When Is It OK To Boo?

I had an interesting interaction via Twitter with Georgina Turner who writes about the Premier League for Sports Illustrated on the topic of the booing of ones own team. The cause of the conversation was the ugly conclusion to Arsenal vs. New York Red Bull in the final match of the pre-season Emirates Cup. For those who didn't watch (or read about it), Arsenal supporters channeled their inner Philadelphian and let out a chorus of boos as, for the second straight day, catastrophic defending late in the going saw Arsenal snatch a draw from the jaws of victory against a team with significantly less talent.

Here is the "transcript" of the Twitter conversation on the topic of booing between Ms. Turner and me:

@GeorginaTurner: Why do (an increasing number of) fans boo every single (mildly) disappointing result these days? 
@NealJThurman: should we not scold our own kids either when they don't try hard in school? demanding a strong effort isn't a bad thing

GT: Strange analogy. It's your job to parent your children. The job of football supporter, however...

NT: Not strange for me, I always WANT ARS to do well but I'm more than happy to let them know when they are or aren't doing so

GT: How does booing help? You think they imagine you're pleased with result otherwise? Or Wenger suddenly going to change b/c of it?

NT: does the same apply to cheering then? Will either change anything? Probably not but our only way to voice our opinion.

GT: A noisy and positive home crowd during a game is arguably more effective than post-match booing. Just my opinion.

As you can see, Ms. Turner and I have differing views of the role of the supporter. She states that her view of the job of the supporter is to be supportive in the form of positive feedback (applause) only. While I generally agree that the job of a supporter by definition is to be supportive, where I think we diverge is what we believe to be supportive behavior.

A Few Scenarios

  1. Is it supportive to hold a stiff upper lip when the service or food isn't up to snuff at an expensive restaurant? If you don't care about the restaurant or them getting better, then you can certainly take the passive-aggressive approach and just decide "I'm just never coming back." If you expect them to get better, you tell them that you aren't satisfied at what they're offering for the price and if they want you to try again they'll take that in to consideration. 
  2. Is it supportive to turn a blind eye when a good friend's significant other is doing something destructive like lying or cheating? Of course not. If you care about the person, you'll risk a temporary rift in the relationship in order to help them see the light and have a better life in the long run by either leaving that significant other or working with them on the destructive behavior. If you don't care about the "friend" too much you'll do the easy thing and just ignore the elephant in the room and act like all is well. #3 - Back to my analogy that Ms. Turner found strange, is it supportive to shower kids with praise related to school work or anything else they're engaged in when you know that the effort they put in was sub-standard? Of course not, at that point you're teaching them that it's OK to phone it in and people will praise you anyway because you showed up and there are people who love you.
  3. I'm sure some people's first reaction to the scenarios above - especially #2 and #3 - is that they're extremely serious life situations. My sense of the original point of the conversation - the proper behavior for serious fans - leads me to believe that the analogies are apt. People take their relationships with their sports teams very seriously. I know I see my relationship with the teams I support very much in the same way. I want them to be great. I want them to achieve the best of their abilities and resources. If I see something standing in the way of that - inept management, poor effort, lousy organization, repeated mistakes - then I feel entirely justified in letting them know about it.

In the case of the Emirates Cup matches, the continued inattention to the same flaws that have been undermining the club's success for a number of years now, I'm going to say something. Not because I'm mean or insensitive but because I care, I want to see results, and I want them to know that what they're doing isn't good enough.

Ultimately, fans only have so many ways that they can let a club they support know that they're not happy. In order of severity of the message being sent they are:

Booing - This is a relatively low cost way to let "the people who make decisions" know that you aren't happy with something or someone. Call it a warning shot over the bow to management or a player that they're not living up to what you think you signed up for in becoming a fan.

Spreading Your Discontent - Social media, comments sections, and blogs have made it easy for fans to gather support to their discontent. In college football here in the US, it seems about 2/3rds of the coaches in the country have a www.fireINSERTNAMEOFCOACH.com site "dedicated" to them.

Spending Less - The only real way to get management's attention is to stop spending on your team. One supporter buying less merchandise or going to fewer games in person won't make an impact but if the dissatisfaction is sufficiently widespread then they'll get the picture.

Don't Even Watch - TV ratings are probably more important to most sports franchises than actual direct revenues from tickets and merchandise. If ratings start to fall, people will DEFINITELY take notice.

Stop Caring Altogether - In some cases teams have been so grossly mismanaged that supporters cease to care about the game at all, in recent years the Pittsburgh Pirates and Kansas City Royals in baseball have been so hopeless that people in those cities have really just stopped caring about baseball and spend most of the spring and summer looking forward to football (the American kind) season in the fall.

So, in the end, Ms. Turner and I agree that it is the job of the supporter to be supportive. Where we differ is the best way to express that support. It is my opinion that there are times to share in the joy of accomplishment, there are times to console each other when someone else just does better, and finally there are times for tough love when the cause of your undoing isn't excellence from the other side but insufficient effort or performance from the "good guys". The combination of these three situations make up the roller coaster ride that is being a dedicated fan. Booing a pre-season match as an expression of constructive criticism (as opposed to hate or being mean-spirited) isn't just acceptable, it is the duty of anyone who calls themselves a true supporter.

Final Thought

I'll leave you with this thought - the Chicago Cubs and Philadelphia Phillies in Major League Baseball are probably the best illustration of the results of Ms. Turner's form of support (approval and financial support regardless of performance) and my form (we'll call it tough love). Over the last 8 years (since the Phillies built their new stadium) the clubs have had similar financial resources to spend on their teams with the Cubs likely having more in total over the period.

Cubs fans show up and have a great party in the bleachers no matter what happens, they buy tickets, they buy beer (lots of beer), and they ball all manner of things with a Cubbies logo on it. For their loyalty and "support" they are treated to mediocre-at-best baseball and their team hasn't won a championship in nearly 100 years despite more than enough resources to do so.

The Phillies? We all know the reputation of Philadelphia fans for booing. The thing is, the town's trademark booing has created an environment where players know they have to perform and management knows they have to put a winning product on the field. Post-2004, with the resources in place to compete financially with the Yankees and Red Sox, the Phillies have built a consistent winner. One of the reasons? They knew people wouldn't show up if they didn't. One of the ways they knew that? The fans are more than happy to tell them (and remind them) when they're not feeling good about the effort being shown by the object of their affection.


So now you know what I think and what Georgia Turner thinks about this topic. What do you think? More importantly, why do you think what you think?


  1. Anonymous11:45 PM

    As a Chicago Cubs season ticket holder I always reserve my right to boo, the bigger the game/disappointment the louder the boo. The Cubbie crowd has lost any resemblance to Ms. Turner's version of supportive fans since the playoff debacles of '03, '07 & '08.

    Of those 5 ways to let the club know you're unhappy I believe the most effective are spending less & not watching. Booing may feel good in the moment, organizing in discontent even better, but most fans can't completely cut ties with their club. In the case of the Cubs I hope my reduced spending & lower tv ratings help convince ownership of the need for massive change. However, I have very little way of impacting my beloved Newcastle's apparent flirtation with a season spent in the drop zone.

    Love the discussion, keep up the good work

  2. Sorry I haven't read the article but it won't change my mind - it is never *EVER* right to boo your team. As Gary Neville said once "Sing when we're winning, sing louder when we are drawing and sing your loudest if we are losing"

    When your team is losing they don't need reminding of it by booing, they need support and encouragement - they don't need you to tell them they're rubbish. The carrot always works better than the stick.

    Now I'll read the article!

  3. Le Pantouflard2:02 AM

    I'm a Timbers supporter. I have season tickets and go to every game. For anyone with a passing interest in MLS they will know that we haven't been doing so well (although dismantling the Galaxy was fun). I go to the games to support my team: I sing the songs, I wave flags, I buy beer and merch. However tempted I am to express my disappointment at another late game collapse I hold it in. I curse players, criticize tactics, and moan about beer prices, but only to my friends standing with me or on social media. I wouldn't boo at a game. It is counterproductive. We already suffer from mental fatigue, and I wouldn't want to add to it.

  4. I think there are different scenarios in which Booing can be good or bad. If your team is having a bad patch but you as a supporter know that they have the strength to pull through, cheering would be the way to go.
    On the oher hand, if generally the weakness of a team is obvious to everybody but the owners or management then booing would help express that displeasure. And even in this case, booing during the match would be uncalled for as the players arent the issue. Case in hand: Roy Hodgson as Liverpool manager. WTH was that?
    Having said that, I am all in for Booing your opponents,lol.

  5. @LaPantouflard - I completely agree with your choice not to boo the Timbers. New team that appears to be trying hard both on the field and in the front office. They're a new team and should be given some leeway and time to put a competitive product on the field. Solid time NOT to boo. As Arsenal celebrate their 125th anniversary, I think the expiration date on them as an expansion team expired sometime before 1900 so they don't get the same exemption from me.

  6. @Birty - Easy for Gary to have said that and I'm completely with him in cases where the team/management are doing their best and things just aren't working out despite that. I don't want to give the impression that I think its OK to boo anytime things aren't going your way. That said, the case of Arsenal's continued refusal to shore up their defense or Liverpool's disastrous first half of last season on and off the pitch - there is every reason for fans who invest thousands of dollars/pounds a year into their support to voice CONSTRUCTIVE displeasure.

  7. I don't think you should ever boo at a game. It doesn't matter if you are booing at the end of a match to send a message to management, the /players/ will also receive that message. That puts pressure on the players, which makes it more likely that they will make mistakes, which will lead to more poor results. If you are a supporter then you want the team to do well and booing the team, in my opinion, cannot help them.

    Booing an individual player during a game is even worse. You think a professional athlete doesn't know when he is performing poorly or making mistakes? Again, booing them is just putting pressure on them, which increases the likelihood of future errors. It doesn't help!

  8. Taking Grantland Rice Too Far Methinks9:10 PM

    And people wonder why Sports Illustrated is a shadow of its former self. With writers like Ms. Turner as "authorities"...yikes.