The Fickle Finger Of Fans
By Jim Bonner
Updated Friday, 2nd February 2007
Neville Dalton criticises a certain member of the Pompey team.
Neville Dalton is a journalist with the BBC News website and a
Wow! What a difference a month makes!
I had intended to devote this column to questioning a couple of odd tactical and team-selection decisions by Mr Redknapp.
Then, as the weeks wore on and Harry dipped his toe in the transfer market, I was going to acclaim and exclaim over the Traore and Lauren deals (not necessarily in that order!).
But after watching the past few matches and witnessing increasingly aghast some of the threads on this august website's message board I've changed my mind again.
But for those of you whose patience seems to last about 20 seconds (including what seemed like the minority of those at the
What's going on out there?
We're rightly considered some of the best supporters in the country, not just in terms of our vociferousness but also for our fair-mindedness (witness the excellent receptions for the likes of Lineker, Henry, and De Zeeuw) and tolerance!
There have always been players who have tested our patience, and the most recent one to spring to mind is Lualua, whose immense ability just makes his tunnelled-vision approach and insistence on one trick too many all the more frustrating.
He is rightly acclaimed as one of our most exciting talents. But he is equally justly guilty of so often wasting that talent and depriving Pompey of a key weapon in their armoury.
But I like to think he's at least had a fair crack of the whip, and his injury record and off-field experiences haven't helped.
But what's happened, lads and lasses?
First, there's the incredibly myopic antipathy towards Glen Johnson (more of which shortly); and as if that wasn't enough, there were clear signs during the Boro match that patience was wearing thin as many of the other fans' favourites suddenly came in for the heavy-sigh and annoyed-groan treatment.
Let's get a few things straight: Pompey have endured an awful run of results since Boxing Day, leaving them more like outsiders for a Europe place when a month or so ago it looked like it was theirs to lose.
One or two team performances have been poor the Charlton game in particular springs to mind.
And with the big four still to play, hopes of a top-half finish are beginning to diminish.
But boy, have we got short memories? We're worrying about possibly missing out on Europe yes, that place where not even our greatest ever team was able to represent this great club, and where none of its successors has ever looked like going.
And we're moaning about only drawing with
The fact is that for half the match against Manchester United, we acquitted ourselves well, albeit rather unambitiously, before retreating farther and farther back and inviting United's attackers to run at us.
And I thought the
Both sides played some excellent football and I was astonished to hear growing discontent in the stands as players of the like we've never before seen in blue shirts at Fratton were derided every time they lost the ball.
Yes, of course all fans have the right to criticise, and I admit I offer my fair share of shouts of frustration at the odd misplaced pass and Keystone Cops defending.
There were times when a player would perform some piece of skill that a couple of years ago we would only have dreamed of witnessing, only to spoil it with a poorly executed pass.
But the point is we're now watching players who have the skill and ability to create these situations in the first place. Not so long ago, the final pass wouldn't have mattered because we wouldn't have got into those situations in the first place!
And don't forget the quality of opposition we're encountering some of the world's most skilful footballers, and they're not going to just stand back while we perform our party pieces.
They're shutting us down quickly, tackling strongly and positioning shrewdly. Every time we overcome those obstacles, we're showing what a quality Premiership outfit we are.
We have the strongest squad I've ever seen at Fratton; the best team and the most formidable defence.
No longer do we admire the odd player with individual talent. We have a team of them.
Yet, what did I hear? Groan and moan; sigh and tut.
And most alarming of all, there was a palpable roar of disapproval waiting to emerge from many people's throats every time the ball went near Glen Johnson.
I admit he's going through a poor spell the Old Trafford game representing a personal nadir in the player's Pompey career.
But he is a superb player who has defended well and attacked brilliantly, bringing a dimension to Pompey's game that has really been missing when he's been out of the side.
Yes, his body language isn't great and far too many of his passes are casual. I acknowledge some of his errors have led to goals against us, but he is young and still learning, and if anyone can knock those habits out of him it's Harry and his coaching staff.
In my opinion, he is one of the best players we've had, and it would be a travesty if what little chance we might have of signing him permanently was scuppered by the merciless attitude of the people who have hitherto earned this club such respect and admiration.
I stress this isn't the entire crowd. But it's a sizeable and far from silent majority. And it's not just inside the ground, as any of you who scan the message boards or have a drink in the pub will know.
Of course, we all have the right to criticise. We are the entry-fee-paying mainstay, the lifeblood of the club while the players and officials are but transitory.
But it so happens that the current crop is the greatest most of us have had the privilege of watching.
So let's just have a little perspective next time.
And save our criticism for the incidents that really merit them rather than risk frightening our stars into curbing their creativity for fear of upsetting Fratton's fickle fans.