A strange revelation hit me today. It’s not surprising that Fulham fans don’t all agree about what they see; it’s surprising that they agree on so much.
The slightly pretentious root of this thought is as follows: this morning I was reading Tim Gautreaux, the American story writer. At lunchtime I read an interview with him, then noticed at the end of the piece that there were other interviews with writers, and, seeing the award winning Julian Barnes, clicked to that interview, where I saw the following exchange:
RB: You really don’t mind if people don’t like your books?
JB: I prefer people to like them, of course. For everyone who likes my books there will be someone who doesn’t. Fine, read someone else. Sorry I didn’t convince you. But that’s it, you know.
RB: I take that to mean if some people didn’t like your books, okay. If nobody liked your books, you would be very troubled.
Which is about the size of it. Martin Jol would prefer us to like him and the football his team is producing, but aside from the Fulham glue that means we’re all trying to give him a chace, to a degree we’re not all going to agree. In no other walk of life do we agree. We all have political leanings that seem very obvious to us but which others – incorrectly, of course – think are completely wrong. We like music that others hate. Some people we take a dislike to just from looking at them (David Cameron, for instance).
This has struck me as something of a revelation. Which I suppose shows how stupid I can be, but with 25,000 people watching Fulham there are going to be hundreds of interpretations of what happened out there. There are certain truths, that if you score goals or always look busy out there then fans will warm to you, but leave too much to ambiguity and we have to make our own minds up.
Dickson Etuhu is a good example here. He plays a position that is probably the hardest for fans to appreciate. Much of his role is in shielding his defence, which means he’s doing well if he forces opponents to, say, pass the ball to the left wing instead of going through the middle. (The American corner-back Deion Sanders used to be good this way, so good that opposing teams just didn’t throw to his side after a while. So he had really ordinary stats, but everyone knew that there was a good reason for this). So anyway, Etuhu might indirectly impact a game dozens of times over the course of 90 minutes, but we won’t notice this. We’ll only notice him if he does a big show-off tackle. Then he’s getting ‘stuck in’ and is no longer a ‘pussy cat’.
Equally, when he gets the ball he does the sensible thing and gives it to someone else on his team. He rarely gives the ball away and in this sense is being immensely useful. Barcelona keep the ball for 75% of their games, which is a bit like a test match in which one team gets to bat three times and the other once. Possession is everything, but in England we don’t really go for this and so get cross with players like Etuhu and their safe, sideways passing. It’s a weakness that isn’t really a weakness. How many defensive midfielders are really good passers? He’s not a Sidwell or a Parker but he does a job, as results have shown over the years. But because we don’t really get this we make up our own minds, and if we’re looking for a certain thing in a player and that’s not Etuhu, we get negative. Just as we do if we read a book we don’t like or hear a record that’s not to our tastes. All this urban music people listen to must be doing something right or they wouldn’t all listen to it, but to me it’s bloody awful; same process for how we see footballers. Once we get beyond the universals (scores goals, looks busy, pretty obviously a really good player) it’s all up for grabs.
Does this matter? Not a jot. There is no absolute truth in football outside of the points earned on the field, and even those aren’t always fair. It’s a subjective game based on a million reference points – no wonder we can’t make up our minds about it.
That exchange again, doctored to fit the above:
RB: You really don’t mind if people don’t like you as a player?
JB: I prefer people to like me, of course. For everyone who likes my play there will be someone who doesn’t. Fine, sorry I didn’t convince you. But that’s it, you know.
RB: I take that to mean if some people didn’t like your play, okay. If nobody likes your play, you would be very troubled.
(the actual truth: David Cameron well deserves my scorn; Barnes (in my mind, I can’t remember reading him though I’m sure I must have) is overrated and Dickson Etuhu is pretty good at football)