Tribal hatred steadily growing

YES, we all know, don't we, of our duty to take the best of life and live philosophically with the rest? However, who is there with a reasonably balanced set of adult responses who is not sickened by the steady growth of tribal hatred in our football grounds?

Two cases of it in the last few days provoke the question. One concerned Tottenham's Luka Modric, the victim of relentless booing at Stoke after he won an entirely legitimate penalty.

The other involved David Silva, of Manchester City, who was denied an equally deserved award when he was brought down by the outstretched leg of Chelsea's Jose Bosingwa.

Both were taunted with cries of "cheat" each time they touched the ball. One reason this lingers in the mind so strongly is that they were entirely innocent of contravening the laws of the game.

Another is that you could scour the football planet with no guarantee of finding two such small but beautifully packaged players who so consistently prove that in their approach to the game, in the creative joy and the skill which they so regularly bestow like pearls before swine, they are the very opposite of fraudulent.

In football, fraud is practised in a score of ways and most frequently in the grappling which so often passes for defence at set-pieces and diving for penalties when no serious contact has been made.

The evidence of the naked eye said that neither Modric nor Silva were guilty of the latter offence. Television confirmed it. But then, of course, booing continued to rend the sky.

There is a deeper problem, maybe, beyond the misreading of any situation in a fast-moving game. It is with this zombie partisanship, which so diminishes the atmosphere at most Premier League games which is in so many respects the envy of the rest of the football world.

How to combat it? There is probably no way because a standard has been set, irrevocably.

You probably might as well argue against death or taxes.

One complacent argument can be rebutted, however. If someone tells you it has always been like this, they are wrong and you don't have to delve into ancient, pre-Premier League days to know this.

The crowd at Portsmouth, who had endured so many years of pain and had from time to time been persecuted by his extraordinary skill, gave the departing Thierry Henry a standing ovation. Ronaldo, the Brazilian one, was clapped off the field at Old Trafford after helping to banish United from the Champions League.

There was also a time when Liverpool's Kop was not only a place of subtle drollery but also conspicuous goodwill, which, remarkably, included apparently heartfelt applause when their fierce rivals Leeds United happened to be at Anfield when their first title was confirmed.

The Charlton brothers reflected this more eloquently than most when they saved up the money earned from their grocery rounds and then spent it on pilgrimages to the football ground that used to be known as St James' Park. They took the long and expensive bus ride, had lunch in a greasy spoon, and went, wide-eyed, up to the ground. They had their local favourites, and not least their famous relative Jackie Milburn, but it is interesting to note that they often took up their positions in the ground according to the special appeal of the visiting team. If a great goalkeeper, a Bert Williams or Bert Trautmann, was on duty they would go behind the goal. If it was Stanley Matthews or Tommy Finney they would head for somewhere near a corner flag, perhaps in response to the claim of Stan Mortensen that Matthews always delivered the cross with the lacing of the ball away from his forehead.

Quaint-sounding, of course, but who would willingly have swapped such values for those which now so quickly engulf places like the Britannia Stadium or Stamford Bridge. Values, did we say? No, not values but a build-up of something so hate-filled, so rancid, that it now touches football wherever it is played in this land. Yes, it has been around some time now, but that doesn't make it any more palatable.

One old pro, who has played for some of the great clubs home and abroad, says: "You do worry that, ultimately, the kind of hatred which is routinely expressed will sooner or later drive away people who don't want to take their kids into such an atmosphere. It's a pity, because in so many ways the staging of games in this country, and the edge they bring, is brilliant.

"One thing at least is certain. Players like Modric and Silva, who have had the nerve and the brilliance to force defenders into serious mistakes, are not likely to lose a second's sleep over the noise that comes down from the terraces."

Maybe not, but unfortunately this doesn't make it any less disgusting.

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