An Investigative Rant: Is It Ok That Fans Are "Fickle"?

Is he back to greatness? Or still a bin? Let's not rush to guess. Photo - Gabriele Maltinti

Fiorentina fans might possess an exceptional penchant for irony, but our extreme mood swings between optimism and pessimism after results is hardly unique. A lack of perspective is common when you are close to your club, but makes for a pretty volatile environment... one that we should avoid.

I had a conversation with a friend who is a Liverpool fan the other day. At the time they were 3-1-1. He observed that if the Reds won, they would be winning 2 out of every 3. If they lost, they would have dropped points in half their games. Big difference... At least in perspective.

And so with minor tweaks in perspective, "stat" driven narratives take flight on very flimsy wings, especially early in the season. With 3 negative results in 6 Serie A matches, it's easy for Fiorentina fans to critique, lower expectations, and generally feel angry and depressed. As they should, to some degree. There is plenty to criticize in this beginning of the Viola season, and fans who do not acknowledge weaknesses or poor performances in their team aren't proper fans. Yes, Neto is sub par. And yes, we've looked imprecise and soft too often in these first 6-7 weeks of the season.

But taking a step back, only a week ago we had won away at Atalanta despite heavy injuries, and were off to our best Serie A start since we were in the Champions League under Cesare Prandelli. Where did it all go wrong? The pessimist might say it was always looking bad, the optimist (me) would say that it hasn't yet gone wrong at all, that it's a long season, and look at Arsenal's run of form last year in the Premier League, and the pessimists may counter with "but there are too many holes in the side" and ... blah blah blah. Despite my reductive representation here, this is an excellent and important discussion to have in fan communities. But what I have been seeing a lot of recently is what I call "hysterical" support, and what most recognize as "fickleness." I've hated this word in the past but I wanted to spend a little time looking at what we mean when we call someone fickle.

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NOTE: I apologize if you find the following preachy or prescriptive; I certainly don't mean to tell anyone how best to support their team. But I wanted to talk about some trends I've noticed in fan communities, and some perhaps logical thoughts in response to the more destructive trends.

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The the emotional investment of fandom can elicit responses that range from the short-sighted to the downright cruel. We've all been guilty of knee-jerk reactions, cheap jokes about players or coaches that we've loved, and suddenly worshipping a player that you considered a waste of space only a couple weeks before. But we should always be wary of these emotional swings, as natural as they are, because they can lead to some pretty terrible fan behavior, usually abusing either players or rival fans (often with bigoted language, but we'll leave that for now).

With the risk of sounding like a carrot-munching, Zen-regurgitating hippy, I try to encourage both myself and fellow fans to strive for perspective on their club. Neither crucifying nor canonizing your team whole-heartedly on a weekly basis will make you a better fan. These lightning passions will only make you more miserable in the end, and inevitably leave you "fickle" to the world as the natural inconsistencies of calcio run their course. A great example of this phenomenon at work in Fiorentina colors was the brief loan stint of Siena's Marcelo Larrondo last spring. I - like most Viola supporters - was rather pessimistic of the contribution that Larrondo would make, but decided to wait and see. He scored two really decisive goals (including THAT goal at Atalanta, a strike of such excellent quality that I will always remember laughing for a solid 5 minutes at its unexpected beauty), and then fizzled into the player we always suspected he was. I'm not mentioning this incident to laud my own actions, but because I remember that I got to enjoy the roller coaster of Larrondogol without worrying about "being proved right" or him beginning his spell at Fiorentina either loving or hating him. It was certainly less exhausting to not constantly reevaluate my emphatic perception of a player. There are enough emotions involved in being a supporter without constantly defending unfounded opinions.

Last night Juan Manuel Vargas , the missing "loco" made his return to the Viola jersey with an important goal in a disappointing draw against Parma, which was great news, and maybe the only bright spot other than Bomber Gonzalo in a dire match for Fiorentina fans. But his "return" (as it is) doesn't mean anything yet and we shouldn't force it to mean something for at least a little while. What good would it do?

With increasing global information on players and the expansion of fan communities, it's easy to load yourself with pressure not only to be a fan, but to be the "best" fan, the "most informed" fan, and to be that fan before anyone else. According to some people, you must know and have feelings about all players and coaches the moment they arrive to be a good supporter. This is silly and wrong. Don't put this pressure on yourself, or on others. It's not worth it. I clearly speak as someone who is experienced with (and at times guilty of perpetuating) a bull-headed savant supporter culture online. As much as I pride myself on having a decent tactical and evaluative eye, I'm a fan first, not an expert, and I want to enjoy being a fan. Nothing distracts you from supporting more than predicting your team to finish 16th one week and 2nd the next, or in believing your manager is God's gift to coaching after 4 soft fixtures, and atrocious after 4 difficult fixtures. It helps to take a step back instead.

Another Liverpool example, if I may. Luis Suarez could do no wrong for Liverpool fans, despite being suspended for racist abuse and actually freaking biting a guy. He could do no wrong that is, until he expressed a desire to leave for other clubs. At which point he became the literal anti-Christ to some supporters. As a football fan, I understand these feelings and where they come from. But as a human being, it is driven too much by closeness to the club's competitive ambitions and not enough by a more holistic love of your team. More succinctly, let's not behave like Neanderthals when we "@" a footballer on Twitter after a bad game or a silly statement in a press conference.

So, please: criticize. Analyse. Cheer and cheer against. Mock, laugh, yell, curse, and mumble to yourself. Hope that your team wins every game. But most of all, love your team, and love your team more than you attempt to categorize it; don't expect it to always be one thing, in fact, it's entirely natural for it to be slightly different every week, let alone every season. Don't bury the good with griping, or the bad with ego, especially not if your opinions change hourly. If you take your time with your club, you might accidentally enjoy the high points of a season, regardless of the final outcome. Or at least you won't be too fickle in the meantime.

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