You can hate Raheem Sterling if you like. If it makes you feel better. When he appears on television next season in a Manchester City shirt, you can swear at the screen. If you’re actually at the game, you can swear at him in person. It’s okay to be upset, even if you’re just upset that a young man has successfully sought a massive pay rise and an increase in status, albeit in less-than-endearing fashion. But on balance, and I realise that this may paint me as something of an old-fashioned fuddy-duddy, I would steer clear of threatening to kidnap his three year old daughter.
Twitter can be a mean place. We live in these extraordinary times, with all of humanity’s accumulated wisdom available to us at the click of a search engine, with millions of people around the world linked to a giant social network, and we use this head-spinning conjunction of technological wizardry to fire abuse at complete strangers. Or to disseminate amusing pictures of cats. And this is not to be judgemental. I have been a dick. I am still a dick. Let he who hath never been a dick on Twitter cast the first snide subtweet. But there are degrees of dickishness.
When you speak to footballers about the abuse they get on Twitter, even the most famous and most targeted players are inclined to simply shrug it off. As well they might. They are paid phenomenal sums of money to play football because phenomenal numbers of people watch them play football. While most of those people wouldn’t ever consider sending 140 characters of muck and poison to someone they’ve never met, simple numbers means that even a small percentage of furious followers means a substantial wave of rage in the timeline. And yet, with a few magnificent exceptions like Carlton Cole, most players quietly dismiss it all as the cost of doing business. Which is as it should be. There are, after all, far worse things in this life than being called The Bad Word on the internet. Like having someone threaten to kidnap your little girl.
It really doesn’t matter whether you think this was a credible threat or not. If you’re a parent, every threat is credible. If you’re a high profile parent who just happens to have pissed off tens of thousands of people, it must feel very credible indeed. Call him a money-grabbing Bad Word, call him a traitor, wish upon him a slow decline and a loan spell at Aston Villa in 2016/17. But what kind of person brings his kid into the equation? Who does that?
It’s not just that it’s a morally repugnant act to put that fear in someone’s head, it’s also that it’s a spectacularly stupid thing for anyone to do. What do they think is going to happen when they make a public threat to kidnap a millionaire’s child? Do they think the millionaire in question will just roll his eyes and laugh it off? How many high profile Twitter abuse cases do they need to see before they realise that they’re not anonymous? How many newspaper stories will it take before they realise that everything they type on their phone may as well be beamed onto the face of the moon for the potential reach that it has?
We must hope, of course, that the culprit here is the sort of mouth-breathing, sofa-dwelling fraction of a human being who usually pops up in stories like this, leaning on their spurious defence of ‘banter.’ The kind of idiot who fails to realise the consequences of their actions until the stern-faced court warden is ushering them down the steps to the van and the sweat starts to roll down the back of their shirt.
It’s not just the Sterling episode. It’s the racial abuse that haunts players like Mario Balotelli. It’s the callous mockery directed at Rio Ferdinand hours after his wife passed away. It’s everything that clatters over the line and sprints off into the distance.
Nastiness is one of the greatest assets of football. The sport thrives on irrational hatred as much as it does irrational love. We should cherish our freedom to call people the Bad Word, we should relish it. But Jesus Henry Christ, leave their kids out of it.
Do you sometimes stare at the newspapers and wonder what on earth goes through people’s minds? Do you yearn for the good old days when people just sent angry letters in block capitals to their local newspapers and left it at that? Would you like to write your own angry letter in block capitals and send it to us? Write to us: [email protected]