Sunday 4 December 2016

Bearing the Brunt of mob mentality

Joe Molloy

Published 24/02/2016 | 02:30

Chris Brunt reacts after having a coin thrown at him. Photo: Action Images via Reuters / Peter Cziborra
Chris Brunt reacts after having a coin thrown at him. Photo: Action Images via Reuters / Peter Cziborra

Premier League footballers, more so than most of us, are finely attuned to the vagaries and consequences of extreme social psychology.

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Take Chris Brunt, a man who was struck near the eye by a 50p coin as he tried to give his shirt to a young fan after West Brom's defeat to Reading on Saturday.

His highlighting of the incident resulted in a tapestry of outraged faces and single-digit gestures back from the stands.

It's always particularly skewed terrain when fans turn on their own players, especially the inoffensive professional types like Brunt.

Mob mentality is a very interesting area. 'Deindividuation theory' talks about a crowd resulting in a loss of self-awareness, where factors such as anonymity weaken personal standards and self-control.

At the other end of the spectrum there is convergence theory which argues that crowd behaviour is less about the crowd, and more about the coming together of like-minded individuals.

Floyd Allport, the father of experimental social psychology, argues that: "An individual in a crowd behaves just as he would behave alone, only more so."

Maybe our coin thrower lost the run of himself and did something out of character, or maybe he's just the coin-throwing type egged on by his coin-throwing mates.

Abused

It is always a curious social experiment when an abused player holds a mirror up the mob.

One particularly remembers a crying Emmanuel Eboue being substituted in front of a suddenly chastened Emirates crowd; they'd been on his back for some time.

The affects on players can be brutal. We had Keith Andrews on Sunday's show - he was the sacrificial lamb for his own fans at Blackburn. Any mistakes he made were greeted by murmurs. On bad days the murmurs turned to jeers.

He stopped his family from coming to games. The really shocking thing was the reaction of his manager.

Andrews said: "One of the big reasons I left Blackburn was because I wasn't getting selected as much as I wanted.

"Steve Kean told me the crowd was a part of his selection, that the fans were getting on my case and he was bound to their pressure a little bit because he'd just got in the job and wanted to make a good impression."

Needless to say, Andrews didn't think much of his manager's explanation.

The Brunt incident is the latest in a long line. We accept it to a point. Football stadiums remain outlets for lots of idiots.

Irish Independent

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