Sunday 18 February 2018

If all goes well for England this afternoon, Wayne will be forgiven

Talismanic striker guilty of breaking golden rule when it comes to ignoring fans, writes Richard Sadlier

richard sadlier

You know the feeling. You've just watched your team under-perform when it matters most and are overcome with rage. You lash out at the players who have let you down badly as they walk head-bowed from the field. You boo them and mock them, belittling their efforts as much as you can.

You question their ability, their commitment and their motivation. You feel cheated, even foolish, for putting your faith in them in the first place. You may even believe you hate them. It may or may not surprise you to learn though, that in those situations, players feel the same about you.

Wayne Rooney's most notable contribution to the World Cup finals so far has been to criticise the England fans who jeered and booed the players after their goalless draw with Algeria 10 days ago. His comments were reported everywhere. He was hammered for saying what he did, but he was certainly not alone in thinking it.

The relationship between most players and fans is very straightforward. When things are going well, the mutual appreciation gushes from both sides. Songs are sung, chants are chanted, and all is well with the world.

Players heap praise on the crowd for their invaluable input, giving the impression that success wouldn't have been possible without them. I've done it many times. You scratch your head in astonishment at how these people can be so committed and supportive of your every effort. It's hard to understand, but by God it's appreciated. It really is. It's even a little humbling. When things don't go so well though, it all gets a little more strained.

There are many different skills which need to be learned if a career in professional football is to be realised. One of them, and a very important one at that, is the ability to consistently perform irrespective of the surrounding environment. Put another way, you need to be able to ignore the feedback from beyond the dugout. And put a different way again, you need to blank the input of the fans, particularly when you're not playing well.

It was one of the many instructions we would bark at each other before leaving the Millwall dressing-room prior to the each game, mostly when we played at home. We knew from experience that the crowd would turn on us if we were not at our best, and if things were to go that way, we would need to be able to handle it.

It is not a scenario for listening to the views expressed or taking on board their observations and insights. They would be threatening and aggressive, rude and abusive. They were to be ignored at all costs, which isn't the easiest of things to manage. If we were to succeed, it would have to be done without them and in spite of them.

And if we did succeed, we would praise them for their support, thank them for being there, and say they were entitled to express whatever views they liked, whenever they liked. We were just happy we could make them so happy.

Following the Slovenia game, the England players followed that very same path and praised the fans that were there in support.

You can bet that before a ball was kicked, instructions were given to players to compliment the travelling support after the game irrespective of the outcome. Rooney's comments had been a little too close to the truth for most. It would be much better to revert to the bullshit. It's just easier that way.

Players want fans to support them regardless of performance, and fans expect players to perform irrespective of support.

If it all goes well for England this afternoon, Rooney's comments will be forgiven, the booing from the crowd will be forgotten, and plans can begin in London on how best to parade the trophy when it will certainly be arriving home in London in a fortnight.

However, if they don't show a marked improvement from their three games so far, this will be their final game. The fans will have plenty to say then too.

With many supporters, the desire to abuse comes as naturally, even more naturally, as any desire to praise.

It is not a trait which is in all England fans, but those who let their voices be heard against Algeria will be there again this afternoon in Bloemfontein.

If the players repeat that performance again, the supporters will feel justified in doing likewise.

The view from within the dressing-room will be just the same, it's just that you won't have such honesty from anyone this time. Back to the bullshit again then.

Sunday Independent

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