Being relatively close, this was going to be my first away game of the season. Travelling away adds something a little special to the game, especially if it’s the first time that you have been to that ground.
Less than maybe an hour or so travelling time from home, Fratton Park was a little disappointing as a ground. The car park was made up of rough loose ash, and was pitted with potholes and puddles. The ground itself was open at one end, the end where the away fans were situated. This allowed a cold icy wind to blow in straight off the English Channel.
At the same end, Photographers were situated in a “pit”, the first time I had used one. The “pit” was a pit, concrete, full of puddles, weeds growing from cracks, and moss clung to its sides. Having said that it was functional, and gave the photographer a low level, unique view of the pitch. It also meant that you had to stand, but I didn’t mind that.
The game when it started, seemed to me to be rather disappointing, at least Reading’s performance was disappointing. The team didn’t perform particularly well, seemingly not “up for it”. The final result was a 3-1 win to Portsmouth, but for me the game will definitely be remember more for what happened at half time, than the games itself.
In an early post, I touched on what it must be like for the players to play and score in front of their adoring fans. http://pitchsiderfc.blogspot.co.uk/2012/04/promotion-to-premiership-or-not-just.html . I also suggested that in addition to the adulation, joy and excitement players must experience, there is also a dark side to playing football in front the fans. Of course, when I say dark side, I mean the way in which players are treated and taunted by the opposition’s fans.
Having been to many games as a fan, clearly I have experienced and seen first hand the animosity and hatred felt towards the opposing team. In the stands, where the chances of being heard on the pitch by an individual player is zero, the comments and chants seem to me to be somehow less aggressive and offensive, even taking on a more humorous note. The closer you get to the pitch, however, the comments and gestures become increasingly aggressive and filthy. Maybe it has something to do with knowing that a player taking a throw in or corner can actually hear the comments. Maybe it is something that certain fans have just become accustomed to doing because they do it on a regular basis, which makes it some how OK to abuse opposition players. If you have never sat directly pitch side, you may not have experienced such individuals, although you only have to look at any game on TV, any fans standing near the corner flag, where an opposition player backs towards them to take the corner. Even if you can’t hear the words, you only have to look at the gestures, the look on their faces, and have a rudimentary understanding of lip reading, to figure out that the player is being cruelly abused.
As a photographer at a game, you sit directly in between the players and fans, so can hear and even feel the hatred and abuse dished out to players. I am guessing that the perpetrators of such abuse, do so to show off, or to put the player off, or just because they can, behind a barrier and without fear of reprisal. Whatever the reason, I have heard it all. Probably the saddest thing that I witnessed at a game was when Reading played Swansea City. I was sitting in front of the Swansea fans, near the corner flag, Reading were awarded a corner. I can’t remember now who came across to take it, but as they collected the ball and prepared to take the corner, a voice from behind me started a four letter tirade of abuse. “You F—king C—t, you f—king C—t”, and so it went on. Not very articulate, I think you’ll agree, but when I turned round to look at who was speaking it ,was a young lad, not more than eight or nine years old, his proud dad standing behind him, and seemingly approving of his behaviour. Maybe it was his tender years, or just his rudimentary grasp of the English language, well he was presumably from Wales, that caused this outburst. Whatever the reason, there was just no need for it. I suppose if you have never been on the end of this type of abuse, and especially if it comes on mass from a crowd of people, then it maybe difficult to imagine how you would react. I guess footballers are largely used to it, and will only occasionally let it get to them, but it can’t be nice under any circumstances. I certainly had never experienced anything directed at me like this, so was unprepared for what happened at half time at Fratton Park.
At half time, it was nice to get out of the “pit” and stretch my legs a bit. So as the players trooped off the pitch and substitutes came on, I found myself wandering up and down behind the goal, camera in hand. Adam Federici was keeping goal, as the other substitutes hit shots at him. Now you have to remember that as a Reading FC photographer working for the club, I was there to capture images from the day, the game, anything that would help the Reading Club press and internet guys “tell” a story. So when one of the Reading substitutes fired a shot directly into the crowd and hit an elderly Reading fan in the face, and Adam Federici went into the crowd to see that he was alright, I thought that this would be a great chance to capture some images that would show this unusual and news worthy event for the club. What I hadn’t bargained for was the reaction I got from the Reading fans.
Not realising that I worked for the club and only having good intentions by taking pictures, the section of fans closest to the incident turned on me. All of a sudden, I was the subject of a torrent of abuse, both verbally and through the gestures and the look on their faces. Presumably mistaking me for some sort of “PAP”, and coming very soon after the Petr Cech incident and all it’s associated press furore, I had become the focus of the crowd’s attention, as they expressed their views and tried to protect not only one of their own, the fan but also a player in Adam Federici. What you learn very quickly in these situations is one, it’s not a very nice feeling to be the subject of such abuse, and two, you cannot easily explain yourself to the assemble mass, even if you could make yourself heard.
Deciding very quickly that to continue would not be in my best interests, I back away, and slunk back to my “pit”, muttering my defence to anyone around me that could hear it.
People often say that football players get paid too much, and that this type of abuse just “comes with the job”, but I would have to disagree. To my mind nothing justifies the type and level of abuse players get, and the people that carry it out should not be allowed any where near a football ground.
|Ironic that I should be publishing this picture now|
|Pre-match photo shoot|
|Harry Redknapp on the phone to his tax consultants|
|Leroy Lita takes a sip|
|Reading concede an own goal|
|Much to Marus Hahnemann's disgust|
|Knau controls the ball, watched by Sonko|
|Andre Bikey warms up|
|Andy Cole warming up|
|Steve Sidwell toe to toe with Davis|
|Joe Jordan and Tony Adams|
|David James beats Steve Sidwell to the ball|
|Pedro Mendes scores on 66 minutes|