Are you a good supporter?

Zakaia Cvitanovich Roar Rookie

By , Zakaia Cvitanovich is a Roar Rookie

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    As per usual, my verbosity has got the better of me, this was initially intended to be a mere observation rather than a tome! Sorry.

    I’ve noticed a regular occurrence recently on the various rugby pages I’m a member of, namely, the nasty side of sports fandom rearing its ugly head.

    When did post-match analysis become synonymous with character assassinations? Why is a player called an ‘idiot’ or ‘useless’ because he had an off-day? Would you be okay with being called that if your day didn’t go as planned?

    There’s an unbridled nastiness to some comments on FaceBook, not just in tone, but also in content. It’s a sad indictment of society that some so-called fans are so quick to resort to name-calling, insults, bullying and aggression not only towards the team they claim to support but also towards other members of a supporters group.

    The negativity astounds me and at times, these pages don’t feel like a ‘safe place’ to enter into the post-match analysis.

    According to Shape being a sports fan gives us a reason to scream, provides drama and allows us a sense of community or national pride. Sports results are a great conversation starter, and it can even provide a way to relate to members of the opposite sex. Then there’s the life lessons sport teaches us – how to win graciously, how to be a good loser, the importance of commitment and loyalty etc.

    But being a sports fan can be hard on the body. Two studies conducted by Bernhardt, Dabbs, Fielden and Lutter, found that due to sports fans having “a profound emotional attachment to their favourite teams” the “mean testosterone levels increased in the fans of winning teams and decreased in the fans of losing teams”.

    Kieran Read New Zealand Rugby Union Championship Bledisloe Cup All Blacks 2017

    (Photo by Mark Nolan/Getty Images)

    In addition to testosterone levels, blood pressure can rise. This research was conducted in order to “explain the observed rise in cardiovascular emergencies during sporting events”.

    However, there are also health benefits to being a sports fan: “…epic fandom is also linked to higher levels of well-being and general happiness with one’s social life, as well as lower levels of loneliness and alienation”.

    Interestingly, in his study, sports psychology professor Daniel Wann of Murray State University, found that “You can get these well-being benefits even if your team doesn’t do well”. The simple act of putting on your team’s jersey or wearing a scarf promoting your team gives you a sense of community.

    Miami University’s Allen R. McConnell, asserts, “Humans have a strong need to feel connected, to be part of something greater, to be something more than just an individual on an island”. This is important in this ever-growing world of isolation brought about in part by the advancement in technology. Think of the relationships you’ve forged on this page or others – there’s a connection from the shared love of a team.

    Professor Alan Pringle of the University of Nottingham contends that “being a fan of a sports team can also be a deeply rooted heritage that connects you to others across time, transcending the barriers that divide people generationally”. This is true of us All Black supporters.

    Think of the public outpouring of respect and sense of loss over the death of Sir Colin Meads. Many of us had never seen him play, but his legendary rugby exploits transcended time.

    In addition, in cultures where men have difficulty in expressing their emotions, sport “offers a safe space where expressed emotion is acceptable (even crying or hugging other men!)”. I’ll admit it, I cried when we lost the 1995 Rugby World Cup final to South Africa and when we lost the 2007 Rugby World Cup quarter-final to France. Of course, I’m allowed – I’m a woman. But I wonder how many men cried, or wanted to because of those defeats?

    At the most basic level, sport distracts us. Sports identification provides an “escape from the daily grind of work and life”. Psychology professor Ronald F Levant from the University of Akron believes, “Identifying with your sports teams is one of the ways you can vicariously experience success, and in real life, success is hard”.

    So an appropriate question might be, how many of those nasty comments come from people who haven’t quite achieved what they expected to in life?

    Codie Taylor All Blacks New Zealand Rugby Union 2017

    (AP Photo/Mark Baker)

    According to Paul Taylor, there “should be rules in place to help determine if someone is a true sports fan”, and because there wasn’t, he came up with ten rules himself.

    Now although these are primarily for American sports, there are two that are pertinent to New Zealand rugby: Support the local team – for most of us, done and dusted – and no bandwagon jumping: “You stick with the team through the good times and the bad. I realize that certain franchises have more downs than ups. However, much like family, you’re stuck with them”.

    Now, this is what this blog is essentially about. To me, that’s true supporting in a nutshell – if you support a team, you support them through thick and thin, not just when they’re winning. I fully realize that as All Blacks fans, we have more ‘ups’ than ‘downs’, and I have no doubt that it’s because of that very reason that some so-called All Blacks fans act so appallingly when a game doesn’t go to plan.

    Let’s face it, we’re not used to losing, so it hits us hard. I hate it when the All Blacks lose; I absolutely hate it. But does it make me resort to blanket blaming of the entire team or blaming an individual? Of course not. Because at the end of the day, it’s a 23-man team that has either won, drawn or lost the game and if they lose, it’s not what they set out to do.

    They don’t run out of the tunnel onto the field in order to lose a game. They know the expectations on them and they are well aware of the legacy they are part of. No matter how frustrated/disappointed/angry we feel watching a loss, what they feel, playing the game, can be magnified three-fold.

    So what leads to people being so nasty? I would contend that they’re not ‘true fans’, but in fact ‘so-called fans’ or ‘plastic fans’ whose main purpose of watching is to see a win. If you can be so quick to turn your back on the team you supposedly support how can you actually claim to support them?

    People leaving the stadium because their team is losing or in some cases when they look like they’re going to lose (then in fact win – bet they were sorry they left early!), or writing on a live-stream blog that “it’s all over” or “we’re going to lose this” when it’s still the first half. How is that being a supporter?

    According to Gus Turner, here are some signs of being a bandwagon fan:

    • You’ve never experienced a losing season in your life.
    • When the team is winning you refer to them as “we” but when they’re losing, it’s “them” i.e. “we won” as opposed to “they lost”
    • You don’t really support anyone until the finals.
    • You leave the game early when your team is losing.
    • Your favourite teams just happen to also be the most successful teams.

    Julian Savea of New Zealand All Blacks scores a try

    (AAP Image/ David Rowland)

    Now there’s actually been articles written supporting bandwagon fans, and I will concur, I don’t think there’s anything essentially wrong with being a bandwagon fan (not the way I roll, but we’re all entitled to do things the way we want).

    In fact, it makes sense that the number of fans a team has will grow along with success. However, my issue with bandwagon/so-called/plastic fans is when it leads to nastiness.

    Now I’m all for game analysis. Anyone that’s got to me through the various rugby Facebook page can attest to this. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with discussing the flaws of a particular person’s play or in the play at large. I partake in this kind of discussion every game day and enjoy contributing to post-match analysis days, even weeks afterwards.

    But name-calling isn’t analysis. Doom and gloom proclamations of how bad the team is, isn’t analysis.

    An analysis is a detailed examination of something, ergo post-match analysis is scrutinising or critically studying the game. This can take many forms, but in general, it’s an intelligent dissembling of what happened on the field. It can be accompanied by stills or video clips as evidence for a particular point. It can get heated, it can contain banter, but it shouldn’t include personal attacks on players, team management or other supporters.

    Calling Beauden Barrett “an idiot” because he missed three conversions isn’t fair. Calling him “useless” because he missed those kicks isn’t appropriate. It doesn’t make the writer a good supporter. In fact, I think it makes the writer sound like they don’t know what they’re talking about.

    A few weekends ago, against the Pumas, Beauden Barrett “became the first international player in 2017 to score 100 points”, so he’s really not ‘an utterly foolish or senseless person’ or ‘an idiot’, is he!

    He has joined the All Blacks 400-club “and is fourth on the all-time All Blacks points-scoring list”, so he’s not really ‘without useful qualities or of no practical good’ or ‘useless’ is he! At least if you’re going to insult somebody, grab a dictionary and find a word more appropriate to what you’re trying to say!

    As Bill Shankly, manager of Liverpool, famously said, “If you can’t support us when we lose or draw, don’t support us when we win”.

    Kia Kaha All Blacks.

    You have always been and always will be, my team.
    No matter what happens.
    Tūtira mai All Blacks supporters and let’s support our team through the good, the bad and the ugly.