WITHOUT DOUBT supporters are the most important people in football, and yet some sadly, are too easily led.
Take the bunch who booed Joe Gomez at Wembley a week ago.
Where did they get that from? What weird mental process led them to target a raw young England player whose only crime was to be scratched below the eye by Raheem Sterling.
Did they return home feeling good about turning their spite on a 22-year-old player against whom Sterling seemed to have held a unreasonable grudge after Manchester City’s defeat at Gomez’s club, Liverpool, a few days earlier?
Gomez wasn’t there in Pristina. He had returned home perhaps on manager Gareth Southgate’s recommendation.
Officially, the defender was injured and it was a pity that he could not have been in the stadium in Kosovo to hear the name of every England player cheered by the home crowd in appreciation of our country’s support in their war for independence.
A marvellous tribute that emphasised the senseless prejudice at Wembley.
The atmosphere is of enormous importance to both teams and, although it is a good deal less so beyond the ground, opinion forming on various media can have an effect on match day.
Some of this is profound, informed and an indicator of how well or badly a team is playing. Occasionally it’s as off the wall as Humpty Dumpty.
A few weeks ago a radio station phone-in took a succession of callers who urged Wolves to sack manager Nuno Espirito Santo after two or three below-par results. He only happens to be the man who dragged the club from nowhere in the Championship to seventh in the Premier League in two seasons.
I’ve had plenty of insults from fans and I’ve learned to grimace and bear it. Managers and players try to do the same.
The things that truly anger them are racial abuse, the throwing of dangerous objects and violence on the terraces.
We do not hesitate to ban people who commit such offences.
Had West Ham players suffered the racial insults levelled by a section of the crowd at the black England players in Bulgaria, far from bleating that we hadn’t heard anything we’d have chased down the culprits and welcomed stern treatment by the authorities.
Players have responsibilities, too. Tantrums around the referee, shouting at opponents, head butts, the elbow in the face, the leg-breaker of a tackle can cause temperatures to rise to explosive levels on the field and off it.
Only the referee has the power to sort this out on the field. He should be a protected species, the abuse he takes.
Should there be terrace trouble, identifying the culprits has become a doddle with the advent of CCTV that’s so revealing I swear you can see what fans are snacking on.
Sterling’s strange bout of fury was, I believe, initiated at Anfield when Liverpool’s former player was repeatedly jeered.
Sterling went to confront Gomez and tried to defy what happens when a 5ft 7in player goes eye-to-eye with one of 6ft 2in. Gomez looked down his nose at him and some suggest Sterling couldn’t forget that until he had another go.
They’ve made it up now. The pity is that those booing fans at Wembley couldn’t also call it a draw and get on with their lives.