There are certain people in life who revel in playing the pantomime villain, the wind-up merchants who taunt their audience to draw a reaction and get their kicks.
You can see through them as if they’re wearing their controversial stances wrapped around themselves like a cape of cling film. Prime example, Katie Hopkins, who has built a career opposing opinion of the right-minded people in this world. A quick look at James McClean’s Twitter profile and you might begin to think he’s of the same mind.
On his profile, his bio includes the words: “I’ve always loved the idea of not being what people expect me to be”, a quote attributed to the famed burlesque dancer, Dita Von Teese. I don’t know whether James is just a big fan of Dita, or the ambiguous quote is his way of saying he doesn’t want to be like everyone else, but it seems as if he’s making a concerted effort to upset the apple cart of opinion.
Perhaps he thinks everyone expects him to be a consummate professional and not make himself the centre of attention and he loves the idea of not being that? Just a thought.
After his past history, I know there will be very few members of the James McClean Fan Club reading this right now, and I understand why, but I have to say I don’t think there was any need for the FA to get involved with him celebrating in front of me like he did at The Hawthorns last Saturday. For me, what he did was a more natural reaction than holding back his emotions.
Even at this early stage of the season, that win was a massive three points for his West Brom side and after the stick he took (rightly or wrongly), I wouldn’t deny him enjoying his moment of oneupmanship.
Let’s be honest, wouldn’t you have done exactly the same thing if you were him at the final whistle last Saturday? Even if you did possess the self-control to take moral high ground that he lacked, wouldn’t you want to rub your detractors’ noses in it? I believe the acronym for such a gesture is GIRUY.
He hasn’t exactly endeared himself to the British public but he has his reasons and beliefs for doing so and, if you’ll excuse awfully misplaced pun, he’s sticking to his guns. As much as I’d like to go into the politics of his decisions, I only have 800 words and that’s far from enough to do the subject matter justice.
Whatever the reasons for him, or any other player, getting abuse from opposition fans, there’s a double standard to any complaint over him baiting fans in jubilation. It’s those same fans complaining over his actions who would be the first to target him should Sunderland have come out on top against West Brom. So why can’t he have a go back and return the “banter” that comes his way? Because he might incite the crowd? If that’s the case, shouldn’t we question the fans for not being able to control themselves?
I hate the word “banter” anyway. It has been hijacked by people who use it as a mask to hide behind their vitriolic abuse. A racist slur to put down anyone whose skin colour doesn’t match their own? Just banter, mate. A threat of sexual violence against women on Twitter? Calm down, it’s just banter, love. Screaming homophobic abuse at a player because he reads books and visits art galleries in his spare time? Calm down, sweetheart. It’s only banter.
The financial chasm that lies between players’ earnings at the top end of the game and the fans who live in the real world outside the Premier League bubble has been blamed for the detachment between the two and I’ve often thought it’s the reason behind the increased levels of abuse. The more money the fans have to pay, the more they expect from players but it’s no wonder footballers are often aloof and sometimes look apathetic at times because you have to grow a thick skin to protect yourself, otherwise the sheer volume of abuse alone would wear you down. You evolve this disconnected persona at times because you assume it’s the best way of dealing with the negativity.
I hear the excuses from fans all the time that players should take the abuse because of the money they earn from the ‘I pay my money and I’ll say what I want’ brigade but we all know that’s nonsense. The respect has to go both ways, Sure, players need to show restraint and an amount of professionalism but they’re only human. We keep hearing we don’t want players to be robots so you can’t expect them to have the polite manner of C3PO whenever you’re hurling insults at them.
Racism, sexism, homophobia and abuse in general aren’t recent phenomena in football but there was a time when I thought we were getting somewhere. I’ve written in the past how football dressing rooms have become a much more tolerant environment than was once thought but in the stands and on the timelines of players Twitter accounts, the bile has increased.
In the 10 years I’d spent away from English football, there was a noticeable difference in the levels of abuse given to players, and I often wondered why. Take homophobia for example. I thought we’d all but extinguished homophobic words from football’s vocabulary yet when I returned from Denmark to make my debut for Barnsley at Vicarage Road, I was greeted with shouts questioning my sexuality, where the insults of old had simply been replaced with the seemingly acceptable “Gay”. The words themselves not offensive but the derogatory intent behind them are. My answer to lad who calmly said “you’re gay.” was simply “yeah, I am, mate. Why, do you fancy me?” and blow him a kiss. Now when I grow my beard long, I get “Muslim”, “Jew boy’, “Pikey”. Yeah, great banter, lads.
In the past, my reply would have been met with a laugh from the people around him because he’d been shown to be the fool he was but instead, he and his group of friends were like a pack of pit bulls, straining at their leash.
I know football is a release for many and most fans act in a respectable manner but the line between “having a go” at a player and unacceptable abuse is crossed more than ever now.
Tempers fray and emotions run high but if you want footballers to be role models to your children and not respond to the abuse from the stands, then try and imagine someone shouting and swearing at you while you’re doing your work.
How would you react?