Belford, boos and angry fans
Alex Cooke reflects on a night when the ’12th man’ turned on the youngest, most inexperienced of the 11 boys.
A 19-year-old ‘keeper miss-hits a clearance. BOOOOO! A 19-year-old ’keeper, making his second ever League start, hits the ball straight into touch. BOOOOO! An increasingly nervous 19-year-old-‘keeper, making his second ever League start and 10-minutes into his home debut, kicks the ball from his hands to the far end of the pitch. CHEERS! (Sarcastic).
Football is all about opinions. It is a phrase trotted out regularly by Shaun Hodgetts – the human equivalent of those feeble bottles of 2% supermarket lager, but there is a kernel of truth in there. There is very little in football that isn’t subjective in some way: Ronaldo versus Messi or elegant passing versus dogged efficiency. So far there are no metrics sophisticated enough to encapsulate such a simple game in a stat – even trophies won; Brazil ’82 didn’t take the World Cup and the 1994 team did, but their low-scoring, defensive football seemed to come from a different continent to Zico and Socrates.
Everyone is entitled to their opinions too. You almost certainly don’t enjoy the same football I do, with intricate passing, patience in possession and yes, even a short corner or two. But to single out a barely pubic player, making his home debut, in a position as exposed as goalkeeper – that is cruel and self-destructive.
How is Tyrell Belford meant to respond? By making better decisions and better contact with the ball? Clearly that would help, but few psychologists would claim that intense pressure improves decision-making. Fortunately it seems that Belford is a better man than those who booed – he proved that by not folding under their pressure, and in his sadly deleted post-game tweet.
Of course you can criticise – it wasn’t a good performance by Town or a good game. Go ahead, you carp and gripe your little head off, you’ve paid your money. If it gets you through the 90 minutes and even the online conversation after, go for it. This isn’t some happy-clappy call for the kind of unflinching support demanded by Kim Jong-un when he asks if that haircut suits him.
Feel free to shout in frustration at underperforming players too, I did. I missed most of the build up to the Crawley equaliser as I was too busy laughing at Dany N’Guessan as he lay on the floor wallowing in his own private realm. Just don’t join a mass booing of a very young player who plays in a position which is hugely exposed and prone to introspection, when, minutes into his first home game, he has done nothing wrong.
The Town End Forum has of late engaged itself in a destructive debate about what constitutes a ‘proper’ fan and this rant isn’t about that. It isn’t about the intolerance of Swindon crowds or even those dogmatic demands for hoofball, they can wait for another day. We can, and we will, disagree about those later on.
This is about Tyrell Belford and saying that, yes, there were moments in which his performance on the pitch could have been better – but remembering the context. And so give the increasingly nervous 19-year-old-‘keeper, making his second ever League start and 10-minutes into his home debut, a chance.