Laura Jones looks at whether footballers should relinquish their right to support another team during their playing career.
Coventry City’s Reda Johnson felt the displeasure of his manager, Tony Mowbray, for going to the Derby County v Sheffield Wednesday match to publicly support the Owls in the away stand with the fans.
Reda’s decision to do so has split the Coventry fans’ opinion about whether he should be cheering on a former club when his current team are playing less than an hour up the road.
The question is – do footballers forfeit their right to support one club whilst being paid to play by another club? It’s an interesting question.
Reda Johnson is a cult hero at both Sheffield Wednesday and Coventry City. His giant stature, affable nature, and ability to make an impact on the pitch make him a force to be reckoned with. He won the Football League Community Player of the Year in 2014, and followed that up with Coventry City’s Community award last season.
Coventry supporters that I’ve spoken to over the past week have mainly been supportive of Reda’s right to cheer for another team, suggesting that it’s admirable that he is passionate about the team he supports, in the same way that they are about Coventry.
The issue, however, is whether he should be required to attend Coventry games when he’s injured, having picked up a hamstring injury against Blackpool that ruled him out of the rest of the season in October.
Most of us are paid employees. If we pulled a muscle at a weekend, we would be obliged to turn up to work under restricted duties if necessary, and that’s how some supporters feel about Reda; if he’s paid by the club, then he should be back at work, sitting in the stands and cheering them on.
Technically, he’s not obliged to attend Coventry’s games if he’s injured, and Reda told the Coventry Telegraph that, “everyone does what he wants on his days off and when I do what I want that’s it.” What he wants to do is be a fan of Sheffield Wednesday, the club he supports.
That’s fair enough, but does it count as a day off if his current club are playing a game? Some supporters feel that Reda ‘owes’ Coventry, because the club hasn’t had much game time out of him this season due to his injury. Although the injury isn’t his fault, there is an underlying frustration from Coventry fans, as they feel that had he been fit, the club may have been pushing for promotion this season.
Seeing Reda wearing an Owls shirt and taking selfies with thousands of Sheffield Wednesday fans during their own promotion push must have smarted a bit for Coventry fans. There would have been fewer grumbles from the Coventry fans if the team had performed well. The Sky Blues lost 2-0 to Doncaster Rovers in the game that Reda opted out of watching; a match that delayed Rovers’ relegation for one more week.
Reda’s fandom for Sheffield Wednesday, therefore, appears to have cost him some of his popularity with the Coventry support. Wednesday fans have now hijacked Coventry’s Player of the Season poll, and have been voting in their droves for Reda to win the award – something that seems unlikely to happen if left to the Coventry faithful.
So, what’s the lesson here for any footballers wanting to support their own team over their current paid club? Do it discreetly, and don’t bite the hand that feeds you.