BOOS rang out at West Ham and Leyton Orient this week, despite the former ending a three-match losing streak with a precious victory and the latter being third in League One.
It’s by no means unique to east London. While not an epidemic, fans barracking their own team even during relatively good times seems to be a growing social trend and I worry that it’s irreversible.
Stadium atmospheres have changed. Supporters have always gone to games to release emotions they can’t elsewhere; to support, chant and sing. But the camaraderie of the terraces has been replaced by isolated seating, and that is manifested in frustration, impatience – and jealousy.
Football is now a money-oriented business. The Bosman ruling, granting freedom of movement for out-of-contract players, and ever-increasing television income means players earn far, far more than in my era. And while fans have been hit by a recession, football, largely, has not.
We might not like to talk about it but I think the money factor really rankles with supporters. There’s an assumption that all players get paid fortunes, so they shouldn’t have off-days – and if they do, they’re being paid enough to take the stick.
The thing is, players aren’t to blame for their earnings, and they are often not linked to ability. What’s more, those at teams lower down the pyramid, like Orient, probably aren’t earning more than some of the fans.
Football supporters are bright; they know their sport very well. But aside for extreme cases when there is an obvious lack of effort, there is no need to boo. It may only make things worse.
As a player, when you’re losing a match you feel like a different person. Negative feelings are coursing through you. When you’re winning, the blood is pumping and you’re desperate to get on the ball.
Teams rely on crowds to help them get back into games. I remember playing for Rangers against Leeds United in the Champions League in 1992. Within a minute they won a corner and Gary McAllister lashed a shot into the top corner. We’d barely started and we were 1-0 down to the English title holders.
For a moment you could hear a pin drop at Ibrox. Then the crowd reacted and it sent a shiver down my spine. They could have stayed quiet but didn’t. They got behind the team and let us know we were all in it together. We won 2-1 at a canter.
Trevor Steven is a former England international footballer who played at two World Cups. He now works as a media commentator.