Thursday 7 May ~
There has been a mixed reaction to the announcement that hundreds of West Brom fans will be wearing Tony Mowbray facemasks at the team's final game of the season. The adverse response is partly because some Albion fans clearly don't feel that they should be showing support for their manager. Mowbray was widely applauded at the end of last season for insisting that he would seek to "good football" in the Premier League. But as his lightweight side have clamped themselves to the bottom of the table over the past six months, he has been made to look naive, especially in comparison to the more pragmatic Tony Pulis whose robust Stoke side were all but safe with several games to go.
But there is another reason why some will be disdainful of the facemasks. They represent the sort of collective wackiness that is said to have infiltrated football fandom in the Sky era when the cameras miss no opportunity to seek out spectators in painted faces and jester hats. These people, the detractors, say, aren't proper football fans at all but hearty attention-seekers who might just as well be at a carnival or a pop concert. But so what?
As old newsreel footage will show, people have been dressing up to go to football matches, especially Cup ties, since the 19th century. They were doing this for their own entertainment long before satellite television became the game's principal sponsor. The brief craze for inflatables in the 1980s and early 1990s also predated Sky's attachment to football. Indeed it was one of the best examples of a grassroots movement in football fan culture, spreading throughout the country before TV first got wind of it. In part it was a reaction against the dour atmosphere that had enveloped football stadiums for many years – one that now seems to be returning in many places.
Throughout this season, there have been incidents involving fans' barracking of players getting out of hand – abuse is now routinely rained down upon those turning out against their former clubs while more spectators than ever before seem to enjoy targeting members of their own team. The presence of a few people in funny hats or facemasks is not going to instantly transform the mood of an entire crowd but the simple fact that some people see a football ground as a place where they can enjoy themselves can only be a good thing.
Even in moments of distress they may brighten someone's day – sceptics would surely have to concede a point made in a WSC editorial a few years ago, that there are fewer finer sights in football than seeing someone in a jester's hat crying inconsolably at a defeat for their team. Many West Brom fans will have got beyond that stage several months ago and have decided to laugh instead, whatever they may think of Tony Mowbray. Good for them. Brian Gibbs