How we treat players matters

I refer you to an interview in the Guardian with Marvin Sordell.

Sordell was an ex-Wanderer signed towards the end of our stay in the Premier League. The former Watford starlet had the world at his feet: regular goals in the Championship,  England U21 caps and a call-up to the GB Olympic squad. He cost Bolton somewhere in the order of £3 million, and so arrived with high expectations.

Like any fans, we cheer players on and get frustrated when they don’t live up to their promise. This has happened on many occasions with players who have represented us. Recent examples of players who have come in for regular criticism from Wanderers fans include Chris Taylor, Liam Feeney and Liam Trotter to name but a few.

I’m not saying Wanderers fans are awful, nor am I trying to be holier than thou. Getting frustrated and criticising players is something that I am guilty of – it’s part of supporting a club, and even more a part of writing about the club.

Similarly, managers can be tough on players when they’re not performing. This has also been a historic part of football, popularised by television. Stories of ‘hairdryer treatment’ and other similarly iconic motivational techniques have been told. Once again, I’m not saying that shouting at players makes managers and coaches bad people.

Also, I’m certainly not pointing the finger at any individual fan or member of the playing or non-playing staff for what Sordell went through. It’s seldom simple enough to be able to do that. We don’t know everything behind what caused him to suffer – nor does he neccesarily.

However, what I am saying is that managers along with ourselves, as fans do need to think about footballers’ feelings more. I know it’s easy to look at them with their big salaries and flash cars and think that they’ve got the perfect life. The reality is, though, that in an industry all about performance it is not easy. Especially when performances are public and fans being freely vocal about their performances is part and parcel of the game.

Even when things are going well on the pitch, we need to remember that players are still human. Just because things look okay doesn’t mean that they are. All we can do as fans here is get behind our players, and back them. Ken Anderson has rightfully acknowledged that the support from our fans has often helped our players over the line in recent seasons.

I also hope that clubs along with organisations such as the PFA and NLFA are able to provide the necessary pastoral and welfare support to players.

Players such as Marvin Sordell, along with our very own former manager Neil Lennon are very brave for talking about mental health. We all know what the football industry has historically been like, and people like Sordell and Lennon are helping to drive a change for the better.


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