Thursday 15 February 2024

Mocking all over the world

 The second half at the London Stadium was just a few minutes old on Sunday afternoon (11.02.23) when viewers and listeners were treated to the most compelling evidence yet of a new trend that is definitely growing amongst match-going fans in the Premier League. Definitely a new trend? Well, I’ve had to go back in the edit and delete Upton Park as West Ham United’s home, but don’t let that discredit my claim. 

Leandro Trossard of the Woolwich Arsenal had just directed a shot wide of the West Ham goal, and this was immediately followed by the customary cry of collective mocking from the East End flash Harrys. It was the usual noise of this sort, the one you also hear when a waiter drops a tray of glasses, the one that used to be 'Wahey!' but over time has lost the w and the a, and gained an r at the beginning (this version has now usurped 'aggggh!' as the lead insult of choice, but what will never change is that mis-directed shots and sliding cutlery will always fall prey to a certain section of the public hard-wired to find other people’s misfortune incredibly amusing.)

Of course, the Trossard baiting in itself isn't unusual, but the context here warrants examination; in short, the scoreline at the time of it:  West Ham United 0 Arsenal 4.

If anyone was ripe for ridicule in that moment, it wasn't Trossard, a player who'd already scored a vicious, bending third for Arsenal in a first half where all four of the goals for the visitors up to then had come. People on the wrong end of a 0-4 reverse at home to London rivals, now I can see the humour in that, but more to the point, I would expect the natives to have observed Trossard's latest assault on their goal with this restlessness that the media types go on about. I would expect to hear the strains of disgruntlement, or even the discontent of silence, maybe even see concerned head-shaking (although not on the radio.) What I wouldn't expect to hear is a goalscorer in the opposing team who are four goals up having the piss taken out of.

Unbelievable, you cry, but wait, the same thing happened to Bukayo Saka in Arsenal's win at Nottingham Forest two weeks before. He'd already scored as part of a two-goal lead over the hosts, but then obscurely was ribbed for narrowly missing a third for the away side.  In this instance, it may be churlish to investigate Forest’s home support, who are quietly becoming some of the most ‘interesting’ in the Premier League (particularly as Stoke City are no longer in it.) Take their barracking of the very same Saka in an FA Cup game three years ago, when they chanted “You let your country down!” after his penalty-against-the-post that saw Italy take the Euro 2020 (aka Euro 21) trophy against England at Wembley six months before. How, I wonder, would one of Forest’s most famous ever players, former captain and manager, Stuart Pearce feel about that chant?

I hasten to add that it isn’t just Arsenal players receiving the mocking-while-winning experience; I have recently and frequently been affronted on behalf of other teams, too. What ever happened to the kind of face-covering despair so regularly expressed by, for example, Newcastle United’s fans from the late winter to spring of 1996? 

I blame these world and European tournaments, where fans in the stadiums are shown flitting between sadness and joy, one extreme emotion replacing another by virtue of noticing themselves on the big screen. Many will argue that this is another virus we have picked up from those pesky other countries, the disturbing revelation that losing a football match might not be the end of the world. Honestly, it will be half and half scarves next.

Or might it be that fans are capable of evolving too? We hear about these modern day managers bringing in their counter-pressing and passing lanes and cycle hubs and XG's of 120, but is it unreasonable to consider that the paying mugs, once labelled hooligans, now derided as customers, can just as cleverly put strategies together, all too aware that outside the stadium there is even more darkness, with interest rates and energy bills and bloody Thatcher, and that if they can find a spark of joy in the other team’s wing half narrowly missing his sixth goal of the game after just three minutes, they will rightfully take it. 

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