Crossing the border that separates rival fans is always a dangerous game. Football tribalism is alive and well, certainly, no matter how many mercenaries and foreign owners dilute the traditions of a club.
Just ask Luis Figo after he turned to face the braying crowd after a pig’s head had been thrown from livid Barcelona fans furious at the Portuguese international for daring to play for Real Madrid.
It wasn’t the pig’s head that left its mark upon Figo that day however, but a banner which summed up the problem of running off with the neighbour.
“We hate you so much, because we loved you so much” read the pathos laden sign, driving home not only the angry backlash those who dare to run the gauntlet face, but the emotion that is at stake.
And now it is Alex McLeish’s turn to face the music. Having stepped down from his post with Birmingham City via email, the Scot has run into the grateful arms of Aston Villa.
Angry fans protested and the blogosphere quivered with rage, but owner Randy Lerner went ahead and did it anyway. Whether he is brave or foolish remains to be seen, but the American has certainly incensed the crowd who were still indignant from the departure of Martin O’Neil and the appointment of Gerard Houllier.
Around 1000 fans congregated upon Villa Park to express their displeasure at the imminent appointment of the former Birmingham boss, while one fan threatened to burn his shirt if McLeigh was the next manager of his club.
Immature yes. Futile, definitely. Misguided, almost certainly. But admirable in some respects, definitely.
Football is littered with examples of this type of move, both successful and unsuccessful. It is for the Villa fans to react to the appointment either positively or negatively without being judged for over-reaction or treachery.
Without their passion, misguided or not, football would be worse off and now it is up to McLeish to win them over. If, in 12 months, Villa find themselves in the top five, all will be forgotten, and the anger that met his appointment will at the very least have melted away into begrudging respect.
So do not blame the Villa faithful for their reaction. It’s built upon an innate feeling drummed into them from youth, and it is something that makes the game what it is.