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Wembley boos that mean we ALL lose.

Byline: OLIVER HOLT

I RESPECT the right of football fans to boo. If I was not in a press box, sometimes I'd probably boo, too.

If I were an Arsenal fan and Ashley Cole ever tippy-toed into the Emirates Stadium, I'd boo him. I'd wave a tenner at him as well.

Although Cashley probably wouldn't recognise one of those as he probably only spends in multiples of 50.

It's part of the deal when you're watching league football. Every fan has his heroes and villains. Booing is part of the tribalism of the game.

But what I don't understand is why any England supporter would want to boo an England player at Wembley. What kind of fool boos Frank Lampard?

And multiply that by 100 for the kind of fool who boos him before the game has even started.

And what kind of idiot jeers a player as honest and committed as Phil Neville when he comes on to try to make sure we don't throw away a winning lead?

Come to that, what sort of moron aims catcalls at David Bentley when he gets off the bench to make his England debut? All Bentley was guilty of was being honest about why he didn't want to play for the England Under-21s in the summer.

He didn't pick himself for the Israel game, either. That was down to Steve McClaren.

But the fine print is irrelevant anyway. The point is, you don't boo an England player at Wembley.

Not if you want the national team to prosper. Not if you want them to qualify for the European Championship.

Instead, you file that kind of behaviour under the heading "Utterly Self-Defeating Stupidity" and make a note never to do it again.

There's something about that kind of bullying, that Lord of the Flies picking on one of your own, that shames us all. Wembley's treatment of John Barnes shamed us back in 1993 and now the new epidemic is shaming us again. No one in Barcelona for the away game with Andorra in March will forget the visceral thuggishness England fans unleashed on their own that foul night.

And now we should be red-faced with embarrassment about the treatment some of our fans are dishing out to the country's best players before and during internationals at home.

We should also be clear about its dangers. It will make appearing for England even more daunting for players who already dread the potential for assassination by the Press that comes with winning a cap.

And it will foster in the players' minds an impression that the new Wembley is not so much a fortress as a torture chamber.

That was what it was like before we knocked down the old Wembley. Remember that?

Remember when Manchester United players hated playing at Wembley because they got booed when representing their country?

That's the basis of the antipathy many United fans feel towards England now. That's why the booing of Neville, formerly of United, now of Everton, on Saturday was especially worrying.

That hinted at a reawakening of the old north-south divide that was a feature of England matches before the national team started playing at St James' Park, Anfield, Upton Park, Old Trafford and Villa Park.

In the seven years between Wembleys, the regional tension that once blighted England matches fell away. Now, there are dangerous, depressing signs it's on its way back.

Who knows what will happen tonight in the showdown with Russia. Maybe it will be Paul Robinson's turn to get it in the neck. Or Gareth Barry's.

And if the jeers begin to ring around our magnificent new stadium, I can guarantee you one thing.

The faces of the England players will become set like stone and a Cheshire cat grin will crease the features of Guus Hiddink.

CAPTION(S):

GET OFF HIS BACK: Bentley is unfairly jeered on his England debut
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Sep 12, 2007
Words:651
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