Opinion

Kenny Archer: Debate over 'real' fans and leaving matches early

General view of empty seats in the West Ham United stand
West Ham United v Arsenal - Premier League - London Stadium Empty seats in the West Ham United stand as fans leave early during the Premier League match at the London Stadium. Picture date: Sunday February 11, 2024. PA Photo. See PA story SOCCER West Ham. Photo credit should read: Adam Davy/PA Wire. RESTRICTIONS: EDITORIAL USE ONLY No use with unauthorised audio, video, data, fixture lists, club/league logos or "live" services. Online in-match use limited to 120 images, no video emulation. No use in betting, games or single club/league/player publications. (Adam Davy/PA)

When love turns to hate, or rejection… Perhaps not the best topic for the day of the print edition of this column but here goes.

Is it ever acceptable to walk out on the team you support before their match is finished?

That debate arose again at the weekend as West Ham United were whipped at home by Arsenal, eventually losing 6-0 at the London Stadium.

A sizeable number of Hammers fans left the ground well before the end, some of them even at half-time – admittedly with their side already 4-0 down.



Discussion of that behaviour was played out on the airwaves of BBC Radio 5 Live, on the soccer phone-in show co-hosted by Robbie Savage and Chris Sutton.

Sutton took the strong stance that no one should ever go early.

Savage, and the majority of West Ham fans who called in, including some of those who had left early, felt it was justifiable in the circumstances.

As good as Arsenal were and are, the Hammers were pitiful. Their performances have been generally poor so far in 2024.

Sutton, who sometimes (often) seems to adopt a contrary position simply for the sake of it, made the strange claim that supporters should always applaud their team after a match.

Savage made the point that players would not necessarily want angry supporters to stay to the end as that would inevitably result in them hurling abuse at their team at the final whistle.

Even the most positive person in the world would have struggled to find positives and praise for West Ham on Sunday.

The debate on 5 Live widened into what makes a ‘true fan’, a ‘real fan’, a ‘proper fan’.

Marketing campaigns which employ those phrases always get my goat.

As if following a highly popular sport is less worthy than being one of a smaller number attending another code, or less popular version.

The irony is that these campaigns are aimed at increasing their own product’s popularity. Have they an upper limit on the number of spectators that they want to attract?

Most praise for fans tends to go to the regular attendees, those who ‘never miss a match’. Yet there are people who never go to the stadium of ‘their’ side but are still absolutely fanatical in their devotion and dedication to them. They spend most waking minutes thinking about them, talking about them, reading about them, watching various online videos and posts about them.

It was an interesting listen.

Supporters may sing ‘We’ll support you evermore?’, but they can’t really mean that.

General view of empty seats in the West Ham United stand
West Ham United v Arsenal - Premier League - London Stadium Empty seats in the West Ham United stand as fans leave early during the Premier League match at the London Stadium. Picture date: Sunday February 11, 2024. PA Photo. See PA story SOCCER West Ham. Photo credit should read: Adam Davy/PA Wire. RESTRICTIONS: EDITORIAL USE ONLY No use with unauthorised audio, video, data, fixture lists, club/league logos or "live" services. Online in-match use limited to 120 images, no video emulation. No use in betting, games or single club/league/player publications. (Adam Davy/PA)
West Ham United manager David Moyes
West Ham United v Arsenal - Premier League - London Stadium West Ham United manager David Moyes after the final whistle in the Premier League match at the London Stadium. Picture date: Sunday February 11, 2024. PA Photo. See PA story SOCCER West Ham. Photo credit should read: Adam Davy/PA Wire. RESTRICTIONS: EDITORIAL USE ONLY No use with unauthorised audio, video, data, fixture lists, club/league logos or "live" services. Online in-match use limited to 120 images, no video emulation. No use in betting, games or single club/league/player publications. (Adam Davy/PA)

Plenty of pundits point to West Ham boss David Moyes bringing European silverware to the club last season.

Even if it was, as GAA heads pointed out, only a Junior Football Champions League, there’s some merit in the view that that triumph should have earned him lengthy leeway, even if performances and/or results aren’t as pleasing to fans.

Yet Claudio Ranieri was shipped out by Leicester City in the season after winning them the blooming Premier League, so soccer can be an extremely ruthless business.

Perhaps there is a difference between fans and supporters.

Fans can be said to ‘blow with the wind’, perhaps only appearing in fair weather, especially when the trophies are shining.

Supporters take the strain, bear the burden, sticking by their side even during the really bad times.

In terms of those who walk out on their team, at the risk of going full Oprah, are they ‘entitled’ or ‘entitled to’?

The former implies supporters (fans?) who have become spoilt, accustomed to success, either seeing their side lift silverware or finish high up the table.

The latter suggests that supporters have the right to walk out early if they so choose. ‘You pay your money and you make your choice’.

Besides, walking out isn’t like ending a relationship; those supporters will, of course, be back.

Most of my match-watching in recent years has been work-related, so obviously I have to stay to the bitter end, as boring as that is sometimes.

As a supporter I don’t recall ever leaving early.

I don’t deny that on occasion I may pass the odd adverse comment on a player’s performance, or a team’s tactics, but those are never shouted out. Besides, my muttered remarks usually result in ‘commentator’s curse’, with the team or player suddenly turning on the style and producing a series of scores.

As a reporter or a supporter I take the view that turning your back, or turning your ire, on your team is never helpful. Players never want to make mistakes, perform badly, or get thrashed.

There’s possibly more understanding in the GAA compared to professional sports.

Walking out early is clearly not regarded as shameful in the GAA, certainly not at Clones, judging by the fairly regular occurrence of streams of supporters heading up the hill and out long before the long whistle.

Beating the traffic may be the main motivation there, of course.

Perhaps the strangest supporters are those who get up and go with the game still in the balance, blocking the view of those still glued to the action.

They, of course, deserve not to walk out but to be driven out – and never be allowed back.