Scottish fans can’t tut-tut about the English booing one of their own – we’ve done it too
Come on, you can tell me, it’ll go no further. In a moment when frustration boils right over, with the team playing rubbish and the principal cause surely apparent to all, have you ever booed one of your own?
I know I’m asking you to peer deep into the dark recesses of your fandom here, when we’re at our most thrawn, perverse and sado-masochistic and it all gets too much. I’ll go first and admit I’ve done this. Only once and it was immediately regretted. Not big, not clever but I thought I saw a total chancer out there and let him know. I was a lone voice; others cut him slack for being what we all want players to be only they rarely are: one of us. I’m teased about it by match-day mates to this day.
That’s deserved in my case but what must it be like to be a proud captain of your country, giving your all, and in a packed stadium you suddenly hear the jeers rain down from guys – they’ll all be guys – wearing the same shirt? Ask Owen Farrell. He’s just given up leading England’s rugby team, citing the pressure of the gig as having a detrimental effect on his mental health and that of his family. It might be time out. Or, internationally, it could be career over.
Farrell, I hope he’d concede, pretty much invites booing from rival fans. He’s the kind of ruthless and relentlessly aggressive competitor we might grudgingly admit to wishing was being all cold-eyed in our team. Although beyond basic partisanship there seem to be other justifications for giving him grief. His tackling for one. Has he ever properly got the hang of it? His kicking for another – not the success rate, which is impressive, but his preparation, staring at the ball like he’s a wartime interrogator trying to break its spirit and surely one of the players who hastened the introduction of the clock. The first time I saw him sneakily block a runner chasing a punt upfield it was obvious he was a man who played to the very limits of the laws.
But these are issues for everyone else, not his ain folk. He may have been a legitimate panto villain for the rest of us – if we accept such types are required in sport – but barracking from the Sweet Chariot brigade, even when things haven’t been going well for England, just seems bonkers. Stupid - and self-destructive. What do the boo-boys hope this achieves? A sudden and dramatic improvement in performance?
Scotland fans cannot, though, be smug about this. They once booed Dan Parks. Hang on, it was a damn sight more than that: against South Africa in 2008 they booed him onto the park, booed him off ten minutes later and in between booed him for missing two kicks.
The following season, when he was winning man-of-the-match awards, I asked him what this had felt like. “Sure it wasn’t nice,” he said. “When it happened I was surprised. You want your own fans to get behind you. It really does make a difference. Cheer, and we’ll play better. Jeer, and well … ” Murrayfield embarrassed itself that day. Parks also told me that at the final whistle no one consoled him, not a team-mate or anyone from management. “I don’t think that had ever happened to a Scotland player before so no one knew how to react.” No one was talking about mental health in 2008 but that was embarrassing, too.
No one booed a Scotland player before the game went professional. So maybe now that the guys are earning small fortunes they must be exposed to this, er, critical rigour. And maybe now that rugby is an expensive watch fans are entitled to dish this out. In this rugby, regrettably yet again, is following football.
In the round ball game this has been the excuse offered for fans booing their own players – not the team as a whole, but singling one of them out – and has generally become acceptable.
In 2017 at Hampden, Scotland vs Slovenia, Chris Martin like Parks joined the action from the bench and like the rugby man was booed onto the field. At least, though, he got to stay long enough to score the winner. Afterwards his manager Gordon Strachan insisted the supporters’ reaction was “understandable”, meaning they didn’t have a scooby what Martin brought to the team, which was of course a very Wee Gordon thing to say. He went on to list other more illustrious men in dark blue who’d received the same treatment from the Mount Florida aesthetes, including Kenny Dalglish, Alan Hansen and Gary McAllister, although I reckon Joe Harper, outrageously, had it worse.
Never accepted by some Hibernian fans for replacing the much-loved Jimmy O’Rourke and Alan Gordon – not something he’d engineered – the striker scored all five goals in a 1974 friendly against Holland’s Nijmegen and was booed. In his first 12 competitive games for the club he netted 11 times. Near that season’s end, a hat-trick against Airdrie and they were still booing him. Harper had had enough and I can still see him, chugging back to halfway and flicking the Vs at the entitled rabble.
Be careful what you wish for. The next generation of Hibs fans would have killed for a goalscorer with Harper’s figures. And Murrayfield maybe shouldn’t be smirking about Farrell. When he played for England we usually won.
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