Booing as legitimate protest

(Warning: Mainly football related post)

There was some fuss at the weekend that Arsenal fans booed one of their own players, Eboue, to the point where he had to be substituted. Most of the pundits have been outraged, and the common complaint is that it is counter-productive, as well as vicious. Not being an Arsenal fan, I don't really know the history, but my guess is there is some background as to why they booed Eboue, and it wasn't just a random attack. Football fans may have a mob mentality but it is a highly contextualised mob mentality.

A few months ago, a similar event occurred during an England game when fans booed Ashley Cole after his error led to a goal. There was again a lot of self-righteous indignation from players and pundits, here is Graeme Le Saux in The Telegraph:

Their behaviour was nothing short of a disgrace. Treating one of your
own like that doesn't benefit anyone. Not only will it affect Ashley,
but that feeling will spread to the rest of the team. The mistake he
made with his lobbed back-pass was a bad one and nobody will have been
more painfully aware of that than Ashley.

What these commentators fail to mention is that this is probably a result of the way footballers have distanced themselves from fans. In his autobiography, Cole famously said that when a new offer of £60,000 per week came in from his agent to stay at Arsenal he pulled over to the side of the road and yelled in the phone:

"60 grand a week, they're taking the p**s
Jonathan."

And what is particularly telling is that he relates this tale, expecting sympathy. In this context they have effectively severed the relationship with fans, and thus the likes of Rio Ferdinand and Graeme Le Saux have no legitimate claim on fans' loyalty. The behaviour of the fans is not as stupid as they like to paint it – they are trying to send you a very clear warning: Lose the community that creates you, and even when things appear great, you will have to pay in the long run.

I personally wouldn't boo, and feel it shouldn't be used lightly, but I'll make this prediction: Booing at matches will become increasingly common, and commentators will continue to dismiss it as the action of a small-minded minority. They should instead interpret it as a siren warning – football fans are trapped, you can't change allegiance, but you can fall out of love, and it is this love that pays those wages ultimately.

What has this got to do with education? Well, maybe not much, I can verify that Professors do not earn football player type salaries, nor do they have the adulation of thousands. While we may not see booing in lectures, we should be conscious of the equivalent signals in higher education. We do not have the same relationship with students as football teams do with fans, but higher education is generally tolerated, indulged and often viewed affectionately and respectfully by society (not by all sectors I agree). The dangers of failing to be relevant, of sticking to traditional methods, of refusing to listen and being aloof are the same as those that face footballers – we will undermine the foundation of our existence. Listen for those sirens…

3 Comments

  1. There is an educational parallel here, relating to money. Students at the OU pay a lot of money for their courses (on the whole) and so they metaphorically ‘boo’ when it doesn’t meet expectations.
    Sometimes this is deserved, we suspect: some courses are better (and newer, and so on) than others. But if you don’t like the fact that the literature course is less like a reading club and more like a rigorous academic discipline – start booing!
    Like the footballers – maybe we need to listen more to this siren (listen more than my flippant response above implies…)

  2. The solution to the football problem is a clearly a Twitter backchannel. :-)
    And taking your education parallel, we should pay attention to the existing backchannels we do have – in an intelligent way. Students have moaned since Plato, and they’re not always the best placed to have insight in to what would make things better. But it is worth attending to when they say they’re not happy.

  3. and following on from Doug’s comment it would be really nice if they left the back channels open until after the final whistle has blown when the students know the results!!

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