QPR’s 1-0 defeat of West London rivals Chelsea last Sunday remains in the news due to allegations the latter’s John Terry aimed racial abuse at the R’s Anton Ferdinand, a charge the former England captain vehemently denies. The resulting controversy threatens to overshadow “the most significant aspect of QPR’s win”, opines the Telegraph’s Thom Gibbs. No, not the terribly refereeing, but rather, a home victory that “owed more to intimidation from the crowd than any I can remember in recent years.”
Chelsea lost their collective heads and looked decidedly uncomfortable as pantomime villains on such a claustrophobic stage. Rangers fans, as is the style on the continent, booed spells of Chelsea possession for much of the game. This has always seemed like an effective means of winding up a visiting team to me. Why doesn’t it happen at every ground?
It’s because almost every football supporter is insecure. Every team’s support (bar that tiresome few that routinely qualify for the Champions League) believes that when they foul up in farcical circumstances there was degree of inevitability about their capitulation, that it was “typical [insert team name here]”.
Some teams do summon consistently effective scare tactics. Stoke supporters have made the Britannia Stadium the archetypal “horrible place to visit,” and The New Den retains a special edge that’s a welcome contrast to the non-atmosphere at out-of-the-kit out-of-town stadiums.
For most other teams sustained aggression from their support is a difficult thing to maintain. It can only happen when the circumstances are right: the fans are largely behind the current team and manager; there’s an added spice to the game (it’s a derby or the return of a player or manager who departed in acrimonious circumstances); or if there’s a run of perceived officiating injustices to whip up outrage.
That British crowds can so rarely muster such intimidation is a shame for all underdogs. As QPR proved, a lot of people making a lot of noise can still make a huge difference to a football match.