Throughout the football pyramid, from the Premier League down to Gosport Borough, fans are in danger of losing a crucial part of their psyche – Simon Carter

It should be a crucial part of any football supporter’s psyche. But the evidence on show last Saturday at two south coast grounds, spanning almost 60 miles and seven tiers of the English pyramid, clearly illustrated – not for the first time in recent months - that some fans are in real danger of losing it.

By Simon Carter
Wednesday, 1st December 2021, 10:37 am
Updated Wednesday, 1st December 2021, 11:03 am
Brighton & Hove Albion manager Graham Potter
Brighton & Hove Albion manager Graham Potter

Their sense of perspective, that is.

I’ve still got mine, but how about you? Are you one of those supporters all too quick to call for the manager’s head after a few bad results?

What would it take for you to jeer your side off the pitch? A heavy loss? That’s understandable, depending on the opposition.

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Gosport's Rory Williams, left, took to social media after Borough's home loss to Swindon Supermarine. Picture: Tom Phillips

But a home defeat against the European champions? Surely not.

Or a home draw when you’re sitting in the top 10 of the Premier League, above Manchester United, a decade on from playing home games at an athletics stadium?

If you’re nodding in agreement with that last one then, like Brighton boss Graham Potter, you could be in need of a history lesson.

Potter hit the headlines for his comments after some Seagulls fans booed the team off after a 0-0 home draw with Leeds. The point left Brighton eighth in what many pundits - especially if they work for Sky - will tell you is the greatest, most competitive league in world football.

Leicester City manager Brendan Rodgers. Picture: Mike Egerton/PA Wire.

Asked about the booing, Potter said: They’re entitled to their opinion. I disagree with them … but maybe I need a bit of a history lesson at this football club.’

I’ll provide one: this is the same Brighton & Hove Albion FC who played home games at the rundown Withdean athletics stadium between 1999 and 2011. I was once unlucky enough to sit in the away seats, open to the elements and in a different parliamentary constituency to the goalposts at the far end of the pitch. The attendance was 7,212 when I saw Exeter play a Third Division game there in November 2010.

Of course, life was never the same again once Brighton swapped Withdean for the luxuries of the all-seater American Express Stadium. And, following promotion to the promised land of the Premier League, over 31,000 now regularly pack out the stadium.

That’s a huge percentage of the fanbase who almost certainly never visited the Withdean. A lot of people who weren’t there, would never have wanted to go there, when times were much tougher.

As the old saying goes, you can only truly appreciate success when you’ve known failure. In a similar way, perhaps you can only deal with frustration if you’ve known what life is like far removed from the glamour, the glitz and the obscene wealth.

Ian Baird could give all Brighton fans a history lesson. The Hawks assistant manager was playing for the Seagulls when they almost tumbled into non-league football at the end of the 1996/97 season.

A quirk of the fixture list sent Brighton to Hereford on the final day. Had the hosts won, Baird and co would have finished bottom of the whole Football League. Back then, only the bottom club went down.

The following season, 1997/98, Brighton again finished second bottom of the whole Football League. Again, only the bottom club went down. And by the time the rules were changed, the bottom two being relegated to the Conference from 2002/03 onwards, Brighton had started a recovery which was to lead them to milking Rupert Murdoch’s cash cow.

Of course, just because Brighton were in danger of losing their EFL status over two decades ago, doesn’t mean the fanbase have no right to complain while they dine at the top table of English football. It’s just a case of picking the right moments.

I have no doubt, if I was a Brighton fan, I would be frustrated with a 0-0 home draw against lowly Leeds United. Everyone wants to win, especially at home against teams below you. But I’d like to think I could put it in perspective. I can do that because I’ve spent my entire football supporting life in the lower divisions. I really don’t think your Premier League tourist, Mr Johnny Come Lately, could a) do that, or b) want to do it.

(Interestingly, four of the bottom five in the Fourth Division in 1997/98 have since gone on to reach the Premier League - Brighton, Hull, Swansea and Cardiff. No doubt fans of the latter three booed at some stage during their top flight relegation campaigns. But how many of them had been terrace regulars at Boothferry Park, the Vetch Field and Ninian Park?)

Last week it was Brighton, earlier in the month it was Leicester City - the Foxes booed off at half-time and full-time in a 3-0 home loss to European champions Chelsea. Hardly the same as a 3-0 home defeat to Norwich or Southampton.

‘I’ve got to say it’s disappointing,’ commented Foxes boss Brendan Rodgers when asked about the jeering. ‘We have a perspective of where this team has been. We have over-achieved to be around the top four and challenging some of these teams that are way above us.’

A fair point, well made. Or so you’d have thought. But no. A quick look online produced some remarkable comments.

‘The arrogance sometimes managers and players have is startling! They live in this bubble of wealth and privilege and quickly forget how much supporters pay to watch them!’ one Leicester follower said on Twitter.

Another Tweeted: Lets hope #mufc come calling sooner rather than later, I think both the players and supporters are losing patience with him. He has become an unnecessary distraction.’

History lesson - this ‘unnecessary distraction’ guided Leicester to their first ever FA Cup final win only last May! A month before the Chelsea defeat Leicester had put four past Manchester United!

‘Rodgers out!!’ another Foxes fan tweeted. ‘No clue on tactics or what he is doing, no passion or desire, can't keep possession can't attack its totally embarrassing and the excuses are becoming boring and painful to watch.’

Blimey! Hope that fan never has to watch their side lose a Fourth Division game, I’d fear they would spontaneously combust in front of their laptop or mobile phone.

I’ll happily lay most of the blame for all this nonsense firmly at the door of social media. It has given everyone a voice, and allowed those who like to scream the loudest the chance to shout down anyone who challenges them.

Sensible viewpoints. Reasoned debates. Balanced arguments. Patience. Remember them? They used to exist, before social media changed everything (and not for the better). Will we ever see them again?

Anyway, it’s different in non-league football, isn’t it?

Isn’t it?

Not that long ago, in 2017/18 to be exact, Gosport Borough - having been wracked by financial problems - finished second bottom of the Southern League Premier South. They conceded an astonishing 142 goals and finished with a goal difference of minus 101. Due to only one team going down, they avoided relegation (but only after winning their last three matches). In 19 of their 46 games, including 11 times at home, they conceded four or more goals, including horror Privett Park losses to Kettering (0-7) and Kings Langley (1-7). There ends the Gosport history lesson.

This season, Borough have started the season well. Better than most fans would have expected. Certainly better than manager Shaun Gale expected, especially considering he has been without several experienced heads for many weeks due to injuries and has had to play youngsters in what is a physically demanding league.

Last Saturday, Boro suffered a surprise home defeat to lowly Swindon Supermarine. They were still fourth in the table, though - a far cry from 2017/18. Everyone would still be relatively happy. Right?

Wrong. Gosport player Rory Williams, taking to Twitter after the 3-1 loss, wrote: ‘To people in the stands hammering young lads after they make mistakes. Don’t bother next week, I’ll give the club the £10 you would have put through the gate. Club nearly went out of business a few years ago. Yeah it was poor but you have a group of lads who genuinely care and you(r) negativity isn’t wanted, needed or useful in any way. We are 4th and as good order (h)as the club (h)as been for years.’

So there you go, you can find a lack of perspective anywhere in football. If the ‘negativity’ can be found at grounds belonging to clubs in the top 10, be it the Premier League or Southern League, then imagine how bad it will be at the wrong end of those tables.

‘It wasn’t all of our supporters, it was a few, and as disappointing as it is, you have to accept that, that’s the world we’re in,’ Potter remarked last Saturday. He is, sadly, spot on.

Gone are the days when Howard Kendall could win just three out of 13 top flight games with Everton in the first half of 1983/84, scoring just five goals in the process, and avoid the sack (allowing him to win the FA Cup, the league title and the European Cup Winners Cup within the next two years).

Gone, also, are the days when Alex Ferguson could finish 13th in his third full season as Manchester United manager, in 1989/90, below Coventry, Wimbledon and QPR, and avoid the sack (allowing him to win … well, a hell of a lot). Those days will never return. Frustratingly, we have to accept ‘the world we’re in’. And, when it comes to the jeering and online behaviour of some fans, it is both depressing and toxic in equal measures.