Sinead Kissane: Love and loyalty is easy when your team is winning
As if Munster don't have enough to be concerned about ahead of tomorrow's game at Leicester Tigers, their fans have been getting it in the neck this week after a vocal minority ironically cheered Ian Keatley's substitution last weekend.
Can we all just get a grip for a moment please? How did a small section of fans think it was fair game to publicly humiliate a player coming off the pitch?
Players play for themselves, for their families, for their team-mates and for the fans. Whether the jeering of Keatley was meant for Anthony Foley and his decision to take off the out-half, it doesn't matter because the proverbial forks were pointed in Keatley's direction. How that reaction made him feel is likely to last far longer than any frustration felt by fans last Saturday evening.
Whatever your opinion is of Keatley's value as a player to Munster, remind me again what exactly there is to gain from publicly ridiculing one of your own. Because you can? Because everyone else is saying it on social media anyway and that's your alibi? Because you paid your money for a ticket so that automatically gives you a free pass to leave sense and sensibility at the door? Because this is sport, and not "real life" so you can insult and degrade someone in a way you would never normally do?
If folk want to be part of an exclusive evening with heroes and villains in a make-believe world, then there are probably cut-price tickets for sale for Christmas pantos. But seriously, Munster players are not Premier League footballers who have the cash to make-up for any kind of abuse they may get and build bubbles around their lives so they rarely have to deal with the public outside of match days. Just because it's ok for fans to boo their own players in other forums like the Premier League it doesn't mean it's right for that kind of mob culture to creep in here where someone scents blood and everyone wants a share.
And while some fans may think that the reaction to the jeering of Kealtey has been over the top (and some of it has been undermined by hyperbole), what if it starts to become more common? Munster hooker Mike Sherry said this week that he would prefer if those fans who jeered Keatley don't return to games in the future.
"That was really disappointing. It saddened me to hear fans doing that to a Munster player but I know that it is only a small section and I'd prefer if that small section didn't come back to our games," Sherry stated.
Jeering aside, of course it is easy to understand the frustration Munster fans are feeling and why they want their voices heard. It's not just with the performances on the pitch, there's a hangover from the fact that JJ Hanrahan, for example, was allowed to leave the province last season.
It is also easy to understand why fans don't want to bottle up their disappointment with the team they support and for which they help pay for through tickets, merchandise etc. Are fans only expected to cheer when they're winning and zip it every other time?
We've long learned that fans don't necessarily like being told how to act at matches which isn't already governed by common sense. Who wants to be told what is the most appropriate way to vent frustration (it's simple, you don't), how to be the ultimate happy-clappy supporter, what time you should be in your seats at, how to buy the best designer rose-tinted glasses?
Munster Rugby had every right to issue guidelines to fans about conduct like it did this week with it's R.E.S.P.E.C.T advisory just a few days after the treatment of Keatley. But at the same time, you can understand why it grated with some supporters who wouldn't know what booing or being disrespectful is if it slapped them in the face. In case you haven't read it, the R for example in R.E.S.P.E.C.T stands for "Respect for both teams, officials and stadium staff. Please remember it is a family occasion, we encourage a vocal crowd and sporting behaviour". While the C is for "Call out those around you who display unsporting behaviour".
So does this mean that fans are not allowed to show any form of frustration or disappointment with what's going on out on the pitch? Are there double standards at play here because I don't remember a similar edict being published for fans after incidents like a referee being booed or publicly criticised after a match? Or what about the whistles and jeers from fans when a high ball is coming down on an opposition player and it's fumbled and dropped because the atmosphere from the home support unnerved him. Is that now disrespectful? Wasn't that the kind of stuff which made Thomond Park an intimidating "fortress" in the past?
It's unsurprising that any "Thou Shalt Not" guidelines get flak from some fans. For the best part of two decades they have been lauded and gleefully put on a pedestal for being head over heels in love with their team, for that turf-to-terrace connection, for saving their wages to travel abroad with the constant cheering, singing and roaring that comes (came?) with being a Munster fan. Love and loyalty are easy commandments when your team is winning.
So it's been quite the comedown. And while frustration is understandable given how Munster are performing compared to the incredible standards set in the past, being a fan has also always been about the optics.
What will wearing the colours matter if Munster starts to get a reputation as a province with a section of fans who've been known to turn on it's own players? Would Ian Madigan - or any other high-profile player - want to come into an environment where this kind of jeering starts to become common?
And again, this maybe more acceptable in other cultures. But that doesn't mean it has to fit into ours.