MANAGERS and players usually say that fans pay their money so are entitled to voice their opinions.
The professionals are right: crticism from the terraces just has to be tolerated and answered in the right way, which means mainly on the field.
Walking past the Kop last week before the Bolton game and on my way to my privileged position in the Press box, I noticed again the signs saying £26 admission to the area where I used to stand as a lad.
It brings home the cost of watching football - and I don’t know how those who go home and away afford it.
But isn’t there a dividing line between criticism and abuse? And is a player entitled to respond if the flak that he receives goes too far, in his eyes?
Those were the issues raised by the case of Jay Bothroyd, who was booed by some when he was taken off last Saturday, then took offence at some of the messages he was receiving on Twitter, and had a go back, very quickly after the game.
Whether he was right or wrong, I fear he made a rod for his own back.
If he had kept his indignation to himself and resolved to answer the critics via his football, what happened to him last Saturday would have passed by almost without notice.
Certainly afterwards in the press room, where reporters are swift to analyse and discuss among themselves the big issues of a match, I cannot recall his departure from the action being mentioned. There were other weightier matters to talk about.
If had been the whole stadium booing somebody, then no doubt it would have been different.
But it was an unconvincing performance by the team and when fans are getting frustrated then some of them, even if it is only a vocal minority, may take it out on somebody.
However the internet provides a more intimate link between fans and players, if they are willing to use it.
Bothroyd’s boldness in publicly hitting back at critics simply attracted a bigger spotlight to whatever flak he received, put his relationship with fans under the microscope, and drew attention to his future form and behaviour in a way that might have been avoided if he had just kept his counsel and said nothing in reply.
Friction between any player and fans, even if he is not the one who started it, is something that the club can do without in view of their current run.
But if he plays well and starts scoring then this episode will swiftly be shoved into the background, I am sure. He is, after all, a major signing who should be an asset to the club, and there should be a rapport forming between him and fans.
He has done the right thing in apologising for his bad language and making it crystal clear he was targeting the abusive few and not the majority who, he says, have been “fantastic” towards him since he arrived.