Saturday, 20 December 2008

Generating the right atmosphere

First published in The Grecian, 20 December 2008, Exeter City -v- Rochdale

A fortnight ago the Grecians turned round a less than inspiring first half performance and a lead conceded to opponents Lincoln City by grabbing two late goals, one from Dean Moxey on the brink of full time, to steal all three points.

Leaving it that late isn’t good for our hearts, so this afternoon we’re hoping that the lads can get the tide running in our favour rather earlier. It’s going to be tough, though. Rochdale have set out their stall very clearly, and they will be as keen as Exeter to welcome Christmas with a decisive victory.

There has been a lot of talk in the game of late about fans and what we are ‘entitled to expect’ when we come along to a game. During the Lincoln match, I was slightly irritated by someone sitting not far from me who decided to keep up a constant barrage of criticism whenever one of our players failed to do what he thought they should do.

I didn’t say anything and he’s as entitled to his opinion as anyone else. But I just couldn’t see the point of it. The expert advice being hurled in the direction of the pitch included such pearls of tactical wisdom as “come on… do something!” and “kick it forward!” We all get frustrated when the team is a bit off colour or things aren’t clicking. But booing your own players or shouting gratuitous comments does little to lift spirits or change anything.

The general response when such negativity is questioned these days is, “the fans have paid out good money and they’re entitled to have a go if they feel like it.” Well, yes and no. I do think paying punters can reasonably expect to see a team that’s really making an effort. And that’s what I feel we get at Exeter City. Paul Tisdale has instilled a sense of pride and responsibility in his side, and has gone with players who are here because they want to move forward with the club, not just to pick up a pay cheque and look good.

This season we have seen some good performances and an overall improvement in quality to match the all-round higher standards of League Two. That doesn’t come without trying. Likewise, when the team has struggled and mistakes have been made, I have never felt that the players have given less than their best. It can’t help, though, when supporters are getting on your back.

Perhaps the worst recent example of this was not a local one (thankfully), but the treatment meted out by Gunners fans towards under-fire Emmanuel Eboué at the Emirates earlier in the month. Having been brought on after 32 minutes against Wigan, the tired and nervy Ivorian proceeded to have what can only be described as ‘a shocker’. But the abuse he received was so venomous that Arsène Wenger felt the need to substitute him before the end and he came off shell-shocked and tearful.

Wenger has stood by the player and wants him to be strengthened rather than undermined by the incident. “In our job it’s very important that we don’t expect too much from other people, but that we do expect a lot from ourselves,” he commented level-headedly. Several friends of mine who follow Arsenal told me afterwards that they felt more than a little queasy about the “£1,000 a season” fans thinking that their cash gave them the right to treat another human being like that.

Here at St James’ Park there’s a great atmosphere and the more voluble abusers are in a distinct minority, but in quieter moments on a small ground they can make their presence known. The best response is not to start an argument but to really get behind the team. Winning sides have a winning ethos that extends to the terraces as much to the training ground, and that’s definitely what we all want to see at Exeter City.

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