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The Captain: The curse of a nation
To quote the immortal words from Hollywood blockbuster Batman Begins: ‘It’s not who you are on the inside, it’s what you do that defines you.’ If that bears any truth in relation to Premier League football and the supporters that fill our stadiums every week, then we are in real trouble as a football-loving nation.
Much to the dismay of the vast majority of supporters that file through the turnstiles, it’s the minority that still dominate the back pages of the red-tops.
I am of course referring to the all too familiar sight of some our most heralded sports stars being subjected to intolerable verbal, and in some cases physical, abuse.
The issue of racism has once again raised its ugly head of late, highlighted by the toxic and thoroughly detestable behaviour of our disgraced former national captain John Terry, and trickling all the way down to the morons in the stadium that make monkey gestures.
By accepting no responsibility for his actions when he racially abused Anton Ferdinand it can be argued that Terry is complicit in precisely the kind of moronic racism we are seeing in the stands at the moment.
Whether he likes it or not, he is a role model, and the values he seems to promote clearly state it’s OK to do and say what you want to who you want. To hell with the consequences. Who cares when you're on 150k a week?
But, as unsavoury and repugnant as racism is, it’s just the tip of the iceberg.
It has become a tendency amongst a knuckle-dragging cross section of 'fans' to hurl wave after wave of…well, whatever you want really: coins, lighters, bottles, racist epithets, at players safe in the knowledge that nothing will get done about it.
A few years ago I attended a match in League One: Millwall versus Oldham at the New Den.
On the whole Millwall fans have a superb relationship with their team and a fantastic sense of humour, but on this occasion Lee Hughes was in the starting line-up for Oldham.
The striker had been released from prison a few months prior, but this was his first taste of the kind of hateful abuse that can be thrown at a player.
His every touch was greeted by shouts of, ‘murderer, murderer….’ in varying tones, intonations and chords.
It wasn’t so much the content of the chant that stuck with me, but the ferocity of the delivery, filled with the kind of hate I’d never encountered before at a football match.
Alongside this was the obligatory missile being thrown at him and, to his credit, he never once sunk to their level - he instead scored a brace and secured a valuable point for Oldham.
Now, Hughes clearly expected that particular maelstrom of loathsome chants to be thrown his way and acted accordingly, but that is exactly my point: why is that kind of chanting accepted? Why do we tolerate it?
Not a week goes by without pictures of fans making gestures and mouthing unspeakable insults at players hitting the headlines.
Maybe the curse of our national team and the lack of any real success in the last 50 years can be traced back to the stands around the country.
Players are so afraid to make a mistake for fear of the reprisals once they return to England that they don’t take the kind of chances that they do for their clubs week in week out. They are paralysed by fear.
You don’t hear the same kind of abuse in rugby, cricket, tennis, golf…. even boxing in all its gladiatorial glory suffers less moronic behaviour from its fans than football.
And funnily enough, in all the aforementioned sports we have experienced unrivalled success over recent years and, as a nation, share a much closer bond with our sporting heroes as a result.
There's got to be a reason for that.
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