ON WEDNESDAY night, Doncaster Rovers pulled off the biggest footballing gimmick of all time in recruiting 5,333 ‘fans’ to watch a reserve team game against Rotherham United.
They weren’t there to see Scott Shearer or Miles Addison, surprise, surpise, but to cheer on a floppy-haired member of the world’s biggest boy band as he played 25 minutes as a full-back.
The crowd at the Keepmoat Stadium is usually made up of hardened Yorkshiremen and women who’d certainly put you in your place if you were to suggest something vaguely negative about their club, but they’re like puppies when stood alongside One Direction fans, who swarm like genocidal bees at the slightest notion that Niall Horan styled his hairdo on Jedward’s blonde mops.
Okay, we’re drifting away from the point. The premise of Tomlinson turning out for Rovers was designed to attract a little attention for the Championship club, get a bit of money in the coffers and raise cash for local charity Bluebell Wood Children’s Hospice, of which he is a patron, in the process.
Yet the inevitable vitriol accompanied the 22-year-old’s debut on social media, with hundreds of posts across Twitter and Facebook claiming, in slightly more ‘family-paper-friendly’ terms, that Tomlinson’s appearance was an insult to footballers who’d dedicated their lives to their profession.
Nonsense. That’s the hyper-sensitivity of the sport in action once again.
Tomlinson was representing a good cause, promoting his hometown club nationwide and giving his own fans a little something extra - something evidently well appreciated seeing as a couple of bonkers Mexicans flew 13 hours to watch his second-half cameo.
His run-out in a reserve team match was as much of an insult to professional footballers as a professional footballer’s regular column in a major national newspaper is to budding writers.
When insightful, ex-pros’ columns in national dailies are as good as anything you are likely to read in the sports sections but they are few and far between. Too often we’re presented with ghost-written, cliche-laden slodge that has no real value but for the name embossed in gold letters above it.
But society reacts to familiar faces - in every walk of life.
It’s the way the world works - the public isn’t necessarily drawn in by acumen or ability but by celebrity and star status; that’s why Katie Price has an entire page to herself every week in The Sun, that’s why Piers ‘I love Kevin Pietersen’ Morgan was drafted in to judge Britain’s Got Talent.
Both Price and Piers have their own talents and strengths, all innuendo aside, but the former is unlikely to ever get near the Pulitzer (no, they’re not hair straighteners, Katie) and the latter’s grounding in journalism certainly won’t have given him the ear to pick out the next great vocalist.
But they draw in the crowds, the readers and the viewers, just as Sanath Jayasuria or Vitali Klitschko encourage votes in Sri Lanka and Ukraine, where the ex-cricketer and former boxer have knocked career politicians down the ranks.
A knowledge of reverse swing won’t help win swing voters and, while majority decisions in the ring and at the ballot box are similar, you won’t win an election by knockout.
So, no, Louis Tomlinson’s appearance on Wednesday night wasn’t an insult. A world class gimmick, yes. Nothing more.
STOP MOCKING YOUR OWN
MAYBE I’m out of touch with how to be a football fan in the modern day.
Admittedly, given the nature of my job, I haven’t stood rank and file in the not-so-terraced terraces for a few years and in that time everything seems to have changed.
I recognised how much my understanding was lagging during Tuesday night’s 1-1 draw between Swindon Town and Crawley Town and started taking notes.
Apparently in 2014 we believe in tough love. Sarcastic jeers and the odd boo are now considered appropriate encouragement for a 19-year-old goalkeeper making his home league debut.
Tyrell Belford took plenty of stick from Leyton Orient fans last weekend but their various taunts and teases paled in comparison to what the young stopper received from his own supporters in midweek.
It seemed totally bizarre. ‘Here’s a good idea, our regular number one is out for three weeks and our play-off hopes are hanging by a thread. It’s probably in our best interests to make a teenager, in the most isolated and exposed position on the pitch, feel as unappreciated and nervous as possible within the first half-hour’.
People, please; anyone who believes Belford was actually trying to distribute the ball as badly as he did needs quarantining - he’s an ambitious professional who’s been taught to play a certain way and on Tuesday he had a bad night.
The rest of this season could be a long, hard slog if fans choose to make it so. Town will have to do extraordinary things to make the top six but they won’t finish anywhere near the bottom four.
This term was always meant to be one of consolidation but the way the Robins played in August, September and October raised expectations beyond reasonable levels.
Now Swindon are the victims of their own surprise success, burdened by a dozen or so exceptional performances in the first three months of the campaign and some audience members who don’t like ‘tippy, tappy football’ but moan when long balls down the channels don’t hone in on their intended target like a heat-seeking missile.
Swindon Town will never have the perfect team, with the model in place at the County Ground now there will be periods of weeks on end where things just don’t work as most of us would like.
The sooner we all get used to that the better, else the feelings of disillusionment currently swelling amongst the fanbase will quickly mutate into an unpalatable animosity; the kind of animosity that creates a stand-off between supporters and club.
If that happens then the football appetite of a town will rapidly diminish. Everyone - the management, players, press and supporters - needs to make a conscious effort to avoid this at all costs.
YOU know your season is going really badly when you have to resort to blackmail to keep your attendances up.
Manchester United have gone into the sort of tailspin even the very best Hollywood scriptwriters would struggle to reverse since David Moyes took charge at Old Trafford and their most recent defeat - to Olympiakos on Tuesday night - reinforced the fact that all is not well within the Red Devils’ camp.
But it’s not the lack of a combative central midfielder, Robin Van Persie’s criticism of his teammates or United’s crumbling empire post-Sir Alex that is the most alarming story to come out of the club this week.
On Wednesday it emerged that an email sent out to season-ticket holders suggested that if fans did not purchase a ticket for the second leg of the Olympiakos clash they would lose their seat for the upcoming Manchester derby.
Frankly, that kind of brazen disregard for the fans who have shelled out hundreds of pounds pre-season with the expectation of being guaranteed a place at the big games is utterly shameful.
Supporters should never be held hostage by a club manipulating their fans’ emotions like that. It shows the extent to which corporate governance and greed has stolen the sport away from the general population and the moral gutter football now operates in.