Friday, 1 March 2013

Chelsea and Ipswich: Could Benitez have been talking about Town fans?

"At the end of the day,  they are not doing any favours to the club, to the rest of the fans and to the players."
Rafa Benitez's rant on Tuesday night was a rare moment of honesty and an interesting insight into the world of modern football. 
His criticism of the Chelsea management for defining him as an 'interim' manager confirmed what most of us had been thinking: this highly successful man could not be happy with being brought in just to tide the team over until the end of the season.
But it wasn't just that, Benitez openly revealed that the behaviour of a group of fans at Stamford Bridge was having a profound affect on his players. 
It relates back to a quote from our own Mick Mccarthy at the start of this year, when he told the East Anglian Daily Times:
"Don't believe us when we say it (the mood of the crowd) doesn't affect us, it does." 
Both managers claim the atmosphere created by the fans has an effect on the game. Of course it does, we are supporters and if we didn't have an effect on the game why would we bother going? Wouldn't we just stay at home and watch whatever game happened to be on Sky that day? 
So, as you sit there agreeing with Benitez about the terrible way he has been treated by the club and the fans, could you possibly take a minute to consider how this relates to our own situation at Portman Road?
I have long argued that the away support directly correlates with the away performances of the team. With the exception of Middlesbrough at home, our best performances this year have been on the road - in my humble opinion. 
It's no coincidence that on a Tuesday night, with the away end at Vicarage Road full of travelling Blues, we finally overcame the Watford voo doo. The game is a favourite among our away fans and they all put that down to the incredible atmosphere. 
Fast forward to Birmingham City away and the change of management at Town had brought fans a feeling of hope and optimism. The win there was possibly the most significant of the season and arguably our best performance. What's the common factor from those two games? Supporters who were there say the atmosphere was one of the best of the season. Can we say that about any of our home matches? 
The best performance I have seen was Bolton away. Though it was a dire first half in freezing temperatures, the performance picked up towards the latter part of the second half and it's a long time since I've seen a Town crowd celebrate in the manner that they did when Chopra scored his late goal at the Reebok Stadium. They didn't settle on the one goal though, the support seemed to lift them into a far more attacking game, they seemed determined to give us another goal.
At the supporters AGM in Bury St. Edmunds two weeks ago, Luke Chambers told fans that the players 'hear the crowd and really want to send them home happy'. He said that's what they did at Bolton and the way they celebrated with us at the end of the game tells me that's not just Chambo saying what he thinks we want to hear. 
So how does that compare to my experiences at Portman Road? 
Although I wasn't there for the opening game of the season I did listen to the commentary on Ipswich Player and I was utterly dismayed by the sarcastic cheers when Jay Emmanuel Thomas was substituted. Since when did we become the type of fans to so openly and horribly criticise our players at their home ground? On the first day of the season too, when he's not even had a chance to show what he might be able to do for us this year.
What I would say about is that, at the time, people were clearly dissatisfied with Paul Jewell (at a point in the season that I felt was far too early – but that's by the by) and JET had caused friction with several thousand fans by calling some ITFC fans 'mugs' on Twitter. I think the reaction to his poor performance that day might not have been so judgemental had he not alienated those who follow him on the social media site.
But, that wasn't an isolated incident. I will never forget the experience I had on New Year's Day, my most recent visit to Portman Road. In days gone by I have really enjoyed my seat in the Britannia Stand (Sorry, East of England Co-operative). Being in Block R we are close enough to absorb the atmosphere created by the North Stand, but far enough to be able to sit down. We are surrounded by season ticket holders who have been there for many many years and I've often enjoyed listening to some of the older fans discuss in depth their opinions on our performance and our players.
But, January 1st this year, that stand was silent.
Dead silent.
As was the vast majority of the ground.
The only discussion I heard was one older gentleman at the front of the stand rising to his feet to swear at Lee Martin every once in a while (He has done this every game for the past three years – a self fulfilling prophecy there I feel).
The winger is the subject of my story here: when he came forward to take a corner. There was a notable absence of the usually resounding chorus of Come On You Blues at this point. (I mean honestly, we sung it louder when there were a few hundred people at Bolton away) As expected, the ball did not pass the first defender and there followed a collective groan from the entire stadium, the loudest noise created for the entire game.
I don't think it was meant maliciously, I think the reaction was borne from sheer frustration because this is what we see almost every time Town take a corner. But imagine how that must have made Lee feel. How would you deal with that? Would you be able to perform at your best for the rest of the game?
Martin has actually commented today in the East Anglian that he is aware of the criticism he is receiving from the crowd:
'I'm not stupid – you hear things from the crowd… I think I've been unlucky on certain occasions and you can lose confidence when that happens. I'm trying though, that's the key'.
In the interest of being fair, I ought to point out that he also says the only opinion that matters to him is that of the manager. But it's clear the shouts and boos he hears from the crowd are having an affect on him.
Back to the corner against Brighton and I want to explain that I am not complaining about the collective groan itself; to a certain extent it couldn't really be helped as it was a knee jerk reaction to what was taking place on the pitch. What disturbs me more is that fact that this reaction was so prominent; had there been more support throughout the game, that onemoment may not have stood out and had such a detrimental affect on the player and his teammates.
I'm not for one minute saying you are only a true fan is you sing and chant your way through every game. But there's currently a severe lack of encouragement of any kind. At Huddersfield last week there was literally no reaction when we made a good pass or defended well – I was gobsmacked. How can we consider ourselves 'supporters' when we can't even support the things that the team are doing right?
Finally, there is the example of Michael Chopra. When he came on against Blackburn at Ewood Park I was so disgusted by the boos from our own fans that I shouted at, not only a fellow Town fan, a friend who I was at the game with.
It is my own personal view that as fans we should never boo our own players. It's not right. It's never excusable.
Chopra has, to be perfectly honest, really messed up off the pitch this year and I understand some people's feelings of hate towards him. He has reacted badly and too often to fans on Twitter, he has alienated even more by singling out TWTD users as 'morons' and his recent involvement in race fixing has left some of our fans, understandably, finding it hard to trust him.
The Chopra debate itself is something for another day, but I believe you should never boo him while he wears the Suffolk Punch on his chest. If nothing else, a player of his quality could be what keeps us up this year, if he can continue in the form he has recently found and start scoring goals to build on that - he could be our saviour.
Booing him is not going to achieve that.
Benitez said last night that fans should take responsibility for the consequences of their actions: I believe the same could be said for our own fans.
Everyone has a right to an opinion and, though I disagree with it, everyone has a right to express that opinion – even if it does have to be at a match. But if they do decide that's the route they want to take, could they please think about the affect they might be having on the atmosphere at Portman Road, the players and their fellow fans.
Are they so determined to boo that they will accept the detrimental affect those actions might have on the result of the game?
As I have said above, the decision to boo may well be understandable. But using excuses like 'he slagged me off on Twitter' or 'he's a gambler and a cheat' or even just 'he's crap' does not, in my opinion, resolve people entirely of all responsibility.
If you have decided to do this and you're happy it's worth it: knock yourself out.
But it might be wise not to do it if you're stood next to me ;-)

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