ONE of the things lamented as lost from the game of football is the bond between players and fans. Supporters talk about it, old players too. We used to be the same and now we are not.
This is mainly put down to money. How can you identify with anyone who earns more in a week than you might in three years? Money adds pressure and pressure increases distance. Literally. Footballers move further away and stay there. Any time they do come into contact with supporters is carefully managed.
This is done to protect players and to allow them to focus on their football. Players know that one bad move is only a camera phone snap away from national attention so they shut themselves away. The only chance to see them outside the 90 minutes on a football pitch is when they want to sell you something.
I understand how this has happened, and don’t really blame anyone in particular for it. It has had a knock-on effect of dehumanising footballers though. If they are not the same as us, they don’t feel like us. Wages at a certain level make people too rich to care. For some it seems the only way to try to make a footballer feel hurt is to abuse them.
Now I know people have always slagged off footballers. One of the only enjoyable scenes from the film Fever Pitch is the older man bemoaning the qualities of a (very successful) Arsenal team: “I don’t care if they are top of the league, they’ll be rubbish this season, too.”
It’s funny because we all recognise it. No matter how good a team is, there will always be some who moan. No matter how successful a side is, we’ll always need a scapegoat. Slagging off footballers is normal and healthy. We’ve always done it when we talk about footie with mates. It just seems now we feel the need to do it alone — directly to the footballer. So he really knows how much you hate him.
Ironically, footballers probably join Twitter to try to bridge the gap with supporters. I don’t know why they bother. It just opens you up to abuse from lads (it’s always lads) with an internet connection who NEED TO TELL YOU HOW ANGRY THEY ARE. Here are some nice ones from the weekend aimed at Jordan Henderson, Alberto Moreno and Simon Mignolet. They didn’t take long to find.
I didn’t even check Daniel Sturridge’s. The comments on his Instagram page have put me off for life. This is the life of a footballer. Win and expect your phone to be flooded with texts of congratulations. Lose and expect tweets wishing for your death. I think I’d live in Southport, too.
Now the reaction to anyone who speaks out against abuse of footballers is often that they are paid to deal with it. Firstly, I would say it is not limited to just footballers. I remember seeing Charlie Adam’s girlfriend getting abuse when he wasn’t playing well. When Brendan Rodgers was struggling his daughter’s Twitter account was shared so she could get grown men screaming at her. Linda Pizzuti is subject to endless nonsense for daring to take an interest in her husband’s business.
What have they done to deserve it?
Secondly, I am not asking you to feel sorry for them. Yes, it’s still a great life. Yes, you’d swap with them in a heartbeat (they should try match ratings…). My argument is that it is dangerously counter productive. It goes right in the face of what as supporters we are meant to do and damages one of the key things that makes Liverpool a special football club worldwide: the loyalty and backing of the fans.
I’m not saying we pretend everything is brilliant. I certainly don’t. I’m not saying we clap and cheer shite. But is it really useful if we fill the gap that exists between players and supporters with resentment and hate?
We want footballers to go onto the pitch thinking we are behind them. I worry when Daniel Sturridge comes on for Liverpool he thinks about all the people who have messaged him when he was injured telling him his god doesn’t exist.
We want footballers to speak us up to their international colleagues as a great place to play football if they have an opportunity. Rather than somewhere that fans tell young players to die.
See, I’m not actually that bothered about footballers’ welfare, I’m completely selfish on this. I want Liverpool to win games. To attract the best players. We as supporters have a role in this, even if it is a small one. To help make Liverpool the best place to play football. A heaven for our players and a nightmare for the opposition. It can be achieved if we accept that footballers know when they haven’t played well, and you don’t have to tweet them to tell them.
That’s the last argument, normally. That footballers need to know it isn’t good enough. Well I’m sure they know. Did you see the players after the game on Sunday? They were devastated. They know what it takes to win and they know they came short. These weren’t the images of people who need to be reminded of their responsibilities. Who need to be forced to care.
They are hurting footballers who we can kick when they are down or help pick back up tomorrow night at Anfield.
I know which one will help us more for the rest of the season.
So for the sake of the club can we go back to being nice to their faces and mean behind their backs please? There is a Europa League to win.
We can sell them all after that.