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Foul Play: Football Decisions That Upset Fans The Most

When elite European football clubs dreamt up the idea of a breakaway European Super League (ESL) – and then tried to implement it – fans were upset, to say the least.

Since then, even though the ESL idea appears to have crumbled, angry fan backlash has bubbled.

Having seen how unhappy supporters’ protests led to the rescheduling of a top Premier League game, we wanted to find out which other decisions from football’s long history have caused the most fan outrage.

We surveyed 2,000 UK football fans using OnePoll and asked them to pick the top three decisions that had made them the angriest. Here’s what we found out…

Fan-Gry: Which Decisions Made Supporters See Red?

Decisions that make football players the angriest - infographic

From 10 choices of controversial moments in the sport, UK football fans chose the ‘big six’ PL clubs entering the European Super League as the decision that made them the most angry.

We found that 44% of fans picked this moment, which is impressive for something that happened off-pitch – although the outrage is still fairly fresh in fans’ minds.

Diego Maradona’s handball goal, famously known as ‘The Hand of God’ from the Argentina v England 1986 World Cup quarter-final, came a fairly close second with 35%, still living long in the collective memory after more than 30 years.

Qatar being awarded the right to host the 2022 FIFA World Cup – despite concerns over the treatment of workers, the human country’s human rights record, and allegations of bribery – completes the top three.

This issue pipped both Cristiano Ronaldo’s wink after getting Wayne Rooney sent off at the 2006 World Cup, and the ever-topical introduction of Video Assistant Referees (VAR) in the 2019/20 Premier League, by 2%.

United We Stand: Do Fans’ Worst Moments Divide Age Groups?

Decisions that make football players the angriest by age group - infographic

We also wanted to investigate whether fans from different age groups were angered by the same football decisions, or not.

Our results show that, by and large, age groups were united in their dislike of the PL’s ‘big six’ joining the European Super League, which was the top pick for most age categories.

Except, however, for those aged between 45-54, who chose the ‘Hand of God’. We can only assume Maradona made a mark on what would have been youngsters back then.

Interestingly, the youngest generation – those aged 18-24 – were the angriest age group when it came to the introduction of the pay-per-view model for watching Premier League games, perhaps because it may impact them the most financially.

While those aged 65 and over were either the most angry or joint-most angry age group about four of the 10 issues.

Football ain’t what it used to be, we guess, with this category likely to have seen the most change to the sport over their years of watching the beautiful game.

Regional Rivals: The Biggest Triggers For Fans Across The UK

Decisions that make football players the angriest by UK region - infographic

No one UK region is the same, each with its own accent and local culture – and that’s before we even get to discussing the differences between the four devolved nations.

So, did different decisions attract the ire of fans in different nations and regions?

This time we found that all supporters had one grievance in common – the European Super League, which never took less than 38% of the vote.

When it came to the ‘Hand of God’, unsurprisingly the English regions were most annoyed, with the North East clinching top spot, while – also unsurprisingly – Wales (28%), Northern Ireland (18%) and Scotland (13%) were less outraged by England’s misfortune.

The decision to award Qatar the World Cup, meanwhile, scored fairly evenly across all areas, between 21% and 32%.

As for different areas, for Northern Ireland – due to obvious ties to the Republic of Ireland – fans were most upset by the “Le Hand of God” – Thierry Henry’s handball goal in the France V Ireland 2009 World Cup qualifier.

London was also expectedly England-centric in its outrage, voting for the benching of David Beckham in the Croatia v England qualifying game for the 2008 European Championship, and Harry Kane not squaring the ball to Raheem Sterling in the Croatia vs England 2018 World Cup semi-final, as the worst decisions.

Gender Gap: Female And Male Football Fans Annoyed By Different Decisions

Decisions that make football players the angriest by gender - infographic

There were also a few differences in which decisions angered female fans, compared to male fans.

Although scores were roughly the same for each decision, with the European Super League seemingly angering just about everyone equally, there were some discrepancies in priorities.

VAR’s introduction to the Premier League has upset more men – ranking fourth in their list with 26% of participants angered, compared to being in seventh place for women, with just 19% of those surveyed being annoyed by it.

On the flip side, more women (22%) were angered by the pay-per-view model for PL games, than men (20%), with the genders ranking it fourth and seventh, respectively.

Love To Hate The Beautiful Game

Overall, our research shows that football supporters are a passionate bunch – when you pour so much of your time into a team, you’re bound to get invested in the issues that matter.

As the ESL controversy has shown, nobody should take fan anger lightly.

And, however much sporting rivalries come into play across the regions and nations, or how different decisions are placed in importance for fan gender and age demographics – plenty of terrible football decisions still unite fans from across the UK, even if they’re only united in their ire…

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