Diary of a Pro Footballer: What Players Really Think About Fans
Every week thousands of fans buy their shirts, sing their names and pay their players' humungous wages... and then they go and do a Rooney and threaten to leave a great club like Manchester United. So what do footballers really think about supporters? Former Arsenal and Tottenham midfielder Rohan Ricketts reveals all...
After reading about that masked mob that went round to Wayne Rooney’s house last week I was reminded that some fans really are scum. There's a line you don’t cross and they crossed it. They seemed to have forgotten that as important as football is, it’s a game; it’s all about entertainment.
Players have a right to leave a club. After all, there are plenty of situations when the clubs screw the players. Sometimes you'll have a player who wants to stay but he'll get kicked out. When I was playing at Tottenham, I'd settled in, had a place in Chigwell, everything was great. Then - bam! - manager changes and they want you to go just like that. So why shouldn’t players screw the clubs once in a while?
I think maybe Rooney stayed at Manchester United because they threatened his life. Otherwise he’d always have to watch his back. I would definitely have signed if people were outside my house because if you don’t you're putting your family at risk. This is what happens when you become famous, you're easy to get.
Of course I’m not Wayne Rooney but as a player I’ve feared for my life before because of fans.When I was at Wolves there was a guy who was one of their hooligan crew who worked in the phone shop and when I'd see him he'd say “Hey, you've got to get a result this weekend or the boys aren't going to be happy.”
I remember when I was at Spurs, one fan shouted “Ricketts you're fucking shit! I'm gonna get you after the game” and did that knife to the throat sign. So when I got outside there was a group of guys waiting from me and I had to get escorted to the coach.
When I was in Hungary, the team wasn't doing well - they were bottom of the Hungarian league and having a nightmare. After one game, we lost at home and I was about to leave and the team was like “Where are you going!? You can't leave! There are fans outside looking to kill the team!” These fans were a heavy mob and they wanted to fight the players because they weren't happy with some of them. So in the end I just kept my arse in the stadium for about an hour.
Fans aren’t always threatening but sometimes their support can get a bit weird. At Spurs, there was a woman called Helen who got “Ricketts” tattooed on her arm. The thing is, I'm just a guy so I don't want you to tattoo my name on your arm. Still, I'll never forget her name. In fact, I hope she'll read this and then I can get a picture of that tattoo.
Growing up I was a fan as well. I supported Manchester United and in fact I still look out for their results, but there's so much nonsense that goes on in the game that it desensitizes you. In fact, I know a lot of players in the Premier League who are no longer interested in football. They don't care about the fans, they just want their money.
The truth is that being a player can ruin your love for football. There was this guy I knew at Arsenal who was extremely talented but because of his style of football, because it wasn't the English style, he was shunned. He told me had lost the love of the game and was seriously thinking about becoming a carpenter.
The outside influences can ruin your love for the game. First you're a talent, then you’re just a commodity, you get handled like a product. But it’s not just the clubs; the fans are guilty of not treating players like humans either.
These people going round to Wayne Rooney's house have forgotten that he’s got personal and marital issues right now that are bigger than football. Of course it’s going to affect his form. He got 40 goals last year, he was the dog's bollocks and this year people think he's shit.
As a player I have had to take my share of abuse. When you hear them abuse you from the stands, sometimes you just think “You can't even play football, your kid has probably got my picture up in his room and yet you’re telling me I'm shit”. You do want to turn around and say stuff but you can't because you're a ‘professional’. It's a total double standard.
These days it's considered entertainment to judge people. They forget that you're human as well. I mean, can you imagine the whole Man United team going into a fan’s office and saying “The balance isn't right in the finance department, you're shit!” Imagine a player saying to an air hostess “You're garbage because you made a few mistakes on the flight.” Having to face this kind of abuse every week it’s no surprise that some players have a ‘fuck you’ attitude.
Of course, on the other hand, when your fans get behind you it’s the most exciting feeling possible.I remember the first time Tottenham fans sang my name. It was Anfield away, I went on a run, past Steven Gerrard and Danny Murphy and had a shot - then I heard “There's only one Rohan Ricketts”. Even then I didn’t have many hairs on the back of my neck, but those that I did have stood on end. It’s so important that a player feels appreciated by his own fans – otherwise he has to fight against them as well as the other team and their supporters.
I appreciate the fans, because they pay our bills. No fans, no gate money, no football, end of story. It wasn’t so long ago that fans and players used to go drinking in the same pubs but nowadays players are so valuable to their clubs that they’re protected and soon start behaving like superstars. Players stop caring about what the fans think and as a result the fans get angry.
Right now, the opinion of Wayne Rooney has changed so much in the last six months that I think Twitter could help him. It allows players to explain direct to fans why they said things in the media and it allows the fans to get to know them a bit more. As well as myself, Rio Ferdinand is really good on it, as is Robbie Savage, Stan Collymore and Ryan Babel. It’s not for the faint-hearted: there's some arsehole fans out there but there's a lot of cool ones too. If Rooney really wants to patch it up with his fans, I reckon he should start tweeting now.