The 12th Man, and I don’t mean the fat kid at school who was always sub, no, I refer of course to the crowd, the supporters, the fans, that guy with ten bellies who’s always at St James Park with his top off, come rain, shine or nuclear holocaust.
It is often mooted by managers and pundits alike that the crowd can have a huge influence on proceedings on the pitch. This is also said to be a large part of home advantage, yes having a pitch where surroundings are familiar and the canteen staff know just how you like your boiled egg and cup of char is comforting, but forty thousand partisan supporters gives you an edge, and as testament to that, there have been some very strange results this season.
Even last season when lockdown began, those nerdy Opta people were already noticing that home advantage wasn’t, well, working. So let’s delve a little deeper into this well known, but probably not so well appreciated phenomenon. You wouldn’t have thought that having a mob suggesting loudly that the referee pleasures himself, or that he may need a trip to the opticians could affect eleven individuals so much. As a side note here VAR should negate the need for optical assistance for the officials, after all, they now get to watch any questionable incident in slow motion from six different angles… and then get it wrong!
As I have alluded to in my Euro 2021 being cancelled blog, sport is the nation’s favourite pastime (I didn’t back it up then, and I don’t intend to do it now), and having supporters who are so entrenched in the success of a club they will sit in the cold and the rain and issue tribal roars of encouragement, it’s going to get the adrenaline pumping. Remember when you were six years old and Mom and Dad were cheering you on in the egg and spoon race, and you felt like Linford Christie running the 100m in sub ten seconds, yeah that, except multiplied by forty thousand.
Of course, a supporters role is not simply to cheer when you score, boo when you concede and berate the officials, oh no, it’s much more complicated than that. You see a supporter has a moral duty to come up with chants that take the piss out of the away team and fans… it’s the law. It would be remiss of me not to provide some examples, so here they are:-
We’ve got Di Canio, You’ve got our stereos
West Ham fans to Liverpool fans
Your teeth are offside, your teeth are offside, Luis Suarez, your teeth are offside
Manchester United fans singing about Liverpool’s Luis Suarez.
And when challenged by the opposing horde, they must of course respond in kind. This particular one is to the tune of ‘Amore’
When you’re sat in row Z, and the ball hits your head, that’s Zamora, that’s Zamora
When the ball hits the goal, It’s not Shearer or Cole, It’s Zamora
So there you have it, empirical proof that the funniest people on the planet go to football matches.
The crowd is the most important part of football (and many other spectator sports). Without them working a double shift at ASDA (other supermarkets are available) on a grim Monday evening to earn that extra £50, so that when Saturday comes they can sit in the stadium and behave like a complete yobbo, there would be no billion-pound industry.
The prawn sandwich brigade in the corporate boxes aren’t supporters, they’re just a bunch or hooray Henry’s that like to get away from their wives and drink Grey Goose, pretending they’re better than the common folk. It’s not true. The real supporters will be there with wives, girlfriends, kids, dogs and next door’s pet hamster if they can find a shirt that fits. They’ll pay £8 for some watered-down lager and a pie straight out of Sweeny Todd’s oven, they don’t care. It’s about the experience, the camaraderie, joining in the celebration when you win and blaming the ref when you lose. For me, that’s where the real power of the 12th man resides.
I have sat in a box and watched a match, and I’ve sat in the posh seats too, and I’d swap it every time to sit in the Kop with all the other working-class people that watch because it’s their passion, not because it’s a tax write off or to impress their rotary club mates.
For my closing salvo I shall address the TV coverage without fans… it’s unreal, and I don’t mean that in the sense that it’s amazing, I mean the matches don’t seem real, with no crowd noise it’s like watching a training match. So much so that whether I’m watching on Sky, BT Sport or Amazon (again see my other blog for details, I don’t pay for all of them!) I have to make sure I turn on the artificial crowd noise. The emotions of the faithful are so intrinsic to the whole package, without them it’s sterile, it’s just lacking something. Although I must admit the quality of the artificial noise varies, especially when there’s a goal, there’s no build-up of noise, just background chatter, then suddenly a roar of delight. It’s akin to the sound effects on Kick Off 2 on the Amiga, there was life before FIFA 21 on your shiny new PS5 y’know.