There is something about the fickle nature of sports fans or supporters that reminds me of the saying: “Smile and the whole world smiles, fart and you stand alone.”
In theory, they are supposed to back their teams or individual sports personalities to the hilt. But the reality, as many players and coaches have found out, is that this comes with a caveat: The degree of support is directly proportional to performance.
There is indeed a thin line between love and hate in sports. Last weekend on Saturday I went to the National stadium to watch two of the four most supported clubs in Rwanda, APR FC and Kiyovu FC, gruelling it out for three points in a league match. Initially the Kiyovu FC coach seemed to be having maximum support of supporters but after the three- nil thrashing by their opponents, fans have started being sceptic about his ability yet it is his third league match in charge.
Some went as far as howling insults at him soon after the match had ended. This is an example how loyalty can easily change drastically.
The Successive Rayon FC coaches may know a thing or two about fans shouting their voices hoarse after a win and howling insults, or turning violent, when the team loses.
And it can sometimes goes to the extreme, as was the famous case of Colombian footballer Andres Escobar who was shot dead in 1994 when he returned from the World Cup.
His murder was attributed to an own goal he scored during a FIFA World Cup match against the US, which denied Colombia the chance to progress to the knockout stage.
The shooting became more intriguing after it was blamed on gambling losses suffered by drug lords who had put their money on the team qualifying.
According to media reports after the incident, Escobar’s girlfriend said that for each of the 12 bullets he fired, the killer shouted “Goooooooooool!” (Mimicking South American sports commentators).The BBC also found itself in an embarrassing situation when, in a match after the shooting, a commentator said: “The Argentine defender wants shooting for a mistake like that.”
Well, it does not always come to shooting, but most players take reasonable care for their safety and that of their families, especially after featuring in a losing side.
And it is often their own teams’ supporters they are scared of.
Early this year, was the turn of Spanish premier league side, Real Betis, to get a taste of the fans’ wrath. Some supporters had apparently had enough of the team, which had suffered four consecutive defeats and was dangerously close to the relegation zone in the league.
To show their displeasure, 30 fans attended the players’ training session, not to provide the winning formula, but to pelt them with eggs. However, not all players were targeted.
Apparently those who were thought to be giving their best were applauded as they left the training ground.
Last year, a group of supporters of Brazilian club, Flemengo, interrupted the team’s training by dropping a bomb. Some players were injured by the splinters from the explosion. Although some of the footballers attempted to confront the hooligans, they were restrained by the club staff.
“This is the kind of thing that motivates a player to leave Flamengo to go play abroad. If anyone decides to pack, you can see why. It stains the club’s image,” said Juan, a player.
Brazilian star Kaka, now with AC Milan in Italy, should count himself lucky. He was also once ‘bombarded’ with popcorn when he was a Sao Paulo player by unhappy fans.
Perhaps football fans worldwide should follow the example of some Spanish supporters, notably Real Madrid, who wave white handkerchiefs as a display of their emotions.