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Can We Show Support Without Being Tw*ts?

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http://www.football3.../John-Nicholson

One of the greatest wordsmiths of sporting TV passed away this weekend. Sid Waddell was a master of the obtuse analogy, the bizarre metaphor and extended grandiose expositions. Darts is two or three things happening over and over again but in Sid's hands it was Shakespeare, TS Eliot and Carlos Castaneda all rolled into one. His passion and commitment to his art was an extension of the man himself. He brought joy and wonder and sometimes outright amazement at the words he was using on live TV all while someone threw a dart at a double 12. Sid made life more enjoyable and that is perhaps any man's greatest legacy.

We all have the choice to make the world a better, happier place or not on a daily, even hourly basis. I was pondering this while watching the Olympics and then the Community Shield game on Sunday. We've had two weeks of noisy, joyous Olympics crowds that had simply celebrated the achievements of the competitors. They cheered, applauded, smiled and waved; it was good-natured behaviour across all classes of people and all sport. It was all pure celebration and in that celebration there was inspiration to imitate and emulate the finest sportsmen and women. It was a virtuous circle of good karma.

At the football, even for the meaningless Community Shield, this wasn't so much the case. The contrast really caught me totally by surprise.

It first hit me when City fans booed a marginal pro-Chelsea decision. A crowd booing loudly wasn't something I'd heard recently. It must have happened at the Olympics I guess, but now I didn't like it. It felt like bad vibes. Then when Branislav Ivanovic was sent off, some City fans were gesturing aggressively at him, giving him the w*nker hand, faces twisted in jeering and mockery at his misfortune. All standard football stuff but again, the contrast to what had become a daily Olympic reality was harsh. This was all so negative and unpleasant. No joy, no fun, no inspiration or uplift. A downer.

Then there was needless, witless aggression on the pitch personified by a hissy fit between Ryan Bertrand and the City keeper after Chelsea's second goal; all that grabbing at the ball and pushing was childish hubris. This was the bad stuff, not the good stuff.

I know this was hardly a cauldron of hate; this was no welcome-to-hell situation. It was just a regular, relatively low-key game and the crowd were, by footbal''s standards, totally unexceptional in their behaviour and the thing is, I normally don't mind. I normally actually quite enjoy it. But not this time. Even this small-scale demonstration felt vulgar, pathetic, unnecessary and diminishing.

It suddenly felt like the football would be much more fun without all this nastiness. That feels odd to say because I've managed to watch football for almost all my years without feeling quite like that. It was the contrast to what we had experienced over the past two weeks that made it so clear. Surely we're all better off laughing and celebrating than we are being abusive?

But can we have football, a competitive, even tribal, team sport, supported differently? Is confrontation and intimidation all part of the sport? Could we just support our team without being utter tw*ts towards the opposition? Is there a symbiotic relationship between the players and fans that gets into a self-feeding circle of cynicism and negativity?

It'd be tempting just to say yes to all of those elements but I know many fans don't indulge in that behaviour. They might take the pish a bit but they would no more think of leering at a player and calling him a f*cking w*nker, face contorted in fury, than they would turn up naked. Football is made aggressive and unpleasant by a small minority of people but it is that spirit which seems to dominate and define.

I would not try and pretend that this has not often been a part of my own football-watching over the years - but is it right? Can't we do better? Can't we learn to appreciate more and excoriate less? What have we to lose?

This plugs into what Nick Miller was saying a couple of weeks ago about some fans' first instincts being to celebrate an opposition failure rather than their own success. That is victory for the dark side, for the worst human instincts.

This isn't an argument neither for less competitive sport nor for lack of commitment or passion but more for a re-emphasising of proper sporting spirit which respects the opposition and their efforts and doesn't seek to humiliate or denigrate at every turn.

I'm aware that such responses after major events such as the Olympics are easy to make; they become almost fashionable. Football is for life, not just for a couple of weeks in a one-off summer, I know. But when something remarkable such as London 2012 occurs, should we not let ourselves be altered by it for the better?

Team games were noisily supported at Olympics but were not worse for lack of bitterness and insulting chants from The Choir Moronic.

This isn't about holding one sport to the standard of another nor about being all happy-clappy about how we watch sports. It's not about prescribing how we should feel nor how we react. It's just about not being a b*stard, it's about being the best you can be and not the worst. It's about respect and humanity; about appreciation and understanding and about realising that football is there to be enjoyed, not to get twisted and angry about.

We don't need to send volleys of abuse at opposition supporters or players let alone anything more physical. For that minority this seems to be the thing they want to do most, however we could make it unacceptable if we could keep hold of that positive spirit that has been so dominant at the Olympics.

The bottom line is that life is more joy-filled, happier and fulfilling when we give ourselves to positive emotions, to empathy in order to have a good time. At London 2012, purveyors of factionalism were simply out of touch and inappropriate. Here we were; all together now.

It wasn't utopia but the spirit of decency, good will and generosity was undeniable and it is an example that we should not let go of lightly because by comparison to the Olympic crowds, some of the football fans looked, as Sid would have put it, 'about as happy as a penguin in a microwave.'.

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