Saturday, 31 January 2015



The other day I noticed a national newspaper was canvasing supporters of Premier League clubs on which of their players was “a target for the boo boys”. What a delightful phrase that is, conjuring up for the more elderly amongst us the smell of oxo and Old Spice, the clatter of the half-time scores number-boards and the sound of The Harry J Allstars' Liquidator being played over a public address system so feeble and tinny it may as well just have been a bloke with a Dansette and a megaphone. 

For the youngsters I perhaps should explain that a boo boy is someone who goes to a football match and hurls abuse at a member of the team he follows. Those people who go to football and hurl abuse at members of the opposing team have a different name. They are called supporters.

Boo boys have something in common with racists. You rarely meet anyone who admits to being a racist. However you meet quite a few people who admit to not being a racist, but… So it is with boo boys. You will seldom encounter anyone who cheerily says, “I go to football. I’m not actually much interested in the game, to be honest. I just love to single out an individual on the home side and jeer him for the entire season. My ambition is to cause an England international to have a nervous breakdown. I got quite close once with Darren Anderton”.

No, you never meet anyone who says that. You do though encounter quite a few people who say, “I would never barrack my own team normally, but that Gary Slather? What a bloody waste of space. He’s not even trying. He’s a disgrace to the badge. He should never be allowed to wear the jersey again. The sooner we get shot of him the happier I’ll be”. And somehow you know that when Gary Slather is transferred and returns with his new club the same person who said all that will be howling “Judas!” at him.

The boo boys have always been around, of course. I fear that there may even have been one in my own family. Because whenever George Hardwick the Middlesbrough and England captain of the 1940s was mentioned my Grandad would pull a simpering face. “Ooh Gorgeous George” he’d coo sarcastically, batting his eyelids up and down. Despite the fact that Hardwick was one of the club’s greatest ever players my Grandad hated him.

He was not alone. Hardwick himself recalled how every time he took control of the ball and looked up for a team mate to pass it to a voice from the Chicken Run would bellow, 'Stop showing off and get rid of it.'

There were a number of reasons for this antipathy. Hardwick was handsome, well dressed and comparatively affluent (even in the days of the maximum wage a top flight professional footballer earned three or four times as much as the average steel worker). More crucially he was also fifteen years younger than my Granddad. And if there’s one thing a proud middle-aged man hates, it’s to pay two bob on a Saturday afternoon to have some young fella making him confront his own waning masculine powers.

Recently it is reported that we have seen an upsurge in the abuse of players by fans. Assuming this to be true (and I’m not entirely convinced - there's only so many expletives you can cram into a sentence after all). I believe my Grandad holds the key. You see, the average age of fans attending Premiership matches has been gradually rising over the past decade. Currently it stands at 44. Nowadays just about everybody in the ground is fifteen years older than the players. No wonder the atmosphere seethes with rage and resentment. Every time a midfielder surges down the middle, or a forward rises in the air it’s a chilling reminder of what Pele once memorably dubbed “erectile dysfunction”.

If football is serious about driving out the boo boys and the abusers it therefore has two viable options: it can either make the crowd younger, or make the players older. It is not up to me to say which path the authorities should take, but I am sure I am not alone amongst my peers in saying that it would be bloody great to see John Hendrie back in a Boro shirt for the Championship run in.


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