They clap in appreciation of that speculative 30-yard shot, seethe when a decision goes against their favourite player and erupt with joy when the ball finds the back of the net.
A repertoire of songs and chants reverberates around the ground for 90 minutes. Some of these songs are incredibly clever, while others are unimaginative and plain stupid, but without them, the match-experience would be considerably lessened.
As the crowd gasps and roars in unison, the spectacle on the pitch is elevated to a higher level.
However, buried within this collective experience, there is a culture at many football grounds that is rather uncouth. A culture of abuse that is so engrained that it has become normal; it is expected.
Everton midfielder Aiden McGeady recently gave an insight into this culture. When asked if he expected to receive a hostile reception when the Republic of Ireland take on Scotland in the qualifying for Euro 2016, the 27-year-old said that he did, but, perhaps more importantly, he casually accepted the notion.
“Do I expect to get stick? Yeah, probably, because you still get the odd bit when you’re out and about,” he was quoted as saying by the Irish Independent. “But that’s football for you.”
You may wonder what McGeady’s crime is. Why is it that he would be on the recieiving end of “stick” from Scotland fans? Rather than it being about his ability, it centres around his personal decision to represent Ireland at international level instead of Scotland, the place where he was born.
Like a player leaving a club to join its hated rival, this is viewed as the ultimate act of betrayal by ignorant supporters clinging on to archaic ideas about patriotism and national allegiance. Resigned, the winger shrugs his shoulders and meekly reasons, “that’s football”.
Indeed, McGeady even goes on to pardon his would-be transgressors, suggesting that, not only is it part of the game, but it is also a fan’s right to abuse people at football grounds since they bought a ticket to watch the game. All of a sudden, they’re “entitled” to hurl insults at an individual.
Is this true? If you buy a ticket to see a play, but don’t like what you see, is it socially acceptable to scream your objection in the theatre? It’s likely that such obnoxious, small-minded behaviour will result in a swift expulsion from the building.
Perhaps it is easier for a footballer like McGeady to view such vitriol as part of the game and to summarily dismiss its significance in order to focus on playing, but it should be addressed.
Let’s not allow idiots to continue to spew mindless hatred from the terraces unchallenged.