Bellerin’s comments highlight the disconnect between clubs, players and fans

Alexander LaCroix Roar Rookie

By Alexander LaCroix, Alexander LaCroix is a Roar Rookie New author!

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    To many, football is everything. Our creed. Our passion. Our way of living. We define ourselves by the club we support, and we’ll be there during the good, the bad, and the downright infuriating.

    Fans are the reason that stadiums the world over are sold out. Fans are the reason that the Premier League receives billions per year in worldwide television revenue. Fans are the reason that players like Neymar Jr can turn Tuesday night street football in suburban São Paulo into moving to Europe and playing for the world’s most prestigious clubs in the UEFA Champions League – and get paid well for it.

    However, fans are seldom given the respect they deserve. Sure, football clubs have family days and they upload fan appreciation posts on social media at the end of a season, but these gestures often seem like an unwilling obligation to connect with paying customers (and receive repeat business) as opposed to a genuine appreciation for club supporters.

    The growing disconnect between clubs, players and fans is a concerning trend, and one which was highlighted last week at an Oxford Union address by Arsenal defender Héctor Bellerín. To his credit, Bellerín discussed several important issues in football, most notably mental health and racism.

    However, when he was asked about ArsenalFanTV – an independent, fan-operated social media team known for controversial opinions on Arsenal Football Club – he caused quite a stir with some of his comments.

    In his speech, Bellerín questioned the legitimacy of supporters who criticise players when they play below acceptable standards, and he suggested that ArsenalFanTV happily profited from team failures. Whether or not you agree with the opinions broadcast on ArsenalFanTV, his comments showed a lack of respect to people who spend money and time following the club.

    The purpose of this article is not to discuss ArsenalFanTV – it is to discuss the mentality of clubs and players, and their often unspoken derision towards supporters. The derision does not lie within the overly cheery social media posts created by public relations teams on behalf of players and clubs – it lies in press conferences. It lies in annual general meetings with supporters’ trusts, and in rare cases such as Bellerín’s, when a player shows obvious disdain towards a group of supporters without a public relations team behind them pulling the strings.

    Deep down, football clubs are commercial entities operating in self-interest. They vary on the basis of wealth, assets and fan-base, but they all have one thing in common: they want to operate internally as much as possible. Which is a nice way of saying that they’d rather supporters gave them thousands of dollars per year and in return let them do whatever they wanted with as minimal external disruption as possible.

    Club stadiums, training grounds and head offices are as closed off from the public as possible, and only a select few have access to the inner sanctum of a club. The problem with wanting fans to be ignorant to club performances is simple: fans are emotionally invested.

    Which means that rational opinions (especially after a 5-1 defeat to Bayern Munich in the UEFA Champions League) aren’t going to always be possible. Supporters will be there during the good, the bad, and the downright infuriating, and opinions generally reflect the performance of the team.

    Arsenal's manager Arsene Wenger

    (AP Photo/Jon Super)

    The issue that clubs and players are facing is that the rise of social media has given fans a platform to have their say, and their influence is growing. Information is disseminated instantaneously and the opinions of regular fans are being viewed by millions of people.

    Social media channels such as ArsenalFanTV are beginning to wield substantial influence in the wider footballing world. There has been discussion that ArsenalFanTV had an impact on Arsenal’s newfound spending practices in the transfer market.

    But more than that, regular fans are now having the ability to hold their club accountable to prescribed performance benchmarks – which has long been the domain of shareholders and to a smaller degree, the football media.

    Bellerín’s remarks highlight the disconnect between clubs, players and fans, and the dichotomous nature of opinion, criticism and feedback. But more than that, his remarks highlight that negative opinions from fans are brushed aside as irrelevant and that all that matters is the safe and secure inner sanctum of a football club, which in an ideal world would be able to quash dissent and operate without any external negativity whatsoever.

    However, we can see that the rise of social media has given a voice to the voiceless, and even though players like Héctor Bellerín will likely continue to snub their nose at the peasant commoners beneath them, maybe other players and clubs will begin to understand that fans are passionate and emotional about the club they love – and that they don’t travel to Belarus in the middle of winter if they’re only there to criticise.

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    The Crowd Says (17)

    • February 22nd 2018 @ 6:29am
      chris said | February 22nd 2018 @ 6:29am | ! Report

      Alex its not so much a disconnect between player and fans, its more a disconnect between players and the clubs they play for. Talk to someone like Maldini who spent his entire career at Milan and he is very well connected with the fans.
      Players are commodities bought and sold like equities on the stock market. They don’t have the connection to a club like they did say 20-30 years go.

    • February 22nd 2018 @ 8:01am
      Buddy said | February 22nd 2018 @ 8:01am | ! Report

      The relationship between clubs and fans is quite fascinating on many fronts, most notably for how badly it is handled by some, how well by others and the struggle for balance in an industry that has seen evolution and revolution on a grand scale over the past 50 years.
      On one level there is a company with owners and shareholders that is required to make a profit just the same as in any other industry. What is it selling? Entertainment. It charges what the club considers to be a fair price for a ticket that offers 90 minutes of entertainment. The club is taking discretionary spending from a customer that could have been spent on the cinema, another sport, pay tv or maybe just alcohol or cigarettes. Does the club care who spends the money? Bottom line is that it requires a minimum number of seats filled to cover the costs of running the stadium and paying staff etc.

      On another level, the club is seeking repeat business, fan loyalty, long term investments (season tickets) and is also looking for visible support – something that is known to help the players extend themselves, play better football and win matches. Striking the balance is the challenge.

      From a fan’s perspective, the relationship is just as complex. There are fans that attend regularly who understand that it is just a form of entertainment and if it doesn’t entertain, then they stop attending. There is no requirement for any relationship with the club. Then there are the fans that want to be part of what the club is about -,”the nailed on fans” they believe they pay money not necessarily to be entertained by a product but to be allowed to attend and have a relationship with the club and specifically, the players that represent the club. They sing, chant, wave banners and try and make the types of sounds and atmosphere that really helps the players reach great heights, enhanced performance. In return, they want acknowledgment, waving, hand shakes, ritualistic ceremonies post game and similar.
      With the advent of social media, there is also a desire for engagement at a very different level too and that one is just as complex.
      From a player’s perspective, it is likely to be quite a different approach. After all, a professional footballer is someone who has the talent, who has practised the 10000 hours and been fortunate enough to be able to play a game as a job, but it is a job. The player plays football to earn money to do exactly the same things as a banker, a truck driver, a labourer or waitress. As a bonus in their work, the player might receive adulation and admiration that takes a number of forms and different players deal with the attention in different ways. As fans we are often surprised when we learn that players don’t know much about the game as a whole, what the scores were in other games and who says what about who. The fact is they play football for a living and nothing more.

      This subject matter is quite fascinating on many fronts and reminds me to pull out and re-read Desmond Morris “The Soccer Tribe” . The subject would make for a fascinating conference ocer a few days if you could get the right cross section and mix of attendees…… could be more interesting and entertaining than going along to watch a game!

      • February 22nd 2018 @ 8:21am
        chris said | February 22nd 2018 @ 8:21am | ! Report

        Oh wow…hearing the name of that book brought back memories! I read it years ago and yes really fascinating read.

      • February 22nd 2018 @ 12:08pm
        R King said | February 22nd 2018 @ 12:08pm | ! Report

        Buddy, what a great summary. I’d like to post this on a FB page, with your permission.

        • February 22nd 2018 @ 5:35pm
          Buddy said | February 22nd 2018 @ 5:35pm | ! Report

          Yes no problem. It is a juicy subject to debate and as you age, your opinion will most likely alter too. If it generates some discussion with degenerating into name calling nd strings of expletives….I’m all for it on social media!

    • February 22nd 2018 @ 8:15am
      RBBAnonymous said | February 22nd 2018 @ 8:15am | ! Report

      I see no issue with it. Players, clubs and fans are all part of the football dichotomy, they are all open to praise and criticism. Why should fans be immune to criticism whether it’s deserved or not, same as the players. I think that is the point Bellerin was making.

    • February 22nd 2018 @ 9:06am
      Square Nostrils said | February 22nd 2018 @ 9:06am | ! Report

      One thing missing in this article and its the element of fan support that goes much deeper than a football club.
      Its the pride in who you are ,where you come from, that manifests itself by supporting your local football(whatever sport) team.
      Its the reason clubs in the lower leagues shielded from the “disconnect between clubs, players and fans” of the Arsenals of the football world( who are driven as much by business as sporting passion) still turn up to see Grimsby Town or Crewe.
      On the flip side its also the reason that the Monocultural clubs who dominated the NSL in Australia could never sustain “The connect” once the immigrants who created these clubs, no longer graced the terraces. Their offspring born here just didn’t have “The connect”.
      Its also the secret in sustaining the A-League. Much talk nowadays is about Metrics, well every other metric mentioned depends entirely on the depth of “The connect” metric.

    • February 22nd 2018 @ 9:19am
      Kangajets said | February 22nd 2018 @ 9:19am | ! Report

      Fans on the gunners tv channel are incredibly abusive , they need to look at themselves.

      I think Wenger should be under pressure more then Bellerin, but , nevertheless, the gunners are in another cup final on Sunday.

      I don’t think any top flight club in Europe has community engagement , because they are so big.

      Connect with your local suburban or conference team is more realistic.

    • February 22nd 2018 @ 9:37am
      SquareBall said | February 22nd 2018 @ 9:37am | ! Report

      I thought Hector Bellerin made a reasonable point that he, as a player, is unaffected by fans who feel compelled to go public with their criticism and legitimize their action by purporting to represent the silent majority. Let’s be honest; there is no greater example of self-righteousness and myopia than that represented by a diehard football fan.
      As for the romantic, naïve and gullible notion that major ‘clubs’ still have an unbreakable bond with their supporters; clubs like Arsenal are now a multi-million dollar, globally branded, corporate entity and, as such, have more in common with Apple and Heineken than they do with your local football team. Why else would they tour the world in the off-season and charge you $100+ for a shirt promoting their major sponsor?

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