Emerging from the wreckage of the Shitfest in Seattle, the vitriol directed towards Gavin Wilkinson and Merritt Paulson for talking the talk of taking the Cascadia Cup seriously before admitting they had used this crucial match as a try-out for 2013 bestrode the landscape like a colossus, unavoidable to all but those with their heads firmly planted in the sand.
The team selection, as well as tactics, were under the spotlight, with the decision to bring in Rodney Wallace and Lovel Palmer at full back a stand-out WTF moment. While the decision to give Wallace the nod was lent some credibility by Steven Smith’s reportedly “tight hamstring” – which would, if so, lead me to question why he was on the bench at all. What if Wallace had pulled up with an injury in the first 5 minutes? Would Smith have come on? Was he fit for a potential 85 minutes, but not an actual 90? If not, was he taking the space on the bench that could’ve been better given over to a young player to experience the “big game atmosphere”? And so on… – the choice of Lovel Palmer ahead of Kosuke Kimura, Jack Jewsbury, Ryan Kawulok, Steve Purdy, Sal Zizzo, Slabby or some kind of hastily improvised scarecrow left many fans, to borrow the hashtag, #facepalmer-ing themselves into a light coma.
In the event, Palmer surprised no-one by having a typically poor-to-mediocre game, something that has characterised much of his Timbers career since joining the club with Mike Chabala in exchange for Adam “MLS Cup Finalist” Moffat and a chunk of change.
Such is low regard he is held in by Timbers fans, and the criticism of his play that follows as surely as night follows day, that Palmer took to twitter to have a little dig back at those who deign to criticise him.
Now, it’s hardly on the levels of Ashley Cole’s #bunchoftwats or anything tweeted by Joey Barton when he’s not cut-and-pasting from smartquotationsforreallydumbpeople.com in a futile effort to shed his “what a terrible bellend” image, but nevertheless it’s somewhat unusual to see an active player having a shot at his own team’s fans; fans who have endured the kind of season that would have CIA interrogators taking a sharp intake of breath and muttering something about it being a bit too cruel.
It’s less unusual to see the part-time Old Gregg lookalike completely miss the target.
Now, on one hand, it’s rather unfair to Palmer that he’s not allowed to fire back when he’s on the receiving end of some, admittedly funny, criticism…
… but on the other hand, I find it hard to feel sympathy for someone who has been abject for much of his time in Portland. In a team that has struggled, Palmer has still managed to stand out as being a beacon of shittery.
Yet, he tweets, “Shout out to all the REAL timbers fans that stand by their players through the good and bad times.”
Aside from the fallacy that only “real” fans, whatever that means, stand by their players, the thing is that no fan, real or otherwise, wants to see their own players play terribly. To think otherwise is madness.
But neither will some fans simply stand by and watch someone repeatedly stink up the field and accept it.
Sure, seeing Palmer’s name on the team sheet may cause me to break out in a cold sweat, but the moment the whistle goes, he gets full support. Twitter perhaps skews that perception as it makes it a bit easier to be critical or a smartarse when you’re sat at home in your underpants at 3am on a dark and cold Sunday morning (calm yourself, ladies), but if I’m at the game I shout support, I sing and I cheer as do the overwhelming majority of Timbers fans.
But just as you and I may vanity search now and then (fuck you, the actor Kevin Alexander), so you can be sure players do. I’m not sure whether Palmer has read this blog, or any of the other Timbers fan sites, or if he gets his feedback through facebook or twitter, but fans nowadays have the means to voice their opinions in such a way that players are more exposed to it, as opposed to the post-mortem grumbling about how crappy a player is that would’ve been carried out over a pint or six with your mates down the pub.
It must be hard to read such damning criticism on a weekly basis. Twitter makes it even more direct as you an @ the player into your scathing bon mot, though it’s not something I’d personally do as it seems to me to be the internet equivalent of shouting at someone in the street.
Palmer has sought in the past two deflect criticism, by claiming he doesn’t care what people say…
… but clearly he does or he wouldn’t be whining about “real fans”.
So, while I can understand that Lovel is angry that these keyboard warriors are daring to question the ability of a man who has been capped at international level, and who is still missed by some at his old club, there’s a vocal group out there that don’t feel they’ve been given any reason to expect anything good from him. He either has to HTFU, or go out there and prove them wrong.
People are going to have opinions, and they’re not going to be shy in sharing them, but you can’t write off those that may think you’re not good at kickball as not being “real fans”. Fans are going to bring a wide array of outlooks and perceptions with them, whether that’s thinking that it would be better if Vancouver win next week or that Gavin Wilkinson is doing a not-terrible job. To disagree with someone doesn’t make them in some way less of a fan.
I would love nothing more than to see Palmer go out there and astound us with some top drawer football. Even the middle drawer would be nice, you know, the one where you keep your old t-shirts or socks. And if he wants to come off the field and shove his 30 yard, top corner, screamer of a goal down the throats of his critics, more power to your elbow, good chap. The thing is that, much like my dream that I will wake up one day and find that I piss only the finest champagne (serious question – would you still drink it?), Palmer turning in a string of great performances is, sadly, unlikely.
It’s hard to see where the relationship between player and fans goes when it’s clearly soured on both sides. If, as some suggest, Palmer’s inclusion in the starting XI against the Sounders was his try-out for 2013, then it’s hard to imagine that Palmer will be around for much longer. It may be best if he’s not, for his sake as much as that of the “real fans'” collective sanity.
And like that, Lovel’s “REAL fans” tweet was gone.