After England’s lacklustre performance against Algeria the fans that had travelled thousands of miles to see their country play, elected to jeer the players off the pitch after one of the most abject displays in modern English international football.
England fans everywhere will empathise with the actions of those in the stands at Cape Town, after a performance that leaves England’s progression from the tournament hanging by a thread.
This booing has however be illuminated by the words of an obviously frustrated Wayne Rooney, who whilst trudging off after the game went out of his way to vent his anger. Looking directly into a trailing camera and shouting , ‘Nice to see your home fans boo you, that’s loyal supporters.’
Wayne Rooney has since apologised for this outburst and in balance I think that the fans in South Africa and back home will let this go. Passions run high and I think most will be glad to see that at least some of the players are angry, even if the transference to the fans was unnecessary.
However in my mind this reignites the issue of whether it is ever acceptable for a fan to boo their side and whether players can really expect the support of their fans to be unconditional?
There is no easy answer, in a utopian world fans would never boo their team and their support will be unconditional and partisan. Yet in this utopian world the players will give 110% and would fight like lions for the team with results that reflect their talent.
So really the crux of the issue is that fan reactions will ultimately match the performance if not the result, if a team is seen to be giving their all then the fans will back them win, lose or draw. Some of the most memorable moments for me have been watching fans backing their losing side, knowing they had given their all.
At the 1994 and 2010 FA Cup finals, I was privileged to witness two games where the defeated side supported their team loudly and proudly in the face of defeat, knowing that the XI players on the pitch could have offered nothing more.
The England players on Friday could not make this argument, however there is a distinction between the booing of a team during the match and booing a team after a game. There were few dissenting voices as the supporters tried to inspire one moment of magic during the game.
It is indisputable that fans should support their players to the last during the game, however after the game if you are a professional footballer, at the biggest tournament in the world and you have not stepped up to the plate then you are fair game for criticism.
So whilst Wayne Rooney’s comments were uncalled for and he has atoned for them, the relationship between players and their fans is inextricably linked. When it works well it can a team to feats that could not previously be possible, when it fails morale plummets and performances fall by the wayside.
Overall I believe that booing a team should not be taken lightly, but no team or player is sacred, if players do not show the passion fire expected, then they are not immune. Although one word of advice for any footballer, questioning the loyalty of anyone who has spent their life savings to see you play, will never win you many friends.