After watching his forlorn West Ham United side lose 3-1 against Bolton Wanderers this weekend, manager Avram Grant slammed the fans who booed their penalty-missing striker Carlton Cole. Whilst not possessing the goal-getting attributes of Wayne Rooney or Darren Bent, Cole has been a valuable striker for the Hammers, with 20 goals in 57 league games for the club in the last two seasons.
West Ham seem unable to find another alternative to Cole or a partner for him, with the previously promising Freddie Sears flattering to deceive and other youngsters such as Zavon Hines and Frank Nouble still lacking in experience. Benni McCarthy has also signed from Blackburn Rovers, but has failed to net in his first six league games. So with this in mind, does Cole deserve a beasting from his own fans after finding his feet in East London and gaining England caps?
The former Chelsea man was jeered after a nervy performance in which he repeatedly finished tamely when in front of goal. Cole pelted his spot-kick low and straight down the middle of Jussi Jaaskelainen’s goal, resulting in a routine stop for the Bolton goalkeeper. To be fair, he had a shocker. Today was a day in which nothing was going to go Cole’s or West Ham’s way. In a season lasting nine months, there will be matches where the Gods are shining against one team.
Arsenal defender Emmanuel Eboue was memorably jeered when he was substituted during Arsenal’s unconvincing win over Wigan Athletic in December 2008. The Ivory Coast international was reduced to tears after trudging off the pitch on his return from a knee injury. Considering his team won, surely the fans’ abuse was unwarranted. Eboue has of course recovered and is now a firm favourite at The Emirates.
With this in mind, it is clear that players’ commitment and performance levels are tapped upon by fans. Cole’s perceived lack of effort and technique in crucial moments against Wigan was bemoaned by sections of Hammers fans on internet forums after the match, and the fans’ reaction was both condemned and applauded on radio talk shows.
Players at all levels encounter wildly expectant fans. Since England’s tumultuous collapse against Germany at the World Cup, many of England’s biggest names have been criticised. There has been much debate into why the likes of Rooney and Frank Lampard did not perform in South Africa after such electrifying form at club level.
Tensions run very high in the stands and every emotion is multiplied when the stakes are high. West Ham look to be a club in freefall, and only the players themselves can know whether they are giving 100%. However, should players be subjected to booing from their own fans?
It’s no secret that footballers earn a handsome wage in these difficult economic struggles, so some fans may see this as more responsibility for players to shoulder. Many fans fork out great amounts of money for season tickets. They have worked hard all week earning money for that long awaited Saturday afternoon, so surely they have a right to condemn their own players when they are losing. Fans have obviously seen dreadful signings come and go, but they will only support one team in a lifetime, whereas players could turn out for nine or ten teams in a career. Therefore fans may sometimes think their loyalty and passion is not duplicated by the players.
A more dignified way for fans to show their feelings could be to vote with their feet. Many times each Saturday, supporters on the end of a thumping are shown streaming into the concourses after 85 minutes. Finishing the match with half of the stands empty would surely send players a message. Certain supporters may feel that if you are only going to boo a player, you may as well stay home as you are not actively backing your team. Things should be put into perspective as well. West Ham have endured a torrid start to the season, but have only played two games. There are 36 games left and the Londoners still have plenty of chances to scale the table.
Do you agree with the treatment of Carlton Cole? How do you feel about the booing of former players who have moved to rivals? Have you ever been in the stands when fans are hurling abuse at their own player? Do you think fans are sometimes too deluded with expectations?
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