Tuesday, January 15, 2008

today : Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds

Apparently there is a man in Leeds who cannot say the words Manchester United as his hatred of them is so great that it would make his head explode.

I mention this because football fans are ridiculous, often living in a world so far removed from reality that they could probably be classified as insane.

The main problem that football fans have is that their expectations are so unrealistically high that nothing can match them and, as they sculpt their lives around the success or otherwise of their clubs, they are always destined to live in disappointment and despair.

Everyone lives a fantasy life. I myself wonder how Anne Hathaway or Ashwariya Rai has failed to notice how happy I would make them if they just picked up from their rich, shallow and unfulfilled lives and took up with me. It's almost unbelievable that they haven't. Ashwariya even had the gall and blinkeredness to actually marry someone else recently, therefore making it much more complicated for herself when she finally comes to her senses and realises that I am her best option.

But the difference between me and football fans is that their expectations are patently ridiculous. They demand the undeliverable and then get angry and twisted when it is not delivered.

Newcastle fans are the worst. Each time they get a manager they demand instant success with no downside, and when it doesn't happen they sulk and demand the manager is sacked. Worse than approaching their club with childish zeal, like any zealots, they see their insanity as a virtue. Part of the problem is that for a long time the people in charge of the club have given in to their demands, or actually think the same way as them. So what happens is that they get a new manager or a new overpriced player every so often in order to mollify the vociferous terrace protests, only to find that it doesn't work. It's a little like playing scrabble and putting all your letters back in the bag every turn in search of the fifty point bonus. If it does happen, invariably the other players are 150 points ahead when you get it and it is gratifying only for a second.

My own team, Leeds Utd has suffered from this in the past. When Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink played for us a few years ago he was very successful and scored lots of goals. This led to interest from other clubs. In an interview Jimmy Floyd was asked (as players and managers often are) if he was considering a move. The subtext of the question was of course about loyalty. Players and coaches are expected to be lifelong fans of any club they work for. Fans, who would to a person move to another job is the offer was good enough, expect players to ignore all better offers because of sheer affection for their current clubs. Jimmy Floyd gave the answer that most players do. He said that he was happy thus far, but was flattered by the attention.

The next week a banner appeared on the terraces calling him Judas and encouraging him to leave. He was barracked and taunted throughout the game. A few weeks later he took one of the offers and left. I don't blame him.

Newcastle have got themselves in a fix by sacking yet another manager at the behest of their insane fans, who behave like children in a badly run school i.e. if they are pandered to then their behaviour will become more extreme until they realise they are calling the shots and get off on the power it gives them.

Leeds Utd went the other way. At the height of their success around 2001-2 the chairman behaved like a fan, rather than a businessman. He had overhyped expectations of what could be achieved and then realised that, as the person in charge, he could chase those expectations. Basically he pandered to himself, bankrupting the club in the process and destroying any real progress that had been made in the previous decade.

At every turn the true victims here are the real supporters. The realistic people who pay their money, take glory and disaster in good part, and realise that true sporting success is a long game. They are the ones who understand that players and managers are simply employees and that success has to be built in stages and based mainly on hard work rather than the quick fix.

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