Football rarely offers its followers emotions of the middle ground. You are either a winner or a loser, even in the event of a draw there is often one team happier than the other. Take last Saturday’s trip to the Olympic Park where Brighton faced West Ham as an example. A game of such contrasting emotions, where at one point we all thought Graham Potter was an idiot for a seemingly absurd double substitution at 3-1 down. A substitution that in fact turned the game in Brighton’s favour to finish with a seemingly unlikely 3-3 draw. Euphoric joy for Albion supporters contrasting with the crushing disappointment for West Ham supporters.
One of those substitutes who to the surprise of many made all the difference was Ezequiel Schelotto, a player who since his arrival in 2017 has at times delighted, at times not, but mostly been incredibly unfortunate with injuries. But as Michael Cox described in his latest article for the athletic his introduction was a great exploitation of a West Ham’s weakness down their left hand side.
I can understand the surprise at Schelotto’s entrance, he was cast aside by Hughton after just one season and seemed on his way out of the club. And even after being given a reprieve by Potter has only been used sparingly this season. Now with another player who is primarily also a right back joining in January in the shape of Tariq Lamptey, it was easy to assume he had been pushed further down the pecking order and was never to be seen again. But life often has a habit of catching you out when you make lazy assumptions based on half the information, a habit us football fans are famous for.
After the game Schelotto tweeted a self-congratulating and confrontational jibe at his critics when he said: “They judge you before seeing you in action, it is called ignorance. They flatter you when you win, it’s called mediocrity. Less social networks and more support!!!!”
It is a tweet which contained a certain level of hubris, of which you come to expect from a professional sportsman. Nonetheless it was a message that from looking at the replies from Brighton fans has gone down well with supporters a plenty.
He subsequently then had to defend himself against unfounded personal accusations from one Twitter user, giving an example of exactly why many professional footballers don’t put themselves out there on social media platforms. And showing why in most cases ignorance isn’t a virtue.
But, despite there always being the odd clown, in general I’m always inclined to side with the fans who are being criticised by people from within the game. People like the fan site We Are Brighton, who tweeted their shock and rage when Schelotto was brought on instead of top scorer Maupay. Or reporters like Ian Abrahams who tweeted his surprise at the same moment. Only for both to later be proven markedly incorrect.
And this is where my defence of the humble football fan comes in. Because part of the joy of being a fan is not being an expert, not seeing what’s coming and revelling in moments like this when your team unexpectedly comes back from 2-0 and 3-1 down to draw 3-3. Or even revelling in the gallows humour of being on the wrong side of such a turnaround.
Supporters like those who run the We Are Brighton fan-page are doing exactly what fans do, expressing the emotions of the moment and revelling in it. Whilst reporters like Ian Abrahams are our narrators who relay the story of the events and emotions of the day to those who are following it from elsewhere.
So to Schelotto and others who accuse supporters of ignorance I say this: Yes, football fans are often a largely ignorant, unduly judgemental and overly emotional bunch, but that is the very culture that our nations football grounds were built on. And what in part drives the hope that keeps us going back every week despite plenty of evidence to the contrary.
Football was initially brought to the attention of the masses in the UK as a game played and watched at the end of a hard working week. Something to take your mind off the hard and often brutal conditions of 19th century factories and workhouses. And whilst it has evolved into something very different in 21st century Britain, at its heart the football fan culture is still very much the same.
But unfortunately with social media saving and displaying users’ thoughts for all eternity, our ignorance is there for all to see, maybe this is why experts like Michael Cox have become as prominent as they have? To educate us to become a more informed crowd and save our blushes.
But then again, there are expert in hindsight, and then there are the true experts. Those like Graham Potter that see the opportunities and make the difference in the moment rather than after the event. And anyway, if you want an informed crowd go to Wimbledon Centre Court or Lords Cricket Ground. Football has never been the thinking man’s game, it’s brilliance is in its simplicity.
In this same week, Brighton announced their season ticket renewals process through a glossy leaflet and email that was sent to all current season ticket holders. And whilst it was great in its intention and production, I took exception to a part of it. Not because of its glossiness, but the spirit of the quotes used from Graham Potter and Tony Bloom. Quotes of “we need you every step of the way” and “your support will always be valued” respectively.
Whilst well intentioned, what this type of output from the club ignores is the fact that we don’t dedicate ourselves to the club because we are valued but because we value it. We value the community that our clubs are a part of, the history and heritage of our clubs, and everything good that they stand for.
Anyone who has read David Goldblatt’s book “The Ball is Round” that chronicles the history of football will truly understand the history behind our nations complex and confusing relationship with our national game. A relationship probably best summed up by a quote from the late Pope John Paul II: “Amongst all unimportant subjects, football is by far the most important.”.
I fully accept that in the cold light of day football fandom is in many ways absurd and illogical. But the wonderful escapism that can be achieved through it is why so many keep coming back. The genuine passion and emotion we feel for our teams and hatred we have for our rivals is real, if based on admittedly flimsy and flawed logic.
Within the microcosm that is the world of football I can’t think of anything worse than those within the game who try to suppress that culture or even worse monetise it. And let’s be honest Brighton are just as bad culprits of this as any other club is.
Along with the consistent rising cost of going to a match, the club have recently called for an improvement in the atmosphere at home games and fans are continually asked by management and players for their devoted support. Fine, you might think? But just as much as us football supporters are constantly reminded by our ignorance that we should leave the football management to the experts, those within the game should leave the football supporting to the experts too.