Pieces of Hate: Blind Loyalty

There is a particular kind of parent for whom primary school teachers have a private nickname: Wallers. As in brick wallers.

For these parents there is nothing remotely critical, even constructively, the teacher can say about their child that will penetrate the wall. Little Johnny is a genius and all evidence to the contrary is merely evidence of bad teaching. Little Johnny is not badly behaved, it is entirely the fault of the other children he so regularly beats, they goad him with their tearful pleas for mercy.

Teachers dread having to deal with wallers because it’s exhausting and pointless. I’m not a teacher, but I know how they feel. Wallers seem to make up a larger percentage of football fans every year.

Kit myopia, thinking with your colours. Brainless, passionate, illogical and ridiculous analysis of a given situation based not on what happened, but on who you support. So no analysis at all then.

Jesus people, it’s getting embarrassing. Chelsea fans, passionately defending Costa’s stamp at Stamford Bridge, asking for the word ‘stamp’ to be redefined. To anyone who isn’t a Chelsea fan that was cut and dried. So why does supporting a particular team mean your eyes suddenly cease to function?

And it’s not just eyes that appear to be on the blink, it’s hearts too. Sheffield United fans phoning in to talk radio to demand Ched Evans be left alone to get on with playing football. Would they have phoned in on behalf of a Sheffield Wednesday player? Or would they, like most Wednesday fans, have been appalled by the idea?

Every side in the country will have their version of this nonsense. It brings to mind the words of General Melchett in Blackadder.

“At times like this, a good, old-fashioned British refusal to look facts in the face will always see you through.”

Debates become moronic, adversarial affairs in which nobody seems interested in actually thinking about the issue. And while fans are guilty of it, they’re not alone. Managers are just the same, in fact they’re often worse. Interviews become pointless – you know what they’ll say before they say it. “It was a clear penalty”, “It was never a penalty”. Yawn.

All of this sucks any semblance of intelligent analysis out of the game. Sometimes, though, it’s even more serious than that and sadly the football club I love, Liverpool, has been one of the worst offenders in recent times.

The club, like all clubs, can be tribal, but it can also be sentimental, something which annoys many and impresses others. Me, I love it; it’s why being at Anfield can be so special and very often it’s a force for good. I remember seeing Thierry Henry visibly moved by a deafening, furious, unified Kop after a solid 20 minute chant of “Justice for the 96”.

But then we got the Suarez/Evra incident. Luis Suarez used wholly unacceptable language towards Patrice Evra that day. Evra’s furious reaction at the time was a clue as to how serious the incident was, but any doubt was extinguished by Suarez’s subsequent evidence in which he didn’t deny using a horrible word, he just insisted it wasn’t horrible in Uruguay.

Suarez was wrong to say what he said (even if you wholly accept his version of what that was) but the club’s response, driven by then manager Kenny Dalglish, was pure waller.

Those awful t-shirts and then Dalglish’s repeated brooding, fuming press conferences where he not only defended  Suarez to the hilt, including for his petulant subsequent refusal to shake Evra’s hand, but was barely able to suppress his fury towards any journalist brave enough to suggest otherwise.

The damage to the club’s reputation was huge, and still lingers. What started as the unpleasant actions of one player became about the morality of the entire institution. A reputation which had been a century in the building was almost destroyed in eight weeks by tribalism and a pig-headed refusal to assess a situation honestly.

What was most sickening was seeing far-right racists flocking to Suarez’s corner and using Liverpool’s stance to abuse Evra in the most hideous terms.

I suspect Dalglish is a case in point here. Fans must know that they look ridiculous defending the indefensible, or flatly refusing to see what the rest of the country can see, but they take their lead from those in the game.

Mourinho, Wenger, “Big Sam”, and a host of others will steadfastly say black is white and up is down in their post-match interviews or pre-match pressers, and nobody ever says back: “Erm…that’s a ridiculous thing to say, isn’t it?”.

Alex Ferguson was, of course, the master of this art. A Manchester United player could have produced a flick-knife from his sock and gutted an opponent in the centre circle and Ferguson would have blamed the ref, the kick-off time, or, his favourite, the media (who, if they dared to suggest it might actually be the fault of the player, would then have been banned from the stadium).

This kind of behaviour has an effect. It codifies stupidity. I argued at the time of the Suarez/Evra affair that Liverpool should change course whilst they still had a reputation to save.

I received plenty of abuse for my troubles, most of it framed around my “disloyalty”. More than one message included a variation of the phrase “Call yourself a Liverpool fan? You’re a ****”.

What had made me disloyal? Thinking, the greatest crime in modern fandom. Coming to a view not out of club loyalty but on the basis of those awkward bastards, the facts.

If you want evidence of how binary this waller thinking is, just imagine if, for example, Javier Hernandez had said something ugly to Glen Johnson that day; all these moral positions, so strongly held, would have been reversed on the spot.

If considering the facts makes me less of a “proper fan” – another phrase fired my way during the Suarez affair – so be it. If the prerequisite for being ‘proper’ in the modern game is reaching behind your ear to fumble for the switch on your brain, then I’m out. 

You can follow James Clark on Twitter (@motoclark)

Pieces of Hate: Blind Loyalty
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