I hope I never startled you there, because that certainly wasn’t my intention. The idea though, was to gather a few of my pals and stand about 50-yards from you and see if we can mortally wound you, or at the very least, maim you by shouting as loudly as we can because you play for the other team. Ok, so me and my mates booing is a little different to a few thousand people, but to the majority of players, that’s how it’ll be dealt with, like swatting a fly from the lid of the Wintergreen bottle. So believe me, Aiden McGeady will have not have been bothered in the slightest, by the plans, and subsequent execution of a campaign to “boo” him during the game.
It is important for me to emphasise at this point that what I am talking about here is the specific act of “booing.” If anyone attaches racial, sectarian or offensive language to the mix, then in this day and age that is entirely unacceptable. However, you will find that whatever the reason, most opposition players will not care, or be affected, in the slightest.
When I played, being the aggressive, abrasive character I was, I’d be delighted if I was getting stick from the opposition. It was like a badge of honour to me if I’d put in a good tackle or was noising up their players to such an extent that they wanted to boo me. I know it was a different situation with McGeady and McCarthy (had he played), as they were being singled out because they had chosen Ireland over Scotland. Yet the consequences are the same and in good players, it usually only serves to galvanise rather than derail. There’s an inner determination in most players that makes you puff out your chest and stand tall if the other fans are targeting you. “I’ll show them” was my motto if it ever happened to me and, I am absolutely certain that will have been the attitude of Aiden.
These are players playing at the top level, in front of 60, 70, 80,000 fans every other week. Do you really think a few boos are going to disaffect them? For me, and I’m sure it’s the case for them, it’s really not that big a deal.
My old boss at Hibs, Alex Miller, used to despise players turning their back on the ball if someone was having a shot at goal. His mantra at the time was always “I’ve never seen anyone killed by being hit in the face with the ball,” (he didn’t always use face I hasten to add). For me, it’s a scenario that can be repeated in this instance, because as far as I know, I’ve never heard of anyone being booed to death.
When I first used that analogy last week, someone pointed me to the example of the Gladiators in Rome, whom, upon being booed were given a virtual death sentence. My response, of course, was that “swords can’t boo.”
Now I’m well aware there are very specific reasons in this instance why McGeady was targeted. The fact that he chose not to play for Scotland and, more particularly, decided to pull on the green of Ireland, makes it an emotive issue in this country. But do fans really mean any real personal harm, when you see their twisted, distorted faces screaming abuse at their pantomime villain of choice. In my experience, probably not. Having played against both sides of the Old Firm, like most players, I know how fickle fans can be. Most will not differentiate from player to player and club to club, because it’s only ever about their team, their culture and THEIR beliefs.
In my first game at Celtic Park, I came on as a substitute fairly late in the game. Having played a lot of reserve football before then, the majority of the players would have been aware of who I was and my background, not so the fans. Peter Grant had possession over next to the old ‘Jungle’ and, I came across and timed a great tackle, playing ball and man and knocking it off Grantie for a throw in. Both of us ran for it, trying to ‘buy’ the throw in from the ref (it was definitely ours) and I reached it first, grabbing it and trying to take a quick throw. As I turned on the old gravel track, a voice exclaimed from the crowd, “Ya f****n’ ORANGE b*****d.” I looked up at Peter and, still trying to grab the ball from me, we both smirked knowingly and wryly at the fan in question.
Two seasons later I was playing at Ibrox and, by now, was slightly better known. We had a corner early in the game, taken by Michael O’Neil. Unusually for him he swung a ball in to the near post with his right foot and as I had started my run from the edge of the box, I caught a header flush from six yards and watched as it screamed just past the post. I should have scored. It was a moment I had dreamt of, scoring at the Copland Rd end, but as my momentum carried me onto the track, my dream became a nightmare as only yards from my face, a blue sea flashed a variety of one and two fingered salutes accompanied by the usual “wahaaaayyyyy” and “You’re s***e, ya FENIAN b*****d Farrell.” Celtic and Rangers fans don’t do diversity, as in their eyes, within the space of a season I had been both Orange and Green.
As the years have gone by, I’ve come to recognise that it was probably a blessing that I missed that header as there was no guarantee that, with my momentum taking me onto the track, I would have stopped myself from jumping in among the blue hordes. Conversely, had I done so, there would have been serious doubt as to whether I’d have made it back out.
Was I offended by what was said on either occasion? No. Did it bother me? Not in the slightest. Player attitudes towards booing and getting varying levels of abuse from opposition fans in general haven’t changed. To the majority, it will have very little effect. Indeed, in my experience, being booed by your OWN fans, will have a much more detrimental effect on players than anything else ever will. Something you might all want to take into account the next time one of your players is going through a difficult time, but that’s a subject for a whole new blog of its own for another time. So before you think about booing any of the England players tonight, take into account that it may not quite have the effect you were hoping for.
But all of this was more than 20-years ago and, whilst recognising attitudes have changed greatly since then, I firmly believe that the majority of fans, Celtic, Rangers or anyone else for that matter, are rarely being personal when they decide to pick on someone from the other side. Players, for their part, can help by not reacting and exacerbating the situation, or indeed, taking things too seriously and this is where I have to give Aiden McGeady enormous credit, because not once through the whole episode, did I hear him make an issue of it. Which is more than can be said for Mr Delaney of the FAI or our very own Gordon McQueen for that matter.
I have personal experience of not taking a reaction from fans too seriously and, on this occasion it was entirely my own fault. As a young player of around 22 I took part in an ‘A to Z’ type profile in the Hibs programme. One of the questions asked was “Favourite Song.” It hadn’t been long since Hibs had won the League Cup and, as it was a favourite of the punters at the time, I chose “No Cups in Gorgie.” The fans loved it, but it was petty and naive on my part although in my defence, I was young and knew no better. I got lots of nice letters from Hibs fans saying how much they enjoyed my comments, but among them was a slightly larger, padded package. My immediate thought was one of the boys had shoved a pair of knickers in an envelope in the hope I would fall for it and brag around the dressing room, to teach me a lesson. However, on opening the package, there was a lovely, photocopied letter of my article, on which a beautiful, heartfelt ‘message’ had been scrawled from some Hearts fans and, another slightly less kindly smelling ‘message’ had been left. I found it funny and strangely flattering that someone had gone to all that effort, but it was something that certainly taught me a harsh lesson that the more you open your mouth, the more likely you are to have it shut for you. Maybe you should bear that in mind the next time you open yours at a football ground and think the opposition player is going to crumble. It might just come back to haunt your team and on the back of it, it would be interesting to see what kind of ‘message’ the rest of the fans might want to leave you.
Onto this weeks Guest Tipster and the less said about football “expert” Michael Gannon’s effort the better. This week i’ve gone for Scotlands top football administrator and the hugely well respected Scott Struthers. Scott’s selections are Morton (2to5) to beat Stenhousemuir, Arbroath (8to13) to beat Clyde and East Fife (4to6) to beat Elgin in the hope of bringing home an 11to4 treble
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