod Stewart was on the airwaves saying the now-departed manager was never a Celt.
So if we break into all this gently, let’s split this roughly into two parts of ‘hurt.’ The interface between the cold, hard world of business and emotion has always, and will continue to be a jagged, ill-fitting and uneven match. Words such as money, units, share value, career etc….do not sit well with love, emotion, devotion etc. One side is basically taking and the other giving. As I have mentioned before many times it can be seen in that other world religion….music – or more exactly the music business. A couple of great lines from Pink Floyd’s ‘Wish You Were Here’ album say it clearly. That great wordsmith Roger Waters even hits it in the song’s title ‘Welcome to the Machine.’
The record industry suit, only interested in the pound signs the group can generate asks the band “By the way which one’s Pink?” There was no one called Pink in the band.
So let’s say that fans, by and large, accept players move on to improve themselves or get the most out of a short career financially or otherwise. That frequently does not sit at all smoothly on fans’ emotions but it is accepted and we all move on.
But what about the other part where seemingly from the beginning it appears they won’t be able to move on. What is it that seems to pierce their heart more than other moves? There was an interesting discussion on this on a few fora. Ian Holloway on Talksport said that fans need to be educated on this sort of thing. Really Ian? Where and how do you start with that one? It’s a bit like saying that you and your managerial ilk need to be educated on your touchline antics in response to referee’s decisions in front of you. Emotional human reaction. The world founders on its fragility every second of the day.
The simple fact is that it’s a lifelong love affair between fan and club. Cradle to grave stuff which is stronger than most marriages. So when something is seen to betray that, the head will always give way to the heart in respect of response. Balanced it won’t be! The fan feels exactly the same as if he has been dumped by a partner. When that partner has indicated the same love and devotion during time together the reaction can be vicious. If you then throw in the idea that the person has left for someone considered inferior, stand back from the inferno.
Sometimes, the emotional response denies a similar emotional response if we take vaulting ambition away from the mix. Manchester United fans in their arrogance were not able to stomach Alan Shearer turning them down for Newcastle. The fact that he had an emotional pull to his boyhood club where he had been ball-boy wasn’t allowed to interfere with their rage. Newcastle were considered well beneath them. It hasn’t helped that for Celtic fans they see Leicester as beneath them. ‘Mediocrity’ for ‘Immortality’ didn’t the banner say? That can be argued all day but it only highlights the emotional frustration that has to be carried. Public humiliation is a hard load for anyone.
So is this all simple Desmond Morris territory or should we remove the ambitious side of Rodgers’ decision? Some would argue that even Sir Rod left his group the Faces high and dry in the mid-seventies when he left to further his solo career. The interjection that any outraged howler dressed in green and white might make a similar decision in his own working life I feel is too facile an argument here. That even highlights other issues. I have come across huge global companies who would drop an employee at the drop of a hat if it made business sense. Then they take it very personally when that employee leaves for their own reasons. Pass the smelling salts! Seriously?
The modern media really do foment everything in this sort of area. Radio phone-in and ‘Talkback’ shows search for the temperamental rather than the balanced view. Here in Northern Ireland, a whole industry feeds off the insecurity and paranoia of the rabid elements of orange and green. If the other side makes a valid point it simply isn’t, no matter how much sense it makes, if the other side said it. By and large, the media host in these affairs likes to assume the middle-of-the-road argument so that the more deranged views can come on. Look at the types that they get on the Apprentice for another example of this. Extracting considered sense from football fans who have a faster beating emotional heartbeat than the rest of society can be a tricky exercise. Say it with enough spittle and the correct shade of red face and you must be right.
The magazine ‘When Saturday Comes’ had an article recently which touched on this in a different way. Using the instant outrage that many fans have over many issues now as a leaning post, the nub of the article was that the majority of fans accept that following a club was a lifetime of frustration, and required a huge amount of philosophical resignation. It was a breath of fresh air and sense from a source of real football heartland. It’s a quiet but solid point stood tall against the hysterical noise from the everyday footballing media sites, and that noise is usually the sound of the heart monitor going from fast to constant.
This is no groan at football. The best thing about the game is the emotional response it generates. There is nothing like it but for every high, there is a price. However, for the next group of fans who publicly emote their pain, you’ve been dumped and you need to deal with it. It happens to us all in life and of course, it’s tough. That’s all!
Then again, are we denying football its place in our lives that allows us to escape and let it out….you know from the week’s pain and all that?