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Football Fans Are Mental

Thursday 9th February 2017
I'm going to tell you a story about myself that has nothing to do with football, per se. I'm going to tell it anyway, so I can then discuss this thing between Arsenal Fan TV and Gary Neville, or more importantly, the irrationality behind it. So, bear with me.
Because I'm cursed with a powerful natural antigen when it comes to joysticks and gamepads, rendering me abjectly woeful at FIFA 17, I used to go through cycles wherein I'd spend hours playing online snooker or poker (for play money) when I wasn't working or watching/blogging on football. Lately, though, my spare time has been consumed by an internet golf game called World Golf Tour.

WGT is diabolical. Its virtual reality is remarkably like the real game in its difficulty. You must account for wind and elevation, as well as rough, trees, sand, water, and distance when selecting clubs to line up the tee and approach shots. Greens are sloped and contoured, both severely and with devious subtlety. As in proper golf, choosing every shot involves a healthy dose of maths. Member forums are handy for learning which apply best should you tire from googling suicide methods after repeated trial and error. All WGT lacks are the back problems, fresh air, and inevitable foursome of Jason Days in front of you holding up play.

To begin, you are given a starter club set and generic golf balls in unlimited supply. The clubs are sufficiently forgiving and cause the swing meter to move slower, allowing you to learn to strike the ball with fairly consistent accuracy. They lack distance, however. Nor do the balls permit top or backspin. As a result, long par fours are beyond reach in the regulation two strokes, meaning you can develop a single digit handicap but will not improve much further without better equipment. Sort of like what has happened in the past few decades on tour.

This is where WGT springs their trap. While you've been improving your play, becoming more emotionally invested by the minute, they've been advertising all the name brand equipment that will add distance, accuracy, and shot-shaping ability to your game. If bad fashion choices are your thing, you can plunk down credits on a variety of avatars wearing gaudy colors and plaids, even one decked out in plus-fours. There are also protein bars and juices which artificially slow down the swing meter for a time. Russian players are rumored to especially enjoy those.
The catch, of course, is these upgrades are not free. Currency is required in the form of "credits." You can earn a limited supply by watching ads or taking surveys, or you can buy them with cash. So, after banging my head sufficiently against the starter clubs' glass ceiling, I broke down and paypalled WGT $40 for 4000 credits (and 500 more as reward for being a first-time sucker), enough to equip myself with a set of TaylorMade RocketBallz clubs and several sleeves of Srixon golf balls weighted for spin.

If you were expecting my score to immediately improve dramatically, you won't be half as disappointed as I was. It ballooned back into the eighties. The problem wasn't false advertising. The TaylorMades significantly increased my distance, and, when they weren't landing in bunkers or the water, the Srixon balls would roll further on the fairways and bite nicely on the greens. What went unadvertised was the necessary adapting period. Hitting these less forgiving clubs straight with a speedier swing-meter has initially proved a massive problem. I am having to relearn my game. Naturally, when I do, I will encounter another barrier requiring further upgrades be purchased to progress further, at which point I will go through the same ordeal again, including raging against the injustice of it all. With every high score, every bad shot, I feel exploited, victimized, swindled, as though I deserve better simply because I spent my hard-earned money on their game. Yet, when I finish writing this, I will be back on WGT, cursing at every wayward, hazard-bound ball.

Which brings us to Arsenal Fan TV, and every supporter of a big club in football or beyond, for that matter. We're all mental in our sense of entitlement. I mean, think about it. It's one thing to discuss our team's success or failure, to analyze and anal-ize the causative factors, but to expect the club to follow our recommendations because we've fattened a billionaire's wallet with our cable subscriptions, ticket, and merchandise purchases? That's ridiculous. Does the butcher listen to the pig, cow, or lamb's opinion on how to be butchered?
Arsenal Fan TV has been advocating Arsene Wenger's sacking for ages despite the club's consistency in the top four while playing attractive, entertaining football. Gary Neville comes along, essentially calls them "idiots" for not knowing how good they have it, and suddenly Gooners are mounting a social media campaign to have him sacked from Sky Sports. Why? Because he disagrees with them? I disagree with them. Both about Wenger and the Gunners place in the game's natural order. So do most football fans. Are Arsenal Fan TV's personalities going to show up at the workplace of every supporter of every other English club demanding they be sacked for not thinking as AFTV does that the Emirates lot deserve to be the greatest football club on the planet? Are they going to set up offices in Madrid, Barcelona, Munich, Turin, and Milan to pursue similar action against foreign clubs' fans? Give me a break. Just accept someone has a different perspective. There's room for seven and a half billion opinions on the planet, and counting.

Not that Gooners are the only fans who feel so entitled. Any whose club has tasted success do. The Leicester City/Manchester United match on the weekend highlighted two examples from opposite ends of the current Premier League spectrum.

The Foxes have spent decades wandering up and down the Football League desert only to emerge as improbable Premier League Champions in 2015-16. One year later, Leicester find themselves back on a familiar sand dune, involved in yet another relegation battle. What do they do? Turn against the man they just anointed as a god for delivering their only title. Claudio Ranieri was never omnipotent. He never had all the answers. Not being able to replace the heart and soul of the Foxes' title-winning squad proves that. Maybe N'golo Kanté was the reason Leicester won and Chelsea are now winning, with Ranieri and Antonio Conte only along for the ride. We won't know with certainty unless the Frenchman of Malian heritage moves to Manchester United next season and the trophy follows him.

What? You can't blame me for trying. The point is Leicester City supporters flew first class for one season and now believe they should be upgraded every campaign.
United fans, and obviously I'm one, are just as delusional. Because Sir Alex Ferguson delivered on average better than one trophy per season for his twenty-six year tenure, never finishing below third in the table in the Premier League era, we believe an automatic Champions League place is our birthright. Never mind the club was more like Leicester in its first half-century, winning just two titles before Sir Matt Busby came along in the 1950s. Yet, even he didn't have all the answers. Else he might have suggested there was something to be learned from the first two failed attempts to take off from a slushy Munich runway, then booked his ill-fated lads into a hotel until the weather cleared rather than find out whether third time pays for all. Of course, I don't blame him for their deaths. I'm merely pointing out how irrational expectations can be. After the crash, it took years to rebuild the squad. Even though Sir Matt managed it, United were relegated in the '70s, after he'd retired. Yes, United were relegated. Nothing in this world, much less Premier League status, is permanent. Those United fans who, like the folks at Arsenal Fans TV, don't realize how lucky they've had it need to google reality.

In fact, they should envy non-league supporters. Such folks stand with a few hundred, rather than tens of thousands, in a tiny stand fronting a patchy pitch, match in, match out, year in, year out. Their side will never sniff an FA Cup, or the Premier League. Not in their lifetime. Sometimes, a player can't find a ride to an away match, or play because their real job takes precedence. Yet, their supporters love them so much they'll pitch in, even when their own times are hard, to keep the club solvent. In 2008, Bournemouth's players panhandled along the beaches to raise money for the administrated club when they were dropped to League Two. Fans at such clubs know how lucky they have it. Should Eddie Howe engineer the next improbable title run in Dorset, here's hoping Cherries supporters won't forget.
Martin Palazzotto

The former editor of World Football Columns, Martin authored the short story collection strange bOUnce. He appeared in several other blogs which no longer exist. Old, he likes to bring out defunct. If outdated sport and pop-cultural references intrude on his meanderings for It's Round and It's White, don't be alarmed. He's harmless.

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