Yesterday, Wolves played their first local derby of the new season and the real ‘battle` began, as opposed to the phony ‘war` that some bloggers had been waging on the websites since August and beyond. But … should I be writing about such ‘confrontations` as if they were military engagements, even if, unfortunately, to some, they are?
I was appalled at the bricking of the Nottingham County coaches a week ago, a possible reaction to Lee Hughes`s goading of Wolves fans in the match, itself a result of the treatment he expected to receive from the anti-WBA home crowd and his premeditated response to it. Hughes is an uncouth, callous brute (and, incidentally, a fine striker) but that does not condone the actions of a handful of mindless thugs.
I`m as firm a Wolves supporter as anyone. Hey! I have followed their fortunes down through four divisions and back up again (and occasionally back down a little and back up once or twice). For me, the added frisson of a derby enhances the occasion, but I cannot understand the aggravation that surrounds such events. Good-natured banter between rival fans, whether in the work-place or pub, at the ground or on the ‘blogosphere`, is fine but when partisanship escalates to the level of vitriolic, foul-mouthed abuse and physical violence, it becomes nonsensical.
Surveying the websites, especially after the weekend`s dramas, many of the comments on the various sites were surprisingly restrained, even sympathetic on occasion. However, several non-Wolves posters went too far, perhaps to provoke an intemperate response, and to a certain extent they succeeded. Accusations and counter-accusations flew about and the level of debate spiralled downwards, in spite of the attempts of the more mature contributors to rein in the wilder spirits. Words are bad enough but, even worse, they might incite aggressive behaviour at matches and five derbies, including the two big ones, are still to come.
Why should we want Aston Villa, Birmingham and WBA to do badly, unless, of course, they are vying with us to avoid the drop? They might even help us by defeating an outside team. Local derbies ensure full houses, a great atmosphere and a keenly-fought match, whatever the teams` respective positions in the league. Getting there is easy too. I hated it when we lost the twelve point cushion to WBA in the 2001-2 season but only because we missed promotion not because WBA took our place. I felt exactly the same way when Watford pipped us in the 2005-6 season.
Perhaps, I am not passionate enough. Perhaps I do not get wound up about the fortunes of the other local teams because I used to live in Albrighton, eight miles to the west of Wolverhampton, and not in the Black Country itself. With only Telford United and Shrewsbury Town as rival attractions, virtually every soccer fan in the village supported the Wolves. We did not have to defend our team on a daily basis, though some blokes probably had to do so at work. Perhaps, it`s because I have lived away from the Wolverhampton area for so long and have avoided getting embroiled in the shouting matches that accompany derby games. The Fulham game, however, reminded me of what it means to be a proper, active supporter: the adrenaline rush; the noise and the atmosphere; and the energising effect of belonging to a large body of people bound by a common cause. I`m learning.
Is such outrageous behaviour a modern phenomenon, a reflection of the enormous pressure on teams to succeed or, at least, to avoid failure? As a young teenager on the South Bank in the late 1950s I cannot remember any real hostility: a charged atmosphere, yes, but not actual danger. Perhaps I was too young then and am now viewing the past through rose-tinted spectacles.
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