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West Ham fans who left Arsenal clash before half-time were heroes – nothing sends a more powerful message

DID you see those aerial TV shots as thousands of West Ham fans left  the London Stadium before half-time with their side 4-0 down to Arsenal?

Were they ungrateful? Disloyal? Fair-weather fans?

West Ham fans left in number as they were getting battered by Arsenal

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West Ham fans left in number as they were getting battered by Arsenal
Nothing leaves a more powerful message than empty seats

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Nothing leaves a more powerful message than empty seatsCredit: Rex

No, not a bit of it. They were heroes — every man, woman and child.

Paying to watch a match then leaving to avoid the traffic when the outcome is in the balance, as some always do, is utterly baffling.

But when your team are guilty of a thoroughly abysmal performance, there is nothing more liberating for a football supporter than to think, “I’ve had enough of this rabble, I’ve got better things to do with my life”, and simply hop it.

Had those fleeing Hammers fans forgotten the glory of winning a European trophy in Prague just last summer? No, but they spent good time and money to be there too.

Yes, they could have stayed and booed the manager, the ownership or even Ben Johnson — the poor right-back who was having a stinker playing out of position on the left wing.

But elite sportsmen are show-offs. They thrive on adulation. The best of them usually thrive on hostility playing away from home too.

So nothing sends a more powerful message than leaving them performing in front of thousands of empty seats.

That’s the sting of humiliation right there. And if it does not provoke a significantly improved display from West Ham’s players at Nottingham Forest tomorrow then there is something seriously wrong.

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OK, so Arsenal once tossed away a 4-0 half-time lead at Newcastle. I was there that day and very few of the Toon Army left at the interval.

Had tens of thousands legged it, a miracle comeback may have been less likely. But that is one-in-a-million stuff.

West Ham fans react to 6-0 loss to Arsenal and whether David Moyes should stay or go

Leaving early, especially REALLY early, is the most powerful weapon in a supporter’s armoury.

Fans of the team dishing out the humiliation should never resort to mocking “Is this a fire drill?” chants.

They should applaud opposition fans in a show of solidarity instead.

Coincidentally, only the previous day my mate Dean and I were having a pint before watching our team Fulham — and reminiscing about the time we left after 37 minutes of a 5-0 home loss to Watford.

Our keeper had been sent off, the sub goalie came out wearing pyjama bottoms and then chucked in Watford’s third goal. It was a Friday night, it was freezing and it was Dean’s birthday.

So, at that point, we said, ‘Sod this for a game of soldiers’, asked the steward to open the exit door and went to the pub — with hundreds more swiftly following us.

Almost a decade later, we are both season-ticket holders and have indoctrinated our sons to follow Fulham too.

But the night we left after 37 minutes still holds fond memories.
Supporting a football club is an elaborate con job.

You invest far too much in watching, and worrying about, a bunch of blokes who would leave at the drop of a better offer and can’t possibly care as much about your club as you do, given that you suffer from an incurable devotion as blind as religious faith.

Clubs will prattle on about supporters being their “12th man” when they get behind the team.

So why can’t we take credit for giving our team a rocket up the backside by turning our backs on them?

Funnily enough, after that Watford debacle, Fulham won away at Leeds then stuffed Sheffield Wednesday 4-0 in the next home match.

I like to think that was all on us, leaving early.

Which is almost certainly b******ks but it makes me feel better about having fallen for such a hoax for the last 43 years — and for as long as I’ve got left.

All this reminds me of a conversation a few of us had with Franco Baldini, then No 2 to England manager Fabio Capello.

It was back when England were serial under-achievers at major tournaments, and we were discussing potential reasons. Baldini had a theory and he offered an anecdote.

He’d been at Villa Park the day Newcastle were relegated from the Premier League with a limp 1-0 loss on the final day, when a draw would have saved them.

Baldini recalled being staggered as away fans gave their players a heroic send-off after the final whistle in a display of phoney “defiance”.

If a big club had been relegated in Italy, argued Baldini, players would be pelted with rotten tomatoes, or met with a full-scale riot.

This kind of thing, Baldini offered, made English players soft. There weren’t enough consequences for failure.

Perhaps he was right,  perhaps he was wrong.

But those West Ham supporters would have wanted to believe him, as they poured out of the London Stadium last Sunday.
Heroes, one and all.

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SINCE VAR came in, decision-making has never been more confusing, controversial or time-consuming.

So a respectful tip of the clown hat to those jokers on the International Football Association Board for making it even more confusing still by introducing a trial of blue cards to sin-bin players guilty of dissent or ‘cynical fouls’.

We look forward to VAR officials watching endless replays of a foul to decide whether it is clearly and obviously ‘reckless’ (yellow card),  ‘cynical’ (blue) or ‘violent’ (red).

Can cynicism ever be clear and obvious? Unless you happen to be a regular reader of this column.

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Jaden Philogene scored a wondergoal for Hull

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Jaden Philogene scored a wondergoal for HullCredit: Getty

IF you haven’t seen Jaden Philogene’s midweek goal for Hull, google it now.

He nutmegs his marker, leaves him on his backside, then executes a Rabona finish from a narrow angle.

A slight nick off a Rotherham man saw it go down as an own goal but it has since been credited to Philogene in a laudable show of common sense.

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CONGRATULATIONS to Ben Stokes on winning his 100th Test cap.

In the forty-odd years I’ve been watching, the Durham all-rounder has been possibly England’s greatest sportsman.

And since he took over the Test captaincy — several years after he should have done — Stokes has undoubtedly become the most innovative and influential sportsman I’ve ever known.

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Don't be surprised to see Gareth Southgate linked to Man Utd if Dan Ashworth starts calling the shots at Old Trafford

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Don’t be surprised to see Gareth Southgate linked to Man Utd if Dan Ashworth starts calling the shots at Old TraffordCredit: Getty Images – Getty

IF Dan Ashworth leaves Newcastle to become Manchester United’s sporting director, do not be surprised to hear Gareth Southgate seriously touted as a future manager at Old Trafford.

Erik ten Hag may survive if his team continue the recent revival but if the Dutchman does depart then Southgate, a former ally of Ashworth at the FA, will be in the conversation.

Many fans might consider Southgate beneath United —  yet no managerial appointment would make the club more attractive to elite English players than the most successful and popular Three Lions boss in half a century.

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RUBEN DIAS claims Manchester City are the team everyone loves to hate.

No mate, that is Liverpool.

Most people just shrug their shoulders at the inevitability of City winning things.

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