Before any supporters of other teams pipe up with “Because they are thick as shit” there may indeed be an element of this however, I believe it has more to do with a deep rooted collective associative psychological phenomena which I will attempt to articulate.
First of all, I am assuming that the booing during the game against Swansea last night was due to the team playing slow passes around, typically at the back without appearing to have any attention of going forward quickly. If this is incorrect then you may as well stop reading this straight away.
As we all well know, Stoke were in the wilderness for a very, very long time which hurt. A lot. When Tony Pulis managed to get us promoted and cemented our place in the Premier League for season after season playing a brand of ‘get the ball forward quick’ ‘in your face’ ‘blood and thunder’ and a range of other stereotypical clichés, football. We had an identity. Not only that, but it was an identity that the Stoke faithful could relate to.
The people of Stoke are renowned for their warmth and their self-deprecating humour. In footballing terms, nothing illustrates this more than the Autoglass trophy “We’ve won it two times” chant.
Further to this, years of social decline and neglect from numerous governments has ensured that at that time, and probably still true today, the population feels neglected, downtrodden and forgotten.
If there was something that could unite the support, the Pulis Brand of football was a perfect solution. Here was a team and ethic which screamed “Fuck you. We don’t care what you think, we are who we are, we are proud of our achievements and you will remember us”. It was the perfect antidote for a city crying out for success and not just on the pitch. We felt immense pride in our team and it felt great to finally look down on the Big Boys and make them feel small. Yes Arsene, I am looking at you…
As with anything, all good things come to an end and with Tony it was a long drawn out painful affair that should have come to a close sooner.
When Hughes came in, he took the spine of Tony’s team, reinvigorated it and brought in his own brand of aesthetically pleasing football, the big names and the flair. Hughes achieved great things in his time at Stoke as Robbie Savage will testament to yet despite 3 ninth place finishes in the league, the, at times stunning football served up by the likes of N’Zonzi, Arnie, Shaq, Bojan et al., one would argue that the majority of Stoke fans do not see Hughes’ reign as the glory years.
The majority of fans hark back to the Pulis days not because the football was aesthetically better, but at that particular moment in time, it was exactly what the supporters needed. The pride, the noise and, as reluctant as I am to type this, the passion.
“So what the bloody hell has this got to do with supporters booing their own players last night?!” I hear you scream. Well, it has everything to do with our past. As a fan base, we share a collective experience and as such, the majority of fans associate a certain brand of football with happiness, relative success, pride, nostalgia.
These are hugely positive emotions that negate the months/years towards the end of Tony’s reign that were undoubtedly putrid.
Think of it as a song or piece of music that stirs your emotions or brings back memories of a loved one who is no longer with you. You cherish that song. You have connected to it on a number of different levels and you’ll be damned if anyone is going to erase that memory.
This is perfectly acceptable. Nobody wants you to forget that memory. However, time has moved on. Things have changed. It’s all very well looking back, just don’t stare.
At the moment, we have a lot of fans who are staring. The decline in the club has been the result of several separations and at present, a lot of the support has no interest in looking elsewhere. That’s not to say they want their first love back. Sometimes you can get fixated on an emotion and yearn for that as opposed to influence that created the emotion in the first place. For example, one can yearn to be in love but that doesn’t necessarily mean you can only ever love the person who first instilled that emotion.
There are also compounding features. Contrast the demise of Leslie with that of Tony.
The best part of the Hughes era was that glorious period where we had gained a new identity which everyone brought into and enjoyed what was a thrilling, but all too short, ride. What a relationship this was developing into. Stunning looking partner, dizzy new heights and red hot sex.
However, looks fade and if you can’t support such a high maintenance relationship, partners leave for money – it’s a massive kick in the bollocks and hurts a lot. Slowly Hughes lost the team and with it the fan base, all the while our best players sort refuge elsewhere yet we had resorted dropping the system that worked so bloody well to a slow, pass it around the back approach. What makes things worse is that this brand was synonymous with our arch rivals, Arsenal. We had turned into Arsenal-lite. We had turned into something that was the antithesis of what we had been so proud of before yet we couldn’t get anywhere near the standard required to make that work.
When that eventually died, what did Hughes do? He effectively resorted to putting on more make-up and dressing himself as Tony, bar the club shop attire, playing hoofball but without any of the verve, tenacity or success of his predecessor. He was lost and he lost us.
For those who don’t know me, I have a history of mental health issues that have now thankfully stabilised. My father on the other hand, has never really fought his demons. He gave up. There was a period during “The Dark Days” where I would frequently head out of the door from my Dad’s house about 6pm to head to the pub. On my way downstairs, I would often find my father sitting in his chair, drink in hand openly sobbing listening to Dusty Springfield’s “You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me”. This is not to say Stoke fans are a collective of deep depressives, far from it. But like my Dad, some fans are pining for those memories which could instil that feeling of being connected to that emotion once again.
I don’t see Stoke fans booing the slow, methodical approach as being that much different to the music/breakup analogy. People deal with emotional breakups differently and this is no different. Some will be back dating within weeks and will be making new associations with future songs and relationships whereas others just don’t want to, or aren’t ready to, let go. For some, the emotional association to the past will never be the same which will inevitably result in what we heard last night. It took 20 years to build that association and it is going to take a very long time to break it down.
I would also like to point out that I don’t think this is the sole reason there is booing. The latest manager promised a new pressing style that has yet to be fully seen and his choice of starting line ups, substitutions and in game management has been questionable to say the least.
A lot of us are also so frustrated with what has happened off the field that any slight frustration on the pitch sees an emotional response from some that is purely the result of months and years of pent up frustration. We’re all still grieving from what has happened and whilst some can forgive and forget, others find it hard to move on, particularly when the dating agency hasn’t changed and are seemingly reluctant to change their selection policies…
We’re currently in a situation where we’re in a new relationship and we’re really not sure what song is playing or whether we actually like the person at all. The jury is still out. But it’s not the end of the track yet so we really should hear it out first and see if our new partner can capture our hearts.