Players and fans need to talk more often. I’ve always thought that. Not on social media necessarily, where it’s too easy to behave like a lunatic, but face to face like men.
That’s why the sight of Borussia Dortmund keeper Roman Weidenfeller mounting a stadium fence to have it out with his own fans last night put a smile on my face. Good on him, I thought.
Mats Hummels deserves credit for having the backbone to converse through the metal barriers too. It couldn’t have been easy to hear their wrath in the wake of a home defeat that sent them to the bottom of the Bundesliga table.
I’ll level with you; the default reaction of most professional footballers to boos from their own support is scarper to the dressing room as quickly as they can, cursing the idiocy of it under their breath. It all seems so long ago now, but I’m sure I did it myself.
Wayne Rooney famously unleashed his thoughts out loud in front of a camera and microphone at the 2010 World Cup of course, but his attitude wasn’t unusual. Footballers naturally go on the defensive, the moment they’re criticized.
The more I think about it, the more I believe that’s silly. If fans and players share the same common goal (which they really should) it makes little sense for one side to completely ignore the conversation. In theory it should benefit the players and staff to hear sensible views from the paying customers.
Some managers I worked with became so fixated by things going on inside the club, that they couldn’t always see the wider picture. Talks with supporters can be educational in that regard. It could spark fresh ideas.
Supporters also love the chance to learn more about what’s going on at their club, and what the players are really like, outside of the bland press conference platitudes they’re forced to feed off. The arrangement of an open forum would undoubtedly bring them closer to the team.
Imagining myself as a young player now, I probably wouldn’t fancy spending a couple of hours in a room full of fans that were dying to get things off their chest, but what harm could be done really?
If one or two voiced negative opinions about me, or called for the boss to sign somebody else in my position, the correct attitude would be to take it in the right way and learn from it. Burying your head in the sand and ignoring what people think, is a counter-productive approach.
These meetings could a form of appraisal. Whether they decide to act on the opinions they hear; that’s down to them.
From my experience, fans are always more circumspect and respectful in the flesh anyway. In the Conference I’d pop into the Supporter’s Bar after a lot of games and sometimes end up chatting to fans, as did most players, and I quite enjoyed it. If you’d played badly it could be a little awkward, but never did I see a player and supporter get irate with one another in conversation. I actually found it useful to hear what they thought about the football we were producing.
I know the Premier League’s millionaires can’t pop down the pub for a pint and a natter, but why not arrange quarterly events with a section of the club’s support? Managers are forced to attend fans’ forums from time to time, so why not some or all of the players too - if only to listen.
Last weekend Plymouth Argyle allowed their supporters to come up with a team talk. Whether John Sheridan delivered the Green Army’s ‘crowd-sourced’ pre-match message in the Churchillian way in which they intended it, we don’t know (and they did get beaten), but I thought it was a terrific idea nonetheless.
The distance between footballers and fans needs shrinking. Forget the trolls (they’ll never disappear completely) but real supporters have a lot of sensible ideas, and I think clubs and players are missing a trick by closing their ears to it.
In a funny kind of way, I hope Borussia Dortmund have started a trend.