Entering this season, one thing I noticed about the poll I ran earlier in the summer (which has now been backed up by a similar measure of fans optimism in the South London Press) was how restrained we are in our hopes for our first Conference campaign. Most people are expecting upper mid-table, perhaps a decent cup run.
The danger is, once the season begins one or two of us get a little overexcited. I mentioned last season on several occasions how braindead and counter-productive vocal criticism of our own team can be. I will probably never understand what goes through the mind these people. After all, they pay money to watch their team, presumably they want the lads to win? They wear replica shirts and buy programmes. All that money is wasted as soon as they open their mouths.
We are watching young players who came to the club for the support a big crowd can offer. Since we started at Kingsmeadow, I have chosen to stand in the John Smith Stand. I started watching the game from beside the pitch back at Plough Lane, and was delighted for the opportunity to stand next to the pitch after years of hell in the Whitehorse Lane End and the Holmesdale Stand at Selhurst Park.
The abuse from the John Smith Stand has grown over the years, until last season when I finally grew fed up with it. Watching the game wasn’t fun at times. In what was a title winning year, I witnessed supporters loudly boo their own players, criticise the manager for picking them/bringing them on/not substituting them. On one occasion after a young player had misplaced a pass, a group of idiots began to chant ‘Off! Off! Off!’ at him.
I’m not a violent person, but that made me feel physically sick. I felt the anger rise in me, I clenched my fists and my teeth very hard and did whatever it took for me not to lose it with them. This wasn’t a one-off either… I felt that several times last season. Let’s remind you once again, this was a title winning season. That’s just not right.
On Saturday a new season begins, with the chance for all of us, as supporters, to turn over a new leaf. For example, I’m going to be more vocal in my support, I’m not going to use my note-taking for match reports as a reason not to sing, or shout encoragement. If you are a supporter who has in the past criticised our players, please, make an effort this season to stop. By being so negative you are doing nothing to help the club you claim to support.
The fast takeup of season tickets this year has led to certain areas becoming season ticket only areas for the entire season, in other words some supporters who previously held season tickets and stood on the Tempest are now overspilling into the John Smiths. More than anyone you are in an ideal position to change the poisonous atmosphere in this part of the stadium.
As newcomers to this area, not only can your positive support dilute the existing troublemakers, your behaviour will spread to more impressionable sections of the fanbase. Remember what I said about the ‘Off! Off! Off!’ brigade? Only a couple of people started that. These people stand close to the home dugout, and are of the opinion that they know better than our manager. I’m not sure how many Conference sides these guys have actually managed, but it must be a few to believe they are more knowledgable than Terry Brown. Sometimes Terry makes decisions that surprises me, but it only serves to trigger curiosity in me, especially when it seems like a bit of a gamble.
If it goes wrong? I may use my blog as a mouthpiece to criticise if required, if I didn’t have the blog I would mention it to friends after the game or post on the guestbook perhaps. There are outlets for criticism, and nobody is asking for freedom of speech to be removed. But loudly criticising during the game? These are grown men, who have presumably been watching football for quite a while now. Have you learnt nothing during this time?
We also have a section of our support (and these people are by no means young supporters) who haven’t been watching Wimbledon for long. They joined up in the Premiership days, or the early years of AFC Wimbledon. I absolutely believe that some people come to games with the impression that its ok to barrack their own players. Perhaps they have seen on the TV, the likes of Alf Garnett (that going back a bit, there are more contemporary examples, but none I can think of right now!) slagging off their own team, perhaps in those ‘football special’ versions of sitcoms or when a character is a football fan. Christ, even our own Alun Armstrong was featured moaning about a 0-3 home defeat to Spurs in a friendly!
This is, and alway will be used for comedic effect, it’s more a reference to a fault in character. Don’t ever believe it should be acceptable, or even normal for you to abuse your own players at a game. The player I mentioned earlier had made a number of mistakes earlier in the game. The first time he misplaced a pass, what do you think will be the most supportive way of helping him recover. Tutting? A long audible groan?
I can absolutely guarantee the player can hear you, if not every word then at least the gist it. These players are professional, they earn good money to play for us, and therefore abuse from opposition supporters slips off like water from a ducks back. However put yourself in their shoes… if you had just misplaced a pass, how are you going to feel if a hundred people shout ‘Awwww, bloody hell!’ or something stronger…
These new young players have talent, that much is for sure, but we are in a division where we will face a strong challenge week in, week out. They will make mistakes. More importantly a couple of them will make mistakes that cost us points. That is an absolute given. But these guys are very young, even the 22/23 year olds have a good four or five years learning left in them.
I got the impression that certain players with us last year had lost the passion for learning the game ahead of time. These are players who perhaps had been there before and thought they could walk through certain games. I guarantee Terry saw this as well, and thats why they aren’t with us this year. Tom Davis and Tony Finn were talented footballers, but Terry knew they weren’t in a position to take their game to another level this year.
The likes of Steven Gregory and Ricky Wellard are already good players. But with our support and their own desire to learn, they could become great players. They really could be the players who help us into the League. But a small part of their development will depend on how much they enjoy playing in front of us, at Kingsmeadow.
You may remember yesterday, I wrote an article about Luton, and how annoying it would be if any of their supporters had managed to get tickets in our section of the ground. Well, it certainly would be, but even if the most vocal of Luton fans gets in and manages to stay in, as far as I’m concerned it would be much better for us for one of them to be there than any of our own who dares criticise a player in a blue shirt. In fact, I’d much rather have an extra ten of them, at least then we could recognise them as the enemy.
Their behaviour is not only shameful but an embarasment to our great club. This abuse is like a cancer to the wonderful support the majority of our supporters give. It may happen at other clubs – but quite frankly what other clubs supporters do doesn’t concern me. It shouldn’t happen here. We are better than that. If you consider yourself a Wimbledon supporter you should be as proud of the team after the most dismal of defeats as you are during the good times. In fact you should be more so. Never forget AFC Wimbledon are a unique club, they are your club in more ways than just simple ownership. We are the club – so lets make sure we show just how special we are.