My Mam always told me that bullies love attention. Ignore a bully and they soon get bored and move on. Bullies feed off your fear and then, if you let them, they feed off your shouts, tears and aggression.
During the FA Cup run in 1992, we played Chelsea at home and Vinnie Jones, everyone’s favourite pantomime villain at that time, did one of the oddest warm ups I’ve ever seen, it remains (after Gordon Armstrong’s goal of course) my main memory of that evening. He stood in front of the main stand, on the touchline, staring at the crowd. He was booed, jeered and every gesture you can imagine was hurled in his direction (along with a pie which just missed his motionless body). After about a minute of abuse, having never stopped looking at the crowd, he turned and walked away. He was topping up his energy like a sun worshipper tops up their tan. He was using our hatred to prepare himself for battle and, although we won the game, he bossed the midfield - a player completely at ease with his bad boy image, able to improve and grow the more the opposition fans responded.
Keane was another with a similar pre-match ritual (though, with Keano, it was the opposition players in the tunnel – remember how he built his energy with the row with Viera). The more you shouted at him, the better he got. And the player who dealt with him best was, I’m sorry to say, the bald one-off Match of the Day – every demand for hatred from Keane was returned with a smile or turning away. It worked beautifully with Keane losing his temper and swinging an arm. Keane was sent off and, shortly afterwards, the one arm goal celebration compounded his misery. Positivity and politeness in the opposition was his kryptonite.
Players who need your attention and hatred to play to their best are easy to deal with. Pay them no attention and smile.
Tomorrow, Fleetwood Town bring to the Stadium of Light two of this generations bad boys – Barton and Evans. Neither are fit to lace the boots of those I’ve already mentioned in terms of footballing talent or bad boy bravado but both revel in the glow of an abusive crowd.
Both have already prepared for their arrival with negative comments in the press about the club, the fans, the players and the manager. The comments are meant to annoy us, incite a deep rage which will gush out tomorrow in their direction. They can’t wait. They need it. Let’s not give it.
Jack Ross dismissed Barton’s comments beautifully, focussing on our team and suggesting each club wait until the end of the season before concluding which is better. My prediction, for what it’s worth is that, by the end of the season, Jack Ross will be awarded manager of the year and Barton will be wearing one headphone in a Sky studio sharing witty repartee with the one that isn’t Jeff. But anyway, I’m not following my own advice…
Let’s yawn and then ask the person next to you what the striker’s name is…
Mention that you can’t quite place the manager…
The life and energy will be sucked out of them like a dementor’s kiss.
To quote many conversations outside night clubs - ‘don’t give them the satisfaction. Just walk away’.